Herve Renard warns Saudi players of underestimating Yemen in World Cup qualifier

Herve Renard warns Saudi players of underestimating Yemen in World Cup qualifier
The Saudi squad prepare for Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Yemen in Riyadh. (SAFF)
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Updated 03 June 2021

Herve Renard warns Saudi players of underestimating Yemen in World Cup qualifier

Herve Renard warns Saudi players of underestimating Yemen in World Cup qualifier
  • Saturday’s match in Riyadh followed by joint 2023 AFC Asian Cup, 2022 World Cup qualification fixtures against Singapore, Uzbekistan

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard has warned his players not to underestimate Yemen ahead of their second-round World Cup qualifier on Saturday in Riyadh, issuing a reminder of the earlier Group D meeting between the two teams.

Victory will take the Green Falcons soaring five points clear at the top of the standings, for 48 hours at least, above Uzbekistan and in sight of the third round of qualification when the action really gets going. It is, however, far from a foregone conclusion.

Back in September 2019, the Saudis had to come back twice against Yemen, playing in their temporary home of Bahrain, only managing to escape with a 2-2 draw thanks to goals from Hattan Bahebri and Salem Al-Dawsari. It was a game that Renard, appointed just weeks earlier, remembers well.

He said: “We had a difficult start in that game against Yemen in Bahrain. I had not long been the coach and I did not know much about the players. We did not play well, and it was a really tough game.”

Over time, the Frenchman, who took Morocco to the 2018 World Cup, where the team missed out on the second round but impressed with their performances against Spain and Portugal, has become happier.

“We had a training camp soon after and we started to improve but it showed that you have to always be at your best when playing World Cup qualification.”

It is only Saudi Arabia’s second World Cup qualifier in the space of 19 months, the other coming in a 5-0 win over Palestine in March, and the game against Yemen in Riyadh marks the start of a period of activity. There will be two games in the days to follow against Singapore and, on June 15, a potential showdown against the only rival for top spot, Uzbekistan.

The final game against Uzbekistan may well end up being the one that decides the winner of Group D and which team will progress automatically to the third round of qualification and not have to worry about finishing as one of the best four runners-up in the eight groups.

By taking maximum points against Yemen and then Singapore, the three-time Asian champions will — in the worst-case scenario — only need a point against Uzbekistan to secure top spot. But beating Yemen will immediately put the Central Asians five points behind and under pressure going into their own clash against Singapore on Monday.

With all the games taking place in the centralized hub of Riyadh in order to reduce travel in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it is looking good for Saudi Arabia, but Renard is taking nothing for granted.

“Getting to the World Cup was always my objective when coming to Saudi Arabia. We have improved but the road is still long and there is still potential to improve more. We have to take the opportunities and it is very important that we do not miss out on the World Cup in Qatar.

“Given the close distance between the two countries, and as long as fans are allowed in stadiums, there will be many Saudi fans to cheer us on. It is important then that we make it for the fans and the national team,” he added.

There are few injury worries for the coach with Al-Hilal right-back Mohammed Al-Breik and Al-Nassr center-back Abdulelah Al-Amri expected to shake off knocks.

The players have, however, just finished a long, hectic, and difficult season both at home in the league, and for the top stars, the AFC Champions League. After all testing negative for COVID-19, training started in Riyadh on Tuesday and stepped up a gear on Wednesday.

Yemen have the opposite problem, an almost total lack of games and match sharpness. The ongoing conflict in the country between government forces and the Houthi rebels caused the league to be suspended back in 2014. There have been a sprinkling of exhibition games and cup competitions, but plans announced in January to restart the league came to nothing.

Some players managed to go overseas but others remained home, and some have, in the absence of competitive and professional football, had to take other jobs to make ends meet. Then, last month, the national team coach Sami Al-Naash died after contracting COVID-19 during a training camp that took place in the south of the country.

Ahmed Ali Qassem has stepped in to take the reins and is under no illusions as to the size of his task.

“We promise the Yemeni public that we will do everything possible to make them happy, and we are realistic with ourselves, and we know the strength and ambition of the teams we will play against,” he said.

Currently fourth with five points from five games, one above Palestine and two behind Singapore, the team may be out of the running for the next round of World Cup qualification but can still take strides toward the 2023 Asian Cup. Yemen have plenty to play for then and, as Renard and his players will be well aware, will not make it easy.


