Algeria and Tunisia clash in intriguing all-African 2021 FIFA Arab Cup final in Doha

Algeria and Tunisia clash in intriguing all-African 2021 FIFA Arab Cup final in Doha
Algeria's players celebrate their victory in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup semi-final football match between Qatar and Algeria at the Al-Thumama stadium in the Qatari capital Doha on 15 December 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 18 December 2021

Algeria and Tunisia clash in intriguing all-African 2021 FIFA Arab Cup final in Doha

Algeria and Tunisia clash in intriguing all-African 2021 FIFA Arab Cup final in Doha
  • Both teams reached the final in dramatic circumstances with winners deep into stoppage time

A fascinating final between neighbors Tunisia and Algeria awaits us today in a special final of the Arab Cup.

It has been a wonderful tournament, with 10th Arab Cup preserving the traditions and characteristics that have long defined the competition.

Algeria ensured the final will be a historic one when they qualified for the first time by beating Qatar 2-1. Thus they set a date with Tunisia, who defeated Egypt 1-0, in the first all-African final since the establishment of the tournament.

Last-minute goals were a prominent feature in the group stages, and this continued in the dramatic semi-finals, both confrontations being decided very late with the help of friendly fire and a penalty kick.

In the first half of the match against Egypt, Tunisian coach Munther Al-Kabeer adopted a 5-4-1 formation, which enabled his team to put pressure on their opponents. Despite the setback of an injury to Yassin Meriah, it proved successful in stopping their opponents from scoring, setting the stage for that late dramatic win thanks to Egyptian captain Amr El-Solia’s 95th minute own goal.

It was Egypt’s first defeat in 19 games since their elimination from the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

How much the void left by Meriah will affect the Tunisians in the final remains to be seen. Muhammad Ali bin Ramadan will again replace him, as he did against Egypt.

Throughout the tournament Tunisia have presented a significant aerial threat from set pieces. Against Egypt, the Carthage Eagles played eight balls from free kicks into the penalty area — including the one that set up the winner. According to their coach, they should focus on repeating this in the final against Algeria.

The second semi-final between Algeria and Qatar was in danger of being overshadowed by the refereeing and VAR, which prompted the Saharawis to celebrate their win in front of the officials, who they deemed had almost cost them a win with the 19 minutes of stoppage time added at the end of the 90 minutes.

It was the second match in row that had ended in high drama for the Algerians. They had put on an excellent performance in the quarter-final against neighbors Morocco, the match providing everything we love about football and ending with a tense penalty shootout.

The semi-final against Qatar proved even more dramatic, with the hosts equalizing in the sixth minute of stoppage time and Algeria’s winner, incredibly, coming in the 17th minute.

The final is an intriguing one between two nations with a long history in continental competitions and World Cup qualifiers. Their last match was a friendly in June which Algeria won 2-1. Their previous match was another friendly in 2019, which Algeria also won. Tunisia’s last victory in this fixture came at the 2017 African Nations.

Algeria have a formidable squad full of players of high quality and physical prowess. As pointed out by coach Majid Bougherra, his players have endured difficult matches and played more minutes than any other team. He stressed the difficulty of playing six matches in 17 days with a team made up mostly of home players and missing some Europe-based players such as Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez.

I was particularly drawn to the performances of veteran Algerian goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi, especially in the semi-final win, while for Tunisia Mohamed Drager, who plays for Nottingham Forest, has stood out in the three matches he has taken part in.

At the start, the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup looked like a dress rehearsal for Qatar 2022, with many teams treating it as warm-up for continental tournaments and World Cup qualifiers in the coming months.

But with every match, culminating in those two semi-finals, it has proved itself a competition worthy of its name. On Saturday evening, we await another titanic battle between Algeria and Tunisia.


Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup
Updated 28 November 2022

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup

Netherlands on cusp of advancing at World Cup
  • If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal
  • Van Gaal stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team

DOHA: The Netherlands is on the verge of reaching the knockout stage at the World Cup and an overwhelming favorite in its final Group A match on Tuesday against host nation Qatar.
If the Dutch advance it will put more focus on 71-year-old coach Louis van Gaal, who stepped out of retirement just over a year ago to take over the national team while being treated for aggressive prostate cancer.
Host nation Qatar has lost its first two matches and already missed its chance to move on from the group stage.
For the Netherlands a draw will suffice to advance and put the Netherlands into contention again in a World Cup after failing to qualify four years ago. The Dutch could even get through with a loss if Ecuador beats Senegal in the other Group A match.
In the round of 16, the Netherlands would face one of the top two teams from Group B, where England is the favorite with Iran, Wales, and the United States scrambling for a spot.
Van Gaal said before the World Cup that the Netherlands can win it all, although few see this as one of the country’s best teams.
No powerful soccer nation has come up short at the World Cup as often as the Dutch, who have been the runners-up three times: in 1974 against West Germany, in 1978 facing Argentina, and in 2010 vs. Spain.
The Dutch also finished third in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after losing a shootout against Argentina in the semifinals.
After being out of the game for several years, Van Gaal came out of retirement and replaced Frank de Boer in August of 2021. He said he did it out of duty.
“Because, simply, no one else was available at that time,” Van Gaal said.
Van Gaal’s matter-of-fact courage has to be a motivator for the Dutch. But he might also stir up Qatar.
Earlier this year the outspoken Van Gaal said it was “ridiculous” holding the World Cup in Qatar, a tiny country of 3 million. Qatar’s vast wealth is fueled by natural gas and oil.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re going to play in a country to — what does FIFA say? — — to develop football there,” Van Gaal said, adding that Qatar is too small and lacks a soccer culture.
“But it doesn’t matter. It’s about money, commercial interests. That’s what matters to FIFA,” Van Gaal added.


Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season
Updated 28 November 2022

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season

Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing claim first Extreme E title in rollercoaster second season
  • Drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez ecstatic
  • Last race won by Klara Andersson, Nasser Al-Attiyah

URUGUAY: Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing has secured its first Extreme E title, capping a drama-filled second season of the series.

The team finished third by half a second in the Uruguay Natural Energy X Prix to secure the championship in a final that went right down to the wire, with ABT CUPRA XE securing a maiden X Prix victory.

Hamilton’s outfit entered a final that was missing three of the top four teams in the championship standings, including leaders RXR. As their closest rivals watched on from the paddock, Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez secured the podium finish needed to take their maiden Extreme E title, just two points clear of RXR in the standings, having bagged a crucial five points from the Continental Traction Challenge in Qualifying 2.

Gutierrez was ecstatic. “I still can’t believe it. It was a very tough weekend for us, especially after my roll yesterday. The team did a crazy job with the (spare) car and Qualifying 2 was the first time we had driven it.

“As for the final, on the radio they told me someone was going to be penalized but still I didn’t know. I wanted to be sure that we won so I did not celebrate before it was official. It was a rollercoaster, but it is much better than that for us as we can now believe in what we have achieved.”

Loeb was equally happy. “We could only go and compete with everything we had and try to score maximum points. In the final, it was a critical moment because I was fourth and we needed to be third. We had some contact here and there, but there was nothing I could do to overtake. Cristina did a great job to stay very close to the car in front and we knew potentially we were third. At the end it was what we needed so I’m really relieved to be here and really proud to win this championship.”

Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, added: “I think the season finale was an amazing rollercoaster. Everything was open. There was an incredible comeback from X44 Vida Carbon Racing and bad luck for Rosberg X Racing, who have done some incredible things this season. Once again the championship decider was close, with the season going down to the wire, so we’re ready for a fantastic campaign next year.”

The stakes were high, and from the outset it was clear that it would be no easy task for X44 Vida Carbon Racing. ABT CUPRA XE’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Veloce Racing’s Kevin Hansen surrounded Loeb as the trio approached the opening sequence of corners. A fantastic move from Loeb seemed to have taken the lead for the Frenchman, as he carried his speed through a wider line, until Al-Attiyah surged up the inside to steal first.

With the title on the line, Loeb kept the ABT CUPRA XE within reach, but as the leading teams tussled for supremacy, NEOM McLaren Extreme E’s Tanner Foust timed his attack perfectly, charging through to take second away from X44 Vida Carbon Racing.

