Messi’s enduring brilliance rewarded with another Ballon d’Or

Lionel Messi after winning the 2021 Ballon d'Or trophy during the 65th Ballon d'Or ceremony at Theatre du Chatelet, in Paris. (AP)
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Updated 30 November 2021

Messi’s enduring brilliance rewarded with another Ballon d’Or

  • The award a is record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or for the best player in the world

PARIS: Some might question whether Lionel Messi really deserved to win his latest Ballon d’Or prize ahead of other worthy candidates, but the Argentinian has been rewarded for continuing to be so good for so long.
The most turbulent year of Messi’s glittering career, in which he was forced to tearfully bid farewell to Barcelona, ends with him — at the age of 34 — claiming a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or for the best player in the world.
In Germany they thought it had to be Robert Lewandowski’s year after he missed out 12 months ago when the 2020 edition was scrapped due to the pandemic.
Karim Benzema might have had plenty of support in Spain for his remarkable performances with Real Madrid, and Jorginho could stake a claim following a year in which he won the Champions League with Chelsea as well as Euro 2020 with Italy.
Yet it is the enduring brilliance of Messi — who won the last award in 2019 — which stays in the minds of the jurors when it comes to voting.
Having joined Paris Saint-Germain in August, he is the first male player to win the award while with a French club since Jean-Pierre Papin of Marseille in 1991, although it was his achievements with Barcelona and with Argentina that counted toward him effectively retaining his crown.
Messi tried unsuccessfully to force his departure from Barcelona in August 2020 but he showed no signs of rancour as he stayed put at the Camp Nou and ended last season with 38 goals in 48 games for his boyhood club.
These are the kind of remarkable figures that he has made so mundane over the course of his career — indeed he had actually scored more goals than that in 10 of his previous 11 seasons.
Messi was the top scorer in La Liga for the fifth consecutive year with 30 goals and won the Copa del Rey, scoring twice in the final as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0.
This will always be remembered as the year his long association with the Catalan giants came to an end, after 672 goals in 778 appearances, a record goal tally for one club.
However, 2021 was also the year he finally won a major international title, captaining Argentina to victory in the Copa America with a 1-0 win against Brazil in the final at the Maracana.
He scored four goals in the tournament as Argentina won the South American championship for the first time since 1993.
“I think I won this trophy thanks to what we did at the Copa America so I dedicate this to my teammates,” he said after being handed his latest Ballon d’Or at the Chatelet Theatre in central Paris.
However the shame was that hardly any fans were in the stadium to witness Argentina’s Copa America success due to coronavirus restrictions, only adding to the sense that, despite all he has achieved, Messi still has unfinished business.
Not least at PSG, where he has so far played just 11 games since arriving in August, and scored just four goals.
Messi did provide three assists for the Parisians in a Ligue 1 match on Sunday but it remains to be seen how motivated the Argentinian is by the French league. He has other priorities.
“My dream is to win another Champions League,” he said at his unveiling in August, with the last of his four European Cups coming in 2015.
Then there is the really big one: the World Cup in Qatar will be underway this time next year and Messi will be 35 by then.
That will surely be his last chance to win the greatest trophy of all, and you imagine he would swap his seven Ballons d’Or to get his hands on it.


UEFA chief Ceferin calls on La Liga to stop criticism of PSG

Updated 27 May 2022

UEFA chief Ceferin calls on La Liga to stop criticism of PSG

  • Tebas hit out at Mbappe's decision to snub the Spanish champions
  • Ceferin said: "There are too many insults anyway in football, and I think that every league should worry about their own situation"

PARIS: UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin on Friday encouraged leagues to “worry about their own situation” in response to remarks by La Liga chief Javier Tebas after Paris Saint-Germain persuaded Kylian Mbappe to stay in France rather than join Real Madrid.
Tebas hit out at Mbappe’s decision to snub the Spanish champions and sign a new three-year deal in Paris, calling the contract “an insult to football.”
Speaking to AFP in an interview in Paris ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid, Ceferin said: “I absolutely don’t agree. There are too many insults anyway in football, and I think that every league should worry about their own situation.”
“I don’t think it is right that one league criticizes the other league. As much as I know, the offer from Real for Mbappe was similar to PSG’s offer,” Ceferin added.
French league president Vincent Labrune responded to Tebas in a letter sent on Thursday and seen by AFP, in which he voiced “disapproval, and also our incomprehension” at the “attacks” against PSG and Ligue 1.
In Tebas’ tweet attacking Ligue 1 he said PSG were had paid “large sums of money” to hold onto Mbappe “after posting losses of 700 million euros in recent seasons and having a wage bill of over 600 million euros.”
PSG suffered a 224.3-million-euro ($240m) loss in 2020/21, an increase of 80 percent on the previous year, the annual report from French football’s financial authority (DNCG) said earlier this month.


