Scene set for Hollywood-style twist for Al-Nassr’s star buy

Scene set for Hollywood-style twist for Al-Nassr’s star buy
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Pity Martinez. (Credit: Nassr FC)
Scene set for Hollywood-style twist for Al-Nassr’s star buy
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Al-Nassr have won six of their last eight matches with Martinez providing two goals and three assists and becoming more influential overall. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 February 2021

Scene set for Hollywood-style twist for Al-Nassr’s star buy

Scene set for Hollywood-style twist for Al-Nassr’s star buy
  • $18m Argentine signing Martinez helps kick-start team’s return to form amid transfer rumors

LONDON: Pity Martinez’s Saudi Arabian introduction came Hollywood-style in a dramatic video made in September for social media that announced one of the biggest transfers in the country’s history.

There was a briefcase full of cash, a contract being offered to an unnamed pair of hands, a shiny car arriving at a hotel, officials opening multiple doors, and the outline of an Al-Nassr shirt being pulled on with the Riyadh city lights shining behind. The shirt belonged to Martinez, signed for $18 million from Atlanta United, and the season promised to be a blockbuster.

If that beginning was exciting, by December, the audience was in danger of losing interest amid rumors of the 2018 South American Player of the Year making a swift exit back to Major League Soccer (MLS) or maybe Mexico.

At the time, that may have seemed best for all but in recent weeks the Argentine player and Al-Nassr are starting to suggest that there may be a twist to this tale.

It is still hard to know what to make of this big-money move that shocked fans of Atlanta. Al-Nassr supporters were excited and knew that if this player, who scored for River Plate against bitter rivals Boca Juniors in the final of the 2018 Copa Libertadores, could do something similar in the 2021 AFC Champions League then that hefty transfer fee would be forgotten.

However, Martinez was not bought for his goals, more the mouth-watering prospect of him supplying bullets for Moroccan marksman Abderrazak Hamdallah.

But by mid-December, both star and team were looking lost. Al-Nassr were not battling it out at the top with rivals Al-Hilal, instead, after losing six of their first eight games, were in the relegation zone.

Martinez had been bought to break open defenses with his top-level passing skills and creativity but there was little evidence of that. While the former River Plate star can play anywhere in an attacking midfield position or off the striker, he prefers the right if possible.

Under coach Rui Vitoria, who led the team to the 2019 title, that did not happen as much as he would have liked. There were other issues in the team, but Martinez just was not getting into games and not seeing the ball as much as he wanted. A single assist in his first five league games was evidence of that.

It was inevitable then that, given the investment made in the team and the expectations that always surround the nine-time Saudi champions that Vitoria’s days were numbered, and he left in late December. In came Alen Horvat to take over temporarily and the fortunes of Al-Nassr and Martinez have improved greatly under the Croatian.

“I played in many positions, at the request of the former coach Vitoria,” Martinez told Saudi television after scoring against Al-Ain on Jan. 8.

“But coach Horvat has respected me and put me in the right place on the right side, where I feel comfortable and love to play and I thank him for that.”

Results have improved dramatically, and Al-Nassr have won six of their last eight matches with Martinez providing two goals and three assists and becoming more influential overall.

The team is happy, winning, and growing in confidence. There is more energy and movement going forward and with other players making more runs, it gives Martinez, always an available outlet for a defense under pressure, more space, and more options.

The league title is almost certainly out of sight unless the current run continues all the way to the end of the season, but a top-three finish is certainly not out of the question.

The recent Saudi Super Cup win over Al-Hilal may have been closer than the 3-0 score line suggested but it was a major confidence boost and a professional performance at both ends of the pitch.

The 2021 AFC Champions League starts in April and, on current form, Al-Nassr are one of the favorites and an in-form Martinez can only shorten those odds.

Nevertheless, the jury is still out on the 27-year-old even if, with a possible FIFA-imposed transfer ban hanging over the club due to money reportedly owed to former players, it may be a while before Al-Nassr can replace him. Martinez was not consistently impressive in his short American spell, although he shone in patches, and it has been suggested that he is one of those players who performs best on home soil.

