Uzbekistan win sets up potential decisive Saudi clash as AFC World Cup qualification reaches fever pitch

Uzbekistan win sets up potential decisive Saudi clash as AFC World Cup qualification reaches fever pitch
Jaloliddin Masharipov has shown no sign that he was unhappy at being loaned out from Saudi giants Al-Nassr. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2021

Uzbekistan win sets up potential decisive Saudi clash as AFC World Cup qualification reaches fever pitch

Uzbekistan win sets up potential decisive Saudi clash as AFC World Cup qualification reaches fever pitch
  • Syria confirms progress while rest of west Asian teams prepare for conclusion of 2nd AFC group stage

RIYADH: If Jaloliddin Masharipov was unhappy at being loaned out from Saudi giants Al-Nassr weeks after signing for the club in December, he has not shown it.

After Monday’s performance, perhaps the Riyadh club will be the one feeling miffed as the winger’s quality was there for all to see as he inspired Uzbekistan to a 5-0 win over Singapore in World Cup qualification. It was a result that threw down a gauntlet to Saudi Arabia in Group D.

The 27-year-old was sensational in the first half against the southeast Asians, scoring twice — the first a volley, the second a low missile — to set the White Wolves on route to a much-needed victory that puts them within two points of the Green Falcons.

The two meet in Riyadh in the final game next Tuesday with the likely prize on offer for the victor being first position and an automatic place in the third round of qualification as one of the eight group winners. If it goes badly, then Saudi Arabia will have to hope it is one of the best four second-place finishers.

A number of teams are in similar positions after a busy Monday of World Cup qualification action. Bahrain started the day on top of Group C but slipped down to third after a 3-0 loss to Iran that puts a huge hole in their chances of reaching the next round.

After a tight first half, Iran, inspired by Brentford midfielder Saman Ghoddos, moved up a level after the break. He will not get the headlines though as few, if any, Asian teams have a strike force as potent as Iran’s Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi and the pair scored three times between them in the second half.

With Iraq defeating Cambodia 4-1 and going two points clear at the top of Group C above Iran, it is likely that the rivals will occupy the top two spots. Who is first and who is second will be decided in their meeting on June 15.

Iraq has been in good form for a while now. Iran had not been, until that second half. With the likes of Taremi and Azmoun, they will not be far away. There will be a lot of big games in the next few days but sparks always fly when the two teams meet as was evident in Iraq’s famous 4-3 win over Iran at the quarter-final stage of the 2015 Asian Cup.

There will be no such drama in Group A. Syria have sewn it up. It is a testament to the talent and resilience of the team that it became just the second after Japan to progress into the third round. The 3-0 win over Guam was expected and ensured a massive eight points above China in Group A.

Seven wins from seven games, 21 scored and four conceded is an impressive record and no team will underestimate Syria especially when all its players, such as Al-Ahli’s star striker Omar Al-Somah, are fit and available.

The UAE, meanwhile, have recovered from successive defeats against Thailand and Vietnam in Group G and their second successive win, a 3-1 victory over the Thais, means that qualification as group winners is still in their hands.

Last week, Ali Mabkhout grabbed the headlines but was guilty of missing chances in this game and it fell to Caio Canedo and Fabio Lima, with his third goal in just his second appearance, to breach the Thai goal in the first half.

The spirited southeast Asians pulled a goal back early in the second half, a very different 45 minutes, to ensure there were plenty of nerves and more missed opportunities but, an injury time goal from Mohammed Jumaa wrapped it all up.

With Vietnam defeating Indonesia 4-0 to stay two points clear at the top, Bert van Marwijk’s men are likely to need all three points against the Golden Stars next week if they want to take first place. It could be a cracker. Vietnam have become a pragmatic, tough nut to crack under Park Hang-seo and similar to his Dutch counterpart, has plenty of talent at his disposal.

Jordan are not going to catch Australia in Group B but stayed on course for second with a comfortable 3-0 win over Nepal, a result that keeps them three points clear of hosts Kuwait. The two meet on Friday, just one of many big games to come.


