DUBAI: Villarreal know their chances of advancing past Bayern Munich in the Champions League will depend largely on whether they can successfully contain Robert Lewandowski.
And hopes are high considering the team’s recent success against another top striker. The Spanish club are coming off a round-of-16 triumph over Juventus, when their defense got the best of Dusan Vlahovic.
Villarreal defender Pau Torres said the squad has enough experience facing some of the world’s top forward and will be ready for the task at hand beginning in the first leg of the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
“These are the challenges we enjoy,” Torres told Marca TV. “Each striker has his style and we will make sure we know how to make things difficult for Lewandowski. He is a very complete striker. Sometimes it seems like he’s not doing much, but in the end he’s always a threat.”
Torres faced Lewandowski with Spain in last year’s European Championship, a 1-1 draw in the group stage when Lewandowski scored a second-half equalizer.
Vlahovic also scored against Villarreal in the first leg of the round of 16, getting on the board in the first minute at La Cerámica Stadium, but neither the Serbian striker nor teammate Álvaro Morata could find the net in the second leg in Italy — a surprising 3-0 win by the modest Spanish club.
Villarreal also faced Cristiano Ronaldo twice in the group stage, with the forward scoring a goal in each of Manchester United’s victories.
Lewandowski is the Champions League’s leading scorer with 12 goals from eight matches. He has more than 50 goals this season for his club and his country and is ranked third in the all-time list of Champions League scorers, behind Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He has scored seven goals in his last five games in all competitions.
“He has very good numbers and any team would like to have these types of players,” said Torres, who scored one of the goals in Villarreal’s win at Juventus in the second leg. “We will have to do a good job to contain him and keep him from scoring against us.”
Villarreal midfielder Manu Trigueros said coach Unai Emery — who is in the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time — will have the team prepared to face the powerful Bayern squad.
“He pays attention to detail. He dissects everything so players have everything as easy as possible or as many solutions as they need before a match,” Trigueros said. “We have many discussions with him and he’s very talkative, and he gets through to the players. Everyone around him spends hours watching videos so the players have everything they need.”
Villarreal are coming off its second consecutive Spanish league defeat — a 2-0 loss at second-to-last-place Levante, when Emery didn’t rest many of his regular starters.
Villarreal, the defending Europa League winner, are back in the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. Their best campaign was a semifinal appearance in 2006, when they lost to Arsenal.
“Villarreal has a coach with a lot of experience at winning on the international stage,” Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann said. “The team are very experienced and we will need to figure out how to break them down.”
Bayern made it to the last eight 10 times in the last 11 seasons. The team are playing in the quarterfinals for a record 20th time.
The second leg is next week in Munich.
The winner of the series will play either Benfica or Liverpool in the semifinals.
Villarreal take on Bayern focused on stopping Lewandowski
Villarreal take on Bayern focused on stopping Lewandowski
- Villarreal are coming off a round-of-16 triumph over Juventus
- Lewandowski is the Champions League’s leading scorer with 12 goals from eight matches
DUBAI: Villarreal know their chances of advancing past Bayern Munich in the Champions League will depend largely on whether they can successfully contain Robert Lewandowski.
Basketball star Brittney Griner arrives at Russian court for trial on drug charges
- The athlete was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters with cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage
- She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs
Griner’s trial began last week amid a growing chorus of calls for Washington to do more to secure her freedom nearly five months after her arrest.
The athlete was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters with cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned Thursday that “attempts by the American side to make noise in public ... don’t help the practical settlement of issues.”
The White House said President Joe Biden called Griner’s wife on Wednesday to assure her that he’s doing all he can to obtain the athlete’s release, as soon as possible. They spoke after Biden read a letter from Griner in which she said she feared she’d never return home.
Washington hasn’t made public its strategy in the case and the United States may have little leverage with Moscow because of strong animosity due to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. The State Department has designated Griner as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government’s chief hostage negotiator.
Asked about the possibility of Griner being swapped for a Russian jailed in the US, Ryabkov, the senior Russian diplomat, noted that until her trial is over “there are no formal or procedural reasons to talk about any further steps.”
He warned that US criticism, including a description of Griner as wrongfully detained and dismissive comments about the Russian judicial system, “makes it difficult to engage in detailed discussion of any possible exchanges.”
The trial of the Phoenix Mercury star and two-time Olympic gold medalist was adjourned after its start last week because two scheduled witnesses did not appear. Such delays are routine in Russian courts and her detention has been authorized through Dec. 20, suggesting the proceedings could last months.
It was unclear if Griner would testify Thursday.
Although Griner’s supporters initially kept a low profile, calls for the United States to take action spiked after the trial’s first day.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, one of America’s most prominent Black activists, this week called for Biden to arrange a prayer meeting with Griner, saying, “Four months is too long for this to have gone on, and I hope the President acts on her pleas to come home.”
