Xavi denies reports that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing him

The media reports said Laporta is pondering a replacement for Xavi this summer. (AP)
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Updated 18 May 2024
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Xavi denies reports that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing him

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernández on Saturday denied a slew of reports in Spanish media outlets that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing the coach for having said that the club’s poor finances will impede it from competing with Real Madrid.
“The club has transmitted to me that I should stay calm and continue working with the same motivation and commitment. Nothing has changed,” Xavi said at a pregame news conference.
Almost all the questions he faced were about the speculation in Spain’s sports press that club president Joan Laporta was upset with Xavi for having said earlier this week that “the situation is very difficult, above all on the economic level, for us to compete with our top rivals, whether it be Real Madrid or teams in Europe.”
The media reports said Laporta is pondering a replacement for Xavi this summer.
Xavi insisted Saturday that he had heard no such thing from the club.
“I don’t know and I don’t care where that information is coming from. I have the support of the president and Deco, our sports director,” the former Barcelona midfielder said.
Neither Laporta nor the club have made any public statements about the rumors. The club said it had no comment on them when asked by The Associated Press.
Even if it Barcelona keeps Xavi on, it is still an awkward situation for a coach who just three weeks prior had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, Xavi said that he had changed his mind after his players showed him that they believed in the team’s potential and had improved their performances.
Laporta inherited a club mired in debts of more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion), and soccer’s most expensive payroll, when he returned to run the club for a second time in 2021.
A few months later he brought back fan favorite Xavi, who had been coaching in Qatar, to lead a team rebuild following the exit of superstar Lionel Messi.
But with no cash on hand and mounting debts, Laporta had to sell off future television revenues and other club assets, which Laporta dubbed financial “levers,” to sign Robert Lewandowski and other players two seasons ago.
With those reinforcements, Xavi guided Barcelona to the Spanish league title last campaign. But Barcelona has struggled this season and will finish it without any titles.
Xavi’s words earlier this week seemed aimed at curbing the expectations of fans used to the club making significant signings in the summer.
The club’s wages still exceed the salary cap established by the Spanish league and it is more likely to sell players this off-season than bring in new talent.
Barcelona plays Rayo Vallecano on Sunday seeking a win to lock up a second-placed finish in the domestic league and secure a spot in the Spanish Super Cup.


Wimbledon champion Alcaraz says Queen’s defeat ‘part of our lives’

Updated 21 June 2024
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Wimbledon champion Alcaraz says Queen’s defeat ‘part of our lives’

  • World No. 2 Alcaraz arrived for this grass-court warmup event for Wimbledon fresh from his French Open triumph on the clay of Roland Garros
  • Alcaraz begins the defense of his Wimbledon title at the All England Club, just a few miles across London from Queen’s, on July 1

LONDON: Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz said losing was “part of our lives” following a shock defeat by Britain’s Jack Draper in the last 16 of the Queen’s Club tournament in London on Thursday.

Alcaraz, also the reigning Queen’s champion, lost 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 with the British No. 1 claiming the biggest win of his career.

World No. 2 Alcaraz arrived for this grass-court warmup event for Wimbledon fresh from his French Open triumph on the clay of Roland Garros.

But the 21-year-old Spaniard was undone by Draper, 22, who is bidding to become the first British men’s singles champion at Queen’s since Andy Murray won his fifth title at the event in 2016.

Alcaraz, for whom this was a first defeat on grass in nearly two years, insisted he was “hungry to be better” at Wimbledon.

“Of course it’s tough to deal with the losses, but I think it’s part of our lives,” he said.

“We have to (deal with it) as good as you can. After the losses, you have to take the positive things and of course the negative things just to improve to the next tournament.

“I have to give credit to Jack. I think he played really good tennis today.”

Alcaraz begins the defense of his Wimbledon title at the All England Club, just a few miles across London from Queen’s, on July 1, with the champion saying he planned to remain in the British capital.

“I think the best way to be better on grass is to stay here, practice with players, physically doing good stuff on grass and the movement, really specific things,” Alcaraz said when asked if he would return to Spain before Wimbledon.

“In Spain or at my home, we don’t have grass courts or really grass places just to practice.

Alcaraz added: “Right now I’m hungry just to be better, to practice, and that’s all I have to do.

“I’m really excited to start Wimbledon. Of course I really want to win every title I (play for), and I think Wimbledon is even more special.”

For the 31st-ranked Draper, this stunning win followed his first ATP title in Stuttgart last week and meant he became the first British man to beat a top-two player on grass since Murray defeated Novak Djokovic in the 2013 Wimbledon final.

