Africa Cup of Nations preview: the seven Arab nations bidding for glory in Cameroon

Africa Cup of Nations preview: the seven Arab nations bidding for glory in Cameroon
Tunisia's Naïm Sliti (L) views for the ball against Libya's midfielder and capitan Faisal Saleh al-Badri during the 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier on March 25, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 January 2022

Africa Cup of Nations preview: the seven Arab nations bidding for glory in Cameroon

Africa Cup of Nations preview: the seven Arab nations bidding for glory in Cameroon
  • The delayed 2021 AFCON kicks off on Sunday and runs until Feb. 6

The 2021 African Cup of Nations kicks off on Sunday in Cameroon with the best Arab teams in contention. Arab News looks at the contenders.

The top two from each of the six groups progress to the second round, along with four best-performing third-placed teams.

 

Algeria

FIFA World Ranking: 29

Best AFCON performance: Champions (1990, 2019)

Group E: Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast

Star Player: Riyad Mahrez. The forward is the leading scorer at Manchester City and has found the target in the English champions’ last four games. If he shines Algeria will take some stopping.

Coach: Djamel Belmadi. Led a fancied Qatar team in a disastrous 2015 Asian Cup campaign but has not looked back since taking over Algeria in 2018. Has brought focus, discipline and tactical flexibility to a talented group.

The lowdown: As well as Mahrez, the Fennecs have strength in depth, with plenty of goals from the likes of Lyon’s Islam Slimani and solidity provided by AC Milan’s Ismael Bennacer in the defensive midfield role. The second-string side won the Arab Cup in impressive fashion last month and now the big guns have arrived. And there is the confidence of a 34-game unbeaten run which could break the world record of 37 in the coming weeks.

Prediction:  Have never won outside North Africa and expectations may weigh heavily but Algeria have what it takes to defend their title. 

 

Egypt

FIFA World Ranking: 45

Best AFCON performance: Champions (1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008, 2010)

Group D: Nigeria, Sudan, Guinea-Bissau

Star Player: Mohamed Saleh. The biggest name in the tournament and, quite simply, one of the best players in the world and in great form for Liverpool.

Coach: Carlos Queiroz. One of the most respected and experienced international coaches knows all about international tournaments.

The lowdown: It is not all about Salah, as there are top-class players such as centre-back Ahmed Hegazi and a strong contingent of players from African champions Al-Ahly. Under Queiroz, Egypt will be more organised and tactically aware than before and the former Real Madrid manager is already trying to remove the pressure by publicly focusing on qualifying for the World Cup.

Prediction: Should get far but it is debatable as to whether Salah can get the kind of service he enjoys at Liverpool. It could be that the Pharaohs don’t quite have the talent to lift trophy number eight.

 

Morocco

FIFA WORLD Ranking: 28

Best AFCON performance: Champions (1976)

Group C: Ghana, Comoros, Gabon

Star Player: Achraf Hakimi. Only 23, but has already played for Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan and now Paris Saint-Germain. Many believe he is the best right-back in the world and his attacking capabilities are also crucial for the Atlas Lions.

Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic. This strong character has been around the block, especially in Africa, leading Ivory Coast and Algeria to the World Cup, though he has yet to have success at this tournament.

The lowdown: The build-up has been overshadowed by the fact that Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech has been left out because, says Halilhodzic, of disciplinary reasons and a so-called lack of commitment. At least all knew it was coming. Ziyech will be missed, though there is still plenty of talent with striker Ryan Mmaee in good form and a defence well-marshalled by impressive Wolves star Romain Saiss.

Prediction: Morocco have underachieved in this tournament and will be disappointed with anything less than the last four. They do, however, have what it takes to win.

 

Tunisia

FIFA World Ranking: 30

Best AFCON performance: Champions (2004)

Group F: Mali, Mauritania, Gambia

Star Player: Wahbi Khazri. The captain has been leading the line for some time and chipping in with vital goals and arrives as Saint-Etienne’s leading goalscorer. A settling presence throughout the team with another experienced campaigner, goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha, at the other end.

Coach: Mondher Kebaier. A local coach after a long list of foreigners, too local say some who have doubts as to whether he can manage European-based stars in a major tournament. Knows Tunisian football like few others, however.

The lowdown: Tunisia don’t quite have the star power of their North African rivals but are a tight outfit, tough to play against and able to beat anyone on their day.

Prediction: A second successive last four finish would be satisfactory but if everything falls in the right place, the Carthage Eagles could go a little further.

