Manchester City beat Chelsea to close gap at top of Premier League

Manchester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (L) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Manchester City. (AFP)
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Updated 06 January 2023
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Manchester City beat Chelsea to close gap at top of Premier League

  • Pep Guardiola’s men were well below par in the first half but were transformed after the break

LONDON: Defending champions Manchester City beat injury-hit Chelsea 1-0 on Thursday to close the gap on Premier League leaders Arsenal to just five points.
Pep Guardiola’s men were well below par in the first half but were transformed after the break, with substitutes Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez combining for the only goal, scored by the Algerian in the 63rd minute.
Graham Potter’s Chelsea came into the game at Stamford Bridge languishing in 10th place in the table but they had the better of the opening 45 minutes.
However, it was a different story in the second half as the visitors found their attacking rhythm, with Guardiola admitting they were “miles better in every department” after the break.
“We struggled a lot in the first half — it was sloppy and slow and without rhythm,” the City boss told Sky Sports. “In the second half it was much, much better from minute one.
“The three points are important, definitely. The players know it. For a long time we were at the top. But we try, we have the FA Cup and Carabao (League) Cup and then Old Trafford. But it’s important for these games, a win today.”
Chelsea, already without a clutch of senior players including Mason Mount and Reece James, lost forward Raheem Sterling to an apparent hamstring injury in the opening minutes, replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The home side were first to threaten seriously but City defender John Stones came to the rescue in the 16th minute as Christian Pulisic bore down on goal, producing a perfectly timed sliding tackle to deny the US forward.
The American was injured in the challenge and was forced off minutes later, compounding Chelsea’s problems.
Teenager Carney Chukwuemeka, who came on for Pulisic, almost made an instant impact but his shot was blocked and Hakim Ziyech’s effort was saved by City goalkeeper Ederson.
Erling Haaland, who has 21 Premier League goals this season — one more than the entire Chelsea side — smashed a shot wide in the 38th minute on what proved to be a quiet evening for the Norwegian superstar.
But Chelsea continued to look the more dangerous side and came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock when Chukwuemeka hit the post just before half-time.
Guardiola, unhappy with what he had witnessed, made a double substitution at the interval, bringing on Rico Lewis and Manuel Akanji for Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker in the search for more control.
The visitors immediately settled and began to dictate play, with Nathan Ake heading against the woodwork, but Chelsea responded well and were inches away from taking the lead when Thiago Silva flashed wide.
Guardiola, whose team drew 1-1 with Everton at the weekend, introduced Grealish and Mahrez on the hour mark to further freshen up his attack.
The decision paid dividends minutes later when Grealish produced an excellent pass from the left and Mahrez prodded home from close range.
Potter made changes of his own, bringing on England forward Conor Gallagher, but they were unable to find an equalizer despite some late pressure.
The result leaves City five points behind Arsenal, who dropped points in a 0-0 draw against high-flying Newcastle earlier in the week.
But Potter is under increasing pressure — Chelsea now have just one win in their past eight league games and remain 10 points off the top four.
Potter, whose Chelsea side face City again in the FA Cup third round at the Etihad on Sunday, said he was proud of his team’s performance, especially after losing Sterling and Pulisic so early.
“It’s tough at the moment I must admit and I feel for the boys,” he said.
“We have to stick together. It was disappointing to lose those guys but the players on the pitch and the ones that came in gave everything and that’s all you can ask for.”


World Cup holders Spain win women’s Olympic football opener

Updated 57 min 23 sec ago
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World Cup holders Spain win women’s Olympic football opener

  • Spain are making their Olympic women’s football debut at the Paris Games but are leading contenders to win the gold medal
  • It is the perfect start for Spain in Group C, in which rivals Nigeria and Brazil meet later

