Argentina edge out Netherlands in World Cup thriller in Qatar

Argentina's forward #10 Lionel Messi celebrates after his team won the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final football match between The Netherlands and Argentina at Lusail Stadium, north of Doha on December 9, 2022. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 10 December 2022

Argentina edge out Netherlands in World Cup thriller in Qatar

  • Argentina beat Netherlands 4-3 on penalties in quarterfinal
  • Netherlands have never won a football World Cup in history

The Dutch were outnumbered.

Argentina had one Lionel Messi and the Netherlands had none.

And still, the Oranje came back and forced extra time in a World Cup quarterfinal for the ages by scoring in the 83rd minute and then on a playground-type restart in the 11th — yes, 11th! — minute of second-half stoppage time.

When Argentina escaped with a 4-3 penalty-kicks win following a 2-2 draw Saturday to reach a semifinal against Croatia, the Dutch crumpled to the field in their glaring orange uniforms, looking like a withered citrus grove. Wout Weghorst, at 6-foot-6, was flat on his back in the center circle as Messi danced with teammates in front of tens of thousands of singing supporters.

“They gave everything, and I’m incredibly proud,” coach Louis van Gaal said. “They did everything they could to prevent this from happening.”

A nation that gave the world Total Football a half-century ago remains with a total of zero World Cup titles, still looking up at Brazil (five), Germany and Italy (four each), Argentina, France and Uruguay (two apiece) and England and Spain.

A renowned innovator with coaches who attract youth prospects from around the world, the Netherlands has lost three World Cup finals. The Dutch took an early lead in 1974 before losing to host West Germany 2-1 and they were back in the championship match four years later only to lose to host Argentina 3-1 in extra time.

Their next generation won a European Championship title in 1988 with Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten leading them over the Soviet Union 2-0. But the big prize still eluded the Dutch.

Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie led them to another final in 2010 but they lost 1-0 in extra time to a superior Spain, then were beaten by Messi and Argentina in the 2014 semifinals on penalty kicks. Back in the World Cup this year after failing to qualify for 2018, they entered the quarterfinal with a 19-game unbeaten streak.

There were just 1,400 Dutch fans who stuck out in their bright jerseys among a crowd of 88,235, about 90 percent in Argentina’s blue-and-white-striped jerseys with Messi’s No. 10 on the back.

Messi’s sublime no-look pass set up Nahuel Molina’s 35th-minute goal, and Messi doubled the lead when he converted a penalty kick in the 73rd after Denzel Dumfries pushed Marcos Acuña at the edge of the penalty area.

“I think that penalty was awarded rather easily,” Van Gaal said.

Taking aim at a tall task, Van Gaal opted for height. He inserted Weghorst, who headed a Steven Berghuis cross past Emiliano Martínez in the 83rd.

Benches cleared five minutes later on a night of a World Cup record 17 yellow cards plus a postgame red.

And then came the biggest twist of all. After Germán Pezzella fouled Weghorst to give the Dutch a free kick from 22 yards, Teun Koopmeiners started a play seen in training but almost never in games: He sent a low kick along the ground into the wall, where Weghorst took a touch, spun and sent the ball past Martínez.

And that’s where the score remained after extra time, after the drama of Enzo Fernández hitting a post in the second extra period’s stoppage time.

“We thought that we would be able to win when it came to penalties,” Van Gaal said.

Captain Virgil van Dijk took the first and Martínez dived right to push the ball away. After Messi converted, Martínez sprawled left to deny Berghuis.

When Enzo Fernández put his try off a post, the Dutch had an opening, but Lautaro Martínez sent his kick to the right of keeper Andries Noppert, who dived left.

As the celebration extended, Messi and Van Gaal exchanged words.

“This was my very last match,” said Van Gaal, ending his third term in charge of the Oranje. “I look back in a positive way.”

He was asked to assess his performance and mentioned the team’s 20-game unbeaten streak.

“I don’t know how many we won (14), but you check all that. I think it’s Google,” he said. “Dutch team and Louis van Gaal and goal difference.”

