5 things to look out for at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar

Ali Mabkhout will look to break records, Lebanon can find a way to win and Qatar will be hoping to win silverware on home soil in FIFA Arab Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
Ali Mabkhout will look to break records, Lebanon can find a way to win and Qatar will be hoping to win silverware on home soil in FIFA Arab Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
Short Url
Updated 29 November 2021

5 things to look out for at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar

Ali Mabkhout will look to break records, Lebanon can find a way to win and Qatar will be hoping to win silverware on home soil in FIFA Arab Cup. (AFP/File Photos)
  • 16-nation tournament kicks off on Tuesday, will act as dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup

LONDON: The 2021 FIFA Arab Cup kicks off on Tuesday with 16 teams vying for the title in Qatar.

The tournament means different things to different competitors and here are five talking points ahead of it.

1. No Salah but many opportunities for Egypt to step up

For Egypt, the tournament is a big step in preparing to reach another competition in Qatar in November next year.

Carlos Queiroz took the job as head coach in September and led the team to the World Cup play-offs without much fuss. There will be no Mohamed Salah in this tournament and the country’s European-based stars will also be absent.

It will, therefore, be a chance for others to catch the eye of the Portuguese coach and for the well-travelled boss to check the country’s strength in depth.

Ultimately, however, Queiroz is not taking his eyes off the main prizes.

He said: “Our goal in the Arab Cup is to prepare the players for the World Cup qualifiers, and for the Africa Cup of Nations. This does not mean that we will not compete for the trophy, but the first and main goal is the World Cup. Ask any citizen and fan what they want, and they will say the World Cup.”

Any player who excels over the next three weeks could earn a place in the Africa Cup of Nations squad in January.

“We have a base of players from which to choose for the two World Cup qualifiers, and I am prepared to include any player who performs well,” Queiroz added.

2. A chance for Qatar to lift silverware on home soil

The World Cup hosts have played in more competitions than most in the past year or so, appearing at the Copa America and also the Gold Cup, Concacaf’s big tournament.

But with the World Cup taking place on home soil, the Maroons have had to sit and watch as Asian rivals go through the grueling final round of qualification.

The team have an all-Asian group and a strong squad with Akram Afif, Almoez Ali, and all the rest and that should be enough to get past Bahrain, Oman, and Iraq and into the knockout stage.

The Asian champions will be hoping to go all the way and lift the trophy in the final on Dec. 18. Winning silverware in an international tournament on home soil would only boost confidence ahead of the big event in less than a year.

3. Ali Mabkhout can close the gap on Cristiano Ronaldo

The UAE have not been impressive so far in the final round of qualification for the World Cup. The somewhat fortuitous win over Lebanon in November was the first victory in the sixth game in the group. Automatic qualification is not going to happen but a route to Qatar still exists through the play-offs.

The team need to improve, however, and games against Syria, Mauritania, and Tunisia are a great opportunity for Bert van Marwijk to take charge of his team in a competitive tournament but one that does not have the pressure to win that comes with other events.

One issue to be solved is that of Ali Mabkhout. The team is too reliant on the striker but understandably so to an extent, as he has scored 14 goals in 13 games so far this year. With 79 international goals, he is now just one behind Lionel Messi and Sunil Chhetri. If Mabkhout scores twice then he will be the second-highest active international scorer though he will have some way to go to catch Cristiano Ronaldo on 115.

4. Lebanon can find a way to win

On Sunday, Youssef Mohamed, the technical director of the Lebanon national team as well as a former captain, said that the Cedars should aim to lift the trophy. He admitted that it was a long shot but not impossible. After all, in World Cup qualification Lebanon could be, even should be, sitting clear in third place of their group in the final round but four points were dropped late in the games against Iran, and the UAE.

The team need to find a way to make the most of these situations. Coach Ivan Hasek has them working hard, well-drilled, and organized but the Arab Cup is a great opportunity to try a more expansive plan.

Lebanon need to add a little variety to their attack and to try and keep the ball more — their possession rate was a measly 29 percent against the UAE. Had the ball been shared around a little more equally there would have been less pressure on the defense and maybe the whole penalty incident could have been avoided.

5. It is a perfect time for a World Cup rehearsal

A year before the World Cup it is usually time for the Confederations Cup. It was always going to be difficult to have that dress rehearsal with teams from around the world at this time. The Arab Cup, then, will offer a glimpse of how the first World Cup in the Arab world will look.

Fans and journalists will be able to get an idea of what it will be like, after World Cups in huge countries such as Russia, Brazil, and South Africa, to attend a tournament in a small country where it is possible, with a little planning, to watch two games a day.

It is to be hoped that there are some good games but more importantly, a feel-good factor among fans and good atmospheres in stadiums.


