Al-Hilal knock out Africa’s Esperance de Tunis in FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal knock out Africa’s Esperance de Tunis in FIFA Club World Cup
Former Swansea City striker Bafetimbi Gomis got the winning goal as Al-Hilal beat Esperance de Tunis in Qatar. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 December 2019

Al-Hilal knock out Africa’s Esperance de Tunis in FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal knock out Africa’s Esperance de Tunis in FIFA Club World Cup
  • Bafetimbi Gomis got the winning goal
  • Will now face South American champions Flamengo

DOHA: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal are through to the semifinals of the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar after beating Esperance de Tunis 1-0.

This year’s Asian Champions League winners from Riyadh will now face South American champions Flamengo on Tuesday for a place in the final.

Former Swansea City striker Bafetimbi Gomis got the winning goal with a wonderful volleyed finish from the edge of the area in the 73rd minute.

Al Hilal’s Mohamed Kanno was shown a red card with five minutes left for two bookable offenses within three minutes of each other.

The African champions Esperance tried to force an equalizer but were unable to break the Saudi club down. They will now take part in the fifth-placed playoff match.

Elsewhere, European champions Liverpool await the winner of Monterrey — the CONCACAF champions — and Qatari club Al-Sadd in Saturday’s other quarterfinal.


Newcomers Al-Wehdat hold Al-Nassr on bleak opening day of AFC Champions League

Newcomers Al-Wehdat hold Al-Nassr on bleak opening day of AFC Champions League
Updated 15 April 2021

Newcomers Al-Wehdat hold Al-Nassr on bleak opening day of AFC Champions League

Newcomers Al-Wehdat hold Al-Nassr on bleak opening day of AFC Champions League
  • Four of the six fixtures ended in draws, two of which were goalless, while the other two were settled by a single goal

RIYADH: Al-Wehdat ensured that Al-Nassr’s frustrating season continued on Wednesday, as Group D of the AFC Champions League got underway. The Jordanian side held the struggling Saudi club to a goalless draw at King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh.

The team from Amman, which was playing its first-ever match in Asia’s premier club competition, maintained a fine defensive rearguard throughout the game. They are the first Jordanian club to reach the group stage of the competition, and despite the troubles Al-Nassr have been having on and off the pitch this season the Saudi side was still expected to win this match on home soil.

But while last season’s Saudi Professional League runners-up initially were the more threatening, Al-Wehdat coach Abdullah Abu Zema’s side showed little fear and the 70 percent of the first-half possession Al-Nassr enjoyed rarely led to any clear-cut scoring chances.

An Abdullah Muda header did force a fine save from Al-Wehdat goalkeeper Ahmad Nawwas but this proved to be one of only a handful of occasions on which Al-Nassr’s forward line got a glimpse of their opponent’s goal. The second half proved to be little different. Al-Wehdat almost took the lead after 10 minutes but Brad Jones managed to save Ahmad Zreik’s dangerous strike.

In the same group, Boualem Khoukhi’s 89th-minute equalizer for Qatari side Al-Sadd salvaged a 1-1 draw against Foolad Khuzestan, from Iran, at the King Fahd Stadium just as a shock defeat was starting to look all but certain.

Al-Sadd started dangerously but after withstanding the early assault the Iranian side began to grow in confidence and played themselves back into the tie. After a barren first half, Foolad took the lead on 61 minutes through Brazilian forward Chimba’s header.

Khoukhi almost leveled it for Xavi Hernández’s team with an 81st-minute free-kick but was denied by Foolad goalkeeper Foroozan. With a minute left of normal time, however, he would not be denied a second time.

With all four teams in the group sitting on a point each, in the next round of matches Al-Wehdat will face Foolad Khuzestan, while Al-Nassr take on Al-Sadd in clash that could go a long way to determining who will top the table in two weeks’ time. Both games will be played on Saturday.

In Group E another of the competition’s debutants, FC Goa from India, also managed to record a goalless draw, against Al-Rayyan, from Qatar, at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

As expected, the visitors started on the front foot and could have taken the lead after five minutes when captain Yacine Brahimi shot wide from the edge of the penalty box. Minutes later, FC Goa goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh saved a close-range strike by Naif Al-Hadhrami.

