5 things to look out for at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup semi-finals

5 things to look out for at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup semi-finals
Egypt has only once in the last 27 games conceded more than a single goal, thanks to goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy. (AFP)
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Updated 14 December 2021

5 things to look out for at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup semi-finals

5 things to look out for at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup semi-finals
  • African dominance shown by presence of 3 of last 4 teams left, while hosts Qatar will represent Asia

RIYADH: The 2021 FIFA Arab Cup is within reach for four nations as the tournament semi-finals play out on Wednesday with Egypt taking on Tunisia and hosts Qatar meeting Algeria. Here are five talking points ahead of the big clashes.

1. Saudi Arabia still involved

The young Green Falcons exited the tournament at the first stage but there is still interest for their fans with no less than nine players from the Saudi Professional League still involved – some more than others.

Saad Bguir has been having a good season for Abha and has been coming off the bench for Tunisia with Naim Sliti of Al-Ettifaq and playing in every game so far.

Algeria have more. Goalkeeper Moustapha Zeghba plays between the sticks for Damac and took part in the 2-0 win over Lebanon in the group stage. Club mate Hillal Soudani appeared in all three group games.

Al-Ettifaq have two representatives in the Fennecs’ line-up. Goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi has been in great form and saved the penalty against Morocco that won the quarter-final shootout though defender Ayoub Abdellaoui has yet to come off the bench. There is also Amir Sayoud of Al-Tai and Al-Fateh’s Sofiane Bendebka.

And then there is Ahmed Hegazi. One of the best defenders in the Arab world, the Egyptian center-back went off injured in the first half of the final group game with Algeria. If the former English Premier League star recovers, his name will be the first on the team sheet, but Al-Ittihad fans will just be hoping he returns to Jeddah fit.

2. Egypt not all about Salah

When you have a player like Mohamed Salah in the form he has been in for the past few years at Liverpool, it is no surprise that he hogs the headlines. There is talent spread throughout the team however and one benefit about the European stars being absent is that the spotlight is allowed to shine elsewhere.

It does not often reach as far back as the goalkeeper partly because the attacking talent is there and partly because the defense is solid – only once in the last 27 games have the Pharaohs conceded more than a single goal. Against Jordan in the quarterfinals, that record was preserved partly thanks to goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy.

The Al-Ahly No. 1 has had plenty of success with his club, winning the Egyptian league five times and the African Champions League twice but he has yet to lift silverware in his national colors. If he can stay as sharp against Tunisia, a team that has looked good going forward, as against Jordan then that may be about to change.

3. Qatar looking good as Asian and African champions meet

Four games played for Qatar and four games won. The most recent was the 5-0 thrashing of the UAE in which the Asian champions were clinical and then some. What was even better was that all five were scored in the first half. It was a fantastic, fluid performance from the Maroons and they just blew their West Asian rivals away.

The game was won by the break which enabled Qatar to take their collective feet off the pedal. Their next opponents Algeria meanwhile played a day later and had an epic tussle with Morocco that went to extra-time then penalties. So, Qatar have had an extra day’s rest and a much easier game.

Not only that, but there was also a national attendance record of 63,439 for the game with the UAE. There was an excellent atmosphere, and those home fans have the chance to make a difference once again.

This is also a meeting between the reigning champions of Asia and Africa but with Algeria missing their European stars and Qatar at full strength, on home soil and with fresher legs, the 2022 World Cup hosts will be looking to get to the final.

4. Belmadi’s chance for revenge against Qatar with Algeria

For Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi, the semi-final with the host nation is a great chance to make a point. The former Algerian international was in charge of Qatar from 2014 to 2015 when he was fired after a very disappointing AFC Asian Cup campaign.

The ex-Marseille, Manchester City, and Southampton midfielder then returned to the Qatar Stars League and led Al-Duhail to two league titles, to take his Qatari championship tally to four. But domestic titles are one thing, if Belmadi can dump Qatar out of this tournament at the semi-final stage, always said to be the worst time to be eliminated, it would be a massive feather in his cap.

He said any feelings about his dismissal were very much in the past but as a coach he is an intense, almost brooding character and it is very possible that events of 2015 still rankle.

