Xavi backs Qatar to impress at World Cup after Afif award
Barcelona legend and Al Sadd coach Xavi backed host Qatar to make an impression at the next World Cup after exciting forward Akram Afif was named Asian Player of the Year on Monday.
Doha-based Xavi, who collected the award on Afif’s behalf at the AFC Annual Awards in Hong Kong, said the Qataris would be competitive in 2022 “for sure,” AFP reported.
Japan’s Saki Kumagai was rewarded for a glittering career for club and country as she was named Women’s Player of the Year at the ceremony.
Afif, 23, made a record 10 assists as Qatar stormed to its first AFC Asian Cup title in February, reaping the rewards of heavy investment in its national setup as the World Cup looms.
Afif also helped Xavi’s Al Sadd reach the AFC Champions League semifinals, where it lost to Saudi eventual winner Al Hilal 6-5 on aggregate.
“I think they are working very well, they are competing against very big countries,” Xavi, who won the 2010 World Cup with Spain, said of Qatar.
“I think they have a very good team and also a very good coach. They are well organized on the pitch and they have a very good generation of players... Many players that can make the difference on the pitch.
“They are working really well and they can compete in 2022 for sure.”
Afif, who beat Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and Japan defender Tomoaki Makino to the honor, is the second Qatari in a row to win the men’s prize after defender Abdelkarim Hassan last year.
“Very happy to be selected as the Asian Player of the Year. This is a great honor for me,” tweeted Afif, who is on national duty in Qatar.
With the top men’s award off-limits to anyone based outside Asia, South Korea’s Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min was named International Player of the Year.
Valverde talks up importance of Messi after Atletico victory
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde talked up the importance of having Lionel Messi in his side after the forward netted the winner in the 1-0 victory at Atletico Madrid.
Barca rode its luck in the first half, seeing the host hit the post and bring two fine saves out of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, FourFourTwo magazine reported.
But the Catalans punished Atletico’s failure to take its chances five minutes from time courtesy of Messi, who played a neat one-two with Luis Suarez on the edge of the area before coolly side-footing into the bottom corner.
The Argentinian’s first league strike at the Wanda Metropolitano took Barca top of La Liga on goal difference.
“When matches are tight and [your opponents] are strong, having Messi is always a great advantage,” Valverde told Marca.
“You have to watch matches from your team’s point of view. We suffered at the start and we got the three points, we won’t think about the bad now.”
Ter Stegen produced a stunning save to ensure Barca stayed level, somehow using his left thigh to keep out Mario Hermoso’s close-range volley at the back post from Joao Felix’s exquisite cross.
Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak was also in fine form, keeping Messi at bay until the 85th minute.
“There were two goalkeepers on the pitch who can perform miracles and they often make great saves,” said Valverde, who confirmed Gerard Pique’s knock was not serious.
The defeat was Atletico’s first in 11 league games, but it has won only three of them and sits six points off the pace.
“We played well again, and the players are putting in great work,” boss Diego Simeone told the club’s official website.
“We had chances in the first half and controlled Barcelona. In the second half the game progressively went their way, although we also had chances to score.
“The results aren’t going our way, we have to work hard.”
Luka gets 27, Mavs snap Lakers’ 10-game win streak
Luka Doncic dribbled up to LeBron James, stepped back and coolly drained a three-pointer from well behind the line. The Dallas Mavericks’ driving force then threw a telling stare toward Dirk Nowitzki at courtside before he headed off to wrap up a major win.
When the Mavs visited Staples Center a year ago, Doncic was nervous before he faced his boyhood idol, and he sought an autographed jersey afterward, The Associated Press reported.
Although the Slovenian youngster still admires the veteran star, Doncic is showing he belongs in the same galaxy.
Doncic scored 21 of his 27 points in a dynamic second half, and the Mavericks snapped the Los Angeles Lakers’ 10-game winning streak with a 114-100 victory on Sunday.
Doncic also had 10 assists and nine rebounds in Dallas’ seventh victory in eight games. The Mavs erased a halftime deficit with a 28-5 run in an excellent third quarter led by Doncic, who had 16 points and five assists in the third after going two for nine in a self-described “awful” first half.
“It’s a great win that means a lot to us,” Doncic said.
“It shows that we can play against big teams, too. We just need to keep it rolling.”
The Mavs comfortably maintained their big lead in the fourth, and Doncic provided some late showmanship by hitting that fourth three-pointer over James and staring toward Nowitzki, who had center court seats.
“He hit a couple of hellacious shots,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “There’s just a small handful of guys in the whole world that can hit them. LeBron James is one of them. He’s one of them. Those step-back 30-footers, it’s hard to describe how difficult the shot is, and how easy he makes it look.”
