Iniesta fires Japan’s Vissel Kobe into last 16

Iniesta fires Japan’s Vissel Kobe into last 16
Vissel Kobe’s midfielder Andres Iniesta in action during the AFC Champions League Goup G match against China’s Guangzhou Evergrande on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 26 November 2020

Iniesta fires Japan’s Vissel Kobe into last 16

Iniesta fires Japan’s Vissel Kobe into last 16
  • They are now five points ahead of Guangzhou and Suwon Samsung Bluewings

DOHA: Andres Iniesta scored his first goal in the Asian Champions League as Vissel Kobe powered their way to the last-16 with a dominant 3-1 win over Fabio Cannavaro's Guangzhou Evergrande in their Group G clash on Wednesday.

The Spain and Barcelona legend fired a right-footed shot from the center of the box in the 84th minute to help the Japanese side consolidate their position at the top of their group with two wins from as many matches.

They are now five points ahead of Guangzhou and Suwon Samsung Bluewings and assured of a spot in the knockout phase after the group was reduced to three teams following Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim's withdrawal from the tournament.

In another match on Wednesday, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors pipped Sydney FC 1-0 in Group H with Na Sung-eun scoring in the 44th minute.

It was the Australian side's third defeat in four matches while Jeonbuk revived their hopes with their first victory.

Iniesta, who was declared MVP of the match, had been an influential presence for Vissel Kobe throughout the encounter with his quick thinking and crisp passing, and that reflected in their first goal in the 44th minute at the Khalifa International Stadium.

The Spanish veteran dashed his way up on the left flank to control a long diagonal pass and after advancing further turned around near the goalline to tap the ball onto the path of the advancing Kyogo Furuhashi who struck with a clean, low shot from close range.

Furuhashi's personal joy at scoring lasted only 10 minutes as the forward first conceded a corner and then watched in horror as his attempted clearance from the resultant kick found his own net to give Guangzhou the equalizer.

Cannavaro made three substitutions in a desperate bid for victory after having drawn their opening game against Suwon Samsung Bluewings. But although the two-time champions enjoyed a couple of brief purple patches during which they had the Kobe defence under pressure, the goal they were looking for never materialized.

Vissel Kobe regained the lead in the 74th minute when Douglas, who had just come in five minutes prior, took advantage of a great back-heel from Daigo Nishi and blasted the ball home.

Brazil-born Elekson, now known as Ai Kesen, had a goal disallowed for off-side on eight minutes and when Iniesta struck two minutes later, it extended Cannavaro's misery in Doha.

"The result is bad. We tried but I know that something in my team is not clear. I don't know if they are afraid to play or they are not confident anymore," the Italian complained after the match.

"I need to try and do my best to give them the confidence to play. This is my job. I know they are very good players, and we can do much, much, much better."

Vissel Kobe had landed in Doha after a string of disappointing results back home, conceding a whopping 58 goals in 33 league matches and losing five games in a row.

But their coach Atsuhiro Miura was basking in joy on Wednesday, saying he was ready with a game plan against a side packed with several Brazilians.

"Guangzhou is a very strong side, they have several good Brazilian players but we analysed how they play and how to prevent them from playing to their strengths," said Miura.

"We did everything well and everything went how we wanted it to. That's why we got this result."

Manchester City, Chelsea lead the way in withdrawing from European Super League

 Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City were reported to be preparing the paperwork to withdraw from the breakaway European Super League. (AFP/File Photos)
Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City were reported to be preparing the paperwork to withdraw from the breakaway European Super League. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 50 min 21 sec ago

Manchester City, Chelsea lead the way in withdrawing from European Super League

 Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City were reported to be preparing the paperwork to withdraw from the breakaway European Super League. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Chelsea and City were among the 12 teams who announced on Sunday that they were setting up a rival to UEFA's Champions League

