Cristiano Ronaldo back in the global spotlight at Euro 2024 and out to show he’s still a force

Eighteen months later, Ronaldo is still scoring hat tricks, still breaking records, still owning that will to win and self-belief. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 05 June 2024
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Cristiano Ronaldo back in the global spotlight at Euro 2024 and out to show he’s still a force

  • Ronaldo is still scoring hat tricks, still breaking records, still owning that will to win and self-belief
  • Still a key member of the Portugal team heading to the European Championship in Germany as one of the tournament favorites

Cristiano Ronaldo had tears in his eyes as he walked off the field and seemingly into international retirement.
It was the 2022 World Cup and Portugal had just lost to Morocco in the quarterfinals, a shocking result that left Ronaldo inconsolable.
He was nearly 38 years old. Unarguably past his best. No longer a guaranteed starter for his country.
Was this the last time the soccer world would see Ronaldo — one of the game’s greatest-ever players — in a Portugal jersey?
We really shouldn’t have underestimated him.
Eighteen months later, Ronaldo is still scoring hat tricks, still breaking records, still owning that will to win and self-belief — not to mention the toned physique — which has long set him apart from pretty much anyone else.
And still a key member of the Portugal team heading to the European Championship in Germany as one of the tournament favorites.
Indeed, Portugal coach Roberto Martinez, who was hired weeks after the World Cup, has retained the 39-year-old Ronaldo as captain.
“For us, he brings that experience,” Martinez said, “but, more than anything, probably the biggest surprise is that he approaches every day as a new way to be the best, a new way to keep impressing.”
The Euros represent an opportunity for Ronaldo to remind soccer fans that he is still a force in the game.
Since the start of 2023, he has been playing in Saudi Arabia, pretty much out of the global spotlight and in a league that has thrown money at some high-profile — if maybe over-the-hill — superstars to generate attention and change the impression of soccer in the kingdom.
Ronaldo, earning a reported $200 million a year, is still pouring in the goals — he was the top scorer in the Saudi Pro League with 35, a record in that division — even if critics have been quick to point out the low standard of play in the country.
“We don’t make choices based on where the players play,” said Martinez, who could not be more impressed with what Ronaldo has been doing in Saudi.
“He has become a central figure of a new project and the important thing for us, as a national team coach, is that he has been able to carry on scoring goals,” Martinez said.
“His stats are better than anything, subjectively, that you can say. He’s been the top goal scorer in 2023 in world football and he makes a total new beginning in a league that in the next few years is going to be talked about a lot.”
Ronaldo committed himself to Portugal even though it looked like his time with the national team was up after being benched for its knockout-stage games at the World Cup.
However, Portugal changed coaches — Martinez came in for Fernando Santos — and Ronaldo felt he still had plenty more to offer, not least adding to his world record of goals scored in men’s internationals that now stands at 128.
In a qualifying group for the Euros that didn’t feature any of Portugal’s top rivals, Ronaldo started nine of the 10 games and scored 10 goals — only behind Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku (14). He was captain whenever he started.
In short, Martinez fully believes in Ronaldo, a player he describes as “an iconic figure of the game,” heading into what will be the striker’s record-extending sixth European Championship and 11th major tournament.
“He keeps making the difference,” Martinez said, “and I think that, for us, this is a wonderful example for young players.”
Key is whether Ronaldo will be trusted — and he has the all-round fitness and sharpness — for the biggest games. He wasn’t in Qatar, after all.
Portugal has been drawn in a benign group on paper, also featuring Turkiye, the Czech Republic and tournament debutant Georgia. But, what if Portugal plays France or the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, as could happen according to the knockout bracket: Does Ronaldo start then?
A big difference to the World Cup is that his backup, Goncalo Ramos, hasn’t been a regular starter at Paris Saint-Germain since his move from Benfica. He isn’t pushing Ronaldo for a starting place as much as he was in Qatar, where he arrived in red-hot form.
Martinez seems willing to forgo some of Ronaldo’s limitations — his inability to press as well as others, for example — because he is still so dangerous in front of goal.
Ronaldo has a long list of exciting midfielders and wingers ready to feed him chances — Bruno Fernandes, Rafael Leao, Diogo Jota, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix. With holding midfielder Joao Palhinha protecting so well a defense that conceded just two goals in the entire qualifying campaign, there’s so much to like about Portugal’s chances in Germany.
Ronaldo saw his longtime rival, Lionel Messi, grab all the limelight at the World Cup by leading Argentina to the title.
Maybe there’s one more big major tournament left in Ronaldo, too.


Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League

Updated 13 sec ago
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Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League

  • Saudi Arabia will host the preliminary stage of the tournament next month

RIYADH: Saudi champions Al-Nassr Women have been drawn against Myawady Women from Myanmar, the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Country Club and Young Elephants FC of Laos in the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia will host the preliminary stage of the tournament next month, it was also confirmed on Thursday.

The first edition of the tournament will welcome the 21 domestic champions from AFC member associations, and the preliminary stage in the Kingdom — which will be played Aug. 25 to 31 — will feature 13 teams competing in four round-robin groups.

The winner of each will progress to the group stage, where eight top-seeded clubs await.

The Kingdom’s selection as hosts for the preliminary stage follows the successful hosting of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship and the growth of the Women’s Premier League ahead of its third season.


Cricket’s future path is clear after recent forum

Updated 18 July 2024
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Cricket’s future path is clear after recent forum

  • World Cricket Connects brought together more than 100 influential voices in the game

A focus of this column over the last three years has been the rapidly changing landscape of professional cricket. Some things which may have seemed like straws in the wind in mid-June 2021 are now in full flow, unlikely to be stopped even by hurricane-strength storms.

Cricket’s governing body is the International Cricket Council, tasked with managing the game. In a previous era, this had been the responsibility of the Marylebone Cricket Club. The latter still has influence in the game. Early this year, its current president, Mark Nicholas, an urbane former professional cricketer, initiated the idea of a forum to discuss cricket’s future. This was held on July 5 at Lord’s prior to England’s Test match against the West Indies.

The gathering was called World Cricket Connects. It brought together more than 100 influential voices in the game, including chairs and CEOs from five ICC full members, plus associate nations, Scotland and Oman. Former and current players, both men and women, were present, along with several executives of T20 franchises.

There was one notable omission. Jay Shah, secretary of the Board for Control of Cricket in India, was not there. He had sent his apologies. The need to be pictured with the T20 World Cup Trophy in India prevailed. Why not, especially after an election victory, since his father is Prime Minister Modi’s interior minister. The BCCI’s priorities are clear. They were clear in September 2021 when it pulled its team from a deciding Test match against England, citing mental health issues, only for the players to return immediately to perform in the Indian Premier League.

Without Shah, described by Nicholas as the most powerful person in cricket, the event was an emperor without clothes. Reports of its content took time to emerge. The ICC chair was reported to have said that the ICC is not fit for purpose and that as a “members’ organization,” it falls short of being a global governing body. Whilst not a revelation to many, the fact that it was said in a semi-public forum is a surprise, perhaps reflecting frustration at India’s power. This is not going to decline.

Ravi Shastri, Inda’s representative and a recent former coach, put forward a view that the 12 teams playing Test cricket should have a promotion and relegation system, with two tiers of six, including promotion and relegation. It may well come to that position, hastened by the costs of hosting Test cricket.

In this context, enter the ICC’s long-term ambition for cricket to become the world’s favorite sport. This translates into leading, growing and promoting cricket. The ICC is not really a governing body. It is an organizer and facilitator of global events, a builder of long-term successful commercial partnerships and a catalyst for growth. Almost as an afterthought, it says that “it will continue to make considerable efforts to protect the integrity of the sport.”

On the latter, there remain doubts, Betting is rife in the game. I have been moved by ICC officials from boundary side positions because I may be passing on information obtained from players to gambling companies. This not something that I would do and I am hardly the problem. It is unlikely that betting’s influence on cricket got a mention at Lord’s, which it should have done.

