Champions Al-Hilal lead Saudi, Arab success in AFC Champions League’s longest season

Champions Al-Hilal lead Saudi, Arab success in AFC Champions League’s longest season
With Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab, and Al-Faisaly all winning their groups, it was a successful stage for Saudi Arabia with only Al-Taawoun missing out. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 29 April 2022

Champions Al-Hilal lead Saudi, Arab success in AFC Champions League’s longest season

Champions Al-Hilal lead Saudi, Arab success in AFC Champions League’s longest season
  • West zone group stages all played in Kingdom, tournament to resume early 2023 after calendar season format ditched

RIYADH: Twenty teams started the group stage of the 2022 Asian Champions League earlier in April and by the end of the month, 12 had fallen by the wayside.

Of the eight that are standing and heading to the knockout stages next February, there are three from Saudi Arabia, two from Qatar, and one team each from Uzbekistan, the UAE, and Iran.

With Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab, and Al-Faisaly all winning their groups, it was a successful stage for Saudi Arabia with only Al-Taawoun, just a point clear of the relegation zone at home, missing out.

All games were played on home turf. The two Riyadh teams played in the capital, Al-Faisaly were in Dammam, and Al-Taawoun in Buraidah. It is not called home advantage for nothing, and it surely helped as did the absence of Iranian giants Esteghlal and Persepolis, expelled in January, but it was, nonetheless, a stage to remember for teams from the Saudi Professional League.

Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab were the standout performers in the stage, along with Al-Duhail of Qatar.

In Group A, Al-Hilal, the defending champions, were never in danger of not going through, winning their first four games. In each match, coach Ramon Diaz was able to call upon different players and they all did their bit with the 11 goals scored by nine different players.

The fact that just one point was collected from the last two games should not cloud a fine record, the four-time champions were already through by that point and have some crucial clashes coming up at home in the next few weeks. These continental tests may be perfect preparation, a chance for Diaz to give game time to many of his squad but without any travel needed.

In short, the 17-time Saudi champions showed the rest of Asia that they are, once again, the team to beat. The one downside is perhaps that the knockout stage will not start for over nine months, as the tournament follows switches from a calendar-year format. Surely, Al-Hilal would love to go straight into it and clinch a third continental crown in four years.

Their biggest challenge may not come from Doha, South Korea, or Japan but their home city of Riyadh. Al-Shabab have never been champions of Asia, but they caught the eye by dominating Group B, collecting 16 points, scoring 18 goals, and conceding just one.

The White Lions have had a decent record in the Champions League reaching semi and quarter finals, but this was their first appearance since 2015 and, if nothing else, they have reminded the rest of the continent that Al-Shabab may not quite have Al-Hilal’s strength in depth but are still a force to be reckoned with.

And no wonder. Ever Banega has been so consistent in an attacking sense, setting the tempo, creating chances, and scoring himself, that the Argentine does not perhaps get the credit he deserves. Brazilian striker Carlos enjoyed himself with five goals to be the third top scorer in the stage with Nawaf Al-Abed, Turki Al-Ammar, and Hattan Bahebri all scoring from deeper positions and impressing. It is not all about the attacking talent.

Goalkeeper Fawaz Al-Qarni was well-protected but made some crucial saves when needed with defenders Hassan Tambakti, Faraz Al-Saqour, and others stepping forward. With Marius Sumudica taking the head coach job in late March, the six games have been a great opportunity for the Romanian to get to know his players ahead of the final weeks of the domestic season. The league is now out of reach but there is still a chance for a top-three finish.

Al-Faisaly complete the successful trio and to finish top of their group was a fine achievement especially with them playing in Asia for the first time. There was some luck involved for a team that only won two of the six games, befitting a tight group — with just three points separating first and fourth — and a team that does not score many in the league either.

In fact, the Dammam men netted just five times, the fewest of the quartet but taking seven points from the first three games put them in control. Martin Boyle, who arrived from Scottish team Hibernian shortly before the group stages started, impressed in attack, and combined well with Julio Tavares. At the other end, veteran goalkeeper Mustafa Malayekah used his experience well to marshal a tight defense. Whatever happens, finishing two places above a star-studded team such as Al-Sadd, one that was expected to challenge for the title, should sustain the easterners as they return home to avoid relegation.

Closer to the trap door to the Saudi second tier are Al-Taawoun who were the only one of the four to miss out. They did finish second, but seven points was never going to be enough. This was no disgrace. Al-Duhail were runaway winners, and the Qataris have the firepower, though maybe not the defense, to go all the way, and Iran’s Sepahan and Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan both have proud records in Asia.

