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Kubo comes of age as playmaker leads Japan into quarters
30 July 2021, 7:44 PM

With crucial goals in each of Japan’s three group games, Takefusa Kubo is delivering on his potential, as the Olympic Games hosts step up their chase for a place on the podium for the first time in over half a century.

Just as he had done in group phase wins over South Africa and Mexico, the 20-year-old opened the scoring for Japan in Wednesday’s 4-0 victory over France to set up a quarter-final meeting with New Zealand on Saturday.

For a player whose precocious talent has been discussed and debated since he moved to Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy as a 10-year-old, the Tokyo Olympics is proving to be a coming-of-age moment for the Real Madrid playmaker.

“The quality of Kubo is something that special players can bring, something more, like the high level players do, like Lionel Messi, like Neymar, like Kylian Mbappe,” former Japan coach Philippe Troussier said.

“He has the quality to make a difference individually. He’s a quick player who can make good assists, can score goals. He’s so interesting. He has this individual quality to make the difference.”

But before Japan embarked upon their quest for a first Olympic medal since winning bronze in 1968, Kubo’s talents had yet to be put on regular display despite all his promise.

He left Barcelona’s academy to return to Japan, becoming the youngest player in the J-League’s history when he turned out for FC Tokyo at 15 years and five months.

After a short spell on loan at Yokohama F Marinos, Kubo returned to Spain, but not to Barcelona as had been expected as Real Madrid swooped to take him to the capital.

Life on Real’s books, though, has not been smooth. Kubo has been loaned out three times in the last two seasons, to Real Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe with varying degrees of success.

Despite those issues, he has become a mainstay of Japan’s Olympic team while also making his senior team debut and his performances in the group phase have highlighted his qualities, both individually and as part of the collective.

“I don’t think much of it. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Kubo said after scoring against the French.

“Whether it’s me or anyone else on the team, I’m happy when we score. It’s good I’ve been able to help the team, but I’m only a spoke on the wheel, a cog in a ladder of the team.”

US women advance to semis with shootout win over Netherlands
30 July 2021, 4:30 PM

The United States reached the Olympic women’s soccer semi-finals as Alyssa Naeher saved two Netherlands penalties in a 4-2 shootout win on Friday, while Australia stunned Britain.

After both teams were locked at 2-2 after the regulation 90 minutes and extra time, Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema and defender Aniek Nouwen had their spot kicks saved by Naeher.

Megan Rapinoe made it four out of four from the spot for the U.S. as the four-time gold medallists set up a semi-final clash with Canada.

Arsenal forward Miedema has been the player of the tournament so far and netted twice for the Dutch to become the first female player to score 10 goals at a single Olympic Games.

The Netherlands had the perfect opportunity to seal victory in the 81st minute when Kelley O’Hara gave away a penalty but Lieke Martens’ shot was saved by Naeher.

Canada needed goalkeeper heroics of their own to reach the semi-finals for the third consecutive Games as Stephanie Labbe stopped two Brazilian spot kicks en route a 4-3 shootout win.

After Canada captain Christine Sinclair’s penalty was saved by Barbara, Labbe rescued her side with two spectacular saves to keep out Brazil’s final two spot kicks from Andressa and Rafaelle.

Labbe, who made four crucial saves in a goalless 120 minutes at Miyagi Stadium, did well to stay on the field after falling hard at the end of the second half of extra time.

The Rosengard goalkeeper’s heroic efforts ensured Brazil were denied another crack at the gold medal, having claimed silver in 2004 and 2008.

Britain suffered heartbreak in extra time as a Sam Kerr double helped Australia to a 4-3 victory at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium after her first goal in the 89th minute had brought the scores level at 2-2 to force the extra period.

Ellen White netted a hat-trick for Britain to take her goalscoring tally to six for the tournament but her team mate Caroline Weir had her penalty saved by Teagan Micah in extra time, leaving the door open for a late surge from the Matildas.

