5 talking points after UAE Pro League returned to action after month-long break

5 talking points after UAE Pro League returned to action after month-long break
Al-Wahda put on an emphatic attacking display to thrash newly promoted Emirates Club 4-1 at Al-Nahyan Stadium. (Twitter: @AlWahdaFCC)
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Updated 24 October 2021

5 talking points after UAE Pro League returned to action after month-long break

5 talking points after UAE Pro League returned to action after month-long break
  • Al-Ain cruise past Al-Wasl to top the table, Shabab Al-Ahli beat champions Al-Jazira to go second

The UAE Pro League returned over the weekend after a month-long hiatus that saw disappointments for the national team in its 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and for Al-Wahda in the AFC Champions League quarter-final.

But continental frustrations were forgotten for a while as matchday 7 produced some thrilling encounters, including two head-to-head clashes between teams in the top five, while the competition’s most successful sides, Al-Ain and Al-Wasl, also locked horns.

1. Contrasting fortunes for Lima and Caio as Al-Ain cruise past Al-Wasl

Under the watchful eye of their former boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena, who was present in the stands at Zabeel Stadium, Brazilian-born UAE internationals Fabio Lima and Caio Canedo faced off as Al-Wasl went down 2-0 to Al-Ain.

Two years after the Argentine’s departure from Al-Wasl, the club looked a shadow of the side that finished second in 2016-17 and third the season after, when it also reached the President’s Cup final. Since then, the Cheetahs have finished ninth for two consecutive seasons.

On the night of his return to his old stomping ground, Caio’s curled effort into the top corner 12 minutes from time sealed the victory for Al-Ain, after Ivorian defender Kouame Autonne had put them in front just after the half-hour mark. The former Al-Wasl man refused to celebrate and was met with a roaring standing ovation from the home crowd, even as he sent them down to that dreaded ninth place.

While Lima remains a fan favorite and club captain at Al-Wasl, he must have been left wondering “what if” as his former strike partner headed back east to Al-Ain with the three points and top spot in the UAE Pro League secured.

2. Mendes masterclass consigns former boss Al-Anbari to the sack

Another man downing his former club this weekend was former Sharjah winger Ryan Mendes — and the consequences of his Al-Nasr side’s 3-0 triumph at Sharjah Stadium were dire for the man who had first brought Mendes to the UAE Pro League.

The Cape Verdean winger combined with Dia Saba to devastating effect as the Blues cruised to a 3-0 away victory. Mendes set up the opener in added time at the end of the first half and then rifled into the top corner with 20 minutes to go. His apologies to his former fan base would have meant little for Sharjah boss Abdulaziz Al-Anbari, who was axed in the aftermath of the defeat.

Four years after his appointment at the club he captained for the best part of a decade, Al-Anbari was dismissed with the club sitting fifth in the table, following a run of one win in their last seven games in all competitions, including elimination from the AFC Champions League round of 16 at the hands of Al-Wahda and the League Cup at the hands of Ittihad Kalba.

Al-Anbari, however, leaves with his head held high, having transformed a side that was languishing in the relegation zone when he took over halfway through the 2016-17 season. He led them to the league title in 2018-19 — their first championship since 1995-96, when Al-Anbari himself was a rising star in the club’s midfield — before adding the 2019 Super Cup and finishing fourth last term.

3. Turkish referee Cakir on the spot as Shabab Al-Ahli down Al-Jazira

In what was a heated top-four clash between reigning champions Al-Jazira and their hosts Shabab Al-Ahli, all eyes were on a new import to the league. Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir became the first foreigner to officiate a UAE Pro League match since the UAE Football Association announced a controversial change to the rule that required all domestic competitions to be officiated by Emirati referees.

The 2015 UEFA Champions League final referee made a strong case for foreign referees on his debut as Shabab Al-Ahli beat Al-Jazira 2-1 in Dubai.

Abdullah Ramadan found the net at Rashid Stadium for the second season running after a sublime through pass from poacher-turned-creator Ali Mabkhout.

