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Lovely surprise

ROTTERDAM — Holland manager Ronald Koeman is pleasantly surprised by Friday’s victory over world champions France.

“We’ve have shown we are broken the slump but I didn’t expect we would be so much better through 90 minutes,” said a delighted Ronald Koeman after a 2-0 win in Rotterdam inflicted a first defeat on the French since they won the World Cup in Russia.

The result means Holland can win the group if they draw in Gelsenkirchen against Germany on Tuesday, usurping the last two World Cup winners to advance to next June’s Nations League finals.

“I also did not expect this team would be as far in their reading of a match. We’ve shown on such a night that we’ve made enormous steps. From the beginning to the end we played really well,” Koeman said.

Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay scored the goals as the Dutch dominated against the world champions, looking much changed from the side that missed out on the 2016 European Championship and the last World Cup in Russia.

Holland beat Germany 3-0 last month in the Nations League to signal their potential but Koeman, appointed in February, then tried to temper the euphoria.

But he was fulsome in his praise after the latest victory.

“In the previous matches there were moments where we could have been a lot better. But to be better than we were against France will be very difficult,” said Koeman.

“It has given the team a lot of self-confidence. France didn’t come to play and try and make a decent game of it. It made it difficult to stay patient and to pick out moments.

“We had many chances for a second goal but their keeper (Hugo Lloris) was tremendous, otherwise the final score could’ve been 3-0 or 4-0.”

Depay said the young team were on the right track.

“I’m enjoying how the team is developing and if, in games like this, are able to get result, then we are on the right path.” — Reuters

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Moving past Nations League low

BERLIN — Manager Joachim Low on Friday said Germany must get over their “painful” relegation from the top tier of the inaugural Nations League.

Holland’s 2-0 win over world champions France in Rotterdam ensured the 2014 World Cup winners will slip into League B no matter the result of their clash with the Dutch in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday.

“For us, this result is obviously painful, but we must accept it,” Low said.

The Germans beat Russia 3-0 in a friendly on Thursday, with youngsters Leroy Sane, Niklas Sule and Serge Gnabry scoring the goals, and Low insisted his side has a bright future.

“Our eyes remain fixed on Euro 2020, for which we will qualify and where we want to send a strong team again,” he added.

“We will continue to make room for our young players and to gradually integrate them into the national team.”

Ronald Koeman’s Holland will pip France to a semifinal spot with either a draw or a victory over Germany, after having won the first encounter 3-0 in Amsterdam last month. — Reuters

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Disciplined Danes secure promotion

CARDIFF — Ryan Giggs is proud of his Wales side but admitted they can learn from Denmark after losing 2-1 in their Nations League B Group 4 clash on Friday.

Victory secured top position for the Danes and promotion into League A.

Nicolai Jorgensen and Martin Braithwaite’s goals won the game for Denmark at Cardiff Stadium.

Gareth Bale was the sole scorer for Wales.

“The most important thing was the result for us,” he told Sky Sports.

“Obviously we wanted to perform well, which we did in parts but ultimately we’re disappointed not to win the group.

“They (Denmark) are a good team, they had a great World Cup and they’re very highly ranked so we know they’re a good team.”

Wales boss Giggs added: “I’m proud of the lads because they kept going to the end and excited me and excited the crowd.

“We need to learn the other side — the discipline Denmark are so good at.”

Denmark, who reached the last 16 of this year’s World Cup in Russia, are now guaranteed a playoff to qualify for Euro 2020, should they fail to reach the finals during regular qualifying. — AFP

Tabarez hails debutants

LONDON — Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez lauded his young players on Friday after matching Brazil in a scrappy game in London only to lose 1-0 to a controversial late penalty.

Missing Atletico Madrid’s defensive pair Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin, Tabarez handed debuts to 18-year-old centreback Bruno Mendez and 22-year-old full back Mathias Suarez, as well as a first start to goalkeeper Martin Campana.

