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Indian Super League teams eligible for AFC Cup

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Indian Super League teams eligible for AFC Cup

MUMBAI: Asia’s football governing body has dealt a major boost to the Indian Super League by ruling that its franchise-based teams will be eligible for the AFC Cup from next year.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said in a statement late Tuesday that the winners of the glitzy tournament, which is backed by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, will go into the continental competition’s qualifying round.

It said it had acted on a recommendation from the All India Football Federation (AIFF), which is grappling with how best to accommodate two rival leagues — the ISL and the older I-League.

“The Committee approved that the I-League champions will play in the AFC Champions League Play-off round and the ISL Champions will play in the AFC Cup preliminary stage… from 2018,” read the statement.

The ISL, whose city-based franchise format apes cricket’s hugely successful Indian Premier League, has grown in popularity since it was launched in 2014, outstripping the 10-year-old I-League in broadcast ratings.

It is adding two new teams to this year’s event, bringing the number of clubs to 10, including one side which has defected from the I-League.

Bengaluru FC, two-time I-League winners, and Jamshedpur will be the new franchises when the next season kicks off in October. They are backed by major companies — the Jindal South West conglomerate and Tata Steel respectively.

There have long been reports of a possible merger between the two competitions but the AIFF has played down such talk in recent months.

The AFC said in its statement that the ISL and the I-League will run simultaneously for six or seven months in 2017 and 2018 and that as a “short-term bridging solution” it was giving “special dispensation” to the ISL.

Italy’s Alessandro Del Piero and French striker Nicolas Anelka are among the veteran former stars to have played in the ISL but local media reports say sides are starting to focus more on nurturing young Indian talent.

Naseem Akhtar thanks federation for providing best facilities

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Naseem Akhtar thanks federation for providing best facilities

IBSF World U-18 Snooker Champion, Naseem Akhtar gave credit for his title win to his parents and the snooker federation for supporting him all the way.

“I want to thank the federation for providing me the best of facilities that helped me serving the country,” said the young cueist, who received a warm welcome in his hometown.

Akhtar also thanked Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto for accepting his request to bear all the expenses of his higher education.

He requested the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif to focus on the promotion of snooker in the country as they support other sports.

Akhtar’s proud father, Mohammad Shaban expressed his emotions saying, “We have supported him throughout, I am very happy with my son’s achievement.”

Akhtar also got a cheque of Rs. 50,000 from Punjab Snooker Association on this occasion as a reward.

United better prepared for league title charge: Mourinho

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United better prepared for league title charge: Mourinho

Manchester United are better equipped to fight for the Premier League title in the upcoming season but need to improve further to be a contender for the Champions League, manager Jose Mourinho has said.

In Mourinho’s first season at Old Trafford, United won the League Cup and the Europa League but finished sixth in the English top flight, 24 points behind champions Chelsea.

“This season is going to be more difficult but I think we have better conditions to fight for the Premier League,” Mourinho told the BBC.

“I think this season we are a little bit better equipped. We are against fantastic teams, against amazing investments.

“But I believe in our group, in our spirit, in our empathy, in our togetherness. I trust my boys and we are going to try.”

Having lifted the Europa League in May, United secured direct entry to the Champions League group stage but the Portuguese manager believes they are still behind the continent’s top clubs.

“We went to the Europa League as one of the top teams, we go to the Champions League and we are not one of the top teams,” Mourinho added.

“We have to be better, much better, for that objective. The base of everything is to find what I call a happy dressing room.”

Mourinho has added striker Romelu Lukaku and centre back Victor Lindelof in the current transfer window but is still hoping to sign two more players ahead of the new season.

“One midfield player would give me more options. The other is an attacking player through the wings to give me more attacking options,” he said.

The British media have linked United with Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic and Tottenham Hotspur’s Eric Dier as midfield options. Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic is Mourinho’s preferred choice to improve the attacking line, the reports have said.

United kick off their league campaign at home against West Ham United on Aug. 13.

