Room for improvement: 5 things learned as Arab teams have mixed results in World Cup warm-up matches

Room for improvement: 5 things learned as Arab teams have mixed results in World Cup warm-up matches
UAE's defender Abdulaziz Haikal hugs goalkeeper Khalid Eisa as they celebrate winning the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian Qualifiers football match between UAE and South Korea. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 September 2022

Room for improvement: 5 things learned as Arab teams have mixed results in World Cup warm-up matches

Room for improvement: 5 things learned as Arab teams have mixed results in World Cup warm-up matches
  • Tunisia suffer against Brazil, Qatar remain consistent, lack of Saudi goals becoming concern

RIYADH: The last international break before the 2022 World Cup kicks off in Doha on Nov. 20 has just wrapped with the four Arab qualifiers of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Tunisia continuing to have mixed results in what could be their final warm-up matches.

Meanwhile, Egypt, who will miss out on the party in Qatar, are already looking ahead to the future.

Here are five things learned from the latest action.

1. If Saudi Arabia can score, they have a chance in Qatar

An obvious point, but the 0-0 draw with the US in Spain did mean a fourth straight friendly without a goal for the Green Falcons. However, the performance was an improvement on the 0-0 draw with Ecuador on Friday, and the two 1-0 losses to Colombia and Venezuela in June.

The defense prevented the US, with plenty of talented players, from creating clear chances and it was a hard-working display all around. The Saudis did not create too many clear-cut scoring opportunities, but there was an improvement in their overall attacking display.

None of the chances that did come along were taken and while there are absences such as Salem Al-Dawsari and Salman Al-Faraj that make a difference, it is a concern.

Coach Herve Renard does not have a Robert Lewandowski or a Lionel Messi to score at will, and he needs his stars fit if there is to be a chance against Argentina, Poland, and Mexico.

Taken in isolation, however, and not after three blank returns, the result and the performance against the Americans were encouraging and with more preparation games to come (unlike some other teams at the World Cup) there is still a little time to get firing in an offensive sense.

2. It could have been worse for Tunisia

Losing to Brazil is no disgrace for any team but it is never nice to be hit with a  5-1 defeat. However, Tunisia were simply blown away by the in-form five-time champions.

There was much to cheer about in the 18th minute as Montassar Talbi equalized Raphinha’s opener but within seconds, Richarlison had restored the lead and soon after Neymar scored from the spot. By 40 minutes it was 4-1 and when Dylan Bronn was red carded before the break, it looked really bleak for the Carthage Eagles.

Brazil eased off in the second half and it was a chastening experience for Tunisia who were coming off the back of some positive results of late.

They had their moments going forward and saw a goal disallowed which could have changed things but, in the end, Brazil were just too good. At least it is unlikely that the North Africans will face such a talented team in Qatar even against defending champions France, or Denmark and Australia.

3. Qatar improve against Chile but need more

After losing to Canada in a poor performance last week, Qatar improved to draw 2-2 with Chile. Their first-half performance was a continuation of the previous match, lacking energy, invention, and focus as Alexis Sanchez’s well-worked goal gave the South Americans a deserved lead at the break.

In the second half, Qatar took advantage of a defensive mistake to equalize through Akram Afif and then a thunderbolt from Hassan Al-Haydos gave them a lead that they could not hang on to.

At this stage of preparation, it was another concerning performance overall.

This is not the well-drilled and fluid Qatar team that strolled to the 2019 Asian Cup title. That is now three poor halves out of four and the goals against Chile came from mistakes and a moment of brilliance rather than sustained pressure.

It could be that the Maroons are so focused on the tournament and games against Ecuador, Senegal, and the Netherlands that are less than two months away that it is hard to perform in friendlies, but it is time to find the old intensity.

4. Morocco and Ziyech moving forward

The second game in charge for coach Walid Regragui ended in a 0-0 draw with Paraguay but the tactician will not be too concerned as his team did enough to win but just could not quite find the goal in a high-tempo clash.

At the back, the defense was tested by the lively Miguel Almiron of Newcastle United but held firm to keep a second clean sheet in four days following their 2-0 win over Chile.

Hakim Ziyech, recalled to the side after his fall-out with the previous coach, was the standout. The Chelsea winger hit the inside of the post with a curling shot from outside the area and put a couple of chances on a plate for team-mates. He also created Ryan Mmaee’s goal that was narrowly ruled out for offside.

Overall, it was a fine performance from the Atlas Lions who are feeling much better about their national team than a couple of months ago and will be looking forward to Belgium, Croatia, and Canada.

5. Egypt looking good for 2026

It cannot be easy for Egypt as they watch their rivals prepare for the first World Cup in the region, but fans are feeling happier than before.

