Messi on song as Barcelona thrash Sociedad, Atletico edge past Alaves

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FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi scores their fourth goal against Real Sociedad at the Reale Arena in San Sebastian, Spain, on March 21, 2021. (REUTERS/Vincent West)
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Alaves' forward Joselu (C) jumps for a header during the Spanish League football match between Atletico Madrid and Alaves at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on March 21, 2021. (AFP / JAVIER SORIANO)
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Updated 22 March 2021

Messi on song as Barcelona thrash Sociedad, Atletico edge past Alaves

  • Messi stays ahead of Suarez in the La Liga scoring charts, despite the Uruguayan’s excellent finish nine minutes into the second half against Alaves

MADRID, Spain: Lionel Messi scored twice on Sunday as Barcelona trounced Real Sociedad 6-1 to keep the pressure on Atletico Madrid, who squeezed past Alaves thanks to a late penalty save from Jan Oblak.
Oblak’s 86th-minute heroics denied Joselu and ensured Luis Suarez’s header was enough for a 1-0 victory at the Wanda Metropolitano, meaning the gap at the top of La Liga remains at four points, with 10 games left to play.
But the contrast between Atletico’s nervy win against 19th-placed Alaves and Barca’s demolition of a Real Sociedad side with hopes of qualifying for Europe spoke volumes about where the momentum lies in the Spanish title race.
Atletico will hope Oblak’s save can prove to be a turning point after a challenging few weeks, while the international break might offer Diego Simeone’s side a chance to reset and refresh ahead of the run-in.
“There are games where you suffer but that’s what makes football beautiful,” said Oblak.
Simeone said: “Like all great teams, there is always one that scores a lot of goals and one that makes a lot of saves. They are both decisive players who make the team stronger.”
Barcelona, meanwhile, have hit their stride, their six goals against Real Sociedad no less than they deserved for a scintillating attacking display, and perhaps their best since Ronald Koeman took charge.
Messi scored his 11th and 12 goals in his last 10 games, and made it 16 in 12 this year. It is a far cry from his underwhelming start to the season, when the 33-year-old looked weighed down by talk about his future.
Messi’s form represents the biggest threat to Atletico’s position at the top of the table but he was not alone at the Reale Arena, where Sergino Dest scored twice either side of half-time after Antoine Griezmann had slammed in the opener.
Ousmane Dembele and Real Sociedad’s Ander Barrenetxea — with arguably the goal of the night — both registered between Messi’s double in the second half.
For Barcelona, it is a ninth consecutive away win in the league, with a club record 10th within their grasp if they beat Real Madrid in the Clasico on April 10.
Real Sociedad must now try to recover before they play Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao in the postponed Copa del Rey final from last year on April 3.
Dest had already hit the crossbar when Messi set Jordi Alba free down the left and while Dembele’s finish was saved, Griezmann was on hand to slam home the rebound.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to rectify his own poor clearance by getting down low to deny Alexander Isak but Real Sociedad’s resistance was brief.
Messi slipped in Dest to fire in and then Alba pulled back from the other side for the American to make it three.
Messi snuck in behind early in the second half, poking in Sergio Busquets’ ball over the top before Dembele was allowed to glide through unchallenged, and impressively drove into the far corner.
Barrenetxea at least put his side on the scoreboard, and brilliantly, by nipping inside Frenkie de Jong and thundering a shot into the top corner but Messi had the last word, a crisp finish curling inside the near post.
Messi stays ahead of Suarez in the La Liga scoring charts, despite the Uruguayan’s excellent finish nine minutes into the second half against Alaves.
Thomas Lemar turned the ball around the corner to Marcos Llorente, who fed Kieran Trippier racing down the right, and he curled a cross in on the run to the near post, where Suarez headed in.
But without a second goal, Alaves always had a chance and they were given a golden one after Stefan Savic was judged to have put an arm across Luis Rioja just inside the penalty area.
Joselu stepped up and struck it well to his left but Oblak read it right and, with his left foot still pinned to the line, sprung out and pushed the ball away.
ta/jc


Brazil beat South Korea 4-1 to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Updated 7 sec ago

Brazil beat South Korea 4-1 to reach World Cup quarter-finals

DOHA: Brazil beat South Korea 4-1 to reach World Cup quarter-finals.

