Cristiano Ronaldo is returning to Madrid with his Juventus side hitting its stride at just the right time and Atletico Madrid should be worried.
The former Real Madrid forward has scored 22 goals in 31 matches against Atletico and looking to bury the demons of his nightmare Champions League debut for Juve on Wednesday against one of his favourite victims.
Ronaldo was sent off after 28 minutes in his first European game for Juventus in Spain last September against Valencia but the Italians went on to win 2-0 even without the Portuguese star.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side play their Champions League last 16, first-leg tie against Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano as they continue their push for the European title which has eluded them for over two decades.
Juve are pinning their hopes on their 100-million-euro ($117 million) summer signing to give them a first European win over Atletico.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for the 34-year-old Ronaldo who lived a stone’s throw away from Atletico’s training centre.
Juve signed Ronaldo because of his Champions League credentials. No player owns as many Champions League titles as Ronaldo who has won five, four with Real Madrid and one with Manchester United. He has scored a record 121 goals in the competition and of these 57 have proved decisive.
“We have to score at least one goal in Madrid, our qualification depends on this,” warned Allegri. “The two teams are evenly balanced.”
The Bianconeri are on a seemingly unstoppable march to a record-extending eighth successive Serie A title and could be forgiven for relaxing slightly.
While the 3-0 defeat at Atalanta in the Coppa Italia ended their chances of a treble, followed by a 3-3 draw against Parma, it appears to have been just a blip with Juve then beating Sassuolo and Frosinone, 3-0 each time.
“Yes, we are in a good condition,” Allegri said. “Apart from the setback against Parma we are doing well, and we are at a particularly important moment.”
Ronaldo scored again against Frosinone on Friday to take his tally to 19 in Serie A. He also showed as good an understanding with Paulo Dybala as he has had with Mario Mandzukic, who joined Juventus from Atletico in 2015.
Allegri was able to rest several players for Friday’s match while also giving a run to key defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, back from injury.
Atletico have not looked convincing in La Liga, scraping a 1-0 win at relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano on Saturday after two defeats.
Juve and Atletico have reached 12 European Cup finals between them, with last season’s game in Kiev the first in five years in which neither had featured.
Atletico went on to win the Europa League instead, proving themselves too strong for Europe’s second-tier competition, while Juve were dumped out by eventual winners Real Madrid, undone by a controversial Ronaldo penalty in the 98th minute.
It was Ronaldo’s 10th goal in seven games against Juventus, having scored twice in the first leg and twice in the final in 2017 too. Juve beat Real in the semi-finals two years earlier but even then, Ronaldo managed a goal in each leg.
There was understandable relief, as well as joy, when the Portugese switched sides last summer and now, there is belief. Ronaldo has not finished in single figures for goals in the Champions league since 2011.
CITY TRAVEL TO SCHALKE
In Wednesday’s other clash, Manchester City travel to Gelsenkirchen to face Schalke 04 in what could potentially be a one-sided clash.
City were given a kind draw against a Schalke side clearly struggling in its second season under coach Domenico Tedesco.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw at home against Freiburg was indicative of Schalke’s season to date — an unattractive game of few chances with midfielder Suat Serdar sent off before the break for a studs-up challenge.
Schalke have won only six of their 22 league games so far and languish in 14th place in the 18-team standings. It could yet be drawn into a relegation fight before the season is out.
The contrast could hardly be greater.
City, in their Premier League title defence, are ahead of Liverpool at the top on goal difference.
Coach Pep Guardiola had the luxury of resting some leading players on Saturday for the FA Cup win over fourth-tier side Newport. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva were not summoned from the bench and Sergio Aguero had the afternoon off entirely.
The team was back in training on Sunday ahead of the trip to Germany.
A European trophy has eluded City since the Abu Dhabi takeover 11 years ago, with the semi-finals the furthest the team has progressed in the Champions League.
“If you want to be in the international elite … you need to clinch this trophy,” midfielder Ilkay Gundogan told UEFA.com. “I think that, if we were to win it someday, the club would enter a new era, the same level as Real [Madrid], Barca, Bayern or Juventus, clubs that are maybe a step above us. Maybe not in the way they play football, but as a club at least.”
Schalke last reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 2011 when ex-Real legend Raul inspired their run before losing in the last four to Manchester United.
Anita Karim gets hero’s welcome after MMA win
Karim’s supporters danced and showered her with flowers and praise at the Islamabad airport this weekend
MMA athlete Anita Karim, who defeated her Indonesian opponent Gita Suharsono in One Warrior Series (OWS) in Singapore on February 28, was given a hero’s reception upon her return home this weekend.
Karim, who has bagged her second international win, flew back to Pakistan this weekend and was welcomed with flowers, praise and dance at the Islamabad International Airport.
She posted about her win on Facebook, thanking her family and supporters. “It was a long journey with lots of ups and downs but with my family by my side, I knew I won’t ever give up!”
