Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity
A paramilitary soldier patrols next to cricket player cutouts, outside the National Stadium, ahead of the Pakistan Super League opener, Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 25, 2022. (AP Photo)
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Updated 27 January 2022

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity

Seventh edition of Pakistan Super League kicks off as T20 competitions continue to gain popularity
  • The PSL has strengthened its reputation as one of the most competitive global T20 tournaments despite player availability concerns
  • PSL provides an international showcase for young talent, who can spearhead Pakistan’s renewed aspirations to be a major force in world cricket

One of the most remarkable aspects of T20 cricket is how quickly it has spread. Since its inauguration in England and Wales in 2003, 15 professional T20 competitions have had their status recognized by the International Cricket Council. Around the cricketing world, there is a plethora of T20 tournaments for both men and women, even one for retired players in Oman at present.

Although South Africa and Pakistan introduced domestic T20 tournaments in 2003 and 2005, it is the Indian Premier League that epitomizes the rapid development of T20 cricket into a combination of high drama, commercial exploitation, spectator frenzy, inventive player skills, global reach and transformational impact.

Given the absence of consistent, up-to-date data, it is difficult to establish with any great accuracy the income and profit generated by the various T20 professional tournaments, but the IPL likely outstrips all others. After that, depending on the criteria used, Australia’s Big Bash, the England and Wales T20 Blast, the Caribbean Premier League and Pakistan’s Super League are usually considered to be the next strongest, if a mix of the availability and strength of domestic players, the availability and strength of overseas stars and the level of competition between the franchises is used.

One of the biggest issues for the tournament organizers and the players is how to fit the competitions into a very crowded cricket calendar. The final of the Big Bash is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 28, while the Pakistan Super League (PSL) started on Jan. 27. Some players are also involved in a T20 series between the West Indies and England that ends on Jan. 30. Fourteen players will join the PSL late.

Another issue is that some national cricket boards refuse to allow their contracted players to participate in these tournaments. India, for example, will not allow its contracted players to participate in tournaments in other countries, and Pakistani cricketers cannot play in the IPL.

It is impressive, then, that the PSL has managed to strengthen its reputation as one of the most competitive and challenging T20 tournaments. The 2022 edition will be the seventh since its inception in 2016, when, for security reasons, it was played in the UAE. Five teams, based in the five cities of Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad participated, with Islamabad United defeating Quetta Gladiators in the final.

In 2018, a sixth city and team — the Multan Sultans — joined. They are the current champions, having defeated Peshawar Zalmi in June 2021 in Abu Dhabi, where the tournament was relocated after it had to be postponed in March when six players tested positive for COVID-19 in a bio-secure bubble in Pakistan. The 2017-2020 tournaments were all held in Pakistan.

This year, Karachi hosts the first leg of the tournament until February when the action switches to Lahore, where the play-offs and final will be held, the latter on Feb. 27.

In the league stage, the six teams play in a round-robin format, with the top four qualifying for the playoff stages. The top two teams will advance to a qualifier, with the winners going through to the final. The third and fourth-ranked sides will move to a first eliminator, with the winners meeting the losers of the qualifier to determine the second finalists. A total of 34 matches are scheduled to be played.

The franchises selected their players in a draft held in Lahore on Dec. 12, 2021. Prior to that, each team was allowed to retain a maximum of eight players from the previous edition, making further additions from the draft up to a maximum of 18 players.

Players were divided into five categories — platinum, worth $130,000-170,000; diamond, $60,000-85,000; gold, $40,000-50,000; silver, $15,000-25,000; and emerging, $7,500.

Each team was able to pick three players from the first three categories, five from silver and two from emerging.

A later supplementary category was subject to a separate, virtual, draft on Jan. 8, for teams to select two additional players, along with a replacement draft to allow teams to partially replace players who would be unavailable for the first few matches due to international commitments, or to fully replace those who had to withdraw.

