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Ike Ugbo debuts for Canada looking good for World Cup ticket



ike ugbo cercle brugge portrait

Ike Ugbo, who was also eligible to play for Nigeria through his parents, has made his debut for Canada, who improved their chances of reaching the 2022 World Cup qualifier after a 1-0 home win over Costa Rica.

The former Chelsea striker, 23, was an 83rd-minute sub for match-winner Jonathan David.

Ugbo has previously represented England at various age-grade levels.

He had expressed his readiness to play for Nigeria at the AFCON and World Cup after saying his father is a big Super Eagles fan.

However, in a shock u-turn, the London-born Ugbo completed his change of international allegiance to Canada leading up to his debut.

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Canada currently occupies third-place in the eight-nation CONCACAF qualifying tournament with 13 points from seven matches, a point behind front runners USA and Mexico.

On Wednesday, they welcome Mexico in continuation of the qualifying series.

The top three teams will advance automatically to the World Cup in Qatar next year, while the fourth-placed team will feature in an intercontinental playoff.


Tuchel labels target Rice a ‘Chelsea boy’ in praise of West Ham star



Tuchel labels target Rice a ‘Chelsea boy in praise of West Ham star

Thomas Tuchel has hailed “Chelsea boy” Declan Rice ahead of the Premier League leaders’ trip to West Ham on Saturday.

The former Chelsea academy starlet left the club as a 14-year-old, but his former club have long-planned to bring him back to Stamford Bridge, with a fresh move potentially coming at the end of the season.

Tuchel refused to criticise the decision to release Rice, who has gone on to become a pivotal player for England, but no attempt to hide his admiration for the midfielder.

On a day when Chelsea will again be without N’Golo Kante, who is sidelined with an injury after twisting his knee, Rice will have the chance to further enhance his reputation.

Midfield is seen as an area in need of address at the end of the season, with Kante suffering extended lay-offs with increasing regularity.

That was part of the reason for the deadline day loan move for Saul Niguez – but the Spain midfielder has endured a torrid start to life in the Premier League and is expected to return to Atletico Madrid at the end of the season.

Conor Gallagher, who has been so impressive on loan at Crystal Palace, could yet prompt Chelsea to hold off on making a fresh move for Rice, with Billy Gilmour a consideration too if he furthers his development at Norwich.

But in Rice, they know they would be signing a player who is dominating for club and country without yet hitting his peak years.

“It happens at every single club in the world that sometimes players get released in one moment and they have their career on a different way, so this is a pretty normal thing,” said Tuchel.

“I am absolutely aware that he is a Chelsea boy and he comes through the academy and he is very close to our guys.

“He’s a very strong player and in general, I am absolutely impressed by (Tomas) Soucek and him, what they do since I came into the Premier League. What they do for West Ham.

“They are real helpers on the pitch, they have an incredible volume both of them. They take responsibility for high pressing, for deep defending, for filling the gaps on the wings, for deep build-up, for goals from set-pieces. Both of them are simply doing everything.”

Joint-Chairmen congratulate Rice on record Premier League milestone | West  Ham United

Tuchel added: “Declan is an important member of the England team, so it speaks for itself. Very strong in build-up, very intelligent in passing and, of course, they are quality players.

“On top of it, the two midfielders represent pretty much what West Ham is all about, they have the heart to play this game to the full extent and they are very good characters in sportsmanship. They play with passion, the whole team plays with passion, they never give up and there’s a lot of quality behind it.”

Tuchel admits Chelsea have missed the influence of Kante in recent weeks, with Mateo Kovacic also out with a hamstring injury and Jorginho rested against Watford in midweek.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been a surprise emergence in midfield after looking set to leave in the summer.

He is set to start at the London Stadium alongside the returning Jorginho.

Tuchel said: “Jorgi is the guy left from Kova, NG and him from the three on whose shoulders we put the central role over a very long period now.

“We are absolutely happy that Ruben steps in now in the way he does it. But we are happy that Jorgi is back in training and we can’t wait for Kova and NG to come back because they are a very important part of the season and in our games.

“This midfield role is where we missed the experience and the leadership qualities of the guys that are out.”

Meanwhile, Tuchel has explained the reasons behind allowing Kurt Zouma to leave for West Ham in the summer – insisting he wanted the defender to stay and fight for his place.

“We replaced him with Trevoh (Chalobah) because we had the faith and trust in him. Until this moment, we could not allow him to go because of course we are selfish and have to see that we have a strong squad.

“But we have to see the situation of Kurt also and his point of view. He is a strong player, an experienced Premier League player. He suffered from the decision for us with (Cesar) Azpi in the back three, with Andreas (Christensen) in the back three, Toni (Rudiger) in the back three, as direct competitors to his place.

“So he did not get enough minutes for his status or his quality and where he wants to be in this time of his career.

“We had many talks about it in pre-season where we reflected on his position and our position. The more we got to know Trevoh we thought maybe if Kurt has a constant wish to go…

“For many, many weeks there was not an awful lot of interest in him. I made it clear, I love Kurt, I told him ‘I love you, we don’t have to have these talks. I am happy for you to stay even if Trevoh comes in.’

