Egypt and Liverpool fans hope for their own Mo Salah happy resolutions

If there is to be a chance of adding to the record seven African Cup of Nations titles, then Egypt need to get the best out of red-hot Liverpool star Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
If there is to be a chance of adding to the record seven African Cup of Nations titles, then Egypt need to get the best out of red-hot Liverpool star Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Egypt and Liverpool fans hope for their own Mo Salah happy resolutions

If there is to be a chance of adding to the record seven African Cup of Nations titles, then Egypt need to get the best out of red-hot Liverpool star Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
  • The 29-year-old star was peripheral in his country’s 1-0 loss to Nigeria, while his absence was felt by his club in 0-0 draw with Arsenal

There are fears in Egypt of another disappointing international tournament for Mohamed Salah, and given how important he is for his country, that would mean failure for the Pharaohs.

If there is to be a chance of adding to the record seven African Cup of Nations titles, then the national team need to get the best out of the red-hot Liverpool star.

Ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Egypt’s appearance in the competition was overshadowed by the shoulder injury that Salah picked up in the final of the UEFA Champions League against Real Madrid just weeks earlier. The question as to how fit he was followed the team all around the tournament.

I attended a St. Petersburg pre-match press conference and the Russian players grew increasingly exasperated before their clash with the North Africans as they had to field question after question on Salah. Egypt fans will be hoping that his contract negotiation with Liverpool does not turn into another cloud.

It is becoming a bigger and bigger story, though it is unlikely to have been the reason for Egypt losing 1-0 to Nigeria in the opening game of AFCON 2021 on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old was a peripheral figure and could do little given the service, or the lack of it, he received from his teammates. Nigeria worked to cut off the supply from midfield and it was an effective tactic, as the Super Eagles coach Augustine Eguavoen explained after the game. “I’d like to congratulate my players. We had respect for Egypt and we just played our game,” he said. “Egypt only played on giving Salah spaces to run. It’s their only play, so we just had to keep the ball away from him.”

They did just that, and it now presents a headache for Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz. A win against Guinea-Bissau on Saturday is now not only necessary to get some points on the board, but a good performance is also needed to help fans forget the display against Nigeria in Garoua. Queiroz also needs to get his star shining. There is not yet a crisis — with the top two from each of the six-team groups going through as well as the four best-performing third-placed teams — but there has to be improvement.

The ideal situation would see Salah banging in a couple of goals and breaking a barren run for his country that has now reached six games.

That would be huge news back in Liverpool, where Salah’s contract situation has become the talk of the city. His current deal expires in the summer of 2023. It means that the player will be able to start talking to other teams next January and move for nothing a few months later. But Salah has indicated that he wants to stay at the six-time champions and has put the ball in the club’s court.

“I know Mo wants to stay. We want Mo to stay,” Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said on Wednesday. “These things take time, but I think all of it is in a good place. I’m very positive about it. But as long as it is not done, we can’t say anything about it. Good conversations — that’s what I can say.”

A day later, Liverpool’s resolve to keep Salah surely strengthened as they looked short of firepower in a 0-0 draw against a 10-man Arsenal. The English papers were quick to point out the problem.

“Liverpool receive warning over life without Mo Salah and Sadio Mane in Arsenal draw,” was the Daily Mirror’s headline — just one of many pointing out that the Reds need the Egyptian.

Not only has he been consistently excellent since arriving in 2017, Salah has climbed to even greater heights in England this season, with 23 goals in 26 games.

After the stalemate, leading UK pundit and former Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher told the club to hasten the signing of a new contract for the Egyptian star. “I would love this deal to be done as quickly as possible,” he said on television, adding that Salah has provided incredible value for money in his five years so far.

“I don’t think they (the club and owners) would be forgiven if Salah left this club in the summer or in 18 months’ time. He’s a Liverpool legend and one of the greatest players the club has ever had. Salah wants to be paid as well as any top player in the Premier League or world football, and why shouldn’t he? He deserves that — we’re talking about one of the best players in the world.”

