Are Baniyas about to pull off Arabian Gulf League’s greatest ever title win?

Are Baniyas about to pull off Arabian Gulf League’s greatest ever title win?
Baniyas was relegated to the second division just four years ago. (Twitter @BaniyasClub)
Short Url
Updated 24 March 2021

Are Baniyas about to pull off Arabian Gulf League’s greatest ever title win?

Are Baniyas about to pull off Arabian Gulf League’s greatest ever title win?
  • With only four matches remaining, one of UAE’s less-heralded clubs leads AGL table ahead of champions Sharjah, traditional powerhouses Al-Jazira, Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai, Al-Ain

DUBAI: Baniyas, as an area and a football club, could easily go under the radar if you were not paying attention.

Perched on the outer edges of the glistening, modern metropolis that is Abu Dhabi, it flashes by on the drive between the UAE capital and Al-Ain.

But this season the club, up against the might of teams with far greater resources, are on the brink of something truly remarkable.

As the league breaks for the FIFA international window, and with just four games remaining in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) season, the Sky Blues sit top of the table, one point clear of title favorites Al-Jazira, having won their last five games and suffered just one defeat in their past 15 matches.

For a club that was relegated to the second division just four years ago and coming up against the traditional powerhouses of Emirati football – the likes of Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai, Al-Jazira, and Al-Ain – or more recent juggernauts such as Sharjah, it has been an amazing transformation.

“Since the season started, I pointed them out as the surprise of the season, but honestly not like this,” AGL commentator Pedro Correia told Arab News.

“I thought they were going to be the surprise, but in a way that they would somehow be in the top seven, maybe a fourth place, somewhere around that, but not to this point where they are coming into the last four games in first position. Not even in my best perspective did I think that.”

Neither, as it turns out, did their Romanian coach, Daniel Isaila, appointed at the end of last season to replace German manager Winfried Schafer.

“In discussion with the technical committee the target was to be in the top six in the league, this was the realistic target,” the former Romanian national team assistant said.

What has happened this season was beyond everyone’s expectations, with Isaila transforming the side both in defense – where they now have the best record in the league – and attack, where they are second only to Al-Jazira.

Key to the turnaround in the strike force has been the arrival of a trio of South Americans, headlined by Brazilian sharp-shooter Joao Pedro, who arrived on loan from Al-Dhafra on the eve of the season.

“It was at the last moment the opportunity to sign Joao Pedro. I knew him from Saudi Arabia, I worked there for two years and I knew him from there.

“We had on our list another two strikers and we were negotiating with them, but when the opportunity came to bring him on loan from Al-Dhafra, I said to the administration to find a solution to bring him into our team,” Isaila added.

His signing has proven a masterstroke, with the 27-year-old showing why he is one of the league’s most potent and dangerous strikers, netting 16 times in his 20 appearances this season.

“Since Al-Dhafra I always thought he could be a good addition to any team in the league and for me he’s the key player,” Correia said.

“He’s very complete – he can hold, he can flick, he can get in behind the defense, and they use him in all those ways. He also has good service.

“Magic, flair, and irreverence comes in from the wings. The wingers Baniyas have are very interesting players, most of them are Emiratis, young, full of flair, full of magic, and speed. And they provide lots of good balls into the box for Joao Pedro,” he added.

As full of praise for Joao Pedro as Isaila was, he was quick to point out that the collective unit was key to their success this season.

“He has done a great job, but it’s not only him,” the 48-year-old said. “The whole team has done a great job, because it’s teamwork and this is our power – our Baniyas power. If you look at our games, if you look when we score, the enjoyment and happiness together. This is the image of our club.”

Now four games stand between Baniyas and a historic, maiden AGL title.

In much the same way as Sharjah shocked the league with their title win two seasons ago, a Baniyas triumph would be one for the history books. But with their next match against Sharjah to be followed by another month-long hiatus for the rescheduled AFC Champions League, Isaila knows it will not be easy.

“We have four games, but it’s not easy (to continue momentum) because we stopped the league now for the FIFA calendar. The pressure is high, but not only for us. We have young players, we have players without experience at this level, but we compensate for this with enthusiasm and our spirit.

