Benzema strikes again as Real Madrid edge past Rayo

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema celebrates with Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior after scoring the opening goal during their La Liga match against Rayo Vallecano at the Vallecas stadium in Madrid on Saturday. (AP)
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Updated 26 February 2022

Benzema strikes again as Real Madrid edge past Rayo

  • Benzema struck in the 83rd minute, his 29th goal of the season enough to seal a scrappy victory at Vallecas
  • Betis sit third and have been in excellent form in recent weeks

MADRID: Karim Benzema proved the difference again for Real Madrid on Saturday by scoring a late winner against Rayo Vallecano to send his team nine points clear at the top of La Liga.
Benzema struck in the 83rd minute, his 29th goal of the season enough to seal a scrappy victory at Vallecas but one that could put Madrid almost out of sight if Sevilla fail to beat local rivals Real Betis on Sunday. Betis sit third and have been in excellent form in recent weeks.
For an eighth match in a row, Madrid failed to score in the first half and this was their fifth game out of the last six that has seen them unable to score more than once.
Their lack of punch could prove problematic against more testing opponents, with a Champions League second leg against Paris Saint-Germain and then the second La Liga Clasico of the season against Barcelona both approaching next month.
A superb start to the campaign had Rayo in the hunt for the European places a few weeks ago but four consecutive defeats had seen them drop to 12th before kick-off.
They pushed Madrid hard here but were made to pay for a lack of ruthlessness in the final third, with Benzema and Vinicius Junior’s quality not for the first time proving decisive.
Marco Asensio and Benzema both had early chances but Rayo were the better team in the first half, drawing Madrid into a scrap and harrying them into mistakes.
Casemiro was particularly out of sorts but thought he had given Madrid the lead, banging a bouncing ball into the net after winning an aerial duel with Alejandro Catena.
The goal was ruled out, though, after replays showed he had pushed Catena in the back.
Both teams had chances early in the second half. Vinicius Junior’s finish from six yards had to be blocked before Thibaut Courtois did brilliantly to deny Mario Saurez from heading Rayo in front.
But Rayo tired and Madrid turned the screw in the last 20 minutes, Luka Modric curling against the crossbar, although Rayo had the best chance, Oscar Trejo and then Alvaro both thwarted by Courtois after Madrid failed to clear.
The miss proved costly because moments later, Benzema was celebrating in the corner.
He started the move, threading Vinicius through in the box before continuing his run. Vinicius could have shot but tapped it to his left, giving Benzema an open net.


Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals

Updated 26 sec ago

Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals

DOHA: Croatia beat Japan on penalties to reach World Cup quarter-finals.

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Updated 05 December 2022

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

  • Bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October
  • The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2027 Asian Cup after India withdrew its bid.
The Asian Football Confederation issued a statement Monday saying the All Indian Football Federation had withdrawn from the host selection process. No reason was published.
The bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October and the final decision was expected to be made at a regional congress in February. Saudi Arabia is now the only candidate to host the 2027 tournament.
The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host. Qatar, which is hosting the ongoing World Cup, has already staged the Asian Cup twice.
The Saudis started their World Cup campaign in Qatar with a stunning 2-1 upset win over Argentina, but didn’t advance to the knockout stages after back-to-back losses to Poland and Mexico in Group C. Argentina topped the group and then edged Australia in the Round of 16 to qualify for the quarterfinals.

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Aggressive England beats Pakistan by 74 runs in 1st test

Updated 05 December 2022

Aggressive England beats Pakistan by 74 runs in 1st test

  • England leads its first test series in Pakistan in 17 years 1-0 
  • Multan and Karachi scheduled to host the remaining two games

RAWALPINDI: England showcased its masterful approach of aggression in test cricket with a superb 74-run victory over Pakistan in the final session of the first test on Sunday.

Needing 263 runs with eight wickets in hand on Day 5, Pakistan was dismissed for 268 against the reverse swing of James Anderson (4-36) and Ollie Robinson (4-50) — losing its last five wickets for just 11 runs after tea.

Jack Leach had the last wicket of Naseem Shah, trapped leg before wicket after England delayed the second new ball for well over an hour with Anderson and Robinson doing the damage with the old ball.

Pakistan succumbed to the relentless attacking field settings of England captain Ben Stokes before Robinson and veteran Anderson sliced through the lower order after Pakistan was placed at 257-5 going into the final session.

Robinson had earlier ended the nearly four-hour defiance of one of the four Pakistan debutants – Saud Shakeel – in the second session to a brilliant diving catch by Keaton Jennings as the lefthander top-scored with 76.

England had posted an electrifying 657 and Pakistan responded with 579 to concede a 78-run lead on a grass-less wicket where seven batters from both sides scored centuries.

England made a bold declaration with another rapid 264-7 in just 35.5 overs on Day 4 and set Pakistan a challenging target of 343 in four sessions.

England leads its first test series in Pakistan in 17 years 1-0 with Multan and Karachi scheduled to host the remaining two games.


