Argentina awaits to welcome home Messi and World Cup winners

Argentina awaits to welcome home Messi and World Cup winners
There are 45 million back home in Argentina eager to welcome their heroes on Monday evening. (AP)
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Updated 19 December 2022

Argentina awaits to welcome home Messi and World Cup winners

Argentina awaits to welcome home Messi and World Cup winners
  • Millions take to the streets to celebrate Sunday’s remarkable penalty shoot-out victory over France
  • ‘It’s a good team who did us proud. The biggest celebration will be when they arrive’

BUENOS AIRES: Lionel Messi and his teammates set off for Argentina with the most coveted prize in football as millions of compatriots waited to welcome them home on Monday and catch a glimpse of the World Cup trophy.
In the capital Buenos Aires and throughout the country, millions took to the streets to celebrate Sunday’s remarkable penalty shoot-out victory over France in the World Cup final in Qatar.
Messi finally crowned his record-breaking career with the one trophy that was missing as he produced a performance that will go down in World Cup history, scoring a first-half penalty and netting again in extra time.
France had fought back from 2-0 down in the last 10 minutes as Kylian Mbappe scored twice to equalize and force extra time in a pulsating match watched by an 89,000 crowd in Lusail Stadium.
Messi seemed to have decided the match in extra time with his second goal of the game before his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Mbappe completed only the second World Cup final hat-trick to bring the score to 3-3 and force penalties.
Gonzalo Montiel swept home the decisive spot kick to win the shootout 4-2 for Argentina — but this was Messi’s moment.
And while the players were able to celebrate with an estimated 40,000 fans inside the stadium on Sunday night, there are 45 million back home eager to welcome their heroes on Monday evening.
“Of course, it’s what we’re all waiting for,” teacher Veronica Silva, 44, said from the Plaza de Mayo square in central Buenos Aires where celebrations went on into Sunday night.
“This will continue for a couple of days. It started now and it won’t end tomorrow because they arrive tomorrow: it will go on for longer.”
“Of course we can’t wait to see the players, all of them,” added cleaner Rosa Rodriguez, 63.
“It’s a good team who did us proud. The biggest celebration will be when they arrive.”
Messi had tasted bitter defeat in the 2014 final against Germany but in his fifth and final World Cup, the 35-year-old finally emulated Argentina idol Diego Maradona by leading his nation to World Cup glory for the first time since 1986.
Tens of thousands of blue and white-shirted Argentina fans rose to salute Messi as he told them “We’re champions of the world!” on the stadium microphone.
Later he told Argentine television: “Obviously I wanted to finish my career with this. I can’t ask for any more.
“My career is coming to end because these are my final years. What more could there be after this?“
But he said he would continue with the Argentina squad. “I want to keep experiencing a few more matches as world champion,” he added.
FIFA will be delighted with a pulsating final that capped one of the most controversial World Cups in history, with the Qatari organizers having to face persistent questions about the country’s treatment of migrant workers and its laws on homosexuality.
Neutrals will be happy that Messi has finally won a World Cup. However, with his hat-trick — and the Golden Boot for top scorer at the tournament with eight goals — Mbappe surely showed he is ready to inherit the mantle of the world’s best player.
Argentina, now three-time world champions, dominated the first half of the final as Messi scored a 23rd minute penalty after Ousmane Dembele tripped Angel Di Maria.
The mercurial Messi was then part of a superb move that led to Di Maria sweeping home Argentina’s second goal after 36 minutes.
The defending champions finally got back into the game in the second half as Randal Kolo Muani was dragged down by Nicolas Otamendi in the penalty area and Mbappe converted from the spot with only 10 minutes left.
A minute later, Mbappe scored a superb volley to bring France level.
In extra time, Messi knocked in the rebound when Hugo Lloris parried Martinez’s saved shot in the 108th minute to give Argentina the lead once again.
But when Mbappe’s shot hit Montiel’s outstretched arm, the referee pointed to the penalty spot and the French forward stroked it home to become the first player to score a World Cup hat-trick since England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.
His heroics were not enough despite also knocking in France’s first shoot-out spot-kick, as Montiel gave Argentina a 4-2 victory after Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman’s attempt.
“All that I have dreamed of has been achieved. I have no words for it,” said Martinez, adding that victory was “destiny.”
France coach Didier Deschamps rued the failure to become the first team in 60 years to retain the trophy.
“I don’t want to take any merit away from Argentina but there were lots and lots of emotions and it was cruel at the end because we were so close,” he said.