A tendency to concede late in games cost the Buraidah team points and ultimately a place in the next stage. Still, as they return home just a point above the relegation zone, Al-Taawoun should have gained confidence as well as more cohesiveness over six games in a short period of time under Dutch coach John van den Brom. The former Anderlecht boss at least knows his players better for the tasks ahead.

The four teams can all take positives from April. They return home to challenge for titles, the top three, or to try and avoid relegation a little tired but sharp and match-fit after competitive tests.

The 2022 Asian Champions League continues early next year but its influence will be seen over the coming weeks too. We have seen that Saudi Arabia’s teams are among the best in Asia, but it is now time to see who can shine at home.


USA Swimming cuts deal to simplify anonymous abuse reporting

USA Swimming cuts deal to simplify anonymous abuse reporting
Updated 09 August 2022

USA Swimming cuts deal to simplify anonymous abuse reporting

USA Swimming cuts deal to simplify anonymous abuse reporting
  • RealResponse has developed technology that allows reporters to file reports about abuse via text and for those who receive the reports to follow up while the name of the reporter remains concealed
  • USA Swimming plans to make the technology available to its approximately 400,000 members

DENVER: USA Swimming has added technology to its abuse-reporting systems that will allow better communication between those coordinating investigations and reporters who want to remain anonymous.

The organization announced a deal with RealResponse on Monday, which is international Safe Sport Day.

One feature in RealResponse’s technology is the ability to exchange information with anonymous reporters via text without the reporters having to identify themselves. Though organizations can often act more decisively when victims or witnesses attach their names to reports, anonymous reporting is crucial because often victims fear retribution if their names become public.

RealResponse has developed technology that allows reporters to file reports about abuse via text and for those who receive the reports to follow up while the name of the reporter remains concealed.

“Previously, we could receive an anonymous report, but we had no way to follow up with that individual if we had additional questions or didn’t have enough information, or wanted to let them know what we were doing to follow up,” said Abigail Howard, who oversees the director of USA Swimming’s safe sport program.

USA Swimming plans to make the technology available to its approximately 400,000 members.

The national governing body is a defendant in several lawsuits claiming it failed to protect them from abuse by coaches. In 2010, USA Swimming’s former executive director, the late Chuck Wielgus, was accused of ignoring or downplaying dozens of cases of sexual abuse. Around 150 swimming coaches have since been banned by the US Center for SafeSport, which was created in response to cases in swimming, gymnastics and other Olympic sports.

Though not affiliated with the SafeSport center, RealResponse started offering its own technology five years ago to help organizations streamline reporting and keep better track of the way they process and resolve cases. At times, organizations get into legal trouble because there’s insufficient documentation to show how they responded when told about a case.

The mission, says the company’s founder, David Chadwick, is “providing a safe space for people to speak up and doing it in a really accessible and easy to use way and, frankly, helping leaders of these organizations identify issues faster before they become bigger crisis.”

RealResponse has deals with more than 100 college sports programs, a handful of NFL teams and the National Women’s Soccer League. In the Olympic realm, USA Swimming joins USA Track and Field, US Equestrian, USA Gymnastics and the US Anti-Doping Agency among the organizations that have signed on.


AP source: Durant reiterates desire to be traded by Brooklyn

AP source: Durant reiterates desire to be traded by Brooklyn
Updated 09 August 2022

AP source: Durant reiterates desire to be traded by Brooklyn

AP source: Durant reiterates desire to be traded by Brooklyn
  • The Athletic first reported details of the latest Durant-Tsai meeting

NEW YORK: Kevin Durant has again told Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai that he wants to be traded, reiterating a request he first made nearly six weeks ago, a person with knowledge of the matter confirmed Monday night.

Durant also told Tsai that he has concerns about the Nets’ direction under coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks, said the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the perennial All-Star nor the team confirmed details of the talks publicly.

The Athletic first reported details of the latest Durant-Tsai meeting.

“Our front office and coaching staff have my support,” Tsai tweeted Monday night. “We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”

This is the latest phase of a saga that began June 30, when Durant told the Nets he wanted a trade just as this summer’s free agent period was beginning. Durant isn’t a free agent; he has four years and $198 million remaining on his contract with the Nets, who will undoubtedly demand a haul of players and draft picks in any trade agreement for the 12-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time NBA champion.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has never been a fan of trade demands going public.

