Oday Dabbagh’s Portugal move puts spotlight on Palestine football talent

Oday Dabbagh’s Portugal move puts spotlight on Palestine football talent
Oday Dabbagh has been strongly linked with a move to newly promoted FC Arouca in Portugal’s Primeira Liga. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 July 2021

Oday Dabbagh’s Portugal move puts spotlight on Palestine football talent

Oday Dabbagh’s Portugal move puts spotlight on Palestine football talent
  • Al-Arabi coach Ante Mise says striker who helped him claim Kuwaiti title is ‘best I have worked with’

AUSTRALIA: Oday Dabbagh’s coach at Kuwaiti champions Al-Arabi, former Croatian national team assistant manager Ante Mise, has given his blessing to the Palestinian star’s impending move to Portugal, declaring the 22-year-old the “best ever” striker he has coached.

Dabbagh has been strongly linked with a move to newly promoted FC Arouca in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, with an official announcement expected in the coming days.

Mise, who also coached Croatian giants Hadjuk Split, told Arab News the sky is the limit for the Jerusalem-born star.

“I think this league, the Portuguese league, is a good step for him, but I believe he can play in the bigger clubs,” Mise said from his home in Split.

“He must be a little bit lucky, sometimes the coach is very important, whether he trusts you and believes in you. Before me he was with Qadsia and Salmiya, two clubs in Kuwait, but he was not in the first 11. But with me I cannot imagine the team without him.”

Dabbagh was instrumental in Al-Arabi breaking their near 20-year title drought, ending the duopoly of Qadsia and Kuwait SC in the process, and winning the golden boot with 13 goals.

“First, I want to say he is a great guy,” said Mise, who coached the likes of Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic during spells with Hadjuk Split and the Croatian national team.

“His technical skills, his ability, his speed, how he understands football is unbelievable. I’ve been a coach for about 15 years and he is the best striker that I have ever had, for sure.

“Believe me, I was a coach at Hadjuk Split, a great team in Croatia. I had great players with me, but he is the best striker I’ve ever had.”

Dabbagh might not be the first Palestinian footballer to play in Europe, but he is set to become arguably the country’s most significant.

While leading players such as Jaka Ihbeisheh, Javier Cohene and Daniel Mustafa have all played in Europe at varying levels, Dabbagh’s move represents a new milestone for Palestinian football.

“Dabbagh is not the first Palestinian player to play in Europe, nor is he the first Palestinian player to play in Portugal,” Bassil Mikdadi, founder of the popular Football Palestine website, told Arab News.

“An array of Palestinian talent has graced the European continent, but all, except for Mohammed Saleh who moved to Floriana of the Maltese league in 2017, have one thing in common — none is a product of the Palestinian footballing structure,” he said.

“The Palestinians who played in Europe before Dabbagh were products of Swedish, Chilean, German, Swiss, Argentine, Paraguayan and American football,” he added.

“This move is a real sea change because Dabbagh proves that Palestine can develop its own talent, and if he succeeds, he might open the door for others to follow.”

The Portuguese league has been a good breeding ground for some of Asian football’s most promising talent in recent years, with Iran’s Mehdi Taremi, Japan’s Shoya Nakajima and Iraq’s Alaa Abbas among those making the move to the Iberian Peninsula.

“Like it or not, playing in a top-six league in Europe is validation,” Mikdadi said.

“The power structure that exists means that you are unlikely to achieve success in international football without exposure to Europe. In the 21st century, every winning Asian Cup side has had at least one player on the books of European clubs.

“The Asian ‘Big Four’ have an array of talent playing in Europe. The hope is that Dabbagh can break down the barrier for others to follow,” he said.

Dabbagh’s talent has been obvious to observers of Asian football since he burst onto the scene at the AFC U-23 Championships in 2018 with three goals helping Palestine to a historic quarterfinal appearance.

He has continued to impress with the senior national team, scoring four of Palestine’s 10 goals in the second round of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying, helping the team to a third-place finish in Group D, while he recently scored one and assisted two others in a powerful display as Palestine defeat Comoros 5-1 to qualify for the year-ending FIFA Arab Cup.

While other Asian stars, such as Japan’s Takefusa Kubo or Korea’s Lee Kang-in, may have stolen more headlines, it appears Europe is starting to wake up to the natural talent of the Dabbagh.

Already capped more than 20 times by Palestine, Dabbagh has attracted interest from Europe previously, with offers from Finland and Cyprus coming in before he opted for the more comfortable and familiar surrounds of Kuwait.

