AC Milan brush aside Bologna, Abraham snatches point on Dybala’s Juve return

AC Milan's Olivier Giroud scores their second goal during a Serie A football match with Bologna at the San Siro stadium in Milan on Aug. 27, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 28 August 2022

AC Milan brush aside Bologna, Abraham snatches point on Dybala’s Juve return

  • Milan are one of four teams locked on seven points, with Roma, Lazio and Torino
  • Napoli will reclaim the summit should they win at Fiorentina on Sunday night

MILAN, Italy: AC Milan continued their unbeaten start to their Serie A title defense with a 2-0 win over Bologna on Saturday as Tammy Abraham earned Roma a 1-1 draw at Juventus on Juventus’s return to his old stomping ground.

Champions Milan eased to a routine win at the San Siro with goals either side of halftime from Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud to go top on goal difference.

Stefano Pioli’s side took full advantage of Inter Milan’s lose at Lazio on Friday night to move a point above their local rivals.

“We’re more concentrated and have more self-belief than in the past, we played with a real commitment to attacking and defending as a unit,” Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

“I’s happy with our performance but I know we can still get better.”

Milan are one of four teams locked on seven points, with Roma, Lazio and Torino — 2-1 winners over promoted Cremonese.

Napoli will reclaim the summit should they win at Fiorentina on Sunday night, Luciano Spalletti’s flamboyant side on a perfect six points after two stunning displays in their opening fixtures.

Leao gave the hosts the lead in front of over 60,000 fans with his first goal of the season, the Portugal winger fortunate to see his duffed shot squirm past Lukasz Skorupski in the 21st minute after good play by debutant Charles De Ketelaere.

The 23-year-old Leao, who has been linked with Chelsea, should have added to Milan’s lead before the break, missing a one-on-one with Skorupski in first half stoppage time.

However, he set up Giroud’s opening strike of the campaign in the 58th minute with a perfectly clipped pass which the France international guided home with a beautifully-placed volleyed finish.

Nicola Sansone smashed the upright 10 minutes later for Bologna who are hovering above the drop zone with a single point.

Andrea Pinamonti scored his first goal for Sassuolo after moving from Inter, rolling home following a defensive mix-up to give his new team a 2-2 draw at Spezia.

Jose Mourinho said he was “ashamed” of his Roma players’ performances before they fought back to draw through Abraham’s first goal of the season.

England international Abraham headed home from Dybala’s knockdown in the 69th minute at the Allianz Stadium to maintain Roma’s unbeaten record.

Mourinho used the vulgar Italian expression “culo” to describe their good fortune at being only a goal down at the break after being given a lesson by Juve.

Roma escaped Turin with a point despite being second best for long periods. Dusan Vlahovic put Juve ahead with a stunning free-kick after barely a minute.

“I told my players at halftime that I was ashamed of them... We can’t come here and play like this,” he said.

“We did absolutely nothing, it was pure luck. It was a very different team in the second half.”

Massimiliano Allegri’s side stay unbeaten on five points but will be disappointed to not have taken all three on Saturday.

The good result at a place Roma have an awful record also masks a poor display from Dybala, who appeared overwhelmed on his first appearance at Juve since leaving as a free agent in the summer.

The Argentina forward won five Serie A titles and four Italian Cups in seven years with the Turin giants and was warmly applauded by home supporters before the match.

However, there were some boos and whistles from the stands when he was eventually substituted with 12 minutes remaining having helped deny his old team the win.

