Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco
Morocco’s forward Karim El Berkaoui, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal in the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 game against Saudi Arabia, Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, Dec. 7, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 07 December 2021

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco
  • Young squad could only manage one point from three matches to finish third in Group C and miss out on a place in the quarter-finals
  • Morocco were too good for the rookie Green Falcons, but they only scored through a first-half penalty from Karim El Berkaoui

Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Arab Cup campaign ended at the group stage on Tuesday with a 1-0 loss to Morocco in Qatar. An inexperienced squad made up of Under-23 players exited the tournament after collecting one point from three games in Group C to finish in third place.

In the end, Morocco were too good for the rookie Green Falcons, but they only scored through a first-half penalty from Karim El Berkaoui. Victory means they progress to the quarter-finals with three wins out of three. Jordan, who defeated bottom team Palestine 5-1 in the other fixture, also go into the last eight, where they face Algeria or Egypt.

It was always going to be tough for Saudi Arabia against the Atlas Lions, who had won both previous games 4-0. Assistant coach Laurent Bonadei, in charge of the team with Herve Renard watching from the stands, went with two strikers, Firas Al-Buraikan and Abdullah Al-Hamdan. Neither got into the game in the first half, however, and it was a midfielder who had the best chance as an early shot from Turki Al-Ammar had the goalkeeper scrambling to make a near post save. For the most part however, Morocco were on top.

Yet the teams looked to be heading in at the break 0-0 until goalkeeper Zaid Al-Bawardi brought down Karim El-Berkaoui inside the area. Nobody could disagree with the penalty decision and the Al-Raed forward dusted himself down and fired home a perfect spot-kick into the corner, just past the fingertips of a goalkeeper who almost made up for his mistake.

It was the last action of the half and a frustrating end as the young Green Falcons had worked so hard to keep out the opposition. A goalless scoreline at half-time would have been confidence-boosting and a platform from which to build in the second period.

Morocco continued to push forward after the break but Saudi Arabia had a penalty call of their own just before the hour as Al-Hamdan was bundled over right on the edge of the area. A free-kick was the initial decision and hearts were in mouths in both camps when Andres Cabrera went to check on the pitchside monitor to see if the challenge had been inside the box.

The Uruguayan did change his mind but instead of a penalty, he decided that the Al-Hilal forward had gone to ground too easily and the free-kick was given to the men in red instead.

It summed up the evening for the Saudi team at Al-Thumama Stadium. As the minutes ticked by it became increasingly apparent that they were not going to get the two goals they needed, especially when right-back Ali Majrashi was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy tackle with 11 minutes remaining to reduce Saudi Arabia to 10 men. From that point it was a question as to whether the defeat would be by a single goal or not.

It was testament to the Saudi spirit and work-rate that it remained just 1-0, though Dari Achraf headed against the bar from a corner in injury time. In the end, the result did not matter in terms of progression as Jordan had secured second spot by thrashing Palestine.

It was a flat end to an experimental tournament for Saudi Arabia, during which some players suggested that they have a bright future for the senior national team with others having much work to do if they are going to get a call-up from head coach Renard in January.

That is when the serious action of qualification for the 2022 World Cup resumes. Returning to Qatar next winter is more important than staying for an extra week or so this time.

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2
Updated 9 sec ago

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2
  • Duo narrowly missed Season 1 title in electric SUV series while driving for team founded by Lewis Hamilton

LONDON: Extreme E Season One runners-up X44 have retained their driver lineup for the forthcoming campaign, with Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez back behind the wheel for the team founded by seven-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

Loeb and Gutierrez were narrowly denied championship honors in the inaugural season of Extreme E, when victory at the Jurassic X Prix in December saw them finish level on points with overall winners Rosberg X Racing, but lose out after a countback of victories (three to one).

X44 finished as the fastest qualifier at all five X Prix raced in 2021, and they will be determined to maintain that imperious form on course as they bid for title glory in the second season of Extreme E, which begins next month in NEOM, Saudi Arabia, from Feb. 19.

Loeb is one of the greatest rally drivers of all time with a record nine World Rally Championships and 80 race wins to his name. His 26-year career in motor sports has seen him achieve podium finishes in races as varied as the Dakar Rally, World Rallycross and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

He has also achieved three Race of Champions wins in which he competed against the world’s best racing and rally drivers. The Frenchman has already had a busy start to 2022, finishing second overall in the Dakar Rally before taking his 80th WRC win last weekend with victory in the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo.

“I’m very happy to be driving for X44 again in Season Two of Extreme E,” Loeb said. “Last year was very challenging for us. We had a lot of struggles with the car and some bad luck too, but we came top of qualifying at every race and finished the year with a win and level on championship points — so we are feeling optimistic!

“I think the other teams are very strong, but Cristina and I have shown that we know how to win races in some of the toughest terrains in the world, so we will give our all to secure more podiums. Our fans have been very supportive ever since our first race, so I hope we can repay them with a championship win in 2022.”

