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‘This is her time,’ ex-India coach BI Fernandez backs Nikhat Zareen for Paris Olympics medal

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New Delhi, April 9 (IANS) Long-serving boxing coach Blas Iglesias Fernandez has backed Nikhat Zareen to return with a medal from the upcoming Paris Olympics. The 68-year-old Cuban, who changed the face of Indian boxing since arriving in India for the first time in 1990, feels Lovlina Borgohain can win too but “only if she shows killer instinct.”

Fernandez, the only overseas coach to have ever won a Dronacharya award, is back in India after being appointed by the Sports Authority of India as High Performance Coach for a two-year period. Fernandez is stationed at the National Boxing Academy in Rohtak, Haryana.

Speaking recently on the sidelines of the multination camp for junior boxers at the SAI’s National Centre of Excellence in Rohtak, Fernandez evaluated India’s chances at the upcoming Summer Games.

The much revered coach, who at various times during his stint with India, has been at the corner of legendary boxers like Dingko Singh, Vijender Singh, Sarita Devi and Mary Kom, said India can win “at least two medals” in Paris and Nikhat Zareen (50 kg) had a high probability to bag one of them.

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“I love the boxing (style) of Nikhat. She is very intelligent. She has good ring tactics. She knows when she is winning and when she is losing,” said Fernandez to SAI Media, indicating that the two-time world championships gold medallist, was a boxer who was always in control of her bouts.

“This is Nikhat’s time to prove herself. It’s true that she had lived in the shadows of Mary Kom but now it’s her chance to prove herself and make India proud,” said Fernandez.

After Tokyo, 26-year-old Lovlina has struggled with her form. Moving from 69 kg to 75 kg division was never an easy task. Lovlina did not finish among the medals at the 2022 world championships and the Commonwealth Games. But the tall Assam girl bagged her Paris ticket after winning the world championship gold in 2023 and the silver medal at the 2023 Hangzhou Asian Games.

“Lovlina has to show more killer instinct. I have seen some of her bouts and I think she lost them because Lovlina was not aggressive and proactive enough. If she can box to her potential, she can finish among the medals in Paris,” said Fernandez.

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Nikhat (50 kg) and Lovlina (75 kg) are among the four Indian women boxers who have qualified for the July-August Summer Games in Paris. The others are Preeti Pawar (54 kg) and Parveen Hooda (57 kg). Lovlina won a bronze medal at Tokyo Olympics.

Fernandez is hoping India’s men will also qualify for the Paris Games. Much will depend on how they fare in the second and final world qualifiers in Bangkok from May 23 to June 3. Up to 51 Paris quotas will be up for grabs and Indian boxers can potentially clinch nine more Paris spots.

“I reckon Nishant Dev and Amit Panghal can bag Paris quotas. They both have the potential to do this. Men’s boxing is very tough and should not be compared with women’s where the competition is relatively easier. I will like to see Indian men breaking the Olympic jinx,” said Fernandez.

–IANS

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Para-Athletics Worlds: China finish 1-2 in women's discus throw F11; dominate universal 4×100 relay

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Kobe (Japan), May 25 (IANS) Chinese para throwers Xue Enhui and Zhang Liangmin claimed the gold and silver medals in the women’s discus throw F11 final at the Para-Athletics World Championships here on Friday. China also dominated the universal 4x100m relay with a record-breaking victory in the evening session.

In the women’s discus throw F11, Xue, 41, recorded a personal best throw of 40.24 metres in her very first attempt at the Universiade Memorial Stadium in the central Japanese port city of Kobe, while Zhang took silver with a season-best result of 38.62m. The 38-year-old Zhang is the current world record holder of the F11-class event for athletes with visual impairment. Brazil’s Izabela Campos claimed the bronze with a throw of 36.84m.

“I’m basically satisfied with my throws today, which lined up with my previous training results,” Xue told Xinhua after the game, highlighting her hope to further stabilize her performance through more exercises in the future.

