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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
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 Rizwan Rehmat
Rizwan Rehmat
Experienced sports journalist Rizwan Rehmat has covered events in more than 25 countries across 5 continents. Considered a Qatar sports historian by his peers, he has covered the 2006 Asian Games and world championships staged by Doha in athletics, gymnastics, boxing and cycling among scores of other sports events held in Qatar.
Andrey Rublev reacts after winning his match against Tallon Griekspoor of Netherlands during day three of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open at the Khalifa Tennis Complex in Doha. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Sports
Rublev, Auger-Aliassime survive Doha scares

Top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia yesterday rallied from a set down to beat Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor to reach the quarter-finals at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open.Rublev, the 2020 champion and a losing finalist in 2018, yesterday won 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6) in 1 hour and 54 minutes.Second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada also braved a mighty onslaught from Australia’s Jason Kubler before posting a three-set win. After losing the first set, Auger-Aliassime got his game together for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in 2 hours and 16 minutes.Also yesterday, former champion Andy Murray of Great Britain beat fourth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in three gruelling sets. Murray, winner here in 2008 and 2009, won 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-5 in 3 hours and 2 minutes.Murray will now play French qualifier Alexandre Muller who yesterday stunned eighth seed Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands. Muller won 6-2, 6-4 in 1 hour and 14 minutes.“Alex is a top player. He’s a great competitor. He always fights right till the end. It’s one of his biggest strengths. So even once I got that tight first set, he kept going for it,” Murray said.“In the third set, I was really hanging on as he was creating more of the chances and was a better player for large parts of that, but I managed to stay strong, kept fighting and got the break at the end and closed it out well,” the 35-year-old said.Rublev, who lost in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last month, admitted he was taken by surprise in the clash against Griekspoor.“I don’t know,” Rublev said when asked how he managed to get the win in three sets. Rublev fired 10 aces in his fighting win, his 10th overall in Doha.“I guess I was lucky. He’s coming from Rotterdam. He had tough matches in there, three sets, and he came straight away here without rest. So obviously mentally for him it was super tough,” the Russian added.“Maybe that’s why I was able to break him at the most important moment of the match. If he was fresh, I think there would be no chance (for me). I was lucky today,” he added.“I wasn’t breathing easy. I don’t know why. I couldn’t breathe well. I was just, like I said, lucky,” Rublev said.Rublev added: “Super excited to be back in Doha. I have great, great memories here. My second (career) final was here. In the next couple of years I won the title. I won the title in doubles also. So a lot of great memories. I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to play in front of you guys, and I’m enjoying my time here.”Last year, Rublev reached the semi-finals without playing a single match after getting a bye in the opening round, a walkover by Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the second round followed by another walkover by Marton Fucsovics of Hungary.In the semi-finals, Rublev lost to Roberto Bautista Agut, the eventual champion.In an inspiring show of resolve, Rublev yesterday saved three match points in the ninth game of the third set. Later on, Rublev needed three match points of his own in the tie-break to claim victory over Griekspoor.In the quarter-final today, Rublev takes on last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals runner-up from the Czech Republic Jiri Lehecka who yesterday beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-2, 7-6 (2).Yesterday, Auger-Aliassime beat Kubler in three sets, thanks to his staggering 15 aces.“No, the wind was okay,” Auger-Aliassime said when asked if wind was a factor in yesterday’s slow start. “I think the first day I got here was pretty windy. I think it was Sunday or Monday,” he added.“Today was all right. You know, I think it could have been worse, but it’s just so different from when I was playing indoors last week, and I think in the afternoon with the sun it got a bit hot and the conditions were quite fast. The ball was flying a lot. I had to adapt to that in the first set,” the Canadian said.“I was struggling to find precision in my shots overall, especially on the return and the serve. Once I got the rhythm and I found my position on the first shots in the rally, then things got much better,” he added.“Overall, good conditions to play in. It’s a great court,” he added.In the quarter-final today, Auger-Aliasime will face seventh seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain who yesterday beat South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon 6-3, 6-2 in 78 minutes.Singles Round of 16 resultsFelix Auger-Aliassime (2), Canada, def. Jason Kubler, Australia, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.Jiri Lehecka, Czech Republic, def. Emil Ruusuvuori, Finland, 6-2, 7-6 (2).Alexandre Muller, France, def. Botic Van de Zandschulp (8), Netherlands, 6-2, 6-4.Andrey Rublev (1), Russia, def. Tallon Griekspoor, Netherlands, 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6).Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (7), Spain, def. Kwon Soon Woo, South Korea, 6-3, 6-2.Andy Murray, Britain, def. Alexander Zverev (4), Germany, 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-5.Christopher O’Connell, Australia, def. Roberto Bautista Agut (5), Spain, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.Centre CourtQuarter-finals start at 2:30pm(1) Andrey Rublev (RUS) vs Jiri Lehecka (CR)Followed byAndy Murray (GBR) vs Alexandre Muller (FRA)Not Before 6:00pmChristopher O’Connell vs Liam Broady Or Daniil MedvedevFollowed By(7) Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs (2) Felix Auger-Aliassime

Botic Van De Zandschulp of Netherlands in action against llya Ivashka of Belarus during the Qatar ExxonMobil Open at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha on Tuesday. 
PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil.
Sports
Ruusuvuori beats Evans as Kwon signs in for round two

Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland yesterday beat sixth seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain to reach the second round of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. Playing their first match on the Tour, Ruusuvuori looked assured as he won 7-5, 6-4 in 1 hour 52 minutes.Ruusuvuori is now 2-7 against top-30 players in his last 9 matches against them.Also yesterday, South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon battled past Jordanian wildcard Abedallah Shelbayh in three hard-fought sets. Kwon secured his second round berth after winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in 1 hour and 54 minutes.Eighth seed Botic van de Zandschulp of Netherlands beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus and eased into the second round of the 32-player field with a 6-2, 7-5 win in 91 minutes. Van de Zandschulp, who registered personal-best 38 wins in 2022, fired five aces in his commanding win.In a shocking result for a former champion, French qualifier Alexandre Muller beat Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili in three sets. Muller beat Basilashvili – the 2021 winner and last year’s finalist – 7-6 (3), 6-7 (8), 6-4 in 2 hours and 38 minutes. Basilashvili fired nine aces.Ruusuvuori, 23, pumped seven aces in his feisty clash against Evans, the British number two.“I thought I was improving and I was just playing better and better. Yes, he was giving me a tough time and he’s a great player. So but I’m very, very happy to get through this match,” Ruusuvuori said yesterday.“He’s a tricky player. He plays a little bit differently than most of the guys, let’s say, and in the top-50 or a hundred. And they have great slides, great tactics. And I just need to kind of figure out the way and serve well and put the pressure on him. And then yeah, in the end I was able to get the win,” the Finnish star said.On Monday night, Ruusuvuori joined compatriot Patrik Niklas-Salminen to beat Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic 6-2, 7-6 in the doubles quarter-finals. “We had a clue because (Jack) Draper had had to pull out the previous night. So we were the first alternate, so we knew we could be in. We prepared and got to play one match a couple of weeks ago with him,” Ruusuvuori said.“And we played a good match. No doubt. Also Patrick has been improving so much and me too. I played great doubles in the Davis Cup and yeah, we just had fun and we were able to take the win,” he added.Kwon yesterday was pleased with his performance against Shelbayh, who was making his Doha debut. The 19-year-old was the first player to represent Jordan in an ATP Tour or Grand Slam main draw match.“I don’t know what to say now – I’m just really happy to win today. It was a tough match today because he (Shelbayh) played very well and then yeah, he had one or two poor shots. I don’t know how to say it but he put up a great fight,” Kwon said yesterday. “I was disappointed to lose the second set, but I tried my best. I tried to enjoy the game and to be positive. Just want to play one game at a time,” Kwon, who won his second career ATP Tour title at Adelaide-2 in January, added.

