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.


Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts
Updated 30 July 2021

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts
  • The Serb collapsed from a set and a break ahead as German fourth seed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1

TOKYO: World number one Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday and a defeated American swimmer launched doping accusations against a Russian rival.
As the athletics events began in a stadium deprived of spectators by anti-coronavirus measures, Jamaican sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made an impressive entrance.
Djokovic's bid for a calendar Golden Grand Slam -- all four Grand Slam tournaments plus the Olympics -- was dramatically ended by Alexander Zverev.
The Serb collapsed from a set and a break ahead as German fourth seed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 to set up a final against Russian Karen Khachanov.
In a bitter row at the pool, American swimmer Ryan Murphy accused Evgeny Rylov of doping after he was beaten by the Russian in the 200m backstroke.
Murphy said he had been "swimming in a race that's probably not clean".
Rylov said he was "surprised" by Murphy's "strange" suggestion.
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) hit back on Twitter, saying "the broken record is once again playing the song about Russia doping and someone is diligently pressing the button on the English-language propaganda".
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency said Rylov had been tested three times this year and that he was "prepared and clean".
Russia are banned from Tokyo 2020 after being found guilty of state-sponsored doping, meaning their athletes cannot use the Russian flag and anthem.
But more than 330 Russian athletes have been allowed to compete under the ROC moniker, and they had won 10 golds by Friday evening to lie fourth in the medals table.
As competition began in the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, Fraser-Pryce successfully launched her bid to become the first woman to win an individual Olympic athletics event three times.
The Jamaican, 100 metres champion in 2008 and 2012, shut down with 20 metres remaining and strode over the line for a comfortable first-round victory in 10.84sec.
One of her rivals, the Ivory Coast's Marie-Josee Ta Lou, blasted to an African record-equalling 10.78sec and reigning champion Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica recorded 10.82sec on what appears to be a fast track.
"If you notice the heats, there's some really quick running. It's good for female sprinting. It's long overdue," Fraser-Pryce said.
The semi-finals and final of that event take place on Saturday evening.
World record-holder Karsten Warholm of Norway strolled to victory in his heat of the 400m hurdles heat, an event that could be one of the highlights.
"It was nice to get out on the track again," said Warholm. "I've been here for two weeks already, I'm starting to get bored so it was very nice to get around."
Qatar's Abderrahman Samba eased through but said he felt the absence of spectators: "It was really, really difficult. I really missed the crowd."
In the pool, South Africa's Tatjana Schoenmaker was overjoyed after becoming the first South African woman to win an Olympic swimming gold for 25 years as she obliterated the eight-year-old world record in the 200m breaststroke, timing 2min 18.95sec.
Australia's Emma McKeon claimed her fourth medal in Tokyo as she blazed to the women's 100m freestyle title in a new Olympic record of 51.96sec.
Hong Kong's Siobhan Haughey -- one of the surprises of the swimming events -- earned another silver medal to add to that from the 200m freestyle.
French judo superstar Teddy Riner came up short in his bid to win a historic third consecutive heavyweight title, losing to Russia's world number one Tamerlan Bashaev in the quarter-final. Riner had to settle for bronze.
The shadow of coronavirus hung over the start of the athletics with the Australian team saying three of its members would remain isolated from the rest of the squad "as a precautionary measure" after a scare.
The three are classed as close contacts of US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has been ruled out of the Games after testing positive for Covid-19.
Ian Chesterman, the chef de mission of the Australian Olympic Committee, told a press conference: "They all tested negative which is good. They also confirmed the daily test results which have also been negative and confirmed their test results before they left Australia."
Coronavirus cases are surging in Japan a week into the Games.
On Friday, Tokyo 2020 organisers reported 27 new cases related to the event -- the highest daily figure yet -- although they insist there is nothing to suggest a link between the Games and rising infections in Japan.


