Forest sign Nigeria forward from Union Berlin for club-record fee

Forest sign Nigeria forward from Union Berlin for club-record fee
Taiwo Awoniyi scores a goal during a match between Union Berlin and VfL Bochum in Berlin. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 26 June 2022

Forest sign Nigeria forward from Union Berlin for club-record fee

Forest sign Nigeria forward from Union Berlin for club-record fee
  • Taiwo Awoniyi scored 20 goals in 43 games in all competitions in his last season in the Bundesliga. He is Forest’s first senior signing since their victory over Huddersfield in the Championship playoff final

LONDON: Nottingham Forest have paid a club-record fee of around £17 million ($20 million) to Nigeria striker Taiwo Awoniyi from Union Berlin.

Awoniyi agreed a five-year contract with Forest, who are preparing for their first season back in the Premier League since 1999.

The 24-year-old scored 20 goals in 43 games in all competitions in his last season in the Bundesliga.

He is Forest’s first senior signing since their victory over Huddersfield in the Championship playoff final.

“There’s been a lot of interest in Taiwo from other Premier League clubs and other clubs across Europe, so we’re delighted that he’s chosen Nottingham Forest,” Forest boss Steve Cooper said.

“He’s a player who we really believe in and we look forward to him going on to fulfill his potential and become a top Premier League striker with Nottingham Forest.”

Awoniyi began his professional career at Liverpool before leaving last July, but did not make a first-team appearance for the Reds and was sent on loan several times.

Liverpool are set to receive 10 percent of the fee under the terms of his departure.

Awoniyi’s 15 goals in 31 Bundesliga matches helped Union Berlin secure a fifth-place finish and qualify for the Europa League for the first time since 2001-02.

“It’s always been my dream to play in the Premier League and, having spoken to Steve Cooper about our ambitions and looking at Forest with its great history, it’s a club that I want to be part of,” Awoniyi said.

Awoniyi won the first of his three caps for Nigeria against the Central African Republic last October and scored his first goal against Sudan in January at the African Cup of Nations.


Saudi Olympic Training Center to set up PhysioTrio rehabilitation services

Saudi Olympic Training Center to set up PhysioTrio rehabilitation services
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi Olympic Training Center to set up PhysioTrio rehabilitation services

Saudi Olympic Training Center to set up PhysioTrio rehabilitation services
  • Athletes will receive support from the main headquarters in Riyadh and supporting centers in Jeddah and Dammam
  • PhysioTrio will be providing access to sports medicine doctors, physiotherapy and sports nutrition experts, among other health-related services

RIYADH: The Saudi Olympic Training Center has announced that it has commissioned PhysioTrio, an initiative that will establish three physiotherapy centers that specialize in treating sports injuries across the country.

The main headquarters in Riyadh, with supporting centers in Jeddah and Riyadh, will provide support to SOTC athletes during their training periods in the Kingdom.

The SOTC is dedicated to creating a cutting-edge sports hub through the provision of world-class services, facilities and infrastructure, and PhysioTrio will be providing access to sports medicine doctors, physiotherapy and sports nutrition experts, among other health-related services.

Director of High-Performance Services at the SOTC Jon Goodwin believes this is an “exciting step for [SOTC] because it is the first tangible support service we have been able to put alongside the athletes’ sport training programs.”

He added: “Getting them appropriate, fast and reliable medical care will really help to keep these athletes on course, keep them training more regularly and enhance their future performance.”

Executive Manager of PhysioTrio Dr. Abdullah Al-Juraisi expressed his delight at working with the SOTC, saying: “PhysioTrio is pleased to announce its work with the Saudi Olympic Training Center to provide rehabilitation and physiotherapy services for its elite players across several different sports.”

The SOTC currently works to develop 17 sports in the bid to build world-class Saudi athletes by the 2034 Asian Games.

The 2034 Asian Games represent the culmination of a 12-year period for the SOTC, which they see as sufficient time to positively affect the development of athletes in the long term.


