England and Italy countdown to Euro 2020 final

England’s Harry Kane celebrates scoring their second goal during the Euro 2020 semifinal match against Denmark. (AP)
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Updated 10 July 2021

England and Italy countdown to Euro 2020 final

  • Wembley to host around 65,000 fans for the game amid coronavirus curbs

LONDON: England and Italy are counting down to Sunday’s Euro 2020 final, with Gareth Southgate’s men seeking to end a 55-year trophy drought but the Italians aiming to spoil the Wembley party.

Sporting immortality beckons for England captain Harry Kane and his teammates, who are desperate to etch their names in the record books by winning just the second major trophy in the nation’s history.

Wembley, which was also the venue for England’s 1966 World Cup triumph, will host around 65,000 fans for the game despite coronavirus restrictions still in place.

England began the tournament as one of several contenders to lift the trophy and have taken advantage of playing all but one of their matches at home.

Southgate’s men will be willed on by the vast majority of a crowd that created a crackling atmosphere for England’s second-round match against Germany and the semifinal against Denmark.

“We’ve all waited so long as players, as public, as people to see us in a final,” said Kane. “So these are the opportunities you have to grab with both hands.

“We have an amazing chance to win our second major trophy as a country. The players we’ve had over the years and produced, we feel proud to be representing them as well.

“We’ve got to be excited for it, we’ve got to enjoy it, but of course, any football match, we’re all winners here, we all want to win, and we’re going to need every bit of that to get the job done on Sunday.”

Standing in England’s way are a battle-hardened Italy side who have restored the nation’s pride after failing even to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

England have never beaten Italy at a major tournament, although meetings between the nations have been few and far between.

Italy triumphed in a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 in Ukraine and won 2-1 when they met in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, although both sides ended up being eliminated in the first round.

Both teams have been transformed since then.

The Azzurri have lit up Euro 2020 ever since beating Turkey 3-0 in the opening game a month ago.

They are on a national record 33-match unbeaten run under coach Roberto Mancini, who has spent time in England both as a player and as a manager.

This will be their third game of the tournament at Wembley, where they beat Austria 2-1 in extra time in the last 16 and Spain on penalties in a gripping semifinal on Tuesday.

“Playing at their home does not scare us,” Italy’s veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci said.

“We are looking forward to taking to the field even though most of the fans present will be English. We want to do something historic, have a great performance and then we’ll see how it ends.”

Italy had the backing of around 11,000 British-based fans at the semifinal and their supporters will once again be there for the final.

Reports in Italy said that 6,500 tickets had been sold to fans already in Britain and that number would be bolstered by 1,000 more who will fly into the country for the game, including President Sergio Mattarella.

The Azzurri are looking to end a long wait to win the European Championship.

The four-time World Cup winners have been continental champions only once, when it was just a four-team event in 1968.

Since then they have reached two finals, losing to France in 2000 and to Spain in 2012. Sunday’s game will be their 10th major tournament final.

Mancini has been praised for the job he has done since taking over in 2018 in the aftermath of Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

“Beyond the players, I’d say that everything comes from Mancini who knows how to make the right choices,” said Italy legend Dino Zoff.

“For me, it’s not a surprise to see Italy in the final. I was convinced they’d do well.”

Away from the build-up to the final, European football’s governing body UEFA has fined the English Football Association €30,000 ($35,500) after a laser pointer was shone at Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel on Wednesday.

The punishment also takes into account disturbances during the national anthems at Wembley and the lighting of fireworks.

Jamieson shoots 63 at Yas to lead Hovland by one in Abu Dhabi

Updated 20 January 2022

Jamieson shoots 63 at Yas to lead Hovland by one in Abu Dhabi

  • Jamieson, a Scot ranked No. 336, hadn’t played competitively in eight weeks but quickly settled into the 2022 season with a bogey-free 63
  • Hovland was in the marquee group with Collin Morikawa, and outplayed his playing partner by rolling in nine birdies on the undulating greens at Yas Links

