5 things we learned as Al-Wahda overcame Sharjah in an all-UAE AFC Champions League clash

5 things we learned as Al-Wahda overcame Sharjah in an all-UAE AFC Champions League clash
The all-UAE AFC Champions League round of 16 clash between Sharjah and Al-Wahda went all the way to a penalty shootout. (Twitter: @AlWahdaFCC)
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Updated 15 September 2021

5 things we learned as Al-Wahda overcame Sharjah in an all-UAE AFC Champions League clash

5 things we learned as Al-Wahda overcame Sharjah in an all-UAE AFC Champions League clash
  • Henk ten Cate got his tactics spot on against Abdulaziz Al-Anbari's tiring Sharjah

The all-UAE AFC Champions League round of 16 clash between Sharjah and Al-Wahda went all the way to a penalty shootout before Al-Wahda secured the quarter-final ticket late on Tuesday night.

A goalless opening period gave way to an action-packed second half. Syrian striker Omar Kharbin opened the scoring for the Abu Dhabi team, only for former Everton midfielder Bernard to peg them back two minutes later, bringing Sharjah back into the game.

Here are five things we learned from the match that put Al-Wahda through to the last eight of the continental competition for the first time in 14 years.

1. Ten Cate wins the battle of the pragmatists

When the line-ups were announced an hour before kick-off at Sharjah Stadium it was clear that this was going to be a cagey affair. Al-Wahda’s Dutch manager Henk ten Cate set up his side with a defensive three central midfielders, while his opposite number, Abdulaziz Al-Anbari, opted for his usual conservative interpretation of 4-2-3-1.

Both coaches had found success in the past playing a pragmatic style of play, with the Dutchman winning the UAE Pro League title in 2016-17 and reaching the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup semi-final while in charge of Al-Jazira, and Al-Anbari guiding his boyhood club Sharjah to the league title in 2018-19 and adding the 2019 UAE Super Cup.

On the night it was Ten Cate who emerged superior, with his side looking well-prepared for the eventuality of penalties. Despite momentum going Sharjah’s way after they had equalized, Al-Wahda were able to sit deep and break all opposition attacks.

It was a memorable game for the veteran Dutchman, while Al-Anbari will be left to reflect on what went wrong after Sharjah’s best run in the competition since they reached the quarter-final in his playing days in 2004.

2. Al-Shamsi is the future of UAE goalkeeping

Both sides featured UAE international goalkeepers in their ranks. While neither keeper is currently first choice for national team coach Bert van Marwijk – that spot is reserved for Al-Jazira captain Ali Khaseif – they both staked a claim to be considered with their displays on Tuesday.

Sharjah’s Adel Al-Hosani denied Kharbin from point-blank late in the second half and saved the first penalty in the shootout from Spanish midfielder Jose Angel Jurado to give Sharjah the advantage.

Al-Wahda’s Mohammed Al-Shamsi showed impressive reflexes to tip over Ben Malango’s header in the second half. The 24-year-old looked confident as the pressure mounted. With Congolese striker Malango stepping up to take the fifth spot kick that would have won it for Sharjah, Al-Shamsi produced a heroic save and backed it up minutes later by saving from substitute Khalil Khamis to send his team into the quarter-finals.

3. Sharjah unlucky with injuries

In a knockout game of 120 minutes, the difference is often made by the depth of a squad as fresh legs come on late. Despite a busy summer transfer window for Sharjah, injuries left coach Al-Anbari with limited options.

Sharjah were without the services of midfield enforcer Majed Suroor, who underwent surgery in the summer and continues his recovery, while winger Saif Rashid was only fit enough to make the bench.

To make matters worse for the home team, full-back Ali Al-Dhanhani was stretchered off and sent to hospital with a broken nose in the second half, and club captain Shahin Abdulrahman suffered a muscular injury in extra time.

“My plan was to introduce a fresh striker off the bench to replace Ben Malango but we were forced to take off centre-back Shahin Abdulrahman due to his injury,” said Al-Anbari after the match. He could not follow through with his plan, and a jaded Malango was left on the pitch, going on to miss the decisive fifth penalty.

4. Kharbin back to his clinical best

Ahead of Tuesday’s game, pressure was mounting on Syrian striker Omar Kharbin. The 2017 Asian Player of The Year has been on a goal drought, by his own high standards, failing to find the back of the net in his last four games for club and country.

