Ajax Are Doing Everything to Keep Ten Hag, Says Technical Manager

Ajax's Dutch coach Erik ten Hag poses during the Toto KNVB Cup Press Conference prior to the cup final against PSV Eindhoven at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on April 15, 2022. (AFP)
Ajax's Dutch coach Erik ten Hag poses during the Toto KNVB Cup Press Conference prior to the cup final against PSV Eindhoven at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on April 15, 2022. (AFP)
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Ajax Are Doing Everything to Keep Ten Hag, Says Technical Manager

Ajax's Dutch coach Erik ten Hag poses during the Toto KNVB Cup Press Conference prior to the cup final against PSV Eindhoven at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on April 15, 2022. (AFP)
Ajax's Dutch coach Erik ten Hag poses during the Toto KNVB Cup Press Conference prior to the cup final against PSV Eindhoven at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on April 15, 2022. (AFP)

Ajax Amsterdam are doing "everything possible" to retain head coach Erik ten Hag, who has been linked with a move to Manchester United next season, the Dutch club's technical manager Gerry Hamstra said.

United are looking to appoint a permanent manager with interim boss Ralf Rangnick's tenure set to end after this season.

Ten Hag was appointed by Ajax during the 2017-18 campaign and led them to the Dutch league title in 2019 and 2021, as well as the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.

"There is interest for Erik ten Hag, that is normal. He has done fantastic," Hamstra said on Sunday before the Dutch Cup final, which Ajax lost 2-1 to PSV Eindhoven.

"We hope he stays ... We did everything possible (to keep him at Ajax). We were very busy with that.

"He reacted that he is focusing on Ajax now. Now we are preparing for two scenarios, Ten Hag might stay or might leave."



Paris Olympics Unveils Art Deco-Style Posters Inspired by the City’s Flamboyant Past 

A person attends the unveiling of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games official posters, by French artist Ugo Gattoni, at the Orsay museum (Musée d'Orsay) in Paris, on March 4, 2024. (AFP)
A person attends the unveiling of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games official posters, by French artist Ugo Gattoni, at the Orsay museum (Musée d'Orsay) in Paris, on March 4, 2024. (AFP)
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Paris Olympics Unveils Art Deco-Style Posters Inspired by the City’s Flamboyant Past 

A person attends the unveiling of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games official posters, by French artist Ugo Gattoni, at the Orsay museum (Musée d'Orsay) in Paris, on March 4, 2024. (AFP)
A person attends the unveiling of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games official posters, by French artist Ugo Gattoni, at the Orsay museum (Musée d'Orsay) in Paris, on March 4, 2024. (AFP)

Vibrant colors and striking landmarks illuminate posters for the Paris Olympic Games in an art deco style inspired by the city’s flamboyant past.

The posters were unveiled on Monday at the Musée d’Orsay — a former railway station transformed into an imposing museum stretching along the Seine River — in the presence of Paris 2024 director of design Joachim Roncin and the artist behind them, Ugo Gattoni.

"I don’t want it to be something dull like only a poster with only a logo and a date on it, which they usually are. I want to tell a story," Roncin told The Associated Press in an interview from the artist’s studio prior to the unveiling. "I want it to be something very happy, because it’s going to be a huge party. I want it to be very joyful. Hopefully people will be inspired by these posters."

There are many eye-catching images to absorb.

Among the most striking is the Eiffel Tower piercing through the Stade de France. As if forming a giant cake mixing together two crucial ingredients: Paris’ most famed landmark and its national stadium.

Spectators on the posters have expressions on their fresh faces that are perfectly captured. It's like they are frozen in time, enjoying a giant and timeless party somewhere: On a balcony admiring ballroom dancers, or guests at a grandiose fête thrown by the Great Gatsby himself.

"It’s the art deco style," Roncin said. "I wanted something very flamboyant, very rich, very colorful. It’s typical of Paris, when you look at various restaurant styles, you can see the art deco style. When you look at the entrance on the subways, you can see the art nouveau style."

