Boost for embattled Iraq football as Basra set to host Gulf Cup 2023

Boost for embattled Iraq football as Basra set to host Gulf Cup 2023
Iraq is one of Asia’s biggest football nations. (File/AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2022

Boost for embattled Iraq football as Basra set to host Gulf Cup 2023

Boost for embattled Iraq football as Basra set to host Gulf Cup 2023
  • Many delays to 25th edition of the 8-team tournament now set for next January

The 25th Gulf Cup that was scheduled to take place in December 2021 will be held in the Iraqi city of Basra in January 2023, the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation announced on Thursday. The body voted unanimously to return the competition to the country for the first time since it was staged in Baghdad back in 1979.

That was also the first time Iraq won the title and the team repeated the feat in 1984 and 1988. But the last time the eight-nation biennial tournament took place was in December 2019 in Qatar when Bahrain lifted the trophy. The 2021 version was postponed as facilities including stadiums and hotels in the southern Iraqi city were not ready. It was expected to take place in 2022 but that proved to be impossible due to a crowded international schedule, which included World Cup qualifiers, Asian Cup qualifiers and the Arab Cup, not to mention the World Cup itself.

Basra has been working hard to improve its sporting facilities and general infrastructure and after inspection by AGCFF officials, the go-ahead was given to stage the first major football competition in the country since the US-led invasion in 2003. FIFA has been concerned about the security situation in the country for a while, due to the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties and the first Gulf War in the following decade.

The prospect of eight teams — Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen —coming to the southern port city is thus a big deal for the host nation.

“Congratulations to Iraq and the dear Basra for hosting the 25th Gulf Championship,” said the country’s president Barham Salih, adding “it is a merit worthy of Iraq and its people after more than four decades deprived of that.”

Salih paid tribute to “all the governmental and popular efforts and our sports fans that contributed to achieving this achievement, which embodies the Iraqis’ ethos of generosity and hospitality.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was also delighted and promised that Basra would put on a great show.

“We congratulate our beloved Iraq and Basra after this long-awaited tournament (has been awarded to us). We promise our people and our brothers in the Gulf that this football event will be a model in football circles.”

In the almost two decades since Iraq was invaded, only in 2011 have World Cup qualifiers been held in the country due to FIFA concerns over security. There was disappointment earlier this year as the world governing body, which had originally allowed Baghdad to host March’s qualifier against the UAE, switched the game to Saudi Arabia just days before kick-off after missile attacks in the north of the country.

This latest decision could mark the beginning of a new era for Iraqi football on and off the pitch. For as long as anyone, around the age of 50 remembers, Iraq’s home games have usually taken place in third countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But once the Gulf Cup, which is not a FIFA-sanctioned competition, is done and dusted, then it is hoped that Iraq will be given the green light to play competitive games in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Iraq is one of Asia’s biggest football nations and won the 2007 Asian Cup despite the chaotic situation back home. The country has only appeared at one World Cup, back in 1986, and it is likely that there would have been other appearances had the team been allowed to play qualifiers on home soil. With the 2026 World Cup expanding to include eight automatic berths from Asia, doubling the current total of four, if the Gulf Cup leads to a change in FIFA’s stance, then Iraq will have a great chance of going to North America.

First though, there is a need to perform well off the field in January.

“We are now facing a great challenge, as we are only six months away from the start of the tournament,” said Adnan Dirjal, the president of the Iraq Football Association. “This requires everyone to do a great deal of work and to double their efforts.”

“We are looking forward to the challenge however and to welcoming the Gulf Cup to our country and putting on a great event.”

Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sebastien Loeb makes strong start in Morocco

Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sebastien Loeb makes strong start in Morocco
Updated 14 sec ago

Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sebastien Loeb makes strong start in Morocco

Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sebastien Loeb makes strong start in Morocco
  • Battle begins in earnest Sunday as French driver looks to build on lead in world title race

Sebastien Loeb made a solid start to the Rallye Du Maroc as he set out to extend his lead in the World Rally-Raid Championship with BahraIn Raid Xtreme.

Loeb recorded the third-fastest time on the opening day in his BRX Prodrive Hunter, as Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah in a Toyota Hilux set the pace on the 8.67-kilometer prologue, which served as a warm-up for the main action to follow over the next five days.

Orlando Terranova, Loeb’s BRX team-mate, finished the stage in fifth place, one spot adrift of French driver Guerlain Chicherit in another Prodrive Hunter.

