UAE in trouble, heartbreak for Lebanon: 5 things we learned from latest round of Asian Qualifiers for the World Cup

It was a tough Matchday five for Arab teams in AFC qualification for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar next year. (AFC/the-afc.com)
It was a tough Matchday five for Arab teams in AFC qualification for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar next year. (AFC/the-afc.com)
Short Url
Updated 12 November 2021

UAE in trouble, heartbreak for Lebanon: 5 things we learned from latest round of Asian Qualifiers for the World Cup

It was a tough Matchday five for Arab teams in AFC qualification for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar next year. (AFC/the-afc.com)
  • Arab teams fail to register a single win on Matchday 5 on the road to Qatar 2022

LONDON: After Thursday’s action, we are halfway through the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup. The 12 nations involved are divided into two groups of six and only the top two from each go automatically to Qatar. The two third-placed teams meet each other in a play-off with the winner going through to a final showdown, probably with a team from Concacaf.

Here are five things we learned from the latest round of matches involving Arab teams.

Korean whirlwind leaves United Arab Emirates in trouble

The scoreline might have said South Korea 1 UAE 0 but this was as one-sided a single goal victory as anyone will see in Asia this year. The more reflective statistic was 21 shots to four. In truth, the home team should have been out of sight by half-time, with Son Heung-min especially wasteful as the Tottenham Hotspur star hit the woodwork twice and missed some good chances.

UAE were never out of the game but were barely in it. They just couldn’t cope with the fast running and swift passing of the hosts and when the midfield got hold of the ball, possession was swiftly lost. Star striker Ali Mabkhout got little service and they have virtually no chance of finishing in the top two and winning automatic qualification.

The problem is that if the Whites lose to Lebanon — or draw — on Tuesday, then even finishing third and getting into the play-offs will be tricky. Three points from the first five games is just not good enough and, while the investigation can come later, for now the focus has to be on getting three points in Sidon or dreams of Qatar may be over.

Lebanon should be proud despite late heartbreak

Few would have been surprised to see Iran win 2-1 in Lebanon but that does not tell the full story. As the clock reached 90 minutes, the Cedars were 1-0 ahead. Then came two goals in stoppage time that broke Lebanese hearts and put Iran back on top of Group A.

The men in red sank to their knees on the final whistle. A win would have put them just two points behind the mighty Iranians, almost unthinkable. Even a draw would likely have kept them in third.

Yet it is not the time to dwell on what might have been but what was and what could be. It was the kind of battling performance you expect from Lebanon, the team was well-organised, well-drilled and motivated.

In the end, perhaps fatigue played a part as there were a couple of tired passes and clearances. There is still hope with the next four games all at home. Beat UAE on Tuesday and third place is very much on the cards — and the pain of this defeat will be forgotten.

Mature Oman still in hunt for third after 1-1 draw with China

The men from Muscat are unfortunate to be in such a tough group. To finish above one of Australia, Japan or Saudi Arabia is a big ask and it is no surprise or shame that it will probably be beyond the Reds. Even so, they are giving it a good go.

The draw with China showed once again that Oman can live with anyone in Asia on their day. Had the team taken their chances, it could have been another win to put them one point off the top two automatic qualification spots.

It was not just about the result. Oman were the better team, controlled possession for the most part and set the tempo. China looked dangerous at times, especially from set pieces but from open play Oman showed that they are a force to be reckoned with.

The biggest problem for Branko Ivankovic’s men is that while finishing fourth is a big achievement and puts them in the top seven or eight teams in Asia, it will not be enough to keep hopes of a first ever World Cup alive.

Iraq have no chance of automatic qualification

Iraq have yet to taste victory in the final round of qualification and a 1-1 draw with Syria was a disappointing result in a game they had to win. And it was a game they could have won. The passing was not quite as precise as it should have been but the pressure was there for large periods against the Syrians.

For the second successive game, Iraq scored in the dying minutes, and for the second successive game they did not get the full three points. Had the forwards been more clinical, things might have been different.

This time, however, a failure to win means that third place is going to be the limit of their ambitions. To get there however, sooner or later there needs to be a win. The talent is there but the results are not, yet.

Syria are last but are still in with a chance

Group A is either so competitive or not as strong as it should be, so that a team with two points from the first five games is still in with a chance of reaching the World Cup. Syria are only three points behind Lebanon in third place. Any of the bottom four teams in the group can beat each other and, while Syria have some ground to make up, they are capable.

Against South Korea it took a last-minute Son Heung-min goal to defeat them, against Lebanon they dominated but somehow lost 3-2, and against Iraq they were denied a crucial win due to a late equaliser. If things had gone just a little differently, Syria would be comfortable in third place. Just because Syria are last does not mean that the dream is over.