New coach Rui Vitoria has promised that there will be qualification for the 2026 tournament and while it is obviously very early days, the signs are good with two 3-0 wins in the first two games in charge for the Portuguese boss.

Supporters were delighted to see Mohamed Salah score twice in the first win over Niger and while the Liverpool man withdrew from the second game, the same score line was recorded against Liberia. There are tougher tests to come but it seems that a small corner has been turned.

It has been a roller-coaster year for the national team with penalty shootout defeats in the Africa Cup of Nations final and World Cup qualification under Carlos Queiroz and a new coach Ehab Galal, who was quickly fired after a 4-1 loss to South Korea in June.

Some stability and progress are needed and while this is just a start, it is a good one. Missing out on the 2022 World Cup was tough to take but the road to 2026 has already begun.


Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer
Updated 07 February 2023

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer
  • Vinícius, the Brazilian forward who is Black, has been subjected to hate attacks since he arrived in Spain in 2018
  • "It is a problem of Spanish football,” said Ancelotti

MADRID: The hate attacks against Vinícius Júnior are a problem of Spanish soccer and must be dealt with, his Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said on Tuesday.
Vinícius, the Brazilian forward who is Black, has been subjected to hate attacks since he arrived in Spain in 2018. The most recent were on Sunday at a Spanish league game in Mallorca. Last month, his effigy hung off a bridge in Madrid before the derby against Atletico Madrid.
“The question I ask is this: What does Vinicius have to defend himself against? What do his teammates have to defend themselves against?” Ancelotti said on Tuesday on the eve of Madrid’s debut at the Club World Cup in Morocco.
“Is Vinícius the problem? It seems like the problem is Vinícius, but the problem is what happens around him. Period.
“It is a problem of Spanish football. I am a part of Spanish football and I think it’s a problem that we have to solve. Because it seems that Vinicius is the culprit, but he is being the victim of something that I don’t understand.”
Vinícius has been outspoken about the insults and often complained on social media of how he’s been treated.
He was also targeted because of his dances while celebrating goals, and recently his teammates called attention to the high number of fouls he was receiving in games. Last week, Valencia defender Gabriel Paulista was sent off after a vicious foul on Vinícius in a league game.
“Vinícius is an incredible person, with great values,” teammate Federico Valverde said. “He is different than most on the field, he enjoys soccer in his own way, in a happy way. I don’t think the rival fans are thinking about the person, they don’t realize that he could be the son of anyone who is in the stands. People need to be responsible for what they do, they shouldn’t take it out on a 22-year-old. You need to have respect.”
Racism in Spanish soccer has attracted more attention recently, but little has been done to punish anyone.
The Spanish league was investigating the attacks on Sunday at Mallorca after TV images showed someone calling him a monkey. Vinícius was also insulted after the match when he stopped to pose for photos and sign autographs for fans.
Authorities have yet to find those responsible for hanging Vinícius’ effigy last month, and so far teams have not been punished for the racist insults inside their stadiums.
The first trial against a fan who racially insulted a player in Spain is expected to begin this year following remarks by an Espanyol supporter against Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams a few years ago.
Mallorca defender Antonio Raíllo said last year that Vinícius was using the card of racism when accused of provoking opponents. Other players have complained of the Brazilian’s attitude on the field as well.
Madrid will face Egyptian club Al Ahly on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Club World Cup. Madrid have won the world club title a record seven times, including three times when the competition was called the Intercontinental Cup.


Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy
Updated 07 February 2023

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy
  • Atsu, 31, joined Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor in September
  • Atsu spent five seasons at Newcastle before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 2021

ACCRA, Turkiye: Ghana national player and former Newcastle midfielder Christian Atsu has been found alive in the rubble of an earthquake that killed more than 4,800 people in Turkiye and neighboring Syria, Ghana’s ambassador to Turkiye said Tuesday.
Atsu, 31, joined Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor in September, based in the southern province of Hatay near the epicenter of Monday’s massive quake.
“I have good news coming. I am just getting information from the president of the Ghana association that Christian Atsu has been found in Hatay,” Francisca Ashietey-Odunton told Accra-based Asaase Radio, referring to a local Ghanaian community association.
The envoy gave no further details on his condition.
Hatayspor official Mustafa Ozat told Play Spor streaming channel on Monday that Atsu was still in the rubble and was trying to escape.
Atsu spent five seasons at Newcastle after an initial campaign on loan before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 2021.
He won the last of his 60 Ghana national caps in September 2019.
“We pray for Ghana International Christian Atsu and victims of the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria,” the Ghana Football Association said on Twitter.
Dozens of nations have offered aid since the 7.8-magnitude quake struck early on Monday as people were sleeping. Freezing weather has hampered emergency efforts.
Multi-story apartment buildings full of residents were among the more than 5,600 structures reduced to rubble in Turkiye, while Syria announced dozens of collapses.


Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20
Updated 07 February 2023

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20
  • A loss to Gulf Giants on the final day of the round robin stage saw them drop out of top 4, to be replaced by Dubai Capitals

The final match of the round robin stage of the DP World ILT20 League involved the Gulf Giants, sitting in second place, and the Sharjah Warriors, who needed to win to clinch fourth spot and a place in the playoffs.

On paper, the favorites were the Giants, having won six of their nine games, with one loss and two rain-abandoned matches. And so the result would ultimately go with form, with home team Sharjah Warriors dropping out of the top four, to be replaced by Dubai Capitals.

Gulf Giants won the toss and chose to bowl first. The resting of Shimron Hetmyer and Chris Lynn gave the batting a diluted look.

Chris Jordan was also rested, as was Rehan Ahmad, but the bowling was still very strong. Sharjah Warriors had to pick its strongest team, relying on Marcus Stoinis, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Evin Lewis, Joe Denly and Moeen Ali to post a competitive total.

The Gulf Giants’ devotion to bowl first was unsurprising given their bowling attack on a wicket known for its low bounce. However, Dominic Drakes’ second ball flew, taking the keeper by surprise. The fifth ball was hit to mid-wicket for six by Afghanistan’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who perished in the second over, pulling Sanchit Sharma to be caught on the square leg boundary.

Captain Moeen Ali took the responsibility of batting at three. He watched Tom Kohler-Cadmore taking a liking to Tom Helm, striking 4, 4, 6, 4 before succumbing to a superbly judged catch in the deep by James Vince. Sometimes one wonders why batters, even in T20 when on a roll, try and hit every ball to the boundary. Why not say to oneself after striking 18 in four balls, take one and move on to the next over?

Carlos Brathwaite was introduced in the sixth over, inducing Moeen to drive to deep cover where Drakes dived forward to take the catch but injured himself in painful fashion. He took no further part in the match. Another Afghani, Qais Ahmed, took the seventh over, conceding only four runs.

At 57 for three in the eighth over, David Wiese pinned Evin Lewis in front. From a distance, it looked too high but, it was out on review. Wiese then went on to clean up Joe Denly and then Stoinis, lbw, to balls which seemed to keep low. Then, he got one to fly off Woakes’ glove to point. This was an extraordinary performance from Wiese, who went on to claim 5 for 20. The Warriors could not come back from that, closing on 107 in 18.3 overs, a disappointing effort.

Their cause was not helped by Woakes’ first delivery, which speared off down the legside for five wides. On occasions such as that, as captain and team members, you can be forgiven in thinking that this is not our day. Nevertheless, the Warriors soldiered on. At 31 for no wicket after four overs, Stoinis was brought on and he cleaned up Tom Banton.

A throw of the dice was needed. Woakes returned at the end opposite to the pavilion, with only two men on boundary — deep square and fine leg. The wily Vince and Colin Grandhomme took no risks against either Woakes or Stoinis, knowing that to bat out the latter’s four overs without loss would open up scoring opportunities against other bowlers.

Only until the fifth ball of Stoinis’ last over did Grandhomme restrain himself, smacking six, before receiving a bouncer at head height in riposte. Undeterred, he took pickings from Mohammad Nabi but, hooking Siddique at pavilion end, he was caught on the square leg boundary.

Despite the Giants’ slimmed down batting, at 82/2 all looked straightforward. Local UAE player, Aayan Khan, who did not bowl came in at number four, only to see Vince lose his off stump to Junaid Siddique. His job to hold the innings together was done. Khan and Erasmus were left to steer the Giants to their target, Khan finishing with a six to close the innings on 108 for three after 16.3 overs.

The Gulf Giants underlined their all-round strength in this performance to finish top of the table in the round robin stage. It was, however, a disappointing night for the Sharjah Warriors, who, as Moeen Ali admitted, were not good enough to qualify for the playoffs. In particular, he felt that the batting lineup had not maximized its potential.


Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet
Updated 07 February 2023

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet
  • Scotland Yard and Emblem Road enhance the hopes of Prince Saud bin Salman to win the 4th edition

Having won the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Cup on Jan. 29, Scotland Yard will now have the chance to bring more success for owner Prince Saud bin Salman at the world’s biggest horseracing event later this month.

The win secured the 4-year-old son of Quality Road a qualifying card for the fourth edition of The Saudi Cup, which takes place at the 1,800-meter King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Feb. 25.

Prince Saud had competed in the previous editions of The Saudi Cup with Making Miracles, and with Emblem Road winning the 2022 edition.

At this year’s event, Emblem Road returns to compete alongside brother Scotland Yard, boosting Prince Saud’s hopes of retaining the title and winning the $20 million prize for the showpiece race.