Al-Ittihad’s Ahmed Hegazi joins Egypt’s Olympic squad as Mohamed Salah looks set to miss out on Tokyo

Al-Ittihad’s Ahmed Hegazi joins Egypt’s Olympic squad as Mohamed Salah looks set to miss out on Tokyo
Updated 19 min 26 sec ago

Al-Ittihad’s Ahmed Hegazi joins Egypt’s Olympic squad as Mohamed Salah looks set to miss out on Tokyo

Al-Ittihad’s Ahmed Hegazi joins Egypt’s Olympic squad as Mohamed Salah looks set to miss out on Tokyo
  • Liverpool unlikely to sanction Salah’s release in July as he is set to participate in the African Nations Cup for Egypt’s senior team January

LONDON: Ahmed Hegazi provided good news for fans in Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week after signing a permanent deal with Al-Ittihad and also agreeing to join up with his country’s team at the Olympics in July.

The initial benefactor is Egypt. Coach of the U-23 team Shawky Gharieb has been facing  up to the prospect of heading to Japan without star forward Mohamed Salah, but now has at least some consolation as he will be able to take the in-form defender Hegazi to Tokyo, where the team will face Spain, Argentina and Australia starting on July 22.

The tournament is reserved for players 24 and under — with the age limit rising by one year due to the Olympics being delayed because of the pandemic —  but each country is allowed to call three “overage” stars.

Whether Salah’s release would be sanctioned by Liverpool has been a major discussion in Egyptian football ever since the team qualified last November by defeating Ivory Coast in the final of Africa’s U-23 Championships. The six-time European champions are reluctant to release the forward, especially as he is also due to participate in the African Nations Cup for the senior side in January and February along with Sadio Mane and Naby Keita. 

“I do not want to say that it is impossible for Salah to participate in the Olympics, but it is difficult,” Egyptian FA President Ahmed Megahed said on Tuesday. “Salah agreed to lead the Olympic team during the last camp of the Egyptian team.”

“We contacted Liverpool to allow Salah to join the Olympic team,” the president continued. “They said they were waiting for the approval of the technical staff, but in the end, Liverpool refused the request because they do not want to lose the player at the beginning of the season, as well as next January with the Africa Cup of Nations, which will keep him from participating in the English Premier League matches.”

It has been widely reported that the player is keen to go to Japan to take part in the Olympics and is trying to persuade the club to let him go. All should be finalized by the end of the week.

“We spoke with Salah again, and he told us that he will make a new attempt with the technical staff of his team, to resolve the matter, and within the next two days he will find a way,” added Megahed, though reports in England suggest that Salah has an impossible task.

It is not just Salah who is set to miss the plane to Tokyo, with Turkish team Galatasaray also set to refuse a call-up for Mostafa Mohamed. The Istanbul giants want the 23-year-old forward for their UEFA Champions League playoff against PSV Eindhoven in July. 

“Mustafa Mohamed wants to play in the Olympics, but he is certainly not the decision-maker,” Mostafa’s agent Ahmed Yehia said.

“If his club agrees, he will play with the Egyptian national team, but he will not enter into a conflict with his club in order to participate. The last information I have is that Mostafa Mohamed will not participate in the Olympics,” he said, adding that there was still a little hope for Egypt as officials at the club have changed and there is a chance a new decision could follow.

If Salah and Mohamed are, as expected, officially ruled out of the games, it remains to be seen who Gahrieb plumps for as his other two overage players. He released a shortlist of eight, which contains goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawy and midfielder Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal. 

While Al-Ittihad are likely to miss Hegazi for the opening couple of weeks of the next league season, fans will be delighted that the 30 year-old is going to stay for two more years. His arrival in Jeddah from the now-relegated English Premier League club West Bromwich Albion in October sparked a turnaround in the Tigers’ fortunes and, inspired by the defender, the team that was in a relegation battle started to climb the table and finished in an impressive third place. It was his goal in the penultimate match of the season that clinched a place in the 2022 AFC Champions League. 

For many observers, Hegazi, who played 28 games and scored three goals in all competitions, was the most impressive performer in the league over the season as a whole.

