Five teams that can cause a shock at the Asian Cup

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The form of Hassan Maatouk, Omar Al-Soma and Wu Lei could determine the fortunes of their teams in the UAE. (AFP)
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Updated 03 January 2019

Five teams that can cause a shock at the Asian Cup

  • They may not be tipped to lift the trophy but these teams are more than capable of beating a few of the big guns.

LONDON: With just 24 hours left until the referee blows his whistle to get the Asian Cup underway the time for talk is all but over. Here we look at five teams that could surprise over the next month.

LEBANON

The Cedars only previous appearance at the tournament was in 2000 when they were there by virtue of being the hosts. That this is the first time they have qualified does not mean they cannot upset a few of the bigger names, however. They face a tough task to get out of Group E with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Korea in the way, but they have surprised in the past and went unbeaten from March 2016 until last October. The form of striker Hassan Maatouk will be vital to their hopes of getting beyond the group stage.

UZBEKISTAN

Think of the Central Asian side and there is a good chance you might dismiss their chances of going deep in the UAE. Their rivals would do well to avoid making that mistake. They impressed in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and proved a hard team to beat. All Hector Cuper teams are defensively solid and the White Wolves will look to Odoljon Xamrobekov to control the midfield and provide the creative spark at the other end of the pitch when needed. They should progress to the knockout stages and will be a team to avoid.

SYRIA

Having come close to qualifying for last year’s World Cup — they lost the Asian playoff to Australia — Syria head into the tournament with more expectation than most sides. With that, however, they have lost the ability to surprise some of the bigger sides. If Omar Al-Soma can do what he does best, namely score goals and give opposition defenders headaches, then they could well progress far. Their last group game against the Socceroos will provide a good indication on how they can do in the UAE, not least with the prospect of revenge in the offing. If they can go deep it will be some achievement having failed to qualify for the tournament four years ago.

IRAQ

Srecko Katanec has been in charge of the Lions of Mesopotamia for only four months, but he takes the side to the UAE confident they can dent a few reputations and progress far. Iraq memorably won the Asian Cup in 2007 and while a repeat is unlikely they are definitely a team to avoid come the knockout stages. They should see off Yemen and Vietnam in Group D and their clash against one of the big favorites Iran will be a good gauge of how far they can go. One thing for certain is that Katanec is taking nothing for granted. “For me, as a coach, the more difficult matches are against Yemen and Vietnam. They are also here to show they belong. They will fight. We will fight. Nothing is easy,” the Slovenian said.

CHINA

The Chinese government is throwing money at youth football, and while you would think it is just a matter of time before they become a continental and global powerhouse the squad at Marcello Lippi’s disposal is limited and one of the oldest at the tournament. That said the Chinese arrive in the UAE as one of the best prepared. The Italian coach has had his squad together since the start of December. “This is truly the first time that we have enough time for better preparation tactically and physically,” Lippi said. Much will rest on the shoulders of Wu Lei. The Shanghai SIPG forward, last season’s Chinese Super League top-scorer, needs to find his scoring boots if China are to do well. They should have enough to see off Kyrgyzstan and the Philippines and progress from Group C and from there on they could take on the role of giantkiller.

 


Runners step back in time on AlUla’s historic trails

Updated 19 February 2020

Runners step back in time on AlUla’s historic trails

  • Top-ranked athletes came from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Netherlands

ALULA: More than 260 athletes from around the world took part in the recent EcoTrail AlUla, a multi-track running race through the dramatic landscapes of AlUla in Saudi Arabia’s northwest.
Top-ranked athletes came from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Netherlands. The race was staged as part of the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival, organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla to promote the historic site as an exceptional tourist destination for heritage, arts, culture and sports.

Events took place on three different courses — an 83 km track, followed by a 45 km and a 10 km track — with international athletes taking part in each of the races.

In the 10 km course, 139 contestants took part in the competition, with 125 managing to complete the run. Saudi runner Mohammed Madkhali won first place, while Yemeni runner Fares Aman Aldin came in second and another Saudi runner, Meshari Almuhanna, finished third.

In the women’s category, US runner Meredith Byrne won first place, Saudi runner Sarah Abdullatif came in second, and British runner Maureen McConnell finished third.

Ninety athletes took part in the 45 km race, with 85 finishing. Saudi runner Abdulaziz Al-Ghamdi came in first, with Australian Matthew Sudich second and French runner Nicholas Mordelet in third.

In the women’s category, Dutch runner Floortje Rawee came in first, followed by Italian Alessandra Grassi in second and American Natasha Turak third.

The 83 km race featured 37 athletes with only 17 finishing. In the men’s category, US runner Michael Wardian finished first, followed by Pierre Breuer from Belgium in second and Malaysia’s Soonseng Ong third.

In the women’s category, Amy Sproston from the US ranked first, with Ruth Theresia from Indonesia second and American Rachel Bessette third.

EcoTrail AlUla attracted athletes from around the world, most notably the US, UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Sweden, the UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Jordan, Oman, Peru, Poland and Indonesia.

The one-day trail gave visitors the opportunity to become acquainted with AlUla and its distinctive natural, cultural, architectural and historical monuments. The trail is an eye-catching destination for running enthusiasts and jogging clubs, and will encourage people to visit AlUla and Saudi Arabia to take part in a global sporting event that promotes environmentally friendly principles and initiatives.

The race contained several medical care stops and catering stations, and each participant received a number in addition to a welcome gift and a shirt. An inaugural dinner was held to welcome contestants on the night before the race.

EcoTrail AlUla is the first race to occur in the Middle East and one of the most notable sports events of this year’s Winter at Tantora festival. The race was sponsored by STC, Almarai Company, Sabeeka Energy Bar, Whites, and Hussak Adventures. The festival’s latest season also provides a wide range of diverse experiences that meet the needs of all visitors and entertain all tastes, for individuals, groups or families from all walks of life.

The festival began on Dec. 19 and will run until March 7, 2020. Guests of the second season of this year will be able to visit the astonishing historical and heritage sites exclusively, and attend the international musical and artistic performances.