Morocco and Tunisia joy, Egypt pain: 5 things learned from drama of African World Cup qualifiers

Morocco and Tunisia joy, Egypt pain: 5 things learned from drama of African World Cup qualifiers
At the moment, all is well in Moroccan football after the Atlas Lions defeated DR Congo 4-1 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate. (AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2022

Morocco and Tunisia joy, Egypt pain: 5 things learned from drama of African World Cup qualifiers

Morocco and Tunisia joy, Egypt pain: 5 things learned from drama of African World Cup qualifiers
  • Lightning strikes twice as Sadio Mane eliminates Egypt, Algeria is knocked out and Morocco and Tunisia qualify

 

There was drama, controversy, excitement and plenty more besides in the second leg of Africa’s World Cup playoffs on what was a mixed night for Arab teams. Here are five things we learned.

1. Another painful night for Egypt against Senegal

For the second time in less than two months, Egypt lost a massive game to Senegal on penalties. Had things gone just a little differently, the Pharaohs would now be African champions and going to the World Cup but now they are neither.

A first leg 1-0 lead was wiped out after just three minutes in Dakar and then we had 117 minutes of tight and tense football with Senegal making most of the running.

It was already tense. Egypt claimed their team bus had been pelted with bottles, there were banners in the stadium insulting Mohamed Salah and then, of course, were the lasers. The image of Salah taking his penalty kick looking like The Hulk due to all the green lights that were shining in his face, will be the defining image of the match, and it is understandable that Egypt are unhappy with everything that happened. There has been an official complaint launched.

In the end, three Egyptian players missed from the spot and Senegal are going to the World Cup.

2. Morocco make light of absences and book Qatar spot

At the moment, all is well in Moroccan football after the Atlas Lions defeated DR Congo 4-1 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate. For once, the fallout between European stars Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui and the coach Vahid Halilhodzic is not the main topic of conversation.

Two enforced first-half substitutions, including the withdrawal of goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, raised the tension level but once Taris Tissoudali, who scored the away goal in the 1-1 draw in Kinshasa, made it 2-0 deep into first-half injury time, there only looked to be one winner.

In the end, Morocco were simply too good for the visitors and book a World Cup spot for the sixth time. Once the celebrations stop then it is to be hoped that Halilhodzic finds a way to reconcile with some of his European stars as the opposition in Qatar is going to be tougher.

3. Algeria’s terrible year cruelly continues

Algeria should be at the World Cup and were the better team against Cameroon yet missed out to a last-gasp goal that took the tie to 2-2 but sent the Indomitable Lions through on away goals. After a 1-0 win in the first leg, Algeria were strong favorites to qualify even after a mistake from goalkeeper Raïs M'Bolhi helped the visitors score midway through the first half.

The hosts had chances to win, however. There were two goals ruled out for offside and handball and a goalkeeper in excellent form. Yet they were ahead after 118 minutes thanks to Ahmed Touba. Qatar was just minutes away but Cameroon threw everyone forward and eventually got the all-important goal.

Despite boasting players such as Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani, the North African powerhouse will have to watch the World Cup from afar this November. This comes just weeks after the team crashed out of the African Nations Cup at the first round in January despite arriving as defending champions. It has been a dreadful 2022 so far but this exit, in the last second of a two-year qualification campaign, was cruel.

4. Tunisia’s defense sees them through

It didn’t get many headlines but Tunisia’s 0-0 draw at home to Mali was enough to see them through. That was because the Carthage Eagles had won the first leg 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Moussa Sissoko. Fans in Tunis didn’t care that none of their players scored in 180 minutes of action and won’t care that it wasn’t pretty.

Prior to the game, coach Jalel Kadri, who replaced Mondher Kebaier after the African Cup of Nations, warned that the home leg would be more difficult than the away leg in Bamako. And so it proved, with the visitors going close in the opening seconds and having a fifth minute goal ruled out, just, for offside. In the end Mali, looking for a first World Cup appearance just could not find a way through the well-organized Tunisian defense and while they didn’t really look like conceding, it was all over.

There were plenty of tears, from both sides, at the end. Tunisia have a lot of work to do in the coming months but, for now, there is delight at the fact that their name goes in the hat for the World Cup draw.

5. Already coaching changes, could be more to come

After elimination at the hands of Senegal, Carlos Queiroz announced that he would not be staying on as head coach of Egypt. His style of play was not that popular among neutrals but had two penalty shootouts been won instead of lost then he would have delivered the African Cup of Nations and a World Cup berth.

