Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations

Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations
Spectators hold cell phones as they wait in the stands for the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 24 November 2022

Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations

Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations
  • Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco have excelled in Doha after Qatar’s disappointing opening day defeat
  • It is certainly the biggest Saudi result in a World Cup tournament

DUBAI: It may be painful but let’s look back to the first round of games for Arab countries at the 2018 World Cup.
Saudi Arabia were thrashed 5-0 by hosts Russia in the tournament’s opening game in Moscow. Then came Tunisia and Morocco, and it is hard to say whether their first defeats were more heartbreaking or less.
The former were holding England to a 1-1 draw but then lost to an injury time Harry Kane goal and the latter were undone in the 95th minute by an own goal against Iran. None recovered and all were out of the tournament after just two group games.
Four years on, however, and things are very different.
Whatever happens in the second round of games in the coming days, three of the four Arab nations are going to be in with a chance of progressing to the last 16.
After the disappointment of Qatar’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ecuador in the tournament opener on Sunday, teams representing the region have shone.
Qatar’s Ismaeel Mohammed spoke of the inspiration that the Asian champions have taken from the exploits of their regional rivals.
“The performance until now, especially of Arab teams, is making us maybe a bit jealous and is motivating us to do as well as they have,” he said on Thursday.
Qatar are not the only team jealous of Saudi Arabia, and desperately wishing to experience something similar. The Green Falcons have been hogging the international spotlight since that stunning 2-1 comeback win over Argentina.
Plenty has already been said about the game itself but it is really something when the football world is talking about Salem Al-Dawsari rather than Lionel Messi.
It was a tactical masterclass from coach Herve Renard but one that could not have worked without the effort, intelligence and dedication from his players. The brave way they played was hailed even in Argentina.
Debates have raged on where this ranks on the scale of World Cup upsets. It is certainly right up there, and easily the biggest since Senegal, playing their first ever game at the World Cup, defeated holders France in the opening game of the 2002 tournament. It may even rival Cameroon beating Argentina, then the holders, in the first game of the 1990 cup in Italy.
In terms of Arab results, it is fair to say that the only competition Saudi Arabia have is Algeria’s 2-1 win over the mighty West Germany in 1982.
The headlines in the German media that year have been mirrored somewhat in the Argentina press now — derision for their team and praise for the victors.
It is certainly the biggest Saudi result in a World Cup tournament. The 1994 team got to the knockout stages and defeated Morocco and Belgium, but Argentina is on a different level.
Later on, Tuesday, Tunisia took on Denmark, regarded by some as dark horses in Qatar, a team that reached the semifinals of the 2020 European Championships where they were narrowly defeated by England.
The game ended 0-0 but it was an entertaining affair and the point that the Carthage Eagles took was fully deserved and they could have had all three had it not been for the reactions of Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
For the first hour of the game, they were on top with their energy and aggression causing plenty of problems.
And then came Morocco and another goalless draw, once again against a talented European opponent. The stalemate with 2018 finalist Croatia was a solid start for the Atlas Lions and another deserved point. Both teams looked well matched and fought each other to a standstill.
Those results did not grab the same headlines as Saudi Arabia’s, but they are significant. At the very least, these three Arab teams will avoid the fate of 2018 when they went into the final games of the group knowing that they were already eliminated. They will be competitive until the end, but ambitions are obviously greater now.
The conquerors of Argentina now turn their attention to Poland, who drew 0-0 with Mexico in a tepid game on Saturday and could conceivably book a place in the second round with a match to spare. That really would be a massive achievement but after Tuesday, it would not be a massive shock.
Tunisia take on Australia. Both teams regard the other as their best chance for three points in Group D. The Socceroos were beaten 4-1 by France with the defending champions unsurprisingly a cut above.
On early impressions, Tunisia are favorites. Victory would put Jalel Kadri’s men in with a great chance of the next stage, especially if the French defeat Denmark.
Morocco take on Belgium on Sunday. The Red Devils beat Canada 1-0 but were far from impressive. Belgium struggled with the hard-running of the Canadians and Walid Regragui’s men will fancy their chances. Saudi Arabia’s victory against Argentina stands as an example of what can be done.
Qatar know that losing to Senegal on Friday puts them in danger of suffering the fate of all three Arab teams from 2018. For the region as a whole however, this tournament is already looking very different. Saudi Arabia have shown the way and are leading a resurgent Arab football world.
 


Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign
Updated 29 November 2022

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign
  • The stunning move follows a preliminary investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office into fraudulent accounting

TURIN, Italy: Juventus’ board of directors and president Andrea Agnelli resigned en masse on Monday.

The stunning move follows a preliminary investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office into fraudulent accounting, of alleged hidden payments to players.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help the club through the crisis. But its claimed the players gave up only one month’s salary.

A shareholders meeting rescheduled for Dec. 27 was postponed again to Jan. 18 to choose a new board.
 


Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury
Updated 29 November 2022

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury
  • The Hero World Challenge was to be the start of a December in golf ruled by Woods

NASSAU, Bahamas: Tiger Woods was out before he was officially back, withdrawing Monday from his Hero World Challenge with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

The Hero World Challenge was to be the start of a December in golf ruled by Woods, who also has a made-for-television match next weekend, followed by the PNC Championship with his 13-year-old son on Dec. 17-18.

Two of those are still on his schedule. The foot injury was a surprise and is a big setback for those who haven’t seen Woods play since July at St. Andrews. The Hero World Challenge has network coverage on NBC for the weekend.

“In preparation and practice for this week’s Hero World Challenge, I’ve developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot, which is making it difficult to walk,” Woods said on Twitter. “After consulting with my doctors and trainers, I have decided to withdraw this week and focus on my hosting duties. My plan is still to compete in The Match and the PNC Championship.”

The Match is Dec. 10 with Rory McIlroy as his partner competing in a 12-hole match against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

Woods has played only three tournaments this year because of a right leg weakened by a February 2021 car crash outside Los Angeles that shattered so many bones that Woods said doctors contemplated amputation.

A year ago in the Bahamas, he hit drivers on the back end of the range at Albany Golf Club, sparking speculation he might return. He played the PNC Championship with son Charlie and they finished second by one shot.

Woods then played the Masters, where he finished all four rounds at Augusta National, a tough walk with healthy legs. He made the cut in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, only to withdraw after the third round.

His last appearance was the British Open at St. Andrews, where he missed the cut.

Woods has said he would have a limited schedule going forward, and this year was an example of what to expect. The World Challenge would have been one of the easier walks on the flat terrain of Albany.

The 20-man field features 15 of the top 20 players in the world. Woods was replaced by Austria-born Sepp Straka, who went to Georgia. Earlier, Hideki Matsuyama withdrew with injury and was replaced by Corey Conners.

Woods is No. 1,277 in the world ranking and is exempt as the tournament host. Being replaced by Straka (No. 29) means the entire 20-man field is among the top 33 in the ranking. The strength of field increases even as TV ratings are sure to take a hit.


Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs
Updated 29 November 2022

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs
  • Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes scored a cross-cum-shot nine minutes into the second half and then added an injury-time penalty
  • The match also featured the first pitch invader of the Qatar tournament — the man carried messages of support for Ukraine and Iranian women and had a rainbow flag