Andy Murray
Sports
Slow start cost me at the beginning: Murray

Doha: Former world No.1 Andy Murray of Great Britain on Monday night admitted he was slow off the blocks in his win against Lorenzo Sonego of Italy.After losing the first set, Murray – playing in Doha as a wildcard entry – rallied in remarkable fashion to post a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5) win in 2 hours and 30 minutes.Excerpts from a chat with Murray after his win:Question: What was the key moment of the match, in your opinion? Just certain points, a few points here and there, or something different?ANDY MURRAY: The very beginning of the match was important because he broke me in the very first game, and after that he didn’t have any chances to break until the 5-4 game in the third set. For me, the slow start cost me at the beginning. He did start well in the first game. He played the first two points of the match really well and then I served double fault in the breakpoint. That was an important moment in the match. Then in the second set when I managed to get the break of serve at the beginning of the set, that was a key moment. Then in the third set, the very beginning I had a breakpoint. Had I taken that, I think maybe I could have made the third set more comfortable. But after that, he started to gain a bit of momentum. Obviously the 5-4 game, because we played some great points in that game, but when I needed to, I served really well in that game. I hit two very good first serves to save two of the match points. In the tiebreak, I can’t remember exactly what happened there, but obviously he was up 3-0, I think serving, as well maybe. He obviously had the opportunity to close the match there, but I also finished the tiebreak well. So there were a lot of key moments.You have a few titles here, but what is the most special match that you have played here?Oh, that’s a difficult one, because some of these matches were, like, 15, 16 years ago, and my memory is not what it used to be (smiling). I remember winning against (Roger) Federer here one year. I played a really good match against him. And also I played a really good final one year against (Andy) Roddick, as well. That might have been the same year where I played Federer I think in the semis and Roddick in the final. I played really well that year. I remember very clearly the match I played last year here against (Roberto) Bautista Agut. That was one of the lowest points of my career. I was really struggling. I had some physical issues, but my game was also really not good. I had very little confidence and belief in myself at that moment, so I remember that match, too. Right now obviously I remember any match where you save match points. There are not many of them in your career. I don’t know how many times I have done it, but it would be 9, 10 times in a career where I played, like, 900 matches. So it’s quite rare and special to do that.What do you think about the tournament here in Doha? You were champion in 2008 and 2009. What is the feeling of coming back to Doha?The tournament has changed a lot. Obviously the city (of Doha) has changed a lot, especially with the (FIFA) World Cup coming here. We’re staying in a new hotel, in a completely new area of the city that has got amazing buildings, hotels and malls. The tournament as well has changed a lot for the players. It’s improved a lot. It wasn’t a bad tournament before, but it’s made big improvements here. Very good gym for the players. The food is excellent. The women’s tournament last week, they had a great field as well. A lot of top players are playing (this week) which isobviously good for the game here.As a general question, can you describe what’s the personal feeling of being 5-all in a deciding set? Is it stress? Is it a kind of pleasure?I mean, this is something that probably helped me in my career, but in those moments I find it easier to concentrate and focus. I feel like a strength of mine – I’m concentrating really hard in those moments and my decision-making on the court improves because of that. One of my biggest strengths is my tactical awareness in matches. Sometimes like at the beginning of matches or there are periods of matches where it is a little bit flat or it’s 1-all in the second set, it’s sometimes not so easy to concentrate because the scoreline doesn’t help you with that. But when I get towards the end of sets or the end of matches, I feel like like those pressure situations I’m able to focus harder and it helps me play better tennis. I think that would be the case for a lot of the top players, but some players in those moments tend to make worse decisions under pressure. It’s one of the reasons why I have always felt like I played well at Wimbledon, because there has always been a lot of pressure and attention on me that although it’s hard to deal with it and I find it stressful, when I’m in the matches, I find it just easier to concentrate. When I’m focused and concentrating well, I tend to make better decisions and play better tennis.You just said that maybe physically you are at the best in your career. Do you think that is it surprising for you, or you just feel like you can do that already?I don’t believe I’m in the best shape of my career. I just gained a lot of confidence from what happened in Australia, more than at any other moment in my career, like just from a physical perspective because of what I was able to do there. I’m sure when I was 25, 26 that physically I would have been better than I am now and faster and moving better on the court. But what I did in Australia, like I said, it gave me lots of belief in the physical side, which the last four or five years I didn’t have. I didn’t really believe in myself physically as much as I would have done when I was in my mid-20s. So that’s something that is a really positive thing for me. So I know that now that I’m going to wake up tomorrow and maybe my body will be a bit sore, but I will still be able to go out there and compete well physically in the next round. Two-and-a-half, three years ago, and even at times at the end of last year I was struggling a lot physically. I lost a lot of confidence in myself because of that. Putting all the work I did in the offseason and continuing after the Australian Open has really has really helped me and something that I need to keep doing moving forwards. But it has been really difficult the last three or four years, because there is a balance like when I was 20 I could train as hard as I wanted and do all the exercises that I wanted and there was no issue. I could wake up the next day and feel fine. But now, at my age, I need to be more mindful of the amount of training that I’m doing.What tournaments are you going to play this clay season?My plan just now is to play in Rome and Madrid and hopefully the French Open, providing my body is good. I’ll do a training block after Miami on the clay. I’m going to do that in Europe somewhere for a few weeks, three or four weeks. I’ll train, try and get my body used to the clay courts and to monitor how my body is feeling. If it feels good, I’ll play Rome, Madrid, and like I say, hopefully the French Open, because the last – I don’t know how many times I have played it in the last five or six years, but when I have I physically was not good the year I played against (Stan) Wawrinka, and I can’t remember too many other times I have played it in the last five or six years.

Andy Murray of Great Britain in action against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego on day one of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha on Monday.
Sports
Murray breaks Sonego heart, to meet Zverev in round two

Former champion Andy Murray of Great Britain yesterday saved two match points to carve out a stunning win against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego on day one at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open.Trailing in the third set, Murray held his nerve in game 10 to force the set into a tie-breaker which he clinched with remarkable tennis from the baseline. After a battle that lasted 2 hours and 30 minutes, Murray won 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4).The two-time champion, appearing in Doha with a wildcard this year, will now meet third seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in the second round of the $1.5mn tournament.Trailing 3-0 in the tie-breaker, Murray reeled off six consecutive points and then sealed the match with an exquisite volley close to the net.“It was really tough. We never played against each other before or practiced with each other,” Murray said with his mother Judy watching from the stands.“I didn’t know exactly how the match was going to go and took a while to get used to his game. He’s a very aggressive player and takes a lot of chances, plays high-risk tennis and yeah, he rolled the dice at the end and thought it looked like, you know, he had the momentum. And then thankfully in the middle part of that tiebreak, he made a couple of mistakes and (I) managed to turn it around,” the 35-year-old said.When asked about his match against Zverev, Murray reminded fans that his German rival is coming from a long lay-off after suffering a horrific twisted ankle at the French Open last year.“He is obviously one of the top players in the world but he had a bad injury at the French Open last year and is just coming back from that,” Murray said. “He’s going to be improving every week just now. He’s not quite yet back at the level that he was in the middle of last year. But injuries take time (to heal). It will be another great match. Hopefully I can keep building on this one,” the Glasgow-born star added.Murray, who braved eight aces from Sonego, thanked his fans for turning up at the iconic tennis venue where he won the titles in 2008 and 2009.“I appreciate everyone coming out to support. I know it’s a work day and it’s late and it’s quite cold, but we all the players really appreciate it when the fans come out and create an atmosphere like that at the end. It helps us produce our best tennis. (I) really enjoy being back on the court here,” Murray said.A long return and an unforced error followed by a double fault by Murray handed Sonego his first break in the opening game of the first set. Sonego held his serve with ease to double his lead at 2-0. Murray reduced the deficit in game three but Sonego was not to be denied in the next game (3-1). Both players held their serve and Sonego closed out the first set at 6-4 with a slick backhand down the line.Murray held serve and then broke Sonego to go 2-0 in the second set. Murray retained his momentum to win the second set before the players exhibited quality tennis in the third which was decided in a tie-breaker won by the popular Briton.Also yesterday, Doha-based Fernando Verdasco’s final appearance ended on a losing note when he went down to ‘late bloomer’ Christopher O’Connell of Australia in three sets.O’Connell, after a dip of form in the second set, prevailed over his 39-year-old veteran 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 in 102 minutes. It was the first meeting between the two players.O’Connell fired five aces yesterday.“I am really proud as I haven’t had that many matches this year. This is my third visit. I love coming here. I am happy to have won my first match in Doha,” O’Connell said yesterday.“I have been a late developer. I feel like my best tennis is yet to come. I am just trying to do the right things,” he added.Earlier in the day, Jason Kubler advanced to round two when injured Aslan Karatsev of Russia pulled out of the second set trailing 7-6 (4), 1-0.TODAY’S ORDER OF PLAYCENTRE COURTMatches start at: 2:30pmIlya Ivashka vs Botic Van De Zandschulp (NED) [8]Followed byEmil Ruusuvuori (FIN) vs Daniel Evans (GBR) [6]Not before 6:00pm[WC] Abedallah Shelbayh (JOR) vs Soonwoo Kwon (KOR)Followed byRoberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [5] vs Marton Fucsovics (HUN)GRANDSTAND 1Matches start at: 2:30pmTallon Griekspoor (NED) vs Quentin Halys (FRA)Followed by[Ll] Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO) vs [Q] Alexandre Muller (FRA)Followed by[Q] Damir Dzumhur (BIH) vs Jiri Lehecka (CZE)Followed byRobin Haase (NED) Matwe Middelkoop (NED) [4] vs [WC] Malek Jaziri (TUN) Mubarak Shannan Zayid (QAT)GRANDSTAND 2Matches start at: 2:30pmYuki Bhambri (IND) Saketh Myneni (IND) vs Tim Puetz (GER) Jan-Lennard Struff (GER)Not Before 3:30pm[WC] Liam Broady (GBR) Alexander Zverev (GER) vs Rohan Bopanna (IND) Matthew Ebden (AUS) [3]Followed by After suitable restJason Kubler (AUS) John Peers (AUS) vs Tallon Griekspoor (NED) Bart Stevens (NED)Followed byAfter suitable restConstant Lestienne (FRA) Botic Van De Zandschulp (NED) vs Raven Klaasen (RSA) Hunter Reese (USA)

Alexander Zverev of Germany stands next to a poster of himself during the first day of the 2023 Qatar ExxonMobil Open at Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha on Monday.
Sports
Zverev says Djokovic set to ‘break’ more tennis records

German tennis star Alexander Zverev has predicted that World No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia looks set to ‘break a few more records’ in the game.Last month, Djokovic won his 22nd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open to tie with Rafael Nadal of Spain. Yesterday, Djokovic, 35, drew level with German tennis queen Steffi Graf for most weeks at the top of tennis rankings. Djokovic started his 377th week at the top of the ATP Tour yesterday, the most by any male player.Djokovic first rose to the top of world rankings in 2011. Currently he is ahead of second-placed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.Zverev, winner of two ATP Tour finals and a losing finalist at the 2020 US Open, yesterday seemed confident that Djokovic would go on to create new records.“I’m sure that he’s going to break a few more records, to be honest. I’m not sure there are many left, but the ones that are left, maybe he will,” Zverev said yesterday on day one of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open where he is seeded three.“I think over the last 10, 12 years he has absolutely dominated tennis. There is a reason why he’s been consistently at the top of the game,” Zverev, the singles gold medal winner at the 2022 Tokyo Olympic Games, said.“That shows us with this record, from male or female tennis players, he’s going to be the most weeks at No. 1.“He’s surpassing Steffi, so as a German, obviously I always loved her having that record, but credit to Novak. I think that shows how great he is,” the tall German said.Last year, Zverev twisted his ankle in the semi-final against Nadal at the French Open and skipped the rest of the season to recover from the injury. The 25-year-old - who was recently diagnosed with diabetes - yesterday said he is moving in the right direction on fitness matters.“When I’m pain-free I enjoy tennis a lot (smiles) but since June (2022) there have been a lot of times when that wasn’t the case. It took me a very long time to come back,” Zverev explained.“I was still very limited to what I was able to do (in Australia last month). I was still not completely pain-free, not being able to move the way I wanted to move,” the German added. “It’s definitely going in the other direction now. Now I’m starting to really enjoy my time and also starting to find my form a little bit as well, which is a lot nicer because then you actually have a chance to win which, yeah, I enjoy.”Zverev said the doubts in his mind about the injury have disappeared.“No, I don’t have it in the back of my mind. A few weeks ago I used to still get signals from my foot. I used to, once in a while, still get pain. But it is in the right direction, and I feel like I can play pretty freely now,” Zverev said.“I felt that way in Rotterdam (last week). I thought I played a lot better in Rotterdam than I did the previous weeks, even though I lost the second round, but I lost the second round to a very good player who played well that week,” he added.“Obviously I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and hopefully it still gets progressively better in the right direction,” Zverev said.“I think when I re-injured or got a new injury, that was when? September, I think. At that moment I thought I would maybe already be able to play, and then they (the doctors) told me, ‘no, it’s going to take another two, three months again’.“That was, for me, a little bit tough mentally. I packed my bags and went on holiday. I didn’t do any rehab or anything like that again,” Zverev said.“But at the same time, that helped me a lot, because I think my foot needed rest. I was trying very hard to come back, and maybe I did a little bit too much. That is in the past now, and hopefully we can look forward without any issues,” he said. Zverev said he still needs time to feel his old self again.“I think for me it was all based on pain sometimes, what I could do, what I couldn’t do. When the pain is gone, it does take matches to be able to play at your best again, but that will take time. That will come with playing tournaments,” Zverev said yesterday.“That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m going to play as many tournaments as I can.“But, yeah, for me, as I said, the last nine months now have been difficult, pain-wise and also what I was able to do, but again, that is in the past now, and I really want to look forward,” he added. Zverev, who has worked with Spanish coaches most of his career, said he has always been a demanding character on court.“The mentality,” Zverev said when asked what he looked for in his coach’s approach to tennis. “I have said that a lot. I think working with me is sometimes not easy, because I demand a lot. I demand a lot from myself,” he added.“I am an extremely hard-working person, in my opinion, when it comes to tennis, when it comes to the physical side of tennis, as well, when it comes to the gym work.“I think there has to be a certain mentality of a coach to be able to handle that. I think maybe a lot of German coaches as well. I never worked with a German coach, but I know maybe the mentality does not fit me too well.“Spanish coaches, whether it was David Ferrer, whether it’s Sergi (Bruguera) now, they fit perfectly. I always said I loved working with David.“To be honest, I would have never stopped if it wouldn’t have been COVID at that time and the circumstances were not great for travelling, for him to come back to the family because he was also just retired from tennis.“I think it’s a mentality of the coach and to be able to handle me, as well, to be honest,” he added.

