Ricardo Soares pays heavy price for lack of immediate success at Al-Ahly

Ricardo Soares pays heavy price for lack of immediate success at Al-Ahly
Ricardo Soares was appointed in June and knew as the season came to an end, that his job was under threat. (www.alahlyegypt.com)
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Updated 02 September 2022

Ricardo Soares pays heavy price for lack of immediate success at Al-Ahly

Ricardo Soares pays heavy price for lack of immediate success at Al-Ahly
  • Portuguese coach’s 2-month tenure, with 7 wins from 14 matches, failed to stop bitter rival Zamalek taking Egyptian league title

Football is cruel at times. On Monday, just prior to the final game of the Egyptian Premier League season, Ricardo Soares was asked whether it would be his last as head coach of Al-Ahly.

“Why would it be? It’s the last game of this season,” he said. “But now we prepare for the next.”

On Wednesday the Portuguese tactician was fired. He had been in the job for just two months.

“The club would like to thank Soares and his assistants for their service and we wish them all the best in the future,” Al-Ahly said in a statement. And that was that.

Soares was appointed in June and knew as the season came to an end, that his job was under threat. “I am proud of the time I spent with Al-Ahly so far, I accepted playing youth-team players and I know that the club doesn’t tolerate disappointing results.”

It is certainly true that the most successful club in Egypt and Africa has a low threshold for what it considers to be disappointing results. Pitso Mosimane knows all about that. He was appointed in September 2020 and delivered two African Champions League titles, to take the club’s tally to 10. He also made the final in May though the Red Giants lost to Morocco’s Wydad AC. Even with such success, the South African had to deal with plenty of criticism from former players.

Such continental commitments made it hard for Al-Ahly to challenge at home. In 2021, they finished four points behind bitter rivals Zamalek and by the time Mosimane left in May, Al-Ahly were in third with Zamalek again leading and Pyramids in second. Bringing in Soares was a last-ditch attempt to get back into the top two.

Under Soares, the 10-time African champions won just seven of their 14 league games, not terrible but not good enough for a team such as Al-Ahly as they finished third, seven points behind Zamalek. It was the first time in 30 years that the team had not ended the season in the top two.

That Al-Ahly had been busy in Africa and the FIFA Club World Cup earlier that year, and could have been feeling the effects of a long season, had not spared Mosimane from criticism and was certainly not something that would help Soares.

There were plenty of excuses: Injuries to players such as Mohamed Sherif, Amr Solaya, Akram Tewfik and Hussein Al-Shehat. Others were obviously tired and Soares used a number of young players as the games came thick and fast which didn’t help results. It was not only club commitments but Al-Ahly supply several players to the national team that made the final of the African Cup of Nations in January and February, and World Cup qualification in March.

An early loss to title rivals Pyramids was a major setback and Soares never really recovered. It was a difficult situation for a man who had never worked outside Portugal before. In early August, there were signs of frustration after a 0-0 draw with Pharco.

“I wanted to rest Ali Maaloul and Hossam Hassan but I had to start them, Mahmoud Wahid didn’t feel fit to start and Hossam is our only fit striker,” Soares said. “Losing points affects the players’ confidence, and injuries are never good for us. I am here to defend the players, we play in difficult circumstances.”

As well as fatigue and injuries, there were complaints about decisions from officials. “(S)tandards must be set for refereeing controversies,” the 47-year-old added. “Last game, the Contractors player was inside the box before the penalty kick was taken and the referee didn’t intervene. Today the referee ruled out our goal after a long VAR check, while last game it only took VAR 20 seconds to decide that our goal was offside.”

The pressure continued. After a victory over ENPPI on Aug. 24, Soares refused to answer questions in the press conference. “I apologize for not wanting to answer any questions at the moment,” Soares said. “We played a game every three days and almost every senior player is not here because of many injuries. I don’t want to make excuses, but in normal circumstances, Al-Ahly can win everything next season.”

But they were seen as excuses.

“I believe (the) Al-Ahly board explained the situation to Soares before he came to Egypt, that’s why he’s responsible for the results,” club legend Ahmed Belal said in early August. “Both the coach and the players are responsible for the recent setbacks, excuses are not accepted.”

By that time, there were already rumors of who would replace Soares once the season ended. Carlos Queiroz had left the Egyptian national team just months before and was available. He knew some of the players and had, unlike Soares, vast international experience. Vahid Halilhodzic had been fired by Morocco in August and was also linked.

