After Champions League ‘fiasco’, UEFA probes what went wrong

After Champions League ‘fiasco’, UEFA probes what went wrong
Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos pose for a photograph with the trophy after winning the Champions League final match against Liverpool at the Stade de France in Saint Denis near Paris. (AP)
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Updated 31 May 2022

After Champions League ‘fiasco’, UEFA probes what went wrong

After Champions League ‘fiasco’, UEFA probes what went wrong
  • UEFA is starting to gather evidence about issues outside the Stade de France that marred one of the world’s biggest games in sports on Saturday
  • Liverpool fans' leadership groups are already complaining about heavy-handed policing and poor organization

DUBAI: The French government is blaming Liverpool fans. The English club are enraged by the “irresponsible, unprofessional” rush to conclusions. European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, will now try to uncover what went wrong in the disorder and chaos in Paris at the Champions League final before Liverpool lost to Real Madrid.
UEFA is starting to gather evidence about issues outside the Stade de France that marred one of the world’s biggest games in sports on Saturday.
Liverpool fans’ leadership groups are already complaining about heavy-handed policing and poor organization on a troubling night that saw children and elderly people among those getting sprayed by tear gas.
Richard Bouigue, deputy mayor of the 12th arrondissement in Paris, said “the time for official denial is over, the time for apologies must be imposed” in a letter to a Liverpool supporters’ group.
“I deplore the dysfunctions in the organization of the game and the lack of maintenance of order that led to this real fiasco,” Bouigue wrote to the Spirit of Shankly group in a letter seen by AP.
There were also renewed concerns in Spain on Wednesday about the organizational failings.
“It was a pretty big mess,” said Madrid defender Dani Carvajal, whose family encountered safety issues. “They have to learn and fix the mistakes for the next events that may happen at this stadium and hopefully everything will be better. But yes, in the end there were people who suffered a lot.”
These are the key issues the UEFA review will need to take into consideration:
ORGANIZATION
The challenges of staging the final with just three months’ notice — Paris was awarded the game in February after a decision was taken to strip Russia’s St. Petersburg of hosting rights — has been floated as a reason for the chaos that unfolded.
Having months, rather than years, to plan for the final was still enough time for hospitality facilities to be prepared and the stadium wrapped in special competition branding.
There was, though, a shortage of signage on streets leading to the stadium and on the subway and train lines. While private security was at stadium entrances, there were no volunteers deployed to help fans navigate unfamiliar streets and communicate as lines grew longer.
What was the reason behind the decision to herd fans — mostly from Liverpool — into a narrow passage on the walk up to the stadium from the metro, with police vans blocking much of the space? Why were there so few police officers in and around the stadium for such a big occasion?
UEFA’S MESSAGING
The “late arrival of fans” was the initial reason given for the delay to kickoff for what proved to be 37 minutes. Yet there was clear evidence many fans had arrived near the stadium up to three hours before the scheduled start of the game and simply ended up stuck in lines that barely moved. Liverpool fans, pressed up against the railings and many fearful of their own safety, hadn’t even been told the match had been delayed. That appeared to add to the panic, as some thought they would miss the game.
UEFA seemed slow to realize the extent of the problems. Steve Rotheram, a mayor in Liverpool who attended the game, said he had his cell phone, money, bank cards and match ticket stolen outside the Stade de France. He said he saw UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin in the VIP section of the stadium later and explained his concerns. “He seemed oblivious to it,” Rotheram said of Ceferin.
POLICE
Why did police use bottlenecks to control the flow of spectators? The review will need to look at the policing of the final, from how they planned the hazardous route to the stadium from the train station and metro stops, as well as the instances of heavy-handedness toward supporters in using tear gas and pepper spray indiscriminately in areas where there were kids and elderly people. There is footage of police deploying spray directly into the face of fans.
Repeated allegations of brutality have hit French police in recent years, notably during the Yellow Vests protests against the government, amid calls police should exercise greater restraint.
French police have struggled to get a grip on fan violence at domestic matches this season. Was that considered when the event was moved to Paris after direct talks between Ceferin and French President Emmanuel Macron?
TICKETING
This is likely to be a key focus of the review after French Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said there was “massive fraud at an industrial level,” claiming that “70 percent of the tickets were fake tickets coming into the Stade de France.” Those numbers have been received with skepticism. Past and present Liverpool players — including Andrew Robertson — have said tickets they had received through legitimate channels hadn’t been accepted at the gates. There were undoubtedly some fake tickets — the AP has been shown an example of one. But the AP is aware of malfunctioning scanners unable to validate genuine tickets. Were those considered to be fake at the turnstiles?
STEWARDING
Just like at Wembley Stadium last year when there was violence and crowd chaos at the European Championship final, stewards bore the brunt of the disorder on Saturday as they were overwhelmed by large crowds at the gates. Low-paid and under-resourced, it seems unfair to expect stewards to resist aggression and force from both frustrated fans and other people trying to enter stadiums illegally by barging through checkpoints. Even as the chaos was unfolding, some private security officials turned their focus on media, ordering video footage to be deleted.
LOCALS
There are a growing number of testimonies from people who attended the final, detailing how they got mugged and attacked before and after the match at the Stade de France, which is located in an impoverished suburb of northern Paris. Local thugs appear to have exploited the chaos on the night. Some were seen fighting with police outside the stadium. Among those seen vaulting the fences to get into the stadium without tickets were people not wearing Liverpool or Madrid colors, potentially therefore locals taking advantage of overwhelmed security.
The sight of “bands of delinquents hitting and robbing” fans was recalled by Spanish professional tennis player Feliciano López.
“I saw how one person jumped over the fence to get into the stadium, the same one who tried to rob me wanted to sneak past the turnstile to get into the stadium,” López tweeted. “It was a complete shambles.”
STIGMATIZING FANS
According to some testimonies, the crowd management issues brought back disturbing memories of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in 1989 that led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans. Hooliganism was rife in English football throughout the 1980s, and there were immediate attempts back then to falsely assign blame on the Liverpool fans and defend policing at the FA Cup match in Sheffield. A false narrative that blamed drunken, ticketless and rowdy Liverpool fans was created by police. It took decades of campaigning for Liverpool supporters to prove there was a cover-up by authorities who tried to blame them.
Now Liverpool fans are challenging the authorities again, this time in France. Darmanin, the French minister, claimed on Monday that “this kind of situation occurs” within certain clubs from Britain, stigmatizing Liverpool fans.
“All light must be shed,” said Bouigue, the Parisian politician, “the responsibilities identified, and improvements made so that this type of chaos, which must have revived the Hillsborough tragedy for many fans, never happens again.”


