Newcastle to travel to Saudi Arabia for mid-season warm weather training camp

Newcastle United will jet to Saudi Arabia for an impromptu warm weather training camp this month. (Reuters/File Photo)
Newcastle United will jet to Saudi Arabia for an impromptu warm weather training camp this month. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Newcastle to travel to Saudi Arabia for mid-season warm weather training camp

Newcastle United will jet to Saudi Arabia for an impromptu warm weather training camp this month. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Magpies will meet chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan and other Saudi dignitaries as part of their trip

NEWCASTLE: PIF-owned Newcastle United will jet to Saudi Arabia for an impromptu warm weather training camp this month.

And it is understood the Magpies will meet chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan and other Saudi dignitaries as part of their trip.

United are understood to have arranged the visit to take place following the club’s Premier League trip to Leeds United, which is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 22.

The Magpies do not have another game until they face former manager Rafa Benitez and Everton on Feb. 8 — this is due to the fact they crashed out of the FA Cup against lower league Cambridge United last weekend.

The weekend of Jan. 29 is set aside for the fourth round of the competition.

As well as being a welcome PR exercise for the football club, which is 80% owned by the Public Investment Fund, it gives head coach Eddie Howe a welcome opportunity to embed new players into the squad in new surroundings and in warmer climes.

United are yet to officially confirm the trip to Riyadh, but are likely to do so with more than just England international Kieran Trippier and $34 million frontman Chris Wood on their books.

It is Arab News’ understanding that United are still on the hunt for four more players, with two central defenders, another striker and midfield reinforcements at the top of their wanted list. It is also understood the Arab owners are keen for the club to bring in a marquee name, although those kinds of deals may have to wait until Premier League safety is secured and the summer transfer window arrives.

Meanwhile, Wood, United’s new No. 20, was unveiled to the public on Thursday. And the player made clear his intentions, having swapped one relegation-threatened side — Burnley — for another.

“You’ve got to go along with what your gut says and it was just one of those feelings. I think it is the right time in my career,” said the New Zealand international.

“I was very happy and comfortable at Burnley but nothing ever great happens in your comfort zone. I’m a firm believer in stepping out of your comfort zone to achieve greatness.

“I’m under no illusions that this is going to be a big challenge for me but it could potentially be great for me, and at the same time, great for the club. That’s how I knew it was the right time and decision to head this way.”

The Clarets ownership are understood to be angered by Wood’s decision to leave Turf Moor after a number of Premier League goal-laden years in the north west of England.

But for the player, there is no ill-feeling, despite the fact he will have to return to his former club on the final day of the top flight season, if fit.

Wood said: “For me, there is no bad blood there at all. I really enjoyed my four and a half years at Burnley.

“The highs we had playing in the Europa League and pushing for 10th in the league. Even when we were fighting relegation, the crowd was absolutely superb, they were always behind the lads and me as a striker. I have great memories from there.

“It was a case of this being a massive opportunity, massive club and something I couldn’t turn down.”


LIVE: Follow day one of the Diriyah E-Prix 2022

FIA Formula E World Championship’s Season 8 double-header opener in Diriyah gets underway on Friday. (Twitter/@FIAFormulaE)
FIA Formula E World Championship’s Season 8 double-header opener in Diriyah gets underway on Friday. (Twitter/@FIAFormulaE)
Updated 18 min 55 sec ago

LIVE: Follow day one of the Diriyah E-Prix 2022

FIA Formula E World Championship’s Season 8 double-header opener in Diriyah gets underway on Friday. (Twitter/@FIAFormulaE)
  • The first E-Prix of the season kicks of in Riyadh and Arab News will bring all the latestd developments and results from the circuit in Diriyah as they happen

DIRIYAH: With new regulations, a refined sporting product and a world-class grid of 11 teams and 22 drivers, the FIA Formula E World Championship’s Season 8 double-header opener in Diriyah gets underway on Friday. 

Follow live coverage below...(all times GMT)

13:55 - It comes as no surprise that the driver who took the most pole positions last season has come out on top in the new qualifying format.

Vandoorne takes the first pole position of the eighth Formula E season here in Diriyah, giving himself a significant advantage over his fellow drivers in tonight’s season starter.

He will also claim three championship points for the pole position, meaning he's already the early pace-setter in the bid for the world title.