Iga Swiatek of Poland poses with the Falcon Trophy after winning the Qatar TotalEnergies Open final at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha on Saturday. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Sports
Sensational Swiatek lifts Falcon Trophy once again

Grand Slam star Iga Swiatek clearly looked the part as the world’s best player on the women’s tour. The top seed from Poland yesterday crushed American Jessica Pegula in straight sets to lift her second Falcon Trophy after a fast-paced final at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open.Swiatek won 6-3, 6-0 in 69 minutes to join a group of four players who have emerged champions in Doha on two occasions each.The 21-year-old from Warsaw now joins two-time champions Russia’s Anastasia Myskina (2003 and 2004), Maria Sharapova of Russia (2005 and 2008), Victoria Azarenka of Belarus (2012 and 2013) and Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic (2018 and 2021).Swiatek’s slog in Doha this week was worth $120,150 and 470 points whereas Pegula got richer by $74,161 and secured 305 points.It was Swiatek’s 12th career title win and fifth over Pegula in seven career meetings. It was Swiatek’s ninth win of the 2023 season.Swiatek was on court for just 2 hours and 58 minutes during the six-day tournament while Pegula spent 6 hours and 25 minutes.Swiatek received the Falcon Trophy from Qatar Tennis Federation president Nasser al-Khelaifi.“I don’t care how many games are won or lost. I just feel like I really found my rhythm here,” Swiatek said after the match. “And after a tough beginning of the season, I have stayed focused from the beginning until the end of the matches,” she added.“I am pretty happy with my performance. I want to congratulate Jessica for everything – she won the doubles here. You’re a really consistent player and your work ethic is great. Everything you represent is pretty great. So congrats for that and to your coach as well,” Swiatek said.“I want to also thank my team, my coach who’s at home and my dad and my sister as well, everybody who’s supporting me every day. These are the people that are really with me in good times and in bad times. I am really grateful for that. Without them, I wouldn’t be I wouldn’t be here.“I want to thank all the sponsors and volunteers that made this tournament a success story. It’s really a great event and I always enjoy coming back here. I hope playing well here is going to become a routine or something. And thank you to the fans for coming even though the conditions were tough,” the Polish star said.Pegula said: “It’s been an awesome week. A lot of great results and I’m just really happy with all the work I got to put in this week and it came up a little bit short today, but I can still be very proud of what I’ve done.”She added: “One team member – thanks to my coach David Witt, for supporting me the whole week and through the great results that we’ve had this year so far. Congrats to Iga and her team for just everything that you’re doing, playing great for defending your title here. You played great so congratulations.”Swiatek hit the ground running with her serve in game one. The 21-year-old produced a forehand and then served a powerful ace. That was followed by an unforced error by Pegula which gave Swiatek a 1-0 lead.Three deuce exchanges stretched game two but a couple of long returns from Pegula helped Swiatek to break her opponent for a 2-0 lead.In game three, Swiatek fired two long returns to see Pegula break the defending champion. Pegula held serve for the time in game four when a wayward Swiatek fired four successive long returns.Swiatek, however, pulled things back when she easily held serve in game five for a 3-2 lead.Pegula was guilty of a double fault at deuce and then fired a long return to see Swiatek break her American opponent in game six.In game seven, Pegula rallied to break Swiatek after a superb backhand down the line and a long return by the defending champion.At break point, Pegula produced a deft overhead lob to break Swiatek (3-4). Swiatek quickly broke Pegula in game eight to lead at 5-3 and then held serve to take the first set at 6-3 in 38 minutes.Swiatek stunned Pegula with a service break in game one when two long returns by her rival gave the Polish a 1-0 cushion at the start of the second set. Swiatek served strong and raced to a 2-0 lead as Pegula’s game started to disintegrate.At the end of eight games, Pegula had four double faults compared to none from Swiatek. With momentum on her side, Swiatek served a slick slice from the baseline to break Pegula for the second time in the second set and sit pretty with a 3-0 lead.Minutes later, it was 6-0 as Swiatek won the second set without dropping a game.

Jessica Pegula of the United States plays a backhand en route to her win over Maria Sakkari of Greece in the semi-finals on Friday.  PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Sports
It’s ‘solid’ vs ‘smart’: Swiatek and Pegula to clash in final

One played ‘solid’ tennis while the other exhibited a ‘smart’ game to reach the final of the Qatar TotalEnergies Open. World No.1 and top seed Iga Swiatek yesterday eased past eighth seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia 6-0, 6-2 to reach her second successive final in Doha. In the day’s first semi-final, Jessica Pegula of the US beat fifth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in three battling sets to reach her maiden title clash in just her third appearance at the six-day tournament. Pegula, the only American left in the tournament, won 6-2, 4-6, 6-1.“I was so solid,” Swiatek, the defending champion, said after her dominating show against Kudermetova on the centre court. Swiatek managed three service breaks in the first set and then quickly followed by taking the second after dropping just two games. The match lasted only 51 minutes. “I feel great,” she added with her cap in place.Swiatek, who got a walkover in the quarter-finals after Belinda Bencic of Switzerland went down with ‘fatigue’, has been on court in Doha for just 104 minutes in total.Pegula, on the other hand, has signed in for the final with a grinding Doha visit that has put her on court for seven hours and 43 minutes. “I think I played very smart,” Pegula said after her feisty clash against Sakkari. Pegula was indeed the smarter of the two as she won the key points in the deciding set to qualify for her first final in Doha.Swiatek said battling windy conditions was on her mind before the match. “I was pretty worried about how I’m going to cope with the conditions today, so I’m glad that I could really, you know, play the smart way. I’m pretty happy that I did that,” Swiatek said.When asked about her clash against Pegula, Swiatek said: “It always takes a lot to win against Jessie. She’s a great player, a really solid one. We’ll see. Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not going to predict anything and over analyse. I’m just going to go and play my best tennis.”With plenty of rest since her arrival last Friday, Swiatek said she is amazed with the development around the country. “It’s really nice here. I can see that Qatar is great and for sure they did a great job preparing everything for the World Cup. I can still see that because it’s so there’s like a lot of space. Yes, I really like it here,” Swiatek said.Pegula played ‘smart’ tennis mostly from the baseline. Pegula, who turns 29 on the 24th, yesterday won her tense clash in a minute short of two hours on the centre court that had fans scurrying for warm blankets and overalls to beat the chilly conditions.Battling the howling winds, Pegula produced her third win in seven matches against her Greek opponent. “I don’t know about you guys (the fans), or if you could tell, but that was probably the hardest conditions I’ve ever had to play in wind-wise. I mean, it was really, really tough. I’m glad I wasn’t able to get too frustrated,” Pegula said.“I’m so excited (to play sixth career final). Finals tonight in doubles. If everyone’s sticking around, I hope you can watch with me and Coco. And then final tomorrow as well,” she added with a smile. Thank you, guys, everyone, for bracing these (chilly windy) conditions. Thank you for coming out and watching. Really, it means a lot. It’s already tough enough to play, but with you guys here, it makes it a lot more fun,” Pegula added.Pegula broke Sakkari in the very first game to make a head start in the semi-final. In the fifth game, Pegula jumped to a 5-1 lead after Sakkari hit two unforced errors while trailing at 15-30. A horribly wayward return on match point by Sakkari handed the first set to Pegula in 39 minutes.Trailing 3-4 in the second set, Sakarri broke Pegula in game eight to draw level at 4-all before taking the set at 6-4 in 48 minutes. In the deciding set, Pegula broke Sakkari in games three and six to seal her convincing win. Pegula will now be looking to emulate Monica Seles, the only American ever to land a singles trophy in Doha in 2002.Semi-finals resultsIga Swiatek (POL x1) bt Veronika Kudermetova (x8) 6-0, 6-1Jessica Pegula (USA x2) bt Maria Sakkari (GRE x5) 6-2, 4-6, 6-1

Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova whips a forehand during her WTA Qatar TotalEnergies Open first-round match against China’s Shuai Zhang at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex in Doha on Tuesday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
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Kvitova advances as Sakkari, Bencic underline intention

Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic yesterday extended her love affair with Doha as she beat China’s Shuai Zhang in straight sets to reach the second round of the Qatar TotalEnergies Open.A two-time champion here, Kvitova posted her 22nd win at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex, the most by any player in the Qatari capital.Also yesterday, fifth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece beat Chinese qualifier Qinwen Zhang while seventh seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland made short work of Viktoria Tomova to sail into the second round of the 500-point WTA tournament. Former Doha finalist Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia yesterday eased past Madison Keys of the US in straight sets to move into the second round of the $800,000 tournament.The second day’s action kicked off with Kvitova making the right moves in her win over 34-year-old Zheng in 75 minutes on Centre Court. Kvitova, winner in Doha in 2018 and 2021, fired eight aces in her commanding fifth win over Zheng in seven head-to-head meetings.Kvitova said she loves playing on the Centre Court in Doha.“I like everything here, especially (playing) fans for sure. I’m glad to play in front of them. I love the centre court. I love the crowd,” Kvitova, 33, said yesterday.She turned towards the fans and said: “Thank you very much for coming so early today as well at 2pm already. You know, sometimes it’s pretty windy (in Doha), which probably I like, as I said. And yeah, the court is a little bit slow which I don’t like normally, but I like it here. So that’s important,” she added.Kvitova, who will face fourth seed Coco Gauff of the US in her next match today, praised her opponent’s fight in the match. “Both of us have been on the Tour for a very long time and (we are) still not finished,” Kvitova said with a smile. “So it’s nice to see her still playing very well. And I’m glad I got a win, of course, but she’s one of the nicest people on the Tour for sure,” the 2011 and 2014 Wimbledon champion said.When asked how she spends time away from the tennis court, she said: “Well, I’m not really a fan of training, as you said. I prefer to play matches. And normally (when not playing), I am reading a book or watching some movie or something very easy.”Ostapenko, a losing finalist in Doha in 2016, yesterday looked the part as she demolished Keys in straight sets. Ostapenko won 7-5, 6-2 for her second victory over Keys in five matches. Ostapenko rallied from 3-0 down in the first set to seal her win in emphatic fashion.“First of all, thanks guys for coming. It was a really nice atmosphere. I was always here. I have really great memories being on this court and I just love to play here. Of course, today was a really tough match and she’s such a great player. She was serving really well in the beginning of the match, but I was fighting and I think I found my game at the end and played a little better,” Ostapenko, who fired four aces, said.“I was just trying to not give her any free points because I knew she is a great player and she has the line. I was trying to stay in the rallies and when I had the chance to go for it and I think in the second set especially, I didn’t dwell for too long,” she added.When asked about her match against second seed Jessica Pegula of the US today, Ostapenko said: “She’s a great player and it’s going to be a tough battle, but I’m going to fight and enjoy the match and just try to play my best and we’ll see how it goes.”Sakkari, a semi-finalist last year in Doha, yesterday fired seven aces in her 2-hour 9-minute marathon on Centre Court against Zheng who was making her Doha debut. It was Sakkari’s ninth win over the 2023 season.Bencic, who secured her eighth career title win at Abu Dhabi on Sunday, yesterday crushed Bulgaria’s Tomova in just 59 minutes. Bencic, who also won a title in Adelaide last month, fired four aces.It was Bencic’s third win over Tomova in as many meetings. Bencic today will take on Victoria Azarenka, a two-time champion in Doha.Sofia Kenin of the US – the 2020 Australian Open champion – yesterday upset Abu Dhabi finalist Liudmila Samsonova 6-3, 6-1 in 1 hour and 29 minutes. It was Kenin’s third win over Samsonova in three meetings.Today top seed and world No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland will take on Danielle Collins of the US in her first outing in Doha.First round resultsPrefix denotes seedingEkaterina Alexandrova (RUS) beat Q-Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 6-1, 6-2; 5-Maria Sakkari (GRE) beat Qinwen Zheng (CHN) 6-2, 3-6, 6-3; Beatriz Haddad Maia (BRA) beat Paula Badosa (ESP) 7-6 (6), 6-3; 7-Belinda Bencic (SUI) beat Q-Viktoriya Tomova (BUL) 6-0, 6-1; (WC) Sofia Kenin (USA) beat Liudmila Samsonova (RUS) 6-3, 6-1; Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) beat Madison Keys (USA) 7-5, 6-2; Petra Kvitova (CZE) beat Shuai Zhang (CHN) 7-5, 6-2; Danielle Collins (USA) beat Q-Elise Mertens (BEL) 6-4, 7-6 (6); Daria Kasatkina (RUS) beat Rebecca Marino (CAN) 7-6, 6-2Today’s scheduleCentre Court: [4] C. Gauff (USA) vs P. Kvitova (CZE); J. Ostapenko (LAT) vs [2] J. Pegula (USA); [1] I. Swiatek (POL) vs D. Collins (USA); NB 8:00 PM [SR] K. Muchova (CZE) vs [3] C. Garcia (FRA)Grandstand 1[WC] V. Azarenka vs [7] B. Bencic (SUI); [6] D. Kasatkina vs B. Haddad Maia (BRA); [4] G. Olmos (MEX) / S. Zhang (CHN) vs S. Aoyama (JPN) / M. Ninomiya (JPN); [1] C. Gauff (USA) / J. Pegula (USA) vs A. Rosolska (POL) / E. Routliffe (NZL)Grandstand 2[WC] S. Kenin (USA) vs [8] V. Kudermetova; [WC] [5] M. Sakkari (GRE) vs E. Alexandrova; Z. Yang (CHN) / V. Zvonareva vs [ALT] E. Alexandrova / A. Sasnovich; [WC] H. Chan (TPE) / L. Chan (TPE) vs [2] L. Kichenok (UKR) / J. Ostapenko (LAT)

Argentina's forward #09 Julian Alvarez (left) celebrates scoring his team's third goal with Argentina's forward Lionel Messi during the Qatar 2022 World Cup semi-final against Croatia at Lusail Stadium in Lusail on Tuesday. (AFP)
Sports
Marvellous Messi, Alvarez lead Argentina into final

It was another memorable night for football superstar Lionel Messi as Argentina stormed into the FIFA World Cup final with a clinical demolition of Croatia. Messi converted a penalty in the 34th minute before young forward Julian Alvarez added two (39 and 69) as Argentina crushed Croatia 3-0 at Lusail Stadium in front of 88,966 fans.It was Messi’s 11th goal for Argentina in World Cup history, one better than the previous best tally of 10 by Gabriel Batistuta, a former teammate of Diego Maradona. It was Messi’s fifth goal in Qatar in his record-equalling 25th World Cup appearance that he shares with Germany’s Lothar Matthaus.Messi helped Man City forward Alvarez – positioned inside the Croatian box – score Argentina’s third with a superb solo run from the right flank. Despite being chased by Josko Gvardiol for about 25 metres, Messi had the ball glued to his boot as he neared the Croatian box. If ever proof was needed of Messi’s genius with a ball, it came right here as Gvardiol couldn’t mark the Argentine skipper. Messi, after hoodwinking first and then dribbling past Gvardiol, flicked a right-footed low cross for Alvarez who easily connected inside the six-yard box for his second goal of the night.Alvarez, just 22, has now scored four times in Qatar.It was Argentina’s fifth semi-final win in World Cup history. Argentina have posted wins against the USA in 1930 (6-1), Belgium in 1986 (2-0), Italy in 1990 (1-1, 4-3 on penalties), the Netherlands in 2014 (0-0, 4-2 on penalties) and Croatia in 2022 (3-0). Yesterday’s slick win was Argentina’s second in three World Cup matches against Croatia.In the third minute, Rodrigo de Paul found Enzo Fernandez with a neat cross from the halfline. Fernandez ran towards the flank but none of his teammates were in the box for the deflection as the ball sailed away. A tap-in to a teammate from Messi on a throw-in was his first touch in the 4th minute of the match. Thousands of Argentines drowned the Lusail Stadium with a deafening roar as Messi made his first move.Croatian midfielder Mario Pasalic brought down Nicolas Tiagliafico with a rough tackle near the half line but the referee went soft on the young Croat in the 6th minute.Seven minutes later, Italian referee Daniele Orsato once again ignored a rough foul, this time not penalising Croatian skipper Luka Modric who brought down Alexis Mac Allister near the halfline. Seconds later Messi went down near the Croatian box but the referee wasn’t interested much to the dismay of thousands of Argentine fans screaming for a free-kick.Croatia’s Gvardiol and Borna Sosa and Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic kept the ball within themselves for most of the first 15 minutes. On Croatia’s first corner, Dejan Lovren managed to jump high close to the six-yard box but his snap header did not have the angle needed as Argentina’s Cristian Romero and Nicolas Otamendi fell in a heap from the collision inside their own box.In the 20th minute, a packed Lusail Stadium saw Messi holding his left hamstring. A few minutes later, he orchestrated a couple of crosses near the box but the Croatian defenders remained alert to kill the moves. He soon outpaced Kovacic near the centre circle but as went to the left – Messi couldn’t get a shot away.In the 24th minute, Argentine midfielder Fernandes curled in a right-footed shot that was saved by keeper Dominik Livakovic with a dive to his left. Seconds later, Tagliafico scampered down the left flank but his cross into the Croatian box sailed away as none of his Argentine players could meet the loopy ball. Soon after the half hour mark, Croatia’s Spurs forward Ivan Perisic clipped a ball over the keeper’s head but his shot went close to the crossbar.Moments later, Argentina won a penalty that was easily converted by Messi. De Paul who charged into the box – following a loopy cross from the halfline – was brought down by Livakovic as the Argentinemidfielder attempted to sneak past the Croatian keeper. A body check from Livakovic saw De Paul on the turf as the referee showed a yellow to Livakovic. Kovacic was also booked for complaining. A calm and calculated Messi went top of the net with his penalty to give Argentina the much-needed lead in the 34th minute.Five minutes later, Argentina jumped to a 2-0 lead. Forward Alvarez – after picking up a loose ball from the half line – ran all the way into the Croatian box where teammates De Paul and Molina also converged to unsettle the Croatian defenders. Alvarez attempted to shoot but his feeble touch saw the ball hit Sosa and bounce back. In a single move, Alvarez clipped the ball into the net even as keeper Livakovic failed to stop the flick going into the net in the 39th minute.In the 42nd minute, Mac Allister produced a classy snap-header off a corner but the deflection was smartly deflected away by an outstretched hand of Livakovic.Clearly the first 20 minutes belonged to Croatia but Argentina came alive in the last 15 minutes when the two-time World Cup winners produced two goals in quick succession to add to Modric’s woes. Just as injury time was announced, Messi was seen clutching his hamstring again. Messi was back on for the second half – much to the delight of Argentine fans – but Croatian manager Zlatko Dalic brought on Nikola Vlasic and Mislav Orsic for Sosa and Pasalic. Six minutes into the second half, Bruno Petkovic replaced Marceloa Brozovic.Three minutes from the first-hour mark, Messi – after dribbles and shot passing to and from Alvarez – got near the six-yard box but his left-footed drive was blocked by keeper Livakovic. A classic Messi set-piece that nearly brought Argentina’s third. With Argentina running the show, Messi could be seen doing his garden walk on the right flank after 62 minutes.With Modric, 37, getting benched in the 82nd minute, that just about signalled the great Croatian had walked off for the last time in an international match.Messi’s World Cup goalsMessi is the first player to score and assist in three different matches in a single World Cup since 1966.1- Argentina vs Serbia and Montenegro, 2006 World Cup2- Argentina vs Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2014 World Cup3- Argentina vs Iran, 2014 World Cup4 and 5- Argentina vs Nigeria, 2014 World Cup6- Argentina vs Nigeria, 2018 World Cup7- Argentina vs Saudi Arabia, 2022 World Cup8- Argentina vs Mexico, 2022 World Cup9- Argentina vs Australia, 2022 World Cup10- Argentina vs Netherlands, 2022 World Cup11- Argentina vs Croatia, 2022 World Cup

