Glimmer of hope for Al-Ahli in AFC Champions League clash with Qatar’s Al-Sadd

Al-Sadd's goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb (C-L) makes a remark towards Al-Ahli's Saleh Mohammed Alamri at the end of the AFC Champions League clash. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2018
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Glimmer of hope for Al-Ahli in AFC Champions League clash with Qatar’s Al-Sadd

  • Al-Sadd arrived in Saudi Arabia on the back of a disappointing 1-0 loss on Friday to Al-Duhail
  • A week ago in Qatar, Al-Sadd took a two-goal lead inside 30 minutes thanks to a brace from Boualem Khoukhi

JEDDAH: There is good and bad news for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli ahead of their attempt to overcome a 2-1 deficit from the first leg of their 2018 AFC Champions League second round clash with Al-Sadd on Monday in Jeddah.
The Qatari powerhouse arrived in Saudi Arabia on the back of a disappointing 1-0 loss on Friday to Al-Duhail in the semifinals of the Emir Cup but Al Ahli will have to manage without a number of star players.
A week ago in Qatar, Al-Sadd took a two-goal lead inside 30 minutes thanks to a brace from Boualem Khoukhi. Mohannad Aseri headed home early in the second-half to give Al-Ahli an away goal and hope for the second leg.
Aseri has recovered from a back injury to spearhead the attack once again and defender Mu’taz Hawsawi is also available but there is not much other good news for coach Fathi Al-Jabal in terms of available personnel.
Midfielder Ali Awaji is recovering from surgery on a dislocated shoulder sustained in Doha and star Syrian striker Omar Al-Somah is also unavailable. The Jeddah club will be without Tassir Al-Jassim and Saeed Al-Mowalem who are in action with the national team in a pre-World Cup training camp currently taking place in Spain.
“At this stage of the competition, the games are sure to be tough,” Al-Jabal said. “Missing some talented players makes it tougher but there is not much we can do about the players who can’t play, the ones who are available have been training well this week and we are ready.”
The Tunisian tactician preferred to focus on the positives from the first leg and a performance that saw the 2012 finalist disappointed to lose 2-1 despite putting the hosts under plenty of pressure and recording 21 attempts on goal.
“We are looking forward to the game in front of our own fans,” Al-Jabal said. “In the first leg we played well and the scoreline could have been better for us. We have to be patient and I am sure that we will have opportunities to score and we have to make sure that we are strong at the back.”
Al-Ahli will be encouraged by the fact that Al Sadd arrive in Jeddah with the Champions League now their only chance of silverware this season after the loss to Duhail in the Emir Cup.
It was a tough game for the 2011 Asian champions who had to play the entire second half with ten men due to a red card given to star defender Abdulkarim Hassan.
“It has been a difficult few days,” said coach Jesualdo Ferreira who welcomes back defender Pedro Miguel from suspension. “We have a tough schedule with three games in a week. The game with Al Duhail was unfortunate with refereeing decisions playing a big part.”
“Losing the game will affect us in Jeddah but we have what it takes to get the result we need. The previous season was much better for us than this season. Now we have to work very hard to achieve a positive result and move into the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League,” Ferreira added.


Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

Updated 23 May 2019
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Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

  • ‘I have an obligation to speak against atrocities,’ basketball star tells Arab News
  • ‘Whatever I am going through in my personal life doesn’t impact my performance on court’

CHICAGO: NBA superstar Enes Kanter says he loves his homeland Turkey as much as he loves professional basketball. 

Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Erdogan has arrested Kanter’s father, and bullied his family after accusing the basketball player of being part of the Hizmet movement of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the president asserts was behind a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Two years ago this week, Erdogan demanded that Kanter be arrested, and fears of violence from the Turkish state have gotten so bad that the FBI installed a panic button to help protect the player.

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression.

“His (Erdogan’s) regime’s and his hostility to me began in 2013 when I first start criticizing (the) government on unjust, unfair and illegal closures of college preparatory centers linked to businesspeople in the Hizmet movement,” Kanter said.

 “This closure pretty much became the first public clash between the Erdogan regime and the Hizmet movement,” he added.

“It was obvious that there was something that Erdogan doesn’t like about the Hizmet movement. Up until the closures of college preparatory centers, no one knew about that,” Kanter said.

“The way Erdogan handled this relationship was brutal, ruthless, unjust and unfair. I can’t stand for any of these, so I stood up against this tyranny and started criticizing. Neither Erdogan stopped his approach nor I, and we’ve kept clashing since then.”

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression. (AFP)

Kanter played for the Turkish national team at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, and for the Turkish U18 national team in 2009.

He led Turkey to the bronze medal at the European Championships in France, and was named Best Player and Best Center at the 2009 European Championships by Eurobasket.com. 

Kanter signed with the Utah Jazz in 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, the New York Knicks in 2017, and the Portland Trail Blazers in February this year.

The Trail Blazers lost the Western Division Playoffs, the first step to the NBA Championships, to California’s Golden State Warriors in the final game on Monday.

Erdogan’s threats have placed enormous pressure on Kanter, but he insists it has not impacted his performance or his commitment to help the people of Turkey.

“I’m a successful professional athlete, and whatever I’m going through in my private life would never impact my performance on court,” he said.

“They’re two different worlds for me … I’ve known nothing else but basketball … since I was 13, so I guess it’s pretty important,” he added.

“I see basketball and my platform as a way to teach the younger generation how to be successful and hopeful for the future,” Kanter said.

“Once you’re a successful professional athlete, younger generations see you as a role model, so … I’m trying to do my best to set my life as a role model to them,” he added.

“I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities. I believe that as a human being I should be standing for human rights, democracy and freedom of speech … Me being a celebrity makes it easier for people to hear, see and experience what I believe.”

I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities.

Enes Kanter, Portland Trail Blazers center

On Erdogan, Kanter does not mince words. “He’s a dictator by definition. He silences media, destroys opposition, demonizes his critics … so all these make him a dictator,” Kanter said.

“Turkey deserves a leader who’s open minded, democratic, progressive, intelligent, modest and forward thinking, a leader who embraces everybody in the community regardless of their political choices.”

The harassment from Erdogan has put Kanter’s family at risk too. “I can’t say they’re safe when my dad lost his job and got jailed based on terrorism charges because I’m his son,” Kanter said. “These allegations are baseless and ridiculous, so how could I feel they’re safe?”

He said he respects Gulen and the Hizmet movement, rejecting Erdogan’s claims against them.

“I’m so close to Mr. Fethullah Gulen in terms of his life philosophy and teachings. I admire his way of extracting an individual’s inner potential … in order to be a better person in his or her community,” Kanter said.

“Erdogan should know that he’ll be brought to justice one day and pay for his mistakes. First, he should stop all his unjust, inhumane acts against the people of Turkey. Second, he should start making everybody’s life better in Turkey.”

Before moving to the US in 2009 to attend college in California, Kanter was a star basketball player in Turkey’s premier leagues.

He said despite playing for the NBA in the US, he still sees himself as a champion for Turkey and its people.

“I was Turkey’s best basketball player, and I’m still Turkey’s best basketball player. The only difference is that I’m now representing my country in the US. I left Turkey for a better opportunity in my career, to play in the NBA,” he added.

“I think everyone in society has an obligation to speak out on issues of human rights and democracy, and to stand tall against atrocities, inhumane practices and dictatorships,” Kanter said.

Celebrities like himself “have a bigger opportunity to make a difference and to raise awareness on such issues because of our platforms,” he added.

Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. (AFP)