‘Career highlight’ for captain Bale as Wales mount Euro return

Wales midfielder Gareth Bale, center, and teammates during a training session in Baku on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2021

‘Career highlight’ for captain Bale as Wales mount Euro return

  • Wales start campaign against Switzerland in Baku

BAKU: Wales and Gareth Bale head into their second straight European Championship with aspirations kept in check after their surprising run to the semifinals in 2016.

Five years later Bale will captain his country having taken over from the emblematic Ashley Williams who wore the armband five years ago in the run to the last four and defeat to eventual winners Portugal.

Wales start their campaign against Switzerland on Saturday in Baku.

“It’s going to be a massive honor to lead your country out in a major tournament. It’s going to be one of the highlights of my career,” Bale, a four-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, said.

“I’m looking forward and I’m excited. The team talk will come naturally to me in the huddle tomorrow,” he said.

Switzerland have a more consistent past in reaching finals but have failed to get further than the last 16 in their previous three tournaments — the 2014 and 2018 World Cups and Euro 2016.

“We have high expectations from ourselves and also from our public,” captain Granit Xhaka said.

“We proved we can make it, this time we don’t want to talk, we want to do it, and achieve it,” he added.

The pair will compete with Italy and Turkey for a place in the last 16, in just their third appearance at a major tournament.

“We know the qualities of Italy, being such a big nation with such a history. Switzerland are a top 10 ranking team in the world,” Bale said.

“Turkey have proven over the last 12 months because they’ve beaten some big teams as well.

“It’s difficult to say who the favorite is. I don’t think one stands out,” he added.

Recently Bale has found it difficult scoring for his country, who are 17th in the FIFA rankings, and is without an international goal since October 2019.

Despite his barren run of 11 matches in the red shirt he finished the club season with six goals in as many Premier League games while on loan at Tottenham from Real Madrid.

“I feel good, very sharp, I feel ready to go,” he said.

“I scored quite a few goals in the last three to four months of the season and I felt the performances were getting better and better each time.

“I’ve timed my fitness to perfection hopefully and I can continue that in the tournament,” he added.

This weekend, Xhaka will face former Arsenal teammate Aaron Ramsey, who left the Emirates Stadium for Juventus in 2019.

“I don’t see too much danger on Saturday. If we focus and play as we want then there’s no danger,” Xhaka said.

“We have huge respect for Wales. A lot of their players play abroad, in the Premier League, who I have played alongside like Aaron Ramsey, who is a very skillful player,” he added.


England Cricket Board says withdrawing men and women’s teams from series in Pakistan

Updated 20 September 2021

England Cricket Board says withdrawing men and women’s teams from series in Pakistan

  • News comes just days after New Zealand Cricket abandoned series with Pakistan over “security alert”
  • PCB chairman Ramiz Raja says “disappointed” with England for pulling out of its commitment

ISLAMABAD: The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said on Monday it had “reluctantly” decided to withdraw its men’s and women’s teams from coming to Pakistan for games in October, as the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) expressed dismay over England “failing” a member of the cricket fraternity.
The news comes just days after New Zealand Cricket said it was abandoning its series with Pakistan “following a New Zealand government security alert.”
“The ECB has a longstanding commitment to tour Pakistan as part of the Men’s Future Tours Programme in 2022,” the Board said in a statement. “Earlier this year, we agreed to play two additional T20 World Cup warm-up games in Pakistan in October, adding a short women’s tour with double headers alongside the men’s games.
“The ECB Board convened this weekend to discuss these extra England Women’s and Men’s games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip.”

 

 

The Board said the Men’s T20 squad had already coped with a long period of operating in restricted coronavirus environments.
“We know there are increasing concerns about traveling to the region ... We believe that touring under these conditions will not be ideal preparation for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, where performing well remains a top priority for 2021.”
PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said he was disappointed by England’s decision.
“Disappointed with England, pulling out of their commitment,” he said on Twitter, adding: “Survive we will inshallah. A wake up call for Pak team to become the best team in the world for teams to line up to play them without making excuses.”

 

British high commissioner to Pakistan, Christian Turner, wrote on Twitter he was sad about the cancelled tour but "still looking forward to the full England tour in autumn 2022."

