Saudi Arabia, Iraq absent as 2021 FIFA Arab Cup party gets into full swing

Saudi Arabia, Iraq absent as 2021 FIFA Arab Cup party gets into full swing
Saudi Arabia's defender Saud Abdulhamid (L) consoles his teammate forward Abdullah Al-Hamdan during the FIFA Arab Cup 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 12 December 2021

Saudi Arabia, Iraq absent as 2021 FIFA Arab Cup party gets into full swing

Saudi Arabia, Iraq absent as 2021 FIFA Arab Cup party gets into full swing
  • Despite a disappointing group stage exit, the Green Falcons’ participation must be seen as nothing more than a platform to try out young talent

When the 2021 Arab Cup quarterfinals took place over the weekend, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, two of Asia’s traditional powerhouses, were nowhere to be seen.

Despite being two of the region’s most successful teams, they both exited at the group stage after a series of disappointing performances.

There has been huge discontent among Iraqis with the way the team has been managed and the technical instability since their frustrating performances in the World Cup qualifiers. It is no surprise that Iraq will be scrutinized for their performances at the Arab Cup, especially since they arrived in Qatar looking to claim a fifth title, but left the group stage with two draws with Oman and Bahrain and a heavy loss to the hosts.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, ended with a draw and two defeats, scoring only one goal and failing to keep a clean sheet in the three matches.

The two-time winners’ appearance in this tournament did not match their recent outstanding results or elegant performances in the qualifying rounds for the 2022 World Cup.

The Saudis also — but to a lesser extent — have been criticized by some fans. But it is important to focus on the goal of their participation in their tournament. Was it to win the competition? Or  did they have longer-term targets?

While making it clear that he did not wish to devalue the tournament, Green Falcons coach Herve Renard used it as a platform to try out the country’s young talent — those born in the year 1999 and after — with his assistant Laurent Bonadei taking charge of team affairs. The idea was to pick out those that could potentially go on to play at the World Cup next year or the AFC Asian Cup in 2023. This is the same approach that the Frenchman had previously taken when in charge of the Moroccan national team ahead of the African Cup of Nations.

Watching from the stands allowed Renard to supervise the young players from a distance and study their performance better, and more dispassionately, than if he had been in complete charge.

Still, Renard was criticized for choosing certain players randomly, without preparation, and without homogeneity or cohesion on the field. The team did not appear to be playing with a clear identity in attack.

Contrast that with the Saudi first team’s exceptional performances and personality in the World Cup qualifiers, which have produced 16 points from five victories and a draw. They sit atop their qualifying group and are strong favorites to make it to Qatar 2022.

While it would have been asking a lot to maintain that level with what was essentially a reserve team, many believe Renard left out players — such as Saleh Al-Shehri — who could have benefited from showing off their skills and character.

While disappointment, even heartbreak, was evident in the Saudi press, which stressed the team’s lack of experience, it is hoped that this tournament will eventually be seen as a strategy with a long-term benefit. I see that the participation with fringe players was a wise and smart decision, especially since the calendar is already hectic for many of the first-choice squad members.

In fact, the players are to be applauded, as their participation was far from a disgrace, given their complete lack of preparation time, and they have already confirmed the benefit they gained from the experience of playing against more mature and experienced players.

Responsibility for the results, and the team’s elimination, lies with Renard, which is something that he was more than prepared for.

It is true that the result was statistically the worst in Saudi Arabia’s history in this tournament, but the main objectives remain qualification for next year’s World Cup and the AFC Asian Cup beyond that.

Only then will we find out if the strategy applied in this Arab Cup was correct or not.


Man United bottom of Premier League after 4-0 thrashing by Brentford

Man United bottom of Premier League after 4-0 thrashing by Brentford
Updated 7 sec ago

