African Cup: Player release can be delayed until January 3

African Cup: Player release can be delayed until January 3
Cameroon’s Benjamin Moukandjo celebrates with the trophy and teammates after winning the African Cup of Nations in 2017. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 December 2021

African Cup: Player release can be delayed until January 3

African Cup: Player release can be delayed until January 3
  • Clubs can now keep players for matches until January 3
  • The 24-nation African Cup opens on Jan. 9 at the Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé, with the final on Feb. 6

DUBAI: Clubs will be allowed to delay the release of players to African Cup of Nations squads until the week the tournament begins after a request from domestic leagues was accepted by the Confederation of African Football.
FIFA regulations had mandated players be released this Monday, extending the time they would be missing from games in European competitions like the Premier League that play across the Christmas and New Year period and throughout the African Cup.
Clubs can now keep players for matches until January 3. The 24-nation African Cup opens on Jan. 9 at the Olembe Stadium in Yaoundé, with the final on Feb. 6.
FIFA deputy secretary general Mattias Grafström on Saturday confirmed the “commitment of solidarity” to the World Leagues Forum and European Leagues in a letter seen by The Associated Press.
“CAF has decided that for those players who have official club matches between the 27 December 2021 and 3 January 2022, the participating member associations in question are to be directed that these players may remain with their clubs to participate in these matches and be released after the last match during this period,” Grafström wrote.
The World Leagues Forum called the earlier requirement for players to go on international duty “unreasonable and disproportionate for many clubs and players who are still playing at that time” but CAF and FIFA have shown a willingness to respond to those concerns.
“It has been highlighted to FIFA that this decision is taken in the spirit of goodwill and solidarity with the affected clubs in recognition of the fact that they, like all members of the football community, have been adversely affected by the onset of the COVID pandemic,” Grafström wrote. “It is also assumed that a spirit of mutual cooperation remain between CAF and all relevant stakeholders in this regard, including related to the release of players and the provision of sporting exemptions to travel and quarantine restrictions if required in the future.”


Mexico face early World Cup exit against Saudi Arabia

Mexico face early World Cup exit against Saudi Arabia
Updated 29 November 2022

Mexico face early World Cup exit against Saudi Arabia

Mexico face early World Cup exit against Saudi Arabia
  • Mexico have reached the round of 16 at the last seven World Cups
  • El Tri sit at the bottom of Group C ahead of a must-win match against Saudi Arabia

DOHA: Mexico are going to have to suddenly find goals — and perhaps even several of them — to extend their knockout-round streak at the World Cup.
Mexico have reached the round of 16 at the last seven World Cups, tied for the longest current streak with Brazil. But in Qatar, El Tri sit at the bottom of Group C ahead of a must-win match against Saudi Arabia on Wednesday at Lusail Stadium.
The last time Mexico played at soccer’s biggest tournament and didn’t advance out of their group was in 1978.
But it’s not quite as simple as winning: El Tri must also get help. They’ll need Poland to beat Lionel Messi and Argentina at the exact same time at Stadium 974.
That’s the easiest way forward for Mexico. Beyond that, it gets complicated. If Mexico do their job and win but Argentina, one of the tournament’s favorites, also win, then goal difference comes into play.
The problem is, Mexico have no goals yet in Qatar.
In fact, El Tri haven’t scored in 384 straight minutes at the World Cup, dating back to their second group match at the 2018 tournament in Russia.
“We believe in our chances. We hold on to our chances,” said veteran Mexico midfielder Andres Guardado, who is appearing in his fifth World Cup. “And obviously we will try until the very end.”
The drought was extended Saturday with a 2-0 loss to Argentina. Neither team scored in the Mexico’s opener against Poland.
Mexico haven’t been eliminated from the group stage since the tournament in Argentina 44 years ago. El Tri didn’t qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and were banned from the 1990 event in Italy for using overage players at an under-20 tournament.
Since then, Mexico have advanced to the round of 16 in their last seven appearances — but no further. El Tri came to Qatar looking to play in an elusive “quinto partido” — a fifth game — for the first time since Mexico hosted the tournament in 1986.
“In the next game we have no more chances,” Mexico forward Henry Martin said. “We have to score the goals that we can, and not worry what happens in the other game.”
With the lack of goals, the criticism of Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino grew. He had already been questioned over some of his choices, including his decision to leave all-time leading scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez off the team.
Hernandez, who now plays for the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer, scored the team’s last goal in a 2-1 group-stage victory over South Korea in Russia. LAFC forward Carlos Vela, who also fell out of favor in the national team, scored the other.
Martino could be looking for a new job if Mexico doesn’t advance after playing Saudi Arabia, a team that pulled off one of the tournament’s biggest upsets ever when they beat Argentina 2-1 in their opener.
“Not getting through would leave a lot of frustration,” Martino said Tuesday. “We need the goals to win, that is what it takes to keep us here.”
Saudi Arabia couldn’t pull off another upset Saturday when they fell to Poland 2-0. The Saudis reached the round of 16 back in 1994, the team’s World Cup debut, but haven’t made it past the group stage since.
“We will play to the last second of this tournament and we will not give up,” Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard said.
Nawaf Al-Abed sustained an ankle injury against Poland and it was unclear if he would be available against Mexico.


