5 talking points as Saudi Arabia, UAE progress to final round of AFC qualification for 2022 World Cup

5 talking points as Saudi Arabia, UAE progress to final round of AFC qualification for 2022 World Cup
Salman Al-Faraj donned the captain’s armband, and the soon-to-be 32-year-old rolled back the years to end Uzbek dreams. (Getty Images)
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Updated 16 June 2021

5 talking points as Saudi Arabia, UAE progress to final round of AFC qualification for 2022 World Cup

5 talking points as Saudi Arabia, UAE progress to final round of AFC qualification for 2022 World Cup
  • Salman Al-Faraj timed his run perfectly after 32 minutes and finished from just inside the area — his second goal came five minutes later, a flick from close range after an incisive move
  • The late Pim Verbeek would have loved the sight of Oman in the third round of qualification, taking on the big boys in the big games

RIYADH: It did not turn out to be quite the day of high drama that fans in Asia had expected but the final matchday in the second round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup was, overall, a good one for Arab football.

In the end the big boys made it. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iraq all got through to the third stage that kicks off in September. They will be joined by Oman, Syria, and Lebanon.

To have six Arab teams in the final 12 is an improvement on five from four years ago and there were five things we learned from an interesting, rather than a dramatic, evening.

1. Al-Faraj stepped up to ensure Al-Dawsari was not missed

There were some concerns that Saudi Arabia would miss their talismanic captain Salem Al-Dawsari who was suspended for the top-of-the-group clash with Uzbekistan.

But there was no need to worry. Salman Al-Faraj donned the armband and then the soon-to-be 32-year-old rolled back the years to end the dreams of the central Asians. He timed his run perfectly after 32 minutes and finished from just inside the area. His second goal came five minutes later, a flick from close range after an incisive move and another well-timed run.

At that moment, Saudi Arabia could relax in the knowledge that they were going through to the third round of qualification.

There is work still to do — even against Uzbekistan the Green Falcons were a little sloppy — but before that, coach Herve Renard can reflect on a job well done.

2. Mabkhout grabbed headlines but Abdullah Ramadan emerged as genuine star

Bert van Marwijk should be placing a call to Al-Jazira today to thank the UAE champions for having Abdullah Ramadan and Ali Mabkhout in their team. The understanding between the 23-year-old midfielder and the 30-year-old goal machine is clear for all to see but stopping it working to beautiful effect is another question for defenders entirely.

Mabkhout was not the player on the receiving end of a perfect ball over the top that was finished to break the deadlock after 32 minutes. That was Ali Salmeen. Ramadan’s ball soon after also caused problems and led to a penalty that Mabkhout converted to take his total for the round to an impressive 11.

There are tougher tests to come but when the pressure was on, the UAE delivered, helped by their new midfield star.

3. Iraq coach Katanec needs to find a little more variety

It will not matter too much to Iraq that they only just squeezed into the final round of qualification, just being there is what matters. There should be a little concern however that when Iraq came up against one of the best teams in Asia, the Lions of Mesopotamia fell short.

Perhaps the situation did not help as Iraq knew that a draw would be enough. Manager Srecko Katanec went with a defensive formation and mindset but even after Sardar Azmoun gave Iran a first-half lead, there was not enough flexibility, urgency, or perhaps even desire to get the goal that would have given Iraq top spot and a guaranteed place in the third round.

The Slovenian coach has plenty of talent at his disposal and if he can find the best way to use it then Iraq have a chance.

4. Oman give late coach Verbeek a fitting tribute

The men from Muscat glided into the third round almost unnoticed, perhaps because their group contained World Cup hosts Qatar and so there was little of the top-two battle that could be found in other groups. Yet the Reds will be in the final 12 and it is a great tribute to the late Pim Verbeek.

The Dutchman, former head coach of South Korea and Australia, was in charge of Oman from 2016 to the 2019 Asian Cup, after which illness forced him to leave a job and country he loved, and the same cancer sadly took his life later the same year.

He would also have loved the sight of Oman in the third round of qualification and taking on the big boys in the big games.

5. Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen show serious heart

All three of these teams have had to deal with well-publicized off-the-pitch issues. Lebanon actually made it through to the final 12 though and will be saying a little thank you to Saudi Arabia for beating Uzbekistan on the final day for that.

It is amazing that the Cedars have come so far once again and no team in the next round will relish going to Beirut.

Palestine ended up finishing third in a competitive group and, again, given the trouble the team has experienced just holding training camps and gathering the squad, as well as everything else that has had to be dealt with in recent weeks and months, that is a fantastic achievement.

