Barca look to secure top four spot with win away at Real Betis

Barca look to secure top four spot with win away at Real Betis
Real Betis' Spanish defender Victor Ruiz scissor-kicks the ball next to Getafe's Turkish forward Enes Unal during their Spanish League football match at the Col. Alfonso Perez stadium in Getafe on May 2, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2022

Barca look to secure top four spot with win away at Real Betis

Barca look to secure top four spot with win away at Real Betis
  • A victory for Xavi’s side at the Benito Villamarin would also come as a boost to Atletico Madrid

MADRID: Barcelona can seal qualification for next season’s Champions League by beating Real Betis on Saturday as six of La Liga’s top seven go head-to-head in what could be a pivotal weekend in the race for the top four.

Barca, in second, are eight points clear of Betis, in fifth, and if they can extend that gap to 11 with three games left to play, their spot in the Champions League will be secure.

It would represent a significant achievement for the Catalans, despite a disappointing dip in recent weeks meaning the enthusiasm of a few weeks ago, when they thrashed Real Madrid 4-0, has fizzled out.

Xavi Hernandez took over with Barcelona sitting ninth in La Liga, with the very real threat of missing out on the top four hanging over the club, who have debts of more than a billion euros and desperately need the money from playing in Europe’s most lucrative club tournament.

“We have two objectives,” said Xavi last weekend.

“Qualify for the Champions League and then also to finish second.

“But the main thing is to qualify for the Champions League.”

A victory for Xavi’s side at the Benito Villamarin would also come as a boost to Atletico Madrid, who are only three points ahead of Betis, with the local derby at home to Real Madrid to come on Sunday.

Atletico have already said they will not give Real Madrid a guard of honor as champions, a subject that has dominated discussions in Spain in recent days but a gesture they consider to be “an attempt at mockery” that the club insisted has “the aim of humiliation.”

Atletico will hope Real Madrid’s sensational comeback against Manchester City on Wednesday in the Champions League, which required extra time and a heap of emotional and physical energy, might take its toll at the Wanda Metropolitano.

After already wrapping up the league title last weekend with four games to spare, the momentous victory over City means Carlo Ancelotti is expected to rotate against Atletico, with the likes of Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Vinicius Junior all due a rest.

Atletico should be primed to take advantage but Diego Simeone’s side are in the middle of another rocky patch, having won only one of their last six games, including a defeat by Athletic Bilbao last Saturday.

And Atletico can take little comfort from their run-in after this weekend, which will see them finish at home to Sevilla and away at Real Sociedad after a more winnable game away at Elche.

“I’m concerned as I’ve always said,” Simeone said after the loss to Athletic.

“You have to know how to handle difficult moments, which have been rare in these last few years.

“The responsibility is mine and it depends on me whether the players stay calm or not.”

If Betis had been more consistent in recent weeks they might already have Champions League qualification in their own hands but two draws against Real Sociedad and Getafe, either side of a loss at home to Elche, have allowed Atletico to hold their ground.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side may have had their focus diverted by the final of the Copa del Rey, which they won last month against Valencia, but the top four is still within reach, despite difficult remaining games against Barca, Valencia, Granada and then Real Madrid.

Sevilla, in third, are still not home and dry but their six-point lead over their city rivals should be enough, even if they have a tough game on Sunday away at Villarreal.

Unai Emery’s side might still be licking their wounds after their Champions League exit at the hands of Liverpool on Tuesday.

At the other end of the table, Mallorca host Granada on Saturday in what looks a crucial game in the battle to avoid relegation, with Mallorca and Cadiz just one point ahead of Granada as all three teams fight to escape the drop.

Fixtures (GMT)

Friday

Levante vs. Real Sociedad (1900)

Saturday

Mallorca vs. Granada (1200), Athletic Bilbao vs. Valencia (1415), Celta Vigo vs. Alaves (1630), Cadiz vs. Elche (1630), Real Betis vs. Barcelona (1900)

Sunday

Getafe vs. Rayo Vallecano (1200), Villarreal vs. Sevilla (1415), Espanyol vs. Osasuna (1630), Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid (1900)


FIFA aims at sexual offenses in updated ethics code

FIFA aims at sexual offenses in updated ethics code
Updated 58 min 22 sec ago

FIFA aims at sexual offenses in updated ethics code

FIFA aims at sexual offenses in updated ethics code
  • The code, said the governing body of world football, is intended "to enhance protection of football integrity"
  • It also targets match fixing and clubs that fail to pay transfer fees