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Her coach Li Xiuqing also looks forward to more advancements of the athlete in the upcoming phase, reports Xinhua.

Later, Team China wowed the Universiade Memorial Stadium in Kobe with a record-breaking victory in the universal 4x100m relay. Zhou Guohua, Wang Hao, Wen Xiaoyan, and Hu Yang teamed up for a storming victory, clocking 45.54 seconds in the evening session to win the final, refreshing both the championship record and the Asian record.

In the morning session, the same Chinese quartet won the first heat by setting a new Asian record of 45.66s. Zhou, a visually impaired female sprinter who ran the first leg of the race, expressed confidence and pride in the lineup after the triumph.

“Our teamwork and mutual trust better our relay performance each time. Although we didn’t break the world record this time, we surpassed ourselves. I have great confidence in our team,” she said. “I think we performed quite well today. The wind was strong, but our teamwork was very smooth,” said China’s fourth-leg wheelchair racer Hu, who cheered at the top of his lungs when passing the finish line.

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Noting the team was just 0.02 seconds short of the world record, the athlete noted there is still room for improvement. “We will give it our all to compete in Paris,” he said. “We will continue to improve and work together to achieve better results in the upcoming 100 days,” added Wen, a T37 athlete who just won her third gold medal during the championships, adding that encouraging words among the teammates always turn into motivation.

In the universal 4x100m relay, each team is required to include athletes of four different classifications, with one visually impaired, one with limb impairment, one with coordination impairment, and a wheelchair racer from the lead to close.

Other Chinese silver medalists of the day included Hu Yang in the men’s 100m T54, Zhao Yuping in women’s shot put F12, and Lan Hanyu in women’s 800m T34.

The Kobe Para Athletics World Championships, held in East Asia for the first time, serves as a crucial qualifier for the Paris Paralympics, having attracted over 1,000 athletes from 100 countries and regions competing in 168 events.

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A total of 73 Chinese para-athletes are competing in the championships, which runs until May 25. Originally scheduled for 2021, the tournament was postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

–IANS

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IPL 2024: Shahbaz, Abhishek star as SRH set up title clash with KKR after beating RR by 36 runs (ld)

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Chennai, May 24 (IANS) Left-arm spin all-round duo of Shahbaz Ahmed and Abhishek Sharma took five wickets between themselves as Sunrisers Hyderabad set up the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 title clash with Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday after beating Rajasthan Royals by 36 runs in the Qualifier 2 at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium here on Friday.

Shahbaz (3-23) and Abhishek (2-24) collectively bowled nine overs, conceding only 57 runs on a pitch that became dry, and with dew not there, the duo made merry to take five wickets collectively and triggered an RR batting meltdown.

Only Dhruv Jurel fought with an unbeaten 56 off 35 balls, but it wasn’t enough as RR ended at 139/7, ending their hopes of having a shot at winning the title. The result also means SRH entered an IPL final for the third time and their meeting with KKR on Sunday is their clash of this season against the two-time champions.

Chasing 176, Yashasvi Jaiswal was up and running with two boundaries off Bhuvneshwar Kumar. But Tom Kohler-Cadmore struggled from the other end, moving down the pitch and around the crease to break free. It was in vain though as SRH kept him quiet with tight lines and bounce, thus increasing the pressure on the England batter.

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Kohler-Cadmore’s struggle came to an end for a 16-ball 10 when he skied to cover point off Pat Cummins. Jaiswal pushed the scoring rate when he dispatched a short-ball from Bhuvneshwar Kumar over long-on for a six, followed by driving down the ground and through extra cover to pick two fours in a 19-run over as RR reached 51/1 at the end of power-play.

Jaiswal’s knock ended on 42 in the eighth over when he horribly miscued a loft off Shahbaz and holed out to long-off. With a longer boundary to use against right-handed batters via pace-off deliveries, SRH clawed back in the game via the left-arm spin duo of Shahbaz and Abhishek.

