Raphinha header helps 10-man Barca to nervy Valencia win

Barcelona's Raphinha celebrates scoring his side's opening goal during Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Valencia at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, March 5, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 06 March 2023
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Raphinha header helps 10-man Barca to nervy Valencia win

  • The Brazilian winger nodded the Catalans in front in the 16th minute

BARCELONA: Barcelona clung on with 10 men to beat Valencia 1-0 and move 10 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga on Sunday, thanks to Raphinha’s early header.
The Brazilian winger nodded the Catalans in front in the 16th minute. But after Ferran Torres missed a penalty and Ronald Araujo was sent off, the hosts were left fighting tooth and nail for the three points.
“The important thing is we keep adding points and we have three more,” Raphinha told Movistar.
“It’s hard to play with one less man, we did what we needed to, moved deeper and we pulled out the win.”
Barca retreated in the final half hour following Araujo’s 59th minute red card but survived to beat Ruben Baraja’s Valencia, who are 19th and two points from safety.
Barcelona’s 1-0 Copa del Rey semifinal first-leg triumph over Real Madrid on Thursday followed two consecutive defeats, and this narrow victory felt like a significant step toward a first league title since 2019.
Madrid can cut the gap back to seven points later on at Real Betis, but were hoping a depleted Barcelona would stumble at Camp Nou.
Without top scorer Robert Lewandowski, midfield maestros Pedri and Gavi and winger Ousmane Dembele, the Catalans were unable to play their best football, but did just enough to win.
Along with Barcelona’s playing absentees, coach Xavi Hernandez was suspended too, watching from a box, with his brother and assistant Oscar in the dugout.
Valencia resisted early Barcelona pressure but came undone when Sergio Busquets lofted a pass into the area for Raphinha to meet with a cunning run and a header over Giorgi Mamardashvili.
It was Raphinha’s fifth league goal of the season and similar to his header against Osasuna which snatched Barcelona a vital win before the World Cup break.
Although the forward has not consistently shone since his move from Leeds United last summer, his goals in recent weeks have helped Barca cope with Dembele’s absence.
Raphinha fired a free-kick into the wall and curled another effort wide after a fine Alejandro Balde run as Barcelona looked to build on their strong start.
Remaining at the heart of the action, the Brazilian whipped in a cross for Ansu Fati who headed into the ground and off target when he should have tested Mamardashvili.
Valencia might have equalized when Samuel Lino slashed an effort wildly over the bar, with Barcelona’s defense caught out for the first time.
Former Barcelona youth player Ilaix Moriba stabbed an effort wide toward the end of the first half, as Los Che finally began to earn a foothold in the game.
Early in the second half, Barcelona should have moved two ahead when Hugo Guillamon was penalized for handball.
Torres grabbed the ball to take the penalty, although Fati also wanted it and the pair exchanged words, increasing the pressure on the Spaniard, who hit the post.
“Before the game we talked about who will take the penalties,” added Raphinha.
“Ansu wanted to, I understand that, it’s normal. He asked for it, but sometimes your team-mate lets you and sometimes he doesn’t. It happens in a lot of teams.”
Fati struck the near post himself moments later, before a mistake from Jules Kounde left Barcelona with 10 men.
The French defender’s ill-advised header back toward Marc-Andre ter Stegen sent Hugo Duro through on goal. Ronald Araujo dragged down the striker and saw red.
Valencia put pressure on Barcelona without troubling Ter Stegen, who kept his 18th La Liga clean sheet of the season.
The visitors might have been awarded a late penalty when Kessie tangled with Fran Perez, but the referee waved away their desperate — and not unfounded — appeals.
“I have the feeling we could have taken something more from here,” Guillamon told Movistar.
“I thought the referee was going to blow for (the penalty), he steps on him and there’s contact.”


‘I feel dangerous!’: Former champion Robert Whittaker accepts risky Khamzat Chimaev replacement to save UFC Saudi Arabia card

Updated 5 sec ago
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‘I feel dangerous!’: Former champion Robert Whittaker accepts risky Khamzat Chimaev replacement to save UFC Saudi Arabia card

  • Ikram Aliskerov (15-1) steps in to replace Khamzat Chimaev (13-0)
  • Whittaker plans to ‘go in there and conquer’

LONDON: It has been a turbulent week for the UFC, with two high-profile cards enduring significant reshuffling. In the same 24 hours as Conor McGregor’s removal from UFC 300 was confirmed, it transpired that Khamzat Chimaev had been pulled from his main event clash with Robert Whittaker at UFC Saudi Arabia due to illness.

The Kingdom has emerged as an epicenter for combat sports in recent months, and the June 22 event in Riyadh will mark the first time the UFC hosts an event there. The loss of Chimaev is significant; not only is the Swede a significant contender for the middleweight title, but he is also a big star. The UFC was forced to pivot, and in stepped Ikram Aliskerov, a ferocious fighter on a seven-fight winning streak, with his only career loss coming at the hands of Chimaev.