Morocco fire coach Halilhodzic ahead of World Cup

Morocco fire coach Halilhodzic ahead of World Cup
Updated 11 August 2022

Morocco fire coach Halilhodzic ahead of World Cup

Morocco fire coach Halilhodzic ahead of World Cup
  • The fall-out appears to have come over Halilhodzic's handling of two of his star players
  • He sidelined Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui of Ajax for disciplinary reasons

RABAT: World Cup qualifiers Morocco have split with coach Vahid Halilhodzic three months ahead of the finals in Qatar.
The fall-out appears to have come over Halilhodzic’s handling of two of his star players.
He sidelined Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui of Ajax for disciplinary reasons and qualified for the World Cup without them, but it seems the federation wanted them back.
“We came to an amiable agreement to part ways due to divergences on preparations for the World Cup,” the Moroccan federation said.
Neither Ziyech and Mazraoui were part of the squad that reached the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon in January and Halilhodzic omitted both from the World Cup qualifying play-off matches against the Democratic Republic of Congo in March.
The World Cup starts November 20 in Qatar where Morocco take on Croatia, Belgium and Canada in Group F.
Halilhodzi has previously qualified for the World Cup finals with Ivory Coast and Japan.


UAE cricket fizzes with excitement as competitions make post-pandemic comeback

UAE cricket fizzes with excitement as competitions make post-pandemic comeback
Updated 11 August 2022

UAE cricket fizzes with excitement as competitions make post-pandemic comeback

UAE cricket fizzes with excitement as competitions make post-pandemic comeback
  • Cricket is flourishing in the Emirates for both men and women, thanks to hectic schedules, good coaching and long-term planning

It is going to be a busy time for UAE cricket.

First, the men’s team will compete in a tri-series against the US and Scotland, which will host the matches in Aberdeen between Aug. 10 and 16.

These matches are part of the International Cricket Council’s 2019-2023 Cricket World League Cup 2, which forms part of the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup. After that, the team will move to Oman to contest, between Aug. 20 and 24, the final qualifying place for the 2022 Asia Cup. Thirdly, irrespective of whether the team qualifies, the UAE will host the Asia Cup.

This congestion of events reflects the ongoing recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on international cricket schedules.

In the Cricket World Cup League 2, seven teams will complete 36 separate 50-over matches against each other in sets of tri-series, with two points awarded for a win. Oman has played all of its matches and tops the table with 44 points. Occupying the next three places are Scotland, with 34 points from 24 matches, then the UAE, with 26 from 22, and then the US, with 23 from 24. The forthcoming matches are crucial for all three teams, as the top-three finishers will join five full member teams in a final qualifying stage. The league is due to be completed in February, but two tri-series events, both involving the UAE, have to be rescheduled owing to their postponement during the pandemic.

The Asia Cup has suffered severe disruption. In December 2018, the Pakistan Cricket Board was granted the hosting rights by the Asia Cricket Council (ACC) for the 2020 Cup. This did not sit well with India, initially due to security concerns, later exacerbated by political tensions. India’s participation came into doubt, a situation not helped by claims and counterclaims by the respective parties. None of these mattered, as the pandemic intervened and, on July 9, 2020, the ACC announced postponement until mid-2021. Through a combination of the pandemic and India reaching the final of the World Test Championship, the event did not take place.

Since 2008, the Asia Cup has been scheduled to be held every two years. Now that the 2020 edition will be held in 2022, there is a backlog. In order to resolve this, there will be a 2023 edition, for which Pakistan has been awarded the hosting rights, having swapped its 2020 rights with Sri Lanka. This could have resolved the issue of India not being prepared to play in Pakistan. Subsequent political, economic and social upheaval in Sri Lanka has led to the decision to switch the playing of the tournament to the UAE, although Sri Lanka will retain the hosting rights and the opportunity to earn much needed income of around $6 million.