LONDON: Manchester City became the first club to announce they will withdraw from proposals for a European Super League (ESL) on Tuesday after a furious backlash against the controversial plan.
Chelsea are reportedly set to follow the Premier League leaders with the plan quickly unravelling under political pressure and the disgust of managers, players and fans.
In a statement, City said: "Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League."
City and Chelsea were two of 12 leading European clubs to sign up to the breakaway competition designed to guarantee billions of dollars for its founding members without the need to qualify through performance on the pitch.
Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were the other 10 sides to agree to join the European Super League (ESL).
The withdrawal of City and Chelsea could leave the project dead in the water.
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and French giants Paris Saint-Germain both came out strongly opposed to the breakaway league -- damaging the legitimacy of the project further.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin welcomed City's U-turn.
"I am delighted to welcome City back to the European football family," said the Slovenian, who encouraged the breakaway clubs to realise their mistake earlier on Tuesday.
"They have shown great intelligence in listening to the many voices - most notably their fans - that have spelled out the vital benefits that the current system has for the whole of European football."
City manager Pep Guardiola had been among the vocal critics of the plan.
"It's not a sport when the relation between effort and reward doesn't exist," said Guardiola.
"It's not a sport when success is already guaranteed, it's not a sport if it doesn't matter if you lose."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the ESL, also welcomed City and Chelsea's decision to rethink.
He tweeted: "The decision by Chelsea and Manchester City is - if confirmed - absolutely the right one and I commend them for it."

Abu Dhabi to hold 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in December

Abu Dhabi to hold 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in December
Updated 20 April 2021

Abu Dhabi to hold 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in December

Abu Dhabi to hold 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in December
  • FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) will see more than 1,000 swimmers take part in 44 events at Etihad Arena on Yas Island
  • President UAE Swimming Federation Sultan Al-Samahi: Hosting the FINA championships pivotal in the progression and development of swimming throughout the country

ABU DHABI: The Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC) has announced that the UAE capital will host the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) for the first time in the competition’s history in December.

Involving 44 different swimming events, the 15th edition of the tournament will be held at the state-of-the-art Etihad Arena – the UAE’s largest multi-purpose indoor entertainment venue, which opened this year and is located on Yas Island.

Aref Al-Awani, the ADSC’s general secretary, said: “We are absolutely delighted to bring the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) to Abu Dhabi later this year.

“This is set to be a huge event for Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE with over 1,000 of the most talented short-course swimmers from around the world, fresh from the Olympic Games in Tokyo, showcasing their abilities in what we expect to be an exciting competition.

“This world championship event will further strengthen the emirate’s unique sporting offering, enhancing its reputation as a top global destination for sport, entertainment, leisure, and business,” he added.

The event, due to take place between Dec. 16 and 21, will showcase the very best of local and international talent, providing the opportunity for fans to watch top-quality competitive swimming action in the heart of Abu Dhabi for the first time.

Originally scheduled for 2020, the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) will feature men’s and women’s events in all four strokes – freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly – along with the individual medley and relays.

“The swimming championships is the latest addition to an ever-growing list of major sporting events to be hosted in Abu Dhabi recently, including UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the UAE Tour, and the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship,” Al-Awani said.

“The championships will be hosted in parallel with the FINA World Aquatics Convention, yet another important event on the global calendar, which will also take place on Yas Island.”

Julio Maglione, president of the Federation Internationale De Natation (FINA), said that the event would be one of the highlights of the 2021 sporting calendar.

“Having previously staged events such as the FINA High Diving World Cup and FINA Open Water Swim World Cup in Abu Dhabi, we know there is a huge appetite for top-quality sporting action among the local community.

“We are extremely proud to give fans in Abu Dhabi and the UAE another major event to look forward to at the end of a big year for sport,” he added.

President of the UAE Swimming Federation, Sultan Al-Samahi, said hosting the FINA championships was pivotal in the progression and development of swimming throughout the country.

“We look forward to working with FINA and the LOC (local organizing committee) to ensure that this event creates a positive impact on our local athletes over the coming months, and hope that the whole country is ready to cheer on the Emirati athletes who will line up against the world’s best in December,” he added.

