Europe's newest international soccer tournament started Thursday with a whimper rather than a bang.
Germany and France headlined the opening night of the UEFA Nations League — the 2014 world champion against this year's winner — but the upshot was a 0-0 draw most memorable for France goalkeeper Alphonse Areola's saves.
Germany coach Joachim Loew said the Nations League wasn't a big enough stage for his team to redeem itself after crashing out of the World Cup in the group stage.
"It would be naive to think that we could put a World Cup like that behind us with one game," he said. "In the end, we can only rehabilitate ourselves at a major tournament."
France took a relaxed approach compared to the high-intensity style of its victorious World Cup campaign, though Germany showed more of a competitive edge to put debutant Areola's goal under siege in the final half-hour.
Germany forward Leroy Sane, controversially omitted from the World Cup squad, was back in the team but limited to a role as an 83rd-minute substitute.
On a mixed opening night for the new competition, the Wales team coached by Ryan Giggs swept past Ireland 4-1, while Ukraine beat the Czech Republic 2-1 after a delay for a floodlight failure.
The Nations League was meant to replace friendlies with more meaningful games, but Croatia and Portugal showed that the friendly format still has some mileage.
In its first game since losing the World Cup final to France, Croatia drew 1-1 with European champion Portugal in a game scheduled head-to-head with Germany and France's Nations League opener.
Ivan Perisic put Croatia ahead with a fierce shot in the 18th minute before Portugal defender Pepe responded with a header in the 32nd.
After missing out on a World Cup spot, the Netherlands showed grit in Thursday's friendly against Peru, coming back from a goal down to win 2-1 as veteran midfielder Wesley Sneijder marked his 134th and last international game.
WALES ON FORM
In the second tier of the Nations League, Wales needed just six minutes to score in its first competitive game under Giggs, who was appointed in January to succeed Chris Coleman.
Tom Lawrence blasted the ball past goalkeeper Darren Randolph to get Wales started, before Gareth Bale made it 2-0 with a curling shot. Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts added further goals as the Welsh gained a measure of revenge over Ireland, whose 1-0 win last year ended their World Cup qualifying hopes.
In Thursday's other League B fixture, Oleksandr Zinchenko's stoppage-time goal gave Ukraine the win over the Czechs. The 21-year-old Manchester City midfielder is a key figure in Ukraine's attempt to rebuild its squad after missing out on the World Cup.
HOW DOES THE NATIONS LEAGUE WORK?
UEFA has had a tough time explaining why Europe needed its new competition, or how it works.
It's a hybrid between a traditional tournament — stretched out over a whole season — and a European Championship qualifier.
There's a group stage, after which the top-tier winners will play a "final four"-style playoff to be overall Nations League champion. Group winners from all four divisions can earn places in qualifying playoffs in 2020, with a European Championship spot on the line.
There will still be a traditional qualifying competition for the European Championship, starting next year. FIFA hopes there will eventually be Nations Leagues worldwide feeding into a global competition.
OUTSIDERS AIM FOR 2020
For many of Europe's lower-ranked countries, the Nations League is likely to be their best shot of qualifying for the European Championship, since at least one team from each tier is guaranteed a place.
League C's early front-runners include Norway, which hasn't reached a major tournament since 2000 and beat Cyprus 2-0. Bulgaria, last seen at the European Championship in 2004, won 2-1 against Slovenia.
In the lowest level, League D, Georgia started strongly Thursday with a 2-0 win over Kazakhstan. The 19-year-old Georgian midfielder Giorgi Chakvetadze scored the first-ever goal in the Nations League with a powerful shot from the edge of the box.
Andorra earned a rare point in a competitive game by drawing 0-0 away to Latvia, the only one of League D's 16 teams ever to have played a major tournament.
GIBRALTAR AT HOME
Gibraltar, the smallest member of UEFA, played its first-ever competitive game on home soil, losing 2-0 to Macedonia in League D.
Gibraltar joined UEFA in 2013 but had to play all its home qualifying games for the 2016 European Championship and 2018 World Cup at a venue in Portugal because its own stadium wasn't considered up to the required standard.
After some upgrades, Gibraltar is now playing at its 2,000-capacity Victoria Stadium for the Nations League. Local media reported the game against Macedonia was sold out.
Dhaka, Sep 7 (UNB) - Bangladesh will need a draw against visiting Nepal on Saturday’s match to reach the semifinal in the seven-nation SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018.
The must-win game for Nepal’s semifinal berth will begin at 7 pm at Bangabandhu National Stadium.
Bangladesh are now atop the four-team Group ‘A’ collecting all-win six points from two outings, staring their campaign with a 2-0 win against already-eliminated side Bhutan before getting a 1-0 goal victory against Pakistan in the second game.
Nepal started their journey with a 1-2 defeat against Pakistan in the tournament opener before stunned Bhutan by 4-0 goals to keep their hope for last four berth alive and to hold the second slot by virtue of goal difference.