Man United bottom of Premier League after 4-0 thrashing by Brentford

Man United bottom of Premier League after 4-0 thrashing by Brentford
LONDON: Erik ten Hag’s bad start as Manchester United manager descended into an embarrassment as a 4-0 thrashing by Brentford on Saturday left the Red Devils bottom of the Premier League.
The former Ajax boss’ reign began with Brighton’s first ever win at Old Trafford last weekend, but much worse was to come as the Bees punished a series of errors to score four times in the first 35 minutes.
Josh Dasilva’s strike slipped through David de Gea’s grasp to open the floodgates before Mathias Jensen pounced on United’s attempt to play out from the back to make it 2-0 inside 18 minutes.
Ben Mee then exposed the visitors’ frailty from set-pieces for his first Brentford goal and Bryan Mbuemo rounded off a stunning counter-attack 10 minutes before half-time to sink United to the bottom of the table for the first time in 30 years.
The jubilant home support taunted Ten Hag with chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning.”
But the Dutch coach has inherited a rabble rather than being the root cause as United lost a seventh consecutive away league match for the first time since 1936.
That run included shipping four goals at Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton last season.
The arrival of £57 million ($69 million) center-back Lisandro Martinez from Ajax has done little to shore up United’s leaky defense and questions will be asked of why Ten Hag has left Raphael Varane on the bench in favor of the Argentine and the out-of-sorts Harry Maguire.
Ten Hag did recall Cristiano Ronaldo to the starting line-up, but the wantaway five-time Ballon d’Or winner played a part in the opening goal.
Ronaldo went to ground too easily seeking a foul as he was surrounded by Brentford bodies. Dasilva’s shot should still have been a comfortable save for De Gea, but the ball squirmed underneath the Spaniard.
De Gea compounded that mistake eight minutes later with an attempted pass to Christian Eriksen, who was outmuscled by his former teammate Jensen, and the Dane coolly slotted home to double Brentford’s lead.
Martinez’s diminutive 5ft 9in (1.8m) frame was raised as a red flag for his ability to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League.
And the Argentine was beaten at the back post by Mee for the third goal after Ivan Toney headed a corner across goal.
Credit to Brentford in just their second season in the English top-flight for 75 years may get swept away in the waves of criticism coming United’s way.
But Thomas Frank’s men produced a stunning move to tear United open again for their fourth goal.
Toney was released down the left wing and picked out Mbuemo with a precise first-time pass for the Frenchman to race in behind Luke Shaw and finish low past De Gea.
Ten Hag made his feelings clear at the break with a triple substitution with Shaw, Martinez and Fred the scapegoats.
United did at least stop the bleeding after the break and should have had at least one consolation as Ronaldo looped a header over before Eriksen’s header lacked the power to beat David Raya.
The damage, though, was long since done for Ten Hag and worse could still be to come.
United host Liverpool, who beat their historic rivals 5-0 and 4-0 last season, in their next game on August 22.

Eddie Howe admits Newcastle lucky to earn ‘valuable’ point at Brighton

Eddie Howe admits Newcastle lucky to earn ‘valuable’ point at Brighton
Updated 1 min 9 sec ago

Eddie Howe admits Newcastle lucky to earn ‘valuable’ point at Brighton

Eddie Howe admits Newcastle lucky to earn ‘valuable’ point at Brighton
  • The Magpies were lucky to play out a 0-0 draw on the south coast of England
  • United chief admits he was pleased with the spirit shown by the dressing room to grind out result

BRIGHTON: Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has admitted the Magpies rode their luck in their draw at Brighton - although he was pleased to get another Premier League point on the board.

The Magpies were lucky to play out a 0-0 draw on the south coast of England with Graham Potter's Seagulls dominating the Magpies as both sides continued their unbeaten start to the Premier League season.

It was a far from vintage show by Howe's players, but the United chief admits he was pleased with the spirit shown by the dressing room to grind out a positive, if arguably undeserved, share of the spoils.

“I am always disappointed not to win but very pleased with a point in the end, especially after the second-half,” he said.

“I thought it was a difficult second-half, Brighton played very well. We rode our luck at times but dug in and showed a great spirit and unity.

“We got a valuable point.”

Former Seagulls defender Dan Burn, as well as United keeper Nick Pope, were the stand out performers for the Magpies - and both had to be at their very best to keep Potter's men at bay.

And while Pope was brought in to produce the kind of saves he did at the Amex Stadium, Burn was not added to the group to play left back, which he did at Brighton.

“I thought Dan did great today,” said Howe.

“It was very difficult. Although it’s a small transition across the pitch, it’s a huge one at the same time. He hadn’t played left-back for a long time but I thought he did very well against his former team.

“He put in one crucial block that saved us at a key time in the game.

“Overall, very pleased with his performance and his attitude to doing that position.”

Pope made three or four top class saves to deny Brighton three points on the day and further his England ambitions with a flashy show.

"I just thought he was top class and he has been since he came to the club,” said Howe.

"He is a very relaxed figure, very confident in the dressing room. He’s got a real calmness about him.

"The save from Adam Lallana was top class. Not just that save, he made a number of really important ones for us. I think he showed his importance to us this season.”

