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)
Short Url
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.


Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20
Updated 08 August 2022

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20
  • Young Green Falcons beat Egypt 5-3 on penalties after two hours of play ends in 1-1 draw

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia defeated Egypt 5-3 on penalties to win the 2022 Arab Cup U-20 after two hours of football ended 1-1, retaining the title they won in Cairo last year, becoming the record holders of the competition with two wins.

Below are five things we learned about the triumph and the tournament.

1. The future is good for Saudi Arabian football

Another tournament win bodes very well for the future. The young Green Falcons won the 2021 Arab Cup U-20, and June’s Asia U-23 Championships. While there is always more focus on the senior side and the upcoming World Cup, the country must be doing something right when it comes to youth development. Having success in major tournaments is not only impressive in its own right, but breeds a winning mentality in the players.

These are unprecedented times. As well as the tournament wins, Al-Hilal are champions of Asia, the Saudi Professional League is thriving and the national team were the best performers in qualification for the World Cup. There is still a lot of hard work to be done in Arab and Asian football, but Saudi Arabia are looking good.

2. Egypt’s penalty curse continues

This year has, so far, been a case of what might have been for Egypt. In the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, the Pharaohs’ senior side lost on penalties to Senegal, and the following month missed out on the World Cup against the same opposition, and by the same method.

Now the youngsters have lost a crucial shootout themsleves. It is always a heartbreaking way to lose a game of football, especially with the trophy within reach. It is to be hoped that this does not become a mental burden for Egypt. Losing three big shootouts in a row is tough to take, and the pressure will now be on for their next one; other big countries, such as the Netherlands and England, have struggled with the mental burden of spot kicks at great cost over the years.

3. Two stars emerge

Abdullah Radif and Salah Basha were not exactly unknown a few weeks ago, but they ended the tournament with their reputations enhanced. Radif belongs to Saudi Arabia and Asian champions Al-Hilal, though the 19-year-old has yet to properly break through for his club.

But with Al-Hilal unable to sign players this summer, the fact that he finished as top scorer with six goals should at least make coach Ramon Diaz consider his potential. There is no harm in giving the teenager more opportunities after showing so much composure here.

Basha, who scored his third goal in the final, is on the books of Italian side Udinese but has yet to make a first-team appearance. Tournament experience may make a difference, but if not, his stature has still grown, and there will be options if he wants to move for more playing time. Whatever happens, he will look back on this tournament fondly, and as the springboard of a fruitful career.

4. Another coaching success

Not long after Saad Al-Shehri led the U-23 team to the Asian title, Saleh Al-Mohammadi delivered a second successive Arab U-20 championship. Nobody could say that the team did not deserve it, scoring more goals and conceding fewer than any other. They beat a talented Iraq team 4-1 in the group stage, fought hard to get past Yemen on penalties in the quarters and then thrashed Palestine 5-0 in the semifinal.

With Saudi Arabian coaches a rare sight in the SPL as clubs look overseas for tacticians, the next time a manager is fired (and it will not take long once the new season starts), club bosses could do a lot worse than look at the domestic talent on offer. Both these coaches have delivered success on the international stage and, at some point, should be given a chance to show what they can do at home.

5. Tournament success will help 2027 bid

The city of Abha has not been regarded as one of Asian football’s main destinations, with Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam grabbing most of the attention. That may have changed a little over the last few weeks, and hosting an 18-team competition is not something to be taken lightly. After all, there are only six more teams at the European Championships.

Everything went smoothly off the pitch and, with COVID-19 still an issue, that is something to celebrate. Every tournament benefits when the host nation reaches the final, as that momentum provides excitement. Tickets for the final sold out quickly.

It will not go unnoticed at the Asian Football Confederation that Abha stepped up. Saudi Arabia has bid for the 2027 Asian Cup and the 2022 Arab Cup U-20, and this will have done the Kingdom’s chances of getting the nod no harm at all.


Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup
Updated 08 August 2022

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup
  • Last year’s winners, The Ladies, finished second in the overall competition with 81 points ahead of Rest of the World in third with 72 points

Great Britain & Ireland beat a strong international field to claim the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot Racecourse on Saturday.

The home team finished with 132 points at the 2022 renewal of the world’s premier international jockeys’ competition.