 

Mauritania

FIFA World Ranking: 103

Best AFCON performance: Group Stage (2019)

Group F: Gambia, Tunisia, Mali

Star Player: Khassa Camara. The defensive midfielder is a calming and authoritative presence. At 29, has plenty of European experience.

Coach: Didier Gomes Da Rosa. Was appointed in November after the dismissal of Corentin Martins, who had been in charge since 2014, after disappointing results in World Cup qualification. It is a big step up for Gomes Da Rosa though the Frenchman has experience working at clubs in various African nations.

The lowdown:  The team, which made their debut in 2019 with two draws and one defeat, has the ability to surprise. They followed a 5-0 thrashing against Tunisia in the Arab Cup by pushing United Arab Emirates all the way. A friendly win over Syria and draws against Burkina Faso and Gabon show there is talent.

Prediction: With Tunisia and Mali in the group, an automatic place in the knockout stage looks very slim indeed but an opening win against Gambia is very much possible.

 

Sudan

FIFA World Ranking: 125

Best AFCON performance: Champions (1970)

Group D: Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Egypt

Star Player: Mohamed Abdulrahman. The Al-Hilal striker scored 10 goals for his country last year including a crucial strike against South Africa that helped the former powerhouse book their spot.

Coach: Burhan Tia. An interim coach after Hubert Velud was fired last month after a disappointing performance in the FIFA Arab Cup. He has had little time to prepare.

The lowdown. It has been a long time since Sudan were a major force in African football, a founder member of the CAF and, soon after, continental champions. And yet, there are signs of improvement. They not only defeated Ghana in qualification but finished second above South Africa, beating Bafana Bafana in the winner-takes-all final game.  With a domestic-based squad, there is almost a club feel to the team and they will lack nothing in commitment.

Prediction: Not being fancied should help but their form, no win in the last 11 games, is quite dismal. The late coaching change was a gamble but a win against Guinea-Bissau in the opening game is not out of the question.

 

Comoros

FIFA World Ranking: 132

Best AFCON performance: Qualifying for 2021

Group C: Gabon, Morocco, Ghana

Star Player: El Fardou Ben Nabouhane. Much rests on the shoulders of the 32-year-old striker who has reached double figures in each of the last three seasons for Serbian giants Red Star Belgrade.

Coach: Amir Abdou. Not many international coaches manage eight years in the job and the 49-year-old knows his team very well indeed. This tournament and games against Morocco, Ghana and Gabon is a different level, however.

The lowdown: The Coelacanths are created largely from the island’s French diaspora and should not be underestimated. Solid in defence, apart from a first-half four goal blitz from Egypt in qualification, they conceded two goals in five games and finished above Kenya and Togo.

Prediction: A first appearance at the tournament takes away pressure and expectations, leaving just excitement and hope. The group is a tough one and a good start against Gabon, likelier with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s COVID situation, is essential.


Galtier appointed PSG coach on two-year deal

Galtier appointed PSG coach on two-year deal
Updated 8 sec ago

Galtier appointed PSG coach on two-year deal

Galtier appointed PSG coach on two-year deal
  • The 55-year-old Galtier was pictured arriving at the Parisians’ offices just outside the French capital on Monday with a press conference scheduled at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT)

PARIS: Christophe Galtier has been appointed coach of French champions Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year deal, club sources confirmed on Monday.

Galtier, who spent last season in charge of Ligue 1 rivals Nice, takes over from Argentine Mauricio Pochettino.

The 55-year-old Galtier was pictured arriving at the Parisians’ offices just outside the French capital on Monday with a press conference scheduled at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. (1200 GMT).

PSG have been working to secure the appointment of a new coach for several weeks, but no move has been finalized while Pochettino and his backroom staff remain under contract.

PSG’s squad, minus those who were on international duty in June, reported for pre-season training on Monday.

Galtier, who left Nice last month, has developed a reputation as the leading coach in the French club game over the last decade.

He enjoyed eight successful years at Saint-Etienne, where he won the League Cup in 2013, before a four-year stint at Lille was crowned with the Ligue 1 title in 2021, when they pipped PSG.

Pochettino is set to leave Paris after 18 months in charge in which time he won the Ligue 1 title last season but also oversaw a disappointing exit from the Champions League in the last 16 at the hands of Real Madrid.

Having at one point been linked with a move for Zinedine Zidane, PSG’s swoop for Galtier may come as a surprise to some who expected the Qatar-owned club to opt for a more glamorous name on the bench.

