Tsitsipas Beats Khachanov to Reach 1st Australian Open Final

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece reacts after defeating Karen Khachanov of Russia in their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (AP)
Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece reacts after defeating Karen Khachanov of Russia in their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (AP)
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Tsitsipas Beats Khachanov to Reach 1st Australian Open Final

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece reacts after defeating Karen Khachanov of Russia in their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (AP)
Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece reacts after defeating Karen Khachanov of Russia in their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (AP)

Stefanos Tsitsipas had a harder time strictly following all of the rules than he did outplaying his opponent in the early going, then recovered after blowing two match points late in the third set, and eventually reached the final at the Australian Open for the first time by beating Karen Khachanov 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 on Friday.

The No. 3-seeded Tsitsipas had been 0-3 in semifinals at Melbourne Park, but he finally went a step further to get to the second Grand Slam championship match of his career.

It looked easy for the better part of three sets against Khachanov, but Tsitsipas got broken when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third, then failed to convert either chance to end it when he went up 6-4 in the ensuing tiebreaker. Khachanov collected four consecutive points there, erasing the match points with a pair of booming forehands. Tsitsipas, though, regained his footing quickly, grabbing a 3-0 lead in the fourth.

Now Tsitsipas will face Novak Djokovic or unseeded American Tommy Paul in the men's singles final on Sunday.

Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times and owns 21 Grand Slam titles in all — only Rafael Nadal, with 22, has more among men — and carried a 26-match winning streak at Melbourne Park into Friday's second semifinal. Until this week, Paul never had been past the fourth round in 13 previous appearances at major tournaments.

Tsitsipas’ other run to a major final came at the 2021 French Open, when he grabbed the first two sets before blowing that big lead and losing to Djokovic in five.

Earlier this week, Djokovic said about Tsitsipas: “He has never played a final, am I wrong?” Reminded by reporters about Roland Garros, Djokovic replied: “That’s right. Sorry, my bad.”

For about 2 1/2 hours at Rod Laver Arena on Friday, which began with nary a cloud and a temperature topping 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Celsius), the 24-year-old from Greece showed a game that was too versatile, and strokes that were too consistent from all over the court, for the 18th-seeded Khachanov, a Russian who is now 0-2 in Slam semifinals.

The biggest issue for Tsitsipas in that span, truthfully, appeared to be trying to deal with the watchful eyes of the match officials monitoring the 25-second clock and the position of his feet.

Chair umpire Nico Helwerth’s first warning for a time violation came while Tsitsipas served for the first set at 5-3, love-15. Perhaps distracted, he double-faulted to trail love-30 and eventually got broken there.

The serve clock elapsed again at 5-all, love-15, and the second infraction resulted in an automatic fault, prompting Tsitsipas’ father — who coaches him, along with former player Mark Philippoussis — to stand up from his courtside seat. Again, Tsitsipas then double-faulted, again to fall behind love-30, but this time he managed to hold serve, and he was by far superior in the ensuing tiebreaker, able to ignore a foot-fault call that came at 3-1.

There were more foot-faults in the second set, and after one, Helwerth explained the problem: Tsitsipas’ back foot was extended too far behind him while serving from the Deuce side, putting his shoe beyond the middle line.

Tsitsipas would go on to break to 5-4, helped by a wild point in which he got back three overheads by Khachanov, eliciting roars from the many spectators waving blue-and-white Greek flags. Soon, he grabbed that set. He broke again to lead 2-1 in the third but failed to slam the door shut.

Instead, Tsitsipas — who lost in the Melbourne semifinals to Rafael Nadal in 2019, and to Daniil Medvedev in 2021 and 2022 — needed to wait 40 minutes from his initial match point to his last.

Serving in the fourth set at 5-3, 40-love, his missed a forehand volley on No. 3. “Uh, oh,” he might have been forgiven for thinking. But on the next point, chance No. 4, he hit a serve that drew a long return and was able to exhale.



Russia Loses Appeal Against IOC Ban 

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Russia Loses Appeal Against IOC Ban 

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Friday it has dismissed an appeal from Russia against an International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspension for recognizing regional organizations from territories annexed from Ukraine.

The IOC banned the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in October for recognizing regional Olympic councils for Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine - Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

At the time, the IOC said the move constituted a breach of the Olympic Charter because it violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine's NOC.

Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which Moscow calls a “special operation”, has denounced the measure as politically motivated.

In its appeal at the Lausanne-based CAS, ROC asked for the ban to be revoked and that it be recognized as a fully-fledged NOC, with all the prerogatives the status entails.

“The CAS Panel in charge of this matter dismissed the appeal and confirmed the challenged decision, finding that the IOC EB (Executive Board) did not breach the principles of legality, equality, predictability or proportionality,” CAS said in a statement.

Russians and Belarusian athletes had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, for which Belarus has been used as a staging ground.

Last year, however, the IOC issued an initial set of recommendations for international sports governing bodies to allow Russians and Belarusians to return, competing as individual athletes with no flag, emblem or anthem.

The IOC has said athletes should not be punished for the actions of governments.


In-Demand Coach Alonso Says Speculation over His Future Won’t Distract Leverkusen 

22 February 2024, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso attends a press conference ahead of Friday's Bundesliga soccer match against 1. FSV Mainz 05. (dpa)
22 February 2024, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso attends a press conference ahead of Friday's Bundesliga soccer match against 1. FSV Mainz 05. (dpa)
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In-Demand Coach Alonso Says Speculation over His Future Won’t Distract Leverkusen 

22 February 2024, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso attends a press conference ahead of Friday's Bundesliga soccer match against 1. FSV Mainz 05. (dpa)
22 February 2024, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso attends a press conference ahead of Friday's Bundesliga soccer match against 1. FSV Mainz 05. (dpa)

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso has denied the speculation over his future is a distraction for the Bundesliga leaders after Bayern Munich announced coach Thomas Tuchel is leaving.

Alonso is considered one of the most in-demand coaches in European soccer for upcoming vacancies at Bayern and Liverpool — both clubs where he played — by leading Leverkusen to an eight-point lead over Bayern in the Bundesliga.

When asked about the speculation and Bayern’s history of signing players and coaches from league rivals, Alonso said on Thursday, “It’s not a problem. It’s a super opponent that we have, but there is no distraction.”

Jürgen Klopp said last month he is stepping down as Liverpool manager at the end of the season after nine years in charge. Bayern’s run of three consecutive losses prompted the German champion to say Tuchel will leave in June after 15 months at the club.

Fans of Liverpool and Bayern fondly remember Alonso as a player, and both clubs are looking for a new coach.

Alonso’s team is unbeaten in 32 games in all competitions and is a contender in the German Cup semifinals and the Europa League.

Leverkusen’s title challenge continues on Friday at home to Mainz.

Bayern plays Leipzig on Saturday.


Real Madrid Midfielder Kroos Agrees to Play for Germany Ahead of Home Euro 2024 

Germany's midfielder Toni Kroos jogs during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 football match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium in London on June 29, 2021. (AFP)
Germany's midfielder Toni Kroos jogs during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 football match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium in London on June 29, 2021. (AFP)
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Real Madrid Midfielder Kroos Agrees to Play for Germany Ahead of Home Euro 2024 

Germany's midfielder Toni Kroos jogs during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 football match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium in London on June 29, 2021. (AFP)
Germany's midfielder Toni Kroos jogs during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 football match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium in London on June 29, 2021. (AFP)

Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos has agreed to play for Germany again after a request from coach Julian Nagelsmann ahead of the home European Championship.

Kroos doesn’t want to be seen as a “savior” for the struggling German team, though.

The 34-year-old Kroos has not played for Germany in almost three years. The most recent of his 106 international games came as the team lost in the round of 16 against England at the last European Championship.

“I will play for Germany again from March. Why? Because I was asked by the national team coach, I’m keen to do it and I am sure that much more is possible with the team at the Euros than most people believe!” Kroos wrote on Thursday on Instagram.

Kroos went into more detail on his podcast, saying Nagelsmann, who was hired in September, reached out last year.

There was a definite “appeal” to being asked to return for a home tournament, Kroos said, but he still needed “the last few months” to decide. “I’m really, really happy with this decision and I’m really looking forward to this tournament.”

Germany won just three of 11 friendlies last year, and Nagelsmann has one win in four since succeeding Hansi Flick.

