Inter streak towards Serie A title as Juve consolidate third spot

Inter are 11 points clear of second-placed AC Milan who won 3-1 at Parma on Saturday, as a first title since 2010 beckons for Antonio Conte’s side with eight game left to play. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 April 2021

Inter streak towards Serie A title as Juve consolidate third spot

  • Inter are 11 points clear of second-placed AC Milan who won 3-1 at Parma on Saturday

MILAN: Matteo Darmian scored the only goal as Serie A leaders Inter Milan held off lowly Cagliari 1-0 to stretch their winning streak to 11 games as they close in on a first league title in over a decade.

Champions Juventus consolidated third place with a 3-1 win over Genoa as Napoli moved fourth and back into the Champions League spots with a 2-0 win at Sampdoria.

Inter are 11 points clear of second-placed AC Milan who won 3-1 at Parma on Saturday, as a first title since 2010 beckons for Antonio Conte’s side with eight game left to play.

Moroccan Achraf Hakimi came off the bench and minutes later set up Italy defender Darmian to grab the winner in the San Siro to inflict a fourth consecutive defeat on Cagliari.

“We are starting to see the finish line, but we’re not there yet and can’t afford to make calculations,” Conte said.

“It’s not easy to be under constant pressure but we’re getting used to it.

“We just need to continue pedalling to the max as we approach our goal.”

Inter had been pegged back against 18th-placed Cagliari whose goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, replacing COVID-19 hit Alessio Cragno, kept his team in the game.

Vicario denied Christian Eriksen in both halves, while Inter loanee Radja Nainggolan also missed a chance to open the scoring for the visitors against his parent club.

Romelu Lukaku set up Alexis Sanchez who thought he had broken the deadlock after quarter of an hour, but the goal was ruled out for offside.

Stefan de Vrij rattled the crossbar before Conte made a double substitution bringing on Hakimi for Ashley Young after 69 minutes, with Lautaro Martinez replacing Sanchez.

It paid off and minutes later Hakimi combined with Lukaku to tee up Parma loanee Darmian to push Inter closer to a 19th Serie A crown after finishing runners-up last season.

“On a psychological level we gave an important signal today,” said former Manchester United defender Darmian.

“Conte transmits the passion and the desire to win, you can see this on the pitch.

“Everyone feels they have a role to play.”

Juve’s nine-year reign looks set to end as they are 12 points adrift of Inter, but despite the pressures Andrea Pirlo’s side kept their push for Champions League football on track against Genoa.

“My idea of football is to dominate the game, but this season we haven’t always managed to put it into action,” said Pirlo.

“Every day you feel under scrutiny, me in particular because I’m in my first coaching experience.

“So far I give myself an estimate of six out of 10 because I could do more.”

Juan Cuadrado pulled the ball back to an unmarked Dejan Kulusevski to curl in the opener after four minutes.

Juve doubled their lead after 22 minutes when Federico Chiesa forced a Mattia Perin save with a Cristiano Ronaldo follow-up coming off the post before Alvaro Morata sent in the rebound.

Gianluca Scamacca headed in to pull a goal back for Genoa four minutes off the break, with Marko Pjaca missing two quick-fire chances to equalise for the visitors six minutes later.

Substitute Weston McKennie sealed the win after 70 minutes for a valuable three points before next weekend’s trip to Champions League rivals Atalanta.

Napoli returned to winning ways after their midweek defeat to Juventus with goals from Fabian Ruiz 10 minutes before the break and Victor Osimhen three minutes from time.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side climbed one point ahead of Atalanta who travel to Fiorentina later on Sunday.

Sixth-placed Lazio beat Hellas Verona 1-0 thanks to a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic header in injury time.


Lankan experts highlight Saudi Arabia’s potential to build own cricket team

Updated 14 May 2021

Lankan experts highlight Saudi Arabia’s potential to build own cricket team

  • Saudi Arabia urged to liaise with international allies to promote the sport

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka, a World Cup cricket champion, has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s interest in the sport, with experts saying the Kingdom has the “full potential” to develop its cricketing skills and compete in the field.

To facilitate the process, Saudi Ambassador in Colombo Abdul Nasser Al-Harthy told Arab News on Monday that he would coordinate with the Kingdom’s Sports Ministry to discuss “how best Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia could cooperate in developing this sport.”

Earlier in March, Prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF), announced a series of initiatives focused on promoting the game among Saudis and expatriate residents in
the Kingdom.

These included the launching of a corporate-level cricket tournament, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social cricket program across cities in the country to increase participation at the community, club, and international levels.

Several SACF initiatives have already been launched this year, among them the National Cricket Championship, played across 11 cities and part of four programs that the organization signed with the Saudi Sports for All Federation.

Launched in February, it is the largest cricket tournament ever held in the Kingdom.

