Host Cameroon 1st team into knockouts at African Cup

Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar scores during the AFCON 2022 group A soccer match between Cameroon and Ethiopia in Yaounde, Cameroon, on Jan. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar scores during the AFCON 2022 group A soccer match between Cameroon and Ethiopia in Yaounde, Cameroon, on Jan. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Host Cameroon 1st team into knockouts at African Cup

Host Cameroon 1st team into knockouts at African Cup
  • Burkina Faso beat Cape Verde in the other Group A game to bounce back from its opening-day defeat to Cameroon

YAOUNDE, Cameroon: Two more goals by Cameroon captain Vincent Aboubakar helped put the host into the knockout stages of the African Cup of Nations on Thursday, while positive coronavirus tests continued to put players and coaches out of action elsewhere at the tournament.
Cameroon was the first team through to the round of 16 after coming from behind for the second time in two games to overwhelm Ethiopia 4-1. The Indomitable Lions have indeed proved to be difficult to subdue, and Aboubakar scored a brace, as he did in the tournament opener, to take his tally to four goals at the tournament.
Lyon forward Karl Toko Ekambi also got two for Cameroon, which hit the post three times and could have really embarrassed Ethiopia at Olembe Stadium in Yaounde.
Burkina Faso beat Cape Verde 1-0 in Thursday’s other Group A game to bounce back from its opening-day defeat to Cameroon. Burkina Faso was without captain Bertrand Traoré, one of many players to test positive for the virus at the African soccer championship.
In a quirk, it was Hassane Bandé, the man who replaced Traoré in the team, who scored the goal that revived Burkina Faso’s chances of making it to the next round. He threw himself at a cross and cleverly chested the ball in, then patted himself on the chest in celebration.
In the first game, Ethiopia’s Dawa Hotessa Dukele had stunned the Olembe Stadium into silence with the opening goal in the fourth minute.
Cameroon shook off that blow, just as it did to come from behind to beat Burkina Faso 2-1 in the tournament opener on Sunday with two penalties from Aboubakar.
Ekambi equalized four minutes after Ethiopia’s surprise goal and Cameroon took control from then. Aboubakar scored twice in the space of two minutes early in the second half, first with a powerful header and then when he forced the ball in with a sliding finish.
Ekambi made it 4-1 by cutting back inside a group of Ethiopia defenders and firing into the bottom left corner, and after deciding against passing to Aboubakar for a chance for a hat trick for the captain.
Ekambi and Aboubakar were both taken off by Cameroon coach Toni Conceicao, who knows there are tougher tests ahead.
Nine of the first 12 games at the African Cup had ended 1-0, and there were also two 0-0 draws, so Cameroon’s free-scoring result brought the tournament some much-needed goals.
Gabon will also hope for goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is out of isolation and available to play against Ghana on Friday having tested positive for the virus at an airport on arrival in Cameroon last week.
In an interview released by the Gabon soccer federation, the Arsenal forward said he was “so excited to get back to training” having been confined to his hotel room with an exercise bike.
It wasn’t all good news for Gabon, though. As Aubameyang and midfielder Mario Lemina returned after their positive tests, coach Patrice Neveu and defenders Sidney Obissa and Lloyd Palun tested positive and were ruled out of any involvement in the game against Ghana.
There was also more fallout from the refereeing debacle that marred the Mali-Tunisia game on Wednesday.
Reports quoted African soccer confederation official Essam Abdul Fattah as saying the referee in question had been suffering from sunstroke when he twice blew for full time too early in the game, and needed to go to the hospital after the match.
Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe’s errors sparked chaos and incensed Tunisian players and coaching staff because Tunisia was losing 1-0. There was even an attempt to restart the game about 30 minutes after it finished to play out the time Sikazwe missed, but Tunisia refused to get back on the field.
Tunisia has lodged an official protest over Sikazwe’s actions with the African confederation.


