Al-Hilal reign in Asia after tale of two Al-Dawsaris in AFC Champions League triumph

Al-Hilal reign in Asia after tale of two Al-Dawsaris in AFC Champions League triumph
AL-Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim celebrates with his players after winning the AFC Champions League in Riyadh. (Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 24 November 2021

Al-Hilal reign in Asia after tale of two Al-Dawsaris in AFC Champions League triumph

Al-Hilal reign in Asia after tale of two Al-Dawsaris in AFC Champions League triumph
  • Riyadh giants now hold record for most titles in the continent’s premier club competition and early next year head to the UAE for the FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal are the best team in Asia and not just because they defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 in the final of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday in Riyadh.

The Saudi side are now the only team to have won four Asian titles, but that triumph was more a tale of two Al-Dawsaris. 

On the night, the headlines belonged to Nasser Al-Dawsari. But in the tournament as a whole, Salem Al-Dawsari has been imperious at times and that was reflected with the tournament MVP award.

That two local players grabbed the limelight in a team with perhaps the most talented foreign contingent in the entire competition should be a source of pride and satisfaction for Saudi fans and bosses.

It has been a remarkable year for Nasser Al-Dawsari, who earned a first international cap for a national team that are flying in qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The 22-year-old has looked at home playing for the Green Falcons, but nevertheless has failed to make the kind of impact for the national team that he made for his club after just 16 seconds of the final — that would have been impossible.

There cannot be many in Saudi Arabia who are unaware of what happened in that first minute: The collection of the ball just inside the Pohang half followed by a 30-meter shot past a stunned Lee Jun in the top corner of the Korean goal. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, any final in the world.

Leonardo Jardim’s men were always clear favorites against a team that had lost seven of the last nine games in their domestic league, but that strike, coming from a player high on confidence, as good as sealed the victory.

Pohang boss Kim Ki-dong admitted after the match that falling behind so early left his team unable to carry out 50 percent of their game plan.

The Steelers’ strategy was to keep it tight for the first half, quieten the 50,000-plus home fans, frustrate Al-Hilal’s players, and then slowly start to push forward in the hope of getting the all-important first goal. 

Al-Dawsari’s thunderbolt blasted a hole in the Pohang playbook, and visibly shocked the visiting players. Apart from a shot from Sin Jin-ho after 12 minutes — Kim was right when he said that it would have been an interesting contest had the strike gone in rather than hit the bar — the three-time Asian champions never really looked like scoring and ending Al-Hilal’s dream of number four.

It was a solid performance all round, with Bafetimbi Gomis impressing once more despite failing to get on the scoresheet and, instead, setting up the second for Moussa Marega.

The club’s strength in depth was demonstrated again as Muteb Al-Mufarij came in as center-back cover for the suspended/injured Ali Al-Bulaihi and made several crucial interceptions and blocks.

Before kick-off, if you had to put money on an Al-Dawsari deciding the game with a spectacular goal then it would have gone straight on Salem. The 30-year-old was busy in the final without grabbing the headlines, but without his contribution in the knockout stage Al-Hilal would not have reached the final. That was recognized when the silky winger received the tournament MVP award.

The Jeddah-born star won the individual prize for being involved in four goals in the three games leading up to the final. He scored in the second round against Esteghlal, did the same in the quarterfinal against Persepolis with a spectacular strike, and then netted in the semifinal with another fine shot that sealed an unforgettable win over Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr.

There are other stats. Salem completed more dribbles than any other player since 2013, and has recorded six goals and two assists in his last eight knockout stage appearances in the competition. He really is a player for the big stage. But now, too, is Nasser Al-Dawsari.

For Al-Hilal there are big stages to come, starting with a place in the FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE early next year that could feature a clash with European champions Chelsea.

That is in the future and there is a little time to enjoy the record-breaking triumph before the Riyadh club re-enter the Saudi Professional League title race next weekend.

Football never stops, but for Al-Hilal it is certainly a lot of fun at the moment — and no more so than for the two Al-Dawsaris.

