Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup
Cameroon team members celebrate at the end of their World Cup Group G football match against Brazil at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on Friday. (AFP)
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Updated 03 December 2022

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup
  • Despite the victory on Friday, Cameroon finished third in their group and was eliminated

AP LUSAIL, Qatar: Cameroon coach Rigobert Song came full circle on a memorable and bittersweet night for African soccer.

Jerome Ngom Mbekeli, the only member of Cameroon’s team who plays for a Cameroonian club, made an inspiring run and cross to set up Vincent Aboubakar’s header and stoppage-time winner in a 1-0 victory to make the Indomitable Lions the first African nation to beat Brazil at a World Cup.

Despite the victory on Friday, Cameroon finished third in their group and was eliminated.

The 24-year-old Ngom Mbekeli was Cameroon’s final substitution, coming on four minutes from time. Song credited his own former coach, Henri Michel, for giving him an opportunity in 1994 when he played for local club Tonnerre Yaounde as he was making his World Cup debut.

“You need to trust youth,” Song said through a translator. “Henri Michel gave me an opportunity. He saw the potential in me. Now I’m the coach and I see potential in my young players.

“I knew (Ngom Mbekeli) was a good, quality player. He just needed an opportunity to show that. Hopefully his performance can motivate other local players.”

Goalkeeper Devis Epassy — thrust into action after usual starter Andre Onana was sent home for disciplinary reasons after a dispute with Song before Cameroon’s previous game — earned player of the match honors for a series of difficult saves.

“No one knew me — even in Cameroon — until I started playing for the national team a year ago,” Epassy said through a translator. “We can be proud of what we’ve done tonight. We showed that we can also be a top team.”

Both Epassy and Aboubakar play for clubs in Saudi Arabia.

With eight goals in seven games, the 22-year-old Aboubakar was the top scorer at the African Cup of Nations in January.

Song and Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon’s soccer federation president, are instilling a strict discipline policy modeled after the European clubs that they once played for — Song as a reliable defender and Eto’o as a standout striker.

“That’s where we let ourselves down in the past,” Song said. “Perhaps we didn’t do everything right, so we’re focusing on discipline.

“The team always needs to take precedent over individuals. When you play for the national team you need to do what’s expected of you.”

While Brazil had already advanced and used mostly reserves, Cameroon still became the first team to beat the five-time champion in the World Cup group stage since Norway did it at the 1998 tournament in France — ending an unbeaten run of 17 group matches.

“We realize now that we could have done better,” Song said. “But we’re a young team and today we’ve seen a young team getting stronger and stronger, and they should be congratulated on their performance.

“It’s a real shame that we have to go home now,” Song added. “But we are going to keep working and keep improving.”


Cristiano Ronaldo’s high-tech platform Footlab to launch in Saudi Arabia

Cristiano Ronaldo’s high-tech platform Footlab to launch in Saudi Arabia
Updated 06 February 2023

Cristiano Ronaldo’s high-tech platform Footlab to launch in Saudi Arabia

Cristiano Ronaldo’s high-tech platform Footlab to launch in Saudi Arabia
  • Partnership with Portuguese legend Rui Costa is the world’s first indoor football measurements, performance and training park
  • Footlab has signed an agreement with Kingdom’s Confrontation Entertainment company

Saudi entertainment company Confrontation Entertainment has signed an exclusive franchise agreement with Footlab, a partnership by Cristiano Ronaldo and Rui Costa.

Footlab, a cooperation between the Portuguese football legends through Ronaldo’s tech company 7EGEND, started from an idea to bring to life a blend of e-gaming, real-life football and technology. It is headquartered in Lisbon, Portugal, and opened in 2018.

At the platform, players can train, compete and keep track of their real-time performance data within different stations in the park, which are all connected in a digital ecosystem.

Footlab was designed with the next generation of football players in mind, providing players and trainers with the tools they need to measure and track performance in real time and use that information to create personalized development.

The technology behind it was developed in-house by Sports Scientists, a team of software and hardware engineers, UX designers, AI and data experts, to deliver the world’s leading football data-driven experience.