Spanish ace Rahm poised to join LIV Golf: Reports

Spanish ace Rahm poised to join LIV Golf: Reports
Updated 08 December 2023

Spanish ace Rahm poised to join LIV Golf: Reports

Spanish ace Rahm poised to join LIV Golf: Reports
  • Multiple US media outlets reported on Thursday Major winner set to make the switch

LOS ANGELES: Spanish star Jon Rahm is poised to join LIV Golf in a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars, multiple US media outlets reported on Thursday.
The 29-year-old two-time major champion, who had previously pledged his loyalty to the PGA Tour during golf’s bitter civil war, could sign for the Saudi-backed circuit by the end of this week, reports said.
The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated and ESPN all reported on Thursday that the reigning Masters champion was finalizing a deal to quit the PGA Tour for LIV.
Rahm’s representatives have not commented on the reported deal, which reports have said could be worth between $300 million and $600 million to the Spaniard.
If Rahm’s defection to LIV is confirmed, he would become one of the biggest stars to join LIV, the upstart circuit whose emergence has upended the golfing world over the past two years.
The looming capture of Rahm comes as the PGA Tour and the Saudi backers of LIV Golf attempt to finalize the details of their bombshell merger announced in June.
A deadline of December 31 has been set to agree a framework for the new PGA-LIV joint venture.
The Journal speculated Rahm’s signing could either be a tactic by LIV’s backers to force the PGA Tour to conclude a deal by the agreed deadline, or a move to give fresh impetus to the rival circuit in 2024 if the proposed joint tie-up collapses.
The possibility of Rahm jumping ship to LIV had once seemed unthinkable.
While LIV successfully recruited major winners such as Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith, Rahm had been one of the most staunch PGA loyalists, repeatedly stating that the riches offered by LIV held no appeal when balanced against the tradition of the PGA Tour.
“I laugh when people rumor me with LIV. I’ve never liked the format,” Rahm said earlier this year.
Last year, Rahm said he had discussed the possibility of a move with his wife Kelley and decided to remain firmly in the PGA Tour camp.
“Money is great, but when Kelly and I started talking about it, we’re like, ‘Would our lifestyle change if we got $400 million?’ No,” Rahm said.
“It would not change one bit. Truth be told, I could retire right now and I could live a very happy life and not play golf again.
“I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world.”
In February last year, Rahm had given a categorical assurance he would remain with the PGA Tour.
“This is my official, my one and only time I’ll talk about this, where I am officially declaring my fealty to the PGA Tour,” Rahm said.
“There has been a lot of talk and speculation about the Saudi league. It’s just not something I believe is the best for me and my future in golf, and I think the best legacy I can accomplish will be with the PGA Tour.”

New era as Women’s U20 ‘Green Falcons’ get their wings

New era as Women’s U20 ‘Green Falcons’ get their wings
Updated 08 December 2023

New era as Women’s U20 ‘Green Falcons’ get their wings

New era as Women’s U20 ‘Green Falcons’ get their wings
  • SAFF has officially announced the formation of the Women’s U20 National Team
  • Scotland’s Pauline Hamill appointed as head coach, bringing over 30 years of experience

RIYADH: A new era in Saudi Arabian football begins with the formation of the Women’s U20 National Team, which is expected to play a crucial role in the development of young footballers in the Kingdom.

This initiative is part of the SAFF’s broader strategy to create sustainable and clear career paths for aspiring women footballers, reflecting a commitment to the growth of the sport at all levels.

The team, comprising talented players from the senior national team and those advancing from the U17 squad, is already engaged in their first training camp. The training camp is currently taking place in Riyadh from 5-11 December 2023. 

“A new chapter in Saudi women’s football begins today with the launch of the U20 National Team. This team is a beacon of hope and opportunity for our young athletes, illuminating the path to international success,”  said Head of the Women’s Football Department at the SAFF Aalia AlRasheed.

“We are confident that under the expert guidance of Pauline Hamill, these young women will not only grow as players but also become role models for future generations. Their journey represents our unwavering commitment to elevating women’s football in Saudi Arabia and on the global stage,” added AlRasheed.

Pauline Hamill, the newly appointed head coach of the U20 team, brings a wealth of experience to the role. Her distinguished career includes playing for the Scotland National team, earning 141 caps over 18 years, and coaching various youth teams within the Scottish FA, including the U15s, U16s, U17s, and the Scotland Women’s U19s National team.

Hamill’s appointment is a significant boost to the team’s prospects and reflects the SAFF’s ambition to compete at the highest levels in future regional and international competitions.

The team is eagerly preparing for its first friendly match in March 2024, a key milestone in their preparation for future competitions.