Cameron Smith and Dustin Rhodes lead 48-player field at LIV Golf’s Asia debut in Thailand

Cameron Smith and Dustin Rhodes lead 48-player field at LIV Golf’s Asia debut in Thailand
Updated 7 sec ago

Cameron Smith and Dustin Rhodes lead 48-player field at LIV Golf’s Asia debut in Thailand

Cameron Smith and Dustin Rhodes lead 48-player field at LIV Golf’s Asia debut in Thailand
  • Golfers to vie for $25m at Stonehill course Oct. 7-9

BANGKOK: LIV Golf Invitational Chicago champion Cameron Smith and Invitational Boston winner Dustin Johnson will compete amongst an all-star 48-player field for the $25 million Bangkok title, the series’ Asian debut at Stonehill taking place from Oct. 7 to 9.

The strong lineup for the sixth event of this year’s LIV Golf Invitational Series includes four former world No. 1s and 12 major champions, including multiple major winners Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Johnson and Martin Kaymer, as well as 13 Olympians, and 20 players with 10 or more professional wins to their names.

“The LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok marks a significant step for LIV Golf in Asia, a massive market with incredible passion for the sport,” said Greg Norman, CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf.

“Our investment in the Asian Tour with The International Series has already begun to create new opportunities in golf. This tournament in Thailand is further proof of LIV Golf’s commitment to showcasing top competition amongst the best golfers on the planet while connecting with new audiences around the world. Excitement continues to build with each event, and we can’t wait to deliver a memorable tournament at Stonehill, a one-of-a-kind venue.”

In Bangkok, players will once again compete for a purse of $25 million and the chance to become LIV Golf’s sixth individual and team champions, earning points toward the season-long individual competition.

In addition to watching a number of major champions, local fans will have another reason to cheer at the new Stonehill course, with Thai players Sadom Kaewkanjana and Phachara Khongwatmai once again competing in the high-profile field thanks to their standings in the Asian Tour and International Series Order of Merit.

The International Series is the Asian Tour’s new marquee events established through a 10-year, $300-million partnership with LIV Golf, with tournaments in Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Egypt, Morocco, and England.


Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to host youth programs in Abu Dhabi

Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to host youth programs in Abu Dhabi
Updated 44 min 39 sec ago

Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to host youth programs in Abu Dhabi

Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to host youth programs in Abu Dhabi
  • League’s first ‘Jr. NBA Week’ in Mideast for 2,000 young basketball players and coaches through clinics and camps
  • The teams will play two preseason games on Oct. 6 and 8 at Etihad Arena on Yas Island

ABU DHABI: The National Basketball Association announced on Tuesday a series of youth engagement programs in collaboration with the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks as part of The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022.

The activities, which will include the league’s first “Jr. NBA Week” in the Middle East, will run from Monday, Oct. 3 to Sunday, Oct. 9, with nearly 2,000 youth, coaches and basketball stakeholders from the UAE, the region and Europe.

The week will consist of clinics and camps focused on teaching the game, promoting health and wellness, and empowering the next generation of female players and coaches. The events will feature appearances by Hawks and Bucks players and coaches, NBA and WNBA legends, and US Basketball Head Coach/Coach Director, Youth & Sport Development Don Showalter.

The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will feature the Hawks and the 2021 NBA champions Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island on Thursday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 8, marking the league’s first games in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf.

The games are part of a groundbreaking multiyear collaboration between the NBA and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi that earlier this year saw the launch of the first Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League, a youth basketball competition for 450 boys and girls aged 11 to 14 from schools across the city.

The collaboration also includes a variety of interactive fan events featuring appearances by current and former NBA players, a series of NBA FIT clinics promoting health and wellness, and an NBA 2K League exhibition event.

The week’s activities include, among others:

Atlanta Hawks Youth Program Oct. 3

Hawks players and coaches will lead three simultaneous youth development events at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus’ three-court facility, including clinics for boys and girls from the first Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League and the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics program. There is also an NBA FIT clinic for local youth that will focus on the importance of living a healthy and active lifestyle. The participants will attend the game on Oct. 6.

NBA Coaching Clinics Oct. 3 to 4

The assistant coaches of the Hawks, Joe Prunty and Mike Longabardi, and those of the Bucks, Mike Dunlap and Vince Legarza, will host clinics for over 300 male and female basketball coaches from the UAE.

Milwaukee Bucks Youth Program Oct. 4

Bucks players and coaches will offer drills for members of the NBA Basketball School in Dubai and the Jr. NBA Elite Training Camp at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus.

Jr. NBA School Clinics Oct. 4 to 5

The NBA will conduct eight clinics for boys and girls at local schools across Abu Dhabi, two of which will be attended by NBA Legend Dominique Wilkins and WNBA Legend Ticha Penicheiro (Portugal). The clinics will focus on teamwork, skills and healthy habits.

NBA Hoops For Troops Meet & Greets

In collaboration with the United Service Organizations, the NBA will host members of the US military for meet and greets with NBA legends at both games.

Jr. NBA Elite Training Camp Oct. 4 to 9

The NBA will host 25 of the top boys and girls from Jr. NBA leagues across Europe and the Middle East, and the NBA Basketball School in Dubai, at an elite training camp in Abu Dhabi. The athletes, from 11 countries, were selected following a Jr. NBA Elite Camp in Rome in May. They will participate in training and competitions with the NBA Basketball School from Dubai and the UAE under-18 Men’s National Team.

Her Time To Play Clinic Oct. 8

The NBA will host a “Her Time To Play” clinic at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus for 70 girls from the Jr. NBA Elite Training Camp and the NBA Basketball School in Dubai. Participants will engage in a clinic and conversations focused on female empowerment and opportunities in sports and leadership, highlighted by a talk with Penicheiro.


Italy advances in Nations League; England, Germany draw 3-3

Italy advances in Nations League; England, Germany draw 3-3
Updated 27 September 2022

