City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland

The Manchester City team celebrate after scoring the 1-2 goal during their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match with BVB Borussia Dortmund in Germany on April 14, 2021. (AFP / POOL / WOLFGANG RATTAY)
The Manchester City team celebrate after scoring the 1-2 goal during their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match with BVB Borussia Dortmund in Germany on April 14, 2021. (AFP / POOL / WOLFGANG RATTAY)
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Updated 16 April 2021

City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland

City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland
  • Foden was widely expected to eventually fill the shoes of now-departed midfield playmaker David Silva at City

LONDON: Phil Foden had just finished his latest post-match chat with Erling Haaland when a message from the Manchester City forward’s Twitter account made its way to another of the world’s top soccer players.

“Are you ready,” read the post to Kylian Mbappe, alongside a handshake emoji.

Ignoring who actually sent the tweet — it has since been deleted, suggesting Foden might not have been behind the brazen calling-out of Mbappe — it is a sign of the lofty circles this outstanding English talent is currently mixing in.

Away from social media, Foden is letting his feet do the talking. With winning goals in both legs, the 20-year-old nicknamed the “Stockport Iniesta” — after a town near Manchester where he was born and the former Spain and Barcelona midfielder — was the difference-maker as City beat Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund to reach the Champions League semifinals for only the second time.

Next up: Mbappe’s Paris Saint-Germain, pitching together the only two players to have scored in both legs of a Champions League quarterfinal when under the age of 21. Mbappe did so also against Dortmund, when playing for Monaco in the 2016-17 season, and has gone on to become one of the world’s best players.

Foden appears to be on that path.

“We knew it from the beginning and how he grew up,” said City manager Pep Guardiola, who described Foden’s talent as “unique” after inviting the then-17-year-old player to train with City’s senior squad for the first time in 2016.

City are reaping the rewards of Guardiola’s careful nurturing of Foden over the last few years. Many criticized the Spanish coach’s reluctance to play Foden more — he had a total of 36 appearances in all competitions in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons combined — but Guardiola repeatedly said his time would come and that Foden still needed to learn his trade.

That time is now, in big matches in the Premier League and now on the grandest stage of all in club soccer: the Champions League.

He is sure, too, to play a big role for England at this summer’s European Championship, having seemingly established himself in the preferred front three of his national team.

Foden was widely expected to eventually fill the shoes of now-departed midfield playmaker David Silva at City — they have similar characteristics with their touch, technical qualities, low center of gravity and left-footedness — but it appears his future lies closer to goal, in a wide-forward role.

At least in the opinion of Guardiola, who shared a warm embrace with Foden after his 75th-minute goal that sealed City’s 2-1 win on Wednesday, and a 4-2 victory on aggregate.

Guardiola described Foden as “dynamic offensively” and someone who “always creates something” but, tellingly, added that his all-round game had matured.

“He is learning right now not to take just one touch. He is able to make more touches when making decisions,” said Guardiola, one of the deeper thinkers about the game.

“In the quarterfinal of the Champions League, he was the important player to go through.”

With Foden flourishing, he is somehow managing to cover the offseason departures of both Silva and Leroy Sane, a mercurial winger who City decided to sell to Bayern Munich.

Silva will forever hold a special place in the hearts of City fans — to many, he is the club’s greatest player. But Foden’s development along with the prolific scoring this season of Ilkay Gundogan, who has assumed Silva’s attacking-midfield role, has ensured Silva hasn’t really been missed.


Harsh lesson for Al-Wahda as five-star Al-Nassr cruise to AFC Champions League semi-final

Harsh lesson for Al-Wahda as five-star Al-Nassr cruise to AFC Champions League semi-final
Updated 8 sec ago

Harsh lesson for Al-Wahda as five-star Al-Nassr cruise to AFC Champions League semi-final

Harsh lesson for Al-Wahda as five-star Al-Nassr cruise to AFC Champions League semi-final
  • A dream debut for new coach Pedro Emanuel means the Saudi club face Al-Hilal in a high stakes Riyadh Derby on Tuesday

It was the best of debuts for coach Pedro Emanuel and the vast majority of the 20,000 fans who cheering for Al-Nassr in Mrsool Park, in Riyadh. However, it was a sad ending for the UAE legend Ismail Matar despite his late goal for Al-Wahda.

