PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future

Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe fights for the ball against Monaco’s Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas during their French L1 match in 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 20 May 2022
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PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future

  • Mbappe is expected to reveal in the coming days whether he will join Real Madrid or accept a lucrative offer to stay at PSG
  • "I don't know what his decision is. I think it's a personal matter for Kylian and for the club," Pochettino said

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino insisted Friday he has no idea where Kylian Mbappe will play his club football next season as the striker’s contract in the French capital comes to an end.
Mbappe is expected to reveal in the coming days whether he will join Real Madrid or accept a lucrative offer to stay at PSG, with an announcement potentially being made in the hours after the French champions play their final game of the Ligue 1 season at home to Metz on Saturday.
“I don’t know what his decision is. I think it’s a personal matter for Kylian and for the club,” Pochettino said at a press conference ahead of the Metz match.
“There are lots of rumors going around but the player is the one who will have to talk about this.
“If I knew what his decision was I wouldn’t be the one to talk about it.”
Mbappe, who joined PSG from Monaco in 2017, last week won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year prize and comes into the final weekend of the season as the division’s top scorer with 25 goals.
Rumours are swirling in France and in Spain about when he will confirm where his next contract will be.
“Mbappe, end of the suspense on Sunday,” claimed the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Friday.
Pochettino said he hoped the 23-year-old would remain at PSG even if uncertainty surrounds the coach’s own future despite the Argentine and his staff having a year left on their own deals.
“I hope Kylian is still here for many years to come but I also can’t lie. I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.
“We have a year left on our contracts so we will potentially be here next season. I just hope tomorrow (Saturday) we can enjoy celebrating the club’s 10th league title.”
One player who is definitely expected to move on is Angel di Maria, with the 34-year-old Argentine winger’s own contract expiring and PSG understood to be happy for him to leave.
PSG have cantered to the Ligue 1 title, equalling Saint-Etienne’s French record for most league championships, but their season has been soured by defeat against Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 in early March.
The Parisians were 1-0 up away to Madrid an hour into the second leg thanks to a Mbappe goal, and led 2-0 on aggregate, only to implode and go out to a Karim Benzema hat-trick.
“I hope the best is still to come. I think everyone at Paris Saint-Germain wants to win the Champions League. That has become an obsession for this club and I hope we can win it,” Pochettino added.
“That spell in the second half in Madrid saw us not get the result we wanted and created lots of questions and emotions that we have not been able to control in recent months.
“Despite that the players deserve to be congratulated because they have shown the ability to lift themselves and finish the season.”


The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket

Updated 59 min 15 sec ago
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The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket

  • Fear of failure is ever present, so a premium is placed on eliminating mistakes, since continued underperforming can mean the end of a contract or career

Fans of cricket may find it impossible to understand the pressures that professional players are under. Although some of us have played good standard club cricket and faced tight match situations, we have not had the pressure of our career and livelihood being at stake, playing in front of crowds, screened by the media and subject to scrutiny. This is now ubiquitous, both mainstream and on social media.

It was instructive, therefore, to listen to one England’s greatest batsmen, at a time before batter became the preferred term and social media existed, provide some insights into these pressures. This was none other than Yorkshire and England’s Geoffrey Boycott. The occasion marked the launch of the 11th book under Boycott’s name — “Being Geoffrey Boycott,” published by Fairfield books — 60 years since he made his debut for England on June 4, 1964. 

This was at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, against Australia. Looking at pictures of him on the day, his large glasses, cap and kit, unadorned by sponsorship logos, are a large remove from the appearance of modern-day cricketers. However, there is a commonality: that of pressure to succeed. In Boycott’s case, that pressure had been heightened when he was told, aged 17, that he needed to wear glasses. This ended his football career, during which he played for Leeds United’s under-18 team. 