A further complexity exists in that the format alternates between editions. Until and including 2016, the format had been 50-over One Day International. It was decided that the 2018 edition would be played in the T20 format, the 2020 edition as ODI and in 2022 under the T20 rules again. The pandemic has disturbed this plan so, in order to bring the sequence back into line, the 2020 Cup will be played in T20 format (in 2022) and the 2022 Cup to ODI format in 2023.

Officially, the upcoming tournament is billed as 2022 Asia Cup, opening on Aug. 27 and ending on Sept. 11. It is unlikely that the identity of the team which has seized the final place will be known until Aug. 24.

The UAE will be competing against Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuwait. Teams will play each other once in a round robin format, with the winner being the team with the most points. It will face the daunting prospect of joining India and Pakistan in Group A. This pair will lock horns on Aug. 28 in what should be a spicy affair in Dubai. Group B will comprise Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The top two teams in each group will progress to the Super 4 stage.

After the hectic weeks between Aug. 10 and Sept. 2 — longer should the UAE reach the Super 4s — the UAE men’s team will turn its attention, no doubt, to the T20 World Cup in Australia. There, it will play its first group stage match on Oct. 16. Its qualification for this tournament marks a major step forward for a team which has reached a ranking of 11th in T20 cricket and 13th in ODIs.

It is no surprise that the Emirates Cricket Board also has ambitions to grow women’s cricket. On June 25, 2022, by beating Malaysia in the final of the ACC Women’s T20 Championship, the UAE women’s team matched the world record for the longest unbeaten run in all T20 international cricket.

This 20-match record had been set by England’s women in 2012. Prior to six unbeaten matches in the ACC tournament, the UAE team won all four of its matches against Hong Kong in April, after winning all five matches in the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Women’s Gulf Cup in Oman in March 2022. The unbeaten run had started in November 2021 in the T20 Asia World Cup qualifiers in Dubai, where the team won all of its five matches and propelled itself into the final qualifying stage for the 2023 World Cup, due to be held in South Africa in February.

The qualifying tournament will take place in Abu Dhabi between Sept. 18 and 25, 2022. It will be contested by eight teams: Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland and the US in Group A; Papua New Guinea, Thailand, UAE and Zimbabwe in Group B.

The top two teams in the tournament will progress to the World Cup. After the qualifying tournament, the UAE women’s team will compete in the ACC Women’s Asia Cup in Bangladesh in October.

These hectic schedules reflect success through good coaching and planning. There can be little doubt that cricket is flourishing in the UAE for both men and women, with no let-up in prospect.


Running silver and bronze for Saudi as football, handball teams advance

Running silver and bronze for Saudi as football, handball teams advance
Updated 11 August 2022

Running silver and bronze for Saudi as football, handball teams advance

Running silver and bronze for Saudi as football, handball teams advance
  • Yousef Masrahi finishes second in the 400m competition, while teammate Mazen Al-Yassin finishes third

Saudi Arabia’s Yousef Masrahi on Wednesday took silver in the 400m as the Kingdom’s football and handball teams advanced in their respective competitions at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey.

With Vice President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Fahd bin Jalawi in attendance, Masrahi finished second in the final with a time of 45.80 seconds, while teammate Mazen Al-Yassin took third place and the bronze medal with a time of 45.95 seconds.

Meanwhile, the Saudi national U-23 team reached the semifinals of the football competition at Konya 2022 after beating Morocco 2-0 on Wednesday night.

The young Green Falcons’ goals came from Ziad Al-Juhani in first-half stoppage time and Turki Al-Mutairi in the 90th minute.

With this result, Saudi secured the top spot in Group B to advance to the last four, having earlier defeated Azerbaijan 1-0 in their first match and recorded a default 3-0 win after the withdrawal of the Iranian team before the start of the tournament.

Saudi’s handball team also qualified to the semifinals after defeating Morocco 29-25, having trailed 13-11 at halftime.

The result saw the team from the Kingdom top their group on goal difference from Qatar before the two teams clash on Friday.


Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother
Updated 11 August 2022

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother
  • Al-Nassr risk transfer ban if Egyptian goalkeeper takes legal action
  • Rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad currently cannot sign players

The Saudi Professional League may currently be between seasons but the big clubs in the competition are never far away from the headlines.