On Saturday, Riyadh wore its brightest yellow dress as the 2021 AFC Champions League produced a memorable night for the home side. Jaloliddin Masharipov, Abderazzak Hamdallah and Anderson Talisca were at their scintillating best, leaving Al-Wahda boss Henk ten Cate in no doubt over what had happened as he concluded his post-match press conference with a straightforward message, “They were better than us and that’s a fact.”

A mesmerizing show of the local football culture was produced by the crowd and, while the avalanche of streamers thrown on the bench postponed kick-off by nearly 10 minutes, the Al-Nassr faithful left their new boss gushing.

“In some moments, I just sat on the bench and enjoyed the environment between the fans and the team. This is why I’m a coach, this is why I enjoy football,” said Emanuel.

Seven minutes was all it took for Al-Nassr to get off the mark as a string of quick passes in the attacking third included an exquisite backheel pass from Talisca for Masharipov, who set up Hamdallah to do what he does best and beat goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Shamsi from inside the box for his 16th continental goal for the club.

Al-Wahda did their best but it was not enough. Joao Pedro threatened from distance, Omar Kharbin came close and UAE national team’s rising starlet Abdullah Hamad worked tirelessly throughout.

“It was a real lesson for us. The difference was in the chances, they had six chances and they scored five, we had five chances and we scored only one,” said Ten Cate.

In the second half. Al-Nassr were 3-0 up 10 minutes after the restart as Masharipov curled into the bottom corner from outside the box and Abdulfattah Assiri raced into the six-yards-box to tap in Hamdallah’s cross after the Moroccan had danced around the Emirati defence down the left.

A ruthless finisher at his best, Hamdallah seemed to have discovered a new side to his game under Emanuel, producing another fine assist with a through ball to send Masharipov clear on goal and the Uzbek international buried in the ball, and with it all the pain from the red card he got at the same stage of the competition last year as his former side Pakhtakor crashed out against Persepolis.

Fresh off the bench and with a two-goal man-of-the-match display against China under his belt, youngster Sami Al-Najei capped off a fine move. Talisca fed a diagonal ball to substitute Abdulrahman Al-Obaid, who headed it across goal for Al-Najei to score.

Emanuel, returning to the kingdom for a second spell after leading Al-Taawoun to King’s Cup glory two years earlier, heaped praise on his team.

“I am very happy with the quality, not only of the foreigners, but also the local players as we saw with the national team, and we saw here today. This quality is why I wanted to come back to this country and that is also why I am happy to be back,” said Emanuel.

The game was all settled by the time 38-year-old Matar leapt to head home Mahmoud Khamis’ cross from the left to make it 5-1 seconds before the final whistle, but this was an important moment. The Al-Wahda playmaker, the best player in the 2001 FIFA Youth Championship and one of the finest the UAE has produced, was emotional as he received a standing ovation from the home crowd after his goal. That strike could prove to be his last AFC Champions League memory in a long career. Ten Cate made sure he mentioned his club captain’s legacy.

“He is a big player and he deserved this greeting, he is getting older and there comes a moment when he has to stop because he is almost 40,” said the Dutchman.

“But if you see what he gives to this team, he deserves this standing ovation, and I was happy for him to score. Maybe it was his last Champions League game because next year we are not here, so this was a nice send off for him from the Saudi fans.”

All eyes will be on Mrsool Park on Tuesday as Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr battle it out on the continental stage for the first time, with a place in the final up for grabs. For Al-Wahda, the hard work begins now as they head home thinking of ways to turn around a run of five consecutive draws in the UAE Pro League.

 


Diriyah Gate Development Authority to become Official Cultural Destination Partner of Aramco Team Series

Diriyah Gate Development Authority to become Official Cultural Destination Partner of Aramco Team Series
Updated 7 min 7 sec ago

Diriyah Gate Development Authority to become Official Cultural Destination Partner of Aramco Team Series

Diriyah Gate Development Authority to become Official Cultural Destination Partner of Aramco Team Series
  • Year-long agreement could open door for new team series for female golfers to be held in Diriyah

NEW YORK: Diriyah Gate Development Authority and the Aramco Team Series have signed a year-long agreement that makes DGDA the Official Cultural Destination Partner of the new golf team series for female players.

