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Lukaku nets brace again to lead Belgium rout of Tunisia

Lukaku nets brace again to lead Belgium rout of Tunisia

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27066440

ON the eve of Belgium’s first game at this World Cup, Romelu Lukaku told the world his story.

Of his impoverished childhood when his family was broke, when he didn’t have a television set at home to watch the World Cup, and of the times when people wanted him to fail. In the story written by him, or ghost-written on his behalf, on the Players Tribune website, Lukaku said how he dreamt of taking his family out of the financial rut they found themselves in, when they had nothing to eat, through football.

He wrote how back in 2002 he couldn’t watch the World Cup. Now, in a multicultural Belgium squad that echoes of France’s 1998 World Cup winning side and to millions watching it on television, he is starring at one. Lukaku, who is of Congolese descent, scored two well-taken goals to lead Belgium to a 5-2 romp over Tunisia in an end-to-end game on Saturday which also saw Eden Hazard come into his own with a superb double.

Lukaku joined Cristiano Ronaldo on the top of the goal-scorers list at this World Cup and on this form he might end up winning the Golden Boot. The verve, tenacity and athleticism showed by Belgium could see them win the World Cup.

“We need to take it game by game,” Belgium’s Nacer Chadli told Dawn in the mixed zone when asked if this win sent out a statement to the world that Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ were all set to deliver a long-awaited first major title. “We need to keep doing the best we can and see how it goes.”

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: “I think we can win the World Cup with our attacking play. I’m happy that Lukaku scored two more goals. It’s good when our forwards convert.”

The game at the Spartak Stadium here was billed as a test of credentials for Belgium against a Tunisia side who had showed they were an awkward, stubborn team to beat in their opening match against England. Then, they were undone by a last-gasp goal in a 2-1 defeat but here, they were picked apart by a Belgium team that attacked at will. This was the first time that a World Cup had four Arab teams. Three of them — Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco — were already out of reckoning before Tunisia had kicked off and Tunisia too are all but out.

“We would like to apologise to the Tunisian fans who were in great numbers at the stadium,” Tunisian coach Nabil Maaloul said at the post-match news conference. “It’s difficult to win against players who can make the difference at any moment with good passes and balls.”

Belgium defender Thomas Meunier had spoken ahead of the match that his side should go for the throat against Tunisia and that is exactly what they did.

They ran at the Tunisian defence and were ahead as soon as the sixth minute. Hazard got on the end of a quick one-two with Dries Mertens and got clipped by Syam Ben Youssef right on the edge of the box. He got up and tucked the resulting penalty.

They were 2-0 ahead 10 minutes later when Ali Maaloul’s heavy touch saw a charging Mertens nip in and get the ball before setting Lukaku free. The Manchester United striker took a touch, positioned himself before smashing a shot right in the corner of the net.

Credit to Tunisia, though, that they didn’t wilt. They pulled one back almost immediately, Dylan Bronn heading in Wahbi Khazri’s curling free-kick. Now Tunisia, to have any chance, needed to keep the score at this at least till half-time. They didn’t. And Lukaku got his second in injury-time when Meunier carved open their defence with a wonderful throughball for Lukaku to dink it over the goalkeeper.

It got worse for the Tunisians six minutes into the second-half with Hazard showing a delightful piece of skill for Belgium’s fourth. Jan Vertonghen’s long ball found the Chelsea forward and he took out Tunisia goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha with one touch and slotted into an empty net.

