Messi looks angry at being replaced; Icardi gets late winner

Paris Saint-Germain’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi looks at PSG’s Argentinian head coach Mauricio Pochettino as he leaves the pitch during the French L1 football match against Olympique Lyonnais at The Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris. (AFP)
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Updated 20 September 2021

Messi looks angry at being replaced; Icardi gets late winner

  • Messi stared sharply at PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and appeared to snub a handshake as he came off
  • As he was coming off, Messi made a gesture with his hands apart as if to say he didn't understand

PARIS: Lionel Messi hit the crossbar with a curling free kick and looked angry at being taken off in the 75th minute in his home debut Sunday for Paris Saint-Germain.
Substitute Mauro Icardi scored deep into stoppage time as PSG scraped a 2-1 win over Lyon in the French league to make it six straight victories.
Messi stared sharply at PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and appeared to snub a handshake as he came off. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner, who is still chasing his first PSG goal in his third appearance following his shock move from Barcelona, sat glum-faced on the bench.
As he was coming off, Messi made a gesture with his hands apart as if to say he didn’t understand, and Pochettino attempted an explanation afterward.
“Everyone knows we have great players in the squad, we have 35 players. But we must make decisions for the good of the team. Sometimes they lead to a positive result and sometimes not,” Pochettino said through a translator. “These are decisions we need to take. Sometimes it pleases people, or it doesn’t. I asked him how he was, and he said he was fine.”
On the field, Icardi found space to head in Kylian Mbappe’s precise cross from the left in the 93rd.
PSG fell behind in the 53rd when Brazil midfielder Lucas Paqueta finished neatly, after forward Karl Toko Ekambi picked him out with a low cross to the front post.
Neymar equalized from the penalty spot in the 66th after he was fouled by 18-year-old right back Malo Gusto.
Lyon coach Peter Bosz was unhappy with the call.
“It’s not Malo who fouls Neymar, it’s Neymar who puts his hand on him and fouls him,” Bosz said. “I can understand if the referee didn’t see it, but then there is VAR.”
Lyon’s long-serving president, Jean-Michel Aulas, went even further by calling the decision “an aberration” and saying the referee should have used video review.
Messi almost scored in the 32nd.
He found Neymar down the left and sprinted to meet Neymar’s clever reverse pass, but goalkeeper Anthony Lopes read Messi’s low shot well and denied him with his legs.
Four minutes later, Lopes was stuck to the spot as Messi hit the crossbar with a free kick from 25 meters.
Messi, whose last Champions League goal for Barca was away to PSG in last season’s round of 16 return leg, also hit the bar in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Club Brugge.
PSG is five points ahead of bitter rival Marseille, having played one game more.
Marseille earlier beat Rennes 2-0 to move into second place with striker Bamba Dieng getting his third goal in two games.
After Dieng turned in a cross from midfielder Pol Lirola in the 48th, substitute Amine Harit scored in the 70th after cutting in from the left flank.
Also, Amine Gouiri missed a late penalty as fifth-placed Nice was held to a 2-2 draw by visiting Monaco in a thrilling French Riviera derby.
Gouiri had the chance to make it 3-2 from the spot in the 82nd following a hand ball by defender Benoit Badiashile. But he missed the target.
Monaco striker Wissam Ben Yedder’s penalty five minutes earlier made it 2-2, moments after Gouiri and Andy Delort set up midfielder Hicham Boudaoui.
After Nice forward Kasper Dolberg limped off with a knee injury, midfielder Aleksandr Golovin put Monaco ahead in the 39th from a right-wing cross by Gelson Martins.
Delort, who replaced Dolberg, equalized in the 50th as he headed in Gouiri’s cross. Gouiri has four goals and two assists in six games.
Struggling Monaco is in 14th spot.