As we all know, T20 is the growth engine of modern-day cricket, like it or not. This fits the ICC’s vision, it is completely in tune with that of the BCCI and it fits with the growth of cricket in countries where growth would not have been possible otherwise. In this context, I was amazed to be appraised of a tournament hosted by Poland, involving teams from Latvia, Lithuania and Montenegro. My amazement centered on the Montenegro Bokaneers team.

It had three players with the surname of Plastics, its base registered as Brighton (England) and had one player with whom I have shared a pitch on more than one occasion. T20 cricket has democratized the game, but at what cost? At the World Cricket Connects event it was reported that there was much talk of money, about levering the consumer and responding to commercial forces. Apparently, those forces are killing Test cricket for all but the major countries. It costs upward of £1 million ($1.3 million) for Ireland and Scotland, for example, to host a Test match, without commensurate return from gate receipts, broadcasting rights and sponsorship. In Pakistan, costs of providing security for a Test match series are estimated to be up to $5 million.

Meanwhile, viewership levels for One Day International cricket have fallen by a quarter since 2019. In that context, discussions about reducing the number of “meaningless” matches surfaced, whatever that means. Some people may regard the recent England vs. West Indies Test match at Lord’s, completed in just over two days, as meaningless. Those who played a Test at Lord’s for the first time, one of whom took 12 wickets, are likely to disagree. In Scotland, the men’s team is hosting Oman and Namibia as part of the ICC Cricket World Cup League Two, part of the qualifying process for the 2027 ODI World Cup. In general, Scotland is desperate to play more cricket, especially against top-quality opposition, in matches that would have real meaning, as it seeks to improve its position in world cricket. Even Latvia vs. Montenegro Bokaneers has meaning for those who achieved an ambition of playing in an “international” match.

The sad truth is that professional cricket has been captured by commercial forces and, in particular, by those in India. Those forces are advertisers, producers of goods and services, broadcasters, betting companies and sponsors. Their most comfortable outlet is T20 cricket, given its short format and adaptability to broadcasting schedules. The COVID-19 pandemic caused substantial financial losses for cricket worldwide that have accelerated the rush to the T20 format, which looks set to dominate the future in its thrall to money. It now seems clear that both Test and ODI cricket will need to shrink to accommodate this new reality of commercialism and measurement of success by income generation.


Professional Fighters League announces extra bouts for August playoffs

Updated 18 July 2024
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Professional Fighters League announces extra bouts for August playoffs

  • 2024 PFL Playoffs will see the return of Biaggio Ali Walsh to the SmartCage

NEW YORK: The Professional Fighters League has announced additional bouts for the 2024 PFL Global Season Playoffs in August.

On Friday, Aug. 2 in Nashville, the heavyweight and women’s flyweight divisions will take center stage.

In a marquee addition to the event, Tyrell Fortune (14-2) will face Sergei Bilostenniy (12-3) in a heavyweight alternate contest. In all, five early bouts have been added to an already stacked night of action.

Two weeks later on Aug.16, the light-heavyweight and lightweight playoffs will take place in Hollywood, Florida.

Biaggio Ali Walsh (1-0) makes his sophomore professional appearance against undefeated Korey Taylor (4-0) during the ESPN main card.

A light-heavyweight alternate bout pitting Antonio Carlos Jr. (16-6) against Karl Albrektsson (14-5) is confirmed, while a lightweight alternate fight between Elvin Espinoza (10-1) and Mads Burnell (19-6) is also official for the early card.

The playoffs will conclude on Aug. 23 in Washington D.C. with the welterweight and featherweight divisions.

A welterweight alternate bout pitting Neiman Gracie (13-5) against Luca Poclit (10-2) is confirmed, while a featherweight alternate fight between Tyler Diamond (14-3) and Enrique Barzola (20-9-2) is also official.

The PFL Regular Season has each winner of the six weight divisions receiving a $1 million purse.


