Connect with us

Star Profile

Chelsea-bound Kendry Paez lights up South American qualifiers

Published

on

The opening round of South America’s World Cup qualifiers at the end of last week belonged to the veterans, with Lionel Messi and Neymar the standout performers. But, in Tuesday’s second round, there was space for youth to steal the stage.

Just 16, and bound for Chelsea when he turns 18, Kendry Paez is the latest quality product of the remarkable production line at Independiente del Valle, a little club from the outskirts of Quito that has developed the likes of Moisés Caicedo and many of the Ecuador squad. Paez has been enjoying quite a year — scoring in his first game in senior football, when he was still 15 and appearing in the World Cups at Under-17 and Under-20 levels — and now thrown into the cauldron of senior World Cup qualification.

He was a surprise choice to line up at home to Uruguay. Paez had been part of the Ecuador squad since the FIFA friendlies in June, but he had never played before and, going into this match, the consensus was that a few minutes off the bench would be the best he could hope for. Instead, coach Felix Sanchez started the teenage prodigy and come the end of a 2-1 win, was very pleased with his decision.

Paez operated on the right of a midfield trio. Left-footed but able to go either way, there was a swagger and a style about his football, a casual ease of accepting responsibility to set up the play, that was a joy to watch. He did not last the entire game — that would have been too much to expect — but by the time he left the match, with some 20 minutes to go, he had laid on the winning goal.

Against the run of play Uruguay had taken a first half lead, Maxi Araujo working hard down the left to set up an opportunity for Agustín Canobbio. But at the altitude of Quito, Ecuador were always favourites and took the points despite watching all-time top scorer Enner Valencia shoot wide from a penalty.

It was a set-piece that turned the game — a corner struck from the left by Caicedo. Just before the interval one of Caicedo’s right-footed crosses was met by a towering header from centre-back Félix Torres. And then, in the second half, Caicedo started to vary the repertoire. He worked some short corners, and from one of them he slipped Paez, his future Chelsea teammate, to the bye-line. Paez played in a low cross and there was Torres once more, this time stretching out a leg to win the game.

Ecuador’s first three points sees them move in the table to … no points. They entered the campaign carrying a three-point penalty for administrative errors in the Qatar qualifiers, and so this win merely serves to cancel out their punishment. The expanded World Cup mean that six South American teams qualify automatically for 2026, with a seventh going into a playoff, so Ecuador are entitled to dream of Paez helping them to more wins on the way to World Cup 2026, and for many years beyond.

Ecuador now finds themselves six points behind the joint leaders, Brazil and Argentina; the only teams to have won both their opening matches. They went about the second win in contrasting styles. Argentina’s 3-0 triumph away to Bolívia was highly impressive. The extreme altitude of La Paz is notoriously tough for unacclimatised opponents, and the world champions decided not to risk Messi. Without their talisman the young midfield performed with great maturity, dictating the tempo of the game and passing their way through the Bolivian defence.

Brazil, meanwhile, were much less eye-catching in their 1-0 win away to Peru. They were never in real defensive danger, but their passing had little of the fluency of Friday’s big win over Bolivia. Neymar could not produce the fine form he showed that night, and amid a succession of passing errors the game appeared to be drifting towards a goalless draw, which was a little hard on Richarlison, Brazil’s out of form centre-forward, who thought he had headed Brazil into a first half lead only to have it chalked off for offside after an agonising seven minute wait for a VAR decision. In the end, though, it was aerial power that carried the day, Marquinhos stealing the points with a clever run in front of the near post to glance home a Neymar corner.

Behind Brazil and Argentina in the early table are Colombia, who moved up to four points with a hard fought 0-0 draw away to Chile. And then, joining Uruguay on three points, are Venezuela who opened their account with a 1-0 win at home to Paraguay.

If the night belonged to Ecuador’s 16-year-old Kendry Paez, then he has to share some of the glory with Salomon Rondon, Venezuela’s 33-year-old centre-forward. The tragedy of Venezuela’s previous campaign was that they were seldom able to call up their key target man striker, who was either in China or England and was ruled out by COVID restrictions. Now, he may be a little past his best. But when Venezuela were awarded a late penalty, he did not flinch. Paez can dream of many World Cups to come but big Rondon has one chance left and he kept those hopes alive with a high-pressure goal.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Star Profile

Messi hits 500 league goals as Inter Miami cruise past Orlando

Published

on

By

Lionel Messi has hit yet another remarkable milestone in his legendary career after reaching 500 league career goals with Inter Miami following his brace against Orlando City on Saturday.

Florida rivals Orlando finished second in the Eastern Conference last season and have been considered contenders for this season’s MLS Cup but they were outclassed by Inter Miami from the outset.

Suarez had lacked sharpness and match fitness in his first two outings but the prolific 37-year-old top scorer for Gremio in Brazil last season put aside any doubts about his continuing ability in the final third.

“I’m very happy for him, that he was able to score. We were calm anyway, we know what Luis is and what he is capable of doing and everyone knows it,” Messi said.