Abhishek had Sanju Samson pulling straight to long-on, followed by Riyan Parag top-edging to deep mid-wicket and Ravichandran Ashwin nicking behind off Shahbaz. Abhishek came back to rattle Shimron Hetmyer’s stumps with a flat and quick delivery, while Rovman Powell pulled straight to mid-wicket off T Natarajan.

Jurel kept RR in the hunt with his reverse-sweep and inside-out drive fetching boundaries off Shahbaz, followed by driving twice off Abhishek for a brace of fours. He took a six off Cummins, before pulling him twice for fours to get a fighting fifty. But his late efforts went in vain as SRH stormed into their third IPL final in emphatic fashion.

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Previously, Rahul Tripathi’s 37 and Heinrich Klaasen’s fighting fifty took SRH to a decent 175/9 after being inserted into batting first by RR, who had good bowling performances from Avesh Khan (3-27) and Trent Boult (3-45). RR’s seamers excelled by bowling cutters into the pitch, conceding only 25 runs in the last three overs, even as their spinners went wicketless in their combined eight overs.

Abhishek got going by pulling and driving Boult for exquisite boundaries before the pacer had the last laugh as the batter miscued a short ball to backward point. Tripathi was quick off the blocks by hitting seven boundaries, four of which came against Ravichandran Ashwin.

But Tripathi fell for 15-ball 37 when his attempt to ramp a rising slower short ball from Boult was caught by short third man. In the same over, Boult struck again as Aiden Markram threw his hands at a wide ball and the edge flew to the short third man’s hands.

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Travis Head overcame a slow start by hitting four boundaries collectively off Avesh and Sandeep Sharma but was caught at short third man in an attempt to ramp a slower bouncer off the latter. Klassen tried to keep SRH innings afloat with his gigantic sixes off Chahal but didn’t get support from the other end.

Nitish Kumar Reddy reverse-swept to short third man off Avesh, who also rattled Abdul Samad’s off-stump. Klaasen continued his rearguard act by smacking Boult for a six down the ground, before reaching his fifty in 33 balls.

But Klaasen missed the very next ball he faced, as a yorker from Sandeep uprooted his leg-stump. Avesh’s impressive time in the match concluded with him having Shahbaz Ahmed heaving to long-on and inflicting a run-out of Jaydev Unadkat on the last ball of the innings.

Brief scores:

Sunrisers Hyderabad 175/9 in 20 overs (Heinrich Klaasen 50, Rahul Tripathi 37; Avesh Khan 3-27, Trent Boult 3-45) beat Rajasthan Royals 139/7 in 20 overs (Dhruv Jurel 56 not out, Yashasvi Jaiswal 42; Shahbaz Ahmed 3-23, Abhishek Sharma 2-24) by 36 runs

–IANS

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IPL 2024: Shahbaz, Abhishek star as SRH set up title clash with KKR after beating RR by 36 runs

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Chennai, May 24 (IANS) Left-arm spin all-round duo of Shahbaz Ahmed and Abhishek Sharma took five wickets between themselves as Sunrisers Hyderabad set up the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 title clash with Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday after beating Rajasthan Royals by 36 runs in the Qualifier 2 at the MA Chidambaram Stadium here on Friday.

Shahbaz (3-23) and Abhishek (2-24) collectively bowled nine overs, conceding only 57 runs on a pitch that became dry, and with dew not there, the duo made merry to take five wickets collectively and triggered an RR batting meltdown.

Only Dhruv Jurel fought with an unbeaten 56 off 35 balls, but it wasn’t enough as RR ended at 139/7, ending their hopes of having a shot at winning the title. The result also means SRH entered an IPL final for the third time and their meeting with KKR on Sunday is their clash of this season against the two-time champions.

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Chasing 176, Yashasvi Jaiswal was up and running with two boundaries off Bhuvneshwar Kumar. But Tom Kohler-Cadmore struggled from the other end, moving down the pitch and around the crease to break free. It was in vain though as SRH kept him quiet with tight lines and bounce, thus increasing the pressure on the England batter.

