Twilight for Busquets, last of Spain’s champs at World Cup

Twilight for Busquets, last of Spain’s champs at World Cup
Spain's head coach Luis Enrique, left, embraces Sergio Busquets after the penalty shootout at the World Cup round of 16 between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 07 December 2022

Twilight for Busquets, last of Spain’s champs at World Cup

Twilight for Busquets, last of Spain’s champs at World Cup
  • One by one, Spain’s greatest generation has aged out of the national team
  • Busquets wore the captain’s armband, the leader and senior statesman

AL RAYYAN, Qatar: Sergio Busquets stood in the center circle, hands on hips, a blank look on his face.

He reached soccer’s top step with Spain and now had been stung by La Roja’s third straight elimination from a major tournament on penalty kicks, this time 3-0 to Morocco after a 0-0 draw Tuesday in the round of 16 of the World Cup.

Spain have become a team of the past, their passing game passé.

“What we did was dominate the game but we lacked the goal, that is the reality,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said through a translator, accepting defeat without anger or expressions of sorrow. “There is no point in punishing oneself.”

Now 34, Busquets contributed to Spain’s demise.

Morocco had taken a 1-0 lead in the shootout when Pablo Sarabia put his attempt off a post, and Carlos Soler’s effort was blocked by diving goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, keeping the Moroccans ahead 2-0. Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon saved Badr Benoun’s effort, and Bounoun leaped to his right and batted away Busquets’ penalty. Achraf Hakimi followed with the winner.

“It’s always a tossup. This time we got tails,” Busquets said. “We missed the first three penalties, and then it’s very difficult to go through.”

Four years ago, Busquets didn’t shoot in the penalty-kick loss to Russia, also in round of 16. Last year, he hooked a shot and hit a post with the opening kick as Spain beat Switzerland in the European Championship quarterfinals.

One by one, Spain’s greatest generation has aged out of the national team, the defensive duo of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, the steady superiority of goalkeeper “San Iker” Casillas and the dazzling duo of the midfield, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Of the 2012 European champions, only Busquets in defensive midfield and left back Jordi Alba remain.

Spain and their Barcelona core group made “tiki-taka” a style emulated around the globe and that style has lived on. Spain loves the ball, but the opponents have figured out how to neutralize.

If games were decided by passes or possession, Spain would be en route to another title. The Spaniards completed 988 of 1,063 passes to 238 of 331 for the Moroccans. They had 63 percent possession to 21 percent for Morocco with 16 percent contested.

Spain didn’t look like themselves even before the opening kickoff. Known for red jerseys, the Spaniards were the visiting team and had to wear alternate light blue jerseys because the Moroccans were in red.

Busquets wore the captain’s armband, the leader and senior statesman. He came up through Barcelona’s La Masia and made his league debut in September 2008, about 2 1/2 months after Spain beat Germany for its first European title since 1964. His national team debut was that April and he helped Spain win their first World Cup in 2010 and then another European Championship in 2012. Busquets was picked for the World Cup All-Star team and the Euro 2012 team of the tournament.

He made his 143rd international appearance against Morocco, third behind Sergio Ramos’ 180 and Iker Casillas’ 167, and with his 17th World Cup appearances he tied those two for the most among Spaniards.

Luis Enrique and a pair of Moroccans tried to console Busquets. He remained in the center circle for a full four minutes before heading to an onfield television interview. Busquets wouldn’t address his national team future.

“Now the important thing is the team and not me,” he said. “It’s a difficult night. We’ll pick ourselves up and use it as a learning experience. We’re in a good dynamic, with young people. This is going to make them stronger.”


President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member
President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Yasser Al-Misehal.
Updated 14 min 49 sec ago

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member
  • Yasser Al-Misehal joins the FIFA team on the day Saudi Arabia are confirmed as hosts of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Riyadh: Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) President Yasser Al-Misehal has been elected as a Member of the FIFA Council at the 33rd AFC Congress 2023 held in Manama, Bahrain today. 

This marks a new milestone for football in the Kingdom as Al-Mishal becomes only the second Saudi elected Member to the prestigious FIFA Council, which is the main governing body of the FIFA organization.


Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup
Updated 01 February 2023

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup
  • Wydad of host nation Morocco, Saudi’s Al-Hilal and Egyptian giants Al-Ahly will look to emulate the fine performances of Arab nations in football’s premier event

As Morocco looks to launch the FIFA Club World Cup on Wednesday night, it will be almost impossible for Arab fans not to cast their minds back to that golden month of football that was the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

That the intercontinental club tournament is taking place in the very nation that gave us the first Arab or African team to reach the semifinal of World Cup just six weeks ago seems a little too good to be true.

The trio of Arab clubs in Morocco — home club Wydad AC, Saudi’s Al-Hilal and Egypt’s Al-Ahly — will now hope to carry Qatar 2022’s feel-good factor into the next two weeks.

As always for the African and Asian representatives at the Club World Cup, it won’t be easy. Standing in their way are European champions Real Madrid, Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo of Brazil, CONCACAF’s Seattle Sounders FC from the US and Oceana’s Auckland City of New Zealand.

