Harsh lesson for Al-Wahda as five-star Al-Nassr cruise to AFC Champions League semi-final

Harsh lesson for Al-Wahda as five-star Al-Nassr cruise to AFC Champions League semi-final
AL-Nassr's players celebrate reaching the 2021 AFC Champions League semifinals after beating Al-Wahda of the UAE 5-1. (Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 17 October 2021

Harsh lesson for Al-Wahda as five-star Al-Nassr cruise to AFC Champions League semi-final

Harsh lesson for Al-Wahda as five-star Al-Nassr cruise to AFC Champions League semi-final
  • A dream debut for new coach Pedro Emanuel means the Saudi club face Al-Hilal in a high stakes Riyadh Derby on Tuesday

It was the best of debuts for coach Pedro Emanuel and the vast majority of the 20,000 fans who cheering for Al-Nassr in Mrsool Park, in Riyadh. However, it was a sad ending for the UAE legend Ismail Matar despite his late goal for Al-Wahda.

On Saturday, Riyadh wore its brightest yellow dress as the 2021 AFC Champions League produced a memorable night for the home side. Jaloliddin Masharipov, Abderazzak Hamdallah and Anderson Talisca were at their scintillating best, leaving Al-Wahda boss Henk ten Cate in no doubt over what had happened as he concluded his post-match press conference with a straightforward message, “They were better than us and that’s a fact.”

A mesmerizing show of the local football culture was produced by the crowd and, while the avalanche of streamers thrown on the bench postponed kick-off by nearly 10 minutes, the Al-Nassr faithful left their new boss gushing.

“In some moments, I just sat on the bench and enjoyed the environment between the fans and the team. This is why I’m a coach, this is why I enjoy football,” said Emanuel.

Seven minutes was all it took for Al-Nassr to get off the mark as a string of quick passes in the attacking third included an exquisite backheel pass from Talisca for Masharipov, who set up Hamdallah to do what he does best and beat goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Shamsi from inside the box for his 16th continental goal for the club.

Al-Wahda did their best but it was not enough. Joao Pedro threatened from distance, Omar Kharbin came close and UAE national team’s rising starlet Abdullah Hamad worked tirelessly throughout.

“It was a real lesson for us. The difference was in the chances, they had six chances and they scored five, we had five chances and we scored only one,” said Ten Cate.

In the second half. Al-Nassr were 3-0 up 10 minutes after the restart as Masharipov curled into the bottom corner from outside the box and Abdulfattah Assiri raced into the six-yards-box to tap in Hamdallah’s cross after the Moroccan had danced around the Emirati defence down the left.

A ruthless finisher at his best, Hamdallah seemed to have discovered a new side to his game under Emanuel, producing another fine assist with a through ball to send Masharipov clear on goal and the Uzbek international buried in the ball, and with it all the pain from the red card he got at the same stage of the competition last year as his former side Pakhtakor crashed out against Persepolis.

Fresh off the bench and with a two-goal man-of-the-match display against China under his belt, youngster Sami Al-Najei capped off a fine move. Talisca fed a diagonal ball to substitute Abdulrahman Al-Obaid, who headed it across goal for Al-Najei to score.

Emanuel, returning to the kingdom for a second spell after leading Al-Taawoun to King’s Cup glory two years earlier, heaped praise on his team.

“I am very happy with the quality, not only of the foreigners, but also the local players as we saw with the national team, and we saw here today. This quality is why I wanted to come back to this country and that is also why I am happy to be back,” said Emanuel.

The game was all settled by the time 38-year-old Matar leapt to head home Mahmoud Khamis’ cross from the left to make it 5-1 seconds before the final whistle, but this was an important moment. The Al-Wahda playmaker, the best player in the 2001 FIFA Youth Championship and one of the finest the UAE has produced, was emotional as he received a standing ovation from the home crowd after his goal. That strike could prove to be his last AFC Champions League memory in a long career. Ten Cate made sure he mentioned his club captain’s legacy.

“He is a big player and he deserved this greeting, he is getting older and there comes a moment when he has to stop because he is almost 40,” said the Dutchman.

“But if you see what he gives to this team, he deserves this standing ovation, and I was happy for him to score. Maybe it was his last Champions League game because next year we are not here, so this was a nice send off for him from the Saudi fans.”

All eyes will be on Mrsool Park on Tuesday as Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr battle it out on the continental stage for the first time, with a place in the final up for grabs. For Al-Wahda, the hard work begins now as they head home thinking of ways to turn around a run of five consecutive draws in the UAE Pro League.