Loeb started the rally leading Al-Attiyah by one point in the race to become the first FIA World Rally-Raid champion, with the final round, the Andalucia Rally, to follow in Spain from Oct. 18 to 23.

The nine-time World Rally Champion and fellow Frenchman Fabian Lurquin snatched that slender advantage during the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge back in March, and they know that one small mistake or twist of misfortune could decide the title race.

The prologue was little more than a sprint for the three Prodrive Hunters and the other 80 starters in the cars and trucks category, before the rally begins in earnest on Sunday with the first of five long desert stages, a 316-km competitive section from Agadir to Tan-Tan.

The route covers more sand than in previous years, with bivouacs at Tan-Tan and Laayoune, and stages that are similar to those seen in Saudi Arabia in recent years for the Dakar Rally.

Argentine Terranova, who took his BRX Hunter to a fine fourth-place finish in the Dakar in January, said: “I am happy to be back again rallying.

“My personal target is to do a good rally and get quicker as the rally progresses. This is a big test for the Dakar, as Morocco is a tough rally, but one that I enjoy too.”

Chicherit, partnered in the third BRX Hunter by fellow Frenchman Alex Winocq, said: “Rallye du Maroc is very hard for the cars and for the crews.

“In short, one kilometer in Morocco counts double or triple in normal conditions. I will do everything I can and if we are in the game, it will give us confidence for the Dakar,” he added.

VAR controversy fails to take gloss off Newcastle victory for manager Howe

VAR controversy fails to take gloss off Newcastle victory for manager Howe
Updated 21 min 56 sec ago

VAR controversy fails to take gloss off Newcastle victory for manager Howe

VAR controversy fails to take gloss off Newcastle victory for manager Howe
  • Magpies boss believes referee was correct to send off Fulham’s Nathaniel Chalobah after 8 minutes of 4-1 win

LONDON: Newcastle United boss Eddie Howe has expressed his relief as his Magpies side recorded their first Premier League win since Aug. 6.

A double from Paraguayan forward Miguel Almiron and goals from Sean Longstaff and returning Callum Wilson ensured United headed back to Tyneside with all three points after recording a 4-1 win against 10-man Fulham in west London.

The hosts had Nathaniel Chalobah dismissed after just eight minutes for a mistimed tackle on midfielder Longstaff.

And while Howe was disappointed with the blotting of Newcastle’s copy book by Bobby Decordova-Reid late on, he found it tough to dwell on the negatives, as his side climbed to seventh in the English top-flight table with the win.

“I don’t want to focus on any negatives. It was all positive from us, a really good performance from the group,” said head coach Howe.

“We knew we needed to win. Yes, there was a sending off, which certainly helped us, but even before that, I thought there was a good feel about the team. I thought our body language, attitude to the game was spot on.

“It (the win) has been a long time coming. We have had a long wait for the second win of the season.

“Right from the start we had a good feeling, with good energy, and created chances early on. Obviously, the red card made it easier, but I am very pleased with the players’ response. Their attitude — we wanted more, we weren’t happy with what we had, always trying to score.

“It’s been a very difficult two weeks, obviously we have had the international break with players going away, but we have also had a bit of illness in the camp, so it’s been a mixed two weeks, but it didn’t show in our performance,” he added.

The Chalobah card turned the game on its head in many ways, even though Newcastle were well on top against the Cottagers.

And while opposite number Marco Silva hit out at the decision, Howe’s instinct was that it was the right call by referee Darren England, after guidance from the video assistant referee room at Stockley Park by Mike Dean.

Howe said: “It’s difficult. I haven’t seen it again. My initial feeling was it’s high and whenever there’s height and force and the player’s safety is in danger. I thought Sean was lucky to get up from that one. That’s without seeing it again, so I might stand corrected, but the referee probably had a similar view by giving the red card.”

Portuguese Silva was not of that mindset, instead pointing the finger at yet more refereeing inconsistency in the Premier League.

“(It was) a harsh tackle from Nathan at that moment,” the Cottagers boss said.

“It was clear to him it was a yellow card and of course, after the decision from Mike Dean, it changed everything completely.

“To take one decision like that and advise the referee differently is strange.

“It was a harsh tackle, but the problem is I haven’t seen consistency on this. It made the afternoon look strange for us and I’m sure in the next few weeks, we’ll see more tackles like that, and it’ll be a yellow card and VAR will decide it will be OK.

“That is tough for us to understand because there is no consistency with these decisions, and it makes people like me and the players not understand.

