Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti with his players during training on Tuesday for the UEFA Super Cup clash against Eintracht Frankfurt at Helsinki Olympic Stadium. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 August 2022

Real Madrid hope stability breeds success as La Liga kicks off

  • There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu, and no hint of a superstar signing to reinforce the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain

MADRID: Real Madrid are hoping a summer of stability sets them up for a successful defense of the Spanish title as the season kicks off in La Liga this weekend, despite some eye-catching moves in the transfer market from Barcelona.

Madrid set the ball rolling on Wednesday against Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup, as they target another trophy-laden campaign under Carlo Ancelotti following their league and Champions League double last season.

There have been no dramatic changes at the Santiago Bernabeu, and no hint of a superstar signing to reinforce the attack after Kylian Mbappe turned them down in favor of a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain.

Yet there have been no significant departures either, with the influence of Gareth Bale, Isco and Marcelo having dramatically declined before they were all released.

That means Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, who turns 37 in September, will remain hugely influential.

Ancelotti can also expect the influence of the likes of Vinicius — whose goal won May’s Champions League final against Liverpool — Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga to increase this season.

And two significant signings have arrived.

France midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, 22, has joined from Monaco for a fee of up to €100 million ($102m), while Germany center-back Antonio Rudiger, 29, joins on a free from Chelsea.

“I believe we’ve got two players who are among the best in the world in their role,” Ancelotti told UEFA.com.

“Their quality increases the team’s physical and technical ability.”

Real were champions by 13 points from Barcelona, and it would have been more had the Catalans not improved enormously in the second half of last season.

Xavi Hernandez has already made a big impact as coach at the Camp Nou and a raft of new recruits headed by Robert Lewandowski could help them bridge the gap to their bitter rivals.

Leeds United winger Raphinha and AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie have also joined, while the defense should be greatly improved by the signings of Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen.

The problem is that, by the start of this week, Barca had still not been able to register their new recruits because they had not raised enough money to comply with spending restrictions imposed on the club by La Liga.

That is despite Barcelona’s board selling off assets, including 25 percent of Barca Studios, which manages the club’s digital business and audiovisual productions, to Socios.com for 100 million euros.

Twenty-five percent of their domestic television rights for quarter of a century have been sold to US investment fund Sixth Street for 400 million euros.

Those deals are on top of a sponsorship agreement with Spotify, and on Tuesday it was reported in Spain that Barcelona would sell another 25 percent of Barca Studios to an investment fund for 100 million euros in a bid to satisfy La Liga.

The club have also been pressuring midfielder Frenkie de Jong to leave in order to dispose of his salary.

There may be concerns about the long-term consequences of these deals for a club with reported debts of 1.3 billion euros, but if they can register the new recruits then they could also be a real force to be reckoned with.

“We have generated a lot of hopeful anticipation. We have lots of hope too,” admitted Xavi. “Our objective this year is to win titles and play good football.”

If Barcelona cannot close the gap to Real then it appears unlikely anyone else can, with Atletico Madrid not looking significantly stronger than last year, when they finished third.

Luis Suarez has returned to his native Uruguay and Antoine Griezmann’s form is uncertain, although Axel Witsel reinforces their midfield and Argentine international Nahuel Molina adds quality at right-back.

On top of that, they still have Diego Simeone.

Sevilla came fourth last season, securing Champions League qualification at the expense of city rivals Real Betis, who won the Copa del Rey.

While Sevilla have signed Isco, they have lost two outstanding center-backs, with Kounde departing and Diego Carlos going to Aston Villa.

It was notable that the latter preferred to join a mid-table Premier League club rather than stay and play in the Champions League.

That reflected English football’s pulling power, while Goncalo Guedes, Valencia’s top scorer last season, has gone to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Saudi-owned Almeria are back in La Liga after seven years, with Real Valladolid and Girona the other newly-promoted teams.


