Saudi gaming champ rubs shoulders with football legends, eyes more FIFAe titles

Saudi gaming champ rubs shoulders with football legends, eyes more FIFAe titles
Musaed Al-Dossary was crowned Esports Player of the Year at the recent 2021 Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai. (Fabio Ferrari - LaPresse)
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Updated 11 January 2022

Saudi gaming champ rubs shoulders with football legends, eyes more FIFAe titles

Saudi gaming champ rubs shoulders with football legends, eyes more FIFAe titles
  • 2018 FIFAe World Cup winner Musaed Al-Dossary crowned esports player of year at Globe Soccer Awards

RIYADH: Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, Ronaldinho. And Musaed Al-Dossary.

When, at only 18, the Saudi gamer won the 2018 FIFAe World Cup, he could never have imagined that in a few short years he would be rubbing shoulders with the players that he controlled on screen from his console.

At the recent 2021 Globe Soccer Awards, held in Dubai, the man who plays under the moniker MsDossary7, found himself going head-to-head with star Italian defender and recent Euro 2020 winner Leonardo Bonucci of Juventus.

Al-Dossary, up for an award himself, said: “Before the event, I had the chance to play Bonucci on a game of FIFA, it was something really great. Thankfully, I went to the event, and I won.”

Currently playing for Team Falcons, he walked away with the esports player of the year award by Zone, the gaming ecosystem which had set up the clash with the legendary Italian center-back.

“It was great, a great experience to see how a tough defender plays FIFA. We played a no-rules game, so offsides, tough tackling is all allowed, which is something he loves. I was playing with Italy, and he was playing with Juventus. I won 2-1, it was close because he was an expert in tackling, playing in no rules,” Al-Dossary added.

After a tough couple of years disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Globe Soccer prize meant a great deal to Saudi Arabia’s star player.

He said: “After a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work that you put into a year, to get the award after everything means a lot. What means even more for me, is that when you see a global event with the best players in the world, Mbappe, Lewandowski, Ronaldinho, and then you see a Saudi guy who wants to be one of the best, that’s not just something for me, but for all Saudis.”

After becoming FIFAe World Cup winner in 2018, Al-Dossary was runner-up the following year, but due to the pandemic, the tournament was cancelled in the last two years.

Still, Saudi domestic titles, two international championships, and leading the Kingdom’s national team to the top of the Middle East and Africa qualifying group for the FIFAe Nations Series 2022, the world governing body’s flagship gaming event, meant 2021 was another year of accomplishment for Al-Dossary.

“For now, we are top of the table, but there are four months to go. The main thing, the focus for us, is to stay at the top of the table and to qualify,” he added.

Al-Dossary and his team-mates Yasser Al-Harthi, and Meshaal Al-Hubishi will contest the second round of qualifiers on Jan. 27 and 28.

The end of last year proved a busy time for Al-Dossary, who alongside playing the qualifiers and attending the Globe Soccer Awards, also spent some time at the Red Bull Athlete Performance Center on the outskirts of Salzburg as part of a series of sporting and gaming initiatives by the Austrian firm.

“It was really great to see (the center), getting expertise for everything. Mentality, food-wise, training-wise. I want to thank Red Bull for having me there, to train and to check the facilities and to see how the best athletes in the world train. It was a unique experience,” he said.

And he was particularly grateful for the backing he received from gaming officials in the Kingdom. “The Saudi Esports Federation is great, and to be honest, they’re supportive when you win or even when you lose, they are the first to reach out.”

He noted that it would only be a matter of time before Saudi Arabia started holding some of the world’s biggest esports events and wearing the Kingdom’s colors remained his biggest source of pride.

“To represent my country, it feels really great, and words cannot describe it to be honest. Unless you have tried it, you cannot describe it in a few words, it’s a really great thing but a huge responsibility as well.

“So, I mean, the only thing that is making me play until now, because I’ve been playing for six years now full-time, is that I need to take Saudi to a great place in esports. And with the support I have from my government, from the Saudi fans, I need to give back to them,” Al-Dossary added.

