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.”


Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show
Updated 6 sec ago

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show
  • A second round of the contest will take place in Saudi Arabia in 2022

TOKYO: A Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports competition will be held over two days next month during the Tokyo Game Show 2021, Asia’s largest gaming fair, the Japan eSports Union has announced.

The Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match, taking place on Oct. 2 to 3, was announced in August 2018 by the JESU at the invitation of Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al-Saud, president of the Saudi Arabia Federation of International eSports and the Arab eSports Federation.

Among the games that will be contested between Team Japan and Team Saudi Arabia are Football, Gran Turismo, Tekken and Street Fighter.

The competition will be held on home and away match basis, featuring a Japan Round and Saudi Arabia Round. The Saudi Arabia Round was originally scheduled to be held in July this year but is being rescheduled for 2022.

The event is part of the “Japan-Saudi Vision 2030 2.0,” for which the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has developed a strategic economic partnership between the Kingdom and Japan.


Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets
Updated 13 min 32 sec ago

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets
  • Hyderabad fast bowler Thangarasu Natarajan tested positive for COVID-19 and was put in isolation hours before the game
DUBAI: Delhi Capitals notched their seventh win in the Indian Premier League with a thumping eight-wicket victory over virus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad on Wednesday.
Hyderabad fast bowler Thangarasu Natarajan tested positive for COVID-19 and was put in isolation hours before the game. The team was also without all-rounder Vijay Shankar, who also went into isolation after being identified as a close contact of Natarajan.
Without two key players, Hyderabad was limited to 134-9 by Delhi’s seamers and spinners.
Shreyas Iyer (47 not out) and captain Rishabh Pant (35 not out) led the run-chase with a clinical unbroken 67-run stand as Delhi went atop the leaderboard with 14 points by reaching 139-2 in 17.5 overs.
“Our bowlers did a pretty good job to restrict them,” Pant said. “We have one of the quickest bowlers in the world (and) pretty happy as the skipper.”
Shreyas raised the victory by hammering West Indies fast bowler Jason Holder to long-on boundary for six to hand Hyderabad its seventh loss in the tournament.
Shikhar Dhawan, who was left out by India for next month’s Twenty20 World Cup, continued his rich form in this season’s IPL by scoring 42 off 37 balls before Shreyas and Pant combined in a 42-ball stand and led the chase.
Earlier, Hyderabad struggled to put up partnerships after it won the toss and opted to bat. David Warner fell to Anrich Nortje (2-12) in the first over without scoring as the South African paceman didn’t allow the top order to score freely off his four overs.
Captain Kane Williamson (18) couldn’t capitalize on two dropped catches before finally holing out in the deep halfway into the innings off left-arm spinner Axar Patel (2-21).
Kagiso Rabada (3-37), who earlier had removed Wriddhiman Saha inside the batting powerplay, restricted Hyderabad to a below-par total with the wickets of Manish Pandey (17) and Abdul Samad (28).
“Didn’t get off to the start we would have liked,” Williamson said. “They put us under pressure and that is what you expect … for us, it is focusing on our cricket and trying to improve.”

Al-Shabab looking to break seven-year SPL jinx against champions Al-Hilal

Al-Shabab looking to break seven-year SPL jinx against champions Al-Hilal
Updated 36 min 15 sec ago

Al-Shabab looking to break seven-year SPL jinx against champions Al-Hilal

Al-Shabab looking to break seven-year SPL jinx against champions Al-Hilal
  • Club’s Brazilian coach Pericles Chamusca feeling the heat after inconsistent start to season

Al-Shabab will be looking to break one of Saudi Arabian football’s longest jinxes when they attempt to beat league champions Al-Hilal for the first time in seven years at King Fahd International Stadium on Thursday night.

The club’s last league win over Al-Hilal in the Saudi Pro League was way back on Oct. 17, 2014 — a 1-0 triumph thanks to a stoppage-time goal by South Korean player Park Chu-young.

The results since then highlight Al-Hilal’s dominance, with nine wins from the 13 league matches between the two clubs, with the other four ending in draws.

Al-Shabab go into the match sitting in 11th place in the SPL with five points from one win, two draws and two losses, while Al-Hilal are in second spot with 10 points from four matches, having had their match against Al-Fayha postponed.

Brazilian coach Pericles Chamusca took over at Al-Shabab at the start of the season but he is already feeling the heat after the inconsistent start, especially as the club finished second last season. A match against the champions might not be the fairest way to judge his team, but many predict that he could follow compatriot Mano Menezes — sacked by Al-Nassr earlier this week — out of the door if there is no immediate improvement.

There is some good news for Al-Shabab, however, with the return to fitness of several players. Chamusca will be able to call on Argentine playmaker Ever Banega, Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo, Senegalese defensive midfielder Alfred N’Diaye and Saudi keeper Fawaz Al-Qarni for the match against Al-Hilal.

Al-Hilal, meanwhile, will welcome back Salman Al-Faraj after his recent injury.


DP World Tour Championship place up for grabs for ‘lucky’ Dubai amateur golfers

DP World Tour Championship place up for grabs for ‘lucky’ Dubai amateur golfers
Updated 23 September 2021

DP World Tour Championship place up for grabs for ‘lucky’ Dubai amateur golfers

DP World Tour Championship place up for grabs for ‘lucky’ Dubai amateur golfers
  • Winner of The Luckiest Ball on Earth competition will join professionals at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Nov. 16

DUBAI: The Luckiest Ball on Earth series is set to tee off with golfers throughout the UAE vying for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play alongside some of the game’s biggest names in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai Pro-Am.

The annual competition, which has proven a big hit with the UAE’s amateur golfers since the initiative was launched in 2011, is open to all players who hold an official club handicap recognized by the Emirates Golf Federation (maximum 28 for men and juniors, and 36 for women).