Palestinian swimmer hopes to lift spirits of Gazans at Olympics

Updated 14 June 2024

Palestinian swimmer hopes to lift spirits of Gazans at Olympics

DUBAI: Palestinian swimmer Yazan Al Bawwab, who is training for the 2024 Olympic Games, has a mission. He wants to represent Palestinians suffering from Israel’s bombardment of Gaza by making a splash on the international stage.
These Olympics, which kick off in Paris on July 26, are perhaps more important than the last games in 2021 when he competed in Tokyo, he said.
“We, as Palestinian players, are here to raise the flag and show people that we are here, and even if we face difficulties, we will be there and represent the Palestinian people,” he said.
The 2.3 million Palestinians living in Gaza need all the help they can get as they endure dire conditions.
Israel agression on Gaza killed more than 37,000 people and reduced much of the Gaza Strip to rubble.
Bawwab, 24, who was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian refugees, is chasing a dream that is not his alone.
“My father’s dream was to learn how to swim and become a swimmer,” Al Bawwab told Reuters in Dubai, where he conducts his workouts and runs a furniture factory.
But his father, Rashad Al Bawwab, who left Palestinian territory when he was 18, was not able to realize that dream.
“I wanted Yazan to enter swimming, because I loved swimming and it’s a beautiful sport,” the senior Al Bawwab said.
His father said the upcoming games in Paris are an opportunity for his son to help the Palestinian cause.
“But what’s more important is that he represents an oppressed people, whose rights are repressed,” Rashad said.
Aside from the near constant bombardments, Palestinians in Gaza are suffering a humanitarian crisis, with severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine. Many of their homes have been destroyed.
Al Bawwab was born and raised outside of the Palestinian territories. But he says: “I remain Palestinian, Palestine is in my heart and all my thoughts.”
In Dubai, Al Bawwab trains by himself and with retired Palestinian Olympic swimmer Ahmed Gebrel, who represented Palestine at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Gebrel says: “I’m confident that he’s at the top level and will represent us in the best way.”
Al Bawwab will travel to an Olympic training camp in the Netherlands next week and then onto France. Ahead of the competition, his focus will be on three things — training, eating, and sleeping.
“Inshallah (God willing) we’ll win something, and make the country and the people proud,” he says.
“I want to show people that Palestinians are strong. If we’re given an opportunity, we’ll take it.”

Dakota Ditcheva victorious as 2024 PFL Global Season resumes in the US

Updated 14 June 2024

Dakota Ditcheva victorious as 2024 PFL Global Season resumes in the US

CONNECTICUT: The Professional Fighters League resumed on Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, with an 11-fight card in the men’s heavyweight and women’s flyweight divisions, that featured eight athletes earning 2024 PFL Playoff berths.

In the evening’s co-main event, Dakota Ditcheva defeated Chelsea Hackett by first-round knockout in a women’s flyweight bout.

Ditcheva remained undefeated at 12-0 with 10 knockouts, and clinched the top playoff spot in the division.

Valentin Moldavsky entered the PFL SmartCage in a highly anticipated trilogy matchup against Linton Vassell. After three punishing rounds, Vassell earned a split decision victory and is now 2-1 against his foe. Although he did not win, Moldavsky also heads to the 2024 PFL Global Season Playoffs.

Also in the heavyweight division, Denis Golstov defeated Thiago Santos by first-round technical knockout, to punch his ticket to his fifth PFL playoff.

In women’s flyweight action, former Bellator champion Liz Carmouche and Kana Watanabe squared off in an exciting rematch. The contest was even going into the third round and looked to be headed to the judges’ scorecards before Carmouche locked in an armbar submission with eight seconds remaining.

Said PFL CEO Peter Murray: “The 2024 PFL Global Season resumed this evening with the highest of stakes as the heavyweight and women’s flyweight divisions looked to secure 2024 PFL Global Playoff berths and continue their million-dollar journeys.

“The PFL is the only organization in which the athletes and fans know what is needed to advance, which provides for the best action and unparalleled synergy with the audience.”

Ray Sefo, president of fighter operations at the PFL, said: “Tonight in Connecticut we saw our world-class PFL athletes fight their way to the PFL Playoffs. We look forward to next week’s action in Salt Lake City. It is officially time to win or go home.”

Taila Santos and Jena Bishop met in women’s flyweight action, with both having a viable shot at a berth in the 2024 PFL Playoffs. Both women left it all in the PFL SmartCage for three rounds, with Santos winning by split decision.

Oleg Popov defeated Davion Franklin by unanimous decision in a heavyweight clash, and extended his winning streak to 16, the longest in mixed martial arts.

Marcelo Golm and Tyrell Fortune duked it out in heavyweight action, with the bout going the distance. Fortune took the unanimous decision win and secured three points in the season standings.

Flyweights Ilara Joanne and Shanna Young traded blows for three rounds, but it was Joanne who won via unanimous decision.

In heavyweight action, Tim Johnson made quick work of Danilo Marques with a first-round technical knockout. Johnson is now 18-9 with 10 knockouts. Johnson, who took the fight on short notice, earned six points.

In an exciting flyweight bout, Juliana Velasquez used her striking prowess to beat Lisa Mauldin by technical knockout in the second round. Velasquez is now 13-3 with five knockouts.

Kicking off the night, Sumiko Inaba defeated Saray Orozco by split decision in a women’s flyweight bout. Inaba moved her career record to 7-1 in her PFL debut.