No coincidence that it has this feel, perhaps, since these Games mark the centenary of the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

Everywhere you look, even amid a blur of colors, the details are intricate and precise.

In the background you can see the Olympic flame arriving on a three-mast tall ship into the French port of Marseille, having sailed from Greece, and the high-rolling waves representing surfing events in Tahiti. Closer up, some of Paris' monuments which will be used during both Games.

Les Invalides, which holds former French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte's tomb; the imperious Grand Palais; the Arc de Triomphe, and the Château de Versailles, whose resplendent gardens will host equestrian and pentathlon events.

Roncin said 15,000 to 30,000 posters for the July 26-Aug. 11 Paris Games and the Aug. 28-Sept. 8 Paralympics will be sold. Prices range from 20 euros ($22) for the smallest size (30x40 centimeters/12x16 inches), 30 euros ($33) for the medium (50x70 centimeters/20x27 inches) and 40 euros ($43) for the largest (60x80 centimeters/24x32 inches).

The posters will also appear on billboards all over Paris from Tuesday.

It will be a relief to purists that no AI (artificial intelligence) was used to design the posters, which is part of the reason why Roncin selected Gattoni.

"It was very important to work with Ugo because he’s a manual artist, he works with his hands. Nothing is digital assisted. Today we live in the world where there is a lot of AI," Roncin said. "I wanted to bring this savoir-faire à la française (French know-how); to do these hand-drawn posters and colors as well, with the hand."

It took six months to decide which colors to use and Gattoni has spent more than 2,000 hours working on the posters.

"It has this fresh feel ... an atmosphere of good vibes," said Gattoni, whose work also included studying all the previous Olympic posters.

"Just like the 1924 poster, this poster has to work in 100 years' time. For me this is super important."

The first official Olympics poster appeared for the 1912 Games in Stockholm and was chosen through an artistic competition. Since then, posters have been the responsibility of organizers in the host city.

In the first half of the 20th century, a limited number of posters were designed and used for communication and promotional purposes in a pre-radio and pre-television era, giving the general public necessary practical information.

In the second half of the century, the number of posters produced increased.

They reflected the artistic, political and social context of their era as the Olympics also branched out of Europe and North America toward Oceania, Asia and Central America.

According to the Olympic Studies Center, at this point "they play a double role: In addition to announcing the Games, they provide a foretaste of their visual identity."

Gattoni says it's the first time he's drawn "so many humans" and describes his style as creating a universe — one which sucks people in.

"To dive into this universe and become part of it," Gattoni said. "The drawing is so detailed that you can imagine yourself walking through the gardens of Versailles."

One of the poster's most captivating scenes is an athlete standing on a diving platform with arms outstretched, the Olympic dove softly perched on his left arm.

"The Olympic Games is meant to be a period of world peace," Gattoni said.


Ten Hag Says Gap Between Man Utd and Man City ‘Not That Big’ 

Manager of Manchester United, Erik ten Hag (L) gestures as manager of Manchester City Josep Guardiola (R) looks on during the English Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United, in Manchester, Britain, 03 March 2024. (EPA)
Manager of Manchester United, Erik ten Hag (L) gestures as manager of Manchester City Josep Guardiola (R) looks on during the English Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United, in Manchester, Britain, 03 March 2024. (EPA)
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Ten Hag Says Gap Between Man Utd and Man City ‘Not That Big’ 

Manager of Manchester United, Erik ten Hag (L) gestures as manager of Manchester City Josep Guardiola (R) looks on during the English Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United, in Manchester, Britain, 03 March 2024. (EPA)
Manager of Manchester United, Erik ten Hag (L) gestures as manager of Manchester City Josep Guardiola (R) looks on during the English Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United, in Manchester, Britain, 03 March 2024. (EPA)

Manchester United fell 18 points behind Manchester City following their 3-1 defeat at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday but United manager Erik ten Hag said there was no gulf in class between the cross-town rivals.