“I obviously want to help, but I am definitely not the savior either. That’s clear, too,” Kroos said. “Everyone can say goodbye to that (idea) straight away. If I come back, I see myself just like a little cog that hopefully somehow meshes with another.

“Don’t think that with this trick that we’re going to become the favorites. That’s nonsense. Of course, I hope that I can in some way contribute a part in the direction of improvement. But of course, it’s also clear that something more is needed, too.”

Germany has friendlies against France on March 23 and the Netherlands three days later. The host nation has been drawn against Scotland, Hungary and Switzerland in the group stage at the European Championship, which starts on June 14.


Loose Drain Cover Stops F1 Testing for 2nd Day in a Row

Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - February 23, 2024 Members of the Bahrain International Circuit emergency maintenance team prepare the race track REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - February 23, 2024 Members of the Bahrain International Circuit emergency maintenance team prepare the race track REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
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Loose Drain Cover Stops F1 Testing for 2nd Day in a Row

Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - February 23, 2024 Members of the Bahrain International Circuit emergency maintenance team prepare the race track REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain - February 23, 2024 Members of the Bahrain International Circuit emergency maintenance team prepare the race track REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

A loose drain cover at the side of the track caused a long delay to Formula 1 preseason testing for the second day in a row Friday.
The cover flew up when Red Bull's Sergio Perez drove over a curb, causing a red-flag stoppage to the morning session after just half an hour amid repairs and an inspection of the area.
“Another day, another drain,” Red Bull wrote on X, formerly Twitter, as the team checked Perez's car for possible damage to the floor.
It was in the same part of the track where another loose cover caused disruption the day before. Thursday’s incident left debris scattered across the track and caused similar delays after two cars ran over the loose cover.
Drains have been a persistent problem for F1 in recent years, though typically on street circuits, not permanent racing venues like Bahrain.
Carlos Sainz Jr.'s Ferrari was badly damaged by a water valve cover in practice for the Las Vegas Grand Prix in November and George Russell's Williams car was wrecked in 2019 when it hit a drain cover in practice in Azerbaijan.


Saudi Para-cycling Team Wins 1st Gold Medal at Asian Track Cycling Championships

 Bassam Almajrashi won a gold medal in the Scratch Race - C4 at the Asian Para Track Cycling Championships held in New Delhi. SPA
Bassam Almajrashi won a gold medal in the Scratch Race - C4 at the Asian Para Track Cycling Championships held in New Delhi. SPA
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Saudi Para-cycling Team Wins 1st Gold Medal at Asian Track Cycling Championships

 Bassam Almajrashi won a gold medal in the Scratch Race - C4 at the Asian Para Track Cycling Championships held in New Delhi. SPA
Bassam Almajrashi won a gold medal in the Scratch Race - C4 at the Asian Para Track Cycling Championships held in New Delhi. SPA

Bassam Almajrashi has won a gold medal in the Scratch Race - C4 at the Asian Para Track Cycling Championships held in New Delhi, India. His victory marks the first gold medal for the Saudi para-cycling team in Asia.
The championships, running from February 21 to 26, features the participation of 30 Asian athletes.
During the first day of the event, the Saudi para-cycling team also clinched the bronze medal in the Team Sprint, with Almajrashi, Rashid Al-Ahmary, and Mohammed Al-Mari delivering exceptional performances.


Injury-hit Liverpool Produce 'Fireworks' to Blow Away Luton

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah marked his return with a goal against Brentford © Adrian DENNIS / AFP
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah marked his return with a goal against Brentford © Adrian DENNIS / AFP
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Injury-hit Liverpool Produce 'Fireworks' to Blow Away Luton

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah marked his return with a goal against Brentford © Adrian DENNIS / AFP
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah marked his return with a goal against Brentford © Adrian DENNIS / AFP

Jurgen Klopp said his injury-ravaged Liverpool produced "fireworks" to come from a goal down to beat Luton 4-1 and open up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Wednesday.

Chiedozie Ogbene had given the Hatters a shock first-half lead against a Liverpool side missing Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota among others.

Dutch international duo Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo turned the game on its head in two minutes just before the hour mark before Luis Diaz and Harvey Elliott secured the win.

Victory takes Klopp's men four points clear of Manchester City and five ahead of third-placed Arsenal, but having played a game more than both their title rivals.

