Algeria edge Qatar in eternal match: 5 things learned from astonishing FIFA Arab Cup semi-final in Doha

Algeria edge Qatar in eternal match: 5 things learned from astonishing FIFA Arab Cup semi-final in Doha
Algeria’s defender Djamel Benlamri, left, heads the ball to score the opening goal during the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 semi-final football match between Qatar and Algeria in Doha on Dec. 15, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 16 December 2021

Algeria edge Qatar in eternal match: 5 things learned from astonishing FIFA Arab Cup semi-final in Doha

Algeria edge Qatar in eternal match: 5 things learned from astonishing FIFA Arab Cup semi-final in Doha
  • Delirious Algerians booked place in final against Tunisia with 17th-minute stoppage-time winner

RIYADH: Amid the most astonishing scenes that this, or indeed any, tournament is ever likely to see, Algeria beat hosts Qatar 2-1 on Wednesday in the second semi-final of the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup to earn a final against rivals Tunisia on Saturday.

Here are five things we learned from a roller-coaster game that looked like it would never end.

1. You will not see a finish like that for a long time

A long time! The 19 minutes of stoppage time was simply incredible. No one will know why so long was added but no one will ever forget what happened.

It looked as if the hosts had run out of ideas as the 90-minute mark approached with them trailing 1-0, but there were gasps when the fourth official held up a board to announce nine minutes of added time in a game that had not seen a lengthy injury break.

The Algerians bench was up in arms and even more so seven minutes later when Mohammed Muntari scored with a textbook header. Algeria were furious and instant online conspiracies were hatched accusing the hosts of getting a favorable decision with the Polish referee waiting until the hosts scored.

Such claims were silenced in the 15th minute of stoppage time (there had been some pushing and shoving after the Qatar goal but still…) as Algeria got a penalty when Yacine Brahimi was brought down and Mohamed Belaili, the hero of the quarter-final win over Morocco, stepped up. His initial shot was saved by Saad Al-Sheeb but he quickly fired home the rebound.

There was still another minute or so played and the final whistle finally sounded after 19 minutes of added time.

It was Qatar’s turn to be unhappy about the time added but, in the end, it was the right result.

2. Qatar could not capitalize on bright start

The Asian champions went at their African counterparts from the first whistle, pressing high and getting men forward as much as possible. The Maroons had swept the UAE aside in the first half of the quarter-final, earning praise from Dwight Yorke.

The former Manchester United star who was watching the match as part of FIFA’s technical study team, said: “Their intention was very clear from the very first whistle: Try and push the UAE back toward their own goal, press them high up the pitch when they could as well, force them into making an early mistake. And they got their reward.”

Qatar attempted to do the same with Algeria and were soon winning possession in advanced positions. With Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, the deadly duo of Asian football, looking dangerous and in tune with one another, the early signs were encouraging but the breakthrough did not come. There was to be no repeat of the UAE first-half blitz.

3. Bounedjah caused problems on his return

In the second half of the first half, Algeria were well and truly in the game and ended the period in control. Indeed, they really should have taken the lead after 35 minutes. Baghdad Bounedjah slipped the ball to Brahimi inside the area and the forward, who plays his club football in Qatar for Al-Rayyan, struck his shot straight at the goalkeeper.

Bounedjah’s return was a welcome sight after he had missed the quarter-final win over Morocco due to concussion. He is an excellent No. 9 and led the line well, providing a constant outlet for his team-mates and causing problems for the Qatar defense as he has done consistently since joining Al-Sadd in 2015. The fact that he has averaged more than a goal a game in the Qatar Stars League tells you all you need to know.

The defense kept a close eye on the 30-year-old, but he remained a threat throughout the game, and it was no coincidence that Qatar started to get back into the match after the striker went off in the 68th minute.

