Tottenham beaten by Slovenia’s Mura, West Ham advances

Tottenham beaten by Slovenia’s Mura, West Ham advances
West Ham's Arthur Masuaku, left, controls the ball by Rapid Wien's Kelvin Arase during the Europa League group H soccer match between Rapid Wien and West Ham United. (AP)
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Updated 26 November 2021

Tottenham beaten by Slovenia’s Mura, West Ham advances

Tottenham beaten by Slovenia’s Mura, West Ham advances

Ten-man Tottenham conceded a late goal and fell to a humbling 2-1 loss to lowly Slovenian team NS Mura in the Europa Conference League on Thursday, a result that puts the London club in danger of being eliminated from the third-tier competition.
Amadej Maroša scored for Mura four minutes into stoppage time in Maribor, finishing off a quick counterattack with a shot that was deflected and looped into the net. It was a big blow for new Tottenham manager Antonio Conte, whose team now likely needs a win over group winner Rennes in the last round to have a chance of advancing.
“This a bad loss for us,” Conte said. “The performance was poor. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said. “We were poor not only technically and tactically but also mentally. It will take time to bring Tottenham back.”
In the same competition, Jose Mourinho’s Roma routed Zorya Luhansk 4-0 at Stadio Olimpico to stay in contention for the first place in Group C.
LASK, Gent and Alkmaar also made the next round.
In the Europa League, West Ham clinched top spot in Group H with a game to spare with a 2-0 victory at Rapid Vienna. Bayer Leverkusen also sealed a place in the round of 16 after coming back from 2-1 down to beat Celtic 3-2 in Group G.
Monaco also won its group.
Only the eight group winners go straight into the round of 16 — the runners-up enter playoffs with the eight teams who finish in third place in the Champions League groups.
A similar system operates for the third-place Europa League teams dropping down into the Europa Conference League.
Mura had lost its first four group games but went ahead in the 11th minute when Tomi Horvat scored into the roof of the net. Tottenham, one of the big favorites to win the first edition of the competition, then had Ryan Sessegnon sent off in the 32nd with a second yellow card.
Harry Kane equalized from a narrow angle in the 72nd but Tottenham then needlessly gave Mura the chance to counter in the final seconds.
Rennes won Group G with 11 points after a 3-3 draw against Vitesse Arnhem, which is tied with Tottenham on seven.
Cyriel Dessers scored his second goal in stoppage time to secure a 2-2 draw for Feyenoord at Slavia Prague, which was enough for the Dutch side to clinch first place in Group E.
Copenhagen topped Group F after routing Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps 4-0.
First-half goals from Carles Pérez and Nicolò Zaniolo gave Roma a comfortable cushion in the first half before Jordan Veretout missed a golden opportunity to make it 3-0 from the spot, the second straight penalty he saw saved following one against Juventus. Tammy Abraham added two more goals in the second, including one from an overhead kick.
Group leader Bodø/Glimt of Norway earned a 2-0 home win over CSKA Sofia to sit one point ahead of Roma.
LASK won 1-0 away at Maccabi Tel-Aviv in a game that decided the winner of Group A.
Gent clinched top spot in Group B despite a 1-0 loss at Anorthosis after Partizan’s 1-0 away defeat to Flora.
AZ Alkmaar won Group D after a 1-1 draw at Czech side Jablonec.
West Ham forward Andriy Yarmolenko headed in the opener in the 40th minute in Vienna and captain Mark Noble converted a spot kick in first-half injury time to put West Ham in control. West Ham tops Group H with 13 points, six ahead of Dinamo Zagreb.
Celtic was leading until Robert Andrich scored his second goal for Leverkusen in the 82nd minute, and Moussa Diaby hit a volley from the edge of the box past goalkeeper Joe Hart for the winner in the 87th off a cutback pass from young attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz.
Betis secured a playoff spot in the same Group G after beating Ferencvaros 2-0.
Leicester stayed on course to win Group C after a 3-1 victory over Legia Warsaw in a game that saw Polish away fans clash with police in the stands.
Patson Daka, James Maddison and Wilfred Ndidi all scored in the first half for Leicester.
Mahir Emreli missed a penalty for Legia at 2-0 before Filip Mladenović reduced the hosts’ lead to 2-1.
Leicester is one point ahead of Spartak Moscow and Napoli and plays at the Italian club in the last round.
Monaco won Group B thanks to a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad, with all three goals scored in the span of 10 minutes in the first half.
Alexander Isak answered Monaco’s opener by Kevin Volland before Youssouf Fofana sealed the win.
Already qualified for the next round, Lyon made it five wins from five after a 3-1 away victory at Brøndby in Group A.
Rangers clinched second place in the group with a 2-0 win over Sparta Prague in Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s first game in charge.


Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race
Updated 01 December 2021

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal briefed on the completed preparations for Saudi F1 race
  • The Jeddah Corniche is the starting and ending point for the race

Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, adviser to King Salman, was briefed on the latest preparations for the Saudi Formula One race, which will be hosted by Jeddah Corniche from Dec. 3 to 5.

Al-Faisal listened to an explanation by Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal about the 27-turn, 6,175-meter-long circuit, the second-longest track in F1 history. 

Prince Khalid, who is the president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, confirmed the completion of the preparations for hosting the F1 race.

The Jeddah Corniche is the starting and ending point for the race. Prince Khalid expressed his pride that the Kingdom is among the 23 countries hosting this great sporting event.

He also praised the Saudi leadership’s great support for sports, which made the Kingdom a major destination for global sporting events. He thanked Prince Khaled for his guidance and support to make this event a huge success.


Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League
Updated 01 December 2021

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League

Why clubs will welcome biggest shakeup in decades for AFC Champions League
  • Continent’s premier club competition set for autumn-spring schedule switch in 2023, increase in number of foreigners allowed in squads

RIYADH: Only days after Al-Hilal may have just made history by winning a record fourth Asian title, the AFC Champions League’s future is set to look very different as there are some significant changes already in place for the 2023 edition.

The Asian Football Confederation, which operates the competition that expanded from 32 to 40 teams this year, is set to officially approve a shift in the tournament’s calendar for the first time in almost two decades.

Instead of running from spring to autumn, the event will soon mirror its European equivalent by switching to an autumn start and a spring finish.

On Nov. 21, AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, said: “I am pleased to note that the AFC competitions continue to grow. There will be changes to the rules on foreign players, as well as to our competitions calendar. These are all part of the strategy to improve our players, clubs, and national teams on the world stage.”

The calendar change, expected to be rolled out in 2023, will return the tournament to its original schedule that was mapped out 20 years ago.

“The AFC Champions League was launched in 2002 and the inaugural season kicked off in August 2002 with its scheduled completion by May 2003,” the AFC said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the outbreak of the respiratory illness SARS in Asia forced a postponement.

“Following this setback, the competition was relaunched in 2004 and the calendar was changed to February to December 2004, while the AFC Cup in 2004 took place from February to November 2004, leading to an adoption of the spring-autumn season,” the AFC said.

Ever since that initial change, there have been repeated requests for another look at the schedules and with a recent feasibility study being well-received, it all means that the changes will be agreed upon next year.

East Asian nations are especially happy with the change. Under the present format, the knockout stages come toward the end of the busy domestic seasons in China, South Korea, and Japan. Had Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai won their semi-final against Pohang Steelers in October, the defending Asian champions would have had to travel to Riyadh for the final during the climax of the K-League title race and at the end of a grueling year.

A spring final would mean fresher eastern squads who would be just two or three months into their seasons as opposed to eight or nine.

For clubs in West Asia, it may present more of a challenge as domestic campaigns reach their zenith around the same time.

Until the final, the tournament is split into two geographic zones, east and west. That means that for much of the schedule, teams in each zone are in similar positions but the timing of the final, especially if it returns to a two-legged affair, tends to favor teams from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and elsewhere as they are just two or three months into their domestic seasons and approaching peak condition.

There are reasons for a switch that should benefit all. The AFC is confident that aligning the Asian calendar with much of the rest of the world, especially Europe, will make a difference financially, “for AFC Champions League and AFC Cup matches in terms of TV audiences and media interest with respect to the calendar structures of UEFA club competitions and European leagues.”

There are other changes that Saudi Arabia have pushed through. As reported by Arab News in November, the proposal from Riyadh to increase the number of foreign players that are allowed to play in the tournament has been accepted, only the precise format remains to be discussed.

At present, each team in the continental competition can register just four foreign players in its squad under the 3 plus 1 rule which means three imports can come from anywhere in the world and one from a fellow Asian nation. With 11 leagues around the continent allowing more imports for their domestic competition — including the Saudi Professional League, which has a full quota of seven — the AFC rule has increasingly become a point of contention.

“The current 3 plus 1 foreign player rule under which a club can field a maximum of four international players at any given point in time during a match is set to make way for a more augmented combination,” the AFC said.

