The Sports Examiner

TSX REPORT: Morocco beats Belgium, Costa Rica upsets Japan in Sunday shockers; U.S. men support Iran protests; 20 million watched USA-England!

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1. Sunday shockers for Costa Rica and Morocco scramble groups
2. U.S. men step into politics with one-day Iranian flag protest
3. USA-England match draws impressive 20 million viewers in U.S.
4. Arab “fans” harass Israeli reporters at World Cup
5. Tokyo 2020 bribery scandal leads to search of Dentsu

A stunning Sunday saw two more FIFA World Cup groups thrown into confusion as no. 2-ranked Belgium was decisively beaten by Morocco, 2-0, and Costa Rica – which lost to Spain by 7-0 – edged Japan, 1-0. Both Groups E and F won’t be decided until their final match day on 1 December. However, Canada was eliminated in Group F. Politics is all over this World Cup and the U.S. Men’s National Team got into it by posting a Group B table on its social-media accounts that showed an Iranian flag without the symbols of the current Islamic government for 24 hours. This was a symbolic gesture to support protesters against the government; Iran has protested to FIFA. The U.S.-England draw last Friday drew a big holiday audience in the U.S. of 20 million for the English and Spanish-language telecasts combined. Arab fans have been harassing Israeli journalists and broadcasters covering the World Cup, responding to mic flags with Hebrew letters; one “fan” said, “There is only Palestine. There is no Israel.” The Tokyo 2020 bribery scandal concerning sponsorships and a “rigged” selection for producers of test events and venue management expanded with searches of the ad giant Dentsu in Tokyo, an event-management company which produced some of the events and an ex-Tokyo 2020 staff member.

Sunday shockers for Costa Rica and Morocco scramble groups

The Qatar World Cup, played in a country no one expected to host, has turned into a tournament that no one can predict. After Japan conquered Germany, who thought the Blue Samurai would lose to Costa Rica, 1-0? And highly-regarded Belgium looking so listless in a 2-0 loss to Morocco?

Croatia eliminated Canada by 4-1 and Spain and Germany fought to a 1-1 draw in the other games, leaving both groups up for grabs going into their third games on Thursday (1st).

In Group E, Spain (1-0-1: W-L-T) still leads, with four points, ahead of Japan and Costa Rica (both 1-1: 3 points), followed by Germany (0-1-1: 1). Spain can advance with a draw or better against Japan, but a Japan draw and a German win over Costa Rica would give Germany and Japan each four points and it would come down to goal differential (currently Japan at 0 and Germany at -1). Costa Rica could get through with a win over Germany (!), and even a draw would give them four points, but they are at -6 in goal differential.

In Group F, Croatia looked every bit like a trophy contender after a 4-1 thrashing of Canada, and has four points, even with surprising Morocco, with both now 1-0-1. Belgium is still in the hunt with three (1-1), but Canada has been eliminated at 0-2. Croatia and Belgium will clash on 1 December, while Morocco has Canada.

Monday brings the final set of second-round group games with Brazil (1-0) vs. Switzerland (1-0) and Cameroon (0-1) vs. Serbia (0-1) in Group G. South Korea (0-0-1) will play Ghana (0-1) and Portugal (1-0) will face Uruguay (0-0-1) in Group H.

U.S. men step into politics with one-day Iranian flag protest

Regardless of how far they get in the World Cup, Iran will be one of the remembered teams in the tournament, thanks to its win over Wales and the political swirl around it due to the widespread protests at home against the ruling regime.

The U.S. Men’s National Team, which faces Iran on Tuesday to decide which will go through to the elimination round, got into the act on Saturday, as reported by The Associated Press:

“The Twitter account of the U.S. men’s team displayed a banner with the squad’s matches in the group stage, with the Iranian flag only bearing its green, white and red colors. The same could be seen in a post on its Facebook and Instagram accounts laying out the point totals so far in its group.”

A U.S. spokesman confirmed, saying “We wanted to show our support for the women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours.”

An Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) story included a complaint from Iranian Football Federation adviser Safiollah Fagahanpour that “measures taken regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran flag are against [FIFA] law” and that “They must be held responsible. Obviously they want to affect Iran’s performance against the U.S. by doing this.”

USA-England match draws impressive 20 million viewers in U.S.

The highly-anticipated U.S.-England match at 1 p.m. Eastern time on a mostly-holiday Friday (25th) drew an outstanding 19.977 million viewers between English and Spanish-language viewers in the United States.