Marcus Rashford's eighth-minute strike gave United the lead but two goals from Phil Foden and a late effort from Erling Haaland sealed the win for Pep Guardiola's side, who are a point behind leaders Liverpool.

United are set to finish below their rivals for an 11th consecutive season but when asked if the latest defeat was a reminder of the gap between the teams Ten Hag told reporters: "No I don't think so, absolutely not.

"We have many problems now in injuries and still we had an opportunity. By a very small margin. We could have scored the second goal. You see it (the gap) is not that big.

"When we have everyone on board, we can be really competitive and also we showed, for instance, in the FA Cup final against them when it can be really close. But don't forget this, City is, at the moment, the best team in the world."

United, who are sixth, next host Everton in the Premier League on Saturday.


African Players in Europe: Wissa Wonder Goal for Brentford 

Football - Premier League - Brentford v Chelsea - Brentford Community Stadium, London, Britain - March 2, 2024 Brentford's Yoane Wissa scores their second goal. (Reuters)
Football - Premier League - Brentford v Chelsea - Brentford Community Stadium, London, Britain - March 2, 2024 Brentford's Yoane Wissa scores their second goal. (Reuters)
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African Players in Europe: Wissa Wonder Goal for Brentford 

Football - Premier League - Brentford v Chelsea - Brentford Community Stadium, London, Britain - March 2, 2024 Brentford's Yoane Wissa scores their second goal. (Reuters)
Football - Premier League - Brentford v Chelsea - Brentford Community Stadium, London, Britain - March 2, 2024 Brentford's Yoane Wissa scores their second goal. (Reuters)

A stunning goal by Democratic Republic of Congo forward Yoane Wissa helped Premier League strugglers Brentford draw 2-2 with Chelsea in a London derby at the weekend.

The 27-year-old acrobatically hooked a bicycle kick past goalkeeper Dorde Petrovic into the roof of the net midway through the second half to put the home side 2-1 ahead.

But French international Axel Disasi equalized to leave Brentford six points above the relegation zone with 11 rounds remaining.

Here, AFP Sport highlights African headline-makers in the major European leagues:

ENGLAND

Yoane Wissa (Brentford)

Chelsea scored first through Senegalese Nicolas Jackson, who atoned for an earlier missed opportunity by giving the visitors a 1-0 half-time lead. After Dane Mads Roerslev levelled, Wissa struck on 68 minutes for the Bees. The memory of his breathtaking sixth goal this season will linger for all who saw it at the Gtech Community Stadium.

Antoine Semenyo (Bournemouth)

The Ghana midfielder scored his fifth goal this season to wrap up a 2-0 win at struggling Burnley. Semenyo struck in the 88th minute, breaking down the right flank and curling his shot inside the corner with unerring precision. His goal doubled Bournemouth's lead and ensured they would win for the first time in the league in 2024.

SPAIN

Youssef En-Nesyri (Sevilla)

Morocco 2022 World Cup star En-Nesyri scored twice within 13 minutes of the kick-off for bottom-half Sevilla in a 3-2 La Liga win over seventh-placed Real Sociedad. The goals took his season tally to nine -- seven less than chart-topper Jude Bellingham of Real Madrid.

Munir El Haddadi (Las Palmas)

Spain-born Moroccan international El Haddadi scored the last goal in a 3-3 thriller between Getafe and Las Palmas, who twice trailed by two goals. El Haddadi levelled on 57 minutes in the mid-table clash.

GERMANY

Serhou Guirassy (Stuttgart)

The Guinea international lifted his Bundesliga season goal tally to 20 by scoring twice for third-placed Stuttgart in a 3-2 win at bottom-half Wolfsburg. He is second in the Golden Boot race behind England star Harry Kane, who has netted 27 times for Bayern Munich.

FRANCE

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Marseille)

Aubameyang, the 2015 African Footballer of the Year, triggered a second-half goal rush by sixth-placed Marseille in a 5-1 triumph at bottom club Clermont. After the losers cancelled the half-time lead Senegal international Iliman Ndiaye gave the visitors, the former Gabon captain netted to put Marseille in front a second time.

