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Pivotal reforms approved by Asian football body's Competitions Committee

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Al Ain (UAE), May 24 (IANS) The Competitions Committee of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) underlined its determination to enhance football activities in the region after approving a host of key decisions given the strategic reforms to be introduced this year. At its third meeting held here on Friday, the Committee commenced proceedings by expressing its best wishes to Al Ain FC and Yokohama F. Marinos ahead of their epic showdown in the second leg of the AFC Champions League Final at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday.

At the outset, the Committee noted the enhancements required to elevate the organisational standards of the AFC U23 Asian Cup, particularly against the backdrop of the non-Olympic qualifiers’ editions. Moving forward, the Committee agreed to discontinue the non-Olympic qualifiers’ editions from 2030, and for the Competition to be organised quadrennially from 2028.

Additionally, following FIFA’s decision to organise both the men’s and women’s editions of the FIFA U-17 World Cup annually rather than biennially, the Committee also approved the new reforms to the AFC U17 Asian Cup.

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Given the expanded 48-team FIFA U-17 World Cup, where the AFC has been allocated eight slots to join the hosts of the 2025 to 2029 editions, Qatar, the Committee approved the decision to organise the Qualifiers and Finals of the AFC U17 Asian Cup annually.

The decision was taken to uphold the principles of sporting merit and ensure the progressive development of Asian youth teams through continued exposure to more competitive Continental matches whilst simplifying the hosting requirements for future hosts in line with FIFA’s approach to enhance efficiencies and sustainability.

Moving forward, the Committee agreed to the competition format principles of the AFC U17 Asian Cup starting from the 2026 edition and mandated the Administration to finalise and implement the plan subject to the entry status and the full details of the FIFA U-17 World Cup to be confirmed by FIFA.

At the same time, the Committee decided to award the hosting rights of the AFC U20 Asian Cup 2025 to the Chinese Football Association, while the AFC U17 Asian Cup 2025 has been awarded to the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.

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Given the launch of the revamped three-tier club structure later this year, the Committee approved the 2024/25 Competition Regulations of the AFC Champions League Elite (ACL Elite), AFC Champions League Two (ACL Two), and AFC Challenge League (ACGL).

The main updates include areas such as the Technical rules, Competition system, Player registration windows, and the newly introduced Homegrown player policies which can be accessed here in due course, whilst the match scheduling principles for the ACL Elite League Stage and the ACL Two Group Stage was also approved.

The Committee agreed that a specialised software-based match scheduling in compliance with the core principles centered on the format, calendar and sporting fairness will be applied whilst conditional principles will be determined and applied by the Administration at its discretion in consideration of sporting, organisational, marketing, and broadcasting matters.

Additionally, given the transition from the two-tier to three-tier club structure, as a general principle, it was agreed that the requirements and provisions of the AFC Champions League Final will apply to the ACL Elite Finals, whilst the current AFC Champions League (excluding Final) will be applicable for the ACL Elite (excl. Finals) as well as the ACL Two (all stages) and the AFC Cup™ (Group Stage and KO stage) applied to the ACGL (all stages).

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Similarly, the records and statistics of the preceding AFC Club Competitions will be recognised and integrated within the revamped club competitions. The records and statistics of the AFC Champions League will be carried forward to the ACL Elite, the AFC Cup transitioned to the ACL Two, with the data from the AFC President’s Cup (discontinued after 2015) transferring to the ACGL.

The Committee also approved the calendar for the 2025/26 club season which is tabled below and mandated the Administration to adjust the calendar where necessary.

All decisions will need to be ratified by the AFC Executive Committee to take effect.

–IANS

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T2O World Cup: South Africa edge past USA by 18 runs in a thrilling contest

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North Sound (Antigua), July 19 (IANS) South Africa managed to edge out a resilient USA team by 18 runs in a gripping encounter at the start of the Super 8 stage match of Group 2 in the T20 World Cup at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium here on Wednesday.

Reeza Hendricks, however, continued his run of poor form, managing only 11 runs from 11 deliveries. Skipper Aiden Markram contributed a solid 46 off 32 balls, ensuring the momentum stayed with the Proteas. The middle order wobbled slightly as David Miller fell for a golden duck, but Heinrich Klaasen and Tristan Stubbs’ quick-fire cameos pushed the total to 194 for 4 in 20 overs.