PSL7 opens with a mix of high hope and caution. The hope is based on a strong lineup of players and Pakistan’s success in white-ball cricket in 2021. The caution relates to ongoing worries about the omicron variant of COVID-19. If cases were to surge, the event may not be able to switch to the UAE, where the Emirates Cricket Board could hold its own T20 league in February/March. And it would be difficult to reschedule due to Pakistan’s packed international schedule.

If more than eight players in a squad of 20 test positive, a reserve pool of about 25 locals can be used as replacements. If the whole competition is affected then it will be postponed for seven days, after which the remaining matches will be played as double-headers. Three distinct bubbles will be in place with different protocols: The main bubble comprises all the teams, staff and officials. Franchise members will not be allowed to meet within the hotel premises. The two other bubbles, comprising production crew and ground staff, will be at a separate hotel. The bubbles will not be allowed to interact and players will be tested regularly during the tournament.

Such precautions are wise, as there is much to lose. PSL receives over $15m per year from the franchises. Habib Bank, as lead sponsor, pays upwards of $5m per year. Broadcasting and live-streaming rights have been renewed at significantly higher levels.

PSL’s brand value is estimated to have increased almost 20 times since 2016, when it made a profit of $2.6m. But it is about more than just money; PSL provides an international showcase for young talent, who can spearhead Pakistan’s renewed aspirations to be a major force in world cricket.

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Salah and Mahrez at forefront of standout season for Arab footballers in Europe

Salah and Mahrez at forefront of standout season for Arab footballers in Europe
Updated 48 sec ago

Salah and Mahrez at forefront of standout season for Arab footballers in Europe

Salah and Mahrez at forefront of standout season for Arab footballers in Europe
  • Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, Sevilla’s Yassine Bounou and Milan’s Ismail Bennacer also shone for their clubs

 

The European season comes to an end on Saturday as Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, and Mohamed Salah helping the English team to the continental title would be a perfect ending for millions of Arab football fans.

But whatever happens in Paris, it has already been a season to remember for players from this part of the world.

Salah has won the English Premier League golden boot for the third time, the 29-year-old also recording 13 assists, the most in the league. The Egyptian has been so consistently impressive for the Reds that his achievements have become almost commonplace, but they deserve celebrating. So does the fact that he has already won the League Cup and FA Cup in England and is close to a third trophy, the biggest of all.

Salah is already a legend on Merseyside and his status at Anfield is likely to endure even longer after he said on Wednesday that he is not about to leave anytime soon.

“I don’t want to talk about the contract. I’m staying next season for sure, let’s see after that,” said Salah at Liverpool’s pre-match media day. His deal, which is due to expire next summer, has been the subject of much debate in recent months, but his comments this week — though he did not give any details — will be welcome even if the long-term future is still unclear.

Despite scoring his 23rd goal on the final day of the season to help Liverpool to a 3-1 victory over Wolves, it wasn’t quite enough to win the title. That went to Manchester City.

Riyad Mahrez had another fine campaign under Pep Guardiola as he won a fourth Premier League championship, one with Leicester City and now three with his current club. The Algerian scored 11 league goals and managed seven more in the UEFA Champions League. That is an impressive haul by anyone’s standards and all would agree that the 31-year-old has established himself as one of the top players in the biggest league in the world. 

Mohamed Elneny may not be an automatic starter in the Arsenal team but the Egyptian international, who has made 147 appearances for the Gunners, has just signed a new contract with the North London outfit, which finished fifth and just missed out on a Champions League place.

“Mo is a really important part of the team,” said Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta. “He is loved by everyone. He’s an important player for us on and off the pitch, a real role model to our younger players, and I’m delighted he’s staying.”

Mahrez’s title is not the only big league championship that is being celebrated in Algeria. Ismail Bennacer has helped AC Milan win Serie A for the first time in 11 years. The central midfielder made 31 league appearances and played a major part in the success. At just 24, there is plenty of football left in the legs of the former Arsenal academy player and he has been linked with a move to England.

Amazingly, all the players mentioned will miss out on the World Cup. Egypt failed to qualify after losing a penalty shootout to Senegal with the place in Qatar at stake. It is hard to know if that was more or less heartbreaking than Algeria’s experience. The Desert Foxes seemed to have it in the bag but conceded a goal in the last minute of extra-time in the second leg against Cameroon.

