Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20
Short Url
Updated 08 August 2022

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20
  • Young Green Falcons beat Egypt 5-3 on penalties after two hours of play ends in 1-1 draw

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia defeated Egypt 5-3 on penalties to win the 2022 Arab Cup U-20 after two hours of football ended 1-1, retaining the title they won in Cairo last year, becoming the record holders of the competition with two wins.

Below are five things we learned about the triumph and the tournament.

1. The future is good for Saudi Arabian football

Another tournament win bodes very well for the future. The young Green Falcons won the 2021 Arab Cup U-20, and June’s Asia U-23 Championships. While there is always more focus on the senior side and the upcoming World Cup, the country must be doing something right when it comes to youth development. Having success in major tournaments is not only impressive in its own right, but breeds a winning mentality in the players.

These are unprecedented times. As well as the tournament wins, Al-Hilal are champions of Asia, the Saudi Professional League is thriving and the national team were the best performers in qualification for the World Cup. There is still a lot of hard work to be done in Arab and Asian football, but Saudi Arabia are looking good.

2. Egypt’s penalty curse continues

This year has, so far, been a case of what might have been for Egypt. In the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, the Pharaohs’ senior side lost on penalties to Senegal, and the following month missed out on the World Cup against the same opposition, and by the same method.

Now the youngsters have lost a crucial shootout themsleves. It is always a heartbreaking way to lose a game of football, especially with the trophy within reach. It is to be hoped that this does not become a mental burden for Egypt. Losing three big shootouts in a row is tough to take, and the pressure will now be on for their next one; other big countries, such as the Netherlands and England, have struggled with the mental burden of spot kicks at great cost over the years.

3. Two stars emerge

Abdullah Radif and Salah Basha were not exactly unknown a few weeks ago, but they ended the tournament with their reputations enhanced. Radif belongs to Saudi Arabia and Asian champions Al-Hilal, though the 19-year-old has yet to properly break through for his club.

But with Al-Hilal unable to sign players this summer, the fact that he finished as top scorer with six goals should at least make coach Ramon Diaz consider his potential. There is no harm in giving the teenager more opportunities after showing so much composure here.

Basha, who scored his third goal in the final, is on the books of Italian side Udinese but has yet to make a first-team appearance. Tournament experience may make a difference, but if not, his stature has still grown, and there will be options if he wants to move for more playing time. Whatever happens, he will look back on this tournament fondly, and as the springboard of a fruitful career.

4. Another coaching success

Not long after Saad Al-Shehri led the U-23 team to the Asian title, Saleh Al-Mohammadi delivered a second successive Arab U-20 championship. Nobody could say that the team did not deserve it, scoring more goals and conceding fewer than any other. They beat a talented Iraq team 4-1 in the group stage, fought hard to get past Yemen on penalties in the quarters and then thrashed Palestine 5-0 in the semifinal.

With Saudi Arabian coaches a rare sight in the SPL as clubs look overseas for tacticians, the next time a manager is fired (and it will not take long once the new season starts), club bosses could do a lot worse than look at the domestic talent on offer. Both these coaches have delivered success on the international stage and, at some point, should be given a chance to show what they can do at home.

5. Tournament success will help 2027 bid

The city of Abha has not been regarded as one of Asian football’s main destinations, with Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam grabbing most of the attention. That may have changed a little over the last few weeks, and hosting an 18-team competition is not something to be taken lightly. After all, there are only six more teams at the European Championships.

Everything went smoothly off the pitch and, with COVID-19 still an issue, that is something to celebrate. Every tournament benefits when the host nation reaches the final, as that momentum provides excitement. Tickets for the final sold out quickly.

It will not go unnoticed at the Asian Football Confederation that Abha stepped up. Saudi Arabia has bid for the 2027 Asian Cup and the 2022 Arab Cup U-20, and this will have done the Kingdom’s chances of getting the nod no harm at all.


Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on
Updated 17 sec ago

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on

Djokovic makes stylish return at Laver Cup as Federer watches on
LONDON: Novak Djokovic made an impressive return after two months out of action as the Team Europe star thrashed Team World’s Frances Tiafoe 6-1, 6-3 with Roger Federer cheering him on at the Laver Cup on Saturday.
Djokovic showed no signs of rust as he played for the first time since winning the seventh Wimbledon crown of his remarkable career in July.
The 35-year-old’s dominant victory over Tiafoe put Team Europe 6-4 up at London’s O2 Arena, with Djokovic set to return to court with Berrettini for a doubles match against Sock and Alex de Minaur on Saturday evening.
Djokovic, a 21-time Grand Slam champion, missed the US Open in September due to his unvaccinated status, leaving him to take an enforced break from competitive action.
He was quickly back in the old routine against US Open semifinalist Tiafoe as he broke in the fourth game and again in the sixth to take the opening set in just 23 minutes.
Djokovic went for the kill as he landed yet another break in the first game of the second set and cruised to the finish line with Federer waiting to congratulate him at courtside.
Federer said a tearful goodbye to tennis late on Friday night when the 20-time Grand Slam champion and doubles partner Rafael Nadal were beaten by Tiafoe and Jack Sock.
The 41-year-old announced earlier this month that he would retire after the Laver Cup due to the knee problems that had kept him on the sidelines since Wimbledon in 2021.
Federer’s fitness issues meant he could only play one doubles match, so Matteo Berrettini was called into the Team Europe squad to replace the Swiss legend after the last game of his incredible career.
With Federer watching on, Berrettini proved a capable deputy as he defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (13/11), 4-6, 10/7 in Saturday’s first game.
The 26-year-old Italian, who finished as the 2021 Wimbledon runner-up, had to dig deep to hold off a spirited challenge from Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old Canadian rising star.
On the first day of his life after tennis, Federer could have been forgiven for following Nadal’s example and heading off for a well-earned rest.
But Federer showed his passion for tennis is unlikely to fade anytime soon as he sat courtside to support Berrettini with the rest of the Team Europe squad despite the post-midnight finish to his emotional finale.
Federer, who was involved in setting up the Ryder Cup-style Laver tournament, had said “we can all party together” as the 17,500-crowd raised the roof with their acclaim for one of the sport’s all-time greats after his final match.
There was an inevitable hangover at the O2 Arena as the atmosphere during Berrettini’s clash with Auger-Aliassime struggled to live up to the great man’s swansong.
But Federer looked relaxed as he mimicked Berrettini’s clenched-fist celebration as the Italian took the first set after Auger-Aliassime saved five set points in the tie-break.
Auger-Aliassime was unfazed by losing that 75-minute opening set and levelled the match in the second set before Berrettini finally closed out the victory in the first to 10 points ‘Laver Breaker’.
In the day’s second singles match, Team World’s Taylor Fritz beat British world number eight Cameron Norrie 6-1, 4-6, 10/8.
Norrie was only playing because Nadal had opted to pull out of the rest of the tournament after the Federer doubles match for what organizers said were “personal reasons.”
The Spanish world number three has been struggling with an abdominal injury while his wife is heavily pregnant.

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics
Updated 24 September 2022

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics

Egypt considers bid to host 2036 Olympics
  • If successful with its bid, Egypt would become the first African or Arab nation to host the Olympics

CAIRO: Egypt is planning to apply to host the 2036 Olympic Games, sports minister Ashraf Sobhi said on Saturday during a reception for IOC president Thomas Bach in Cairo.
“President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has given his permission for Egypt to put itself forward as host for the 2036 Olympics,” Sobhi said.
If successful with its bid, Egypt would become the first African or Arab nation to host the Olympics.
“Egypt has solid sporting infrastructures and if it can host the Olympic Games, it will be historic,” Bach said during a joint press conference with Sobhi.
An Egyptian official announced earlier in the month that Egypt, Greece and Saudi Arabia were in talks to jointly host the 2030 World Cup.
Egypt staged the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, as well as last year’s handball world championship during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde
Updated 24 September 2022

