Lebanese footballer dies of bullet wound

Lebanese footballer dies of bullet wound
Mohamed Atwi, 32, played as a midfielder for a number of Lebanese clubs and won the national league three times with Beirut’s Ansar, his club for almost a decade. (Supplied)
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Updated 18 September 2020

Lebanese footballer dies of bullet wound

Lebanese footballer dies of bullet wound
  • Mohamed Atwi, 32, played as a midfielder for a number of Lebanese clubs and won the national league three times with Beirut’s Ansar, his club for almost a decade
  • Tributes poured in for the player, who was also capped three times for his country

BEIRUT: A prominent Lebanese footballer has died of a bullet wound sustained last month during a funeral for one of the victims of the Beirut port blast, his club said Friday.
Mohamed Atwi, 32, played as a midfielder for a number of Lebanese clubs and won the national league three times with Beirut’s Ansar, his club for almost a decade.
“A sad day for sport... a great loss for Lebanese football,” Wael Chehayeb, an official with his latest club Al-Akhaa Al-Ahly, posted on social media.
Tributes poured in for the player, who was also capped three times for his country.
Atwi was hit in the head by a bullet as he walked on a street in a Beirut neighborhood last month.
Initial reports suggested he was struck by a falling bullet fired in the air from a nearby procession mourning one of the firefighters killed in the August 4 port explosion.
Atwi’s family however has demanded a full investigation into the circumstances of his death, over which no arrests have been made.
Shooting in the air for celebrations and funerals is common in Lebanon despite recurring injuries from falling bullets.


Peshawar Zalmi excited to be ‘first team from Pakistan’ to play in Saudi Arabia

Peshawar Zalmi excited to be ‘first team from Pakistan’ to play in Saudi Arabia
Updated 21 April 2021

Peshawar Zalmi excited to be ‘first team from Pakistan’ to play in Saudi Arabia

Peshawar Zalmi excited to be ‘first team from Pakistan’ to play in Saudi Arabia
  • Earlier this month, franchise owner Javed Afridi challenged the Saudi cricket team to a friendly match

KARACHI: Players from the Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise, Peshawar Zalmi, have said they were excited to be “the first team from Pakistan” to play a friendly match in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, franchise owner Javed Afridi wished the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) the best over its media partnership with Arab News, and challenged the Saudi cricket team to play a friendly match against Peshawar Zalmi. SACF accepted the challenge. A date for the match has yet to be announced.

Peshawar Zalmi have won the title of Pakistan’s hugely popular Pakistan Super League once, and been a runner-up twice since the tournament’s launch in 2016. Arab News Pakistan has been an international media partner for Peshawar Zalmi since 2020.

“This will be the first team of Pakistan to go and play in Saudi Arabia,” Kamran Akmal, a wicket-keeper batsman who opens the innings for the team, told Arab News in an interview last week.

“International players will come (to Saudi Arabia) to play cricket. So, they will also get experience ... This is a good sign when players like Wahab Riaz (Peshawar Zalmi captain) and international players like Saqib (English bowler) will go there ... their young players will get good experience.”

“They (Saudi Arabia) will get to know how to improve cricket, how the environment should be, how other teams play, so it’s a good sign for Saudi cricket,” Akmal added.

Speaking to Arab News, Peshawar Zalmi captain Riaz said a friendly match between his team and the Saudi team would be a “great opportunity.”

“It’s really good that a country like Saudi Arabia is taking interest in cricket, because they are well known for football mostly. So, it’s a great challenge for us as well. And it’s going to be a fun game, honestly, to play against the Saudis, so they will get some experience as well,” Riaz added.

He said he hoped Saudi Arabia would develop a good team in the coming years and that Peshawar Zalmi would have some role to play in their development.

“Because in Peshawar Zalmi, you know, a lot of Pakistan and international players are playing. So that will give them (Saudi team) some confidence, that will give them some experience,” Riaz said. “And then I think with the passage of time, they will start working on their skills and they will become better.”

Sending a message to the around 2.6 million Pakistanis who live in Saudi Arabia, Riaz invited them to come and watch Peshawar Zalmi play Saudi Arabia.

“My message to them is that they should come, they should see us, they should support both of us, even Saudi Arabia team,” the team captain said. “They can take that entertainment and excitement which they have been missing from the last few years. The message is they should always come support both the teams and enjoy the game.”