13:50 - The Flying Dutchman and reigning champion de Vries is bested by his teammate Vandoorne while a very quick lap for Dennis sees him proceed to the final and face off against the Belgian driver. Dennis however was faster than Vandoorne in the semifinals, so the Belgian will have to step up if we wants to take pole position.

With five minutes until the final gets underway, the teams call back the drivers to pit for tyre changes before the final qualifying.

13:40 - German driver Lotterer bests dutch opponent Frijns to progress to the semifinals, along with Dennis who beat Bird, Vandoorne who defeated Cassidy and reigning FE champion de Vries who just knocked out British driver Rowland out of a better qualifying result.

A surprise twist sees both Mercedes-EQ teammates face each other in the semifinals of the qualifying, with Lotterer to face Dennis first.

13:30 - Take a look at the Diriyah circuit below, which the drivers will be taking on at 17:00 GMT (20:00 KSA)...

13:25 - Poor Edoardo Mortara of Rokit Venturi - he crashed out with a mechanical problem last year, and now in the first session of the new season, he locks up and heads into the barriers on Turn 1, bringing out the yellow flag out in the first sector.

13:20 - So, after all that action - what happens next?

The top four from both groups now advance to a round of eight, during which power will be bumped up to 250 kW from 200 in the first round. Frijns, quickest in group A faces off against Lotterer, fourth quickest from Group B. Bird, Group A’s second quickest faces off against Dennis, third quickest from Group B. 

Group A third quickest Vandoorne faces Cassidy, second quickest form Group B, and finally Rowland, Group A fourth quickest faces Group B first quickest, de Vries.

13:15 - Mercedes-EQ’s Nick de Vries, Envision Racing’s Nick Cassidy, Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis and TAG Heuer Porsche’s Andre Lotterer take top four in Group B and face off Group A’s top four.

13:00 - The top four from Group A saw Envision Racing’s Robin Frijns, Jaguar Racing’s Sam Bird, Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Mahindra Racing’s Oliver Rowland advance to the duels in the second round of the qualifying.

12:45: Drivers take to the Diriyah circuit for the start of qualifying under the new knockout format as the 8th season of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship gets underway.

The format sees two 11-driver groups, ordered based on their Championship position, set lap times in a 10-minute session.

The fastest four from each progress into the knockout stages, where the winning driver takes pole.


Meet Fayik Abdi, the first Saudi Arabian skier to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games 

Meet Fayik Abdi, the first Saudi Arabian skier to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games 
Updated 28 January 2022

Meet Fayik Abdi, the first Saudi Arabian skier to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games 

Meet Fayik Abdi, the first Saudi Arabian skier to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games 
  • The 24-year-old got the nod ahead of team-mate and friend Salman Al-Howaish for Saudi Arabia’s solitary spot at the 2022 Beijing Olympics from Feb. 4-20

JEDDAH: Mention the Winter Olympics, and chances are you imagine participants from nation’s with snow-peaked mountains and cold weather.

What you don’t expect are athletes from a country known for its high temperatures, such as Saudi Arabia.

It’s time to adjust expectations. Saudi Fayik Abdi, 24, has qualified to compete in Alpine skiing — Giant Slalom category — at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to take place from Feb. 4-20.

The skier’s qualification created history as he became the first athlete from Saudi Arabia, and the GCC, to make the Winter Olympics.

On Jan.19,  the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee tweeted: “Fayik Abdi to participate in Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, selected by the technical management of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee as the first Saudi and Gulf player to participate in the Winter Olympics.” 

Chen Weiqing, ambassador of China to Saudi Arabia and representative of China to the IOC, followed up with his own tweet: “Champions among us.” 

Two Saudi skiers had qualified to the games, Abdi and Salman Al-Howaish, but as the rules allowed only one to participate, the former got the nod.

The Saudi Arabian Winter Sports Federation told Arab News: “Two players achieved points that helped them to be both qualified for the Olympics, but due to the regulations of the Winter Games, there is only one seat for the eligible alpine skiers from the Kingdom.”

“A technical comparison was conducted in cooperation with the Saudi Olympic Committee, and Abdi was selected to officially participate in the alpine skiing competition in the giant slalom category,” they said. “As a result of obtaining the highest evaluation in the comparison and as an appreciation of the historical achievement, the two athletes will equally receive a financial reward for qualifying for the Olympics.”

Abdi, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, spoke about his journey as a Saudi skier and how honored and proud he is to represent his country in Beijing.  