That is not the case when it comes to Morocco, which is already preparing for the World Cup. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was so good for Sevilla that he was awarded La Liga’s Zamora trophy, given to the shot-stopper with the lowest goals-to-games ratio. He conceded just 24 in 31 appearances to finish with 0.77, edging out Thibault Courtois of Real Madrid.

“I would like to congratulate Yassine Bounou. He’s a very good friend of mine. Congratulations to him for the Zamora trophy,” Courtois said in tribute to the North African.

Another player who now looks like he is going to the World Cup is Nasser Mazraoui, who has had a very interesting season. The right-back has starred as Ajax won the Eredivisie and it was his third title in the Netherlands. The 24-year-old has done all he can do in the country and, from next month, will move to Bayern Munich and there could be a chance of Champions League titles in the coming years.

Then there is the saga of the national team. Along with Hakim Ziyech, the defender had fallen out with Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic and was not called up for the African Cup of Nations in January, as the team lost to Egypt in the quarter-finals, as well as the World Cup play-off.

Earlier this week, however, Mazraoui was named in the squad for June’s friendly with the US and looks to be back in the fold. Ziyech has yet to return and it remains to be seen what happens. 

There have been no such international issues with Achraf Hakimi. The right-back joined Paris Saint-Germain last July fresh after winning the Italian league with Inter Milan. He has shone in France and added the Ligue 1 title. It was only the relative failure in the UEFA Champions League that has cast a shadow over the campaign.

There will be another chance next season but it will have to be good to better this one with league titles, individual awards and perhaps even continental prizes at the highest levels of European football.


1981 cup hero Alan Kennedy urges Mohamed Salah to become an all-time Liverpool legend, stay at Anfield

1981 cup hero Alan Kennedy urges Mohamed Salah to become an all-time Liverpool legend, stay at Anfield
Salah has said he will be at Anfield for his final year but has not yet agreed a new long-term deal. (AFP)
Updated 4 min 33 sec ago

1981 cup hero Alan Kennedy urges Mohamed Salah to become an all-time Liverpool legend, stay at Anfield

1981 cup hero Alan Kennedy urges Mohamed Salah to become an all-time Liverpool legend, stay at Anfield
  • Former left-back scored Liverpool’s winner in European Cup final against Real Madrid in Paris, believes Egyptian star should stop at club

RIYADH: During his five years at Liverpool, Mohamed Salah has become revered and respected, but it will be longevity that makes him a legend at a club with such a storied history.

That is the belief of Alan Kennedy, no stranger to Anfield acclaim himself with match-winning goals that clinched two of their six European Cup victories.

Salah will try to help the Reds land a seventh title when they face Real Madrid in Paris on Saturday — redemption for the 2018 showpiece when the Egyptian forward left the field in tears, injured after a first-half challenge by Sergio Ramos, as the Spanish side triumphed 3-1.

But only by staying longer at Liverpool and helping them to repeated success will he be elevated alongside — and perhaps even surpass — Kenny Dalglish, all-time top goalscorer Ian Rush, or Steven Gerrard as the club’s greatest player.

Out of contract at the end of next season, Salah has said he will be at Anfield for his final year but has not yet agreed a new long-term deal.

With 11 major trophies in eight years — including five league titles — after joining from Newcastle in 1978, Kennedy is better placed than most to discuss the club’s finest.

He said: “When you are saying if he is the best Liverpool player ever then, when you have played with Dalglish, Rush, and Graeme Souness, automatically then you think back to those days and think ‘what a player he was or what he did was incredible.’

“That was a great era for Liverpool. Dalglish was special, he did it every game and he played for 13 years. Every game he put in a shift, showed his quality, and so did Rush who had 15 years in total, so did Souness.

“I think what the players do today is sensational, but how long they do it for also matters,” Kennedy added.

