Djokovic ready to face ‘biggest rival’ Nadal for 58th time

Serbia's Novak Djokovic, left, and Spain's Rafael Nadal all set for their
Serbia's Novak Djokovic, left, and Spain's Rafael Nadal all set for their "great battle” on Friday in the French French Open tennis tournament in Paris. (AP/Reuters photos)
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Updated 10 June 2021

Djokovic ready to face ‘biggest rival’ Nadal for 58th time

Djokovic ready to face ‘biggest rival’ Nadal for 58th time
  • Djokovic secured the eagerly-awaited clash after beating Italy’s Matteo Berrettini
  • Nadal beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman to make the semifinals for the 14th time

PARIS: Novak Djokovic said facing Rafael Nadal for the 58th time on Friday, with a place in the French Open final on the line, will be “a great battle” against his “biggest ever rival.”
Djokovic secured the eagerly-awaited clash when he reached his 40th Grand Slam semifinal with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5 win over Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.
It will be his 11th appearance in the last-four in Paris where he was champion in 2016.
Nadal, the 13-time winner, beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 to make the semifinals for the 14th time.
He will be playing in his 35th Slam semi.
“I’ll probably pick Rafa as the biggest rival I’ve ever had in my career,” said world number one Djokovic.
“The anticipation for the match against him, any match, any surface, any occasion, is always different from any other.
“Let’s have a great battle.”
Although Djokovic has the edge at 29-28 in their overall rivalry stretching back 15 years, Nadal enjoys a 7-1 record in their French Open meetings and is 19-7 overall on clay.
Djokovic’s last win over the Spanish star on a clay court was in Rome five years ago.
Nadal’s record in Paris now stands at 105 wins against just two losses.
One of those defeats, however, was at the hands of Djokovic in 2015.

With Djokovic’s quarter-final extending beyond the national 11pm curfew, play was halted for around 20 minutes at 3-2 in the fourth set so that 5,000 fans could be funnelled out of Court Philippe Chatrier.
Djokovic eventually claimed the match on a third match point in the 12th game but only after he kicked out at an advertising board in frustration at missing the first two.
His scream into the humid night air told of his relief as his bid to win a 19th Grand Slam and be the first man in more than 50 years to claim all four majors twice stayed on course.
“It was a release of all the emotions I had kept inside me,” said Djokovic who hit 44 winners and saved all three break points he faced against the Italian.
“After all the fans left and the little break it wasn’t easy to find rhythm. It was really a very difficult match for me.”
He added: “It was a great battle against a player who serves well and is powerful. Maybe I could have finished on the tie break, but I’m happy to have won.”
Nadal also has a landmark in view in Paris.
If he gets to Sunday’s final and wins, he would secure a record-setting 21st major, edging ahead of Roger Federer in the all-time race.
Wednesday’s night session was the 10th and last at this year’s tournament but was the first to allow in fans after the 9pm Covid-19 curfew was pushed back to 11pm.
The previous nine sessions were played in an empty Court Philippe Chatrier, not a good look for streaming giant Amazon who had secured the broadcast rights.
“I thought the atmosphere was Davis Cup like, to be honest,” said Djokovic.
“It was a lot of fans involved, every single point cheering, screaming. Just electric atmosphere out there.
“I’m happy that I had that experience of playing in front of the crowd in the night session.”

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.

“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 told Arab News. “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, and SACF chairman Prince Saud bin Mishaal are expected to attend the final alongside Prince Khaled, as well as 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.”

New Zealand defy India, and English weather, to claim inaugural cricket World Test Championship

New Zealand defy India, and English weather, to claim inaugural cricket World Test Championship
Updated 24 June 2021

New Zealand defy India, and English weather, to claim inaugural cricket World Test Championship

New Zealand defy India, and English weather, to claim inaugural cricket World Test Championship
  • Reserve day needed after rain disrupts new competition’s playoff Test at Southampton

LONDON: How typical that English summer rain and murky conditions should conspire to influence the passage of the inaugural World Test Championship at Southampton over its five days. Were it not for the prescience of the International Cricket Council in deciding to allocate a reserve day, the match would have ended in a draw, with no outright champion.

As it was, the rain relented on the sixth day and the sun came out of hiding, allowing a full day’s play in which New Zealand triumphed in a tense atmosphere when their bowlers made good use of a helpful pitch and experienced batsmen saw them home with a mature and patient  display. They are worthy winners of the trophy, which earned them $1.6 million and India $800,000.

This was a welcome outcome for an event, first proposed in 2009, that has been dogged by a chequered launch, with previous attempts to introduce it having been abandoned in 2011 and 2014.

These two teams vying to become outright Test match champions earned that status through a points-based system which measured the performance, since August 1, 2019, of nine Test match-playing teams, in a specified number of series.

The intention of the ICC was for the teams to play eight Test series, but the crowded cricketing calendar, coupled with political considerations, would allow only six. This created a framework with each team scheduled to play three home and away series, involving 72 matches and 27 series. The pandemic struck part way through the cycle and not all teams were able to play six series.

A total of 120 points has been on offer for all series, irrespective of the number of games scheduled within the series, with the 120 divided by the number of scheduled matches. Thus, a five-match series carried 24 points for a win and a two-match series carried 60 points for a win. The two teams with the highest number of points are eligible to contest for the title of world champions in a play-off Test.

In November 2020, when the impact of the pandemic was apparent, the ICC adopted a percentage of points system, whereby the number of points that a team accrues is divided by the total that it contests. On this basis, India emerged with 72.5 percent and New Zealand with 63.6 percent.

Somewhat confusingly, the ICC also produces a rating of Test teams over a three-to-four-year cycle, using a different points system, by which the number of points obtained is divided by the number of matches to generate an average, called a rating. Fortunately, New Zealand and India are the top-rated teams at present, so there can be little argument about their respective rights to be at Southampton.

The aim of the ICC in devising the World Test Championship points system that applied between 2019 and 2021, was to encourage teams to place more emphasis on winning matches and to revive bilateral Test cricket.

However, the system is far from perfect. While it is out of the ICC’s control that India and Pakistan have not played a Test series against each other since 2007, current and past cricketers, such as Michael Holding, have criticized the fact that a win in a five-match series counts for less than a win in a two-match series.

In addition, there was criticism well before the match about pinning the title of world test champions on a single match, which is vulnerable to local conditions, as was illustrated in Southampton. The Indian head coach is not alone in expressing a view that a three-match series would be more appropriate, but the ICC says that there is no time to fit this into the calendar.

It has listened to the criticism of the points system. The next cycle, due to begin on August 1, 2021, starting with England v India, will see each match being worth the same number of points, reported to be a maximum of 12 per match, with teams ranked on the percentage of points system. This simplified system will allow teams to be compared at any point in time, considering that they are likely to have played a different number of series and matches.

The attempt to bolster bilateral men’s Test cricket has some limitations. In addition, the three other men’s Test-playing countries — Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe — are keen to test themselves at the highest level, but do not play enough of the longer form of the game for this to be possible in the near future.

The establishment of an outright winner in this inaugural WTC final will give impetus to its status and acceptance, taking away several of the criticisms that have been levelled at it. Future debates are likely to focus on the points system, where the final should be played and pathways for expanding the number of teams, rather than whether it should exist at all.

Indian captain Virat Kohli, a fervent supporter of Test cricket, was applauded by spectators for saying this at the presentation ceremony. India is a titan in the world of cricket, but despite this the holders of the ICC’s three pinnacles of cricket trophies are the West Indies, England and New Zealand. We will discover if this order changes in the next cycle.

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 24 June 2021

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.