“It’s time for me to leave the leadership of Egypt to someone else,” he said. “Egypt will start preparing for the upcoming tournaments as well as the qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup.”

While there are no major tournaments imminent, the federation will soon have to start thinking about who comes next. Whether to go local or foreign is just one of the questions that need to be answered.

And then there is Djamel Belmadi. He led Algeria to the 2019 African title but failure at the recent AFCON and now in World Cup qualification may bring an end to his four-year tenure in charge of one of Africa’s biggest teams. While it may be time for a change, the last-minute elimination, which saw the coach sink to his knees with his head in his hands, may be too painful to make any decisions about the future just yet.


Victory for Pascal Werhlein and Porsche on day one of Diriyah E-Prix

Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche team stormed from ninth to win the first of two races at the Diriyah E-Prix
Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche team stormed from ninth to win the first of two races at the Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 28 January 2023

Victory for Pascal Werhlein and Porsche on day one of Diriyah E-Prix

Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche team stormed from ninth to win the first of two races at the Diriyah E-Prix
  • Wehrlein looked the quickest on the track as he picked his way through the points-paying positions to the front of the pack

DIRIYAH: Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche team stormed from ninth to win the first of two races at the Diriyah E-Prix, with standings leader Jake Dennis of Avalanche Andretti Formula E following home in second after starting in 11th.

Wehrlein looked the quickest on the track as he picked his way through the points-paying positions to the front of the pack.

The move for the lead came on lap 30 at turn 16, with Sam Bird in the Jaguar TCS Racing car unable to hold back Wehrlein’s 99X Electric Gen3.

Both driver and car looked dominant for a second straight race. It was an emotional win for the 28-year-old, who once again credited his team with a monumental amount of work off-track to get things so right on it.

Jake Dennis in the Porsche-powered Avalanche Andretti took the fight all the way to the line with his factory Porsche counterpart from all the way back in 11th on the grid, but he couldn't find a way beyond Wehrlein - who sealed his second Formula E win on his 50th start.

The result was a reversal of the one-two we saw two weeks ago in the 2023 Hankook Mexico City E-Prix - and both TAG Heuer Porsche and Avalanche Andretti look to have thrown down the challenge to the rest of the field as the GEN3 development race continues at pace.

Sam Bird was overjoyed to make the podium for the first time since winning in New York City in Season 7 - calling it a "mini victory" for himself and Jaguar after a tough Season 8 for the Brit - the only season he has failed to claim Formula E silverware.

Sebastian Buemi started in pole position and finished in fourth, his best finish since the Season 6 finale in Berlin.

NEOM McLaren Formula E Team’s René Rast started fifth and ended fifth following a long battle in middle of the points-paying positions. He also sealed the TAG Heuer Fastest Lap.

Nick Cassidy made it two Envision Racing cars in the top six. Jean-Éric Vergne fought from 12th to the points for DS PENSKE, winding up just ahead of Jake Hughes in the sister McLaren. André Lotterer and Mitch Evans rounded out the top 10 - the latter slipping from sixth on the grid.

That leaves Dennis as standings leader at just a point over Werhlein - 44 to 43 points - while Avalanche Andretti retain their Teams' advantage over TAG Heuer Porsche, 58 to 49 points, with Envision Racing third.

Formula E’s return to Diriyah, a historical and cultural destination in Saudi Arabia, marks a groundbreaking move as it continues to prioritise sustainability and shift the paradigm in the sports industry.


Galtier concedes goalkeeper Keylor Navas could leave PSG

Galtier concedes goalkeeper Keylor Navas could leave PSG
Updated 27 January 2023

Galtier concedes goalkeeper Keylor Navas could leave PSG

Galtier concedes goalkeeper Keylor Navas could leave PSG
  • Navas has been linked with a move after losing his starting position to Gianluigi Donnarumma
  • “Keylor is a great competitor," Galtier said

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain coach Christophe Galtier is unsure if he can retain goalkeeper Keylor Navas amid reported interest from Premier League club Nottingham Forest.
With the January transfer window closing soon, the 36-year-old Navas has been linked with a move after losing his starting position to Italy’s European Championship-winning goalie Gianluigi Donnarumma. Navas only plays in the French Cup.
“Keylor is a great competitor. He has been exemplary in terms of his work since the start of the season. I have total faith in him,” Galtier said Friday. “But you have to consider what he’s feeling and the directors and president are attentive to his needs.”
French sports daily L’Equipe’s website reported Friday that the Costa Rica international has agreed to terms with Forest.
Galtier suggested he would not try to block a move.
“Because of the person he is and his career, we must respect him and listen to him,” he said.
Navas joined PSG in 2019 from Real Madrid, where he won the Champions League three times, and has played 108 games for the French champions. He was outstanding during the 2020-21 season, when he stood out with remarkable performances in the Champions League against Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
Navas has played 110 times for Costa Rica.


Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading
Updated 27 January 2023

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading
  • Sancho has struggled to reach peak form since moving from Borussia Dortmund
  • Sancho last played for United in October's 1-1 draw at Chelsea and was left out of England's World Cup squad

LONDON: Erik ten Hag is set to end Jadon Sancho’s Manchester United exile as the England forward eyes his first appearance in 14 weeks against Reading in the FA Cup fourth round.
Sancho has struggled to reach peak form since moving from Borussia Dortmund and Ten Hag claimed he was not mentally or physically ready to feature for United earlier this season.
The 22-year-old was sent to do an individual fitness program in the Netherlands rather than travel to the squad’s training camp in Spain during the World Cup last year.
But Sancho resumed group training last Tuesday having returned to Carrington earlier in January and could be involved when second tier Reading visit Old Trafford on Saturday.
“He is training with the team and we will see,” Ten Hag told reporters on Friday.
“So, he’s improving, he’s making steps and we will make the decision after training.”
Sancho last played for United in October’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea and was left out of England’s World Cup squad.
He has failed to justify the hype that saw him hailed as one of Europe’s brightest young stars when he moved to United in 2021.
“I said he’s on the way back, he’s making steps. He’s back in team training and now we have to see when he’s ready to go back into the games,” Ten Hag said.
United have flourished in Sancho’s absence, climbing into the Premier League’s top four and advancing in both domestic cup competitions.
Chasing the club’s first major trophy since 2017, United won 3-0 at Nottingham Forest in the League Cup semifinal first leg on Wednesday.
That result means Ten Hag could rest key players in next week’s second leg, but the Dutchman will also be tempted to rotate against a Reading side managed by former United midfielder Paul Ince.
“Football is never decided on paper, we have to be ready for every game, every opponent will be tough and especially in the cup,” Ten Hag said.
“That is, for them, a perfect chance. We have to be aware of that. We have to be on the front foot, fully focused and full of energy.
“I think tomorrow we will have a strong selection for this game.”


Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers
Updated 27 January 2023

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers
  • Team Principal James Barclay talks exclusively to Arab News about the early stages of Season 9, strength of the championship and ‘formidable’ Diriyah track

For a “startup,” Formula E is not doing badly at all.

Friday and Saturday will see the second and third rounds of Season 9 at the Diriyah E-Prix night-time double-header, and James Barclay, team principal of Jaguar TCS Racing, believes few other sports can match the pace, metaphorical and literal, the sport has set since its inception.

“I think the first thing to say is Formula E is only 8 years old,” he said. “That’s the amazing thing. It’s still a startup by definition, which is exciting to think about. We’ve come a long way in eight years. It’s one of the fastest forms of motorsport in terms of growth in the world, which is incredibly exciting to see. We have an incredible lineup of teams and manufacturers, which in single-seater racing is unrivaled.”

The first race of the season in Mexico City saw the launch of Formula E’s Gen3 car — the all-electric series’ fastest and most efficient vehicle yet.

“I think the first race has been something we’ve been anticipating for a while, so it’s nice to have done it,” Barclays said.

“It’s fine when you’re developing and testing, but there’s nothing like competition to really start to see where things are at. We’ve had mixed fortunes but also a lot of positives to take out of it. Other than one other manufacturer, Porsche, we had more cars in the top 10,” he added, attributing the achievement to Jaguar’s efficiency.

This season, the Jaguar line-up is made up of Mitch Evans from New Zealand and Sam Bird of Britain. The team performed solidly in Mexico City and are now sixth in the standing with four points.

Barclay says that whether it’s getting to grips with new tires or other emerging factors, teams will need some time to adjust in the coming weeks.

“I think what we’ll see in the first four or five races this year is potentially a real swing of performance and form,” he said. “There are some very competitive teams and drivers, which are out of position, us included. Those teams who got it right last week, do they know the reasons why they got it right? And will they get it right this week?

“We need to let that play out over the first four or five races.”

Teams, including Barclay’s own Jaguar, are keeping their cards close to their chests in the early rounds of the season.