FOX Sports’ English-language coverage averaged 15.377 million viewers, said by FOX to be the largest English-language audience for a soccer match in the U.S. ever, surpassing the 14.510 million for the 1994 World Cup’s Italy-Brazil final from the Rose Bowl. Peak viewing came at 3:30 p.m. Eastern – near the end of the match – at 19.646 million. The top markets were in Kansas City, Hartford, Boston, Dallas and Washington, D.C.

FOX also had a record Thanksgiving Day, as its Dallas vs. New York NFL broadcast attracted a regular-season record 42 million viewers.

The Spanish-language telecast on Telemundo delivered a total audience of 4.6 million, including streaming, and was the second-most-viewed game of the tournament to date, behind Brazil-Serbia, which drew 5.7 million.

Telemundo also noted that the Mexico vs. Poland match on Thursday drew a total audience of 4.6 million, equaling the U.S. and England.

Arab “fans” harass Israeli reporters at World Cup

With the first World Cup held in an Arab country, one of the obvious flash points would be how Israeli fans and news media would be treated. FIFA arranged a special service to fly Israeli and Palestinian fans on combined flights from Tel Aviv to Doha, noteworthy since Qatar and Israel have no diplomatic relations.

Special arrangements were also made to have Israeli consular officials on hands to assist its citizens in case of difficulties, and Israeli fans were coached to maintain a low-key presence at the World Cup (Israeli did not qualify to compete).

Israeli news media, however, are quite visible and have been harassed. Britain’s Mirror reported:

“Moav Vardi, the head of the foreign news desk at Israeli public broadcaster Kan 11, was confronted by a fan wearing a Saudi Arabia top following the nation’s two-goal defeat by Poland on Saturday.

“Vardi was told by the fan in front of the TV camera: ‘It is Palestine, there is no Israel. Go please. You are not welcome here. This is Qatar, this is our country – you are not welcome here. There is only Palestine. There is no Israel.’”

Raz Shechnik, a correspondent for a leading Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, told the Mirror:

“Listen, we didn’t want to write these things. We always thought that we, the journalists, are not the story. Certainly not in the biggest event of world sports next to the Olympics. But after ten days in Doha, it is impossible not to share with you what we are going through here.

“We feel hated. We feel the hostility and we feel unwelcome. How did a friendly Qatari tell us at first glance when he asked and answered that we were from Israel? ‘I would like to say welcome to you. But you are really not blessed. Fly away from here as fast as possible.’ So clear and smooth. And he is another ‘host’, not some Lebanese fan who is passing by. Now let’s not pretend huh?

“Take it wherever you want from here. It’s a great World Cup, right, but we’ll leave here with a very bad feeling. On the other hand, what fun it will be to return to our country. We have no other country.”

Britain’s London-based Jewish News wrote:

“Channel 13’s sports reporter Tal Shorrer said he has been abused or verbally assaulted more than 50 times in the four days he has been in Qatar, mostly while doing his work covering the World Cup.

“Shorrer said just a few minutes before speaking to Jewish News over the phone, an Argentinian fan pushed him when he saw the Hebrew letters on Shorrer’s microphone, shouting, ‘you are killing babies.’

“‘The best way to describe our experience so far is unpleasant. Almost every time we go on air we see fans coming up behind us with Palestinian flags, yelling ‘free Palestine’. We have also heard people calling us murderers, saying we aren’t welcome here, and that our microphone is red from blood,’ Shorrer said, referring to his red Channel 13 microphone.”

While Ohad Hemo, a reporter for Channel 12, has also been harassed, he noted that “as far as the Qatari authorities go, we are treated very well.

Tokyo 2020 bribery scandal leads to search of Dentsu

The expanding bribery scandal regarding sponsorships and test-event and venue management contracts for the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee reached worldwide advertising agency giant Dentsu on Friday (25th), as its headquarters office was searched.

Japanese prosecutors executed searches of Dentsu, event management company Cerespo, which produced five of the pre-Olympic test events, and the home of a member of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committees. Officials from Japan’s fair-trade oversight agency also joined in the searches. Kyodo News reported:

“Rigging is suspected in the 26 open bids held in 2018 for the rights to plan 56 test events. These were awarded to nine companies, including Dentsu and Cerespo, as well as a consortium.

“The amount of the contracts totaled more than 500 million yen ($3.6 million), with the price of each ranging from 4 million yen to 60 million yen, according to sources familiar with the matter.

“The nine companies and one consortium eventually won contracts without a tender process to run the test events and competition venues during the Tokyo Games. The contracts were much bigger, possibly worth tens of billions of yen.”

Dentsu won bids for five test events for about ¥80 million (~$575,022 U.S.) and Cerespo also was selected for five, paying about ¥116 million (~$833,783).