But thanks to the heroes of the Arab national teams in Doha, these obstacles are no longer ones to be dreaded, more one to be attacked.

For a start, African champions Wydad will have high hopes of emulating their national heroes in front of their own fans.

Keep an eye out for Ayman El-Hassouni, one of the team’s most influential stars and its attacking mastermind.

The 27-year-old is having an excellent season, forming a strong midfield partnership with Yahya Gebran and contributing six goals in 14 matches.

Wydad will kick off their Club World Cup campaign against Al-Hilal on Saturday, guaranteeing at least one Arab team in the semifinals.

Ramon Diaz’s Saudi and Asian champions have a big act to follow.

It’s been less than two months since the Saudi national team was shining at the World Cup with a historic 2-1 victory over eventual champions Argentina.

On an unforgettable night at Lusail Stadium in Doha, it was star player Salem Al-Dawsari who scored the historic winner to secure a place in the hearts of Arab football fans.

The 31-year-old — with three goals from 11 matches this season — will once again carry the bulk of his team’s hopes at the Club World Cup, particularly as fellow Saudi internationals Salman Al-Faraj and Yasser Al-Shahrani are still out due to serious injuries picked up in Qatar.

However, this is a Hilal team that is becoming very familiar with the Cub World Cup, with another seven players participating in it for the third time. Abdullah Al-Mayouf, Andre Carrillo, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Kanno, Jang Hyun-soo, Mohammed Jahfali and Gustavo Cuellar all took part in the 2019 and 2021 editions.

However, to surpass their previous finish of fourth place, improvement is needed at both ends of the field. The team has been inconsistent in front of goal while conceding 12 goals in 15 league matches this season; not a disaster by any means, but more than what Diaz expected from his title-challenging team.

But it’s Al-Ahly who kick off proceedings on Wednesday night when they take on Auckland City at Tangier Stadium.

Egypt may have missed the party in Qatar, but the Cairo giants, in their eighth participation, have a storied history in this tournament. Indeed they are the only team from the country to have ever played in it, and have finished a creditable third on three occasions, in 2006, 2020 and 2021.

Expect attacking midfielder Ahmed Abdel Kader to play an influential role for Al-Ahly in Morocco. The 23-year-old is considered one of the pillars of the squad over the last two seasons, having scored 11 and assisted seven goals in 60 matches. Coach Marcel Kohler will look for him to be the inspiration in attack, particularly with his ability to deal with defensive blocs and his partnership with left-back Ali Maaloul.

The three Arab clubs, with their three leading stars, have a chance to write their names in history. And if any inspiration is needed, all they have to do is look back at Qatar 2022.


Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup
The announcement was made at the 33rd AFC Congress in Manama.
Updated 12 sec ago

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup
  • The announcement was made at the 33rd AFC Congress in Manama

Saudi Arabia has been confirmed as the host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup at the 33rd Asian Football Federation Congress in Manama on Wednesday afternoon.

It will be the first time that the tournament will be held in the Kingdom, with the Green Falcons having won the competitions three times previously (1984, 1988, 1996).

Four other nations had initially bid to host the tournament, including Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Qatar.  

Iran and Uzbekistan were the first to withdraw, with Qatar following as it filled in the vacancy left by China for the 2023 edition.

When India withdrew in December, Saudi Arabia were left unopposed to win the vote.

Developing...


Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k
Updated 01 February 2023

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k
  • The weekend’s races will feature 22 rounds with over $667k to be won

RIYADH: King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Janadriyah is gearing up for the launch of The Final Championship of the Racecourses which will be held during the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia’s 92nd and 93rd festivals of the ongoing season on Friday and Saturday.

The JCSA has since last year added two extra rounds to The Final Championship, dedicated to Arabian horses and locally bred fillies.

The weekend will feature 22 rounds — including eight main races — with prize money exceeding $667,000 (SR2.5 million).

The three races of The Final Championship of the Racecourses will equally split a total prize of $240,000 (SR900,000).

Friday’s race card

Friday evening’s main races will begin with the 14th renewal of the late Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Albasam Award in the seventh round, in recognition of his achievements in horseracing.

The round will be held on a 1,600-meter track dedicated to 3-year-old locally bred horses with a prize pool of $35,000 (SR130,000).

Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Albasam assumed the management of the JCSA between 1970 and 1988, succeeding the late manager Ali Alkhargi, the club’s first manager since its inception in 1965.

This race will be followed by the Al-Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University Cup, over a distance of 2,000 meters, which is dedicated to locally produced fillies and horses from the age of 4 and up, and its prize is $40,000 (SR150,000).

The Final Championship of the Racecourses round kicks off with a race dedicated to locally bred 4-year-old fillies on a 1,800-meter track with a prize pool of $80,000 (SR300,000).

The 10th round of racing on Friday will see The Final Championship Open round, dedicated to Arabian horses aged 4 and over, also on a 1,800-meter track with a prize pool of $80,000 (SR300,000).

The third, and last race of The Final Championship of the Racecourses — an Open round for all grades dedicated to 4-year-old locally bred horses — concludes Friday’s action on a 2,000-meter track with a prize of $80,000 (SR300,000).