Zverev storms to Davis Cup win after being cleared of abuse

Updated 04 February 2023

Zverev storms to Davis Cup win after being cleared of abuse

  • ATP told Zverev there was “insufficent evidence” to substantiate allegations of abuse against former girlfriend Olya Sharypova

PARIS: Alexander Zverev beat three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka in the Davis Cup on Friday as the German star returned to the courts for the first time since being cleared of domestic abuse.
The 25-year-old Zverev swept past Wawrinka 6-4, 6-1 in Trier to bring Germany level with Switzerland after the opening day of their qualifier.
On Tuesday, Zverev was told by the ATP that there was “insufficent evidence” to substantiate allegations of abuse against former girlfriend Olya Sharypova.
Former world number two Zverev had always denied the claims, describing them as “baseless.”
On Friday, Wawrinka, who helped his country win the 2014 Davis Cup, was returning to the team competition for the first time in eight years.
Now ranked 135 in the world, he was comfortably beaten for the fifth time in five meetings by Zverev.
Marc-Andrea Huesler had earlier given Switzerland the lead with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Oscar Otte.
The tie continues on Saturday with a doubles and two singles rubbers.
Mackenzie McDonald and Tommy Paul gave the United States a 2-0 lead in their qualifier against Uzbekistan.
McDonald, who knocked Rafael Nadal out of the Australian Open last month, eased past Sergey Fomin 6-4, 6-1 in Tashkent before Tommy Paul, a semifinalist at the season-opening Grand Slam in Melbourne, defeated Khumoyun Sultanov 6-1, 7-6 (8/6).
“It’s been amazing. It’s not something you get to do a lot throughout the year,” said Davis Cup debutant and 63rd-ranked McDonald.
Despite his lowly ranking of 480, Sultanov opened up a 4-0 lead in the second set over top-20 player Paul before the American’s greater experience paid off.
“He picked up his level a ton,” admitted Paul. “I felt like I wasn’t prepared for it.”
Of Saturday’s rubbers, he added: “A sweep would be nice — bring out the broomsticks!“
France, the 10-time champions, were 1-1 against Hungary in Tatabanya.
World number 182 Zsombor Piros stunned 45th-ranked Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 before Ugo Humbert levelled the qualifier by seeing off Marton Fucsovics 6-3, 6-2.
“It was my first match in the Davis Cup and I was very excited,” said 24-year-old Humbert, the world number 86.
“I tried to stay focussed on what I was doing and it went well.”
In Stockholm, Sweden opened up a 2-0 lead over Bosnia thanks to a couple of straight sets wins by brothers Mikael and Elias Ymer.
There are 12 ties taking place this weekend with the winners securing places in the group stage in September alongside defending champions Canada, 2022 runners-up Australia and wild cards Italy and Spain.
The eight best teams then go through to the Davis Cup Finals knockout stage in Malaga in November.
The qualifying matches taking place between Friday and Sunday are the first since the International Tennis Federation severed its controversial partnership with investors Kosmos less than five years after a 25-year deal was signed.

Ukraine pushes to exclude Russia from 2024 Paris Olympics

Updated 03 February 2023

Ukraine pushes to exclude Russia from 2024 Paris Olympics

  • No nation has declared it will boycott the 2024 Summer Games
  • “We cannot compromise on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes,” said Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Huttsait