In his debut match he top scored in England’s first innings but could not bat in the second because of a finger injury sustained in the first. This kept him out of the following two matches before he scored his maiden Test match century in August 1964. He would go on to score 8,114 runs in 108 Test matches in a career which had its fair share of controversy and turmoil. Between 1974 and 1977 Boycott made himself unavailable for England selection focussing, instead, on captaining Yorkshire.

In late September 1978, his mother died. Two days afterwards, Yorkshire’s committee met to inform Boycott that he was to be removed as the county’s captain because of a failure to win trophies and his unpopularity amongst the players. Boycott was asked if he had suffered from mental health issues during these years. He said no, he had been close to his mother and it had saddened him to see her deteriorate week after week. His reaction was a natural one to a deeply mourned loss. The treatment by Yorkshire compounded this, in terms of its timing and nature.

From the outside this appears a cold-hearted decision, especially its timing. Boycott was devastated. He continued as a player the following season, breaking more records. This says much about his determination to succeed against the odds. He was known for being a singular man and for spending time away from teammates after play. Cricket involves a series of battles between individuals, primarily between bowler and batter. A wicket, a boundary, a catch, a century, a five-wicket haul represents individual achievement within a team setting. Opponents look to identify and expose weaknesses.

It can be argued that this is the case in all sports. However, cricket has a difference, especially with batting. If a batter makes a mistake, he or she is not straight into the next piece of action. There is time to reflect on the reason for the dismissal. It may be days before the player’s next innings. This allows much time for introspection, analysis and self-analysis.

The fear of failure is ever present, so a premium is placed on eliminating mistakes, since continued underperformance can mean the end of a contract or career. Fear induces nervousness, breeds insecurity and anxiety, creating conditions which counteract those needed to succeed. They are also conditions which sports psychologists recognise as underpinning mental illness.

Professional cricketers, as with other athletes, have an inherent desire to succeed. The consequences of failure are evident from an early age and often result in being dropped from the team. Boycott admitted to having a fear of failure during his career, of nerves and of a determination to overcome them. He said that he was able to block out all external noise when batting. This set him apart from many other players, revealing immense mental strength. He also emphasized the need for high-quality technique and practice. This was echoed by a former Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, who contends that, unless playing a certain shot or bowling a particular delivery has not become a habit, it is almost impossible to produce that shot or delivery under pressure.

Such pressure situations have grown exponentially with the advent of T20 cricket.  These are evident in abundance in the current ICC men’s T20 World Cup. South Africa were 3 for three against the Netherlands and 27 for four against Bangladesh, but recovered to make scores that were just sufficient to earn victory. The recoveries were instigated by the middle order batters, notably David Miller. Imagine the pressure that was on him to perform, especially as South Africa has a history of losing matches which it should have won. Crucially, he reined in his natural game and adapted to the pitch conditions. Bangladesh required 11 runs from six deliveries to win against South Africa, two batters were caught on the boundary trying to hit sixes. The match between India and Pakistan went to a super over. Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir was entrusted with it but, under pressure, failed to bowl straight and Pakistan lost. 

The margins in these pressure situations are very thin. Results can go either way, determined by the performance of those who have trained themselves to be able to handle such situations. The mentality required for this was exemplified by Geoffrey Boycott’s approach to the game, completely unlike that of an all-time great Australian all-rounder, Keith Miller, who had served with the Royal Australian Air Force in the Second World War. His dashing approach to life and cricket was summed up in a single (adapted) quote: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt directly behind you, playing cricket is not.”

How times have changed.             


‘Incredibly rewarding’ — head of SAFF Women’s Football Department hails Saudi Women’s futsal team

Updated 13 June 2024
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‘Incredibly rewarding’ — head of SAFF Women’s Football Department hails Saudi Women’s futsal team

  • The national team secured back-to-back wins against Serbia in their training camp
  • Aalia Al-Rasheed says the victories ‘are indications that we’re on the right path’

RIYADH: The head of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Women’s Football Department, Aalia Al-Rasheed, has lauded the Kingdom’s female futsal players as they near the end of their training camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the last two weeks, Saudi’s national futsal team has secured impressive back-to-back victories against Serbia in Sarajevo.

