Joshua wants Usyk rematch ‘110 percent’

Joshua wants Usyk rematch ‘110 percent’
Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk (L) fights British heavyweight champion boxer Anthony Joshua at the end of their heavyweight boxing match at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London on September 25, 2021. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 26 September 2021

Joshua wants Usyk rematch ‘110 percent’

Joshua wants Usyk rematch ‘110 percent’
  • Usyk's victory extended his unbeaten professional record to 19 wins
  • Joshua is determined to face Usyk again

LONDON: Anthony Joshua said he was “110 percent” likely to activate a rematch clause with Oleksandr Usyk after losing his world heavyweight titles to the Ukrainian in stunning fashion in London on Saturday
Usyk gave a boxing masterclass in recording a unanimous points victory to deprive Joshua of his World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization belts in front of the dethroned champion’s home crowd of more than 66,000 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
His victory extended Usyk’s unbeaten professional record to 19 wins and scuppered the prospects of an all-British world heavyweight title unification bout between Joshua and Tyson Fury.
It also meant Usyk became just the third cruiserweight world champion after Evander Holyfield of the United States and Britain’s David Haye to also take a heavyweight title, with the 34-year-old achieving the feat in just his third professional contest in the heavyweight ranks.
The contract for this bout, however, contained a rematch clause.
And Joshua, who previously lost his belts when beaten by Andy Ruiz in New York in June 2019 before regaining the titles in a rematch in Saudi Arabia six months later, is determined to face Usyk again.
“A hundred percent, 110 percent,” he told a post-fight press conference. “I’m ready to get back to training.
“There’s an old saying ‘If you want to go down as a great fighter, don’t fight southpaws’, especially good ones. He (Usyk) is a good fighter.”
Joshua suffered a badly swollen right eye which required medical attention in a fight where only the bell appeared to save him from a last-round knockout.
“I couldn’t see in the ninth round,” explained Joshua. “My eye was shut, but it was a good experience, because in adversity, you’ve just got to learn to control yourself... it’s the first time it’s happened in a fight.”
Joshua, sounding remarkably upbeat despite a convincing loss, insisted: “I’m a different kind of animal. I’m not a sulker, this is a blessed opportunity to be able to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.
“Straight away I’ve already been watching the fight and figuring out what I could have done better.”
Joshua’s defeat put paid to a fight anytime soon with Fury, who defends his World Boxing Council heavyweight title against Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas next month — the third time the pair have met after a split-decision draw and a win for Fury.
Joshua, however, insisted: “I’ll fight Tyson Fury, Wilder, without the belts. It’s great, it’s legacy but with or without the belts I’ll fight whoever.”
Usyk, three years older than Joshua, also made light of giving away three inches (7.62 centimeters) in height as well as nearly 20lbs (nine kilogrammes) in weight during his latest triumph in London following a heavyweight gold medal at the 2012 Olympics — a Games where Joshua took the super-heavyweight title.
“London is a really lucky city for me but not a single professional victory can be above an Olympic gold,” said Usyk via a translator.
“At this point it is the biggest fight in my career but it wasn’t the hardest one. I cannot say (who was) but, most likely, it’s ahead of us.”
Most of Usyk’s wins have come outside Ukraine, with the new champion — who spent three months in a preparation camp away from his wife and family — adding: “I would love to have the rematch at Olympiyskiy Stadium in Kiev.”
But Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, suggested any rematch would be in Britain, in February or March.
Hearn said a defeat by the “outstanding” Usyk was easier to accept than the “bolt from the blue” that was the first Ruiz fight.
“I think in a strange way he (Joshua) enjoyed the fight because I think he knows he learnt so much and, deep down he knows he was beaten by the better man tonight,” he said.
“I think you need to credit him (Joshua) because he could have swerved that fight easy and maybe we should have, but that’s not really what he’s about.”
Hearn, who questioned whether Usyk could hit the same heights again after a “perfect fight,” added: “Anything can happen, but AJ will, I promise you, be much, much better than that in the re-match.”


Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp
Updated 28 November 2021

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse via my Asian Tour revamp
  • Australian golf legend is spearheading Saudi-backed 10-year plan for 10 annual events from 2022
  • Norman says $200m series could unearth new Tiger Woods in the Kingdom

LONDON: When “the Great White Shark” —  aka Greg Norman —  sinks his teeth into something, success is guaranteed on and off the golf course.

The 66-year-old Australian won 91 professional tournaments, including two Open championships, during a distinguished career that saw him top the world rankings for 331 consecutive weeks.

The pioneering Norman has also become one of the world’s most successful athlete-turned-entrepreneurs, with his global corporation Great White Shark Enterprises boasting more than a dozen companies.

As such, Norman’s bold proclamation to Arab News that Saudi Arabia can become a golfing powerhouse under his tenacious tutelage should not dismissed lightly.

Norman last month was named CEO of LIV Golf Investments, a newly formed, Saudi-backed company that will bring a series of 10 new events to the Asian Tour in 2022. 

He is relishing the opportunity to channel “44 years of observation, knowledge and experience” into rousing golf’s “sleeping giant,” Asia, as part of a ground-breaking 10-year deal that will involve tournaments being staged across Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

“I first went (to Asia) in 1977 and I’ve been going back every year, except during the pandemic years, as a player, golf course designer or through my business acumen,” Norman said via a Zoom call.

“I’ve seen what golf has done there. I was the first guy to build an 18-hole grass course in Jordan. I was the first guy to do an exhibition match in mainland China. I was one of the first guys to play in the UAE as a professional, so I’ve seen the economic growth, as well as the growth of the game of golf, when it goes into new markets.”

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds with a diverse international investment portfolio, is the majority shareholder in Norman’s new company.

Saudi PIF has committed more than $200 million, one of the single biggest investments in the history of professional golf, to support playing opportunities and prize funds.

The series will add to the Asian Tour’s backbone of established events to comprise a 25-event season, expected to represent a record-breaking combined prize fund in 2022.

The announcement follows hard on the heels of the striking of a new 10-year partnership between the Asian Tour and Golf Saudi, the organizers of the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will see the event become the flagship tournament on the Asian Tour, featuring an increased prize fund of $5 million.

Norman is hugely impressed with Golf Saudi’s aggressive drive to promote golf as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 masterplan, which includes multiple golf courses being built in the country.

“Golf Saudi are passionate about the game of golf. If you have that much passion, vision and desire like Vision 2030, then you’re going to accelerate it. I love to see that,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve seen an investment in the future of a country like what I’ve seen in Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “I’ve seen it in pockets around the world — Vietnam has done a great job in investing in its coastline and building high-end resorts and golf course developments there — but nothing to the magnitude of what Saudi Arabia has done. It’s a knock-on effect, a domino effect, and golf is paving the way for (prosperity). It’s an eye-opener to see how the country is investing into their people and opportunities from a health and wellness perspective, from a sporting perspective, from an education perspective,” he said.

“I would say the citizens of Saudi Arabia should be extremely excited about their future.”

Norman said: “Do I think Saudi Arabia could become a golfing powerhouse? Yes, I do.”

“If you’re going to invest dollars into building new facilities, it will allow people access to the game of golf,” he said. “Then you bolt on a lot of other things like academies and education and the hospitality side of things, so it’s actually a beautiful process to watch.” 

He added: “It’s not just one individual who benefits from it, it’s everybody.”

Norman said the schedule for the new series will be announced shortly, with all full-field events contributing toward the Order of Merit ranking.

He is confident of assembling a stellar line-up of world-renowned golfers, too, which is crucial to his overriding aim of inspiring the next generation.

World No.2 Dustin Johnson, who won the Saudi International in 2019 and 2020, is among those rumored to be interested, although Norman would not discuss potential participants.