Having been denied an opener due to an offside decision — the first major call by Cakir and his team of officials — Brazilian youngster Yuri Cesar brought Shabab Al-Ahli level before the break, driving in at the far post after an Azizjon Ganiev corner.

The pick of the goals arrived after 72 minutes, with Iranian international Ahmad Nourollahi settling the game with a fine strike into the top corner after a solo run from midfield, ensuring his side overtook Al-Jazira in second place.

4. Four-star Al-Wahda send pointless Emirates Club closer to unwanted record

Fresh off their AFC Champions League quarter-final elimination at the hands of Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr, Al-Wahda put on an emphatic attacking display to thrash newly promoted Emirates Club 4-1 at Al-Nahyan Stadium — a win that could be seen from two contrasting angles.

Coach Henk ten Cate’s men extended their unbeaten run since the start of the league season to seven games, but they remain in mid-table. The reason? The victory on Saturday night was their first since beating the other promoted side, Al-Urooba, 4-0 on the opening weekend. Since then, Al-Wahda have drawn each of their five games, so questions remain as to whether the Abu Dhabi side can replicate their attacking displays against teams of higher quality.

Emirates may have already been down to 10 men when Al-Wahda’s Khalil Al-Hammadi canceled out Joseph Gnadou’s opener early in the second half, but Ten Cate will without a doubt be encouraged by the fact that all of his front four got on the scoresheet, with Joao Pedro heading in the second, Fabio Martins applying a composed finish to make it three and Omar Kharbin rounding off the scoring with a brilliant free-kick under the wall.

For the Ras Al-Khaimah-based side, a swift return to the First Division seems inevitable but, even worse, coach Tarik Sektioui’s men run the risk of becoming the worst performers in the competition’s history. Emirates Club are yet to collect a single point, a quarter of the way through the season. They will need at least nine points to better the unwanted record of Ajman Club, who went down in 2009-10 with just eight.

5. Centenarian Diop breaks Gyan’s record

Back where it all started a decade ago, 34-year-old Al-Dhafra forward Makhete Diop rolled back the years as he bagged a brace against Ajman to become the UAE Pro League’s all-time top foreign scorer with 101 goals, breaking the 100-goal record set by Ghanaian legend Asamoah Gyan in Al-Ain and Shabab Al-Ahli’s colors.

After arriving from Syrian side Al-Karamah in the summer of 2011, Diop established himself as Al-Dhafra’s finest scorer of all time, striking up a deadly partnership with current Al-Wahda forward Kharbin over five years.

The Senegalese striker then departed to Shabab Al-Ahli for two successful seasons, before short stints in China with Beijing Renhe and Saudi Arabia with Al-Shabab. Al-Dhafra came calling again in January and Diop was back doing what he does best: Scoring goals for fun in the league he knows so well. His latest two were classic well-taken finishes from inside the box to cement his legacy as one of the most-feared forwards in the history of the UAE Pro League.


Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
Updated 19 sec ago

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
  • 4-time Major winner last took part in tournament at Emirates Golf Club in 2018

DUBAI: Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy will return to Emirates Golf Club in January aiming to win his third Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic title.

The Northern Irishman will be looking to add to his impressive record in Dubai at what will be the second Rolex Series event of the 2022 DP World Tour season.

The 32-year-old will be back at the event for the first time since 2018 when he came close to adding to the titles he won in 2009 and 2015, finishing just one shot behind winner Li Haotong. McIlroy has an enviable record over the Majlis course with a further six top-10 finishes in 11 previous appearances.

And he has enjoyed many other memorable moments in Dubai throughout his illustrious career, winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2012 and 2015 and topping the season-long DP World Rankings three times – in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

McIlroy adds further star power to a strong field at the 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, which will include world No. 2 and newly crowned DP World Rankings winner Collin Morikawa, fellow Major winner and 2017 Dubai Desert Classic winner Sergio Garcia, and defending champion Paul Casey.

