Sensational Messi scores twice as Barca beat Athletic to win Copa del Rey

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates winning the Copa del Rey with the trophy. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 April 2021

Sensational Messi scores twice as Barca beat Athletic to win Copa del Rey

  • Barca scored four times to clinch an emphatic 4-0 victory, with Messi at his devastating best
  • It remains to be seen if his seventh Copa del Rey triumph is the last trophy Messi lifts in Barcelona colors

MADRID: Lionel Messi scored twice, including a stunning solo goal, as Barcelona blew away Athletic Bilbao to win the Copa del Rey on Saturday, consigning their opponents to a second final defeat in two weeks.
The cup was won and lost in a whirlwind 12 minutes in Seville, which saw Barca score four times to clinch an emphatic 4-0 victory, with Messi at his devastating best.
It remains to be seen if his seventh Copa del Rey triumph is the last trophy Messi lifts in Barcelona colors but if this was to be a final flourish, the 33-year-old crafted a fitting farewell.
“It’s very special to be captain of this team where I have spent my whole life and very special to be able to lift this cup,” Messi said.
His first goal, and Barca’s third, started with the Argentinian in his own half before a charging run down the right and a surge forward into the penalty area gave him the chance for a simple finish.
With the club’s new president Joan Laporta in the crowd, Ronald Koeman’s first title as Barcelona coach should also significantly boost his chances of remaining in charge beyond the summer.
“To win a title is important for me,” Koeman admitted afterwards.
Yet Laporta was noticeably evasive when asked about Koeman’s future.
“He is doing well,” he said.
Koeman took over a team at rock bottom, humiliated by a historic loss to Bayern Munich and wounded by the attempts of Messi to leave the club for free.
But this 31st Copa del Rey success for the club is a testament to progress made and Koeman will hope it not only helps convince Messi to stay but gives Barca momentum now in a neck-and-neck title race in La Liga.
“Despite the changes at the club and the young players, at Barca you have to always fight for trophies,” Koeman said.
“We have the first one and now we are going to fight to the last game in La Liga.”
Gerard Pique said it felt like the club had been “reset.”
“Sometimes you fall down and you have to get up,” Pique said. “It has been a difficult year but the team has turned it around.”
Messi was sent off when Athletic Bilbao beat Barcelona, also at the La Cartuja, in January to win the Spanish Super Cup but they never looked like pulling off a repeat.
After Athletic lost to their Basque rivals Real Sociedad in last year’s postponed final only two weeks ago, lifting themselves for another showpiece in the same stadium and against a tougher opponent was always going to be a big ask.
“In both finals we played well below the level that we’re capable of,” said Athletic coach Marcelino Garcia Toral.
Barcelona were almost ahead after four minutes as Sergio Busquets played in Messi, who rolled back for Frenkie de Jong but his sidefooted finish came back off the far post.
Sergino Dest dragged wide while Inigo Martinez had Athletic’s best chance but as he stretched for the bouncing ball, he could only poke over.
Athletic seemed to have played their way into the match before half-time but Barcelona came out with renewed vigour, with Unai Simon making two brilliant saves to deny Antoine Griezmann and then Busquets, both from close range.
But when the resistance gave way, it became a collapse, with goals scored in the 60th, 63rd, 68th and 72nd minutes to leave Athletic’s hopes in tatters.
First, Messi slipped in Dest down the right and his cross was diverted in by Griezmann before the second came from the opposite flank, Jordi Alba curled in a cross for De Jong to nod in.
The third was a spectacular from Messi, who started the move in his own half, leaping over one challenge and dodging another.
He took the ball back from Dest and drove down the right wing, away from three opponents and inside.
Messi twice played off De Jong, the second time after motoring forward into the penalty area, where he darted between two last Athletic defenders and slid the finish into the far corner.
His second, and Barca’s fourth, was more straight-forward, Alba pulling a cross back for the Argentinian to tuck under a weak right hand from Simon and inside the post. For Athletic, there was no way back.


Tuchel eyes first Chelsea trophy as Leicester chase FA Cup history

Updated 14 May 2021

Tuchel eyes first Chelsea trophy as Leicester chase FA Cup history

  • Foxes are aiming to win the FA Cup for the first time in their first final appearance since 1969

LONDON: Thomas Tuchel plans to ruin Leicester’s bid to make history, as the Chelsea manager eyes the first trophy of his reign in Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley.