Croatia’s midfielder Luka Modric (centre) takes part in a training session in Doha. (AFP)
Sports
Messi’s Argentina eager to stop Croatia in semi-final

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni yesterday downplayed the favourites’ tag going into the FIFA World Cup semi-final, saying their European rivals Croatia have the players to present a serious challenge for a spot in the final.Lionel Messi’s Argentina take on Croatia - captained by Luka Modric - today at Lusail Stadium after both teams survived scathing battles in the quarter-finals.Argentina, winners in 1978 and 1986, beat Netherlands in a hot-tempered clash on Saturday while Croatia stunned five-time World Cup winners Brazil in their last-eight match on Friday.Scaloni said Argentina is ready for their toughest match in the World Cup.“We expect a tough match and we are playing against a really solid team. They will make things challenging for us. I am convinced they are a great team. They play as a unit and that is the main challenge for us,” Scaloni said at a pre-match conference yesterday.“Croatia has excellent players and they have troubled many top teams. They have players to hurt us. I won’t name those players or talk about their strengths and weaknesses. Croatia always play in the same way. They have a good, long lasting football tradition,” he added.“We always analyse our previous matches and we look at areas where we can improve,” the Argentine coach explained. “We have to see where we can hurt our opponents.”After a draining quarter-final against Netherlands on Saturday - when players and officials of both sides were in each other’s faces - Scaloni said winning the previous match was all the boost his players needed going into today’s semi-final.“The best recovery is winning a match. That’s the best way to face an outcome. Despite the load (of playing 120 minutes of football), we are doing well. I won’t call it a concern but my squad is doing well,” Scaloni said.“On post-match day, we worked on the recovery. Even yesterday we didn’t train intensely. We mainly discussed the technical stuff among ourselves. Angel Di Maria and Rodrigo De Paul are fit. We have to see how many minutes they can play,” said Scaloni.Scaloni said Argentina will be playing to their trusted method of Messi leading the show on the pitch.“We have our own system, our own style. Of course, you have to see how the opposition is playing,” Scaloni said.“We always talk to our players. We won’t change our style beyond our system and that’s what we are going to do. In the game, we will try to make the best decisions possible,” Scaloni added.“Our hopes about the semi-final? Yes, we are hopeful of reaching the final,” Scaloni said yesterday.“We play for family members of the players and all our fans. Our fans have made such a huge effort - it costs a lot to come here. They spent a lot (of money),” he said.Scaloni said the Argentine camp has managed to keep their emotions in check.“We feel the same when we played Poland, Australia and then the Netherlands. Remember we lost against Saudi (in the opening match). But we won’t change our plans. It’s a crucial match for us. We know that this is a football match and sometimes luck can be on your side,” Scaloni said. “If you are lucky, then you could have an easier road to the final,” he said.“The most important thing is what lies ahead. I don’t think of the past. My objective is tomorrow’s match. We don’t want to think about winning or losing as that takes a lot of energy from you,” he said.Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic yesterday said his team would be aiming to reach their second successive World Cup final. At Russia 2018, Croatia lost to France 4-2 in the final in Moscow.“Playing back-to-back World Cups and to be among the four best national teams, that’s an extraordinary success for Croatia,” Dalic said yesterday.“However, we want more. I am optimistic and have full confidence in my players. They’ve shown their great quality and strength of character, and deserve to be in the final,” Dalic added. Croatia set up their semi-final date following two penalty shootouts against Japan and Brazil in their last couple of matches.“It was quite exhausting with extra time in two matches, but we’re in the semi-finals of the World Cup and we’re not even discussing exhaustion,” Dalic said.“We are still strong, with energy and enthusiasm, without a doubt. We are going to give it our all, just as we have done in previous games. Against Argentina we will do the same, we will give our all. We don’t have any injury problems. They don’t feel tired. They’re under greater pressure than we are. They’ll have more fans and that’s a disadvantage for us, but we won’t be complaining,” Dalic said.“We’re now in the semi-finals and playing against one of the best teams in the world and in history.”The kick-off is set for 10pm today. A capacity crowd of 88,966 is expected to watch the match live.

Captain Lionel Messi and coach Lionel Scaloni celebrate as Argentina progress to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. (Reutrers)
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We always know what to do, says Argentine coach

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni yesterday applauded his team’s feisty performance against Netherlands in the quarter-finals, saying the current squad captained by Lionel Messi ‘always knows what to do’.Two-time champions Argentina on Saturday night battled a resilient Netherlands side to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.Leading 2-0 with just seven minutes to go in regulation time at Lusail Stadium, Netherlands fought back with two stunning late goals from Wout Weghorst before Argentina went on to win the penalty shootout in dramatic fashion.Aregntina, the 1978 and 1986 World Cup winners, will take on Croatia on Tuesday for a place in the final.“I think this team displays aspects that are required by the game in each moment,” Scaloni said yesterday. “The spirit of every moment is to know what we want and I think that’s what the team has, that it knows what to do at all times,” the Argentine coach explained.“They continued to show that face in a complicated, very difficult match (against Netherlands),” Scaloni said.“When you think it’s all over, it’s not over.“This team has what it takes, they have the desire, the youth, the pride and they never give up on any situation,” he added.“Argentina’s players have a spirit that guides them to cope with the toughest circumstances.“It is true that the last 10-12 minutes were the most difficult where I was planning to make some substitutions to try to win it sooner,” Scaloni recalled.“Given the situation in which they were in, I chose to stay as we were and in the end these are decisions you have to make. It didn’t work out well because we got a draw but I don’t think they deserved to draw,” he added.Coach Scaloni, who guided Argentina to Copa America glory last year, said he wants Argentina to go for the title in Qatar.“It is a goal to play all seven games, but we would like to continue dancing and take the next step,” Scaloni said. “It’ll be a good match against Croatia and we hope to be up to the task.”Scaloni said Argentina, who were leading 2-0 with 83 minutes in the match gone, should have wrapped up a comfortable victory on Friday night.“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think we deserved to reach the penalty shootout. Yet, my team kept on fighting back in a very difficult match. The opponent offered a very strange game, particularly in the second half,” Scaloni said.“We had everything under control, but that’s football. In this beautiful sport, even if you think you’ve sealed a game, you may get surprised. Again, I believe my team has the means, willingness, freshness and pride to face anything. Those are the key ingredients to not giving up on a game,” he said.“Luckily, the game ended well and that’s it,” Scaloni said.The Argentine coach said it was a tough decision to bring Angel Di Maria late in the match.“In the first half of extra time, we had the chance to bring Di Maria on as he was going to be a smart addition. But we also knew he was not in his best physical condition,” Scaloni said.“Sometimes one has to make decisions in the most difficult moments. I also had to think about the kick-takers for the penalty shootout.“I needed to bring on players with good shooting skills. In such moments, many things go through your mind. But attack is always the main thing to think about,” he said.Scaloni said Netherlands seemed pleased with 2-2 stalemate and did not attempt to score in the extra time.“As I said, in the second half, they started to send long balls to their forwards. They didn’t have any other option to find our net. We were pretty confident the dynamics of extra time would change if we played our football. That’s what we saw: we created chances, they stopped sending long balls, as they were already satisfied with the score.“That’s something we saw clearly during extra time. But we didn’t manage to score the winner in those 30 extra minutes. I said that the game was in our favour, despite that unfortunate last-minute goal from them,” Scaloni explained.“I think our style is always the same and sometimes our opponents play well and we need to be prepared, just like during the first half when the Netherlands managed the ball (well). But this is football, you may have great players, but our game plan was clear to us and we executed it,” he said.When asked about Messi’s confrontation with the Dutch bench, Scaloni said: “There was a lot of talk before the game about an image of Leo going to complain to the Dutch coach. I guess that’s what the match was for too, a quarter-final. These are things that happen on the field and stay there. But we didn’t play with one less when we had the ball today. We played with 11. I think Leo was a bit touched and showed that he is the best player of all time. So, we are glad to have him.”

Brazil's forward Neymar takes part in a training session at the Al Arabi Stadium in Doha. (AFP)
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Title favourites Brazil to focus on ‘own standards’ in quarter-final against Croatia

