With the return of Champions League football, fans get summer tournament after all

With the return of Champions League football, fans get summer tournament after all
When Alvaro Morata scored Atletico Madrid’s late, third goal on March 11 at Anfield to confirm holders Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League round of 16, the prize of the quarter-final was only weeks away. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 04 August 2020

With the return of Champions League football, fans get summer tournament after all

With the return of Champions League football, fans get summer tournament after all
  • When the Champions League resumes on Thursday, it will be in a format fans have never experienced before
  • The sun will be shining for longer, and the games will lack the intensity usually associated with the Champions League

DUBAI: When Alvaro Morata scored Atletico Madrid’s late, third goal on March 11 at Anfield to confirm holders Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League round of 16, the prize of the quarter-final was only weeks away. The final, scheduled to take place in Istanbul on May 30, was tantalizingly on the horizon for the teams left in the competition.

But that 3-2 win over Liverpool would be the last high-profile match Europe would see for some time. As the COVID-19 pandemic brought all sporting events, and indeed normal life, to a halt, the return of the continent’s premier club competition at times seemed like it would never happen. Nor, in truth, should it have been a priority.

But return it has. And when the Champions League resumes on Thursday, it will be in a format fans have never experienced before. 

We may have lost Euro 2020 to the coronavirus pandemic, but in the end, we seem to have got our big (ish) summer football tournament after all. 

It will be strange, Europe’s best club sides facing off at a time when they would usually be returning from pre-season tours of the US, Asia or Australia ahead of the start of their domestic leagues.

The sun will be shining for longer, and the games will lack the intensity usually associated with the Champions League. There will be drink breaks for the first time, and a raft of substitutions as players inevitably tire at the end of this endless season. A competition famed for its two-legged format, and away goals, will revert to one-off, knockout matches from the quarterfinal stage.

Squint and you could convince yourself you are watching a World Cup or Euro match.

Still, the competition will at least get a belated winner now. First, the four remaining round of 16 ties will conclude on Aug. 7/8 before it moves on to Lisbon for a two week football extravaganza. 

After the resumption and conclusion of the Bundesliga, Premier League, Series A and La Liga, we now know what to expect from post-Covid-19 football. The novelty, or eeriness, of playing behind closed doors has now faded, and television audiences seem to have adjusted to football without fans perhaps a little too quickly for some people’s liking. 

The domestic competitions in Germany, England, Italy and Spain may have finished with varying degrees of drama at the top and bottom of the table, but the Champions League should offer many more unanswered questions. As always, the likely winners of the competition remain very much a mystery, something that Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Juventus and to lesser degree Real Madrid, had ensured would not be the case in their respective leagues some time ago.

Every rescheduled Champions League match will have genuine importance riding on it.

The fact that the remaining unresolved round of 16 matches have only second legs to be completed even adds to the feel of straight up knockout competition, which is in essence what the 2019-2020 Champions League has now become.

In what must seem like a different lifetime, a rampant Manchester City beat Real Madrid 2-1 at the Bernabeu on Feb. 26, and remain odds on favorites to progress to the quarter-finals. 

Yet while that night they had overcome a struggling home team in the Spanish capital, Pep Guardiola’s men will on Friday be welcoming the newly crowned La Liga champions - and Real Madrid are never more dangerous than in the latter stages of a competition they consider their birthright. With no City fans to drive their team on, a somewhat neutralized atmosphere will leave Zinedine’s Zidane believing a turnaround, all but written off five months ago, is once again a possibility.

The same night Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus will look to overturn a 1-0 deficit when they welcome Lyon to Turin. The winner of that tie will go on to face either Manchester City or Real Madrid in the quarter-final on August 15. 

On Saturday night, and in the same - clearly more difficult - half of the draw, Bayern Munich will be expected to stroll through to the last eight having already thrashed Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, while Barcelona, despite a troubled season, should have enough to overcome Napoli at Camp Nou after a 1-1 draw in Italy. A quarter-final on August 14 awaits the winners.

It’s once the competition moves to Lisbon, from the quarter finals onwards, that the real excitement will kick in.

The round of 16 of the other, more romantic, half of the draw has already been completed and will ultimately provide if not a fairytale ending, at least a finalist that has never won the competition. On Aug. 12, the competition's Cinderella team, Atalanta, will take on Paris Saint-Germain, and the following day RB Leipzig will take on Atletico Madrid for the right to face the winner of that tie in the last four.

More likely, however, is that the Champions League know-how and pragmatism of Diego Simeone’s battle-hardened team, or the financial might of Paris St Germain will see one of them make the final in Lisbon. For the Spanish team, that should give them a shot at redemption, having lost the 2014 in the same city against local rivals Real Madrid in heartbreaking circumstances.

Sixteen days, 11 matches. And a final as late as August 23. The 2019-20 Champions League will have a summer coronation like never before.


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.


Dutch runner Hassan falls, gets up and wins 1,500 meter heat

General View of athletes in action with Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Jessica Hull of Australia in front on Aug. 1, 2021. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
General View of athletes in action with Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Jessica Hull of Australia in front on Aug. 1, 2021. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
Updated 02 August 2021

Dutch runner Hassan falls, gets up and wins 1,500 meter heat

General View of athletes in action with Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Jessica Hull of Australia in front on Aug. 1, 2021. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)
  • The 28-year-old 1,500 and 10,000 meter world champion crashed to the ground when Kenya’s Edinah Jebitok tripped and fell in front of her as the bell went for the final lap

TOKYO: Dutch distance runner Sifan Hassan kept alive her hopes of an unprecedented Olympic treble after picking herself up following a fall to win her 1500 meters heat on Monday.

The 28-year-old 1,500 and 10,000 meter world champion crashed to the ground when Kenya’s Edinah Jebitok tripped and fell in front of her as the bell went for the final lap.

There were gasps of disbelief from within the sparsely populated stadium as it appeared her hopes of a three-pronged attack on the 1500m, 5,000m and 10,000m had disappeared.

General View of athletes in action with Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Jessica Hull of Australia in front on Aug. 2, 2021. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

However, the Ethiopia-born athlete got back to her feet and moved through the gears as she hunted the leaders down.

Needing to finish in the first six to qualify automatically for the semifinals, she ate up the ground to the leading pack and had the strength to cross the line in first place in a time of 4min 5.17sec.

She earned herself a round of applause from watching athletes including American Cory McGee, who had run in the previous heat.

“That was awesome,” said McGee, who qualified as one of the six fastest losers. “To be able to get up and focus like that and finish first is amazing.”

Jebitok, 19, said she was “devastated” after she trailed in 12th in her heat but she was subsequently reinstated and will be in Wednesday’s semifinals.

Her compatriot Faith Kipyegon is likely to be Hassan’s greatest threat after she coasted to victory in her heat in a time of 4:01.40.

“I am very happy with my performance,” said the 27-year-old. “I will not be focusing on Sifan. I will be concentrating on my own race if hopefully we meet in the final.”

 



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