Joel Embiid brushed off questions about being driven to win the MVP this season after leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 105-87 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

Embiid was named on Thursday as a starter in the All-Star Game, as he scored 26 points with nine rebounds and seven assists in the 76ers' win.

The 27-year-old center's haul extended his run to 16 straight games scoring 25 points or more, while it also helped the 76ers to 13 wins from their past 16 games.

Embiid missed out on last season's MVP award with an untimely late season knee injury not helping, finishing third behind Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry, but he brushed off questions about being driven to win that accolade.

"To be the MVP, you need to win games and that's been my main focus," Embiid told ESPN after the win over the Lakers.

"We've got to continue to do, what we've been doing. We've been playing great of late.

"Obviously we started the year pretty well, then COVID hit us and I missed a couple of games and we lost a couple of them but now we've started to get back in the rhythm and get some guys back.

"To be the MVP, my focus is on winning."

Embiid was critical of his own performance on Thursday as he matched up with Anthony Davis, who scored a game-high 31 points and also had 12 rebounds.

"I'm p****d off I had a bad night tonight," Embiid said. "I'm glad we got the win. That's a big win in our quest to be the number one seed."

Embiid also praised second-season guard Tyrese Maxey who added 14 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists and continues to ably fill Ben Simmons' void.

"Maxey has been great," Embiid said. "He needs to continue to keep doing whatever he's been doing."

LeBron James and Kevin Durant will be the captains in this year's All-Star Game while Ja Morant and Andrew Wiggins got their first selections as the starters were confirmed on Thursday.

The NBA announced the starters for the annual midseason exhibition to be held on February 20 in Cleveland.

In the west, James was named for his 18th straight All-Star appearance in his 19th season alongside reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (fourth All-Star selection) and MVP contender Stephen Curry (eighth All-Star selection).

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins were the two first-time All-Star starters, with the latter coming as the major surprise.

Four-time MVP James has made 18 All-Star teams, equaling Kobe Bryant for second place all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19).

Durant, who is under an injury cloud for the game, will lead the east side after finishing with more fan votes than anyone else in the conference.

The Nets superstar will be joined by Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young in the backcourt, with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The All-Star reserves will be selected by the coaches in both conferences and confirmed on Thursday.

Already-qualified Argentina flexed their muscle without Lionel Messi with a 2-1 away win over Chile leaving their 2022 World Cup qualification hopes at major risk on Thursday.

Angel Di Maria and Lautaro Martinez netted first-half goals around Ben Brereton-Diaz's looping header as Albiceleste extended their unbeaten run to 27 games.

The victory improves second-placed Argentina's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign to 32 points from 14 games, while Chile are battling to reach Qatar 2022.

La Roja, who suffered their second straight home defeat, have 16 points from 15 games and are seventh in the standings, three points behind Uruguay in the fourth automatic qualification spot after they won 1-0 in Paraguay.

Paris Saint-Germain winger Di Maria silenced the home Calama crowd in the ninth minute when he curled home a trademark left-foot strike from outside the box for his 23rd international goal.

Blackburn Rovers attacker Brereton-Diaz leveled the game up in the 20th minute when he precisely headed over Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from Marcelino Nunez's diagonal cross.

Argentina restored their lead, just as Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo had gestured to be substituted due to injury, with the veteran stopper unable to hold Rodrigo De Paul's long-range strike allowing Martinez to fire home the rebound in the 34th minute.

The visitors weathered Chile's late pressure, with Brereton-Diaz forcing a good low save from Martinez with an 84th-minute header.

Mexico scored two goals in the final 10 minutes to revive their stuttering 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win over 10-man Jamaica in Kingston on Thursday.

El Tri, who had lost their past two qualifiers against the United States and Canada, were staring down the barrel of a third straight loss when trailing 1-0 with 10 minutes left before their late rally.

Henry Martin tapped home to equalise in the 81st minute, with Carlos Vega netting a dramatic winner two minutes later to ease the pressure on head coach Gerardo Martino.

Preston North End midfielder Daniel Johnson had fired in a left-foot strike to put the Reggae Boyz ahead in the 51st minute after they had been reduced to 10 men prior to half-time when Damion Lowe was sent off after VAR review – introduced to CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the first time – for a studs-up challenge.

