Mbappe stars as France shrug off troubles to outclass Austria

France’s forward Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud stand for the national anthem ahead of their UEFA Nations League match against Austria at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on Thursday. (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2022

Mbappe stars as France shrug off troubles to outclass Austria

  • Mbappe showcased his phenomenal pace and strength on the way before finishing emphatically to put the reigning world champions ahead
  • The recalled Olivier Giroud doubled their lead nine minutes later

PARIS: Kylian Mbappe scored a stunning opening goal as France shook off injuries to a host of key players and a series of off-field issues to claim a welcome 2-0 win over Austria in the UEFA Nations League in Paris on Thursday.
Mbappe showcased his phenomenal pace and strength on the way before finishing emphatically to put the reigning world champions ahead in the 56th minute at the Stade de France.
The recalled Olivier Giroud doubled their lead nine minutes later as France ran out deserved winners to stave off the threat of relegation from the top tier of the Nations League, a competition they won just last year.
Didier Deschamps’ side still need to win their last Group A1 game away in Denmark on Sunday to be certain of avoiding relegation, while qualification for the four-team finals next June is already out of reach.
France’s failure to win any of their four games in June is the reason for that, but the priority for Les Bleus now is the World Cup, with the first game of their title defense in Qatar exactly two months away.
Deschamps will hope to have recovered at least the majority of his crocked stars by the time that match against Australia comes around on November 22.
Those missing from this game would make up a very strong team in their own right, with the absentees including goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris; center-backs Lucas Hernandez and Presnel Kimpembe; left-back Theo Hernandez; midfield lynchpin N’Golo Kante and forward Kingsley Coman.
Karim Benzema is currently out too, and then there is Paul Pogba, who faces a race against time to recover from knee surgery.
Pogba has also been in the headlines after filing a complaint with Italian prosecutors saying he was the target of a 13 million-euro ($13m) blackmail plot.
His brother Mathias is one of five people charged and detained in the case.
Meanwhile this week began with Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe refusing to take part in a photo shoot in a row with the French Football Federation over image rights.
But neither Mbappe nor his teammates appeared distracted as they outclassed Austria.
Mbappe had the ball in the net inside 90 seconds only to be denied by the offside flag, and he was a constant threat in the first half.
France should have led at the interval but Austria had goalkeeper Patrick Pentz to thank for a sensational double save in the 35th minute.
Pentz tipped Aurelien Tchouameni’s acrobatic overhead kick onto the bar and then got down low to save Antoine Griezmann’s follow-up attempt.
Before that the hosts — who gave debuts to Monaco center-back Benoit Badiashile and his club colleague, midfielder Youssouf Fofana — saw their injury worries increase when Barcelona’s Jules Kounde limped out.
Goalkeeper Mike Maignan also came off at half-time to be replaced by West Ham United’s Alphonse Areola, and France went ahead soon after.
Mbappe collected a Giroud pass on the left before surging inside, bouncing off Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer, and lashing a shot beyond Pentz.
He celebrated by mimicking a photographer, an apparent nod to the troublesome quarrel over image rights.
Giroud then marked his return to the side by heading in Griezmann’s cross to make it 2-0 with his 49th international goal.
He is now just two shy of Thierry Henry’s French record of 51.


Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Updated 13 sec ago

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

BARCELONA, Spain: When Xavi Hernández oversaw the remodeling of Barcelona’s squad this summer, the coach made sure he was so well covered at right-back that his club could afford to loan out US defender Sergiño Dest to AC Milan.
But after a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca.
Jules Koundé, Ronald Araújo and Héctor Bellerín, who have played at right back this season, are all out for an undetermined period of time. Koundé and Araújo, who can play at center back as well, were hurt while playing for France and Uruguay, respectively, in games to prepare for the World Cup in November. Bellerín hurt his left leg while training for Barcelona.
That leaves Barcelona waiting to see if veteran Sergi Roberto can recover from a muscle problem that has sidelined him for three weeks in time for the trip to the Balearic Islands.
If not, Xavi may be forced to shoehorn a player with little or no experience at right back into the position, draft a player from Barcelona’s youth team, or opt to play with three centerbacks and two wing backs.
Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay after they were both hurt while playing for the Netherlands. Neither has been a first-choice player for Xavi this season.
Of the injuries, Araújo’s appears to be the most serious. The 23-year-old defender underwent surgery this week in Finland to repair an abductor muscle in his right thigh that he damaged in Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran on Friday.
Over the next three weeks, Barcelona face two Champions League group games against Inter Milan and a clásico against Real Madrid on Oct. 16.
The only good news for Xavi is that Robert Lewandowski returned in perfect shape from his stint with Poland. The striker leads the Spanish league with eight goals in six games.
Mallorca, coached by Mexican Javier Aguirre, has lost 12 of the last 13 visits by Barcelona to their stadium. Their only win during that stretch came in 2009 with Barcelona already crowned the league champion.
BENZEMA BACK
Karim Benzema is back for Real Madrid after recovering from a tendon injury and a strained muscle in his right thigh that had kept him off the field for over three weeks.
Benzema led Madrid to the Champions League and Spanish league double last season after scoring 44 goals in all competitions.
But his team have not missed him much and have kept up their perfect record this season of nine wins in as many games in all competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side leads the league by two points ahead of Barcelona before they host fifth-placed Osasuna on Sunday.
“I’m feeling very good, comfortable. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday,” Benzema said. “We’ve got a great team, although it could be said that we’ve got two teams. There’s no difference between those who start the game and those who come on.”
Meanwhile a struggling Sevilla faces a tough test when they visit Atlético Madrid on Saturday. Pressure is growing on coach Julen Lopetegui and the club’s leadership, which sold off talented players this summer, after the team have won just once in eight games overall.
Third-place Real Betis play at Celta Vigo on Sunday, while fourth-place Athletic Bilbao host Almería on Friday.

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

Updated 57 min 58 sec ago

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

  • Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back
  • Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team

BERLIN: The international break provided little respite for Bayern Munich’s struggling stars ahead of the team’s high-stakes Bundesliga game against Bayer Leverkusen on Friday.
Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back to training on Wednesday after what proved to be a frustrating two games with the national team.
The rain they encountered in Munich matched the mood.
Bayern, after four games without a win in the Bundesliga, had been hoping that Germany’s Nations League games against Hungary and England would help reinvigorate their players and restore confidence ahead of a busy schedule of domestic and Champions League games.
Instead, Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team, which lost 1-0 at home to Hungary, then drew 3-3 with England after throwing away a two-goal lead.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer and midfielder Leon Goretzka missed the Germany games due to coronavirus infections, but both were back on the training field for Nagelsmann on Tuesday.
Nagelsmann had said he was going to use the break to think “about everything” after Bayern ended their run of three draws with a loss in Augsburg, the team’s first defeat of the season.
Only a convincing performance on Friday will ease the pressure on the coach, who seemed to be at a loss to explain his team’s slump. Bayern next face a visit to Borussia Dortmund for “der Klassiker” the following weekend.
Leverkusen also need to make amends after their disappointing start. Gerardo Seoane’s team are in crisis after just one win from seven league games so far.
“Both teams are in a similar situation – each at their own level. Both are dissatisfied with the results, but both also show many positive signs,” Seoane said.
“Bayern Munich had an incredible number of scoring chances in every game. We don’t need to talk about quality.”


Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans

Updated 29 September 2022

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans

  • All visitors aged over six would have to produce negative COVID-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament

DOHA: Coronavirus vaccinations will not be mandatory for the million-plus fans going to the World Cup in Qatar this year, authorities in the Gulf state said on Thursday.

All visitors aged over six will have to produce negative COVID-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament that starts November 20, the authorities said in new health guidelines.

The 29-day tournament will be the first major global sporting event with fans since the eruption of the Covid pandemic in December 2019.

The Qatar organizers and world football’s governing body FIFA have said they want the event to be a sign that the world is getting over the devastating pandemic.

But they have warned that health guidelines will change if the threat blows up again.

Fans will have to wear masks in public transport in Qatar and anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 “will be required to isolate in accordance with Ministry of Public Health guidelines,” the health ministry said.

The ministry added that it may force players, referees and officials to stay in a secure “bio-bubble” if coronavirus cases take off “to allow for the safe operation and continuation of the event.”


Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah tests positive for COVID-19

Updated 29 September 2022

Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah tests positive for COVID-19

  • Shah was discharged from hospital on Thursday after being diagnosed with pneumonia
  • Shah played only one game in 7-match series against England at Karachi before being rested

LAHORE: Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the remaining two Twenty20s against England, the Pakistan Cricket Board said on Thursday.

Shah was discharged from hospital on Thursday after being diagnosed with pneumonia and the PCB said the fast bowler was feeling “much better.”