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics
Updated 11 sec ago

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics
ISTANBUL: China’s Uyghur Muslim ethnic group, which has a wide presence in Turkey, welcomed a US boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing, and called on other countries to do the same.
The White House said on Monday US government officials would boycott the Winter Olympics because of China’s human rights “atrocities,” although US athletes were free to travel there to compete.
Many Uyghurs reside in Turkey, with whom Turks share ethnic, religious and linguistic connections.
About 50,000 Uyghurs are believed to live in Turkey, the largest Uyghur diaspora outside of Central Asia.
One 40-year-old Uyghur woman in Istanbul said she welcomed the US action. “China these days is carrying out a genocide against Uyghur Turks as everyone knows, killing millions of people there,” said Amine Wayit, who spoke in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district where she sells Uyghur goods.
“In such a situation it is ridiculous to hold an Olympics there in China and in my view it is like pouring scorn on the whole world’s humanity,” she said. “It would be right for the whole world to stage a boycott, not just America.”
Chinese authorities reacted with anger to Washington’s move. The United States has betrayed Olympic principles and will have to “pay a price” for its diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing, China said on Tuesday, as key Western allies hesitated in deciding whether to follow the US lead.
US President Joe Biden’s administration highlighted as the reason for its boycott what Washington calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.
China denies all rights abuses.
“I think this is the start of the reaction. Maybe other countries will afterwards join the boycott decision which America has launched,” said Abdusselam Teklimakan, a Uyghur who is chairman of the East Turkestan New Generation Movement group.
“This will increase the number of countries on the side of the East Turkestanis and weaken the hand of China.”

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory
Updated 07 December 2021

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory
  • BRX team put the car which runs on new sustainable fuel through its paces in Umm Al-Quwain

DUBAI: Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb believes that thorough testing in the UAE this week at the wheel of a car powered by a new sustainable fuel can boost his challenge for a first Dakar Rally victory in Saudi Arabia next month.

The world’s most successful rally driver and his Bahrain Raid Xtreme team-mates Nani Roma and Orlando Terranova have been taking part in a second wave of tests in the Emirates at the wheel the Hunter T1+.

Roma, twice a Dakar winner and the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion, put the T1+ through its paces in the Umm Al-Quwain desert last week before Loeb and Argentinian driver Terranova took over yesterday.

“This is extremely valuable testing as we have all the conditions here that we’re going to face in the Dakar,” said Loeb, accompanied by co-driver Fabian Lurquin.

“Added to that, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to work together to concentrate our efforts on navigation which is where the Dakar will be won or lost.”

Terranova, partnered by Dani Oliveras, commented: “It’s my first time in the new car and it is great to experience it in the same conditions as we will find on the Dakar in four weeks’ time. Dani and I have been working on our navigation as it will be crucial in Saudi Arabia not to make any mistakes.”

Roma and his co-driver, Alex Haro, had previously spent five days in Umm Al-Quwain testing the T1+, which uses fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to petrol.

The fuel is made from second generation biofuel manufactured from agricultural waste and efuels created from carbon capture, and will be used in the three BRX cars at the 2022 Dakar, which starts on Jan. 1 in Saudi Arabia.

BRX believes the most demanding motor race in the world can demonstrate that such fuels can be used as an alternative to petrol and diesel in road transport, and immediately make a contribution to fighting climate change.

Over two weeks at the Dakar Rally, the cars will race 8,500 km across the deserts of the Kingdom, starting in Hail and finishing in Jeddah, with a mid-event rest day in Riyadh. 

T1+ cars run on larger tyres, with increased suspension travel and a wider track. The car now benefits from 37 inch tyres on 17 inch rims, with suspension travel increased from 280 mm to 350 mm and the body width increased from 2 meters to 2.3 meters to accommodate this. 

These changes have necessitated a radical redesign of the Hunter, and Prodrive has used this as an opportunity to make further improvements, including a larger windscreen for improved visibility and a refinement of a number of systems throughout the car.

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai
Updated 07 December 2021

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai
  • Reigning IBF flyweight champ will take on Filipino Jayson Mama at the Coca-Cola Arena

UK boxer Sunny Edwards, the IBF flyweight world champion, says headlining Probellum: Revolution in Dubai this coming Saturday will be a “life-changing” moment.

Probellum, the new global boxing promotion company spearheaded by Richard Schaefer, launched in September and holds its first event at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena, with Edwards defending his title against Filipino challenger Jayson Mama.

