Kresimir Rezic turning the tables in the Saudi Pro League as he pulls off a miracle at Damac

Croatian Kresimir Rezic was appointed coach of historically unheralded Damac, from Khamis Mushait in south-west Saudi Arabia. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Croatian Kresimir Rezic was appointed coach of historically unheralded Damac, from Khamis Mushait in south-west Saudi Arabia. (Screenshot/YouTube)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Kresimir Rezic turning the tables in the Saudi Pro League as he pulls off a miracle at Damac

Croatian Kresimir Rezic was appointed coach of historically unheralded Damac, from Khamis Mushait in south-west Saudi Arabia. (Screenshot/YouTube)
  • Unheralded coach and club come together to challenge for the title

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League is no stranger to big-name foreign coaches, with a host of high-profile names washing through the league over the past decade or more.

But arguably this season’s best coach is, with the greatest of respect, the very definition of a no-name coach — he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.

Croatian Kresimir Rezic was appointed coach of historically unheralded Damac, from Khamis Mushait in south-west Saudi Arabia; a club that have spent the better part of the past three decades in the lower reaches of the Saudi football ecosystem.

So inconsequential have the club been over the years that their home city doesn’t even have a stadium — Damac play their home games in nearby Abha, roughly a 35-minute drive from Khamis Mushait.

“We can’t compare ourselves to other clubs,” Rezic told Arab News. “In Khamis Mushait, we don’t even have a stadium. We don’t have a big army of supporters. This is something we are trying to build, to create something (special) for the club and this is just the beginning of our path.

“Is it going to be easy? Absolutely not, but we like to be a little bit of a different club to the others,” he continued.

Only 20 years ago Damac were in the fourth tier of Saudi football, a long way from the bright lights of the Pro League, while as recently as the 2014/15 season they were in the Saudi Second Division — the third tier of the Kingdom’s football pyramid.

Damac won promotion to the SPL for the 2019/20 season, in which they finished a respectable 10th — ahead of giants Al-Ittihad. But it looked as though their two-year stint in the top flight was set to come to an end when Rezic was appointed in January 2021 with the club sitting firmly in the relegation zone.

But under the Croatian tactician, who came to Damac as their under-19 coach after a career predominantly spent working as youth coach for famed Croatian club Hajduk Split, they finished the season strongly, going undefeated in their final nine games to avoid relegation by a single point.

Rezic recalled the doubt that existed externally and how that was used as motivation within the club in the closing stages of the season.

“Everybody was saying ‘This is a team for the first division, they will not be in the pro league again,’” Rezic said. “We used that in the locker room. We said ‘OK, maybe we will go to the first division, but from this moment we will earn respect from everybody and show them that we have quality.’And from that day we started winning games and reached 36 points and stayed in the (Pro) league.”

Having scraped to safety last season, many would have had Damac among the favorites to be in the relegation scrap again this season, but, against all the odds, Rezic has his team flying at the opposite end of the table.

With half the season gone, Damac are fifth in the table, just one point behind last year’s AFC Champions League winners Al-Hilal and within three points of an unlikely spot in the 2023 AFC Champions League.

Just a few weeks ago, Damac were top of the table, occupying that position for three of the four weeks from Rounds Nine to Twelve. But a recent dip in form — they are winless in their past four, which included a crazy 5-5 draw with Al-Fateh — has seen them cede ground and they now sit nine points behind league-leaders Al-Ittihad.

While an historic AFC Champions League berth is tantalizingly close, Rezic stressed that talk of what might be could prove a distraction for his side.

“We will try to fight for every point,” he said. “But to speak about the Asian Champions League — something that was never (in our thinking) — to put that as our mission could be very, very dangerous for us and create pressure. So we don’t speak about it.

“Our main targets are to stay in the league, be in a comfortable position in the middle of the table, (and) if we have an opportunity for something a little bit more, we will try to do it,” he continued.

While Rezic conceded it is difficult to compete against the financially superior and resource-rich super clubs like Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad, he has shown in his 12 months in charge at Damac that his methods can overcome many of those obstacles.

If he continues to overachieve with the club, he might even get his own Wikipedia page. But for now, you’ll just have to remember the name.

