Chiesa banishes ‘tough year’ with win at UFC Fight Island

Chiesa banishes ‘tough year’ with win at UFC Fight Island
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American Welterweight Michael Chiesa defeate countryman Neil Magny in the night's main event. (Supplied)
Chiesa banishes ‘tough year’ with win at UFC Fight Island
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Brazilian Warlley Alves (left) on his way to defeating Mounir Lazzez. (File/AFP)
Chiesa banishes ‘tough year’ with win at UFC Fight Island
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Michael Chiesa punches Neil Magny on his way to victory in their Weleterweight bout. (File/AFP)
Chiesa banishes ‘tough year’ with win at UFC Fight Island
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Updated 21 January 2021

Chiesa banishes ‘tough year’ with win at UFC Fight Island

Chiesa banishes ‘tough year’ with win at UFC Fight Island
  • No joy for Tunisian Mounir Lazzez in co-main event at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena

The second night of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Fight Island 3’s triple-header saw American welterweight Michael Chiesa defeat countryman Neil Magny via unanimous decision after five rounds of their headline bout, but there would be no similar glory for Tunisian Mounir Lazzez and his fans at Etihad Arena. 

“It hasn’t really settled in yet, but I’m happy to be where I’m at,” Chiesa said. “The year off was tough. Stepping into a main event after a year off, I didn’t have any doubts I could achieve this. That has a lot to do with the team around me, the work they put into me and the belief they instil in me. This win is for them.”

He added that he had to ignore the feeling of fatigue in the latter rounds. “I knew to listen to my teammates. They instructed me how to push through the fatigue. After that fourth round, I was tired. He had me in that inverted triangle and fatigue was really starting to set in,” Chiesa said.

“When my coach gets in my face and tells me this next round is all about heart — it makes me want to cry right now. He said the right things to just get me off that stool and get me to push through that fifth round. That was almost my best round of the whole fight.”

Chiesa said he wants to fight two more times this year and set his sights on becoming the division’s top contender. 

“I want fights in the top five … I want to test myself. What’s the point of striving to be the best if you’re going to take the easy way to the top?” he added.

“I’d rather try to ascend the steepest peaks to get to that great view. I’m trying to be the best in the world and fight the best guys.”

In the co-main event of the night, Brazilian Warlley Alves defeated Lazzez via first-round TKO in their welterweight bout.

“I feel happy. I worked a lot. This is my moment,” said the winner. “This was my game plan, to throw kicks. I kicked him twice and he was hurt, so I kicked him again. He’s a sniper and snipers need distance. I fought him close. I’m back.”

Earlier, Ike Villanueva had stopped Vinicius Moreira with a second-round KO, and put his win down to years of hard work and never giving up.

“I had to give him the kiss of death because we were fighting for our jobs,” said the 36-year-old. “I sent him home. That’s a dream. Many fighters dream about that moment. To get a walk-off like that on the big stage, man that’s a lifetime memory. I’ve been waiting 13 years for this moment.”

In the women’s flyweight bout, Viviane Arajuo of Brazil defeated American Roxanne Modafferi via unanimous decision.

“She was really tough. She made me perform my best. She kept coming after me even when I was hitting her in the head,” Arajuo said.

“I’ve been training my jiu jitsu back in Brazil with my team. I’ve been training my boxing and jiu jitsu a lot. I’m so happy I won the fight. I really want to fight more this year. I want to fight someone in the top five. I want to show everyone I deserve to be in big fights.”

Meanwhile, American flyweight Matt Schnell defeated compatriot Tyson Nam via split decision.

“I felt like I was in control. It would’ve hurt my feelings if they named Tyson the winner,” he said. “I knew I’d have the speed advantage. It’s always the game plan that if they hit you once, hit them three times.”

Schnell added: “I’m interested in fun fights. I knew Tyson Nam would be a fun fight. I played it pretty conservative, tried to stay on my jab and just outwork him.”

In the other two fights on the main card, Lerone Murphy overcame Douglas Silva de Andrade via unanimous decision, while Omari Akhmedov defeated Tom Breese via second-round submission.

“My coach told me I have to finish the fight with this submission,” Akhmedov said. “I have to work ground-and-pound first and then go for it when he raises his hands. I did it probably 1,000 times in this camp, so it came naturally. Tom Breese is a good fighter, but he’s not on my level.”

