Szczesny’s own-goal continues his run of bad luck at Euros

Poland's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny concedes a goal scored by Slovakia's defender Milan Skriniar during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group E match at Saint Petersburg Stadium. (AFP)
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Updated 14 June 2021

Szczesny’s own-goal continues his run of bad luck at Euros

  • Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny sent off in 2012, injured in 2016, now an own-goal at Euro 2020
  • He was also left helpless for Slovakia's winner by Milan Skriniar

ST. PETERSBURG: Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny doesn’t have much luck in his opening game at European Championships.
Sent off in 2012. Injured in 2016. Now an own-goal at Euro 2020.
The Juventus player became the first goalkeeper to score an own-goal at the tournament in Poland’s 2-1 loss to Slovakia on Monday.
Not that he could do much about it.
Szczesny had already committed himself to a dive in an attempt to save a shot from Slovakia winger Robert Mak in the 18th minute when the ball rebounded off his near post, onto his outstretched arm as he lay on the ground, and back into the net.
He was also left helpless for Slovakia’s winner by Milan Skriniar, barely moving as the center back hit a fierce, low shot into the corner in the 69th minute.
Szczesny has established himself as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in Europe, his reputation having soared since joining Juventus from Arsenal in 2017. Poland has long been well-stocked with keepers, with Lukasz Fabianski also a solid option, but Szczesny is the regular No. 1.
Major tournaments are not his friend, though.
In 2012, he was shown a red card in the opening game of a European Championship co-hosted by Poland, punished for a professional foul on Greece player Dimitris Salpingidis in the second half.
In 2016, and again in Poland’s opening match, Szczesny damaged a thigh muscle against Northern Ireland and wound up missing the rest of the tournament.
The pain isn’t just restricted to the European Championship.
In Poland’s opening match of the 2018 World Cup, Szczesny gifted M’Baye Niang a goal for Senegal, which went on to win 2-1.


Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US

Updated 32 min 6 sec ago

Mind the gap: The basketball world is catching up to the US

  • The gap between USA Basketball and the rest of the world has tightened
  • Americans are the only team in Tokyo with 12 NBA players

SAITAMA, Japan: When the Dream Team era started in 1992, most of the NBA players in the Olympics represented the United States.
David Stern knew what would happen from there.
“In time,” the former NBA commissioner predicted in 1995, “that will change.”
Stern was right. The number of international players in the NBA has steadily risen since — and the gap between USA Basketball and the rest of the world has tightened as well. There will be more players in this tournament with NBA experience than ever before, with nearly 70 players in the Tokyo Olympics either current or former players in the league. More than four dozen of them played in the league this past season.
And only 12 of that group are in Japan to compete with “USA” across their chests.
That’s why, when this men’s Olympic tournament opens Sunday, the medal possibilities may be as wide open as they have been since that first team of NBA stars took the court in Barcelona. That group — which featured 11 future Hall of Famers on a 12-man roster — showed the rest of the world how much they had to do to catch the red, white and blue.
“The gap is smaller and smaller every year as far as talent is concerned,” US coach Gregg Popovich said.
The US is seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal and is the big favorite to do just that according to FanDuel, The Americans are the only team in Tokyo with 12 NBA players. But like Popovich said and Stern anticipated years ago, the talent gap has drastically dwindled.
Nigeria, which beat the Americans in an exhibition, has eight NBA players. Australia, which also defeated the US in a warm-up game, has seven. So does France, the first US opponent in this tournament on Sunday and the nation that knocked the Americans out of contention at the Basketball World Cup two years ago. That setback sent the team spiraling to a seventh-place finish, the worst showing in any tournament ever for an American roster composed of NBA players.
“I think every team wants to beat us,” US forward Kevin Durant said. “Everybody wants to see us lose, so every game has a little bit more pressure to it.”
There’s only one current All-NBA first team player in these Olympics. He doesn’t play for the US.
Slovenia’s Luka Doncic garnered more first-team votes in the All-NBA voting this season, 55, than the entire US Olympic roster got combined. This is Slovenia’s first time in the Olympics, but with Doncic leading the way, medal talk doesn’t seem misguided.
“Slovenians, we know how to fight, man,” Doncic said. “We’re not going to go down easy.”
Doncic willed Slovenia to a win in the Olympic qualifying tournament that ended on July 4 and gave the tiny nation a spot in the Tokyo field. And what he’s done in his NBA tenure with Dallas has only shown the world that the buzz he arrived with was more than appropriate.
“He’s a spectacular player, as we all know,” Popovich said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. And I emphasize, in the world. He showed himself early on in Europe, and he was a fast study in the NBA for sure. He’s fun to watch. His skills, his competitiveness, his size, his innate basketball IQ is so impressive. You put four hardworking people around him and you’ve got a hell of a team.”
There are 12 teams in the field; four will have to wait until Monday for their Olympic openers. Sunday’s schedule has Iran vs. the Czech Republic, Germany vs. Italy, Australia vs. Nigeria and then the US vs. France. The Monday men’s openers are Argentina vs. Slovenia and host Japan vs. reigning World Cup champion Spain.
The Miami Heat have four players at the Olympics, but only one plays for the US. The Heat have three players on Nigeria’s roster (KZ Okpala, Precious Achiuwa and Gabe Vincent Nnamdi), with Bam Adebayo playing for the US.
The only men’s team in the Olympic field without a current NBA player is Iran. That roster does, however, have a former NBA player — Hamed Haddadi, who appeared in 151 games over parts of five NBA seasons for Memphis and Phoenix. He last appeared in the NBA in 2013.
The women’s game is going on the same trajectory as the men’s when it comes to having more international players with WNBA experience in these Olympics than in any previous games. The US has 12 WNBA players on its roster, while Australia has nine current or former WNBA players and Canada has eight.
Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulić, on what Doncic does for a team: “Everything looks way easier and he’s making other players good. Also, me, myself.”