DOHA: Bruno Fernandes scored twice to give Portugal a 2-0 victory over Uruguay on Monday and send them into the knock-out stages of the World Cup alongside France and Brazil.
The Manchester United midfielder scored a cross-cum-shot nine minutes into the second half and then added an injury-time penalty following a handball by Jose Maria Gimenez.
The match at Doha’s spectacular 89,000-capacity Lusail Stadium also featured the first pitch invader of the Qatar tournament — the man carried messages of support for Ukraine and Iranian women and had a rainbow flag.
With Portugal already through, Uruguay must now beat Ghana in their final Group H match to stand any chance of also progressing.
Both sides made three changes from their opening matches, with Portugal bringing in veteran Pepe for the injured Danilo Pereira, who suffered cracked ribs in training.
Pepe became the third-oldest outfield player in World Cup history.
Portugal dominated the first half, hogging the ball and creating several chances, but without ever testing Uruguay goalkeeper Sergio Rochet.
Uruguay’s forward, Edinson Cavani and Darwin Nunez were starved of the ball but the South Americans still had the best opportunity of the first period.
Rodrigo Bentancur picked the ball up in his own half and surged forward, slipping between two defenders to find himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who spread himself well to save the midfielder’s shot.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was largely anonymous in the first 45 minutes but did delight fans with a shoulder pass to pick out William Carvalho, who volleyed over.
The main drama came after the break.
Moments after a pitch invader ran onto the pitch carrying an LGBTQ rainbow flag and with a message supporting Ukraine and Iranian women on his T-shirt, only to be spectacularly tackled by security, Portugal went in front.
Fernandes created space for himself on the left and curled an inswinging cross into the mixer, with Ronaldo breaking the offside trap to attempt a glancing header.
As the ball nestled in the goal, Ronaldo wheeled away in celebration but FIFA decided he had not touched the ball, thus denying him a ninth World Cup goal, which would have put him level with Portuguese great Eusebio.
Uruguay coach Diego Alonso threw on forward Maxi Gomez and Luis Suarez as the South Americans belatedly began to exert some pressure, and both came close to an equalizer.
Gomez’s rasping drive from 20 yards came back off the post with Costa beaten, while Suarez hit the side netting from close range.
With the 90 minutes almost up, Fernandes nutmegged Gimenez, whose trailing hand diverted the ball away from the midfielder and prevented him from finding himself one-on-one with Rochet.
Iranian referee Alireza Faghani awarded the spot-kick after a VAR check and Fernandes sent Rochet the wrong way after his signature hop, skip run-up.
He then almost completed a hat-trick but hit the post from 20 yards.


Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2
Updated 28 November 2022

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2
  • Despite their efforts, South Korea look likely to crash out of the tournament at the group stage for the third straight World Cup

DOHA: Mohammed Kudus scored twice as Ghana beat South Korea 3-2 in a pulsating World Cup encounter on Monday to keep their World Cup hopes alive and leave Paulo Bento’s side facing an early exit.

Mohammed Salisu opened the scoring against the run of play midway through the first half at Education City Stadium and Ajax midfielder Kudus doubled the Black Stars’ lead.

But the Asian side, who looked toothless in the first half, roared back after the break, pulling level through a quickfire double from forward Cho Gue-sung either side of the hour mark.

Ghana looked shell-shocked as the Korean fans celebrated wildly but they were back in front in the 68th minute when Kudus finished calmly at the back post after Iñaki Williams failed to connect with a cross from the left.

The result takes Ghana into second in Group H on three points.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will have six points and secure qualification for the last 16 if they beat Uruguay in the later kickoff in Qatar.

Despite their efforts, South Korea look likely to crash out of the tournament at the group stage for the third straight World Cup.

The Asian side, captained by Son Heung-min, were quicker to settle, forcing a succession of corners as they dominated possession but they were unable to fashion a shot on target in the entire first half.

Son looked uncomfortable in the black face mask he is wearing after having surgery for a facial injury he suffered while playing for Spurs, constantly readjusting it.

Ghana, who lost their opener 3-2 to Portugal, struggled to gain a foothold in the game.

But the match totally changed complexion in the 24th minute when the impressive Jordan Ayew, playing down the left for Ghana, swung in a cross following a free kick.

South Korea failed to clear and Southampton center-back Salisu finished with his left foot, sparking wild scenes of celebration among the Ghana fans decked out in red, white and green.

The goal revitalized the African nation, who reached the quarterfinals in 2010, with South Korea struggling to deal with their physicality and direct approach.

Now playing with flair and confidence, Ghana poured forward and doubled their lead in the 34th minute when Kudus powered a header home after a pin-point Jordan Ayew cross from the left.

Captain Andre Ayew — the brother of Jordan — called his men into a team huddle on the pitch and the players got soaked by the sprinklers before they went off for their halftime beak.

The Koreans at last produced an effort on target in the 53rd minute, when goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi punched away a header from Cho.

But the Korean found the net just minutes later, heading home a cross from substitute Lee Kang-in, who had just been brought on by Bento.