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“I was happy for him to stay. He is a top-quality player and could have stayed to fight for his place. And you always have a chance to play, but it’s hard competition.

“He accepted it. Then very late this offer came from West Ham. So we had this talk and he decided this is an offer that might be the perfect for him.

“We took a bit of a risk to fully trust Trevoh because we did not know at the moment if he could reach the consistent levels and I think we got rewarded.”

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Closing speeds at Jeddah approaching ‘danger zone’ says Hamilton



Hamilton 211203 Speaking G1050

Lewis Hamilton said the difference in speeds between Formula One cars on a flying lap and those running slowly at the new circuit were approaching a “danger zone” after near-misses in Friday’s opening practice for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Briton, who trails Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by eight points in the overall standings with two races to go and this weekend is gunning for a third straight win, took avoiding action twice to avoid slower moving cars while on fast laps.

“That’s definitely a lot worse than a lot of places we’ve been to,” Hamilton, fastest in Friday’s two sessions, added.

“Monaco-esque – the closing speed on other cars is definitely getting to a bit of a danger zone,” he said referring to the narrow, twisting, albeit it slower, Monaco street track infamous for slower cars getting in the way of faster runners.

The new 6.1-km long Jeddah track is set to be the second quickest on the calendar after Italian ‘Temple of Speed’ Monza.

Its fast, flowing layout of mainly flat-out blasts along the city’s Red Sea waterfront and a succession of high speed corners hemmed in by walls make it difficult for drivers to see slower moving cars, which could prove tricky during qualifying.

Charles Leclerc was caught out by the high-speed track, his Ferrari crashing backwards into the barriers during the second practice session, although the Monegasque, who was unhurt, was running by himself at the time.

“There’s so many kind of blind corners and closing speeds are high,” said McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. You try and get out of everyone’s way. I probably got in some people’s way today, some people got in mine.

“It can get very tricky, very messy, very quickly,” added Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two in practice for Saudi GP

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Despite the risks, drivers enjoyed tearing around the coastal venue, their cars sparking away and looking spectacular under the floodlights.

“Rapid! It really is incredibly fast and a lot of grip as well,” said seven-times world champion Hamilton.

“When you get the rhythm it’s a beautiful track.”

His Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas added: “It’s quite hardcore, it’s pretty full gas and close to the walls and high speeds … definitely gives you a bit of an adrenaline rush.”

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Djokovic season over as Serbia beaten by Croatia in Davis Cup



Novak 211203 Wiping Sweat G1050

Novak Djokovic’s dream of adding a second Davis Cup to his 20 Grand Slam titles was shattered on Friday when Serbia were defeated by Croatia in the semi-finals.

Djokovic and partner Filip Krajinovic lost 7-5, 6-1 to top-ranked Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic, the Olympic and Wimbledon champions, in the decisive doubles rubber.

Croatia, the 2005 and 2018 Davis Cup winners, will face either Russia or Germany in Sunday’s final.

Djokovic had earlier defeated Marin Cilic for the 18th time to keep Serbia alive.

The world number one, unbeaten in singles in the tournament since 2011, triumphed 6-4, 6-2 to pull Serbia level at 1-1 in the tie.

It was his 19th successive Davis Cup singles win.

In the opening rubber, Borna Gojo, ranked a lowly 279, pulled off a surprise win over world number 33 Dusan Lajovic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Cilic, a former world number three now down at 30, carved out eight break points on the Djokovic serve but was unable to convert a single one.

Defeat for Serbia meant Djokovic closed his 2021 season having agonisingly missed out on the first calendar Grand Slam by a male player in more than half a century when he lost the final of the US Open.

His hopes of a first Olympic singles gold medal were also dashed in Tokyo.

However, he still ended the year tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Slams, claimed the year-ending world number one ranking for the seventh time and will on Monday mark a total of 350 weeks in the top ranking.

Djokovic has also extended his record Masters collection to 37 titles.

Gojo has played well above his world ranking in the tournament so far and showed real mettle against Lajovic to come back from a set down, especially after letting slip a 4-2 and 40-0 lead in the first set, losing 17 of the next 18 points.

He also saw off Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego (ranked 27) in the quarter-final and Australia’s Alexei Popyrin (67) in the group stages.

“In the first set I was up 4-2 40-0, I was in control, I slipped in that game there. I got down on myself a little bit, but then the captain and the teams and the fans picked me back up,” said Gojo.

“Obviously Davis Cup is a special competition where the pressure is bigger on everyone and I managed to play some of my best tennis here at this tournament.

Djokovic sends Davis Cup semifinal into doubles decider

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“I’m very happy that I managed to get those big wins, ranking wise, but for me it’s more important that I managed to get the point for the team.”

Croatia had lost both their previous meetings with their Balkan neighbours.

The first came in Split in 2010 when Serbia won 4-1 in the quarter-finals en route to winning the competition.

They also romped to a 5-0 triumph in 2015.

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