As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer

As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer
Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah reacts during the UEFA Champions League quarter final match against SL Benfica at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on Tuesday. (AFP)
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Updated 07 April 2022

As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer

As Salah toils, Jota stepping up as Liverpool’s go-to scorer
  • “Come on,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp asked out loud, “who is better than him?”
  • Jota appears to be Liverpool’s first-choice center forward now

DUBAI: It was an open-and-shut case for many, including his manager.
Mohamed Salah was, it was declared on an almost weekly basis, the best soccer player in the world for the first half of this season, demonstrating the kind of elite-level scoring form only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and more recently Robert Lewandowski have been able to produce this century.
It wasn’t just the volume of goals — 22 in his first 23 matches — that he was putting away for Liverpool. It was the sheer quality of them that took one’s breath away.
None more so than the weaving solo effort he conjured up against Manchester City at Anfield in October, midway through a run of 10 straight games when he scored, that surely will go down as the Premier League’s goal of the season.
“Come on,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp asked out loud, “who is better than him?”
Fast forward six months and Salah is, in relative terms, in a rut. Indeed, heading into a seismic return match against City on Sunday that could yet determine the destination of the title, there’s an argument to say he might not even be Klopp’s go-to striker.
There are potentially a whole host of reasons why Salah is going through his worst scoring run this season, with no goals in five games in all competitions and no open-play goals in six weeks.
Is he tired? He’s already played 47 games this season, after all.
Are painful losses for Egypt lingering? First there was the penalty-shootout loss to Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane’s Senegal in the African Cup of Nations final in February, then a loss — also via a shootout — to the same opponent in a World Cup playoff last month.
Does it have anything to do with his current contract standoff with Liverpool? That would be unlikely.
Maybe it’s simply the vagaries of form and happenstance. Because he’s still piling up the chances, just not converting them.
Whatever it is, this is not the Salah of six months ago. He was substituted midway through the second half in each of Liverpool’s last two games after, by his high standards, fairly underwhelming performances.
“Sometimes he could decide in a better way, no doubt about that, pass the ball quicker and all these things,” Klopp said this week. “But it’s a tough period for Sadio (Mane) and Mo, with the Africa Cup and coming back being immediately available for us again with all the games.
“It’s completely normal in a season that you have these little (ups and downs).”
Will Klopp drop Salah against City on Sunday? He’d be a brave man to do that to the Premier League’s top scorer. But it’s not that he doesn’t have options.
And in Diogo Jota, Klopp has a forward who has helped to take on Liverpool’s scoring burden firstly while Salah was away at the African Cup and then amid the Egyptian’s recent struggles.
Jota appears to be Liverpool’s first-choice center forward now, displacing Roberto Firmino by doing all the dirty work like the Brazilian — the tracking back, the pressing, the harrying of defenders — but scoring a lot more goals at the same time.
Jota has scored four goals in his last six games, including the winner against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup quarterfinals and crucial openers against Arsenal and Watford in the league. He is tied for second in the league’s scoring chart with 14 goals.
Rested against Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, Jota is highly likely to start against City. It’s which two players are alongside him in the three-pronged forward line that’s the big question.
And this is where Liverpool hold the edge over City, which will start the game at Etihad Stadium one point clear of Klopp’s team with eight games left. Liverpool’s firepower simply is greater, with Klopp able to call upon Salah, Jota, Firmino, Mane and January signing Luis Diaz, who has settled in seamlessly since joining from Porto.
City have a slew of classy attacking midfielders and forward but none have the cutting edge of the likes of Salah — when he’s in form — or Jota.
City manager Pep Guardiola knows a draw is enough to leave the destiny of the title solely in his team’s hands. If that happens, City will win the league by winning its next seven games.
The onus is on Liverpool to go on the attack, which makes the game all the more enticing for fans.
And Klopp, who boldly played a front four of Mane, Salah, Jota and Firmino at the Etihad two seasons ago, knows he has the offensive players to overwhelm City.
Whether Salah is playing or not.