El Tri, who were without the injured Raul Jimenez and suspended Hirving Lozano, had early chances with Carlos Rodriguez and Vega both testing Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake in the first half.

The win means Mexico move up to 17 points from nine qualifiers, temporarily moving above Canada – who play Honduras later on Thursday - into second spot in CONCACAF qualifying, one point behind USA who edged El Salvador 1-0. The result leaves Jamaica off the pace, with only one win and seven points from nine games.

Antonee Robinson's second-half strike earned the United States an unconvincing 1-0 victory over El Salvador to move a step closer to 2022 World Cup qualification on Thursday in cold conditions in Columbus.

Fulham defender Robinson lashed home in the 52nd minute after Timothy Weah's good lead-up work in the decisive moment, as USA moved up to 18 points from nine games.

USA temporarily moved into top spot in the CONCACAF qualifying standings, with Canada due to take on Honduras later.

Jesus Ferreira, starting in a World Cup qualifier for the first time, burnt two first-half chances, before Robinson broke the deadlock early in the second half as USA stamped their superiority.

The hosts pressed for a second goal, with El Salvador goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez acrobatically denying Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah's poke.

El Salvador's best chance came in the 85th minute as Joaquin Rivas glanced Bryan Tamacas' cross wide, while USA fluffed opportunities with Weston McKennie and Gyasi Zardes headers.

Adam Schenk carded a 10-under-par to surge into a share of the lead alongside top-ranked Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas at the halfway mark of the Farmers Insurance Open on Thursday.

Schenk, who is ranked 54th and has never won a PGA Tour title, carded a career-best PGA Tour round of 62, which included making 10 birdies and hitting four of 14 fairways.

The American, who turned 30 on Wednesday, made eight consecutive birdies was within one shot of equaling the course record, with his 15-feet putt on the 18th hole lipping out.

Reigning US Open winner Rahm, who opened the tournament with a six-under-par 66, backed up with a seven-under-round on the second day on the North Course at Torrey Pines.

World number six Thomas is locked with Schenk and Rahm at 13-under overall after his nine-under round.

The trio lead from Cameron Tringale at 12-under, with Peter Malnati next with 11-under.

Opening day leader Billy Horschel slipped down the leaderboard after a one-over round to be eight-under overall.

Will Zalatoris, who started and finished the second day with eagles, is among a group of six at seven-under including Dustin Johnson.

Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka were among the notable players to miss the cut.

Spieth's four-over card ended his run holding the longest active made-cut streak (20) on the PGA Tour.

Quarterbacks Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have both decided to pass on participating in the upcoming 2022 NFL Pro Bowl.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Allen was voted as an alternate in the AFC roster, having initially missed out to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was absent for the latter stages of the season with an ankle injury.

Jackson's ankle injury will force him out of the Pro Bowl game, while Allen has opted to let his body "rest and recover" after a hectic season.

Allen's season had prematurely ended last weekend at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs 42-36 in overtime in a Divisional playoffs classic.

"Unfortunately, I will be declining the invitation to play in the Pro Bowl this year - in order to allow my body to rest and recover from the harshness of the season," Allen told ESPN.

"The type of quarterback [that] I am, I obtain a lot of bumps and bruises along the road of a season, so I will use this time to let my body heal."

The AFC roster may be short on quarterbacks with Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert as started and Patrick Mahomes the only back-up.

Mahomes will be aiming to clinch a spot in the Super Bowl with the Chiefs this weekend, meaning he may become unavailable for the Pro Bowl, scheduled for February 6 in Las Vegas, too.

Dual threat Bills QB Allen had a career-high 4,407 passing yards for 36 passing touchdowns, along with a career-best 763 rushing yards with six touchdowns.

Jackson only managed 12 games due to injury prematurely ending his season, with a 64.4 percent completion rate for 2,882 yards and 16 touchdowns.

LeBron James has been ruled out of the Los Angeles Lakers' clash with the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday due to left knee soreness.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel revealed pre-game that the 37-year-old four-time MVP had woken up with soreness and would not face the in-form 76ers, who are 28-19.

James has been in excellent scoring form lately, averaging 29.1 points, shooting 52.2 per cent from the field and 35.2 per cent beyond the arc across the season.

