African Champions League semifinals hoping to match European drama

 African Champions League semifinals hoping to match European drama
If there is an African version of Real Madrid then it is Al-Ahly, and the Egyptian powerhouse will meet ES Setif of Algeria on Saturday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2022

African Champions League semifinals hoping to match European drama

 African Champions League semifinals hoping to match European drama
  • Reigning champions Al-Ahly have a third straight title in sight when they face ES Setif of Algeria, while Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca take on Luanda of Angola

Once again, the UEFA Champions League semifinals have provided high levels of drama and excitement, with Real Madrid’s almost unbelievable late heroics against Manchester City on Wednesday coming 24 hours after Villarreal gave Liverpool a mighty scare.

Now it remains to be seen if Africa’s last four can provide similar entertainment in the coming days, starting with the first legs on Saturday.

If there is an African version of Real Madrid then it is Al-Ahly, and the Egyptian powerhouse will meet ES Setif of Algeria on Saturday.

While the team from Cairo cannot quite match Madrid’s 13 continental titles, they are by far the most successful in their own region, with an impressive 10 CAF Champions League wins. Like Los Blancos, the Red Giants love international competition and are also on course for a third successive win.

Like Madrid, they do not always make it easy, but usually find a way to find a way. Al-Ahly came second in their group and back-to-back defeats at the hands of Mamelodi Sundowns put progression in doubt before wins against Sudanese opposition in the last two games. It was followed by a tight 3-2 aggregate win over Raja Casablanca at the quarterfinal stage. 

There are differences between the most successful African and European clubs, however. Real Madrid have already sewn up the Spanish title, but for the second season in succession, continental exertions are having an effect at home. Two draws and a defeat in the last three league games have seen Al-Ahly fall eight points behind city rivals Zamalek. They may have three games in hand, but it is starting to remind of last year when the Reds had too many commitments overseas and, in the end, were unable to close the domestic gap. 

Coach Pitso Mosimane has come in for some criticism. Former Al-Ahly star Ahmed Koshary said after the latest league setback, a 1-1 draw with Ceramica Cleopatra, that “the players are not showing team spirit, which is something we are not used to at Al-Ahly.”

He added: “Some starting 11 players don’t even deserve to be at the club. Right now, we look like a small club. Al-Ahly need to take a stand; there are many problems, not just wasting chances.”

Taha Ismail is another club legend unhappy with what he is seeing. “The team is suffering on the physical level, the build-up is extremely slow, and the counterattacks are very slow as well. The performance is disappointing and it doesn’t show the club’s spirit.”

Mosimane took the job in September 2020 and led the club to back-to-back Champions League wins, as well as third place at the FIFA Club World Cup this year, but it is far from the first time that he has been criticized by former players. 

“We are having difficulties scoring goals,” the South African said on Saturday. “It’s easy to just say we don’t score goals, which is true, but you have to analyze everything. I understand that we are losing points we should get, and I agree with that. Also, good criticism is a source of motivation to me and my players. And if you’re worried about other people winning the league, don’t worry, we’ll beat those people.”

Beating ES Setif is the priority with the first leg in Cairo on Saturday and the return match in Algiers a week later. The 2014 champions, sitting in mid-table at home, have not exactly set the tournament  alight so far, winning three and losing three in the group stage and winning the quarterfinal against Esperance de Tunis 1-0 on aggregate.

On the face of it, this is not going to be a high-scoring battle between two talented attacking outfits like Manchester City and Real Madrid. Setif have scored just seven goals in eight games so far, but then you never know. Al-Ahly will be without the injured midfielder Akram Tawfik and Moroccan center-back Badr Benoun, while the Algerians are without their own center-back Hocine Laribi, who was injured against in the previous round’s win over Tunis. 

If Setif’s game against the defending champions looks tight, the other last-four encounter offers a greater possibility of a European-style epic semifinal, as Wydad take on Luanda.

