FIFA, Qatar prepare for unprecedented World Cup finals draw

FIFA, Qatar prepare for unprecedented World Cup finals draw
Qualified teams’ flags for this year’s World Cup adorn Doha corniche, elsewhere the finishing touches are made to the venue that will host the 72nd FIFA Congress starting Thursday, ahead of Friday’s draw. (AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2022

FIFA, Qatar prepare for unprecedented World Cup finals draw

FIFA, Qatar prepare for unprecedented World Cup finals draw
  • When FIFA and host nation Qatar stage the draw ceremony show Friday, three of the 32 entries will be placeholders
  • The full lineup will not be known until at least June 14, when the intercontinental playoff round ends in Qatar

DOHA: A World Cup like no other in its 92-year history will take shape this week at an unprecedented tournament draw.
When FIFA and host nation Qatar stage the draw ceremony show Friday, three of the 32 entries will be placeholders because the three-year qualifying program was delayed and is still ongoing.
A once-in-a-century global health crisis and the war in Ukraine made sure of that.
It means 37 nations will be involved on Friday, including five which will ultimately not play in November when the first “winter” World Cup kicks off.
The full lineup will not be known until at least June 14, when the intercontinental playoff round ends in Qatar. That is 74 days after the draw and the same date the 2018 tournament started in Russia, which was thrown out of the final stages of qualifying this time over the invasion of Ukraine.
Maybe FIFA got lucky seven years ago by moving the 2022 tournament to November and December to avoid the searing desert heat of Qatar’s summer.
The later start created wiggle room to clear the match backlog after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out almost every national-team game outside Europe in 2020.
It has also put uncertainty on stage at the Doha Exhibition & Convention Center, where the show Friday starts at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) and lasts one hour.
One of the balls being drawn from pot 4 of low-ranked teams will represent “Peru or Australia or the United Arab Emirates.” Another is “Ukraine or Wales or Scotland.”
So it goes at this major World Cup milestone, in perhaps its most unlikely host nation, on April 1.
Here’s a look at this unusual World Cup draw.
FIRST-TIMER QATAR
One sure thing is Qatar will be the top-seeded team in Group A, taking position A1 in the schedule of 64 matches in just 28 days.
The privilege is given to all host nations even when ranked No. 65 in the world, as Russia was. Qatar is currently No. 52.
Still, the 2019 Asian Cup winner is the exception among modern World Cup hosts, having never before qualified for the finals. Qatar’s debut opens the tournament on Monday, Nov. 21 at Al Bayt Stadium.
It means in the group stage Qatar avoids the world’s top-ranked teams, from Nos. 1 to 7 — Brazil, Belgium, France, Argentina, England, Spain and Portugal.
Those countries will be the next seven drawn out of top-seeded Pot 1 and allocated in turn to Groups B through H.
HOW THE SEEDING WORKS
Seeding pots are filled according to FIFA rankings which weigh results over several years and are officially updated Thursday.
The next eight highest-ranked qualifiers go into Pot 2, which is the second to be drawn. It includes Germany and likely the United States and Mexico after Wednesday’s qualifying games.
Next is Pot 3 with teams ranked in the 20s by FIFA and finally Pot 4 that likely will include Canada despite leading the North American qualifying group. Canada is back in the World Cup after a 36-year gap.
The simple format is now complicated by the three playoff entries delayed to June: The European bracket containing Ukraine, which cannot currently prepare a team, and the two intercontinental playoffs.
FIFA weighted those entries downward into Pot 4 according to the lowest-ranked potential qualifiers, such as Scotland, New Zealand and the UAE.
Higher-ranked playoff teams Peru and Wales face being seeded below their true level.
GEOGRAPHY LESSON
Geography also limits potential matchups. Teams from the same continent generally can’t go in the same group, except for some Europeans. Europe has 13 of the 31 qualifying slots and they cannot all avoid each other.
Five groups get two European teams, and the other three groups each get one. It means 2014 winner Germany from Pot 2 can land with defending champion France.
FIXTURE SCHEDULE
Each four-team group is a round-robin of six games in total. The order each team plays the other is decided by another draw within the ceremony.
After each team is drawn, a subsequent ball — numbered 1, 2, 3 or 4 — is picked to place that country in the fixture grid.
This unpredictability means the two highest-ranked teams in a group could meet in any of the three rounds.
KNOCKOUT STAGE
The 32-team lineup is the perfect number for a knockout bracket. The top two teams in each group — where goal difference is the first tiebreaker — advance to the round of 16.
A team’s path through to the quarterfinals, semifinals and final is set in the bracket. If Qatar advances as the Group A winner, it must then play the Group B runner-up.
Teams which advance from the same group cannot meet again until the final.
GOOD DRAW, BAD DRAW?
Is there a “good” or “bad” section of the draw to land in?
Maybe yes at this congested tournament, which will be four days shorter than the 2018 edition in Russia.
Landing in Group B means starting on Nov. 21 instead of Nov. 24 in Group G or H. That means three extra rest days.
The Group G winner would have to play seven games in just 25 days to win the title. That team also gets just two full days off before a round of 16 game on Dec. 5.
Why is the schedule so tight? This World Cup is jammed into an enforced break in domestic league seasons in Europe.
Reluctant to lose lucrative weekend broadcast slots, Europe’s top leagues ensured they will play through Nov. 13 — just eight days before kickoff in Qatar.


Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad play out stalemate in ill-disciplined ‘Saudi Classico’

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad play out stalemate in ill-disciplined ‘Saudi Classico’
Updated 02 October 2022

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad play out stalemate in ill-disciplined ‘Saudi Classico’

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad play out stalemate in ill-disciplined ‘Saudi Classico’
  • Champions Al-Hilal suffer shock 2-1 home defat to Al-Taawoun in the day’s other big match

RIYADH: The first ‘Classico’ of the Roshn Saudi League season ended in stalemate as Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad played out an ill-tempered 0-0 draw at Mrsool Park on Sunday, which saw two players sent off and six others booked.

It looked like Al-Nassr might have gained a major advantage when Al-Ittihad midfielder Tarek Ahmed was sent off two minutes before the break. But Rudi Garcia’s team failed to take advantage and on 59 minutes the numerical advantage was lost when Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaiheem received a straight red.

The stop-start nature of the match saw almost 15 minutes of stoppage time added at the end of the match, but neither team could find a breakthrough.

The result leaves Al-Ittihad in third place with 11 points from five matches, while Al-Nassr are in fifth with one point less.

The day’s big shock came with Al-Hilal’s 2-1 home defeat to Al-Taawoun.

The reigning Saudi and Asian champions took the lead through Brazilian forward Michael on the half hour, but the visitors equalized with a goal from Summayhan Al-Nabit in first half stoppage time.

Despite having Leandre Tawamba sent off on 65 minutes, Al-Taawoun took a shock lead through Fahad Alrashidi after 74 minutes, and then held onto the final whistle for a famous win.

After their first loss of the season, Al-Hilal are in second place with 12 points, while Al-Taawoun are in joint-fourth position with 11. 


Novak Djokovic wins Tel Aviv final against Cilic for 89th career title

Novak Djokovic wins Tel Aviv final against Cilic for 89th career title
Updated 03 October 2022

Novak Djokovic wins Tel Aviv final against Cilic for 89th career title

Novak Djokovic wins Tel Aviv final against Cilic for 89th career title
  • Djokovic, who didn’t drop a set all week, now heads to the Astana ATP tournament where world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz takes the top seeding

TEL AVIV: Novak Djokovic claimed his third title of 2022 and 89th of his career with an impressive straight-sets victory over Marin Cilic in the Tel Aviv final on Sunday.

The 35-year-old Djokovic triumphed 6-3, 6-4 to add the Israeli trophy to victories in Rome and Wimbledon this season.

It was Djokovic’s 19th win over Cilic in 21 meetings in a rivalry stretching back to 2008.

Djokovic was playing his first singles tournament since wrapping up a seventh Wimbledon crown and 21st Grand Slam title in July.

He was banned from the US Open and the entire North American hard court swing over his refusal to be vaccinated before returning for Roger Federer’s farewell in the Laver Cup team event in London last month.