Championship glory slipped further away from the challengers as Timmy Hansen managed to get past the recovering Loeb to secure third for Genesys Andretti United Extreme E. A masterclass in defending followed, with Hansen keeping Loeb at bay as the teams approached the Switch Zone, where Gutierrez would pick up the fight with Catie Munnings.

A five-second penalty for Veloce Racing, from Hansen hitting a waypoint flag on his stint, took the pressure off X44 Vida Carbon Racing from behind, but the heat was on to overtake Genesys Andretti United Extreme E. Gutierrez threw her ODYSSEY 21 into every corner but was struggling to gain enough ground on Munnings up ahead. In addition, the Spaniard was under investigation for a collision with Veloce Racing’s Molly Taylor, for which she would later receive a five-second penalty.

Just as time seemed to be running out for X44 Vida Carbon Racing, a seven-second penalty came through for Genesys Andretti United Extreme E for speeding in the Switch Zone. This was the lifeline that Gutierrez needed as she fought to stay close enough to the Genesys Andretti United Extreme E ODYSSEY 21. The Spaniard crossed the line in fourth but within two seconds of Munnings, thus securing third place and the championship title for X44 Vida Carbon Racing, just two points clear of RXR.

Further up the field, a measured drive from Klara Andersson kept Emma Gilmour in her mirrors as the NEOM McLaren Extreme E driver chased a maiden podium for the team. Gilmour secured second, while Andersson and Al-Attiyah’s performances earned ABT CUPRA XE their first X Prix win and back-to-back podiums during the pair’s first Extreme E campaign.

Behind the tussling Gutierrez and Munnings was Veloce Racing. Fifth place marked an impressive turnaround for the team and an amazing comeback from Taylor as she returns to the Extreme E championship and competitive ways.

Andersson from ABT CUPRA XE said: “Wow. There are just so many emotions in me right now to be honest. I’ve been waiting for this for so long. It’s only my second Extreme E race, and my first proper Extreme E race weekend, so to be on top of the podium is huge. I couldn’t have done it without Nasser and the whole team.”

Al-Attiyah also had praise for his teammate: “Thank you to the team and thank you to Klara. We had an amazing weekend and we are happy to win the last race. Now we have a lot of confidence to come back next year and fight for the title.”

Tanner Foust, NEOM McLaren Extreme E, said: “There was mayhem at the start, which is weirdly what you hope for when you’re last. I ended up coming out in second I think, and I had Timmy (Hansen) behind me and I got almost rolled. It was a push to stay in second place on the first lap and then Emma (Gilmour) came through. She was awesome.”

Gilmour said: “It’s just fantastic. The team has worked so hard all year. We’ve had a few setbacks along the way so this is for the team, we couldn’t do it without them. I’ve got a fantastic teammate in Tanner and I’m just so happy to finish on this high note for the season.”

Results

ABT CUPRA XE 10 minutes, 26.537 seconds

NEOM McLaren Extreme E +3.427

X44 Vida Carbon Racing +10.467 (penalized)

Genesys Andretti United Extreme E +11.029 (penalized)

Veloce Racing +15.094 (penalized)

Championship Points Standings

X44 Vida Carbon Racing: 86

Rosberg X Racing: 84

ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team: 66

No.99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing: 63

NEOM McLaren Extreme E: 52

ABT CUPRA XE: 46

Genesys Andretti United Extreme E: 45

XITE ENERGY Racing: 33

JBXE: 27

Veloce Racing: 18


Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise
Updated 28 November 2022

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

Warriors power past Timberwolves in convincing road win, Celtics cruise

LOS ANGELES: Stephen Curry scored 25 points and the Golden State Warriors parlayed a hot start into a comfortable 137-114 NBA win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

Curry added 11 rebounds and eight assists while Draymond Green posted his first double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 assists as the reigning NBA champions put together three straight victories for the first time this season.

It was just their second away victory of the campaign and moved them to 11-10, the first time in a month they have been above .500.

The Warriors, seemingly determined to turn around their dismal fortunes on the road, exploded out of the gate, engineering a 17-0 scoring run on the way to 47 first-quarter points and a 20-point lead after the first period.