In another match of Saturday, if Pakistan is beaten by Bhutan, Bangladesh will reach semifinals, even if suffer a loss against Nepal.
If Pakistan can manage a win against Bhutan, Bangladesh will need at least a draw against Nepal to confirm its last-four berth.
Ahead of the match day, Bangladesh boys’ had a two hours practice session at Birshrestha Shaheed Sepoy Mohammad Mostafa Kamal Stadium in Kamlapur in the afternoon.
In the last three editions, Bangladesh made their exit from the group stage. The host side had a successful campaign in the SAFF Championship 2003 with a 1(5)-1(3) win in a penalty shootout against the Maldives in the final at Bangabandhu National Stadium.
Bangladesh are hosting the event for the third time after 2003 and 2009, since its inception in 1993.
Points table: (Group A)
Team Matches Position GF GA GD Points
Bangladesh 2 1 3 0 +3 6
Nepal 2 2 5 1 +4 3
Pakistan 2 3 2 1 +1 3
Bhutan 2 4 0 6 -6 0
Bangladesh squad: Ashraful Islam Rana, Shahidul Alam Sohel, Anisur Rahman, Topu Barman, Nasiruddin Chowdhury, Bishwanath Ghosh, Tutul Hossain Badsha, Waly Faisal, Susanta Tripura, Masuk Miah Zony, Mamunul Islam Mamun, Emon Mahmud Babu, Faisalo Mahmud, Sohel Rana, Biplu Ahmed, Atiqul Islam Fahad, Jamal Bhuiyan, Shahkawat Hossain Rony, Mahbubur Rahman Sufil and Saaduddin.
New York, Sep 6 (AP/UNB)— A quick look at the U.S. Open:
LOOKAHEAD TO THURSDAY
For as much as she's done, and as long as she's been around, Serena Williams figures that, with her 37th birthday approaching in a few weeks, she won't have chances to contend for Grand Slam titles forever. "I don't have 10 more years. At least, I don't think so," she said, then added with a knowing smile: "I said that 10 years ago." She will attempt to reach her ninth U.S. Open final — but first since winning the title in 2014 — when she faces No. 19 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the semifinals at night. Williams has lost her past two semifinals at Flushing Meadows, in 2015 against Roberta Vinci and in 2016 against Karolina Pliskova. The American is bidding for a seventh U.S. Open championship and 24th Grand Slam singles trophy overall, which would tie Margaret Court for the most in tennis history (Williams already owns the record for the most in the professional era). Sevastova, meanwhile, will be participating in her first semifinal at any major tournament. She has never faced Williams. The night's second semifinal will be No. 14 Madison Keys of the U.S. against No. 20 Naomi Osaka of Japan. Keys has won all three previous head-to-head matchups, including when she came back from a 5-1 deficit in the third set at the U.S. Open two years ago and a straight-set victory at the French Open this year.
Chance of rain. High of 92 degrees.
Sunny. High of 90 degrees.
WEDNESDAY'S SINGLES RESULTS
Men's quarterfinals: No. 6 Novak Djokovic beat John Millman 6-3, 6-4, 6-3; No. 21 Kei Nishikori beat No. 7 Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4.
Women's quarterfinals: No. 14 Madison Keys beat No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4, 6-3; No. 20 Naomi Osaka beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1.
STAT OF THE DAY
Zero — Times that Japanese players reached the men's and women's singles semifinals at the same Grand Slam tournament until Wednesday, when Nishikori and Osaka did it.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"What I really love about Naomi is that, like, she really preserved that innocence, somehow. So if she's sad, she's going to show it. If she's happy, she's going to show it. There is no fake emotions." — Sascha Bajin, Osaka's coach.
New York, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Kei Nishikori looked around Arthur Ashe Stadium and noticed the crowd.
With Nishikori playing immediately after Naomi Osaka on Wednesday, the U.S. Open became must-see viewing for Japanese tennis fans.
"It's good to have, you know, home support outside of Japan," he said. "Yeah, it's great news we're both in the semis."
Historic news, actually.
Both players won — Osaka decisively, Nishikori narrowly — to give Japan a men's and women's semifinalist at the same Grand Slam tournament for the first time, according to the ATP Tour.
Nishikori rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 in a match that lasted 4 hours, 8 minutes. Osaka routed Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1 in just 57 minutes, the third time in her five matches in the tournament that she finished in less than an hour.
"I think she can, you know, win a title now, even (a) Grand Slam. So I feel, you know, big chance for her," Nishikori said.
"Also happy for myself, too, being injured last year."
That was a wrist injury that kept him off the tour from late last season until early this year. He started to regain his form in the spring, was back up to the No. 21 seed for his return to Flushing Meadows, and awaits No. 6 Novak Djokovic on Friday.
Meanwhile, Osaka won a Masters title at Indian Wells and with her strong run in New York, where she will next play 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys, she has picked up more of a following from the Japanese media — though she believes there's a different reason for that.
