Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe

Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe
Salem Al-Dawsari had been a standout all the way during Saudi Arabia’s successful qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 14 May 2022

Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe

Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe
  • The Al-Hilal winger has been the standout performer for club and country in recent seasons, and now one of Asia’s best players

There were plenty of reasons to be pleased with Saudi Arabia’s successful qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

These include winning the group above Japan and Australia, the fact that two local strikers Saleh Al-Shehri and Firas Al-Buraikan finished in the top two places for goals scored in the third round, and the way that the team have developed since coach Herve Renard arrived in 2019.

One more reason is just how impressive Salem Al-Dawsari has been. The winger was a standout all the way along the road to Qatar. It’s not just when he pulls on his country’s famous green shirt that it happens either, the 30-year-old claimed the Best Player award as Al-Hilal won the 2021 Asian Champions League. He was also outstanding when Al-Hilal won Saudi Arabian title number 17.

Most would agree that Al-Dawsari was the best Asian player in Asia in 2021. Chinese media giant Titan Sports ranked the star fourth in their annual Best Footballer in Asia award last year, behind only European-based stars Son Heung-min of South Korea and Iran’s deadly duo Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun, who play for FC Porto and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. Had the Asian Football Confederation not canceled their annual award then it is likely that the Saudi Arabian international would have been named Asian Player of the Year.

It is not a surprise then that there is interest from Europe. It is also not a surprise that Al-Hilal don’t want to lose their star. It is natural and has been the case in much of West Asia for some time. Local talents emerge but their clubs are reluctant to let them go. Over in the eastern side of the continent in countries like South Korea, Japan and China, a big star attracting even a hint of European interest immediately gets people and the media excited. Clubs there generally are happy to let their best players head to the best leagues in the world and see it as good for the country’s and player’s development. Not only that, it can be hard to attract top young talent in the first place if they think that a possible route to Europe will be blocked.

I remember talking to UAE star Ismail Matar in 2015 after he finished training with Al-Wahda. The man who was named the most-valuable player of the 2003 U-20 World Cup had been linked to Europe for much of his career and had been told by all manner of coaches, agents and journalists that he should go, but never did. By the time we met in Abu Dhabi, such links were a thing of the past. He told me that he had wanted to try his luck but his club just wouldn’t let him go. It would have been fascinating to see what he could have done on and off the pitch in Europe.

Al-Hilal see Al-Dawsari in a similar light and just last December handed him a new four-year contract which is reported to be worth around $3.5 million (SR13 million) a year. That’s a lucrative deal anywhere in the world and it shows just how the player, who has been with the Riyadh club since 2011, is viewed. Foreign stars come and go in football but to have such a player for such a long time, and one that is in the form of his life, is hugely important. He is a talisman.

Al-Dawsari was one of several Saudi Arabian players who went to Spain back in 2018 and impressed more than most with Villarreal and actually made a league appearance against Real Madrid. Soon after he was scoring the winning goal in a World Cup game against Egypt. He has since gone from strength to strength.

That is why there are reports and rumors of interest from the same Spanish club, as well as Almeria, with apparently more in the mix. The important point is that any move gives Al-Dawsari a good chance of regular playing time. There is no point going to Villarreal, who have just appeared in the semifinal of the UEFA Champions League, and never getting a game.

Such a move may be possible for a youngster who has time on his side and would benefit from the experience and opportunity but for a 30-year-old senior international, it is not the right option. A move to Europe would be great for the player but it has to be for the right reasons to the right club and the right coach.

There is something bigger at play too. At some point Saudi Arabia will have stars in the big leagues of Europe, it is only a matter of time. That is what needs to happen because the top European leagues still represent the pinnacle of the club game and it is where the country’s best should test themselves.

At some point, there needs to be a pioneer who shows people overseas and his colleagues at home that it can be done and that pioneer could be Al-Dawsari. The sooner it happens the better. If an offer comes and it is one that provides genuine opportunity to play, and the man himself has the desire to try his luck abroad, then Al-Hilal should do the rest of football in Saudi Arabia, as well as much of West Asia, a big favor and let their star go.