Saturday’s race card

The exciting racing continues on Saturday evening, with the Apprentice Jockeys Hands & Heels Race Series on a 1,200-meter track, dedicated to local bred 4-year-old horses, classified 0 to 70 degrees, with prize money of $22,652 (SR85,000).

The Open Race of the Ministry of Media Cup, dedicated to locally bred horses aged 4 and up, will be held in the ninth round on a 1,400-meter track with a prize pool of $23,000 (SR150,000).

Additionally, the Broadcasting & TV Corporation Cup will be held during the 10th round of the festival on Saturday and is dedicated to 3-year-old horses of local and imported breeds which compete at a distance of 1,600 meters with prize money of $40,000 (SR150,000).

Finally, the 93rd Jockey Club Festival will end with the Al-Madinah Al-Monawarah Region Governorate Cup, dedicated to locally bred horses aged 4 and up, on a 2,400-meter track with prize money of $40,000 (SR150,000).


Al-Hilal hoping to surpass previous runs at FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal hoping to surpass previous runs at FIFA Club World Cup
Updated 01 February 2023

Al-Hilal hoping to surpass previous runs at FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal hoping to surpass previous runs at FIFA Club World Cup
  • The Saudi and Asian champions have been knocked out at the semifinal stages in the last two editions of the competition

Al-Hilal have unfinished business at the FIFA Club World Cup. When the Blues kick off against Wydad AC on Saturday in Rabat, Morocco, they hope it will be a case of third time lucky in front of a global audience.

The Saudi Arabian and Asian champions have yet to progress past the last four but this time could be different. Success would not just be welcome in its own right but would reclaim some of the global spotlight that has been stolen recently by Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr with their titanic signing of Cristiano Ronaldo.

In the 2019 and 2021 (which actually took place in 2022) editions, the Riyadh giants won their opening games, against Esperance de Tunis on their debut in Qatar and then a 6-1 thrashing of Al-Jazira representing the host nation of the UAE a year ago.

First time around, they were defeated in the semifinals by Brazilian giants Flamengo, and their run was ended last time by Chelsea after a hard-fought game with the European champions.

Such experience will, it is hoped, stand the team in good stead for the coming challenges.

“Because we have played twice before in the Club World Cup, I expect that we will reach the final this time though there are difficult games ahead of us,” Al-Hilal’s Colombian star Gustavo Cuellar said as the team arrived in Morocco on Monday. “There is enough talent in the team to reach the final.”

Wydad present, on paper, a tougher opening game than Al-Hilal have had in the two previous tournaments. The Casablanca club defeated Al-Ahly of Egypt in the final of the African Champions League last year to become continental champions for the third time. They are also on home soil and sure to be backed by a passionate crowd.

Moroccan football is on a high at the moment after the national team reached the semifinals of the 2022 World Cup, defeating Belgium, Spain and Portugal on the way to giving defending champions France a tough game. Similar success in the club edition would be cited in North Africa as further evidence that Morocco are the leading Arab football nation.

For Al-Hilal it is probably good news that Walid Regragui is no longer at the helm. The 47-year-old is the toast of the coaching world after leading Morocco to global glory. He took over the national team not long after leading Wydad to the African title and was replaced in Casablanca by Mehdi Nafti.

“I am up to date with what is going on with the other teams and so I know very well what awaits us at the Club World Cup,” Nafti said in the build-up to the tournament. “We have motivation, confidence and capabilities, and the competition is playing in Morocco, and this will guarantee us great support from our supporters. We have to remain calm and focus on our opening game with Al-Hilal.”

Al-Hilal coach Ramon Diaz knows how important this tournament is to the 18-time Saudi Arabian champions. After all, it is because of the Club World Cup that the Argentine took the reins in Riyadh. A year ago, a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Ahly of Egypt in the playoff for third place meant that Leonardo Jardim was given his marching orders. Diaz then led the team to an amazing run in the Saudi Professional League that resulted in another championship.

Domestically, Al-Hilal are in a better position than they were a year ago as they are just a point off the top, though they have played a game more than leaders Al-Nassr.

The form is not perfect however with just three wins in the last seven games, not a terrible record but standards are very high at the most successful club in the history of both Saudi Arabian and Asian football.

That run included a shock 1-0 defeat to Al-Feiha in the semifinal of the Saudi Super Cup on Jan. 26. After returning from last year’s Club World Cup, Hilal moved into top gear and overhauled Al-Ittihad’s double-digit lead, to take the title and a similar run would be welcomed this time though the hope is it comes after a better performance in Morocco.

Diaz has called up a strong squad. The main absence is that of Salman Al-Faraj as the captain, who went off injured in that historic Saudi Arabian win over Argentina at the World Cup in November.

If Wydad are overcome then there will be a rematch with Flamengo. With the South American champions coming to North Africa off the back of mixed form domestically, Al-Hilal would be in with a chance of a big win and a place in the final, probably against European champions Real Madrid.

That would be a major success but there is a long way to go before a possible meeting with arguably the world’s biggest team in a global final and it starts with a tough game in Morocco.