Saudi, Tunisia and Morocco eye Round of 16 as Qatar depart

Special Saudi, Tunisia and Morocco eye Round of 16 as Qatar depart
Saudi Arabia’s Ali Al-Hassan, Saud Abdulhamid and Haitham Asiri during training at the Sealine Training Site, Mesaieed, Qatar, Nov. 29, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 November 2022

Saudi, Tunisia and Morocco eye Round of 16 as Qatar depart

Saudi, Tunisia and Morocco eye Round of 16 as Qatar depart
  • It has been a disappointing showing for the hosts but the rest of the Arab contingent go into last round of group matches with hopes of progress alive

It has been, as you would expect, an up and down World Cup so far for its Arab quartet. With Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco all having played two games each, there has been glory, excitement, heartbreak, disappointment and more besides.

Importantly, there is still hope for all but one. At this stage in Russia 2018, all three of the region’s teams — those mentioned above minus the current hosts — all knew they were heading home regardless of the result in the final group match.

QATAR (0 pts)

That is the situation Qatar are now in. It has been a disastrous tournament on the pitch for the Asian champions who can, at least, take heart for the future given the improvements made by their regional rivals. That will be scant consolation for now, however, given the two defeats suffered at the hands of Ecuador and then Senegal.

The opening game was a huge disappointment for the Maroons, as they seemed to freeze in front of the South Americans and the watching world, and were a little fortunate to only lose 2-0. The subsequent performance against the African champions was clearly better but, once again, the hosts found themselves two goals down and gave themselves too much to do, and lost 3-1.

It meant the end of the decade-long dream but the World Cup is not yet over. It was hoped that the match against the Netherlands, a glamour game against a genuine football giant, would actually mean something. It does not in terms of Qatar’s progression from the group but there is still pride to play for as well as the prize of a first ever point or more.

The Dutch need a win to be sure of going through and will want to top the group to avoid a likely clash with England in the second round. That will give the game a competitive edge and will give Qatar a last chance to show the world what they are made of.

SAUDI ARABIA (3 pts)

Saudi Arabia have already done that with a legendary win against the mighty Argentina, still the biggest result of this World Cup. That was followed by a 2-0 defeat against Poland, a game that many felt the Green Falcons deserved more from. Had Salem Al-Dawsari scored a first-half penalty, or the team taken many of their chances, then Herve Renard’s men would be sitting pretty in Group C with four points. Still, had you offered the two-time Asian champions three points from the opening two games two weeks ago, they would certainly have taken it.

Regardless, they still control their own destiny. A win against Mexico means six points and a place in the last 16 for the first time since 1994. It could happen. With tens of thousands of supporters ready to stand behind them once more, anything is possible.

“I hope they won’t give up,” Renard said, “because when you are fans, you need to support your team when it’s a fantastic day, but you also need to support your team to make history during the third game.”

It is not history but mathematics that would determine the standings should there be a draw. It would mean that Saudi Arabia would have four points and finish above El Tri, who have yet to impress, yet to win and yet to even score — and have just one point.

Then it would all be about the other clash. Should Poland, top of the group with four points, defeat Argentina, who have three, then all will be well — but anything else and it comes down to goal difference. If the South Americans and Europeans draw, then the Arab team would lose out by the narrowest of margins, which means that a big win for either team would be beneficial. The dream scenario for Saudi Arabia is victory against Mexico and a draw elsewhere which would mean top spot and the (very likely) avoidance of France in the second round.

TUNISIA (1 pt)

Progress for Saudi in first place would also involve a potential knockout clash with Tunisia. It is a long shot, but stranger things have happened. The Carthage Eagles impressed in the opening Group D game with a 0-0 draw against Denmark but were frustrated by Australia and lost 1-0. Now they have to beat France to have a chance of a first appearance in the second round. It is a big ask but the defending champions are already through and virtually assured of top spot.

Victory alone is not enough but anything other than an Australia win against Denmark, who also have just one point, would give Tunisia a chance. A draw would mean that the victorious North Africans would finish second above the Socceroos as they already have a better goal difference.

