Tigres finally taste victory in CONCACAF Champions League

Tigres finally taste victory in CONCACAF Champions League
Tigres UANL celebrate with the the champion trophy after beating Los Angeles FC in the CONCACAF Champions League final game at Exploria Stadium on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2020

Tigres finally taste victory in CONCACAF Champions League

Tigres finally taste victory in CONCACAF Champions League
  • Andre-Pierre Gignac’s late winner sinks Los Angeles FC in final

MIAMI: Andre-Pierre Gignac scored a late winner as Mexico’s Tigres UANL came from behind to end their long wait for a CONCACAF Champions League crown with a 2-1 final victory over Los Angeles FC on Tuesday.

Former Marseille and France international striker Gignac swept home the winner six minutes from time at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium to complete a dramatic come-from-behind win for the Liga-MX side.

The victory marked the end of years of frustration in the tournament for Tigres, who had been beaten in the final three times since 2016.

“We lost it almost three years in a row and I think the club deserved to finally win it,” Gignac said afterwards.

The Mexican side will now advance to the FIFA World Club Cup in Qatar next February following the win.

“We finally achieved an international title,” added Gignac, who was named tournament MVP and Golden Boot winner.

“I always wanted to win it even though some say it is not worth much. It is worth going to a Club World Cup, and it is worth playing against the best teams from each continent. Today it is Tigres’ turn.”

Tigres win extends Mexico’s proud record in the competition. Mexican clubs have won the title for the last 15 editions.

But the loss shattered Los Angeles’ dreams of becoming the first side from Major League Soccer to be crowned kings of club football in the North America, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region since Los Angeles Galaxy managed the feat in 2000.

The defeat was even harder to swallow as the MLS side had appeared to be in total control for long periods of the second half after Uruguayan striker Diego Rossi fired them into a 61st-minute lead.

Los Angeles captain Carlos Vela then missed a golden chance to double the MLS club’s lead soon afterwards, taking too long to get his shot off and allowing Tigres to block from close range.

At that point, Los Angeles looked by far the likelier winners against a Tigres side who had barely managed a shot on goal throughout.

But the Mexican club were gifted a way back into the match when a defensive mix-up involving goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer saw Los Angeles needlessly concede a corner with just under 20 minutes left.

From the ensuing setpiece, Hugo Ayala’s glancing header beat Vermeer and crept in at the far post.

The goal transformed the contest, with Tigres pouring forward in search of a winner against a weary Los Angeles.

With extra time looming, Luis Rodriguez went on a jinking run to the edge of the area before squaring for Gignac in space.

The Frenchman made no mistake with the finish, coolly picking his spot to sidefoot into the bottom corner past former Ajax goalkeeper Vermeer.

Tuesday’s final marked the climax of a tumultuous tournament which began in February only to be halted abruptly midway through the quarterfinals in March as the Covid-19 pandemic erupted.

The competition resumed last week with all remaining teams playing in a quarantine bubble in Orlando in games played behind closed doors.


Welsh football association becomes 1st footballing body to adopt Muslim Athlete Charter

Welsh football association becomes 1st footballing body to adopt Muslim Athlete Charter
Updated 46 sec ago

Welsh football association becomes 1st footballing body to adopt Muslim Athlete Charter

Welsh football association becomes 1st footballing body to adopt Muslim Athlete Charter
  • Charter sees specific needs of Muslim athletes, fans addressed at club, association levels
  • ‘It’s a great day for Muslims living in Great Britain’: Man behind charter

LONDON: The Football Association of Wales has become the first footballing body to adopt a charter that recognizes the specific needs of Muslim athletes, staff, and fans of the game.

Proposed by Nujum Sports, the Muslim Athlete Charter aims to encourage clubs and governing bodies to commit to “equality and diversity for all.”

Ebadur Rahman, the founder of Nujum Sports, told Arab News that there were now 34 professional sporting clubs signed up to the charter, including six English Premier League and 22 Football League clubs.