4. Qatar should be satisfied but there is still work to do

Despite the crazy ending, Algeria deserved the win. The Fennecs carried on in the second half as they had ended the first — well on top. Qatar goalkeeper Al-Sheeb was the busier of the two No. 1s and it was only in the final stages that the hosts really started to threaten as Algeria, who were taken to a penalty shootout by Morocco three days earlier, started to tire.

Qatar had won all four games in the tournament, but these had come against Asian opposition. Meeting an African team for the first time, and one without European-based stars, proved to be a tough test. Qatar never gave up and tried to play aggressively but after doing the hard part, and getting the equalizer, failed to manage the game and take it to extra time.

There were many positives, however. Qatar have improved greatly in the last few years and a bit more international experience and composure could see the team have a good World Cup next year.

5. The final should be a treat but Tunisia need it more

Tunisia and Algeria should give the Arab world a fitting final. Both teams have shown heart, determination, and no small skill to get there. Fans thought that Tunisia’s 95th-minute winner against Egypt was a demonstration on how to keep going until the end but then Algeria’s stoppage-time winner came 12 minutes later.

Neither team are at full strength, but both would love to end 2021 and prepare for a busy 2022 by lifting a trophy — especially Tunisia.

Algeria are the defending champions of Africa but Tunisia have to go back to 2004 when they last won the continental crown. Winning the Arab Cup, 58 years after lifting the inaugural trophy, would really get fans and players in the mood for Africa’s premier tournament next month.

Whatever happens, if the final is as dramatic as the semis then we are all in for a treat.


Big in Japan: Warriors-Wizards games to woo NBA fans, sponsors

Big in Japan: Warriors-Wizards games to woo NBA fans, sponsors
Updated 30 September 2022

Big in Japan: Warriors-Wizards games to woo NBA fans, sponsors

Big in Japan: Warriors-Wizards games to woo NBA fans, sponsors
  • The financial rewards are as clear as the patch of Japanese online retailer Rakuten on the jerseys that Curry and the Warriors will wear
  • Ogura thinks the investments being made by Japanese companies for these games is worth it given the NBA’s strong appeal to the younger generation

TOKYO: Before Stephen Curry makes a single 3-pointer, before Rui Hachimura gets his first ovation from Japanese fans who came to cheer one of their own, the NBA Japan Games are already a huge win in one regard.

The money.

Big money is riding on — and getting spent on — the NBA’s most recent foray into Japan, which has the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards set to play a pair of preseason games there on Friday and Sunday. Every seat inside Saitama Super Arena has been sold, and the league has more marketing partners for games in Japan than ever before.

The financial rewards are as clear as the patch of Japanese online retailer Rakuten on the jerseys that Curry and the Warriors will wear.

“These are the Japanese people who grew up on Michael Jordan,” said Junya Ogura, senior manager at Japanese automaker Nissan’s brand and media strategy department. “We are banking on a return that will come in the future.”

Nissan Motor Co., which sponsors Japanese professional baseball and soccer, had a high-profile deal with tennis superstar Naomi Osaka which recently ended. It is sponsoring NBA games for the first time.

Ogura thinks the investments being made by Japanese companies for these games is worth it given the NBA’s strong appeal to the younger generation, a trend that’s backed up by marketing studies. Nissan is sharing the role of presenting partner for the games with Rakuten, which has had a lucrative relationship with the Warriors — at least $20 million a year, largely to have its patch on Golden State’s jerseys — since 2017.

Rakuten also has a sponsorship deal with Curry, part of his massive off-court empire. Rakuten also sponsors Japanese baseball and soccer and holds the Japan Open tennis championships, plus live-streams NBA games. And that was one of the primary reasons why the NBA returned to Japan for a pair of preseason games between Houston and Toronto in 2019, ending what was a 16-year drought between games in that country.

“Excited to be here,” Curry said.

The tickets cost up to 420,000 yen ($2,900) each for courtside “VIP” seats. Both Friday and Sunday games are sold out at the Saitama Super Arena, where the US won the gold medal at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The massive arena was largely empty for those games, tickets unable to be sold because of the virus.

