Djokovic ready to face ‘biggest rival’ Nadal for 58th time

Serbia's Novak Djokovic, left, and Spain's Rafael Nadal all set for their "great battle” on Friday in the French French Open tennis tournament in Paris. (AP/Reuters photos)
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Updated 10 June 2021

Djokovic ready to face ‘biggest rival’ Nadal for 58th time

  • Djokovic secured the eagerly-awaited clash after beating Italy’s Matteo Berrettini
  • Nadal beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman to make the semifinals for the 14th time

PARIS: Novak Djokovic said facing Rafael Nadal for the 58th time on Friday, with a place in the French Open final on the line, will be “a great battle” against his “biggest ever rival.”
Djokovic secured the eagerly-awaited clash when he reached his 40th Grand Slam semifinal with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5 win over Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.
It will be his 11th appearance in the last-four in Paris where he was champion in 2016.
Nadal, the 13-time winner, beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 to make the semifinals for the 14th time.
He will be playing in his 35th Slam semi.
“I’ll probably pick Rafa as the biggest rival I’ve ever had in my career,” said world number one Djokovic.
“The anticipation for the match against him, any match, any surface, any occasion, is always different from any other.
“Let’s have a great battle.”
Although Djokovic has the edge at 29-28 in their overall rivalry stretching back 15 years, Nadal enjoys a 7-1 record in their French Open meetings and is 19-7 overall on clay.
Djokovic’s last win over the Spanish star on a clay court was in Rome five years ago.
Nadal’s record in Paris now stands at 105 wins against just two losses.
One of those defeats, however, was at the hands of Djokovic in 2015.

With Djokovic’s quarter-final extending beyond the national 11pm curfew, play was halted for around 20 minutes at 3-2 in the fourth set so that 5,000 fans could be funnelled out of Court Philippe Chatrier.
Djokovic eventually claimed the match on a third match point in the 12th game but only after he kicked out at an advertising board in frustration at missing the first two.
His scream into the humid night air told of his relief as his bid to win a 19th Grand Slam and be the first man in more than 50 years to claim all four majors twice stayed on course.
“It was a release of all the emotions I had kept inside me,” said Djokovic who hit 44 winners and saved all three break points he faced against the Italian.
“After all the fans left and the little break it wasn’t easy to find rhythm. It was really a very difficult match for me.”
He added: “It was a great battle against a player who serves well and is powerful. Maybe I could have finished on the tie break, but I’m happy to have won.”
Nadal also has a landmark in view in Paris.
If he gets to Sunday’s final and wins, he would secure a record-setting 21st major, edging ahead of Roger Federer in the all-time race.
Wednesday’s night session was the 10th and last at this year’s tournament but was the first to allow in fans after the 9pm Covid-19 curfew was pushed back to 11pm.
The previous nine sessions were played in an empty Court Philippe Chatrier, not a good look for streaming giant Amazon who had secured the broadcast rights.
“I thought the atmosphere was Davis Cup like, to be honest,” said Djokovic.
“It was a lot of fans involved, every single point cheering, screaming. Just electric atmosphere out there.
“I’m happy that I had that experience of playing in front of the crowd in the night session.”


Dhani takes 4-5 to sink another Lahore run chase in Pakistan Super League

Updated 19 June 2021

Dhani takes 4-5 to sink another Lahore run chase in Pakistan Super League

  • Multan managed to put up a strong total of 169-8 despite fast bowler Shaheen Afridi’s brilliant performance for 3-23
  • Lahore’s four successive defeats have pushed the team in a tight corner in the race to the playoffs

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Multan Sultans fast bowler Shahnawaz Dhani grabbed 4-5 as Lahore Qalandars fumbled another run chase in losing by 80 runs in the Pakistan Super League on Friday.
The fourth successive defeat while chasing pushed last year’s finalist, Lahore, in a tight corner in the race to the playoffs.
Defending champion Karachi Kings could edge Lahore on better net run-rate if it beats bottom-placed Quetta Gladiators in its last league game on Saturday.
Despite fast bowler Shaheen Afridi’s brilliant performance for 3-23, Multan managed to put up a strong total of 169-8.
Lahore stumbled against Dhani’s pace to be bowled out for 89 in 15.1 overs, losing its last seven wickets for just 41 runs.
Sohaib Maqsood scored yet another brilliant 60 off 40 balls, but it was the little cameo by Twenty20 veteran Sohail Tanvir — 29 off 9 balls — that gave Multan’s total heft. Tanvir smacked Haris Rauf for three fours and two sixes in the last over.
In reply, Lahore lost its three key batsmen within the batting powerplay: Ben Dunk (5), Fakhar Zaman (13) and Mohammad Hafeez (14) all fell to pace.
When Imran Tahir had captain Sohail Akhtar (5) stumped in the 10th over, Dhani returned to take three more wickets and wrap up the innings quickly.
Islamabad United, which takes on Multan in its last league game on Saturday, and Peshawar Zalmi have already qualified for the playoffs. Peshawar is certain to finish among the top four as it has a better net run-rate than Lahore.

