Here to stay: 5 things we learned from successful 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

 Here to stay: 5 things we learned from successful 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
Algeria’s goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi lifts the trophy as they celebrate winning the Arab Cup Final against Tunisia at Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar on Saturday. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 December 2021

Here to stay: 5 things we learned from successful 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

 Here to stay: 5 things we learned from successful 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
  • A dress rehearsal for Qatar 2022, and a chance for teams to prepare for continental competitions and World Cup qualifiers ended up being an outstanding tournament in its own right

The 2021 Arab Cup ended on Saturday with Algeria defeating Tunisia 2-0 after extra time to lift the trophy. Here are five things we learned from what turned out to be hugely successful 16-team tournament.

1. FIFA Arab Cup is here to stay

With no Confederations Cup, it was always a good idea to have some sort of tournament a year out from the World Cup, and the resurrection of the Arab Cup seemed like a natural thing to do. It is no surprise that it has worked out well, but just how well was somewhat unexpected.

The tournament started with the big African nations shorn of their European stars and talking of using it as preparation for bigger challenges to follow in 2022. It ended with fans watching the game on big screens in Algeria and Tunisia, and wild celebrations in the former.

As entertainment, it was memorable. There were some great games, superb goals and the correct amount of controversy — the 19 minutes of added time in Algeria’s semifinal win over Qatar was stunning, as was the action it contained.

Attendances were healthy, especially in the knockout stages, and the atmosphere in the stadiums added the big-match feeling that such tournaments need. In short, this felt like a real tournament, one that should become part of the football calendar in different countries in the region for a long time to come. 

2. Africa triumphs in Asia

Ten Asian nations started out last month, but only one, Qatar, made the last four and none made the final. While the African entrants had to leave their big stars in Europe, they still proved to be too good for Asia.

The likes of Oman and Jordan reached the quarterfinals and showed that they could be competitive internationally, and it was an excellent experience for them to play teams from outside Asia as they rarely get the chance. 

Overall, though, it was not quite good enough from the AFC representatives, and it shows that the West Asian teams need, among other things, to send more players overseas to play. That is the striking difference between the nations of North Africa and West Asia. One region exports talent to play around the world and gain international experience, the other does not.

3. Saudi Arabia’s approach was right

There was debate back in Riyadh as to whether it was the correct decision to send U-23 team to Qatar instead of a more senior side. After all, with World Cup qualification resuming in January, it would have been easy to give Herve Renard more time to work with his players, especially as the Saudi Pro League has been suspended for the duration of the tournament.

But to go with the rookies was the right decision. Giving young players experience at regional tournaments is what Japan and South Korea have been doing for years — they started doing so at the Asian Games before it became compulsory — and they have an enviable World Cup qualification record.

While perhaps the league did not need to be paused (no more than two players could have been called from one club to spread the burden), the decision to use young players was a far-sighted one. It did mean that Saudi Arabia were never going to go too far in the tournament, but the benefits should become apparent in the years to come.

4. Egypt can also be satisfied

Egypt’s approach was slightly different to Saudi Arabia’s as they took plenty of young and inexperienced players, though there were a few older heads to help out, too. It also resulted in a satisfying outcome.

The Pharaohs could easily have been in the final, but were defeated by Tunisia in the semifinal with the last action of the game. In the end, a fourth-placed finish with a largely inexperienced team was a decent performance from Egypt under new coach Carlos Queiroz, who will now have a much better idea of the general level of the players pushing to be in the senior squad after six competitive games.

“It was a good opportunity to discover new players and new blood,” said Queiroz. “The average age of the team is less than 25, and many players wore the Egypt shirt for the first time. This was the reason we came here, to gain experience, and indeed we won four times and were unlucky the last time.”

It sets Egypt up nicely for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon next month and, of course, the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

5. Encouraging for the World Cup

With games in the English Premier League canceled on a regular basis and COVID-19 surging in many countries, it was a credit to organizers and the host nation that the Arab Cup went ahead seemingly without a major outbreak. The players were kept safe and despite the substantial attendances, so far there has not been an issue.

