Beijing, Oct 28 (AP/UNB) — Fabio Cannavaro's future as coach of Chinese club Guangzhou Evergrande is in doubt after the team ordered the 2006 World Cup champion to corporate headquarters to attend an "enterprise culture studies class."
The notice on the team website said the former Italy captain was expected to report before noon Monday, with captain Zheng Zhi taking over as acting coach.
The order follows a string of disappointing results for the team, capped by a 2-2 draw against mid-table Henan Jianye on Sunday, the club's third-straight league match without a win.
Despite that, Guangzhou remains a point ahead of Shanghai SIPG at the top of the league standings and two points clear of Beijing Guoan. The team's next game is against SIPG on Nov. 22.
Cannavaro briefly did double-duty as coach of the Chinese national team before quitting earlier this year after only two games — losses against Uzbekistan and Thailand — saying he wanted to focus on his job at Guangzhou.
Following his playing career as a Ballon d'Or-winning defender, the 46-year-old Cannavaro coached in the Middle East and China, including a first stint with Guangzhou before returning to the club in 2017.
Barcelona, Oct 28 (AP/UNB) — Diego Simeone has long been considered one of the top coaches in Europe for his transformation of Atlético Madrid from the unimpressive second team of the Spanish capital into a multiple-title winner and Champions League finalist.
But following a profound overhaul of his squad, this season is proving to be his biggest challenge yet.
Atlético entered this week with some of its most demanding fans criticizing the team after it had just two wins in eight games across all competitions. To complicate matters, Atlético lost summer signing João Félix— its expensive replacement for Antoine Griezmann— to a right ankle injury last weekend in a 1-1 draw with Valencia.
Simone has responded to the signs of crisis by guiding his team to back-to-back victories.
"We have been able to deal with the absence of João Félix and that shows that our team is stronger," Simeone said. "We don't know any other way, not only when we win, than to stay united. We have a new team, young players. We know our path and we need for the club officials, the players, and all the rest of us to be looking forward."
Atlético is being sustained by goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who made another excellent save to swat away a goal-bound header by Bilbao's Iñigo Martínez in the first half of Saturday's 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league.
The Slovenia goalkeeper anchors a defensive four which has been almost completely redone with the exits of Diego Godín, Lucas Hernández, Filipe Luís and Juanfran Torres. In their place Felipe Monteiro, Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi have quickly adapted to Simeone's basic tenet of defend first, score second. Its defense has conceded a league-low five goals.
The exit of Griezmann, however, has turned out to be harder to handle.
With Deigo Costa and other forwards struggling, Atlético has scored 10 goals in 10 rounds, the lowest of the top seven teams. Barcelona has 23 goals with a game to play. Villarreal leads the league with 24 goals.
The team's toothless attack has led to some supporters jeering captain Jorge "Koke" Resurrección.
Álvaro Morata alleviated his team's troubles this week. The former Real Madrid and Chelsea striker came off the bench to head in Atlético's late goal in a 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League on Tuesday. Morata then scored a second goal to seal the victory over Bilbao that ended a run of three straight draws in the Spanish league and kept his side in the thick of the early title race after 10 rounds.
The wins come before Atlético goes on the road for five of its next six matches, including a trip to Juventus in Europe. It then hosts Barcelona in early December.
"Now we need to rest up because we have an extremely hard week ahead," Simeone said referring to upcoming matches at Alavés, Sevilla and Leverkusen.
Postponing the "clásico" between Barcelona and Real Madrid to prevent it from coinciding with a large separatist protest in Barcelona may not isolate it from the political tensions wracking Spain.
The Spanish league urged its marquee match to be moved after Barcelona and nearby towns were rocked during the past two weeks. Catalan separatists are angered by the sentencing of nine leaders of their movement to lengthy prison terms by the Supreme Court.
Separatists had called for a massive rally in Barcelona on Saturday, when the "clásico" was originally scheduled to be played at Camp Nou. The rally drew 350,000 people. It proceeded peacefully, but after it concluded a few thousand separatists clashed with police in the city center. Forty-four people were injured, according to regional health authorities.
But it appears that the new date of Dec. 18 for the "clásico" could also be a protest target.
A separatist group called Tsunami Democratic has called on its supporters to reserve a set of dates for protests. These include Dec. 18 when, the group says, "we play at home" in reference to Barcelona's home game against Madrid.
Spain's Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska has said the match can be played under secure conditions on any date.
Berlin, Oct 28 (AP/UNB) — Borussia Dortmund's declaration of a challenge for the Bundesliga title is not exactly being backed up on the field.
The team was fortunate to emerge with a 0-0 draw from the Ruhr derby on Saturday and has only won two of its last eight games in all competitions.
"We have to do more going forward, we have to invest more. You can see we're not relaxed, that we're missing this ease of playing that normally sets us apart," Dortmund captain Marco Reus said after the lackluster performance in Gelsenkirchen.
Schalke hit the post and the crossbar and clearly had the better chances, while Dortmund barely threatened at all, with only Jadon Sancho going close for the visitors.
"It was difficult for the Dortmunders to score a goal because none of them were in the box, because none of them wanted to be in the box," Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Nübel said.
It was the second consecutive game in which Dortmund failed to score after its meek performance in the 2-0 loss at Inter Milan on Wednesday, and it increases the pressure on coach Lucien Favre, who was already fending off questions about his future before the Ruhr derby.
"That's how it is these days. What can you do?" Favre said. "I think there's hyperbole on one side when things are going well, but there's also hyperbole when things are not going so well. I understand people have to write things or there will be nothing to read. That's how it is, but it goes too far."
