Syrian refugee Alaa Maso relishing the chance to compete at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Syrian refugee Alaa Maso relishing the chance to compete at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
Syrian refugee Alaa Maso is taking part in the FINA World Swimming World Championships (25m) in Abu Dhab. (Supplied)
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Updated 20 December 2021

Syrian refugee Alaa Maso relishing the chance to compete at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi

Syrian refugee Alaa Maso relishing the chance to compete at FINA World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi
  • Courageous 21-year-old left his homeland in 2015 and has continued to pursue his dreams in Germany

From unexploded bombs crashing into his home to competing at the FINA World Swimming World Championships (25m) in Abu Dhabi, Syrian refugee Alaa Maso has gone through an emotional and extraordinary journey.

The 21-year-old is among more than 1,100 athletes competing at the global event at Yas Island’s Etihad Arena this week. It is an opportunity Maso never dreamed was possible when he left war-torn Syria in 2015 in order to build a better life and continue his swimming ambitions, but he has demonstrated remarkable courage and determination to reach his goals.

“It wasn’t an easy decision at all. Two bombs landed on my house when I was just 13, but thankfully they didn’t explode,” said Maso, who is representing the FINA Refugee Team in Abu Dhabi.

“But it came to a certain point where you have to rethink what you’re going to do,” he said. “You need to be careful with your choices because even if you leave the house, you never know if you will come back or not. With the war getting worse, I had no option but to leave Syria along with my brother Mohammed.’’

The pair embarked on a gruelling 12-day journey to Europe that involved crowded boat crossings, buses, trains and hiking as they joined thousands of Syrians fleeing the country.

Little did Maso know that he would be separated from his brother for three days due to the large number of Syrians that were escaping.

“We lost each other a few times as there was so many of us going to the same place,” he said. “I remember I had walked 26 km with a group of 300 people for seven hours and we were all wet. We were crossing roads, fields, and mountains in very cold and rainy conditions. It wasn’t pleasant at all and still today, it is one of the worst days of my life.”

He added: “But I didn’t give up hope and although I was missing my brother, I knew we would meet at some point.”

That moment came at the border between Slovenia and Austria, where the two stuck together, navigating their way through 10 countries, including Turkey, Greece and Serbia. They now live in Germany.

“The first couple of months in Germany was very hard as it was completely different to what I had experienced in Syria,” said Maso. “It was a new culture, a new way of living, and I knew that I had challenges that I had to overcome, but I adapted,” he said.

He can now speak German, Dutch and English, as well as his native Arabic, after continuing his education, but has never lost his passion for swimming. He joined a local club in Hanover and after a four-year hiatus on the competitive stage, was soon making a big splash in Germany.

“Swimming is very special to me. I have sacrificed a lot to reach where I am and I have put in a lot of hard work in training to be the best that I can be,” he said.

It was only a matter of time before Maso got his big break on the global stage, and it was the biggest one of them all as he was part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The event was even more memorable given Mohammed, his brother, was also competing in the triathlon for Syria, joining a list of siblings taking part in an Olympics. Although neither won a medal, they won the hearts of the entire world when a picture of them embracing each other at the opening ceremony went viral on social media.

“My brother and I always dreamed about going to the Olympics, but we never thought that we were going to be there together because we always aimed for Paris 2024, so it really was a dream come true,” said Maso.

“We both went through a tough time with all the struggles, so that was emotional, and we hadn’t seen each other for eight months as he was training in the Netherlands. To see hundreds of thousands of people retweet our picture is something that we will always remember,” he added.

For now, Maso’s focus is on the FINA World Swimming Championships, and he hopes his story can inspire the next generation of Arab swimmers.

“It’s very special to be competing in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “Swimming is not so popular compared with other sports, but I believe it will grow rapidly, and we are already seeing some talented swimmers coming up through the ranks. It will be great if we see more Arab swimmers winning medals on the global stage in coming years.”

He added: “As I haven’t seen my parents since I left, winning a medal here would make them happy. I miss them a lot, but I still keep in touch through video calls. I know they are proud of what I’ve achieved so far.”


Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense

Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense
Updated 15 August 2022

Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense

Alaba free-kick gives Real Madrid win to start title defense
  • The winner arrived with 15 minutes remaining at Almeria’s Power Horse Stadium, as Alaba strode onto the pitch and curled a free-kick in off the upright after Luka Modric had been fouled just outside the box

MADRID: David Alaba scored with a stunning free-kick immediately after coming on as a substitute as reigning champions Real Madrid came from behind to beat Almeria 2-1 in their opening game of the season in La Liga on Sunday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side trailed to an early goal by Largie Ramazani away against their promoted opponents, but Lucas Vazquez equalized just after the hour mark.
The winner arrived with 15 minutes remaining at Almeria’s Power Horse Stadium, as Alaba strode onto the pitch and curled a free-kick in off the upright after Luka Modric had been fouled just outside the box.
Real were made to work hard for the points against an Almeria side who won last season’s second-tier title to return to La Liga after a seven-year absence.
“We had lots of shots on goal but once we got the first goal it made things much easier for us,” said Ancelotti.
“I am happy with the way the game went. We were not spectacular but there were lots of things to take into account, like the game on Wednesday and the heat.”
At one point it looked like Madrid might suffer a defeat in their opening league game of the season for the first time since 2008, with Ancelotti’s decision to rotate his squad not initially paying off.
The Italian had made five changes to the line-up that started in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup in Helsinki, when goals by Alaba and Karim Benzema gave the defending European champions the first silverware of the campaign.
Alaba and Modric were among the players dropped to the bench, while close-season signings Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni were handed first competitive starts for their new club.
Yet the game was just six minutes old when former Chelsea defender Rudiger was caught out by a ball over the top and Ramazani ran through to beat Thibaut Courtois.
Ramazani, the 21-year-old Belgian winger who used to be on the books at Manchester United, ran off to celebrate in acrobatic fashion as Saudi-owned Almeria enjoyed a dream start to their top-flight comeback.
Yet the hosts needed some inspired goalkeeping from Fernando Martinez to keep them ahead into half-time, with the standout save coming low to his left to deny Rudiger five minutes before the break.
Vazquez then had the ball in the net in the 43rd minute only to be denied by a very tight offside call, but the full-back was the man who dragged the away side back level in the 61st minute as he pounced on a loose ball in the area to score.
Almeria, who had already seen a hanging Vinicius cross strike the frame of their goal on its way behind before that, soon conceded again.
When Modric was fouled just outside the box by Rodrigo Ely, Austrian defender Alaba was waiting on the sideline for the chance to come on.
The break in play allowed him to replace Ferland Mendy, and he came straight on to take the free-kick and score in stunning fashion to complete the latest comeback from Ancelotti’s team.
Earlier, Japan star Takefusa Kubo marked his Real Sociedad debut by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win at Cadiz.
Kubo, 21, moved to San Sebastian last month on a five-year deal from Real Madrid, after never managing to break into the first team at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Signed by Madrid from FC Tokyo as an 18-year-old in 2019, he was farmed out on loan to Mallorca, Villarreal and then Getafe, before returning to Mallorca last season.
Carlos Soler’s penalty gave Valencia a 1-0 win over promoted Girona in their first La Liga outing under new coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Valencia held on after having Swiss defender Eray Comert send off early in the second half.
Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by Rayo Vallecano in their opening game at the Camp Nou on Saturday.
Atletico Madrid begin their campaign away at Getafe in one of three matches to be played on Monday.


Halep holds off Haddad Maia to win third WTA Canadian crown

Halep holds off Haddad Maia to win third WTA Canadian crown
Updated 15 August 2022

Halep holds off Haddad Maia to win third WTA Canadian crown

Halep holds off Haddad Maia to win third WTA Canadian crown
  • The former world number one from Romania added the trophy in Toronto to those she captured in Montreal in 2016 and 2018

