Casillas, Xavi win Spanish sports award

Updated 05 September 2012
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Casillas, Xavi win Spanish sports award

MADRID: Spain captain Iker Casillas and team mate Xavi have been jointly awarded the nation's most prestigious sports prize, the Premio Principe de Asturias de los Deportes, the jury announced yesterday.
Real Madrid goalkeeper Casillas, 31, and Barcelona playmaker Xavi, 32, have helped Spain to consecutive European Championship triumphs with a World Cup in between, the country's first, and were put forward for the award by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
They have been friends since they competed together at the Under-20 World Cup in 1999 despite playing for bitter club rivals Real and Barca and the jury said that was one of the reasons they had been selected.
Their friendship had "helped resolve disputes between players of different clubs, promoting fair play and the philosophy of the team as the basis for sporting success," the jury wrote.
"It's true that there was tension at times but friendship comes before everything else," Xavi said on the sidelines of Spain's training camp in Madrid after learning of the award.
"It's recognition of our work but also of this generation of players, some of whom have been friends for 15 years," he added.
Blatter said the award reflected the "fantastic work" done in Spain's soccer academies, both at club level and with the national teams.
"It's something that goes beyond what they have achieved in football," he said, in an interview with Spanish sports daily Marca published on Wednesday.
"Casillas and Xavi are an example on the field of play but also as people when they are away from pitch."
Previous winners of the award include Sebastian Coe (1987), Seve Ballesteros (1989), Steffi Graf (1999), Lance Armstrong (2000) and Rafael Nadal (2008).
The Spanish soccer team won it in 2010 following their World Cup victory in South Africa.
The award will be presented next month by Spain's Prince Felipe and his wife Princess Letizia. Recipients receive a representative sculpture by Spanish artist Joan Miro and 50,000 euros ($62,800).

 


Both Omar Khribin and Al-Hilal at a crossroads after a year of ups and downs

Updated 2 min 47 sec ago
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Both Omar Khribin and Al-Hilal at a crossroads after a year of ups and downs

  • Asian player of the year just back from injury could follow path walked by Mohamed Salah
  • Despite winning the title Al-Hilal season has been a mixture of good and so-so

DUBAI: In the end, Omar Khribin returned in triumph. But not before a season of ups and downs.
The Syrian forward was named Asia’s best player last November, but there was always the sense that he was not appreciated beyond the Saudi Professional League were he plays for newly crowned champions Al Hilal.
For club and player, this has been a defining season.
Before the league title was wrapped up with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Al-Fateh, thanks to Khribin’s hat-trick, there was a traumatic AFC Champions League campaign to endure. Having reached the final of the continent’s premier competition as recently as November, an exit from the 2018 edition in the group stage has been hard to stomach for supporters dreaming of a third title.
It has been a curious season for the champions, one that saddled contrasting AFC Champions League campaigns, seen a Saudi Arabia World Cup qualification and of course a managerial departure.
Al-Hilal dispensed of the service of Ramon Diaz on February 20, a day after a 1-0 loss to Esteghlal in the AFC Champions League, a seemingly harsh move considering his previous achievements in the competition not to mention a league title last year.
In truth, performances had dipped below what Al-Hilal’s supporters and, crucially, board expect. There was also an exit from the King’s Cup at the hands of Al-Qadisiyah; the loss to Esteghlal in their second Group D fixture (having drawn the first 1-1 at home to Al-Ain) was the final straw.
The incoming interim manager Juan Brown had to do without his side’s most potent weapon, and it is not stretching a point say that Khribin’s absence for three months through injury played a major role in Al-Hilal’s inconsistencies.
The 24-year-old had played a pivotal role in the club reaching the ultimately disappointing final against Urawa Red Diamonds last year, and his leadership and goals have been missed this time around.
In 2017, his 10 goals were a competition high, helping cement his reputation as one of Asia’s most feared strikers and, along with his contribution to Syria’s gallant stab at World Cup qualification, earned him the Asian Player of the Year award.
Suddenly, Khribin was the continent’s hottest property, less than a year after joining Al-Hilal from the UAE’s Al-Dhafra.
So where do Al Hilal and Khribin go from here?
Mohamed Salah’s astonishing first season at Liverpool has rocketed him into the bracket of world’s best players, and is now being held up as an example for other Middle Eastern players.
Khribin, at only 24, is one of the select few who can potentially carve out a career abroad should he choose to. While others like Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout have so far shunned interest from foreign clubs, could Khribin be the next Arab to make a big move to one of Europe’s elite leagues?
So far there has been no indication that the player wants a move, and Al-Hilal will certainly be doing all they can to keep hold of their prized possession as they look to maintain their domestic dominance and reassert their continental credentials in 2019.
First order of business would be to confirm a full time manager, and barring injuries the new man will still be working with the best squad in Saudi Arabia, and one of the strongest in Asia.
The Moroccan Achraf Bencharki has been a successful addition to the ranks of foreign players that include Ali Al-Habsi, the Argentine Ezequiel Cerutti and the Uruguayan Nicolas Milesi, as well as the injured and much-missed Brazilian Carlos Eduardo.
Captain and Hilal stalwart Yasser Al-Qahtani may have announced his retirement after last week’s title triumph, but the club remains home to some of the best local talent around, many of whom will represent their country at the World Cup in Russia.
No doubt more ingoing and outgoing transfers will be conducted during the summer.
The title win has eased the pain of the Champions League exit, and if Al-Hilal can hold on to their best players, above all Khribin, even better things can be expected next season.