Al-Hilal handed kind draw in 2022 AFC Champions League group stages

Al-Hilal handed kind draw in 2022 AFC Champions League group stages
The draw for the 2022 AFC Champions League, made on Monday in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, has given the Saudi champions a chance for revenge against the Tajikistan powerhouse. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2022

Al-Hilal handed kind draw in 2022 AFC Champions League group stages

Al-Hilal handed kind draw in 2022 AFC Champions League group stages
  • Asian, Saudi champions will get chance to avenge only defeat on way to last year’s record 4th continental title, while Al-Shabab, Al-Faisaly will face UAE, Qatari powerhouses

RIYADH: When Al-Hilal lifted a record fourth Asian title in November to spark celebrations among millions of fans, there was one slight tinge of regret.

The Saudi Arabian giants lost 4-1 to tournament debutants Istiklol in the group stage and only made it to the last 16 by the narrowest of margins.

The draw for the 2022 AFC Champions League, made on Monday in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, has given the Saudi champions a chance for revenge against the Tajikistan powerhouse.

Al-Hilal, who defeated Pohang Steelers of South Korea in November’s final, have been placed in Group A of this year’s edition along with Istiklol as well as Al-Rayyan of Qatar. The lineup will be completed by the winner of the play-off between Sharjah of the UAE and Iraq’s Al-Zawraa. All six group games will take place between April 7 and 27 at a yet to be disclosed venue.

It is a draw that will likely be welcomed by coach Leonardo Jardim as continental powerhouses have been avoided – the recent expulsion of Iranian giants Persepolis and Esteghlal is a shame for the tournament but does make things easier for the others.

Istiklol will not be underestimated, however. They ended 2021 with another dominant win in the Tajikistan Higher League, finishing a full 13 points clear of their closest challenger. Al-Hilal fans will remember Manuchekhr Dzhalilov who scored twice in that 4-1 win and the veteran striker ended as top scorer once more in his home league with 18 goals.

The top two teams in Qatar, Al-Sadd and Al-Duhail, have been avoided with Al-Rayyan finishing 25 points behind the former and 12 behind the runners-up. In fact, Laurent Blanc’s men were closer to relegation than the title. Al-Hilal would have few fears of facing either of the play-off winners.

Al-Shabab return to Asia for the first time since 2015 and will also be in the hunt for top spot in Group B. Last season’s Saudi Pro League runners-up will be looking at Al-Jazira of the UAE as their main rivals. The Abu Dhabi club, fifth in the current league season, are UAE champions and have one of Asia’s most feared strikers in Ali Mabkhout, although Al-Shabab, currently in second in Saudi Arabia, have plenty of attacking talent of their own in Odion Ighalo and Ever Banega.

There will be an interesting clash with Mumbai City. The Indian debutants are part of the City Football Group, are coached by Englishman Des Buckingham, and are currently fourth in the Indian Super League. Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya complete a group that Al-Shabab will be looking to get out of.

Al-Faisaly may currently be preoccupied with a relegation battle at home but that may mean a first-ever Asian campaign will come as a welcome respite. A meeting with Qatari powerhouse Al-Sadd, who won their local league by 13 points last season (in a league that has just 22 games) will be tough but Al-Faisaly have shown in winning the King’s Cup that they are a match for any team on their day.

They will be joined by Jordanian giants Al-Wehdat and the winner of the play-off between UAE team Baniyas and Nasaf Qarshi of Uzbekistan. It should be an interesting challenge for Daniel Ramos’ men especially if they can pull away from the drop zone at home before the continental tournament starts.

Al-Taawoun are also fighting against the drop but will move into the group stage if they win a play-off against Syria’s Al-Jaish. If so, a tough campaign awaits with Al-Duhail of Qatar, Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor, and Sepahan of Iran.

Only the top team from each of the five groups in the western zone — the tournament is divided into two geographic halves until the final — are sure of a place in the second round where they will be joined by the three best-performing runners-up.

There are also other issues to be decided. The Asian Football Confederation ruled last week that each of the groups will be held in one centralized venue. The host cities have yet to be announced.

The timings have been changed too, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the 2022 World Cup that will take place in November and December. After the group stage ends on April 27, teams will have to wait until February 2023 to start the knockout rounds. The two-legged final is scheduled to take place on Feb.19 and 26.


