Countdown begins to Diriyah E-Prix night race double-header

In the 2018-19 season, Antonio Felix da Costa of Portugal became the Diriyah E-Prix’s first-ever winner. The following season’s double-header produced two British winners, Sam Bird and Alexander Sims. (AFP/File Photo)
In the 2018-19 season, Antonio Felix da Costa of Portugal became the Diriyah E-Prix’s first-ever winner. The following season’s double-header produced two British winners, Sam Bird and Alexander Sims. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 24 February 2021

Countdown begins to Diriyah E-Prix night race double-header

In the 2018-19 season, Antonio Felix da Costa of Portugal became the Diriyah E-Prix’s first-ever winner. The following season’s double-header produced two British winners, Sam Bird and Alexander Sims. (AFP/File Photo)
  • 2021 Formula E season launches under eco-friendly lighting on Feb. 26

DUBAI: The third Diriyah E-Prix starting on Feb. 26 near Riyadh will feature the electric-car championship’s first-ever night race as the 2021 Formula E season gets underway.

Winding through the ancient streets of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Diriyah, the race has already delivered on-track thrills in each of its two previous race weekends.

In the 2018-19 season, Antonio Felix da Costa of Portugal became the Diriyah E-Prix’s first-ever winner. The following season’s double-header produced two British winners, Sam Bird and Alexander Sims.

For the organizers, this year’s races maintain the commitment to sustainability.

“Formula E is one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in the world,” said Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF).

“We are driven by the high-octane thrill of each and every race, the competitive nature of each season, the unique and individual personalities of the drivers, and the fact Formula E does things differently — it is a sport that is all about the new and taking a fresh approach. That is core to Formula E, with its commitment to sustainable racing and promoting electric mobility for a better, cleaner future.”

The season-opening 2021 Diriyah E-Prix will be held under eco-friendly LED technology lighting, with the two night races being the first of their kind in Formula E as 12 teams and 24 drivers take to the 2.495 km street circuit.

Prince Khalid added that putting on an environmentally aware event aligns with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 and modern Saudi Arabia.

“As a nation, we are always looking to innovate, and next weekend’s night races are part of that,” he said. “To race around the ancient ruins of Diriyah in the most modern of electric cars, under revolutionary, sustainable LED lighting with the world watching is testament to our wider ambitions for 2030 and beyond. Both races promise to be spectacles unlike any other.”

This will be the second time the Saudi leg of the Formula E season kicks off the race calendar. It will be followed by race weekends across the world, held in cities including Rome, Monaco, Marrakesh and Santiago.

Samer Issa-El-Khoury, managing partner at CBX, which is responsible for delivering the track at Diriyah, said that while the initial circuit design for the first race in 2018 was challenging enough, adding in the night element has thrown up many key considerations regarding lighting.

“Having a night race on the streets of Diriyah needs a particular and challenging engineering solution in terms of lighting,” Issa-El-Khoury said.

“We need to make sure we have homogenous lux levels across the whole sporting side of the race track. Also, in many areas of the circuit we have very narrow turns and an abundance of palm trees, so we have to make sure there are no obstructions on the lights.

“It is true that night races have taken in other motorsports across other championships, but the difference with the Diriyah Formula E race is that the street track is completely lit using LED technology, which is a first for a street circuit worldwide and across all categories of an FIA-sanctioned motorsports event,” he added.

“LEDs tend to last much longer, are more energy efficient and have less maintenance intensive technology. Using LED technology is in line with formula E’s sustainability plan.”

Due to coronavirus restrictions, fans will be unable to attend next weekend’s races. However, the action will be broadcast live on the Kingdom's sports channels.

Fans can also get involved in the races via FIA Formula E’s social media channels, with the interactive feature FANBOOST allowing online followers to vote for their favorite driver and award them an extra boost of power during the race, allowing them to directly improve their chances of winning.


