Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener

Lionel Messi celebrates with Robert Taylor #16 of Inter Miami after Taylor's goal scored during the first half against Real Salt Lake at Chase Stadium on Feb. 21, 2024 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA /AFP)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener

  • The Argentine World Cup winner, who played the entire game, put aside any concerns about his early season fitness with an excellent performance for the bookmakers’ title favorites
  • The former Argentina, Mexico and Barcelona coach said he was sure that Messi and Suarez would be able to recapture some of the magic they had shown during their seasons at the Camp Nou

FORT LAUDERDALE: Lionel Messi created both goals as Inter Miami made a winning start to the new Major League Soccer season with a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

The Argentine World Cup winner, who played the entire game, put aside any concerns about his early season fitness with an excellent performance for the bookmakers’ title favorites.

“He looked loose, fine and showed a lot of speed,” coach Gerardo Martino said of Messi, who missed the back end of last season for Miami with injuries and was also sidelined for part of the pre-season.

The other three members of Miami’s former Barcelona quartet, debutant Luis Suarez, midfielder Sergio Busquets and left-back Jordi Alba, all started in front of a capacity crowd.

Against a cautious Salt Lake side, Messi went close to opening the scoring in the 18th minute with a curling free-kick from 30 yards out which was headed off the line by Justen Glad.

He then brought huge cheers from the crowd when, on the edge of the box, his route was blocked by a player down on the floor, but he chipped the ball over him and let loose a shot which was blocked.

But Miami got in front when Spaniard Sergio Busquets found Messi and the eight-times Ballon d’Or winner cleverly slipped the ball through to Finnish forward Robert Taylor, whose low shot beat RSL keeper Zac MacMath.

The goalkeeper should have kept the effort out but it was a goal which forced the visitors to open up after the interval and their more aggressive approach caused Inter some problems.

Cristian Arango blasted a half-chance high over the bar for Salt Lake and then, after Busquets sloppily gave the ball away, Andres Gomez burst goalwards but the Colombian winger fired wide.

The Utah side should have made more of the space they found as Miami struggled in the early stages of the second half but paid the price for a lack of precision.

Sensing his team needed another goal or two to make sure of the points, Messi upped his work-rate and began to take control of the game.

Dropping deeper to collect the ball, he launched several attacks with his own swift bursts forward allied with his trademark close control.

The 36-year-old weaved down the inside left channel to find space for a cross to the back post to Julian Gressel but the German put his effort wide from the tight angle.

Then Messi burst again from deep and found Suarez who picked out Diego Gomez and the Paraguayan midfielder buried his shot low into the far corner to make it 2-0.

That trio almost combined again for a third with Messi slipping to Gomez who then served Suarez but the Uruguayan’s effort was saved by the outstretched leg of MacMath.

Martino was delighted to see two of the lesser heralded members of his cast on target.

“This is what should happen with a team. Normally Luis and Leo would be the ones most associated with the goal, but the fact that Robert and Diego have converted and (Messi and Suarez) have been the assistants is always a positive thing,” he said.

The former Argentina, Mexico and Barcelona coach said he was sure that Messi and Suarez would be able to recapture some of the magic they had shown during their seasons at the Camp Nou.

“They know each other so well but we have to find that partnership that worked already in Barcelona,” he said.

For Taylor, who enjoyed a rich spell of form immediately after Messi joined the club and was a key part of the team which won the Leagues Cup, it was a positive opening to the campaign.

“It’s the start we wanted, I mean, there’s still some things that we need to work on. Obviously, it’s the first game of the season, but the positive thing is the three points and we’ll build on this,” he said.

Inter Miami return to action on Sunday at Los Angeles Galaxy.


Francillonne, Aebersold victorious at junior fencing championships in Riyadh

Updated 16 April 2024
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Francillonne, Aebersold victorious at junior fencing championships in Riyadh

RIYADH: France’s Oceane Francillonne and Switzerland’s Alban Aebersold won gold medals in  solo junior epee contests on Monday, as young fencers meet in the Saudi capital Riyadh for the Junior and Cadet Fencing World Championships.

Francillonne overcame Canada’s Julia Yin 15-12 in the final of the women’s individual epee. Francillonne defeated US’ Leehi Machulsky 15-14 in the semis.
Machulsky won the bronze, and Italian Anita Corradino received the other bronze.

