Mahrez aims to finish season on a high with Manchester City success

Mahrez aims to finish season on a high with Manchester City success
Mahrez had hoped to shine when the Middle East hosts its first finals of the biggest competition in world football during November and December.. (AFP)
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Updated 04 May 2022

Mahrez aims to finish season on a high with Manchester City success

Mahrez aims to finish season on a high with Manchester City success
  • Top scorer determined to lead City’s bid for Premier League and Champions League glory

Riyad Mahrez wants to put the “worst” moment of his football career behind him to help Manchester City to a double triumph.

The Algeria captain was left shattered when his country failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, having also missed out in 2018 too.

A 2-1 home loss in a play-off second leg to Cameroon — who scored with the last kick of the match in extra time — saw the Desert Warriors eliminated on away goals after a 2-2 aggregate.

Mahrez had hoped to shine when the Middle East hosts its first finals of the biggest competition in world football during November and December.

Having also finished bottom of their Africa Cup of Nations group, despite being defending champions, it capped a painful period for the forward.

But the 31-year-old is now determined to finish the season on a high and lead City’s bid for Premier League and Champions League success.

The Abu Dhabi-owned club are a point clear of Liverpool in a tense top-flight title race with four games left — and visit Real Madrid on Wednesday in their Champions League semifinal return after a thrilling 4-3 first-leg success.

Mahrez, who started when City lost 1-0 to Chelsea in last season’s European final, told Arab News: “You always have pressure, but you have to play.

“You have to play your best because you have a lot of people behind you, the fans, your country.

“I’m obviously very disappointed to not go to the World Cup with my country, which was the worst I have felt in my career.

“It was so bad — the scenario was very painful. But at the end I have to try to forget and go forward — and try to help my club to achieve things.

“Obviously the Champions League is a very big competition. We try to do our best and arrive in the semifinal, the last part of the competition and we have to be focused. We are going to give everything (to go through).”

Mahrez and City were left frustrated in the first leg at the Etihad as they did not take chances to record a greater margin of victory over the 13-time European champions.

Having set up Kevin De Bruyne’s opener with a sensational bit of skill, the winger sent a good opportunity wide and then hit the post with another effort.

Mahrez, though, has been inspirational in City’s run to the last four this season, scoring six goals in his 11 starts.

He is also the club’s overall top scorer with a career-high 23 goals and has nine assists.

It shows how Mahrez is now producing his best form at City following a £60 million move from Leicester City in 2018 — two years after he won the Premier League with the Foxes and was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

“In terms of numbers, yes this is my best season,” he added. “A lot better, but I know I could have still done better too.

“But it’s good to help the team to try to win and that’s what I am trying to do every time I play.

“I feel good. After four years here now I have more experience, I know more about my body, I know everything, my team-mates and the manager, so it’s easier for me.”

City boss Pep Guardiola rested Mahrez, along with De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, for his side’s 4-0 win at Leeds on Saturday, but is expected to start the trio in Madrid.

Guardiola has praised the contribution of Mahrez this season and revealed how his dazzling displays are a factor in why record £100 million summer signing Jack Grealish has not been a regular starter.

“Riyad, for a long time, is always with us and, in important games, he gives us something unique,” he said recently.

City will certainly need that class and cunning against Carlo Ancelotti’s newly crowned Spanish league champions.

Mahrez is also well aware of Real’s threat in the shape of 34-year-old Ballon d’Or favorite Karim Benzema, whose two first-leg goals have also given Real hope of reaching a 17th final.

Ironically, the pair could have been international team-mates, but Benzema chose to represent France where he was born, rather than Algeria where he has family roots.

“Benzema is a top top striker, at his age as well,” Mahrez said. “He’s a hardworking guy and deserves everything.”


Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia
Updated 10 August 2022

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia

Cricket federation to establish four regional associations across Saudi Arabia
  • New centers will be in Jouf, Hail, Al-Hudud Ash Shamaliyah and Al-Baha

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation is set to establish four new regional associations to help promote the sport across the Kingdom.

The federation told Arab News on Wednesday that is has 15 official associations representing the sport in nine regions, but aims to establish new associations in the remaining four regions “to make sure that we have future cricket activities all around the Kingdom.”

The long-term aim is for Saudi Arabian cricket teams to compete professionally at regional and international competitions, with the national teams taking on world’s best.

In recent years, the SACF has introduced several competitions and programs to encourage the country’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

In October 2021, it signed an agreement with sports management company JSW Sports to develop cricket in Saudi Arabia, focusing on high-performance academies.