In the first match, they recorded a 3-2 thanks to goals from Al-Bandari Mubarak, Seba Tawfiq and Al-Bandari Hawsawi. This was followed by a 5-2 win, with Al-Bandari Mubarak scoring all five of Saudia Arabia’s goals.

The national team are currently ranked 51st in the FIFA Futsal Women’s World Ranking, whilst the Serbian national team are ranked 43rd.

“These wins show just how much effort and passion our team puts into every game,” said Al-Rasheed. “Winning against a strong team like Serbia really boosts (their) confidence and highlights the progress we’re making in women's futsal. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the hard work of our players and coaching staff pay off in such a significant way.”

She added: “We’ve been focusing on building a strong, cohesive team, and these victories are indications that we’re on the right path. Our goal is to keep pushing forward, learn from every match, and continue to grow. We’re determined to keep this momentum going and reach even greater heights. The support from SAFF and the dedication of our players are key to our success, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved so far.”

The friendly matches were part of the team’s training camp in Sarajevo, which started in May and continues until June 15. Overseen by head coach Mato Stankovic, it is seen as a critical part of their preparation for upcoming competitions and matches.

The players currently in Sarajevo are: Layla Ali, Leen Mohammed, Al-Bandari Mubarak, Noura Ibrahim, Atha Fahad, Abeer Nasser, Raghad Mukhayzin, Rahaf Al-Mansouri, Al-Hanouf Saud, Mohrah Al-Malhi, Nadeen Saleh, Al-Bandari Hawsawi, Raghad Saleh, Lana Abdulrazaq, Bayan Sadagah, Seba Tawfiq, Yara Alfaris, Raghad Munai, Manar Al-Onaizi, and Noura Al-Athel.


Tatum, Brown help Celtics hold off huge Dallas rally for 106-99 win, 3-0 lead in NBA Finals

Updated 13 June 2024
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Tatum, Brown help Celtics hold off huge Dallas rally for 106-99 win, 3-0 lead in NBA Finals

  • The Celtics stars are on the brink of joining the litany of big-name predecessors to put a banner above the parquet floor back home
  • The Celtics have led 3-0 in the NBA Finals only once, finishing off the Lakers in a sweep in 1959

DALLAS: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown shared a long hug after helping Boston avoid the biggest collapse in an NBA Finals game since at least 1997.

The reward? The Celtics stars are on the brink of joining the litany of big-name predecessors to put a banner above the parquet floor back home.

Tatum scored 31 points, Brown had 30 and the Celtics held off a furious Dallas rally to move to the verge of a record 18th championship with a 106-99 victory over the Mavericks on Wednesday night for a 3-0 lead.

Brown finished with eight rebounds and eight assists as the Celtics extended their franchise record with a 10th consecutive playoff victory and moved to 7-0 on the road this postseason. They can win the series and break a tie with the Lakers for most NBA championships with a victory Friday in Dallas.

And Boston can forget about nearly blowing a 21-point lead with 11 minutes to go.

“Not really trying to look too much into it,” Tatum said. “The game of basketball is about runs. It’s never going to go like you expected. If you want to be a champion, you have to be resilient in those situations, and we did that tonight.”

Boston also improved to 10-1 in these playoffs without Kristaps Porzingis after the 7-foot-2 Latvian was ruled out before the game because of a rare tendon injury in his lower left leg sustained in Game 2.

The status of Porzingis for the rest of the series appears in doubt, but it might not matter. None of the previous 156 teams to face a 3-0 deficit has rallied to win an NBA playoff series.

The Mavs almost pulled off a crazy comeback to avoid the big hole — 13 years after Dallas had the biggest fourth-quarter rally in the play-by-play era of the NBA Finals (since 1997) when a 15-point comeback in Game 2 started its run to the franchise’s only title against Miami.