Neither Alcaraz nor Draper managed a break point in a first set where the British left-hander eventually pulled clear in the tie-break.

Alcaraz saved three match points on his own serve at 5-2 down in the second set before Draper, a day after 37-year-old Murray limped out injured of Queen’s after just five games, secured the win.

“It was a really tough match,” said Draper. “Carlos is the defending champion, he won Wimbledon, he’s an incredible talent and amazing for the sport. I had to come out and play well and luckily I did.”

Draper will next play American fifth-seed Tommy Paul, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo, in the quarterfinals.

There was more British success when wildcard Billy Harris joined Draper in the last eight.

The 29-year-old journeyman celebrated his award of a wildcard for Wimbledon — and a guaranteed £60,000 ($76,000) — by beating French qualifier Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard 6-4, 7-5.

Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti also reached the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win over Brandon Nakashima of the US.


Lexi Thompson shoots 68 to take 1st-round lead at the Women’s PGA Championship

Updated 21 June 2024
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Lexi Thompson shoots 68 to take 1st-round lead at the Women’s PGA Championship

  • Thompson made six birdies on her way to a one-shot lead over Nelly Korda and Patty Tavatanakit
  • She won the last of her 11 LPGA Tour titles at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June 2019

SAMMAMISH: Lexi Thompson knew some form of the question was coming after shooting a 4-under 68 and taking the first-round lead Thursday in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Would a major title change her plans about retiring from playing full-time on the LPGA Tour?

“I’m just taking it one day at a time. I made my announcement. I’m very content with it,” Thompson said. “Golf is a crazy game, so I’m not going to look too far ahead.”

Thompson made six birdies on her way to a one-shot lead over Nelly Korda and Patty Tavatanakit.

Teeing off in the afternoon as temperatures climbed into the 80s and dried out Sahalee Country Club, Thompson started hot with three straight birdies to open her round and built on last week when she lost in a playoff at the Meijer LPGA Classic.

The 29-year-old Thompson, who recently announced her plans to retire after the season, shot a bogey-free 32 on the front nine, capped with a 6-foot birdie on the par-3 ninth. After a bogey at No. 10, Thompson rebounded with birdies at Nos. 12 and 14 before another bogey at the 16th.

She won the last of her 11 LPGA Tour titles at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June 2019. The 68 is her lowest round in a major since a 67 in the second round of the Women’s PGA two years ago at Congressional.

“My approach shots felt great,” Thompson said. “They felt really good last week, so just trying to simplify things and get in a rhythm with my swing.”

Korda shot 69 in the morning, and Tavatanakit matched it in the afternoon with a bogey-free round.

The top-ranked Korda missed the cuts in the US Women’s Open and the Meijer LPGA Classic in her last two starts after winning six of seven events, a run that started with a record-tying five straight victories.

Korda started on the back nine and made four birdies on her first five holes. But parts of the morning were a scramble for Korda as the Douglass fir, red cedar and hemlock trees of Sahalee played their role in making it a challenge. A double bogey on the par-4 fourth hole dropped her back to 2 under.

“If you try and be aggressive when you’ve hit it off line, it just bites you in the butt,” Korda said. “Overall, I think I played pretty well. I took my chances where I could and I played safe the majority of the round.”

Korda made a 15-foot putt on the par-3 ninth hole — her final hole — to take the early lead.

There was another group of players at 2 under, including Allizen Corpuz, Celine Boutier, Charley Hull and Leona Maguire. Maguire led this tournament after the third round last year at Baltusrol, but shot 74 on the final day and finished four shots back of the winner, Ruoning Yin.

Playing with Korda, Yin rebounded from a rough start and shot 33 on her second nine to shoot 71.

“Luckily hit it pretty straight today. Hit a lot of fairways and greens. But it does feel like a course where once you’re out of position it’s tough to get back on track,” said Corpuz, who has an outside chance of making the Olympics for the United States with a strong finish this week.

The third major of the year on the LPGA Tour returned to Sahalee, which previously hosted in 2016. And the tree-lined course showed its difficulty.

Lilia Vu, who won last week in her return from a back injury, shot 75. Yuka Saso, the US Open winner three weeks ago, made four consecutive bogeys on the back nine and finished at 2-over 74. Brooke Henderson, who won in 2016, shot 73.

Korda got off to a far better start than her last major, when she shot 80 in the opening round of the US Women’s Open three weeks ago.

Korda’s early run of birdies included three straight between Nos. 13-15 and she and went out in 33. She moved to 4 under after a birdie on the third hole — her 12th of the day — but dropped two shots on the fourth.

“This entire golf course is so demanding,” Korda said. “I had to make some pretty good up-and-downs.”