The 2024 PFL Global Season continues Friday, June 21, from Salt Lake City, Utah, with light-heavyweight and lightweight action across ESPN platforms in the US and via DAZN in Canada and Europe.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem chairs 2024 FIA conference, celebrates 120 years of the federation

Updated 14 June 2024

Mohammed Ben Sulayem chairs 2024 FIA conference, celebrates 120 years of the federation

  • The four-day event took place at the Silk Road Complex in the heart of Samarkand, Uzbekistan
  • Key announcements included all new Cross Cars, a helmet program, and the launch of a Women in Motorsport mentorship program

SAMARKAND: The FIA, motorsport’s world governing body, celebrated its 120th anniversary at its 2024 conference, chaired by President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

More than 300 delegates from 167 member clubs representing 121 countries attended the event, hosted in the stunning Silk Road Complex in the heart of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Major announcements included the launch of a three-year Helmet Wearing program, designed to improve driver safety, a Women in Motorsport Mentorship Programme, launched in conjunction with 24 Hours of Le Mans, and all-new Cross Car designs.

The federation also set out plans to incorporate social impact into its sustainability roadmap.

Other key agenda items included a 120th anniversary session, led by the mobility department and featuring all four of the FIA’s regional presidents.

The sessions were complemented by a strong social program which included a Welcome Cocktail event at the Eternal City in the Silk Road complex, a gala dinner at the Mo’jiza restaurant, and an extraordinary light show at Registan Square.

The week concluded with an Extraordinary General Assemblies meeting in the Congress Center Ballroom, when members passed key amendments and updates including the FIA’s 2024 annual activity and financial report.

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said: “I want to extend my heartfelt thanks once again to the National Autosport and Karting Federation of Uzbekistan and the City of Samarkand for being such generous hosts and we are indebted to the support of the Administration of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Department of Social Development, the Ministry Of Sport, and the national Olympic and Paralympic Committees.

“We have celebrated an incredible milestone for the FIA as we reach 120 years, and whilst we have remembered the Federation’s illustrious past, we have also looked at what the future will bring.

“We have introduced robust governance, transparency, and clarity. It is my duty to ensure that our members and the global community are served with excellence. Our members are at the heart of everything we do, from the small group of enthusiasts who founded the Federation in 1904 to the 242 clubs who are now connected through the FIA.”

The next General Assemblies meeting and FIA Prize Giving, will be hosted in Kigali, Rwanda, in December.

European experience will benefit Saudi’s Future Falcons, say Valencia bosses

Updated 14 June 2024

European experience will benefit Saudi’s Future Falcons, say Valencia bosses

  • La Liga club’s Technical Director Miguel Angel Corona and academy Director Luis Martinez spoke to Arab News about the Spanish Super Cup in Riyadh, developing Saudi talent and Valencia’s football methodology

VALENCIA: In January 2023, La Liga club Valencia, as the previous season’s Copa del Rey runner-up, participated in the Spanish Super Cup in Riyadh.

A fine performance against Real Madrid in the first semifinal at King Fahd International Stadium saw them earn a 1-1 draw in normal time before exiting after a 4-3 penalty shootout.

It was a chance for Saudi Arabia audiences to watch up close one of Spain’s more successful clubs of the 21st century.

“It was a great experience, of course,” Valencia Technical Director Miguel Angel Corona said, during Arab News’ visit to the club’s academy. “No doubt, the environment was amazing and exciting. Of course our opponent was Real Madrid, so that had an effect. But yes, I appreciated the (support) of the Saudi people.”

Valencia’s mission goes deeper than the annual cup competition, however, and aligns with La Liga’s ambitions to grow its brand in the Middle East and beyond.

Corona says the club is in the middle of a long-term rebuilding process.

“We have passed a very difficult situation in terms of finances, and we have an amazing young team,” said Corona. “We have a coach (former Valencia player Ruben Barja) that understands perfectly the environment, the club. And bit by bit, we are rebuilding this amazing club, because for the last two, three years it was very difficult.”

La Liga fans of a certain age in the Middle East will remember the club’s glorious period at the start of the century, when Valencia, first under Hector Cuper and then Rafael Benitez, reached two Champions League finals, won two league titles (2001/2002 and 2003/2004) and a UEFA Cup (2003/2004).

Corona is now hoping to attract a new generation of supporters.

“In the Premier League, they have Mohamed Salah, they used to have Riyad Mahrez, many players from Algeria, from Morocco, from Tunisia,” he said. “But they (also) love La Liga and we are well aware of that.