Saudi stadia ready to host FIFA Club World Cup, says Sports Ministry

Saudi stadia ready to host FIFA Club World Cup, says Sports Ministry
Updated 07 December 2023

Saudi stadia ready to host FIFA Club World Cup, says Sports Ministry

Saudi stadia ready to host FIFA Club World Cup, says Sports Ministry
  • 90% of tickets for the tournament have been sold
  • 1.5m applications for tickets from 100 countries

JEDDAH: The two stadia in Jeddah set to host matches at the FIFA Club World Cup are ready, an official at the Saudi Ministry of Sport said on Thursday.

The competition will be held in the city from Dec. 12 to 22 at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium and the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sports City venue.

Thamer Basunbul, deputy minister for sports facilities at the ministry, told the media that preparations at the two grounds had been completed.

He said: “Both stadiums have been renovated to FIFA standards and we can say with confidence that we have delivered on our promise of two world-class stadiums.

“The renovation includes removing the running track, expanding media centers, expanding the entrance for players, and adding a new lower tier. In addition, new LED lighting and screens have been installed around the front edge of the roof for spectators to have an immersive digital experience.”

He said plans were also in place to renovate existing stadia and build new ones for the 2034 FIFA World Cup should the Saudi Arabia bid be successful.

He added: “Stadia will also be leveraged long after the competition, in line with the nation’s Vision 2030, by improving the venues’ usability for both other sports and non-athletic events. This will reinforce the stadiums’ central position within their communities.”

Meanwhile, the Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Affairs at the Saudi Football Federation Majed Al-Sahib has confirmed that 90 percent of tickets for the tournament have been sold.

He added there had been 1.5 million applications for tickets from 100 countries, including fans from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil, India, and England.

Al-Sahib said: “The fan zone at King Abdullah Sports City can accommodate more than 12,500 people, while the fan zone at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sports City can hold 6,500.

“We are targeting an attendance of 2 million fans and, therefore, the fan ticket system has been updated and the number of electronic gates has been increased, which has reached a total of more than 200 gates in the two stadiums.”

All roads lead to Jeddah for World Football Summit Asia

All roads lead to Jeddah for World Football Summit Asia
Updated 07 December 2023

All roads lead to Jeddah for World Football Summit Asia

All roads lead to Jeddah for World Football Summit Asia
  • Notable speakers include Adwa Al-Arifi, assistant minister of Sports Affairs, Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Datuk Seri Windsor Paul John, AFC general secretary
  • World Football Summit seeks to host several editions of the summit in Saudi Arabia, showcasing the Kingdom's growing influence as a global sports powerhouse

JEDDAH: All roads lead to Jeddah as the city gets ready to host key decision-makers from clubs, leagues, federations, and brands associated with the global sport of football.

World Football Summit Asia (WFS Asia) will see all parties working together to shape the future of the beautiful game, in the first-ever football industry event to be held in Saudi Arabia.

Adwa Al-Arifi, assistant minister of Sports Affairs for Saudi Arabia, is set to inaugurate WFS Asia on December 12-13, along with Datuk Seri Windsor Paul John, general secretary at the Asian Football Confederation, setting the tone for a summit that aims to foster international cooperation and growth within the sport.

Scheduled with the backdrop of the FIFA Club World Cup, the second edition of the Asian edition of WFS will bring together over 1,000 representatives and stakeholders from the football ecosystem. The event will feature 130+ speakers, with 70% of attendees being decision-makers from leading football properties and sports businesses across more than 70 countries.

Notable speakers who will participate in the event include Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and co-founder of Yunus Sports Hub, Lamia Bahaian, vice president of SAFF, Tony Douglas, CEO of Riyadh Air, Miguel Angel Gil Marin, CEO of Atletico Madrid, Hammad Albalawi, Saudi Arabia 2034 FIFA World Cup bid team member, and football legends like Pavel Nedved, Francesco Totti and Eric Abidal.

World Football Summit, as it has done with previous editions of the summit in other regions of the world, aims to bring together key stakeholders to foster growth and collaboration in the football industry with the mission of establishing the summit as an annual fixture on the global sports business calendar.

The event promises to be a unique gathering of the main stakeholders in the industry, as it will bring together brands like Aramco, Riyadh Air, Snapchat, 433, Radisson, institutions like FIFA, SAFF, Saudi Pro League, Serie A, LALIGA, Bundesliga, FIFPRO, and clubs like Al-Nassr, Chelsea, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, and Atletico Madrid.

