Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah wins Dakar Rally, Saudi Yazeed Al Rajhi takes third

Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah wins Dakar Rally, Saudi Yazeed Al Rajhi takes third
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Updated 14 January 2022

Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah wins Dakar Rally, Saudi Yazeed Al Rajhi takes third

Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah wins Dakar Rally, Saudi Yazeed Al Rajhi takes third
  • British rider Sam Sunderland won his second Dakar motorbike title

JEDDAH: Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched his fourth Dakar Rally title on Friday in Jeddah after leading from the first stage on New Year’s Day.
Al-Attiyah could afford to let nearest rival Sebastien Loeb, the former nine-time rally world champion, beat him by more than five minutes on the 12th and last sandy stage from Bisha and still cruise to overall victory by more than 27 minutes. The Qatari previously won in 2011, 2015 and 2019.
British rider Sam Sunderland won his second Dakar motorbike title after beating stage winner Pablo Quintanilla of Chile by 3 1/2 minutes, the closest margin since 1994.
But the rally’s end was overshadowed by the road crash death of a support staff member from the PH Sport team on a liaison route.
Quentin Lavalée, aged 20 of France, was killed when the car he was driving collided with a local truck, police told Dakar Rally organizers. A passenger with Lavalée, Maxime Frere of Belgium, was injured and taken to a Jeddah hospital. Lavalee was a chief mechanic.
Al-Attiyah was runner-up in the last two Dakars in Saudi Arabia, and focused on rallying in the past year without sharing time with sport shooting or powerboating. Plagued by punctures on the Dakar, he fine-tuned a Toyota with bigger tires and suspension and came to Saudi having won seven rallies.
His biggest rivals struck trouble early. Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel lost a rear wheel and three-time champ Carlos Sainz made a bad navigation error. Loeb’s drive shaft broke and by the rest day a week ago, Al-Attiyah had a 50-minute lead.
Loeb desperately chipped at the gap in search of his first Dakar title but Al-Attiyah and co-driver Matthieu Baumel expertly avoided trouble.
“It was an incredible Dakar for us. The whole race went without a hitch,” Al-Attiyah said. “We opened up a gap on the first day and have since managed our lead. We’re really happy, and I reckon we’ll start thinking of the next Dakar in a week or 10 days.”
Al-Attiyah’s fourth Dakar tied him for second most with Ari Vatanen. Peterhansel leads with eight.
Loeb’s second place matched his 2017 result in Argentina.
“We never stopped attacking, so we have no regrets,” Loeb said. “Nasser has tons of experience and a co-driver who only makes mistakes once in a blue moon, so he controlled the race to perfection. I still had a blast, though, because every time we gained time on him, it felt great.”
Saudi driver Yazeed Al Rajhi was third for his first Dakar podium at his eighth attempt.
Sunderland’s preparation wasn’t ideal. Riding for his new team GasGas, he had a bad crash at the Rally Kazakhstan and retired ill from the Morocco Rally. Yet, he led throughout the first week of the Dakar and when he was challenged in the second week, timed his winning run to perfection.
“I had a pretty rough season, but when you win the Dakar, it’s all worth it,” Sunderland said.
Quintanilla was runner-up for the second time in three Dakars.
“It was physically and mentally exhausting. But I’m really pleased with my performance,” Quintanilla said.
Austrian rider Matthias Walkner, the 2018 champion and twice runner-up, was nearly seven minutes back in third overall which, he said, “almost feels like a victory.”
Sunderland’s brother-in-law, Adrien van Beveren of France, was fourth, and Joan Barreda of Spain fifth while carrying a shoulder injury.
Mason Klein, the 20-year-old American on debut, was ninth, 13 seconds ahead of two-time winner Toby Price of Australia.


Real Madrid defeat Athletic Bilbao to win Spanish Super Cup

Real Madrid defeat Athletic Bilbao to win Spanish Super Cup
Updated 40 sec ago

Real Madrid defeat Athletic Bilbao to win Spanish Super Cup

Real Madrid defeat Athletic Bilbao to win Spanish Super Cup

RIYADH: Real Madrid won the Spanish Super Cup by beating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 on Sunday as Luka Modric and a Karim Benzema penalty secured a comfortable victory in Saudi Arabia.
Modric's curling finish towards the end of the first half and Benzema's strike early in the second sealed the win for Madrid, who claimed their first trophy in Carlo Ancelotti's second spell as coach.


Liverpool beat Brentford to move up to second in the table

Liverpool beat Brentford to move up to second in the table
Updated 16 January 2022

Liverpool beat Brentford to move up to second in the table

Liverpool beat Brentford to move up to second in the table
  • Reds cope without the absence of key players Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool kept their slim hopes of reeling in Manchester City at the top of the Premier League alive by seeing off Brentford 3-0 at Anfield to move up to second in the table on Sunday.

Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino scored the goals as the Reds coped without the absence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Victory lifts Jurgen Klopp’s men to within 11 points of the runaway leaders, but they also have a game in hand on City.

Liverpool failed to take advantage of an extra man for over an hour as Thursday’s League semifinal, first leg against Arsenal ended 0-0, sparking fears of how they will cope for the rest of the month without two of their main sources of goals.

But a Brentford side that have not won a league game away from home since early October never threatened to cause an upset.

Klopp made just two changes from the Arsenal stalemate as Curtis Jones and Oxlade-Chamberlain were recalled to add extra creativity and dynamism to the midfield.

He was rewarded with a bright start as Diogo Jota headed over, Trent Alexander-Arnold flashed a shot just off target and Alvaro Fernandez made a brilliant save to deny Virgil van Dijk.

However, the crowd were growing restless until Brentford allowed Alexander-Arnold’s corner to bounce inside the area and Fabinho headed in at the back post. The Bees went toe-to-toe with Liverpool in a pulsating 3-3 draw when the sides last met in September.

But the visitors only created one big chance to get back in the game when Bryan Mbuemo turned Joel Matip and shot inches wide.

Jota hit the post and then should have scored when firing too close to Fernandez in a one-on-one.

There was no doubt over the outcome, though, once Oxlade-Chamberlain’s diving header turned Andy Robertson’s perfect cross into the bottom corner.

Brentford were architects of their own downfall for the third goal as Fernandez’s pass out from the back was seized upon by Roberto Firmino and he teed up Minamino to slot home from close range. The home fans could relax for the final 15 minutes and pointedly took the chance to chant the name of former manager Rafael Benitez, who was sacked by rivals Everton on Sunday.

The Toffees are in danger of falling into a relegation battle after one win in 13 league games.

Brentford, by contrast, still enjoy a 10-point cushion over the bottom three in their first season in the top-flight for 74 years but remain in 14th.


Benitez sacked as Everton manager

Benitez sacked as Everton manager
Updated 16 January 2022

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.