Barrow Converts Late Penalty To Snatch Draw For Gambia


Mali’s forward Ibrahima Kone (2L) celebrates with teammates and supporters after scoring a goal during the Group F Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Gambia and Mali at Limbe Omnisport Stadium in Limbe on January 16, 2022. Issouf SANOGO / AFP

 

Musa Barrow converted a 90th-minute penalty for Gambia to snatch a 1-1 draw against Mali with the matchday 2 result set to take both teams through to the second round of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Mali went ahead after 79 minutes in Limbe when Ibrahima Kone scored from another penalty, both of which were awarded after the Moroccan referee watched replays on a VAR monitor.

The draw keeps Gambia and Mali level at the top of Group F with four points each. Pointless sides Tunisia and Mauritania meet later on Sunday and a win for either country will bring them into contention.

READ ALSO: Ghana’s Tetteh Banned Three Games For Throwing Punch

Group winners and runners-up after three matchdays qualify for the round of 16 along with the best four third-placed sides.

“I am thrilled with our results so far. We have beaten Mauritania and drawn with Mali, a team 97 places above us in the world rankings,” said Belgium-born Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet.

“This Gambian team is packed with talented players and one of them, Musa Barrow, showed great calmness to score from the penalty.”

Debutants Gambia are the lowest-ranked of the 24 teams in Cameroon and needed a penalty shootout victory over Djibouti to book a place in the group phase of qualifying.

Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma, who came off the bench in a matchday 1 win over Tunisia, was promoted to the starting line-up by Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba.

The other Premier League player in the Mali team, Southampton winger Moussa Djenepo, retained his place as the West African nation sought a ninth win in 19 matches in all competitions against the Gambia.

 Slow Pace


Mali’s midfielder Moussa Djenepo (L) heads the ball with Gambia’s midfielder, Ebou Adams, during the Group F Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Gambia and Mali at Limbe Omnisport Stadium in Limbe on January 16, 2022. Issouf SANOGO / AFP

 

In 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) early afternoon heat and 75 percent humidity at the 20,000-seat Stade Omnisport it was no surprise that the match began at a slow pace.

Mali were more impressive in the early exchanges with Bissouma firing a free-kick wide and Djenepo having a header saved by Modou Jobe, who plays in the South African second division.

After being on the back foot for 20 minutes, Gambia were awarded a 35-metre free-kick and Musa Barrow unleashed a thunderbolt that rattled the crossbar.

After two cooling breaks within eight minutes to enable the players to drink water, the woodwork came to the rescue of Mali again.

This time Ablie Jallow was the unlucky Gambian as his angled shot rebounded off a post to the relief of Mali goalkeeper Ibrahim Mounkoro.

Djenepo was harshly yellow-carded by the Moroccan referee as half-time approached, ruling him out of the final group match against Mauritania on Thursday as he was also cautioned against Tunisia.

After a slow start to the second half, the match burst into life with Mali having three scoring opportunities in quick succession and Gambia one.

Bissouma fired just over, Adama ‘Malouda’ Traore narrowly lost a chase for the ball with Jobe, who then blocked with his chest a close-range attempt by Traore.

A Gambian counterattack threatened to break the deadlock until they were dispossessed on the edge of the Mali box.

Then came the two penalties with Kone and Barrow holding their nerve to send the goalkeepers the wrong way.

AFP

Christian Chukwu: Unlike Rohr, Eguaveon Brought Out Eagles’ Attacking Flair

 Austin Eguaveon
File photo of Austin Eguaveon. Credit: [email protected]_Supereagles

 

Super Eagles legend, Christian Chukwu, has hailed Austine Eguaveon for his handling of the team, saying the Nigerian side have been transformed since he took over from long-time coach, Gernot Rohr.

The former international said this during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunday Sports.

“Based on what I have seen, I give thanks to Eguaveon. He has turned around the team. We are now playing as Nigerian Super Eagles. And if they continue this way, we are to win the cup at the end of the day,” Chukwu, a former coach of the team, added.