They were up by 20 going into the fourth although the Timberwolves, led by 26 points from Anthony Edwards with 21 from Karl-Anthony Towns, cut that by half with 5:31 remaining.

Golden State responded, with Curry draining a three-pointer before Klay Thompson delivered a trey, a steal and another three-pointer to push the lead back to 19.

Six Warriors players finished in double figures, Thompson posting 21 and Jordan Poole adding 24 off the bench.

“I think what really propelled us that first half, especially defensively, is not fouling,” Thompson said. “As simple as it sounds, it has us playing at such a higher level.

“Our defense obviously fuels our offense, getting out in transition, hitting the open man. And it’s crazy how when we play simple basketball, it’s a thing of beauty.”

The Warriors will try to build more momentum on the road when they travel to Dallas for a Western Conference finals rematch on Tuesday.

The Mavs will be looking to rebound at home after falling 124-115 to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Sunday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points with 11 rebounds for the Bucks and Grayson Allen, who was a perfect seven-for-seven from three-point range in the first half, added 25.

Luka Doncic scored 27 points to lead Dallas, who suffered a fourth straight defeat.

It was no surprise to see the league-leading Boston Celtics cruise to a 130-121 home victory over the Washington Wizards.

Even with MVP candidate Jayson Tatum sidelined with a sore ankle, the Celtics offense was explosive. Boston connected on 16 of 34 three-point attempts and shot 55 percent from the field overall in a game that was more lopsided than the final score indicated.

Jaylen Brown scored a season-high 36 points to lead seven Celtics players in double figures in the team’s 16th win of the season.

At Madison Square Garden, Memphis star Ja Morant thrived in the spotlight, with a triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists powering the Grizzlies to a 127-123 victory over the New York Knicks.

Morant rebounded his own miss and made the put-back basket to put Memphis up 124-123 with 13.9 seconds remaining, and the Grizzlies — who had led by 12 early in the fourth quarter — sealed it with a string of free-throws.

Across town in Brooklyn, superstar Kevin Durant scored 31 points and Seth Curry added 29 off the bench as the Nets pulled away late for a 111-97 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Seth Curry hit seven of 10 from three-point range and scored the Nets’ first eight points of the final period. His three-pointer with 6:45 remaining pushed the Nets’ lead to nine points.

“We kept using the word ‘aggressive,’” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said of the mindset in a game that featured 16 lead changes. “We want to be the aggressors on every possession.”

Jerami Grant led the Blazers with 29 points, stepping up again as Damian Lillard remained sidelined with a calf strain.

In Los Angeles, injured Clippers stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard watched from the bench as Croatian center Ivica Zubac scored 31 points and pulled down a career-high 29 rebounds, blocked three shots and handed out three assists before fouling out in the Clippers’ 114-100 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

Zubac’s 29 rebounds were the most in an NBA game this season and three short of the Clippers’ franchise record of 32 — set by Swen Nater back in 1979.


Political foes Iran, US get ready to rumble for do-or-die match 

Political foes Iran, US get ready  to rumble for do-or-die match 
Updated 28 November 2022

Political foes Iran, US get ready to rumble for do-or-die match 

Political foes Iran, US get ready  to rumble for do-or-die match 
  • In the context of the tournament, the stakes are simple — a win for either team secures a place in the last 16 while defeat will guarantee elimination

DOHA: Twenty-four years after their first World Cup meeting billed as the “Mother of all football matches,” Iran and the US face off in a politically-charged showdown on Tuesday with a place in the knockout rounds up for grabs.

Decades of mutual enmity between the arch geopolitical foes is the backdrop to what promises to be a white-hot sporting occasion at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium.

In the context of the tournament, the stakes are simple — a win for either team secures a place in the last 16 while defeat will guarantee elimination.

But the wider significance of the Group B contest is less clear-cut.

The US and Iran have been bitter ideological enemies for more than four decades, severing diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Quite what bearing that has on a 90-minute World Cup football match involving 22 players remains to be seen.

US coach Gregg Berhalter has been at pains to dampen down suggestions that the game carries a political dimension.

