Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard

Analysis Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard
Newcastle United's midfielder Jonjo Shelvey (L) celebrates with Newcastle United's defender Kieran Trippier (R) after scoring on January 22, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 29 June 2022

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard

Newcastle United find new hope from the old guard
  • Jonjo Shelvey’s free-kick could be turning point in Newcastle’s fight against relegation as defense holds firm against off-color Leeds

LEEDS: It’s the sort of goal that exemplifies a season turning point: A scruffy set piece late in the game that, through a combination of indecisive goalkeeping and the hint of a deflection, squirms its way into the far corner. Whether it’s a slice of good fortune or a helping hand, they all count – and this one might count more than most.

Jonjo Shelvey’s late free-kick proved enough to seal all three points for Newcastle United against a strangely off-color Leeds at Elland Road and, although still deep in the relegation mire, it might well represent the first rung on the Tyneside club’s climb to safety. 

The gap to 17th is now down to a single point and next up is an Everton side without so much as one of those in five weeks. As the season heads into its latest international break, the ladder is beginning to look a little shorter.

Shelvey certainly understood the importance of the goal. As the net billowed almost apologetically in front of the home fans, he sprinted 60 meters down the pitch to greet the explosion of noise from the two-tiered away end. The delirium was repeated at the final whistle with players, many now shirtless, celebrating the three points as though they’d be presented by the queen.

“It’s massive,” Shelvey said after the game. “We will keep going and we believe we have enough to stay up. Everyone is in this together.”

Not that the omens before kick-off were particularly auspicious. The Newcastle fans being herded into the stadium through a concrete walkway from the coach park might have sung “Eddie Howe’s black and white army,” but it was hard to disguise the growing unease about his reign. The manager had presided over a solitary Premier League win since his November appointment – against fellow strugglers Burnley seven weeks ago - and had never previously emerged victorious from Elland Road.

Norwich’s win the previous evening, their second in succession, added its own pressure, as did news of Watford’s decision to part company with Claudio Ranieri after just 14 games in charge. It was difficult to overstate the stakes for both club and manager.

The early phase of the game reflected the tensions. Leeds, shorn of several key players and far from safe themselves, immediately pressed Newcastle back and, finding joy out wide, fizzed a number of balls across the box. Their lack of an orthodox center-forward blunted their threat, however, and gradually Newcastle emerged from their low block to gain a toehold in the game.

The second half offered increasing promise. Newcastle were now dominating midfield, cutting the supply lines to the dangerous Raphinha and, although rarely fluid, countering in greater numbers. On 74 minutes, one such breakaway down the left resulted in Diego Llorente’s ungainly tug on Javier Manquillo 20 yards from goal and Shelvey did the rest.

Unlike the Watford game a week earlier, there were no late surprises and Newcastle were able to close out the game with minimal alarm and register a first clean sheet of the season.   

A very good day’s work, then, and perhaps significantly one that owed as much to the players Howe inherited from predecessor Steve Bruce as January’s expensive recruits.

As compact and composed as Kieran Trippier was, Shelvey, now in his seventh season at St. James’ Park, was the outstanding player on the pitch, gradually wresting control of the central areas and dictating play with smart, unfussy distribution. Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schar, with close to 300 appearances between them, provided a central wall that Leeds rarely looked like penetrating, and Martin Dubravka, first choice since his arrival from Sparta Prague in 2018, made a crucial block to stem the early Leeds tide.

There remains considerable work to do at Newcastle on and off the park to turn one result into a season-saving sequence. 

With 17 games remaining, it’s clear old faces will  be required to make just as important a contribution as new blood. On that front, encouragement was in ready supply at Elland Road.


Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah
Updated 29 November 2022

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah

Olympic skate star helps launch Mideast’s largest park in Sharjah
  • Final phase of facility at megaproject Aljada was designed by Australia’s Keegan Palmer, the sport’s first-ever gold medalist

SHARJAH: Aljada Skate Park, the largest facility of its kind in the Middle East, has opened in Sharjah.

Located in the Madar family entertainment district of the Aljada community, the facility was opened by Australia’s Keegan Palmer, the skateboarding Olympic gold medalist, who designed its third phase.

