Al-Hilal win AFC Champions League with 2-0 victory over Pohang Steelers

Victory for Al-Hilal sees them become the most successful club in the competition's history with four titles. (Supplied)
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Victory for Al-Hilal sees them become the most successful club in the competition's history with four titles. (Supplied)
Victory for Al-Hilal sees them become the most successful club in the competition's history with four titles. (Supplied)
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Victory for Al-Hilal sees them become the most successful club in the competition's history with four titles. (Supplied)
Al-Hilal's forward Moussa Marega reacts during the AFC Champions League final against South Korea's Pohang Steelers. (AFP)
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Al-Hilal's forward Moussa Marega reacts during the AFC Champions League final against South Korea's Pohang Steelers. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2021

Al-Hilal win AFC Champions League with 2-0 victory over Pohang Steelers

Al-Hilal win AFC Champions League with 2-0 victory over Pohang Steelers
  • The fastest goal ever scored in the final of the competition set the Saudis on the road to a record-breaking fourth title

RIYADH: A breathtaking, history-making Nasser Al-Dawsari goal after just 16 seconds of the AFC Champions League final set Saudi side Al-Hilal on their way to a deserved 2-0 victory over Pohang Steelers on Tuesday, and a record fourth continental title.

The 22-year-old’s early breakthrough was record-breaking in another sense as it was the fastest goal ever scored in the Champions League final. It was a stunning strike, worthy in itself of winning any championship anywhere in the world. Moussa Marega doubled the lead in the second half and Pohang, who were second-best for much of the game, never really looked likely to come back from that.

The Koreans were up against it from the start. The roar of the 50,000-plus Saudi fans that greeted the kick-off at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh had not even died down before left-back Al-Dawsari, who made his national team debut this year, gave the Blues the lead. He picked up a loose ball just inside the Korean half, moved forward and unleashed a fierce shot from about 30 meters that flew into the top corner.

Goalkeeper Lee Jun might have been caught by surprise by the timing, power and the pace of the shot so early in the game but even if it had come in the last minute and not the first, it is likely he could have done little about it — it was simply unstoppable. The sea of blue around the arena erupted and Pohang were left stunned as their opponents celebrated with almost as much disbelief as delight.

With three continental titles of their own to their name, however, the Koreans had the experience to know that there were still more than 89 minutes left to play and a lot could happen in that time. There was a reminder of this just 10 minutes later, as the Steelers silenced the din in Riyadh for the first time.

Sin Jin-ho won the Champions League with Ulsan Hyundai last December, and the attacking midfielder must have thought he had got on the score sheet this time around when his half-volley from the edge of the area dipped over diving keeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the ball bounced back off the underside of the bar. Lim Sang-hyub was well positioned to fire home the rebound but his shot bounced back off of Al-Mayouf’s legs. It was as close as the Koreans would come all night.

The game then started to settle into something approaching a more traditional final. The visitors were wary of conceding a second goal that would make an already tricky task doubly difficult and did not threaten enough. In fact, the game started to get a little scrappy, with some heavy challenges and misplaced passes. Al-Hilal, with playmaker Matheus Pereira getting more and more into the game, looked the more dangerous going forward but in the last 30 minutes of the first half neither goalkeeper had much to do until, right at the end, Al-Mayouf was grateful to see a close-range header from Gwon Wan-kyu fly straight into his hands.

Pohang made a double substitution at the start of the second half, a sign of their more adventurous intent, but it was Al-Hilal who created the first real chance after the break. Pereira found Bafetimbi Gomis in the area, only for the striker’s shot to be blocked by Alex Grant. Soon after, Pereira’s free-kick flew just over the top corner of the Pohang goal.

The Koreans, with seven losses in their last nine league games, were struggling to get a foothold in the game but while facing just a one goal deficit they were never out of it, and a mix-up in the Al-Hilal defense just before the hour mark allowed substitute Go Young-joon to get in a shot from the edge of the area that went wide.