Rabada returns as England look to Westley

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The return of Kagiso Rababa means England’s faltering batsmen head into Thursday’s third Test against South Africa at The Oval knowing they will face an even stronger attack than the one that ran through them at Trent Bridge.

Despite the absence of fast bowler Rabada, banned as a result of swearing at England all-rounder Ben Stokes in the series opener at Lord’s, South Africa’s attack bowled them out for just 133 in their second innings.

That sealed a crushing 340-run win in the second Test at the Nottingham ground earlier this month, as they levelled the four-match campaign at 1-1.

England will give a Test debut at number three to Essex batsman Tom Westley in their latest bid to take the pressure off captain Joe Root and former skipper Alastair Cook, a county colleague of the newcomer, at the top of their order.

The weakest link of a South Africa attack led by Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel at Trent Bridge was Duanne Olivier, but he will now give way to Rabada.

At the age of 22, Rabada has already taken 77 wickets in 18 Tests at an average of under 25.

– ‘Raring to go’ –

Proteas bowling coach Charl Langeveldt said Rabada would be “raring to go”.

Meanwhile star batsman Hashim Amla added: “KG is a wonderful bowler.

“I’m sure he doesn’t want to get banned again… The way he does it is entirely up to him.”

Westley has been brought in after England number three Gary Ballance was ruled out with a finger injury, although the Yorkshire batsman’s lack of runs might well have seen him dropped.

Westley has been in good form for Essex so far this season, scoring 478 First Division runs in the County Championship, including two centuries, at an average of 53.11.

Significantly, he also made 106 not out against a strong South Africa attack for the second-string England Lions at Worcester last month.

Now he hopes to join “unbelievable role model Cook”, in an England fightback in what will be the 100th Test staged at The Oval.

“We’ve had quite a few good partnerships with Essex, so hopefully we can do the same for England,” said Westley.

“I appreciate everything in Test cricket is going to be another step up in intensity, but I can take confidence from having faced the majority of their bowlers a few weeks ago and scored some runs.”

England fans will hope Westley can add steel to a top order that appeared to lack either the ability or the inclination to bat for a draw when all hopes of a win had evaporated at Trent Bridge.

Stokes said such criticism, led by former England captain Michael Vaughan, was “harsh”, telling the Cricinfo website: “The whole fight and desire (question) that’s been thrown at us I think is very, very unfair.”

Someone who knows all about building an innings is Amla.

It was at The Oval in 2012 where Amla made South Africa’s record individual Test score of 311 not out.

“Test cricket has an element of grind in it,” said Amla, who batted for more than 13 hours five years ago at The Oval and is renowned for his patience at the crease.

“You can’t be attacking all the time and you can’t grind all the time: it’s finding the right balance.”

He added: “You could have made the same criticism of us after Lord’s (where South Africa lost by 211 runs). You go through ups and downs as a batting unit.”

South Africa were strengthened at Trent Bridge by the return of astute captain Faf du Plessis, who has lost just one of his 12 Tests as skipper.

This match sees coach Russell Domingo back with the squad following the death of his mother.

One consolation for England is that, recently, they have rarely suffered heavy defeats in successive home Tests.

They will hope that remains the case, with fast bowler Mark Wood looking to prove his fitness and return to form after heel problems at Trent Bridge.

Five great Oval Tests

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Thursday will see The Oval become just the fourth ground to stage its 100th cricket Test when England face South Africa in the third of a four-match series.

The south London headquarters of county side Surrey has witnessed many memorable matches in the 137 years since it staged the first Test in England in 1880 and below AFP Sport selects five of the best from The Oval’s rich history:

1882: Birth of the Ashes

One of the oldest trophies in world sport was born at The Oval when England’s shock defeat by Australia led to a mock obituary in the Sporting Times newspaper that said English cricket had died and that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

When England next toured Australia, their captain, Ivo Bligh, was presented with an urn said to contain the ashes of a bail — and hence the name for all future Anglo-Australian Test series.