Central Paris locks down for Olympics as athletes arrive

Updated 18 July 2024
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Central Paris locks down for Olympics as athletes arrive

  • The opening parade along six kilometers (four miles) of the river led to the closure of riverside central districts to most vehicles from 5:00 am (0300 GMT) on Thursday
  • Many central Metro stations will also be closed on Thursday until the day after the opening ceremony, which will see 6,000-7,000 athletes sail down the Seine on around a hundred barges and river boats

PARIS: French security forces began locking down large parts of central Paris on Thursday ahead of the hugely complex Olympics opening ceremony next week on the river Seine.

The opening parade along six kilometers (four miles) of the river led to the closure of riverside central districts to most vehicles from 5:00 am (0300 GMT) on Thursday.

Anyone wanting to enter the highest-security “grey zone” along both banks of the Seine, such as residents or tourists with hotel reservations in the area, will need a security pass in the form of a QR code.

The City of Light is transforming ahead of the July 26-Aug. 11 Olympics when around 10 million spectators are expected.

Temporary sports stadiums have sprung up at popular locations such as the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides or the Place de la Concorde, while new Olympic VIP lanes are the latest traffic-snarling addition.

“It’s true that our concept of having a large number of temporary sites in the heart of the city, obviously with that, there are constraints, but I feel like people are seeing what we’re doing,” Paris 2024 director general Etienne Thobois told AFP last month.

Many central Metro stations will also be closed on Thursday until the day after the opening ceremony, which will see 6,000-7,000 athletes sail down the Seine on around a hundred barges and river boats.

It will be the first time a Summer Olympics has opened outside the main athletics stadium, with up to 500,000 people set to watch in person from stands, on the river banks and from the overlooking apartments.

The vast security operation has been giving senior police officers cold sweats ever since it was announced in 2021 because of the difficulty of securing so many spectators in such a large, densely packed urban area.

Around 45,000 officers are set to be on duty for the July 26 parade, assisted by thousands of soldiers and private security agents.

On Wednesday, police in eastern France announced they had arrested a suspected far-right extremist who had made threats against the Games in a group on the Telegram phone application.

The installation of tens of thousands of metal security barriers all along the opening ceremony route in Paris has outraged some residents, who feel closed in.

“It’s a bit like being in Planet of the Apes,” Aissa Yago, who lives on the Ile Saint Louis in central Paris, told AFP this week from behind a barrier. “All they need to do is throw us some peanuts.”

Elsewhere on Thursday, the first athletes are set to arrive to take up residence in the newly built Olympic Village in a northern suburb of the capital.

Comprising around 40 different low-rise housing blocs, the complex has been built as a showcase of innovative construction techniques using low-carbon concrete, water recycling and reclaimed building materials.

It was intended to be free of air-conditioning, although Olympic delegations have ordered around 2,500 portable cooling units for their athletes out of fear of the impact of high temperatures on their performances.

“The major countries are going to arrive on the first day ... so Great Britain, the US, New Zealand, Brazil, Switzerland,” the deputy head of the French delegation, Andre-Pierre Goubert, told AFP.

At full capacity, the village will host 14,500 people including 9,000 athletes.

The Olympics will be followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 28-Sept. 8.


‘Counter-Strike 2’ blasts off week 3 action at Esports World Cup

Updated 18 July 2024
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‘Counter-Strike 2’ blasts off week 3 action at Esports World Cup

  • World’s biggest gaming festival runs until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City

RIYADH: The Esports World Cup continued its third week of action on Wednesday with several sides starring in the “Counter-Strike 2” tournament at Boulevard Riyadh City.

In the qualification matches MOUZ won 2-1 against Sashi Esports, Team Spirit 1-0 MIBR, Navi 2-0 FURIA Esports, Virtus.pro 1-0 Complexity, Team Vitality 2-0 M80, FaZe Clan 2-0 FlyQuest, and G2 Esports 2-0 The MongolZ.

The winning teams now proceed to the “Counter-Strike 2” playoffs.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the world’s top clubs and players against each other across 22 global competitions in 21 leading games.

The tournament has a prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of esports, and runs until Aug. 25.

More than 1,500 players, representing over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the Esports World Cup.

Week three also features action from the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “PUBG Mobile.”