New Zealand hero Daryl Mitchell relishing new opener role with the T20 World Cup finalists

Daryl Mitchell's display of late power hitting helped New Zealand into the T20 World Cup final. (Reuters)
Daryl Mitchell's display of late power hitting helped New Zealand into the T20 World Cup final. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 November 2021

New Zealand hero Daryl Mitchell relishing new opener role with the T20 World Cup finalists

Daryl Mitchell's display of late power hitting helped New Zealand into the T20 World Cup final. (Reuters)
  • As his team prepares to take on Australia in the final on Sunday, he reflected on his new role and the experience of the competition so far

DUBAI: Less than a month ago, Daryl Mitchell had never opened the batting in a T20 match. Then, at the Tolerance Oval in Abu Dhabi, in the shadow of Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, in front of a handful of fans, the New Zealand coaches decided to take a chance on the 30-year-old as opener, during a World Cup warm-up match against Australia.

Mitchell, the son of a former All Black rugby star, hit 33 not out off 22 balls. Team captain Kane Williamson and the New Zealand management were so impressed by the way he went after the Australian attack they decided he would be their opener during the T20 World Cup.

Mitchell said that because some teammates who play in the Indian Premier League were unavailable for the warm-up games, he was presented with an opportunity to show his worth to the Black Caps.

“For me, it was just about playing the way that I want to play and to have the backing from Kane and Steady (head coach Gary Stead) as well,” he said. “Any chance you get to play for your country, you jump on it. So as soon as I got asked to do the job, I was really excited.”

Mitchell has repaid the faith shown in him by reaching double figures in all of his innings in the weeks that followed, including 49 against pre-tournament favorites India that helped propel New Zealand to a crucial victory.

Fast forward to Wednesday evening and a somewhat windy Abu Dhabi that was a far cry from that scorching and sweaty night in mid October when Mitchell opened the batting for the first time. New Zealand faced England, with a place in the World Cup Final at stake. The stage had shifted from the Tolerance Oval to the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium, where thousands of spectators were watching the match, including Mitchell’s parents. Millions more around the world were watching live coverage of the match.

Chasing 167, wickets fell around him, but Mitchell survived and continued grafting. With 57 runs still needed off 24 deliveries, he was still there but it seemed as if the Black Caps were up against it. Mitchell and teammate Jimmy Neesham thought otherwise.

“It never felt like it was out of our reach, and we knew that some of the match-ups might suit us towards the end,” said Mitchell.

Neesham turned the game on its head with a blistering 27 but when he was out, the job remained unfinished. Step forward Mitchell, who timed his innings to perfection as he smashed 20 in the penultimate over to send New Zealand to their first-ever T20 World Cup Final.

In a player-of-the-match performance he recorded his highest score for New Zealand in a T20 and, after hitting the winning runs, he embraced teammate, and childhood friend, Mitchell Santner in a moment neither of them will forget.

“He’s one of my best mates, we’ve known each other since we were kids, so to be out in the middle together for the winning runs in a World Cup semi-final is pretty cool,” said Mitchell.

Yet such is the focus and determination of this Black Caps outfit, the day after his stunning performance Mitchell was clear about the fact that the job is still not done.

“It’s nice to help contribute to winning a game of cricket for your country, let alone the semi-final of a World Cup,” he said. “But at the same time, we didn’t come here to win a semi-final, we came to win a trophy.”

After all, this is a tournament New Zealand have yet to win, and after losing in the finals of the 50-over World Cup in 2015 and 2019, the are hoping that Sunday’s final in Dubai will be their turn finally to cross the finishing line.

The will face Trans-Tasman rivals Australia, and Mitchell and his teammates see it as an opportunity to make history and to do their country proud.

“We’re very proud of where we come from and who we are as Kiwis,” said Mitchell. “To know that we’ve got 5 million people sitting back at home supporting us in the early hours of the morning, it’s something we’re very grateful for and we love wearing that Silver Fern on our chest.