Saudi, Tunisia and Morocco eye Round of 16 as Qatar depart

Saudi, Tunisia and Morocco eye Round of 16 as Qatar depart
Updated 29 November 2022

Saudi, Tunisia and Morocco eye Round of 16 as Qatar depart

Saudi, Tunisia and Morocco eye Round of 16 as Qatar depart
  • It has been a disappointing showing for the hosts but the rest of the Arab contingent go into last round of group matches with hopes of progress alive

It has been, as you would expect, an up and down World Cup so far for its Arab quartet. With Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco all having played two games each, there has been glory, excitement, heartbreak, disappointment and more besides.

Importantly, there is still hope for all but one. At this stage in Russia 2018, all three of the region’s teams — those mentioned above minus the current hosts — all knew they were heading home regardless of the result in the final group match.

QATAR (0 pts)

That is the situation Qatar are now in. It has been a disastrous tournament on the pitch for the Asian champions who can, at least, take heart for the future given the improvements made by their regional rivals. That will be scant consolation for now, however, given the two defeats suffered at the hands of Ecuador and then Senegal.

The opening game was a huge disappointment for the Maroons, as they seemed to freeze in front of the South Americans and the watching world, and were a little fortunate to only lose 2-0. The subsequent performance against the African champions was clearly better but, once again, the hosts found themselves two goals down and gave themselves too much to do, and lost 3-1.

It meant the end of the decade-long dream but the World Cup is not yet over. It was hoped that the match against the Netherlands, a glamour game against a genuine football giant, would actually mean something. It does not in terms of Qatar’s progression from the group but there is still pride to play for as well as the prize of a first ever point or more.

The Dutch need a win to be sure of going through and will want to top the group to avoid a likely clash with England in the second round. That will give the game a competitive edge and will give Qatar a last chance to show the world what they are made of.

SAUDI ARABIA (3 pts)

Saudi Arabia have already done that with a legendary win against the mighty Argentina, still the biggest result of this World Cup. That was followed by a 2-0 defeat against Poland, a game that many felt the Green Falcons deserved more from. Had Salem Al-Dawsari scored a first-half penalty, or the team taken many of their chances, then Herve Renard’s men would be sitting pretty in Group C with four points. Still, had you offered the two-time Asian champions three points from the opening two games two weeks ago, they would certainly have taken it.

Regardless, they still control their own destiny. A win against Mexico means six points and a place in the last 16 for the first time since 1994. It could happen. With tens of thousands of supporters ready to stand behind them once more, anything is possible.

“I hope they won’t give up,” Renard said, “because when you are fans, you need to support your team when it’s a fantastic day, but you also need to support your team to make history during the third game.”

It is not history but mathematics that would determine the standings should there be a draw. It would mean that Saudi Arabia would have four points and finish above El Tri, who have yet to impress, yet to win and yet to even score — and have just one point.

Then it would all be about the other clash. Should Poland, top of the group with four points, defeat Argentina, who have three, then all will be well — but anything else and it comes down to goal difference. If the South Americans and Europeans draw, then the Arab team would lose out by the narrowest of margins, which means that a big win for either team would be beneficial. The dream scenario for Saudi Arabia is victory against Mexico and a draw elsewhere which would mean top spot and the (very likely) avoidance of France in the second round.

