Five things we learned from penultimate World Cup qualifiers as Gulf’s main challengers win again

Five things we learned from penultimate World Cup qualifiers as Gulf’s main challengers win again
Saudi Arabia were starting to run out of ideas, and not beating Singapore would have been a huge blow to confidence. (Twitter: @Yalmisehal)
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Updated 12 June 2021

Five things we learned from penultimate World Cup qualifiers as Gulf’s main challengers win again

Five things we learned from penultimate World Cup qualifiers as Gulf’s main challengers win again
  • Saudi Arabia left it late against Singapore while UAE cruised against Indonesia, but neither can afford any slip-ups on the final matchday

Friday was another good evening for Arab teams in the penultimate set of matches in the second round of 2022 World Cup qualification. The big teams all won but then so did most of their group rivals to set up a what is sure to be tense final matchday.

Here are five things we learned.

1. Relief for Renard and all of Saudi Arabia

A 3-0 win for Saudi sounds comprehensive but it was scoreless heading into the final 10 minutes and Singapore, determined and resolute in defense and unusually cynical in terms of running down the clock, had just hit the post. There were nerves in Riyadh, and fans who had expected a regulation win against a team that had lost 5-0 to Uzbekistan and 4-0 to Palestine in the past eight days were suddenly checking the rankings of the best performing second-placed teams.

Saudi Arabia were starting to run out of ideas — and not beating Singapore would have been a huge blow to confidence as well as chances of reaching the next round — when the main man Salem Al-Dawsari popped up with a goal six minutes from time. Then the fleet-footed Fahad Al-Muwallad took advantage of a mistake and all was well with the world. He helped spare coach Renard a very difficult time with one consolation being that Uzbekistan also struggled in their Yemen clash. It will be forgotten if the right result is collected against Uzbekistan on Tuesday.

2. As expected, it comes down to the final game for UAE

After successive defeats at the hands of Thailand and Vietnam all the way back in 2019, the UAE would surely have settled for going into the final game still in control of its own destiny and that is the case.

Once again, Ali Mabkhout and Fabio Lima got on the scoresheet in a comprehensive 5-0 win against Indonesia to make it three wins out of three in the last week or so. Vietnam will be a tougher test of course and the two-point advantage the Golden Stars have is crucial. It is not just that the Reds can afford to draw, but that position means that Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo, Mr. Pragmatism, will love nothing more than being able to sit back, let the UAE do the running and hit on the counter-attack. It could be a frustrating 90 minutes for the Emiratis. 

3. Iraq set themselves up for a huge test

The 2007 Asian champions have slipped under the radar a little but have been in great form and the 1-0 win over Hong Kong was a 19th game without defeat. It wasn’t a vintage performance, but sometimes there are games in which you just have to win by any means and this was one of those. Iraq has become adept at grinding out results and may need to do something similar against Iran on Tuesday.

Despite the great form, Iraq will face their toughest test for years and they may well need that two-point advantage if they are to finish first — though it may well be the case that second will be enough. Iran has won all three of their games in Bahrain and have real momentum. They also have players such as Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi who are coming off great European seasons and look like scoring every time they get the ball. It is a huge game for both teams.

4. Yemen did Saudi Arabia, and themselves, proud

If Uzbekistan thought all it had to do was turn up against Yemen to take the three points it was very much mistaken. The veteran defender Ahmed Wahid was everywhere in the middle, intercepting, instructing and tackling and just using all of his 35 years to keep the men from Sanaa in the game. Yemen has played little football in recent years due to the conflict in the country but pushed Uzbekistan all the way. Indeed, the Central Asians only won due to a first-half penalty. 

The stage is not over for Yemen. The team may be bottom of the group but if they defeat Palestine on Tuesday then they will finish third behind Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, two powers of the Asian game, and that will be a success and something to be proud of. It would also be a huge step toward another appearance at the Asian Cup.