Luis Parafita, Footlab world CEO, expressed his gratitude for entering the Saudi market through this agreement. “Sports is an integral component of Saudi Arabia’s transformative Vision 2030, and we are thankful for the unconditional support of our partners and the perfect timing to launch Footlab in all (of the) Kingdom, having Cristiano here and world attention for what lies ahead.”

“Footlab aspires to change the game in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he pointed out, “with elite facilities and coaching staff dedicated to the analysis and development of players, empowering teams and groups of friends with challenges, to test and improve their cognitive, physical and technical skills.”

Ahmed Madani, Confrontation Entertainment CEO, said the growth of the sports and entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia made this an ideal time to introduce innovative projects such as Footlab in the market.

He said this partnership was aligned with the Quality of Life Program, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 realization projects “which encourages the private sector to contribute to the development of the entertainment and sports sector, by offering an abundance of new experiences that contribute to raising the quality of life.”


UAE Pro League sees Shabab Al-Ahli lead big boys on goal rampage

UAE Pro League sees Shabab Al-Ahli lead big boys on goal rampage
Updated 06 February 2023

UAE Pro League sees Shabab Al-Ahli lead big boys on goal rampage

UAE Pro League sees Shabab Al-Ahli lead big boys on goal rampage
  • Al-Nasr’s relegation fears growing by the match after another defeat

DUBAI: The ADNOC Pro League’s heavyweights cut loose in a high-scoring matchweek 15, while Al-Nasr’s worrying campaign continued.

A quartet from the top-five teams netted three times or more. Leaders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club led the way with a 5-1 demolition of bottom-placed Dibba Al-Fujairah, with 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin doubling up.

Caio’s pair fueled second-placed Sharjah in their ominous 4-0 defeat of Baniyas and ex-Argentina youth forward Tomas Chancalay carried the major threat with two goals when fourth-placed Al-Wasl downed promoted Al-Bataeh 3-1.

Ukraine maverick Andriy Yarmolenko won a penalty and finished a flowing team move as champions Al-Ain’s uptick in form continued with their 4-1 victory at sinking Al-Dhafra.

The round’s other substantial result resonated toward the foot of the table, third-from-bottom Nasr being picked apart 4-1 by dark horses Ajman in another sizeable loss for the UAE’s relegation-haunted, oldest club.

Third-placed Al-Wahda, meanwhile, kept up the pace with a 2-0 win at Ittihad Kalba, from which lethal striker Joao Pedro was intriguingly omitted from the starting XI.

Lastly, Zayed Al-Ameri’s 90th-minute header salvaged a 1-1 draw for laboring 2020-21 champions Al-Jazira at home to 10th-placed Khor Fakkan.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the Week — Caio (Sharjah)

The summer’s flurry of monster signings gained Sharjah global headlines.

Yet, their true star attraction was already in situ. Saturday’s portentous triumph in Abu Dhabi exemplified this.

Greece center-back Kostas Manolas gained a clean sheet, Bosnia & Herzegovina midfielder Miralem Pjanic teed up Makhete Diop’s headed opener and Spain striker Paco Alcacer got a pair of assists. Those two assists, however, were converted by outstanding eight-goal Brazilian forward Caio.

The 28-year-old has had brushes with the global stage. A Silver Ball-winning performance — to reward the second-best player — when Al-Ain were historic runners-up at the 2018 Club World Cup sparked a transfer to Portuguese giants Benfica.

This switch, however, did not work out and he was soon back on familiar ground. The ADNOC Pro League is fortunate to have him.

A deflected shot in the 52nd-minute at Baniyas Stadium trickled in to add comfort. The lead would then stretch to three in eye-catching fashion.

Alcacer’s telepathic back heel found the grateful Caio on the edge of the penalty box. A fierce, first-time finish arrowed into the bottom corner meant 10 top-flight goal contributions for the campaign.

Sharjah sit second, but have flattered to deceive too often.

An external solution is expected to be imminently confirmed with the loan arrival of Cape Verde forward Djaniny from reigning Turkish champions Trabzonspor. Resident attacker Caio can, though, catalyze Cosmin Olaroiu’s men in the remaining rounds.

Goal of the Week — Andriy Yarmolenko (Al-Ain)

Another matchweek, further encouraging performances from holders Al-Ain and Yarmolenko.

