Riyad Mahrez can draw inspiration from Mohamed Salah and rebound from Champions League heartbreak next season

Manchester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (C) jumps over Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (L) as defender Antonio Ruediger (R) chases them during the UEFA Champions League final. (AFP)
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Manchester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (C) jumps over Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (L) as defender Antonio Ruediger (R) chases them during the UEFA Champions League final. (AFP)
Riyad Mahrez can draw inspiration from Mohamed Salah and rebound from Champions League heartbreak next season
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Updated 01 June 2021

Riyad Mahrez can draw inspiration from Mohamed Salah and rebound from Champions League heartbreak next season

Manchester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (C) jumps over Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (L) as defender Antonio Ruediger (R) chases them during the UEFA Champions League final. (AFP)
  • Manchester City’s loss to Chelsea stopped the Algerian international from joining compatriot Rabah Madjer and Liverpool’s Egyptian star as winner of Europe’s biggest competition 

LONDON: Porto has long held a special place in the hearts of Algerian and Arab football players and fans. Back in 1987, Rabah Madjer won the European Cup playing for the city’s famous club as they beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in the final, scoring the first and making the second. 

Generations of football fans in the country had grown up learning about such exploits. Last week however, there was an opportunity for a new generation to witness one of their own lift the biggest prize in club football.

Madjer, a legend who also scored for Algeria as they famously defeated West Germany 2-1 at the 1982 World Cup, was hoping that Riyad Mahrez would follow in his footsteps and lead Manchester City to victory over Chelsea in Porto.

“It can only be a great source of pride to see another Algerian player play a final of the most beautiful of competitions,” Madjer said. “And winning it would be a great accomplishment for him.”

Madjer was reflecting the pride that the nation felt upon seeing one of their own shining on the biggest stage of all.

“He has progressed and his progress does not surprise me. For having had him as a player in the [international] selection, he is a very serious and ambitious boy. Joining a big club like Manchester City and playing there regularly has allowed him to reveal himself, to assert himself and to flourish. “ he added. 

There was optimism in Algeria going into the game. The signs were good, very good. 

May 2021 started with Mahrez providing a masterclass against Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-final, a performance that earned the team a place in the final and the player a tag as one of the most in-form and dangerous attackers in the world.

May 2021 ended in despair however as Chelsea ran out 1-0 winners in Porto with Kai Havertz grabbing the only goal just before half-time. 




Manchester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (L) reacts to the loss as Chelsea’s players celebrate the win in the UEFA Champions League final. (AFP)

Mahrez has had a fantastic season, scoring 14 goals and providing nine assists that played a big part in Manchester City winning the English Premier League as well as the Carabao Cup. Many of the headlines around the final focused on the selection and tactics employed by City coach Pep Guardiola but it is frustrating that such a great personal campaign for the forward ended on such a low. For his army of fans across the Middle East and Africa, it’s a little like deja vu and for Mahrez that provides hope. The Algerian star can find solace in the tale of an Egyptian superstar.

In 2018, Mohamed Salah had also enjoyed a fantastic season for Liverpool, leading the team to the final against Real Madrid in the biggest club competition in the world. Much of the talk in the lead-up to the game was focused on Salah and how he could lead Liverpool to European title number six.

But then came a first-half injury which put paid to those hopes (and affected the player and country at the World Cup just weeks later) and the Reds ended up losing 3-1. It was a heartbreaking night for the player and the club — and there wasn’t even the English Premier League title as consolation.

A year later Salah was back in the final and scored almost immediately as Liverpool defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in Madrid. He ended the season lifting the trophy and becoming only the third Arabian player to get his hands on ol’ big ears (Achraf Hakimi of Morocco got a medal in 2018 with Real Madrid but did not appear in the final).  It was the kind of redemption that football specializes in and since then Salah has cemented his place as one of the game’s true superstars.

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Riyad Mahrez thanked fans in the Middle East for their loyal support before Manchester City’s first ever appearance in the Champions League final, which they went on to lose 1-0 to Premier League rivals Chelsea. More here.

That Mahrez could follow in Salah’s footsteps is not out of the question.

Despite the loss, City are still probably the most feared team in Europe and have a good chance of returning to the final next year. There is still a good chance the former Leicester player will still have a central role in the team’s success. 

Yet you never know. Things change quickly in football especially at the Etihad with reports over the last few days that the 30 year-old may not be around at the Etihad for much longer with Arsenal interested. Boss of the Gunners, Mikel Arteta knows the player well from his time as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at City. 

