Milan, Inter look to bounce back in last-eight derby cup

Milan, Inter look to bounce back in last-eight derby cup
AC Milan’s forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, left, shoots on goal during the Italian Serie A football match with Atalanta Bergamo at the San Siro stadium in Milan. (AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2021

Milan, Inter look to bounce back in last-eight derby cup

Milan, Inter look to bounce back in last-eight derby cup
  • Ibrahimovic returned for Milan this month after seven weeks out injured, scoring a brace against Cagliari

MILAN: Milan’s giants will do battle in the Italian Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday after a disappointing weekend of Serie A action for Italy’s top two teams.

League leaders AC Milan were swept away 3-0 by Atalanta at the San Siro on Saturday, at the same time as second-placed Inter Milan could only manage a goalless draw at Udinese which leaves them two points behind their city rivals.

The teams’ star strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku, who have each bagged 12 goals this league campaign, both drew a blank at the weekend but will be hoping for more from the second meeting this season between the two teams.

Milan’s veteran forward Ibrahimovic scored a brace the last time they met in a 2-1 league win in October, with Lukaku also netting for Inter.

Ibrahimovic returned for Milan this month after seven weeks out injured, scoring a brace against Cagliari, and is looking for his first Cup goal of the season.

Lukaku headed in an extra-time winner against Fiorentina in the last 16, but the Belgium forward has failed to score in Inter’s last four league games.

Their trophy hopes now lie on domestic success after their early European exit.

“Winning the Scudetto and qualifying for the Champions League would be significant for Inter, but the Italian Cup is a trophy that we respect,” said coach Antonio Conte.

“We won’t be taking it lightly and will try to win, as we always do.”

Inter’s last major trophy was the 2011 Italian Cup, while Milan — who last won the league that same year — have not tasted success in the competition since 2003.

Making it through to the last four by beating such strong opposition on Tuesday would be huge after their limp defeat by Atalanta.

“The Italian Cup derby could bring us to the semifinals but above all it’s an opportunity to immediately turn the page and avoid a difficult emotional crisis,” said Milan coach Stefano Pioli.

Holders Napoli are also looking for a lift Thursday as they take on Serie A newcomers Spezia, who dumped Roma out of the tournament last week.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side lost the Italian Super Cup to Juventus last week and fell 3-1 at Hellas Verona in Serie A on Sunday.

Juventus, winners of four of the last six Italian Cups, take on the only Serie B side remaining, SPAL.

Atalanta — whose only major trophy was the Italian Cup in 1963 — host Lazio, winners in 2019, with the two sides set for a return trip again next weekend in the league.

Winners go through to a two-legged semifinal on February 3 and 10, with the final on May 19.


Saudi Sports for All’s Spartan Race returns to the Kingdom in the New Year

Saudi Sports for All’s Spartan Race returns to the Kingdom in the New Year
Updated 11 sec ago

Saudi Sports for All’s Spartan Race returns to the Kingdom in the New Year

Saudi Sports for All’s Spartan Race returns to the Kingdom in the New Year
  • The race will take place at Dirab Park in Riyadh on Jan. 21, 2022, with obstacle races for all ages and abilities

RIYADH: One of the region’s most formidable fitness challenges returns to Saudi Arabia in January as Riyadh and the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) prepare to host the Spartan Race.

Inspired by the warrior culture of ancient Sparta and featuring dozens of obstacles designed to test strength, stamina, endurance and perseverance, Spartan Races have become popular across the globe since launching in 2010, with more than 2,500 annual events across 42 countries to date.

“We’re excited again to host this incredible event back in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to showcase the country’s role in hosting several local and global sporting events,” said SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud.

“The Spartan Race is a great way for everybody in our fitness community to test their limits. It’s also a lot of fun, and with races for all ages and experience levels, it’s a great way to enjoy yourself while staying active, fit and healthy.”

Saudi Arabia’s first Spartan Race took place in Riyadh in 2016, with the following race being hosted in the mountains of Al-Soudah during the Asir Season in 2019, where more than 1,500 competitors and spectators took part. The race returns to Riyadh on Jan. 21 at Dirab Park from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Six races will be staged during the day, giving people of all ages, genders and fitness levels an opportunity to take part.