The 33-year-old’s figures have been strong throughout his time in the UAE. He has now accrued 11 goal contributions from 15 top-flight run outs.

Questions, however, were posed — not for the first time in an enigmatic career — about the consistency of this output.

Yarmolenko was a constant menace at Dhafra, winning a penalty late in the first half converted by 17-goal Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba. The best was to come soon after the break.

The ex-Dynamo Kiev star picked up the ball in a pocket of space on his favored right flank. A one-two with rampaging UAE midfielder Khalid Al-Balochi gained him central possession on the outskirts of the area.

A second one-two with Laba then put him clear inside a penalty box packed with dumbfounded Dhafra defenders. Yarmolenko’s sublime touch at speed and instant low drive came from the top drawer.

From four passes in 10 seconds, he’d turned a harmless situation out wide into one of this season’s great team goals.

This is the Yarmolenko dreamt of when Al-Ain pulled off their summer coup.

A third-successive league win, after a preceding three draws, signifies rapid improvement. So, too, a four-point gap to the leaders from fifth.

This upturn — for player and club — will be further stress-tested in Saturday’s grandstand “Al Clasico” against visiting Jazira.

Coach of the Week — Goran Tufegdzic (Ajman)

Ajman are back.

Chastening defeats to heavyweights Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Ain, to a combined score of 2-8, were forgotten when Nasr were disassembled.

Ajman ceded more possession (55 percent/45 percent) and attempts (18/12). Yet Tufegdzic knew he had the counterattacking weapons to pick holes in the visitors’ porous rearguard.

Congo winger Prestige Mboungou, a standout solo goal from Bahrain flyer Ali Medan and ingenious Tunisia schemer Firas Ben Larbi’s double followed.

Tufegdzic, clearly, never lost belief in his troops, despite a tricky start to 2023. This result vindicated his position.

How real are Nasr’s worst fears?

Relief generated by 12th-placed Nasr’s recent victory against Dhafra soon evaporated.

Now the question is how far can they sink?

Goran Tomic — their seventh permanent head coach hired since January 2018 — is under significant pressure, just six top-flight fixtures into his reign. Marquee winter addition Peniel Mlapa is scoreless in three league matches, a continuation of his decline witnessed at Kalba.

They have the second-worst attack (14 goals scored) and fourth-worst defense (29 goals conceded). That’s relegation form.

A four-point gap to Dhafra in the drop zone is uncomfortable, with 11 matches to go. The Western Knights have also shown flickers of life through Bulgaria midfielder Georgi Milanov and bulldozing Brazilian journeyman striker Tiago Leonco.

Last season across the border in Saudi Arabia, it was thought Al-Ahli were too big to go down. Their demise shows that Nasr’s worst fears could yet come true.


Marseille lose 3-1 to Nice, Monaco triumph to keep pressure on

Marseille lose 3-1 to Nice, Monaco triumph to keep pressure on
Updated 06 February 2023

Marseille lose 3-1 to Nice, Monaco triumph to keep pressure on

Marseille lose 3-1 to Nice, Monaco triumph to keep pressure on
  • Strasbourg beat Montpellier 2-0 at home to go 17th as they try to move out of the relegation zone

PARIS: Second-place Marseille saw their unbeaten run end as they lost 3-1 at home to Nice on Sunday to slip eight points behind French league leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

Marseille’s first league defeat in 10 games means they were only ahead of third-place Lens on goal difference, with in-form Monaco now two points back in fourth spot. Third place secures a spot in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League next season.

Marseille fans got a first look at club-record signing Vitinha, a forward who joined from Portuguese side Braga for €32 million ($34.5 million). Terem Moffi made his debut for eighth-place Nice after joining from Lorient, where he scored 12 goals this season.

Neither made much of an impression in a first half where Nice’s superior pressing game troubled Marseille and prevented them from getting the ball regularly to playmaker Dimitri Payet.

Vitinha’s lack of familiarity with his teammates and the 35-year-old Payet’s tiring legs played into Nice’s high-octane game and the visitors scored twice at the end of the first half.

Striker Gaetan Laborde’s shot was saved by goalkeeper Pau Lopez but forward Sofiane Diop followed up to head in off the post in the 38th minute. Nice’s second goal in the 44th was similar as Lopez pushed away a shot from midfielder Khephren Thuram, and this time Laborde followed up.