Against Sharjah, the odds seemed stacked against him, with his manager ditching the 4-2-3-1 system that provided additional attacking support in terms of an attacking midfielder; with skipper Ismael Matar suspended, the Syrian was played out on the left in a 4-3-3 formation.

Kharbin responded to doubters with a man of the match performance, scoring his side’s only goal with a blend of shrewd positioning and emphatic finishing to convert Joao Pedro’s through pass. He also worked tirelessly throughout the 120 minutes, leading from the front to earn a standing ovation from the travelling fans.

5. Al-Wahda will not be easy to beat

Al-Wahda rounded off the four-team contingent of West Asian sides in the quarter-finals, joining Saudi Arabian pair Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and Iran’s Persepolis in the next stage.

With the draw set to take place on Friday morning, Al-Wahda will be the least experienced of the quartet. Al-Hilal won the title in 2019, Al-Nassr are in the quarter-finals for the third year in a row and Persepolis made the final twice in the past four years. Al-Wahda’s last appearance in this stage was 2007.

But Tuesday’s performance showed that Al-Wahda will not be easy to beat, with coach Ten Cate declaring his side ready for battle.

“We are not afraid of any team, we showed respect to Sharjah but we were not afraid of them,” said the 66-year-old.

“Maybe some teams play better, maybe some teams have better players, but we have a way of playing that makes it difficult for other teams to play us. We are well organised, and we don’t give many chances. This is our way.”


Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final
Updated 20 October 2021

Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

RIYADH: Saudi giants Al-Hilal stayed on course for a second AFC Champions League title in three years with a tense 2-1 semifinal victory over cross-city rivals Al-Nassr on Tuesday.

Mali striker Moussa Marega and Saudi international Salem Al-Dawsari struck either side of the break in Riyadh to set up a title clash with either Pohang Steelers or Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea who meet in the second-semifinal of the tournament on Wednesday.

Al-Hilal won their third Asian title in 2019 but were dramatically kicked out of the tournament last year after several members of their squad tested positive for COVID-19.

But the team known locally as “Al Zaeem,” or “The Boss” seem to have successfully banished the memories of that fateful day from their minds with an impressive run this year as they moved within striking distance of another international trophy.

Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have clashed on numerous occasions domestically but the magnitude of a crucial continental clash was not lost on them as both teams made a cautious start at the King Saud University Stadium in the Saudi capital.

The first notable chance fell Al-Hilal’s way but Al-Dawasari failed to take advantage of the opportunity by firing wide from the edge of the box after receiving a pass from Matheus Pereira.

Al-Hilal were not to be denied for long though as Marega scored his first goal of the tournament in the 17th minute.

Mohamed Al-Burayk found Bafetimbi Gomis with a long pass and the 36-year-old Frenchman deftly steered the ball for Marega who made no mistake with a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner of the post.

Al-Nassr raised their game a notch after that but were dealt a body blow when defender Ali Lajami was sent-off seconds before half-time for a foul on Marega.

Despite the setback Al-Nassr managed to hold their own and found the equalizer five minutes after the break with Anderson Talisca heading home from close from a cross by Abdulfattah Asiri following a corner.

Sultan Al-Ghanem and Talisca missed chances thereafter for Al-Nassr and soon Al-Hilal wrested control once again with Al-Dawasri scoring his third goal of the knockouts, his chip taking a slight deflection off Abdulla Madu before finding the net.

Al-Hilal survived several anxious moments after that with Abderrarazak Hamdallah an Abdulla Madu missing chances in stoppage time.


World Cup bid not derailed by Euro 2020 trouble — UK Sport

World Cup bid not derailed by Euro 2020 trouble — UK Sport
Updated 20 October 2021

World Cup bid not derailed by Euro 2020 trouble — UK Sport

World Cup bid not derailed by Euro 2020 trouble — UK Sport
  • England have been ordered to play one UEFA competition match behind closed doors
  • UEFA president played down fears that the disorder would affect a British and Irish World Cup bid