Terem Moffi (Nice)

Moffi, who was in the Nigeria squad that finished runners-up at the Africa Cup of Nations won by hosts Ivory Coast last month, gave fifth-placed Nice an early lead at mid-table Toulouse. His goal was in vain, however, as the home side hit back in the second half to finish 2-1 winners.


Rafael Nadal Shows No Sign of Problems with Injured Hip in Exhibition Loss to Carlos Alcaraz 

Rafael Nadal speaks onstage during The Netflix Slam media availability event at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on March 02, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images/AFP)
Rafael Nadal speaks onstage during The Netflix Slam media availability event at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on March 02, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Rafael Nadal Shows No Sign of Problems with Injured Hip in Exhibition Loss to Carlos Alcaraz 

Rafael Nadal speaks onstage during The Netflix Slam media availability event at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on March 02, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images/AFP)
Rafael Nadal speaks onstage during The Netflix Slam media availability event at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on March 02, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images/AFP)

There has been plenty of mystery around Rafael Nadal and his health because he has played just 12 official matches since the 2022 US Open.

The 22-time Grand Slam winner played an unofficial event Sunday, losing to fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz 3-6, 6-4 (14-12) in The Netflix Slam before a sellout crowd of 9,489. The 37-year-old Nadal showed no apparent sign of any issues related to his hip.

Nadal said during a courtside interview with Netflix while up 5-2 in the first set that his performance at that point was “much better than expected.”

The match was also a bit of a physical test for Alcaraz, who injured his right ankle Feb. 20 in the Rio Open. Like Nadal, he didn't show any noticeable signs of being physically limited.

The question facing Nadal now is whether he will be ready for the French Open in May. Nadal has dominated that event like no other, winning the major 14 times.

The match against Alcaraz was an encouraging sign, but Nadal said beforehand he wasn't sure what the future holds at Roland Garros and beyond.

Nadal withdrew from the Australian Open in January after suffering what he called a micro tear on his surgically repaired hip. He later skipped a tournament in Doha, Qatar.

Nadal gets another test at Indian Wells this week. It'll be his first competitive tennis since Melbourne. He was in California preparing for the hard-court event before traveling to Las Vegas to face Alcaraz.

“I need to spend more time on the tour, at least to practice with the professional players even if not playing many official matches,” Nadal said the day before the exhibition. “That's the important thing right now, is to be in rhythm again. I was not able to play the way I expected. I had to pull out from Doha, so let's see.”

Men's tennis is seeing a sort of passing of the torch. Nadal's longtime rival, Roger Federer, took his 20 Grand Slam titles into retirement two years ago. Nadal stayed on tour, but whether he adds to his Grand Slam total is a big question.

Novak Djokovic, who turns 37 in May, could be the only dominant player from that generation to still be near his peak. The world's top-ranked player won three of his 24 career major titles last year.

But there is a younger generation of players coming onto the scene. The 20-year-old Alcaraz already has two major championships. Jannik Sinner, 22, won his first Grand Slam title by taking the Australian, beating Djokovic in the semifinals before rallying from two sets down to defeat former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev.

“I would say the game is in good hands and has been in great hands,” said eight-time major champion Andre Agassi, who was promoting the exhibition in his hometown. “We just watched and will continue to watch probably the greatest generation that certainly has ever played the game and arguably we'd be lucky if we ever anything close again.”

Agassi said he encouraged Alcaraz to learn all he can from Nadal.

“He's a guy you can say over the years has handled himself with class, dignity and also humility,” Agassi said. “It is authentically real. When you talk about the French Open, it is a lifetime away for him right now because all that matters is what he's going to do (Saturday night), what he's going to do (Sunday), what he's going to do every step of his day.”

Alcaraz said he has taken a lot of inspiration from watching Nadal over the years, particularly noting his ability to fight for every point has left an especially lasting impression. That was proven again in the exhibition when Nadal fought off five match points in the super tiebreaker.

