First win key in tough World Cup group for Swiss, Cameroon

Switzerland’s forward Ruben Vargas, Ardon Jashari, Breel Embolo and Eray Comert take part in a training session at the University of Doha training facilities on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2022
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First win key in tough World Cup group for Swiss, Cameroon

  • Shaqiri returns again as playmaker equalling a Swiss record at his fourth edition of the tournament
  • At age 33, Cameroon’s star forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting arrives at his third edition in prolific form at Bayern Munich

DOHA: Even for their opening game at the World Cup, Switzerland against Cameroon have the look of a must-win opportunity in a tough group.
With talent-packed Brazil and robust Serbia also in Group G, taking three points in the early afternoon heat on Thursday shapes as a key step for each team to advance.
The task is harder for Cameroon based on recent World Cup form after being swept aside in three straight losses at each of their past two appearances, in 2014 and 2010.
In that period the Indomitable Lions have scored fewer goals collectively as a team on soccer’s biggest stage than a single Swiss player, Xherdan Shaqiri.
The score is 4-3 in Shaqiri’s favor since 2010 when he made his World Cup debut as a teenager. Now 31 and playing in MLS with Chicago Fire, Shaqiri returns again as playmaker equalling a Swiss record at his fourth edition of the tournament. Goals will more likely come from in-form Monaco forward Breel Embolo.
At age 33, Cameroon’s star forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting arrives at his third edition in prolific form at Bayern Munich and looking for his first career World Cup goal.
Choupo-Moting’s 11 goals in all competitions this season helped plug the gap left by Robert Lewandowski’s departure and lifted Bayern back atop the Bundesliga at the enforced mid-season break.
Both Cameroon and Switzerland come to Qatar with solid results at their continental championships in the past 18 months though each now with different coaches.
At the European Championship last year, the Swiss broke a streak of being stopped at the round of 16 in major tournaments by eliminating France on penalties after a 3-3 thriller.
After losing another shootout in the quarterfinals to Spain, coach Vladimir Petkovic parlayed his rising reputation after seven years into joining Bordeaux. He was fired within months.
Murat Yakin, a 49-times capped central defender, was hired from coaching a Swiss second-tier club. He immediately impressed by steering the team to finish top of a World Cup qualifying group ahead of European champion Italy.
Cameroon started the year reaching the semifinals at the African Cup of Nations they hosted — losing on penalties to Egypt — then fired Portuguese coach Toni Conceição.
Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon’s greatest player and now their federation president, turned to his long-time former teammate Rigobert Song who had a patchy record of results coaching within the national teams’ setup.
Song was the captain and Eto’o scored the only goal when Cameroon last won a World Cup game, 20 years ago in Japan against Saudi Arabia.
It is overdue for Africa’s first World Cup quarterfinalist, in 1990, to rediscover winning form.


Pakistan to play for pride against Ireland today in Florida dead rubber

Updated 16 June 2024
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Pakistan to play for pride against Ireland today in Florida dead rubber

  • Both Pakistan and Ireland have already been eliminated from T20 World Cup following dismal performances
  • Pakistani all-rounder Imad Wasim concedes team at “lowest point,” calls for “drastic change” in country’s cricket

