Saudi U-23 football team departs for Romania camp ahead of Olympics

Saudi U-23 football team departs for Romania camp ahead of Olympics
The Saudi U-23 team that beat Uganda 2-0 in Monday’s preparation match for the Tokyo Olympics. (Arriyadiyah)
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Updated 08 July 2021

Saudi U-23 football team departs for Romania camp ahead of Olympics

Saudi U-23 football team departs for Romania camp ahead of Olympics
  • Saad Al-Shehri’s team will play two friendly matches before heading for Tokyo 2020
  • In Tokyo, Saudi Arabia’s U-23 team take on the Ivory Coast on July 22, Germany on July 25, and reigning Olympic champions Brazil on July 28

RIYADH: The Saudi U-23 football team on Wednesday departed for Romania where coach Saad Al-Shehri will hold his sixth and final training camp in preparation for the Olympic Games in Japan later this month.

The final squad for Tokyo 2020 was announced earlier this week, and the team will now play two friendly matches against Romanian opposition on Saturday and Tuesday before leaving for Japan directly.

The last two matches for the U-23 team took place in Riyadh against Uganda and resulted in a 0-0 draw and a 2-0 win.

In Tokyo, Saudi Arabia’s U-23 team take on the Ivory Coast on July 22, Germany on July 25, and reigning Olympic champions Brazil on July 28.

The 22 players chosen for the Olympic squad are: Amin Bukhari, Mohammed Al-Rubaie, Zaid Al-Bawardi, Hamad Al-Yami, Khalifa Al-Dossary, Abdulilah Al-Omari, Saud Abdulhamid, Abdullah Hassoun, Abdulbasit Hindi, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Nasser Al-Omran, Ali Al-Hassan, Salman Al-Faraj, Mukhtar Ali, Abdulrahman Ghareeb, Sami Al-Najei, Ayman Al-Khalif, Turki Al-Ammar, Khalid Al-Ghannam, Ayman Yahya, Salem Al-Dossary, and Abdullah Al-Hamdan.


Ballon d’Or sees Barca childhood fan Putellas go down in folklore

Ballon d’Or sees Barca childhood fan Putellas go down in folklore
Updated 30 November 2021

Ballon d’Or sees Barca childhood fan Putellas go down in folklore

Ballon d’Or sees Barca childhood fan Putellas go down in folklore

MADRID: Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.
Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.
Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.
Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.
She started playing the sport in school, against boys.
“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.
So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.
“That’s where things got serious... But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.
After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.
She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.
In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.
It was in the following year that she made the step up to the national team and she has gone on to feature in four major tournaments with Spain, winning 92 caps.
Last season was her crowning glory as her childhood side won the Primera Division and the Copa de la Reina as well as the Champions League in a matter of weeks, a historic achievement for a Spanish women’s outfit.
Individual recognition shortly followed, as she was named UEFA women’s player of the year and Monday’s announcement in Paris made her just the second Spanish player, after Luis Suarez in 1960, to win the much-coveted Ballon d’Or.
 


Messi’s enduring brilliance rewarded with another Ballon d’Or

Messi’s enduring brilliance rewarded with another Ballon d’Or
Updated 30 November 2021

Messi’s enduring brilliance rewarded with another Ballon d’Or

Messi’s enduring brilliance rewarded with another Ballon d’Or
  • The award a is record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or for the best player in the world

PARIS: Some might question whether Lionel Messi really deserved to win his latest Ballon d’Or prize ahead of other worthy candidates, but the Argentinian has been rewarded for continuing to be so good for so long.
The most turbulent year of Messi’s glittering career, in which he was forced to tearfully bid farewell to Barcelona, ends with him — at the age of 34 — claiming a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or for the best player in the world.
In Germany they thought it had to be Robert Lewandowski’s year after he missed out 12 months ago when the 2020 edition was scrapped due to the pandemic.
Karim Benzema might have had plenty of support in Spain for his remarkable performances with Real Madrid, and Jorginho could stake a claim following a year in which he won the Champions League with Chelsea as well as Euro 2020 with Italy.
Yet it is the enduring brilliance of Messi — who won the last award in 2019 — which stays in the minds of the jurors when it comes to voting.
Having joined Paris Saint-Germain in August, he is the first male player to win the award while with a French club since Jean-Pierre Papin of Marseille in 1991, although it was his achievements with Barcelona and with Argentina that counted toward him effectively retaining his crown.
Messi tried unsuccessfully to force his departure from Barcelona in August 2020 but he showed no signs of rancour as he stayed put at the Camp Nou and ended last season with 38 goals in 48 games for his boyhood club.
These are the kind of remarkable figures that he has made so mundane over the course of his career — indeed he had actually scored more goals than that in 10 of his previous 11 seasons.
Messi was the top scorer in La Liga for the fifth consecutive year with 30 goals and won the Copa del Rey, scoring twice in the final as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0.
This will always be remembered as the year his long association with the Catalan giants came to an end, after 672 goals in 778 appearances, a record goal tally for one club.
However, 2021 was also the year he finally won a major international title, captaining Argentina to victory in the Copa America with a 1-0 win against Brazil in the final at the Maracana.
He scored four goals in the tournament as Argentina won the South American championship for the first time since 1993.
“I think I won this trophy thanks to what we did at the Copa America so I dedicate this to my teammates,” he said after being handed his latest Ballon d’Or at the Chatelet Theatre in central Paris.
However the shame was that hardly any fans were in the stadium to witness Argentina’s Copa America success due to coronavirus restrictions, only adding to the sense that, despite all he has achieved, Messi still has unfinished business.
Not least at PSG, where he has so far played just 11 games since arriving in August, and scored just four goals.
Messi did provide three assists for the Parisians in a Ligue 1 match on Sunday but it remains to be seen how motivated the Argentinian is by the French league. He has other priorities.
“My dream is to win another Champions League,” he said at his unveiling in August, with the last of his four European Cups coming in 2015.
Then there is the really big one: the World Cup in Qatar will be underway this time next year and Messi will be 35 by then.
That will surely be his last chance to win the greatest trophy of all, and you imagine he would swap his seven Ballons d’Or to get his hands on it.