An organization called Win With Black Women sent Biden a letter saying Secretary of State Antony Blinken “has called Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, assuring her and stating publicly that Brittney’s safe return was a matter of personal priority; however, we are concerned that the rhetoric does not appear to align with the actions taken to date. We urge you to make a deal to get Brittney back home swiftly.”
Russian news media have repeatedly speculated that Griner could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US on conviction of conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
Russia has agitated for Bout’s release for years. But the wide discrepancy between Griner’s alleged offense and Bout’s global dealings in deadly weapons could make such a swap unpalatable to Washington.
Others have suggested that she could be traded along with Paul Whelan, a former Marine and security director serving a 16-year sentence in Russia on an espionage conviction that the US has repeatedly described as a setup.
Russia has shown no signs of backing off.
“This is a serious offense, confirmed by indisputable evidence ... Attempts to present the case as if the American was detained illegally do not hold up,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said Wednesday.
“The law has been violated, and arguments about the innocent nature of Griner’s addiction, which, by the way, is punishable in some US states, are inappropriate in this case,” he said.
Nadal in race to be fit for Wimbledon semis as Djokovic targets 8th final
- Nadal said he was unsure over his ongoing participation in the tournament
- The 22-time Grand Slam champion has six wins against Kyrgios in nine meetings between the pair
LONDON: Rafael Nadal is facing a race against time to be fit for Friday's mouthwatering Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios but can either man stop Novak Djokovic in his relentless push for a fourth straight crown?
A meeting between 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal and the mercurial Australian has been on the cards since Kyrgios defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in an ill-tempered third-round meeting.
Kyrgios cruised through his last-eight match against unseeded Chilean Cristian Garin on Wednesday in straight sets to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.
But it was a different story for Nadal, who had to battle an abdominal injury in a gruelling five-set win against 11th-seeded American Taylor Fritz.
The second seed, visibly in pain, looked unlikely to finish the match when he was forced to take a medical time-out in the second set.
But he returned to the court and twice recovered from a set down to win in four hours and 21 minutes
The extra time on court for Nadal -- two hours longer than Kyrgios -- is a factor in itself but the Spaniard's injury raises the prospect that he may not even be fit enough to play.
Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 champion, said he was unsure over his ongoing participation in the tournament as he targets the third leg of a rare calendar Grand Slam.
"I can't give you a clear answer because if I gave you a clear answer and tomorrow another thing happens, I will be a liar," the 36-year-old said after his quarter-final win.
If the two do meet on Centre Court, it would be the standout tie of the tournament so far in a year when many of the top seeds have fallen by the wayside early.
Kyrgios's tournament has been defined by breathtaking shot-making but also his familiar rants on court -- including a demand that Tsitsipas be thrown out of the championships for hitting a ball into the crowd.
The 40th-ranked player has been fined a total of $14,000 and he now has the added distraction of a looming court appearance in Australia, related to an allegation of assault.
Nadal has six wins against Kyrgios in nine meetings between the pair.
The Australian famously beat Nadal -- then world number one -- on his way to the Wimbledon quarter-finals on his debut in 2014 but the Spaniard took his revenge in 2019.
Kyrgios, 27, said he believed the match against Nadal would be the "most-watched of all time".
"We've had some absolute battles on that Centre Court," he said. "He's won one against me and I've won one against him.
"Obviously, we know, two completely different personalities. I feel like we respect the hell out of each other, though. I feel like that would be a mouth-watering kind of encounter for everyone around the world."
Djokovic had to come back from two sets down against Italian 10th seed Jannik Sinner in his quarter-finals on Tuesday.
But the 35-year-old finished the match looking fresh, even pulling off an outrageous winner while doing the splits.
The Serbian top seed is on a 26-match winning streak at Wimbledon as he seeks to draw level with Pete Sampras on seven titles at the All England Club -- just one behind Roger Federer's men's record.
British ninth seed Cameron Norrie has vowed to "take it" to Djokovic and will hope to ride a wave of home support but he has a tough task on his hands to unseat the champion.
Djokovic, who beat the 26-year-old in their only previous meeting, is braced for a partisan crowd.
"For him, not much to lose," he said. "Every victory from now onwards is a big deal for him.
"I know that. But, you know, I practised a few times. I know his game well. He's been around. Of course I will do my homework and get ready."
All eyes on Banchero, as NBA Summer League is set to open
- The crowds do come for these games; in 2018, Summer League set a total attendance record of 139,972 and in 2019, a per-day average record was set of 12,199 fans
LAS VEGAS: In Las Vegas, there’s always a big show happening.