“Our social media indicators are very interesting,” said Corona. “We (have) fans in MENA (Middle East and North Africa), Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and also in Saudi, with the Valencia CF fan group we have there. We feel the love and we want to attract more fans, to bring the club even closer to these fans.”

A few months on from last year’s Spanish Super Cup adventure in Riyadh, Valencia were involved in a lesser-known tournament back home that is perhaps no less important for the long-term ties with — and development of — Saudi Arabia football.

Organized in partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sport, the Al-Abtal International Cup, an international under-19 tournament, had two teams from the Kingdom compete against clubs from England, France, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Austria and Croatia at several Spanish venues.

Valencia reached the final and lost to Real Madrid, but earlier in the group stages they had faced the two teams that Saudi Arabia had entered, the “Green” and “White” Future Falcons teams.

The head of the VCF Academy, Luis Martinez, describes the Future Falcons initiative — which has resulted in the Saudi Arabian Football Federation also host under-14 tournaments — as a “great idea.”

“I think that will help to increase their level for sure,” he said, referencing the development of young Saudi Arabia talent. “Because at the end, you increase the level of competitiveness.”

“We have played three years in the tournament,” Martinez added. “The first year (2021), we won the tournament. Second year (2022), we were beaten in semifinals. And last year, we played the final in Prague (against Real Madrid). This year, logistically, we couldn’t participate.”

“The level is good,” he added, but cautioned that Saudi Arabia players may need more experience to compete against established teams from Europe.

“It’s true that the level of the competition that they wanted to create is very high, (but) sometimes you see that they are maybe still not ready to compete at that level.

“Because in the end, they are inviting Valencia, Real Madrid, Villarreal, Zagreb, Liverpool, Benfica, or Lisbon. Those teams are top in Europe. To reach that level is complicated for anyone. For us, for anyone. (But) I think, if they (Saudi Arabia teams) continue like this, the level will go up.”

There are signs that at lower age-group levels, Saudi Arabia’s players are increasingly more competitive. In 2022, a team from the Mahd Academy played against Valencia and Villarreal during a trip to Spain.

And Martinez’s age-group teams have also come up against young Saudi Arabia teams on visits to the Kingdom. In March this year, Valencia took part in the first La Liga FC Futures U-14 tournament held at the Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, which was won by Villarreal.

“We played the team from the Mahd Academy and at that age, 14 years old, the level was great,” said Martinez. “They were competing and they were performing well.

“So I think the level is going up, I think in Saudi in general they are investing in football. Of course they are investing a lot in professional football with the big stars, but if they keep investing as well in football development with good professionals, with good structures, methodology, the level must go higher.”

Martinez believes that many players from the Middle East and North Africa region are blessed with natural skills that are gained from being allowed to play with freedom at a young age. Street football, he calls it.

“A lot of players from maybe Morocco and Middle East and Africa, they have the skills, but maybe not the tactical awareness,” he said. “The funny thing is, maybe we, in Spain or south Europe, historically were the source of this kind of talent, players who play in the street, and I think we are destroying this a bit.”

“Right now players in Spain, the kids they don’t play in the streets. So maybe we are losing these type of players that are very technical because they are very anarchic. That’s why we have to go and find them in those countries.”

For Martinez, it is all about finding the right balance between technical skill and tactical awareness. To achieve this, he points to the methodology used at the Valencia CF Academy, which was voted the fourth best in Europe in 2023.

Raul Albiol, David Silva, Isco, Jordi Alba, Paco Alcacer and Ferran Torres are just a few players who have risen through the Valencia ranks to become global superstars.

“The main objective is written at the main door of the academy,” said Martinez.

“It’s developing players for the first team, or if they are not able to play for the first team, at least to place them in professional football. It seems easy, or it seems like something everybody would understand. You are an academy, you develop players for the first team. But it’s not that easy.”

A tactical methodology is implemented throughout the club, from the youngest age group to the first team, ensuring players rising through the ranks will fit into the various teams as they progress.

However, the main challenge for Martinez is how to balance individual talent with maintaining a competitive, winning culture for the team.

“You need to put the focus on developing players, and not as much in just developing teams and making winning teams,” Martinez said. “So that’s, for us, is the key focus. Finding the right people, coaches and rest of the staff, who understand that we are here to develop players.”

“The goal is always developing players (first). The teams that we use are, let’s say, tools to develop those players. This is in opposition to professional football, because at the end, in professional football, your goal is the team, to bring success, to win trophies, to win the league, to go to the Champions League.”

One of the academy’s main targets is to ensure players continue their education as a part of a holistic approach to developing individuals off the pitch.

The club has only one team in each of the under 16, 17 and 19 age groups, as well as the B team. The academy is also home to a 40-bed dormitory for the players, where they are provided with all their needs.