Al-Hilal hero Bafetimbi Gomis departs Saudi football as one of its greatest foreign players of all time

Bafetimbi Gomis will be remembered in Saudi Arabia as one of the best foreign players the country has ever seen. (Twitter/@BafGomis)
Bafetimbi Gomis will be remembered in Saudi Arabia as one of the best foreign players the country has ever seen. (Twitter/@BafGomis)
Updated 25 January 2022

Al-Hilal hero Bafetimbi Gomis departs Saudi football as one of its greatest foreign players of all time

Bafetimbi Gomis will be remembered in Saudi Arabia as one of the best foreign players the country has ever seen. (Twitter/@BafGomis)
  • Since arriving in 2018, the 36-year-old Frenchman has barely put a foot wrong on and off the pitch for the Riyadh giants, helping them win two AFC Champions League crowns and two SPL titles

RIYADH: It says a lot about Bafetimbi Gomis that his departure from Al-Hilal has been reported all over Asia, but then he has scored against clubs from the top nations during his AFC Champions League heroics.

The French striker may be respected in Asian football, but he will be remembered in Saudi Arabia as one of the best foreign players the country has ever seen. 

Since arriving in Riyadh in August 2018 from Turkish giants Galatasaray and then departing almost three-and-a-half years later, the 36-year-old barely put a foot wrong on or off the pitch.

His lion celebration in which he gets down and paces on all fours after scoring has become iconic for Al-Hilal fans and increasingly — and understandably — disliked by those on the receiving end. It is testament to his exploits that a possible replacement at the 17-time Saudi champions has been reported to be Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, the Arsenal star who is one of the biggest names in African football. 

The Gabonese goalgetter is unlikely to come to Saudi Arabia, but the fact that he is being mentioned as Gomis leaves shows the impact the Frenchman has had. 

 

 

There were few expectations of this when he arrived. Gomis had enjoyed a fine career even if he had not reached the elite level of the European game, but there have been dozens of those coming to Saudi Arabia over the years. After starring for Saint-Ettienne, he got a move to Lyon in 2009, where he scored double figures for five successive seasons. Then came spells in the English Premier League with Swansea City, a return to France with Marseille and the move to Turkey. If he was in danger of becoming a journeyman striker, he seems to have found a spiritual home in Riyadh.

His stats alone are impressive. There were 113 goals in 154 games that helped Al-Hilal to two domestic championships. Last season’s win was helped immensely by his 24 goals in the league, five more than the second-highest scorer. 

It was in Asia where he really made a difference and made the team believe that a return to continental glory was possible. Al-Hilal had won their second Asian championship way back in 2000 and had been desperate to make it three for a long time. They had watched Al-Ittihad win in 2004 and again in 2005 and then reached the final in 2014 to play Western Sydney Wanderers. Hilal dominated and missed chance after chance only to be caught by a sucker punch from the Australians. 

In 2017, they lost 2-1 over two legs to Urawa Reds. Had Gomis been present for both ties, they could have ended very differently.

In 2019, it did. It was a legendary campaign. The reward for getting out of the group stage was a second round tie against Saudi Arabian rivals Al-Ahli. In the first leg, in front of almost 50,000 fans in Jeddah, the hosts took an early lead. Then Gomis scored a hat-trick to basically win the tie. Already popular, it earned him near-legendary status. The reward for that was a quarter-final against the other Jeddah giants, Al-Ittihad, which Hilal won

Gomis scored three across two legs in the semi-final against Al-Sadd, an 6-5 victory on aggregate. 

It earned them a final against Urawa Reds and a chance for revenge. It was taken and Gomis scored in the final seconds of the second leg to ensure that the 19-year wait for the third title was over. It was his 11th goal of the continental campaign, and he was the top scorer and tournament MVP.

Only two players scored more than Gomis’s six in last year’s continental triumph, a record fourth for the club. It wasn’t just about the goals. Here was a team player, proven by his through ball assist in the final for Moussa Marega that sealed the win over Pohang Steelers.

It was a symbolic goal. Gomis was no longer the main man in attack for Hilal with Marega, six years younger who arrived from FC Porto earlier in the year, taking on that mantle. Time has been catching up with the former French international. He is not quite the dynamic and powerful force in the area as when he first arrived. His finishing is also not quite as sharp, even if he has scored nine league goals this season so far. There is still plenty for Gomis to give, but it is perhaps the right time that he gives it somewhere else. 

