Johnny Murtagh hopes to lead Sonnyboyliston to more success in Riyadh

Johnny Murtagh hopes to lead Sonnyboyliston to more success in Riyadh
Sonnyboyliston at King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Wednesday. (Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia / Doug De Felice)
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Updated 25 February 2022

Johnny Murtagh hopes to lead Sonnyboyliston to more success in Riyadh

Johnny Murtagh hopes to lead Sonnyboyliston to more success in Riyadh
  • Sonnyboyliston’s earnings of close to $1m could be multiplied in Saturday’s Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap at the Saudi Cup weekend
  • Johnny Murtagh: Saturday will be his first run of the season, obviously, but we brought him to Leopardstown racecourse for a gallop a couple of weeks ago and we were happy with that

Sandwiched between his stints as the No. 1 jockey for the powerful John Oxx and Aidan O’Brien stables in Ireland, Johnny Murtagh was so often the “go to” name in the jockey ranks on a global stage.

He officially retired from the saddle in 2014 to concentrate on his training career and last year marked a breakthrough year for him, with Classics success in the Irish St. Leger at The Curragh.

That victory by Sonnyboyliston helped Murtagh break into the top five trainers in Ireland in terms of prize money and now the Curragh-based handler is hoping that the improving five-year-old can provide him with a springboard back to the big time during the Saudi Cup weekend, which starts on Friday at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh.

Murtagh made his mark as a rider on multiple occasions in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Dubai, the US and the UK, as well as his native Ireland, and has made no secret of being similarly ambitious in his pursuit of success as a trainer.

“I rode in Saudi Arabia many years ago and while I haven’t seen the grass track, it’s an absolutely beautiful dirt track there and a brilliant spot for the horses,” Murtagh said prior to arrival in the Kingdom.

“It’s great to have horses rated high enough to get into these types of races for this type of prize money and it’s a new experience for us but we want to be competing on the world stage.”

As a jockey, Murtagh regularly delivered winning runs for some of the biggest owners in the world on horses bred in the purple but his first Group 1 winner as a trainer, Champers Elysees, was a filly he picked up for $32,000 as a yearling. Sonnyboyliston was a similarly priced steal.

“We bought Sonnyboyliston at the yearling sales at Tattersalls for $29,500,” Murtagh said. “He is by Power, who is a bit underrated, and the dam side is good.

“Liam Clarke runs the Kildare Racing Club, who own Sonnyboyliston, and he knew the breeder and was very keen on this lad going to the sales. They’ve all been very patient with him until things really started to click and now here we are.”

Connections are hopeful that this week’s trip to Saudi Arabia will be just the first leg of an internationally focused campaign for the modestly priced yearling, whose earnings to date of close to $1m could be multiplied with victory in Saturday’s $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap.

“We’ll see how Saturday goes but he is a horse that will travel because there are plenty of races for him,” Murtagh said. “We had a great end to the season with him last year but he has done really well over the winter and he definitely strengthened up on his break and looks strong.

“Saturday will be his first run of the season, obviously, but we brought him to Leopardstown racecourse for a gallop a couple of weeks ago and we were happy with that. I think he is pretty fit and we are looking forward to the weekend.”

Already such a famous face in the sporting world, Murtagh’s endearing personality might well lead him to impress a whole new audience in another guise on Saturday.


History-chasing Morocco want ‘no regrets’, says coach

History-chasing Morocco want ‘no regrets’, says coach
Morocco's coach Walid Regragui attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 7 sec ago

History-chasing Morocco want ‘no regrets’, says coach

History-chasing Morocco want ‘no regrets’, says coach
  • The north African side reached the last 16 in Mexico 36 years ago for the only time in their history
  • Morocco are second in Group F, level on four points with leaders Croatia, who face Belgium, on three points, while Canada are bottom with no points

DOHA: Morocco coach Walid Regragui wants “no regrets” after facing Canada on Thursday, with his team aiming for qualification to the World Cup knockout stage for the first time since 1986.
The north African side reached the last 16 in Mexico 36 years ago for the only time in their history, and a point against already-eliminated Canada would see them repeat the feat.
Morocco are second in Group F, level on four points with leaders Croatia, who face Belgium, on three points, while Canada are bottom with no points.
“We don’t want to have an eye on the Croatia and Belgium match to decide our own fate, we (need to) give everything we’ve got so we have no regrets at the end,” Regragui told a press conference Wednesday.
“We’ll give everything we’ve got. Our players want to make history and will give 110 percent to ensure the Moroccan population is happy.”
Morocco players have been allowed to bring their families to the tournament and after the 2-0 win over Belgium on Sunday, Paris Saint-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi was pictured in an emotional embrace with his mother in the stands.
“Before we got here we had a strategy meeting, to bring families with us or not,” said Regragui.
“Based on our experience in 2018, along with our technical team, we chose the option to bring the families.
“Some players have kids, some would rather have their parents with them. We did a good job in that regard. When you win, there’s no negatives, everyone is happy, but if you lose they will say — ‘Why did you bring the families?’
“We meet them after the game and then we concentrate on the next one.
“The spirit of family off the pitch, we want to bring that onto the pitch, and until now it’s functioning very well.”