England remove centurions Shafique and Haq as Pakistan reach 298-3

Updated 03 December 2022

England remove centurions Shafique and Haq as Pakistan reach 298-3

  • Will Jacks dismissed Shafique for 114, while left-armer Jack Leach had Haq for 121
  • Pakistan still need 160 runs to avoid follow-on after England finished with 657 Friday

RAWALPINDI: England spinners removed Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq after they scored centuries Saturday as Pakistan reached 298-3 at lunch on the third day of the opening Test in Rawalpindi. 

Off-spinner Will Jacks dismissed Shafique for 114, while left-armer Jack Leach had Haq for 121. 

Pakistan still need another 160 runs to avoid follow-on after England finished with 657 Friday, their highest total ever against the home team. 

Despite three wickets falling in Saturday's first session, the much-criticised Rawalpindi Stadium pitch offered little to the bowlers. 

At the break, skipper Babar Azam was on 28 and Saud Shakeel yet to score. 

Azhar Ali was trapped leg-before by Leach on 27, but he could have gone more cheaply had Zak Crawley not dropped a sharp chance to his left at leg slip from pacer James Anderson's first over of the morning. 

The centuries by Shafique and Haq meant for the first time in 146 years of Test cricket the openers of both teams reached three figures in the first innings. 

Their 225-run opening stand -- a Pakistan record against England -- is also the first time in Test history that two 200-plus opening partnerships were made, following Crawley and Ben Duckett's 233-run partnership for the visitors. 

Pakistan started the day on 181 without loss and Shafique, 89 overnight, was the first to three figures with a sharp single off Joe Root. 

Haq, who started the session on 90, followed with a boundary off the same bowler to complete his century. 

They both now have three Test centuries and successive hundreds at the venue, having also reached three figures against Australia in March this year. 

The three-match series is England's first in Pakistan for 17 years. 


Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 

Updated 03 December 2022

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 

  • Scheffler spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone this year, which earns him the Mark H. McCormack Award

NASSAU, Bahamas: The degree Masters champion Scottie Scheffler earned from the McCombs School of Business at Texas did not equip him with the skills to figure out the new formula for the Official World Golf Ranking.

He is No. 2 in the world. He can go back to No. 1 if he wins the Hero World Challenge, simple as that.

“I don’t like being No. 2,” he said. “I don’t like finishing second.”

Scheffler took a step in that direction in the relentless wind at Albany. He ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine for a 4-under 68, leaving him in the group one shot behind defending champion Viktor Hovland.

Hovland knows a little about wind. The Norwegian saw enough of it during his amateur days across Europe, and then he starred at Oklahoma State.

Hovland made eagle for the second straight day — the other 19 players have combined for one eagle this week — had three straight birdies on the back nine and had a 70. He was at 5-under 139.

Scores typically are much lower in the holiday event Tiger Woods hosts for a 20-man field of elite players in the Bahamas. The course was soaked and played long on Thursday. It dried out in 30 mph wind on Friday.

Xander Schauffele leaned on exquisite wedge play for a 68 and joined Scheffler, Cameron Young (69) and Collin Morikawa (71) in the group one shot behind.

Tom Kim dropped two shots on the final three holes and that gave him a 72, leaving him two shots behind. That’s not the reason the 20-year-old South Korean raised both arms after he had signed his card. Scrolling through his phone, he learned South Korea had advanced to the knockout stage in the World Cup.

“Goose bumps,” Kim said as he stretched out his arms.

Scheffler spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone this year, which earns him the Mark H. McCormack Award. That was a product of four wins against strong fields in the spring, including his first major. The Masters was his last win.

Rory McIlroy replaced him with a win in South Carolina in October, and now Scheffler has a chance to grab it back, even if for a short time. McIlroy is expected to be No. 1 when the year ends regardless of what happens in the Bahamas.

The model went from rating the top 200 players in a field based on their world ranking to rating everyone in the field using the “strokes gained” formula, which measure actual scores and adjusts for relative difficulty of each round.

It favors deeper fields, regardless of how many of the top players are there. And it won’t be fully integrated until next August.

But there has been no shortage of complaints, with even Woods weighing in this week that it’s a flawed system. Some of the criticism stems from the new formula not giving as much credit to smaller fields compared with full fields.

“I think now I would say the top players are not bringing as much weight to events as they should,” Scheffler said.