1938: Hutton the record-breaker

England great Leonard Hutton was just 22 years old when he set a new world record for the highest individual Test score by making 364 against Australia in an innings and 579-run thrashing of their arch-rivals — still the largest margin of victory in any Test match.

Hutton’s total, in an innings lasting more than 13 hours, surpassed fellow England batsman Walter Hammond’s 336 not out against New Zealand at Auckland as the highest individual score then made in Test cricket.

1948: The Don bows out with a duck

The most famous nought in history saw Australia’s Donald Bradman, arguably the greatest batsman the game has known, walk out for his final Test innings before retirement needing a mere four runs for a Test average of 100. Instead he was bowled by England leg-spinner Eric Hollies for nought, but his Test average of 99.94 remains way ahead of any other batsman.

Bradman didn’t get a second chance to bat in a match Australia won by an innings and 149 runs after skittling out England for just 52 in the hosts’ first knock.

1976: Richards and Holding triumphant

Prior to the 1976 series against the West Indies, then England captain Tony Greig said he intended to make his opponents “grovel”. It was an unfortunate choice of word, all the more so coming from a white man born and brought up in apartheid South Africa.

The West Indies were angered by Greig’s comments and at The Oval star batsman Vivian Richards, with a masterful 291, and fast bowler Michael Holding, who had match figures of 16 for 149 on a placid pitch, produced two of their best individual displays in a 231-run win that saw their side to a 3-0 series victory.

2005: Pietersen secures the Ashes

One of the most thrilling Test series of all time was still in the balance come the final day.

But Kevin Pietersen’s stunning 158 — his maiden Test century — against an attack boasting all-time greats Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne — saw England to a draw that secured a first Ashes series win in 19 years.

Pietersen’s score was exactly the same as made by another South Africa-born batsman, Basil D’Oliveira, for England against Australia in an Ashes Test at The Oval in 1968.

Real Madrid clinch world record deal for Mbappe, says report

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Mbappe
Mbappe, under contract at Monaco until 2019, has been wooed so hard by some of Europe's top clubs. — AFP/File

PARIS: Real Madrid have reportedly reached a world record deal in principle to sign Kylian Mbappe from Monaco for 180 million euros ($210m, £160m), closing one of the hottest transfer sagas of the summer.

Spanish sports daily Marca, citing sources close to the negotiations, said the gifted teenage striker who shot to stardom last season is expected to join Real “in the next few days” on a six year deal.

French newspapers Le Parisien and Nice Matin were quick to announce that Monaco had denied the report. But in the cloak and dagger climate of rumour and innuendo that characterises football’s transfer operations, the latest twist revived speculation surrounding the future of Europe’s most-eligible young star.

Only the rumour mill surrounding Neymar and the massive sums involved have come close to eclipsing the buzz generated by Mbappe in recent weeks.

Neymar, Barcelona’s 25-year-old Brazilian superstar, is at the centre of frenzied speculation linking him to Paris Saint-Germain for a world record 222-million-euro.

Circling predators

The likelihood of that deal looks to have receded in the past few days as the Mbappe move takes centre stage. And if it goes through, Real will have completed a major coup by snatching one of the most coveted young players in football from under the noses of top European clubs including PSG and Premier League giants including Manchester City.

Real, currently on tour in the United States and due to play Manchester City in Los Angeles on Wednesday, have yet to comment on the Spanish report.

But Marca, known to have strong links to the Madrid club, insisted that Real are set to pay between 150-160m euros with add-ons of between 20 and 30m for Mbappe, dwarfing the current world transfer record of 105m Manchester United paid to lure Paul Pogba from Juventus last year.

Real are looking to fill the void left by Alvaro Morata who joined Premier League champions Chelsea last Friday in a deal reported to be worth up to 80 million euros.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, asked about Mbappe last week, said that Real were short one attacker after Morata’s departure but chose his words carefully.

“I am not saying we are lacking a centre forward but we are short of one attacker, that’s how things are,” he said. “We will see how we will manage that.”

If he does arrive at Zidane’s European champions the 18-year-old will be on a net annual salary of “seven million” euros, Marca said.