Husein Alireza’s Olympic rowing adventure ends after injury hampered Tokyo 2020

Husein Alireza’s Olympic rowing adventure ends after injury hampered Tokyo 2020
Updated 30 July 2021

Husein Alireza’s Olympic rowing adventure ends after injury hampered Tokyo 2020

Husein Alireza’s Olympic rowing adventure ends after injury hampered Tokyo 2020
  • 27-year-old carried Saudi Arabia’s flag alongside sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh at Olympics opening ceremony

RIYADH: Saudi rower Husein Alireza’s Tokyo 2020 journey at the Sea Forest Waterway has come to an end after an injury plagued Olympics.

He bowed out of the competition coming 24th in a field of 32 after finishing sixth in the men’s single sculls final D on Friday.

It was the fifth race in just over a week at the Olympics for Alireza, who has been competing with a lung injury that significantly affected his performances in the heat and humidity of the Japanese capital.

His first race took place on July 23, the same day he became one of the Kingdom’s two flagbearers at the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony, alongside 100 meters sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh.

Alireza had suffered a punctured lung during an Olympic qualification regatta on May 5, which left him unable to train until June 22, just one month before the start of the tournament. The 27-year-old had been advised to give the Olympics a miss with the injury initially expected to heal in no less than three months without any physical exertions.

The handicap clearly affected his form, with his technical team devising a strategy that would see Alireza navigate the best path toward improving his ranking, with medal hopes not seen as realistic in any way.

He started rowing while studying for a master’s degree at Cambridge University in 2017, and it soon became clear he had the talent to go far in the sport. After graduation, he won two Saudi Indoor Rowing Championship golds as well as posting a first-place finish at the US Indoor Rowing Championships.

Alireza had a successful 2019 with wins at the Molesey Regatta in London and the Head of the River Fours, a bronze at the Asian Indoor Rowing Championships in Thailand, and participation at the Asian Rowing Championship in South Korea.

Earlier this year he won gold at the Asian Continental Qualifiers for the 2021 World Indoor Rowing Championships.


Saudi sprinter’s memorable month ends with elimination from Olympics 100m

Yasmine Al-Dabbagh during Heat 2 of the Women's 100 Preliminary Round at Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday morning. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
Yasmine Al-Dabbagh during Heat 2 of the Women's 100 Preliminary Round at Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday morning. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
Updated 30 July 2021

Saudi sprinter’s memorable month ends with elimination from Olympics 100m

Yasmine Al-Dabbagh during Heat 2 of the Women's 100 Preliminary Round at Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday morning. (Supplied/Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee)
  • Yasmine Al-Dabbagh, 23, was Kingdom’s flagbearer with rower Husein Alireza at opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020

RIYADH: Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh has been eliminated from the 100 meters competition at Tokyo 2020 after finishing with a time of 13.34 seconds in the preliminary round heat 2 at the Olympic Stadium on Friday.

It was the first ever Olympic participation for the 23-year-old, who despite finishing last in her race can still look back on a memorable month with some pride.

Al-Dabbagh only confirmed her qualification for the Games through a universality place on July 2 and three weeks later she was one of Saudi Arabia’s two flagbearers at the Olympics opening ceremony, the other being rower Husein Alireza.

Speaking recently to Arab News, Al-Dabbagh expressed her pride at wearing Saudi colors in Japan and the sporting progress in the Kingdom that has allowed her to achieve her dream of racing at the Olympics.

She said: “It means the world to me, especially being part of a diverse and expansive team representing so many different activities. Everything from judo, to table tennis, rowing, karate, archery, weightlifting, swimming, shooting, and football.

“The sports sector in Saudi Arabia has witnessed unprecedented growth and investment, thanks to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030.

“As Saudi athletes, we are all proud of the important role sports plays in the country’s transformation. We have a great sporting ecosystem that allows us to perform at the highest level and I can’t wait to go out on the track, to repay that faith by performing to the best of my ability,” she added.

As a schoolgirl Al-Dabbagh was skilled at many sports including swimming, gymnastics, horse riding, and ice skating. Running, however, proved to be her calling.

