Al-Shabab’s Ighalo could miss Nigeria’s AFCON campaign due to logistical error

Ighalo, who has netted 16 times for his country, is currently the leading goalscorer in the Saudi Pro League season. (AFP/File Photo)
Ighalo, who has netted 16 times for his country, is currently the leading goalscorer in the Saudi Pro League season. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 05 January 2022

Al-Shabab’s Ighalo could miss Nigeria’s AFCON campaign due to logistical error

Ighalo, who has netted 16 times for his country, is currently the leading goalscorer in the Saudi Pro League season. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Nigerian Football Federation’s request for his release arrived after the deadline that obliges clubs to make players available for the tournament in Cameroon

LONDON: Al-Shabab’s star striker Odion Ighalo is in the middle of a club vs country row that leaves his participation in the African Cup of Nations, which kicks off on Sunday in Cameroon, in serious doubt.

While club officials are refusing to comment on the situation, according to reports in Nigeria, Al-Shabab are refusing to release the former Manchester United forward on the grounds that the Nigerian Football Federation missed the official deadline to call up the 32-year-old.

Ighalo, who has netted 16 times for his country, is currently the leading goalscorer in the Saudi Pro League season, and his 11 goals have helped the Riyadh club climb to second place. 

Augustine Eguavoen, Nigeria’s interim coach who was appointed in December to take over from the sacked Gernot Rohr, has yet to make a statement on Ighalo, simply saying on Tuesday: “Hopefully Odion will come … The only thing is to change the style of play because the personnel is not there as we expected.”

The situation echoes December’s dispute between Nigeria and Watford after the English Premier League club refused to release Emmanuel Dennis claiming the African team missed the deadline to request his release. 

Local media quoted Eguaoven last Friday after an Abuja training session saying that Dennis wanted to go to Cameroon but was prevented from doing so by the relegation-threatened Hornets. 

“Watford stopped him from featuring at the AFCON,” Eguavoen said. “Dennis told me he wanted to come for the tournament but Watford threatened him (away) from coming.”

Watford coach Claudio Ranieri denied his side had disrespected Nigeria or Africa’s showpiece event.

“No, no. No, we respect everybody,” the Italian said. “They have a lot of players, and they changed the manager, then they change everything, and then we were ready. We knew we were ready to give the players, but they didn’t do this.”

Reports in Nigeria claim that the national team are hoping to call up Feyenoord striker Cyril Dessers to replace Ighalo. 

The Super Eagles, who won the last of their three continental titles in 2013, kick off their AFCON campaign in a eagerly-awaited Group D clash against Egypt next Tuesday. After that will come games against Sudan and Guinea-Bissau.

Nigeria are accustomed to life without Ighalo, as he retired from international football after the 2019 AFCON when he finished as top scorer with five goals, which helped the team into third place. In November however, he answered the summons from his country and played against Cape Verde in qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

Nigeria are due to leave for Cameroon on Wednesday and, assuming that Ighalo is not on the plane, he will be available for three crucial league games over the next two weeks in the Saudi Pro League as Al-Shabab take on Abha, Ettifaq and Al-Fateh. As it stands, the club are just one point behind Al-Ittihad after winning eight of the last nine games. 

His form this season has seen Ighalo linked with a move to struggling EPL team Newcastle United. Former Tottenham Hotspur and England goalkeeper Paul Robinson has, however, warned the Magpies against taking a punt on the well-traveled forward.

“He is unreliable and I don’t think Newcastle are in a position where they can take risks,” Robinson told website Football Insider. “Financially, they are in a position where they can go and get a top quality striker who is less of a risk than he is. I just don’t think Ighalo is the player they are looking for.”


Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat
Updated 30 November 2022

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat
  • Against a Wales team broken by goals from Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden, Kane was looking to finally get off the mark in Qatar
  • Rashford added a third of the match and his third of the tournament

DOHA: For Harry Kane, the wait for a first goal at this World Cup goes on.
Substituted after 58 minutes of England’s 3-0 win against Wales on Tuesday, he embraced his replacement Callum Wilson and made his way to the bench to watch the remainder of the game.
England coach Gareth Southgate clearly thought the job was done and qualification to the knockout stage secured.
Kane, despite shaking hands with his coach, might not have shared that view.
For a man who is famously reluctant to sit out any opportunity to add to his scoring record, it was likely a frustrating watch from the sidelines at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
Against a Wales team broken by goals from Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden, Kane was looking to finally get off the mark in Qatar. Instead, Rashford added a third of the match and his third of the tournament.
“He’s enjoying his football, but for any forward you want to be scoring goals,” Rashford said.
England scored nine goals as they topped Group B, but none came from their most prolific forward.
Yet Kane, who was the Golden Boot winner at the World Cup in Russia four years ago and is two short of Wayne Rooney’s all-time England record of 53 goals, has still made a notable contribution.
Providing the cross for Foden’s second-half strike, he became England’s first player to register three assists at a World Cup since David Beckham in 2002. He can add to that total when England play Senegal in the round of 16 on Sunday.
“You need goals from all areas, and it is a problem for opposition teams if the threat is coming from other areas of the pitch,” Southgate said. “Across the three games pretty much all of our forward line has got off the mark — if not with goals then with important, quality assists and that’s a good place for the forward to be. They want to have that confidence.”
England’s captain has always been a creator as well as a finisher and his assist statistics in his opening three games — also setting up goals for Raheem Sterling and Rashford against Iran — is evidence of just how complete a forward he is.
It also underlines his enduring importance to England.
Kane hurt his ankle and foot in the opening match against Iran, but Southgate has started the 29-year-old striker in all three matches.
“It is competition for places, which is what we need and people have to deliver,” Southgate said.
Goals aren’t a particular concern for England, with Rashford, Bukayo Saka (two), Sterling, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham all scoring so far.
Rashford, who missed a penalty in England’s shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final last year, is the tournament’s co-leading scorer alongside Kylian Mbappé, Cody Gakpo and Enner Valencia.
“In a long career, you’re always going to have ups and you always will have downs and it’s all about how you bounce back from them,” Manchester United and England teammate Harry Maguire said after the Wales match. “I can’t speak highly enough about Marcus. He’s a wonderful man and he’s a great player and I think tonight again he’s shown that he belongs on this stage.”


Historic win over world champions not enough to see Tunisia progress

Historic win over world champions not enough to see Tunisia progress
Updated 30 November 2022

Historic win over world champions not enough to see Tunisia progress

Historic win over world champions not enough to see Tunisia progress
  • Australia’s 1-0 victory over Denmark means North African nation yet to reach the knockout stages of World Cup

DOHA: A stunning goal from Wahbi Khazri may have been enough to give the Carthage Eagles a heroic 1-0 victory over reigning champions France on Wednesday, but it was not enough to send the team into the latter stages of the World Cup for the first time.

While the win, just the third in total at the competition and a first against European opposition, was something to celebrate, Australia’s win over Denmark by the same scoreline means that Tunisia are heading home.

That was always the danger. Tunisia, bottom of the group before kickoff with just one point, needed nothing less than a win to have a chance of finally making it to the latter stages, at the sixth time of asking.

Even victory was not going to be a guarantee of progress, however, as there was still the other game in the group to contend with.

An Australian victory would send the Socceroos through. As well as needing to win, Tunisia wanted the other two to draw. The promised land always seemed far away.

Coach Jalel Kadri promised that he would resign if the team failed to progress, but he will not need an extended period of reflection to know that his team’s dreams were dashed by lack of firepower.

It had been obvious all through the competition. The opening 0-0 draw with Denmark was a fine, battling performance against a team ranked 10th in the world. It provided a solid platform for the second, and on paper most winnable, game against Australia.

Falling behind to a fine header from Mitchell Duke midway through the first half, Tunisia were unable to penetrate the defense of the hardworking Socceroos, and while the display was decent, there was a lack of bite in the final third.

That failure to score ultimately cost Tunisia their dream as it meant that their destiny was in the hands of others.

The effort was certainly there against France. After the disappointment of Saturday’s defeat, it was a revitalized version of Tunisia that tore at Les Bleus from the start.

A free-kick in the eighth minute was swung in by Khazri and guided home acrobatically by Nader Ghandri, only for the player to be correctly judged offside.

It was nevertheless encouraging for the North Africans and a warning for the French who, already through, made nine changes from their 2-1 win over Denmark.

