Norwegian winger relishes Saudi challenge

Norwegian winger relishes Saudi challenge
Gustav Wikheim left FC Midtjylland to sign for Al-Fateh in 2019. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 12 November 2020

Norwegian winger relishes Saudi challenge

Norwegian winger relishes Saudi challenge

LONDON: Gustav Wikheim could be forgiven for having mixed feelings when he watched FC Midtjylland take on Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League on Oct. 27.

The Norwegian winger left the Danish giants to sign for Al-Fateh in 2019 but seeing his former teammates take on the English powerhouse merely increased his motivation to help his Saudi Arabian team into Asia’s equivalent competition.

It would be quite a jump for the club based in the football-mad east of the country to return to the continent’s flagship club tournament for only a third time but it is at least heading in the right direction.

A solid start to the new season is reflected in its current position of joint fifth.

Two wins from the opening three games, including an opening day victory over the big-spending Al-Nassr, came as a relief, as much of the 27-year-old’s first season in Saudi Arabia was spent in the relegation zone.

“It was a new experience for me, the first time to be in this position as a player,” Wikheim, who won the 2018 Danish league title, told Arab News.

“It was very stressful and it is not something we want to go through again. To be honest, last season we felt we had a decent team and played quite well but just didn’t get the results we wanted. There was a lot of pressure around and to go down with this team would have been a big disappointment.”

Al-Fateh climbed out of the dropzone in the final weeks of the season. The trajectory has continued upward.

“We have a better team now though we haven’t changed too many players. We are happy with how the season has started and want to keep moving forward.”

Yannick Ferrera, a young Belgian coach, took over in October 2019, and, like Wikheim, has had time to adapt to Saudi Arabian football.

“The coach came in and put his mark on the team. He has done a good job and was a part of the saving operation last season. He has a new contract now and he is looking to the future, we all are.”

According to the attacker, the club’s official priority this season is not just to survive but to steer clear of any kind of relegation battle.

“With 10 games of the season left, we want to have no worries at all about going down and then we can see where we can finish in the table.”

It could be a high position. With seven points from the first three games the sky seemed to be the limit but a 3-1 loss to Al-Shabab ensured that Al-Fateh entered the international break with feet safely on the ground. The former Norway U-23 international was impressed with how the 2012 champions kept the pressure on.

“Al-Shabab looked very good and have a great team ethic but, for me, Al-Hilal are the standout team. They are really professional with great players and have almost a European feel from a tactical point of view.”

Overall, the Norwegian has been impressed by the standard in the country.

“The football has surprised me as the level was higher than I expected. It is good and I would compare it to Denmark and say it is about the same. It is different in that there is less focus on tactical play here and more on the individual quality that can win matches when compared to Europe but that side is improving too.”

Being a winger offers a chance to get a close look at Saudi Arabian full-backs and Wikheim laughs at the thought.

“They are intense! A lot of them are fast and quick and take more chances than those in Europe in terms of trying to get the ball as well as positioning.  They always present an interesting challenge.”

It is one that, as a foreign player, he is keen to show others that he can overcome.

“I do feel a responsibility to be as good as I can be. We come from overseas and we have to show a different kind of football, though of course I know that people here know how to play. I just want to be one of the best.”

It helps that there are a number of European players at the club, such as Mitchell te Vrede of the Netherlands, Ukrainian goalkeeper Maksym Koval and Serbian striker Sasa Jovanovic.

“We help each other and we talk and speak about how we can take the next step for the team and it helps some guys who have been here longer and can help you get settled.”

Overall though, despite missing out on games like Liverpool, there are no regrets from the forward about his move from Scandinavia.

“I won the title and the cup in Denmark and I was there for three years and was ready for something new. When the chance came, I talked to people who had been before and did some research with the family. We wanted a new experience and so far, it has been a very positive one for all of us and I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”


Zhang Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds

Zhang  Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds
Updated 22 October 2021

Zhang Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds

Zhang  Boheng wins all-around final at gymnastics worlds
  • Zhang became the first Chinese men’s all-around world champion since Xiao Ruoteng in 2017

KITAKYUSHU, Japan: Zhang Boheng of China edged out Olympic champion Daiki Hashimoto on Friday to win the gold medal in the men’s all-around at the Gymnastics World Championships.

Zhang, who did not qualify for China’s team for this summer’s Olympics, held a slim lead over local favorite Hashimoto heading into the final apparatus, the horizontal bar — an event Hashimoto won at the Tokyo Games.

