Inter’s Serie A title win sees Achraf Hakimi emerge as one of the finest Arab footballers in Europe

Inter’s Serie A title win sees Achraf Hakimi emerge as one of the finest Arab footballers in Europe
Chelsea’s Moroccan playmaker Hakim Ziyech still managed to score the goal that set Chelsea on their way to beat Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 May 2021

Inter’s Serie A title win sees Achraf Hakimi emerge as one of the finest Arab footballers in Europe

Inter’s Serie A title win sees Achraf Hakimi emerge as one of the finest Arab footballers in Europe
  • Madrid-born Moroccan international played a pivotal role in Milan club’s first championship in 11 years

DUBAI: An Egyptian, an Algerian and a Moroccan walk onto a football pitch. The punchline usually involves a curling left-footed shot into the back of the net.

When the topic of best Arab footballers currently playing in Europe comes up, three players inevitably dominate the discussion.

Since joining Liverpool in the summer 2017 Mohamed Salah has attained a level of superstardom that no other Arab footballer had come close to before.

Champions League and Premier League winners’ medals, the Golden Boot - twice, and seemingly countless individual awards, the Egyptian has cleaned up.

Even in a shockingly poor season by Liverpool, he continues to lead the Premier League’s goalscoring charts.

Just over a year before Salah’s move to Anfield, the Algerian Riyad Mahrez had played a heroic role in Leicester City’s sensational title win (which earned him the 2015-16 PFA Player of the Year award), and after joining Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in 2018 would become one of a select group players to win the Premier League title with two different clubs.

In the second half of this season Mahrez has been in stunning form and the coming weeks will surely add another title medal and potentially a Champions League winners medal to his collection.

Standing in his way in the final on May 29 will be Chelsea’s Moroccan playmaker Hakim Ziyech, who, while having a mostly frustrating, inconsistent season, has still managed to score the goal that set Chelsea on their way to a win over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final and, at the weekend, grabbed the equaliser as the London club again beat Guardiola’s team to ensure that the Premier League coronation, inevitable as it is, will have to wait a little longer.

But it’s one of Ziyech’s international teammates that has a strong claim to being one of the outstanding Arab footballers playing in Europe in 2020-21.

And he has managed it well away from the hype machine that is the English Premier League. He also happens to be a defender, in name at least.

Inter Milan’s first Serie A title win in 11 years, ending a run of nine triumphs by Juventus, has been lit up by the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Stefan De Vrij, Lautaro Martínez and Nicolò Barella.

But one of the standout performers has been the brilliant, Madrid-born Moroccan Achraf Hakimi.

Someone at Real Madrid, Hakimi’s hometown club, will at some point have to explain how arguably the best right back in European football has been allowed to escape the Bernabéu, not once, but twice, over the last three years.

Having, at 18, been part of the squad that won the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool - and earlier collected FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup winners’ medals - Hakimi looked set for long and successful career with the Spanish giants.

But with Spanish defender Dani Carvajal - one of the team’s most trusted and senior performers - Hakimi was often reduced comes from the bench.

That summer, after being part of Morocco’s squad at the World Cup in Russia, Hakimi was loaned to Borussia Dortmund on a two-year deal.

At a club that values and encourages young talent, he flourished.

His marauding runs from defence became a feature of the team’s play, and his assists and goals have since earned comparisons with the likes of Trent Alexander Arnold and Reece James, attacking fullbacks which English football seem to suddenly be specializing in.

He won the German Super Cup in 2019, and his individual performances were increasingly drawing attention as opposition defenders struggled to cope with his speed and his deliveries.

Indeed, in February 2020, Hakimi set a Bundesliga speed record of 36.48 km/h against Union Berlin, beating the old record of 36.2 km/h he himself set earlier that season against RB Leipzig.

Hakimi must have thought he had done enough to have another crack at becoming first choice right back Real Madrid, who despite winning La Liga in the Covid-19-disrupted 2019-20 season, were now a shadow of the Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired team he had left two years earlier.

Instead he was sold to Inter for $48.69 million, and Zinedine’s Zidane’s loss would prove Antonio Conte’s gain.

Hakimi has been inspirational for his new team, scoring seven league goals and helping set up many on the way to the championship.

On May 1, he scored the second goal in a 2-0 win over Crotone to put Inter within touching distance of the coveted Seri A title.

