Brazil on top as FIFA sets World Cup draw seedings with updated rankings

Brazil took over as the No. 1 team from Belgium. (AP)
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Updated 01 April 2022
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Brazil on top as FIFA sets World Cup draw seedings with updated rankings

DOHA, Qatar: The United States received a boost for the World Cup draw and Canada took a hit in Thursday’s updated FIFA rankings.
The Americans, who failed to qualify for the last World Cup, will be in Pot 2 after being ranked 15th in the world.
Canada, which won the North American qualifying group and will play at the tournament for the first time in 36 years, missed a chance for a rankings boost by losing at Panama 1-0 in its final qualifier.
Instead, Canada will be among the lowest seeded teams in Pot 4.
The eight groups for the tournament in Qatar will be drawn Friday from four pots.
Qatar gets the top-seeded slot given to the World Cup host nation despite being ranked No. 51.
The other top-seeded teams are Brazil, Belgium, defending champion France, Argentina, England, Spain and Portugal.
Brazil took over as the No. 1 team from Belgium, the first change as the top in three years. Sixth-ranked Italy is the only team from the top 10 that failed to qualify.
Besides the United States, Pot 2 includes Mexico, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Uruguay, Switzerland and Croatia, while in Pot 3 it’s Senegal, Iran, Japan, Morocco, Serbia, Poland, South Korea and Tunisia.
Three of the 32 entries are still unknown because qualifying hasn’t been completed. Those three entries have all been placed in Pot 4 regardless of the rankings of the teams involved. No. 18 Wales is the highest-ranked of the eight teams left in the playoffs.
The rest of Pot 4 includes Cameroon Ecuador, Saudi Arabia and Ghana along with Canada.
Teams from the same continent will be placed in different groups, except for some Europeans.
Europe has 13 teams in the tournament and five of the eight groups will each get two teams from the continent. The other three groups each get one European team.
Qatar will kick off its home World Cup in the opening game of Group A on Nov. 21. The final is scheduled for Dec. 18 — the host’s National Day.


Five-star Arsenal thrash Chelsea to open up Premier League lead

Updated 24 April 2024
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Five-star Arsenal thrash Chelsea to open up Premier League lead

  • The destiny of the title remains in Man City’s hands as the defending champions have two games in hand

LONDON: Kai Havertz and Ben White scored twice as Arsenal thrashed Chelsea 5-0 on Tuesday to surge ahead in the Premier League title race and ramp up the pressure on Liverpool and Manchester City.
Leandro Trossard was also on target in a record win over Chelsea for the Gunners, who move three points clear of Liverpool and four of Manchester City.
The destiny of the title remains in City’s hands as the defending champions have two games in hand.
Liverpool have also played one fewer game than Arsenal and are in action at Everton in the Merseyside derby on Wednesday.
However, Mikel Arteta’s men’s goal difference advantage now looks unassailable should it become decisive in the title race.
“We have made our people very proud, it is a big derby for us and I know what it means,” said Arteta.
“We started the game really well but didn’t convert all our chances — we were a bit sloppy in certain areas of the pitch.
“In the second half we were much more disciplined and created chances and were ruthless in front of goal.”
Chelsea and Arsenal’s title rivals were dealt a huge blow before kick-off as the Blues’ danger man Cole Palmer was ruled out due to illness.
Palmer has scored or assisted nearly 50 percent of Chelsea’s Premier League goals this season and his presence was badly missed by the visitors.
Despite enduring a disappointing first season under Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea had been unbeaten in eight consecutive league games prior to their FA Cup semifinal defeat to Manchester City on Saturday.
But they were blown away by an Arsenal side keen to reaffirm their title credentials after losing their last home game to Aston Villa.
“So difficult (a) result and performance (to accept) because it is not nice to see your team playing like this from the beginning of the game,” said Pochettino.
“Today we didn’t compete against a team fighting for the Premier League. We need to be aware we need to compete in a different way.”
The hosts flew out of the blocks and were in front inside five minutes.
Trossard only ended up at the Emirates after Arsenal were gazumped by Chelsea in the battle to sign Mykhailo Mudryk in January 2023.
The Belgian has proved to be a far more productive signing and smashed in his 15th goal of the season at Djordje Petrovic’s near post.
Petrovic redeemed himself for a mistake at the opening goal with two brilliant saves to turn away Havertz’s low effort and a deflected shot by Trossard to keep his side in the game before half-time.
The Serbian briefly held Arsenal at bay early in the second period with saves from Declan Rice and Havertz.
However, the floodgates opened once White curled in Arsenal’s second after Chelsea failed to clear a corner on 52 minutes.
Havertz scored the winning goal in a Champions League final for Chelsea during his three years in west London, but he never performed consistently to the level he has found in recent months under Arteta.
Martin Odegaard’s stunning through ball was met with the finish it deserved as Havertz smashed high past Petrovic.
His next finish was more subtle as the German international fired in off the post from Bukayo Saka’s pass for his seventh goal in his last 14 club games.
A night for forget for Chelsea was summed up when White’s attempted cross flew into the top corner from another sensational Odegaard pass.
Defeat leaves Chelsea still in ninth, three points adrift of the European places.
Next up for Arsenal is what appears their toughest hurdle remaining away to Tottenham in Sunday’s north London derby.
Should Arteta’s side prevail at the home of their fiercest rivals, City will likely need to be perfect in their final six games to retain the title.