Futsal teams kick off Saudi Arabia’s participation at third GCC Games

Futsal teams kick off Saudi Arabia’s participation at third GCC Games
Updated 16 May 2022

Futsal teams kick off Saudi Arabia’s participation at third GCC Games

Futsal teams kick off Saudi Arabia’s participation at third GCC Games
  • Both men and women’s teams will take the field, as will Kingdom’s athletics squads at the tournament in Kuwait

Saudi Arabia’s men’s and women’s futsal teams will on Monday kick off the Kingdom’s bid for glory at the third Gulf Games in Kuwait, which will run until May 31.

The Saudi national athletics team for men and women will also be part of the action on the opening day, with runner Abdullah Abkar joining the 100m qualifiers, while Youssef Masrahi, Mazen Al-Yassin and Mohammed Daoud compete in the 400m qualifiers.

In the women’s athletics, runner Ruaa Al-Sulaimani is a finalist in the 400m, Saja Jalal will compete in the long jump and shot put competitions, and her colleague Lojien Al-Hamid will run in the 100m.

Hussain Al-Hizam and Ahmed Al-Yassin will be looking for podium finishes in the pole vault final on Monday evening, and at the same time Mohammed Tolo will be aiming for gold in the final of the shot put competition. Hammoud Al-Alwani and Mohammed Al-Yami, meanwhile, will compete in the long jump.


Eddie Howe looking to finish Newcastle United’s season on a high

Eddie Howe looking to finish Newcastle United’s season on a high
Updated 47 min 17 sec ago

Eddie Howe looking to finish Newcastle United’s season on a high

Eddie Howe looking to finish Newcastle United’s season on a high
  • The Magpies welcome Arsenal to St. James’ Park knowing a win would improve their points tally on previous two campaigns

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is determined to make sure Newcastle United finish their campaign on a high, despite the Magpies already securing Premier League safety.

Newcastle take on Arsenal at St. James’ Park this evening looking to take their tally to 46 points, which would beat last season’s mark of 45 and 2019-20’s, which was 44.

The Gunners’ visit to Tyneside is followed up by a trip to relegation-threatened Burnley on the final day — and Howe is hopeful his players will not let their season, as well as all of their hard work, go to waste.

“Any target or objective we can pass is a good thing,” Howe said.

“The most important thing for me is we finish the season well and are professional right until the end and we show our best selves in the next two games.

“The previous two games have been difficult as we know, we’ve played two world-class teams. (It has been) Great for us in terms of knowing where we are and where we have to improve. These next two are slightly different, still tough games, but we want to go out well this season.”

That’s definitely a sentiment that seems to be echoed in the dressing room, too, with Kieran Trippier wanting to send the fans away happy for the summer, in what is the final home encounter of the season.

The England international said: “It’s a massive occasion, the last home game of the season. The fans have been unbelievable since I arrived.

“We need to look back, to criticize ourselves, but we look back to January and the steps we’ve taken since then, the results that we’ve had, we’re building,” Trippier said. “We’ve played back-to-back two of the best teams in the world so we’ve got to be proud of our performances before the last two results. We need to forget about Man City (5-0 loss), two big games coming up, two different teams fighting for different reasons so we need to match that.

“Arsenal are fighting to get in the top four, I want to help Tottenham obviously and then Burnley staying up.

“It’s two different types of matches and they’re going to be up for it so we’ve got to make sure we match that.”

Having taken over the club when it was at the foot of the Premier League table and needing to break top-flight records to stay up, things looked bleak for Howe and Newcastle on arrival.

However, things now look rosy at the club with co-owner Mehrdad Ghodoussi taking to social media to publicly thank the head coach for his efforts, after Leeds United’s loss to Chelsea meant the Magpies could no longer drop to the Championship.

On Twitter, Ghodoussi said: “When all odds were against us, when everyone doubted us, we united and forged ahead. Tonight is the result of that hard work.Thank you Eddie, you have been incredible, thank you to the coaching staff, our squad and everyone at the club, and of course our fans.”

Has Howe been thanked privately, too?

“Yes, I’ve had contact with the owners but I have contact with the owners regularly, especially at this time of year as we build and plan for lots of different things — the training ground and transfer windows etc,” he said.