-ENDS-


Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv

Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv
Updated 57 min 12 sec ago

Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv

Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv
  • Djokovic eased to a 6-0, 6-3 win over his 115th-ranked opponent in 86 minutes, firing 30 winners and breaking Andujar four times
  • It was the fewest games Djokovic has lost in any match this season

TEL AVIV: Novak Djokovic, playing a singles tournament for the first time since winning Wimbledon in July, reached the Tel Aviv quarter-finals on Thursday with a straight-sets victory over Spain’s Pablo Andujar.
Djokovic eased to a 6-0, 6-3 win over his 115th-ranked opponent in 86 minutes, firing 30 winners and breaking Andujar four times.
It was the fewest games Djokovic has lost in any match this season.
He was always in control against his Spanish rival who he has now defeated three times, taking control of the match by winning the first seven games.
“The first match started off in a perfect way for me,” said Djokovic, who last played in Israel as a teenager 16 years ago in a Davis Cup tie.
“I won seven games in a row and we were fighting in that eighth game (which took over 20 minutes to complete).
“It was one of the longest games I’ve ever played in my life and I’ve played many, many games in my life. But credit to Pablo for fighting and playing a great match as well.”
Former world number one Djokovic hasn’t played a singles event since capturing a seventh Wimbledon title 10 weeks ago after his refusal to get vaccinated ruled him out of the US Open and the entire American hardcourt swing.
His only other appearance had been in the Laver Cup team tournament in London last week.
It was there that he saw long-time rival Roger Federer retire from the sport.
However, the 35-year-old Djokovic, now ranked at seven in the world, insisted on the eve of the Tel Aviv event that retirement was not on his agenda.
“I still want to play tennis even though I achieved pretty much everything that you can achieve in tennis,” said Djokovic, whose 21 Grand Slam titles is just one short of Rafael Nadal’s men’s record of 22.
“I still have passion and hunger to play at a highest professional level.”
Djokovic, showing no sign of the right wrist trouble which bothered him in London, will face Canada’s 149th-ranked Vasek Pospisil in Friday’s quarter-finals.
The Serb boasts a 5-0 career record over the 32-year-old Canadian.
Pospisil reached the last-eight by eliminating Israeli qualifier Edan Leshem 6-3, 6-2.
France’s Arthur Rinderknech saved a match point to clinch a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (9/7) win against third seed Diego Schwartzman.
The world number 58 will next play Roman Safiullin.
British qualifier Liam Broady stunned fifth seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to set up a meeting with second seed Marin Cilic.


Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense
Updated 29 September 2022

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense
  • After a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca
  • Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay

BARCELONA, Spain: When Xavi Hernández oversaw the remodeling of Barcelona’s squad this summer, the coach made sure he was so well covered at right-back that his club could afford to loan out US defender Sergiño Dest to AC Milan.
But after a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca.
Jules Koundé, Ronald Araújo and Héctor Bellerín, who have played at right back this season, are all out for an undetermined period of time. Koundé and Araújo, who can play at center back as well, were hurt while playing for France and Uruguay, respectively, in games to prepare for the World Cup in November. Bellerín hurt his left leg while training for Barcelona.
That leaves Barcelona waiting to see if veteran Sergi Roberto can recover from a muscle problem that has sidelined him for three weeks in time for the trip to the Balearic Islands.
If not, Xavi may be forced to shoehorn a player with little or no experience at right back into the position, draft a player from Barcelona’s youth team, or opt to play with three centerbacks and two wing backs.
Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay after they were both hurt while playing for the Netherlands. Neither has been a first-choice player for Xavi this season.
Of the injuries, Araújo’s appears to be the most serious. The 23-year-old defender underwent surgery this week in Finland to repair an abductor muscle in his right thigh that he damaged in Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran on Friday.
Over the next three weeks, Barcelona face two Champions League group games against Inter Milan and a clásico against Real Madrid on Oct. 16.
The only good news for Xavi is that Robert Lewandowski returned in perfect shape from his stint with Poland. The striker leads the Spanish league with eight goals in six games.
Mallorca, coached by Mexican Javier Aguirre, has lost 12 of the last 13 visits by Barcelona to their stadium. Their only win during that stretch came in 2009 with Barcelona already crowned the league champion.
BENZEMA BACK
Karim Benzema is back for Real Madrid after recovering from a tendon injury and a strained muscle in his right thigh that had kept him off the field for over three weeks.
Benzema led Madrid to the Champions League and Spanish league double last season after scoring 44 goals in all competitions.
But his team have not missed him much and have kept up their perfect record this season of nine wins in as many games in all competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side leads the league by two points ahead of Barcelona before they host fifth-placed Osasuna on Sunday.
“I’m feeling very good, comfortable. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday,” Benzema said. “We’ve got a great team, although it could be said that we’ve got two teams. There’s no difference between those who start the game and those who come on.”
Meanwhile a struggling Sevilla faces a tough test when they visit Atlético Madrid on Saturday. Pressure is growing on coach Julen Lopetegui and the club’s leadership, which sold off talented players this summer, after the team have won just once in eight games overall.
Third-place Real Betis play at Celta Vigo on Sunday, while fourth-place Athletic Bilbao host Almería on Friday.