Tottenham stages latest-ever comeback to win an EPL game

Tottenham stages latest-ever comeback to win an EPL game
Updated 20 sec ago

Tottenham stages latest-ever comeback to win an EPL game

Tottenham stages latest-ever comeback to win an EPL game
  • As an extra reward for Tottenham, the victory took the team above fierce rival Arsenal and into fifth place in the league

LEICESTER, Britain: Tottenham staged the latest-ever comeback to win a Premier League game on Wednesday.
Manchester United’s second-half turnaround was quite the surprise, too.
On a dramatic night in England’s top flight, Tottenham was losing to Leicester after 94 minutes and 52 seconds. Within two minutes, Steven Bergwijn had scored two goals to seal a 3-2 win pretty much out of nowhere.
As an extra reward for Tottenham, the victory took the team above fierce rival Arsenal and into fifth place in the league — only one point off the Champions League positions with games in hand.
“My team showed they don’t want to give up and until the end we have to fight,” said Tottenham manager Antonio Conte, whose unbeaten league record at the London club was preserved.
The previous latest comeback came in arguably the Premier League’s most famous game, when Manchester City scored in the 92nd and 94th minutes to beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 and clinch the title in May 2012.
As for Man United, Ralf Rangnick’s under-pressure team put in a wretched first-half display at Brentford and was lucky to be 0-0 at halftime, only for Anthony Elanga — with his first Premier League goal — Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford to score after the break in a 3-1 win. Ivan Toney pulled a late goal back for Brentford.
United stayed seventh but is one point behind Tottenham having played two games more.


Man United beats Brentford 3-1 after 2nd-half turnaround

Man United beats Brentford 3-1 after 2nd-half turnaround
Updated 40 min 38 sec ago

Man United beats Brentford 3-1 after 2nd-half turnaround

Man United beats Brentford 3-1 after 2nd-half turnaround
  • United stayed in seventh place, but is only two points behind fourth-place West Ham in the race for Champions League qualification

LONDON: Manchester United staged a second-half turnaround as goals from Anthony Elanga, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford earned a 3-1 win at Brentford to boost the team’s top-four ambitions in the Premier League on Wednesday.
It was another less-than-convincing display from United, though, with Cristiano Ronaldo ostensibly far from impressed at being substituted with 20 minutes left.
Elanga, a 19-year-old winger starting only his fourth Premier League match, broke the deadlock in the 55th minute after Brentford had wasted a host of chances to take the lead in the first half.
Greenwood then notched his first Premier League goal since October, tapping in from Bruno Fernandes’ pass, to make it 2-0 in the 62nd and Rashford climbed off the bench to add the third in the 77th for a first league win of 2022.
It was a tough blow for Brentford, which had dominated the first league meeting between these sides since 1946 but only had Ivan Toney’s late consolation to show for it.
United stayed in seventh place, but is only two points behind fourth-place West Ham in the race for Champions League qualification.


Egypt make Cup of Nations last 16 as Cape Verde, Malawi advance

Egypt make Cup of Nations last 16 as Cape Verde, Malawi advance
Updated 20 January 2022

Egypt make Cup of Nations last 16 as Cape Verde, Malawi advance

Egypt make Cup of Nations last 16 as Cape Verde, Malawi advance
  • Egypt defeated neighbors Sudan 1-0 — a result which sent Cape Verde and Malawi through
  • Nigeria finished Group D with a third successive win as they beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0

YAOUNDÉ: Seven-time champions Egypt clinched a place in the Africa Cup of Nations last 16 on Wednesday by defeating neighbors Sudan 1-0, a result which sent Cape Verde and Malawi through as well.
Nigeria finished Group D with a third successive win as they beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0, leaving Egypt to face the winners of Group E in the next round, and a potential clash with Ivory Coast in Douala.
Mohamed Abdelmonem headed home the winner at a corner 10 minutes before half-time in Yaounde to send the Pharaohs through and eliminate Sudan.
Egypt’s victory guaranteed Cape Verde and Malawi will qualify as two of the four best third-placed sides. It is the first time Malawi have reached the knockout rounds of the tournament.
Three-time former winners Nigeria continued their fine start to the competition by sweeping aside Guinea-Bissau courtesy of second-half goals from Umar Sadiq and captain William Troost-Ekong.
The Super Eagles will stay in Garoua to play a third-placed team in the last 16 on Sunday.
Cape Verde will take on Sadio Mane’s Senegal in Bafoussam on January 25, while Morocco await Malawi on the same day in Yaounde.