In the prelims, bantamweight Ricky Simon defeated Gaetano Pirrello via second-round submission; Su Mudaerji overcame Zarrukh Adashev via unanimous decision in their flyweight bout; Dalcha Lungiambula defeated fellow middleweight Markus Perez via unanimous decision; Francisco Figueiredo edged Jerome Rivera via unanimous decision in their flyweight bout; Mike Davis defeated Mason Jones via unanimous decision; and Manon Fiorot beat Victoria Leonardo via second-round TKO in their women’s flyweight bout.

Umar Nurmagomedov, cousin of UFC legend Khabib, defeated Sergey Morozov via second-round submission.

“I’m very happy. All my hard work has paid off,” the bantamweight winner said. “I have a lot of work ahead. I have to keep working. At the beginning of the fight I didn’t know where I was. It was a bit hard to find my way. In the second round I was more relaxed and I found my way.”


Former Brazil coach Mano Menezes tasked with guiding Al-Nassr to AFC Champions League success

Former Brazil coach Mano Menezes tasked with guiding Al-Nassr to AFC Champions League success
Updated 11 April 2021

Former Brazil coach Mano Menezes tasked with guiding Al-Nassr to AFC Champions League success

Former Brazil coach Mano Menezes tasked with guiding Al-Nassr to AFC Champions League success
  • New coach takes over from Alen Horvat after King’s Cup exit in chaotic season on and off the pitch
  • Former Brazil coach Mano Menezes first assignment will be leading the Riyadh team through the group stage of the AFC Champions League

LONDON: Al-Nassr’s roller-coaster season continued this weekend with the sacking of Alen Horvat as head coach after the defeat to 10-man Damac, with former Brazil national team coach Mano Menezes the latest tasked with getting the Riyadh club back on track.

The stakes for Menezes could not be higher from the off.

His first assignment will be leading the Riyadh team through the group stage of the AFC Champions League as soon as he is able to take charge.

Indeed, on Saturday night, Menezes was said to be preparing for his new role by studying the Al-Nassr squad and recent matches on his flight to Riyadh.

The news had been announced on the club’s social media platforms late on Friday night: “Brazilian coach Mano Menezes will arrive with his coaching staff to Riyadh within 48 hours. He will be appointed head coach of Al-Nassr.”

Menezes led Brazil from July 2010, just after the World Cup, and was fired in November 2012, after disappointing results though he did take the U-23 team to the final of the 2012 Olympics.

The 58-year-old has had an extensive coaching career in his homeland and is expected to begin training with the team from the start of the week. 

Asia will be his immediate priority. Al-Nassr have been placed in Group D along with Al-Sadd of Qatar, who have just won their domestic championship without losing a game under Xavi Hernandez, Al-Wehdat of Jordan and Foolad of Iran.

A good start for the new man will be essential.

“We are delighted to get such a prestigious coach on board,” an official at Al-Nassr told Arab News.

“We talked with a number of coaches in different countries because we wanted to make a change as there had been concerns with the team’s performances in recent weeks. We want to do well in Asia but there are also games remaining in the league.”

The Yellows are in fifth in the league, nine points behind Al-Ittihad in third with just five games remaining.

They are also out of the King’s Cup leaving the Champions League as their only chance of a trophy this season.

Horvat had been appointed only in late December to succeed Rui Vitoria who was let go after a poor start to the season, ahead of which big things had been expected.

The 2019 champions finished second in 2020 and reached the last four of the Champions League.

Then there was around $18 million spent in September on the 2018 South American Player of the Year Pity Martinez. 

Losing six of the first eight league games was not on the agenda then and resulted in Vitoria losing his job and Horvat taking over.

The Croatian oversaw an upturn in the team’s fortunes and they climbed up the standings and even, at one point, a top three finish and a place in the 2022 AFC Champions League looked possible.

That is not going to happen now and defeat in the semi-final of the King’s Cup last Sunday against a struggling Al-Faisaly that played 81 minutes with 10 men was hugely disappointing and sealed the fate of Horvat.

It meant that while the 3-2 loss against Damak on Friday was a poor result against a team that is battling against relegation, the decision to change coach had already been taken.

That loss symbolized the inconsistency of the team.

The likes of Martinez only shone in patches, and injuries to other major players, especially 2020 league top scorer Abderrazak Hamdallah, were costly.

At the other end, Al-Nassr’s defense, which conceded 26 goals all last season, has already been breached 33 times this time around.