Playing Qatar, who have won all four of their games so far, will not faze Algeria. Heading into the quarterfinals, Morocco were the form team in the tournament but lost to their North African rivals.

5. Tunisia need to defeat history as well as Egypt

The Carthage Eagles have never appeared in a final since 1963 when they won the Arab Cup and there is no doubt that 58 years is too long. It will be a fiercely contested clash in front of a big and noisy crowd and whichever team settles first may end up going to the final.

Historically, Tunisia have had the better of these meetings, but Egypt have won five of the last seven.

Tunisia’s aerial threat could be crucial. Both goals against Oman came from headers with the first nodded in by Seifeddine Jaziri. The tournament top scorer now has four goals: One with his left, one with his right, one with a backheel, and now one with his head.

The Zamalek forward knows a thing or two about playing against Egyptian defenders and could make the difference. If Egypt’s star center-back Ahmed Hegazi is fit, then it should be a huge battle. If he is not, then Jaziri will be rubbing his hands and be looking forward to adding to his tally.


Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
Updated 01 July 2022

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
  • Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne leads the way in the Drivers’ World Championship with a five-point advantage over nearest challenger and double champion Jean-Eric Vergne of DS TECHEETAH

SAUDI ARABIA: The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship returns to Marrakesh on Saturday for round 10 in the 16-race season, with four drivers pulling ahead in the battle for the drivers’ title.

Going into the Marrakesh E-Prix at the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan, Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne leads the way in the Drivers’ World Championship with a five-point advantage over nearest challenger and double champion Jean-Eric Vergne (DS TECHEETAH).

Edoardo Mortara (ROKiT Venturi Racing) is two points back in third place, while Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing), who won last time out in Jakarta, sits fourth, but only 12 points back from the standings lead.

With a maximum of 29 points on offer in Marrakesh, any one of those four drivers could lead the championship come the chequered flag on Saturday,

Evans’ win in Indonesia squeezed the margins splitting the top four, with Mortara and Vergne also making the podium last time around to pile the pressure on points pacesetter Vandoorne.

Consistency is key in Formula E if any driver is to assemble a run at the World Championship. The Belgian has finished outside the top five just twice in nine rounds, though both Evans and Mortara have scored in all but two races this season, while Vergne has never failed to tally.

The Atlas mountains provide the backdrop for Formula E’s fifth trip to the city’s centuries-old Agdal district, with the first Marrakesh E-Prix taking place in 2016. The track follows the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan — named after the crown prince of Morocco — before spilling out onto the streets of Marrakesh’s hotel district.

Renowned for being an energy-zapping circuit, this fast and highly technical track features 12 turns, three straights and a series of bends completing a track length of 2.971 kilometers.

Last time out in Morocco was magic for Antonio Felix da Costa and DS TECHEETAH who dominated proceedings, with victory setting in motion a run to the 2019-20 championship trophy.

Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) sealed the win on Formula E’s inaugural visit in 2016, with Felix Rosenqvist and Jerome D’Ambrosio taking back-to-back victories for Mahindra Racing in 2018 and 2019 before da Costa fired his season six title charge into life a year later here.


Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia
Updated 01 July 2022

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia
  • Automobile Club d’Italia and Regione Sardegna co-organizing event

RIYADH: The countdown is on to the first-ever double-header Extreme E event, as the championship returns to the Italian island of Sardinia for a summer showdown of back-to-back racing on July 6-7 and July 9-10.

NEOM’s title sponsorship of the Island X Prix follows the announcement that Extreme E has entered into a multi-year relationship with ENOWA, NEOM’s energy, water, and hydrogen subsidiary, to introduce green hydrogen power to their global sustainable racing series.

Extreme E continues to showcase innovative sustainable solutions, whether they demonstrate the full potential of e-SUVs or deliver legacy programs at race locations.

The event will be returning to the Season 1 location of the army training area at Capo Teulada in Sulcis-Iglesiente. The Teulada will provide a challenging backdrop for the course, which measures around 7 kilometers.

Due to the hot summer conditions in July, the terrain will be much drier than last year’s Enel X Island X Prix, with the drivers having to navigate a harder, more compact surface riddled with rocks, bushes, and dry riverbeds cracked from the heat.