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test

Updated 5 sec ago

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test

  • Four English batsmen scored centuries as the tourists cantered to 506-4 at the close of play
  • Australia in the past scored 494 against South Africa on the first day of a Test in Sydney in 1910

RAWALPINDI: Four England batsmen scored hundreds Thursday as the visitors piled up a record 506-4 on the opening day of the first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
Openers Zak Crawley (122) and Ben Duckett (107) set the tone with quick-fire tons against a hapless Pakistan bowling attack before Ollie Pope (108) and Harry Brook (101 not out) compounded the hosts' misery.
Ben Stokes was also not out, on 34, when bad light stopped play, having helped England break a 112-year-old record for the most runs on the first day of a Test -- beating Australia's 494-6 against South Africa at Sydney.
It was also the first time four batters scored hundreds on day one of a Test.
After winning the toss England went straight into "Bazball" mode, the brand of freewheeling, aggressive play taken from the nickname of head coach Brendon McCullum.
England's fiery batting -- with 73 boundaries and three sixes -- lifted the gloom over the start, which hung in the balance Wednesday after several of the tourists came down with a mystery virus.
As if the punishment from the top three wasn't enough, Brook -- playing only his second Test -- cracked six consecutive boundaries off one over from debutant spinner Saud Shakeel.
He is only the fourth batsman to score six consecutive boundaries in a Test, following West Indians Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, and Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya.
Brook reached his maiden century off just 80 balls, capping a highly entertaining day for a crowd of 6,000 that included around 150 "Barmy Army" fans.
He added 176 for the fourth wicket with Pope, who fell to pacer Mohammad Ali.
Pakistan fought back briefly in the second session when they dismissed Duckett, Crawley and Joe Root (23) in the space of 53 runs, but that was short-lived.
England have set their sights on even more runs.
"It was obviously a very good wicket to bat on," said Crawley.
"Hopefully, we can go on tomorrow and get more runs."
Debutant leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood was the most successful Pakistan bowler with 2-160 on an unresponsive wicket.
"The pitch was similar to the one we had against Australia, but it should have been a bit more supportive," said Pakistan head coach Saqlain Mushtaq, referring to the Test played earlier this year that yielded 1,187 runs for the loss of just 14 wickets over five days.
Duckett, who hit his maiden hundred after being recalled to the Test side following an absence of six years, was the first to go when he missed a reverse sweep off Mahmood and was trapped leg-before.
West Indian umpire Joel Wilson initially ruled it not out, only to change his decision on Pakistan's review.
Duckett, who hit 15 boundaries, put on 233 for the first wicket with Crawley -- an England record for the first wicket against Pakistan.
It beat the 1962 stand of 198 between openers Geoff Pullar and Bob Barber in Dhaka, then East Pakistan.
Crawley was bowled off a sharp delivery by Haris Rauf in the next over, the Test debutant's first wicket.
The lanky Crawley hit 21 boundaries in his quickfire 111-ball innings, his third Test hundred.
Former skipper Root also fell leg-before to Mahmood, unsuccessfully challenging the decision.
Crawley showed his intent right from the start, hitting three boundaries off Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah's first over of the match, and bringing up his half-century off just 38 balls.
He could have become the first England batter to score a century before lunch on day one of a Test but was left nine short.
England are on their first Test tour to Pakistan in 17 years.

Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw

Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

Belgium crash out of World Cup after Croatia draw

  • Croatia had a penalty award controversially cancelled by VAR early in a largely uneventful first half
  • Belgium saw their run of reaching at least the quarter-finals at four straight major tournaments come to an abrupt end

