FIFA chief asked to intervene to solve Iran and Saudi Arabia fixture dispute

FIFA president Gianni Infantino (Reuters)
Updated 08 February 2018
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FIFA chief asked to intervene to solve Iran and Saudi Arabia fixture dispute

BERLIN: The president of the Iranian FA has reportedly flown to meet with FIFA president Gianni Infantino to urge him to intervene in a politically-charged Asian Champions League game.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have affected the forthcoming match between Tehran-based Esteghlal and Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal.
The teams are due to meet in the group stages, which start next week, but Iran and Saudi Arabia have had no diplomatic relations since an attack on the Saudi Arabia embassy in Tehran in 2016.
Saudi Arabia has not wanted its teams to play in Iran. Tehran, on the other hand, has opposed playing games in neutral venues.
In the face of political pressure from both sides, the Asian Football Confederation have seemingly wavered, their position complicated by more recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on one side and Qatar.
Esteghlal, led by German coach Winfried Schaefer, opted to host their game in Qatar on Feb. 20 with Al-Hilal choosing Kuwait as hosts on April 16.
However, the Iranian team’s choice has been vetoed by Asian football’s governing body AFC, who insist the match be moved from Qatar to Oman with no opportunity to find an alternative venue.
AFP’s German subsidiary SID report that Iranian FA boss Mehdi Taj intends to put the matter to Infantino personally in the hope FIFA will intervene.
The Iranian FA could not be reached for comment.
Esteghlal, who also face Al Rayyan of Qatar and Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates in Group D, boosted their squad with the signing of Senegal striker Mame Baba Thiam, it was announced on Thursday.
— AFP


Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

Updated 22 February 2019
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Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

  • World No. 4 wins third three-setter of the week beat Hsieh Su-wei and claim place in the final.
  • Swiss star Bencic deals a forehand smash to Svitolina's chances of unprecedented hat-trick.

LONDON: If Petra Kvitova does get her hands on the Dubai trophy against Belinda Bencic on Saturday, she will be quick to admit she did it the hard way.
The two-time Wimbledon champion was once again made to toil at the Aviation Club as she finally overcame Hsieh Su-Wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was her third three-setter in four days and came about as much through sheer grit and determination as any superior groundstrokes or serves.
“Yeah, it was (tough),” the Czech said.
“It was a tough one, for sure. She really didn’t give me anything for free.
“It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. Anyway I didn’t play great at the end of the first.”
Coming into the event the world No. 4 admitted she was undercooked and in need of some game time. While, in hindsight, the three-setters against Katerina Siniakova and Jennifer Brady in the first two rounds probably did her some good, another match that went the distance was probably not in the ideal script for the 2013 Dubai champion.
But Hsieh is a tricky opponent and she proved it once again on Centre Court. The world No. 31 hits two-handed shots off both sides and was trying to beat her fourth top-10 seed of the week. That included wins over Angelique Kerber in the third round and Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

Bencic will try to upset Kvitova in Saturday's final at the Aviation Club (AFP) 


She started off in much the same vein as she had finished against Kerber and Pliskova, hurrying Kvitova around the court and making life as uncomfortable as possible under the hot Dubai sun.
“She’s very tricky,” Kvitova said about Hsieh, who grabbed five games in a row to take the opening set and go up 1-0 in the second.
“I didn’t really play the best at the end of the first set. But I calmed down afterwards a little bit,” Kvitova said.
“With Hsieh, I need to be a little bit patient. ... It’s not really that easy to make those winners against her.”
While she has 
not consistently displayed her A-game this week it should come as no shock that Kvitova has made today’s final. It was the second seed’s 17th victory of 2019 — a feat bettered by no one — and it will be her third final of the season and 35th of her career. She revealed that her presence in the showdown is thanks to her mental toughness and she admitted that after a long week she will have to draw on that a lot today.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was more calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set,” Kvitova said.
“I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow — it was something weird.
“I’m a bit tired right now, to be honest. I have a final, so I don’t know how I going to recover. Hopefully I have a few hours to do something with me.”
Of her sparkling form so far this year she said: “It’s a bit weird, to be honest. I didn’t really expect anything like that. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect anything, which I already achieved this year. For me, everything is just bonus.
“As I mentioned, the tennis, it’s a bit like escape this week. This is unbelievable to be in the final when I’m escaping from something. Yeah, very interesting.”
In the other semifinal Bencic once again upset the odds to overcome world No. 6 Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-3, 7-6. The Swiss went into the clash as the underdog, but from the off the world No. 45 was aggressive and deservedly won.
In doing so she ended Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak in Dubai and ended the two-time defending champion’s hopes of becoming the first woman to win three Dubai titles in a row.