Emirati teenager Layla Al-Khatib hopes to make a splash at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Emirati teenager Layla Al-Khatib hopes to make a splash at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
15-year-old Layla AL-Khatib will represent the UAE at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Abu Dhabi this December. (FINA)
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Updated 15 August 2021

Emirati teenager Layla Al-Khatib hopes to make a splash at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Emirati teenager Layla Al-Khatib hopes to make a splash at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
  • The 15-year-old will be competing against some of the world’s best short-distance swimmers at Etihad Arena in December

When 18-year-old Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui stormed to an unexpected win in the Men’s 400m freestyle at Tokyo 2020, Emirati teenager Layla Al-Khatib will have been taking notes, slowly plotting her own path to success.

And she may not have to wait too long to realise her dreams.

The 15-year-old will soon be up against some of the world’s best short distance swimmers in the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), taking place on December 16-21 at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.

“It was an amazing feeling, I couldn’t believe it at first,” Al-Khatib said on getting the call. “I’m just really grateful for this fantastic opportunity and hugely excited to be representing the UAE at such a big event. I’m so excited to be involved and the fact the competition is taking place in Abu Dhabi makes it even more special. I was born here, and I’ve trained here for such a long time that I can’t wait to compete for the UAE in the capital city.”

A love of swimming had always run in her family and the youngster didn’t take much convincing to take the jump into the pool.

“I started in the sport because my mum was a swimmer and I pretty much fell in love with it after a few sessions,” she said.

It was fitting that it was her mother that broke the news to her that she had been chosen by the UAE Swimming Federation to represent the country in December.

“I was at home with my whole family when my mom received the news,” said Al-Khatib, who has yet to confirm the races she will take part in. “I instantly saw her face and knew it was good news. Little did I know, it wasn’t just good news, but news that the goal I’ve been working towards for so long had finally come to life.”

The swimmer has come a long way since she started competing in junior events at the age of eight. By the time she was 11, she was competing in international tournaments, such as the Jordanian Nationals, Arab Championships and Asian Cup.

At only 15, she will be hoping to make her mark in front of her home crowd at the Etihad Arena on Yas, where she will be joined by 18-year-old Youssef Al-Matrooshi, who represented the UAE at the Olympics.

“It’s a huge achievement and one I’m really proud of,” Al-Khatib said. “As a swimmer, I train regularly to be able to compete at the highest possible level and being selected to perform at the FINA World Swimming Championships is a huge moment for me. Now, I’m fully focused on training well and preparing for the event in the most effective way because when it comes around in December, I want to show what I’m capable of.”

Al-Khatib is aware that swimming is not one of the more popular sports in the UAE or Middle East and is happy to play a part in raising the sport’s profile.

“I feel like this is an important event in terms of inspiring the next generation,” she said. “Obviously, as a young female, it would be great if my performances can encourage other girls to develop a passion for the sport and try to achieve their goals, but the most important thing for anybody starting out is to enjoy it.”

Other Arab swimmers have in turn been an inspiration for Al-Khatib.

“I look up to Farida Osman (of Egypt) and Yusra Mardini (of Syria) who both represent their Arab countries very proudly,” she said. “They both came so far despite the struggles in each of their countries, especially Yusra Mardini. She swam for the refugee Olympic team and I just think it’s amazing because of how far she’s come. Her strength and perseverance should be an inspiration to all.”

Al-Khatib’s career highlight to date came at the 2019 Arab Championships when she won three gold medals and one silver. The achievement gave her the belief that she could compete at other major events such as the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m).

The tournament could be a game changer for swimming in the UAE, she said.

“I think it will have a huge impact on swimming in this country, and the Arab world in general,” Al-Khatib said. “This will be the first time Abu Dhabi has hosted the event, and even though it was previously held in Dubai, that was over 10 years ago. This is a great opportunity to put UAE swimming on the map and I’m really proud to be involved and playing a part.”

Having watched Arab swimmers make waves at the recent Tokyo Olympics, Al-Khatib will now have her own chance to take on some of the world’s best.

