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Greece orders top-flight clubs to play matches without fans for two months

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(Last Updated On: December 11, 2023)

Greece must play all its top league soccer matches without fans for the next two months following the severe injuring of a police officer in violence during a volleyball match in Athens last week, its government said on Monday.

All Super League 1 matches will be played behind closed doors until Feb. 12, 2024, government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis told a weekly briefing on Monday.

The volleyball match was between local teams Olympiacos and Panathinaikos who are both owned by the soccer sides of the same name.

Marinakis said the measure might also apply to some European fixtures at home and could be extended beyond Feb. 12, if top league soccer teams fail by that date to take action, such as installing cameras and systems of electronic identification for their fans at the stadiums.

The announcement followed the critical injuring of a 31-year-old police officer by a flare in violent clashes that broke out on Thursday, during a volleyball match hosted by Olympiacos in Piraeus.

In Greece, fights between football fans and clubs are frequent on and off the pitch before or after a game and the government has been trying to reform soccer.

More than 400 people had been briefly detained over Thursday’s incident which Greek police said was a “murderous attack” of hooligans on riot police, including the officer who remains in hospital in critical condition.

Evidence collected helped police track down a 18-year-old man who confessed to joining the group which attacked the police and to throwing the flare which injured the officer, a police official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The arrested man was expected to testify before a public prosecutor on Thursday, the semi-state Athens News Agency reported on Monday.

“For years, criminals in the guise of fans have been committing serious crimes by critically injuring and killing (people),” Marinakis said.

“Neither athletes, nor fans should they suffer from the murderous behaviour of criminal gangs and the pathetic tolerance of a tiny minority of fans,” he added.

Last August, AEK Athens fan Michalis Katsouris was stabbed to death in violent clashes before a Champions League match between AEK and Dinamo Zagreb.

Following another incident, the death of a 19-year-old fan, Alkis Kampanos, in rival clashes in the northern city of Thessaloniki last year, Greece tightened rules over soccer clubs, imposed heavier penalties and increased police controls.

International Sports

Egyptian Super Cup semi-final settled after 34 penalty kicks

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(Last Updated On: December 26, 2023)

It took 34 penalty kicks before Modern Future finally beat Pyramids 14-13 in a nerve-shredding shootout in the Egyptian Super Cup semi-final on Monday after the contest had ended in a 0-0 draw.

Modern Future, who will face either Al Ahly or Ceramica Cleopatra in the final, squandered three spot kicks while Pyramids lost the match after missing a fourth penalty kick at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Reuters reported.

Pyramids defender Osama Galal wasted two penalty shots, including the decisive one that sealed victory for Future.

Even though at times it felt that the shootout was never ending, it was well short of the 54 penalties taken when Washington FC beat Bedlington Terriers 25-24 in a local cup match in England last year.

A 2005 Namibian Cup match between KK Palace and Civics featured 48 penalties.

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International Sports

India surprised by Wanderers wicket in big win over South Africa

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(Last Updated On: December 18, 2023)

India were surprised how helpful the Wanderers pitch was for their seamers in their eight-wicket victory in the first One-Day International against South Africa on Sunday, as captain KL Rahul said he thought it was his spinners who would win the day.

India bowled their hosts out for 116, a record low score for South Africa on home soil, and then easily chased down the runs with exactly 200 balls to spare.

The tourists won the final Twenty20 International on the same wicket on Thursday, and Rahul says he believed it would be a game for his spinners, Reuters reported.

Instead seamers Arshdeep Singh (5-37) and Avesh Khan (4-27) both recorded career-best figures.

“It was completely different to what we expected,” Rahul said at the post-match presentation. “We had planned to bring the spinners into the game early after what we saw in the T20 match.

“But there was a lot of help in the wicket and the boys did really well to put the ball into the right areas.

“It is my first ODI win here (South Africa) as a captain. When I was here last time (January 2022) we lost all three, so it is good to get that victory under your belt.”

Both sides have rested players ahead of a two-match Test series starting on Dec. 26. There were several new faces in the Indian team, including debutant opening batter Sai Sudharsan, who took his chance with an unbeaten 55 from 43 balls.

“There is a lot of cricket being played these days. You have to prioritise formats and at the moment it is Test cricket and T20s a little bit,” Rahul said.

“That is the modern-day game, but we believe whoever is here will perform for their country.”

South Africa never got going in the game with bat or ball and have much to think about ahead of the second match in the three-game series in Gqeberha on Tuesday.

“Credit to their bowling attack with the lateral movement,” home captain Aiden Markram said. “We weren’t able to settle and build partnerships. It was a problem right from the start and we couldn’t pull things back.

“We expected it to go around (seam) a little bit. Generally in the day games it does do something for five to seven overs. But today it went on for longer and we couldn’t get in.”

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Formula One world champion says he and Red Bull can still do better

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(Last Updated On: December 10, 2023)

Max Verstappen and Red Bull have just finished Formula One’s most dominant season but the triple world champion said on Friday they could still improve.

Runaway champions Red Bull won 21 of 22 races in 2023 while their Dutch 26-year-old took a record 19 victories — including an unprecedented 10 in a row — and set a string of other firsts, Reuters reported.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the FIA prize giving gala in Baku, Verstappen said it had been a really enjoyable season and looked forward to keeping the momentum going in 2024 and reaching new milestones.

“Realistically of course it can’t be much better than what we have achieved but I think it’s not always about trying to win 20 (races),” he added.

“It’s also about just trying to find improvements within yourself, within the car, and if that means we have improved the car and can fight for the championship again but only win 10 races, that’s also fine.

“There are always things that we can do better, we know that,” he added.

“Of course the car has been very, very dominant but we’ve also seen a few things that we can do better and that’s what we are of course working on for next year.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said the team were always in pursuit of perfection but expected rivals to be closer next season.

“I doubt we will be able to achieve again, statistically, what we’ve done this year,” said the Briton, who hailed Verstappen’s consistency in an astonishing year.

“You’re always learning in this business.” said Horner. “We know the field will converge, we’ve seen that at different points during the course of the past year.

“We have to improve, we have to keep evolving.”

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