Amr Zedan’s Medina Spirit races to Kentucky Derby triumph

Amr Zedan’s Medina Spirit races to Kentucky Derby triumph
The 46-year-old Zedan, who founded Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky five years ago, was delighted with the win. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 May 2021

Amr Zedan’s Medina Spirit races to Kentucky Derby triumph

Amr Zedan’s Medina Spirit races to Kentucky Derby triumph
  • The owner, who is also the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation and a board member of the Saudi Equestrian Authority, bought the horse for $35,000 last year

Medina Spirit, owned by Amr Zedan of Saudi Arabia, won the Kentucky Derby by a half-length in front of a limited crowd on Saturday, with Mandaloun and Hot Rod Charlie coming in second and third respectively.

The win ensured that Bob Baffert, with seven Kentucky Derby wins, is the most successful trainer in the race’s history, while jockey John Velazquez has four Derby wins to his name.

The 46-year-old Zedan, who founded Zedan Racing Stables in Kentucky five years ago, was delighted with the win.

“This is really surreal,” he said after the race. “I really just can’t believe it.”

Zedan also had special praise for Median Spirit’s legendary American trainer.

“With Bob, you’re just witnessing art in motion and I can’t thank him enough,” he added.

Zedan bought Medina Spirit for $35,000 last year, and now the chairman of the Saudi Polo Federation and a board member of the Saudi Equestrian Authority has achieved a lifelong ambition in winning one of the world’s most famous races.

Speaking to Arab News in early February, Zedan was hopeful that one of his horses would challenge for the Kentucky Derby.

“My dream is to win the Derby some day, if not this year, then next year. We keep trying. That is the mission of Zedan Racing Stables,” he said.


Barcelona must wait as Xavi signs on at Al-Sadd

Barcelona must wait as Xavi signs on at Al-Sadd
Updated 19 min 29 sec ago

Barcelona must wait as Xavi signs on at Al-Sadd

Barcelona must wait as Xavi signs on at Al-Sadd
  • Spanish World Cup winner touted as Ronald Koeman’s replacement will now have fresh shot at AFC Champions League

RIYADH: It will not have escaped the attention of Barcelona President Joan Laporta that former boss Pep Guardiola won his third English Premier League title on Tuesday just as Ronald Koeman’s men drew with Levante to leave hopes of a La Liga title fading.

However, there was a bit of good news for Koeman this week when Xavi Hernandez signed a two-year extension to his contract as head coach of Qatar’s Al-Sadd. The Dutchman has never really looked secure in Spain and it did not help having a potential Guardiola Mark II waiting in the wings.

The name of Xavi, a former team-mate of Guardiola and a key member of his team that won four La Liga titles and two UEFA Champions League prizes and plenty more besides, has long been swirling around the Catalan city. Ever since the Spanish star, a visionary midfielder, hung up those boots, he has been talked about as a future Barca boss by people who know what they are talking about.

In 2019, Guardiola said: “Xavi was already a manager when he played. His eyes sparkled watching football. You have to give him time. Sooner or later, he will manage Barcelona. It would excite me to see him manage Barcelona.”

The current Manchester City boss is not the only one to manage Xavi and see his coaching potential. The midfielder became World and European champion with Spain under Vicente Del Bosque. “The time will come when he will be the ideal man for Barcelona,” Del Bosque said last year.

For some that time is now. Guardiola was 37 when he took over the first team, Xavi is 41, but while a return to Barcelona is surely going to happen, he may not quite be ready to follow in the footsteps of his former team-mate and boss just yet.

In May 2019, Xavi took his first coaching job, not in Spain or even Europe, but Qatar. He had finished his playing days with Al-Sadd and stayed in Doha in a different role. There were a couple of cups in 2020 but there has rarely been, anywhere, such a dominant campaign as the Qatar Stars League (QSL) just finished. Al-Sadd, full of Qatari internationals, not only won the title but did so unbeaten with a goal difference of, wait for it, plus 63.

Solid at the back, Al-Sadd were unstoppable going forward. Led by the fantastic Santi Cazorla and the prolific Algerian attacker Baghdad Bounedjah with the 2019 Asian Player of the Year Akram Afif darting around on the wings, the team carried threats from all over the pitch.

With such dominance at home, it was understandable Al-Sadd’s ambitions were turning toward the AFC Champions League long before the QSL season finished. If Xavi could add the continental title to his domestic success, then his status as one of the world’s most promising coaches would be assured.