“You can see attacking force in the team, unlike when Rohr was there. Our game has changed completely and if they continue like this, I can assure you we will get to the final and, if possible, lift the cup.”

READ ALSO: Nigeria Put Three Past Sudan To Qualify For Round Of 16

Chukwu also accused the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) of undervaluing local coaches, insisting that foreign managers cannot do better than their indigenous counterparts.

“I can assure you that the present Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) does not believe in Nigerian coaches,” he noted.

“Nigerian coaches can perform even better than foreign coaches but our federation doesn’t have respect for the Nigerian coaches,” the former defender said.

Chukwu joins fans and pundits who maintain that the Super Eagles need a local handler, citing the fact that all World Cup-winning teams were handled by their nationals.

Eguavoen, who led the Nigerian side to a bronze medal finish at the 2006 edition of the continental showpiece, was appointed as the team’s interim boss in November following the dismissal of Rohr.

The NFF had in a statement said the German coach was sacked to avoid a “disaster,” adding that the former Niger Republic coach lost the dressing room.

But weeks after the move, the football body also appointed Jose Peseiro who is expected to take over once the AFCON finishes.

Present NFF Does Not Believe In Nigerian Coaches, Says Christian Chukwu

Ex-Coach of the Super Eagles, Mr Christian Chukwu. Credit: NFF

 

Super Eagles legend, Christian Chukwu, believes the present leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) does not value indigenous coaches.

Chukwu said this on Sunday, hours after the Super Eagles, led by a former international, Austine Eguavoen – appointed on an interim basis to replace long-time coach, Gernot Rohr – booked their spot at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) round of 16.

“I can assure you that the present Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) does not believe in Nigerian coaches,” the former player fondly called “The Chairman,” told Channels Television’s Sunday Sports.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Put Three Past Sudan To Qualify For Round Of 16

‘Our Game Has Changed’

Super Eagles Of Nigeria
(Top L-R) Nigeria’s goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, forward Taiwo Awoniyi, defender Kenneth Omeruo, midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, midfielder Joe Aribo, defender William Troost-Ekong, (bottom L-R) forward Kelechi Iheanacho, defender Ola Aina, defender Zaidu Sanusi, forward Moses Simon and forward Samuel Chukwueze pose prior to the Group D Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 football match between Nigeria and Egypt at Stade Roumde Adjia in Garoua on January 11, 2022. Daniel BELOUMOU OLOMO / AFP

 

Chukwu joins fans and pundits who maintain that the Super Eagles need a local handler, citing the fact that all World Cup-winning teams were handled by their nationals.

Using Eguavoen as a reference point, the 1980 AFCON winner praised the former defender for turning around the Super Eagles fortunes with their display so far in Cameroon.

“I am happy with what Eguavoen is doing now. Within a short period, Eguaveon was given the job, you can see how he has turned the team around. Nigerian coaches can perform even better than foreign coaches but our federation doesn’t have respect for the Nigerian coaches,” he noted.

Eguavoen is a former Nigerian defender.

 

He said the team is now playing as “Nigerian Eagles” and sees the side going all the way to winning the competition.

“Based on what I have seen, I give thanks to Eguavoen. He has turned around the team. We are now playing as Nigerian Super Eagles. And if they continue this way, we are to win the cup at the end of the day,” Chukwu, a former coach of the team, added.

“You can see attacking force in the team, unlike when Rohr was there. Our game has changed completely and if they continue like this, I can assure you we will get to the final and, if possible, lift the cup.”

Everton Sack Benitez After 200 Days 

File photo of Rafa Benitez

 

Rafael Benitez was sacked as Everton manager on Sunday after just 200 days in charge of the struggling Premier League club.

Benitez was an unpopular appointment in June last year after his long spell with Everton’s Merseyside rivals Liverpool.

The Spaniard paid the price for a dismal run of nine defeats in Everton’s last 13 league matches, culminating in a 2-1 loss at lowly Norwich on Saturday.

