Al-Nassr banish troubles with comprehensive AFC Champions League win over Al-Sadd

Al-Nassr banish troubles with comprehensive AFC Champions League win over Al-Sadd
Al-Nassr’s Abdulmajeed Al-Sulayhim scores a goal against Al-Sadd of Qatar in Group D of the 2021 AFC Champions League. (Twitter: @AlNassrFC_EN)
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Updated 19 April 2021

Al-Nassr banish troubles with comprehensive AFC Champions League win over Al-Sadd

Al-Nassr banish troubles with comprehensive AFC Champions League win over Al-Sadd
  • Fine 3-1 victory against Qatar champions leaves the Riyadh team top of Group D after two rounds

In a vital 3-1 win over Al-Sadd of Qatar in Group D of the 2021 AFC Champions League Al-Nassr produced the form that took the club to second place in last season’s Saudi Pro League after what has been a chaotic season on and off the pitch.

Both sides went into the tie in the King Saud University Stadium needing the three points after opening their campaigns with disappointing draws. The Riyadh team had only managed a stalemate against group stage debutants Al-Wehdat of Jordan, while Al-Sadd required an 89th minute equalizer against Iran’s Foolad Khouzestan for 1-1 finish.

The win boosts 2020 semi-finalists Al-Nassr’s hopes of advancing to the next stage, while Al-Sadd have it all to do if they are to salvage their campaign.

Both teams starting cautiously and there was little to suggest that A-Nassr, struggling domestically and having endured the upheaval of a new board of directors and the appointment of new coach Mano Menezes, would defeat the Qatari champions in such decisive manner.

Al-Sadd threatened first through Baghdad Bounedjah’s light-footed strike on 34 minutes. The Saudi club responded minutes later as Nordin Amrabat released Sami Al-Najei on the right wing and his cross-hit Al-Sadd captain Abdelkarim Hassan on the arm, leaving the referee no option but to award a penalty.

Abderazzak Hamdallah, last season’s top scorer in the competition, converted from the spot to give Al-Nassr the lead at the break.

Al-Sadd started the second half on the front foot with Mohammed Jade and Nam Tae-hee both missing presentable chances, before Spanish World Cup winner Santi Cazorla beat Brad Jones with a superb 59th minutes free kick.

Al-Nassr slowly regained the upper hand and with just over 10 minutes left Abdulmajeed Al-Sulayhim finished off a fine team move by putting the ball past Meshaal Barsham in Al-Sadd’s goal.

There was still time for Al-Nassr to make it a comprehensive win when Khalid Al-Ghannam struck a stoppage time third goal.

In Group D’s other fixture on Saturday, Foolad Khouzestan of Iran secured their first AFC Champions League group stage win in six years, beating Al-Wehdat 1-0 at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh.

The winner came a minute before the break from a Chimba penalty, the Brazilian scoring his fourth goal in eight days to extend a rich run of form which began with last Saturday’s playoff victory over the UAE’s Al-Ain.

Al-Nassr next face Foolad in a top-of-the-table clash on Tuesday while Al Sadd will look to get back on track against Al-Wehdat.


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.”


New Zealand defy India, and English weather, to claim inaugural cricket World Test Championship

New Zealand defy India, and English weather, to claim inaugural cricket World Test Championship
Updated 24 June 2021

New Zealand defy India, and English weather, to claim inaugural cricket World Test Championship

New Zealand defy India, and English weather, to claim inaugural cricket World Test Championship
  • Reserve day needed after rain disrupts new competition’s playoff Test at Southampton

LONDON: How typical that English summer rain and murky conditions should conspire to influence the passage of the inaugural World Test Championship at Southampton over its five days. Were it not for the prescience of the International Cricket Council in deciding to allocate a reserve day, the match would have ended in a draw, with no outright champion.

As it was, the rain relented on the sixth day and the sun came out of hiding, allowing a full day’s play in which New Zealand triumphed in a tense atmosphere when their bowlers made good use of a helpful pitch and experienced batsmen saw them home with a mature and patient  display. They are worthy winners of the trophy, which earned them $1.6 million and India $800,000.

This was a welcome outcome for an event, first proposed in 2009, that has been dogged by a chequered launch, with previous attempts to introduce it having been abandoned in 2011 and 2014.

These two teams vying to become outright Test match champions earned that status through a points-based system which measured the performance, since August 1, 2019, of nine Test match-playing teams, in a specified number of series.

The intention of the ICC was for the teams to play eight Test series, but the crowded cricketing calendar, coupled with political considerations, would allow only six. This created a framework with each team scheduled to play three home and away series, involving 72 matches and 27 series. The pandemic struck part way through the cycle and not all teams were able to play six series.

A total of 120 points has been on offer for all series, irrespective of the number of games scheduled within the series, with the 120 divided by the number of scheduled matches. Thus, a five-match series carried 24 points for a win and a two-match series carried 60 points for a win. The two teams with the highest number of points are eligible to contest for the title of world champions in a play-off Test.

In November 2020, when the impact of the pandemic was apparent, the ICC adopted a percentage of points system, whereby the number of points that a team accrues is divided by the total that it contests. On this basis, India emerged with 72.5 percent and New Zealand with 63.6 percent.

Somewhat confusingly, the ICC also produces a rating of Test teams over a three-to-four-year cycle, using a different points system, by which the number of points obtained is divided by the number of matches to generate an average, called a rating. Fortunately, New Zealand and India are the top-rated teams at present, so there can be little argument about their respective rights to be at Southampton.

The aim of the ICC in devising the World Test Championship points system that applied between 2019 and 2021, was to encourage teams to place more emphasis on winning matches and to revive bilateral Test cricket.

However, the system is far from perfect. While it is out of the ICC’s control that India and Pakistan have not played a Test series against each other since 2007, current and past cricketers, such as Michael Holding, have criticized the fact that a win in a five-match series counts for less than a win in a two-match series.

In addition, there was criticism well before the match about pinning the title of world test champions on a single match, which is vulnerable to local conditions, as was illustrated in Southampton. The Indian head coach is not alone in expressing a view that a three-match series would be more appropriate, but the ICC says that there is no time to fit this into the calendar.

It has listened to the criticism of the points system. The next cycle, due to begin on August 1, 2021, starting with England v India, will see each match being worth the same number of points, reported to be a maximum of 12 per match, with teams ranked on the percentage of points system. This simplified system will allow teams to be compared at any point in time, considering that they are likely to have played a different number of series and matches.

The attempt to bolster bilateral men’s Test cricket has some limitations. In addition, the three other men’s Test-playing countries — Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe — are keen to test themselves at the highest level, but do not play enough of the longer form of the game for this to be possible in the near future.

The establishment of an outright winner in this inaugural WTC final will give impetus to its status and acceptance, taking away several of the criticisms that have been levelled at it. Future debates are likely to focus on the points system, where the final should be played and pathways for expanding the number of teams, rather than whether it should exist at all.

Indian captain Virat Kohli, a fervent supporter of Test cricket, was applauded by spectators for saying this at the presentation ceremony. India is a titan in the world of cricket, but despite this the holders of the ICC’s three pinnacles of cricket trophies are the West Indies, England and New Zealand. We will discover if this order changes in the next cycle.