With much of the world reimposing restrictions as cases rise once again, the success of the Arab Cup offers hope. It means that even if we are still living in the midst of the global pandemic this time next year, it is possible to hold a festival of football.

The World Cup is, of course, on a different scale and is the biggest sporting event on the planet, but the Arab Cup suggests that there can be cause for optimism and much to look forward to next year.


World No.1 Scheffler clings to a  share of lead at PGA Colonial 

World No.1 Scheffler clings to a  share of lead at PGA Colonial 
Updated 7 sec ago

World No.1 Scheffler clings to a  share of lead at PGA Colonial 

World No.1 Scheffler clings to a  share of lead at PGA Colonial 
  • After winning his first US PGA title at Phoenix in February, Scheffler won at Bay Hill and captured the WGC Match Play title in March then won his first major title at the Masters in April to overtake Spain’s Jon Rahm as world No. 1 

LOS ANGELES: Top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler fired a 5-under par 65 to keep a share of the lead after Friday’s second round of the US PGA Charles Schwab Challenge.

Scheffler, chasing his fifth victory of the year, stood alongside fellow Americans Beau Hossler and Scott Stallings on 9-under 131 after 36 holes at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

After winning his first US PGA title at Phoenix in February, Scheffler won at Bay Hill and captured the WGC Match Play title in March then won his first major title at the Masters in April to overtake Spain’s Jon Rahm as world No. 1.

“I’ve definitely enjoyed the stuff that comes with winning majors and winning the other tournaments that I have,” Scheffler said. “It has been a lot of fun.”

Scheffler has not made a bogey in the first two rounds.

“I love that stat,” Scheffler said. “I kept the stress off myself for the most part.”

Scheffler missed the cut at last week’s PGA Championship, giving him a much-needed break before a hometown event.

“It has been busy,” he said. “Definitely a good reset. I came home and did nothing on Saturday and had a relaxing practice on Sunday. It was definitely a good little break.”

Hot and windy weather is forecast for the weekend.

“I like it when the conditions are really hard and so I’d rather it be very difficult than very easy,” Scheffler said. “If you’re playing really good golf, you can extend yourself and I’m really excited for the challenge this weekend.”

Scheffler opened with back-to-back birdie putts from about four feet and made a par save from just inside 10 feet at the par-4 seventh.

He began the back nine with a birdie then holed a 24-foot birdie putt at the 12th and a 14-footer for birdie at the 17th to share the lead again after being among eight co-leaders following the first 18 holes.

“I worked really hard just improving my iron play and creating a lot of different shots for myself,” Scheffler said. “This course is a lot about the approaches to the green and it looks like the hard work is paying off out here.”

Stallings fired a 64, the best round so far this week. He closed the front nine with a 20-foot birdie putt at the eighth and holeout from 37 feet at the ninth, then sank a birdie putt from just inside 29 feet at the 18th to share the lead.

“Had some good looks early,” said Stallings. “I felt good on the greens, felt good with my stroke and nice to see them fall in there toward the second half of the round.”

Hossler holed birdie putts at the par-3 eighth from 24 feet and the par-3 13th from 21 feet to highlight his bogey-free 65.

“Played a solid round,” Hossler said. “Nothing too exciting. Hit a lot of greens and just made the round relatively stress free.”

Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, was fourth on 132 with fellow Americans Pat Perez and Chris Kirk sharing fifth on 133.

Justin Thomas, who won his second major title at last week’s PGA Championship, and fellow American Will Zalatoris, who lost at Southern Hills in a playoff, each missed the cut.

Chile’s Mito Pereira, who missed out on the PGA playoff after a 72nd-hole collapse on Sunday, fired a 66 to stand on 136.


Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz roll into last 16 at French Open

Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz roll into last 16 at French Open
Updated 28 May 2022

Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz roll into last 16 at French Open

Djokovic, Nadal and Alcaraz roll into last 16 at French Open
  • The 35-year-old Serb is aiming to become the oldest men’s singles champion in Paris in the Open era as he chases a record-equalling 21st Grand Slam title
  • The Spanish teenage star is the youngest man in the Roland Garros fourth round since Djokovic 16 years ago

PARIS: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal closed in Friday on a blockbuster clash at the French Open as both reached the last 16, while 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest man to make the second week in Paris since 2006.

