Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
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Updated 18 May 2022

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
  • There were rumors that Al-Shabab had a bid for the Uruguayan turned down, while others claim James Rodriguez is angling for a move to the Kingdom

It is no surprise that the Birmingham Mail is getting excited as it reports that local giants Aston Villa are one of three clubs, along with Seville and Inter Milan, in the running to sign Luis Suarez, after Atletico Madrid announced that the Uruguayan star is leaving at the end of the current season.

The newspaper also mentions that a bid from Saudi Arabia, thought to be from Al-Shabab, has been turned down. It has had a few journalists in the Arab world and plenty of people on social media intrigued and excited.

As former teammate at Anfield Steven Gerrard is now in charge of Aston Villa, there is hope that the 1982 European champions are in with a chance to snatch his signature. But the former Liverpool and Barcelona star is now 35 and not quite the force of nature as in years gone by. He is, however, the kind of foreign star that Saudi Arabian clubs should be targeting.

There are plenty of top-class foreign players in the Saudi Professional League. The likes of Odion Ighala, Moussa Marega, Matheus Pereira, Pity Martinez, Talisca, Abderazzak Hamdallah, Omar Al-Somah, Ever Banega, Vincent Aboubakar and Leandre Tawamba, to name just a few, would be welcome in any league in Asia. These are some serious stars and there have been others over the years. After all, the mighty Brazilian legend Rivelino played for Al-Hilal in the 1970s.

Suarez would be a major attraction. There would be major interest around the world if he came to play in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam or elsewhere. The star would bring a certain notoriety too — few could forget his biting of opponents at the domestic and international stages and his famous handball to deny Ghana a place in the semi-final of the 2010 World Cup — and that would also provide a few more narratives for local journalists, commentators and fans to get their teeth stuck into.

The man himself is going to have plenty of offers but this could be a good time to tempt such stars to the country. The likes of Suarez have done pretty much all they want to do in Europe. Now his immediate focus is surely staying fit and ready for the World Cup in Qatar in November where the South Americans have been drawn with Portugal, Ghana and South Korea. What better place to prepare for such a tournament than Saudi Arabia?

The league is in the same region and has the same climate. It has fewer games than Europe and the pace of the games is a little slower but it is also more competitive and has a greater strength in depth than the Qatar Stars League. A year or two in the Middle East before a return to South America could be an ideal way to end a fine career as well as get the forward at peak readiness for the World Cup.

This season, Suarez has not been quite as integral to the plans of Diego Simeone. Of his 34 appearances in the league, 14 have come off the bench. He is no longer an automatic starter but has still managed 11 goals and is still capable of turning a game on its head in an instant. Just look at qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Uruguay finished third, 11 points behind Argentina and a massive 17 behind Brazil in first who also scored 40 goals, 18 more than La Celeste. Suarez scored more than a third of Uruguay’s total, with his eight goals equalling Neymar’s tally and outscoring Lionel Messi by one. Only Bolivia’s Marcelo Mareno managed more.

Suarez can do more than a job at the highest level. The same could be said about James Rodriguez, though there is no World Cup for the Colombian superstar. The former Real Madrid man joined Al-Rayyan in Qatar from Everton in September. The former powerhouse struggled in the league and finished in eighth, though Rodriguez recorded four goals and six assists in his 12 appearances, not a bad return at all.

There has been disquiet however at his non-appearance in the Asian Champions League group stage in April. The club says he has been injured but a number of outlets in South America say that the 30-year-old is angling for a move to Saudi Arabia with the likes of Al-Nassr interested — the Riyadh club have already shown their ambition this year in having a bid for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned down by Arsenal as the Gabonese goalgetter went to Barcelona instead.

