De Bruyne and Hazard 50-50 to face Italy at Euro 2020

Supporters hold a banner showing Belgium’s Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne before Euro 2020 match against Portugal. Coach Roberto Martinez said there’s 50/50 chance De Bruyne and Hazard play Friday’s match against Italy. (AP)
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Updated 28 June 2021

De Bruyne and Hazard 50-50 to face Italy at Euro 2020

  • There had been concerns about the extent of the injuries after Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard had to be replaced against Portugal
  • “Eden and Kevin will remain with the squad,” said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez

SEVILLE: Medical tests for Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard ruled out any serious injuries on Monday, and Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said there is a 50/50 chance they will play in Friday’s European Championship quarterfinal match against Italy.
There had been concern about the extent of the injuries after both players had to be replaced in the second half of Belgium’s 1-0 victory over Portugal on Sunday in the round of 16.
“I can communicate that the initial information that we have from the medical department is quite positive for both,” Martinez said. “Eden and Kevin will remain with the squad.”
He said neither player sustained “structural damage” but cautioned there may not be enough time for them to recover in time to face Italy in Munich. He initially said it would be “very difficult to see them fully fit,” though their progress would be evaluated daily.
“We hope that over the next few days we will recover them pretty quickly,” Martinez said. “Now, the game is on Friday, so that could be probably too close.”
De Bruyne, who turned 30 on Monday, is nursing a bruised left ankle after being tackled from behind by Portugal midfielder João Palhinha early in the second half at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville.
Martinez said De Bruyne is “very strong mentally” and was in a “very good mind frame.”
“Obviously we were all a bit anxious before we got the news from this morning’s scan,” Martinez said. “Now he is relieved, he is very happy that he can be in the camp. We are all delighted that we can work with him.”
The Manchester City playmaker had to leave the Championship League final after a facial injury sustained in a collision with an opponent. He had missed Belgium’s first match at Euro 2020.
“I just hope he can be fully fit for the next game, because when Kevin De Bruyne is on the pitch, we are a stronger team,” Martinez said.
Hazard, who was marred by injuries with Real Madrid this season, was replaced late in the game against Portugal with a hamstring issue.
“After the images today we’ve seen that there was no structural damage,” Martinez said.
The coach said reserve goalkeeper Simon Mignolet will have to leave the squad because of a knee injury sustained during the warm-up before Sunday’s match. He will be replaced by Blackburn goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski.
Belgium is trying to win a major tournament for the first time. The team finished in third place at the 2018 World Cup.


Greece hands over Olympic flame to Beijing 2022 hosts

Updated 19 October 2021

Greece hands over Olympic flame to Beijing 2022 hosts

  • Around 2,900 athletes, representing approximately 85 National Olympic Committees, will compete in the Winter Games between 4 and 20 February 2022
  • The International Olympic Committee has said the flame will go on display to the public in Beijing before setting off on an exhibition tour

ATHENS: Greece on Tuesday handed over the Olympic flame to organizers of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, a day after the lighting ceremony was disrupted by activists calling for the event to be postponed.
Hellenic Olympic Committee chief Spyros Kapralos gave the Olympic torch to the vice president of Beijing 2022 and vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee Yu Zaiqing at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where the ancient Games were revived in 1896.
“The Olympic flame will travel to the Great Wall and across other parts of China, bringing with it the light of peace and friendship,” Yu said.
He said China vowed to deliver “a streamlined, safe and splendid Games.”
Around 2,900 athletes, representing approximately 85 National Olympic Committees, will compete in the Winter Games between 4 and 20 February 2022.
Actresses dressed as ancient Greek priestesses had earlier lit a cauldron with the Olympic flame, after China’s Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 freestyle ski silver medallist Li Nina ran a lap with the torch in the second-century AD stadium.
The ceremony was held without spectators, with mainly officials and media in attendance.
“The pandemic may have prevented us from holding the Olympic flame ceremony in the presence of people, but I am sure that the successful and safe organization of the Games will be another victory of humanity against the coronavirus,” Kapralos said.
“Beijing is making history by becoming the first city to host both Summer and Winter Olympic Games. And we are very happy, because by giving you the flame, we also become part of this history,” he added.
The International Olympic Committee has said the flame will go on display to the public in Beijing before setting off on an exhibition tour.
Earlier Tuesday, activists against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics urged the IOC to postpone the event, arguing that China was perpetrating “genocide” against Uyghurs and Tibetans.
“This is sports-washing. There are no legitimate reasons to host the Games during a genocide,” Zumretay Arkin, advocacy manager of the World Uyghur Congress, told a news conference in the Greek capital.
During the lighting ceremony in Olympia on Monday, the activists unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner that said “no genocide” at the Games. A similar protest was held at the Acropolis in Athens on Sunday.
Human rights campaigners and exiles say the Chinese central government practices religious repression, torture, forced sterilization and cultural erosion through forced re-education.
Campaigners believe that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.
After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centers aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.
The IOC is legitimising “one of the worst violations of human rights in the entire 21st century” and defiling the spirit of the Games, Pema Doma, campaigns director for Students for a Free Tibet, told the news conference in Athens.
“These Games cannot go ahead as planned, they must be postponed,” she said.
There have also been calls for athletes and governments to boycott the Games.
IOC chairman Thomas Bach has batted off talk of a potential boycott, claiming the International Olympic Committee’s political neutrality and saying it was up to governments to live up to their responsibilities.
A victim of the 1980 Moscow Games boycott, the former fencer has said such moves only punish athletes, and insists the IOC was addressing the rights issue “within our remit.”