Surely his fans back in Algeria and the Arab world will be hoping however that he follows Salah and stays where he is. The words of Madjer will still ring as true next year as they did last week.

“What I can tell you – and what is certain – is that if he wins the Champions League, he will have gained stripes and a big place among the greats.”


Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle
Updated 17 October 2021

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle
  • Football club set to play first match since $410 million takeover by Saudi-led consortium

LONDON: After decades in the football wilderness, a new era of hope begins on Sunday for the long-suffering fans of Newcastle United football club.

Tens of thousands of “Toon” devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

Sunday’s challenge could hardly be tougher. The visitors are Tottenham Hotspur — and a win would take them into the Premier League’s top 5, while Newcastle languish third from bottom with just three points all season.

HIGHLIGHT

Tens of thousands of ‘Toon’ devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by the Public Investment Fund.

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is looking forward to it. “The most important thing for the fans is to see their team win a game and I know they’ll be right behind the players in an atmosphere which I doubt we’ll have witnessed at St. James’ Park in a long time,” he said.

Although most observers expect Bruce’s 1,000th match in charge to be his last, as the new owners rebuild Newcastle, new club director Amanda Staveley — a prime mover behind the takeover — gave him her backing for now.

“Change does not always happen overnight,” she said. “It demands time, and that we follow a carefully considered plan and strategy. Steve has been very professional in our dealings with him and he and his coaching team will take the team on Sunday.”

Newcastle fans, meanwhile, will be hoping Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s judgment is correct.

“In the long term, of course, we have to say that they are going to be a superpower,” Klopp said.


Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal win big to seal all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal

It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2021

Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal win big to seal all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal

It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals. (AFP)
  • Results now mean there will be an all-Saudi showdown in Western half of the draw on Oct. 19.

RIYADH: It was a double success on Saturday for Saudi football clubs after Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal reached the AFC Champions League semifinals with impressive victories.

Al-Nassr thrashed UAE’s Al-Wahda FSCC 5-1 at the King Saud University Stadium in their quarterfinal, while Al-Hilal cruised to victory with a 3-0 win over Iran's Persepolis.

Al-Nassr were relentless from the first minute and the Emirati club had no answers to a brace from Jaloliddin Masharipov and goals apiece for Abderazak Hamdallah, Abdulfattah Asiri and Sami Al-Najei.

Saudi national team stalwart Salem Al-Dawsari opened the scoring for Al-Hilal in Tehran and two strikes from superstar striker Bafetimbi Gomis made sure there would be an all-Saudi showdown in the Western half of the draw on Oct. 19.


Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa
Updated 17 October 2021

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa
  • Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net

INDIAN WELLS: Victoria Azarenka, who is hoping to become the first three-time WTA winner in Indian Wells, punched her ticket to Sunday’s final by rallying to beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka continued her solid play in the California desert as she goes for her first title of 2021 and 22nd of her career.

The 32-year-old arrived in the semifinals without dropping a set and after losing the first one to Ostapenko she settled in and found her form.

Azarenka will face Spaniard Paula Badosa, who defeated Ons Jabeur in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.

Azarenka is seeking to win the tournament for the third time after victories in 2012 and 2016.

She is the only former champion left in either the women’s or men’s field, and with another victory can separate herself from the list of women who have won the trophy twice — which includes Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net.

This was the second career meeting between the two but the first on hardcourt, so it took Azarenka time to feel her opponent out and figure out her weaknesses.

“She was playing really incredible in the first set, not giving me much,” said Azarenka.

“I was just trying to find an opportunity — actually create an opportunity — for me to get back into the match and take a little bit more control. I really had to fight for every ball.”

Ostapenko controlled most of the first set, breaking Azarenka in the second game to go up 2-0. She then held serve to jump out to a 3-0 lead using her powerful ground strokes to move the Belarusian around the court.

Azarenka went down again 2-0 in the second set but then caught fire while holding serve in the third game.

That started a run of five straight games to take a 5-2 lead. Ostapenko held serve once more but Azarenka served out the set to level the match.

Azarenka raised her level another notch in a hard-fought third set, winning the final three games to get to the final where she will face Badosa for the first time.

Meanwhile, Badosa has reached the final in her first appearance in Indian Wells, cooling off Jabeur, who has been one of the hottest players on the Tour with 48 wins in 2021.