“Because it’s a brand-new car, people are still getting used to overtaking with it,” he said. “You didn’t want to take too many risks in the first race of the season because you want to get a full race under your belt; you want to get the mileage. So, you saw people being a little bit cautious and maybe not having the big moves that we’ve seen in Formula E in the past. That will come.”

Friday night will see the first of the two Diriyah races taking place under the floodlights, and the Jaguar boss is happy to be back in Riyadh.

“It’s fantastic to be back here,” Barclay said. “What we love about this race is, firstly, the location in the historic part of Diriyah. It’s a really challenging circuit. It’s a formidable track. The drivers enjoy it, which is always a positive sign.

“Sector one and sector two are incredibly technical and fast. You have to be very accurate. A small mistake has a big penalty. It’s like threading the eye of the needle, basically. There’s no room for error. And it’s been a roller coaster down that first section.

“Add to that the fact that this is the night race, our only night race to Canada. And I think that adds something really special to it.”

Barclay says the relevance of Formula E continues to rise as the world shifts toward electrical mobility.

“Regulation is driving that,” he said. “If you look at the majority of car manufacturers, they make clear statements, so for us, we made a statement that from 2025, Jaguar would become an all-electric model luxury car company.”

Daimler and Volkswagen have also made similar announcements.

“In summary, most manufacturers here made a clear statement toward becoming all-electric car companies at different points in time. In our case, this will happen very soon, but all within the next 10 years, which is incredibly exciting,” Barclay said.

Barclay calls Formula One “the pinnacle” of internal combustion engine racing and says Formula E plays a similar role in electric racing.

“What starts to happen in the future, beyond 2030, when in many markets, you can’t sell ICE engines, no one knows,” he said. “But the reality is, I think Formula E is incredibly well placed if you look at the main automotive market, and the shift toward electric mobility, or the uptake of electric cars. So we see Formula E being a positive space going forward in terms of what’s at the core of a championship.”

Beyond the environmental aspects, Formula E currently has a structure that other motorsports cannot match.

“We don’t have any driver that brings budget to racing Formula E. Everyone has a full professional employed by the team,” Barclay said. “I can’t think of any other category where that happens. It doesn’t happen in Formula One. It doesn’t happen in IndyCar. It doesn’t happen in NASCAR. Basically, I think it’s the most perfect professional driver lineup in the world and one that has so much strength in depth.”

Add to that an expanding calendar that last year saw a new race in Jakarta and this year has added Sao Paolo, Cape Town and Hyderabad, and the popularity of Formula E could be about to rise even further.

“I come back to that point: We’re a startup sport,” said Barclay. “I think what is incredible is if you look at the short space of time, we just came back from Mexico City where we had just under 60,000 people. The stadium was absolutely full, sold out, all tickets in the grandstand, in hospitality sold. In Jakarta, we had 60,000 people last year.

“So genuinely, wherever we are, we’re sold out.”


WWE Superstars gear up for colossal Royal Rumble showdown

WWE Superstars gear up for colossal Royal Rumble showdown
Updated 27 January 2023

WWE Superstars gear up for colossal Royal Rumble showdown

WWE Superstars gear up for colossal Royal Rumble showdown

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA: This weekend sees colossal battles inside the WWE ring as Royal Rumble makes its entrance for 2023 with championships on the line and more than 60 WWE superstars set to face off on Sunday, Jan 28 January.

In the main event encounters, this year’s Royal Rumble will raise the stakes higher than ever, with the winner of both the male and female headline matches guaranteed a World Championship match at WrestleMania 39 in Hollywood in April.

In the 30-man Royal Rumble contest, superstars from across eras, including Drew McIntyre, Cody Rhodes, Rey Mysterio, Sheamus, and current United States champion Austin Theory, will battle it out for the ultimate spot as the last wrestler standing.

(WWE)

Meanwhile, the 30-woman Royal Rumble match will see superstars, including Liv Morgan and Rhea Ripley, enter the ring for a chance to earn a title matchup on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

In the championship matches, undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns will face off with Kevin Owens following their high-profile bouts to start off the year, with Reigns aiming to maintain his ongoing dominance over the WWE universe.

Raw Women’s Champion Bianca Belair will also have her eyes set on retaining her title, as she stands toe-to-toe with Alexa Bliss in the title showdown on Saturday evening.

WWE fans in the Middle East can catch the encounters at Royal Rumble from 4 a.m. KSA on Sunday, live on Shahid.