Welcoming the initiative, cricket legend Roy Dias, who was the first Sri Lankan to score 1,000 test runs and 1,000 One-Day runs in 1984, told Arab News on Monday that the Kingdom has the “full potential to develop the sport at a competitive level.”

“I have watched Saudi cricketers playing alongside Pakistani sportsmen during friendly matches in the Middle East, and they performed very well,” Dias, 68, said, adding that he hoped that Saudi Arabia would form its indigenous cricket team soon.

Dias, who visited GCC countries between 2001 to 2010 as a national cricket coach for Nepal, said that Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain were “already active in the field of cricket.”

“Saudi Arabia is most welcome to this cluster,” Dias, a former cricket coach for the island nation and currently employed with the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, said, predicting that a Saudi team would bring in “new experiences coupled with resourceful skills.”

For this purpose, he added, Saudi Arabia could start by introducing school-level cricket for under-15 students, “which would kindle children’s and parental interest, which are sine qua non to develop good cricket.”

He also advised the Kingdom to coordinate with its international allies for expertise in the field.

“Sri Lanka can assist Saudi Arabian cricket in coaching through the Asian Cricket Council so that Sri Lanka could cooperate with the Kingdom in developing the cricket skills of its nationals by participating in council’s tournaments,” he said.

Shums Fahim, a senior editor of the Thinakaran Tamil daily and an expert on the game, agrees: “Saudi team is one of the active players in the Soccer World Cup and I sincerely wish that its cricketers could show better skills to reach the World Cup level in cricket too.”

According to data from 2017-2018, more than 30 percent of the Saudi

population are expats, with the total number of non-Saudis estimated to be 10,736,293.

In the early 1970s, cricket was played mainly by expatriates in the soccer-crazy country. This remains the case even today, with most players in its cricket team hailing from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In 2001, under the royal patronage of Princess Ghada Bint Hamoud Bin Abdulaziz, Saudi attained legal status to organize cricket in the Kingdom.

In 2003, it became an affiliate of the International Cricket Council (ICC).


Djokovic sweeps into quarters in front of ‘great’ Rome crowd

Updated 14 May 2021

Djokovic sweeps into quarters in front of ‘great’ Rome crowd

  • Fifth seed Tsitsipas ended the run of home hope Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in one hour and 36 minutes

ROME: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic swept into the Italian Open quarterfinals on Thursday with a straight-sets win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in front of spectators at the Foro Italico.

The five-time Rome champion won 6-2, 6-1 in 70 minutes against the 48th-ranked Spaniard, with the venue filled to 25 percent of capacity for the first time amid the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“It was not good, it was great. I missed the crowd,” said the 33-year-old, who next plays Stefanos Tsitsipas in a rematch of last year’s French Open semifinal which the Serbian won.

Fifth seed Tsitsipas ended the run of home hope Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in one hour and 36 minutes.

“It always feels like home coming back to Rome,” said Djokovic, who has never failed to reach the quarterfinals in his 15 appearances in the clay court event.

“Honestly, with the amount of love and appreciation that I get and respect from people here, not just on the court, but outside in the organization here, from the drivers, the restaurant, people in hotel, everyone is really super kind to me.

“Maybe it helps that I speak Italian. Probably does. I love Italy. Who doesn’t?

“Each year the love affair grows even more because the bond is stronger and stronger.

“Hopefully I can feel a little bit of that love more tomorrow so I can keep on progressing in the tournament.”

After losing his opening service game, Djokovic powered back with five breaks of serve, outclassing his rival, despite a late fightback, to seal the win on his sixth match point.

“He started well, but I managed to break back straight away and establish the control and consistency,” said the 18-time Grand Slam winner.

Djokovic has a 4-2 winning head-to-head record against Monte Carlo champion Tsitsipas who knocked out Madrid Open runner-up Berrettini.

“I hope to do better this time,” said Tsitsipas, who lost a five-set marathon to Djokovic at Roland Garros last year.

Djokovic has won his past seven quarter-finals in Rome, with an 11-3 record in the last eight. Tsitsipas reached the semi-finals in Rome in 2019.

American Reilly Opelka also advanced to his second Masters 1000 quarter-final with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 victory against in-form Russian Aslan Karatsev.

The 23-year-old hit 18 aces and saved two set points at 4/6 in the first-set tie-break to set up a meeting with either Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime or Argentinian Federico Delbonis in the last eight.


New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities

Updated 13 May 2021

New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities

  • People recorded in the Tawakkalna as "immune" from COVID-19 can now be admitted in sports arenas

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Sports on Wednesday issued new guidance for mass entry to stadiums and sports facilities, which included a number of important precautionary measures.

The protocols included social distancing and the wearing of masks, in addition to the mechanism for crowd entry and preventing gatherings inside the stands or at the doors.

The new guidance specified the categories of people that will be allowed to attend sports matches, according to what appears in the Tawakkalna app. 