“If you watch our games, we never give up, and fight until the end and this gives us confidence. Anything can happen. Nothing is easy, but we will fight until the end,” Isaila added.


Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return
Updated 3 min 32 sec ago

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return
  • Schick headed the Czechs in front before the break and then doubled the lead on 52 minutes with an incredible strike from just inside the Scotland half
  • Schick spotted Marshall off his line from halfway and bent in an incredible shot from just inside the Scotland half

GLASGOW: Scotland’s long-awaited return to a major international tournament was ruined by Patrik Schick’s slick finishing as the Czech Republic won 2-0 at Hampden on Monday to move top of Euro 2020 Group D.
Schick’s header just before half-time opened the scoring, but it was his stunning strike from just inside the Scotland half after the break that will live in the memory as one of the all-time great European Championship goals.
After a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament, Scotland’s hopes of making more history by getting out of the group for the first time now look slim.
Steve Clarke’s men face England next on Friday at Wembley before hosting World Cup finalists Croatia at Hampden on June 22.
Playing in front of fans at Hampden for the first time since November 2019 with 12,000 in attendance, Scotland made a nervous start.
David Marshall was the hero of penalty shootout wins over Israel and Serbia to qualify and was needed early on to turn Schick’s powerful effort at the near post behind.
The hosts were desperately missing the driving runs and poise on the ball normally provided by Kieran Tierney on the left side of a back three.
Clarke has settled on a 3-5-2 to make way for two of the Premier League’s best left-backs in the same team.
Without the Arsenal defender, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson was his side’s biggest threat with a series of rampaging runs.
His cross was turned narrowly wide by Lyndon Dykes at the near post before the Scotland captain was denied a moment to remember by Tomas Vaclik.
Robertson burst onto Ryan Christie’s pass but his shot that was headed for the top corner was tipped over by the Sevilla goalkeeper.
A cagey game of few chances burst into life after Schick’s towering leap put the visitors in front three minutes before half-time.
Scotland were slow to react after initially clearing a corner and the Bayer Leverkusen forward rose highest to flick home Vladimir Coufal’s cross.
Marshall was called into action to make two quick saves from Schick and Vladimir Darida in an explosive start to the second-half.
But twice Scotland were inches away from levelling when Jack Hendry’s dipping effort came back off the crossbar before Vaclik clawed away a mishit clearance from Tomas Kalas.
However, the home side were stunned by a moment of brilliance from Schick on 52 minutes as he spotted Marshall off his line from halfway and bent in an incredible shot from just inside the Scotland half.
Chances continued to come and go for Scotland as Stuart Armstrong’s shot was deflected onto the roof of the net and Vaclik’s outstretched leg denied Dykes from close range.
But it was Schick who had the best opportunity late on to complete a memorable hat-trick when he fired too close to Marshall.
Beating old rivals England would more than make amends for the Tartan Army’s disappointment, but Scotland now have a mountain to climb if they are to prevent their long-awaited adventure ending in familiar fashion.


Eriksen’s collapse creates ‘national shock’ in Denmark

Eriksen’s collapse creates ‘national shock’ in Denmark
Updated 14 June 2021

Eriksen’s collapse creates ‘national shock’ in Denmark

Eriksen’s collapse creates ‘national shock’ in Denmark
  • Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen: Rarely has it been less important whether a football match was won or lost
  • Eriksen, widely regarded as Denmark’s best player, was resuscitated with a defibrillator and is in a stable condition in a Copenhagen hospital