“All I can tell you is every day I get a message, whether it’s through my WhatsApp, or through Signal or my IG account, from a player asking: ‘How can I get involved? We love it. Thank you, thank you, thank you’.”

He said: “Obviously creating the ability to bring professional golfers stimulates the interest among the younger generation, who would say: ‘Oh, wow, I want to win that golf tournament that John Smith just won.’ The interest level gets accelerated, the fan level gets accelerated, and the fanbase gets bigger, broader and stronger. The game of golf gets better because of that.

“When the fanbase gets elevated, then (people with) more corporate dollars want to come in because the fans are there. There’s this domino effect that happens from an economic standpoint and also a growth standpoint.”

He added: “Could Saudi Arabia produce the next Tiger Woods? The answer is ‘yes.’ But it’s a long-term ‘yes’ and a generational ‘yes.’,” he said.

“In the mid-1980s, there was a gentleman called Sven Tumba from Sweden, who was an ice hockey player who loved golf. He went on this mission to create an opportunity to grow grassroots golf in Sweden. Look where Sweden is today,. They’ve got a major championship winner (2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson).”

Norman is eager to seize every opportunity to expand the game of golf as part of his landmark initiative.

This includes potentially inviting women to participate, as they did at this month’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International for the second year. Building new golf courses across Asia would also be “a logical next step,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Asian Tour CEO and commissioner, Cho Minn Thant, recently suggested that television broadcasting innovations would be explored, including “putting a 3D camera on some of the players if they allow it, or new graphics.”

Norman agreed, adding: “I’m getting flooded with the best of the best from the technology side of life, from technology corporations, from 5G corporations. Golf is under a linear broadcaster, so there are so many ways to show the sport in so many different aspects with the technology that’s out there today and not being used.”

While Norman is fiercely determined to make the Asian Tour global golf’s premier series, he insists he does not want to antagonize the long-established PGA and European Tours.

“I’m a big believer that we can play in the same sandbox. Why can’t there be others who are creating a separate but similar opportunity for players as independent contractors to go and increase their market value?” he said.

“Competition is the best thing for everyone and everything on this planet,” Norman added. “You can go through everything we do in life and we need a competitor to push us to the next level.”

With a hungry Great White Shark on the prowl, Asian sports fans can expect to feast themselves on some spectacular golf in years to come.


Italy and Portugal facing up to possibility of disastrous absence from 2022 World Cup

Italy and Portugal facing up to possibility of disastrous absence from 2022 World Cup
Updated 28 November 2021

Italy and Portugal facing up to possibility of disastrous absence from 2022 World Cup

Italy and Portugal facing up to possibility of disastrous absence from 2022 World Cup
  • At least one of the last two European champions will miss out on a place at Qatar 2022 after the UEFA playoffs in March

When the draw for the UEFA playoffs for the 2022 World Cup was completed on Friday, one thing dominated the headlines: Either Italy or Portugal would not be going to Qatar.

The winners of the last two editions of the European Championship failed to top their World Cup qualifying groups, missing out to Serbia and Switzerland respectively, and now might have to face each other for the right to progress to next year’s finals. That is if they overcome their “semi-final” playoff opponents of North Macedonia (for Italy) and Turkey (for Portugal).

For Italy, the situation is borderline embarrassing.

The Azzurri, less than six months on from their success at the 2020 UEFA European Championship, find themselves having to reach Qatar the hard way, and their fans might be starting to fear the worst if recent history is anything to go by.

After all, their country also failed to secure automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup after losing to Sweden in a two-legged playoff, one of the darkest moments in Italy’s football history.

Italy’s stumble in the qualifiers is all the stranger as Roberto Mancini had sparked a revival that culminated in winning Euro 2020 in July on the back of a long unbeaten run. All looked rosy for the Italians as they returned to World Cup action in the fall.