The Spartan Super race is open to both males and females and will take place over a 10km course, with 25 obstacles to overcome, including mud, water, fire and barbed wire. Two Spartan Sprint races will take place – one mixed for males and females, and one for females only. Both will take place over 5km, with 20 obstacles.

Three Spartan Kids races will also take place for different age groups. The 4 to 6-year-old race will take place over 800 meters, with the 7 to 9-year-old race over 1.6km, and the 10 to 14-year-old race over 3.2km. All Spartan Kids races are open to both genders.

“Events like this reinforce the SFA’s role to enhancing the health and wellbeing of the nation, and if the previous editions are anything to go by, we can expect a huge turnout from participants who share in our vision of a fitter, more active Saudi Arabia,” Prince Khaled said.

Supported by the Ministry of Sport and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, the SFA is mandated by Vision 2030’s Quality of Life Program to increase the ratio of people in the Kingdom exercising on a regular basis to 40 percent by 2030.


Morocco ominous, Qatar on march: 5 things learned from conclusion of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup group stages

Morocco ominous, Qatar on march: 5 things learned from conclusion of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup group stages
Updated 43 min 42 sec ago

Morocco ominous, Qatar on march: 5 things learned from conclusion of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup group stages

Morocco ominous, Qatar on march: 5 things learned from conclusion of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup group stages
  • African nations have excelled in 16-team tournament as it reaches quarter-final stage

RIYADH: The group stage of the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup is over with the quarterfinals starting on Friday.

Saudi Arabia’s young, experimental team has been eliminated, and here are five things we learned from the performances of some of the other teams involved.

1. At half-time it is Africa 1, Asia 0

With the last eight made up of four Asian teams and four from Africa, it may look like continental honors were even in the group stage. That is not quite the case.

Six African teams started the competition and a maximum of five could have progressed (three were drawn in the same group). Four managed to do so, with Mauritania failing.

Asia had 10 representatives, and were guaranteed three places in the last eight, but could have had a maximum of seven. In the end, only four went through. In terms of direct confrontations, it was Africa 7 Asia 3.

Too much can be read into this. Saudi Arabia sent an under-23 team, and the weaker Asian teams had the better of their African counterparts in qualification. However, the likes of Morocco, Egypt, and Algeria often looked to be playing at a higher level and all three progressed without any fuss.

There is still time for Asia to turn the tables and show their African rivals what they are made of.

2. Egypt and Algeria cannot be separated

The record books will show Algeria 1 — Egypt 1 and in the end, only the fact that Algeria collected four yellow cards to Egypt’s three meant that the Pharaohs finished top due to fair play rules. That may be significant as they play Jordan next instead of Morocco.

But to have these two great north African rivals in the same group as Lebanon and Sudan is like putting Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain together with Club Brugge and RB Leipzig. There is talent in the other two teams, but they are just not good enough to challenge the powerhouses.

At least in the Champions League, one of the two meetings between the titans is a competitive and meaningful one, but by the time Algeria and Egypt met, they were both through to the last eight.

No doubt both would have wanted to finish first to avoid Morocco in the last eight but had there been a chance of the loser being eliminated then it would have been a titanic clash. As it is, there are still questions to be answered with both teams resting players. The real tests are about to come.

3. Qatar’s deadly duo strike again

Africa may be on top but the Asian champions, who beat Iraq 3-0 to make it nine points from three games, should be a match for anyone in the knockout stage on home soil and should be able to get past the UAE in a rerun of the 2019 Asian Cup semi-final.

Akram Afif was the standout player in Asia in 2019 as was confirmed by the Asian Football Confederation in that year’s awards. The winger has had his ups and downs since but looks to be returning to his best form for his country and his late cameo in the second half made a big difference.

Even more encouraging is that Almoez Ali also got on the scoresheet. Afif and Ali struck fear into the hearts of Asian defenses in 2019 and also linked up well in the Concacaf Gold Cup in the summer. If Qatar are going to go all the way on home soil, these two need to be at their best not just individually but together. The signs are encouraging.

4. Morocco look ominous

Much has been made of the fact that Morocco have scored nine goals in their three wins so far, ending in that 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia. What has been impressive is that the goals have been spread around the team, coming from all directions.