Tunisia continued to make most of the running at Education City Stadium, even in the second half. The North Africans had won just two previous games at the World Cup but never stopped working hard in trying to make it three.

The goal duly arrived just before the hour thanks to Khazri, who ran at a static French defense before striking the ball past stand-in goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

It was the last act of the game for the exhausted star, who was then taken off, but he had given his team something to defend.

And yet, within moments, the news came through that Australia had taken the lead against Denmark and retaken second place in the group.

If that was not enough, Kylian Mbappe entered the fray for France and started running at the tiring Tunisian defense.

Tunisia held on despite a late strike from Antoine Greizmann, which was ruled out by VAR.

But by time it was chalked off, Australia had advanced and Tunisia denied.

The wait for the knockout stages will continue until 2026 at least, but if a goalscorer can be found in the meantime, the country may then finally make the promised land.


Pulisic ‘day-to-day’ after Iran World Cup injury: US Soccer

Pulisic ‘day-to-day’ after Iran World Cup injury: US Soccer
Updated 30 November 2022

Pulisic ‘day-to-day’ after Iran World Cup injury: US Soccer

Pulisic ‘day-to-day’ after Iran World Cup injury: US Soccer
  • The Chelsea forward, who was injured while scoring the only goal in the 1-0 win over Iran, was regarded as "day-to-day" fitness-wise
  • Pulisic was taken to hospital as a precaution following the incident that led to his injury

DOHA: Christian Pulisic suffered a “pelvic contusion” during the USA’s World Cup victory over Iran but has vowed to be fit for his team’s last 16 clash with the Netherlands.
A US Soccer spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday that the Chelsea forward, who was injured while scoring the only goal in the 1-0 win over Iran, was regarded as “day-to-day” fitness-wise.
“USMNT forward Christian Pulisic has been diagnosed with a pelvic contusion and his status is day-to-day,” US Soccer said.
Pulisic was taken to hospital as a precaution following the incident that led to his injury but was back at the US team hotel to greet his team-mates following the Group B win on Tuesday.
In a photo posted on social media on Tuesday, Pulisic said he expected to play against the Netherlands on Saturday, when the Americans will attempt to reach the quarter-finals.
“I’ll be ready for Saturday, don’t worry,” a jubilant Pulisic wrote.
US midfielder Weston McKennie said on Tuesday that Pulisic had indicated he would be fit to start against the Dutch.
“I sent him a text and checked on him, and he said, ‘Best believe I’ll be ready’,” said McKennie.
Pulisic’s winner against the Iranians came as he threw his body into a tangle of defenders to jab home Sergino Dest’s headed cross.
“Obviously we’re very thankful that he threw his body there,” McKennie said.
“It was a heart-drop sinking moment, but we got it done and we’re excited to still be here.”


Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan heads stellar week for UAE race fans

Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan heads stellar week for UAE race fans
Updated 30 November 2022

Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan heads stellar week for UAE race fans

Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan heads stellar week for UAE race fans
  • The first thoroughbred Listed race of the season, the Dubai Creek Mile, has two Group 1 winners in it
  • Other events in Al-Ain on Friday, Jebel Ali on Saturday, Abu Dhabi’s Jewel Crown fixture Sunday