Now, every seat has been grabbed. Plus, the NBA has drawn 15 marketing partners to support the preseason games in Japan, including American Express, Hennessy, NEC and Nike, and now has 19 marketing and promotional partners in Japan.

“Obviously it’s about the money,” said Bob Dorfman, a San Francisco-based sports analyst at Pinnacle Advertising.

“Building the fan base in Asia, and everywhere else in the world, results in more sponsorship dollars, increased media rights and greater merchandise sales.”

The NBA may have more global appeal than other US sports, being easier to understand than football, for instance, according to Dorfman, who has worked in Japan.

“Every team has foreign-born players on their rosters, and the league’s top stars are cultural icons, trendsetters, and social media giants. The game is cool,” he said.

That translates not only into sponsorship money but also youngsters spending on sneakers and other fashion items and merchandising.

Between 1990 and 2003, the NBA staged 12 regular-season games in Japan. The courtship between the NBA and the Japanese fan — not to mention Japanese companies and NBA fans globally — is now fully underway again.

A giant 3D display at a Tokyo street-crossing depicts Curry and other NBA stars as “manga,” or Japanese comic, characters. The NBA’s Japanese-language social media accounts have amassed more than 1.6 million followers.

While the players are in town, they will be taking part in various fan events. Besides Hachimura, the NBA now has another Japanese player, Yuta Watanabe, who is with the Brooklyn Nets.

The NBA is also excited about the potential for women’s basketball. Japanese women were the silver medalists in the last Olympics. Rui Machida, an Olympian, signed earlier this year with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

“Our fan base is growing,” said NBA Asia managing director Ramez Sheikh. “There is real momentum around basketball in Japan, and it’s a real important market for the NBA.”

Wizards officials acknowledged they were surprised by the big reaction signing Hachimura drew from Japan. They suddenly saw more Japanese in the stands, tour buses started coming, and Japanese media showed up in big numbers.

“It was all about Rui,” said Hunter Lochman, chief marketing officer at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards. “It’s fast-paced. It’s high scoring. It’s a great sport and it’s a global sport.”

Besides Japan, a pair of preseason games are scheduled for Abu Dhabi this season, with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks going there early next month. Regular-season games will be played in Mexico City in December and Paris in January.

Kyle Kuzma, a Wizards forward, said he was excited about being in Japan for the first time.

He already had sushi, planned to go shopping and was approached by a fan on the street, who gave him chopsticks with his name and the name of his girlfriend etched onto them.

“This is a big moment,” Kuzma said. “It’s a big stage.”


Neymar backs Bolsonaro in Brazil vote

Neymar backs Bolsonaro in Brazil vote
Updated 30 September 2022

Neymar backs Bolsonaro in Brazil vote

Neymar backs Bolsonaro in Brazil vote
  • Neymar, 30, had previously stayed out of the fray for Sunday’s polarizing election, in which Lula leads in opinion polls

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro got a celebrity endorsement Thursday for his re-election bid from football superstar Neymar, who posted a video on TikTok of himself dancing to a pro-Bolsonaro campaign song.

Grinning, the Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil striker, arguably Brazil’s most famous celebrity, flashed the No. 22 — Bolsonaro’s candidate number — with his fingers as he rocked out to the electronic dance jingle, three days from the far-right incumbent’s election showdown against leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

“Vote, vote, and press ‘confirm’ for 22, that’s Bolsonaro,” goes the song, a reference to Brazil’s electronic voting machines — which the president alleges, without evidence, are plagued by fraud.

Bolsonaro wasted no time retweeting the Neymar seal of approval.

Neymar, 30, had previously stayed out of the fray for Sunday’s polarizing election, in which Lula leads in opinion polls.

But he sent a video message to Bolsonaro Wednesday after the president visited the footballer’s charitable children’s foundation.