"How the stadium and team together changed that game is exceptional," said Klopp, AFP reported.

"We just have to be calmer in the decisive moments Once we became calmer there were fireworks. My word they were fantastic goals. It is a fantastic night."

Liverpool's squad was already stretched by injuries prior to loss of Curtis Jones, Jota and Nunez in the first-half of Saturday's 4-1 win at Brentford.

Salah scored on his return from a hamstring injury at the weekend, but was forced on as a substitute earlier than planned and suffered a setback that kept him out.

Klopp was already without Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip and Thiago Alcantara due to injury and the Reds were forced to work harder for the three points than they would have wished just days before Sunday's League Cup final against Chelsea.

However, Salah and Nunez could be fit in time to feature at Wembley.

"We have to see, but I said it before the game as long as we have 11 players we will go for it," added Klopp.

Luton held Liverpool 1-1 when the sides met at Kenilworth Road in November and have made a habit of ruffling the feathers of the Premier League's elite on their return to the top flight.

However, the visitors barely posed a threat other than when they went in front on 12 minutes.

Tahith Chong burst into the Liverpool box and when his powerful shot was parried by the legs of Caoimhin Kelleher, Ogbene headed in at the far post.

All of Liverpool's chances before the break fell to Diaz, but the Colombian was wasteful with his six shots on goal.

Klopp was whipping up the Anfield crowd at every opportunity and his side finally opened the floodgates on 56 minutes.

Captain Van Dijk led by example as he shrugged off his marker to power in Alexis Mac Allister's corner.

"The reaction shown today was outstanding and something we need for the rest of the season," said Van Dijk. "Today was a big one!"

Mac Allister was the creator again seconds later as Luton again switched off from a dead ball.

Conor Bradley's throw-in picked out the Argentine midfielder and his volleyed cross was headed in by Gakpo.

Only some heroics from Thomas Kaminski denied Gakpo and Van Dijk their second goals of the night as Liverpool continued to surge forward, even with the lead.

And an animated Klopp could finally relax 19 minutes from time when Diaz this time kept his composure to slot home his 10th goal of the season.

Elliott then rounded off the scoring on his 100th Liverpool appearance by blasting a loose ball into the top corner.

Defeat leaves Luton still in the relegation zone on goal difference.

"In the second half we played into their hands and their counter pressing was incredible, we experienced that full throttle football," said Luton boss Rob Edwards.

"We knew today was going to be a really big task. We showed for long periods we are a good team and we can compete."


Messi the Creator as Miami Win In MLS Opener

Inter Miami's Argentine forward Lionel Messi controls the ball during the club's MLS season-opening victory over Real Salt Lake - AFP
Inter Miami's Argentine forward Lionel Messi controls the ball during the club's MLS season-opening victory over Real Salt Lake - AFP
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Messi the Creator as Miami Win In MLS Opener

Inter Miami's Argentine forward Lionel Messi controls the ball during the club's MLS season-opening victory over Real Salt Lake - AFP
Inter Miami's Argentine forward Lionel Messi controls the ball during the club's MLS season-opening victory over Real Salt Lake - AFP

Lionel Messi created both goals as Inter Miami made a winning start to the new Major League Soccer season with a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

The Argentine World Cup winner, who played the entire game, put aside any concerns about his early season fitness with an excellent performance for the bookmakers' title favorites.

"He looked loose, fine and showed a lot of speed," coach Gerardo Martino said of Messi, who missed the back end of last season for Miami with injuries and was also sidelined for part of the pre-season.

The other three members of Miami's former Barcelona quartet, debutant Luis Suarez, midfielder Sergio Busquets and left-back Jordi Alba, all started in front of a capacity crowd.

Against a cautious Salt Lake side, Messi went close to opening the scoring in the 18th minute with a curling free-kick from 30 yards out which was headed off the line by Justen Glad.

He then brought huge cheers from the crowd when, on the edge of the box, his route was blocked by a player down on the floor, but he chipped the ball over him and let loose a shot which was blocked.

But Miami got in front when Spaniard Sergio Busquets found Messi and the eight-times Ballon d'Or winner cleverly slipped the ball through to Finnish forward Robert Taylor, whose low shot beat RSL keeper Zac MacMath.