TUNISIA (1 pt)

Progress for Saudi in first place would also involve a potential knockout clash with Tunisia. It is a long shot, but stranger things have happened. The Carthage Eagles impressed in the opening Group D game with a 0-0 draw against Denmark but were frustrated by Australia and lost 1-0. Now they have to beat France to have a chance of a first appearance in the second round. It is a big ask but the defending champions are already through and virtually assured of top spot.

Victory alone is not enough but anything other than an Australia win against Denmark, who also have just one point, would give Tunisia a chance. A draw would mean that the victorious North Africans would finish second above the Socceroos as they already have a better goal difference.

A Scandinavian win would mean it would all depend on who won by a bigger margin. The minimum requirement, however, is a famous victory against France. Whatever happens, Jalel Kadri’s men can leave Qatar with much to be proud of. They have shown they can defend, work hard and fight. Now they have to score and win.

MOROCCO (4 pts)

Last, and very much not least, Morocco. Their already famous 2-0 win over Belgium on Sunday put them on four points from the first two games following an opening 0-0 draw with Croatia. It all means that a point against the already eliminated Canada will be enough for a first appearance in the second round since 1986. The North Americans may have lost both games so far but have been competitive. It would, however, be a major disappointment if Morocco slip up with the promised land so close.

Even a loss may not be a disaster. Should Croatia defeat the hitherto unimpressive Belgium, which would not be a surprise, then the Atlas Lions are through whatever happens. A draw in the all-European clash would pit Belgium’s goal difference against Morocco’s.

It is looking good for Morocco, possible for Saudi Arabia, unlikely for Tunisia and over for Qatar, but there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns to come.


World Cup exploits can put football on map in Australia: coach

World Cup exploits can put football on map in Australia: coach
Australia's coach Graham Arnold celebrates after winning the Qatar World Cup Group D match between Tunisia and Australia. AFP
Updated 29 November 2022

World Cup exploits can put football on map in Australia: coach

World Cup exploits can put football on map in Australia: coach
  • Australia are on the cusp of reaching the last 16 for only the second time in their history, matching the achievement of a “golden generation” who made the same stage in 2006
  • Arnold is looking at the bigger picture and what a good run in Qatar will do for football’s popularity in Australia

DOHA: Australia coach Graham Arnold said on Tuesday that his team’s exploits at the Qatar World Cup can “put football on the map” at home and unite the nation.
Australia are on the cusp of reaching the last 16 for only the second time in their history, matching the achievement of a “golden generation” who made the same stage in 2006.
Victory over Euro 2020 semifinalists Denmark on Wednesday will guarantee a spot in the knockout rounds while a draw could also be enough.
Arnold declared that in a sports-mad country where football traditionally comes behind cricket, both rugby codes and Australian rules, the Socceroos “unite the nation” like no other national team.
Arnold said that the 1-0 win over Tunisia which put Australia in pole position to join holders France from Group D in the knockout rounds had put smiles on faces.
But speaking on the eve of the Denmark showdown, Arnold cautioned: “Putting smiles on Australian faces once is not enough, let’s do it some more times.”
Arnold is also looking at the bigger picture and what a good run in Qatar will do for football’s popularity in Australia.
He wants change, including more investment at youth level, to grow the game in the country and hopes this World Cup will inspire future generations in Australia to take up football.
“I’ve said many times: it’s not about me, it’s about the game in Australia,” said Arnold.
“To leave a legacy is huge,” added Arnold, 59, who was assistant coach to Guus Hiddink at the 2006 World Cup, where Australia boasted the likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill.
Arnold said the current Socceroos squad — which have plenty of heart but no world stars — had been inspired by the 2006 run.
“This generation, they were 10 years of age watching these guys,” Arnold said.
“When you sit down even now in the lunch room this generation is talking about emulating the 2006 squad and achieving the same goals they saw when they were 10 years old.
“So it’s about putting the game on the map a bit more in Australia.
“But again, there’s so much more work to do... it’s crazy.”


