Benzema strikes again as Real Madrid edge past Rayo

Benzema strikes again as Real Madrid edge past Rayo
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema celebrates with Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior after scoring the opening goal during their La Liga match against Rayo Vallecano at the Vallecas stadium in Madrid on Saturday. (AP)
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Updated 26 February 2022

Benzema strikes again as Real Madrid edge past Rayo

Benzema strikes again as Real Madrid edge past Rayo
  • Benzema struck in the 83rd minute, his 29th goal of the season enough to seal a scrappy victory at Vallecas
  • Betis sit third and have been in excellent form in recent weeks

MADRID: Karim Benzema proved the difference again for Real Madrid on Saturday by scoring a late winner against Rayo Vallecano to send his team nine points clear at the top of La Liga.
Benzema struck in the 83rd minute, his 29th goal of the season enough to seal a scrappy victory at Vallecas but one that could put Madrid almost out of sight if Sevilla fail to beat local rivals Real Betis on Sunday. Betis sit third and have been in excellent form in recent weeks.
For an eighth match in a row, Madrid failed to score in the first half and this was their fifth game out of the last six that has seen them unable to score more than once.
Their lack of punch could prove problematic against more testing opponents, with a Champions League second leg against Paris Saint-Germain and then the second La Liga Clasico of the season against Barcelona both approaching next month.
A superb start to the campaign had Rayo in the hunt for the European places a few weeks ago but four consecutive defeats had seen them drop to 12th before kick-off.
They pushed Madrid hard here but were made to pay for a lack of ruthlessness in the final third, with Benzema and Vinicius Junior’s quality not for the first time proving decisive.
Marco Asensio and Benzema both had early chances but Rayo were the better team in the first half, drawing Madrid into a scrap and harrying them into mistakes.
Casemiro was particularly out of sorts but thought he had given Madrid the lead, banging a bouncing ball into the net after winning an aerial duel with Alejandro Catena.
The goal was ruled out, though, after replays showed he had pushed Catena in the back.
Both teams had chances early in the second half. Vinicius Junior’s finish from six yards had to be blocked before Thibaut Courtois did brilliantly to deny Mario Saurez from heading Rayo in front.
But Rayo tired and Madrid turned the screw in the last 20 minutes, Luka Modric curling against the crossbar, although Rayo had the best chance, Oscar Trejo and then Alvaro both thwarted by Courtois after Madrid failed to clear.
The miss proved costly because moments later, Benzema was celebrating in the corner.
He started the move, threading Vinicius through in the box before continuing his run. Vinicius could have shot but tapped it to his left, giving Benzema an open net.


All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
Updated 49 min 18 sec ago

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
  • Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history
  • Riyadh hosted the epic ‘Clash on the Dunes’ in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier

JEDDAH: The sporting world’s attention is set to focus on Jeddah this week in anticipation of the “Rage on the Red Sea” boxing match between world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and challenger Anthony Joshua.

The event on Aug. 20 will also feature a first ever women’s boxing match in Saudi Arabia, and the appearance of Arab up-and-comer Ziyad Al-Maayouf.

Live from Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Arena, Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history.

The winner will also take home the Ring Magazine title after Tyson Fury vacated it last week.

In the first meeting between these two titans of the heavyweight division, Ukrainian Usyk (19 wins, no losses and 13 knockouts) produced a masterclass performance on route to dethroning Joshua (24-2-22), defeating the Briton in his own backyard by unanimous decision at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England last September, with over 60,000 fans in attendance and millions more watching around the world.

This time around, Joshua enters the ring as challenger rather than champion, although “AJ” has enacted revenge and immediately reclaimed titles before in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh hosted the epic “Clash on the Dunes” in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Usyk remains undefeated in his professional campaign. The former undisputed cruiserweight world champion has made the successful transition to heavyweight and is viewed by many as the world’s pound-for-pound best fighter.

Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz, chairman of Skill Challenge Entertainment, said: “International boxing spectacles are always special, not least because of the activities and events (that are) part of the pre-fight build-up. History illustrates that the days leading up to massive fights live long in the memory of everyone involved, from fans to media, promotors to sponsors, the fighters themselves to their teams and families.

“They are a traditional yet integral component of local, regional, and international promotion and contribute to the acclaim these events receive and the legacy they leave behind. As such, we are delighted that the time has finally come for Jeddah to host Rage on the Red Sea fight week. Jeddah is ready to welcome the world once more while showcasing precisely (why) it has become the new home for Middle Eastern sport.”

Fight week in Jeddah officially gets underway on Monday with an exclusive media arrival event at Shangri-La Business Center, where international media, VIPs, and other invited guests will enjoy a series of press opportunities with fighters, promotors and key stakeholders.

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the week’s proceedings continue with the traditional public workout. Hosted at Saudia City, fans will join media and VIPs as the undercard and main event fighters showcase their skills and offer a first-hand glimpse of their pre-fight preparations, sure to generate further buzz before the weekend’s action.

The pre-fight press conference will be held on Wednesday at Shangri-La Hotel from 2 p.m. local time. Stakeholders, sponsors, and the media will be in attendance as the fighters and their teams share their thoughts and answer questions.

On Friday, Aug. 19, the fighters will face off for the final time at the official weigh-in. Later that evening, the Shangri-La ballroom will host an invitation-only gala dinner for global partners and guests of the Ministry of Sports and SCEE, which holds the global rights to the event.


Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
Updated 15 August 2022

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
  • Two-time British world champion faces Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk at Rage on the Red Sea in Jeddah on Saturday
  • 32-year-old Joshua previously won the heavyweight world title in Saudi Arabia in 2019

When Anthony Joshua steps into the ring to face Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah on Saturday, Aug. 20, it will almost feel like he is fighting in front of a home crowd.

The British boxer, a two-time unified heavyweight world champion, will have a chance to regain the title he lost to his Ukrainian opponent last September when the two rivals meet in a rematch at Rage on the Red Sea.

The 32-year-old has made Jeddah his training base over the last month, and promoter Eddie Hearn hopes Joshua will leave Saudi Arabia a world champion yet again.

“This is our second fight in Saudi Arabia. The first one, ironically, was another rematch that Joshua had to try and win,” said Hearn of Joshua’s previous victory in 2019 against Andy Ruiz. “So, we’ve got good vibes about going back to the Kingdom. The aim for Saudi was always to try and do the undisputed Heavyweight World Championship. The biggest prize in the sport is the Heavyweight World Championship. So, when we did Joshua-Ruiz, the pandemic really slowed that development down. And when this fight came around, it was challenging principally, and everybody got in touch.

“We had a tremendous experience there last time. Joshua is very comfortable there, so much so that he’s been out there for weeks already. Normally, you’d come out a week before the fight, if you’re traveling, and he’s been there for four weeks. He loves it there. He’s feeling confident. And it’s a huge fight for boxing.”

Hearn said that the relative sanctuary of Jeddah has provided Joshua with an ideal preparation period away from the glare of media he would expect in his home country.

“Obviously, a lot of people know him in Saudi, but in England, he can’t breathe without someone taking a photo, someone bothering him,” said the British promoter. “He gives his time to everybody, and it can be quite draining. So, he loves the fact that he can be in Saudi. He loves it there, he feels comfortable there. And he can just chill with his friends in the hotel, he can go out, he can get coffee. His preparation’s been great. He’s got a new trainer for this fight in Robert Garcia. It’s a very tough fight. Usyk is pound for pound probably No. 1 in the sport.

“But Joshua is in a great place. He feels very comfortable in Saudi. And he’s ready.”

Boxing at the highest level may still be new to Saudi Arabia, but it is making big strides toward rivaling established hubs such as London and Las Vegas in terms of holding big-name bouts.