“Everton Football Club can confirm the departure of Rafael Benitez as first-team manager,” a club statement said.

“Benitez, who joined Everton in June 2021, has left the club with immediate effect.

“An update on a permanent replacement will be made in due course.”

READ ALSOSuper-Sub Coutinho Caps Villa Revival To Frustrate Man Utd

Former Everton forward Wayne Rooney, currently impressing as manager of second-tier Derby, is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Benitez.

Rooney is a boyhood Everton fan who had two spells at the club as a player either side of his successful time at Manchester United.

He has kept Derby competitive in the Championship despite dealing with a pair of points deductions and the club’s descent in administration.

Rooney’s former Everton team-mate Frank Lampard, sacked by Chelsea last year, is another contender for the job.

Brighton boss Graham Potter and Paulo Fonseca, whose last job was with Roma, could also be in the running.

Under Benitez, Everton earned just 19 points in 19 league matches, their lowest tally at the halfway stage of a season since 2005-06.

Everton fans had made clear their desire for Benitez to be axed during the limp loss at Norwich.

They chanted for his dismissal and held up a banner reading ‘Benitez get out of our club’, while one supporter invaded the pitch in an attempt to confront the former Real Madrid boss.

Everton held an emergency board meeting on Saturday evening to discuss Benitez’s future, with the talks leading to his departure on Sunday.

Benitez’s controversial appointment to replace Carlo Ancelotti after the Italian’s move to Real Madrid was a major gamble by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri.

Benitez had infuriated Everton fans by describing them as a “small” club during his time at Liverpool, who he led to a Champions League final triumph against AC Milan in 2005.

Merseyside police investigated a threatening banner near Benitez’s house which read: ‘We know where you live, don’t sign’ before his appointment.

Last month, Moshiri stood by Benitez, claiming the 61-year-old would be given time to get things right with new signings and injured players coming back.

But Everton’s results have shown no signs of improving and, with the mood among the fans increasingly toxic, it was clear Benitez would have to go.

Across Stanley Park, Liverpool fans celebrated their rivals’ latest woes by chanting Benitez’s name when news of his sacking reached Anfield during Liverpool’s match against Brentford.

Benitez leaves Goodison Park with Everton languishing in 16th place, just six points above the relegation zone.

AFP

Mali Ex-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita Is Dead

In this file photo taken on June 30, 2020 Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a photo during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2020, Mali ex-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a photo during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

Mali’s former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who led the West African country from 2013 until he was ousted in a coup in 2020, died at the age of 76 in the capital Bamako on Sunday, his family said.

“President IBK died this morning at 0900 GMT in his home” in Bamako, a family member told AFP using the ex-leader’s initials, with several other family members confirming his passing.

The cause of Keita’s death was not given.

READ ALSO: Burkina Revolutionary Leader Sankara ‘Shot Seven Times’

Keita was two years into his second five-year term when he was toppled by the military in 2020.

In the weeks before the coup, he had been struggling with protests fuelled by his handling of a jihadist insurgency and failure to turn around Mali’s floundering economy.

Keita was forced out of office on August 18, 2020, by young military officers who staged an uprising at a base near Bamako before heading into the city, where they seized Keita and other leaders.

Under pressure from the West African bloc ECOWAS, the junta that emerged from the rebellion released Keita on August 27 and returned him to his residence in Bamako, under surveillance.

He suffered a mini-stroke the following month and was sent to the United Arab Emirates for treatment.

The ruling junta would stage another coup in May 2021.

ECOWAS this month agreed to sanction Mali after the junta proposed it would to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections — despite international demands that it respect a promise to hold the vote in February.

