Smooth Lions

AMSTERDAM — There have been far too many World Cup let-downs for any England supporter to get excited by the result of a low-key friendly against one-time Dutch aristocrats fallen on hard times.

Yet the comprehensive nature of England’s 1-0 win over Holland in Amsterdam still felt like an encouraging breakthrough for manager Gareth Southgate on Friday.

Indeed, it almost felt like a role reversal.

In the past, the Dutch pass masters always seemed to set a benchmark for comfort and confidence on the ball that appeared beyond the English game.

Here, though, was something very different.

“I was really pleased with the quality of our football,” Southgate told reporters.

“The tactical awareness the players showed. I was pleased to see the players enjoying having the ball.

“A new generation of players are coming though our academies and they have the ability to play as we did.

“They play in a really composed way. They think about the angles and they’re intelligent footballers.”

Competition for places is hotting up. Jesse Lingard, who scored the winner in the second half, gave the sort of electric display to keep another potential key man, Dele Alli, on his toes.

One area of concern is that for all their superiority they lack the cutting edge of injured star striker Harry Kane.

Nonetheless, Southgate’s enthusiasm was undimmed.

“I should not be inhibiting the way they play. There were a couple of moments when I was thinking, ‘whoah, what are you doing?’ but they have absolute belief in their ability,” he said.

“They will concede possession sometimes, for sure, but I am enjoying watching them.” — Reuters

Rowdy England fans arrested

AMSTERDAM police said on Friday they had arrested almost 100 England football supporters ahead of a friendly international against the Netherlands.

Videos posted online showing crowds packing the narrow streets and bridges in the canal city, singing and cheering.

“The number of arrests of England supporters has now climbed to close to 90,” the Amsterdam police said in a tweet.

The men were mainly accused of disrupting public order, the police said.

One video on the Dutch public broadcaster NOS showed police wielding truncheons, and backed by horseback officers, wading into the crowds to restore order in the city’s notorious Red Light district.

In another video, fans were seen tossing a bike off a bridge onto a passing canal boat.

The match is being used by England as part of their World Cup build-up, a tournament for which the Dutch failed to qualify.

England won 1-0, Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard scoring the decisive goal.

England manager Gareth Southgate had urged fans to conduct themselves in a sporting manner.

But his words were ignored by the 5,000 away fans who jeered the Dutch national anthem before kickoff.

“I heard some of the booing of the anthem which obviously isn’t acceptable,” Southgate told a post-match press conference.

“The rest, that’s the first I’ve heard just outside before,” said Southgate.

“Without knowing the details … obviously it’s not something I want to hear.

“Our players have represented their country really well with pride and with some style.

“So, anything else that takes away from that is a great shame.” — AFP

Low figuring things out

DUSSELDORF — Germany coach Joachim Low says he knows the areas where the defending champions must improve before the World Cup after drawing 1-1 with Spain on Friday.

Rodrigo Moreno put Spain ahead after just six minutes in Duesseldorf, but hosts Germany levelled when Thomas Mueller hit a superb equaliser in his 90th international.

“There was a good intensity to the game, we were able to learn a lot,” said Low.

“Both teams have room to improve and you want to keep the cards close to your chest before a World Cup.”

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta gave the Germany midfield a masterclass during the first 45 minutes.

The 33-year-old outplayed Germany midfielders Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos by producing countless silky passes at the heart of Spain’s attack.

“Spain have combinations who play together regularly, and the understanding was automatic,” said Loew.

“Spain are difficult to defend against, you have to go man-to-man sometimes.

“We wanted to see a few mistakes, so we know which areas we need to work on.”

Spain, who host Argentina on Tuesday in Madrid, are now 17 games unbeaten while Germany’s run is 22 without defeat as they prepare to play Brazil in Berlin, also on Tuesday.

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui took the positives from having frustrated the Germans in their own backyard.

“Overall, I see this match very positively,” said the Spain boss, who praised Thiago Alcantara and Isco for the problems they caused in Germany’s midfield.