 


FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar

Updated 20 September 2021

FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar

  • World football's governing body wants to launch a "new consultation phase" for the international women's and men's calendar
  • UEFA president is fiercely opposed to the proposal and threatened that European nations would boycott a biennial World Cup

PARIS: FIFA has invited football’s national federations to an online summit on September 30 to discuss the international calendar, in its push to hold the World Cup every two years instead of four.
World football’s governing body wants to launch a “new consultation phase” for the international women’s and men’s calendar, set to expire at the end of 2023 and 2024 respectively.
“There is a broad consensus within the game that the international match calendar should be reformed and improved,” FIFA said in a statement Monday.
“Following invitations to stakeholders, including all confederations, at the beginning of September, discussions are being organized in the coming weeks.
“FIFA also invited its member associations to a first online summit on 30 September 2021. This is one of several opportunities to establish a constructive and open debate, at a global and regional level, over the coming months.”
The proposal for a biennial World Cup was revived in March by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now head of global football development at FIFA.
The idea would be to have an international tournament each year from 2025-2026, alternating World Cups and continental tournaments like the European Championship and Copa America.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is fiercely opposed to the proposal and threatened that European nations would boycott a biennial World Cup.
South American confederation CONMEBOL said the project had “no sporting justification.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has promised decisions on staging a World Cup every two years would be made by the end of the year.
Last week FIFA published an online poll that claimed a majority of football fans support the idea of a “more frequent” World Cup.
The results of the survey came in stark contrast to the opposition of numerous national supporters groups worldwide.
Global players’ union FIFPro has denounced “the absence of a real dialogue” on the subject, pointing out the “natural physiological limits” of footballers.
“Without the agreement of the players, who bring all competitions to life on the pitch, no such reforms will have the required legitimacy,” said FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann.


Messi looks angry at being replaced; Icardi gets late winner

Updated 20 September 2021

Messi looks angry at being replaced; Icardi gets late winner

  • Messi stared sharply at PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and appeared to snub a handshake as he came off
  • As he was coming off, Messi made a gesture with his hands apart as if to say he didn't understand

PARIS: Lionel Messi hit the crossbar with a curling free kick and looked angry at being taken off in the 75th minute in his home debut Sunday for Paris Saint-Germain.
Substitute Mauro Icardi scored deep into stoppage time as PSG scraped a 2-1 win over Lyon in the French league to make it six straight victories.
Messi stared sharply at PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and appeared to snub a handshake as he came off. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner, who is still chasing his first PSG goal in his third appearance following his shock move from Barcelona, sat glum-faced on the bench.
As he was coming off, Messi made a gesture with his hands apart as if to say he didn’t understand, and Pochettino attempted an explanation afterward.
“Everyone knows we have great players in the squad, we have 35 players. But we must make decisions for the good of the team. Sometimes they lead to a positive result and sometimes not,” Pochettino said through a translator. “These are decisions we need to take. Sometimes it pleases people, or it doesn’t. I asked him how he was, and he said he was fine.”
On the field, Icardi found space to head in Kylian Mbappe’s precise cross from the left in the 93rd.
PSG fell behind in the 53rd when Brazil midfielder Lucas Paqueta finished neatly, after forward Karl Toko Ekambi picked him out with a low cross to the front post.
Neymar equalized from the penalty spot in the 66th after he was fouled by 18-year-old right back Malo Gusto.
Lyon coach Peter Bosz was unhappy with the call.
“It’s not Malo who fouls Neymar, it’s Neymar who puts his hand on him and fouls him,” Bosz said. “I can understand if the referee didn’t see it, but then there is VAR.”
Lyon’s long-serving president, Jean-Michel Aulas, went even further by calling the decision “an aberration” and saying the referee should have used video review.
Messi almost scored in the 32nd.
He found Neymar down the left and sprinted to meet Neymar’s clever reverse pass, but goalkeeper Anthony Lopes read Messi’s low shot well and denied him with his legs.
Four minutes later, Lopes was stuck to the spot as Messi hit the crossbar with a free kick from 25 meters.
Messi, whose last Champions League goal for Barca was away to PSG in last season’s round of 16 return leg, also hit the bar in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Club Brugge.
PSG is five points ahead of bitter rival Marseille, having played one game more.
Marseille earlier beat Rennes 2-0 to move into second place with striker Bamba Dieng getting his third goal in two games.
After Dieng turned in a cross from midfielder Pol Lirola in the 48th, substitute Amine Harit scored in the 70th after cutting in from the left flank.
Also, Amine Gouiri missed a late penalty as fifth-placed Nice was held to a 2-2 draw by visiting Monaco in a thrilling French Riviera derby.
Gouiri had the chance to make it 3-2 from the spot in the 82nd following a hand ball by defender Benoit Badiashile. But he missed the target.
Monaco striker Wissam Ben Yedder’s penalty five minutes earlier made it 2-2, moments after Gouiri and Andy Delort set up midfielder Hicham Boudaoui.
After Nice forward Kasper Dolberg limped off with a knee injury, midfielder Aleksandr Golovin put Monaco ahead in the 39th from a right-wing cross by Gelson Martins.
Delort, who replaced Dolberg, equalized in the 50th as he headed in Gouiri’s cross. Gouiri has four goals and two assists in six games.
Struggling Monaco is in 14th spot.