It will also be the first year that the Dubai Desert Classic has been elevated to Rolex Series status, becoming part of the DP World Tour’s premium series of events, and also the first time it has been sponsored by logistics technology provider Slync.io.

The 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be the second of back-to-back Rolex Series events in the region, following the season opener in Abu Dhabi in January, and it will form part of the traditional Desert Swing.

McIlroy said: “I’m looking forward to getting back to Emirates Golf Club for the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in 2022.

“I have so many wonderful memories from playing in Dubai over the years, and particularly over the Majlis course, where I’ve been able to win twice. I look forward to coming back to Dubai and aiming to get my hands on that incredible trophy again.”

Chris Kirchner, chairman and chief executive officer of Slync.io, said: “As a fan of golf, it’s important that we bring a field that other fans will enjoy. Rory is one of my favorite players and I’m thrilled to have him as part of the inaugural title partnership for Slync.io.”

Simon Corkill, Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic executive tournament director, said: “The addition of Rory McIlroy to an already strong field emphasizes the pedigree of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.

“As one of the most talented golfers in the world he brings plenty of energy and excitement to the tournament. We look forward to seeing Rory battle it out with Collin Morikawa, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and others in a truly world-class field at this year’s event.”

The tournament’s organizers have also confirmed that entry to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be free to all.

Corkill added: “With the UAE set to celebrate its Golden Jubilee, we are delighted to announce that entry will be free for all golf fans over the four days of the tournament.

“This decision was made in recognition of this special moment in the UAE’s history, while also giving something back to sports fans following the challenges that have been faced in 2020 and 2021.

“What better way to celebrate than through a truly global sporting event on our doorstep which everyone can enjoy?”

Celebrating its 33rd edition in 2022, the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic has been won by some of golf’s greatest names, including Major champions Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, McIlroy, Danny Willett, Garcia, and Bryson DeChambeau.

The winner’s circle over the past 32 years has also featured Ryder Cup stars Mark James, the inaugural champion in 1989, Eamonn Darcy, Colin Montgomerie, David Howell, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and Stephen Gallacher.


Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries
Updated 59 min 3 sec ago

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries
  • New car to debut in Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship
  • It will be the electric series’ fastest, lightest and most powerful racing car yet

VALENCIA: Formula E and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile have shared a first look at the third-generation all-electric racing car that will race in Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

The car was presented under top-security conditions to an exclusive group of Formula E manufacturers, teams, drivers and partners in Valencia, Spain, where pre-season testing is underway for Season 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, which begins in January.

“The new Gen3 Formula E single-seater is a car created at the intersection of high performance, efficiency and sustainability,” said Jean Todt, FIA president. “The work accomplished by the FIA’s teams together with Formula E, since the launch of the discipline eight seasons ago, tirelessly seek to drive innovation and further the development of sustainable mobility. I have no doubt that this new single-seater will elevate Formula E to the next level.”

While Formula E manufacturers are set to take delivery of Gen3 cars in spring 2022 following further intensive development testing on and off the track, the briefing in Valencia disclosed a series of design, performance, and sustainability innovations in the Gen3 car, among them being the world’s most efficient racing car with at least 40 percent of the energy used within a race being produced by regenerative braking.

Lighter and smaller than the Gen2, the new car will also to enable faster, more agile wheel-to-wheel racing.

“In designing the Gen3 car, we set out to demonstrate that high performance, efficiency and sustainability can co-exist without compromise,” said Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle, adding: “Together with the FIA, we have built the world’s most efficient and sustainable high performance race car.

“The Gen3 is our fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient racing car yet.”

Reigle said: “It is a creature designed for its habitat: Racing on city streets in wheel-to-wheel combat. We look forward to witnessing it inspire and excite the next generation of motorsport fans in cities around the world from Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.”

The Gen3 is the first formula car aligned to “Life Cycle Thinking” with a clear path towards second life and end of life for all tyres, broken parts and battery cells.