5. Kuwait and Jordan trip each other up

These two second-tier West Asian powers have had a disappointing campaign so far with neither really suggesting they are ready to move up to the next level; Kuwait especially because it has had home advantage since the second round resumed but failed to score a single goal against Australia and Jordan.

The 0-0 draw between the two on Friday has surely ended the hopes of both teams and even if Jordan defeat Australia on Tuesday, it is unlikely that it will be enough to finish as one of the best four runners-up. Both will look back and wonder if they could not have done more.


Saudi U-23 football team ends disappointing Tokyo 2020 with a loss to reigning champions Brazil

Saudi U-23 football team ends disappointing Tokyo 2020 with a loss to reigning champions Brazil
Updated 3 min 19 sec ago

Saudi U-23 football team ends disappointing Tokyo 2020 with a loss to reigning champions Brazil

Saudi U-23 football team ends disappointing Tokyo 2020 with a loss to reigning champions Brazil
  • Despite playing well in all three of their matches, the Young Falcons failed to win a single point at the Olympics

Saudi Arabia’s U-23 team bowed out of the Olympic football completion after losing 3-1 to Rio 2016 champions Brazil at Saitama Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

The Saudis put in another commendable performance but defensive mistakes cost them the chance of claiming a single point from the three Group D clashes.

The match was watched by the President of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal.

Having lost its first two group matches against Ivory Coast (2-1) and Germany (3-2), Saudi Arabia came into this fixture with nothing to play for except pride, while Brazil needed to avoid defeat to confirm progress to the quarterfinals.

Coach Saad Al-Shehri sent out a team that seemed focused on defending, but it took Brazil only 14 minutes to take the lead when Matheus Cunha headed past Amin Al-Bukhairi, the Saudi goalkeeper, who only managed to get a hand to the ball in his first start at Tokyo 2020.

On 20 minutes Brazil almost doubled its lead when Antony Santos headed against the bar from a precise Diego Carlos cross, and the pressure was maintained for several minutes as the Saudis struggled to hold the champions off.

The Young Falcons were getting plenty of possession of their own but were not able to threaten Brazil.

They finally scored the equalizer on 27 minutes when Salman Al-Faraj’s curling freekick was headed firmly by Abdulelah Al-Amri past Santos in the Brazil goal.

As against Germany in the second match, the Saudis were not awed by their more celebrated opponents and the goal gave them even more confidence to attack.

With three minutes left of the first half Cunha’s cross was almost turned in from close range by Antony but Al-Bukhairi saved superbly, injuring himself as the Brazilian attacker seemed to unintentionally step on his hand.

The early stages of the second half saw few chances at either end. Brazil should have taken the lead on 65 minutes after Richarlison’s shot was saved by Al-Bukhairi and Cunha struck the rebound against the post when it would have been easier to score.

Ten minutes later Brazil retook the lead after a Dani Alves freekick was cleared by the Saudi defence, but only to Bruno Guimaraes. He headed the ball back across the penalty area for Richarlison to finish with clinical header for this fourth goal of the tournament.

In the last seconds of normal time Richarlison scored again but the goal was ruled out for offside.

With seven minutes added on, there was still time for Richarlison to tap in Reinier’s cross for Brazil’s third in the 93rd minute.

Their win put Brazil at the top of Group D with seven points and they now progress to the quarterfinals, along with Ivory Coast. They managed a 1-1 draw with Germany, who depart Tokyo with Saudi Arabia.


UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation teams up with I-Friends to produce Arabic TV series promoting the sport and its values

UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation teams up with I-Friends to produce Arabic TV series promoting the sport and its values
Updated 28 July 2021

UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation teams up with I-Friends to produce Arabic TV series promoting the sport and its values

UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation teams up with I-Friends to produce Arabic TV series promoting the sport and its values
  • TV series will fuse drama and sport and serve as a vehicle to highlight the popularity and benefit of the sport in the Arab world

ABU DHABI: The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF) and I-Friends Sport, a subsidiary of the television production firm I-Friends Culture and Media, are partnering to produce an Arabic drama series that will highlight the sport of jiu-jitsu and the benefits its values have on society.