Man United beats Brentford 3-1 after 2nd-half turnaround

Man United beats Brentford 3-1 after 2nd-half turnaround
Updated 20 sec ago

Man United beats Brentford 3-1 after 2nd-half turnaround

Man United beats Brentford 3-1 after 2nd-half turnaround
  • United stayed in seventh place, but is only two points behind fourth-place West Ham in the race for Champions League qualification

LONDON: Manchester United staged a second-half turnaround as goals from Anthony Elanga, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford earned a 3-1 win at Brentford to boost the team’s top-four ambitions in the Premier League on Wednesday.
It was another less-than-convincing display from United, though, with Cristiano Ronaldo ostensibly far from impressed at being substituted with 20 minutes left.
Elanga, a 19-year-old winger starting only his fourth Premier League match, broke the deadlock in the 55th minute after Brentford had wasted a host of chances to take the lead in the first half.
Greenwood then notched his first Premier League goal since October, tapping in from Bruno Fernandes’ pass, to make it 2-0 in the 62nd and Rashford climbed off the bench to add the third in the 77th for a first league win of 2022.
It was a tough blow for Brentford, which had dominated the first league meeting between these sides since 1946 but only had Ivan Toney’s late consolation to show for it.
United stayed in seventh place, but is only two points behind fourth-place West Ham in the race for Champions League qualification.


Egypt make Cup of Nations last 16 as Cape Verde, Malawi advance

Egypt make Cup of Nations last 16 as Cape Verde, Malawi advance
Updated 20 January 2022

Egypt make Cup of Nations last 16 as Cape Verde, Malawi advance

Egypt make Cup of Nations last 16 as Cape Verde, Malawi advance
  • Egypt defeated neighbors Sudan 1-0 — a result which sent Cape Verde and Malawi through
  • Nigeria finished Group D with a third successive win as they beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0

YAOUNDÉ: Seven-time champions Egypt clinched a place in the Africa Cup of Nations last 16 on Wednesday by defeating neighbors Sudan 1-0, a result which sent Cape Verde and Malawi through as well.
Nigeria finished Group D with a third successive win as they beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0, leaving Egypt to face the winners of Group E in the next round, and a potential clash with Ivory Coast in Douala.
Mohamed Abdelmonem headed home the winner at a corner 10 minutes before half-time in Yaounde to send the Pharaohs through and eliminate Sudan.
Egypt’s victory guaranteed Cape Verde and Malawi will qualify as two of the four best third-placed sides. It is the first time Malawi have reached the knockout rounds of the tournament.
Three-time former winners Nigeria continued their fine start to the competition by sweeping aside Guinea-Bissau courtesy of second-half goals from Umar Sadiq and captain William Troost-Ekong.
The Super Eagles will stay in Garoua to play a third-placed team in the last 16 on Sunday.
Cape Verde will take on Sadio Mane’s Senegal in Bafoussam on January 25, while Morocco await Malawi on the same day in Yaounde.


Tunisia hit by 12 Covid cases at Cup of Nations: federation

Tunisia hit by 12 Covid cases at Cup of Nations: federation
Updated 20 January 2022

Tunisia hit by 12 Covid cases at Cup of Nations: federation

Tunisia hit by 12 Covid cases at Cup of Nations: federation
  • 12 players in the 28-man squad contracted Covid-19, Tunisian football federation said on Facebook
  • Key player Wahbi Khazri is among the players to test positive

TUNIS: Tunisia’s preparations for their final Africa Cup of Nations group match against Gambia were thrown into disarray after 12 players in the 28-man squad contracted Covid-19, the country’s football federation said Wednesday.
Key player Wahbi Khazri is among the players to test positive.
“This evening (Wednesday) the players took part in a training session with 16 players present and the rest absent due to Covid-19 contamination,” the federation said on its Facebook page.
The federation also said: “Tuesday, the tests revealed the contamination of Ali Maaloul, Aymen Dahmen, Ghailene Chaalali, Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane, Wahbi Khazri, Ali Jemal and Mohamed Amine Ben Hmida who have been isolated from the group.”
Right-back Mohamed Drager has though recovered from the virus and Tunisia are hoping that five other players, positive since the start of the tournament, will test negative before Thursday’s game.
Tunisia, the 2004 winners, need to at least draw their final Group F match to be sure of qualification for the last 16.
The Carthage Eagles bounced back from their controversial opening 1-0 loss to Mali, when the referee blew the final whistle early, by thrashing Mauritania 4-0 in their second game.


Expectations high for Godolphin in week 2 of Dubai World Cup Carnival

Week two and seven more races at the Dubai World Cup Carnival sees horses from 10 countries clash at Meydan Racecourse. (AFP/File Photo)
Week two and seven more races at the Dubai World Cup Carnival sees horses from 10 countries clash at Meydan Racecourse. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 19 January 2022

Expectations high for Godolphin in week 2 of Dubai World Cup Carnival

Week two and seven more races at the Dubai World Cup Carnival sees horses from 10 countries clash at Meydan Racecourse. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Meydan Racecourse’s 7 races will see runners from 10 countries including Greece, France, UK and Sweden

 

DUBAI: Remember how in last week’s column I mentioned how international the Dubai World Cup Carnival is? Well, that certainly proved to be the case on opening night, when we had wins for horses based in Uruguay (Bet Law, you read it here first, by the way) and France, with Pevensey Bay.

