Saudi favorites to reach U-17 and U-20 Asian Cups in 2023 after draw in Kuala Lumpur

Saudi favorites to reach U-17 and U-20 Asian Cups in 2023 after draw in Kuala Lumpur
The NT U-20 in action during a a friendly match against Qatar in Dammam earlier this year. (www.saff.com.sa)
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Updated 25 May 2022

Saudi favorites to reach U-17 and U-20 Asian Cups in 2023 after draw in Kuala Lumpur

Saudi favorites to reach U-17 and U-20 Asian Cups in 2023 after draw in Kuala Lumpur
  • Dammam will host the qualifying campaigns for tournaments set to take place in Bahrain and Uzbekistan next year

Defending champions Saudi Arabia have been handed a favorable draw in their qualification group for the U-20 Asian Cup in 2023, and while the U-17 team look to have a more difficult path to their continental championships next year, they will also be confident about their prospects.

The draw for qualification for both tournaments took place at AFC House in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. In order to get a ticket to appear at the U-20 tournament, which will take place in Uzbekistan next year, Saudi Arabia will have to find some of the form that took them to the title back in 2018, when it was an U-19 competition.

That was when the young Green Falcons defeated South Korea 2-1 in the final in Indonesia to be crowned continental champions. It is still their title to defend as the global pandemic ensured that the 2020 edition never took place, though Saudi Arabia had already booked a berth by winning their group in qualification back in November 2019. 

Then they just managed to finish above Uzbekistan and have been grouped with the Central Asians once again in Group A, which will take place in September. This time, however, results against the White Wolves will not matter as they are already assured of a place in the tournament as host nation. That means that Saudi Arabia will just have to finish above China, Myanmar and the Maldives to guarantee a spot, though the five best-performing runners-up in the 10 groups will also go through.

It would be a surprise if that did not happen and not least because all the games will be held in the eastern city of Dammam. Playing in front of their own fans in one of the country’s most passionate football cities will be a major advantage. China will be expected to provide the main test but with football going through a terrible time at the moment in the East Asian country, youth tournaments may not be the priority they once were. Chinese Super League clubs are going out of business, the country has given up hosting the 2022 Asian Games and the 2023 Asian Cup, and the future is very uncertain. 

With the political situation in Myanmar, there has not been too much football played in recent months, and the young White Angels may be struggling for match fitness. Even when the Southeast Asians are at their best, a trip to Saudi Arabia is tough. And last but not least are the Maldives. The South Asians can be difficult opponents but should be no match for the defending champions, especially on their home patch. 

The U-17 tournament, which has been rebranded from the past U-16 championships, will be held much closer to home, in neighboring Bahrain. Once again, the group, this time Group D, will be held in Dammam, and while it looks a little more challenging for the two-time champions, Saudi Arabia will again be strong favorites to progress with the format the same: the 10 group winners go through along with the five best runners-up to join the hosts Bahrain.

The 2020 tournament did not go ahead thanks to the pandemic, but Saudi Arabia had booked their berth before it was called off by finishing above Oman, Pakistan and Syria in September 2019. The cancelation was a bitter pill to swallow for the boys from Riyadh, Jeddah and elsewhere as they had failed to qualify for the 2018 edition, losing out to Jordan.

This group does not look quite so difficult as that. Interestingly, Myanmar and the Maldives are also opponents, and the same points apply to this age category as to the slightly older one. Neither will be expected to finish in the top two spots. India have ambitions in this regard and will relish the chance to test themselves against one of the continent’s big boys but maybe do not quite have the strength in depth to challenge in West Asia. Kuwait may be tricky. After suffering at the hands of Jordan in September 2017, the hosts will be wary of the Blues in October 2022.

But given the opposition, home advantage and where Saudi Arabian football is currently at, both the U-17 and U-20 teams are strongly expected to make it to both Uzbekistan and Bahrain in 2023 and once there, will be expected to challenge for the big prize.


Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare

Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare
Updated 1 min 11 sec ago

Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare

Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare
LONDON: Rafael Nadal beat Taylor Fritz in a gruelling five-setter on Wednesday to set up a blockbuster Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios, but revealed that an abdomen injury almost forced him to quit mid-match.
The second seed lost the first set and had to take a medical time-out in the second but raised his game to win 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10/4) in a match lasting four hours and 21 minutes.
Earlier, Australian maverick Kyrgios cruised past Chile’s Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).
Nadal admitted after the match that he was suffering from an abdominal problem, which forced him to leave the court.
“I had to find a way to serve a little bit different,” he said. “For a lot of moments I was thinking I would not be able to finish the match but the crowd, the energy, thanks for that.”
He added: “I honestly enjoy a lot playing these kind of matches in front of you guys. I can’t thank you enough for the support.”
Kyrgios, ranked 40th in the world, trails Nadal 6-3 in their head-to-head meetings but he beat the Spaniard on his way to the quarter-finals in 2014 and is seen as a major threat to his hopes of reaching a sixth Wimbledon final.

