‘Little Pep’ Gvardiol coming up big for Croatia at World Cup

Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Mateo Kovacic and Borna Sosa in action with Belgium’s Leander Dendoncker and Romelu Lukaku during their World Cup 2022 Group F match at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Thursday. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 December 2022

‘Little Pep’ Gvardiol coming up big for Croatia at World Cup

  • The fact that Croatia conceded only one goal in their three group games at the World Cup is largely down to the performance of Gvardiol
  • He’s nicknamed “Little Pep” because of the similarities of his last name with that of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola

DOHA: For 90 minutes, the hulking, masked mass that is Joško Gvardiol kept Belgium’s big-name strikers at bay with timely tackles — none bigger than his stop on Romelu Lukaku two minutes into stoppage time.
Then the 20-year-old Croat who is fast becoming the most sought-after center back in Europe went over to the side of the field and reached up to embrace his mother and cry.
The fact that Croatia conceded only one goal in their three group games at the World Cup is largely down to the performance of Gvardiol, who, despite his hefty stature, is nicknamed “Little Pep” because of the similarities of his last name with that of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
“He’s the best defender in the world,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said through a translator after Thursday’s game. “Even if he’s not currently No. 1, he will become No. 1.”
While he only recently extended his contract with Leipzig through 2027, Gvardiol is reportedly a big transfer target for Chelsea, which should have no problem paying a 50 million euro ($50 million) release clause inserted into his deal with the German club.
In the meantime, veteran Croatia defenders Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida, who are both 33, have taken Gvardiol under their wing. His addition to a team that in 2018 reached the World Cup final has added another dimension in terms of physicality and youth.
“He enjoys great support from Lovren both on and off the field, and Vida also helps with extra advice,” Dalić said. “I am happy to watch how good they work together.”
Gvardiol is wearing a face mask during the tournament because he broke his nose when he collided with Willi Orbán during a Bundesliga match on Nov. 10 — the day after he was named to Croatia’s World Cup squad.
Up next for Gvardiol and Croatia is a match in the round of 16 on Monday against a Japan squad that are coming off an inspiring victory over Spain and managed to advance ahead of four-time champion Germany, which was eliminated in one of the most competitive groups.
“Before the end of the group stage, if we could choose the opponent in the next round, maybe some would say Japan,” Dalić said Friday. “But after seeing that they beat both Germany and Spain, they are anything but an easy opponent.”
The core of Croatia’s team remains their experienced midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović — plus winger Ivan Perišić.
At the age of 37 with 158 international appearances, Modrić is still able to dominate soccer’s biggest games with both Real Madrid and Croatia.
Perišić, who is also 33, never seems to tire on the left wing. He ran 72.5 kilometers during Croatia’s seven matches in the 2018 World Cup and could break that mark in Qatar.
While coach Roberto Martinez announced he was leaving Belgium’s squad after their “Golden Generation” was eliminated following a 0-0 draw with Croatia, Dalić said he isn’t through with his national team — no matter how Croatia finishes this tournament.
“This team are a mix of youth and experience,” he said. “I have more plans for Euro 2024 and only then might I reflect on taking some other steps and moves in my career.”


Quetta Gladiators edge out Peshawar Zalmi in exhibition match at home venue

Updated 12 sec ago

Quetta Gladiators edge out Peshawar Zalmi in exhibition match at home venue

  • Peshawar Zalmi take on Quetta Gladiators at Nawab Akbar Bugti Cricket Stadium
  • Quetta's Iftikhar Ahmed scores 94 from 50 balls, Mohammad Hasnain takes three wickets

ISLAMABAD: Sarfaraz Ahmed's Quetta Gladiators on Sunday defeated Peshawar Zalmi by three runs in a last-ball thriller in a Pakistan Super League (PSL) exhibition match at Quetta's Nawab Akbar Bugti Cricket Stadium.

Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's impoverished southwestern Balochistan province, has not seen a cricket match in several years owing to the province's precarious security situation. Separatist groups, who demand independence from Pakistan, have mounted attacks on the country's security forces in recent weeks. 

Thousand of cricket fans watched the action live as Pakistan captain Babar Azam donned the yellow colors of the Peshawar Zalmi for the first time and led the franchise against Sarfaraz Ahmed's Quetta Gladiators. 

Set a target to chase 185 runs, the Gladiators managed to score an impressive 181-7 and needed four runs off the last ball before Naseem Shah was able to steal the match away with a dot ball. 

"It was one cracker of a game," Quetta Gladiators wrote on Twitter. "This victory is for our fans," it added. 

 

 

 

Batting first, the Gladiators' impressive performance was spearheaded by middle-order batter Iftikhar Ahmed, who remained unbeaten on 94 from 50 balls while Abdul Wahid Bangalzai scored 28 runs from 19 balls. 

The highlight of the match was the last over of the Gladiators' innings when Ahmed hit Wahab Riaz for six sixes. Riaz proved to be the pick of the Zalmi bowlers though, finishing with figures of 3/47 at the end. 