 


Chelsea slump goes on as Brighton earn draw

Chelsea slump goes on as Brighton earn draw
Updated 19 January 2022

Chelsea slump goes on as Brighton earn draw

Chelsea slump goes on as Brighton earn draw
  • Thomas Tuchel was critical of his forward players after a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City on Saturday

BRIGHTON, United Kingdom: Chelsea surrendered a lead against Brighton for the second time in a month as both sides had to again settle for a 1-1 draw on Tuesday.
The European champions went ahead against the run of play when Hakim Ziyech’s snap shot caught Robert Sanchez in the Brighton goal by surprise.
But the Blues have now just one of their last seven league games as Adam Webster’s towering header earned Brighton a fully deserved point.
Thomas Tuchel was critical of his forward players after a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City on Saturday, but kept faith with Romelu Lukaku and Ziyech in attack as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz were again left on the bench.
There was little to impress the German once more as Chelsea’s slump leaves them looking over their shoulders at the contenders for a top-four finish rather than a title challenge.
They remain third in the table, 12 points behind leaders Manchester City having played a game more.
Brighton have only won twice in their last 16 league games, but once again just lacked the cutting edge to their impressive build-up play.
After a bright opening, the hosts were hit with a sucker punch when Ziyech justified his inclusion with a powerful low effort that Sanchez should have done better to save down to his left.
Callum Hudson-Odoi wasted a great chance to double Chelsea’s lead just before the break when he was put through by Lukaku in one of the Belgian’s few productive moments.
Brighton were again faster out of the blocks after half-time and Kepa Arrizabalaga did brilliantly to turn Alexis Mac Allister’s deflected shot onto the post.
But Chelsea’s reprieve did not last long as from the resulting corner, Webster was given a free run to power home from Mac Allister’s cross.
Lukaku had Chelsea’s one clear chance to retake the lead when Sanchez made amends for his earlier error by blocking the ball into the side-netting.
Chelsea’s record signing was then replaced as Tuchel turned to his compatriots Havertz and Werner for the final quarter.
The German international duo were just as ineffective as Brighton held out comfortably and could even have snatched all three points with more composure on the counter-attack.
Chelsea host Tottenham on Sunday in their final league game for nearly a month due to an international break and their commitments at the Club World Cup in February.
Should Tuchel’s men fail to turn things around at Stamford Bridge, they could return from Abu Dhabi with their place in the top four under severe threat as the chasing pack make up their games in hand.


Minnows Comoros send Ghana crashing out of Africa Cup of Nations

Minnows Comoros send Ghana crashing out of Africa Cup of Nations
Updated 19 January 2022

Minnows Comoros send Ghana crashing out of Africa Cup of Nations

Minnows Comoros send Ghana crashing out of Africa Cup of Nations
  • Ahmed Mogni, who plays for French third-tier club Annecy, scored the winner when he pushed a low cross from Ben Djaloud past Ghana keeper Joseph Wollacott
  • Comoros finish third in the group and must wait until Thursday to know if they are among the best four third-placed teams to get last 16 spots

YAOUNDÉ: Four-time champions Ghana were eliminated from the Africa Cup of Nations after crashing 3-2 to minnows Comoros in Group C on Tuesday in Garoua.
The Black Stars had captain Andre Ayew sent off after 25 minutes and, after wiping out a two-goal deficit, lost when Comoros’ Ahmed Mogni scored his second goal five minutes from time.
Morocco and Gabon drew 2-2 in Yaounde in the same group to retain first and second places respectively and qualify for the round of 16, which kicks off on Sunday.
Comoros, representing a tiny island nation off the south east coast of Africa, finished third and must wait until Thursday to know if they are among the best four third-placed teams, who get last 16 spots.
A disastrous night for Ghana started after just four minutes when Serbia-based El Fardou Ben Mohamed fired the first-time qualifiers in front.
Mogni, who plays for French third-tier club Annecy, added a second just past the hour only for 10-man Ghana to hit back through goals from Richmond Boakye and Alexander Djiku.
Mogni struck again when he pushed a low cross from Ben Djaloud past goalkeeper Joseph Wollacott to give the islanders a stunning triumph.
In Yaounde, Gabon led twice through Jim Allevinah and a Nayef Aguerd own-goal while Sofiane Boufal and Achraf Hakimi netted for Morocco.


Messi back in full training for PSG after Covid

Messi back in full training for PSG after Covid
Updated 18 January 2022

Messi back in full training for PSG after Covid

Messi back in full training for PSG after Covid
  • The Argentina attacker was seen warming up with his PSG teammates in a video clip posted by the club on Twitter
  • Messi contracted the virus whilst on holiday in his hometown of Rosario in Argentina during Ligue 1's winter break

PARIS: Lionel Messi was back in full training with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday for the first time since testing positive for Covid-19 at the end of last year.
The Argentina attacker was seen warming up with his PSG teammates in a video clip posted by the club on Twitter.
Messi contracted the virus whilst on holiday in his hometown of Rosario in Argentina during Ligue 1’s winter break.
PSG announced on January 5 that he was back in France after testing negative but the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is only now feeling fit enough to resume normal service.
He missed the French Cup match against Vannes and two league games, the 1-1 draw with Lyon and last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat of Brest.
Messi’s emotional move from Barcelona to the French capital side has not gone according to the script he, the fans, and his new employers would have liked.
Messi has scored only one goal in 11 league appearances for PSG, although he has netted five times in the Champions League.
He has missed a total of 10 Ligue 1 games since August through injuries, late return from Argentina duty, and then Covid-19.
He resumed individual training last Thursday, after which he told his fans on Instagram: “It has taken me longer than I thought to be OK but I’m almost recovered and I’m looking forward to getting back on the field.”
Messi could make his league return against Reims on Sunday.