Now he moves. It could be a return to Turkey to end his career or perhaps to Qatar and Al-Rayyan to link up with French coach Laurent Blanc. If he does choose Doha then he could be in the team that faces Al-Hilal in the group stage of the AFC Champions League in April.

Fans in Riyadh would be wary of his abilities, but would also surely welcome the chance to see him once more and say goodbye to a club legend. It would be especially fitting in the tournament where he earned a continental-wide reputation.


Mané scores but concern over head injury as Senegal into QF

Mané scores but concern over head injury as Senegal into QF
Updated 8 sec ago

Mané scores but concern over head injury as Senegal into QF

Mané scores but concern over head injury as Senegal into QF
BAFOUSSAM, Cameroon: Sadio Mané got up from a horrible clash of heads that left him dazed on the ground, possibly with a concussion, to score a goal and help put Senegal into the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations on Tuesday.
Senegal won 2-0 against Cape Verde, which had two players sent off in the last 16 game in Cameroon’s western city of Bafoussam.
The second red card was dished out to Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha when he raced out of his area and tried to head a ball clear with Mané chasing it down. The players’ heads clashed badly as they both leaped in the air and Vozinha clearly sustained a concussion as he tried to get up afterward and ended up staggering around.
Vozinha left on a stretcher and wasn’t around to see the red card referee Lahlou Benbraham held up for him.
But questions will be raised over Mané being allowed to continue after he hit the ground face first following the collision and lay still on his back for a moment, clearly dazed, possibly with a concussion.
The Liverpool forward dragged himself to his feet and scored less than 10 minutes later in the 63rd minute when a corner kick floated over everyone and fell to him, and he sent a right-footed shot back across goal and in off the crossbar.
Mané was eventually substituted in the 70th minute, clearly struggling. It was more than 15 minutes after sustaining the head knock that appeared serious enough for him to be taken off immediately.
Senegal finished off nine-man Cape Verde with a second goal from a breakaway in injury time, when Bamba Dieng slid the ball past replacement goalkeeper Márcio Rosa.
Cape Verde was up against it from the 21st minute when Patrick Andrade was sent off for a tackle on Pape Gueye that earned him a yellow card first, then a red when referee Benbraham reviewed it on VAR. He had also sent off goalkeeper Vozinha after consulting VAR.
The two red cards for Cape Verde meant seven red cards have been handed out in the first five knockout games of the African Cup. Every last 16 game has had at least one sending off.
Mané’s injury again focused attention on soccer’s struggle to deal effectively and safely with concussions. The issue has been high-profile in recent years, with the game criticized for allowing players to play on after having sustained dangerous head injuries.
Concussion substitutes are being trialed in some leagues but are not available to teams at the African Cup. Mané could be ruled out of Senegal’s quarterfinal game on Sunday if a concussion is confirmed but there is also no mandatory recovery period for players.
Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha fought with team medics when they tried to help him off the field after the collision, insisting that he wanted to play on despite being unable to even stand properly. They eventually convinced him to walk shakily to the sidelines. The red card made certain he wouldn’t be returning anyway.
The African Cup action continued a day after a crush outside the stadium at the Cameroon-Comoros last 16 game left eight people dead and seven others in a serious condition, throwing a shadow over the rest of the continent’s top soccer tournament.
There was a moment’s silence at both games Tuesday and some players wore black armbands.

Saudi football reacts with affection and sadness for departing Bafetimbi Gomis

Bafetimbi Gomis' famous lion celebration in which he gets down and paces on all fours after scoring has become iconic for Al-Hilal fans. (AFP/File Photo)
Bafetimbi Gomis' famous lion celebration in which he gets down and paces on all fours after scoring has become iconic for Al-Hilal fans. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi football reacts with affection and sadness for departing Bafetimbi Gomis

Bafetimbi Gomis' famous lion celebration in which he gets down and paces on all fours after scoring has become iconic for Al-Hilal fans. (AFP/File Photo)
  • After three and a half years of success with Al-Hilal, the French forward will leave with acclaim ringing in his ears

RIYADH: The news that Bafetimbi Gomis is leaving Al-Hilal after having his contract terminated has prompted acclaim and sadness in equal measure from media professionals and Saudi football fans.