Then, with 63 minutes on the clock, Gomis slipped the ball through to Marega in the right side of the area and the former FC Porto striker found the opposite corner with a low shot. Given that Pohang had not done enough in attack, that seemed to be that.

Mistakes can still change games, however, and that almost happened soon after. Al-Mayouf came out and missed a looping cross and the ball fell invitingly for Jeon Min-gwang at close range, but Muteb Al-Mufarrij was able to react quickly and clear the danger.

Pohang started to push forward but not only did this seem to be a case of too little, too late, it opened up more opportunities for Al-Hilal and 3-0 seemed more likely than 2-1. With 10 minutes remaining, the busy Gomis had a chance to increase the lead but shot just wide from inside the area.

That was the last significant chance of the game but Al-Hilal’s fans did not care as by this time they were starting to celebrate their team becoming the first to be crowned champions of Asia four times.

On the night, few could argue that they did not deserve this second triumph in three seasons.


Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity
Updated 57 min 40 sec ago

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity
  • The PSL has strengthened its reputation as one of the most competitive global T20 tournaments despite player availability concerns
  • PSL provides an international showcase for young talent, who can spearhead Pakistan’s renewed aspirations to be a major force in world cricket

One of the most remarkable aspects of T20 cricket is how quickly it has spread. Since its inauguration in England and Wales in 2003, 15 professional T20 competitions have had their status recognized by the International Cricket Council. Around the cricketing world, there is a plethora of T20 tournaments for both men and women, even one for retired players in Oman at present.

Although South Africa and Pakistan introduced domestic T20 tournaments in 2003 and 2005, it is the Indian Premier League that epitomizes the rapid development of T20 cricket into a combination of high drama, commercial exploitation, spectator frenzy, inventive player skills, global reach and transformational impact.

Given the absence of consistent, up-to-date data, it is difficult to establish with any great accuracy the income and profit generated by the various T20 professional tournaments, but the IPL likely outstrips all others. After that, depending on the criteria used, Australia’s Big Bash, the England and Wales T20 Blast, the Caribbean Premier League and Pakistan’s Super League are usually considered to be the next strongest, if a mix of the availability and strength of domestic players, the availability and strength of overseas stars and the level of competition between the franchises is used.

One of the biggest issues for the tournament organizers and the players is how to fit the competitions into a very crowded cricket calendar. The final of the Big Bash is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 28, while the Pakistan Super League (PSL) started on Jan. 27. Some players are also involved in a T20 series between the West Indies and England that ends on Jan. 30. Fourteen players will join the PSL late.

Another issue is that some national cricket boards refuse to allow their contracted players to participate in these tournaments. India, for example, will not allow its contracted players to participate in tournaments in other countries, and Pakistani cricketers cannot play in the IPL.

It is impressive, then, that the PSL has managed to strengthen its reputation as one of the most competitive and challenging T20 tournaments. The 2022 edition will be the seventh since its inception in 2016, when, for security reasons, it was played in the UAE. Five teams, based in the five cities of Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad participated, with Islamabad United defeating Quetta Gladiators in the final.

In 2018, a sixth city and team — the Multan Sultans — joined. They are the current champions, having defeated Peshawar Zalmi in June 2021 in Abu Dhabi, where the tournament was relocated after it had to be postponed in March when six players tested positive for COVID-19 in a bio-secure bubble in Pakistan. The 2017-2020 tournaments were all held in Pakistan.

This year, Karachi hosts the first leg of the tournament until February when the action switches to Lahore, where the play-offs and final will be held, the latter on Feb. 27.

In the league stage, the six teams play in a round-robin format, with the top four qualifying for the playoff stages. The top two teams will advance to a qualifier, with the winners going through to the final. The third and fourth-ranked sides will move to a first eliminator, with the winners meeting the losers of the qualifier to determine the second finalists. A total of 34 matches are scheduled to be played.

