Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert
Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah during a test-drive session ahead of the Hail Cross-Country Rally. Al-Attiyah leads the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies driver standings. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 December 2021

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert

Drivers Al-Attiyah, Alvarez go head-to-head for FIA World Cup glory in Saudi desert
  • Saudi ace Yazeed Al-Rajhi eyes a top finish in bid to overhaul Alvarez and snatch second place

HAIL: Competitive action gets underway on Wednesday at the Hail Cross-Country Rally, the final round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez both drive V8-engined Toyota Hiluxes, built in conjunction with Toyota Gazoo Racing and Overdrive Racing, and they will go head-to-head to decide the outcome of the 2021 FIA World Cup Drivers’ Championship.

To win his first FIA World Cup title, Alvarez needs to overturn a 28-point deficit. The Argentine will need to win the rally outright and score at least three additional bonus points for daily stage performances and, even then, the outcome will depend on whether Al-Attiyah finishes lower than eighth overall and fails to secure a single bonus point.

Al-Attiyah said: “I won in Hail back in 2008 and 2011 and with Matthieu (Baumel), my current co-driver, we won the first of the Bajas last December. We will do our best to take the win again and seal the championship. We have a good car. The rally is also very useful experience for us before the Dakar Rally in January.”

It will be a big ask for Alvarez, but the battle has at least confirmed that Overdrive Toyotas should fill the top two places in the points’ standings unless Russia’s Denis Krotov can seal a top-four result and Alvarez fails to finish. Krotov drives an X-raid Mini and starts the rally four points adrift of local hero Yazeed Al-Rajhi. The Saudi knows that a top finish could also see him overhaul Alvarez and snatch second place in the series.

Hoping to upset the applecart and challenge for honors in their own right are the Orlen Team’s Jakub Przygonski and Argentina’s Sebastian Halpern in their X-raid Minis and Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal in a Ford F-150. Former Spanish enduro rider Laia Sanz also joins the German X-raid team to drive a Mini John Cooper Works Rally in readiness for the Dakar challenge that awaits.

With the FIA T3 and T4 championships already settled in favor of Spain’s Cristina Gutierrez and America’s Austin Jones, pride and pre-Dakar experience are at stake in both the hotly contested categories.

Eight teams line up in the T3 section, with Russian Pavel Lebedev leading the way in his Can-Am and facing competition from local favorite Saleh Al-Saif, fellow Saudis Mashael Al-Obaidan, Dania Akeel, Esra Aldkheil, and Hamed Al-Harbi, Germany’s Annett Fischer, and Uzbekistan’s Anvar Ergashev.

Al-Obaidan said: “This is a great opportunity for me to test for Dakar. This is my third race after Sharqiya and Aragon in Spain. It’s the first time that Jacopo (Cerutti), my co-driver, and I have participated together. I’ve been here a couple of times but never in an official race. There are three Saudi females, including myself. The sport is really booming here. I believe there is a really bright future in the Kingdom for everyone.”

Six crews will battle it out over the next four days for T4 honors. South Racing Middle East’s Thomas Bell tops the field and faces competition from Poland’s Marek and Michal Goczal, Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri, Australia’s Molly Taylor, and Ukraine’s Levgen Kovalevych.

There is also a National Rally running behind the main FIA rally, a separate event for motorcycles and quads, a truck category, and dispensation for several 2022 specification machines to compete with teams carrying out pre-Dakar testing.

Czech WRC star Martin Prokop wheels out the latest Ford Raptor Cross-Country, running under the Benzina Orlen Team banner, both Frenchman Ronan Chabot and Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini try out Overdrive Racing’s latest Toyota Hilux T1+, and Sweden’s Sebastian Eriksson gets his hands on the latest T3-2022 South Racing Can-Am Maverick.

The Hail Cross-Country Rally is being organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation under the supervision of the Hail Regional Development Authority in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Sports.

On Wednesday, competitors will tackle the first of four selective sections through the Al-Nafud desert. The competitive stage starts 82.59 kilometers from Rally HQ, includes a passage control and refueling point after 173 km, and runs for 258.14 km. A liaison of 47.31 km guides competitors back to the bivouac.

