Palestine make football history with win over Kuwait

Palestine make football history with win over Kuwait
Palestine's midfielder Nazmi Albadawi (C) vies for the ball with Saudi's Mohammed Al-Breik during the World Cup 2022 Asian qualifying match between Palestine and Saudi Arabia in the town of al-Ram in the Israeli occupied West Bank on October 15, 2019. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 January 2021

Palestine make football history with win over Kuwait

Palestine make football history with win over Kuwait
  • Friendly victory puts team on road to Asian Cup, coach says

Palestine are confident of a revival in their footballing fortunes after making history by defeating Kuwait for the first time.

Sameh Maraaba headed the only goal of Monday night’s friendly at Kuwait City’s Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium with 19 minutes remaining, and despite pressure from the 1980 Asian champions, the visitors saw the game out.

This was a welcome and morale-boosting victory ahead of major 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers coming up against Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Singapore.

“It is a huge result for the confidence of the nation,” Palestine international Nazmi Albadawi told Arab News. “It shows the character of the team. We have a good side. I am 29 and one of the older ones. We are young and hungry.”

Desperate to bounce back after mixed results in qualification for the 2022 World Cup, Palestine’s road to Qatar started excellently with an impressive win over Uzbekistan.

In October 2019, the team held regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia to a 0-0 draw in front of a vocal home crowd.

“Saudi Arabia are one of the best teams in Asia and we dominated them,” Albadawi added. “We could have won and we left the field disappointed that we didn’t.”

That has not been the biggest disappointment. Despite the Saudi draw and the Uzbekistan victory, Palestine, ranked 102 in the world, were beaten by Yemen and Singapore.

“We should not have lost those games. The biggest thing for us is consistency. We play well against the big teams. We have drawn against Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China and beaten Uzbekistan, but now it is about getting results we need against teams we are supposed to beat.”

Sort out the inconsistency and the future looks better. Finishing in the top two of Group D and progressing to the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup already looks to be out of reach, but a top three spot and a place in the final
qualification stages for the 2023 Asian Cup is a realistic objective.

“That is what we are aiming for now. We play both Yemen and Singapore at home and these are games we need to win,” added the midfielder.

Player and coach are very much on the same page. Noureddine Ould Ali was without some players for the trip to Kuwait that included a training camp as well as the game, but said that he was satisfied with the performance.

“It was important to get together and play for the first time in a long time,” the Algerian coach said. “We have to try to prepare for qualification for the Asian Cup and we kept to our game plan against a good team. We kept our shape well and
managed to get the win.”

Ould Ali said that while the performance was more important than the result, to get a win at the home of a traditional Asian power was satisfying.

“We can take confidence from this win and build on it,” the 48 year-old said. “We have to take this forward to the next games and keep improving.”

It is easier said than done. Palestine face challenges that other teams do not. Local players are frequently delayed at the Israeli-controlled border checkpoints when leaving and returning to the country.

Being based in the US and playing for North Carolina, Albadawi can come and go much more easily.

“When flying in, I can go straight to Jordan and then travel in from there. There are Israeli soldiers who ask questions. It has not been too bad for me, but some of my team-mates can spend hours with the security measures, which makes it difficult. Inside the West Bank it is not too bad, but sometimes we have to go through checkpoints just to get to the stadiums.

“Leaving the country for away games, it is different. The local players leave 24 hours before us to make sure that they can get to where we are going on time. We can go straight to Jordan, but it is exhausting for them. It is so impressive how they don’t complain, it is inspiring to see them.”

The coronavirus pandemic does not make any of this easier. Palestine has been hit hard by the virus, with over 150,000 cases and almost 2,000 deaths recorded.

“Palestine is in the midst of a third wave,” said Football Palestine journalist Bassil Mikdadi. “There is big concern in Gaza because it is so densely populated. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Israel has refused to make the vaccine available for Palestinians.”

Despite all that, the local league managed to finish the season in 2020 and is well on the way this season. In Palestine at the best of times, football can seem
inconsequential, but now, more than ever, the national team can bring hope to the nation. More results like Monday’s win in Kuwait will go down very well.


Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region
Updated 7 min 56 sec ago

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region
  • The Abu Dhabi side won the Arabian Gulf League with a policy of promoting young players instead of big-money signings

DUBAI: When Al-Jazira announced the signing of the UAE’s most high-profile player Omar Abdulrahman in August of 2019, all talk within the Arabian Gulf League fan bases was of the capital club spending their way to glory.

After all, Al-Jazira were unveiling a player who just three years earlier had been crowned Asia’s best and linked to European moves summer after summer. Lined up alongside him was another stellar signing, albeit less flashy; fellow UAE international midfielder Amer Abdulrahman.

The two would be joining a star-studded squad including the nation’s all-time top scorer Ali Mabkhout, Brazilian winger Kenno and South African international midfielder Thulani Serero.

The arrival of big-name signings was a familiar sight at a club that had over the previous 20 years been home to the likes of George Weah, Phillip Cocu, Mirko Vucinic and Ricardo Oliveira.

Twenty-one months, a global pandemic and a canceled season later, the title did indeed arrive to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, but Al-Jazira’s path to glory could not have been any different to the expectations of two years earlier.

For starters, both Abdulrahmans have left the club. After failing to establish himself at Al-Jazira, Amer headed to Bani Yas, where he rediscovered his best form, becoming a key cog in a side that pushed his former employers until the last day of a two-horse title race. Omar fared slightly better at Al-Jazira, but a succession of injuries led to his contract termination and he went on to join Shabab Al-Ahli where he is yet to make an appearance in four months.

On the title-deciding night, it was another Omar who stole the headlines with a brace against Khorfakkan. The difference between the two Omars embodied the change of direction over the past 24 months, which culminated with a third league title for the Pride of Abu Dhabi. Omar Traore was scouted and recruited from Stade Malien aged 18. The little-known prospect from West Africa was registered under the “resident player” category, which allows Emirati clubs to register foreign players under the age of 20 outside the standard four-player quota applicable in domestic competitions.

Traore’s Man of the Match performance was just part of a bigger picture as Al-Jazira reaped the rewards of a strategy that saw them switch focus to youth and intelligent recruitment. Of the 11 players who started against Khorfakkan on Tuesday, four were under the age of 23. In fact, Al-Jazira were able to win the league with the youngest squad average age in the entire competition at just 25.2, including nine players under 23 in their squad.

Champions in 2010-11 and 2016-17, this latest Arabian Gulf League success will feel special for many Al-Jazira faithful, with six academy graduates at the core of it. Defenders Mohammed Al-Attas and Khalifa Al-Hammadi have played side by side since the age of 11 and both made their debuts as 17-year-olds. The pair became inseparable, earning their international call-ups and establishing themselves as mainstays for club and country before turning 24.

Then there is Abdullah Ramadan. Born in the UAE to Egyptian parents, the mercurial midfielder shone at every level. After being granted citizenship, he was called up to the national team and excelled for the UAE in the 2020 AFC U23 Championship as the young Whites reached the quarter-finals. That January in Thailand, it was a fellow Al-Jazira academy product who walked away with the Golden Boot; Zayed Al-Ameri has been hailed as the heir to Mabkhout’s throne as the club’s future goal machine.

This shift of direction and subsequent success at Al-Jazira was no coincidence. Sporting Director Mads Davidsen was recruited from Chinese side Shanghai SIPG last year. Earlier this season, he outlined the club’s vision.

“We have described our style of play as a club, that will never change. Even if the coach does change, the style of play, the football philosophy will never change. That is the core of our strategy,” said the Dane.

“A club-defined style of play, club-defined methodology, club-defined recruitment strategy. We look at recruitment differently. We look internally first where most people look externally. Every time you buy a player, it delays someone’s development.”

With the playing style clearly defined, Dutch tactician Marcel Keizer was brought back for a second spell at the club after winning a domestic double with Sporting Lisbon. The 52-year-old built on a legacy of Dutch success at the club, becoming the second Dutchman to win the league title at Al-Jazira after Ten Cate in 2016-17.

The margins might have been fine at the end, with Al-Jazira ending the season just three points ahead of their nearest chasers Bani Yas. But in proving their sustainable success philosophy can deliver results, the Pride of Abu Dhabi have shown other clubs the way forward in a region where short-termism and spending on star names is often perceived as the only sure way to success.


