French league adds to criticism of FIFA over player release

French league adds to criticism of FIFA over player release
Football match between Caen and PSG in France. French league criticized FIFA's leadership Thursday opposing demands that players are released by clubs for World Cup qualifiers despite the logistical and health challenges posed by Covid-19. (AFP)
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Updated 26 August 2021

French league adds to criticism of FIFA over player release

French league adds to criticism of FIFA over player release
  • French league said it “regrets the total lack of consideration by FIFA of the interests of national championships and clubs as employers of players”
  • It backed the position of top divisions in England, Spain and Italy and the World Leagues' Forum and European Club Association

PARIS: FIFA’s leadership faced further criticism on Thursday with the French league opposing demands that players are released by clubs for World Cup qualifiers despite the logistical and health challenges posed by the pandemic.
Spanish clubs, in a similar move to the English Premier League, have now decided to tell players they will be blocked from going to South America for games. FIFA extended the international window next month to allow South American teams to play a third World Cup qualifier less than two days before domestic leagues are due to resume in Europe.
The French league said in a statement that it “regrets the total lack of consideration by FIFA of the interests of national championships and clubs as employers of players.”
It backed the position of the top divisions in England, Spain and Italy as well as the World Leagues’ Forum and European Club Association in questioning the conduct of Gianni Infantino’s FIFA in providing no flexibility on the release of players.
“This unilateral decision taken in the midst of a pandemic with strong constraints related to the movement of players and the resulting quarantine rules during their return from selection poses major problems for the availability of club staff and the balance of the championships,” the French league said.
It raises doubts about the prospect of Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi and new teammate Neymar playing against each other when Argentina and Brazil meet in a qualifier on Sept. 5. But the French league stopped short of saying there was a collective decision by clubs not to send players — as seen in England and Spain.
FIFA has told South American confederation CONMEBOL there would be consequences for clubs who don’t release players as required, which could mean disciplinary action.
The Spanish league said Thursday clubs unanimously decided during a meeting to take preventive judicial measures “to protect the rights and interests of the competition and of the affected clubs” who won’t be releasing players unless there is resolution.
Infantino this week issued a statement comparing the work in dealing with the pandemic with the need for national teams to have the players they want.
“Together we have shown solidarity and unity in the fight against COVID-19,” said Infantino, who FIFA declined to make available for interview. “Now, I am urging everyone to ensure the release of international players for the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers.”
The particular challenge for English clubs releasing players to South American countries is that they are all on a red list where travel is advised against by British authorities and 10 days would have to be spent in hotel quarantine after flying back from them.
Some African nations, including Egypt, are also on the red list, which is why Liverpool was quick to block Mohamed Salah going to play World Cup qualifiers next week.
Infantino this week wrote to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking for players to be granted exemptions from quarantine. Players returning from many European countries on Britain’s amber list would only have to quarantine at home if they have not been fully vaccinated.
Over the last year, FIFA has freed clubs during the pandemic from obligations to release all players to national teams, but that relaxation of rules has not been extended.

Al-Hilal overcome Al-Ittihad to blow Saudi Pro League title race wide open

 Al-Hilal overcome Al-Ittihad to blow Saudi Pro League title race wide open
Updated 21 sec ago

Al-Hilal overcome Al-Ittihad to blow Saudi Pro League title race wide open

 Al-Hilal overcome Al-Ittihad to blow Saudi Pro League title race wide open
  • The 3-1 victory in Jeddah means the Saudi and Asian champions are only three points behind the leaders with three games left

Al-Hilal defeated Al-Ittihad 3-1 on Monday evening to keep the Saudi Professional League title race well and truly alive.

Two goals from Michael and a Salem Al-Dawsari stunner gave the visitors a come-from-behind victory in this crucial Saudi El Clasico, reducing Al-Ittihad’s lead at the top to just three points with three games of the season remaining.

It was truly a champions’ performance from the title-holders, who lost the King’s Cup final to Al-Fayha in a penalty shootout at the same venue, King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, just four days ago.

Despite the disappointment of that setback, and the fatigue, they managed to prevent the Tigers from claiming a victory that would have all but guaranteed a first league title since 2009. Now, for the first time in this run-in, the pressure is really on Al-Ittihad and it is coming from Al-Hilal.