Yemen finishing bottom was no disgrace whatsoever given that there has been no competitive football to speak of in the country for seven years. To draw with Saudi Arabia and lose 1-0 to Uzbekistan is an achievement that matches any of the successful dozen.


Dec. 14 confirmed as date for Maradona Cup match between Barcelona and Boca Juniors in Saudi Arabia

Dec. 14 confirmed as date for Maradona Cup match between Barcelona and Boca Juniors in Saudi Arabia
Updated 26 October 2021

Dec. 14 confirmed as date for Maradona Cup match between Barcelona and Boca Juniors in Saudi Arabia

Dec. 14 confirmed as date for Maradona Cup match between Barcelona and Boca Juniors in Saudi Arabia
  • The match between the Spanish and Argentine giants, which is part of the Riyadh Season festivities, will honor the late Diego Maradona, who played for both

Spanish soccer giants Barcelona and Argentina’s Boca Juniors will contest the Maradona Cup on Dec. 14 at King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh, several sources confirmed on Monday, including the European side.

Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, had previously announced in a message posted on Twitter this month that two of Argentine legend Diego Maradona’s former clubs would face off in a friendly match in November as part of Riyadh Season. On Monday night he posted update with the new date for the match.

The post included a short video that showed Maradona scoring his famous solo goal against England during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, along with highlights from his time with Barcelona and Boca Juniors. It ends with the words “legend forever.”

The inaugural Riyadh Season in 2019 attracted more than 10 million visitors. After skipping 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event returned this month. Described as one of the biggest global entertainment festivals, with a diverse program of events and experiences spread across 14 venues in the capital, it will continue until March 2022.


Saudi Arabia beat Kuwait by four wickets in ICC T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier

Saudi Arabia managed 149/6 with six balls remaining, with player of the match Sajid Cheema scoring 52 runs, having earlier taken two catches. (Twitter: @cricketsaudi)
Saudi Arabia managed 149/6 with six balls remaining, with player of the match Sajid Cheema scoring 52 runs, having earlier taken two catches. (Twitter: @cricketsaudi)
Updated 25 October 2021

Saudi Arabia beat Kuwait by four wickets in ICC T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier

Saudi Arabia managed 149/6 with six balls remaining, with player of the match Sajid Cheema scoring 52 runs, having earlier taken two catches. (Twitter: @cricketsaudi)
  • Men’s T20 World Cup will be held in Australia next October

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia beat Kuwait by four wickets in their Men's ICC T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier in Doha on Monday.

They won the toss and elected to field first, with Kuwait posting 146/8 in their 20 overs.

With a target of 147 set for a win, Saudi Arabia managed 149/6 with six balls remaining, with player of the match Sajid Cheema scoring 52 runs, having earlier taken two catches.

The Asia qualifiers in Qatar will determine which team progresses to next year’s Men’s ICC T20 World Cup taking place in Australia.

After two rounds of matches, Saudi Arabia now lead the five-team qualifying competition with a maximum of four points from two wins, followed by Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, who have two points each from a win and a loss. 

The Maldives are in last place with no points from two defeats. Saudi Arabia comfortably beat the Maldives in their first match by seven wickets, with 29 balls remaining.

The Maldives were 98/9, while the Saudis were 101/3 from 15.1 overs.

Saudi Arabia’s next match will be on Wednesday against hosts Qatar.


Casper Ruud and Denis Shapovalov confirmed for the 2021 Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi

Casper Ruud and Denis Shapovalov confirmed for the 2021 Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi
Updated 25 October 2021

Casper Ruud and Denis Shapovalov confirmed for the 2021 Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi

Casper Ruud and Denis Shapovalov confirmed for the 2021 Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi
  • The two men join women’s US Open winner Emma Raducanu and Olympic champion Belinda Bencic in the line-up for the tournament

ABU DHABI: World No. 8 Casper Ruud and No. 13 Denis Shapovalov have been confirmed for the 2021 Mubadala World Tennis Championship taking place at the International Tennis Centre on December 16-18.

After a one-year absence due to the pandemic, the tournament will be held in the UAE capital for the 13th time with full capacity crowds.

Ruud, winner of the most ATP titles in 2021, and Shapovalov, who reached his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, are the first two male players to be confirmed for this year’s event.

The pair, both regarded as future Grand Slam champions, join women’s US Open winner Emma Raducanu and her opponent on day one, Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic, in signing up to make their Abu Dhabi and tournament debuts. The remaining four players will be announced in the coming weeks.

“Announcing the players for the Championship is always a special moment and we have two special players in Casper and Denis,” said John Lickrish, CEO of Flash Entertainment, which is running the tournament. “Our goal is to bring the world’s best talent and build on the legacy of our championship and both players are the perfect fit.”