“Sometimes people will say we don’t see it in every game from Salah or Sadio Mane, so it’s a difficult one to say who is the very best, especially with the difference in football to when I played.

“Mo Salah doesn’t give up, he’s very assured of himself, and has found the right way to play and the right team to play with — it’s perfect.”

Kennedy, however, believes he should stay at Anfield longer to be considered among the club’s greats.

He said: “That’s the important thing, to maintain standards and repeat the performances — and repeat the success. He is one of the best players Liverpool have ever had, but we need to know if he’s eventually going to stay or go because the uncertainty of it all means it affects his game as well.

“If he’s saying he wants to stay, then sign the contract and look forward.”

Kennedy, 67, would love for Salah to stay and be the hero against Real Madrid, and so end a proud 41-year record held by the left-back and his former team-mates.

Paris also played host when he drove home a left-footed finish in the 81st minute to seal their 1981 success, the last time 13-time winners Los Blancos lost a European Cup final.

In this file photo taken on May 27, 1981 Liverpool's English defender Alan Kennedy (R) scores a goal past Real Madrid's Spanish goalkeeper Agustin (L) during the European Cup final football match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. (AFP)

Three years later, Kennedy hit the decisive penalty that sealed a tense shoot-out win over A.S. Roma after a 1-1 draw at the Italian side’s Stadio Olimpico home.

It was a glorious era for Liverpool, a side single-minded in their pursuit of honors and among the greatest to ever grace the game.

They won three successive English First Division titles between 1982 and 1984 — and only the FA Cup eluded them in 1984 when they claimed a treble of the league championship, League Cup, and European Cup under Joe Fagan.

Having lifted the League Cup and FA Cup this season, Liverpool’s bid for a historic quadruple was ended when Manchester City took the Premier League by a point.

But the valiant efforts of Jurgen Klopp’s men have now seen them lauded in a similar way to the heroes of yesteryear.

“Yes, they have that similarity. This current team has got a great mentality, that same belief and desire to win every game,” Kennedy told Arab News.

“They know they’re on a great run, have a great manager who can motivate players and you feel as though there is still more to come, and that’s why they could go on and achieve even more.

“Klopp also has that same aura of the great Liverpool managers. This team is certainly up there with the old teams, but do you give them the title of being the best?”

A win on Saturday would go a long way to answering that question.

Kennedy said: “If they win the Champions League and win three trophies in a season then that would put them right up there, of course, and would equal what we did in 1983-84.

“We got close to all four, failed in the FA Cup, but it was a great side and maybe we had a little bit more character in that 1983-84 season.

“It’s always hard to compare teams from different times because football has changed, but this current team should be looked upon possibly as Liverpool’s best ever.

“They are really strong throughout from the keeper, defense, to the attack, but it’s about the winning and getting the trophies, not about individuals or how close you got.

“There’s also one thing at Liverpool and that is the club comes before any player.

“If it was me scoring the winning goal, Phil Neal, or Kenny Dalglish, it didn’t matter. It was about winning for the team and as a team. That’s what these players are also doing now,” he added.

Liverpool's English defender Alan Kennedy sits on a teammates's shoulders as he raises the trophy while celebrating winning the European Cup final football match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, on May 27, 1981. (AFP)

Kennedy said he was just “the lucky guy” to claim the winning goal against Real after overcoming a broken wrist to play, but Liverpool were a driven team totally focused on “trying to win everything” at that time.

It is an approach that resonates with Real Madrid, who are chasing a fifth Champions League in nine seasons.

Led by Karim Benzema, the La Liga champions overcame Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Manchester City with stunning comebacks to reach this stage.

Kennedy added: “Real are an exceptional team and to beat Manchester City how they did with those late goals was just awesome.

“There aren’t too many weaknesses in their side, they are very controlled and don’t rely too much on Benzema like some people say. Liverpool should have enough in their locker to beat them, but this is against Real Madrid and that’s the thing, we all know what they are capable of.

“If you want to be remembered for being great then you have to show it — you can’t hide in cup finals.”