There has been more good news for fans as Brazilian coach Fabio Carille has signed a one-year extension to his contract and will be in charge of the club next season.

Saudi Arabia will also be in Tokyo and take on Brazil, Ivory Coast and Germany with Al-Hilal trio Salman Al-Faraj, Salem Al-Dawsari and Yasser Al-Shahrani going to Japan as the overage players.


Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam, Catriona Matthew and Minjee Lee latest golfers confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London

Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam, Catriona Matthew and Minjee Lee latest golfers confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London
Updated 24 June 2021

Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam, Catriona Matthew and Minjee Lee latest golfers confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London

Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam, Catriona Matthew and Minjee Lee latest golfers confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London
  • European trio and Australian No.1 confirmed for next month’s three-day tournament at Centurion Club, the first of five Ladies European Tour (LET) events in 2021 sponsored by Aramco

London: European trio Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam and Catriona Matthew are the latest big names confirmed for next month’s $1 million Aramco Team Series — London, taking place July 8-10 at the Centurion Club, just two months ahead of this year’s Solheim Cup.

Both Hull and Van Dam played a key role in the European team, captained by Matthew, that snatched a pulsating one-point victory over the US at Gleneagles back in 2019.

US superstar Lexi Thompson was part of the travelling party, and with July’s event already scheduled to be her only English appearance of the year, she will be looking to lay down a marker against the trio who she will compete with just eight weeks later in Ohio.

In the unique format of the Aramco Team Series — London, which sees 36 team captains paired with two other professionals and one amateur, Thompson could even play alongside a European rival.

Former Women’s British Open champion, Georgia Hall, double-major winner, Anna Nordqvist, and 2021 Ladies European Tour (LET) Race to Costa del Sol champion, Emily Kristine Pedersen, have already confirmed participation in the event.

They will also be joined by Australia’s Minjee Lee, an eight-time champion across both the LET and LPGA, and Australia’s No.1 ranked golfer.

“It’s certainly shaping up to be quite the field, which is understandable, considering the exciting new format of the team tournament and what’s up for grabs,” Matthew said. “Being just a couple of months before the Solheim Cup adds a real bit of spice to the mix, especially with so many major-winners from both sides of the pond playing.

“As the Solheim Cup has proven, team golf is a format that really gets the heart racing and brings so much additional excitement,” she added. “Introducing four new Aramco Team Series events in four regions, I find a really fantastic initiative from the LET and I really am excited to see how it will propel women’s golf forward.”

World No.14 Lee said: “When this format of event was trialed in Saudi Arabia last year, you could really feel how positively the women who played in it responded to it. It was something completely different but a format of golf that offered so much excitement, both for teams and individual players, and that’s what you want to see as often as possible on tour.

“It’ll be really fun to play in and I can’t wait to get over to London and play as part of a team, something I love but almost never get to do.”

July’s London event is the first of five Aramco-sponsored events scheduled on the LET calendar for 2021.  They include the Aramco Team Series — Sotogrande (Aug. 5-7), the Aramco Team Series — New York (Oct. 14-16) and the Aramco Team Series — Jeddah (Nov. 10-12). The Jeddah event will take place just days after the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund, being held Nov. 4-7. 

Each Aramco Team Series tournament will see 36 teams of four compete to shoot the lowest combined score over three days of golf. All teams will feature three LET players paired through a unique draft system, in which captains choose one player and are randomly assigned another.

The fourth member of each team will be an amateur golfer — a position open to all golfers in the UK for the Aramco Team Series — London through the tournament’s world-first Team Up competition. Fans can apply by uploading a video or image to social media before June 25 using the hashtag #ATSTeamUp, showing they have what it takes to play in an actual LET event.


Hilal Al-Helwe strikes down Djibouti and sees Lebanon through to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

Hilal Al-Helwe strikes down Djibouti and sees Lebanon through to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
Updated 24 June 2021

Hilal Al-Helwe strikes down Djibouti and sees Lebanon through to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

Hilal Al-Helwe strikes down Djibouti and sees Lebanon through to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
  • The 1-0 win means Lebanon will join Algeria, Egypt and Sudan in Group D of the competition taking place in Qatar in November

DOHA: A stunning second-half volley from Hilal Al-Helwe saw Lebanon beat Djibouti 1-0 to earn a place at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar later this year.

