Saudi clubs kept apart in AFC Champions League quarter-final draw

Saudi clubs kept apart in AFC Champions League quarter-final draw
Al-Hilal face Iranian giants Persepolis, while their neighbours play Al-Wahda of the UAE on Oct. 16. (AFC Champions League)
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Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi clubs kept apart in AFC Champions League quarter-final draw

Saudi clubs kept apart in AFC Champions League quarter-final draw
  • Al-Hilal face Iran’s Persepolis and Al-Nassr take on UAE’s Al-Wahda in the last eight

The road to an all Saudi Arabian semi-final in the AFC Champions League was left wide open as Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr avoided each other in Friday’s draw for the quarter-finals.

Al-Hilal face Iranian giants Persepolis, while their neighbours play Al-Wahda of the UAE on Oct. 16.

In the eastern zone (the tournament is divided into two until the final) there is an all South Korean affair between defending champions Ulsan Horang-I and Jeonbuk Motors and a meeting between Pohang Steelers, also South Korean, and Nagoya Grampus of Japan.

Saudi Arabian fans will be thinking about a potentially titanic semi-final clash. Both teams would be favourites to win their quarter-final ties even if they were in the usual two-legged format. With the global pandemic however, the remaining ties will be single-game affairs and in the western zone they will all take place in Riyadh. There will never be a better chance of seeing Saudi hands on the trophy on Nov 23.

Al-Nassr will be especially happy, on paper at least, at meeting the weakest team in their half of the draw. After losing to Persepolis on penalties in the semi-final last year, there may have been some thoughts of revenge but the Iranian giants are a tough nut to crack. Al-Hilal know that, too, but have happier recent memories with a 6-2 aggregate win over the Reds in the 2017 semi-final.

October’s meeting should be just as memorable, however, and fit for any final. With the Asian Football Confederation suggesting that fans will be back in the stadiums for the quarter-finals, it should be quite an atmosphere. The one regret is that the Riyadh club will not be able to go to Tehran for the second leg with 100,000 fans in attendance at the legendary Azadi Stadium. Just having one game to play at home may increase Al-Hilal’s chances of progressing but the players are missing out on an incredible football experience.

Persepolis, bitter rivals of Esteghlal, the team Al-Hilal defeated 2-0 on Monday, will be hard to beat. The Reds have won the last five Iranian league titles, reached two of the last three Champions League finals and conceded just 14 goals last season. However, October’s match could favour Al-Hilal’s as the new Iranian season is yet to start and Persepolis may be a little rusty.

If that quarter-final is between Asian royalty, the other in the western zone is between two teams that have yet to be champions. The best Al-Nassr have managed is a runners-up spot in 1995 with Al-Wahda making the last four back in 2007. The Saudi side will be strong favourites against a team that finished mid-table in the UAE Pro League last year and have not set this tournament alight — so far at least. Al-Nassr have some of the best attacking talent in Asia and if coach Mano Menezes can get the team playing to its potential, then Henk ten Cate, his opposite number at Al-Wahda, will find it very difficult indeed.

Looking to the final and the likely Eastern zone opposition, many believe the winner of the Ulsan-Jeonbuk tie will make it through. Ulsan are the defending champions, on top of the K-League and a well-balanced outfit with a pleasing mixture of talented veterans and exciting youngsters. Jeonbuk, winners in 2006 and 2016, have lifted the K-League title in six of the past seven years and are still very much in this year’s race.

Pohang Steelers have, like Al-Hilal, three continental championships sitting in their trophy cabinet and would love to make it a record four. Unlike the Korean trio, with seven titles between them, Nagoya have yet to triumph in Asia. Hard to beat with a fine defence and an Australian goalkeeper in Mitch Langerak who breaks clean sheet records on a regular basis, they should not be underestimated in a knock-out format.


Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack
Updated 10 sec ago

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack
BRUGGE, Belgium: Manchester City’s supporter who was attacked on his way home from the team’s Champions League match against Club Brugge in Belgium has been upgraded to “stable” condition though he remains in a coma, prosecutors said.
Five men were arrested after the incident that left 63-year-old City fan Guido De Pauw, who is Belgian, hospitalized after being attacked in a parking lot at a service station late Tuesday after City’s 5-1 win.
One suspect was charged with theft with violence and theft with aggravated violence, another with intentional beatings and incapacitating injuries, and all five with culpable negligence, the East Flanders prosecutor’s office said in a statement released Friday.
The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday. Three have been released under strict conditions, including a ban on attending soccer matches, and two remained detained, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Wednesday De Pauw had “life-threatening injuries.” In their latest update, they said he was “still in a coma but his condition is now stable.”
City has said the club is working with police in Belgium and Manchester to establish more information about the incident.
City manager Pep Guardiola appeared at a news conference on Friday wearing a T-shirt that had the message, ‘We’re with you, Guido.”
“In the last hours he is getting better and of course he has all of the support from the club on what they need for the investigation,” Guardiola said.
“A big hug for him and all his family. We wish that soon he will come back to Etihad Stadium.”

