Egypt abject, Algeria frustrated: 5 things we learned from Arab nations’ early action at Africa Cup of Nations

Egypt abject, Algeria frustrated: 5 things we learned from Arab nations’ early action at Africa Cup of Nations
Egypt's Mohamed Salah, right, and Nigeria's Taiwo Awoniyi fight for the ball during the African Cup of Nations Group D soccer match between Egypt and Nigeria in Garoua, Cameroon, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Egypt abject, Algeria frustrated: 5 things we learned from Arab nations’ early action at Africa Cup of Nations

Egypt abject, Algeria frustrated: 5 things we learned from Arab nations’ early action at Africa Cup of Nations
  • With the tournament yet to catch fire, only Morocco among the Arab representatives have managed to claim three points after beating Ghana 1-0

The delayed 2021 African Nations Cup in Cameroon is still very much in its infancy, but below are the five things Arab News has learned after the first 72 hours of the tournament.

1. Abject Egypt got what they deserved — nothing

The only good thing that can be said about Egypt’s 1-0 loss to Nigeria was that at least it was not a heavier defeat. The Super Eagles made almost all of the running in an attacking sense and the Pharaohs never really looked like scoring. An isolated Mohamed Salah cut a lonely figure up front and, apart from a blocked shot and then a scuffed effort, was rarely involved in the action. Nobody expects Liverpool levels of service, but if the “Egyptian king” is going to lead the team all the way to the title then he is going to need better support than long balls pumped forward from deep. Carlos Queiroz’s men were nonexistent in midfield.

Overall, it was a poor performance. Nigeria could, and should, have scored more than the fine first-half goal that came from Kelechi Iheanacho. Egypt improved slightly after the break, but it was only in the closing minutes that they looked anything close to threatening and, even then, there was not a single clear chance created. 

At least that should be the toughest test of the group stage out of the way. The seven-times champions need to beat Guinea-Bissau in the next game and will have to play a good deal better. At least they cannot get much worse.

 

2. Frustration for Algeria, but little to worry about

Algeria were involved in the seventh game of the tournament and the first that ended all square, with the defending champions held to a 0-0 draw by Sierra Leone, who were playing in their first tournament for over 25 years and gave absolutely everything against one of the competition favorites.

The draw means the North Africans now have gone 35 games unbeaten and are just two short of Italy’s world record. Coach Djamel Belmadi would have preferred the three points, but he can at least console himself with the fact that while Algeria were as goalless as Egypt, they at least looked like scoring. 

A number of Algeria’s talented attackers were guilty of wastefulness. Yacine Brahimi missed perhaps the best of the lot when he had just the goalkeeper to beat early in the second half, while Said Benrahma of West Ham could have won it late on, but shot wide from 10 yards. At least opportunities were created; the next step is to become more clinical.

The next game against Equatorial Guinea should bring the three points that will almost guarantee the champs a place in the next stage, but Belmadi, who grew increasingly annoyed as opportunities came and went, will be looking for first place.

 

3. Morocco can scrap when needed

Opening games often do not set the tone for the rest of the tournament, especially when the match is between the biggest rivals in the group, but that makes Morocco’s 1-0 win over Ghana very sweet, indeed, with the victory taking the pressure off the Atlas Lions for the remaining group games. Indeed, a place in the knockout stage should be clinched, or as good as, in the next game against tournament debutants Comoros, who lost their first game against Gabon 1-0.

In truth, the game with Ghana was scrappy. It was a battle between two strong midfields, with the final ball all too often going astray. Slack defending in the final minutes cost Ghana, as Soufiane Boufal was given a little too much space in a crowded area and smashed the ball home.

Coach Vahid Halilhodzic was delighted. With a number of players missing through injury and illness, Morocco showed that they can battle their way to the points when needed. It bodes well for the coming games when the team will surely start to find more fluency in attack.

 

4. Comoros and Sudan show what they are made of

Comoros lost their first-ever game at this stage 1-0 to Gabon and it took a fine strike from Aaron Boupendza to give the Panthers the points. It was clear that if the debutants were to have a chance of the next stage then a win in the opening game was necessary, and possible given the issues in Gabon’s camp. It did not happen, but Comoros were not outclassed at all and put their opponents under plenty of pressure even if the decision-making in the final third was not great. The Coelacanths can take heart from their continental bow. 

Sudan’s 0-0 draw with Guinea-Bissau was also not a spectacle for the neutrals, but it felt like a victory for the Secretary Birds as goalkeeper Ali Abu Eshrein saved a penalty 12 minutes from time. Whatever happens against Nigeria on Saturday, the result means Sudan will be in the running for the second round when they meet Egypt in the final game.

