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

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard
Updated 24 January 2022

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard
  • Guests received coaching workshops and took on golf challenges ahead of the tournament at King Abdullah Economic City’s Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Feb. 3-6

RIYADH: With the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers less than two weeks away, Saudi Arabia’s leading golf coaches joined forces to host an evening introducing 60 influencers and members of the media to the sport.

The event was held at “First Golf” — a new golfing entertainment destination managed by Golf Saudi that sits at the heart of Riyadh City Boulevard.

The guests received tuition, took on golf challenges, spoke to tournament officials as well as seeing the revered Saudi International trophy that was reclaimed last year by US star Dustin Johnson — the world No. 3.

The PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers is just weeks away with some of the world’s best biggest stars teeing off at King Abdullah Economic City’s Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Feb. 3-6.

The tournament, now part of the Asian Tour, is helping to spread interest in golf in the Kingdom, part of Golf Saudi’s strategy to see more Saudi nationals become active in the sport as part of Vision 2030. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s fastest growing golf markets with ambitions for 2025 that include getting 3.5 million people to take up the sport for the first time, 320 contracted schools for golf curriculum activity and 135,000 children actively engaging in the sport.

“Since the inaugural Saudi International tournament in 2019, we’ve seen the golf market really thriving in the Kingdom,” said Ed Edwards, Golf Saudi chief operating officer.

“Participation numbers, interest and engagement is growing year-on-year here in the Kingdom. Hosting world class and international tournament gives an amazing platform for our mass participation programs here at Golf Saudi to roll out across clubs, schools and the wider golfing industry.

“Facilities like ‘First Golf’ makes the sport more accessible for newcomers in a fun and relaxed way for all abilities and all ages. We’re creating modern and urban touch points to allow more opportunities for Saudis to engage with the game at a purely social level,” he said.

The media evening saw Golf Saudi’s coaches give specialist coaching and education on the sport. The coaches are also overseeing the Kingdom’s very best talent — with the national teams currently notching wins recently at the Arab Golf Championship and Jordan Open as participation increases on the regional and Asian circuits.

“It’s so encouraging to see women, men, boys and girls really get into this sport — and swing a club for the very first time,” said Reem Alqubaisi, a Golf Saudi coach.

“Initiatives and modern facilities similar to what we have here at First Golf provide a great environment to introduce and educate people on this amazing sport. Everyone has been trying to smash their driver, inspired by Bryson DeChambeau and the other stars who will heading to the Kingdom in the next two weeks.”

DeChambeau will be part of a star-studded field packed with Ryder Cup stars and Major-winning golfers heading to compete in the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, where the likes of defending champion Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton and Louis Oosthuizen will join him.

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise
Updated 24 January 2022

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise
  • Marco Verratti put PSG ahead in the final minute of a sluggish first half, drilling home his first Ligue 1 goal since May 2017

PARIS: Lionel Messi returned, another marquee signing Sergio Ramos scored as Paris Saint-Germain cruised to a 4-0 victory over Reims on Sunday to restore their Ligue 1 lead to 11 points.
“We had a good game, we took three points,” said PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Earlier, Nice briefly cut the gap with a 2-0 win at Metz. But three of the teams just behind them lost.
Messi, returning from Covid, started on the bench while Kylian Mbappe returned to the starting lineup after a groin strain while Ramos made only his second league start of the season.
Marco Verratti put PSG ahead in the final minute of a sluggish first half, drilling home his first Ligue 1 goal since May 2017.
“It’s good that a player who doesn’t score often, does,” said Pochettino.
PSG upped the tempo after the break.
Ramos, who arrived from Real in the summer, scored his first goal for the club. The central defender reacted quickest to a loose ball from a PSG corner. After his first shot was parried by Predrag Rajkovic, the Spaniard reacted fastest again to slam home the rebound.
“I am happy to have played 90 minutes and I am personally happy because it is my first goal with PSG, I hope there will be many more,” said Ramos.
“It’s been three weeks since I started playing normally with the group,” he said. “We have the cup, we have the league, we have the Champions League, this is the best time to arrive in shape.”
Pochettino was happy with the goal.
“It’s good that he scored like Marco. He had a good game,” said the manager.
That goal brought Ramos level with Messi on one league goal this season, it also acted as the cue for Pochettino to send Messi on.
In the 67th minute, Messi set up Verratti for a shot that deflected off two defenders and into the top corner.
Danilo Pereira added a fourth as PSG matched their biggest league win of the season.
Earlier, Khephren Thuram’s goal set up a precious 2-0 away win for Nice as they saw off strugglers Metz to move back up to second place.
Khephren, the 20-year-old son of World Cup winner Lilian, opened the scoring in the 58th minute while a late spot-kick from Amine Gouiri completed the victory with a cheeky Panenka.
The three points lift Nice above their bitter south coast rivals Marseille, who are two points behind in third with a game in hand.
“We are still too far behind (PSG) to think about top spot. I’m more concerned by what’s coming up behind us,” said Nice coach Christophe Galtier.
“It’s about racking up the points and that can be tough when the opponent is fighting relegation.”
Strasbourg lost 4-3 at Bordeaux where Hwang Ui-Jo hit a hat-trick to lift the home team out of the bottom three.
Bordeaux, who had not scored in three league and cup games this year while conceding 10, hit three in the first 38 minutes but were made to sweat for their victory as their defense then leaked three goals.
“Hwang had a perfect game, he bailed us out on several occasions. He’s had some difficulties in the last few games, so I’m very happy that he’s back,” said Bordeaux’s under-threat coach Vladimir Petkovic.
“I am sorry that we let in three goals,” said Petkovic. “We had a very good first half but then the fear of winning the game took over.”
Rennes took an 18th-minute lead at another struggler Clermont with a goal by Baptiste Santamaria, but missed several other chances and paid in the second half.
Former Rennes player Lucas Da Cunha levelled in the 59th minute and Jordan Tell struck in the 70th minute.
Montpellier beat Monaco 3-2 to climb sixth.
Elye Wahi gave the home team a 13th-minute lead and Stephy Mavididi scored twice, the winner coming in stoppage time.
Wissam Ben Yedder and Vanderson scored for Monaco, who drop to seventh.

Newcastle United arrive in Saudi Arabia for training camp

Newcastle United arrive in Saudi Arabia for training camp
Updated 24 January 2022

Newcastle United arrive in Saudi Arabia for training camp

Newcastle United arrive in Saudi Arabia for training camp
  • Eddie Howe’s team do not have another Premier League game until they host Everton at St. James’ Park on Feb. 8

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United have landed in Jeddah for a warm weather training camp a day after registering only their second Premier League win of the season.

Last week Arab News revealed that the Magpies will fly to Saudi Arabia following the Saturday match at Elland Road, and Eddie Howe’s team would have landed in Jeddah buoyed by a 1-0 secured courtesy of a Jonjo Shelvey freekick goal.

Some fans were on hand to welcome the players and Amanda Staveley, who along with PIF and the Reuben brothers completed the takeover of the club in October.

The Newcastle squad’s schedule has been kept under wraps so far, but the team is expected to take on Saudi Professional League leaders Al-Ittihad in a training match behind closed doors on Friday. The team will return to the UK on Saturday, Jan 29.

Newcastle do not have another Premier League game until they host Everton at St. James’ Park on Feb. 8, with next weekend free due to them being dumped out of the FA Cup by lower-league Cambridge United earlier this month.

Prior to departure, Howe described the trip to Saudi Arabia as “vitally important” for his team.

“Going away will encourage unity,” he said. “It will be a work training camp — we will be training, working and playing a game. I want people to know we are going to be very active.”

Ziyech gem fires Chelsea to victory over Spurs

Ziyech gem fires Chelsea to victory over Spurs
Updated 23 January 2022

Ziyech gem fires Chelsea to victory over Spurs

Ziyech gem fires Chelsea to victory over Spurs
  • Third-placed Chelsea are now 10 points behind leaders Manchester City

LONDON: Chelsea kept alive their faint Premier League title hopes as Hakim Ziyech’s superb strike inspired a crucial 2-0 win over Tottenham on Sunday. Ziyech broke the deadlock with his dazzling long-range curler early in the second half at Stamford Bridge.

Thiago Silva’s header killed off Tottenham, who were furious that Harry Kane had a first half goal ruled out for a foul.

Third-placed Chelsea are now 10 points behind leaders Manchester City after ending a damaging run of four league games without a victory.

Chelsea had beaten Tottenham three times already this season without conceding a goal, including knocking their London rivals out of the League Cup semifinals.

Failing to do so for a fourth time would have been a hammer blow to the Blues’ bid to reel in City.

Chelsea won’t play again in the league until mid-February due to the winter break and their involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup.

But, for the first time since Dec. 26 at Aston Villa, Thomas Tuchel’s side tasted league success, giving them a much-needed boost at a time when their season was in danger of going off the rails.

Tottenham’s first defeat in 10 league games since Antonio Conte took charge was a blow to their challenge for a top four finish.

They remain in seventh, two points behind fourth placed Manchester United with two games in hand.

Tottenham fans let themselves down by throwing missiles at Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger in the closing stages.

Conte’s team had arrived at the Bridge on a high after Steven Bergwijn’s stoppage-time double earned a remarkable 3-2 win at Leicester in midweek.

But former Chelsea boss Conte had seen Tottenham swept away by a poor start in their League Cup first leg loss against his old club.

In a bid to neutralize Chelsea’s threat, the Italian switched Tottenham to a back four for the first time in his reign.

Yet Conte must have been fearing the worst after Chelsea made another lively start.