It was all Belgium now and substitute Michy Batshuayi, having been earlier denied by a last-ditch goal-line clearance and the bar, added a fifth when he slid in to bury Youri Tielmans pass on the stroke of full-time before Khazri netted a consolation for the Tunisians in injury-time.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez revealed later that Lukaku picked an ankle injury during the match and would probably be rested for potentially the final Group ‘G’ match against England, one which could potentially decide which team finishes top. Even if he doesn’t play, Lukaku has already made his mark at the World Cup and with him, Belgium can think of going far.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2018
England seek goal-scoring thrust to back Kane

England seek goal-scoring thrust to back Kane

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27066442
NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Panama’s Erick Davis trains during a practice session at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Saturday.—Reuters
NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Panama’s Erick Davis trains during a practice session at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Saturday.—Reuters

NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Handed a winning start for the first time in a major tournament for 12 years by captain Harry Kane’s injury-time winner against Tunisia, England can look forward to Sunday’s meeting with Panama with a rare sense of World Cup calm.

A two-time Premier League Golden Boot winner, Kane banished any remaining doubts over his ability to perform on the biggest stage for his country with the first double by an English player at the World Cup since Gary Lineker in 1990.

But Kane’s heroics in Volgograd papered over the cracks of his team-mates’ failure to find the net with a host of simple first-half chances.

Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard were particularly culpable and while Kane saved an inquest into England’s profligacy and ponderous second-half performance, Sterling’s place against Panama may now be in jeopardy.

The first media storm of a hitherto relaxed campaign for the Three Lions was brewing on Friday after Gareth Southgate’s planned team was inadvertently revealed when assistant manager Steve Holland’s notes were photographed at training on Thursday.

According to the notes, Marcus Rashford will replace Sterling with Ruben Loftus-Cheek stepping in for Dele Alli, who suffered a thigh injury against Tunisia.

Southgate criticised the media for giving England’s opponents an upper hand.

“If we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” said Southgate. “So of course our media has to decide if they want to help the team or not.”

In contrast to his 23-goal season at club level for Premier League champions Manchester City, Sterling now hasn’t scored in his last 21 internationals.

However, Rashford refuted suggestions England are too dependent on Kane for goals.

“I don’t think that’s happening in this group,” said the Manchester United striker, who admitted to being an admirer of Kane’s ability to be in the right place at the right time.

“He gets himself in great positions. If we can find him, we will, and, more often than not, he’s going to score.”

At 20, Rashford is just one of a host of exciting young English talents as Southgate took the third youngest squad in the tournament to Russia.

And Holland believes a more clinical touch in front of goal will come with experience.

“It’s psychological, it’s about pushing the players to be match-winners but it is also a process,” he said. “It might just take the time that it takes.

“If you imagine these guys in a couple of years, and I hope I’m still around then, once they’ve become more seasoned at this level, that could be really exciting. It already is now.”

Racking up goals against Panama could be crucial if England are to top Group G.

Highly-fancied Belgium soared to the top of the group by easing past the World Cup debutants 3-0 in their opening game.

Victory in Nizhny Novgorod will guarantee England’s place in the last 16 along with Belgium who routed Tunisia 5-2 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Panama will name an unchanged line-up for the clash against England, veteran coach Hernan Gomez confirmed on Saturday.

The Colombian, who previously coached his home country and Ecuador at the World Cup, said he was opting for experience in his team selection.

“The line-up will be exactly the same,” said Gomez. “We have a certain stability and an organised team.”

Gomez said though it made not the slightest difference to his plans, nor ‘gives me any advantage’.

He praised an ‘organised’ and ‘speedy’ England and said they would present an even stiffer test than Belgium, the top ranked team in the group, who beat the Central Americans 3-0.

“Tomorrow [Sunday] is going to be a very difficult match,” he said. “It’s going to be our hardest match by far.”

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2018
Media laud Swiss win over Serbia but blast celebrations

Media laud Swiss win over Serbia but blast celebrations

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27066443

ZURICH: Switzerland’s 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia was given a mixed reaction by Swiss media who applauded their rousing second-half comeback but criticised celebrations by scorers Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri which appeared to have political overtones.

After falling behind in the fifth minute, Switzerland defied a cauldron-like atmosphere created by fervent Serbian supporters as they hit back with a thunderbolt from Xhaka and a last-minute breakaway goal from Shaqiri.