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – driver standings:

1.Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT) 92.5 pts

2.Lucio Alvarez (ARG) 64.5 pts

3.Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU) 57 pts

4.Denis Krotov (RUS) 53 pts

5.Mattias Ekstrom (SWE) 27 pts

FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies – co-driver standings:

1. Matthieu Baumel (FRA) 92.5 pts

2. Armand Monleon (ESP) 64.5 pts

3. Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) 53 pts

4. Michael Orr (GBR) 35.5 pts

5. Emil Bergkvist (SWE) 27 pts


Saudi national team footballer refutes Rolls Royce prize rumors

Saudi national team footballer refutes Rolls Royce prize rumors
Updated 10 sec ago

Saudi national team footballer refutes Rolls Royce prize rumors

Saudi national team footballer refutes Rolls Royce prize rumors
  • Fake news stories have been circulating that each player was given a fancy car after the impressive win over Argentina

DUBAI: One of Saudi Arabia’s national team footballers refuted rumors circulating that each player was rewarded a Rolls Royce for beating Argentina 2-1 in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 group stages match. 
“We are here to serve our country and do the best, so that’s our biggest achievement,” said Saleh Alshehri during a press conference. 
Alshehri also explained to the journalist asking the question that serving his country was the only reward he needs.

 


Sluggish England frustrated in US stalemate

Sluggish England frustrated in US stalemate
Updated 26 November 2022

Sluggish England frustrated in US stalemate

Sluggish England frustrated in US stalemate
  • Southgate's men would have been guaranteed to advance from Group B with a victory in their second game
  • Having thrashed Iran 6-2 on Monday, England lacked the urgency they showed in their opening game and were booed off at full-time

AL KHOR, Qatar: England missed a chance to book their place in the World Cup last 16 as Gareth Southgate’s side produced a limp display in their 0-0 draw against the United States on Friday.
Southgate’s men would have been guaranteed to advance from Group B with a victory in their second game of the tournament, but they rarely troubled a determined US team.
Having thrashed Iran 6-2 on Monday, England lacked the urgency they showed in their opening game and were booed off at full-time.
They managed just one shot on target and could easily have conceded in the first half when the US were in control for long periods at the Al Bayt Stadium.
For the third time in three World Cup meetings with the US, England failed to live up to their status as favorites.
After a shocking defeat in the 1950 tournament and a 1-1 draw in 2010, this was another defiant American effort against England, cooling some of the hype around the Three Lions following the Iran rout.
Although it was an extremely underwhelming performance from England, they are still in control of their own destiny.
A draw in their final group game against Wales on November 29 would ensure England progress to the knockout stages, while a victory would seal first place.
The US, who have drawn their first two games, play Iran on the same day knowing a win would send them into last 16.
Gregg Berhalter’s group are the second youngest team at the World Cup, but a day after America celebrated Thanksgiving they left sluggish England looking like they were the ones who had indulged in too much turkey.
With Harry Kane and Harry Maguire recovered from an ankle injury and illness respectively, England named an unchanged team for the first time since the 2018 World Cup semifinal defeat against Croatia.
But, whereas England dominated possession against timid Iran from the opening moments, they found the US far more willing to press higher up the pitch.
The US desire to engage England briefly left space in behind them and Jude Bellingham’s buccaneering run and pass freed Bukayo Saka down the right side of the US area.
Saka’s cross reached Kane, whose goalbound shot was blocked by Walker Zimmerman.
That near-miss proved a mirage in the desert for England as Hajji Wright, a surprise selection in place of Josh Sargent, had the Americans’ first sight of goal with a well-timed run into the area for a header that whistled wide.
It was a warning that the US could trouble England and moments later Weston McKennie should have put them ahead.
Timothy Weah’s cross from wide on the right eluded the flat-footed England defense and the unmarked McKennie pulled the trigger from 10 yards, only to fire just wide of the relieved Pickford’s goal.
Showing no signs of being intimidated by England, Berhalter’s side were inches away from turning the enterprising display into a stunning lead when Christian Pulisic jinked into space and lashed a rising drive against the crossbar from just inside the area.
Giving the ball away far too easily and labored in their build-up play, England looked rattled and Pulisic tested their fraying nerves with a header that glanced wide.
In a rare moment of menace from England, Saka’s pass found Mason Mount and the Chelsea’s midfielder low drive from 20 yards brought a first save from US keeper Matt Turner.
Epitomising the US spirit that was such a contrast to England’s lethargy, Tyler Adams crunched into a tackle on Saka, winning the ball and roaring in delight afterwards.
England remained stuck in first gear yet Kane nearly snatched an undeserved winner in stoppage time when he headed wide from Luke Shaw’s free-kick.