“It will be very special,” she said. “The Etihad Arena is an amazing venue and I will be competing against the best short-course swimmers in the world, so naturally I’m really looking forward to it. Having the country supporting me will mean a lot and I want to perform well, not just for myself, but for them as well. The event is still a few months away so for now it’s all about training and preparation because I want to win.”


Saudi gaming champ Musaed Al-Dossary ready for FIFA 22 Champions Cup in Doha

Saudi gaming champ Musaed Al-Dossary ready for FIFA 22 Champions Cup in Doha
Updated 5 sec ago

Saudi gaming champ Musaed Al-Dossary ready for FIFA 22 Champions Cup in Doha

Saudi gaming champ Musaed Al-Dossary ready for FIFA 22 Champions Cup in Doha
  • Tournament will this month see top 16 Arab gamers compete for $50,000 total prize pot

RIYADH: Saudi gaming superstar Musaed Al-Dossary was optimistic ahead of taking part in the FIFA 22 Champions Cup powered by Ooredoo Nation later this month.

The tournament, being staged in the Qatari capital Doha from May 24 to 25 before concluding on May 28, will welcome the Arab world’s top 16 FIFA 22 gamers and more than 2,000 spectators.

A total prize pot of $50,000 will be up for grabs, with the winner taking $25,000, the runner-up $15,000, while third- and fourth-place finishers will receive $5,000 each.

The 2018 FIFAe World Champion, who plays under the moniker MS Dossary, told Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah: “I am happy with the return of live attendance competitions and championships, and taking part in the neighboring nation of Qatar is certainly of importance to me.

“I hope that the tournament will be of the desired level for e-sports lovers, and I am fully prepared to face other elite players and win the title,” he said.


Hammoud Al- Saiari becomes first-ever Saudi to coach in north Africa’s top-flight leagues

Hammoud Al- Saiari becomes first-ever Saudi to coach in north Africa’s top-flight leagues
Updated 10 min 55 sec ago

Hammoud Al- Saiari becomes first-ever Saudi to coach in north Africa’s top-flight leagues

Hammoud Al- Saiari becomes first-ever Saudi to coach in north Africa’s top-flight leagues
  • After stints with second-tier clubs in Kingdom, Al-Saiari appointed head coach of Tunisia’s AS Rejiche on short-term contract

RIYADH: For some time now, there have been calls for more Saudi Arabian players to head overseas.

Not only does this provide vital international experience for the country’s best talent to develop and then bring back to the national team and their colleagues it also gives opportunities for young players at home to step up to fill the gap.

It is also exciting to see how they perform. That is why the prospect of stars such as Salem Al-Dawsari heading overseas to play in Europe is an enticing one.

It has yet to really happen but then, all of a sudden, there is news of a Saudi coach taking over a foreign team at a high level.

On Sunday, it was announced that Hammoud Al-Saiari had been appointed as head coach of Tunisian top-flight club AS Rejiche. He is the first Saudi tactician to work in the north African country.

Al-Saiari, who has experience with second-tier teams at home such as Al-Ain, Al-Nahda, and Jeddah, replaces local boss Ferid Ben Belgacem.

“I have contracted with Rejiche and am proud to be the first Saudi coach to work in a strong league in a different country,” Al-Saiari said, thanking the president of his new club.

The east-coast team are not one of the powerhouses of Tunisian football and were promoted to the top tier in 2021. For them, the current league season is over after finishing fourth in Group B just outside the play-off places (the 16-team top tier is divided into two groups of eight with the top three from each progressing to the next stage).

The new man will be in charge for the Tunisian Cup which starts next month. If Al-Saiari can impress during the competition, then he is likely to be handed a lengthier contract to take control of the team for next season.

This is an encouraging and natural response to the situation at home. There are some fine coaches in the top tier of the Saudi Professional League, but they are all foreign. Opportunities for home-grown managers are few and far between and they are usually confined to short-term caretaker positions or second-tier jobs.

At Al-Ettifaq, Khaled Al-Alwi’s time in charge came to an end in October and so the league lost the last permanent local who was replaced by Vladan Milojevic. The Serbian was himself replaced in March by Patrice Carteron and the team are still deep in relegation trouble, so perhaps there is something to be said for sticking with Saudi talent.