Aged 21, a long career awaits MsDossary7, and his ambitions, individually and collectively, remain as they always have been. Rivals who have eyes on the next FIFAe World Cup should beware.

He said: “The big targets are still the same as every year, to win a major championship, hopefully a world championship taking place this year and to be out there, and to defend the title I love the most.”


Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard
Updated 14 sec ago

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard
  • Jonjo Shelvey’s free-kick injects could be turning point in Newcastle’s fight against relegation as defense holds firm against off-color Leeds

LEEDS: It’s the sort of goal that exemplifies a season turning point: A scruffy set piece late in the game that, through a combination of indecisive goalkeeping and the hint of a deflection, squirms its way into the far corner. Whether it’s a slice of good fortune or a helping hand, they all count – and this one might count more than most.

Jonjo Shelvey’s late free-kick proved enough to seal all three points for Newcastle United against a strangely off-color Leeds at Elland Road and, although still deep in the relegation mire, it might well represent the first rung on the Tyneside club’s climb to safety. 

The gap to 17th is now down to a single point and next up is an Everton side without so much as one of those in five weeks. As the season heads into its latest international break, the ladder is beginning to look a little shorter.

Shelvey certainly understood the importance of the goal. As the net billowed almost apologetically in front of the home fans, he sprinted 60 meters down the pitch to greet the explosion of noise from the two-tiered away end. The delirium was repeated at the final whistle with players, many now shirtless, celebrating the three points as though they’d be presented by the queen.

“It’s massive,” Shelvey said after the game. “We will keep going and we believe we have enough to stay up. Everyone is in this together.”

Not that the omens before kick-off were particularly auspicious. The Newcastle fans being herded into the stadium through a concrete walkway from the coach park might have sung “Eddie Howe’s black and white army,” but it was hard to disguise the growing unease about his reign. The manager had presided over a solitary Premier League win since his November appointment – against fellow strugglers Burnley seven weeks ago - and had never previously emerged victorious from Elland Road.

Norwich’s win the previous evening, their second in succession, added its own pressure, as did news of Watford’s decision to part company with Claudio Ranieri after just 14 games in charge. It was difficult to understate the stakes for both club and manager.

The early phase of the game reflected the tensions. Leeds, shorn of several key players and far from safe themselves, immediately pressed Newcastle back and, finding joy out wide, fizzed a number of balls across the box. Their lack of an orthodox center-forward blunted their threat, however, and gradually Newcastle emerged from their low block to gain a toehold in the game.

The second half offered increasing promise. Newcastle were now dominating midfield, cutting the supply lines to the dangerous Raphinha and, although rarely fluid, countering in greater numbers. On 74 minutes, one such breakaway down the right resulted in Diego Llorente’s ungainly tug on Javier Manquillo 20 yards from goal and Shelvey did the rest.

Unlike the Watford game a week earlier, there were no late surprises and Newcastle were able to close out the game with minimal alarm and register a first clean sheet of the season.   

A very good day’s work, then, and perhaps significantly one that owed as much to the players Howe inherited from predecessor Steve Bruce as January’s expensive recruits.

As compact and composed as Kieran Trippier was, Shelvey, now in his seventh season at St. James’ Park, was the outstanding player on the pitch, gradually wresting control of the central areas and dictating play with smart, unfussy distribution. Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schar, with close to 300 appearances between them, provided a central wall that Leeds rarely looked like penetrating, and Martin Dubravka, first choice since his arrival from Sparta Prague in 2018, made a crucial block to stem the early Leeds tide.

There remains considerable work to do at Newcastle on and off the park to turn one result into a season-saving sequence. 

With 17 games remaining, it’s clear old faces will  be required to make just as important a contribution as new blood. On that front, encouragement was in ready supply at Elland Road.