Saudi star Juffali eager to continue in GT3 after clinching 2nd at 24 Hours of Dubai race

 Saudi star Juffali eager to continue in GT3 after clinching 2nd at 24 Hours of Dubai race
Updated 44 min 6 sec ago

Saudi star Juffali eager to continue in GT3 after clinching 2nd at 24 Hours of Dubai race

 Saudi star Juffali eager to continue in GT3 after clinching 2nd at 24 Hours of Dubai race
  • After making her endurance racing debut at Dubai Autodrome, Juffali has her eyes set on Le Mans

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s motorsport star Reema Juffali has outlined her ambitions to continue racing in GT3 following her second-place finish at the 24 Hours of Dubai race, with her eyes firmly set on competing in Le Mans.

In her debut GT3 race behind the wheel of the #20 Mercedes-AMG GT3, the Jeddah-born driver impressed for SPS Automotive Performance at the weekend as she joined her teammates Valentin Pierburg, George Kurtzand and Ian Loggie to steer the team to second place in the GT3-AM class at the Dubai Autodrome.

She was behind the wheel for around six hours in total, testing her driving skills in the endurance format competitively for the first time since racing in the single-seater British F3 Championship last year.

“The result was beyond many expectations that I had so I am really happy with how it all went,” said Juffali.

“The goal was simply to finish and as this was my first GT3 and endurance race, I had set a realistic expectation. But when we saw what we were capable of during qualifying, we saw that there was the potential for a podium finish. Because of our strategy and approach, we got to finish, which is a great feat in itself but to also get second position in our class and a top 10 finish overall was an incredible feeling.”

While she enjoyed competing in the 24 Hours of Dubai, she believes her single-seater racing experience was crucial in achieving the impressive debut result and has her dream of lining up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans — the world’s oldest active endurance racing event — firmly in her sights.

“During my time in single-seaters, I wanted to learn as quickly as I could with the best in the business and learn the hard way,” Juffali said. “It was something I was willing to take because I knew there was a greater reward in the long run. This race is a testament to that, and I know that I am in the right place now and have the right tools to take the next steps towards my dream of racing in Le Mans.”

She added: “The biggest thing for me is to go into GT3 racing, that’s the plan and finding the right team and environment to become the best that I can and gain the best experience. Hopefully in the next two years I can compete in Le Mans if it all goes well.”


Leading golfers to compete in Rooftop Charity Challenge ahead of Dubai Desert Classic

Leading golfers to compete in Rooftop Charity Challenge ahead of Dubai Desert Classic
Updated 18 January 2022

Leading golfers to compete in Rooftop Charity Challenge ahead of Dubai Desert Classic

Leading golfers to compete in Rooftop Charity Challenge ahead of Dubai Desert Classic
  • Four Major champions will be part of the eight golfers participating in the event at the JA The Resort Dubai on Jan. 24

DUBAI: On the eve of next week’s Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, four major champions will be among the eight golfing greats battling it out for a good cause in a charity match-play tournament as the JA Lake View Hotel at JA The Resort Dubai welcomes back its Rooftop Charity Challenge on Monday Jan. 24.

Rafa Cabrera Bello will lead the star-studded field, which also includes the challenge’s defending champion Adri Arnaus, along with Charl Schwartzel and Danny Willett, masters champions from 2011 and 2016 respectively, Open winners Henrik Stenson (2016) and Shane Lowry (2019), Swedish star Sebastian Soderberg and US amateur hotshot Sam Bennett.

The challenge takes place from 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 24 in the BIBÉ rooftop lounge on the JA Lakeview Hotel, with the players hitting 90-yard shots from an elevated tee onto the stunning second hole of the nine-hole golf course 30 yards below. The winning player will secure up to $6,800 for the Al-Jalila Foundation.

The JA Lake View Hotel’s Rooftop Charity Challenge will see players and guests overlook a nine-hole, par 35 championship standard golf course with driving range, putting and pitching greens and Leadbetter Golf Academy Dubai of JA The Resort.

Director of golf at JA The Resort, Stuart McMurdo, said: “We are privileged to host this event once again, after its inception in 2020. This year features some of the world’s best players who come from all corners of the globe. It’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase our wonderful golf course and resort facilities.”

The event is being held in the build-up to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, the region’s longest-running golf event, which has been elevated to a Rolex Series event for 2022.