Germany face Spain with spectre of early World Cup exit looming

Germany face Spain with spectre of early World Cup exit looming
Updated 26 November 2022

Germany face Spain with spectre of early World Cup exit looming

Germany face Spain with spectre of early World Cup exit looming
  • Germans were hammered by some observers for losing focus on the football when they should be concentrating on avoiding a second successive group stage exit in a World Cup
  • “Really, our focus is 100 percent on football, nothing else,” Havertz said in a pre-match press conference

DOHA: Just one match into the Qatar World Cup, Germany face what amounts to a must-win clash against Spain on Sunday, a team they have not beaten in a competitive fixture since 1988.
Before Germany were stunned 2-1 by Japan in their opening match, the team faced heavy criticism for backtracking on a promise to wear a rainbow “OneLove” armband in support of diversity and human rights.
Their response was powerful — a team photo before the Japan match in which all 11 players covered their mouths, suggesting they had been silenced by FIFA, who had threatened on-field sanctions for anyone wearing the armband.
But after Japan scored two late goals to beat Hansi Flick’s team, the Germans were hammered by some observers for losing focus on the football when they should be concentrating on avoiding a second successive group stage exit in a World Cup.
On Friday, Chelsea striker Kai Havertz said the players were holding onto their beliefs but knew the challenge ahead, especially against a Spain team that steamrollered Costa Rica 7-0 in their opening game.
“Everyone knows our point of view and how we think,” Havertz said in a pre-match press conference.
“Really, our focus is 100 percent on football, nothing else. We just said what we think, what our point of view is, everyone knows that, and now it is about playing football.”
With supermarket chain Rewe pulling their sponsorship and with TV ratings for the Japan game the lowest in Germany for a World Cup in more than 30 years, Havertz recognized that the challenges were not just on the field, saying: “I know not everyone is behind us.”
Havertz revealed the squad and Flick held a wide-ranging team meeting on Thursday, admitting “it was time to tell ourselves the truth.”
Havertz said “everyone left the meeting knowing what’s going on.”
Sitting alongside Havertz, midfielder Julian Brandt said “we had a very good exchange. All of us left the conversation feeling like we had the determination to win the game.”
The importance of the Spain match at the Al Bayt Stadium cannot be underestimated — national squad manager and 1996 Euros winner Oliver Bierhoff has asked what another early exit would mean for the future of football in Germany.
Speaking with Germany TV network ARD on Friday, Bierhoff said losing “our first final” in Qatar would have widespread ramifications for the sport.
“What does it mean for German football? For the further development?” Bierhoff asked.
“And if you go a little deeper: (what does it mean) for the investment we have to make to stay competitive (and) to have new players in eight or ten years?“
Far from being haunted by the ghosts of their early exit in Russia however, Havertz said the match could represent “a turnaround” for the under-fire side, saying “we all dreamed of playing these games.”
“Now we are in a bad moment, but I think that can switch around quite fast — if we win the game on Sunday.”
Captain Manuel Neuer on Friday said Sunday’s match was “a huge chance,” emphasising the side could learn from Russia “we blew it once and now we know how not to do it.”
Brandt agreed.
“Spain come to the stadium on Sunday on the back of a 7-0 victory but it is a chance, on Sunday, a chance to change the atmosphere.”


Gakpo on target but Dutch disappoint in World Cup draw with Ecuador

Gakpo on target but Dutch disappoint in World Cup draw with Ecuador
Updated 25 November 2022

Gakpo on target but Dutch disappoint in World Cup draw with Ecuador

Gakpo on target but Dutch disappoint in World Cup draw with Ecuador
  • Gakpo put the Netherlands ahead with a superb strike in the sixth minute
  • Ecuador fought back with such ferocity that the Dutch were rattled, and they deserved the equaliser when it came through Enner Valencia