New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities

New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities
Updated 13 May 2021

New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities

New protocols for public entry to stadiums, sports facilities
  • People recorded in the Tawakkalna as "immune" from COVID-19 can now be admitted in sports arenas

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Sports on Wednesday issued new guidance for mass entry to stadiums and sports facilities, which included a number of important precautionary measures.

The protocols included social distancing and the wearing of masks, in addition to the mechanism for crowd entry and preventing gatherings inside the stands or at the doors.

The new guidance specified the categories of people that will be allowed to attend sports matches, according to what appears in the Tawakkalna app. 

People can be admitted if they are “immune” (having completed both doses of the vaccine), “immune after infection” (having recovered from the virus within the last six months), or “immune by the first dose” (having received the first dose of the vaccine).

Entry will also be permitted for people over seven and under 18, provided that their condition on Tawakkalna app is not “infected.” 

The new list of protocols follows an announcement on March 20, which limited sports match crowds to 40 percent of their total capacity from May 17.

The ministry said it had taken the necessary measures with sports federations and clubs to implement the protocols to ensure the health and safety of everyone. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported 13 more COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday. The death toll now stands at 7,111.

The Ministry of Health reported 1,020 new cases, meaning that 429,389 people have now contracted the disease. There are 9,268 active cases, 1,352 of which are in critical condition.

According to the ministry, 342 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, 276 in Makkah, 133 in the Eastern Province and 56 in Madinah.

In addition, 908 patients had recovered from the disease, bringing the total to 413,010 recoveries.

Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 17,740,919 PCR tests, with 71,040 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Saudi health clinics set up by the ministry as testing hubs or treatment centers have helped hundreds of thousands of people around the Kingdom since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Among those testing hubs are Taakad (make sure) centers and Tetamman (rest assured) clinics.

Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual, while the Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms, such as fever, loss of taste and smell and breathing difficulties.

Appointments to either service can also be made through the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Saudis and expats in the Kingdom continue to receive their COVID-19 jabs, with 11,075,209 people inoculated so far.


Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open

Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open
Updated 13 May 2021

Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open

Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open
  • The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30

ROME: Serena Williams, playing the 1,000th WTA match of her career, lost on her return after nearly three months away to Nadia Podoroska in the second round of the WTA Italian Open on Wednesday.

The 39-year-old eighth seed fell 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 in under just two hours to the 44th-ranked Argentine, a surprise semifinalist at last year’s Roland Garros.

Williams, a four-time Rome winner and 23-time Grand Slam champion, had not played since her semifinal defeat in the Australian Open this year.

The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30 where the American continues her bid to equal Australia’s Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam trophies.

Despite a battling performance Williams could not wear down the 24-year-old Argentine who broke the American twice in the first set. Podoroska forced a tiebreak with an ace and squandered three set points before sealing the set.

In the second, Williams was trailing 5-2 but held and broke the Argentine to love while she served for the match to level at 5-5.

Podoroska held her nerve to earn three match points to secure just her third career win over a top-10 player, all in the last eight months.

For Williams it was her 149th defeat, with 851 wins over the course of a WTA career covering 1,000 matches.

But she will not get to celebrate with the Rome public, with spectators only allowed from Thursday’s third round at the Foro Italico while limited to a 25 percent capacity.

Podoroska next meets Croatia’s Petra Martic, who earlier beat France’s Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-3. 


UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve
Updated 13 May 2021

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve
  • The maximum punishment under UEFA’s disciplinary pathway is a two-year ban from European competition

LAUSANNE: UEFA on Wednesday initiated disciplinary proceedings against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, the three clubs yet to renounce the aborted European Super League project.

European football’s governing body has appointed disciplinary inspectors to conduct an investigation regarding a potential violation of UEFA rules by the clubs “in connection with the so-called ‘Super League’ project,”  it announced.

“Further information regarding this matter will be made available in due course.” 

UEFA last week said it would take “appropriate action” against the three clubs who still support the proposed Super League, a competition that would guarantee its founding members involvement every season, instead of having to qualify.

It did not specify the violations that may have been committed, although its statutes prohibit “combinations or alliances” between clubs without the body’s permission.

The maximum punishment under UEFA’s disciplinary pathway is a two-year ban from European competition, while club officials could be banned from any football-related activity.

However, UEFA’s options are clouded by a ruling from a commercial court in Madrid on April 20.