Best of the West: Warriors seal return to NBA Finals with Game 5 victory over Mavericks

Best of the West: Warriors seal return to NBA Finals with Game 5 victory over Mavericks
Updated 27 May 2022

Best of the West: Warriors seal return to NBA Finals with Game 5 victory over Mavericks

Best of the West: Warriors seal return to NBA Finals with Game 5 victory over Mavericks
  • The Warriors have not lost a playoff game at home this season, the first post-season run in their new arena in San Francisco after leaving behind their old home in Oakland
  • After missing the playoffs the past two seasons while rebuilding, the Warriors are playing for the trophy again with champion core stars Curry, Thompson and Green back setting the pace

SAN FRANCISCO: Klay Thompson scored a game-high 32 points and the Golden State Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons by defeating Dallas 120-110 on Thursday.

The Warriors, chasing a fourth title in eight campaigns, won the best-of-seven Western Conference finals 4-1 and secured a place in June’s title showdown against either the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat.

The Celtics carry a 3-2 series lead into Friday’s sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals at Boston.

Golden State won NBA crowns in 2015, 2017 and 2018 by defeating the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers each time but lost the finals in 2016 to the Cavs and in 2019 to Toronto.

“This is a blessing for us to get back here, to get back where we belong,” said Golden State guard Stephen Curry, who was named the Western Conference playoff Most Valuable Player.

Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Warriors while Draymond Green added 17 points and nine assists, Jordan Poole scored 16 points off the bench, Curry added 15 and nine assists, and Kevon Looney added 10 points and 18 rebounds.

The Warriors have not lost a playoff game at home this season, the first post-season run in their new arena in San Francisco after leaving behind their old home in Oakland.

“It’s special to do it in our new building,” Curry said. “This isn’t the ultimate goal but we’ve got to celebrate this for all we went through the past three years.”

After missing the playoffs the past two seasons while rebuilding, the Warriors are playing for the trophy again with champion core stars Curry, Thompson and Green back setting the pace.

“This one is special because this is a group no one thought would ever be back here,” Green said.

“This group put the work in every day and we’re here. We’re back.”

It will be the sixth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals for Thompson, who missed the entire 2019-20 campaign after left knee surgery and the entire 2020-21 season with a torn Achilles tendon.

“I’m so happy to be back,” Thompson said. “I’m thankful for this team. I can’t believe we’re back. We’ve still got four more to go.”

Thompson made 12-of-25 shots from the floor, including 8-of-16 from 3-point range.

The Mavericks haven’t reached the NBA Finals since winning the crown in 2011.

Slovenian star guard Luka Doncic had 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Mavericks while Spencer Dinwiddie added 26 points off the Dallas bench.

“We didn’t play our best game but we accomplished a lot,” said Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, whose team upset top seed Phoenix in the second round.

“We’ve laid a foundation. Now we can start building.”

Dinwiddie’s corner 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted Dallas within 28-23 after the first quarter.

But Thompson scored eight points in a 12-5 Warriors’ run, starting and ending the spurt with 3-pointers to put Golden State ahead 45-32 with 7:30 remaining in the second quarter.

Reserve Moses Moody scored seven points in a 9-0 Golden State run to stretch the lead to 56-38 with 4:00 to play in the period on the way to the Warriors taking a 69-52 edge at half-time.

Thompson scored 19 points in the first half on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor with 5-of-8 made from 3-point range while Dinwiddie led Dallas with 17.

Early in the third quarter, Green delivered a spectacular no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass to Thompson for a wide-open 3-pointer that gave Golden State a 74-53 lead.

But the Mavericks stung the Warriors with a 15-0 run to the final seconds of the third quarter, pulling within 92-84 as Golden State went scoreless for almost four minutes until managing the final basket of the period.

Doncic scored 15 points in the third quarter to lift Dallas back into the contest, but Golden State opened the fourth quarter with a 7-1 run for a 101-85 advantage and held the Mavs at bay from there.