While it may have surprised many, ultimately his decision has been vindicated as he starred for Al-Arabi, winning the league and golden boot last season — successes he dedicated to the people of Palestine.

“Proud to be part of the set-up at this historic club Al-Arabi,” he wrote on Instagram.

“Grateful for being one of a group that delivered this well-deserved victory that came after lots of hard work from the staff and players. Happy for this club to have won the title again after 20 years of absence. We are back where we belong.

“I would like to thank and dedicate this title to my beloved family, friends and all our faithful supporters. Also for my indomitable nation of Palestine and its people.”


Audi to use electrically powered vehicle at Dakar Rally 2022 in Saudi Arabia

Audi to use electrically powered vehicle at Dakar Rally 2022 in Saudi Arabia
Updated 53 min 41 sec ago

Audi to use electrically powered vehicle at Dakar Rally 2022 in Saudi Arabia

Audi to use electrically powered vehicle at Dakar Rally 2022 in Saudi Arabia
  • Audi RS Q e-tron, a futuristic prototype that allows a high-voltage battery to be charged while driving, is already under testing

DUBAI: Audi Sport has started testing the new Audi RS Q e-tron, with which it will take on one of the greatest challenges there is in international racing, the Dakar Rally 2022 in Saudi Arabia next January.

Audi is set to be the first car manufacturer to use an electrified drivetrain in combination with an efficient energy converter in its rally SUVs to compete against traditional, diesel-powered vehicles in the world’s toughest rally.

“The quattro was a game-changer for the World Rally championship. Audi was the first brand to win the Le Mans 24 Hours with an electrified drivetrain. Now, we want to usher in a new era at the Dakar Rally, while testing and further developing our e-tron technology under extreme conditions,” said Julius Seebach, managing director of Audi Sport GmbH and responsible for motorsport at Audi. “Our RS Q e-tron was created on a blank sheet of paper in record time and stands for Vorsprung durch Technik.”

Less than a year after the initial concept idea, the new laboratory set up for the Dakar Rally has begun testing on the RS Q e-tron, and all eyes will be on its progress ahead of the event at the start of 2022.

“The Dakar Rally has become one of the most renowned motoring events globally for its rich history and prestige among international racing communities and we are very proud that it is hosted in the Middle East,” said Carsten Barden, Audi Middle East managing director. “We’re looking forward to being part of this flagship event where the Audi RS Q e-tron can showcase its unmatched innovation in the unique climate presented by the region.”

The conditions and terrain of the Dakar Rally present the engineers with special challenges. The marathon event lasts two weeks and the daily stages are up to 800 km in length. “That’s a very long distance,” said Andreas Roos, head of the Dakar project at Audi Sport. “What we are trying to do has never been done before. This is the ultimate challenge for an electric drivetrain.”

Because there are no charging opportunities in the desert, Audi has chosen an innovative concept: On board of the Audi RS Q e-tron there is a highly efficient engine that is part of an energy converter that charges the high-voltage battery while driving.

Visually, the Audi RS Q e-tron also differs significantly from conventionally powered Dakar prototypes. “The vehicle looks futuristic and has many design elements that are typical of Audi,” said Juan Manuel Diaz, team leader of motorsport design at Audi. “Our aim was to symbolize Vorsprung durch Technik and the future of our brand.”

The Dakar Rally entry is being run in conjunction with Q Motorsport.

“Audi has always chosen new and bold paths in racing, but I think this is one of the most complex cars that I have ever seen,” said team principal Sven Quandt. “The electric drivetrain means that a lot of different systems have to communicate with each other. Besides reliability, which is paramount in the Dakar Rally, that’s our biggest challenge in the coming months.”

Quandt compares Audi’s Dakar project to the first moon landing: “Back then, the engineers didn’t really know what was coming. It’s similar with us. If we finish the first Dakar event, that’s already a success.”

The prototype of the Audi RS Q e-tron had its first roll-out in Neuburg at the beginning of July. An intensive test program and the first test entries at cross-country rallies are on the agenda from now until the end of the year.


5 things we learned from Egypt football team’s participation at Tokyo 2020 after loss to Brazil

5 things we learned from Egypt football team’s participation at Tokyo 2020 after loss to Brazil
Updated 7 min 1 sec ago

5 things we learned from Egypt football team’s participation at Tokyo 2020 after loss to Brazil

5 things we learned from Egypt football team’s participation at Tokyo 2020 after loss to Brazil
  • Pharaohs did exceptionally well to qualify to quarterfinals from Group of Death, but lack of firepower caught up with them in the end

Arab interest in the men’s Olympic football tournament ended on Saturday as Egypt lost 1-0 to Brazil in Saitama. The South Americans progress to the last four while the North Africans head home, but there was plenty to think about on the plane back to Cairo.