There are other players who are coming out of contract and, before being tempted home, could add a little more star glamor to the SPL with the World Cup on the doorstep once again a selling point. Gareth Bale’s troubled time at Real Madrid, albeit one in which he won four European Champions League and three Spanish titles, is coming to an end. There is no way the Welshman is staying in Spain. It could be that the 32-year-old will retire from football completely but that is unlikely if Wales win their World Cup play-off in June to book a place in Qatar. Then there will be another season at least. The likes of Juan Mata and Edison Cavani, soon to be released  by Manchester United, have also been linked with a move to Saudi Arabian teams.

Relying on veteran stars from European leagues should not be a major strategy for Saudi clubs but there are players out there who could do a job on and off the pitch.


Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish
Updated 04 July 2022

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish

Groenewegen pips Van Aert to win Tour de France stage 3 in photo finish
  • Three years after his last Tour stage win, the 29-year-old Groenewegen was open-mouthed and emotional as he put his hands over his head

SONDERBORG, Denmark: Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen overtook Wout van Aert and Peter Sagan at the line to win the third stage of the Tour de France in a photo finish while Van Aert extended his overall lead on Sunday.

Groenewegen got behind record seven-time Tour sprint champion Sagan’s wheel when he was battling with Van Aert, and found a gap to squeeze through and nudge his wheel over the line to win for the BikeExchange–Jayco team.

“I took a lot of wind and my legs were tired but I still had enough to sprint to the line,” Groenewegen said. “Wout van Aert always jokes, saying that if you are not sure of having won, you still claim the victory and you celebrate. That’s what I did (and) I understood I won from the sport directors screaming in the car.”

Groenewegen’s fifth Tour stage win came a day after Fabio Jakobsen’s first. Two years ago, Groenewegen was blamed for a heavy crash at the Tour of Poland that sent Jakobsen flying through roadside crash barriers. Jakobsen was put in an induced coma and needed five hours of surgery on his skull and face.

Although Groenewegen was remorseful over the incident, he was banned from cycling for nine months by cycling’s governing body UCI.

“My family supported me greatly after what happened,” he said. “My new team has put a lot of faith in me and a great train to lead me out. Every victory at the Tour de France is special.”

Three years after his last Tour stage win, the 29-year-old Groenewegen was open-mouthed and emotional as he put his hands over his head. The win was even more special since he crashed nine kilometers out and had to catch the peloton up.

Sagan was cross with Van Aert, meanwhile, muttering angrily and wagging his finger at him after they crossed the line because he found himself boxed to the right and close to the barriers. But there was no contact and Sagan even appeared to lean on Van Aert.

Van Aert picked up a six-second bonus and is now seven seconds ahead of Yves Lampaert and 14 ahead of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar in the standings. Pogacar’s rival Primoz Roglic, the 2020 Tour runner-up, is seventh overall and stayed nine seconds behind Pogacar.

The stage started in Vejle on the Jutland Peninsula and ended in Sonderborg in southern Denmark after 182 kilometers (113 miles) of flat racing. Groenewegen’s winning time was 4 hours, 11 minutes, 33 seconds. Pogacar and Roglic were nestled in the main pack with finishing positions irrelevant since they all got the same time.

“It’s been quiet for me today, even though flat stages are always nervous and can be dangerous,” Pogacar said. “I wasn’t affected by the crash in the finale. The first three days have gone well.”

Van Aert wore the leader’s yellow jersey for the Jumbo–Visma team after taking it for the first time on Saturday. He also extended his lead in the green jersey contest for best sprinter.

Huge crowds packed the roadsides in sparkling sunshine as the Danish supporters wearing red and white turned out in force. Proudly wearing the best climber’s polka-dot jersey he claimed on Saturday, Danish rider Magnus Cort, who was in the early breakway group on Saturday, pulled away to take a solo lead for 130 kilometers before being caught with about 50 kilometers left.

“I was a little bit surprised to find myself alone in the lead, but it was nice anyway,” Cort said. “I got a big lead as soon as I broke away, but it was hard to keep the peloton at bay.”

Cort wasn’t upset about being caught, after a weekend he’ll never forget.