The Moroccan league leaders were top scorers in the group stage with 15 goals and Petro were the fourth-highest with nine. The Angolans, with tournament top scorer Tiago Azulao, are not just there to make up the numbers in an Arabian-dominated knockout stage. They defeated Mamelodi Sundowns 3-2 in the quarters, knocking out the South African giants who were the best-performing team in the group stage, finishing six points above Al-Ahly.

Meanwhile, the men from Casablanca edged out CR Belouizdad of Algeria, scoring the only goal in 180 minutes of football.

The two met in the group stage. Luanda won the first meeting 2-1, but lost the return 5-1, though by that time both teams had already booked their places in the knockout stages. There should be goals, especially as Petro defender Diogenes Joao is an injury doubt. Wydad will miss their Libyan winger Muaid Ellafi.

It remains to be seen if there are European levels of excitement on display, but one thing is for sure: Like Real Madrid, Al-Ahly can never be counted out on the international stage.


Qatar braces for 200,000 daily World Cup air passengers; Saudia to play part

Qatar braces for 200,000 daily World Cup air passengers; Saudia to play part
Updated 30 min 7 sec ago

Qatar braces for 200,000 daily World Cup air passengers; Saudia to play part

Qatar braces for 200,000 daily World Cup air passengers; Saudia to play part
  • Saudia chief executive Ibrahim Koshy said his airline would run at least 30 daily round trip flights from the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah, that could carry 10,000 fans
  • Qatar Airways will cut flights to destinations that are ‘irrelevant’ to the World Cup, so that it can increase flights to countries taking part

DOHA: Qatar will only let football fans with match tickets enter the Gulf state during the World Cup tournament, officials said Thursday as they announced that scores of shuttle flights would bring in thousands of fans each day from neighboring countries.

Facing growing pressure to cope with the four-week football tournament, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the national airline would halt some routes to countries not involved in the 32-nation tournament during the tournament and reduce others.

Baker, who is also tourist minister, said Qatar’s Hamad International Airport and the older Doha International Airport would double capacity so that they can process more than 200,000 people a day.

The tiny state is desperately trying to find rooms for the 1.4 million predicted visitors and a top World Cup organizing committee official said only fans with tickets would be allowed in during the four weeks from November 21.

Fans will have to get a special pass, a Haya card, to enter the country and stadiums. They will need a match ticket to get the pass.

Saeed Al-Kuwari, director of the Haya digital platform for the organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, told AFP: “The only people who will enter the country during the tournament are holders of the Haya digital card.”

Qataris and legal residents will also be able to enter but authorities have yet to announce how business people will be processed.

Baker announced that Saudia, Kuwait Airways, flydubai and Oman Air will organize more than 160 daily flights from November 20 to bring supporters on one-day trips to see matches.

Officials estimate that more than 20,000 fans could come in each day on the shuttles.

Saudia chief executive Ibrahim Koshy said his airline would run at least 30 daily round trip flights from the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah, that could carry 10,000 fans.

Flydubai would operate at least 30 return flights, Kuwait Airways 10 and Oman Air 24, Baker said.

All flights would be reserved for fans with World Cup tickets who would go through a special booking that Baker promised would provide a “seamless” immigration and security processing as though they were entering on a domestic flight.

Baker said Qatar’s civil aviation authorities were increasing airspace capacity so that the three runways at Hamad airport could operate “continuously” during the World Cup.

He said Qatar Airways would cut flights to destinations that are “irrelevant” to the World Cup, so that it could increase flights to countries taking part.

Some 70 percent of Qatar Airways regular flights would see their times changed so that extra flights can be organized.

The airports would have to handle extra charter flights and airlines that have asked to establish regular lines because of the World Cup.

He said “state of the art immigration systems” would be introduced to speed up the arrival of international passengers.