 

 


Kane struggles as England held 0-0 by Scotland at Euro 2020

Updated 19 June 2021

Kane struggles as England held 0-0 by Scotland at Euro 2020

LONDON: Not even with the Premier League’s top scorer could England find a way past Scotland.
Maybe Harry Kane was as much as the problem as the solution.
On his good days, Kane is one of the game’s ultimate goal threats for both Tottenham and England. But the sluggish striker never came close to scoring in the 0-0 draw between the two teams Friday at the European Championship.
The England captain barely even touched the ball, and yet coach Gareth Southgate persisted with him for 74 draining minutes at Wembley Stadium in his 60th game this season for his club and his country.
“It was a tough game,” Kane said. “Scotland defended really well, made great blocks at the right times when we did have chances.”
England defender John Stones had one of those chances when hit the post with a header in the 11th minute, and Mason Mount had another when his shot was deflected wide at the start of the second half.
Scotland’s best opportunity to get the winning goal came when forward Lyndon Dykes had a shot cleared off the line by defender Reece James in the 63rd.
“We have got to look at the whole performance, the use of the ball and review where we can be better,” Southgate said. “So it’s not just about one person. Scotland, I thought, marked him extremely well. With the back five there wasn’t a lot of space.”
There was a shot from Kane in the 59th, but it was tame and was blocked by the defense.
Kane looked as exhausted as England looked devoid of ideas against the dogged and well-marshalled Scots, who lost their Group D opener to the Czech Republic but still have a chance to advance to the round of 16.
“I thought we were unfairly criticized after the game on Monday,” Scotland coach Steve Clarke said. “We worked ever so hard when England had the ball but the great thing is we played when we had the ball and had some chances.”
The English will advance as group winners with a victory on Tuesday against the Czech Republic, which also has four points from two games. Scotland and Croatia, who also meet on Tuesday, have one point each.
The heatwave in London when England opened Euro 2020 by beating Croatia was replaced by a chilly downpour for the 115th meeting with Scotland — and a first 0-0 draw between the neighbors at Wembley.
What also changed from Sunday was the stadium speakers blaring out the Euro 2020 official song, “We Are the People,” to drown out the smattering of boos that again greeted players taking a knee in their anti-racism gesture before kickoff.
For the renewal of soccer’s oldest rivalry there was something of a throwback with Scotland playing two strikers: Dykes and Che Adams.
England’s only changes from the 1-0 win over Croatia were in defense with Kieran Trippier dropped and Kyle Walker not even making the bench. Southgate decided to bring back a specialist left back in Luke Shaw, with James on the right for the technical ability and to rotate the squad.
The back line allowed the opposition far more space, and Stephen O’Donnell found a way through to force a one-handed save from England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 30th minute.
“At times we kept the ball superbly well and frustrated them,” Scotland captain Andrew Robertson said, “and on another night we could have come away with more.”
The pandemic-restricted crowd of 22,000, most of them England fans, roared when Jack Grealish was shown on the big screens on the England bench. The clamor was for an injection of his creativity.
Grealish came on for Phil Foden in 63rd, but Scotland wouldn’t buckle. And by the time Southgate made his second and final change — despite being able to make five — Marcus Rashford lacked the time to make an impact as Kane’s replacement.
“We needed a few more runs behind,” Southgate said. “I felt Marcus would give us that energy and had to try to get the win at that point.”
The goal never came, with England managing only one shot on target. No wonder the fourth-ranked team was booed off by its own fans after being held by a team 40 places lower in the FIFA rankings.
“I totally understand their reaction,” Southgate said. “We are expected to beat Scotland. They will be frustrated by that.”