Hundreds of Pakistani men give rousing homecoming reception to Anita Karim, Pakistan’s first female Mixed Martial Arts #MMA athlete who won the “One Warrior Series” held last week in Singapore @IMMAFed pic.twitter.com/hgS5doF7gv
— Ziad Zafar (@ziadzafar) March 12, 2019
“Here is to everyone who supported me and helped me get here. My brothers, my coaches Aatif Imtiaz, Ali Sultan, Ehtisham Karim to whom I owe everything that I am today! My home team Fight Fortress Islamabad where I learnt everything and became who I have become.”
She thanked the training team for pushing her to do her best, and lastly she gave a “shout out to my Gilgit-Baltistan family for always supporting me and backing me to keep going forward. This is for all of you; all the women out there!”
First pakistani lady mixed martial art fighter,,,
Proud daughter of pakistan,,
Brave daughter of gilgit baltistan,,, pic.twitter.com/EdEBf9ZfLP
— Haji Shafqat Sultan (@HajiShafqatSul1) March 11, 2019
IOC penalises India after Pakistani athletes denied visas
IOC says it will not allow India to organise Olympic-related events in future, unless written assurances are obtained from govt
The International Olympic Committee has decided to “suspend all discussions” with India regarding hosting of global sporting events after Pakistani shooters were not issued visas for the World Cup in New Delhi.
The Olympic committee also revoked the Olympic qualification status for the men’s 25m rapid fire event from the New Delhi World Cup due to denial of visas to the Pakistani shooters in the wake of last week’s Pulwama terrorist attack in which at least 44 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed.
The IOC said it will not allow India to organise Olympic-related events in the future, unless written assurances are obtained from the government.
The two Pakistani shooters’ participation in the tournament had become doubtful after the terrorist attack had been reported.
The IOC’s decision comes hours after International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) President Vladimir Lisin announced that all the allotted 16 Olympic quotas for the 2020 Games would be scrapped. However, the apex body limited the withholding of quotas to only two while retaining 14.
“The IOC restricted the withdrawal of recognition as an Olympic qualification event to the 25m rapid fire pistol competition in which the two Pakistani athletes were supposed to participate. This happened in the interest of the other 500 athletes from 61 countries participating in the other events who are already in India for their competition,” the IOC said in a statement after its executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland Thursday.
“Since becoming aware of the issue and in spite of intense last-minute joint efforts by the IOC, the ISSF and the Indian National Olympic Committee (NOC), and discussions with the Indian government authorities, no solution has been found to allow the Pakistani delegation to enter India in time to compete.” the statement said.
The IOC came down heavily on India for going against the Olympic charter.
“This situation goes against the fundamental principles of the Olympic charter, in particular the principles of non-discrimination, as well as the IOC’s and the Olympic movement’s position, reiterated on many occasions over the past few years, that equal treatment must be guaranteed for all participating athletes and sporting delegations at international sports events, without any form of discrimination or political interference from the host country.
“As a result, the IOC executive board also decided to suspend all discussions with the Indian NOC and government regarding the potential applications for hosting future sports and Olympic-related events in India, until clear written guarantees are obtained from the Indian government to ensure the entry of all participants in such events in full compliance with the rules of the Olympic charter — and to recommend that the international federations (IFs) neither award nor hold sports events in India until the above-mentioned guarantees are obtained,” the IOC said.
The Pakistan shooting federation Wednesday requested the ISSF not to offer quota places in the events their shooters were scheduled to participate in.
Pakistan had applied for visas for two shooters — G M Bashir and Khalil Ahmed – in the rapid fire category as the event in New Delhi also served as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympic games.
ICC bans UAE-based coach for 10 years, praises Sarfraz
Cricket coach Irfan Ansari has been banned for 10 years from the sport for making an illicit approach to Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced on Wednesday.
The ICC praised Sarfraz for his “true leadership” in reporting the approach by his compatriot, the United Arab Emirates-based Ansari, during the Pakistan vs Sri Lanka one-day series in 2017.
The ICC also hailed what they said is the first time someone has been prosecuted for non-cooperation with an inquiry — Ansari refused on two occasions to testify to the ICC’s anti-corruption body.
Ansari, who coached Sharjah, contacted Ahmed wishing to induce him into corrupt conduct by extracting information from him on the series which was being played in the UAE where Pakistan are compelled to play when they are the home team after international cricket was suspended after attacks on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009.
Ahmed, though, reported Ansari immediately.
Ansari is bound by the ICC anti-corruption code as a result of both his affiliation to the Pakistan cricket team and being a coach to two teams that participate in domestic matches in the UAE.
He was found guilty of the three offences under the code.
“I would like to place on record my thanks to Sarfraz Ahmed who showed true leadership and professionalism from the moment he reported this approach,” said ICC general manager Alex Marshall.
“He recognised it for what it was, rejected it and reported it. He then supported our investigation and subsequent tribunal.
“This is the first time we have prosecuted for failure to cooperate with an investigation since the new rules enabling us to demand the participants hand over their phone for examination and the sanction reflects the seriousness of the offence.
“It is an important tool to aid our investigations and continue in our efforts to rid the sport of these corrupters,” he added.
Spot-fixing involves determining the outcome of a specific part of a match rather than the overall result and is, therefore, harder to detect than match-fixing.
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