LONDON: The UK and Ireland bid for the 2030 World Cup is not “up in smoke” despite the English FA being sanctioned for the chaos that marred the Euro 2020 final, according to a leading figure at UK Sport.
England have been ordered to play one UEFA competition match behind closed doors, with a further match suspended for two years for disorder at the final which saw ticketless fans break their way into the stadium.
Further trouble marred England’s World Cup qualifier with Hungary last week as visiting fans clashed with police.
However, Simon Morton, chief operating officer of UK Sport, which is involved in an ongoing feasibility study on whether to bid, said his view was that crowd trouble had not derailed plans.
“There are lessons to be learned, the FA has commissioned a review from Baroness Casey. It’s very serious. But I do not think it is the bid up in smoke,” he told the UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on Tuesday.
“However, I don’t think it’s reflective of how this country organizes sporting events. We have an excellent reputation, not only for hosting brilliant events but also hosting safe and secure events.
“We have to get the balance right here. It was unacceptable, but I think most countries around the world would recognize it is not reflective of what normally happens.”
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin played down fears that the disorder would affect a British and Irish World Cup bid, telling The Times last month that he saw Wembley as a key venue for UEFA in hosting club competition finals in the future.
However, Morton cautioned against proposals for the World Cup to be held every two years rather than four.
FIFA’s head of global development, Arsene Wenger, has been at the forefront of promoting the idea.
The International Olympic Committee expressed its concern earlier this week on what the impact could be for other sports.
“I think the oversaturation of sporting competition events is a real risk,” added Morton.
“One of the reasons why sport is so popular is because of its scarcity. I think when we host events, you want to know that that’s special, because you’re attending the world championships.”


Halep beats Potapova in Kremlin Cup opener, Jabeur retires

Halep beats Potapova in Kremlin Cup opener, Jabeur retires
Updated 19 October 2021

Halep beats Potapova in Kremlin Cup opener, Jabeur retires

Halep beats Potapova in Kremlin Cup opener, Jabeur retires
  • Halep won 6-1, 6-4 against Anastasia Potapova despite losing her serve three times
  • Tunisian Ons Jabeur retired from her first-round match

MOSCOW: Simona Halep started her campaign at the Kremlin Cup with a straight-sets win on Tuesday, while Ons Jabeur retired from her first-round match.
Halep won 6-1, 6-4 against Anastasia Potapova despite losing her serve three times and next plays Veronika Kudermetova in the second round after the Russian beat 18-year-old qualifier Oksana Selekhmetova 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4. Halep hasn’t won more than three consecutive matches since returning in August from a three-month layoff with a calf injury that kept her out of the French Open and Wimbledon.
Eighth-ranked Jabeur retired when 6-1, 1-0 down against Ekaterina Alexandrova. There was no immediate information from the Tunisian or the WTA about the reason for her retirement, which makes it harder for Jabeur to qualify for the WTA Finals.
Marketa Vondrousova eliminated seventh-seeded Elena Rybakina 6-4, 6-4 and plays qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in the next round.
Anett Kontaveit won 6-3, 6-3 against Katerina Siniakova to set up a second-round match with experienced German Andrea Petkovic, who was leading 2-6, 6-0, 2-0 when her opponent Jelena Ostapenko retired.
In the men’s draw, fifth-seeded Alexander Bublik was upset by Illya Marchenko 6-4, 6-3 and veteran French player Gilles Simon surprised eighth-seeded Laslo Djere 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-3.


Man City crush Brugge to re-energise Champions League push

Man City crush Brugge to re-energise Champions League push
Updated 19 October 2021

Man City crush Brugge to re-energise Champions League push

Man City crush Brugge to re-energise Champions League push
  • Pep Guardiola's side bounced back in style from last month's loss to Paris Saint-Germain
  • Cole Palmer, 19, bagged his first Champions League goal minutes after coming on as a substitute