The Hero World Challenge has 15 of the top 20 in the world. It also has only 20 players, and so the winner will get slightly fewer points than the winner of the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

“But it’s also really tough to rank golfers when they’re not playing the same schedule,” Scheffler said. “So I think as we all start to play together more often and you get the best players playing together more often, it’s going to be much easier to rank those guys.

“It’s a tough system. It’s not something that’s easy to get right,” he said. “In other sports, you have a record and golf is not necessarily a record. It’s a challenging system. I think they went from one extreme to the other, and we’ll meet in the middle, hopefully, and find something that’s a little bit better.”

The ultimate measure remains the low score, and that belongs to Hovland. Woods, who is not playing this week because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, is the only player to have won the World Challenge in consecutive years.

He’s not sure how he’s getting it done, especially in this wind.

“It’s kind of strange, like I knew it was windy and I feel like I missed so many putts,” Hovland said. “And I still don’t feel like I’m hitting it very good. I’m not comfortable over the ball, but the ball’s going straight and I’m giving myself looks.”
 


Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup

Updated 03 December 2022

Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup

  • Aboubakar was sent off with a second yellow card for taking off his shirt during his celebration
  • Brazil finished with six points, the same as Switzerland

LUSAIL, Qatar: Vincent Aboubakar scored with a header two minutes into stoppage time in Cameroon’s 1-0 win over Brazil at the World Cup on Friday, a result that still allowed the five-time champions to win the group and eliminated the Africans.
Aboubakar was then sent off with a second yellow card for taking off his shirt during his celebration.
Brazil, which had already reached the knockout stage after victories over Serbia and Switzerland, will face South Korea in the round of 16.
Brazil finished with six points, the same as Switzerland but the South Americans had a better goal difference. The Swiss also advanced and will face Portugal. Cameroon ended with four points and Serbia one.
Coach Tite rested nearly all of his regular starters and made 10 changes from the win against Switzerland on Monday.
Brazil was still without the injured Neymar, but the star forward was at Lusail Stadium to watch the match with his teammates.


Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup

Updated 03 December 2022

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup

  • Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime as the Swiss secured second place in Group G
  • They will next face Portugal on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium

DOHA: Switzerland advanced to the last 16 of the World Cup for the third tournament in a row after a 3-2 win over Serbia on Friday.
Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime as the Swiss secured second place in Group G. They will next face Portugal on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium.
Xherdan Shaqiri put Switzerland ahead early in the first half before Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic responded for Serbia. Breel Embolo evened the score just before halftime.
Switzerland needed a win to guarantee themselves a place in the knockout round after beating Cameroon and losing to Brazil in their opening two games. The team reached the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and again four years later in Russia. They lost 1-0 in both matches, to Argentina and Sweden, respectively.
Against Portugal, the Swiss will be looking to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since hosting the competition in 1954.


Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss

Updated 02 December 2022

Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss

  • The 37-year-old skipper looked miffed and ambled off slowly when his number went up in the 65th minute
  • "He was angry with the player from Korea and everyone saw that," Santos said

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was “insulted” by a South Korean player as he was substituted during Portugal’s 2-1 World Cup defeat on Friday, coach Fernando Santos said.
The 37-year-old skipper looked miffed and ambled off slowly when his number went up in the 65th minute.
Santos denied that was because he was upset at being hooked.
“He was angry with the player from Korea and everyone saw that,” Santos said after his side topped Group H despite conceding in injury time to fall to defeat for the first time in Qatar.
“The player was insulting him, telling him to go away (get off the pitch) so that’s why he was angry and everyone saw that.
“I saw the interaction with the Korean player and have no doubt about it.”
Becoming irritated by the line of questioning, Santos added: “He (the Korean player) was not aggressive, he was verbally aggressive.
“He was speaking in English to Cristiano and Cristiano said, ‘Well, perhaps he did not have a good day.’“
South Korean midfielder Hwang In-beom attempted to play down the controversy.
“I didn’t see it, I was too tired,” he said. “I was looking at the ground, so I didn’t see it and I have nothing to say.”