PARIS: Reigning Ballon d’Or Aitana Bonmati scored one goal and helped create another as World Cup holders Spain came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 in their first game of the women’s Olympic football tournament on Thursday.
Spain are making their Olympic women’s football debut at the Paris Games but are leading contenders to win the gold medal after their World Cup triumph in Australia and New Zealand last year.
They fell behind against Japan in the western French city of Nantes to Aoba Fujino’s early free-kick, but Bonmati soon equalized before Mariona Caldentey netted the winner in the 74th minute.
It is the perfect start for Spain in Group C, in which rivals Nigeria and Brazil meet later.
With 12 teams split into three groups of four, there is margin for error as the two best third-placed teams will advance to the quarter-finals.
That will provide some comfort for Japan, who won the silver medal at London 2012.
Spain’s starting XI featured seven players who were in the line-up for last year’s World Cup final win over England in Sydney, plus Alexia Putellas, the two-time former Ballon d’Or winner.
Japan’s side included Hinata Miyazawa, the top scorer at the World Cup, but it was Fujino who opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a fine strike from a dead ball which proved too powerful for goalkeeper Cata Coll.
However, Spain bossed possession and drew level midway through the first half when Bonmati was played in by Athenea del Castillo and rounded the goalkeeper to score.
They then grabbed what proved to be the winner when Caldentey came in from the left and played a quick exchange of passes with Bonmati before firing in.
Meanwhile, reigning Olympic champions Canada shrugged off a spying scandal to come from behind and start their campaign with a 2-1 win over New Zealand in Saint-Etienne.
Mackenzie Barry gave New Zealand the lead before an embarrassingly sparse crowd at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, the same venue where the men’s game between Argentina and Morocco was affected by crowd trouble on Wednesday.
However, Arsenal’s Cloe Lacasse levelled in first-half stoppage time for Canada, who beat Sweden on penalties in the final in Tokyo three years ago.
Evelyne Viens then latched onto a long ball forward to fire in the winner 11 minutes from the end.
Canada’s build-up had been overshadowed after an assistant coach and an analyst were sent home from the Olympics on the eve of their opening game.
The analyst, 43-year-old Joey Lombardi, was also given a suspended eight-month prison sentence for flying a drone over a New Zealand training session this week in Saint-Etienne.
Lombardi pleaded guilty when he appeared in court in Saint-Etienne on Wednesday.
The assistant coach was Jasmine Mander, to whom Lombardi reported.
Head coach Bev Priestman apologized and decided to take no part in the game against New Zealand as a result because she felt it would not be appropriate.
Canada and New Zealand are in Group A along with hosts France and Colombia, who meet later in Lyon.
Record four-time gold medallists the United States meet Zambia later in Group B, which also sees Germany take on Australia.


Showjumper Al-Duhami, taekwondo star Abutaleb chosen as Saudi flagbearers at Olympics opening ceremony

Updated 25 July 2024
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Showjumper Al-Duhami, taekwondo star Abutaleb chosen as Saudi flagbearers at Olympics opening ceremony

  • Al-Duhami was selected due to his status as the Saudi athlete to have competed at the most Olympic Games
  • Abutaleb got the nod for becoming the first woman from the Kingdom to qualify directly for the Paris Games

RIYADH: Showjumper Ramzy Al-Duhami and taekwondo star Dunya Abutaleb have been selected as the Saudi flagbearers at the Paris Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, it was announced on Thursday.

Al-Duhami was selected due to his status as the Saudi athlete to have competed at the most Olympic Games, while Abutaleb got the nod for becoming the first woman from the Kingdom to qualify directly for the Paris Games, the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee said.

The opening ceremony gets underway on Friday evening along the Seine River in Paris, and the Games will be officially launched by French President Emmanuel Macron and International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki, president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and sports minister, will also attend the ceremony. 

IOC board member Prince Fahd bin Jalawi and the Kingdom’s Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar will also be in attendance in Paris.


