FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: Prolific Poles, Ace Ajax and Super Mario Balotelli

FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: Prolific Poles, Ace Ajax and Super Mario Balotelli
It was a good weekend for Balotelli, Solari and Lewandowski. (AFP)
Updated 11 March 2019

FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: Prolific Poles, Ace Ajax and Super Mario Balotelli

FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: Prolific Poles, Ace Ajax and Super Mario Balotelli
  • Bayern striker in fine form ahead of Liverpool clash.
  • Solari hanging onto his job by a thread.

LONDON: Santiago Solari is holding on to his job as Real Madrid coach after the deposed European champions got back to winning ways on what was another good weekend for two prolific Poles. Here is what we learned from the weekend’s key action across the continent:

SOLARI STILL CLINGING ON TO HIS JOB: Real Madrid ended their three-game losing run by coming from behind to beat Valladolid 4-1 but the future of coach Santiago Solari hangs in the balance. Solari was unable to confirm whether he would still be in charge for Madrid’s next game while Nacho admitted the relationship between manager and players was “complicated” given “things are not working out”. Speculation persists around potential returns for Jose Mourinho or Zinedine Zidane, as Madrid stay third in La Liga, 12 points leaders behind Barcelona and five behind Atletico Madrid.

LEWANDOWSKI WARNS LIVERPOOL: Robert Lewandowski warmed up for Bayern Munich’s Champions League last 16, second leg against Liverpool by becoming the Bundesliga’s top-scoring foreigner with two goals in their 6-0 thrashing of Wolfsburg. His brace at the Allianz Arena left Lewandowski with 197 goals in 281 Bundesliga matches, two ahead of Werder Bremen’s Peru forward Claudio Pizarro, who is still scoring aged 40. Lewandowski has netted 36 Champions League goals for Bayern in the past five seasons, including eight in this campaign. “I’m pleased with the way we played, that was a good game for us for the Champions League,” said Lewandowski, the Bundesliga’s top scorer this season with 17 goals. Liverpool, beware.

PERFECT POLE: AC Milan’s new Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek is on track to emulate Diego Maradona by topping the Serie A and Coppa Italia scoring charts in the same season. Piatek, signed in January from Genoa, scored his 19th league goal of his debut season in Italy in a 2-1 win at Chievo, in addition to his eight in the Cup. In 1988, Napoli’s Maradona was the top league (15) and Cup (8) scorer, with Lazio’s Giuseppe Signori also achieving the feat in 1993, with 26 league and six Cup goals. The 23-year-old Piatek’s league tally matches Cristiano Ronaldo’s, with Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella just one better on 20. He has two more Cup goals than Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa (6). Milan are third and on track for the Champions League for the first time since 2014, with city rivals Inter up next.

SUPER MARIO: Mario Balotelli confirmed his return to form since signing for Marseille, as he netted his fifth goal in seven games for his new club to secure a 1-0 win over old side Nice on Sunday. A week after celebrating a goal with a group selfie, this time he marked it with a game of rock-paper-scissors with Florian Thauvin. The Italian’s arrival has helped spark a remarkable return to form for the French giants, who have won five and drawn one of their past six games to return to contention for a top-three finish in Ligue 1. Next up is the small matter of a trip to a Paris Saint-Germain side wounded from their Champions League exit against Manchester United. That is the biggest fixture in French football — will ‘Balo’ rise to the big occasion?

ACE AJAX: There was no Champions League hangover for Ajax as they returned to domestic action on the back of their stunning victory at Real Madrid. Erik ten Hag’s exciting team won 4-1 in Spain last Tuesday to dump the holders out of Europe in the last 16 with a 5-3 aggregate victory, and followed that by easing to a 4-0 win over struggling Fortuna Sittard in the Eredivisie. One of the heroes of their win in Madrid, Dusan Tadic scored twice at the Johan Cruyff Arena with David Neres also bagging a brace. Ajax have scored 21 goals in their last five matches and are piling pressure on league leaders PSV Eindhoven again. They are five points adrift with a game in hand, and with PSV due to visit Amsterdam at the end of the month.


‘Best thing ever’: Gianmarco Tamberi basks in shared glory with friend Mutaz Barshim

Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
Updated 7 min 14 sec ago

‘Best thing ever’: Gianmarco Tamberi basks in shared glory with friend Mutaz Barshim

Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
  • The high jump rivals and friends decided to share Olympic gold rather than have a deciding jump-off

TOKYO: Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend Mutaz Essa Barshim, calling it the “best thing ever.”

