Santiago Solari wants to stay as Real Madrid boss after humbling by Ajax

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Gareth Bale was, like many people, at a lost to explain Real's shock defeat to Ajax. (AFP)
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Updated 06 March 2019
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Santiago Solari wants to stay as Real Madrid boss after humbling by Ajax

  • Defending champions thrashed at home by Dutch giants.
  • Solari wants to stay but admits the decision will not be his to make.

MADRID: Santiago Solari said he would not give up as coach of Real Madrid but the decision will probably not be his to make.
Zinedine Zidane earned the right to decide himself and chose to leave last summer.
“It would have been difficult for me to win again next year,” Zidane said in May.
“There have been good times but also difficult times. I do not forget that. I want to end with Real Madrid when everything is going well.”
Ten months on, Zidane’s exit speech feels like a warning.
Madrid’s season is up in smoke after seven days in which they were eliminated from the Copa del Rey, deemed irrelevant in La Liga and humiliated in the Champions League.
“I did not come to the club in such a difficult time to give up,” said Solari, after a 4-1 defeat to Ajax on Wednesday sent his side out in the last 16.

Despite the club's legacy and trophy cabinet full of silverware the 4-1 win at the Bernabeu still stands out as one of the greatest in Ajax's history. (AFP)


In the league and cup, they were proven to be clearly worse than Barcelona, their greatest rivals, and in Europe, inferior to Ajax, the club that are supposed to supply the elite not outplay them in their own back yard.
Three defeats, all of them in their own stadium, the last one in the competition Madrid had begun to feel was their own after three consecutive triumphs and four in five years.
“Here lies a team that made history,” read the front page of Marca on Wednesday. “End of an era,” said Diario Sport. “The disaster is huge,” wrote Mundo Deportivo.
Solari had overseen a period of progress since taking over from Julen Lopetegui in November but the decline has been quick and familiar. Early improvement gave way to a lack of goals, which slowly sapped belief. Mediocre opponents took advantage and better ones ran riot.

AXE TO FALL ON SOLARI?

The club’s president Florentino Perez must now decide if Solari is worth keeping until the summer, although it is hard to see what would be gained by sacking him when there is nothing left to be gained from the season.
A new coach, with the same squad, would only surrender the feeling of freshness while for Perez, there might also be merit in waiting until June when more candidates could become available.
Yet he must be aware now of what Zidane was indicating, the sense that there are bigger problems to fix than the coach.
A Marca poll on Tuesday night asked fans who they thought was to blame, with 79 percent answering either ‘everyone’ or ‘the board’ and only 7 percent picking ‘Solari and Lopetegui’.
After years of under-investment, Madrid’s spine is creaking. Luka Modric is 33, Sergio Ramos 32, Toni Kroos 29 and Karim Benzema 31. Age is one thing but motivation is another. Success is hard to replicate.
Cristiano Ronaldo sought a new challenge with Juventus but was not replaced, either by a single star or two or three impact players that could collectively help bridge the gap. Mariano Diaz, signed last minute from Lyon, was not even on the bench on Wednesday.
Instead of marquee arrivals, the last of whom was James Rodriguez in 2014, Perez has shifted focus toward youth, with the likes of Vinicius Junior, Alvaro Odriozola, Sergio Reguilon, Dani Ceballos and Marcos Llorente all showing varying degrees of promise. Vinicius has been a revelation.
The problem is not that those players have failed to deliver but that perhaps they need a blend of experience to help bring them through. A summer spending spree might be tempting but could also undo all the good work done with a talented group.
If Solari cannot make a convincing enough case — and it is difficult to see how he can — in the 12 league games left, the choice of his successor will be revealing as to whether Perez’s faith in youth remains intact.
Madrid face a trip to Real Valladolid on Sunday and all that is left is to overtake Atletico Madrid, who are five points ahead, and reduce a 12-point gap on Barcelona, who are closing in on a seventh league title in 10 seasons. For all Madrid’s success in Europe, that domestic drought speaks volumes.
“We have a young team with room for improvement,” Dani Carvajal said. “It is clear the season is over but we will keep working in the league because that’s what we have to do, we have to be professional. That’s just how it is.”


KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

Updated 19 March 2019
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KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

  • Young Saudi triumphant at Open International Tournament despite just two years of training
  • Zahra Al-Qurashi took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi

JEDDAH: Zahra Al-Qurashi never expected to be where she is today: A gold medal winner in full contact kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs aged just 21. What started out as a gym class two years ago soon turned into a passion, leading to her victory in Amman on Sunday.

“I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym. I found the class and gave it a try, and decided to keep attending the classes,” she said. “A year ago, I joined Flagboxing Gym, and started training with my coach Grethe (Kraugerud). With her help, I developed my style and I am improving every day.”

Full contact is a discipline of kickboxing where punches and kicks must be delivered to legal areas of the body. According to the World Association for Kickboxing Organizations’ rules, it is legal to attack the front of the head and front and side of the torso, using “ankle-level foot sweeps.” It is prohibited to attack the throat, lower abdomen, back, legs, joints, back of the head and top of the shoulders.

A medal at her first international competition, then, speaks volumes about Al-Qurashi’s tenacity. She took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi.

“As soon as I entered the ring, everything went blank, I couldn’t hear or see anyone but my opponent, so I don’t really recall hearing my name even,” said Al-Qurashi. “I got a couple of really good kicks and punches, but she was a good opponent. I was in my own zone though, following every move and made sure I didn’t make mistakes.”

Zahra Al-Quraishi, 21, is already a gold medal winner at an international event despite being a virtual rookie in the demanding sport of kickboxing. (Supplied photos)

Hala Al-Hamrani, the owner of Flagboxing Gym in Jeddah, said: “I am over the moon. I have dreamt about this happening for 16 years, ever since I started coaching. My goal was to eventually provide the ladies of this country with an opportunity to compete.”

For approximately two months, Kraugerud, from Norway, oversaw Al-Qurashi’s workouts, adding more sparring, interval training and intense ring practice.

“I’ve had Zahra spar with men, who are bigger and stronger than her, to give her a sense of what to expect in the ring, to give her more confidence and make her mentally prepared,” said Kraugerud. “I was very proud of her as she entered the ring, you could see the respect for the sport reflected in her. We did a really good job at Flag, we really pushed for this together as a team. She’s young, but she’s talented and she will go far.”

Al-Hamrani, a member of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation, added: “We got her ready by providing her with the right practice and training. It’s a dream come true and it’s very overwhelming because it was such a long process for something like this to happen. Zahra is an up-and-coming athlete who hopefully has a long future and I’m extremely excited to see what that future holds.”

Abdul Aziz Julaidan, chairman of the Saudi MMA Federation, hailed the result after a tough bout between the two competitors, and thanked Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sport Authority, for the support he had given to the team.

Upon returning to her hometown of Jeddah, Al-Qurashi was greeted by her mother. “I was hugging her and crying and mom, being mom, asked if I was crying because I got hit,” she laughed. “That was her way of saying: I’m proud of you.”