Qualifying tournaments will be held at 20 UAE golf clubs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 22, with the triumphant players booking their spot in the grand final at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Oct. 29.

Prizes worth more than 300,000 UAE dirhams ($82,000) are up for grabs including premium hospitality tickets and merchandise for the DP World Tour Championship. The overall male, female, and junior winner will receive a coveted place in the DP World Tour Championship Pro-Am taking place on Nov. 16.

Tom Phillips, European Tour head of Middle East, said: “We are thrilled to announce the return of the Luckiest Ball on Earth competition, offering UAE golfers a unique opportunity to mix with some of the world’s best players.

“We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support of the Emirates Golf Federation and the 20 qualifying clubs, which makes this wonderful local golf initiative possible. We urge golfers across the region to get down to their local qualifier, you never know when it might be your day.”

The DP World Tour Championship will see the top 50 players on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai compete for a prize fund of $9 million. This year’s tournament will take place from Nov. 18 to 21 on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.


Al-Ahli and Besnik Hasi in crisis mode as wins become distant memory

Al-Ahli's players gather in a huddle ahead of their AFC Champions League match against Al-Duhail on April 18, 2021, at the King Abdullah Sport City stadium. (AFP/File Photo)
Al-Ahli's players gather in a huddle ahead of their AFC Champions League match against Al-Duhail on April 18, 2021, at the King Abdullah Sport City stadium. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 23 September 2021

Al-Ahli and Besnik Hasi in crisis mode as wins become distant memory

Al-Ahli's players gather in a huddle ahead of their AFC Champions League match against Al-Duhail on April 18, 2021, at the King Abdullah Sport City stadium. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The Jeddah club’s last victory in any competition came in April making Thursday’s clash with Al-Fayah a must-win match

JEDDAH: This season was supposed to be different to the last, but after just five games in the Saudi Professional League, Al-Ahli are in crisis mode.

Management at the four-time champions must have been thankful that at least Al-Nassr’s dismissal of Mano Menezes last weekend took the bulk of the attention, but now the focus is very much moving westwards towards Jeddah. 

There are must-win games and then there are must-win games and Thursday’s league meeting with Al-Fayha is crucial for the club and especially the boss.

Al-Ahli have drawn seven matches in a row in all competitions, and their last win came in April against Iraq’s Al-Shorta in the AFC Champions League group stages.

With only five points this season, the club now sits 10th in the Saudi pro League table.

If the five-time champions do not return from Al Majma’ah with three points, then coach Besnik Hasi is in line to become coaching casualty number five this season. With the Jeddah Derby against league leaders Al-Ittihad looming eight days later, it is likely the bullet will be fired if there is no victory. Al-Ahli and Hasi know well that after Al-Ittihad fired their coach with just one league game played, they have won every game since.

Al-Ahli finished eighth last season, just four points above the relegation zone, in a season dominated by reports of problems in the team and salaries that came late. Whatever happened off the pitch, what happened on it — the club’s worst finish since 2008 — was not good enough for a genuine Saudi Arabian giant.

Hasi was not the biggest name coach available, but boasts a solid European CV in charge of Anderlecht, Legia Warsaw and Olympiacos. He impressed in the Saudi Professional League with Al-Raed. It was no surprise then that the management felt in June that the 49-year-old was the right man to build something more substantial. 

His recruitment seemed decent. The addition of Ezgjan Alioski from Leeds United was a solid move. Star striker Omar Al-Somah, who often cut a forlorn figure last season, seemed happier. After former Barcelona star and Brazilian international Paulinho arrived, the signs were promising.

But after five games, Al-Ahli have just five points from five draws, their second-worst start to the season ever. There looks to be a distinct lack of leadership on the pitch. There has been major possession in most of those games but the team have been guilty of not taking their chances and switching off at the back. This is something that Hasi knows needs to stop against Al-Fayha who have said that they will let fans in for free in a bid to create that all-important 12th man. 

To make matters worse for Al-Ahli, on paper it has been a fairly gentle start and they have yet to play one of the big boys. The pressure is well and truly on — and now Paulinho has gone. The star player departed suddenly last weekend and Al-Ahli have been trying this week to show that the 33-year-old leaving had nothing to do with any issue at the club or anything related to football at all. The player said that it was due to “emergency circumstances” and the official line is the same.

“Paulinho showed us a picture of his family house two weeks ago,” said an Al-Ahli board member. “We met with him and confirmed that he needed to return home and we offered him the chance to have leave but he insisted that he needed to stay a long time. The player was happy here and had ambition and his departure was down to family circumstances only and nothing else.”

The football family in Brazil expects that he will be playing back in South America before too long. “It's up to Paulinho whether he wants to play for Corinthians or not,” said former Corinthians president Andres Sanchez. “He knows everything about Corinthians and how much he can be paid, it is up to him.” That is no longer an issue for Hasi, who may turn to powerful Saudi international midfielder Ali Al-Asmari to play the Paulinho role. 

The European coach is not the only manager under pressure.

Al-Shabab finished second last season but have been struggling so far this year under new boss Pericles Chamusca. Like Al-Ahli, Shabab have five points, though a win and a draw in the last two games has kept the Brazilian in the Riyadh hotseat so far. Defeat against Al-Hilal — the champions are not the team you want to face in such a situation — on Thursday could see Shabab drop into the relegation zone and Chamusca drop out of a job.

Al-Nassr have just fired Menezes and know that a failure to defeat Al-Batin will increase pressure on the board. Assistant Marcelo, also a Brazilian, will take temporary charge of the Riyadh club. That coaching change in Riyadh was not the first this season and will not be the last, but Besnik Hasi needs a result to avoid being the next.