Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh
Mansoor will be joining WWE Smackdown after Crown Jewel in Riyadh. (WWE)
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Updated 10 November 2021

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh
  • After appearance at Mohammed Abdo Arena on Thursday, the Saudi WWE superstar will join the the organization’s Smackdown brand

WWE Superstar Mansoor is finally home.

After being away from Saudi Arabia for almost 20 months, the 25-year-old will be performing on Thursday night at WWE Crown Jewel at Mohammed Bro Arena in his hometown Riyadh.

A lot has happened since he was last at the same venue for Super ShowDown in February 2020, not least signing for WWE Raw brand.

“It’s amazing, it’s the biggest platform I’d ever had,” Mansoor said. “It’s been a dream and goal my entire life. As a professional wrestler you hope to achieve that one day, to be on that stage. A small percentage of people in my field get to perform on a stage like that, where you’re being watched by millions of people all over the world, so it’s a true honor.”

And things are about to get even better for Mansoor, now living in the US, as he joins a new WWE brand.

“Now I’m switching it all up because I just got drafted into Smackdown,” he said. “So after Crown Jewel, I’ll actually be changing shows, so I get to experience both. Both shows that I experienced as a kid, so it’s a dream come true.”

After almost two years of disruptions due to the pandemic, WWE is again being watched by live audiences, something for which Mansoor and his colleagues are grateful.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “I always say, the reason that WWE is so special is because of the interaction we get to have with the fans. When we did it in front of screens, it was close but it always felt like something was wrong, and it made me realize how important fans are to what we do. We’re intrinsically connected to the fans in the sense that when we’re out there competing and performing, we look to the fans, and their response and their reaction to inform how well we do.”

He added: “For someone like me who is carried by fan participation, it’s been a total game-changer. Hearing the roar of the crowd and their support made me perform better, so I’m really excited to go back to my home. It’s been along time so I’m really excited to come back.”

While Mansoor’s popularity in the Middle East continues to rise, he is also building a solid fan base in the US.

“I think that American fans are curious about me,” he said. “They don’t really know what I’m capable of, and that’s really exciting for me because it gives me the opportunity to show them little by little just exactly what I can do. I’ve been in this tag team with Mustafa Ali, and he’s been amazing because it’s given me the showcase to do that.

“And not just in the ring, but also backstage and on the microphone and in my interactions with him I’ve gone on to show more personality, more of a character,” said Mansoor.

“That’s what’s really endearing with American fans, they don’t just attach to the physicality and the performance, they also want to care about you as a person. So having that kind of relationship with Mustafa, where I can do that, has been really helpful.”

But Thursday night is all about family, friends and Saudi fans.

“I imagine it’s probably going to be a pretty emotional moment,” Mansoor said. “One of the last shows, probably the last show I did in front of people, was that Saudi show, so it’s great for me to finally make that homecoming and for me to finally see my family for the first time in over a year. That’s a crazy amount of time for me to not see my father, brothers, my sister. I’m really excited for them to come out en masse to see this, and to experience this together. We’re back, we’re still going to be safe, but we’re back.”

Mansoor is also looking to the day that other Saudi wrestlers follow in his footsteps and join WWE.

“I think the most important thing is to always look ahead, to look toward the future,” he said. “So I think that it’s really important for us to always be on the up and up when it comes to looking at who’s going to be the next guy to represent the country. Because it can’t just be me. I’m very lucky, I’m very blessed in the sense that I was able to have wrestling experience before I tried out for WWE.”

Mansoor said: “I was the only one there who did have experience because, of course, there were no schools in Saudi Arabia to teach people how to wrestle, but that’s because that culture wasn’t really there. My hope is that by doing these shows we inspire more people to think, OK, if I work on my health and my athletic ability and my strength, maybe when there’s another tryout, I’ll be ready for that moment, to take that next step.”

He added: “As much Saudi talent possible is what I want to see. Actually, my goal is, I want to have a Saudi versus Saudi match in Saudi Arabia. That’s what I really want more than anything else.”

Mansoor said that he keeps in touch with what is happening in Saudi Arabia as much as possible because he does not feel like “a stranger in my own home” when he returns.