He had Asian experience. The four-time UEFA Champions League winner led Al-Sadd to the last four and an exciting defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabian giants Al-Hilal in 2019. In 2020 there was a second-round loss to Persepolis of Iran. Expectations this year were high, especially as the group was winnable. There was Al-Nassr of Saudi Arabia, a team that entered the tournament on the back of inconsistent league form, Foolad — not one of Iran’s powerhouses — and Jordan’s Al-Wehdat.

Yet Al-Sadd fell at the first hurdle. It started with a draw against Foolad and a loss to Al-Nassr. Back-to-back wins against Al-Wehdat, making their first appearance in the tournament, and then victory over Foolad brought the second-round within sight. All that was needed was a draw in the final game to make it to the last 16 but Al-Nassr ran out 2-1 winners.

Xavi complained about the conditions of the pitches and refereeing decisions, but he did make some mistakes, especially in the two games with Al-Nassr. Under coach Mano Menezes, the Riyadh team drew Al-Sadd forward, and kept their nerve, shape, and discipline to hit on the break. It was the perfect tournament performance from the Saudis.

In the return match, there were some questionable decisions but ultimately, Al-Sadd failed to get through a group they should have got through.

It suggested that Xavi, who has already turned down an approach from Barcelona, needs more experience before heading to his former club. Two more years with Al-Sadd, and more challenges, could be a wise move.


Lankan experts highlight Saudi Arabia’s potential to build own cricket team

Lankan experts highlight Saudi Arabia’s potential to build own cricket team
Updated 14 May 2021

Lankan experts highlight Saudi Arabia’s potential to build own cricket team

Lankan experts highlight Saudi Arabia’s potential to build own cricket team
  • Saudi Arabia urged to liaise with international allies to promote the sport

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka, a World Cup cricket champion, has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s interest in the sport, with experts saying the Kingdom has the “full potential” to develop its cricketing skills and compete in the field.

To facilitate the process, Saudi Ambassador in Colombo Abdul Nasser Al-Harthy told Arab News on Monday that he would coordinate with the Kingdom’s Sports Ministry to discuss “how best Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia could cooperate in developing this sport.”

Earlier in March, Prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud, chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF), announced a series of initiatives focused on promoting the game among Saudis and expatriate residents in
the Kingdom.

These included the launching of a corporate-level cricket tournament, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social cricket program across cities in the country to increase participation at the community, club, and international levels.

Several SACF initiatives have already been launched this year, among them the National Cricket Championship, played across 11 cities and part of four programs that the organization signed with the Saudi Sports for All Federation.

Launched in February, it is the largest cricket tournament ever held in the Kingdom.

Welcoming the initiative, cricket legend Roy Dias, who was the first Sri Lankan to score 1,000 test runs and 1,000 One-Day runs in 1984, told Arab News on Monday that the Kingdom has the “full potential to develop the sport at a competitive level.”

“I have watched Saudi cricketers playing alongside Pakistani sportsmen during friendly matches in the Middle East, and they performed very well,” Dias, 68, said, adding that he hoped that Saudi Arabia would form its indigenous cricket team soon.

Dias, who visited GCC countries between 2001 to 2010 as a national cricket coach for Nepal, said that Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain were “already active in the field of cricket.”

“Saudi Arabia is most welcome to this cluster,” Dias, a former cricket coach for the island nation and currently employed with the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, said, predicting that a Saudi team would bring in “new experiences coupled with resourceful skills.”

For this purpose, he added, Saudi Arabia could start by introducing school-level cricket for under-15 students, “which would kindle children’s and parental interest, which are sine qua non to develop good cricket.”

He also advised the Kingdom to coordinate with its international allies for expertise in the field.

“Sri Lanka can assist Saudi Arabian cricket in coaching through the Asian Cricket Council so that Sri Lanka could cooperate with the Kingdom in developing the cricket skills of its nationals by participating in council’s tournaments,” he said.

Shums Fahim, a senior editor of the Thinakaran Tamil daily and an expert on the game, agrees: “Saudi team is one of the active players in the Soccer World Cup and I sincerely wish that its cricketers could show better skills to reach the World Cup level in cricket too.”

According to data from 2017-2018, more than 30 percent of the Saudi

population are expats, with the total number of non-Saudis estimated to be 10,736,293.

In the early 1970s, cricket was played mainly by expatriates in the soccer-crazy country. This remains the case even today, with most players in its cricket team hailing from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In 2001, under the royal patronage of Princess Ghada Bint Hamoud Bin Abdulaziz, Saudi attained legal status to organize cricket in the Kingdom.

In 2003, it became an affiliate of the International Cricket Council (ICC).


