Golden Boot winners Salah and Son prove African and Asian players among the world’s best

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (L) and Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 May 2022

Golden Boot winners Salah and Son prove African and Asian players among the world’s best

  • South Korea’s Son netted twice in Tottenham’s 5-0 win at Norwich to move to 23 goals — one clear of Salah, but the Egypt forward struck late in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at home to Wolves
  • The former Chelsea and Roma star, Salah, now matches Alan Shearer’s record with a third Premier League golden boot

The English Premier League came into existence in the summer of 1992, just as two of its future stars were being born: Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min, who now share the Golden Boot for the 2021-22 season.

It has been won jointly before, sometimes by three players.

That was the case in the 1997-98 season when the local trio of Chris Sutton, Michael Owen, and Dion Dublin all found the target 18 times each.

Twenty years later, Salah was the best and the following season the Egyptian topped the charts along with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane in a special time for African football. This time, however, after a three-way and solo success, the 29-year-old Egyptian collects his third award but shares it with South Korean Son, it is a noticeable pairing.

Salah and Son have scored 23 goals over the campaign that finished on Sunday, with Liverpool finishing second behind Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur taking fourth, and the last UEFA Champions League spot, above rivals Arsenal.

Of the top two goalscorers in the most popular league in the world, one is African and one is from Asia. It shows the global power of football and the talent that exists in all corners of the world. Such a thing would have been almost unthinkable 25 years ago.

Salah’s goal-scoring exploits have become so commonplace that fans and media can forget just how impressive they are. The former Chelsea and Roma star now matches Alan Shearer’s record with a third Premier League golden boot. He has now scored 118 goals in 180 games in the competition. Such consistency over five seasons, his lowest total was 19 back in 2019-20, is truly impressive.

This is the first such prize for Son and comes after his best season for Tottenham Hotspur in terms of scoring, beating his previous highest tally of 17 from the last time around.

Unlike Salah, who hit the ground running as soon as he arrived at Liverpool, it took the South Korean some time to find his feet in North London after arriving from Bayer Leverkusen in August 2015. There was even talk that he would leave the club at the end of his first season. From then, however, he quickly became a fan favorite. This season has been one to remember, especially as the 29 -year-old has, unlike Salah who managed five from the penalty spot, scored all his from open play.

Both these players would walk into any team in Europe. They are the cream of their respective continents, but to describe Salah as the best African player and Son as the best from Asia undersells them a little.

Both are simply two of the best players in the world and deserve to be described as such. Africa has had a few of those in the past. George Weah won the Ballon d’Or in 1995 while Didier Drogba, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, and Samuel Eto’o all came fairly close in the past. That has not been the case in Asia. There have been plenty of talented players from the East, but none have established themselves as one of the best players in one of the big leagues in the way that Son has managed over the last few years.

If Spurs were challenging for titles, then Son would surely be the first Asian star to make an impact when it came to voting for the world player of the year. There has been some surprise that he has not gone to one of the global elite such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, or Liverpool, a place where he would win domestic titles and challenge for the Champions League, and there has not really been any speculation over his future.

Unlike Salah, the Asian player signed a lengthy new contract with his club last year, which has reduced that conversation. There is also the presence of an even bigger star, in English terms at least, as England captain Harry Kane gets more attention from the local media. Son has helped his team qualify for next year’s premier continental competition, and if he shines in that tournament, then there is a chance of being part of that global conversation. Son also suffers a little as his national team is unlikely to go too far at the World Cup, while Salah’s Egypt are not there at all. If these two nations were getting to semi-finals and finals, then these players really would be even bigger stars than they are right now.

Salah’s club situation is a little different. He has won and is still winning trophies and has lifted English Premier League, European, and world titles. His contract status - his deal ends in a year - has been the subject of a lot of speculation though it seems likely that the North African will stay at Anfield as there is still the prospect of more glory. While Son was delighted with his goals at Norwich that won him the award and helped his team finish fourth, Salah was disappointed that his 23rd strike couldn’t help the Reds finish above second. At least he has had the FA and the League Cup this season, and this weekend he has the chance to get revenge on Real Madrid for that 2018 defeat as the two powerhouses meet in the final in Paris.

Whatever happens on Saturday, this has been another great season for Mo Salah and another one in which Son Heung-min has shown what a fine player he is. To have sons of Egypt and South Korea on top of the Premier League goal-scoring charts is the global game at its best.

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Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw

Updated 21 sec ago

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

Updated 06 July 2022

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.”


Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare

Updated 06 July 2022

Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare

  • The second seed lost the first set and had to take a medical time-out in the second
  • Nadal admitted after the match that he was suffering from an abdominal problem

LONDON: Rafael Nadal beat Taylor Fritz in a gruelling five-setter on Wednesday to set up a blockbuster Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios, but revealed that an abdomen injury almost forced him to quit mid-match.
The second seed lost the first set and had to take a medical time-out in the second but raised his game to win 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10/4) in a match lasting four hours and 21 minutes.
Earlier, Australian maverick Kyrgios cruised past Chile’s Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).
Nadal admitted after the match that he was suffering from an abdominal problem, which forced him to leave the court.
“I had to find a way to serve a little bit different,” he said. “For a lot of moments I was thinking I would not be able to finish the match but the crowd, the energy, thanks for that.”
He added: “I honestly enjoy a lot playing these kind of matches in front of you guys. I can’t thank you enough for the support.”
Kyrgios, ranked 40th in the world, trails Nadal 6-3 in their head-to-head meetings but he beat the Spaniard on his way to the quarter-finals in 2014 and is seen as a major threat to his hopes of reaching a sixth Wimbledon final.

