Spain snare Nations League semifinal spot from Portugal

Spain's forward Alvaro Morata (C, R) celebrates with teammates after their victory in the UEFA Nations League, league A, group 2 match against Portugal. (AFP)
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Updated 28 September 2022

Spain snare Nations League semifinal spot from Portugal

  • Spain will join Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands in the semis in June 2023, although attention now switches to the fast-approaching World Cup

BRAGA, PORTUGAL: Alvaro Morata’s late strike snatched Spain a 1-0 Nations League victory over Portugal in Braga on Tuesday and sent them into the semifinals.

La Roja needed to win to finish top of League A Group 2, but struggled on another difficult night for the Euro 2020 semifinalists, until Morata’s 88th-minute breakthrough.

Spain have not been able to hit top form in the internationals leading up to the Qatar 2022 World Cup, but this hard-fought victory provides a welcome morale boost.

Portugal had the better of the game but Spain brightened in the final stages, with the introduction of several substitutes, including Nico Williams, who headed across goal for Morata to gleefully turn in at the back post.

“When we had to stand up, we did,” Morata told TVE. “If we had lost, it had to be giving everything we had on the pitch, and that’s what we did.

“I’ll remember the attitude of the team, we fought until the end. And Nico Williams, in his second game for the national team, was key and I put it over the line.”

Spain will join Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands in the semis in June 2023, although attention now switches to the fast-approaching World Cup.

Luis Enrique made wholesale changes to the side that suffered Spain’s first home defeat since 2018 against Switzerland on Saturday, retaining only four starters.

Morata was brought in to lead the line, while the Asturian coach rotated his entire midfield trio.

Spain still dominated possession, as their gameplan demands, but to little effect as Portugal created the more dangerous openings.

Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon made a solid save to deny Ruben Neves and then a brilliant one to keep Liverpool striker Diogo Jota at bay.

With Portuguese confidence increasing, Bruno Fernandes lashed an effort narrowly off-target, celebrated prematurely by swathes of the stadium as the ball appeared to settle in the net.

Just as they did against Switzerland, Spain failed to get a single shot on target in the first half, and after Simon made another good save from Cristiano Ronaldo early in the second half, Luis Enrique took action.

The coach sent on Pedri, Gavi and Yeremy Pino to try and give La Roja more inspiration going forward, although it was the hosts who almost broke the deadlock when Dani Carvajal deflected a strike narrowly over his own crossbar.

The changes livened Luis Enrique’s team up and they began to turn the tide, building momentum as the game reached its denouement.

Carvajal launched a crossfield ball into the area, with Williams’ header leaving Morata with the simple task of firing into the empty net to put the runners-up of the last edition of the Nations League back into the final four.

An exasperated Ronaldo was denied by Simon at the death and Fernando Santos’s Portugal left ruing their missed chances and wishing they had killed off Spain when they had the chance.

“We had many chances and Spain few, we are sad, we would have liked to have been in the finals,” said Santos.

“Ronaldo had three or four chances that he would usually score, but he could not. That’s football.”

It was a disappointing end to a good run for Portugal, while Spain experienced the opposite sensation.

After defeat by Switzerland and frustrating draws with Portugal and the Czech Republic in June, Morata’s late winner provided relief for La Roja.

“This is a wonderful sport in which winning is the best antidote to any depression or sadness,” said Luis Enrique.

“Portugal are a top, top, top team. In the first half I insisted, maybe too much, on having the ball, and we did. It’s evident we’d prefer to play the passes in their half.

“(But) the first half was necessary to show that the ball was ours, and in the second we had the sensation that the goal would come. We’re in the final four again and it’s a great joy.”


Australia T20 captain Aaron Finch retires from international cricket

Updated 19 sec ago

Australia T20 captain Aaron Finch retires from international cricket

  • Aaron Finch captained Australia in 76 of 103 T20s he played since 2011
  • Finch is one of only four Australians who led their team to World Cup glory

Australian men’s Twenty20 captain Aaron Finch retired from international cricket on Tuesday, ending his 12-year career as one of the most prolific run scorers in limited-overs formats.

A destructive opening batter at his peak, Finch’s position had been under a cloud since Australia failed to make the knockout stage of last year’s T20 World Cup at home.

It was not immediately clear who would replace the Victoria-born batter, who has captained the team in 76 of the 103 T20s he has played since debuting against England in 2011.