While studying at Columbia University in New York she trained to be a short-distance sprinter and after graduation continued to be backed by the Saudi Athletics Federation. She was eventually trained by British Olympic gold medal winner in the 100m, Linford Christie.

In her first 100m race in the Kingdom she broke the existing Saudi record ahead of her progress toward qualification for Tokyo 2020.


Saudi Arabia’s Tahani Al-Qahtani departs Tokyo 2020 Women’s Judo competition after loss to Raz Hershko of Israel

Saudi Arabia’s Tahani Al-Qahtani departs Tokyo 2020 Women’s Judo competition after loss to Raz Hershko of Israel
Updated 11 min 29 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s Tahani Al-Qahtani departs Tokyo 2020 Women’s Judo competition after loss to Raz Hershko of Israel

Saudi Arabia’s Tahani Al-Qahtani departs Tokyo 2020 Women’s Judo competition after loss to Raz Hershko of Israel
  • The 21-year-old was the last of the 33-athlete Saudi delegation to book her place at the Olympics

A high-profile week for Saudi athlete Tahani Al-Qahtani came to an end on Friday morning when she departed Tokyo 2020 after losing to Raz Hershko of Israel in the Judo Women’s +78 kg Round of 32 at Nippon Budokan arena.

Al-Qahtani had been the subject of intense media attention as she had, unlike several other Arab athletes, decided to not withdraw in protest from her contest against an Israeli athlete at Tokyo 2020.

The 21-year-old Saudi lost 11-0 to her opponent, who ended the contest with an ippon, the highest score that can be posted from a judo move.

Before taking to the mat, Al-Qahtani was given words of encouragement by Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) President Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal.

Her’s decision to participate received almost unanimous support in Saudi Arabia, with sports fans and high profile figures taking to social media to praise her for not giving up on a once in a lifetime opportunity.

She had became the last of the 33-athlete Saudi delegation to confirm her spot at Tokyo 2020 thanks to an invitation by the International Judo Federation on July 13, just 10 days before the start of the tournament.

It was while studying at King Saud University in Riyadh that Tahani Al-Qahtani took the first steps towards becoming a judoka.

Despite participating in several other sports, it was judo that proved to be her calling.

She won silver at the Saudi Women's Championship 2019 and gold a year later. In 2020 Al-Qahtani joined the Saudi Judo Training Centre at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh and then gained valuable experience by setting up camp in Tashkent where she mixed with world champions, the Uzbekistan women’s judo team and other athletes from the World Judo Tour.

In June, Al-Qahtani took part in the World Judo Championships Hungary 2021 in the Kingdom’s colours.


Manchester United call off Preston friendly over coronavirus fears

Manchester United call off Preston friendly over coronavirus fears
Updated 29 July 2021

Manchester United call off Preston friendly over coronavirus fears

Manchester United call off Preston friendly over coronavirus fears
  • United were due to make the short trip to Deepdale at the weekend as part of their build-up to the new Premier League season
  • Routine lateral flow testing on Thursday saw some possible positive cases returned

LONDON: Manchester United have canceled their pre-season friendly at Preston on Saturday after a number of suspected Covid-19 cases within the camp of the English football giants.
United were due to make the short trip to Deepdale, fellow northwest club Preston’s home ground, at the weekend as part of their build-up to the new Premier League season.
But routine lateral flow testing on Thursday saw some possible positive cases returned.
Those concerned are now isolating, pending further PCR tests.
In a statement, United said: “Maintaining Covid security is a priority for us. Following routine testing of the first-team training group today, we have identified a small number of suspected positive cases. This has led to those people isolating, pending further tests.
“As a precautionary measure based on Covid protocols, we have taken the difficult decision that we will not now be able to play the friendly match against Preston North End this Saturday.”
The statement added: “We regret the disruption to Preston and disappointment caused to fans. Any Manchester United fans who have purchased tickets for the game will be automatically refunded.
“At this stage, we do not expect further disruption around our forthcoming matches, but we will continue to follow Premier League protocols in this regard.”
United are due to finish their pre-season program with a game against top-flight rivals Everton at Old Trafford on August 7.