The Qatari and Italian athletes captured the hearts of sports fans around the world when, in an unprecedented show of sporting solidarity, they decided to share the gold medal in the men’s high jump rather than participate in a deciding “jump-off” against each other.

“Mutaz is my big friend so we enjoyed the evening yesterday and we decided to share the gold medal,” Tamberi told Arab News Japan as he prepared to leave the Olympic Village in Tokyo.

“It’s the best thing ever and that’s the Olympic spirit,” he added. “It was amazing.”

Tamberi had perviously revealed that it was Barshim who, more than anyone else, helped him get over the severe disappointment of missing out on the high jump competition at Rio 2016 due to a injury.

On Sunday, the friends and rivals both cleared 2.37 meters, but then failed with three attempts each at 2.39 meters.

As a Tokyo 2020 official explained to Tamberi and Barshim that a jump-off could be introduced to separate them, the Qatari athlete uttered the words that have now gone down in Olympic history: “Can we have two golds?”

As the official confirmed they could, the duo hugged and broke into tearful celebrations, finally banishing years of injuries and close calls.

Having won bronze in London in 2012 and silver in Rio five years ago, the 30-year-old Barshim now has his gold. Barshim missed a large part of the 2018 season with an ankle injury, but returned to win gold at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha.

“This is a dream I don't want to wake up from,” Barshim said on Sunday. “I have been through a lot. It's been five years that I have been waiting, with injuries and a lot of set-backs.”

“But we are here today sharing this moment and all the sacrifices. It's really worth it now in this moment,” he added.


Glory for Morocco’s Soufiane El-Bakkali as he wins gold in Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at Tokyo 2020

Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Glory for Morocco’s Soufiane El-Bakkali as he wins gold in Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at Tokyo 2020

Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
  • The 25-year-old left a strong field behind him as pre-race talk focused on battle between Kenyans and Ethiopians

A glorious run by Moroccan runner Soufiane El-Bakkali saw him win the gold medal in the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Monday.

The 25-year-old, who finished fourth in this event at Rio 2016, won with a time of 8:08:90, ahead of Lamecha Grima of Ethiopia in second and Benjamin Kigen in third.

Before the final, all the talk had focused on the fact that no Ethiopian had ever won this event at the Olympics, while the Kenyans had won every 3000m Steeplechase gold medal since Los Angeles 1984.

But the Moroccan proved to be the ace in the pack, in the end comfortably stretching away from his opponents on the last lap and collapsing into tears at the finish line.

El-Bakkali had won the 3000m Steeplechase Heat 3 on Friday with a time of 8:19:00, ahead of Topi Raitanen of Finland and Alexis Phelut of France, who both qualified to the final.

Previously, he had won bronze in this event at the 2019 World Athletics Championship in Qatar and silver two years earlier in London.

The Moroccan will now turn his attentions to the Men’s 1500m Round 1 — Heat 3 (3:27 a.m. KSA).


Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020
  • 25-year-old produced some of Saudi delegation’s most competitive performances of Olympics, but will miss out on Thursday’s final

RIYADH: Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin has been eliminated from the men’s 400 meters at Tokyo 2020 after on Monday finishing fourth in the second semifinal at the Japanese capital’s Olympic Stadium.

Despite a fine run that saw him post a time of 45.37 seconds, the 25-year-old will now miss out on Thursday’s final.

Michael Cherry of the US, and Christopher Taylor of Jamaica, finished first and second and will be in the field of eight vying for the medals on Thursday. Steven Solomon of Australia came in third, 0.22 of a second ahead of Al-Yassin.

 

 

Al-Yassin had produced a thrilling run when winning heat two at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday to progress to the following day’s semifinals against some of the world’s best short-distance runners. A personal best time of 45.16 seconds saw him finish ahead of Kevin Borlee of Belgium and Ricky Petrucciani of Switzerland.

The runner received his call-up to the Olympics on July 2, one of the last of Saudi Arabia’s 33 athletes to confirm his place in Tokyo.

His exit from the Games means that Tarek Hamdi, who will take part in the karate 75-kilogram category on Friday, is the last remaining Saudi at Tokyo 2020.


Brazilian footballer nicknamed Elton Arabia tweets affection for KSA at launch of Saudi Arabian Academy

Brazilian footballer nicknamed Elton Arabia tweets affection for KSA at launch of Saudi Arabian Academy
Updated 02 August 2021

Brazilian footballer nicknamed Elton Arabia tweets affection for KSA at launch of Saudi Arabian Academy

Brazilian footballer nicknamed Elton Arabia tweets affection for KSA at launch of Saudi Arabian Academy
  • Elton Jose Xavier Gomes spent almost 10 years in Saudi Arabia playing for 4 clubs

JEDDAH: Elton Jose Xavier Gomes, the Brazilian who spent almost a decade playing football at four Saudi clubs, has expressed his warm sentiment toward the Kingdom in a video posted after returning to his home country.

