New Sharqiya Baja to take place Thursday

Mishal Alghuneim has the motorcycle honors in the bag. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 12 December 2019

New Sharqiya Baja to take place Thursday

ALKHOBAR: The new Sharqiya Baja 2019, the fifth and final round of the inaugural Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, will take place at 3:15 p.m. on Thursday with a timed super special stage of 4.32 km. 

Ahead of a field of 51 cars, nine NUTVs, 10 motorcycles, 23 quads and one truck will be two further days of competitive action through the deserts of the Eastern Province and 474.86 competitive kilometers in a compact route of 746.58 km. 

 Several international drivers, most notably Spaniard Carlos Sainz, Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach, Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Czech Miroslav Zapletal will use the opportunity to finalize their preparations for January’s Dakar Rally.

In contrast, the massive Saudi contingent is spread across several categories and sporting disciplines, and the series finale will decide the outcome of the drivers’ championship and the winner of the quad section.

 Saudi Arabia’s leading drivers, Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota Hilux) and Yasir Seaidan (X-raid Buggy), have fought a fascinating tussle for supremacy in the new series.

 Seaidan won the Aseer Rally opener and finished behind his rival at the Qassim Rally, the AlUla-Neom event and the Riyadh Rally. 

 The pair are now separated by just three points, heading into the showdown on Half Moon Bay.

An outright victory would give either driver the title, with 25 points awarded to the winner, 18 for second place and 15 for third. The two drivers, however, face strong opposition from a plethora of Saudi rivals. 

 ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossari is a distant third in the series in his Nissan Navara, and can confirm that position by staying ahead of Mutair Al-Shammeri, Khalid Al-Feraihi and Faris Al-Shammeri. 

 Salman Al-Shammeri has already clinched the T2 title by scoring maximum points in the category for series production cross-country vehicles in three of the four rallies. His closest challenger is Yousef Al-Suwaidi, winner of the T2 in the Qassim Rally.

 Saleh Al-Saif confirmed success in the T3 before the recent event in Riyadh, and tackled that rally in the NUTV class, while Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb have cruised to the T4 title in a Mercedes truck. 

Yousef Al-Dhaif has an unassailable lead over Fahad Al-Naim and Khalil and Majid Al-Tuwaijri in the NUTV Championship, but the latter trio will be battling to finish as runners-up in the popular category. Motorcycle honors have already gone to Mishal Alghuneim with Abdullah Al-Helal finishing the series in second place, but a host of riders still have a shot at claiming third overall.

Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi won the quad section at the Qassim and AlUla-Neom rallies, but a retirement in Riyadh has left the door open for Riyadh Al-Oraifan to snatch the title in the Eastern Province. He trails his fellow Yamaha rider by 21 points, with 25 available for the outright win.

 Several riders can still finish third, but Abdul Aziz Al-Shayban heads into the ceremonial start on Half Moon Bay leading Riyadh event-winner Sufiyan Al-Omar by six points. 

The event is organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), under the chairmanship of Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal and the supervision of former FIA Middle East champion Abdullah Bakhashab. 

 The new Baja runs with the support of the SAMF, the General Sports Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia Outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.

 The event is being considered as an official candidate for future inclusion in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.


Barcelona look for a Hollywood ending from Messi in Champions League showdown

Updated 13 August 2020

Barcelona look for a Hollywood ending from Messi in Champions League showdown

  • While it is hard to imagine that Barcelona will not improve next season, it’s harder to imagine they will improve sufficiently to win the Champions League next year

DUBAI: The faded film star was taken aback by the suggestion she was past her best, that she “used” to be big.

“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small,” Norma Desmond, the character played by Gloria Swanson, famously responded in Billy Wilder’s 1950s Hollywood classic “Sunset Boulevard.”

There’s no suggestion that Lionel Messi is in any way not still a big, indeed the biggest, star in the world of football. But it is tempting to imagine a similar thought must occasionally drift through his mind: I’m still big, it’s the Barcelona team that just got small.