A pumped-up Nadal raced out of the blocks on Center Court to take a 3-1 lead but then lost five straight games to lose the first set.
The players swapped breaks in the second set but Nadal was not moving freely and when leading 4-3 he took a medical time-out.
When he returned, American 11th seed Fritz served out to love, with Nadal’s movement still looking hampered.
But the Spaniard twice held serve comfortably to lead 6-5 and a backhand volley into the open court sealed the second set, to roars from the crowd.
Nadal, 36, was now moving more easily but the pendulum swung again early in the third set when the two-time Wimbledon champion double-faulted to hand his opponent a break, with Fritz repeating the dose to take the third set.
There were five breaks in a topsy-turvy fourth set but Nadal came out on top to level the match.
The first six games of the deciding set went with serve before a break apiece as the pressure mounted.
The set went to a tie-break and Nadal seized control, racing into a 9-3 lead and completing the win on his second match point.
Nadal, who has already won the Australian Open and the French Open this year, is halfway to the first calendar Grand Slam by a man since Rod Laver in 1969.
He is also bidding to win his 23rd Grand Slam title and equal Serena Williams in second place on the all-time list for most Grand Slam singles titles. Margaret Court is the leader on 24 titles.

Kyrgios reached the last four at the All England Club with relative ease.
The 27-year-old was broken just once by Garin and hit 35 winners as he reached his first Grand Slam semifinal.
“I never thought I’d be in the semifinal of a Grand Slam,” said the Australian. “I thought that ship had sailed, that I may have wasted that little window in my career.
“I am really happy I was able to come out here with my team and able to put on a performance.”
Kyrgios is the first Australian man into the semifinals at Wimbledon since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005.
But he went into the match under a new cloud of controversy after it emerged he faces an Australian court next month to answer an allegation of assault.
His 2022 Wimbledon has also been a rollercoaster on the court.
Brilliant, crowd-pleasing shot-making has been accompanied by $14,000 in fines and an ugly, bitter spat with third-round rival Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Saudi football delegation attends World Cup workshop in Qatar

Saudi football delegation attends World Cup workshop in Qatar
Updated 15 min 29 sec ago

Saudi football delegation attends World Cup workshop in Qatar

Saudi football delegation attends World Cup workshop in Qatar
  • The representatives of the Kingdom’s national team learned about the preparations for world football’s showpiece event, which kicks off on Nov. 21

RIYADH: A delegation of officials representing the Saudi national football team took part in a workshop for the nations that will compete at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, during which they learned about the ongoing preparations for the showpiece event, which begins on Nov. 21.

The workshop in Doha covered a number of topics relating to the competition and its venues during a series of detailed sessions, including technical issues, medical provision, security, transportation, logistics, media, marketing, football-related technologies and arbitration.

The Saudi delegates also visited the camp at which the national team will stay throughout their participation in the World Cup, and was briefed on the specific preparations at their designated training ground.

The Kingdom’s delegation was led by Hussein Al-Sadiq, director of the Saudi national team, and Nawaf Al-Dakhil, the team’s executive director.


Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals
Updated 06 July 2022

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals
  • The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches
  • “I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back”

WIMBLEDON, England: Simona Halep’s first appearance at Wimbledon since winning the title three years is going just as good as it did the last time.
The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches by beating Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday on Center Court.
Halep missed the chance to defend her title at Wimbledon twice, first in 2020 when the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and then again in 2021 when she had to sit out with a left calf injury.
“I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back.”
In the semifinals, Halep will face Elena Rybakina. The 17th-seeded Rybakina beat Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on No. 1 Court.
Rybakina, a 23-year-old Kazakh, is playing at Wimbledon for only the second time in her career. She lost in the fourth round last year.
In the men’s quarterfinals, two-time champion Rafael Nadal was to play Taylor Fritz on Center Court while Nick Kyrgios was to face Cristian Garin on No. 1 Court.
Halep is making her 10th appearance at Wimbledon and has reached the semifinals for the third time. She is the only Grand Slam champion left in the women’s tournament.
“I’m very emotional right now, because it means a lot to be back in the semis,” Halep said.
The match against Anisimova appeared to be as straightforward as her first four victories at this year’s tournament — all came in straight sets. But the 20th-seeded American broke Halep when she was serving for the match at 5-2.
Anisimova then had three more break points when Halep again served for the match at 5-4, but the Romanian won five straight points to finish the match.
“She could crush the ball in the end, and I didn’t know, actually, what to do,” Halep said. “But I just believed in myself. I said that I have to stay there, strong on my legs.”
Halep injured her calf more than a year ago, forcing her to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon. She started working with Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Serena Williams, in April.