The SACF was established in 2020 and lined up a series of major initiatives the following year, including a national cricket championship, a corporate cricket tournament, a cricket league for expatriate workers, and a social program in several cities.

The initiatives are part of a mission to promote healthy and active lifestyles under the Saudi Vision 2030’s Quality of Life scheme, with the SACF — supported by the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee — mandated to increase physical activity levels by 40 percent over the next decade.

In November, the SACF partnered with Saudi’s Sports For All Federation to launch the Kingdom’s first cricket talent-spotting program.


FIFA looks to start World Cup in Qatar 1 day earlier

FIFA looks to start World Cup in Qatar 1 day earlier
Updated 10 August 2022

FIFA looks to start World Cup in Qatar 1 day earlier

FIFA looks to start World Cup in Qatar 1 day earlier
  • FIFA is looking at a plan to let the host nation play Ecuador on Nov. 20
  • The World Cup is set to open on Nov. 21 with the Netherlands facing Senegal

GENEVA: Host nation Qatar is set to play in the opening game of its own World Cup tournament after all — and on a stand-alone day being added to the schedule barely 100 days before kickoff.
Soccer’s marquee tournament is now set start one day earlier than originally scheduled seven years ago in a move that would allow Qatar to play Ecuador on Nov. 20, a person familiar with the proposal told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter.
The proposal will be put before a committee comprised of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the heads of the six continental soccer bodies, the person said. A decision is expected this week.
According to a letter sent by FIFA this week and seen by the AP, the governing body is asking for approval from the continental soccer bodies by Thursday.
Qatar should now get an exclusive Sunday slot for its opening ceremony and World Cup debut at the 60,000-capacity Al Bayt Stadium.
The World Cup is currently scheduled to start on Nov. 21, a Monday, based on a FIFA decision in 2015 after it agreed to push back the tournament to avoid the extreme desert heat in June and July. FIFA also got agreement for a shorter, 28-day program to minimize disruption to domestic soccer, especially in Europe, which will shut down ahead of the World Cup.
Recent World Cup tradition gave 2014 host Brazil and 2018 host Russia exclusive opening days to play their first opponents. But the tighter schedule in Qatar called for four games daily for the entire group stage — 48 games in 12 days.
At the tournament draw in Doha on April 1, the Netherlands, Senegal and Ecuador landed in Group A with Qatar. The Dutch and Senegal were allocated the 1 p.m. local time start and Qatar was to play Ecuador in the third game with an evening kickoff six hours later.
The proposal to create a 29-day tournament instead of 28 has been favored by Qatari officials and South American soccer body CONMEBOL, with talks also involving the Qatar and Ecuador soccer federations, the person told the AP.
FIFA acknowledged in its letter that changing the date, after tickets have been sold, would affect some traveling fans. However, FIFA said “any risk is sufficiently outweighed by the value and benefits of the proposal” commercially.
A Qatar-Ecuador game involves only a few players who are with European clubs. Several on the likely Ecuador roster play for clubs in Spain, the United States and Mexico, where leagues stop play ahead of the Nov. 12-13 weekend.
The schedule switch would have been tougher to agree to if Qatar was scheduled to open against the Netherlands, which has key members playing until Nov. 13 with clubs in England and Italy.
Because of the proposal, FIFA is expected to push back the Netherlands-Senegal from the lunchtime start to the early evening slot that would be vacated by Qatar.
While an opening game on a Sunday evening in Qatar should play well with viewers in Asia and Europe, in the United States it puts the World Cup in direct competition with NFL games. The US soccer team plays its World Cup opener against Wales as the late Monday game in Qatar.
The 2022 World Cup is the first in the tournament’s 92-year history to be played outside of the traditional northern hemisphere summer. The previous 21 editions were all played between late-May and the end of July.
The Nov. 21-Dec. 18 tournament schedule was agreed to so European clubs could play on the Nov. 12-13 weekend before releasing their players to the 32 World Cup teams. Changing opening day should not alter the tournament rule that players must report from their clubs to national teams no later than Nov. 14, FIFA said in its letter.
The final will be played on Qatar’s National Day, a Sunday, allowing a full week for players to return to clubs before the Premier League plays its traditional Boxing Day games on Dec. 26.
Qatar original bid was made to host the tournament in June-July, promising innovative stadium cooling technology to overcome heat expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) during the first World Cup held in the Middle East.
In December 2010, Qatar won a controversial bid contest beating the United States 14-8 in a final round of voting by the FIFA executive committee, a group later widely discredited by corruption scandals.
More than four years later, FIFA moved the tournament to be played on dates when temperatures should be around 25 to 30 degrees C (77 to 86 degrees F).
Now, a further seven years later, the dates are set to change again.


