African teams shine: 5 things we learned from second round of group matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

African teams shine: 5 things we learned from second round of group matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
Sudan's defender Ather el-Tahir (C) vies for the ball with Egypt's midfielder Amr el-Solia (L) and Egypt's defender Ayman Ashraf during the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 group D football match between Sudan and Egypt at the 974 Stadium. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 December 2021

African teams shine: 5 things we learned from second round of group matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

African teams shine: 5 things we learned from second round of group matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
  • Egypt, Algeria and Morocco join hosts Qatar in the quarterfinals, while UAE in danger of exit despite recording two wins

With two rounds of matches of the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup group stages already over, the tournament is starting to take shape, with several teams, including hosts Qatar, Egypt and Algeria, confirming qualification to the quarterfinals. Here are five things we learned from the latest action:

1. Syria finally have some luck against careless Tunisia

It has been a tough few months for the Syrian national team, with just two points from the first six games in the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup, but on Friday they managed to shock Tunisia with a 2-0 win.

The Eagles of Carthage will be kicking themselves, especially as Fabrouk Ben Mustapha really should have saved a fairly tame shot from Oliver Kass Kawo in the fourth minute. Tunisia did everything they could to score, but just could not get the equalizer — a task that was made much harder at the end of the first half when Mohamed Ben Romdhane was sent off for an elbow.

Then, early in the second half, came a beautiful curling shot from Mohammed Anz that was good enough to win any game. Nevertheless, Tunisia had the possession and the chances to take at least a point, and will rue their missed opportunities. They must now beat UAE in the third game to be sure of a place in the knockout stage, while Syria are very much in the hunt.

 
2. Qatar not yet in top gear but progress

Qatar’s 2-1 win over Oman showed the benefits of competitive games. Oman have been active in the final round of qualification for the World Cup and are doing pretty well. They matched the Asian champions on their home turf and only a 97th-minute winner stopped them from taking a point. 

The hosts will not mind too much that the goal only just crossed the line since it guaranteed top spot in Group A and a place in the quarterfinals. It remains to be seen what kind of team coach Felix Sanchez puts out in the remaining group match against Iraq on Tuesday. With the last-eight clash taking place just three days later, the Spanish boss will be tempted to rest some of his stars, including Akram Afif, who caused problems and scored the opening goal. But Qatar look a little rusty and more games are what this team needs.

3. Morocco could press their way to the title

Jordan looked pretty good in their 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the opening game, but were then swept aside by Morocco, losing 4-0. Their hopes looked slim after 15 minutes, already a goal down and losing star forward Baha Faisal to injury, but things continued downhill from there.

It was just not much of a contest as the North Africans were a level above: Clinical in attack and working hard all over the pitch to deny Jordan time, possession and chances. At times, the pressing from the Atlas Lions was up to Liverpool’s standards.

Despite being without their European-based stars, this Morocco team were simply too good for a Jordan team that looked solid against the Saudis. It bodes well for the rest of the tournament. After two games, they have scored eight and conceded none. There is still a long way to go, but on this form they will take some stopping. Jordan’s goal difference has taken a battering and they will have to bounce back against Palestine.

 
4. Egypt and Algeria too good and rob tournament of crunch clash

It was always likely that Egypt, who defeated nine-man Sudan 5-0, and Algeria, who picked up a 2-0 victory over Lebanon, would end up taking the top two spots in Group D. It is a shame for the Arab Cup, however, that both these great rivals are already through to the quarterfinals ahead of their meeting on Tuesday — though the likelihood that top spot will mean that red-hot Morocco are avoided in the next round may add some spice.

As expected, Egypt were just too strong for Sudan and were three goals to the good by the half hour. The first, by Ahmed Refaat, was a real stunner and an early contender for goal of the tournament. The Pharaohs had no need to get out of second gear, with Hussein Faisal impressing on the right side of midfield on his international debut.

Algeria had a much more difficult second game against Lebanon, though they will not mind that. The Cedars are tough to beat and asked a lot of questions of the African champions. It means that the game with Egypt will lack tension, but on current form, these North African giants could end up meeting again.

 
5. Despite perfect record, UAE in danger of elimination

The UAE defeated Mauritania 1-0 to move onto six points. Usually, two wins from the first two games of the group means an early place in the knockout stage, or as good as, but not for UAE. The Whites may be three points clear of Tunisia and Syria, but need to be careful.