Played out in front of a packed and passionate crowd — and featuring a pre-match tiger tifo from the home fans that was truly world class — the game was a fantastic, breathless advert for Saudi Arabian football, featuring two top teams both desperate to win. Al-Hilal needed victory to remain in the title chase while Al-Ittihad had a chance to go nine points clear with three games to go.

The first half was a tale of two penalty claims, one of which was denied after a video assistant referee intervention and one that was not. The game started at a breakneck pace to the delight of an appreciative crowd that provided the perfect atmosphere for such a big game. Every touch by a man in blue was greeted by jeers, with the cheers reserved for the heroes in yellow and black.

The roof was almost blown off in anger when the referee pointed to the spot after 12 minutes when Al-Hilal’s Michael was hacked down by Abdulrahman Al-Obud on the edge of the area. There was no doubt at all that it was a foul but the home players protested that it had happened outside the area. The VAR agreed and the free-kick came to nothing.

There was controversy at the other end after 28 minutes when a shot from Igor Coronado hit Jang Hyun-soo’s arm and the referee awarded a penalty. This time there was no intervention by the VAR, though the official did take a good long look at replays on the monitor. Up stepped Romarinho, who coolly sent Abdullah Al-Mayouf the wrong way to give his side the lead.

It was canceled out three minutes before the break. Al-Ittihad goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe came out to punch a cross clear but the ball fell on the edge of the area to Michael, who volleyed it through a crowded area and past the prone shot stopper, injured by a collision, to equalize.

(Twitter: @Alhilal_FC)

There was no let up in pace in the second half. Both teams continued to push forward but just could not find the final ball to create clear chances, with defenders making important interceptions.

The most crucial of these came just before the hour mark and kept Al-Hilal level. Al-Mayouf came out of his area to clear a long ball from the Al-Ittihad half but was beaten to it by Abderrazak Hamdallah. The Moroccan’s low shot was heading for the back of the net until Ali Al-Bulaihi somehow managed to slide in and clear it to keep the scoreline at 1-1.

It did not remain that way for much longer before the champions showed their class with a stunning goal. Salman Al-Faraj’s cross from the right was headed by Odion Ighalo from the six-yard box back to the edge of the area where the onrushing Al-Dawsari jumped into the air and directed the bouncing ball into the top corner. It was a world-class finish. There were a couple of minutes of uncertainty while the VAR checked to make sure that Ighalo had been onside. It turned out he was, just.

Al-Ittihad were still recovering from that setback when they suddenly found themselves 3-1 down. It was another fabulous goal: Al-Dawsari’s pass from the right side split the defense but there was still plenty left for Michael to do. The Brazilian picked up the ball on the left edge of the area, cut inside and, despite the close attention of defenders in yellow and black, fired a low shot into the bottom corner.

(Twitter: @Alhilal_FC)

That really knocked the stuffing out of the hosts and from then, of the two teams it was Al-Hilal who looked much more likely to score. With eight minutes left, Michael, who was having his best game since joining the club, again came close.

The visitors returned to Riyadh with three priceless points and, perhaps, a new-found belief in themselves that the title race is far from over.

Osaka, Krejcikova bomb out as Swiatek extends run

Osaka, Krejcikova bomb out as Swiatek extends run
Updated 23 May 2022

Osaka, Krejcikova bomb out as Swiatek extends run

Osaka, Krejcikova bomb out as Swiatek extends run
  • The unseeded Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, was knocked out 7-5, 6-4 by Amanda Anisimova

PARIS: Former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka and defending champion Barbora Krejcikova lost in the first round of the French Open on Monday, while women’s title favorite Iga Swiatek stretched her winning streak to 29 matches.

The unseeded Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, was knocked out 7-5, 6-4 by Amanda Anisimova — the same player who ended the Japanese star’s title defense at the Australian Open this year.

An error-plagued Osaka served up eight double faults and committed 29 unforced errors on her return to Roland Garros, after withdrawing in 2021 when she refused to honor mandatory media commitments before revealing she had been suffering from depression.

“I thought I tried really hard, and I just feel like it was a bit unfortunate because I wasn’t able to play as many matches leading into this tournament,” said Osaka.

Anisimova, the 27th seed, reached the semifinals in Paris three years ago.

“It’s tough to see Naomi Osaka in the first round so I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” said the American.

“I knew I had to play my best tennis and the conditions were not easy.”

As rain stopped on the outside courts for two hours, Krejcikova followed Osaka in making an early exit, going down 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 to 19-year-old Frenchwoman Diane Parry in her first match since February following injury.

