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Outside of Teofimo Lopez Jr.’s upset of Vasiliy Lomachenko to unify lightweight titles in October, the unprecedented turbulence caused by the COVID-19 outbreak seemed to prevent any kind of major shakeup to boxing’s pound-for-pound rankings. Most big-name fighters appeared in the ring just one time in 2020 with some, including WBA welterweight champion Manny Pacquaio, not finding an opening at all to return. 

Yet along with the rare occurrence of having no short of four fighters with a legitimate claim to the No. 1 spot on this list, the biggest debate regarding placement seemed to come among welterweight kings. Unbeaten 147-pound champions Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford did nothing but compete against each other for higher placement on this list while frustrations from fans only continued to mount about them not being able to prove in the ring who is better. 

Crawford spent most of the year ranked just slightly ahead of Spence, who entered his fall return against Danny Garcia with a large list of questions as to whether a car accident in 2019 had changed him. Luckily for Spence, he seemed to be the same fighter — if not better — after renewing his focus to the sport, and the thorough victory over Garcia might have given him more fuel to edge Crawford in the rankings. 

The major issue for Crawford, the former undisputed champion at 140 pounds, is that he just doesn’t have the same experience level at welterweight against elite foes that Spence has given their polar opposite positions within boxing’s political landscape. 

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Spence’s welterweight resume of having beaten Kell Brook, Lamont Peterson, Mikey Garcia, Shawn Porter and now Garcia badly trumps Crawford’s piecemeal assortment of faded former champions and stay-busy names. Spence also has shown a variety of performances that speak to how well-rounded and dangerous he can be adapting to different styles — from outpointing Mikey Garcia at distance to outslugging Porter at close range.  The Spence-Crawford debate, however, will hopefully be solved in 2021 by the two figuring out how to consummate this issue inside the ring. 

The same can be said for a pair of heavyweight champions lingering in and around the top 10 in Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. 

Fury’s demolition of Deontay Wilder in their rematch to open 2020 provided him with rare placement for a heavyweight in the top 10 (alongside Oleksandr Usyk, who moved up from cruiserweight). But it was Joshua who appeared close to one day rejoining them when he returned to stop Kubrat Pulev and showcase his newfound balance between safety boxing from distance and thunderous finishing ability when it mattered most. 

A Fury-Joshua fight in 2021 is the biggest the sport could produce from the standpoint of importance, and might also play a big role, just like Spence-Crawford, in creating some finality to the debates about which fighter deserves to be king. 

Pound-for-Pound Rankings

Honorable Mentions: Artur Beterbiev, Jermall Charlo, Juan Francisco Estrada, Josh Taylor, Jermell Charlo, Gennadiy Golovkin, Anthony Joshua



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Virat Kohli, Ishant Sharma likely to return for England series

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New panel will meet on Tuesday to pick a squad for the first two Tests of the home series

Even before the ink on India’s glorious and eventful tour of Australia dries, the selection committee is set to pick a squad for the first two Tests of home series against England. Comprising four matches, this series will be played in February, in a bio-secure environment, without spectators, with back-to-back Tests scheduled in Chennai and Ahmedabad.

This selection meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, will be the first of a brand new panel led by Chetan Sharma (chairman) and made up of Sunil Joshi, Abey Kuruvilla, Debashish Mohanty and Harvinder Singh.

The England series will mark the return of Virat Kohli back in the fold after he left the Australia tour to attend the birth of his first child. With all the games being played in a bubble it is likely that an enlarged squad will be picked – at least 25 players including net bowlers. The success of several young players over the past several weeks will embolden Kohli and the selectors, but they will will need to figure some key questions.

Will it be a five-pronged fast bowling attack?

A strong series result for India is a must for them to keep their chances of making the World Test Championship final alive. Consequently, India are likely to favour spin-friendly pitches to assist R Ashwin and co. Still the selectors are likely to pick five frontline fast bowlers in the primary squad. It is understood that Jasprit Bumrah, who was forced to sit out of the Gabba Test, will be fit to play his first home Test series.

It is understood Ishant Sharma, who missed out on travelling to Australia since he was completing his rehab from an injury picked during the IPL, will bolster the pace attack. Ishant is currently three matches short of becoming only the second Indian fast bowler to play 100 Test matches after Kapil Dev. As on Monday, he had featured in four T20s for Delhi in which he picked up five wickets at an economy of 7.76.

Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur and T Natarajan are likely to be the remaining three fast bowlers.

As for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is also playing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s for Uttar Pradesh, it is learned that the selectors want him to get used to bowling a lot of overs before opening him up to the rigours of Test cricket. Bhuvnewshar was injured during the early part of the IPL and has not played any fist-class cricket for a while. The pair of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav are likely to be considered for the final two Tests, provided they recover completely from the injuries picked during the Australia tour.

Three spinners or more?

It is likely to be three spinners in the first squad with Ashwin leading the spin attack. In the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, who could return for the final two Tests, the selectors are likely to pick the left-arm pair of Kuldeep Yadav and Shahbaz Nadeem. Yadav last played for India in January 2019, in the final Test of the last Australian tour, taking a five-for. Despite Ashwin being unavailable for the Brisbane Test, the Indian team management picked a rookie in Washington Sundar over Yadav, who missed out on playing in any of the four Tests on this Australian tour. Sundar, who travelled to Australia originally as part of the white-ball squads, went on to make a fine Test debut but is only likely to be part of the net bowlers for the England series.

Three openers or four?

It is understood that the selectors are likely to include at least three openers, while also looking at options who can double up as a middle-order batsman. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill will be persisted as the opening pair along with Mayank Agarwal as the back-up. The selectors could also include one of the uncapped Priyank Panchal or Abhimanyu Easwaran as fourth opener with the aim of getting them to spend time with the first team. Both Panchal and Easwaran have been leading run-makers in first-class cricket as well as for India A and the selectors want them to get a higher level of exposure.

Prithvi Shaw, who made a century on Test debut in 2018, is is likely to dropped from the squad to allow him the time to strengthen his technique. Shaw was dropped after an uneventful outing in the day-night Test in Adelaide where his technical frailties were highlighted by experts including Sunil Gavaskar and Ricky Ponting. KL Rahul, who sprained his wrist in Melbourne, will be assessed in February before the selectors consider whether to include him for the final two Tests against England.

Additional reporting by Shashank Kishore

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Pacers fall 129-96 to Clippers in finale of four-game road trip

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LOS ANGELES — Marcus Morris scored a season-high 20 points to lead seven players in double figures, and the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Indiana Pacers 129-96 on Sunday night for their first four-game winning streak of the season.

With sharpshooter Lou Williams sidelined, Morris came off the bench to hit four 3-pointers, tying his season-high. He was coming off an 18-point performance at Sacramento on Friday. The Clippers made 19 of 39 from long-range, outdueling the Pacers, who were 11 of 38.

“I was wide-open,” Morris said. “If I can’t make a wide-open shot, I’m in the wrong business.”

Fellow reserve Luke Kennard added season highs of 20 points and five 3-pointers. Paul George also had 20 points. Kawhi Leonard had 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Clippers.

“I feel like our energy is way better this season,” Morris said. “Guys are buying in and enjoying playing the game.”

Doug McDermott led the Pacers with 23 points, making five 3-pointers. Domantas Sabonis added 19 points and 14 rebounds.

Indiana closed within two points early in the third before the Clippers put the game away. They outscored the Pacers 37-14 the rest of the quarter to lead 100-75 going into the fourth. Los Angeles made eight 3-pointers by six different players and Leonard scored 11 points.

“They started making shots,” Sabonis said. “I feel like we left guys too open. We were throwing out a lot of different defenses and they caught on to the box-and-1 and it was harder for us to catch up.”

The Clippers ran off 10 straight points early in the fourth to lead 110-81. Kennard had a 3-point play and George scored seven in a row.

“Excited to see how far he can take it,” Morris said of George. “Been playing very well, unselfish, under control. He’s definitely playing MVP basketball.”

Indiana had won two straight, but was idle since Thursday at Portland. The team’s game at Phoenix on Saturday was postponed because of COVID-19 issues.

That didn’t stop McDermott from bursting out of the gate. He scored 13 of the Pacers’ first 21 points.

The Clippers hit five 3-pointers while outscoring the Pacers 35-12 over the end of the first quarter and start of the second to build an 18-point lead. Indiana closed strongly with a 20-10 run, including 10 by Sabonis, that left the Pacers trailing 61-55 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Myles Turner was out with a sore right hand. … Goga Bitzdze returned from a sprained right ankle and scored five points. … Their four-game trip ended. … Both teams wore T-shirts honoring Martin Luther King Jr. during warmups.