“The way that he finds solutions when things are not going well, I think that's incredible,” Alcaraz said. “I would say that's the most I learned from him and I try to put in my own game.”

How much game does Nadal have left?

He's not even sure at this point as one of the greatest careers of all time gets closer to the end.

“It's my body more than anything else because my mind is healthy,” Nadal said. “I have a passion for what I am doing.”


Jos Verstappen: Red Bull F1 Team Will ‘Explode’ if Christian Horner Stays as Team Principal 

Formula One F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 2, 2024 Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in the garage during the race. (Reuters)
Formula One F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 2, 2024 Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in the garage during the race. (Reuters)
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Jos Verstappen: Red Bull F1 Team Will ‘Explode’ if Christian Horner Stays as Team Principal 

Formula One F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 2, 2024 Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in the garage during the race. (Reuters)
Formula One F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - March 2, 2024 Red Bull team principal Christian Horner in the garage during the race. (Reuters)

The Red Bull Formula 1 team will “explode” if Christian Horner stays on as team principal, according to Jos Verstappen, the father of three-time champion Max Verstappen.

The F1 spotlight has been almost entirely on Horner in the days leading up to the new season over his alleged behavior toward a team employee.

“There is tension here while he remains in position,” Jos Verstappen told British newspaper the Daily Mail after his son won Saturday's season-opening race in Bahrain. “The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can't go on the way it is. It will explode. He (Horner) is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems.”

On Wednesday, the team’s parent company dismissed a complaint of alleged misconduct by Horner toward a team employee. A day later during practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix, a file alleged to contain evidence against Horner was emailed to nearly 200 people in the F1 paddock, including Liberty Media, F1, the FIA, the other nine team principals and multiple media outlets.

The authenticity of the file, which was sent from a generic email account, has not been verified by The Associated Press.

Jos Verstappen, a former F1 driver who was Michael Schumacher’s teammate when they raced at Benetton, has been pointed to as a potential source of the file by some F1 insiders but he firmly denied it.

“That wouldn't make sense,” the 51-year-old Dutchman told the Daily Mail. “Why would I do that when Max is doing so well here?”

Horner has denied wrongdoing and said in a statement issued Thursday that he would not “comment on anonymous speculation” concerning the file.

Reacting to the ongoing controversy, the president of Formula 1’s governing body told the Financial Times that the controversy around Horner is damaging the sport, but that the FIA won’t conduct its own inquiry unless it receives a complaint.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said any complaint lodged with its compliance officer would be investigated but it had not received one related to Horner’s situation.

“It’s damaging the sport,” Ben Sulayem told the newspaper, which added that he was speaking Friday after a meeting with Horner. “This is damaging on a human level.”


Hasnaa Al-Najm Clinches Double Gold for Saudi Arabia at Dubai 2024 Para Powerlifting World Cup

The flag of Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The flag of Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Hasnaa Al-Najm Clinches Double Gold for Saudi Arabia at Dubai 2024 Para Powerlifting World Cup

The flag of Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The flag of Saudi Arabia (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Paralympic powerlifter Hasnaa Al-Najm clinched two gold medals in the Women's up to 73kg category at the 2024 Para Powerlifting World Cup in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, excelling in both the single and combined bodyweight events, SPA said on Monday.
This captivating competition serves as a crucial qualification pathway for the eagerly awaited Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, and Al-Najm's exceptional performance firmly positions her in the spotlight.
Al-Najm, undeterred by her international debut, exuded happiness and pride as she celebrated her monumental achievement.
She acknowledged the unwavering support received from the Saudi Arabian Weightlifting and Bodybuilding Federation, the coaching staff, and the dedicated team management throughout the training camps and the exhilarating tournament.


Vinícius Scores 2 to Earn Madrid Draw In Return to Valencia since Racial Abuse

Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinícius Júnior celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on March 2, 2024 (AFP)
Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinícius Júnior celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on March 2, 2024 (AFP)
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Vinícius Scores 2 to Earn Madrid Draw In Return to Valencia since Racial Abuse

Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinícius Júnior celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on March 2, 2024 (AFP)
Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinícius Júnior celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on March 2, 2024 (AFP)

Vinícius Júnior scored twice to lift Real Madrid to 2-2 against Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday in his first return to Mestalla Stadium where he was racially abused last season.

