Iraq rue ‘missed opportunity’ after Gulf Cup defeat to the UAE

Iraq players react after losing a penalty shootout to the UAE in the Gulf Cup semifinal in Kuwait. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Iraq rue ‘missed opportunity’ after Gulf Cup defeat to the UAE

LONDON: The experience Iraq possess and the talent in their squad they should have won the Gulf Cup. There should be no excuses. The cup was there for the taking for Basim Qasim’s side.
From there Iraq looked as if they were set to power onto the final and win a first Gulf Cup in 30 years but they fell at the last hurdle. UAE and Iraq were the two best teams in the tournament and this really should have been the final.
It had all the hallmarks of the 2013 final in Manama, where Iraq were again defeated by the team from the Emirates, and again after extra-time. They will be sick of the sight of the UAE. This time the exit was much crueller as it came via penalties. The Iraqi sports media lauded its heroic players and hailed the side after the heartbreaking loss five years ago, pronouncing that they “may had lost a Gulf Cup final but they gained a new team,” but this one will be viewed very much as a missed opportunity, particularly with Oman lying in wait in the final.
Qasim will be disappointed as he found himself outwitted tactically by Alberto Zaccheroni, the UAE’s wily old fox of an Italian coach who shut the game down by stifling the movement of Iraq’s wide-men Ali Husni and Humam Tariq. Lone center-forward Aymen Hussein was swallowed up by UAE’s three-man defense which is yet to concede a goal in the tournament. Emirati commentators noted that Zaccheroni’s brand of football was “like watching a horror show”, but that won’t bother the former AC Milan coach one iota now they are in the final.
Qasim made mistakes but he is the man to lead the team forward. He has breathed new life into the Iraqi team after the disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign and unearthed a gem in Hussein Ali. He should be the player the team is built around for the Asian Cup next year. Much will be expected there.


Novak Djokovic fails to Master Monte Carlo after shock defeat to Dominic Thiem

Updated 19 April 2018
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Novak Djokovic fails to Master Monte Carlo after shock defeat to Dominic Thiem

  • Former world No.1 still searching for form after returning from injury.
  • Serb is without a title in nearly a year.

A day after needing 10 match points to advance, Novak Djokovic did not even come close to getting one.
The former world No.1 lost to Dominic Thiem 6-7, 6-2, 6-3 in the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters despite saying recently he was finally playing pain free after two years of struggles with a persistent right elbow injury.
Djokovic saved one match point against Thiem, but indecision appeared to cost him on the second. The ninth-seeded Djokovic seemed to change his mind about which shot to play, initially shaping up for a low backhand volley at the net but instead going for a backhand which went long.
Djokovic did save three set points in the first set, and the momentum carried over into the tiebreak. But his backhand let him down after that, with Thiem getting consecutive breaks and holding for the second set when Djokovic patted a two-handed backhand into the net.
Thiem, who also beat Djokovic on clay in last year’s French Open quarterfinals, will next face defending champion Rafael Nadal or Karen Khachanov.
Third-seeded Alexander Zverev could face his brother in the last eight after beating Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. He will next face either Mischa Zverev or Richard Gasquet.
“Hopefully my brother will win and it will be an amazing day tomorrow,” the younger Zverev said.
Second-seeded Marin Cilic advanced without hitting a ball after Milos Raonic pulled out with a right knee injury. Cilic, the Australian Open runner-up, will next play Kei Nishikori or Andreas Seppi.
Raonic said he hurt his knee during his second-round win on Wednesday.
“It was difficult yesterday early in the match, I rotated on my knee. I thought through treatment and so-forth it would be better,” Raonic said. “I was predisposed to some risk and I was unable to play with that amount of pain. I’ll know more in the (coming) days.”
Sixth-seeded David Goffin also made it through after beating Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-4, 7-5 in a match that included a bizarre incident involving a ball boy.
After dropping his serve to trail 4-1, Bautista Agut cleared a ball from the back of the court just as a ball boy was sprinting across. The ball, which was traveling slowly, bounced and clipped the ball boy on the head. Bautista Agut raised a hand in apology but still got a warning from the chair umpire.
Goffin, a semifinalist in Monte Carlo last year, was confused by what happened.
“I just saw the ball directly hitting the ball boy. I was surprised to see he (Bautista Agut) only got a warning,” Goffin said. “For me, if you send a ball onto the ball boy’s head, you’re (kicked) off. I don’t know what the rules are exactly, how he only got a warning. He said the ball bounced and the ball boy just happened to be there. Bad luck for him. But in any case, it’s just an incident.”
Goffin will next play Grigor Dimitrov in their first meeting on clay. The fourth-seeded Bulgarian beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.