Five-time world champions Brazil won’t take Croatia lightly when they face off in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarter-finals today but the popular South American side will be aiming to keep focus on their ‘own standards’, coach Tite said on Thursday.Brazil on Monday crushed Asian giants South Korea 4-1 in their Round of 16 clash in which the 2002 World Cup winners welcomed back PSG star Neymar Jr following a twisted ankle in the first match of the tournament.Croatia, captained by Luka Modric, beat four-time Asian champions Japan in a penalty shootout to set up a quarter-finals date with Brazil.With first-choice Brazil left back Alex Sandro uncertain for today’s clash at Education City Stadium, Tite candidly admitted the world number one side would be playing to their strengths.“They (Croatia) have individual quality and collective quality as well as a resilience and persistence,” coach Tite said when asked about Brazil’s next opponents Croatia.“We are aware of their virtues but my focus is on maintaining our own standards. Whoever plays best will go through,” Tite, 61, added quickly.Tite, who is set to leave as coach after his second World Cup with Brazil, said he allows his players to express themselves.“We give them (the players) the confidence so they can go out and produce their best,” Tite said. “These are the characteristics of our players, but beyond that pressure, you need courage to play this way,” he added.“This team’s attacking methods has been going across generation of players. I would also point out that there is good balance in the squad. The players know the importance of having a balanced squad. They take pride in defending, of taking care when you don’t have the ball and doing quick recovery,” the coach said.Fit-again Danilo, who has also recovered from an ankle injury like Neymar, hoped Sandro would be fit to play against Croatia.“I hope (Sandro) can train well and be available for the match,” Danilo said at a news conference yesterday. “I’m healthy and I’m comfortable playing in all three defensive positions. I believe that I’ll make the transition soon to centre back because I feel very comfortable playing there at Juventus,” Danilo added.Tite, however, was more definitive about Sandro’s chances. He said: “It looks unlikely that he will play because he has not yet done enough work on the training ground. He still needs to push a little harder, I have to see with the medical and physical department. It will depend on this afternoon.”Modric, 37, yesterday said Croatia are eager to overcome the Brazil hurdle.“We did a great thing by going to the quarter-finals, but regardless of that we would like to do more,” Modric said yesterday. “We have to play our best match against them and if we do that, then we could have a chance of winning the match,” the Real Madrid midfielder added.Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic yesterday pointed to his team’s performances at Russia 2018 – where they finished runners-up – and at Qatar 2022 have been impressive.“We have had 11 matches at these two World Cups and we lost one,” Dalic said yesterday. “Croatia are a small country and enjoying success in two World Cups. We managed to reach this stage but we are ambitious and don’t want to stay here,” he added before saying a quarter-finals clash against Brazil wouldn’t be easy. “I believe that this match will be the most demanding one. I can compare it to the final against France in the previous World Cup. Yes, a great opponent and a great challenge awaits us,” Dalic said. “I wish this match came a bit later,” he added.Reaching the quarter-finals has been a delightful experience for Dalic.“There are 18 new players who were not at the World Cup in 2018 (in Russia). We need time to develop and mature. Our success to be among the eight best teams is tremendous,” Dalic said yesterday.“They (the new players) have still to prove themselves at the World Cup and tomorrow (the quarter-finals against Brazil) is a good opportunity for them to do so. We want to do more and if we manage to do it, it would be spectacular. It would be better if it was the final,” he said.Modric, who is likely playing his last World Cup, said he wanted to see his team beat Brazil.“We have faced Brazil on several occasions and never won against them. I hope we can change the tradition,” Modic said yesterday. “The greatest match at a World Cup is now ahead of us. They are always favourites to win but with what they demonstrated here they deserve to be one of the favourites,” he said.“We have to play our best match and then we have a chance. We should not be satisfied with reaching the quarter-finals,” Modric said.Tite yesterday played down the dancing celebrations of the Brazilian players during their win over South Korea on Monday. The dancing celebrations divided Brazil with many fans saying the players showed disrespect to South Korean teamTite defended the players. He said: “I am 61 and these players could almost be my grandsons but I have a connection with them. If I have to dance I will dance, although I will do so subtly and I asked them to hide me. It is not my way.”

England's Harry Kane scores their second goal against Senegal at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor yesterday. (Reuters)
Sports
England outclass Senegal 3-0, set quarters date with France

England yesterday crushed Senegal 3-0 to reach their second successive FIFA World Cup quarter-finals.Goals from Jordan Henderson (38), Harry Kane (45 +3) and Bukayo Saka (57) saw England complete a resounding victory at Al Bayt Stadium.Trophyless since 1966, England found their players in scoring form to set up a quarter-finals date with defending champions France who beat Poland 3-1 at Al Thumama Stadium yesterday.The first few minutes easily belonged to England, who were playing with 4-1-2-3 formation as Southgate took charge of his 11th World Cup match as a coach. Southgate’s counterpart Aliou Cisse, who was running a temperature the last couple of days, was back in the saddle and watched the initial action of the knockout clash from the dugout.In the fifth minute, Senegal’s Boulaye Dia charged into the England box but he was well chased and eventually tackled by Harry Maquire as goalkeeper Jordan Pickford collected the ball. Krepin Diatta brought down Jude Bellingham with a tackle from the back resulting in a free kick 20 yards away from the Senegal box. Shortly afterwards Declan Rice, on the edge of the box, slipped in a lob to Maguire who could not jump high enough for a deflection after Kane decided to take the indirect free kick in the 8th minute.Bellingham, close to the flag post, slipped in a cross but Saka was tad behind pace as the ball slipped away without causing any damage.In the 13th minute, Saka outran his marker and slipped in a ball but none of the white shirts were present to take the cross. Seconds later, Kane delivered a near-perfect cross from close to the corner flag but Saka didn’t have the pace to meet the ball for a header from inside the six-yard box. England won the first corner in the 20th minute but Phil Foden’s kick was deflected wayward by John Stones who couldn’t time his jump well from close range.Senegal missed a good chance to score in the 23rd minute when Maquire’s poor cross was intercepted by Diatta near the England box. Dia tried to flick the ball from close to the penalty spot but his shot bounced off Stones’ knee and onto his forearm. Sarr picked up the ball and fired a wayward shot from close range. A VAR check showed Stones’ handball was not deliberate.Soon after the half-hour mark, Ismaila Sarr cut into the box and instead of shooting quickly played a back pass to Dia. Dia fired a shot that was blocked by ’keeper Pickford by sticking out his left arm. Dia was unable to grab the rebound as Senegal wasted their second chance in quick time.In the 38th minute, Henderson opened the scoring for England. Kane found Bellingham on the left flank with a short cross. Bellingham charged into the Senegal box where he rolled a pass to Liverpool star Henderson who easily deflected the ball in the net with a left-footed flick past ’keeper Edouard Mendy.England doubled the lead on the last kick before the first-half whistle on Kane’s deadly strike. Bellingham stole the ball in the Senegal half before he charged ahead. A few metres later, he slipped a cross for Foden who found Kane unmarked down the inside right. With thousands of British fans anticipating a goal, Kane entered the Senegal box – under pressure from marker Abdou Diallo – and fired a bullet past Mendy’s right hand as the ball hit the net at high speed. It was Kane’s first goal of World Cup Qatar 2022. It was Kane’s 52nd career goal, one shy of Wayne Rooney’s tally of record 53 goals for England.Soon after the resumption of play, substitute Pape Matar Sarr attempted a long-range drive but mistimed his shot that bounced away to the left of Pickford. In the 54th minute, Kane picked out Saka on the right. Saka charged ahead with the ball before unleashing a powerful shot that sailed away from the Senegalese goalmouth as England started taking better control of the match. Kane produced a rasping shot from long range but the ball – which dipped at the last second – was smartly blocked by Mendy. In the 57th minute, England jumped to a 3-0 lead after Arsenal midfielder Saka – on a brilliant cross from Foden – smartly clipped the ball into the net from close range. Foden, who picked up a loose ball after a fumble by Kane, charged towards the Senegal box.With Senegal skipper and defender Kalidou Koulibaly threatening a charge, Foden fired a low cross as Saka arrived with perfect timing for the deflection with his left foot near the six-yard box. It was Saka’s third goal of the tournament, having scored a double against Iran in the opening clash. Both Saka and Foden were benched by manager Southgate soon afterwards as England looked to give the substitutes some much-needed match practice.Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish replaced Saka and Foden. In the 74th minute, Pape Sarr curled in a right-footed free-kick from outside the England box but the ball swung to the left of ’keeper Pickford.When Koulibaly was slapped with a yellow card for his reckless tackle on English skipper Kane in the 75th minute, it pretty much summed up Senegal’s dismal performance.

Argentina's Lionel Messi shoots at goal during the match against Australia in the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. (Reuters)
Sports
Messi magic as Argentina reach WC quarter-finals

Lionel Messi made his 1000th career appearance for country and club a memorable one yesterday when he produced a sublime goal in the first half as two-time champions Argentina outplayed Australia 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.Messi found the net in the 35th minute with a classic left-footed drive as Argentina set up a quarter-final date with Netherlands who beat USA 3-1 earlier in the day at the Khalifa International Stadium.Julian Alvarez added Argentina’s second goal in the second half (57) after a defensive gaffe from the Australian ’keeper and defenders in their own box at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.Argentina conceded an own goal through Enzo Fernandez on a shot by Australia’s Craig Goodwin in the 77th minute.It was Messi’s first ever World Cup goal in a knockout match and his third in the tournament after strikes against Saudi Arabia and Mexico.Overall it was Messi’s ninth World Cup goal, just one shy of Gabriel Batistuta’s record tally of 10. Messi yesterday went passed Diego Maradona’s tally of eight World Cup goals.The goal against Australia yesterday was Messi’s 789th in his career.“We controlled this match. Apart from the last save that Dibu (Martínez) made, we didn’t suffer too much,” Messi said yesterday. “We wanted to be here because of how it feels like and what people transmit. We must remain united,” he added. “It was a difficult day. We had very little rest time,” he said.It was Argentina’s third successive win in Qatar after losing to Saudi Arabia in the opening clash of the World Cup.The match got off to a fast start with short passes from both sides dictating the early part of the clash. In the 3th minute, Argentina’s Alejandro Gomez clipped a ball towards the Australian goal but Jackson Irvine got away with a clear handball infringement as the referee and linesman failed to take notice.Irvine, seemingly with a pledge to stop Messi, brought down the Argentine star with an elbow to his chest in the 7th minute. After being floored, Messi got up with apparent discomfort in his chest.Defender Nicolas Otamendi, in the 10th minute, found Alvarez in the Australian box with a long-range lob but the Manchester City forward could not lap the ball which slipped away from him.Despite the miss, Argentines enjoyed most of the ball possession. In the 15th minute, Irvine was penalised with a yellow card for deliberately stomping on Marcus Acuna.Gomez tried to break the deadlock with a long-range shot from the edge of the Australian box but his right-footed drive sailed away seconds later. Shortly afterwards Irvine found Aziz Behich with a neat flick back from close to the flag post.Behich – under pressure from Rodrigo de Paul – showed good anticipation and charged into the Argentine box with the ball. But De Paul threw his body weight to keep Behich from taking a shot at the goal as the ball went away for a goal kick.After the first 30 minutes, Messi had barely broken a sweat or made a move as the ball continued to remain on the flanks. Australia managed two corner kicks in the first half hour but Argentina’s backline remained firm to kill the two moves.Australians were ultra defensive in the first 30 minutes whereas Argentina failed to construct a threatening move of note. Shortly after the half-hour mark, De Paul found his captain but the game’s superstar was quickly dispossessed by Keanu Baccus and Aaron Mooy on the edge of the Australian box.Just when the spectators thought they might doze off, Messi found the back of the Australian net. Messi – from the flank – slipped a ball towards Alexis Mac Allister who was close to the Australian box. Mac Allister tapped the ball to Otamendi positioned inside the Australian box while Messi moved closer to the action himself.Otamendi, the Benfica defender, tapped a short cross back to Messi and backed off. Messi positioned himself and then drilled a low shot between the legs of a defender to the right of keeper Mathew Ryan in the 35th minute.Trailing by a goal, Australia’s tall defender Harry Souttar harshly stomped on Messi’s left foot but the referee once again ignored calls for a free kick near the Australian box.Early in the second half, Gomez was benched with Lisandro Martinez, the Manchester United defender, stepping in. Seconds later, Messi found very little wriggle room for a left-footed drive from the edge of the Australian box but his feeble shot was easily pouched by ’keeper Ryan after the Argentine great slipped while taking the shot.Alvarez doubled the lead in the 57th minute when a schoolboy error from Ryan allowed Argentina to jump to a 2-0 cushion. Kye Rowles flicked the ball to his ’keeper Ryan who was challenged by De Paul inside the box. The Socceroos ’keeper tried to push the ball away as Alvarez charged in. Alvarez managed to send the ball into the net with a feeble shot that Ryan could not stop as thousands of Argentine fans jumped with joy in the stands at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.Messi could have added one more but he was brilliantly blocked by Australia’s Milos Degenek when the Argentine skipper was set to take a shot from the six-yard box in the 66th minute. In the 75th minute, Irvine upended Lautaro Martinez with a rough tackle but the referee surprisingly signalled play on.Seconds later, Australia reduced the deficit when Goodwin unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the Argentine box. The ball hit the head of Fernandez and went into the Argentine net with ’keeper Emiliano Martinez in no position to make a save.In the 81st minute, Australia’s Behich charged into the Argentina box, hoodwinked four blockers but his shot from close range was tapped away by Lisandro Martinez with a lunge in what could have been the most spectacular goal of the tournament.

