Atletico’s faltering title bid faces tough test at Sevilla

Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke Resurreccion in action for Spain against Kosovo’s Arber Zeneli. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 April 2021

Atletico’s faltering title bid faces tough test at Sevilla

  • With both teams eliminated from the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, their focus is fully on the league standings

BARCELONA, Spain: Atletico Madrid have 10 games left this season to protect what remains of their once commanding lead in the Spanish league.

The team led Barcelona by 12 points in December, but that advantage has shrunk considerably since the start of the year. After winning only four of their last nine league games, Atletico now lead Barcelona by just four points.

Atletico face one of their toughest remaining matches on Sunday when it travels south to play at fourth-place Sevilla. With both teams eliminated from the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, their focus is fully on the league standings.

“It would be very painful to lose this league,” Atletico midfielder Koke Resurreccion told Marca Radio while playing for Spain in World Cup qualifying over the past week.

“We all know that leagues are decided over the final stretch of the season,” he said. “We knew that things would get tight ... We shouldn’t worry about being favorites or not. Barça and Real Madrid, which are among the best teams in the world, will fight until the end just like we will.”

Atletico will be waiting to see if forward Joao Felix is fit to play after he had to be substituted with an apparent injury in Portugal’s World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg on Tuesday.

If he cannot play, that will put even more pressure on Koke to link up with Luis Suarez, whose 19 goals this season are second only to Lionel Messi’s 23 in the competition.

After winning seven of their last eight home matches in the league, Sevilla have a strong hold on Spain’s final Champions League berth for next season with a 10-point lead over fifth place Real Sociedad. But the team could still catch third place Real Madrid, if they become complacent by focusing on its current Champions League bid.

Sevilla will have holding midfielder Fernando Reges back after he missed two matches with a muscle injury. Fernando said the international break will help his team regroup for the remainder of the campaign.

“Our team had gotten a bit worn down and was not playing at its best in some of our most recent matches, but after this break will be better prepared (for Atlético),” Fernando told Spanish website Muchodeporte.

Atletico’s top rivals face teams trying to avoid relegation. Barcelona will try to add to their 18-match unbeaten streak when it hosts Valladolid on Monday. Madrid, which trails Atlético by six points, welcomes Eibar on Saturday.

Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad face off on Saturday in the final of the 2020 Copa del Rey

The two Basque teams will meet in Seville at La Cartuja Stadium.

Organizers delayed the match from last year hoping the public health situation amid the coronavirus pandemic would improve enough to let spectators into the match.

But with Spain still battling COVID-19, the country’s soccer federation said it would be impossible to allow fans in.

The match will be the first of two cup finals for Bilbao this month. The team have also reached the final of this season’s Copa del Rey and will face Barcelona on April 17.


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.