It remains to be seen whether Menezes can get the best out of what is undoubtedly a talented set of players.

While the Brazilian has coached the most successful national team in the history of football, he had mixed results when in charge of the five-time world champions and his appointment by the nine-time Saudi champions is a gamble. 

His only time outside Brazil came in China in 2015. Then, he took Shandong Luneng into the last eight of the Asian Champions League, the best performance that the team had ever managed. At the same time, the club from Jinan slipped into the relegation zone in the Chinese Super League and after just six months in the job, he was heading back to South America after resigning for personal reasons.

Yet with all group games in Asia being played in Riyadh, Al-Nassr should progress to the next stage of the Champions League and if Menezes can finish the league campaign on a high then the mood around the club will receive a welcome lift.

Especially happy will be Musalli Al-Muammar after what is the first major decision taken since he was announced as the new club president on April 1.

The former head of the Saudi Pro League replaced Safwan Al-Suwaiket who was removed following poor management of the club.

Al-Nassr is reported to have debts of around $50 million and has repeatedly made headlines for the wrong reasons this season for failing to pay transfer fees and salaries owed to past players and being involved in a racism row with Al-Shabab in March.

The arrival of Menezes may be a new start. Fans will be hoping that it is. 


Game on! Saudi national team accepts Pakistan’s Peshawar Zalmi's challenge to cricket friendly

Game on! Saudi national team accepts Pakistan’s Peshawar Zalmi's challenge to cricket friendly
Updated 10 April 2021

Game on! Saudi national team accepts Pakistan’s Peshawar Zalmi's challenge to cricket friendly

Game on! Saudi national team accepts Pakistan’s Peshawar Zalmi's challenge to cricket friendly
  • SACF, established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs focused on promoting the game in the Kingdom
  • SACF chairman Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al-Saud revealed the game-changing plans for cricket in exclusive interview with Arab News

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s national cricket team has accepted the challenge by the Pakistan cricket franchise Peshawar Zalmi inviting them for a friendly game.

The owner of one of Pakistan’s most popular cricket franchises, Peshawar Zalmi, hinted last week of taking his team to Saudi Arabia for a friendly match, soon after news emerged that Arab News had been selected as the official media partner of the Saudi cricket team.

READ MORE

Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s leading English language daily, has been selected by the Saudi cricket federation to be the national team’s official media partner. Read more here.

Javed Afridi’s successful franchise is represented by cricketing legends like former West Indian skipper Daren Sammy, South African star batsman Hashim Amla, and Pakistan all rounders Wahab Riaz and Shoaib Malik, and others from the world’s biggest test playing teams.

“Best wishes to cricket KSA. How about Peshawar Zalmi VS KSA in Saudi,” Afridi wrote on Twitter.

Responding to it the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) told Arab News: “We thank Afridi for the wonderful gesture, good wishes to the Saudi national cricket team and appreciation. We look forward to a lot of cooperation with all great cricket playing countries, such as Pakistan.

“As far as invitation to play a friendly game is concerned, we accept the challenge and look forward to playing the game at a mutually agreed date and place, here in Saudi Arabia," said Nadeem Nadwi, General Manager, SACF.

SACF, established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs focused on promoting the game in the Kingdom and things are set to change rapidly.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News last week, SACF chairman Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al-Saud revealed the game-changing plans for cricket, outlining a series of major initiatives that will increase participation at community, club, and international level.

 

Among those competitions is the National Cricket Championship, played across 11 cities and part of four programs that SACF signed with the Saudi Sports For All Federation. Launched in February 2021, it is to date the largest cricket tournament held in the history of Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, there will be a corporate cricket tournament launched in October and November, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social cricket program introduced in various cities. Throughout the year, SACF is planning to have 20,000 participants taking part in these programs.

The federation has signed several deals and MoUs with governmental, semi-governmental, and non-governmental entities setting out plans to raise awareness of the game, increase cricket facilities nationwide, and introduce the sport to Saudi youth through school programs.


Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league

Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league
Updated 11 April 2021

Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league

Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league
  • Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead

MADRID: Real Madrid continued its impressive run on Saturday, going top of the Spanish league with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in what may have been Lionel Messi’s last league clásico.
The victory in pouring rain in the Spanish capital left Madrid tied on points with Atlético Madrid, which on Sunday can return to the top when it visits sixth-place Real Betis. Madrid is ahead of its city rival on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead.
Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos scored first-half goals to give Madrid its sixth straight win in all competitions. The defending league champions were coming off a win over Liverpool in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Tuesday.
“It was a very important victory for us,” Madrid defender Nacho Fernández said. “It’s always special to win a clásico, and even more when we are so close together at the top in the fight for the title. You could say today was a final, but there is still a lot left in the league.”
Barcelona got on the board in the second half with a goal by Óscar Mingueza. It nearly equalized with a shot from young substitute Ilaix Moriba that struck the crossbar in the final play of the match.
“We tried until the end but it wasn’t possible. We almost had it in that final play,” Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto said. “We depended on our own results had we won, but now we need to hope that our rivals stumble. We will keep fighting until the very end.”
This was the first time Madrid has taken the league lead since the early rounds of the competition, and it trailed Atlético by 11 points at one stage.
The result ended Barcelona’s six-match winning streak in the league. It had won nine away matches in a row in the competition.
The 33-year-old Messi, who reached seven straight clásicos without a goal, has his contract with Barcelona ending this season. The Argentina star expressed his desire to leave the Catalan club last year but had the request denied.
One of his best chances was with a corner kick that curled across the area and hit Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ far post in first-half stoppage time. Messi’s free kick in second-half stoppage time was easily stopped by Courtois.
It was an even start at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in Madrid’s training center, but the hosts opened the scoring in the 13th minute with Benzema’s superb flicked shot from close range after a low cross by Lucas Vázquez.
The French striker, who has scored 10 goals in his last nine matches, got in front of Barcelona defender Ronald Araújo and flicked the ball toward the net with his back foot. He hadn’t scored against Barcelona in nine consecutive clásicos.
The Catalan club complained of a foul by Vázquez on Messi just moments before the opening goal.
Kroos added to the lead in the 28th from a free kick following a foul on Vinícius Júnior, who was coming off an outstanding performance in Madrid’s 3-1 win over Liverpool. Kroos shot from just outside the area and the ball deflected on American defender Sergiño Dest before going into the net.
Madrid almost added to the lead in the 34th when Federico Valverde hit the post after a breakaway led by Vinícius Júnior, who also hit the post in the second half. That was after Barcelona pulled one back in the 60th with a shot from inside the area by Mingueza after a low cross by Jordi Alba.
Madrid played the final minutes a man down after Casemiro was sent off with a second yellow card.
The visitors complained about being denied a penalty in the final minutes, with Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman saying it was “a clear penalty.”
“I don't know why there is VAR in Spain,” he said.
Madrid got the win despite a depleted defense — with the absences of central defenders Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. Barcelona was without the injured Gerard Piqué.
Right back Vázquez, who has been key for Madrid in recent games, had to be replaced due to an injury before halftime.
Barcelona’s next match is the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, while Madrid travels to England to play Liverpool again in the Champions League on Wednesday.


Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory

Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory
Updated 11 April 2021

Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory

Alexander-Arnold ends Liverpool’s long wait for Anfield victory
  • 10-man Leeds stall runaway leaders Manchester City’s march with 2-1 victory

LONDON: Manchester City’s march to the Premier League title stalled on Saturday as 10-man Leeds beat the runaway leaders 2-1, while Liverpool climbed into fourth place after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s late strike sealed a 2-1 win against Aston Villa.

City are counting down to their third title in four seasons, but Stuart Dallas’s stoppage-time strike leaves them still needing 11 points from their last six games to clinch the crown.

Their first defeat in seven matches in all competitions came after Pep Guardiola made seven changes following their midweek Champions League quarterfinal first-leg win over Borussia Dortmund.

With Kevin De Bruyne on the bench at the Etihad Stadium, City were below their best against lively Leeds and now turn their attention to cup competitions next week.

They have a 2-1 lead to defend in the second leg at Dortmund on Wednesday before Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal against Chelsea at Wembley.

“We did not create enough for the forward. It is part of the game,” Guardiola said.

“When they defend in the way they were you have to stop them running and we did not do that. The best moment we had in the game we make a mistake behind and we tried but could not score.

“We are going to rest and prepare two days for the game in Dortmund and decide on how we are going to play.”

Liverpool are desperately trying to salvage their troubled campaign by qualifying for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish. Beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday, Jurgen Klopp’s side knocked West Ham out of fourth place in the most dramatic fashion at Anfield.