“I have incredible resources. Financially as well, they’re putting a lot behind the events,” Hearn said. “So, you’re going to get a first-class event in terms of arena, press conferences, hotels — everything is done to the highest possible standard, and we feel very comfortable. I couldn’t quite believe when I went back to Jeddah, six or seven weeks ago, the difference in the place that I saw four years ago.

“When you see a different place, you see so many changes, the vibrancy, the energy around the event. Joshua and Usyk were shooting the promo in the square, and people were excited. Prince Khalid [bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud], my good friend who really drives boxing in Saudi Arabia, has a vision for the sport and a love for the sport. And I know how much he cares for the sport. And that matters to me.”

Hearn sees that his aim to get his fighters the best possible fight deals aligns with Saudi’s own desire to promote the sport and, eventually, produce world-class boxers of its own.

“You must always try and get the fighters the best deal because it is a dangerous sport,” Hearn said. “But it’s more than that. There’s a real movement for boxing in Saudi Arabia, and we’re behind it, and I think next week you’re going to see not just a tremendous event but interest from the public there also. And as participation levels increase at a grassroots level, you’re going to start seeing fighters emerge. And when you see fighters emerge, that’s when everything will change there. Can you imagine how big it could be if a fighter went on and won an Olympic medal or won a world championship? It would be huge.”

Saturday night’s card in Jeddah will see the super lightweight Saudi-Egyptian fighter Ziyad Al-Maayouf take on Mexico’s Jose Alatorre.

“You need local fighters,” said Hearn. “It’s all very well coming to Saudi Arabia to say we are developing boxing in the region. But what are we developing? Boxing is so important on so many levels for young people. Fitness, mental health, physical health, discipline and respect. But you still want talent coming through. There’s no reason why over the years, if the coaching is good enough, we can’t see some good fighters emerge. It’s very important that you see those young fighters coming through.”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic may have somewhat stalled the rise of boxing in Saudi Arabia, but Hearn believes the time is right to kick-start its growth again.

“The commercial interest, the participation interest, the interest from the public is getting bigger all the time,” he said. “When we filmed the promo in the square, you could see people were genuinely interested. The Ruiz fight did a lot for boxing in the Kingdom, but we lost a bit of momentum because of the pandemic. But interest is there, from a public perspective, from a commercial perspective, and it's a huge event in Saudi next Saturday.”

As a message to the fans, Hearn has promised a spectacular event on the Red Sea.

“Just enjoy. We’re desperate for Joshua to win,” he said. “He’s obviously a friend of ours, and we’ve been with him for his professional debut, but Usyk is, pound for pound, great. It’s going to be a tremendous fight, it’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere. It’s the World Heavyweight Championship. And we can’t wait to put on a huge event in Saudi Arabia next Saturday.”


Lawyers appeal US basketball star Brittney Griner’s Russian prison sentence

Lawyers appeal US basketball star Brittney Griner’s Russian prison sentence
Updated 15 August 2022

Lawyers appeal US basketball star Brittney Griner’s Russian prison sentence

Lawyers appeal US basketball star Brittney Griner’s Russian prison sentence
  • On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said exchange talks have been conducted

MOSCOW: Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner on Monday filed an appeal against her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession, Russian news agencies reported Monday.
Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted on Aug. 4. She was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage.
Griner played for a women’s basketball team in Yekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.
Lawyer Maria Blagovolina was quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying the appeal was filed, but the grounds of the appeal weren’t immediately clear.
Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after the conviction that the sentence was excessive and that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.
Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but said she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.
Before her conviction, the US State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that the US had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.
Blinken didn’t elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US and once earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death.”
On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said exchange talks have been conducted.
“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and US citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, told state news agency Tass. “These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle.’“


Saudi Arabia beat Algeria to reach football final at Islamic Solidarity Games

Saudi Arabia beat Algeria to reach football final at Islamic Solidarity Games
Updated 15 August 2022

Saudi Arabia beat Algeria to reach football final at Islamic Solidarity Games

Saudi Arabia beat Algeria to reach football final at Islamic Solidarity Games
  • Two more weightlifting medals take Kingdom’s overall tally at Konya to 20

KONYA: The Saudi national under-23 team qualified for the final of the football competition at the fifth Islamic Solidarity Games after beating Algeria 2-1 on Sunday night.