● Group E: Costa Rica 1, Japan 0 ● The first shock of the day came as Costa Rica, which had given up seven goals to Spain, kept Japan in check throughout, playing five across the back and blocking every entry pass.

Although on defense most of the match, Costa Rica had a few chances and changed the game in the 81st minute. Midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda took possession of an errant Japanese pass, sent the ball to defender Keysher Fuller about 18 yards away from goal and he sent a left-footed shot towards the top of the left side of the net that brushed off keeper Shuichi Gonda and into the net for a 1-0 lead.

That stood up as the winner against a hard push by Japan in the final minutes and sent the group into chaos. Japan ended with 57% of possession and a 13-4 edge on shots; in fact, the only Costa Rican shot on goal was Fuller’s game-winner.

● Group E: Spain 1, Germany 1 ● The Germans were desperate for at least a point after losing to Japan. The first half was a back-and-forth affair with some good Spanish chances, but the Germans struck on defender Antonio Ruediger’s header in the 40th minute, but it was called offside. Spain dominated possession, as expected (68%), but only had a 4-3 edge in shots.

Both sides had chances at the start of the second half, but Spain finally broke through in the 62nd, as Jordi Alba’s pass from the left side was perfectly timed with striker Alvaro Morata, who flicked it to the near post and into the net, just past German keeper Manuel Neuer.

The Germans pressed and pressed, but couldn’t score. Undaunted and determined, a run down the right side in the 83rd minute by defender Lukas Klostermann led to a pass to midfielder Leroy Sane, beyond the top of the box. He pushed the ball into the box, with two Germans in pursuit. Midfielder Jamal Musiala touched it, but it rolled to substitute striker Niclas Fuellkrug, who pounded it into the left corner of the net for a 1-1 tie.

Both teams tried for the winner, with Sane sprinting down the left side in the 95th minute and looking to have a clear shot at goal, but Spanish keeper Unai Simon came out and forced the ball out of bounds. The Spanish finished with 64% of possession, but the Germans had 11 shots to seven for Spain.

The draw means both teams still have work to do to advance to the knock-out round.

● Group F: Morocco 2, Belgium 0 ● The Red Devils came into the World Cup as one of the favorites and ranked no. 2 on the world, but they were anything but sharp in a 1-0 opening win over Canada. They were listless against Morocco.

The game was 0-0 through the half – although Morocco lost a goal in stoppage time to video review – and it looked like neither side might score, but the Moroccans were quicker to the ball and appeared more enthusiastic. And it paid off in the 73rd minute, when Abdelhamid Sabiri scored a brilliant goal off a free kick, starting close to the endline and curling the ball into the net, past a stunned Thibaut Cortois, the Belgian keeper, for a 1-0 lead.

And the Belgians just could not get quality opportunities on offense, and forward Hakim Ziyech took advantage on a counterattack, running to the right endline and sending a quality cross in front of the goal where it was knocked in by substitute striker Zakaria Aboukhlal at 90+2 for the 2-0 final. It was Morocco’s first win at a World Cup since 1998.

Belgium had 67%, but it meant nothing, as the sides both had 10 shots. The Associated Press reported rioting in Brussels following the loss, as well as post-match violence in Antwerp.

● Group F: Croatia 3, Canada 1 ● The Canadians started in dreamland with their first-ever World Cup goal just 1:10 in, as midfield star Alphonso Davies scored on a header off a right-side cross from midfielder Tajon Buchanan for a 1-0 lead.

And Canada stayed on offense, controlling the game for the first half-hour, but then the lights came on for Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runner-ups. They began to press the Canadian defense, which was initially saved by keeper Milan Korjan, but a pass to the left side of the goal by Ivan Perisic to fellow forward Andrej Kramaric resulted in a left-footed shot that tied it in the 36th minute.

Croatia continued on offense and scored again as defender Josip Juranovic fed the ball past the Canadian backline to striker Marko Livaja for a right-footed laser that found the left side of the net for a 2-1 halftime lead.

Canada started strongly again on the second half, but Croatia simply overwhelmed the Canadian defense as the half wore on. Kramaric got his second goal of the night and a 3-1 lead in the 70th off a Perisic cross and the game was decided. Korjan was game in goal, but a bad defensive error by Kamal Miller in stoppage time allowed striker Mislav Orsic to break away and feed midfielder Lovro Majer for an easy goal at 90+4 for the 4-1 final.

Canada ended with 52% of possession, but Croatia had 13 shots and 10 on goal compared to eight for Canada and just two on goal. The Canadians were eliminated from the tournament, but get a $9 million payout for making it to the World Cup.


