Barcelona must wait as Xavi signs on at Al-Sadd

Xavi, who has already turned down an approach from Barcelona, needs more experience before heading to his former club, experts say. (AFP/File Photo)
Xavi, who has already turned down an approach from Barcelona, needs more experience before heading to his former club, experts say. (AFP/File Photo)
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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.


UK PM urged to come to aid of Afghan girls’ football team

UK PM urged to come to aid of Afghan girls’ football team
Updated 26 September 2021

UK PM urged to come to aid of Afghan girls’ football team

UK PM urged to come to aid of Afghan girls’ football team
  • Team, some as young as 12, currently stranded in Lahore on temporary visas
  • Chairman of Premier League side Leeds United offers assistance, housing, education, training

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to help resettle Afghanistan’s junior women’s football team in Britain.
The 35-strong team plus 101 other associated people, including coaches and family members, are currently in Lahore where they have been granted temporary refuge until Oct. 12 after a personal intervention by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan helped get them out of Afghanistan after the country fell to the Taliban. 

They are being supported by the Rokit Foundation, NGO Football for Peace, and the chairman of English Premier League side Leeds United, Andrea Radrizzani, who has offered to “give the girls a prosperous and peaceful future,” helping with housing, employment for relatives, education and training opportunities with the club’s youth teams.

The team only escaped Afghanistan after an initial attempt to fly them to Qatar was scuppered by the deterioration of security in Kabul, with many of the girls facing additional threats from the Taliban on account of coming from various ethnic and religious minorities.

Rokit CEO Siu-Anne Marie Gill said the team’s departure from Afghanistan had become high-profile following Khan’s intervention, and members would be at great risk were they to return to the country.

“There were photos of their faces on TV, they will be in even more danger now,” she told The Guardian. “They’re the girls that got out. They cannot go back to Afghanistan, we have got to make this happen.”

She said she had written to Johnson to ask the UK to add the team, some of whom are as young as 12, to the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, after Australia offered sanctuary to the senior women’s team.

She added that other football clubs and local authorities in the UK have also offered support for the team should they be added to the ACRS.

Kashif Siddiqi, a former Pakistan footballer and co-founder of Football for Peace, said: “The race is on to find them a permanent safe haven. These girls were on the path for development for the national football team. Now, the very thing that gave them hope has become a risk to their life.”

The UK government said it is “urgently” looking into the matter “as part of the wider resettlement scheme.”


Lewis Hamilton wins 100th Formula One Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton wins 100th Formula One Grand Prix
Updated 26 September 2021

Lewis Hamilton wins 100th Formula One Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton wins 100th Formula One Grand Prix
  • The champion reached the unprecedented century in his Mercedes after being stuck on 99 since the British Grand Prix in July
  • Hamilton also claimed the championship lead by two points from Max Verstappen, who finished second

SOCHI: Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix for his 100th Formula One Grand Prix success on Sunday.
In treacherous rain the seven-time world champion reached the unprecedented century in his Mercedes after being stuck on 99 since the British Grand Prix in July.
Hamilton also claimed the championship lead by two points from Max Verstappen, who finished second.
After taking his 100th chequered flag 14 years after his first in Canada Hamilton told his team on the car radio: “Phew. That was hard work man!“
The 36-year-old Briton looked destined to come away for the fifth race stuck on the 99 mark with McLaren’s Lando Norris firmly in command up front.
But with five laps to go, the rain that had been threatening the 15th round of the championship for so long arrived, causing mayhem.
With cars fitted with slicks starting to lose grip and coming in for intermediates Hamilton joined them, leaving Norris leading.
But with three laps left and Norris a sitting duck and sliding all over the circuit Hamilton eventually hit the front to finally nail the magic number of victories.
After jumping out of his car he said: “The rain came, it was very opportunistic, the team did a great job, I’m grateful for the points.”