Here are five things we learned from the Egypt under-23 football team’s participation at Tokyo 2020.

1. Egypt survived the Group of Death

It wasn’t the most exciting of rides, but it should not be forgotten that Egypt got out of the Group of Death. There was a hard-fought draw with Spain, a valiant 1-0 defeat against Argentina and then the all-important win over Australia. To finish second behind Spain and above the South Americans in Group C is a significant achievement, and it should give the players a huge confidence boost going forward.

Like the rest of Africa, the senior team is in qualification action for the 2022 World Cup in September and should have few problems getting past Angola, Libya and Gabon into the next round. The confidence and experience from Japan should stand those players who went to the Olympics and are also part of the senior team in good stead to ensure that they make it to Qatar next year.

2. Defense was an understandable strategy, but Egypt could have done more

In four games played, Egypt conceded just two goals but scored only two as well. That tells the story of this tournament. Coach Shawky Gharib set up the team not to concede. It may not have been pretty, but it was understandable given the absences and the quality of the opposition.

Ideally, Egypt would have done what it did in the group stage — similar to England at the Euros — and then move up a gear in the knockout rounds. It is difficult when you are facing a talented Brazil team, but had the Pharaohs attacked a little more in the three group games, then they would surely have been a little more fluid going forward in the quarterfinal, which could have made all the difference. The coach could have used attacking midfielder Nasser Maher more than he did.

3. Egypt missed Mohamed Salah

It’s an obvious point, but Egypt lacked a cutting edge in attack. Defensively, the team was solid and played to those strengths. There was criticism of these tactics from some journalists and former players who felt that the team should have attacked more, and while that is easier said than done against Spain, Argentina and Brazil, they did have a point in the Australia game.

But had Mohamed Salah been present, then not only would the team have been more dangerous in attack, but the opposition would have been warier too. The Liverpool star is perhaps the Egyptian striker who can put half-chances away on a constant basis.

Brazil may have been a little more conservative had Salah been loitering with intent, and it would have relieved some of the pressure on the backline. The whole atmosphere around the game would have been different. Richarlison caused lots of problems for Egypt, but the Everton man can’t match Salah in the English Premier League. He may not have managed it in Japan either.

4. Hegazi and El-Shenawy shine

While there is little doubt Brazil deserved to beat Egypt, there is no disgrace to lose 1-0 to the South Americans. The fact that the scoreline was so tight was, in no small part, due to the heroics of goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy.

The Al-Ahly No. 1 made many saves to keep out Richarlison and company. The main duty of overage players is to bring something to the team that the younger folk can’t do, and the 32-year-old did that and more.

Ahmed Hegazi was just as much of an influence. The Al-Ittihad defender rivals the goalkeeper for the most impressive performance in the four games. It is not just about his intelligent positioning and hard work but the leadership that helps inspire the whole team. Egypt conceded just two goals in four games against some quality opposition and attackers, and these two overage stars deserve plenty of credit for that.

5. Africa falls short on the big stage once more

The Olympics is a more democratic football tournament than the World Cup. In the quarterfinals, there were two African teams and two from Asia, with South America, Oceania, Europe and Concacaf having one each. That was a good showing from Africa, but both Egypt and the Ivory Coast failed to make the last four. All the other confederations will have one representative each in the semifinals, but not Africa.

If you take Nigeria out of the equation, then the continent’s performance in recent Olympic tournaments has not been great, with talented teams going so far but failing to stay until the end. It is the same with World Cups. The best of Africa need to start turning good tournament performances into great ones.


Egypt beats Bahrain 30-20 in handball men’s competition to qualify for quarterfinals

Egypt beats Bahrain 30-20 in handball men’s competition to qualify for quarterfinals
Updated 01 August 2021

Egypt beats Bahrain 30-20 in handball men’s competition to qualify for quarterfinals

Egypt beats Bahrain 30-20 in handball men’s competition to qualify for quarterfinals
  • The Pharaohs finished second in Group B and will now face Germany on Tuesday

Egypt defeated Bahrain 30-20 in their handball men’s preliminary round match at Yoyogi National Stadium on Sunday to finish second in Group B and progress to Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

With four wins and one loss, Egypt finished behind group winners Denmark — who beat Portugal 34-28 yesterday — and will now face Germany in their next match.