Mary Fowler’s heavily deflected strike found the net in the 103rd minute to halt Britain’s momentum before Kerr headed in her second goal of the evening to seal victory.

The Matildas will next face Sweden, who maintained their perfect record in the tournament with a dominant 3-1 win over hosts Japan at the Saitama Stadium.

Goals from Magdalena Eriksson, Stina Blackstenius and Kosovare Asllani ensured Sweden’s bid to improve on their Rio 2016 silver medal remained intact.

Canada beat Brazil in shootout, Australia knock Britain out
30 July 2021, 3:45 PM

Canada reached the women’s soccer semi-finals for the third consecutive Olympic Games as goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe saved two Brazil penalties in a 4-3 shootout win on Friday, while Australia stunned Britain in extra time.

After Canada captain Christine Sinclair’s penalty was saved by Barbara, Labbe rescued her side with two diving saves to keep out Brazil’s final two spot kicks from Andressa and Rafaelle.

Labbe, who made four crucial saves in a goalless 120 minutes at Miyagi Stadium, did well to stay on the field after falling hard at the end of the second half of extra time.

The Rosengard goalkeeper’s heroic efforts ensured Brazil were denied another crack at the gold medal, having claimed silver in 2004 and 2008.

Canada, who took home bronze at the last two Olympics, will next face the winner of the quarter-final between the United States and the Netherlands.

Britain suffered heartbreak in extra time as a Sam Kerr double helped Australia to a 4-3 victory at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium after her first goal in the 89th minute had brought the scores level at 2-2 to force the extra period.

Ellen White netted a hat-trick for Britain to take her goalscoring tally to six for the tournament but her team mate Caroline Weir had her penalty saved by Teagan Micah in extra time, leaving the door open for a late surge from the Matildas.

Mary Fowler’s heavily deflected strike found the net in the 103rd minute to halt Britain’s momentum before Kerr headed in her second goal of the evening to seal victory.

The Matildas will next face Sweden, who maintained their perfect record in the tournament with a dominant 3-1 win over hosts Japan at the Saitama Stadium.

Goals from Magdalena Eriksson, Stina Blackstenius and Kosovare Asllani ensured Sweden’s bid to improve on their Rio 2016 silver medal remained intact.

Djokovic’s golden dream ends on day of upsets marred by doping slur
30 July 2021, 3:18 PM

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic had his dreams of tennis gold dashed on Friday while Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega felled the reigning world 10,000 metres champion, on a day of upsets that saw doping allegations surface at the swimming pool.

The Serbian was aiming to become the first man to complete the Golden Slam – Olympic gold and all four majors in the same year – but was undone by fifth-ranked German Alexander Zverev who came back strong after conceding the first set.

The two men embraced briefly at the net and Zverev appeared to sob into his towel.

In the first final of the athletics programme, Barega sprinted the last lap to leave Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, who also holds the 10,000m world record, trailing.

As viewer data suggested Tokyo 2020 has so far been less watched than other recent Games, the day was also marked by crashes on the BMX track, including one that saw 28-year-old American favourite Connor Fields rushed to hospital.

A sense of unease also spread through the Tokyo Aquatics Centre as American Ryan Murphy said his 200 metre backstroke final was “probably not clean” following the loss of a title he won in 2016 to the Russian Olympic Committee’s (ROC) Evgeny Rylov.

Murphy, who won three golds in Rio, however later backed away from any implication that his rivals had cheated.

Held in Tokyo without spectators and after a year’s delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been characterised by tumult and scandals from the get-go, and have yet to set the ratings alight for global broadcasters.

With China pulling ahead in the medal tally, with 18 gold to Japan’s 16 and 14 for the United States, data from the opening ceremony and the first few nights showed viewing figures across Europe and America were lower for these Games than other recent editions.

TV viewership is up in Australia and Japan, however.

COVID-19 infections have also risen, totalling 3,300 in Tokyo on Friday, after hitting a record 3,865 a day earlier, adding to the strain on the medical system.