Having fought outside the UK on a few occasions earlier in his career, Edwards is relishing the prospect of competing in the UAE.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” he said. “My management will tell you that I’ve always asked to get some international experience. I’m a world champion and I want to see the world. I’m not one of those world champions who just wants to defend the title against three fighters in Britain, that’s not what I’m all about. I want to go to Dubai, I want to go to Mexico, I want to go to Japan. I’ll go anywhere. It’s great to have this opportunity in Dubai.

“When I saw the venue, my head almost fell off. I couldn’t believe it,” Edwards added. “I made my debut in an industrial unit in Estepona, in Spain, had a couple of undercard slots where I got a taste of what the big life is like, gradually crept up and had a few arena shows, but this is completely different. Even the architecture looks like the Allianz Arena (in Munich).”

Having originally been due to face Mama in September, in the UK, Edwards was forced to pull out after sustaining an ankle injury during his training camp but, despite the inevitable frustration caused by the delay, he insists he is in great shape going into Saturday’s fight.

“There was a lot of talk about what happened but genuinely, I rolled my ankle and that put me out,” he explains. “I was devastated. All I like to do is fight, I can’t stress that enough. I’ve been involved in boxing for 16, 17 years and I don’t enjoy anything else. I can’t explain how much boxing, fighting and competing makes me feel alive, nothing else comes remotely close. I’m just buzzing for the fight to be here now.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as fit, healthy or in as good a shape as I am right now. It’s the first fight in a while where I’m not really nursing an injury going into it, said Edwards. “When you’ve boxed as much as I have, and been in some of the fights I have, it’s going to take some lumps and bumps out of you, but this time it’s all gone well. I’m always confident but I’m in such a good place and even weight-wise, I’ve never done it this well before.”

Edwards said he is looking forward to establishing his name in this part of the world and is aware of his rival’s threat.

“Mama’s a good fighter. He’s done everything that has been asked of him so far,” he said. “I know he’s going to come into the ring with a lot of pent-up feelings and emotions. He’s going to come and try to take my head off because he’s been waiting patiently all year. He was my mandatory challenger and here we are now. I had my mind on Mama, I knew the conditions of me fighting for the world title were that, if I got through it, I’d be facing Mama next and I’m looking forward to it.

“He brings fire, he brings excitement and he wants to take my head off, but I’m fine with all of that. He could have dynamite in both hands, but I have the wind in my feet,” Edwards added.

Mama is one of three Filipino fighters on the card for Saturday’s event, with John Riel Casimero defending his WBO bantamweight title against Paul Butler, and Donnie Nietes facing Norbelto Jiminez.

“I’m sure they will have a lot of fans because it’s a big night for Filipino boxing,” says Edwards.

“Casimero is one of their brightest stars currently. Donnie Nietes has been one of their biggest stars and Mama, if he dethrones me, could be the next big thing coming out of there so it’s going to be pretty hostile but I thrive off that,” he said.

“If I was walking down the street and somebody decided to pick a fight with me, I’d have to kick into survival mode, and when I get into that mindset, it’s not about fighting for my family, or fighting to make my kids proud, or fighting to defend a title, it’s about me beating my opponent up instead of him beating me up. I can’t stress how simple it is in my mind. I think the simplicity of it provides a mental and emotional detachment of pressure.”

Edwards will be welcomed into the ring on Saturday by Michael Buffer, the most famous MC in the sport, and a man who has been involved in some of the biggest fights in history.

“Let’s face it, that’s like something out of a movie,” he admits. “I’m trying to be the most influential flyweight to walk the planet. If I’m getting announced by Michael Buffer, that says a lot about where I’m going. To headline such a great show is the stuff of dreams. Boxing is my place, my home, where I feel most comfortable. To be headlining the Coca-Cola Arena is amazing.

“Big-time boxing is coming to Dubai and it will be here to stay,” said Edwards. “This is going to be the start of something big and I’m buzzing to be a part of it. I can guarantee within the next two or three years, if not sooner, the biggest, best and most exciting fights in the world are all going to be happening in the UAE. 

“I’m just over the moon that a scruffy little kid from Croydon will be part of the first show. It’s life changing and I want to say a big thanks to Probellum for putting me on the card.”