Hosting WFS Asia aligns with Saudi Arabia’s strategic vision to enhance its presence on the global sports stage. The event underlines the Kingdom’s dedication to fostering a rich sporting culture and its capacity to host major international events, having already secured the 2027 AFC Asian Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, attracting talents such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Benzema. Moreover, Saudi Arabia will host 2034 Men’s FIFA World Cup.

As a result of these efforts, attendance at football matches in the country has risen 150% since the Portuguese legend joined Al-Nassr. From a business perspective, the ambition is high as the Roshn Saudi League aims to increase its market value from its current $800 million to $2.1 billion by 2030.

WFS Asia will include the participation of representatives from the Saudi Ministry of Sports, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), the Saudi Professional League, and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

"We are truly honored to kick off WFS in Saudi Arabia by welcoming Adwa Al-Arifi and Datuk Seri Windsor Paul John for our inauguration,” said Jan Alessie, co-founder and director of World Football Summit.

“We are extremely proud of being able to host this edition in Saudi Arabia, and the commitment of the country to make this a landmark event for the global football industry is made tangible by the active participation of its main football and sport governing bodies. After having worked on this project for many months, we are convinced this will be the first of many editions in the country.”

Those interested in attending the event can visit here for more information.

Al-Ittihad’s World Cup warm-up ends with Damac defeat

Al-Ittihad’s World Cup warm-up ends with Damac defeat
Updated 07 December 2023

Al-Ittihad’s World Cup warm-up ends with Damac defeat

Al-Ittihad’s World Cup warm-up ends with Damac defeat
  • Jeddah club came to Damac on the back of three consecutive wins under new coach Marcelo Gallardo

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad warmed up for the FIFA Club World Cup in disappointing fashion with a 3-1 defeat at Damac on Thursday. It was not the best performance from the Roshn Saudi League champions who were without the injured Karim Benzema and Romarinho, though midfielder N’Golo Kante returned to the starting eleven.

The Jeddah club came to Damac on the back of three consecutive wins under new coach Marcelo Gallardo, appointed last month, but now slip further off the pace at the top of the table. They are still in fourth and a full 13 points behind leaders Al-Hilal who have a game in hand.

Damac took an early lead through in-form striker Georges-Kevin Nkouduo for the Cameroonian’s 12th goal of the season. The focus may have been on the injury to Benzema, and Nkouduo showed the benefits of having a fit and in-form striker.

He took possession on the halfway line, sprinted past Luis Felipe, who seemed to pull a hamstring, and then raced free down the left. Taking on Omar Hawsawi, he then fired an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. It was the goal of a top-class striker in excellent form.

The Tigers were struggling to create chances and almost fell further behind just after the half hour. Damac really should have extended their lead. A left-sided free-kick found Farouk Chafai unmarked at the near post. Yet somehow, the Algerian defender headed wide from mere inches out.

The hosts were almost made to pay for their wastefulness immediately. Muhannad Al-Shanqiti broke free on the right side of the area and the substitute, an early replacement for the injured Felipe, shot at the near post only for Mohammed Al-Mahasneh to make the save.

Suddenly it was end-to-end with Domagoj Antolic heading a Nkouduo cross just over the bar from close range and then Ittihad had a claim for a penalty as Marwan Al-Sahafi went down under a challenge from the goalkeeper. After a lengthy stoppage, Hamdallah put the ball on the spot but then the official jogged over to consult the pitchside monitor. The kick was given and the Moroccan did the rest.

It was not enough to send Al-Ittihad in level at the break, as deep into added time Nkoudou got his second. The visiting defense failed to clear a cross and there was the African attacker to pick up the ball on the left side and pick his spot to fire past  Marcelo Grohe. With 13 goals this season, he is just two behind the leader Cristiano Ronaldo.

Damac’s lead was extended soon after the restart and in spectacular fashion. Kante’s header fell to Tarek Hamed and the Egyptian’s fierce shot from 30 yards out came back off the woodwork, hit the diving Grohe and ended up in the back of the net. It was recorded as an own goal by the Brazilian.

It was a hammer blow to the hopes of the visitors of getting anything from what was always going to be a tough game against a Damac that had picked up 11 points from their past five league matches. Al-Ittihad poured forward but struggled to break down a team that could now afford to sit back and hit on the counter and midway through the second half, Grohe had to get down well to keep his team in with a chance of getting anything out of the game. 

With 18 minutes remaining, there was little prospect of that happening. Hamdallah appealed for a penalty once more but it was never going to be given. 

Gallardo now faces a major challenge in picking his players up for next Tuesday’s Club World Cup opener against Auckland City. If the Saudi Arabians can get past the Oceania champions then a massive clash awaits against Egyptian giants Al-Ahly.