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.


Vinicius effigy hung from bridge before Madrid derby

Vinicius effigy hung from bridge before Madrid derby
Updated 26 January 2023

Vinicius effigy hung from bridge before Madrid derby

Vinicius effigy hung from bridge before Madrid derby
  • The Vinicius effigy was described as a "racist attack" and "serious threat" against the Brazilian forward by Spanish media
  • Police sources told AFP they were investigating the incident, without offering further details

MADRID: A dummy dressed in a Vinicius Junior shirt was hung from a bridge near Real Madrid’s training ground ahead of the Copa del Rey quarter-final clash against Atletico Madrid on Thursday.
“Madrid hates Real,” read a banner draped on the bridge close to Valdebebas overnight Wednesday.
The Vinicius effigy was described as a “racist attack” and “serious threat” against the Brazilian forward by Spanish media.
Police sources told AFP they were investigating the incident, without offering further details.
The slogan is one which has been used by Atletico Madrid ultras in the past.
“Such acts are absolutely repugnant and inadmissible and shame society,” said Atletico in a statement.
“Our condemnation of any act that attacks the dignity of persons or institutions is categorical and unreserved.”
Atletico fans were filmed aiming racist chants at Vinicius in September before the Madrid derby at the Wanda Metropolitano in La Liga.
However, in December Spanish prosecutors closed an investigation into the chants, saying it was not possible to identify those culpable.
“We condemn the hateful actions against Vinicius,” wrote La Liga on Twitter.
“Intolerance and violence do not fit within football.”
Real Madrid’s 22-year-old winger is a divisive figure in Spanish football, with opponents sometimes angered by his flair and playing style, and his propensity to go to ground easily.
On the other hand, Vinicius is often targeted and hacked by opposition defenders to try and put him off his game, with no player in Europe fouled more this season.
“We have to protect him,” urged Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti on Wednesday in a news conference.
“Football needs him, he’s got an extraordinary talent and we have to protect him physically and in a mental aspect too.”
Real Madrid host rivals Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu later on Thursday.


‘New teams, new brand’: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle looks ahead to Diriyah E-Prix double-header

‘New teams, new brand’: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle looks ahead to Diriyah E-Prix double-header
Updated 26 January 2023

‘New teams, new brand’: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle looks ahead to Diriyah E-Prix double-header

‘New teams, new brand’: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle looks ahead to Diriyah E-Prix double-header
  • Reigle talks exclusively to Arab News about Season 9, the new Gen3 car and what the future holds for the all-electric series

In the end, it proved all right on the night.

Almost 40,000 raucous fans turned up to welcome Formula E’s Gen3 era in Mexico City two weeks ago, and this weekend Riyadh will host the Diriyah E-Prix double-header.

“Mexico was fantastic,” Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle said. “I guess I have to start by saying there’s no denying that there was a pretty high degree of anxiety as we came into the race, for a host of reasons. First of all, it’s the first race to the season, so inevitably it’s a mix of excited emotions and anxious emotions.

“We’re talking top tier sport drivers, team principals, the manufacturers that want to win — so good that sense of anticipation, but this year that was ramped up, because it’s a brand new car, Gen3, which is a big leap forward.

“And we really push the limits in terms of the car,” he added. “We reduced the weight by 60 kg, we increased the power by 100 kilowatts, a lot of changes under the hood, so to speak, as well as new tires and a new battery. So there were some pretty well cataloged challenges that the teams faced in the testing period.”

After four successful years of Gen2, Formula E seems to have been given a reboot.

“From a purely commercial perspective, we launched our new brand identity,” Reigle said. “We had three new teams coming in, you had Maserati joining, in partnership with Monaco Sports Group, you had McLaren coming in, and then Cupra, coming back with the ABT team. New teams, new brands, just everything was new, and it was really successful.”

On Friday and Saturday the action moves to Saudi Arabia with rounds 2 and 3 of Formula E Season 9 taking place under the lights in Diriyah, increasingly a favorite destination for the drivers.

“I was at dinner last night — we did a charity fundraiser, gala dinner, and I was at the table with Andre Lotterer (of Avalanche Andretti),” said Reigle. “I wasn’t trying to tee him up. We had a group of guests and I asked ‘Andre, so what’s your favorite circuit in Formula E and motorsport?’ This guy has won Le Mans three times and raced in a lot of places. Without skipping a beat, he said Diriyah. It’s fast, high-speed corners, it’s really challenging to drive. The setting is amazing and it’s a night race, and sport, especially the electric cars and motorsport, just looks cool at night.