DOHA: Romelu Lukaku missed a string of late chances as Belgium crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage after a 0-0 draw with Croatia on Thursday which sent the 2018 runners-up into the knockout phase.
Croatia had a penalty award controversially canceled by VAR early in a largely uneventful first half.
The introduction of Lukaku at the interval changed the game, but he was guilty of three dreadful misses as Zlatko Dalic’s side rode their luck to hold on.
Croatia progressed as runners-up in Group F behind winners Morocco who beat Canada 2-1 to also qualify for the last 16.
Belgium, the world’s second-ranked side, saw their run of reaching at least the quarter-finals at four straight major tournaments come to an abrupt end.
Roberto Martinez’s men managed just one goal in the tournament in a fortunate opening 1-0 win over Canada.
Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench as one of four changes which also saw Leandro Trossard and Dries Mertens start for the first time in Qatar.
The build-up to the match had been dominated by rumors of an altercation between senior Belgian players, involving Eden Hazard, which Martinez described as “fake news.”
Croatia almost took the lead inside the first 10 seconds, as the ball was played forward to Ivan Perisic after kick-off and the Tottenham man cut inside and drilled a shot just wide of the far post.
The likelihood of Belgium needing to win was increased when Morocco scored an early goal across Doha. Yannick Carrasco had a chance to open the scoring but his shot was blocked.
Mertens curled over after a trademark Kevin De Bruyne run and pass, before Croatia were awarded a penalty seconds later when Carrasco tripped Andrej Kramaric in the box.
But the decision was overturned following a lengthy VAR check which decided that a tiny fraction of Dejan Lovren’s shoulder was offside.
Desperate for a goal after a first half in which neither side mustered a shot on target, Martinez sent on Lukaku, Belgium’s record scorer, for Mertens at half-time.
They immediately carried more threat, with Lukaku, who struggled with injury in the build-up to the tournament, heading straight at Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Thibaut Courtois was then called into action for the first time, stretching to tip over Mateo Kovacic’s curling effort as the game opened up.
That also suited the Croatian attackers though and Courtois had to twice get down to keep out low shots from Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric.
Belgium should have taken the lead on the hour mark.
Carrasco almost bundled the ball in but was denied by Livakovic, before Lukaku contrived to hit the post with the goal gaping on the rebound.
Lukaku was guilty of an even worse miss two minutes later, heading over an empty net from six yards out, although replays suggested the ball may have been out of play when De Bruyne crossed it in.
Martinez also threw on Thorgan Hazard, Youri Tielemans and Jeremy Doku as Belgium searched for that all important goal.
Lukaku saw another chance come and go in the 87th minute, deflecting the ball wide from Thomas Meunier’s volley.
The striker, on loan at Inter Milan from Chelsea, still had another golden opportunity to be the hero, but he opted to chest the ball toward the open net from three yards out and directed it into the arms of Livakovic.

Messi fans from Asia cheer on Argentina at World Cup

Updated 21 min 21 sec ago

Messi fans from Asia cheer on Argentina at World Cup

  • Bangladesh, India and Pakistan — where cricket is king — have never played a World Cup
  • Fans who had traveled from Argentina to support their team in Qatar were delighted with the support from non-Argentines