To coincide with the announcement of the event, the official FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) brand logo, which symbolizes the past and present, was also unveiled.

Inspired by Abu Dhabi’s pearl diving heritage, the logo features a swimmer constructed from pearls who is powering through the water, which is representative of both the city’s proud history and the competitive nature of the tournament itself.

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’
Updated 20 April 2021

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’
  • Outrage in football over proposed breakaway competition is not confined to match-going fans in Europe. Supporters tell their side of the story

DUBAI: The Sword of Damocles came crashing down. The Doomsday Clock struck midnight. And Twitter went into meltdown.

However you like your trite football metaphors served, there was little doubt the news that a European Super League is set to become a reality after years of less than veiled threats immediately relegated the pandemic, mass shootings and train crashes to minor news items.

Twelve founding clubs, plus three others to join. Five measly spots for qualifiers. A closed shop with no relegation or promotion. End of UEFA Champions League as we know it. Lots and lots of money. A full house in the ‘football is dead’ bingo.

The backlash was expected, immediate. ‘We’ll kick you out of all our competitions,’ UEFA, FIFA and their member Football Associations threatened. ‘We don’t need you and we don’t care,’ was presumably the reaction from the Bond villain-like club owners in their lairs.

The move will bring the 12 revolting clubs - Premier League’s “Big Six”, the two Milan clubs, Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid - in the region of $300 million for simply competing in the new competition. many believed it was a nuclear negotiating tactic with UEFA, while it’s been reported the owners are fully willing to wait out the bad PR and the anger of the supporters.

…Ah yes… the supporters, almost forgot about them.

The obvious conclusion to this development was that the owners of the world’s most iconic clubs don’t care about the fans that made their current play toys iconic in the first place.

Except that’s not quite accurate. They don’t care only about certain types of fans. So brazen is their contempt, they even gave them a name; “legacy fans.”

The truth is that, while so many fans voiced their fury on social media, Gary Neville brilliantly railed against the “joke” owners and Liverpool supporter groups demanded the removal of their banners from the Kop, millions are likely to shrug in apathy and fully embrace the new European Super League.

The European Super League is designed to cater for what its founders are calling “Fans of the future”.

This is where the waters get muddied. Exactly where is the line drawn between legacy fans and those of the future? Is it generational? Is it demographic?

There will be a temptation, as ever, to assume international audiences are the ones that will ensure the European Super League will always find an audience. For fans of the future some will read armchair fans. Purely in mathematical terms, that is true - match-going fans are a drop in the ocean compared to television audiences.

At the same time, it would be wrong to assume all - or even - most of the non-European supporters are so far removed that they will blindly welcome the idea.

Certainly, in the Middle East, and particularly in GCC countries, any attempt to neatly categorize fans will fail. However, it seems that everyone agrees that Super League, by taking on the US model of no relegation or promotion, will remove the element of jeopardy, of competitiveness from football.

Daniel Evans, a Dubai resident and life-long Tottenham supporter, feels let down by his club, who perhaps stand to gain more than other, recently more successful members of the cabal.

“I've supported the club for 27 years ever since the day my parents got in a fight and my mother bought me a Spurs shirt to annoy my Chelsea-supporting father,” he said.

“I've supported the club through the dire mid-table obscurity of the 90s and even a Champions League final. One trophy in 27 years of support never bothered me, the club meant more than winning. However, I will now be giving up my spot on the Spurs season ticket waiting list and don't intend to follow the club if the ESL goes ahead. I am not against the game needing to modernize and adapt but perhaps modernization like this just isn't for fans like me.”

“I know that football clubs are businesses who need to make profit to be able to compete but this should never be at the expense of fair competition,” Evans added.

“The ESL proposal, with its lack of relegation for founding clubs and hoarding of prize money, is completely anti-competition and allows the richest clubs in the games to solidify their positions, to the detriment of grass roots football.”