Clippers: Their bench outscored the Pacers’ reserves, 65-14. … It was their fourth straight game with at least 15 3-pointers made, tying the longest such streak in franchise history. … Williams missed his second straight game with a left hip injury. … Serge Ibaka was out for non-COVID-19 reasons.

UP NEXT

Pacers: Host Dallas on Wednesday.

Clippers: Host Sacramento on Wednesday.



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FIFA Club World Cup 2020 – News – Palmeiras, Santos book the battle of Brazil

  • Palmeiras saw off River while Santos prevailed against Boca
  • The final will take place on 30 January at the Maracana
  • Winners will qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup

Palmeiras and Santos, the top two sides in the group stage, put paid to the hopes of River Plate and Boca Juniors in their respective semis to set up an all-Brazilian final in the Copa Libertadores 2020.

This will be the fourth time the tournament’s deciding game will be contested by two teams from the same country, and the third between Brazilian clubs. The nation last provided both finalists in 2006, when Internacional defeated Sao Paulo before going on to upset Barcelona in the Club World Cup final.

The final, which is a single game, will take place on Saturday, 30 January at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. As well as continental bragging rights, the victor will get to represent South America at the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020, set to be played between 1-11 February.

Palmeiras do it the hard way

  • First leg: River Plate 0-3 Palmeiras
  • Second leg: Palmeiras 0-2 River Plate

Despite being outplayed in the second leg in Brazil and losing their unbeaten record, Palmeiras’s resounding win in Argentina proved enough to see off Marcelo Gallardo’s impressive River side. In so doing, O Verdāo checked into their fifth Libertadores final, with their sole victory coming in 1999.

With impressive displays in both legs but especially in the second, goalkeeper Weverton was the standout figure for the Brazilian side, who again had vital contributions from Rony and Luiz Adriano (one goal apiece).

Palmeiras became the first Brazilian team to beat Marcelo Gallardo’s River Plate over two legs in a CONMEBOL tournament. With Gallardo at the helm, River had won all six of their knockout clashes against Brazilian opposition, four coming in the Copa Libertadores, one in the Copa Sudamericana and one in the Recopa.

Rony and Luiz Adriano have scored ten times between them in the Libertadores 2020 (five apiece). Their collective efforts account for 31.25 per cent of their side’s goal tally (10 out of 32).

The words

Gallardo is a better coach than me, and his players are more experienced. Our first-leg performance, in which we were the better side, is what got us through to the final. Here, they were superior. We have to be humble and recognise that. It was the best defeat of my career.

Abel Ferreira, Palmeiras coach

What I saw today from my team makes me proud and dignifies my profession. These are the moments you become a coach for. I wish Palmeiras luck in the final.

Marcelo Gallardo, River Plate coach

Santos stroll into showpiece

  • First leg: Boca Juniors 0-0 Santos
  • Second leg: Santos 3-0 Boca Juniors

With a solid team performance and the firepower to capitalise at key moments in the return leg, Santos proved too strong for Boca Juniors en route to their fifth Libertadores final. Winners in 1962 and 1963 with Pele in their ranks, and in 2011 with Neymar, O Peixe will be attempting to become the first Brazilian club to win the title four times.

Displaying dynamism, speed and youthful energy, Santos never let their opponents relax across the two legs, although it was only in the return fixture that they made their superiority count. Especially impressive in Sao Paulo were their Venezuelan attacking midfielder Yeferson Soteldo and Brazilian attacker Marinho.

Santos put three goals past Boca in 90 minutes, the same quantity the Argentinian side had conceded in their previous 11 games in this edition. It was the 20th time Santos have won a Libertadores match by three goals.

Santos’s 20 goals in this tournament have been shared between 11 players after Diego Pituca got on the score-sheet against Boca. Yeferson Soteldo and Lucas Braga, the other two marksmen in the second leg, now have two goals apiece. The team’s leading scorers in this edition are Kaio Jorge (5) and Marinho (4).

The words

It could have been Boca-River, but it’s going to be Santos and Palmeiras at the Maracana representing Brazil. Congratulations are in order, though not just for us: this is a victory for all of Brazilian football.

Cuca, Santos coach

I’m the one in charge, so I take full responsibility for everything. I have no excuses. Defeat in an open semi-final, knowing the opportunity we had, hurts.”

Miguel Russo, Boca Juniors coach



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