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.


Paul George leads Clippers over Suns, 106-92 in Game 3

LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 25 June 2021

Paul George leads Clippers over Suns, 106-92 in Game 3

LA Clippers' Patrick Beverley knocks the ball from the hands of Suns' Devin Booker during Game 3 of the NBA West finals on June 24, 2021. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain, leaving George to carry the load again
  • Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center

LOS ANGELES: Paul George scored 27 points and the Los Angeles Clippers pulled away in a dominant third quarter, beating newly returned Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns 106-92 on Thursday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
The Clippers cut their series deficit to 2-1, ending the Suns’ franchise-record playoff winning streak at nine games.
Kawhi Leonard remained out with a right knee sprain, leaving George to carry the load again. After missing two crucial free throws in a one-point loss in Game 2, Paul had 15 rebounds and eight assists and played a game-high 43 minutes. He made 6 of 7 free throws.
The Suns got Paul back after he missed the first two games while being sidelined since June 16 because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The former Clipper, who was booed heartily during intros, had 15 points and 12 assists, but was 5 of 19 from the field.
Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 18 points.
Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, and Ivica Zubac had 15 points and tied his career playoff high with 16 rebounds.
Game 4 is Saturday night at Staples Center.
After Phoenix won the first two games by a combined seven points, the teams played a close first half. Then the Clippers went to work in front of their raucous, Thunder Stix-pounding fans.
They took control with the biggest run of the game, a 21-3 spurt that left them leading 71-56 in the third. Terance Mann got it going with six straight points and Jackson scored four in a row before George scored inside. Zubac dunked off George’s pass and made a pair of free throws. The Suns were limited to a 3-pointer by Paul.
Devin Booker picked up his third and fourth fouls in a 42-second span during the Clippers’ run. Booker — wearing a clear mask to protect his nose that required stitches after he and Patrick Beverley banged heads in Game 2 — was 5 of 21 from the field, making only one of seven 3-point tries, and finished with 15 points.
Jae Crowder, who assisted on Deandre Ayton’s winning dunk on Tuesday, fouled out with 4:51 remaining. He had nine points, six rebounds and six assists.
George capped the third by banking in a 3-pointer from just inside midcourt, and it beat the buzzer, stunning the fans and sending the Clippers into the fourth leading 80-69. He nearly bobbled the ball along the right sideline, with Booker and Cam Johnson pressuring, before getting the shot off.
Luke Kennard opened the fourth with a 3 from the right corner, getting fouled and making the free throw. Marcus Morris hit a three before George got fouled. He confidently made both, keeping the Clippers ahead 89-71.
Cameron Payne, who so ably filled in for Paul in the first two games, went down with a left ankle injury after playing four minutes and didn’t return.

TIP-INS
Suns: Fell to 10-3 in the playoffs, losing for the first time since May 27 against the Lakers at Staples Center in Game 3 of the first round. ... Booker and Beverley were called for double technicals in the third. ... Paul and Booker each missed their first six shots of the game and were both 2 of 10 with seven points each in the first half.
Clippers: Zubac is the first Clipper with a double-double in the first half of a postseason game since DeAndre Jordan on April 30, 2017, against Utah. ... Longtime fan Billy Crystal sat courtside.
 


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.”