Tuchel has enjoyed a superb run since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard in January.

The German has led Chelsea to the FA Cup and Champions League finals, while taking them back into the Premier League’s top four.

Winning his maiden silverware in English football would be further evidence of Tuchel’s impact.

But Leicester, two points above Chelsea in the Premier League, will pose a significant threat to Tuchel’s ambitions under the astute guidance of boss Brendan Rodgers.

The Foxes are aiming to win the FA Cup for the first time in their first final appearance since 1969.

No club have appeared in more FA Cup finals without lifting the trophy than Leicester, who have lost four times in the showpiece match.

In contrast, Chelsea have won the FA Cup eight times, with their last victory coming against Manchester United in 2018.

The Blues, beaten in last year’s final against Arsenal, will be making their fourth appearance in the competition’s denouement in the last five years.

Having already beaten managerial luminaries Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Diego Simeone, Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti since arriving at Chelsea, Tuchel will pit his wits against Rodgers for the first time as Blues boss.

After a frustrating end to his spell at Paris Saint-Germain — where he won the French title and reached last season’s Champions League final before being forced out following a power struggle with sporting director Leonardo — Tuchel has quickly erased any doubts about his suitability for Chelsea.

Cleverly covering up for the lack of goals in his misfiring attack by focusing on defensive discipline and work ethic, Tuchel has revitalized a Chelsea side who were spiralling down the Premier League by the time Lampard left.

Tuchel has energized the likes of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Antonio Rudiger, with England midfielder Mason Mount growing more influential by the week.

But Chelsea’s limp 1-0 defeat against Arsenal on Tuesday — just the third loss under Tuchel — emphasized the importance of solving the issues with forwards Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech sooner rather than later.

Tuchel blamed himself for that defeat, claiming he made too many changes after last weekend’s emotional win at champions Manchester City.

Ahead of a crucial final week in the Premier League — featuring games against Leicester and Aston Villa — it will be intriguing to see if Tuchel fields his strongest team at Wembley.

He has already confirmed Kepa Arrizabalaga will start instead of first choice keeper Edouard Mendy.

“He starts the FA Cup final,” Tuchel said. “We trust him and he deserves it, that is the basis of why we put him in the lineup.”

Rodgers also has Leicester’s top-four ambitions to consider as he plots his lineup against Chelsea, but the chance to create history will be his only focus at Wembley.

“We have earned the right to be in the final and we will arrive with an opportunity to make our own history. We feel we’re in with a chance and if we can play to our level we have a great chance,” Rodgers said.


Critics of Tokyo Olympics submit petition urging cancellation

Updated 14 May 2021

Critics of Tokyo Olympics submit petition urging cancellation

  • The petition was submitted to the Olympic and Paralympic committee chiefs as well as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike

TOKYO: Critics of Japan’s plan to hold the Tokyo Olympics despite a fourth wave of coronavirus infections submitted a petition on Friday signed by 350,000 people over nine days calling for the Games to be canceled.

“Stop Tokyo Olympics” campaign organizer Kenji Utsunomiya said the global festival of sport — already postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic — should take place only when Japan can welcome visitors and athletes wholeheartedly.

“We are not in that situation and therefore the Games should be canceled,” he told a news conference. “Precious medical resources would need to be diverted to the Olympics if it’s held.”

The petition was submitted to the Olympic and Paralympic committee chiefs as well as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

It came as Japan added three more areas to a state of emergency now covering Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures amid surging case numbers, exactly 10 weeks from the scheduled July 23 opening of the Games.

Asked about the campaign against the Games, Tokyo Governor Koike said she would work towards a “safe and secure” Olympics.

“Though there is a global pandemic, it is important to hold a safe and secure Tokyo 2020 Games,” she told a regular news conference.

The new areas under the state of emergency include Hokkaido prefecture, where the Olympic marathon will take place, after it reported a record high of 712 new coronavirus cases on Thursday.

Nationwide, Japan has seen about 656,000 confirmed cases, with 11,161 deaths.

Opposition to the Games has also come from doctors, while some high-profile Japanese athletes have expressed concern, including Masters golf champion Hideki Matsuyama and top women’s tennis player Naomi Osaka.

Business leader Masayoshi Son, chief of SoftBank Group Corp , added his voice to the chorus of trepidation on Thursday, saying in unusually blunt remarks he was afraid of what might happen if the Games went ahead.