The goalkeeper should have kept the effort out but it was a goal which forced the visitors to open up after the interval and their more aggressive approach caused Inter some problems.

Cristian Arango blasted a half-chance high over the bar for Salt Lake and then, after Busquets sloppily gave the ball away, Andres Gomez burst goalwards but the Colombian winger fired wide, AFP reported.

The Utah side should have made more of the space they found as Miami struggled in the early stages of the second half but paid the price for a lack of precision.

Sensing his team needed another goal or two to make sure of the points, Messi upped his work-rate and began to take control of the game.

Dropping deeper to collect the ball, he launched several attacks with his own swift bursts forward allied with his trademark close control.

The 36-year-old weaved down the inside left channel to find space for a cross to the back post to Julian Gressel but the German put his effort wide from the tight angle.

Then Messi burst again from deep and found Suarez who picked out Diego Gomez and the Paraguayan midfielder buried his shot low into the far corner to make it 2-0.

That trio almost combined again for a third with Messi slipping to Gomez who then served Suarez but the Uruguayan's effort was saved by the outstretched leg of MacMath.

Martino was delighted to see two of the lesser heralded members of his cast on target.

"This is what should happen with a team. Normally Luis and Leo would be the ones most associated with the goal, but the fact that Robert and Diego have converted and (Messi and Suarez) have been the assistants is always a positive thing," he said.

The former Argentina, Mexico and Barcelona coach said he was sure that Messi and Suarez would be able to recapture some of the magic they had shown during their seasons at the Camp Nou.

"They know each other so well but we have to find that partnership that worked already in Barcelona," he said.

For Taylor, who enjoyed a rich spell of form immediately after Messi joined the club and was a key part of the team which won the Leagues Cup, it was a positive opening to the campaign.

"It's the start we wanted, I mean, there's still some things that we need to work on. Obviously, it's the first game of the season, but the positive thing is the three points and we'll build on this," he said.

Inter Miami return to action on Sunday at Los Angeles Galaxy.


Ronaldo Scores As Al Nassr Ease Into Champions League Quarters

Cristiano Ronaldo scored late as Al Nassr swept into the Asian Champions League quarter-finals - AFP
Cristiano Ronaldo scored late as Al Nassr swept into the Asian Champions League quarter-finals - AFP
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Ronaldo Scores As Al Nassr Ease Into Champions League Quarters

Cristiano Ronaldo scored late as Al Nassr swept into the Asian Champions League quarter-finals - AFP
Cristiano Ronaldo scored late as Al Nassr swept into the Asian Champions League quarter-finals - AFP

Cristiano Ronaldo guided Al Nassr into the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League on Wednesday as the Saudi Arabian side defeated domestic rivals Al Fayha 2-0 to progress 3-0 on aggregate.

Nassr, who won last week's first leg 1-0 thanks to a Ronaldo goal nine minutes from time, were the better side at Al Awwal Park and took the lead on 17 minutes through Portuguese winger Otavio.

The former Porto star, who joined Nassr last summer, headed home from close range to score in his second successive game for the club.


Sports Boulevard Sponsors Saudi Cup, World’s Most Valuable Horse Race

The partnership was signed by JCSA chief executive Ziad Al-Mogren and SBF chief executive Jayne McGivern in the presence of Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, the chairman of the Equestrian Authority and the JCSA. SPA
The partnership was signed by JCSA chief executive Ziad Al-Mogren and SBF chief executive Jayne McGivern in the presence of Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, the chairman of the Equestrian Authority and the JCSA. SPA
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Sports Boulevard Sponsors Saudi Cup, World’s Most Valuable Horse Race

The partnership was signed by JCSA chief executive Ziad Al-Mogren and SBF chief executive Jayne McGivern in the presence of Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, the chairman of the Equestrian Authority and the JCSA. SPA
The partnership was signed by JCSA chief executive Ziad Al-Mogren and SBF chief executive Jayne McGivern in the presence of Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, the chairman of the Equestrian Authority and the JCSA. SPA

Sports Boulevard Foundation (SBF) signed a partnership with the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia (JCSA), making Sports Boulevard an official sponsor for the Sports Boulevard Riyadh Dirt Sprint race, one of the races held in the evening of the 2024 Saudi Cup, the world's most valuable horse race.