Marseille coach Igor Tudor replaced Vitinha and Payet, with Ruslan Malinovskyi and Alexis Sanchez coming on for the second half. Malinovskyi pulled one back in the 60th with his first goal for the club, turning in a cross from left back Jonathan Clauss.

But Algeria forward Billal Brahimi scored his first goal for Nice in the 86th with a fine curling shot.

Meanwhile, Monaco extended their unbeaten run to seven matches with a 2-0 win at Clermont.

Early goals from central defender Guillermo Maripan and striker Breel Embolo allowed Monaco to control the game. Coach Philippe Clement’s side is in good form heading into next Saturday’s home game against PSG.

Maripan used his aerial ability to head in from Caio Henrique’s cross in the third minute. Ten minutes later Japan forward Takumi Minamino won the ball and fed Russia midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, whose pinpoint cross was headed in by Embolo.

Lens managed only a 1-1 draw at Brest. Defender Jonathan Gradit equalized from close range in the 83rd for Lens after Brest goalkeeper Marco Bizot miskicked the ball following a corner. Striker Jeremy Le Douaron put Brest ahead in the 54th when he slid to meet Pierre Lees-Melou’s low cross to the back post.

Strasbourg beat Montpellier 2-0 at home to go 17th as they try to move out of the relegation zone, with striker Habib Diallo scoring both goals. Diallo netted after just 13 seconds from Dimitri Lienard’s cross and grabbed his second on the stroke of halftime, with the home side down to 10 men after Jean-Eudes Aholou’s red card in the 33rd.

Nantes won 2-0 at Corsican side Ajaccio with second-half goals from forward Evann Guessand and midfielder Ludovic Blas.

Rock-bottom Angers finally snapped their 13-game losing streak — a French league record — but could only draw 0-0 at Lorient.

English striker Folarin Balogun failed to add to his league-leading 14 goals but Reims extended its unbeaten run to 14 games with a 0-0 draw at 19th-place Auxerre, who had lost their seven previous games and kept a rare clean sheet.

On Saturday, Lionel Messi’s second-half strike helped a lackluster PSG beat Toulouse 2-1.


Bayern down Wolfsburg 4-2 to reclaim Bundesliga lead

Bayern down Wolfsburg 4-2 to reclaim Bundesliga lead
Updated 06 February 2023

Bayern down Wolfsburg 4-2 to reclaim Bundesliga lead

Bayern down Wolfsburg 4-2 to reclaim Bundesliga lead
  • Wolfsburg pressured from the start but Bayern struck first in the ninth minute when Coman’s cross for Muller evaded everyone and crept inside the far post
  • Second-half goals from Jens Stage and Marvin Ducksch earned Werder Bremen a 2-0 win at Stuttgart

BERLIN: Bayern Munich held on despite Joshua Kimmich’s sending off to beat Wolfsburg 4-2 and return to the top of the Bundesliga on Sunday.

Kimmich was sent off with his second yellow card in the 54th but Wolfsburg was unable to make its dominance count as the visitors delivered a lesson in efficiency.

Kingsley Coman scored twice and Thomas Muller and Jamal Musiala added two more while Bayern also needed goalkeeper Yann Sommer at his best to secure the team’s first Bundesliga win of the year.

“The result was important, the victory matters above all else,” Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann said. “We were too careless after the third goal, not concentrated enough and we allowed a bit too much. But we can be positive looking ahead with these three points.”

It was enough for Bayern to move back to one point clear of Union Berlin.

Wolfsburg had 22 shots at goal compared to the 10-time defending champions’ nine.

Wolfsburg pressured from the start but Bayern struck first in the ninth minute when Coman’s cross for Muller evaded everyone and crept inside the far post.

Coman wasn’t finished. The France winger met João Cancelo’s cross with a volley for 2-0 five minutes later, right after Wolfsburg missed a great opportunity to level.

Muller, making his 427th appearance for Bayern to equal Gerd Muller’s record, celebrated by heading in Kimmich’s free kick for Bayern’s third in only the 19th.