On the bowling front, Saurabh Netravalkar was the standout performer for the USA, claiming two wickets for just 21 runs in his four overs. Harmeet Singh also impressed with his left-arm spin, taking 2 crucial wickets to keep the South African total in check.

Chasing a daunting target of 195, the USA stumbled early, losing three quick wickets for 56 including the in-form Aaron Jones for a five-ball duck. The early blows put them on the back foot, but wicketkeeper-batsman Andries Gous mounted a valiant resistance. Gous played a brilliant unbeaten innings, scoring 80 off 47 balls, keeping the American hopes alive.

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Harmeet Singh, playing a crucial supporting role, forged a significant partnership with Gous. Their alliance gave the USA a glimmer of hope, inching them closer to the target. However, the departure of Harmeet in the penultimate over spelt doom for the American chase.

Kagiso Rabada, the pick of the South African bowlers, was instrumental in sealing the victory. He bowled a masterful spell, finishing with figures of 3 for 18 in his 4 overs. Rabada’s penultimate over was particularly decisive, conceding just two runs and dismissing Harmeet Singh, thereby quashing any lingering hopes of an American upset.

In the end, South Africa’s quality attack proved too much for the USA, but the spirited performance by the American side won them many admirers. The Proteas, starting their Super 8 campaign on a winning note, had to fight hard to secure their two points, underlining the increasingly competitive nature of the T20 World Cup.

Brief scores:

South Africa 194/4 in 20 overs (Quinton de Kock 74, Aiden Markram 46; Saurabh Netravalkar 2-21, Harmeet Singh 2-24) beat USA 176/6 in 20 overs (Andries Gous 80 not out, Harmeet Singh 38; Kagiso Rabada 3-18, Keshav Maharaj 1-37) by 18 runs.

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–IANS

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Euro 2024: Gjasula redeems himself with late equaliser as Albania hold Croatia 2-2

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Hamburg (Germany), June 19 (IANS) Klaus Gjasula turned hero from villain in the same match as he scored a late equaliser to cancel out his own goal earlier in the match as Albania fought back to hold Croatia to a 2-2 draw in a Group B match of the Euro 2024 here on Wednesday.

Gjasula’s last-gasp strike, coming in the fifth minute of second-half added time helped Albania gain one point in Euro 2024.

Croatia, who lost 3-0 to Spain in their opening match, produced a much-improved second-half showing in Hamburg, only to be pegged back at the death by a plucky Albania in Group B – as the near neighbours shared the points in their first-ever meeting.

Having lost their opening group stage matches, both sides knew defeat was no option. And thus, a cagey opening ensued on Wednesday.

Content to slow the tempo, Albania soon became comfortable in possession. And then, almost out of nowhere, Qazim Laçi broke free at the near post to glance at Jasir Asani’s pinpoint delivery from the right. Another quick-opening goal for Sylvinho’s men.

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Croatia were momentarily shaken, and the Eagles saw their opportunity to go again. This time, Nedim Bajrami darted into the danger zone, but to the relief of Zlatko Dalić, failed to test Dominik Livaković.

Now pressing higher up the pitch, Croatia engineered their first real threat as Marcelo Brozovic’s anxious snap-shot flew well wide. Unfazed, Albania continued to push for a second, and in the 31st minute Livaković was forced to deny Kristjan Asllani.

Despite sitting deep to protect their advantage, Albania breached the Brozovic-protected Vatreni back line once more before half-time; however, Livaković dealt with Rey Manaj’s close-range header.

With the interval introduction of Mario Pasalić and Luka Succic, Croatia produced two decent chances. Thomas Strakosha got a strong hand to Succić’s powerful shot before Pasalic fired over.

Dalic’s team were now enjoying their best spell of the game, and as Albania’s energy levels waned, Croatia’s threat increased.

The Vatreni were probing for a chink in the Albanian armour, and eventually, in the 74th minute, their breakthrough came. As Albania switched off, Andrej Kramaric found the bottom corner to restore parity – his first EURO goal on his 33rd birthday. Two minutes later, Croatia struck again, Klaus Gjasula deflecting into his own net amid a goalmouth scramble.

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Still turning the screw until the full-time whistle, Croatia’s tremendous second-half performance looked to have secured them all three points. However, in a dramatic twist, Gjasula – who only came on in the 72nd minute – found redemption by driving in a low last-gasp leveller. Both sides duly claimed their first points of EURO 2024.