Yet, despite that offensive threat, it was striking that against Saudi Arabia in the final game, one that Morocco did not have to get anything from as they were already through, the team worked so hard to keep a clean sheet. It worked and has left the goals against column remaining blank.

Nine changes were made from the team that defeated Jordan three days earlier but there was still an organization in the team with the replacements fitting snugly into the system. They were fresh and worked just as hard as the first teamers on and off the ball.

Morocco have the strength in depth, the talent, the team ethic, and the organization to go all the way.

5. Iraq’s woe continues

The 3-0 loss to Qatar looked bad but it was goalless with 10 minutes left. That sums up Iraq’s year.

In the first half of 2021, Iraq were the form team in Asia. The 1-0 win over Hong Kong in June in the previous round of World Cup qualification, made it 19 games unbeaten (including a 2-2 draw with Bahrain in the 2019 Gulf Cup which ended with a penalty shootout defeat).

Then Srecko Katanec left after a salary dispute and the team has not won any of the last nine. Dick Advocaat has come and gone and now his former assistant Zeljko Petrovic looks to be struggling.

The Arab Cup was a chance for a reset, but it did not quite happen. A late equalizer against Oman could have been a springboard for a strong finish but then came the 0-0 draw with Bahrain, a game that Iraq had to win as Qatar came next.

The Asian champions were always going to be tough but had Yaser Kasim’s lovely first-half shot not hit the inside of the post and had Mohammed Qasim’s strike not hit the outside of the post with 11 minutes remaining when the scoreline was still goalless, then it could have been an Iraq win instead of a 3-0 loss.


Defending champion Novak Djokovic on entry list for Australian Open

Defending champion Novak Djokovic on entry list for Australian Open
Updated 08 December 2021

Defending champion Novak Djokovic on entry list for Australian Open

Defending champion Novak Djokovic on entry list for Australian Open
  • But tennis great Serena Williams, who was expected to play, is missing from entries

MELBOURNE: World number one Novak Djokovic was among the entries for the Australian Open on Wednesday but women’s great Serena Williams was missing.
The Serbian had cast doubt on whether he would defend his Melbourne Park title next month, refusing to reveal whether he was inoculated against coronavirus.
Williams, who is frustratingly marooned on 23 Grand Slam titles – one short of the all-time record held by Margaret Court – had been expected to play, but her name was not listed.


Real Madrid dispatch 10-man Inter to go through top of the group

Real Madrid dispatch 10-man Inter to go through top of the group
Updated 08 December 2021

Real Madrid dispatch 10-man Inter to go through top of the group

Real Madrid dispatch 10-man Inter to go through top of the group
  • Inter had to win to claim first place but after weathering an early storm, Madrid were superior and Kroos' goal put them in control before Barella's sending off