‘Brave’ new England try to shake up Test cricket

‘Brave’ new England try to shake up Test cricket
Updated 06 July 2022

‘Brave’ new England try to shake up Test cricket

‘Brave’ new England try to shake up Test cricket
  • Arguably the greatest revelation about England’s latest run-chase was how they attacked it from the start

BIRMINGHAM: Everything you know about Test cricket is wrong.

Well that might be the conclusion of some fans who watched a resurgent England make light of a chase of 378 in the Covid-delayed fifth Test against India.

It was the latest example of ‘Bazball’ in action, with a seven-wicket win in Birmingham England’s fourth successful chase in as many Tests under a new leadership duo of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes following a 3-0 whitewash of Test world champions New Zealand.

That series saw England chase down seemingly stiff targets of 277, 299 and 296.

No England side, however, had previously made more to win in the fourth innings of a Test than 359, when Stokes’ brilliant century secured a thrilling victory over Australia at Headingley three years ago.

But with Joe Root (142 not out) and Jonny Bairstow (114 not out) sharing an unbroken partnership of 269, that mark was overhauled with ease at Edgbaston as England ended a five-match series all square at 2-2.

Yet as well as former England captain Root and Bairstow batted, they are in-form and experienced internationals.

Arguably the greatest revelation about England’s latest run-chase was how they attacked it from the start, with Alex Lees and Zak Crawley, both of whom had been struggling for runs, sharing a century opening stand in 19.5 overs — the fastest in England Test history.

Stokes said England’s approach was down to a change in attitude from a team that had won just one of its 17 previous Tests prior to the New Zealand series.

“When you’ve got real clarity in what you want to achieve as a team and how you want to play it makes things a lot easier,” said Stokes.

“We know what we were going to do — we knew we were always going to go out and try and chase that down from the get-go.

“A great way to explain is that teams are perhaps better than us, but teams won’t be braver than us.

“(England spinner) Jack Leach said that to me and it is a great way to sum things up at the moment,” the all-rounder added.

Scoring runs quickly in Test cricket is nothing new.

A celebrated West Indies team once chased down a target of 342 inside a day to beat England by nine wickets at Lord’s, with opener Gordon Greenidge making an unbeaten double century.

And the successful Australia teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s looked to score at a rate of four per over in order to give their bowlers as much time as possible to take the 20 wickets needed to win a Test.

But on Tuesday, England were scoring at a rate of nearly five an over, with the way Root reverse scooped medium-pacer Shardul Thakur for six a sign of how T20 shot-making, unknown to previous generations, is influencing the longer game.

Former New Zealand captain McCullum was credited for being the inspiration behind England’s rise from white-ball no-hopers to 2019 50-over World Cup winners and England clearly hope he will have a similar effect now he is directly involved with the Test side.

Four matches is a small sample size, however, and had Rishabh Pant stayed in for just a little longer in India’s second innings, Stokes may have been granted a wish where he “almost wanted them to get 450 (ahead), to see what we did.”

India coach Rahul Dravid, one of the best batsmen of his era, was impressed by England but said the way Pant had scored a typically dynamic 146, in a first innings where Ravindra Jadeja also made a hundred, proved Stokes’ side did not have a copyright on attacking play.

“When your players are doing well, are in good form, then you can play really positively, can take the game forward,” said Dravid.

“We also showed when Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja were playing in the first innings — we played pretty positive cricket.

“But when two positive players or attacking players are in good form, and can play such a big innings, and that happens in three to four matches continuously it looks good for cricket and also for them.”


Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship
Updated 06 July 2022

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship
  • The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand

MONTERREY, Mexico: Rocky Rodriguez and Maria Paula Salas scored in the opening half and Costa Rica went on to win their opening group-stage match 3-0 over Panama on Tuesday night in the CONCACAF W Championship.

The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Rodriguez, who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, scored on a header in the sixth minute. Salas scored in the 24th.

Katherine Alvarado converted a penalty for Costa Rica in the 60th minute.

Costa Rica and Panama are in Group B with Canada and Trinidad & Tobago, who play in the late game.

Eight teams have been divided into two groups for the tournament. The top two finishers in each group earn spots in the 2023 World Cup. The third-place finishers will go on to a 10-team intercontinental playoff in February in New Zealand.

The winner of the tournament will also earn one of the region’s spots in the 2024 Olympics.

Costa Rica have been to the World Cup just once before, in 2015. Panama has never qualified for international soccer’s most prestigious event.

The US, Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti are in Group A.