● Triathlon ● Bermuda’s Tokyo Olympic champion Flora Duffy won her fourth World Championship title by running away from Britain’s Geogia Taylor-Brown on the final two laps in Abu Dhabi (UAE) for a 1:53:24 to 1:54:28 victory in the final World Triathlon Series race of the season. .

German Laura Meissner took third place for her first World Triathlon Series medal, with American Taylor Knibb fourth (after a fall on her bike), 1:55:59 to 1:56:40.

Duffy ended with 5,105.63 seasonal points, with Taylor-Brown at 5,081.25. Americans Knibb and Taylor Spivey were 3-4 at 4,179.23 and 3,889.44.

The men’s race was much closer, with France’s Leo Bergere winning in 1:44:14 to 1:44:25 for American Morgan Pearson, who started the run 41 seconds down, but chopped all but 11 seconds off with the fastest split in the field. Belgium’s Jelle Geens was third (1:44:34). American Matthew McElroy was 10th (1:45:26).

Bergere won the seasonal title with 4,741.89 points to 4.721.41 for Britain’s Alex Yee, who finished fourth in Abu Dhabi by three seconds, where third place would have won the title.


● Alpine Skiing ● The women’s FIS World Cup tour was in Killington, Vermont for a Giant Slalom and Slalom, with Swiss skiers taking gold twice (with a tie).

Beijing 2022 Super-G gold medalist Lara Gut-Behrami won the Super-G in 1:44.08, coming from third to first on the second run. Italy’s Marta Bassino came from fifth to second (1:44.15) in round two, while first-run leader Sara Hector of Sweden ended up third (1:44.28). American Mikaela Shiffrin was 13th.

Sunday’s Slalom ended in a tie between Beijing bronze medalist Wendy Holdener (SUI) and Anna Swenn Larsson (SWE) in 1:42.97, with Katharina Truppe (AUT: 1:43.19) third. Shiffrin finished after taking the fastest first run, but was only 27th on the second.

The men’s circuit is also in North America, at Lake Louise in Canada, with Norwegian star Aleksander Aamodt Kilde taking his 14th career World Cup win in Saturday’s Downhill in 1:47.98, ahead of Daniel Hemetsbuerger (AUT: 1:48.04) and reigning World Cup champ Marco Odermatt (SUI: 1:48.08). Ryan Cochran-Siegle was the top American, in ninth (1:49.10).

Odermatt and Kilde were back on the podium for Sunday’s Super-G, with the Swiss claiming his 13th career World Cup gold in 1:32.53, followed by Kilde (1:32.90) and Austria’s Matthais Mayer (1:33.31).

● Bobsled & Skeleton ● The seasons may change, but the results stay the same. At the IBSF World Cup opener in Whistler (CAN), German ace Francesco Friedrich won both the Two-man and Four-man races once again.

Friedrich and Alexander Schueller won the Two-man in 1:42.22 across two runs, Friedrich taking his 15th win in the last 16 World Cup races (and four in a row). Britain’s Brad Hall was second (1:42.33) and Johannes Lochner (GER: 1:42.68) was third.

Friedrich’s fours sled won in 1:41.56, ahead of Hall (1:41.98) and Canada’s Taylor Austin (1:42.37).

The women’s Monobob was a first World Cup gold for Canada’s Bianca Ribi (1:50.89), ahead of veteran Cynthia Appiah (CAN: 1:51.16) with American Kaillie Humphries – the Beijing 2022 Olympic champ – in 1:51.18. Germany’s Kim Kalicki, a two-time Worlds silver medalist, won the Two-woman race with Anabel Galander in 1:45.93, beating Melanie Hasler (SUI: 1:46.130 and Humphries and Emily Renna of the U.S. (1:46.34).

American Nicole Vogt was sixth in Monobob and seventh in the Two-woman, with Jasmine Jones aboard.

Britain’s Marcus Wyatt won the men’s Skeleton (1:45.44) by 0.01 over Korean Seunggi Jung (1:45.45) with Matt Weston (GBR) third in 1:46.10. Hannah Niese of Germany won the women’s race, beating Hallie Clarke (USA) and Brogan Crowley (GBR), 1:47.40 to 1:47.58 for Clarke and Crowley in a tie.

● Cross Country Skiing ● The FIS World Cup season opener was at the Nordic festival in Ruka (FIN), with a show of power by Norway in the men’s events and Sweden in the women’s.