Djokovic sweeps into quarters in front of ‘great’ Rome crowd

Djokovic sweeps into quarters in front of ‘great’ Rome crowd
Updated 14 May 2021

Djokovic sweeps into quarters in front of ‘great’ Rome crowd

Djokovic sweeps into quarters in front of ‘great’ Rome crowd
  • Fifth seed Tsitsipas ended the run of home hope Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in one hour and 36 minutes

ROME: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic swept into the Italian Open quarterfinals on Thursday with a straight-sets win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in front of spectators at the Foro Italico.

The five-time Rome champion won 6-2, 6-1 in 70 minutes against the 48th-ranked Spaniard, with the venue filled to 25 percent of capacity for the first time amid the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“It was not good, it was great. I missed the crowd,” said the 33-year-old, who next plays Stefanos Tsitsipas in a rematch of last year’s French Open semifinal which the Serbian won.

Fifth seed Tsitsipas ended the run of home hope Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in one hour and 36 minutes.

“It always feels like home coming back to Rome,” said Djokovic, who has never failed to reach the quarterfinals in his 15 appearances in the clay court event.

“Honestly, with the amount of love and appreciation that I get and respect from people here, not just on the court, but outside in the organization here, from the drivers, the restaurant, people in hotel, everyone is really super kind to me.

“Maybe it helps that I speak Italian. Probably does. I love Italy. Who doesn’t?

“Each year the love affair grows even more because the bond is stronger and stronger.

“Hopefully I can feel a little bit of that love more tomorrow so I can keep on progressing in the tournament.”

After losing his opening service game, Djokovic powered back with five breaks of serve, outclassing his rival, despite a late fightback, to seal the win on his sixth match point.

“He started well, but I managed to break back straight away and establish the control and consistency,” said the 18-time Grand Slam winner.

Djokovic has a 4-2 winning head-to-head record against Monte Carlo champion Tsitsipas who knocked out Madrid Open runner-up Berrettini.

“I hope to do better this time,” said Tsitsipas, who lost a five-set marathon to Djokovic at Roland Garros last year.

Djokovic has won his past seven quarter-finals in Rome, with an 11-3 record in the last eight. Tsitsipas reached the semi-finals in Rome in 2019.

American Reilly Opelka also advanced to his second Masters 1000 quarter-final with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 victory against in-form Russian Aslan Karatsev.

The 23-year-old hit 18 aces and saved two set points at 4/6 in the first-set tie-break to set up a meeting with either Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime or Argentinian Federico Delbonis in the last eight.


UEFA Champions League final moved from Istanbul to Porto due to UK-Turkey travel restrictions

The match has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao, home of FC Porto, to allow English spectators to attend as travel between the UK and Turkey is suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters/File Photo)
The match has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao, home of FC Porto, to allow English spectators to attend as travel between the UK and Turkey is suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 13 May 2021

UEFA Champions League final moved from Istanbul to Porto due to UK-Turkey travel restrictions

The match has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao, home of FC Porto, to allow English spectators to attend as travel between the UK and Turkey is suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • The match on May 29 has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao to allow English spectators to attend

PARIS: UEFA announced on Thursday that the Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea had been moved from Istanbul to Porto.

The match on May 29 has been switched to the Estadio do Dragao to allow English spectators to attend as travel between the UK and Turkey is suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, European football’s governing body announced up to 6,000 supporters from each club will be able to attend.

“We accept that the decision of the British Government to place Turkey on the red list for travel was taken in good faith and in the best interests of protecting its citizens from the spread of the virus but it also presented us with a major challenge in staging a final featuring two English teams,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said in a statement.

“After the year that fans have endured, it is not right that they don’t have the chance to watch their teams in the biggest game of the season,” he added.

UK citizens returning from red list countries are required to quarantine at a government-approved hotel for 10 days.

Earlier this week, newspaper reports claimed the match would be played at Wembley Stadium.

Supporters groups from the Blues and City had requested the game be moved to England.

The UK’s Transport secretary Grant Shapps said he would have welcomed the fixture being played in London.

“The difficulties of moving the final are great and the FA and the authorities made every effort to try to stage the match in England and I would like to thank them for their work in trying to make it happen,” Ceferin said.

UEFA said coronavirus rules in the UK made it difficult to hold the fixture in the English capital.

“UEFA discussed moving the match to England but, despite exhaustive efforts on the part of the Football Association and the authorities, it was not possible to achieve the necessary exemptions from UK quarantine arrangements,” it said.

The final capacity at the ground in northern Portugal is still to be set.

Last season’s final as well as a ‘Final 8’ tournament for the quarter-finals were also held in Portugal, but in the capital Lisbon.