“I envision the game being hotly contested for the fact that both teams want to advance to the next round — not because of politics or because of relations between our countries,” Berhalter said.

“We’re soccer players and we’re going to compete and they’re going to compete and that’s it.”

Yet Berhalter’s desire for politics to be absent from the occasion may be wishful thinking.

A rare public relations gaffe by US Soccer — posting a modified version of Iran’s national flag on the US team’s social media feeds in what it said was a gesture of solidarity with Iranian women protesters— has infuriated football authorities in Tehran.

The offending post was removed from official US Soccer feeds on Sunday after the Iran Football Federation lodged a complaint with world governing body FIFA.

The controversy almost certainly guarantees that what was already shaping as a nail-biting showdown on Tuesday is likely to carry a crackle of political tension.

That was certainly the case when Iran and the US met for the first time at the 1998 World Cup in France, the Iranians claiming a memorable 2-1 victory at the Stade Gerland in Lyon.

Political intrigue seeped into the buildup to the match with a row over the pre-game rituals.

Iran, the designated away team, refused to abide by the standard FIFA protocol of walking over to the American players for the handshake before kickoff.

That potential flashpoint was deftly defused by Swiss referee Urs Meier, who suggested that the two teams pose for a joint team photo.

Iran’s players, who presented US players with bouquets of white roses to symbolize peace, happily complied, linking arms with their American counterparts.

Iran coach Jalal Talebi and veteran defender Mohammad Khakpour would later reveal how much the Iranians had invested emotionally in the game, viewed in some quarters as a battle against representatives of the “Great Satan.”

“Just imagine being told for six months, repeatedly, that this game is the most important game in our history, which it really was,” Talebi said in a 2018 interview.

Khakpour added: “I personally was contacted by people whose family members had been martyred, those who had lost children in the Iran-Iraq war. Fathers, mothers, called and said ‘This game really does matter to us. You have to go and win this game for us.’“

The US’s coach at the 1998 World Cup, Steve Sampson, has since expressed regret that he did not use the political tensions between the two countries as a motivator.

“We were asked by FIFA, by US Soccer, by the organizing committee in France, to make it about football, and not about politics. And I went along with that,” Sampson told Time magazine.

“In hindsight, I would have made it about politics. A coach’s job is to use any and every tool available to him to prepare his team.”

Yet the American class of 2022 insist that politics won’t come into the latest instalment of the US-Iran World Cup rivalry.

“The emotional side of having to win to get to the next round is enough to be up for it,” US defender Tim Ream said on Sunday. “I don’t think we have to worry about anything else.

“What is on the line is advancing into the knockout stages. And if that’s not enough then I think we have issues.”


Spain coach remembers late daughter on ‘special day’ at World Cup

Spain coach remembers late daughter on ‘special day’ at World Cup
Updated 28 November 2022

Spain coach remembers late daughter on ‘special day’ at World Cup

Spain coach remembers late daughter on ‘special day’ at World Cup
  • Luis Enrique said Sunday would have been the 13th birthday of his daughter, Xana Martínez, who died three years ago of a rare form of bone cancer

AL KHOR, Qatar: Spain coach Luis Enrique said it was a “special day” after his team’s 1-1 draw with Germany at the World Cup on Sunday.

But it had nothing to do with soccer.

Luis Enrique said Sunday would have been the 13th birthday of his daughter, Xana Martínez, who died three years ago of a rare form of bone cancer.

“It was a special day for me and my family,” Luis Enrique said. “Obviously we don’t have our daughter with us physically anymore, but she is still present every day. We remember her a lot, we laugh and think about how she would act in each situation that we experience.”

Luis Enrique had earlier posted a video on Instagram in which he said that “not only we play against Germany today, but Xanita would have turned 13.” He wished her “a good day” wherever she was right now.

“This is how life works,” he said after the match. “It’s not only about beautiful things and finding happiness, it’s about knowing how to manage these moments.”

The 52-year-old Luis Enrique, a former Barcelona player and coach, is participating in his first World Cup as Spain’s manager. He left the national team after finding out about his daughter’s cancer, returning some time later.

Spain will advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup in Qatar if it avoids defeat against Japan in its final group-stage match on Thursday.