In March, Pakistan suspended the PSL tournament after seven team personnel tested positive for COVID-19. The series is expected to resume in June.


Super League dead as Italian, Spanish clubs follow English exodus

Super League dead as Italian, Spanish clubs follow English exodus
Updated 21 April 2021

Super League dead as Italian, Spanish clubs follow English exodus

Super League dead as Italian, Spanish clubs follow English exodus
  • The Super League promised guaranteed entry for its founding clubs and billions of dollars in payments

LONDON: The two Milan giants and Atletico Madrid followed all six English Premier League clubs in pulling out of the European Super League on Wednesday, dealing a fatal blow to the project.

The withdrawals by Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham came just 48 hours after the league’s unveiling late on Sunday following a furious response from fans and officials.

The three Italian clubs involved — Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan — admitted defeat and La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid also pulled out.

Real Madrid and Barcelona  — the last of the initial group of 12 clubs to sign up — have yet to make any comment but the project in its current form is dead in the water.

AC Milan were one of the main drivers behind the plans, having missed out on the Champions League for the past seven seasons.

The seven-time European champions said change was necessary due to the changing football landscape but admitted they “must be sensitive to the voice of those who love this wonderful sport.” 

Italian champions Juventus said they remained “convinced of the soundness of the project’s sport, commercial and legal premises” but accepted it could not go ahead in its original form.

The Super League promised guaranteed entry for its founding clubs and billions of dollars in payments. Most of the clubs have huge debts and wage bills, and suffered a sharp drop in revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the project was vehemently opposed across the football spectrum, from fans to players, coaches, politicians and UEFA and FIFA, the European and world football bodies.

The clubs were threatened with a ban from domestic and European football, while their players could even have been barred from representing their countries.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin struck a conciliatory tone on Wednesday, saying he wanted to “rebuild the unity” of European football, and described the English clubs as “back in the fold.” 

“I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake,” Ceferin said in a statement.

“But they are back in the fold now and I know they have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game.

“The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”

Shares in Juventus plunged by more than 13 percent on Wednesday following a slump in the value of Manchester United stocks.

In response to the English pullouts, the Super League had said it was looking for ways to “reshape,”  insisting the “status quo of European football needs to change”.

“We shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project,” its statement said.

Liverpool owner John W Henry apologized for his part in the planned Super League after club captain Jordan Henderson said the players did not want it to happen.

“I want to apologize to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the last 48 hours,” the American said in a video posted on the club’s Twitter site.


Female board member sets sights on achieving corporate governance with Al-Shabab

Female board member sets sights on achieving corporate governance with Al-Shabab
Updated 21 April 2021

Female board member sets sights on achieving corporate governance with Al-Shabab

Female board member sets sights on achieving corporate governance with Al-Shabab
  • First-ever female board member at Al-Shabab, Reem Al-Zamil, believes clubs should be managed with an investor’s mentality
  • Al-Zamil sees the Saudi sports market as a place of opportunity, which she encourages young women and men to explore

RIYADH: Reem Khalid Al-Zamil, the first-ever female board member at Al-Shabab Football Club, believes that women attaining similar positions should no longer be seen as unusual, adding that Saudi women today are empowered in all fields thanks to the government of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

She thanked Minister of Sports Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and President of the Al-Shabab Football Club Khalid Al-Baltan for placing their trust in her.

Al-Zamil is a management professional with over 16 years of experience in strategy formulation, PMO set up, E-services and digital platforms, and above all is interested in youth development and working toward a digital economy.

Last month, the Saudi Ministry of Sports approved Al-Zamil’s appointment as a board member of Al-Shabab, a team enjoying a hugely successful Saudi Professional League season in which they are second only to champions Al-Hilal on goal difference.

“Al-Shabab recently launched a strategy, identifying a number of goals it seeks to achieve,” Al-Zamil said. “The goals were translated into several projects. The club has achieved significant accomplishments and is being managed in the same way as a corporation. It aims to be iconic in terms of investment and corporate social responsibility, in addition to its role in sports.”

Al-Zamil said that among the board’s tasks and priorities will be the governance of all aspects of the club to ensure its continued success and foster an environment that helps the team achieve its goals.

