Morocco progress, Algeria stumble: 5 things we learned from Arab nations’ second round of matches at 2021 Africa Cup of Nations

Morocco progress, Algeria stumble: 5 things we learned from Arab nations’ second round of matches at 2021 Africa Cup of Nations
A number of high-profile players – from the Premier League and across the globe – are set for an enticing tournament in Cameroon. (AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2022

Morocco progress, Algeria stumble: 5 things we learned from Arab nations’ second round of matches at 2021 Africa Cup of Nations

Morocco progress, Algeria stumble: 5 things we learned from Arab nations’ second round of matches at 2021 Africa Cup of Nations
  • Mohamed Salah’s goal gives Egypt a much-needed win, while Tunisia recovers from controversial defeat to Mali to thrash Mauritania

The second round of matches at the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations saw the tournament get into gear, with redemption and mouth-watering final group games awaiting. Here are five things we learned from the latest round of action.

1. Algeria lose record chance, but have bigger issues

Algeria’s 1-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea is the shock of the tournament so far. This was the game when the defending champions were expected to extend their unbeaten record to 36, one short of Italy’s world record. That chance has gone, but coach Djamel Belmadi has bigger problems as his team are bottom of the group with one point and need a win against leaders Ivory Coast on Thursday.

The Desert Foxes were awful on Sunday and it is no surprise that they have yet to score a goal. After winning the Arab Cup with the “A” team in December, it was expected that when the big European stars arrived, they would go to the next level. But this was a disjointed and plodding performance. The best team in Africa were reduced to launching long balls in the direction of Islam Slimani.

Just as worrying was the body language of the players. There is a lot of work to do before a huge game against Ivory Coast, the biggest of the final round of matches. 

2. Egypt deserve their first win, but still a little lucky

After a hugely disappointing defeat against Nigeria in the opener, Egypt needed a win against Guinea-Bissau for all kinds of reasons. The 1-0 victory was deserved — the Pharaohs created plenty of chances and hit the woodwork on three occasions — but it came with some fortune.

The good news is that Mohamed Salah, ineffectual almost to the point of invisibility in the first game, scored. The Liverpool star was much busier here and volleyed home what turned out to be the winner at the far post in the second half.

But Egypt were almost left to rue their wastefulness and had VAR to thank for the points. Guinea-Bissau’s shooting had been a little wayward, but with eight minutes remaining Mama Balde cut into the box from the left side and curled home a beauty. The referee went to check a possible foul in the build-up and the goal was ruled out.

It was the kind of win that will not be long remembered, but one that can get a team’s tournament up and running. 

3. Morocco in a great position, but need to take chances

Morocco defeated Comoros 2-0 in the second game to become the second team, after hosts Cameroon, to book a place in the round of 16. The Atlas Lions have yet to concede a goal, and a draw in the final game against Gabon, who will also be sure of second place with a point, and first place is assured.

While the challenges have not been especially serious yet, Vahid Halilhodzic’s men are looking solid defensively, but need to become more clinical in the final third. The coach was visibly frustrated as his team missed chance after chance against the tournament debutants, though Morocco are unlikely to come up against a goalkeeper as impressive as Salim Ben Boina very often.

Despite the kinks that need to be ironed out, Morocco are exactly where they want to be — preparing for the group stage with a game to spare.

4. Tunisia take Mali frustration out on Mauritania

The big talking point of the first round was the referee blowing for full-time before the 90 minutes was up as Tunisia lost 1-0 to Mali. The Carthage Eagles channelled their anger in the right way and were two goals up inside the first 10 minutes as they defeated Mauritania 4-0.

There was never any doubt as to the outcome once Tunisia were ahead, and the winning margin would have been bigger had substitute Youssef Msakni not hit the post with a late penalty. 

Coach Mondher Kebaier will be delighted that captain and talismanic forward Wahbi Khazri scored twice and looked lively. There will be tougher tests to come for Tunisia, but at least the team look to be moving through the gears. The initial target is to avoid unnecessarily tough opposition in the knockout round, and that means finishing in the top two in the group to avoid a possible meeting with Morocco. Defeat surprise group leaders Gambia and all will be well.

5. Sudan still fighting

A 3-1 loss to Nigeria was not unexpected as the Super Eagles were on top from start to finish. Sudan asked a few questions, however, and can take confidence from their performance against a team that has been perhaps the most impressive in the tournament so far. 

Nigerian star Moses Simon was impressed with the Secretary Birds, and agreed that the game with Sudan was harder than the previous win over Egypt. 

“We knew they were more difficult for us, but we expected it and we were ready for them,” he said.

Sudan may be bottom of the group with one point along with Guinea-Bissau, but still have the chance for glory.

If the Secretary Birds can defeat neighbors Egypt in the final game, a big if to be sure, then they will go through to the next stage and pick up one of their biggest results since winning the title in 1970.