“Realising that I won’t be playing on until the next T20 World Cup in 2024, now is the right moment to step down and give the team time to plan and build toward that event,” he told reporters at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

“To be able to represent Australia for 12 years and play with and against some of the greatest players of all time has been an incredible honor.”

The 36-year-old was in 2018 crowned the best T20 batter in the game and captained Australia to their maiden T20 World Cup victory in Dubai in 2021.

Only five players have scored more runs than Finch in T20 internationals.

Finch retired as Australia’s one-day skipper last September, replaced by 29-year-old fast bowler Pat Cummins.

Cummins also leads Australia’s Test squad, but selectors may be reluctant to add the T20 captaincy to his workload.

Finch said winning the T20 World Cup and the ODI World Cup in 2015 were the two cricket memories he would “cherish the most.”

He holds the record for the highest score in a T20 international — 172 runs off 76 balls against Zimbabwe in 2018.

He also hit the third-highest T20 international score — 156 against England in 2013.

Cricket Australia chairman Lachlan Henderson said Finch was one of Australia’s “finest white-ball players.”

“While he was a tough competitor on the field, Aaron always played the game with a smile on his face and in the right spirit,” Henderson said.

“As one of only four men’s players to captain Australia to a World Cup victory, Aaron will always have a special place in Australian cricket’s history.”

Finch’s Melbourne Renegades club called him a “great of Australian cricket.”

Although prolific in limited-overs formats — he scored 5,406 ODI runs and 3,120 in T20 internationals — Finch failed to make an impact in Tests.

He played five Tests for Australia in 2018 but was dropped after failing to impress selectors.

Finch is expected to continue playing T20 cricket in Australia’s domestic league.


How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

Updated 07 February 2023

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

  • The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven

GENEVA: The English Premier League vs. Manchester City: A legal fixture for the ages.

Soccer’s richest and most watched club competition challenged its defending champion on Monday with more than 100 charges of alleged financial wrongdoing and failures to cooperate with an investigation that took more than four years.

Dozens of charges allege breaches of the league’s financial monitoring rules dating from 2009, or the first full season Man City was owned by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Thirty more charges relate to Man City’s lack of cooperation in the past five seasons with a Premier League investigation that opened after leaked, and likely hacked, club internal communications were published in 2018.

That leaked evidence led UEFA investigators to examine likely breaches of financial rules designed to create stability in an often-volatile European soccer industry. UEFA-appointed judges imposed a two-year ban from the Champions League in 2020, which the club overturned on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Man City seem more at risk from the English case, which does not involve a statute of limitations on evidence that was a problem for UEFA lawyers.

The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven. That could range from imposing a fine to taking away a title or even ejecting Man City from England’s top division.

Here’s a closer look at the case:

WHAT ARE THE FINANCIAL RULES?

Known as Financial Fair Play, the regulations are aimed at preventing clubs from spending more than they earn. FFP was established in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, which deepened worries in European soccer that clubs could go out of business if the cost of player transfers and wages kept rising.

Critics believed they would favor storied clubs with established global appeal, such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Manchester United. They said FFP would be used to thwart emerging clubs who had wealthy owners ready to spend heavily and accelerate growth.

At the same time, historically underachieving Manchester City were bought in September 2008 with sovereign wealth from the UAE. When UEFA in 2011 began monitoring finances of clubs who qualified for European competition, City had made progress by big spending on players.

The first round of FFP judgments in 2014 saw the heaviest penalties for Man City and Paris Saint-Germain — each lost 20 million euros ($21.4 million) in Champions League prize money.

Both were suspected of booking inflated revenue in their accounts through sponsor deals at above market rates with companies from Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

“If clubs use unrealistic deals as a way to get around Financial Fair Play,” Arsène Wenger had warned in 2012 when coach at Arsenal, “it will make a mockery of the rules.”

The English Premier League later adopted a version of UEFA FFP rules.

WHAT WAS THE LEAKED EVIDENCE?

In November 2018, Man City was the Premier League champion with three titles in the first decade of its Abu Dhabi era, and a lavishly talented squad coached by Pep Guardiola.

Yet skepticism remained about the club’s commercial results.

German magazine Der Spiegel then published the “Football Leaks” series of articles based on the club’s internal documents and communications.