The government broadened a state of emergency to four more prefectures and extended Tokyo’s until the end of August from Aug. 22.

‘THOUGHTS WOULD GET ME INTO TROUBLE’

Murphy, who won gold in the 100 metre and 200 metre Rio finals, surrendered both titles to Rylov in Tokyo.

“I’ve got 15 thoughts, 13 of them would get me into a lot of trouble,” he said when asked by a reporter if he had any doping concerns about his races, subsequently suggesting the 200m had been tainted.

More than half of the expected 5,000 doping tests at have already been conducted, the International Testing Agency said, with no information yet on any positive cases.

But Rylov said Murphy was entitled to his thoughts given that there had been scandals.

The World Anti-Doping Agency handed Russia a four-year ban from top sporting events in 2019, although those were later lessened by a sports arbitration court.

More than 300 Russian athletes are competing at the Tokyo Games as part of the ROC. While they are not allowed to compete under their own flag, they can wear their tri-colour uniforms.

In other swimming events, the medals were again spread between countries other than traditional powerhouses.

South African Tatjana Schoenmaker won the women’s 200 metre breaststroke in a world record time, while Wang Shun’s victory in the 200 metre medley was China’s first men’s swimming gold

BILES’ STRUGGLES

In gymnastics, Zhu Xueying led China to the top two podium positions in the women’s trampoline as Canada’s Rosie MacLennan was denied a golden hat-trick.

That sport has also been overshadowed by drama around U.S. star Simone Biles. On Friday, she spelled out her struggles to perform, days after pulling of competitions, but shed no clear light on whether she would take part in further events.

In fencing, the top four teams in the men’s team epee crashed out in the quarter-finals. One of the day’s biggest surprises, Japan, ranked eighth, defeated top-ranked France, who will miss out on a medal for the first time since 1992.

The final day of Olympic rowing delivered thrills when Greece’s Stefanos Ntouskos upset the favourites in the men’s single sculls and Canada ended U.S. dominance of the women’s eights. Four-time Olympian Emma Twigg, of New Zealand, ensured her country kept a grip on the sport with another gold in the women’s single sculls.

Athletics exploded into life with the women’s 100 metres round-one heats.

Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou roared across the finish line with a blistering 10.78 seconds at a hot and spectator-less Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Defending Olympic champion Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah ran 10.82 seconds while compatriot Shelly Anne Fraser-Pryce posted 10.84 seconds.

AMERICAN AWAKE AFTER CRASH

Reigning BMX champion Fields, who crashed heavily in the third run of his semi-final, was awake in hospital awaiting further checks to determine the extent of his injuries, an American team spokesperson said.

He was close to the front heading into the first steeply banked corner at the Ariake Urban Sports Park and appeared to tangle with another rider, crashing heavily.

The semi-finals were marred by other crashes after a 45-minute rain delay, although the course was dry and did not appear to be a factor.

“I don’t think that the track or the weather had anything to do with the crashes,” Dutch rider Merel Smulders, who took bronze in the women’s race after her sister Laura also crashed in the semi-finals, told Reuters.

“I feel like there were a lot more crashes in Rio. But there were some bad crashes today and no one wants to see that.”

SA records more than 500 COVID-19 deaths for the second day in a row
29 July 2021, 9:52 PM

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases says a further 523 people have died from COVID 19-related complications in South Africa in the latest 24-hour reporting period. This takes the death toll to 71 431.

A total of 13 751 new coronavirus cases have been reported in the country, putting the positivity rate at 24.6%.

The Western Cape has the highest increase of new cases at 3 968 followed by Gauteng with 3 655.

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Meanwhile, the mining sector has started an aggressive vaccination campaign to slow the spread of COVID-19.  

Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe and Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi visited the Sibanye Stillwater mine in North West to monitor the vaccination rollout campaign at mines.  

Mining is one of the industries declared as essential. It has also been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and recorded more than 40 000 cases to date, with 549 deaths. 

Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe says the vaccination of mine workers should long have been prioritised. 

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