The partnership was signed by JCSA chief executive Ziad Al-Mogren and SBF chief executive Jayne McGivern in the presence of Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, the chairman of the Equestrian Authority and the JCSA.

This is the second year of the Sports Boulevard’s official sponsorship with the Saudi Cup, which this year has a combined prize fund of more than $37.35 million -- an increase of $2 million from last year. The greatest racehorses, jockeys, trainers, and owners will be welcomed by the organizers.

“Alongside the Sports Boulevard sponsorship of Riyadh Season races, their mission to transform the city of Riyadh and offer state-of-the-art equestrian sports facilities aligns with our ambition of bringing more of Saudi Arabia’s residents into the sport,” said Al-Mogren.

“We look forward to collaborating with the Sports Boulevard to promote equestrian sports to people across Riyadh City.”

According to McGivern, “Creating access to grassroots sports for people across Riyadh and the Kingdom, including horse-riding and other equine activities, is something I am passionate about.”

“Horseracing has a deep-rooted history in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with thoroughbred horses descended from Arabian bloodlines. As a globally famous horse racing event, this partnership is the perfect platform to encourage community engagement,” said McGivern.

The Saudi Cup will take place on February 23 and 24 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh. Through the partnership, visitors will have plenty of opportunities to find out more about the Sports Boulevard. Visitors to SBF’s booth will be able to learn more about how the megaproject will transform health and wellbeing in Riyadh.


Son Apologizes for Bust-up with South Korea Team-Mate Lee 

A woman watches a television screen showing a news broadcast with a picture of Son Heung-min (L) and Lee Kang-in (R), at a railway station in Seoul on February 21, 2024. (AFP)
A woman watches a television screen showing a news broadcast with a picture of Son Heung-min (L) and Lee Kang-in (R), at a railway station in Seoul on February 21, 2024. (AFP)
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Son Apologizes for Bust-up with South Korea Team-Mate Lee 

A woman watches a television screen showing a news broadcast with a picture of Son Heung-min (L) and Lee Kang-in (R), at a railway station in Seoul on February 21, 2024. (AFP)
A woman watches a television screen showing a news broadcast with a picture of Son Heung-min (L) and Lee Kang-in (R), at a railway station in Seoul on February 21, 2024. (AFP)

Son Heung-min apologized on Wednesday for his role in a bust-up with South Korea team-mate Lee Kang-in at the Asian Cup and urged fans to forgive the Paris Saint-Germain player.

South Korea were beaten 2-0 by Jordan at the tournament earlier this month and it later emerged that skipper Son had dislocated a finger in an altercation with Lee on the eve of the semi-final.

Both players released social media statements on Wednesday, with Tottenham's Son posting a picture of the pair together, smiling and with arms around each other's shoulders.

The 23-year-old attacking midfielder Lee, who has been blamed by fans for the fracas and dumped by advertisers, said that he had travelled to London to apologize to Son in person.

Addressing the controversy publicly for the first time, Son wrote in a statement on Instagram: "I am sincerely sorry for causing trouble and will work harder to make the national team grow further."

The incident at the Asian Cup reportedly happened after some younger players in the national squad, including rising star Lee, rushed through their meal so they could leave early to play table tennis.

This displeased Son and some of the older players because meals on the eve of big games are traditionally seen as a time for bonding.

As tension grew Lee tried to punch Son, local media reported. Lee's representatives denied a punch was thrown.

The altercation was cited as a factor in the dismissal last week of coach Jurgen Klinsmann after 12 months in the post.

"I think my actions could be criticized," Son wrote.

But he added: "I would do it again for the team if the same situation arrived because it's one of the captain's duties."

Lee has become public enemy number one since details of the flashpoint emerged, but Son said it was time to move on.

"Kang-in has been going through a very difficult time after the incident," Son wrote.

"Please forgive him with an open mind.

"Kang-in is sincerely reflecting on his actions and has apologized to me as well as every national team member."

Last week, Lee apologized and did so again on Wednesday.

"My short-sighted thoughts and improper behavior have let down Son, the national team and football fans," Lee said in an Instagram post published around the same time as Son's.

"Through a long conversation I came to understand the heavy responsibility that weighs on Son as captain and reflect on myself."