FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea
Al-Hilal claimed a record fourth AFC Champions League title after beating Pohang Steelers 2-0 last week in Riyadh. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 November 2021

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea

FIFA Club World Cup draw puts Al-Hilal on course for semi-final meeting with Chelsea
  • Saudi, Asian champions will have to beat playoff winner Al-Jazira or Auckland for right to face European title holders

RIYADH: What better test for the most successful team in the history of Asian football than to take on the European champions and, probably the current best team in the world, in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup?

Having claimed a record fourth AFC Champions League title after beating Pohang Steelers 2-0 last week in Riyadh, Al-Hilal are on course to meet Chelsea if they win their second-round match.

Apart from a clash with the English Premier League side in the final, this is the next best thing, and it is very much on the cards in early February after Monday’s draw.

The date is to be confirmed as is the game itself. Al-Hilal will have to overcome the winner of the Feb. 3 clash between New Zealand’s Auckland City and Al-Jazira of the UAE but the prospect of Chelsea lying in wait is an enticing one.

At the moment, the Blues are top of the Premier League and looking very ominous indeed. Thomas Tuchel has turned the London team into a machine and one that many outside Saudi Arabia would expect to dismiss Al-Hilal without much of a thought.

It was always thus. No Asian champion has yet defeated their European equivalent in the FIFA Club World Cup but surely, one day, that is going to happen. With Al-Hilal the best team in Asia at the moment and the tournament taking place in the UAE, there are reasons to be confident.

With attacking players at the level of Bafetimbi Gomis, Moussa Marega, Matheus Pereira, Salem Al-Dawsari, Salman Al-Faraj and others, there is the offensive capability to worry any team in the world. The question is, of course, whether the defense will be able to keep the $130 million Romelu Lukaku and the likes of Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech, and Reece James at bay.

Before that, Al-Jazira will be expected to beat Auckland, especially on home soil.

The Abu Dhabi outfit have a fine record at the Club World Cup. In 2017, they reached the semi-final. That also started with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Auckland and then, Al-Hilal should beware, a victory over the Asian champions, Urawa Reds of Japan. In the semi-final, the Emirati side, incredibly, took the lead against the mighty Real Madrid. It took second half strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to win the game for the most successful club in European history.

The prospect of taking on the Saudi champions is a welcome one for the UAE champs.

Following the draw, Al-Jazira’s Dutch boss Marcel Keizer said: “Our first match against Auckland City will not be easy. We will face a team that depends on physical strength, and we hope to reach the next round.”

Then comes a much bigger occasion. “If we qualify, we will meet Al-Hilal, and it will be a difficult match, especially as it is the champion of Asia and a strong team, but we are ready to play a good match, and it will be an exciting and beautiful confrontation,” he added.

Al-Hilal at least have recent experience in this tournament, finishing in fourth place at the 2019 edition. Gomis scored the only goal of the game against Esperance de Tunis to dump the African champions out. There was a 3-1 loss in the semi-final to South American giants Flamengo, having managed a 1-0 lead at the break thanks to Al-Dawsari.

It was a solid showing but not something to be completely satisfied with. The issue for Asian teams in the Club World Cup is whether it is better to have the glamour tie against the European champions or try to go all the way.

After winning the Asian title, Al-Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim said: “We play every game to win it. We know there will be strong teams in the Club World Cup, and we’ll not be favorites, but our objective will be to win as many matches as possible.”

Just playing the likes of Chelsea should not be the ultimate aim. That has to be to lift the trophy. And that is what former Saudi international Faisal Abu Thaneen was talking about as he reacted to the draw.

He said: “One day, this goal of winning the Club World Cup will be achieved. Raising the ceiling of your ambition and setting lofty goals makes you work hard to make it a tangible reality.”

The ex-Hilal star is right. The Riyadh giants are good enough to be excited at the prospect of playing a competitive match against Chelsea but also good enough to aim past the semi-final to try and go all the way.

At present, Saudi football is flying high in Asia. The Green Falcons are the continent’s in-form team and Al-Hilal have just won a record fourth Asian title. Chelsea may be a tough challenge, but this Saudi powerhouse are no pushovers.


International Olympic Committee renews Saudi Arabian memberships for next four years

International Olympic Committee renews Saudi Arabian memberships for next four years
Updated 53 min 7 sec ago

International Olympic Committee renews Saudi Arabian memberships for next four years

International Olympic Committee renews Saudi Arabian memberships for next four years

RIYADH: The International Olympic Committee on Friday announced that it is renewing three memberships for Saudi Arabia for the next four years, while adding a new fourth membership, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
IOC President Dr. Thomas Bach said the three committee memberships that have been renewed include Minister of Sport and President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal as a member of the Marketing Commission.
The IOC renewed the membership of SOPC Vice President Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz as vice president of the Commission for Public Affairs and Social Development.
Saudi ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar, who is a member of the IOC and board member of SOPC, was granted a new membership in the Sustainability and Legacy Commission, in addition to renewing her previous membership in the Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Commission and the Coordination Commission for the Brisbane 2032 Olympics.

 


The Kingdom’s renewed and additional membership in the IOC, the largest and most important sports organization in the world, comes within the framework of strengthening and raising the number of Saudi capabilities in international organizations, in line with the Kingdom’s expanding sporting sector and in accordance with the objectives of its Vision 2030.
On Friday, the IOC also announced that Bach had appointed an equal number of women and men to the commissions for this year, marking “a historic milestone in the committee’s efforts to increase gender balance at its governance level.”