“We played with personality, ambition, rigour and confidence in who we are.

“I’m happy with the performances of Thiago and Isco.

“Of course, there are always things to improve.

“The score is fair, we didn’t dominate the game, but we tried to win the match.

“It was a great game for the spectators, between two teams who really wanted to win.”

Spain will host Argentina next (3.30am), with the Germans await the arrival of Brazil to Berlin (2.45am), both games on Wednesday. — AFP


Deschamps frustrated by tame Les Bleus

SAINT-DENIS (France) — France coach Didier Deschamps hit out at his team’s lack of aggressiveness as they squandered a two-goal lead in a 3-2 friendly home defeat by Colombia on Friday.

Les Bleus opened a 2-0 advantage courtesy of goals by Olivier Giroud and Thomas Lemar before losing their composure at Stade de France, less than three months before the World Cup in Russia.

Luis Muriel, Radamel Falcao and Juan Quintero scored for Colombia, who were the more determined side in an entertaining encounter.

“We suffered a lot. They were more aggressive, and we failed to put speed in our game,” said Deschamps.

“We had a great opening first half hour then Colombia gave us a lesson of aggressiveness and we sometimes were complacent.”

According to Deschamps, who as a player captained France to their only world title in 1998, his side were not at their usual best.

“I can’t be happy. We failed to be up to high-level standards in the second half,” he said.

“As far as will power and determination are concerned, we were behind them tonight.”

Centre back Raphael Varane echoed the coach’s point of view.

“We lacked concentration after a good start,” the Real Madrid player said.

“This is the kind of game we need to improve, we need to learn from our mistakes.”

France, who were drawn in the World Cup Group C with Denmark, Peru and Australia, next face tournament hosts Russia in St Petersburg.

Colombia, who are in Group H with Japan, Poland and Senegal, will take on Australia in London. — Reuters


Ronaldo’s late brace secures victory

ZURICH — Cristiano Ronaldo won a personal duel with Mohamed Salah in Portugal’s 2-1 friendly victory over Egypt.

The Real Madrid superstar netted two stoppage time goals cancelling out Salah’s opener.

Ronaldo, appearing in his 900th career match, made his mark to devastating effect as time ran out.

First, he pulled his team level with a header from a Ricardo Quaresma cross, before adding the winner in almost identical circumstances in the fourth minute of injury time.

However, the 33-year-old Real Madrid star had to wait for the VAR system to validate his goal after a suspicion of offside. His two-goal salvo took his Portugal tally to 81.

Earlier, Salah, broke the deadlock in Zurich after 56 minutes.

“In the last minutes we were better, created four chances and showed great determination to turn it around. They showed they did not want to lose,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.

“And with Ronaldo, it’s about a goal and another goal.”

Ronaldo had two first half chances blocked as he tried to continue his impressive recent form which had seen him score 18 goals in his last nine La Liga games, including registering a 50th hattrick.

Salah was replaced late in the game by Shikabala and Portugal sensed a chance to grab a share of the spoils.

Quaresma, meanwhile, saw a 72nd minute attempt saved by Mohamed El-Shenawy in the Egypt goal while Bruno Alves saw a close-range header from a corner drift wide of the goal.

Shikabala had a fierce shot saved by Beto diving high to his right before Alves’s frustrations boiled over late in the game with a yellow card.

But with time running out, Ronaldo had the final say as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner moved into third place on the all-time list of international goal scorers.

Legendary Hungarian striker Ferenc Puskas scored 84 goals while Iran’s Ali Daei leads the list with 109 goals in 149 internationals.

Egypt, back at a World Cup for the first time since 1990, will play in Group A at the finals this summer with hosts Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia.

Portugal are in Group B and will face Spain, Morocco and Iran. — AFP


One happy Tite

MOSCOW — Five-time world champions Brazil brushed away World Cup hosts Russia 3-0 on Friday.