Argentina begin Copa title defense with 2-0 win over Canada

Updated 21 June 2024
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Argentina begin Copa title defense with 2-0 win over Canada

  • Messi produced another clinical, defense-splitting pass and this time Lautaro made no mistake, slipping past the advancing Crepeau to make it 2-0

ATLANTA: World champions Argentina opened their bid for back-to-back Copa America titles with a 2-0 win over Canada in front of a crowd of 70,564 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday.
Julian Alvarez put Argentina ahead in the 49th minute but a combination of inspired goalkeeping from Canada’s Max Crepeau and Lionel Messi’s surprising lack of precision in front of goal ensured that the underdogs were in the game until Lautaro Martinez settled the contest in the 88th minute.
Backed by a huge support decked out in light blue and white striped shirts, Argentina fully deserved their victory but Canada, ranked 48th in the world, can take plenty of credit for the way they fought with the 15-time Copa America winners.
Alvarez, preferred to Lautaro as Messi’s strike partners in attack, had the first opportunity when he charged down an attempted clearance from Ismael Kone and broke away.
But the Manchester City striker took a heavy touch as he bore down on Canada keeper Max Crepeau, who was able to smother the ball.
Messi, who became the most capped player in Copa America history, making his 35th appearance in what is his seventh tournament, then went close to an opener himself but his angled shot from the left flashed just wide of the far post.
While the Argentines were exploiting gaps in the Canadian defense, Jesse Marsch’s team were nonetheless competing in midfield and creating some half-chances for themselves.
Alphonso Davies and Liam Millar both had shots blocked inside the box and Tajon Buchanan screwed an effort from a tight angle wide in the 30th minute.
The first true save of the game came in the 40th minute, though, when Alexis Mac Allister’s stooping header from an Angel Di Maria cross was well dealt with by Crepeau.
But Argentina needed their goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, to be at his very best to ensure they went in on level terms at the interval.
Cyle Larin’s cross from the right wing was met with a powerful header from close-range from Stephen Eustaquio but Martinez’s sharp reaction save kept the game goalless.
But it took less than four minutes of the second half for Argentina to break the deadlock — Messi threaded a pass through to Mac Allister, who was brought down by Crepeau, but before the referee could blow his whistle Alvarez had slotted home the loose ball.
Within moments, there was another chance for Alvarez, but this time denied by the diving Crepeau and Canada could live to fight on.
They did so with more urgency and a little more risk after coach Jesse Marsch introduced winger Jacob Shaffelburg and switched to an attacking 4-3-3 formation.
Suddenly the Argentine defense was under pressure and didn’t look at all comfortable as Canada got men forward and exploited the wide areas.
But they were almost caught out with a classic counter-attack as Martinez launched a quick long ball toward Messi, who broke way goalwards but with the crowd expecting to see the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner on target he made a hash of the chance.
His initial effort was parried by Crepeau and although Messi latched on to the loose ball and sought to go round the keeper, his shot was easily cleared by the covering Derek Cornelius.
Incredibly there was another great opportunity for the former Barcelona star to find the target and again he was unable to convert — cutting in from the right with only Crepeau to beat, Messi opened up his body but slid his shot wide of the post.
Crepeau was at his best again to keep out substitute Lautaro as Argentina struggled to put the game to bed but with two minutes of normal time remaining they did just that.
Messi produced another clinical, defense-splitting pass and this time Lautaro made no mistake, slipping past the advancing Crepeau to make it 2-0.


Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

Updated 21 June 2024
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Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

