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.


Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give

Updated 8 sec ago

Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give

Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give
ROME: José Mourinho sees no reason to stop now after reaching another European final while approaching his 60th birthday.
The 59-year-old Mourinho was asked Wednesday if critics had been too quick to write him and 62-year-old Carlo Ancelotti off too quickly.
Mourinho’s Roma will meet Feyenoord in the Europa Conference League final next week. Three days later, Ancelotti’s Real Madrid team will play Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Both coaches had mixed results in their previous jobs in England at Tottenham (Mourinho) and Everton (Ancelotti).
“The problem with Carlo was that when you coach Everton you definitely won’t win the Champions League. My problem is that people looked at it as me taking on jobs to win but it wasn’t about winning,” Mourinho said. “When you have a history of repeated success, people can say those things — it doesn’t bother me.”
Next Wednesday’s match in Tirana, Albania, will mark the fifth European final of Mourinho’s career. He has won all four that he’s coached in so far, over a span of nearly two decades: the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League finals with Porto; the 2010 Champions League final with Inter Milan; and the 2017 Europa League final with Manchester United.
Still, younger coaches like Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp have attracted more attention than Mourinho in recent years.
“I don’t think about it as ‘the new generation,’ or ‘a different generation,’” Mourinho said. “Quality has no age. The same thing applies to players. There are players who are great at 20 and players who are great at 40.
“When you don’t have the passion anymore that’s when you’re done. When you don’t feel a bit of pressure before these games that means you’re done,” Mourinho added. “I know it for myself and I know Carletto (Ancelotti) fairly well. When you’ve got the passion and the quality, it’s up to us to say when we’re done. We’re the ones who will decide when to quit. But I think you’ll have to wait a while. Because it won’t be soon.”

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team
Updated 18 May 2022

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team
  • Team’s mission will be to improve Saudi participation in auto events, with ultimate aim of taking part in Le Mans 24 Hours

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver Reema Juffali on Wednesday announced that she has launched a new team, Theeba Motorsport, which is set to enter motor racing’s GT3 world stage in 2022.

The team’s mission will be to improve Saudi participation and representation in the motorsport industry.

Juffali, said: “After a very successful debut weekend in the International GT Open with SPS Automotive, I’m very proud to announce the formation of Theeba Motorsport and to unveil our plans for the 2022 season.”

Since becoming the first female Saudi racing driver, Juffali has forged a reputation as a role model and will continue to make waves in the next chapter of her career as she seeks to spark further change in the Kingdom.

In 2019, she made history by becoming the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an international race in her home country and, alongside driving, will take her first steps into team management this year.

Theeba Motorsport will provide a platform for Saudis to learn about and take part in motorsport through a variety of engineering, mechanical and commercial internship and apprenticeship programs.

The team hopes to one day compete at the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours race under a Saudi Arabian license.

“As a team, we have a purpose that extends far beyond the race track, and it is our ambition to improve Saudi Arabian representation and access to motorsport,” Juffali said.

“While we want to create a place in racing for the Kingdom, we also want to create opportunities and will provide a space for Saudi people to get involved in a series of hands-on internship and apprenticeship programs. This will, hopefully, culminate in a majority Saudi team one day racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

Theeba Motorsport will take its first competitive steps in 2022 by contesting the International GT Open Championship — one of Europe’s highest tiers of GT3 racing.

Following a winning debut at Estoril with SPS Automotive, Juffali will compete in all remaining races in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO, and will be partnered by long-time friend, driver coach and GT ace Adam Christodoulou.

“We will take our first steps in the International GT Open in 2022 — a series that I believe will offer a competitive platform to race in while also offering the chance to develop and learn,” said Juffali.

“This is only the first step and a starting point in what will be a long journey to find Saudi Arabia’s place in the motor racing world and I’m extremely excited to see what the future holds.”

After its Estoril season-opener, the International GT Open will visit six other circuits in 2022, staring at Paul Ricard on May 20-22, and moving on to Spa, the Hungaroring, Red Bull Ring, Monza and Barcelona in 12 races from that will run until October.


Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
Updated 18 May 2022

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
  • There were rumors that Al-Shabab had a bid for the Uruguayan turned down, while others claim James Rodriguez is angling for a move to the Kingdom

It is no surprise that the Birmingham Mail is getting excited as it reports that local giants Aston Villa are one of three clubs, along with Seville and Inter Milan, in the running to sign Luis Suarez, after Atletico Madrid announced that the Uruguayan star is leaving at the end of the current season.

The newspaper also mentions that a bid from Saudi Arabia, thought to be from Al-Shabab, has been turned down. It has had a few journalists in the Arab world and plenty of people on social media intrigued and excited.

As former teammate at Anfield Steven Gerrard is now in charge of Aston Villa, there is hope that the 1982 European champions are in with a chance to snatch his signature. But the former Liverpool and Barcelona star is now 35 and not quite the force of nature as in years gone by. He is, however, the kind of foreign star that Saudi Arabian clubs should be targeting.

There are plenty of top-class foreign players in the Saudi Professional League. The likes of Odion Ighala, Moussa Marega, Matheus Pereira, Pity Martinez, Talisca, Abderazzak Hamdallah, Omar Al-Somah, Ever Banega, Vincent Aboubakar and Leandre Tawamba, to name just a few, would be welcome in any league in Asia. These are some serious stars and there have been others over the years. After all, the mighty Brazilian legend Rivelino played for Al-Hilal in the 1970s.

Suarez would be a major attraction. There would be major interest around the world if he came to play in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam or elsewhere. The star would bring a certain notoriety too — few could forget his biting of opponents at the domestic and international stages and his famous handball to deny Ghana a place in the semi-final of the 2010 World Cup — and that would also provide a few more narratives for local journalists, commentators and fans to get their teeth stuck into.

The man himself is going to have plenty of offers but this could be a good time to tempt such stars to the country. The likes of Suarez have done pretty much all they want to do in Europe. Now his immediate focus is surely staying fit and ready for the World Cup in Qatar in November where the South Americans have been drawn with Portugal, Ghana and South Korea. What better place to prepare for such a tournament than Saudi Arabia?

The league is in the same region and has the same climate. It has fewer games than Europe and the pace of the games is a little slower but it is also more competitive and has a greater strength in depth than the Qatar Stars League. A year or two in the Middle East before a return to South America could be an ideal way to end a fine career as well as get the forward at peak readiness for the World Cup.

This season, Suarez has not been quite as integral to the plans of Diego Simeone. Of his 34 appearances in the league, 14 have come off the bench. He is no longer an automatic starter but has still managed 11 goals and is still capable of turning a game on its head in an instant. Just look at qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Uruguay finished third, 11 points behind Argentina and a massive 17 behind Brazil in first who also scored 40 goals, 18 more than La Celeste. Suarez scored more than a third of Uruguay’s total, with his eight goals equalling Neymar’s tally and outscoring Lionel Messi by one. Only Bolivia’s Marcelo Mareno managed more.

Suarez can do more than a job at the highest level. The same could be said about James Rodriguez, though there is no World Cup for the Colombian superstar. The former Real Madrid man joined Al-Rayyan in Qatar from Everton in September. The former powerhouse struggled in the league and finished in eighth, though Rodriguez recorded four goals and six assists in his 12 appearances, not a bad return at all.

There has been disquiet however at his non-appearance in the Asian Champions League group stage in April. The club says he has been injured but a number of outlets in South America say that the 30-year-old is angling for a move to Saudi Arabia with the likes of Al-Nassr interested — the Riyadh club have already shown their ambition this year in having a bid for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned down by Arsenal as the Gabonese goalgetter went to Barcelona instead.