Mbappe, under contract at Monaco until 2019, has been wooed so hard by some of Europe’s top clubs that Monaco raised the red card and warned the circling predators that they could be reported to FIFA, world football’s governing body.

“Top European football clubs made contact with Kylian Mbappé and his entourage without our authorisation,” Monaco said on their website.

The club said they wanted to remind these clubs that such actions are contrary to French and international regulations.

Mbappe scored six goals in 10 Champions League outings and 16 in Ligue 1 as he exploded onto the scene in the second half of last season.

On Monday, Monaco lost full-back Benjamin Mendy to Manchester City in a world record 52 million (58 million euros, $67 million) deal for a defender.

Don’t look back in Amla says Hashim of Oval return

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LONDON: South Africa’s Hashim Amla has insisted memories of an inspired innings will play no part when he returns to one of his favourite venues for the third Test against England at The Oval.

Five years ago at the south London ground, Amla made South Africa’s highest individual Test score of 311 not out, his marathon effort playing a key role in an innings and 12-run win.

South Africa return to The Oval for Thursday’s third Test all square at 1-1 in their current four-match series with England after a crushing 340-run win at Trent Bridge earlier this month — a match where Amla scored important fifties in both innings.

The 34-year-old Amla, asked if he was as good a batsman now as he had been five years ago, told reporters at The Oval on Tuesday: “I’ve got the same name, I’ve trained as tough as I can train so for me it’s about continuing that.”

As for his more than 13-hour innings in 2012 — still only the second Test triple century at The Oval after England great Leonard Hutton’s 364 against Australia in 1938 — Amla insisted it was the bowlers who deserved credit for the Proteas winning that Test.

“I remember just trying to bat as long as I can and thankfully I did.

“The lasting memory was that we were bowling on the first day and I think England was in a good position and the way we came back the next day to bowl them out for 385.

“That was the turning point in the game. It got us back in the game to win that Test match. The fight we showed, that was the lasting memory.”

And that means, as far as Amla is concerned, that memories of South Africa’s highest individual Test score won’t be in his thoughts when he bats again at The Oval.

“I think we passed that five years ago,” explained the Durban-born batsman.

“A lot of cricket has happened in between, I don’t think there will be any thoughts of that.

“I find that with things that happened in the past, generally, if you linger on it too long it becomes more of a distraction than anything else so let’s see how this game, every moment is a different opportunity for something to happen.

Thursday’s match marks the 100th Test staged at The Oval — where the first Test in England took place in 1880.

Having had a spell playing for Oval-based Surrey the season after his triple century heroics, Amla knows the ground well.

“It’s probably in my top three or four best venues,” said Amla, himself 105 Test-veteran.

“I really enjoy it here. Especially when the sun is out and I don’t need to have hand-warmers in my pockets.”

‘Fiery’ Rabada

South Africa are set to be an even stronger side than the one that triumphed at Trent Bridge as Thursday’s match marks the return of Kagiso Rabada.

The fast bowler, one of the rising stars of world cricket, was banned from the second Test as a result of swearing at England all-rounder Ben Stokes during South Africa’s 211-run defeat in the first Test at Lord’s.

Amla said the 22-year-old Rabada’s own desire not to get banned again would be all the encouragement the bowler needed to modify his approach, adding no one in the Proteas’ camp wanted to douse the paceman’s “fiery” spirit.

“‘KG’ is a wonderful bowler. He’s been outstanding for us in all formats of the game,” said Amla of Rabada, who has already taken 77 wickets in 18 Tests at an average of under 25 apiece.

“I’m sure he doesn’t want to get banned again. No bowler would want to, no player would want to.

“The way he does it is entirely up to him. We’ve always allowed ‘KG’ to be ‘KG’ and enjoy his bowling.

“That’s how he enjoys it — by being fiery and having great intensity.”