Born on April 10, 2019, Scotland Yard is the son of the American stallion Quality Road and New Zealand mare Harmony, and was purchased by Prince Saud at the Tipton auction held last July for $255,000 when the horse was 3 years old.

Scotland Yard’s mother, Harmony, is the sister to three-time Breeders’ Cup champion mare Beholder, a record few horses have achieved.

The horse had not had much success in American racing so its owners decided to sell him, which facilitated his move to Saudi Arabia, where he has since trained, qualified and achieved victories. Two weeks ago Scotland Yard won the 1,600-meter King Faisal Cup at the Kings Cups Festival.

Prince Saud’s stable got its start in horseracing six years ago winning major cups and victories including the 2022 Saudi Cup title, King Abdulaziz Cup, and the Crown Prince Cup.

The stable has also won several titles including the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Cup, King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Cup, Prince Mohamed bin Saud Cup and the King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Cup.


Thompson scores 42 as Warriors crush Thunder

Thompson scores 42 as Warriors crush Thunder
Updated 07 February 2023

Thompson scores 42 as Warriors crush Thunder

Thompson scores 42 as Warriors crush Thunder
  • The on-fire Milwaukee Bucks rolled to an eighth straight win to move within striking distance of Boston at the top of the Eastern Conference

LOS ANGELES: Klay Thompson flirted with breaking his own single-game three-pointer record before settling for 42 points as the Golden State Warriors routed the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.

Long-range specialist Thompson drained 12 shots from outside the arc with a vintage exhibition of shooting to power the Warriors to a 141-114 win.

Thompson looked poised to beat his own NBA mark of 14 three-pointers in a single game, set in October 2018, but came up just short before exiting to a standing ovation at the Warriors Chase Center.

Thompson’s red-hot shooting was part of a stunning performance from three-point range by Golden State.

The Warriors finished with 26 threes from 50 attempts — just three shy of the all-time single-game record of 29 set by Milwaukee in 2020.

Thompson received scoring support from Jordan Poole (21 points, 12 assists and four rebounds) and Andrew Wiggins (18 points) as the Warriors shrugged off the injury absence of Steph Curry to score a resounding win.

Afterwards Thompson admitted he was hoping to have remained in the game before being withdrawn by Warriors coach Steve Kerr late in the fourth quarter.

“I was campaigning for it — but we’ve got a quick turnaround with a game on Wednesday,” said Thompson.

“And I don’t think the basketball gods like it when you chase records. Gotta let those happen organically,” he added.

In Portland, the on-fire Milwaukee Bucks rolled to an eighth straight win to move within striking distance of Boston at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Brook Lopez scored 27 points while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 24 in a 127-108 Bucks win over the Trail Blazers.

Damian Lillard led the Portland scoring with 28 points.

In Detroit, Jayson Tatum’s 34-point haul led the way as the Boston Celtics tightened their grip on the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a 111-99 win over the Pistons.

Tatum, who is averaging more than 30 points per game this season, also added 11 rebounds and six assists as the Celtics improved to 38-16 at the top of the East.

Tatum received scoring support from Derrick White with 23 points, while Robert Williams III and Sam Hauser each added 15 off the bench as Boston bounced back from last Friday’s surprise defeat to Phoenix.

Boston ace Tatum had struggled in the defeat to Phoenix, shooting only 3-for-15 from the field.

That poor outing looked to be haunting Tatum in the first half against Detroit as he made only 3-for-13.

But Tatum clicked into gear with an 18-point third quarter to guide Boston to victory.

“I just had to wake up a little bit,” he told NBC Sports after the win.

“I started off a little slow and I just had to get myself going. Because in the first half, I was stinking it up.”

Tatum, meanwhile, was pleased that Boston appeared to have bounced back after a recent dip in form that had seen them lose four of their previous six games.

“We haven’t been playing as well as we’d like to lately,” he said.

“Just had to respond and keep in mind what the goal is and keep working toward it.”

Elsewhere on Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers made it three consecutive wins in a wire-to-wire 114-91 win over the Washington Wizards.

Cleveland’s balanced offense proved too much for Washington, with all of the Cavs’ starters finishing in double digits.

Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland finished with 23 points apiece, while Donovan Mitchell scored 21.

In Brooklyn, meanwhile, Nets guard Cam Thomas erupted for 47 points, but it was not enough to prevent the home team slumping to a 124-116 defeat to the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.

Thomas led the scoring with a total that included seven three-pointers, but Brooklyn were outgunned by a Clippers team hitting form at the right time.

Veteran Paul George nailed 29 points for the Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard adding 24.

Ivica Zubac chipped in with 19 points and hauled down 12 rebounds for Los Angeles, who are fourth in the Western Conference.