“I was so happy when once I received the federation’s email in the first week of January, saying that the athlete with highest world ranking on the Olympic list will be chosen to go to the Olympics, but actually it did not change much because I knew I was the one chosen,” he said. “I think I need to try to keep my head down and focus on what I need to keep doing which is training, staying grounded and humble.”

To compete with your teammate for a historic spot at the Olympics needs some sort of understanding. 

“We mentioned early on, between him and I, that we need to have healthy competition, and we need to push one another to be better every day and if we do that, we will be able to qualify, so I would say it was a collective effort,” Abdi said. 

“To be honest I need to give a lot of credit to my teammate Salman Al-Howaish because he worked hard and his skiing motivated me to also work hard and ski well.” 

Abdi explained that the best skier in the world has 0 points so the closer the result to 0 the better.

“There is a slight difference between my score and Al-Howaish score. Mine was 131 FIS points and he had 151 FIS points.”  

FIS is the international governing body that sets international competition rules for a range of snow sports. He added: “Al-Howaish  and I are really good friends and I was so happy that we were able to cross paths as we come from a place where not so many people ski.”

Throughout his skiing journey, Abdi has skied in many countries including France, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Montenegro and Italy. In the Olympics, he will be competing with Alpine skiers from around the globe such as Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, Beijing, India, Haiti, Austria, and Norway. 

“I started skiing at the age of four in Faraya, Lebanon, the country’s largest and most popular ski destination; not continuously as it was quite challenging to do that while living in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “My mom taught me how to ski; it is the sport I fell in love with right away ever since I have been going in skiing trips,” he said. 

Abdi has mainly been practicing skiing in Utah for the past five years after moving to the US in 2016. 

“I also skied many times on ski trips to Switzerland,” he said.

In 2019, Abdi received a certification called “Outdoor Emergency Care,” catered around dealing with emergencies in the mountains during snowy weather. 

“I did it in Snowbird, Utah in order to be prepared in case of emergency,” he said. 

Alpine skiing is a skiing technique known best in central Europe, and practiced in the mountainous terrain of the Alps, having evolved during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“I choose Alpine skiing because I like skiing fast,” Abdi said. “It is an extremely technical sport; when people watch it they do not realize how technical it is.”

The 2022 winter season in the southern region of Saudi Arabia has witnessed snowy weather, specifically in Tabuk’s Al-Lawz mountain.

Abdi said that he practiced skiing in the Kingdom once in NEOM last year while filming a shoot. 

“It was a great experience, I didn’t even know that we have mountains this high in Saudi, and I am really excited for what NEOM is doing regarding growing the skiing industry in Saudi and making it a sport that we can actually participate in.” 

Saudi Arabia may be a desert country with a first-time qualifier to the Winter Olympics, but it has provided the best support an athlete could hope for. 

“I would like to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Winter Sports Federation, and the Olympic Committee for all the support, funding, and trust they put throughout this journey,” Abdi said. 

“The support we have received from the Kingdom and Saudi Winter Sports Federations is incredible, we have received what the best teams in the world won’t get half of. It is really impressive how much my country has put into this.” 


Formula E showing sustainability is way forward with net zero Diriyah E-Prix

Formula E showing sustainability is way forward with net zero Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 28 January 2022

Formula E showing sustainability is way forward with net zero Diriyah E-Prix

Formula E showing sustainability is way forward with net zero Diriyah E-Prix
  • Sport setting trends others will follow on, off track: Formula E sustainability director, Julia Palle

Year on year, the profile of Formula E continues to grow.

And with Season 8 of the electric car series set to get underway with a double-header of night races in Riyadh, environmental sustainability will, more than ever before, be at the heart of the 2022 Diriyah E-Prix, a carbon net zero event.

Formula E sustainability director, Julia Palle, said: “Sustainability is this huge wave that is coming and really changing the way we are approaching sport.

“We’ve always had this view that sports were bringing something more to fans in the world than entertainment per se. And certainly, that’s why Formula E has been created.”

As a sport whose mission is to, in Palle’s words, “advance electrification,” Formula E has been setting the standards for others to follow.

“It’s really a way to showcase sustainable lifestyles. And as you’ve seen, there are a lot of other sports that are little by little taking the example, following the leadership that Formula E has been trendsetting for eight years now.

“You’ve seen the first Premier League game that was net zero carbon a couple of months ago, and a few other sports that have followed the lead, either in terms of net zero or strong initiatives regarding gender,” she added.

