All hands on deck for Saudi teams as international fixtures restart

All hands on deck for Saudi teams as international fixtures restart
Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari celebrates in style after scoring the decisive goal in a 2 – 1 win over Egypt in the 2018 Russia World Cup. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 March 2021

All hands on deck for Saudi teams as international fixtures restart

All hands on deck for Saudi teams as international fixtures restart
  • Road to Qatar 2022 resumes for the senior football squad, while a ‘project restart’ is taking shape for age group teams
  • Tokyo Olympics on the horizon for the Saudi U23 team

RIYADH: Nearly 15 months on from their last competitive appearance, the final week of March signals the return of the Saudi Arabian national football team to action in the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup joint qualifiers.

The Green Falcons welcome neighbours Kuwait to Riyadh for an international friendly on Thursday the March 25 as they prepare to face Palestine five days later in what will be their first qualifying match since November 2019.

Coach Herve Renard’s men sit in second place in Group D with eight points, one point behind the leaders Uzbekistan but with a game in hand. A win against bottom-placed Palestine will put Saudi Arabia in the driving seat and continue their unbeaten run on the journey to Qatar 2022 and China 2023.

Earlier this month, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) awarded Saudi Arabia the hosting rights for the remaining Group D matches, taking place in June with the Green Falcons, Palestine and Uzbekistan joined by Yemen and Singapore.

Renard made 10 changes to his 26-man squad for the two March fixtures from his last selection that contested the Gulf Cup final in December 2019. While some of the replacements were forced by injuries to key men such as skipper Salman Al-Faraj and winger Abdulfattah Asiri, a changing of the guard is also taking place.

Seven players could make their international debuts over the next week, with an average age of 24. Veterans Nawaf Al-Abed and Yahya Al-Shehri find themselves outside the squad having turned the wrong side of 30 since their most recent call-ups.

While Al-Ahli’s Mohammed Al-Owais is expected to retain the number one spot, three further goalkeepers have been called up; 23-year-old Amin Bukhari, 24-year-old Zaid Al-Bawardi and 30-year-old Abdullah Al-Owaisheer.

At the back, Renard opted for familiarity, with Abdulelah Al-Amri the only new face among eight established defenders. In the middle of the park Al-Ahli’s Ali Al-Asmari and Al-Hilal’s Nasser Al-Dawsari could enjoy their international debuts. Al-Qadisiyah’s Hassan Al-Amri earned a place in the national team’s attack thanks to his 11 goals in the Saudi Pro League this season.

Saudi Arabia’s age group national teams will also be busy.

As Japan confirmed that the world’s premier sporting event — postponed from 2020 — is going ahead this summer, albeit without international spectators, excitement is building up in Saudi. Coach Saad Al-Shehri’s young Falcons gear up for what will be the country’s first appearance in Olympic football since Atlanta 1996. The U23s up their preparations for the Tokyo Olympics with back-to-back friendlies against Liberia on March 27 and 30.

After their AFC Asian Cup competitions for 2021 were cancelled due to the pandemic, the U20s and U17s are now preparing for the 2023 tournaments.

U17 head coach Abdulwahab Al-Harbi has had to adjust to these changes, going on four scouting missions to cover all corners of the Kingdom, with 127 players born in 2006 or later undergoing trials to form the basis of the U17 team competing in two years’ time. The 36-man extended squad will enroll in a 10-day training camp in Dammam between March 27 and April 6.

Scouting sessions for the U20s continue in Jeddah, with 38 players born in 2003 or after being trialed, ahead of shortlisting players for the extended squad for the 2023 AFC U20 Asian Cup.

After more than a year of inaction, Saudi’s best footballers of all ages have a busy schedule in the coming months.


Paul George leads Clippers over Suns, 106-92 in Game 3

LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 9 min 37 sec ago

Paul George leads Clippers over Suns, 106-92 in Game 3

LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain, leaving George to carry the load again
  • Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center

LOS ANGELES: Paul George scored 27 points and the Los Angeles Clippers pulled away in a dominant third quarter, beating newly returned Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns 106-92 on Thursday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
The Clippers cut their series deficit to 2-1, ending the Suns’ franchise-record playoff winning streak at nine games.
Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain, leaving George to carry the load again. After missing two crucial free throws in a one-point loss in Game 2, Paul had 15 rebounds and eight assists and played a game-high 43 minutes. He made 6 of 7 free throws.
The Suns got Paul back after he missed the first two games while being sidelined since June 16 because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The former Clipper, who was booed heartily during intros, had 15 points and 12 assists, but was 5 of 19 from the field.
Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 18 points.
Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, and Ivica Zubac had 15 points and tied his career playoff high with 16 rebounds.
Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center.
After Phoenix won the first two games by a combined seven points, the teams played a close first half. Then the Clippers went to work in front of their raucous, Thunder Stix-pounding fans.
They took control with the biggest run of the game, a 21-3 spurt that left them leading 71-56 in the third. Terance Mann got it going with six straight points and Jackson scored four in a row before George scored inside. Zubac dunked off George’s pass and made a pair of free throws. The Suns were limited to a 3-pointer by Paul.
Devin Booker picked up his third and fourth fouls in a 42-second span during the Clippers’ run. Booker — wearing a clear mask to protect his nose that required stitches after he and Patrick Beverley banged heads in Game 2 — was 5 of 21 from the field, making only one of seven 3-point tries, and finished with 15 points.
Jae Crowder, who assisted on Deandre Ayton’s winning dunk on Tuesday, fouled out with 4:51 remaining. He had nine points, six rebounds and six assists.
George capped the third by banking in a 3-pointer from just inside midcourt, and it beat the buzzer, stunning the fans and sending the Clippers into the fourth leading 80-69. He nearly bobbled the ball along the right sideline, with Booker and Cam Johnson pressuring, before getting the shot off.
Luke Kennard opened the fourth with a 3 from the right corner, getting fouled and making the free throw. Marcus Morris hit a three before George got fouled. He confidently made both, keeping the Clippers ahead 89-71.
Cameron Payne, who so ably filled in for Paul in the first two games, went down with a left ankle injury after playing four minutes and didn’t return.

