Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup

Update Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup
A man, painted in the colors of the Iranian national flag, wears a jersey reading ‘Woman, Life, Liberty’ at Al-Rayyan, Qatar in Nov. 25, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 25 November 2022

Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup

Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup
  • Man wearing a shirt declaring ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ was accompanied by three security officers in blue

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar: Tensions ran high at Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.
Some fans were stopped by security guards from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.
The national team has come under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have wracked Iran for weeks.
Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic!”
Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.
After Iran’s 2-0 triumph, crowds of Iranian fans wildly waving national flags streamed out of the stadium. They thronged a group of protesters who held up photos of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose Sept. 16 death in the custody of the morality police first unleashed the protests, yelling “Victory!” to drown out chants of Amini’s name.
One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns encircled her and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.
“I’m not here to fight with anyone, but people have been attacking me and calling me a terrorist,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “All I’m here to say is that football doesn’t matter if people are getting killed in the streets.”
Maryam and her friends had worn hats emblazoned with the name of an outspoken Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on accusations of spreading propaganda against the government. She said Iranian government supporters had taken the hats from their heads.
Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup team, but was surprisingly not named in the squad for this year in Qatar.
“It’s obvious that the match had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think the arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”
Furious protesters in Iran have been venting their anger over social and political repression and the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, for women. The demonstrations have quickly grown into calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.
The turmoil has overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign, including the opening match against England on Monday. Iran’s players remained silent as their national anthem played before the game and didn’t celebrate their two goals in the 6-2 defeat. On Friday, they sang along to the anthem and celebrated wildly when they scored twice against Wales.
Ayeh Shams, an Iranian from the United States, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” written on it.
“We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.
Zeinlabda Arwa, a security guard at the stadium, confirmed that authorities had been given orders to confiscate anything but the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Whether you’re talking about Iran or Qatar or any country, you are only allowed to bring in the normal flag,” she said.
An angry group of Iranian government supporters shouted at Elyas Doerr, a 16-year-old Iranian boy living in Arizona who was wearing the Persian flag as a cape, until he took it off and and put it in his bag.
“They’re not liking that it’s a political statement,” he said, adding that other Iranian fans had approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.
A 32-year-old Iranian woman living in southern Spain, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, scrambled after the match to retrieve her hat and flag that had been confiscated by stadium security. She said Qatari police ordered her to scrub off the names of Iranian protesters killed and arrested by security forces that she had written on her arms and chest, at the behest of Iranian government supporters. At the game, just traces of ink remained on her skin that was rubbed raw.
“Today’s football experience was the most intimidating I’ve ever been in, before and after the match,” she said. She described dozens of men who surrounded her and tried to smother her face with their Iranian flags, snatching her signs as Qatari security stood by.
“I don’t care about the win, to be honest. That’s not my priority.”
After the game, Iranian state television broadcast patriotic songs and showed footage of people bursting out into cheers across the country. Even as many Iranians celebrated the victory, protests continued across the country. Videos circulating on social media appeared to show protests and gunfire in the eastern city of Zahedan. The Associated Press was unable to confirm reports that protesters had been wounded there.

West Ham boss Moyes bullish about point against ‘tough’ Newcastle side

West Ham boss Moyes bullish about point against ‘tough’ Newcastle side
Updated 12 sec ago

West Ham boss Moyes bullish about point against ‘tough’ Newcastle side

West Ham boss Moyes bullish about point against ‘tough’ Newcastle side
  • Having taken the lead early, United allowed the visitors back into the encounter and not until the final 20
  • West Ham boss David Moyes thinks his side deserve credit for matching a United side who have lost just once in the Premier League all season

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has admitted Newcastle United missed the influence of their Brazilian talisman Bruno Guimaraes — however, he believes any team in the Premier League would be the same.

The central midfielder served the first of a three-game suspension as the Magpies labored to a 1-1 home draw with struggling West Ham United. Guimaraes was red-carded in the Carabao Cup semifinal second-leg win over Southampton at St. James’ Park in midweek.

Callum Wilson netted for the Magpies in the third minute before Lucas Paqueta, a reported transfer target for Howe last summer, ensured honors remained even.

And when asked whether the Champions League-chasing Magpies missed Guimaraes, Howe said: “Undoubtedly, he’s that difference-maker with an eye for a pass. He has creative flair we possibly missed today.

“I think we’re always going to miss Bruno because he’s so unique and slightly different. But I do think our midfield players today played well. I don’t think it’s a criticism of them, he’s irreplaceable. We missed his creative eye probably more than anything else.