TORONTO, Canada: Simona Halep kept control against unpredictable Beatriz Haddad Maia on Sunday, beating the Brazilian 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 to win a third WTA Masters 1000 title in Canada.
The former world number one from Romania added the trophy in Toronto to those she captured in Montreal in 2016 and 2018.
She needed two and a quarter hours to deny the South American lefthander the upset victory.
“Here there are many Romanians and they always come to support me. I’m really happy that I could win also here,” said Halep, who was backed by chants of “Si-mo-na!” from her vocal fans throughout the match.
She shrugged of nine double-faults and broke Haddad Maia five times from 10 chances as she became the third player with at least nine WTA 1000 titles, after Serena Williams (13) and Victoria Azarenka (10).
Halep, who was playing in her ninth final at the elite level as Haddad Maia tackled her first, won her 38th match of the season and claimed her biggest success since the Rome trophy in May, 2020.
After a year outside of the world’s top-10 she is projected to rise to sixth this week with the start of the US Open approaching on August 29.
“I was there for many years but now I feel like it’s a big deal to be back in top 10,” she said. “I’m really happy with this performance.
“When I started the year I was not very confident and I set the goal to be top-10 at the end of the year — and here I am.
“It’s a very special moment. I will enjoy it. I will give myself credit. I’m just dreaming for more.”
Haddad Maia, enjoying a breakout season that included grasscourt titles at Birmingham and Nottingham in June, had toppled world number one Iga Swiatek on her way to the final.
She struck first with a break on the way to a quick 3-0 lead. But Halep, a two-time Grand Slam champion, quickly responded, winning the opening set as she spun off six straight games to claim the opener 6-3, in 50 minutes.
Haddad Maia answered in the opening game of the second set with a break, consolidating through a double break for 4-0 before Halep stopped the rot to hold for 1-4.
The Brazilian delivered a huge serve on set point three games later to square the contest at a set each.
But Halep came out ahead after they traded three breaks of serve in the final set, wrapping it up on her second match point as Haddad Maia fired a service return into the net.
Haddad Maia said she was at times overwhelmed by the occasion.
“It was an emotional beginning, even when I was 3-Love up I couldn’t hold the emotions. I couldn’t control myself,” she said.
“Simona started to play better, to improve. I was trying to be more aggressive.
“Today Simona deserved it, she played better than me,” added Haddad Maia, the first Brazilian to reach the final of a WTA 1000 event. “She was more brave.
“Sometimes we learn — today, it’s a day to learn.”


Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2: ‘Fair tackle’ as Tuchel insists no hard feelings after Conte clash

Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2: ‘Fair tackle’ as Tuchel insists no hard feelings after Conte clash
Updated 14 August 2022

Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2: ‘Fair tackle’ as Tuchel insists no hard feelings after Conte clash

Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2: ‘Fair tackle’ as Tuchel insists no hard feelings after Conte clash
  • Conte’s overexuberant celebrations of Spurs’ first equalizer resulted in the two coaches being booked for squaring up
  • Tuchel was not happy at the Italian for not making eye contact during a handshake at full-time

LONDON: Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said he was happy to take a “fair tackle” from Tottenham boss Antonio Conte after both were shown red cards for clashing twice during a heated 2-2 on Sunday.
Conte’s overexuberant celebrations of Spurs’ first equalizer resulted in the two coaches being booked for squaring up.
Tuchel then responded by running down the touchline in celebration when Chelsea retook the lead through Reece James 13 minutes from time.
But Harry Kane’s 96th minute equalizer meant Conte had the last laugh.
Tuchel was not happy at the Italian for not making eye contact during a handshake at full-time, which sparked another melee between both sets of coaches and players.
“It was hot from the temperature and hot between the benches and hot on the field and hot between the spectators,” said Tuchel with temperatures soaring above 30 degrees Celsius in the English capital.
“There’s no hard feelings. I feel like it was a fair tackle from him and a fair tackle from me.
“We did not insult each other, we did not hit each other, we were fighting for our teams and from my side there’s absolutely no hard feelings. I’m surprised that we both got a red card for that.”
Tuchel’s ire was instead directed toward the officials as both Tottenham’s goals could have been disallowed.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s strike was allowed to stand despite a potential foul on Kai Havertz in the build-up and Richarlison standing in an offside position when the Dane’s shot was hit.
Before the corner leading to Kane’s equalizer, Spurs defender Sergio Romero also escaped a red card for dragging Marc Cucurella to the ground by his hair.
“It was a clear foul on Kai Havertz. Ok, the situation goes on and on and on, then it is a clear offside,” added Tuchel.
“Since when can you pull hair on the football field? It’s ridiculous.
“That’s the only frustration. I’m the happiest coach on earth because we played a fantastic match.”
Conte batted away several questions about his tete-a-tete with Tuchel, but admitted a gap between the sides remains despite Spurs’ improvement.
Chelsea won all four meetings between the sides last season, three of them after Conte took charge in November.
“In my opinion it is better to talk about the game,” said Conte. “Chelsea showed to be a really good team, but compared to last season we did a bit better.
“The difference is clear. This team won the Champions League two years ago, last year won the Club World Cup, got to the final of the FA Cup and Carabao (League) Cup.
“There is a difference between Chelsea and Tottenham but we are here to reduce this gap. Last season we lost three times, this time we drew so it’s a little step forward.”


