Salah and Mahrez at forefront of standout season for Arab footballers in Europe

Salah and Mahrez at forefront of standout season for Arab footballers in Europe
Mohamed Salah helping the English team to the continental title would be a perfect ending for millions of Arab football fans. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2022

Salah and Mahrez at forefront of standout season for Arab footballers in Europe

Salah and Mahrez at forefront of standout season for Arab footballers in Europe
  • Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, Sevilla’s Yassine Bounou and Milan’s Ismail Bennacer also shone for their clubs

 

The European season comes to an end on Saturday as Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, and Mohamed Salah helping the English team to the continental title would be a perfect ending for millions of Arab football fans.

But whatever happens in Paris, it has already been a season to remember for players from this part of the world.

Salah has won the English Premier League golden boot for the third time, the 29-year-old also recording 13 assists, the most in the league. The Egyptian has been so consistently impressive for the Reds that his achievements have become almost commonplace, but they deserve celebrating. So does the fact that he has already won the League Cup and FA Cup in England and is close to a third trophy, the biggest of all.

Salah is already a legend on Merseyside and his status at Anfield is likely to endure even longer after he said on Wednesday that he is not about to leave anytime soon.

“I don’t want to talk about the contract. I’m staying next season for sure, let’s see after that,” said Salah at Liverpool’s pre-match media day. His deal, which is due to expire next summer, has been the subject of much debate in recent months, but his comments this week — though he did not give any details — will be welcome even if the long-term future is still unclear.

Despite scoring his 23rd goal on the final day of the season to help Liverpool to a 3-1 victory over Wolves, it wasn’t quite enough to win the title. That went to Manchester City.

Riyad Mahrez had another fine campaign under Pep Guardiola as he won a fourth Premier League championship, one with Leicester City and now three with his current club. The Algerian scored 11 league goals and managed seven more in the UEFA Champions League. That is an impressive haul by anyone’s standards and all would agree that the 31-year-old has established himself as one of the top players in the biggest league in the world. 

Mohamed Elneny may not be an automatic starter in the Arsenal team but the Egyptian international, who has made 147 appearances for the Gunners, has just signed a new contract with the North London outfit, which finished fifth and just missed out on a Champions League place.

“Mo is a really important part of the team,” said Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta. “He is loved by everyone. He’s an important player for us on and off the pitch, a real role model to our younger players, and I’m delighted he’s staying.”

Mahrez’s title is not the only big league championship that is being celebrated in Algeria. Ismail Bennacer has helped AC Milan win Serie A for the first time in 11 years. The central midfielder made 31 league appearances and played a major part in the success. At just 24, there is plenty of football left in the legs of the former Arsenal academy player and he has been linked with a move to England.

Amazingly, all the players mentioned will miss out on the World Cup. Egypt failed to qualify after losing a penalty shootout to Senegal with the place in Qatar at stake. It is hard to know if that was more or less heartbreaking than Algeria’s experience. The Desert Foxes seemed to have it in the bag but conceded a goal in the last minute of extra-time in the second leg against Cameroon.

That is not the case when it comes to Morocco, which is already preparing for the World Cup. Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was so good for Sevilla that he was awarded La Liga’s Zamora trophy, given to the shot-stopper with the lowest goals-to-games ratio. He conceded just 24 in 31 appearances to finish with 0.77, edging out Thibault Courtois of Real Madrid.

“I would like to congratulate Yassine Bounou. He’s a very good friend of mine. Congratulations to him for the Zamora trophy,” Courtois said in tribute to the North African.

Another player who now looks like he is going to the World Cup is Nasser Mazraoui, who has had a very interesting season. The right-back has starred as Ajax won the Eredivisie and it was his third title in the Netherlands. The 24-year-old has done all he can do in the country and, from next month, will move to Bayern Munich and there could be a chance of Champions League titles in the coming years.

Then there is the saga of the national team. Along with Hakim Ziyech, the defender had fallen out with Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic and was not called up for the African Cup of Nations in January, as the team lost to Egypt in the quarter-finals, as well as the World Cup play-off.

Earlier this week, however, Mazraoui was named in the squad for June’s friendly with the US and looks to be back in the fold. Ziyech has yet to return and it remains to be seen what happens. 