For Zalmi, Muhammad Haris smashed 53 off 35 balls while Shahid Afridi scored 25 from 17 balls. Muhammad Hasnain ended up with figures of 3/30 while Ahmed also performed well with the ball, taking two wickets. 

The PSL, Pakistan's own professional cricket league, will see its eighth edition kick off from February 13 when defending champions Lahore Qalandars take on the Multan Sultans in Multan. The PSL, arguably Pakistan's biggest sports event, will see cricket action in Karachi, Multan, Lahore, and Rawalpindi before it concludes on March 19. 

PLAYING XI

Quetta Gladiators: Sarfaraz Ahmed (c), Ahsan Ali, Bismillah Khan, Umar Akmal, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Aimal Khan, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Umaid Asif, Abdul Wahid Bangalzai

Peshawar Zalmi: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Haris, Saim Ayub, Haseebullah, Azam Khan, Aamir Jamal, Usama Mir, Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Salman Irshad


Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

  • Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd
  • He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year

TANGIER, Morocco: Mohammed Afsha scored on a deflected shot in the 88th minute and sent Al-Ahly into the Club World Cup semifinals by beating the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Saturday.
Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd. He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year, and brought an abrupt end to the first appearance by a team from the United States in the competition.
His initial shot from outside the penalty area hit the crossbar. Seattle were unable to clear the danger and Afsha’s second attempt deflected off defender Alex Roldan and bounded past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
It was the only shot on target by the Egyptian club as both sides played a heavily defensive game where chances at goal were limited.
Al-Ahly will face Real Madrid in the semifinals next Wednesday in Rabat. Al-Ahly have not lost a match in any competition since Aug. 27 in the Egyptian Premier League.
Al-Ahly have finished third in each of the past two Club World Cups but have never made the final.
Seattle were the first club from Major League Soccer to take part in the Club World Cup after winning the CONCACAF Champions League last May. The Sounders carried hopes of advancing through their first match and playing at least three matches at the event.
But while Seattle were excellent defensively, they lacked quality chances on attack. Seattle finished with just one shot on goal, a speculative attempt from defensive midfielder Josh Atencio early in the second half.
“I thought we were good. I thought we were evenly matched. A couple of chances. But the deflection on the goal, it’s unfortunate,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Seattle were playing their first competitive match in 3 ½ months while the rest of MLS was going through preseason preparations. The Sounders’ previous match was last October and the team gathered for MLS preseason camp in early January.
“They put everything into the game. They put everything into preseason,” Schmetzer said.

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Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

Updated 04 February 2023

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

  • The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all
  • "Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable," said Klopp

WOLVERHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Jurgen Klopp branded the goals Liverpool conceded in a 3-0 defeat to Wolves as “horrible” with the German admitting to being at a loss to explain his side’s disastrous form.
The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all but end any hope of catching the top four for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Klopp’s men trailed 2-0 inside 12 minutes at Molineux as Joel Matip’s own goal and Craig Dawson’s strike on his debut put Wolves on course to climb out of the relegation zone.
Ruben Neves added a third 19 minutes from time after Liverpool had dominated the early stages of the second half without reward.
“Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable,” said Klopp.
“When you see the whole game, throughout the game in moments we played an outstanding game without scoring and a good away game without scoring.
“The third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half. The other two goals, going into a game with all the things we said during the week and before the game, then this is the start, is horrible.”
Already out of both domestic cups, Liverpool sit 10th in the Premier League.
The Champions League appears to be their last chance of salvaging their season with a last 16 tie against Real Madrid to come later this month in a repeat of last season’s final.
Klopp’s side came close to winning an unprecedented quadruple of trophies last season.
But he appears incapable of stopping the rot as for the third consecutive away league game, Liverpool conceded three times.
“We better change it. That’s true, 100 percent. I have no words for it really, I’m sorry,” he added.
“You do yourself no favors in these moments, giving easy balls away.
“We were passive in the (first) two goals, everything we wanted to do was be compact and active but we were compact and passive. I can’t explain it. I think why would you do that? But they did it anyway.”


Messi hits winner as PSG come from behind to beat Toulouse

Updated 04 February 2023

Messi hits winner as PSG come from behind to beat Toulouse

  • Messi then put PSG in front just before the hour mark with a glorious first-time strike
  • It was Messi's 10th Ligue 1 goal of the season and his 15th for his club this campaign

