Saudi Cup weekend card promises thrills ahead of showpiece event

Saudi Cup weekend card promises thrills ahead of showpiece event
Enrique Leon moved his 36-strong team to a state-of-the-art yard in Milagro, Navarra in northern Spain, just an hour from the tracks of southern France, in November. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 16 February 2021

Saudi Cup weekend card promises thrills ahead of showpiece event

Saudi Cup weekend card promises thrills ahead of showpiece event
  • Spanish trainer Enrique Leon is preparing a two-pronged challenge for the inaugural $500,000 Al Rajhi Bank International Handicap
  • The 38-year-old, who is one of his home country’s top trainers, will run Noray and Federico in the 2,100-meter contest on Feb. 19

RIYADH: While all eyes will inevitably be focused on the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 20, the same card offers seven other top races worth $10.5 million, not to forget four the previous day in the International Jockeys Challenge.

Last year, some of the races at the King Abdul Aziz Racecourse proved as memorable as the main event, with historic debut wins for female riders and successes for several local participants.

This year, Spanish trainer Enrique Leon is preparing a two-pronged challenge for the inaugural $500,000 Al Rajhi Bank International Handicap.

The 38-year-old, who is one of his home country’s top trainers, will run Noray and Federico in the 2,100-meter contest on Feb. 19.

Leon said: “Noray is a very strong horse, he’s been one of the top horses in Spain for the last three years. He’s a nine-year-old but he’s still got the will to win and he keeps himself very sound.

“He finished last season well but a little tired, so we gave him a rest in December, and he put on quite a bit of weight. We took him to Madrid for a gallop last Sunday and that will help him a lot. In two weeks, he will be 100 percent ready.”

The race, which will take place the day before the Saudi Cup, is open to horses trained in countries not included in the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities’ Part One nations.

“(Noray) is a horse who likes to set a fast pace from the beginning. He’s a very strong puller, you just have to let him roll. He’s been running well over 2,000 meters and we hope on a flat track like in Saudi he will last the extra 100 meters.

“He’s a very quiet horse, very strong minded. Both my horses are very professional so I’ve no worries about the travelling,” he added.

While Noray enjoyed a fine end to last season completing a hat-trick over 2,000 meters at La Zarzuela, Federico was also successful at the Madrid track over 2,200 meters in October.

Leon said: “Federico has been in the best form of his life in the last few months, he’s never been in such good condition. He’s always been a good horse, a bit lower than Noray in the ratings, but they galloped together (last week), and everyone thought Federico worked better. He also has a very good chance.

“He’s perhaps better over 2,400 meters but this distance will be fine for him. He likes to come from the back – totally different from Noray. He needs a good pace because he hasn’t got a fast turn of foot. He comes home very well and stays very well.”

Leon, who finished third in last season’s Spanish trainers’ championship, moved his 36-strong team to a state-of-the-art yard in Milagro, Navarra in northern Spain, just an hour from the tracks of southern France, in November.

He is well-versed in moving horses to some of the world’s biggest meetings. In 2014 he sent Noozhoh Canarias, who had finished runner-up in the Group 1 Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp on L’Arc de Triomphe day, to contest some of Britain’s top races.

He finished sixth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket behind Night of Thunder, Kingman, and Australia, and returned later in the season to fill the same position behind Slade Power in the July Cup.

Leon, who grew up in Gran Canaria, added: “He ran really well in the 2000 Guineas and it was a very strong race. I was proud just to show that we deserved to be there.”

Now Leon will head to King Abdul Aziz Racetrack in Riyadh with two live chances in the $500,000 Al Rajhi Bank International Handicap, 24 hours before some of the world’s best horses battle it out in the Saudi Cup.

He will put the finishing touches to the preparations of Noray and Federico before the pair ship to Saudi Arabia on Feb. 14.

“It’s not our first experience at this level but we don’t get too many chances in these races so it’s very exciting for us. We’re looking forward to it,” he said.


At least 6 reported dead in crush at African Cup soccer game

People assist victims of a stampede outside a stadium hosting an African Cup of Nations soccer game in Yaounde, Cameroon, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. (AP)
People assist victims of a stampede outside a stadium hosting an African Cup of Nations soccer game in Yaounde, Cameroon, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2022

At least 6 reported dead in crush at African Cup soccer game

People assist victims of a stampede outside a stadium hosting an African Cup of Nations soccer game in Yaounde, Cameroon, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. (AP)
  • Soccer officials said around 50,000 people had tried to attend the match

