Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition

Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition
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In the previews, Egypt were hardly mentioned and dismissed as mere fodder for the last European team to win gold back in 1992. (AFP)
Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition
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The young Green Falcons may have lost a seventh game out of seven in the Olympics, but that does not tell the whole story. Saudi Arabia had the lion’s share — 56 percent —   of possession. (AFP)
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Updated 23 July 2021

Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition

Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition
  • Tenacious Pharaohs defy Spanish giants, while Green Falcons’ hopes undimmed despite unlucky loss

LONDON: The first day of the Olympic football competition brought a mixture of encouragement and disappointment for the two Arab participants at Tokyo 2020. Egypt managed a commendable 0-0 draw with tournament favorites Spain, while Saudi Arabia will feel a little aggrieved at losing 2-1 to Ivory Coast in another hard-fought game.

1. Saudis suffer harsh defeat

The young Green Falcons may have lost a seventh game out of seven in the Olympics, but that does not tell the whole story. Saudi Arabia had the lion’s share — 56 percent —   of possession against the talented Ivory Coast, and worked incredibly hard with and without the ball.

The pressing in the first half was excellent and seemed to surprise the opposition. In such humid conditions, it was no surprise that the same energy levels could not be sustained for the full 90 and while possession was good, the Africans always looked a little sharper going forward.

What was encouraging was the attitude and response to going behind to an own goal. Just five minutes after that setback, Saudi Arabia were level. The all-round attitude and performance will please coach Saad Al-Shehri, with the fact that the game ended in defeat the only reason there is not widespread satisfaction. 

 
2. Al-Dossary shines for Saudi

There were a number of good Saudi performances, but with Abdullah Al-Hamdan looking far from sharp in the striking role, it was up to main man Salem Al-Dossary to lead the way. The Al-Hilal star scored the senior team’s winning goal against Egypt at Russia 2018 to earn a first win at the World Cup for 24 years, and his goal at Yokohama International Stadium was good enough to win any game.

Picking the ball up just outside the area, Al-Dossary had time to look and then curled an unstoppable shot past the outstretched arms of the Ivory Coast goalkeeper Ira Eliezer Tape. He almost scored another fine goal late in the game, but his shot from just inside the box struck the crossbar in heartbreaking fashion. It was that close to being 2-2.

3. Ivory Coast’s attacking quality edged the encounter

Saudi Arabia is the only team among the 16 currently in Japan with a squad entirely based at home. This is no time to get into that debate, but a difference in quality was noticeable in the second half. Amad Diallo went on a run and then passed to Franck Kessie, who turned smartly on the edge of the area and finished beautifully. In effect, it was a goal made by a Manchester United player and finished by an AC Milan man. This goal was the difference between getting a point or none for the Saudis, and it was one of international quality.

It is always going to be difficult for players who play all their competitive games in Saudi Arabia to suddenly come up against rivals who compete in the upper reaches of the English Premier League and Serie A. Warm-ups against African and South American opposition only help so much and when it came to it, the winner came from players with two of the biggest clubs in the world.

4. Egypt’s heroics deserve international recognition

Before the tournament much was written about the Spanish squad and how it included six members who had taken part in the country’s impressive Euro 2020 campaign, including Barcelona prodigy Pedri.

In the previews, Egypt were hardly mentioned and dismissed as mere fodder for the last European team to win gold back in 1992. Yet the Pharaohs, led by Ahmed Hegazi and defensive partner Mahmoud Hamdi, worked hard to deny Spain a goal in a display of fine and committed defending. It was sometimes far from pretty, but it was effective.

Again, in the match commentaries and reports, there was little mention of Egypt, and the effort and discipline that had been put into the match. It was all about Spain and its failure to score. But Egypt — with players who were in action for Al-Ahly in the CAF Champions League final in Morocco last Saturday — deserve huge credit for their efforts.

5. Both Arab teams still in hunt for last eight 

It was unfortunate that Saudi Arabia, who had chances, especially in the final stages, were not able to get the goal their efforts deserved, but there is still hope. The game against Germany on Sunday is huge, but if Al-Shehri can get another solid performance out of his players then there is no reason they cannot get something off the Germans. It will be tough, but if Egypt can foil Spain, Saudi Arabia can do the same to Germany.

For Egypt, the situation is obviously more encouraging. Taking a point off the best team in the group opened things up unexpectedly. Argentina are next, and the South Americans looked open at the back against Australia and unimpressive going forward. Then comes the final game against the Olyroos, who looked organized and dangerous in attack. It really is up for grabs.

Four points can often be enough, and it is well within reach.


FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years
Updated 16 September 2021

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years
  • In its latest survey, FIFA players all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period
  • Staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, says FIFA chief

GENEVA: FIFA intensified its push for hosting the men’s World Cup every two years on Thursday by garnering support from soccer fans around the world to help combat resistance from Europe and South America.
The latest public relations tactic came in the form of an online survey commissioned by FIFA. The Associated Press does not routinely report the claims of opinion polls conducted over the Internet.
FIFA claimed its findings from more than 15,000 respondents aged at least 18 identified in 23 countries showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets” and younger fans more enthusiastic than older ones.
A follow-up survey involving 100,000 people in more than 100 countries is now being done, FIFA said.
European soccer body UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL oppose FIFA’s plan and have threatened to boycott additional World Cups. Europe and South America combine for 65 of the 211 FIFA members — fewer than the one-third total likely needed to block any proposal.
The governing bodies of the six continental soccer federations all stage their own championships, with Europe hosting its tournament every four years halfway between the World Cups. Adding an extra World Cup in every four-year cycle would likely cut into the European event’s revenue stream.
The women already have two major world tournaments in every four-year cycle because the top teams and best players compete at the Olympics as well as the Women’s World Cup.
FIFA’s latest survey follows one week after it hosted about 80 former international players, including several World Cup winners, for a two-day meeting in Qatar — the 2022 World Cup host country.
The players reported they all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, many of which never qualify to play at the World Cup.
Expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 starting at the 2026 tournament in North America was one of the biggest early decisions of Infantino’s presidency, which began in 2016. FIFA also wants to distribute extra World Cup revenue to improve talent development and help national teams globally close the gap on Europe.
European teams have won the past four World Cups and filled 13 of the 16 semifinal slots. The other three semifinalists from 2006-18 were from South America.
The UEFA-backed Football Supporters Europe group also opposed the biennial World Cup plan, claiming it would distort the balance between domestic and international soccer, and club and national teams.
Global players’ union FIFPRO has also warned of burnout in the increasingly congested soccer schedule.


PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop
Updated 16 September 2021

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop
  • “Fantomatique” — or "Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday
  • PSG's performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world's best forwards

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain was able to start its superstar attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for the first time on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Instead of fireworks, though, they only produced a big thud as PSG drew 1-1 draw against modest Belgian side Club Brugge.
“Fantomatique” — or “Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday.
While 2020 champion Bayern Munich and last season’s runner-up Manchester City won and scored freely, PSG’s performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world’s best forward.
The fact that Keylor Navas was the busier goalkeeper on the night — and PSG’s best player — should be of concern to coach Mauricio Pochettino ahead of playing much tougher teams in the competition.
“We’ve got a magnificent squad, but we need to find balance,” Pochettino said.
But given PSG’s remarkable summer recruitment drive, Pochettino knows he has little room for error in a season where the Qatari-backed club has been touted by many observers as the favorite to win the Champions League.
Behind the veneer of Messi’s arrival, the reality is that the midfield and defense still look very vulnerable, and allowed a modest side like Brugge to muster 16 shots at goal.
That is alarming considering that City is PSG’s next opponent in the group stage. Pep Guardiola’s side visits Parc des Princes on Sept. 28, giving Pochettino little time to make his team more solid.
PSG has a home game against Lyon in the French league on Sunday followed by a midweek trip to Metz before hosting Montpellier.
Pochettino also has a thorny goalkeeping dilemma to resolve — whether to stick with Navas or start Italy’s European Championship star Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Last season, Navas rescued PSG with outstanding performances against Barcelona and Bayern in the knockout stages before PSG’s limitations were exposed by City in the semifinals.
PSG would likely have lost against Brugge without Navas who, through no fault of his own, now finds himself fighting for the No. 1 jersey. Pochettino sounded evasive when asked after the Brugge game if Donnarumma would play against Lyon.
“Anything’s possible,” Pochettino said. “Decisions will be made game after game with regards to the performances.”
But rotation could also work against Pochettino, for he needs a settled goalie to take command of a brittle defense that was too easily exposed by Brugge.
Even the signing of Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Italian league champion Achraf Hakimi at right back did little to stop the waves of Brugge attacks.
Wijnaldum lost a surprising number of tackles and was not helped by Leandro Paredes, who failed to control a simple pass early on as it rolled under his foot and led to a yellow card as he then fouled a Brugge player breaking through.
Wijnaldum and Paredes were both replaced by Pochettino, whose midfield clearly struggles when Marco Verratti is absent. The Italy star’s ball retention and distribution is superior and takes pressure off his teammates.
With Messi and Neymar up front, PSG also has a forward line that isn’t known for tracking back to defend, which can lead to the midfield getting overrun and the defense being exposed as a result.
Central defenders Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe looked exhausted at the end on Wednesday, as they often did last season when PSG lost eight games and the league title to Lille.
Messi’s positioning on the right of the three-man attack offers little protection to the midfield or to Hakimi, who by nature is a very attacking player and leaves space behind him where the opposition is free to counter.


Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine
Updated 16 September 2021

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine
  • A Munich regional court’s spokesperson said Boateng's lawyer and state prosecutor have contested the verdict
  • Boateng looked last week visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former

BERLIN: Germany’s 2014 World Cup winner Jerome Boateng has filed an appeal against his conviction for assault and 1.8 million euros ($2 million) fine, a court official in Munich confirmed Thursday.
A spokesperson for Munich regional court told AFP subsidiary SID that both Boateng’s lawyer and the state prosecutor have contested the verdict.
A week ago, Boateng looked visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former partner, the mother of his twin daughters, during a Caribbean holiday in 2018.
The prosecutor had asked the court to give Boateng a suspended 18-month prison sentence and a fine of 1.5 million euros, but the former Bayern Munich defender avoided a custodial sentence when the judge gave his verdict last Thursday.
The 33-year-old Boateng, who left Bayern Munich to sign for French club Lyon at the start of the month and made his debut off the bench last Sunday, denied the allegations.