Boston led 91-70 at the end of a 20-5 run early in the fourth quarter before Dallas answered with a 22-2 spurt to get within a point with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.

Problem was, Luka Doncic picked up his sixth foul with 4:12 remaining when a challenge was unsuccessful before Kyrie Irving, who scored 35 points, hit a jumper to get Dallas within one.

Tatum and Brown saved the Celtics from there, with some help from Derrick White, who scored 16. Those three combined for the remaining 13 Boston points to get the Celtics within a victory of their first title since 2008, and just the second since 1986.

The Celtics have led 3-0 in the NBA Finals only once, finishing off the Lakers in a sweep in 1959.

The first step for Dallas is trying to avoid getting swept in a seven-game series for just the second time in franchise history.

“We just got to make history,” rookie Mavs center Dereck Lively II said. “We got to go out there and we just got to play like our lives are on the line.”

In a game that seemed over early in the fourth, the score was stuck on 93-90 for more than three minutes. That included when Doncic was called for a blocking foul on a driving Brown.

The Mavs had nothing to lose with the challenge, since it meant trying to save their superstar from disqualification.

Without Doncic, P.J. Washington Jr., Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. each missed a 3-pointer in the final minute as Irving’s personal losing streak against his former team reached 13 games.

“We had a good chance,” Doncic said. “We were close. Just didn’t get it. I wish I was out there.”

An energized Dallas crowd was ready for its first finals game in 13 years, with Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Mavs fan Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs frequently getting out of his seat near midcourt.

The Mavs used the needed boost coming off two losses in Boston, taking their biggest lead of the series while running out to a 22-9 lead. Doncic and Irving drove for buckets while also hitting a 3 apiece.

The Celtics answered with a 21-9 finish to the first quarter. Sam Hauser hit two of his first-half 3s — on three attempts — to help wrap up a run that started with four points from Brown and a 3 from Tatum.

Defense dominated the start of the second quarter, Boston holding a 5-2 edge nearly six minutes in before Irving and Tatum traded 3s to start a scoring burst.

“They came out swinging,” Tatum said. “That was to be expected. They were at home, the crowd was behind them. We expected their first punch.”

Once they withstood it, it appeared the Celtics would coast after outscoring the Mavs 35-19 in the third quarter, before the Mavs’ late rally. And the answer from Tatum and Brown.

“We’ve been in those moments a lot,” Brown said. “And we’ve been in those positions, and we’ve lost. It was great to overcome that with my brother, Jayson, and with our team. That was special.”

After it was over, pockets of Celtics fans screamed with delight in a mostly empty arena, seemingly starting the celebration of the inevitable.

To everyone but the Celtics.

“You’ve got to understand we are just as vulnerable if not more vulnerable than they are,” coach Joe Mazzulla said. “When you understand that you’re vulnerable and your back’s against the wall, you’ve got to fight. And so that’s the mindset that we have to have.”


India beats United States at cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup, West Indies hold off New Zealand

Updated 13 June 2024
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India beats United States at cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup, West Indies hold off New Zealand

  • The US beat Canada in its first game and had a six-day rest since its victory over 2022 runner-up Pakistan