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde

Barca confirm injuries for defensive duo Araujo and Kounde
  • Araujo was taken off inside the first minute of Uruguay's 1-0 loss to Iran
  • Kounde lasted just 23 minutes of France's 2-0 Nations League win over Austria

BARCELONA: Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo suffered a thigh-muscle tear while on international duty, his club said Saturday, while confirming Jules Kounde also had a thigh issue.
Araujo was taken off inside the first minute of Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran in a friendly on Friday night. Kounde lasted just 23 minutes of France’s 2-0 Nations League win over Austria on Thursday.
The central defenders will miss their countries’ next match and are likely to be unavailable for Barcelona’s first games when club football resumes.
With the Clasico approaching on October 16, Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez may need to construct a new defense for upcoming fixtures, including a reprieve for Gerard Pique, who has been largely frozen out.
Since he was registered to play for the Catalan side, following his summer switch from Sevilla, Kounde has become a key part of Barcelona’s rear guard, often used at right-back. Spanish reports suggest he will be out for at least three weeks, although the club did not specify a recovery time.
The international break has been problematic for Barca. Memphis Depay suffered a hamstring injury with the Netherlands in their 2-0 win over Poland on Thursday. Frenkie de Jong was substituted for precaution in the same match.


Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark
Updated 24 September 2022

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark

Tchouaméni looking to impress again as France plays Denmark
  • Tchouaméni was excellent as France, missing nine regulars, beat Austria 2-0 in the Nations League on Thursday night
  • The young midfielder gets another chance to push his claim for a permanent starting place when Les Bleus travel to play Denmark

PARIS: Amid mounting injuries and off-field problems, at least France coach Didier Deschamps has one less thing to worry about heading into the World Cup.
Aurélien Tchouaméni looks a very good option to start in midfield.
Tchouaméni is 22 with only 13 caps but is already playing with the maturity of a seasoned international and, with Paul Pogba’s place in Qatar looking in doubt, his form is most welcome for Deschamps.
Tchouaméni was excellent as France, missing nine regulars including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, striker Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Pogba, beat Austria 2-0 in the Nations League on Thursday night.
The young midfielder gets another chance to push his claim for a permanent starting place when Les Bleus travel to play Denmark in Copenhagen on Sunday for the last group game in the Nations League — the last match for both sides before the World Cup.
It should be a competitive game, too, with the Danes still in contention for first place in Group 1 and a place in next year’s Final Four.
Defending champion France already lost their title in June and are fighting with Austria to avoid relegation to the second tier. Last-place Austria, one point behind France, host Croatia, which hold top spot but are only one point ahead of Denmark.
His own form and other circumstances have accelerated Tchouaméni’s international career.
Pogba is recovering from a knee injury and is weighed down by an extortion probe involving his elder brother Mathias.
Tchouaméni is the latest in a long production line of talent to emerge from the French league, following in the footsteps of Benzema, Kylian Mbappé, Anthony Martial and many others.
Like Mbappé and Martial, he came through at Monaco — which boasts one of the finest scouting networks in Europe.
Real Madrid paid 100 million euros ($97 million) to sign Tchouaméni in the offseason and then sold Casemiro to Manchester United.
That Madrid fans are hardly missing Casemiro speaks volumes for how easily Tchouaméni has settled into a side leading the league with six straight wins.
So what makes Tchouaméni so good?
He is the complete midfield package. But perhaps his greatest attribute is composure.
He showed that on his first start for France in a World Cup qualifier away to Ukraine one year ago, when it looked like he’d been playing at international level for years.
In a similar way to Pogba, he is a tall, lean and athletic player who always plays with his head up. He has an assured first touch wherever he receives the ball, and sprays passes short or long with equal effect.
He showed that against Austria by pinging a 50-meter pass to Mbappé that landed not only at the forward’s feet, but into his path as he was running onto it. That was just minutes into the game, when lesser players would have been settling down.
Rarely wasteful, Tchouaméni has the same knack as Kanté for knowing when to release the ball quickly and offload it to a better-placed teammate.
It may look obvious, but it ensures that — like Kanté — Tchouaméni’s rarely caught in possession and his calmness enables him to shake off players closing him down around the penalty area.
Even under pressure from an Austria striker on the edge of his own box, Tchouaméni dropped his shoulders, turned and completed a clean pass as casually as if it was a pre-season training session.
He drops deep to collect, is quick and covers ground well with his rangy running style.
Tchouaméni’s good at making late runs into the opposing area and he’s not afraid to shoot, either, having one 20-meter effort saved and then hitting the crossbar against Austria with a spectacular overhead kick that displayed technique befitting an attacking player.
Another bright spot for Deschamps was the form of Benoît Badiashile in a three-man defense and his Monaco teammate Youssouf Fofana in central midfield.
The left-footed Badiashile impressed with his passing out from the back while, Fofana won the ball effectively.
Olivier Giroud also staked a strong claim to be in the World Cup squad with a goal and assist against Austria. He’s on 49 international goals, just two behind Thierry Henry’s national record.
Giroud and Tchouaméni could have a big part to play in Qatar.