World’s media hail Al-Hilal’s 18th Saudi Pro League title triumph

World’s media hail Al-Hilal’s 18th Saudi Pro League title triumph
Al-Hilal's Argentine coach Ramon Diaz (third from left) celebrates winning the Saudi Pro League title. (Arriyadiyah)
Updated 12 sec ago

World’s media hail Al-Hilal’s 18th Saudi Pro League title triumph

World’s media hail Al-Hilal’s 18th Saudi Pro League title triumph
  • Outlets in Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria and other international networks celebrate third consecutive trophy for the reigning Asian champions

The world’s media has hailed Al-Hilal’s record-extending 18th Saudi Pro League title after Ramon Diaz’s team defeated Al-Faisaly 2-1 at King Fahd International Stadium on Monday night.

The victory secured a third consecutive domestic title for the reigning Asian champions, finishing two points clear of long-time league leaders Al-Ittihad.

Argentina’s El Grafico highlighted the achievement of compatriot Diaz and several other South American players in Al-Hilal’s ranks, including Matheus Pereira (Brazil), Gustavo Cuellar (Colombia) and Andre Carrillo (Peru). Also, ESPN’s Spanish-language Twitter account posted a photo of the champions with the caption “It’s Ramon’s team.”

Nigerian outlet Sports Brief meanwhile celebrated the role of forward Odion Ighalo who’s double confirmed the title on Monday, and who also bagged the SPL’s Golden Boot for top scorer with 24 goals this season.

Brazilian network TNT congratulated former Flamengo forward Michael Delgado for his contribution to the championship win, while online website Soccernet ran with the headline “Ex-Manchester United star Ighalo leads Al-Hilal to league triumph.”

Morocco crowned 2022 Arab Futsal Cup champions in Dammam

Morocco crowned 2022 Arab Futsal Cup champions in Dammam
Morocco are the 2022 Arab Futsal Cup champions. (SAFF)
Updated 45 min 28 sec ago

Morocco crowned 2022 Arab Futsal Cup champions in Dammam

Morocco crowned 2022 Arab Futsal Cup champions in Dammam
  • A 3-0 win over Iraq sees team retain the title they won in Cairo last year

DUBAI: Morocco are the 2022 Arab Futsal Cup champions after defeating Iraq 3-0 in the final at the Green Hall in Dammam on Tuesday evening.

The 10-team tournament, organized by the Union of Arab Football Associations and hosted by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, kicked off on June 20, and is the sixth edition of the competition.

The triumph sees Morocco retain the trophy they won last year in Cairo, and means they are now two-time champions, a record shared with Egypt and Libya.

Badr bin Abdulrahman Al-Qadi, Saudi deputy minister of sports, presented the victorious North African team with their medal, and Anis Al-Ayan, with the man of the match award.

The award for the best player of the tournament went to Morocco’s Sufian Al-Masrar, and top goalscorer award to Kuwait’s Abdulrahman Al-Taweel.

Iraq’s Zaher Hadi was named the tournament’s best goalkeeper, with the Egyptian team receiving the event’s fair play award.

Gamers8 and Spotify team up for Saudi Arabia’s first live international esports season

Gamers8 and Spotify team up for Saudi Arabia’s first live international esports season
Updated 29 June 2022

Gamers8 and Spotify team up for Saudi Arabia’s first live international esports season

Gamers8 and Spotify team up for Saudi Arabia’s first live international esports season
  • The world’s most popular audio streaming platform will be exclusive partner for the $15m event
  • Highly anticipated anthem by DJ and producer R3HAB, featuring Kingdom’s pop artist Meteb Alshalan, set for release

RIYADH: Gamers8 have unveiled an exclusive partnership with streaming giant Spotify, who will become the official audio streaming partner for the all-new major esports and gaming season taking place live in Riyadh this summer.

Spotify boasts a community of more than 422 million monthly active listeners, including 182 million subscribers, across 183 markets. Under this partnership, gamers and their fans can enjoy specially curated audio inspired by the esports community.

Gamers8, from the creators of Gamers Without Borders, will be held in the Saudi capital from July 14 to Sept. 8, with a total prize pool of $15 million.

Omar Batterjee, head of marketing, communications, and partnerships at the Saudi Esports Federation, said: “Music and audio are an essential part of esports. We are thrilled to partner with Spotify to provide our fans with a one-stop destination where they can enjoy the ultimate curated content and iconic experiences. Together with Spotify, we can collectively combine esports, technology, entertainment, and music to inspire the gaming community, as well as the next generation of gamers and fans.”

Gamers8 will have an official co-curated playlist by Spotify’s music team as well as lists by gaming professionals and celebrities. In addition, Spotify and Gamers8 will create and launch a podcast dedicated to the season in partnership with Rising Giants Network. The eight-episode series will be the go-to place for gaming enthusiasts to hear about the top players through game highlights and one-on-one interviews.