“If you have good players, you have good facilities, good coaches, normally the consequence of all this would be winning. But it shouldn’t be the focus of the situation. The focus of the situation should be developing players.”

Doncic knows he’s learning in first NBA Finals, but Mavs star isn’t conceding to Celtics

Updated 14 June 2024

Doncic knows he’s learning in first NBA Finals, but Mavs star isn’t conceding to Celtics

  • A rough first finals for the 25-year-old superstar, no doubt — an injury-filled postseason punctuated by fouling out for the first time in his playoff career
  • Doncic: They’ve still got to win one more game. Like I said, we’re going to believe until the end

DALLAS: Luka Doncic winced ever so slightly as he stepped onto the stage to address reporters a day after his Dallas Mavericks fell behind Boston 3-0 in the NBA Finals.

A rough first finals for the 25-year-old superstar, no doubt — an injury-filled postseason punctuated by fouling out for the first time in his playoff career, thanks to a four-foul fourth quarter in a 106-99 loss to the Celtics in Game 3.

Near the end of six seasons filled with comparisons to LeBron James, here’s another for Doncic. Just like the player he idolized as a teenager, Doncic is on the verge of having to weather failure on basketball’s biggest stage before getting more chances to experience the ultimate success.

“I didn’t really study the first finals of some people,” Doncic said Thursday, the eve of Game 4 in Dallas with the Celtics on the verge of an 18th championship, which would break a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most in the NBA.

Doncic did remember the first Eastern Conference finals — two, actually — for Michael Jordan in Chicago a generation ago.

“Obviously, there’s the story of MJ against Detroit,” the five-time All-Star said. “That was a big thing. I think he just learned from it. You’ve got to go through lows first to go on top. I think that’s great experience.”

After finally breaking through against the Pistons, Jordan won the title in his first trip to the NBA Finals in 1991, the start of a 6-0 run in the title series over an eight-season span.

Doncic is at risk of the same fate in his first finals as James, who was swept with Cleveland against San Antonio in 2007. James lost again with Miami — against Dallas, no less — in 2011 before winning back-to-back titles with the Heat.

Asked if he thought his game could improve in the offseason, Doncic said, “Oh, definitely, a lot of holes,” before reiterating he would learn plenty from his first finals. Then he paused.

“But we’re not in the offseason yet,” Doncic said. “They’ve still got to win one more game. Like I said, we’re going to believe until the end.”

The end is near for Dallas because Doncic didn’t get enough help from co-star Kyrie Irving in the first two games, or from his supporting cast in any of the first three.

Still, the Slovenian sensation has had his own difficulties, particularly in Game 3. The Celtics relentlessly targeted Doncic’s defense, which has been solid to good overall in these playoffs.

The four fouls came so quickly in the fourth quarter, his sixth forced a challenge that Dallas lost with 4:12 remaining. The Mavs were on a 20-2 run when Doncic was disqualified, and scored again to get within a point before Boston held on to avoid blowing a 21-point lead with 11 minutes remaining.

With a long history of complaining to officials, Doncic made a point earlier in the playoffs to go back to having fun. He’s had trouble sustaining it, and didn’t have kind words for the refs after fouling out in regulation for the first time in his career.

“I just really want to win,” Doncic said. “Sometimes I don’t show it the right way, but at the end of the day, I really want to win. I’ve got to do a better job showing it a different way.”

Doncic is 3 for 3 on miserable fourth quarters in the finals, with more turnovers (four) than baskets (three) and zero 3-pointers. Before the rare foul-out (the third of Doncic’s career), he sat most of the fourth with the Celtics comfortably in front in Game 1.

Dallas’ best closer hasn’t been closing in this series, and added a chest contusion to a postseason litany of ailments that included a sprained right knee and a sore left ankle.

Although the chest injury — sustained in Game 1 — was the only one on the latest injury report, it’s significant enough that Doncic confirmed to ESPN the network’s report that he had been taking a pain-killing injection by acknowledging he would probably have another one before Game 4.

“My message to him is he’s not alone in this,” said Irving, who bounced back from a sluggish offensive start to the series with 35 points in Game 3. “He’s played as best as he can despite the circumstances, just injuries and stuff. He’s been giving it his all. It’s not all on him.”

The spotlight in still on him, just as it was for Jordan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and James before the first of his four titles nearly 20 years ago.

“I think the history is there for us to learn from, when you look at great players and the struggles,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “But the great ones, they use that going into the next season or the next couple seasons to try to get back there because now they understand experience is a big thing.”

Doncic won’t do that until this season is officially over.