All three did not let the manager down at the Emirates as Uruguay were unlucky to lose to Neymar’s 76th minute spotkick.

Tabarez singled out Mendez, who more than held his own against a pacy Brazilian attack of Neymar, Roberto Firmino and Douglas Costa.

The veteran manager compared Mendez’s debut to that of Gimenez, who played his first international match, also aged 18, in a crucial World Cup qualifier against Colombia in 2013.

“He showed things that all talents show, they seem like they are wise beyond their years,” Tabarez said.

“It seems like they have more experience than they actually have.

“That happens in small countries where there aren’t that many footballers. Jose Jimenez also debuted in very similar conditions to Bruno Mendez and now he has consolidated his international position.”

Uruguay have a population of 3.5 million but have won the World Cup twice and are never overawed when competing against neighbours Brazil and Argentina.

“So we don’t have an abundance. When one player appears in Uruguay, 10 appear in Argentina and 40 in Brazil,”
added Tabarez.

“But it encourages the hope we can be competitive against teams that maybe have more potential than we have.”

Brazil won the decisive penalty after Danilo was brought down in the box but Uruguay claimed there was a handball in the build-up.

“We were very much the equal of Brazil, we had chances, they had, too,” Tabarez said.

“It’s a shame the match was decided by a controversial incident, the game didn’t deserve that.” — Reuters

Succesful experiment

CORDOBA — Caretaker manager Lionel Scaloni is very happy his experimental side defeated Mexico 2-0 in a friendly in Cordoba on Friday.

A first half header from defender Ramiro Funes Mori and an own goal from substitute Isaac Brizuela after the break sealed the game for La Albiceleste.

Scaloni handed debuts to Spurs defender Juan Foyth and Velez Sarsfield midfielder Gaston Gimenez and was delighted with the performances of what was a young and experimental side that included the return of Erik Lamela after injury.

“I am very happy because some players were able to make their debuts,” Scaloni said.

“They are adding something and important things come along with them.

“The young lads have to know the jersey carries a weight.”

Argentina was again without Lionel Messi, who took a sabbatical from international competition after the World Cup in Russia.

But his absence seems to matter little to Scaloni who recorded his third win in five games with four clean sheets.

Scaloni took the reigns from Jorge Sampaoli who was sacked after a disappointing campaign in Russia.

Argentina and Mexico meet again in Mendoza on Wednesday. — Reuters

Gunners reveal breakaway talks

LONDON — Arsenal have taken the bold step to confirm speculations they have been in discussions on the controversial breakaway Super League, reports Goal.

The rumours have been circulating for some time 16 leading clubs in Europe are planning to ditch the Champions League and form their own competition.

According to German magazine Der Spiegel, growing frustrations of the top clubs over the sharing of revenues with smaller clubs in the domestic league and Champions League have been sighted as a reason.

The reports were said to based on documents attained from Football Leaks.

Despite their revelation, Arsenal managing director Vinai Venkatesham was adamant the club would not be part of a competition that would steal the thunder from the
Premier League.

“Arsenal aren’t or never have been interested in playing in any competition that weakens the Premier League,”
Venkatesham said.

“The Premier League is the world’s leading league in the leading sport, we don’t want to do anything to damage the it.

“I see these articles Arsenal want to break away, we never want to do any of that. But we also have to recognise we have to be in these conversations or we wouldn’t be responsible. It doesn’t necessarily mean we support them.”

Meanwhile, the club’s director of football Raul Sanllehi didn’t discount the possibility of Super League emerging, but not in the
near future.
“Not in the short term because we have an agreement with Uefa right now — but I don’t know what the future will bring because the future writes itself,” said Sanllehi

“I don’t envision, not in the short term or medium term, radical change.

“But what I can assure you is, we think the current situation is optimal. We are very proud to be in the Premier League.”
— Agencies

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Ranieri confident of Fulham turnaround

LONDON — Claudio Ranieri said on Friday he was confident he can drag rock bottom Fulham out of relegation danger after taking over this week.