Last year’s Diriyah E-Prix launched Season 7 of Formula E with a double-header of night races for the first time, notably under new state-of-the-art LED floodlights. This year’s races will look to take it up a level or two.

Palle said: “We’ve decided to build on this kind of innovative approach to LED lighting. This year, the entire race is going to be powered by renewable energy.

“There’s another important thing, which is the fact that we work with a local charity each year, which is always the same, it’s the Society for Autism families. This is something that we always work closely on with the government, and what is important is that they’ve chosen us as the sport to develop this partnership.

“One of the beauties of the sport is that we have no noise pollution. So, we are able to be a family event that brings on different types of people, including people that suffer from autism, having a great day with us, including sharing something really special with their families.

“So, there’s much more to it than the environmental side, it’s also the social impact that we create,” she added.

Palle pointed out that every aspect of the Diriyah E-Prix had a sustainability obligation, from VIP hospitality areas to the stands and waste recycling outlets.

Formula E hopes its holistic approach to the event will have an influence on the lifestyles of its fans and beyond.

“We’ve actually done lots of studies and the good thing is that all sports are basically raising awareness, and inviting people to live more sustainable lifestyles,” Palle said.

“So, for example, on our events, you will see some vegetarian and vegan options, because we know that a less intensive meat diet is something that is better for your health, and also better for the planet.

“Waste recycling constantly, a very careful approach to the use of plastic, and this year we will have this partnership with Aquafina (brand of purified bottled water), and it’s clearly marked up that all the bottles will be recycled, again, locally. It’s really good, like trying to showcase some simple initiatives that the public can take,” she added.

Formula E has just launched No Turning Back, a season-long campaign setting the tone for the championship’s journey into a new era ahead of the Season 9 debut of the Gen3, the sport’s fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient racing car yet.

Palle said: “No Turning Back’s messaging is literally about the fact that the future is electric, the way forward is electric. You see that in every country and city of the world that electrification is the biggest trend. Governments are taking legislation to basically ban the sale of anything that is not electric.”

The sustainability director is also involved in Extreme E, the all-electric SUV rally series that, similar to Formula E, has been spreading the sustainability message beyond its sporting boundaries.

“So really, the future in terms of mobility is electric. And I would extend that and say that the future is living sustainable lifestyles that are really exciting and that’s what Formula E or Extreme E are, showcasing that the future is promising and exciting and not showcasing that the future is doom and gloom. We have technological solutions, and we work with partners and experts in their field,” she added.

Season 8 of Formula E may be about to start but already there is excitement at what Season 9 will bring.

Palle said: “Gen3 is the pinnacle of racing performance and sustainability, and probably that’s the best way to sum up what the championship is all about. Gen3 is going to be super-light, super-fast, it’s going to create half of the energy it needs for the race during the race.

“But also, it’s been built with sustainability at its heart. All suppliers that are integrating the different parts, the tires, the batteries, and the chassis, have basically been given strong sustainability key performance indicators that they will have to deliver on.

“All the tires are going to be recycled, they’re going to be made at least by 30 percent of sustainable material. The batteries are going to be recycled. It’s something that has never been seen in the sport. It’s what the future of motorsport can look like, and not just should look like, because we’re doing it so we’re proving it’s possible,” she added.

And is Formula E increasingly becoming a championship that the best drivers and carmakers will turn to?

“One of our latest announcements speaks for itself. Maserati, the first Italian brand, are joining the championship and there are really high-performance cars that are capturing the imagination of any driver.

“It’s justifying the interest that manufacturers have for us, but also really showcasing that the platform is highly relevant for whichever type of car you’re producing.

“And certainly, that goes with the kind of drivers that you want to attract. We have an amazing lineup of drivers, with a couple drivers that are completely new coming from really prestigious backgrounds and carriers that are certainly going to continue to elevate the sport,” Palle said.


Endurance stars ready to tackle AlUla challenge in Fursan Cup

Endurance stars ready to tackle AlUla challenge in Fursan Cup
Updated 28 January 2022

Endurance stars ready to tackle AlUla challenge in Fursan Cup

Endurance stars ready to tackle AlUla challenge in Fursan Cup

ALULA: Stars from the sport of endurance have landed in Saudi Arabia in preparation for the Fursan Cup 2022 on Jan. 29.