Liverpool’s Thiago, Fabinho fit for Champions League final

Updated 27 May 2022

Liverpool’s Thiago, Fabinho fit for Champions League final

  • Thiago was brought off at half-time of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Wolves last weekend nursing an Achilles problem
  • Fabinho has not featured since sustaining a muscular injury in a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on May 10

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool’s preparations for the Champions League final were boosted by the news that midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho will be fit to face Real Madrid after injury scares.
Thiago was brought off at half-time of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Wolves last weekend nursing an Achilles problem.
Fabinho has not featured since sustaining a muscular injury in a 2-1 win at Aston Villa on May 10.
However, the Brazilian took a full part in an open training session in front of the media on Wednesday.
“Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho will be included in Liverpool’s traveling squad for the Champions League final against Real Madrid,” Liverpool said in a statement.
“The pair will be among the players journeying to Paris for Saturday’s clash at Stade de France following injury concerns and are set to come into contention to return.”
Both players have been pivotal to Liverpool’s stunning season that has already seen them lift two trophies in the League Cup and FA Cup.
Jurgen Klopp’s men missed out on the Premier League title by a single point as Manchester City needed a stirring comeback from 2-0 down against Villa on Sunday to claim a fourth championship in five seasons.
However, the Reds can make amends by lifting a seventh European Cup against the most successful club in the competition on Saturday.

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Qatar braces for 200,000 daily World Cup air passengers; Saudia to play part

Updated 26 May 2022

Qatar braces for 200,000 daily World Cup air passengers; Saudia to play part

  • Saudia chief executive Ibrahim Koshy said his airline would run at least 30 daily round trip flights from the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah, that could carry 10,000 fans
  • Qatar Airways will cut flights to destinations that are ‘irrelevant’ to the World Cup, so that it can increase flights to countries taking part

DOHA: Qatar will only let football fans with match tickets enter the Gulf state during the World Cup tournament, officials said Thursday as they announced that scores of shuttle flights would bring in thousands of fans each day from neighboring countries.

Facing growing pressure to cope with the four-week football tournament, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the national airline would halt some routes to countries not involved in the 32-nation tournament during the tournament and reduce others.

Baker, who is also tourist minister, said Qatar’s Hamad International Airport and the older Doha International Airport would double capacity so that they can process more than 200,000 people a day.

The tiny state is desperately trying to find rooms for the 1.4 million predicted visitors and a top World Cup organizing committee official said only fans with tickets would be allowed in during the four weeks from November 21.

Fans will have to get a special pass, a Haya card, to enter the country and stadiums. They will need a match ticket to get the pass.

Saeed Al-Kuwari, director of the Haya digital platform for the organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, told AFP: “The only people who will enter the country during the tournament are holders of the Haya digital card.”

Qataris and legal residents will also be able to enter but authorities have yet to announce how business people will be processed.

Baker announced that Saudia, Kuwait Airways, flydubai and Oman Air will organize more than 160 daily flights from November 20 to bring supporters on one-day trips to see matches.

Officials estimate that more than 20,000 fans could come in each day on the shuttles.

Saudia chief executive Ibrahim Koshy said his airline would run at least 30 daily round trip flights from the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah, that could carry 10,000 fans.

Flydubai would operate at least 30 return flights, Kuwait Airways 10 and Oman Air 24, Baker said.

All flights would be reserved for fans with World Cup tickets who would go through a special booking that Baker promised would provide a “seamless” immigration and security processing as though they were entering on a domestic flight.

Baker said Qatar’s civil aviation authorities were increasing airspace capacity so that the three runways at Hamad airport could operate “continuously” during the World Cup.

He said Qatar Airways would cut flights to destinations that are “irrelevant” to the World Cup, so that it could increase flights to countries taking part.

Some 70 percent of Qatar Airways regular flights would see their times changed so that extra flights can be organized.

The airports would have to handle extra charter flights and airlines that have asked to establish regular lines because of the World Cup.

He said “state of the art immigration systems” would be introduced to speed up the arrival of international passengers.