Both players, who are ethnic Albanians and of Kosovar heritage, celebrated with a gesture which appeared to imitate the eagle displayed on Albania’s flag.

Serbia refuses to recognise the independence of its former province Kosovo, whose 1.8 million people are mostly ethnic Albanians, which broke away 10 years ago.

Second-generation immigrants from the Balkans have played a huge part in transforming the Swiss national side over the past 10 years.

Players such as Valon Behrami — playing at his fourth World Cup — Xhaka and Shaqiri have brought both raw talent and passion to a team which was not noted for either in the past.

But their efforts on Friday got a mixed reaction from the Swiss media, which showered praise on their performance but criticised their celebrations.

“Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka have talented feet like no one else in this national team. But their political sensitivity and social awareness let much to be desired,” said the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ).

The tabloid Blick took a similar line. “Xhaka and Shaqiri played with real heart but forgot to keep cool heads when they celebrated, and that is the big flaw of this wonderfully stirring evening.”

Xhaka and Shaqiri, both articulate and multi-lingual, wear their hearts on their sleeve and have never been shy about their heritage.

In 2012, Swiss television commentator Sascha Ruefer caused controversy with comments about an Xhaka miss during a World Cup qualifier against Albania, when Switzerland were already 2-0 ahead.

“What was that? All he needed was to push the ball home. I’d like to see that again . . . presumably Xhaka was not unhappy at not having scored against Albania,” he said.

Ruefer denied he meant any slur but admitted his comment was a “bit unfortunate.”

Xhaka backed Kosovo’s ultimately successful campaign for FIFA membership and at one point contemplated playing for their before pledging his allegiance to Switzerland.

The players insisted there was nothing to see in their celebrations.

“For me it was a really special day,” said Xhaka. “This is a victory for my family, for Switzerland, Albania, Kosovo. The gesture was for everyone who has supported me, it was not aimed at our opponents. It was a really emotional game.”

Shaqiri said: “It’s nothing to do with politics, it’s about football.”

Meanwhile, the Serbian papers also slammed what they labelled ‘shameful provocation’ by Shaqiri and Xhaka. They noted that Shaqiri wore boots carrying flags of both Switzerland and Kosovo.

The Telegraph paper criticised the “provocative Albanian gesticulation” while the Vecernje Novosti, under the headline ‘Provocation of the Swiss’, featured a large photo of Shaqiri’s boots.

The Serbian Football Federation had complained over Shaqiri’s boots ahead of the match but without success, state-run television RTS reported.

“We sought that he changes the boots. It was a provocation, we were playing against Switzerland, not Kosovo,” official Jovan Surbatovic said.

Meanwhile, papers in Kosovo praised the ‘extraordinary performance’ of the two players.

“The gesture of Xhaka and Shaqiri causes hysteria in Serbia,” the Zeri paper commented.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci tweeted his congratulations to the two scorers and the entire Swiss team on a “well-deserved win. Proud of you! Kosovo loves you!”.

Petrit Selimi, a former high-ranking Kosovo government official, defended the players’ actions.

“Why provocative? It’s a symbol of the Albanian flag. They [players] used to be Kosovo Albanian refugees,” he said on Twitter.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, less than a decade after the 1998-99 war between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Serb forces, but Belgrade — backed by its traditional ally Russia — still refuses to recognise the move.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2018
Late goal against Sweden keeps Germany’s hopes alive

Late goal against Sweden keeps Germany’s hopes alive

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27065533

SOCHI: A dramatic stoppage-time goal from Toni Kroos gave holders Germany a 2-1 win over Sweden on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup last 16.

Kroos curled in a superb strike from an indirect free kick to grab the three points for the four-times world champions who are now level with Sweden in Group F on three points and behind Mexico who have six.

Sweden took the lead in the 32nd minute when Ola Toivonen finished confidently after Kroos gave the ball away in midfield.

Marco Reus equalised in the 48th minute, meeting a low cross from Timo Werner, and despite having Jerome Boateng sent off in the 82nd minute, Germany kept going and Kroos earned them a famous win.