Al Ain knock out Al Hilal to reach Asian Champions League final

Updated 24 April 2024
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Al Ain knock out Al Hilal to reach Asian Champions League final

  • Hernan Crespo’s Al Ain will face either Yokohama F-Marinos or Koreans Ulsan Hyundai in the final in May

RIYADH: Al Ain reached the Asian Champions League final for the first time since 2016 with a 5-4 aggregate victory over four-time winners Al Hilal, despite a 2-1 second-leg defeat in Riyadh on Tuesday.
Trailing 4-2 after their record 34-match winning run was ended in last week’s first leg, Al Hilal quickly cut the deficit through Ruben Neves’ fourth-minute penalty.
Brazilian Erik drew Al Ain level on the night, though, to leave runaway Saudi Pro League leaders Al Hilal with a mountain to climb in the second half.
But Salem Al Dawsari scored a rebound less than six minutes after the restart to give the hosts renewed hope.
Brazilian Michael and former Lazio star Sergei Milinkovic-Savic both went close as Al Hilal piled on the pressure, the latter seeing his effort cleared off the line.
Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Eisa enjoyed a fine evening, making six saves, including from Michael and Mohamed Kanno late on.
The Emirati visitors clung on desperately through nine minutes of added time, with Eisa keeping out a Michael header in the 98th minute.
Hernan Crespo’s Al Ain will face either Yokohama F-Marinos or Koreans Ulsan Hyundai in the final in May as they bid for a second triumph in the competition and first since 2003.
Japanese club Yokohama trail 1-0 on aggregate heading into their semifinal second leg on Wednesday.


Griner contemplated suicide during Russian prison ordeal

Updated 23 April 2024
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Griner contemplated suicide during Russian prison ordeal

  • Griner made the revelation in excerpts of an upcoming interview with ABC Television released on Tuesday
  • “Yeah, I just didn’t think I could get through what I needed to get through,” an emotional Griner said

LOS ANGELES: WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has revealed she contemplated suicide during her nine-month ordeal in a Russian jail that left her feeling “less than a human.”
Griner, who was detained in a Moscow airport in February 2022 on drug charges before being sentenced to nine years in prison, made the revelation in excerpts of an upcoming interview with ABC Television released on Tuesday.
“Yeah, I just didn’t think I could get through what I needed to get through,” an emotional Griner said when asked by her interviewer on ABC’s 20/20 news show if she had considered “ending it all.”
In other segments of the interview, Griner, who was freed in late 2022 as part of a prisoner swap, gave an insight into the grim conditions of her incarceration at a Russian penal colony.
“The mattress had a huge blood stain on it. I had no soap, no toilet paper. That was the moment where I just felt less than a human,” Griner said.
Griner said at one stage during her imprisonment she was ushered into a room to find “a huge knife sitting on the table.”
“And I was like ‘Now, this is going to be a ride,’” she said. “You’ve got to do what you got to do to survive.”
Griner was arrested and charged by Russian officials for possessing vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage as she passed through airport security.
She later testified she had “no intention” of breaking the law and had packed the cartridges by accident.
Asked by ABC what she felt when she realized that she had left the cartridges in her luggage, she replied: “My life is over right here.”
Later in the interview, Griner recalls the moment she was handed her nine-year prison term.
“I was just so scared for everything because there’s so much unknown,” she said.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion, Griner was eventually released in December 2022 as part of a deal that saw her swapped for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout — known as the “Merchant of Death.”
At the time, Griner was one of several US-based players playing in Russia during the WNBA off-season in order to boost her income.
She has vowed never to play basketball abroad again for clubs following her jail sentence.
Griner’s full interview, which comes ahead of the release next month of a memoir by the basketball player detailing her ordeal, will be aired on May 1.


Three top clubs need a new coach, Emery off the market after Aston Villa extension

Updated 23 April 2024
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Three top clubs need a new coach, Emery off the market after Aston Villa extension

  • “We are enjoying our way together with Villa fans, the club owners, management and this great group of players that we are proud of,” Emery said Tuesday
  • The field of candidates for the jobs at Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern is shrinking

