5 things we learned as Al-Ahly and Wydad confirm all-Arab CAF Champions League final

5 things we learned as Al-Ahly and Wydad confirm all-Arab CAF Champions League final
Setif's forward Abdelmoumene Djabou (L) controls the ball during the CAF Champions League Semi-Final between Algeria's ES Setif and Egypt's al-Ahly at the 5 July stadium in the Algiers suburb of Ben Aknoun on May 14, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2022

5 things we learned as Al-Ahly and Wydad confirm all-Arab CAF Champions League final

5 things we learned as Al-Ahly and Wydad confirm all-Arab CAF Champions League final
  • The Egyptian and Moroccan giants recorded comprehensive aggregate wins over ES Setif and Petro de Luanda to progress to May’s one-off final

The final of the 2021-22 CAF Champions League at the end of May will be an all-Arab affair. In the semi-finals Wydad AC of Morocco defeated Angola’s Petro de Luanda 4-2 on aggregate while Egypt’s Al-Ahly emerged as 6-2 victors over ES Setif of Algeria. Here are five things we learned from the latest matches.

Setif had too much to do after first leg disaster

The tie was as good as over after 35 minutes of the first leg in Cairo. Percy Tau opened the scoring after half an hour. When Setif had Amir Karaoui sent off five minutes later it was always a case of damage limitation. The first leg ended 4-0 and there was no way that the Algerians were coming back from that against the defending champions.

It took the pressure off the Egyptian giants for what could have been a tough trip to face 60,000 fans in Algiers. Whatever nerves there were must have been dispelled when Abdel Kaber scored after just two minutes to silence the home fans. Setif, to their credit, kept going until the end and drew 2-2 but they just had too much to do after the first game. Al-Ahly have won the tournament ten times in the past and have rarely had such a straightforward semi-final experience.

Wydad have a tougher time

Wydad AC also did the hard work in the first leg against Petro de Luanda, winning 3-1 in Angola. A team with the continental experience that the Moroccans have — having lifted the trophy twice and reached the final on two other occasions — was not going to let such an advantage slip. They drew 1-1 in front of 45,000 fans in Casablanca.

It was not as easy as it sounds, however. Petro went for it and attacked the hosts with aggression and ambition and when Gleison opened the scoring after 21 minutes to reduce the arrears, there were plenty of nerves at the Stade Mohammed V Stadium. Wydad soon equalized on the night and the situation started to settle. The Angolans continued to attack and enjoyed 58 percent of possession and had 15 goal attempts compared to the eight from Wydad. It was a tough game that should set the Moroccans up for the final nicely.

More redemption for Pitso Misomane

Al-Ahly’s coach has come in for plenty of criticism from former Al-Ahly legends, much of it unfair, but he is one of just five coaches in the history of the competition to win the trophy two years running. Pitso Mosimane won in 2021 to add to his 2020 triumph. Now he could become the first coach to win three in a row. If the South African, who also led Mamelodi Sundowns to the 2016 title, does so he will also equal the four titles won by Al-Ahly’s legendary Manuel Jose. That would make Mosimane one of the most successful coaches in world football. If the man known as “Jingles” can achieve that, then even the demanding Al-Ahly legends will have to keep quiet, for a while at least.

The row over the final is likely to continue

It wouldn’t be African football if there was not some sort of controversy. This time, it started even before the semi-finals were over as the CAF decided last week, between the first and second legs, that the final would take place in Wydad’s home stadium in Casablanca. Al-Ahly were furious at the move and immediately launched a protest.

The anger is understandable, with one Egyptian FA board member pointing out that either the decision needs to be made earlier and not just after two teams have had convincing first leg wins in the semi final or the game should take place at a neutral venue. CAF stood by their call, explaining that Morocco was the only country that had stepped forward to offer to host the big game and that Al-Ahly would just have to accept the decision.

The Red Giants obviously have no choice but are likely to keep talking about the venue all the way up until the final starts. Misomane is an experienced campaigner who will not be averse to using the issue to fire up his players. Al-Ahly will need all the help they can get in a one-off game against Wydad in front of their own fans.