She added that with women playing bigger roles in all fields thanks to the support of the government, many have excelled and become leaders in the sports sector.

Al-Zamil also highlighted the spate of legal cases raised overseas, which have seen several Saudi clubs suffer sanctions and fines, saying: “These problems can be resolved if a club is managed with an investor’s mentality and a culture of corporate work is created in the environment. Roles, responsibilities and powers must be clearly defined, and there must be a clear governance framework that can be used to manage risks and prevent any financial or administration problems, or at least set alternative plans to manage and reduce losses as much as possible.”

The Kingdom views the sports sector as playing a vital role in driving social change and contributing to social welfare and economic growth, she explained.

This is evident in the different government initiatives and projects that are focused on creating a sports and entertaining system that is sustainable, Al-Zamil said, adding that today’s sports industry includes electronic gaming and adventure sports. 

“The sports sector is one that can increase national income and have a positive impact in terms of developing the national economy through hosting championships, sports conferences and other events, and holding exclusive rights for broadcasting and sponsorships,” she said. “It is also a part of many other sectors such as health, education, tourism and entertainment.”

Al-Zamil insists that Saudi women are qualified, ambitious and capable, and soon she fully expects some of them to be chairwomen of boards in several sectors and not only of sports clubs.

She also sees the Saudi sports market as a place of opportunity, which she encourages young women and men to explore. According to Al-Zamil, the market needs people, including academics and accelerators, who are specialized in sports to work in sports journalism, marketing, tourism and investment.


The UAE Pro League risks dropping to second tier of Asian football

The UAE Pro League risks dropping to second tier of Asian football
Updated 21 April 2021

The UAE Pro League risks dropping to second tier of Asian football

The UAE Pro League risks dropping to second tier of Asian football
  • Al-Ain’s fall from grace symptomatic of wider struggles for Emirati teams in AFC Champions League
  • Al-Ain FC missed out on the group stage altogether in 2021 after an embarrassing 4-0 play-off defeat to Iran’s Foolad Khouzestan

It was a chilly November night and the noise from the brightly lit Hazza bin Zayed Stadium could be heard from miles away in the quiet of the oasis town of Al-Ain on the UAE-Oman border as a full house of 25,000 home fans unveiled a giant TIFO with the words “One Dream” separated by two stars and painted in the colours of the UAE flag.

The home team, Al-Ain FC, were looking to turn around a 2-1 defeat from the first leg of the 2016 AFC Champions League final against South Korean giants Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors as they pursued the dream of a second continental title. The two sides had just joined Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad in becoming the only Asian clubs to appear in three finals since the inception of the AFC Champions League in 2002-03 when Al-Ain were crowned inaugural winners.

There was a certain familiarity to the scenes that night. A year before, 150 km away in Dubai, Al-Ain’s domestic rivals Al-Ahli had been in the same position, contesting the 2015 AFC Champions League final against China’s Guangzhou Evergrande.

In the end, both UAE sides lost their finals and settled for silver medals, but for a moment, despite the disappointment, it felt like UAE football had really established itself as a genuine powerhouse on the continental level. Back-to-back finals, local stars Ahmed Khalil and Omar Abdulrahman earning Asia’s Player of The Year Award in consecutive years, the UAE Pro League topping the AFC’s domestic competitions rankings and the national team taking Asia by storm to finish third in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia; their best-ever result away from home.

Fast forward a few years and the picture could not be more different. Despite much-needed wins by Sharjah and Al-Wahda in their latest AFC Champions League groups matches, the overall picture remains deeply worrying.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the woes of Al-Ain, going from the very summit of continental football to its nadir, finishing bottom of their AFC Champions League group in 2019 and 2020 and missing out on the group stage altogether in 2021 after an embarrassing 4-0 play-off defeat to Iran’s Foolad Khouzestan.

It was the third time Al-Ain had lost 4-0 in their last seven Champions League games. With the club languishing in sixth place in the league at the time of writing, chances are they will be out of the Champions League for two consecutive years for the first time since 2008.

It is not only Al-Ain that has struggled. In 2019, Al-Wasl also finished bottom of their group, conceding 18 goals over six games, more than any other team in the competition, while their Dubai rivals Al-Nasr were eliminated in the play-off stage. Out of the four clubs in the competition, only Al-Wahda managed to get into the knock-out stages, before exiting at the round of 16.

A year later, it was the same story; there were two UAE clubs at the foot of their respective groups, Al-Ain and Sharjah. Al-Wahda failed to participate due to an outbreak of Covid-19 within the club and again one side, Shabab Al-Ahli, finalists five years earlier, scraped into the round of 16 before bowing out.

The result of all this? The UAE Pro League’s continental ranking has dropped from first to seventh, closer in points to the Uzbek League in 10th place than they are to the Iranian League in sixth. The country already lost a seat in the group stage despite the expansion of the competition to 40 teams and losing one more spot in subsequent editions of the competition is a real possibility.

A move by the UAE Pro League to incentivize local clubs based on their results in the continental competition does not seem to have produced the desired outcome. Three Matchdays into the 2021 edition, the three participating Emirati clubs – Al-Wahda, Sharjah and Shabab Al-Ahli – have collected 12 points from 24 on offer. Saudi and Iranian clubs have stolen a march on them.

Those nights of glamour in 2015 and 2016 now look a distant memory, and if this downward spiral is to be arrested, then something needs to change soon. Otherwise, we could see the UAE Pro League, one of the region’s most financially endowed domestic competitions, fall behind the likes of the Thai, Iraqi and Uzbek leagues and, most dangerously, the country could soon find its clubs competing in the AFC’s second-tier competition, the AFC Cup, alongside clubs from semi-professional and non-professional leagues from North Korea, Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh.

An unprecedented low for what was once Asia’s best football league.


Al-Nassr go top in AFC Champions League group

Al-Nassr go top in AFC Champions League group
Updated 21 April 2021

Al-Nassr go top in AFC Champions League group

Al-Nassr go top in AFC Champions League group
  • Riyadh team’s draw with Foolad leaves both teams on five points with Al-Sadd just one behind

Al-Nassr and Foolad Khouzestan FC played out a 1-1 draw the 2021 AFC Champions League on Tuesday to maintain both teams’ chances of progressing to the knockout stages in Group D.

The result leaves the Saudi and Iranian teams both on five points, with the Al-Nassr leading the table on goal difference at the halfway point of the group stage. Qatar’s Al-Sadd sit in third place, a point behind, after defeating Al-Wehdat of Jordan 3-1 in the other Group D tie on Tuesday.

Both sides started brightly at King Saud University Stadium with eyes firmly on Al-Nassr goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah, who had replaced Brad Jones after the Australian, along four other teammates, tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

Foolad were the first to threaten when Saleh Hardani headed Mehran Mousavi’s sixth-minute cross dangerously, but Abdullah made a fine save.

Al-Nassr came back with a swift counter-attack: Sultan Al-Ghannam raced down the flank and sent in a cross into the area, which slipped through the fingertips of Foolad goalkeeper Mohsen Foroozan but Abderrazak Hamdallah failed to capitalize on the loose ball from close range.

Al-Nassr came close again two minutes before half-time when Nordin Amrabat received Hamdallah’s pass inside the Foolad penalty area, but was crowded out by the Iranian defense.

Foolad substitute Mohammad Mirilichali made an immediate impact within six minutes of being on the pitch when Al-Nassr’s Abdulelah Alamari turned his cross into his own net.

The Riyadh team were not to be denied, however, and their persistence paid off with 20 minutes left when Brazilian Petros Araujo grabbed the equalizer.

Having regained their momentum, Al-Nassr pushed for late winner, with Asiri coming close on 80 minutes, but ultimately they had to settle for a draw.

The two will meet again on Friday at King Saud University Stadium.

In the other Group D match, Al-Sadd SC breathed life into their campaign with a 3-1 win over Jordan debutants Al-Wehdat at King Fahd International Stadium.

Winless in two prior matches, the Qatari champions clicked into gear with a blistering three-goal burst in the opening 26 minutes, with Baghdad Bounedjah, Boualem Khoukhi and Hassan Al-Haydos all getting on the scoresheet before an Ahmad Sameer penalty sparked an Al-Wehdat revival late on.

The result places the team within a point of Al-Nassr and Foolad, but Al-Wehdat’s chances are fading fast.

The two teams meet again in Matchday Four on Friday at King Fahd International Stadium.