Bernie Ecclestone arrested in Brazil for illegally carrying a gun

Bernie Ecclestone arrested in Brazil for illegally carrying a gun
Updated 26 May 2022

Bernie Ecclestone arrested in Brazil for illegally carrying a gun

Bernie Ecclestone arrested in Brazil for illegally carrying a gun
  • Brazilian police found an undocumented LW Seecamp .32 gun in Ecclestone’s luggage during an X-ray screening
  • Ecclestone is married to Brazilian-born Fabiana Ecclestone, an FIA vice president and member of the World Motor Sport Council

SAO PAULO: Former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone was arrested in Brazil late on Wednesday for illegally carrying a gun while boarding a private plane to Switzerland, local police said on Thursday.
The Brazilian police found an undocumented LW Seecamp .32 gun in Ecclestone’s luggage during an X-ray screening, police said in a statement, adding that the 91-year-old was then arrested and taken to a facility at Viracopos airport in Campinas.
Ecclestone acknowledged owning the gun, but said he was unaware it was in his luggage at the time, police said. The Briton paid bail and was freed to travel to Switzerland.
Asked about Ecclestone’s arrest, the Sao Paulo state public security office confirmed in a statement to Reuters that a businessman was arrested for possession of a firearm at Campinas’ airport, but did not name him directly.
The office said the “small, silver colored pistol” was out of ammunition and that the arrestee had to pay 6,060 reais ($1,257.55) as bail. The handgun was seized, it added.
Ecclestone was not immediately available for comment on why he had a gun.
He is married to Brazilian-born Fabiana Ecclestone, an FIA vice president and member of the World Motor Sport Council.
Her mother Aparecida Schunck was kidnapped in Sao Paulo in 2016, with criminals demanding 120 million reais ($25.07 million) in ransom before she was freed nine days later in a police raid without any money being paid.
Such kidnappings have become less common in recent years, however.
Ecclestone also suffered a head injury in 2010 after being mugged in central London, his attackers making off with jewelry including a watch.
The Ecclestones attended several events in the South American country in May, including a local Stock Car race in the countryside near Sao Paulo and a meeting with triple world champion Nelson Piquet in Brasilia.
The Ecclestones own a coffee plantation near Sao Paulo, which they bought in 2012 and where they regularly spend time when not in Europe. Piquet drove for Brabham when it was owned by Ecclestone in the 1970s and 80s.
For decades Ecclestone was Mr. Formula One, the man who did the deals, turned the wheels and transformed the sport into today’s billion dollar business.
He was moved aside in 2017 when US-based Liberty Media took control of the commercial rights.


Saudi’s Rakan Al-Rashed targets more points in World Rally Championship 2 after top-10 finish in Portugal

Saudi’s Rakan Al-Rashed targets more points in World Rally Championship 2 after top-10 finish in Portugal
Updated 26 May 2022

Saudi’s Rakan Al-Rashed targets more points in World Rally Championship 2 after top-10 finish in Portugal

Saudi’s Rakan Al-Rashed targets more points in World Rally Championship 2 after top-10 finish in Portugal
  • The 32-year-old driver and businessman was delighted to earn first WRC 2 point in his career after a challenging rally that saw his tires punctured on the opening day

RIYADH: Saudi professional rally driver Rakan Al-Rashed has set his sights on winning more points in the World Rally Championship 2 after securing his first top-10 finish in Portugal.

The 32-year-old, also a successful business professional and entrepreneur, finished 10th in the fourth round of the competition, earning him one point in the rally that attracted 48 teams in his category.

The achievement was even more impressive given Al-Rashed was forced to retire on the first day before the last stage due to punctured tires, but having recovered and restarted, he drove smoothly for the next two days.

He said: “I am extremely happy to score my first point in the WRC 2. This is a moment that I am very proud of because I am one of the least experienced drivers in the mix, so placing 10th in this competition gives me the motivation to work even harder for the rest of the upcoming rallies that I take part in.