This innovation means that the car will be net-zero on carbon emissions, maintaining the championship’s status as the first sport to be certified as net-zero carbon since inception.

All carbon fibre broken parts will be recycled by an innovative process from the aviation and aerospace industry into new fibres reusable for other applications.

A pioneering process will deliver 26 percent sustainable materials into the composition of tyres.

The Gen3 is powered by highly efficient electric motors that can convert over 90 percent of the electrical energy into mechanical energy, a jump up from 40 percent in Gen2 cars.


Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai
Updated 30 November 2021

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai
  • Fahad Al-Bloushi and Sultan Al-Nuaimi spoke of their pride at the UAE’s achievements as they prepare for Probellum: Revolution on Dec. 11

Emirati boxers Fahad Al-Bloushi and Sultan Al-Nuaimi, who will be competing at Probellum: Revolution in Dubai on Saturday, Dec. 11, have spoken about the sense of pride they feel when representing their nation on the global stage.

To mark the country’s 50th National Day on Dec. 2, Al-Bloushi and Al-Nuaimi visited the UAE flags at Kite Beach, where they paid tribute to the country on its special anniversary and looked ahead to fighting in front of a home crowd at the Coca-Cola Arena.

Al-Bloushi, 25, represented the UAE at the 2018 Asian Games, before going on to make his professional debut a year later.

The Emirati believes this is a fantastic time for UAE boxing, and he is looking forward to showcasing his talents at next week’s big event, in which he faces Ghana’s Kamarudeen Boyefio.

“I’m really ecstatic to be involved in the show because for a while it’s been a dream of mine to fight at the Coca-Cola Arena,” said Al-Bloushi. “I can remember driving past the venue and thinking about how much I’d love to be involved in a match there so to know I’m doing it next week is surreal.

“My training camp has been going well, I’ve had some great sparring partners and my team has been brilliant in terms of helping me push forward. I have no doubt it’s going to be a great night,” he said. “Boxing in the UAE is becoming the next big thing. Dubai has everything in terms of facilities, so it’s amazing for us to be involved in the sport right now.”

For Al-Nuaimi, a two-time national champion at amateur level, the bout against India’s Sahil Rahman represents a major opportunity for him to shine on a big stage.

“I’m really excited about performing at the Coca-Cola Arena, one of the best venues in the Middle East,” he said. “In terms of boxing, this is the biggest event in the UAE’s history, and many of my friends and family have already bought tickets, so it’s going to be great.

“Carrying the UAE flag and being a part of this country is all I want, it really means a lot to me.”

Those patriotic sentiments are echoed by Al-Bloushi, who explained what the 50th National Day means, both on an individual and collective level.

“I feel really proud to be from the UAE, especially when you consider everything we, as a country, have achieved over the past 50 years in terms of inclusion and achieving the impossible,” he said. “To be able to represent this country is a wonderful feeling.

“Watching someone carry your flag as you walk to the ring makes you realise that you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the whole country, and it’s always very special.”


FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea
Updated 30 November 2021

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea
  • Saudi, Asian champions will have to beat playoff winner Al-Jazira or Auckland for right to face European title holders

RIYADH: What better test for the most successful team in the history of Asian football than to take on the European champions and, probably the current best team in the world, in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup?

Having claimed a record fourth AFC Champions League title after beating Pohang Steelers 2-0 last week in Riyadh, Al-Hilal are on course to meet Chelsea if they win their second-round match.

Apart from a clash with the English Premier League side in the final, this is the next best thing, and it is very much on the cards in early February after Monday’s draw.

The date is to be confirmed as is the game itself. Al-Hilal will have to overcome the winner of the Feb. 3 clash between New Zealand’s Auckland City and Al-Jazira of the UAE but the prospect of Chelsea lying in wait is an enticing one.

At the moment, the Blues are top of the Premier League and looking very ominous indeed. Thomas Tuchel has turned the London team into a machine and one that many outside Saudi Arabia would expect to dismiss Al-Hilal without much of a thought.