ISLAMABAD: Skipper Babar Azam’s side will face Ireland today, Sunday, in Florida a dead rubber with the two Group A sides are already out of the ICC T20 World Cup 2024 following a string of poor performances this month.
India, with seven points from three wins and an abandoned match, have qualified for the Super Eight stage of the World Cup. The other team to join the 2007 champions from Group A is the United States, which shocked the world on June 6 by beating Pakistan in a Super Over thriller.
Azam’s side then succumbed to a six-run defeat against India in New York on June 9 in a low-scoring contest, which triggered furor on social media in Pakistan. Cricket fans in Pakistan lamented the team’s poor batting performance who failed to chase a 120-run target.
Pakistan, who have beaten only Canada in the tournament so far, lost their chance to qualify after the USA-Ireland match was washed away by rain on Friday.
“Match Day. Our final game of the tournament,” the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) wrote on social media platform X ahead of the fixture.
’PAKISTAN AT LOWEST POINT’
Speaking at a pre-match conference on Saturday, Pakistani all-rounder Imad Wasim conceded the green shirts were at their lowest point following a first-round elimination from the World Cup.
“This is the lowest point. You can’t go any lower than this. That’s the fact,” he told reporters at a news conference. 
Asked whether there needed to be major changes, the 35-year-old left-arm spinner said it was clear that radical changes were needed.
“It’s not my domain but I think there should be changes and there should be a drastic change so we can move forward,” he said.
Wasim, who came out of a brief retirement for this tournament, said that the change needed to be far-reaching.
“In everything and every aspect. How to take the game on? How to play the game? This is what I believed in and this is why I came back and tried to do things but it didn’t happen,” he added.
Squads:
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 2 Saim Ayub 3 Babar Azam (capt) 4 Fakhar Zaman 5 Usman Khan 6 Shadab Khan 7 Imad Wasim 8 Shaheen Afridi/Abbas Afridi 9 Naseem Shah/Abrar Ahmed 10 Haris Rauf 11 Mohammad Amir
Ireland: (probable) 1 Andy Balbirnie 2 Paul Stirling (capt) 3 Lorcan Tucker (wk) 4 Harry Tector 5 Curtis Campher 6 George Dockrell 7 Gareth Delany 8 Mark Adair 9 Barry McCarthy 10 Josh Little 11 Craig Young/Ben White


Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia crowned Australian Open badminton champion

Updated 16 June 2024
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Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia crowned Australian Open badminton champion

SYDNEY: Malaysian Lee Zii Jia outlasted Japan’s Kodai Naraoka in the men’s singles final to be crowned Australian Open badminton champion Sunday, while Aya Ohori of Japan clinched the women’s title.
With many of the top-ranked players giving the tournament a miss, world number eight Lee took advantage to upset his sixth-ranked opponent 21-19, 11-21, 21-18 in Sydney.
It was his sixth career win on the BWF World Tour and came on the back of victory at the Thailand Open last month.
Ohori triumphed with a gutsy 17-21, 21-19, 21-16 come-from-behind beating of 35th-ranked Indonesian teenager Ester Nurumi Tri Wardoyo.
It was only her second title on tour, having won her first at the Thailand Masters this year.
In the men’s doubles final, China’s He Ji Ting and Ren Xiang Yu swept past Indonesian pair Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan 21-11, 21-10
But another Indonesian duo, Febriana Dwipuji Kusuma and Amallia Cahaya Pratiwi, broke through to win the women’s doubles, having lost previous finals at the Spain Masters and Thailand Open.
They recovered from a game down to oust Malaysia’s Lai Pei Jing and Lim Chiew Sien 12-21, 21-7, 21-13.
Chinese top seeds Jiang Zhen Bang and Wei Ya Zin overcame countrymen Guo Xin Wa and Chen Fang Hui in the mixed doubles decider by two-games-to-one.
The circuit moves to Fort Worth in the United States next.


Euro 2024: Kylian Mbappe and France aim to start with a win over on-form Austria

Updated 16 June 2024
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Euro 2024: Kylian Mbappe and France aim to start with a win over on-form Austria

