Leicester deal blow to Spurs’ title hopes

Leicester deal blow to Spurs’ title hopes
A header from Leicester City’s English striker Jamie Vardy, right, is deflected into his own net by Tottenham Hotspur’s Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld. (AFP)
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Updated 21 December 2020

Leicester deal blow to Spurs’ title hopes

Leicester deal blow to Spurs’ title hopes
  • Spurs had a huge escape early in the second half as James Maddison had a goal ruled out for the most marginal of offsides

LONDON: Leicester put a major dent in Tottenham’s Premier League title challenge on Sunday, climbing to second in the English Premier League  table.

Spurs were top of the table before their midweek clash with Liverpool but now find themselves six points adrift of the champions after a damaging 2-0 defeat at home.

Jamie Vardy put away day specialists Leicester ahead with the final kick of the first half after Brendan Rodgers’s side were awarded a penalty.

Serge Aurier barged Wesley Fofana over and, after referee Craig Pawson watched the incident again on the pitchside monitor, the Foxes striker drilled home his spot-kick.

Spurs had a huge escape early in the second half as James Maddison had a goal ruled out for the most marginal of offsides.

But Leicester doubled their lead just before the hour mark via an own goal.

Vardy capitalized on some bad defending by Moussa Sissoko and his header across goal deflected off Toby Alderweireld and into the net.

The win — Leicester’s sixth in seven away games — lifts them to within four points of Jurgen Klopp’s men after 14 matches and will have Foxes fans dreaming again.

Just five points separate the 2016 champions from Chelsea in eighth spot but Liverpool looked ominous in a 7-0 demolition of Crystal Palace on Saturday.

In the early kickoff on Sunday, Sheffield United were cruelly denied their first Premier League win of the season as Danny Welbeck scored a late equalizer for Brighton in a 1-1 draw.

Chris Wilder’s bottom-placed team looked set to claim all three points at the Amex Stadium despite being reduced to 10 men late in the first half.

Substitute Jayden Bogle marked his Premier League debut with the opening goal for Sheffield United in the 63rd minute.

But Welbeck’s goal left United with just two points from 14 games — eight points from safety.

Manchester United are hosting Leeds United in the 1630 GMT kickoff — the first Premier League clash in 16 years between the bitter rivals.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he was relishing the match against Marcelo Bielsa’s side, who returned to the top flight in July.

Leeds have attracted rave reviews for their thrilling style under the Argentine and will travel to Manchester full of confidence after a 5-2 thumping of Newcastle on Wednesday.

United are also buoyant after coming from behind to beat Sheffield United 3-2 on Thursday.

“I can’t wait,” said Solskjaer. “It’s been too long, of course. I know how much it means for our supporters, I know how much it means for our club.

“It’s a different type of Leeds coming up with a coach that’s really done a great job with them and will test us to the limit.”

Solskjaer said he had enjoyed his regular clashes with Leeds as a player.

“There were fiery games, tackles flying in, players from both teams who were winners,” he said. “We had a few fights, of course.”

United are in good spirits after five wins in their past six Premier League matches but their poor form at home will give the visitors hope -- they have won just a single match at Old Trafford.

Struggling West Brom, with new manager Sam Allardyce at the helm, host local rivals Aston Villa in the late evening kick-off.

Manchester City unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as new training kit partner

Manchester City unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as new training kit partner
Updated 27 September 2021

Manchester City unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as new training kit partner

Manchester City unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as new training kit partner
  • The branding of the global event, which launches Oct. 1, will feature on kits for both men’s and women’s teams for the 2021-22 season

Manchester City have unveiled Expo 2020 Dubai as the club’s new training kit partner ahead of the opening of the global event this Friday.

Expo 2020 branding will appear on the men’s and women’s training kits for the remainder of the 2021-22 season.

From Oct. 1, over 190 countries will come together in Dubai to showcase the latest advances in technology, culture and sport, and celebrate the values of innovation, sustainability and diversity to a global audience.

Manchester City will host daily football sessions at the Expo site, led by dedicated coaching staff who will apply the same training methodology used by the teams on the training pitches in Manchester.

“We are delighted to unveil Expo 2020 Dubai as Manchester City’s new training kit partner,” Ferran Soriano, CEO for City Football Group, said. “This partnership will integrate Expo 2020 as a core part of every training session and matchday as our teams challenge for success this season.”