“It made things easier for Newcastle. Our first half was not at the level it should be.”

Egyptian WTA heroine Mayar Sherif ‘pushed to limits’ by win in Parma

Egyptian WTA heroine Mayar Sherif ‘pushed to limits’ by win in Parma
Updated 02 October 2022

Egyptian WTA heroine Mayar Sherif ‘pushed to limits’ by win in Parma

Egyptian WTA heroine Mayar Sherif ‘pushed to limits’ by win in Parma
  • The 26-year-old could not hide her disbelief as after she became her nation's firts ever WTA title winner

PARMA: Moments after she made history by becoming Egypt’s first-ever WTA title winner with a heroic effort at the Parma Ladies Open, Mayar Sherif could not hide her disbelief as she tried to articulate how she felt about her latest achievement.

The 26-year-old from Cairo had to contest both the semi-finals and final on the same day after rain had washed out play on Friday.

Sherif ended up battling through four hours and 26 minutes on court on Saturday to overcome Romanian Ana Bogdan in the semis and Greek world No.7 Maria Sakkari in the final as she went on to secure a maiden WTA-level trophy.

ParmaLadiesOpen (Daniele Combi)

The victory was Sherif’s first against a top-50 opponent – she was 0-10 against top-50 players coming into the final – and it required an incredible amount of grit, as the Egyptian fought back from a break down on three occasions in the first set, and once in the second, en route to a 7-5, 6-3 success over former world No.3 Sakkari.

“I’m so tired, I can’t, I really can’t,” Sherif told Arab News with a chuckle after pulling off that historic triumph.

“I lost a (WTA) 250 final last year, so I stepped on court this time thinking, ‘I don’t want to lose again’; I really don’t like to lose finals. So I had this mentality of, ‘I really want to win this, I’ll do what I can and stretch my limits, I have nothing to lose’; and I was loose.

“I knew I was tired and that I had to go for it. Thank God really, it happened and we really cannot believe it.”

While Sherif had lost her sole previous WTA final in Cluj-Napoca last season, the Cairene is a big match player and has won all four finals she has reached at the $100k or 125-series level, which are just under the main tour level.

“I really hate losing finals and last year I lost two finals back-to-back, and I told Justo (my coach), ‘My next final, no matter what, I’m going to win this final’,” she confessed.

“Because that says a lot about what kind of a champion you are, and it says a lot about your character. So I hate losing finals, I have to go for it. Today I was so tired and I really cannot believe I pulled it off.”

Sherif’s brutal three-set win over Bogdan earlier in the day gave her the confidence to step things up against Sakkari, who had conceded just three games to the Egyptian in their previous clash in Doha last year.

“The last time I played Sakkari, she beat me soundly in two sets, so I stepped on court today, thinking I’m going after her. I knew she was struggling and I know she doesn’t play well in finals, so I went after her,” said Sherif.

Sherif, who will return to the top 50 and move up from 74 to No.48 in the world rankings on Monday, had been struggling since coming back from a foot injury she had picked up at Roland Garros in May and sidelined her for more than two months.

The Pepperdine graduate lost six of her nine matches upon her return to the tour in August and had zero expectations arriving in Parma last week.

“I’ve had a cold since the start of the tournament and my nose has been blocked since the first match,” Sherif revealed.

“I really came to Parma thinking I just want to pass the first round, I just wanted to win one match. But somehow things kept happening one match at a time. It was beyond any expectations, I came here from rock bottom. I had been losing and losing, I was searching for my match rhythm and this came out of nowhere.”

Sherif is no stranger to making history as she continues to write new chapters for Egyptian women’s tennis in the record books. She is the first WTA player from her country to crack the top 50, the first to win a match at a Grand Slam, and now the first to win a title on tour.

“I’m so happy that I broke many barriers today; I got my first top-10 win, I won a WTA 250 title, all this for me is huge,” she said.

“I struggled mentally, lately, so much, so much. My foot didn’t feel the same, physically I couldn’t get back in shape the way I was. I was trying in practice to really push myself every day. After all this effort, even though I wasn’t playing well or I was losing, it finally paid off.

“This gives me unreal motivation to keep going, to work on myself and improve my level. I still have huge margins, I’m not playing my best at all. So this gives me the motivation to improve and to physically get back to where I was, I’m really happy.”

Sherif’s ascent over the last couple of seasons has coincided with the meteoric rise of Tunisian world No.2 Ons Jabeur, whose string of unprecedented feats by an Arab tennis player have defied all odds.