Mohamed Salah and fellow Arab stars must step up in Africa Cup of Nations knockout stages

Mohamed Salah and fellow Arab stars must step up in Africa Cup of Nations knockout stages
Updated 23 January 2022

Mohamed Salah and fellow Arab stars must step up in Africa Cup of Nations knockout stages

Mohamed Salah and fellow Arab stars must step up in Africa Cup of Nations knockout stages
  • Riyad Mahrez and Algeria in surprise exit amid mixed results for Arab teams and individuals

The group stages of the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations ended with two big surprises — the exit of defending champions Algeria and another of the favorites, five-time title-holders Ghana.

A record seven Arab nations started the tournament, but only four have booked a place in the round of 16: Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and, most surprisingly, Comoros.

Morocco’s was perhaps the cleanest of qualifications, winning group C with seven points from two wins and a draw. The team looked to be on song and were led with distinction by Achraf Hakimi, who scored what may well be the best goal of the tournament so far against Gabon.

The Paris Saint-Germain player has been ably backed by Yassine Bounou, the excellent Sevilla goalkeeper,  especially in the opening match of the campaign against Ghana.

It was a match settled by a winning goal from substitute Sofiane Boufal, who plays for French Ligue 1 side Angers. Despite being benched in all three group matches, Boufal has shown his worth for coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s team.

Seven-time winners Egypt got off to a poor start with an awful performance in the 1-0 loss to Nigeria and after that scraped two narrow wins to progress to the knockouts stages.

Star forward Mohamed Salah, fresh from being nominated for the best FIFA men’s player award alongside Lionel Messi and eventual winner Robert Lewandowski, has often looked isolated and scored just one of Egypt’s paltry two goals at the tournament.

There seems to be a lack of understanding between the Liverpool star and fellow forward Mustafa Mohamed and Omar Marmoush, an issue that needs to be resolved before Wednesday’s clash with a formidable Cote d’Ivoire team.

Egypt recently took part in the FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar without any of their European-based stars, but the return of the players does not look to have improved the team visibly.

Another that has disappointed is Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, and he and Salah have rarely been subjected to this much criticism from their own fans and media. Coach Carlos Queiroz has yet to find the right formula despite the two wins over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan.

Tunisia also were far from impressive, missing three penalties against Mali, Mauritania and Gambia on their way to scraping through the group stages by finishing as one of the best third-placed teams.

The missed kicks came from Zamalek’s Seif El-Din Al-Jaziri, Saint-Etienne’s Wahbi Al-Kharazi — who both partially redeemed themselves with one and two goals, respectively --  and captain Youssef Al-Masakni, who plays for Al-Arabi Club in Qatar and had recently recovered from testing positive for COVID-19.

The young Manchester United star Hannibal Mejbri, one of the standout players at the Arab Cup, was again expected to take center-stage, but has so far failed to replicate his performances in Doha.

The biggest shock of the tournament has been the exit of champions Algeria. Manchester City star and talisman Riyad Mahrez entered the tournament with expectations of becoming the historical top scorer for his country at the AFCON, equaling Lakhdar Belloumi’s tally of six goals.

However, Mahrez and his colleagues were humiliated in the group stage, gathering only one point from a draw and two losses. Algeria’s star man even missed a penalty in the comprehensive  3-1 loss to Cote d’Ivoire.

Lack of preparation for most teams has been a feature of the early part of the tournament, and Mahrez and rest of coach Djamel Belmadi’s squad have failed to adapt to the pace of the competition, perhaps due to their late arrival in Cameroon.

Incredibly Algeria’s defeat in their final group match, coupled with other results, helped unheralded Comoros become the fourth Arab nation to qualify for the knockout stages.

The scenes of celebrations that followed their sensational 3-2 win over Ghana — one of the results of the competition so far — will live long in the memory, and showed just what this tournament means to fans and players.