More than 200 riders from more than 30 countries will contest the 120 km ride, which will be staged in the historic AlUla region on Saturday, Jan. 29.

Among those competing in the across-the-desert landscape is Carmine Villani, the World No.1 in the FEI rankings in 2020.

Villani, who represents Great Britain, said: “AlUla for me is really like riding in the Grand Canyon — one of the most beautiful places in the world with sand and cliffs. It’s magical.”

The event is a thorough test of skill and stamina for riders and horses alike. With four loops, the ride takes eight hours on average to complete.

Villani added: “It’s a technical course — because of the very deep sand. That’s the challenge of course and you have to manage that. It’s really an important thing.”

Costanza Laliscia, the 2016 and 2019 winner of the FEI Young Riders World Endurance Ranking, is another top rider looking forward to lining up in the Fursan Endurance Cup, the third staging of which carries a huge prize of $4.2m (SR15 million).

“I can’t wait to go to Saudi Arabia,” the Italian said. “I’ve never been yet but imagine wonderful landscapes and a very high-level race. From the photos, I see it as a unique landscape that will surely leave me great memories and very intense emotions. It is a desert different from all the others I have known.”

Laliscia, whose father Gianluca is a former endurance champion, believes that the ride in AlUla will provide further impetus for the sport in the region and beyond.

“I know the history of horses in Saudi Arabia,” she said. “I am sure that with this race, and the excellent organization, you can make an important contribution to the growth of sport and especially of endurance in this country with great potential. This is a moment of growth.”

The growing stature and global nature of the Fursan Endurance Cup is underlined by the involvement of competitors such as Pedro Pablo Gomez Martinez. The rider, trainer and breeder has undertaken an extensive journey of approaching 24 hours from his stables in Chile to be in AlUla for the event.

Pedro Pablo Gomez said: “AlUla will be a perfect place for endurance and Saudi will hopefully grow in the sport eventually as it has all the needed potential and real Arabian horses come from there. I am very excited for this trip as I will learn even more. I’m truly honored for this to part of this event, and I want to thank all the authorities of Saudi Arabia making this happen in AlUla — and its spectacular and breathtaking landscapes — with the support of endurance experts to organize it.”

The Fursan Cup is organized in cooperation with the Royal Commission for AlUla and Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation. The event will be one of the main attractions of the Winter at Tantora Festival, which runs from Dec. 21 to Feb. 12.

Tantora is one of four main festivals being introduced in 2022 under the AlUla Moments banner. The festival includes another flagship equestrian event, AlUla Desert Polo, Feb. 11-12, as well as a series of music events at Maraya.

Speaking on behalf of the Royal Commission for AlUla, Phillip Jones, chief destination management and marketing officer, said: “AlUla’s equestrian events are key pillars of what is a longer-term strategy to share with the world the monumental beauty of AlUla as a place that is unique in the Arabian Peninsula and perfect for exploring on horseback. The RCU vision includes significant infrastructure and facilities for the elite end of the sport as well as more riding trails and itineraries for visitors to immerse themselves in the majesty of the cultural landscape.”

“The experience of horseback riding among the desert splendour and rock formations creates unforgettable memories. Our third staging of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup will be no different for our all riders.”


Saudi nearly there, UAE playoff hopes alive: 5 things we learned from latest Asian World Cup qualifiers

Saudi nearly there, UAE playoff hopes alive: 5 things we learned from latest Asian World Cup qualifiers
Updated 28 January 2022

Saudi nearly there, UAE playoff hopes alive: 5 things we learned from latest Asian World Cup qualifiers

Saudi nearly there, UAE playoff hopes alive: 5 things we learned from latest Asian World Cup qualifiers
  • Iraq continue to underachieve despite plenty of talent while Lebanon’s lack of firepower proved costly again

Seven down and just three to go. Qatar 2022 and the end of Asia’s World Cup qualification journey is in sight for those at the top of the two groups. Below are five things Arab News learned from Thursday’s games.


1. Saudi Arabia missed Al-Faraj but got the crucial win

(AFP)

While Saudi fans will be celebrating the 1-0 win over Oman that keeps them four points clear at the top of Group B, there will be a slight worry there too. It wasn’t exactly a secret that Salman Al-Faraj is a classy customer and it wasn’t a surprise that Saudi Arabia’s worst performance so far in the final round of qualification came without the Al-Hilal star sitting in the middle. The Green Falcons had 55 percent of the possession but continuously gave the ball away. 