- Making progress -

African champions Senegal qualified from Group A after beating Ecuador on Tuesday and Morocco have a good chance to join them in the next round.
“Senegal showed us a great path, we want to go through and move forward,” said Regragui.
“Morocco is my priority, Morocco and Moroccans. (But) we hope to fly the flag of African football high.
“Often African football has been described as sub-par, not as good as elsewhere, but we’ve shown we can give anyone a run for their money.”
Opponents Canada are playing in only their second World Cup and despite two defeats and elimination with a game to spare, coach John Herdman said his team have made progress.
They were unfortunate to lose 1-0 against Belgium, and scored their first ever goal at the tournament in the 4-1 defeat by Canada on Sunday, with Alphonso Davies sending them ahead early on.
“It’s an opportunity to keep stepping forward,” Herdman told a press conference.
“We’ll stay committed to our identity and go into this match with an opportunity to make some more history.
“We’ve been enjoying the ride and we know there’s not long left, the players are excited for their families, to try and step into the stadium and try to have one of those moments.
“We watched the celebrations back, we watched Alphonso’s goal together, to be proud of moments like that because there’s more to come.”
Canada will participate in the 2026 tournament as co-hosts with the United States and Mexico.
“We’re a football country, we’re there. You can’t deny that, and we will push tomorrow to keep proving that,” he added.


Wales boss Page urges team to learn from World Cup heartache

Wales boss Page urges team to learn from World Cup heartache
Wales' coach Rob Page reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran. AFP
Updated 30 November 2022

Wales boss Page urges team to learn from World Cup heartache

Wales boss Page urges team to learn from World Cup heartache
  • After reaching the knockout stage at the past two European Championships, Wales struggled in Qatar, with aging stars Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey looking well past their best
  • “It’s important they learn from it. We’ve had a taste of it, the World Cup and the Euros, and we want to continue to qualify,” said Page

DOHA: Wales will leave Qatar with mixed emotions — pride at reaching their first World Cup in 64 years mingled with a sense of bitter disappointment that they failed to do themselves justice.
Rob Page’s team, cheered on by legions of their “Red Wall” fans in the Gulf state, drew their opening match against the USA 1-1 but then fell to a 2-0 defeat by Iran and were outclassed by England on Tuesday, losing 3-0.
After reaching the knockout stage at the past two European Championships, Wales struggled in Qatar, with aging stars Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey looking well past their best.
“We’re disappointed because we know in a couple of the games we haven’t really shown our true colors and that’s probably the most frustrating thing for me and the group of players,” said Page. “They know that themselves. I don’t need to tell them that.
“It’s important they learn from it. We’ve had a taste of it, the World Cup and the Euros, and we want to continue to qualify.”
The coach urged a focus on the “bigger picture,” saying the experience would prove beneficial for his younger players.
“We haven’t got the pool of players that England have got and I think they’ll go on to do well in the tournament,” he said. “For us, it is an amazing achievement to get here.
“We’ve got to expose the younger players to these environments and hopefully then in future we can continue to qualify.”
- Patchy Wales -
Full-back Connor Roberts does not believe Wales, who beat Ukraine in a play-off to qualify for Qatar, did themselves justice during their three Group B matches.
“There were patches where we did show what we were all about but they were few and far between and it’s a little bit disappointing for a lot of the players, myself included,” he said.
The Burnley player said when the dust settles the Welsh squad will reflect on the achievement of even getting to the World Cup but said they wanted more.
“The next accomplishment for Wales’ men’s team will be to try and get out of the group at the World Cup, whenever that will be,” he said.
“We might have to wait a while, we might not have to wait too long but that is the next goal and it’s a good thing that football moves quickly. The Euros (qualifiers) starts in March and we need to take experiences and the young players need to learn from this.”
Bale, 33, has indicated he wants to continue playing for Wales, while Joe Allen, 32, and Ramsey, 31, have yet to comment on their future at international level.
Page said the shift to a new generation would “happen naturally when the time is right,” while Roberts bristled at the notion that the team were aging fast.
“There’s also a lot of people the right side of 30 and a lot of talent in that squad... we’ve got a lot of young players who can learn from this experience and hopefully take it forward,” he said.
One of those young players is Rubin Colwill, 20, who plays for Cardiff in the English Championship.
“It’s a great learning experience for not just me but all the younger boys to learn from the likes of Gareth, Aaron, Joe, Ben (Davies), Wayne (Hennessey), all the older boys,” he said.
He said Wales had traveled to Qatar with high expectations.
“You’ve always got to think the sky’s the limit really,” he said. “We wanted to get out of the group really. We knew it was a tough group and you’ve seen that on paper and I think you can see that now with the spread of the points in the group. 
“Obviously England being the big country didn’t really run away with it with the points either so it just shows the standard of the group.”