Southgate running out of time to arrest England slide

Southgate running out of time to arrest England slide
Updated 24 September 2022

Southgate running out of time to arrest England slide

Southgate running out of time to arrest England slide
  • Southgate has just 59 days to stop the rot before England's World Cup starts in Qatar
  • Germany's visit to Wembley for a Nations League dead rubber on Monday is England's only match before the World Cup

LONDON: Gareth Southgate claimed England have taken a “step in the right direction,” but relegation from the top tier of the Nations League suggests the Three Lions’ are sliding.
Southgate has just 59 days to stop the rot before England’s World Cup starts in Qatar, but there was little evidence of the tide turning in a 1-0 defeat to an experimental Italy at the San Siro on Friday.
Germany’s visit to Wembley for a Nations League dead rubber on Monday is England’s only match before the World Cup.
Rather than use a final chance for experimentation, Southgate doubled down on his principles in Milan. He suggested he will do likewise in Qatar.
“I compromised certain decisions internally, and you don’t win if you compromise,” said Southgate of England’s run of four games in June that produced just two points and one goal.
The back three that got England to the World Cup semifinals in 2018 and the Euro 2020 final just 14 months ago was restored, with Harry Maguire at the heart of it despite his lack of game time for Manchester United.
Although Southgate said the performance was much improved from the summer, the same problems persisted.
England were toothless in attack, taking their run without scoring from open play to 495 minutes, and prone to lapses in concentration at the back.
Once again the array of creative talent at Southgate’s disposal either failed to deliver on the international stage, or were left out entirely.
Without a win in five competitive games for the first time since 1992, England join San Marino as the only other side yet to have scored from open play in this edition of the Nations League.
As a result, next time round they will face the likes of Albania, Montenegro, Kazakhstan and Georgia rather than Germany, Spain and Italy.
But it is the danger of wasting the chance to win a World Cup with a richly talented squad in their prime years that is of most pressing concern to England fans.
Southgate worked wonders in building a structure for success after the embarrassment of a Euro 2016 exit to Iceland.
He led his country to a first World Cup semifinal for 28 years and then a first major final for 55 years.
Yet, the increasing evidence is that the peak of his time in charge may have come and England are hitting the downslope straight into a World Cup like no other.
“No cohesion, no shape, no belief. But no surprise what happened here in Milan,” wrote The Times’ Henry Winter. “England have a crop of good players being wasted by Southgate.”
That is a feeling shared among a fanbase that booed their manager at full-time.
In his defense, Southgate pleaded a much tougher run-in to a major tournament than any of his predecessors have faced.
Just eight days will separate the final round of Premier League fixtures from England’s opening game of the World Cup against Iran.
A soft looking group on paper, also featuring Wales and the United States, may give Southgate’s men the time they need to find their feet.
But failure to deliver even a consolation win at Wembley against Germany will likely see the Three Lions sent off to the World Cup with more abuse ringing in their ears than a show of support.