“They’re happy with what has been achieved. The main goal we had when coming in has been done, so everyone connected with the club, the owners included, deserve a huge amount of credit for what’s happened. It’s very much a team success and I’m very keen to point out that everyone has contributed to that.”

Meanwhile, Howe is expecting positive progress in relation to the new deal negotiations between Newcastle and midfielder Sean Longstaff.

“I expect a positive resolution for Sean, yeah,” said the head coach.

“Fingers crossed. It’s very close to being done. I’m actually day-to-day in charge of that but fingers crossed we can get it over the line.”


Asian pole vault king Obiena sets SEA Games record

Asian pole vault king Obiena sets SEA Games record
Updated 16 May 2022

Asian pole vault king Obiena sets SEA Games record

Asian pole vault king Obiena sets SEA Games record
  • Obiena eclipsed his own previous Southeast Asian Games record 5.45m he set in winning gold in 2019
  • The 26-year-old Filipino is ranked sixth-best men’s pole vaulter in the world

HANOI, Vietnam: Asia’s top pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena set his sights on the World Athletics Championships in July after retaining his SEA Games title by easily clearing a Games-record 5.46m on Saturday.
The 26-year-old Filipino, ranked the sixth-best men’s pole vaulter in the world, eclipsed his own previous Southeast Asian Games record 5.45m he set in winning gold in 2019.
But in hazy conditions at My Dinh National Stadium in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, Obiena fell short of bettering his Asian-record 5.93m.
“I wanted to beat the Asian record. You never know how many chances I get, I wanted, I really wanted it today,” he told reporters afterwards, having failed three times at 5.94m.
But he was nevertheless feeling “positive” about the World Championships in Oregon in two months’ time.
“The first battle is I need to make sure I get in there. (First) I get selected to compete and the next one is perform well,” said Obiena, who was joint 11th at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
“That’s why I’m here. I’m preparing.”


Celtics eliminate NBA defending champion Bucks in Game 7

Celtics eliminate NBA defending champion Bucks in Game 7
Updated 16 May 2022

Celtics eliminate NBA defending champion Bucks in Game 7

Celtics eliminate NBA defending champion Bucks in Game 7
  • Boston face top seeds Miami in game one of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, in a rematch of their 2020 series

BOSTON: Grant Williams scored 27 points as the Boston Celtics eliminated the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday with a 109-81 game seven victory in their NBA Eastern Conference series.
Celtics forward Williams produced a deadly display of scoring from three-point range at the TD Garden as Boston advanced to a conference finals showdown with the Miami Heat with a 4-3 series win.
Williams’s red-hot shooting from beyond the arc was emblematic of Boston’s superiority from the field as the Bucks missed a slew of wide open looks.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 25 points 20 rebounds and nine assists for Milwaukee.
But the Celtics’ three-point shooting accuracy proved the difference between the two teams as Boston completed a comeback from 3-2 down in the best-of-seven series.
Boston dropped 22 of 55 from downtown, in stark contrast to Milwaukee, who converted just four of 33 attempts from beyond the arc.
Williams led the three-point blitzkrieg with seven threes in his 27-point haul. Jayson Tatum made five-of-nine threes to finish with 23 points.

Grant Williams of the Boston Celtics in action during Game Seven of their semifinals playoff against the Milwaukee Bucks on May 15, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Getty Images/AFP)

Payton Pritchard also got in on the act, with four three-pointers from the bench in a tally of 14 points.
Only one Milwaukee player — Bobby Portis — made multiple three-pointers. Portis finished with two in his 10-point haul.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka revealed he had encouraged Williams to shoot more aggressively, suggesting the Bucks had “disrespected” the forward by allowing him so much room to operate.
“I told him let it fly. I said ‘They’re disrespecting you more tonight than earlier in the series,’” Udoka said.
“He missed a few and got hesitant and I basically said ‘shoot the ball, what else can you do?’“
Williams said he was only too happy to accept the challenge from Udoka and the rest of his Celtics team-mates.
“Everyone kept saying ‘Let it fly, keep shooting’. So I thought ‘All right, they’re encouraging it, might as well take advantage.’ As time went on each one got more comfortable. It was fun. It was just great that we got a win,” Williams said.
“I’ve worked on my shot enough to be confident enough to knock those down.
“My team-mates know that if I get 18 looks I’ll make 40 percent of them at least. It was just a matter of continuing to do what we wanted to do and keep getting those open looks.
“We hadn’t put a full game together this entire series. So we said, why not now? We just did what we were supposed to do.”
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer made no excuses for the defeat, saying Boston had been the better team over the series.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve had a lot of success together, and tonight we hit a wall and met our end.”
Boston face top seeds Miami in game one of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday in a rematch of their 2020 series.
Miami won that series 4-2 to advance to the NBA Finals.