The following day, Atalanta’s failure to win at Sassuolo meant the title was heading to the blue and black half of Milan. At 22, Hakimi was a title champion.

No doubt Hakimi and Inter will have their eyes on Champions League success next season, and the Moroccan will also be eyeing glorying with his country at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Cup (taking place at the start of 2022) and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Before that, Middle East, Arab and African audiences could well be hoping to see him take part in FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar next November.

He may not have achieved quite what Salah, Mahrez and Ziyech have and will in the near future, yet, but at only 22 he has plenty of time to catch up with that exalted trio with magical left feet.

And he’ll be doing it all with those devastating runs from way back in the defense.


Saudi basketball team boosts chance of Asia Cup qualification

Saudi basketball team boosts chance of Asia Cup qualification
Updated 13 June 2021

Saudi basketball team boosts chance of Asia Cup qualification

Saudi basketball team boosts chance of Asia Cup qualification
  • National squad next faces Iran

The Saudi national basketball team boosted its chances of qualifying for the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup after defeating Syria 79-77 in extra time on Saturday, the Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah reported.

The match, which took place in Amman, ended in a 69-69 tie in regulation time.

The Saudi team took an early lead and maintained it for most of the game. It could have widened the gap between the teams to more than five points, which would have led to automatic qualification to the tournament taking place in Jakarta this August.

The Saudis must now beat Iran to ensure qualification or rely on a Qatar victory against Syria.

The top two teams in the qualification group progress automatically to the finals.

Iran beat Qatar 84-46 on Saturday. They join Lebanon and Bahrain as teams to have qualified through the first-ever Asia Cup Qualifiers, while Indonesia also qualified as hosts of the event.


Extreme E to find alternative venues to inaugural season’s last two races in South America

Extreme E to find alternative venues to inaugural season’s last two races in South America
Updated 13 June 2021

Extreme E to find alternative venues to inaugural season’s last two races in South America

Extreme E to find alternative venues to inaugural season’s last two races in South America
  • The electric SUV rally series will not take place in Brazil and Argentina due to safety concerns over COVID-19

Extreme E, the electric off-road racing series, has confirmed that it is seeking alternate destinations for the final two races in Season 1 due to the COVID-19 situation in South America.

Extreme E was due to hold its Amazon X Prix in the Brazilian state of Para, between Oct. 23-24, before heading further south to the Glacier X Prix in Patagonia, Argentina, on Dec. 11-12, however having monitored the global pandemic context, it has decided to postpone visiting the region until Season 2.

“We’ve been closely monitoring the situation regarding all Extreme E locations for 2021 and have chosen to make this pre-emptive decision on racing in South America this year,” Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, said. “As a new series embarking on our opening season, our priority is to deliver a five-race calendar of events which are safe and responsible for our global participants, partners and staff to travel to and attend.

The first-ever Extreme E race, the Desert X Prix, took place across the Said desert of AlUla at the start of April and was won by Rosberg X Racing. Former Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg’s team overcame Andretti United and Lewis Hamilton’s X44, who finished second and third on the podium.

The second race was Ocean X Prix in Senegal and the third will be the Arctic X Prix in Greenland at the end of August.

“This was not a decision made lightly, however current travel advice and restrictions have also meant we have been unable to visit the race areas in advance to undertake the necessary reconnaissance visits, which are especially vital due to the remote nature of our operations,” Agag said.

“We will of course continue to support our important reforestation and agroforestry initiatives, which are already well underway in the region thanks to the help of Dr. Francisco Olivieira and our partnership with The Nature Conservancy in Brazil,” he said. “We would also like to thank the local authorities in Brazil and Argentina who have been supportive throughout the whole process and we hope we can return in 2022.”

Alternative race locations are being explored and will be announced in due course. Options include the possibility of the Western Isles, Scotland, ahead of Glasgow hosting COP26 in November.

Each X Prix event uses its sporting platform to highlight a different issue facing the planet, and as well as raising awareness of these problems, also highlights solutions and leaves a long-lasting positive impact in its race locations through its legacy programs.

These programs include planting one million mangroves in Senegal, turtle conservation in the Red Sea, the empowerment and education of children on climate change in Greenland in collaboration with UNICEF, and agroforestry initiatives and reforestation in Para in partnership with The Nature Conservancy.


