Iraq set to field weakened team in Saudi Arabia friendly

Juan Antonio Pizzi will take charge of Saudi Arabia for the first time next month against Iraq. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Iraq set to field weakened team in Saudi Arabia friendly

LONDON: Saudi Arabia could face a severely weakened Iraq side next month, dealing a blow to Juan Antonio Pizzi's hopes of kicking off their World Cup program with a highly competitive match.
Pizzi and Saudi Arabia Football Federation President Adel Ezzet had deliberately picked Iraq as their first opponents as they play in a similar vein to Group A opponents Egypt and because the likely febrile atmosphere in Basra will test his players' mettle.
But Iraq coach Basim Qasim has said he will be without his key overseas players for the game on Feb. 27 because it falls out the FIFA International Match Calender, which sets out dates that can be used for official and friendly matches. Justin Meram, Brwa Nouri, Ahmed Yasin and Ali Adnan will all be unavailable for selection as they will not be released by their clubs.
Qasim will also not be able to select players from Air Force Club, Al-Zawraa and Al-Jawiya because they will be preparing for AFC Cup matches, meaning he will be selecting very much a second-string team, comprising of players from the Iraqi Premier League plus Ahmed Ibrahim and Saad Abdul-Amir from the Saudi Professional League.
"The match will have a negative impact on the level of the match, especially in the absence of majority of professional players, with the friendly played outside the FIFA match day, as well as the inability of players from the Air Force Club and Al-Zawraa to join up because of their commitment to the AFC Cup," Qasim said in an interview with IQ -PRO.NET.
"I will hold a meeting with the Iraqi FA during the next two days to talk more about the circumstances associated with facing Saudi Arabia, and the future of the national team."
The game next month will also further Iraq's attempts to lift the partial ban on them hosting international matches. Iraq have not hosted a competitive match on home soil since 2011 after FIFA expressed security and safety concerns. FIFA lifted a partial ban in 2013 but reapplied it soon after, following friendlies in Baghdad against Syria and Liberia. The ban was again partially lifted in the summer and Iraq has played three home matches since, against Jordan in Basra, Kenya in Basra and Syria in Karbala. The Iraq FA hope the ban will be lifted completely, allowing Iraq to play full internationals at home. The game against Saudi Arabia is, along with a four-team tournament in March with Qatar, Syria and Kuwait in Najaf and Karbala, part of Iraq's campaign to get the ban fully lifted and show they are capable of staging competitive matches in a safe environment.
"Without a doubt, everyone is looking to play against Saudi Arabia in several ways to strengthen efforts to lift the international ban on Iraqi football stadiums and I believe that the Football Federation had no other choice, especially after the Saudi Arabia’s FA stuck to the tie being played in February," Qasim said.


Sorry, mum and dad — Indian shooting star bans parents from foreign trips

Updated 18 August 2018
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Sorry, mum and dad — Indian shooting star bans parents from foreign trips

  • The 16-year-old has brought home World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold medals this year
  • The Asian Games promises to be the toughest field yet for her

PALEMBANG, Indonesia: Teenage shooter Manu Bhaker said she’s told her parents not to accompany her to tournaments abroad as she struggles to adapt to life as one of India’s best known sportswomen.
The 16-year-old has brought home World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold medals this year in a sudden rise to fame, and is one of the favorites at the Asian Games in Indonesia.
But she is finding that success comes at a price, with a tough training schedule and a restrictive lifestyle that means less time with friends and a one-hour daily time limit for using her mobile phone.
Bhaker said she had resorted to banning her parents from her overseas trips as she tries to carve out a slice of freedom.
“They make limits for me, like, ‘Eat that, eat this, don’t go there, do this, don’t do this, don’t use your phone, don’t do this now, go to bed,’” she tells AFP before a training session in Palembang, which is co-hosting the Asian Games along with Jakarta.
“It’s a bit too much.”
Bhaker’s day kicks off at 5am with yoga and meditation, and ends with a jog and bootcamp-style workout.
But perhaps most punishing of all, she and the other ‘juniors’ on the Indian team are only allowed one hour with their phones each day.
In spite of her age, Bhaker is competing at senior level for the 25m sports pistol and both the individual and mixed team 10m air pistol.
She is proud of her achievement but, yes, the unfairness does grates when she sees older members of her team.
“They’re seniors. They’re free. They can do anything they want,” she says wistfully of her team-mates. “They can use their phones any time.”
Bhaker swept to fame at the beginning of this year by becoming the youngest Indian to win a gold medal at the World Cup, a feat she achieved the individual 10m air pistol and the mixed team event.
She then climbed back on the podium once again at Australia’s Gold Coast in April, setting a Commonwealth Games record of 240.9 points for the 10m air pistol.
The Asian Games promises to be the toughest field yet with the world number nine taking on fourth-ranked Ji Xiaojing of China.
Life on the road takes its toll too.
Bhaker says she has spent fewer than 10 days at her home in Haryana state since February and knows her studies have suffered in spite of some tuition on the road.
She also admits she feels lonely sometimes.
“Your friends are like, ‘No, we can’t have fun with her. She’s a Commonwealth gold medallist — we must respect her,’” she says. “Your friend circle decreases.”
Her coach Jaspal Rana agrees the cycle of competitions and training camps is tough for youngsters who often crave normality.
But they need to decide what they want out of life, he says.
“People come and go. But there are few people who become real champions, real heroes — so you need to work for that.”