Leclerc seeks to regain F1 lead at his unlucky home track

Leclerc seeks to regain F1 lead at his unlucky home track
Updated 27 May 2022

Leclerc seeks to regain F1 lead at his unlucky home track

Leclerc seeks to regain F1 lead at his unlucky home track
  • Leclerc has four F1 wins among his 17 podium finishes and desperately wants to add Monaco to the list
  • The late Ayrton Senna experienced difficulties at his home Grand Prix in Brazil, winning it only at the eighth attempt

AP MONACO: Charles Leclerc has a problem to solve this weekend at his home track.

After losing the Formula One championship lead last week, Leclerc is determined to claim it back from world champion Max Verstappen at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.

The problem? Leclerc has never finished an F1 race on the famed street circuit in the tiny Principality.

That’s even more frustrating given that he grew up in an apartment overlooking the circuit and actually learned to swim on part of it.

“It’s not been the luckiest track for me overall, but it’s part of motorsport and sometimes things just don’t go your way. Hopefully this year they will,” Leclerc told reporters on Thursday. “I love it here and obviously it’s a very special event for me, having grown up here, and these roads I know so well.”

Leclerc has a unique bond with the street circuit, which passes by a swimming pool.

“My favorite part of the track is definitely the Piscine, which is the corner combination of two esses by the swimming pool,” he said. “It just feels amazing, I really enjoy driving there. It’s also where I learned how to swim as a child, so I have an emotional attachment to it, making it even more meaningful.”

Last year felt particularly cruel for Leclerc.

He was in pole position when he crashed his Ferrari on his final timed lap in qualifying, with Verstappen pressuring his leading time. The team worked hard to fix his car overnight but he pulled out just before the start of the race with a gearbox problem.

The crash moved Verstappen up to pole, and he won to claim the lead from Lewis Hamilton and top the leaderboard for the first time in his career.

Leclerc first raced here for Sauber in 2018, crashing into the back of another car late in the race. Then in his first season with Ferrari in 2019, Leclerc retired early because of damage to the car’s floor. All engines were off in 2020 when the race was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Leclerc has four F1 wins among his 17 podium finishes and desperately wants to add Monaco to the list. The late Ayrton Senna experienced difficulties at his home Grand Prix in Brazil, winning it only at the eighth attempt.

“I’d like to win (here) as soon as possible,” Leclerc said. “Ayrton was my idol and I’ve often seen his on-board (cameras) here in Monaco, which were super impressive.”

Leclerc’s retirement last Sunday in Spain due to engine failure, when he was coasting in front for Ferrari, allowed Verstappen a win and moved the Red Bull driver six points ahead — having trailed Leclerc by 46 points after just three races.

But a 52-point swing has turned momentum Verstappen’s way.

“Of course when you look at it, losing 52 points isn’t great. But once again, what I look at in the difficult moments was that the performance was there,” Leclerc said. “We’d got on top of things more with the tires and in qualifying. The championship is still long, and I’m sure we’ll have our chances to make up for it.”

Verstappen’s already up to 24 career wins at the age of 24. By comparison, seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton’s 24th win came when he was 29.

Verstappen’s hitting a groove and the Dutch driver has four wins from his four finishes, having retired the Red Bull car twice in the first three races. Leclerc has won the other two races this season, and Spain was his first retirement.

Leclerc is confident it was a blip.

“I think the team knows where it’s coming from so this gives me the confidence it won’t happen again,” he said. “I know the performance is in the car for us to do a great result this weekend.”

Leclerc leads with four pole positions this year, to Verstappen’s one, highlighting his one-lap speed. It was a different story last year, when Leclerc took an unexpected pole for Ferrari when the car was not as fast. Then came that crash.

“Last year’s incident was just trying to push too much and I clipped the inside wheel,” Leclerc said. “There’s no track that comes close to the adrenalin we get in Monaco. For me it’s part of F1’s history.”

For Hamilton, meanwhile, the wait goes on.

The veteran British driver is seven races without a victory since winning the penultimate race of last season at the Saudi Arabian GP. He has one podium for the struggling Mercedes and is sixth overall, 64 points behind Verstappen and 28 points behind his teammate George Russell, who is fourth.