“Expo 2020 showcases values of innovation and sustainability that we wholeheartedly embrace at Manchester City,” he added. “We are very excited to collaborate and partner with an event that will be truly spectacular, global and transformational.”

Representatives from the club and wider City Football Group network will also take part in bespoke events over the coming months.

In addition to the training kit, Expo 2020 branding will also appear across the Etihad Stadium and City Football Academy training facilities, as well as featuring on City’s content and digital platforms.

Expo 2020 is also an official partner of the Manchester City esports team and features on the front of the esports kit.

“Today’s announcement of the deepening in our relationship with Manchester City builds on the exciting exchange of ideas and new opportunities we have shared with the club since we launched the partnership in June,” said Sholto Douglas-Home, chief sales and marcoms officer at Expo 2020 Dubai. “With Manchester City’s expanded involvement in our event programming across the duration of Expo 2020 Dubai, we are thrilled to be able to offer daily coaching sessions with club representatives as part of our exciting public events schedule, cementing the importance of sport as a vehicle to help us connect the world together.

“Becoming the club’s new training kit partner will massively accentuate the ability of Expo 2020 Dubai to engage and inspire fans around the globe by inviting them to share in the excitement of what this unique world expo will offer, which we sum up as ‘Join the Making of a New World’,” he said.

The partnership will also be showcased globally through the City Football Group network, with local activations planned at a number of City’s sister clubs, including Mumbai City FC, New York City FC, Melbourne City FC and Yokohama F. Marinos.

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali ‘physically, mentally stronger’ for British F3 Championship season finale

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali ‘physically, mentally stronger’ for British F3 Championship season finale
Updated 27 September 2021

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali ‘physically, mentally stronger’ for British F3 Championship season finale

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali ‘physically, mentally stronger’ for British F3 Championship season finale
  • Driver, 29, took part in intensive Austrian hike, climb training camp ahead of October final round at Donington ParK


DUBAI: Saudi racer Reema Juffali reckons she is in the best physical and mental shape of her career ahead of next month’s final round of the British F3 Championship.

The Jeddah-born driver, who represents Douglas Motorsport, recently travelled to Austria for some time away from the track to attend her last intensive training camp of the season and work on improving her endurance, strength, and stamina.

The 29-year-old undertook a number of different activities including hiking and climbing and said that she was already seeing clear improvements after participating in a camp she described as key to her development.

“Results on the track is just one part of my progress. This season I have also pushed myself to the limit away from the track with a training program that has incorporated everything from tough gym work to hiking and climbing.

“I have really noticed the difference from the start of the season, I am physically and mentally stronger and I know it will make me a better driver,” she added.

Juffali will be aiming to end the season on a high when she lines up for the final round of the British F3 Championship at Donington Park on the weekend of Oct. 16 to 17. Her best-ever result at the event came at Silverstone, when she finished fourth at the iconic track in June.

She said she was thoroughly enjoying testing herself against talented drivers in the competition, and that she would analyze the entire campaign following the last race and would not rush in making key decisions to enhance her career.

“I’ve put a lot of work into this season and now with just one race left my priority is to do as well as I can when we return to Donington Park for the season finale. Then I’ll sit back and carefully evaluate the whole year before making some major decisions on how best to progress my career.

“I’m competitive as ever and I’m ready for new challenges but what exactly those challenges will be is yet to be decided,” she added.

Juffali is extremely proud that her home city of Jeddah will host the Kingdom’s first ever Formula 1 race on Dec. 5, and said she was eager to see elite racing drivers in action and confident her country would rise to the occasion of staging a race that would be watched by millions of fans around the world.

“We have an amazing and ground-breaking F1 Grand Prix coming up in December and I’m looking forward to seeing how my country embraces the pinnacle of motorsport and also to see the best of my city showcased by the incredible platform that Formula 1 brings,” she added.

Dubai’s first-ever Tie Break Tens tournament brings short tennis format to new audiences

Dubai’s first-ever Tie Break Tens tournament brings short tennis format to new audiences
Updated 27 September 2021

Dubai’s first-ever Tie Break Tens tournament brings short tennis format to new audiences

Dubai’s first-ever Tie Break Tens tournament brings short tennis format to new audiences
  • French No.1 Gaël Monfils will take part in competition at Coca Cola Arena on Oct. 22

Tie Break Tens, a tournament showcasing a new short tennis format, is set to be hosted at City Walk’s Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai on the evening of Oct. 22, 2021.