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Interest in CPR and defibrillators has been pulling the attention of Danes away from soccer’s European Championship since the collapse of Christian Eriksen.
The tournament, with the national team playing all three of its group games at home in Copenhagen, was supposed to create a two-week party in the capital — with many hoping Denmark would be able to repeat its improbable triumph from the 1992 tournament.
But Eriksen fell face-forward onto the field with cardiac arrest during the team’s opening game against Finland on Saturday. And suddenly a large portion of Denmark’s 6 million people were watching live on TV as one of the country’s best-known athletes was given emergency CPR, his teammates standing around him with tears in their eyes.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called it “a national shock.”
“Rarely has it been less important whether a football match was won or lost,” Frederiksen wrote on Facebook.
Eriksen, widely regarded as Denmark’s best player, was resuscitated with a defibrillator and was in a stable condition in a Copenhagen hospital on Monday.
But the national shock hasn’t quite dissipated.
Eriksen’s collapse remains the talk of the nation. Many wonder how it could happen to such a healthy player. And a debate is still raging over whether the game should have been called off. It was suspended for about 90 minutes before resuming, having been stopped near the end of the first half. Finland went on to score in the second half and won 1-0.
The interest among Danes in learning CPR and how to use a defibrillator has skyrocketed. A national organization that puts up defibrillators across the country said more than 640 people have volunteered to learn how to use one since Saturday — compared to 90 the previous weekend.
There also has been widespread anger in Denmark toward European soccer governing body UEFA for only giving the players the option of either finishing the game on Saturday evening or resuming on Sunday at noon instead.
The players themselves on Monday said they didn’t want to resume but thought it was better to finish Saturday than to come back the next day.
“It was not our wish to play,” Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite said. “We had two options and would have liked a third option. But we were told we had to make a decision. ... There were many players who weren’t in a condition to play the match. We were in a completely different place.”
Another much-debated topic has been the impact on young viewers, who watched one of their sporting idols lying unconscious on the ground.
For unprepared children, seeing such pictures equals “a slap in the face,” said Ane Lemche, a psychologist with the Danish chapter of Save the Children.
“And children can also get confused, because he looks quite lifeless and that is uncomfortable for a child,” she told Danish broadcaster DR.
Boerns Vilkaar, a child counselling organization, posted advice for parents on its website, saying many children who watched were “scared, insecure and sad.”
The Danish soccer federation also tweeted a link to the organization’s advice.
“Those kinds of pictures can be hard to get out of your head,” the organization wrote. “Some children may think about it a lot and be affected by it for a long time.”


Herve Renard looks to overcome Salem Al-Dawsari’s absence as Kingdom aims to wrap up World Cup progress against Uzbekistan

Herve Renard looks to overcome Salem Al-Dawsari’s absence as Kingdom aims to wrap up World Cup progress against Uzbekistan
Updated 14 June 2021

Herve Renard looks to overcome Salem Al-Dawsari’s absence as Kingdom aims to wrap up World Cup progress against Uzbekistan

Herve Renard looks to overcome Salem Al-Dawsari’s absence as Kingdom aims to wrap up World Cup progress against Uzbekistan
  • Saudi Arabia will confirm a spot in the final AFC qualifying round as long as it avoids defeat in Riyadh on Tuesday night

Tuesday’s crunch World Cup showdown between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan could hinge on one yellow card received and one escaped last Friday.

Salem Al-Dawsari broke the deadlock against Singapore to claim a vital win but also picked up a second booking to rule him out of the big game, while Al-Nassr star Jaloliddin Masharipov scored the only goal in Uzbekistan’s 1-0 win over Yemen, and despite concerns from his coach, escaped Al-Dawsari’s fate and will be raring to go in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia needs just a draw to be sure of a place in the third round of qualification and are playing at home, but such advantages mean that it has all the pressure too. A misstep could see dreams of a sixth World Cup appearance go up in smoke.

Al-Dawsari has saved Saudi Arabia before and should the Green Falcons go all the way to Qatar, fans will once again be in the debt of the Al-Hilal star. Last Friday, the country sat back and expected a regulation win over Singapore who had just lost 4-0 to Palestine and 5-0 to Uzbekistan, but with five minutes remaining it was 0-0. 

Then up stepped the captain to score and change the mood and send his team on the way to a 3-0 win and three vital points to ensure that avoiding defeat on Tuesday will be enough.

It was a frustrating evening for coach Herve Renard who was relieved with the end result but disappointed that, just before half-time, his main man picked up a second yellow card in qualification and will sit out the big game. 

“My message to Asian referees is to protect the players from rough play,” said the Frenchman. “Al-Dawsari and Abdulelah Al-Maiki got yellow cards because they reacted to that. We will miss them against Uzbekistan.”