Kohler-Cadmore’s struggle came to an end on 16-ball 10 when he skied to cover point off Pat Cummins. Jaiswal pushed the scoring rate when he dispatched a short ball from Bhuvneshwar Kumar over long-on for a six, followed by driving down the ground and through extra cover to pick two fours in a 19-run over as RR reached 51/1 at the end of power-play.

Jaiswal’s knock ended on 42 in the eighth over when he horribly miscued a loft off Shahbaz and holed out to long-off. With a longer boundary to use against right-handed batters via pace-off deliveries, SRH clawed back in the game via the left-arm spin duo of Shahbaz and Abhishek.

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Abhishek had Sanju Samson pulling straight to long-on, followed by Riyan Parag top-edging to deep mid-wicket and Ravichandran Ashwin nicking behind off Shahbaz. Abhishek came back to rattle Shimron Hetmyer’s stumps with a flat and quick delivery, while Rovman Powell pulled straight to mid-wicket off T. Natarajan.

Jurel kept RR in the hunt with his reverse-sweep and inside-out drive fetching boundaries off Shahbaz, followed by driving twice off Abhishek for a brace of fours. He took a six off Cummins, before pulling him twice for fours to get a fighting fifty. But his late efforts went in vain as SRH stormed into their third IPL final in emphatic fashion.

Brief scores:

Sunrisers Hyderabad 175/9 in 20 overs (Heinrich Klaasen 50, Rahul Tripathi 37; Avesh Khan 3-27, Trent Boult 3-45) beat Rajasthan Royals 139/7 in 20 overs (Dhurv Jurel 56 not out, Yashasvi Jaiswal 42; Shahbaz Ahmed 3-23, Abhishek Sharma 2-24) by 36 runs

–IANS

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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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Malaysia Masters 2024: Mixed results for Chinese badminton team in quarterfinals

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Kuala Lumpur, May 24 (IANS) With some of their top players biting the dust, Badminton superpower China had mixed results as all matchups for the semifinals of the 2024 badminton Malaysia Masters were determined here on Friday. In the men’s singles, China’s star shuttler Lu Guangzu overpowered Jason Gunawan of Hong Kong, China 21-17, 15-21, 21-14 in a tough match lasting one hour and 24 minutes.

Title favourite Lu will be pitted against top seed Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the semifinals on Saturday. The other semifinal will be played between NG Ka Long Angus from Hong Kong, China and Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia.

An all-Chinese semifinal has been set in the women’s singles after Wang Zhiyi won over teammate Gao Fangjie and Zhang Yiman outmatched India’s Ashmita Chaliha, reports Xinhua. The other women’s singles semifinal is going to be contested between India’s P.V. Sindhu and Thailand’s Busanan Ongbamrungphan.

Also on Friday, third-seeded men’s doubles pair He Jiting and Ren Xiangyu of China overpowered their Malaysian opponents to set up a semifinal showdown with Jin Yong and Na Sung-seung of South Korea.

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The other men’s doubles semifinal will pit Malaysian pair Junaidi Arif/Roy King Yap and second-seeded Danes Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen. In the women’s doubles, Japanese pair Rin Iwanaga and Kie Nakanishi will compete with Bulgaria’s Gabriela Stoeva and Stefani Stoeva in the semifinals, while South Korean duo Lee Yu-lim and Shin Seung-chan are going to fight Malaysia’s Tan Pearly and Thinaah Muralitharan.

Saturday’s mixed doubles semifinals will see top seeds Chen Tang Jie and Toh Ee Wei from Malaysia compete with their compatriots Goh Soon Huat and Lai Shevon Jemie, while Indonesia’s Rinov Rivaldy and Pitha Haningtyas are set to play Denmark’s Mathias Christiansen and Alexandra Boje.

The Malaysia Masters runs from May 21 to 26.

–IANS

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