Carlo Ancelotti said midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are “untouchable” at Real Madrid but “that doesn’t mean they play every game” with competition from youngsters Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde.
Modric missed Thursday’s 3-2 Copa del Rey comeback win at Villarreal through injury, while Kroos was substituted at 2-0 down with replacement Dani Ceballos contributing to all three Madrid goals, scoring the 86th minute winner.
Madrid are facing a tough fixture list, with Sunday’s LaLiga trip to Athletic Club followed by a cup quarterfinal derby with Atletico Madrid next Thursday, and then hosting in-form Real Sociedad next weekend.
“The squad is untouchable,” Ancelotti said in a news conference on Saturday, when asked if managing the transition from one generation to another was his toughest job as coach.
“It’s not only [Modric and Kroos], it’s the others who come onto the pitch and give everything, like Ceballos and [Marco] Asensio did [at Villarreal]. Modric and Kroos are untouchable, but that doesn’t mean they have to play every game.
“They’re players who’ve made history at this club, they’re making history and they will make history. But that doesn’t mean they have to play every game.”
Madrid went into Thursday’s Copa del Rey round-of-16 game under pressure — after a loss to Villarreal in LaLiga and a defeat to Barcelona in the Spanish Supercopa final — and performed poorly, before a dramatic second-half turnaround.
“The reaction at Villarreal was very good,” Ancelotti added. “We made big mistakes in the first half. Over the last few days we’ve evaluated everything. We [don’t have time] to train, so we recover and watch videos. The mistakes were quite clear, let’s hope they’re not repeated… We can’t give away [goals] like in recent games.”
Ancelotti also dismissed reports of interest from Premier League leaders Arsenal in Camavinga — saying “Eduardo is untouchable, like Modric or Kroos” — and said he’d accepted Tchouameni’s apology for attending an NBA game between the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons in Paris while Madrid were playing in Villarreal.
“He’s apologised in public,” Ancelotti said. “He made a mistake, he’s a young boy who made one mistake and it’s over. Let’s hope he can be back [from injury] next week.” (ESPN)
Marsh, David leave New Zealand bruised in Australia’s thrilling last-ball win
Australia captain Mitchell Marsh produced a powerful all-round performance before Tim David batted superbly at the death to complete a last-ball win over New Zealand in a high-scoring series opener in Wellington.
Chasing 216 after Devon Conway emerged from a form slump with a half-century, Australia appeared on the brink of defeat despite Marsh’s effort. But David took over with 31 off 10 balls punctuated by a boundary through the leg-side off Tim Southee to seal Australia’s remarkable heist.
Australia drew first blood in the fight for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, which had previously only been awarded to the winner of bilateral ODI series between the teams. With the T20 World Cup just over three months away, the three-match series is vital preparation for both teams.
There was no room for Steven Smith in Australia’s batting order, with Travis Head returning after missing the West Indies series. He opened alongside David Warner for the first time in T20Is. But neither could capitalise on starts. Warner was booed off the ground by the partisan crowd and responded by giving them a wave.
It was left to Marsh, who obliged with typically belligerent batting. Anything in his hitting zone was handled with disdain as he motored to his half-century off 29 balls. But Marsh lacked support as Australia fell away and needed a seemingly improbable 32 runs off nine balls to win. But David took over with a boundary off Adam Milne before launching consecutive sixes to reduce Australia’s target to 16 runs off the final over.
Southee bowled well at the start of the final over by bowling a few yorkers, but David again showed his prowess at finishing with a six over the leg-side off the full-tossed fourth delivery of the 20th over. Two balls later, his swat through wide long on with two fielders converging went for four, and underlined a remarkable chase that showcased their firepower. It also illustrated that there may not be room for Smith at the T20 World Cup.
Milne and Lockie Ferguson were only playing their 10th T20I together. They menaced with prodigious swing at rapid pace with Ferguson reaching speeds of 150 kmph.
Milne claimed the much-needed first wicket after a flier from Head, while Ferguson chimed in by getting through Glenn Maxwell to halt Australia’s momentum.
Ferguson was superb throughout and bowled accurate yorkers under pressure in a brilliant 18th over that appeared to put New Zealand in the box seat. But New Zealand ultimately rued sloppy fielding, most notably Glenn Phillips missing a chance on the boundary when Marsh was on 36.
Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, who had both rested for the past three weeks since the Test summer ended, played their first T20I since the 2022 T20 World Cup as Australia unveiled a full-strength attack.
Starc was on the money immediately as he angled a delivery past Finn Allen on the first delivery of an excellent first over. He returned in the sixth over to pick up Allen having not let him have any width to hit.