–IANS

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T20 World Cup: Just wait and watch, he will perform, says Irfan Pathan on Virat Kohli

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New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) As India gear up for their first Super Eight stage game in the T20 World Cup 2024 against Afghanistan on Thursday in Barbados, the spotlight is firmly on the team’s batting form, particularly that of former captain Virat Kohli. The New York group stage saw Indian batters struggle on tricky pitches, with Kohli managing only single-digit scores in all three matches. Yet, former cricketer Irfan Pathan remains unperturbed.

Speaking on Star Sports, Pathan exuded confidence in Kohli’s ability to rise to the occasion. “He knows how to stand up in big matches, isn’t he? That’s what makes him really, really special,” Pathan asserted.

“He’s a special player and I’m sure he’s going to put his hand up and say OK, I’m going to do this for Team India. When the time comes, especially in the big matches, we have always seen Virat Kohli perform. Just wait and watch, the slog sweep will come out now. He will definitely use those shots because, look, those conditions in New York were challenging. But now things will be different, and you’ll see a real Virat Kohli coming to the fore.”

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Pathan’s optimism isn’t unfounded. Kohli has a history of delivering when it matters most, and his aggressive approach in the group stage, despite not yielding significant scores, hints at a strategic shift designed to unsettle bowlers early on. Fans, who have longed for this aggressive mindset reminiscent of his IPL exploits, may finally see it pay off against Afghanistan.

However, India’s batting lineup faces a formidable spin challenge from Afghanistan, led by Rashid Khan, Noor Ahmad, and Mohammad Nabi.

Another former India player, Ambati Rayudu provided insights on how India might approach Rashid Khan, who hasn’t been his lethal self post-surgery following the ODI World Cup 2023.

“I think the biggest challenge against Rashid Khan is trying to be too aggressive against him. That is where you land in trouble,” Rayudu explained. “As a batter, you need to just wait for those loose balls and capitalize on them. After his injury, I don’t think his pace is the same. So, you have enough time now, and people have been getting after Rashid. Also, the Indian batsmen know him very well.”

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Rayudu’s analysis suggests a more measured approach against Rashid, exploiting any dip in his pace and capitalising on rare errors. This strategic mindset, coupled with Kohli’s anticipated resurgence, could be crucial for India as they navigate Afghanistan’s spin threat.

–IANS

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T20 World Cup: De Kock, Markram help South Africa post 194/4 against USA

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North Sound (Antigua), June 19 (IANS) Opener Quinton de Kock hammered a 40-ball 74 and skipper Aiden Markram scored 46 off 32 balls to help South Africa reach a mighty total of 194/4 as they batted first against the USA in the opening Super Eight stage match in ICC Men’s T20 World Cup here on Wednesday.

The USA, who were the team of the preliminary round after storming into the Super 8 stage on debut by stunning Pakistan, put the mighty proteas in to bat first on winning the toss and the South Africans came up with a fine innings to post a challenging total. The co-hosts had early success when Saurabh Netravalkar had Reeza Hendricks hitting it straight into the hands of Corey Anderson at mid-off.

So, it was left to De Kock to push on with the assistance of Aiden Markram, hitting a brilliant 74 off 40 balls — including seven fours and five sixes. He reached his half-century off 27 balls. He was eventually removed by a smartly delivered full toss from Harmeet Singh, caught by Shayan Jahangir. he and Markram raised 110 runs for the second wicket to take South Africa past the 110-run mark.

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And Harmeet struck again with the next ball, catching new batter David Miller off his own bowling, and making the scoreline 126/3 with a little more than seven overs remaining.

Markram was next to fall after a solid 46 off 32 balls, caught by a flying Ali Khan off Netravalkar. Then Tristan Stubbs and Heinrich Klaasen formed an effective partnership for the last five overs, putting on a valuable 53 between them.

Netravalkar claimed 2-21 while Harmeet 2-24 to prevent the South Africans from going berserk in the middle.

Brief scores:

South Africa 194/4 in 20 overs (Quinton de Kock 74, Aiden Markram 46, Heinrich Klaasen 36 not out; Saurabh Netravalkar 2-21, Harmeet Singh 2-24) against the USA.

–IANS

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2nd ODI: Mandhana, Harmanpreet, Vastrakar shine as India beat South Africa by four runs; win series 2-0

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Bengaluru, June 19 (IANS) Skipper Harmanpreet Kaur and her deputy Smriti Mandhana slammed a century each and pacer Pooja Vastrakar bowled a superb final over as India Women defeated South Africa by four runs in a well-fought second One-day International that ended in a thriller and gave India an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Wednesday.