 

5. A slow start all round

Nine goals in nine games does not scream excitement. Some tournaments start like a runaway train in terms of action and drama, and then calm down, while some do the opposite and others never really catch fire at all. It is to be hoped that AFCON steps up a gear in the coming days, or at least in the knockout stages. Amid a slow opening and tight games, there has been little to write home about for the 24 nations involved. Fans in Cameroon are waiting for a real humdinger to light the touchpaper.

The hosts came back from a goal down to defeat Burkina Faso in the opening game, but did so courtesy of two penalties. The following seven games brought six goals. Senegal, tournament favorites for many, struggled to get going in their 1-0 win over Zimbabwe and had to wait until the 97th minute when Liverpool star Sadio Mane got the all-important goal.

So far, only Nigeria have really impressed and shown they have a few gears at their disposal. It goes without saying, however, that there is a long way to go.


Injury concerns for Newcastle trio ahead of Burnley clash

Injury concerns for Newcastle trio ahead of Burnley clash
Updated 10 sec ago

Injury concerns for Newcastle trio ahead of Burnley clash

Injury concerns for Newcastle trio ahead of Burnley clash
  • Chris Wood, Fabian Schar and Ryan Fraser could all miss final game of season

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has concerns about three key first-team players ahead of Newcastle United’s final day trip to Burnley.

The Magpies head to Turf Moor knowing a win could have a huge say in the Premier League relegation battle — but not in the way many predicted when Howe took over.

United looked set to be right in the midst of the fight to remain in the top flight, but a remarkable run since January, which has seen the Magpies climb from 19th to 12th, has turned around their fortunes.

Their hosts, however, still need points to guarantee they will be a Premier League side come next season.

While Howe has said he will pick his strongest team and show the fixture the respect it deserves, he could well be without three key players, one of whom is former Clarets frontman Chris Wood, signed for $31 million in January.

“We’re going to try him in training and see how he looks,” the manager said. “At the time, we didn’t think it was a serious injury so fingers crossed he gets through training today.”

Another player who is touch-and-go for the encounter is Fabian Schar.

The Switzerland international, who signed a two-year extension to his United deal earlier this month, was forced off, having been knocked unconscious in the 2-0 home win over Arsenal on Monday.

And head injury protocols mean the player might have to sit out Sunday’s match.

“Fabian we haven’t seen,” Howe said. “We’re following concussion protocols. I believe he is going to do something outside but we’ll follow the protocols closely. I think there will be a late decision on Fabian.”

A player who was visibly upset as the squad circled the St. James’ Park pitch to say thank you to fans after the Gunners win was Ryan Fraser.

It left many wondering why — and now Howe has explained why.

“Ryan Fraser might be out of the game,” he said. “He came on but had slight awareness in his hamstring, I don’t think it’s a re-injure but there is awareness in his hamstring again.”

Meanwhile, Callum Wilson looks set to end the campaign leading the United line, a place he was so sorely missed for a large chunk of the season.

And Howe admits it has been a relief to have his top scorer and talisman back available.

“An immense performance when you consider how long he’s been out and the type of injury he had,” he said of Wilson on Monday night.

“To deliver that first game back, I can’t say enough positive words about that. When you see behind the scenes and you see how he’s conducted himself and how he’s worked, it doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it many times before but then you’ve got to back it up with the performance and I thought he gave a very good display that really helped the team. Full credit to him.”


PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future

PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future
Updated 20 May 2022

PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future

PSG coach Pochettino in the dark over Mbappe future
  • Mbappe is expected to reveal in the coming days whether he will join Real Madrid or accept a lucrative offer to stay at PSG
  • "I don't know what his decision is. I think it's a personal matter for Kylian and for the club," Pochettino said