 


Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and NBA launch official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and NBA launch official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022
Updated 30 September 2022

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and NBA launch official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and NBA launch official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022
  • Burj Khalifa light projection marks a week until 1st ever NBA Games in the Arabian Gulf
  • The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will feature the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena

ABU DHABI: The iconic Burj Khalifa was on Friday lit by the logo of The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 that are set to start on Oct. 6 in the capital of the UAE.
Hundreds of excited spectators gathered to look on as the logo of the historic event was displayed on the skyscraper’s façade, accompanied by a stunning light show event.
The event was held in celebration of the official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022, the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) – Abu Dhabi and the National Basketball Association (NBA).
A countdown clock was briefly displayed with eye-catching lights beamed onto Burj Khalifa, creating yet another milestone in the history of one of the most popular sports leagues in the world.
The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will feature the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 6 and Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. GST, marking the league’s first games in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf.
The games are part of a ground-breaking multiyear collaboration between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi.
A media statement said the “NBA District,” an immersive, interactive fan event in conjunction with The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022, will be held at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi from Oct. 5 and Oct. 9. NBA District will showcase the music, media and art associated with NBA culture. Fans will be able to engage with NBA personalities from around the world, watch authentic NBA game entertainment, enjoy hands-on basketball activities, and purchase limited-edition NBA merchandise.
Fans can purchase tickets to the NBA District and the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 by visiting NBAEvents.com/AbuDhabi and follow @NBAArabic on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates, news and content in Arabic.


CAS asked to judge Ecuador case by 10 days before World Cup

CAS asked to judge Ecuador case by 10 days before World Cup
Updated 30 September 2022

CAS asked to judge Ecuador case by 10 days before World Cup

CAS asked to judge Ecuador case by 10 days before World Cup
  • CAS said it registered appeals by the Chilean and Peruvian soccer federations against a FIFA ruling this month
  • Chile officials claim to have documents proving Castillo is actually Colombian

LAUSANNE, Switzerland: Sport’s highest court has been asked to judge a case that aims to remove Ecuador from the World Cup by no later than Nov. 10.
Just 10 days before the team should face host Qatar in the opening game.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport said it registered appeals by the Chilean and Peruvian soccer federations against a FIFA ruling this month that Ecuador defender Byron Castillo was in fact eligible to play in the eight qualifying games he was selected for.
CAS gave no timetable for appointing judges and organizing a hearing, though said both parties appealing asked for a final award by Nov. 10.
Chile officials claim to have documents proving Castillo is actually Colombian and that Ecuador should forfeit all eight games he played in as 3-0 losses.
That legal argument was dismissed by FIFA’s disciplinary committee in June and upheld by FIFA appeal judges two weeks ago.
Ecuador placed fourth in the South American qualifying group in March and claimed a direct World Cup entry. Days later they was drawn into Group A with Qatar – playing the host on Nov. 20 in Doha — Netherlands and Senegal.
If the qualifying games were forfeited, the revised points totals would lift Chile to fourth from seventh.
Peru placed fifth and have asked CAS to get Ecuador’s entry as the next highest placed South American team. Peru already lost an intercontinental playoff to Australia in June.


France’s Kamara to miss World Cup due to knee injury

France’s Kamara to miss World Cup due to knee injury
Updated 30 September 2022

France’s Kamara to miss World Cup due to knee injury

France’s Kamara to miss World Cup due to knee injury
  • Kamara was injured while playing for Aston Villa against Southampton this month

BIRMINGHAM, England: France midfielder Boubacar Kamara has been ruled out of the World Cup after sustaining knee ligament damage.
Kamara was injured while playing for Aston Villa in a 1-0 win against Southampton this month.
The 22-year-old Kamara was picked in France’s Nations League games this month but had to withdraw.
Villa manager Steven Gerrard confirmed the extent of Kamara’s injury on Friday ahead of an English Premier League game against Leeds on Sunday.
“Bouba will be missing until after the World Cup unfortunately, so that’s a huge blow,” Gerrard said.
Kamara joined Villa from Marseille on a free transfer in July and has started every game.
He forced his way into Didier Deschamps’ plans to successfully defend the World Cup.


IOC’s Bach eyes return to sports for anti-war Russians

IOC’s Bach eyes return to sports for anti-war Russians
Updated 30 September 2022

IOC’s Bach eyes return to sports for anti-war Russians

IOC’s Bach eyes return to sports for anti-war Russians
  • “It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” said Bach
  • Most sports followed International Olympic Committee advice in February and banned Russian team and athletes from their events

GENEVA: Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.
“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”
Most sports followed International Olympic Committee advice in February and banned Russian team and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.
With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.
In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.
“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”
Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.
Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Evgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.
Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.
Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.
In athletics, Russians have competed since 2015 only as neutrals approved by the sport’s governing body because of the state-backed doping scandal which tainted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Bach and the IOC faced criticism in fallout from the scandal for not being strict enough with Russian athletes who competed at each Olympics since 2016 with extra vetting of their drug testing or as neutrals without their national team name, flag and anthem.
Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”
“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested.
“We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”
Bach was in Rome also for a sports forum hosted by the Vatican, where Pope Francis praised sports as “an educational and social good and it must remain so.”
“We should be committed to giving everyone the opportunity to play sports,” the pope said, “to cultivate — one could say to be ‘trained’ in — the values of sport and transform them into virtues.”
Vatican officials previously have said they would like to one day field a team recognized by the IOC in the Olympics.