The partnership will also see the release of the highly anticipated Gamers8 anthem produced by DJ and producer R3HAB, featuring Saudi pop artist Meteb Alshalan.

Commenting on the partnership, Nicole Aoun, Spotify’s marketing and partnership lead in Saudi Arabia, said: “While at Spotify, we continue to be laser-focused on growing the creators’ community, we are equally as passionate about creating memorable experiences for the Saudi youth, demonstrating our commitment to the local community.

“The Saudi Esports Federation shares our vision of providing world-class entertainment for the gaming community, and we are thrilled to embark on this journey together, making Saudi gamers and fans connect meaningfully through music and podcasts.”

LIV Golf unveils 12 teams for LIV Golf Invitational Portland

LIV Golf unveils 12 teams for LIV Golf Invitational Portland
Stinger GC, captained by Louis Oosthuizen, third left, will be looking to defend their team title. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 June 2022

LIV Golf unveils 12 teams for LIV Golf Invitational Portland

LIV Golf unveils 12 teams for LIV Golf Invitational Portland
  • All-South African Stinger GC, captained by Louis Oosthuizen, look to defend team title
  • World leading 48-player field also features individuals competing for millions in prize money

JEDDAH: The Saudi-backed LIV Golf company on Wednesday revealed the 12 teams from the 48-player field competing in the LIV Golf Invitational Portland, the tour’s second event of the season taking place from June 30 to July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon.

The LIV Golf Invitational Series features teams of four where players compete as individuals and teams for both points and prize money. Captains and teams are finalized the week of each event, as each tournament may showcase a different field.

In the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational London at Centurion Club, Stinger GC, with captain Louis Oosthuizen and fellow South Africans Charl Schwartzel, Hennie du Plessis and Branden Grace, took first place with a total score of 20-under par. The four players will again compete together to defend the first-ever team title against a field that showcases a variety of new team captains and rosters, as well as major champions and rising stars making their debut.

Every team has a LIV Golf-appointed team captain who selects his squad. All members of the four-player teams, including the captain, compete in the three-day tournament. The player with the lowest 54-hole stroke play total is the individual winner. In the team competition, the best two stroke play scores in the first two rounds will count for each team. For the third and final round, the best three scores will count. The lowest overall team score after 54 holes is the team winner.

Below are the team profiles for the LIV Golf Invitational Portland:

STINGER GC: All four players were born in South Africa. Stinger GC won the inaugural team competition at the LIV Golf Invitational London. Stinger members also took the top three spots on the individual leaderboard (1-Charl Schwartzel, 2-Hennie du Plessis, 3-Branden Grace).

CRUSHERS GC: New LIV Golf member Bryson DeChambeau takes over as captain. DeChambeau replaces Peter Uihlein, who led the team to a runner-up finish in London. Uihlein, fourth individually in London, remains on the team. Newcomers include South Africans Shaun Norris (formerly of 4 Aces) and Justin Harding (formerly of Hy Flyers).

MAJESTICKS GC: Lee Westwood takes over for Ian Poulter as captain of the all-English team. Poulter remains on the team, as does Laurie Canter and Sam Horsfield. Majesticks GC finished third in London and Horsfield was the top Majesticks player, finishing fifth individually. Combined, the players have made more than 1,600 starts professionally.

TORQUE GC: This team has an entirely new lineup consisting of four players born in Japan. Hideto Tanihara (formerly of Iron Heads GC) takes over for Talor Gooch as captain. Other new players include Ryosuke Kinoshita (formerly of Punch GC), Jinichiro Kozuma (formerly of Smash GC) and Yuki Inamori (making his LIV Golf debut). Combined, they’ve made nearly 1,000 starts professionally.

4 ACES GC: Captain Dustin Johnson is the only carryover from London. His new team now includes three fellow Americans — Patrick Reed, Pat Perez and Talor Gooch. Reed and Perez are making their LIV Golf debuts and Gooch was formerly the Torque GC captain. Reed (2018) and Johnson (2020) have won two of the last five Masters. Combined, the four players have made more than 1,350 worldwide starts in professional events.

CLEEKS GC: Martin Kaymer remains captain and Ian Snyman is also a carryover from London. New team members include Scott Vincent (formerly of Smash GC) and Turk Pettit (formerly of Niblicks GC). Snyman and Vincent were among six players who qualified for the LIV Golf Invitational London through the International Series. The four teammates are from different countries — Germany (Kaymer), South Africa (Snyman), Vincent (Zimbabwe) and Pettit (US).

PUNCH GC: Wade Ormsby (captain), Matt Jones and Blake Windred are carryovers from London. Jediah Morgan (formerly of Fireballs GC) joins the now all-Australian team. Punch loses its top performer from London, Ryosuke Kinoshita (T-13th individually).