Adesanya back to his best in UFC 263 win over Vettori

Adesanya back to his best in UFC 263 win over Vettori
Updated 13 June 2021

Adesanya back to his best in UFC 263 win over Vettori

Adesanya back to his best in UFC 263 win over Vettori
  • Masterful return to form for the New Zealander on a wild night at the Gila River Arena
  • Adesanya suffered the first loss of his MMA career in March after moving up a division

LOS ANGELES: Israel Adesanya was back to his brilliant best Saturday, defeating challenger Marvin Vettori with a show of superior striking and defending his middleweight title at UFC 263 in Glendale, Arizona.
It was a masterful return to form for the New Zealander on a wild night at the Gila River Arena that also saw the UFC crown its first-ever Mexican-born champion.
“I didn’t feel any threat at all,” said Adesanya, 31, after getting a comfortable unanimous decision.
Adesanya suffered the first loss of his MMA career in March after moving up a division and finding himself outmuscled.
But Saturday saw him down to a weight class where he is noticeably more comfortable. The Nigerian-born fighter’s speed around the cage and his precision striking, with low kicks and jabs, was too much for Vettori from the first bell.
The Italian tried to use his bigger bulk to get Adesanya to the mat, but each time the New Zealander slipped out and got up to his feet again.
In the end, the judges’ cards read 50-45, 50-45, 50-45 – and Adesanya was back in business, describing himself as “the king.”
There were questions before the fight about the mental toll on Adesanya of his career’s first defeat, and of the death last month of one of his close friends who was attacked on a night out in Auckland.
Adesanya dedicated the fight to his friend, and laid his belt down in the middle of the cage in tribute.
Before Adesanya’s masterclass, the 18,000-odd fans in attendance raised the roof when flyweight challenger Brandon Moreno laid on a rear-naked choke in the third round that saw Brazil’s Deiveson Figueiredo first tap out and then hand over his belt to the Mexican.
Despite his nation’s storied history across all combat sports, there has never before been a Mexican UFC champion and the 27-year-old Moreno broke down in tears as he spoke in the cage afterwards.
“This moment is so amazing,” he said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this. Viva Mexico!”
The pair had thrown up one of the fights of the year when they met at UFC 256 last December, across five rounds of mayhem that was called a majority draw.
This time around, Moreno left nothing to chance, moving with speed and purpose at a high tempo.
Saturday night continued the UFC’s rollout of live events for American fans as the United States emerges from pandemic lockdowns that shut down most action for a year.
The UFC described the Arizona event as a sellout, much like the open-to-the-public events in Jacksonville, Florida, and Houston, Texas.


Clippers beat Jazz in Game 3 of NBA series, cut deficit to 2-1 

Clippers beat Jazz in Game 3 of NBA series, cut deficit to 2-1 
Updated 13 June 2021

Clippers beat Jazz in Game 3 of NBA series, cut deficit to 2-1 

Clippers beat Jazz in Game 3 of NBA series, cut deficit to 2-1 
  • Game 4 is Monday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: Kawhi Leonard had 34 points and 12 rebounds, Paul George added 31 points and the Los Angeles Clippers got back into their second-round series against the Utah Jazz with a 132-106 victory in Game 3 on Saturday night.
Leonard and George each scored at least 30 in the same playoff game for the second time to help the Clippers cut Utah’s series lead to 2-1.
George shot only 34.3 percent from the field in the first two games but was 12 of 24, including 6 of 10 on 3-pointers. He had 13 points in the second quarter, eight during a 13-2 run when LA seized control and took a 57-41 advantage with 2:54 remaining in the first half.
Leonard scored 24 points in the second half. Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum added 17 points apiece for the Clippers.
Game 4 is Monday night at Staples Center.
Donovan Mitchell led Utah with 30 points, his fifth straight games with at least 30. The last player to do that was Leonard last year in the first round against Dallas.
Joe Ingles had 19 points for Utah and Jordan Clarkson added 14. The Jazz were 19 of 44 on 3-pointers, but 17 of 40 inside the arc as the Clippers’ zone defense caused problems.

MITCHELL’S NIGHT
Mitchell missed his first four shots, including a pair of drives to the basket, and didn’t make his first basket until there was 7:34 left in the second quarter. He then proceeded to score Utah’s next 16 points, which included four 3-pointers.
It was the first time in his last 23 games that Mitchell had gone scoreless in the first quarter.