The Swedes played with fire as the Germans racked up the chances in the opening minutes, but having weathered that storm they gradually began to threaten on the break, and Marcus Berg was denied a good shout for a penalty when he appeared to be bundled over by Boateng.

With Germany getting in behind Sweden’s full backs at will and fizzing passes across the box, it looked like it might be only a matter of time before they scored, but Toivonen’s goal gave Sweden breathing space.

Manuel Neuer saved the Germans from being 2-0 down at halftime, diving acrobatically to deflect Berg’s header from Sebastian Larsson’s stoppage-time free kick.

Reus got Germany back in the game early in the second half as the Germans launched a massive offensive and when Boateng was sent off for his second yellow card eight minutes from time the Germans continued to push on.

Timo Werner missed from point-blank range and the Swedes looked like hanging on for the draw, but Kroos struck five minutes into stoppage time to give Germany victory.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2018
Mexico close in on last 16 with South Korea win

Mexico close in on last 16 with South Korea win

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27064915
ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia: Mexico laid one foot in the World Cup’s last 16 and left South Korea on the brink of elimination after goals from Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela clinched a 2-1 victory in Rostov on Saturday.Hernandez became the first Mexican player to score 50 goals for his country, after 104 appearances, with Vela earlier opening the scoring through yet another penalty kick.Son Heung-min’s stunning long-range effort in stoppage time gave South Korea a glimmer of hope but it was too little too late.Mexico lead Group F on six points after two games, having backed up their shock victory against Germany with another display to suggest they can go deep in this tournament.South Korea, beaten by a Sweden penalty in their first match, had their chances but again lacked cutting edge up front.Yet to register a single point in Russia, they are left needing a miracle to progress.After 28 games at the World Cup, there have now been 14 spot-kicks, 11 of them converted, and there could be little complaint about this one, coming after a blatant handball by Jang Hyun-soo, Vela stepping up to convert.In temperatures around 35 degrees Celsius, Mexico were rewarded for another controlled performance that combined possession in midfield with pace and penetration in attack. Hirving Lozano, the match-winner against Germany, was excellent again in particular.Before their opening goal, however, it was South Korea that created the better chances.Only a brilliant saving tackle from Lozano denied Lee Yong tapping in at the back post before Son saw three quick-fire shots come to nothing, the first two blocked, the last skewed wide.But Mexico’s penalty in the 27th minute was clear. Jang tried to block Andres Guardado’s cross but inexplicably slid with his arm outstretched above him and the ball struck the defender’s hand.Vela was made to wait by goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo, who played for time by swigging his water and chatting to his team-mates, but there was no mistake. Vela slid home.The game became more open in the second half as South Korea perhaps pushed too hard too soon, and it was little surprise when Mexico doubled their lead.They were fortunate not to concede a foul for a clear trip by Hector Herrera in the build-up but Lozano found Hernandez and the striker did the rest.The former Manchester United striker’s dummy-shot fooled the lunging Jang before a scuffed finish rolled past Jo.Son should have capitalised on a Rafael Marquez mistake late on but made amends in the 93rd minute with a fabulous effort that soared into the corner. Mexico, however, held on.Today’s FixturesGroup GEngland vs Panama5:00 pm PSTGroup HJapan vs Senegal8:00 pm PSTGroup HPoland vs Colombia11:00 pm PST
Asian Games