A pumped-up Nadal raced out of the blocks on Center Court to take a 3-1 lead but then lost five straight games to lose the first set.
The players swapped breaks in the second set but Nadal was not moving freely and when leading 4-3 he took a medical time-out.
When he returned, American 11th seed Fritz served out to love, with Nadal’s movement still looking hampered.
But the Spaniard twice held serve comfortably to lead 6-5 and a backhand volley into the open court sealed the second set, to roars from the crowd.
Nadal, 36, was now moving more easily but the pendulum swung again early in the third set when the two-time Wimbledon champion double-faulted to hand his opponent a break, with Fritz repeating the dose to take the third set.
There were five breaks in a topsy-turvy fourth set but Nadal came out on top to level the match.
The first six games of the deciding set went with serve before a break apiece as the pressure mounted.
The set went to a tie-break and Nadal seized control, racing into a 9-3 lead and completing the win on his second match point.
Nadal, who has already won the Australian Open and the French Open this year, is halfway to the first calendar Grand Slam by a man since Rod Laver in 1969.
He is also bidding to win his 23rd Grand Slam title and equal Serena Williams in second place on the all-time list for most Grand Slam singles titles. Margaret Court is the leader on 24 titles.

Kyrgios reached the last four at the All England Club with relative ease.
The 27-year-old was broken just once by Garin and hit 35 winners as he reached his first Grand Slam semifinal.
“I never thought I’d be in the semifinal of a Grand Slam,” said the Australian. “I thought that ship had sailed, that I may have wasted that little window in my career.
“I am really happy I was able to come out here with my team and able to put on a performance.”
Kyrgios is the first Australian man into the semifinals at Wimbledon since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005.
But he went into the match under a new cloud of controversy after it emerged he faces an Australian court next month to answer an allegation of assault.
His 2022 Wimbledon has also been a rollercoaster on the court.
Brilliant, crowd-pleasing shot-making has been accompanied by $14,000 in fines and an ugly, bitter spat with third-round rival Stefanos Tsitsipas.


Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

Updated 06 July 2022

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

  • The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches
  • “I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back”

WIMBLEDON, England: Simona Halep’s first appearance at Wimbledon since winning the title three years is going just as good as it did the last time.
The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches by beating Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday on Center Court.
Halep missed the chance to defend her title at Wimbledon twice, first in 2020 when the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and then again in 2021 when she had to sit out with a left calf injury.
“I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back.”
In the semifinals, Halep will face Elena Rybakina. The 17th-seeded Rybakina beat Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on No. 1 Court.
Rybakina, a 23-year-old Kazakh, is playing at Wimbledon for only the second time in her career. She lost in the fourth round last year.
In the men’s quarterfinals, two-time champion Rafael Nadal was to play Taylor Fritz on Center Court while Nick Kyrgios was to face Cristian Garin on No. 1 Court.
Halep is making her 10th appearance at Wimbledon and has reached the semifinals for the third time. She is the only Grand Slam champion left in the women’s tournament.
“I’m very emotional right now, because it means a lot to be back in the semis,” Halep said.
The match against Anisimova appeared to be as straightforward as her first four victories at this year’s tournament — all came in straight sets. But the 20th-seeded American broke Halep when she was serving for the match at 5-2.
Anisimova then had three more break points when Halep again served for the match at 5-4, but the Romanian won five straight points to finish the match.
“She could crush the ball in the end, and I didn’t know, actually, what to do,” Halep said. “But I just believed in myself. I said that I have to stay there, strong on my legs.”
Halep injured her calf more than a year ago, forcing her to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon. She started working with Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Serena Williams, in April.


Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

Updated 06 July 2022

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

  • The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand

MONTERREY, Mexico: Rocky Rodriguez and Maria Paula Salas scored in the opening half and Costa Rica went on to win their opening group-stage match 3-0 over Panama on Tuesday night in the CONCACAF W Championship.

The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Rodriguez, who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, scored on a header in the sixth minute. Salas scored in the 24th.

Katherine Alvarado converted a penalty for Costa Rica in the 60th minute.

Costa Rica and Panama are in Group B with Canada and Trinidad & Tobago, who play in the late game.

Eight teams have been divided into two groups for the tournament. The top two finishers in each group earn spots in the 2023 World Cup. The third-place finishers will go on to a 10-team intercontinental playoff in February in New Zealand.

The winner of the tournament will also earn one of the region’s spots in the 2024 Olympics.

Costa Rica have been to the World Cup just once before, in 2015. Panama has never qualified for international soccer’s most prestigious event.

The US, Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti are in Group A.