Delon Wright had 17 points and nine assists, and Kristaps Porzingis added 15 points as Dallas underlined its status as a likely title contender with an inspired second half on the road against the NBA-leading Lakers, who had lost only once in 18 games since their season opener.
James had 25 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Lakers, who dropped to 17-3 by losing this matchup between two of the NBA’s highest-scoring teams. The Lakers’ longest winning streak in 10 years ended with their largest defeat of the young season.
“It’s one game,” said Anthony Davis, who had 27 points and 10 rebounds.
“We’re not going to get down over this loss. We know what type of team we are, we know now. We played well. And they beat us, but we beat ourselves with the rebounding, so we know what we’ve got to do better.”
Iran stands atop WKF Karate 1 Premier League
A total of 30 medals gave Iran a top-spot finish at the 2019 World Karate Federation (WKF) Karate 1 Premier League.
The Iranian karatekas collected seven gold, ten silvers and 13 bronzes in the seven-round competitions which kicked off last January.
Following Iran in the overall standings, Kazakhstan stood second with 16 medals – including six golds – with Japan finishing third with 13 medals (five golds).
The three-day final round of the competitions in Madrid, Spain, saw Iranians finish their 2019 campaign with two golds and a couple of bronzes.
Sajjad Ganjzadeh, representing the country in the men’s +84kg weight class, outpowered Dnylson Jacquet of France 4-0 in the final for Iran’s last gold in this year’s competitions.
Saleh Abazari, having been beaten by Jacquet in the semis, overcame Mehdi Ashouri in an all-Iranian battle to take the joint-bronze of the class – alongside Croatian Andjelo Kvesic.
Amir Mehdizadeh had opened Iran’s gold account, overcoming Turkey’s Abdurrahim Ozer Omer in the men’s -67kg final.
In the women’s contests, Hamideh Abbas-Ali, having suffered a fourth-round defeat against Eleni Chatziliadou, had to settle for a joint-bronze in the +68kg class after beating Japanese Ayaka Saito.
Maria Torres Garcia grabbed the other bronze while Chatziliadou was beaten by Kazakhstan’s Sofya Berultseva in the final.
Leicester revival under Rodgers has fans dreaming again
Leicester City’s rebirth since Brendan Rodgers took charge in February has turned the tables in the Premier League, with the in-form Foxes sitting second in the standings.
Tasked with breaking the dominance of the ‘Big Six’, Rodgers has not only taken advantage of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur losing their way but his side is three points ahead of Manchester City with the league’s best goal difference, Reuters reported.
Leicester has won 10 of its 14 league games this season and has 32 points — three points more than it had at this stage of its remarkable 2015-16 title-winning season.
With the Foxes winning their last six matches in a row after a last-gasp 2-1 success at home to Everton on Sunday, it is no wonder Rodgers has been linked with some top jobs but, by his own admission, he has unfinished business at Leicester.
“My main focus is very much with Leicester. They’ve been first class with me,” he said after Sunday’s game when he confirmed he has a release clause in his contract.
“I left a club (Celtic) eight months ago and now there’s a huge challenge for us which is finishing in the top six. We have more work to do and I am excited about that.”
Leciester’s former manager Claudio Ranieri used a high tempo, counterattacking style to beat title odds of 5,000-1 and Rodgers has tweaked the out-of-fashion 4-4-2 formation into a 4-1-4-1 with Jamie Vardy continuing to spearhead the attack.
With 13 goals and three assists, 32-year-old Vardy’s renaissance under Rodgers after he stagnated under Claude Puel is the biggest contributing factor to the side’s run, even leading to questions about a possible return to the England setup.
Leicester also has the best defense in the league, conceding nine goals and enjoying six clean sheets with a center-back pairing of the veteran Jonny Evans and 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu — the latter proving to be the biggest surprise.
Having lost defensive lynchpin Harry Maguire for around £80 million ($102.64 million) to Manchester United, his understudy Soyuncu has seamlessly slotted into the back line and has played every minute in the league this season.
Fullbacks Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira have contributed to seven goals between them too, but the man holding it all together has been Wilfred Ndidi sitting behind creators Youri Tielemans and James Maddison in central midfield.
Time will tell if the industrious Ndidi is the next N’Golo Kante but the 22-year-old already leads Europe’s major leagues in tackles and interceptions, giving the defense more room to breathe and prepare for dangerous situations.
Talk of a title challenge this season may be premature, with leader Liverpool eight points clear of the Foxes, but Rodgers’ miserly defense has laid the foundations for a top-four finish.
Chances of a joint British and Irish bid to host the 2030 World Cup have grown after officials agreed to ramp up preparations, according to Football Association of Ireland, Reuters reported.