It was his presence that was conspicuous by its absence. Al-Faraj is a calm influence for Al-Hilal and Saudi Arabia and it all felt a little rushed without him in the face of speedy Omani midfielders. His replacement, Sami Al-Najei, did not last long and was withdrawn after half an hour as coach Renard made a tactical switch that improved the team’s control of the middle, but even then Al-Faraj was still missed.

The most important part was the three points, however. Sometimes in qualification you just have to grind out a win and that is what happened in Jeddah. 

 
2. Energetic UAE get crucial cushion

(AFP)

Suddenly it is all smiles in the UAE after a second successive win, this time a 2-0 victory over Syria in Dubai. It was a much-improved performance against an opponent that is never easy, despite their bottom ranking, and surely the UAE’s best display in this stage so far.

Finishing in the top two spots in a group containing South Korea and Iran was always going to be difficult, even if the fact that those two powerhouses were never put under any pressure was disappointing.

Now however, the UAE can focus on securing third place and a place in the play-offs. It was especially pleasing given that there were some major absentees such as Ali Mabkhout and Fabio De Lima. Caio Canedo scored the opener and was lively throughout.

Coach Bert van Marwijk had said before the game that there was a new energy in the team, and that is what proved to be the difference. There was movement and an intensity that had been missing. If the Whites can build on this win against the already-qualified Iran on Tuesday then third spot will be virtually secured.

 
3. Oman deserved more than Jeddah defeat

(AFP)

If an alien, or just a non-Asian football fan, had sat in the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium and watched Saudi Arabia and Oman then they would not have been able to tell which team was leading Group B and which was in fourth. They would not have been able to tell which team was missing several players due to COVID-19 and injury. 

Apart from the goalkeeping mistake that allowed Firas Al-Buraikan to bundle the ball home from close range, Saudi Arabia never really looked like scoring in Jeddah. Instead, it was Oman who looked the more dangerous. Perhaps it was because they were free from pressure; the underdogs with little chance of reaching the play-off spot, but Oman deserved a point from the game. Rabia Al-Alawi never stopped running up front and was a constant thorn in the side and the center of the Saudi backline.

Ultimately, Saudi Arabia will barely remember this game and will take the points and move on but Oman should take heart from a big performance and further proof, after September’s win in Japan, that they can live with the big boys of Asian football. 

 
4. Iraq do their best but questions to answer

(AFP)

The 1-0 loss to Iran in Tehran leaves Iraq with just four points from seven games, a full five points off the UAE in third place. It’s just not good enough for a team that has genuine talent and slim hopes of a play-off spot are hanging by a thread.

The latest defeat was hardly a surprise given that they were missing eight players — seven through COVID-19 and one through injury — and were unable to fill the bench at the Azadi Stadium with just 18 players available. It could have been worse, with the best performer on the day Fahad Talib in goal.

The big question now is: What direction do Iraq go in now? There was the big-name foreign coach experiment with Dick Advocaat that didn’t work as the Dutchman resigned in November after just six games to leave his assistant Zeljko Petrovic in charge, but there are still issues in terms of who really calls the shots and regardless of all that, preparation remains overly chaotic and ad hoc.

The Iraq national team needs a reset. The World Cup has virtually gone and while the talent remains, there is a lack of direction. 

 
5. Lebanon need a striker

(AFP)

Losing 1-0 to South Korea is no disgrace for Lebanon but while the Taeguk Warriors were the better team, the Cedars will know they could have got something from a hard-fought game.

It has been the story of the stage for Lebanon. They have given everything and pushed the bigger teams all the way only to fail to get the necessary points on the board. 

Korea may have dominated first-half possession but nobody in Lebanon, or watching back in East Asia, will ever know how the hosts did not take the lead not long before the break. 

Alexander Melki hit the bar from close range but, no problem, as his brother was there to shoot the rebound into an empty net. Somehow, however, Felix Melki shot wide when it was easier to score. 

Heads had not long been removed from hands when the visitors took the lead in a razor-sharp move. A beautiful inswinging cross from the left was met first-time by a sliding Cho Gue-song. It was more of the same after the break and again Lebanon hit the woodwork with a fierce low shot from Felix Melki. And then substitute Fadel Antra headed a cross over the bar when unmarked as the game entered injury time. Lebanon had the chances but just lack that little quality in the final third.