“He is like that, when you least expect it he solves a game for you like he did today, with the goals and the assists.”

Suarez took just four minutes to get Inter Miami on the scoreboard and his first goal for his new club came in emphatic style, meeting a low cross from Julian Gressel with a thumping first-time shot inside the near post.

Seven minutes later and Suarez had doubled his tally with Gressel again the provider to the Uruguayan, who showed good close control in the box before burying into the corner.

Inter Miami were in total control and the crowd lapped up some delicious touches from Messi but it was his former Barcelona teammate Suarez who was doing the damage.

Robert Taylor made it 3-0 in the 29th minute after the excellent Gressel split the Orlando defenders, finding Suarez, who unselfishly picked out Taylor for a simple tap in.

Messi then struck a trademark, curling free-kick from 30 yards out against the upright and minutes later he provided a classy through ball to Suarez, who found the net. But his hopes of a hat trick celebration were denied by an offside flag.

Orlando came out aggressively after the break, seeking a possible way back into the game and they were frustrated when Martin Ojeda’s effort was ruled out for offside.

Messi, Inter Miami: Back in the groove

Inter Miami quickly found a groove, Messi firing inches wide in the 54th minute and then Gressel blasting against the bar after a clever exchange with Suarez.

Another of Inter Miami’s ex-Barca quartet, left-back Jordi Alba, created the fourth when he burst down the flank, played a one-two with Suarez and clipped the ball goalwards.

Orlando captain Robin Jansson’s desperate clearance flew out off the bar and Messi was on hand to put the ball home.

Suarez looked keen for his hat trick but, when found in space in the inside left channel, he looked up and spotted Messi at the back post and found him with a perfectly weighted left-foot cross, which the Argentine headed into the far corner.

Inter Miami, with seven points from the opening three games, return to action on Thursday against Nashville in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

“We’re doing well, we’re enjoying it, we’re growing,” Messi said. “Today was an important match to win, to continue on this path of growth and this has to make us very strong for everything that’s to come.”

Earlier, defending MLS champions Columbus Crew were held to a 1-1 draw at unfancied Minnesota United.

Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez put the Crew ahead with a strike from the edge of the box in the 58th minute but Minnesota snatched a point deep in stoppage time through Tani Oluwaseyi.

MLS 2023 runner-up Los Angeles FC fell 3-0 in snowy conditions at Real Salt Lake, with Andres Gomez delivering a brace for the home side.

The game was played on a snow covered field and LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo was fuming with the decision to let the game go ahead.

“It was an absolute joke we had to play today. It was one of the worst professional sporting events I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.

“I feel terrible for the players that we put them through this. The game could have and should have been called (off). In my opinion, it was an absolute disgrace we had to play today.”

The Los Angeles Galaxy enjoyed 3-1 win at San Jose in their all-Californian clash.

Continue Reading

Star Profile

LeBron James becomes first NBA player with 40,000 points

Published

on

By

LeBron James became the first NBA player to reach 40,000 career regular-season points on Saturday, the 39-year-old superstar scoring nine against defending champion Denver to achieve the milestone.

But the historic effort came in a losing cause as Nikola Jokic scored 35 points to rally the Nuggets late for a 124-114 victory over the Lakers, stretching their win streak to six games.

“I’m glad we’re playing good,” Jokic said. “We’re doing the things we want to do. We don’t have too many breakdowns. I just like how we’re playing the game right now.”

James, who just over a year ago overtook Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring mark, is a four-time NBA champion and four-time NBA Most Valuable Player as well as the league’s oldest active player, now in his 21st campaign.

“Just happy for him. It was a hell of an accomplishment,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Wish we could have got the win to cap it off.

“But my hat’s off to him. Amazing, amazing run that continues to this day. And you know, everyone in our program, everyone within our organization, is extremely excited and happy for him.”

After scoring five points in the first quarter, James sank a layup 14 seconds into the second quarter to pull within two of the milestone, then missed a free throw and on the next Laker possession missed a 3-point shot.

James scored the historic basket with 10:39 remaining in the second quarter, banking in a driving layup from the left side of the basket to give the Lakers a 37-32 lead.

The crowd gave James a standing ovation after he made the basket. The ball James used to score the milestone hoop was removed from the game, but with the replacement, he added a layup late in the period on the way to the Lakers seizing a 66-58 half-time lead.

James scored his first basket of the game on a fast break layup 6:20 into the opening quarter to give the Lakers an 18-12 edge, then added a 3-pointer from the left corner 63 seconds later for a 23-14 advantage.

In anticipation of reaching the milestone, James said it won’t rank among his greatest feats but the 40,000-point mark is meaningful.

“No one has done it. And for me to be in this position at this point and time in my career, I think it’s pretty cool,” James said.

“Is it one of the top things I’ve done in my career? No. Does it mean something? Of course. Why wouldn’t it?

“To hit feats and have milestones throughout my career, they all mean something to me. Absolutely.