“The proposed new combinations — 4 plus 2, 5 plus 1, or 5 plus 2 — have received wide support from both the AFC competitions committee and the AFC technical committee, with the decision imminent in early 2022 for implementation from 2023 onwards.” The changes will be confirmed early next year.

For major countries in Asian football, a revamped AFC Champions League should benefit all and help lift the tournament to the next level.


Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle
Updated 01 December 2021

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle
  • A 1-1 draw against fellow relegation battlers Norwich had plenty of positives for Eddie Howe’s 10 men, but still fell short of the desperately needed win

NEWCASTLE: The unmentionable, what neither the fans nor the new owners dare think about, gets ever nearer for Newcastle United.

And, this time, it feels more self-inflicted than ever.

Eddie Howe’s black and white army — urged on continuously by a vociferous crowd from minute one to minute 90 (+6) at St. James’ Park — showed fight and commitment. Pain, passion, bodies on the line.

They had it all. They even scored, went into the lead — and had a VAR decision go in their favor.

Three points, though? That remains as elusive as ever.

And while they can explain away yet another two points dropped on home turf against a newly promoted struggler, mainly due to Ciaran Clark’s still inexplicable decision-making in his ninth-minute sending off, facts do not lie. This was yet another two points dropped. Yet another game ticked off without a win. Yet another opportunity gone begging.

Howe, in his assessment of the game-altering red, said: “It wasn’t the ideal start to the game, that’s for sure.

“I think that was a really difficult moment so early in the match to be down to 10 men,” he said. “In the cold light of day, I think Ciaran would have taken a different decision, but in that moment (it was) probably an impulse has just made him stop the striker.

“These things happen in the game. My immediate reaction was to not focus on that, it was to figure out very quickly what we had to do and try to find a solution to the problem,” Howe said. “Last thing I wanted to do was take Ryan Fraser off the pitch, but I felt I needed to do that for the team. Fede (Federico Fernandez) came on and I thought he was absolutely magnificent.

“Apologies to Ryan but Fede came in and made a big difference.”

Sadly, stepping into reality for a second here, Newcastle’s opportunities will soon run out. The “R” word has never been so glaringly in focus on Tyneside as it appears this year. Things didn’t get this bad in 2009, nor in 2016, the only two times the Magpies have been relegated from the English Premier League.

Never has a team, in Premier League history, risen from a 14-game winless start to the season to remain in the division a year later. United and Howe will have to write their own little piece of history this campaign if they are to break that record, which has stood for nearly 30 years.

Callum Wilson, United’s newly appointed captain, looked to have lifted the gloom on Tyneside — which now stretches to 15 games in all competitions — with his 61st-minute penalty, awarded after a handball was picked out by VAR. However, a Teemu Pukki volley, with about 12 minutes remaining, punctured what was building into a crescendo at SJP.

That goal, excellently taken by the flying Finn, was everything Irishman Clark deserved, but not one of the teammates he left out there, who to a man ran themselves into the ground for the cause.

Joelinton, Javier Manquillo and Jonjo Shelvey, so often criticized by fans, left their heart and soul out on the park. Fernandez, whose year has been massively impacted by a bout of COVID-19, was imperious.

“I thought the players responded magnificently. They gave everything, I can’t fault any of them for the effort and commitment they’ve given in the match,” said Howe.

“It was hugely disappointing we couldn’t get over the line and win the game, but I think we saw a really positive sign in terms of resilience and collective spirit, which we’re going to need for what lies ahead.”

Barrel loads of positives, yet only one more point on the board. Two less than was needed. Howe’s words, not mine.

The gap at the bottom of the table remains six points, but a late, late Leeds United win against Crystal Palace was another moment that felt like a nail in the coffin.

It now feels like a win against Burnley on Saturday or bust for Newcastle United’s season.

What remains in the afterlife for the Magpies is not set in stone. But their day of reckoning is upon them, it feels. And anything short of three points against the traditionally tough, physical, Sean Dyche-driven Clarets, who sit one place and two points better off than Newcastle ahead of their trip to Wolves on Wednesday night, would surely see a wave of realization sweep the banks of the Tyne, if it hasn’t already. Although a point would feel like an emotional stay of execution in many ways.

Relegation is the word no one wants to utter, but it is staring everyone square in the face.

The releasing of the Mike Ashley shackles, the arrival of the Public Investment Fund and Amanda Staveley with their belief, their understanding and their riches, the binning of the old regime’s neglectful, apologist Steve Bruce and the coming of a manager, Howe, with fresh ideas, impetus and vigor. It was all meant to see change. It was all meant to see a lift. None of it has. Improvement, yes. Three points, no.