Zhang scored 14.800 points while Hashimoto received 15.133 but it wasn’t enough to erase the deficit and the 21-year-old Zhang finished with 87.981 overall points to 87.964 for Hashimoto.

“This is my first time to take part in the world championships and the first time to win the all-around title for my country,” Zhang said. “I was nervous waiting for the scores to appear because it was so close, such a high-level competition.”

Zhang became the first Chinese men’s all-around world champion since Xiao Ruoteng in 2017.

Illia Kovtun of Ukraine was third with 84.899 points, followed by Yul Moldauer of the US with 84.365.

Hashimoto was aiming to become Japan’s fifth men’s world champion and its first since Kohei Uchimura won the last of his six straight titles in 2015.

Hashimoto’s performance on the horizontal bar was solid but he stepped to his left on the landing which likely cost him the gold medal.

“(Zhang) was great tonight,” Hashimoto said. “There is no question he is world No. 1. I knew I had to put in a perfect performance on the horizontal bar and that was difficult to do.”

Zhang had the top score on the floor exercise, the vault and the parallel bars, while finishing second-best on the rings and horizontal bar, the only apparatus where Hashimoto led the field. Both Hashimoto and Zhang suffered falls on the pommel horse.

At 19, Hashimoto became the youngest man ever to win the Olympic all-around title, at the Tokyo Games.

Defending champion Nikita Nagornyy of Russia did not travel to Japan for the worlds.

The world championships wrap up with individual event finals on Saturday and Sunday. There is no team competition in the world championships immediately after an Olympic Games.

Hashimoto will compete in the floor exercise, pommel horse, parallel bars, and horizontal bar this weekend. Zhang will compete in the finals on still rings and parallel bars.


Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch

Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch
Updated 22 October 2021

Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch

Saint-Etienne match delayed after fans bombard and invade pitch
  • The latest in a series of incidents involving fans in and around Ligue 1 games this season started during the player warm up ahead of the scheduled 9pm kick off
  • Fans unfurled banners, let off a barrage of rockets and smoke bombs and invaded the pitch, damaging the goals.

SAINT-ETIENNE, France: The kick off in the Ligue 1 match between Saint Etienne and visiting Angers was delayed for an hour by protests from home fans angry at their team’s dire form.
The latest in a series of incidents involving fans in and around Ligue 1 games this season started during the player warm up ahead of the scheduled 9pm (1900 GMT) kick off.
Fans unfurled banners, let off a barrage of rockets and smoke bombs and invaded the pitch, damaging the goals.
Fans unfurled banners attacking coach Claude Puel, club leadership and the players.
“We’ve had enough talk, you’re making us crack” said one visible through the smoke.
“Puel resign,” “management resign” and “we want a team worthy of its fans” chanted the fans.
The players left the field and kick off was put back as municipal workers repaired the nets at the city-owned Geoffroy-Guichard stadium.
Saint-Etienne are last in Ligue 1, winless after 11 matches.
On Thursday, fans hung a banner on the gates of the training center which said: “Puel, you have 24 hours to resign.”
The latest incidents come just two days after the league disciplinary committee imposed a two-match suspended closure of the stadium’s south stand after incidents during the derby against Lyon on October 3.
A season of angry fans in France opened with a match between Nice and Marseille abandoned on August 22.
That was followed by a string of incidents in September.
The northern derby between Lens and Lille was overshadowed by a pitch invasion that delayed the start of the second half.
The next weekend, supporters invaded the pitch at the game between Angers and Marseille, while stones were thrown at a bus taking Bordeaux fans to their match in Montpellier, with 16 suffering minor injuries.
Nice were deducted a point. Lens were ordered to play home matches behind closed doors.


Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue
Updated 22 October 2021

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue
  • The launch of Al Thumama stadium comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup
  • Qatar has so far officially inaugurated 5 of the 8 stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East