BRUGES, Belgium: Manchester City delivered a dominant Champions League performance to sweep past Club Brugge 5-1 on Tuesday and re-emphasize their status as major contenders for a first European title.
Joao Cancelo gave City a deserved lead on the half-hour and Riyad Mahrez converted a penalty just before the break as Pep Guardiola’s side bounced back in style from last month’s loss to Paris Saint-Germain.
Kyle Walker added a third early in the second half and 19-year-old Cole Palmer bagged his first Champions League goal minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Hans Vanaken pulled a goal back to great delight from the home supporters but Mahrez capped a thumping City victory with his second of the night.
The win leaves City side with six points after three games in Group A, with the champions of England and Belgium to meet again in two weeks in Manchester.
Ederson returned in goal for City after flying direct to Belgium last week following Brazil’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers, while Jack Grealish replaced Raheem Sterling in the front three.
Viewed as the weakest team in a group also featuring 2020 semifinalists RB Leipzig, Brugge had surprisingly held PSG to a 1-1 draw in their opening game of the section at the Jan Breydelstadion.
City, facing Brugge for the first time, twice had the ball in the net inside the opening 15 minutes. Grealish’s lob was ruled out for a push on Clinton Mata, with Rodri’s tap-in disallowed for offside.
Phil Foden fired into the side-netting after running onto a long ball, the England international’s free roaming as a false nine constantly troubling Brugge.
It came as little surprise Foden created the opening goal for Cancelo, chipping a delightful ball over the defense that the Portugal defender poked through the legs of former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Stanley Nsoki chopped Mahrez down in the area late in the first half, the Algerian doubling City’s lead as he sent Mignolet the wrong way from the spot.
Mahrez nearly struck again before half-time but Mignolet beat away his first-time strike from Foden’s lay-off.
Walker all but put the match out of reach on 53 minutes when Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne combined, the latter rolling through for Walker to drill low past Mignolet.
Mignolet denied Foden with his legs as City continued to stream forward. Not even a spate of changes could check their momentum as Palmer scored three minutes after replacing De Bruyne.
No sooner had Belgium star De Bruyne walked off to warm applause from the home supporters than Palmer curled in from Raheem Sterling’s assist.
Mignolet saved well from Sterling after he escaped in behind the defense, with Ederson producing a sharp stop to turn away Charles De Ketelaere’s diving header.
Brugge refused to fold and Hans Vanaken steered in a consolation nine minutes from time, but the game finished as it started, with City flexing their muscle as Mahrez burst clear to complete the rout.


SACF sign MoU with JSW Sports to develop Cricket in Saudi Arabia

SACF sign MoU with JSW Sports to develop Cricket in Saudi Arabia
Updated 19 October 2021

SACF sign MoU with JSW Sports to develop Cricket in Saudi Arabia

SACF sign MoU with JSW Sports to develop Cricket in Saudi Arabia
  • The partnership, will see the JSW Group’s sports vertical come on board as a consultant, with the aim to grow and develop cricket in the Kingdom in line with the ‘Saudi Vision 2030’
  • Additionally, the SACF will also aim to establish a high-performance programme to professionalize the structure and setup for cricket in the country, in association with JSW Sports

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) signed an agreement with the sports management company JSW Sports to develop Cricket in Saudi Arabia focusing on high performance academies.

The SACF announced that they have entered into a MOU with JSW Sports. The partnership, will see the JSW Group’s sports vertical come on board as a consultant, with the aim to grow and develop cricket in the Kingdom in line with the ‘Saudi Vision 2030’.

Through the relationship, JSW Sports will work closely with the SACF and its current key stakeholders, programmes, organization and infrastructure, with a view to prepare a high performance plan with a long-term vision of enhancing cricket in the Kingdom.

JSW will also review key areas such as grass roots development, talent identification, cricket facilities, and events calendar.

Prince Saud bin Mishal Al Saud, Chairman of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation said: “ The SACF is delighted to work closely with the vastly experienced and successful sports organization, JSW Sports, at this exciting phase in the transformation of the federation. We are proud to be associated with a leading international high performance entity to benefit the growth of cricket in Saudi Arabia.” 

Headquartered in Riyadh, the SACF became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2003.

Regionally affiliated with the Asian Cricket Council, SACF was named the 39th associate member of the ICC in 2016.

“We are very excited at this opportunity to partner with the SACF to help them grow the sport of cricket in the country. At JSW Sports, we are either looking to learn from the best or share our knowledge and expertise with those around us, in areas where we are the best, and this partnership underlines that. We look forward to working with the SAFC and making a success out of their programme,” said Parth Jindal, Director, JSW Sports.

Planned in line with the Saudi Vision 2030, the partnership will serve to augment the efforts of the SACF to put Saudi Arabia on the global sporting map. 

Additionally, the SACF will also aim to establish a high-performance programme to professionalize the structure and setup for cricket in the country, in association with JSW Sports.