Adding to the pressure was the significance of Dortmund's bitter rivalry with Schalke. Dortmund has now won only one of the last eight Ruhr derbies.
"We had been hoping for more beforehand, but now we can accept the result," Favre said.
Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc backed the under-fire coach, but didn't absolve the Swiss tactician of all blame.
"We're not having a discussion about the coach, we're simply not having it," Zorc told Sky. "Of course he has something to do with it, it's obvious. But it's not like we're facing relegation. All our targets for the season are still reachable."
Dortmund is three points behind Bundesliga leader Borussia Mönchengladbach, which will present a tough challenge in the second round of the German Cup on Wednesday.
"We need to rediscover our natural way of playing. Everything seems a bit forced at the moment," Zorc said. "We'll make a fresh start on Wednesday."
The next four games could determine Favre's future at Dortmund. Wednesday's game against Gladblach — his former team — kicks off a tough series, including games against Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga on Saturday, Inter Milan again the following Tuesday, then a visit to seven-time defending champion Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
Luckily for Dortmund, Paco Alcácer returned to training on Sunday after missing five games with an Achilles issue followed by calf problems. For fans - and Favre - the Spanish striker cannot come back too soon.
Basel, Oct 27 (AP/UNB) — Roger Federer delighted his hometown fans by cruising past Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-4 in the Swiss Indoors semifinals on Saturday.
Seeking a 10th career title in Basel, the 38-year-old Federer will play 20-year-old Alex de Minaur in Sunday's final.
"That's what you do with a home court advantage," said Federer, who has reached the final 13 straight times he has played the Swiss Indoors. "They enjoy when I'm playing good tennis and it pushes me to play even better."
De Minaur, a wild card, advanced by beating big-serving American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (2), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3) in a meeting of unseeded players.
Both finalists have won three titles this season, though for De Minaur these are the only three of his career so far while Federer is chasing his 103rd.
Serving for the match, Federer saved the only break point he allowed the seventh-ranked Tsitsipas.
Federer clinched two points later with a leaping volleyed winner approaching the net after Tsitsipas struggled to handle a strong first service.
Top-seeded Federer broke the Tsitsipas service at 2-2 in the first set, and created set point chances with a delicate angled drop volley for a winner. He clinched by firing an ace down the middle.
Federer broke again to begin the second set, taking his chance with a powerful forehand winner down the line.
Victory lifted Federer to a 50-8 record in 2019. It's his third straight year of 50 wins since an injury-ravaged season ended early in 2016.
De Minaur, ranked No. 28, has won all four of his semifinals this season. He went on take the title each time, at Sydney, Atlanta, and Zhuhai, China.
He also improved to 4-0 this season against the 37th-ranked Opelka, who stands at 6-foot-11 (2.10 meters).
Opelka hit 26 aces to top 1,000 for the year and overtake John Isner for the ATP lead.
"Probably the most important thing is not to get frustrated," De Minaur said. "You've got to know that he's going to serve at least 40, 50 aces against you."
Federer and De Minaur, who was born in February 1999, four months after the Swiss great played his first match at Basel, have never played each other on tour.
Shenzhen, Oct 26 (AP/UNB) — Top-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia is ready to cap off the most successful season of her career with a first appearance in the year-end WTA Finals.
Barty achieved a number of career firsts this season from winning her inaugural Grand Slam title at the French Open, earning world No. 1 status, and leading Australia to the upcoming Fed Cup final.
"It's been an incredibly consistent year across all surfaces, across all continents in the world," Barty said. "I feel like (I've) played an exceptional level of tennis."
This year's WTA Finals, debuting for its scheduled 10-year run in Shenzhen, is welcoming more members of the younger generation to its eight-player lineup than in the recent past.
The 23-year-old Barty is joined in Shenzhen by 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who won her first Grand Slam trophy at the U.S. Open last month; 22-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan, the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open champion; and 22-year-old Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the last player to qualify for the field.
Only Osaka of the four has played in the WTA Finals in the past, and lost all three of her round-robin matches in her debut last year. She's hoping that although she's arrived here tired from winning the Osaka and Beijing titles, she will have a better showing than in 2018.
"I think last year, the end of the year was just so hectic for me, and I didn't really remember anything," Osaka said. "Honestly, by the time I got here, I was just so tired.
Barty, Osaka and Bencic feature in the Red group along with two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic. Andreescu is in the Purple group with reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep of Romania, Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, and defending champion Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.
This year's singles winner's is guaranteed at least $ 4.1 million, which makes it the richest tournament paycheck for men or women in the sport. If the WTA Finals champion goes through to victory with an undefeated 3-0 record in round-robin matches they would earn $4.725 million in prize money.
Many are touting that one of the younger generation will hoist the trophy, but Barty doesn't believe that any of the players have an advantage over the other competitors.
"In my opinion, I don't think there ever is a favorite," Barty said. "I think everyone is deserving to win that's in the draw. On any given day, anyone can be beaten. That's the beauty of sport, there are no certainties."
Andreescu seems remarkably mature and capable of handling all the notoriety that's come along with her recent U.S. Open victory. This coming week will provide her initial test in dealing with star status at an elite event.
"I found that I deal pretty well under pressure," Andreenscu said. "Don't ask me how. I think my game just elevates to another level unconsciously, which I'm really grateful for. I think that's why I play my best against the top players. That was more when I was an underdog, so let's see how it is now."
The WTA Finals start on Sunday in the Red group when Osaka will try to improve her career record to 2-0 over Kvitova, while Barty and Bencic have a first career meeting.