This is the region’s first tournament of the quick-fire tennis format, which will see some of the world’s finest players go head-to-head in a series of knock-out matches with a championship prize of AED 500,000 ($136,000) up for grabs.

Part of the international series that first took place in London’s Albert Hall in 2015, the Tie Break Tens tournament series, now in its seventh year, will feature French No. 1 player and winner of 10 ATP World Tour singles titles, Gaël Monfils, as well as this year’s winner of the Murray River Open in Melbourne, the British No. 1 Dan Evans. Further players will be announced over the coming weeks.

“This is such a great addition to the Dubai sporting calendar and we’re really excited to see some of the world’s best players come to showcase this exciting game,” Jimmy Poon, tournament director for Tie Break Tens Dubai, said. “Tennis fans will enjoy the game as they’ve not seen it before here and I’m confident the sport will attract some new fans as they enjoy this fast-paced evening of sporting fun — the energy and drama around these knock-outs is infectious to say the least.”

The exciting Tie Break Tens is the only officially recognized short form of traditional tennis. There are no games, sets or matches, just 10-point tiebreakers where eight players compete in a knock-out format with a winner-takes-all prize.

Spectators get to experience plenty of tennis action in a short period of time, where every point counts, over the course of just one evening. This year will commence with the Dubai men’s tournament (tickets are now on sale), with plans for women’s and junior tournaments also underway.

“Alongside the player lineup, we are also delighted to welcome title sponsor Zone, an online E-sports and cryptocurrency platform that will be launching in the region from October 2021,” Poon added. “We look forward to working together to make this event a landmark occasion on the international tournament series and showcasing Dubai.”

Adi K Mishra, founder and CEO of Zone, said: “The Zone game team is excited to partner with Tie Break Tens Dubai to bring revolutionary blockchain concepts to the world of fantasy sports and esports. We are looking forward to engaging with Tie Break Tens and some of the world’s leading tennis players to introduce our skills-based challenges, non-fungible tokens and rewards.”

Ahead of the tournament, Dubai Tie Break Tens has also announced a grassroots junior tournament to support young talent in the sport, with the finals of both the boys and girls under-18 games being played in the arena on the night of the main event.

Although there is no requirement to show proof of vaccination status or a negative PCR test result to gain entry to the Dubai Tie Break Tens event, in line with Dubai’s commitment to health and safety, the tournament at the Coca-Cola Arena will host spectators with a reduced capacity and all social distancing protocols and precautionary measures will be adhered to as per government regulations.

Al-Nassr find hiring right coach at right time becoming more difficult

Al-Nassr find hiring right coach at right time becoming more difficult
Updated 27 September 2021

Al-Nassr find hiring right coach at right time becoming more difficult

Al-Nassr find hiring right coach at right time becoming more difficult
  • Riyadh club recently fired Mano Menezes, but lack of job security may make possible replacements Marcelo Gallardo, Rudi Garcia think twice

RIYADH: Firing a coach is one thing but hiring the right man is another entirely. Al-Nassr relieved Mano Menezes of his duties on Sept. 19 and want to appoint a new manager in the coming days.

It may not happen before the next league game against Abha on Thursday but there is a desire to get the next boss in place before the quarterfinal of the AFC Champions League against Al-Wahda on Oct. 15.

As usual, there are a number of names floating around in the mix and most of them are familiar.

Every time a big job in Saudi Arabia becomes available then Cosmin Olaroiu’s name comes up. The Romanian has a proven track record of success in the region winning league titles with Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia and in the UAE with Al-Ain and Al-Ahli. If that was not enough, the 52-year-old led Jiangsu Suning to the Chinese championship last year.

Seen as a safe pair of hands and thought to be open to a move to Al-Nassr if the conditions are right, Olaroiu also knows the AFC Champions League after leading Al-Ahli to the final of the 2015 tournament.

A slightly more left-field name is that of Matias Almeyda with reports in the US that the Riyadh club are interested in the San Jose Earthquakes boss. The former Lazio, Parma, and Inter midfielder has had success with River Plate and Banfield in his homeland of Argentina and took Guadalajara to the Mexico title and the 2018 Concacaf Champions League.