SAFF Integrity mobile app established to combat corruption in football

SAFF Integrity mobile app established to combat corruption in football
Updated 10 August 2022

SAFF Integrity mobile app established to combat corruption in football

SAFF Integrity mobile app established to combat corruption in football
  • The new app was officially launched through a collaboration between SAFF and Sportradar Integrity Services
  • The SAFF Integrity Unit will be responsible for handling reports received through the app

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has announced the launch of the SAFF Integrity mobile app, which allows players, officials and members of the public to report suspected match-fixing, match-manipulation or other integrity concerns in a safe and secure manner.
The SAFF Integrity mobile app, available in both Arabic and English, was established in collaboration with Sportradar Integrity Services.
The launch comes just in time for the start of the 2022-2023 season and will further support the work of the SAFF Integrity Unit, composed of experienced lawyers from the federation’s legal and governance department.
The SAFF Integrity Unit will be responsible for handling reports received through the app, investigating credible reports and initiating any necessary disciplinary procedures under the disciplinary and ethics regulations.
The new platform, which is closely modeled on the FIFA Integrity and AFC Integrity mobile apps, is one of a range of tools acquired by SAFF to combat match-fixing under a partnership agreement signed with Sportradar Integrity Services. It will further strengthen SAFF’s efforts in promoting and safeguarding the integrity of football in the Kingdom.
“Safeguarding the integrity of Saudi Arabian football is one of the biggest priorities at SAFF, and in looking to achieve this, we are delighted to be working with Sportradar Integrity Services, who are the clear leaders in the particular field of sports integrity,” said Ibrahim Alkassim, general secretary at SAFF.
“Monitoring services provided by their team of experts through the [Universal Fraud Detection System] will strengthen our existing integrity measures, whilst the Education and Prevention webinars will ensure that all stakeholders are adequately and appropriately educated in how best to tackle integrity challenges.”
As part of the agreement, several football competitions organized by SAFF will be monitored by Sportradar’s UFDS, a technically advanced bet monitoring system that has been independently assessed and verified by recognized experts in sports betting and integrity. Sportradar Integrity Services will also provide SAFF with an integrity risk assessment to identify any potential integrity risks.
In addition, teams, players, match officials and other key SAFF staff and stakeholders will also be educated on the importance of integrity via a series of informative webinars delivered in both English and Arabic. Players and officials from teams participating in the 2021-2022 Saudi Pro League were the first group to have attended the webinars, followed by SAFF staff members.
Sportradar Integrity Services Managing Director Andreas Krannich said: “It is an honor to partner with SAFF, and as the global leader in sporting integrity, we are confident that our experience and expertise can help protect SAFF against integrity-related issues. We look forward to working alongside them throughout the next few years and providing our support to their overall integrity program.”


Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival

Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival
Updated 10 August 2022

Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival

Zamalek president jailed for insulting rival
  • Al-Ahly and Zamalek are historic rivals whose fans regularly clash after matches
  • Zamalek boss, Mortada Mansour, was initially sentenced to one year in prison for insulting Mahmoud al-Khatib, president of Al-Ahly

CAIRO: An Egyptian appeals court has sentenced the president of Zamalek football club to a month in prison for insulting the president of bitter rivals Al-Ahly, a judicial source told AFP on Wednesday.
Al-Ahly and Zamalek, the country’s two biggest clubs and among the continent’s most successful, are historic rivals whose fans regularly clash after matches.
The 70-year-old Zamalek boss, Mortada Mansour, was initially sentenced to one year in prison for insulting Mahmoud Al-Khatib, president of Al-Ahly and a former star player, and his family in a video posted on social networks and on Zamalek’s club channel.
On Wednesday, Mansour’s sentence was reduced to one month in prison and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (500 euros).
A former magistrate and member of parliament, Mansour is regularly in the news. He has had a long-running battle with Al-Ahly and has physically attack his counterparts.
His parliamentary immunity had for a while enabled him to avoid legal proceedings after complaints of insults and defamation.
In 2007, he was sentenced to three years in jail by a criminal court in Cairo for “insulting” court officials and levelling accusations of corruption against them.