There have been continuing rumors floated that he could be heading closer to Argentina with a return to MLS, this time Cincinnati. Mexico has also been mentioned as a potential destination.

The player denies it all. “My family and I are very happy. Don’t believe all that you read on social media,” Martinez said last week on social media. “I wanted to tell you that I am very happy at Al-Nassr FC.”

Six weeks ago, fans may not have been too upset at losing Pity Martinez but now, things are starting to look a little different. He has yet to live up to the hype but there is still time and that early season blip may just add to the Hollywood-style twist that could be coming.


UEFA targets FA for discipline over fan chaos at Euro final

UEFA targets FA for discipline over fan chaos at Euro final
Updated 03 August 2021

UEFA targets FA for discipline over fan chaos at Euro final

UEFA targets FA for discipline over fan chaos at Euro final
  • Fans without tickets forced their way into the stadium and there were ugly scenes in the stands
  • European soccer's governing body added that more information "will be made available in due course”

NYON, Switzerland: UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings against the English Football Association on Tuesday over the behavior of some England fans at the European Championship final at Wembley Stadium.
Fans without tickets forced their way into the stadium and there were ugly scenes in the stands during the July 11 game, which Italy won 3-2 on penalties.
“Following an investigation conducted by a UEFA ethics and disciplinary inspector into the events involving supporters which occurred inside and around the stadium during the UEFA Euro 2020 final match between the national teams of Italy and England played on 11 July at Wembley Stadium, London, disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the English Football Association for a potential violation of Article 16(2)(h) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations for a lack of order or discipline by its supporters,” UEFA said.
European soccer’s governing body added that more information “will be made available in due course.”
Fans without tickets broke through security barriers and turnstiles to get in to see England’s first major tournament final in 55 years. England defender Harry Maguire said last month that his father sustained rib injuries during “a stampede” of fans.
The official attendance was around 67,000 of the stadium’s 90,000 capacity, with many seats intended to be left empty to distance fans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FA itself had described the scenes as ” disgraceful ” and earlier commissioned an independent review.
“We are determined to fully understand what happened outside and then inside Wembley Stadium at the UEFA Euro 2020 final on Sunday 11 July,” the FA said last month.
The FA had vowed to work with law enforcement “to identify those responsible and hold them to account.”


Right decision to hold Tokyo 2020, says head of Jordan Olympic Committee

Taekwondo silver Medallist Saleh Elsharabaty of Jordan wearing a kaffiyeh celebrates after his bout. (Reuters)
Taekwondo silver Medallist Saleh Elsharabaty of Jordan wearing a kaffiyeh celebrates after his bout. (Reuters)
Updated 03 August 2021

Right decision to hold Tokyo 2020, says head of Jordan Olympic Committee

Taekwondo silver Medallist Saleh Elsharabaty of Jordan wearing a kaffiyeh celebrates after his bout. (Reuters)
  • Country participating with delegation of 14 athletes

TOKYO: Holding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was the right decision, according to the secretary-general of the Jordan Olympic Committee.

Nasser Al-Majali told Arab News Japan that it was the “correct decision” to go ahead with the event despite calls to cancel it due to the pandemic.

“The dreams of our players would not have been realized without holding the Olympics,” he said. “Many Arab and non-Arab players had the opportunity to realize their dreams.”

Al-Majali singled out Jordan’s silver Taekwondo medal from Saleh Elsharabaty and Qatar’s high jump gold from Mutaz Barshim as highlights.

When asked about his impression of the general atmosphere in Tokyo, especially with concerns over the spread of COVID-19, Al-Majali thanked the Japanese for their hospitality.

“They try as much as possible to be hospitable, and they really are. The Japanese are apologizing to us because they can't do more due to the coronavirus situation. Even outside the Olympic Village they are very civil, and that's their nature.”

Al-Majali said it was a shame that the games had to be held with so many restrictions, and that the Jordanian Olympic delegation in Japan had been exercising caution throughout.

