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Liverpool Too Good For Union Saint-Gilloise, Brighton Battle Back To Hold Marseille

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Liverpool closed in on the Europa League knockout rounds with a 2-0 win over Union Saint-Gilloise on Thursday, while Brighton fought back to secure their first European point in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Marseille. West Ham’s 2-1 at Freiburg saw them set a new record unbeaten streak for an English team in Europe, while Romelu Lukaku was among the scorers in Roma’s 4-0 win over Servette. Jurgen Klopp named a strong side at Anfield with the Reds keen to make sure of top spot in Group E and progress directly to the last 16.

Saint-Gilloise goalkeeper Anthony Moris had been in inspired form to deny Mohamed Salah early on, but his fumble from Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s effort left Ryan Gravernberch with a tap-in for his first Liverpool goal on the stroke of half-time.

Klopp sent on Alexis Mac Allister at half-time as he came up against his brother Kevin, who started for the Belgians.

“Today my dad was here but I am sure everybody in our family was watching the TV, so it was special,” said Alexis Mac Allister. “I guess he (his dad) cried a little bit.”

Liverpool were made to wait until stoppage time to secure the points as Diogo Jota burst clear on goal and produced a cool finish.

The Reds travel to Brighton in the Premier League on Sunday and the Seagulls may well be fatigued after their efforts to snatch a point in southern France.

Marseille have struggled so far this season but went 2-0 up thanks to two goals in two minutes midway through the first half.

Chancel Mbemba swept the French side into the lead before a slip from Brighton captain Lewis Dunk allowed Jordan Veretout to make it 2-0.

Brighton seemed destined for a third consecutive defeat in all competitions, but the momentum swung when Pascal Gross was picked out by Kaoru Mitoma to halve the arrears.

Joao Pedro then levelled from the penalty spot after Tariq Lamptey had been upended inside the box two minutes from time to leave Brighton just one point adrift of Marseille and Ajax in Group B.

“I think we are not playing well, it’s a very tough period for us in this moment,” said Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi.

“To close the first half at 2-0, this reaction is incredible. For it I am very happy.”

AEK are the surprise leaders of the section on four points after coming from behind to draw 1-1 with Ajax.

West Ham set record

West Ham are well on course for the last 16 after stretching their unbeaten run in Europe to 17 games.

“It’s a brilliant achievement, I’ve said to the boys we need to keep it going,” said Hammers boss David Moyes.

“Winning the game tonight was most important.”

Lucas Paqueta put the Europa Conference League winners in front after just eight minutes with a towering header.

Roland Sallai levelled for Freiburg early in the second-half.

But the Hammers were not to be denied as Nayef Aguerd headed home James Ward-Prowse‘s corner.

European competitions have also been Roma’s strong point under Jose Mourinho and the Italians put their poor Serie A form to one side against Servette.

Lukaku opened the scoring before an Andrea Belotti brace either side of Lorenzo Pellegrini‘s strike made it two wins from two for Roma in Group G.

Rangers did not get any reaction from the sacking of Michael Beale as the Glasgow giants slumped to an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to Aris Limassol.

Former Gers midfielder Steven Davis took temporary charge but could only oversee Aris registering their first ever European group stage victory.

Alex Moucketou-Moussounda and Shavy Babicka scored on a famous night for the Cypriots as Abdallah Sima’s header proved nothing more than a consolation for Rangers.

All four sides in Group C are now on three points after Real Betis bounced back from their 1-0 defeat by Rangers with a 2-1 win over Sparta Prague.

In the Europa Conference League, Aston Villa left it very late to see off Bosnian champions Zrinjski Mostar 1-0 as John McGinn headed in a 94th-minute winner.

Villa badly needed the win after a 3-2 defeat at Legia Warsaw two weeks ago.

“It’s huge because of how we started the group,” said McGinn. “Tonight was a must win.”

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Matheesha Pathirana: Sri Lanka’s Death ‘Sensation’ For T20 World Cup

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Young fast bowler Matheesha Pathirana has rattled the world’s top batsmen with his toe-crushing yorkers in the Indian Premier League and looks set to boost Sri Lanka’s chances in the T20 World Cup. The 21-year-old, dubbed “Baby Malinga” for an unorthodox slinging style of delivery, reminiscent of compatriot Lasith Malinga, has only played 12 ODIs and six T20 matches for Sri Lanka but has already established himself as a death-over specialist. Pathirana took 13 wickets in just six matches for Chennai Super Kings this IPL season before returning home early due to a hamstring injury that left his Sri Lanka teammates ruing his possible absence. 