KYIV: With next year’s Paris Olympics on the horizon and Russia’s invasion looking more like a prolonged conflict, Ukraine’s sports minister on Friday renewed a threat to boycott the games if Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete and said Kyiv would lobby other nations to join.
Such a move could lead to the biggest rift in the Olympic movement since the Cold War era.
No nation has declared it will boycott the 2024 Summer Games. But Ukraine won support from Poland, the Baltic nations and Denmark, who pushed back against an International Olympic Committee plan to allow delegations from Russia and ally Belarus to compete in Paris as “neutral athletes,” without flags or anthems.
“We cannot compromise on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes,” said Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Huttsait, who also heads its national Olympic committee, citing attacks on his country, the deaths of its athletes and the destruction of its sports facilities.
A meeting of his committee did not commit to a boycott but approved plans to try to persuade global sports officials in the next two months — including discussion of a possible boycott.
Huttsait added: “As a last option, but I note that this is my personal opinion, if we do not succeed, then we will have to boycott the Olympic Games.”
Paris will be the final Olympics under outgoing IOC head Thomas Bach, who is looking to his legacy after a tenure marked by disputes over Russia’s status — first over widespread doping scandals and now over the war in Ukraine.
Bach’s views were shaped when he was an Olympic gold medalist in fencing and his country, West Germany, took part in the US-led boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He has condemned that decision ever since.
Russia has cautiously welcomed the IOC’s decision to give it a path to the Olympics but demands it drop a condition that would leave out those athletes deemed to be “actively supporting the war in Ukraine.”
Russian Olympic Committee head Stanislav Pozdnyakov, who was a teammate of Ukraine’s Huttsait at the 1992 Olympics, called that aspect discriminatory. The IOC, which previously recommended excluding Russia and Belarus from world sports on safety grounds, now argues it cannot discriminate against them purely based on citizenship.
The leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania urged the IOC to ban Russia and said a boycott was a possibility.
“I think that our efforts should be on convincing our other friends and allies that the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes is just wrong,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said. “So boycotting is the next step. I think people will understand why this is necessary.”
The IOC said in a statement that “this threat of a boycott only leads to further escalation of the situation, not only in sport, but also in the wider context. It is regretful that politicians are misusing athletes and sport as tools to achieve their political objectives.”
It added bluntly: “Why punish athletes from your country for the Russian government starting the war?”
Poland’s sports minister Kamil Bortniczuk said as many as 40 countries could jointly condemn Russian and Belarusian participation at Paris in a statement next week but that it could stop short of a boycott threat. He told state news agency PAP that the IOC was being “naive” and should reflect on its position.
Denmark wants a ban on Russian athletes “from all international sports as long as their attacks on Ukraine continue,” said Danish Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt.
“We must not waver in relation to Russia. The government’s line is clear. Russia must be banned,” he said. “This also applies to Russian athletes who participate under a neutral flag. It is completely incomprehensible that there are apparently doubts about the line in the IOC.”
Asked by The Associated Press about the boycott threats and the IOC plan, Paris 2024 organizing committee head Tony Estanguet would not comment “about political decisions.”
“My job is to make sure that all athletes who want to participate will be offered the best conditions in terms of security, to offer them the chance to live their dream,” he said in Marseille.
Ukraine boycotted some sporting events last year rather than compete against Russians.
Huttsait said a boycott would be very tough, saying it was “very important for us that our flag is at the Olympic Games; it is very important for us that our athletes are on the podium. So that we show that our Ukraine was, is, and will be.”
Marta Fedina, 21, an Olympic bronze medalist in artistic swimming, said in Kyiv she was “ready for a boycott.”
“How will I explain to our defenders if I am even present on the same sports ground with these people,” she said, referring to Russian athletes. She noted her swimming pool in Kharkiv, where she was living when Moscow invaded, was ruined by the war.
Speakers at the Ukrainian Olympic Committee’s assembly meeting raised concerns about Moscow using Paris for propaganda and noted the close ties between some athletes and the Russian military.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday if athletes from the two countries compete, “it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states.” Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympics.
If the IOC’s proposal takes effect, Paris would be the fourth straight Olympics where Russian athletes have competed without the national flag or anthem. The Russian teams at the Winter Olympics in 2018 and 2022 and the Summer Olympics in 2021 were all caught up in the fallout from a series of doping cases.
The last time multiple countries boycotted an Olympics was in 1988, when North Korea and others refused to attend the Summer Games in South Korea. The North Korean team was a no-show at the Tokyo Games in 2021, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The IOC barred it from the following Winter Games in Beijing as a result, saying teams had a duty to attend every Olympics.
Although the IOC set the tone of the debate by publishing advice on finding a way to help Russia and Belarus compete, decisions must be made for the governing bodies of individual sports that organize events on the 32-sport Paris program.
Those organizations, many based in the IOC’s home of Lausanne, Switzerland, run their own qualifying and Olympic competitions and decide on eligibility criteria for athletes and teams.
The International Cycling Union signed on to the IOC’s plan ahead of its Olympic qualifying events to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as “neutrals.”
Track and field’s World Athletics and soccer’s FIFA were among most sports that excluded Russian athletes and teams within days of the start of the war. Tennis and cycling let many Russians and Belarusians continue competing as neutrals. Other governing bodies are more closely aligned with the IOC or traditionally have strong commercial and political ties to Russia.
One key meeting could be March 3 in Lausanne of the umbrella group of Summer Games sports, known as ASOIF. It is chaired by Francesco Ricci Bitti, a former IOC member when he led the International Tennis Federation, and includes World Athletics president Sebastian Coe.
ASOIF declined comment Friday, though noted this week “the importance of respecting the specificity of each federation and their particular qualification process” for Paris.

Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla

Updated 03 February 2023

Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla

  • Final stage concluded in Maraya mirrored building in Ashar Valley

ALULA: The Saudi Cycling Federation team ended the 2023 Saudi Tour with some valuable racing experience under their belts, having competed alongside world-class cyclists in the AlUla desert.

Stage five offered a fitting finale after four grueling stages around the ancient desert city. 

The 142.9km sprint took the peloton through the streets of AlUla Old Town and Al-Jadidah’s arts and culture district, before passing the farms and verdant oases of the area and moving through Hegra, Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.

The riders had to navigate a tricky gravel section at pace, before finishing with a sprint in front of Maraya, the iconic mirrored building and multi-purpose entertainment venue in the Ashar Valley.

The stage also had a lighter moment when the peloton was joined by a herd of donkeys which ran along the roadside.

Reflecting on the Saudi Cycling Federation’s impressive debut on the Saudi Tour, team member Hassan Al-Jumah said: “It was a wonderful experience to ride in the Saudi Tour in AlUla with these international athletes and teams was unforgettable and will play a big part in our progress. There is a big gap in levels, we can see how hard the international teams work and how much experience plays a role.

“This race is a big part of our development and if we continue, we should be getting better year on year and the gap will be closer to the professionals.”

Abdulaziz Al-Hashim was the best placed of the Saudi team on stage five, just one minute and 50 seconds behind winner Simone Consoni of Cofidis (3 hours 10 minutes and 13 seconds), with fellow Saudi team-mates Al-Jumah, Azzam Al-Abdulmunim, Murtadha Al-Shaghab and Hani Al-Mrhoon finishing in a group further back.

Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli signs contract extension

Updated 03 February 2023

Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli signs contract extension

  • The 21-year-old Brazil international has scored seven goals this season to boost Arsenal's title bid

LONDON: Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli has signed a “long-term” contract extension, the Premier League leaders said Friday.
The 21-year-old Brazil international has scored seven goals this season to boost Arsenal’s title bid in his fourth season in north London.
The club did not specify the length of the deal but manager Mikel Arteta called it “a new long-term contract.”
“Gabi is still very young, so we know there’s still much more to come from him and it’s great that we’ll be on this journey together,” Arteta said in the club’s announcement.
Martinelli was not quoted in the announcement.
The forward has started all 19 league games this season. He has made 111 appearances in his Arsenal career since signing from Sao Paulo club Ituano in July 2019.

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39

Updated 03 February 2023

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39

  • Messi told newspaper Olé in an interview published Thursday that he’d regularly said his age would make it difficult to play another World Cup

BUENOS AIRES: Lionel Messi may be in doubt as to whether he’ll be still playing for Argentina at the 2026 World Cup but he’s sure about one thing: He wants Lionel Scaloni to stay on as head coach until then, regardless.

The 35-year-old Messi led Argentina to the title in Qatar last December and wasn’t entirely sure if his fifth trip to the World Cup would be his last. The next edition will take place in Mexico, Canada and the US when Messi is 39.

Messi told newspaper Olé in an interview published Thursday that he’d regularly said his age would make it difficult to play another World Cup.

“I love playing soccer, I love what I do and while I am feeling well and feel I am fit and continue to enjoy it, I will do it. But it seems to be too much until the next World Cup,” he told the newspaper. “I have to see where my career goes, what I will do. It depends on many things.”

In the near future, he suggested he wants to play in next year’s Copa America in the US to help Argentina defend their title.

“I will stay a little longer, I have to enjoy this,” he said.

Scaloni is negotiating an extension of his contract with the Argentinian soccer federation and Messi thinks the coach should remain on the job.

“He is very important for the national team,” Messi said. “To continue with this process would be spectacular.”

Asked what it was like returning to his club Paris Saint Germain after Argentina beat France on penalties to win the World Cup, Messi said he didn’t have deep discussions about it with his teammate Kylian Mbappe, the French striker.

“One doesn’t want to speak and bring the topic of the final,” Messi said, recalling his own experience after losing the 2014 World Cup final to Germany in Brazil. “I was also on the other side, I lost a World Cup final and I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Truth is there is no problem with Kylian, quite on the contrary,” Messi said.

Messi is set to play for Argentina in friendlies to be scheduled in Buenos Aires in March to celebrate the team’s third World Cup title with their fans.