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Seeking a third win in his last four events, Viktor Hovland started the Abu Dhabi Championship by shooting 8-under 64 and was one stroke off the first-round lead held by Scott Jamieson on Thursday.
Hovland was in the marquee group with Collin Morikawa, and outplayed his playing partner by rolling in nine birdies on the undulating greens at Yas Links, a first-time host of the Rolex Series event on the European tour.
The Norwegian might be the world’s form player, having won back-to-back tournaments in Mexico and the Bahamas at the end of last year to climb to No.7.
Jamieson, a Scot ranked No. 336, hadn’t played competitively in eight weeks but quickly settled into the 2022 season with a bogey-free 63. He also had nine birdies — four of them coming in a five-hole span at the start of his back nine and the final one coming from 12 feet at the par-5 18th.
Thomas Pieters was alone in third place after a 65, while defending champion Tyrrell Hatton was in a tie for fourth place after 66. The English player won the prestigious event last year when it was held at nearby Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Morikawa, the British Open champion who won the Race to Dubai title last year, almost holed an approach from the fairway at his first hole before making birdie but that was one of the few highlights in his round of 1-over 73.
Rory McIlroy also got off to a poor start to his first event of 2022, bogeying his final two holes for a 72.

Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic

Updated 20 January 2022

Testing times for Australian Open amid COVID-19 pandemic

  • Olympic champion Alexander Zverev attracted wide attention after his second-round match when he said “we are not getting tested”
  • Australian Open organizers clarified the process on Day 4 of the tournament, saying daily rapid antigen tests were being provided

MELBOURNE, Australia: The safety protocols for COVID-19 have been a touchy subject at the Australian Open, particularly after nine-time champion Novak Djokovic was deported for failing to meet the country’s strict vaccination requirements.
So Olympic champion Alexander Zverev attracted wide attention after his second-round match when he said “we are not getting tested” and, therefore, there’re more COVID-19 cases around than there was in the more locked-down environment of last year.
Australian Open organizers clarified the process on Day 4 of the tournament, saying daily rapid antigen tests were being provided, testing clinics were open both onsite and at the player hotel, and there was mandatory symptomatic testing.
Masks also must be worn at all times at Melbourne Park except when playing, exercising or eating and drinking. Tournament organizers said everyone who traveled into Australia for the year's first major had to undergo a mandatory PCR test on arrival and another between Days 5 and 7.
Because of a surge in the omicron variant and more pressure on the public health system, PCR testing has become more difficult to access in Melbourne and rapid antigen tests have also been in short supply.
Except at the Australian Open. Players, their entourages, officials and media are required to show evidence of regular negative tests to access Melbourne Park.
“They are very strict,” fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas said. "Well, it’s the responsibility of each and every athlete to test themselves regularly to see whether or not they are positive, which has been the case for me.
“I have been trying to get a few antigen tests and rapid tests to see whether or not I’m positive, which is a responsibility that I have, it’s something that I have to do in order to see if I’m 100%.”
Former major champions including Garbiñe Muguruza and Andy Murray are among those who said they were testing themselves regularly, and treating it like an honesty system.
Australian player Maddison Inglis said she was doing precautionary testing because “I want to keep myself and my team safe and everyone around me.”
Andy Murray has reached the Australian Open final five times in 14 trips to Melbourne Park but never won the title.
Two days after posting his first win in five years at the season-opening tennis Grand Slam tournament, the former No. 1 exited after losing to 120th-ranked Taro Daniel 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round.
His win over 21st-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round was his first at the Australian Open since 2017.
Injuries and illness kept him out in 2018 (hip), 2020 (pelvis) and 2021 (COVID-19), and he lost a five-setter in the first round in 2019, which many thought might have been his last in Australia.
So, was the loss to Daniel his last, or will the three-time major champion be back in 2023?
The 34-year-old Scot said “yeah” when asked if he would return, but only with certain provisos.
“Not if I do what I did tonight too often this season,” he said. "This is a really important year for me for a number of reasons, and I want to perform well in the big events. For me, tonight is not good enough in that respect.
“Making second round of Slams is not something I find particularly motivating. I want to be doing better than that."
Murray engaged in a Twitter admiration exchange with Australian Open women's champion Naomi Osaka this week.
Murray started with a post that asked: “Anyone hit the ball cleaner from the baseline than (at) Naomi Osaka?"
Osaka, another former No. 1, responded: “Anyone put their heart on their sleeve and fight harder than (at)Andy Murray?"
Osaka recalled after her second-round win how delighted she was to read Murray’s praise and how the pair had a practice session in Brisbane, Australia, three years ago.
“Yeah, definitely means a lot," she said. "For me it was a really cool moment.”
Sam Stosur warned everyone before her 20th Australian Open campaign that there would be tears when her singles career came to an end.
Tears welled in her eyes as the 2011 U.S. Open champion sat in the court-side chair, soaking in the crowd support after her 6-2, 6-2 loss to 10th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round.
“I just wanted to run for everything as hard as I could. I’ve done more than I ever thought possible," Stosur said in an on-court ceremony after the match. “I dreamed of winning a Grand Slam and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
A video tribute played as an emotional Stosur stood mid-court, holding a bouquet of flowers.
“It was emotional for me," Pavlyuchenkova told the crowd. "She is such a wonderful human being and an amazing tennis player.”
While her singles career is over — she also made a run to the French Open final in 2010 and three other semifinals at Roland Garros — the 37-year-old Stosur will continue playing doubles for the remainder of 2022.