Reigning champion Djokovic and 13-time winner Nadal are on course to meet in the quarterfinals, with the Spaniard seeded outside the top four at Roland Garros for just the second time.

World No. 1 Djokovic strolled to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene and Nadal eased past Dutch 26th seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

“I’m always very motivated when I get on the court, with the desire to produce my best level each time. It’s not always possible to do it, but today it was very good,” said Djokovic.

The 35-year-old Serb is aiming to become the oldest men’s singles champion in Paris in the Open era as he chases a record-equalling 21st Grand Slam title.

Next up for Djokovic, who was also French Open champion in 2016, is a matchup with Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, the 15th seed.

Nadal, the 21-time major champion, improved his record at Roland Garros to 108-3 after seeing off 2021 US Open quarter-finalist Van de Zandschulp.

He has now reached at least the fourth round in 17 of 18 visits to Roland Garros, with the exception of 2016 when he withdrew in the third round with a wrist injury.

“Today has been a very good test and very positive test, because I was able to play my best match of the tournament so far, without any doubt,” said Nadal.

The Spaniard had a break point for 5-0 in the third set, but Van de Zandschulp refused to roll over, winning four of the next five games before Nadal put away his second match point, having saved a break point in between the two.

“You always feel a little bit the nerves to finish the match, so I’m happy to be through in straight sets,” said Nadal, who plays Canadian ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime for a place in the last eight.

In a twist to that clash, Toni Nadal, the uncle and former coach of the Spaniard, is now working with Auger-Aliassime.

Alcaraz gained revenge against the only man to beat him on clay this year, defeating US 27th seed Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in the evening session.

The Spanish teenage star is the youngest man in the Roland Garros fourth round since Djokovic 16 years ago.

“I’m trying to have fun out there. I just enjoy every single second. I love playing tennis,” said Alcaraz, who saved a match point against countryman Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the previous round.

He has won 20 of 21 matches on clay this season and next faces 21st seed Karen Khachanov. The Russian knocked out Cameron Norrie in four sets as the 10th-seeded Briton became the highest-ranked player to fall.

Alexander Zverev, the third seed and 2021 semifinalist, ended the run of American Brandon Nakashima, winning 7-6 (7/2), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).

The German Olympic champion, who also saved a match point in round two, next takes on Bernabe Zapata Miralles, the 131st-ranked Spaniard who downed John Isner in five sets.

Amanda Anisimova, the 27th seed and a 2019 semifinalist, advanced to the last 16 as injury-plagued Karolina Muchova retired down 6-7 (7/9), 6-2, 3-0 after falling and twisting her ankle midway through the second set.

Last year’s US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez beat Olympic champion Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich defeated three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber 6-4, 7-6 (7/5).

Coco Gauff, the youngest player left in the French Open, made the last 16 with a straight-sets win over Kaia Kanepi, the oldest woman in the tournament at 36.

Sloane Stephens, runner-up in 2018, ended the run of French teenager Diane Parry in straight sets, while Swiss 23rd seed Jil Teichmann overcame two-time former Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10/5).


Mane’s Liverpool future hangs in the balance ahead of European final

Mane’s Liverpool future hangs in the balance ahead of European final
Updated 28 May 2022

Mane’s Liverpool future hangs in the balance ahead of European final

Mane’s Liverpool future hangs in the balance ahead of European final
  • The Senegalese star, who has been at Liverpool since 2016 and has a year left on his deal, teased this week that he “will answer after the Champions League (final) if I’m staying or not”

PARIS: Sadio Mané’s last game for Liverpool could be on Saturday in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.

The Senegal international’s future was a hot topic on Friday when Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp held his pre-match news conference at Stade de France in Paris.

Klopp was unwilling to make any guarantees about Mane staying at Liverpool, amid reported interest from German champion Bayern Munich.

