New Covid variant throws sport in South Africa into turmoil

Passengers line up on Friday at OR Tambo’s airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, where sports events were thrown into turmoil after the announcement on travel bans following the discovery of a new strain of Covid-19.(AP)
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Updated 26 November 2021

New Covid variant throws sport in South Africa into turmoil

  • Two rounds of matches in the United Rugby Championship were postponed
  • Golfers playing in a professional tournament withdrew in order to fly home, while a Netherlands cricket tour of South Africa was in jeopardy

JOHANNESBURG: Sports events in South Africa were thrown into turmoil on Friday following the announcement on travel bans following the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in the country.
Two rounds of matches in the United Rugby Championship were postponed, golfers playing in a professional tournament withdrew in order to fly home, while a Netherlands cricket tour of South Africa was in jeopardy.
The British government announced on Thursday that South Africa had returned to the ‘red list’ because of the spread of the new strain of the virus, B.1.1.529. Travelers from South Africa, including returning nationals, will face a mandatory two-week quarantine period, while flights have been halted.
This was followed on Friday by a travel ban by several European Union countries.
Two Welsh rugby teams, the Cardiff Blues and the Llanelli Scarlets, announced that they were withdrawing from scheduled fixtures in the United Rugby Championship and were making plans to return home as soon as possible.
The United Rugby Championship (URC) later announced that all four matches scheduled for South Africa on Saturday and Sunday had been postponed, as well as fixtures for the following weekend.
Munster from Ireland and Italian team Zebre had also arrived in South Africa and the URC said arrangements were being made for all four of the visiting teams to return home as soon as possible.
Sixteen British players withdrew after the first round of the Joburg Open golf tournament, the first event of the new DP World Tour, and were expected to fly back to Britain to avoid having to spend time in quarantine.
A spokesman for the Sunshine Tour, which co-sanctions the South African leg of the World Tour, said officials of the two bodies were meeting to discuss the latest developments and expected to issue a statement later on Friday.
Two further tournaments, the South African Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championships, are scheduled in South Africa over the next two weeks and the spokesman said at this stage the tournaments were due to go ahead.
The Netherlands cricket team played the first of three scheduled one-day internationals against South Africa in Centurion on Friday but a joint statement from the boards of the two countries indicated that the touring team would return home as soon as possible.
But the fate of the tour had not yet been decided because it was “highly unlikely that the visiting team will be able to fly out of South Africa over the weekend.”
This opened the possibility that the planned second match, at the same venue on Sunday, might take place.
The third match was scheduled for Johannesburg on Wednesday.
The statement said a final decision on the remaining matches was expected “in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Rafael Nadal moves into Australian Open semifinals

Updated 25 January 2022

Rafael Nadal moves into Australian Open semifinals

  • Nadal is tied for most major singles titles by a male player with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal has stayed on track for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam singles title with a topsy-turvy 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 win over Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
Nadal had several medical timeouts in the 4-hour match, appearing related to stomach issues.
Nadal is tied for most major singles titles by a male player with Roger Federer, who is not playing here due to continuing recovery from right knee surgery, and Novak Djokovic, who was deported before the tournament began over visa issues concerning his decision not to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Nadal will play the winner of Tuesday’s later quarterfinal between Gael Monfils and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini. The men’s semifinals are set for Friday, so both winners on Tuesday will have an extra day to recover and prepare for their final-four showdown.
The men’s final is Sunday night.

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

Updated 25 January 2022

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

  • Comoros had to play left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde
  • To add to their woes, they had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes

YAOUNDÉ: Hosts Cameroon are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but only after laboring to a 2-1 win over a Comoros side who were forced to start an outfield player in goal and played most of the game with 10 men.
The Comoros started with left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were ruled out due to Covid-19 while the other was missing due to injury.
They then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes, and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon in front before skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his sixth goal of the tournament.
Despite that it was a heroic performance from the Comoros, who kept the tie alive until the end thanks to Youssouf M’Changama’s stunning late free-kick.
The Indomitable Lions keep their dream of winning the Cup of Nations on home soil alive as they advance to a last-eight tie against Gambia on Saturday, yet this was the Comoros’ night, despite the outcome.
The tiny Indian Ocean island nation qualified for the last 16 in their first ever appearance at the Cup of Nations after finishing as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned to a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the tie, including goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini.
Their other goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina, was injured but they had hoped Ahamada would be able to start after he tested negative on the day of the game.
The 30-year-old Ahamada flew from Garoua, where he had been isolating, to Yaounde on Monday afternoon in the hope of being able to play, only for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to decide otherwise as his positive result had come just two days earlier.
Alhadhur, a reserve left-back for French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio, wore the gloves, with tape used to mark out his number three on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey.
It was a farcical scene, and the Comoros’ plight worsened when Abdou was shown a straight red card for a foul on Moumi Ngamaleu after the Ethiopian referee went to review images of his challenge.
Rather than give up, the Comoros kept going and they only fell behind in the 29th minute when Aboubakar teed up Toko-Ekambi to slot home.
The islanders, whose coach Amir Abdou was among those missing after testing positive, almost equalized shortly after as Ahmed Mogni forced Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana into a fine save.
Aboubakar had a second-half effort disallowed for offside before making it 2-0 with 20 minutes left, finishing excellently after being picked out by Martin Hongla.
Yet there was no collapse from the Comoros, who pulled one back courtesy of M’Changama’s piledriver from 35 meters and go out with their heads held high.