TIP INS
Jazz: Ruby Gobert had 12 points and 10 rebounds. ... Clarkson was assessed a Flagrant-1 foul for slapping Ivica Zubac in the face after a rebound 20 seconds into the second quarter. ... Guard Mike Conley missed his third straight game because of a mild right hamstring strain.
Clippers: LA had struggled from the perimeter in the first two games but was 19 of 36 on 3-pointers Saturday night. Jackson had five 3-pointers, Batum added four and Luke Kennard had a pair in the second half to keep the lead in double digits.
 


Unseeded Krejcikova wins maiden Grand Slam title in Paris

Unseeded Krejcikova wins maiden Grand Slam title in Paris
Updated 12 June 2021

Unseeded Krejcikova wins maiden Grand Slam title in Paris

Unseeded Krejcikova wins maiden Grand Slam title in Paris
  • 25-year-old Czech champion pays emotional tribute to her mentor Jana Novotna

PARIS: Barbora Krejcikova won her maiden Grand Slam singles title at the French Open on Saturday, beating Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to become the first Czech woman in 40 years to conquer Roland Garros before dedicating her victory to former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna who died four years ago.

Krejcikova, ranked 33 in the world and playing just her fifth main draw in a Slams singles event, triumphed 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 for a second career title.

The 25-year-old emulates compatriot Hana Mandlikova who claimed the trophy in Paris in 1981.

The 25-year-old Krejcikova paid an emotional tribute to her mentor Novotna, who died of cancer at the age of 49 in 2017.

“It’s hard to put into words. I cannot believe I have just won a Grand Slam,” said Krejcikova who was still outside the top 100 when the 2020 French Open took place last October.

“I spent a lot of time with Jana before she died. Her last words to me were ‘enjoy tennis and try and win a Grand Slam’.

“I know she’s looking after me. All this is pretty much because she is looking after me.

“It was amazing that I got the chance to meet her. She was such an inspiration. I miss her and I hope she’s really happy,” added Krejcikova who had to save a match point in her semifinal to defeat Maria Sakkari.

Krejcikova, who can also win a third Grand Slam women’s doubles title on Sunday with Katerina Siniakova, was presented with the trophy by Czech-born Martina Navratilova who won two French Opens in 1982 and 1984 but as an American citizen.

Krejcikova will rise to number 15 in the world as a result of her win on Saturday as she became the sixth successive first-time major winner in Paris.

She is also the third unseeded champion at Roland Garros in the last five years after Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 and Iga Swiatek in 2020.

If she adds the doubles on Sunday, she’ll be the first player since Mary Pierce in 2000 to claim both titles at the same Roland Garros.

Pavlyuchenkova was playing in her first Slam final at the 52nd attempt and was attempting to become the third oldest first-time winner of a major.

“I was preparing a speech for this moment ever since I was a little kid and now I am lost for words,” said the 29-year-old.

“Many thanks to my friends who came here from all over the world for one match — maybe they thought this was my one and only chance!

“Congratulations to Barbora. I don’t know how you play singles and doubles. I was dead on the last point.”

In a nervy start to the final, Krejcikova was broken in the first game, serving up two double faults.

However, the Russian was unable to capitalize and dropped the next six games as her Czech opponent grabbed three breaks and raced way with the opener inside half an hour.

Krejcikova was rewarded for her bold attacking, hitting 13 winners to the Russian’s seven.

Pavlyuchenkova, who made her Slam debut back in 2007, was the more composed player in the second set, stretching out to 5-1.

A medical timeout at 5-2, during which she was seen munching Haribo gummy bears, merely delayed the Russian leveling the final.

In the decider, the players exchanged breaks in the third and fourth games, before the Czech broke to love for 4-3 on the back of a 10-shot rally. Pavlyuchenkova saved two championship points in the ninth game and a third in the 10th but Krejcikova became champion on the fourth when the Russian hit long.

Both women capitalized on a draw in which the top seeds fell and just kept falling.

World No. 1 and 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty hobbled out in the second round.

Serena Williams was knocked out in the fourth round, world number two Naomi Osaka withdrew after one match, while 2018 champion Simona Halep never even made it to Paris.