DUBAI: The card for this week’s horse racing at Meydan Racecourse in the UAE is nothing short of outstanding for the time of year.
The first thoroughbred Listed race of the season, the Dubai Creek Mile, has two Group 1 winners in it, plus a host of horses that could stamp their mark on Dubai World Cup night.
Sixth in the 2021 Dubai World Cup when last seen, the talented and popular Military Law trained away last season without making a race for trainer Musabbeh Al-Mheiri and owner Nasir Askar.
And he will need to be fit to win, facing a Uruguayan Group 1 winner in Atletico El Culano, plus Golden Goal, who must give 2 kilograms to the field because of his Group 2 win last season. Another strong contender will be Capezzano, a Group 1 winner returning after almost one year off and tipped to be back to his best.
The card also has a strong three-year-old rated conditions event, race six, which sees the return of last year’s G3 UAE 2000 Guineas winner Azure Coast. The horse has had a remarkable career, starting in Russia, before winning two of three starts in the UAE last season, returning to Moscow with a win in September, and now traveling back to Dubai.
This time he will be with his Russian jockey Myrzabek Kappushev up against a tough field including UAE Derby fourth-place finisher Bendoog, one of the biggest horses in training at the yard of champion trainer Bhupat Seemar.
Racing fans in the UAE are in for a treat at the weekend, with four meetings, including Al-Ain on Friday, Jebel Ali on Saturday, and the Jewel Crown fixture at Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
One of the richest purebred Arabian races in the world, the $1.36 million Jewel Crown has attracted a top international cast, including 2021 heroine Lady Princess.
Trained in France by Thomas Fourcy, the six-year-old is the best Arabian in the world despite her tiny size, having won her last five races, all at Group 1 level.
She has a talented bunch of rivals to beat, however, including Dubai Kahayla Classic winner First Class, and Izadi Star, winner of both his starts at Abu Dhabi before running some creditable efforts in Group 1s in France.
The card’s thoroughbred race is the Listed National Day Cup, which sees the return of last season’s G1 Jebel Hatta winner Alfareeq, as well as the talented Haqeeqy, and Moqtarreb, winner of the race in 2021.
All of these carry the silks of Shadwell, run by Sheikha Hissa Hamdan Al-Maktoum, who will be hoping her operation’s excellent European season, spearheaded by the remarkable Baaeed, will continue into her home country.
 


Seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open gets underway next week

Seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open gets underway next week
Updated 30 November 2022

Seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open gets underway next week

Seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open gets underway next week
  • Participation in the tournament will be open to ADT players, as well as professional and amateur golf players in the Middle East and North Africa who are registered with a golf club
  • Majed Al-Sorour: I am especially proud of how each edition provides Saudi and Arab golf players the opportunity to participate in a top tier competition in their home country

RIYADH: The Asian Development Tour (ADT) arrives in Saudi Arabia, for the first time, next week, with the playing of the seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open, Dec. 8 — 10, at Golf Saudi managed Riyadh Golf Club.

The ADT event will see a prize fund of $200,000 up for grabs. Participation in the tournament will be open to ADT players, as well as professional and amateur golf players in the Middle East and North Africa who are registered with a golf club. 

As a result of Golf Saudi entering a 10-year partnership with the Asian Tour, the tournament is expected to receive wide interest from golf fans inside and outside the Kingdom. The fact that the PIF Saudi Open is being played on the ADT for the first time is confirmation of the strengthening of ties between the Asian Tour and Golf Saudi. Particularly as the 2023 edition of the $5 million PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers has now officially become the opening event on the Asian Tour’s annual calendar. 

The PIF Saudi Open will also see the participation of a raft of up and coming players from the GCC and Arab countries, in addition to Saudi Arabia’s growing home talents from the National Team, who have all gone from strength to strength in recent years, as part of Golf Saudi wider Mass Participation program to grow the game of golf in the Kingdom. 

Majed Al-Sorour, Deputy Chairman and CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi, said: “All of us at both the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi are incredibly excited about next week’s seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open. Each and every year we host the tournament, it gets bigger and better. I am especially proud of how each edition provides Saudi and Arab golf players the opportunity to participate in a top tier competition in their home country and be able to not only develop their skill levels but also to test themselves and go head-to-head against players from different countries in the Middle East, North Africa and now the Asian Development Tour in a competitive environment.” 

Managed by Golf Saudi and playing to a par of 72, Riyadh Golf Club is 20 minutes from Riyadh. The course, opened in 2005, is known for its undulating terrain, wide fairways and manicured greens. 

Al-Sorour continued: “By hosting tournaments such as the PIF Saudi Open, we hope to encourage and facilitate greater uptake in the game and offer our elite golfers the chance to compete against the very best. So, thanks must go to our strategic partners the Asian Tour for helping us to achieve that aim, as their involvement will mean the strongest player field in the PIF Saudi Open’s history.” 

The tournament, which kicks off on the 8th December will witness the participation of the most prominent Saudi players, including the first and only Saudi professional player Othman Almulla, along with other National Team players: Abdulrahman Al-Mansour, Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif. A lot will be at stake for those players competing, as the PIF Saudi Open also represents a qualification opportunity for the 2023 PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will be held next February.