In East Asian countries, there is usually more of a mix between foreign and domestic tacticians. Almost half in the Japanese top tier are foreign, with South Korea having just one international boss, a situation also not seen as ideal.

Foreign bosses bring new ideas, methods, and experience and those that are committed and enthusiastic can make a real difference to the league as well as individual players. It is also great for local coaches to pit their wits against counterparts from Brazil, Serbia, Argentina, and the Netherlands and to also learn from them.

However, in the absence of opportunity it is natural that coaches will seek pastures new, and it is a good sign. Al-Saiari’s move should be huge news in Saudi Arabia and fans and media in the country should get behind their export to Tunisia, a level that is decent in Africa and would rival most in Asia.

A big-name player such as Al-Dawsari going overseas is always going to grab the headlines but if Saudi Arabia can start exporting coaches, then it will be a huge benefit to the country and also show those budding tacticians starting out that there is a professional pathway in the game.

What should also happen is that if the likes of Al-Saiari and other Saudi bosses can have success abroad then they will be more attractive to clubs at home. It all helps to strengthen the domestic football scene.

All this is a lot of pressure to place on one coach who has a short-term contract with a mid-table Tunisian club but for the situation to change, there always has to be a first.

There should be a few more people interested in the Tunisian Cup next month and if AS Rejoice can show signs of improvement in the knockout competition, then next season could be fascinating indeed and also meaningful for the future.


Newcastle deal heavy blow to Arsenal’s Champions League hopes

Newcastle deal heavy blow to Arsenal’s Champions League hopes
Updated 17 May 2022

Newcastle deal heavy blow to Arsenal’s Champions League hopes

Newcastle deal heavy blow to Arsenal’s Champions League hopes
  •  A 2-0 win at celebratory St James’ Park means Eddie Howe’s team ended their home campaign on high note

NEWCASTLE: “Something special is stirring at St. James’ Park. Strap yourselves in. Howay the Lads.”

The message was simple but stirring, beautiful while charged with steely intent.

This was a club tweet to follow a statement performance that will have alarm bells ringing from London to Liverpool and Manchester and back.

Newcastle United weren’t meant to stay up this season. They weren’t meant to dazzle and delight. At Christmas the Championship was beckoning. And while the depths of winter despair thaw into spring then summer, pain has been replaced with hope and joy. The sleeping giant of English football is stretching its legs and readying itself for battle.

Having failed to lay a glove on Liverpool then Manchester City, Newcastle United, at the 14th attempt this campaign, beat a side in the Premier League top seven.

And while Eddie Howe’s United look light years away from the top two, they were head and shoulders above shell-shocked Arsenal, who looked like a rabbit in the headlines at an electrically charged St. James’ Park.

Champions League contenders? On this evidence, and playing at this level, it will be Newcastle featuring heavily in the conversation next season, not just Arsenal.

“Brilliant way for us to sign off here,” said Howe.

“I was very, very pleased with our performance, it was probably our best performance by some distance since I’ve been at the football club. The most pleasing thing was we were dominant in the first-half, but I’ve seen that so many times where the dominant team then drop off in terms of energy levels and intensity levels and the game totally changes.

“I’ve got to give my players big credit that we didn’t. We were probably better in the second-half. Full credit to the group and a great way to finish off here.”

Howe’s United put the Gunners on the ropes from minute one. Pressing high and forcing errors, Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson, starting his first game since December, were instrumental in setting a frenetic pace that the visitors could not live with.

Aaron Ramsdale, as shaky as he’s looked all season, had to be at his best to palm away an Allan Saint-Maximin effort, while Ben White was on hand to deny Wilson his seventh of the season.

That pair’s battle was one of the most intriguing on the pitch, with Wilson playing on the shoulder and running in behind at will — and it was one such second-half run that brought the opener.

A bursting Joelinton drive down the left saw the big Brazilian, a colossus in midfield all evening, cut across to Wilson and just as he was about to turn in, White got a boot on it to beat Ramsdale at the front post.