TIP-INS
Suns: Fell to 10-3 in the playoffs, losing for the first time since May 27 against the Lakers at Staples Center in Game 3 of the first round. ... Booker and Beverley were called for double technicals in the third. ... Paul and Booker each missed their first six shots of the game and were both 2 of 10 with seven points each in the first half.
Clippers: Zubac is the first Clipper with a double-double in the first half of a postseason game since DeAndre Jordan on April 30, 2017, against Utah. ... Longtime fan Billy Crystal sat courtside.
 


No more beer bottles in front of Muslim Euros players: Officials

No more beer bottles in front of Muslim Euros players: Officials
Updated 24 June 2021

No more beer bottles in front of Muslim Euros players: Officials

No more beer bottles in front of Muslim Euros players: Officials
  • Players will now be allowed to decide whether they object to having a beer bottle in front of them

LONDON: Officials running the European Football Championship have announced that they will stop placing bottles of beer in front of Muslim players.

The decision comes after French star Paul Pogba moved the tournament’s sponsor drink during a press conference last week.

Pogba, a devout Muslim, removed the Heineken bottle from in front of him during a post-match press conference after his French national team defeated Germany.

Teams, managers and players will now be asked beforehand whether they object to having a bottle of Heineken 0.0 — an alcohol-free variant of the popular Dutch beer — on the podium on religious grounds, the Daily Telegraph reported.

It is forbidden in Islam to consume alcohol.


Arkan Sports and Punjab Green face off in national cricket final

Arkan Sports and Punjab Green face off in national cricket final
Updated 24 June 2021

Arkan Sports and Punjab Green face off in national cricket final

Arkan Sports and Punjab Green face off in national cricket final
  • The grand finale of Saudi Arabian cricket will be played between Arkan Sports and Punjab Green
  • The two teams reached the final having played nine league matches, quarter-finals and semi-finals

RYADH: Arkan Sports Club and the Punjab Green Cricket Club will meet in the final of the National Cricket Championship 2021 on Friday at the NOFA Resort.

The final of the competition, which was launched by the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) in partnership with the Sports For All Federation (SFA), is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. It will be followed by the awards ceremony.

“The National Cricket Championship, conducted in the middle of the pandemic, has been a huge success; and its vibrations have been heard across Saudi Arabia and beyond and this is just the beginning” Prince Saud bin Mishaal, SACF Chairman, told Arab News.

The final will mark the culmination of the biggest tournament of its kind ever held in the Kingdom.

“This final to be played at the NOFA Resort, a new cricket ground established with the support of the NOFA management, is part of the National Cricket Championship which is played in grounds all over Saudi Arabia,” SACF general manager Nadeem Nadwi said.

“This is the grand finale which will be played between Arkan Sports and Punjab Green, two teams that have reached the final having played nine league matches, the quarter-finals and the semi-finals.”

The championship was launched on Jan. 29 and matches were spread across 11 cities. More than 6,800 players from 369 teams, representing 15 cricket associations, took part in the biggest tournament of its kind in the Kingdom.

The matches were in the T20 format and took place every Friday on 106 pitches in Riyadh, Dammam, Jubail, Jeddah, Madinah, Yanbu, Tabuk, Abha, Jazan, Qassim and Najran.

“Together with our partners the Saudi Cricket Federation, and with the support and guidance of the Ministry of Sports, we are excited to be wrapping up what was a riveting and competitive season in the Kingdom,” said SFA president Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal. “The Quality of Life program, consistent supporters of our healthy and active community, joins us in looking at the national championship as a moment that reflects wellness, physical fitness, and fraternal spirit amongst players.”

Prince Fahd bin Jalawi, president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, is expected to attend the final alongside Prince Saud and Prince Khaled, as will ambassadors from cricket-playing countries such as the UK, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

There will also be more than 250 other guests present at the close of the cricket season.

“We have made arrangements for them to enjoy the grand finale at this beautiful resort in the middle of the desert,” Nadwi added.


