Erling Haaland back on target after break; Ulster desperately seek change in fortune

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with The Irish Times sports team

Less than a week after the World Cup final, English football was back with one of its marquee matchups – Manchester City against Liverpool, Salah against Haaland – in the Carabao Cup. Both players scored, Erling Haaland scored his 24th goal in 19 City appearances on return to domestic action, but it was Nathan Ake’s header that sent City through. In World Cup-related news, Fifa are investigating celebrity chef’s Salt Bae’s “undue access” to Argentina’s World Cup celebrations. Turkish chef Nusret Gokce was seen holding and kissing the World Cup trophy after Argentina’s victory and was seen continually trying to get a picture with captain Lionel Messi.

In rugby, Antoine Frisch is working through split family loyalty ahead of Thomond interpro. For Munster’s new French-born, Irish qualified centre from Bristol, he will spend Christmas Day in Tallaght with his mother’s extended family, the Healys, several of whom will then be in Thomond Park to watch him play his first St Stephen’s Day derby against Leinster. Ulster are desperately seeking an uplift in fortune this evening when they play Connacht. A mountain of points conceded against Leinster and Sale before a rousing second half but no cigar against La Rochelle last weekend, has not been the slide into the festive season the team would have foreseen a month ago. Meanwhile, Benetton Treviso said on Thursday they had suspended one of their players after a Black team member revealed he had received a banana as a Christmas gift from a team-mate in the latest act of racism to hit Italian sport.

Have women specific awards run their course, asks Johnny Watterson in today’s subscriber only piece. Not quite yet, he writes, as high visibility belongs to just a small number of women despite success across the board. “The message is that things are getting better but not fast enough. The high visibility belongs to a small cohort of women. There are still snags, small minded gestures and poor attitudes,” he writes.

In hurling, Nickie Quaid and Limerick are ready to step up preparations for the new campaign. With Cian Lynch and Peter Casey edging towards full fitness again, the challenge ahead appears daunting for the All-Ireland champions’ rivals. When the National League starts, it will be business as usual for Quaid whose precise puck-outs have become such a central part of how the Shannonsiders pick apart their opponents. In golf, Augusta tiptoes through the azaleas when it comes to LIV golfers at the Masters, after the rebel tour’s players were permitted to play in 2023. True feelings of those in charge are hard to read but it is clear that locking out players is not good for business.