The Lebanese team will now join Algeria, Egypt and Sudan in Group D of the tournament taking place between Nov. 27 and Dec. 18.

Lebanon were the heavy favorites heading into the qualifier, with the Cedars, at 93, sitting 90 places above Djibouti (183) in the FIFA World Rankings.

Djibouti, however, proved to be a far more stubborn opponent than Lebanon had anticipated as they successfully defended many attacks thanks to fine performances by goalkeeper Innocent Mbonihankuye and his defenders.

While Mbonihankuye kept Lebanon mostly at bay, especially from a series of set-pieces, Djibouti produced one of the most significant changes of the first half when Mahamoud Doualeh ended an excellent passage of play with a shot on target only for it to be deflected by the Lebanese defense for a corner.

Lebanon improved immediately after the break, and it was Al-Helwe who produced the monument of the match for coach Jamal Taha’s team within the first minute of the restart, firmly volleying past Mbonihankuye and from Mohammed Haidar’s pass.

Djibouti could have squared the match on 56 minutes when Mahabeh Mahdi was played through on goal, but the advancing Lebanon keeper Mehdi Khalil saved to seal his country’s spot at the FIFA Arab Cup in November.


Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1
Updated 24 June 2021

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1
  • The Hawks handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason
  • Game 2 is on Friday night in MilwaukeeAtlanta Hawks guard Trae Young puts up a shot against Jrue Holiday and Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks guard on June 23, 2021. (Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports)

MILWAUKEE: Trae Young scored 48 points, Clint Capela converted a go-ahead putback with 29.8 seconds left and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 116-113 on Wednesday night to open the Eastern Conference finals.
The Hawks improved to 6-2 in road playoff games this year and handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason.
“I felt we’ve built ourselves to be able to play on the road,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I’ve told them that. They’re built for this.”
Game 2 is Friday night in Milwaukee.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists for the Bucks. Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists.
Young was two points off his career high.
“We keep fighting,” Young said. “It’s been fun playing with this group. We just keep fighting to the end, no matter what the score is. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep fighting.”
John Collins added 23 points and 15 rebounds for the Hawks. Capela had 12 points and 19 rebounds.
Khris Middleton missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Although Middleton scored 15 points, he shot 6 of 23 and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts.
“Offensively, it didn’t seem like we moved very well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Antetokounmpo scored the first six points in a 9-0 run that turned a 98-96 deficit into a 105-98 advantage with 4:18 left. Holiday capped that spurt by sinking a 3-pointer after Antetokounmpo got the rebound on his own missed free throw.
But the Hawks scored the next five points, and the game went back and forth from there.
Middleton missed a pull-up jumper with about 43 seconds left with Milwaukee up 111-110. Young missed a driving layup attempt, but Capela grabbed his 19th rebound and scored to put the Hawks ahead for good.
After Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton shot an air-ball on a 3-pointer, Young made two free throws with 17.3 seconds remaining. Antetokounmpo made a pair of free throws with 5.3 seconds left, but Young brought the lead back to three and closed the scoring by sinking two free throws of his own with 4.6 seconds remaining.

TIP-INS
Hawks: Bogdan Bogdanovic started but clearly was at less than full strength as he deals with a sore knee. He scored four points and shot 1 of 6. ... Cam Reddish was available to play for the first time in four months but didn’t play. Reddish hadn’t played since Feb. 21 due to a right Achilles injury. Hawks coach Nate McMillan had said before the game the Hawks would cautious with Reddish by keeping him behind Tony Snell and Solomon Hill in the rotation. “We haven’t had the opportunity for him to get in any five-on-five since he’s been off,” McMillan said. “He’s been playing the last week or so some two-on-two, three-on-three.” … Atlanta is the third team since 1984 to make the conference finals despite having a losing record at the All-Star break. The others were the 2012 Boston Celtics and the 1984 Phoenix Suns. The Hawks were 16-20 at the break.
Bucks: Bobby Portis came off the bench with 4 1/2minutes left in the first quarter and ended up with 11 points and eight rebounds. Portis hadn’t played a single minute in the last three games of the Nets series. ... Milwaukee fell to 11-3 in playoff games at Fiserv Forum. … This is the fifth time the Bucks and Hawks have faced off in the playoffs and their first postseason matchup since the Hawks won 4-3 in a 2010 opening-round series. They’ve split the four previous matchups.
 