“The drivers love it.”

Reigle’s first race as CEO was Diriyah in 2019, and he has overseen the sport’s growth in the ensuing three years, which, of course, included the COVID-19 pandemic.

The future, he says, “is electric.”

Reigle added: “If you think about sports that didn’t exist 20, 30 years ago, and are big today, there’s very, very few. There’s really only one that has broken into the top, top tier, and it’s probably UFC. It was started in the 90s, kind of bubbled around, and then it got bigger and bigger.

“And Formula E has that opportunity,” he added. “We’ve got the top drivers, we’ve got a lot of the top manufacturers and teams — all the conditions are there. We’ve got these great venues. The question is do we have the fan base?”

The turnout in Mexico — “a big moment” — as well as the Gen3 car and changes in racing format, would suggest that increasingly, Formula E does.

Then there is the stellar lineup of drivers.

“People want to watch the best compete against the best,” Reigle said. “The good news for Formula E is that we already have a very high caliber of stars. Because of the way we grew up, we don’t have pay drivers, we don’t have guys whose dad owns the team. It’s all top tier professionals — guys who have won Le Mans, who have been in Formula One, who have won in DTM and who built their careers in Formula E.”

Reigle highlighted the career path of Dutch driver Nyck De Vries — Formula E champion in 2021 and now signed to Formula One’s Scuderia AlphaTauri — as an example of the high standards in electric racing. Other examples are Mitch Evans and Jake Dennis, the winner in Mexico City.

“Last year we did Indonesia for the first time and we had 60,000 people,” said Reigle. “MotoGP, that’s their only really international sporting event, now we’re adding to that. So you’ve got these big opportunities in emerging markets.

“This year we’re adding Hyderabad, Cape Town — we’re heading to Sao Paulo and Portland. Those are big markets that we’re going to open up, which is really exciting.

“If in three years, we’re not adding a few more cities, I’ll be disappointed.”


Making Miracles to miss out on Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup

Making Miracles will miss out on The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2023
Making Miracles is one of the favorites for Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2023
Updated 26 January 2023

Making Miracles to miss out on Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup

Making Miracles will miss out on The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2023
  • Horse with an impressive track record in the Saudi field has claimed five titles

RIYADH: Making Miracles, slated as one of the favorites to win The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2023, will now not take part in the race.

Thanks to his experience in the Saudi races and becoming a remarkable asset of the White and Blue Stable owned by Prince Saud bin Salman. Making Miracles was initially expected to particpate in this year’s renewal of the cup, which will take place at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Janadriyah next Friday and Saturday.

The British horse was born in 2015, and when he turned four began to write a rich history for his stable.

Making Miracles previously claimed three international class 2 cups, including two races at Hajjduk track and Handicap track, alongside winning a round in the “At the Races” event in 2018. His most famous win was The Chester Handicap in 2019.

Making Miracles gained his fame in the Saudi races after he claimed five titles, including three rounds in the first-class races, winning the Open race of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2022 and the Crown Prince Cup two times in a row.

Making Miracles also came fourth in The Saudi Cup 2022 and was placed second in The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2021 before finishing second in The Jockey Club Cup in the same season.

The British horse currently has a rating of 114 degrees and is also one of the favorite horses of veteran rider Alexis Mourinho, who last year led him to win The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup. Total career winnings for Making Miracles have reached $2.13 million (SR 8 million).

Prince Saud bin Salman’s stable includes the biggest and most expensive Saudi Cup championships. He managed in record time to win the Founder’s Cup three times in a row, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup and The Crown Prince Cup twice in a row, the King Fahd Cup, King Faisal Cup and Prince Muhammad bin Saud Cup.


Man City face Arsenal showdown, Liverpool eye revenge in FA Cup

Man City face Arsenal showdown, Liverpool eye revenge in FA Cup
Updated 26 January 2023

Man City face Arsenal showdown, Liverpool eye revenge in FA Cup

Man City face Arsenal showdown, Liverpool eye revenge in FA Cup
  • Arsenal are riding high after victories over Tottenham and Manchester United in the league, while City stayed in touch after responding to a blast from Pep Guardiola 

LONDON: Manchester City and Arsenal take a break from an intense Premier League title race this weekend —- only to face each other in a heavyweight FA Cup clash at the Etihad.