He said: “It’s a great day for Muslims living in Great Britain, and I think it shows how far we’ve come as a nation. We hope it encourages greater participation from Muslims in Wales in football, specifically, and fans as well. I hope this is the beginning of something even greater.”

And Rahman revealed that talks were already taking place with rugby, cricket, archery, and athletics associations and bodies about adoption of the charter.

The FAW’s equality, diversity, inclusion, and integrity manager, Jason Webber, told BBC Sport: “By utilizing the Muslim Athlete Charter framework and working closely with Nujum Sports, we will ensure that Muslim players are supported in their environment to practice their faith while playing football.

“Someone’s religion and belief should not be a barrier, and everyone should be supported within an inclusive environment so they can be themselves.

“We believe that football is a place where everyone should feel that they belong and signing the charter moves us closer to achieving this vision,” he added.


International Aikido Federation boosting Saudi ties

International Aikido Federation boosting Saudi ties
Updated 20 October 2021

International Aikido Federation boosting Saudi ties

International Aikido Federation boosting Saudi ties
  • Fifth-degree black belt Dr. Satomi Ishikawa teaches skills in Riyadh, Yanbu and Jeddah

RIYADH: The Saudi Aikido Committee has hosted Dr. Satomi Ishikawa, a member of the International Aikido Federation, to conduct a series of training classes for Saudi females athletes in Riyadh, Yanbu and Jeddah.

Dr Ishikawa, who holds a fifth-degree black belt, is a certified instructor at Aikido Centrum Amsterdam and a board member of the Dutch Aikido Federation.

During her visit, Dr. Ishikawa, accompanied by Chairman of the Saudi Aikido Committee Basem Zare’, conducted an introductory course for women at the Self-Defense Hall in Malaz, Riyadh, where she addressed the importance of the sport for athletes of all backgrounds and ages and showcased the basic skills of the martial art.

Zare’ and Dr. Ishikawa also visited Prince Sultan University, where they discussed further cooperation between the Saudi Aikido Committee and the university by introducing the martial art into the curricula. They also visited the Japanese embassy in the Kingdom and held a meeting with the head of the Cultural Department.


Saudi racing star Reema Juffali takes major career strides at end of British F3 Championship season

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali takes major career strides at end of British F3 Championship season
Updated 20 October 2021

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali takes major career strides at end of British F3 Championship season

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali takes major career strides at end of British F3 Championship season
  • 29-year-old Douglas Motorsport driver gains priceless experience, confidence from first season at level

DUBAI: Saudi racing star Reema Juffali has taken plenty of positives from her debut season at the British F3 Championship describing it as a key learning curve in her motorsport career.

In the final round of the championship at Donington Park in the UK, the Jeddah-born driver battled hard and although unable to finish the first race due to a collision, she managed 15th and 18th places respectively in the final two races for her team Douglas Motorsport.

Having come up against some of the sport’s top drivers during the season, which included her best-ever finish of fourth position, Juffali felt she had made significant progress since the first round of this year’s British F3 Championship.

She said: “My driving has improved so much in 2021. My confidence has grown, and I can now adapt faster to changing situations while also understanding what I need to do in the car for optimal on-track performance and the importance of making the right calls whilst competing.

“I’ve gained so much experience this year and of course, the team at Douglas Motorsport has been really supportive, giving me the right help and advice that I needed to take those crucial steps forward in my driving career.”

Juffali competed in seven of the eight rounds of the British F3 Championship, racking up 21 races in total, including six at the iconic Silverstone track.

Although she narrowly missed the podium, Juffali noted that the high level of the competition provided a great learning curve which will help her to become an even better driver in the future.

“During this season, I had my ups and downs and had good races which I can look back on. There were times when I could completely focus on my race and what I needed to do rather than looking behind me.

“Also, learning from my mistakes was crucial. Some were simply unlucky but there were a few where I felt I had made the wrong choice, so I have learned from the good and the bad.