Lucien Favre, dismissed as boss of Borussia Dortmund in December, and Paulo Fonseca, the former Roma coach who almost joined Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, have also been mentioned. There are more names such as former Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas and former Al-Ahly coach Rene Weiler in the mix.

Then there is Rudi Garcia, available after leaving Lyon in May. The 57-year-old is on the list as he is thought to be at the right age for a move to Saudi Arabia. All his managerial career has been spent in France, except for a three-year spell with Roma, and it could be the right time to take a break from Europe.

Taking Lille to the title in 2011 was an impressive achievement and he has been named as the French manager of the year on three occasions. With spells at Marseille, Lyon, and Roma, the pressures of managing Al-Nassr would not be a problem.

With victories over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the Champions League, Garcia could implement the kind of fast-paced possession football that not only appeals to Al-Nassr fans but would suit the kind of players at the club.

The Yellows would not be the first to try and tempt Marcelo Gallardo from Argentina. The 45-year-old has been named as South American coach of the year on the last three occasions but has stayed with River Plate since 2014. Reports from Buenos Aires claim that Al-Nassr officials have been in the city since last week but while the club is staying quiet on this, it looks as if Gallardo wants to stay where he is until the end of the year at least.

Finding a good coach may not be that difficult for one of the biggest clubs in Asia but finding the right one is a different question altogether. With three coaches departing Riyadh in the last nine months, it is obvious that job security is precarious, and it is not just Riyadh. Even at this early stage of the season, Menezes was not the first to lose his job, but the fourth.

Such a carousel can make it more difficult to attract a certain kind of coach. Those who want to build a team and a philosophy are unlikely to be tempted as they know that after a couple of defeats, the pressure is on. Menezes led the team through the group stage of the Champions League, past the second round and into the last eight. And yet, after two defeats in the first four games of the season, he was out.

It means that clubs have to offer silly money to tempt coaches or stick to those who do not mind taking the risk. The likes of Garcia and Gallardo may be open to working in Saudi Arabia as even a short and failed spell on their resume would not detract from the successes they have had. Alternatively, they may just decide that it is not worth the risk.

Even if a top target does decide to come, the shadow of dismissal that is never far away surely means that he is not going to do the best work. Why build a team and style when a couple of bad results means that you could be out?

The focus is only on winning the next game. If that is all that matters, then such high-level coaches are probably not necessary; there are plenty of available tacticians in Europe who could do a job and set a team up to get results.

But if a club is chasing the likes of Gallardo, an internationally renowned coach who has turned down offers from prestigious clubs, then surely it makes sense to give them the time and atmosphere needed to do the best work that they can.

Plenty of intrigue left in unique 2021 tennis calendar as Daniil Medvedev eyes top spot

Plenty of intrigue left in unique 2021 tennis calendar as Daniil Medvedev eyes top spot
Updated 27 September 2021

Plenty of intrigue left in unique 2021 tennis calendar as Daniil Medvedev eyes top spot

Plenty of intrigue left in unique 2021 tennis calendar as Daniil Medvedev eyes top spot
  • Pandemic leaves the rest of the season a mash-up of events in locations stretching from Chicago to Turin

The tennis grand slam season may be over, but the calendar is far from finished, with several storylines to keep an eye on over the next couple of months.

Post-US Open action typically revolves around Asia, but since tournaments in China and Japan have been canceled due to the pandemic, the upcoming schedule on both the women’s and men’s tours is a unique and possibly confusing mash-up of big and small events taking place at any location prepared to host them.

If you are experiencing tennis withdrawal symptoms since the US Open and are not sure what to follow, here is a guide to help you through the next few weeks.

WTA Finals back on the calendar

The WTA Finals were canceled last year, but the tournament has found a new and temporary home in Guadalajara, Mexico, for this season and will return to its original host city of Shenzhen in China from 2022.

The top eight women in the race will qualify for the prestigious season finale, which will be a held in a later-than-usual slot on the schedule, from Nov. 10-17.

Three players — Ashleigh Barty, Aryna Sabalenka and Barbora Krejcikova — have already booked their tickets to Guadalajara, and the fight for the five remaining spots might go down to the wire, with just 1,000 points separating the players ranked between 7 and 24 in the race.

Tunisian Ons Jabeur is looking to become the first Arab in history to qualify for the WTA Finals. Ranked No.9 in the race, the 27-year-old will ignite her campaign to secure a place in Guadalajara when she takes to the court at the WTA 500 tournament in Chicago this week. She is also entered in Indian Wells and Moscow.