The Ladies, captained by the competition’s all-time most successful rider Hayley Turner, put down an early marker when Joanna Mason took the opener aboard the William Haggas-trained Amanzoe with a ride that earned her the Dubai Duty Free Ride of the Day award and initiated a treble for the Newmarket trainer. However, last year’s winners could finish only second in the overall competition with 81 points ahead of Rest of the World with 72 points and Europe in fourth place with 51 points.

Winning trainer William Haggas set the tone for the afternoon. “I like this event because it is global,” he said. “That’s why it is so successful.”

Haggas is challenging for the British Champion Trainers’ title this year. “My late father-in-law Lester Piggott was one of the breeders of Amanzoe and we’ll have to look for black type now that she has won this competitive Stakes.”

Haggas’s observation about the meeting’s global reputation was underlined in the next race, the seven furlongs Dubai Duty Free Full of Surprises Stakes. Neil Callan, recently returned from 10 successful years in Hong Kong, and who had ridden a Newmarket treble the night before, drove home Orbaan who had made his way down to Ascot from the northern stable of David O’Meara.

“I’ve ridden against … Christophe Lemaire and Kerrin McEvoy (of the Rest of the World Team) and Frankie Dettori (Europe team captain) around the world,” said Callan. “It’s great to renew old friendships, though out on the track we’re as competitive for our teams as we are as individuals.”

The first two races on the eight-race card were worth £50,000 ($60,000) which stepped up to $91,000 for the remaining six, bringing total prize money for the Dubai Duty Free-sponsored event to $667,000. The third event, the Dubai Duty Free Dash over the minimum trip of five furlongs, was won by Manaccan, the only three-year-old in the race and a horse with a bright future.

Manaccan had the inestimable services of the legendary Turner. Hayley’s father was there to greet her returning to the winner’s circle with which she is so familiar. When Turner won the Holyrood House sprint at Royal Ascot she had Manaccan back in fifth. “Adam Kirby rode him then and he advised me on the best tactics to win today,” said the grateful jockey.

Grateful too was Jamie Spencer for his first ride on moody The Maxwecan in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Stayers run over two miles. Though hardly sighted this year, The Maxwecan was a winner over Ascot’s course and distance three years ago.

There was a bunch finish for the minor placings and even with the introduction of different coloured caps for the runners at the meeting a couple of the runners could not be separated. That complicated the scoring but left the Great Britain & Ireland team with a healthy lead.

After the fourth race, halfway through the card, the scoreboard was beginning to take shape with Great Britain and Ireland stretching into an 18-point lead over the Rest of the World who in turn led The Ladies with Europe trailing.

That lead was extended by the victory of Pride Of Priory, a second on the day for trainer William Haggas and first for jockey Kieren Shoemark in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Challenge over the classic distance of a mile and a half. It extended the Great Britain & Ireland team’s lead to a 31-point gap over the Rest of the World.

“We love to support this event,” said Haggas. “We had the German jockey Rene Piechulek riding for us in an earlier race and though he didn’t win, he came in and gave us a proper run down on the horse. If we have runners in Germany I will be on the phone to him.”

The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Mile featured the highest-rated horses of the day and was won by Canadian star Emma-Jayne Wilson on Jungle Cove for Irish trainer Jessica Harrington, who also owns the five-year-old and who flew over for the event, giving The Ladies some hope of challenging Great Britain & Ireland.


France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8
Updated 08 August 2022

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8
  • The 3-0 victory at Boulevard Riyadh City saw the winners pocket $400,000, and the runners-up $250,000

RIYADH: BDS of France on Sunday defeated Saudi Arabia’s Falcons to claim the Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8 in Riyadh.

The 3-0 victory at Boulevard Riyadh City saw the winners pocket $400,000, while the Saudi team took home $250,000 for finishing in second place.

Germany’s WYLDE won third place and a prize of $155,000, while Brazil’s Liquid came in fourth, winning $155,000.

Falcons had reached the final by defeating WYLDE 2-1, while BDS had won their semifinal against Liquid by a 2-0 score.

Earlier in the competition, Falcons had qualified for the semifinals by beating Brazil’s TSM 2-1 in Group A.

The Saudi team had kicked off their campaign with a 2-0 loss to BDS, but a 2-0 win over MIBR secured a semifinal place.


Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
Updated 08 August 2022

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
  • The paralympic swimmer took bronze in the 50m butterfly at Konya 2022
  • Kingdom’s Olympic star Ali Al-Khadrawi reached the table tennis quarterfinals

Paralympic swimmer Ibrahim Al-Marzouki on Sunday claimed Saudi Arabia’s first medal at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya, Turkey.

Al-Marzouki took bronze after finishing third in the 50-meter butterfly final with a time of 49.12 seconds.

Teammate Turki Alharbi finished fourth in the 100 butterfly race with a time of 1 minute, 12.87 seconds, and in the same position in the 400 freestyle race with a time of 5:25.98. The Paralympic swimming competition will continue on Monday.

In the table tennis competition, Saudi Arabia’s Ali Al-Khadrawi, who took part in last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, qualified for Monday’s singles quarterfinals after defeating Indonesia’s Ravanel Nikola in three straight sets.

Saudi colleague Abdulaziz Bushlebi was eliminated from the singles competition after losing 3-1 to Denis Zholudev of Tajikistan.

Monday will see the Saudi U-23 football team kick off its campaign against Azerbaijan in Group B, which also includes Morocco and Iran.

The Saudi athletics team will also launch their participation on Monday in six events.

Runners Abdullah Abkar and Mohammed Daoud will participate in the 100 qualifiers, Olympian Yasmine Al-Dabbagh in the women’s 100, and Mohammed Al-Maawi in the 400 hurdles.

Yousef Masrahi and Mazen Al-Yassin will race in the 400 qualifiers, Tariq Al-Omari in the 5000 final, and Rami Mohamed Tolo will take part in the shot-put finals.


Former Man United star Giggs goes on trial for assault

Former Man United star Giggs goes on trial for assault
Updated 08 August 2022

Former Man United star Giggs goes on trial for assault

Former Man United star Giggs goes on trial for assault
  • Giggs is charged with assaulting his former girlfriend, PR executive Kate Greville, causing her bodily harm

LONDON: Former Manchester United star Ryan Giggs stands trial Monday on charges of attacking and coercively controlling his ex-girlfriend, in a case that has upended his managerial career.

The 48-year-old, who until recently served as coach of the Wales national team, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum jail term of five years.

The jury trial at a crown court in Manchester was set to open at 10:30 am (0930 GMT), presided over by judge Hilary Manley. It is expected to last 10 days.

Giggs is charged with assaulting his former girlfriend, PR executive Kate Greville, causing her actual bodily harm on Nov. 1, 2020, when police were called to his home in the Manchester area.

The Welshman is further charged with common assault of her younger sister, Emma Greville, on the same day.

He also faces a charge of controlling and coercive behavior toward Kate Greville throughout their relationship, which began in 2017 and ended with the alleged assault.

The charge specifies that his behavior toward Greville, 36, included the use of “isolation, belittling, humiliation, harassment, degradation and abuse.”

Giggs was arrested by police at his home in November 2020 and released on bail.

He has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty at an initial court appearance in April last year.

His trial was due to be heard in January but it was delayed due to a backlog of court cases caused by the Covid pandemic.

Giggs’s lawyer, Chris Daw, has acted for high-profile sports figures including former England and Chelsea football captain John Terry, who was found not guilty of racially abusing fellow player Anton Ferdinand in 2012.

Giggs resigned as the Wales manager in June, after being on leave since his arrest.

He said he did not want “continued interest around this case” to affect the team as it prepares for this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

He remains on conditional bail, and has said he looks forward to “clearing my name.”

A dazzling teenage talent, Giggs ended his career at Old Trafford as the most-decorated player in English football history.

As a player, Giggs made a club-record 963 appearances over 23 years for Manchester United, winning 13 Premier League titles and two Champions League trophies.

He then began his coaching career at Old Trafford, taking temporary charge at the end of the 2013/14 season after David Moyes was sacked before working as an assistant to Louis van Gaal for two years.

Giggs was appointed Wales boss in January 2018 and helped them secure qualification for Euro 2020, just their second major tournament appearance since the 1958 World Cup.

His trial opens shortly before another court case involving a star footballer, Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy.

The Frenchman is set to go on trial on Wednesday in Chester, northwest England, accused of rape and assault in a case involving seven women.

Mendy, who has been suspended by City, denies the allegations.