No Messi, no problem as Barcelona take ‘leap into unknown’ with victory

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Barcelona's Antoine Griezmann in action with Real Sociedad's Mikel Merino on August 15, 2021. (REUTERS/Albert Gea)
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Barcelona's players celebrate during the Spanish League football match between Barcelona and Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on August 15, 2021. (AFP) Barcelona, Catalonia, (AFP)
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Updated 16 August 2021

No Messi, no problem as Barcelona take ‘leap into unknown’ with victory

MADRID: Barcelona started life without Lionel Messi by defeating Real Sociedad 4-2 in their La Liga opener at the Camp Nou on Sunday even if fans admitted it felt like “a leap into the unknown.”
Captain Gerard Pique gave them a 19th minute lead with his 50th goal for the club.
Martin Braithwaite found the net in first half injury time and in the 59th minute. Sergi Roberto added a fourth in the last minute of the game.
Just over 20,000 fans were in attendance as crowds returned for the first time since the pandemic.
However, they had to hold their breath at one stage when Sociedad came back from 3-0 down to get to 3-2 thanks to goals from 20-year-old Julen Lobete in the 82nd minute and a 30-meter free-kick from skipper Mikel Oyarzabal three minutes later.
Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi called time on his two-decade career at Barcelona last week and moved to Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi’s memory lingered heavy over the Camp Nou on Sunday despite the removal of a giant photograph of the Argentine superstar from the entrance in the wake of his move to France.
Some banners were in place well before kick-off venting the fans anger toward president Joan Laporta.
One read “Laporta, Barca is not your business,” while another proclaimed “Barca yes, Laporta no!“
“It was a big emotional blow,” said 23-year-old Barca fan Adria De Lucas.
“I was in my room when I saw the news. I started sending messages to all my friends, and no one believed it. It was emotionally hard.”
The supporter added: “It’s a leap into the unknown (without Messi). We will see what happens.”
Inside the Camp Nou, fans made the most of their return after 18 months, chanting “Messi! Messi!.”
Banners expressed their “eternal gratitude.”
“The supporters are with us, they want to see football,” said Pique.
“We knew they were going to react that way. We all know what Leo represents, but everything changes and we have to keep going.“We will be very competitive and we will fight for titles to the end. We will not have his talent, but we have proven that we can all play together.”
La Liga champions Atletico Madrid got their season underway with a 2-1 win at Celta Vigo.
Angel Correa gave Atletico the lead after 23 minutes after being set up by Thomas Lemar.
Correa added a second goal in the 64th minute just five minutes after Iago Aspas had pulled Celta level from the penalty spot.
However, the game was marred by a mass brawl in the closing stages following a foul on Atletico striker Luis Suarez.
Red cards were brandished for Hugo Mallo of Celta and Mario Hermoso of Atletico.
In Sunday’s late game, Sevilla defeated Rayo Vallecano 3-0 with Moroccan international Youssef En-Nesyri scoring a first-half penalty before new Argentine recruit Erik Lamela grabbed two.
Vallecano played 75 minutes a man short after goalkeeper Luca Zidane, the son of French football legend Zinedine, was red-carded for bringing down Oussama Idrissi in the move which led to the penalty.
As Barca try to fill the Messi-sized gap, as well as ballooning debts of more than 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion), Real Madrid got off to a flier on the pitch as a brace from French veteran striker Karim Benzema helped bring a 4-1 victory at Alaves on Saturday.
The win, achieved with further goals from Nacho and Vinicius allowed Carlo Ancelotti to celebrate the start of his second spell in charge with a victory.
A Joselu penalty for the hosts was a minor blemish after Real keeper Thibaut Courtois, making his 100th Liga appearance for Real, brought down John Guidetti.
In other action on Saturday, Cadiz and Levante parted 1-1 as did Mallorca and Real Betis while the match between Osasuna and Espanyol ended in a goalless stalemate.
There are two matches on Monday as Villarreal go up against Granada while Elche meet Athletic Bilbao.
Valencia got the ball rolling Friday and pocketed three points after an early Carlos Soler penalty was enough to see them overcome Getafe 1-0.


Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

Updated 10 August 2022

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

  • New centers will be in Jouf, Hail, Al-Hudud Ash Shamaliyah and Al-Baha

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation is set to establish four new regional associations to help promote the sport across the Kingdom.