French football ace Pogba reveals his Muslim hero as Muhammad Ali

Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed his Muslim hero is Muhammad Ali. (Reuters/File Photos)
Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed his Muslim hero is Muhammad Ali. (Reuters/File Photos)
Updated 9 min 3 sec ago

French football ace Pogba reveals his Muslim hero as Muhammad Ali

Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed his Muslim hero is Muhammad Ali. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • Manchester United player converted to Islam during his sporting career
  • ‘Qur’an has guided me on how to be, why we are here in life’: Pogba

LONDON: Muslim convert and Manchester United football star Paul Pogba has revealed the reason why he holds the late boxer Muhammad Ali up as one of his heroes — and it was not because of his legendary record in the ring.

The French national team star was responding to a question from Sky Sports asking who his hero was as a child.

The 28-year-old midfielder said: “Muhammad Ali. He was someone that I think kind of saved lives. A hero is somebody that saves lives, that helps people, and I think that is what he did.”

Ali, similar to Pogba, converted to Islam during his sporting career.

“He is a converted man, and I am converted also, so it was very interesting for me to learn about his story.

“I think (Islam) has given me an identity. Sometimes you question your life about everything: Why has this happened to me, why is this, why is that?

“I think Islam has given me this guide, the Qur’an has given me a guide, of how to be and why you are here in life. It opened my eyes more about life, about everything, about important things, more than football and more than sport, not to take things so seriously, that everything is written for you, so your destiny is your destiny, you cannot change that, and you should just enjoy it,” he added.

Pogba said he hoped he could be more like Ali, who changed his name from Cassius Clay when he became a Muslim.

“He saved a lot of people, but not by taking somebody out of the fire, but just by giving a good message, helping the world, saying the truth when it was difficult to say, at a time when it was difficult for black people. He spoke for the black community and helped us to have freedom today.”

The footballer’s mother was a practicing Muslim, but he revealed in 2019 that he was not raised as a Muslim. He later reconnected with the faith after speaking and praying with his Muslim friends.

Islam had made him a “better person,” he added.


Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings

Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings
Updated 22 October 2021

Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings

Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings
  • Karim Benzema’s lawyers said the prosecution had been driven by media interest in the case
  • Prosecution demanded a 10-month suspended sentence on Thursday and a fine of 75,000 euros for the French international

VERSAILLES: Lawyers for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema on Friday dismissed charges against him over an attempt to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape.
They said the prosecution had been driven by media interest in the case.
A verdict in the trial will be announced on November 24.
On the last day of hearings, being held in Versailles outside Paris, Benzema’s lawyers claimed the prosecution had failed to provide evidence to convict the star of complicity in an attempt to blackmail.
“One can ask what really interests French people in this case? Sex? Money? Football? Not the judicial element in any case,” lawyer Antoine Vey told the court, adding that the prosecution’s case had been built around Valbuena’s “feelings.”
Addressing the judge, he added: “It’s never too late to do some law. You are the final safeguard.”
Benzema’s other lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, criticized a “media-judicial circus.”
The prosecution demanded a 10-month suspended sentence on Thursday and a fine of 75,000 euros ($87,000) for the 33-year-old France international, who has not appeared during the three days of hearings which began on Wednesday.
Benzema, who is expected to play this weekend against Barcelona in the Classico, is one of five people on trial over the 2015 extortion attempt over a sexually explicit video that was stolen from Valbuena’s phone.
Testifying on the opening day of the trial Wednesday, Valbuena said the affair — which saw him and Benzema excluded from the national team — had left him feeling “frightened” and fearful for his career.
Benzema claims he was only trying to help his fellow player when he approached him about the sex tape at the French team’s training center in October 2015 and told him he could help him find someone to “manage” the issue of the video.
Prosecutors claim Benzema was working with the other accused, including a childhood friend from his hometown Lyon.
In a wiretapped conversation, he told the friend who is accused of acting as a middlemen for the suspected blackmailers that “he’s not taking us seriously.”
The prosecution claims this shows Benzema was complicit, but his lawyer said Friday the exchange showed the footballer was “not an example of total contrition” during the conversation.
“We never said he was being kind... but it is not a criminal offense,” Vey told the court.
In an interview with investigators in 2015, Benzema denied involvement, asking why he would get involved.
“I have enough money. I don’t need it,” he said.