They suggested Man City had broken FFP rules in financial relationships with “related-party” sponsors from Abu Dhabi, its use of image rights payments to players and the contract of Roberto Mancini, who was manager from 2009-13. He allegedly doubled his base salary for advising a club in Abu Dhabi.

Man City did not deny the documents were authentic but said they were illegally obtained by a Portuguese man, Rui Pinto. He later went on trial in Lisbon. A verdict is scheduled in April.

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE UEFA CASE?

After the Football Leaks publication, UEFA’s club investigators revisited their case and asked the judging chamber to ban Man City from European competitions.

In February 2020, those judges banned Man City for two seasons for “serious breaches” of rules from 2012-16, including overstating sponsor revenue and failing to cooperate with investigators.

Three CAS judges overturned the ban in July 2020, ruling that some UEFA charged were not proven and other evidence was excluded as time-barred. The court “strongly condemned” Man City for obstructing UEFA’s investigation, though a €10 million ($10.7 million) fine was one-third of the original punishment.

Allowed to play in the next Champions League, Man City reached the final and earned €119 million ($128 million) in prize money.

WHAT IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE CASE?

The English case against Man City continued separately from the UEFA process in Switzerland.

The Premier League announced charges Monday. A lawyer who chairs the league’s judicial panel will appoint a disciplinary commission of three judges.

A hearing will be held in secret, with no timetable yet for a verdict. Any subsequent legal challenge should go to the Premier League’s Appeal Board.

Man City said it was surprised by the charges and “we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”


Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup

Updated 07 February 2023

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup

  • Madrid will debut on Wednesday in a semifinal against Egyptian club Al-Ahly

MADRID: Real Madrid go to the Club World Cup without six injured players, including striker Karim Benzema and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Also not going to Morocco are defenders Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Lucas Vázquez and forward Eden Hazard.

Benzema, Courtois and Militao have not been ruled out of joining their teammates for an eventual final if Madrid qualify, but none of the others are expected to make it.

Madrid will debut on Wednesday in a semifinal against Egyptian club Al-Ahly.

Madrid have won the world club title a record seven times, including three times when the competition was called the Intercontinental Cup.


Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup

Updated 07 February 2023

Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup

  • The former Real Madrid coach will take charge of his seventh different national team

DOHA: Former Portugal and Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has worked at the last four World Cups and was hired on Monday by Qatar to aim for a fifth straight at the next edition hosted in North America.
The Qatar Football Association hired former Real Madrid coach Queiroz until 2026 to take charge of his seventh different national team.
As host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar lost all three group-stage games on its tournament debut in November. This time it will try to advance through the qualifying program for the first time.
The 2026 edition in the United States, Canada and Mexico is the first 48-team finals tournament and Asia will have eight guaranteed qualifying places instead of the previous four.
Queiroz coached Iran at a third straight World Cup together since 2014 and again failed to advance to the round of 16. His team lost to England and the United States, though beat Wales, to place third in their group.
Queiroz, who turns 70 on March 1, coached his native Portugal at the 2010 World Cup and lost in the round of 16 to eventual winner Spain.
Qatar under Queiroz has two continental championships to play in the next year, first with an invitation to the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June. Qatar also hosts the Asian Cup in January.


Battle for fourth place goes down to the wire in UAE cricket league

Updated 06 February 2023

Battle for fourth place goes down to the wire in UAE cricket league

  • International League T20 is ongoing cricket tournament being played in the United Arab Emirates
  • Desert Vipers, Gulf Giants and MI Emirates occupy top three spots, Dubai Capitals at fourth place

Over the past few days, final positions have been fought for in the round-robin stage of the UAE’s DP World ILT20 Cricket League.

Although Abu Dhabi Knight Riders had failed to secure a win so far in nine matches, they finished on a winning note by defeating the Sharjah Warriors to put a dent in the latter’s hopes of finishing in the top four.

Those four teams will contest play-off matches. The first-placed team will play the second-placed team, providing the winner with a direct route to the final. Third and fourth-placed teams will face off, the winner playing the loser of first versus second. The Gulf Giants and the Desert Vipers will finish first and second. On Saturday, they met in the round robin, Vipers sitting top of the league. Bragging rights were at stake.