Mandhana struck a 120-ball 136, a century in her second successive match, and shared a 171-run partnership for the third wicket with Harmanpreet Kaur, who hammered an unbeaten 103 off 88 balls as India posted a massive 325/3 in 50 overs. Opener Shafali Verma (20), Dayalan Hemalatha (24) and Richa Ghosh (25 not out) were the other scorers for India as they made the most of the opportunity after being asked to bat first by South Africa.

South Africa captain Laura Wolvaardt scored a run-a-ball 135 while Marizanne Kapp blasted a 94-ball 114 to keep South Africa in the hunt. But the visitors lost the way in the last couple of overs and were restricted to 321/6 in 50 overs as India won the match which is part of the ICC Women’s Championship.

South Africa were struggling at 67/3 at one stage before Kapp and Wolvaardt shared a superb partnership to not only revive the innings but also raise hopes of a victory in the high-scoring slugfest.

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Chasing a massive 326, South Africa lost Tanzim Brits (5), Anneke Bosch (15) and Sune Luus (12) early and were struggling at 67/3 in the 15th over before Kapp and Wolvaardt came together to raise 184 runs for the fourth wicket partnership and take them to 251 when Kapp was out. The 34-year-old Kapp hammered 11 boundaries and three sixes as she rescued her team in the company of her skipper. Kapp reached her half-century off 53 balls and her century off 85 balls as she gained confidence.

Her departure to a catch by Vastrakar off Deepti Sharma, Wolvaardt, who completed her fifty off 69 balls and a hundred from 119 balls, kept South Africa in the hunt as they reached the final stage of the match needing 23 runs from the last 12 deliveries.

Nadine de Klerk blasted a six off Arundhati Reddy on the last ball as South Africa scored 12 runs off the 49th over. They needed 11 runs from the last six balls bowled by Vastrakar.

The Indian pacer kept her nerve despite being edged for a four by de Klerk, bringing the equation to 6 runs off four balls, as she dismissed Nadine off the third ball of the match, getting her to offer an easy catch to Arundhati at long-on. Vastrakar then struck a decisive blow by sending back Nondumiso Shangase, caught by skipper Harmanpreet. South Africa needed a six off the final ball of the match but Wolvaardt could manage only manage only two runs as India won the match by four runs.

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Vastrakar finished with 2-54 while Deepti Sharma bagged 2-56 in her 10 overs. Smriti Mandhana took 1-13 to add to the century she struck.

Earlier, opener Mandhana etched her name in the annals of women’s cricket history by equaling former captain Mithali Raj’s all-time Indian record for the most centuries in women’s ODIs. Mandhana’s brilliant knock of 136 runs brought her level with the legendary Raj.

Following her century in the series opener, when she scored 117 runs, the flamboyant left-hander continued her superb form—her back-to-back centuries made her the first Indian woman to achieve this feat in ODI cricket.

The match began with a cautious start for Mandhana, who was kept quiet by the South African bowlers during the first powerplay. India lost opener Shafali Verma early, leaving Mandhana to anchor the innings. She meticulously built her innings, reaching 19 off 40 balls before shifting gears to dominate the bowlers. Her composed approach paid off as she reached her century in just 103 balls, eventually scoring 136 off 120 balls.

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Mandhana’s knock was adorned with 18 boundaries and two sixes, showcasing her ability to both accumulate and accelerate runs. Her efforts propelled India past the 200-run mark inside the 40th over, setting a strong foundation for a formidable total.

Supporting Mandhana at the other end was captain Harmanpreet Kaur, who also slammed an 87-ball century. The duo’s partnership was crucial in maintaining the momentum and putting pressure on the South African bowlers.

However, Mandhana was dismissed in the 46th over scoring 136 of 129 deliveries, attempting to hit Nonkululeko Mlaba over the cover region.

Brief scores:

India Women 325/3 in 50 overs (Smriti Mandhana 136, Harmanpreet Kaur 103 not out; Nonkululeko Mlaba 2-51) beat South Africa 321/6 off 50 overs (Laura Wolvaardt 135, Marizanne Kapp 114; Pooka Vastrakar 2-54, Deepti Sharma 2-56) by four runs.

–IANS

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