Coach Laurent Blanc’s team continued to dominate possession, with Yohan Boli spearheading the efforts to make a breakthrough. Minutes before the break, however, it was Goa who almost took a shock lead, only for Alexander Romario’s long-range effort to be palmed away by goalkeeper Fahad Younis.

Having held out until half time, Goa came out with renewed purpose after the break but neither side proved incisive enough to break the deadlock. The shared points will have left Goa’s Juan Ferrando the happier of the two coaches.

The result left the teams joint second in the group, two points behind Iranian side Persepolis FC, who earlier in the day defeated Emirati club Al-Wahda 1-0.

Next up in the group, on Saturday, FC Goa will take on Henk Ten Cate’s Al-Wahda, while Al-Rayyan face last year’s finalists, Persepolis.

In the day’s other matches, in Group B, Emirati side Sharjah FC recorded a 1-0 victory over Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, from Iraq, while Pakhtakor Tashkent, from Uzbekistan, played out dramatic 3-3 draw with Tractor, from Iran.


Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for semifinal spot

Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for semifinal spot
Updated 14 April 2021

Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for semifinal spot

Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for semifinal spot
  • Roma have the advantage going into the second leg of their tie

PARIS: Roma are hoping to reach the semifinals of a European competition for the second time in four seasons as they host continental heavyweights Ajax, while Arsenal hope to avoid humiliation at the hands of Slavia Prague and Manchester United look set for the last four.

Here’s a  look-ahead to the second legs of the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday.

Roma (ITA) vs. Ajax (NED) (first leg 2-1)

Ajax may be four-time European champions and one of the most exciting sides of recent seasons but it is Roma who have the advantage going into the second leg of their tie at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Italy’s last remaining representative in Europe came away from the Johan Cruyff Arena with a thrilling come-from-behind 2-1 win after being under the cosh for much of the match and are close to a likely last-four clash with Man United after reaching the semis of the Champions League in 2018.

Roma have had a poor domestic season and sit seventh in Serie A — seven points off the Champion League places — after coming up short in almost all of their fixtures against their rivals for the European spots, so Thursday’s second leg could define their season.

Ajax are almost guaranteed to retain their Eredivisie title and warmed up for their trip to the Italian capital with a 1-0 win over RKC Waalwijk thanks to a goal from club-record signing Sebastien Haller, who cannot play against Roma after being accidentally left off his club’s European squad list.

Slavia Prague (CZE) vs. Arsenal (ENG) (first leg 1-1)

Slavia Prague lived up to their dangerous reputation last week when Tomas Holes headed home a stoppage time leveler to turn their tie with Arsenal in their favor.

Mikel Arteta’s Gunners missed some good chances in the first leg but now have their work cut out for them if they want to win a trophy and qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Slavia are on a run of 23 games without defeat and have already knocked out Leicester City and Rangers in their run to the quarterfinals.

Manchester United (ENG) vs. Granada (ESP) (first leg 2-0)

United are huge favorites to reach the semifinals following their simple win over Granada in Spain last week, which should put an end to the surprise package’s first ever season of European football.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are safely tucked in the Champions League places behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and looked in rude health in sweeping past Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 at the weekend.

Villarreal (ESP) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) (first leg 1-0)

Gerard Moreno is having the season of his life as Villarreal gun for their first ever major trophy, a Europa League triumph that would continue three-time winner Unai Emery’s strong record in the competition.

Spain forward Moreno is set to record a career-best tally after scoring 24 times in all competitions this season, including the only goal in Zagreb last week which gave the La Liga outfit an away goal and a great chance of reaching the last four.


Virus surges fuel fears 100 days before Tokyo Olympics

Virus surges fuel fears 100 days before Tokyo Olympics
Updated 14 April 2021

Virus surges fuel fears 100 days before Tokyo Olympics

Virus surges fuel fears 100 days before Tokyo Olympics
  • Cancellation is “certainly not” on the table, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President John Coates told reporters on Wednesday

TOKYO: A western Japanese city canceled the Tokyo Olympics torch relay over spiking coronavirus cases on Wednesday, fueling fresh fears about whether the pandemic-postponed Games should go ahead with just 100 days until the opening ceremony.