Romelu Lukaku hooked a decent chance over the bar from Mason Mount’s delivery before Callum Hudson-Odoi nodded Ziyech’s cross just wide. Ziyech’s swerving drive forced from 25 yards forced a parried save from Hugo Lloris.

Significantly, Silva, already booked for a foul on Bergwijn, breathed a sigh of relief when another foul on the winger went unpunished. Lukaku’s lack of confidence and touch were painfully clear as the Belgian striker kicked at thin air in an embarrassing failed attempt to convert Mount’s pass from eight yards.

Tottenham thought they had taken the lead against the run of play when Kane fired home from Ryan Sessegnon’s pass.

But referee Paul Tierney controversially disallowed it for a slight push from Kane that sent Silva sprawling theatrically as he tried to track the striker’s run.

Ziyech rubbed salt into Tottenham’s wounds as the Moroccan winger produced a moment of magic in the 47th minute.

Hudson-Odoi led the charge with a driving run and pass to Ziyech, who curled a sublime strike into the far corner from the edge of the area.

Ziyech almost followed his second goal in successive games with a third moments later when his rocket was palmed away by Lloris.

After his role in Kane’s disallowed goal, it was inevitable Silva would haunt Tottenham again and the Brazilian doubled their lead in the 55th minute.

Eric Dier’s foul on Hudson-Odoi conceded a free-kick that was questioned furiously by the Tottenham defender.

From the set-piece, Mount’s delivery was perfect for Silva to glance his header into the far corner.

Lukaku was denied a goal by Lloris’s fine save, but Chelsea had done enough to ease their winter blues.

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard
Updated 23 January 2022

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard
  • Jonjo Shelvey’s free-kick injects could be turning point in Newcastle’s fight against relegation as defense holds firm against off-color Leeds

LEEDS: It’s the sort of goal that exemplifies a season turning point: A scruffy set piece late in the game that, through a combination of indecisive goalkeeping and the hint of a deflection, squirms its way into the far corner. Whether it’s a slice of good fortune or a helping hand, they all count – and this one might count more than most.

Jonjo Shelvey’s late free-kick proved enough to seal all three points for Newcastle United against a strangely off-color Leeds at Elland Road and, although still deep in the relegation mire, it might well represent the first rung on the Tyneside club’s climb to safety. 

The gap to 17th is now down to a single point and next up is an Everton side without so much as one of those in five weeks. As the season heads into its latest international break, the ladder is beginning to look a little shorter.

Shelvey certainly understood the importance of the goal. As the net billowed almost apologetically in front of the home fans, he sprinted 60 meters down the pitch to greet the explosion of noise from the two-tiered away end. The delirium was repeated at the final whistle with players, many now shirtless, celebrating the three points as though they’d be presented by the queen.

“It’s massive,” Shelvey said after the game. “We will keep going and we believe we have enough to stay up. Everyone is in this together.”

Not that the omens before kick-off were particularly auspicious. The Newcastle fans being herded into the stadium through a concrete walkway from the coach park might have sung “Eddie Howe’s black and white army,” but it was hard to disguise the growing unease about his reign. The manager had presided over a solitary Premier League win since his November appointment – against fellow strugglers Burnley seven weeks ago - and had never previously emerged victorious from Elland Road.

Norwich’s win the previous evening, their second in succession, added its own pressure, as did news of Watford’s decision to part company with Claudio Ranieri after just 14 games in charge. It was difficult to understate the stakes for both club and manager.

The early phase of the game reflected the tensions. Leeds, shorn of several key players and far from safe themselves, immediately pressed Newcastle back and, finding joy out wide, fizzed a number of balls across the box. Their lack of an orthodox center-forward blunted their threat, however, and gradually Newcastle emerged from their low block to gain a toehold in the game.

The second half offered increasing promise. Newcastle were now dominating midfield, cutting the supply lines to the dangerous Raphinha and, although rarely fluid, countering in greater numbers. On 74 minutes, one such breakaway down the right resulted in Diego Llorente’s ungainly tug on Javier Manquillo 20 yards from goal and Shelvey did the rest.

Unlike the Watford game a week earlier, there were no late surprises and Newcastle were able to close out the game with minimal alarm and register a first clean sheet of the season.   

A very good day’s work, then, and perhaps significantly one that owed as much to the players Howe inherited from predecessor Steve Bruce as January’s expensive recruits.

As compact and composed as Kieran Trippier was, Shelvey, now in his seventh season at St. James’ Park, was the outstanding player on the pitch, gradually wresting control of the central areas and dictating play with smart, unfussy distribution. Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schar, with close to 300 appearances between them, provided a central wall that Leeds rarely looked like penetrating, and Martin Dubravka, first choice since his arrival from Sparta Prague in 2018, made a crucial block to stem the early Leeds tide.

There remains considerable work to do at Newcastle on and off the park to turn one result into a season-saving sequence. 

With 17 games remaining, it’s clear old faces will  be required to make just as important a contribution as new blood. On that front, encouragement was in ready supply at Elland Road.