WESTBURY: There was no upset this time for the United States as the home team was easily beaten by cricket heavyweight India at the Twenty20 World Cup on Wednesday.
Suryakumar Yadav’s half-century powered India to a seven-wicket win over the US, which had shocked Pakistan last week.
With the win, India reached the Super 8 round. The US can advance by beating Ireland on Friday.
In a later match at Brian Lara Stadium in Trinidad, Sherfane Rutherford scored an unbeaten 68 from 39 deliveries to help the West Indies in their great escape — the co-hosts beat New Zealand by 13 runs.
The Caribbean lineup, 149-9 in its 20 overs, was 76-7 before its Rutherford-led recovery. Alzarri Joseph snared four New Zealand wickets and Gudakesh Motie took three — including New Zealand captain Kane Williamson for 1 — to restrict the Black Caps to 136-9 in reply.
On Long Island, Yadvav’s 50 runs came off 49 balls and included two boundaries and two sixes. He put on 72 runs off 65 balls in an unbeaten fourth-wicket stand with Shivam Dube, who scored 31 not out as India finished with 111-3 in 18.2 overs in reply to 110-8 by the United States.
Left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh returned figures of 4-9 — including two wickets in the first over — to restrict the co-hosts after India had won the toss and opted to field at the Nassau County International Stadium.
India was in early trouble in its chase as Indian-born medium pacer Saurabh Netravalkar continued his golden run for the Americans.
After bowling the co-hosts to the upset over Pakistan, he celebrated the wickets of Indian superstars Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
Kohli was caught behind for a golden duck — dismissed off the first delivery he faced — in what surely will become a career highlight for Netravalkar. Sharma (3) fell to a slower delivery as Netravalkar finished with 2-18 in four overs.
Rishabh Pant scored 18 off 20 balls batting at No. 3 before he was bowled by Ali Khan delivery. With India struggling at 39-3 in 7.3 overs, the US team momentarily raised visions of an even bigger shock.
West Indies advance

Left-hander Rutherford turned the home team’s fortunes around, going to the crease with the West Indies reeling at 22-4 after 5.4 overs. Rutherford scored 18 off the last over that culminated with a six and a boundary.
The loss left New Zealand with a strong possibility it will not make the second round. If Afghanistan beats Papua New Guinea on Thursday, three-time runner-up New Zealand will be out of contention.
For most of the first half of the game, the Black Caps were on top.
But Rutherford went on the attack as the West Indies added 58-2 in the last five overs of their innings.
He was 15 off 14 deliveries when star allrounder Andre Russell was out for 14 in the 13th over, and he accelerated with the lower-order in a counter-attacking, 72-minute innings containing six sixes and two boundaries.
“It’s a good feeling, to help my team. That is what we live for and work hard for,” man-of-the-match Rutherford said during the innings break. “It was a very tough surface to start on. I think 149 is a brilliant score on this wicket.”
After the match, Rutherford had a more optimistic tone: “It is only the start of something big to come and hopefully we can keep winning and momentum going.”
New Zealand started well after winning the toss and fielding, with Trent Boult (3-16) bowling opener Johnson Charles to end the first over.
Tim Southee (2-21), recalled after missing New Zealand’s opening loss to Afghanistan, dismissed dangerman Nicholas Pooran for 12 in the fourth over, trigging a run of three wickets for three runs.
Lockie Ferguson deceived Roston Chase with a slower ball to make it 21-3 and skipper Rovman Powell (1) was caught behind off Southee five balls later.
Russell went on the attack but his dismissal — caught in the deep of Boult’s bowling — appeared to be an insurmountable setback until Rutherford took up the challenge.
“The quality of Sherfane’s innings was high,” New Zealand skipper Williamson said. ”The batting depth in their side was beneficial for sure. We cannot make excuses and have to find ways.”


Pinehurst stands apart as a US Open test because of the greens

Updated 13 June 2024
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Pinehurst stands apart as a US Open test because of the greens

  • The greens at Pinehurst No. 2 are the signature of this Donald Ross course
  • Clark won last year at Los Angeles Country Club with a score of 10-under 270

PINEHURST, N.C.: Pebble Beach has the Pacific Ocean. Oakmont is the brute with its church pew bunkers. Pinehurst No. 2 has the cereal bowls turned upside down.

The greens at Pinehurst No. 2 are the signature of this Donald Ross course that hosts the 124th US Open starting on Thursday. They go by any variety of names — upside-down cereal bowls, inverted saucers, turtlebacks or domes.

Whatever they’re called, they are universally regarded as daunting, particularly for a US Open already known as the toughest test in golf.

“You hit it on the green, the hole is not done,” defending champion Wyndham Clark said.