Even as Tokyo unveiled installations featuring the Olympic rings and mascots to celebrate the 100-day milestone, organizers face monumental challenges as virus surges.

Organizers have barred overseas fans and postponed test events, but they insist preparations are on track.

Cancellation is “certainly not” on the table, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President John Coates told reporters on Wednesday.

“The Tokyo Games will be the light at the end of the tunnel.”

For organizers, there are some causes for optimism.

The Olympic torch is on its way across Japan, despite being forced off public roads in the Osaka region where it was being carried around a closed circuit Wednesday with the general public kept away.

And vaccination programs are ramping up in many countries, with some athletes already inoculated.

Japan won’t require Olympic participants to be vaccinated, but the IOC is encouraging jabs and has secured Chinese-made doses for athletes in countries without access to them.

In Japan, sports events are still on, with crowd numbers capped, and fans have become used to virus rules that will be implemented at this summer’s Games, including a ban on cheering.

North Korea’s decision to skip Tokyo 2020 over virus concerns has not prompted a rush for the exits, with athletes mostly seeming impatient for a return to the international stage.

“These past 14 months have been very motivating for all of us,” five-time Olympic gold medallist swimmer Katie Ledecky said last week.

“Once we get there we really want to show the world all the work that we’ve put in.”

In Japan, a historic golf Masters win by Hideki Matsuyama and swimmer Rikako Ikee’s comeback, just two years after being diagnosed with leukemia, are offering a feel-good factor.

But there’s no disguising the challenges more than a year after the historic postponement.

COVID-19 surges across Japan have forced the government to tighten restrictions only weeks after they were lifted and on Wednesday, the head of Tokyo’s Medical Association warned the rising infections could make holding the Games “really difficult.”

The governor of western Ehime region announced the public torch relay will be scrapped in the city of Matsuyama, citing the “extreme pressure” on local medical services from rising cases.

Coates acknowledged the situation, but insisted organizers and Olympic officials have prepared for “the worst possible scenarios.”

“Of course we’re concerned, of course safety remains our priority, but we believe that we’re prepared for the worst situations.”

Organizers have released “playbooks” outlining anti-virus measures, which will be updated later this month.

Tens of thousands of athletes and other Olympic participants arriving from overseas will be able to skip quarantine, and are not required to show proof of vaccination.

But athletes will be asked to limit their movements, stay only at the Olympic village during their events and face regular virus testing.

Overseas fans have already been barred from the Games, and a decision on domestic spectator numbers could come in April.

Still, the atmosphere will be far from the usual rowdy celebrations, and it remains unclear how strong demand for tickets will be when they finally go back on sale.

Polls show most Japanese back either a further postponement or cancellation, but the numbers in favor of holding the Games this summer have crept up, to around 27 percent in March, from just 11 percent in January.

In Tokyo, residents expressed mixed feelings about the prospect of the Games.

“In these dark times, anything that will brighten up the day, like getting a gold medal, or anything that can energise will be appreciated,” 27-year-old Kenzo Tanaka told AFP.

But Midori Hinamoto, 65, said she felt “the situation is uncertain.”

“I think the Olympics should be cancelled, if that’s possible.”

Olympic organisers acknowledge the mood, but said they expect it to shift once athletes take the stage.

“Every time, we are inspired by their strength and resilience, and that will be truer than ever this year,” they said in response to questions from AFP.


UAE receives flag to host 2022 Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships

The UAE will host the 2022 Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships. (WAM)
The UAE will host the 2022 Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships. (WAM)
Updated 14 April 2021

UAE receives flag to host 2022 Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships

The UAE will host the 2022 Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships. (WAM)
  • Sheikh Salem bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, president of the Arab and Emirati Fencing Federations, attended the passing-on ceremony at the end of the 2021 edition held in Cairo

DUBAI: Sheikh Salem bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, president of the Arab and Emirati Fencing Federations, has received the Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships’ flag to host the 2022 edition of the event, in which more than 800 male and female players from 55 nations are expected to take part, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) has reported.