The signing of the partnership by the sport’s governing body in the emirates and the media firm took place at the federation’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi in the presence of UAEJJF General Secretary Fahad Al Shamsi and I-Friends Culture and Media General Manager Amr Mostafa Kamel.

“The media have always been a key vehicle to promote the sport of jiu-jitsu in the community through both sporting events and wider initiatives,” Al-Shamsi, said. “Today’s MoU signing elevates our efforts in embracing technology to raise awareness of the values of our beloved sport. This drama series will offer viewers a new experience and a different view of jiu-jitsu and the role it plays beyond the mat. Our partnership with I-Friends Culture and Media is a result of a common vision and goals in promoting positive values and healthy living.

“We look forward to working with the I-Friends team on this project and engaging jiu-jitsu coaches and players to reflect the true nature of the sport,” he added.

Commenting on the feature format of the show, Kamel said: “Drama plays an important role in promoting values and ideas, and the popularity of Arabic drama series has grown, reaching viewers from all the Arab world. The partnership with the UAEJJF will allow us to use our expertise in the field of drama production and present the sport of jiu-jitsu and its values.”

“Sports drama has always been a great success around the world, whether dealing with the lives of athletes or the history of sports,” he added. “We are confident that our cooperation with the UAEJJF will help project the jiu-jitsu sport forward and engage new audiences.”

Further details on the name of the series, where it will be streamed and how viewers can access the content will be revealed in the coming weeks, and the show will be broadcast primarily in UAE and Egypt, to reflect the growth of the sport among athletes from different countries.


Egyptian handball team beats host Japan for 2nd win at Tokyo 2020

Egyptian handball team beats host Japan for 2nd win at Tokyo 2020
Updated 28 July 2021

Egyptian handball team beats host Japan for 2nd win at Tokyo 2020

Egyptian handball team beats host Japan for 2nd win at Tokyo 2020
  • Sweden will be Egypt’s next Group B opponent before match against Bahrain

IYADH: Egypt on Wednesday beat Olympics host Japan 33-29 in the third preliminary round Group B match of the Games’ handball competition at Yoyogi National Stadium to record the team’s second win of the tournament.

The Egyptians had defeated Portugal 37-31 in their opening match of Tokyo 2020, but on Monday lost 32-27 to Denmark.

The win against Japan will reinvigorate the nation’s hopes of qualifying for next week’s quarterfinals.

In what was a more comfortable victory than the final score suggested, Egypt took an early first half lead and never relinquished it, with the halftime score standing at 18-11.

The Egyptians maintained their superiority throughout the second half with 37-year-old veteran Ahmed El-Ahmar, and Yehia El-Deraa among the team’s standout players.

Japan piled on some late pressure when it looked like the game was already up, but Egypt remained dangerous on the break and kept the hosts at arm’s length. A last-ditch Japanese flurry, that cut the margin of the win to four points by the final buzzer, never looked to have Egypt in trouble.

Egypt’s next match in Group B will be against Sweden on Friday, before the team faces Bahrain on Sunday.


American gymnastics star Simone Biles withdraws from Olympic all-around competition

American gymnastics star Simone Biles withdraws from Olympic all-around competition
Updated 28 July 2021

American gymnastics star Simone Biles withdraws from Olympic all-around competition