He played when he arrived on Monday and was amazed and how firm and fast they already were, calling them “borderline” in terms of fairness. And this was still three days out from the opening tee shot on Thursday.

Perhaps that’s why in three previous US Opens at Pinehurst No. 2, a total of four players finished the championship under par. One was Payne Stewart, thanks to that famous 15-foot par putt on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson in 1999 at 1-under par.

Martin Kaymer took advantage of the rain-softened conditions and brilliant golf to win in 2014 at 9 under, with Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton eight shots behind and the only other players in red numbers for the week.

“I’d say in general, I think the best players play aggressively off the tee and conservatively into the greens. I think this course is basically that strategy — just on steroids,” Viktor Hovland said. “I think having a shorter club in is very important. But then into the greens you’ve got to play very, very conservatively. I think just hitting the greens itself is of high value.”

There have been plenty of illustrations of that.

Jordan Spieth was practicing to the right of the par-3 ninth green on Wednesday afternoon, aiming toward a coaster the size of a golf hole on the left side. He pitched it hard, well past the hole to the top of a small ridge so that it would roll back toward his target. And it did just that, but it was a foot too far to the left and before long had run all the way off the green.

“This is one you putt,” Spieth told Sam Burns. Instead of walking over to his bag for a putter, Spieth used the left-handed putter of alternate Josh Radcliff and gave it a whack.

It can be hard to keep track of golf balls, especially when a practice group has four players, with balls rolling all over the place, some of them winding up off the green.

Such is the nature of Pinehurst No. 2. And while the course is more than a decade removed from its restoration project that returned sandy areas with native plans instead of thick rough, it’s the greens that give the course its character.

And then it’s up to the USGA to make conditions so demanding that only the most highly skilled players can handle them. Such is the essence of the US Open.

John Bodenhamer, the chief championships officer at the USGA who is in charge of setting up the course, said 2014 data showed 70 percent of the players hit the fairway, but only 56 percent of them hit the green.

“It is all about these magnificent upside-down cereal bowl putting greens,” Bodenhamer said. “They are difficult to hit, and we need to get the right firm and fast conditions around them.”

And when players miss the greens — from the fairways, sometimes from putts that roll off the crowned edges — there are options.

“I was joking with my caddie, ‘We should probably get our putter checked.’ I’ve never swung so hard on my putter for nine holes, just trying to get up and down the mounds,” PGA champion Xander Schauffele said. “There’s certain spots where you feel like you have to hit it really hard. You hit it too hard, you putt it off the other side of the green.

“Leaving yourself in a really good position is A-1,” he said. “But even when you do leave yourself in a good position, the hole is not over yet. It’s sort of half the battle.”

Clark won last year at Los Angeles Country Club with a score of 10-under 270. That week also started with Schauffele and Rickie Fowler setting a US Open record of 62 in the opening round some 10 minutes apart.

No one expects that kind of scoring this week. Bryson DeChambeau, who studied physics at SMU, cited Boo Weekley, who barely studied at all during his brief time at Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College.

“Pinehurst is no joke. This is a ball-striker’s paradise,” DeChambeau said. “You have to hit it in the middle of the greens. And this is a Boo Weekley quote, but the center of the green never moves. So I’ll try to focus on that this week.”

There is more trouble than just the greens. The sandy areas — “sandscapes” is what they are called in these parts — have wiregrass bushes the size of basketballs speckled across the terrain. Hit in there and hope — it could be a clean lie, it could be trouble.

“It’s a walk up that fairway of a bit of anxiety, because they don’t know what they’re going to get,” Bodenhamer said. “The randomness ... it’s not just 5-inch, green, lush rough. It can be something gnarly, wiregrass, or it can be a perfect sandy lie. I think you’re going to see some players walk to their golf ball and be unhappy, and others are going to be thrilled.

“We think that is pretty cool, and we think that is exactly what Donald Ross intended.”