AFP

‘I Missed The Premier League,’ Says Coutinho After Dream Villa Debut

Aston Villa's Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho (L) scores their second goal past Manchester United's Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Manchester Utd at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England on January 15, 2022. Lindsey Parnaby / AFP
Aston Villa’s Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho (L) scores their second goal past Manchester United’s Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Manchester Utd at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England on January 15, 2022. Lindsey Parnaby / AFP

 

Philippe Coutinho admitted he was happy to be back in the Premier League after the Aston Villa forward marked his debut with a late equaliser in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Manchester United.

Steven Gerrard’s side were trailing by two goals in the closing stages at Villa Park before Coutinho worked his magic just days after arriving on loan from Barcelona.

Stepping off the bench in the 68th minute, Coutinho set up Jacob Ramsey’s 77th-minute goal with a deft pass.

Five minutes later, the Brazilian latched onto Ramsey’s low cross with a cool finish from close-range to cap Villa’s fightback.

It was the perfect way for Coutinho to celebrate a welcome return to the English top-flight four years after leaving Liverpool to join Barca.

READ ALSO: Super-Sub Coutinho Caps Villa Revival To Frustrate Man Utd

“I missed these games and the Premier League. I’m very happy to be here with my new teammates,” Coutinho told Sky Sports.

“It was a good start, we kept believing until the end, but we didn’t lose.”

Asked if he was nervous before making his Villa debut, Coutinho said: “Yes, a little bit, I don’t speak English very well, I prefer to be on the pitch than talking all the time.

“I’m happy, it was the first game and I want to work hard to improve and be in better shape.”

Coutinho has endured a difficult time at Barca and spent 2019-20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

Villa boss Gerrard played with Coutinho at Liverpool and is convinced he can reignite the Brazil star’s career.

Coutinho was among the world’s best players when he left Liverpool, but he does not want to dwell on the reasons for his slump in Spain.

“There have been many ups and downs. It is in the past,” Coutinho said.

“I’m here and I’m focused on the objectives of the club and the manager and I want to do a good job to help my teammates and the club.”

AFP

Covax Delivers One Billionth COVID-19 Vaccine Dose

In this file photo, a healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a person at a drive-thru site in Tropical Park on December 16, 2021, in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

 

The Covax scheme aimed at equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines hit a “key milestone” Saturday when it delivered its one billionth dose, one of its key backers said.

The Covax facility was set up in 2020 by the World Health Organization, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to ensure that poorer countries can access the vaccines needed to battle the pandemic.

“Covax has delivered its first billionth dose of Covid-19 vaccines to 144 countries & territories across the world,” Gavi chief executive Seth Berkley tweeted.

“It’s a key milestone in the largest and most rapid global vaccine rollout in history.”

READ ALSO: India Begins Booster Campaign As Omicron Cases Soar

Berkley said that when the plane carrying the shipment with the one billionth dose had touched down in Kigali, Rwanda Saturday evening, “I felt proud but also humbled knowing how far we have to go to protect everyone and solve vaccine inequity”.

Covax hit the one-billionth mark less than a year after delivering its first vaccine dose late last February — to Ghana.

All countries have been permitted to order doses through the mechanism, but lower-income countries have received the jabs free of charge.

Berkley said in a statement Saturday that he was “proud that nearly 90 percent of the first billion doses Covax has delivered have been full-funded doses sent to the low and lower-middle countries”.

Omicron Could ‘Unravel’ Progress 

But while reaching that one-billion milestone is impressive, Covax has fallen far short of its initial objective of delivering two billion doses by the end of 2021.

That is because it has been forced to compete with rich countries willing to pay a high price and hoarding doses.

In a speech on Thursday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that while more than 9.4 billion vaccine doses had been administered around the world, more than 85 percent of people in Africa have yet to receive a single dose.

Health experts warn that allowing Covid to spread unabated in some places dramatically increases the chance of new, more dangerous variants emerging.

WHO said late last month that nearly half of its 194 member states had missed its target of vaccinating 40 percent of their population by the end of 2021.

It has called for a redoubling of efforts to ensure all countries manage to hit its second target, of vaccinating 70 percent of their populations, by mid-2022.