Gutierrez is a promising talent who is rewriting the rulebook for women racers. In addition to finishing the notoriously difficult Dakar Rally six times, she made history as the first woman to ever win the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, the second to win a stage in the Dakar Rally (2021) and the third to stand on a podium in the Dakar Rally (2022). Gutierrez has all the hallmarks of a great driver, showing grit and a natural talent, and has had a huge passion for the sport since she started racing aged four.

“I’m so excited to be returning to race for X44. We came very close to winning the championship last year and now we’re even more motivated and excited to drive well and push to take first place in 2022,” she said.

“Since I first joined the team, I have learned so much and feel stronger and faster with every race, so I’m excited to get back in the car and show what I can do. I’m also looking forward to exploring the planet and learning more about the places where we are racing,” she added.

“By highlighting the climate change challenges faced by the remote environments where we race, I hope to further educate myself on what we can do to help.”

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting
Updated 4 min 56 sec ago

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting

Cult Irish heroine preparing for high profile run at Saudi Cup meeting
  • Princess Zoe to have “mini race” before tackling $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap in Riyadh

Tony Mullins will give star stayer Princess Zoe a novel “mini race” in preparation for the $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap at next month’s Saudi Cup meeting.

The hugely popular Irish mare will gallop at Leopardstown after the track’s Dublin Racing Festival jumps fixture on the first weekend in February.

She will then have three weeks before running in the 3000m contest – the longest race at the world’s richest race meeting – on Saturday, Feb. 26. The Group 3 handicap is one of the supporting prizes on the Saudi Cup card at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

“Everything is going according to plan. I don’t want Saudi to be her first run of the season so I’m inventing my own little mini race. It’ll only be two or three horses, but it will give her that feel that she’s got a run under her belt,” Mullins said.

“We’ll be going genuine racing pace and it depends on the ground how far we’ll go. If there’s a good cut in the ground, we’ll go 1m 4f (2400m) and if it’s a bit quicker we might go 1m 6f (2800m).

 “There was nowhere for her to run because we have not got a winter programme suitable for horses of her calibre here in Ireland. We’re treating this as a run to put her spot on for Saudi,” he added.

Since joining Mullins from Germany a couple of years ago, Princess Zoe has been transformed from a low-grade handicapper into one of Europe’s best stayers.

She completed a stunning five-timer in 2020 when landing her first Group 1 success in the Prix du Cadran at Longchamp on Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe weekend.

Last season she put up the best performance of her career when finishing second behind Subjectivist in the Group 1 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. The defence of her Prix du Cadran crown in early October did not go to plan but she returned lame after finishing only fifth behind Trueshan.

Mullins said: “We were always worried about fast ground, but she seemed to handle it very well in Royal Ascot. The minute that happened I said: “Saudi is the place I want to go”.

“In our opinion the Saudi Cup is the new go-to race meeting of the year. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the prize money.

“I’ve only seen videos of the track in Riyadh – I haven’t actually stepped out on it. It looks like a beautiful track, albeit a little bit sharp for staying horses. Maybe that will suit her – I certainly don’t see any reason why the track won’t.

Despite failing to win in five runs last season, Mullins said, the now 7-year-old grey mare performed better than she had done the previous year. He’s confident she has improved again over the winter months.

“I keep saying this but I think she’s actually a better mare again this time round, which is unbelievable at her age,” he said.

Princess Zoe has developed a cult following during her rise through the ranks. Despite having competition from some of the world’s best for the affections of the racing public, she is one of the most popular horses in Ireland and Mullins realises how important she is for the horse-loving nation.

He said: “I think Irish people like to see the underdog come up and take on the big boys. She’s done it and we’ve done it – both of us together. She’s a very pretty mare and grey, I don’t know what it is but they love her as much as I do.

“We’ve had a lot of nice winners in 30 years of training, but Princess Zoe is in a different stratosphere.

“It’s nice to know that, if we get the material, we can do the job. It’s a good feeling,” he said. “There’s no team around here that could take on Man Utd but, in racing, you can always do it. It’s the one sport in the world that from humble places you can reach the top. It’s like a small kid from around here in Gowran getting to play against Ronaldo.

“We’ve been lucky and blessed to get a mare like Princess Zoe. We’re now right at the top table – I shake myself everyday thinking about it.”

Regular rider Joey Sheridan is another part of the Princess Zoe fairy tale. The 20-year-old apprentice jockey will be on board again as she attempts to add another chapter to her incredible story in the Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap. The race offers more than five times the prize money of last year’s Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Mullins said: “Joey is out there now so he’ll be riding in Riyadh in early February. He’s going to have a few rides out there before the big meeting, which is huge. I love that – having our jockey out there knowing the track.”

Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal

Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal
Updated 26 January 2022

Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal

Tsitsipas storms into Australian Open semifinal
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas stormed into his third Australian Open semifinal against either Daniil Medvedev or Felix Auger-Aliassime

MELBOURNE: Stefanos Tsitsipas stormed into his third Australian Open semifinal with a blistering straight-sets victory over Jannik Sinner on Wednesday.
The Greek fourth seed played his best tennis yet in the year’s opening major to romp past the 11th-seeded Italian 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in 2hr 6min and into a semifinal against either Daniil Medvedev or Felix Auger-Aliassime.

29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race officially opens

29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race officially opens
Updated 26 January 2022

29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race officially opens

29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race officially opens
  • 20 teams are set to compete for up to five days at the region’s longest-running offshore race, a challenging 360 nautical mile course from Dubai to Muscat

DUBAI: Aramex and Dubai Offshore Sailing Club have announced the opening of the 29th Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, which starts on Saturday, Feb. 5.

The Aramex D2M is the longest-running offshore race in the MENA region, covering more than 360 miles of challenging and adventurous sailing around the Musandam Peninsula.

Twenty teams of keelboats and multihulls are set to compete for five successive days, marking their start from Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. From there, the teams will sail across the Arabian Gulf to the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, passing through the famous Straits of Hormuz, with the final leg taking a southeastern route leading to Muscat, the capital city of Oman, before finishing at Marina Bandar Al-Rowdha, Muscat.

“This year’s Aramex Dubai to Muscat Offshore race marks its 29th edition, demonstrating the enduring appeal of competitive offshore racing among the region’s sailing community,” said David Worrall, head of the Aramex D2M race committee.

“With a challenging course over 360 miles and four days of continuous racing, the Aramex D2M offers a significant adventure challenge for all the sailors of all levels, from professionals and hardcore races to amateurs and more low-key cruisers.”

“Being a key event in the Asian Sailing Region race calendar, which stretches from Saudi Arabia to Japan, the Aramex D2M aims to contribute to the UAE’s ambitious vision to develop a sports community capable of achieving global success, in line with the proposed UAE Sports Sector Strategy 2032, and drive recognition of Dubai and the UAE as a world-class sailing destination,” Worrall said.

Organized by Dubai Offshore Sailing Club and the United Arab Emirates Sailing & Rowing Federation in association with the Oman Maritime Sports Committee, the event is recognized by the Asian Sailing Federation and Royal Ocean Sailing Club.

Andy Van der Velde, president at Aramex, said: “We are very pleased to be the title sponsor of one of the most prestigious sailing events in the sporting history of the UAE. At Aramex, we have high regard for discipline, collaboration and a strong drive to achieve excellence — core values that we will witness in action as the world’s top sailors compete in what is set to be one of the most challenging and enjoyable sailing races in the region. We look forward to welcoming sailors, their friends and families, sailing enthusiasts and visitors to this fantastic event.”

‘Home’ hopes driving Montgomerie challenge at Dubai Desert Classic

‘Home’ hopes driving Montgomerie challenge at Dubai Desert Classic
Updated 26 January 2022

‘Home’ hopes driving Montgomerie challenge at Dubai Desert Classic

‘Home’ hopes driving Montgomerie challenge at Dubai Desert Classic
  • Winner in 1996, the Scotsman is relishing being back among the world’s best players at Emirates Golf Club

Twenty-six years after lifting the Dubai Desert Classic’s famous Dallah Trophy, Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, the tournament’s 1996 champion, is relishing his latest shot at Dubai glory.

Two-and-a-half decades after famously playing a driver off the deck on the 18th fairway — a shot that effectively sealed his maiden Dubai title — Montgomerie is back in the emirate alongside a world-class field comprising multiple Masters, Open and Major winners, numerous Ryder Cup veterans, as well as serial DP World Tour and PGA Tour event winners.

With two of the event’s headline stars, Collin Morikawa, the world number two, and Viktor Hovland, the world number five, not even born when Montgomerie triumphed on the Majlis Course, the eight-time Order of Merit winner is keen to enjoy himself against a youthful Dubai field.

“I really enjoy it in Dubai,” Montgomerie said. “It’s a great honor to have my name above the door at a course not too far away from here, and it’s always nice to come to Emirates Golf Club as a past champion. I have one plaque in the world and it’s here on the 18th fairway, so it’s a very special place for me. I do enjoy coming back here and playing the golf course, it’s stood the test of time and I think I speak for all the players when I say we enjoy coming here.”

As a regular in Dubai since the 1980s, Montgomerie is in an ideal position to evaluate the ever-evolving landscape surrounding Emirates Golf Club.

“The city has sprung up around the course,” Montgomerie said. “They were ahead of the game and realized the potential out here — and I say here because in those days it was quite a way out.”

Following its promotion to a Rolex Series Event this year, and a fresh look and feel around the Majlis Course on the back of title sponsor Slync onboard, Montgomerie is embracing the Dubai Desert Classic’s “new era.” 

Everything is moving forward in the right way. The prize money is $8 million, who can argue with any of this and in the January sunshine no less — let’s enjoy ourselves,” Montgomerie said.