The 36-year-old French forward has had a stellar career with the reigning Saudi and Asian champions, winning the AFC Champions league twice and the Saudi Professional League twice while scoring 113 goals in 154 appearances.

His impact on the game in the Kingdom, on and off the pitch, will live long in the memory.

Sports journalist Ahmed Al-Shammari commented that Gomis was not only a player who scored goals, but was kind with everyone and dealt with people with good manners, which earned him the love of supporters of all clubs.

While expected tributes from adoring Al-Hilal fans came thick and fast, there was plenty of praise from supporters of even Al-Hilal’s biggest rivals.

Al-Ittihad fan Khodr Al-Ghamdi said that “Gomis forced Al-Hilal fans in particular and Saudi fans in general to love him, especially when you see him wearing the traditional Saudi uniform or chanting the Kingdom’s national anthem, or even when he attends the (national) team matches in the World Cup qualifiers. He was supporting the Saudi team players remarkably.”

Another Saudi sports journalist, Faisal Atta, praised his remarkable achievements, calling them legendary.

“Gomis is one of the rare and eminent players in the history of the Saudi (Professional) League,” he said. “He has contributed to accomplishing (great) achievements with his club …(and) also made personal triumphs as the top scorer of the 2019 AFC Champions League. He is a legendary player for Al-Hilal fans.”

The French Ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Ludovic Pouille, lauded his compatriot for the impact he has had on and off the pitch in the Kingdom.

“Bafetimbi Gomis is first and foremost a friend and his departure from Al-Hilal club saddens me,” he said. “Not only did he mark international football, but as a French footballer playing in the Saudi championship, he is the symbol of the universal character of football and its power to bring people together.

“For many people, no matter their origin or background, football is often their topic of choice in conversations. More broadly, sport is a common language for all.

Gomis has played his part in the growing sporting link between Saudi and France, something the ambassador was keen to highlight.

“Sport is an integral part of our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Pouille added. “I therefore inaugurated this week the first Academy of French Football Federation in the Kingdom. France has an extensive experience in training sportsmen and organizing international sporting events. While sport is an integral part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, the prospects of cooperation between both countries are immense. I seek to strengthen them on a daily basis.”

In turn, Gomis tweeted from his personal account: “Al-Hilal I love you! Saudi Arabia I love you! Football brought me back here but what I experienced and discovered here went beyond football. I can only say a big THANK YOU.”


Watford hires Hodgson as manager in bid to avoid relegation

Watford hires Hodgson as manager in bid to avoid relegation
Updated 58 min 28 sec ago

Watford hires Hodgson as manager in bid to avoid relegation

Watford hires Hodgson as manager in bid to avoid relegation
  • The former England coach, Roy Hodgson, was hired by Watford on Tuesday
  • He will be tasked with keeping the team in the top division following their descent into the relegation zone

WATFORD, England: Roy Hodgson is back in the Premier League at the age of 74.
The former England coach was hired by Watford on Tuesday and will be tasked with keeping the team in the top division following its descent into the relegation zone.
Claudio Ranieri, a 70-year-old Italian, was fired on Monday after 3 1/2 months in charge, just days after Watford slipped into the bottom three for the first time this season.
Watford’s board has turned to Hodgson, another of world soccer’s most experienced managers. He has been out of work since leaving Crystal Palace at the end of last season, when he said it was time to step away from “the rigors of top-flight Premier League football” after 45 years of coaching and to spend time with his family.
Turns out the league’s oldest-ever manager just couldn’t stay away.
Watford is in next-to-last place, two points from safety but with two games in hand over the team in fourth-to-last place, Norwich, which handed Ranieri’s team a 3-0 beating on Friday that proved to be the end for the Italian.
Watford is in its first season back in the Premier League after a year in the second-tier Championship.
Hodgson is Watford’s third manager of the season, continuing the revolving-door policy at the club under its owner, Italian businessman Gino Pozzo. Ranieri had been Watford’s 15th permanent manager in the last 10 years.
Hodgson has experience in staving off relegation. When he took charge of Palace in September 2017, the team was in last place in the Premier League after losing its opening four games. Palace ended the season in 11th place and never finished lower than 14th under Hodgson.


