Milan ready to defend Ibrahimovic against racism

Milan ready to defend Ibrahimovic against racism
Bologna's Japanese defender Takehiro Tomiyasu (R) heads the ball past AC Milan's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the Serie A football match between Bologna and AC Milan on January 30, 2021 at the Dall'Ara stadium in Bologna. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 31 January 2021

Milan ready to defend Ibrahimovic against racism

Milan ready to defend Ibrahimovic against racism

ITALY, Milan: AC Milan will defend Zlatan Ibrahimovic if he faces disciplinary action for racism after the Swede clashed with Inter’s Romelu Lukaku during an Italian Cup match this week, team technical director Paolo Maldini said on Saturday.
“We are ready to defend Ibrahimovic in any way possible if racism should be brought up, which has nothing to do with him,” said Maldini.
“It happens to argue, it’s an ugly episode to watch, but it ends there.
“(Ibrahimovic) was sorry for having left the team with 10 (players). He defended his teammates against Lukaku’s unprovoked attacks.”
The heated altercation between the former Manchester United teammates began before the half-time whistle of the quarterfinal match which Inter won in the San Siro.


The heated altercation between the former Manchester United teammates began before the half-time whistle of the quarterfinal match which Inter won in the San Siro.

Ibrahimovic taunted Lukaku by evoking voodooism before the pair went head-to-head, trading insults with a furious Lukaku restrained by his teammates.
Ibrahimovic spoke out against racism on Wednesday, writing on Twitter: “In Zlatan’s world there is no place for racism.
“We are all the same race — we are all equal!! We are all players some better then others.”
Both players were booked over the incident and Ibrahimovic was subsequently sent off in the second half after picking up a second yellow.
They will both be suspended for their team’s next Italian Cup game, with Lukaku picking up a yellow card in the previous game.
The Belgian will miss next Tuesday’s Italian Cup semifinal, first leg tie against Juventus.

The UAE Pro League risks dropping to second tier of Asian football

The UAE Pro League risks dropping to second tier of Asian football
Updated 21 April 2021

The UAE Pro League risks dropping to second tier of Asian football

The UAE Pro League risks dropping to second tier of Asian football
  • Al-Ain’s fall from grace symptomatic of wider struggles for Emirati teams in AFC Champions League
  • Al-Ain FC missed out on the group stage altogether in 2021 after an embarrassing 4-0 play-off defeat to Iran’s Foolad Khouzestan

It was a chilly November night and the noise from the brightly lit Hazza bin Zayed Stadium could be heard from miles away in the quiet of the oasis town of Al-Ain on the UAE-Oman border as a full house of 25,000 home fans unveiled a giant TIFO with the words “One Dream” separated by two stars and painted in the colours of the UAE flag.

The home team, Al-Ain FC, were looking to turn around a 2-1 defeat from the first leg of the 2016 AFC Champions League final against South Korean giants Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors as they pursued the dream of a second continental title. The two sides had just joined Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad in becoming the only Asian clubs to appear in three finals since the inception of the AFC Champions League in 2002-03 when Al-Ain were crowned inaugural winners.

There was a certain familiarity to the scenes that night. A year before, 150 km away in Dubai, Al-Ain’s domestic rivals Al-Ahli had been in the same position, contesting the 2015 AFC Champions League final against China’s Guangzhou Evergrande.

In the end, both UAE sides lost their finals and settled for silver medals, but for a moment, despite the disappointment, it felt like UAE football had really established itself as a genuine powerhouse on the continental level. Back-to-back finals, local stars Ahmed Khalil and Omar Abdulrahman earning Asia’s Player of The Year Award in consecutive years, the UAE Pro League topping the AFC’s domestic competitions rankings and the national team taking Asia by storm to finish third in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia; their best-ever result away from home.

Fast forward a few years and the picture could not be more different. Despite much-needed wins by Sharjah and Al-Wahda in their latest AFC Champions League groups matches, the overall picture remains deeply worrying.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the woes of Al-Ain, going from the very summit of continental football to its nadir, finishing bottom of their AFC Champions League group in 2019 and 2020 and missing out on the group stage altogether in 2021 after an embarrassing 4-0 play-off defeat to Iran’s Foolad Khouzestan.

It was the third time Al-Ain had lost 4-0 in their last seven Champions League games. With the club languishing in sixth place in the league at the time of writing, chances are they will be out of the Champions League for two consecutive years for the first time since 2008.

