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Ali magic as Qatar shock Japan to win first Asian Cup

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Abu Dhabi: Qatar stunned Japan 3-1 to win their first Asian Cup sparked by a moment of magic from record-breaker Almoez Ali and after nail-biting late drama.

Sudan-born striker Ali scored with an acrobatic bicycle kick after just 12 minutes before Abdelaziz Hatim curled in a superb second and Akram Afif converted a VAR-assisted penalty to give the 2022 World Cup hosts a famous victory in Abu Dhabi.

Qatar survived a scare at 2-0 when Takumi Minamino pulled one back on 69 minutes, only for Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov to award the Maroons a penalty on review for a handball by Japan captain Maya Yoshida.

 

Ali became the first player to score nine goals at a single Asian Cup after only being cleared to play just hours before kickoff following a UAE protest over his eligibility.

The Qataris had been pelted with plastic bottles and shoes during the 4-0 semi-final thrashing of hosts United Arab Emirates over the Gulf blockade of the tiny, energy-rich state.

Emirati football officials subsequently lodged a formal protest over the eligibility of Ali and Iraqi-born defender Bassam Al-Rawi, which has been thrown out by the Asian Football Confederation.

Qatar had never before gone beyond the Asian Cup quarter-finals but they scored 16 unanswered goals coming into the final and kept a record six clean sheets.

Japan, meanwhile, had never lost an Asian Cup final, winning the last of their record four titles in 2011.

But the Blue Samurai were soon chopped down to size by Ali’s outrageous opener, taking him past Iran legend Ali Daei’s record tally of eight goals at the 1996 tournament.

Cleverly found by Afif, Ali flicked the ball up to himself before launching into an overhead volley that left Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda helpless as it flew in off the post.

Ali almost scored again within a minute, only to be denied by a desperate block from Yoshida.

However, Qatar doubled their lead in the 27th minute after yet another Afif assist — his 10th of the tournament — as Hatim bent in a sumptuous left-foot shot from distance.

Japan, whose only previous Asian Cup defeat by Qatar came 31 years ago, mustered little of note, much to the chagrin of their colourful fans among a crowd of 36,000 — several sporting fancy dress, including one hardy soul in an inflatable sumo suit.

That all changed when Minamino breached Qatar’s defence for the first time this tournament with a delicate chip after Hatim had blazed over from close range.

But moments later Afif ended Japan’s resistance from the spot to complete a fairytale triumph for Qatar.


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I will always be there for development of football : Chhetri

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New Delhi: Sunil Chhetri, the all-time leading scorer for India in international football, says he is always there to help develop the sport in the national capital, where he was brought up.

The 34-year-old Padma Shri was conferred the first ever Football Ratna honour by Football Delhi, the association governing the sport in the city.

“I am honoured by the kind gesture of Football Delhi and recognising me with the Football Ratna award. My support will always be there for the development of football in Delhi and I am sure the current management is working hard to develop football in Delhi and make Delhi a model football state in India,” Chhetri said.

 

Football Delhi president Shaji Prabhakaran, himself a former player of repute and administrator at the All India Football Federation and FIFA, presented the award to Chhetri.

“We are inspired by the spectacular achievements of Sunil. His professionalism, dedication, discipline and passion, on and off the field, is an example not only for the football fraternity but also for every Indian to dream big and achieve something spectacular in life,” Prabhakaran said.

“It is a great honour for us to confer the first ever Football Ratna to Sunil Chhetri and we express our gratitude and thanks to Sunil for his time and inspiration to develop football in Delhi.” On the occasion, Football Delhi also honoured Shubham Sarangi, youth player from Delhi who is currently the player of Delhi Dynamos squad for ISL. Shubham was part of AIFF Youth Academy since the age of 12 years and represented India in U-14 and U-17 youth national teams.

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Lacazette sent off in Arsenal loss; Chelsea, Napoli win

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London: Arsenal suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at BATE Borisov on a night forward Alexandre Lacazette will want to forget after being sent off late on, while Chelsea, Inter Milan and Napoli all won away in Europa League last 32 first-leg ties.

Spanish sides Sevilla, Valencia and Villarreal also tasted victory on the road, while Benfica, Club Brugge and Plzen have the upper hand heading into next week’s second legs.

Arsenal had scored 10 goals in two matches against BATE Borisov in the same competition in 2017 but never looked like being as prolific in the freezing temperatures of Belarus.

 

BATE took the lead when Stanislav Dragun nodded a free kick past Arsenal goalkeeper Peter Cech seconds before halftime after Lacazette put a header wide midway through the first half.

To compound his misery Lacazette was shown a red card five minutes from time for felling Aleksandar Filipovic with an elbow after the defender held him back and was also booked.

Arsenal’s London neighbours Chelsea did much better in similar temperatures, overcoming Malmo 2-1 in Sweden.

Ross Barkley gave the 2013 winners the lead when he stabbed home from close range on the half-hour and Oliver Giroud got his fifth goal in four Europa League matches with a slick back heel from a Willian cross 14 minutes into the second half.

Malmo’s Anders Christiansen scored a lovely goal on the break to make it 2-1 but the Swedes could not level the tie.

Italian clubs also enjoyed success with Napoli beating Zurich 3-1 in Switzerland, while Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez netted a 39th minute penalty for a 1-0 win at Rapid Vienna.

Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne put the visitors ahead after 12 minutes as he capitalised on a dreadful mistake by keeper Yanick Brecher and Jose Callejon doubled their lead in the 21st when he slotted home from Kevin Malcuit’s low cross.

Piotr Zielinski got the third 13 minutes from time before Benjamin Kololli grabbed a consolation from the penalty spot.

In the only tie featuring two teams who dropped down from the Champions League, visitors Benfica beat Galatasaray 2-1 after taking the lead in the 27th minute when Salvio converted a penalty given for handball.

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Never thought India call-up would come so early: Markande

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Mumbai: Mayank Markande had just demolished the England Lions with an impressive 5/31 to help India A register a comprehensive win by an innings-and-68-run win inside three days in the second and final unofficial Test, in Mysore. But moments just got better for the 21-year-old after being included in the Indian T20I side which will face Australia in the two-match series from February 24.

But the India call-up is a bolt from the blue for the youngster who has been in impressive form over the past few months. “Get a national call-up is the biggest achievement in a player’s career. To be honest I was not expecting this. I did not think I would get included the national set-up this early. I consider myself really lucky,” said Markande.

The last one year has been “amazing” for Markande where he played 7 first-class matches and picked up 34 wickets at an average of 21.26 (including three five-wicket hauls.) But he attributes his India call-up to years of hard work.

 

“My performances in the Ranji Trophy along with meaningful performances for India A must have been noticed by the selectors. and I am really happy that they have given me a chance to prove myself,” he said.

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