MADRID: Real Madrid will go through as group winners to the Champions League last 16 after Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio each scored in a 2-0 win over Inter Milan on Tuesday.
A comfortable victory at the Santiago Bernabeu, aided by Nicolo Barella's red card in the 64th minute when Inter were one goal down, sent Madrid through top of Group D, five points ahead of the Italians, who advance as runners-up.
Inter had to win to claim first place but after weathering an early storm, Madrid were superior and Kroos' goal put them in control before Barella's sending off and then a superb strike from Asensio made the result secure.
Madrid's reward is a guarantee they will avoid the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Manchester City when the draw for the knock-out stages is made on Monday, although Lionel Messi's Paris Saint-Germain will be among those in the runners-up pot.
"We wanted to finish first in the group to avoid the stronger teams and we've done that," said Luka Modric.
Other than the shock defeat away at Sheriff in September, Madrid's group stage has been relative plain-sailing, with five wins, including two victories over Inter.
But the challenge now for Carlo Ancelotti's team will be to show they can still mix it with the very best in the latter stages, after they were outplayed last season by Chelsea in the semi-finals.
Karim Benzema was absent after picking up an injury against Real Sociedad on Saturday and while Luka Jovic filled in, Madrid will hope to have Benzema back for the derby at home to Atletico Madrid in La Liga on Sunday.
"We have a few days to see if Karim recovers, I think he will," said Ancelotti.
Madrid are already eight points clear in Spain and, together with their impressive showing in the Champions League, it has been an accomplished first few months for new coach Ancelotti.
Inter were the sharper team early on, popping the ball around Madrid, whose best chances came on the break.
Inter went closest when Marcelo Brozovic sent a dipping effort onto the roof of the net.
Madrid, though, grew into the game, with Luka Modric and Kroos increasingly influential in midfield.
Vinicius Junior looked dangerous but lacked the composure that Kroos then showed for the opener in the 17th minute.
Casemiro dummied a pass from the right, allowing Kroos to collect and while he wanted the shot on his right foot he reluctantly took it on his left, driving straight and hard into the far corner.
The goal knocked the confidence out of Inter, who were on the back foot for the rest of the half.
Vinicius wanted a penalty but fell too easily and then fluffed a four against three on the counter.
Jovic was slid through but fired wide and Rodrygo twice went close, one shot on the turn clipping the post before another hit the side-netting.
After half-time, Inter's Barella blazed over from inside the box and then just after the hour, he was sent off.
Barella was barged out of play and into the sideboards by Eder Militao and he reacted by swinging his right hand into Militao's left leg while on the ground. Militao earned a yellow card for the resulting confrontation and Barella saw red.
That killed any hope Inter had of a comeback and all that was left was for Asensio, on as a substitute, to add Madrid's second in the 79th minute with a wonderful curving shot that flew in off the post.


Competing in Dakar Rally ‘dream come true’ for Saudi driver Dania Akeel

Dakar Rally participant Dania Akeel hopes that Saudi women will fulfil their wishes in order to score achievements in the name of the homeland. (Supplied)
Dakar Rally participant Dania Akeel hopes that Saudi women will fulfil their wishes in order to score achievements in the name of the homeland. (Supplied)
Updated 08 December 2021

Competing in Dakar Rally ‘dream come true’ for Saudi driver Dania Akeel

Dakar Rally participant Dania Akeel hopes that Saudi women will fulfil their wishes in order to score achievements in the name of the homeland. (Supplied)
  • A Saudi champion, Akeel was the winner of the T3 category at the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas

RIYADH: Dakar Rally 2022 participant Dania Akeel’s determination for motor racing has remained unwavering, despite injuries and a horrific accident she had while racing, and has called qualifying for the race in Saudi Arabia as her “greatest dream come true.”

A Saudi champion, Akeel was the winner of the T3 category at the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas, and is participating alongside her French co-driver Antonia De Roissard in the sixth and final stage of this season’s FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies in Hail on board her car “Can Am Maverick X3”, which falls within the T3 category.

This participation is considered a test for her and her co-driver in preparation for the Dakar Rally and a chance she has been eagerly waiting for to represent her homeland.

Akeel also sees it as an opportunity to discover and familiarize herself with the stages’ terrain and roads. Through this participation, she seeks to train and test herself, her co-driver and her car, the same car she will be driving during her most important race in January.

“The Hail rally is a great opportunity for me and my team to prepare for the Dakar Rally, which is the greatest dream that has accompanied me since I started getting into motorsports. This dream is now closer than ever and the Hail rally will be a perfect opportunity for me to train and familiarize myself with some of Dakar Rally’s stages,” Akeel said.

Akeel made history as the first female Saudi driver to participate in a round of an international desert rally, which was held in the Eastern Province as part of the third round of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas, along with the first round of the Saudi Desert Rally Championship.

Akeel took the first steps of her career in 2019, as she participated in races on circuits in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. During her first season, she had an accident on the Bahrain International Circuit. This resulted in a pelvis fracture, which made her take a break from motorsports for a while.

She says that the world of cars and motorcycles is very difficult and challenging. It requires strength, courage and a sense of adventure, especially for women, who need to have a strong will because this sport is mostly male-dominated. However, she never backed down and kept pushing forwards to fulfil her ambitions because Saudi women are currently living in the era of women empowerment. She also wished that more girls and women would get into this sport in the Kingdom.

Akeel hopes that Saudi women will fulfil their wishes in order to score achievements in the name of the homeland. She also hopes that Saudi women will be able to achieve their dreams in all sports and fields.