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IS MESSI AKIN TO MARADONA OFF THE FIELD?

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Barcelona football star Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is the only Argentine to truly live up to being described as the next Diego Maradona so it was little surprise the Barcelona captain should dedicate his goal in Sunday’s 4-0 Liga win over Osasuna to his late compatriot.

Argentina’s two iconic players may be contrasting characters but they shared many traits including a bond with Newell’s Old Boys and the Barca captain removed his shirt to reveal the red and black of the Rosario club before pointing to the sky.

Lionel Messi was born a year after Maradona captained Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986 in Mexico but he was at Newell’s stadium as a fan in 1993 when Maradona made his debut for the club.

Messi’s goal on Sunday was striking in its similarity to one Maradona scored that day against Emelec, both players dribbling across the edge of the area before finding the top corner.

It was not the only time Lionel Messi imitated Maradona.

His solo effort against Getafe in 2007 was a carbon copy of Maradona’s second against England in the ‘86 World Cup quarter-final also remembered for the Argentine’s “Hand of God” goal.

Sparked by a dance past two players near the halfway line, it was finished off with a dribble round the keeper and a slide to the ground as the ball trickled into the net.

That same season, Messi produced his own “Hand of God” moment by punching the ball into the net against Espanyol, prompting an Argentine commentator to yell: “That’s Maradona dressed up as Lionel Messi. He has been reincarnated.”

The two players also shared a low centre of gravity, incredible passing range and vision plus a magical left foot, although their characters often seemed worlds apart.

EVENTFUL CAREER

Maradona craved the spotlight throughout his eventful career and was often in the news for his off-field activities.

Yet that often helped his image, particularly in Argentina where thousands of people have defied COVID-19 restrictions to mourn their hero, who died aged 60 on Wednesday.

While Messi sampled the Barcelona night life as a youth, he is a private family man, having had three boys with childhood sweetheart Antonela Roccuzzo who he married in 2017.

The biggest scandal was when he was found guilty of tax fraud, a charge also faced by Maradona whose stellar career was truncated by years of drug use, overeatig and alcoholism.

But who ranks as the better player?

Maradona scored 346 goals in 679 matches for his clubs and country in all competitions but two drug bans plus health and injury problems meant he only spent eight years at the very top of his game.

Messi, who began his career in 2004, has played 855 matches and scored 712 goals, with still a few years left in him at 33. He is Barca’s record scorer and most decorated player, hoisting 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies.

DOMINANT PLAYER

Maradona never won Europe’s top club prize but he did drag an ordinary Napoli side to two Serie A titles and a UEFA Cup triumph, while he was equally talismanic for Argentina and the dominant player at the 1986 World Cup.

Messi is Argentina’s all-time top scorer but luck has deserted him when it matters most. He was on the losing side in the 2014 World Cup final which was lost to Germany in extra time and tasted defeat in two Copa America finals on penalties.

“Maradona is definitely the best player I ever saw, but Messi fans shouldn’t get angry about that because he lives in a different era,” Argentina’s president Alberto Fernandez said earlier this year.

“But you could put Maradona alongside 10 broomsticks and he would still make the team win.”

Former players find it harder to choose who was the best.

“Diego was more artistic and more passionate, but Messi has achieved more,” said Maradona’s ex-Argentina team mate Jorge Valdano.

Current Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone, who played with Maradona for Sevilla and Argentina added: “It doesn’t make sense to choose between them, they played in different eras.

“Diego was much more emotional but Leo scored many more goals. They were both extraordinarily good but very different.”

REUTERS

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Ngidi, Nortje put Proteas in command against West Indies

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GROS ISLET [ST LUCIA]: South Africa’s Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje stole show with the ball before West Indies’ Jayden Seales picked three on debut as 14 wickets fell on opening day of first Test between West Indies and South Africa at Daren Sammy Cricket Ground in Gros Islet, St Lucia.

The visitors were clearly on top at the end of the first day as Ngidi (5/19) and Nortje (4/35) combined to dismiss the home team for just 97. Coming out to bat, the Proteas ended the day on 128/4 — a lead of 31 runs with six wickets in the bag.The home team had something to cheer about as debutant Seales bagged three wickets to keep hosts in the game.