Liverpool had lost their previous six home league matches, but Alexander-Arnold clinched their first success in front of the Kop since December as the Reds avenged their humiliating 7-2 defeat at Villa in October.

Villa striker Ollie Watkins scored a hat-trick in that rout and he was back on the scoresheet after 43 minutes.


5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico

5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico
Updated 10 April 2021

5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico

5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico
  • The win left the Jeddah club only three points behind the champions at the tip of the Saudi Pro League table

LONDON: On Friday evening in Jeddah, Al-Ittihad defeated Al-Hilal 2-0 in the Saudi Classico thanks to first-half goals from Abdulmohsen Fatallah and Saud Abdulhamid. The result means that Al-Hilal are still top of the Saudi Pro League with 48 points from 25 games, three ahead of Al-Shabab, who face Al-Batin on Saturday. But now, Al-Ittihad in third have also closed the gap to three points.

There was much more to it than that however and there are five things we learned about the match.

1. Al Ittihad have lit up the title race

If Al-Hilal had won in Jeddah, the title race would not have been over but it would have been a major step towards another championship.

Al-Ittihad would have been out of it and the victors would have moved six points clear and while Al-Shabab have a game in hand, fixtures are running out.

Now however, it is all up in the air. Whatever happens tomorrow with Al-Shabab at Al-Batin, there are just three points separating the top three.

Ittihad are well and truly in with a chance, especially after beating the top two teams in the league inside a month. 

Whatever happens from now until the end of the season, all neutrals should be grateful for this result as it means that there is going to be plenty of drama in the coming weeks. 

2. Fatallah a hero at both ends of the pitch

Whatever coach Fabio Carille may have said before the match, there were concerns among fans of Al-Ittihad about the absence of Ahmed Hegazi in the middle of defense.

The Egyptian international has had a stellar season since arriving in October and has played a major part in the club’s resurgence.

With his usual defensive partner Ziyad Al-Sahafi also absent, Al-Hilal’s forwards must have been rubbing their hands with glee especially when replacement Omar Hawsawi went off injured after just 11 minutes.

In came Abdulmohsen Fatallah to play only his second match of the season.

He not only helped to keep out the increasingly desperate Hilal attacks, but he opened the scoring with a powerful header.

Before the game, nobody would have suggested that the 26-year-old would be the hero of the Classico but he stepped up when he was needed, though goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe and the woodwork helped out.

3. Carille wins the ‘Battle of the Brazilians’

Brazil exports plenty of talent around the world but there was still talk in South America about the fact that the Saudi Classico featured coaches from the country.

This time, Fabio Carille won out over Rogerio Micale.

It was the perfect performance from Al-Ittihad who were aggressive in the first half and then counter-attacked intelligently after the break as Al-Hilal pushed forwards with increasing desperation.

It was striking how well Al-Ittihad were organized at the back but flexible in attack as was shown by the boss putting Fahad Al-Muwallad in a central role late in the game where his speed stretched the Hilal defense. 

The champions had the lion’s share of possession against the Tigers but were lacking in creativity when it mattered with Micale’s substitutions as predictable as much of the play.

Carille handled the absence of his star player, Hegazi, better than his opposite number managed the absence of captain Salem Al-Dawsari.

This was Micale’s first taste of this fixture and losing for the first time since 2016 will not have done his standing with the fans any good. 

4. Saud Abdulhamid meant his goal

The right-back does not score many, indeed had managed just one goal before Friday, but he produced a beauty at the end of the first half.

Picking up the ball just a yard outside the area, about halfway between the touchline and the right corner of the box, everyone waited for a cross.

Instead, he fired a shot into the near top corner, fooling Abdullah Al-Mayouf in the Hilal goal. He said after the game that this was no attempt at a cross.

“I saw there was space there and I went for it,” he told television. It was a special goal and will live long in the memory.

5. Al-Shabab need to handle the pressure

The team from Riyadh have had a highly impressive season and moved into first position at the halfway stage.

But just when the prize moved to within view, the form has faltered.

Just one point from the last three games has put doubts in the minds of fans.

Now though, Al-Shabab have a second chance and can move level on points with Al-Hilal with a win against struggling Al-Batin.

This opportunity can’t be wasted especially considering what happens next.

On May 7, the top two meet. Basically, if Al-Shabab win their next two games, they will be three points clear on the summit with four games left to go.