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino insisted Friday he has no idea where Kylian Mbappe will play his club football next season as the striker’s contract in the French capital comes to an end.
Mbappe is expected to reveal in the coming days whether he will join Real Madrid or accept a lucrative offer to stay at PSG, with an announcement potentially being made in the hours after the French champions play their final game of the Ligue 1 season at home to Metz on Saturday.
“I don’t know what his decision is. I think it’s a personal matter for Kylian and for the club,” Pochettino said at a press conference ahead of the Metz match.
“There are lots of rumors going around but the player is the one who will have to talk about this.
“If I knew what his decision was I wouldn’t be the one to talk about it.”
Mbappe, who joined PSG from Monaco in 2017, last week won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year prize and comes into the final weekend of the season as the division’s top scorer with 25 goals.
Rumours are swirling in France and in Spain about when he will confirm where his next contract will be.
“Mbappe, end of the suspense on Sunday,” claimed the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Friday.
Pochettino said he hoped the 23-year-old would remain at PSG even if uncertainty surrounds the coach’s own future despite the Argentine and his staff having a year left on their own deals.
“I hope Kylian is still here for many years to come but I also can’t lie. I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.
“We have a year left on our contracts so we will potentially be here next season. I just hope tomorrow (Saturday) we can enjoy celebrating the club’s 10th league title.”
One player who is definitely expected to move on is Angel di Maria, with the 34-year-old Argentine winger’s own contract expiring and PSG understood to be happy for him to leave.
PSG have cantered to the Ligue 1 title, equalling Saint-Etienne’s French record for most league championships, but their season has been soured by defeat against Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 in early March.
The Parisians were 1-0 up away to Madrid an hour into the second leg thanks to a Mbappe goal, and led 2-0 on aggregate, only to implode and go out to a Karim Benzema hat-trick.
“I hope the best is still to come. I think everyone at Paris Saint-Germain wants to win the Champions League. That has become an obsession for this club and I hope we can win it,” Pochettino added.
“That spell in the second half in Madrid saw us not get the result we wanted and created lots of questions and emotions that we have not been able to control in recent months.
“Despite that the players deserve to be congratulated because they have shown the ability to lift themselves and finish the season.”


5 things we learned from Al-Feiha’s stunning defeat of Al-Hilal in King’s Cup final

5 things we learned from Al-Feiha’s stunning defeat of Al-Hilal in King’s Cup final
Updated 20 May 2022

5 things we learned from Al-Feiha’s stunning defeat of Al-Hilal in King’s Cup final

5 things we learned from Al-Feiha’s stunning defeat of Al-Hilal in King’s Cup final
  • Despite falling behind in the first half, the underdogs’ spirit and organization ensured they came back to make history by defeating the Saudi and Asian champions on penalties

The King’s Cup final between Al-Hilal and Al-Feiha on Thursday was a dramatic and tense encounter. After 90 minutes it was 1-1, with Salem Al-Dawsari putting Al-Hilal ahead on the stroke of halftime and Ramon Lopes equalising midway through the second half. The scoreline remained the same after extra time and Al-Feiha triumphed in the penalty shootout. There were plenty of talking points and here are just five:

1. Hard-working Al-Feiha make history

Al-Feiha had to fight for everything and were rewarded with a first major trophy in their history. They were second best in terms of possession and chances, but were always in the game and made it hard going for the league champions. Perhaps the game started more openly than coach Vuk Rasovic would have liked with Al-Hilal having chances early but then Al-Feiha settled and kept it tight for most of the two hours.

Despite falling behind, the men from Al Majma’ah kept calm, got back on level terms and then defended as if their lives depended on it. It remains to be seen whether this marks the start of a new era for the victorious team, but whatever happens, it is a night that will go down in Al-Feiha’s history.

This was a real team performance achieved through hard work, organization and fierce defending. Rasovic obviously knows how to play against Al-Hilal and his players followed his instructions to the letter, at least after the opening 10 minutes when the Riyadh giants had some good chances.

From then, it became a battle. Al-Feiha have played Al-Hilal three times this season and have conceded just one goal. Despite the loss, the champions will be happy that they will not have to face this opponent for a while.

 
2. Al-Ittihad will be delighted

While this game was always going to define the season for Al-Feiha, that was never going to be the case for Al-Hilal, who lifted a record fourth Asian title last November. Casting a shadow over the encounter was next Monday’s Classico against Al-Ittihad, which will go a long way to deciding where the Saudi Pro League title ends up. And this was the perfect situation for the Tigers, who were able to sit back and watch their closest challengers have a tough match and then go into extra time. 

Al-Hilal’s squad may be the best in Asia, but it was already stretched due to injuries and suspensions. Now there is an extra layer of fatigue that has been added and you could see the demands of a long season taking its toll.

As befits the King’s Cup final, the team from Riyadh picked their strongest possible team and it is a team now more tired than ever. At some point on Monday, it is quite possible that the Al-Hilal players will start to feel the effects of Thursday. Al-Ittihad in contrast have had more than two weeks in which to rest. Perhaps the best sight of the night for the league leaders was Salem Al-Dawsari going down with cramp in the second period of extra time. The smiles must have been very wide all over Jeddah.