“This is the wrong moment to speak about that,” Klopp said. “Wherever Sadio will play next season, he will be a big player, definitely.”

Mane, who has been at Liverpool since 2016 and has a year left on his deal, teased this week that he “will answer after the Champions League (final) if I’m staying or not.”

“Come back to me on Saturday,” Mane added in an interview with Sky Sports, “and I will give you the best answer you want to hear, for sure. It’s special.”

Klopp seemed irritated that stories about Mane’s future have come up before the Champions League final and suggested it might have something to do with him being the former coach of Borussia Dortmund — the biggest title rival of Bayern Munich in Germany.

“It’s not the first time in my career that before a decisive game, Bayern Munich rumors are coming up,” Klopp said. “I don’t know what I did. It happens.”

Klopp also expressed his surprise that a new playing surface had been laid at the Stade de France late Thursday, barely two days before the biggest match in European club soccer.

Paris is a replacement host for the game, with Saint Petersburg — where it was initially scheduled to be played — stripped of hosting rights after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The field has been belatedly relaid because there were concerts staged at the stadium last weekend.

“Obviously not the best news for both teams. I have no idea how it will be,” Klopp said.

“If somebody thought it was a good idea to bring the pitch the day before the game, it’s an interesting idea, to be honest. But it didn’t kill my mood a percent. I’m really happy we were here — we would have played on a petanque (surface).”


French international forward Moussa Diaby is NUFC’s top target

French international forward Moussa Diaby is NUFC’s top target
Updated 28 May 2022

French international forward Moussa Diaby is NUFC’s top target

French international forward Moussa Diaby is NUFC’s top target
  • Diaby, along with Renan Lodi of Atletico Madrid and Sven Botman of Lille, are all thought to be under consideration by the United hierarchy.

NEWCASTLE: Bayer Leverkusen's Moussa Diaby has emerged as a top Newcastle United target this summer.
Arab News understands the Magpies are monitoring the situation of the French international forward as they look to strengthen their lot in the transfer window. Trading opens in the Premier League on Friday, June 10.
The 22-year-old, former Paris Saint-Germain wide player has been a revelation in Germany this season, scoring 13 goals and providing 12 assists as Leverkusen qualified for the Champions League in 2022/23.
And while the Magpies cannot offer top level European football, they can offer players the chance to be part of the most exciting project in world football, as well as showcase themselves in the most competitive division on the planet, the Premier League.
Diaby, along with Renan Lodi of Atletico Madrid and Sven Botman of Lille, are all thought to be under consideration by the United hierarchy.
And St James' Park chiefs have been given encouragement in their pursuit of Netherlands prospect Botman.
Lille proved reluctant sellers in the January window as United had bid after bid rejected for the player, despite being welcomed to the table by the Ligue 1 outfit.
This summer, it has been widely expected, and reported in the Italian press, the left-footed central defender would put pen to paper at AC Milan.
However, club legend and current technical director Paolo Maldini has cast doubt on the move being a cast iron certainty while speaking to Italian outlet La Gazzetta dello Sport. 
Talks between Botman’s representatives - headed up by agent Nikkie Bruinenberg - and Milan are understood to have progressed well at the back end of the season and terms, as reported elsewhere, are believed to have been agreed.
But the door has been left ajar for United.
On Botman, Maldini said: “We followed him, but there are many good players in that role.”
And when comparison is made between his comments on the 21-year-old and those on outgoing Liverpool striker Divock Origi, a deal widely understood to be at a similar stage of negotiations, the differences are stark.
Maldini continued: “Sure, we are talking with (Divock) Origi, this is well advanced. Let’s not forget that (Olivier) Giroud is a champion, a high-level player. But we also have (Ante) Rebic. The solutions are there. Then it is normal that to compete you have to think about improving something. We will move according to the budget.”
Meanwhile, a deal to have Brighton transfer chief Dan Ashworth in place for the opening of the transfer window looks to be progressing.
It's understood Ashworth is on Tyneside to complete his move - and he should take up the role of Sporting Director imminently.
Ashworth resigned from his role at the Amex Stadium in February, but has been on 'gardening leave' ever since.