After T20 recognition, Babar Azam leads ICC ODI Team of the Year

Updated 20 January 2022

After T20 recognition, Babar Azam leads ICC ODI Team of the Year

  • Pakistan’s all-format captain only played six One Day Internationals last year but managed to score 405 runs with two centuries
  • The country’s all-rounder Fatima Sana also made it to ICC Women’s ODI Team of the Year

ISLAMABAD: The International Cricket Council (ICC) on Thursday honored Pakistan’s all-format captain Babar Azam by naming him the captain of its Men’s ODI Team of the Year, just a day after selecting him as the skipper for its T20I team.

The ICC announce these teams to honor top world players who show consistently impressive performances during the course of a year. Its latest nominations relate to One Day Internationals (ODIs), the 50-over format of the game.

Azam was yet again named the captain of the team, which features the likes of Janneman Malan, Rassie Van Der Dussen, Shakib al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim and Ireland’s Paul Stirling.

“Despite having played only 6 matches in 2021, Babar still managed to score 405 runs at an average of 67.50 with two centuries,” read a post on the ICC website, explaining the reason why Babar Azam was included in the list.

“The talismanic Pakistan skipper made vital contributions in tough away tours of South Africa and England, ending up with Player of the Match awards in both their victories in the former,” it added.

Joining Babar Azam in the ODI Team of the Year is his fellow compatriot Fakhar Zaman. The left-handed batter scored an impressive 365 runs at an average of 60.88 with two centuries this year.

“One of the centuries came against South Africa, in a knock which will be remembered for ages,” the ICC added. “He scored 193, almost taking Pakistan home in their chase of 342 in Johannesburg.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan added another feather to its cap when all-rounder Fatima Sana featured in ICC Women’s ODI Team of the Year. Sana has had a phenomenal past year, taking 20 wickets in 13 matches to be the joint highest wicket-taker in women’s ODIs.

“Even though her economy of 5.61 was a bit on the higher side, Sana picked up her wickets at an excellent strike rate of 26.6,” said the ICC. “She did well as a lower-order batter too, amassing a total of 132 runs at an average of 14.66.”

The ICC also announced its Test Team of the Year.

While Babar Azam was not selected in the team, his compatriots Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi and batter Fawad Alam did make the cut.

The ICC named New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson the captain of the team which features the likes of Rishabh Pant, Ashwin, Kyle Jamieson, Joe Root, Rohit Sharma and Marnus Labuschagne.

Hasan Ali has been included in the list for his 41 wickets from nine matches in 2021. “He also picked up one five-wicket haul and registered best bowling figures in a match of 10/114,” said the ICC.

Shaheen Afridi fared brilliantly in all three formats of the game over the last year. The left-arm pacer picked up 47 wickets from nine matches at an average of 17.06, including three five-wicket hauls.

“Still only 21, Shaheen will likely lead the Pakistan pace bowling unit for years to come and with already rapid improvements in his bowling, he will undoubtedly prove to be a fearsome prospect,” wrote the ICC.

The ICC described Fawad Alam as “the cornerstone of the Pakistan batting line-up” in Test matches after several years of toiling in Pakistan’s domestic circuit.

“He was at his sturdy best in 2021, scoring 571 runs in 9 matches at an average of 57.10 with three centuries. His tons came in tough situations against South Africa, Zimbabwe and West Indies,” it said.