And so United flounder. Their worst start in history and then some. Gone are the bounds of Mr. Sports Direct, but the remnants born of his derelict near-15 years in charge live on. This is PIF’s world we now live in, but it too is counting the cost of Ashley’s painful decade and a half. No amount of riches can seemingly save United now, not with January still a long month away.


Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
Updated 30 November 2021

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
  • Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million in August
  • "Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he'll get that," said Gerrard

LONDON: Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard said on Tuesday Jack Grealish has earned the right to a warm reception when he returns to Villa Park for the first time as a Manchester City player this week.
Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million ($133 million) in August after making over 200 appearances for his boyhood club since making his debut aged 18.
The England international has been sidelined in recent weeks, but returned to training on Monday and could feature against his former club.
“Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he’ll get that,” said Gerrard, who has made a perfect start to his Premier League coaching career with two wins from two games.
“This is his club and it will be when his career is over, because he was here as a little boy and he has come through the academy.
“The club have benefited a lot from what Jack has given and we very much wish him well moving forward for the remainder of his career. Obviously not for 90 minutes tomorrow,” he added before Wednesday’s fixture.
Back-to-back wins over Brighton and Crystal Palace have propelled Villa seven points clear of the relegation zone.
However, Gerrard is well aware of the step up in class his side face when the champions come calling.
“The two wins have helped in terms of the feel-good factor around the place,” said the former Liverpool captain.
“But we’re aware that a real good side is coming into town and this will be a big acid test for us.”


Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
Updated 30 November 2021

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
  • 4-time Major winner last took part in tournament at Emirates Golf Club in 2018

DUBAI: Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy will return to Emirates Golf Club in January aiming to win his third Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic title.

The Northern Irishman will be looking to add to his impressive record in Dubai at what will be the second Rolex Series event of the 2022 DP World Tour season.

The 32-year-old will be back at the event for the first time since 2018 when he came close to adding to the titles he won in 2009 and 2015, finishing just one shot behind winner Li Haotong. McIlroy has an enviable record over the Majlis course with a further six top-10 finishes in 11 previous appearances.

And he has enjoyed many other memorable moments in Dubai throughout his illustrious career, winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2012 and 2015 and topping the season-long DP World Rankings three times – in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

McIlroy adds further star power to a strong field at the 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, which will include world No. 2 and newly crowned DP World Rankings winner Collin Morikawa, fellow Major winner and 2017 Dubai Desert Classic winner Sergio Garcia, and defending champion Paul Casey.

It will also be the first year that the Dubai Desert Classic has been elevated to Rolex Series status, becoming part of the DP World Tour’s premium series of events, and also the first time it has been sponsored by logistics technology provider Slync.io.

The 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be the second of back-to-back Rolex Series events in the region, following the season opener in Abu Dhabi in January, and it will form part of the traditional Desert Swing.

McIlroy said: “I’m looking forward to getting back to Emirates Golf Club for the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in 2022.

“I have so many wonderful memories from playing in Dubai over the years, and particularly over the Majlis course, where I’ve been able to win twice. I look forward to coming back to Dubai and aiming to get my hands on that incredible trophy again.”

Chris Kirchner, chairman and chief executive officer of Slync.io, said: “As a fan of golf, it’s important that we bring a field that other fans will enjoy. Rory is one of my favorite players and I’m thrilled to have him as part of the inaugural title partnership for Slync.io.”

Simon Corkill, Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic executive tournament director, said: “The addition of Rory McIlroy to an already strong field emphasizes the pedigree of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.

“As one of the most talented golfers in the world he brings plenty of energy and excitement to the tournament. We look forward to seeing Rory battle it out with Collin Morikawa, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and others in a truly world-class field at this year’s event.”

The tournament’s organizers have also confirmed that entry to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be free to all.

Corkill added: “With the UAE set to celebrate its Golden Jubilee, we are delighted to announce that entry will be free for all golf fans over the four days of the tournament.

“This decision was made in recognition of this special moment in the UAE’s history, while also giving something back to sports fans following the challenges that have been faced in 2020 and 2021.

“What better way to celebrate than through a truly global sporting event on our doorstep which everyone can enjoy?”

Celebrating its 33rd edition in 2022, the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic has been won by some of golf’s greatest names, including Major champions Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, McIlroy, Danny Willett, Garcia, and Bryson DeChambeau.

The winner’s circle over the past 32 years has also featured Ryder Cup stars Mark James, the inaugural champion in 1989, Eamonn Darcy, Colin Montgomerie, David Howell, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and Stephen Gallacher.