LAUSANNE: FIFA has toughened its disciplinary proceedings for cases of sexual assault or harassment in a revised Code of Ethics that was announced and came into force on Wednesday.
The code, said the governing body of world football in a press release, is intended “to enhance protection of football integrity.”
It also targets match fixing and clubs that fail to pay transfer fees.
“The changes are aimed at improving the protection of certain parties to proceedings before FIFA’s judicial bodies, while providing FIFA with further instruments against illegal, immoral or unethical methods and practices,” said the release.
The revised code removes the 10-year limitation period on prosecuting sexual offenses.
The changes make the possible victims “parties to the relevant proceedings, who enjoy all procedural rights, such as that of being notified of the relevant decision and being entitled to appeal it.”
The code also obliges “member associations and confederations to notify FIFA of any decisions rendered on sexual abuse and match-fixing.”
A series of sexual assault scandals in recent years, notably in Gabon, Haiti, the United States and Afghanistan, forced FIFA into disciplinary proceedings, particularly in cases where the local authorities refused to act.
FIFA said it would appoint an independent integrity expert to investigate match fixing and coordinate with the public authorities in assessing potential offenses, and propose “appropriate disciplinary measures.”
FIFA said it was extending transfer bans on debtor clubs that do not comply with decisions by its Football Tribunal and could charge 18 percent interest on unpaid debts.


Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come
Saudi Arabia has been named as host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.
Updated 01 February 2023

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come
  • With thriving domestic league, successful national teams and clubs, Kingdom will finally host continent’s biggest international competition

Saudi Arabia has been named as host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, and incredibly, will hold the continent’s biggest international for the first time.

Less than a month after Cristiano Ronaldo arrived to play for Al-Nassr, and two since the Saudi national team’s fine performances at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the news cements the country’s status as a major hub of the world’s most popular game on the largest continent.

It was always likely that Saudi would get the official nod as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) conducted its congress in Bahrain’s capital of Manama.

Five countries initially threw hats into the ring. Iran and Uzbekistan withdrew and then, after China — still in lockdown and pursuing a zero-COVID-19 policy — relinquished hosting rights from the 2023 tournament, Qatar stepped in as a substitute.

That meant India was the only remaining rival and when New Delhi bowed out in December, it cleared the way for Saudi Arabia to host the tournament for the first time in its history.

It is an idea whose time has finally come.

The pandemic played a wider part, too. With the disruption caused to competitions, both of the club and country variety, during the outbreak, Saudi Arabia proved to be a competent, flexible and reliable host whether the games were World Cup qualifiers or AFC Champions Leagues matches.

The work done, often at short notice, was appreciated by the AFC. After the confederation got its fingers burnt by the situation in China, it is not a surprise that cities such as Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam are seen as safe choices as well as places that deserved a first chance to host Asia’s biggest sporting event.

There is more to it than that, however. The reputation of Saudi Arabian football is higher now than it has maybe ever been. The national team is still basking in the warmth of the global sensation produced with November’s World Cup win over eventual champions Argentina. It was a stunning victory. With a little more luck then Herve Renard’s men could easily have found themselves in the last 16 especially if Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty had been converted against Poland.

The performances showed that there is talent in the country with the likes of Saud Abdulhamid linked to big moves in Italy and elsewhere.

The Saudi Professional League has long been one of the strongest in Asia but in recent years has grown in strength, depth and stature. There is regularly more than one representative in the latter stages of the Asian Champions League. Al-Hilal are the defending champions — and have won two of the last three — and now have a record number of four continental titles as well as international stars such as Odion Ighalo and Moussa Marega. On Saturday, the Blues kick off a third FIFA Club World Cup campaign in the space of three years.

While there is a growing core of talent in the country, as the World Cup exploits and last June’s U23 Asian Championships triumph have shown, the league is home to some of the best foreign players and coaches in Asian football.

Al-Ittihad have former Tottenham Hotspur boss Nuno Santo in charge and a whole host of talented foreign players including Moroccan marksman Abderrazzak Hamdallah, Egyptian rock Ahmed Hegazi and talented Brazilians such as Igor Coronado and Romarinho.

Al-Shabab tore up the group stage of the Champions League and even second tier Al-Ahli have Pitso Mosimane in charge, the man who has won three African Champions League crowns with Mamelodi Sundowns in his native South Africa and twice with Egyptian giants Al-Ahly. At the moment, the SPL is the most exciting and high-profile domestic competition on the continent.

And that was the case before Ronaldo signed with Al-Nassr. The Portuguese star is one of the best players in the history of the game with five Ballon d’Or awards and the same number of UEFA Champions League titles. It is not just about the talent of the former Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus legend, but the fact that he among the most recognizable people on the planet. His presence has just increased the spotlight shining on Saudi Arabian football.

It all means that the Asian Cup announcement is not only a natural decision, as Saudi Arabian football is in a great place at the moment on the pitch, but also confirms what is happening off the field. The tournament will be the biggest football event ever to take place in the country but there is a sense that there is more to come. The waiting is over and now, preparations can begin.


President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member
President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Yasser Al-Misehal.
Updated 01 February 2023

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member
  • Yasser Al-Misehal joins the FIFA team on the day Saudi Arabia are confirmed as hosts of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Riyadh: Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) President Yasser Al-Misehal has been elected as a Member of the FIFA Council at the 33rd AFC Congress 2023 held in Manama, Bahrain today. 

This marks a new milestone for football in the Kingdom as Al-Mishal becomes only the second Saudi elected Member to the prestigious FIFA Council, which is the main governing body of the FIFA organization.