South Korea players celebrate at the Education City Stadium after qualifying for the knockout stages yesterday. (Reuters)
Sports
Hwang the hero as South Korea reach Round of 16

There were tears of joy at Education City Stadium for South Korean players and fans while there were tears of dejection at Al Janoub Stadium among the Uruguay supporters and team players.An injury-time goal by Hwang Hee-chan last night helped South Korea to a stunning 2-1 win over Portugal in the last group stage match of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. The late goal by the Wolverhampton Wanderers’ forward was enough to push out Uruguay who beat Ghana yesterday 2-0 in the other Group H clash as the South Americans fell short in their bid to reach the Round of 16.Luis Suarez sobbed uncontrollably at Al Janoub Stadium whereas South Korea skipper Son Heungmin had tears of joy as his team reached the Round of 16 in the most dramatic of finishes.“I believe these tears are tears of happiness,” he said. “We waited really long for this moment and we as players believed altogether we could do this.“There were moments when I wasn’t able to do my best and I am thankful for my team-mates that they were able to cover me in the moments I wasn’t able to fulfil my duties, and I’m very proud of them.”Already-qualified Portugal, the 2016 Euro champions, finished top of the group with 6 points with Cristiano Ronaldo starting the game yesterday despite a big concern over his injury. South Korea and Uruguay ended with 4 points each but the Asians went ahead by virtue of scoring more goals in the three matches of the group stage.Seconds before the first goal of the match, a fan seated behind banned Paulo Bento, remonstrated with the Portuguese coach for blocking his view. Bento, who picked up a red card during his team’s match against Uruguay for a verbal spat against the referee, could barely restrain himself while arguing with the fan.Ricardo Horta scored for Portugal in the 5th minute in what was the first genuine attempt at goal. Horta charged into the box with a defender in tow but he wasted little time in deflecting from close range to the right of the outstretched hand of keeper Kim Seunggyu.Pepe found Diogo Dalot with a long ball from the Portuguese half line. Dalor picked up the cross and went far to the edge of the Korean box. Dalot found Horta with a low shot which was easily sent into the net by the Braga forward from seven yards.Korea continued to press on in the first 12 minutes of the match with numerous moves but with a goal’s advantage, the Portuguese backline remained firm to every threatening move.In the 17th minute, Kim Jinsu tapped a loose ball into the Portuguese net after keeper Diego Costa had effected a save on an indirect corner kick. Jinsu’s tap from close range was on target but the linesman rightfully correctly called it off-side.In the 23rd minute, Ronaldo was in the right position fora close range deflection - ona long cross from Matheus Nunes - but Korea’s Kim Younggwon outpaced the Portuguese captain with a clearance for a corner.Three minutes from the first half hour, Younggwon was quick to drill home a ball that landed at his feet off Ronaldo’s body who was trying to duck away on a corner kick. Ronaldo turned his back to the ball which bounced off his right shoulder and landed near unguarded Younggwon who produced a left-footed shot.Shortly afterwards, Ronaldo was one-on-one with the Korean keeper but the Portuguese captain - in an attempt to shoot into the right of the net - failed to get the elevation on his shot that was slapped away by Seunggyu. Moments later, Ronaldo charged to receive a long cross but the Korean keeper reached first to catch the ball on the edge of his box.Dalot added to the Portuguese momentum in the 33rd minute when he unleashed a rasping left-footed drive 30 yards out but the shot was blocked by the Korean keeper.Six minutes from the first-half whistle, Korean captain Son Heungmin also rifled in a powerful shot from outside the Portuguese box but keeper Costa collected the ball to kill the move. Seconds later, Ronaldo went midair to head home - after the keeper had fumbled with his collection on a long-range shot by Vitinha, but the ball sailed away as Portugal kept Korea under sustained pressure.Close to the hour-mark, Antonio SIlva blocked a shot of Korean captain Heungmin who was inside the Portuguese box. Moments later, Korean midfielder Lee Kangin and Matheus Nunes rammed into each other causing a stoppage in play. At this point, the camera panned on Bento in the stands talking to one of his assistants.The irritated fan who was infuriated with Bento for blocking his view at the start of the match seemed to have probably swapped his seat with somebody else. Five minutes later, Ronaldo walked off after being benched. Before he took off, Ronaldo handed his captain’s armband to Pepe, 39.Hwang Inbeom, in the 66th minute, unleashed a rasping shot that hit the palms of keeper Costa and trickled away.In a missed opportunity, Jinsu sent a cross to Heungmin who connected with a bullet shot that hit Cancelo on his elbow inside the Portuguese box.South Korea vainly pleaded with the referee for a penalty in the 70th minute.Six minutes later, Dalot found Horta with a neat cross but Portugal’s goal scorer for some strange reason backtracked inside the six yard box.Just as everyone thought the game was over, South Korea turned things around in dramatic fashion in injury time. Korean captain Heungmin ran from his own box to the rival team’s box. He found Hee-chan with a neat cross near the edge before the substitute slotted home on his first attempt.

Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo (left) takes part in a training session at the Al Shahania SC training site, northwest of Doha, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup match against South Korea. (AFP)
Sports
Ronaldo a question mark as South Korea seek points

Portugal coach Fernando Santos on Thursday said captain Cristiano Ronaldo is not a certainty against Asian giants South Korea when the two teams clash in the last match of the group stage at Education City Stadium today.Group H points leaders Portugal are under no pressure to include Ronaldo, 37, who missed training on Wednesday. Portugal, the 2016 Euro champions, have six points after wins over Ghana and Uruguay.“I think it is 50-50 if he plays the match or not. We will see how it goes,” Santos said at a news conference yesterday. “It will depend on if and how he feels during practice. If we see he is in good condition, maybe he will play the match. There is a plan for if he is not available,” Santos added.Ronaldo spent the day recovering at a gym where the backroom staff is trying to get the Portugal captain ready for the Round of 16 at the 32-team tournament. Later in the evening, Ronaldo was in seen doing light training.The Portugal camp yesterday also confirmed that Nuno Mendes’ Qatar campaign has ended following a thigh injury the PSG star sustained in their match against Uruguay.When asked about Mendes’ injury, Santos said yesterday: “He will continue to stay in Qatar, because the player wanted it. PSG allowed him to stay here with us at the World Cup. This reflects the spirit of the team and how united we all are.”Raphael Guerreiro, the Borussia Dortmund full-back, is likely to replace Mendes as he did against Uruguay.With Otavio and Danilo also out injured, Santos said he expects the players in the reserves to step up against South Korea.“I have complete confidence in all my players,” Santos said. “I’m already missing three players, let’s see about others. Playing every four days is tough, players get tired and are experiencing fatigue.“Fatigue leads to stress and stress leads to injuries.“We want to win and finish top in our group because this will gives us an extra day to recover the players in the best way possible,” Santos said.South Africa’s Portuguese coach Paulo Bento yesterday said a dedicated performance his players against Portugal.“We played our first two matches with a lot of passion. We will have to show that passion again (against Portugal).“But we’ll also need a bit of luck. If we have all that, we can create a miracle,” Bento said yesterday. Bento candidly admitted that Portugal – who are ranked 9 in the world – are a force even without Ronaldo or the absent injured players. South Korea are aiming to qualify for the Round of 16 for the third time after 2002 and 2010.“He (Portugal coach) can play in different ways, with different formations, he can make three or four changes in his team and they will stay at the same level,” Bento explained. “In addition, the context is favourable for them because they are already qualified and a draw will ensure first place,” Bento added.Bento, who played for Portugal 35 times, will not be available for his side following a red card he picked up in the match against Ghana. Bento said: “They (the assistants) make most of the decisions, they suggest them to me. It’s not going to be a problem. This time they will be on their own but it won’t change much. The players are also in line with the technical staff.”South Korean defender Kim Young-gwon said facing Portugal would be a tough challenge. He said: “They have all these talented players.”He added: “To contain them we’ll have to play as a team, as one unit. We don’t have anywhere else to go than forward.”

Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo celebrates scoring a goal against Qatar during the World Cup Group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, yesterday. (AFP)
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Netherlands into last 16 as Qatar’s WC journey ends

A week ago popular coach Louis van Gaal boldly announced that his Dutch side had arrived in Qatar seeking their first FIFA World Cup title win. The 71-year-old veteran coach yesterday saw his side add credence to that claim when Netherlands handed Qatar their third successive defeat with a clinical 2-0 victory at Al Bayt Stadium.For Netherlands, the 2010 FIFA World Cup runners-up, it was their second win in three matches after PSV Eindhoven striker Cody Gakpo opened the scoring in the 26th minute while Frenkie de Jong found the net in the 49th in front of 66,784 fans.For Qatar, after having lost to Ecuador and Senegal earlier in the week, it was a chance to end their World Cup journey with an upset win against the 8th ranked side in the world. The Netherlands, tutored by Van Gaal, made sure that it wouldn’t happen for the hosts.In the first half hour the Dutch dominated play but Qatar – trailing by a goal – picked up short momentum in the last 15 minutes before the break.Thereafter the hosts played catch-up for most part of what was entertaining match from the men in orange.Just four minutes into the first half, captain Virgil van Dijk found Barcelona forward Memphis Depay with a slick long ball to the left of the Qatar box. Depay was tad slow to position himself as the ball bounced away without causing any damage. Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos, playing his 171th game, produced a counterattack but his shot from outside the Dutch box was pouched by keeper Andries Noppert.Moments later, Daley Blind tried to shoot the ball into the net from close range – following a goalmouth melee – but his feeble shot was punched away by Meshaal Barsham, younger sibling of global track and field icon Mutaz Barshim.Shortly afterwards a stoppage in play took place when Qatar’s Ismael Mohamed felt the force of a head butt against Dutchman Nathan Ake. In another stoppage, Davy Klassen rammed his head into Homam Ahmed inside the Qatar box.Al-Haydos and Akram Afif were seen playing at the back as fear of attacks by the Dutch mounted in the first 12 minutes. Barsham, the young Qatari keeper, was alert to a deflection from his own defender as he dived to his right to collect the ball.Depay, who was inside the Qatari box, sent a volley above the crossbar in the 13th minute as FIFA president Gianni Infantino watched from the stands.The Dutch – with their relentless attacks – forced a corner after al-Haydos cleared a ball from Denzel Dumfries but the flag kick was wasted much to the delight of Qatari fans.In the 20th minute, Afif swivelled past a couple of Dutch defenders but his cross from the edge of the box had no takers on the far side. Jurrien Timber blocked a shot from Homam to allow Qatar the first corner in the 24th minute. Another corner followed moments later but Al Sadd defender Abdelkarim Hassan was wayward with his deflection from inside the box. Afif, in another solo run on the flank, found Homam with a cross that seemed to have too much pace. Gakpo, seconds later, added his third goal of the tournament in the 26th minute.After a short dribble near the Qatari box where he was chased by Assim Madibo, Gakpo – following a neat cross from Klassen – quickly positioned himself and unleashed a powerful right-footed drive that sailed past the outstretched hands of Barsham.Ismail Mohamed and al-Haydos tried to sandwich Gakpo who exhibited incredible speed and accuracy on his shot for his side’s first goal. Soon after the half-hour mark, Qatar tried to build momentum with a couple of threatening moves but the forwards lacked coordination up front. In the 34th minute, defender Hassan broke free of his marker on the left flank but his cross had no takers with Dutch captain van Dijk easily clearing up the move inside his own box.In another similar attack, striker Almoez Ali slipped in a neat cross for al-Haydos inside the Dutch box but the Qatari captain was slow to react before he lost the ball.Marten de Roon found Gakpo with a cross on the edge of the Qatar box in the 40th minute. Gakpo once again found pace on his shot but there was too much elevation on the flight that sent the ball sailing above the Qatar crossbar. From the corner of his eye, a disappointed Gakpo realised the move was declared offside by the linesman.To summarise Qatar’s performance in the first half was the miss from Afif after a neat cross from Hassan close to the halfline. Shockingly Afif had no leg power to keep the ball in play.On the final touch of the first half, Deepay launched a fierce drive that picked up late swing and sailed past the goalpost to the right of keeper Barsham.Netherlands doubled the lead in the 49th minute when Barcelona midfielder De Jong scored from close range. Qatar keeper Barsham had saved a brilliant shot from Deepay but De Jong wasted little time to find the net.Four minutes from the first hour mark, Qatar suffered another hit-and-miss when Hassan delivered a neat cross into the Dutch six yards where there was no home player to keep the ball in play.A few minutes later, defender Pedro Miguel delivered a near-perfect cross from the left flank but once again the ball sailed away with no Qatari striker in position for a deflection.With lack of finishing in the front, coach Felix Sanchez made three substitutions that included captain al-Haydos called back. Van Gaal, on the other hand, rolled back Deepay and Memphis to cool the star players for the next round.In the 67th minute, Steven Berghuis and Vincent Janssen combined to score their side’s third goal. Berghuis’ easy shot into an empty net from close range was cancelled after a VAR decision showed Gakpo had handled the ball in the build-up.In the 80th minute, keeper Noppert made a save near his own goalpost before Mohamed Muntari could initiate a move. In injury time, Berguis hit the Qatar crossbar.As van Gaal looked towards the Round of 16, Qatar coach Sanchez was seen looking for his accreditation after the final whistle.We didn’t plan to reach the last 16: Sanchez**media[1654]**Qatar players applaud the fans after the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A match against the Netherlands at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, yesterday. (AFP)Qatar coach Felix Sanchez said yesterday his team were never targeting a place in the knockout phase after defeat by the Netherlands left the hosts without a point in the World Cup.The home side finished rock bottom of Group A after a 2-0 loss at the Al Bayt Stadium, having already joined South Africa in 2010 as the only hosts to be dumped out at the first hurdle.“We’re a country with 6,000 football licences so this was a likely situation,” said Sanchez when asked if he ever thought Qatar would get through the group.“We never thought at any time to set a target of reaching the last 16 or the quarter-finals.“We just wanted to come here and see what we could do. We managed to play two good games against Senegal and the Netherlands. The first game (against Ecuador) we weren’t at our usual level and we know that.“You can use statistics how you want but we need to make our own assessments.”Qatar came into the tournament as continental champions after winning the 2019 Asian Cup, but never seriously threatened to pull off any surprise results. Sanchez, who has been in charge since 2017, said he would wait to decide whether or not to stay on as coach.“I’m not sure about my future to be honest... We just have to reflect on this. We haven’t thought anything in particular abut the future.”The win sent the Dutch through as group winners, along with Senegal. (AFP)

Qatar's Pedro Miguel in action with Netherlands' Wout Weghorst. REUTERS
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Netherlands storm into Round of 16 as Qatar’s World Cup journey ends

A week ago popular coach Louis van Gaal boldly announced that his Dutch side had arrived in Qatar seeking their first FIFA World Cup title win. The 71-year-old veteran coach Tuesday saw his side add credence to that claim when Netherlands handed Qatar their third successive defeat with a clinical 2-0 victory at Al Bayt Stadium.For Netherlands, the 2010 FIFA World Cup runners-up, it was their third win in as many matches after PSV Eindhoven striker Cody Gakpo opened the scoring in the 26th minute while Frenkie de Jong found the net in the 49th in front of 66,784 fans.For Qatar, after having lost to Ecuador and Senegal earlier in the week, it was a chance to end their World Cup journey with an upset win against the 18th ranked side in the world. The Netherlands, tutored by Van Gaal, made sure that it wouldn't happen for the hosts.In the first half hour the Dutch dominated play but Qatar – trailing by a goal - picked up short momentum in the last 15 minutes before the break. Thereafter the hosts played catch-up for most part of what was entertaining football from the men in orange.Just four minutes into the first half, captain Virgil Van Dijk found Barcelona forward Memphis Depay with a slick long ball to the left of the Qatar box. Depay was tad slow to position himself as the ball bounced away without causing any damage. Qatar captain Hassan AlHaydos, playing his 170th game, produced a counterattack but his shot from outside the Dutch box was pouched by keeper Andries Noppert.Moments later, Daley Blind tried to shoot the ball into the net from close range - following a goalmouth melee - but his feeble shot was punched away by Meshaal Barsham, younger sibling of global track and field icon Mutaz Barshim. Shortly afterwards a stoppage in play took place when Qatar's Ismael Mohammed felt the force of a head butt against Dutchman Nathan Ake. In another stoppage, Davy Klassen rammed his head into Homam Ahmed inside the Qatar box.Al Haydos and Afif were seen playing at the back as the fear of attacks by the Dutch mounted in the first 12 minutes. Barsham, the young Qatari keeper, was alert to a deflection from his own defender as he dived to his right to collect the ball. Depay, who was inside the Qatari box, sent a volley above the crossbar in the 13th minute as FIFA president Gianni Infantino watched from the stands.The Dutch - with their relentless attacks - forced a corner after Al Haydos cleared a ball from Denzel Dumfries but the flag kick was wasted much to the delight of Qatari fans.In the 20th minute, Afif swiveled past a couple of Dutch defenders but his cross from the edge of the box had no takers on the far side. Jurrien Timber blocked a shot from Homam to allow Qatar the first corner in the 24th minute. Another corner followed moments later butAl Sadd defender Abdelkarim Hassan was wayward with his deflection from inside the box. Afif, in another solo run on the flank, found Homam with a cross that seemed to have too much pace.Gakpo, seconds later, added his third goal of the tournament in the 26th minute. After a short dribble near the Qatari box where he was chased by Assim Madibo, Gakpo - after a neat cross from Klassen - quickly positioned himself and unleashed a powerful right-footed drive that sailed past the outstretched hands of Barsham. Ismail Mohamed and Al Haydos tried to sandwich Gakpo who exhibited incredible speed and accuracy on his shot for his side's first goal.Soon after the half-hour mark, Qatar tried to build momentum with a couple of threatening moves but the forwards lacked coordination up front. In the 34th minute, defender Hassan broke free of his marker on the left flank but his cross had no takers with Dutch captain van Dijk easily clearing up the move inside his own box.In another similar attack, striker Almoez Ali slipped in a neat cross for al-Haydos inside the Dutch box but the Qatari captain was slow to react before he lost the ball.Marten de Roon found Gakpo with a cross on the edge of the Qatar box in the 40th minute. Gakpo once again found pace on his shot but there was too much elevation on the flight that sent the ball sailing above the Qatar crossbar. From the corner of his eye, a disappointed Gakpo realized the move was declared offside by the linesman.To summarize Qatar's performance in the first half was the miss from Afif after a neat cross from Hassan close to the halfline. Shockingly Afif had no legs to keep the ball in play and move ahead. On the final touch of the first half, Deepay launched a fierce drive that picked up a late swing and sailed past the goalpost to the right of keeper Barsham.Netherlands doubled the lead in the 49th minute when Barcelona midfielder De Jong scored from close range. Qatar keeper Barsham had saved a brilliant shot from Deepay but De Jong wasted little time to find the net.Four minutes from the first hour mark, Qatar suffered another hit-and-miss when Hassan delivered a neat cross into the Dutch box where there was home player to keep the ball in play. A few minutes later, defender Pedro Miguel delivered a near-perfect cross from the left flank but once again the ball sailed away with no Qatari striker in position for a deflection.With lack of finishing in the front, coach Felix Sanchez made three substitutions that included captain Al Haydos called back. Van Gaal, on the other hand, rolled back Deepay and Memphis to cool the star players for the next round.In the 67th minute, Steven Berghuis and Vincent Janssen combined to score their side's third goal. Berghuis' easy shot into an empty net from close range was cancelled after a VAR decision showed Gakpo had handled the ball in the build-up.In the 80th minute, keeper Noppert made a save near his own goalpost before Mohamed Muntari could initiate a move. In injury time, Berguis hit the Qatar crossbar. As Van Gaal looked towards the Round of 16, Qatar coach Sanchez was seen looking for his accreditation at the final whistle.