DOHA: On their way to Argentina’s decisive game against Poland, Mohit Daga and Aayush Verma approached the stadium carrying a massive painting of their heroes Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona with the World Cup trophy.
Daga had spent 17 days painting it. It weighed 5 kilograms. An offering. Anything for Messi.
“He is the epitome of everything. He is the source of inspiration and happiness,” said Daga, who is from Kolkata, India. “He brings happiness to our life.”
Argentina are finding a legion of passionate superfans from India, Bangladesh and other Asian countries at the World Cup in Qatar.
Thousands have traveled to the Gulf nation specifically to see Messi and his team with their own eyes, while many others are among migrant workers that make up about 90 percent of the emirate’s population of 3 million.
Other Argentina fans cheered from afar. In Indonesia, social media showed hundreds of people celebrating Argentina’s team’s 2-0 win over Poland after watching the game on large screens. They paraded on motorbikes waving flags after Argentina secured progress to the knockout stages. A newsreader wore an Argentina shirt during a broadcast.
Smitha Issac, originally from India, now living in Qatar, was attending the game with her family, including two sons who were “too excited” to see Messi.
Isaac said: “We are expecting that he will just make something like magic today.”
Outside Stadium 974 shortly before kickoff on Wednesday, Argentina fans were still scrambling for any spare tickets to see the game. Demand far outstripped supply for the 44,000-capacity stadium.
Mohammed Haque from Bangladesh, now living in Australia, was one of the lucky ticket holders. He waved a large Argentina flag as he walked toward the flood-lit stadium made of shipping containers, approaching it like a holy shrine.
“It’s unbelievable,” Haque said of seeing Messi for the first time. “I’ve actually been preparing for the last two or three weeks for this. I had a sleepless night last night.”
Argentina has had a big following in Bangladesh since the days of Maradona, one of the greatest to play the game, and an icon to fans around the world.
“Diego Maradona, he was exceptional. And from then I just loved this country and especially the soccer every time,” Haque said. “Then later, (Gabriel) Batistuta, (Hernan) Crespo, every Argentine player, and now Messi is the legend.”
Bangladesh, India and Pakistan — where cricket is king — have never played a World Cup. So when the tournament comes along, many soccer fans typically root for Argentina or Brazil, soccer powerhouses admired for their attacking style of play and a long line of international stars, including Messi, Maradona and Pele.
Fans who had traveled from Argentina to support their team in Qatar were delighted with the support from non-Argentines.
“We love to see other countries showing their love for Messi and Maradona,” said Mauricio Neraj from Mendoza, Argentina. He posed for pictures next to the Messi and Maradona painting by Daga outside the stadium.
Some of the South Asian fans in Qatar said they were deeply hurt by speculation on social media and in some Western media before the tournament that they were hired actors, paid by Qatar to fill the stadiums. The World Cup organizing committee rejected the reports as false.
“It is coming from the bottom of our hearts. It is not coming from any outside forcing or anything like that,” said Binoy John, and Indian worker in Qatar who has been an Argentina fan since childhood when he saw Maradona lead Argentina to win the 1986 World Cup. “All the fans are true fans. There is nothing like fake fans out here.”
Argentina have a following among Arab soccer fans, too. Messi-devotion brought Ahmed Qassim Nasher from Yemen to see his favorite player as Argentina advanced.
“Football is a festival, joy, celebrations. It connects people from different nationalities, different languages, and different ethnicities,” Nasher said. “You will find Arabs and non-Arabs coming to cheer for Messi. It’s common sense that he will have the best audience and fans, because he is the best player throughout history.”


Morocco make history and reach World Cup Round of 16 for second time

Updated 6 min 39 sec ago

Morocco make history and reach World Cup Round of 16 for second time

  • Atlas Lions reached the knockout stages in 1986 and are the only Arab team to do so at Qatar 2022

Morocco made history on Thursday, defeating Canada 2-1 to top Group F and become the sole Arab team to make the second round of the 2022 World Cup and also the first from the region to do so for a second time, 36 years after doing so back in 1986.

This time was more impressive. After that famous 2-0 win over Belgium on Sunday, the Atlas Lions needed just a point against the already-eliminated North Americans and raced into a 2-0 lead by the midway point of the first half.

They spent much of the second half on the backfoot but can now look forward to playing in the last 16 against Germany, Spain or Japan.

It was almost a perfect group stage with seven points collected. The opening game against the talented Croatians ended goalless, a solid result that provided the platform for the victory over Belgium, the team ranked second in the world. It meant that, barring slip-ups, Morocco could start to think about the last 16.

Going through was not just celebrated by the many thousands of fans at the Al-Thumama Stadium and millions back home, but it was vindication for the decision to dismiss Vahid Halilhodzic as head coach in August. In came Walid Regragui who has not only restored Hakim Ziyech to the team but tightened up the defense to an impressive degree.

The own goal that came off the boot of Nayef Aguerd just before the break that gave the Canadians a chance to get back in the game was the first that Morocco had conceded in seven games under Regragui. Paris Saint-Germain star Achraf Hakimi may get many headlines, but Romain Saiss has been a rock in the middle and Sofyan Amrabat adept at spotting opposition danger. The positioning and commitment of the backline and those sitting just in front have been excellent.