I’m staying at Real, says Ronaldo

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Ronaldo
Ronaldo's declaration of intent to remain at the Bernabeu for the upcoming season comes despite rumours of his departure. — AFP/File

MADRID: Ending weeks of speculation about his future, Cristiano Ronaldo has told a Spanish newspaper he is staying put at Real Madrid to plunder more silverware.

“To win important trophies with my club and the personal honours last season was brilliant, to do it again would be nice,” Ronaldo told the sports daily Marca on Tuesday in an interview from Shanghai.

Ronaldo’s declaration of intent to remain at the Bernabeu for the upcoming season comes despite rumours of his departure which surfaced last month in Portuguese newspaper O Globo.

Those reports were founded on his apparent feeling of abandonment by his club over his run-in with the Spanish tax authorities.

Ronaldo, 32, has been summoned to appear before a  judge near Madrid on July 31 to answer four counts of evading 14.7 million euros ($16.8 million) in taxes.

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner has protested his innocence with O Globo saying he had threatened to leave Real over the investigation.

Since extending his contract last November until 2021, Ronaldo is the highest paid sports star in the world with $93 million (83m euro) in 2016-2017, according to Forbes magazine.

On Saturday Real manager Zinedine Zidane assured Real supporters that the superstar striker “was on holiday and would be back with us on (August) 5”.

Ronaldo has been given leave to miss the club’s pre-season US tour and Zidane, speaking in Los Angeles, insisted that he would be back at the club “on the fifth (of August) and I think he’ll stay for the next two or three years he’s got left with us.”

In Tuesday’s Marca interview Ronaldo also looked ahead to the 2018 World Cup with European champions Portugal.

“We still have to qualify but I’m hoping that Portugal can win an incredible title.”

Kohli tells India to show Sri Lanka who’s number one

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Kohli
Kohli said Tuesday that he wants a definitive end to the drama over the departure of Anil Kumble as coach. — AFP

GALLE: Two years ago Virat Kohli’s India started a series in Sri Lanka as the team almost anyone could beat, on Wednesday they take to the field in Galle as the team to beat.

India may have been nervous last time, but now Kohli says the side has come full circle with “no massive areas of concern” as they seek to strengthen their hold on number one Test nation status.

Two years ago, India had not won a series in seven attempts. They lost the opening Galle Test and it was an electro-shock. They won that series 2-1.

India have since been embroiled in near chaos off the field — the governing body put under Supreme Court administration and a coach forced out by clashes with the captain — but near domination in competition: 13 Tests played, 10 won, two drawn and just one defeat.

Kohli said Tuesday that he wants a definitive end to the drama over the departure of Anil Kumble as coach and a winning start to the new era with Ravi Shastri.

“We have spoken enough about these issues and it is something that we are not focusing on at all now,” the skipper Kohli said.

“We are just looking forward to the cricket now and in this series to showcase our skills and have consistent performances, which we have had as a side ever since we started our climb back in the rankings.”

‘Hard yards’

Kohli said Sri Lanka can expect a different start and that India can dominate Tests for years to come. They are expected to defend their top Test ranking in South Africa, England and Australia in the next year.

“It’s pretty different sitting here two years after that particular series,” Kohli said of the last Sri Lanka games.

Those Tests were “very important in us coming together as a team in believing that we can win a series and not just matches. So that was the beginning of that mindset.”

The captain added: “I think we have built a really good base for us as a team to be able to do that consistently over the next few years.

“We are pretty humble in our preparations and do the hard yards every game that we play.

“We have all bases covered strongly.”

India have ruled opening batsman Lokesh Rahul out of the first Test with a viral fever.

Kohli said there would be no experiments with the opening lineup, which means Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund should start the batting.

“I don’t think there are any massive areas of concern for us,” Kohli said.

“We’ve been looking to fine-tune smaller areas during the course of the game, which probably people might not be able to pick up.”

Kohli said the onus was on the Indian players to “put us into a position where we can’t lose.

“We have been able to put ourselves in a position in games, 80-85 percent of the games, where there’s only one winner left.

“That’s the kind of sustained pressure that we’ve been able to build.”