Italy advances in Nations League; England, Germany draw 3-3

Italy advances in Nations League; England, Germany draw 3-3

Part one of the healing process is complete for Italy.
Looking to regain respect after failing to qualify for a second straight World Cup, the Azzurri advanced to next year’s finals tournament in the Nations League by winning at Hungary 2-0 thanks to goals by Giacomo Raspadori and Federico Dimarco on Monday.
By topping a group also containing England and Germany, the Italians joined the Netherlands and Croatia in qualifying for the final four, which will be hosted by the Dutch in June.
Portugal or Spain will complete the lineup when they face off on Tuesday.
Unlike Italy, England and Germany will be going to the World Cup in Qatar in less than two months and they’ll head to the Middle East on the back of a wild 3-3 draw at Wembley Stadium, where all the goals were scored in the second half.
Trailing 2-0, England scored three goals in a 12-minute span from the 71st — through Luke Shaw, Mason Mount and Harry Kane’s penalty — only for Kai Havertz to pounce on a fumble by England goalkeeper Nick Pope to equalize in the 87th.
England’s winless run stretched to six games, with Gareth Southgate’s team finishing its Nations League campaign without a victory and relegated.
Germany isn’t in much better shape ahead of the World Cup, with just one win in its last seven games.
Italy won Group A3 with 11 points, one more than Hungary, which went into the game in Budapest needing only a draw to reach the Nations League final four for the first time.

Italy's players celebrate after the UEFA Nations League Group 3 football match between Hungary and Italy in Budapest on September 26, 2022. (AFP)


ITALY RECOVERS
The Italians are finding it easier to qualify for Nations League finals than World Cups.
They also got to the 2021 tournament, losing to Spain in the semifinals on home soil in their first few months as the reigning European champion.
Plenty has changed in the team since beating England in the European Championship final at Wembley last year, not least up front where Raspadori is making his mark.
Three days after scoring the winner against England in Milan, the Napoli striker put Italy ahead after Adam Nagy’s back-pass came up short.
Wilfried Gnonto challenged goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi for the ball, which bounced free and Raspadori was alert to round Gulacsi and convert his finish in the 27th.
Gianluigi Donnarumma produced a string of diving stops — including a triple save in a matter of seconds — before Nicolò Barella played a ball through at the other end to Bryan Cristante, who crossed for Dimarco to score from close range for his first goal for Italy.
Late pressure from Hungary failed to yield a goal.
“We were excellent for 70 minutes, the last 20 I didn’t like too much,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said. “We’re happy — it’s important to have reached the Nations League final four for the second time.”
MAGUIRE UNDER SCRUTINY
Under pressure for his starting place in England’s team, Harry Maguire didn’t help his cause against Germany.
The Manchester United center back was at fault for Germany’s 52nd-minute opener from the spot by Ilkay Gundogan — Maguire initially gave the ball away to Jamal Musiala, then clumsily fouled the teenager in the area moments later — and was then dispossessed in midfield to allow the Germans to break, culminating in a curling finish from the edge of the area by Havertz.
Maguire has lost his starting spot at United but Southgate has retained his faith in the defender, who typically plays better for his country than his club. It was a tough night all around for England’s center backs, with John Stones forced off with a suspected hamstring injury.
England did well to fight back, with Kane’s penalty taking him to 51 goals for England, two off Wayne Rooney’s national record, but yet another mistake proved costly.
Pope, filling in for the injured Jordan Pickford, spilled Serge Gnabry’s weak shot and Havertz was on hand to tap in from close range.
“A couple of errors have cost us the goals,” Southgate said, “but I’ll focus on the fact they played with tremendous spirit and showed a belief that we haven’t shown in the last few games.”
There was a well-observed period of silence before kickoff as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, who died this month. Players from both teams wore black armbands.


Five things to look out for as Arab quartet finalize World Cup preparations

Five things to look out for as Arab quartet finalize World Cup preparations
Updated 26 September 2022

Five things to look out for as Arab quartet finalize World Cup preparations

Five things to look out for as Arab quartet finalize World Cup preparations
  • Herve Renard’s Saudi Arabia must produce more firepower upfront, while Qatar’s loss of form is cause for major concern

The four Arab teams preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup had mixed results in the first round of games in this crucial international break. There were plenty of talking points around the games, and below are just five things to look forward to as the quartet wrap up the last official international get-together before the action starts in Qatar on Nov. 20.

1. Saudi Arabia need to score against the US

There were some positives for Saudi Arabia to take from Friday’s 0-0 draw with Ecuador, not least that they avoided a third straight defeat since the end of qualification for the World Cup.

But the Green Falcons have failed to score in 295 minutes of football, and to be honest, they have not looked like scoring very often. In the three friendlies against Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, chances have been few and far between.

In the most recent, there were a couple of opportunities, and Firas Al-Buraikan and Nawaf Al-Abed should have done better with their efforts, but coach Herve Renard needs to find a way to get Salem Al-Dawsari into the game and into areas where he can use his creative talents.

Salman Al-Faraj, with his ability to retain possession and bring composure to the middle of the park, was missed in that regard, and it is vital that the skipper gets fit and stays fit.