The partnership could open the door for hosting the Aramco Team Series in Diriyah in the future. By hosting a tournament on-site, DGDA will be able to showcase its unique historical and cultural values to a new worldwide audience.

“Diriyah is already well on its way to becoming a global cultural icon, and following this agreement with the Aramco Team Series we look forward to becoming one of the world’s greatest gathering places for golf,” Jerry Inzerillo, group CEO, DGDA said. “Diriyah, Riyadh’s new global cultural and lifestyle destination, has already established itself as a home of world-class sporting events and this agreement will continue that tradition.

“With Saudi Arabia swiftly establishing itself as one of the world’s most dynamic golf markets, we are incredibly excited about our partnership with the Aramco Team Series, which not only gives prominence to women’s golf but also fits into our mission to make Diriyah a global icon and a must-visit destination.”

DGDA previously worked with Golf Saudi, the owner of the Aramco Team Series, in 2019 when both parties signed a landmark deal with the Greg Norman Golf Course Design Co. A 27-hole golf course is due to be built, as part of the exclusive new Wadi Safar residential district in Diriyah, developed by DGDA. As part of the agreement, Golf Saudi has been providing DGDA with technical and management services as an expert in the field with the two entities having formed a joint working team, comprised of specialists from both sides, to activate areas of collaboration as envisioned in the original agreement.

Commenting on the partnership, Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi and deputy chairman of the Saudi Golf Federation, said: “I am delighted to once again be working with Jerry and his team at DGDA. This deal underscores our joint desire to ensure Saudi Arabia becomes a destination of choice for international travelers, as we look to attract new audiences through the medium of golf. We both know that sporting events can be a vehicle to bring both Diriyah and Kingdom to the world and this agreement will ensure that Saudi Arabia remains on the sporting map in the years ahead.”


5 things we learned as Al-Hilal beat Persepolis to reach semifinal of 2021 AFC Champions League

5 things we learned as Al-Hilal beat Persepolis to reach semifinal of 2021 AFC Champions League
Updated 21 min 59 sec ago

5 things we learned as Al-Hilal beat Persepolis to reach semifinal of 2021 AFC Champions League

5 things we learned as Al-Hilal beat Persepolis to reach semifinal of 2021 AFC Champions League
  • A solid 3-0 win over Iranian team will see Saudi champions face Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr in a derby like few others on Tuesday

Al-Hilal strolled into the AFC Champions League semifinal on Saturday with a 3-0 win over Iranian giants Persepolis. An opening goal from Salem Al-Dossari got the team going, and then two strikes from Bafetimbi Gomis sealed the win and a semifinal against Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr, who earlier thrashed Al-Wahda of the UAE 5-1, on Tuesday.

Here are five things we learned.

1. Al-Dossari is back — in style

The talisman of both club and country has been missed since injury ruled him out of action a month ago, even if the results of both have not been bad at all. He calms everything down on the pitch, however, and his experience, composure and ability to make things happen offensively are appreciated by both Leonardo Jardim and Herve Renard.

The 29-year-old made his mark in spectacular fashion after 27 minutes. Collecting the ball on the left, there was a delightful touch, a jink inside, lovely control and then an unstoppable right-foot shot that flew into the top corner, before fans were treated to that famous somersault celebration. There was still time for a perfect assist for the third goal that gave Gomis an unmissable opportunity for his second and Al-Hilal’s third. It was a captain’s performance.

2. Matheus Pereira is almost unplayable

In signing the Brazilian playmaker in the summer, Al-Hilal now have a player who can lead them to the Asian title. The former Sporting Lisbon star impressed in the English Premier League last season despite West Bromwich Albion’s relegation. That meant that he was in high demand from all around Europe and fans could see why on Saturday. 

The 25-year-old was operating on a different plane to everyone else in a game when every Al-Hilal player performed well. His ability to operate in tight situations is top-class as are his movement and vision. Then there is the intelligence: When assisting for the second, he was able to wait until Gomis returned from an offside position before sending a perfect ball across the face of the goal to give Gomis a chance he could not miss. In short, he was just too good for the Iranians. Al-Nassr are going to have to find a way to lessen Pereira’s influence on Tuesday or it will be Al-Hilal who will be preparing for the final.