The 2022 Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships, which will start on April 2, was confirmed to be taking place in the UAE after the International Fencing Federation members voted last November to award it to the UAE Fencing Federation.

The ceremonial handing of the tournament flag from Egypt to the UAE took place at the end of the 2021 Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships, hosted in Cairo from April 3-11.

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Who's Who: Ahmed Al-Sabban, president of the Saudi Arabian Fencing Federation, who has held the post since 2017. Click here for more.

The ceremony was attended by Emmanuel Katsiadakis, secretary-general of the International Fencing Federation; Abdulmonem El Husseiny, president of the Egyptian Fencing Federation; and the heads of participating teams.

Speaking to WAM, Sheikh Salem stressed that the championship’s 2022 edition is the first to be hosted by a Gulf Cooperation Council country, noting the country’s confidence to turn this major global championship into a success story.

“We are determined to continue to corroborate the UAE’s global reputation for hosting and organizing key sporting events,” he added.


Al-Rayyan coach Laurent Blanc focused on Goa danger for his AFC Champions League debut

Al-Rayyan coach Laurent Blanc focused on Goa danger for his AFC Champions League debut
Updated 14 April 2021

Al-Rayyan coach Laurent Blanc focused on Goa danger for his AFC Champions League debut

Al-Rayyan coach Laurent Blanc focused on Goa danger for his AFC Champions League debut
  • Blanc, the former coach of the French national team and PSG, will be experiencing his first taste of AFC Champions League action against FC Goa
  • All matches in Group E, which also includes Iranian club Persepolis and UAE’s Al-Wahda, will be played in India

RIYADH: Al-Rayyan coach and World Cup winner Laurent Blanc believes newcomers FC Goa will not be easy opponents in the AFC Champions League group stages.

And the 55-year-old Frenchman refused to compare Asia’s top club competition to its European counterpart.

History will be made at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, when hosts Goa become the first Indian side to play in the AFC Champions League group stage, while the Qatari club will be looking to make the knockout rounds of the tournament for the first time.

Al-Rayyan, who finished third in the 2020-21 Qatar Stars League, will be making their 12th appearance in the continental showpiece.

“My team has prepared well for this match against FC Goa, and they are ready. This will be my first time coming here and playing in this stadium. We will give our best and it’s good to be here,” Blanc told the AFC official website.

“I want my team to play their best in this competition. This season is going to be very tough considering the rest days between the matches. We all have our targets and ambition, but our focus is on Goa FC and they are not an easy team to beat.”

Because of travel difficulties related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, India will host all matches in Group E, which alongside Goa and Al-Rayyan includes Iranian club Persepolis and Al-Wahda of the UAE.

Blanc, the former coach of the French national team and PSG, will be experiencing his first taste of AFC Champions League action, and told his club’s official website that he was pleased with venue where the matches would be taking place.

However, he refused to compare the UEFA Champions League with the AFC Champions League, insisting they were two very different tournaments, and that while the Asian championship was difficult in its own right, it would not be fair to to make comparisons.

Goa coach, Juan Ferrando, will be missing the services of striker Igor Angulo, who won the ISL Golden Boot in his first year in India after scoring 14 goals in 21 games, and it will be up to forwards Devendra Murgaonkar and Ishan Pandita to fill the void left by the 37-year-old Spaniard.

Ferrando, however, can still call on the likes of Ivan Gonzalez, captain Edu Bedia, and Jorge Ortiz, and will hope home advantage can be decisive.

Speaking to the AFC website, the 40-year-old Spanish manager said: “This match is the most important moment for the club and Indian football. We are working hard because we know about the opponents and their level of football.

“It will be an intense match against Al-Rayyan, and the physical conditions are as important as the psychology and mentality of the players. The most important thing is to maintain that level of concentration for every game.”

Bedia called on his teammates to remain focused throughout the game. “It’s a historical match for Indian football to compete in a tournament of this calibre. We have worked very hard in training, we have a lot of ambition, and we’re definitely excited. We will try our best to play our best game forward,” said the 32-year-old midfielder.