AlUla joins Team BikeExchange as official partner ahead of Tour de France 2021

The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
Updated 24 June 2021

AlUla joins Team BikeExchange as official partner ahead of Tour de France 2021

The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
  • Partnership will officially run from July 2021 to December 2023, will look to promote cycling in the Kingdom

ALULA: Saudi Arabia's Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) will be partners with GreenEDGE Cycling, also known as Team BikeExchange, ahead of the Tour de France 2021 which will start on Saturday and run until July 18.

The partnership will officially run from July 2021 to December 2023.

AlUla, a heritage and culture destination in north-west Saudi Arabia, has chosen to partner with GreenEDGE during the 2021 UCI Cycling World Tour for men and women in an effort to introduce the its desert landscapes to cycling and sport fans around the world as well as raising the profile of the sport in the Kingdom.

Philip Jones, Chief Management and Marketing Officer at RCU said he is excited to partner with a team that shares common goals such as sustaining eco-friendly environments and promoting health benefits through cycling. 

“AlUla is delighted to become an Official Partner of GreenEDGE Cycling and to be part of a sport which has 1.7 billion spectators around the globe,” he said. “Cycling is a premium sport and offers an invaluable opportunity to communicate the premium AlUla experience, our extraordinary heritage and culture as well as our efforts to future proof the destination for the enjoyment of future generations of visitors.

“As a developing tourism destination, AlUla is focused on safeguarding the natural and cultural landscape, sustaining eco-systems and wildlife and developing light-touch tourism experiences.,” he added. “We are excited to work with the passionate team at GreenEDGE Cycling in the coming years.”

AlUla, and Saudi Arabia as a whole, has increasingly emerged as favored tourist destination in recent years, and its connection to sport has already been established through several competitions and events that include running, motorsports such as Extreme E, and desert polo.

GreenEDGE Cycling Owner and Chairman Gerry Ryan has been a major investor in sport as a way to connect to his customers and sports fans globally, and was involved in the production of the documentary “All For One” in 2017 and the Amazon Prime Series “Eat. Race. Win.” in 2018.

“I am extremely delighted to announce this new partnership between GreenEDGE Cycling and AlUla, a luxury travel destination which we are honored to promote on our team assets,” said Ryan. “We haven’t been there yet physically, but in the last few weeks we have meet many people who are working to promote the region and we have seen so many breathless images and videos and I can’t wait for our first opportunity to visit AlUla and discover more about it. We will do our best to support their growth.”

Home to Hegra, the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the Kingdom, as well as the ancient Kingdom of Dadan, the open air library of rock inscriptions in Jabal Ikmah, and AlUla Old Town, AlUla’s history goes back more than 200,000 years. Today the region is a year-round destination for heritage, arts, nature and adventure. Cycling, through railway bike trails, functional road bike paths and scenic mountain biking is set to play a major part in AlUla’s “Journey Through Time” 15-year masterplan, launched in April 2021.

“For us it is very exciting to have such a prestigious and historical region coming onboard with GreenEdge Cycling,” Brent Copeland, General Manager, Team BikeExchange said. “We strongly feel cycling and Team BikeExchange in particular is the perfect brand to promote such a spectacular area. I look forward to visiting in person soon and working closely with the team at RCU to maximise the opportunities of our partnership.”

“The mutual respect and alignment of values is great for GreenEdge Cycling and it will be exciting to see how our partnership can help AlUla to grow awareness among the passionate cycling community as a luxury heritage destination,” he added. “We are here for a long term partnership and we will keep developing together.”