Welcome to the stage, Paolo Banchero. He’s about to have his opening night.
NBA Summer League starts Thursday in Las Vegas, with Banchero — the now-former Duke star forward who was the No. 1 pick last month — set to play in the opening game when the Orlando Magic take on No. 3 pick Jabari Smith Jr. and the Houston Rockets in the first contest of the 11-day showcase.
“It’s great,” Banchero said Wednesday as the Magic wrapped up practice in one of the two UNLV arenas where games will be taking place. “You know, I get to come out here, have all these people come watch, watch me put on a show. I love when big crowds are out, when all the cameras are out, that’s when I play my best. So, I’m looking forward to it and it’s going to be fun.”
The crowds do come for these games; in 2018, Summer League set a total attendance record of 139,972 and in 2019, a per-day average record was set of 12,199 fans. That’s all pre-COVID, of course, and the league is hoping this summer league — even with the pandemic still very much happening — is back to those sorts of numbers.
And a glitzy matchup to get things started, two of the top three picks in the first game, seems fitting.
“I want to feel like I played hard all week, no matter how long I’m there, no matter if I’m making shots, missing shots, I want to know that I was out there competing, out there listening, out there learning,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, all this is new to me.”
He’s not alone there. For most players taking part over the next 11 days, this is new. Some have played in Las Vegas before, maybe in AAU games, or high school, or in college. A few have even participated in Summer League before — but there are some who are seeing Las Vegas for the first time as well.
“I’m looking forward to walking around and seeing some things,” Miami rookie Nikola Jovic said. “When I have time.”
Every NBA team has a summer squad in Las Vegas, all set to play five games. The first four games for each team will go into standings that will determine which two will play on July 17 for a title, though the trophy can be viewed as an ancillary part of Summer League.
Sacramento won Summer League last season; probably only the most ardent basketball fans know that. But moments stand out — such as No. 1 pick Zion Williamson of New Orleans ripping the ball away from New York’s Kevin Knox in the 2019 Summer League and getting a dunk.
That play, people remember. Williamson didn’t finish that game because of a knee injury, and the game itself ended eight minutes early because an earthquake struck 150 miles from Las Vegas but left the scoreboards at UNLV shaking to the point where officials weren’t sure if the contest could safely continue. New Orleans won. The outcome didn’t matter.
Same goes for whatever will happen at UNLV starting on Thursday night. A team will end up winning the title and get a trophy and T-shirts and hats on July 17, but it’s the moments — like the debut of a No. 1 pick — that tend to stand out.
“I think Paolo is probably one of the most prepared individuals for that situation that have ever come along in the NBA,” said Orlando assistant Jesse Mermuys, who will coach the summer league team. “His season at Duke, I don’t know if there’s much more pressure than that. And so, he’s already prepared. You can tell. His parents have done a great job with him.”
Banchero has spent the last couple of weeks living out of a suitcase, getting to know new summer teammates — most of whom won’t be on the Magic roster when the real NBA season starts in mid-October — and starting to forge relationships with the Orlando veterans as well.
Whatever happens Thursday night, it’s just a starting point.
“I know who I am,” Banchero said. “I know what I bring. Whether I have a great game or a bad game, I’m never going to get too high, never going to get too low. I hold myself to high standards. So, really, in my head it’s just me vs. me. I’m not worried about what other people are doing. I’m not worried about what other people think. It’s just kind of how I see myself and whether I’m happy with how I played or not.”
Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw
- The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short
ARENBERG, France: Simon Clarke of Israel Premier Tech won stage five of the Tour de France on Wednesday in a photo finish after a 157km run from Lille to Arenberg featuring 20km of cobbled mining roads.
Belgium’s Wout van Aert of Jumbo retained his overall leader’s yellow jersey despite a nasty fall, but his teammate Primoz Roglic lost around two minutes to defending champion and fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.
The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short.
“What a year,” said Clarke, who got a last-minute contract with the IPT team in December after leaving EF. “I’m ever the optimist.
“I just told myself not to panic even when the sprint started almost 1km out,” he said about the finale.
“I sat back in the slipstream, waited and waited and went for the line at the last second,” he said.
Van Aert fell early and hurt a shoulder and was almost run over by his own team car, but rallied to cling on to his overall lead by 13sec from Powless of EF.
The race goes to his native Belgium on Thursday where he can parade through 60km of roads there in the yellow jersey.
“That’s part of why I dug so deep,” he said. “But this wan’t what we had planned this morning.”
Defending champion Pogacar did the best of the pretenders to the 2022 title when he finished seventh, 51sec off the lead, putting a little time into all his rivals after threatening to pulverise them before fading in the final kilometers.
“I like the cobbles,” smiled the 23-year-old UAE leader.