Former champ Laliscia: ‘AlUla has potential to become endurance capital of the Middle East’

AlUla will host over 200 riders from more than 30 different countries at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022. (Supplied/RCU)
AlUla will host over 200 riders from more than 30 different countries at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022. (Supplied/RCU)
Updated 18 January 2022

Former champ Laliscia: ‘AlUla has potential to become endurance capital of the Middle East’

AlUla will host over 200 riders from more than 30 different countries at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022. (Supplied/RCU)
  • Laliscia new general sports director for The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022
  • Contest will see over 200 riders from more than 30 different countries battle for prize of $4.2 million

ALULA: Former Endurance World Champion Gianluca Laliscia believes that AlUla has the potential to become one of the leading destinations for his sport, and wants to use this month’s 2022 Fursan Cup to take another important step on that journey.

“As soon as I set foot in AlUla, I could see the huge potential,” said Laliscia, who won the FEI Endurance World Championship in 2005, and since retiring from competition. has gone on to found and successfully run a number of businesses within the endurance world, including his current position as CEO and chairman of sistemaeventi.it, and founder of Italia Endurance Stables & Academy.

As the new general sports director for The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022, he is uniquely positioned to give an expert view on AlUla.

“As a place it has all the ingredients that you would want for a world class endurance ride — natural terrain, stunning landscape, a deep history of, and respect for, horses, as well as a collective and heartfelt ambition to grow the sport, both at an elite level but also as a source of equestrian tourism,” he said.

“Endurance is a wonderful sport. It’s my sport. It is unique amongst equestrian sports in that it involves a strong connection between three key elements: The rider, the horse and nature. For me, endurance riding is about freedom and emotion, and AlUla definitely has the potential to become the endurance capital of the Middle East.”

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022 is an international 120 km endurance competition organised in cooperation with the Royal Commission AlUla and Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation, that will feature over 200 riders from more than 30 different countries. It is the third year that the event is being held and offers a prize fund worth $4.2 million.

Participants complete the course by riding four loops that take an average of eight hours to finish.

“Endurance also has a big connection with tourism, which is a very important point because the same track the international riders are using can also be used by amateurs. It is like a gym in an open space,” Laliscia said.

Reflecting back on his experience in Italy last May at the Longines FEI Endurance World Championship 2021 in Pisa he said: “In Italy, where the last World Championship took place, the total amount spent by visitors in that destination during one week was about €20 million ($22.7 million). People like to come and attend endurance events; and these people are very passionate.

“So, if we work well with the FEI, the SEF and the RCU, then I 100 percent believe that AlUla will be the capital of endurance in the Middle East because the people that I’ve met here are all working towards the same goal, which is very important.”

The event will be one of the main attractions of the Winter at Tantora Festival. Phillip Jones, chief destination management and marketing officer of the RCU, said: “AlUla’s equestrian events are key pillars of what is a longer term strategy to share with the world the monumental beauty of AlUla as a place that is unique in the Arabian Peninsula and perfect for exploring on horseback.

“The RCU vision includes significant infrastructure and facilities for the elite end of the sport as well as more riding trails and itineraries for visitors to immerse themselves in the majesty of the cultural landscape.

“The experience of horseback riding amongst the desert splendour and rock formations creates unforgettable memories. Our third staging of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup will be no different for our all riders.”


Trial of former Manchester United player Giggs delayed until August

Trial of former Manchester United player Giggs delayed until August
Updated 18 January 2022

Trial of former Manchester United player Giggs delayed until August

Trial of former Manchester United player Giggs delayed until August
  • The former Wales national manager is charged with controlling and coercive behaviour and assault against his ex-girlfriend and her sister
  • Giggs, 48, has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains on bail

LONDON: The trial of former Manchester United soccer player Ryan Giggs has been delayed to August 8 due to a lack of court space, the BBC reported after a hearing on Tuesday.
The former Wales national manager is charged with controlling and coercive behavior and assault against his ex-girlfriend and her sister. The trial at Manchester Crown Court had been due to start on Jan. 24.
Giggs, 48, has pleaded not guilty to all charges and remains on bail.
“Unfortunately it has become necessary to vacate this trial from the list,” the BBC quoted Judge Hilary Manley as saying. “The reason for this is because there is not a court available to accommodate this trial.
“Due to the large backlog of court cases, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the need for social distancing, this is a situation which is a daily reality for the criminal courts.”
Giggs’ lawyer said his client was “extremely disappointed.”
The former player was charged last April when a magistrate’s court heard a prosecutor read out a summary of charges including that he struck Kate Greville with a “deliberate headbutt.”
He was first arrested in the case and released on bail in Nov. 2020.
Giggs made 963 appearances over 23 years for Manchester United as a player, a club record, winning a haul of honors including 13 Premier League winner’s medals and two UEFA Champions League winner’s medals.
He represented Wales as a player 64 times between 1991 and 2007 and took over as national coach in 2018.