A Scandinavian win would mean it would all depend on who won by a bigger margin. The minimum requirement, however, is a famous victory against France. Whatever happens, Jalel Kadri’s men can leave Qatar with much to be proud of. They have shown they can defend, work hard and fight. Now they have to score and win.

MOROCCO (4 pts)

Last, and very much not least, Morocco. Their already famous 2-0 win over Belgium on Sunday put them on four points from the first two games following an opening 0-0 draw with Croatia. It all means that a point against the already eliminated Canada will be enough for a first appearance in the second round since 1986. The North Americans may have lost both games so far but have been competitive. It would, however, be a major disappointment if Morocco slip up with the promised land so close.

Even a loss may not be a disaster. Should Croatia defeat the hitherto unimpressive Belgium, which would not be a surprise, then the Atlas Lions are through whatever happens. A draw in the all-European clash would pit Belgium’s goal difference against Morocco’s.

It is looking good for Morocco, possible for Saudi Arabia, unlikely for Tunisia and over for Qatar, but there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns to come.


Andre Carrillo played through pain barrier to help Al-Hilal defeat Flamengo

Andre Carrillo played through pain barrier to help Al-Hilal defeat Flamengo
Updated 17 min 12 sec ago

Andre Carrillo played through pain barrier to help Al-Hilal defeat Flamengo

Andre Carrillo played through pain barrier to help Al-Hilal defeat Flamengo
  • Peruvian star was injured in win over Wydad, leaving his place in lineup against Brazilian club in doubt

Al-Hilal’s Peruvian star Andre Carrillo has revealed how he played with a painful injury during the Saudi club’s sensational 3-2 win against Flamengo in the FIFA Club World Cup semifinal on Tuesday night.

Carrillo had suffered an injury which saw him limp off the pitch in the previous match against Wydad, casting doubt on his ability to take part in the Tangiers semifinal.

“My participation was still not confirmed in the morning, and I did the impossible in order to take part in the match,” he said.

“I endured the injury and insisted on participating. I asked the medical staff for a pain-killing injection to participate in such an important meeting.”

In Saturday’s final Al-Hilal will meet the winner of the second semifinal between Egypt’s Al-Ahly and Spain’s Real Madrid, taking place on Wednesday night in Rabat.


Andy Murray gets wildcard entry for Dubai Tennis Championships

Andy Murray gets wildcard entry for Dubai Tennis Championships
Updated 08 February 2023

Andy Murray gets wildcard entry for Dubai Tennis Championships

Andy Murray gets wildcard entry for Dubai Tennis Championships
  • For second successive year, 3-time Grand Slam champion returns to the ATP 500 event, set to run from Feb. 26 to March 4 at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium

DUBAI: British tennis legend Andy Murray has confirmed his participation at this month’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, accepting a second-consecutive wildcard and adding yet more quality to a men’s field that already features eight of the world’s top 20 male players.

The annual two-week championships, which starts with the yearly WTA event, is scheduled to run from Feb. 19 to March 4.

While capturing three Grand Slam titles is a huge part of Murray’s successful tennis career, the Scot reached world No. 1 in 2016 and made history at that year’s Olympic Games when he became the only player to win back-to-back gold medals in tennis singles.

A two-time finalist in Dubai, Murray defeated Fernando Verdasco in 2017 to lift the trophy, before a series of injuries saw him slip down the world rankings.

Murray — who at the 2012 US Open became the first British male in 77 years to win a Grand Slam — accepted a wildcard to return to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium last year. Making his first appearance at the ATP 500 event since his triumph five years earlier, he reached the Round of 16 and will be looking to improve on that this time around after some encouraging performances at last month’s Australian Open.

“Coming back to Dubai brings with it a lot of good memories, not least 2017 and the final with Fernando,” said two-time Wimbledon champion Murray, who also reached the final in Dubai in 2012. My form is improving and my game is getting better, so the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships provides another great opportunity for me to continue to climb back up the rankings.”