No comment from Saudi Al-Nassr club if Cristiano Ronaldo deal is a go

No comment from Saudi Al-Nassr club if Cristiano Ronaldo deal is a go
Updated 30 November 2022

No comment from Saudi Al-Nassr club if Cristiano Ronaldo deal is a go

No comment from Saudi Al-Nassr club if Cristiano Ronaldo deal is a go
  • Ronaldo became a free agent after recently having his contract with Manchester United terminated
  • Saudi deal would be biggest ever in world football, with Ronaldo earning a reported $210m a year

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo could be on the verge of joining Saudi club Al-Nassr on a world record two-and-a-half-year contract worth almost $518 million, according Spanish newspaper Marca, and other English and French media outlets.

Ronaldo is currently at the World Cup in Qatar with Portugal, who secured their passage to the round of 16 with a 2-0 win over Uruguay on Monday.

The move by the footballing superstar would be by some distance the most dramatic in the history of Saudi and Asian football, and would likely attract millions of new international followers to the Saudi Pro League and, potentially, the AFC Champions League.

Ronaldo recently had his contract at Manchester United terminated after criticizing club manager Eric ten Hag, management and players in a controversial interview with Piers Morgan aired just days before the start of the World Cup.

Rumors around the potential move began shortly after the start of Qatar 2022, but Ronaldo has remained tight-lipped, saying only that any discussion of a deal with Al-Nassr or elsewhere will have to wait till after the World Cup.

With no transfer fee for any potential new club, the 37-year-old Ronaldo would receive a financially attractive signing-on fee and $210 million per year from what could possibly be the last major contract of his outstanding career.

Ronaldo began his career at Sporting Lisbon before making his name with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, where he won three Premier League titles and the 2008 Champions League.

In the summer of 2009 he joined Real Madrid for a world record fee of around $95 million, and went on to win four Champions League medals and two La Liga titles at the Bernabeu.

In 2018, he moved to Juventus, where he won two Serie A titles, before returning to Manchester United ahead of the 2021-22 season.

He also captained Portugal to the Euro 2016 title, and is international football’s record goalscorer with 118 goals.

So far there has been no comment from the Al-Nassr regarding the deal.


Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams hang in the balance

Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams hang in the balance
Updated 30 November 2022

Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams hang in the balance

Messi and Lewandowski’s World Cup dreams hang in the balance
  • Either one of two of the biggest stars of European club football could fail to qualify for the knockout stages in Qatar

DOHA: Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski head into Wednesday’s showdown between Argentina and Poland with the futures of what could be their final World Cup adventures hanging in the balance.

Either one of two of the biggest stars of European club football could fail to qualify for the knockout stages in Qatar and end their careers without tasting glory at the most prestigious tournament of all.

Messi has already netted twice in his last attempt to emulate Diego Maradona and win the World Cup for Argentina and is trying to drag the Albiceleste out of Group C after they were stunned by Saudi Arabia in their opening match.

Argentina beat Mexico 2-0 to salvage their campaign and sit second, level on three points with the Saudis and one behind leaders Poland and only a win will guarantee that 35-year-old Messi’s Qatar campaign continues into December.

An Argentine exit would devastate fans back home and a worldwide army of Messi fans desperate to see him lift the World Cup.

It would also be a fitting climax to the career of one of football’s greatest ever players, but coach Lionel Scaloni sees such histrionics as unnecessary.

“It’s hard to make people understand that the sun will rise tomorrow, win or lose,” he said after his side beat Mexico to get their challenge back on track.

“What matters is how you do things.”

Lewandowski was brought to tears by fulfilling his “childhood dream” of scoring his first ever World Cup goal in what was his fifth match at the finals, a 2-0 win over the Saudis.

The Barcelona forward knows he might not get another chance on this stage should the Poles exit the tournament on Wednesday.

“I’m aware it might be my last World Cup and I wanted to be able to say that I’ve played and scored at World Cups,” said the 34-year-old.

Lewandowski is a safer bet to make the last 16 as Poland will be through with a win or a draw, and even if they lose they are only sure to be knocked out if the Saudis beat Mexico.