England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters

Updated 05 December 2022

England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters

  • Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time
  • Bukayo Saka added a third, but it was Jude Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed England to turn the tide

AL KHOR: England set up a titanic World Cup quarter-final against holders France as Jude Bellingham’s masterclass inspired a 3-0 win against Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday.
Gareth Southgate’s side survived a nervous start at the Al Bayt Stadium before Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time.
Bukayo Saka scored England’s third, but it was Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed them to turn the tide.
Bellingham set up Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup.
Kane has now netted 11 times at major tournaments, overtaking Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in those competitions.
But at the tender age of 19, it is Bellingham who has emerged as England’s driving force.
He is the first teenager to assist in a World Cup knockout stage game since 1966, having already announced his arrival on the global stage by netting his first England goal in the 6-2 rout of Iran in their group opener.
Just two years after he was playing in the English second tier with Birmingham, the precocious Bellingham was totally unfazed against Senegal in the biggest game of his life.
England will need another command performance from Bellingham if they are to extend their stay in Qatar beyond the last eight.
Eyeing a third successive semifinal appearance at major tournaments, England will return to the Al Khor desert on Saturday to take on the red-hot Kylian Mbappe and company after France brushed aside Poland 3-1 on Sunday.
Euro 2020 runners-up England have won only one of their last eight meetings with France, who pose a significant threat to their hopes of winning a first major title for 56 years.
The depth of attacking talent available to Southgate could be crucial and, defending his decision to drop Marcus Rashford for Saka despite the forward’s double against Wales, he boasted “we have an embarrassment of riches in all areas of the pitch.”
After a rocky opening when they passed too slowly and looked anxious at the back, England hit their stride to show why Southgate has such confidence in them.
Fuelled by the incessant drumming from their vibrant fans, African champions Senegal initially showed no fear as they tested England’s composure with a high press.
Senegal squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead when Harry Maguire gave the ball away and Boulaye Dia’s volley deflected off John Stones into Ismaila Sarr’s path, only for the Watford forward to blaze over from close-range.
Preying on England’s nerves, Sarr harried Saka and Dia seized the loose ball, forcing a good save from Jordan Pickford with a fierce drive.
That proved the turning point as England snatched the lead against the run of play in the 38th minute.
Bellingham sprinted onto Harry Kane’s incisive pass into the Senegal area and clipped a precise cutback into the path of Liverpool midfielder Henderson, who guided his low strike past Edouard Mendy from 12 yards.
Henderson’s goal served as a jolt of adrenaline that coursed through England as they doubled their lead seconds before the interval.
Bellingham was the catalyst with his well-timed tackle and a crisp pass to Foden, whose perfectly-weighted lay-off allowed Kane to race clear for a clinical finish.
England strolled through the second half and, repaying Southgate’s faith, Saka put the result beyond doubt in the 57th minute.
Foden made a dynamic run down the left and Saka reached his cross to flick a clever effort over Mendy from close-range.


Giroud and Mbappe guide France past Poland and into World Cup quarter-finals

Updated 04 December 2022

Giroud and Mbappe guide France past Poland and into World Cup quarter-finals

  • Mbappe’s lethal strike in the 74th minute killed off any prospect of a Poland comeback and he netted again at the death to move to nine goals in just 11 World Cup appearances
  • The threat of Robert Lewandowski was snuffed out by the French defense although the 34-year-old Poland captain did get the consolation of scoring a stoppage-time penalty

DOHA: Kylian Mbappe set up a history-making goal for Olivier Giroud and then scored two himself as holders France eased into the quarter-finals of the World Cup with a 3-1 win over Poland on Sunday.
Giroud’s opening goal a minute before half-time was his 52nd for his country, allowing him to pass Thierry Henry and become France’s all-time record marksman.
Mbappe’s lethal strike in the 74th minute killed off any prospect of a Poland comeback and he netted again at the death to move to nine goals in just 11 World Cup appearances, the second-most for a French player at the tournament.
At the other end the threat of Robert Lewandowski was snuffed out by the French defense although the 34-year-old Poland captain did get the consolation of scoring a stoppage-time penalty.
France, though, march on to the quarter-finals and remain on course to become the first team to successfully defend the World Cup since Brazil 60 years ago.
France were overwhelming favorites against a Poland side who had limped through the group stage, but the memory of their exit from Euro 2020 served as a warning.
France had been 3-1 up and cruising in that last-16 tie against Switzerland only to concede two late goals and end up losing on penalties, with Mbappe missing the crucial spot-kick.
Mbappe returned on Sunday as one of nine changes following their inconsequential defeat by Tunisia, with goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris also returning to win his 142nd cap.
That saw him equal the record for most France appearances held by Lilian Thuram, whose son Marcus came off the bench here.
It was a history-making occasion for France but what coach Didier Deschamps wanted above all was a routine victory and progression to the quarter-finals.
The sky should be the limit for a French side led by Mbappe, but it is not just him.
Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann were lively in a strong start amid a hushed atmosphere at Al Thumama Stadium.
The fans were happy to sit back and be thrilled as the big screen at one point showed that Mbappe had reached a top speed of 35 kilometers per hour.
France’s pace and pressing was too much for Poland as Przemyslaw Frankowski gave possession away, leading to Dembele crossing to the back post for Giroud to somehow put the ball wide.
Poland, who have not won a World Cup knockout match since 1982, recovered from a tentative start to almost go ahead in the 38th minute as Lloris blocked a shot by Piotr Zielinski and Jakub Kaminski’s follow-up was stopped on the line by Raphael Varane.
Those misses proved crucial as France seized the lead a minute before half-time.
Patient build-up play ended with Mbappe having a glance as he received the ball just outside the box before playing in Giroud who took a touch and finished into the far corner.
Poland were left to chase the game in the second half and they sent on Juventus striker Arkadiusz Milik to support Lewandowski for the final half hour.
However, their attack was simply no match for France, who picked off Poland to make it 2-0.
A Griezmann clearance was brought down by Giroud and he released Dembele whose ball into the middle was controlled before being blasted home by Mbappe.
It was an emphatic finish and was followed by another of a similar calibre from a Thuram assist in stoppage time.
Only Just Fontaine, who scored 13 in 1958, has scored more World Cup goals for France.
Lewandowski then pulled one back right at the end, converting a retaken penalty that was awarded for a handball by Dayot Upamecano.