5 things we learned from first round of matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

5 things we learned from first round of matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
Morocco’s defender Badr Benoun, right, heads the ball clear during their FIFA Arab Cup 2021 group match between against Palestine at the Al-Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah on Dec. 1, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 02 December 2021

5 things we learned from first round of matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

5 things we learned from first round of matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
  • The 16-nation tournament is a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup with seven of the eight stadiums for Qatar 2022 hosting matches

The first round of eight matches in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup are now done and dusted. Here are five things we learned from the action in Qatar.

Mabkhout’s blank good for UAE

The United Arab Emirates’ 2-1 win over Syria was not just a positive way to start the tournament but it also makes it two wins out of the last two games for the Whites, who had been struggling in the final round of qualification for the World Cup. To taste victory again can only be good for confidence.

On the road to Qatar, star striker Ali Mabkhout has been the go-to man for the goals, understandably so given the fact that he is just a goal away from joining Lionel Messi as the second-highest active goalscorer in international football. It was welcome however that he did not score.

The goals came from elsewhere. Caio Canedo was impressive up front and scored the first. It was a goal that demonstrated that quality deliveries into the area make things happen. 

A great cross from Bandar Al-Ahbabi was headed home. Mabkhout played a big part in the second with a long and direct run that caused problems and resulted in the ball falling to Ali Saleh who made no mistake. Two good goals and now two good wins.

Egypt labor against Lebanon, but have time to improve

Fans in Egypt were a little disappointed with a 1-0 win over Lebanon as they expected to pick up a comfortable win with a three or four-goal margin. Anybody who has been closely following World Cup qualification in Asia would have warned how hard Lebanon can be to play against as Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz, who remembers the Cedars from his time with Iran, did.

The Pharaohs had two-thirds of the possession but struggled to make things happen. The first game of any tournament is not usually when the big boys hit the heights and it is more about getting points on the board.

Queiroz said before the tournament that it will be a chance for some fringe players to play their way into the squad for the upcoming African Cup of Nations. Mohamed Magdy has certainly helped his chances of making the starting 11. The midfielder didn’t just score the winning penalty but created a number of chances at a time when good ones were at a premium. There’s more to come from Egypt.

Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia look ominous

While Tunisia have a handful of European-based players with them in Qatar, the other two North African giants are using only domestic squads. It didn’t make much of a difference in the opening round as they both won 4-0.

Morocco had perhaps the toughest task in taking on a hard-working Palestine team missing a few players of their own. The Atlas Lions were just a class above, with Abdelilah Hafidi really catching the eye with two goals and a fine all-round display.

Algeria dismissed Sudan by the same scoreline. The likes of Baghdad Bounedjah and Hilal Soudani have been in good form for Al-Sadd of Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s Damac respectively and brought that sharpness to the international stage.

Tunisia were far too strong for Mauritania as the 5-1 thrashing suggests. 

There is still a long way to go but there would be no surprise if one of these three teams lifted the trophy in two weeks’ time.

Encouragement for Iraq as spirit returns

A 98th minute penalty kick to salvage a 1-1 draw with Oman ensured that Tuesday was not a day to remember for Iraq, but it was a solid start under Zeljko Petrovic, the interim boss following the recent resignation of Dick Advocaat.

The Lions were lively in the first half and should have gone in at the break ahead after twice being denied by the woodwork. The second half sending off of Yasser Karim halted their momentum and it was no surprise when Oman, who have been performing well in World Cup qualification and have plenty of confidence, took the lead with 12 minutes remaining. 

Yet Iraq did not give up and were rewarded for their efforts with that last-gasp spot kick that was converted by Hassan Abdulkareem in his first game for the country. Some of that old Iraqi spirit looks to have returned.

Lebanon fight hard, and fall short, once more

The 1-0 defeat to Egypt was a familiar story for fans back in Lebanon. The last three games for the national team have seen them come up against some of the best in Asia and Africa in Iran, UAE and now Egypt. All three ended in one goal defeats. 

Against Iran, they were minutes away from a famous victory but conceded twice in  the final moments. Then there was a dodgy penalty conceded against UAE with five minutes left. A penalty against Egypt with 19 minutes to go settled the first game. Once again, Lebanon were competitive against a bigger team as the result shows even if Egypt felt they should have won by a bigger margin.

Given all that has happened in the country in recent years, that the football team can still perform should be a source of pride. Some fans wanted coach Ivan Hasek to try a different game plan however. He went with five at the back, the team sat too deep and there was too much giving the ball away, especially in the first half.