But experts warn that the current imbalance risks deepening further as many countries now rush to roll out additional doses to respond to the fast-spreading coronavirus variant Omicron.

“We cannot afford to let Omicron and the increased demand for boosters unravel the progress we’ve made,” Berkley tweeted, urging the world to “work together to #breakCovid now”.

“If the world unites to ensure adults in lower-income countries are immunised at levels achieved in high-income countries,” he said, “between 940,000 and 1.27 million deaths could be prevented in the next year.”

AFP

Taliban Pepper Spray Women Protesters

File photo: Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint on a street in Kabul on December 17, 2021. Mohd RASFAN / AFP

 

Taliban forces on Sunday fired pepper spray at a group of women protesters in Afghanistan’s capital demanding rights to work and education, three demonstrators told AFP.

Since seizing control of the country by force in August, the Taliban authorities have imposed creeping restrictions on Afghans, especially on women.

Around 20 women gathered in front of Kabul University, chanting “equality and justice” and carried banners that read “Women’s rights, human rights”, an AFP correspondent reported.

READ ALSO: Taliban Release First Budget Since Afghan Takeover

The protest however was later dispersed by the Taliban fighters who arrived at the scene in several vehicles, three women protesters told AFP.

“When we were near Kabul University three Taliban vehicles came, and fighters from one of the vehicles used pepper spray on us,” said a protester, who asked not to be named for security reasons.

“My right eye started to burn. I told one of them ‘shame on you’, and then he pointed his gun at me.”

Two other protesters said that one of the women had to be taken to hospital after the spray caused an allergic reaction to her eyes and face.

An AFP correspondent saw a fighter confiscate a mobile phone of a man who was filming the demonstration.

The hardline Islamist group have banned unsanctioned protests and frequently intervened to forcefully break up rallies demanding rights for women.

The Taliban authorities have blocked women public sector employees from returning to work, many secondary schools have still not reopened for girls, and public universities are shut.

Long-distance trips for women who are not accompanied by a close male relative have been banned.

The authorities have also issued guidelines that prevent television channels from broadcasting serials featuring women actors.

Meanwhile, many women are living in hiding, fearful of a regime notorious for human rights abuses during their first stint in power between 1996-2001, before being ousted by a US-led invasion.

AFP

Djokovic: Australia ‘Humiliated Themselves’ With Court Ruling, Says Serbian President

File photo: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. MARTIN KEEP / AFP

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic lashed out at Australian authorities Sunday morning, hours after a federal court paved the way for the deportation of Novak Djokovic on the eve of the Australian Open over his vaccine status. 

“They think that they have by this, this mistreatment of ten days humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves. Djokovic can return to his country with his head held high,” Vucic told a state media outlet.

Vucic has remained steadfast in his support for Djokovic throughout the drama, calling the earlier detention of the unvaccinated tennis star a “political witch hunt”.

“I spoke earlier to Novak Djokovic after the decision and I encouraged him. We look forward to seeing him return to his country, where he is always welcome,” the president added.

READ ALSO[Djokovic] Australian Open More Important Than Any Player, Says Nadal

Earlier in Australia, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the federal court’s ruling that upheld the government’s right to rip up his visa over fears he is stoking anti-vaccine sentiment and dashed his dream of a record 21st Grand Slam

In Serbia, the ruling stoked outrage among Djokovic’s fans.

“It’s a farce … All this has nothing to do with the sport,” Nebojsa Viskovic, a journalist covering notably tennis, told AFP.

“All the criticism about whether he was vaccinated or not doesn’t hold water.”

Many other Serbs echoed the view.

“The decision is not a surprise but is still shameful,” said Jadranka Misic, a 29-year-old sociologist from Belgrade.

For tennis fan Milovan Jankovic, Australia and the tournament itself had secured little more than a Pyrrhic victory.

“It’s going to be ridiculous to hold the tournament without the defending champion and nine-time winner.

“If I were Djokovic I would never set foot in Australia again,” the 57-year-old salesman added.