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
Updated 24 sec ago

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar

JEDDAH: The Saudi Motorsport Company, the promoter of Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, offered access on Friday to early ticket packages for the third race of STC Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix — the second round of the F1 world championship — to be staged on the Jeddah Corniche circuit from March 17-19, 2023.

As of Friday, local and international audiences can pre-book tickets for 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on

Early booking ticket holders will enjoy a discount of up to 10 percent for the premium hospitality category, and a 30 percent discount for the main stands and general admission category. This offer will be valid until the first week of January 2023 with a limited number of seats.

Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar, as it hosted its first race in December 2021, and its second one after only four months in March 2022. 

In the first race, the competition intensified between Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, ending in a hard-fought victory for the Mercedes driver and both equal on points one round before the end of the season.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2022 had Verstappen winning after a fierce competition with Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who took the lead for most of the race until Verstappen managed to overtake him three laps before the finish line.

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled
Updated 1 min 17 sec ago

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

JEDDAH: The details of the fourth edition of Saudi Dakar Rally in 2023 were announced by the Dakar Rally Organizing Committee in a virtual press conference on Thursday.

Present during the press conference were Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Federation of Motors and Motorcycles as well as of the Saudi Motorsports Company; Jan Luminaire, CEO of Amaury Sport Organization; and David Castera, director of the Dakar Rally.

During the conference the route of the new edition of the rally — held for the fourth consecutive year in Saudi Arabia — was revealed. It will take place from Dec. 31 to Jan. 15, with 453 vehicles across various categories of the race, including 89 vehicles in the Dakar Classic race, with a distance of more than 8,500 km.

This is the longest for the special stages subject to timing since 2014, and is expected to attract drivers from more than 68 countries.

The rally track for this year consists of a preliminary stage and 14 regular stages. Drivers will begin the rally with an introductory trip from the sea camp in the northwestern mountain regions before heading to the far southeast, passing through AlUla, Hail, Dawadmi, Haradh, the Empty Quarter, Shaybah, Hofuf and Dammam.

The Saudi Dakar Rally last January witnessed the participation of a group of the most prominent global drivers, attracting more than 1,000 racers representing 70 countries from around the world. The 2022 edition of the event ran for 14 days across 12 stages and six categories.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal stressed that hosting Dakar Rally for the fourth time in a row confirms the Kingdom’s ability to host the most important international events, and contributes to consolidating its deserved position on the global sports map.

He said that due to the Kingdom’s capabilities and potential, Saudi Arabia has become a distinguished destination for fans of the sport, based on the nature of the rally as one of the largest and most important events on the motor sport agenda, leading to a spotlight on the diversity and geographical distinction of the Kingdom, which makes the rally stronger.

He added: “We have begun preparations with all concerned authorities to ensure the provision of all the required factors and elements, and to ensure success in organizing in a way that reflects our ambitions and underlines the transformation march of the Kingdom.”

The stages of the race will be as follows:

- Preliminary stage (Saturday, Dec. 31): Al-Bahr Camp — Al-Bahr Camp, for a distance of 11 km.

- First Stage (Sunday, Jan. 1): Camp Al-Bahr — Al-Bahr Camp, a circular stage for a distance of 603 km (Special stage: 368 km).

- Second Stage (Monday, Jan. 2): Al-Bahr Camp — AlUla, 590 km (Special Stage: 431 km).

- Third stage (Tuesday, Jan. 3): AlUla - Hail, 669 km (Special stage: 447 km).

- Fourth Stage (Wednesday, Jan. 4): Hail — Hail, circular stage for a distance of 573 km (Special stage: 425 km).

- Fifth Stage (Thursday, Jan. 5): Hail — Hail, circular stage for a distance of 646 km (Special stage: 375 km).

- Sixth stage (Friday, Jan. 6): Hail — Dawadmi, 877 km (Special stage: 466 km).