Anthony Joshua praises Saudi passion for boxing ahead of biggest fight of his career

Joshua and Usyk will clash for the second time when they face off at the 'Rage on the Red Sea' in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Joshua and Usyk will clash for the second time when they face off at the 'Rage on the Red Sea' in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Updated 14 August 2022

Anthony Joshua praises Saudi passion for boxing ahead of biggest fight of his career

Joshua and Usyk will clash for the second time when they face off at the 'Rage on the Red Sea' in Jeddah. (Supplied)
  • British fighter takes on Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk at “Rage on the Red Sea” showdown on Aug. 20

JEDDAH: With under a week to go to the biggest fight of the year, billed the “Rage on the Red Sea,” Anthony Joshua reflected on his first visit to Saudi Arabia in 2019 and how he is ready to “put on a show” for his second fight in the Kingdom: The rematch against Oleksandr Usyk.

At face value, Joshua’s ambitions are simple.

“Last time here I became two-time champion,” he says, just days out from his rematch. “The sole aim now is to become three-time!”

Scratch the surface a little, though, and there is a far greater depth to the goals of both the fighter and host nation.

The last time Joshua fought here he did so under similar circumstances. He went into 2019’s “Clash of the Dunes” in Diriyah bidding to reclaim the belts he had lost to his opponent just months earlier, and does so again in Jeddah after dropping those same titles to Usyk last year.

Anthony Joshua regained his world heavyweight titles in 2019’s “Clash of the Dunes” in Diriyah.

Joshua went on to outclass Andy Ruiz Jr. from start to finish in Diriyah, and the Briton, understandably, recalls the night with real fondness.

“I have great memories from 2019,” he said. “Everything about the event was spot on. From the purpose-built stadium, the organization and the hospitality, it was all 10 out of 10. It was a phenomenal event for boxing in general and, of course, very special for me as I became two-time champion.”

A seed was planted on Dec. 7, 2019, and boxing in the Kingdom has grown at a rapid pace ever since. There has been a 300 percent increase in participation across men and women in Saudi Arabia, the number of boxing gyms in the country has climbed from seven to 59, and last December saw the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation introduce the first ever women’s boxing championship.

“Clash of the Dunes” left a legacy for boxing to build upon in Saudi Arabia, something the Joshua is immensely proud of and hopes to further once again when he takes on Usyk at King Abdullah Sports City on Saturday, Aug. 20.

“It’s fantastic that the country has taken the sport to heart,” said Joshua. “I know it has grown by over 300 percent, lots of facilities have opened since 2019 and the women’s championship happened last year. As professional fighters competing on a global scale it is fantastic to see the sport grow and inspire a new generation to it.”

Joshua departed Saudi Arabia a hero in 2019, having brought the pinnacle of the sport to the country for the very first time. The welcome he was given, as well as the support throughout his time there, left a mark on him.

“I have been shown such kindness since I have been here,” he explained. “It is obvious to me that the country has really embraced the sport and that certainly fills me with energy to want to perform in front of the fans.”

The 32-year-old will need all the energy he can muster from the Jeddah crowd as he runs it back against a man widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.

Usyk extended his career unbeaten run to 19 fights by securing a unanimous points victory over Joshua, and the 35-year-old Ukrainian is a technical master in the ring. But, while Joshua insists Usyk deserves the respect his achievements command, he is ready to make the most of a rare opportunity at redemption.

He said: “Things happen in life, but resilience and mental toughness and consistency will always prevail, so we are still on the right road. I am focused on the target and goal and it’s all about performance now. I had to take the defeat like a man and hold myself accountable. I simply have to reverse it and move forward.