Argentina coach slams chaotic ‘scandal’ at Olympic soccer match vs Morocco

Updated 25 July 2024
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Argentina coach slams chaotic ‘scandal’ at Olympic soccer match vs Morocco

  • Paris organizers said they were trying to “understand the causes and identify appropriate actions“
  • Argentina’s soccer federation said it issued a formal protest Wednesday to world governing body FIFA and would do “what is necessary” to guarantee the safety of players

PARIS: The head of Argentina’s soccer federation said the chaotic ending to their Olympic soccer match against Morocco on Wednesday “makes no sense,” and Argentina’s coach called the scene “a scandal.”
The opening match of the men’s soccer tournament was suspended for nearly two hours during added time after Morocco fans invaded the field and threw bottles in protest of a late goal by Argentina. The goal was later overturned by the video assistant referee, and Argentina lost 2-1.
“What happened on the field was a scandal. This isn’t a neighborhood tournament, these are the Olympic Games,” Argentina coach Javier Mascherano said.
Paris organizers said they were trying to “understand the causes and identify appropriate actions” after the match in Saint-Etienne. Argentina’s soccer federation said it issued a formal protest Wednesday to world governing body FIFA and would do “what is necessary” to guarantee the safety of players.
“Having to wait almost two hours in the dressing room, after Morocco fans entering the pitch, the violence that the Argentina delegation suffered, our players having to warm up again and continue to play a match that should have been suspended by the main referee, is really something that makes no sense and that goes against the competition rules,” Argentina Football Association president Claudio Tapia said.
The Argentina team also said their training base was robbed before the game, with midfielder Thiago Almada’s watch among the items taken.
Meanwhile, Argentine President Javier Milei arrived Thursday in Paris, his office said, and is expected to meet French President Emmanuel Macron after tensions escalated between their countries over the Argentine soccer team’s derogatory postmatch chants about French players at Copa America.
Morocco fans rushed the field to protest Cristian Medina’s goal in the 16th minute of added time at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, which appeared to tie the game 2-2. Bottles were also thrown from the crowd and, in frenzied scenes, security tackled pitch invaders.
“Some of the fans thought it was the end of the match and decided to invade the pitch,” Thomas Collomb, the deputy director of security for Paris organizers, said Thursday. “The atmosphere was festive. At no time was there any security risk for players or spectators. Within minutes of the final whistle, a security bubble formed around the athletes.”
There were images of Argentina players flinching when what appeared to be a flare was thrown onto the field.
“I can understand why this might have been worrying for Argentine athletes,” said Bruno Le Ray, the organizing committee’s security director. “Stade Geoffroy-Guichard is known for having no barriers between the stands and the pitch. To our knowledge, no firecrackers were fired at any time. It’s definitely an incident, but not in the security sense.”
Morocco defender Achraf Hakimi wrote on X: “I deplore the attitude of certain supporters during the match, which tarnished the image of our loyal fans. Such behavior has no place in football.”
In the confusion, it was believed the final whistle had been blown when players headed to the locker room and fans were told to leave the stadium. FIFA’s official website declared the final score 2-2.
But it later emerged the game had been suspended with just minutes of play remaining and that Medina’s goal was being reviewed.
The players re-emerged to warm up in an empty stadium after about two hours and referee Glenn Nyberg confirmed he was reviewing video of the goal on the touchline monitor. He then confirmed it would be overturned for offside.
Morocco held on for the win as the teams played out the final three minutes.
“The game was suspended because of security. At no moment did they talk to us about any revision (of the play),” Mascherano said.
“Obviously it’s confusing, but we have to move forward. It’s already happened, it’s over. We have to focus on the two games (remaining). Save up the anger and let it all out in the coming games.”
Two-time gold medalist Argentina were one of the pretournament favorites and were aiming for more hardware after winning the World Cup in 2022 and back-to-back Copa Americas.
On Saturday, Morocco are scheduled to face Ukraine at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
“We’ll make sure we reinforce security by adding barriers or private security,” Le Ray said.


Flick impressed by Yamal, Ansu and Barcelona’s youth as German coach settles in at new club

Updated 25 July 2024
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Flick impressed by Yamal, Ansu and Barcelona’s youth as German coach settles in at new club

  • “Now it is important for him to stay with both legs on the Earth,” Flick said
  • Flick took over from the fired Xavi Hernández on a two-year contract after Barcelona finished last season finished without a title