The young Green Falcons started the match in dominant manner and took a two-goal lead thanks to strikes by Haitham Asiri in the 14th minute, and Ahmed Al-Ghamdi in the 20th.

Algeria reduced the deficit to one goal five minutes before the break, but the Saudi team saw out the match successfully despite having Mohammed Maran sent off in the 85th minute, and enduring six minutes of stoppage time.

Saudi Arabia last reached the final of the football competition at the games when the tournament was held in Makkah in 2005.

Meanwhile, Saudi success in weightlifting continued with two more medals for Ali Al-Othman, raising the overall tally in Turkey to 20 (one gold, 11 silver and eight bronze). The Kingdom’s weightlifting team has claimed 11 of the total.

Al-Othman took silver in the clean and jerk with a lift of 192 kilograms and bronze for finishing third overall with 349 points.

The Saudi women’s 3×3 basketball team opened their campaign with a close 20-19 victory over Qatar, while the men’s handball team lost the bronze medal match 30-21 to Iran.


UAE’s Al-Mansoori wins in Lithuania to take lead in world title race

UAE’s Al-Mansoori wins in Lithuania to take lead in world title race
Updated 15 August 2022

UAE’s Al-Mansoori wins in Lithuania to take lead in world title race

UAE’s Al-Mansoori wins in Lithuania to take lead in world title race
  • Team Abu Dhabi star produces immaculate display for maiden F2 Grand Prix victory

KUPISKIS: Team Abu Dhabi’s Mansoor Al-Mansoori powered his way into the lead in the 2022 UIM F2 World Championship today with a commanding victory in the Grand Prix of Lithuania.

After securing his first F2 pole position 24 hours earlier, Al-Mansoori produced an immaculate performance to claim his maiden Grand Prix success by 2.416 seconds from Sharjah Team’s Sami Seliö.

It was a mature and impressive display from the Emirati driver who has gradually grown in confidence since joining Team Abu Dhabi last season.

The result more than made up for Al-Mansoori’s disappointment in Lithuania last year when he was forced out of the race after being rammed from behind while chasing a podium finish.

“I’m very happy, and I want to thank my team for all the hard work they put in to make this happen,” he said, before leaping from the pontoon into the water to celebrate his success.

After problems in qualifying led to him starting the second round of the 2022 season in seventh place, teammate and reigning world champion, Rashed Al-Qemzi, claimed sixth position.

It might have been a lot better for Al-Qemzi but for an incident which brought the race to a temporary halt on the first lap after he had started superbly.

Al-Mansoori, who admitted to feeling pre-race nerves, showed no signs of that as he made a perfect start to reach the first turn in the lead.

Al-Qemzi also got off to a flyer and was quickly up to fourth before losing the three places he had gained when a collision between Swedes Johan Österberg and Bimba Sjöholm brought out a yellow flag.

With Österberg flipping and going out immediately, and Sjöholm exiting after the restart, Al-Mansoori continued to lead comfortably from Seliö.

He drove flawlessly through the 45 laps as he recorded a victory which gives him an eight-point world championship lead from first round winner, Germany’s Stefan Hagin, who finished fifth on the day.

UIM F2 World Championship leading positions (points):

1. Mansoor Al-Mansoori (UAE) 35

2. Stefan Hagin (Germany) 27

3. Sami Seliö (UAE) 22

4. Giacomo Sacchi (Monaco) 21

5. Duarte Benavente (Portugal) 14

6. Tobias Munthe-Kaa (Norway) 12

7. Edgaras Riabko (Lithuania) 8

8. Rashed Al-Qemzi (UAE) 5