Another Morocco vs Egypt clash

As two successful and experienced teams in African football, it is no surprise that Al-Ahly and Wydad have history. They met in the 2017 final with the first leg in Egypt ending 1-1 and Wydad taking the title with a 1-0 win in the return match. It was a tense and tough battle with the main memory being the amazing atmosphere that was created by both sets of fans. In Casablanca, it was a vibrant experience as the supporters roared their heroes on towards victory. In all, there have been 10 meetings between the two giants in the Champions League, with each winning five. Either Al-Ahly will be celebrating an 11th title or Wydad will make it three. The national teams also met in the quarter-final of the African Cup of Nations in January with Egypt eliminating the Atlas Lions and going on to the last four.


UEFA blocks Sheriff hosting European games in Transnistria

UEFA blocks Sheriff hosting European games in Transnistria
Updated 24 June 2022

UEFA blocks Sheriff hosting European games in Transnistria

UEFA blocks Sheriff hosting European games in Transnistria
  • No UEFA competition match shall be played in the region of Transnistria, in Moldova, until further notice
  • “The decision is based on considerations and the conclusions consistently drawn by agencies specialized in international political and strategic analysis,” UEFA said

NYON, Switzerland: The fallout for soccer from Russia’s war on Ukraine saw UEFA block Sheriff Tiraspol on Friday from hosting European competition games in their breakaway home region in Moldova.
Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk went to play Champions League games last season at the tiny Sheriff Stadium in Transnistria that borders Ukraine.
But the club which have strong business and political ties to Russia cannot host Bosnian champion Zrinjski at their home on July 13 for a second-leg game in the first qualifying round of the next Champions League.
“In light of the large-scale military escalation resulting in the invasion of the Ukrainian territory by the Russian army, the UEFA executive committee has today decided that no UEFA competition match shall be played in the region of Transnistria, in Moldova, until further notice,” the European soccer body said.
Tiraspol is also about 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the Ukrainian city of Odesa, which is a regular target of Russian missiles.
“The decision is based on considerations and the conclusions consistently drawn by agencies specialized in international political and strategic analysis,” UEFA said.
Sheriff, which have won the Moldovan league in 20 of the past 22 seasons, could choose to play games in the nation’s capital city Chisinau.
If Sheriff eliminates Zrinjski, the next opponent in July will be Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus or Slovenian champion Maribor.
Shakhtyor are playing their home games in neutral Turkey because of a separate UEFA ruling in March that national and club teams from Russia’s military ally Belarus cannot host games in European competitions.
The loser between Sheriff and Zrinjski continues playing in the qualifying rounds of the third-tier Europa Conference League.


Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee celebrates Olympic Day in Riyadh

Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee celebrates Olympic Day in Riyadh
Updated 24 June 2022

Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee celebrates Olympic Day in Riyadh

Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee celebrates Olympic Day in Riyadh
  • A sporting festival held at the Prince Faisal Olympic Complex and in the heart of Kingdom’s capital

RIYADH: The Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee (SOPC) celebrated Olympic Day in Riyadh on Thursday at the Prince Faisal ibn Fahd Olympic Complex.

The organization’s CEO, Abdulaziz Alenazi, was in attendance at the event, along with SOPC employees, who took part in the annual tradition of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to celebrate June 23 along with 206 other International Olympic Committees.

The SOPC, in addition, held a public Olympic exhibition in a Commercial Mall at the heart of Riyadh, which included cultural and interactive activities to promote and disseminate the principles and values ​​of the Olympic movement (“move-learn-discover”) to encourage all segments of society to engage in sports activities in addition to providing souvenirs to visitors to the center.

SOPC helps to facilitate the investment of the Saudi government into sporting initiatives as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 targets.