While he started with the wicket of Keegan Peterson in his very first over, he had the prized wicket of Aiden Markram (60) and Kyle Verreyne (6) by the end of the day. The start was just what the doctor ordered for the Windies after the poor show with the bat as Kemar Roach sent back skipper Dean Elgar (0) off the fifth ball of the innings.But Markram and Rassie Van Der Dussen (34*) did the hard yards before the Windies debutant sent back opener Markram. At stumps, Quinton de Kock (4*) was at the crease giving Dussen company.While South Africa got off to a poor start with the bat, it was a decent start from the Windies side as skipper Kraigg Braithwaite and Shai Hope played out the first 11 overs and just when it looked they would start to add to the scoring rate as well, Nortje sent both of them back and hit Nkrumah Bonner on the helmet off the very first ball.

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KREJCIKOVA STORMS INTO WOMEN’S FINALS, SETS UP SUMMIT CLASH AGAINST PAVLYUCHENKOVA

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Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova on Thursday progressed to the finals of the ongoing French Open.The 25-year-old Krejcikova defeated Greece’s Maria Sakkari 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 to gain a hard-fought victory in the semi-final match here at Court Philippe-Chatrier. Now, Krejcikova will lock horns against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the women’s finals of the French Open.

The first set between Krejcikova and Sakkari saw back and forth action and at one stage, it stood level at 5-5. In the end, Krejcikova managed to hold her nerve and she took the first set 7-5.Greece’s Sakkari staged a comeback in the second set and she managed to win it 6-4, and as a result, the match progressed into the third and deciding set.

The third set saw back and forth action between both the opponents and at one stage, it was level at 7-7. However, going for the kill, Krejcikova raised her game and she progressed to the finals of the tournament.

Earlier on Thursday, 29-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova stormed into the finals of the ongoing French Open.

Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova defeated Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 6-3 in the semi-finals of the ongoing Grand Slam here at the Court Philippe-Chatrier.

On Friday, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will lock horns in the men’s semi-final while Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas will square off in the other semi-final.

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SPAIN GOOD ENOUGH TO REACH QUARTERS, SAYS LUIS GARCIA

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NEW DELHI: Former Spain winger Luis Garcia feels the team will have a good chance to spring a surprise in the upcoming European Championships. Spain is placed alongside Sweden, Poland, and Slovakia in Group E and the side will lock horns against Sweden in their first match of the tournament.The build-up to Spain’s tournament has not been great as captain Sergio Busquets has already been ruled out of the first game against Sweden due to a positive Covid-19 result and some of the other players are also isolating.However, on Thursday, defender Diego Llorente returned a negative test and now he needs to return two more negative results to be able to join the squad.“Yeah, it is going to be tough. We have to wait until we see the latest news. Two players tested positive for Covid-19, we need to see the next couple of days. We have players from the U-21 squad that we can bring into the national squad and I am not afraid of that. I can tell you that they are ready to play, they are going to be hungry to play in Euros with the senior side. They have enough experience, most of them to try the fill the gaps of the players who will miss out,” said Garcia while replying to an ANI query during a virtual press conference.“If we pull out more players, but it is going to be difficult to have a good tournament, still I am saying, this is a long tournament, you can have ups and downs, but if you can maintain 14-15 good players and you can maintain rotation among them, then it would be good. Hopefully, there are not many injuries,” added Garcia who will be a panelist on Sony Ten 2 studio show Football Extraaa for the upcoming UEFA Euro 2020.

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IOC chief Bach to arrive in Japan to see preparations of Olympics in July

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The International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach will arrive in Japan for the Tokyo Olympics in July, the CEO of the Tokyo organising body said on Thursday.

Toshiro Muto told reporters that John Coates, who heads the IOC Coordination Commission overseeing the games’ preparations, will arrive on Tuesday along with other senior officials, as per reports in Kyodo News.

Meanwhile, with the Tokyo Olympics round the corner, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is looking at redistributing the slots that were held for North Korea.

An IOC official speaking at a press conference explained the need to finalize the allocation of slots to ensure fairness as there are athletes waiting for information about participating in the games.

Even though North Korea’s Olympic committee is yet to make any official communication to the IOC on the decision to miss the Games, North Korea’s sports ministry had said in April that Pyongyang would not participate in the Summer Games to protect its athletes from the novel coronavirus. The last time they skipped the Olympics was in 1988.

Overseas media personnel will be strictly monitored after entering Japan for the Olympic Games to ensure they have no contact with the public, Tokyo Olympic chief Seiko Hashimoto has said.

Hashimoto told an executive board meeting in the opening remarks that Japan is still in a “very difficult situation,” and “to make sure that people don’t go to places other than the places where they are registered to go, we will use GPS to strictly manage their behavior.”