The franchises selected their players in a draft held in Lahore on Dec. 12, 2021. Prior to that, each team was allowed to retain a maximum of eight players from the previous edition, making further additions from the draft up to a maximum of 18 players.

Players were divided into five categories — platinum, worth $130,000-170,000; diamond, $60,000-85,000; gold, $40,000-50,000; silver, $15,000-25,000; and emerging, $7,500.

Each team was able to pick three players from the first three categories, five from silver and two from emerging.

A later supplementary category was subject to a separate, virtual, draft on Jan. 8, for teams to select two additional players, along with a replacement draft to allow teams to partially replace players who would be unavailable for the first few matches due to international commitments, or to fully replace those who had to withdraw.

PSL7 opens with a mix of high hope and caution. The hope is based on a strong lineup of players and Pakistan’s success in white-ball cricket in 2021. The caution relates to ongoing worries about the omicron variant of COVID-19. If cases were to surge, the event may not be able to switch to the UAE, where the Emirates Cricket Board could hold its own T20 league in February/March. And it would be difficult to reschedule due to Pakistan’s packed international schedule.

If more than eight players in a squad of 20 test positive, a reserve pool of about 25 locals can be used as replacements. If the whole competition is affected then it will be postponed for seven days, after which the remaining matches will be played as double-headers. Three distinct bubbles will be in place with different protocols: The main bubble comprises all the teams, staff and officials. Franchise members will not be allowed to meet within the hotel premises. The two other bubbles, comprising production crew and ground staff, will be at a separate hotel. The bubbles will not be allowed to interact and players will be tested regularly during the tournament.

Such precautions are wise, as there is much to lose. PSL receives over $15m per year from the franchises. Habib Bank, as lead sponsor, pays upwards of $5m per year. Broadcasting and live-streaming rights have been renewed at significantly higher levels.

PSL’s brand value is estimated to have increased almost 20 times since 2016, when it made a profit of $2.6m. But it is about more than just money; PSL provides an international showcase for young talent, who can spearhead Pakistan’s renewed aspirations to be a major force in world cricket.

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Cameroon government wants to ‘improve’ access to stampede stadium

Cameroon government wants to ‘improve’ access to stampede stadium
Updated 27 January 2022

Cameroon government wants to ‘improve’ access to stampede stadium

Cameroon government wants to ‘improve’ access to stampede stadium
  • A child and two women were among the victims, who were trampled by the crowd at the south gate of the stadium
  • "We are going to try to see if it is not possible to use other routes which would serve Olembe so that everyone does not use the same route," said the government's Minister of Communication

YAOUNDE: The Cameroonian government wants to “improve” access to the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde after the deadly stampede that killed eight people at the Africa Cup of Nations on Monday, its spokesman told state media on Thursday.
A child and two women were among the victims, who were trampled by the crowd at the south gate of the stadium as they attempted to enter the stadium where hosts Cameroon were playing Comoros. Another 38 were injured.
“We are going to try to see if it is not possible to use other routes which would serve Olembe so that everyone does not use the same route,” Rene Emmanuel Sadi, the government’s Minister of Communication, told CRTV and state-owned newspaper Cameroon Tribune.
“The prime minister has asked us to think about it and the general delegation for national security (police) will work to do so, so that access to the stadium is improved.”
Sadi said the traffic around the Olembe Stadium was “hellish” and that the government wanted to “improve” the system that was already in place.
African football supremo Patrice Motsepe on Tuesday said it was “inexplicable” that an entry gate had remained closed, contributing to the crush.
“If that gate was open as it was supposed to be, we wouldn’t have had this problem we have now, this loss of life. Who closed that gate? Who is responsible for that gate?” the Confederation of African Football (CAF) president said at a press conference.
The quarter-final that was due to be played at the Olembe Stadium was switched to the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium, also in Yaounde.
“The next match that was scheduled for the Olembe Stadium will not take place until CAF and the Local Organizing Committee have received the full report of the Investigation Committee (into the Olembe incident) indicating the circumstances and events that led to the injury and death of spectators at the Olembe Stadium,” CAF said in a statement on Wednesday.
Motsepe has demanded that the first conclusions of the investigation should be submitted to CAF by Friday at the latest.


Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy
Updated 27 January 2022

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy

Newcastle players take part in training session with youngsters from Saudi Mahd Academy
  • After completing their own training, Eddie Howe’s players put aspiring footballers through their paces at Al-Ittihad’s training ground in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Members of Newcastle United’s squad on Wednesday took part in a training session at Al-Ittihad club, after which they held drills for aspiring footballers from Saudi Arabia’s Mahd Academy.

The club are currently on a warm-weather training camp in Jeddah as they do not have a Premier League match this weekend.

Eddie Howe’s team will take part in a training match against Al-Ittihad on Friday behind closed doors, before heading back to the UK the following day.

The session began with stretching and fitness exercises for a period of 20 minutes, after which the players did some running around the training pitch, before moving onto ball practice.

After concluding their own training, the Newcastle players put some of Mahd Academy’s talented youngsters through their paces with technical exercises such as one-touch possession play and long-distance shooting.

The players ended the afternoon by signing shirts and posing for photos with the youngsters.


World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Updated 27 January 2022

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic heads stellar field at 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
  • Further 8 members of world’s top 20 will take part including 2021 champion Aslan Karatsev, semifinalists Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov

DUBAI: Novak Djokovic will head a strong line-up of the world’s best next month when the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships men’s tournament celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Among those joining the five-time Dubai champion and world No. 1 will be a further eight members of the top 20, presenting an intriguing mix of exciting young talent and experienced veterans, including Dubai 2021 champion Aslan Karatsev, 2021 semifinalists Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov, and former champion Roberto Bautista Agut.

Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai Duty Free, said: “We are thrilled to welcome so many top players to our 30th-year celebrations of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. We are delighted to see Novak back in Dubai for the 12th time when he will be seeking his sixth title and we wish him the best of luck.”

Karatsev has continued to impress following his remarkable run in Dubai, a week that saw him defeat Lloyd Harris to claim the first Association of Tennis Professionals title of his career. He went on to defeat Djokovic to reach the final in Belgrade, which he surrendered to Matteo Berrettini in a final-set tiebreak. Later in 2021, he earned a second career title with victory over Marin Cilic in Moscow and began the 2022 season by beating Andy Murray in the Sydney final to win title number three.

Rublev will be among those who, along with Djokovic and Karatsev, will also be a strong contender for the title. Although he fell last year in a thrilling semifinal to fellow Russian and eventual champion Karatsev, he enjoyed a successful season.

After being a member of the victorious Russian team at the ATP Cup and then claiming the Rotterdam title shortly before arriving in Dubai, he went on to finish as runner-up in Monte Carlo where he earned a rare clay court victory over Rafael Nadal. His 2021 season then finished on a triumphant note as his four wins in five matches guided Russia to victory in the Davis Cup.

Shapovalov last year fell in Dubai to rising star Harris, but he can still look back on a wonderful year that saw him reach the Wimbledon semifinals in a run that included victory over former champion Murray, runner-up finishes in Geneva and Stockholm, and a further semifinal at Queens’s Club. He has also begun the 2022 season on a positive note, helping Canada to victory in the ATP Cup.

Among others to watch are another Canadian, current world No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner, and the unpredictable and often brilliant Gael Monfils.