Such hard-bitten coaches may be necessary. Coaching Al-Ahly means challenging for league and African titles but as well as the chance for glory, it also comes with a lot of pressure, stress and criticism. Ricardo Soares knows that after just two months in the job, and soon it will be somebody else in one of the hottest seats in world football.

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Updated 8 sec ago

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense
BARCELONA, Spain: When Xavi Hernández oversaw the remodeling of Barcelona’s squad this summer, the coach made sure he was so well covered at right-back that his club could afford to loan out US defender Sergiño Dest to AC Milan.
But after a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca.
Jules Koundé, Ronald Araújo and Héctor Bellerín, who have played at right back this season, are all out for an undetermined period of time. Koundé and Araújo, who can play at center back as well, were hurt while playing for France and Uruguay, respectively, in games to prepare for the World Cup in November. Bellerín hurt his left leg while training for Barcelona.
That leaves Barcelona waiting to see if veteran Sergi Roberto can recover from a muscle problem that has sidelined him for three weeks in time for the trip to the Balearic Islands.
If not, Xavi may be forced to shoehorn a player with little or no experience at right back into the position, draft a player from Barcelona’s youth team, or opt to play with three centerbacks and two wing backs.
Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay after they were both hurt while playing for the Netherlands. Neither has been a first-choice player for Xavi this season.
Of the injuries, Araújo’s appears to be the most serious. The 23-year-old defender underwent surgery this week in Finland to repair an abductor muscle in his right thigh that he damaged in Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran on Friday.
Over the next three weeks, Barcelona face two Champions League group games against Inter Milan and a clásico against Real Madrid on Oct. 16.
The only good news for Xavi is that Robert Lewandowski returned in perfect shape from his stint with Poland. The striker leads the Spanish league with eight goals in six games.
Mallorca, coached by Mexican Javier Aguirre, has lost 12 of the last 13 visits by Barcelona to their stadium. Their only win during that stretch came in 2009 with Barcelona already crowned the league champion.
Karim Benzema is back for Real Madrid after recovering from a tendon injury and a strained muscle in his right thigh that had kept him off the field for over three weeks.
Benzema led Madrid to the Champions League and Spanish league double last season after scoring 44 goals in all competitions.
But his team have not missed him much and have kept up their perfect record this season of nine wins in as many games in all competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side leads the league by two points ahead of Barcelona before they host fifth-placed Osasuna on Sunday.
“I’m feeling very good, comfortable. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday,” Benzema said. “We’ve got a great team, although it could be said that we’ve got two teams. There’s no difference between those who start the game and those who come on.”
Meanwhile a struggling Sevilla faces a tough test when they visit Atlético Madrid on Saturday. Pressure is growing on coach Julen Lopetegui and the club’s leadership, which sold off talented players this summer, after the team have won just once in eight games overall.
Third-place Real Betis play at Celta Vigo on Sunday, while fourth-place Athletic Bilbao host Almería on Friday.

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect
Updated 8 min 46 sec ago

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect

A tale of two creases as latest revisions to Laws of Cricket come into effect
  • Although it ceased being the game’s governing body in 1993, the Marylebone Cricket Club continues to be responsible for debating and drafting Laws

On Oct. 1, 2022, nine revisions to the Laws of Cricket will become effective. These constitute the third edition of the 2017 re-coding, the seventh set since the Laws were first drafted in 1744.

Although it ceased being the game’s governing body in 1993, the Laws’ copyright remains with the Marylebone Cricket Club, based at Lord’s in London.

The MCC’s Laws sub-committee is responsible for debating and drafting, in close consultation with the Cricket Committee of the International Cricket Council, the game’s governing body. It may appear curious that the game’s governing body is neither the owner nor the drafter of its rules, but recognisable benefits of the MCC’s continuing responsibility is its neutrality. The Laws of Cricket apply to all levels of the game, from Test matches down to village greens and city parks. 

As such, they should be applied evenly. In my experience, at club level, the changes that have been made since 2000 have not been. 

This may reflect an ignorance of the changes by those who stand as umpires; at the top levels of club cricket, umpires are qualified and au fait with the most recent Laws. At lower levels, though, players take turns to umpire, making judgements about the fate of their own teammates. This is a situation which can, and does, cause friction and bias, especially if the individual concerned is not aware of the latest amendments.