“My friend told me something funny,” he said. “We grew up playing WWE games, and he was telling me, Mansoor everybody here is saying they’re going buy the next WWE video game just to play as you. And I thought that’s really heartwarming, even just the idea of being in a WWE video game. When I was a kid, that was my introduction to WWE. Sitting in a room after school with all my friends making our own wrestlers and playing with on PlayStation 2, so if I get to create that experience for people, that would be amazing.


Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case

Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case
Updated 59 min 55 sec ago

Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case

Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case
  • “It hurts deeply that a player has been treated so badly at the club that I love”
  • Broadcaster has been removed from BBC’s Ashes coverage

LONDON: Former cricketer and sports broadcaster Michael Vaughan has apologized for the hurt Azeem Rafiq has experienced amid his former Yorkshire teammate’s allegations of racism.

Rafiq told a parliamentary committee earlier this month about the “inhuman” treatment he endured while playing for the county, with former England captain Vaughan named among several figures implicated in the tussle. 

Vaughan has denied claims that he said there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” to Rafiq and three other Asian players before a match in 2009.

But while the allegations and investigations continue, the BBC has jettisoned Vaughan from its upcoming coverage of England’s Ashes tour of Australia due to a potential “conflict of interest.”

In an interview with the BBC following the decision, Vaughan said: “I’m sorry for the hurt (Rafiq has) gone through. Time I don’t think can ever be a healer in the situation that he’s gone through.

“But hopefully time can be a way of us making sure that Yorkshire County Cricket Club never goes through this situation again and never puts themselves in a position of denial that they treated a player so badly.

“It hurts deeply, hurts me that a player has gone through so much (and) been treated so badly at the club that I love.

“I have to take some responsibility for that because I played for Yorkshire County Cricket Club for 18 years and if in any way shape or form I’m responsible for any of his hurt, I apologise for that.”

Rafiq’s testimony to MPs has been supported by former Pakistan bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and England leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who said they heard Vaughan’s “you lot” comment.

When asked by the BBC if they were lying about the allegation, Vaughan said: “The problem with this situation is that we’ve got too much ‘he said, he said, she said, did they say’ and I think we’ve got to move on from accusations of conversations from many years ago. There’s a bigger picture here.”

The 47-year-old added that the alleged incident occurred during “my last few games and I just remember it clearly that I was proud as punch that we had four Asian players representing Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

“Nothing but a proud, senior, old pro just about to retire and absolutely delighted that Yorkshire had come so far in my time at the club.”

His apology also included regret for a series of tweets from a similar time, which included comments on the lack of English speakers in London and suggesting that England colleague spin bowler Moeen Ali should ask fellow Muslims that he was not acquainted with if they are terrorists.

“I apologise deeply to anyone that I’ve offended with those tweets,” Vaughan said. “Times have moved on and I regret those tweets. We all make mistakes and in my life I’ve made quite a few mistakes on Twitter, I apologise for that.”

The former England skipper accepted the BBC’s decision to ditch him from the Ashes coverage, which kicks off on Dec. 8. 

“I won’t be doing the Ashes which I understand, the editorial at the moment is all about Azeem Rafiq and racism in the game of cricket. I get that,” he said.

“I just hope in time I get that chance to come back. The one thing I love more than anything since I retired is talking cricket. I love being on Test Match Special and hopefully in time I get that chance to do it again.”


Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite
Updated 27 November 2021

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite
  • Two days after Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League triumph, the highest scoring match in SPL history played out between two of its less successful teams

Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of a purple patch at the moment in both club and international football. It was a comfortable win without the drama of some past continental finals.

Only a day later, however, two Saudi teams played to a match that left those who saw it rubbing their eyes in disbelief?

Alex Ferguson was famously exasperated after Manchester United scored twice in the dying moments of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final to come from behind to defeat Barcelona 2-1. He stunned the reporters with his direct quip.

But what would the Scot have said if he’d seen the breathtaking 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh on Thursday? Not only was it the highest scoring match in the history of the Saudi Professional League, but it arguably must be ranked among one of the best too. What is for certain is that it is the most exciting match of the season so far.