‘Ripples of excitement,’ Rizwan says as Pakistan ready to welcome Australia

Updated 20 January 2022

‘Ripples of excitement,’ Rizwan says as Pakistan ready to welcome Australia

  • Australia are scheduled to play a full cricket series in Pakistan for the first time in 24 years in March-April
  • Star wicketkeeper-batter says the two teams make ‘perfect recipe’ for a thrilling and exciting series

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s star wicketkeeper-batter Mohammad Rizwan said on Thursday he is already feeling “ripples of excitement” ahead of Australia’s upcoming tour of Pakistan.

Australia are scheduled to play three Test matches, an equal number of ODIs and a T20I match on Pakistani soil in March-April this year. Fans in both countries are ecstatic and cannot wait for the series to get underway as an Australian cricket team will arrive in Pakistan for the first time in 24 years. 

International cricket has largely remained away from Pakistan since the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in Lahore in 2009. While Pakistan’s security situation improved over the years, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has remained unsuccessful in wooing big teams to play a complete series on its soil. 

“I can feel ripples of excitement for Australia’s tour of Pakistan,” Rizwan said in an interview with the PCB’s digital wing.

“I have read some very positive remarks from the stakeholders in Australia about the tour to Pakistan. The entire nation of Pakistan is ready to welcome Australia for the historic tour after 24 years.”

Recognized by the PCB as Pakistan’s Most Valuable Cricketer of 2021, Rizwan said the tour will help strengthen the bond between the two nations. 

“Australian cricketers like Usman Khawaja participate in the HBL PSL,” he said.
“Our players (Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain) were recently featured in the KFC Big Bash League 2021-22. This further strengthens the bond between the two countries.”

Rizwan recalled how Pakistan’s former batting consultant, Australian cricketer

Matthew Hayden, spoke passionately about Pakistan and how his friend and Australia’s head coach Justin Langer showed “love and admiration” for the country when the two sides met last year in the ICC T20 World Cup semifinal. 

He was wary, however, about the potential of the Australian cricket team, after it won the Ashes, a Test cricket series with England.

“Australia have recently won the Ashes and they are a strong side, but we have also had a tremendous year and have shined brightly across all formats,” he said. “These two teams make the perfect recipe for a thrilling and exciting series.”

Australia court rules minister acted rationally in canceling Novak Djokovic’s visa

Updated 20 January 2022

Australia court rules minister acted rationally in canceling Novak Djokovic’s visa

  • ‘An iconic world tennis star may influence people of all ages, young or old, but perhaps especially the young and the impressionable, to emulate him’

MELBOURNE: An Australian court said on Thursday it dismissed tennis superstar Novak Djokovic’s challenge to his visa cancelation as the minister who revoked it reasonably believed Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, may be a risk to the community.
The Federal Court also rejected the argument there was no evidence that Djokovic had ever urged anyone not to get vaccinated, saying it was open to infer that the public would perceive that he was opposed to vaccinations, since he said he had not been vaccinated.
“An iconic world tennis star may influence people of all ages, young or old, but perhaps especially the young and the impressionable, to emulate him. This is not fanciful; it does not need evidence,” the judges said.
Djokovic’s saga has fueled global debate over the rights of people who opt not to get vaccinated as governments look to protect the community from the coronavirus pandemic.
Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday night, just hours after the court dismissed his effort to stay in the country to play at the Australian Open, where he hoped to win a record 21st major title.
That followed an 11-day rollercoaster involving two visa cancelations, two court challenges and five nights in two stints at an immigration detention hotel where asylum seekers are held.
His lawyers had argued the cancelation should be quashed on the grounds that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision was irrational, he lacked evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may stoke anti-vaccination sentiment, and had failed to consider that deporting Djokovic might inflame anti-vax sentiment.
The Federal Court said while another minister might have decided not to cancel the visa, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had followed the right steps under the law which allows him to cancel a visa as long as he is satisfied the visa holder “may be a risk to the health or good order of the Australian community.”
“The minister reached that state of satisfaction on grounds that cannot be said to be irrational or illogical or not based on relevant material,” Chief Justice James Allsop and judges Anthony Besanko and David O’Callaghan said in their reasons handed down on Thursday.
The Serbian now risks missing the next tennis Grand Slam event — the French Open — as the country’s Sports Ministry has said there would be no exemption from a new vaccine pass law approved on Sunday.