“The tracks were very demanding, and these challenges enabled me to make better decisions. When you have a bad day, which I had plenty of, I now know how to pick myself up and turn it around,” she added.

Juffali, who will fly back to Saudi Arabia in mid-November, admitted that although it would be hard to say goodbye to her team at Douglas Motorsport, that has been a key part in her development this season, she had already started planning for next season.

“It was an emotional end to the season. I spent more time with my team this year than with my friends and family and I really appreciate all the hard work they put in; we made a great team. It was a difficult goodbye, but motorsport is a small world and I’m sure I’ll be bumping into them again.

“For me, the work doesn’t stop as I’m already planning what’s next and what we need to do so there isn’t much rest between seasons. I’m really excited about the future and I’m looking forward to announcing my next challenge soon,” she said.


Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final
Updated 20 October 2021

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final
  • A dramatic 2-1 win over 10-man Al-Nassr leaves reigning Saudi champions 90 minutes away from a record fourth title

Saudi Arabia’s most decorated club are once again marching toward history.

Al-Hilal defeated Al-Nassr 2-1 on Tuesday in the biggest Riyadh derby in years to book a place in the final of the 2021 AFC Champions League. 

Moussa Marega drew first blood in the first half of this titanic semi, and when Ali Lajami was sent off on the stroke of half-time to reduce Al-Nassr to 10 men, the game looked done and dusted. Early in the second half, however, Talisca equalized, but a goal from Salem Al-Dawsari settled the contest.

It was quite a night for both victors and losers. Below are five things we learned.

1. Rash red card was costly

The game was drifting toward half-time. Al-Nassr had looked nervous for much of the first half with Al-Hilal the first to settle, but as the break approached, the Yellows were on top even if they were 1-0 down. There was enough to encourage the team for the second half.

Then Lajami lunged at Marega, going in dangerously high on the Malian’s ankle with his studs up. It was not only a bad challenge —  Marega did not reappear for the second half — it was a completely unnecessary one in a non-dangerous area of the pitch. 

As the disconsolate 25-year-old finally trudged off, the blue-shirted fans in the stands celebrated as if another goal had been scored.

It didn’t quite turn out to be the easy second half they had predicted, but in the end, Al-Hilal’s fans were celebrating again while those on the other side of the stadium were left wondering what they could have achieved with 11 men.

2. Al-Hilal’s winning mentality shines through

This was a tense game that could have gone either way. Al-Hilal overcame their nerves first and when Bafetimbi Gomis and Marega combined nicely on the counter for the opening goal, it looked ominous for Al-Nassr, especially when they were reduced to 10 before the break.

In the early stages of the second half, however, Al-Hilal were struggling as Al-Nassr equalized and then looked likelier to score the second. Yet Al-Hilal have that winning mentality, were a little more streetwise than their opponents and kept their cool better. Slowly, they regrouped and started to keep the ball better too. 

The experience and composure of Salman Al-Faraj and Al-Dawsari, consistently excellent, slowly started to push Al-Nassr back, and they were rewarded with what turned out to be the winning goal.

When you play against Al-Hilal in the big games, you are playing against their history as well as their stars. 

3. Al-Nassr can be proud

There has been much written about Abderrazak Hamdallah in recent weeks, and when the Moroccan shot straight at the goalkeeper early in the second half from a good position, it seemed as if a golden chance for Al-Nassr had gone. 

From the resultant corner, Talisca scored. The Brazilian always looked the most dangerous of all the men in yellow and has shown his class going forward on numerous occasions this season. He had a couple of fierce shots in the first half and is always a handful for defenders. 

Whatever coach Pedro Emanuel said at half-time, it worked as Al-Nassr had come out and attacked as if they were the team with a man advantage. They were rewarded with a goal and, a man short, they could have been forgiven for settling for the draw and taking the game to penalties. They did not and were always looking to score. They should have done so with virtually the last kick of the game as Abdullah Madu shot just wide.

There isn’t much consolation in losing a second successive semi-final, but Al-Nassr have confirmed their status as a power in Asian football. 