Leclerc completes ‘double top’ for Ferrari in Monaco practice

Leclerc completes ‘double top’ for Ferrari in Monaco practice
Updated 27 May 2022

Leclerc completes ‘double top’ for Ferrari in Monaco practice

Leclerc completes ‘double top’ for Ferrari in Monaco practice
  • The 24-year-old Monegasque driver clocked a best lap in one minute and 12.656 seconds to outpace the Spaniard by just 0.044 seconds
  • After topping the times in the opening session, Leclerc was quickly back on the pace in his Ferrari, running on hard tyres

MONTE CARLO, Monaco: Charles Leclerc completed a convincing ‘double top’ at his home Monaco Grand Prix on Friday, finishing second practice fastest ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz.
The 24-year-old Monegasque driver, who was also quickest in the opening session, clocked a best lap in one minute and 12.656 seconds to outpace the Spaniard by just 0.044 seconds, leaving the two Red Bulls of Sergio Perez and world champion Max Verstappen third and fourth, more than three-tenths adrift.
Lando Norris, still battling tonsilitis, was fifth for McLaren ahead of George Russell of Mercedes and Pierre Gasly, an impressive seventh for the Alpha Tauri team on a very warm afternoon in the Mediterranean principality.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso was eighth for Alpine ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin and Yuki Tsunoda in the second Alpha Tauri.
This left a disgruntled Lewis Hamilton down in 12th, behind Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, in the second Mercedes, the seven-time champion struggling with continued bouncing as he sought a set-up that would be comfortable and fast.
The session was interrupted once by a red flag when Daniel Ricciardo crashed in the Swimming Pool complex, emerging unscathed from his damaged McLaren.
After topping the times in the opening session, Leclerc was quickly back on the pace in his Ferrari, running on hard tires, as he sought to become the first Monegasque to score points at home since Louis Chiron finished third in 1950 and regain the lead in this year’s drivers’ championship.
After his third consecutive win in Spain last Sunday, Dutchman Verstappen leads on 110 points, six ahead of Leclerc.
In a fast-switching contest between them, the Red Bulls and Ferraris were within two-tenths of a second of each other as Russell and the rest bumped in pursuit, Mercedes still searching for a successful set-up.
In opening practice, Hamilton had complained of continued serious bouncing described by team chief Toto Wolff as making their car ‘undriveable’.
He explained it was not the same ‘porpoising’ as seen earlier this year, but a ride height problem.
“Sometimes, it is a combination of aerodynamics and stiffness, but this is just due to the stiffness,” he said, adding that Hamilton had requested padding for his elbows for the second session.
“We’ll try to make it more enjoyable for them, but we want a fast car,” he said. “If it’s fast, we will make him all the pads he needs.”
Ricciardo delivered another example of the bumpy challenge the drivers faced after 14 minutes when he lost control of his McLaren and smacked into the barriers at the ‘swimming pool’ complex.
He was unhurt but his car suffered severe front damage, ending his participation. A seven-minute delay for the day’s second red flag ensued before Valtteri Bottas, back in action after earlier gearbox problems, led the field back in his Alfa Romeo.
The pause offered all involved a chance to breathe and relax in the heat, with an air temperature of 30 degrees and the track at 53, before returning to an intense ‘qualifying rehearsal’ scrap.
Leclerc continued to look dominant, trimming his lap to 1:12.656, three-tenths clear of an improved Perez before Sainz climbed back to second, two-tenths off the pace.
At this point, with 20 minutes to go, Ferrari were on top of Red Bull’s challenge, while others scrambled and scraped. Russell clipped the barriers at Tabac, Norris did the same at Ste Devote and Hamilton locked up at Mirabeau — three Britons sliding in the heat before switching to longer high fuel-load running.
Leclerc was notable for his absence with 12 minutes remaining, but he returned for the final six to complete a solid day’s work by the ‘scarlet Scuderia’ who finished with a strong one-two.