Veterans set for clash in WNBA decider
MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Indiana Fever embarked on its 11th consecutive trip to the WNBA playoffs, veteran star Tamika Catchings handed out a journal to every teammate.
The message was simple: For as routine as these trips have come for the Fever, it was so important to soak up the opportunities.
Catchings, 36, said long ago she only has one more season left in her brilliant career, so her sense of urgency has never been greater in tonight's deciding Game 5 of the WNBA Finals at Minnesota (8, ESPN2).
"You never know," Catchings said Tuesday. "(You) never know what will happen in the offseason. So you really do take advantage of every single opportunity."
Lindsey Whalen, 33, can relate. The Lynx point guard has been slowed by leg injuries this season and has seen coach Cheryl Reeve give younger, quicker guards Anna Cruz and Renee Montgomery more playing time, especially late in games.
"You know what it is as an athlete," Whalen said. "Whatever opportunity you have this season, you want it that much more because you don't know."
It's the first time the WNBA Finals have gone the distance since 2009, when Catchings and the Fever lost to Phoenix.
Belgium rises to No. 1; Dutch fail
Belgium moved to No. 1 in the FIFA world rankings with a 3-1 win over Israel in Brussels to finish first in Group B of European Championship qualifying. Even better for the Belgians, the neighboring and perennial rival Dutch lost 3-2 at home to the Czech Republic and will miss next year's 24-team European tournament in France. "Let's be chauvinists today," Belgium and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany said. "The Dutch have crashed out and we're No. 1. Let's just be proud." Croatia won 1-0 at Malta and qualified thanks to host Italy's 2-1 win over Norway in Group H. And Turkey qualified as the best third-place team thanks to its 1-0 win over visiting Iceland and Kazakhstan's 1-0 win at Latvia in Group A. Those results relegated Hungary to next month's head-to-head playoffs along with Norway, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia. The four winners will qualify; the draw is Sunday.
Americans fall: Joel Campbell scored in the 70th minute and Costa Rica beat a listless U.S. team 1-0 in an exhibition in Harrison, N.J., the Americans' last match before World Cup qualifying starts in November. Tim Howard made his first appearance in goal for the United States in 15 months after his sabbatical from the team.
Federer stunned by qualifier
Defending champion Roger Federer lost his opener at the Shanghai Masters, 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 6-3 against qualifier Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
WTA: Venus Williams rallied to top Yuliya Beygelzimer 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the opening round of the Hong Kong Open. … U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta lost in the first round of the Tianjin Open in China, 6-3, 7-5, against No. 414-ranked qualifier Lyudmyla Kichenok.