DUBAI: Ahead of a summer when three of the biggest jobs in world soccer are up for grabs, Unai Emery became the latest top coach to decide to stay put.
The Aston Villa manager extended his contract until 2027 on Tuesday to stay in Birmingham at a time when Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern Munich all have looming vacancies.
In recent weeks, candidates Xabi Alonso and Julian Nagelsmann took themselves off the market by committing their futures to Bayer Leverkusen and Germany, respectively.
Emery was reportedly on the radar of Bayern and Barcelona after establishing himself as one of the shrewdest coaches in the sport with his work at Villa over the past two seasons.
Having taken over a team that were in danger of relegation in October 2022, he has guided Villa to fourth in the Premier League and into the semifinals of the Europa Conference League.
“We are enjoying our way together with Villa fans, the club owners, management and this great group of players that we are proud of,” Emery said Tuesday.
“Ambition already is, and must always be, the motto of this project.”
The field of candidates for the jobs at Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern is shrinking.
Alonso was the favorite for Liverpool and Bayern, having played for both teams during a storied career. But he announced last month that he would remain at Leverkusen, the team he has gone on to lead to their first German title at the expense of Bayern.
“This is the right place for me to be, to develop as a coach,” Alonso said.
Nagelsmann, fired by Bayern last season, was a contender to return to the German giant until last week when he extended his contract with the national team through to the 2026 World Cup. He was also considered a possibility for Liverpool, which faces the daunting task of replacing Jurgen Klopp at the end of the season.
Klopp said in January he would step down after a trophy-laden spell of more than eight years on Merseyside.
Alonso seemed like a natural fit as an ex-player who has made a remarkable start to his coaching career with Leverkusen.
Sporting Lisbon coach Ruben Amorim replaced Alonso as the favorite for the Liverpool job, while Roberto De Zerbi has impressed at Brighton.
Bayern need a replacement for Thomas Tuchel, who is stepping down at the end of the season. His reputation has taken a hit after failing to win the title this year, but he could yet walk away a Champions League winner after leading Bayern to the semifinals of European club soccer’s elite competition.
The Champions League trophy could yet see Tuchel in the running for one of the other two top jobs available this summer.
Barcelona need a new coach after Xavi Hernández said in January that this would be his last season.
Speculation that Emery was on the Catalan club’s radar had increased in recent days.
Emery’s reputation has only grown since taking over from Steven Gerrard when Villa was above the relegation zone only on goal difference.
Emery, who joined from Villarreal, led Villa to a seventh-place finish and qualified the team for Europe for the first time since 2010. Villa did not say at the time of his appointment in 2022 how long his original contract would run.
The 52-year-old Emery has won four Europa League trophies — three times with Sevilla and once with Villarreal — and won the French league title with Paris Saint-Germain.
He previously coached in England with Arsenal from 2018-19.
“We are thrilled and are building a sporting operation around Unai to support him with a view of returning Aston Villa, a co-founder of the English Football League as we prepare to celebrate our 150th anniversary, to its historic levels of greatness,” club chairman Nassef Sawiris said.


Unbeaten Stoinis ton helps Lucknow chase 211 to beat CSK

Updated 23 April 2024
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Unbeaten Stoinis ton helps Lucknow chase 211 to beat CSK

  • It was Stoinis’ first IPL century and his second in T20 cricket, trumping an unbeaten 108 by Chennai skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad
  • Stoinis reached his hundred in 56 balls as he and Hooda, who made 17 not out off six balls, secured Lucknow’s second straight win over Chennai

CHENNAI, India: Australia’s Marcus Stoinis hit an unbeaten 124 as Lucknow Super Giants chased down a target of 211 with six wickets and three balls to spare against Chennai Super Kings on Tuesday.
It was Stoinis’ first IPL century and his second in T20 cricket, trumping an unbeaten 108 by Chennai skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad at his home M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.
Lucknow looked in trouble at 88-3 after 11 overs but Stoinis put on 70 runs with Nicholas Pooran, who hit 34 off 15 balls, and an unbeaten 65-run stand with Deepak Hooda to achieve victory in 19.3 overs.
Stoinis reached his hundred in 56 balls as he and Hooda, who made 17 not out off six balls, secured Lucknow’s second straight win over Chennai, replacing the five-time winners in fourth spot.
Needing 17 to win in the final over, Stoinis smashed Mustafizur Rahman for a six and three fours, including one off a no ball.
“Tough pill to swallow, but good game of cricket,” said Gaikwad. “LSG played really well in the back end. We had the game in control till 13-14 overs, but Stoinis played a great innings.”
Stoinis walked in in the first over after Quinton de Kock’s departure for a duck and paced his innings to perfection as he hit 13 fours and six sixes in his 63-ball knock.
It was the highest score by a batsman while chasing in the IPL.
Hooda said Stoinis “played like a warrior, he is a kind of motivation to us.”
Sri Lanka pace bowler Matheesha Pathirana took two wickets including the dangerous Pooran.
Chennai posted 210-4 courtesy of Gaikwad’s second IPL ton and a 104-run stand between the captain and Shivam Dube, who smashed 66, after the hosts were invited to bat first.
Gaikwad took on the opposition attack despite losing Ajinkya Rahane and Daryl Mitchell and raised his hundred from 56 balls with a six and four.
Gaikwad became only the third Chennai player after India’s Murali Vijay and Australia’s Shane Watson to hit two IPL tons and moved to second in this season’s batting chart with 349 runs.
Royal Challengers Bengaluru star Virat Kohli tops the chart with 379 runs.
Dube got to his fifty with a four and a six before being run out in the final over, which saw veteran M.S. Dhoni walk out to a rousing reception and hit a four off the final ball.