For the first time in the event’s 33-year history, the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic is free to attend for all spectators. This year’s field includes four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, recently crowned DP World Tour Number One Collin Morikawa, defending champion Paul Casey, world No. 7 Viktor Hovland, 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia, five-time DP World Tour winner Tommy Fleetwood and more.


Andy Murray wins five-set epic on return to Australian Open

Andy Murray wins five-set epic on return to Australian Open
Updated 18 January 2022

Andy Murray wins five-set epic on return to Australian Open

Andy Murray wins five-set epic on return to Australian Open
  • The three-time Grand Slam champion is playing with a metal hip following career-saving surgery in 2019
  • ‘It’s amazing to be back and winning a five-set battle like that, I couldn’t ask for any more’

MELBOURNE: Andy Murray battled to his first win at the Australian Open since 2017 with an epic five-set victory over 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili on Tuesday.
The three-time Grand Slam champion, playing with a metal hip following career-saving surgery in 2019, wrestled with the Georgian for almost four hours before claiming his place in the second round.
Scotland’s Murray, ranked 113 and playing as a tournament wild card, showed his trademark fighting spirit to edge home in the gripping final set and clinch a 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 victory in 3 hours and 52 minutes on John Cain Arena.
It comes after his tearful exit from the 2019 Melbourne event with the hip injury which raised the possibility of his imminent retirement from tennis, before he went ahead with surgery just weeks later.
“Amazing, been a tough three or four years. Put in a lot work to get back here,” a relieved Murray, 34, said on court.
“I’ve played on this court many times and the atmosphere is incredible.
“It’s amazing to be back and winning a five-set battle like that, I couldn’t ask for any more.”
It continued a keen rivalry between the pair with Murray rallying from a set down to defeat the big-hitting Georgian last week in Sydney and also prevailing over four sets in the first round at Wimbledon last year.


Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile
Updated 18 January 2022

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile

Egypt’s Mayar Sherif ‘honored’ to be at Australian Open as she raises her nation’s sporting profile
  • Cairo 25-year-old climbs world rankings after becoming first Egyptian woman to reach a WTA final

Last year, on a midsummer day in Cluj-Napoca in northern Romania, tennis player Mayar Sherif made history by becoming the first Egyptian woman to reach a WTA final.

On the same day, thousands of miles to the east in Tokyo, Feryal Abdelaziz became the first Egyptian woman to win Olympic gold when she emerged victorious in the karate competition.

Women’s sport in Egypt is enjoying an unprecedented high, and Sherif, who kicks off her Australian Open campaign on Tuesday against Heather Watson, is honored to be playing her part in the movement.

“I feel the pressure and the responsibility. I feel like I want to reach much higher than where I am right now, but I still need to work and learn to so many things,” the 25-year-old Cairo player told Arab News ahead of her Melbourne opener.

“But I’m striving for more. I’m not satisfied, I’m not feeling like, ‘Oh, this is so good, this is so amazing.’ No, I’m always looking forward and always looking for more,” she said.

That unrelenting drive to improve is what makes Sherif one of the standout Arab athletes at the moment, and explains why she became the first Egyptian woman to be ranked in the top 100.

Sherif, ranked 62 in the world, is now able to gain direct entry into most of the biggest tournaments on tour — unfamiliar territory for the rising star.

Her trip to Australia so far has resulted in two opening round defeats. However, her loss to world No.37 Liudmila Samsonova in Adelaide last week was a tight affair that saw Sherif challenge her higher-ranked Russian opponent.

“It’s not easy, of course; there are expectations. But I want to go forward and move up the rankings,” Sherif said, explaining her hopes for the 2022 season.

“But I have to think on my goals, on what I have to do. It’s a good opportunity to be directly into the main draws, which will give me experience. Maybe it’s not going to pay off now, but it’s going to pay off soon, I hope. It’s going to come.”

Against Samsonova, Sherif fired 14 aces and displayed a smooth rhythm on her serve throughout the match, getting broken just once in the final game of the contest.

“I’ve been working on improving the style of my serve for the past two years, and more recently we were working almost every day on the serve, to have the kind of consistencythat I had in the match against Samsonova,” said Sherif.

