PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian head coach Mauricio Pochettino gestures next to Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma during their UEFA Champions’ League Group A match against Club Brugge at Jan Breydel Stadium in Bruges. (AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2021

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

  • “Fantomatique” — or "Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday
  • PSG's performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world's best forwards

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain was able to start its superstar attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for the first time on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Instead of fireworks, though, they only produced a big thud as PSG drew 1-1 draw against modest Belgian side Club Brugge.
“Fantomatique” — or “Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday.
While 2020 champion Bayern Munich and last season’s runner-up Manchester City won and scored freely, PSG’s performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world’s best forward.
The fact that Keylor Navas was the busier goalkeeper on the night — and PSG’s best player — should be of concern to coach Mauricio Pochettino ahead of playing much tougher teams in the competition.
“We’ve got a magnificent squad, but we need to find balance,” Pochettino said.
But given PSG’s remarkable summer recruitment drive, Pochettino knows he has little room for error in a season where the Qatari-backed club has been touted by many observers as the favorite to win the Champions League.
Behind the veneer of Messi’s arrival, the reality is that the midfield and defense still look very vulnerable, and allowed a modest side like Brugge to muster 16 shots at goal.
That is alarming considering that City is PSG’s next opponent in the group stage. Pep Guardiola’s side visits Parc des Princes on Sept. 28, giving Pochettino little time to make his team more solid.
PSG has a home game against Lyon in the French league on Sunday followed by a midweek trip to Metz before hosting Montpellier.
Pochettino also has a thorny goalkeeping dilemma to resolve — whether to stick with Navas or start Italy’s European Championship star Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Last season, Navas rescued PSG with outstanding performances against Barcelona and Bayern in the knockout stages before PSG’s limitations were exposed by City in the semifinals.
PSG would likely have lost against Brugge without Navas who, through no fault of his own, now finds himself fighting for the No. 1 jersey. Pochettino sounded evasive when asked after the Brugge game if Donnarumma would play against Lyon.
“Anything’s possible,” Pochettino said. “Decisions will be made game after game with regards to the performances.”
But rotation could also work against Pochettino, for he needs a settled goalie to take command of a brittle defense that was too easily exposed by Brugge.
Even the signing of Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Italian league champion Achraf Hakimi at right back did little to stop the waves of Brugge attacks.
Wijnaldum lost a surprising number of tackles and was not helped by Leandro Paredes, who failed to control a simple pass early on as it rolled under his foot and led to a yellow card as he then fouled a Brugge player breaking through.
Wijnaldum and Paredes were both replaced by Pochettino, whose midfield clearly struggles when Marco Verratti is absent. The Italy star’s ball retention and distribution is superior and takes pressure off his teammates.
With Messi and Neymar up front, PSG also has a forward line that isn’t known for tracking back to defend, which can lead to the midfield getting overrun and the defense being exposed as a result.
Central defenders Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe looked exhausted at the end on Wednesday, as they often did last season when PSG lost eight games and the league title to Lille.
Messi’s positioning on the right of the three-man attack offers little protection to the midfield or to Hakimi, who by nature is a very attacking player and leaves space behind him where the opposition is free to counter.


Shakib Al-Hasan stars as Bangladesh thrash Oman to stay afloat in T20 World Cup

Updated 48 min 58 sec ago

Shakib Al-Hasan stars as Bangladesh thrash Oman to stay afloat in T20 World Cup

  • The Oman bowlers kept picking up wickets and could have limited Bangladesh to a far lower score with better catching

MUSCAT: Star all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan took three wickets and scored 42 as Bangladesh hammered hosts Oman by 26 runs on Tuesday to stay alive in the Twenty20 World Cup.
World number six Bangladesh came into the game in Muscat needing a win to stay in the hunt for the Super 12 stage.
They elected to bat and were bowled out for 153.
Left-hand opener Mohammad Naim, who smashed 64 off 50 balls, and Shakib set up the victory for Bangladesh with a key second-wicket stand of 80 after the Tigers lost two early wickets.
Mustafizur Rahman, who returned figures of 4-36, and Shakib then shared seven wickets to keep Oman to 127-9 as Bangladesh bounced back from their opening Group B loss to Scotland.
“We’ll take this win, but I think there are a lot of areas we need to improve,” skipper Mahmudullah Riyad said after the win.
“Shakib and Naim batted brilliantly, they had a good partnerships and that took us to 150-plus. But we should have done better with the new ball. Bowled a lot of wides.”
Oman opener Jatinder Singh smashed 40 off 33 balls before falling to Shakib’s left-arm spin and it seemed the wicket deflated Oman.
Shakib struck with successive balls but Mohammad Nadeem prevented the hat-trick and went on to make 14 not out.
Mahedi Hasan was impressive impressively economical with figures of 1-14 from his four overs of finger spin.
Oman fast bowlers Bilal Khan and Fayyaz Butt took three wickets each to peg back Bangladesh after the big partnership between Naim and Shakib.
Naim, who replaced Soumya Sarkar for the key match, survived two dropped catches on 18 and 26 to go on and raise his third T20 half-century.
The Oman bowlers kept picking up wickets and could have limited Bangladesh to a far lower score with better catching as Kashyap Prajapati dropped two chances and Jatinder spilled another.
“It is not acceptable the way we are fielding right now,” skipper Zeeshan Maqsood told reporters.
He added, “Oman is confident of a good show in the last game and a win will help us boost our cricket as we will meet the top nations and learn from them.”
Earlier in the day, Scotland beat Papua New Guinea in the first match to record their second successive win and are now on the verge of making the next stage.
Oman, who hammered Papua New Guinea in the tournament opener on Sunday, have two points with one win and stay second in the group above Bangladesh.


Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

Updated 20 October 2021

Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

RIYADH: Saudi giants Al-Hilal stayed on course for a second AFC Champions League title in three years with a tense 2-1 semifinal victory over cross-city rivals Al-Nassr on Tuesday.

Mali striker Moussa Marega and Saudi international Salem Al-Dawsari struck either side of the break in Riyadh to set up a title clash with either Pohang Steelers or Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea who meet in the second-semifinal of the tournament on Wednesday.

Al-Hilal won their third Asian title in 2019 but were dramatically kicked out of the tournament last year after several members of their squad tested positive for COVID-19.

But the team known locally as “Al Zaeem,” or “The Boss” seem to have successfully banished the memories of that fateful day from their minds with an impressive run this year as they moved within striking distance of another international trophy.

Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have clashed on numerous occasions domestically but the magnitude of a crucial continental clash was not lost on them as both teams made a cautious start at the King Saud University Stadium in the Saudi capital.

The first notable chance fell Al-Hilal’s way but Al-Dawasari failed to take advantage of the opportunity by firing wide from the edge of the box after receiving a pass from Matheus Pereira.

Al-Hilal were not to be denied for long though as Marega scored his first goal of the tournament in the 17th minute.

Mohamed Al-Burayk found Bafetimbi Gomis with a long pass and the 36-year-old Frenchman deftly steered the ball for Marega who made no mistake with a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner of the post.

Al-Nassr raised their game a notch after that but were dealt a body blow when defender Ali Lajami was sent-off seconds before half-time for a foul on Marega.

Despite the setback Al-Nassr managed to hold their own and found the equalizer five minutes after the break with Anderson Talisca heading home from close from a cross by Abdulfattah Asiri following a corner.

Sultan Al-Ghanem and Talisca missed chances thereafter for Al-Nassr and soon Al-Hilal wrested control once again with Al-Dawasri scoring his third goal of the knockouts, his chip taking a slight deflection off Abdulla Madu before finding the net.

Al-Hilal survived several anxious moments after that with Abderrarazak Hamdallah an Abdulla Madu missing chances in stoppage time.

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World Cup bid not derailed by Euro 2020 trouble — UK Sport

Updated 20 October 2021

World Cup bid not derailed by Euro 2020 trouble — UK Sport

  • England have been ordered to play one UEFA competition match behind closed doors
  • UEFA president played down fears that the disorder would affect a British and Irish World Cup bid

LONDON: The UK and Ireland bid for the 2030 World Cup is not “up in smoke” despite the English FA being sanctioned for the chaos that marred the Euro 2020 final, according to a leading figure at UK Sport.
England have been ordered to play one UEFA competition match behind closed doors, with a further match suspended for two years for disorder at the final which saw ticketless fans break their way into the stadium.
Further trouble marred England’s World Cup qualifier with Hungary last week as visiting fans clashed with police.
However, Simon Morton, chief operating officer of UK Sport, which is involved in an ongoing feasibility study on whether to bid, said his view was that crowd trouble had not derailed plans.
“There are lessons to be learned, the FA has commissioned a review from Baroness Casey. It’s very serious. But I do not think it is the bid up in smoke,” he told the UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on Tuesday.
“However, I don’t think it’s reflective of how this country organizes sporting events. We have an excellent reputation, not only for hosting brilliant events but also hosting safe and secure events.
“We have to get the balance right here. It was unacceptable, but I think most countries around the world would recognize it is not reflective of what normally happens.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin played down fears that the disorder would affect a British and Irish World Cup bid, telling The Times last month that he saw Wembley as a key venue for UEFA in hosting club competition finals in the future.
However, Morton cautioned against proposals for the World Cup to be held every two years rather than four.
FIFA’s head of global development, Arsene Wenger, has been at the forefront of promoting the idea.
The International Olympic Committee expressed its concern earlier this week on what the impact could be for other sports.
“I think the oversaturation of sporting competition events is a real risk,” added Morton.
“One of the reasons why sport is so popular is because of its scarcity. I think when we host events, you want to know that that’s special, because you’re attending the world championships.”