However, the former Portsmouth assistant manager previously worked with Luis Campos, the Portuguese super scout who was recently named as PSG’s football adviser and who built the Lille team that won the league under Galtier.

PSG’s hopes of Champions League success in the short term were boosted by Kylian Mbappe’s decision at the end of last season to turn down Real Madrid and sign a new three-year deal at the Parc des Princes.

They have already made one signing ahead of the new campaign with the arrival of 22-year-old Portuguese midfielder Vitinha from Porto for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($42 million).

Mbappe, Lionel Messi and PSG’s other international stars will begin pre-season training next week.

PSG will depart for a short pre-season tour of Japan to play three games between July 20 and 25, before their first competitive match of the campaign on July 31 against Nantes in the French season-opening Champions Trophy in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Ligue 1 season will begin on the weekend of Aug. 6 and 7.


KAU champ, UBT runner-up in women’s basketball for universities, colleges

KAU champ, UBT runner-up in women’s basketball for universities, colleges
Updated 04 July 2022

KAU champ, UBT runner-up in women’s basketball for universities, colleges

KAU champ, UBT runner-up in women’s basketball for universities, colleges
  • The tournament is aimed at promoting collegiate basketball within the framework of the Saudi Vision 2030 objective of encouraging regular participation in sports and athletic activities

JEDDAH: King Abdulaziz University won the First Women’s Basketball Tournament for Universities and Colleges 2022 organized by Jeddah United in cooperation with Jeddah Municipality.

The tournament is aimed at promoting collegiate basketball within the framework of the Saudi Vision 2030 objective of encouraging regular participation in sports and athletic activities. 

Champion team King Abdulaziz University.

Princess Reem Al-Faisal was the chief guest at the awards ceremony, in which trophies and medals were handed out by Jamil Attar, CEO of tournament sponsor Tarfeeh Fakieh; Engineer Hattan Hamouda representing Jeddah Municipality; and Obaid Madani from the event’s executive partner, Jeddah United.

University of Business and Technology finished second to champions KAU. 

Runner-up team University of Business and Technology (UBT).

UBT and Saudi national team player Reem Al-Maiman clinched the Most Valuable Player award while Dar Al-Hekma University won the Best Sportsmanship accolade. University of Jeddah rounded out the four teams in the competition.

“We were very happy to be part of this university tournament, an opportunity for King Abdulaziz University team to continue playing and represent our beloved university,” said Ruqayyah Mohammed Alzahrani, deputy manager for sports activities and university team administrator.

“Jeddah United united the teams! It was a friendly tournament. UBT ranked second place proudly, believing that we are all winners,” said Wala Maghrabi, UBT sports club manager.

For her part, UBT team captain Al-Maiman said: “The tournament was organized professionally by Jeddah United and with the support of the Referees Committee of the Saudi Basketball Federation, which gave the players the motivation to continue playing and competing in basketball.”


Ronaldo misses Manchester United training for ‘family reasons’: reports

Ronaldo misses Manchester United training for ‘family reasons’: reports
Updated 04 July 2022

Ronaldo misses Manchester United training for ‘family reasons’: reports

Ronaldo misses Manchester United training for ‘family reasons’: reports
LONDON: Cristiano Ronaldo missed training with Manchester United on Monday due to “family reasons,” just days after the Portugal star reportedly told the club he wants to leave.
United players who had been away on international duty over the close-season were scheduled to meet up with the rest of the squad on Monday.
But, according to British media reports, Ronaldo did not attend, with his reason for failing to appear at United’s training ground accepted by the club.
However, the 37-year-old’s absence will be interpreted as the latest salvo in his bid to engineer a move away from Old Trafford.
Ronaldo is said to be disappointed by United’s decline since he returned to the club from Juventus last year.
United failed to qualify for this coming season’s Champions League after finishing sixth in the Premier League.
Despite the arrival of new manager Erik ten Hag from Ajax, Ronaldo reportedly does not believe United can challenge for major honors in the near future.
In the twilight of his career, Ronaldo would prefer to join a club capable of satisfying his desire to compete for the game’s top prizes.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, who has a year left on his United contract, has played 19 consecutive seasons in the Champions League and is the tournament’s all-time leading scorer.
The former Real Madrid star’s agent Jorge Mendes has reportedly sounded out Bayern Munich and Chelsea about a potential move, yet United are said to be adamant Ronaldo is not for sale.
Ronaldo was United’s top scorer with 24 goals last term, but his campaign was marred by public shows of frustration on several occasions as the team struggled under first Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then interim boss Ralf Rangnick.
Ronaldo’s absence from training comes as United are due to leave for their pre-season tour of Asia and Australia on Friday.