“Sunday will be pretty special. It’ll be about enjoying the moment, playing with a smile on our face and competing, because at the end of the day, days like this don’t come around very often. We’re going to have as much fun as we can and hopefully we can walk away with that trophy.”


Eight dead in Africa Cup of Nations Cameroon stadium crush

People assist victims of a stampede outside a stadium hosting an African Cup of Nations soccer game in Yaounde, Cameroon, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. (AP)
People assist victims of a stampede outside a stadium hosting an African Cup of Nations soccer game in Yaounde, Cameroon, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2022

Eight dead in Africa Cup of Nations Cameroon stadium crush

People assist victims of a stampede outside a stadium hosting an African Cup of Nations soccer game in Yaounde, Cameroon, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. (AP)
  • Soccer officials said around 50,000 people had tried to attend the match

YAOUNDE: Eight people were killed and many more injured in a crush outside a Cameroonian football stadium Monday ahead of an Africa Cup of Nations match.
Crowds attempted to enter through a southern entrace at Olembe stadium in the capital Yaounde to watch the host nation play Comoros.
Although the stadium’s capacity of 60,000 has been limited over coronavirus fears, the 60 percent cap is raised to 80 percent when Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions play.
“Eight deaths were recorded, two women in their thirties, four men in their thirties, one child, one body taken away by the family,” according to a preliminary health ministry report obtained by AFP.
The ministry said victims were “immediately transported” in ambulances, but “heavy road traffic slowed down the transport.”
State news had said earlier there had been “half a dozen deaths and dozens have been injured,” but there was no further information from the ministry about the number hospitalized.
A baby was also reportedly trampled by the crowd, the ministry added, although the infant was “immediately extracted and taken to Yaounde General Hospital” and is in a “medically stable” condition.
Tournament organizers had earlier confirmed to AFP that casualties had been recorded without providing further details.
Africa Cup of Nations organizing committee spokesperson Abel Mbengue told AFP: “There was a crush as can happen when there is a stampede. We are waiting for reliable information on the number of casualties in this tragic incident.”
The Confederation of African Football, which runs the continent’s flagship competition, said it was “investigating the situation and trying to get more details on what transpired.”
In a statement online, the organization said it had sent its secretary general to “visit the supporters in hospital in Yaounde.”
It added it was in “constant communication with Cameroon government and the Local Organizing Committee.”
Cameroon’s health minister Manaouda Malachie tweeted images showing him visiting a hospital treating those hurt in the incident.
“Everything is done to give them free care and the best support,” he tweeted.

Cameroon was meant to host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019. However, the event was relocated to Egypt in January of that year over concerns Cameroon’s stadiums were not prepared for the games.
The CAF stripped the country of the tournament, citing delays in the construction of stadiums and infrastructure projects, as well as question marks over security.
Overcrowding at football matches around the world has resulted in scores of deaths.
Thousands of fans in the Egyptian capital Cairo in 2015 attempted to enter a stadium to watch a game, triggering panic as police fired tear gas and birdshot and resulting in 19 dead.
In April 2001, 43 people died in a stampede at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium during a game between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
And in Guatemala in October 1996, 90 people were killed in a crush during a World Cup qualification match between the host nation and Costa Rica at an overpacked stadium.
On the pitch, Cameroon sealed their place in the last eight of the tournament with a 2-1 win and will now play The Gambia in the quarter-finals.
The Comoros side had qualified for the last 16 in their first-ever appearance at the Cup of Nations.
 


Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

RIYADH: The “Sports Career Day” initiative will start on Tuesday at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Olympic Complex in Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Sport said on Monday.
The three-day event, held under the patronage of Minister of Sport Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, is being organized by the Leaders Development Institute, and will run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The initiative, part of the Quality of Life program, includes 26 workshops, with nine on the first two days, and eight on the final day, in addition to employment fairs and direct professional communication.
The initiative aims to provide channels of communication between qualified job seekers, business owners in the sectors, sports institutions and relevant authorities, to achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
It also includes several accompanying events, including virtual job interviews for participants.
The “Sports Career Day” initiative has seen significant interaction from government and private sports agencies, as well as various other institutions, and more than 80 entities participated in 1,250 job opportunities across 20 fields.
The most prominent entities participating are the Ministry of Sports, the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the Saudi Football Association, the Saudi Professional League, and other sports clubs, federations, and private sports institutions hoping to open channels of communication with qualified young people wishing to enter the sports labor market.


AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper
Updated 25 January 2022

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper
  • Comoros had to play left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde
  • To add to their woes, they had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes

YAOUNDÉ: Hosts Cameroon are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but only after laboring to a 2-1 win over a Comoros side who were forced to start an outfield player in goal and played most of the game with 10 men.
The Comoros started with left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were ruled out due to Covid-19 while the other was missing due to injury.
They then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes, and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon in front before skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his sixth goal of the tournament.
Despite that it was a heroic performance from the Comoros, who kept the tie alive until the end thanks to Youssouf M’Changama’s stunning late free-kick.
The Indomitable Lions keep their dream of winning the Cup of Nations on home soil alive as they advance to a last-eight tie against Gambia on Saturday, yet this was the Comoros’ night, despite the outcome.
The tiny Indian Ocean island nation qualified for the last 16 in their first ever appearance at the Cup of Nations after finishing as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned to a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the tie, including goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini.
Their other goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina, was injured but they had hoped Ahamada would be able to start after he tested negative on the day of the game.
The 30-year-old Ahamada flew from Garoua, where he had been isolating, to Yaounde on Monday afternoon in the hope of being able to play, only for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to decide otherwise as his positive result had come just two days earlier.
Alhadhur, a reserve left-back for French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio, wore the gloves, with tape used to mark out his number three on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey.
It was a farcical scene, and the Comoros’ plight worsened when Abdou was shown a straight red card for a foul on Moumi Ngamaleu after the Ethiopian referee went to review images of his challenge.
Rather than give up, the Comoros kept going and they only fell behind in the 29th minute when Aboubakar teed up Toko-Ekambi to slot home.
The islanders, whose coach Amir Abdou was among those missing after testing positive, almost equalized shortly after as Ahmed Mogni forced Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana into a fine save.
Aboubakar had a second-half effort disallowed for offside before making it 2-0 with 20 minutes left, finishing excellently after being picked out by Martin Hongla.
Yet there was no collapse from the Comoros, who pulled one back courtesy of M’Changama’s piledriver from 35 meters and go out with their heads held high.


Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
Updated 24 January 2022

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
  • Unexpected 1-0 win over Super Eagles shows group stage will have little bearing on where trophy ends up
  • If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off

The African Cup of Nations has already seen Ghana out, defending champions Algeria finish bottom of their group and now Nigeria eliminated at a relatively early stage after a shock loss at the hands of a COVID-19-ridden Tunisia on Sunday.

That result really showed that the trophy could go anywhere, and as unimpressive as Egypt have been so far, coach Carlos Queiroz’s words after the group stage ended are looking increasingly accurate.

“Now the real work begins, and now the real competition will begin,” he said. It was the kind of thing that you would expect such an experienced campaigner to say. After all, Egypt had not impressed in the group stage with a poor, to say the least, performance in a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the opener. It was followed by two unconvincing victories by the same scoreline against Guinea-Bissau and then Sudan.

With criticism at home, it was understandable, then, that Queiroz, who took the job in September, wanted to look forward rather than back. Yet the 68-year-old former Real Madrid manager has taken four teams through successful World Cup qualification campaigns and knows what he is talking about.

Nigeria were perhaps the best team in the group stage and were certainly the only one to take maximum points. Drawn against Tunisia then in the second round, the Super Eagles, newly installed as tournament favorites, were expected to win. Not only had they been impressive in the first round, with winger Moses Simon a real standout, but Tunisia had been anything but.

