Russia issues security guarantee to Arsenal fans

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates (Reuters)
Updated 17 March 2018
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Russia issues security guarantee to Arsenal fans

MOSCOW: Russia has issued a security guarantee to Arsenal fans who will visit Moscow for a Europa League clash in the heat of a diplomatic crisis over an ex-double agent’s poisoning.
Moscow on Saturday announced the expulsion of 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tar response to London’s “provocative” measures over the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
Britain issued a travel warning to people in or planning to travel to Russia after expelling the same number of Moscow diplomats on Wednesday.
And Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Friday said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the attack.
The Kremlin called his comments “shocking and unforgivable.”
All of which has left Arsenal fans alarmed about the prospects of playing CSKA in Moscow on April 12 for the second leg of their Europe League quarter-final.
One Arsenal supporters’ group called it “a hot potato of a draw in view of the political stand-off.”
The club itself reposted on its website a Foreign Office travel advisory warning of possible “anti-British sentiment or harassment.”
Russia’s World Cup organizing committee chief Alexei Sorokin expressed disappointment about the tensions and said Arsenal fans have nothing to fear.
“It is a shame that the games will be played in such circumstance,” said Sorokin, who is also a senior member of the Russian Football Union.
“We will ensure security in equal measures to all — from dignitaries to fans,” Sorokin told TASS.
But he also expressed a hint of annoyance at Arsenal’s decision to put up the Foreign Office travel advisory after Friday’s Europa League draw.
“To us, there is no difference which country people come from or what our diplomatic relations with them are,” he said.
“There are absolutely no grounds for such warnings.”
Sorokin has been fighting an uphill battle to clean up Russia’s image ahead of its first World Cup at home.
The June 14 to July 15 tournament has been associated closely with Vladimir Putin ever since the Russian strongman wrested the hosting rights away from England in 2010.
Organizers are keen to resolve all the controversies and the poisoning case does not help.
Preparations have already been shadowed by concerns ranging from racism to hooliganism and doping that saw Russia perform at the Pyeongchang Winter Games under a neutral Olympic flag.
British Prime Minister Theresa May decided to give the World Cup itself a snub by announcing that royals and ministers would not be attending.
A boycott by the England team is thought unlikely despite wide-ranging speculations about it in the media and support from some British MPs.


What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

Updated 19 April 2018
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What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

  • Al-Hilal won their 15th top-flight title this season.
  • Big summer for Saudi Arabia football with the Green Falcons at the World Cup.

Now the Saudi Professional League season is over for another year Arab News can look back at their title tilts and what the big four clubs have to do over the coming months ahead of the next season.

 



AL-HILAL

Finished: Champions

Coaching situation: Ramon Diaz was in charge for much of the season, but was fired in February after setbacks in the Champions League.
Assistant Juan Brown did Okay in the final stretch, but a top-class coach could get more out of this team.

Squad priorities: A reliable goalscorer to support Omar Khribin and with veteran defender Osama Hawsawi leaving for pastures new, a replacement center-back with leadership qualities. Welcoming back the major stars — Carlos Eduardo, Khribin, Nawaf Al-Abed and Salem Al -Dawsari — will be a major boost.

Aim next season: Win the AFC Champions League

 



AL-AHLI

Finished: Second

Coaching situation: Sergiy Rebrov is out of contract at the end of June. His future is likely to depend on how the team fares against Al-Sadd in the second round of the AFC Champions League in May.

Squad priorities: There is not much wrong. The Jeddah giants were the highest scorers in the league last season and had the second best defense. Keeping star midfielder Leonardo fit will help as will a little cover in the center of defense. Star striker Omar Al-Somah fell out with the coach in a public way in the penultimate game of the season. It may be that one of them has to go. The Syrian has been player of the year for three years and has a longer contract than Rebrov.

Aim next season: Win the league. Maintain good performances in Asia.


 
AL-NASSR

Finished: Third

Coaching situation: Krunoslav Jurcic arrived in January and the former Croatian national team boss produced an upswing in results. May just be a temporary appointment and it needs to be sorted quickly.

Squad priorities: Looks good with the Saudi Arabia national team keeper, a strong center-back pairing of Omar Hawsawi and Bruno Uvini and the full-back position seemingly sorted with the January signing of Saad Suhail. They probably need a defensive midfielder and have to keep Junior Kabananga. The DR Congo striker has shown enough in his few weeks at the club to suggest that he could be a real star next season, especially with Leonardo pulling the strings behind him.

Aim next season: A genuine title challenge and getting through the play-offs into  the 2019 AFC Champions League.

 


AL-ITTIHAD

Finished: Ninth

Coaching situation: A bottom half finish is unacceptable for a team with Al-Itithad’s stature and history. Chilean coach Jose Luis Sierra may find that winning domestic cups is no substitute for challenging for the title.

Squad priorities: There is too much reliance on players such as Carlos Villanueva, a creative spark in the team, and Fahad Al-Ansari, the midfield engine, who are the wrong side of 30. The possible return of star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad will help, but an introduction of energy is needed.

Aim next season: Top three and, if the team wins the King’s Cup, a good showing in the 2019 AFC Champions League.