Fan violence outside stadium delays Champions League’s final kickoff

Fan violence outside stadium delays Champions League’s final kickoff
Updated 17 sec ago

Fan violence outside stadium delays Champions League’s final kickoff

Fan violence outside stadium delays Champions League’s final kickoff
  • Fan evaded stewards and was seen sprinting through the concourse and into the bottom level of the stadium
  • Footage on social media showed fans climbing over fences

PARIS: Kickoff in the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid was delayed by 15 minutes on Saturday amid fan violence outside the Stade de France in Paris.
There have been sporadic instances of soccer fans, apparently without tickets, breaking through security and attempting to get into the stadium. The Associated Press saw two fans — one was wearing Liverpool attire — wrestled to the ground by stewards and bundled out of the gates.
Another fan evaded stewards and was seen sprinting through the concourse and into the bottom level of the stadium.
Footage on social media showed fans climbing over fences.
There were long lines of Liverpool fans still outside the stadium when there was 40 minutes to kickoff.
About 15 minutes before the scheduled kickoff of 1900 GMT (9 p.m. local time), an announcement was made that there would be a delay because of the late arrival of fans to the stadium.


Chelsea takeover imminent after final agreement reached

Chelsea takeover imminent after final agreement reached
Updated 28 May 2022

Chelsea takeover imminent after final agreement reached

Chelsea takeover imminent after final agreement reached
  • The club said Saturday that “a final and definitive agreement was entered into last night” to sell to the Boehly and Clearlake Capital consortium
  • The price is 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) — the highest ever for a sports team

LONDON: The sale of Premier League club Chelsea is expected to be completed Monday after a “final and definitive” agreement was reached with the consortium fronted by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly.
The club said Saturday that “a final and definitive agreement was entered into last night” to sell to the Boehly and Clearlake Capital consortium. The price is 2.5 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) — the highest ever for a sports team.
“It is expected that the transaction will be completed on Monday,” the club said.
The announcement followed a series of approvals allowing Roman Abramovich to sell after he was sanctioned over his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.
Abramovich has owned the club for 19 years.
The British government, which had sanctioned Abramovich, approved the sale this week after ensuring that the Russian oligarch could not profit from it. The Premier League had earlier given its approval.
Chelsea have been operating under a government license since Abramovich’s assets were frozen in March and it expires Tuesday.
“It has been an honor of a lifetime to be a part of this club,” Abramovich said in a statement posted on Chelsea’s website.
“My goal has been to ensure that the next owner has a mindset that will enable success for the men’s and women’s team, as well as the will and drive to continue developing other key aspects of the club, such as the academy and the vital work of Chelsea Foundation,” he added.
The men’s team have won 21 trophies during Abramovich’s ownership. Chelsea fans have become accustomed to lavish spending under Abramovich, with more than $1 billion net spending on players.
Boehly’s group was chosen earlier this month after pledging to invest 1.75 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) in the teams and infrastructure.
The consortium also features Dodgers principal owner Mark Walter, Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, and funding from private equity firm Clearlake.
“I am pleased this search has now come to a successful conclusion,” Abramovich said. “As I hand over Chelsea to its new custodians, I would like to wish them the best of success, both on and off the pitch.”


Winners of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Award for Sports Research announced

Winners of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Award for Sports Research announced
Updated 28 May 2022

Winners of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Award for Sports Research announced

Winners of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Award for Sports Research announced
  • The $2 million international research grant program was launched in 1983 by the late Prince Faisal bin Fahad Al-Saud

Seventeen project proposals exploring topics related to sports in Saudi Arabia have been chosen in the latest funding round of the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Award for Sports Research.

The $2 million international research grant program was launched in 1983 by the late Prince Faisal bin Fahad Al-Saud, President of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare (later the Ministry of Sport) and chairman of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, to capitalize on the tremendous role research played for the development and training of world-class Saudi athletes.