The clip was taken by adventurer Thawab Al-Subaie, known as the Tube Tourist, during the launch of the Saudi Arabian Academy in the north of Brazil, founded by Gomes, who during a long, nomadic career played for Al-Nassr, Al-Fateh, Al-Qadisiyah, and Al-Wehda.

The video went viral on social media with Saudi football fans thanking the player for his comments and calling for him to be honored in the Kingdom.

Watch the Twitter video:

The video, taken inside the academy, shows the staff wearing the Saudi national team colors, with slogans and photos from Saudi Arabia adorning the walls of the new headquarters. In addition, a number of the academy’s talented children appeared chanting the Saudi national anthem.

It is not the first time Gomes has expressed his affection for Saudi Arabia on social media, having earlier appeared in his garden carrying the country’s flag. He also displayed the emblem of the Kingdom, consisting of the two swords, palm tree, and anthropomorphic camel, at the entrance to his house, which has become a landmark for residents of his hometown.

Known in Brazil as Elton Arabia, he also posted on Instagram and Twitter videos of his son and daughter singing the Saudi national anthem.

In a tweet about the video going viral, he said: “Saudi Arabia has given me a lot, and this is a small part that I give back to this great country. I taught my children the Saudi national anthem, and nowadays, I try and provide the correct information about the country that embraced me since the beginning of my professional career abroad.

“It is impossible to forget my fans and the Saudi people in general, nor the years I spent with you, and I cannot describe my feeling when I see your messages to me, thank you and I am really proud of everyone’s love for me, I will miss you and my country Saudi Arabia, and I hope to return to you soon,” he added.

Saudis expressed their appreciation for his deep feelings for their country on his Twitter account, and Prince Sattam bin Khalid Al-Saud said: “What the former professional player Elton Jose is doing reflects the player’s love and respect for Saudi Arabia, and this was certainly the result of the good treatment that the player had while he was here, and he presents an honorable image of Saudi Arabia that deserves respect and appreciation.”

Yossif Al-Hymmad said: “We loved you and we loved Brazil, when we saw what you did for us. Greetings to you, your family, and Brazil. It is very beautiful, and you are more beautiful in your manners.”

Another fan, Obaid Al-Anazi, said: “A beautiful video clip that carries a lot of loyalty, gratitude, and appreciation for a professional who left his Brazilian mark in Saudi football and seeks to make the mark of the Saudi Cup in Brazil.”

Growing up in Brazil, the diminutive attacking midfielder — who was nicknamed Elton Maradinha after the Argentine legend for his dribbling skills and long, curly dark hair — started his career with Corinthians in 2004 before moving to Romanian club Steaua Bucharest in 2007, the same year he started his Saudi journey with Al-Nassr.

There would also be stints in the UAE with Dubai club Al-Wasl, at Sport Recife in his home country, and a late-career spell at another Brazilian club, CRB. He called time on his career this summer after a season at Al-Hamriyah in Sharjah.


West Bromwich reject Al-Hilal’s bid for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira

West Bromwich reject Al-Hilal’s bid for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira
Updated 02 August 2021

West Bromwich reject Al-Hilal’s bid for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira

West Bromwich reject Al-Hilal’s bid for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira
  • Saudi champions offered $17m but English football club wants almost $30m

RIYADH: English Football League Championship club West Bromwich Albion has rejected a bid of $17 million from Saudi champions Al-Hilal for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira, Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah reported.

The English club has set a price of $30 million for the player, but it is expected that the Riyadh giants will test its resolve with an offer of $20 million to be paid over two installments and have lined up other deals in case the renewed bid fails.

An unnamed Brazilian player, who plays in his country’s national league, is believed to be at the forefront of that list, with Al-Hilal’s management receiving an initial approval to make a move.

Pereira, 25, however, remains a priority for new coach Leonardo Jardim and his board. He began his football career at the age of 15 with the Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon, where he rose through the ranks to represent the first team.

He was sent out on loan three times by Sporting, the first in the 2017 to 2018 season to fellow Portuguese team Chaves, then to FC Nuremberg in Germany the following campaign.

In the 2019 to 2020 season, West Bromwich became the third team to take him on loan before making the move permanent last year.