Manchester United lose at Leicester, City roll on as five-star Liverpool go top

Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday. (AP/Action Images via Reuters)
Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday. (AP/Action Images via Reuters)
Updated 16 October 2021

Manchester United lose at Leicester, City roll on as five-star Liverpool go top

Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday. (AP/Action Images via Reuters)
  • Mohamed Salah again took most of the plaudits for another stunning solo goal

LONDON: Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday.
Manchester City moved into second with a 2-0 win over Burnley, while Chelsea can move back to the top of the table when they travel to Brentford later in the day.
But the focus will fall on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after his side failed to win for the third consecutive Premier League game.
United led at the King Power thanks to Mason Greenwood’s spectacular strike, but were quickly pegged back by Youri Tielemans’ dinked finish beyond David de Gea.
A flurry of four goals in the final 12 minutes then condemned Solskjaer’s men to a first defeat on the road since January 2020.
Caglar Soyuncu put Leicester in front before Marcus Rashford equalized on his first appearance of the season after shoulder surgery.
Straight from kick-off, United’s leaky defense was breached once more as Jamie Vardy smashed home and Patson Daka’s first Leicester goal in stoppage time sealed a much-needed win for Brendan Rodgers’ men.
Roberto Firmino scored his first hat-trick since 2018 as Liverpool ran riot at Vicarage Road in Claudio Ranieri’s first match as Watford boss.
But it was Mohamed Salah who again took most of the plaudits for another stunning solo goal to take his tally for the season to 10 in as many games.
“In this moment it is clear that there is no one better than him,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp of the Egyptian.
Salah helped open the floodgates with a defense-splitting pass that teed up Sadio Mane to score his 100th Premier League goal.
Firmino would have been unavailable due to a late return from international duty but for an injury that forced him to withdraw from the Brazil squad.
He tapped home his first goal from James Milner’s cross before half-time and took advantage of another open goal after Ben Foster parried Craig Cathcart’s attempted clearance.
Salah left four Manchester City defenders trailing to score in a thrilling 2-2 draw before the international break and pulled off a similar feat before curling into the far corner.
Firmino then completed the rout in stoppage time.
City did not need to hit top gear to see off Burnley at the Etihad and remain one point behind Liverpool at the top of the table.
Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were on target either side of half-time for Pep Guardiola’s men.
Wolves produced a miraculous comeback from 2-0 down with 10 minutes remaining to win 3-2 at Aston Villa.
Danny Ings and John McGinn had put the hosts in a commanding position at Villa Park.
But Romain Saiss, Conor Coady and Ruben Neves handed Bruno Lage’s men a dramatic three points.
Southampton got their first league win of the season thanks to Armando Broja’s goal to beat Leeds 1-0.
Norwich remain winless and bottom of the table after a 0-0 draw with Brighton.


360VUZ to bring football action to fans’ mobile phones

360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
Updated 16 October 2021

360VUZ to bring football action to fans’ mobile phones

360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
  • Under agreement with Saudi Professional League a new dedicated channel will allow users to navigate easily on the app and watch the top tier Saudi clubs in action

RIYADH: 360VUZ, the immersive virtual mobile app has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to offer a fuller experience to football fans, enabling them to watch highlights of the SPL games, behind the scenes videos and exclusive interviews with players all in 360 degrees.

The new partnership will play a major role in engaging 360VUZ users with the Saudi league, making it one of the first major leagues in the world to bring an immersive football content to screens.

Khaled Zaatarah, founder and Chief Executive Officer of 360VUZ, said: “We are happy to team up with Saudi Professional League to show spectacular videos of the league on our platform. In 360VUZ we strive to offer an immersive experience with vital content for all our users just through using their phones.”

360VUZ will offer a dedicated channel for SPL, which will allow the users to navigate easily on the app and watch the top tier Saudi clubs in action. The app includes KBW Ventures — founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, President of Saudi Sports For All Federation — as one of its investors.

“Seeing 360VUZ ink this partnership with the Saudi Professional League is really exciting for me as an investor,” Prince Khaled said. “During their initial pitch, I could see how well their immersive experience would work for Saudi sports enthusiasts, and now with SPL the app can bring these moments to fans both in and outside of the Kingdom.”

Abdul Aziz Al Afaleq, Chairman of the Board at Saudi Pro League, said: “We are keen on adopting the latest trends and technologies around the world, and featuring our league on 360VUZ app makes us the first league to present exclusive and immersive video content to our fans.”

“This partnership aims at enhancing our connection with the league’s fans by offering a one-of-a-kind experience to watch the league’s stars and the latest highlights of our matches,” he said.