“They are young, supremely talented, have had successes this season and are great additions to the line-up alongside Emma and Belinda,” he said. “We are once again on track to bring the best-of-the-best from the world of tennis. Stay tuned for more announcements and rest assured the Championship is, as always, a must attend for all tennis fans.”

Norwegian ace Ruud is arguably the most improved player on the ATP tour this year, having won five tour titles in 2021, his latest victory coming at the San Diego Open earlier this October. It is a run that has made him the first Norwegian to break into the world’s top 10.

“I’ve had a great season this year and I’m excited to make my debut at this year’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship. I’m eager to keep improving next year, so Abu Dhabi in December provides a chance to play against the world’s best in preparation for another big season, while exploring a new destination and new cultures,” said Ruud.

Canadian star Shapovalov has also had an impressive year, achieving his best Grand Slam results in reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon. In 2020 he was one of only two Canadian men to achieve an ATP Top-10 ranking.

“It’s always nice to play in a new city and get the opportunity to see and do different things. I’m excited to come to Abu Dhabi to see all it has to offer, and I’ve heard great things about the venue so I’m looking forward to playing against the best in the world and putting on a show for the fans,” said Shapovalov.


Rosberg X Racing wins Island X Prix in Sardinia to take commanding lead in inaugural Extreme E season

Rosberg X Racing wins Island X Prix in Sardinia to take commanding lead in inaugural Extreme E season
Updated 25 October 2021

Rosberg X Racing wins Island X Prix in Sardinia to take commanding lead in inaugural Extreme E season

Rosberg X Racing wins Island X Prix in Sardinia to take commanding lead in inaugural Extreme E season
  • The team established by former Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg has now won three of the four races in electric SUV series

SARDINIA: Rosberg X Racing made it three wins from four races by securing victory at the Enel X Island X Prix in Sardinia to build a commanding lead in the inaugural Extreme E championship season.

The race was the fourth in the first-ever electric SUV series, which launched in April with the Desert X Prix at AlUla. That was followed by the Ocean X Prix in Dakar, Senegal, at the end of May and the Arctic X Prix in Greenland in August. The fifth and final race will be the Jurassic X Prix in Dorset, the UK, in December.

RXR drivers Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor kept their heads in difficult conditions to seal a dramatic victory in Sardinia — for the team established by former Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg — ahead of ABT CUPRA XE, who secured their best result of the season in second.

“It was pretty slippery out there, so it was a bit difficult to judge at first,” Taylor said. “From that point it was just trying to manage the risk and I think that is what we did really well. Johan brought it home and again it was just an amazing effort by all of the team. We had a very challenging weekend from our side, but we never gave up and are very happy to be the winners here.”

There was heartbreak, however, for long-time leaders in the final SEGI TV Chip Ganassi Racing. Sara Price’s crash on the second lap caused terminal damage and meant she had to stop on the track, ensuring the team could only finish as high as fourth on their finals debut. That meant JBXE were able to secure their third podium finish in succession with third place despite also suffering damage out on the course.

Bad luck once again befell fastest qualifiers X44 in the final, as Sebastien Loeb was forced to stop out on track and retire with broken steering. Loeb was running in second behind SEGI TV’s Kyle LeDuc despite driving with a slow puncture at the time of the stoppage, which meant the team fell even further behind winners and championship leaders RXR in the standings.

“When I took over the car, we were in second place and were pretty isolated,” RXR’s Kristoffersson said. “We had Mattias (Ekstrom) behind, but I knew it was going to be tricky to do the overtake. Then I heard that Sara had suffered broken steering out in front so I tried to get the car back in one piece by not taking any big risks. I think in this final that Molly really did the best job and it feels great to bring it home.”

In treacherous conditions, four of the five teams were able to get off the start line cleanly, although ABT CUPRA XE were left with plenty of work to do after Jutta Kleinschmidt stalled on the grid. It looked like X44 had staged a remarkable comeback to lead into the first corner, but were beaten spectacularly by LeDuc, who managed to get in front after using the alternative route.

“I was so concentrated on the start to make it well and light and then I pushed the car and nothing happened. I said, ‘Oh shoot, what is going on,’” said Kleinschmidt. “Then I pushed it, but everybody was gone, so I had to try to come back, which worked very well. We so nearly made it ahead of RXR, but unfortunately then Mattias lost the door so he had to slow down to not let the water come in, because then maybe you have mud inside and then you don’t see anything anymore. Finally, though, we are on the podium so we are happy.”