Launched by developers Arada and spread over a 90,000 square foot (8,361 square meter) area, Aljada Skate Park contains sections for every level, from beginner to professional.

The pro-level phase of the facility contains design elements inspired by famous skate parks from around the world, including Bondi Beach and Salt Lake City, where Palmer has competed. This includes a large vert wall that can also be found at the Ariake Urban Sports Park in Tokyo, where he won the gold medal in 2021.

“This is not only the largest but also the most challenging and creative skate park anywhere in the region,” said Palmer. “Aljada Skate Park is now a focal point for the growing skate community here in the UAE, and I’m very excited about the future plans that we have for this amazing facility.”

Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, group CEO of Arada, said: “Our strategy has always been to deliver world-class facilities to inspire residents and visitors to our communities, and Aljada Skate Park is no exception. We’re delighted to support this rapidly growing sport here in the UAE and will shortly be sharing our plans to put Sharjah on the map as a global destination for professional skateboarding.”

Among those who joined Palmer and Alkhoshaibi at the park’s launch on Nov. 26 were Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, vice chairman of Arada, and Sabatino Aracu, president of World Skate, the global governing body.

Over the course of the weekend, skaters from across the UAE and beyond heard Keegan talk about his Olympic and Aljada journeys, as well as the chance to learn tricks at special clinics. In addition, another of the world’s top skaters, Pedro Barros, who won silver at Tokyo in 2021, also impressed the crowd with his skills.

On Saturday, skaters were able to show their skills and compete to win prizes during the Skate & Chill event hosted by California shoe brand Vans. The organizers gave away prizes for the best tricks performed over six sections of Aljada Skate Park, with visitors also treated to a festival atmosphere along with giveaways, a DJ, food and the opportunity to customize the brand’s shoes.

Special guests from the Gabriel Can Foundation, which aims to teach children diagnosed with autism to skate, were given a warm welcome with an hour-long event designed for them.

Spread over a 24 million square foot (2.2 million square meter) area and with 25,000 homes, Aljada is Sharjah’s largest-ever project. Since opening in early 2020, the Madar at Aljada entertainment district has welcomed over three million visitors.

The first phase of Madar contains the Aljada Discovery Center, the Zad food truck district, a free-to-enter drive-in cinema, a children’s adventure playground, an indoor events space, and an outdoor amphitheater. Scheduled to open next year, the second phase of Madar will contain a Wellfit gym — Sharjah’s largest fitness space — and a BOUNCE trampoline park.


Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round
Updated 29 November 2022

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round
  • Chelsea will head to Manchester when the big guns enter the competition over the weekend of Jan. 6-9

LONDON: To reach a fourth consecutive FA Cup final, Chelsea will have to go through Manchester City in the third round.
Chelsea will head to Manchester when the big guns enter the competition over the weekend of Jan. 6-9.
The Blues have made it to Wembley in each of the last three years, but have ultimately gone down to Arsenal, Leicester and Liverpool respectively.
Liverpool, which beat Chelsea on penalties last season to lift the trophy for the eighth time, launches its defense at Anfield against English Premier League struggler Wolverhampton.
Erik ten Hag will get his first taste of world football’s oldest club competition when Manchester United hosts Everton. West Ham makes the short trip to Brentford, and Southampton travels to Crystal Palace.
Premier League leader Arsenal and high-flying Newcastle drew away games at League One sides Oxford and Sheffield Wednesday.
Tottenham hosts League One’s Portsmouth, and Brighton travels to Middlesbrough in FA Cup winner Michael Carrick’s first taste of the competition as Boro boss. Championship rivals Cardiff host Leeds, and Burnley go to Bournemouth.
Nottingham Forest and Fulham both face second-tier opposition on the road in the shape of Blackpool and Hull respectively.
Aston Villa welcome fourth-tier Stevenage, and Leicester face either fifth-tier Dagenham & Redbridge or League Two’s Gillingham.


New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin
Updated 29 November 2022

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin
  • World’s best electric race car arrives for pre-season testing in Valencia next month
  • India, South Africa and Brazil to host races for the first time, as Maserati and McLaren debut in Mexico City on Jan. 14

LONDON: Formula E has unveiled a fresh new look ahead of season nine of the ABB FIA World Championship, with the debut of the Gen3 car accompanied by new races, cities, teams and sporting formats.

