Is Jose Morais on his way to Al-Hilal?

Is Jose Morais on his way to Al-Hilal?
Morais has previously held roles at Saudi clubs Al-Hazm and Al-Shabab. (AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2021

Is Jose Morais on his way to Al-Hilal?

Is Jose Morais on his way to Al-Hilal?
  • Club reported to have had talks with Jose Mourino’s former assistant

Saudi champions Al-Hilal have reportedly reached an agreement with the Portuguese coach Jose Morais to replace Rogerio Micale, according to the Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah.

According to close sources, Morais was chosen due to his vast coaching experience in the region, having previously held roles in Saudi Arabia with Al-Hazm (2007-08) and Al-Shabab (2014-15) — where he won the 2014 Saudi Super Cup — and more recently with South Korean club Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, with whom he won the K League in 2019 and 2020. His success there earned him the K League Manager of the Year award, but he was eventually dismissed from his job last December.

Morais earned acclaim as assistant to Jose Mourinho at several clubs, particularly Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

Now he could be replacing the Brazilian Micale, who was given the role on an interim basis in February after the departure of Razvan Lucescu. Micale had been brought in December 2020 to coach Al-Hilal’s Under-19 squad.

Despite losing 2-0 to Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai in their last Group A fixture, Al-Hilal on Friday qualified to the Round of 16 of the 2021 AFC Champions League, despite losing 2-0 to Shabab Al-Ahly in the sixth and final round of Group A matches, taking advantage of Al-Ahly and Al-Duhail 1-1 draw.

Al Hilal now must prepare for the top of the table clash against Al-Shabab at Prince Khalid bin Sultan Stadium on Friday night, with both teams equal on 48 points with three rounds of the Saudi Professional League left.


‘We will talk:’ Klopp unfazed by Mane’s handshake snub

‘We will talk:’ Klopp unfazed by Mane’s handshake snub
Updated 14 May 2021

‘We will talk:’ Klopp unfazed by Mane’s handshake snub

‘We will talk:’ Klopp unfazed by Mane’s handshake snub
  • Liverpool manager plans to talk with Sadio Mane after the Senegal winger declined to shake his hand
  • Klopp had opted not to start Mane in what was a vital match for Liverpool

ENGLAND: Add an upset player to Jürgen Klopp’s list of team problems as Liverpool scrambles for a Champions League qualification spot.
The Liverpool manager said Friday that he plans to talk with Sadio Mane after the Senegal winger declined to shake his hand as they left the field following Liverpool’s 4-2 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Thursday.
Klopp had opted not to start Mane in what was a vital match for Liverpool to gain ground for a top-four finish in the Premier League. Mane was brought on as a substitute in the second half.
Mane’s scoring pace is off this season but he had netted twice in the previous three games. He shook his head and kept walking when Klopp reached out to him.
“Do you want these things happening? No. But it’s not the first time in my life and I’m afraid to say it will probably not be the last time,” the German manager said at a news conference ahead of Sunday’s game at West Bromwich Albion.
“We will talk about it, and then it will be sorted.”
Klopp went with a front three of Diogo Jota on the left — in Mane’s usual spot — Roberto Firmino in the middle and Mohammed Salah on the right.
After the match, Klopp told Sky that he had made a late decision in training on Wednesday to go with Jota but that he had no time to explain the decision to Mane, which he said he would normally do.
Jota scored in the 34th minute, Firmino netted twice, and Salah added the fourth as Liverpool closed the gap to fourth-place Chelsea to four points, and the Reds have a game in hand.
Klopp, whose team has been slowed by injuries this season, insisted he’s not bothered by the snub.
“If somebody shows me five million times respect and one time not, what is then more important? The world is in a situation where you then make this one time bigger than necessary,” he said.
As a player, “what I did out of emotion, it was insane — and I’m a completely normal guy,” Klopp said.
“Football is an emotional game and everybody expects from us that we control our emotions always, and that doesn’t work out always.”


Turkish F1 canceled, replaced by second Austrian GP

Turkish F1 canceled, replaced by second Austrian GP
Updated 14 May 2021

Turkish F1 canceled, replaced by second Austrian GP

Turkish F1 canceled, replaced by second Austrian GP
  • Turkish Grand Prix, which was drafted onto the calendar as a replacement for the cancelled Canada GP two weeks ago, was axed Friday
  • Covid-19 protocols forces Formula One chiefs to return to the sport's safe haven of Austria

PARIS: The Turkish Grand Prix, which was only drafted onto the Formula One calendar as a replacement for the canceled Canada GP two weeks ago, was itself axed on Friday.
Formula One chiefs, forced into another change due to Covid-19 protocols, announced that they will instead return to the sport’s safe haven of Austria.
The decision was made in the wake of the “announcement of new travel restrictions imposed by several countries in which F1 teams are based, affecting travel from Turkey,” they said.
“Following discussions with the promoter in Turkey and relevant stakeholders, it will not be possible to have the race in Turkey between June 11-13.
“The promoter has requested that we look at the potential opportunity for the race to be rescheduled later in the season if possible, alongside China who made the same request earlier this year.”
Formula One confirmed that there will now be two races in Austria, back to back, with the first race, the Styrian Grand Prix, taking place on June 25-27 and the Austrian Grand Prix taking place on its original date of July 2-4.
As a result of this change the French Grand Prix will move one week earlier to June 18-20.


Barcelona must wait as Xavi signs on at Al-Sadd

Barcelona must wait as Xavi signs on at Al-Sadd
Updated 14 May 2021

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.