But all seems well as the bowler has departed with the Sri Lankan squad, led by Wanindu Hasaranga, for the showpiece 20-over tournament starting June 1 in the West Indies and United States.

“Sri Lanka are banking on Matheesha Pathirana to turn around their fortunes in the upcoming T20 World Cup,” cricket writer Rex Clementine wrote in The Island newspaper.

“Pathirana was a sensation in the IPL for Chennai Super Kings. He has showcased (a) glimpse of his skill sending down unplayable death overs,” Clementine added.

“If he is able to get his line right without being wayward, he will have a major impact in this competition.”

Malinga is equally excited about the prospect of seeing the young tyro using “his pace and his yorker”.

“But the biggest thing I see with Matheesha is his big heart,” Malinga told Cricinfo. 

“He’s very positive in the match. Those aren’t things we can teach him. Those are things he’s got naturally. Even in the year he first came into the IPL, he didn’t have any fear, or any doubts.

“If you tell him this is what we need at this time, he has the ability to do that. 

“He’s got the ability to make a decision. He’s quite clear in his thinking.”

Sri Lanka’s chief selector Upul Tharanga has also backed the youngster to choke opposition batsmen in the final few overs along with 29-year-old pacer Nuwan Thushara

The prospect of seeing those two in tandem sets Malinga purring.

“In the T20 format you are always talking about the yorker because that’s the ball that stops sixes from happening,” he said.

“To have two bowlers who can bowl yorkers like the two of them can in the same tournament… That’s crazy, that’s absolutely mad.

“I think (Sri Lanka’s) bowling line-up is the best in the world.” 

Pathirana returned figures of 4-28 in Chennai’s 20-run win over Mumbai Indians this season, taking player of the match honours and overshadowing a century by India captain Rohit Sharma

He took key wickets including T20 specialist Suryakumar Yadav in the eighth over and then returned at the death to bowl Romario Shepherd with his trademark slinging delivery.

Father-figure Dhoni

Pathirana has made a consistent impact in the world’s most popular T20 league since joining Chennai and credits his performance to the mentorship of team mainstay M.S. Dhoni, India’s former captain. 

“In my cricket life, mostly he is playing my father’s role,” Pathirana said on Chennai’s YouTube channel.

“He always takes care of me, and gives me some advice on what I have to do — similar to my father when I’m in my home,” he added.

“He’s just telling me small things, but it makes a lot of difference, and it gives me a lot of confidence.”

Dhoni last year suggested that Pathirana should steer clear of Tests to focus primarily on the 20-over format.

Pathirana has also been a broadcaster’s favourite with a wicket celebration that sees him fold his hands to the chest and look to the sky, which the youngster admits is modelled on Portuguese football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sri Lanka, who won the title in 2014, begin their World Cup campaign against South Africa in New York on June 3 and also face Bangladesh, Nepal and the Netherlands in the group stage.

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West Indies Ready To Knock Home T20 World Cup ‘Out Of This World’

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It is heaping a lot on to the shoulders of a player who has only played three T20Is but West Indies’ hopes of triumphing in their home World Cup may just rest with young fast bowler Shamar Joseph. The 24-year-old from Guyana may be inexperienced in this form of the game with only six matches to his credit, including one chastening outing for Lucknow Super Giants in the IPL, but he has pace. Just as England were so keen to have Jofra Archer back in their ranks, so the West Indies want Joseph.

They know that in any form of the game pace is a match-winner which is why he got the nod ahead of another young quick Matthew Forde.

“Shamar Joseph has the pace, he has skills with the new ball,” said coach Daren Sammy when he named the squad.

“Not saying Matthew Forde doesn’t but when you look at the role, it makes it easier for us to now pick the personnel to fit that role.”

Joseph, who had been working as a security guard a year earlier, hit the headlines in January when he ripped through Australia’s much-vaunted batting line-up to win a Test in Brisbane.

Playing in only his second Test, Joseph took 7-68 as the West Indies won by just eight runs, their first win in Australia since 1997.

It was a compelling performance which showed that Joseph had the game and technique, not to mention a nose for the theatrical, for the grand arena.

The objective for the West Indies, who are in Group C with Afghanistan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, is evidently to become the first team to lift the T20 World Cup three times — they enjoyed successes in 2012 and 2016, when Carlos Brathwaite smashed England’s Ben Stokes for four consecutive sixes in the last over to win the final.

Johnson Charles and Andre Russell, one of the most accomplished all-rounders in the format, played in both of those victories and are back again for another tilt.

Home ‘motivation’

However, the pressure of playing in their own back yard could prove a burden.

Even with Brian Lara in their side, they flopped when they hosted the 2007 ODI World Cup.