Ranieri, the manager behind Leicester’s incredible 2016 league title win, took over from sacked Slavisa Jokanovic on Wednesday after his Serb predecessor only managed one win in 12 matches in his debut season as a coach in England’s
top flight.

Fulham have lost nine times on their way to gaining just five points, but Ranieri believes there is still hope for a team bolstered with around €100 million (RM478 million) of summer signings after winning promotion from the Championship
last season.

“When I watched some matches I said this team has enough quality to be safe … I need fighting spirit,” said Ranieri told reporters.

The Italian wants to combine that talent — owner Shahid Khan splashed out on Jean Michael Seri, Andre Schurrle, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Alfie Mawson — with the grit that saw his Leicester team overcome all the odds two years ago.

“Quality with fighting spirit we can do a good job. If there is only quality, without organisation, defensive tactics, it’s difficult to help the players to maintain the clean sheet,” added Ranieri.

“Now for me it’s important to put in the brain of my players this philosophy. Play football, play well, but when you lose the ball I want to see you with an anchor,
like pirates.”

Ranieri returns to England as a coach for the first time since being sacked by Leicester in February 2017 after a disastrous
title defence.

He was in Leicester last weekend to pay his respects to Foxes owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and the four others killed in a helicopter crash last month.

However Ranieri played down suggestions of creating another miracle by winning the title with Fulham.

“Forget what happened yesterday, that was a bonus. A fairytale I forget,” the 67-year-old said of his and Leicester’s first ever league title win.

“Now it’s important, don’t think about the miracle. It’s important there will be a lot of battles and it’s important to be
ready together.”

Asked whether he would reward his Fulham players with pizza when they kept clean sheets like he did at Leicester, Ranieri joked: “Pizza is not enough now. Better everybody to McDonald’s.”

He will face two of his former clubs in his first three games, with the Dec 2 trip to Chelsea followed by what will be an emotional return to Leicester three
days later.

He said: “I think only of Southampton. In this moment it’s important. Don’t think about other things, Southampton, Southampton. And then after Southampton, Chelsea.” — AFP

Jin Wei, girls’ pair storm into semis

PETALING JAYA — Youth Olympic singles gold medallist Goh Jin Wei continued her fine form in the World Junior Championships in Markham, Canada when she reached the semifinals on Friday.

The seeded Jin Wei, gunning for her second world junior crown after clinching it in 2015, needed just 24 minutes to thrash South Korea’s Lee So-yul 2-11, 21-5 i the
last eight.

The 18-year-old played China’s Wang Zhiyi in a repeat of the Youth Olympic final, late last night.

Meanwhile, girls’ doubles third seeds Pearly Tan Koong Le-Toh Ee Wei also checked into the last four after beating Shiena Fukumoto-Natsu Saito of Japan, 21-12, 21-10.

However, it was the end of the road for other Malaysian shuttlers in the quarterfinals.

Aidil Sholeh Ali Sadikin lost 21-8, 21-18 to India’s Lakshya Sen while Ng Tze Yong was beaten 21-19, 21-8 by Kodai Naraoka
of Japan.

Girls’ singles Eoon Qi Xuan also failed to join Jin Wei in the last four after a 23-21, 23-21 defeat to Dane Line Christophersen.

In the mixed doubles, Choong Hon Jian and Pearly found the going tough against second seeds Rehan Naufal Kusharjanto-Siti Fadia Silva Ramadhanti of Indonesia and suffered a 21-10, 21-17 while Chia Wei Jie-Toh Ee Wei lost 21-12, 21-17 to another Indonesian pair Leo Rolly Carnando-Indah Cahya Sari Jamil.

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Stay focused, boys

PETALING JAYA — National coach Tan Cheng Hoe, while acknowledging Malaysia’s improved performance against Vietnam, lamented the lack of focus that costed victory in Hanoi on Friday, reports Goal.

