Dhaka, Mar 23 (UNB) — National team pace-bowler Taskin Ahmed is optimistic about his return to the side before the World Cup.
The right-arm pacer has been recovering from an ankle injury sustained during the last match of Sylhet Sixers in the last Bangladesh Premier League. Taskin was included in the Bangladesh squad for New Zealand tour but was later dropped due to the injury.
“My rehabilitation is going well. I have started running. Becoming 100 percent fit before the World Cup is my top priority now,” he said Saturday at the National Cricket Academy ground.
Taskin was one of the best bowlers in last BPL, bagging 22 wickets in 12 matches for Sylhet. “It was an accident,” he said of his injury. “It can happen to anyone.”
“But now I am confident about returning to the team before the World Cup,” the pacer said.
The next World Cup will be held in England and Taskin said he believes the condition is ideal for bowlers like him.
He said he is optimistic about participating in the ongoing Dhaka Premier Division Cricket League’s Super League stage. If he passes the fitness test and takes part in the league, it will be his final chance to prove his fitness.
Madrid, Mar 23 (AP/UNB) — Lionel Messi's international return didn't do much to help Argentina regain top form.
Messi was back on Friday for the first time since the 2018 World Cup but couldn't stop his team losing 3-1 to Venezuela in a friendly.
Salomon Rondon, John Murillo and Josef Martinez scored for Venezuela at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, while Lautaro Martinez replied for Argentina.
Messi hadn't played an international since the 4-3 loss to France in the round of 16 at the World Cup in Russia.
"He played a good game" Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said. "The chances we created were thanks to him."
Messi showed his usual deft skills and his long-range shot in the 38th minute was headed for the top corner until Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez Aray tipped the ball over the crossbar.
Messi helped set up Argentina's 58th-minute goal with a pass to Giovani Lo Celso, who eventually fed Martinez inside the area.
Venezuela had opened the scoring in the fifth minute when Rondon ran on to a long pass into the penalty area and sent a right-footed shot beyond goalkeeper Franco Armani.
Murillo made it 2-0 just before halftime by curling the ball away from Armani just inside the far post.
Venezuela's fast counterattacks were a nightmare for Argentina throughout and Martinez sealed victory by converting a 75th-minute penalty.
"It's satisfying to earn a victory against a team like Argentina," Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel said.
Dudamel surprisingly offered his resignation after the match. He told a news conference he was not happy about the political use of a visit by a government official before Friday's game in Madrid, and said his future would be decided in talks with federation officials in the coming days.
The last time Argentina played at the Metropolitano it lost 6-1 to Spain in a World Cup warmup in 2018.
Argentina will play another friendly on Tuesday against Morocco in Tangier. Scaloni said he hadn't decided whether Messi would play in that game.
Argentina has not won a trophy since the 1993 Copa America. It lost the last two finals of the tournament to Chile, in 2015 and 2016. It also lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany.
The Copa America will be held in Brazil in June.
Venezuela on Monday plays a Catalunya team that is expected to include former Spain players Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez.
London, Mar 23 (AP/UNB) — A first England hat trick provided a chance for Raheem Sterling to celebrate and mourn.
After swiveling with the ball and curling his second goal against the Czech Republic on Friday, Sterling had the memory of a young footballer to honor at Wembley Stadium.
A T-shirt was unveiled under his white Three Lions jersey paying tribute to 13-year-old Damary Dawkins, a Crystal Palace youth team player who died on Sunday after a four-year fight against lymphoblastic leukemia.
"May your soul rest in peace," read a message beneath a photo of Danary. Sterling had appealed last year for potential blood stem cell donors to come forward to save the boy.
"It didn't match and he sadly passed away," Sterling said after England's 5-0 win. "I thought I had to do something to try to give his family something to smile about."
But it could lead to a rebuke for Sterling from UEFA because any messages on undergarments are banned after a change to the laws of the game proposed by the English Football Association five years ago.
Not that Sterling will care about any warning or fine for the moment of compassion in England's opening European Championship qualifier.
For Sterling, the abuse he once received from some of his own fans seems a distant memory now the winger has developed to become a key component in the England revolution under Gareth Southgate.
"I'm so delighted for him to get the reaction he got from the crowd," the England coach said, "because we can't hide from the fact he's had difficult moments. He's turned that full circle ... and I thought he was devastating tonight."
This was an unusual start to qualifying for the World Cup semifinalists, beginning the road to the Euro 2020 final at Wembley at its national stadium since no host advances automatically this time.