“Hello, President Bolsonaro... I wanted to thank you for your illustrious visit,” he said on Instagram after Bolsonaro visited the Neymar Jr. Institute, a non-profit organization the football star founded in 2014.

It runs educational, cultural and sports programs for 3,000 underprivileged children.

Bolsonaro backers have adopted the yellow-and-green jersey of Brazil’s national team as a symbol of support for the president, along with the Brazilian flag.

Both men are vocal about their Christianity.


Cameron vs McCaskill: Abu Dhabi to host its first-ever female boxing world title fight

Cameron vs McCaskill: Abu Dhabi to host its first-ever female boxing world title fight
Updated 30 September 2022

Cameron vs McCaskill: Abu Dhabi to host its first-ever female boxing world title fight

Cameron vs McCaskill: Abu Dhabi to host its first-ever female boxing world title fight
  • Two of the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighters will square-off for the undisputed super-lightweight world title

ABU DHABI: The first female boxing world title fight to be held in Abu Dhabi will see American Jessica McCaskill taking on Britain’s Chantelle Cameron at Etihad Arena on Yas Island for the undisputed super-lightweight world title on Nov. 5.

McCaskill, the reigning undisputed welterweight champion, will square off against WBC/IBF light-welterweight title holder Cameron after the former dropped down in weight to enhance her pound-for-pound credentials.

Organized by Matchroom Boxing and Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, the mega-bout is part of the Champions Series inaugural fight card, which is headlined by Russian star Dmitry Bivol’s WBA light-heavyweight title defense against Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez.

Undefeated Cameron (15-0, 8 KOs), often known as Il Capo, has held the WBC Women’s Light-Welterweight Championship since 2020, and previously won world championships in two weight classes.

She successfully defended her title in May against Victoria Noelia Bustos, a previous world champion, in London.

McCaskill (12-2, 5 KOs), nicknamed CasKILLA, recently defeated Mexico’s Alma Ibarra to complete her third successful defense of the welterweight title.

The Missouri veteran made the decision to once more shift down a division to 140 lbs to secure the fight with Cameron that she has long been gunning for.

“This is a historic encounter not just for the careers of the two fighters, but also for the sport of boxing in the Middle East,” said Eddie Hearn, chairman of Matchroom Sport.

“To have two of the game’s best female fighters facing off in Abu Dhabi for the undisputed super-lightweight world title is the perfect way to show the world that Matchroom and DCT Abu Dhabi mean business with this partnership.

“We are making history on Nov. 5 and looking forward to doing so in front of a sold-out Etihad Arena.”

 


Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv

Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv
Updated 29 September 2022

Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv

Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv
  • Djokovic eased to a 6-0, 6-3 win over his 115th-ranked opponent in 86 minutes, firing 30 winners and breaking Andujar four times
  • It was the fewest games Djokovic has lost in any match this season