The veteran superstar has scored 25 points or more in each of the Lakers' past 18 games, dating back to mid-December. Only once – in 21 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008 – has he enjoyed a longer such streak.

James has averaged an astonishing 32.5 points over this period, although the Lakers have gone 8-10.

"He’s out tonight," Vogel said of his star man on Thursday. "Just woke up with some soreness that was enough to hold him out. He’ll be day-to-day."

James had only just reunited with Anthony Davis on the court, with the All-Star forward returning from an MCL sprain in Tuesday's 106-96 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Besides scoring 29.1 points per game, up on his career average of 27.1, James is averaging 6.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds this season.

Senegal have been defended by Confederation of African Football (CAF) medical doctor Dr. Thulani Ngwenya for their handling of Sadio Mane's head injury against Cape Verde.

Mane received a nasty blow to the head in a collision with opposition goalkeeper Vozinha – who was sent off after a VAR review – in Tuesday's Africa Cup of Nations last-16 tie.

The Liverpool forward was given treatment on the field but was allowed to stay on and subsequently curled in a brilliant opener for Senegal, who went on to win 2-0.

However, Mane collapsed to the ground when celebrating his goal and was taken off shortly afterwards before being assessed at hospital.

He later took to social media to assure worried supporters that "all is well", but brain injury association Headway criticised Senegal for allowing Mane to play on after the collision.

"On the face of it, this seems to be yet another example of football putting results ahead of player safety," said Luke Griggs, deputy chief executive of Headway.

"This was a sickening collision that clearly left both players in enough distress for a concussion to have surely been considered a possibility at the very least.

"At that point, the principle of 'if in doubt, sit it out!' should have resulted in Mane being substituted without another ball being kicked."

Griggs added: "This is now a real test of leadership for CAF and world governing body FIFA – particularly if Senegal declare Mane fit for Sunday's quarter-final.

"If football wants to be taken seriously when it comes to concussion, it simply must take action to enforce and strengthen its protocols."

But Dr. Ngwenya insisted Mane is in good hands with the Senegal medical team, who remain in dialogue with Premier League side Liverpool.

"We have a very capable medical team. Senegal have two team doctors, who are highly commended," Dr. Ngwenya is quoted as saying by Sky Sports.

"I know the team doctors are responsible, so they communicate with the club and I understand that they have actually communicated with Liverpool.

"What I know is that after taking Mane for further investigations, we scanned the head and there was no structural damage, but that does not rule out concussion. 

"I'm confident that my colleagues are taking care of the player and the player was in good spirits when I saw him in the hospital."

Dr. Ngwenya added: "I've heard people say, 'why wasn't he removed from the game?' The medical assessment is based on what you see and assess at that particular time. 

"The medical team spent quite a significant amount of time assessing Mane.

"It might have been during the assessment the medical team came to a decision it was just a head collision, not concussion because they couldn't pick up anything that was concussion.

"We need to give the benefit of the doubt to them because you can make an assessment at the time and then two minutes later it's different. 

"But when I went in there were features of concussion, hence it was easy for me to actually make that call to say we need to remove the player out of the game.

"The player is not capacitated to make a decision because they are confused, so it's you as a doctor that needs to make a decision on their behalf."

Mane posted an image of himself back in the gym on his personal Instagram account on Thursday, accompanied by the caption "recovering".

Despite potentially suffering from concussion after the sickening blow, he has not been ruled out of Senegal's quarter-final against Equatorial Guinea on Sunday.

"I'm not sure if he will be available for the next match. When you look at the protocols, I don't know whether he will be ready. I can't make that assessment," Ngwenya said.

"That judgement can only be made by the team doctors that are managing him on a daily basis."

Alisson was given a stoppage-time VAR reprieve after conceding a penalty as Brazil somehow clung on to a 1-1 draw against Ecuador in a chaotic World Cup qualifying classic.

Felix Torres equalised with 15 minutes to go and Ecuador looked set to grab the win that would put them on the brink of qualification when awarded a last-gasp penalty, but that opportunity was taken away in an ending that befitted the remarkable 90 minutes that preceded it.

The first half saw the red card brandished three times – the first two, for Ecuador goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and Brazil right-back Emerson Royal, were decisions that remained, but Alisson's was overturned.

All the controversy somewhat overshadowed Casemiro's early goal, which looked likely to be the winner given Ecuador had a goal wiped out and a penalty decision reversed soon after the restart, before Torres headed in.