Jude Bellingham was red-carded after the final whistle when he protested the referee's decision to waive off what would have been the winning goal. The referee said time expired just before Bellingham's last-gasp header.

Vinícius struck in the 50th and 76th minutes to wipe out first-half goals by Hugo Duro and Roman Yaremchuk.

Last May’s racial attack was among the worst the Black player has had to repeatedly endure in Spain. It led to an upswell of support for the Brazil forward and forced soccer authorities to take action, even though the abuse toward him has continued.

While there were no immediate reports of more racial insults on Saturday, a large group of spectators did chant “Vinícius is stupid” and booed him loudly throughout.

After his first goal, Vinícius held up his fist toward the Valencia fans behind the goal. After his equalizer, he cupped his ears as if asking for more from the fans who jeered him.

While Valencia banned three fans for life from its stadium after they were identified as having racially abused Vinícius last season, the club has likewise criticized the player and Madrid for what it considers the unfair categorization of its fanbase as predominantly racist.

In a short interview with Madrid's club television, Vinícius did not mention the fans and said only that it was “a very difficult game.” But on his Instagram account he posted an image of himself raising his fist after his first goal with the short message “The fight continues.”

“Vinícius played a very good game,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He was decisive for us, even though he was more effective in the area than outside it. (Defender Dimitri) Foulquier played a great game defending him, so he had to find his spaces inside the area and he scored two very important goals for us.”

Madrid leads the league with a seven-point advantage over Girona and a nine-point advantage over Barcelona before they both play games on Sunday.

Duro used his head to redirect in what looked like an errant shot by Fran Pérez in the 27th after Federico Valverde lost the ball with a risky pass.

Three minutes later, Yaremchuk intercepted Dani Carvajal’s pass back toward his own area, where the Ukraine forward pounced, dribbled around goalkeeper Andriy Lunin and rolled the ball home.

But Madrid was able to grab one back in first half added time when Carvajal’s cross grazed three players before finding Vinícius to push it home. Vinícius made it even when he headed in a cross from substitute Brahim Díaz.

Valencia defender Mouctar Diakhaby was carried off on a stretcher after an apparent leg injury when Aurélien Tchouaméni crashed into him in the final minutes.

Bellingham sent off

Bellingham, who leads the league with 16 goals, started for Madrid after missing three games with an ankle sprain.

The England midfielder was celebrating what would have been a last-gasp header when referee Jesús Gil Manzano signaled it came too late. Surrounded by protesting Madrid players, Gil Manzano showed a red card to Bellingham.

Gil Manzano put in his referee report that Bellingham had “run toward him in an aggressive manner shouting repeatedly” with an expletive in English to describe the goal.

The game was Valencia’s first in two weeks after its match in the last round was postponed in respect for the victims of a deadly fire in the Mediterranean city.

Both teams formed an honor guard before kickoff for representatives of the victims and security and rescue services and a moment of silence.

Sociedad loses

Real Sociedad lost at Sevilla 3-2 as the Basque Country club continued to struggle before it hosts Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

Sociedad hosts PSG on Tuesday needing to overturn a 2-0 first-leg loss in the round of 16.

Imanol Alguacil’s Sociedad started the season strong, but it has lost five of its last six games across all competitions. It was eliminated from the Copa del Rey semifinals by Mallorca on penalties in front of its fans in San Sebastian this week.

Elsewhere, Getafe striker Borja Mayoral, who has 15 league goals, had to be substituted late in his team's 3-3 draw with Las Palmas due to an apparent left leg injury.

Getafe wasted leads of 2-0 and 3-2. Las Palmas completed its comeback with Munir El Haddadi’s decisive equalizer.

Rayo Vallecano’s 1-1 draw at home with Cadiz was paused for several minutes in the second half when hail pelted the field during a heavy rainstorm.