- Seven Stage (Saturday, Jan. 7): Dawadmi — Dawadmi, a circular stage for a distance of 641 km (Special stage: 473 km).

- Eighth Stage (Sunday, Jan. 8): Dawadmi — Riyadh, 722 km (Special Stage: 407 km).

- Rest Day (Monday, Jan. 9): Riyadh.

- Ninth Stage (Tuesday, Jan. 10): Riyadh — Haradh, 710 km (Special Stage: 439 km).

- 10th Stage (Wednesday, Jan. 11): Haradh — Shaybah, 623 km (Special Stage: 114 km).

- 11th Stage (Thursday, Jan. 12): Shaybah — Al-Ardah, marathon stage 426 km (Special stage: 275 km).

- 12th Stage (Friday, Jan. 13): Al-Ardah — Shaybah, marathon stage 375 km (Special stage: 185 km).

- 13th Stage (Saturday, Jan. 14): Shaybah — Hofuf, 669 km (Special Stage: 154 km).

- 14th Stage (Sunday, Jan. 15): Hofuf — Dammam, 414 km (Special Stage: 136 km).

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup
Updated 03 December 2022

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup
  • Despite the victory on Friday, Cameroon finished third in their group and was eliminated

AP LUSAIL, Qatar: Cameroon coach Rigobert Song came full circle on a memorable and bittersweet night for African soccer.

Jerome Ngom Mbekeli, the only member of Cameroon’s team who plays for a Cameroonian club, made an inspiring run and cross to set up Vincent Aboubakar’s header and stoppage-time winner in a 1-0 victory to make the Indomitable Lions the first African nation to beat Brazil at a World Cup.

Despite the victory on Friday, Cameroon finished third in their group and was eliminated.

The 24-year-old Ngom Mbekeli was Cameroon’s final substitution, coming on four minutes from time. Song credited his own former coach, Henri Michel, for giving him an opportunity in 1994 when he played for local club Tonnerre Yaounde as he was making his World Cup debut.

“You need to trust youth,” Song said through a translator. “Henri Michel gave me an opportunity. He saw the potential in me. Now I’m the coach and I see potential in my young players.

“I knew (Ngom Mbekeli) was a good, quality player. He just needed an opportunity to show that. Hopefully his performance can motivate other local players.”

Goalkeeper Devis Epassy — thrust into action after usual starter Andre Onana was sent home for disciplinary reasons after a dispute with Song before Cameroon’s previous game — earned player of the match honors for a series of difficult saves.

“No one knew me — even in Cameroon — until I started playing for the national team a year ago,” Epassy said through a translator. “We can be proud of what we’ve done tonight. We showed that we can also be a top team.”

Both Epassy and Aboubakar play for clubs in Saudi Arabia.

With eight goals in seven games, the 22-year-old Aboubakar was the top scorer at the African Cup of Nations in January.

Song and Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon’s soccer federation president, are instilling a strict discipline policy modeled after the European clubs that they once played for — Song as a reliable defender and Eto’o as a standout striker.

“That’s where we let ourselves down in the past,” Song said. “Perhaps we didn’t do everything right, so we’re focusing on discipline.

“The team always needs to take precedent over individuals. When you play for the national team you need to do what’s expected of you.”

While Brazil had already advanced and used mostly reserves, Cameroon still became the first team to beat the five-time champion in the World Cup group stage since Norway did it at the 1998 tournament in France — ending an unbeaten run of 17 group matches.

“We realize now that we could have done better,” Song said. “But we’re a young team and today we’ve seen a young team getting stronger and stronger, and they should be congratulated on their performance.

“It’s a real shame that we have to go home now,” Song added. “But we are going to keep working and keep improving.”

Anthony Davis, LeBron James take charge as Lakers beat Bucks in thriller

Anthony Davis, LeBron James take charge as Lakers beat Bucks in thriller
Updated 03 December 2022

Anthony Davis, LeBron James take charge as Lakers beat Bucks in thriller

Anthony Davis, LeBron James take charge as Lakers beat Bucks in thriller
  • Miami had a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics after Boston’s Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime

MILWAUKEE: Anthony Davis scored a season-high 44 points, LeBron James overtook Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 133-129 in a thriller Friday night.

