England’s Southgate fears two-year World Cup plan risks precious tradition

England’s Southgate fears two-year World Cup plan risks precious tradition
England’s manager Gareth Southgate attends a training session at Hotspur Way, the Tottenham Hotspur training ground, in Enfield, on Saturday ahead of their World Cup 2022 qualifying matches against Andorra and Poland. (AFP)
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Updated 07 September 2021

England’s Southgate fears two-year World Cup plan risks precious tradition

England’s Southgate fears two-year World Cup plan risks precious tradition
  • The England manager is keen for an overhaul of the football calendar
  • "We don't need to put more into the calendar,” said Gareth Southgate

LONDON: England boss Gareth Southgate voiced fears on Tuesday that the World Cup could lose some of its lustre if it were held every two years, warning other competitions would have to be sacrificed to make it happen.
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is now director of development at world governing body FIFA, has called for football’s showpiece competition to become a biennial event.
Southgate revealed after England’s 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Andorra on Sunday that he had spoken to the Frenchman about the proposals.
The England manager is keen for an overhaul of the football calendar, with players under increasing strain from the demands of the club and international game.
But Southgate is wary of tinkering with the format of a competition that has been played every four years, apart from cancelations as a result of World War II, since the inaugural edition in 1930.
“I can see the game always needs to evolve and be forward-thinking, but also there are some traditions that are very special and worth protecting,” Southgate said ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier in Poland.
“It’s a welcome decision to discuss the overall calendar and that includes the demands on the players.
“We don’t need to put more into the calendar. If something is going in, something else has to come out so that requires all the governing bodies to come together and make sure that calendar gets sorted out.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin warned on Monday that holding the World Cup every two years would “dilute” the tournament.
“We think that the jewel of the World Cup has value precisely because of its rarity,” Ceferin said at a general assembly of the European Club Association.
“But holding it every two years will, by our opinion, lead to more randomization, less legitimacy, and it will unfortunately dilute the World Cup itself.
“The international match calendar does not need that. Our players don’t need to see more of their summers spent on consuming tournaments rather than devoted to relaxing and recuperation.”
Wenger’s plan to compensate for the increased tournament load on players would include fewer qualifiers, collated into one international window during the season, and compulsory rest periods after the final stages of major tournaments.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Ali Mabkhout can close the gap on Cristiano Ronaldo

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

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

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

4. Lebanon can find a way to win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Manchester United appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss

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

Manchester United appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Top international swimmers announced for FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Top international swimmers announced for FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
Updated 29 November 2021

Top international swimmers announced for FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Top international swimmers announced for FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
  • Host of Olympic medalists will take part in the event at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island in December
  • Among those heading to Abu Dhabi will be six-time Olympic medalist and world champion Kyle Chalmers from Australia and Tokyo 2020 double gold medalist Tom Dean from the UK

ABU DHABI: The Abu Dhabi Sports Council has confirmed that a number of top international swimmers will participate in the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) at the Etihad Arena from Dec. 16 to 21.

Organizers on Monday revealed that some of the best swimmers from North America, Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific are set to compete across a range of distances next month.

Among those heading to Abu Dhabi will be six-time Olympic medalist and world champion Kyle Chalmers from Australia; Tokyo 2020 double gold medalist Tom Dean from the UK; multiple world champion Daiya Seto from Japan; South Africa’s Matthew Sates, the recent overall winner of the Swimming World Cup 2021; and Olympic breakout star Lydia Jacoby from the US.

In an impressive year so far, Chalmers set the world record in the men’s 100m freestyle (25m) at the Swimming World Cup in Russia last month and is aiming to break further records in the UAE.

“2021 has been an incredible year,” Chalmers said. “I earned my first ever world record at the World Cup in Kazan and took home silver at the Olympic Games. What better way to end the year than at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi? It’s been a long journey back since my shoulder surgery at the start of the year, but the challenges, sacrifices and bridges I have had to climb to get to this point in my career make it all the more special.”

Reigning 200m freestyle Olympic champion Dean and multiple world junior record holder Sates will be the men to beat in the medium-distance freestyle events. The latter will be looking to continue his record-breaking run in Abu Dhabi, following his stellar performances in the 2021 Junior World Cup, where he set world records in the 200m freestyle and individual medley.

Returning to the UAE following his appearance in the 2016 FINA Swimming World Cup in Dubai is Japan’s elite star Seto. Specializing in butterfly, breaststroke and freestyle events, Seto’s career highlights include gold medal triumphs in the 400m individual medley at the 2012, 2014 and 2016 world championships (25m). Seto was the first Asian swimmer to become world champion in an individual medley event.

Seventeen-year-old Jacoby will be one of the top names in the American team following her breakout performance in Tokyo this year, where she stunned the world by winning gold in the 100m breaststroke event. Her swift rise through the elite swimming ranks started at the US winter nationals in 2018, when she qualified for the US Olympic trials at the tender age of 14.