It is not only Al-Ain that has struggled. In 2019, Al-Wasl also finished bottom of their group, conceding 18 goals over six games, more than any other team in the competition, while their Dubai rivals Al-Nasr were eliminated in the play-off stage. Out of the four clubs in the competition, only Al-Wahda managed to get into the knock-out stages, before exiting at the round of 16.

A year later, it was the same story; there were two UAE clubs at the foot of their respective groups, Al-Ain and Sharjah. Al-Wahda failed to participate due to an outbreak of Covid-19 within the club and again one side, Shabab Al-Ahli, finalists five years earlier, scraped into the round of 16 before bowing out.

The result of all this? The UAE Pro League’s continental ranking has dropped from first to seventh, closer in points to the Uzbek League in 10th place than they are to the Iranian League in sixth. The country already lost a seat in the group stage despite the expansion of the competition to 40 teams and losing one more spot in subsequent editions of the competition is a real possibility.

A move by the UAE Pro League to incentivize local clubs based on their results in the continental competition does not seem to have produced the desired outcome. Three Matchdays into the 2021 edition, the three participating Emirati clubs – Al-Wahda, Sharjah and Shabab Al-Ahli – have collected 12 points from 24 on offer. Saudi and Iranian clubs have stolen a march on them.

Those nights of glamour in 2015 and 2016 now look a distant memory, and if this downward spiral is to be arrested, then something needs to change soon. Otherwise, we could see the UAE Pro League, one of the region’s most financially endowed domestic competitions, fall behind the likes of the Thai, Iraqi and Uzbek leagues and, most dangerously, the country could soon find its clubs competing in the AFC’s second-tier competition, the AFC Cup, alongside clubs from semi-professional and non-professional leagues from North Korea, Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh.

An unprecedented low for what was once Asia’s best football league.

Al-Nassr go top in AFC Champions League group

Al-Nassr go top in AFC Champions League group
Updated 21 April 2021

Al-Nassr go top in AFC Champions League group

Al-Nassr go top in AFC Champions League group
  • Riyadh team’s draw with Foolad leaves both teams on five points with Al-Sadd just one behind

Al-Nassr and Foolad Khouzestan FC played out a 1-1 draw the 2021 AFC Champions League on Tuesday to maintain both teams’ chances of progressing to the knockout stages in Group D.

The result leaves the Saudi and Iranian teams both on five points, with the Al-Nassr leading the table on goal difference at the halfway point of the group stage. Qatar’s Al-Sadd sit in third place, a point behind, after defeating Al-Wehdat of Jordan 3-1 in the other Group D tie on Tuesday.

Both sides started brightly at King Saud University Stadium with eyes firmly on Al-Nassr goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah, who had replaced Brad Jones after the Australian, along four other teammates, tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

Foolad were the first to threaten when Saleh Hardani headed Mehran Mousavi’s sixth-minute cross dangerously, but Abdullah made a fine save.

Al-Nassr came back with a swift counter-attack: Sultan Al-Ghannam raced down the flank and sent in a cross into the area, which slipped through the fingertips of Foolad goalkeeper Mohsen Foroozan but Abderrazak Hamdallah failed to capitalize on the loose ball from close range.

Al-Nassr came close again two minutes before half-time when Nordin Amrabat received Hamdallah’s pass inside the Foolad penalty area, but was crowded out by the Iranian defense.

Foolad substitute Mohammad Mirilichali made an immediate impact within six minutes of being on the pitch when Al-Nassr’s Abdulelah Alamari turned his cross into his own net.

The Riyadh team were not to be denied, however, and their persistence paid off with 20 minutes left when Brazilian Petros Araujo grabbed the equalizer.

Having regained their momentum, Al-Nassr pushed for late winner, with Asiri coming close on 80 minutes, but ultimately they had to settle for a draw.

The two will meet again on Friday at King Saud University Stadium.

In the other Group D match, Al-Sadd SC breathed life into their campaign with a 3-1 win over Jordan debutants Al-Wehdat at King Fahd International Stadium.

Winless in two prior matches, the Qatari champions clicked into gear with a blistering three-goal burst in the opening 26 minutes, with Baghdad Bounedjah, Boualem Khoukhi and Hassan Al-Haydos all getting on the scoresheet before an Ahmad Sameer penalty sparked an Al-Wehdat revival late on.