“This needs to be a two-way street,” Silver said last month. “Teams provide enormous security and guarantees to players and the expectation is, in return, they will meet their end of the bargain. I’m realistic that there’s always conversations that are going to go on behind closed doors between players and their representatives and the teams. But we don’t like to see players requesting trades, and we don’t like to see it playing out the way it is.”

Durant has spent three seasons with Brooklyn, not playing in the first of those years while he recovered from a torn Achilles. He averaged 29.9 points in 55 games last season, after leading the US to Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games last summer.


Ozzy Osbourne closes Commonwealth Games as Birmingham parties

Ozzy Osbourne closes Commonwealth Games as Birmingham parties
Updated 09 August 2022

Ozzy Osbourne closes Commonwealth Games as Birmingham parties

Ozzy Osbourne closes Commonwealth Games as Birmingham parties
  • The show, celebrating Birmingham’s rise from the wreckage of World War II and its emergence as a diverse and vibrant modern city, brought 11 days of sporting action to a close
  • Sporting powerhouse Australia have topped the table at every Games since 1990 except in 2014, when England finished in first place in Glasgow

BIRMINGHAM: Legendary Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne brought the curtain down on the Commonwealth Games in spectacular style on Monday as dominant Australia celebrated finishing top of the medals table yet again.

Athletes swarmed Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium for a closing party that also featured UB40, Dexys and a tribute to Peaky Blinders, the global hit TV show about the city’s most notorious gang.

Birmingham-born Osbourne, known as the “Prince of Darkness,” brought the ceremony to a climax after emerging as the surprise act.

The show, celebrating Birmingham’s rise from the wreckage of World War II and its emergence as a diverse and vibrant modern city, brought 11 days of sporting action to a close.

Earlier, six-time defending champions Australia wrapped up their campaign in style, hammering India 7-0 in the men’s hockey final to end up with 67 golds overall.

Hosts England ended in second place with 57 golds, ahead of Canada on 26 and India on 22, with para sports included in the medal tally.

Sporting powerhouse Australia have topped the table at every Games since 1990 except in 2014, when England finished in first place in Glasgow.

Australia hockey captain Aran Zalewski said winning the Commonwealth Games title is “harder than you think.”

“We have won seven, but it’s not as simple as coming out here and winning,” he said.

“There are so many challenges that go into winning a tournament of hockey.

“To finish off with a special performance like that, really clinical, was very nice.”

Elsewhere on Monday, Scotland’s James Heatly and Grace Reid won the mixed synchronized 3m springboard final, with England pair Noah Williams and Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix taking gold in the 10m event.

India celebrated a golden double in badminton.

World No. 7 PV Sindhu won the women’s singles, overcoming Canada’s Michelle Li, while Lakshya Sen beat Malaysia’s Ng Tze Yong to win the men’s gold.

India’s Sharath Kamal Achanta beat England’s Liam Pitchford 4-1 in the men’s singles table tennis gold medal match.

“The best two weeks of my 40 years of life,” said the winner, who won three golds and a silver in Birmingham. “It can’t get better.”

Birmingham 2022 CEO Ian Reid told a briefing earlier that the Games had been a huge boost for the city and the surrounding area.

He said more than 1.5 million tickets had been sold, with most venues above 90 percent capacity.

“One of the goals at the outset was to put the city on the world map and instil that huge pride across everyone that lives in the region and I think we’ve achieved that,” he said.

“I think that can lead to much bigger and greater things.”

Commonwealth Games Federation CEO Katie Sadleir said there had been “huge engagement” with the Games globally.

She added a number of countries had expressed an interest in staging future Commonwealth Games, including African nations.

She said Birmingham, which already had many facilities in place, could be a blueprint for the future.

“It is definitely not something we want people to spend huge amounts of money and capital investment if it is not needed and desired by the long-term plans for the country,” she said.

The Birmingham Games made history in being the first to award more medals to women than men.

Australian swimming great Emma McKeon became the most decorated athlete in Commonwealth Games history, with 20 medals — including six golds in Birmingham.

And the tiny island of Niue won its first ever Commonwealth Games medal, a boxing bronze for Duken Tutakitoa-Williams.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Louise Martin handed the flag to Linda Dessau, the governor of the Australian state of Victoria, which will host the 2026 Games.

Martin said Birmingham had put on an event “unlike any we’ve seen before.”

“We are emerging from one of the most challenging periods in modern history, where the Covid-19 pandemic has kept us apart,” she said.

“Birmingham 2022 proved to be a special moment when we reunited, when the power of sport to connect us came into sharp focus.”