The purpose-driven message of the series will focus on blue and green carbon restoration in Sardinia, continuing to work alongside the MEDSEA Foundation (Mediterranean Sea and Coast Foundation) to support two significant projects.

For Round Two, the first project explores green carbon. The sport-for-purpose championship will be returning to Sennariolo to visit the communities affected by the devastating wildfires of 2021.

As for Round Three, the second project supports seagrass conservation,  mitigating the detrimental effects of blue carbon in Mediterranean waters.

Extreme E has been working closely with Automobile Club d’Italia - the national sports federation co-organizing and coordinating the event - the Region of Sardinia and its Tourism Department, the Ministry of Defense, and the Italian Army.


Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan
Updated 01 July 2022

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan
  • Milan icon Maldini's new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side
  • Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game

MILAN: Paolo Maldini will stay on as AC Milan’s technical director after signing a new two-year contract, the Serie A champions announced on Friday.
Milan icon Maldini’s new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side.
Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara, who has also signed a two-year extension, to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game.
“This deal highlights the importance of continuity we see throughout the club as we continue to strengthen and grow,” Milan said in a statement.
The 54-year-old confirmed late last night that he had signed an extension after weeks of delays which almost led to Milan starting the summer transfer window — which opened in Italy on Friday — without their key men.
He has been critical in Milan signing some of their most important players, one such example being a now-famous meeting in Ibiza which was crucial to bringing Theo Hernandez to the club in 2019.
France left-back Hernandez was a stand-out player in last season’s surprise title win.
Maldini is one of the greatest players in Milan’s history, winning a raft of trophies over a quarter of a century passed entirely with his boyhood club.
He played over 900 times for Milan, winning the European Cup or Champions League five times and claiming seven Serie A titles before retiring in 2009.
That success was not replicated in an Italy jersey despite earning 126 caps, losing in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 finals.
Last month Milan announced that current owners, investment fund Elliott Management, had agreed to sell the club to rival US fund RedBird for 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion).
Milan said that the sale of the club will be completed no later than September.


Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract
Updated 01 July 2022

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract
  • The Egypt international had entered the final year of his existing contract
  • Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 appearances for the club since arriving in 2017

LIVERPOOL: Mohamed Salah signed a new three-year contract with Liverpool on Friday which will keep him at the club until 2025.
The Egypt international had entered the final year of his existing contract after negotiations over extending his stay dragged on for most of last season.
The 30-year-old forward’s wage demands had been a stumbling block, but a delegation flew out to meet with the player, who is still currently on holiday in the Mediterranean, and came to an agreement which reportedly makes the forward the highest-paid player in the club’s history.
“I feel great and (I am) excited to win trophies with the club. It’s a happy day for everyone,” Salah told the club’s website. “It takes a little bit of time, I think, to renew, but now everything is done so we just need to focus on what’s next. I think you can see in the last five or six years the team was always going (upwards).”
Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 appearances for the club since arriving in 2017 and has helped them win the Premier League, Champions League, Club World Cup, FA Cup and League Cup during that time.
“If I look back to that time when I came (here), the club were not winning many things but I think I told you I had come (here) to win trophies,” Salah said. “I think we have won good trophies together and I think we can do it again.”
Liverpool won the FA Cup and League cup last season but finished second to Manchester City in the Premier League and lost the final of the Champions League to Real Madrid.


Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
Updated 01 July 2022

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
  • Saudi Arabia remained composed and saw out the game to seal a 69-67 win

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s basketball team secured their spot in the second round of qualifying for next year’s FIBA World Cup with a come-from-behind win against Indonesia in Jakarta on Friday.

The Saudis were down by 13 points at one point mid-third quarter, but outscored their hosts by 16-2 to lead 49-48 going into the final quarter.

Despite a valiant effort from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia remained composed and saw out the game to seal a 69-67 win, which propelled them to top of their Asia First Round qualifying pool.

The Saudis can go into their preparations for the second round in style if they seal another win on the road when they face Lebanon, who along with Jordan have also qualified for the next phase, in Zouk Mikael on Monday.

Indonesia are co-hosting next year’s basketball World Cup with the Philippines and Japan.