UEFA abolishes away-goals rule in club competitions

UEFA abolishes away-goals rule in club competitions
Updated 24 June 2021

UEFA abolishes away-goals rule in club competitions

UEFA abolishes away-goals rule in club competitions
  • Games now tied on aggregate score after 90 minutes, goes directly to extra time then penalty shootout
  • UEFA president said the rule outlived its usefulness and inhibited home teams from attacking

NYON, SWITZERLAND: The away-goals rule was abolished Thursday by UEFA after 56 years as a fundamental way of deciding matches in its European club competitions.
The move was often proposed in recent years by club coaches who felt an idea from the 1960s was no longer relevant.
Games now tied on aggregate score after the regulation 90 minutes in the second leg will go direct to extra time and then to a penalty shootout.
UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin cited the “unfairness, especially in extra time, of obliging the home team to score twice when the away team has scored.”
UEFA cited several factors that “blurred the lines between playing at home and away” including more television coverage to better understand opponents’ styles, comfortable travel and better playing surfaces.
Čeferin said the rule outlived its usefulness and inhibited home teams from attacking “because they fear conceding a goal that would give their opponents a crucial advantage.”


‘All or nothing’ Germany out to prolong England’s 55 years of hurt in KO games

‘All or nothing’ Germany out to prolong England’s 55 years of hurt in KO games
Updated 24 June 2021

‘All or nothing’ Germany out to prolong England’s 55 years of hurt in KO games

‘All or nothing’ Germany out to prolong England’s 55 years of hurt in KO games
  • Germany's nail-biting 2-2 draw with Hungary in Munich on Wednesday set up a mouthwatering clash with England at Wembley
  • Since England beat Germany 4-2 in 1966 World Cup final, Germans have won all four knockout meetings in major tournaments

MUNICH: Germany wants to extend their dominance of England’s Three Lions at the knockout stage of international tournaments to 55 years when the powerhouses meet again in the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Tuesday.
Germany’s nail-biting 2-2 draw with Hungary in Munich on Wednesday set up a mouthwatering clash with Gareth Southgate’s England at Wembley for a place in the quarter-finals.
“That will be an absolute highlight, now it’s all or nothing,” said Germany head coach Joachim Loew, who will step down after 15 years in charge following the tournament.
Since England beat Germany 4-2 after extra-time to win the 1966 World Cup final when Geoff Hurst scored a hat-trick at Wembley, the Germans have won all four knockout meetings since at major tournaments.
That tally includes the semifinal of Euro ‘96, also at Wembley, when Southgate, the current England coach, missed the crucial penalty in a nail-biting penalty shootout.
That followed Paul Gascoigne’s famous tears in Turin before Germany again beat England in a penalty shootout in the semifinals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
Overall, Germany have only won 13 of 36 games compared to England’s 16 victories, while there have been seven draws.
Yet when it comes to knockout football, the 1966 triumph is England’s sole success against the Mannschaft.
Germany right-back Joshua Kimmich said “there is almost no nicer game” than playing England at Wembley.
The national side’s fortunes are being watched closely in Germany where 25.74 million viewers, 71 percent of the market, were glued to their television sets for the draw with Hungary.
The figure is sure to be surpassed when the Mannschaft plays England.
Having equalized twice in Munich, the Germans keep alive their dreams of a record fourth European crown.
“Yes!!!!!!!! Wembley calling!” wrote Leon Goretzka on Twitter after the Bayern Munich star came off the bench to smash home the crucial 84th-minute equalizer.
“We have no doubts and are full of self-confidence,” he continued.
The rest of the German squad were more down to earth.
“That was one of the most difficult games ever, you have to say,” admitted Loew, who was six minutes away from finishing his tenure with a humiliating defeat.
“What the team showed was an extremely good mentality and morale, we didn’t let it get to us.”
The Germans know that against England they have to better across the board.
“Wembley suits us,” said captain Manuel Neuer, “but we needed a more dominant and confident performance to go into the game (against England) with a top feeling.”
Kimmich echoed that sentiment, saying the Germans can ill afford to “compete” at Wembley “like we did today.”
Sloppy German defending — which has been a factor all season — allowed Hungary captain Adam Szalai to header the visitors ahead.
Germany equalized through Kai Havertz, but conceded another goal almost immediately when midfielder Andras Schaefer ghosted between two defenders to put Hungary 2-1 up before Goretzka spared Germany’s blushes.
A defeat to world champions France in their opening Group F game was followed by a stunning 4-2 win of holders Portugal on Saturday, yet Germany came perilously close to losing to Hungary.
Erratic German results have been a feature since their 2018 World Cup debacle when they finished bottom of their group, but the current side has the talent and potential to reach the Euro 2020 final.
“We know that if we play to our potential” at Wembley” we’ll be strong,” insisted Loew.
“But if we don’t implement a few things, we’ll be in trouble.
“The English have to play going forward at home.
“It will be an open game, more open than against Hungary.
“We have to correct a few things and be fully on our guard, there will be no quarter given there now.
“We have to do better, absolutely.”