The result places the team within a point of Al-Nassr and Foolad, but Al-Wehdat’s chances are fading fast.

The two teams meet again in Matchday Four on Friday at King Fahd International Stadium.

Manchester City, Chelsea lead the way in withdrawing from European Super League

 Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City were reported to be preparing the paperwork to withdraw from the breakaway European Super League. (AFP/File Photos)
Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City were reported to be preparing the paperwork to withdraw from the breakaway European Super League. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 21 April 2021

Manchester City, Chelsea lead the way in withdrawing from European Super League

 Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City were reported to be preparing the paperwork to withdraw from the breakaway European Super League. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Chelsea and City were among the 12 teams who announced on Sunday that they were setting up a rival to UEFA's Champions League

LONDON: Manchester City became the first club to announce they will withdraw from proposals for a European Super League (ESL) on Tuesday after a furious backlash against the controversial plan.
Chelsea are reportedly set to follow the Premier League leaders with the plan quickly unravelling under political pressure and the disgust of managers, players and fans.
In a statement, City said: "Manchester City Football Club can confirm that it has formally enacted the procedures to withdraw from the group developing plans for a European Super League."
City and Chelsea were two of 12 leading European clubs to sign up to the breakaway competition designed to guarantee billions of dollars for its founding members without the need to qualify through performance on the pitch.
Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were the other 10 sides to agree to join the European Super League (ESL).
The withdrawal of City and Chelsea could leave the project dead in the water.
Reigning European champions Bayern Munich and French giants Paris Saint-Germain both came out strongly opposed to the breakaway league -- damaging the legitimacy of the project further.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin welcomed City's U-turn.
"I am delighted to welcome City back to the European football family," said the Slovenian, who encouraged the breakaway clubs to realise their mistake earlier on Tuesday.
"They have shown great intelligence in listening to the many voices - most notably their fans - that have spelled out the vital benefits that the current system has for the whole of European football."
City manager Pep Guardiola had been among the vocal critics of the plan.
"It's not a sport when the relation between effort and reward doesn't exist," said Guardiola.
"It's not a sport when success is already guaranteed, it's not a sport if it doesn't matter if you lose."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the ESL, also welcomed City and Chelsea's decision to rethink.
He tweeted: "The decision by Chelsea and Manchester City is - if confirmed - absolutely the right one and I commend them for it."

Abu Dhabi to hold 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in December

Abu Dhabi to hold 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in December
Updated 20 April 2021

Abu Dhabi to hold 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in December

Abu Dhabi to hold 15th FINA World Swimming Championships in December
  • FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) will see more than 1,000 swimmers take part in 44 events at Etihad Arena on Yas Island
  • President UAE Swimming Federation Sultan Al-Samahi: Hosting the FINA championships pivotal in the progression and development of swimming throughout the country

ABU DHABI: The Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC) has announced that the UAE capital will host the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) for the first time in the competition’s history in December.

Involving 44 different swimming events, the 15th edition of the tournament will be held at the state-of-the-art Etihad Arena – the UAE’s largest multi-purpose indoor entertainment venue, which opened this year and is located on Yas Island.

Aref Al-Awani, the ADSC’s general secretary, said: “We are absolutely delighted to bring the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) to Abu Dhabi later this year.

“This is set to be a huge event for Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, and the UAE with over 1,000 of the most talented short-course swimmers from around the world, fresh from the Olympic Games in Tokyo, showcasing their abilities in what we expect to be an exciting competition.

“This world championship event will further strengthen the emirate’s unique sporting offering, enhancing its reputation as a top global destination for sport, entertainment, leisure, and business,” he added.

The event, due to take place between Dec. 16 and 21, will showcase the very best of local and international talent, providing the opportunity for fans to watch top-quality competitive swimming action in the heart of Abu Dhabi for the first time.

Originally scheduled for 2020, the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) will feature men’s and women’s events in all four strokes – freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly – along with the individual medley and relays.

“The swimming championships is the latest addition to an ever-growing list of major sporting events to be hosted in Abu Dhabi recently, including UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the UAE Tour, and the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship,” Al-Awani said.

“The championships will be hosted in parallel with the FINA World Aquatics Convention, yet another important event on the global calendar, which will also take place on Yas Island.”