Others in the running for qualification spots include Karolina Pliskova, Maria Sakkari, Iga Swiatek, Naomi Osaka, Garbine Muguruza and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

ATP Finals set for Turin debut

After 12 successful years at London’s O2 Arena between 2009 and 2020, the ATP Finals will move to Turin, which will host the men’s season-closer from 2021 to 2025.

With the exception of last year when the event was held behind closed doors due to the pandemic, the ATP Finals witnessed near sellout crowds for every single session during its tenure in London, and it will be interesting to see whether Turin will be able to attract similar attention for the top-eight showpiece.

A trio of ATP Finals champions has already qualified for Turin, in the form of Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, with five places yet to be scooped up. Rafael Nadal is No.7 in the race but the Spaniard has ended his season prematurely to rehab his ailing foot.

Italian Matteo Berrettini is looking to qualify on home soil, while Casper Ruud, Hubert Hurkacz and Felix Auger-Aliassime are hoping to make their ATP Finals debut.

Tennis returns to Indian Wells

Arguably everyone’s favorite destination on the tennis calendar, Indian Wells is back on the schedule following a lengthy absence. The tournament was the first to get the axe in March last year when the world went into lockdown, and it was moved from its regular spring slot to Oct. 6-17 this season, much to the delight of both players and fans.

Notable absentees from the field include Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and defending champion Dominic Thiem.

With 1,000 points on the line in the California desert, Indian Wells might prove crucial in the race to Turin and Guadalajara.

Medvedev’s bid for the top ranking

It is a long shot, and will require Daniil Medvedev to win the majority of his matches until the end of the season, but the Russian has a chance of becoming the first player outside the “Big Four” to be ranked No.1 on the ATP tour since Andy Roddick in 2003.

Medvedev is currently just over 1,500 points behind Novak Djokovic in the rankings and the reigning US Open champion can unseat the Serb if he successfully defends his Paris Masters and ATP Finals titles, while also enjoying a strong run at Indian Wells.

The world No.2 has the option to add the St. Petersburg tournament to his schedule (starts Oct. 25) should he feel he has a legitimate chance of ending the season at the summit of the rankings.

Djokovic has around 500 points to defend for the rest of the season, and has more opportunities to add to his tally, compared with Medvedev.

Legends on the comeback trail

Four-time major champion Kim Clijsters kicked off her comeback attempt in Dubai in February 2020, shortly before the tour was suspended due to the pandemic. The Belgian had spent nearly eight years off tour before returning to competition last season, but ended up just playing three matches in total in 2020.

The 38-year-old will resume her comeback this week in Chicago, where she opens her campaign against Hsieh Su-Wei, with the winner of that clash taking on Ons Jabeur in round two.

Meanwhile, on the men’s side, former world No.1 Andy Murray continues his search for form and is edging closer to a place in the top 100, thanks to his recent quarterfinal run in Metz.

The Scot, who has undergone multiple hip surgeries, is playing in San Diego this week, where he faces Kei Nishikori in his opening round.

“I’ve not played this many tournaments in a while and my body feels good. I’m gaining confidence and seeing the points develop and how I want to play them again. The results are coming and my tennis is getting better,” Murray said after reaching his first quarterfinal in two years.

National duty beckons

Both the Billie Jean King Cup Finals (formerly Fed Cup) and the Davis Cup finals have been confirmed on the calendar, with the former taking place in Prague from Nov. 1-6 and the latter being staged across three cities — Madrid, Turin and Innsbruck — from Nov. 25 to Dec. 5.

The BJK Cup Finals will follow the single-venue format for the first time, as 12 teams, split among four round-robin groups, will gather in the Czech capital.

Considering how hectic and long this season has been, especially factoring in the Olympics, it is hard to imagine too many teams turning up to these events with full-strength squads.

Winter action in the Gulf

Before we bid farewell to 2021, tennis will come to the UAE in various forms over the next couple of months.

Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena will host a fun Tie Break Tens event on Oct. 22, featuring Gael Monfils and Dan Evans among others.

The Habtoor Tennis Challenge, a popular $100,000 women’s ITF tournament, is scheduled for Nov. 22-28 in Dubai, while the Mubadala World Tennis Championship returns to Abu Dhabi from Dec. 16-18.