“Once again we have turned to our friends in Portugal to help both UEFA and the Champions League and I am, as always, very grateful to the FPF (Portuguese Football Association) and the Portuguese Government for agreeing to stage the match at such short notice,” Ceferin said.

The last round of the country’s top-flight Primeira Liga will see spectators return to stadia on May 19, with a limited number of people permitted, the league said on Wednesday.


Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region
Updated 13 May 2021

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region
  • The Abu Dhabi side won the Arabian Gulf League with a policy of promoting young players instead of big-money signings

DUBAI: When Al-Jazira announced the signing of the UAE’s most high-profile player Omar Abdulrahman in August of 2019, all talk within the Arabian Gulf League fan bases was of the capital club spending their way to glory.

After all, Al-Jazira were unveiling a player who just three years earlier had been crowned Asia’s best and linked to European moves summer after summer. Lined up alongside him was another stellar signing, albeit less flashy; fellow UAE international midfielder Amer Abdulrahman.

The two would be joining a star-studded squad including the nation’s all-time top scorer Ali Mabkhout, Brazilian winger Kenno and South African international midfielder Thulani Serero.

The arrival of big-name signings was a familiar sight at a club that had over the previous 20 years been home to the likes of George Weah, Phillip Cocu, Mirko Vucinic and Ricardo Oliveira.

Twenty-one months, a global pandemic and a canceled season later, the title did indeed arrive to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, but Al-Jazira’s path to glory could not have been any different to the expectations of two years earlier.

For starters, both Abdulrahmans have left the club. After failing to establish himself at Al-Jazira, Amer headed to Bani Yas, where he rediscovered his best form, becoming a key cog in a side that pushed his former employers until the last day of a two-horse title race. Omar fared slightly better at Al-Jazira, but a succession of injuries led to his contract termination and he went on to join Shabab Al-Ahli where he is yet to make an appearance in four months.

On the title-deciding night, it was another Omar who stole the headlines with a brace against Khorfakkan. The difference between the two Omars embodied the change of direction over the past 24 months, which culminated with a third league title for the Pride of Abu Dhabi. Omar Traore was scouted and recruited from Stade Malien aged 18. The little-known prospect from West Africa was registered under the “resident player” category, which allows Emirati clubs to register foreign players under the age of 20 outside the standard four-player quota applicable in domestic competitions.

Traore’s Man of the Match performance was just part of a bigger picture as Al-Jazira reaped the rewards of a strategy that saw them switch focus to youth and intelligent recruitment. Of the 11 players who started against Khorfakkan on Tuesday, four were under the age of 23. In fact, Al-Jazira were able to win the league with the youngest squad average age in the entire competition at just 25.2, including nine players under 23 in their squad.

Champions in 2010-11 and 2016-17, this latest Arabian Gulf League success will feel special for many Al-Jazira faithful, with six academy graduates at the core of it. Defenders Mohammed Al-Attas and Khalifa Al-Hammadi have played side by side since the age of 11 and both made their debuts as 17-year-olds. The pair became inseparable, earning their international call-ups and establishing themselves as mainstays for club and country before turning 24.

Then there is Abdullah Ramadan. Born in the UAE to Egyptian parents, the mercurial midfielder shone at every level. After being granted citizenship, he was called up to the national team and excelled for the UAE in the 2020 AFC U23 Championship as the young Whites reached the quarter-finals. That January in Thailand, it was a fellow Al-Jazira academy product who walked away with the Golden Boot; Zayed Al-Ameri has been hailed as the heir to Mabkhout’s throne as the club’s future goal machine.

This shift of direction and subsequent success at Al-Jazira was no coincidence. Sporting Director Mads Davidsen was recruited from Chinese side Shanghai SIPG last year. Earlier this season, he outlined the club’s vision.

“We have described our style of play as a club, that will never change. Even if the coach does change, the style of play, the football philosophy will never change. That is the core of our strategy,” said the Dane.

“A club-defined style of play, club-defined methodology, club-defined recruitment strategy. We look at recruitment differently. We look internally first where most people look externally. Every time you buy a player, it delays someone’s development.”

With the playing style clearly defined, Dutch tactician Marcel Keizer was brought back for a second spell at the club after winning a domestic double with Sporting Lisbon. The 52-year-old built on a legacy of Dutch success at the club, becoming the second Dutchman to win the league title at Al-Jazira after Ten Cate in 2016-17.

The margins might have been fine at the end, with Al-Jazira ending the season just three points ahead of their nearest chasers Bani Yas. But in proving their sustainable success philosophy can deliver results, the Pride of Abu Dhabi have shown other clubs the way forward in a region where short-termism and spending on star names is often perceived as the only sure way to success.