Guardiola welcomes response to Zinchenko as Ukrainian captains Man City to cup win

By Sports Desk March 01, 2022

Pep Guardiola welcomed the show of support for Oleksandr Zinchenko as the Ukrainian defender captained Manchester City in their FA Cup win at Peterborough United.

With his country experiencing a Russian military invasion, Zinchenko stepped up to assume leadership on the football pitch after being handed the armband by Fernandinho.

It was a move designed to show solidarity with the 25-year-old as he waits for news from what Guardiola described as "this nightmare" in Zinchenko's homeland.

"It's not an easy period for Oleks," Guardiola told a news conference. "His family, his country, but playing football is the best for him at the moment."

In a separate BBC interview, Guardiola said of the left-back: "Unfortunately his citizens in Ukraine are living in a terrible and crazy and insane situation. All the people here at Peterborough, not just our fans, showed him warmth.

"Hopefully this nightmare can finish as soon as possible."

Goals from Riyad Mahrez and Jack Grealish in the second half carried City through to the quarter-finals.

Both were set up by Phil Foden, whose pass to Grealish for City's clincher particularly caught the eye.

Grealish later revealed it was inspired by watching clips of Guardiola's former Barcelona charge Lionel Messi in action.

"The pass from Phil was excellent. It was quite similar to the pass from Phil that he did to Joao [Cancelo] in Brugge in the Champions League, and the control was excellent from Jack," Guardiola said.

The City boss added: "They were brilliant goals. The quality for Riyad and the second goal the same. It was good.

"We created chances. All of them were brilliant. Riyad always had this quality in the final third – he is the best player in the final third that we have. He scored a fantastic goal. I'm so proud for the game he played."

There was cause for slight concern ahead of Sunday's derby against Manchester United, with Guardiola substituting starting centre-backs Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake at half-time due to what he hopes are only minor knocks. Aymeric Laporte and John Stones proved capable replacements.

The City manager said Dias was "not feeling good in his leg", while Ake suffered a blow when committing a first-half foul.

"That's why, for caution and to be alert, we made the substitutions," Guardiola said. "It was not planned. I would say it was a medical decision."

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    Alexis Mac Allister's rise to prominence in the Argentina squad has surprised even himself, and the Brighton midfielder is relishing the prospect of Friday's World Cup quarter-final against the Netherlands.

    Mac Allister did not play Argentina's first game in Qatar, a stunning 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia, but has subsequently cemented a place in Lionel Scaloni's midfield and quickly emerged as a key player.

    Argentina take on the Oranje at Lusail Stadium with a place in the semi-finals at stake and Mac Allister is excited at the prospect.

    "If you would have told me this [how influential he has become] before the World Cup I would have signed up for it, for sure," he said.

    "It has been a fast integration but the credit for that goes to my colleagues and the technical staff."

    The Netherlands will pose a serious threat to Argentina's hopes but Mac Allister was more interested in talking up his team-mates than spending too much time worrying about Louis van Gaal's men.

    He added: "We know they have great players, and a very clear style, but we have our own weapons and will try to counter theirs.

    "There is a great history between the sides but if we do things right everything will be fine."

    The nations have met five times previously at the World Cup, with the last coming in 2014 when Argentina won a semi-final clash in Brazil on penalties after a turgid 0-0 draw.

    Van Gaal was also in charge of the Dutch on that occasion, during his second spell of three at the helm, and Mac Allister was full of admiration for the 71-year-old.

    "I remember watching that game with my family at home," he said. "I enjoyed it and now I am here. Being able to play these matches is a great joy.

    "We know he's a top coach, world renowned, and there is a great deal of respect from everyone in our camp, including me. His teams always have variation but with a clear idea. We are up against a great team."

    Lionel Messi has been Argentina's standout player so far in Qatar and stopping him could be key to the outcome.

    Reports in the Netherlands suggest Van Gaal is considering employing someone to man mark the Paris Saint-Germain star but Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni claims to have seen it all before.

    He said: "We are used to our opponents coming up with something different. We will see but, during the match, there are always modifications, and that’s something we are likely to do as well.

    "Let's wait and see but we have played matches before when there has been man-marking on Leo."

    Argentina have injury concerns over Rodrigo De Paul and Angel Di Maria but Scaloni was not giving much away regarding their availability.

    "Today we have the last training session so we will see how they feel," he said. "Rodrigo trained on Wednesday so let's see what happens in today's session. Angel also trained so we will decide later today."