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Updated 05 December 2022

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals

  • Mario Pasalic struck the winning penalty after Dominik Livakovic had saved three of four Japanese penalties as Croatia won the shoot-out 3-1
  • Ivan Perisic had pulled Croatia level in the 55th minute of normal time following Daizen Maeda’s opener for Japan just before the break

DOHA: Croatia reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Monday with a dramatic 3-1 penalty shoot-out win over Japan after a tense last-16 clash ended 1-1.

Mario Pasalic struck the winning penalty to send Croatia through after Dominik Livakovic had saved three of four Japanese penalties.

Ivan Perisic had pulled Croatia level in the 55th minute of normal time following Daizen Maeda’s opener for Japan just before the break.
Croatia now face either Brazil or South Korea in the last eight and continued midfield icon Luka Modric’s stay at his fourth and likely final World Cup.
Japan’s bid to reach the last eight for the first time in their history came to a crushing end after another display of the sort which saw off Spain and Germany on their way to topping Group E.
However they could not claim one more big European scalp in the shape of the 2018 finalists and go home in the second round, as they did four years ago, after having three of their penalties saved.
Japan could easily have been ahead within three minutes when Shogo Taniguchi glanced a header wide from point-blank range, and 10 minutes later Daizen Maeda came close to turning in Junya Ito’s brilliantly placed low ball from the right flank.
In the meantime Perisic had let off a shot from a tight angle which led to a goalmouth scramble, but had Croatia scored they risked the goal being ruled out for what looked like a clear push on Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Bruno Petkovic then wasted a great opportunity in the 25th minute, strolling through almost unopposed onto a long through ball only to dawdle and fail to get a pass off to Andrej Kramaric who was charging into the box.
Kramaric was then too slow to latch on to Perisic’s dangerous flick-on and from there Japan took control, and the lead.
Daichi Kamada had already blasted over after a superb passing move when in the 43rd minute Maeda fired in the opener after Ritsu Doan’s cross was knocked down by Maya Yoshida.
Japan looked the better team and ready to inflict more damage but out of the blue Croatia’s most dangerous player Perisic levelled the scores with a bullet header from Dejan Lovren’s deep cross.
Almost immediately afterwards Wataru Endo responded by having a good strike tipped over the bar by Dominik Livakovic, before Shuichi Gonda pulled off the save of the match to keep out Modric’s beautifully-struck, dripping shot.
Modric was replaced nine minutes into the first half of extra-time in which Japan had the best chance, Kaoru Mitoma’s effort well tipped away by Livakovic.
With penalties drawing close, one final chance fell to Modric’s replacement Lovro Majer, who dragged his shot wide, but his team prevailed in the shoot-out to end the Blue Samurai’s entertaining adventure.


Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Updated 05 December 2022

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

  • Bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October
  • The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2027 Asian Cup after India withdrew its bid.
The Asian Football Confederation issued a statement Monday saying the All Indian Football Federation had withdrawn from the host selection process. No reason was published.
The bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October and the final decision was expected to be made at a regional congress in February. Saudi Arabia is now the only candidate to host the 2027 tournament.
The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host. Qatar, which is hosting the ongoing World Cup, has already staged the Asian Cup twice.
The Saudis started their World Cup campaign in Qatar with a stunning 2-1 upset win over Argentina, but didn’t advance to the knockout stages after back-to-back losses to Poland and Mexico in Group C. Argentina topped the group and then edged Australia in the Round of 16 to qualify for the quarterfinals.

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Aggressive England beats Pakistan by 74 runs in 1st test

Updated 05 December 2022

Aggressive England beats Pakistan by 74 runs in 1st test

  • England leads its first test series in Pakistan in 17 years 1-0 
  • Multan and Karachi scheduled to host the remaining two games

RAWALPINDI: England showcased its masterful approach of aggression in test cricket with a superb 74-run victory over Pakistan in the final session of the first test on Sunday.