YAOUNDE, Cameroon: At least six people died in a crush outside a stadium hosting a game at Africa’s top soccer tournament in Cameroon on Monday, a local government official said, realizing fears over the capacity of the Central African country to stage the continent’s biggest sports event.
Naseri Paul Biya, the governor of the central region of Cameroon, said there could be more deaths.
“We are not in position to give you the total number of casualties,” he said.
The crush happened as crowds struggled to get access to Olembe Stadium in the capital city of Yaounde to watch the host country play Comoros in a last 16 knockout game in the African Cup of Nations.
Officials at the nearby Messassi hospital said they received at least 40 injured people, who were rushed to the hospital by police and civilians. The officials said the hospital wasn’t capable of treating all of them.
“Some of the injured are in desperate condition,” said Olinga Prudence, a nurse. “We will have to evacuate them to a specialized hospital.”
Witnesses at the stadium said children were among those caught up in the crush. The witnesses said it happened when stadium stewards closed the gates and stopped allowing people in.
Soccer officials said around 50,000 people had tried to attend the match. The stadium has a capacity of 60,000 but it was not meant to be more than 80 percent full for the game due to restrictions on the size of the crowd because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Confederation of African Football, which runs the African Cup, said in a statement it was aware of the incident.
“CAF is currently investigating the situation and trying to get more details on what transpired,” it said. “We are in constant communication with Cameroon government and the Local Organizing Committee.”
One of the federation’s top officials, general secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba, went to visit injured fans in the hospital, the statement said.
Cameroon is hosting the African Cup for the first time in 50 years. It was meant to host the tournament in 2019 but the event was taken away that year and awarded to Egypt because of serious concerns with Cameroon’s preparations, particularly the readiness of its stadiums.
Olembe Stadium was one of the venues that was under scrutiny. It is the main stadium for the monthlong tournament and will stage three more games, including the final on Feb. 6.
Monday’s incident was the second serious blow to the country in the space of a day, after at least 17 people died from a fire set off by a series of explosions at a nightclub in Yaounde on Sunday.
Following that incident, Cameroon President Paul Biya urged the country to be on guard while it hosts its biggest national sports event in a half century.
Cameroon won Monday’s game 2-1 to move on to the quarterfinals.


Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

RIYADH: The “Sports Career Day” initiative will start on Tuesday at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Olympic Complex in Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Sport said on Monday.
The three-day event, held under the patronage of Minister of Sport Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, is being organized by the Leaders Development Institute, and will run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The initiative, part of the Quality of Life program, includes 26 workshops, with nine on the first two days, and eight on the final day, in addition to employment fairs and direct professional communication.
The initiative aims to provide channels of communication between qualified job seekers, business owners in the sectors, sports institutions and relevant authorities, to achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
It also includes several accompanying events, including virtual job interviews for participants.
The “Sports Career Day” initiative has seen significant interaction from government and private sports agencies, as well as various other institutions, and more than 80 entities participated in 1,250 job opportunities across 20 fields.
The most prominent entities participating are the Ministry of Sports, the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the Saudi Football Association, the Saudi Professional League, and other sports clubs, federations, and private sports institutions hoping to open channels of communication with qualified young people wishing to enter the sports labor market.


AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper
Updated 25 January 2022

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper
  • Comoros had to play left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde
  • To add to their woes, they had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes

YAOUNDÉ: Hosts Cameroon are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but only after laboring to a 2-1 win over a Comoros side who were forced to start an outfield player in goal and played most of the game with 10 men.
The Comoros started with left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were ruled out due to Covid-19 while the other was missing due to injury.
They then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes, and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon in front before skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his sixth goal of the tournament.
Despite that it was a heroic performance from the Comoros, who kept the tie alive until the end thanks to Youssouf M’Changama’s stunning late free-kick.
The Indomitable Lions keep their dream of winning the Cup of Nations on home soil alive as they advance to a last-eight tie against Gambia on Saturday, yet this was the Comoros’ night, despite the outcome.
The tiny Indian Ocean island nation qualified for the last 16 in their first ever appearance at the Cup of Nations after finishing as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned to a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the tie, including goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini.
Their other goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina, was injured but they had hoped Ahamada would be able to start after he tested negative on the day of the game.
The 30-year-old Ahamada flew from Garoua, where he had been isolating, to Yaounde on Monday afternoon in the hope of being able to play, only for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to decide otherwise as his positive result had come just two days earlier.
Alhadhur, a reserve left-back for French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio, wore the gloves, with tape used to mark out his number three on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey.
It was a farcical scene, and the Comoros’ plight worsened when Abdou was shown a straight red card for a foul on Moumi Ngamaleu after the Ethiopian referee went to review images of his challenge.
Rather than give up, the Comoros kept going and they only fell behind in the 29th minute when Aboubakar teed up Toko-Ekambi to slot home.
The islanders, whose coach Amir Abdou was among those missing after testing positive, almost equalized shortly after as Ahmed Mogni forced Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana into a fine save.
Aboubakar had a second-half effort disallowed for offside before making it 2-0 with 20 minutes left, finishing excellently after being picked out by Martin Hongla.
Yet there was no collapse from the Comoros, who pulled one back courtesy of M’Changama’s piledriver from 35 meters and go out with their heads held high.


Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
Updated 24 January 2022

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
  • Unexpected 1-0 win over Super Eagles shows group stage will have little bearing on where trophy ends up
  • If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off

The African Cup of Nations has already seen Ghana out, defending champions Algeria finish bottom of their group and now Nigeria eliminated at a relatively early stage after a shock loss at the hands of a COVID-19-ridden Tunisia on Sunday.

That result really showed that the trophy could go anywhere, and as unimpressive as Egypt have been so far, coach Carlos Queiroz’s words after the group stage ended are looking increasingly accurate.

“Now the real work begins, and now the real competition will begin,” he said. It was the kind of thing that you would expect such an experienced campaigner to say. After all, Egypt had not impressed in the group stage with a poor, to say the least, performance in a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the opener. It was followed by two unconvincing victories by the same scoreline against Guinea-Bissau and then Sudan.

With criticism at home, it was understandable, then, that Queiroz, who took the job in September, wanted to look forward rather than back. Yet the 68-year-old former Real Madrid manager has taken four teams through successful World Cup qualification campaigns and knows what he is talking about.

Nigeria were perhaps the best team in the group stage and were certainly the only one to take maximum points. Drawn against Tunisia then in the second round, the Super Eagles, newly installed as tournament favorites, were expected to win. Not only had they been impressive in the first round, with winger Moses Simon a real standout, but Tunisia had been anything but.

The North Africans had limped through to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, winning just one game and losing against Mali and Gambia, the latter an embarrassing defeat. All their goals had come in the 4-0 win over Mauritania. The odds were against the Carthage Eagles flying any higher in the tournament.

A serious outbreak of COVID-19 in the Tunisia camp lengthened the odds of a win considerably. The federation announced that as many as 12 players out of the 28-man squad had tested positive, including star striker Wahbi Khazri. By the time the Nigeria game rolled around, at least seven players were unavailable. Coach Monhder Kebaier had also tested positive and his duties were taken over by assistant Bilal Kadri.

But the Tunisian coaching staff did not use the infections as an excuse at any point. Despite all the problems, or perhaps because of them, Tunisia gave everything, working harder than their opponents, who gave the impression that they expected a comfortable evening. In what was a highly disciplined performance, Tunisia gave Simon no time or space, doubled up on the Nantes star and tried to cut off the supply to the forwards.

Nigeria, who had looked the most creative of all the teams in the group stage (though admittedly the bar had been set pretty low by the rest), seemed to have few ideas and only started to come alive after Tunisia took the lead early in the second half thanks to a fierce long-range shot from Youssef Msakni. But a red card given to Alex Iwobi handed the initiative back to Tunisia, and in the end, they recorded a shock but deserved win. The 2004 champions now move into the quarter-finals and a winnable tie against Burkina Faso on Saturday. The extra six days should mean that coach Kebaier can field his strongest team, and hopes are now high.

If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off. With Queiroz a big fan of discipline, organization and shape, he will not have that much to learn defensively, but in terms of mood and confidence, Tunisia put the mediocrity of the group stage behind them and went out to win and, importantly, took their chances.

It does not matter now how Egypt performed last week. They have a chance to reset, but they must start to take their chances after scoring only two goals in 270 minutes so far. “Look, I promise you, starting from tomorrow they are going to be doing finishing exercises from the morning until the afternoon,” Queiroz said at the weekend. “They just need to score more goals. To only play good football is not enough — we need to build up more goals and with that be more relaxed in the game.”

Tunisia’s win over Nigeria serves as a perfect reminder that not only does the tournament start here, but that it is wide open. Ghana are out, Algeria are out and now Nigeria are out. It really is up for grabs.


Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
Updated 24 January 2022

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
  • Under Brazilian’s guidance, female athletes claimed 9 gold, 8 silver, 8 bronze medals at World Championship

ABU DHABI: Last year was a game changer for jiu-jitsu in the UAE, with more homegrown talent competing and winning in local and international events on mats.

UAE athletes claimed 71 medals from two international championships in the second half of 2021, with success coming at the 5th Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship and the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

The record year was amplified by the rise of the UAE’s women’s team, which claimed nine gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in November.

Following the success of 2021, Polyana Lago, coach of the UAE National Women’s Jiu-Jitsu team, is now looking for her players to use their experience as a springboard to even more glory in 2022.

“We enter the new season with great ambitions after an impressive season and great achievements last year,” said the 41-year-old Brazilian, who only began working with the women’s team in the summer of 2021.

“We actually had two really excellent weeks; we were confined to a hotel and were able to train together; it was a good experience for each of us.

“We had a fantastic season last year; our women champions put in an outstanding performance, particularly at the World Championship, when they won a total of 25 medals. Some of the girls did really well,” she added.

Lago said that the new format of the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu League helped the UAE national women’s team achieve the historic feat. “It contributed significantly to the championship’s outstanding results last year, as well as making it more professional. We were able to determine other national team talents as a result of the event,” she added.

She has high hopes for the 2022 season, with her athletes set to take part in a host of major events, including the Mother of the Nation Cup, Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup and Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Ahead of this year’s events, Lago revealed that she is “working on key areas of development” with her players.