Tunisia hit by 12 Covid cases at Cup of Nations: federation

Tunisia hit by 12 Covid cases at Cup of Nations: federation
Updated 20 January 2022

Tunisia hit by 12 Covid cases at Cup of Nations: federation

Tunisia hit by 12 Covid cases at Cup of Nations: federation
  • 12 players in the 28-man squad contracted Covid-19, Tunisian football federation said on Facebook
  • Key player Wahbi Khazri is among the players to test positive

TUNIS: Tunisia’s preparations for their final Africa Cup of Nations group match against Gambia were thrown into disarray after 12 players in the 28-man squad contracted Covid-19, the country’s football federation said Wednesday.
Key player Wahbi Khazri is among the players to test positive.
“This evening (Wednesday) the players took part in a training session with 16 players present and the rest absent due to Covid-19 contamination,” the federation said on its Facebook page.
The federation also said: “Tuesday, the tests revealed the contamination of Ali Maaloul, Aymen Dahmen, Ghailene Chaalali, Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane, Wahbi Khazri, Ali Jemal and Mohamed Amine Ben Hmida who have been isolated from the group.”
Right-back Mohamed Drager has though recovered from the virus and Tunisia are hoping that five other players, positive since the start of the tournament, will test negative before Thursday’s game.
Tunisia, the 2004 winners, need to at least draw their final Group F match to be sure of qualification for the last 16.
The Carthage Eagles bounced back from their controversial opening 1-0 loss to Mali, when the referee blew the final whistle early, by thrashing Mauritania 4-0 in their second game.


Expectations high for Godolphin in week 2 of Dubai World Cup Carnival

Week two and seven more races at the Dubai World Cup Carnival sees horses from 10 countries clash at Meydan Racecourse. (AFP/File Photo)
Week two and seven more races at the Dubai World Cup Carnival sees horses from 10 countries clash at Meydan Racecourse. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 19 January 2022

Expectations high for Godolphin in week 2 of Dubai World Cup Carnival

Week two and seven more races at the Dubai World Cup Carnival sees horses from 10 countries clash at Meydan Racecourse. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Meydan Racecourse’s 7 races will see runners from 10 countries including Greece, France, UK and Sweden

 

DUBAI: Remember how in last week’s column I mentioned how international the Dubai World Cup Carnival is? Well, that certainly proved to be the case on opening night, when we had wins for horses based in Uruguay (Bet Law, you read it here first, by the way) and France, with Pevensey Bay.

Now we are on to week two and seven more races, in which horses from 10 countries are set to clash at Meydan Racecourse. We welcome back the lesser-known racing nation of Greece with one runner, Revamp, for trainer Christos Theodorakis, while trainer Mohamed Saeed brings runners from Bahrain for the first time. There is also a strong contingent from Sweden, the UK and France.

Despite this welcome international flavor, this will be a good week for Godolphin. The excellent card has three Group races, including the Group 2 Al-Fahidi Fort which has gone to the “boys in blue” in each of the last four seasons. In 2021, it went to Land Of Legends, who will defend his title for Saeed Bin Suroor, although Charlie Appleby also holds a strong hand, with Naval Crown and La Barrosa. Naval Crown, a winner here last season, is the pick of stable jockey William Buick and will be hard to beat.

Godolphin might also be able to land the Group 2 Al-Rashidiya, race four, although a certain grey gelding will have something to say about that. The popular Lord Glitters, trained in the UK by David O’Meara, is two from five at Meydan, with both of those wins coming last year in the Group 2 Singspiel Stakes and the Group 1 Jebel Hatta. He won a strong edition of the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy when we last saw him in November, and he will not be far away again. His main rival looks to be Art Du Val, who returns to the Carnival for a fourth time.

The Group 3 Dubawi Stakes, race six, will not go to Godolphin, because they do not have a runner. It might well go to Doug Watson, who has two, with Canvassed resuming off a 10-month break and Al-Tariq coming here off a Jebel Ali win in November. Both are capable of landing this, as is Freedom Fighter, a new recruit to Bhupat Seemar, who is Grade 2-placed in the US.

Perhaps the race most likely to go to the internationals is the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, race three, which has two runners from Uruguay: The unbeaten Kiefer and Quality Boone, a winner here in December. However, they must concede weight to Appleby’s Albahr, a Group 1 winner when last seen in September. If adapting to the dirt, he should give the South Americans most to think about. Steinar, two from two in Sweden, is also an interesting runner for dual Carnival-winning handler Susanne Berneklint.

The most Instagrammed runner on the night will be JJ Jumbo, who lines up in the Dubai Trophy. Trained in Ireland by Darren Bunyan, he is owned by TV presenter Sultan Harib and has become something of a social media star since arriving in Dubai. Watch out for him in the first race – you will not miss his big white face.