In a game that did not have the pressure and jeopardy of a final round World Cup qualifier and playing Egypt, a tough opponent but without their European stars, was perhaps a chance to try a more expansive game. It is a big ask.

Ali Al-Issa wins bronze as Saudi swimmers finish GCC Games with five medals

Ali Al-Issa wins bronze as Saudi swimmers finish GCC Games with five medals
Updated 57 min 32 sec ago

Ali Al-Issa wins bronze as Saudi swimmers finish GCC Games with five medals

Ali Al-Issa wins bronze as Saudi swimmers finish GCC Games with five medals
  • The men’s swimming team claimed one gold, two silver and two bronze in total over the week in Kuwait

The Saudi swimming team concluded their participation in the GCC Games in Kuwait with a tally of one gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

On Friday night Ali Al-Issa took the bronze medal in the 200m backstroke with a time of 2.11.82, having already won the gold in the 100m backstroke.

Elsewhere the Saudi men’s basketball team defeated Qatar 53-44 in a match they dominated and will take on Bahrain on Sunday.

In the opening of the volleyball competition, the Saudi men’s team lost their first match against Bahrain by three sets to one set (25-20, 13-25, 23-25, 13-25).

The Saudi men’s futsal team lost their third match of the tournament 5-2 against the UAE, having won their first match and lost their second. The Saudi goals came from Moaz Asiri and Fahad Al-Rudaini.

In the men’s cycling Saudi finished fourth in the team time trial with a time of 53.00.31 over a distance of 40km, which took place on Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah Bridge.

Eddie Howe: No Newcastle United signings lined up yet

Eddie Howe: No Newcastle United signings lined up yet
Updated 21 May 2022

Eddie Howe: No Newcastle United signings lined up yet

Eddie Howe: No Newcastle United signings lined up yet
  • Recent rumors have linked the Magpies with Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson, Lucas Paqueta of Lyon

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has revealed that Newcastle United are “not close” to signing anyone, despite reports across the UK to the contrary.

It is expected to be a busy summer at St. James’ Park, nonetheless.

The Magpies were reported to be close to adding Manchester United and England goalkeeper Dean Henderson to their squad, however Howe has poured cold water on it.

A deal for Lucas Paqueta of Lyon has also been rumored, but Arab News understands that is not a transfer Newcastle are pursuing at present.

On Henderson, and the summer ahead, Howe said: “We’re not close to signing anybody at this moment in time. We’re not at any advanced stage with that.

“It’s very difficult for me to comment on individual players because I’d be giving you an answer on every target. But no, that’s far from the truth.”

Another player who, at this stage, is not being actively pursued is Burnley’s James Tarkowski. The defender, who is out of contract at Turf Moor this summer, does remain on a long list of central defensive targets, though.

Outgoings are going to be as important as incomings for Newcastle if they do not want to encounter Financial Fair Play rules similar to those currently being worked through by Premier League rivals Everton.

And Arab News understands one player who is close to a move is Ciaran Clark.

The Republic of Ireland international was omitted from the club’s 25-man Premier League squad in January, despite the 32-year-old making 14 appearances in the first half of the campaign.

And with Clark likely to be cut out of the first-team picture again, former United boss Steve Bruce is understood to be keen on the player.

Bruce is currently manager of English Championship side West Bromwich Albion. Middlesbrough are also thought to be keen.

“I won’t speak about individual players at this time. I’ll do that at a later date. But at this time, I think it’s difficult for me to comment," said Howe.

“I’ll be speaking with players in the next few days linking it around the game. Obviously, I won’t be speaking to any of the players involved in the match before the game —I’ll be speaking to them afterwards — but players who are potentially injured and not involved in the game.”

With decisions still to be made, confusion and uncertainty reign supreme for many in the Newcastle ranks.

This is most prevalent when assessing Matt Targett’s United situation.

Targett has been one of United’s best performers in the second half of the season but is only on loan from Aston Villa.

Villains’ boss Steven Gerrard this week stated he would be happy to take the player back to the Midlands if Newcastle do not arrive with a bid to make things permanent.

When asked about the player, Howe said: “I’ll be sitting down with all my players at the end of the season and discussing futures; I’ll be doing the same with Matt. I think it’s only right we get the season out the way first and concentrate on the games and the football before discussing things.