Few Reds would disagree. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then fans at Anfield woke up on Friday morning even more in love with Salah than before. That love only extends so far, however, as supporters would be delighted if Egypt exit at the earliest stage so that Salah can return to England.

For the player himself, it may not be a bad thing for his club to be reminded of just how much he brings, but his imminent concern is Egypt recovering from a poor start and living up to their record as the most successful team in the tournament’s history. To do that, coach Queiroz and the rest of the Egyptian team need to get the best out of their talisman, starting on Saturday against Guinea-Bissau.

Both club and country have their own Salah questions to answer, and while Egypt’s is more pressing, Liverpool cannot afford to wait too much longer.


Benitez sacked as Everton manager

Benitez sacked as Everton manager
Updated 30 min ago

Benitez sacked as Everton manager

Benitez sacked as Everton manager
  • Benitez was an unpopular appointment in June last year after his long spell with Everton’s Merseyside rivals Liverpool
  • Former Everton forward Wayne Rooney, currently impressing as manager of second tier Derby, is the bookmakers’ favorite to replace Benitez

LONDON: Rafael Benitez was sacked as Everton manager on Sunday after just 200 days in charge of the struggling Premier League club.
Benitez was an unpopular appointment in June last year after his long spell with Everton’s Merseyside rivals Liverpool.
The Spaniard paid the price for a dismal run of nine defeats in Everton’s last 13 league matches, culminating in a 2-1 loss at lowly Norwich on Saturday.
“Everton Football Club can confirm the departure of Rafael Benitez as first-team manager,” a club statement said.
“Benitez, who joined Everton in June 2021, has left the club with immediate effect.
“An update on a permanent replacement will be made in due course.”
Former Everton forward Wayne Rooney, currently impressing as manager of second tier Derby, is the bookmakers’ favorite to replace Benitez.
Rooney is a boyhood Everton fan who had two spells at the club as a player either side of his successful time at Manchester United.
He has kept Derby competitive in the Championship despite dealing with a pair of points deductions and the club’s descent in administration.
Rooney’s former Everton team-mate Frank Lampard, sacked by Chelsea last year, is another contender for the job.
Brighton boss Graham Potter and Paulo Fonseca, whose last job was with Roma, could also be in the running.
Under Benitez, Everton earned just 19 points in 19 league matches, their lowest tally at the halfway stage of a season since 2005-06.
Everton fans had made clear their desire for Benitez to be axed during the limp loss at Norwich.
They chanted for his dismissal and held up a banner reading ‘Benitez get out of our club’, while one supporter invaded the pitch in an attempt to confront the former Real Madrid boss.
Everton held an emergency board meeting on Saturday evening to discuss Benitez’s future, with the talks leading to his departure on Sunday.
Benitez’s controversial appointment to replace Carlo Ancelotti after the Italian’s move to Real Madrid was a major gamble by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri.
Benitez had infuriated Everton fans by describing them as a “small” club during his time at Liverpool, who he led to a Champions League final triumph against AC Milan in 2005.
Merseyside police investigated a threatening banner near Benitez’s house which read: ‘We know where you live, don’t sign’ before his appointment.
Last month, Moshiri stood by Benitez, claiming the 61-year-old would be given time to get things right with new signings and injured players coming back.
But Everton’s results have shown no signs of improving and, with the mood among the fans increasingly toxic, it was clear Benitez would have to go.
Across Stanley Park, Liverpool fans celebrated their rivals’ latest woes by chanting Benitez’s name when news of his sacking reached Anfield during Liverpool’s match against Brentford.
Benitez leaves Goodison Park with Everton languishing in 16th place, just six points above the relegation zone.


Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia a win-win for football officials of both nations

Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia a win-win for football officials of both nations
Updated 16 January 2022

Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia a win-win for football officials of both nations

Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia a win-win for football officials of both nations
  • Television revenue and prize money from competition provide major financial boost for ailing Spanish clubs, while the Kingdom offers another global event that allows fans to see some of the world’s finest athletes up close

It is hardly surprising that Saudi Arabian football fans have embraced the Spanish Super Cup taking place in Riyadh. This is far more than just another sporting event.