DOHA: Cody Gakpo scored again at the World Cup but the Netherlands missed the chance to secure a place in the last 16 on Friday as they were held to a 1-1 draw by battling Ecuador, a result which eliminated host nation Qatar.
Gakpo, the gangly PSV Eindhoven forward who has been strongly linked with Manchester United, put the Netherlands ahead with a superb strike in the sixth minute at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Yet, with a large and vociferous support behind them, Ecuador fought back with such ferocity that the Dutch were rattled, and they deserved the equalizer when it came through Enner Valencia four minutes after half-time.
It was Ecuador captain Valencia’s third goal of the World Cup already after his brace in his country’s opening win over Qatar.
And one consequence of this result is that the host nation, already beaten twice, are the first team to be eliminated from their own World Cup.
Three-time beaten finalists the Netherlands are not quite through to the next round, with one point separating them, Ecuador and Senegal, who defeated Qatar 3-1 earlier.
“We have everything in our own hands. We have to be ready for Qatar and show a very good performance there and hopefully win the game,” said captain Virgil van Dijk.
“Today the second half wasn’t good but sometimes you play a bad half even if you try to avoid it.
“But we are at the start of the tournament. We will improve.”
Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side meet the hosts in the last round of Group A games knowing a draw will make certain of their place in the knockout phase, with Ecuador and Senegal facing each other next Tuesday.
“Sometimes you deserve to win but don’t get the result for different reasons,” said Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro.
“But I told the players I wasn’t interested in the result tonight. It was the last of my worries.
“The Netherlands are a team who are here to win the World Cup.”
Much of the talk before this game had been about Memphis Depay, with the Barcelona forward having impressed as a second-half substitute in the 2-0 win over Senegal in his first game in two months after a thigh injury.
While he once again started on the bench, it was the 23-year-old Gakpo who again starred in front of goal.
Scorer of the late headed opener against Senegal, he got an early breakthrough on this occasion, lashing a left-foot shot between the despairing dive of Hernan Galindez and the post after being set up by Davy Klaassen.
That, remarkably, was to be the Netherlands’ only shot on target as they were pushed back by Ecuador for much of the rest of the game.
Giant Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert had to get down to his right to keep out a shot from Valencia, who had been a pre-match fitness doubt.
Then Ecuador thought they had equalized in first-half stoppage time when Pervis Estupinan diverted an Angelo Preciado shot into the net, but the goal was disallowed for offside against Jackson Porozo.
Depay then replaced Steven Bergwijn at the start of the second half but Ecuador soon got their equalizer.
Estupinan was again involved as the Brighton and Hove Albion wing-back’s shot was saved by Noppert but Valencia followed in to convert the loose ball.
They might even have won it, with Gonzalo Plata crashing a shot off the crossbar just before the hour mark.
An encouraging evening for Ecuador was marred when Valencia came off on a stretcher. He sat with ice around his right knee on the sidelines, and the South Americans will hope their all-time top scorer can recover quickly.
They will need him for a nerve-jangling showdown with Senegal with a place in the last 16 on the line — they have only reached that stage once before, when they were beaten 1-0 by England in 2006.


A tale of Arab immigrant contribution to sports in Latin America

A tale of Arab immigrant contribution to sports in Latin America
Updated 25 November 2022

A tale of Arab immigrant contribution to sports in Latin America

A tale of Arab immigrant contribution to sports in Latin America
  • A generation of immigrants greatly helped to popularize basketball and football across the continent
  • Documentary “4 Colores” shows how football promoted connection between Chileans and Palestine cause

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL: The 15th-best tennis player in the world, Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia, left the US Open on Sept. 4 after she and her Kazakh partner Anna Danilina were defeated by the duo Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez.

Nevertheless, Brazilians have developed a growing devotion to Maia, and many hope she can become the best tennis player in the country’s history.

Part of her success comes from her formative years at Esporte Clube Sirio, a leading sports and social club in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s major financial hub.

Founded in 1917, the club is one of the great examples of the Arab community’s contribution to sports in Latin America.

Esporte Clube Sirio, a sports club with strong connections to the Arab community in Sao Paulo, helped develop the skills of tennis star Beatriz Haddad Maia. (AFP)

Its first complex included four tennis courts, a basketball court, a football pitch and a lake.

The number of members grew very rapidly over the years among Syrian and Lebanese immigrants — such as the Haddad family — who formed a large community in Sao Paulo, and the club became wealthy. Non-Arab Brazilians soon began to join too.

By 1949, Sirio had gained a reputation as one of the top sports clubs in Sao Paulo, and moved to its current location, in the southern zone of the city, building a modern complex from scratch.

“I joined Sirio as a child in 1955. I saw most of it being built,” Washington Joseph, 72, known by the nickname Dodi, told Arab News. “My brother and I began practicing football, then gymnastics and judo. At 11, I began playing basketball.”

Between 1967 and 1982, Dodi, the grandson of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, was one of the greatest basketball players in Brazil, and was part of the mythical squad that conquered the world championship in 1979.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, Sirio was one of Brazil’s major basketball teams. Many of its players were regularly called to play in the national team, which was one of the world’s best at the time.

In 2014, Palestino decided to include on its jersey the full map of Palestine (before the partition), replacing the number one. (Supplied)

“We had a hegemony of about 30 years. We won several national tournaments, and also the South American championship six times,” Dodi said.

Another Arab club, Sao Paulo’s Monte Libano, also had a very competitive basketball team.

