England could host Champions League final due to new Turkey travel curbs

Chelsea and Manchester City are due to meet on May 29 in Istanbul and UEFA was hoping to allow around 10,000 fans into the biggest club game of the European football season. (AP/File Photo)
Chelsea and Manchester City are due to meet on May 29 in Istanbul and UEFA was hoping to allow around 10,000 fans into the biggest club game of the European football season. (AP/File Photo)
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Updated 08 May 2021

England could host Champions League final due to new Turkey travel curbs

Chelsea and Manchester City are due to meet on May 29 in Istanbul and UEFA was hoping to allow around 10,000 fans into the biggest club game of the European football season. (AP/File Photo)
  • British government on Friday warned supporters not to travel to Turkey after imposing the new travel restrictions

LONDON: The all-English Champions League final could be played at home after Turkey was added to England’s “red list” of countries where all but essential travel is banned due to severe coronavirus outbreaks.
Chelsea and Manchester City are due to meet on May 29 in Istanbul and UEFA was hoping to allow around 10,000 fans into the biggest club game of the European football season.
But the British government on Friday warned supporters not to travel to Turkey after imposing the new travel restrictions, and said the English Football Association was in talks with Champions League organizer UEFA about staging the game in Britain, instead.
The most logical English venue to move the game to is Wembley with the London stadium staging eight games of the European Championship across June and July, so it has UEFA’s required logistics and broadcasting infrastructure already in place. Wembley was also already due to stage the 2024 Champions League final so it could be moved up three years.
While Villa Park in the central England city of Birmingham has been floated as an option, it is an older stadium that would require significant infrastructure being installed to reach UEFA requirements.
“We are very open to hosting the final but it is ultimately a decision for UEFA,” British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said. “The UK has already got a successful track record of football matches with spectators, so we are well placed to do it.
“Given there are two English clubs in that final, we look forward to what they have to say.”
Turkey is in the second week of a three-week national lockdown and government figures show coronavirus cases are declining but 20,107 new infections were announced on Friday and 278 deaths. The vaccine rollout in Britain meant the country recorded 2,490 cases on Friday and 15 deaths.
People from England should visit only red-list countries “in the most extreme of circumstances,” Shapps said. Anyone returning from them must stay in hotels for 10 days at their own expense, with meals delivered to their door.
Players would also be required to enter quarantine, unless exemptions were granted, which would impact their preparations for the European Championship, which opens on June 11 and is being staged across 10 countries.
If the Champions League final was moved to Wembley, the English Football League would have to accept moving the date of the Championship playoff to determine the final promotion place to the Premier League, which is scheduled to be played at the stadium on May 29.
Wembley in recent weeks has staged the only football games with fans in England in 2021 as part of test events, with the crowd for the FA Cup final on May 15 rising to 21,000 people who have to produce a negative coronavirus test.
At least 22,500 fans will be allowed into the three group-stage Euro 2020 games at Wembley in June, with the 90,000-capacity Wembley set to be half-full for the final on July 11.
The pandemic already prevented Istanbul staging the 2020 Champions League final with the game moved to Lisbon to be played in an empty stadium.


Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million
Updated 4 sec ago

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million

Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racecourse set for world’s most valuable racing weekend with showpiece Saudi Cup worth $20 million
  • Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, highlights rapid progression of the sport as newly promoted Group 1 Saudi Cup headlines $35.1 million two-day meeting in February

The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia has announced that total prize money for the two-day Saudi Cup meeting on Friday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, will increase to $35.1 million, making it the most valuable fixture in global racing.

The Saudi Cup, which will be run as a Group 1 event for the first time, remains the world’s most valuable horse race at $20 million, while five thoroughbred races on the Saturday card have been awarded Group 3 status.

Prize money for both the Group 3 Neom Turf Cup and Group 3 1351 Turf Sprint has increased by $500,000 to $1.5 million. The Obaiya Arabian Classic, a $1 million contest for purebred Arabian horses, was this week promoted to a Group 2 race by the IFAHR.

At a series of press events held via video link from King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Prince Bandar Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, chairman of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, spoke of the rapid progression of racing in the region.

“We could never have imagined the immediate impact the Saudi Cup would have on the international racing landscape, or indeed on our domestic racing product,” Prince Bandar said.