“We spend most of the time in the village and between the tournament hotels, in compliance with the laws in force, to reduce the possibility of anyone being infected inside or outside the Olympic Village. But we hoped that we would have the opportunity to learn about Japanese culture.”

He extended his gratitude to the city of Noshiro, in Akita Prefecture, which hosted the Jordanian Olympic delegation in a pre-game camp.

“I would like to extend special thanks to the city of Noshiro. We receive messages from the people of Noshiro all the time asking us to send them Jordanian flags signed by the athletes. We thank them and hope that we will have the opportunity to visit them with our athletes in the future.”

Jordan is participating with an Olympic delegation of 14 athletes and Al-Majali said the standard had been good in general.

The most important performance was that of Elsharabaty, whose silver was the second Olympic medal in Jordan’s history, after the gold won by Ahmad Abu Ghosh, also in Taekwondo, at the 2016 Rio Olympics.


Egyptian Equestrian star Nayel Nassar qualifies for Tokyo 2020 Jumping Individual Final after near-faultless ride

Egypt's Nayel Nassar rides Igor van de Wittemoere in the equestrian's jumping individual qualifying during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Equestrian Park in Tokyo on August 3, 2021. (AFP)
Egypt's Nayel Nassar rides Igor van de Wittemoere in the equestrian's jumping individual qualifying during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Equestrian Park in Tokyo on August 3, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 03 August 2021

Egyptian Equestrian star Nayel Nassar qualifies for Tokyo 2020 Jumping Individual Final after near-faultless ride

Egypt's Nayel Nassar rides Igor van de Wittemoere in the equestrian's jumping individual qualifying during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Equestrian Park in Tokyo on August 3, 2021. (AFP)
  • He will be joined in the 30-athlete field by compatriot Mood Zeyada

DUBAI: After a near-faultless ride at Tokyo’s Equestrian Park, Egypt’s Nayel Nassar qualified for the Olympic Jumping Individual Final taking place on Wednesday where he will be joined by compatriot Mouda Zeyada in the quest for gold.

The 30-year-old Nassar, riding the horse Igor van de Wittemoere, and 26-year-old Zeyada, on Galanthos Shk, will be among 30 top performers from the 73 that took part in the Qualifier on Tuesday afternoon.

Their success came on a day that also saw Egypt’s handball team reach the Tokyo 2020 semifinals after beating Germany 31-26.

Nassar in particular has been center of attention since the weekend after Bill Gates, father of his wife Jennifer Katharine Gates, sent him a message of good luck on social media that went viral.

“I support many athletes in the Tokyo Olympics at the moment, but there is no athlete I support more than my son-in-law Nayel Nassar. Good luck Nayel,” Gates, the founder of Microsoft, posted on his official Instagram account.

Nassar proposed to the daughter of the billionaire founder of Microsoft at the start of last year, the two Stanford graduates having been in a relationship for four years.

As well as taking part in equestrian competitions that have helped him amass a reported net worth of $75 million, the Chicago-born Egyptian also owns Nassar Stables, established in 2014 and based in the city of Encinitas in California.


Egypt stun Germany to reach men’s handball semifinals at Tokyo 2020

After the final whistle, there were joyous celebrations from the Egyptian team on the court along with the millions of fans who watched from home or followed on social media. (AFP)
After the final whistle, there were joyous celebrations from the Egyptian team on the court along with the millions of fans who watched from home or followed on social media. (AFP)
Updated 03 August 2021

Egypt stun Germany to reach men’s handball semifinals at Tokyo 2020

After the final whistle, there were joyous celebrations from the Egyptian team on the court along with the millions of fans who watched from home or followed on social media. (AFP)
  • The North African nation will meet France in the semi-finals on Thursday as its improbable run for an Olympic medal continues
  • Ahmed El-Ahmar starred for Egypt during its 31-26 win over Germany

DUBAI: Egypt are just one win away from securing their first-ever Olympic medal in the men’s handball event while a possible rematch against Denmark looms.

The North African nation stormed into the semifinals at the 2020 Tokyo Games with a 31-26 victory over Germany on Tuesday afternoon at the Yoyogi National Stadium.