"I think it's because of Kei," she said, holding her hands apart to show how much bigger Nishikori is in Japan, from where her family moved to New York when she was 3.
So big, in fact, that she was too nervous to talk to him until recently.
Once she did, the 20-year-old Osaka found they had plenty in common. Nishikori, 8 years older, was like a "really big kid" who liked to play video games and have fun like her.
"Overall, he's just really nice and positive and bubbly and stuff," Osaka said.
Only once had Japan had a man and woman reach the quarterfinals of the same major, and Shuzo Matsuoka and Kimiko Date both lost in that round at Wimbledon in 1995.
Nishikori and Osaka are looking to keep right on going. Their victories provided a boost to their baseball-crazed country on an otherwise downer of a day with the news that Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani had new damage in his right elbow and major surgery was been recommended.
When Nishikori became the first Asian male to reach a Grand Slam singles final four years ago, hundreds of fans packed into a convention hall to cheer him on at a standing-room-only public viewing event in his hometown of Matsue.
Now there might be two such events in Japan this weekend.
"Hopefully we do well this week," Nishikori said.
New York, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Novak Djokovic put aside all of it, from his opponent's unheard-of, middle-of-a-set chance to change out of sweat-soaked clothes and shoes, to consecutive time violations because he let the serve clock expire, to the 16 break points he wasted.
All that mattered, really, was that Djokovic managed to do what Roger Federer could not two nights earlier: beat 55th-ranked John Millman at the U.S. Open.
Djokovic moved a step closer to a third championship at Flushing Meadows and 14th Grand Slam title overall by eliminating Millman 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to get to the tournament's semifinals for an 11th appearance in a row. He sat out last year because of an injured right elbow.
The No. 6-seeded Djokovic, who won Wimbledon in July, had been drawn to face Federer in the quarterfinals. But Millman scuttled that showdown by stunning the 20-time Grand Slam champ in four sets in the fourth round on a hot and humid evening that Federer said sapped his energy and made it hard to breathe.
"I was, alongside many other people, anticipating the match against Federer," Djokovic said.
This night was cooler, as the temperature dipped into the 70s, but the humidity was above 80 percent, so with Millman drenched, he sought permission for a wardrobe change at 2-all in the second set. It was odd enough to see a player be allowed to do that during, instead of after, a set, but even odder for it to happen after an even number of games, rather than at an odd-game changeover.
"I was struggling. He was struggling. We were all sweating. Changing a lot of T-shirts, shorts," said Djokovic, who will face 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori on Friday. "Just trying to find a way to hang in there."
When Millman apologized for leaving the court at that juncture, Djokovic replied, "I'm fine to have a little rest," then sat down on his sideline bench without a shirt on and cooled off.
"I didn't even know the rule," said Millman, whose request to leave briefly was permitted based on something called the "Equipment Out of Adjustment" provision in the International Tennis Federation guidelines, because his sweat was making the court slippery.
Widely considered the best returner in the game, Djokovic kept accumulating chances — and then failing to cash them in. He was able to come through on only four of his 20 break points.
There were other issues for him, too, including in the third set when, ahead by a break, he was called by the chair umpire for allowing the 25-second serve clock, making its Grand Slam debut at this tournament, to run out on back-to-back points. After the first, he double-faulted, and he wound up getting broken there.
But he broke back in the match's next-to-last game, then served out the victory at love.
"I think the guy's beat a brick wall once," Millman said, "because he makes you work hard for every point and it's relentless."
Earlier Wednesday, Nishikori defeated the man he lost to in the final four years ago, Marin Cilic, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4. Add that to No. 20 Naomi Osaka's 6-1, 6-1 win over unseeded Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, and Osaka and Nishikori give Japan semifinalists in both men's and women's singles at the same Grand Slam tournament for the first time in tennis history.
"It's great to see," said Nishikori, who is into his third major semifinal — all in New York — but is still in search of his initial Slam trophy.
For Osaka, who is 20, this is her first trip past the fourth round at a major. She purported to be "freaking out inside," even if it certainly never showed.
She'll face No. 14 Madison Keys of the U.S. on Thursday night. Serena Williams plays No. 19 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the other semifinal.
Keys was one of four American women in the final four a year ago, when she was the runner-up to Sloane Stephens.
She's the only member of that quartet who made it back.
Still in search of her first Grand Slam title, the Keys reached her third semifinal in the past five majors by using her big-strike game built on serves and forehands to overpower No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-4, 6-3.
Keys won all 10 of her service games, saving the only two break points she faced. One came in the last game as she served for the victory, but she erased it with a forehand winner, part of a 22-10 edge in that category.
Keys, who is 23, thinks she is more equipped than ever to deal with important moments on important stages.
"I've gotten a lot better managing my emotions once it gets to this part and knowing that everything is going to be probably more amped up," she said. "And not shying away from those, but just really being honest about it and talking about it."