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
Updated 07 December 2021

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
  • Drivers will take to shortened 5.28km track after it was altered for first time since 2009

ABU DHABI: As the chequered flag waved Lewis Hamilton to victory in Jeddah, putting him on level pegging with Max Verstappen in their battle for the 2021 Formula One Championship, the attention of the world’s motorsport fans and media turned to Yas Marina Circuit for what promises to be a nail-biting climax to the season in Abu Dhabi.

For the first time in 13 years, drivers and teams will be experiencing a revamped Yas Marina Circuit, with the new track layout shortened by 273 meters to 5.28km.

Following an extensive reconfiguration program during the summer across three key corners in North Hairpin, Marsa Corner and around the W Hotel section, the shorter, faster lap will allow cars to run closer together and, by default, will give the drivers more opportunity to overtake in certain areas.

Pre-race simulations by a number of teams have shown that lap times may drop by as much as 13 seconds in total, a significant decrease that will be sure to throw up a few surprises as teams adjust to new lap times of around 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Teams will be looking to get to grips with the track during the three practice sessions, ahead of Saturday’s qualifying, as they approach at more than 300 km per hour for the first time the revised, sweeping corner at North Hairpin, and race wheel-to-wheel through the elevated Marsa Corner.

The new hotel section, with reduced “Constantine effect” that previously saw drivers bunch up, has new corners that should reduce tyre slide to keep drivers on the track, helping to maintain a more tightly packed field.

While overtaking is unlikely through this section, by staying closer to one another the revised layout tees up overtaking opportunities elsewhere around the lap.

As Sunday approaches, what is certain is that Yas Marina Circuit’s revised layout will provide even more action than ever, in what will be the most exciting finale in recent years.

Saudi, GCC entrants set to dominate in Hail

Saudi, GCC entrants set to dominate in Hail
Updated 07 December 2021

Saudi, GCC entrants set to dominate in Hail

Saudi, GCC entrants set to dominate in Hail
  • Twenty-six bikes and 10 quads will tackle the four desert sections laid on by the Saudi Arabian Motor and Motorcycle Federation

HAIL: Saudi Arabian and Gulf Cooperation Council country riders dominate the motorcycle and quad entry for this week’s Hail Cross-Country Rally, the four-day finale to the world’s 2021 off-road season.

While most attention this week in the north-central region of Saudi Arabia turns to the battle for FIA World Cup glory and the duel between Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez for the drivers’ title, the two-wheel protagonists will be looking for their own success in the absence of the world’s top cross-country riders.

Austria’s Matthias Walkner clinched the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship on a KTM and, as teams such as Honda, KTM, Sherco, Husqvarna, Yamaha and GasGas make their final preparations for the Dakar Rally, the stage is left open for regional riders to shine. 

Twenty-six bikes and 10 quads will tackle the four desert sections laid on by the Saudi Arabian Motor and Motorcycle Federation. 

The 2019 Sharqiya Baja winner Mishal Al-Ghuneim heads the two-wheel section on his Husqvarna FR 450 Rally and faces competition from the likes of fellow countrymen Fawaz Al-Toimi, Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera and Mohammed Al-Khater. 

Qatar is represented by Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani (Honda), Mohammed Al-Kaabi (Beta), Abdulrahman Al-Sheeb (Beta) and Ali Mubarak Al-Badi (Yamaha). 

Sarah Khuraibet finished fourth in the women’s category of the FIM Bajas World Cup and represents Kuwait on her Husqvarna, while Salman Farhan is the sole representative from Bahrain, also on a Husqvarna. 

With Mohammed Al-Balooshi missing the Hail event to finalize his Dakar preparations, Othman Al-Ghefeli leads the Emirati challenge on a Honda CRF. He is joined by Hamdan Al-Ali and Abdullah Lanjawi. Lebanon’s Ehab Al-Hakeem and Italy’s Mauro Torrini round off the international two-wheel contingent. 

Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi won the quad category in Hail on six occasions between 2014 and 2019 and the Yamaha Raptor 700 rider heads nine Saudi rivals that include Sultan Al-Masoud, 2021 Sharqiya Baja winner Hani Al-Noumesi, and Haitham Al-Tuwaijri, the 2021 FIM Bajas World Cup quad champion. 

Scrutineering and technical checks take place at the rally headquarters in Hail on Monday and Tuesday in advance of the ceremonial start at Maghwat, scheduled from 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Competitors will then tackle four desert stages from Dec. 8 to 11.