Tottenham’s legendary Double-winning captain Danny Blanchflower famously said: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

Never have those words felt more anachronistic than over the last two days.

“Our club stands for more than this,” Evans said. “It stands for passion, exciting football, maybe not recently under Jose, but at least he’s gone now. Also, the club has always done great work with local non-footballing outreach projects but I also liked to think we did a good job within our wider footballing community.”

“The club has supported grass roots football, we’ve brought great English players through our youth academy, and we’ve never been a club who just go out and buy a team. Joining the ESL violates that, we’re abandoning the football community to fend for themselves whilst we go out and get even richer.”

Others feel that the issue is far from black and white, and that the traditional powers have long been getting away with abusing the game for years.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called the plan a "spit in the face of football lovers”, and Zaid Al-Qaimi, a Liverpool supporter who lives in Abu Dhabi, says he’s amazed more people aren’t seeing through the victim act. And while acknowledging that the owners’ intentions are clearly driven by money, he believes the European Super League is no worse than the plans for a revamped Champions League that Ceferin is pushing.

“UEFA and FIFA are the ones killing the game, and have been diluting their products for years,” he said. “The Euros used to be brilliant with 16 teams, and then they made it 24. The next World Cup is 48 teams. The next Champions League revamp will have a hundred extra low-quality games.”

“The FIFA Club World Club Cup will be even worse with more clubs from all over the world. Let’s not forget the Nations League UEFA bought in. The Super League is the first new competition in years that actually increases quality.”

“The owners are doing it for money, but so have been UEFA and FIFA with more and more games,” Al-Qaimi added. “Yes, they need to solve the merit issue. But this is better than a 32 game Champions’ League group stage that will have endless meaningless games.”

Mohamed Shamseer, a Chelsea fan from Kerala, says he is well aware how much money has contributed to his own club’s success, but feels that heritage and any notion of competition are being eroded.

“We shouldn't allow businessmen to play games with people's passion. They are out to seek total control,” he said. “I know money has been heavily involved in football, but with the arrival of European Super League, it’s going to be only about money. Sporting merit will go down the drain if the founders’ clubs can’t get relegated. It’s also against one of the basic principles of any sport as there won't be any open competition.”

While Shamseer, who has lived in Dubai for 11 years, has never had the chance to visit Stamford Bridge, he does not consider himself less of supporter than match-going fans. The idea that being geographically distant from the club means you care less for the well-being of football is unfounded for him.

“As much as I love my club, I love the Premier League as well,” he said. “Whatever we are today, our rivals helped us get there. The European Super League will eventually kill the Premier League. The Big Six teams [if they stay] will field their academy kids to focus more on the big fat Super League. There wouldn't be another Leicester fairytale nor there wouldn't be any European dream left for the smaller clubs as well. It will take the charm out of everything. In simple words, football wouldn't be the same.

Dubai resident Neil Mitchel, founding chair of Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) is equally opposed to the European Super League plans, and would have been even had a much-speculated takeover turned his boyhood club into one of the richest in the world.

“As a lifelong Newcastle fan, a legacy fan as the new ESL would have us known, I have personally been through the highs and lows of supporting your team,” he said.

“I have been there through the Keegan ‘entertainers’ years. Seen us challenge for titles and get to finals only to suffer glorious defeats. I’ve seen us take on the best of Europe and win. Barcelona, Juventus, PSV and more have been taken down by my boys. I’ve also seen us relegated twice under the current ownership and the hard battle to regain our place in the top flight of England. In the game of football, it is simple. You are where you are based on sporting merit alone.”

Romance and competitiveness; without those two elements, football is just not the same.

“The league table does not lie. Each season is a level playing field,” Mitchel added. “Sporting merit is how the game should be settled. It should not be about how deep your pockets are. An ESL based on this is an insult to every fan who dreams. Every fan who longs to see their club rise on the basis of their effort alone. The ESL and their member clubs' collective greed will in my opinion be their undoing and its time the football family stood together and said enough is enough.”