Despite the goals, Wolfsburg remained competitive and deservedly pulled one back through Jakub Kaminski before the break.

The home team pushed for more in the scond half, missing two good chances before Kimmich was sent off with his second yellow card for a foul on Maximilian Arnold.

Wolfsburg enjoyed more possession but failed to make it count before Musiala snatched Bayern’s fourth with a fine individual effort in the 73rd.

Mattias Svanberg pulled another back for Wolfsburg in the 81st and Yannick Gerhardt thought he’d made it 4-3 three minutes later, only to see the goal ruled out through VAR for an apparent foul in the buildup.

Earlier, second-half goals from Jens Stage and Marvin Ducksch earned Werder Bremen a 2-0 win at Stuttgart for the visitors’ second consecutive victory.

It lifted promoted Bremen to eighth while Stuttgart dropped back into the relegation zone. Stuttgart haven’t won a game since mid-November.


Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead

Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead
Updated 06 February 2023

Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead

Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead
  • Alba, Gavi and Raphinha scored a goal each in the second half to give Barcelona their fifth straight victory in the league

MADRID: Barcelona took advantage of Real Madrid’s stumble to kick off the second half of the season with another win and enjoy their biggest lead so far at the top of the Spanish league.

After Madrid’s 1-0 loss at Mallorca, Barcelona extended their 10-game winning streak in all competitions with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Sevilla on Sunday to open an eight-point lead over Madrid after 20 of 38 rounds.

It is the biggest lead by any team this season, putting the Catalan club in firm control as they chase their first league title since 2018-19.

“We are having a great season. We have been playing well, not giving many chances for our opponents,” Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said. “It’s eight points. There’s a lot of league left, but it’s a good gap.”

Alba, Gavi and Raphinha scored a goal each in the second half to give Barcelona their fifth straight victory in the league.

The last game Barcelona failed to win was a 1-1 league draw against Espanyol last year.

Sevilla, who got off to a surprisingly awful start to the season, were coming off two straight league wins that had helped it move further away from the relegation zone. They dropped to 16th place with the loss, two points from the drop zone.

Marco Asensio missed a penalty kick in Madrid’s loss at Mallorca in their last match before traveling to Morocco to play at the Club World Cup.

Madrid were depleted by injuries and rested some players ahead of the Club World Cup,

“We already expected a very tough match,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We had our chances but couldn’t take advantage of them.”

Ancelotti couldn’t count on several injured starters, including striker Karim Benzema, defender Eder Militao and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was dropped from the squad at the last minute after getting injured during the warmup. Ancelotti also rested midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who came on in the second half.

Asensio missed a chance to equalize when his 60th-minute penalty kick was saved by Mallorca goalkeeper Pedrag Rajkovic after Madrid forward Vinicius Junior had been fouled. Madrid’s last chance was a header by Antonio Rüdiger that went narrowly wide deep into stoppage time.

The hosts got on the board with an own-goal by Nacho Fernandez, who was replacing Militao in defense. Nacho went for a high cross and deflected the ball into his own net over goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, who started in place of Courtois.

“I hit the ball with my head and unfortunately it went into the top corner,” Nacho said. “It was a complicated match, against a team that is having a good season. It’s a pity that we let three points get away.”

Madrid were coming off a win against Valencia after being held by Real Sociedad. Its opponent in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Wednesday will be Egyptian club Al Ahly.

It was the second win in three league matches for Mallorca, and the fourth straight at home. They remained midtable with 28 points from 20 matches.

“It’s a good result, moves us further away from the relegation zone,” Mallorca’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre said. “But there are many matches left, we can’t relax.”

Vinicius was shown a yellow card and will be suspended for Madrid’s next league game against last-place Elche.

Real Sociedad missed a chance to move within three points of Madrid after losing 1-0 to Valladolid at home.

It was the third winless game for the Basque Country club after a nine-game winning streak in all competitions. Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss to Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, and a 0-0 draw at Madrid in the league.

Newly signed Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a second-half winner for 13th-place Valladolid, who have won two in a row after five straight losses in all competitions.

Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 defeat at Girona, a result that extended their losing streak to five matches in all competitions.

Valencia have only one win in its last 12 league matches and is sitting just outside the relegation zone.

Girona moved to 11th place.