Joshua wants Usyk rematch ‘110 percent’

Joshua wants Usyk rematch ‘110 percent’
Updated 26 September 2021

Joshua wants Usyk rematch ‘110 percent’

Joshua wants Usyk rematch ‘110 percent’
  • Usyk's victory extended his unbeaten professional record to 19 wins
  • Joshua is determined to face Usyk again

LONDON: Anthony Joshua said he was “110 percent” likely to activate a rematch clause with Oleksandr Usyk after losing his world heavyweight titles to the Ukrainian in stunning fashion in London on Saturday
Usyk gave a boxing masterclass in recording a unanimous points victory to deprive Joshua of his World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization belts in front of the dethroned champion’s home crowd of more than 66,000 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
His victory extended Usyk’s unbeaten professional record to 19 wins and scuppered the prospects of an all-British world heavyweight title unification bout between Joshua and Tyson Fury.
It also meant Usyk became just the third cruiserweight world champion after Evander Holyfield of the United States and Britain’s David Haye to also take a heavyweight title, with the 34-year-old achieving the feat in just his third professional contest in the heavyweight ranks.
The contract for this bout, however, contained a rematch clause.
And Joshua, who previously lost his belts when beaten by Andy Ruiz in New York in June 2019 before regaining the titles in a rematch in Saudi Arabia six months later, is determined to face Usyk again.
“A hundred percent, 110 percent,” he told a post-fight press conference. “I’m ready to get back to training.
“There’s an old saying ‘If you want to go down as a great fighter, don’t fight southpaws’, especially good ones. He (Usyk) is a good fighter.”
Joshua suffered a badly swollen right eye which required medical attention in a fight where only the bell appeared to save him from a last-round knockout.
“I couldn’t see in the ninth round,” explained Joshua. “My eye was shut, but it was a good experience, because in adversity, you’ve just got to learn to control yourself... it’s the first time it’s happened in a fight.”
Joshua, sounding remarkably upbeat despite a convincing loss, insisted: “I’m a different kind of animal. I’m not a sulker, this is a blessed opportunity to be able to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.
“Straight away I’ve already been watching the fight and figuring out what I could have done better.”
Joshua’s defeat put paid to a fight anytime soon with Fury, who defends his World Boxing Council heavyweight title against Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas next month — the third time the pair have met after a split-decision draw and a win for Fury.
Joshua, however, insisted: “I’ll fight Tyson Fury, Wilder, without the belts. It’s great, it’s legacy but with or without the belts I’ll fight whoever.”
Usyk, three years older than Joshua, also made light of giving away three inches (7.62 centimeters) in height as well as nearly 20lbs (nine kilogrammes) in weight during his latest triumph in London following a heavyweight gold medal at the 2012 Olympics — a Games where Joshua took the super-heavyweight title.
“London is a really lucky city for me but not a single professional victory can be above an Olympic gold,” said Usyk via a translator.
“At this point it is the biggest fight in my career but it wasn’t the hardest one. I cannot say (who was) but, most likely, it’s ahead of us.”
Most of Usyk’s wins have come outside Ukraine, with the new champion — who spent three months in a preparation camp away from his wife and family — adding: “I would love to have the rematch at Olympiyskiy Stadium in Kiev.”
But Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, suggested any rematch would be in Britain, in February or March.
Hearn said a defeat by the “outstanding” Usyk was easier to accept than the “bolt from the blue” that was the first Ruiz fight.
“I think in a strange way he (Joshua) enjoyed the fight because I think he knows he learnt so much and, deep down he knows he was beaten by the better man tonight,” he said.
“I think you need to credit him (Joshua) because he could have swerved that fight easy and maybe we should have, but that’s not really what he’s about.”
Hearn, who questioned whether Usyk could hit the same heights again after a “perfect fight,” added: “Anything can happen, but AJ will, I promise you, be much, much better than that in the re-match.”


Noura Al-Brahim looks toward a winning future with Saudi women’s futsal team

Noura Al-Brahim looks toward a winning future with Saudi women’s futsal team
Updated 26 September 2021

Noura Al-Brahim looks toward a winning future with Saudi women’s futsal team

Noura Al-Brahim looks toward a winning future with Saudi women’s futsal team
  • Al-Yamamah Club player is part of the squad participating in training camp in Croatia

Noura Abdulmohsen Al-Brahim of Al-Yamamah Club in Riyadh has revealed her pride in representing her country after joining the Saudi women’s futsal team in the training camp with Croatia.