3. The other Al-Dossari does just fine

It is a testament to the strength that Al-Hilal have that Yasser Al-Shahrani, one of the best left-backs in Asia who has been in great form of late, was not missed that much. In came Nasser Al-Dossari to a position in which he does not normally play, and the 22-year-old barely put a foot wrong. Naturally athletic and full of energy, he was able to get forward in support of the senior Al-Dossari a number of times on the left side even if his delivery was not quite at the level of Al-Shahrani’s.

There were a couple of times when he was caught out of position such as 10 minutes before the break when Issa Alekasir broke free to force a good save out of Abdullah Al-Mayouf but overall, it was a solid performance, and the youngster should take a lot of confidence going into a huge game.

4. Al-Hilal superior in all areas

It was a strong all-around performance from the Saudi champions from the first to the last minute. Persepolis is a proud club that has reached the final of the competition in two of the last three Champions League finals. They have also won the last five Iranian league titles. The visitors are a powerhouse but just did not perform at their usual level. Their fans will point to the simple fact that they just don’t have the same level of players in their team. 

Trying to cope with the likes of Gomis, Pereira and Moussa Marega would test most defenses in the world and all in Asia. West Asian football needs a strong Iranian league and needs clubs like Persepolis to be as powerful as before, but there is little doubt that at the moment, the big clubs in Saudi Arabia are pulling away from their Iranian rivals and this was in evidence on Saturday.

5. Now it is all about the recovery

Perhaps Al-Hilal would have liked more time to enjoy the result but there is none. The semifinal against Al-Nassr is coming on Tuesday, and there can be few Riyadh derbies to match this one. Forget bragging rights in the capital and the country, this is all about getting to a final that will take place in the same city to give Al-Hilal a great chance to win a record fourth Asian championship or Al-Nassr a first. 

At least Al-Nassr are in the same position. There can be little time to work on the training ground for the new coach Pedro Emanuel. The Portuguese boss will have been delighted with the 5-1 thrashing of Al-Wahda but would surely love some time to work with his new players ahead of this much tougher clash. Which team recovers more quickly from the quarters could be key.


Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle
Updated 17 October 2021

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle
  • Football club set to play first match since $410 million takeover by Saudi-led consortium

LONDON: After decades in the football wilderness, a new era of hope begins on Sunday for the long-suffering fans of Newcastle United football club.

Tens of thousands of “Toon” devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

Sunday’s challenge could hardly be tougher. The visitors are Tottenham Hotspur — and a win would take them into the Premier League’s top 5, while Newcastle languish third from bottom with just three points all season.

HIGHLIGHT

Tens of thousands of ‘Toon’ devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by the Public Investment Fund.

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is looking forward to it. “The most important thing for the fans is to see their team win a game and I know they’ll be right behind the players in an atmosphere which I doubt we’ll have witnessed at St. James’ Park in a long time,” he said.

Although most observers expect Bruce’s 1,000th match in charge to be his last, as the new owners rebuild Newcastle, new club director Amanda Staveley — a prime mover behind the takeover — gave him her backing for now.

“Change does not always happen overnight,” she said. “It demands time, and that we follow a carefully considered plan and strategy. Steve has been very professional in our dealings with him and he and his coaching team will take the team on Sunday.”

Newcastle fans, meanwhile, will be hoping Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s judgment is correct.

“In the long term, of course, we have to say that they are going to be a superpower,” Klopp said.


Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal win big to seal all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal

It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2021

Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal win big to seal all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal

It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
  • Results now mean there will be an all-Saudi showdown in Western half of the draw on Oct. 19.

RIYADH: It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals with impressive victories.

Al-Nassr thrashed UAE’s Al-Wahda FSCC 5-1 at the King Saud University Stadium in their quarterfinal, while Al-Hilal cruised to victory with a 3-0 win over Iran's Persepolis.

Al-Nassr were relentless from the first minute and the Emirati club had no answers to a brace from Jaloliddin Masharipov and goals apiece for Abderazak Hamdallah, Abdulfattah Asiri and Sami Al-Najei.

Saudi national team stalwart Salem Al-Dawsari opened the scoring for Al-Hilal in Tehran and two strikes from superstar striker Bafetimbi Gomis made sure there would be an all-Saudi showdown in the Western half of the draw on Oct. 19.