Sweden beat Slovakia 1-0, close in on last 16 at Euro 2020

Updated 19 June 2021

Sweden beat Slovakia 1-0, close in on last 16 at Euro 2020

  • Sweden have four points in Group E, and that could be enough to advance to the round of 16

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia: It always felt like a set piece would settle a tough-to-watch European Championship match between Sweden and Slovakia, and Emil Forsberg duly delivered.

The Sweden midfielder converted a 77th-minute penalty Friday to give his team a 1-0 victory at Saint Petersburg Stadium, putting the Swedes on the brink of the knockout stage.

Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka brought down substitute Robin Quaison as the striker ran in on goal from Alexander Isak’s deft flick. Dubravka dived the correct way on Forsberg’s penalty but couldn’t keep it out.

Sweden have four points in Group E, and that could be enough to advance to the round of 16. Slovakia has three points after opening with a 2-1 victory over Poland.

There was only one shot on target in the first half and the referee blew the whistle for halftime without any stoppage time.

Sweden, perhaps having sized up Slovakia’s limited threat, exerted more pressure in the second half and left back Ludwig Augustinsson’s header forced Dubravka to make a flying, one-handed save.

Isak, Sweden’s most dangerous attacker, grew into the game. After heading just over, he embarked on a mazy dribble to the left and then back inside before his powerful shot was turned away by Dubravka.

The goalkeeper spoiled his performance by coming off his line too slowly to challenge Quaison, who went down under the slightest contact.

Forsberg, quiet up to the that point, made no mistake with the best chance of the match.

 

Scoring becomes key as Spain and Poland clash

Spain and Poland will have a common challenge when they meet Saturday at the European Championship.

Spain created chance after chance against Sweden but was still held to a 0-0 draw in their opening match at Euro 2020. Poland lost to Slovakia 2-1 as Robert Lewandowski was held scoreless in yet another lackluster performance at a major soccer tournament.

The focus on Spain at La Cartuja Stadium will be on Álvaro Morata, the striker singled out by fans and Spanish media for his misses against Sweden. He had also been ineffective in Spain’s warm-up match against Portugal, which also ended in a scoreless draw.

Spain coach Luis Enrique said Friday he will keep Morata in the team despite all the criticism.

“I’ll tell Álvaro to keep being himself, to keep contributing with what he contributes in attack and with what he contributes in defense,” Luis Enrique said in Madrid. “Tomorrow (Saturday) we start with Morata and 10 more.”

Luis Enrique’s other choices in attack include Dani Olmo and Ferran Torres, who started alongside Morata against Sweden, and Gerard Moreno, Mikel Oyarzabal, Adama Traoré and Pablo Sarabia.

“We have some players with a lot of quality in attack,” Sarabia said. “It’s up to our coach to decide who will play. I’ve been working hard every day to earn minutes, whether it’s as a starter or coming off the bench. I’m staying very motivated and keeping the desire to help the team reach our common goal, which is to win on Saturday.”

Spain got some good news on Friday with the return of captain Sergio Busquets, who rejoined the squad after a period of isolation following a positive test result for the coronavirus.

Luis Enrique said Busquets showed no symptoms of the virus while in isolation and was able to practice at home. He said the veteran midfielder, the only player left from Spain’s World Cup-winning squad in 2010, is in condition to play on Saturday.

“He was away but it was as if he had been here,” Luis Enrique said. “You can tell that he is our captain.”

Poland’s path to victory will likely have to go through Lewandowski, who hasn’t fared well with his national team at major tournaments despite undisputed success throughout his career at club level. He is coming off a record-breaking season with Bayern Munich, but again failed to impress with Poland in the opener against Slovakia. He has only two goals in 12 matches with the national team at either a World Cup or a European Championship.

“We spoke about (the) game against Slovakia. Every player said what he should have done better. We don’t want to come back to this,” Poland defender Jan Bednarek said. “The matter is closed. We won’t have a game like that again. I am sure about that.”


Neymar scores again to edge closer to Pele’s Brazil record

Updated 19 June 2021

Neymar scores again to edge closer to Pele’s Brazil record

  • Neymar reached the 68 goals mark in 107 games, nine behind Pele, who scored 77 goals in 92 games

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil: Neymar scored his 68th goal for Brazil in the 4-0 victory over Peru on Thursday and with it surpassed former Real Madrid and Internazionale striker Ronaldo as Brazil’s second top goalscorer behind Pele.