The Czech world No. 2 had yet to play on clay this season after being sidelined by an elbow problem.

“It’s really a dream for me,” said Parry, spurred on by the home support under the roof on Court Philippe Chatrier.

“I’m just the happiest right now.”

With Krejcikova, Osaka and Madrid champion Ons Jabeur all going out in round one, Swiatek required just 54 minutes to dispatch Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-0.

The 20-year-old Swiatek, who took over as world No. 1 following Ashleigh Barty’s shock retirement, has won her last five tournaments and is bidding for a second French Open in three attempts.

“Today was a pretty good match,” said Swiatek.

“I love playing here even though the last couple of days it’s been raining and pretty dark.”

Swiatek is unbeaten since February and has the longest winning streak on the WTA tour since Serena Williams won 34 matches in a row in 2013.

“I’m pretty sure that it can end, but I just want to keep going. I’m sure someday my streak will stop.”

Golden Boot winners Salah and Son prove African and Asian players among the world’s best

Golden Boot winners Salah and Son prove African and Asian players among the world’s best
Updated 23 May 2022

Golden Boot winners Salah and Son prove African and Asian players among the world’s best

Golden Boot winners Salah and Son prove African and Asian players among the world’s best
  • South Korea’s Son netted twice in Tottenham’s 5-0 win at Norwich to move to 23 goals — one clear of Salah, but the Egypt forward struck late in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at home to Wolves
  • The former Chelsea and Roma star, Salah, now matches Alan Shearer’s record with a third Premier League golden boot

The English Premier League came into existence in the summer of 1992, just as two of its future stars were being born: Mohamed Salah and Son Heung-min, who now share the Golden Boot for the 2021-22 season.

It has been won jointly before, sometimes by three players.

That was the case in the 1997-98 season when the local trio of Chris Sutton, Michael Owen, and Dion Dublin all found the target 18 times each.

Twenty years later, Salah was the best and the following season the Egyptian topped the charts along with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane in a special time for African football. This time, however, after a three-way and solo success, the 29-year-old Egyptian collects his third award but shares it with South Korean Son, it is a noticeable pairing.

Salah and Son have scored 23 goals over the campaign that finished on Sunday, with Liverpool finishing second behind Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur taking fourth, and the last UEFA Champions League spot, above rivals Arsenal.

Of the top two goalscorers in the most popular league in the world, one is African and one is from Asia. It shows the global power of football and the talent that exists in all corners of the world. Such a thing would have been almost unthinkable 25 years ago.

Salah’s goal-scoring exploits have become so commonplace that fans and media can forget just how impressive they are. The former Chelsea and Roma star now matches Alan Shearer’s record with a third Premier League golden boot. He has now scored 118 goals in 180 games in the competition. Such consistency over five seasons, his lowest total was 19 back in 2019-20, is truly impressive.

This is the first such prize for Son and comes after his best season for Tottenham Hotspur in terms of scoring, beating his previous highest tally of 17 from the last time around.

Unlike Salah, who hit the ground running as soon as he arrived at Liverpool, it took the South Korean some time to find his feet in North London after arriving from Bayer Leverkusen in August 2015. There was even talk that he would leave the club at the end of his first season. From then, however, he quickly became a fan favorite. This season has been one to remember, especially as the 29 -year-old has, unlike Salah who managed five from the penalty spot, scored all his from open play.

Both these players would walk into any team in Europe. They are the cream of their respective continents, but to describe Salah as the best African player and Son as the best from Asia undersells them a little.

Both are simply two of the best players in the world and deserve to be described as such. Africa has had a few of those in the past. George Weah won the Ballon d’Or in 1995 while Didier Drogba, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, and Samuel Eto’o all came fairly close in the past. That has not been the case in Asia. There have been plenty of talented players from the East, but none have established themselves as one of the best players in one of the big leagues in the way that Son has managed over the last few years.

If Spurs were challenging for titles, then Son would surely be the first Asian star to make an impact when it came to voting for the world player of the year. There has been some surprise that he has not gone to one of the global elite such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, or Liverpool, a place where he would win domestic titles and challenge for the Champions League, and there has not really been any speculation over his future.