Seven of nine of the 2022 revisions are straightforward, but two contain potential pitfalls. Law 41.16, classed under Unfair Play, has always carried the potential to be controversial. It addresses the issue of the non-striker leaving his or her ground early, determined as the time between when the bowler starts to run up and the instant when the ball would normally be expected to be delivered — a grey definition. If the bowler sees that the non-striker is out of ground, then he or she has the option to break the wicket and for the non-striker to be given out on appeal. There have been only 53 recorded instances in first class and professional cricket.

It has been customary for the bowler to warn the non-striker rather than break the wicket, but there has been a small rise in cases of bowlers not observing this tradition. In an attempt to normalize this means of dismissal, clause 41.16 has been moved to Law 38: Run Out. It is unlikely to dampen the controversy which it generates. On Sept. 24, only days before the re-classification became effective, a women’s One Day International between England and India was finely poised, England needing 17 runs to win with one wicket remaining. The match ended when an Indian bowler, in her delivery stride, turned to break the wicket, with the non-striker out of her crease. It is ironic that the match was played at Lords, where the change was incubated, opening the issue up again.

The second amendment, which may be the cause of future controversy, relates to the definition of a wide delivery. Law 22.1.2 states that “the ball will be considered as passing wide of the striker unless it is sufficiently within reach for him/her to be able to hit it with the bat by means of a normal cricket stroke.” At club level, there can be a tendency for subjectivity to be applied to the assessment of what constitutes a wide. In some competitions and in all professional one-day and T20 cricket, any ball bowled down the leg-side is deemed a wide. However, particularly in T20, there has been increasing tendency for batters to move laterally across the crease before the bowler delivers the ball. The MCC felt it unfair that a delivery might be called wide if it passes where the batter had stood as the bowler entered his/her delivery stride.

In order to address this possibility, Law 22.1.1. now states that “If the bowler bowls a ball … the umpire shall adjudge it a Wide if, according to the definition in 22.1.2, the ball passes wide of where the striker is standing or has stood at any point after the ball came into play for that delivery, and which also would have passed wide of the striker standing in a normal batting position.” 

This is rather a lot to take in for any umpire, and certainly for ad-hoc ones in club cricket, even if they read and understand it. There is scope for misunderstanding.

It is also a taxing matter for the bowler. One example is when the striker steps away outside of the leg stump and then steps back in when the ball is bowled. Observing this activity, the bowler may have adjusted the line of delivery towards where the striker had temporarily moved, only to see the ball pass down the leg side, from where the striker had moved at the last second. If the umpire deems that delivery a wide, the bowler will have every right to feel aggrieved. It is difficult enough for many club cricketers to deliver the ball accurately and consistently to where they intend, let alone adjust that line in an instant.

Lateral movement across the crease has not yet infiltrated too much at lower levels. It is not known if cricket’s lawmakers have considered an alternative solution, that of disallowing excessive lateral movement across the crease and insisting that the striker stands still awaiting delivery of the ball. This may need consideration if the amendment causes too much controversy. It is too early to know how these two revisions will affect the playing and umpiring of the game or their potential to generate ill-feeling. 

It ought not to be difficult for a non-striker to stay within ground, in the knowledge that failure to do so can lead to being legitimately run out. Equally, it should not be difficult to legislate that a striker stands still until the ball is being delivered.

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming
Updated 57 min 53 sec ago

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming
  • Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back
  • Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team

BERLIN: The international break provided little respite for Bayern Munich’s struggling stars ahead of the team’s high-stakes Bundesliga game against Bayer Leverkusen on Friday.
Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back to training on Wednesday after what proved to be a frustrating two games with the national team.
The rain they encountered in Munich matched the mood.
Bayern, after four games without a win in the Bundesliga, had been hoping that Germany’s Nations League games against Hungary and England would help reinvigorate their players and restore confidence ahead of a busy schedule of domestic and Champions League games.
Instead, Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team, which lost 1-0 at home to Hungary, then drew 3-3 with England after throwing away a two-goal lead.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer and midfielder Leon Goretzka missed the Germany games due to coronavirus infections, but both were back on the training field for Nagelsmann on Tuesday.
Nagelsmann had said he was going to use the break to think “about everything” after Bayern ended their run of three draws with a loss in Augsburg, the team’s first defeat of the season.
Only a convincing performance on Friday will ease the pressure on the coach, who seemed to be at a loss to explain his team’s slump. Bayern next face a visit to Borussia Dortmund for “der Klassiker” the following weekend.
Leverkusen also need to make amends after their disappointing start. Gerardo Seoane’s team are in crisis after just one win from seven league games so far.
“Both teams are in a similar situation – each at their own level. Both are dissatisfied with the results, but both also show many positive signs,” Seoane said.
“Bayern Munich had an incredible number of scoring chances in every game. We don’t need to talk about quality.”