An “extremely disappointed” Djokovic said he would comply with the unanimous ruling.

AFP

2023: Nigeria Needs The Best To Lead, Says Makinde

Makinde said Tinubu stood for politics without bitterness.

 

Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State believes the country deserves to be led by its best hands as the nation inches closer to the 2023 general elections.

He made the comment on Saturday when a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, paid him a condolence visit over the deaths of the Soun of Ogbomoso, Jimoh Oyewumi; the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Saliu Adetunji and a former governor of Oyo, Christopher Alao-Akala.

“Let me also use this opportunity to wish you well in your political quest to govern this nation,” Makinde noted during the visit. “We want the best for this country and only the best is good enough at this particular time.”

“I want to welcome you to Oyo State. We are really grateful for this visit. This is the year political parties will elect their candidates towards the election that is coming next year. So, what this had demonstrated to us is, you stood for politics without bitterness.”

READ ALSO: Tinubu Donates N50m To Victims Of Gusau Attack

The Oyo leader also thanked the former Lagos State governor for the visit.

Makinde expressed delight over Tinubu’s visit even though the move might be misinterpreted especially in view of the political season.

“We may fight, struggle for political positions but we know power can only come from God and He gives it to whomever He will like to give it to at whatever time,” he added.

“We really thank you for this visit and want to let you know that we have taken proper notice that you have risen above politics and all that is going around here to come and share with us at this moment that we are grieving. We say thank you.”

‘We Will Leave One Day’

Tinubu is full of praises for Makinde.

 

Earlier, the former governor had commended Makinde for his leadership qualities, explaining that the loss of these prominent Oyo indigenes is a reminder that “we are just passing through and we will leave one day. But no matter how long, it is difficult to absorb the loss easily.”

“With this situation, we share in your loss. You, as the governor on the saddle of power, take responsibility for the situation here,” he was quoted as saying in a statement by Taiwo Adisa, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Makinde.

“I want to say that we thank God Ibadan has been peaceful and not a den of violence but peaceful.”

‘Disappointed’ Djokovic Deported From Australia 

File photo: Serbia’s Novak Djokovic leaves the court after being defeated by Germany’s Alexander Zverev in their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s singles semifinal tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 30, 2021. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia Sunday having lost a sensational legal battle over his coronavirus vaccination status and with his dream of clinching a record 21st Grand Slam in tatters.

An “extremely disappointed” Djokovic said he would comply with a unanimous Federal Court decision to uphold his visa cancellation over fears he could stoke anti-vaccine sentiment.

“I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” he said on the eve of a tournament that he has dominated for a decade.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.”

An AFP reporter captured images of Djokovic at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport late Sunday, as the humbled star boarded a flight for Dubai.

EK409 took off at 10:51 pm local time (1151 GMT).

Just hours earlier, in a few dry words, the chief justice of Australia’s Federal Court, James Allsop, dispensed with the unvaccinated tennis superstar’s attempt to reinstate his cancelled visa and to make tennis history.

“The orders of the court are that the amended application be dismissed with costs,” Allsop said in understated remarks that ended a week of legal high drama.

Three Federal Court justices had listened to half a day of feisty legal back-and-forth about Djokovic’s alleged risk to public order in Australia.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke claimed Djokovic’s stance could inspire anti-vaccine sentiment, leading some people to face the pandemic without vaccination and inspiring anti-vaxxer activists to gather in protests and rallies.

Hawke welcomed Sunday’s verdict, saying: “Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic.”

“(They) are also fundamental to safeguarding Australia’s social cohesion,” he said.

The player’s high-powered legal team tried but failed to paint Australia’s effort to deport him as “irrational” and “unreasonable”.

Despite the star being unvaccinated, lawyer Nick Wood insisted his client had not courted anti-vaxxer support and was not associated with the movement.

The government “doesn’t know what Mr Djokovic’s current views are”, Wood insisted.