“Obviously, there’s a pecking order of which ones are higher than others, but I would be lying to you if I said no, it doesn’t mean anything. It absolutely does.”

– Porter ‘was amazing’ –

The Nuggets equalized at 89-89 entering the fourth quarter and seized command with a 9-0 run in the final minutes to lead 117-110, Denver hitting 15-of-22 from the floor in the final quarter.

“They had control the first half,” Jokic said. “They had a really good energy. We didn’t play really good in the first half. They were getting to the paint. They were having open looks.

“We kind of were battling a little bit in the second half and we scored 124, which is a lot, but I’m just glad we won the game.”

Michael Porter Jr. went 10-for-10 from the floor and scored 25 points while matching Jokic’s 10 rebounds.

“He was amazing,” Jokic said. “It’s always a good thing when you have a guy on your team that can shoot like that.”

The Lakers, 33-29, rank 10th in the Western Conference, the final play-in spot, while the Nuggets are 42-19, third in the West but only a half-game behind leading Minnesota.

In other games, Mikal Bridges scored 38 points to lead host Brooklyn over Atlanta 114-102 while Jimmy Butler netted 37 points to power the Miami Heat over visiting Utah 126-120.

Anfernee Simons hit 30 points to lead Portland’s 107-100 overtime triumph at Memphis.

Continue Reading

Star Profile

How victor Osimhen Breaks CAF Awards For Nigeria since 1999

Published

on

By

Napoli and Nigeria’s forward Victor Osimhen has been crowned the 2023 African Footballer of the Year at the Confederation of African Football (Caf) awards ceremony in Marrakesh.

Osimhen, whom plays for Napoli in Italy beat Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi to the prestigious award – the first time a Nigerian has picked up the title since Nwankwo Kanu in 1999.

Nigeria enjoyed double success with Asisat Oshoala retaining the women’s award – the sixth time the Barcelona star has won the accolade.

The winners are voted for by a panel consisting of Caf’s technical committee plus African media professionals, head coaches and captains. Clubs involved in the group stages of Caf’s continental competitions also have a say.

OSIMHEN TRIUMPH

Napoli’s Osimhen, 24, was tipped to pick up the prestigious Caf award for the first time in his career after a stellar 2022-23 season.

He scored 26 times in 32 appearances, including the decisive goal that sealed the Scudetto in May and won Napoli their first Serie A title in 33 years.

The former Wolfsburg and Lille striker was also named the Italian footballers’ association player of the year earlier this month after an outstanding season.

Lagos-born Osimhen scored five goals in four Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualification matches as his country reached next year’s finals.

He also became the first Nigerian to finish in the top 10 of the Ballon d’Or vote with an eighth-placed finish and was made a Member of the Federal Republic in his homeland.

Barcelona star Asisat Oshoala, 29, made it a night to remember for Nigeria, winning the women’s player of the year title for a record extending sixth time.

Oshoala – who went to the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this year – retains the trophy she won last year.

She beat off competition from South Africa and Racing Louisville’s Thembi Kgatlana and Zambia and Shanghai Sengli’s Barbra Banda to lift the trophy.

World Cup recognition
South African Desiree Ellis picked up her fourth Caf coach of the year award after leading Banyana Banyana to their first World Cup.

The men’s award went to Morocco’s Walid Regragui on a great night for the Atlas Lions, who were named the national men’s team of the year.

Their heroics at Qatar 2022 – where they became the first African team to reach a World Cup semi-final – also helped Yassine Bounou win the men’s goalkeeper of the year prize.

Nigeria’s Super Falcons won the women’s national team of the year with their Paris FC star Chiamaka Nnadozie picking up the women’s goalkeeper award.

Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa were named the women’s club of the Year after triumphing in the African Women’s Champions League for a second time.

Egyptian giants Al Ahly, who won a record 11th Champions League title in 2023, won the men’s club of the year award.

On a glittering night in Marrakesh, Caf also revealed who Africa’s players voted into the men’s and women’s Best XI line-ups, and Senegal President Macky Sall picked up the inaugural special achievement award.

2023 Caf awards winners:
Player of the Year (men): Victor Osimhen (Napoli & Nigeria)

Player of the Year (women): Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona & Nigeria)

Coach of the Year (men): Walid Regragui (Morocco)

Coach of the Year (women): Desiree Ellis (South Africa)

National Team of the Year (men): Morocco

National Team of the Year (women): Nigeria

Goalkeeper of the Year (men): Yassine Bounou (Al Hilal & Morocco)

Goalkeeper of the Year (women): Chiamaka Nnadozie (Paris FC & Nigeria)

Young Player of the Year (women): Nesryne El Chad (Lille & Morocco)

Young Player of the Year (men): Lamine Camara (Metz & Senegal)

Club of the Year (women): Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)

Club of the Year (men): Al Ahly (Egypt)

Interclub Player of the Year (women): Fatima Tagnaout (AS FAR & Morocco)

Interclub Player of the Year (men): Percy Tau (Al Ahly & South Africa)

Continue Reading

Trending