Murray joins a stellar field that includes new world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who is chasing a sixth Dubai title, last year’s champion Andrey Rublev, 2021 US Open winner Daniil Medvedev, Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev, and world No. 7 Felix Auger-Aliassime, among others.

“We are delighted to welcome Andy back to Dubai,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Everybody knows how important a figure he is in British tennis and, as we have seen in the seven previous times he has competed at our event, he always attracts a strong and passionate support base. He accepted our wildcard last year and was a credit to the tournament and we are very happy he has accepted our invite once again.”


We wish Al-Ahly success, but will respect any opponent in FIFA Club World Cup final, says Al-Hilal defender Abdulhamid

We wish Al-Ahly success, but will respect any opponent in FIFA Club World Cup final, says Al-Hilal defender Abdulhamid
Updated 08 February 2023

We wish Al-Ahly success, but will respect any opponent in FIFA Club World Cup final, says Al-Hilal defender Abdulhamid

We wish Al-Ahly success, but will respect any opponent in FIFA Club World Cup final, says Al-Hilal defender Abdulhamid
  • Egyptian giants will face European champions Real Madrid in the second semifinal on Wednesday night in Rabat
  • Al-Hilal stunned Brazil’s Flamengo 3-2 to become first Saudi team to reach the competitions final

Al-Hilal left-back Saud Abdulhamid has insisted that the Saudi team will treat whoever they meet in the FIFA Club World Cup final with equal respect, even if he has slight preference for fellow Arab club Al-Ahly over European champions Real Madrid.

“We deserved to beat Flamengo, and such matches show the personality of the big teams, and are decided on small details, and we were able to defeat Flamengo with these details,” he said.

Egyptian giants Al-Ahly will face Real Madrid on Wednesday night in Rabat for the right to meet Al-Hilal in Saturday’s final.

“We always hope for a win for us as Arabs, but we will honor whoever comes,” Abdulhamid said.

Al-Hilal’s win avenged defeat in the semifinal of the 2019 edition of the competition against the same opponents. It was also the first time that a Saudi team has reached the final of the Club World Cup and the first victory by an Asian team over a Brazilian club.


Al-Hilal coach Diaz: Flamengo were surprised by our skill and tactics

Al-Hilal coach Diaz: Flamengo were surprised by our skill and tactics
Updated 08 February 2023

Al-Hilal coach Diaz: Flamengo were surprised by our skill and tactics

Al-Hilal coach Diaz: Flamengo were surprised by our skill and tactics
  • The Saudi and Asian champions overcame the Brazilian giants 3-2 to reach the final of the FIFA Club World Cup on Feb. 11

Al-Hilal coach Ramon Diaz has expressed delight at reaching the FIFA Club World Cup 2022 final, after his team defeated Brazilian giants Flamengo 3-2 in their semifinal at Tangiers Stadium in Morocco.

“We are all happy because Al-Hilal is the largest club in Saudi Arabia, and we are proud to represent it and of the successes that we are achieving,” the Argentine said during the press conference after the match.

Salem Al-Dawsari gave Al-Hilal a fourth-minute lead from the penalty spot before Pedro equalized on 20 minutes. In stoppage time of the first half, Al-Dawsari scored his second spot-kick of the match to give the Saudi team the lead at the break.

Luciano Vietto extended Al-Hilal’s lead on 70 minutes, before Pedro scored a consolation goal for the Brazilians in stoppage time.

Asked whether tension in the Flamengo team helped Al-Hilal record their famous victory, he said: “Perhaps they were surprised by the players’ skills and our way of playing. In the first half, they only created one attack, and it was a very intense tactical match.”

Diaz highlighted the contribution of fellow Argentine Vietto, who won both penalties during the match. “Vietto was the playmaker and excels at perpetrating the opposition team. He is developing a lot and is very important to us.”

Flamengo were reduced to 10 men when midfielder Gerson was sent off after giving away the second penalty of the night. The Brazilian club’s coach complained about the refereeing in the match, but Diaz dismissed that as the reason for his side’s win.

“We should not focus on the refereeing, we should focus on the way we played,” he said. “We saw a strong team that could not reach our goal often, and this is evidence of the quality of our team’s tactics and players. We were playing one against one instead of three against three, and we played a great match and dominated for majority of its course.”