Dozens of towns that had been due to host visiting athletes at pre-Games events have canceled those plans, saying they could not guarantee medical help amid strains on the health system.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, asked whether the Games would go ahead despite the increase in COVID cases, said organizers were looking to the International Olympic Committee’s backing for the Games.

“I am aware that many are concerned that it will lead to an outbreak of cases,” Nishimura told parliament.

“The organizers are currently working together closely, based on the decision by the International Olympic Committee to hold the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” he said.

Organizers are determined to host the Games with coronavirus mitigation measures in place. A skateboarding event on Friday was the latest test for their precautions.

Organizers told reporters after the event that athletes and coaches had been told to follow measures and avoid the usual celebratory hugs and cheers on the sidelines.

“This kind of behavior is not OK in terms of COVID-19 measures,” said Yasuo Mori, the deputy executive director of Tokyo 2020’s operations bureau.

“We’d usually take videos together but now we have to stay masked and two meters apart,” said skateboarder Ryuto Kikuta, 17, adding that he understood the measures were necessary but they still felt strange.


‘We will talk:’ Klopp unfazed by Mane’s handshake snub

Updated 14 May 2021

‘We will talk:’ Klopp unfazed by Mane’s handshake snub

  • Liverpool manager plans to talk with Sadio Mane after the Senegal winger declined to shake his hand
  • Klopp had opted not to start Mane in what was a vital match for Liverpool

ENGLAND: Add an upset player to Jürgen Klopp’s list of team problems as Liverpool scrambles for a Champions League qualification spot.
The Liverpool manager said Friday that he plans to talk with Sadio Mane after the Senegal winger declined to shake his hand as they left the field following Liverpool’s 4-2 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Thursday.
Klopp had opted not to start Mane in what was a vital match for Liverpool to gain ground for a top-four finish in the Premier League. Mane was brought on as a substitute in the second half.
Mane’s scoring pace is off this season but he had netted twice in the previous three games. He shook his head and kept walking when Klopp reached out to him.
“Do you want these things happening? No. But it’s not the first time in my life and I’m afraid to say it will probably not be the last time,” the German manager said at a news conference ahead of Sunday’s game at West Bromwich Albion.
“We will talk about it, and then it will be sorted.”
Klopp went with a front three of Diogo Jota on the left — in Mane’s usual spot — Roberto Firmino in the middle and Mohammed Salah on the right.
After the match, Klopp told Sky that he had made a late decision in training on Wednesday to go with Jota but that he had no time to explain the decision to Mane, which he said he would normally do.
Jota scored in the 34th minute, Firmino netted twice, and Salah added the fourth as Liverpool closed the gap to fourth-place Chelsea to four points, and the Reds have a game in hand.
Klopp, whose team has been slowed by injuries this season, insisted he’s not bothered by the snub.
“If somebody shows me five million times respect and one time not, what is then more important? The world is in a situation where you then make this one time bigger than necessary,” he said.
As a player, “what I did out of emotion, it was insane — and I’m a completely normal guy,” Klopp said.
“Football is an emotional game and everybody expects from us that we control our emotions always, and that doesn’t work out always.”


Turkish F1 canceled, replaced by second Austrian GP

Updated 14 May 2021

Turkish F1 canceled, replaced by second Austrian GP

  • Turkish Grand Prix, which was drafted onto the calendar as a replacement for the cancelled Canada GP two weeks ago, was axed Friday
  • Covid-19 protocols forces Formula One chiefs to return to the sport's safe haven of Austria

PARIS: The Turkish Grand Prix, which was only drafted onto the Formula One calendar as a replacement for the canceled Canada GP two weeks ago, was itself axed on Friday.
Formula One chiefs, forced into another change due to Covid-19 protocols, announced that they will instead return to the sport’s safe haven of Austria.
The decision was made in the wake of the “announcement of new travel restrictions imposed by several countries in which F1 teams are based, affecting travel from Turkey,” they said.
“Following discussions with the promoter in Turkey and relevant stakeholders, it will not be possible to have the race in Turkey between June 11-13.
“The promoter has requested that we look at the potential opportunity for the race to be rescheduled later in the season if possible, alongside China who made the same request earlier this year.”
Formula One confirmed that there will now be two races in Austria, back to back, with the first race, the Styrian Grand Prix, taking place on June 25-27 and the Austrian Grand Prix taking place on its original date of July 2-4.
As a result of this change the French Grand Prix will move one week earlier to June 18-20.


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).