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Japanese star Ohtani confirms move to LA Dodgers

COLUMBUS, United States — The Columbus Crew won their third Major League Soccer title after beating Los Angeles FC 2-1 in the MLS Cup final on Saturday (Sunday, Manila time.)

A penalty from Cucho Hernandez and goal from Yaw Yeboah gave the Crew a 2-0 lead at the interval before Denis Bouanga pulled a goal back for LAFC in the 74th minute.

In what may have been the final game before retirement for former Italy captain Giorg io Chiellini and possibly a last appearance for LAFC for Mexican star Carlos Vela, last year’s champions were convincingly beaten.

Columbus, coached by little-known Frenchman Wilfried Nancy, dominated the game for long stretches while Steve Cherundolo’s LAFC were unable to unleash their trademark counter-attacks.

Nancy, who won his first major title as a coach in his first season with Columbus, said his team had improved throughout the season.

“They have grown a lot as players, and as people. When we started, I told them ‘Guys, impossible is an opinion’– just enjoy it and we’re gonna grow. And this is what happened. This is unbelievable,” he said.

“We played our way. I’m so proud”.

After a frantic start, in front of a loud, capacity 20,802 home crowd, Columbus quickly settled into their possession game thanks to the calming influence of veteran midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who has now won the title with three diffe rent clubs.

French defender Steven Moreira had the first real opening, in the 16th minute, but his disappointing header from a pro mising position in the box was off target.

The Crew’s roaming Colombian striker Hernandez sent a reminder o f his goal threat with a shot from 20 yards out which flashed wide of the post.

Uruguayan attacking midfielder Diego Rossi was increasingly influential as he began to find spaces behind Hernandez and he went close in the 27th minute with a shot into the side-netting.

– Fortunate penalty –

The pressure on the Los Angeles defence was building but when the Crew broke through it was via a fortunate penalty award.

Yeboah crossed from the left, Rossi flicked the ball up in the air and it struck the shoulder of Diego Palacios and then his arm.

Referee Armando Villarreal had no hesitation pointing to the spot and Hernandez buried the penalty into the bottom corner to make it 1-0 in the 33rd minute.

Within four minutes the Crew doubled their lead with a goal of perfect simplicity.

Danish defender Malte Amundsen played a pinpoint defence-splitting pass to Yeboah who sped around the back of Ryan Hollingshead before poking home with the outside of his left-foot.

The Crew fans, many of whom had been chanting in the stadium over two hours before kick off, were ecstatic and LAFC, who had created next to nothing for the league’s top scorer Bouanga, looked shell-shocked.

There was some encouragement though for the constantly singing black-clad visiting Los Angeles supporters on the stroke of half-time when a low cross from Cristian Olivera was almost sliced into his own goal by Crew defender Rudy Carmacho.

Columbus continued to dominate after the break though with the livewire Yeboah, skipping past two defenders as he weaved into the box, chipping over the advancing Los Angeles keeper Max Crepeau only for Palacios to head off the line.

There were signs that Columbus were starting to tire a little heading into the final 20 minutes with mistakes creeping into their game and LAFC pushed forward with more urgency.

A burst of pace from Bouanga got him behind the defence but his low ball across the face of the goal went untouched.

Moments later the French-born Gabon international got his team back into the game — a right foot shot inside the box was parried by Patrick Schulte but Bouanga reacted swiftly and buried the loose ball.

But the Crew were not for crumbling, responding positively – Rossi scuffing a chance to make it 3-1 and substitute Christian Ramirez appealing in vain for a penalty after bursting into the box.

The Crew held firm in seven minutes of added time to set off a party as the Ohio crowd celebrated a third title following their triumphs in 2008 and 2020.

Chiellini said Columbus had deserved the victory.

“It was a beautiful journey, that we have to be proud of it. Of course, I am sad for the game, I don’t think they are better in general but they played much better tonight,” he said.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A UN climate summit in Dubai made progress Saturday but deep divides persisted, negotiators said, following a last-minute push by the OPEC oil cartel to block a phase-out of fossil fuels.

OPEC drew outrage from green-minded countries and activists when it joined Saudi Arabia and called on members to block an emerging declaration that would seek to wind down extraction of the oil, coal and gas which are fuelling the climate emergency.

But both the president of the COP28 summit, Sultan Al Jaber, and top oil importer China said they saw headway as talks go into a marathon phase before the scheduled close on Tuesday.

“The window is closing to close the gaps. We are making progress, but not fast enough and not satisfying enough,” Jaber said.

Jaber has drawn scepticism from environmentalists as he leads the UAE national oil company, but he has taken a more moderate stance than Saudi Arabia by saying cuts in fossil fuels are “inevitable”.

“Now is the time to put aside self-interest for the common interest,” Jaber told delegates in a Saturday night session, without publicly endorsing any option.

Jaber said he hopes to submit a package for review by Monday morning.

A third draft of a deal, released on Friday, offers various ways to phase out fossil fuels but also includes the option to avoid the issue entirely.

China said it was working to find a solution that was “acceptable to all parties”.

“I think we’ve already had some progress on this issue and I believe we will have more progress in resolving this very soon in the coming few days,” China’s climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua told reporters.

“Because if we do not, if we do not resolve this issue, I don’t see much chance in having a successful COP28,” he said.

Canadian climate minister Steven Guilbeault told AFP he was “confident” the final text would contain language on fossil fuels, which emit planet-heating greenhouse gases.

OPEC Secretary-General Haitham Al Ghais in a letter made public Friday urged the cartel’s 13 members and 10 allies to “proactively reject” any language that “targets” fossil fuels rather than emissions.

In a speech read in his name to the summit, Al Ghais said there was “no single solution” for sustainable energy.

“We need realistic approaches to tackle emissions, ones that enable economic growth, help eradicate poverty and increase resilience at the same time,” the speech said.

Teresa Ribera, the ecology transition minister of current European Union president Spain, said it was “quite a disgusting thing” for OPEC countries to be “pushing against getting the bar where it has to be”.

French Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said the OPEC statement left her “stunned” and “angry”.

“I want this COP to mark the beginning of the end of fossil fuels… It’s what science demands and what our kids deserve,” said EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra.

The planet has endured a string of record-breaking temperatures and intensifying storms and heatwaves, with efforts far off track on an ambition set at the 2015 Paris summit to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“1.5 is not negotiable, and that means an end to fossil fuels,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, which like many low-lying ocean nations fears its very survival as melting ice brings up water levels.

A negotiator from a country in favur of a fossil fuel exit said the Arab group of nations was the only one to take a strong position against a phase-out, although cracks were seen with Arab states that do not produce oil.

A person working for the summit president’s office played down objections by Saudi Arabia, saying it was normal for nations to push hard at the end.

“I don’t feel that we’re at that point where one is sticking their head above the parapet and being the troublemaker,” the person said on condition of anonymity.

Colombia, whose left-leaning government has aggressively promoted environmentalism, warned that COP28 was also failing on raising financing for countries to adapt to the effects of climate change.

If countries block “goals on adaptation but at the same time oppose the phase out fossil fuel, they need to be held accountable. And that accountability should be seen financially”, Colombian Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said.

Next year’s climate talks are likely to be held in another major producer of fossil fuels as Azerbaijan announced it had secured a consensus to host COP29.

Los Angeles, United States — Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani confirmed on Saturday (Sunday, Manila time) he is joining the Los Angeles Dodgers in a record-breaking 10-year, $700 million deal — the richest contract in baseball history.

The future of the 29-year-old Los Angeles Angels ace had been the subject of intense speculation since the two-way star entered free agency at the end of the season.

Ohtani eventually opted for the Dodgers after a frenzied battle for his signature which also included interest from the Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants.

“To all the fans and everyone involved in the baseball world, I apologize for taking so long to come to a decision,” Ohtani wrote on Instagram. 

“I have decided to choose the Dodgers as my next team.

“I pledge to always do what’s best for the team and always continue to give it my all to be the best version of myself. 

“Until the last day of my playing career, I want to continue to strive forward not only for the Dodgers but for the baseball world,” Ohtani added.

Ohtani’s agent Nez Balelo said in a statement the deal would be worth $700 million over 10 years, shattering the record for the biggest contract in baseball history. 

Balelo described Ohtani’s mammoth payday as a “unique historic contract, for a unique historic player.”

“Shohei is thrilled to be a part of the Dodgers organization,” Balelo said. “He is excited to begin this partnership.”

Ohtani has taken Major League Baseball by storm since landing in the league in 2018, with his almost unheard of combination of elite pitching and hitting prowess earning him comparisons to Babe Ruth.

Although his talents were not enough to help spark a revival in the Angels’ fortunes – the team failed to make the playoffs following his arrival – Ohtani nevertheless dazzled in a flagging franchise.

He has twice been named American League Most Valuable Player, in 2021 and 2023, on both occasions winning by unanimous vote – the only player in history to achieve that distinction.

Although elbow injuries have cut short his pitching appearances – he missed the final month of the 2023 campaign with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow – this season was his most successful to date.

As a designated hitter, Ohtani led the AL in home runs with 44, in on-base percentage (.412), slugging percentage (.654) and total bases (325).

He hit 26 doubles and eight triples with 20 stolen bases and 95 runs-batted-in. He hit over .300 for the first time in his six-year major league career.

In 23 pitching starts he went 10-5 with a 3.14 earned-run-average and 167 strikeouts in 132 innings.

He had the lowest batting average against (.184) among all AL pitchers with at least 130 innings.

It marked Ohtani’s second straight season with at least 10 wins on the mound and 10 home runs at the plate.

The only other player to accomplish that feat was New York Yankees legend Ruth back in 1918.

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