Julio Maglione, president of the Federation Internationale De Natation (FINA), said that the event would be one of the highlights of the 2021 sporting calendar.

“Having previously staged events such as the FINA High Diving World Cup and FINA Open Water Swim World Cup in Abu Dhabi, we know there is a huge appetite for top-quality sporting action among the local community.

“We are extremely proud to give fans in Abu Dhabi and the UAE another major event to look forward to at the end of a big year for sport,” he added.

President of the UAE Swimming Federation, Sultan Al-Samahi, said hosting the FINA championships was pivotal in the progression and development of swimming throughout the country.

“We look forward to working with FINA and the LOC (local organizing committee) to ensure that this event creates a positive impact on our local athletes over the coming months, and hope that the whole country is ready to cheer on the Emirati athletes who will line up against the world’s best in December,” he added.

To coincide with the announcement of the event, the official FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) brand logo, which symbolizes the past and present, was also unveiled.

Inspired by Abu Dhabi’s pearl diving heritage, the logo features a swimmer constructed from pearls who is powering through the water, which is representative of both the city’s proud history and the competitive nature of the tournament itself.

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’
Updated 20 April 2021

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’
  • Outrage in football over proposed breakaway competition is not confined to match-going fans in Europe. Supporters tell their side of the story

DUBAI: The Sword of Damocles came crashing down. The Doomsday Clock struck midnight. And Twitter went into meltdown.

However you like your trite football metaphors served, there was little doubt the news that a European Super League is set to become a reality after years of less than veiled threats immediately relegated the pandemic, mass shootings and train crashes to minor news items.

Twelve founding clubs, plus three others to join. Five measly spots for qualifiers. A closed shop with no relegation or promotion. End of UEFA Champions League as we know it. Lots and lots of money. A full house in the ‘football is dead’ bingo.

The backlash was expected, immediate. ‘We’ll kick you out of all our competitions,’ UEFA, FIFA and their member Football Associations threatened. ‘We don’t need you and we don’t care,’ was presumably the reaction from the Bond villain-like club owners in their lairs.

The move will bring the 12 revolting clubs - Premier League’s “Big Six”, the two Milan clubs, Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid - in the region of $300 million for simply competing in the new competition. many believed it was a nuclear negotiating tactic with UEFA, while it’s been reported the owners are fully willing to wait out the bad PR and the anger of the supporters.

…Ah yes… the supporters, almost forgot about them.

The obvious conclusion to this development was that the owners of the world’s most iconic clubs don’t care about the fans that made their current play toys iconic in the first place.

Except that’s not quite accurate. They don’t care only about certain types of fans. So brazen is their contempt, they even gave them a name; “legacy fans.”

The truth is that, while so many fans voiced their fury on social media, Gary Neville brilliantly railed against the “joke” owners and Liverpool supporter groups demanded the removal of their banners from the Kop, millions are likely to shrug in apathy and fully embrace the new European Super League.

The European Super League is designed to cater for what its founders are calling “Fans of the future”.

This is where the waters get muddied. Exactly where is the line drawn between legacy fans and those of the future? Is it generational? Is it demographic?

There will be a temptation, as ever, to assume international audiences are the ones that will ensure the European Super League will always find an audience. For fans of the future some will read armchair fans. Purely in mathematical terms, that is true - match-going fans are a drop in the ocean compared to television audiences.

At the same time, it would be wrong to assume all - or even - most of the non-European supporters are so far removed that they will blindly welcome the idea.

Certainly, in the Middle East, and particularly in GCC countries, any attempt to neatly categorize fans will fail. However, it seems that everyone agrees that Super League, by taking on the US model of no relegation or promotion, will remove the element of jeopardy, of competitiveness from football.

Daniel Evans, a Dubai resident and life-long Tottenham supporter, feels let down by his club, who perhaps stand to gain more than other, recently more successful members of the cabal.

“I've supported the club for 27 years ever since the day my parents got in a fight and my mother bought me a Spurs shirt to annoy my Chelsea-supporting father,” he said.

“I've supported the club through the dire mid-table obscurity of the 90s and even a Champions League final. One trophy in 27 years of support never bothered me, the club meant more than winning. However, I will now be giving up my spot on the Spurs season ticket waiting list and don't intend to follow the club if the ESL goes ahead. I am not against the game needing to modernize and adapt but perhaps modernization like this just isn't for fans like me.”