Selected from more than 400 proposals – covering  public health, coaching and education, or youth and grassroots tacks – coming from over sixty countries, the winning projects were awarded grants ranging from $80,000 to $120,000 to execute a year-long research project focused on sports in Saudi Arabia. An independent scientific committee appointed by the International Academy of Sport Science and Technology based in Lausanne, Switzerland selected the winners.

The recipients include Dr. Amanda Visek from The George Washington University, whose project explores why Saudi youth opt out of sport participation and their motivations to opt in and stay involved with sports; Dr. Matthew Reeves from the University of Central Lancashire, whose project examines the talent identification and talent development processes and practices in football in Saudi Arabia; Prof. Hussein Ageely from Jazan University, whose project examines the effects of a home-based physical activity program on the quality of life for Saudi type-2 diabetes patients

Also chosen was Dr. Deepti Adlakha from North Carolina State University, whose project explores the correlation between physical activity, sedentary behavior, and weight status in adolescents, and neighborhood environments in Saudi Arabia; and Dr. Ahmed Alanezi from Alfaisal University, whose project explores the governance and the gender equality agenda of professional football clubs in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Mahmoud Abulmeaty of King Saud University on the development and validation of new predictive equations for energy requirements in Saudi athletes and Dr. Abdulrahman Alshabeb of Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University on Fun Move Saudi: Promoting physical activity and health in children through fundamental movement skill development will also be funded.


Butler, Heat drag Celtics to Game 7 in Miami

Butler, Heat drag Celtics to Game 7 in Miami
Updated 28 May 2022

Butler, Heat drag Celtics to Game 7 in Miami

Butler, Heat drag Celtics to Game 7 in Miami
  • Butler’s 47 points were the seventh-most in NBA history for a player facing elimination

BOSTON: Jimmy Butler had 47 points, nine rebounds and eight assists and the Miami Heat forced the Eastern Conference finals to a decisive seventh game by beating the Boston Celtics 111-103 on Friday night.

Ten years after LeBron James had 45 points in Boston to help the Heat avoid Game 6 elimination en route to the first of their back-to-back NBA titles, Butler scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to top him and send the series back to Miami.

With a victory at home Sunday, the Heat would advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.

“This is the way it should be, with these two teams. It should have gone seven games,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I’m just really thrilled that our group gets an opportunity to compete in a Game 7 in front of our home crowd.”

In the most back-and-forth game of the series, Boston took a 97-94 lead on Derrick White’s 3-pointer with under five minutes to play — the first time all series the lead has changed hands in the fourth quarter. Kyle Lowry answered with a 3 and then added two free throws as Miami scored 11 of the next 13 points.

Lowry finished with 18 points and 10 assists before fouling out with 2:18 left. Butler made 16 of 29 shots, hitting 4 of 8 from 3-point range and all 11 free throws.

“Matching his intensity from the start wasn’t there,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Understanding that he was going to put it on his shoulders, and we didn’t match it.”

Jayson Tatum had 30 points and nine rebounds and Derrick White came off the bench to score 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter for Boston. The Celtics are trying to reach the finals for the first time since 2010.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, missing a pair of free throws with the game tied at 99 after Lowry fouled out. Brown fouled out himself on a charge offensive that was assessed after a challenge on a missed dunk with 13 seconds left and the Celtics down by four.

Butler’s 47 points were the seventh-most in NBA history for a player facing elimination.

Elgin Baylor had 61 against Boston in Game 5 of the 1962 finals. Wilt Chamberlain topped 50 three times, Sleepy Floyd had 50 against the Lakers in 1987 and Jamal Murray scored 50 against Utah in 2020.

It was also the third-most to stave off elimination against the Celtics. In addition to Baylor, Chamberlain had 50 in Game 5 of the East finals in 1960.

James’ 45 against Boston in Game 6 of the 2012 conference finals set the stage for a Game 7 win in Miami.

The Heat are hoping Butler’s performance can do the same.