“Shah is back in the team hotel where he will follow all COVID-19 protocols,” the PCB said in a statement.

Pakistan is due to leave for New Zealand next Monday to participate in a triangular Twenty20 series also featuring Bangladesh.

The PCB didn’t clarify whether the fast bowler will accompany the team to New Zealand.

Shah played only one game in the seven-match series against England at Karachi before being rested. He returned expensive figures of 0-41 off his four overs in the first match, which England won by six wickets.

He was admitted to hospital late Tuesday night in Lahore with a chest infection and fever.

Pakistan leads the series 3-2 with back-to-back narrow wins at Karachi and Lahore in the last two games as England couldn’t chase down below-par totals.

The remaining two matches will be played on Friday and Sunday at Lahore.


Racist abuse of Richarlison shows FIFA still has work to do

Updated 29 September 2022

Racist abuse of Richarlison shows FIFA still has work to do

  • In a statement, FIFA condemned the incident, saying: “First and foremost, FIFA strongly rejects any form of racism and violence and has a very clear zero tolerance stance against such behavior in football

MANCHESTER, England: When FIFA President Gianni Infantino dashed from Geneva to Paris to watch World Cup favorite Brazil in their final warmup game before Qatar, he cannot have expected to be confronted by such visual proof of the racism that continues to infect soccer.

Not least because the sport’s world governing body disbanded its anti-racism task force — declaring it had “completely fulfilled its temporary mission” — shortly after Infantino was elected in 2016.

FIFA has implemented a detailed strategy to combat all forms of discrimination, but the incident at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, when a banana was thrown at Richarlison as he celebrated scoring a 19th-minute goal in Brazil’s 5-1 win against Tunisia, showed just how much work is still to be done.

The Tottenham striker later tweeted: “As long as it’s ‘blah blah blah’ and they don’t punish, it will continue like this, happening every day and everywhere. No time bro!”

In a statement, FIFA condemned the incident, saying: “First and foremost, FIFA strongly rejects any form of racism and violence and has a very clear zero tolerance stance against such behavior in football.

“FIFA will investigate the incident in yesterday’s game in Paris.”

Earlier that day, Infantino had been in Geneva to discuss human rights-related matters and their relation to soccer with Federico Villegas of the United Nations.

Later on, he witnessed first-hand the latest instance of racism and discrimination, which is prompting such concern within the sport.

Leading players have called out online abuse — but there have also been high-profile episodes within stadiums, with FIFA handing Hungary a two-game stadium ban and a fine of almost $205,000 after England players were subjected to racist abuse during a World Cup qualifier in Budapest last September.

UEFA also sanctioned Hungary for discriminatory behavior during Euro 2020.

It raises the question of whether there will be similar occurrences in Qatar at FIFA’s showpiece occasion.

The FARE network, an anti-discrimination organization which works with FIFA and UEFA to investigate cases of discriminatory behavior by fans, does not believe there is particular cause for concern within stadiums at the World Cup. But executive director Piara Powar says “international football has a huge problem.”

“There will be a lot of close monitoring of far right and racist banners (in Qatar). They will be taken down within minutes,” Powar told The Associated Press. “There will be specific analysts in security boxes. There will be a lot of people watching out for these things.”

FARE has contacted FIFA regarding the Richarlison incident.

“The wilful act of taking a banana and throwing it at black player after scoring a goal is breath-taking,” Powar added. “When we’re reminded what the act means — it is dehumanizing.”

Richarlison’s tweet pointed to his own lack of faith in soccer’s authorities to deal with racism.

On Wednesday, his club, Tottenham, voiced its support for the forward.

“We are disgusted by the racist abuse of Richarlison at last night’s game between Brazil and Tunisia,” it tweeted. “This has no place in football, or anywhere. We stand with you, Richy.”

Former Chelsea player Paul Canoville was subjected to racist abuse from fans of his own club during his career — and believes today’s stars will eventually take extreme measures in protest.

“It’s hard hearing about racism,” he told AP. “The truth is it’s happening throughout the world. Racism is a large problem in football and a huge problem in society.

“When I was warming up I’d hear fans calling me a monkey and throwing bananas. It’s telling me I am an animal.

“The players will walk off the pitch. That will be a statement. I can see that. It will be a team with Black players saying, “Enough is enough. Why should I play in these conditions?’

“Some people think that’s giving in. I don’t think it’s giving in — it’s standing up.”