It was always thus. No Asian champion has yet defeated their European equivalent in the FIFA Club World Cup but surely, one day, that is going to happen. With Al-Hilal the best team in Asia at the moment and the tournament taking place in the UAE, there are reasons to be confident.

With attacking players at the level of Bafetimbi Gomis, Moussa Marega, Matheus Pereira, Salem Al-Dawsari, Salman Al-Faraj and others, there is the offensive capability to worry any team in the world. The question is, of course, whether the defense will be able to keep the $130 million Romelu Lukaku and the likes of Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, and Reece James at bay.

Before that, Al-Jazira will be expected to beat Auckland, especially on home soil.

The Abu Dhabi outfit have a fine record at the Club World Cup. In 2017, they reached the semi-final. That also started with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Auckland and then, Al-Hilal should beware, a victory over the Asian champions, Urawa Reds of Japan. In the semi-final, the Emirati side, incredibly, took the lead against the mighty Real Madrid. It took second half strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to win the game for the most successful club in European history.

The prospect of taking on the Saudi champions is a welcome one for the UAE champs.

Following the draw, Al-Jazira’s Dutch boss Marcel Keizer said: “Our first match against Auckland City will not be easy. We will face a team that depends on physical strength, and we hope to reach the next round.”

Then comes a much bigger occasion. “If we qualify, we will meet Al-Hilal, and it will be a difficult match, especially as it is the champion of Asia and a strong team, but we are ready to play a good match, and it will be an exciting and beautiful confrontation,” he added.

Al-Hilal at least have recent experience in this tournament, finishing in fourth place at the 2019 edition. Gomis scored the only goal of the game against Esperance de Tunis to dump the African champions out. There was a 3-1 loss in the semi-final to South American giants Flamengo, having managed a 1-0 lead at the break thanks to Al-Dawsari.

It was a solid showing but not something to be completely satisfied with. The issue for Asian teams in the Club World Cup is whether it is better to have the glamour tie against the European champions or try to go all the way.

After winning the Asian title, Al-Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim said: “We play every game to win it. We know there will be strong teams in the Club World Cup, and we’ll not be favorites, but our objective will be to win as many matches as possible.”

Just playing the likes of Chelsea should not be the ultimate aim. That has to be to lift the trophy. And that is what former Saudi international Faisal Abu Thaneen was talking about as he reacted to the draw.

He said: “One day, this goal of winning the Club World Cup will be achieved. Raising the ceiling of your ambition and setting lofty goals makes you work hard to make it a tangible reality.”

The ex-Hilal star is right. The Riyadh giants are good enough to be excited at the prospect of playing a competitive match against Chelsea but also good enough to aim past the semi-final to try and go all the way.

At present, Saudi football is flying high in Asia. The Green Falcons are the continent’s in-form team and Al-Hilal have just won a record fourth Asian title. Chelsea may be a tough challenge, but this Saudi powerhouse are no pushovers.


Ballon d’Or sees Barca childhood fan Putellas go down in folklore

Ballon d’Or sees Barca childhood fan Putellas go down in folklore
Updated 30 November 2021

Ballon d’Or sees Barca childhood fan Putellas go down in folklore

Ballon d’Or sees Barca childhood fan Putellas go down in folklore

MADRID: Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.
Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.
Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.
Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.
She started playing the sport in school, against boys.
“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.
So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.
“That’s where things got serious... But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.
After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.
She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.
In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.
It was in the following year that she made the step up to the national team and she has gone on to feature in four major tournaments with Spain, winning 92 caps.
Last season was her crowning glory as her childhood side won the Primera Division and the Copa de la Reina as well as the Champions League in a matter of weeks, a historic achievement for a Spanish women’s outfit.
Individual recognition shortly followed, as she was named UEFA women’s player of the year and Monday’s announcement in Paris made her just the second Spanish player, after Luis Suarez in 1960, to win the much-coveted Ballon d’Or.