  • For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Spain qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2024 with a match to spare on Thursday after beating Italy 1-0 in a dominant display which ensured that La Roja would go through as Group B winners.
Riccardo Calafiori’s own goal nine minutes after half-time was the difference between the two sides at Gelsenkirchen in the biggest match to date at the tournament in Germany.
But the slender margin of victory didn’t reflect a statement performance from Spain who completely nullified Italy and should have had the game won by half-time, as they did in their opening round thumping of Croatia.
Nico Williams was the star for Spain as he ran Napoli right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo ragged and supplied the cross from which the unfortunate Calafiori poked the winning goal into his own net.
Luis de la Fuente’s team have a perfect six points at the top of the group and take on Albania on Monday knowing that they are already in the knockout rounds and playing like potential champions.
For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target.
It was a performance reminiscent of the Euro 2012 final between the two teams when Spain crushed Italy 4-0 in the last international hurrah for tiki-taka football.
However all is not lost for Luciano Spalletti’s team, who are second on three points, as a draw with Croatia on Monday will be enough to guarantee qualification behind Spain.
Spain could have been ahead twice in the first 10 minutes but squandered two great headed chances.
Less than two minutes were on the clock when an unmarked Pedri nodded Williams’ pinpoint cross straight at Donnarumma.
And then Williams, who had a field day against Di Lorenzo, was the guilty party by somehow heading wide Alvaro Morata’s superbly delivered, inswinging ball from the left flank.
Spain were clearly on top as Italy struggled to get out of their half, Gianluca Scamacca toiling on his own up front with little support and wasting possession when it did come his way.
Donnarumma had to be at his best twice within a matter of seconds when he first stuck out a foot to deny Morata and then pulled off a superb fingertip save which kept out Fabian Ruiz’s powerful drive from distance.
Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was a virtual spectator as Italy’s sole shot in the first half came just before the break when Federico Chiesa blazed a poor effort over from a difficult position.
The same pattern of Spanish possession and Italian defending continued after half-time and Pedri again wasted a great chance in the 51st minute, slamming wide after Marc Cucurella pulled back a perfect low cross.
But Spain got the breakthrough soon after and it came through more sensational play from Williams on the left, who made mincemeat of Di Lorenzo before fizzing across a ball which Calafiori couldn’t help but divert into his own goal.
La Roja went close to doubling their lead with two distance strikes from Morata and teen sensation Lamine Yamal, before the superb Williams smashed an effort past Donnarumma which came crashing out off the crossbar in the 71st minute.
Italy pushed forward in hope of an equalizer after Mattia Zaccagni and Mateo Retegui replaced the ineffective Chiesa and Scamacca.
But in the dying moments Donnarumma again made two superb saves to twice stop Ayoze Perez making the scoreline better reflect a one-sided contest.


Bumrah leads India to 47-run win over Afghanistan in Super Eight at T20 World Cup

Updated 20 June 2024
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Bumrah leads India to 47-run win over Afghanistan in Super Eight at T20 World Cup

  • Bumrah’s four-over spell was aided by Arshdeep Singh, who finished with 3-36
  • Spinners Kuldeep Yadav (2-32) and Axar Patel (1-15) shared three wickets as Afghanistan were bowled out for 134 runs

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados: Fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah picked three wickets for just seven runs as India beat Afghanistan by 47 runs in their Super Eight clash at the Twenty20 World Cup on Thursday.
Bumrah’s four-over spell was aided by Arshdeep Singh, who finished with 3-36. Spinners Kuldeep Yadav (2-32) and Axar Patel (1-15) shared three wickets as Afghanistan were bowled out for 134 runs.
Earlier, Suryakumar Yadav scored 53 off 28 balls — his fifth T20 World Cup half-century — as India reached 181-8 in 20 overs after opting to bat.
Yadav hit three sixes and five fours, while Hardik Pandya scored 32 off 24 balls, including two sixes.
India’s next Super Eight game is on Saturday, against Bangladesh in Antigua. Afghanistan will play Australia in St. Vincent, also on Saturday.
Yadav was named player of the match.
“I am clear in my mind how I want to bat,” he said. “There’s a lot of hard work, process and routine involved in it. You just need to know your game plan and just play accordingly. When Hardik (Pandya) came in to bat, we discussed about batting with (aggressive) intent. In the end, we were happy with 180.”
On a slow-paced Barbados wicket, India had made a sluggish start. Skipper Rohit Sharma was out caught for eight, while star batter Virat Kohli only managed run-a-ball 24.
Rishabh Pant, batting at three, provided some acceleration — he scored 20 off 11 balls with four fours.
Afghanistan skipper and wrist spinner Rashid Khan did damage to India’s top order, dismissing both Kohli and Pant, the latter out lbw. It was the first time Khan picked up wickets against India in T20s.
India were down to 62-3 in 8.3 overs, when Yadav played a rescuing hand. He added 28 of 14 balls with Shivam Dube (10) and then the match-turning 60 runs with Pandya.
Yadav’s stand with Pandya came off only 37 balls as India scored 102 runs off the final 10 overs.
Rashid Khan finished with 3-26 in four overs.
Afghanistan’s chase got off to a poor start against Bumrah — he sent back both openers Rahmanullah Gurbaz (11) and Haratullah Zazai (2) cheaply.
In between, Axar Patel struck in the fourth over as Ibrahim Zadran was out for eight, and Afghanistan slipped to 23-3 in 4.1 overs.
Gulbadin Naib and Azatullah Omarzai added 44 off 38 balls for the fourth wicket. Thereafter, India’s spinners struck at regular intervals to restrict their opponents.
Ravindra Jadeja picked 1-20 in three overs. Afghanistan lost their last five wickets for 32 runs across 28 deliveries as India crossed the finish line with ease.