Neymar reached the 68 goals mark in 107 games after scoring the second in the Copa America clash in Rio de Janeiro.

He is now just nine behind Pele, who scored 77 goals in 92 games.

“It’s obviously a great honor for me to be part of the Brazil team’s history,” a tearful Neymar said.

“To be completely honest, my dream was always to play for Brazil, to wear this shirt. I never imagined I would reach these numbers.”

Goal tallies by Brazilian players are a source of debate among statisticians, with some counting only competitive goals and others including friendlies and unofficial matches.

FASTFACT

Goal tallies by Brazilian players are a source of debate among statisticians, with some counting only competitive goals and others including friendlies and unofficial matches.

Even the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) has produced contradictory numbers but after Thursday’s game it said Neymar had surpassed Ronaldo once Ronaldo’s unofficial goals were included.

FIFA said on Twitter that Neymar’s goal put him joint 20th on the list of all-time international scorers but it did not give a tally or say who was above him.

Pele, though, gave his backing to a player who like him began his career at Santos.

“Today, he took another step towards my goalscoring record for the (national team),” Pele wrote on Instagram. “And I’m rooting for him to get there, with the same joy I’ve had since I saw him play for the first time.”

Whatever the specifics of the count, the fact is that Neymar is on a rich run of international form, scoring four in his last four games and seven in his last five.

His superb performances come in spite of his continuing problems off the pitch.

He was accused of rape in May 2019 but later absolved and last month Nike said it had ended its commercial partnership with the player after he refused to cooperate in an investigation into sexual assault allegations levelled against him by a Nike employee.

“For me it’s very emotional, I’ve gone through a lot of things these last two years, difficult and complicated things, and these numbers are nothing compared to the happiness that I get from representing my country and my family,” Neymar said.

“Today we’re going through an unusual time, a very difficult time for the whole world, not just here, and to be an example to anyone, to make anyone happy is a tremendous pleasure.”


Schick scores, Czechs draw 1-1 with Croatia at Euro 2020

Updated 18 June 2021

Schick scores, Czechs draw 1-1 with Croatia at Euro 2020

  • Both teams have chance to advance to the round of 16 from their final Group D matches on Tuesday
  • Schick was awarded the penalty after being elbowed in the face by Croatia defender Dejan Lovren

GLASGOW: With blood still dripping from his nose, Czech Republic forward Patrik Schick stepped up to the penalty spot and scored his tournament-leading third goal.
Ivan Perišić then made sure to keep Croatia alive at the European Championship.
The two sides ended up drawing 1-1 on Friday, giving both teams a chance to advance to the round of 16 from their final Group D matches on Tuesday.
Schick was awarded the penalty after being elbowed in the face by Croatia defender Dejan Lovren while both challenged for the ball in the air. The referee awarded the spot kick after a video review and gave a yellow card to Lovren. The Croatians argued that it was accidental contact.
Schick wasn’t bothered by the blood or the arguments, slamming the ball into the left corner in the 37th minute.
But he said the knock left him “quite shaken.”
“I thought I was hit by an elbow, but was not sure about it,” Schick said. “It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.”
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić, who had promised a much more attacking team after the loss to England, made a double substitution at the start of the second half.
It worked for a few moments anyway.
Andrej Kramarić won the ball in midfield and released Perišić, who skipped past right back Vladimír Coufal and volleyed past Czech Republic goalkeeper Tomáš Vaclík.
Coufal had stumbled, allowing Perišić a clear sight of goal.
“It’s a pity,” Coufal said. “I think that if I hadn’t slipped I would have blocked Perišić. I took the wrong boots for the second half.”
The Czech Republic now has four points in the group, while Croatia has one from its two matches after losing to England 1-0 on Sunday.
Croatia played better against the Czechs than they did against England, but the team still lacks the spark that took it to the 2018 World Cup final.
The Croats will next face Scotland on Tuesday at Hampden Park, needing a win. The Czechs will play England at Wembley Stadium.
“There is a bitter taste after this match, as we didn’t win,” Croatia captain Luka Modrić said. “We entered the match really disorganized, but then we looked better in the second half.
“We scored that goal and we could have scored even more, but unfortunately we didn’t win,” he said. “Now, we have to defeat Scotland to go through.”