TEL AVIV: Novak Djokovic, playing a singles tournament for the first time since winning Wimbledon in July, reached the Tel Aviv quarter-finals on Thursday with a straight-sets victory over Spain’s Pablo Andujar.
Djokovic eased to a 6-0, 6-3 win over his 115th-ranked opponent in 86 minutes, firing 30 winners and breaking Andujar four times.
It was the fewest games Djokovic has lost in any match this season.
He was always in control against his Spanish rival who he has now defeated three times, taking control of the match by winning the first seven games.
“The first match started off in a perfect way for me,” said Djokovic, who last played in Israel as a teenager 16 years ago in a Davis Cup tie.
“I won seven games in a row and we were fighting in that eighth game (which took over 20 minutes to complete).
“It was one of the longest games I’ve ever played in my life and I’ve played many, many games in my life. But credit to Pablo for fighting and playing a great match as well.”
Former world number one Djokovic hasn’t played a singles event since capturing a seventh Wimbledon title 10 weeks ago after his refusal to get vaccinated ruled him out of the US Open and the entire American hardcourt swing.
His only other appearance had been in the Laver Cup team tournament in London last week.
It was there that he saw long-time rival Roger Federer retire from the sport.
However, the 35-year-old Djokovic, now ranked at seven in the world, insisted on the eve of the Tel Aviv event that retirement was not on his agenda.
“I still want to play tennis even though I achieved pretty much everything that you can achieve in tennis,” said Djokovic, whose 21 Grand Slam titles is just one short of Rafael Nadal’s men’s record of 22.
“I still have passion and hunger to play at a highest professional level.”
Djokovic, showing no sign of the right wrist trouble which bothered him in London, will face Canada’s 149th-ranked Vasek Pospisil in Friday’s quarter-finals.
The Serb boasts a 5-0 career record over the 32-year-old Canadian.
Pospisil reached the last-eight by eliminating Israeli qualifier Edan Leshem 6-3, 6-2.
France’s Arthur Rinderknech saved a match point to clinch a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (9/7) win against third seed Diego Schwartzman.
The world number 58 will next play Roman Safiullin.
British qualifier Liam Broady stunned fifth seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to set up a meeting with second seed Marin Cilic.


Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense
Updated 29 September 2022

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense
  • After a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca
  • Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay

BARCELONA, Spain: When Xavi Hernández oversaw the remodeling of Barcelona’s squad this summer, the coach made sure he was so well covered at right-back that his club could afford to loan out US defender Sergiño Dest to AC Milan.
But after a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca.
Jules Koundé, Ronald Araújo and Héctor Bellerín, who have played at right back this season, are all out for an undetermined period of time. Koundé and Araújo, who can play at center back as well, were hurt while playing for France and Uruguay, respectively, in games to prepare for the World Cup in November. Bellerín hurt his left leg while training for Barcelona.
That leaves Barcelona waiting to see if veteran Sergi Roberto can recover from a muscle problem that has sidelined him for three weeks in time for the trip to the Balearic Islands.
If not, Xavi may be forced to shoehorn a player with little or no experience at right back into the position, draft a player from Barcelona’s youth team, or opt to play with three centerbacks and two wing backs.
Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay after they were both hurt while playing for the Netherlands. Neither has been a first-choice player for Xavi this season.
Of the injuries, Araújo’s appears to be the most serious. The 23-year-old defender underwent surgery this week in Finland to repair an abductor muscle in his right thigh that he damaged in Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran on Friday.
Over the next three weeks, Barcelona face two Champions League group games against Inter Milan and a clásico against Real Madrid on Oct. 16.
The only good news for Xavi is that Robert Lewandowski returned in perfect shape from his stint with Poland. The striker leads the Spanish league with eight goals in six games.
Mallorca, coached by Mexican Javier Aguirre, has lost 12 of the last 13 visits by Barcelona to their stadium. Their only win during that stretch came in 2009 with Barcelona already crowned the league champion.
BENZEMA BACK
Karim Benzema is back for Real Madrid after recovering from a tendon injury and a strained muscle in his right thigh that had kept him off the field for over three weeks.
Benzema led Madrid to the Champions League and Spanish league double last season after scoring 44 goals in all competitions.
But his team have not missed him much and have kept up their perfect record this season of nine wins in as many games in all competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side leads the league by two points ahead of Barcelona before they host fifth-placed Osasuna on Sunday.
“I’m feeling very good, comfortable. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday,” Benzema said. “We’ve got a great team, although it could be said that we’ve got two teams. There’s no difference between those who start the game and those who come on.”
Meanwhile a struggling Sevilla faces a tough test when they visit Atlético Madrid on Saturday. Pressure is growing on coach Julen Lopetegui and the club’s leadership, which sold off talented players this summer, after the team have won just once in eight games overall.
Third-place Real Betis play at Celta Vigo on Sunday, while fourth-place Athletic Bilbao host Almería on Friday.