People can be admitted if they are “immune” (having completed both doses of the vaccine), “immune after infection” (having recovered from the virus within the last six months), or “immune by the first dose” (having received the first dose of the vaccine).

Entry will also be permitted for people over seven and under 18, provided that their condition on Tawakkalna app is not “infected.” 

The new list of protocols follows an announcement on March 20, which limited sports match crowds to 40 percent of their total capacity from May 17.

The ministry said it had taken the necessary measures with sports federations and clubs to implement the protocols to ensure the health and safety of everyone. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported 13 more COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday. The death toll now stands at 7,111.

The Ministry of Health reported 1,020 new cases, meaning that 429,389 people have now contracted the disease. There are 9,268 active cases, 1,352 of which are in critical condition.

According to the ministry, 342 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, 276 in Makkah, 133 in the Eastern Province and 56 in Madinah.

In addition, 908 patients had recovered from the disease, bringing the total to 413,010 recoveries.

Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 17,740,919 PCR tests, with 71,040 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Saudi health clinics set up by the ministry as testing hubs or treatment centers have helped hundreds of thousands of people around the Kingdom since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Among those testing hubs are Taakad (make sure) centers and Tetamman (rest assured) clinics.

Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual, while the Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms, such as fever, loss of taste and smell and breathing difficulties.

Appointments to either service can also be made through the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Saudis and expats in the Kingdom continue to receive their COVID-19 jabs, with 11,075,209 people inoculated so far.

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Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open

Updated 13 May 2021

Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open

  • The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30

ROME: Serena Williams, playing the 1,000th WTA match of her career, lost on her return after nearly three months away to Nadia Podoroska in the second round of the WTA Italian Open on Wednesday.

The 39-year-old eighth seed fell 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 in under just two hours to the 44th-ranked Argentine, a surprise semifinalist at last year’s Roland Garros.

Williams, a four-time Rome winner and 23-time Grand Slam champion, had not played since her semifinal defeat in the Australian Open this year.

The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30 where the American continues her bid to equal Australia’s Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam trophies.

Despite a battling performance Williams could not wear down the 24-year-old Argentine who broke the American twice in the first set. Podoroska forced a tiebreak with an ace and squandered three set points before sealing the set.

In the second, Williams was trailing 5-2 but held and broke the Argentine to love while she served for the match to level at 5-5.

Podoroska held her nerve to earn three match points to secure just her third career win over a top-10 player, all in the last eight months.

For Williams it was her 149th defeat, with 851 wins over the course of a WTA career covering 1,000 matches.

But she will not get to celebrate with the Rome public, with spectators only allowed from Thursday’s third round at the Foro Italico while limited to a 25 percent capacity.

Podoroska next meets Croatia’s Petra Martic, who earlier beat France’s Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-3. 


UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve

Updated 13 May 2021

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve

  • The maximum punishment under UEFA’s disciplinary pathway is a two-year ban from European competition

LAUSANNE: UEFA on Wednesday initiated disciplinary proceedings against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, the three clubs yet to renounce the aborted European Super League project.

European football’s governing body has appointed disciplinary inspectors to conduct an investigation regarding a potential violation of UEFA rules by the clubs “in connection with the so-called ‘Super League’ project,”  it announced.

“Further information regarding this matter will be made available in due course.” 

UEFA last week said it would take “appropriate action” against the three clubs who still support the proposed Super League, a competition that would guarantee its founding members involvement every season, instead of having to qualify.

It did not specify the violations that may have been committed, although its statutes prohibit “combinations or alliances” between clubs without the body’s permission.

The maximum punishment under UEFA’s disciplinary pathway is a two-year ban from European competition, while club officials could be banned from any football-related activity.

However, UEFA’s options are clouded by a ruling from a commercial court in Madrid on April 20.

The court banned UEFA and FIFA from making any moves to block a Super League or taking any disciplinary measures against the clubs, players or officials involved.

It is also unclear what penalties the clubs that have withdrawn may owe to the remaining clubs for breaking their agreement to join the Super League.

The Super League was announced on April 18 but two days later it collapsed as the six Premier League clubs withdrew after angry protests from supporters and under pressure from the British government.

Nine of the original 12 clubs have now dropped out.

Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan were on Friday given a financial penalty by UEFA for their involvement.

They committed to taking “all steps within their power” to end their involvement in the breakaway league and agreed to participate in UEFA competitions for which they qualify. They also agreed to pay fines of 100 million euros ($121 million) if they ever seek to play in an “unauthorized” competition.

In response, Real, Barca and Juventus continued to defend the Super League proposal and condemned what it termed “threats” from UEFA.

The clubs issued a joint statement that said “the founding clubs have suffered, and continue to suffer, unacceptable third-party pressures (and) threats.”

“This is intolerable under the rule of law,” they added.

The trio said the Super League had been launched “with the aim of providing solutions to the current unsustainable situation in the football industry.”