New Zealand says hoping to ‘work through’ concerns to ensure playing Pakistan cricket series

Updated 20 September 2021

New Zealand says hoping to ‘work through’ concerns to ensure playing Pakistan cricket series

  • New Zealand Cricket said on Friday it was abandoning series with Pakistan following a government “security alert”
  • Pakistan’s cricket board has said New Zealand had set “dangerous precedent,” would cost Pakistan millions of dollars

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand Cricket (NZC) Chief Executive David White said on Monday he hoped Pakistan and New Zealand would be able to “work through” concerns in the coming days that had led the Black Caps to abandon their tour of Pakistan last week and ensure that they could play the tournament again.
New Zealand Cricket said on Friday it was abandoning its series with Pakistan “following a New Zealand government security alert.”
The series was to comprise three ODIs and five Twenty20s starting with a first ODI at Rawalpindi on Friday. Pindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi was to also host the other two ODIs on September 19 and 21 while Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium was to host all five T20s.
“We’ve got a very close working relationship with Pakistan Cricket,” White was quoted as saying by New Zealand sports website Stuff. “We’d like to think that over the next few days, weeks and months that we’ll work through this to ensure that we play the content that we’ve missed out on and we continue our close working relationship.”
He added: “As we know they’re [Pakistan] a very passionate cricketing nation and they’re obviously disappointed. We understand their disappointment.”
A day earlier, Stuff reported that a Black Cap had received a death threat prior to departing on the cricket team’s tour to Pakistan but security officials had determined it was a hoax.
The player, who Stuff did not name, was one of the 34-strong New Zealand group that fled Pakistan on a charter flight to Dubai on Saturday night. 
Meanwhile, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief executive Wasim Khan said on Sunday New Zealand’s abrupt pullout from the Pakistan series had set a “dangerous precedent” that would cost the host side millions of dollars.
“This is going to cost us millions of dollars. This has severely affected us from the cricket credibility perspective and has set us back,” he said. “I think it sets a very dangerous precedent, when countries are unilaterally making decisions that potentially can have long-term consequences for countries.”


Gaikwad stars as Chennai wins opener of revived IPL

Updated 20 September 2021

Gaikwad stars as Chennai wins opener of revived IPL

  • The 14th edition of the COVID-19 hit Twenty20 tournament resumed in the United Arab Emirates with limited spectators back in the stands in Dubai

DUBAI: India’s Ruturaj Gaikwad smashed an unbeaten 88 as Chennai Super Kings beat holders Mumbai Indians by 20 runs in the first match of the revived Indian Premier League on Sunday.
The 14th edition of the COVID-19 hit Twenty20 tournament resumed in the United Arab Emirates with limited spectators back in the stands in Dubai.
The tournament was halted in May because of a devastating surge in pandemic deaths in India, prompting foreign players to rush home.
Many have not come back including England’s Ben Stokes and Pat Cummins of Australia to take some sheen out of the world’s most popular T20 league.
The event restarted with Gaikwad, an opening batsman, lifting the team from a precarious 24-4 to 156-6 with key partnerships which took the attack to the opposition bowlers.
Pace bowler Dwayne Bravo then returned figures of 3-25 from his four overs as Chennai bowlers kept down five-time champions Mumbai to 136-8.
“I felt Rutu and Bravo got us more than what we expected,” said skipper M.S. Dhoni. “We thought of 140, to get close to 160 was tremendous.”
Bravo, who also hit a useful eight-ball 23 batting at number eight, was ably supported by pace spearhead Deepak Chahar who took two key wickets including Quinton de Kock for 17.
Gaikwad though remained the hero as he hit nine fours and four sixes in his 58-ball knock after the Kieron Pollard-led side were invited to bat by Dhoni.
Five-time champions Mumbai were without regular skipper Rohit Sharma but began with a flourish as pace bowlers Trent Boult and Adam Mile rattled the Chennai top-order.
The pace duo took two wickets each and a quick delivery from Boult hit Ambati Rayudu on the forearm with the batsman retired hurt on nought.
Dhoni said Rayudu “was smiling, so he hasn’t broken his arm.”
Jasprit Bumrah also took two wickets in his 100th IPL appearance.
Gaikwad hit back with a 81-run stand with Ravindra Jadeja, who made 26, to take the team to what turned out to be a winning total.
The win took Chennai to top of the eight-team table with Delhi Capitals second, Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore third and Mumbai fourth.
Bangalore will take on Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi on Monday.