The announcement was made on the same day that Saudi Arabia was confirmed as the host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

The term will run for four years and this election expected to bring with it new opportunities to the football sphere not only in Saudi Arabia but the Middle East and Asia.


Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup
Updated 01 February 2023

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup
  • Wydad of host nation Morocco, Saudi’s Al-Hilal and Egyptian giants Al-Ahly will look to emulate the fine performances of Arab nations in football’s premier event

As Morocco looks to launch the FIFA Club World Cup on Wednesday night, it will be almost impossible for Arab fans not to cast their minds back to that golden month of football that was the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

That the intercontinental club tournament is taking place in the very nation that gave us the first Arab or African team to reach the semifinal of World Cup just six weeks ago seems a little too good to be true.

The trio of Arab clubs in Morocco — home club Wydad AC, Saudi’s Al-Hilal and Egypt’s Al-Ahly — will now hope to carry Qatar 2022’s feel-good factor into the next two weeks.

As always for the African and Asian representatives at the Club World Cup, it won’t be easy. Standing in their way are European champions Real Madrid, Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo of Brazil, CONCACAF’s Seattle Sounders FC from the US and Oceana’s Auckland City of New Zealand.

But thanks to the heroes of the Arab national teams in Doha, these obstacles are no longer ones to be dreaded, more one to be attacked.

For a start, African champions Wydad will have high hopes of emulating their national heroes in front of their own fans.

Keep an eye out for Ayman El-Hassouni, one of the team’s most influential stars and its attacking mastermind.

The 27-year-old is having an excellent season, forming a strong midfield partnership with Yahya Gebran and contributing six goals in 14 matches.

Wydad will kick off their Club World Cup campaign against Al-Hilal on Saturday, guaranteeing at least one Arab team in the semifinals.

Ramon Diaz’s Saudi and Asian champions have a big act to follow.

It’s been less than two months since the Saudi national team was shining at the World Cup with a historic 2-1 victory over eventual champions Argentina.

On an unforgettable night at Lusail Stadium in Doha, it was star player Salem Al-Dawsari who scored the historic winner to secure a place in the hearts of Arab football fans.

The 31-year-old — with three goals from 11 matches this season — will once again carry the bulk of his team’s hopes at the Club World Cup, particularly as fellow Saudi internationals Salman Al-Faraj and Yasser Al-Shahrani are still out due to serious injuries picked up in Qatar.

However, this is a Hilal team that is becoming very familiar with the Cub World Cup, with another seven players participating in it for the third time. Abdullah Al-Mayouf, Andre Carrillo, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Kanno, Jang Hyun-soo, Mohammed Jahfali and Gustavo Cuellar all took part in the 2019 and 2021 editions.

However, to surpass their previous finish of fourth place, improvement is needed at both ends of the field. The team has been inconsistent in front of goal while conceding 12 goals in 15 league matches this season; not a disaster by any means, but more than what Diaz expected from his title-challenging team.

But it’s Al-Ahly who kick off proceedings on Wednesday night when they take on Auckland City at Tangier Stadium.

Egypt may have missed the party in Qatar, but the Cairo giants, in their eighth participation, have a storied history in this tournament. Indeed they are the only team from the country to have ever played in it, and have finished a creditable third on three occasions, in 2006, 2020 and 2021.

Expect attacking midfielder Ahmed Abdel Kader to play an influential role for Al-Ahly in Morocco. The 23-year-old is considered one of the pillars of the squad over the last two seasons, having scored 11 and assisted seven goals in 60 matches. Coach Marcel Kohler will look for him to be the inspiration in attack, particularly with his ability to deal with defensive blocs and his partnership with left-back Ali Maaloul.

The three Arab clubs, with their three leading stars, have a chance to write their names in history. And if any inspiration is needed, all they have to do is look back at Qatar 2022.


Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup
The announcement was made at the 33rd AFC Congress in Manama.
Updated 29 min 22 sec ago

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup
  • The announcement was made at the 33rd AFC Congress in Manama

Saudi Arabia has been confirmed as the host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup at the 33rd Asian Football Federation Congress in Manama on Wednesday afternoon.

It will be the first time that the tournament will be held in the Kingdom, with the Green Falcons having won the competitions three times previously (1984, 1988, 1996).

Four other nations had initially bid to host the tournament, including Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Qatar.  

Iran and Uzbekistan were the first to withdraw, with Qatar following as it filled in the vacancy left by China for the 2023 edition.

When India withdrew in December, Saudi Arabia were left unopposed to win the vote.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hailed the result announcing the Kingdom's hosting of the tournament in 2027. "We commend the results of the bilateral and multilateral cooperation between the Kingdom and the Asian Federation in terms of efforts to achieve the aspirations of our young men and women."

Meanwhile, the Saudi minister of sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal received the certificate approving the Kingdom to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

"Saudi Arabia is ready to host the competition, we have the passion, support and facilities to drive football forward for Asia," he said.

He added: "The Asian cup we deliver will take the tournament to the next level. This will be the most profitable in the history of our confederation for both AFC and its members."