And they were level just three minutes later when Cho headed home Kim Jin-su’s ball from the left, sparking scenes of delirium among the Korean fans.

Now Ghana were rocking but they restored their lead midway through the second half through Kudus.

South Korea came back again. Zigi was forced into a scrambling save to push away a free kick while Salisu cleared off the line.

The fourth official held up a board for 10 minutes of added time. South Korea continued to pour forward but they could not find the net and a number of their players collapsed to the turf at the final whistle.

Bento was sent off for protesting at the end of the match.


Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16

Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16
Updated 28 November 2022

Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16

Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16
  • Rodrygo flicked the ball on to Casemiro just inside the box and the Man United midfielder’s volley flew into the net with the help of a slight but significant deflection off Manuel Akanji
  • Tite’s side are just the second team to qualify for the last 16 after France and the only side apart from the holders to have won both group matches so far in Qatar

DOHA: A Brazil side lacking spark without the injured Neymar needed a late strike from Casemiro to edge out Switzerland 1-0 on Monday as the five-time winners secured their place in the World Cup last 16 with one game to spare.
The Brazilians had been frustrated by an obdurate Swiss side at Doha’s Stadium 974 and it looked as if they would have to settle for a point after a Vinicius Junior strike in the second half was disallowed for offside following a VAR check.
But then, with seven minutes remaining, Rodrygo flicked the ball on to Casemiro just inside the box and the Manchester United midfielder’s volley flew into the net with the help of a slight but significant deflection off Manuel Akanji.
Tite’s side are just the second team to qualify for the last 16 after France and the only side apart from the holders to have won both group matches so far in Qatar.
“The first aim was to qualify. That was really important in a group as difficult as ours,” the 30-year-old Casemiro told Brazilian broadcaster Sportv.
“We had to be patient against an experienced side who know how to play the game. It was always going to be decided by little details but we knew we would have plenty of possession and thankfully we managed to get the goal.”
With six points, Brazil will be tempted to rest players for their final Group G game against Cameroon on Friday, when a draw will secure top spot.
Switzerland, meanwhile, failed to muster a shot on target but remain on course to qualify too, knowing a win against Serbia in their last game will take Murat Yakin’s side through and a draw may also suffice.
“We are competitive against bigger teams. I think we have proven that time and time again,” said Yakin, who was missing one of his main creative sparks in Xherdan Shaqiri.
“We lacked a bit of courage going forward but there are a lot of good things to take from this.”
They have made a habit of making at least the first knockout round at major tournaments, while Brazil are in Qatar to win a sixth World Cup and nothing less will do.
The Selecao were always going to miss Neymar, although coach Tite has said he is confident the Paris Saint-Germain superstar will recover from his ankle injury to play a part again at the finals.
After the class of Richarlison made the difference in their opening win over Serbia, this was a reminder for the Brazilians of the strength in depth in the European game.
Four years ago, before losing to Belgium in the quarter-finals, they were also held by Switzerland in the group stage.
Yakin’s side therefore had no reason to fear Brazil, who introduced Manchester United midfielder Fred into their line-up in place of Neymar.
As a result they were set up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Fred and Lucas Paqueta either side of Casemiro, while Eder Militao stood in for the injured Danilo at right-back.
There were only flashes of what Brazil could do in a frustrating first half, with the loudest cheers from the masses of supporters in yellow and green coming when the big screen showed two-time World Cup-winning striker Ronaldo in the stands.
Vinicius had the best chance of the opening period when he connected with a Raphinha cross at the back post in the 27th minute, but Yann Sommer tipped his effort behind.
That Tite was not satisfied with Brazil’s first-half showing was clear when he hooked Paqueta at half-time and sent on Rodrygo.
The 21-year-old was involved when Brazil thought they had taken the lead just after the hour mark, helping gain possession before Casemiro released Vinicius to run through and score.
But the celebrations were cut shot as the goal was disallowed by VAR for an offside against Richarlison.
Tite turned to his bench and sent on more attackers in Gabriel Jesus and Antony, but the goal finally arrived from a less likely sources in Casemiro and Brazil saw out a deserved victory.