Cue a sonic boom that will send shockwaves into the Tyneside night, reverberating across the English game — rarely, if ever, has St. James’ been this loud.

And United, putting in their best performance of the campaign, weren’t finished there.

Goal-thirsty Wilson came close twice more as he went in hunt of one of his own and it was from his tenacity that No.2 was born.

His challenge at the feet of Ramsdale saw the ball squirt out to Bruno Guimaraes, who netted his fifth of the season.

Beating Arsenal, whose Champions League dream looks to have gone up in smoke, feels like a real move in the right direction.

“Yeah, it feels like a step forward, definitely,” said Howe.

“That was a challenge we poised — could we get a positive result against one of the top six? I felt we were capable of it but we needed to see it. That was the challenge we responded to really well. The way we started the game, the intensity in our play, our pressing was very good.

“I thought you saw tonight a progression and evolution in terms of the football we played. How we handled the ball I thought we were creative, we looked like we could score, maybe not so much in the first-half but definitely in the second. We’re seeing an improvement in all areas.”

Is this a window into the future of Newcastle United? It certainly felt as such.

While this was the end of United’s home season, it very much feels like only the start.

This Newcastle is united. This Newcastle means business. Watch out English football, a new contender is sharpening its tools. Newcastle United are back, and no longer around to simply make up the numbers.

Howe said: “I’m very, very proud to be connected with the club. An incredible thanks from me to the supporters for how they have handled a very difficult situation this year.

“When you think back to Cambridge and Watford, how they reacted after those games was absolutely magnificent and I think that paved the way for us to build some confidence, some unity and the spirit that we needed to go on the brilliant run we’ve been on.

“The support tonight was absolutely incredible. The atmosphere around the stadium was something I’ve not really experienced before. A big thank you to them.”


Frankfurt, Rangers try to end title drought in their Europa League final clash

Frankfurt, Rangers try to end title drought in their Europa League final clash
Updated 16 May 2022

Frankfurt, Rangers try to end title drought in their Europa League final clash

Frankfurt, Rangers try to end title drought in their Europa League final clash
  • Both clubs have huge fan bases, and tens of thousands are expected to swarm into southern Spain this week to try to see their team succeed again

LONDON: Eintracht Frankfurt and Rangers will get a chance to end decades of despair when they meet in the Europa League final on Wednesday.

For Frankfurt, it will be an opportunity to win their first European trophy in more than 40 years. For Rangers, a chance for their first continental title in 50 years.

Triumph in the second-tier competition in the Spanish city of Seville will also guarantee the winner an automatic spot in the group stage of next season’s Champions League.

“For Eintracht, for the fans, for the club, for the players, (winning again after 42 years) would be the most important thing ever,” Frankfurt coach Oliver Glasner told UEFA.com. “It has extraordinary significance, great significance, and that’s why we’re going to try our best so that we come home with the trophy and spend one or two nights celebrating with our fans.”

It will be Frankfurt’s first European final since beating Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1980 in an all-German matchup in the UEFA Cup, the predecessor to the Europa League.

Rangers were close to European glory when they played in the UEFA Cup final in 2008, but they lost to Zenit St. Petersburg. The Scottish club is looking for their first European trophy since earning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972.

Both clubs have huge fan bases, and tens of thousands are expected to swarm into southern Spain this week to try to see their team succeed again, prompting concern from local authorities and UEFA.

There had been fan violence involving visiting fans in Seville when local clubs Sevilla and Real Betis hosted matches earlier in the competition. Before the semifinals between Frankfurt and West Ham in Germany, more than 30 arrests were made after supporters of both clubs clashed in several locations in Frankfurt.

Fans of the German club also attracted headlines when more than 30,000 made their way into the Camp Nou in Barcelona for the second leg of the quarterfinals.

UEFA has asked for fans without tickets not to travel to Spain for Wednesday’s final, and warned about the dangers of purchasing tickets on the secondary market.

More than 40,000 seats will be available at Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium, but only about 10,000 tickets were allocated to each club. Seville city officials planned to open fan zones to accommodate those not able to make it to the game.

