Saudi Arabia to face Qatar, Bahrain hoping for Iraq shock in Gulf Cup semifinals

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Saudi Arabia, led by Herve Renard, will be looking to make the final at the Gulf Cup for the first time since 2014. (Twitter: @SaudiNT)
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Saudi Arabia, led by Herve Renard, will be looking to make the final at the Gulf Cup for the first time since 2014. (AFP/AFC)
Updated 03 December 2019

Saudi Arabia to face Qatar, Bahrain hoping for Iraq shock in Gulf Cup semifinals

  • Green Falcons, led by Herve Renard, will be looking to make the final at the Gulf Cup for the first time since 2014
  • Iraq have three Gulf Cup titles, but have not been victorious in the competition since 1988

DOHA: It was heartbreak for the UAE this week as they lost out on a Gulf Cup of Nations semifinal spot after defeat at the hands of hosts Qatar.

2019 Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year Akram Afif scored twice for the Qataris in the 4-2 win over the Emiratis, which saw them seal the second place in Group A and will see them gear up for a huge clash with Saudi Arabia who topped Group B.

Iraq, who meanwhile eked out a 0-0 draw with Yemen, got the top spot in the group and earned them a semi-final clash with surprise semifinalists Bahrain.

Iraq secured a gritty draw with Yemen despite going down to 10 men in the eighth minute after Mustafa Mohammad was sent off for a foul on Ayman Al Hajri.

Despite going down to ten men, Iraq created the better chances and Alaa Mhawi shot just wide in the 22nd minute.

There was another chance for Iraq at the half-hour mark but Ali Faez's free-kick was stopped by Yemen’s Mohammed Ayash while Ahmed Sadeq's shot went wide at the other end four minutes before the break.

Yemen's performance improved in the second period and they thought they had opened the scoring in the 58th minute through a strike from Abdulwasea Al-Matari, but the referee, assisted by VAR, ruled out the goal for a foul on one of the Iraqi players in the buildup.

The Green Falcons, led by Herve Renard, will be looking to make the final at the Gulf Cup for the first time since 2014 — when they lost to Qatar in the showpiece — and for a first win at the tournament since 2004 when they topped the round-robin format to become champions. 

Iraq have three Gulf Cup titles, but have not been victorious in the competition since 1988 when they pipped UAE to the title in the Kingdom, while Bahrain are looking for a maiden win having hosted the tournament four times in 1970, 1986, 1998 and 2013.


Joshua reveals he’s gone back to school ahead of Ruiz rematch

Updated 06 December 2019

Joshua reveals he’s gone back to school ahead of Ruiz rematch

  • “I really started studying boxing again”: Joshua

RIYADH: Former world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua has admitted that he has been hitting the books just as hard as the gym in his six-month buildup to this weekend’s epic Clash On The Dunes bout in Riyadh.

The 30-year-old revealed that, as well as sparring with up to five fighters in a row, he committed to learning as much as he could about the “science of boxing” in his preparations for the rematch following his June defeat to Mexican-American fighter Andy Ruiz.

The pair meet again on Saturday in the jewel in the crown of Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Season — with tickets selling fast in the face of phenomenal demand.

To Joshua, the fight is his chance of redemption following Ruiz’s shock win in New York’s Madison Square Garden, so he has left no stone unturned in his quest to produce the perfect performance under the lights and with the eyes of the world watching.

“After that fight, I knew my mistakes,” he told Arab News. “That’s why I said: ‘You were the better man that day. I give you it. First-ever Mexican champion. Hats off to you.’”

He continued: “I wasn’t low because I know I’m better than that and that I’ve got a lot more I needed to give. I just knew that me and Andy are different in every aspect — the only thing we have in common is time. So I made sure I used my time wisely because I knew I was going to get it right. I knew what I needed to work on. It was more strategic planning.

“Ever since I walked into boxing I’ve been dominating. From the amateurs — bosh, championship. Turned pro — bosh, championship. You never really understand what (you have) until it’s taken (from you).

“Then I had time to think and that’s when I really started studying boxing again. There is no doubt I can fight. I’ve been fighting top-level fighters. I’ve never really had an introduction level. I’ve just been straight on. I’ve now had the time to reflect, get my head right, get my head back in the game, and boost myself again and do what I did 10 years ago: take over this division.”

When asked what his studying entailed, Joshua — who won a gold medal in the heavyweight category at the 2012 London Olympics — explained: “Loads of videos. Sometimes you can put fighters side-by-side — both 6 feet 6 inches, both weighing roughly the same amount — but you can see one is more disciplined with technique than the other, you can then see why they became more successful in their field and you learn about the discipline of following through your tactics. Stuff like that.

“You learn about when you move to the left against an orthodox fighter: Is that a dangerous move or is that a smart move to control a fighter? What does it mean to move to the right? What’s the first art of defensive boxing? It’s your feet — get out the way. You start to indulge yourself in the sweet science. Before I was more, ‘I’ve just come to fight.’ Now I’ve learned about the sweet science of the sport, which is important as well.”

In line with his learning, Joshua has ensured his 3,000-mile trip from London does not impact his training and fight preparation. In the lead-up to June’s defeat, he spent seven weeks away from home in Miami. On this occasion, he has arrived only two weeks prior — allowing him to maintain a “training camp vibe” to his buildup.

He believes he is now in the perfect place ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster bout, admitting he actually finds the actual fight the least nerve-wracking part of the whole experience.

“I just kept a training routine and focused on business: Keep my focus and get the job done,” he said. “I’m not nervous at all. I’m confident. I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous for a fight. I’ve probably been more nervous sparring. I trap myself in a dungeon, so I feel like I’m an experiment in a lab. I then come and present my efforts to you.

“That’s why I feel I’ve got so much pressure on myself, because behind closed doors I work so hard mentally and physically to try and stay at the top. I spar, like, five guys in a row who come to take my head off, and I’ve got to be sharp in every second of that round, which will ultimately (affect) what I do on fight night. Training is the hardest part, I think. That’s why I’m never nervous about a fight, because I put so much work in in the gym.”

Ruiz’s win over Joshua in June sent reverberations across all divisions of the sport, with many considering it one of boxing’s biggest ever upsets. So, could lightning strike twice?

“I think it’s kind of like an exam, isn’t it?” said Joshua. “You go through it once, you fail. Most people fail their first driving test, then they go again and prepare better, so I think I’m better prepared if I’m honest with you. You will definitely see the energy in the fight a bit different this time.”

Asked what the outcome would be if he were to suffer a second defeat to Ruiz in seven months, Joshua said: “Definitely catastrophic. But I’m not even thinking about losing. It’ll be big business when I win. I just got to keep focusing on the win.”

He added, “Everyone fails their first driving test. I think I got mine the second time.”