Asian Games

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27064917
Trials to pick boxers after two-week trainingBy our correspondentKARACHI: Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) will hold trials after a couple of weeks to finalise a six-member men’s squad for the 18th Asian Games slated to be held in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2.“We plan to hold trials to pick the final squad after a fitness test and a couple of weeks training,” PBF secretary Col Nasir Tung told ‘The News’ on Saturday.Pakistan will select boxers in six weights out of the initial seven weight categories. Light heavyweight, heavyweight and super heavyweight are not part of the boxing competitions.The national camp started on June 20 at the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad. Some boxers have not yet reported. “We have called 18 boxers to the camp and nine have reported so far. The rest are either on the way or about to leave their homes for Islamabad,” Nasir added.The PBF had planned to keep 25 boxers in the camp but it had to reduce the strength after PSB and POA decided that the federation should keep 18 boxers in the camp.Nasir said that six female boxers had also reported at the camp. He said one or two female fighters would be part of the national contingent for the continental competitions.Nasir said that coaches Arshad Hussain, Mohammad Ramzan and Tariq were already in the camp and Ali Bakhsh was on the way to Islamabad.The gold medallists of every weight will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The PBF plans to send the selected boxers to Iran for a couple of weeks training.
India outclass Pakistan in Champions Trophy opener

India outclass Pakistan in Champions Trophy opener

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27064916
KARACHI: India opened the 37th Champions Trophy with a stunning 4-0 win over archrivals Pakistan at the Netherlands city of Breda on Saturday.Pakistan, who were expected to give tough time to India because the Green-shirts had held them to a draw in Commonwealth Games a couple of months ago, played well till the end of the third quarter, conceding only one goal. But during the last five minutes they completely failed and Indian forwards scored three goals in quick succession.Mandeep Singh scored two goals for India, while Dilpreet Singh and Lalit Upadhayay scored one each.In the first quarter, Mandeep opened the Indians’ account, guiding the ball into the net from Simranjeet’s sideways cross in front of Pakistan goal-mouth.Pakistan forwards tried hard to equalise but all of their attempts failed either due to the good tackling of Indian defenders or because of their own mistakes.India maintained the narrow lead till the third quarter, with Pakistan, coached by former India manager Roelant Oltmans, dominating the possession while searching for the equaliser.The last two goals came when Pakistan had replaced the goalkeeper with an outfield player. The change proved a blunder as Pakistan’s defence failed against Indian forwards.All the Indian goals came through open play.The score-line of 4-0 gives the impression of a one-sided contest but it was a close game, at least till the 54th minute. Till then India led by just one goal.The match statistics also show that the Green-shirts were not outplayed as they had 50.7 percent ball possession. Pakistan had as many as eight shots at the goal, while India made six.India got two penalty corners and Pakistan got one.Scorers: Ramandeep Singh (26’), Dilpreet Singh (54’), Mandeep Singh (57’) and Lalit Upadhay (60’)
Japan plot to swarm over Mane in World Cup showdown

Japan plot to swarm over Mane in World Cup showdown

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27064919
YEKATERINBURG, Russia: Japan plan to hound Senegal star Sadio Mane out of Sunday’s (today’s) pivotal World Cup encounter and are prepared to put three men on him if necessary.The Asian giants, who drafted in Akira Nishino as coach just weeks before the World Cup, find themselves surprisingly top of Group H after beating Colombia 2-1 in their opener.Victory over Senegal would virtually seal a place in the last 16 and Nishino said his unfancied side will go for the jugular.But he is wary of the African side’s pace and power. In Liverpool forward Mane, the Africans have a player who can win a match on his own.Japan will have some information on Mane from defender Maya Yoshida, a former teammate of Mane’s at Southampton before the forward moved to Anfield in 2016.Nishino said that all of Japan’s players had been briefed about how to stop the 26-year-old dangerman.“It is not just Yoshida, but all the players we are giving them information about Mane, though I am sure he will be in some duels with Mane,” Nishino said on Saturday.“I am sure we can deal with him but with the contribution that Mane can make, it might be possible to mark him one on one or even three on one.“It is possible to stop him but the trouble is that he has influence too on other players, and that is what we are concerned about.”The Japanese were widely written off when Nishino was rushed in as coach in April following the sacking of Vahid Halilhodzic, leaving him precious little time to prepare for Russia.Japan stunned 10-man Colombia to take charge of Group H and Nishino revealed that some of his players had wanted to settle for a draw after 45 minutes with the scores locked at 1-1.“At half time some of the players were saying ‘We have done enough, we can settle for a draw.’“But I said that we could win and we will win so we went for victory and that is why I gave them attacking tactics and that is why we are top of the group,” said Nishino.“I always say the second match is the deciding match and we have to win, no matter who we play. We need to earn maximum points. Even if it is slightly risky we want to attack and try to win.”
Lukaku, Hazard power Belgium to brink of last 16