“In 2020 we launched our first ever international meeting and less than three years later we enter our first racing season as a Part II racing nation, having been promoted by the IFHA earlier this month. We are now looking forward to hosting the world’s most valuable race, the Saudi Cup, as a Group 1 for the first time, as well as five Group 3 races on the undercard.

“None of this would have been possible without the buy-in and support of the international racing community and, on behalf of the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia, I would like to thank everyone within the industry for the way they have embraced the Saudi Cup,” he said.

“As the Saudi Cup makes advances, so does our domestic racing offering,” Prince Bandar added. “We continue to focus not only the international aspects of this sport but also understand that building strong foundations upon which a sustainable industry can be built is a vital element to securing the future of this incredible and unique sport for generations to come, both in Saudi Arabia and overseas.”

The highlight on the opening day of the meeting, the STC International Jockeys Challenge, won last year by Ireland’s Shane Foley, will incorporate a turf contest into its four-race format, while a new international turf race, the Listed Al Mneefah Cup, worth $1 million for purebred Arabians, is also being added.

“Despite the global challenges, the 2021 Saudi Cup was a huge success, attracting a truly international field,” said Tom Ryan, the JCSA’s director of strategy and international racing. “We had a brilliant winner in Mishriff who is the perfect example of the high-class horse the race can attract, and his victory showed how well-placed the race is in the calendar.

“Following his subsequent two Group 1 wins, he has proved to be one of the best horses in the world,” he added. “We then had Saudi Cup fourth Knicks Go land the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August, while 11th-placed Max Player was also successful at Saratoga last month in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.”

Ryan said that one of the things the JCSA is most proud of is the versatility of the racing surface at King Abdulaziz Racetrack, with the 2021 Saudi Cup proving conclusively that turf horses can perform on the dirt track and that their form on dirt translates back to turf.

“Mishriff had only run once on dirt before in last year’s Saudi Derby, while this year’s Saudi Derby winner, Pink Kamehameha, had previously only raced on turf in his native Japan,” he said. “We hope this shows owners and trainers all over the world that they can come to Saudi and compete in both our dirt and turf races.”


UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs
Updated 36 min 59 sec ago

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs
  • Local players will hope course knowledge of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club can secure passage to 2 Majors in 2022

DUBAI: Five leading UAE-based amateur golfers have a chance of claiming a once-in-a-lifetime place at both the Masters and the 150th Open championship, at St. Andrews next year, as they line up for a winner-takes-all four days at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Nov. 3-6, 2021 at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

The AAC was created in 2009 by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A to further develop amateur golf across Asia, and the 2021 championship will mark the first edition held in the UAE, one of the APGC’s 42 member countries.

To mark the latest golfing first for the UAE, five of the country’s leading amateurs have been invited to take their place alongside Asia’s finest in the four-round shootout.

The UAE’s No. 1 Ahmad Skaik has secured a spot along with compatriots Khalid Yousuf, Khalifa Al-Masaood and Rashid Al-Emadi. Arkesh Bhatia, another big name on the UAE scene, will be representing India.

“The Dubai Creek championship course is a world-class venue befitting of this prestigious tournament, and the event offers a wonderful opportunity to the top-ranked amateur golfers from across Asia, including some of our top UAE talent,” said Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, chairman of the Emirates Golf Foundation, the sport’s governing body in the country.

“The course provides players with a true test, the home players know it well, so we are set for an intriguing four days of golf and a potentially life-changing opportunity that is sure to bring the best out of the leading UAE players on home soil.”

The UAE players will be hoping that course knowledge will give them an advantage as the AAC champion will receive an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament at Augusta in April 2022 and The Open, two of the four Majors on the global golfing calendar, with the runner-up gaining a place in final qualifying for The Open.

Winning the four-day event will be tough ask, however, as the field includes China’s defending champion Yuxin Lin, who is aiming for an unprecedented third AAC title, and in-form Japanese world No. 1 amateur Keita Nakajima, who has secured two victories in his last three starts.

Over the AAC’s 12-year history, the championship has served as a springboard for some of the world’s top players today, including current Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Australia’s Cameron Smith, Korean Kim Si-woo, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattanond and Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year.


Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 
Updated 40 min 17 sec ago

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 
  • The 23-year-old from Mexico carded eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in a career-high round to lead Lee-Anne Pace by one stroke

DUBAI: Mexican sensation Maria Fassi carded a course-record equalling nine-under par 63 to hold a one-stroke lead over South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace after the first round of the Dubai Moonlight Classic presented by EGA at Emirates Golf Club.    