Egypt has never won a medal in the handball Olympic competition but will now have their eyes on a podium finish at Tokyo 2020.

The Pharaohs opened their Olympic campaign with a 37-31 win over Portugal on July 24, but two days later lost their second fixture 32-27 to Denmark. However, since then the Egyptian team has been faultless, beating hosts Japan 33-29 and Sweden 27-22 before this morning’s win over fellow Arab competitors Bahrain.

Egypt progressively improved throughout the first half to take a commanding lead of 15-7 by the break. Despite a spirited performance by Bahrain that saw them score 13 points in the second half, Egypt managed to double their tally for an ultimately comfortable win.

The  37-year-old veteran Ahmed El-Ahmar was once again the team’s standout performer, scoring five goals to take his overall tally to a Egyptian Olympic record of 83. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Mohamed El-Tayar had another fine game against Bahrain, saving 15 of the 35 shots that he faced.


Saudi runner Mazen Al-Yassin wins Men’s 400m heat to reach Tokyo 2020 semifinal

Saudi runner Mazen Al-Yassin wins Men’s 400m heat to reach Tokyo 2020 semifinal
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi runner Mazen Al-Yassin wins Men’s 400m heat to reach Tokyo 2020 semifinal

Saudi runner Mazen Al-Yassin wins Men’s 400m heat to reach Tokyo 2020 semifinal
  • The 25-year-old’s result represents one of the Kingdom’s best performances at the Olympics

Runner Mazen Al-Yassin has produced one of the Saudi Arabian delegation’s best performances at Tokyo 2020 by winning his race in the Men’s 400m competition at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday morning.

A personal best time of 45.16 seconds saw him finish ahead of Kevin Borlee of Belgium and Ricky Petrucciani of Switzerland.

The 25-year-old will now be aiming for Thursday’s final when he takes part in Monday morning’s semifinals, starting from 2:05 a.m. Saudi Arabia time.

Al-Yassin received the call up to the Olympics on July 2 and headed to Tokyo after eight years of consistent participation in the 400m behind him.

He represented Saudi Arabia at the 2013 World Youth Championships in Ukraine and that same year won gold at the 4x400m relay at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Indonesia and silver at in the individual 400m at the Asian Junior Games in Taiwan.

In 2015, another silver followed in the 4x400m relay at the Asian Games in China.

In 2017, Al-Yassin’s personal best would rapidly improve, with the runner winning silver in the individual 400m race at the Arab Championships in Tunisia and bronze in the relay. The same year, he grabbed another silver at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan.


Irish boxer injures ankle celebrating win, out of Olympics

Irish boxer injures ankle celebrating win, out of Olympics
Updated 01 August 2021

Irish boxer injures ankle celebrating win, out of Olympics

Irish boxer injures ankle celebrating win, out of Olympics
  • Britain’s Pat McCormack advances to the gold medal bout by walkover
  • Walsh, who beat Merven Clair of Mauritius 4:1 on Friday, gets a bronze medal

TOKYO: Aidan Walsh has been forced out of his semifinal bout at the Tokyo Olympics after the Irish welterweight injured his ankle while celebrating his quarterfinal victory.
Boxing officials announced Sunday that Walsh did not attend the medical check and weigh-in before his scheduled bout with Britain’s Pat McCormack, who advances to the gold medal bout by walkover.
Walsh, who is from Belfast, will still win a bronze medal. But he appeared to cost himself a chance at gold by celebrating overzealously after he beat Merven Clair of Mauritius 4:1 on Friday to advance to the medal bouts.
Walsh wildly jumped up and down after the verdict was announced, and he landed awkwardly on his ankle. The Irish team said Walsh sprained his ankle, and he was spotted by Irish media leaving the Kokugikan Arena in a wheelchair later Friday.
The Irish team confirmed Walsh is out of the Olympics due to an ankle injury, saying only that it occurred during his bout. Walsh clearly was healthy and mobile throughout his fight until he came up in pain from his celebration.
“What Aidan did this week is an incredible achievement,” said Bernard Dunne, Ireland team leader for boxing. “His performance throughout the tournament has been outstanding, and it is great to see him write his name in the annals of Irish sport.”
The top-seeded McCormack was favored to beat Walsh. McCormack now will face the winner of the other welterweight semifinal between Roniel Iglesias of Cuba and the Russian team’s Andrei Zamkovoy.
Ireland has two other boxers still fighting for medals. Walsh’s bronze is his nation’s 17th medal in boxing, representing roughly half of all the medals won by the Irish team in its Olympic history.