“It was a great start for us but we just didn’t build on that great start and that’s the disappointing thing, I thought we allowed West Ham into the game and probably got punished for that.”

Having taken the lead early, United allowed the visitors back into the encounter and not until the final 20, after the introduction of new boy Anthony Gordon, did the Magpies really look like mounting a challenge for all three points.

On the impact of former Everton man Gordon, Howe said: “Yeah, very pleased. Your first action here at St. James’ Park is important. His first pass was a brilliant one, he injected some life into us in a time where we needed it in the game. Disappointed for him that we couldn’t get him in the box and see what he can do closer to goal but he did really well when he came on.”

West Ham boss David Moyes thinks his side deserve credit for matching a United side who have lost just once in the Premier League all season.

“It’s a great point for us. We played well today. I’m really pleased for the players,” said the Hammers’ boss.

“We could have buckled. This place at the moment, it’s right on top of you. But we played well today and deserved to get back in the game. There are lots of pluses for us.

“There was a period where we had two or three opportunities or moments where we could have got the second goal, but I was pleased with how we controlled the game at different times. Newcastle are playing very well at the moment, but we did today as well.

“We deserve some credit because we’ve not been playing so well. They’re a big, big side. They can put the ball on top of you when they don’t go round you. Nayef (Aguerd) had a brilliant tackle. Part of your job is to defend well and we did defend well today.

“It keeps a little bit of a run going for us. A draw at Newcastle isn’t the worst result. We’d have liked to win but we’re up against a team who are in good form at the moment. I think our performance merited something from the game. If we play like that next week (against Chelsea) we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Newcastle rue missed opportunity in West Ham draw

Newcastle rue missed opportunity in West Ham draw
Updated 23 min 47 sec ago

Newcastle rue missed opportunity in West Ham draw

Newcastle rue missed opportunity in West Ham draw

NEWCASTLE: Callum Wilson ended a 10-game goal drought but failed to inspire Newcastle United to a Premier League win over West Ham.

The England frontman scored his first goal since October at the Gallowgate End to put United in front, only for former Magpies’ transfer target Lucas Paqueta to net a first-half leveller.

With that point, United lost ground on Champions League-chasing rivals Manchester United, who earlier in the day beat Crystal Palace. After Arsenal’s loss to Everton, United are now the team who has lost the least amount of games in the division — one.

The point does, however, mean they are also the side to have drawn the most games in England’s top flight — 10 from 21 games. With Bruno Guimaraes sitting out the match after a red card in midweek, Eddie Howe was forced to reshuffle his pack, bringing in Allan Saint-Maximin for his first Premier League start since August.

The Magpies got off to an absolute flyer early doors and had the ball in the net twice within the opening three minutes. Only one of them counted. A slick move down the right saw Kieran Trippier set Miguel Almiron free at the byline and he pulled back for Joe Willock who smashed home what looked like the opener, only for the VAR gods to look down and rule it out.

Trippier’s pass to Almiron just crept out for a goal-kick. When the game eventually restarted, United picked up where they left off and this time made it count as Wilson was found quite brilliantly by man of the moment, Sean Longstaff, and crashed home his first goal following a 10-game goal drought. Bar a Fabian Schar chance, it was then all the visitors, as a leggy-looking United, without talisman Bruno, struggled first to keep possession, then actually to do anything with it.

Said Benrahma fired a shot across the bows of Nick Pope in the Newcastle goal before Brazilian Paqueta did the same soon after. The Magpies’ net seemed to be living a charmed life, until Paqueta broke Pope’s remarkable Premier League clean sheet run.

A corner from the United right was flicked on at the front post and picked up by the West Ham man, who tucked home and cartwheeled off into the Tyneside night. It was hard to argue that the Hammers didn’t deserve it.

In fact, you could make a case to say their more organized, incisive play warranted a lead. They almost got one when Nayef Aguerd was presented with a free header, but he diverted over when well placed on the stroke of the break.

The hoped lift didn’t come after the break as David Moyes’ men continued to dominate. However, having created little despite seeing plenty of ball, the struggling Hammers seemed to drop their levels and allow United a way into it.

A defense-splitting pass from Schar found Almiron on the right, as is so often the case he laid back to Trippier and the cross eventually dropped for Saint-Maximin — but his goal-bound shot was blocked.

Having watched on expectantly from the bench for the opening 70 minutes, new boy Anthony Gordon was thrown on to liven up United in the final third.

And within seconds it was clear why Howe wanted the former Everton attacker so desperately. His touch, speed of movement and thought injected some much-needed drive into a flagging Newcastle side, who, despite limping through two thirds of the encounter, did more than enough in the last 20 to win it. Gordon was the catalyst.