Deadly stampede overshadows Cameroon’s African Cup progress

General view of Cameroon fans inside the stadium, on Monday, 24 January 2022. (REUTERS)
General view of Cameroon fans inside the stadium, on Monday, 24 January 2022. (REUTERS)V
Updated 14 min 58 sec ago

Deadly stampede overshadows Cameroon’s African Cup progress

General view of Cameroon fans inside the stadium, on Monday, 24 January 2022. (REUTERS)

YAOUNDE, Cameroon: Cameroon’s progress at the African Cup of Nations was overshadowed by a stampede outside the stadium that killed at least six people during the host nation’s victory over Comoros on Monday.
The crush happened as crowds struggled to get access to Olembe Stadium in the capital of Yaounde as Cameroon beat Comoros 2-1 to reach the quarterfinals.
Strikers Karl Toko Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar gave Cameroon what appeared an insurmountable lead by the 70th minute against the tournament newcomers, who are ranked 132nd in the world and played with a defender in goal due to a coronavirus outbreak in the squad.
Comoros also had to cope with playing most of the match with 10 men after Jimmy Abdou was sent off in the seventh minute for stepping on the back of Moumi Ngamaleu’s ankle.
But Comoros, which reached the round of 16 by ousting four-time African champion Ghana, managed to produce one of the goals of the tournament so far to provide a flicker of hope of a comeback. Youssouf M’Changama scored from a free kick from 30 yards (meters) in the 81st but Comoros couldn’t produce an equalizer.
Details of the tragedy outside the stadium were only confirmed after the game. Officials at the nearby Messassi hospital said they had received at least 40 injured people from the stampede.
“Some of the injured are in desperate condition,” said Olinga Prudence, a nurse. “We will have to evacuate them to a specialized hospital.”
Cameroon is hosting Africa’s flagship football tournament for the first time in 50 years.
Cameroon is scheduled to play another tournament debutant on Saturday in the quarterfinals in Douala after Guinea beat Gambia 1-0 in the day’s other game after a goal from Musa Barrow in the 71st.
Gambia had Yusupha Njie sent off in the 87th for elbowing an opponent as they went up for a header, but Egyptian referee Amin Omar also gave Guinea’s Ibrahima Conté a second yellow in injury time.
Guinea was playing without regular captain Naby Keita, who was suspended after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage.
Guinea did have a clear chance to equalize late on when it hit the post, then the crossbar and had a goal-bound shot blocked in quick succession.
 


Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

RIYADH: The “Sports Career Day” initiative will start on Tuesday at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Olympic Complex in Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Sport said on Monday.
The three-day event, held under the patronage of Minister of Sport Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, is being organized by the Leaders Development Institute, and will run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The initiative, part of the Quality of Life program, includes 26 workshops, with nine on the first two days, and eight on the final day, in addition to employment fairs and direct professional communication.
The initiative aims to provide channels of communication between qualified job seekers, business owners in the sectors, sports institutions and relevant authorities, to achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
It also includes several accompanying events, including virtual job interviews for participants.
The “Sports Career Day” initiative has seen significant interaction from government and private sports agencies, as well as various other institutions, and more than 80 entities participated in 1,250 job opportunities across 20 fields.
The most prominent entities participating are the Ministry of Sports, the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the Saudi Football Association, the Saudi Professional League, and other sports clubs, federations, and private sports institutions hoping to open channels of communication with qualified young people wishing to enter the sports labor market.


AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper
Updated 25 January 2022

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper
  • Comoros had to play left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde
  • To add to their woes, they had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes

YAOUNDÉ: Hosts Cameroon are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but only after laboring to a 2-1 win over a Comoros side who were forced to start an outfield player in goal and played most of the game with 10 men.
The Comoros started with left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were ruled out due to Covid-19 while the other was missing due to injury.
They then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes, and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon in front before skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his sixth goal of the tournament.
Despite that it was a heroic performance from the Comoros, who kept the tie alive until the end thanks to Youssouf M’Changama’s stunning late free-kick.
The Indomitable Lions keep their dream of winning the Cup of Nations on home soil alive as they advance to a last-eight tie against Gambia on Saturday, yet this was the Comoros’ night, despite the outcome.
The tiny Indian Ocean island nation qualified for the last 16 in their first ever appearance at the Cup of Nations after finishing as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned to a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the tie, including goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini.
Their other goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina, was injured but they had hoped Ahamada would be able to start after he tested negative on the day of the game.
The 30-year-old Ahamada flew from Garoua, where he had been isolating, to Yaounde on Monday afternoon in the hope of being able to play, only for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to decide otherwise as his positive result had come just two days earlier.
Alhadhur, a reserve left-back for French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio, wore the gloves, with tape used to mark out his number three on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey.
It was a farcical scene, and the Comoros’ plight worsened when Abdou was shown a straight red card for a foul on Moumi Ngamaleu after the Ethiopian referee went to review images of his challenge.
Rather than give up, the Comoros kept going and they only fell behind in the 29th minute when Aboubakar teed up Toko-Ekambi to slot home.
The islanders, whose coach Amir Abdou was among those missing after testing positive, almost equalized shortly after as Ahmed Mogni forced Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana into a fine save.
Aboubakar had a second-half effort disallowed for offside before making it 2-0 with 20 minutes left, finishing excellently after being picked out by Martin Hongla.
Yet there was no collapse from the Comoros, who pulled one back courtesy of M’Changama’s piledriver from 35 meters and go out with their heads held high.


Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
Updated 24 January 2022

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
  • Unexpected 1-0 win over Super Eagles shows group stage will have little bearing on where trophy ends up
  • If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off

The African Cup of Nations has already seen Ghana out, defending champions Algeria finish bottom of their group and now Nigeria eliminated at a relatively early stage after a shock loss at the hands of a COVID-19-ridden Tunisia on Sunday.

That result really showed that the trophy could go anywhere, and as unimpressive as Egypt have been so far, coach Carlos Queiroz’s words after the group stage ended are looking increasingly accurate.

“Now the real work begins, and now the real competition will begin,” he said. It was the kind of thing that you would expect such an experienced campaigner to say. After all, Egypt had not impressed in the group stage with a poor, to say the least, performance in a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the opener. It was followed by two unconvincing victories by the same scoreline against Guinea-Bissau and then Sudan.

With criticism at home, it was understandable, then, that Queiroz, who took the job in September, wanted to look forward rather than back. Yet the 68-year-old former Real Madrid manager has taken four teams through successful World Cup qualification campaigns and knows what he is talking about.

Nigeria were perhaps the best team in the group stage and were certainly the only one to take maximum points. Drawn against Tunisia then in the second round, the Super Eagles, newly installed as tournament favorites, were expected to win. Not only had they been impressive in the first round, with winger Moses Simon a real standout, but Tunisia had been anything but.

The North Africans had limped through to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, winning just one game and losing against Mali and Gambia, the latter an embarrassing defeat. All their goals had come in the 4-0 win over Mauritania. The odds were against the Carthage Eagles flying any higher in the tournament.

A serious outbreak of COVID-19 in the Tunisia camp lengthened the odds of a win considerably. The federation announced that as many as 12 players out of the 28-man squad had tested positive, including star striker Wahbi Khazri. By the time the Nigeria game rolled around, at least seven players were unavailable. Coach Monhder Kebaier had also tested positive and his duties were taken over by assistant Bilal Kadri.

But the Tunisian coaching staff did not use the infections as an excuse at any point. Despite all the problems, or perhaps because of them, Tunisia gave everything, working harder than their opponents, who gave the impression that they expected a comfortable evening. In what was a highly disciplined performance, Tunisia gave Simon no time or space, doubled up on the Nantes star and tried to cut off the supply to the forwards.

Nigeria, who had looked the most creative of all the teams in the group stage (though admittedly the bar had been set pretty low by the rest), seemed to have few ideas and only started to come alive after Tunisia took the lead early in the second half thanks to a fierce long-range shot from Youssef Msakni. But a red card given to Alex Iwobi handed the initiative back to Tunisia, and in the end, they recorded a shock but deserved win. The 2004 champions now move into the quarter-finals and a winnable tie against Burkina Faso on Saturday. The extra six days should mean that coach Kebaier can field his strongest team, and hopes are now high.

If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off. With Queiroz a big fan of discipline, organization and shape, he will not have that much to learn defensively, but in terms of mood and confidence, Tunisia put the mediocrity of the group stage behind them and went out to win and, importantly, took their chances.

It does not matter now how Egypt performed last week. They have a chance to reset, but they must start to take their chances after scoring only two goals in 270 minutes so far. “Look, I promise you, starting from tomorrow they are going to be doing finishing exercises from the morning until the afternoon,” Queiroz said at the weekend. “They just need to score more goals. To only play good football is not enough — we need to build up more goals and with that be more relaxed in the game.”

Tunisia’s win over Nigeria serves as a perfect reminder that not only does the tournament start here, but that it is wide open. Ghana are out, Algeria are out and now Nigeria are out. It really is up for grabs.


Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
Updated 24 January 2022

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
  • Under Brazilian’s guidance, female athletes claimed 9 gold, 8 silver, 8 bronze medals at World Championship

ABU DHABI: Last year was a game changer for jiu-jitsu in the UAE, with more homegrown talent competing and winning in local and international events on mats.

UAE athletes claimed 71 medals from two international championships in the second half of 2021, with success coming at the 5th Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship and the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

The record year was amplified by the rise of the UAE’s women’s team, which claimed nine gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in November.

Following the success of 2021, Polyana Lago, coach of the UAE National Women’s Jiu-Jitsu team, is now looking for her players to use their experience as a springboard to even more glory in 2022.

“We enter the new season with great ambitions after an impressive season and great achievements last year,” said the 41-year-old Brazilian, who only began working with the women’s team in the summer of 2021.

“We actually had two really excellent weeks; we were confined to a hotel and were able to train together; it was a good experience for each of us.

“We had a fantastic season last year; our women champions put in an outstanding performance, particularly at the World Championship, when they won a total of 25 medals. Some of the girls did really well,” she added.

Lago said that the new format of the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu League helped the UAE national women’s team achieve the historic feat. “It contributed significantly to the championship’s outstanding results last year, as well as making it more professional. We were able to determine other national team talents as a result of the event,” she added.

She has high hopes for the 2022 season, with her athletes set to take part in a host of major events, including the Mother of the Nation Cup, Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup and Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Ahead of this year’s events, Lago revealed that she is “working on key areas of development” with her players.