Saudi football teams denied neutral venues for Qatar clashes

Female supporters of Saudi’s Al-Hilal. The team is due to face Qatar’s Al Rayyan in Group D of the AFC Champions League beginning February 12. (Ali AL-ARIFI / AFP)
Updated 28 January 2018
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Saudi football teams denied neutral venues for Qatar clashes

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabian football teams will be required to play away matches in Qatar during the Asian Champions League despite the kingdom’s travel ban on its Gulf neighbor, Asia’s football governing body said Sunday.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ruled all matches would be played on a home-and-away basis as planned, after Saudi Arabia had called for fixtures against Qatari teams to be shifted to a neutral country.
The ruling also means Saudi clubs must host Qatari teams for the return, home fixtures.
Since June last year Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, has adopted a diplomatic boycott of Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism — a charge denied by Doha.
The Saudi-led coalition also imposed a ban on travel in and out of Qatar.
AFC said the decision to maintain the home-and-away format was made after an independent safety and security assessment was completed.
Saudi authorities previously insisted that their clubs would only play against Qatari sides on neutral territory amid reports they may boycott the tournament.
With the AFC ruling that “clubs from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should be played on a home and away basis in 2018 as per the AFC Regulations,” Saudi club football teams are due to travel to Qatar for away matches beginning next month.
AFC Secretary General Windsor John told AFP that Saudi Arabia has not lifted the travel ban imposed on its nationals against going to Qatar.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal have been placed with Qatar’s Al Rayyan in Group D of the AFC Champions League beginning February 12.
Qatar’s Al Sadd are in Group C along with the UAE’s Al Wasl, while in Group B Qatar’s Al Duhail are pitted against the UAE’s Al Wahda.
The AFC Asian Champions League is the top continental competition for football clubs in Asia.
Qatar is due to host the World Cup in 2022.


Profligate Arsenal punished by 10-man Atletico Madrid

The gunners could not defeat 10-man Atletico Madrid. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2018
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Profligate Arsenal punished by 10-man Atletico Madrid

  • The Gunners played with an extra man for over 80 minutes
  • Arsenal now need to become the first away team to score in 12 matches at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium next week

LONDON: Arsenal’s hopes of sending outgoing manager Arsene Wenger off with a trophy suffered a major blow as they could only draw 1-1 with 10-man Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday.
The Gunners played with an extra man for over 80 minutes at the Emirates Stadium, with Sime Vrsaljko’s early red card handing them the initiative.
However, they were made to rue a host of missed chances before and after Alexandre Lacazette headed them in front on the hour mark.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone was also sent to the stands shortly after Vrsaljko’s dismissal, but the Spaniards resisted manfully and pounced when their chance came as Antoine Griezmann prodded home a vital away goal eight minutes from time.
Arsenal now need to become the first away team to score in 12 matches at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium next week if Wenger’s last game in charge is to be the final in his homeland in Lyon on May 16.
Moreover, Arsenal’s hopes of Champions League football next season also hang on becoming the first side other than Real Madrid to eliminate Atletico from Europe for five seasons.
There was a far more highly-charged atmosphere for Wenger’s penultimate home game in charge than there had been for last weekend’s game against West Ham United.
And the hosts were given plenty of encouragement early on, even when still up against Atletico’s full complement.
Lacazette volleyed off the outside of the post and forced Jan Oblak into the first of a series of fine saves with a header from close range.
Vrsaljko had been booked within two minutes for bringing down Jack Wilshere.

And the Croatian left his side a man light after just 10 minutes when French referee Clement Turpin showed no leniency for another late challenge on Lacazette.
Moments later, Simeone was also dismissed by the officious referee for taking his protests too far when an Arsenal player wasn’t booked for what he thought was a similar foul.
Atletico’s excellent defensive record is what has carried them to five European semifinals in seven seasons under Simeone.
The visitors battened down the hatches with 10 men, but were reliant on Oblak to keep them in the tie.
Wilshere headed straight at Oblak when unmarked at the back post at the end of a flowing Arsenal move.
And the Slovenian then spread himself well with an outstretched leg to deny Danny Welbeck.
Having weathered the Gunners’ early storm, Atletico only began to threaten themselves late in the first half and David Ospina had to be alert to parry a fiercely struck Griezmann shot following a fine run from Thomas Partey.
Atletico retreated ever deeper toward their own goal after the break and were finally punished on the hour mark when Wilshere’s deep cross found Lacazette rising above Lucas Hernandez to head in his seventh goal in seven games.
However, the French international and Arsenal could have had more.
Laczette’s dangerous ball across goal found no takers before he headed another good opportunity wide.
And Arsenal paid heavily for their profligacy, and some comical defending, when Atletico grabbed a vital away goal on 82 minutes.
Griezmann outmuscled French international team-mate Laurent Koscielny and then benefited from a slip by Shkodran Mustafi after his initial effort had been saved by Ospina to prod his 27th goal of the season into the roof of the net.
There was still time for Oblak to show why Griezmann isn’t the only Atletico player wanted by Europe’s elite with a spectacular one-handed save to turn Aaron Ramsey’s header behind and keep Los Rojiblancos on course for another European final.