Mortara and Di Grassi keep up good momentum for ROKiT Venturi in second Berlin E-Prix

ROKiT Venturi soared to back-to-back podiums at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix on Sunday, with Edoardo Mortara taking second place in Ra
ROKiT Venturi soared to back-to-back podiums at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix on Sunday, with Edoardo Mortara taking second place in Ra
Updated 15 May 2022

Mortara and Di Grassi keep up good momentum for ROKiT Venturi in second Berlin E-Prix

ROKiT Venturi soared to back-to-back podiums at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix on Sunday, with Edoardo Mortara taking second place in Ra
  • The second-placed finish on Sunday, following his race win on Saturday, puts Mortara into second in the World Drivers’ Championship

LONDON: ROKiT Venturi soared to back-to-back podiums at the 2022 Berlin E-Prix on Sunday, with Edoardo Mortara taking second place in Race Two after starting from pole position.

After his victory in the first race of the weekend double-header, the Monegasque team continued to show promise on Sunday morning by topping both practice sessions in the German capital.

Mortara and teammate Lucas di Grassi carried this momentum forward into qualifying and both drivers advanced from their respective groups to contest the duel stages.

In the Quarter-Finals, Di Grassi lost out to Nyck de Vries by only 0.270 seconds to qualify sixth while, by beating Nick Cassidy, Mortara faced the Dutchman in the second Semi-Final.

By defeating the Mercedes-EQ driver, then cemented his place in the Final and vanquished another Dutchman Robin Frijns by 0.498 seconds to secure a second consecutive pole position and three points.

At the start of the race, Mortara successfully defended from fellow front row starter Frijns but slipped to second following a diving move from De Vries into Turn One.

Di Grassi, meanwhile, made steady progress from the third row by immediately moving into the top five, overtaking Antonio Felix da Costa.

As the race progressed and strategy evolved, ROKiT's Swiss-Italian driver regained the lead and Di Grassi moved into third when De Vries and André Lotterer and Frijns activated Attack Mode with 34 minutes remaining.

In favor of the overcut strategy, however, the duo fell to fifth and sixth upon activating their sole Attack Mode of the E-Prix in the 16th minute.

With a power advantage over all other drivers ahead, the ROKiT drivers carved through the field, clearing Lotterer, Stoffel Vandoorne and da Costa to hold second and third on the road.

Despite posting the fastest lap of the race, Mortara was unable to close in on and pass De Vries but secured second place when the chequered flag waved in the German capital.

In the closing moments, Brazilian Di Grassi lost track position to Vandoorne and finished fourth overall to score 12 points.

The second-placed finish on Sunday, following his race win on Saturday, puts Mortara into second in the World Drivers’ Championship while, by scoring a total of 62 points in one weekend, ROKiT Venturi Racing moved to second in the Teams’ Standings, now holding 148 points from eight races.

“This weekend has been phenomenal and I’m extremely proud of the entire team for what we have been able to achieve, team principal Jerome D'Ambrosio said.

“One win, two podiums, two pole positions, two fastest laps and 62 points from two races is an incredible achievement and in a championship as close and competitive as Formula E, is one that doesn’t happen very often at all,” he added.

“Today’s race was more difficult in comparison to yesterday’s, Mortara said. “Both the ambient and track temperatures were much higher and this meant that there was more management to do, both for the energy and the tyresm and Nyck’s pace was very strong today and realistically, I think he was just out of reach for us.”

And Di Grassi was disspointed to miss out on a podium finish so late in the race.

“It was frustrating to miss out on the podium today, especially so close to the finish, but overall, I’m happy with this result. After yesterday it was clear that we had the pace to be at the front and we made the most in qualifying to start inside the top eight,” he said.

Formula E’s Season 8 campaign will resume on June 4 for the inaugural Jakarta E-Prix in Indonesia.