BARCELONA, Spain: Hansi Flick says he will be counting on Lamine Yamal and Barcelona’s batch of talented youngsters to help the German coach make a positive start at his new club.
Yamal was the breakout player at the European Championship. He turned 17 a day before Spain beat England in the final two weeks ago.
“What (Yamal) did in the Euros is unbelievable,” Flick said at his official presentation Thursday, two months after the former Germany and Bayern Munich manager signed up with Barcelona.
Yamal’s performances included upstaging new Real Madrid star Kylian Mbappé in the semifinals against France, when the Barcelona teenager became the youngest scorer in tournament history aged 16 after curling home the goal of the tournament.
That came after Yamal had already scooped up several “youngest ever” records for his club.
“Now it is important for him to stay with both legs on the Earth,” Flick said. “He gives us great moments and also can improve and make things better, but he is on a really fantastic way.”
Flick took over from the fired Xavi Hernández on a two-year contract after Barcelona finished last season finished without a title.
The club have been struggling financially to keep up with Madrid, but they have been boosted once again by the talent that their famed La Masia training academy continues to produce.
Flick has only had two weeks to train with some of his team, as the players that participated in Euro 2024 and the Copa America have some time off. Others, like 17-year-old center back Pau Cubarsí, are playing at the Paris Olympics.
But he said he was pleased with what he had seen so far, especially the youths from Barcelona’s reserve team.
PRAISE FOR ANSU
The only player Flick wanted to name was forward Ansu Fati, who is back after a loan spell with Brighton. He was considered Barcelona’s rising star a few years ago before he suffered serious leg injuries.
Unfortunately, the 21-year-old hurt his right foot in practice Thursday. That will rule him out of the team’s preseason tour of the United States, Flick said.
“Ansu on the first days was unbelievable. He was very fit, and he showed it on the pitch and in training,” Flick said. “And now it is not good, and we don’t have him here and in America, but we will help him come back stronger.”
Flick added that 19-year-old midfielder Gavi Paéz, who tore his right ACL while playing for Spain in November, must take his time coming back.
Barcelona will likewise start the season without defender Ronald Araújo after he injured his right hamstring while playing for Uruguay at the Copa America. Frenkie de Jong is also recovering from an injury that caused him to miss the Euros with the Netherlands.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said he was convinced Flick would bring back “renewed energies” to a team that has not won the Champions League since 2015, Lionel Messi’s heyday at the club.
Flick had a direct part in bringing down that great Barcelona side. He was in charge of Bayern when their historic 8-2 demolition of the Catalan club in 2020 marked a definitive end to their status as one of Europe’s supreme teams.
Flick did not mention that most painful moment for Barcelona fans during his press conference at the auditorium next to their Camp Nou stadium. Instead, he said he will respect the club’s sacred playing style of ball possession and high pressure.
“The thing I want to see is that we are playing great football, technical football, so everyone at home on TV can see that this team gives its heart for the club,” he said. “It is crucial that you can see that on the pitch.”
NICO TOO?
Perhaps it is wishful thinking given the club’s recent financial troubles, but the Barcelona sports press speculates they could make a bid for Athletic Bilbao’s Nico Williams after the winger starred at the Euros alongside Yamal.
Laporta would only say Barcelona is in position to make any signings they needed.
When asked about Williams, Flick said he would not speak about players at other clubs.


A guide to Saudi Arabia’s athletes competing in the Paris 2024 Olympics

Updated 25 July 2024
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A guide to Saudi Arabia’s athletes competing in the Paris 2024 Olympics

  • Saudi athletes will be competing across four sports — athletics, equestrian, swimming and taekwondo

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is ready to write a new chapter in its Olympic history with 10 athletes representing the Kingdom in Paris.

Saudi athletes will be competing across four sports — athletics, equestrian, swimming and taekwondo — with seven men and three women included in the Paris-bound delegation.

A total of four medals were scooped by Saudi athletes in 12 previous appearances at the Olympics, most recently a silver clinched by Tareq Hamedi in karate in Tokyo 2020.

Here is a closer look at those who will be looking to add to Saudi Arabia’s tally at these Olympic Games and the main talking points surrounding their participation:

Saudi showjumpers out to build on 2012 success

Two of Saudi Arabia’s four previous Olympic medals have come in showjumping, with Khaled Al-Eid claiming individual bronze in the Sydney 2000 Games, and the quartet of Ramzy Al-Duhami, Abdullah Alsharbatly, Kamal Bahamdan, and Prince Abdullah Al-Saud, securing team bronze in London 2012.