5 things to look out for at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar

Ali Mabkhout will look to break records, Lebanon can find a way to win and Qatar will be hoping to win silverware on home soil in FIFA Arab Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
Ali Mabkhout will look to break records, Lebanon can find a way to win and Qatar will be hoping to win silverware on home soil in FIFA Arab Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 29 November 2021

5 things to look out for at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar

Ali Mabkhout will look to break records, Lebanon can find a way to win and Qatar will be hoping to win silverware on home soil in FIFA Arab Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
  • 16-nation tournament kicks off on Tuesday, will act as dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup

LONDON: The 2021 FIFA Arab Cup kicks off on Tuesday with 16 teams vying for the title in Qatar.

The tournament means different things to different competitors and here are five talking points ahead of it.

1. No Salah but many opportunities for Egypt to step up

For Egypt, the tournament is a big step in preparing to reach another competition in Qatar in November next year.

Carlos Queiroz took the job as head coach in September and led the team to the World Cup play-offs without much fuss. There will be no Mohamed Salah in this tournament and the country’s European-based stars will also be absent.

It will, therefore, be a chance for others to catch the eye of the Portuguese coach and for the well-travelled boss to check the country’s strength in depth.

Ultimately, however, Queiroz is not taking his eyes off the main prizes.

He said: “Our goal in the Arab Cup is to prepare the players for the World Cup qualifiers, and for the Africa Cup of Nations. This does not mean that we will not compete for the trophy, but the first and main goal is the World Cup. Ask any citizen and fan what they want, and they will say the World Cup.”

Any player who excels over the next three weeks could earn a place in the Africa Cup of Nations squad in January.

“We have a base of players from which to choose for the two World Cup qualifiers, and I am prepared to include any player who performs well,” Queiroz added.

2. A chance for Qatar to lift silverware on home soil

The World Cup hosts have played in more competitions than most in the past year or so, appearing at the Copa America and also the Gold Cup, Concacaf’s big tournament.

But with the World Cup taking place on home soil, the Maroons have had to sit and watch as Asian rivals go through the grueling final round of qualification.

The team have an all-Asian group and a strong squad with Akram Afif, Almoez Ali, and all the rest and that should be enough to get past Bahrain, Oman, and Iraq and into the knockout stage.

The Asian champions will be hoping to go all the way and lift the trophy in the final on Dec. 18. Winning silverware in an international tournament on home soil would only boost confidence ahead of the big event in less than a year.

3. Ali Mabkhout can close the gap on Cristiano Ronaldo

The UAE have not been impressive so far in the final round of qualification for the World Cup. The somewhat fortuitous win over Lebanon in November was the first victory in the sixth game in the group. Automatic qualification is not going to happen but a route to Qatar still exists through the play-offs.

The team need to improve, however, and games against Syria, Mauritania, and Tunisia are a great opportunity for Bert van Marwijk to take charge of his team in a competitive tournament but one that does not have the pressure to win that comes with other events.

One issue to be solved is that of Ali Mabkhout. The team is too reliant on the striker but understandably so to an extent, as he has scored 14 goals in 13 games so far this year. With 79 international goals, he is now just one behind Lionel Messi and Sunil Chhetri. If Mabkhout scores twice then he will be the second-highest active international scorer though he will have some way to go to catch Cristiano Ronaldo on 115.

4. Lebanon can find a way to win

On Sunday, Youssef Mohamed, the technical director of the Lebanon national team as well as a former captain, said that the Cedars should aim to lift the trophy. He admitted that it was a long shot but not impossible. After all, in World Cup qualification Lebanon could be, even should be, sitting clear in third place of their group in the final round but four points were dropped late in the games against Iran, and the UAE.

The team need to find a way to make the most of these situations. Coach Ivan Hasek has them working hard, well-drilled, and organized but the Arab Cup is a great opportunity to try a more expansive plan.