Needing 263 runs with eight wickets in hand on Day 5, Pakistan was dismissed for 268 against the reverse swing of James Anderson (4-36) and Ollie Robinson (4-50) — losing its last five wickets for just 11 runs after tea.

Jack Leach had the last wicket of Naseem Shah, trapped leg before wicket after England delayed the second new ball for well over an hour with Anderson and Robinson doing the damage with the old ball.

Pakistan succumbed to the relentless attacking field settings of England captain Ben Stokes before Robinson and veteran Anderson sliced through the lower order after Pakistan was placed at 257-5 going into the final session.

Robinson had earlier ended the nearly four-hour defiance of one of the four Pakistan debutants – Saud Shakeel – in the second session to a brilliant diving catch by Keaton Jennings as the lefthander top-scored with 76.

England had posted an electrifying 657 and Pakistan responded with 579 to concede a 78-run lead on a grass-less wicket where seven batters from both sides scored centuries.

England made a bold declaration with another rapid 264-7 in just 35.5 overs on Day 4 and set Pakistan a challenging target of 343 in four sessions.

England leads its first test series in Pakistan in 17 years 1-0 with Multan and Karachi scheduled to host the remaining two games.


England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters

Updated 05 December 2022

England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters

  • Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time
  • Bukayo Saka added a third, but it was Jude Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed England to turn the tide

AL KHOR: England set up a titanic World Cup quarter-final against holders France as Jude Bellingham’s masterclass inspired a 3-0 win against Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday.
Gareth Southgate’s side survived a nervous start at the Al Bayt Stadium before Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time.
Bukayo Saka scored England’s third, but it was Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed them to turn the tide.
Bellingham set up Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup.
Kane has now netted 11 times at major tournaments, overtaking Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in those competitions.
But at the tender age of 19, it is Bellingham who has emerged as England’s driving force.
He is the first teenager to assist in a World Cup knockout stage game since 1966, having already announced his arrival on the global stage by netting his first England goal in the 6-2 rout of Iran in their group opener.
Just two years after he was playing in the English second tier with Birmingham, the precocious Bellingham was totally unfazed against Senegal in the biggest game of his life.
England will need another command performance from Bellingham if they are to extend their stay in Qatar beyond the last eight.
Eyeing a third successive semifinal appearance at major tournaments, England will return to the Al Khor desert on Saturday to take on the red-hot Kylian Mbappe and company after France brushed aside Poland 3-1 on Sunday.
Euro 2020 runners-up England have won only one of their last eight meetings with France, who pose a significant threat to their hopes of winning a first major title for 56 years.
The depth of attacking talent available to Southgate could be crucial and, defending his decision to drop Marcus Rashford for Saka despite the forward’s double against Wales, he boasted “we have an embarrassment of riches in all areas of the pitch.”
After a rocky opening when they passed too slowly and looked anxious at the back, England hit their stride to show why Southgate has such confidence in them.
Fuelled by the incessant drumming from their vibrant fans, African champions Senegal initially showed no fear as they tested England’s composure with a high press.
Senegal squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead when Harry Maguire gave the ball away and Boulaye Dia’s volley deflected off John Stones into Ismaila Sarr’s path, only for the Watford forward to blaze over from close-range.
Preying on England’s nerves, Sarr harried Saka and Dia seized the loose ball, forcing a good save from Jordan Pickford with a fierce drive.
That proved the turning point as England snatched the lead against the run of play in the 38th minute.
Bellingham sprinted onto Harry Kane’s incisive pass into the Senegal area and clipped a precise cutback into the path of Liverpool midfielder Henderson, who guided his low strike past Edouard Mendy from 12 yards.
Henderson’s goal served as a jolt of adrenaline that coursed through England as they doubled their lead seconds before the interval.
Bellingham was the catalyst with his well-timed tackle and a crisp pass to Foden, whose perfectly-weighted lay-off allowed Kane to race clear for a clinical finish.
England strolled through the second half and, repaying Southgate’s faith, Saka put the result beyond doubt in the 57th minute.
Foden made a dynamic run down the left and Saka reached his cross to flick a clever effort over Mendy from close-range.