Jabeur, who is the highest ranked African woman and highest ranked Arab-born player in history, has made it to back-to-back Grand Slam finals this season, at Wimbledon and the US Open, and has become a force to be reckoned with on tour.

“I’m not shocked at all by what Ons is doing,” said Sherif of Jabeur.

“She is a great champion and she broke so many barriers and I have no doubt she is mentally stronger than so many players inside the top 10 and the top 50.

“Here in Africa, we have this talent, which I feel not many other people possess. Being at this high level, Ons is ahead of so many people mentally, God bless her.

“I’m not surprised at all by what she’s doing. What she does really pushes me forward. I see her playing a Grand Slam final and I think, ‘It’s time for me to push myself even harder’.

“I win a 250 tournament and I’m already thinking of what’s coming next. She gives me this inner push; I have the motivation to follow her.”

Sherif will head to Cairo on Sunday for a three-week training block before getting back on court for the closing stages of the 2022 season.

Semifinal wta 250 Parma (Daniele Combi)


Algeria want to replace Guinea as 2025 Cup of Nations hosts

Algeria want to replace Guinea as 2025 Cup of Nations hosts
Updated 01 October 2022

Algeria want to replace Guinea as 2025 Cup of Nations hosts

Algeria want to replace Guinea as 2025 Cup of Nations hosts
  • Algeria football boss Zefizef Djahid said his country “will be candidates to host the 2025 AFCON”
  • Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe said Guinea would not host the 2025 edition because they were "not ready to do so"

JOHANNESBURG: Algeria football boss Zefizef Djahid said on Saturday his country will bid to stage the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) after original choice Guinea were stripped of the hosting rights.
Speaking during the African Nations Championship (CHAN) draw ceremony at an Algiers opera house, he announced that “Algeria will be candidates to host the 2025 AFCON.”
On Saturday, Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Patrice Motsepe said Guinea would not host the 2025 edition because they were “not ready to do so.”
The west African country, one of the poorest in the continent, has currently only one international-standard stadium, and Cup of Nations require six.
Launched in 1957 in Sudan as a three-country event, the Cup of Nations has gradually increased to 24 teams from the 2019 finals in Egypt.
Talking at a press conference in the Algerian capital ahead of the CHAN draw, South African billionaire Motsepe said “about 10 countries” are interested in replacing Guinea.
“What I can assure you is that we are not going to choose a country that is not at an adequate level to meet our quality standards.”
Motsepe did not name the potential bidders, but AFP understands former hosts Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal could be among the interested countries.
“I can assure you that there is no country in Africa that is going to be favored,” stressed Motsepe, seemingly referring to criticism that is he pro-Morocco.
The CAF boss recently told AFP that “the only reason Morocco has been hosting CAF competitions is because they are the only country prepared to do so.
“Our bidding process is open to all 54 member nations and sometimes we stretch the deadline to encourage multiple candidates, but only Morocco deliver a formal bid.”
Morocco boasts world-class facilities and infrastructure and recently staged a hugely successful Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, with 40,000-plus crowds attending some matches.
Later this year the kingdom will host the eight-club CAF Women’s Champions League and, next year, the men’s qualifying tournament for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
A Moroccan official reportedly said his country “would consider” a bid to stage the premier African football tournament for the first time since 1988.
Outgoing Nigerian football boss Amaju Pinnick recently suggested his nation and neighbors Benin should make a joint bid.
Nigeria staged and won the Cup of Nations in 1980 and finished runners-up when they co-hosted the 2000 edition with Ghana.
Algeria were another country to host and win the Cup of Nations, defeating Nigeria in the 1990 final. Senegal were the 1992 hosts.
Cameroon hosted the last Cup of Nations this year and the Ivory Coast are next in line with the finals set for January and February 2024.

Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event

Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event
Updated 01 October 2022

Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event

Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event
  • Besides earning her first career title, Sherif also notched her first win over a top-10 opponent

PARMA, Italy: Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian to win a WTA Tour event by beating top-seeded Maria Sakkari 7-5, 6-3 at the Parma Ladies Open on Saturday.
Besides earning her first career title, Sherif also notched her first win over a top-10 opponent.
Along with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals this year, Sherif is raising the profile of tennis in North Africa.
The 74th-ranked Sherif actually had to win two matches on Saturday, first overcoming sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals, which were postponed a day due to rain.
The seventh-ranked Sakkari beat Danka Kovinic 7-5, 6-2 in her semifinal earlier Saturday.