We need to create ‘cricketing bond’ with India, keep politics separate — PCB chairman 

Updated 19 October 2021

We need to create ‘cricketing bond’ with India, keep politics separate — PCB chairman 

  • Ramiz Raja was talking to PCB Digital following his return from Dubai where he met officials from Board of Control for Cricket in India 
  • Says next Asian Cricket Council Asia Cup would be a 50-over competition held in Pakistan in September 2023

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ramiz Raja has said Pakistan needed to create a “cricketing bond” with India, adding that he had always believed that politics should remain separate from sports, the PCB website said.
Raja was speaking to PCB Digital following his return from Dubai, where he met officials from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), as well as held meetings on the Asian Cricket Council Asia Cup, a men’s One Day International and Twenty20 International cricket tournament whose next season will be held in Pakistan in 2023. 
“I met with BCCI President Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah on the sidelines of the ACC meetings,” Raja said on Monday. “We need to create a cricketing bond, while I have also believed that politics should stay away from sport as much as possible and this has always been our stance.
“A lot of work needs to be done to revitalize Pakistan-India cricket but there needs to be some comfortable level between the two boards and then we can see how far we can go. So overall, we had a good discussion.”
The PCB chairman said the 2023 ACC Cup in Pakistan would be a 50-over competition: ““The ACC has agreed and approved that the 2023 event in Pakistan will be a 50-over competition and will be held in September. This aligns very nicely with the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, which will be held in October and November.
“We are looking forward to hosting this tournament in Pakistan and I am confident it will be a well-organized event because this is what the fans want.”


Ireland thrashes Netherlands in T20 World Cup

Updated 19 October 2021

Ireland thrashes Netherlands in T20 World Cup

  • Fast bowler Curtis Campher takes four wickets in four balls
  • He is just the second player with a hat-trick in the men’s T20 World Cup

ABU DHABI: Fast bowler Curtis Campher took four wickets in four balls to help Ireland thrash Netherlands by seven wickets in a first round match of the Twenty20 World Cup on Monday.
Campher took a hat-trick and then struck again to return figures of 4-26 as Netherlands were dismissed for 106 in the Group A opener in Abu Dhabi.
In reply, Ireland lost two early wickets but veteran opener Paul Stirling, who made an unbeaten 30, and Gareth Delany, who scored 44, put on 59 runs for the third wicket to ease into their chase.
Ireland achieved their target with 4.5 overs to spare as Campher hit the winning runs for his team’s first win over the Netherlands in a World Cup.
“(We wanted) just to attack the stumps as much as possible and, obviously, with Curtis’ four-wicket over he did exactly that,” skipper Andy Balbirnie said after the win.
“We’ve had a slow but good build-up, I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
Campher became only the third bowler in T20 International history to claim four wickets in four balls after Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan and Lasith Malinga of Sri Lanka in 2019.
Campher sent back Colin Ackermann (11), Ryan ten Doeschate (0) and Scott Edwards (0) for a hat-trick and then bowled Roelof van der Merwe (0) in a sensational over.
The Johannesburg-born Campher is also just the second player with a hat-trick in the men’s T20 World Cup after Australia fast bowler Brett Lee, who achieved the feat against Bangladesh in the inaugural edition in 2007.
Campher, 22, had a T20 best of 3-19 from his previous four matches since making his debut in August against Zimbabwe in Dublin.
He switched ends in the match on Monday and got instant success after Ireland reviewed a caught behind for Ackermann with the ultra edge technology showing a spike when the ball passed the batsman’s gloves.
Technology helped Campher once again on the hat-trick ball when Edwards was given not out for an lbw call by the on-field official but replays suggested the ball would have hit the leg stump.
Earlier this season, Campher underwent ankle surgery.
“I didn’t feel the best, coming back from injury,” he said.
“First over didn’t go as planned but Bal (Balbirnie) kept faith with me.”
Skipper Pieter Seelaar scored 21 to take Netherlands past the 100-run mark before quick bowler Mark Adair ran through the tail to return impressive figures of 3-9 — Ireland’s most economical bowling ever in T20 World Cup.
Sri Lanka, the 2014 champions, face Namibia later Monday in the second fixture in Group A.


