Serbia, Spain qualify for 2022 World Cup, Portugal stunned

Serbia, Spain qualify for 2022 World Cup, Portugal stunned
Serbia's forward Dusan Vlahovic (C) kicks the ball during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification group A football match between Portugal and Serbia, at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, on November 14, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2021

Serbia, Spain qualify for 2022 World Cup, Portugal stunned

Serbia, Spain qualify for 2022 World Cup, Portugal stunned
  • Spain and Croatia did secure their places in Qatar on Sunday thanks to 1-0 wins over Sweden and Russia respectively

LISBON: Cristiano Ronaldo's hopes of playing in a record-equalling fifth World Cup hang in the balance after Serbia stunned Portugal 2-1 in Lisbon to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Spain and Croatia did secure their places in Qatar on Sunday thanks to 1-0 wins over Sweden and Russia respectively.
Ronaldo already holds the record of playing in five European Championships and looked well on course for another milestone as Portugal stormed out of the blocks to open the scoring after just two minutes through Renato Sanches.
However, Serbia bounced back to dominate the remainder of the first half and deservedly levelled when Dusan Tadic's strike squeezed in off the post after Dusan Vlahovic had hit the woodwork.
Ronaldo was kept quiet as another chance to score his 800th career goal came and went.
Instead it was Aleksandar Mitrovic who grabbed the vital goal as stoppage time approached.
Just over a year ago, Mitrovic was the villain for his country as he was the only player to fail to score in a penalty shootout against Scotland that saw Serbia miss out on Euro 2020.
However, the Fulham striker made amends in dramatic fashion when he steered in Tadic's header at the back post.
"It was an amazing game," said Mitrovic. "We were the better team today in every aspect of the game."
Portugal must now navigate two tricky one-off playoff matches in March to maintain their record of qualifying for every major tournament since the 1998 World Cup."We must apologise to the Portuguese but my team will be at the World Cup, that's guaranteed," said defiant Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
"We will have to prepare well to beat our opponents in March and to get to Qatar. But I always trust my players."
Spain made sure they avoided the playoffs as Alvaro Morata's goal four minutes from time ended Sweden's resistance in Seville.
The Swedes' shock 2-0 defeat to Kazakhstan on Thursday had handed Spain pole position in Group B, meaning La Roja just needed a point to qualify.
Luis Enrique's men were grateful for that reprieve as for a long time a repeat of the stalemate between the sides when they met in the group stages of Euro 2020 was on the cards.
Morata was the fall guy that night for missing a host of chances, but made his mark off the bench with a calm finish after Robin Olsen had turned Dani Olmo's blistering shot onto the bar.
"To be honest, it is a huge weight off my shoulders," said Luis Enrique. "I felt much more pressure in these games when people think it is easy to get a result than in the Euro or the Nations League."
Croatia also needed a late winner as an own goal from Fedor Kudryashov snatched qualification from Russia in a battle in boggy conditions in Split.
Finalists at the last World Cup in 2018, Croatia looked bound for the playoffs as they toiled on a waterlogged pitch against a resolute Russian defence.
But Kudryashov's error saw them snatch top spot from the visitors eight minutes from time.
"It was a difficult match from the beginning because of the rain. We never gave up, we were patient and I think we won deservedly. We are the best team in this group," said Croatia captain Luka Modric.
Germany had long since booked their place in Qatar, but rounded off their qualifying campaign with a 4-1 thrashing of Armenia as Ilkay Gundogan scored twice.
North Macedonia secured the playoff place behind the four-time world champions with a 3-1 win over Iceland.


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.


Win over Kuwait earns Saudi Arabia fifth place at Junior Fencing World Cup

Win over Kuwait earns Saudi Arabia fifth place at Junior Fencing World Cup
Updated 24 January 2022

Win over Kuwait earns Saudi Arabia fifth place at Junior Fencing World Cup

Win over Kuwait earns Saudi Arabia fifth place at Junior Fencing World Cup
  • The Saudi team’s next assignment is the Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships in Dubai in April

The Saudi Arabian national team finished fifth place at the Junior Fencing World Cup in Manama, Bahrain, after defeating the Kuwait team 45-29.

The team had earlier in the competition beaten Belarus 45-44, before losing 45-31 to the third-ranked French team.

Saudi Arabia was represented by Hussein Al-Taweel, Omar Al-Akkas, Ahmed Al-Faihani and Abdul Karim Al-Halifi, and overseen by coach Mohamed Fouad.

Ahmed Al-Sabban, President of the Saudi Fencing Federation, revealed his delight at the team’s finish, the best by an Asian team at the tournament, and said it was a vindication of the performance development set by the federation, as well as the strategy of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.

Al-Sabban said that such a finish is not the limit of Saudi fencing’s ambitions, and he is seeking even better performances at the Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships in Dubai this April.


Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard
Updated 24 January 2022

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard
  • Guests received coaching workshops and took on golf challenges ahead of the tournament at King Abdullah Economic City’s Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Feb. 3-6

RIYADH: With the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers less than two weeks away, Saudi Arabia’s leading golf coaches joined forces to host an evening introducing 60 influencers and members of the media to the sport.

The event was held at “First Golf” — a new golfing entertainment destination managed by Golf Saudi that sits at the heart of Riyadh City Boulevard.

The guests received tuition, took on golf challenges, spoke to tournament officials as well as seeing the revered Saudi International trophy that was reclaimed last year by US star Dustin Johnson — the world No. 3.

The PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers is just weeks away with some of the world’s best biggest stars teeing off at King Abdullah Economic City’s Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Feb. 3-6.

The tournament, now part of the Asian Tour, is helping to spread interest in golf in the Kingdom, part of Golf Saudi’s strategy to see more Saudi nationals become active in the sport as part of Vision 2030. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s fastest growing golf markets with ambitions for 2025 that include getting 3.5 million people to take up the sport for the first time, 320 contracted schools for golf curriculum activity and 135,000 children actively engaging in the sport.

“Since the inaugural Saudi International tournament in 2019, we’ve seen the golf market really thriving in the Kingdom,” said Ed Edwards, Golf Saudi chief operating officer.

“Participation numbers, interest and engagement is growing year-on-year here in the Kingdom. Hosting world class and international tournament gives an amazing platform for our mass participation programs here at Golf Saudi to roll out across clubs, schools and the wider golfing industry.

“Facilities like ‘First Golf’ makes the sport more accessible for newcomers in a fun and relaxed way for all abilities and all ages. We’re creating modern and urban touch points to allow more opportunities for Saudis to engage with the game at a purely social level,” he said.

The media evening saw Golf Saudi’s coaches give specialist coaching and education on the sport. The coaches are also overseeing the Kingdom’s very best talent — with the national teams currently notching wins recently at the Arab Golf Championship and Jordan Open as participation increases on the regional and Asian circuits.

“It’s so encouraging to see women, men, boys and girls really get into this sport — and swing a club for the very first time,” said Reem Alqubaisi, a Golf Saudi coach.

“Initiatives and modern facilities similar to what we have here at First Golf provide a great environment to introduce and educate people on this amazing sport. Everyone has been trying to smash their driver, inspired by Bryson DeChambeau and the other stars who will heading to the Kingdom in the next two weeks.”

DeChambeau will be part of a star-studded field packed with Ryder Cup stars and Major-winning golfers heading to compete in the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, where the likes of defending champion Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton and Louis Oosthuizen will join him.


Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise
Updated 24 January 2022

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise
  • Marco Verratti put PSG ahead in the final minute of a sluggish first half, drilling home his first Ligue 1 goal since May 2017

PARIS: Lionel Messi returned, another marquee signing Sergio Ramos scored as Paris Saint-Germain cruised to a 4-0 victory over Reims on Sunday to restore their Ligue 1 lead to 11 points.
“We had a good game, we took three points,” said PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Earlier, Nice briefly cut the gap with a 2-0 win at Metz. But three of the teams just behind them lost.
Messi, returning from Covid, started on the bench while Kylian Mbappe returned to the starting lineup after a groin strain while Ramos made only his second league start of the season.
Marco Verratti put PSG ahead in the final minute of a sluggish first half, drilling home his first Ligue 1 goal since May 2017.
“It’s good that a player who doesn’t score often, does,” said Pochettino.
PSG upped the tempo after the break.
Ramos, who arrived from Real in the summer, scored his first goal for the club. The central defender reacted quickest to a loose ball from a PSG corner. After his first shot was parried by Predrag Rajkovic, the Spaniard reacted fastest again to slam home the rebound.
“I am happy to have played 90 minutes and I am personally happy because it is my first goal with PSG, I hope there will be many more,” said Ramos.
“It’s been three weeks since I started playing normally with the group,” he said. “We have the cup, we have the league, we have the Champions League, this is the best time to arrive in shape.”
Pochettino was happy with the goal.
“It’s good that he scored like Marco. He had a good game,” said the manager.
That goal brought Ramos level with Messi on one league goal this season, it also acted as the cue for Pochettino to send Messi on.
In the 67th minute, Messi set up Verratti for a shot that deflected off two defenders and into the top corner.
Danilo Pereira added a fourth as PSG matched their biggest league win of the season.
Earlier, Khephren Thuram’s goal set up a precious 2-0 away win for Nice as they saw off strugglers Metz to move back up to second place.
Khephren, the 20-year-old son of World Cup winner Lilian, opened the scoring in the 58th minute while a late spot-kick from Amine Gouiri completed the victory with a cheeky Panenka.
The three points lift Nice above their bitter south coast rivals Marseille, who are two points behind in third with a game in hand.
“We are still too far behind (PSG) to think about top spot. I’m more concerned by what’s coming up behind us,” said Nice coach Christophe Galtier.
“It’s about racking up the points and that can be tough when the opponent is fighting relegation.”
Strasbourg lost 4-3 at Bordeaux where Hwang Ui-Jo hit a hat-trick to lift the home team out of the bottom three.
Bordeaux, who had not scored in three league and cup games this year while conceding 10, hit three in the first 38 minutes but were made to sweat for their victory as their defense then leaked three goals.
“Hwang had a perfect game, he bailed us out on several occasions. He’s had some difficulties in the last few games, so I’m very happy that he’s back,” said Bordeaux’s under-threat coach Vladimir Petkovic.
“I am sorry that we let in three goals,” said Petkovic. “We had a very good first half but then the fear of winning the game took over.”
Rennes took an 18th-minute lead at another struggler Clermont with a goal by Baptiste Santamaria, but missed several other chances and paid in the second half.
Former Rennes player Lucas Da Cunha levelled in the 59th minute and Jordan Tell struck in the 70th minute.
Montpellier beat Monaco 3-2 to climb sixth.
Elye Wahi gave the home team a 13th-minute lead and Stephy Mavididi scored twice, the winner coming in stoppage time.
Wissam Ben Yedder and Vanderson scored for Monaco, who drop to seventh.