Welcoming Ziyech back into the fold may not exactly have been a difficult decision for Regragui, but the wideman has grown more influential in every game in Qatar, and his fourth-minute goal was harder than it looked.

Poor Canadian defending left goalkeeper Milan Borjan stranded outside his area, and a first-time chip from Ziyech from around 30 meters out found the net with the kind of cool finish that only a player at the top of his game can produce.

It took the sting out of the game and Morocco were well on top, extending the lead as Youssef En-Nesyri fired home emphatically. The game looked to be as good as over, but just before the break came Aguerd’s own goal, a low cross diverted past Yassine Bounou in goal. If that was frustrating, so was a disallowed goal moments later as Aguerd was ruled to have been in the line of the goalkeeper’s vision from an offside position as En-Nesyri shot home. 

So, instead of 2-0 or 3-1, it was a little closer. It was not time for panic stations, but the scoreline did give Canada, playing for pride after two defeats and looking for a first-ever World Cup point, hope.

They came firing out of the traps in the second half and spent a great deal more time in the Moroccan half. After 72 minutes, a Canadian header hit the bar and bounced right on the goal line. In some ways, this was the Africans’ toughest game, and the pressure they were put under in the second half may stand them in good stead for the tests ahead.

It meant that instead of thinking about which of his players to bring off and rest ahead of the second-round clash, coach Regragui had to stay focused on ensuring that his team did not do anything silly and kept their focus.

Yet thoughts of the next stage were surely never that far away. Winning the group is welcome symbolically, is good for confidence and means a second-round game on Tuesday as opposed to Monday. Their opponents remain to be seen, but after their first stage performance, there is no reason to fear Spain, Germany, Japan or anyone else. 

It should be remembered that this group was seen as a tricky one. It contained the runner-up and third-placed team from Russia 2018, and Canada finished top of CONCACAF’s qualification stage. 

Morocco deserved to finish top of the standings and to take all the plaudits. History has been made, but there is surely more to come from this talented team especially now that they are flying the flag for Arab football.


Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Updated 01 December 2022

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

  • With Herve Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat
  • Performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar: From a generational-defining win over Lionel Messi and Argentina to the recent reports that Cristiano Ronaldo could soon be on his way to play soccer in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has caused a sensation at the World Cup.
The Green Falcons have nothing to be ashamed about after being eliminated following a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday.
The second-lowest ranked team in the tournament at No. 51 — one spot behind host Qatar — and ahead of only 61st-ranked Ghana, Saudi Arabia was competitive from start to finish at the first World Cup in the Middle East.
“We did our best. Today it was more difficult for us,” said Hervé Renard, Saudi Arabia’s French coach. “But we don’t have to forget what we did together.”
The Saudis opened with a surprising 2-1 victory over Argentina and also played solidly in a 2-0 loss to Poland before conceding two second-half goals to Mexico to finish last in Group C.
Salem Al-Dawsari, the team’s star No. 10, pulled a goal back in added time, before the Saudi players bent over on the field at the final whistle in prayer and then stood up to applaud their fans.
Strong goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais prevented Mexico from scoring another goal — which could have sent the South Americans through to the round of 16. Instead, it was Argentina and Poland who advanced in the most wide-open group of the tournament.
With Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat with a team featuring all 26 players based at home.
The fact that none of the Saudis play abroad may have been a surprise factor but the reality is that the country’s best players don’t need to go to Europe for rich contracts when they are paid handsomely in the lucrative Saudi league.
A high-paying contract is exactly what could lure Ronaldo to join six members of the Saudi national team at Al Nassr, one of the country’s leading clubs.
The reports linking Ronaldo with Al Nassr come after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had his contract terminated by Manchester United.
Saudi-owned Newcastle United is also reportedly in the market for Ronaldo.
But whether Ronaldo goes to a Saudi or Saudi-owned club or not, the country’s national team leaves Qatar with plenty of newfound confidence.
The performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup.