PSG and Barcelona get set to renew Champions League rivalry

Paris Saint-Germain’s Spanish head coach Luis Enrique speaks with staff members during a training session in Poissy, Paris, on Apr. 9, 2024, on the eve of their UEFA champions league quarter-final first leg match against Barcelona. (AFP)
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Updated 09 April 2024
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PSG and Barcelona get set to renew Champions League rivalry

  • PSG won 4-0 at home in the first leg only to lose 6-1 in the return in a stunning implosion against a Barcelona side coached by Luis Enrique
  • “It is a totally different game for me,” Luis Enrique said on Tuesday, referring to the special nature of a fixture against the club with whom he starred as a player

PARIS: The Paris Saint-Germain of Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona clash in the first leg of their blockbuster Champions League quarter-final tie on Wednesday, in the latest instalment of the growing rivalry between the two clubs.
It is the fifth time the sides have been drawn against each other in the knockout stage of Europe’s elite club competition in the last 12 seasons, with those past meetings including an unforgettable encounter in 2017.
PSG won 4-0 at home in the first leg only to lose 6-1 in the return in a stunning implosion against a Barcelona side coached by Luis Enrique.
He is now in charge of PSG, having joined the Qatar-owned club ahead of this season with the responsibility of delivering elusive European success.
“It is a totally different game for me,” Luis Enrique said on Tuesday, referring to the special nature of a fixture against the club with whom he starred as a player before going on to lead to Champions League glory in 2015.
“But I also played against Sporting (Gijon, where he began his career) and scored goals for Barcelona.
“At the end of the day I am a professional. Of course I like Barcelona but I am pleased to be here at PSG, and I must think about my job and my team. I think I’m capable of bringing trophies to this club.”
PSG have never won the Champions League and had gone out in the last 16 in five of the last seven years before beating Real Sociedad to reach the last eight this time.
The consequences of that 2017 meeting between the teams were huge.
A humiliated PSG exacted revenge by signing Neymar from Barcelona a few months later by paying a world-record fee of 222 million euros ($264m at the time) to activate the Brazilian’s release clause.
Barcelona panicked and blew all of that money, and more, in trying to rebuild their team.
Among the players they signed was Ousmane Dembele, who cost an initial 105 million euros from Borussia Dortmund.
Fast forward to last year and Dembele was sold to PSG for just 50 million euros, leaving behind a cash-strapped Barca who have faded somewhat as a continental force in recent seasons.
Their financial problems forced them to let Lionel Messi leave in 2021, with the Argentine teaming up with Neymar in a two-year spell in Paris.
It was only a few weeks after Neymar’s arrival that PSG also signed Mbappe, who has gone on to become the club’s all-time top scorer and will leave at the end of this season when his contract expires, almost certainly for Real Madrid.
Mbappe scored a brilliant hat-trick in the first leg in Barcelona when PSG beat the Catalans 5-2 on aggregate in the last 16 in 2021, in the most recent clash between the clubs.
He has 39 goals this season and appears extra motivated by the desire to win the Champions League with his boyhood club before he leaves.
PSG failed to convince in the group stage, only just scraping through to the last 16.
However, they are unbeaten in 27 games in all competitions going back to early November and are dreaming of winning a Champions League, Ligue 1 and French Cup treble.
Barcelona, meanwhile, have not lost in 11 matches since coach Xavi Hernandez, who played both alongside and under Luis Enrique at the club, revealed his intention to walk away at the end of this season.
The five-time European champions are appearing in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2020, when they were trounced 8-2 by Bayern Munich in a game played behind closed doors in Lisbon, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are in our best form but we are playing against a team built to win the Champions League and we are coming up against one of the best coaches in Luis Enrique,” Xavi told reporters.
Barcelona are hoping midfielders Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, who have both been struggling with injuries, will be able to play in the game, while PSG are without influential right-back Achraf Hakimi due to suspension.
“All those who have traveled will be able to play, as long as there are no surprises,” Xavi said of his squad.
The second leg will be played in Barcelona next Tuesday, April 16, with the winners advancing to a semifinal against either Atletico Madrid or Borussia Dortmund.


Israel heads to Olympics as Palestinian delegation calls for exclusion

Updated 22 July 2024
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Israel heads to Olympics as Palestinian delegation calls for exclusion

  • Summer Games in French capital open Friday against backdrop of heightened security concerns
  • Palestine Olympic Committee sent letter to IOC chief Thomas Bach asking him to ban Israel

TEL AVIV: Israel’s Olympic delegation flew to Paris on Monday as the Palestinian contingent called for banning the Israeli athletes over the war in Gaza.
The Summer Games in the French capital open Friday against a backdrop of heightened security concerns and growing international outrage over the death toll and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.
The Palestine Olympic Committee said Monday it sent a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach asking him to ban Israel, citing the bombings of the besieged strip as a breach of the Olympic truce.
The letter “emphasized that Palestinian athletes, particularly those in Gaza, are denied safe passage and have suffered significantly due to ongoing conflict.”
It said “approximately 400 Palestinian athletes have been killed, and the destruction of sports facilities exacerbates the plight of athletes who are already under severe restrictions.”
In its statement, the committee also referenced the recent opinion by the UN’s top court finding Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories illegal.
Ahead of the flight to France, Israel Olympic Committee President Yael Arad called it a “victory” that the team’s 88 athletes were participating in the Games.
“Our first victory is that we are here and going, and that we didn’t give up and have been competing in hundreds of competitions since October 7,” Arad told journalists at Ben Gurion airport.
She was referring to the date of the unprecedented Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that started the war, which has led to protests around the world.
French organizers have stepped up security in Paris where the Israeli delegation will be subject to strict security protocols.
“It’s no secret that these Olympic Games are a little more difficult for all of us. But we have full confidence in the organization of security,” Arad added.
Speaking at the same conference, judoka Inbar Lanir acknowledged that Israeli athletes have become mired in controversy over the war, but added they were “used to” it.
“My part is to connect everyone by sports. It’s above all politics and wars and hate. So, I’m feeling safe and I’m excited to represent my country.”
French lawmaker Thomas Portes sparked a political row over the weekend by saying Israeli athletes were “not welcome” and calling for “mobilization” around the Olympics, during a demonstration in support of Palestinians.
But French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said on Monday Israeli athletes were “welcome in France.”
Some pro-Palestinian protesters and activists in France and the United States, as well as Palestinian sports clubs and the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, had joined a call for the IOC to limit Israel’s official participation in the 2024 Summer Games over the war in Gaza.
In March, the head of the IOC coordination committee for Paris 2024, Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Vieujant, said it was “out of the question to imagine” sanctions on Israel over its war in Gaza, as Russia and its Olympic Committee were over the invasion of Ukraine.
The Olympic Games in Paris will take place from July 26 to August 11.
Several Israeli competitors are in contention for medals, including taekwondo athlete Avishag Semberg, who was a bronze medallist at the 2020 Olympics, gymnast Artem Dolgopyat, who secured Israel its first gymnastics gold in 2020, and Lanir, a 2023 world champion in her category.
Eight Palestinian athletes are also taking part in the Paris Games.
The October 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Out of 251 people taken hostage that day, 116 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including 44 who the military says are dead.
Israel’s military offensive has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
According to the Israeli military, 327 soldiers have been killed in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.


India coach Gautam Gambhir backs Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma to play at 2027 Cricket World Cup

Updated 22 July 2024
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India coach Gautam Gambhir backs Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma to play at 2027 Cricket World Cup

  • Gambhir begins his tenure this week with a tour of Sri Lanka that includes three T20s and three one-day internationals
  • Kohli and Sharma had announced their T20 retirements after India’s World Cup triumph in the West Indies on June 29