American gymnastics star Simone Biles withdraws from Olympic all-around competition
  • She posted on social media on Monday that she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders
TOKYO: Simone Biles will not defend her Olympic title.
The American gymnastics superstar withdrew from Thursday’s all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being.
USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Wednesday that the 24-year-old is opting to not compete. The decision comes a day after Biles removed herself from the team final following one rotation because she felt she wasn’t mentally ready.
Jade Carey, who finished ninth in qualifying, will take Biles’ place in the all-around. Carey initially did not qualify because she was the third-ranking American behind Biles and Sunisa Lee. International Gymnastics Federation rules limit countries to two athletes per event in the finals.
The organization said Biles will be evaluated daily before deciding if she will participate in next week’s individual events. Biles qualified for the finals on all four apparatuses, something she didn’t even do during her five-medal haul in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The 24-year-old came to Tokyo as arguably the face of the Games following the retirement of swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt. She topped qualifying on Sunday despite piling up mandatory deductions on vault, floor and beam following shaky dismounts.
She posted on social media on Monday that she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. The weight became too heavy after vaulting during team finals. She lost herself in mid-air and completed 1 1/2 twists instead of 2 1/2. She consulted with US team doctor Marcia Faustin before walking off the field of play.
When she returned, she took off her bar grips, hugged teammates Sunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles and turned into the team’s head cheerleader as the US claimed silver behind the Russian Olympic Committee.
“Once I came out here (to compete), I was like, ‘No mental is, not there so I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself,’” Biles said following the medal ceremony.
The decision opens the door wide open for the all-around, a title that was long considered a foregone conclusion. Rebeca Andrade of Brazil finished second to Biles during qualifying, followed by Lee and Russians Angelina Melnikova and Vladislava Urazova. The four were separated by three-tenths of a point on Sunday.
Carey now finds herself in the final, capping a remarkable journey for the 21-year-old from Phoenix. She spent two years traveling the globe in an effort to pile up enough points on the World Cup circuit to earn an individual nominative spot, meaning she would be in the Olympics but technically not be part of the four-woman US team.
Carey posted the second-best score on vault and the third-best on floor during qualifying, earning trips to the event finals in the process. Now she finds herself competing for an all-around medal while replacing the athlete considered the greatest of all-time in the sport.

Environmentalists slam All Blacks tie-up with petrochemical firm

Environmentalists slam All Blacks tie-up with petrochemical firm
Updated 28 July 2021

Environmentalists slam All Blacks tie-up with petrochemical firm

Environmentalists slam All Blacks tie-up with petrochemical firm
  • The tie-up puts the All Blacks into the high-performing Ineos sports stable along with the Mercedes F1 team

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Rugby confirmed a deal Wednesday for petrochemical giant Ineos to sponsor the All Blacks, in an agreement slammed by environmental watchdog Greenpeace.
Ineos has signed a six-year deal which will put its logo on the shorts of the 15- and seven-a-side men’s and women’s All Blacks teams as well as the Maori All Blacks and the New Zealand under-20 side.
The tie-up, reported in local media to be worth NZ$8.0 million ($5.6 million), puts the All Blacks into the high-performing Ineos sports stable along with the Mercedes F1 team, Grenadiers cycling team and Team UK sailing, as well as the Nice and Lausanne-Sport football clubs.
However, Greenpeace campaigner Juressa Lee said it was “gutting” to see New Zealand Rugby sign a sponsorship deal with the oil and gas conglomerate.
“Many of our rugby players are of Maori and Pacific descent, and come from communities which are on the frontline of sea level rise and extreme storm events, and they shouldn’t be expected to wear the brand of a climate polluter like Ineos,” she said.
“We also want to see our people living their dreams donning the black jersey, but now they will carry the Ineos brand, and Ineos is one of the world’s worst oil and plastic polluters.”
Announcing the deal, New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson had said: “We are committed to nurturing the development of rugby over the next six years with Ineos Sport and are looking forward to working alongside some of the best sports teams in the world.
“Ineos will bring an innovative approach and dedication to the partnership with our Teams in Black, qualities we see across all aspects of their business, particularly around sustainability with their commitment to deliver a zero-carbon emission future in line with the Paris Agreement.”
The 2015 Paris climate accord aims to limit temperature rises to “well below” 2.0 Celsius above pre-industrial levels and try to limit them to 1.5C.
All Blacks Captain Sam Whitelock said he welcomed being involved in the Ineos high-performance sport group.
“The All Blacks are looking forward to being part of this performance partnership and learning from some of their incredible sporting partnerships as well,” he said.