Right-back Mohammed Al-Breik went off injured in the second half with a back injury and remains doubtful but there is better news in that Al-Hilal midfielder Abdullah Otayf is available after serving his suspension.

“All matches are difficult,” added Renard, who took Morocco to the 2018 World Cup. “Singapore were difficult and Uzbekistan had a difficult time against Yemen. We got the right result in the end and now we look forward.”

The Frenchman refused to be drawn on how he will approach a game in which he just needs to avoid defeat to go through to the third round of qualification — due to start in September — as one of the eight group winners. Should Saudi Arabia lose, however, it will have to progress as one of the best four runners-up and it is a route that can be complicated. 

It has become more complex in May after the withdrawal of North Korea from qualification, which means that the results against the fifth-placed teams are not counted. If Yemen finish bottom of Group D, this would be good news for Saudi Arabia as it would only lose four of the 17 points collected and a total of 13 would be more than enough. Yet if Yemen defeat Palestine then Singapore would drop into fifth and that would mean a loss of six points and then things really would get messy — much better to leave no room for doubt. 

A draw may be enough for Uzbekistan to finish as one of the four best runners-up, but it may not. The need to win may actually play into their hands. The White Wolves have a reputation for choking when the pressure is on after failing in the past despite being in good positions to qualify for the 2006, 2014 and 2018 tournaments. This time however, the Central Asians are not in pole position and have little room for error.  

“We know what we have to do,” said Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov. “Our objective when qualification restarted was not to lose before we head into the final game and we have done that.” In fact the team has won all three games without conceding a single goal.

Masharipov, loaned out last season by Al-Nassr to Dubai’s Shabab Al-Ahli, has been in sparkling form of late with three goals in the last two games. A sublime attacking performance against Singapore was followed by a more dogged display in the win over Yemen, in which he scored the only goal of the game. Despite picking up a yellow card earlier in qualification, Abramov admitted that he gambled on the 27-year-old not getting another one on Friday. 

“Masharipov was playing below his full potential today,” the coach said. “The caution associated with the yellow card has had its effect on him. I had to keep him on the pitch until the end of the match as things were close, but I knew he was a smart guy and wouldn’t get a yellow card.”

Herve Renard, and all Saudi Arabian fans, will be hoping that Al-Dawsari’s failure to do the same will not come back to haunt them.


Al-Hilal management to settle financial matters as club eyes transfer market

Al-Hilal management to settle financial matters as club eyes transfer market
Updated 14 June 2021

Al-Hilal management to settle financial matters as club eyes transfer market

Al-Hilal management to settle financial matters as club eyes transfer market
  • Reigning Saudi champions have outstanding payments totaling $6.4 million

RIYADH: Al-Hilal’s management team was on Monday expected to settle all outstanding payments from April to secure a financial efficiency certificate allowing the club to take part in the summer transfer window, Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah reported.

The Saudi Ministry of Sports announced through a press statement from the financial efficiency committee for sports clubs, that the club had financial obligations amounting to $6.4 million.

A successful season for Al-Hilal saw the club claim a record-extending 17th Saudi Professional League title, and an historic 62nd trophy, as well as confirm progress to the knockout stages of the 2021 AFC Champions League.

According to Arriyadiyah sources, the outstanding amount covered the salaries of club employees, players of various sporting activities, and the agent of one of the football team’s players, and the cases would be closed once the payments were made.


Bucks tie Nets 2-2 with 107-96 win; Suns sweep Nuggets

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during Game 4 of the Bucks-Nets second round playoff series on June 13, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP)
Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during Game 4 of the Bucks-Nets second round playoff series on June 13, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

Bucks tie Nets 2-2 with 107-96 win; Suns sweep Nuggets

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during Game 4 of the Bucks-Nets second round playoff series on June 13, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Nuggets' center Nikola Jokic, the 2021 MVP, was ejected over a flagrant foul against Suns' Cameron Payne i
  • 2018 MVP James Harden still unable to play for Nets due to hamstring injury