Now we are on to week two and seven more races, in which horses from 10 countries are set to clash at Meydan Racecourse. We welcome back the lesser-known racing nation of Greece with one runner, Revamp, for trainer Christos Theodorakis, while trainer Mohamed Saeed brings runners from Bahrain for the first time. There is also a strong contingent from Sweden, the UK and France.

Despite this welcome international flavor, this will be a good week for Godolphin. The excellent card has three Group races, including the Group 2 Al-Fahidi Fort which has gone to the “boys in blue” in each of the last four seasons. In 2021, it went to Land Of Legends, who will defend his title for Saeed Bin Suroor, although Charlie Appleby also holds a strong hand, with Naval Crown and La Barrosa. Naval Crown, a winner here last season, is the pick of stable jockey William Buick and will be hard to beat.

Godolphin might also be able to land the Group 2 Al-Rashidiya, race four, although a certain grey gelding will have something to say about that. The popular Lord Glitters, trained in the UK by David O’Meara, is two from five at Meydan, with both of those wins coming last year in the Group 2 Singspiel Stakes and the Group 1 Jebel Hatta. He won a strong edition of the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy when we last saw him in November, and he will not be far away again. His main rival looks to be Art Du Val, who returns to the Carnival for a fourth time.

The Group 3 Dubawi Stakes, race six, will not go to Godolphin, because they do not have a runner. It might well go to Doug Watson, who has two, with Canvassed resuming off a 10-month break and Al-Tariq coming here off a Jebel Ali win in November. Both are capable of landing this, as is Freedom Fighter, a new recruit to Bhupat Seemar, who is Grade 2-placed in the US.

Perhaps the race most likely to go to the internationals is the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, race three, which has two runners from Uruguay: The unbeaten Kiefer and Quality Boone, a winner here in December. However, they must concede weight to Appleby’s Albahr, a Group 1 winner when last seen in September. If adapting to the dirt, he should give the South Americans most to think about. Steinar, two from two in Sweden, is also an interesting runner for dual Carnival-winning handler Susanne Berneklint.

The most Instagrammed runner on the night will be JJ Jumbo, who lines up in the Dubai Trophy. Trained in Ireland by Darren Bunyan, he is owned by TV presenter Sultan Harib and has become something of a social media star since arriving in Dubai. Watch out for him in the first race – you will not miss his big white face.


Arteta vows to defend Arsenal with ‘teeth and nails’ after Covid postponement

Arteta vows to defend Arsenal with ‘teeth and nails’ after Covid postponement
Updated 19 January 2022

Arteta vows to defend Arsenal with ‘teeth and nails’ after Covid postponement

Arteta vows to defend Arsenal with ‘teeth and nails’ after Covid postponement
  • The Gunners asked for last Sunday's game to be rescheduled
  • "We will defend our club with teeth and nails. We will not let anybody damage our name or try to lie about things," the former Arsenal captain said

LONDON: Mikel Arteta vowed to defend Arsenal’s reputation with “teeth and nails” after criticism of the club’s successful request to postpone the north London derby against Tottenham.
The Gunners asked for last Sunday’s game to be rescheduled, with a significant number of players unavailable due to a mixture of international duty, injuries, suspension and coronavirus cases.
“We didn’t have the players necessary to put a squad out to compete in a Premier League match, that is 100 percent,” Arsenal boss Arteta said on Wednesday.
“This is a no-win situation. When we play the first three games of the season when other games were off, we were killed and called naive. Now we postpone a match for all the right reasons, believe me, and we get these reactions?“
Arsenal lost their opening three Premier League fixtures after Covid-19 outbreak at the club.
Spurs had reacted angrily to the Premier League’s decision to call off the visit of their London rivals.
“It’s the first time in my life — and I’ve had a bit of experience in football — to see postponed games because of injuries,” said Tottenham manager Antonio Conte.
But, speaking ahead of Thursday’s League Cup semifinal second leg against Liverpool, Arteta insisted the criticism was wide of the mark and said Arsenal did not have the numbers to put a squad together.
“We will defend our club with teeth and nails. We will not let anybody damage our name or try to lie about things,” the former Arsenal captain said.
“When a team have come to us and said ‘we cannot play, these are the reasons’ and the game has been postponed, we have never ever publicly questioned any of that.”
The Arsenal v Liverpool match at the Emirates Stadium should have been the first leg of the League Cup semifinal two weeks ago, before a coronavirus outbreak within the Liverpool camp led to its postponement.
Arsenal held Liverpool to a goalless draw in the first leg at Anfield last week despite playing more than an hour with 10 men after the dismissal of Granit Xhaka.
Arteta also told reporters that forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month, was back in London to undergo medical tests after Gabon sent him home from the Africa Nations Cup.
“He is in London and now is going through some examinations because we haven’t had any clarity from the Gabon national team over the reasons why he came back,” said the Arsenal boss.
In his own press conference, Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders said he had no complaints over recent Covid postponements both in the Premier League and the League Cup.
“It’s really difficult to judge from outside,” said Lijnders, who himself tested positive earlier this month during an outbreak at Liverpool.
“We saw this with our own situation. I fully respect the submissions because I trust 100 percent the medical departments of each Premier League club. I think this is the most important thing, full trust in these decisions.”