There have been no such international issues with Achraf Hakimi. The right-back joined Paris Saint-Germain last July fresh after winning the Italian league with Inter Milan. He has shone in France and added the Ligue 1 title. It was only the relative failure in the UEFA Champions League that has cast a shadow over the campaign.

There will be another chance next season but it will have to be good to better this one with league titles, individual awards and perhaps even continental prizes at the highest levels of European football.


Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown
Updated 17 August 2022

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown
  • The Ukrainian and British fighters hit the pads with their trainers and spoke to the media

JEDDAH: Fight Week preparations for the Rage on the Red Sea stepped up a gear on Tuesday night when 12 fighters from the card held public workouts at Jeddah’s Saudi Airlines Club.

Main event boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, who meet for the second time, at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena on Saturday, gave fans and the media a first glimpse of how they’re shaping up going into their heavyweight showdown.

Usyk, who defends the unified world heavyweight titles, said: “I’m very pleased that I’m going to fight very soon. I’ve been watching Anthony Joshua for years already, so I’ve learned a lot and look forward to the fight.”

Commenting on everybody in his homeland of Ukraine being able to watch the bout for free, Usyk added: “I’m also very pleased about this as we all worked hard to ensure this outcome.”

Usyk and Joshua hit the pads with their trainers and interacted with members of the public and media during their 10-minute sessions, teasing what’s to come when they go head-to-head on fight night.

“Previous experiences are helpful, but ultimately, it’s all about what you do on the night. Whoever throws and lands the most punches wins,” said Joshua. “I’m focused, ready to do my best, and get the job done.”

“Saudi Arabia’s been very good to me, shout out to everyone here (in the Kingdom),” he continued. “I’ve had a good time, everyone at the hotel and gym has been looking after me, and it’s been like a second home,” he added. “I’ve good memories of here from last time out (against Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019) and it’s time to create new ones.”

Also on show was Zhang Zhilei ahead of his bout with Filip Hrgovic, rivals Callum Smith and Mathieu Bauderlique, as well as Badou Jack, Andrew Tabiti, Rashed Belhasa, and Bader Samreen.

Rounding out the dozen boxers were Ziyad Al-Maayouf and Ramla Ali, who were given huge support from those in attendance.

They will both make history at the Rage on the Red Sea as the first Saudi and female fighters, respectively, to feature on an international professional card in the Kingdom.


UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal
Updated 17 August 2022

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal
  • Shamma Al Kalbani was Emirate’s first woman to win a medal at World Games

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has congratulated Shamma Al Kalbani for becoming the first Emirati woman to win a medal during the World Games.

The president met Kalbani – who scooped bronze in the 63kg category women’s jiu-jitsu at the Birmingham World Games in July - alongside the other Emirati winners of the jiu-jitsu competition at the games on Monday.

The competition, which took place in Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the most important global multi-sport events in the world.

The UAE grapplers won five medals at the championship, with Faisal Al-Ketbi winning gold in the 85 kilogram and open weight categories, and Mohammed Al-Suwaidi taking home silver in the 69 kilogram division. Shamma Al-Kalbani became the first Emirati female athlete to clinch a medal at the World Games, winning two bronze medals in the 63 kilogram and open weight categories.

 

 

He also congratulated the board of directors of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation and commended their efforts in developing the martial art.

In response the delegation thanked the president for his support of the sport in the country.


Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey
Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey
  • The defeat in Konya ends a run of 10 consecutive victories for the Kingdom’s U-23 team

Saudi Arabia’s footballers fell short of gold in the football competition at the Islamic Solidarity Games after a 1-0 defeat to hosts Turkey in Konya on Tuesday.

The loss ends the team’s run of 10 straight victories, stretching back to the triumphant AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan in June, for the young Green Falcons.

The winning goal was scored by Metehan Altunbas, of Turkish club Adanaspor, in the 27th minute of the match.

Saudi’s players received their silver medals from President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, who is also the president of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation.

The podium finish is Saudi’s second in the Islamic games across its five editions.

The team’s coach, Saad Al-Shehri, had previously won the competition as a player with Saudi Arabia in 2005.


Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
Updated 17 August 2022

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
  • Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second

RIO DE JANEIRO: Last year’s aborted World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina will not be replayed, the two South American countries’ football associations said on Tuesday.

The original fixture, in September last year, was halted when Brazilian health officials stormed onto the pitch after seven minutes in Sao Paulo, alleging COVID-19 quarantine breaches by the visitors.

But with nothing riding on the match as both countries have already qualified for the World Cup, which begins in Qatar on Nov. 20, they had pleaded with world football’s governing body FIFA to cancel the match definitively.

“The Brazil-Argentina match will not be played,” the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and Argentine Football Association (AFA) said in a joint statement.

“AFA, CBF and FIFA have resolved the dispute at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).”

Both countries argued that playing the match as scheduled on Sept. 22 would adversely affect their World Cup preparations.

FIFA ruled in February that the game must be replayed and in May it rejected an appeal by both federations to have the match canceled, while also hitting them with fines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The two federations then took their case to CAS, which was due to rule this month.

Both countries qualified for the World Cup with several matches to spare in the single South American qualifying group.

Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second.

Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times while reigning Copa America holders Argentina are twice champions.


Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
Updated 17 August 2022

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
  • Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion

CINCINNATI: Serena Williams bowed out of the WTA/ATP Cincinnati Masters at the first hurdle on Tuesday, losing in straight sets to US Open champion Emma Raducanu as the end of her glittering career looms ever closer.

Williams, who last week indicated that she is planning to retire after this month’s US Open, was no match for British teenager Raducanu, who romped to a 6-4, 6-0 win.

The 40-year-old Williams left the court swiftly after the defeat without speaking to television reporters and did not hold a press conference.

Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion.

“I was nervous from the first point to the last,” Raducanu said. “Serena is dangerous and can come back from any situation.

“I had to stay focused. I’m so pleased I managed to keep my composure.”

Williams, winner of titles here in 2014 and 2015, was competing in only her fourth match of 2022 after starting her season at Wimbledon due to injury.

Raducanu announced her intentions from the start with a break to love of Williams and never let up.

The young Briton improved to 14 wins, 17 defeats since winning the Open last September from a qualifying start.

Raducanu meanwhile said she was honored to be part of the spectacle on Tuesday in what was one of Williams’ final games as a professional.

“We all need to honor Serena and her amazing career,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the experience of playing her and for the fact that our careers have crossed.

“All she has achieved is inspirational. It’s a true honor to share the court with her.”

Raducanu never let Williams into the match.

The young Londoner seeded 10th took a 4-1 lead in the opening set and completely swept the second, advancing on her first match point, an unreturnable serve.

Raducanu committed a single unforced error in the opening set compared to a dozen for Williams.

Williams’ elder sister Venus took a 7-5, 6-1 loss earlier in the day, losing to 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova.

In the men’s draw of the joint event, Nick Kyrgios began the last major US Open tuneup with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The Australian marched through with 29 winners — including 10 aces — and three breaks of the Spaniard’s serve to reach the second round.

The 28th-ranked Kyrgios has won all 11 of his first-round matches this season and won his 22nd match since returning to the ATP in June after skipping the clay season.

He now faces good friend Taylor Fritz after the American crushed Sebastian Baez 6-1, 6-1.

“Physically, I didn’t feel the best, but you have to keep pushing, keep trying,” Kyrgios said.

“Alejandro’s a hell of a player, he’s got a lot of shots at his disposal. I had to serve well and dictate,” the Montreal quarter-finalist added. “It was tricky conditions out there, the courts are a lot more lively than Montreal, it was harder to control the ball.”

It marked a happy return to Cincinnati for Kyrgios, who was fined a record $113,000 during a spectacular meltdown at the tournament in 2019

“I’ve played some amazing tennis here and had some crazy outbursts,” he said. “It’s a flip of the coin as to which Kyrgios shows up here.”

Elsewhere, Spanish third seed Carlos Alcaraz advanced in his tournament debut, defeating American Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-2.

Italian 10th seed Jannik Sinner celebrated his 21st birthday by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 7-6 (8/6).