The court banned UEFA and FIFA from making any moves to block a Super League or taking any disciplinary measures against the clubs, players or officials involved.

It is also unclear what penalties the clubs that have withdrawn may owe to the remaining clubs for breaking their agreement to join the Super League.

The Super League was announced on April 18 but two days later it collapsed as the six Premier League clubs withdrew after angry protests from supporters and under pressure from the British government.

Nine of the original 12 clubs have now dropped out.

Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan were on Friday given a financial penalty by UEFA for their involvement.

They committed to taking “all steps within their power” to end their involvement in the breakaway league and agreed to participate in UEFA competitions for which they qualify. They also agreed to pay fines of 100 million euros ($121 million) if they ever seek to play in an “unauthorized” competition.

In response, Real, Barca and Juventus continued to defend the Super League proposal and condemned what it termed “threats” from UEFA.

The clubs issued a joint statement that said “the founding clubs have suffered, and continue to suffer, unacceptable third-party pressures (and) threats.”

“This is intolerable under the rule of law,” they added.

The trio said the Super League had been launched “with the aim of providing solutions to the current unsustainable situation in the football industry.”


Gerd Mueller would be happy if Lewandowski equals goal record, says wife

Gerd Mueller would be happy if Lewandowski equals goal record, says wife
Updated 12 May 2021

Gerd Mueller would be happy if Lewandowski equals goal record, says wife

Gerd Mueller would be happy if Lewandowski equals goal record, says wife
  • Lewandowski hit a hat-trick on Saturday as Bayern were crowned Bundesliga champions before thrashing Borussia Moenchengladbach 6-0
  • Mueller’s wife Uschi says the former Bayern and West Germany star, who suffers dementia, would be happy for Lewandowski if his record is finally matched

BERLIN: The wife of Gerd Mueller says the former Bayern Munich legend would be happy to see Robert Lewandowski equal — but not break — his 49-year-old Bundesliga goal record with the Poland striker just one short.
Lewandowski hit a hat-trick last Saturday as Bayern were crowned Bundesliga champions for the ninth season in a row before their 6-0 thrashing of Borussia Moenchengladbach.
He is now on 39 league goals this season — tantalisingly close to Mueller’s record of 40 scored in the 1971/72 Bundesliga season.
Lewandowski, 32, has two games left to reach Mueller’s milestone — away to mid-table Freiburg on Saturday and home to Augsburg the weekend after on the final day of the season.
Mueller, 75, is currently in poor health and suffering from dementia.
However, his wife Uschi says the former Bayern and West Germany star would be happy for Lewandowski if his record is finally matched.
During his stellar career, Mueller scored a total of 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga games, but has been in a care home since November 2015.
“Gerd would be happy for him,” Uschi Mueller told magazine Sport Bild.
“He would be the first to congratulate him.
“He was always surprised that someone hadn’t caught up with him long ago.
“I am firmly convinced that Lewandowski will do it. He has played a great season, is a hard worker.”
Mueller, nicknamed ‘The Bomber’, scored his 40 goals in 34 games during an incredible season in which he claimed four Bundesliga hat-tricks, as well as scoring four goals in an 11-1 mauling of Borussia Dortmund and five goals in a 7-0 drubbing of Oberhausen.
Lewandowski’s tally of 39 goals is all the more remarkable as he has only played 27 of Bayern’s 32 league games so far this season.
His superb hat-trick on Saturday was his fifth in the league this season, which includes the four goals he netted for Bayern in a nervy 4-3 home win against Hertha Berlin last October.
Lewandowski, voted FIFA’s best male player of 2020, is one of the world’s top strikers having scored 275 goals in 348 Bundesliga matches for Bayern and former club Dortmund.
Mueller’s wife says comparisons between her husband and Lewandowski are pointless as they come from such different eras.
“You can’t compare the two at all. Robert is an athlete, Gerd was an artist,” added Uschi Mueller.
“He was like a rubber ball. Gerd always had two men practically standing on his feet (marking him).
“That is impossible with Lewandowski and his athletic build.”
However, Uschi Mueller also kindly requested that Lewandowski equal, not break, her husband’s record.
“As a wife, I’d rather Gerd kept it,” she laughed.
“Dear Robert Lewandowski, 40 goals is enough.”