The Giants batted first and, at 129 for four after 14.2 overs, looked to be running short of a competitive total. However, Shimron Hetmyer accelerated the rate and the Giants closed on 180 for six, a very gettable target for the Vipers. They started with the intent of finishing as quickly as possible. Rohan Mustafa struck three fours in the first over, all hammered through the offside. However, the bowlers changed their lengths, preventing him from advancing, and he stopped laying bat on ball before nicking one through to the wicketkeeper. Alex Hales started more slowly before getting into his stride, greeting Chris Jordan’s first ball with a huge straight six.

At 57 for 1, compared with 55 for 1 for the Giants at the same stage of their respective innings, Hales holed out to a ball turning away outside the off-stump by trying to hit it over mid-wicket but did not get enough power on it, being caught on the boundary. The bowler was local Aayan Afzal Khan. Whether this was a deliberate ploy is not clear but it seemed that Hales knew as soon as he hit the ball that it was not the right decision. He remains the top run-scorer in the League but is being chased closely. Shortly afterwards, the captain, Colin Munro, gave a wicket away needlessly, hitting straight down the ground to be safely caught by David Wiess. Two wickets were thrown away. This is difficult to understand from the sidelines. Certainly, Munro’s twirling of the bat into the air as he departed gave comfort to those lesser cricketers of us who have felt the same way after playing a rash stroke.

The Giants were now in the ascendancy after being on the back foot. A change of pace, bowler and length had been decided upon very quickly on the field and the bowlers effected this well. Further innovation came when Erasmus bowled from 23 yards, inducing a faint edge from Sam Billings, who was trying to resurrect the innings. He had no option but to review the decision, which went against him.

The Giants bowlers, especially Chris Jordan, were putting the ball in the right areas, causing an implosion of the Viper’s innings. Tom Curran, who ended undefeated on 42 was left with too much to do on his own and the innings petered out disappointingly, 25 runs short on 155 for six. After an early misfire with their bowling, the Giants recovered with an astute performance in the field. England’s James Vince has captained their matches in the League, although Carlos Braithwaite was nominated for this match. Whoever was pulling the strings should be thankful for Jordan’s experienced input.

Another captaincy conundrum arose in Sunday’s match between the MI Emirates and the Dubai Capitals, who had been led by Rovman Powell. Although Powell was in the line-up, Yusuf Pathan was named as captain, performing the role energetically, having won the toss and elected to field. In the second half of MIE’s innings, Powell was fielding at long off and long on at both ends, necessitating a long walk/run from one end of the ground to the other.

Dubai Capitals needed to win this match in order to stand a chance of making the last four. Jake Ball embodied their determination, making an early breakthrough in his first over with two wickets. Mohammad Waseem and Lorcan Tucker steadied the innings before Waseem tried to slog a straight ball from Adam Zampa. Tucker also departed to leave MIE on 76 for four after nine overs. Captain Nicholas Pooran rebuilt the innings, pulling anything possible. Dan Mousley gamely supported him but struggled for rhythm. In the 17th over, Zampa had three men short on the offside within the field restriction markers. In response, Pooran pulled Zampa for six.

However, he then drove to cover on the boundary and was caught low down for 43. The last over was entrusted to Jake Ball, who had Jordan Thompson caught by Powell at long off. Ball would have had another wicket caught in the deep but for overstepping the crease to concede a no-ball on the fifth ball of the over and then saw the batter dropped of the next ball, before the innings closed with a run-out on 164 for seven.

Dubai Capitals started slowly against a very mean Craig Overton. Robin Uthappa stepped up the pace before falling to Overton for 29. George Munsey was out reverse sweeping against Zahir Khan and two balls later Powell slogged to deep mid-wicket and was caught low down by Mousley. The very next ball, Pooran dropped Sikander Raza at slip, possibly a match-turning moment. Raza and Dasun Shanakar then carefully rebuilt an innings, which seemed to be at the point of derailment. In a very well-timed run chase, Shanaka, in particular, gradually asserted authority in conditions where evening dew began to affect the bowler’s grip, wides and no-balls creeping into their delivery.

In the 15th over, Shanaka powered Thompson for six, with two fours to follow, placing his side at 128 for 3, compared with MIE’s 116 for 4 at same stage. Raza then accelerated and the target was reached with 11 balls remaining to secure an impressive comeback, both batters reaching fifty.

Dubai Capitals lie in fourth place, a mere 0.013 ahead on net run rate. Their fate will be determined by the result of the final round-robin match between the Gulf Giants and the Sharjah Warriors, who must win to claim fourth spot and a place in the finals.