Three-time and current World Cup champ Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo led Norwegian sweeps in two of three men’s events, and won all three himself! He led Even Northug and Pal Golberg in the Classical Sprint (winning in 2:26.00), then won over Golberg and Martin Nyenget in the 10 km Classical (21:46.1) and then took the 20 km Freestyle Pursuit (45:30.6) by beating Golberg (+0.7) and Federico Pellgrino (ITA). That’s eight medals out of nine.

Sweden went 1-2 in all three women’s events. Emma Ribom (2:49.22) and Johanna Hagstrom were 1-2 in the Classical Sprint; Ebba Andersson (24:49.6) finished ahead of Frida Karlsson in the 10 km Classical and then Karlsson (49:55.3) won the 20 km Freestyle Pursuit over Andersson. Norway’s Tiril Weng was third in the Sprint and Pursuit and German Katharina Henning was third in the 10 km Classical.

American Rosie Brennan was seventh in the 10 km Classical, and sixth in the Pursuit, with Jessie Diggins 10th.

● Figure Skating ● The Grand Prix of Espoo in Finland was the last “regular season” stop for the ISU Grand Prix, with American teen sensation Ilia Malinin claiming his second win of the season, scoring 278.39 points. He moved up from second after the Short Program and was well ahead of Shun Sato (JPN: 262.21) and Kevin Aymoz of France (255.69).

Malinin hit his famed Quad Axel in the Free Skate, along with four more quads and a triple Flip-triple Axel at the finish, to score 192.82 in the Free Skate:

“I’m still in shock at how was I was able to perform. I was a little mad after yesterday’s performance. I was really hoping that today I would forget about it and gain my confidence again, just to make sure that I am able to be in control of everything. I definitely put it out there.”

Japan’s Mai Mihara also won her second Grand Prix title, scoring 204.41 to edge 2022 Worlds silver medalist Leona Hendrickx (BEL: 203.91) with Mana Kawabe (JPN: 197.41) third. Americans Lindsay Thorngren and Bradie Tennell finished sixth and eighth.

Italy’s Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini dominated the Pairs, scoring 189.74 to 170.75 for Alisa Efimova and Ruben Blommaert (GER: 170.75). Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danylo Siianytsia were fourth (165.12).

Canadian stars Piper Gilles and Paul Poirer took the Ice Dance title at 219.49, well clear of Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker (202.46), with fellow Americans Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko fourth (188.80).

The Grand Prix Final is next, from 8-11 December in Turin (ITA).

● Football ● The National Soccer Hall of Fame announced the election of defender DaMarcus Beasley, striker Landon Donovan and forward Lauren Cheney Holiday, to be inducted on 6 Mat 2023.

Beasley was a star defender and midfielder for the U.S. Men’s National Team, logging 126 appearances from 2001-17 and played in four World Cups, and scored 17 international goals. Donovan was a dangerous forward who also played in the midfield and scored 57 goals (and had 58 assists) in international play across 157 caps, including three World Cup appearances. He also played 15 seasons in Major League Soccer and finished as a six-time champion, retiring as the league’s all-time scoring leader.

Cheney Holiday was a star at UCLA before joining the National Team, where she played in 133 games and was a member of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup champions and Olympic gold-medal teams in 2008 and 2012.

● Nordic Combined ● The season opener was in Ruka (FIN) as part of its Nordic festival, with the discipline under pressure to get more public interest in order to stay on the Olympic program. One way to do that is with stars, and Norway’s four-time defending World Cup champion Jarl Magnus Rieber won two events out of three.

The first event was jumping off the 142 m hill and then a 5 km race, with German Julian Schmid getting his first World Cup win in 12:02.2, over Ryota Yamamoto (JPN: 12:08.0) and fellow Norwegian Jens Oftebro (12:13.2). Rieber came on to win the second event, with a 10 km race, finishing in 24:26.7 to 24:37.1 for Schmid, with Oftebro third again (24:39.1). Sunday’s event was a Mass Start 10 km race, followed by jumping, and another win for Rieber (156.3 points for jumping), over Matteo Baud (FRA: 151.6) and Yamamoto (152.9).

● Ski Jumping ● The second men’s event of the season was also in Ruka, with Slovenia’s Anze Lanisek winning here for a second consecutive year, scoring 312.8 points on Friday to best three-time World Champion Stefan Kraft (AUT: 311.5) and Poland’s two-time Worlds gold medalist Piotr Zyla (300.7).

On Sunday, Kraft scored 304.5 points but settled for a tie with Norway’s Halvor Egner Granerud (his 14th World Cup career win) with Japan’s Naoki Nakamura 294.9 winning his first individual World Cup medal in third.

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