“He’s been outstanding. The biggest compliment I can pay any loan player, I view him as an integral member of the squad. His attitude, conduct, performance and consistency have been of the highest level.

“We really, really like him. I think he’s jelled really well with the squad, and he’s very popular within the building here. I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban

Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban
Updated 21 May 2022

Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban

Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban
  • Wimbledon stripped of ranking points over Russia, Belarus ban
  • Decision by ATP, WTA reduces Wimbledon to exhibition event

The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament was on Friday set on a collision course with the sport’s global governing bodies after Wimbledon had its ranking points stripped by the ATP and WTA Tours over excluding players from Russia and Belarus.
The move by the men’s and women’s tours will reduce Wimbledon to an exhibition event but the AELTC, organizers of the Grand Slam, repeated their stance that the ban was the only viable option under British government guidance.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) also said it will not grant ranking points to Wimbledon this year for junior and wheelchair tennis events.
The AELTC decision to impose the suspension on Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s championships due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is the first time players have been excluded on grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when German and Japanese players were banned.
The AELTC on Friday said they were considering their options and were in discussions with their Grand Slam colleagues.
“In addition, we remain unwilling to accept success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime,” the AELTC said in a statement.
“We therefore wish to state our deep disappointment at the decisions taken by the ATP, WTA and ITF in removing ranking points for The Championships.
“We believe these decisions to be disproportionate in the context of the exceptional and extreme circumstances of this situation and the position we found ourselves in, and damaging to all players who compete on Tour.”

Ranking integrity
The ATP and WTA have themselves banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion, which Moscow calls a ‘special operation’, but allowed players from the two countries to compete as neutrals.
“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination, is fundamental to our Tour,” the ATP said in a statement.
“The decision by Wimbledon to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the UK this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP Ranking system. It is also inconsistent with our Rankings agreement.
“Absent a change in circumstances, it is with great regret and reluctance that we see no option but to remove ATP Ranking points from Wimbledon for 2022.”
WTA chief Steve Simon said the tour believes athletes participating in an individual sport “should not be penalized or prevented from competing solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”
“The recent decisions made by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban athletes from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events violate that fundamental principle,” Simon said.
“As a result of the AELTC’s position that it will not honor its obligation to use the WTA Rankings for entry into Wimbledon and proceed with a partial field not based on merit, the WTA has made the difficult decision to not award WTA ranking points for this year’s Wimbledon Championships.”

Ban slammed
Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors has been slammed by top players such as 21-times Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal who labelled it unfair, while world number one Novak Djokovic said he did not support the decision.
“Our rules and agreements exist in order to protect the rights of players as a whole. Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the Tour,” the ATP added.
“Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a Tour that operates in more than 30 countries.
“We remain hopeful of further discussions with Wimbledon leading to an acceptable outcome for all concerned.
“More broadly, we believe this matter again highlights the need for a united governance structure across professional tennis so that decisions of this nature can be made in a joint manner.”

Tune-up events
Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) also reciprocated the Wimbledon ban by excluding players from the two countries from its tune-up tour events.
However, the WTA said its tournaments at Nottingham, Birmingham, and Eastbourne would go ahead with ranking points on offer as “alternative and comparable playing and ranking point opportunities exist in the same weeks.”
The ATP had also said earlier this week that its events at Queen’s and Eastbourne will proceed as normal, offering full ATP ranking points.
While the LTA tournaments will continue to offer full ranking points, the British governing body is under review for sanctions from the ATP and WTA.
The ITF justified its decision not to award ranking points to Wimbledon this year for junior and wheelchair tennis events by saying it undermines the integrity of the competition.
“The ITF has determined that Wimbledon’s entry criteria banning Russians and Belarusians compromises the integrity of its international competition, in particular its ranking system, as there is a lack of alternative equivalent opportunities for players to compete for ranking points and prize money,” the ITF said.

Injury concerns for Newcastle trio ahead of Burnley clash

Injury concerns for Newcastle trio ahead of Burnley clash
Updated 20 May 2022

Injury concerns for Newcastle trio ahead of Burnley clash

Injury concerns for Newcastle trio ahead of Burnley clash
  • Chris Wood, Fabian Schar and Ryan Fraser could all miss final game of season

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has concerns about three key first-team players ahead of Newcastle United’s final day trip to Burnley.

The Magpies head to Turf Moor knowing a win could have a huge say in the Premier League relegation battle — but not in the way many predicted when Howe took over.