NIBLICKS GC: Captain Graeme McDowell is the only carryover from London. His new roster consists of Travis Smyth (formerly of Crushers GC), Hudson Swafford (formerly of Torque GC) and James Piot (formerly of Fireballs GC). McDowell was his team’s top performer in London, finishing T-10 individually.

SMASH GC: New LIV Golf member Brooks Koepka takes over as captain of a team with an entirely new roster of players. His younger brother Chase Koepka (formerly of Hy Flyers GC) joins the team, as does Richard Bland (formerly of Crushers GC) and Adrian Otaegui (formerly of Torque GC). Otaegui finished T-6 individually in London.

HY FLYERS GC: Captain Phil Mickelson gets three new members with Matthew Wolff making his LIV Golf debut. Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger (former of Niblicks GC) and Thailand’s Itthipat Buranatanyarat (formerly of Smash GC) join the two Americans. Mickelson and Wolff are former NCAA Division I men’s golf champions.

FIREBALLS GC: Sergio Garcia is the lone carryover. The Spaniard remains captain of a team that includes three players making their LIV Golf debuts and all four players are from Spanish-speaking countries. Abraham Ancer and Carlos Ortiz are from Mexico, and Eugenio Chacarra is from Spain. Chacarra, the number-two ranked amateur making his pro debut in Portland, considers Garcia a mentor. Ancer and Ortiz competed in the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021, while Garcia competed in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

IRON HEADS GC: Kevin Na (captain) and Sadom Kaewkanjana are carryovers from London. Newcomers include Sihwan Kim (formerly Smash GC captain) and Phachara Khongwatmai (formerly of Crushers GC). Na and Kim were born in Seoul, South Korea, and each moved to California at a young age. Khongwatmai and Kaewkanjana are from Thailand.

LIV Golf is owned and operated by LIV Golf Investments whose vision and mission are centered around making holistic and sustainable investments to enhance the global golf ecosystem and unlock the sport’s untapped worldwide potential.

Newcastle set to sign Dutch rising star Sven Botman

Newcastle set to sign Dutch rising star Sven Botman
Updated 29 June 2022

Newcastle set to sign Dutch rising star Sven Botman

Newcastle set to sign Dutch rising star Sven Botman
  • Defender for Lille and national youth side could be Magpies’ third summer signing
  • Deal of about $36m may take United’s summer spending to around $62m

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United have confirmed they’ve agreed a deal in principle to sign Lille’s and the Netherlands’ youth international defender Sven Botman.

Botman is now on the verge of becoming the Magpies’ third first-team signing of the summer so far, following on from the permanent capture of Matt Targett from Aston Villa and England international goalkeeper Nick Pope from recently relegated Burnley.

While the deal is yet to be 100 percent confirmed, United released a statement outlining their agreement with the Ligue 1 outfit for the 22-year-old, who has been a long-time target of the Magpies.

The fee for the player is understood to be in the region of $36 million plus performance-related add-ons, taking United’s summer spending to around $62 million.

Confirming the news, a United statement read: “Newcastle United have agreed a deal in principle with LOSC Lille to sign Dutch defender Sven Botman for an undisclosed fee, holding off competition from a host of European sides to secure the highly rated center-back.

“Botman has completed his medical on Tyneside and agreed the terms of a five-year contract.

“The formalities of the transfer are set to be concluded this week, following which the 22-year-old will officially become a Newcastle United player.”

The deal, once concluded, will end a near nine-month-long chase for the player, who was earmarked as the Magpies’ number-one transfer target post-takeover.

The Magpies saw two offers rejected for the player in the January transfer window, but were not deterred in their pursuit, with the player and his representatives making it clear they would be keen to sign for the club.

And while AC Milan appeared confident they would beat Newcastle to the former Ajax academy graduate’s signature, United’s bid won out to deliver the central defender that head coach Eddie Howe wanted to spearhead his defensive rebuild on Tyneside.

Arab News understands the reason the deal has not been completely rubber-stamped is due to paperwork delays from the French side, with all formalities from a United perspective signed and sealed. Despite this, there are no fears that it will not be green-lighted this week.

Taking to social media, Botman expressed his delight at putting pen to paper on his new five-year deal.

Via his Instagram, Botman posted: “Official. Happy to be part of the Magpies family!”

His post was accompanied by three photos, one of him holding up the new home shirt, and two others with his family and representatives pitchside at St James’ Park.

As is very much their style, two of the Newcastle United ownership group also took to Twitter to welcome the new arrival.

PCP Capital Partners’ Mehrdad Ghodoussi tweeted: “Welcome to the family Sven.”

While Jamie Reuben, of RB Sports & Media, said: “Welcome to the best club in the world.”