OK, some of the defending may not be studied in the upper echelons of world football anytime soon, even if the backlines were better than you may expect from looking at the scoreline, but it was a game that showed the strength in depth in the top tier of Saudi Arabian football. It also revealed the range of entertainment on offer in the league. Some of the attacking play was thrilling, plenty of the goals were out of the top drawer.

As a spectacle, it was astonishing. Al-Fateh were a team that had lost the previous three games and were sitting firmly in the bottom half of the table and concerned with not getting sucked into a relegation battle. They came up against a team in second but one that was only in their third ever season in the top tier with the first two being battles against relegation.

But first, let’s look at the game, though this may take some time with all the goals. In just the third minute, Carlos Cueva was given the freedom of the Damac area after a fantastic run and pass from right-back Nawaf Boushal and the Peruvian forward stabbed home the opener for Al-Fateh. Just 13 minutes later, the visitors were ahead thanks to two goals from Hillel Soudani. The Algerian cut in from the right, twisted and turned defenders on the edge of the area and then fired a precise left-footed shot into the corner. Soon after, he shot home a rebound with more power and Damac were ahead.

Within moments however, the hosts had equalised thanks to Ali Al-Zaqan. The initial goal had been ruled offside but VAR rightly overturned the decision. On the stroke of half-time, Damac struck again to go in at the break with a 3-2 advantage. It was another impressive strike. The ball fell to Felipe Augusto about 30 meters away from goal and the Brazilian’s low shot was fired into the bottom corner. Both teams continued to have excellent chances but when Mijo Caktas extended Damac’s lead just after the hour, it looked as if that was that. The Croatian skipped past a challenge outside the area and scored with another long-range shot that perhaps the goalkeeper, who was partially unsighted, should have kept out.

Al-Fateh had always looked dangerous however and pulled a goal back after 69 minutes after another Croatian made the scoresheet. Ivan Santini knew little about his strike as the goalkeeper’s save bounced off his chest and in. With 15 minutes remaining it was 4-4. A Damac hand in the box gave Al-Fateh a penalty and Cueva got his second.

Within seconds, amazingly, Al-Fateh were ahead thanks to Firas Al-Buraikan. The Saudi Arabian international could not miss from close range after a perfect cross from Murad Batna and so the hosts had come back from 4-2 down to be 5-4 ahead. This was surely one of the greatest comebacks and games in the league’s history.

But Damac were not finished. With 11 minutes still on the clock it was 5-5 as Emilio Zelaya scored another goal from outside the area.

“It was a very strange game,” said Al-Fateh president Saad Al-Afaliq. “We even could have won it late on had Firas Al-Buraikan had scored late in the game. We have had a few injuries but are now getting up to the right levels of fitness and condition.”

The point initially put Damac on top of the league but just two hours later, Al-Shabab defeated Al-Raed 3-0 to go into pole position. A first half goal from Moteb Al-Harbi was added to in the second half by Ever Banega and Carlos Carvalho. It is quite a turnaround for a club that won just one of their first six games of the season and were rumored to be thinking about firing coach Pericles Chamusca.

Now they are top and the title race is going to be something special. Al-Ittihad can return to the summit on Sunday and then Al-Hilal have several games in hand but are in fourth place. The season is shaping up to be an exciting one, but whatever happens, there won’t be a more exciting game than the 10-goal thriller witnessed on Thursday.


Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals

Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals
Updated 26 November 2021

Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals

Djokovic helps Serbia past Austria at Davis Cup Finals
  • Djokovic beat Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2 to give Serbia a 2-0 lead over host Austria
  • The victory extended Djokovic's winning streak in Davis Cup singles matches to 15