Davis and James helped give Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee. Ham worked on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22, and the former colleagues shared a big hug before the game.

Ham, an assistant coach on Milwaukee’s 2021 championship team, also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

The Lakers withstood a 40-point night from Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists. The Lakers also spoiled the season debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

During a fourth quarter that featured three ties and six lead changes, James put the Lakers ahead for good by sinking a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left.

James finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He improved his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place on the list, ahead of Johnson (10,133).


In Boston, Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and Miami completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics after Boston’s Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat scoring leader Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.


In Phoenix, Jalen Green scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half and Houston overcame a 16-point deficit to stun short-handed Phoenix.

Houston won after blowing a six-point lead in the final two minutes. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne made back-to-back 3-pointers to tie it at 121, but the Rockets pushed ahead by a point when Green made one of two free throws with 28.8 seconds remaining.

That set up a frantic final possession that included four missed shots by the Suns, including a 16-foot jumper by Booker at the buzzer.

It was one of the few blemishes for Booker, who led the Suns with 41 points on 15-of-25 shooting. The three-time All-Star is in the midst of one of the best scoring stretches of his career. He had 44 points at Sacramento on Monday night and 51 against Chicago at home Wednesday night.


In Atlanta, Dejounte Murray scored 34 points, rookie A.J. Griffin tied a career high with 24 subbing for injured Trae Young and short-handed Atlanta beat Denver.

Denver star Nikola Jokic, the two-time defending NBA MVP, had just four points in the first half on 2-of-5 shooting, but finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

The Hawks were riddled with injuries before the game with Young, their leading scorer, sidelined by soreness in his right shoulder and John Collins out at least two weeks and De’Andre Hunter out at least one week. In all, Atlanta had eight players listed on the injury report.


In Charlotte, N.C.,Terry Rozier scored 25 points, Kelly Oubre Jr. added 22 and Charlotte held off a second-half rally by Bradley Beal and Washington to hand the Wizards their fifth loss in six games.

P.J. Washington had 21 points and Mason Plumlee added 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Hornets. They have won three of their last four.

Beal scored 33 points, but turned the ball over twice and missed an open jumper in the final minute with Washington trailing by one.


In New York, Kyrie Irving scored 27 points and Brooklyn built a huge lead in beating Toronto for their fourth victory in a row.

Brooklyn led by 36 points midway through the second quarter and held a 93-72 advantage at the start of the fourth.

Kevin Durant had 17 points and Nic Claxton added 15 for the Nets.

Pascal Siakam scored 24 points for Toronto.


In San Antonio, Zion Williamson scored 30 points and matched a career high with 15 rebounds and New Orleans past San Antonio, with the Spurs without coach Gregg Popovich.

Jonas Valanciunas added 21 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, which has won three straight and eight of 10 to remain atop the Southwest Division ahead of Memphis.

San Antonio has lost 10 straight, matching the franchise’s longest losing streak set in 1987.

Popovich was at the AT&T Cente.r but missed the game due to a minor medical procedure. He will also miss a home game Sunday against Phoenix. Former Philadelphia coach Brett Brown coached the Spurs in Popovich’s absence.


In Memphis, Tennessee, Ja Morant had 28 points and eight rebounds, Jaren Jackson Jr. added 22 points and four blocks — one in the closing minute — and Memphis beat Philadelphia.

Dillon Brooks finished with 17 points to help Memphis win for third time in four games.

Joel Embiid had 35 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for Philadelpia. Tobias Harris added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Shake Milton had 17 points and six assists.

The Grizzlies led by 18 early in the fourth, but the 76ers had another push left, cutting the Memphis lead to single digits with about five minutes left and to 111-106 with three minutes to go.