Holders Liverpool will look to avenge their chastening recent defeat at Brighton, while Harry Kane could become Tottenham's all-time top scorer.

Here are  some of the highlights ahead of this weekend's FA Cup fourth-round ties.

Unexpectedly trailing in Arsenal's wake in the Premier League, Manchester City have the chance to slow the leaders' momentum in their first meeting this season.

City are five points behind Arsenal, who have a game in hand, but the champions still have to play the Gunners twice in the league, making their FA Cup showdown a tantalizng appetiser ahead of the main course.

Arsenal are riding high after victories over Tottenham and Manchester United in the league, while City stayed in touch after responding to a blast from Pep Guardiola by beating Tottenham and Wolves.

"At halftime the other day, Pep told us what he wanted, what he wasn't happy with. As players we were not at our best and we had to correct that," City defender John Stones said of his side's fightback from two goals down to defeat Tottenham 4-2.

It would be a major statement of intent from Arsenal if they are able to put Guardiola in another grumpy mood with a victory at the Etihad Stadium.

Jurgen Klopp said he "couldn't remember a worse game" than Liverpool's woeful 3-0 defeat at Brighton, a performance so wretched that Jordan Henderson labelled it a "really low point" in an already traumatic season for the Reds.

It is safe to say Liverpool's trip to the Amex Stadium on January 14 left some painful scars on Klopp and company.

But the FA Cup offers them an unexpected chance to erase those bitter memories and get their campaign back on track.

Liverpool return to Brighton languishing ninth in the Premier League, 10 points adrift of the top four.

It is a remarkable fall from grace after they came within a whisker of winning an unprecedented quadruple last season.

Admitting Liverpool are still mentally fatigued from their bid for sporting immortality, Spain midfielder Thiago Alcantara said: "It is not just about physical stuff, it is something psychological because we were so close to winning everything and we just touched it but sadly it went away."

Harry Kane would love the chance to become Tottenham's record goalscorer at Preston on Saturday.

Kane drew level with Jimmy Greaves on 266 Spurs goals when he netted with a superb strike in the team's Premier League win at Fulham on Monday.

Greaves' tally had stood untouched since 1970, but the England captain is now on the verge of sole possession of the record.

With fifth-placed Tottenham in the midst of a fight to climb back into the Premier League's top four, Antonio Conte could rest his stars against second-tier Preston.

But, mindful of Tottenham's surprise defeat at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fifth round last season, Kane is keen to play.

"The FA Cup is important for us. It was disappointing to lose to Middlesbrough. We will see what the manager says but I will be ready," said Kane, who is still looking to win the first major trophy of his career.

Fixtures

Friday

Manchester City vs. Arsenal (2000 GMT)

Saturday (1500 GMT unless stated)

Accrington vs. Leeds (1230), Walsall vs. Leicester (1230), Blackburn vs. Birmingham, Bristol City vs. West Brom, Fulham vs. Sunderland, Ipswich vs. Burnley, Luton vs. Grimsby, Sheffield Wednesday vs. Fleetwood, Southampton vs. Blackpool, Preston vs. Tottenham (1800) Manchester United vs. Reading (2000)

Sunday

Brighton vs. Liverpool (1330), Stoke vs. Stevenage (1400), Wrexham vs. Sheffield United (1630)

Monday

Derby v West Ham (1945)


T20 competitions giving local players chance to shine alongside cricket’s established stars

T20 competitions giving local players chance to shine alongside cricket’s established stars
Updated 26 January 2023

T20 competitions giving local players chance to shine alongside cricket’s established stars

T20 competitions giving local players chance to shine alongside cricket’s established stars
  • The ICC’s objectives to grow the game globally are coming to fruition with tournaments in the UAE and South Africa among those taking place

There is so much cricket being played professionally and internationally at the moment that one of the International Cricket Council’s objectives to grow the game worldwide is coming to fruition. Opportunities to play on a world stage are now afforded to players who could only have dreamed about it a few years ago.

This is true for the UAE men cricketers who are playing in the DPO World ILT20. Each of the six teams have four UAE players allocated to them, of whom two must be selected for the playing 11. The experience that they gain from playing alongside some of the world’s best cricketers will be invaluable for their development.

