Saudi Arabia badminton duo out to learn from defeats at Asian Games

Rana Abu Harbesh during her defeat to Hong Kong’s Ngan Yi Cheung. (Asian Games)
Updated 23 August 2018

Saudi Arabia badminton duo out to learn from defeats at Asian Games

  • Shatha Al-Mutairi enjoyed the experience in Indonesia and has sights set on playing in more top-level tournaments.
  • Coach Mohammed Awad Ammar looking toward the Tokyo Olympics.

JAKARTA: Saudi Arabia’s two female badminton players left the court yesterday defeated but not dispirited, insisting they will learn from their Asian Games defeats and return better players in time for Tokyo 2020 qualification.
Rana Abu Harbesh, 22, and Shatha Al-Mutairi, 23, both lost in straight sets against considerably more experienced opponents at Gelora Bung Karno. However, given this was a debut appearance at the continental competition for both, the results were not unexpected. The hope now is the two defeats act as the first step of a steep learning curve.
“It’s been good,” said Al-Mutairi, smiling despite falling 21-4, 21-4 to Sri Lanka’s Kavidi Sirimannage inside just 14 minutes.
“It’s my first time playing at the Asian Games, so I was nervous, but it’s OK. I am very happy and hopefully in the future I can play much better than I played here. I will gain lots of experience from this.”
Al-Mutairi was in tears earlier in the day after watching Hong Kong’s Ngan Yi Cheung defeat her friend and compatriot Abu Harbesh 21-1, 21-5. At times, the two Saudi Arabia representatives looked out of their depth, making a series of unforced errors, but their coach said that was to be expected. 
“It’s important we come here and try,” coach Mohammed Awad Ammar told Arab News. “(Abu Harbesh) is upset now of course, but for the future, this will give her good experience. We will go back, prepare more and in the future, inshallah, the Saudis can fight to be among the best.”
While men’s badminton has been in development for the past four years, a program for the women’s game only launched in the past 12 months. Already there are eight women on the national team, yet as there are no national rankings for females — the country does not yet hold women’s singles events — Abu Harbesh and Al-Mutairi were hand-selected.
“Women’s badminton is a fairly new sport in Saudi Arabia, so we focus only on the level of performance and dismiss the scores,” said Ammar. “It’s good for them to come and play in this big event. We know the levels of the top countries and we will be able to better prepare for the next tournaments by using the experience of this one. The goal is to try to reach Tokyo 2020.”
Al-Mutairi said that while preparations for this month’s games started four months ago, she has recently noticed an increase in interest in the sport. This afternoon, she will compete alongside Abu Harbesh in the doubles tournament against South Korean pair Sohee Lee and Seungchan Shin. 
“There are games for women in Saudi Arabia now and it’s good that we can enjoy these,” she said.
“Now I have many friends who play badminton, so it’s definitely growing and I hope in the future that that can continue. As for the doubles, I am excited because it’s always more fun, especially playing with a friend and representing your country together.” 
Meanwhile Cheung, Abu Harbesh’s tormentor, will face world 
No. 1 Tzuying Tai of Taipei in the Round of 16. She said her Saudi opponent should continue on her chosen path.
“I think it’s about experience. If you train hard and prepare, then when your chance comes you will feel more confident. As you gain more experience, you will improve,” she said. “So my advice to her would simply be: Never give up.”


Man City’s court triumph set to intensify race for top 4 places in Premier League

Updated 14 July 2020

Man City’s court triumph set to intensify race for top 4 places in Premier League

  • The fight for a top-five finish has reverted back to needing to be in the top four to join champion Liverpool and City, already secured in second place

LONDON: Manchester City’s success in overturning its Champions League ban on Monday has huge ramifications on the Premier League and the remaining two teams that will qualify for Europe’s top club competition.

Chelsea, Manchester United and Leicester — and maybe Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United, too — are now fighting for two qualifying spots instead of three with two weeks of the season remaining.

The fight for a top-five finish has reverted back to needing to be in the top four to join champion Liverpool and City, already secured in second place, in earning tens of millions of dollars in UEFA prize money next season.

The most concerned team is likely to be Leicester.

In the top four since September — and, in December, even looking like the most realistic title challenger to Liverpool — Leicester have imploded, collecting only two wins from their last 11 league games stretching back to the end of January.

After losing to relegation-threatened Bournemouth 4-1 on Sunday, Leicester will find themselves  in fifth place if Man United beat  Southampton on Monday.

United appears much more likely to secure a top-four finish and return to the Champions League after a season’s absence.

With four straight wins ahead of the Southampton game, United are the form team in the league and also has the most benign remaining schedule with upcoming matches against Crystal Palace and West Ham before what could be a winner-takes-all game game at Leicester on the final weekend of the season.

Making it all the more intriguing is the fact that another final-day match is between Chelsea and Wolves.

Chelsea is currently in third place, one point ahead of Leicester, but will drop into fourth if United beat  Southampton.

A victory over already-relegated Norwich on Tuesday appears pivotal for Chelsea, considering its last two games are at Liverpool — a team chasing records to cap its title-winning season — and then Wolves, who have gained a reputation for beating the top teams over the last two years.

Wolves are in sixth place, four points off the top four, so the ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport has come as a blow to their Champions League ambitions.

Indeed, Wolves’ best chance of qualifying for the competition is now to win the Europa League, which earns entry to the Champions League. The team coached by Nuno Espirito Santo has reached the last 16 of the Europa League and will play the second leg of its match against Olympiakos next month, with the score at 1-1 after the first leg.

Likewise, seventh-place Sheffield United needed City to lose its appeal at sport’s highest court to stand a realistic chance of a finish in the Champions League positions, a prospect that would have seemed fanciful for a team that was widely tipped for relegation at the start of the season.

Europa League qualification will be Sheffield United’s target now, with seventh place possibly earning that reward if Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea win the FA Cup.