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Bernie Ecclestone arrested in Brazil for illegally carrying a gun

Updated 26 May 2022

Bernie Ecclestone arrested in Brazil for illegally carrying a gun

  • Brazilian police found an undocumented LW Seecamp .32 gun in Ecclestone’s luggage during an X-ray screening
  • Ecclestone is married to Brazilian-born Fabiana Ecclestone, an FIA vice president and member of the World Motor Sport Council

SAO PAULO: Former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone was arrested in Brazil late on Wednesday for illegally carrying a gun while boarding a private plane to Switzerland, local police said on Thursday.
The Brazilian police found an undocumented LW Seecamp .32 gun in Ecclestone’s luggage during an X-ray screening, police said in a statement, adding that the 91-year-old was then arrested and taken to a facility at Viracopos airport in Campinas.
Ecclestone acknowledged owning the gun, but said he was unaware it was in his luggage at the time, police said. The Briton paid bail and was freed to travel to Switzerland.
Asked about Ecclestone’s arrest, the Sao Paulo state public security office confirmed in a statement to Reuters that a businessman was arrested for possession of a firearm at Campinas’ airport, but did not name him directly.
The office said the “small, silver colored pistol” was out of ammunition and that the arrestee had to pay 6,060 reais ($1,257.55) as bail. The handgun was seized, it added.
Ecclestone was not immediately available for comment on why he had a gun.
He is married to Brazilian-born Fabiana Ecclestone, an FIA vice president and member of the World Motor Sport Council.
Her mother Aparecida Schunck was kidnapped in Sao Paulo in 2016, with criminals demanding 120 million reais ($25.07 million) in ransom before she was freed nine days later in a police raid without any money being paid.
Such kidnappings have become less common in recent years, however.
Ecclestone also suffered a head injury in 2010 after being mugged in central London, his attackers making off with jewelry including a watch.
The Ecclestones attended several events in the South American country in May, including a local Stock Car race in the countryside near Sao Paulo and a meeting with triple world champion Nelson Piquet in Brasilia.
The Ecclestones own a coffee plantation near Sao Paulo, which they bought in 2012 and where they regularly spend time when not in Europe. Piquet drove for Brabham when it was owned by Ecclestone in the 1970s and 80s.
For decades Ecclestone was Mr. Formula One, the man who did the deals, turned the wheels and transformed the sport into today’s billion dollar business.
He was moved aside in 2017 when US-based Liberty Media took control of the commercial rights.


Carapaz keeps slim Giro lead, Buitrago scores breakthrough victory in tough 17th stage

Updated 26 May 2022

Carapaz keeps slim Giro lead, Buitrago scores breakthrough victory in tough 17th stage

  • Thursday’s 18th stage should see a sprint finish after a flat circuit around Treviso at the end of a 156-kilometer (97-mile) route from Borgo Valsugana, that includes two fourth-category climbs

LAVARONE, Italy: Race favorite Richard Carapaz maintained his slim overall lead of the Giro d’Italia after a tough 17th stage which was won by Santiago Buitrago for his first grand tour victory.

Carapaz remained three seconds ahead of 2020 runner-up Jai Hindley — with just four days of racing remaining — after both crossed the line together at the end of the 168-kilometer (104-mile) route from Ponte di Legno to Lavarone, which packed in almost 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) of climbing.

Mikel Landa finished six seconds behind the duo but moved into third overall, 1 minute and five seconds behind Carapaz. He surpassed João Almeida who was dropped on the second of the two top-category climbs that came in the final 40 kilometers of the race.

“It’s been a really hard stage,” said Carapaz, who rides for the powerful Ineos Grenadiers team. “I think we’re happy, every day everything is being defined a bit more, everything is clearing up in the (general classification) and I’m happy to have the jersey for another day.”

Buitrago had been in tears after finishing second on Sunday’s 15th stage. There were more tears from the Colombian cyclist on Wednesday, but this time of joy after soloing to victory.

The 22-year-old recovered from a crash halfway through the day to get back to the breakaway and then launched his attack toward the top of the final climb, cresting it alone and speeding down the final eight kilometers.

Buitrago, who rides for Team Bahrain Victorious, finished 35 seconds ahead of Gijs Leemreize — who had been leading on the steep climb to Monterovere — and 2:28 ahead of Jan Hirt.

“I’m really emotional. It’s my first Giro,” Buitrago said. “I needed to have a cold head on the final climb … I felt like I had the legs and I wanted to try and I went for it. I knew I had to go over on my own to try and win the stage.”

Thursday’s 18th stage should see a sprint finish after a flat circuit around Treviso at the end of a 156-kilometer (97-mile) route from Borgo Valsugana, that includes two fourth-category climbs.

“Tomorrow will still be an important day,” Carapaz said. “We have to get through the remaining days, no day is easy and we’ve got a really difficult weekend coming up.”

The Giro ends on Sunday in Verona.