 

3. Al-Feiha were right about Al-Hilal’s weakness

Before the game, Al-Feiha boss Rasovic rightly spoke at some length about the attacking talent that Al-Hilal have at their disposal and how it was going to be the toughest of games. The Serbian did, however, point to what he saw as the champions’ vulnerability: A problem dealing with crosses from wide. That was certainly the case for the equalising goal when a simple low ball into the area from the right side caused panic in Al-Hilal’s defence. Ali Al-Bulaihi fell over and Jang Hyun-soo was slow to react, which gave Ramon Lopes the second he needed to get a shot off.

Even so, the Brazilian’s effort was straight at Abdullah Al-Mayouf and, it seemed, at catchable height. However, the goalkeeper could only push the ball up and into the net. The Blues continued to look uncomfortable whenever the ball was sent into the area. It would not be a surprise to see Al-Ittihad doing something similar on Monday.

 

4. Al-Hilal’s tired stars have to dust themselves down

There was no doubt that Al-Hilal’s big names are feeling the effects of a long season and multiple competitions, but they have no rest before the huge title decider on Monday against Al-Ittihad. The likes of Matheus Pereira looked a little flat.

There was plenty of fanfare last summer when Al-Hilal beat a host of European clubs to the signature of the Brazilian playmaker, but while he has had his moments, he has yet to really take a big game by the scruff of the neck, and against such a determined and organised opponent, the final was crying out for a touch of class.

Moussa Marega worked hard, but neither he nor Ighalo could find a breakthrough. Abdullah Otayf was taken off early in the second half as coach Ramon Diaz tried to find a way through. It just did not happen in the end, but there is no time to dwell on the defeat as the big games keep on coming. Now Al-Hilal have to find a way to bounce back and take on their rivals in a title decider.

 

5. Al-Feiha continue positive trend

From 1986 to 2018, only five clubs lifted the King’s Cup: Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Shabab, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli. Yet, the domination of the big clubs, which is also the case elsewhere such as in England, has started to erode of late. Al-Taawoun won in 2019, Al-Faisaly lifted the trophy in 2021 and now it is the turn of Al-Feiha. It shows that the so-called smaller teams are improving, and while they still may struggle to live with the big boys over the course of a long season, in one-off encounters they have what it takes to win.

This is a positive development for Saudi Arabian football. When there is a path to glory then there is incentive for everyone to aim as high as possible and this helps raise the standard all over the country. And then there is the Asian Champions League. Al-Faisaly and Al-Taawoun have enjoyed their experiences on the continent which can only stand them in good stead for the future. Next year it will be the turn of Al-Feiha to cross swords with international rivals. They have what it takes to shine in a tournament setting.


Best of Britain to compete as Hall, Hull, Law confirmed for Aramco Team Series — London

Best of Britain to compete as Hall, Hull, Law confirmed for Aramco Team Series — London
Updated 20 May 2022

Best of Britain to compete as Hall, Hull, Law confirmed for Aramco Team Series — London

Best of Britain to compete as Hall, Hull, Law confirmed for Aramco Team Series — London
  • Tournament, presented by Public Investment Fund, returns to Centurion Club on June 16-18

LONDON: Three of the UK’s biggest women’s golf stars have been confirmed for the Aramco Team Series — London presented by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, taking place at the Centurion Club on June 16-18.

Georgia Hall, Charley Hull and Bronte Law, all part of victorious Solheim Cup campaigns in recent years, will headline the $1 million Aramco-backed team and individual event that returns to London for a second successive year on the Ladies European Tour.

Last year’s debut event saw some of the biggest names in women’s golf compete, including Lexi Thompson and Atthaya Thitikul, with stars from the LET.

Top-ranked British player Georgia Hall has enjoyed a strong 2022 thus far with a commanding victory at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International in March, and a strong showing on the LPGA.

Last year’s ATS — London event saw Hall shoot 64 to break the course record in her second round.

“Any time you get to tee it up on home soil it’s very special indeed, so an opportunity to win individually or with my team in London at the Aramco Team Series is something that would obviously be a massive season highlight,” she said.

“I love the concept and a chance to play and win with a range of different players with some good memories from last year.

“Women’s sport and UK golf is booming at the moment, so fun and exciting events like this on the LET provide a massive opportunity for more women and girls to get inspired to play.”

Hull, ranked 31 in the world and second in England, has enjoyed two top-10 finishes to date this season, and returns to the ATS after a stellar 2021 where she had finishes of third, fourth, first and 13th in the individual events.

This season’s ATS will also see a revised format, with the team event taking place over the first two days, and the third and final round for individuals making the cut in a last-day shootout.

“I’ve performed well individually at the Aramco Team Series events, so I think this new format suits me,” said Hull, who impressed again in the ATS last week, playing in its debut Bangkok leg.