In the final of the men’s individual epee, Aebersold beat Britain’s Alec Brooke 15-13. The Swiss youngster overcame US’ Samuel Imrek 15-9 on his way to gold. Imrek and Italian Nicolo del Contrasto both claimed bronze.

President of the Saudi Fencing Federation, Ahmed Al-Sabban, and Vice President Mohammed Bou Ali, awarded the winners their medals on the fourth day of the international competition that runs until Apr. 20.

The contest, which is being held at the King Saud University Sports Arena, brings together 169 women and 214 men.

The Saudi team is being represented at the contest by Ahmed Hazazi, Youssef Al-Banali, Ali Al-Fuzai, Dania Al-Saeed, Yasmeen Al-Saleh, and Dana Al-Saeed.

On Tuesday, the youth epee competitions for men and women under 20 will be held.

Abd Almonem Al-Husseini, the vice president of the International Fencing Federation, praised the organization of the event. He also commended the remarkable efforts of all committees and the tremendous capabilities provided by the organizing committee.

Al-Husseini predicted a rapid and significant development for Saudi fencing in the coming years.


Palmer scores four as improving Chelsea hit Everton for six

Updated 16 April 2024
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Palmer scores four as improving Chelsea hit Everton for six

  • Palmer killed the game as a contest as he completed his hat-trick inside 30 minutes before Nicolas Jackson also struck before half-time

LONDON: Cole Palmer scored four goals to put Chelsea within touching distance of the Premier League’s top six after a 6-0 win over Everton on Monday.
The England international has been a shining light in an otherwise disappointing campaign for the Blues and moved level with Manchester City striker Erling Haaland’s 20 Premier League goals in the race for the Golden Boot.
Palmer killed the game as a contest as he completed his hat-trick inside 30 minutes before Nicolas Jackson also struck before half-time.
A penalty from Palmer and Alfie Gilchrist’s first goal for his boyhood club rounded off the scoring in the second half.
Despite an eight-game unbeaten Premier League run, Chelsea remain in ninth but are now just three points adrift of sixth-placed Newcastle with a game in hand to come.
And they will head into Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal against City confident they can end the holders’ quest for a second consecutive treble.
A demoralizing defeat leaves Everton still perilously placed just two points above the relegation zone.
The Toffees appealed against a two-point penalty for breaking Premier League sustainability rules on Monday, having also been docked a further six points for another charge this season.
How Everton could do with the boost of recovering some of those lost points as the battle for survival looks set to go down to the wire.
Nottingham Forest visit Goodison Park in a huge relegation six-pointer on Sunday and Sean Dyche’s men will need to improve at both ends of the field to prolong their 70-year stay in the top flight.
The visitors were dealt a blow before kick-off as Dominic Calvert-Lewin missed out due to a hamstring injury.
His deputy Beto spurned a glorious chance to open the scoring when he somehow turned over Seamus Coleman’s cross from point-blank range.
Palmer was not so forgiving at the other end as he made another case to be crowned as the Premier League’s player of the year.
City must regret letting the 21-year-old leave for what now looks like a bargain £40 million ($50 million) in September.
Palmer nutmegged Jarrad Branthwaite before exchanging a neat one-two with Jackson and curling home from the edge of the box to open the scoring.
With Enzo Fernandez absent due to injury, Mauricio Pochettino flanked Palmer and Jackson with Noni Madueke and Mykhailo Mudryk for the first time in his starting line-up.
Everton could not live with the sharpness of that front four and Palmer was left with an easy task to head in his second after Jordan Pickford denied Jackson from a Mudryk cross.
The England goalkeeper then had a moment to forget as he gifted possession to Palmer, who nonchalantly chipped his international teammate on his weaker right foot from midway inside the Everton half.
In contrast to Palmer, Jackson has had an inconsistent first season at Chelsea but produced an excellent touch and finish to fire in his 13th goal of the season on the stroke of half-time.
A routine night for Pochettino’s men was still not without drama when they were awarded a penalty on the hour mark.
Both Madueke and Jackson tried to take over penalty duties before they were forcibly removed by captain Conor Gallagher to hand Palmer the ball.
He duly made it nine out of nine successful spot-kicks this season to take his tally for the season in both Chelsea and City colors to 25.
Academy graduate Gilchrist had only been on the field a matter of seconds when he blasted in the sixth after Pickford parried Ben Chilwell’s effort.


Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open

Updated 15 April 2024
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Othman Almulla poised to impress at 2024 Saudi Open

  • Almulla, who turned professional in 2019, is one of seven Saudi golfers set to compete in the 2024 Saudi Open
  • Almulla facilitated media to a Walk With A Pro at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the tournament from Apr. 17 to 20

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first professional golfer Othman Almulla looked poised to impress at the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF, as he entertained media at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the event.

Almulla, who turned professional in 2019, is one of seven Saudi golfers set to compete in the Asian Tour event, including fellow professionals Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif. He facilitated media to a Walk With A Pro at Riyadh Golf Club ahead of the tournament from Apr. 17 to 20.

The 37-year-old walked for three holes with journalists as he explained his thought process behind each shot and gave his views to the gathered media on the continued emergence of the game in the Kingdom, plus Golf Saudi’s exciting plans to grow golf further.

The gathered media were also given a professional coaching clinic by Golf Saudi coaches in the Saudi capital, where Golf & More will see an exciting array of onsite activities each day as the Eid-Al-Fitr celebrations continue, including live DJ sessions, the authentic Sajaah Bazaar and a dedicated kid zone.

Almulla highlighted the importance of giving both children and adults a gateway into golf by turning the tournament into a festival of activity, and admitted it would be a dream come true to lift the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF trophy on Saturday evening.

Almulla said: “The 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF is set to be another fantastic event here at Riyadh Golf Club and I am excited to compete in my national open once again. In addition to the world class golf on display, there will be attractions to keep fans of all ages entertained throughout each tournament day as the Eid celebrations are extended.

“It is vital that we use the Saudi Open as gateway to golf, and encourage more Saudis to start playing the sport. The sunset sessions put on at the end of the day’s play and the beautiful Sajaah Bazaar will attract more fans to Riyadh Golf Club to see our great sport.

“Spending time with the media today will help to drive increased participation in the sport through their understanding and knowledge of the game when they cover it. It was really interesting to be able to talk to them about some of the more intricate parts of the game. I hope that they enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Almulla is part of a field headlined by LIV Golf players Henrik Stenson, David Puig, Peter Uihlein and Andy Ogletree at Riyadh Golf Club, where thanks to collaboration with the Arab Golf Federation, 14 golfers from seven different countries in the Middle East and North African region have been invited to compete.

Meanwhile, each evening the fan zone will come alive at sunset as the Golf & More offering takes center stage. Spectators are set to flock to the authentic Sajah Bazaar and enjoy live music from local DJs, all complemented by stunning firework shows and food and beverage options for all the family.


Al-Hilal shifts focus to the Asian Champions League semifinals as it continues a four-title bid

Updated 16 April 2024
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Al-Hilal shifts focus to the Asian Champions League semifinals as it continues a four-title bid

  • Al-Hilal are in contention for an unprecedented collection of four titles

DUBAI: The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema haven’t been able to halt Al-Hilal’s dominant run in Saudi Arabia’s domestic football league. Now it’s the turn of Al-Ain of the UAE to come up against this seemingly unstoppable force in the semifinals of the Asian Champions League.

Al-Hilal are in contention for an unprecedented collection of four titles. The first trophy was secured last week when Malcom scored twice for the club in a 4-1 win over Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Super Cup final. With seven games in the Saudi Pro League remaining, the Blues are 12 points clear of Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr.

On April 30, the Riyadh-based club will meet Al-Ittihad of Jeddah in the semifinals of the King’s Cup, a domestic knockout competition.

Al-Hilal also have their sights set on a record fifth continental title, though is expecting a challenge Tuesday against the Hernan Crespo coached Al-Ain, the 2003 champions who ousted Al-Nassr in the Asian Champions League quarterfinals.

“We have only won one trophy and there are three more to go for,” defender Ali Al-Bulaihi told Saudi Arabian TV ahead of the continental semifinals. “Al-Hilal is a system and everyone at the club from the bottom to the top works hard and this is the reason for success. We are not afraid of any team and we are ready for any challenge.”

Despite being without injured striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, the joint leading scorer in this season’s Asian Champions League, and Brazilian superstar Neymar, Al-Hilal are still in great form. The Super Cup victory over Ittihad extended their world record winning streak for top tier teams to 34 games.