“It is not going to be easy, but we are one of only two nations to have won it twice so we are going to try and make it three,” said former fast bowler Curtly Ambrose who was bowling coach in 2016.

“And no other nation has ever won it (T20 World Cup) on home soil, so all that is motivation for the guys to do well.”

Another pressure is recent history. Since that 2016 win, things have gone downhill steadily for a side that once ruled the cricket world.

The West Indies badly flunked the last two T20 World Cups.

Kieron Pollard‘s team was eliminated in the group stage in the UAE in 2021 with just one win, while Nicholas Pooran‘s side failed to qualify for the main round in Australia a year later.

Worse than that, West Indies did not even qualify for the ODI World Cup in India last year.

Ambrose, however, prefers to accentuate the positive saying the West Indies “have a very, very good team”.

“Once the guys start playing consistent cricket and smart cricket, I believe we can take the trophy,” he added.

There is certainly plenty of match-winning talent in the side.

Left-hander Pooran had an impressive IPL, scoring 499 runs at a strike rate of 178.21 for Lucknow Super Giants, is the lynchpin of the middle order, although Shai Hope and skipper Rovman Powell are both proven performers.

Meanwhile, Shamar Joseph, assuming he plays, and fellow fast bowler, his unrelated namesake Alzarri Joseph, will give them some enviable firepower with the ball.

“What we’ve been able to do throughout the last year as a T20 group, the players we’ve exposed, has brought us to this moment,” said Sammy. “And I think we’re about to knock it out of this world.” 

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Hard-Hitting Nepali Cop Looks To Handcuff T20 World Cup Bowlers

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Nepal’s Dipendra Singh Airee is a 24-year-old policeman dubbed “The Tiger”, who hopes to use his record-breaking batting skills to boost his nation at the T20 World Cup. Last September, Nepal’s victory by a staggering 273 runs against Mongolia was the biggest margin by runs in all T20s — but Airee’s astonishing part in that win included the fastest T20 fifty in just nine balls. The rising star smashed sixes from each of the first six balls he faced, before completing his quickfire half-century to beat the previous record of 12 balls.

Then in April against Qatar, he became the third man to hit six sixes in a single over in a T20 international.

But he has also shown himself to be a stellar fielder, pulling off sensational catches and spectacular run outs — and hopes to provide a performance to make his Himalayan nation proud.

“I will do my best to play a role to make the team victorious”, Airee told Nepal’s Kantipur Television earlier this month.

“I get motivated by the support I get from everyone,” he added.

“They call me by the name ‘tiger’ and that motivates me further. It makes me want to do as much as possible, to give my 110 percent.”

‘Among the finest’

Nepal head to the 20-nation World Cup sitting a lowly 17th in the ICC rankings, but Nepal’s chief selector Dipendra Chaudhary said Airee could make all the difference.

“His off-spin bowling is among the finest,” Chaudhary told AFP. “His fitness, work ethic, and team spirit stand out.”

“I believe when we look back he will be counted as one of Nepal’s best players in history”, Chaudhary added.

“He is very talented and hardworking. He began his career as a medium-paced bowler before transitioning into a batsman and now serving as an all-rounder.”

Airee said he was “very happy” to be going to the World Cup, recalling how he watched the last tournament from Nepal on a giant screen projected in a market.

“When we qualified, I was crying from the bottom of my heart,” he told Kantipur in an interview.

‘Remarkably gifted’

Humble and media-shy, Airee first played in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup.

“He was raw but remarkably gifted: he was noticed by the system at a young age,” Chaudhary said, adding that the policeman has a natural “shy demeanour”. 

“He is extremely humble and speaks very little,” he said. “He is very ethical in his work and spends most of his time on the ground.”

The T20 World Cup begins Saturday, co-hosted by the United States and West Indies, with Nepal’s first game on June 4 in Dallas.

“We have prepared enough for the World Cup, but frankly other teams are better than us,” Chaudhary said. “But it is a game, and we hope for good games and a good performance.”

Nepal’s preparation had been overshadowed by a push to include controversial star Sandeep Lamichhane in the squad, after the ex-skipper and spin bowler was denied a US visa.

Lamichhane, 23, was once the poster boy for cricket in Nepal, but was not included in the original squad because he was convicted of raping a young woman in a Kathmandu hotel in 2022.

His eight-year sentence for rape was quashed on appeal this month.

Nepal will play their first two group games in the United States followed by two in the West Indies.

“More than a win or loss, we are preparing for the teams to play good cricket,” Chaudhary added.

“In the future, that will help us have big nations come and play on our turf or invite us. That will be the biggest win.”

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