In a rare moment of forward threat, Callum Wilson did see a goal disallowed for a high foot in the opening exchanges. It was a controversial call from Graham Scott - and one Howe questioned.

"I’d need to see it again. My initial reaction was I thought it was harsh and given too quickly,” he said.

"The decision could have been let go to see what VAR said but it wasn’t to be. We had a number of moments in that first-half. We had some really good attacks, threatened on the counter-attack and in transitions we were very strong.

"For large parts, the last action wasn’t decisive enough. Unfortunately none of those attacks came to much.”

Meanwhile, Howe has explained the reason why Scotland international winger Ryan Fraser was not in the Newcastle squad for the game.

He said: "He had a slight back spasm on Thursday and Friday. He was close to making the game.”

Matt Targett, another absentee, is expected to be fit for next week's visit of Manchester City to St James' Park, having missed this one with a dead leg.


World Cup hospitality website lists Palestine, not Israel, as country

World Cup hospitality website lists Palestine, not Israel, as country
Updated 30 min 4 sec ago

World Cup hospitality website lists Palestine, not Israel, as country

World Cup hospitality website lists Palestine, not Israel, as country
  • Arab football fans hail ‘bold and rightful step’
  • “FIFA should do the same since Russia is perceived as an aggressor and occupier, then so is Israel,” fan tells Arab News

DUBAI: The official website for booking match tickets and hospitality packages at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 lists Palestine as a country instead of Israel, according to media reports.
Israelis wishing to make bookings to travel to Doha for matches have to choose Palestine as their territory instead of Israel.
Winterhill Hospitality is the exclusive sales agent of match hospitality in Asia and Oceania territories for official hospitality programs.
Palestinian news agency WAFA said the previous listing read “Palestinian Territory, Occupied” before being changed to “Palestine.”
Arab football fans took to social media to hail the move, which was described as a “bold and rightful step” for recognizing Palestine as a country on the list instead of Israel.
Israeli media first raised the issue on Wednesday as Israel was not listed in the section for Europe either.
“Thank you to Qatar for crossing out the name of Israel from the list of the countries of the World Cup. Salute to the Government of Qatar,” read one tweet.
Lebanese football fan Ali Halawi said he was thrilled to see an Arab country supporting Palestinians.
“Qatar has decided not to recognize that Israel exists and not to grant them the right to join an Arabic event, just like when there’s a foreign event happening and organizers decide not to allow whoever they want not to attend,” he told Arab News.
He said the myth of not involving politics in sports had fallen, especially since FIFA and UEFA were permitting teams, clubs, and fans to show solidarity with Ukraine in its war with Russia.
“The international football governing body should do the same since Russia is perceived as an aggressor and occupier, then so is Israel,” concluded Halawi.
But Iraqi Ali Ebrahim said there was no issue for him as a football fan as neither team had qualified for the tournament.
“It only matters (to) the fans of those countries who qualified to the big event,” he told Arab News, saying the step was “nothing more than a moral victory to Palestinians.”
A US-Palestinian lawyer who requested to be identified as Jamal said the listing was an “appreciated move” that indirectly recognized Palestinians’ rights and their ongoing fight for a free land.
“Not that this will change anything, but it’s an emotional and moral victory. I love football and hate politics, so I’d rather not say much and enjoy the game,” he added.
Samer Osman said he did not like to involve sport in any political issue and was unsure if the move would improve the quality of life for Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza.


NUFC could become Premier League’s 4th club to be featured on Amazon Primes’ All Or Nothing

NUFC could become Premier League’s 4th club to be featured on Amazon Primes’ All Or Nothing
Updated 44 min 20 sec ago

NUFC could become Premier League’s 4th club to be featured on Amazon Primes’ All Or Nothing

NUFC could become Premier League’s 4th club to be featured on Amazon Primes’ All Or Nothing
  • Arsenal are the current English club being shown in the third Premier League instalment of the series
  • Amazon would request access to the Magpies’ hierarchy, manager Eddie Howe and his first-team squad