“I know that football clubs are businesses who need to make profit to be able to compete but this should never be at the expense of fair competition,” Evans added.

“The ESL proposal, with its lack of relegation for founding clubs and hoarding of prize money, is completely anti-competition and allows the richest clubs in the games to solidify their positions, to the detriment of grass roots football.”

Tottenham’s legendary Double-winning captain Danny Blanchflower famously said: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

Never have those words felt more anachronistic than over the last two days.

“Our club stands for more than this,” Evans said. “It stands for passion, exciting football, maybe not recently under Jose, but at least he’s gone now. Also, the club has always done great work with local non-footballing outreach projects but I also liked to think we did a good job within our wider footballing community.”

“The club has supported grass roots football, we’ve brought great English players through our youth academy, and we’ve never been a club who just go out and buy a team. Joining the ESL violates that, we’re abandoning the football community to fend for themselves whilst we go out and get even richer.”

Others feel that the issue is far from black and white, and that the traditional powers have long been getting away with abusing the game for years.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called the plan a "spit in the face of football lovers”, and Zaid Al-Qaimi, a Liverpool supporter who lives in Abu Dhabi, says he’s amazed more people aren’t seeing through the victim act. And while acknowledging that the owners’ intentions are clearly driven by money, he believes the European Super League is no worse than the plans for a revamped Champions League that Ceferin is pushing.

“UEFA and FIFA are the ones killing the game, and have been diluting their products for years,” he said. “The Euros used to be brilliant with 16 teams, and then they made it 24. The next World Cup is 48 teams. The next Champions League revamp will have a hundred extra low-quality games.”

“The FIFA Club World Club Cup will be even worse with more clubs from all over the world. Let’s not forget the Nations League UEFA bought in. The Super League is the first new competition in years that actually increases quality.”

“The owners are doing it for money, but so have been UEFA and FIFA with more and more games,” Al-Qaimi added. “Yes, they need to solve the merit issue. But this is better than a 32 game Champions’ League group stage that will have endless meaningless games.”

Mohamed Shamseer, a Chelsea fan from Kerala, says he is well aware how much money has contributed to his own club’s success, but feels that heritage and any notion of competition are being eroded.

“We shouldn't allow businessmen to play games with people's passion. They are out to seek total control,” he said. “I know money has been heavily involved in football, but with the arrival of European Super League, it’s going to be only about money. Sporting merit will go down the drain if the founders’ clubs can’t get relegated. It’s also against one of the basic principles of any sport as there won't be any open competition.”

While Shamseer, who has lived in Dubai for 11 years, has never had the chance to visit Stamford Bridge, he does not consider himself less of supporter than match-going fans. The idea that being geographically distant from the club means you care less for the well-being of football is unfounded for him.

“As much as I love my club, I love the Premier League as well,” he said. “Whatever we are today, our rivals helped us get there. The European Super League will eventually kill the Premier League. The Big Six teams [if they stay] will field their academy kids to focus more on the big fat Super League. There wouldn't be another Leicester fairytale nor there wouldn't be any European dream left for the smaller clubs as well. It will take the charm out of everything. In simple words, football wouldn't be the same.

Dubai resident Neil Mitchel, founding chair of Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) is equally opposed to the European Super League plans, and would have been even had a much-speculated takeover turned his boyhood club into one of the richest in the world.

“As a lifelong Newcastle fan, a legacy fan as the new ESL would have us known, I have personally been through the highs and lows of supporting your team,” he said.

“I have been there through the Keegan ‘entertainers’ years. Seen us challenge for titles and get to finals only to suffer glorious defeats. I’ve seen us take on the best of Europe and win. Barcelona, Juventus, PSV and more have been taken down by my boys. I’ve also seen us relegated twice under the current ownership and the hard battle to regain our place in the top flight of England. In the game of football, it is simple. You are where you are based on sporting merit alone.”

Romance and competitiveness; without those two elements, football is just not the same.

“The league table does not lie. Each season is a level playing field,” Mitchel added. “Sporting merit is how the game should be settled. It should not be about how deep your pockets are. An ESL based on this is an insult to every fan who dreams. Every fan who longs to see their club rise on the basis of their effort alone. The ESL and their member clubs' collective greed will in my opinion be their undoing and its time the football family stood together and said enough is enough.”