MUMBAI: New India coach Gautam Gambhir has backed star batters Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to continue playing in the long term, even possibly at the 2027 Cricket World Cup in South Africa.
Gambhir begins his tenure as Indian men’s team coach this week with a tour of Sri Lanka that includes three T20s and three one-day internationals.
Kohli and Sharma had announced their T20 retirements after India’s World Cup triumph in the West Indies on June 29. While Kohli is 35 years old and Sharma is 37, Gambhir backed both to continue playing for India in tests and ODIs.
“I think they have shown what they can deliver on the big stage, whether it’s the T20 or ODI World Cup. One thing I can be very clear of is that both have a lot of cricket left in them,” Gambhir said on Monday. “With the Champions Trophy and a big tour of Australia (coming up), they will be motivated enough. And then, hopefully, if they can keep their fitness, the 2027 World Cup as well.”
Both Kohli and Sharma have been included in India’s ODI squad for the Sri Lanka tour, with the latter back leading the side.
Gambhir and Kohli have had highly publicized spats in the past, especially in the Indian Premier League.
The first came in 2013 when Gambhir was captain of Kolkata Knight Riders with another in 2023 when he was leading Lucknow SuperGiants. Kohli was part of the Royal Challengers Bengaluru on both occasions.
“My relationship with Virat Kohli is not for the public. It may be good for TRP (during IPL), but it is between two mature individuals,” said Gambhir. “He is a thorough professional and a world class athlete, he is a world class player. I have always said that.
“On the field, everyone has the right to fight for their own team, but at the moment, we are representing India and I am sure we are going to be on the same page – to make India proud. I have huge respect for him as a player and it is going to continue. Hopefully, we can work together really well.”
Suryakumar Yadav has been named the new T20 captain, taking over from Sharma as India looks to build toward the 2026 World Cup, with young batting star Shubman Gill his vice-captain.
That shuts out Hardik Pandya, who was vice-captain at 2024 T20 World Cup. Pandya had also led India in T20s since 2022.
“Hardik is still a very important player for us. We want him to be fit and be the player he can be for India. Those all-round skills are very difficult to find and fitness obviously has been a challenge for him over the last few years, which makes things a little difficult for the coach or even the selectors,” said Ajit Agarkar, India’s chief selector.
“You obviously want a captain that is likely to play all the games. We (also) think Suryakumar Yadav is a deserving candidate and has the necessary qualities to succeed as captain. Over time we will see how he develops into this role as the next World Cup is only in 2026.”
Yadav, though, missed out on India’s ODI squad, with keeper-batter Rishabh Pant making a comeback to the format. Pant was involved in a car accident in December 2022 and missed 18 months before returning to India’s T20 side for the World Cup.
“We haven’t discussed Surya for ODIs at this point. Shreyas Iyer is back and Lokesh Rahul is back too (for ODIs),” Agarkar said. “They had a great World Cup (2023). Rishabh is back as well, so there is quality in the middle order.
“Regards to Rishabh again, before his unfortunate accident, he’s been a key player for us. Now that he’s back, you want to get him around the group again, playing again.”
Indian team officials are aiming to manage the workloads of different players through the upcoming season, with a tour of Australia beginning in November and the Champions Trophy early next year.
As such, star fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah has been completely rested for the Sri Lanka tour after his stellar performances in the T20 World Cup.
“Workload management for someone like Bumrah is very important. He is a rare bowler that anyone would want. You want him to play important games,” said Gambhir.


Ukraine’s Natus Vincere clinch Counter-Strike 2 championship at Esports World Cup

Updated 22 July 2024
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Ukraine’s Natus Vincere clinch Counter-Strike 2 championship at Esports World Cup

  • Side defeated G2 in best of 3 showdown 2-1 to claim $400,000 prize

RIYADH: Natus Vincere of Ukraine etched their name in the esports history books on Sunday after overcoming G2 to win the Esports World Cup Counter-Strike 2 competition.

Global audiences and another capacity crowd at the SEF Arena in Boulevard Riyadh City enjoyed an exciting battle as the two teams faced off in an all-European showdown — the first in an Esports World Cup Grand Final.

With both registering impressive performances and eliminating some CS2 heavyweights en route to the final, the match closed out week three of the Esports World Cup.

With a $400,000 prize and vital EWC Club Championship points at stake, NAVI came from behind to win the best of three grand final 2-1 and clinch the CS2 title.

Reflecting on the victory at the Esports World Cup, iM of NAVI said: “It feels amazing to win — we took this tournament seriously. We had high expectations from the start and we kept the same standards throughout. To win the tournament is a great feeling — for me individually and for us as a team — because it shows that the hard work we’ve been putting in is paying off.

“G2 played some very good CS2 tonight. They provided a type of test we’d not experienced this week until the grand final. But we came back and we’re delighted.”

For NAVI, winning CS2 capped off a memorable week in Riyadh. Since the 15-team $1 million tournament began on Wednesday, the Ukranian club beat FURIA 2-0 in the opening stage before overcoming FaZe Clan 2-0 and MOUZ 2-1 in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

The NAVI lineup consists of: b1t (Valerij Vakhovsjkyj, Ukraine); Aleksib (Aleksi Virolainen, Finland); jL (Justinas Lekavicius, Lithuania); iM (Mihai Ivan, Romania); and w0nderful (Ihor Zhandov, Ukraine).

When asked about the reasons behind their consistent form and brilliant performances, jL said: “We showed a mental edge over our opponents. We went behind in matches this week but showed resilience and came back every time. This is a credit to the psychology of this team.

“We’ve also been in great form over the last six months. Winning here this week shows that we’re doing things right — both between tournaments and when we’re out there competing.”