The Gen3 — the fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient electric race car ever built — will make its competitive debut in round one in Mexico City on Jan. 14, following pre-season testing next month in Valencia.

The championship will continue with three new cities hosting Formula E races for the first time: Hyderabad, India (round four on Feb. 11); Cape Town, South Africa (round five on Feb. 25) and Sao Paulo, Brazil (round six on March 25).

McLaren and Maserati are new to the Formula E grid next season. They will join some of the biggest names in motorsport including Jaguar, Porsche and Nissan among the 11 teams and 22 drivers competing for world titles.

Sporting regulation updates include a return to racing over laps; rookie drivers taking a seat for teams in FP1 sessions; and a plan to introduce a 30-second 4 kilowatt-hours “Attack Charge” boost at select races, made possible through the development of the most advanced EV battery in the world today.


Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 
Updated 29 November 2022

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 
  • Group G game between Switzerland and Serbia has been one to keep an eye on
  • It's not just because of the talented players on both teams, but because of the political tensions they brought on the field

DOHA: Switzerland’s loss made their upcoming World Cup rematch all the more enticing, and with a lot more on the line.

Ever since the match schedule was made in April, the Group G game between Switzerland and Serbia has been one to keep an eye on. Not just because of the talented players on both teams, but because of the political tensions they brought on the field when they met at the last World Cup.

Four years ago in Russia, Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka celebrated his goal against Serbia by making a double-headed eagle with his hands — thumbs representing the heads of the two eagles, fingers fanned to look like feathers. The figure is considered to be an Albanian nationalist symbol.

Xherdan Shaqiri added another goal in the final minute of the game, and did the same thing with his hands as the Swiss won 2-1 in the second of the three group matches.

Xhaka and Shaqiri both have ethnic Albanian heritage and family ties to Kosovo. They were teenagers growing up in Switzerland when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, something the Serbs still don’t recognize 14 years later.

Both players were fined by FIFA during the tournament, and the government of Albania opened a bank account for people to contribute toward paying the 10,000 Swiss franc ($10,500) penalties.

On Friday, only one of the two teams will be able to advance to the round of 16 in Qatar. Brazil, who beat the Swiss 1-0 on Monday and defeated Serbia 2-0 last Thursday, have already assured themselves of a spot in the knockout round.

The Swiss likely need only a draw at Stadium 974, and Shaqiri should be available to play after sitting out the match against Brazil with a muscle injury.

Xhaka, now 30 and a mature leader for his country, brushed aside the controversial match from four years ago.

“(There’s) nothing in the history behind these two games,” the Arsenal midfielder said. “We are Switzerland, they are Serbia, that’s it. We are here to play football — them, us as well.”

Still, the Serbian delegation at this year’s World Cup has already made the politics of Kosovo an issue.

Serbia’s locker room ahead of their opening game against Brazil displayed a national flag with territory that included Kosovo and the slogan “No Surrender.” FIFA opened a disciplinary case against the Serbian soccer federation on Saturday.

The Kosovo Soccer Federation formally complained to FIFA after a photograph circulated and the country’s sports minister, Hajjrulla Ceku, described the image as using the World Cup to promote “hateful, xenophobic and genocidal messages.”

The Swiss advanced to the round of 16 in 2018 after a draw with Costa Rica in their final group match, while the Serbs were eliminated after losing to Brazil. This time, the teams go head-to-head in their final group game.

“Of course, the history is the history,” said Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who also played against Serbia four years ago in Kaliningrad. “But in this moment it will be the game that is important.

“We know this game already,” Sommer added. “We had it in Russia.”


Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign
Updated 29 November 2022

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign
  • The stunning move follows a preliminary investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office into fraudulent accounting

TURIN, Italy: Juventus’ board of directors and president Andrea Agnelli resigned en masse on Monday.

The stunning move follows a preliminary investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office into fraudulent accounting, of alleged hidden payments to players.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help the club through the crisis. But its claimed the players gave up only one month’s salary.

A shareholders meeting rescheduled for Dec. 27 was postponed again to Jan. 18 to choose a new board.