The Selecao showed no signs of missing Neymar as they fine-tuned preparations for this year’s World Cup.

Inter Milan fullback Miranda scored the opener while Barcelona midfield pair Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho scored one apiece at Moscow’s renovated Luzhniki Stadium where the World Cup final will be played.

“I’m very happy with my team’s performance,” Brazilian manager Tite said. “My players put into practice everything that we planned for this match.

“They’ve learned well all the lessons that we’ve been working on in training and they converted the chances that they created into goals.

“In the first half we studied Russia’s play and tactics and made certain changes at the break to show our best in the second half. I believe my team is almost ready for the World Cup.

Tite’s next job is to psychologically prepare Brazil for a match with their 2014 semifinal nemesis Germany.

“Now we need to forget the 7-1 defeat at the previous World Cup and to perform with dignity in Berlin.

“We must be mentally strong and play our best football on Wednesday (2.45am).”

Russian head coach Stanislav Cherchesov said his team failed to convert their plan as classy Brazil were in complete command.

“Brazil are without doubt the classier team. They forced us to make mistakes and capitalised on them,” he said.

“We also created some chances but unfortunately failed to convert any of them.” — AFP


No Messi, no problem

MANCHESTER — Ever Banega ensured Argentina weren’t derailed by Lionel Messi’s absence as the World Cup contenders clinched a 2-0 win over Italy on Friday.

Messi reportedly suffered a groin strain in training on Thursday, so the Barcelona forward was an unused substitute as Argentina kicked off their preparations for the World Cup in June.

Ahead of a busy end to the domestic season and then the World Cup, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi wasn’t going to risk aggravating his injury.

Without their talismanic star, Jorge Sampaoli’s side showed they have strength in depth with a solid display capped by late goals from Banega and Manuel Lanzini at the Etihad.

Having edged through to the World Cup thanks to Messi’s treble in a 3-1 win over Ecuador in October, Argentina are focused on peaking in Russia, where they will play Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria in the group stage.

Clearly they need Messi to have any chance of lifting the trophy, but, with Sergio Aguero also sidelined by injury, Sampaoli will be encouraged by the performance of his understudies.

“We played this game as a final,” said Sampaoli, who is set to be without Angel Di Maria for next week’s friendly against Spain after he suffered a thigh injury.

“The team had a lot of stability and the collective level was very good.”

Italy remain in turmoil after failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

It was an emotional evening for the Azzurri as they played for the first time since their defender Davide Astori died of a suspected cardiac arrest earlier this month.

“We suffered with their control of possession and lost some shape,” Italy boss Luigi Di Biagio said.

“We deserved more in the second half but let’s not forget who we were up against.

“The group must develop. There are a lot of youngsters who need experience.

“We must realise this is a difficult moment for the team. We ask everyone to be patient.” — AFP


Lessons for new Socceroos boss

SYDNEY — Australia were handed a 4-1 thumping by Norway in a friendly on Friday.

New coach Bert van Marwijk had the full scale of his task exposed when his World Cup-bound Socceroos put in a wretched defensive display.

The Norwegians, who will not be in Russia, opened up the Australian defence almost at will.

Ola Kamara was only a metre out of the goal but still had time to control the ball with his left foot before lashing it home with his right and Tore Reginiussen had a free header from a freekick to score the second.

Fullback Bailey Wright’s loose pass gifted Kamara his second.

The only goal the Australians were not at fault was a curling rightfoot shot with which Kamara completed his hattrick.

Midfielder Jackson Irvine had given the visitors the lead with a thumping header in the firsthalf.

“I learned a lot from this game,” Van Marwijk told reporters in Oslo.

“(I learned) we are not ready yet but I already knew that before.

“We made too many defensive mistakes. When you lead 1-0 … you must have control in midfield. We lost the ball too easy in that area.

“And the goals we got against us, that can’t happen…”

Austrlia’s biggest problem was goalscoring.