In the first pan-continental European Championship, 12 stadiums in 12 European countries are hosting games. Wembley has the biggest role, with seven games, including the semifinals and final.
The ease of the victory over the Czech Republic — Group A's highest-ranked side at 44 after No. 5 England — suggests the path to the finals shouldn't be hard to negotiate.
Even though the creative spark was missing for the first 24 minutes, England came to life when the front three combined to complete a 25-pass sequence with a goal. Jadon Sancho collected a pass from Harry Kane before squaring the ball for the unmarked Sterling to slide in to net the opener.
"I'm just being confident with myself," Sterling said. "Being there and trying to get in areas and trying to take shots and not worry about anything, just go with it."
When Sterling was bundled over by defenders Pavel Kaderabek and Tomas Kalas in first-half stoppage time, a penalty was awarded that Kane converted.
Sterling's second — which was followed by the T-shirt tribute — came in the 62nd minute after he connected with a through ball from Manchester City teammate Kyle Walker that bounced into his path. And six minutes later, Sterling made it 24 goals in 44 appearances this season for club and country when a curling strike deflected off Ondrej Celustka into the net.
"He was electric all night," Southgate said. "He's looked that way all week in training, and was involved in four of the goals. I'm really pleased for him. It's a special night for him.
"I just think he's really matured as a person and a footballer. He's hungry for those goals now."
The ovation received when he was substituted with 20 minutes remaining shows the high regard for Sterling from England fans who had previously jeered him.
Sterling's replacement, Callum Hudson-Odoi, played a key role in England's fifth.
The 18-year-old Chelsea forward had a shot saved on his England debut and the ball dropped to Kalas who turned it into his own net.
England next plays on Monday against Group A rival Montenegro, which drew 1-1 with Bulgaria on Friday. A trophy can still be collected by England this year, with Southgate's side in the final four of the inaugural Nations League in June.
"We play good football, everyone is expressing themselves," Kane said. "We've got young and hungry players and you saw that out there."
London, Mar 23 (AP/UNB) — Big and slick wins for France and England. Not even a goal for Portugal.
Even with Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the Portugal side for the first time since last year's World Cup, the European champions could only begin their title defense with a 0-0 home draw against Ukraine.
The goals were flowing elsewhere on Friday night in Euro 2020 qualifying.
World champion France opened with a 4-1 victory at Moldova while Raheem Sterling scored his first international hat trick as England routed the Czech Republic 5-0.
FRANCE ON FIRE
The only surprise in Chisinau was that it took France 23 minutes to score.
It was worth the wait. Paul Pogba collected Antoine Griezmann's pass and floated the ball over the defense for the Atletico Madrid striker to run onto and connect with a left-foot volley.
Griezmann was the supplier of the second goal three minutes later, whipping in a corner that Raphael Varane met at the near post with a flicked header.
For the third, Pogba combined with Blaise Matuidi, who dinked in a cross which Giroud touched home with his left foot. With a 34th international goal, Giroud equaled third place on the France scoring chart with David Trezeguet. Michel Platini's 41 is the next target, and Thierry Henry holds the France record with 51 goals.
"I'm not used to placing my personal objectives ahead of those of the team, but it's a nice thing to now be level with Trezeguet," Giroud said. "He was a great goal-scorer. I hope to climb even further in the all-time list and we'll have to wait and see."
It took until the 87th minute for Kylian Mbappe to break Moldova's second-half resistance, slotting home from 12 yards (11 meters).
Also in Group H, Iceland won 2-0 at Andorra and Turkey beat Albania by the same score.
In the first pan-continental European Championship, 12 stadiums in 12 European countries will stage the finals. Wembley has the biggest role, with seven games, including the semifinals and final.
England — like all the hosts this time — must go through qualifying to make the 24-team tournament.
Even though the creative spark was missing for the first 24 minutes, England came to life when the front three combined. Jadon Sancho collected a pass from Harry Kane before squaring the ball for the unmarked Sterling to slide in to net the opener.
When Sterling was bundled over by defenders Pavel Kaderabek and Tomas Kalas in first-half stoppage time, a penalty was awarded that Kane converted.
Sterling's second on the turn came in the 62nd minute after he connected with a through ball from Manchester City teammate Kyle Walker that bounced into his path. And six minutes later, Sterling made it 24 goals in 44 appearances this season for club and country when a curling strike deflected off Ondrej Celustka into the net.
Sterling's replacement played a key role in England's fifth. Callum Hudson-Odoi, the 18-year-old Chelsea forward, had a shot saved on his debut, and the ball dropped to Kalas who turned it into his own net.