Poland coach Czeslaw Michniewicz insisted it wasn’t simply a contest between the forward despite the inevitable focus on the two big stars.

“It’s not only a match between Lewandowski and Messi, it’s not tennis,” he said.

On Tuesday, the US reached the knockout phase by beating Iran 1-0 in a battle of geopolitical foes, earning a second round meeting with the Netherlands.

Christian Pulisic’s winner in the 38th minute of an absorbing contest in Doha eliminated the Iranians.

The meeting of the bitter ideological rivals had been marked by a bad-tempered buildup, with Iran’s Football Federation demanding on Sunday that FIFA punish US Soccer for posting a modified version of their country’s flag on social media.

The defeat ended a fraught campaign for Iran, whose every move in Qatar has been scrutinized for signs the players are showing support for mass anti-government protests that have shaken the Islamic republic.

“The dream is over,” coach Carlos Queiroz said. “Unfortunately football always punishes the team that doesn’t score.”

The Americans finished two points behind England in Group B after Gareth Southgate’s team cruised past Wales 3-0 in a one-sided ‘Battle of Britain’ decided by a Marcus Rashford brace and another strike from Manchester City star Phil Foden.

Rashford said his double, which included a stunning free-kick to open the scoring in the 50th minute at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, was “what I play football for.”

“I have massive ambition for this team and think we can play even better than we showed today,” added Rashford.

England will face Senegal on Sunday after Chelsea defender Kalidou Koulibaly snatched a 2-1 win over Ecuador to finish second behind the Dutch in Group A and knock out the South Americans.

Koulibaly said he would give late Senegalese icon Papa Bouba Diop’s family his man-of-the-match award after firing the Lions of Teranga into the last 16 for the second time in their history.

Cody Gakpo his third goal of the tournament as the Netherlands booked their place last 16 as group winners with a straightforward 2-0 victory over hosts Qatar.

Qatar, which has spent $200 billion to host the World Cup, bow out of their own tournament with the worst ever performance by a host nation — zero points and just one goal scored.


’We deserve to be here,’ says coach Gregg Berhalter after US sink Iran

’We deserve to be here,’ says coach Gregg Berhalter after US sink Iran
Updated 30 November 2022

’We deserve to be here,’ says coach Gregg Berhalter after US sink Iran

’We deserve to be here,’ says coach Gregg Berhalter after US sink Iran
  • The win avenged America’s defeat to Iran at the 1998 World Cup
  • Berhalter expressed particular satisfaction that his team held the line despite a second half onslaught by Iran

DOHA: US coach Gregg Berhalter said his team belonged in the last 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday after defeating Iran 1-0 to set up a second round showdown with the Netherlands.

Five years after the Americans suffered the shock of failing to qualify for the 2018 finals in Russia, Berhalter has led a youthful US team into knockout rounds of the tournament.

Draws against Wales and England were followed by Tuesday’s nailbiting 1-0 win over arch-rivals Iran to seal qualification.

But while Sunday’s last 16 clash with the Netherlands promises to be a step up in class, Berhalter said his team would have no trace of an inferiority complex.

“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something that we’re going into it thinking it’s an honor,” Berhalter said.

“We deserve to be in the position we’re in. And we want to keep going. We don’t want to be going home next Wednesday.

“So for us it’s how we recover from this game, and how to play a very good Dutch team. We have to come up with an idea of how to beat them.”

Asked how far the US could go in Qatar, Berhalter replied: “Coming into the tournament we had two goals, the first was to advance through the group stage.

“And from here anything can happen. All we need to do is play one game at a time. There’s no need to even project how far this team can go.”

The former US international defender expressed particular satisfaction that his team held the line despite a second half onslaught by Iran.

The Americans finished the group phase with only one goal conceded — a penalty against Wales — and back-to-back clean sheets.

“That’s the first time in 92 years that we’ve got two shutouts at a World Cup so the boys are doing something right,” Berhalter said.

“The end of the game is really what I’m most proud of because it was the mark of determination, an extreme amount of effort and a lot of resiliency to hang in there and get the win and not buckle.”

The win avenged America’s defeat to Iran at the 1998 World Cup.

Berhalter spoke before the game about his dismay at that loss, complaining that Iran’s team had been more motivated 24 years ago.

“I talked yesterday in the press conference about the 1998 game and the guys not having the appropriate intensity to compete against Iran — and today we had it,” Berhalter said. “It was clear from the opening whistle.”

Berhalter added that Tuesday’s result was the sort of performance that would make US sports fans take the team to its heart.

“We’ve talked about defining this group, and it starts to take shape based on these performances,” he said.

“You see how resilient this group is, you see how unified this group is, and what type of energy they put into every single game.

“And along the way there’s some pretty good soccer. That’s the American spirit the way this group plays.”