“We have to give him credit, I respect him for his craft. I am motivated to get better. The great thing is I have a second chance to beat him. You can put me down, but you can’t keep me down.

“My team and I are focused on the goal, taking all the learnings from the last fight and on Aug. 20 I will entertain the fans who come out to see a huge night of heavyweight boxing.”

The battle that tops the billing at “Rage on the Red Sea” is the obvious big-ticket draw for fight fans both watching in the stadium and at home on pay-per-view, but the remainder of the card will make history, too, and is littered with talented, high-stakes bouts from start to finish.

The impact of this event on the ongoing transformation of Saudi Arabia through sport will continue the momentum from the incredible response to “Clash of the Dunes.”

There is Saudi fighter Ziyad Al-Maayouf to inspire local fight fans, while Ramla Ali and Crystal Garcia Nova will be the first female boxers to ever feature in an official international fight in Saudi Arabia. Then there are light-heavyweight and heavyweight final eliminators between Callum Smith and Mathieu Bauderlique, and Filip Hrgovic versus the undefeated Zhilei Zhang, respectively.

Added to that are names such as former two-weight world champion Badou Jack and his opponent Richard Rivera, as well as Daniel Lapin, Jozef Jurko, Andrew Tabiti and Tyrone Spong.

For Joshua, this means only one thing: This event is not to be missed.

“All focus is on fight night, and we are certain to put on a serious show for them,” he said.

“I can’t wait to see everyone at the arena. It is set to be an unbelievable night of championship-level boxing. For any sports fan this is not to be missed, it has all the ingredients to go down in boxing history.”

 


Young Saudi pool player wins against American professional star

Young Saudi pool player wins against American professional star
Updated 14 August 2022

Young Saudi pool player wins against American professional star

Young Saudi pool player wins against American professional star
  • Commentator: The big story here, all the way from Saudi Arabia, Al-Ghamdi beats Skyler, what a story at the inaugural European Open
  • Al-Ghamdi claimed a gold medal in the nine-ball competition for juniors at the West Asian Billiards and Snooker Championships in Dubai

JEDDAH: Khaled Al-Ghamdi, a Saudi junior billiards team player, scored an important victory on Aug. 10, beating American professional pool player Skyler Woodward in the European Open Championship that concluded on Sunday in Germany.

The European Open Pool Championship 2022 was a nine-ball pool tournament held from Aug. 9-14.

Matchroom Pool, the world’s leading pool promoter, tweeted a video of the match with the message: “Saudi Arabia, you’ve got a special player on your hands! 17-year-old Khalid Alghamdi comes back from 6-2 down against two-time Mosconi Cup MVP Skyler Woodward to win 9-7.”

The commentator in the footage said: “Remember, he started to play pool on a computer, and his father Omar said ‘why not try the real thing?’”

Al-Ghamdi took to the game “like a duck to the water”, and after scoring the nine balls smoothly, the commentator said: “The big story here, all the way from Saudi Arabia, Al-Ghamdi beats Skyler, what a story at the inaugural European Open.”

Al-Ghamdi’s legendary win was made all the more exciting given he had trailed 6-2 at one stage.

His achievement has opened the door to the prospect of playing against other international stars in future.

Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC tweeted the video of Al-Ghamdi’s brilliant performance and said: “#Saudi Vision 2030 has established a sports sector in the Kingdom in record time, generating thousands of jobs & improving the quality of life for everyone living in the Kingdom in the process.

“It has also led to the development of world-class athletes in several sports.”

The tweet went viral as Arab billiards fans were left stunned by, and proud of, Al-Ghamdi’s professional performance.

Khalid Abalhassan @twiffessor said: “A big win Khalid. Keep going.”

@Muteb_albalawi said: “Sensational performance congrats Khalid.”

Al-Ghamdi started playing when he was just 10 years old, and despite his young age, he trained hard.

When he was 14, he was the first and youngest Arab — and Saudi — to win first place at the 2019 USA Pool League National in the 8-ball Singles Junior Division, in Las Vegas.

In November 2021, Al-Ghamdi claimed a gold medal in the nine-ball competition for juniors at the West Asian Billiards and Snooker Championships in Dubai.