Where he once played the leading role in a superlative cast that included Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Luis Suarez and one of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, David Villa and Neymar, he is now very much a one-man show.

Barcelona’s football, not long ago the envy of the football world, isn’t what it used to be, their tactics often little more than an echo of Argentina’s over the last decade or so: Give the ball to Messi and hope for the best.

It’s been a bad season for Barcelona Football Club.

In a campaign that saw coach Ernesto Valverde replaced by Quique Setien in January, and then disrupted by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Barca’s La Liga title was eventually lost with a whimper to an equally dysfunctional Real Madrid side.

Barcelona’s saving grace as ever, and increasingly in the last few years, has been the Argentine genius. And this Champions League run, for now.

Last week, Messi scored a quite stunning goal as Barcelona beat Napoli 3-0 at the Not Camp, and 4-1 on aggregate, in the round of 16. It had all the hallmarks of his greatness, a reminder that at 33 he remains a peerless footballer. Positioning, control, skill, speed, refusal to be taken down, and a stunning finish. A microcosm of Messi’s career.

The win earned Barcelona a quarter-final against Bayern Munich on Friday night, a one-off tie in Lisbon that not many people seem to think the Catalan giants will negotiate successfully. But where there is Messi, there is hope.

One of Cristiano Ronaldo’s last genuine shots at winning the Champions League may have disappeared with Juventus’s exit last week, but Messi could yet pull a rabbit out of hat in this most narrative-bending season. If he does lead Barcelona to a sixth Champions League title, it could go down as his greatest trick yet. And possibly his last great act.

While it is hard to imagine that Barcelona will not improve next season, it’s harder to imagine they will improve sufficiently to win the Champions League in around nine months from now.

For Messi, time is running out. It’s a case of now or never.

Barcelona fans quite rightly rage that, over the last nine years, the greatest footballer of all time between the ages of 24 and 33 has managed only one Champions League win, to add to the two collected as part of Pep Guardiola’s incomparable team in 2009 and 2011. And they are not wrong.

Messi, and the fans, deserve better. The club, however, has been a case study of bad management and recruitment. It’s not that there have been no good players at the club or that money has not been spent. It’s that the money has been spent mindlessly, and the players have not been integrated into a coherent system under the managers that have followed Luis Enrique, who left the club two years after achieving the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League in 2014-15.

That season, with the dream frontline of Messi, Neymar and Suarez conquering all before them, goes down as the club’s last truly great campaign.

Enrique's final season, 2016-17, saw the club’s greatest-ever European comeback, the scarcely believable 6-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain, which overturned a 4-0 first-leg loss in the round of 16. But the fabled “remontada” proved a mirage, Barcelona losing to Juventus in the quarter-final 3-0 on aggregate.

Valverde did manage two La Liga titles, but it was the Champions League that Barcelona fans, and above all Messi, really craved, and watching Real Madrid claim three titles since their own last win has been excruciating.

The Champions League collapses against Roma, in 2017-18, and Liverpool the following season, will stand out as Barcelona’s greatest failures on the pitch, but the decline and mismanagement had already set in off it after Luis Enrique’s departure.

The big money signings of Ousmane Dembele at €105 ($124) and Philippe Coutinho at €120 have been, respectively, disappointing and disastrous. Other incoming players, like Paulinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Arturo Vidal and Yerry Mina, have not been of the required standard. And those who have, like Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong, joined the party just as the drinks had run out.

Barcelona will certainly need some sort of overhaul in the brief close season before the start of the 2020-21 La Liga season, in terms of playing staff and, in all likelihood, on the management side too.

But long-term planning will have to wait. 

For now, it’s all about Friday’s shootout against an excellent Bayern Munich side and the desperate attempt to salvage this season.

Should Barcelona overcome the German champions, they will most likely face club legend Guardiola’s formidable Manchester City team in the semi-final, and after that potentially Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain and Neymar in the final.

This story could yet have an unexpected happy ending. But it’s going to need an Oscar-winning performance from you know who.