The federation told Arab News on Wednesday that is has 15 official associations representing the sport in nine regions, but aims to establish new associations in the remaining four regions “to make sure that we have future cricket activities all around the Kingdom.”

The long-term aim is for Saudi Arabian cricket teams to compete professionally at regional and international competitions, with the national teams taking on world’s best.

In recent years, the SACF has introduced several competitions and programs to encourage the country’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

In October 2021, it signed an agreement with sports management company JSW Sports to develop cricket in Saudi Arabia, focusing on high-performance academies.

The SACF was established in 2020 and lined up a series of major initiatives the following year, including a national cricket championship, a corporate cricket tournament, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social program in several cities.

The initiatives are part of a mission to promote healthy and active lifestyles under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life scheme, with the SACF — supported by the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee — mandated to increase physical activity levels by 40 percent over the next decade.

In November, the SACF partnered with Saudi’s Sports For All Federation to launch the Kingdom’s first cricket talent-spotting program.

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Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival

Updated 10 August 2022

Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival

  • Al-Ahly and Zamalek are historic rivals whose fans regularly clash after matches
  • Zamalek boss, Mortada Mansour, was initially sentenced to one year in prison for insulting Mahmoud al-Khatib, president of Al-Ahly

CAIRO: An Egyptian appeals court has sentenced the president of Zamalek football club to a month in prison for insulting the president of bitter rivals Al-Ahly, a judicial source told AFP on Wednesday.
Al-Ahly and Zamalek, the country’s two biggest clubs and among the continent’s most successful, are historic rivals whose fans regularly clash after matches.
The 70-year-old Zamalek boss, Mortada Mansour, was initially sentenced to one year in prison for insulting Mahmoud Al-Khatib, president of Al-Ahly and a former star player, and his family in a video posted on social networks and on Zamalek’s club channel.
On Wednesday, Mansour’s sentence was reduced to one month in prison and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (500 euros).
A former magistrate and member of parliament, Mansour is regularly in the news. He has had a long-running battle with Al-Ahly and has physically attack his counterparts.
His parliamentary immunity had for a while enabled him to avoid legal proceedings after complaints of insults and defamation.
In 2007, he was sentenced to three years in jail by a criminal court in Cairo for “insulting” court officials and levelling accusations of corruption against them.

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Ajax star Tadic robbed at home in Amsterdam: reports

Updated 10 August 2022

Ajax star Tadic robbed at home in Amsterdam: reports

  • The apparently targeted attack on the star Serbian player in late July was the latest in a spate of robberies on Dutch celebrities
  • Two men wearing motorbike helmets accosted Tadic as he stepped out of his car outside his home

THE HAGUE: Top Ajax attacking midfielder Dusan Tadic was wounded when robbers ambushed him outside his Amsterdam home, Dutch news reports said on Wednesday.
The apparently targeted attack on the star Serbian player in late July was the latest in a spate of robberies on Dutch celebrities, national broadcaster NOS said.
Two men wearing motorbike helmets accosted Tadic as he stepped out of his car outside his home in the Dutch capital’s south two weeks ago, the daily tabloid De Telegraaf said.
“It seems they wanted to rob him of his valuable wrist-watch,” the paper said.
“After a short pursuit Tadic was involved in a scuffle in which he managed to open the visor of one of the helmets and hit the robber, the paper said.
Tadic then ran into a nearby cafe and called the police.
The robbers got away and no arrests have been made, the paper added.
A few days later the Ajax footballer was seen with plasters on his hand during a season opener against PSV, Amsterdam daily Het Parool reported.
The assault on Tadic is the latest in a spate of such attacks on celebrities and sports stars.
Last year former PSV attacker Eran Zahavi and his family were tied up and robbed of money and possessions.
Other targets included rappers Ali B and Lil Kleine as well as social media star Nikkie de Jager, who was tied up and beaten during a robbery at her home in Uden near Eindhoven two years ago.


Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off

Updated 10 August 2022

Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off

  • There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu, and no hint of a superstar signing to reinforce the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain

MADRID: Real Madrid are hoping a summer of stability sets them up for a successful defense of the Spanish title as the season kicks off in La Liga this weekend, despite some eye-catching moves in the transfer market from Barcelona.

Madrid set the ball rolling on Wednesday against Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup, as they target another trophy-laden campaign under Carlo Ancelotti following their league and Champions League double last season.

There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu, and no hint of a superstar signing to reinforce the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain.

Yet there have been no significant departures either, with the influence of Gareth Bale, Isco and Marcelo having dramatically declined before they were all released.