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up
Updated 29 September 2022

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up

Sebastien Loeb ready for battle in Morocco as Rally-Raid title race heats up
  • BRX’s French driver holds one-point lead over Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar

AGADIR: Sebastien Loeb is set for another tense battle with Nasser Al-Attiyah as he looks to build on his lead in the World Rally-Raid Championship when the Rallye du Maroc gets underway on Saturday.

Loeb, driving one of three Prodrive Hunters entered by Bahrain Raid Xtreme, holds a slender one-point advantage over Al-Attiyah as the inaugural W2RC series resumes in Agadir after a seven-month break.

Partnered by Fabian Lurquin, nine-time World Rally champion Loeb and the rest of the BRX team recently covered 2,500 km of testing in Morocco, in temperatures close to 50 C, a demanding preparation not only for the Rallye du Maroc, but also the 2023 Dakar Rally.

“We had a good feeling with the car and it was reliable, too, so everything is working well,” said Loeb.

“At the moment we are leading, but we know Nasser will be fast in Morocco and the gap is very small. So we have to fight hard to get some more good points for the title.”

Loeb finished runner-up to Al-Attiyah in this year’s Dakar before grabbing the championship lead from the Qatari in Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in March.

Argentina’s Orly Terranova and Spanish co-driver Alex Haro, who finished fourth in the Dakar, are also back in action with BRX in Morocco, while Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit will be partnered by Alex Winocq in a third Prodrive Hunter.

After being diagnosed with cancer in March and battling through treatment, BRX’s Nani Roma rejoined the team months ahead of schedule for testing in Morocco, having already been instrumental in the development of the Hunter.

The two-time Dakar winner has been equally involved in the development of the world’s first all-terrain hypercar, based on the Hunter rally car, which is being built in limited numbers to the individual specifications of select supercar enthusiasts.

Roma will be demonstrating and testing the Hunter hypercar for prospective buyers in Dubai in November. He will continue to work with BRX throughout the team’s rally program, which continues with the Andalucia Rally, the final round of the W2RC, from Oct. 18-21.

However, it is too late in the schedule for Roma to compete with the team in Morocco and Spain next month, and Dakar in January 2023.

From Agadir, Rallye du Maroc heads out for six stages covering 1,575 km and featuring more sand than seen in previous years. The BRX cars will again be using sustainable Eco-Power fuel, which reduces CO2 emissions by 80 percent.

Gus Beteli, the BRX team principal, said: “Following a very positive test in Morocco, we’re very much looking forward to being back rallying against the competition, the clock and the desert.

“Seb, Orly and Guerlain have further improved the package we have through not leaving any angle unexplored for this World Championship push. These are busy but exciting times at BRX.”

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans
Updated 29 September 2022

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans
  • All visitors aged over six would have to produce negative COVID-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament

DOHA: Coronavirus vaccinations will not be mandatory for the million-plus fans going to the World Cup in Qatar this year, authorities in the Gulf state said on Thursday.

All visitors aged over six will have to produce negative COVID-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament that starts November 20, the authorities said in new health guidelines.

The 29-day tournament will be the first major global sporting event with fans since the eruption of the Covid pandemic in December 2019.

The Qatar organizers and world football’s governing body FIFA have said they want the event to be a sign that the world is getting over the devastating pandemic.

But they have warned that health guidelines will change if the threat blows up again.

Fans will have to wear masks in public transport in Qatar and anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 “will be required to isolate in accordance with Ministry of Public Health guidelines,” the health ministry said.

The ministry added that it may force players, referees and officials to stay in a secure “bio-bubble” if coronavirus cases take off “to allow for the safe operation and continuation of the event.”