“I get it, people can easily draw the comparisons between the two,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a different era. That’s a different team. I want our guys to embrace this moment.”

Miami guard Tyler Herro missed his third straight game with a strained groin, costing the team its No. 2 scorer. Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Max Strus (hamstring) and P.J. Tucker (knee) had been listed as questionable but were in the starting lineup.

Boston’s Marcus Smart (sprained right ankle) and Robert Williams III (sore knee) tested their injuries pregame and were also in the lineup.

TIP-INS

Heat: Butler had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists in the first. He scored or assisted on 24 of Miami’s 29 points in the quarter.

Celtics: Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who was inducted into the ballclub’s Hall of Fame on Thursday night, was courtside. Ortiz threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park earlier in the evening. Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez was also at the game, wearing his World Series ring.


Bouwman rules Giro 19th mountain stage, Carapaz keeps leader’s pink jersey

Bouwman rules Giro 19th mountain stage, Carapaz keeps leader’s pink jersey
Updated 28 May 2022

Bouwman rules Giro 19th mountain stage, Carapaz keeps leader’s pink jersey

Bouwman rules Giro 19th mountain stage, Carapaz keeps leader’s pink jersey
  • Bouwman negotiated the jostling on a sharp final bend to beat his four breakaway companions for his second stage win after Potenza in southern Italy two weeks ago
  • The Giro will go down to the wire with Saturday’s stage in the Dolomites now looking crucial to the outcome

CIVIDALE DEL FRIULI, Italy: Dutch rider Koen Bouwman won a sprint finish in the mountains for stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia at Santuario di Castelmonte on Friday as Richard Carapaz held the leader’s pink jersey.

Ecuador’s 2019 Giro winner Carapaz holds a slim three-second advantage on Australian Jai Hindley two days before the race finishes with a time-trial in Verona.

Bouwman negotiated the jostling on a sharp final bend to beat his four breakaway companions for his second stage win after Potenza in southern Italy two weeks ago.

Quick Step’s Mauro Schmid of Switzerland was just behind with Italian Alessandro Tonelli of Bardiani three seconds off the pace.

“After I won one stage I said anything else would be a bonus,” said Jumbo-Visma’s Bouwman who is assured of the top climber’s blue jersey providing he finishes the race.

“Today I rode for the Maglia Azzurra and I’m glad I secured it.

“I knew about the last corner but I didn’t expect it to be that sharp.

“I had to break but it’s great that I was in the best position there. That gave me the win. I’m delighted.”

Carapaz survived the setback of losing his key mountain lieutenant Richie Porte early in the 178km stage from Marano Lagunare which included four climbs and crossed into neighboring Slovenia.

Ineos Grenadiers rider Porte was dropped from the peloton on the first climb of the day, the third-category Villanova Grotte, after 70km of racing. Organizers later confirmed the 37-year-old Australian had withdrawn from the Giro.

“It’s been a pretty hard stage,” said Carapaz.

“It’s a pity that we lost Richie Porte early in the race but the team has done a great job and Pavel Sivakov is in a great shape.

“All top three riders, we’re together. It’s fine with me. Whatever happens tomorrow will be fine with me too.”

A 12-man breakaway approached the main climb of the day, the Kolovrat over 10.3 km and with a 9.2 percent gradient, with more than nine minutes on the peloton.

The four survivors only lost a little over a minute on this climb near Caporetto, the site of a historic defeat for the Italians in the First World War.

Neither Carapaz nor Hindley tried to pull ahead in the final climb having made several attempts earlier along with Spaniard Mikel Landa, third in the standings.

The Giro will go down to the wire with Saturday’s stage in the Dolomites now looking crucial to the outcome.

The 20th stage, the last in the mountains, includes three great climbs — the San Pellegrino, the Pordoi for the highest point of this year’s race at 2,239 meters above sea level concluding at the Fedaia, with a spectacular steep climb in the last 5,400 meters.

Sunday’s final stage is a 17.4km individual time-trial into Verona where Ecuadorian Carapaz claimed overall victory three years ago.