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise

Updated 24 January 2022

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise

  • Marco Verratti put PSG ahead in the final minute of a sluggish first half, drilling home his first Ligue 1 goal since May 2017

PARIS: Lionel Messi returned, another marquee signing Sergio Ramos scored as Paris Saint-Germain cruised to a 4-0 victory over Reims on Sunday to restore their Ligue 1 lead to 11 points.
“We had a good game, we took three points,” said PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Earlier, Nice briefly cut the gap with a 2-0 win at Metz. But three of the teams just behind them lost.
Messi, returning from Covid, started on the bench while Kylian Mbappe returned to the starting lineup after a groin strain while Ramos made only his second league start of the season.
Marco Verratti put PSG ahead in the final minute of a sluggish first half, drilling home his first Ligue 1 goal since May 2017.
“It’s good that a player who doesn’t score often, does,” said Pochettino.
PSG upped the tempo after the break.
Ramos, who arrived from Real in the summer, scored his first goal for the club. The central defender reacted quickest to a loose ball from a PSG corner. After his first shot was parried by Predrag Rajkovic, the Spaniard reacted fastest again to slam home the rebound.
“I am happy to have played 90 minutes and I am personally happy because it is my first goal with PSG, I hope there will be many more,” said Ramos.
“It’s been three weeks since I started playing normally with the group,” he said. “We have the cup, we have the league, we have the Champions League, this is the best time to arrive in shape.”
Pochettino was happy with the goal.
“It’s good that he scored like Marco. He had a good game,” said the manager.
That goal brought Ramos level with Messi on one league goal this season, it also acted as the cue for Pochettino to send Messi on.
In the 67th minute, Messi set up Verratti for a shot that deflected off two defenders and into the top corner.
Danilo Pereira added a fourth as PSG matched their biggest league win of the season.
Earlier, Khephren Thuram’s goal set up a precious 2-0 away win for Nice as they saw off strugglers Metz to move back up to second place.
Khephren, the 20-year-old son of World Cup winner Lilian, opened the scoring in the 58th minute while a late spot-kick from Amine Gouiri completed the victory with a cheeky Panenka.
The three points lift Nice above their bitter south coast rivals Marseille, who are two points behind in third with a game in hand.
“We are still too far behind (PSG) to think about top spot. I’m more concerned by what’s coming up behind us,” said Nice coach Christophe Galtier.
“It’s about racking up the points and that can be tough when the opponent is fighting relegation.”
Strasbourg lost 4-3 at Bordeaux where Hwang Ui-Jo hit a hat-trick to lift the home team out of the bottom three.
Bordeaux, who had not scored in three league and cup games this year while conceding 10, hit three in the first 38 minutes but were made to sweat for their victory as their defense then leaked three goals.
“Hwang had a perfect game, he bailed us out on several occasions. He’s had some difficulties in the last few games, so I’m very happy that he’s back,” said Bordeaux’s under-threat coach Vladimir Petkovic.
“I am sorry that we let in three goals,” said Petkovic. “We had a very good first half but then the fear of winning the game took over.”
Rennes took an 18th-minute lead at another struggler Clermont with a goal by Baptiste Santamaria, but missed several other chances and paid in the second half.
Former Rennes player Lucas Da Cunha levelled in the 59th minute and Jordan Tell struck in the 70th minute.
Montpellier beat Monaco 3-2 to climb sixth.
Elye Wahi gave the home team a 13th-minute lead and Stephy Mavididi scored twice, the winner coming in stoppage time.
Wissam Ben Yedder and Vanderson scored for Monaco, who drop to seventh.

Ziyech gem fires Chelsea to victory over Spurs

Updated 23 January 2022

Ziyech gem fires Chelsea to victory over Spurs

  • Third-placed Chelsea are now 10 points behind leaders Manchester City

LONDON: Chelsea kept alive their faint Premier League title hopes as Hakim Ziyech’s superb strike inspired a crucial 2-0 win over Tottenham on Sunday. Ziyech broke the deadlock with his dazzling long-range curler early in the second half at Stamford Bridge.

Thiago Silva’s header killed off Tottenham, who were furious that Harry Kane had a first half goal ruled out for a foul.

Third-placed Chelsea are now 10 points behind leaders Manchester City after ending a damaging run of four league games without a victory.