Harimau Malaya, despite keeping possession for the majority of the game, were caught napping by the Golden Dragons during counterattacks to secure a crucial 2-0 victory in the AFF Cup.

The defeat has not only put Malaysia’s march into the semis on hold, it has also increased the pressure of Cheng Hoe’s boys who now must beat Myanmar in their final group fixture at Bukit Jalil Stadium
next Saturday.

Malaysia had beaten Cambodia 1-0 and Laos 3-1 in their earlier Group A matches.

Cheng Hoe found it hard fathom the defeat after playing well against Vietnam who had opted for a five-men defence and also utilising two defensive midfielders upset the rhythm of their rivals.

Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo’s tactics worked as Malaysia struggled to make inroads against a solid backline and were punished with goals from Nguyen Cong Phuong (11th minute) and Nguyen Anh Duc (60th).

“We played better than the last two games but because of the transition the players and how well they executed it, we conceded the goals. We had good ball possession but we just couldn’t create enough of chances to score,” said Cheng Hoe.

“We know they have a fast and quick attack. Vietnam punished us dearly at the back. They played very well. But overall I’m satisfied with our performance and it’s a lesson for the players.”

Cheng Hoe, however, is upbeat as Malaysia have been playing better by
each match.

“We’ve been playing good football and that won’t change. The only thing is that we need to improve in the attacking and make use of the opportunity in front of goal. Against Myanmar we have to go full swing and go for the win,” he added.

Cheng Hoe has also given the players a two-day break before returning to training on Monday.

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Confident ‘Shadow Cat’

This year has been a dream for mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Jihin “Shadow Cat” Radzuan.

The 20-year-old made her ONE Championship debut in March and is 2-0 in the promotion after victories over Pooja Tomar and Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol.

She is looking for her fourth career victory against former atomweight title contender, Taiwan’s Jenny Huang, at Bukit Jalil’s Axiata Arena on Dec 7 at ONE: Destiny of Champions.

It will be a daunting task for Jihin but the Johorean said she has never been more confident.

The Ultimate MMA Academy exponent added she’d like to maintain her undefeated record (3-0) for as long as she can.

“I’m excited and quite well prepared. This won’t be an easy battle for me,” said Jihin.

“Throughout my debut year, ONE has always given me tough opponents, and I love the fact that I’m up against a former world title contender next.”

The stand up fighter went on to social media platforms to study her opponent’s moves.

“I’ve spent a lot of time watching her previous fights to understand her strengths and weaknesses together with my coach Melvin Yeoh.

“I’m 90 per cent confident of bringing the win back to Johor and keeping my undefeated record. I’m better in striking, but she’s a better grapler.”

Her 27-year-old opponent is on a three-match losing streak and has yet to record a win since Dec 2016.

Despite the poor streak, Jihin said the records count for nothing.

“I’m not looking at her record. I know she’s got no wins in the past three matches, but that doesn’t matter to me,” she added.

“As fighters, we win and lose. But based on her last fight, I’ve never seen her change her game plan, so hopefully, she did not change much.

Things have been going well for Jihin outside the cage too.

She has graced advertising campaigns and even landed a small role in an MMA movie Sangkar, set for release in May next year.

But the proudest moment for her is representing Malaysia on the ONE canvas.

“This year has seen my dreams have come true. I’m a shy person, I can’t talk much, but I can fight,” Jihin said.

“To do these other things has been great, but every night I go back and feel blessed that I’ve represented my country on the biggest stage despite only being 20 years old.”

When asked on what her plans are for next year, the fighter replied: “To have more professional fights under my belt.”

Another three or four victories could see Jihin go up against ONE women’s atomweight champion Angela Lee.

But despite that exciting prospect, Jihin said her mind is fixed on what happens now.

“I hope to get to that belt one day, but I’m not rushing.”

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