Saudi Super Cup between Al-Hilal, Al-Faisaly to be played at start of 2022

Saudi Super Cup between Al-Hilal, Al-Faisaly to be played at start of 2022
Updated 16 September 2021

Saudi Super Cup between Al-Hilal, Al-Faisaly to be played at start of 2022

Saudi Super Cup between Al-Hilal, Al-Faisaly to be played at start of 2022
  • 5th time Al-Hilal have qualified for annual fixture between reigning champions of Kingdom’s league, cup competitions
  • The game, to be played at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, will be the eight edition of the showpiece match

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has announced that the 2021-22 Saudi Super Cup will take place on Jan. 6 between league champions Al-Hilal and King’s Cup holders Al-Faisaly.

The game, to be played at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, will be the eight edition of the showpiece match.

Al-Hilal have previously qualified for the Super Cup five times, winning the trophy twice, while the meeting against Al-Ittihad in 2017 was cancelled.

Meanwhile, it will be Al-Faisaly’s first appearance in the Super Cup after having beaten Al-Taawuon in last season’s King’s Cup.

The announcement means Al-Hilal and Al-Faisaly will play each other twice within one week; first in the 15th round of the Saudi Pro League Championship on Thursday, Dec. 30 and then in the Super Cup the following Thursday.


ROKiT Venturi Racing announces Formula E Season 8 driver line-up

FIA Formula E 2021 World Championship runner-up, Edoardo Mortara, will be joined by Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi at ROKiT. (Supplied)
FIA Formula E 2021 World Championship runner-up, Edoardo Mortara, will be joined by Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi at ROKiT. (Supplied)
Updated 16 September 2021

ROKiT Venturi Racing announces Formula E Season 8 driver line-up

FIA Formula E 2021 World Championship runner-up, Edoardo Mortara, will be joined by Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi at ROKiT. (Supplied)
  • Fresh from their most successful season to date, ROKiT Venturi Racing has confirmed its two drivers for 2022

LONDON: ROKiT Venturi Racing is setting its sights on Formula E World Championship titles after it announced it was uniting two of the sport’s most competitive drivers.

Fresh from their most successful season to date, ROKiT Venturi Racing confirmed this week that FIA Formula E 2021 World Championship runner-up, Edoardo Mortara, will be joined by Brazilian racing driver Lucas Di Grassi to challenge Season 8 of the all-electric championship.

“Last season we demonstrated that we have a strong package, there were many highlights throughout the season starting with a podium and finishing with a win,” Susie Wolff, ROKiT Venturi Racing Team Principal, said.

“Edo showcased to everyone what we have known all along - that he’s a World Championship contender - moving forward to Season 8, Edo is joined by Lucas - a proven Formula E Championship winner who also brings a wealth of experience.

“They will push each other and drive us forward as a team. To have both cars scoring points in every race is essential for us for the Team’s Championship and with our new driver line-up, there’s a lot to feel optimistic about heading into Season 8,” she added.

With 92 points and four podium appearances under his belt in Season 7, Swiss-Italian Mortara enjoyed his most successful Formula E season to date.

Season 8 represents his fourth year with the Monegasque team and is a clear indicator of ROKiT Venturi’s faith in his abilities to contend the World Championship moving forward.

“I’m really happy to be continuing with the team and it’s a pleasure to welcome Lucas to the family,” Mortara said. “We had a very strong season this year, my best so far in Formula E which was also testimony to the hard work of the team around me.

“We’re on good trajectory and we want to maintain that moving forward, competing against Lucas in the past he has always been extremely competitive and he’s very good when it comes to energy management - one of the most critical points to being successful in Formula E.

“The progress we made in Season 7 was great but there is still plenty to do and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together,” he added.

Meanwhile, ROKiT’s latest signing, Di Grassi, also joins with unquestionable credentials.

The Monaco-based former Formula E World Champion won the first-ever Formula E race in Beijing, 2014 and is the most successful driver in the history of the championship.

“Anyone who knows me know how competitive I am - driving for a team that I know can fight at the front and really challenge for the championship is essential for me, he said. “ROKiT Venturi Racing was simply the best choice and I’m really happy to be part of the team, I’ve followed Venturi since Season 1 and I know that they have a strong history in Monaco.

“The team performed very, very well last season, you can see that the team has progressed a lot in recent years, the momentum is really there and they have shown clear improvements in every area.

“Edo had a fantastic season, really strong, he was fighting for the title until the very end and there were many times over the season that I was racing both Venturi cars and I could see how competitive they were,” he added.

Di Grassi has made no secret of his desire to continue to challenge the title with the right team.

“It’s not just about the team though, I’m really happy to drive alongside Edo, we’ve known each other for a very long time, we part of the Audi program together, I respect him as a driver, as a human - he’s a very talented driver and a great character, I think we’re going to work really well together.”