African football boss blames closed gate for Cup of Nations tragedy

African football boss blames closed gate for Cup of Nations tragedy
Updated 25 January 2022

African football boss blames closed gate for Cup of Nations tragedy

African football boss blames closed gate for Cup of Nations tragedy
  • "That gate was supposed to be open because if it was open they would have walked through, and for inexplicable reasons it was closed" CAF president said
  • The tragedy happened at gates where final ticket checks are supposed to take place

YAOUNDE: African football supremo Patrice Motsepe says an “inexplicable” decision to keep an entry gate closed was responsible for the deadly crush which killed eight people before an Africa Cup of Nations match in Cameroonian capital Yaounde on Monday.
“That gate was supposed to be open because if it was open they would have walked through, and for inexplicable reasons it was closed” the Confederation of African Football (CAF) president said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“If that gate was open as it was supposed to, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life. Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?“
Eight people died and 38 were injured as fans attempted to enter the Olembe Stadium where the hosts Cameroon were playing the Comoros, according to figures released by the country’s health ministry.
“Eight deaths were recorded, two women in their 30s, four men in their 30s, one child, one body taken away by the family,” said a preliminary health ministry report obtained by AFP.
A baby was reportedly one of those trampled by the crowd and was in a “medically stable” condition, the health ministry added.
Communications Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi said that of 38 people injured, seven were seriously hurt.
Motsepe called for a probe after Cameroon’s President Paul Biya earlier ordered an investigation “so that all light is shed on this tragic incident,” according to Sadi.
The tragedy happened at gates where final ticket checks are supposed to take place.
“It was when the police opened the gates that people fell and others trampled on top of them,” said Professor Andre Omgbwa Eballe, director of the Olembe district hospital who attended the match.
“I saw the bravery of the Cameroonian people. People were resuscitating others, doing mouth to mouth, otherwise there would have been more deaths,” he told AFP TV.
One man in his 30s who was caught in the crush told AFP that it was “complete chaos” at the entrance to the stadium as supporters without tickets tried to force their way in.
“I arrived a quarter of an hour before kick-off. I had my ticket, but all of a sudden a group of people without tickets arrived and tried to force their way through and we found ourselves pushed up against the fences,” said the supporter, who gave his name as Stephane.
“I was crushed up against a woman who said she couldn’t breathe. Eventually the gate gave in and I was able to get through, but it was complete chaos.”
Motsepe said the Cup of Nations quarter-final due to be played at the Olembe Stadium on Sunday will be switched to the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium, also in Yaounde.
He added that CAF had not considered canceling the rest of the tournament but had contemplated the idea of postponing the last-16 ties scheduled for Tuesday.
Instead the tie between Senegal and Cape Verde and Morocco’s game against Malawi were both given the green light, with a minute’s silence observed before each match.
Although crowds at the 60,000-seat Olembe Stadium had been limited to 60 percent of capacity for the tournament because of the pandemic, the cap is raised to 80 percent when Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play.
Mohamed Salah, the Liverpool star at the Cup of Nations with Egypt preparing for their quarter-final against the Ivory Coast in Douala on Wednesday, said his team’s thoughts were with the victims.
“We are sorry about what happened yesterday, and hopefully the injured people will come back home safe,” Salah said.
Cameroon was initially meant to host the Cup of Nations in 2019, but the event was moved to Egypt over concerns the country’s stadiums were not ready, as well as question marks over security.
Overcrowding at football matches around the world has resulted in scores of deaths.
Thousands of fans in the Egyptian capital Cairo in 2015 attempted to enter a stadium to watch a game, triggering panic as police fired tear gas and birdshot, resulting in 19 dead.
In April 2001, 43 people in a stampede at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium during a game between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
In chaotic scenes at last year’s European Championship final between England and Italy in London, some 2,000 ticketless fans gained access to Wembley, with an independent review finding that a tragedy was only narrowly averted.