Alisson was then sent off again, but for the second time his dismissal was overturned and Ecuador were denied their late spot-kick.

Australia expects as Ash Barty faces Danielle Collins in Saturday's grand slam final at Melbourne Park.

The world number one, from Ipswich, Queensland, will be bidding for her third grand slam singles title but a first at the Australian Open.

The wait for a home champion has been a long one, but it could soon be over.

Chris O'Neil was the last Australian winner of the women's singles, way back in 1978, while the last men's singles champion was Mark Edmondson in 1976.

Australia has hardly been starved of tennis talent over the past 40 years, but for one reason or another, the home slam has been beyond their reach.

Here, Stats Perform remembers the household names who have seen their hopes dashed in Melbourne.

Jelena Dokic

Dokic never came close in Melbourne, truth be told. Which is not to say she lacked the ability, having reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2000 and climbed as high as number four in the WTA rankings two years later. Dokic's career was blighted by a traumatic relationship with her overbearing and violent coach and father, Damir, whom she alleged physically abused her on many occasions. Her best performance at Melbourne Park came against all expectations, at the outset of a tour comeback in 2009 when she reached the quarter-finals, losing out there to Dinara Safina. Dokic, who is now 38 and retired from the tour, has been conducting on-court interviews during this year's Australian Open.

Lleyton Hewitt

'Rusty' won Wimbledon and US Open titles at the peak of his powers, and reached number one in the world at the age of 20. Before Roger Federer came along with different ideas, it seemed Hewitt might rule the roost in the men's game for years to come. He reached one Australian Open final, and in 2005 that was a glorious chance to secure a home major as he faced Russian Marat Safin in the final. Hewitt won the first set, but then Safin took command, winning in four. Incredibly, it would be the last grand slam men's singles final not to feature Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic until the 2014 US Open (Nishikori v Cilic).

Pat Cash

Cash's career peak came at Wimbledon in 1987, when he beat Ivan Lendl to capture the title before famously climbing up to the players' box. At the start of that year he almost won the Australian Open, too, when that tournament was staged on grass at Kooyong, in Melbourne's suburbs. He lost a five-set thriller to Stefan Edberg, another grass-court master, and when the tournament moved to Melbourne Park a year later, shifting to hardcourts, Cash was a finalist once more. Again, he suffered heartbreak in a deciding set, Mats Wilander denying Cash home glory, and he would never play a grand slam final again.

Samantha Stosur

Stosur, who called time on her singles career after a second-round defeat in Melbourne this year, was Australia's most recent women's singles grand slam champion until Barty came along. She triumphed at the 2011 US Open, sensationally beating Serena Williams in the Flushing Meadows final, and got to as high as number four in the world. She also reached the 2010 French Open final, but Stosur was never a factor in the business end of her home major, at least in singles. The fourth round was the furthest she ever went, but it was a different story in doubles, as she won an Australian Open mixed title in 2005, alongside fellow Australian Scott Draper. In the twilight of her career, in 2019, she teamed up with Zhang Shuai to win the women's doubles, a poignant success after so much singles frustration.

Mark Philippoussis

Philippoussis, aka 'Scud', was a US Open runner-up in 1998 and also reached the 2003 Wimbledon final, where he was the sacrificial lamb as Federer scooped the first grand slam title of his career. In Australia, though, just like Stosur, his slam peak was round four, a disappointment considering his talent and weaponry. In 1996, Philippoussis stunned the then world number one Pete Sampras in the third round in Melbourne, only to lose to lowly ranked compatriot and doubles expert Mark Woodforde in his next match. Arguably the most famous story concerning Philippoussis and the Australian Open is the widely reported rumour he was spotted kissing Anna Kournikova in an underground car park at the 2000 tournament. Both denied it. "Just good friends," was Kournikova's verdict.

Pat Rafter

Rafter won back-to-back US Opens in 1997 and 1998, as well as reaching consecutive Wimbledon finals in 2000 and 2001. A semi-final run in Melbourne in 2001, which proved to be the serve-volley master's last year on tour, was Rafter's best performance at his home slam, eventual champion Andre Agassi coming from two sets to one down to deny him a place in the title match.