Halep beats Potapova in Kremlin Cup opener, Jabeur retires

Updated 19 October 2021

Halep beats Potapova in Kremlin Cup opener, Jabeur retires

  • Halep won 6-1, 6-4 against Anastasia Potapova despite losing her serve three times
  • Tunisian Ons Jabeur retired from her first-round match

MOSCOW: Simona Halep started her campaign at the Kremlin Cup with a straight-sets win on Tuesday, while Ons Jabeur retired from her first-round match.
Halep won 6-1, 6-4 against Anastasia Potapova despite losing her serve three times and next plays Veronika Kudermetova in the second round after the Russian beat 18-year-old qualifier Oksana Selekhmetova 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4. Halep hasn’t won more than three consecutive matches since returning in August from a three-month layoff with a calf injury that kept her out of the French Open and Wimbledon.
Eighth-ranked Jabeur retired when 6-1, 1-0 down against Ekaterina Alexandrova. There was no immediate information from the Tunisian or the WTA about the reason for her retirement, which makes it harder for Jabeur to qualify for the WTA Finals.
Marketa Vondrousova eliminated seventh-seeded Elena Rybakina 6-4, 6-4 and plays qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in the next round.
Anett Kontaveit won 6-3, 6-3 against Katerina Siniakova to set up a second-round match with experienced German Andrea Petkovic, who was leading 2-6, 6-0, 2-0 when her opponent Jelena Ostapenko retired.
In the men’s draw, fifth-seeded Alexander Bublik was upset by Illya Marchenko 6-4, 6-3 and veteran French player Gilles Simon surprised eighth-seeded Laslo Djere 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-3.


Man City crush Brugge to re-energise Champions League push

Updated 19 October 2021

Man City crush Brugge to re-energise Champions League push

  • Pep Guardiola's side bounced back in style from last month's loss to Paris Saint-Germain
  • Cole Palmer, 19, bagged his first Champions League goal minutes after coming on as a substitute

BRUGES, Belgium: Manchester City delivered a dominant Champions League performance to sweep past Club Brugge 5-1 on Tuesday and re-emphasize their status as major contenders for a first European title.
Joao Cancelo gave City a deserved lead on the half-hour and Riyad Mahrez converted a penalty just before the break as Pep Guardiola’s side bounced back in style from last month’s loss to Paris Saint-Germain.
Kyle Walker added a third early in the second half and 19-year-old Cole Palmer bagged his first Champions League goal minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Hans Vanaken pulled a goal back to great delight from the home supporters but Mahrez capped a thumping City victory with his second of the night.
The win leaves City side with six points after three games in Group A, with the champions of England and Belgium to meet again in two weeks in Manchester.
Ederson returned in goal for City after flying direct to Belgium last week following Brazil’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers, while Jack Grealish replaced Raheem Sterling in the front three.
Viewed as the weakest team in a group also featuring 2020 semifinalists RB Leipzig, Brugge had surprisingly held PSG to a 1-1 draw in their opening game of the section at the Jan Breydelstadion.
City, facing Brugge for the first time, twice had the ball in the net inside the opening 15 minutes. Grealish’s lob was ruled out for a push on Clinton Mata, with Rodri’s tap-in disallowed for offside.
Phil Foden fired into the side-netting after running onto a long ball, the England international’s free roaming as a false nine constantly troubling Brugge.
It came as little surprise Foden created the opening goal for Cancelo, chipping a delightful ball over the defense that the Portugal defender poked through the legs of former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Stanley Nsoki chopped Mahrez down in the area late in the first half, the Algerian doubling City’s lead as he sent Mignolet the wrong way from the spot.
Mahrez nearly struck again before half-time but Mignolet beat away his first-time strike from Foden’s lay-off.
Walker all but put the match out of reach on 53 minutes when Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne combined, the latter rolling through for Walker to drill low past Mignolet.
Mignolet denied Foden with his legs as City continued to stream forward. Not even a spate of changes could check their momentum as Palmer scored three minutes after replacing De Bruyne.
No sooner had Belgium star De Bruyne walked off to warm applause from the home supporters than Palmer curled in from Raheem Sterling’s assist.
Mignolet saved well from Sterling after he escaped in behind the defense, with Ederson producing a sharp stop to turn away Charles De Ketelaere’s diving header.
Brugge refused to fold and Hans Vanaken steered in a consolation nine minutes from time, but the game finished as it started, with City flexing their muscle as Mahrez burst clear to complete the rout.