LONDON: Newcastle United are reportedly being lined up to be the fourth Premier League club to be featured on Amazon Prime’s All Or Nothing documentary series.
Following Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham, the Magpies, who were bought by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in 2021, are being targeted by Amazon to be the Premier League’s upcoming side to be depicted in All Or Nothing, according to British media.
All or Nothing is a brand of sports documentary series distributed on Amazon Prime Video platform.
The current English club being shown are The Gunners in the third season. The documentary goes behind the scenes of European and Premier League clubs.
Amazon Prime’s executives are expected to approach Newcastle United and hope to convince their top management to become the fourth EPL club inside where they want to have their cameras fixed, according to Daily Mail.
Following the season in which Tottenham Hotspur were featured, the documentary targeted Italy’s Serie A top tier Juventus under Andrea Pirlo.
Amazon Prime appear to be hopeful that the series will not take a break especially that the next instalment of the series is scheduled to be released within two years.
It is believed that Amazon would request access to the Magpies’ hierarchy, and manager Eddie Howe and his first-team squad.
The same happened in previous editions with Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, Daniel Levy, Edu Gaspar and Josh Kroneke who were all featured alongside the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourihno and Mikel Arteta.


Pope, Trippier help Newcastle grind out 0-0 draw at Brighton

Pope, Trippier help Newcastle grind out 0-0 draw at Brighton
Updated 13 August 2022

Pope, Trippier help Newcastle grind out 0-0 draw at Brighton

Pope, Trippier help Newcastle grind out 0-0 draw at Brighton
  • Pope racked up a second straight clean sheet since joining Newcastle
  • Newcastle struggled for clear openings despite high endeavor in searing heat

BRIGHTON: Two games, four points and zero goals conceded. When assessing Newcastle United’s opening fortnight of the Premier League campaign, it is hard to find fault.
However, the Magpies were in many ways very lucky to leave East Sussex with a share of the spoils and had Nick Pope and Dan Burn to thank for their help in keeping United’s unbeaten start to the season going.
It is not often that you will see Eddie Howe change a winning team, but this time injury forced the head coach’s hand, with a Matt Targett dead leg forcing a backline reshuffle.
Having stated that he would allow Sven Botman time to settle into English football, Howe was forced to throw the Dutchman in from the off at the Amex Stadium as Dan Burn shifted to the left of the back four.
In an evenly-matched first 45, both sides could easily make a case for walking in ahead at the break.
Fresh from his first strike of the season, Callum Wilson had the ball in the net after a smart turn and finish, but the whistle of Graham Scott prevented the goal from standing, as the United frontman was deemed to have raised a high boot in the run-up to his cool finish.
With Brighton winning the midfield battle, Adam Lallana and Moises Caicedo’s prominence began to switch the balance of play in favor of Graham Potter’s men.
Solly March’s influence on the right against Newcastle’s makeshift left flank also began to pay dividends, and it was the winger who came within an inch or two of breaking the deadlock.
Joelinton gifted the ball to the Seagulls in the middle and on the break a half-cleared ball dropped favorably to March, whose drilled drive looked set to squirm into the far corner only for Pope to first get a fingertip to it, then for Kieran Trippier to scoop up and clear off the line. On second look, only one-third of the ball was still on the line — Brighton could barely have gotten any closer to a goal.
At the other end, Robert Sanchez saved low from Wilson but the flag went up anyway, even if, again, on replay, the United number nine was, in fact, onside.
Brighton, who swept aside Manchester United for their historic first-ever win at Old Trafford last weekend, came out a team transformed in the second period and put United under the cosh.
Dominating possession and field position, the Seagulls still had to try and beat the towering frame of Pope, between the sticks for United. And it is fair to say that they found it tough.
England keeper Pope stretched his long, long left lever to deny a goal-bound Lallana header, in what was easily one of the best saves of the Premier League season to date. Pope then made sure March was not getting on the score sheet as he pulled off yet another potentially point-saving stop low down.
United were hanging on and fighting for their lives. Dan Burn was next to show some penalty box heroics as he flung his body in the way of a Joel Veltman strike. Fabian Schar tidied up the mess with Danny Welbeck lurking.
And in what proved to be the final act in a frenetic, very one-sided second period, substitute Kaoru Mitoma skinned a tired-looking Trippier and squared for the Seagulls’ two-goal hero from last week, Pascal Gross, but somehow the German diverted wide when just four yards out.
In truth, Newcastle deserved little from the encounter. And while they more than competed in the opening 45, the team was thoroughly outclassed and outpassed for much of the second.
However, not one to dwell on the negative, a point on the road in the Premier League, particularly so far from home on the south coast of England, is no mean feat and the result ensures that Howe and United’s unbeaten start to the top flight season goes on.
The point could prove crucial, especially given that Manchester City and Liverpool lie in wait in the Magpies’ next three Premier League games.