“I also realize that there’s still a very long way to go if I want to get better results and win points. Consistency will be the key in getting a top-10 finish and then gradually working my way up to securing a top-five, but my result in Portugal will give me a lot of confidence that I can secure more points in WRC.”

To help him prepare for the Portuguese rally, Al-Rashed had taken part in a local test event in April that used the same track as the WRC 2. He said that the experience was vital in achieving the best result in his career.

“That experience was very important because it prepared me well, but it also did not prepare me on how rough the stages would be,” he said. “The first day was extremely tough for everyone, which resulted in many drivers facing several issues because the race was on a very tough terrain. Nonetheless, the test race in April allowed me to get used to the Portuguese track and what to expect, and that was a great learning experience.”

Al-Rashed will next be in action at the Rally Italia Sardegna, which takes place from June 2-5.

Alongside his rally motorsport career, Al Rashed is also a co-founder and director of Access Bridge Ventures, a leading early-stage venture capital fund, and chairman of Kudu Corp, a leading restaurant chain in Saudi Arabia.


Global revenues at the heart of BCCI’s continued control of cricket’s international landscape

Global revenues at the heart of BCCI’s continued control of cricket’s international landscape
Updated 26 May 2022

Global revenues at the heart of BCCI’s continued control of cricket’s international landscape

Global revenues at the heart of BCCI’s continued control of cricket’s international landscape
  • Strongarm tactics used by BCCI to get its way have become commonplace in ICC governance regime as calls for independent board members, more egalitarian distribution of power and money have not been heeded

One of the most disturbing aspects of cricket that has emerged through these columns has been the questionable quality of governance that exists in parts of the cricket world.

 

 

Ten years ago, a report was published that looked into the governance of the International Cricket Council, the governing body of international cricket. The report included an analysis of governance structures, ethics, membership and funding. It also considered the purpose of the ICC, which, according to its Memorandum of Association of the time, was “to administer, develop, co-ordinate, regulate and promote cricket world-wide in co-operation with its members.”

The review was initiated by then ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorat and was led by former UK Chief Lord Justice Harry Woolf in association with a prominent international consulting firm. As such, the review was deemed to be independent. Despite reservations from the Indian Board of Control for Cricket, the ICC board had approved it.

There were 65 recommendations and a number of damning criticisms of the way the ICC was functioning. One of these suggested that the body “reacts as though it is primarily a members’ club, its interest in enhancing the global development of the game is secondary. In today’s environment, this is not an acceptable situation. Cricket is a global game and there is a need for global governance.”

At that time, the executive board comprised chairs or presidents from each of the 10 full (Test-playing) members, three elected associate member representatives, and the ICC CEO, vice president and president, who chaired. The perception was that this construction allowed those member countries with the most power to look after themselves rather than the wider game.     

Woolf’s report recommended a restructuring of the ICC’s board to make it more independent. It suggested ways to reduce the domination of bigger countries and called for a re-examination of the rights and benefits of the Test-playing full member nations. This focused on a different financial model based on the need of members that would enable the ICC to distribute funding in accordance with its overarching role to promote and develop international cricket.

Additionally, it called for measures to increase transparency in dealings by the ICC and its members, setting out clear parameters for ethical conduct. 

Narayanaswami Srinivasan, BCCI board president and India’s representative on the ICC board, quickly announced that the BCCI rejected the key recommendations of the report out of hand, without saying why.

Srinivasan also owned an IPL franchise through his company, India Cements. Following the uncovering of match-fixing scandals and conflicts of interest involving the operation of the franchise, the Supreme Court of India was asked to intervene. One of its acts, in March 2014, was to order that Srinivasan should step down as BCCI president. This only served to create space for him to become, in June 2014, the first chair of the ICC board, following constitutional changes precipitated by the Woolf report.