COVID-19-hit Al-Nassr take on Foolad in must-win AFC Champions League clash

COVID-19-hit Al-Nassr take on Foolad in must-win AFC Champions League clash
Updated 20 April 2021

COVID-19-hit Al-Nassr take on Foolad in must-win AFC Champions League clash

COVID-19-hit Al-Nassr take on Foolad in must-win AFC Champions League clash
  • Five of Riyadh club’s players test positive for virus ahead of third Group D game

RIYADH: Al-Nassr will take on Foolad Khuzestan FC in their third AFC Champions League Group D clash with a much-weakened side after it was confirmed on Monday that five players had tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The two teams are tied on four points with Al-Nassr leading on goal difference but with only the group winners assured of advancing to the Round of 16, Tuesday night’s match is one that the Saudi team cannot afford to lose at King Saud University Stadium.

Despite dominating their group opener against Al-Wehdat last week, Al-Nassr had to settle for a 0-0 draw, but then came storming back in their second match on Saturday with a fine 3-1 win over recently crowned Qatari champions Al-Sadd SC.

Al-Nassr’s new coach Mano Menezes, who took charge of the team for the first time against Al-Sadd, now has the immediate challenge of picking his best side in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“We will monitor the performance of the players (in training), and then we will select the starting 11 that will benefit the team,” the former Brazil manager told the AFC official website.

“We do have five cases. All teams should be aware of coronavirus cases, and we from our side will do our best to make up for the absent players.

“Every match has been different. We played the last two matches with two different styles. (In the previous match) we defended in the first half, then we attacked more in the second half, and now we are looking to find the best way to approach the next match.

“We prepare for each match with different methods. If the opposing team plays defensively then we will try to find offensive solutions,” he said.

Foolad, appearing in the AFC Champions League for the first time in six years, were denied a famous win over Al-Sadd in their group opener after the 2011 champions salvaged a last-gasp 1-1 draw, but the Iranian team recovered well to beat Al-Wehdat 1-0.

Head coach Jesus Javier Noble knows a victory will make his team favorites to win the group.

Speaking to the AFC website, he said: “We will face another big team tomorrow. We are playing in a strong competition, and every match is difficult, and we consider Al-Nassr to be the strongest team in the group.

“The winners from this match will have a strong chance of qualifying from the group, so this match is very important for us, as well as for Al-Nassr,” added the Spaniard, who expects Al-Nassr to go for all-out attack.

“Al-Nassr didn’t get good results in the local league, and this will give them the motivation to make up and get good results in this competition. We saw the first two matches of Al-Nassr, and they controlled the proceedings,” Noble said.

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain
Updated 19 April 2021

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain
  • National team head coach Hossam El-Badry has named Mohamed Salah the new captain of Egypt
  • El-Badry said it was vital to introduce more stability to the national team squad, including on the leadership side

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has been announced as the new captain of Egypt’s national team by head coach Hossam El-Badry.

The news was posted in a statement on the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) Facebook page. Senior players in the Egypt squad were asked about the decision and gave their full support.

El-Badry said that it was “vital to introduce more stability” to the national team, including on the leadership side.

He added that the main goal for EFA technical teams in the coming months is to ensure that Egypt qualifies for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Salah has been one of Liverpool’s most succesful players since joining in summer 2017. He helped the club secure a sixth Champions League title by scoring the opening goal in the final against Tottenham in 2019.

A year later, he played a key role in the team that won Liverpool’s first English Premier League title in 30 years.

The 28-year-old forward, who has also represented Arab Contractors, Basel, Chelsea, Fiorentina and Roma, helped Egypt qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the country’s first appearance in the competition since 1990.

An infamous shoulder injury in the 2018 Champions League Final against Real Madrid, however, meant that he only played a peripheral role when the World Cup began in Russia. Despite lacking fitness and form, he managed to score Egypt’s only two goals in a disappointing tournament for the African nation.