Final Result

1 Rosberg X Racing (Molly Taylor / Johan Kristoffersson) 2 laps (11.42)

2 ABT Cupra XE (Jutta Kleinschmidt / Mattias Ekstrom) +24.58s

3 JBXE (Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky / Kevin Hansen) +1 lap

4 SEGI TV Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle LeDuc / Sara Price) +1 lap5

X44 (Sebastien Loeb / Cristina Gutierrez) +2 laps


Championship Standings

1 Rosberg X Racing (Johan Kristoffersson / Molly Taylor) 129 points

2 X44 (Sebastien Loeb / Cristina Gutierrez) 113 points

3 Andretti United Extreme E (Timmy Hansen / Catie Munnings) 93 points

4 JBXE (Kevin Hansen / Mikaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky) 92 points

5 ABT CUPRA XE (Mattias Ekstrom / Jutta Kleinschmidt) 83 points

6 ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team (Carlos Sainz Snr. / Laia Sanz) 78 points

7 SEGI TV Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle Leduc / Sara Price) 63 points8

8 Veloce Racing (Stephane Sarrazin / Emma Gilmour) 60 points

9 XITE ENERGY RACING (Oliver Bennett / Christine Giampaoli Zonca) 55 points


Dubai Moonlight Classic returns to Faldo Course as world’s only day-to-night tournament

Dubai Moonlight Classic returns to Faldo Course as world’s only day-to-night tournament
Updated 25 October 2021

Dubai Moonlight Classic returns to Faldo Course as world’s only day-to-night tournament

Dubai Moonlight Classic returns to Faldo Course as world’s only day-to-night tournament
  • Top international female players will take part in action at Emirates Golf Club on Oct. 27-29

DUBAI: The Dubai Moonlight Classic by EGA will put some of the best female golfers in the world under the spotlight when they tee off on the Faldo Course at Emirates Golf Club from Oct. 27to 29 in the only day-to-night tournament in world golf.

With the tournament free to enter for spectators, here are five reasons to watch the on-course action:

1. Sibling rivalry

Thai sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn are in red-hot form this season, the pair winning the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in July thanks to an impressive fourball 59 on the final day.

Aside from the shared win, younger sibling Ariya also claimed victory in the Honda LPGA Thailand and posted seven top-10 finishes this year. The 25-year-old is also a two-time Major winner, while older sister Moriya, 27, has six top-10 finishes to her name this year.

2. Golfing greats

Even to those who know little to nothing about golf, Dame Laura Davies will need no introduction. With a staggering 85 professional wins, the Englishwoman is a bona fide golfing legend and one of the game’s all-time greats. What is more, she plays golf with a smile on her face.

Scottish golfing legend Catriona Matthew hit the headlines earlier this year when she successfully captained the European Team to a Solheim Cup title defense. The 15-13 win over the US team at the Inverness Club in the face of a partisan home support in Toledo, Ohio gave Team Europe back-to-back wins, and the 52-year-old ranks the result right up there with her 11 professional tournament wins.

3. The next generation

While Matthew and Davies have seen it all, Chiara Noja is at the other end of the spectrum. The 14-year-old, playing her second Dubai Moonlight Classic, officially turned professional on the eve of the tournament, marking a major milestone in what could well be a promising career.

The Dubai-based golfer could learn a thing or two from current Race to Costa del Sol leader, Atthaya Thitikul. Still only 18, the Thai sensation became the youngest ever golfer to win a professional tournament at the Ladies European Thailand Championship in 2017 where she triumphed aged just 14 years, four months, and 19 days old.

4. Indian inspiration

There is not one but two Indian Olympian stars in the field at this year’s event. Aditi Ashok, a three-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, narrowly missed out on a medal at this year’s Games as she finished fourth in Tokyo. The 23-year-old will be one to watch on the Faldo for sure; she finished tied sixth at last year’s Dubai Desert Classic just two strokes behind eventual winner Minjee Lee.

Compatriot and left-hander Diksha Dagar, who received a late entry to this year’s Games, is a two-time winner on the LET. The 20-year-old also represented India at the 2017 Summer Deaflympics where she secured a silver medal.

5. Race to the top

It is not just the coveted Dubai Moonlight Classic title that is up for grabs at the Faldo – the tournament also counts toward the Race to Costa del Sol, the season-long competition to crown the No. 1 player on the LET.

With a $290,000 bonus pool for the top three finishers, there is plenty at stake.  Current leader Thitikul will be looking to further consolidate her grip on this year’s title and hoping for a third tournament win this season, but the Thai sensation will be joined by nearest challengers Sanna Nuutinen, Stephanie Kyriacou, Pia Babnik, and Marianne Skarpnord as the entire top five and eight of the top 10 tee it up at the Faldo.