Nick Kyrgios

All the talent in the world, but Kyrgios appears to be happy enough ploughing a unique furrow though his tennis career. Top five in the shot-making stakes, Kyrgios turns 27 in April and his ability has taken him to just two slam quarter-finals to date, including at the 2015 Australian Open. He was a junior champion at Melbourne Park in 2013, and has also reached the fourth round twice in the seniors. It is up to Kyrgios whether he wishes to make optimum use of his remarkable racket skills or carry on entertaining with virtuoso, but short-lived, singles runs. You wonder whether a Barty triumph could ignite this firecracker of a player.

Aston Villa have completed the permanent signing of Calum Chambers from Arsenal.

The defender, who can play as a full-back or centre-back, has signed a deal that keeps him at Villa Park until the end of the 2024-25 season.

Chambers, 27, joined the Gunners in a deal reportedly worth £16million in July 2014 having broken into Southampton's first team as a teenager.

But, partly due to injuries, he struggled to establish himself as first-choice at Emirates Stadium, with the 23 Premier League appearances he made in his first campaign comfortably the most he ever tallied in a single top-flight season for the Gunners.

Since then, he has also spent time on loan at Middlesbrough and Fulham in the Premier League, suffering relegation with both.

Chambers had only featured twice in the league for the Gunners this season – both outings came in August as Arsenal suffered defeats to Manchester City and Brentford that produced an aggregate score of 7-0.

The deal is believed to be a free transfer, as Chambers' contract with Arsenal was due to expire at the end of the season.

He becomes Villa's fourth signing of the window after Lucas Digne, Philippe Coutinho and Robin Olsen.

Reigning Winter Olympics skiathlon champion Simen Hegstad Kruger may be denied the opportunity to defend his title after testing positive for coronavirus.

The 28-year-old, who won gold in the men's 30 kilometres event in Pyeongchang four years ago, is the third member of Norway's cross-country skiing team to contract the virus.

Kruger had been much-fancied to add to his medal collection in Beijing, but it now seems unlikely he will get the chance to represent his country.

Speaking on Thursday, 10 days before Kruger's event takes place, Norway team doctor Oystein Andersen said: "We have had infections in the squad and took new PCR tests.

"We have feared that more would come, and unfortunately we have got another one. Unfortunately, it is Simen Hegstad Kruger who has taken a positive test today."

Female cross-country skiers Heidi Weng and Anne Kjersti Kalva are the other two Norwegian competitors to have tested positive.

All three athletes must now self-isolate in Italy, where the Norway team is based prior to flying out to China on January 30.

"It's an extreme situation," Andersen said of the spiralling coronavirus cases in the camp. "We have to limit the damage as best we can."

Toni Kroos insists he wants to spend the rest of his career with Real Madrid, with his current contract due to run until the end of next season.

Kroos moved to the Santiago Bernabeu in 2014 from Bayern Munich and has made 344 appearances for Los Blancos in all competitions, scoring 25 goals and assisting 77.

The German midfielder has won two LaLiga titles, three Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and four FIFA Club World Cups since arriving in Spain, and has confirmed that he wishes to see the final days of his career out in Madrid.

"I want to finish my career here," Kroos said in an interview with RTVE. "My family and I are fine in Madrid, there is still a year and a half left [of this contract]."

The 32-year-old also spoke about this season's title race in LaLiga, with Madrid currently top of the league, four points ahead of second-placed Sevilla, adding: "We have to look for all the points in the league, there's still a lot left.

"At the moment the rival is Sevilla, and we have to fight for it until the end."

 

Kroos' team-mate Eden Hazard has had a difficult time since his big-money move to Madrid from Chelsea in 2019, but the Belgian has started to show shoots of form of late, scoring the winning goal in the dramatic 2-1 comeback win in extra time at Elche in the Copa del Rey.

"I believe in him," Kroos said of Hazard. "He has to do everything to return to being what he has always been – he can help us a lot."

The 2014 World Cup winner was also asked about another world champion, Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, who has been heavily linked with a move to Madrid when his contract expires at the end of the current season.

"It is difficult to know because everything depends on the situation of his contract," he added. "It does not surprise me that Madrid are trying to sign him because he is a top player. It is not a secret that Real Madrid want him.

"In my eight years here, many names have come up and only 20 per cent have arrived."

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