Lebanon need to add a little variety to their attack and to try and keep the ball more — their possession rate was a measly 29 percent against the UAE. Had the ball been shared around a little more equally there would have been less pressure on the defense and maybe the whole penalty incident could have been avoided.

5. It is a perfect time for a World Cup rehearsal

A year before the World Cup it is usually time for the Confederations Cup. It was always going to be difficult to have that dress rehearsal with teams from around the world at this time. The Arab Cup, then, will offer a glimpse of how the first World Cup in the Arab world will look.

Fans and journalists will be able to get an idea of what it will be like, after World Cups in huge countries such as Russia, Brazil, and South Africa, to attend a tournament in a small country where it is possible, with a little planning, to watch two games a day.

It is to be hoped that there are some good games but more importantly, a feel-good factor among fans and good atmospheres in stadiums.


Manchester United appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss

Manchester United appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss
Updated 29 November 2021

Manchester United appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss

Manchester United appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss
  • Rangnick will take over from first-team coach Michael Carrick, who has been in caretaker charge for two games since Solskjaer was dismissed just over a week ago
  • The former RB Leipzig boss said he was excited to be joining United and focused on turning around the fortunes of the club, who are floundering in eighth spot in the Premier League

LONDON: Manchester United announced on Monday they had appointed Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after a disastrous run of results.
The 63-year-old will arrive at Old Trafford from Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow, where he was manager of sports and development, becoming just the sixth German manager to coach in the Premier League.
At the end of the season Rangnick, whose appointment is subject to work visa requirements, will take on a consultancy role at the 20-times English champions for a further two years.
He will take over from first-team coach Michael Carrick, who has been in caretaker charge for two games since Solskjaer was dismissed just over a week ago following a humiliating 4-1 defeat at lowly Watford.
“He was our number one candidate for interim manager, reflecting the invaluable leadership and technical skills he will bring from almost four decades of experience in management and coaching,” said United football director John Murtough.
The former RB Leipzig boss said he was excited to be joining United and focused on turning around the fortunes of the club, who are floundering in eighth spot in the Premier League, five points off the top four.
“The squad is full of talent and has a great balance of youth and experience,” he said. “All my efforts for the next six months will be on helping these players fulfil their potential, both individually and, most importantly, as a team.
“Beyond that, I look forward to supporting the club’s longer-term goals on a consultancy basis.”
Rangnick could take charge for the first time against Arsenal on Thursday if his work permit issues are sorted out quickly.
Carrick — who has overseen a Champions League win over Villarreal and a 1-1 draw on Sunday at Stamford Bridge, where he dropped Cristiano Ronaldo — will remain in caretaker charge until Rangnick’s work visa is finalized.
Former United captain Gary Neville tweeted: “Welcome to the Greatest Football Club in the World Ralf Rangnick.”
Club bosses ran out of patience with Solskjaer despite keeping faith with the Norwegian after humiliating home defeats to rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.
The former striker, who scored the winning goal for United in the 1999 Champions League final to complete a historic treble, was in charge at Old Trafford for nearly three years.
Under his leadership United finished in the Premier League top four in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Alex Ferguson retired as boss in 2013 but they have not won silverware since 2017.
The American-owned club can boast abundant riches in attack, with Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Greenwood and Anthony Martial all vying for starting spots.
But their leaky defense has already conceded 22 goals in 13 games, more than four times Chelsea’s total of five and they are well off the pace set this season by Chelsea, Liverpool and City.
Rangnick has managed a number of clubs in Germany including Stuttgart, Schalke, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig and has also operated as director of football at RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel have both spoken highly of their compatriot, who won the German Cup with Schalke in 2011.
During the same season, he led Schalke to the semifinals of the Champions League, where they lost 6-1 on aggregate to United, who were then beaten by Barcelona in the final.
Rangnick is renowned for his emphasis on “gegenpressing,” a high-pressing style of football in which hard work and zonal pressing means the ball is won high in the opposition’s half in attacking areas.
Klopp said last week, before the appointment was confirmed, that the veteran manager’s appointment was “not good news for other teams” due to his impressive track record.


PSG star Neymar out for up to 8 weeks with sprained ankle

PSG star Neymar out for up to 8 weeks with sprained ankle
Updated 29 November 2021

PSG star Neymar out for up to 8 weeks with sprained ankle

PSG star Neymar out for up to 8 weeks with sprained ankle
  • Neymar tore ligaments in his ankle, PSG said on Monday

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar will be out for up to eight weeks with a sprained left ankle.
Neymar was taken off on a stretcher during the French league leader’s 3-1 win at Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
He also tore ligaments in his ankle, PSG said in a statement on Monday.
It is the latest in a long list of injuries.
Neymar was stretchered off last December with a left ankle injury.
Since joining PSG in 2017 for a world record 222 million euros ($250 million), he has also had rib, groin and adductor injuries as well as breaking his right foot in February 2018.