Egypt’s win sets up a final-four meeting against France on Thursday while Spain takes on the Danes in the other semi-final.

The Egyptian players got off to a fast start against Germany and opened a 6-1 lead inside the first 10 minutes. The Germans would eventually catch up but Egypt went into the intermission leading 16-12.

Egypt maintained their momentum after the break as Ahmed El-Ahmar carried on the strong form he has shown throughout the tournament.

After the final whistle, there were joyous celebrations from the Egyptian team on the court along with the millions of fans who watched from home or followed on social media.

The Pharaohs defeated Bahrain 30-20 in their final preliminary match on Sunday to take second in Group B and progress to the quarterfinals.

With a 4-1 record, Egypt finished behind group winners Denmark — the only team to beat Egypt in group play — to book their quarterfinal place against Germany. If both Egypt and Denmark win their next matches, they will meet again in the final as the Egyptians could take aim at their first-ever handball medal at the Olympics.

Egypt opened their Olympic handball campaign with a 37-31 win over Portugal on July 24, but two days later, they lost the second fixture to Denmark, 32-27. The Egyptian team rallied by beating hosts Japan (33-29), Sweden (27-22), and then fellow Arab competitors Bahrain ​​(30-20).


Italy, Spain to host football tournament in support of Saudi Quality of Life project

Italy, Spain to host football tournament in support of Saudi Quality of Life project
Updated 03 August 2021

Italy, Spain to host football tournament in support of Saudi Quality of Life project

Italy, Spain to host football tournament in support of Saudi Quality of Life project
  • Proceeds from tournament to be donated to center specialized in cardiology
  • Mahd Academy to sponsor event as part of efforts to support medical, sports research centers

ROME: Four of the best football teams in Italy and Spain will play a tournament in Florence and Seville to support medical and sports research centers as part of the Quality of Life project, one of the programs of the Saudi Vision 2030.

On Aug. 7, the football teams AS Roma, ACF Fiorentina, Espanyol de Barcelona and Real Betis will kick off the first edition of the Unbeatables Cup, organized by the Italian association Unbeatables with the sponsorship of the Mahd Academy, the Saudi government body for supporting the development of sports disciplines in Saudi Arabia.

The cup will be played in two matches: Fiorentina-Espanyol at 7:00 p.m. in Florence and Betis-Roma at 10:00 p.m. in Seville.

All the proceeds of the tournament will be donated to a research center specialized in cardiology at the service of the world’s athletes.

Unbeatables was established in 2016 by ex-athletes affected by inherited cardiac arrhythmias.

In the aftermath of what happened to footballer Christian Eriksen, who collapsed suddenly after suffering cardiac arrest during Denmark’s Euro 2020 opener against Finland, as well as to many other footballers around the world, it was clear that the matter deserved widespread attention.

“Congenital cardiomyopathies are a silent killer. They can remain asymptomatic for years and, when not diagnosed, appear suddenly, causing cardiac death. Young athletes often pay the highest price because intense physical activity may be an important trigger. Promptly identifying the people most at risk of sudden death through screening activities is essential to implement prevention strategies and appropriate therapies. Only in this way can we be able to save more lives, on and off the playing field,” said Unbeatables Chairman Simone Ambrosi.

The Mahd Academy’s sponsorship of the Unbeatables Cup is part of the academy’s efforts to support medical and sports research centers around the world.

Established in July 2020, the academy aims to provide research related to the sports community as well as to discover and develop talent to build the next generation of athletes in Saudi Arabia, as part of the Quality of Life project.

Abdullah bin Faisal bin Hammad, president of Mahd Academy, expressed his appreciation for the royal approval to sponsor this tournament.

He extended his sincere thanks to HRH Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Saud, minister of sports, for his keenness to participate in such initiatives that promote sports around the world.

“The Mahd Academy will continue to support such initiatives,” he said in a statement, reaffirming the academy’s primary goals of achieving positive social impact through sports and supporting athletic talent in Saudi Arabia.