The North Africans had limped through to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, winning just one game and losing against Mali and Gambia, the latter an embarrassing defeat. All their goals had come in the 4-0 win over Mauritania. The odds were against the Carthage Eagles flying any higher in the tournament.

A serious outbreak of COVID-19 in the Tunisia camp lengthened the odds of a win considerably. The federation announced that as many as 12 players out of the 28-man squad had tested positive, including star striker Wahbi Khazri. By the time the Nigeria game rolled around, at least seven players were unavailable. Coach Monhder Kebaier had also tested positive and his duties were taken over by assistant Bilal Kadri.

But the Tunisian coaching staff did not use the infections as an excuse at any point. Despite all the problems, or perhaps because of them, Tunisia gave everything, working harder than their opponents, who gave the impression that they expected a comfortable evening. In what was a highly disciplined performance, Tunisia gave Simon no time or space, doubled up on the Nantes star and tried to cut off the supply to the forwards.

Nigeria, who had looked the most creative of all the teams in the group stage (though admittedly the bar had been set pretty low by the rest), seemed to have few ideas and only started to come alive after Tunisia took the lead early in the second half thanks to a fierce long-range shot from Youssef Msakni. But a red card given to Alex Iwobi handed the initiative back to Tunisia, and in the end, they recorded a shock but deserved win. The 2004 champions now move into the quarter-finals and a winnable tie against Burkina Faso on Saturday. The extra six days should mean that coach Kebaier can field his strongest team, and hopes are now high.

If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off. With Queiroz a big fan of discipline, organization and shape, he will not have that much to learn defensively, but in terms of mood and confidence, Tunisia put the mediocrity of the group stage behind them and went out to win and, importantly, took their chances.

It does not matter now how Egypt performed last week. They have a chance to reset, but they must start to take their chances after scoring only two goals in 270 minutes so far. “Look, I promise you, starting from tomorrow they are going to be doing finishing exercises from the morning until the afternoon,” Queiroz said at the weekend. “They just need to score more goals. To only play good football is not enough — we need to build up more goals and with that be more relaxed in the game.”

Tunisia’s win over Nigeria serves as a perfect reminder that not only does the tournament start here, but that it is wide open. Ghana are out, Algeria are out and now Nigeria are out. It really is up for grabs.


Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
Updated 24 January 2022

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
  • Under Brazilian’s guidance, female athletes claimed 9 gold, 8 silver, 8 bronze medals at World Championship

ABU DHABI: Last year was a game changer for jiu-jitsu in the UAE, with more homegrown talent competing and winning in local and international events on mats.

UAE athletes claimed 71 medals from two international championships in the second half of 2021, with success coming at the 5th Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship and the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

The record year was amplified by the rise of the UAE’s women’s team, which claimed nine gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in November.

Following the success of 2021, Polyana Lago, coach of the UAE National Women’s Jiu-Jitsu team, is now looking for her players to use their experience as a springboard to even more glory in 2022.

“We enter the new season with great ambitions after an impressive season and great achievements last year,” said the 41-year-old Brazilian, who only began working with the women’s team in the summer of 2021.

“We actually had two really excellent weeks; we were confined to a hotel and were able to train together; it was a good experience for each of us.

“We had a fantastic season last year; our women champions put in an outstanding performance, particularly at the World Championship, when they won a total of 25 medals. Some of the girls did really well,” she added.

Lago said that the new format of the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu League helped the UAE national women’s team achieve the historic feat. “It contributed significantly to the championship’s outstanding results last year, as well as making it more professional. We were able to determine other national team talents as a result of the event,” she added.

She has high hopes for the 2022 season, with her athletes set to take part in a host of major events, including the Mother of the Nation Cup, Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup and Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Ahead of this year’s events, Lago revealed that she is “working on key areas of development” with her players.