Asian Football Confederation to investigate laser claim

A laser appears to have been shone in the face of the Urawa Reds keeper. (Sponichi)
Updated 22 November 2017
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Asian Football Confederation to investigate laser claim

LONDON: The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is investigating claims that someone in the crowd at the first leg of the AFC Champions League final in Riyadh on Saturday shone a laser beam into the eyes of the Urawa Reds goalkeeper.
Images in the Tokyo media seemed to confirm the presence of a green light on Shusaku Nishikawa’s face during the game with Al-Hilal at the King Fahd International Stadium that ended 1-1.
“I knew it was a laser,” Nishikawa told Japanese sports newspaper Sports Nippon. “I got it in the first half and also during a free-kick in the second half.”
Nishikawa had an impressive game in goal, saving a number of times to ensure Urawa head into the second leg with a slight advantage of a draw and an away goal. He admitted that the laser made his job more difficult.
“When it was shone directly in my eyes then my view was a little blurred but I kind of expected it as this game was played in the Middle East,” Nishikawa said, adding that he had experienced a similar incident when on national team duty against Syria in Oman during qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
Players from Australia, Japan and South Korea have complained of receiving similar treatment when playing in West Asia in recent years, especially on international duty during important World Cup qualification games.
Clubs and national teams can be held responsible for improper conduct of spectators as detailed in the AFC’s 2017 Disciplinary and Ethics Code. In March 2017, Iran’s Esteghlal were fined $51,000 by the AFC after fans pointed lasers in the direction of players from Qatari club Al-Sadd in the AFC Champions League.
Esteghlal were also told that further offenses would result in a future home game being played behind closed doors.
“The AFC is aware of the reports and are looking into the matter,” a spokesperson for the confederation told Arab News when asked about the incident on Saturday.
Urawa have also informed the AFC of alleged racial abuse of their players on social media.
“Some Urawa Reds players including Rafael Silva and Mauricio de Carvalho Antonio have recently received discriminatory comments on their Instagram accounts,” read a statement on the club website. “Rafael released a message stating that he is saddened by the fact that racists still exist in this world and that he is proud of his skin color. Following this, Urawa Reds reported the incident to the AFC. We protect our players who are members of the Urawa Reds family from any discrimination.”
The second leg of the final takes place in Saitama on Saturday.
“We will have a very important match ahead of us ... in which Urawa Reds will battle for the crown of victory for the ACL after 10 years,” added the club statement. “We would like to ask our fans and supporters to fight together with us so that we can win the title without being distracted by the incidents happening outside the pitch.”


High-flying Saudi Arabia set sights on silverware ahead of Qatar clash

Updated 48 min 30 sec ago
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High-flying Saudi Arabia set sights on silverware ahead of Qatar clash

  • Green Falcons on a high as they aim to top group with victory over Qataris.
  • Winner of Group E will face Iraq in second round.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia only have one thing on their minds — lifting the trophy on Feb. 1 in Abu Dhabi.
The Green Falcons face Qatar in the UAE capital today with both sides having already confirmed their places in the second round. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s players have been impressive so far thanks to a 4-0 victory against North Korea, followed by a relatively simple 2-0 win over Lebanon.
That fine form has Fahad Al-Muwallad dreaming of the Green Falcons going all the way.
“As a player I have followed many matches in this Asian Cup and all the teams have ambitions to reach the final and win the title. We promise that within our team that our ambition is the highest among all,” the forward said.
“We only play to win the title, nothing less, regardless of who we play.”
Having started so well such confidence is understandable, not least because in their last tournament, the World Cup, the team lost 5-0 and 1-0 — to Russia and Uruguay, respectively — in their opening two clashes.
Added to that is the fact that of the favorites only Iran appeared to be on top of their game, while the likes of South Korea and Japan looked to be stuck in second gear.

Juan Antonio Pizzi is looking for victory over Qatar in a build to maintain the momentum the Green Falcons have built up during wins over North Korea and Lebanon. (AFP)


But anyone thinking Saudi Arabia are getting ahead of themselves have been told to think again. While the Green Falcons are confident and seeking to ramp up their title challenge in the knockout stages, they are aware they must win today to top Group E.
“Our qualification does not mean that we will underestimate the importance of tomorrow’s match,” Al-Muwallad said.
“We will try to play every game as hard as we can.”
That is the message being delivered by Pizzi. Having seen his team get off to such a great, positive start, the manager is keen not to lose any momentum ahead of the second round.
“What matters in such tournaments is achieving good results, which we were able to do in the first two matches against Lebanon and North Korea,” he said.
“We hope to fulfill the aspirations of Saudi football fans who watch each and every match, and we intend to play with the same importance.”
Should the Green Falcons continue their good form and beat Qatar — who have looked equally as impressive in their 2-0 win over Lebanon and 6-0 hammering of North Korea — they will top the group and face Iraq next Tuesday.
“Qatar is a team with many qualities and they have good strikers. However, we are also doing well collectively and I have full confidence that my players can get the three points,” the former Spain international said.
“We will try to do our best to win (against Qatar), even if we have qualified to the knockout rounds, our strategy to win the game will not change.”
Pizzi’s opposite number Felix Sanchez was equally adamant that his side would not play for a draw — their better goal difference would secure them top spot, however — and would aim for a win.
“We are doing exactly the same as we have for the other games, but we know it is a match which will decide top spot,” the Spaniard said.
“We will plan well, as we did for the other matches. The focus now is on Saudi Arabia and we must plan for a good game.”