“It was really a special week, I felt at home with all your support,” top-seeded Djokovic told the crowd before turning to Cilic who turned 34 last Wednesday.

“I’m sure we going to keep beating all these young players for a while yet.”

On Sunday, Djokovic, playing in his 127th final, broke Cilic in the second game of the final and pocketed the first set with a fourth ace after 47 minutes on court.

Former US Open winner Cilic, chasing a 21st career title but first of 2022, was broken in the first game of the second set and never recovered.

The Serb only faced one break point in the final which was clinched in 94 minutes.

Djokovic, who didn’t drop a set all week, now heads to the Astana ATP tournament where world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz takes the top seeding.


England thump Pakistan in T20 decider, win series 4-3

England thump Pakistan in T20 decider, win series 4-3
Updated 02 October 2022

England thump Pakistan in T20 decider, win series 4-3

England thump Pakistan in T20 decider, win series 4-3
  • England strangled Pakistan’s struggling middle-order through pace as Pakistan never looked to challenge a strong total

LAHORE, Pakistan: England finished their first tour to Pakistan in 17 years with a thumping 67-run win in their Twenty20 decider on Sunday to clinch the exciting seven-match series 4-3.

Dawid Malan (78 not out off 47 balls) smashed his first half century of the series and Harry Brook hit an unbeaten 29-ball 46 as both profited from three dropped catches in England’s strong total of 209-3.

Pakistan, who won the toss and chose to field, were effectively out of the chase once the usually prolific opening pair of captain Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan departed within the first two overs.

Pakistan finished on 142-8.

Babar, who dropped both Malan and Brook, gave a regulation catch at cover in Chris Woakes’ first over and Reece Topley clean bowled Rizwan off a full-length delivery.

No. 3 Shan Masood fought a lone battle with 56 off 43 against well-disciplined England pacers with Woakes (3-26), David Willey (2-22), Sam Curran (1-27) and Topley (1-34) all chipping in with wickets.

“Brilliant game today, we played really well from the start,” said England captain Moeen Ali. “The batters put up a very good score and I thought our bowling was outstanding in wet conditions. We had two must-win games, to come back and win them is good to see.”

Regular England T20 skipper Jos Buttler didn’t play a single game on tour and continued his rehabilitation on an injured calf.

England’s opening pair of Phil Salt (20) and Alex Hales (18) once again provided a brisk start of 39 before both fell in the space of three deliveries in the fifth over.

Hales was pinned leg before wicket by Mohammad Hasnain, one of the four changes Pakistan made from the team which lost the last game by eight wickets on Friday.

Salt couldn’t beat a strong direct throw from Shadab Khan and was run out after Malan refused a single and stood his ground at the striker’s end.

Ben Duckett hit a breezy 30 off 19 balls before he was run out by Rizwan who clipped the bails after the ball bounced in front of him off Duckett’s bat but England continued to score more than 10 runs an over in the first half of the innings.

Sloppy Pakistan fielding let both Malan and Brook combine in a beefy and unbroken 108-run stand off 61 balls as Babar dropped both batters in their 20s before Mohammad Wasim also couldn’t grab an opportunity after Malan had completed his half century.

“Our fielding was not up to the mark today and when you drop crucial catches of set batters, you are bound to struggle,” Babar said.

Haris Rauf, who was rested in the last game, bowled well in the death overs to finish with 0-24, but fast bowler Mohammad Wasim cost 0-61 – Pakistan’s third most expensive figures in a T20 international.

“We couldn’t execute our plans in the field and credit goes to England for fully capitalizing,” Babar said.

Malan hit eight fours and three sixes while Brook smashed four sixes and a boundary as Wasim conceded 20 in the last over which lifted England to its second highest total of the series.

Pakistan’s middle order had struggled throughout the series and once again couldn’t cope up with the pressure after both Babar and Rizwan were dismissed early.

Willey missed a skier off his own bowling which could have ended Iftikhar Ahmed’s knock before he found the outside edge of the right-hander as Pakistan slipped to 33-3 inside the batting powerplay.

England strangled Pakistan’s struggling middle-order through pace as Pakistan never looked to challenge a strong total.