“It’s an exciting way to start a big summer for us, with events the players all look forward to in terms of profile, fun and great prize money opportunities.”

Talal Al-Marri, general manager of public affairs at tournament sponsor Aramco, said: “With a world-class field and affordable tickets, our London tournament can inspire golf fans and newcomers to the sport.

“We’re committed to supporting players and empowering women and girls through golf at all levels — leaving a positive impact at every country the Aramco Team Series visits.”

The ATS is golf’s first team event series on any professional tour, with visits this season to Bangkok, London, Sotogrande, New York and Jeddah.

The format, which includes a player-led draft at each event, gives more golfers tournament opportunities, helped by teaming up with the best players on the planet.

The teams will feature three LET players and an amateur fourth member — a position open to all golfers in the UK for the ATS — London event through the tournament’s “Team Up” competition, in association with VPAR.


Celtics roll past Heat 127-102, tie Eastern Conference finals at 1-1

Celtics roll past Heat 127-102, tie Eastern Conference finals at 1-1
Updated 20 May 2022

Celtics roll past Heat 127-102, tie Eastern Conference finals at 1-1

Celtics roll past Heat 127-102, tie Eastern Conference finals at 1-1
  • The Celtics — now 4-0 in these playoffs in the game immediately following a loss — made 20 shots from 3-point range to Miami’s 10

MIAMI: His team was down by 10 in the opening minutes, and Boston coach Ime Udoka was making no effort to hide his level of disappointment.

His message was simple.

“Wake up,” he told his team.

Oh, they listened. And the Eastern Conference finals are all knotted up, the series about to shift to Boston with the Celtics now holding the home-court advantage.

Jayson Tatum scored 27 points, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown each had 24 and the Celtics went on a massive first-half run to roll past the Miami Heat 127-102 on Thursday night in Game 2 of the series.

“Guys have pride and looked at a golden opportunity that we kind of lost (in Game 1) and thought we could do much better,” Udoka said. “And we did that tonight.”

Smart was a rebound shy of a triple-double, after adding 12 assists and nine rebounds.

Grant Williams scored 19 points for Boston, which used a 17-0 run late in the first quarter — fueled by five 3-pointers in the span of six possessions — to take control. Payton Pritchard and Al Horford each had 10 for the Celtics.

“We were pretty confident,” Pritchard said.

Jimmy Butler had 29 points in 32 minutes for Miami, which fell to 7-1 at home in these playoffs. Gabe Vincent and Victor Oladipo each scored 14 points, and Tyler Herro added 11 for the Heat.

“This only counts as one,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what the experienced players in the locker room and staff understand. We don’t like it. They played extremely well. You have two really good teams and we just have to figure some things out.”

The Celtics — now 4-0 in these playoffs in the game immediately following a loss — made 20 shots from 3-point range to Miami’s 10. Game 3 is Saturday in Boston.

“It’s a loss, whether you lose by one or by 20,” Vincent said. “It’s regroup, go back to the drawing board and get ready for Game 3.”

And the margin could have been worse: Boston led by as many as 34 points in the fourth, putting this game on the cusp of really good Celtics history and really bad Heat history. The Celtics’ record for biggest postseason win ever is 40, the Heat record for biggest postseason loss ever is 36, and those numbers were within reach before a meaningless Miami run over the final moments.

Boston trailed by 10 in the first quarter, then outscored Miami 60-21 over the next 18 minutes — a 39-point turnaround that wound up leading to a 70-45 halftime lead.

The 25-point halftime lead was the biggest by the Celtics in any road playoff game, topping a 22-point edge at the break at Chicago in 2009.

“They came out,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said, “and hit us in the mouth.”

Brown had 11 points in the first quarter, when the Celtics went 9 for 11 from 3-point range. Tatum then had 17 points in the second and Boston kept pulling away, on a day where everything went the Celtics’ way. They learned earlier in the day that two starters — Horford (virus-related issues) and Smart (mid-foot sprain) — were cleared to play in Game 2 after missing the series opener.

“I got to get my rest, got to get my health back, got to watch and see some things and come out and execute in this game,” Smart said.

And the good news kept coming well into the night.

Butler did all he could to try and manufacture a comeback, scoring 16 points in the third quarter and getting the Heat within 17. But a 12-2 run late in the quarter by the Celtics restored a 27-point edge. The lead was 96-71 going into the fourth and the outcome was never remotely close to being in question the rest of the way.

Miami didn’t even use their starters in the fourth quarter.

“It has to hurt,” Butler said. “They tried to embarrass us. They did embarrass us. ... Overall, we just have to be better.”