Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

The Saudi Arabian team that played Mexico at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. (AP Photo)
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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.


Attempted rape charge against Man Utd star Greenwood dropped

Updated 3 sec ago

Attempted rape charge against Man Utd star Greenwood dropped

LONDON: Charges including attempted rape and assault against Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood have been dropped by prosecutors, British police said on Wednesday.
The Crown Prosecution Service said the withdrawal of key witnesses and new material coming to light were factors in their decision to stop the case against the 21-year-old.
Greater Manchester Police said it was “only fair” that they announce that Greenwood, who was arrested in January last year, would no longer face criminal proceedings “given the significant media coverage of this case.”
The Manchester United striker originally faced one count of attempted rape, one count of controlling and coercive behavior and one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, all against the same complainant.
A product of the club’s academy — and once considered one of English football’s brightest prospects — Greenwood signed a new contract at United in February 2021 that runs until at least 2025.
Greenwood made his England debut against Iceland in September 2020, but he and Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden were sent home after breaching the team’s coronavirus guidelines.
Nike suspended and later terminated its sponsorship deal with the player, while Electronic Arts confirmed his removal from active squads on its FIFA 22 game.

AC Milan looks to stem terrible run in derby against Inter

Updated 36 min 43 sec ago

AC Milan looks to stem terrible run in derby against Inter

  • Milan have had a terrible start to the year, dropping from second-place and five points behind leader Napoli to fifth place and 15 behind
  • Inter, conversely, have risen to second place — albeit 13 points behind Napoli

MILAN: The dispiriting jeers turned to encouraging cheers, even though the result was still bad for AC Milan.
The fans’ quick change in attitude wasn’t exactly a surprise, however, with a derby against Inter Milan next on the Serie A schedule.
Milan have had a terrible start to the year, dropping from second-place and five points behind leader Napoli to fifth place and 15 behind. Inter, conversely, have risen to second place — albeit 13 points behind Napoli.
Milan’s last match ended up being a disastrous 5-2 loss to 16th-place Sassuolo, sparking the boos from the crowd. The defending champions have now conceded 12 goals in their past three matches, and they were also eliminated from the Italian Cup and lost to Inter in the Italian Super Cup.
The heartening display from the fans at the end of the match on Sunday was followed by a supportive visit from the team’s executives on Wednesday. Milan president Paolo Scaroni and director Paolo Maldini — a former Milan great — went to the training ground with other club directors.
They watched a practice session and then had lunch with the players.
“We have great confidence in you,” Scaroni reportedly told the players. “We feel such a strong bond with you that we want to be on the field with you.”
The Sassuolo match was Milan’s worst home result since a 6-1 loss to Juventus in 1997. It was also the first time Milan have conceded four goals in back-to-back Serie A matches.
“We’ve hit a rough patch both mentally and tactically so I’ll have to work even more on the mindset of my players to understand what they need to get over this difficult period and also try to understand the tactical issues in order to find the right remedy,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said.
The same Milan players who were drawing compliments from around Europe for their style of play and spirit last season now look lost and simply without answers.
“We have to make the most of the fact we have a big game coming up, because big games are certainly very hard but the higher the mountain to climb, the higher the reward,” Pioli said. “We need this sort of mindset.”

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Pakistan-born Australian cricketer Khawaja finally gets visa to tour India

Updated 02 February 2023

Pakistan-born Australian cricketer Khawaja finally gets visa to tour India

  • It is not the first time Khawaja, who was born in Islamabad, has faced visa challenges when trying to enter India
  • In 2011, Khawaja took to social media to say he was not permitted to enter India because he was not born in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia: Pakistan-born Australia cricketer Usman Khawaja was cleared to join the national squad for a tour of India after his visa issues were cleared up ahead of his rescheduled departure on Thursday.

Cricket Australia said Khawaja was flying out of Melbourne, more than a day later than planned, after having to wait for his visa to be approved.

The other members of Australia’s 18-man squad were granted entry to India in time to take flights on Tuesday and Wednesday to their training camp in Bangalore.

It is not the first time Khawaja, who was born in the Pakistan capital of Islamabad, has faced visa challenges when trying to enter India. In 2011, the top-order batter took to social media to say he had not been permitted to enter the country because he was not born in Australia.

On Wednesday, Khawaja posted a popular meme on Instagram along with the hashtags “stranded”, “dontleaveme”, “standard” and “anytimenow.”

The 36-year-old Khawaja hasn’t played in India in any of his 56 test matches dating back to 2011, although he has played other formats of cricket there. He has undergone a career revival since returning to Australia’s test lineup during the Ashes series win over England in January of last year following an almost three-year absence.

He posted centuries in each innings of his test recall in Sydney and has added three more hundreds, including an unbeaten 195 against South Africa last in Sydney last month, and five big half-centuries in 11 matches.

The four-test series against India begins in Nagpur next Thursday. The second test is set for New Delhi starting Feb. 17, the third March 1 in Dharamsala and the final test beginning March 9 in Ahmedabad.


Golf rankings becoming ‘obsolete’, says LIV player Cameron Smith

Updated 02 February 2023

Golf rankings becoming ‘obsolete’, says LIV player Cameron Smith

  • The Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) Board received an application from LIV Golf in July last year, but is yet to make any announcement

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY: British Open champion and LIV Golf player Cameron Smith claimed Wednesday that the world golf rankings are becoming “obsolete” as a consequence of the sport’s civil war.

The 29-year-old Australian joined the breakaway series last year after rising to No. 2 in the world.

