Manchester City win pitch battle as Riyad Mahrez sinks Tottenham

Manchester City’s Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (2L) celebrates scoring the winning goal during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium in London. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2018
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Manchester City win pitch battle as Riyad Mahrez sinks Tottenham

  • City’s peerless quality and a predatory finish from Mahrez helped them ignore the pitch problems
  • City were rock-solid at the back as they equalled the club record of six consecutive league clean-sheets

LONDON: Riyad Mahrez fired Manchester City back to the top of the Premier League as the champions won 1-0 in their pitch battle with Tottenham on Monday.
Playing on the scarred Wembley turf just 24 hours after it was damaged by an NFL fixture, City’s peerless quality and a predatory finish from Mahrez helped them ignore the pitch problems.
It was an emotional moment for former Leicester star Mahrez just 48 hours after the death of Foxes owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a helicopter crash outside the club’s King Power Stadium on Saturday.
A sixth win from their last seven league games lifted Pep Guardiola’s unbeaten side back above Liverpool on goal difference.
Guardiola hailed City’s Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk last week as the finest display of his reign in Manchester.
This was a far more prosaic performance, but it must have been just as encouraging for Guardiola, given the way City subdued a Tottenham side who had lost only two of their previous 21 league games at Wembley.
City were rock-solid at the back as they equalled the club record of six consecutive league clean-sheets.
It was a dispiriting evening for fifth placed Tottenham, who now trail City by five points after their first league defeat in five games.
Mauricio Pochettino this week admitted he is enduring his “worst feeling” as Tottenham boss this season, despite guiding them to their best Premier League start, and this sloppy display will have done nothing to improve his mood.
His cause wasn’t helped by the presence of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles at Tottenham’s temporary home a day earlier.
There were large areas of worn brown turf down the middle and both flanks, while the NFL logo in the center circle and yard-line markers the length of the pitch were all still visible.
But City were unfazed as they raced into the lead after just six minutes.
Tottenham defender Kieran Trippier misjudged a long kick from City goalkeeper Ederson, his errant header allowing Raheem Sterling to steal possession and cut past him into the penalty area.
Sterling showed tremendous composure as he picked out Mahrez’s run and the Algerian finished the raid with a clinical close-range finish.
Mahrez pointed his fingers to the sky in what appeared to be a tribute to Vichai.
Following the tragic accident, Mahrez had posted two images of himself with Vichai on Instagram, with the caption: “One of the best person I’ve ever met. I will never forget you. Rest In Peace Vichai.”
There were plenty of anguished glances at the pitch from both teams when passes went astray, but the surface couldn’t be blamed for some of the miscues.
City seemed less troubled by the surface and they scythed through the Tottenham defense with a flowing move that ended with Hugo Lloris pushing Mahrez’s drive onto a post.
Sent clean through on goal by Erik Lamela’s pass, Harry Kane had a golden chance to equalize but his poor first touch, which couldn’t be blamed on the turf, allowed Ederson to block with his legs.
City had lost just two of their last 101 Premier League games in which they led at half-time and Sterling should have doubled their lead soon after the restart.
Bernardo Silva’s pass gave David Silva a clear sight of goal, but he couldn’t get a shot away and instead found Sterling, whose close-range effort was blocked on the line.
Sergio Aguero fared no better, the City forward shot tamely at Lloris from just 10 yards out and then saw a more potent long-range strike repelled by the Tottenham keeper.
Dele Alli, back after a four-match absence with a hamstring injury, came on for the last 15 minutes and the Tottenham midfielder almost set up an immediate equalizer.
Alli’s run and pass picked out Lamela, but the Argentine somehow blazed over with only Ederson to beat.
In a fractious finale, Lamela and City’s Benjamin Mendy escaped punishment despite coming to blows.


Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

Updated 18 November 2018
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Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

LONDON: Jaka Ihbeisheh’s eyes glisten as he recalls the moment his father first watched him play for Palestine. While the midfielder’s path to the national team may have been unconventional, those feelings of pride on his debut were wholly natural. From western Yugoslavia to the West Bank, Ihbeisheh’s journey was fueled by a desire to rediscover his roots.
Ihbeisheh was born in Ljubljana in 1986 to a Slovenian mother and a Palestinian father, who met while the latter was studying medicine in Croatia. His parents separated when he was seven years old, however, and his father moved back to Palestine.
It would be 18 years before he saw his father again.
An early love of football developed into a career for Ihbeisheh, who played for a number of Slovenian clubs. But while he lived out his childhood dream professionally, in his personal life there remained a nagging question about the whereabouts of his father.