Five athletes overcome obstacles to represent Yemen at Tokyo 2020

Updated 24 July 2021

Five athletes overcome obstacles to represent Yemen at Tokyo 2020

  • Despite the turmoil in the country, the delegation will represent Yemen in its 10th Olympic Games

DUBAI: Five athletes will represent Yemen at Tokyo 2020 despite the country’s continuing war and political and economic turmoil.
The country’s 12-strong delegation at the opening ceremony in the Japanese capital included the athletes and their coaches, and was headed by the Yemeni ambassador to Germany, Yahya Al-Shuaibi, who is also a vice president of the Yemen National Olympic Committee (NOC).
The five athletes are Yasmine Al-Rimi in the Women’s Shooting, Ahmad Salem in the Men’s Judo, swimmers Mukhtar Ali Al-Yamani in the Men’s 100 and 200 meters freestyle and Noran Bamatraf in the Women’s 100 meters freestyle, and athlete Ahmed Al-Yari in the men’s 400 meters.
The is the 10th time that Yemen has participated at the Olympics since its NOC was established in 1974 and recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 1981.

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Court details Ryan Giggs’ alleged pattern of domestic abuse

Updated 23 July 2021

Court details Ryan Giggs’ alleged pattern of domestic abuse

  • Giggs appeared in Manchester Crown Court and pleaded innocent to charges of controlling and coercive behavior toward his ex-girlfriend
  • He allegedly kicked his former girlfriend in the back and threw her naked out of their room

MANCHESTER: Former Manchester United player Ryan Giggs allegedly kicked a former girlfriend and threw her naked out of their hotel room as part of a pattern of abusive behavior, it was claimed in court on Friday.
The 47-year-old Giggs appeared in Manchester Crown Court and pleaded not guilty to a charge of controlling and coercive behavior toward his former girlfriend from August 2017 to November 2020.
Giggs also pleaded not guilty to two assault charges related to an incident at his Manchester-area home on Nov. 1 last year, when he allegedly caused actual bodily harm to his former girlfriend and allegedly physically assaulted the woman’s sister.
Details of Giggs’ alleged controlling and coercive behavior were read out by the court clerk.
At the Stafford Hotel in London, Giggs allegedly kicked his former girlfriend in the back, threw her naked out of their room and threw her bag at her after she accused him of flirting with other women.
Giggs allegedly threatened to send emails to the woman’s friends and employers about their sexual relationship.
After she tried to end their relationship, Giggs allegedly would turn up unannounced and uninvited at her home, workplace and gym. He also allegedly sent unwanted messages and made unwanted calls to her and her friends.
Giggs had previously denied all allegations and said he would “look forward to clearing my name.”
His bail conditions were extended and he must not contact the two women or go to any address where they are.
A pre-trial hearing was scheduled for Oct. 8 and a trial date is set for Jan. 24.
Giggs is on leave as coach of Wales, for which he made 64 appearances as a player.
He played a record 963 times for Manchester United before retiring in 2014. He’s also a co-owner of fourth-division Salford.


Son extends contract at Tottenham, calls it ‘easy’ decision

Updated 23 July 2021

Son extends contract at Tottenham, calls it ‘easy’ decision

  • Son Heung-min signed a four-year contract extension to keep him at the Premier League club through June 2025
  • Son, 29, has compiled 107 goals and 64 assists in 280 appearances in all competitions