There are other players who are coming out of contract and, before being tempted home, could add a little more star glamor to the SPL with the World Cup on the doorstep once again a selling point. Gareth Bale’s troubled time at Real Madrid, albeit one in which he won four European Champions League and three Spanish titles, is coming to an end. There is no way the Welshman is staying in Spain. It could be that the 32-year-old will retire from football completely but that is unlikely if Wales win their World Cup play-off in June to book a place in Qatar. Then there will be another season at least. The likes of Juan Mata and Edison Cavani, soon to be released  by Manchester United, have also been linked with a move to Saudi Arabian teams.

Relying on veteran stars from European leagues should not be a major strategy for Saudi clubs but there are players out there who could do a job on and off the pitch.


UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season
Updated 18 May 2022

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season
  • Country mourns the passing of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan

The UAE Football Association has confirmed that the President’s Cup final between Al-Wahda and Sharjah will be postponed until next season as the country observes a period of mourning after the passing of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, state news agency WAM has reported.

The venue and date of the rescheduled match will be announced at a later time.

Meanwhile, the UAE Pro League has announced that its final round has been rescheduled for May 25 to 26.


Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players
Updated 18 May 2022

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players
  • On Monday night, St. James’ Park was awash with color, energy and noise, and the Magpies responded with a comprehensive 2-0 win over Arsenal

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has backed Newcastle United fans to become the club’s main weapon in their battle to climb the Premier League ranks.

The Magpies looked set to finish the season in and around the top-flight bottom three, but have dragged themselves out of trouble and now have an outside chance of sneaking into the top half on the final day of the season.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround from the rudderless club that started the campaign with Mike Ashley at the helm, Steve Bruce in the dugout, no wins in 14 games and fans becoming ever more disillusioned with their own club.

Fast forward seven months from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia buyout and things couldn’t be more different.

St. James’ Park on Monday night, for the 2-0 victory over Arsenal, was the epitome of that. Awash with color, energy and noise, the famous old ground truly was an assault on the senses with the biggest ever display by fan-funded Wor Flags on show, owners showing their love for the club on the pitch and fans and players responding on a white-hot Tyneside evening.

Howe said: “That’s a huge weapon for us. We have to use as much as we can.

“We have to inspire our crowd, we have to have the supporters come to the ground desperate to see us play and desperate to know what’s going to happen in the match and almost guarantee a team that’s going all out to win the game by playing the way we want too.

“You saw that from the team (on Monday), we were very front foot but not just for fragmented sections of the game but near enough the whole match. An amazing physical effort from the players but a very high delivery of our tactical game plan as well. You have to compliment the group on that.”

For fans, the feeling is that Howe’s first six months at Newcastle could not have really gone any better. He was brought in primarily to save the club from the drop to the Championship, but has managed to do so while developing the side into a much more defensively sound and attractive attacking unit. As a result, Howe was nominated for the Premier League manager of the year, although he’s likely, and probably deservedly, set to be pipped at the post by Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp.

On progress, Howe said: “Of course it could have gone better in certain games and certain moments. When you look back as a whole, you’d have said this will be the outcome and this is how you’ll achieve safety in the division, certainly I would have been surprised if you told me that would happen.

“The group have risen in confidence levels through positive results and the feel of the stadium, they’ve responded to that. It’s been great to see and be part of.

“The group is very close. The dynamic is very good, the players not in the 25-man squad, the players that didn’t play regularly, have been incredibly supportive to the guys that have. There’s been healthy competition in the squad and a very good dynamic, which has certainly helped.”

Meanwhile, Howe has provided a fitness update of three Newcastle United first-team players ahead of their final game of the Premier League season on Sunday, at Burnley’s Turf Moor.

Fabian Schar was forced off midway through the second half of the Arsenal win due to a concussion, while Javier Manquillo and Chris Wood were absent from the squad altogether.

“Fabian, I think, is OK. He was taken off due to protocols,” said Howe. “He wanted to stay on but I think it was the right decision.”

“Manquillo has chicken pox, so that’s why he missed out. Chris Wood had a hip problem, which we hope isn’t too serious.”