DUBAI: Top-ranked Novak Djokovic secured a victory for Serbia, 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez got defending champion Spain off to a solid start.
And a young Italian team rolled past the 32-time champion United States in the Davis Cup Finals on Friday.
Djokovic beat Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2 to give Serbia a 2-0 lead over host Austria in Innsbruck after Dusan Lajovic had defeated Gerald Melzer in three sets to open the best-of-three series in Group F.
The victory extended Djokovic's winning streak in Davis Cup singles matches to 15.
“It feels great to play for Serbia again," said Djokovic, who helped his country win the Davis Cup in 2010 but more recently failed to win a medal in either singles or mixed doubles at the Tokyo Olympics. “It’s been a long year but you always find motivation playing for your country."
Djokovic won seven consecutive games from 3-3 in the first set to take control.
“I’m really pleased with the way I ended the match today,” he said.
Djokovic had also been scheduled to play in a potentially decisive doubles match but then was replaced by Nikola Cacic after winning his singles match.
Lopez gave Spain an early lead over Ecuador in Group A with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Roberto Quiroz at home in Madrid. Then Pablo Carreno Busta edged Emilio Gomez 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Lopez was thrust into singles action when Carlos Alcaraz had to be dropped from the team after testing positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, as Spain was already without injured Rafael Nadal and Roberto Bautista Agut.
The United States, meanwhile, got off to a rough start against host Italy in Turin. Lorenzo Sonego beat Reilly Opelka 6-3, 7-6 (4) in his home city in Group E and then Jannik Sinner dominated against John Isner 6-2, 6-0.
Each matchup on indoor hard courts is a best-of-three series featuring two singles and one doubles match. The six group winners plus the two second-place teams with the best records based on sets and games will advance to the quarterfinals.
The semifinals and final will be played in Madrid.
Lopez, who was once ranked as high as No. 12, has fallen outside the top 100 in both singles and doubles. His career has gone on for so long that he has already started his post-playing career, having been named the Madrid Open tournament director.
“I still have the passion for the game. This is obvious,” Lopez said. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this. I didn’t expect to be playing but many things happened this week. … I ended up playing a great match.”
The big-serving Opelka double-faulted to hand Sonego the only break of their match and then made a few more errors in the tiebreaker as the Italian closed it out with a volley winner on his first match point.
Isner held serve only twice against the 20-year-old Sinner, a new top-10 entrant.


FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot
Updated 26 November 2021

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot

FIFA says opponents of 2-year World Cup fear losing top spot
  • “Those who are against are those who are at the top,” Infantino told officials

GENEVA: Opponents of FIFA’s push for World Cups every two years seem scared of being toppled from the top of world soccer, its president Gianni Infantino said on Friday.
Infantino’s speech to African soccer leaders was a clear criticism of Europe and South America which have dominated every World Cup and are threatening a boycott of biennial men’s tournaments.
“Those who are against are those who are at the top,” Infantino told officials from the 54-nation Confederation of African Football meeting in Cairo.
“It happens in every sector of life, when there are reforms and changes, those who are at the top don’t want anything to change,” said Infantino, who was a long-time senior official at UEFA until being elected FIFA president in 2016. “They are afraid, maybe, that if something changes their leadership position is at risk.”
Europe and South America have provided every team to play in all 21 World Cup finals since the first in 1930, and their historical strength has earned them at least 18 of the 32 entries at the 2022 edition in Qatar.
“We understand that and we compliment and applaud them for having been so successful in reaching the top,” Infantino said. “This is fantastic and they are an example for everyone. But at the same time we cannot close the door (to others).”
No African team has reached a men’s World Cup semifinal and the continent has just five of the 32 entries. That rises to at least nine when the 48-team tournament debuts in 2026.
Infantino has pushed for biennial World Cups to help other regions develop and close the gap — by giving nations more chances to qualify and players more chances to perform on the biggest stage.
An extra men’s World Cup in a four-year cycle would likely add around $3 billion at current levels to FIFA income and increase funding to its 211 member federations and six continental bodies.
“It is our responsibility to keep the dream open to give opportunities to everyone,” the FIFA leader said.
Still, the backlash from all levels of European soccer since FIFA formally detailed its biennial plan in September led Infantino to say last month that any changes must be reached by consensus without doing harm to the game.
European and South American soccer officials see threats to the status of their own continental and domestic competitions, and an increased workload for players.
Infantino hinted again on Friday that a modified tournament could be a solution to getting wider support.
“Will it be with the World Cup or will it be in another way?” he told members of CAF, which is currently the continental body most closely aligned with FIFA. “We have to study, of course, all this.”
Annual 48-team youth tournaments, instead of the two-yearly World Cups for men and women at under-20 and under-17 level, are also part of FIFA’s plan to develop soccer.
It was detailed in Cairo by Arsène Wenger, the former Arsenal coach who is FIFA director of global development.
Infantino warned of losing a generation of youth players whose birth year falls at the wrong time in the current cycle of tournaments.
FIFA has organized an online summit of its 211 members on Dec. 20 to discuss a strategy for future tournaments.
No vote on biennial World Cups is expected then amid the current opposition, which includes a show of unity by UEFA and South American soccer body CONMEBOL. They have created a shared office in London that opens next month.


Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich

Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich
Updated 26 November 2021

Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich

Covid cases force Nagelsmann into a reshuffle at Bayern Munich
  • Bayern head coach Julian Nageslmann still has plenty of talent available against second-from-bottom Bielefeld
  • Midfielders Michael Cuisance, Serge Gabry and Jamal Musiala are quarantining as contact cases but defenders Niklas Suele and Josip Stanisic returned to training

BERLIN: Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich must reshuffle their starting side — with five players in quarantine — before hosting struggling Arminia Bielefeld on Saturday in a final tune-up ahead of their top-of-the-table clash at Dortmund.
Bielefeld earned a 3-3 draw when the clubs met in Munich last February and have picked up four points from their last two league games.
Yet even with a host of stars sidelined, Bayern head coach Julian Nageslmann still has plenty of talent available against second-from-bottom Bielefeld.
“We are concentrating on the players who are there — the four World Cup winners and nine Champions League winners,” Bielefeld coach Frank Kramer quipped drily.
Bayern are missing midfielder Joshua Kimmich and back-up striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who also miss next weekend’s clash at second-placed Dortmund after both tested positive for Covid-19.
Midfielders Michael Cuisance, Serge Gabry and Jamal Musiala are also quarantining at home as contact cases, but defenders Niklas Suele and Josip Stanisic returned to training on Wednesday after previously testing positive.
A shock defeat at Augsburg trimmed Bayern’s lead in the table to just a single point ahead of Dortmund.
Record numbers of coronavirus cases in Germany this week means a tightening of hygiene rules at Bundesliga stadiums.
Bayern’s Allianz Arena will be at 25 percent capacity — up to 18,745 — on Saturday.
There will be reduced capacity at all grounds, apart from RB Leipzig, who must play behind closed doors against Leverkusen on Sunday due to restrictions in Saxony.
A crowd of 13,000 is expected at Wolfsburg, who host a Dortmund side licking their wounds after their mid-week Champions League exit.
A 3-1 loss at Sporting Lisbon was Dortmund’s third straight European defeat, blocking their route to the knock-out stages and consigning them to the Europa League.
Failing to reach the Champions League’s last 16 will cost Dortmund around 9.5 million euros ($11 million).
“It’s not only a setback financially, but it also hurts from a sporting perspective and image,” said sports director Michael Zorc.
Dortmund still have star forward Erling Braut Haaland sidelined by a hip injury, but hope Youssoufa Moukoko, 17, can return after missing nine of their last ten games with knocks.
Belgium winger Thorgan Hazard is out after testing positive for Covid last Monday.
Fresh from thrashing Brugge 5-0 in the Champions League, RB Leipzig can break into the top six with a home win Sunday against fourth-placed Leverkusen.
Leipzig are missing Spanish playmaker Dani Olmo, 23, who tore a thigh muscle last weekend, a latest injury setback for the Spain midfielder who has been blighted by knocks since playing in both this summer’s Euro 2020 finals and Tokyo Olympics.
Leizpig’s erratic form this season has not affected the 24-year-old whose 13 goals and 11 assists means he must soon be knocking on the door of selection for France.
Usually a winger, Nkunku, 24, shone with two goals and an assist in the thrashing of Brugge after moving across to attacking midfield.