Rising star Fassi, 23, starting on the 17th hole in the day-to-night competition, carded eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in a thrilling career-high round. The round, her personal best as a professional, included a run of three straight birdies on holes four to six, another trio of consecutive birdies on holes 13 to 15, and a chip-in eagle on hole 16.

Pace led the field for most of her blemish-free round of 64, which featured an opening birdie on hole four that was quickly followed with twin birdies on 8 and 9, an eagle on 10, and further birdies on holes 14,16 and 18. Pace was only usurped at the leaderboard summit by Fassi’s closing eagle, while her playing partner, Germany’s Olivia Cowan, carded a bogey-free seven-under par 65 to sit one stroke ahead of Sweden’s Jessica Karlsson.

“It was pretty flawless today out there,” Fassi said. “It was my first time playing in the dark but it was awesome. I enjoyed it a lot and the course was great. Shooting 63 is a personal best; it’s awesome to tie the course record on the Faldo course, it’s a pretty big deal in my opinion. Now I’ve tied it, I want to beat the course record, but the reality is I just have to keep doing what I did today.”

Pace was happy with her performance and admitted some aspects of night golf were a real positive: “I’ve never played under floodlights before and I struggled in the Pro-Am, but it was a lot easier today — I’m glad I played the Pro-Am now. I like the tournament format, the night golf, it’s nice to sleep in in the morning.”

Welshwoman Lydia Hall and England’s Alice Hewson finished with five-under par rounds of 67, with Hall satisfied with the flat stick after carding 29 putts.

“It was a solid round tee to green. I only missed three greens today and that’s what cost me my two bogeys, but it was a good start to the tournament,” Hall said. “I always start a bit apprehensive as we’re not used to playing in the dark, but it’s a good start. I shot 29 putts today and that’s been my goal all year, to stay under 30, and it seems to be working.”

Two-time Major winner Ariya Jutanugarn, making her Dubai debut and first ever professional round under the floodlights, carded a four-under 68 to stay in touch with the leaders. Jutanugarn is in a chasing pack that includes England’s Bronte Law and Spaniard Carmen Alonso, the trio one ahead of Ariya’s sister Moriya in tied 10th. 

Dame Laura Davies and Solheim Cup-winning captain Catriona Matthew had to settle for one under par rounds of 71.

“I played really well to be honest, it’s a shame I bogeyed the last (17th),” Davies said. “I drove really well, hit a few ropey irons a little bit left, but they were hitting the greens so two putting for par. It was quite an easy one-under par, could have been two or three, but I gave one back at the last.”

Davies also spoke of her delight at the progress Dubai is making in encouraging junior female golfers after participating in a special Emirates Golf Federation clinic with local youngsters. “It’s lovely seeing Dubai grow in the golf world. I did a junior clinic this morning and you wouldn’t have seen that 15 years ago, young girls from the area and all around the UAE coming for a bit of coaching. It’s lovely how Dubai is growing, but also how the game is growing,” Davies said.

One Dubai-based youngster making the headlines earlier this week was Chiara Noja, the 15-year-old who turned pro on the eve of the tournament. After a promising start, Noja finished on one over par after three bogeys in her last six holes.

“I made it a little bit difficult for myself at times, shot some birdies but also a couple of unnecessary bogeys,” Noja said. “I had some really good shots and was two under at one point, but lost it a little bit. I still had a great time. To be honest, this is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time. I went out there, tried to focus on the game and not really think about the pressure of being a pro. The course was incredible, and the greens were great. I loved it.”


Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup
Updated 48 min ago

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup
  • Match result will not affect qualifiers as next year’s tournament is in Uzbekistan meaning hosts already have spot

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday drew 2-2 with Uzbekistan in the opening match of the qualifiers for the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup, a tournament that will also act as a qualification campaign for the Paris Olympics in 2024.

The result of the match, however, will not affect the qualifiers as next year’s tournament is being held in Uzbekistan, meaning the hosts have already secured their spot.

The young Falcons scored through Hamid Al-Ghamdi in the 40th minute, and Abdulmohsen Al-Qahtani two minutes into the second half, while the hosts twice equalized on 45 and 79 minutes.