“Medaling at this summer’s Olympics was a dream come true, and I’ll definitely be racing for more in the upcoming championships in Abu Dhabi,” Jacoby said. “I can’t wait to finish off this incredible year strong with some of the world’s strongest athletes supporting me and racing alongside me.”

Representing Canada is 21-year-old Margaret Mac Neil, the current Olympic and world champion and continental record holder in the women’s 100m butterfly event.

European sporting talent includes 24-year-old Florian Wellbrock from Germany, whose outstanding performance in the 10km open water event at the Tokyo Olympic Games won him gold. Wellbrock became the first swimmer to win both the 1,500m freestyle and the 10km open water events in the same world championships in 2019. He will compete in both the short course swimming in the Etihad Arena and the open water swimming in Yas Bay.

Italian stars Gregorio Paltrinieri — the current 1,500m freestyle (25m) world record holder — and long-distance event specialist Simona Quadarella have also been confirmed for this year’s competition. Paltrinieri will return to the UAE, following his appearance at the Swimming World Cup in Dubai in 2013, with hopes of breaking his own world record.

Quadarella will aim to add to her 10-medal haul, which includes bronze in the 800m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics and gold in the 1,500m freestyle and silver in the 800m freestyle at the 2019 world championships.

More than 1,000 athletes will compete for 44 world championship titles across six days in Abu Dhabi, with a total prize pool of $2.8 million up for grabs.


Eddie Howe: Only league position might be obstacle to new January signings

Eddie Howe: Only league position might be obstacle to new January signings
Updated 29 November 2021

Eddie Howe: Only league position might be obstacle to new January signings

Eddie Howe: Only league position might be obstacle to new January signings
  • New coach denies Agbonlahor claim that ‘no one wants to live in Newcastle’ ahead of must-win home matches against Norwich, Burnley
  • Eddie Howe: ‘We will have no problem attracting players to Newcastle for a whole host of reasons’

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United Boss Eddie Howe believes that the club’s league position will be the main obstacle to overcome when attempting to attract players in January — not the location of the city.

However, the head coach said that his focus is not on the winter transfer window. Instead, he remains fixed on getting the best out of his current group and kick-starting their Premier League campaign.

Former Aston Villa striker Gabby Agbonlahor claimed on the radio this week that players would rather sign for newly promoted Brentford for less money than go to United, because “no one wants to live in Newcastle.”

But Howe said that this could not be further from the truth.

“That is not accurate,” said Howe, whose bottom of the pile Magpies take on 19th-placed Norwich City at St James’ Park tomorrow evening. “I have not seen Newcastle in the light yet, but I have only heard amazing things about it as a place to live and the town centre.

“We will have no problem attracting players to Newcastle for a whole host of reasons,” he added. “I don’t think that is going to be an issue, but what I do think will be an issue is our league position.

“That is not my focus at the moment, it is preparing the team for a big week ahead.”

When pressed, Howe revealed that he does have “one eye” on trading in January, but cannot lose track of the gravity of the task on hand, with United winless in their opening 13 games.

“We have half an eye on January and that is the same for me no matter what time of year,” Howe said. “As a manager, you are always thinking about how you can evolve your team and improve your squad.”

“Trust me when I say, my main focus is trying to get the best out of the players we have here and our next game and the games beyond.

“I am working extremely hard to make sure they produce their best performances — and I think that is the best use of my time at the moment.

“It has been a very busy time. It has been a very busy few days for us. We are looking forward to the challenges of this week.”

Only Derby County in 2000-01 have ever worked their way to Premier League safety from a winless run as long as United’s at the start of a top-flight season.

And this week — in which United take on the Canaries and fellow strugglers Burnley on home turf — feels like a crucial junction in their survival fight.

Howe said: “We are aware of how important these games are, but it is a dangerous thing to look too far ahead.

“You just have to look, firstly, training then the game tomorrow. It is always a step-by-step process,” he added. “The moment you start looking too far ahead, you can take your eyes off the priorities — and the priorities are the players and being in the best shape we can for the next game.”

Howe’s tenure has opened up with a home draw against Brentford and a predictable loss at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday against Arsenal.

And while the Magpies’ points tally has only been improved by one in that time, Howe has seen positives upon which to build.

“Going back to the last game I look at the amount of chances we created. We showed good attacking threat,” said Howe. “Yes, there were moments the other way that weren’t great. But I saw enough of us as an attacking side — and I did at Arsenal, too, to be honest.

“I wouldn’t say that we created really clear cut chances, but I know that we created enough against a really tough opponent to know that we will be in games from an attacking perspective,” he added. “We have to improve the defensive side of things. Martin Dubravka returned and played very well.

“So for us there were positives in defeat. We do know that we can’t keep saying that and we have to turn these small margins the other way.”