In Cleveland, Donovan Mitchell scored 34 points, Evan Mobley had 19 points and 13 rebounds and Cleveland beat Orlando.

Mitchell poured in 16 points in the first nine minutes, outscoring Orlando himself by one, and the Cavaliers never relinquished control. Cleveland eventually led by 20 in winning for the 10th time in 11 home games this season.

Rookie forward Paolo Banchero scored 22 points for NBA-worst Orlando. They have lost seven straight to fall to 5-18.

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 
Updated 03 December 2022

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 
  • Scheffler spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone this year, which earns him the Mark H. McCormack Award

NASSAU, Bahamas: The degree Masters champion Scottie Scheffler earned from the McCombs School of Business at Texas did not equip him with the skills to figure out the new formula for the Official World Golf Ranking.

He is No. 2 in the world. He can go back to No. 1 if he wins the Hero World Challenge, simple as that.

“I don’t like being No. 2,” he said. “I don’t like finishing second.”

Scheffler took a step in that direction in the relentless wind at Albany. He ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine for a 4-under 68, leaving him in the group one shot behind defending champion Viktor Hovland.

Hovland knows a little about wind. The Norwegian saw enough of it during his amateur days across Europe, and then he starred at Oklahoma State.

Hovland made eagle for the second straight day — the other 19 players have combined for one eagle this week — had three straight birdies on the back nine and had a 70. He was at 5-under 139.

Scores typically are much lower in the holiday event Tiger Woods hosts for a 20-man field of elite players in the Bahamas. The course was soaked and played long on Thursday. It dried out in 30 mph wind on Friday.

Xander Schauffele leaned on exquisite wedge play for a 68 and joined Scheffler, Cameron Young (69) and Collin Morikawa (71) in the group one shot behind.

Tom Kim dropped two shots on the final three holes and that gave him a 72, leaving him two shots behind. That’s not the reason the 20-year-old South Korean raised both arms after he had signed his card. Scrolling through his phone, he learned South Korea had advanced to the knockout stage in the World Cup.

“Goose bumps,” Kim said as he stretched out his arms.

Scheffler spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone this year, which earns him the Mark H. McCormack Award. That was a product of four wins against strong fields in the spring, including his first major. The Masters was his last win.

Rory McIlroy replaced him with a win in South Carolina in October, and now Scheffler has a chance to grab it back, even if for a short time. McIlroy is expected to be No. 1 when the year ends regardless of what happens in the Bahamas.

The model went from rating the top 200 players in a field based on their world ranking to rating everyone in the field using the “strokes gained” formula, which measure actual scores and adjusts for relative difficulty of each round.

It favors deeper fields, regardless of how many of the top players are there. And it won’t be fully integrated until next August.

But there has been no shortage of complaints, with even Woods weighing in this week that it’s a flawed system. Some of the criticism stems from the new formula not giving as much credit to smaller fields compared with full fields.

“I think now I would say the top players are not bringing as much weight to events as they should,” Scheffler said.

The Hero World Challenge has 15 of the top 20 in the world. It also has only 20 players, and so the winner will get slightly fewer points than the winner of the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

“But it’s also really tough to rank golfers when they’re not playing the same schedule,” Scheffler said. “So I think as we all start to play together more often and you get the best players playing together more often, it’s going to be much easier to rank those guys.

“It’s a tough system. It’s not something that’s easy to get right,” he said. “In other sports, you have a record and golf is not necessarily a record. It’s a challenging system. I think they went from one extreme to the other, and we’ll meet in the middle, hopefully, and find something that’s a little bit better.”

The ultimate measure remains the low score, and that belongs to Hovland. Woods, who is not playing this week because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, is the only player to have won the World Challenge in consecutive years.

He’s not sure how he’s getting it done, especially in this wind.

“It’s kind of strange, like I knew it was windy and I feel like I missed so many putts,” Hovland said. “And I still don’t feel like I’m hitting it very good. I’m not comfortable over the ball, but the ball’s going straight and I’m giving myself looks.”