Al-Khelaïfi acquitted again, Valcke guilty in FIFA retrial

Al-Khelaïfi acquitted again, Valcke guilty in FIFA retrial
Updated 24 June 2022

Al-Khelaïfi acquitted again, Valcke guilty in FIFA retrial

Al-Khelaïfi acquitted again, Valcke guilty in FIFA retrial
  • Al-Khelaïfi was cleared again of a charge of incitement to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement
  • The Swiss federal criminal court found Valcke guilty of repeated forgery and passive corruption

GENEVA: Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi was acquitted in Switzerland on Friday for a second time in a retrial of alleged wrongdoing linked to former FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke.
Al-Khelaïfi was cleared again of a charge of incitement to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement for allowing Valcke to use a vacation home in Sardinia rent free. Prosecutors tried to link the home, bought by a Qatari company in 2013, to Al-Khelaïfi-led broadcaster beIN Media Group getting a renewed World Cup rights deal from FIFA.
Valcke, who was FIFA’s top administrator for eight years until being removed in 2015, was acquitted again of criminal mismanagement and convicted on separate charges not involving Al-Khelaïfi. They relate to taking kickbacks in negotiations for World Cup broadcast rights in Italy and Greece.
The Swiss federal criminal court found Valcke guilty of repeated forgery and passive corruption. He was given a longer suspended sentence — 11 months instead of three — than he received after the original trial in September 2020.
Lawyers for Valcke said in a statement he would appeal and “the guilty verdict is therefore in no way final.”
A third defendant, Greek marketing executive Dinos Deris, was convicted of active corruption and given a 10-month suspended sentence after first being acquitted in 2020. He was again cleared of inciting Valcke to mismanagement against FIFA’s interests.
The sentences for Valcke and Deris were both suspended for probationary periods of two years.
The retrial was held in March at the Swiss federal criminal court after prosecutors appealed against the original verdicts.
Al-Khelaïfi’s second acquittal was hailed by his legal team as “total vindication.”
“The years of baseless allegations, fictitious charges and constant smears have been proven to be completely and wholly unsubstantiated — twice,” lawyer Marc Bonnant said in a statement.
During a five-year investigation, Al-Khelaïfi, who is also a member of the World Cup host nation’s government, rose in power and status in European soccer.
Despite being a suspect in Swiss criminal proceedings, Al-Khelaïfi was elected in 2019 to join the UEFA executive committee and now leads the influential European Club Association after PSG refused to join the failed Super League project last year.
The prosecution case against Al-Khelaïfi focused on beIN’s renewal of World Cup rights in the Middle East and North Africa with FIFA around the time the Italian villa was bought.
Lawyers for Al-Khelaïfi argued beIN’s deal for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, said in court to be worth $480 million in total, was good for FIFA.
While often using the vacation home from 2013 to 2015, Valcke also oversaw FIFA-led talks to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from June and July to the cooler months of November and December. FIFA was also awaiting, then dealing with the fallout from, its ethics committee’s investigation into the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.
The charges proven against Valcke related to filing three payments totaling 1.25 million euros ($1.32 million) to his personal company’s accounts as loans.
However, the three appeal court judges withdrew an order made in 2020 for Valcke to pay FIFA 1.75 million euros ($1.84 million) in restitution.
“Mr. Valcke did not harm FIFA and his full acquittal on the counts of mismanagement has therefore logically been confirmed,” his legal firm, Geneva-based RVMH Attorneys, said in a statement. “Just as logically, the criminal justice system has now rejected FIFA’s civil claims.”
FIFA declined comment until studying the judges’ written verdict which the court has said will likely not be published before September.
Valcke’s convictions were announced in the same week that former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was on trial in the same Bellinzona courthouse in a separate case. Blatter and former UEFA president Michel Platini faced fraud, forgery and financial misconduct charges.
Verdicts are due on July 8 in that case, which relates to a Blatter-approved FIFA payment of 2 million Swiss francs ($2 million) to Platini in 2011.
Blatter and Valcke are still suspects in a separate Swiss criminal proceeding that also involves former FIFA finance director Markus Kattner. That case is about a $1 million FIFA payment to the Trinidad and Tobago soccer federation in 2010.
Al-Khelaïfi has also been under investigation by financial prosecutors in Paris for payments linked to Qatari bids to host the track and field world championships, which were staged in Doha in 2019.