Tickets for the first semifinal between Real Madrid and Barcelona — arguably the two most popular foreign clubs among football followers in the Kingdom — sold out within an hour of going on sale, which confirms that this tournament could well become part of the fabric of the Saudi Vision 2030 launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

As part of several local and international sporting events held in the country, it was agreed in 2019 to hold the Spanish Super Cup over a period of three years in Saudi Arabia.

The decision backed by Prince Mansour bin Khalid Al-Farhan, the Kingdom’s ambassador to Spain; Yasser Al-Mishal, president of the Saudi  Arabian Football Federation; Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation; and parties from Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well representatives of other elite clubs in Spain.

The move was not without controversy, however, with Spanish fans and media expressing resentment that the mini-tournament had been taken abroad.

Nevertheless the decision will benefit Spanish football financially — helping stave off bankruptcy for some clubs — and in terms of global exposure.

The Spanish Football Federation earns more than $8 million per year from television broadcasting rights, which means that in a four-day tournament, it will receive about $24 million from the agreed three editions.

The 2020-21 edition of the competition did not take place in Saudi Arabia due to the pandemic, but was held in Andalusia, with the final played at Seville’s La Cartuja stadium behind closed doors.

For 2021-22 Saudi Arabia was again able hold the tournament, prompting the president of the Spanish federation to announce the renewal of the current contract until 2029, which means that the Royal Andalusian Football Federation will receive between $274 million and $365 million.

This year, Real Madrid and Barcelona received $7.8 million each, while the other semifinalists, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid, took only $913,000, with the difference explained by the popularity and history of the former two clubs.

Tournament prize money will reach $16 million, with the winner getting $4.3 million and the runner-up $3.2 million. The losing semifinalists will receive $913,000.

Should Real Madrid win the title, total earnings could reach $13.7 million, given the commercial and advertising revenues.

Rubiales has said more than once that the arrangement with Saudi Arabia will help save Spanish football, in economic terms, especially following the outbreak of the global pandemic.

The Kingdom’s leadership and sporting officials are keen that the Spanish Super Cup is integrated into the Vision 2030 plan and the “Quality of Life” program for Saudi fans, especially as it comes during the Riyadh season, which is organized and managed by Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the Entertainment Authority.

Since the announcement of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has hosted a growing number of international sporting events and competitions.

The Italian Super Cup preceded its Spanish counterpart, while motorsports also have thrived, with the Dakar Rally, Formula E and, most recently, the Saudi Arabian Formula 1 Grand Prix all here to stay.

Many other sports, from golf to WWE and horse racing’s Saudi Cup, have become annual events, too.

The high profile of the Spanish Super Cup fits in that calendar.

For the Spanish authorities the competition offers a financial boost for the game and its clubs, while for Saudi Arabia’s sporting leadership it is about bringing entertainment to the people of the Kingdom.


Aussie jockey Caitlin Jones relishing Dubai opportunity 

Aussie jockey Caitlin Jones relishing Dubai opportunity 
Updated 16 January 2022

Aussie jockey Caitlin Jones relishing Dubai opportunity 

Aussie jockey Caitlin Jones relishing Dubai opportunity 
  • Rider will partner He’s A Balter for trainer Will Clarken at the Dubai World Cup Carnival

A trip to the UAE will be a whole new experience for Australian jockey Caitlin Jones, who is set to partner He’s A Balter at the Dubai World Cup Carnival.

The 32-year-old is based at Morphettville in South Australia and took over from jockey Linda Meech for He’s A Balter’s most recent run, when the Will Clarken-trained gelding finished third in the Listed Christmas Handicap at Morphettville on Dec. 11.

That run set He’s A Balter up perfectly for the trip to Dubai, where he will be aimed at the carnival’s lucrative turf sprint program.

Jones is excited about the opportunity.

“I have never been to Dubai but certainly had it as one place to travel to in the future,” she said. “Meydan is a world-class racecourse.”

She added: “The best jockeys from around the world go to Dubai to race and it will be a privilege to be among them. I’m excited to see the training facilities and the outstanding grandstand in real life, not just looking at pictures. I want to make the most of my days by learning about the culture and the making of such a fascinating city. And, of course, meeting so many new people who all have such a passion and respect for horse racing.”