Van Marwijk’s attempt to remedied that saw him hand debuts to forwards Andrew Nabbout and Dimitri Petratos.

“I felt a little bit sorry for Nabbout and Petratos because it was very difficult for them,” he said.

“They can play football. Maybe I must blame myself that I let them make their debuts in this match.”

Van Marwijk’s focus will now switch to Tuesday’s clash in London against Colombia. — Reuters


No happy return for McLeish

GLASGOW — Alex McLeish saw his second spell as Scotland manager start with a defeat as Costa Rica won 1-0 in a friendly international at Glasgow’s Hampden Park on Friday.

A Scotland side showing four debutants was undone by Marco Urena’s 14th-minute goal in a repeat result of Costa Rica’s victory over the Scots at Italia 90 — the Central Americans’ first match at a World Cup finals.

Both Costa Rica manager Oscar Ramirez and former Aberdeen defender McLeish played in that match, with Scotland’s defeat something of a surprise.

Times have changed, however, and with Costa Rica set to make their fifth World Cup finals appearance at Russia 2018, while Scotland’s 20-year wait to take part in a major tournament goes on, Friday’s result was no shock.

“I would expect common sense to prevail,” said McLeish, who won seven of 10 games in charge during his previous spell in 2007, including a famous 1-0 win away to France, as Scotland narrowly missed out to Italy for Euro 2008 qualification.

“I was a bit disappointed with the first half but much more pleased with the second.

“There was a lot of changes, five new caps, not a rhythm, five days of training, some of the guys didn’t train a couple of the days because of Sunday games.”

Ramirez’s side featured Real Madrid goalkeeper Kaylor Navas, with Celtic defender Cristian Gamboa, a bit-part player at Parkhead, at wingback.

Meanwhile, Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna, Swansea forward Oli McBurnie and Fulham’s Kevin McDonald were among the newcomers in the Scotland side. — AFP


TSG locked on target

MUAR — Terengganu Cycling Team (TSG) have the coveted Yellow Jersey locked on target in today’s final stage of Le Tour de Langkawi from Rembau to Dataran Merdeka (141.1km).

Harrif Saleh, 29, gave Malaysia a “70 percent chance” that their Russian rider Artem Ovechkin can survive the onslaught of 21 teams.

“Indeed our plan is to help Artem to retain the Yellow Jersey.

“We will fight to see a TSG rider win overall. We want to create history for the team tomorrow. So Malaysia pray for us,” he said post-race.

Ovechkin who speaks a little English, echoed Harrif’s excitement for the
final stage.

“If I win, this is going to be a historic win for a Malaysia team.

“I’m optimistic and I know my teammates can help me,” he said as he clung on to the Red Polka Dot Jersey for Best Climber.

TSG saw a slight drama early in the race when its rider Metkel Eyob fell at Km8 but got back in the saddle a few minutes after the crash.

“I Injured my left knee, it’s bleeding but I knew I had to continue riding to help Artem retain the Yellow Jersey. So I rode to Muar in extreme pain… I finished the race and helped TSG to hold the jersey.

“This is just a slight injury. I will ride in tomorrow’s final stage,” said the 24-year-old import rider from Eritrea, Africa.

If Ovechkin manages to hold on the Yellow Jersey today, this will be a historic first for a Malaysia team to take the overall victory in LTdL since its inauguration in 1996.

In yesterday’s 222.4-km Stage 7, none of the its riders reached the podium but TSG managed to keep the Yellow Jersey.

Manuel Belletti from Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec staged a great comeback to win Stage 7 yesterday in a bunch finishing of 5:08:23s.

The Italian had a flu infection last year and in January, had a tragic crash in Argentina Tour where he broke three ribs and a collarbone.

“The win today is a great comeback for me after the tragic crash three months ago. The flu and crash led to a year’s drought — no win,” said the 32-year-old.

Stage 7 winner Belletti was followed in by Eugert Zhupa (Wilier Triestina-Sidermac) and Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana Pro Team), third.

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