Horse racing season set to get underway at UAE’s 5 tracks

Horse racing season set to get underway at UAE’s 5 tracks
Updated 12 min 58 sec ago

Horse racing season set to get underway at UAE’s 5 tracks

Horse racing season set to get underway at UAE’s 5 tracks
  • Highlight of season will be 8-week Dubai World Cup Carnival starting in January, culminating in the running of the Dubai World Cup on Mar. 26, 2022
  • The jockeys’ title has been dominated by Tadhg O’Shea in recent seasons and the Irishman will be aiming for a 10th championship

DUBAI: The new horse racing season in the UAE will get underway at Jebel Ali Racecourse on Oct. 29.

The UAE has five tracks and Jebel Ali, which is owned by Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and takes up a large chunk of land in Barsha, is one of the most popular.

Famed for its garden party atmosphere, a normal year sees around 5,000 people congregate on its lawns for picnics and a great view of the uphill finish, one of the steepest in the world.

Six days after Jebel Ali kicks off the season, and five after Sharjah holds its first meeting on Oct. 30, Meydan Racecourse will swing into action.

The home of the $30.5 million Dubai World Cup meeting, scheduled for March 26, Meydan is iconic, a vast facility with the capacity for 60,000 racegoers and the best racing in the country.

It will open with seven races on its dirt track, with the outer turf course staging racing from January. The month will see some of the best trainers, horses, and jockeys converge on Dubai for the eight-week World Cup Carnival, which in the past has welcomed winners from as far afield as Sweden, the US, Uruguay, and Australia.

All five UAE tracks – Abu Dhabi, and Al-Ain concentrate primarily on purebred Arabian racing – count toward the Emirati championships for trainers, owners, and jockeys.

The jockeys’ title has been dominated by Tadhg O’Shea in recent seasons and the Irishman will be aiming for a 10th championship this time around. He has the backing of champion owner Khalid Khalifa Al-Nabooda, as well as three-time champion trainer Satish Seemar, so will be favorite to lift the prize again.

But O’Shea will be pushed all the way by his good friend Richie Mullen, who this season has the support of the powerful Al-Asayl Stables, while Italian rider Antonio Fresu, based with former champion trainer Musabbeh Al-Mheiri, should also ride plenty of winners, particularly at Meydan.

Others to watch out for are Brazilian Sandro Paiva, who will ride for newly licensed Rashid Ali Al-Rayhi, and the experienced Pat Dobbs, who will once again return to Doug Watson.

Seven-time champion trainer Watson is again the one to beat in the handlers’ competition, although with more than 150 horses at his Zabeel Stables base, Seemar will make things hard for him. It would appear to be a three-way battle, with Ernst Oertel, who trains for Al-Nabooda, likely to be competitive despite concentrating solely on Arabians.

The new season will be the first full campaign under the guidance of Sheikh Rashid bin Dalmouk Al-Maktoum, the chairman of Dubai Racing Club, while Mohammed Al-Shahi has taken over as general manager of Emirates Racing Authority, which governs racing at all five tracks.

Under their stewardship prize money has been given a boost, new races have been introduced and – most importantly – crowds are likely to return for the first time since March 2020. General admission to all the courses is free and offers a unique day out at one of the UAE’s oldest and most popular sports.


Beijing offering COVID-19 booster shots ahead of Olympics

Beijing offering COVID-19 booster shots ahead of Olympics
Updated 22 October 2021

Beijing offering COVID-19 booster shots ahead of Olympics

Beijing offering COVID-19 booster shots ahead of Olympics
  • The booster has been rolling out in cities across the vast nation since late September
  • The pandemic is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019

BEIJING: China’s capital Beijing has begun offering booster shots against COVID-19, four months before the city and surrounding regions are to host the Winter Olympics.
Anyone 18 or older who have received two-dose Chinese vaccines and belong to at-risk groups, including those participating, organizing or working on games facilities, would be eligible for the additional shot, state media reported Friday.
The booster has been rolling out in cities across the vast nation since late September, but Beijing authorities have been extra cautious in who receives the extra jab.
The games are set to begin on Feb. 4 with only residents of China allowed in the stands. Indoor events with sliding, skiing and jumping will be held in the suburb of Yanqing and the neighboring city of Zhangjiakou.
China has been largely successful in preventing local transmission through strict requirements on mask wearing, quarantining and contact tracing. Cases continue to pop up however, with 28 new ones reported Friday, including one in the Beijing suburb of Fengtai.
The pandemic is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, leading to a total lockdown that affected more than 50 million people.
China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and stymying investigations into the coronavirus’ origins, although it said earlier this week that it would cooperate with a renewed investigation by the World Health Organization while “firmly opposing any forms of political manipulation.”
WHO on Wednesday released a proposed list of 25 experts to advise it on next steps in the search for the virus’ origins after its earlier efforts were attacked for going easy on China.