LeBron James breaks Kareem’s NBA all-time points-scoring record

LeBron James breaks Kareem’s NBA all-time points-scoring record
Updated 08 February 2023

LeBron James breaks Kareem’s NBA all-time points-scoring record

LeBron James breaks Kareem’s NBA all-time points-scoring record
  • The Los Angeles Lakers star passed Abdul-Jabbar’s longstanding total of 38,387 points after nailing a 21-foot shot late in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City
  • Abdul-Jabbar, sitting courtside, was among the first to congratulate James as play was interrupted to salute an iconic moment in NBA history

LOS ANGELES: LeBron James finally eclipsed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the most prolific scorer in NBA history on Tuesday, breaking a 39-year record that many throughout basketball believed would never be beaten.

The Los Angeles Lakers star, playing in his 20th season in the NBA, passed Abdul-Jabbar’s longstanding total of 38,387 points after nailing a 21-foot shot late in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

James flung his arms aloft in relief as the Crypto.com Arena erupted in wild celebration at his new record of 38,388 points.

Abdul-Jabbar, sitting courtside, was among the first to congratulate James as play was interrupted to salute an iconic moment in NBA history.

“To be able to be in the presence of a legend and great as Kareem it means so much to me,” James told the crowd before thanking family, friends and fans.

“Everybody that’s ever been part of this run with me these last 20 years, I just want to say I thank you so much because I wouldn’t be me without all your help, all your passion and all your sacrifices to help me get to this point.”

James also paid tribute to NBA commissioner Adam Silver and his predecessor, the late David Stern.

“Thank you guys so much for allowing me to be a part of something I’ve always dreamed about, and I would never ever in a million years have dreamt this even better than what it is tonight,” James added before signing off with an F-bomb.

After a dazzling season that has seen him average 30 points per game in a struggling Lakers outfit, James went into Tuesday’s clash with Oklahoma City needing just 36 points to surpass Abdul-Jabbar.

The 38-year-old took his time before surging toward his magic number, missing his first two attempts before finally nailing a three-pointer midway through the first quarter to get off the mark.

The four-time NBA champion would go on to score eight points in the opening quarter, leaving him 28 short as the second quarter got under way.

James upped the pace in the second quarter with 12 quick points before being subbed off with 5:34 left in the half, 16 points away from the record by half-time.

A pair of back-to-back three pointers midway through the third quarter left him just eight points away from the record, with 28 on the night, before a driving layup put him within six.

Two more layups left him two points away before he duly converted his long-range effort to seal the record.

James has been at pains to dampen anticipation surrounding his record chase this season, insisting that his priority remains helping the Lakers become a competitive outfit once more.

However, in recent days he has been more expansive when discussing the record, saying last week that beating Abdul-Jabbar’s mark was comparable to breaking baseball’s all-time home run record.

“I think it’s one of the greatest records in sports in general,” James said.

“I think it’s up there with the home run record in baseball. It’s one of those records that you just don’t ever see or think that would be broken.”

Many in the NBA agreed, believing that Abdul-Jabbar’s record was untouchable in the modern era.

“I think most of us back then thought that record would never be broken,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said of Abdul-Jabbar’s record last weekend.

“So to see LeBron do it over 20 years is pretty remarkable and a testament to not only his ability but his durability.

“He’s just a machine. He’s healthy and a physical force night after night.”

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who coached James to two of his four NBA championships in 2012 and 2013, said he had always assumed Abdul-Jabbar’s record would never be beaten.

“I thought that would be untouchable,” Spoelstra told NBA.com before James’s record-breaking performance on Tuesday.

Tyronn Lue, James’s former coach at the Cleveland Cavaliers, believes the scoring record is the crowning achievement of his glittering career.

“This has to be No. 1, seeing how long Kareem has held this record (since 1984). I know LeBron has his championships and MVPs. But to be the all-time leading scorer in NBA history, considering all the great players that have come through this game? That’s a big-time accomplishment,” Lue told NBA.com.