Ronaldo’s Return Boosts Al-Nassr’s Maiden Asian Champions League Title Hopes

Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Shabab v Al-Nassr - Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - February 25, 2024 Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)
Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Shabab v Al-Nassr - Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - February 25, 2024 Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)
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Ronaldo’s Return Boosts Al-Nassr’s Maiden Asian Champions League Title Hopes

Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Shabab v Al-Nassr - Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - February 25, 2024 Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)
Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Shabab v Al-Nassr - Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - February 25, 2024 Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)

Cristiano Ronaldo returns from suspension on Monday to try and save Al-Nassr’s season and guide the Saudi Arabian team closer to a first ever Asian Champions League title.

Last Thursday, the 39 year-old was banned for one game after making an offensive gesture during a Saudi Arabian league match four days earlier. At the end of a 3-2 win over Al-Shabab, video footage appeared to show Ronaldo cupping his ear and repeatedly thrusting his hand forward near his pelvis, in a gesture that seemed to be aimed at Al-Shabab fans.

The punishment meant that Ronaldo watched frustrated from the sidelines during Thursday’s domestic league game as Al-Nassr took the lead four times but ended with a 4-4 draw at home to bottom team Al-Hazm. The result leaves the club in second in the Saudi Pro League and nine points behind leader Al-Hilal.

“Ronaldo strengthens the team and ensures that the opponent respects you more but his absence had nothing to do with the result,” said Al-Nassr coach Luis Castro. “The fact is that we are conceding too many goals and the problem is not organizational but due to individual mistakes.”

“The league result will not affect our game in the Asian Champions League as we will be fully focused on that.”

The continental competition offers Al-Nassr the best chance of silverware this season and the team makes the short trip to take on Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates, winner in 2003, in the first leg of the quarterfinal.

On Tuesday, there is an all-Saudi Arabia clash as Al-Hilal, with a record four continental titles, takes on Al-Ittihad, champion in 2004 and 2005.

Neymar is still missing for Al-Hilal, currently top of the Saudi Arabia league, while Al-Ittihad is waiting to see if star striker Karim Benzema recovers from a muscle injury.

The two teams met in the league on Friday. Former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante put Ittihad ahead but Al-Hilal came back to win 3-1 to record a 25th straight win in all competitions.

“The players are playing with great confidence,” said Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus. “This is a good thing because we are facing important matches in a short period, starting with the Asian Champions League and a tough game against Al-Ittihad and we will have to be at our best.”

Al-Ittihad, the defending Saudi Arabian champion is now in fifth in the league and out of the domestic title race.

“We are moving in the right direction and the Asian Champions League quarterfinal is now the most important game of the season for us,” said Ittihad defender Ahmed Hegazy. “We know that it will be tough against Al-Hilal but this is a different game and we are focused on this.”

In the eastern zone, —the tournament is split into two geographic halves until the final — there is an all-South Korean clash as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors takes on Ulsan HD. Both teams have won two titles each.

In the remaining fixture, Yokohama F. Marinos of Japan meets China’s Shandong Taishan on Wednesday.

The second legs are played the following week.


Sainz Enjoys Racing Again in His Last F1 Season with Ferrari after Overtaking His Teammate Leclerc

Third placed Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain lifts his trophy on the podium during the victory ceremony of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
Third placed Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain lifts his trophy on the podium during the victory ceremony of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
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Sainz Enjoys Racing Again in His Last F1 Season with Ferrari after Overtaking His Teammate Leclerc

Third placed Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain lifts his trophy on the podium during the victory ceremony of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
Third placed Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain lifts his trophy on the podium during the victory ceremony of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, 02 March 2024. (EPA)

Carlos Sainz Jr. is having fun driving for Ferrari again.

Sainz said he was relieved to be able to tap into his aggressive side with a series of overtakes, including two close moves on teammate Charles Leclerc, on his way to third place at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday.