While Al-Hilal is strongly favored to overcome Al-Ain and progress to next month’s final, the meeting in the eastern zone — Asia’s top continental club tournament is divided into two geographic halves until the final — appears closer to call.

The eastern zone playoff is between last season’s champion of South Korea and Japan’s runner-up as Ulsan HD, Asian champions in 2012 and 2022, welcomes Yokohama F. Marinos.

Five-time Japanese champion Yokohama has never reached this stage in Asia before, even under successful coaches Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat.

Harry Kewell is the third successive Australian coach at the club and is hoping to take Yokohama all the way.

“It’s important to understand when I first came into the job it was always going to be a quick turnaround for us because of the AFC Champions League games that were coming up,” Kewell, appointed in December, said. “The attitude of the players has been excellent — the willingness from them to learn a slightly new style.”

“It’s been quite easy to implement my ideas,” added Kewell, who won the UEFA Champions League as a player with Liverpool in 2005. “They’ve accepted it and they’ve worked very hard in perfecting them throughout the games.”

Yokohama will host Ulsan in the return leg of the semifinals on April 24, a day after Al-Hilal takes on Al-Ain in Saudi Arabia.


Records galore as Hyderabad beat Bengaluru after IPL best 287

Updated 15 April 2024
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Records galore as Hyderabad beat Bengaluru after IPL best 287

  • Hyderabad went past the previous mark of 277 they made last month after a 41-ball 102 by Travis Head and Heinrich Klaasen’s explosive 67
  • Virat Kohli (42) and skipper Faf du Plessis (62) gave RCB a blazing start before Dinesh Karthik smashed 83 off 35 balls as Bengaluru ended on 262-7

BENGALURU: Sunrisers Hyderabad amassed 287-3 for the highest-ever Indian Premier League total and beat Royal Challengers Bengaluru by 25 runs on a Monday full of records and featuring a century by Travis Head.
Hyderabad, who were invited to bat first by hosts Bengaluru, went past the previous mark of 277 they made last month after a 41-ball 102 by Head and Heinrich Klaasen’s explosive 67.
The new high was the second best in a T20 match after Nepal bludgeoned 314-3 against Mongolia in last year’s Asian Games in Hangzhou.
The match produced the highest aggregate for a T20 game with a tally of 549 runs.
Virat Kohli (42) and skipper Faf du Plessis (62) gave RCB a blazing start before Dinesh Karthik smashed 83 off 35 balls as Bengaluru ended on 262-7.
Skipper Pat Cummins and spinner Mayank Markande broke the back of the Bengaluru chase with five wickets between them.
“Against Mumbai (Indians) a few weeks ago I thought it won’t happen again, but it has happened again,” Cummins said after his team’s third straight victory and fourth of the season.
Batters ruled at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium as Hyderabad smashed the most sixes in an IPL innings, with 22 hits flying over the fence.
Head reached his ton in 39 balls for the fourth-fastest hundred in the competition as he set the tone for the assault and named man of the match.
He put on a 108-run opening stand with Abhishek Sharma, who hit 34.
Head, who was Australia’s match winner in the final of the ODI World Cup in India last year, struck nine fours and eight sixes.
After his departure Klaasen took charge with his 31-ball blitz. The South African was nearly as punishing as Head as he smashed the ball to all parts of the ground before being dismissed by Lockie Ferguson.
Fellow South African Aiden Markram (32) and Indian hitter Abdul Samad (37) put together 59 off 19 balls for the final storm.
Samad smashed England left-arm fast bowler Reece Topley for three fours and two sixes in a 25-run 19th over before he and Markram finished off with 21 runs from the final over.
Hyderabad posted 277-3 against Mumbai Indians at their home ground on March 27 to go past the 263-5 by Bengaluru in 2013.
Earlier this month, Kolkata Knight Riders posted 272-7 in a crushing 106-run victory over Delhi Capitals.
In-form Kohli attempted to set up the chase with a powerful start as he struck six fours and two sixes in his 20-ball knock and Du Plessis kept up the charge till his departure.
The steep run chase made wickets tumble but Karthik once again came up with a late assault to reduce the losing margin for bottom-placed Bengaluru, who slumped to their fifth straight loss.
“One thing really important is to freshen your mind, it’s such a mental game,” said Du Plessis.
“Sometimes it feels like your mind is going to explode. A little bit of (an) uphill task for us at the moment.”