DOHA: Qatar inaugurated on Friday its fifth stadium for the 2022 World Cup, welcoming thousands of spectators who have either recently recovered from coronavirus or have been vaccinated.
The launch of the Al Thumama stadium, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of the capital Doha, comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup.
The 40,000-seat ground, which will host groups matches during Qatar 2022 up to the quarter-finals, hosted the domestic Emir Cup final between local clubs Al Rayyan and Al Sadd as its inaugural match.
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended the opening ceremony.
It was designed by Qatari architect Ibrahim M. Jaidah to resemble the ‘gahfiya’ cap, traditionally worn by men in the region.
Energy-rich Qatar has so far officially inaugurated five of the eight stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East.
In addition to Al Thumama, Qatar has so far inaugurated new-build Ahmad Bin Ali, Al-Janoub and Education City stadiums alongside the refurbished Khalifa ground in the heart of Doha’s Aspire Zone.
Ras Abu Aboud, Al Bayt, Lusail, which will host the final match in December 2022, remain to be opened.
Following the World Cup, Al Thumama’s capacity will be reduced to 20,000, with a sports clinic and a boutique hotel set to open on site.
Fans were able to apply for tickets to Friday’s event if they either tested positive for virus antibodies, or have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Qatar, which says it vaccinated more than three quarters of its 2.75 million population, has recorded more than 238,000 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.


Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search

Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search
Updated 22 October 2021

Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search

Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search
  • Graeme Jones confirmed Friday he has been asked to take charge of the next two Premier League games
  • Jones feels Newcastle supporters have plenty to look forward to under the club’s ambitious new owners

NEWCASTLE: Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi have assured Newcastle United interim manager Graeme Jones he has a long-term future at the football club.

The Magpies have been working their way through a list of managerial candidates, following the “mutual consent” departure of Steve Bruce on Wednesday.

And on Friday, assistant Jones, promoted to the top job for the next two games, spoke of his pride at being handed the reins on a temporary basis at his boyhood club.

Ahead of the trip to Crystal Palace, former England coach Jones revealed his midweek meeting with PCP Capital Partners’ Staveley and Ghodoussi, who collectively own 10 percent of the football club, brought more than the news of his temporary promotion.

Jones said: “I spoke to the owners on Wednesday morning, and obviously they asked me to take the team on an interim basis for the next two games, Crystal Palace (tomorrow) and Chelsea at home (on Saturday, Oct. 30).

“As I’ve said previously, I’m fully focused on preparing the team as best I can, and being competitive in games.”

Jones, whose only managerial experience came during an ill-fated spell at Championship outfit Luton Town in 2019/20, continued: “I’ve had assurances, I have spoken to Mehrdad and I’ve spoken to Amanda — and I’ve been given assurances on my long-term future.

“My short-term thought process is about what I can do, this weekend and next Saturday. I think it is important for everyone going forward, I can give my genuine best in any role I’m given, starting tomorrow at Crystal Palace.”

Jones, at this stage at least, has made it clear he does not want to take the job on a permanent basis. It is unlikely he’d be offered those terms anyway, instead he would be integrated into a new coach’s model.

“I am very happy,” he said of his role at United. “I was very happy working as an assistant here. I am here just to give my best. Everything I have got for this football club, and I mean that.

“Of course, the level of responsibility has gone up.The gaffer (Bruce) has always trusted myself, Aggers and Clem to do things in the week, but now you have to pick the team. That’s what’s changed. I’ve obviously had to give that a little bit of thought.”

Newcastle United sit 19th in the Premier League table heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.

A win over Patrick Vieira’s Eagles would see United potentially climb out of the top-flight relegation zone.

The Magpies are yet to win any of their opening eight games of the Premier League season.


Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack
Updated 22 October 2021

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack
  • Five men were arrested after the incident that left the 63-year-old City fan hospitalized
  • The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday

BRUGGE, Belgium: Manchester City’s supporter who was attacked on his way home from the team’s Champions League match against Club Brugge in Belgium has been upgraded to “stable” condition though he remains in a coma, prosecutors said.
Five men were arrested after the incident that left 63-year-old City fan Guido De Pauw, who is Belgian, hospitalized after being attacked in a parking lot at a service station late Tuesday after City’s 5-1 win.
One suspect was charged with theft with violence and theft with aggravated violence, another with intentional beatings and incapacitating injuries, and all five with culpable negligence, the East Flanders prosecutor’s office said in a statement released Friday.
The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday. Three have been released under strict conditions, including a ban on attending soccer matches, and two remained detained, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Wednesday De Pauw had “life-threatening injuries.” In their latest update, they said he was “still in a coma but his condition is now stable.”
City has said the club is working with police in Belgium and Manchester to establish more information about the incident.
City manager Pep Guardiola appeared at a news conference on Friday wearing a T-shirt that had the message, ‘We’re with you, Guido.”
“In the last hours he is getting better and of course he has all of the support from the club on what they need for the investigation,” Guardiola said.
“A big hug for him and all his family. We wish that soon he will come back to Etihad Stadium.”