Everton sign England’s Coady on season-long loan from Wolves

Everton sign England’s Coady on season-long loan from Wolves
Updated 09 August 2022

Everton sign England’s Coady on season-long loan from Wolves

Everton sign England’s Coady on season-long loan from Wolves
  • Coady is the fourth player to arrive at Goodison Park during the current transfer window, following the Burnley duo of James Tarkowski and Dwight McNeil as well as Sporting Lisbon defender Ruben Vinagre

LONDON: England centerback Conor Coady has joined Everton on a season-long loan from Premier League rivals Wolves, it was announced on Monday.

The Toffees were left short of defenders after both Ben Godfrey and Yerry Mina were injured during a 1-0 defeat by Chelsea in their opening match of the new league season on Saturday.

This move sees Wolves captain Coady, 29, returning to his home city eight years after leaving Liverpool, where he came through the Anfield club’s academy.

“It’s incredible to join Everton,” Coady told his new club’s website.

He added: “I’ve grown up around the city, I know the football club, how big this club is and what it means to the supporters.

“I’m someone who was desperate to come here, to play for this club. I’ve got family and friends who are massive Evertonians.

“I’m here to give absolutely everything I’ve got for this football club.”

Coady is the fourth player to arrive at Goodison Park during the current transfer window, following the Burnley duo of James Tarkowski and Dwight McNeil as well as Sporting Lisbon defender Ruben Vinagre.

“We are delighted to bring a player of Conor’s quality and vast experience to Everton and he fits into how we want to play as a team,” said Toffees manager Frank Lampard.

Coady was on the bench for Wolves’ first game of the season, a 2-1 loss away to Leeds.

He moved to Wolves from Huddersfield in 2015 and has played in 196 out of a possible 198 league games during the past five seasons for the Midlands club.

Just minutes after Coady’s move was announced, Wolves said they had signed Valencia forward Goncalo Guedes on a five-year contract for an undisclosed fee.

“We have been monitoring Goncalo for a long time and are very pleased to welcome him to Wolves,” said chairman Jeff Shi of the 25-year-old Portugal international, who was coached by Wanderers manager Bruno Lage at Benfica.

“He has natural talent and has performed very well across Europe and for his country, and we think he is well suited to the Premier League.

“Goncalo worked with Bruno at Benfica and played with many members of our squad previously, so we’re confident he will settle quickly into the group here.

“Now, we are delighted that Goncalo is a Wolves player and look forward to giving him a warm welcome at Molineux this Saturday.”


Serena Williams makes triumphant return to hardcourts

Serena Williams makes triumphant return to hardcourts
Updated 09 August 2022

Serena Williams makes triumphant return to hardcourts

Serena Williams makes triumphant return to hardcourts
  • Williams earned her first title in Canada in 2001 and her third and most recent nine years ago

TORONTO, Canada: Serena Williams stepped onto a hardcourt for the first time in a year and a half on Monday and fought through for a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz.
The 40-year-old American was competing in only her second match this season in defeating the 57th-ranked lucky loser to reach the second round.
Williams earned her first victory since last season at Roland Garros.
The opener took two hours, with the veteran winning a 25-minute game to level 4-4 in the second set.
She then served out victory as she plays the event for a 10th time.
Williams earned her first title in Canada in 2001 and her third and most recent nine years ago.
She defeated Diaz with seven aces and saved seven of the eight break points she faced.
Another multiple Grand Slam champion also advanced on a cloudy opening day, with Simona Halep sweeping the opening seven games on her way to a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Donna Vekic to also reach the second round.
Romania’s former number one and two-time Canadian champion lost no time in collecting her triumph over the number 82 qualifier in 62 minutes on a day where rain threatened.
Halep, ranked 15th, handed Vekic a 10th defeat in her last 11 matches against a top-20 opponent. The Croat last defeated a member of the ranking elite at the Olympics last summer when she put out No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka.
Halep added a 33rd match victory to her 2022 total as she advanced at one of the five WTA events she has won twice (2016, 2018).
The 15th seed leads the WTA with the most career wins at 1000-level tournaments on 180, ahead of Victoria Azarenka and now-retired Caroline Wozniacki on 177.
Reigning Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina, playing only her second Canadian match, defeated Czech Marie Bouzkova 7-5, 6-7(3/7), 6-1.
2017 Roland Garros titleholder Jelena Ostapenko advanced past Anhelina Kalinina, overcoming 11 double faults in a 6-4, 6-2 decision.