Media arriving from abroad need to submit pre-determined destinations during the games and with the use of GPS, they can be tracked by organisers to ensure they are isolated during the first 14 days after arrival.

“If any violations are found, measures like suspension or deprivation of accreditation or deportation proceedings will be applied,” Toshiro Muto, the Tokyo 2020 CEO, told reporters after the executive board meeting.“After 14 days, they can engage in normal media coverage,” Muto said. “Considering the current situation, that is tolerable.”

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HUMBLED BY THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEAD INDIA: SHIKHAR DHAWAN

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India opener Shikhar Dhawan who has being named as captain of the squad slated to tour Sri Lanka for the limited-overs series on Friday said he is humbled by the opportunity.

India and Sri Lanka will lock horns in the three-match ODI series and as many T20Is from July 13. The three ODIs will be played on July 13, 16, and 18. While the T20I series will commence on July 21, and the next two matches will be played on July 23 and 25. The All-India Senior Selection Committee on Thursday picked the squad for the Sri Lanka tour. Dhawan was appointed as the skipper with Bhuvneshwar Kumar being picked as the vice-captain.

Dhawan on Friday said he is humbled to get the opportunity to lead India in the white ball series against Sri Lanka. “Humbled by the opportunity to lead my country. Thank you for all your wishes,” Dhawan tweeted. All matches will be played at the R Premadasa International Cricket Stadium, Colombo. Prithvi Shaw has earned a call-up into the white-ball squad. Opening batters Devdutt Padikkal and Ruturaj Gaikwad have also been named in the squad.

Meanwhile, Varun Chakravarthy, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar, K Gowtham have been chosen as the spinners while the young speedster, Chetan Sakariya who impressed everyone in IPL has also earned a place in the squad.

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I try to learn from calm minds like Sunil Chhetri, Roy Krishna: Manvir Singh

Striker Manvir Singh opens up about the forthcoming match against Afghanistan and talks at length about him playing as a striker and also as a winger.

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Striker Manvir Singh who headed to the National team after a successful domestic season maintains that nothing is constant as a striker. In a candid interview, Manvir opens up about learning from Sunil Chhetri and Roy Krishna, his maturity, the forthcoming match against Afghanistan and talks at length about him playing as a striker and also as a winger. Excerpts

Q. How much have you matured as a striker in recent years?

A. A striker is all about confidence and that only comes through the game time he gets. The more you get to play, the more mature you become. It’s all about your intuition, the movements inside the box, sniffing it, and eventually the finishing. I reiterate, you can only get all of that when you get to play. Otherwise, your talent and determination will always be on the bench.

Q. What is the biggest takeaway for a striker?

A. I have learnt that nothing is constant. There will be days when you will score and there will be misses too. A striker needs to move on and stay focused.

Q. Can you elaborate?

A. My job becomes easier when I play alongside top strikers. I just watch Sunil-bhai and try to imitate his calm in front of the goal. At the end of the day, that ice-cool head makes all the difference. That’s education for me. In a match a striker won’t get a million chances.

There will be days when you will get just one chance, or maybe a half chance. If you are able to make it count, you have done your job. I also need to mention that I look up to Roy Krishna’s calm in front ofthe goal. They are my heroes.

Q. How would you describe yourself as a player – a winger, or as a striker?

A. At the outset, I was an out and out striker. But a player needs to be flexible. Modern-day football is not just about sticking to one position and role. I have been playing on the wings – both on the right-wing and left-wing in recent times. I feel that has helped me understand the dynamics of a team’s attacking philosophy. It is a plus point for any player.

Q. Sunil has been there for so long. How do you describe his longevity?

A. My dad Kuldip Singh who played for PSEB as a striker and scored quite a few goals in the Federation Cup, Durand Cup and the IFA Shield besides a host of other tournaments always mentions to me to learn fromSunil-bhai the art of his longevity. In fact, he had played against him, and always tells me: “When you are seeing him from close, learn as much as you can. Sunil’s speciality is that he has been there for so long. And that is extremely hard work.” Being around him I have already taken my baby steps. The rest is forme to sustain, and improve.

What can we expect from the next match against Afghanistan?

We need to sustain the momentum gathered in the match against Bangladesh and even in the 0-1 loss against Qatar. But everyone is aware that all of that is past. The match on 15th is a fresh canvas. We need to paint it in the right manner. The coach has been constantly working with us. We need to pay him back.

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