“I had no bad luck, felt good and played it intelligently at the end when I knew I wouldn’t catch the leaders,” he said.
Pogacar retains the best placed under-26’s white jersey.
Ineos trio Adam yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas all hung in and trail Pogacar by 28, 29 and 30sec respectively.
The treacherous stage raced over cobbles was doubly dangerous due to dust billowing from the bone dry surface among the corn, wheat and potato fields making it tough to breath and easy to slip.
Eleven cobbled sections totalling almost 20km of bone shaking mining roads caused much of the chaos but not all of it.
Roglic, runner-up in 2020, was brought down after Caleb Ewan collided with a stray hay bale, the Jumbo man then hitting him and struggling thereafter.
He finished 44th on the day, 2min 36sec off the lead.
Embarking from the chic northern city of Lille, good humored crowds along the roadside thickened as the race hit the cobbles in the finale.
But a grim-faced Mathieu van der Poel, a pre-race favorite, was dropped by the lead group 30km out.
Visible for his polka-dot jersey and handle-bar moustache, Magnus Cort-Nielsen was once again in the thick of the action finishing fifth and retaining the King of the Mountains shirt he took in his native Denmark on stage two.
Thursday’s sixth stage starts in the Belgian town of Binche and returns to France in the Ardennes forest for what should be a splintered finale with two short steep climbs.
Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history
- Coach Nabil Mlika recalls training a talented girl ‘determined to stand out’ against both female and male peers
HAMMAM SOUSSE, Tunisia: Ons Jabeur will make history on Thursday when she walks on to the Centre Court at Wimbledon as the first Arab woman to compete in a Grand Slam semifinal.
Fifteen years ago, Ons Jabeur’s young tennis sparring partner could see the Tunisian was destined for glory — even if he suffered a broken arm in the process.
Omar Laabidi remembers being repeatedly beaten by a 12-year-old Jabeur.
“We used to call her ‘Roger Federer’,” Laabidi said.
He was talking at the tennis club where it all began, in the North African country’s coastal town of Hammam Sousse.
“One time during a training match she hit a drop shot that I tried so hard to return that I broke my arm,” he said.
Jabeur had started by playing on courts belonging to local hotels but she soon joined the Tennis Club Hammam Sousse, which now bears a huge portrait of its most famous graduate.
Coach Nabil Mlika recalls training a talented girl “determined to stand out” against both female and male peers.
It is a determination that has taken her all the way to the world No. 2 spot — one place behind Poland’s Iga Swiatek.
But Mlika, who trained a young Jabeur for 10 years, said there was a moment where she almost quit the sport.
“She had great ball control, to the point where other coaches tried to attract her to handball,” said the 55-year-old.
“Ons thought seriously about switching sports — but decided to stick to tennis.”
The 27-year-old Tunisian’s fighting spirit has been on show throughout her career.
Despite crashing out in the first round of the French Open in May, she surged back to win the Berlin WTA singles title a few weeks later.
Her appearance in the Wimbledon semis — against close friend and ‘barbecue buddy’ Tatjana Maria — comes just two weeks after she was forced to withdraw from the Eastbourne tournament, where she was partnering Serena Williams in the doubles, with a knee injury.
Jabeur, known to many Tunisians as “the minister for happiness,” was born in the southern coastal town of Ksar Hellal, one of four siblings.
She moved to the capital, Tunis, at the age of 12 to train at a highly rated state-backed sports club.
She has been married to her physical trainer, and former fencer, Karim Kamoun, since 2015.
The right-hander is known for her stamina and the variety of her play.
“She hates playing at one pace,” said Mlika. “She’s always trying to create a spectacle by switching up the game with shots that surprise her opponents, especially with drop shots.
“She’s really the queen of the drop shot.”
Jabeur made a splash on the global scene in 2011, winning the girls’ singles at the French Open at the age of 16.
Laabidi also moved to Tunis around the same time as the adolescent Jabeur and joined the same academy, where they continued sparring.
“She was always fun and quickly got to know strangers,” he said.
“But she was always provocative and competitively debating on all subjects.”
Those who knew her as a teenager say she has changed little despite her growing fame.
“She still runs around gathering up all the balls during training, which she’s been doing since she started playing,” said Mlika.
Unsurprisingly, as her fame has spiralled membership levels have skyrocketed at her home club, from 320 in 2018 to more than 700 today.
For Yousra Koubaa, the mother of eight-year-old student Yasmine, Jabeur is “an example of hope, one we’re always showing to our children.”
Mlika says he uses photos of a young Jabeur to inspire his students today.
“She was a spark of enthusiasm, always moving and wanting to show that she was the best,” he said.
“She always put me in a difficult position because I had to balance between taking the training up a level, or waiting for her peers to catch up with her level and her pace.”