Unlike Salah, the Asian player signed a lengthy new contract with his club last year, which has reduced that conversation. There is also the presence of an even bigger star, in English terms at least, as England captain Harry Kane gets more attention from the local media. Son has helped his team qualify for next year’s premier continental competition, and if he shines in that tournament, then there is a chance of being part of that global conversation. Son also suffers a little as his national team is unlikely to go too far at the World Cup, while Salah’s Egypt are not there at all. If these two nations were getting to semi-finals and finals, then these players really would be even bigger stars than they are right now.

Salah’s club situation is a little different. He has won and is still winning trophies and has lifted English Premier League, European, and world titles. His contract status - his deal ends in a year - has been the subject of a lot of speculation though it seems likely that the North African will stay at Anfield as there is still the prospect of more glory. While Son was delighted with his goals at Norwich that won him the award and helped his team finish fourth, Salah was disappointed that his 23rd strike couldn’t help the Reds finish above second. At least he has had the FA and the League Cup this season, and this weekend he has the chance to get revenge on Real Madrid for that 2018 defeat as the two powerhouses meet in the final in Paris.

Whatever happens on Saturday, this has been another great season for Mo Salah and another one in which Son Heung-min has shown what a fine player he is. To have sons of Egypt and South Korea on top of the Premier League goal-scoring charts is the global game at its best.

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
Updated 23 May 2022

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool

Pure Hollywood ending to Premier League race as Manchester City are pushed to the limits by Liverpool
  • Pep Guardiola’s team called on all their reserves of brilliance and resilience against Aston Villa to score three goals in five minutes and claim a fourth league title in five years

When Manchester City won the Premier League title a decade ago in iconic fashion through Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winning goal against Queens Park Rangers, the saying “We’re Man City, we’ll fight ’til the end” was born — and subsequently became the club’s mantra.

Never was it more evident again than on Sunday as the Etihad Stadium witnessed yet another emotional, unbelievable, unscripted finale that was pure Hollywood with all the sub-plots and twists.

While not quite as definitive and dramatic as Aguero’s magical moment that sealed a 3-2 comeback victory on a similarly unforgettable final day of the 2011-12 campaign, the crucial contributions of Ilkay Gundogan to this season’s triumph will be enshrined too in footballing folklore.

Needing victory to confirm a fourth league title in five seasons, Pep Guardiola’s City overturned a 2-0 deficit to an Aston Villa side managed by Liverpool hero Steven Gerrard with three goals in the last 14 minutes — and in the space of just five minutes and 36 seconds.

With Liverpool beating Wolves 3-1, Gundogan’s close-range finish in the 81st minute proved decisive to deny Jurgen Klopp’s Reds by a point. It was his second goal after heading in the first, while Rodri leveled with a precise low drive.

“It’s definitely got to be up there with Sergio’s moment,” said Phil Foden. “It just shows the incredible character of us as a team, how much we want it and how much we fight for each other — and for everything involved at this club.

“The team that Pep has built, we always keep believing until the end. Not many teams could do that.”

Foden is right and, arguably, only Liverpool and Real Madrid come close currently.

With such belief, City can exude brilliance even when behind or below par. With spirit allied to style, they have the attributes for success.

Guardiola used words such as “legends” and “special” to describe his side — and there should be no doubt or debate about that.

City are serial winners, dominating the Premier League in the manner of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Relentless and ruthless, racking up 93 points and 99 goals this season, their greatness needs to be recognized and respected, especially in how they once more staved off Liverpool’s ferocious challenge under pressure to claim a sixth title since 2012.

City’s Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, whose fourth title put him level with Didier Drogba for the most by an African player, said: “Liverpool are a superb team. I know they hate us. They’re sick of us because if we weren’t here, they would’ve won everything every year.

“But we’re here and we’re never letting go — and we’ll be here next year too.”

“Never in my life have I found a team like Liverpool,” added Guardiola, who shed tears after his 10th career domestic title triumph with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City.

“They make us a better team, make us think more, work harder and handle the quality they have.”

Midfielder Gundogan, whose memorable week also saw him get married, played under Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.

And he said: “If Liverpool didn’t play the incredible football they’ve been playing, I don’t think this league would have been that attractive. We pushed each other to the limits. We need to appreciate what they have done.”

In congratulating the Abu Dhabi-owned team, owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan described them as “distinguished,” and Guardiola said, “We will defend our crown again and again.”

It is that mindset, ambition and willingness to further improve that makes City an exceptional team in the current era.

While some critics may never accept this due to their spending or be appeased until they win a Champions League, their domestic achievements — 14 major trophies since Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008 — should not be belittled by the struggles in Europe.