This is a huge opportunity for the Russian. Ranked outside the top 15, but with two straight first-round finishes since his arrival in the UFC, the 31-year-old has a chance to usurp his opponent’s No. 3 ranking in the division. Whittaker deserves huge credit for accepting the fight, where he stands to gain little but lose a lot.

“It’s a little annoying. I spent months working for Chimaev because he’s a unique fighter, but I’m sure none of the skills I worked on will go to waste,” explained the Australian in an exclusive interview with Arab News. “The Reaper” acknowledges the challenge posed by Aliskerov: “Ikram’s a hard fight. I know he’s kind of come out of nowhere, but that element makes him more dangerous in other aspects. Plus, I think he’s better at certain angles in the fight game than Chimaev anyway,” he explained, adding, “The task is the same: Get in there, conquer, and go home.”

Whittaker ascended to the interim middleweight champion status following his victory at UFC 213. He later attained the position of undisputed champion when Georges St-Pierre relinquished the UFC Middleweight Championship in 2017. It was a landmark moment for “Bobby Knuckles,” who became the first-ever Australian champion in UFC history. Aside from knowing what it is like to hold the belt, the 26-7 star is a veteran of 21 fights inside the Octagon, and his attitude exemplifies just why he is so beloved by most MMA fans.

“It is what it is! I came here to fight. I’m headlining the card, I understand the responsibilities that that entails, I understand the amount of work that needs to go around it. The card is reliant on me to some degree,” said Whittaker. “Another thing is I’ve put three months’ work in. I’m shredded, I’m fit, I’m ready to fight. I’m not going to throw that away. If there’s a way to save the card, I’m going to do that. Props to Ikram for taking it. The fight goes on.”

Whittaker comes into this fight on the back of a crucial win over No. 8-ranked Paulo Costa at UFC 288. Having suffered a second-round knockout loss to current champion Dricus du Plessis in his previous fight, it was vital for the Sydneysider to get back in the win column. “It was massive. Any win is important. A win after a loss is even more important, especially the way that I lost against Dricus,” he reasoned, before adding, “I’m going into this fight with my head screwed on with the objective clear in my sights and a new kind of predator’s gaze.”

Du Plessis has already stated in interviews that even if Whittaker were to beat Chimaev, that would not be enough to earn a title shot. With the Aussie now facing an unranked opponent, it is likely he will need one more to seal a crack at gold, and many fans have been calling for a scrap with another former champion, Sean Strickland. “He looks like an awkward fight. I was trying to get him out to fight him before he beat Izzy (Adesanya), and then that obviously derailed my plans a little bit,” said Whittaker.

“We’re both in the division, we’re both at the top. Our paths will cross,” he added.

As far as Du Plessis’ comments go, Whittaker could not care less. The 33-year-old is fully focused on the task at hand and having spent 13 years fighting at the highest level, he understands one thing rings truest in the world of MMA: “Mate, winning opens doors,” he said. “I’ll worry about getting my hand raised and putting on a show and see how the chips fall after.”


Ireland recover to set Pakistan target of 107 in T20 World Cup

Updated 32 min 8 sec ago
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Ireland recover to set Pakistan target of 107 in T20 World Cup

  • Both teams have already been eliminated from tournament with India and USA taking top two group spots
  • While nothing is at stake in the contest, Pakistan will be keen to finish above Canada in the third place

LAUDERHILL: T20 World Cup cricket was finally played in Florida on Sunday, at the fourth attempt, with Pakistan restricting Ireland to 106-9 in the final game in Group A.
The Irish had been struggling at 32-6 in the seventh over and will hope their seamers can also take advantage of help from the Lauderhill surface.
After the first three games at the venue were all abandoned because heavy rains caused a waterlogged outfield, the overwhelmingly pro-Pakistan crowd were rewarded with some top class opening bowling.
Left-arm seamer Shaheen Shah Afridi did the bulk of the damage picking up three early wickets as Ireland’s top order was ripped apart.
The Irish, who have not been able to practice for the past week due to wet facilities, were in deep trouble at 32-6 with seamer Mohammad Amir also picking up two wickets on a surface that was offering plenty for the quick bowlers.
But Gareth Delany provided some much needed resistance for the Irish, blasting three sixes as he made 31 from 19 balls.
Delany’s entertaining knock — and a 44 run partnership with Mark Adair — came to an end when Imad Wasim’s slow left-arm spin found the edge and Shabad Khan ran in from point to make the catch.
Adair tried to keep the momentum going but he departed for 15 when he slogged Imad to long on and Afridi held on to the catch despite Usman Khan colliding with him.
All-rounder Imad picked up his third wicket bowling Barry McCarthy but Josh Little provided some valuable lower order runs with his unbeaten 22 taking Ireland to three figures.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam had won the toss and chose to bowl.
Both teams have already been eliminated from the tournament with India and the USA taking the top two group spots and places in the Super Eights stage.
While nothing is at stake in the contest, in terms of qualification, bottom-placed Ireland will be seeking their first win of the competition. Pakistan will be keen to finish above Canada in third place.


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.