UAE’s Arabian Ocean Rowing Team to cross Atlantic in support of clean seas

UAE’s Arabian Ocean Rowing Team to cross Atlantic in support of clean seas
Updated 24 June 2022

UAE’s Arabian Ocean Rowing Team to cross Atlantic in support of clean seas

UAE’s Arabian Ocean Rowing Team to cross Atlantic in support of clean seas
  • Team partners with UN Environment Programme to raise awareness of marine waste
  • Trio will set off in 8-meter-long boat from Canary Islands in December

DUBAI: The UAE’s Arabian Ocean Rowing Team is aiming to row 5,000 kilometers across the Atlantic Ocean in support of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Clean Seas campaign.

The team announced a partnership with UNEP, which works with individuals and businesses to transform habits, practices, and standards around the globe to reduce marine waste.

The three-man team of James Raley, Rai Tamagnini and Toby Gregory will cross the Atlantic in an 8-meter-long boat in December this year.

Considered one of the last great adventures on the planet, more people have climbed Mount Everest or traveled into space than have rowed the journey unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean.

The UAE team will be totally self-sufficient for the duration of their expedition, relying entirely on desalinated seawater to hydrate, solar energy to power batteries and electronics, and eating freeze-dried food, all while confined to the small rowing boat.

They will face waves up to 40 feet high and extended sleep deprivation, rowing two hours on, two hours off for 24 hours a day.

Oceans are Earth’s largest biosphere and home to up to 80 percent of all life in the world, generating 50 percent of the oxygen we need and absorbing 25 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

By capturing 90 percent of the additional heat generated from those emissions, oceans are a vital buffer against the impacts of climate change.

Without urgent action to conserve, protect, restore and sustainably manage marine ecosystems, the ocean will not be able to continue its major role in limiting and adapting toward climate change, threatening food security and economic stability.

The Arabian Ocean Rowing Team will use their ocean row to bring global publicity to environmental sustainability, reducing marine litter and protecting the oceans.

Through initiatives such as the team’s #BePartOfIt campaign, and visiting schools and business across the UAE, the team is raising awareness about ocean health and the issues caused by plastic pollution.

On their journey across the Atlantic, the trio will also take science experiments, designed by students, so that the public can understand firsthand how plastic pollution has impacted the ocean.

Toby Gregory, Arabian Ocean Rowing Team founder and project director, said: “It is a great honor and a privilege for the Arabian Ocean Rowing Team to be working alongside amazing and talented individuals within the Clean Seas initiative and campaign.

“The ocean and coastal ecosystems sit at the nexus of the triple planetary crisis, the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the pollution and waste crisis. The Clean Seas campaign has led the way in the global effort against marine litter and plastic pollution. Marine pollution is a complex problem and there is no simple solution; every one of us has a part to play.”


Down to the wire: 5 things we learned from penultimate round of Saudi Pro League action

Down to the wire: 5 things we learned from penultimate round of Saudi Pro League action
The penultimate round of action took place on Thursday and it was epic as both Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad won their matches. (AFP)
Updated 24 June 2022

Down to the wire: 5 things we learned from penultimate round of Saudi Pro League action

Down to the wire: 5 things we learned from penultimate round of Saudi Pro League action
  • Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal both won their matches in Round 29 to take the championship race into the last day

The Saudi Pro League title race is going down to the last day, and so is the relegation battle, as the conclusion of the 2021-22 season now becomes one of the most exciting in recent times.

The penultimate round of action took place on Thursday and it was epic as both Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad won their matches. Here are five things we learned from the action across the Kingdom.

 

1. Super Al-Dawsari puts Al-Hilal on the brink

Al-Hilal defeated Al-Fateh 3-0 and now know that a win in the final game will bring them the title. Salem Al-Dawsari scored twice in the first half to ensure that there was not going to be a surprise result. The 30-year-old is a scorer of spectacular goals — his strike against Al-Ittihad in the previous game was a thing of beauty — but that was not the case on Thursday. His first came from a scramble a meter from the goalline as a host of players tried to bundle the ball in the net or clear it. His second came from not much further out.