Chelsea had beaten Tottenham three times already this season without conceding a goal, including knocking their London rivals out of the League Cup semifinals.

Failing to do so for a fourth time would have been a hammer blow to the Blues’ bid to reel in City.

Chelsea won’t play again in the league until mid-February due to the winter break and their involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup.

But, for the first time since Dec. 26 at Aston Villa, Thomas Tuchel’s side tasted league success, giving them a much-needed boost at a time when their season was in danger of going off the rails.

Tottenham’s first defeat in 10 league games since Antonio Conte took charge was a blow to their challenge for a top four finish.

They remain in seventh, two points behind fourth placed Manchester United with two games in hand.

Tottenham fans let themselves down by throwing missiles at Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger in the closing stages.

Conte’s team had arrived at the Bridge on a high after Steven Bergwijn’s stoppage-time double earned a remarkable 3-2 win at Leicester in midweek.

But former Chelsea boss Conte had seen Tottenham swept away by a poor start in their League Cup first leg loss against his old club.

In a bid to neutralize Chelsea’s threat, the Italian switched Tottenham to a back four for the first time in his reign.

Yet Conte must have been fearing the worst after Chelsea made another lively start.

Romelu Lukaku hooked a decent chance over the bar from Mason Mount’s delivery before Callum Hudson-Odoi nodded Ziyech’s cross just wide. Ziyech’s swerving drive forced from 25 yards forced a parried save from Hugo Lloris.

Significantly, Silva, already booked for a foul on Bergwijn, breathed a sigh of relief when another foul on the winger went unpunished. Lukaku’s lack of confidence and touch were painfully clear as the Belgian striker kicked at thin air in an embarrassing failed attempt to convert Mount’s pass from eight yards.

Tottenham thought they had taken the lead against the run of play when Kane fired home from Ryan Sessegnon’s pass.

But referee Paul Tierney controversially disallowed it for a slight push from Kane that sent Silva sprawling theatrically as he tried to track the striker’s run.

Ziyech rubbed salt into Tottenham’s wounds as the Moroccan winger produced a moment of magic in the 47th minute.

Hudson-Odoi led the charge with a driving run and pass to Ziyech, who curled a sublime strike into the far corner from the edge of the area.

Ziyech almost followed his second goal in successive games with a third moments later when his rocket was palmed away by Lloris.

After his role in Kane’s disallowed goal, it was inevitable Silva would haunt Tottenham again and the Brazilian doubled their lead in the 55th minute.

Eric Dier’s foul on Hudson-Odoi conceded a free-kick that was questioned furiously by the Tottenham defender.

From the set-piece, Mount’s delivery was perfect for Silva to glance his header into the far corner.

Lukaku was denied a goal by Lloris’s fine save, but Chelsea had done enough to ease their winter blues.

ICC names Pakistan’s Fatima Sana as Women’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year

Updated 23 January 2022

ICC names Pakistan’s Fatima Sana as Women’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year

  • Fatima Sana has taken 24 wickets from 16 one-day internationals so far
  • She has represented Pakistan in Bangladesh, West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe

ISLAMABAD: The International Cricket Council (ICC) on Sunday acknowledged Pakistani cricketer Fatima Sana’s contributions to the international cricket and named her as the Women’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year for “ruling the roost” in 2021. 
Sana, who made her debut against South Africa at Potchefstroom in May 2019, has since come a long way. The 20-year-old cricketer, who is a right-arm medium pacer and a right-handed batter, has taken an impressive 24 wickets from the 16 one-day internationals (ODIs) she has played so far. 
She is the second Pakistani cricketer to be awarded by the ICC for an impressive show last year. Wicketkeeper batter Mohammad Rizwan was awarded ICC Men’s T20I Cricketer of the Year award. 
“Pakistani pacer Fatima Sana impressed one and all with her all-round efforts in 2021,” the ICC said in a statement. “She became an integral part of Pakistan’s ODI and T20I side owing to her wicket-taking ability as a bowler.” 
The ICC also acknowledged Sana’s ability “to add handy runs down the order at the same time.” 
Sana has represented Pakistan in Bangladesh, West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe, where she impressed selectors with stellar performances. She took 18 of her 24 ODI wickets against the West Indies alone in July last year. 
“Sana showed a lot of heart against the attacking West Indies batters and succeeded in keeping them at bay,” the ICC noted. 
Reacting to the ICC award, Sana said the “journey has just started.” 
“Allahumdulillah (praise be to God). Honoured, Humbled, overwhelmed. Thank you each and everyone for showing love, support, appreciation & most importantly your duas — need them the most,” she tweeted. 

Her achievement earned her a nod from Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ramiz Raja, who also took to Twitter to acknowledge her impressive performance. 
“And another great story today @imfatimasana has won the ICC Women’s emerging cricketer of the year award,” Raja said. “Well done. Plans are afoot for Women’s T20 League in Pakistan Inshallah (God willing).”