Sirio took part in the Intercontinental Cup six times, and Dodi was part of the team in all of them except for the 1984 edition. “We ended up in third place twice, second place twice and won it once, in 1979,” he said.

That year, the cup was hosted by Brazil. The matches drew thousands of basketball fans to the stadium and were televised nationwide.

Sirio made it to the final against the Yugoslav club Bosna. The Brazilians’ spectacular 100-98 victory has never been forgotten.

“Our generation greatly helped to popularize basketball in Brazil,” Dodi said. Sirio continued to be a leading basketball club until 1995, when the sport became largely professional in Brazil and its directors concluded that it would no longer be possible to keep the necessary level of investment necessary to maintain it at the top.

A closeup of jersey featuring a map of palestine. (Supplied) 

But Sirio never ceased to be a school for new athletes. It had great champions such as the weightlifter Tamer Chaim — who competed at the summer Olympics in Munich — and tennis player William Kyriakos.

“We also had great judo fighters and top handball and volleyball teams. We continue to be an authority in sports,” Dodi said, adding that a frequent rival of Sirio was Club Deportivo Palestino of Santiago, Chile.

Carlos Medina Lahsen, a Chilean of Palestinian descent and an expert in Palestino’s history, told Arab News: “Especially in the 1950s, matches between the two clubs were greatly anticipated.”

Palestino was founded in 1920 as a football club. Due to British influence, Palestinians already played football in the Middle East before migrating to Latin America, Medina Lahsen said.

“Communities of foreigners began to practice sports looking for integration into Chilean society, but discrimination was very intense at that time,” he added.

The club gave up on football in 1923 and prioritized tennis. But Palestino and another Arab club joined forces in the 1940s, and resumed football at the time of the 1947 partition of Palestine.

Sirio’s 1979 Intercontinental Cup-winning Basketball team. (Supplied)

During the 1950s, the team received much investment from Palestinian businessmen and became known as “the millionaires.” In 1955, it conquered the national football championship.

With the second uprising against Israeli occupation (2000-2005), the interest of many Palestinian Chileans in Palestino grew, and the club saw a surge in new fans.

In 2008, Palestino made it to the final of the national championship against Colo Colo. Although Palestino was defeated, it garnered widespread attention from Palestinians.

In the internet era, news of a football club named after their country amazed them. “We heard that people rented cinema theaters and streamed the match in the Gaza Strip,” said Medina Lahsen.

From then on, the connection between the club and Palestine greatly increased. Chilean players visited Palestine on many occasions, and even the main team took part in matches there. The Bank of Palestine became a frequent sponsor.

In 2014, Palestino decided to include on its jersey the full map of Palestine (before the partition), replacing the number one.

This spurred controversy in Chile, with members of the Jewish community accusing the club of erasing Israel from the map, and many pressuring the national football federation to intervene.

The sports authorities did not consider the symbol to be political in nature, and only fined Palestino because the map exceeded the maximum area of the jersey that could show printed content.

“The club used that jersey all through the season. Until now, it’s the most popular jersey in Palestino’s history,” said Medina Lahsen.

The documentary film “4 Colores,” which narrates the club’s history, demonstrates how football promoted a connection between Chileans and the Palestine cause.

“Many of Palestino’s fans aren’t directly part of the Arab community in Chile, but nevertheless they’ve been touched by the plight of Palestinians worldwide,” said Medina Lahsen, who was in charge of research for the film.

He discovered that across Latin America there have been sports clubs with Palestino or Arabe in their name, such as Central Palestino in Uruguay and Palestino Futbol Club in Honduras. In Argentina and Chile, there are dozens of clubs named Sirio or Sirio Libanes.

In Panama, one of the top football clubs is Deportivo Arabe Unido, from the city of Colon.

Sirio’s unforgettable and decisive game against Bosna that clinched the championship. (Supplied)

Although the Arab community in Colon is not very large — it has an estimated 120 families — it has played a central role in local sports.

DAU “was founded by Arab Panamanians in the 1990s, when the country didn’t have a professional football league. We never thought it would grow so much,” the club’s President Mohamed Hachem told Arab News.

Since its creation, the club has been one of the most successful in Panama’s premier league, with several national championships. Most of its fans are not members of the Arab community now.

“We’ve had a few players of Arab origin, and the Arab community is very supportive of us,” Hachem said.

The club is working to build its new headquarters and sports center, including a social area.

One of Hachem’s plans for the future is to promote a championship among Arab football clubs in Latin America. “It would be a beautiful thing to gather all of them,” he said.