The same applies to Liverpool and their extraordinary efforts in this campaign, despite failing to secure a 20th top-flight title.

Klopp said they played an “insane season,” and it seems difficult to envisage a team getting this close to a historic quadruple of trophies again.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Saudi Arabia-backed Newcastle will no doubt have a greater say in the future.

There may be disappointment for Liverpool in finishing second after their FA Cup and League Cup successes, but no shame after a titanic battle for top spot.

When they lost the title to City by a single point three years ago on the final day, they went on to lift a sixth European Cup by beating Tottenham.

“Of course, losing the league increased the desire to put it right next week,” said Klopp, whose side face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.

If history is repeated — and a treble completed — in Paris, it would be equally deserved.

It would also again highlight how Liverpool and City have raised the bar in European club football over the past five years through their rivalry and desire for honors.

Others should strive to match that quality, not condemn it.

“What I learned about life is if you stay on track, if you keep going, you get the reward,” added Klopp.

“The only thing you can do in this league is you have to constantly develop. We have to carry on and will be an even more difficult team to play against. Playing in a league with Man City that’s crazy, difficult, but that will not stop us trying next season again.”

The contest promises to be just as enthralling and intriguing, especially with Guardiola — like Liverpool forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane — not yet committed to extending his contract beyond next season.

And there is also the arrival of goalscoring phenomenon Erling Haaland to the Etihad and the Premier League.

Excited already?

Newcastle United ends season on winning note

Newcastle United ends season on winning note
Updated 23 May 2022

Newcastle United ends season on winning note

Newcastle United ends season on winning note
  • Return of Callum Wilson, who scored two goals for the team, ‘an incredible achievement,’ says Eddie Howe
  • Head coach talks Joelinton’s injury, Burnley’s Premier League relegation

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has hailed the impact of Callum Wilson after the striker’s two goals ensured Newcastle United ended their season on a winning note.

The frontman’s Turf Moor double, either side of halftime, saw the Magpies cruise to a 2-1 win and end the Clarets’ stay in the Premier League. It also meant Howe’s United ended their season in 11th place, on 49 points, a stark contrast to the landscape that presented itself upon his appointment, with Newcastle on just five points from their opening 11 games.  

Wilson has been missing for much of United’s mid-season revival, having only started two games since December. But despite that, the England frontman still ended the season as the club’s top scorer on eight goals.

And Howe, despite earmarking a striker in the summer, knows how key a fit and firing Wilson will be for the Magpies next season.

“Wilson is an outstanding striker, an outstanding goalscorer at this level,” said Howe.
“We have missed him this season. That can’t be underestimated. What a big void that has been for us to fill, but I think Chris Wood has done a magnificent job for us.

“Wilson’s return — for him to come back and play two 90 minutes for us — is an incredible achievement, and his two goals today will make his summer better.

“He has returned looking better than ever.”

While Wilson finished his second 90 minutes in less than a week, it was a much shorter afternoon for Brazilian midfielder Joelinton.

A challenge midway through the opening period saw the player felled and a stretcher brought on.

Howe has explained that while the injury is not muscular or a break, and therefore not as serious as it could have been, it was a cut damaging enough to see the player sidelined.

“It didn’t look good. I could see by the way he went down, I thought ‘this could be serious’,” said the head coach.

“Apparently, it’s a deep laceration. I think the doctor, initially when he saw him, could see part of his bone, so I think it was quite deep.

“We knew immediately we had to withdraw him, but he’s in good spirits in the dressing room.

“He had a boot on and said he was OK, so that’s great news.”

Reacting to the game itself, which saw his former club Burnley fail to beat the drop, Howe said: “It was a tough game, a really difficult match for lots of different reasons. I don’t think it was necessarily one for the purest.

“Technically, I don’t think we were at our very best levels. But I think mentally we were and we had to be today because that was a very difficult finish to the game after Burnley scored, so full credit to my players for how they attacked the match and how we dealt with all the things surrounding the game.

“Today was a very, very difficult day for me as I do have emotional ties to Burnley through the supporters, players, club directors.

It is a very proud club. It hurts to see a club relegated; I have been in that position before.

“Big respect to them, I hope they bounce back quickly.”

Meanwhile, after a shortened summer break, Arab News understands United will return to pre-season training for the 2022/23 Premier League season on July 1.