Jones has an extensive background in horses. “I was in the stables in my pram at just a few days old,” she said.

The leading rider has racked up 274 winners so far, including a pair of Listed successes. Over the past six months she has built a stronger association with the Clarken stable, which will also send seven-year-old gelding Parsifal to Dubai.

“Since becoming a senior rider, I have tried to establish a place in a few stables at Morphettville as it is very competitive,” she said.

“I would say it is only over the last six months that I have got more involved with Will Clarken’s stable and try to ride as much as I possibly can for him. Todd Pannell is stable rider for him and his team, and deservedly so.”

He’s A Balter represents managing owner Anthony Panozzo, who previously traveled to Dubai with another sprinter, Illustrious Lad, which ran fifth in the 2008 Al-Quoz Sprint. That will be the ultimate target for He’s A Balter, assuming the gelding progresses through the carnival.

“There is really only one word for He’s A Balter — gentleman,” Jones said. “He’s a pleasure to ride and to be around in the stables. He enjoys pats and cuddles, but is very genuine in his efforts out on the racetrack.”

There will be plenty of pats and cuddles if He’s A Balter can bring about a famous Aussie success for his enthusiastic connections.


Djokovic loses deportation appeal in Australia

Djokovic loses deportation appeal in Australia
Updated 16 January 2022

Djokovic loses deportation appeal in Australia

Djokovic loses deportation appeal in Australia
  • A deportation order usually also includes a three-year ban on returning to Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia: Novak Djokovic’s hopes of playing at the Australian Open were dashed Sunday after a court dismissed the top-ranked tennis star’s appeal against a deportation order.
Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made on Friday by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds.
The decision likely means that Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, will remain in detention in Melbourne until he is deported.
A deportation order usually also includes a three-year ban on returning to Australia.
The minister canceled the visa on the grounds that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.”
Djokovic’s visa was initially canceled on Jan. 6 at Melbourne’s airport hours after he arrived to compete in the first Grand Slam of 2022.
A border official canceled his visa after deciding Djokovic didn’t qualify for a medical exemption from Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors.


Real Madrid and Bilbao ready to do battle in Riyadh for first silverware of the season

Real Madrid and Bilbao ready to do battle in Riyadh for first silverware of the season
Updated 16 January 2022

Real Madrid and Bilbao ready to do battle in Riyadh for first silverware of the season

Real Madrid and Bilbao ready to do battle in Riyadh for first silverware of the season
  • The two sides have already faced each other twice in the past month, with Madrid running out winners on both occasions

RIYADH: When Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao take to the pitch in Riyadh on Sunday for the final of the Spanish Super Cup, it will be the third time they have faced each other in a month. This time, though, the first silverware of the season is up for grabs.

Reigning Super Cup champions Bilbao earned the chance to defend their title thanks to a 2-1 victory over Atletico Madrid on Thursday, after Real defeated Barcelona 3-2 in extra time the day before.

“We know this team really well because we’ve played them twice already in the past month,” Madrid first-team coach Carlo Ancelotti said during a pre-match press conference in the Saudi capital on Saturday. “Both those games were very competitive and it’ll be the same tomorrow.”

Real emerged victorious over Bilbao in both of their encounters in December. Their familiarity with each other means Sunday’s encounter at the King Fahd International Stadium could well be a tactical battle between both managers to see who learned the most from those recent match-ups.

Commenting on how often the two teams have met lately, Thibaut Courtois, Real’s first-choice goalkeeper, said: “It feels like the NBA, playing Athletic so many times.”

Asked about the recent defeats by Madrid, Bilbao manager Marcelino Toral said: “Madrid got off to a powerful start, in six minutes they penalized us, at San Mames. We have to avoid these situations.”

Ancelotti will have to manage without the services of star player Marco Asensio, who is dealing with a muscular injury and has been ruled out of the final. Real’s last appearance in a Super Cup final was in 2019-2020, when they defeated Atletico Madrid in Jeddah to lift the cup.