In 2013, Ihbeisheh finally decided to try to reach out to the man from whom he had been estranged for three quarters of his life.
“After getting married, I started to question more where I was from and what my father had been doing,” Ihbeisheh explained. “We still had an envelope at home with an address on it so I decided to write a letter to him asking him if he wanted to meet me.
“I wrote three letters — in Slovenian, Croatian and English — and to be honest I had no idea if I would receive a reply.”
A month passed by with no response but then one day Ihbeisheh opened his Facebook account to see a friend request from someone whose name was written in Arabic.
“It was a strange moment after all those years but the date of birth matched my father’s so I knew it was him. We started to talk on Skype first, in Croatian. I was amazed he could remember but he said that because he studied medicine in the language he had never forgotten it. He still used Croatian medical textbooks.

 

Jaka Ihbeisheh in action for Slovenian side Rudar Velenje. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)


“After a few calls, my wife and I decided the time was right to go and visit him in Palestine. A lot of people said things like, ‘Don’t go there you are crazy, you will get shot’ — but my father lived there and I wanted to go and visit him. I was not afraid.”
That first trip was fraught with nervous excitement as Ihbeisheh made his way to his father’s homeland via his aunt’s house in Jordan. The midfielder had read and heard about the potential difficulties of the crossing into Palestine and his own passage was not straightforward.
“The security at the border was very heavy and when they asked me where I was going, I said Palestine. He said, ‘No, to Israel’ and I said, ‘No, Palestine’. Then he separated me and my wife and a soldier came and took me into a room to ask a lot of questions.
“They asked about my life, my father, my work, my wife. They went on Wikipedia to check if I really was a Slovenian professional footballer. Then they called my wife inside — they were checking our stories matched. They asked my wife the name of my coach and fortunately she knew it. We were there for five hours in all.”
For Ihbeisheh it was glimpse into the border woes that are a regular part of life for Palestinians, though happier experiences were to come.


“When we got off the bus, my father and all his family were there waiting and it was very emotional. Of course, we had a big meal to celebrate.
“After that trip, I knew that if the opportunity came up I would want to play international football for Palestine. My father didn’t need to say anything for me to know how much it would mean to him.”
When Ihbeisheh returned to Slovenia, the thought of playing for Palestine was still on his mind but he had no idea how to put the wheels in motion. Then a fortuitous meeting with a Palestinian diplomat’s son opened the door. Six months later, Ihbeisheh received a text inviting him to be involved with the squad for the first time.
“My first game was a friendly in Dubai ahead of the 2015 Asian Cup and it was an amazing day. When the national anthem played, I was so proud. You meet the other players and hear their stories, then you understand why it means so much to represent Palestine.
“Since then I have come to play every time they call me. I love being part of this team.”

 

Jaka Ihbeisheh meeting hero Xavi, and on the sidelines of a Rudar Velenje game. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)


Ihbeisheh went on to make a major impact at the Asian Cup in Australia, becoming the first Palestinian player to score at a major international tournament in a 5-1 defeat to Jordan.


But while that was a moment to savour, it paled in comparison to the first game he played in Palestine.
“It is a totally different occasion playing in Palestine. Everyone is supporting their country and they make incredible noise, they want to take pictures with us. We feel like heroes. It’s a shame that our home games are often moved away from our land and our people — I hope this stops.
“My first game there was a 0-0 draw with UAE in (the West Bank town) Al-Ram and of course it was the first time my father saw me play in Palestine. This was an emotional moment for him and for me. He said, ‘I was really proud to see you play but I am proud even when you are not playing. You are always representing your country.’
“The more I am called up to play for Palestine, the more I see him so, for us, football has an important meaning.”
That sentiment is true for many in Palestine, for whom football offers a temporary escape from difficult lives. Palestine may often appear to be a byword for conflict but Ihbeisheh has found the opposite to be true, the country uniting him with both his father and his heritage.
“I feel really sad about some of the things I hear, some of the experience my friends and family have. It is difficult to imagine for people like me who have always lived in Europe. You just hear the things on TV or radio but it is not the same as when my teammates tell me their stories.
“What each of them has gone through, and achieved, to play football for Palestine is inspirational. They know how football can help to give the supporters something, for a little bit of time they forget about all the worries. This is important to them, and me.
“I may not come from Palestine but when we are together as team-mates, there is no difference if you have lived your whole life in Palestine or outside of Palestine. We are all the same, we are family.”