There are not many striking options available for Renard so there needs to be goals from all areas of the pitch. Against strong teams like Argentina, Poland and Mexico at the World Cup, Saudi Arabia are going to have to take their limited number of chances and be clinical on the counter and at set pieces. Another failure to score on Tuesday will set the alarm bells ringing.

2. Tunisia get their test against Brazil

The North Africans extended their unbeaten run to seven games on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Comoros. It was not the most fluid of performances from the Carthage Eagles but the real test comes on Tuesday with a game against Brazil in Paris. There is going to be a lot of support for Tunisia at the Parc des Princes and they want to see if this team are the real deal. The wins over Chile and especially Japan in Japan in June were hugely impressive, but now come the five-time world champions.

Tunisia have been placed in a tough group with title-holders France, Denmark and Australia, and will get a great idea of what level they are at the moment against a Brazil team that are in great form. The Selecao have scored 21 goals in the last six games with just one goal conceded, and the standard of opposition has been decent, too.

It is very impressive and means that head coach Jalel Kadri is going to see how well his team can defend against world-class players.

3. Qatar need to rediscover their mojo

The World Cup host started last week with a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Croatia’s U-23 team. Bad results can happen but the 2-0 loss to Canada on Friday was more worrying. The opening period was truly poor, with the two goals from the North Americans both coming in the first 15 minutes.

Qatar’s performance improved after that but the damage had been done. There was a distinct lack of energy and concentration among the players.

Coach Felix Sanchez has really taken the team places over the past few years and it would be disappointing if the 2019 Asian champions were to lose their edge just as the tournament is within touching distance. The wake-up call from the Canadians has to be heard and the game against Chile on Tuesday has become even more important. Whether there is a win or not, there has to be a return to the mentality monsters that won the 2019 continental championships.

4. Moroccan smiles as Ziyech returns

Morocco gave new coach Walid Regragui a 2-0 win over Chile in his first game in charge after being appointed in August. The man who led Wydad to the African Champions League title earlier in the summer was a popular choice to replace Vahid Halilhodzic.

Most of the headlines focused on the return of Hakim Ziyech for the first time since June 2021, with the breakdown of the Chelsea star’s relationship with Halilhodzic being seen as a major reason why the French Bosnian coach was dismissed.

Now Ziyech is back ahead of the World Cup and it is a major boost with tough group games against Belgium, Canada and Croatia coming up.

His performance was solid rather than spectacular and the same can be said of the game in general but it sets up the game against Paraguay nicely. Another confidence-boosting performance against South American opposition would be welcome and reaffirm the widespread belief that the coaching change, while late, was necessary.

5. US toughest test so far for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia have faced Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador since qualifying and failed to win any of the three matches.

Things will not get easier against a US team ranked 14 in the world, and which is full of experienced internationals playing in some of the world’s best leagues.

Christian Pulisic is with Chelsea, fullback Sergino Dest is with AC Milan and Weston McKennie plays for Juventus. There are others in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1 as well as MLS.

After losing 2-0 to Japan on Friday, coach Gregg Berhalter will be keen to return to winning ways.

Just as in the 0-0 draw with Ecuador, there is going to be plenty of defending for Saudi Arabia to do but there is no reason to sit back too much. There is also no reason why the Asian team cannot go toe to toe with the team that reached the knockout stage at three of their last four World Cups before missing out last time around. If the midfield can be more involved in the game and can keep and use possession better, those elusive goals may not be far away.


Saudi Games sees huge interest, registration extended by a week

Saudi Games sees huge interest, registration extended by a week
Updated 26 September 2022

Saudi Games sees huge interest, registration extended by a week

Saudi Games sees huge interest, registration extended by a week
  • Sept. 30 deadline after surge of athletes seeking to participate

The organizing committee of the Saudi Games 2022 on Sunday announced a week’s extension to the registration deadline for the event in Riyadh from Oct. 27 to Nov. 7.

The extra period was added to give more athletes the opportunity to join after there was huge demand from across the Kingdom to participate in one of the biggest events of its kind in Saudi sporting history.

The extension was from Sept. 25 to Sept. 30 and interested athletes can apply through the competition’s website for spots in the following sports: Darts, athletics, beach volleyball, billiards, bowling, rock climbing, cycling, esports, indoor rowing, Muay Thai, padel tennis, skateboarding, squash, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, weightlifting and wrestling.