PARIS: Lionel Messi scored a superb second-half winner as a Paris Saint-Germain side missing the injured Kylian Mbappe and Neymar came from behind to beat Toulouse 2-1 on Saturday and consolidate their lead at the top of Ligue 1.
Dutch midfielder Branco van den Boomen gave mid-table Toulouse the lead at the Parc des Princes from a 20th-minute free-kick, only for Achraf Hakimi to curl in the equalizer with half-time approaching.
Messi then put PSG in front just before the hour mark with a glorious first-time strike on his left foot low into the corner of the net from just outside the area.
It was Messi’s 10th Ligue 1 goal of the season and his 15th for his club this campaign, as the World Cup winner stepped up in the absence of PSG’s two other superstar attackers.
The Qatar-owned club are now eight points clear at the top of the table from Marseille, who play Nice on Sunday and then host PSG in the French Cup last 16 in midweek.
Mbappe will miss that game and the Champions League last-16 first leg against Bayern Munich on February 14 after being ruled out for three weeks with a thigh injury suffered in the 3-1 win at Montpellier last Wednesday.
Neymar missed a second successive game here with an apparently minor adductor problem, meaning it was left to Messi to lead the attack alongside the 20-year-old Hugo Ekitike with support from Vitinha and Carlos Soler.
But Christophe Galtier’s side have other injury issues, with Sergio Ramos unable to play and Renato Sanches forced to come off in tears just 12 minutes into the game.
The Portuguese midfielder was starting for just the fifth time since joining from Lille at the start of the season.
He was replaced by teenage defender El Chadaille Bitshiabu, with Danilo Pereira moving up into the midfield, and the substitute was partly responsible when PSG fell behind.
Bitshiabu was booked for bringing down Zakaria Aboukhlal 25 meters from goal, and Van den Boomen sent the resulting free-kick low into the left corner of the net with Gianluigi Donnarumma beaten.
Messi hit the post from a corner and Toulouse had another goal disallowed for offside before the home side drew level seven minutes from half-time as Hakimi collected a Carlos Soler pass, cut in from the right flank and curled a shot on his left foot into the far corner from 20 meters.
Hakimi then turned provider as he set up Messi to make it 2-1 on 58 minutes and the outcome was rarely in doubt after that with PSG — who have had some recent wobbles — deserved winners.
Substitute Mikkel Desler did force a good save from Donnarumma deep into injury time before Messi hit the post again right at the death.
Lyon visit Troyes later before fifth-placed Rennes host Lille looking for an 11th consecutive home league win.


Haller on scoresheet after cancer battle as Union knock Bayern off top

Updated 04 February 2023

Haller on scoresheet after cancer battle as Union knock Bayern off top

  • Six months after a shock diagnosis which saw him miss the entire first half of the season, Haller finally opened his account for the club he joined last summer
  • The Ivory Coast international's second-half header prompted wild celebrations among his team mates

BERLIN: Sebastien Haller crowned his recent return from testicular cancer with an emotional goal for Borussia Dortmund Saturday, as Union Berlin knocked Bayern Munich off the top of the Bundesliga with a dramatic late win over Mainz.
Six months after a shock diagnosis which saw him miss the entire first half of the season, Haller finally opened his account for the club he joined last summer.
The Ivory Coast international’s second-half header prompted wild celebrations among his team mates and helped Dortmund to a 5-1 win over Freiburg which kept them within two points of leaders Union.
Freiburg were reduced to ten men early in the first half after French full-back Kiliann Sildillia was booked twice in the space of two minutes.
Former Freiburg player Nico Schlotterbeck then heaped more misery onto his old club, his low snapshot beating goalkeeper Mark Flekken at the near post to give Dortmund the lead.
Schlotterbeck and Niklas Suele handed Freiburg a lifeline with some farcical defending on the stroke of half-time, allowing Lucas Hoeler to sweep in an unexpected equalizer.
Yet Karim Adeyemi wriggled his way through the Freiburg box to restore the lead with a neat finish early in the second half, before goals from Haller, Julian Brandt and Giovanni Reyna completed the rout.
Meanwhile in the capital, Union Berlin were working on their own fairytale as a late winner from US international Jordan Siebatcheu sent the high-flying minnows top of the table.
Former Union player Marcus Ingvartsen had canceled out Kevin Behrens’ first-half opener with a late penalty, but the Berliners rallied to claim a fourth straight win in 2023.
Eintracht Frankfurt also remained within four points of the top as France forward Randal Kolo Muani ran riot in a 3-0 win over hapless Hertha Berlin.
Having put Frankfurt ahead from the penalty spot, Kolo Muani ghosted through the Hertha back line to make it 2-0 before the half-hour mark, before Aurelio Buta added a third on the stroke of full time.
RB Leipzig’s 0-0 draw at Cologne meant that Frankfurt remain a point adrift of the Champions League places in fifth.
Hertha have slumped to four straight defeats since the beginning of 2023, and are now five points adrift of safety after fellow strugglers Bochum cruised to a 5-2 win over Hoffenheim.
Philipp Hofmann gave Bochum a deserved lead with a tap-in before Philipp Foerster and Takuma Asano showed up a lifeless Hoffenheim defense to make it 3-0 by half-time.
Erhan Masovic and Moritz Broschinski added two more for Bochum after the break, with Christoph Baumgartner and Munas Dabbur grabbing consolation goals for the visitors.