Newcastle keepers under the spotlight, as Eddie Howe looks to trim his squad

Newcastle keepers under the spotlight, as Eddie Howe looks to trim his squad
Updated 10 August 2022

Newcastle keepers under the spotlight, as Eddie Howe looks to trim his squad

Newcastle keepers under the spotlight, as Eddie Howe looks to trim his squad
  • Magpies’ boss delighted with competition for places that new signing has brought to St. James’ Park
  • The Magpies currently have four senior keepers on their books

NEWCASTLE: Head coach Eddie Howe has admitted he will have to trim his Newcastle United squad this month — and one of his goalkeepers looks to be most at risk.
The Magpies currently have four senior keepers on their books, with summer signing Nick Pope claiming the No. 1 slot from Martin Dubravka for the start of the Premier League season.
Beyond that, former No. 1 Karl Darlow and ex-Motherwell keeper Mark Gillespie are the other two senior players in that position who currently find themselves out of the first-team frame.
While Newcastle named four keepers in their 25-man Premier League squad at the start of last season — Dubravka, Darlow, Gillespie and recently departed Freddie Woodman — due to illness and injury, Howe accepts doing so this season seems an unlikely prospect, especially with the intent to still sign at least two more outfield players before the close of the transfer window on Sept. 1.
When asked whether one will leave, he said: “It’s too early to say. I don’t know. Certainly, I wouldn’t want anyone to leave, but I’m well aware four is a difficult number to carry.
“My wish would be to do that, but obviously I’ve got to think of the players as well. Hopefully we’ll make the right decision.”
While Pope left Burnley to play in the Premier League, no doubt with promises of first-team football ahead of the World Cup this winter, there was still a degree of surprise on Tyneside that fan favorite Dubravka did not retain his spot in Howe’s starting 11.
The head coach said it was no easy decision to pick who started the season between the sticks, with Howe keen to praise Newcastle’s weekend understudy.
“It was a very, very, very difficult decision,” said Howe.
“I’ve got three quality goalkeepers to pick from in Karl, Nick and Martin, who, last season, was excellent.
“Certainly, my decision to pick Nick wasn’t a reflection on him (Dubravka). It was more of a reflection on Nick and how good I think he is.
“I thought he was excellent (against Nottingham Forest on debut), his ability to come for crosses. He commanded his box very well and kicked well, so I was really pleased with him. He didn’t have a lot to do with his hands, which is a good sign.
“There’s competition for places in that position as well, and I think that strength will help us through the season.”
Another big call by Howe was to leave out the Magpies’ big summer signing Sven Botman.
The Netherlands youth international arrived at St. James’ Park this summer following a six-month chase for the player, and it had been widely expected that Botman would slot straight into the side alongside weekend goalscorer Fabian Schar.
But Howe instead opted to field January signing Dan Burn at center-back, rewarding his remarkable end-of-season form with the shirt.
Explaining the decision, Howe said: “They were excellent in the second half of last season, I have to say, together with Jamaal (Lascelles), who more than played his part.
“All three center-backs, for me, were excellent, but we needed more strength in depth, we couldn’t rely on just three this season. Federico Fernandez has had his injury problems, so we felt it was a position we needed to strengthen.
“Sven was a long-term target for us. We were delighted to sign him. But I think this period, however long it is before he gets his opportunity to start, will do him a world of good. He will get to know the league, the speed, and I’ve got no doubts about him as a player.
“He’ll be a top player for this football club, but there’s real competition for places. Dan, Fabian and Jamaal — they’re not going to give up their shirts easily. That’s a battle I love to see. Knowing I’ve got that quality certainly bodes well for the season.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle are set to be without midfielder Jonjo Shelvey for much of the first half of the season after he went under the knife to fix a hamstring problem.
Shelvey limped out of United’s 3-2 friendly loss to Benfica last month and at the weekend traveled to London for an operation to fix the issue.
Howe knows how much of a loss the experienced former Liverpool and England man will be — and it may even color his transfer strategy in the final weeks of the window.
Speaking about Shelvey’s absence following the Magpies’ 2-0 win over Forest at the weekend, Howe said: “We had to work without Jonjo because he’s injured. We work very hard on all principles of our play, so the midfield dynamic without Jonjo is very different.
“Jonjo is such a unique individual and player. He can pass the ball from anywhere on the pitch to almost create a goal in any position that he receives the ball.
“Bruno Guimaraes is very different but still equally effective. He was very good today. He had a difficult job because he had Jesse Lingard to contain, so it was an interesting battle and I thought Bruno did very well.”
Newcastle currently have Guimaraes, Sean Longstaff, Joelinton, Joe Willock and youngsters Elliot Anderson and Matty Longstaff to choose from in midfield but are understood to have asked Chelsea about the availability of Conor Gallagher in recent days.