His through ball set Wilson away and just as he was set to pull the trigger, an outstanding, goal-saving challenge from Aguerd kept things level. Wilson’s third opportunity came on 82 as he guided a Trippier free-kick straight into the hands of Lukas Fabianksi.

And as time ticked away, Gordon had the chance to become an instant hero but his low shot from a cleared corner was blocked by sprawling visiting bodies. Had United managed to grab a winner, it may well have done Moyes’ men a disservice.

Two points dropped or one point gained? Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, it was yet another game unbeaten for the Magpies, whose role at the top table of English football continues to be underlined with every week that passes, even if it was not the result Howe and his men would have ultimately wanted.

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf
Updated 05 February 2023

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf
  • No shortage of top talent throughout the Middle East swing beginning with Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Women’s professional tennis will take over the Gulf region this month with the world’s best players set to compete in tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai over the course of the next three weeks.

From world No.1 Iga Swiatek, to Tunisian trailblazer Ons Jabeur, to the recently-crowned Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, there will be no shortage of top talent throughout this Middle East swing.

Here’s a look at some of the main storylines heading into this exciting three-week stretch.

Abu Dhabi enters the ring

While this isn’t the first time the UAE capital is hosting a WTA tournament, it’s the first time the emirate has been given a permanent slot on the women’s tennis calendar.

Abu Dhabi came to the rescue at the start of the 2021 season when the tour needed a place that could stage an event during the pandemic.

A one-year license was given to Abu Dhabi and the tournament was held behind closed doors.

Things are different this time around. The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open is meant to be a regular fixture on the WTA calendar and its introduction this season (from February 5-12) has made way for a three-week Middle East swing set to take place in February every year.

Jabeur was meant to be the main star attraction this week in the UAE capital, given her popularity in the region as the highest-ranked Arab player in history. The Tunisian was forced to withdraw though due to a knee injury but her name is still on the entry lists for Doha and Dubai.

A stellar week of tennis is still guaranteed in Abu Dhabi with three top-10 players – Daria Kasatkina, Belinda Bencic and Elena Rybakina – headlining a strong field at the inaugural WTA 500 event at Zayed Sports City.

Popcorn first rounds in the capital

The stacked draw in Abu Dhabi has resulted in some incredible match-ups from the get-go.

In a showdown between two ex-world No.1s, Spanish wildcard Garbine Muguruza will take on Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova in the opening round. The winner of this clash will square off against reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

Former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko will commence her campaign against 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, while former world No.2 Paula Badosa kicks off her Abu Dhabi journey against Russian world No.19 Liudmila Samsonova.

Sabalenka on a streak

With an 11-0 win-loss record for the season, and two titles under her belt, including a maiden Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open, Sabalenka will have all eyes on her when she touches down in the Middle East to take part in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (begins February 19).

The Belarusian world No.2 has tasted success in the Gulf in the past, having lifted trophies in Abu Dhabi in 2021 and in Doha in 2020, but will be seeking a maiden triumph in Dubai.

Swiatek back to defend Doha title

The Qatar Open was where Swiatek began her incredible 37-match winning streak last year and the top-ranked Pole will make a return to the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, searching for a first title of the season.

Swiatek’s banner 2022 saw her capture eight titles, including two Grand Slams, but her 2023 campaign has yet to gather steam as she lost with Poland in the United Cup semi-finals in Australia last month, before falling to Rybakina in the Australian Open fourth round.

Swiatek is also scheduled to compete in the WTA 1000 tournament in Dubai, where all members of the world’s top-10 – and 19 of the world’s top-20 – are down to take part.

Ostapenko searches for Dubai repeat

A stellar effort from Ostapenko saw her grab the title in Dubai last year with victory over Veronika Kudermetova in the final, a win that allowed the Latvian to return to the top-20 for the first time since October 2018.

Ostapenko defeated four fellow Grand Slam champions en route to the 2022 Dubai crown – Sofia Kenin, Swiatek, Petra Kvitova, and Simona Halep – and she came back from a set down in three of those encounters.

She will be looking to become the first back-to-back women’s champion in Dubai since Elina Svitolina pulled off a double in 2017 and 2018.

The fiery French Open winner has a positive start to her 2023, reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last month.

Mirza all set for career finale

Indian tennis icon Sania Mirza will contest the last two tournaments of her professional career in Abu Dhabi, alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Dubai, alongside Madison Keys.