The Saudi team is playing in Group D alongside Uzbekistan, Kuwait — who will meet Saudi Arabia in the second round matches on Saturday — and Bangladesh, who they face on Nov. 2.

The non-hosting trio will be vying for the two qualification spots for the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup which will take place from Jan. 6 to 24 next year.


Koeman sacked as Barcelona coach with Xavi the favorite to come in

Koeman sacked as Barcelona coach with Xavi the favorite to come in
Updated 28 October 2021

Koeman sacked as Barcelona coach with Xavi the favorite to come in

Koeman sacked as Barcelona coach with Xavi the favorite to come in
  • Koeman was dismissed after Barca was relegated to ninth place in La Liga after a loss to Rayo Vallecano
  • He spent six years at Barcelona as a player and is considered a club legend

MADRID: Ronald Koeman has been sacked as coach of Barcelona, the club announced on Wednesday, with former midfielder Xavi Hernandez the favorite to replace him.
Koeman was dismissed after a 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano left the team sitting ninth in La Liga.
Barca have won only two of their last seven league games under Koeman, a run that included losing to Real Madrid in Sunday’s Clasico at Camp Nou.
A poor start to the season has raised the possibility of the team failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League, which would have enormous consequences for the club’s already dire financial situation.
Xavi, who is currently in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd, is considered Koeman’s most likely successor.
Barcelona B coach Sergi Barjuan could take charge of the first team on an interim basis, with games against Alaves, Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, and Celta Vigo to come before the next international break.
River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag have also been linked with Barcelona but might be reluctant to leave their respective posts mid-season.
A club statement released after midnight in Spain on Wednesday read: “FC Barcelona has relieved Ronald Koeman of his duties as first team coach.
“The president of the club, Joan Laporta, informed him of the decision after the defeat against Rayo Vallecano. Ronald Koeman will say goodbye to the squad on Thursday at the Ciutat Esportiva.
“FC Barcelona wishes to thank him for his service to the Club and wishes him all the best in his professional career.”
Koeman spent six years at Barcelona as a player and is considered a club legend after scoring the winning goal in the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria.
He was appointed coach by Barca’s previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu in August 2020 and enjoyed some success in his first season, winning the Copa del Rey and bringing a disillusioned Lionel Messi back onside.
But a disappointing finish in La Liga and a convincing defeat by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last 16 cast doubt over Koeman’s ability to navigate the biggest games, a criticism that was aimed at him again last weekend following the loss to Real Madrid.

Laporta was re-elected as president in March and while he allowed Koeman to continue as coach this season, there was never much trust between the pair.
Laporta told Koeman in the summer he wanted two weeks to look for a replacement while Koeman reacted badly last month to Laporta suggesting coaches do not have all the power.
“He spoke too much,” Koeman said.
No replacement was found or could be persuaded to take over, perhaps in part because of Barcelona’s perilous financial problems.
The club is 1.35 billion euros in debt and had to watch Messi join PSG in August after failing to renew the Argentinian’s contract.
Other key players like Antoine Griezmann also departed without being adequately replaced as Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay both arrived on free transfers and Luuk de Jong came from Sevilla on loan.
“The team has lost balance in the squad, lost very effective players, which shows,” said Koeman after his last game in charge against Rayo. “In recent years other clubs have strengthened every season and we haven’t, which also shows.”
Koeman’s honest approach was largely accepted and even appreciated last season but his downbeat assessment of his squad this term was seen by many as counter-productive and not befitting of a Barcelona coach.
Youngsters like Pedri, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez, Sergino Dest and Ronald Araujo have all benefitted from Koeman’s faith but more established players have suffered a drop in form.
Frenkie de Jong, who knew Koeman from his time in charge of the Dutch national team, has endured a particularly disappointing few weeks.
There was criticism of Koeman’s style of play, which became increasingly direct, while the board were reportedly irritated by his straying from the club’s traditions of playing 4-3-3.
But results were the key factor, as consecutive 3-0 defeats by Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League were followed by losses against both Atletico and Real Madrid in the league.
Laporta said before the international break Koeman “deserved the benefit of the doubt,” moving to end speculation that he would lose his job after the defeat by Atletico.
But faced with an early exit in the Champions League and the possibility of failing to make the top four in La Liga, Laporta, who was at Vallecas on Wednesday night, decided to act.