Masood, who hit his second half century of the series after making his T20 debut at Karachi, fell against Woakes when he was brilliantly snapped by a diving Adil Rashid at short third-man in the penultimate over of the innings.

England will return to Pakistan in December when they play a three-Test series.


Saudi sports minister chairs delegation at Asian Olympic council meeting

Saudi sports minister chairs delegation at Asian Olympic council meeting
Updated 02 October 2022

Saudi sports minister chairs delegation at Asian Olympic council meeting

Saudi sports minister chairs delegation at Asian Olympic council meeting
  • The delegation will highlight the Kingdom’s bid to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 at TROJENA in the NEOM region

RIYADH: Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal will chair the Kingdom’s delegation at the Olympic Council of Asia executive board meeting and its general assembly in Cambodia on Monday.

The prince will lead the delegation in his role as president of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee (SOPC) and vice-president of the OCA.

The Saudi committee will include SOPC Vice-President Prince Fahad bin Jalawi, board member of SOPC Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad and NEOM CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr.

The delegation will highlight the Kingdom’s bid to host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 at TROJENA in the NEOM region in northwest Saudi Arabia. The bid will be submitted to a vote during the general assembly on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia will be the first west Asian country to host the Asian Winter Games if it wins the bid.

The meeting will also shed light on the preparations of Riyadh in hosting the 7th Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games 2025 and the Asian Games in Riyadh in 2034.


Japan wrestling trailblazer Antonio Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy

Japan wrestling trailblazer Antonio Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy
Updated 02 October 2022

Japan wrestling trailblazer Antonio Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy

Japan wrestling trailblazer Antonio Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy
  • The professional wrestler, martial artist, politician and promoter died on Saturday at the age of 79

RIYADH: Legendary Japanese figure Antonio Inoki, real name Muhammad Hussain Inoki, died on Saturday at the age of 79.

Inoki was a professional wrestler, martial artist, politician and promoter for both professional wrestling and mixed martial arts.

Born in Yokohama, Japan in 1943, he spent most of his childhood in Brazil where his family had relocated. There, he developed a passion for professional wrestling. Inoki was recruited by Rikidozan, one of the the most famous Japanese wrestlers of all time, and returned to Tokyo to join the Japanese Wrestling Association.

In his home country, Inoki became widely popular and revered for his versatility and for his charismatic demeanor in the squared circle. His contributions transcended achievements inside the ring, and he founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972.

Over the course of the next two decades, Inoki built NJPW into the most successful wrestling company in Asia, using talented competitors such as Tiger Mask, Dynamite Kid, Bob Backlund, and Vader.

In addition to running the promotion, Inoki himself was one of the top stars carrying the championship, stepping into the ring against the likes of Stan Hansen, Tiger Jeet Singh and Hulk Hogan.

He gained global fame in 1976 when he faced Muhammad Ali in a wrestler vs. boxer match in Tokyo. This encounter was credited for being a precursor to what is known today as mixed martial arts, and was one of the most watched fights of its generation. In addition to the sold-out crowd of more than 14,000 at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, it aired on closed-circuit across the world.

Shea Stadium in New York aired the bout on its big screen and drew a crowd of 32,897, with an undercard of pro wrestling and mixed-rules matches preceding the main event.

Outisde the ring Inoki used sport to forge peace and diplomacy. In 1990, he played a major role in freeing 36 Japanese hostages held in Iraq.

Inoki was also a outstanding ambassador for professional wrestling, bringing major events to places such as Russia and China.

He was also instrumental in organizing two large sporting events in Pyongyang in 1995, and another in 2014. The first event, known as “Collision in Korea” drew nearly 380,000 fans and is considered the biggest-pay-per-view in pro-wrestling history.

In 1998, Inoki retired from in-ring competition. In 2010, he was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame. An WWE statement said: “This passion for competition earned him the nickname ‘Moeru Toukon’ among his peers, which translates to ‘The fighting spirit that burns’.”

Inoki leaves behind a unique legacy as a competitor. He was 12-time professional wrestling world champion, notably being the inaugural IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the first Asian WWF Heavyweight Champion in a reign not officially recognized by WWE.

The cause of Inoki’s death was not released, but he had been ill in recent years and confined to a wheelchair.