Defending champions Al-Hilal are unable to sign new players in the current transfer window. Al-Ittihad are not only preparing for the new season and trying to improve on their second place in the league, but must do so with the knowledge that they will be unable to add players in January’s transfer market.

The common denominator in those two situations is Al-Nassr, the team that finished third last season. Al-Hilal midfielder Mohamed Kanno was found to have signed a contract with both Riyadh clubs, hence the punishment. Al-Ittihad’s ban came in early August after a dispute over Abderrazak Hamdallah. He was found guilty of, among other things, of conspiring to leave Al-Nassr who cancelled his contract in November. In January he joined Al-Ittihad and is now banned for four months.

It all meant that Al-Nassr were having an excellent time. Not only are their rivals dealing with issues, the nine-time champions have been busy this summer, starting with the appointment of former Lyon, Roma and Marseille boss Rudi Garcia, and signing stars such as Ivorian international Ghislane Konan, Luiz Gustavo of Brazil and David Ospina, the Colombian goalkeeper, from Napoli.

That last signing could be the reason behind the potentially tricky situation that Al-Nassr now find themselves in. It is the kind of situation that could end up in a similar transfer punishment coming their way.

It started at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon last January, all because of an injury to Egypt’s first choice goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy. The replacement for the Al-Ahly star was Mohamed Abou Gabal. The Zamalek glovesman, also known as Gabaski, went on to become one of the stars of the tournament and played a major role as the Pharaohs reached the final. His performance in the penalty shootout victory over Cameroon in the semifinal — including sticking information about the hosts’ kickers on his water bottle — made headlines around the world.

The 33-year-old also excelled in the final, though this time Senegal triumphed on penalties. As soon as he returned back to Cairo, there were reports of interest with Al-Nassr making the strongest enquiries, so much so that Gabaski believes that a deal was done and a contract was signed.

“The player was keen on joining Al-Nassr’s pre-season preparations as he repeatedly asked through his lawyer to obtain an entry visa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and issue travel tickets to join the team,” Echo Content Sports, which represents the goalkeeper, said in a statement released last weekend.

“However, he was surprised by the official response that the club does not recognize the contract concluded between the two parties and that it is invalid for reasons we deem as illogical.”

The agency called Al-Nassr’s proposed settlement deal as being “insufficient.”

Now it seems that unless the situation changes, the player is ready to take his grievance to the world governing body.

“Accordingly, we will refer the matter to FIFA’s relevant court, demand the full payment stipulated in the contract and demand compensation because of the damages caused by Al-Nassr club.”

Sources close to the player believe that the arrival of Garcia changed Al-Nassr’s plan. With former Arsenal goalkeeper Ospina now between the sticks, the Egyptian, whose form since the Africa Cup of Nations has been erratic enough that he has lost his club spot to Mohamed Awad, was no longer seen as necessary.

Al-Nassr, however, dispute that a valid deal was ever made.

“Both parties agreed on a contract starting from August 1, based on the information provided by the player and his agent that his contract with Zamalek ended on July 1, 2022,” the club said in a statement, in reply to Gabaski’s claims.

“The information received by the club meant that the player cannot join us on a free transfer on the aforementioned date and that he will remain bound to a contract with Zamalek club until August 30, 2022.

“The player and his agent were contacted and they were asked to provide evidence that the player is available on a free transfer and is not bound to any other contract on that date but no proof was sent, and insisted that the information they provided was correct.

“After giving the player and his agent sufficient time to amend his legal status, Al-Nassr notified the player that what had been agreed upon is void and has no legal effect. Al-Nassr Football Club cannot be tied to a contract with any player that results in a serious legal violation.”

At present, the two camps have differing versions of events. It is expected that, unless Al-Nassr make an improved offer, then Gabaski will turn to FIFA.

Nobody knows what the outcome would be but if it results in Al-Nassr being unable to register new players for a while, they would at least be in good company. Officials at Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad will surely be taking a close interest.