Sainz's first podium finish since October starts his last season with Ferrari on a high. The record 24-race season means it will be an extended goodbye before Lewis Hamilton takes over his seat next year. Sainz is still seeking a team for 2025.

“It wasn’t a straightforward and an easy race, but I enjoyed it a lot,” Sainz said, adding it was his first race since the Austrian Grand Prix in July where he felt free to attack for positions without fear of his Ferrari ruining its tires while following closely behind another car.

“I love going racing, and I love going overtaking, being aggressive, attacking. And with last year’s car, it was simply impossible to do that,” Sainz said.

Bahrain is a stern test of how well the drivers and cars manage their tires, Sainz said, so to “do an overtaking, attacking race for me is a relief and it gives me a feeling that we will be able to do this more often this year.”

“It doesn’t mean we will do it every race at all, because I still think one of our strongest parts of our car is qualifying, so I think we will still qualify ahead of what maybe our true position is. But at least we’re not degrading (tires) and defending like crazy like we were doing last year.”

Sainz was the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race last year, but his Singapore Grand Prix victory was all about taking care of worn tires on a rare off day for Max Verstappen. It was one of just three podium finishes all year for the Spanish driver.

It wasn't all good news for Sainz in Bahrain, though. Both Ferraris struggled with brake problems that Leclerc called “dangerous”. Even in cool conditions in the desert night, Sainz said his brakes overheated too when following other cars but he “tried not to panic”. Despite that issue, he said he made sure overtaking Leclerc was never too risky.

“It never felt close inside the car,” he said. “Whenever I do an overtake on my teammate I will always try and leave as much margin as possible. I try and do it whenever I feel like I’m fully under control and I’m not putting any car at risk.”

Ferrari was the closest rival to the dominant Red Bulls in qualifying too. Leclerc set a time in the second of Friday's three sessions that would have been good enough for pole if he'd managed it in the final shootout. He started second but couldn't challenge Verstappen for the lead in the race.


De Minaur Beats Rudd to Become First Player to Win Back-to Back Titles in Mexico since 2012

Alex De Minaur of Australia celebrates with the champion trophy after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway during the singles final at the Mexican Tennis Open in Acapulco state of Guerrero, Mexico, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
Alex De Minaur of Australia celebrates with the champion trophy after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway during the singles final at the Mexican Tennis Open in Acapulco state of Guerrero, Mexico, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
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De Minaur Beats Rudd to Become First Player to Win Back-to Back Titles in Mexico since 2012

Alex De Minaur of Australia celebrates with the champion trophy after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway during the singles final at the Mexican Tennis Open in Acapulco state of Guerrero, Mexico, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
Alex De Minaur of Australia celebrates with the champion trophy after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway during the singles final at the Mexican Tennis Open in Acapulco state of Guerrero, Mexico, 02 March 2024. (EPA)

Alex De Minaur beat Casper Rudd 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday to become the first player to win back-to back titles in the Mexican Open since 2012.

The third-seeded De Minaur won his eighth ATP title to become the fourth player to repeat as champion in Mexico, the first since David Ferrer in 2010-12.

The 25-year-old Australian won his 10 consecutive match in Acapulco to break a four-match losing streaks in ATP finals, including Rotterdam earlier this year.

“Acapulco is becoming like a second home. I thought that it was impossible to get feel better after what happened last year, but I came back a year later to defend the title and it has been true pleasure,” de Minaur said.

The Mexican Open was nearly canceled because a category 5 hurricane hit the city four months ago, leaving 52 people dead. The Diamond Zone an oceanfront area replete with hotels and where the tennis arena is located, was devastated.

“We (the tennis players) wanted to bring some joy to this wonderful city and I’m sure that Acapulco will shine stronger than ever,” added the Australian.

The sixth-seeded Ruud missed the chance to win his 11th title in the ATP and his first ATP 500 title.

De Minaur took an early break to take a 3-1 lead in the first set and both hold their serve for the 6-4 score in the first one.

In the second, both players exchanged breaks in the first four games and the Australian got a break in the seventh game to take the lead.