Starc was the pick of the bowlers until he was thrashed for 16 runs in the penultimate over of the innings. Cummins had also mostly defied the onslaught with his canny array of slower deliveries before being dispatched for 15 runs in the last over.
After recording the worst-ever figures by an Australian bowler in T20Is in their last match against West Indies, legspinner Adam Zampa copped another flogging with 0 for 42 from three overs. Australia, who sloppily conceded 15 extras, became the first team ever to concede four straight 200-plus totals in T20I cricket.
In better news for Australia, Marsh utilised slower deliveries effectively and claimed the wicket of Conway to finish with 1 for 21 off three. Marsh didn’t use himself against West Indies but stepped up here with Marcus Stoinis missing from the series.
Conway entered the series finding himself in his career’s first prolonged form slump. Conway got out of it by perhaps channelling the last time he batted against Australia in a T20 match when he made an unbeaten 92 to launch the 2022 T20 World Cup.
It was deja vu with Conway and Allen again monstering a half-century inside four overs just like they did at the SCG. Conway relished a surface that was fast with a consistent bounce to notch his first international half-century since last year’s ODI World Cup. His knock was marked by superb back-foot play as he continually whacked shorter deliveries in a confidence-boosting innings.
After Allen fell just before the end of the powerplay, Conway combined with Rachin Ravindra, who was sluggish early and was halted initially by Cummins’ nagging line and length. But Ravindra eventually found his groove and pummelled Zampa for a trio of sixes in the 15th over.
Ravindra raced to his second T20I half-century off just 29 balls to make the most of his opportunity with skipper Kane Williamson not playing due to the birth of his third child. The top-order batting, plus the finishing touches by Phillips and Mark Chapman, meant big-hitting debutant Josh Clarkson was not required.
Australia 216 for 4 in 20 overs (Travis Head 24, Mitchell Marsh 72*, David Warner 32, Glenn Maxwell 25, Josh Inglis 20, Tim David 31*; Adam Milne 1-53, Lockie Furgeson 1-23, Mitchell Santner 2-42) beat New Zealand 215 for 3 in 20 overs (Finn Allen 32, Rachin Ravindra 68, Devon Conway 63,Glenn Phillips 19*, Mark Chapman 18*; Mitchell Starc 1-39, Pat Cummins 1-43, Mitchell Marsh 1-21) by six wickets
Leave aside revenge, work towards common goal says Mathews
Rex Clementine in Dambulla
There has been a remarkable turnaround for the national cricket team in 2024 with Sri Lanka recording five series wins inside two months and have won all six games so far in the bilateral series against Afghanistan. The team has played some attacting cricket, a far cry from their World Cup campaign where players were sloppy on the field, awful with the bat and indiscipline with the ball.
Former captain Angelo Mathews, who was the star in the second T-20 International on Monday with an unbeaten 42 and two wickets, credited the new selection panel for the change of fortunes.
“The team has turned things around not with the dawn of the new year but with the dawn of new selectors. They have given lot of confidence for boys. Seem they have proper plans rather than doing things haphazardly. You see a massive difference out there with boys playing with freedom. Communication is a key aspect in international cricket. Forget about agendas, forget about differences, forget about revenge. Get together and think of Sri Lankan cricket.”
“It is all about planning. In a cycle you get two years or four years to plan things out. With the new selectors they have planned well. The new captains are doing a great job. They are giving confidence to youngsters and senior players. The guys are playing with freedom and enjoying their cricket rather than worrying about things. We are in good shape.”
Mathews was a doubtful starter heading into the game and had to prove his fitness on Monday.
Sri Lanka were struggling at 121 for five during the 15th over of the innings and Mathews reserved the best for his last taking Sri Lanka’s total to 187 for six hitting Azmatullah Omarzai for three consecutive sixes in the penultimate over.
“The plan was Sadeera to bat deep so that I could bat with freedom. Last game we didn’t bat 20 overs and it was a disappointment. Glad we got our act together. Sadeera was superb today.”
Mathews praised young Matheesha Pathirana, who was making a comeback to the side during the series and bowled some unplayable deliveries. The former captain expected a bright future for the 21-year-old.
“Facing Matheesha Pathirana at the nets is the biggest challenge. He bowls consistently at 150. It’s difficult to bowl that speed when someone is bowling straight but to bowl with that action makes things tougher. He has gained experience in franchise cricket and at 21 if you tell him to defend 12 in the last over he will do the job in nine out of ten games. He is a disciplined cricketer. We have to look after him well.”
CR sit on the rugby throne after 26 years!