England next plays on Monday against Group A rival Montenegro, which drew 1-1 with Bulgaria on Friday.
PORTUGAL IN SECOND
Ukraine stopped Portugal from scoring for the first time in 19 home games on a frustrating night for Ronaldo.
The five-time world player of the year was playing for his country for the first time since joining Juventus after the World Cup, where Portugal was eliminated in the round of 16.
On a night of few scoring opportunities, Ronaldo's first chance came in the 22nd minute with a low shot saved by Andriy Pyatov. The goalkeeper denied him again five minutes later.
"We had our chances," Portugal coach Fernando Santos said, "and deserved to win."
Portugal, which won Euro 2016 by beating France, is in second place. Luxembourg is leading the way in Group B after beating Lithuania 2-1.
Regardless of what happens in the group, Portugal has a backup route to defend its title at Euro 2020.
Portugal has qualified for the semifinals of the inaugural Nations League, along with Switzerland, the Netherlands and England, and will host the finals in June.
Those four teams also know they will have a spot in the Euro 2020 playoffs next March if they fail to qualify automatically by finishing in the top two places in their groups.
Miami Gardens, Mar 23 (AP/UNB) — Facing the setting sun, Serena Williams tried to shield her eyes with her left hand as she hit a shot, lost the point and then waved in frustration at the bothersome glare.
Later, after a seesaw victory in her first match at the Miami Open's new site, she was able to joke about the unwanted spotlight.
"A lot of photographers came," Williams said. "I thought, 'This must be good light.' I thought about taking a selfie, but you've got to stay in the moment."
Williams played poorly for a stretch and was broken three times but steadied her game in the final set to beat Rebecca Peterson 6-3, 1-6, 6-1. She avoided a repeat of last year, when she was eliminated in the first round by Naomi Osaka.
That was Williams' farewell to Key Biscayne, where she won eight titles. Only Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf have won any women's tournament more times.
Six-time men's champion Novak Djokovic won his opening match under the lights, beating Bernard Tomic 7-6 (2), 6-2.
With the Miami Open's move to the Dolphins' stadium complex, players are adjusting to the unfamiliar setting. The No. 1-ranked Osaka beat qualifier Yanina Wickmayer 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-1, but she and Williams both found the mix of sun and shadows in the cavernous stadium a challenge.
"It was interesting," Williams said. "First it was dark out there, which was really odd. The shadows were so intense it was dark, and then ... there was light."
She chuckled and said, "Whatever. I need to focus on playing better or not being in the tournament much longer."
Osaka agreed that any issues with visibility weren't worth complaining about. She hit 14 aces and overcame a ragged stretch in the second set, when she became so frustrated she threw her racket.
"I had a bit of a dip," Osaka said. "It was really hard for me, I think, emotionally in the second set, because I just started thinking about winning, not exactly the things I could do in order to win."
Williams' match followed a similar pattern, but she regrouped after a flurry of errors in the second set.
"I said, 'Serena, you can play a lot better than that,'" she said.
While the outer courts were crowded on a mild, cloudless afternoon, there were only a few thousand spectators for Williams' match in the 13,800-seat stadium, with temporary stands on three sides and a net replacing the 50-yard line.
"It was a different court, but it was a beautiful court," said Williams, who happens to own a small share of the Dolphins. "It's so different from anything I've played on in my entire career, so I was super excited."
The mood was mostly subdued, although when Williams whacked a backhand winner with a grunt that echoed in the upper deck, the fans added their own roar to hers.
The match victory was the 76th for Williams in the tournament, but she hasn't won a Miami Open title since 2015. She hasn't won any tournament since the 2017 Australian Open, before she took a break of more than a year to become a mom.
The match was her first since she retired at Indian Wells two weeks ago because of a viral illness.
On the men's side, defending champion John Isner hit 20 aces, lost only 11 points on his serve and beat qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7). No. 3-seeded Dominic Thiem, coming off the biggest title of his career Sunday at Indian Wells, lost his opening match to Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 6-4.
No. 5 Kei Nishikori was upset by Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. Lajovic improved to 3-14 against top-10 players.
In other women's play, Canadian 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who overcame a match point to win her opening match, reached the third round by beating No. 32 Sofia Kenin 6-3, 6-3. Andreescu won her first career title last week at Indian Wells.
Defending Miami Open champion Sloane Stephens beat Ons Jabeur 6-2, 6-3. Three-time champion Venus Williams overcame a wobbly start to beat No. 24 Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 (4), 6-1.