“I spent an amazing day out there, enjoying the crowds. I knew what to expect after what we experienced yesterday, but it turned out to be even better because I was in the polka dot jersey,” he said. “It was a perfect day. Life-changing? For sure. The Tour de France is such a big race that it goes well beyond the cycling scene. Everything that happens here transcends the general public.”

Cort picked up more points over the three minor climbs — including the Hejlsminde Strand, the lowest of these at 40 meters above sea level — to keep the jersey until Tuesday. He held up three fingers to celebrate with his home fans and then waved to them after the pack swallowed him up.

“These days have been a dream for me,” Cort said. “Huge, unbelievable. I never imagined them this way.”

Several riders fell on a cobblestone section with about 10 kilometers left but got back up to continue.

After a travel day, the riders will tackle five small climbs in the fourth stage on the route from the coastal city of Dunkerque to Calais.

The race ends on July 24 in Paris.


Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals
Updated 04 July 2022

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals

Jabeur reaches Wimbledon quarterfinal again, sets ‘very high’ goals
  • Shaking off the disappointment of a first-round loss at the French Open, Jabeur’s goals are “very high” at the All England Club
  • Just over a year ago, she became the first Arab woman to win a singles title on the elite women’s tennis tour when she lifted the trophy in Birmingham — also a grass-court tournament

WIMBLEDON, England: She headed the ball. She flicked it up with her feet. Ons Jabeur is having fun, and she’s winning.

The Tunisian, who at No. 3 is the highest-remaining women’s seed, advanced to her second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal with a 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory over Elize Mertens on No. 1 Court on Sunday.

“It’s my kind of thing to express a little bit my stress during the match, doing funny things with the football or anything just helps me connect with the crowd,” Jabeur said of her ball skills, like when she chased down and headed away a lob from Mertens that went long. “Be myself on the court really is very, very important.”

The 27-year-old Jabeur saved five set points in the tiebreaker — the closest she’s come to dropping a set through four matches. She improved to 9-0 this season on grass, which includes winning the Berlin Open last month.

Just over a year ago, she became the first Arab woman to win a singles title on the elite women’s tennis tour when she lifted the trophy in Birmingham — also a grass-court tournament.

“I love playing on grass, I love the connection between the nature and me, so hopefully it will continue this way for me and maybe through the finals,” Jabeur said.

Shaking off the disappointment of a first-round loss at the French Open, Jabeur’s goals are “very high” at the All England Club.

“No matter who’s coming, I’m going to build the fight, I’m going to fight till the end because I really want the title,” said Jabeur, who has never reached a Grand Slam semifinal.

Up next is unseeded Czech player Marie Bouzkova, who advanced to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating Caroline Garcia of France 7-5, 6-2.

Simona Halep is the last Grand Slam champion standing on the women’s side. The 16th-seeded Romanian won at Wimbledon in 2019 and at the French Open the year before that. She faces fourth-seeded Paula Badosa in the fourth round on Monday.

Jabeur and Badosa are all that’s left of the top 15 seeds.

Also Sunday, Tatjana Maria eliminated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the age of 34.

“I always believed that at one point I can show what I can do,” said the 103rd-ranked Maria, who ousted fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari in the third round. “I’m happy that today, I mean, I came back when I was down, so I’m proud of myself.”

Maria will face 22-year-old Jule Niemeier, who is making her All England Club debut, in an all-German showdown for a place in the semifinals. The 97th-ranked Niemeier advanced by beating Heather Watson 6-2, 6-4 on Center Court in just her second Grand Slam tournament.

Jabeur described her match, particularly the tiebreaker, as “10 out of 10 stressful” but that she’s coping better now.

“I am breathing better. I’m expressing more my feelings before the matches. That helps me, like, really play the game that I want to play,” she said.

Jabeur is not a big fan of the antics that were on display in the fourth-round match between Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday.

“Tennis is a very beautiful sport. It shouldn’t be that way,” said Jabeur, who after her victory in the Berlin final prepared a cooler with ice for opponent Belinda Bencic, who had stopped playing because of an injured ankle.