  • Croatia v Brazil: Neymar proud of matching Pele and Ronaldo as Tite explains dance joy Croatia v Brazil: Neymar proud of matching Pele and Ronaldo as Tite explains dance joy

    Brazil coach Tite has explained that joining in with his team's celebrations against South Korea was not an act of disrespect to the opposition.

    The Selecao ran out 4-1 winners against South Korea on Monday as they sealed their place in the World Cup quarter-finals in style.

    Vinicius Junior opened the scoring before Neymar converted a penalty after a foul on Richarlison, who added a sublime third prior to Lucas Paqueta rounding off Brazil's haul.

    After Richarlison's goal, which capped a superb move, Tite celebrated with the Tottenham forward by performing the 'pigeon' dance.

    He was criticised by some sections of the media, but Tite has explained he meant no disrespect.

    "We try to adapt to the athletes' characteristics. They are young, I have to get closer to their language," he said.

    "One day we were training and I said to Richarlison 'if you score a goal, I'll dance'.

    "I told the players to hide me a little, I know about the visibility.

    "I didn't want it to have any other interpretation than the joy of the goal, the result, the performance, but not disrespect for the opponent or Paulo Bento, who I have great respect for."

    With his goal, meanwhile, Neymar matched Pele and Ronaldo as the third Brazil player to score at three different World Cups. 

    The Paris Saint-Germain star is also just one short of matching Pele's record goal haul of 77 for Brazil.

    "Achieving marks is a great source of pride," Neymar said.

    "I reached numbers that I would never have imagined reaching, that's always very good. It makes me very happy."

     

    Croatia stand between Brazil and a place in the last four.

    Brazil have never lost in four previous meetings with Croatia, with this their first meeting since a 2-0 friendly win in June 2018.

    Brazil are looking to reach the World Cup semi-final for the ninth time, with only Germany (12) doing so more often. 

    Croatia, runners-up in 2018, have reached at least the last four of the competition on both previous occasions they've made it out of the group stages (1998 and 2018).

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Brazil – Neymar

    Neymar has been involved in 15 goals in his last 11 appearances for Brazil in all competitions (eight goals, seven assists), with each of his last six goals for the national side coming from the penalty spot.

    Last time out against South Korea, he became the first Brazil player on record (since 1966) to both score and provide an assist at three different World Cup tournaments.

    Croatia – Luka Modric

    Real Madrid star Luka Modric was not on the pitch as Croatia progressed past Japan on penalties in the last 16, but if Zlatko Dalic's team are to beat Brazil, the 37-year-old will surely be crucial.

    He will go up against former Madrid club-mate Casemiro, and will need the assistance of Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, but if Modric can wield his influence, Croatia have a chance.

    PREDICTION

    Croatia have lost four of their five World Cup games against South American sides, with the exception being a 3-0 win over Argentina in 2018. Two of those four defeats have been against Brazil – 1-0 in 2006 and 3-1 in 2014.

    Despite getting to the final in Russia, Croatia have been handed only an 11.5 per chance of victory by Opta's model, which has Brazil as the favourites with 68.2 per cent.

    The draw is at 20.3 per cent.

  • Qatar 2022 CEO Al Khater says 'death is a natural part of life' after migrant worker dies during World Cup Qatar 2022 CEO Al Khater says 'death is a natural part of life' after migrant worker dies during World Cup

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    The Athletic reported on Wednesday that a Filipino man said to be in his early 40s died while working at the base of Saudi Arabia during the group stage.

    According to the report, the incident is being investigated by the Qatari government.

    Asked by the BBC for a comment on the reports, Al Khater extraordinarily said "death is a natural part of life" as he questioned why the interviewer had chosen to ask him about the incident.

    He said: "We're in the middle of a World Cup and we have a successful World Cup, and this is something you want to talk about right now?

    "I mean, death is a natural part of life, whether it's at work or in your sleep.

    "Of course, a worker died, our condolences go to his family, however this is strange this is something you want to focus on as your first question."

    The Qatar World Cup has been dominated by off-field issues, such as the host nation's questionable human rights and its treatment of migrant workers.

    On Thursday, FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura was asked by Reuters for a comment on the incident.

    "We've already elaborated... about what we are doing in Qatar," she said.

    "We are talking about things we have already discussed for months and months, time and time again."

    At the time of publication, FIFA had not responded to Stats Perform's request for comment.

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