A former doubles world No.1, who peaked at 27 in the world in singles back in 2007, Mirza will bid farewell to the tour after a trailblazing 20-year professional career.

The 36-year-old initially intended to retire from tennis at the end of last season but an elbow injury ruled her out of the US Open and ended her 2022 prematurely.

A six-time major champion across doubles and mixed doubles, Mirza almost added a seventh Grand Slam trophy to her resume last month when she reached the mixed doubles final at the Australian Open alongside her compatriot Rohan Bopanna.

Mirza, who is a Dubai resident, will say her final goodbye at the DDF Tennis Championships, where thousands of her adoring fans will undoubtedly show up for her swan song.

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup
Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup
  • Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd
  • He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year

TANGIER, Morocco: Mohammed Afsha scored on a deflected shot in the 88th minute and sent Al-Ahly into the Club World Cup semifinals by beating the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Saturday.
Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd. He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year, and brought an abrupt end to the first appearance by a team from the United States in the competition.
His initial shot from outside the penalty area hit the crossbar. Seattle were unable to clear the danger and Afsha’s second attempt deflected off defender Alex Roldan and bounded past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
It was the only shot on target by the Egyptian club as both sides played a heavily defensive game where chances at goal were limited.
Al-Ahly will face Real Madrid in the semifinals next Wednesday in Rabat. Al-Ahly have not lost a match in any competition since Aug. 27 in the Egyptian Premier League.
Al-Ahly have finished third in each of the past two Club World Cups but have never made the final.
Seattle were the first club from Major League Soccer to take part in the Club World Cup after winning the CONCACAF Champions League last May. The Sounders carried hopes of advancing through their first match and playing at least three matches at the event.
But while Seattle were excellent defensively, they lacked quality chances on attack. Seattle finished with just one shot on goal, a speculative attempt from defensive midfielder Josh Atencio early in the second half.
“I thought we were good. I thought we were evenly matched. A couple of chances. But the deflection on the goal, it’s unfortunate,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Seattle were playing their first competitive match in 3 ½ months while the rest of MLS was going through preseason preparations. The Sounders’ previous match was last October and the team gathered for MLS preseason camp in early January.
“They put everything into the game. They put everything into preseason,” Schmetzer said.

Ancer leading the charge to glory in PIF Saudi International

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day
Updated 04 February 2023

Ancer leading the charge to glory in PIF Saudi International

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day

JEDDAH: Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day after following up a 63 and 66 with a flawless third round 64, progressing to 17-under-par and two shots clear of Cameron Young, who sits third place at five shots back.

Ancer, bidding to be the first player to win the Saudi tournament wire to wire, looked unstoppable at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club as he posted another bogey-free round with six birdies spread equally across the front and back nine.

“Another very solid round. Happy with no dropped shots. That’s always my goal. On a golf course like this where it’s blowing pretty good, I’m really, really happy,” he said.

“My ball striking has definitely been on, and I’ve been rolling it really nice all week. Extremely happy. Not really focused on what everybody else is doing. Just trying to play the same game I’ve been playing the past three days,” he added.

Young has now posted three straight rounds of five-under-par 65’s, enough to take sole place of second, two shots back.

“I think I’ve played really solidly,” he said. “Obviously, Abe’s playing some really nice golf. So, I think tomorrow will be fun. If the wind is similar to today, it will probably take a 62, 63 or 64 because I don’t see Abraham shooting anything bad.”

Making his intentions clear, Young ended with “I’ll hit a lot of drivers and try to make a bunch of birdies.”

A fascinating two horse race is set for Sunday between a pair who have completely contrasting styles, which was so clearly evident on the par-five 18th today.

Ancer laid up to about 100 yards but nailed his approach to five feet and holed out, while Young airmailed the green with his second shot, using an iron, but was only able to make par.

Young is a further five shots ahead of third place, where American Matthew Wolff (63), Australian Lucas Herbert (67), and Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana (68) all sit.

American Matthew Wolff made the most of moving day matching Ancer’s tournament low from round one of a 7-under-par 63, set up by a front nine six-under-par 29.

Following the round, the 23-year-old said: “It felt easy. It felt like I'm finally starting to hit my driver the way I'm looking to. It's such a weapon on this golf course when I'm hitting it where I want to. I'm having short clubs in and I can kind of attack these flags. I felt really good with every part of my game.”

He continued: “But I think it was the putting. I made quite a few putts out there today and didn't the first couple of days. I think that was definitely the difference. It seemed like it all came together nicely for me today.”

Jason Kokrak sits a further shot back alone in sixth, followed by Mito Pererira, Paul Casey, and Marc Leishman.