Auger-Aliassime will be making his Dubai debut after beginning 2022 by entering the world’s top 10 for the first time following his success with compatriot Shapovalov in winning the ATP Cup, and a 2021 season that saw him contest the finals of a pre-Australian Open event in Melbourne and Stuttgart, whilst also reaching the semifinals of the US Open and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

Sinner’s outstanding 2021 season propelled him into the top 10 as he claimed titles in Melbourne, Washington, Sofia, and Antwerp as well as a place in the Miami final, before finishing the year with three victories in the Davis Cup. This year he was in form again as he represented Italy in the ATP Cup, winning all three of his matches to kick off his new season.

Monfils is one of the game’s greatest entertainers and has enjoyed considerable success in Dubai, reaching the semifinals in 2019 where he fell to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a three-hour thriller that finished in a final-set tiebreak, and then again in 2020 when he stretched Djokovic to three sets.

Tournament director, Salah Tahlak, said: “We can once more look forward to two weeks of fantastic tennis as we not only enjoy the 30th-year celebrations of the ATP Tour event, but an incredible line-up of talent in the preceding WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) 500 tournament that features nine of the world’s top 10 and 17 of the top 20 women players, including no less than five previous Dubai winners all returning to one of their favorite tournaments.”

The tournament begins with the 22nd edition of the WTA event which takes place between Feb. 14 and 19, and then continues from Feb. 21 to 26 with the 30th anniversary staging of the men’s ATP Tour 500 tournament.


Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final
Updated 27 January 2022

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final

Top seed Ashleigh Barty crushes Madison Keys to make Australian Open final
  • The world number one overwhelmed the 51st-ranked American 6-1, 6-3 in just 62 minutes

MELBOURNE: A ruthless Ashleigh Barty swept into her first Australian Open final on Thursday with the top seed outgunning a resurgent Madison Keys in a clinical, straight-sets demolition.
The world number one overwhelmed the 51st-ranked American 6-1, 6-3 in just 62 minutes to set up showdown against either Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek or American 27th seed Danielle Collins.
Barty is the first Australian woman into the decider of her home Grand Slam since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 and is aiming to become the first winner since Chris O’Neil two years earlier.
She is also looking to add to her 2020 French Open and 2021 Wimbledon 2021 titles, with the top seed on an ominous 10-match win streak to start the year.
“Honestly, it’s just incredible. I’m just happy I get to play my best tennis here,” said Barty, who is assured of retaining her world number one ranking even if she loses the final.
“The ball was a little slower tonight, heavier off the strings. I just tried to run and adapt, make as many balls as I could and keep Maddie under the pump on her serve because she has the ability to really take it away from you quickly.”
Barty paid tribute to Keys, a former top-10 player who is on the rise again after difficult couple of years.
“It’s just so nice to see her back where she belongs,” said Barty. “She’s an amazing human being.”
Barty has been unassailable in Melbourne, dropping her serve just once through six matches and is yet to drop a set.
And the top seed, who played cricket with her team on Wednesday to relax, was once more in full command of her game with an attacking forehand and lethal backhand slice.
Facing Barty on her home turf was an unenviable assignment for 26-year-old Keys, but she came into the game on a 10-match win streak, the best run of her career.
The Australian, though, immediately pressured her serve to create a break point that she converted with a cross-court winner to assert early control.
She consolidated with a serve to love as Keys struggled to get her racquet on the ball before the American gained confidence with a hold for 1-2.
The American was broken again in the fifth game, as her unforced error count mounted.
She finally won her first points on the Barty serve in the next game and gained a break point when Barty sent a looping forehand long. But the Australian saved it with an ace and stormed 5-1 in front.
Keys’ first double fault handed Barty two set points and she slammed a forehand return to take the set in just 26 minutes.
Keys had beaten top 10 players Paula Badosa and Barbora Krejcikova back-to-back to make the last four and was more composed as her nerves settled in set two.
It went with serve to 2-2 before Keys worked a break point in the fifth game only to be denied by a Barty volley, before the Australian held.
Barty then stepped up a gear in the next game, earning three break points. Keys saved two before a passing shot put her 4-2 clear and there was no way back for the American.