Gulf Cup ‘unlikely to take place’ after ‘withdrawals’

Following Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain’s non-response to organizers’ invitations, it seems highly unlikely KSA’s Salem Al-Dawsari and the UAE’s Omar Abdulrahman (left) will feature in the tournament next month. (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2017

Gulf Cup ‘unlikely to take place’ after ‘withdrawals’

LONDON: Gulf Cup organizers said Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain had “withdrawn” from the Qatar-hosted tournament, amid the deepening political crisis in the region.
Tournament bosses said they had received no response from the three federations to questions about their participation in the competition, scheduled to start on Dec. 22.
A deadline for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to accept a written invitation from the Gulf Cup Football Federation (GCFF) passed earlier this week.
“There was no response to our letter and they are withdrawn from the tournament,” said Jassim Al-Rumaihi, GCFF general secretary.
That was confirmed by an Arab News source at the Saudi Arabia Football Federation who said they had not responded to any the organizers’ letters and that the chances of the Gulf Cup taking place were close to zero.
“The Gulf Cup is unlikely to take place this year. Kuwait’s FIFA ban is not lifted yet, which means there are only four teams,” he told Arab News.
When asked whether Saudi Arabia had withdrawn he replied: “No, we never responded to any letters from the Gulf Cup organizers.”
The de facto withdrawals brings to a close the debate over whether the tournament could take place in the current climate in the Gulf. Doubts have hung over the Gulf Cup because of a bitter dispute involving Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet.
The crisis erupted on Jun. 5 when Qatar was politically and economically boycotted by the quartet over its alleged support for terrorist groups and relations with Iran.
The 2022 World Cup host denies the charges.
Yesterday’s decision, taken at a meeting in Doha, and confirmation by the SAFF means the tournament has become the first high-profile sporting victim of the diplomatic dispute.
The only chance, and it remains a slim one, that it will go ahead now rests with Kuwait, which has been given a Nov. 30 deadline to say if they will play in the competition.
If that deadline cannot be met, then the tournament will be canceled, said the GCFF.
Although Kuwait is not central in the political dispute — it has acted as a regional mediator since the crisis began back in June — its football association has its own problems and remains suspended by FIFA, which means it is unclear if its team is eligible to play in the tournament.
“We have given 15 days for Kuwait to solve their problems,” said Al-Rumaihi.
“We can make a tournament with five teams.”
If the Gulf Cup goes ahead on Dec. 22 it will be played between just Qatar, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait and Yemen.
Qatar are the current title holders.
Usually played every two years, the Gulf Cup was originally meant to be hosted by Kuwait in 2016 but was moved to Qatar because of the FIFA ban.
Any cancelation of the Gulf Cup could cause huge embarrassment to Qatar , as it continues its $500 million-a-week preparations for 2022.
Yesterday’s news follows hot on the heels of allegations this week that a former FIFA official and head of the Argentinian FA until his death in 2014, Julio Grondona, had accepted at least $1 million in bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

Updated 12 August 2020

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

  • A victory against Leipzig will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since 2017

LISBON: So far so good for Atletico Madrid in the quest for their first Champions League title.

Diego Simeone’s team have caught all the breaks going into the decisive final-eight tournament in Lisbon.

Old foes Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo are gone. They drew Leipzig instead of a more traditional powerhouse for the quarterfinals. And their rival lost its top player after Timo Werner left for Chelsea. Even when things went wrong and the squad was hit by COVID-19, Atletico avoided the worst as only two players were infected and they could still make the trip to Portugal.

Things have been looking good for Simeone and his players.

A victory against Leipzig on Thursday will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since it was eliminated by Ronaldo’s Madrid in the last four in 2017. Ronaldo and Madrid had defeated Atletico in the final in 2014 and 2016, and also ended the rival’s run in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Ronaldo again was Atletico’s nemesis last season after joining Juventus. Atletico lost to the Italian team in the round of 16 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the decisive second leg in Turin.

But this time Ronaldo and Juventus were eliminated by Lyon in the last 16, the same stage in which Madrid were knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City. Only two past champions are still left in the competition — Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and they play against each other in the opposite side of the draw, meaning Atletico could only meet one of them in the final.

Leipzig are a relative newcomer to the Champions League, having reached the group stage only twice. This is the first time they made it to the knockout round. They eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16, but now they won't count on top scorer Werner, who did not extend his contract by a few weeks to finish the season with the German club before moving to Chelsea.

Atletico stunned defending European champion Liverpool in the last 16, advancing after a 3-2 win in England.

“The game against Liverpool will go down in history and was one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Atletico striker Diego Costa said. “It gave fans high expectations and we will give our best to try to meet those expectations. Hopefully we will play well and luck will stay on our side.”

Costa said Atletico will not take Leipzig lightly despite  the rival’s lack of experience in international competitions.

“They are very strong on the ball and know what they are about,” he said. “They have made it to the quarterfinals and have no pressure.”

There was a scare within Atletico this week when it announced two positive test results for COVID-19 among the group that was traveling to Lisbon. There were concerns that an outbreak within the club could have affected the team’s participation in the tournament in Portugal, but new tests showed that only Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were infected and the squad could travel to Lisbon.

Vrsaljko was not even going to play because he is nursing an injury, while Correa isn't among Atletico’s top stars even though he led the team in assists this season.

After coming agonizingly close recently, Atletico hope the breaks will keep going their way and that they  will finally get to lift the coveted European trophy.