There was widespread relief at the 93rd-minute goal from Khalil Ibrahim that gave a 1-0 win over Mauritania. The African team withstood everything that the Asian team threw in their direction, with goalkeeper Mbacke Ndiaye deservedly winning man of the match.

But a goal difference of plus two after two wins is a danger. If the UAE lose to Tunisia, who thrashed Mauritania 5-1 and were unlucky to lose to Syria, and Syria win against Mauritania, then UAE will be going home.


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 43 min 12 sec ago

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.


Arteta vows to defend Arsenal with ‘teeth and nails’ after Covid postponement

Arteta vows to defend Arsenal with ‘teeth and nails’ after Covid postponement
Updated 19 January 2022

Arteta vows to defend Arsenal with ‘teeth and nails’ after Covid postponement

Arteta vows to defend Arsenal with ‘teeth and nails’ after Covid postponement
  • The Gunners asked for last Sunday's game to be rescheduled
  • "We will defend our club with teeth and nails. We will not let anybody damage our name or try to lie about things," the former Arsenal captain said

LONDON: Mikel Arteta vowed to defend Arsenal’s reputation with “teeth and nails” after criticism of the club’s successful request to postpone the north London derby against Tottenham.
The Gunners asked for last Sunday’s game to be rescheduled, with a significant number of players unavailable due to a mixture of international duty, injuries, suspension and coronavirus cases.
“We didn’t have the players necessary to put a squad out to compete in a Premier League match, that is 100 percent,” Arsenal boss Arteta said on Wednesday.
“This is a no-win situation. When we play the first three games of the season when other games were off, we were killed and called naive. Now we postpone a match for all the right reasons, believe me, and we get these reactions?“
Arsenal lost their opening three Premier League fixtures after Covid-19 outbreak at the club.
Spurs had reacted angrily to the Premier League’s decision to call off the visit of their London rivals.
“It’s the first time in my life — and I’ve had a bit of experience in football — to see postponed games because of injuries,” said Tottenham manager Antonio Conte.
But, speaking ahead of Thursday’s League Cup semifinal second leg against Liverpool, Arteta insisted the criticism was wide of the mark and said Arsenal did not have the numbers to put a squad together.
“We will defend our club with teeth and nails. We will not let anybody damage our name or try to lie about things,” the former Arsenal captain said.
“When a team have come to us and said ‘we cannot play, these are the reasons’ and the game has been postponed, we have never ever publicly questioned any of that.”
The Arsenal v Liverpool match at the Emirates Stadium should have been the first leg of the League Cup semifinal two weeks ago, before a coronavirus outbreak within the Liverpool camp led to its postponement.
Arsenal held Liverpool to a goalless draw in the first leg at Anfield last week despite playing more than an hour with 10 men after the dismissal of Granit Xhaka.
Arteta also told reporters that forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month, was back in London to undergo medical tests after Gabon sent him home from the Africa Nations Cup.
“He is in London and now is going through some examinations because we haven’t had any clarity from the Gabon national team over the reasons why he came back,” said the Arsenal boss.
In his own press conference, Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders said he had no complaints over recent Covid postponements both in the Premier League and the League Cup.
“It’s really difficult to judge from outside,” said Lijnders, who himself tested positive earlier this month during an outbreak at Liverpool.
“We saw this with our own situation. I fully respect the submissions because I trust 100 percent the medical departments of each Premier League club. I think this is the most important thing, full trust in these decisions.”


Qatar World Cup ticket sales launched at reduced prices

Qatar World Cup ticket sales launched at reduced prices
Updated 19 January 2022

Qatar World Cup ticket sales launched at reduced prices

Qatar World Cup ticket sales launched at reduced prices

DOHA: Qatar World Cup ticket sales were launched at reduced prices on Wednesday with residents and migrant workers able to attend games for just $11 as concerns persist over Covid-19.
Authorities have not yet announced how many fans will be allowed into stadiums for the first World Cup in an Arab country, which runs from November 21 until December 18.
Football’s world governing body FIFA opened a draw which offers individual match tickets for as little as $69 for international fans — about one third less than at Russia 2018 — but a ticket for the final could cost up to $1,607.
Qatari residents, including migrant laborers whose treatment has been a source of controversy for the organizers, will be able to get tickets for as little as $11.
Fans who apply now for the different packages — for individual games or following a team, or for special stadium tickets — will go into a draw after the first deadline on February 8. FIFA said fans who are successful in a random draw will be told by March 8.