DUESSELDORf: World Cup runner-up France is one of the favorites for Euro 2024 and starts its campaign Monday in Dusseldorf against Austria. Poland and the Netherlands are the other teams in Group D. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. local time (1900 GMT). Here’s what to know about the match.
Match facts
— France had a strong 2023 with eight wins from 10 games and only one loss, to Germany. Four games this year have already included a 2-0 loss — again to Germany — in a March friendly and a 0-0 draw with Canada last week in France’s last game before Euro 2024.
— France’s players have been speaking out on politics ahead of upcoming elections, with forward Marcus Thuram calling on French people to “fight daily” to keep the far right out of power. Teammate Ousmane Dembele urged people to vote ahead of the first round of elections June 30.
— Coach Ralf Rangnick has revitalized Austria since taking over in 2022 and turned down Bayern Munich to stay with the team.
— Austria comes into Euro 2024 on a seven-game unbeaten run with just three goals conceded during that time. A 2-0 win over Germany in November and a 6-1 demolition of Turkiye in March were the highlights.
Team news
— France midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni hasn’t played since he missed Real Madrid’s Champions League final with a foot injury. N’Golo Kanté played the defensive midfield role in France’s two pre-tournament friendlies, his first international games since 2022.
— Austria trained at full strength Friday in Berlin except for defender Gernot Trauner. Coach Ralf Rangnick said he was being rested but isn’t injured.
— Attacking midfielder Christoph Baumgartner says Austria’s attacking players will focus on helping out their defense by trying to put Kylian Mbappe and Dembele under pressure.
By the numbers
— Mbappe is on course to play his 80th game for France and a hat trick would take him to 50 career international goals. Mbappe scored in France’s last two games against Austria, a 1-1 draw and a 2-0 win, both in 2022.
— Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann will be only the fourth French player to make 130 international appearances if he plays against Austria.
— Austria midfielder Christoph Baumgartner has scored in each of the team’s last five games.
— Germany is familiar territory for Austria’s players. Eight of the starting lineup for its 1-1 friendly draw against Switzerland last week play for German clubs.
What they’re saying
“In just one week he reminded us all why he was one of the best midfielders in the world and we are very happy to have him with us.” — France forward Marcus Thuram on teammate N’Golo Kanté’s form after nearly two years away from the team.
“Now there’s a very special tingling feeling once again, of course. The anticipation is massive.” — Austria midfielder Christoph Baumgartner.


Grace Kim shoots 66 to take 5-shot lead in Meijer LPGA Classic

Updated 16 June 2024
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Grace Kim shoots 66 to take 5-shot lead in Meijer LPGA Classic

  • Top-ranked Nelly Korda left Friday after missing her second straight cut following a stretch of six victories in seven events

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan: Grace Kim broke away late Saturday afternoon at Blythefield Country Club, birdieing four of the final six holes to take a five-stroke lead into the final round of the Meijer LPGA Classic.
Tied for the second-round lead with Ally Ewing, Kim shot a 6-under 66 to get to 17-under 199. The 23-year-old Australian won in a playoff last year in Hawaii for her lone LPGA Tour title. She lost a large lead in April in Los Angeles in the JM Eagle LA Championship.
“Gving myself another chance to I guess do it again and actually get it done,” Kim said. “I know I’m going to try my best for tomorrow and everyone else will. This golf course calls for lot of birdies and there are a lot of good players out here. ”
Ewing followed her second-round 63 with a 71 to drop into a tie for second with Lexi Thompson, Anna Nordqvist, Allizen Corpuz and Narin An.
“It was a little bit of a scramble today,” Ewing said. “I made some really good putts to just kind of hang in early.”
Thompson, the 2015 winner who has said this will be her last year playing a full schedule, played the final six holes on the front nine in 7 under in a 65. She has gone more than five years without winning.
“Just kind of got into a groove,” Thompson said. “This is a golf course you know you have to come out and play aggressive and make lots of birdies. Just came out feeling very comfortable, made a few good swings, and rolled in some putts.”
Nordqvist also shot 65. Corpuz had a 68, and An shot 69.
Kim had three straight birdies on the front nine on Nos. 5-7, dropped a stroke on the par-5 10th, then made the late charge with birdies on on the par-3 13th, par-5 14th, par-4 16th and par-5 18th.
“Obviously, I finished pretty strong, so hopefully I can just keep that going,” Kim said. “Have a good night meal. Watched a movie yesterday. That’s probably helped a little bit as well. Maybe do that again tonight and see. Fresh for tomorrow.”
Lilia Vu, a former No. 1 player and double major winner last year, was tied for 14th at 9 under in her return from a back injury that sidelined her since the Ford Championship in late March. She shot 68.
Brooke Henderson, the Canadian who won the event in 2017 and 2019, shot a 73 to drop into a tie for 24th at 7 under. Defending champion Leona Maguire was tied for 57th at 3 under after a 72.
Top-ranked Nelly Korda left Friday after missing her second straight cut following a stretch of six victories in seven events. She won at Blythefield in 2021 at a tournament-record 25 under.
The major KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is next week at Sahalee outside Seattle.


Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

Updated 16 June 2024
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Italy recover from disastrous start to win Euro 2024 opener

  • Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying

DORTMUND, Germany: Italy recovered from conceding the fastest goal in the competition’s history to get their defense of the European Championship title off to a winning start on Saturday as they came back to beat Albania 2-1 in front of a partisan crowd.
Nedim Bajrami stunned the Italians and delighted a huge Albanian support in Dortmund as he smashed in the opener after just 23 seconds, his strike pulverising the previous record for the quickest goal at the Euros of 67 seconds by Dmitri Kirichenko of Russia in 2004.
Yet Italy’s response to falling behind was quick too, as Alessandro Bastoni headed the Azzurri level on 11 minutes and Nicolo Barella’s glorious effort put them ahead just past the quarter-hour mark.
From then on Luciano Spalletti’s team looked much more assured, although they really should have won by a greater margin rather than face an anxious finale as Albania pushed for an equalizer.
Their performance — the first 23 seconds apart — was largely encouraging before an enticing showdown with fellow heavyweights Spain in nearby Gelsenkirchen next Thursday.
Whatever happens in that match, Italy are already well-placed to advance to the knockout phase of Euro 2024 from Group B, in which Spain defeated Croatia 3-0 earlier on Saturday in Berlin.
Italy are in some ways an unknown quantity coming into this tournament, with the reigning champions having also missed the last two World Cups and failed to fully convince during qualifying.
Only five of Italy’s line-up at kick-off here started the final of the last Euros three years ago, with a new-look team featuring Bologna center-back Riccardo Calafiori winning just his third cap.
Albania, though, are appearing at just their second major tournament having also gone to Euro 2016.
The novelty of the experience for them helps explain why the home of Borussia Dortmund was a sea of excitable Albanian fans decked in red and black who made up the vast majority of the crowd.
They could hardly believe it when their team, coached by the Brazilian former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back Sylvinho, opened the scoring almost straight from kick-off.
Italy’s Federico Dimarco took a throw from the left-back position but played it loosely back into his own box. Bastoni was caught on the back foot, and Bajrami — who plays in Italy for Sassuolo — pounced to control and fire past Gianluigi Donnarumma at the goalkeeper’s near post.
It was a similar start to Italy’s last European Championship match, when Luke Shaw put England ahead inside two minutes in the final at Wembley in 2021 before the Azzurri came back to win on penalties.
This time they drew level when Dimarco and Lorenzo Pellegrini played a short corner routine on the left before the latter crossed for Inter Milan center-back Bastoni to head in at the back post.
Italy had regained their composure and soon went in front on 16 minutes, a Jasir Asani clearance dropping straight to another Inter player in Barella, who made the cleanest of contacts at the edge of the area to send a first-time shot past goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
They should have added to their lead before the interval, with Davide Frattesi hitting the post after meeting a lovely reverse pass by Gianluca Scamacca in the box.
Scamacca was then denied by Strakosha, while Fedrico Chiesa curled a shot just wide on the hour mark.
Italy then sat back, but Albania did not manage another attempt on target and the second-lowest ranked nation in the competition could not find an equalizer despite their best efforts late on.
Substitute Rey Manaj came closest after getting in behind in the 90th minute, but he could not beat Donnarumma.