English Premier League block on club sponsor deals linked to owners

Updated 19 October 2021

English Premier League block on club sponsor deals linked to owners

  • Newcastle was joined by Manchester City in resisting the move, which passed with 18 votes in favor

English Premier League clubs moved on Monday to prevent Newcastle immediately striking lucrative sponsorship deals with companies linked to its new Saudi ownership.
Clubs held an emergency meeting to impose a freeze on any of them agreeing to commercial arrangements with businesses their owners are associated with, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm details of a report published by The Guardian late Monday.
Newcastle was joined by Manchester City in resisting the move to prohibit clubs agreeing to related-party transactions, the person said.
But it passed with 18 votes in favor as Newcastle opposed and City abstained after it questioned the legality of the ban, another person said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a private meeting.
Since being bought by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour in 2008, City has amassed sponsorships from companies linked to the emirate with Etihad Airways having the naming rights to the stadium and appearing on team jerseys. City has insisted they are paying fair market value rather than inflated fees for sponsorship to provide revenue to allow the club to comply with financial regulations.
Premier League rivals are worried Newcastle will use friendly sponsorship deals with related parties to help it comply with financial fair play rules that are in place to prevent rich clubs from spending unchecked. Under league rules, clubs are allowed to make losses of 105 million pounds ($144 million) over a rolling three-year period.

 

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Real Madrid star Benzema goes on trial in sextape case

Updated 18 October 2021

Real Madrid star Benzema goes on trial in sextape case

  • Benzema, 33, stands accused of helping a group of alleged blackmailers to approach Valbuena in an attempt to extort money
  • The case centres on the role that Benzema is suspected of playing in the murky affair six years ago

VERSAILLES, France: Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema goes on trial in France on Wednesday accused of complicity in the attempted blackmail of former international teammate Mathieu Valbuena in a case known as the “sextape affair.”
Benzema, 33, stands accused of helping a group of alleged blackmailers to approach Valbuena in an attempt to extort money. Four other men are also on trial.
The case cost both Benzema and 37-year-old Valbuena their place in the French national team, although Benzema was restored to the lineup for this year’s European championship.
The case centers on the role that Benzema is suspected of playing in the murky affair six years ago, which started when Valbuena handed his smartphone to Axel Angot, a man connected to footballing circles in the southern port city of Marseille, with the request to transfer its contents to a new device.
Angot, now on trial for breach of trust, came across sexually explicit footage on the phone involving Valbuena.
Prosecutors say he then explored ways — together with a friend, Mustapha Zouaoui — to approach Valbuena and threaten publication of the footage unless he paid them.
Valbuena received several calls in June 2015 threatening exposure of the footage, which he reported to police.
The blackmailers then went to former French international Djibril Cisse, who refused to act as their messenger, instead warning Valbuena of what was brewing.
Cisse, who played for Premier League club Liverpool during his career, was initially charged in the case, but later cleared.
What followed is an imbroglio involving several shadowy middlemen, one of whom turned out to be an undercover agent called “Luka” placed by police who were trying to get proof before taking action against the protagonists.
Eventually the presumed blackmailers went to one of Benzema’s old friends, Karim Zenati, who prosecutors say enlisted Benzema’s help to reach Valbuena.
On Oct 6, 2015, Benzema went to see Valbuena in his room at the French national team’s training center at Clairefontaine, west of Paris.
He told his teammate that he could introduce him to a “trustworthy person” to help him “manage” the possible publication of a compromising video.
In what Benzema later claimed was an attempt to help his teammate out of a difficult situation, he told him: “Be careful ‘Math’, these are very, very heavy criminals.”
Benzema then called his childhood friend Karim Zenati, who was by then acting as an intermediary for the alleged blackmailers and told him in a conversation wiretapped by police: “He’s not taking us seriously.”
Prosecutors say that the word “us” proves that Benzema saw himself as part of the blackmail scheme.
Valbuena said later that the conversation left him with the feeling that he was “being played for a fool.”
“If he doesn’t want us to handle this for him, he’ll have to deal with the piranhas,” Zenati said, claiming later that all he wanted to do was alert Valbuena to the existence of the video.
Benzema replied that “they will piss on him,” and in a subsequent conversation referred to Valbuena with a derogatory term for a homosexual, which he said later was meant “in a friendly way.”
The maximum sentence for complicity in attempted blackmail is five years in prison and a fine of 70,000 euros ($81,000).
Benzema has argued that the undercover police officer used dishonest methods to draw him into the affair.
It was unclear on Monday whether the striker, who is scheduled to play for Real Madrid against Shakhtar Donetsk in a Champions League match in Ukraine on Tuesday, will attend the trial. His lawyers did not respond to AFP’s requests for clarification.
Valbuena, who now plays for Greek club Olympiakos, will be present, his lawyer said.
The sextape case caused Benzema to be exiled from France’s national football team for years — a decision he called ‘racist’ — but the striker returned to “Les Bleus” this year in time for the European championship.
France coach Didier Deschamps said this month that “he’s no longer the same person, he’s matured.”
Benzema has scored a total of 243 goals for Real and remains a key part of their side.