Rohan Mustafa has been opening the batting for Desert Vipers alongside Englishman Alex Hales, watching him score 418 runs in five matches, almost twice as many as anyone else.

Mustafa is an experienced cricketer at 33 years of age and may not have that much to learn compared with Vriitya Aravind, who is 20 years old and playing for the MI Emirates along with Muhammad Waseem. The latter started brightly with scores of 71 and 40 in his first two innings but posted low scores in his next three innings. Aravind has made only one start so far.

There have been creditable bowling performances by UAE players. Akif Raja has played in all five matches for Dubai Capitals, claiming six wickets, including one with his second delivery of the tournament.

Junaid Siddique has played five matches for Sharjah Warriors, also claiming six wickets at an economical rate. However, the most eye-catching performance was by Sanchi Sharma. He has taken six wickets for the Gulf Giants, three of them coming against the Abu Dhabi Knight Riders, whose number two, three and four batters were his victims, sufficient to earn him player of the match.

The DP World IT20 reached its halfway stage of the 30 round-robin matches on Jan. 24, when the Desert Vipers beat MI Emirates to join the Gulf Giants at the top of the table on eight points after five matches. The Abu Dhabi Knight Riders are rooted to the foot of the table with one point gained in a rain-abandoned match.

In South Africa, two-thirds of the SA20 competition had been completed on Jan. 24, when it took a break until Feb. 2, while the South African’s men’s team take on England’s in a three-match ODI series. The break comes with Pretoria Capitals leading the way on 23 points from seven matches, followed by Sunrisers Eastern Cape and Paarl Royals, both with 17 points from eight matches.

The opportunities provided by these tournaments are for men but, elsewhere in South Africa, the first women’s Under-19 T20 World Cup is taking place in Potchefstroom and Benoni in the north of the country. Originally scheduled for January 2021, it was delayed by COVID-19 to December 2021 and then again by the pandemic to January 2023.

Twelve teams automatically qualified and four others — UAE, Indonesia, Scotland, Rwanda — via regional qualifying groups. It is the first time that either Rwanda or Indonesia have qualified for an ICC World Cup tournament at any level, while for Scotland, UAE, Indonesia and the US, it represents first-time qualification for a women’s ICC World Cup at any level. New opportunities opened up for them.

The 16 teams were divided into four groups, playing against the other three teams in the group. After those matches, the top three teams in each group progressed to a Super Six League stage. In this, the qualifying teams from Group A played two of the qualifying teams from Group D and qualifying teams from Group B played against two of the qualifying teams from Group C. New Zealand and England have qualified from Group 2 for the semifinals, to be joined by India and Australia from Group 1.

Although the UAE reached the Super Sixes, the team was unable to progress further. Rwanda used its opportunity well, making an impressive debut in a World Cup tournament. The team beat Zimbabwe in the group stage and then caused a major upset by overcoming the West Indies in a Super Six match. Rwanda’s two spinners, Sylvia Usabyimana and Marie Tumukunde, each claimed four wickets, the latter for only four runs, to ruin their opponent’s chances of reaching the semifinals.

South Africa is also host to the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, 2023, which begins on Feb. 10. All matches will be played in the south of the country, with the final at Cape Town on Feb. 26.

Ten teams will compete, divided into two groups of five, from which the top two teams will progress to the semifinals. Ireland and Bangladesh joined eight automatic qualifiers via a qualifying tournament in Sept. 2022.

If all of this is not enough, the inaugural Women’s India Premier League is set to launch in March, 2023, after a long wait. It will be comprised of five teams who will compete in a double round-robin league that leads to a play-off stage. Each squad is to comprise 18 players and a maximum of six overseas players, five of whom can be in a playing 1, but one of whom has to be from an ICC associate member.

On Jan. 25, sealed bids were opened to reveal the winners of the five franchises. These bids totalled $573 million, exceeding, on relative conversion rates, the amount paid for the men’s first IPL in 2008. The highest bid of $158 million was submitted by Adani Sportsline Ltd. for the Ahmedabad franchise, other successful bids sitting in a range of $93 million to $111 million.

In 15 years, professional cricket has spun in a quite different direction in terms of format and financial rewards, starting with men. Given that the first women’s T20 World Cup was played in 2009 and the first professional contracts were introduced in 2014, opportunities have been opened up for women in a way that seemed most unlikely at the time.