That means Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, who turns 37 in September, will remain hugely influential.

Ancelotti can also expect the influence of the likes of Vinicius — whose goal won May’s Champions League final against Liverpool — Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga to increase this season.

And two significant signings have arrived.

France midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, 22, has joined from Monaco for a fee of up to €100 million ($102m), while Germany center-back Antonio Rudiger, 29, joins on a free from Chelsea.

“I believe we’ve got two players who are among the best in the world in their role,” Ancelotti told UEFA.com.

“Their quality increases the team’s physical and technical ability.”

Real were champions by 13 points from Barcelona, and it would have been more had the Catalans not improved enormously in the second half of last season.

Xavi Hernandez has already made a big impact as coach at the Camp Nou and a raft of new recruits headed by Robert Lewandowski could help them bridge the gap to their bitter rivals.

Leeds United winger Raphinha and AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie have also joined, while the defense should be greatly improved by the signings of Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen.

The problem is that, by the start of this week, Barca had still not been able to register their new recruits because they had not raised enough money to comply with spending restrictions imposed on the club by La Liga.

That is despite Barcelona’s board selling off assets, including 25 percent of Barca Studios, which manages the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for 100 million euros.

Twenty-five percent of their domestic television rights for quarter of a century have been sold to US investment fund Sixth Street for 400 million euros.

Those deals are on top of a sponsorship agreement with Spotify, and on Tuesday it was reported in Spain that Barcelona would sell another 25 percent of Barca Studios to an investment fund for 100 million euros in a bid to satisfy La Liga.

The club have also been pressuring midfielder Frenkie de Jong to leave in order to dispose of his salary.

There may be concerns about the long-term consequences of these deals for a club with reported debts of 1.3 billion euros, but if they can register the new recruits then they could also be a real force to be reckoned with.

“We have generated a lot of hopeful anticipation. We have lots of hope too,” admitted Xavi. “Our objective this year is to win titles and play good football.”

If Barcelona cannot close the gap to Real then it appears unlikely anyone else can, with Atletico Madrid not looking significantly stronger than last year, when they finished third.

Luis Suarez has returned to his native Uruguay and Antoine Griezmann’s form is uncertain, although Axel Witsel reinforces their midfield and Argentine international Nahuel Molina adds quality at right-back.

On top of that, they still have Diego Simeone.

Sevilla came fourth last season, securing Champions League qualification at the expense of city rivals Real Betis, who won the Copa del Rey.

While Sevilla have signed Isco, they have lost two outstanding center-backs, with Kounde departing and Diego Carlos going to Aston Villa.

It was notable that the latter preferred to join a mid-table Premier League club rather than stay and play in the Champions League.

That reflected English football’s pulling power, while Goncalo Guedes, Valencia’s top scorer last season, has gone to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Saudi-owned Almeria are back in La Liga after seven years, with Real Valladolid and Girona the other newly-promoted teams.


Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport

Updated 09 August 2022

Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport

  • On Monday, Williams played only her second singles match since she returned to action at Wimbledon in June
  • The 40-year-old said after that match that she could see the light at the end of the tennis tunnel in her career

LONDON: Serena Williams said on Tuesday that she is “evolving away from tennis” as she detailed her upcoming retirement from the sport that she dominated for the majority of her career with 23 singles Grand Slam titles.
On Monday, Williams played only her second singles match since she returned to action at Wimbledon in June after a year-long absence from competition, beating Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz to reach the second round of the Toronto Open.
But the 40-year-old said after that match that she could see the light at the end of the tennis tunnel in her career before suggesting the US Open starting this month could be her swansong.
“I have never liked the word retirement,” Williams wrote in a Vogue article.
“It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people.
“Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.
“A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family.”
Williams won her last Grand Slam in 2017 and has been chasing an elusive 24th crown that will draw her level with Margaret Court who holds the record for most majors.
She came tantalisingly close to achieving that feat, featuring in four major finals since giving birth to daughter Olympia in 2017.
“There are people who say I’m not the GOAT (greatest of all time) because I didn’t pass Court’s record, which she achieved before the ‘Open era’ that began in 1968,” former world number one Williams said.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Slam final, then yes, I’m thinking about that record. Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help.”
Williams later talked in an Instagram post about the time to move in a “different direction.”
“That time is always hard when you love something so much,” she added. “My goodness do I enjoy tennis.
“But now, the countdown has begun. I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”