MILWAUKEE/DENVER: Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and the Milwaukee Bucks rolled to a 107-96 Game 4 victory Sunday to tie the second-round playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets, who lost Kyrie Irving to a sprained right ankle.
The Bucks erased a 2-0 deficit by winning two straight in Milwaukee. Game 5 is Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn’s immediate concern is the health of its superstar trio. Irving was hurt midway through the second quarter and didn’t return. The Nets already are missing nine-time All-Star and 2018 MVP James Harden, who hasn’t played since the opening minute of Game 1 due to right hamstring tightness.
That puts even more pressure on Kevin Durant, who has carried the Nets this series and provided 28 points and 13 rebounds Sunday. The only other player in double figures was Irving, who had 11 points before leaving.
After Irving made a basket in the paint to cut the Bucks’ lead to 44-40 midway through the second quarter, his left leg hit the right leg of Antetokounmpo on his way down and his ankle rolled. Irving landed awkwardly and clutched his right ankle as play briefly continued on the other end of the floor. Coach Steve Nash said after the game that X-rays taken on Irving’s ankle were negative.

Four-game sweep

In Denver, Colorado, the Phoenix Suns roared into the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 11 years with a testy 125-118 victory over Denver that completed a four-game sweep of the Nuggets and included MVP Nikola Jokic’s ejection.
Chris Paul scored 37 points and Devin Booker added 34 in a physical game marred by Jokic’s ejection.
Jokic was tossed with 3:52 left in the third quarter and the Nuggets trailing 83-76 after his hard right-hand windmill swipe sent the basketball flying but also caught Cameron Payne in the face.
Booker took umbrage at the hard foul and got in the big man’s face before teammates and coaches pulled everyone apart.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic grabs Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker during a confrontation on June 13, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) 

Officials assessed a double technical on Jokic and Booker and ejected the MVP after upping the call to a Flagrant 2. Jokic finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes.
The Nuggets and their fans at Ball Arena were frustrated that they were getting called for ticky-tack fouls yet Jokic wasn’t getting the calls expected of a Most Valuable Player.
With their franchise-record seventh straight playoff victory, the Suns advanced to the conference championship for the first time since 2010 — the last time they even reached the playoffs.
After knocking out LeBron James and the defending champion Lakers in Round 1, the Suns quickly dispatched Denver and made Jokic the first MVP to get swept in a playoff series since Magic Johnson in 1989.
Will Barton led Denver, which trailed by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, with 25 points, Michael Porter Jr. added 20 and Monte Morris 19.
The Nuggets survived the loss of star Jamal Murray to a torn ACL on April 12, winning 13 of 18 to close out the regular season and taking care of the Portland Trail Blazers in five games in the opening round.
But when second scoring option Porter tweaked his surgically repaired back in the first half of Game 1 against Phoenix, it was one injury too far for the Nuggets to overcome.
Denver coach Michael Malone said before tip-off that the Nuggets couldn’t really rely on their experience from the bubble in overcoming a pair of 3-1 deficits in the playoffs last year. For one thing, Murray’s recovering from knee surgery.
Malone said the Nuggets’ only focus was on sending this series back to Phoenix for a Game 5.
Instead, Jokic became the first MVP to get swept in a playoff series since the Pistons downed Magic Johnson and the Lakers in four in the NBA Finals in 1989.
Jokic’s ejection came 48 hours after an emotional celebration before Game 3 in which the Serbian dedicated his MVP trophy to his teammates, coaches, trainers and the front office.
The only NBA player to play all 72 games this season, Jokic spent the fourth quarter in his locker room as his teammates’ comeback without him fell short.
Despite the sweep and Jokic’s early exit, fans chanted, “MVP! MVP” as they streamed out of the arena.

TIP-INS:
Suns: Booker scored 10 points in the first quarter despite missing six of nine shots. ... Phoenix trailed just once at 2-0 before Booker’s 3-pointer put the Suns up for good.
Nuggets: Murray shot one-footed jumpers before the game and drew a loud ovation when he drained one from halfcourt as he walked off. ... Malone shook up his stagnant starting lineup, sitting Facundo Compazzo and Austin Rivers for Morris and Barton.