A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect
Updated 29 September 2022

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect
  • Although it ceased being the game’s governing body in 1993, the Marylebone Cricket Club continues to be responsible for debating and drafting Laws

On Oct. 1, 2022, nine revisions to the Laws of Cricket will become effective. These constitute the third edition of the 2017 re-coding, the seventh set since the Laws were first drafted in 1744.

Although it ceased being the game’s governing body in 1993, the Laws’ copyright remains with the Marylebone Cricket Club, based at Lord’s in London.

The MCC’s Laws sub-committee is responsible for debating and drafting, in close consultation with the Cricket Committee of the International Cricket Council, the game’s governing body. It may appear curious that the game’s governing body is neither the owner nor the drafter of its rules, but recognisable benefits of the MCC’s continuing responsibility is its neutrality. The Laws of Cricket apply to all levels of the game, from Test matches down to village greens and city parks. 

As such, they should be applied evenly. In my experience, at club level, the changes that have been made since 2000 have not been. 

This may reflect an ignorance of the changes by those who stand as umpires; at the top levels of club cricket, umpires are qualified and au fait with the most recent Laws. At lower levels, though, players take turns to umpire, making judgements about the fate of their own teammates. This is a situation which can, and does, cause friction and bias, especially if the individual concerned is not aware of the latest amendments.

Seven of nine of the 2022 revisions are straightforward, but two contain potential pitfalls. Law 41.16, classed under Unfair Play, has always carried the potential to be controversial. It addresses the issue of the non-striker leaving his or her ground early, determined as the time between when the bowler starts to run up and the instant when the ball would normally be expected to be delivered — a grey definition. If the bowler sees that the non-striker is out of ground, then he or she has the option to break the wicket and for the non-striker to be given out on appeal. There have been only 53 recorded instances in first class and professional cricket.

It has been customary for the bowler to warn the non-striker rather than break the wicket, but there has been a small rise in cases of bowlers not observing this tradition. In an attempt to normalize this means of dismissal, clause 41.16 has been moved to Law 38: Run Out. It is unlikely to dampen the controversy which it generates. On Sept. 24, only days before the re-classification became effective, a women’s One Day International between England and India was finely poised, England needing 17 runs to win with one wicket remaining. The match ended when an Indian bowler, in her delivery stride, turned to break the wicket, with the non-striker out of her crease. It is ironic that the match was played at Lords, where the change was incubated, opening the issue up again.

The second amendment, which may be the cause of future controversy, relates to the definition of a wide delivery. Law 22.1.2 states that “the ball will be considered as passing wide of the striker unless it is sufficiently within reach for him/her to be able to hit it with the bat by means of a normal cricket stroke.” At club level, there can be a tendency for subjectivity to be applied to the assessment of what constitutes a wide. In some competitions and in all professional one-day and T20 cricket, any ball bowled down the leg-side is deemed a wide. However, particularly in T20, there has been increasing tendency for batters to move laterally across the crease before the bowler delivers the ball. The MCC felt it unfair that a delivery might be called wide if it passes where the batter had stood as the bowler entered his/her delivery stride.

In order to address this possibility, Law 22.1.1. now states that “If the bowler bowls a ball … the umpire shall adjudge it a Wide if, according to the definition in 22.1.2, the ball passes wide of where the striker is standing or has stood at any point after the ball came into play for that delivery, and which also would have passed wide of the striker standing in a normal batting position.” 

This is rather a lot to take in for any umpire, and certainly for ad-hoc ones in club cricket, even if they read and understand it. There is scope for misunderstanding.

It is also a taxing matter for the bowler. One example is when the striker steps away outside of the leg stump and then steps back in when the ball is bowled. Observing this activity, the bowler may have adjusted the line of delivery towards where the striker had temporarily moved, only to see the ball pass down the leg side, from where the striker had moved at the last second. If the umpire deems that delivery a wide, the bowler will have every right to feel aggrieved. It is difficult enough for many club cricketers to deliver the ball accurately and consistently to where they intend, let alone adjust that line in an instant.