That followed a series of spectacular performances, including winning the 150th British Open at St. Andrews, the Players Championship, the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and the Australian PGA Championship. He has, however, slipped to No.4 in the rankings.

The Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) Board received an application from LIV Golf in July last year, but is yet to make any announcement.

In the meantime, former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson has fallen to 46, Bryson DeChambeau has slipped from 24 to 96, while Phil Mickelson is 254th compared to 38th at this time last year.

“I’ve tried not to take it that badly, to be honest,” said Smith on Wednesday as he prepared to play the Asian Tour’s $5 million season-opener, the Saudi International which features a host of LIV players.

“I think when you rock up at a tournament, you know who you have to beat, whether there is a world ranking or not. There are generally seven-eight guys that are in that field that you know are going to put up a pretty good fight.

“For sure, it hurts. I feel as though I was really close to getting to No. 1, and that was definitely something I wanted to tick off. However, the longer this stuff goes on, I think the more obsolete those rankings become.”

Smith said it would be difficult to replicate a season like 2022, but he is hoping he can make a similar start like last year when he won the Tournament of Champions with a record score of 34-under par.

“I think 2022 probably would be a really tough one to back up,” said Smith, who started his professional career with a season on the Asian Tour before securing his card on the PGA Tour.

“It’s just about keeping the same processes going, really digging deep, working hard on my game. I think that is really what I need to do. Everything becomes easy when you’re playing good golf.”

There is a question mark over Johnson’s participation this week. On Wednesday, he pulled out of the ProAm for unspecified reasons and his scheduled press conference was canceled as well.

Former Masters champion Sergio Garcia is also in the field, returning following a right-knee operation in November.

“It went well. It feels probably about 95 percent. It doesn’t bother me to swing anymore. Now it is just a matter of getting used to walking holes over and over again,” said 43-year-old Garcia, who is also playing the Asian Tour International Series Oman in Muscat next week.

“After three months off, I want to get some rounds in me. We are going to play these two tournaments and then we have the LIV opener in Mexico before we head to Orlando.

“I will have those four tournaments heading into Augusta, and it is just a matter of getting in a good rhythm and get to the Masters in as good shape as I can.”

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NFL superstar Brady calls it a career: I’m retiring for good

Updated 02 February 2023

NFL superstar Brady calls it a career: I’m retiring for good

  • The Californian, widely viewed as the greatest quarterback of all time, leaves the game owning a host of records in the NFL

MIAMI: Record-breaking NFL quarterback Tom Brady announced on Wednesday that he was “retiring for good” at the age of 45, one year after reversing his decision to quit the sport.

Brady, whose Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost in the wildcard round of the NFL playoffs last month, called time on his 23-year career in a social media video.

“Good morning, I’ll get to the point right away: I’m retiring for good,” Brady said, sitting by a beach.

Widely viewed as the greatest quarterback of all time, Brady won a record seven Super Bowls, six of them with the New England Patriots before adding his final triumph with Tampa at the end of the 2020 season.

The quarterback had announced he was retiring on Feb. 1, 2022, but 40 days later changed his mind and said he was returning for another season with the Bucs.

“I know the process was a pretty big deal last time, so when I woke up this morning I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first. So I won’t be long-winded,” he added.

“I think you only get one super emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year. So, really, thank you guys, so much, to every single one of you, for supporting me.

“My family, my friends, teammates, my competitors, I could go on forever, there’s too many. Thank you, guys, for letting me live my absolute dream. I wouldn’t change a thing. Love you all,” he said.

Brady was due to enter free agency and already the rumor mill had begun with several teams being linked with the veteran who threw for 4,694 yards and 25 touchdowns in the 2022 regular season.

The Californian leaves the game owning a host of records in the NFL.

He is the league’s all-time regular-season leader in pass attempts (12,050), completions (7,753), passing yards (89,214) and touchdown passes (649). He also owns all those records for the post-season.

Brady won 251 regular season games and 35 playoff games, which are more than any player in the league’s history.

Under coach Bill Belichick at New England, Brady became a specialist in orchestrating comeback victories with his trademark game-winning drives.

Unflappable under pressure, he had the most game-winning drives (58) and fourth-quarter comeback wins (46) of any NFL quarterback.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will face off against the Philadelphia Eagles in this year’s Super Bowl, responded to Brady’s announcement by posting an emoji of a goat — indicating his view that Brady was the Greatest of All Time (GOAT).

J.J. Watt, the three-times NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who recently announced his retirement, echoed the sentiment.

“Greatest of All Time. No question, no debate,” Watt tweeted.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege.

“PS — The newly retired group meets on the golf course every morning at 10am. Drinks are on the new guy, so bring your wallet.”

Brady’s celebrity surpassed the NFL — in November, he and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen announced they were divorcing after 13 years of marriage.

The divorce came after months of tabloid speculation concerning the couple’s marriage, which reportedly came under strain when Brady reversed his retirement decision.

Bundchen replied to Brady’s announcement on Instagram writing: “Wishing you only wonderful things in this new chapter of your life.”

Sports greats beyond football also took note, with tennis legend Serena Williams noting on Instagram “I’m getting teary eyed watching this. Sad to see you go. Welcome to the retirement world ..... Again.”

Brady is expected to move into a career in broadcasting having already agreed a 10-year deal with television network Fox, reported to be worth $375 million, to work as a commentator once his football career ended.

In an interview in July with Variety magazine he said he was looking forward to taking on the new role.

“I have a very unique perspective on football and how it should be played, and what good plays look like and what bad plays look like,” he said.

“I feel like I can still have a great impact on the game. I could stay in the game, doing what I love to do, talking about this incredible sport.”