He won’t mind. This was all about the result and ensuring that the defending champions have their title fate in their hands. This was potentially a tricky game but Al-Hilal showed why they are a winning machine. They were two goals ahead by half-time and there was no way that Al-Fateh were going to come back. Al-Ittihad are waiting for their rivals to slip but they never came close to doing so with the likes of Al-Dawsari enjoying the race. Few expect they will let the trophy fall out of their hands against Al-Faisaly on Monday.

 

2. Al-Ittihad show fight to stay in the race

The long-time leaders fell off their perch at the top but stay in the race with a 3-1 come-from-behind win against Ettifaq. After 29 games, the top two teams are level on points, but Al-Hilal have the advantage as they have won both meetings between the two teams and have the better head-to-head record. Had Al-Ittihad lost last night, the title race would have been over.

With 20 minutes remaining that looked possible with the Tigers a goal down. Yet they bounced back thanks to a brace from Romarinho and a late strike from Abderrazak Hamdallah that sealed the win.

For a team that had taken one point from the previous three games and were on a serious wobble, it was an impressive comeback. It was helped by the introduction of Igor Coronado midway through the second half and the Brazilian offered creativity, ball retention and penetration.

All that will be needed in the final game against Al-Batin. Al-Ittihad will just have to beat another relegation struggler and hope that Al-Hilal fail in their task. It is not in the hands of the Jeddah club seeking a first title since 2009, but it is not over yet.

 

3. Al-Ahli drop into the danger zone

With all the focus on the title race, Al-Ahli have been quietly sliding down the table and the 3-1 loss at home to relegation rivals Al-Raed saw the Jeddah giants finally slip into the bottom three. With just one win from the last nine league games it is not hard to see why. The appointment of Robert Siboldi as coach in March has done little to change the team’s fortunes.

The problems were there on Thursday for all to see. The team fell asleep at a corner to allow Aqeel Al-Sahbi to slide home at the far post. The second goal on the hour saw a long ball cause chaos in the defense. And there was another set piece for the third goal which meant that Carlos Eduardo’s late consolation wasn’t much of one.

Now the unthinkable is close. The 2016 champions, runners-up in the Asian Champions League a decade ago, know that a loss against Al-Shabab in the final game will send them down and even a draw may not be enough. For a team that hasn’t kept a clean sheet since February, there are going to be a lot of nerves.

 

4. The relegation battle goes from dramatic to epic

With one game left to go, seven teams are still fighting for their top flight lives. With Al-Hazm down already, just three points separate Al-Tai (and their terrible goal difference) in ninth and Ettifaq in 15th. None are safe.

On Thursday Al-Raed, Al-Batin and Al-Faisaly won and then climbed above Ettifaq and Al-Ahli who have now slipped into the bottom three. Those two teams have fallen three places each just due to losing one game. Al-Taawoun picked up a valuable draw against Al-Shabab and after Al-Tai lost to Al-Faisaly, they can’t be completely relaxed either.

With so many teams involved, every point, every goal could be the difference between staying up or going down. There is so much to keep up with that it is almost impossible to do so. Almost every game in the final round will feature a team that is chasing the title or fighting to stay in the league.  It’s great for the neutral but it’s going to be a tough night for fans of the strugglers.

 

5. Al-Nassr win the battle for third

The battle for third place has been raging between Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab just below the fight for the title. For a time in the season, these two teams were leading the chase for Al-Ittihad’s position before Al-Hilal went on their run.

Al-Nassr will take third thanks to a 4-1 win over the doomed Al-Hazm. Talisca scored twice to move on to 20 goals for the season. There have been rumors that the Brazilian will be on his way soon but he suggested after the game that this will not be the case. Al-Nassr will want to keep him.

Al-Shabab were riding high earlier in the season and were rocked a little by the departure of leading goalscorer Odion Ighalo in January. With the Nigerian in place perhaps they would have defeated Al-Taawoun instead of drawing 1-1. It has been a long season especially with the Asian Champions League in April, when the Riyadh club impressed, but the signs are positive for the next campaign.