“The work has paid off. The last couple of years I wasn’t so consistent on my serve. We kept changing little things. The style of my serve was disastrous, so we were changing one thing after the other and now, thankfully, it’s almost complete.”

Adjusting to the WTA will take time and Sherif said that stepping up to the top tier of the women’s competition will require greater attention to detail.

“The little things matter. Like against Samsonova, I had many break points in the first set. I had a set point, but in the important moments I didn’t play well. These are the little things that matter. If you have a chance, you have to take it because if you miss the chance, it might not come back,” she said.

“At ITFs, you can miss one or two balls and still win the game. Here, you miss a couple of balls, it’s not going to work. You have to be consistent all the match, not giving anything away.”

Transitioning to the WTA tour is not just about improving her level to compete with the game’s best, but also about making friends on the circuit and getting comfortable with her new surroundings.  

“I’m getting to know more people. Last week I played doubles with (Tereza) Martincova. We literally met up five minutes before our first match. We were like, ‘Which side will you play? The backhand side? Great, let’s do it.’ And it turned out well,” said Sherif, who made it to the doubles final of the Melbourne 250 event alongside Martincova.  

“Of course, a chance like this, I wouldn’t have had it if my ranking wasn’t high enough to get me into these WTA tournaments. I’m playing doubles for the first time at the Australian Open, people are starting to call me up to see if we should play together, so naturally I’m making friends, I’m knowing more people. And Justo (Gonzalez), my coach, talks to everyone, everywhere, so he’s making friends for me.”

Sherif is not daunted by the prospect of facing tougher opposition now that she is rising through the rankings and has a clear vision of what she hopes to accomplish this year.

“I want to step on court and compete; I want to feel the competition, it doesn’t matter, win or lose, I want to get experience. I want to be there,” she said.

“Consistency throughout the year is very important, and that’s something I didn’t do a very good job at last year. And the start of this year, I’m starting a little slow, that’s something I need to work on, to start the season more fit, more competitive, I would say.”

She added: “And I want to go throughout the year with the same rhythm. Because last year, the first six months, I didn’t compete at all, I got COVID-19 in the middle of that period, but still I could have done better. So, hopefully, I try to compete all year round and get points from everywhere I play.”

Sherif said that she is willing to step down to some of the smaller tournaments, such as the $100,000 or $125,000 events on the ITF circuit, because she believes these will help her gain match toughness.

“I enjoy playing $100k or $125k series to get rhythm and confidence before moving up to the WTA 250s. Just because my ranking is 60-something doesn’t means I won’t play these $100ks or even $60ks,” she said.

“Competition is always good, to feel those victories, to get the feel for those important moments, and ultimately, those were the kind of matches that got me into competition mode last year.”

Sherif spent most of her offseason training in Alicante, but had two weeks in Cairo, where she hosted an event that brought together all of her sponsors and backers, and some key figures in the Egyptian sports industry, to thank them for their support.

“It’s amazing, because every time I go to Cairo, people want to meet me, they want to congratulate and tell me they’re proud of me. I always get these kind of comments when I’m there, and that gives you a feeling of, not on a tennis level, but on a personal level, that I really did something big for my country,” she said.

“It’s beyond ranking and winning or losing tournaments. So that is always amazing.”


Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says

Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says
Updated 18 January 2022

Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says

Novak Djokovic has to comply with rules to go to Spain, PM says
  • ‘Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain’
  • Novak Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella

MADRID: World men’s tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic will have to comply with Spanish health rules to be able to travel to Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday.
Answering a question on whether Djokovic would be allowed to enter Spain to compete after Australia deported him for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, Sanchez said: “Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was visiting Spain on Monday and stood beside Sanchez during the news conference, also insisted the different rules in the different countries must be respected. “We all have to abide by them, no matter who we are,” he said.
Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella. He spent a few days in late December and early January and video footage showed him training there.
Spanish rules currently require people to have either a vaccine certificate, a PCR negative test or a certificate of having recovered from COVID-19. The country imposes strict quarantines on people who test positive.
During the same news conference, the Spanish Prime Minister made an impassioned call for vaccination. Even though vaccination is not mandatory in Spain, the vaccination rate is one of the highest in Europe.