“I am full of enthusiasm and desire to win and raise the name of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia high and to be the best possible representative for my country,” she told Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah.

Al-Brahim pointed out that the Women’s Football Department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation has continued to provide strong moral support to all players ahead of their coming commitments in the Gulf and Asian championships.

Noura Al-Brahim with Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee President Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. (Arriyadiyah)

On being part of the Saudi squad at the Croatian training camp, she called her experience “special and exceptional,” adding: “I’ve learned many things about the game that are new to me. This trip also allowed me to learn about different cultures and learn about new ideas and ways to play football.”

Speaking about her ambitions, Al-Brahim that her goal is to be Saudi’s best player and help the national women’s team become a force on the international stage.

As part of the camp that will run until Sept. 28, the Saudi women’s team beat Serbian team ZFK Zemun 7-5 on Thursday and dedicated the victory to the nation’s 91st National Day.


Tokyo Olympic stars to feature as world basketball 3x3 championship returns to Abu Dhabi

Tokyo Olympic stars to feature as world basketball 3x3 championship returns to Abu Dhabi
Updated 26 September 2021

Tokyo Olympic stars to feature as world basketball 3x3 championship returns to Abu Dhabi

Tokyo Olympic stars to feature as world basketball 3x3 championship returns to Abu Dhabi
  • 12 teams will take part in the International Basketball Federation tournament in October

ABU DHABI: The Abu Dhabi Masters World 3x3 Basketball, in cooperation with the International Basketball Federation, is set to take place in a custom-built arena at the UAE capital’s Marina Mall on Oct. 29-30.

The 3x3 world championships, part of the world tour, returns to the capital city for the first time in five years, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council announced.

This year’s championship brings together the world’s elite 3x3-basketball players as well as some of the stars that took part in the recent Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The Abu Dhabi Masters will also welcome overseas spectators after the capital opened its borders to travelers who have had the COVID-19 vaccine.

The 3x3 format, which made its debut at the Tokyo Olympics, has seen a noticeable increase in popularity in recent years thanks to the simplicity of its rules and its fast pace.

“We are pleased to host the FIBA 3x3 Worlds once again in Abu Dhabi in cooperation with the International Basketball Federation,” said Aref Hamad Al-Awani, general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

“The popularity of tri-basketball has increased after its first appearance at the Tokyo Olympics, and we are confident of the success that the tournament will achieve, especially in conjunction with the prosperity that the capital is experiencing with its agenda full of prestigious international sporting events for this season.”

The event will include 12 international teams, including four sides that are in the top five spots in the FIBA world tour.

Liman from Serbia, currently the No.1 ranked team on the world tour, will be looking to consolidate their position while the Latvian side Riga, the gold medallists in Tokyo, the Belgian team Antwerp and Dutch side Utrecht, ranked third and fourth respectively, will be challenging for the lead.

Ahead of the tournament, the ADSC will hold the Abu Dhabi Community Tri-Basketball Championship, with 24 teams in the fray from Oct. 8-15.

The winner of this qualifier will represent Abu Dhabi on Oct. 29-30.

However, it will be the top-12 ranked teams in the world tour who will travel to the Jeddah final in December.

This will be the first time the competition has been held in Abu Dhabi since two consecutive rounds were in 2015 and 2016.

Alex Sanchez, FIBA tri-basketball director, said: “The two world tri-basketball tournaments that were held in Abu Dhabi in 2015 and 2016 are still some of the most successful editions of the tournament ever, and this is exactly what prompted us to collaborate with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council once again to organize the world championship to take place in its second home.”

The Abu Dhabi 3x3 Worlds has a prize fund of $150,000 on offer. The winners will receive 40,000 while the second and third placed teams take away $30,000 and $20,000 respectively.