4. It was a great advert for Saudi football

The game itself was engaging from start to very finish when Al-Nassr came within centimeters of getting an equalizer and forcing extra time. There were plenty of talking points, chances and pieces of individual skill.

In the stands of Mrsool Park, this was a spectacular night. With half of the stadium yellow and the other half blue, it took this writer back to past FA Cup finals at Wembley Stadium. Fans of both clubs may have preferred a bigger venue simply because more of them could have squeezed in, but the intimacy of this ground added something special to the atmosphere.

Supporters on both sides got behind their teams, singing and chanting. The noise was non-stop. There were plenty of big games in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday but in terms of atmosphere, intensity and the desperation of the fans to win — and equally not to lose to their rivals — Riyadh was the place to be, and it was a great advert for Saudi football.

5. Al-Hilal are in touching distance of history

Al-Hilal thrive on the big stage and are accustomed to winning. The biggest of stages will be Riyadh next month as the three-time Asian champions have a chance to do what no other club has ever done: achieve number four. 

Playing on home soil in a one-legged final is a huge advantage, and Al-Hilal are going to be favorites against whichever South Korean team, Ulsan Horang-i or Pohang Steelers, make the long trip west. Ulsan are defending champions, Pohang have three titles of their own and Korean teams can never be underestimated in Asia, but with Al-Hilal in such form and with their fans behind them, there will never be a better time to make history.


Steve Bruce leaves Newcastle by ‘mutual consent’ after takeover

Steve Bruce leaves Newcastle by ‘mutual consent’ after takeover
Updated 20 October 2021

Steve Bruce leaves Newcastle by ‘mutual consent’ after takeover

Steve Bruce leaves Newcastle by ‘mutual consent’ after takeover
  • Newcastle had been sold to a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund
  • Steve Bruce, a lifelong Newcastle fan, was an unpopular choice for some sections of supporters

Steve Bruce has left his position as Newcastle United manager by mutual consent, the Premier League team said in a statement on Wednesday, two weeks after they were taken over by a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium.

Bruce had appeared to be on borrowed time after the Premier League announced earlier this month that Newcastle had been sold to a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The 60-year-old had said following the change of ownership that he would understand if he was replaced but he was allowed to take charge of the 1,000th match in his managerial career when Newcastle hosted Tottenham Hotspur in the league, losing 3-2 last Sunday.

The signs were ominous, however, with Newcastle’s new director Amanda Staveley saying “change does not always happen overnight.”

“I’m grateful to everyone connected with Newcastle United for the opportunity to manage this unique football club,” Bruce said in a club statement.

“I would like to thank my coaching team, the players and the support staff in particular for all their hard work. There have been highs and lows, but they have given everything even in difficult moments and should be proud of their efforts.

“This is a club with incredible support, and I hope the new owners can take it forward to where we all want it to be. I wish everyone the very best of luck for the rest of this season and beyond.”

Newcastle said Bruce’s assistant Graeme Jones will lead the team on an interim basis, starting with Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace, and will be supported by the coaching team of Steve Agnew, Stephen Clemence, Ben Dawson and Simon Smith.

Sky Sports reported that former AS Roma manager Paulo Fonseca, who was on the radar of Tottenham Hotspur earlier this year, was among a number of contenders for the job.

Newcastle’s defeat by Spurs, attended by Staveley and others on the board, spoiled the takeover celebrations at St. James’ Park, with fans also calling for Bruce to be sacked as Newcastle slipped to their fifth league loss of the campaign.

The 60-year-old Bruce, who was appointed Newcastle manager in July 2019, was already on thin ice after a dismal start to the campaign that leaves the club languishing second-from-bottom in the league without a win after eight games.

Bruce, a lifelong Newcastle fan, was an unpopular choice for some sections of supporters following his appointment after Spaniard Rafa Benitez left the club and had said last week that he was pained by some of the criticism and abuse he had received.

He guided Newcastle to 13th and 12th-placed finishes in the league and helped them reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup.