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Canada’s Men’s National Team takes day in Doha before World Cup

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DOHA, Qatar — A smiling Alphonso Davies landed in Doha on Friday, a late arrival after undergoing therapy for a hamstring strain back in Germany.

“Brotherhood fully reunited again,” Canada Soccer said in a social media post with a photo showing the Bayern Munich star giving a thumb’s up.

“This is amazing,” Davies said on a separate video as he walked into the Canadian team hotel complete with Maple Leaf flags and a banner saying “We are brothers. We stand on guard.”

“I’m all right. I’m ready,” he said after getting a hug.

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The 22-year-old from Edmonton left Bayern’s 3-2 win at Hertha Berlin on Nov. 6, clutching the back of his leg. Bayern subsequently said the injury was not as bad as originally feared and Davies’ participation in the World Cup was “not at risk.”

His arrival is a step closer to a return to action. He missed Canada’s missed final warmup match, a 2-1 win over Japan in Dubai on Thursday.

The 41st-ranked Canadians, who did not have a media availability Friday, face No. 2 Belgium on Wednesday in their first Group F match. The Belgians were upset 2-1 by No. 39 Egypt in their final warmup match Friday in Kuwait City.

The next question is the status of influential midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who sat out the Japan game after taking a knock in training.

On the plus side, captain Atiba Hutchinson saw 60 minutes of action while midfielder Jonathan Osorio got 30 minutes off the bench.

Both have seen limited action in recent months, with the 39-year-old Hutchinson sidelined by a bone bruise suffered in pre-season with Turkey’s Besiktas and Osorio dealing with post-concussion syndrome after taking an elbow to the head in a Toronto FC game in Chicago.

The win over Japan, thanks to a stoppage-time penalty by Lucas Cavallini, provided several milestones.

Alistair Johnston started his 28th straight game for Canada, a men’s national team record. The CF Montreal defender had shared the record for consecutive starts with former Canada captain Bruce Wilson, who compiled his streak between 1984 and ’86, when Canada last appeared at the World Cup.

Junior Hoilett earned his 50th cap for Canada.

Hutchinson and veteran goalkeeper Milan Borjan were first off the plane in Doha in the wee hours as the 41st-ranked Canadians left Dubai immediately after Thursday’s victory over No. 24 Japan.

The World Cup is hard to miss in downtown Doha with soaring office towers adorned with giant colourful banners showcasing players like England’s Harry Kane, Germany’s Manuel Neuer, South Korea’s Son Heung-min and the Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk, among others.

Away from the city centre, the surroundings are largely one-colour — with many buildings a sand-like beige. But there are also spectacular structures, with sweeping curves.

The heat is everywhere and it gets toasty early here. We’re talking prison planet temperatures.

“Today’s temperature is forecast to be NEARLY THE SAME as yesterday,” said one weather website, citing the mid-afternoon temperature at 31 degrees Celsius, feeling like 34.

And tomorrow?

“Tomorrow’s temperature is forecast to be NEARLY THE SAME as today.”

For reporters whose luggage didn’t make it to Qatar with them, a visit to the City Center Doha shopping mall provided some emergency supplies at prices that ranged from bargain-basement to severe sticker shock, often seemingly with no rhyme or reason.

Familiar North American names like Adidas and Quiksilver and British chains Boots and Debenhams were all to be found, although doors were shuttered during Friday prayers, which lasted about 90 minutes around the lunch hour.

A trip to an airport pharmacy found a range of small tubes of sunblock for $50. Pick the wrong one and you got sun protection accompanied by a bronzing effect that would have done George Hamilton proud.

Keeping hydrated will be a challenge, in some ways. The first Arab-hosted World Cup means adult beverages are scarce and/or expensive.

On Friday, the sale of beer at the eight World Cup stadiums was banned two days before the opening match. Non-alcoholic beer will still be sold at matches, likely not much of a consolation for some fans.

Two draft beers at a downtown hotel, where alcohol sales are permitted, cost 100 Riyals, about $36.60.

The tournament starts Sunday with No. 50 Qatar taking on No. 44 Ecuador.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2022.

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Jays Sign Chad Green

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Here I thought the Jays were done signing people this winter, but they have picked up right-handed reliever Chad Green. He’s signed a two-year $8.5 million contract, with options for two more years.

Or it may be more complicated than that:

Green had Tommy John surgery back in May of last year. Apparently, he has already passed his physical.

The options give the Jays some fallback in case he doesn’t come back from TJ being the same pitcher. But if he returns the same pitcher, we have him for the next four seasons.

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Green turns 32 in May. He’s been a Yankee for seven seasons. He has a 3.17 in 272 games. In 2021 he had a 3.12 ER in 67 games and a 31.4% strikeout rate.

Welcome to the Jays, Chad.

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Broncos trade for former Saints HC Payton

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos have agreed to a deal with the New Orleans Saints that will make Sean Payton their head coach, a person with knowledge of the accord said Tuesday.

The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the teams hadn’t announced the agreement, said the Broncos would send their first-round pick, No. 29 overall, in this year’s draft to the Saints along with a future second-rounder. Denver also will receive a third-round pick in the trade.

Payton remained under contract with New Orleans after stepping down from the Saints last year and working in broadcasting this season.

Payton, 59, went 152-89 in 15 seasons with the Saints and 9-8 in the playoffs. He led New Orleans to a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl following the 2009 season. He stepped away last year when quarterback Drew Brees retired.

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The Broncos, who went 5-12 in 2022 and extended their playoff drought to seven years, fired rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett on Dec. 26 after he went 4-11. Interim coach Jerry Rosburg went 1-1.

Payton’s top task will be to get quarterback Russell Wilson back to his winning ways after the 11-year pro had his worst statistical season following his blockbuster trade from Seattle for four premium draft picks and three players.

The Seahawks reached the playoffs under QB Geno Smith in their first year without Wilson, and now they own the Broncos’ No. 5 overall selection in the draft in April.

The Broncos got back into the first round by trading pass rusher Bradley Chubb at midseason to the Miami Dolphins, who sent the Broncos a first-rounder originally owned by the San Francisco 49ers.

That selection, the 29th overall pick, now belongs to the Saints.

Payton was the headliner during this year’s cycle of head coach openings. Just five teams were searching for coaches: the Broncos, Texans, Panthers, Colts and Cardinals.

The Broncos conducted an extensive search, beginning with a virtual visit with Jim Harbaugh, who decided to stay at the University of Michigan. Also considered were Dan Quinn, DeMeco Ryans, Raheem Morris, Ejiro Evero, Jim Caldwell and David Shaw. The Texans hired Ryans on Tuesday.

NFL rules didn’t allow the Broncos to speak with Payton until Jan. 17, more than three weeks after they’d fired Hackett.

Team owner and CEO Greg Penner led the search with assistance from limited partner Condoleezza Rice and general manager George Paton.

Paton led last year’s search and landed on Hackett, one of several decisions that backfired on him in 2022 as Hackett became just the fifth head coach in NFL history not to survive his first season.

Others were the $70 million contract he gave to free agent Randy Gregory, who played in six games and recorded a pair of sacks, and the $245 million contract extension he gave to Wilson before the opener.

Wilson threw a career-low 16 touchdown passes and was sacked a league-leading and career-high 55 times in 15 games for Denver. He has vowed to do everything he can to bounce back in 2023.

Wilson played well for two weeks under Rosburg, giving the team hope that his poor performances last season were an aberration and that maybe his skill set was just a bad fit in Hackett’s offense.

Penner, his wife, Carrie Walton-Penner, and her father, Rob Walton, purchased the Broncos last summer for $4.65 billion, a global record for a professional sports franchise. But the team turned out to be more of a fixer-upper than they expected.

“When we purchased this great franchise in August, this is not the season we were expecting,” Penner said after firing Hackett. “I want to personally apologize to our fans and all of Broncos country. We know that we need to be better and we will.”

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Leafs may have lucked out with timing of Auston Matthews and Matt Murray injuries

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and goaltender Matt Murray celebrate after defeating the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena in Denver on Dec. 31, 2022.Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Not that it is ever good to have key players injured, but the Maple Leafs may have caught a break with Auston Matthews and Matt Murray.

With the NHL’s all-star weekend just ahead, both will have more time to nurse what ails them while also possibly missing less action.

Matthews suffered a knee sprain in an overtime victory against the New York Rangers on Jan. 25 and the team’s star centre is expected to be sidelined at least three weeks. It will cause him to miss Saturday’s all-star spectacle in Sunrise, Fla.

Murray, who had already surrendered the starting job in Toronto’s net to Ilya Samsonov, is now plagued by an ankle affliction and it is anybody’s guess when he will return.

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The 28-year-old, whose acquisition was seen as risky owing to his history of injuries, has already missed more than a month with an adductor strain. He has not played 40 games in a season since 2018-19.

“There’s something there that’s going to require time for sure,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs’ head coach, said. “We won’t quite know, really, until we come back from the break.”

Toronto has a contest against Boston at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday before its eight-day recess begins. Its next game after that will be at Columbus on Feb. 10.

Despite a lengthy list of injuries, the Maple Leafs have done well over the first two-thirds of the season. They are 31-12-8, second in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and a shoe-in to reach the playoffs even if 11 points behind the Bruins.

Boston is an almost incomprehensible 38-7-5 but arrives in town with three consecutive losses. A win will boost the Maple Leafs’ faint hopes of catching up.

“You want to go into the break feeling good,” Keefe said Monday after a team meeting and an optional workout for players at the Ford Performance Centre. “We expect a tough game for sure.

“Our job is to keep pace and apply pressure a little more, just like the teams behind us are trying to do to us. It is a great way to go into the all-star break. There is a lot of excitement.”

After an uninspired effort in a loss to Ottawa on Friday, Toronto rebounded to dismantle the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Sunday.

John Tavares recorded two assists in the 1,000th game of his NHL career, Morgan Rielly scored for the first time this campaign and Samsonov recorded 23 saves as he ran his record on home ice to 15-1-1.

“We played today more for John,” Samsonov said after improving his record to 17-5-2 overall. He did not realize Tavares was about to reach a milestone until a pre-game ceremony.

“One thousand games,” Samonov said, pausing, “That’s amazing.”

Rielly, who is respected as an offensively skilled defenceman, had gone without a goal in 35 previous games this season. In the best year of his career, he had 20 goals.

“Mostly, I just feel relief,” Rielly said. “We wanted to respond after a bad game against Ottawa. We weren’t very proud of ourselves when we went home from here on Friday.”

Joseph Woll, who is 12-1 with a .928 save percentage for the Toronto Marlies, has been called up from the American Hockey League as Samsonov’s backup.

With any luck at all, Woll will not be pressed to play thanks to the upcoming prolonged break.

But first the Bruins come to town.

“Every game against Boston is special,” Alexander Kerfoot, the Maple Leafs’ forward, said.

William Nylander had an assist on Sunday and on Monday was named the league’s second star of the week. He leads Toronto with 28 goals and is tied with Mitch Marner for the team lead with 59 points.

“We are just trying to carve our way back to Boston,” Nylander said. “We have to keeping winning games and see what happens.

“The Bruins are on an incredible pace and will be hard to catch but we are going to try our best to do that.”

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