While the Pharaohs’ clash with Cote d’Ivoire is the pick of the round-of-16 matches, Morocco will have a somewhat easier confrontation against Malawi, while Tunisia, with a host of players missing after testing positive for COVID-19, will face a thankless task against Nigeria, arguably the tournament’s best team.

For Comoros, the party continues against hosts Cameroon on Monday. Whatever happens from now on, it has been an unforgettable experience for them.

Individually, stars such as Salah and Mahrez rarely caught then eye in the group stage. Instead, it is the Cameroonian Vincent Aboubakar, who plays for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Professional League, who has been one of the stars, grabbing five goals in the three matches to top the goal-scoring table.

But teams and individuals have a habit of strongly emerging throughout a tournament. A slow start often ends up being a prelude to a star turn in the knockout stages.

We await Salah and co catching fire in the coming days.


Algeria and Ghana handed tough World Cup playoff ties

Algeria and Ghana handed tough World Cup playoff ties
Updated 23 January 2022

Algeria and Ghana handed tough World Cup playoff ties

Algeria and Ghana handed tough World Cup playoff ties

DOUALA: Algeria and Ghana, smarting after humiliating defeats at the Africa Cup of Nations this week, were on Saturday handed tough draws for the African World Cup playoffs in March.

Algeria were drawn against Cameroon while Ghana must take on near-neighbours Nigeria in a mouth-watering west African derby.

Algeria and Ghana went home after finishing last in their opening round Nations Cup groups after shock setbacks against tiny Equatorial Guinea and the Comoros Islands respectively and must now bounce back against difficult opponents to redeem themselves and qualify for the World Cup in Qatar in November.

Egypt and Senegal, who are still competing at the Cup of Nations in Cameroon, were drawn together in the World Cup playoffs, pitting two of the five countries who represented the continent at the last finals in Russia against each other.

Morocco were drawn against the Democratic Republic of Congo, who did not qualify for the Nations Cup in Cameroon thereby missing out on valuable practice ahead of March’s two-legged ties.

Mali have a chance to qualify for the World Cup for the first time after being paired with Tunisia. Both teams are also through to the last 16 in Cameroon, although Tunisia lost two of their three opening round matches, including an embarrassing 1-0 loss to debutants Gambia on Thursday.

However, Mali face staging their home game on neutral territory after not having any fit stadia to use when they won their World Cup group last year. They played their home games in Morocco.

The 10 countries in Saturday’s draw were all winners of their groups in the second round of African World Cup qualifiers played between September and November.

They now meet over two legs in March to determine a spot at the finals. The exact dates of the matches will be announced in the next days, said the Confederation of African Football.


New qualifying format among standout changes for Formula E season-opening at Diriyah E-Prix

New qualifying format among standout changes for Formula E season-opening at Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 23 January 2022

New qualifying format among standout changes for Formula E season-opening at Diriyah E-Prix

New qualifying format among standout changes for Formula E season-opening at Diriyah E-Prix
  • Ex-F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi will join rookies Dan Ticktum and Oliver Askew on the grid at the double header of night races in Riyadh

RIYADH: With just under a week to go until the highly anticipated return of the 2021-22 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship there will some significant changes from previous years in the opening races at Diriyah.

The Diriyah E-Prix has been held three times in the historic desert surroundings of the UNESCO World Heritage site at At-Turaif, and a double-header of evening races will take place for the second year running on Jan. 28-29.

Changes that fans can expect this season include the qualifying process, which will feature a first round of two groups with each driver able to make multiple attempts at fastest laps within their allocated time. The new format maintains the possibility of any driver starting on pole. The top four fastest-lap drivers in each group will progress into head-to-head duels on a knockout basis in quarter-finals and semi-finals. Pole-position will be decided in a final head-to-head duel, with all grid positions based on either success in the head-to-head duels, or lap times depending on which stage of qualifying drivers reach.

As part of the new sporting regulations, Formula E races can now have additional race time of up to a maximum of 10 minutes added when incidents result in a Safety Car or Full Course Yellow neutralisations during the standard 45-minute + 1 Lap race.

Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), said: “Once again Diriyah is making sporting history with another ‘first’ and I’m so pleased Saudi Arabia has proudly opened this wonderful series. It’s a championship that aligns perfectly with our future vision and commitment to sustainability as a nation. We look forward to another thrilling season of racing, and we’re ready to welcome fans from all over the world.”

Ex-Formula 1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi (Dragon / Penske Autosport) will join Dan Ticktum (NIO 333 Racing), and Oliver Askew (Avalanche Andretti Formula E) on the grid for the first time, as the three rookies take part in the 22-driver line-up racing for the trophy.

Race and music fans can also look forward to entertainment both on and off track with concerts returning across the weekend. On Friday, Jan. 28 James Blunt, Craig David and Wyclef Jean take to the stage while following day’s line-up includes Two Door Cinema Club and The Script.

Jerry Inzerillo, Group CEO of the Diriyah Gate Development Authority said: “I am delighted to welcome Formula E back to Diriyah for its fourth year. The E-Prix is one of the most important highlights in our sporting events calendar and is the perfect opportunity to showcase Diriyah’s position as an urban pedestrian city of the future, anchored on its past as the birthplace of the Kingdom. We are also proud to share Formula E’s sustainability vision to accelerate change towards an electric future, raise awareness of sustainable practices and contribute to reducing global carbon emissions. We can’t wait to once again light up the night sky with this event and see the fans here in person next weekend.”

Tickets start from SAR 150 ($40) and are available at www.diriyah-eprix.com


Newcastle ‘not dead and buried’ in Premier League battle: Howe

Newcastle ‘not dead and buried’ in Premier League battle: Howe
Updated 23 January 2022

Newcastle ‘not dead and buried’ in Premier League battle: Howe

Newcastle ‘not dead and buried’ in Premier League battle: Howe

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe believes Newcastle United have proven to the Premier League that they are not “dead and buried’ in their fight to avoid relegation.

The Magpies ran out deserved winners at Elland Road as a Jonjo Shelvey strike was enough to see Howe’s men claim a precious three points — only their second top-flight victory of the season.

Howe is of the belief that his players proved a point to those around them with the Leeds United win — and is hopeful the result can spark a late-season transformation.

“I think you always learn things about your players, win lose or draw,” said the United head coach.

“We showed there is resilience in the team, we are fighting for each other. They are fighting for the club. They have belief they are not dead and buried. There is more to come.

“I am so, so pleased for everyone connected with Newcastle that we won the game. Hopefully it can transform our season.”

One criticism levelled at United in recent weeks has been their inability to see out a football match.

In fairness, it is a stance backed up by the statistics. No other Premier League team has lost more points from winning positions — 21 — this campaign.

While they faltered at home to Watford seven days earlier, they were in no mood to do so in Yorkshire.

Howe added: “Everyone to a man contributed to that win. An incredible intensity to the game, but there always is when you play Leeds.

“We had to really be very good physically and we suffered some injuries. It was an heroic effort in the sense that we committed everything to the game. I thought the players were outstanding.

“I am massively impressed with the players. That was a big test after last week (1-1 draw with Watford). I think the pleasing thing was, we had a 1-0 lead and it wasn’t backs to the wall. We looked the most likely team to score.

“We counterattacked very, very well and I did think we looked a threat in the second half. We did not surrender possession in space, we kept looking to attack.”

Goalscorer Shelvey has also faced criticism from fans for his below-par performances in the St. James’ Park defeats to Cambridge United and the Hornets in recent weeks.

However, Howe thinks he answered his critics with his match-winning show at Leeds.

Howe said: “He is hugely important. He is the central player, the supplier in possession. He started a lot of our attacks and has a creative eye. He has a really good range of passes.

“Shelvey intercepted the ball a number of times and I think that is a really good marker. He stopped a lot of their attacks. I was really pleased with him. I’m sure if you ask him he will admit that’s the hardest part of his game.”