The court did not endorse the government’s decision but ruled the action was legal under rules that give the minister exceptional and almost unquestionable executive power.

Anti-Vaccination ‘Icon’ 

Novak Djokovic was denied aces to participate in the Australian Open despite ab exemption from two panels of medical experts
In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends an open-air press conference in Belgrade.  (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

The Australian Open defending champion and first seed had been scheduled to play against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday evening.

But Djokovic has spent much of the last week in immigration detention, with his visa twice being revoked by the government over his refusal to get a Covid-19 vaccine before arrival — a requirement for most visitors.

Government lawyer Stephen Lloyd said the fact Djokovic was not vaccinated two years into the pandemic and had repeatedly ignored safety measures — including failing to isolate while Covid-19 positive — was evidence enough of his anti-vaccine views.

“He has now become an icon for the anti-vaccination groups,” Lloyd said. “Rightly or wrongly he is perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view and his presence here is seen to contribute to that.”

In a written submission the government also pointed out that Djokovic chose not to give evidence at the hearing.

“He could set the record straight if it needed correcting. He has not — that has important consequences.”

Because of the format of the court, the justices’ decision would have been almost impossible to appeal.

Scott Morrison’s government had tried and failed to remove Djokovic once before — on the grounds he was unvaccinated and that a recent Covid infection was not sufficient for a medical exemption.

A lower circuit court judge ruled that officials at Melbourne airport made procedural errors when cancelling his visa.

For a few days, Djokovic was free to train — before a second visa revocation and a return to a notorious Melbourne immigration detention facility.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic lashed out at Australian authorities.

“They think that they have by this, this mistreatment of 10 days, humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves. Djokovic can return to his country with his head held high,” Vucic told a state media outlet.

Vucic has remained steadfast in his support for Djokovic throughout the drama, calling the earlier detention of the tennis star a “political witch hunt”.

“I spoke earlier to Novak Djokovic after the decision and I encouraged him. We look forward to seeing him return to his country, where he is always welcome,” the president added.

‘With Or Without Him’ 

Many Australians — who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions — believe the player gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements.

The case has been seized on by culture warriors in the roiling debate over vaccines and how to handle the pandemic.

The tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December — allowing for the medical exemption — and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling and a youth tennis event, and granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his latest infection was confirmed.

Djokovic is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.

Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.

“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.

“The Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”

AFP 

Martial Denies Rangnick Claim Over Refusal To Be In United Squad

File photo: Manchester United’s French striker Anthony Martial (L) and Everton’s English midfielder Tom Davies vie to header the ball during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park in Manchester United, north west England on March 1, 2020. Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

Anthony Martial contradicted Manchester United interim manager Ralf Rangnick’s claim he refused to be in the squad for Saturday’s match with Aston Villa saying he would “never disrespect the club and the fans.”

Rangnick was forced to leave one place on the substitutes bench unfilled for the 2-2 draw after he said Martial opted not to make the trip to Birmingham.

“Yes, he (Martial) didn’t want to be in the squad,” Rangnick told reporters after the match.

The 26-year-old France international striker is keen to leave the club his agent said last week and has been linked to a loan move to La Liga side Sevilla.

However, Martial insisted Rangnick was wrong to say he declined to travel to the match as part of the squad.

READ ALSO: Super-Sub Coutinho Caps Villa Revival To Frustrate Man Utd

“I will never refuse to play a match for Man Utd,” he posted on his Instagram account.

“I’ve been here for seven years and I never disrespected and will never disrespect the club and the fans.”

Martial has not played for United since the 3-2 win over Arsenal on December 2 — the final game before Rangnick officially took charge at Old Trafford.

He has started only two Premier League games this season and has scored just once.

Martial joined United in 2015 from Monaco but has struggled to hold down a regular first-team place in recent seasons.

He has fallen down the pecking order at United, who have an array of attacking talent to choose from, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Mason Greenwood.

He is under contract at United until 2024, with the club holding the option of an additional year.

AFP