Lukaku, Hazard power Belgium to brink of last 16

24/06/2018, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 27064918
MOSCOW: Romelu Lukaku drew level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the World Cup goalscoring charts on Saturday, scoring twice as Belgium moved to the brink of the last 16 after a 5-2 romp against Tunisia.The victory leaves the Red Devils top of Group G with two wins ahead of their clash on Thursday against England, who play Panama on Sunday.After also scoring twice in the opening 3-0 win against Panama, Manchester United’s Lukaku showed clinical finishing with two first-half goals in Moscow, matching Ronaldo’s tally in Russia.Not to be outdone, Belgium captain Eden Hazard scored in either half, including an early penalty at the Spartak Stadium, before substitute Michy Batshuayi added their fifth.Tunisia’s consolation goals came from defender Dylan Bronn and captain Wahbi Khazri.The Belgians were criticised by coach Roberto Martinez for starting slowly against Panama in their first group match but flew out of the blocks in Moscow.Hazard — having been on the receiving end of some bruising tackles in Belgium’s opener — was sent tumbling after just five minutes but converted the penalty to open his Russian account.Midfielder Ferjani Sassi picked up an early booking for complaining when Tunisia’s appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears, just before Belgium added their second goal.Ali Maaloul’s weak pass on the halfway line was collected by Dries Mertens, who sprinted away and put Lukaku clear.The striker coolly hit his shot inside the far post, just past the outstretched glove of Tunisia keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha, in the 16th minute.Tunisia responded two minutes later, Bronn leaping highest to head home a free-kick from his skipper Khazri on 18 minutes, only to be later carried off after landing awkwardly following a collision.With half-time approaching, the Belgians grabbed their third goal.After earlier squandering two clear chances created by Kevin De Bruyne, Lukaku converted his third opportunity just before the half-time whistle.Thomas Meunier put him in behind the defence and Lukaku tucked his shot away, celebrating with De Bruyne, who started the move.The Manchester City midfield maestro turned provider again after the break for Hazard.The Chelsea star sprinted onto De Bruyne’s lofted pass, held off two defenders, rounded keeper Ben Mustapha and tapped home Belgium’s fourth goal in the 51st minute.With one eye on the England game, Martinez took off Lukaku, then Hazard as the half wore on and for the final 22 minutes brought on Batshuayi, who could have scored five.The Borussia Dortmund forward had a chance cleared off the line, was twice denied by Ben Mustapha’s saves and hit the crossbar, finally converting a cross for Belgium’s fifth goal.Tunisia captain Khazri grabbed their second goal just before the final whistle of their second defeat in Russia.On Friday night, Xherdan Shaqiri’s last-minute goal handed Switzerland victory as they came from behind to defeat Serbia 2-1 in Kaliningrad.The win puts Switzerland in pole position to make it out of a tough Group E that contains five-times winners Brazil but they were pushed all the way by the Serbs.In a frenetic first half, Switzerland had more of the ball but were sloppy with it, giving away possession in advanced positions and sending Serbia on the break.On the half-hour mark, Steven Zuber cleverly teed up Blerim Dzemaili but the Hoffenheim man got his feet in a muddle and Vladimir Stojkovic was able to parry away.Switzerland grew in stature after the break and were rewarded with a spectacular equaliser courtesy of Xhaka’s 52nd-minute piledriver.Stoke City winger Shaqiri struck the decisive blow, breaking through Serbia’s offside trap to slot home calmly as the 90 minutes wound down.