United looked set to be right in the midst of the fight to remain in the top flight, but a remarkable run since January, which has seen the Magpies climb from 19th to 12th, has turned around their fortunes.

Their hosts, however, still need points to guarantee they will be a Premier League side come next season.

While Howe has said he will pick his strongest team and show the fixture the respect it deserves, he could well be without three key players, one of whom is former Clarets frontman Chris Wood, signed for $31 million in January.

“We’re going to try him in training and see how he looks,” the manager said. “At the time, we didn’t think it was a serious injury so fingers crossed he gets through training today.”

Another player who is touch-and-go for the encounter is Fabian Schar.

The Switzerland international, who signed a two-year extension to his United deal earlier this month, was forced off, having been knocked unconscious in the 2-0 home win over Arsenal on Monday.

And head injury protocols mean the player might have to sit out Sunday’s match.

“Fabian we haven’t seen,” Howe said. “We’re following concussion protocols. I believe he is going to do something outside but we’ll follow the protocols closely. I think there will be a late decision on Fabian.”

A player who was visibly upset as the squad circled the St. James’ Park pitch to say thank you to fans after the Gunners win was Ryan Fraser.

It left many wondering why — and now Howe has explained why.

“Ryan Fraser might be out of the game,” he said. “He came on but had slight awareness in his hamstring, I don’t think it’s a re-injure but there is awareness in his hamstring again.”

Meanwhile, Callum Wilson looks set to end the campaign leading the United line, a place he was so sorely missed for a large chunk of the season.

And Howe admits it has been a relief to have his top scorer and talisman back available.

“An immense performance when you consider how long he’s been out and the type of injury he had,” he said of Wilson on Monday night.

“To deliver that first game back, I can’t say enough positive words about that. When you see behind the scenes and you see how he’s conducted himself and how he’s worked, it doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it many times before but then you’ve got to back it up with the performance and I thought he gave a very good display that really helped the team. Full credit to him.”

PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future

PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future
Updated 20 May 2022

PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future

PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future
  • Mbappe is expected to reveal in the coming days whether he will join Real Madrid or accept a lucrative offer to stay at PSG
  • "I don't know what his decision is. I think it's a personal matter for Kylian and for the club," Pochettino said

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino insisted Friday he has no idea where Kylian Mbappe will play his club football next season as the striker’s contract in the French capital comes to an end.
Mbappe is expected to reveal in the coming days whether he will join Real Madrid or accept a lucrative offer to stay at PSG, with an announcement potentially being made in the hours after the French champions play their final game of the Ligue 1 season at home to Metz on Saturday.
“I don’t know what his decision is. I think it’s a personal matter for Kylian and for the club,” Pochettino said at a press conference ahead of the Metz match.
“There are lots of rumors going around but the player is the one who will have to talk about this.
“If I knew what his decision was I wouldn’t be the one to talk about it.”
Mbappe, who joined PSG from Monaco in 2017, last week won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year prize and comes into the final weekend of the season as the division’s top scorer with 25 goals.
Rumours are swirling in France and in Spain about when he will confirm where his next contract will be.
“Mbappe, end of the suspense on Sunday,” claimed the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Friday.
Pochettino said he hoped the 23-year-old would remain at PSG even if uncertainty surrounds the coach’s own future despite the Argentine and his staff having a year left on their own deals.
“I hope Kylian is still here for many years to come but I also can’t lie. I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.
“We have a year left on our contracts so we will potentially be here next season. I just hope tomorrow (Saturday) we can enjoy celebrating the club’s 10th league title.”
One player who is definitely expected to move on is Angel di Maria, with the 34-year-old Argentine winger’s own contract expiring and PSG understood to be happy for him to leave.
PSG have cantered to the Ligue 1 title, equalling Saint-Etienne’s French record for most league championships, but their season has been soured by defeat against Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 in early March.
The Parisians were 1-0 up away to Madrid an hour into the second leg thanks to a Mbappe goal, and led 2-0 on aggregate, only to implode and go out to a Karim Benzema hat-trick.
“I hope the best is still to come. I think everyone at Paris Saint-Germain wants to win the Champions League. That has become an obsession for this club and I hope we can win it,” Pochettino added.
“That spell in the second half in Madrid saw us not get the result we wanted and created lots of questions and emotions that we have not been able to control in recent months.
“Despite that the players deserve to be congratulated because they have shown the ability to lift themselves and finish the season.”