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship
Updated 04 July 2022

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship

UAE wins at AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship
  • Commando Group takes the top sport with AFNT and Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club in second and third
  • Emirati Zayed Al-Kathiri grabs the gold medal in the black belt contest

FUJAIRAH: The AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Jiu-Jitsu Championship came to a stunning conclusion on Sunday with the UAE taking home the most medals courtesy of excellent performances across the amateur and professional divisions.

Zayed Al-Kathiri, the star of Baniyas Club and the national team, won the gold medal in the 62-kilogram category at the championship, his first official competition in the black belt division. He defeated Brazilian Bruno Borges in a match that stoked the passion of the spectators.

The UAE took the lead in the national rankings, beating Brazil in second and Colombia in third.

The championship, held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Sharqi, crown prince of Fujairah, saw heated contests with plenty of fervor and superb skills on display. The dramatic final day concluded as Commando Group Academy took the title, surpassing AFNT in second, with Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club in third.

Brig. Ahmed Hamdan Al-Zeyoudi, chairman of the UAE Taekwondo Federation, Mohammed Salem Al-Dhaheri, vice president of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, and Youssef Abdullah Al-Batran, UAEJJF board member, were among the guests who attended the competition on the second day.

“I express sincere gratitude and appreciation to Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Sharqi, the crown prince of Fujairah, for his patronage (of) the championship,” said Al-Batran.

“His highness always provides full support and care for combat sports, especially jiu-jitsu, to ensure its prosperity, and contributes to consolidating the country’s position as the global capital for the sport.”

“The Fujairah International Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship is becoming more and more significant and offers the perfect environment for developing future world champions in various international forums and championships. The strongest evidence of this is the fact that it was able to draw in more than 800 male and female participants from 50 different nations across the globe,” he added.

Al-Kathiri was ecstatic about his win.

“I am overjoyed with this first black belt accomplishment. Competitions in this category are different from others as the participants are very strong and experienced. I approached most of my fights today with optimism, careful analysis of my opponents’ styles, and a total dedication to the technical staff’s instructions, all of which contributed to this success.”

Obaid Salem Al-Nuaimi of the Al-Jazira Club, who took gold in the 56-kilogram professional division, added: “The path to success was not simple considering the presence of a group of the strongest opponents.”


Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City
Updated 04 July 2022

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City

Arsenal sign Gabriel Jesus from Man City
  • Jesus was expected to fall down the pecking order at City had he stayed for the final year of his contract

LONDON: Arsenal have completed the signing of Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus for a fee of around £45 million ($54 million), the London club announced on Monday.
Jesus, who scored 95 goals in 236 appearances for City, has signed a “long-term contract” with Arsenal after deciding to leave the Premier League champions in search of more regular first-team action.
The Brazil international is reunited with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, who was Pep Guardiola’s assistant at City before he took charge at the Emirates Stadium.
“I’m very excited. The club has done a tremendous job to recruit a player of this stature,” Arteta said.
“This is a position that’s been on our radar for a long time now and we have managed to get a player that we all wanted, so I’m really happy.”
Jesus was expected to fall down the pecking order at City had he stayed for the final year of his contract as the champions have bolstered their striking options with the signings of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.
Admitting Arteta’s presence at the Emirates was influential in his decision to join the Gunners, Jesus said: “We spoke a couple of times about the club, the players, the project and the future.
“I believe 100 percent in Mikel. I had a very good time with him before, he’s a very good guy and a very good coach as well.
“He helped me a lot. We would always stick together after the training sessions and do some finishing or something.
“He’s a very intelligent guy and was an amazing player, so if he knows something he can teach me or the young players.”
Arsenal have let senior strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette leave the club for free in the past six months.
Despite handing Eddie Nketiah a new five-year deal, Jesus is expected to lead the line for Arteta’s men as the Gunners aim to end a six-year absence from the Champions League.
The 25-year-old won four Premier League titles among eight major honors during his time with City after joining them in January 2017.
Arsenal have already strengthened Arteta’s squad with the signings of Portuguese midfielder Fabio Vieira, Brazilian teenage forward Marquinhos and American goalkeeper Matt Turner.
According to reports, they have also had a bid for Leeds winger Raphinha turned down, but are expected to return with an improved offer for the Brazilian international.
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