Italy had started very strongly in Group C but found their path getting complicated after drawing twice in their last three games.

Switzerland took full advantage of this, catching up and overtaking Italy in the standings and qualifying directly for the World Cup.

It was an epilogue that would have been hard to predict a few months ago, and the disappointment after the final whistle in Belfast, after Italy’s 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland, was evident on the faces of the entire team and coaching staff. Among the saddest was Jorginho, who in the dressing room could not hold back his tears, having missed a penalty in each of the two draws with Switzerland in the qualifiers. One successful conversion and it would be the Swiss sweating over progress to Qatar now.

For now, Mancini remains firmly in his post, with the Euro 2020 still fresh in everyone’s minds, and even his few critics have had sympathy for the spate of injuries the squad suffered ahead of the match against Northern Ireland.

The same cannot be said about Portugal.

Fernando Santos, their 67-year-old coach, remains the only one to give Portugal a title, but Euro 2016 grows distant with every passing year and the state of grace will not last forever.

In terms of results, his record is hardly a disaster, but neither has it been outstanding when you consider the talent that the football-crazy nation has at its disposal.

The fog around the coach is almost always based on poor quality football, especially given the caliber of players in the Portuguese squad at the moment.

Portugal’s best players grace some of Europe’s top clubs including Manchester United, Manchester City, Atlético Madrid, Liverpool, PSG, Roma, among others. Many of them are the best players at these clubs. They are therefore the best of the best.

And yet the football played by the national team pales in comparison to their club exploits, and the Portuguese blame their coach for that.

The Luz Stadium was supposed to witness a celebration in front of 65,000 spectators when Serbia came to Lisbon for the final group qualifier, but instead, and at the end of a historic night, the visitors punished Cristiano Ronaldo and his colleagues in the dying meets of the match to win 2-1.

My sources in Portugal tell me that Santos could be approaching the end of his reign as coach of the Portuguese national team.

The Portuguese Football Federation has backed him up to the playoffs, but many supporters and members of the press no longer believe that he can get the best out of this group of players.

This was evident when, at the press conference after the Serbia debacle, a journalist asked Santos: “How do you explain the poor football that the National Team presents, given the talent it has at its disposal?”

Santos looked at the journalist. He swallowed dry, straightened his tie, and said nothing.

Portugal, of course, still possess arguably world football’s greatest trump card.

Whatever lack of confidence there is in the coach, the nation can always count on Ronaldo to inspire his team in such moments.

It would be a shame not to see either Italy or Portugal in the World Cup, but sadly that is now inevitable.

In March we will know which one will miss out, if not, sensationally, both.


Al-Ittihad reclaim SPL lead ahead of international break for FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar

Al-Ittihad reclaim SPL lead ahead of international break for FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar
Updated 28 November 2021

Al-Ittihad reclaim SPL lead ahead of international break for FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar

Al-Ittihad reclaim SPL lead ahead of international break for FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar
  • Jeddah club leapfrog Al-Shabab to top spot with 1-0 win over Al-Tai before next round of matches on Dec. 25

Al-Ittihad have reclaimed top spot in the Saudi Professional League after defeating visitors Al-Tai 1-0 at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah in the 13th round of 2020-21 season.

The only goal of the match came from Brazilian striker Romarinho in the 27th minute.

After the conclusion of this round with the visit of newly crowned Asian champions Al-Hilal to Abha Club tonight, the SPL will take a break until Dec. 25 to accommodate the FIFA Arab Cup taking place in Doha from Nov. 30.

The victory is the eighth for Al-Ittihad this season, taking their SPL points tally to 26 points and and leapfrogging Al-Shabab into top spot, while Al-Tai remain at the bottom of the table with 10 points.


Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time
Updated 28 November 2021

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time
  • Palmeiras beat fellow Brazilian rivals Flamengo 2-1
  • Sao Paulo-based club gain their third title

Palmeiras successfully defended the Copa Libertadores title after beating Flamengo 2-1 in an all-Brazilian final that went to extra time on Saturday.
The third title from the Sao Paulo-based club kicked off street parties in the metropolis, regardless of new concerns about COVID-19.
The champion opened the scoring at Centenario Stadium in Montevideo through Raphael Veiga early. Flamengo, which started the final as favorite, levelled in the second half thanks to Gabriel Barbosa. Substitute Deyverson netted the winner in the first half of extra time.
Palmeiras became the first team in 20 years to win back-to-back titles. Boca Juniors won in 2000 and ‘01, the first of those titles against Palmeiras in the final prevented the Brazilian side from retaining its first Copa title.
A counterattack started by defender Gustavo Gomez found right back Mayke free and onside thanks to Flamengo defender David Luiz. Mayke’s low cross reached Raphael Veiga, and he put it past goalkeeper Diego Alves in the sixth minute.
Flamengo wasted opportunities in the second half, and didn’t level until the 72nd, courtesy of its its top scorer Gabriel Barbosa. Assisted by Giorgian de Arrascaeta, the man nicknamed Gabigol scored from close range against goalkeeper Weverton, who was not quick enough to block the shot.
Barbosa scored both Flamengo goals in the 2-1 final win against River Plate in its second and last Copa triumph in 2019.
The 1-1 looked fair at the end of regular time. But it didn’t take long for Palmeiras to regain the upper hand.
A slip by Flamengo midfielder Andreas Pereira in the 95th made the difference. Deyverson, who replaced a fatigued Veiga minutes before, carried the ball all by himself and calmly beat goalkeeper Alves.
Deyverson returned to Palmeiras in June after a loan to Alaves, and was in tears after his first goal in this Copa.
“I had ups and downs here, I made many mistakes, but I never stopped working,” the striker, once again in tears, said.
Deyverson signed a five-year contract with Palmeiras in 2017, but problems on and off the pitch led him to being loaned to Getafe in 2020 and Alaves shortly later. Many Palmeiras fans did not enjoy the news of his return.
Deyverson surprised fans and players alike near the final whistle when he fell to the ground after being lightly touched on the back by Argentine referee Nestor Pitana. Pitana laughed at the player’s reaction and told him to stand up. Deyverson’s rolls on the pitch went viral on social media.
Flamengo goalkeeper Alves said they must congratulate Palmeiras and keep their heads up.
“It hurts a lot to lose it like this. We didn’t give many opportunities to Palmeiras. They played in their style, we played in ours. It wasn’t meant to be,” Alves said, adding midfielder Pereira should not be blamed for the defeat.
Brazil also contributed both finalists in the Copa Sudamericana, won by Athletico. This year marked the first time all four finalists of both Copas came from the same country. Palmeiras’ success was the eighth since 2010 for a Brazilian club.
Palmeiras eliminated local rival Sao Paulo in the quarterfinals and advanced to the final on the away goal rule after drawing at Atletico Mineiro. This week, CONMEBOL scrapped the away goals rule for all future competitions.


Virus-hit Portuguese team plays soccer with 9 men

Virus-hit Portuguese team plays soccer with 9 men
Updated 28 November 2021

Virus-hit Portuguese team plays soccer with 9 men

Virus-hit Portuguese team plays soccer with 9 men

LISBON, Portugal: Portuguese club Belenenses started a league match against Benfica with just nine players after an outbreak of coronavirus in its squad on Saturday. It was later called off just after halftime.
With two fewer players, Belenenses was soon trailing. Benfica scored all goals in the 7-0 win in the first half.
The referee called the match off just after the start of the second half. Only seven players took the field for Belenenses, which soon lost another player when one dropped to the turf, leaving them with only six.
The laws of soccer allow for games to be played as long as each team has seven players, including a goalkeeper.
Club president Rui Pedro Soares said that despite having a decimated squad his club did not ask for the game to be postponed.