Denmark coach says ‘emotions high’ for must-win World Cup clash

Denmark coach says ‘emotions high’ for must-win World Cup clash
Denmark's coach Kasper Hjulmand speaks during a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 29 November 2022

Denmark coach says ‘emotions high’ for must-win World Cup clash

Denmark coach says ‘emotions high’ for must-win World Cup clash
  • “It is a World Cup so emotions are very, very high and football is wonderful — with football you can multiply your feelings by 10, the fear of losing is (also) very, very much involved," said Denmark coach

DOHA: Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand admitted on Tuesday that “emotions are very, very high” for their must-win World Cup clash against a dogged Australia.
With holders France already qualified for the last 16 from Group D, Australia are in pole position to join them in the knockout rounds with three points from two games.
Going into the final round of Group D games on Wednesday, Denmark are third and Tunisia fourth, both with one point.
Euro 2020 semifinalists Denmark must beat Australia and hope Tunisia do not do likewise against France if they are to extend their stay in Qatar.
Hjulmand said “everyone is ready” and he has no fitness concerns, but he conceded the pressure is on for a team who had been expected prior to the tournament to progress along with France.
“It is a World Cup so emotions are very, very high and football is wonderful — with football you can multiply your feelings by 10, the fear of losing is (also) very, very much involved.
“How can we best handle that? These considerations you have to make.”
Denmark were held 0-0 by Tunisia in their opener and then lost 2-1 to a Kylian-Mbappe inspired France to leave them in deep trouble.
Hjulmand knows that the pressure is on, but he backed his players to handle it.
“Of course there is pressure,” said the 50-year-old.
“(But) these players are very, very used to big games and the more experience you have of these kinds of events, from maybe feeling the pressure, you feel pride.
“It is a dream since you were a kid and now you are actually in a position where you can go out and play football for something.
“It is privilege.”


Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah
Updated 29 November 2022

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah
  • Final phase of facility at megaproject Aljada was designed by Australia’s Keegan Palmer, the sport’s first-ever gold medalist

SHARJAH: Aljada Skate Park, the largest facility of its kind in the Middle East, has opened in Sharjah.

Located in the Madar family entertainment district of the Aljada community, the facility was opened by Australia’s Keegan Palmer, the skateboarding Olympic gold medalist, who designed its third phase.

Launched by developers Arada and spread over a 90,000 square foot (8,361 square meter) area, Aljada Skate Park contains sections for every level, from beginner to professional.

The pro-level phase of the facility contains design elements inspired by famous skate parks from around the world, including Bondi Beach and Salt Lake City, where Palmer has competed. This includes a large vert wall that can also be found at the Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo, where he won the gold medal in 2021.

“This is not only the largest but also the most challenging and creative skate park anywhere in the region,” said Palmer. “Aljada Skate Park is now a focal point for the growing skate community here in the UAE, and I’m very excited about the future plans that we have for this amazing facility.”

Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, group CEO of Arada, said: “Our strategy has always been to deliver world-class facilities to inspire residents and visitors to our communities, and Aljada Skate Park is no exception. We’re delighted to support this rapidly growing sport here in the UAE and will shortly be sharing our plans to put Sharjah on the map as a global destination for professional skateboarding.”

Among those who joined Palmer and Alkhoshaibi at the park’s launch on Nov. 26 were Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, vice chairman of Arada, and Sabatino Aracu, president of World Skate, the global governing body.

Over the course of the weekend, skaters from across the UAE and beyond heard Keegan talk about his Olympic and Aljada journeys, as well as the chance to learn tricks at special clinics. In addition, another of the world’s top skaters, Pedro Barros, who won silver at Tokyo in 2021, also impressed the crowd with his skills.

On Saturday, skaters were able to show their skills and compete to win prizes during the Skate & Chill event hosted by California shoe brand Vans. The organizers gave away prizes for the best tricks performed over six sections of Aljada Skate Park, with visitors also treated to a festival atmosphere along with giveaways, a DJ, food and the opportunity to customize the brand’s shoes.

Special guests from the Gabriel Can Foundation, which aims to teach children diagnosed with autism to skate, were given a warm welcome with an hour-long event designed for them.

Spread over a 24 million square foot (2.2 million square meter) area and with 25,000 homes, Aljada is Sharjah’s largest-ever project. Since opening in early 2020, the Madar at Aljada entertainment district has welcomed over three million visitors.

The first phase of Madar contains the Aljada Discovery Center, the Zad food truck district, a free-to-enter drive-in cinema, a children’s adventure playground, an indoor events space, and an outdoor amphitheater. Scheduled to open next year, the second phase of Madar will contain a Wellfit gym — Sharjah’s largest fitness space — and a BOUNCE trampoline park.