Lateral movement across the crease has not yet infiltrated too much at lower levels. It is not known if cricket’s lawmakers have considered an alternative solution, that of disallowing excessive lateral movement across the crease and insisting that the striker stands still awaiting delivery of the ball. This may need consideration if the amendment causes too much controversy. It is too early to know how these two revisions will affect the playing and umpiring of the game or their potential to generate ill-feeling. 

It ought not to be difficult for a non-striker to stay within ground, in the knowledge that failure to do so can lead to being legitimately run out. Equally, it should not be difficult to legislate that a striker stands still until the ball is being delivered.


No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming
Updated 29 September 2022

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming
  • Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back
  • Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team

BERLIN: The international break provided little respite for Bayern Munich’s struggling stars ahead of the team’s high-stakes Bundesliga game against Bayer Leverkusen on Friday.
Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back to training on Wednesday after what proved to be a frustrating two games with the national team.
The rain they encountered in Munich matched the mood.
Bayern, after four games without a win in the Bundesliga, had been hoping that Germany’s Nations League games against Hungary and England would help reinvigorate their players and restore confidence ahead of a busy schedule of domestic and Champions League games.
Instead, Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team, which lost 1-0 at home to Hungary, then drew 3-3 with England after throwing away a two-goal lead.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer and midfielder Leon Goretzka missed the Germany games due to coronavirus infections, but both were back on the training field for Nagelsmann on Tuesday.
Nagelsmann had said he was going to use the break to think “about everything” after Bayern ended their run of three draws with a loss in Augsburg, the team’s first defeat of the season.
Only a convincing performance on Friday will ease the pressure on the coach, who seemed to be at a loss to explain his team’s slump. Bayern next face a visit to Borussia Dortmund for “der Klassiker” the following weekend.
Leverkusen also need to make amends after their disappointing start. Gerardo Seoane’s team are in crisis after just one win from seven league games so far.
“Both teams are in a similar situation – each at their own level. Both are dissatisfied with the results, but both also show many positive signs,” Seoane said.
“Bayern Munich had an incredible number of scoring chances in every game. We don’t need to talk about quality.”


Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up
Updated 29 September 2022

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up
  • BRX’s French driver holds one-point lead over Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar

AGADIR: Sebastien Loeb is set for another tense battle with Nasser Al-Attiyah as he looks to build on his lead in the World Rally-Raid Championship when the Rallye du Maroc gets underway on Saturday.

Loeb, driving one of three Prodrive Hunters entered by Bahrain Raid Xtreme, holds a slender one-point advantage over Al-Attiyah as the inaugural W2RC series resumes in Agadir after a seven-month break.

Partnered by Fabian Lurquin, nine-time World Rally champion Loeb and the rest of the BRX team recently covered 2,500 km of testing in Morocco, in temperatures close to 50 C, a demanding preparation not only for the Rallye du Maroc, but also the 2023 Dakar Rally.

“We had a good feeling with the car and it was reliable, too, so everything is working well,” said Loeb.

“At the moment we are leading, but we know Nasser will be fast in Morocco and the gap is very small. So we have to fight hard to get some more good points for the title.”

Loeb finished runner-up to Al-Attiyah in this year’s Dakar before grabbing the championship lead from the Qatari in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in March.

Argentina’s Orly Terranova and Spanish co-driver Alex Haro, who finished fourth in the Dakar, are also back in action with BRX in Morocco, while Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit will be partnered by Alex Winocq in a third Prodrive Hunter.

After being diagnosed with cancer in March and battling through treatment, BRX’s Nani Roma rejoined the team months ahead of schedule for testing in Morocco, having already been instrumental in the development of the Hunter.

The two-time Dakar winner has been equally involved in the development of the world’s first all-terrain hypercar, based on the Hunter rally car, which is being built in limited numbers to the individual specifications of select supercar enthusiasts.

Roma will be demonstrating and testing the Hunter hypercar for prospective buyers in Dubai in November. He will continue to work with BRX throughout the team’s rally program, which continues with the Andalucia Rally, the final round of the W2RC, from Oct. 18-21.

However, it is too late in the schedule for Roma to compete with the team in Morocco and Spain next month, and Dakar in January 2023.

From Agadir, Rallye du Maroc heads out for six stages covering 1,575 km and featuring more sand than seen in previous years. The BRX cars will again be using sustainable Eco-Power fuel, which reduces CO2 emissions by 80 percent.

Gus Beteli, the BRX team principal, said: “Following a very positive test in Morocco, we’re very much looking forward to being back rallying against the competition, the clock and the desert.

“Seb, Orly and Guerlain have further improved the package we have through not leaving any angle unexplored for this World Championship push. These are busy but exciting times at BRX.”