A full Saudi team has qualified for Paris in showjumping with Al-Duhami and Alsharbatly returning to the fold alongside Khaled Almobty and Abdulrahman Alrajhi.

Al-Duhami and Alsharbatly bring a wealth of experience to the squad.

The 52-year-old Al-Duhami will be competing in his sixth Olympics, having made his debut back in Atlanta 1996.

Alsharbatly, 41, is a six-time Asian Games gold medalist (including team and individual gold in Hangzhou 2023) and was a silver medalist at the World Championships in 2010.

Saudi equestrians are back at the Olympics for the first time since 2012 and will be serious contenders in both team and individual competitions.

Equestrian jumping schedule at Château de Versailles:

Aug. 1 – 12:00 – Team jumping qualifier

Aug. 2 – 15:00 – Team jumping final

Aug. 5 – 15:00 – Individual jumping qualifier

Aug. 6 – 11:00 – Individual jumping final

Mashael to make history in the pool

When runner Sarah Attar and judoka Wojdan Shahrkhani took part in London 2012, it was a historic milestone as they became the first women to represent Saudi Arabia at an Olympic Games.

Saudi women have been making tremendous progress in the sports arena since then, and in Paris, 17-year-old Mashael Alayed will play her part in blazing a new trail for her countrywomen as she becomes the first female swimmer from the Kingdom to compete at an Olympic Games.

Alayed was given a universality place — which is equivalent to a wildcard invitation — to take part in the 200m freestyle heats.

Also representing Saudi Arabia in the pool is 16-year-old Zaid Al-Sarraj, who is the youngest member of the Kingdom’s delegation and was awarded a universality place in the 100m freestyle.

Swimming schedule at Paris La Defense Arena:

July 28 – 13:00 – Women’s 200m freestyle heats – Mashael Alayed

July 30 – 12:00 – Men’s 100m freestyle heats – Zaid Al-Sarraj

Abutaleb could become Kingdom’s first female Olympic medalist

She was a World Championship bronze medalist, and ranked as high as No.4 in the world in her weight class — Dunya Abutaleb is ready for the big stage and has a legitimate chance of becoming Saudi Arabia’s first ever female Olympic medalist.

The 27-year-old Riyadh resident has already made history as the first Saudi Arabian woman to qualify outright for the Olympics, without the need of a wildcard invitation.

She will be looking to challenge the likes of reigning Olympic -49kg champion Panipak Wongpattanakit and Spanish world No.1 and Tokyo silver medalist Adriana Cerezo Iglesias in her category.

Taekwondo schedule at the Grand Palais:

Aug. 7 – Starting from 10:00 – Women’s -49kg

Saudi trio fly the flag in track and field

Three Saudis will take part in athletics events in Paris and will be making their Olympic debut.

Mohamed Daouda Tolo booked his spot in the shot put competition in Paris 2024 when he improved his Asian record from 20.66m to 21.80m at a meet in Madrid last month.

The 23-year-old Tolo claimed silver at the Asian Games in Hangzhou last year and arrives to the French capital with the 10th best distance recorded in shot put this season.

Hussain Al-Hizam joins Tolo in the field events and will compete in pole vault in Paris.

The 26-year-old placed fourth in pole vault in the Youth Olympics in Nanjing back in 2014 and last year secured the bronze medal at the Asian Games in Hangzhou and silver at the Asian Championships in Bangkok.

He has a personal best distance of 5.70m and a season best of 5.62m.

Hibah Mohammed is 100m and 200m national record holder and will be the sole female representative for Saudi Arabia in athletics.

The 23-year-old sprinter was granted a wildcard in the 100m event in Paris and will be looking to improve on her personal best time of 12.24 seconds.

Athletics schedule at the Stade de France:

Aug. 2 – 11:35 – Women’s 100m preliminary round – Hibah Mohammed

Aug. 2 – 21:10 – Men’s shot put qualification – Mohamed Daouda Tolo

Aug. 3 – 11:10 – Men’s pole vault qualification – Hussain Al-Hizam