So it was no surprise that 90 minutes after her victory on Sunday, while Jabeur was on a balcony doing TV interviews, fans yelled greetings to her from below.

“Me, I’m just someone that enjoys life a lot,” Jabeur said. “For me, a tennis career is going to be very short. What’s more important for me is my character and how people talk about me.”


IOC boss Bach says Ukraine ‘flag will fly high’ at Olympics

IOC boss Bach says Ukraine ‘flag will fly high’ at Olympics
Updated 04 July 2022

IOC boss Bach says Ukraine ‘flag will fly high’ at Olympics

IOC boss Bach says Ukraine ‘flag will fly high’ at Olympics
  • Speaking during a visit to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Bach pledged to increase the amount of IOC funding for athletes from the war-torn nation
  • The IOC responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February by recommending that international sports federations ban Russian and Belarusian athletes

KYIV: Olympics chief Thomas Bach on Sunday said the organization would ensure that Ukrainian athletes could compete at the 2024 Games despite the Russian invasion.

Speaking during a visit to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Bach pledged to increase the amount of IOC funding for athletes from the war-torn nation.

That will ensure that at the Olympic Games in Paris 2024 and at the Olympic Winter Games in 2026 in Cortina-Milano, “the Ukrainian flag will fly high,” said Bach.

“The IOC will triple the fund we have been establishing at the very beginning of the Russian invasion in Ukraine from $2.5 million to $7.5 million,” he added.

Zelensky welcomed the additional support.

“The Russian invasion has become a cruel shock for the Ukrainian sports,” he said, speaking after his meeting with Bach.

“A lot of Ukrainian athletes joined the Ukrainian armed forces to defend our country, to defend it on the battlefield.

“Eighty nine athletes and coaches died as the result of the military combat. Thirteen are captured and are in the Russian captivity.”

The IOC responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February by recommending that international sports federations ban Russian and Belarusian athletes.

Bach said that the IOC would not be changing its position.

“We also reassured the president (Zelensky) we maintain the position we took at the very beginning of the war, which is very clear,” he said.

“Including the recommendations toward international federations not to invite Russian and Belarus athletes to international competitions.

“The time has not come to lift these recommendations.”

Zelensky welcomed the news.

“It cannot be allowed that a terrorist state uses sports to promote its political interests and propaganda.

“While Russia is trying to destroy the Ukrainian people and conquer other European countries, its representatives have no place in the world’s sports community.”

Among a raft of sporting sanctions, Russia has been suspended from international football tournaments, the Russian Formula One Grand Prix was canceled and Russian and Belarusian tennis players have been banned from Wimbledon.


Djokovic in 13th Wimbledon quarter-final as Federer eyes ‘one more time’

Djokovic in 13th Wimbledon quarter-final as Federer eyes ‘one more time’
Updated 04 July 2022

Djokovic in 13th Wimbledon quarter-final as Federer eyes ‘one more time’

Djokovic in 13th Wimbledon quarter-final as Federer eyes ‘one more time’
  • Top seed Djokovic, seeking to move level with Pete Sampras as a seven-time champion, defeated Dutch wild card Tim van Rijthoven, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2