The match will pit two physical and high-intensity teams with impressive runs to the final.

Rangers, led by captain and top scorer James Tavernier, lost their first two group games but eventually gained momentum. It will be boosted by having already eliminated two German clubs — Borussia Dortmund in the first knockout round and Leipzig in the semifinals.

“When you’re in the knockout stages, it’s all or nothing, and the character of my players has been outstanding,” said Rangers coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who was hired in November after Steven Gerrard joined Aston Villa. “To be able to win against those strong opponents is really good, so we have the character to play this final, we have the qualities, and we also have the belief. That’s the most important thing, to have the belief that you can achieve.”

Frankfurt, led by veteran goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, made it to the final unbeaten after eliminating some strong opponents — Real Betis in the round of 16, Barcelona in the quarterfinals and West Ham in the semifinals. Frankfurt are trying to become the third unbeaten team to win the title in the Europa League era, after Chelsea in 2019 and Villarreal in 2021.

“Every team that gets to the final has earned it because it’s a long road. You have to win a lot of matches,” Glasner said. “Rangers eliminated two top teams from the Bundesliga over two legs. That shows they’re very good and also shows they’re well equipped for German football, so I’m expecting a very even, hard-fought contest.”

The last encounter between the two clubs was painful for Rangers. The Scottish club conceded six goals in each of the two legs of the European Cup semifinals in 1960, being deprived of an opportunity to play a home final in Glasgow. Frankfurt went on to lose the final to Real Madrid 7-3.

Frankfurt have not made it back to Europe’s top club competition since that final, while Rangers made their last appearance in the group stage of the Champions League in the 2010-11 season.

The last time the UEFA Cup final was played in Seville, in 2003, Rangers’ Scottish rival Celtic lost the title to José Mourinho-coached Porto.


Ali Abdulghani wins javelin gold on successful first day for Saudi Arabia at GCC Games in Kuwait

Ali Abdulghani wins javelin gold on successful first day for Saudi Arabia at GCC Games in Kuwait
Updated 16 May 2022

Ali Abdulghani wins javelin gold on successful first day for Saudi Arabia at GCC Games in Kuwait

Ali Abdulghani wins javelin gold on successful first day for Saudi Arabia at GCC Games in Kuwait
  • Kingdom’s Mohammed Daoud Tolo and Abdullah Abkar both take silver in shot put and 100 meters
  • There were also bronze medals for Muzna Al-Nassar in the women’s 10,000m and Hammoud Al-Awani in the men’s long jump

Ali Abdulghani claimed Saudi Arabia’s first gold medal of the third GCC Games in Kuwait by winning the javelin competition on Monday.

Abdulghani took top spot on the podium with a throw of 71.15 meters.

Abdullah Abkar took the silver medal in the men’s 100 meters with a time of 10.21 seconds, while compatriot Mohammed Daoud came fourth in a time of 10.32 seconds.

Mohammed Daoud Tolo also claimed a silver for the Kingdom in the shot put after a throw of 20.49 meters, while Hammoud Al-Alwani took bronze in the long jump with a distance of 7.15 meters.

There was another silver for Saudi Arabia as Mazen Al-Yassin finished second in the men’s 400 meters with a time of 45.83 seconds.

The first medal for the women’s team came in the 10,000 meters, with Muzna Al-Nassar claiming bronze with a time of 45:32.05 minutes.

In the women’s 100 meters, the Kingdom’s Yasmine Al-Dabbagh finished fifth with a time of 12.90 seconds, while Lojien Al-Hamid came seventh in 13.72 seconds.

Saudi runner Ruaa Al-Sulaimani finished fifth in the women’s 100-meter hurdles with a time of 18.83 seconds.

Saja Jalal, who was taking part in two events, finished sixth in the women’s shot put with a distance of 6.84 meters and fifth in the long jump with leap of 3.98 meters.

In the men’s futsal competition, the Kingdom’s team kicked off with 3-1 win over Bahrain with goals from Mohsen Fakihi, Fahad Al-Rudaini and Moaz Asiri.

But the women’s futsal team did not fare so well, going down 4-1 to Bahrain in their first match.