Given Srinivasan’s outright rejection of Woolf’s recommendations, the chances of implementing the most contentious ones were remote. Instead, an attempt to increase the concentration of power within the ICC was mounted, even before the new chair took post. Under a proposal put forward by India, Australia and England, a new executive committee comprising representatives from each country, plus one other full member, would be created, with the “Big Three” holding rotating chairs of key committees. This did meet with opposition from other full members and some concessions were garnered, but the direction of travel was opposite to Woolf’s.

In the ever-twisting relationship between the ICC and BCCI, Srinivasan was removed as chair in November 2015 at the request of the BCCI, which was concerned about ongoing conflicts of interest. He was replaced by Shashank Manohar, then president of the BCCI. He served two two-year terms with the ICC, being instrumental in reformulating Srinivasan’s plans. This occurred in 2017, but not without drama.

In April 2017, the board approved, by 13 votes to 1, a revised financial model for the 2016-2023 cycle. Under this, India would receive $293 million, England $143 million, Zimbabwe $94 million and the other seven full members $132 million each. It would be no surprise to learn that the dissenting vote was India’s since it had been seeking $570 million. Other changes approved by the board opened the way for more Test cricket nations, removed the affiliate level of membership to leave only two categories — full and associate member — and introduced an independent female director, along with amendments that expanded on and clarified the roles and objectives of the ICC to provide leadership in international cricket.

All of this required ratification by the full council in June 2017. Meanwhile, India threatened to boycott the ICC’s Champions Trophy, so it should not be surprising to learn that the revenue distribution had changed by the ratification date. The BCCI was allocated $405 million, England $139 million and the other full members unchanged or slightly reduced amounts. Ireland and Afghanistan were granted Test status and shared $240 million with associate members. India did enter the Champions Trophy.

Strongarm tactics used by the BCCI to get its way have become commonplace in the ICC governance regime. While some of Woolf’s recommendations have been implemented over the years, his key calls for independent board members and a more egalitarian distribution of power and money have not. This is hardly a surprise given the BCCI’s overwhelming dominance on both counts.

It claims to generate 70 percent of cricket’s global revenues. On that basis, it feels entitled to the lion’s share of ICC revenue distribution.

The battle is over the size of that share and who determines it. This ought to be the ICC with its remit to promote and develop cricket at all levels throughout the world. It is hard to resist the feeling that Woolf would be distinctly unimpressed by the shackles and tensions under which the ICC still has to operate, imposed mainly by the BCCI. Who is going to control the future landscape of world cricket, especially if the next ICC chair is Indian?


Thailand to host AFC Women’s Club Championship 2022 – Pilot Tournament in East zone

Thailand to host AFC Women’s Club Championship 2022 – Pilot Tournament in East zone
Updated 26 May 2022

Thailand to host AFC Women’s Club Championship 2022 – Pilot Tournament in East zone

Thailand to host AFC Women’s Club Championship 2022 – Pilot Tournament in East zone
  • Uzbekistan recently announced as venue for tournament in West zone

RIYADH: The Asian Football Confederation has confirmed the Football Association of Thailand as the host member association for the upcoming AFC Women’s Club Championship – Pilot Tournament in the East region.

The match schedule has also been finalized with teams in the East – Taichung Blue Whale FC from Taiwan, Myanmar’s ISPE FC Women, and a club from Thailand to be decided by June 2022 – with games set to be played from Aug. 15 to 21.

In addition, the Uzbekistan Football Association was confirmed as the host member association for the West, which will be comprised of participating clubs from the host country, India, Iran, and Jordan and will be staged from Aug. 20 to 26, marking the first time the competition has been held across the two regions.

While the final cast of participating clubs will be confirmed at a later date, this year’s edition will also see the introduction of the first ever regional final contest between the East and West group leaders, which will take place in conjunction with the 2022 AFC Cup final on Oct. 22.

The winners will join 2019 victors Nippon TV Beleza from Japan and 2021 champions Amman Club from Jordan in the pilot editions’ honors roll, with the ultimate aim of chasing continental club glory ahead of the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League in 2024.