LONDON: Six-time champion Novak Djokovic reached his 13th Wimbledon quarter-final on Sunday as injury-stricken rival Roger Federer revealed his desire to play at the All England Club “one more time.”
Top seed Djokovic, seeking to move level with Pete Sampras as a seven-time champion, defeated Dutch wild card Tim van Rijthoven, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
“He was very tough. I have never faced him before,” said Djokovic after racking up a 25th successive win on grass.
“He has a great serve, powerful forehand and nice touch.”
Earlier Sunday, 20-time major winner Djokovic had seen fifth seed Carlos Alcaraz, his scheduled last-eight opponent, beaten by Jannik Sinner.
The 20-year-old Italian clinched a 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (8/10), 6-3 win to set up a meeting with the top seed instead.
Sinner, who had never won a grass court match before this Wimbledon, is the youngest man in the last-eight since Nick Kyrgios in 2014.
“Carlos is a very tough opponent and a nice person. It’s always a huge pleasure to play him,” said Sinner after making the quarter-finals of a Slam for the third time.
Sinner needed six match points to seal the deal while Alcaraz was left to regret failing to convert any of his seven break points.
For the first time, play took place on middle Sunday.
It has traditionally been a rest day with the exception of a handful of occasions when rain in the opening week forced a quick planning reset.
The action on Center Court was preceded by a parade of champions to mark the 100th anniversary of the stadium.
One of those was eight-time champion Federer, who is sitting out the 2022 tournament as he continues his slow recovery from knee surgery.
However, he insisted that he plans to be back in 2023, even though he will be within sight of his 42nd birthday.
“I hope I can come back one more time,” said the 20-time Grand Slam winner. “I’ve missed it here.”
Federer has been out of action since a quarter-final loss at Wimbledon last year before undergoing another bout of knee surgery.
“I knew walking out here last year, it was going to be a tough year ahead,” said Federer.
“I maybe didn’t think it was going to take this long to come back — the knee has been rough on me.”
Belgium’s David Goffin defeated Frances Tiafoe of the United States in the longest match at this year’s Wimbledon to reach the quarter-finals.
Goffin, who also made the quarters on his last appearance in 2019, came out on top 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 after four hours and 36 minutes on Court Two.
The world number 58 will next face Britain’s Cameron Norrie who reached a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time, sweeping past Tommy Paul 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.
After women’s top seed Iga Swiatek was knocked out Saturday, world number two Ons Jabeur stayed on course for a maiden Slam title.
The Tunisian made the last eight for a second successive year, beating Belgium’s Elize Mertens 7-6 (11/9), 6-4.
Jabeur, who will face Marie Bouzkova for a semifinal place, said she wanted to be a trailblazer for Arab and African players.
“I wish I could really give that message to the young generation not just from my country but from the African continent,” she said.
Bouzkova, the world number 66 from the Czech Republic, breezed past Caroline Garcia of France 7-5, 6-2.
Mother-of-two Tatjana Maria is also through to her first Slam quarter-final, 15 years after her debut.
The 34-year-old saved two match points to defeat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 5-7, 7-5, 7-5.
Maria, ranked 103, fired nine aces and exploited Ostapenko’s all-or-nothing approach, which resulted in 52 winners and 57 unforced errors.
“It makes me so proud to be a mum — that’s the best thing in the world,” said Maria, who only returned from a second maternity leave less than a year ago.
Ostapenko grumbled: “She didn’t really do anything today. She was just waiting on my mistakes.”
Maria will face fellow German Jule Niemeier for a place in the semifinals after the world number 97 beat Heather Watson 6-2, 6-4.


Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament
Updated 03 July 2022

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament
  • The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition

NORTH PLAINS, Ore.: Branden Grace won LIV Golf’s first stop on American soil.

Grace closed with a 7-under 65 on Saturday to finish at 13 under in the 54-hole tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. The 34-year-old South African won $4 million.

Grace beat Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz by two strokes.

“Played flawless golf, played really, really well when I needed to do something special and came up and managed to pull it out,” Grace said.

“But just what a great day, it was amazing to come here, this new format, this new everything is amazing and everybody here is having a blast.”

Ortiz, ranked No. 119 in the world, shot a 69. Johnson (71) finished four back with Patrick Reed (67).

The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition.

There was no cut and even the last-place finisher earned a payday of $120,000.

Charl Schwartzel won the tour’s inaugural event outside of London (and the team portion) and pocketed $4.75 million.

The Four Aces team, led by Johnson, won the team competition at Pumpkin Ridge.

LIV Golf also announced Saturday that English player Pat Casey has joined the series. Casey, 44, has won three times on the PGA Tour and 15 times on the European Tour, and is ranked No. 26 in the world.

He has not played a tournament round since March because of injuries.