LONDON: At least one star forward wants to stay at Tottenham.
Son Heung-min signed a four-year contract extension Friday to keep him at the Premier League club through June 2025.
Harry Kane’s future is another question. He’s under contract with the north London team until 2024 but has indicated he wants a change of scenery.
Not so for South Korea captain Son.
“It was already a big honor to play here for six years,” he said in a team statement. “The club have showed me massive, massive respect and obviously I’m very happy to be here.”
The 29-year-old Son has compiled 107 goals and 64 assists in 280 appearances in all competitions since joining Tottenham from Bayer Leverkusen in August 2015.
“It’s like home, especially with the fans, the players, the staff,” Son said. “There was no decision. It was easy. I’m so happy to be here and will be so glad to see the fans again soon.”
No financial details were given.
Tottenham tweeted: “He’s here to stay.”
“Everyone can see the real positive impact he has on the club, both on and off the field, and we are delighted that he will play a part in what we are trying to achieve in the coming years,” football managing director Fabio Paratici said.
With Son’s future seemingly set, new manager Nuno Espirito Santo can now turn his attention to Kane. Last week, Nuno affirmed that he expects Kane to return.
After Tottenham’s seventh-place finish in the Premier League left it out of the Champions League, Kane indicated he wants out. The England and Tottenham captain was frustrated with the direction of the team and lack of trophies.
Son told club media that he’s ready to shoulder the responsibility of winning trophies.
“I want to win something with Tottenham,” he said. “This is my aim and this is also the fans’ aim. This is a massive club — big opportunity. I want to be part of this, I want to take a big responsibility of this. That’s what I signed for.”
Kane and Son in 2020-21 set the single-season Premier League record for combining on goals. The pair assisted one another on 14 goals, one better than Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton from the 1994-95 season with Blackburn.
Son has scored 27 goals in 93 appearances for South Korea, including a total of three goals at two World Cups.
Tottenham hosts Premier League champion Manchester City for its season opener on Aug. 15. The only European involvement for Tottenham this season will be in the less lucrative and new third-tier Europa Conference League.


Troubled Tokyo Olympics set to open under Covid cloud

An Australia women's field hockey player walks beneath a sprinkler during a training session ahead of the the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 23, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Updated 23 July 2021

Troubled Tokyo Olympics set to open under Covid cloud

  • Fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials will be present at the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium 
  • Opening ceremony is at 8 p.m. local time (1100 GMT)

TOKYO: The most troubled Olympics in modern history finally get under way in Tokyo on Friday, struggling to emerge from the clutches of Covid-19 after a one-year postponement following a build-up marred by scandal and controversy.
Eight years after gold ticker tape rained down as Tokyo celebrated winning the right to stage the Games, Friday’s opening ceremony will take place with the Japanese capital in a state of emergency.
Fears that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could trigger a colossal super-spreader event have prompted organizers to clamp the Games in a biosecure straitjacket.
Pandemic restrictions mean that for the first time in Olympic history, no domestic or overseas spectators will be allowed to attend the Games.
Athletes, support staff and media are subject to strict Covid-19 protocols, including regular testing and daily health checks.
Sightseeing trips are forbidden, meaning that for the most part, athletes will be prevented from straying outside their accommodation or competition venues.
Public opinion has consistently found a majority of Japanese are against the games, with opinion ranging from weary indifference to outright hostility.
The most recent poll from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found 55 percent of respondents were against holding them this summer.
“I’m losing interest altogether. I feel like I can’t really whole-heartedly welcome the Olympics and I just don’t really feel any joy in it,” Tokyo resident Seira Onuma told AFP.
“I’m even not sure if I will watch the Games on TV.”

Friday’s opening ceremony — traditionally a highlight of any Summer Games with the parade of nations and lighting of the Olympic flame before several thousand athletes — will be drastically pared back.
Fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials will be present at the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium for the traditional extravaganza, which gets under way at 8pm local time (1100 GMT).
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito will be chief among the VIPs, along with a smattering of world leaders and senior figures including US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, who country will host the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
But in a sign of the antipathy toward the Olympics, several top sponsors including Toyota, Panasonic, Fujitsu and NEC will not be sending executives to the ceremony.
“It is turning into an Olympics that cannot get understanding (from the public) in various ways,” Toyota’s operating officer Jun Nagata said.
Japan’s emperor meanwhile acknowledged the difficulties of laying on the Games in a pandemic, describing it as a “far from easy task” in remarks to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
Naruhito’s remarks came as Tokyo registered a further 1,979 infections on Thursday, the highest figure since a winter surge of the disease.
IOC chief Bach, who for months has batted away calls to postpone or cancel the Games, insists the Olympics can be held safely.
“Over the past 15 months we had to take many decisions on very uncertain grounds,” Bach said this week. “We had doubts every day. There were sleepless nights.
“We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel. Cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes... we did it for the athletes.”


There are also hefty financial incentives in play. Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been canceled.
Olympic organizers meanwhile will be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief as attention finally shifts to sporting action after a turbulent road to the Games.
The build-up has been dogged by scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.
The controversies rumbled up to the eve of the Games, when on Thursday the opening ceremony’s director was sacked for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a 1998 video.
Back in the sporting arenas, the Games could see a new generation of Olympic stars emerge after a decade dominated by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.
In the swimming competition, which gets under way on Saturday, Caeleb Dressel could target seven gold medals.
In track and field, the likes of Norway’s 400 meters hurdler Karsten Warholm and the USA’s Sydney McLaughlin will be among those hoping to emerge as household names.
Both Warholm and McLaughlin have set world records in the 400m hurdles this year.
Gymnastics meanwhile will see Simone Biles attempt to crown her dazzling career by equalling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.
The 24-year-old American gymnast is one of the few returning superstars from the Rio Olympics.
New Olympic sports will also be on display in Tokyo, with surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate all making their bow.