By A Special Sports Correspondent
Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) produced rib bruising rugby last Sunday (February 18) to end Kandy’s winning streak and be crowned as the new men’s champions in domestic rugby. The women’s tournament was won by Sri Lanka Navy.
Turn the pages of time to the launch of this tournament and there were predictions that the game would find a new winner in the men’s segment. And that’s just what the sport did. In a way these are the results that serve the game well; results that end a regime and usher in a new king. Kandy was winning it for too long and the educated spectator probably had to motivate himself to travel to the venue and catch the action when he can already predict the result while sitting on his sofa at home.
But the crowds came in their numbers to Longden Place; which is a good sign because the sport has lost a chunk of its spectators already. This is probably due to the fact that games are less exciting and ticket prices are so high. CR&FC must be lauded for many things. One is that they celebrated 100 years in rugby last year and were generous enough to open the gates free of charge for spectators at the final this year. If there are attempts to bring back the crowds to the venues and stop them from watching matches on TV or their mobile phones then CR must be given pat on their backs. Believe this writer! Nothing can beat the thrill you get out of watching a gripping rugby match through the naked eye.
Players in the likes of Adeesha Weerathunga, Lasindu Karunathilake, Manilka Ruberu, Gemunu Chethiya, Zubair Dooray, Raveen de Silva, Randy Silva and KushanTharinduhave raised their game to the next level. All these players have delivered in the try scoring department as well; apart from performing in their allocated roles without blemish. Weerathunga, a former Isipatana College schoolboy, has come of age. From his school at Havelock Town to Navy SC and at present with CR&FC he has reached a level in his playing which guarantees a berth in the national side as well as in any other domestic club side which extends him an invitation. This guy needs not be surprised if Kandy SC makes an offer for him to do a switch next season; given that the Nittawela side is struggling to put its forwards in order and is looking for a pack leader. Another player who caught the attention of spectators was Dooray for his breathtaking runs and quick thinking on the field. All on all the forwards combined well with the backs and produced a smashing 33-25 win in the Cup Championship decider against Kandy SC. In the first round game CR beat Kandy 38-26; which was by a bigger margin.
We have to talk about Dushanth Lewke, the CR&FC coach, for turning this side around. Lewke is now set to add more feathers on his cap as a rugby coach and what’s important is that he seems to have made the whole rugby set-up at CR listen to him. This probably has to be the case because when a coach gets all the support from the club and given that the players are both willing and able the result is a resounding victory. He is the son of a top cop and accomplished rugby coach Nimal Lewke, a former Senior DIG in the Police who also excelled in rugby, rugby refereeing, boxing, pistol shooting and spent the best years of his life in the war front. His son only has to concentrate on rugby. This writer doesn’t wish to compare the two individuals nor the different eras they were present in, but what has to be told must be told.
Kandy SC just couldn’t come to terms with how CR played the game in a fast, open and threatening manner. Many seasons ago they were playing this same form of rugby and had the opposition in shambles, but that was possible only with better and more accomplished players. It was Kandy’s speed that shattered the opposition, but not anymore. Take the Ratwatte brothers Nigel and Tharinda out of Kandy SC and you’ll see an outfit which can be beaten by any other side in the tournament. The Nittawela side played especially around Tharinda Ratwatte, easily the best player in the tournament and the country at present. He is an individual who has raised his game while being in a set-up which doesn’t know how to progress in 15-a-side rugby. If you analyze sides in the past like Police, CH, CR, Havies and even Air Force (during the times when a try gave a team four points and there was no lifting allowed in line outs) every side improved as the season progressed.
There were far less learning tools back then and the internet was unheard of. But people knew the intricacies of how common sense worked and also details of subtle communication methods; like the lines on the palm are read in the subject of palmistry. People or coaches were open to the ideas of others and thanks to human kind there was no smart phone to make you think you know it all. The Kandy side was not a bad side and even had one of the most experienced and seasoned campaigners in the game like Srinath Sooriyabandara. There were players like Jason Dissanayake, Dinal Ekanayake, Danushka Ranjan, Dange, Kavindu Perera, Shanushka Abeywickreme and Thilina Bandara to carry Kandy’s hope this season. But they collectively failed to lift this Kandy side one notch up. Coaches Marija and Viraj Prashantha (two rugby stars during their playing days) may be thinking hard, but hard work and application only produces a human result, not a miracle.
As for Kandy it’s now back to the drawing board for analysis and reviewing the season. Unlike in school rugby, Kandy Sports Club, which has buying power, knows how to strengthen the side when homegrown talent cannot keep the Kandy SC flag flying. It’s interesting to see how Kandy SC recovers from this big loss and looks to the future; the Clifford Cup Knockout tournament is next.
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