The Esports World Cup is running from July 3 to Aug. 25 with 22 tournaments across 21 titles throughout its eight-week duration. Week four begins on July 23 with three tournaments taking place daily until July 28.


Pandya fitness issues cost him India T20 captaincy—selector

Updated 22 July 2024
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Pandya fitness issues cost him India T20 captaincy—selector

  • Explosive Indian batter Suryakumar Yadav was named skipper for India’s T20 format for Sri Lanka tour 
  • Pandya, who was vice-captain during last month’s T20 World Cup, has suffered from fitness problems 

Mumbai: Hardik Pandya lost out on India’s T20 captaincy to Suryakumar Yadav because of concerns over his availability after frequent injury absences, India’s chief selector Ajit Agarkar said Monday.
Explosive middle-order batsman Suryakumar, 33, was last week named Rohit Sharma’s successor in the T20 format for India’s white-ball tour of Sri Lanka, which begins Saturday.
All-rounder Pandya, 30, was Rohit’s deputy during India’s T20 World Cup triumph last month but he has suffered from fitness problems and missed the 50-over World Cup last year with an ankle injury.
“Fitness has been something that he’s struggled with,” Agarkar told reporters in Mumbai alongside new coach Gautam Gambhir.
“As selectors, it becomes difficult then. The thought behind it was that we want someone who is likely to be available more.”
India begin their Sri Lanka trip with the first of three Twenty20 internationals on Saturday and Pandya has reportedly opted out of the three subsequent one-day internationals.
He was “still a very important player,” Agarkar said. “And that’s what we want him to be, those skill sets are hard to find.”
Agarkar praised Suryakumar’s captaincy credentials.
“He is one of the best T20 batters in the world,” said Agarkar.
“We feel that Surya has all the necessary qualities to be a good captain.
“We wanted a captain, who is likely to play all the games.”
Suryakumar would remain solely a T20 player, said Agarkar. Rohit has retained the 50-over captaincy.
Gambhir explained his coaching philosophy, speaking to reporters for the first time since succeeding Rahul Dravid.
“I think it is important to give players the freedom, that’s what I believe in,” he said.
“The best relationship is built on trust. I can promise that the most important thing is that they will always have my back.”
Rohit, 37, and Virat Kohli, 35, both quit T20 internationals after the World Cup.
Gambhir, a former India teammate of both Kohli and Rohit, expects the veteran pair to remain key figures in the Test and 50-over teams.
“Both those guys have a lot of cricket left in them,” Gambhir said, adding he hoped they are motivated to feature in the 2024/25 tour to Australia and next year’s 50-over Champions Trophy.
Retirement is “a very personal decision” he added.
 


Former Tottenham boss Redknapp joins forces with UAE-based ‘Green Goals’ campaign

Updated 22 July 2024
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Former Tottenham boss Redknapp joins forces with UAE-based ‘Green Goals’ campaign

  • The initiative by company Fuelre4m looks to harness the power of football to drive sustainability and environmental change

DUBAI: UAE-based clean-fuel technology firm Fuelre4m have announced a partnership with Harry Redknapp — former Tottenham, Portsmouth and West Ham football manager — as part of their “Green Goals” campaign.

The initiative aims to utilize former football stars to raise awareness and action for sustainability.

“With the global football industry emitting over 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, more top players need to join in to make a bigger impact,” Redknapp said recently.

“Football’s carbon footprint is massive, and players do have a responsibility to help. They can do more by getting involved in green campaigns, pushing for eco-friendly stadiums and clubs, and using social media to spread awareness and influence fans.”

“Football has the power to inspire millions,” he added. “If we can use that influence to promote sustainability, we can make a real difference. That’s why I’m excited to be part of Fuelre4m’s ‘Green Goals’ campaign.”

Rob Mortimer, managing director of Fuelre4m, highlighted the significance of Redknapp’s support.

“Having Harry Redknapp on board is a game-changer. His influence in the football world is immense, and his support for our campaign underscores the importance of sustainability in sports,” he said.

“Harry’s involvement will undoubtedly motivate players and fans to take action, amplifying our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of fossil fuels.”

FuelRe4m has developed a fuel-reforming technology that enhances the combustion process in engines, the company stated.

By breaking down impurities and complex hydrocarbons in liquid fossil fuels, the Re4mx technology is aimed at ensuring a more efficient and cleaner burn.

This results in increased power output, lower fuel consumption, and a significant reduction in harmful emissions.