Leclerc tips Mercedes to bounce back.

“There’s no question for me that they will be back very soon,” he said. “I hope they can join us to fight for wins because it should be exciting for Formula One to have a three-team battle, and to have George and Lewis also fighting for wins.”


Liverpool’s Salah eyes Champions League revenge against Real Madrid

Liverpool’s Salah eyes Champions League revenge against Real Madrid
Updated 27 May 2022

Liverpool’s Salah eyes Champions League revenge against Real Madrid

Liverpool’s Salah eyes Champions League revenge against Real Madrid
  • The Egypt forward made a tearful first-half exit after suffering a shoulder injury in a challenge with Real defender Sergio Ramos, who was accused of cynically slamming his opponent into the turf
  • Even though Ramos has since moved on to Paris Saint-Germain, Salah would dearly love to make Real pay when they meet again at the Stade de France this weekend

LONDON: “We have a score to settle,” Mohamed Salah posted on social media moments after Real Madrid set up a re-match with Liverpool in Saturday’s Champions League final.

Salah’s first appearance in European club football’s showpiece game came to an agonizingly premature end in Kyiv four years ago.

The Egypt forward made a tearful first-half exit after suffering a shoulder injury in a challenge with Real defender Sergio Ramos, who was accused of cynically slamming his opponent into the turf.

Madrid went on to win 3-1 and Salah has never been able to shake the bitter memories of that night.

“That was the worst moment in my career,” the 29-year-old said at Liverpool’s pre-match media day this week. “I was really, really down in that time.

“I was like: ‘We cannot lose this way.’ I never felt that feeling before in football, especially the first Champions League (final) for all of us.”

Salah made amends 12 months later, scoring a penalty as Liverpool beat Tottenham to be crowned European champions for the sixth time.

But even though Ramos has since moved on to Paris Saint-Germain, Salah would dearly love to make Real pay when they meet again at the Stade de France this weekend.

“I think it is revenge time,” Salah said as he picked up his award as the Football Writers’ Association player of the year earlier this month.

While Salah has retaliation on his mind, he travels to Paris besieged by concerns over his form, his fitness and even his long-term future at Liverpool.

His 23rd goal of the Premier League season against Wolves on Sunday meant he finished as the joint top-scorer in the competition alongside Tottenham’s Son Heung-min.

It is the third time he has topped the charts and he added luster to his season by also finishing as the top provider of assists.

Yet the stunning early-season form that secured Salah the writers’ honor has deserted him in recent months.

His 31st club goal of the campaign as Liverpool narrowly lost out to Manchester City in the Premier League title race on Sunday was just his third in his past 17 games for club and country.

That run includes a defeat on penalties against teammate Sadio Mane’s Senegal in a World Cup playoff, a repeat of the result in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.

The demands of an exhausting season are beginning to show even before the final in Paris, for a player who is rarely injured.

Salah was forced off early in Liverpool’s FA Cup final victory over Chelsea and did not start either of their final two league games to ensure he was fit to face Madrid.

The caution shown by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose side were chasing an unprecedented quadruple until they were pipped to the league title by City, is understandable.

In five seasons since returning to England Salah has scored 156 goals, playing a huge role in Liverpool’s first Premier League title for 30 years in 2020, as well as their runs to three Champions League finals.

One persistent cloud on the horizon is that his contract expires at the end of next season and negotiations have dragged on, with reports that he wants to be the Premier League’s highest-paid player.

Salah confirmed this week that he would at least see out the final year of his deal, but refused to commit his longer-term future to the Reds.

Despite his history with Madrid, Real could now prove the most likely destination should he choose to leave Anfield.

Los Blancos are in need of a superstar signing to soften the blow of being turned down by Kylian Mbappe, who has decided to remain at PSG.

Liverpool boast impressive attacking riches but a fit and firing Salah would be a huge weapon against Carlo Ancelotti’s Real — and the player himself has clearly not lost confidence.

“If you compare me with any player in my position, not only in my team but in the world, you will find that I am the best,” he told BeIn Sports.