Mattias Ekstrom edges Loeb to take opening Dakar Rally prologue

Swedish driver Mattias Ekstrom, with his co-driver Emil Bergkvist of Sweeden, steers his Audi’s Hybrid during the prologue of the Dakar 2023 by the Red Sea in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, on December 31, 2022. (AFP)
Swedish driver Mattias Ekstrom, with his co-driver Emil Bergkvist of Sweeden, steers his Audi’s Hybrid during the prologue of the Dakar 2023 by the Red Sea in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, on December 31, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 31 December 2022

Mattias Ekstrom edges Loeb to take opening Dakar Rally prologue

Mattias Ekstrom edges Loeb to take opening Dakar Rally prologue
  • Ekstrom edged out France’s nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb
  • The prologue acts as a way to determine the order of the top 10 starters in the first stage proper on Sunday

YANBU, Saudi Arabia: Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom drove his Audi hybrid to victory in the 13km-long prologue of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
Ekstrom edged out France’s nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb (BRX) by a second.
“It’s always nice to start in a good way, but, of course, the day is long and the rally is even longer,” said Ekstrom.
“A good end to 2022, but tomorrow is the real start. We’ll have to try and be focused for another two weeks.”
The Swede’s Audi teammate Stephane Peterhansel — the Dakar great who has won the event 14 times (eight in a car and six on a bike) — rounded out the opening podium of the 45th edition of the Dakar.
Reigning champion Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar finished 12sec adrift in fourth in his Toyota.
The prologue acts as a way to determine the order of the top 10 starters in the first stage proper on Sunday, a 603km run including 368km of timed specials.
That was not lost on Ekstrom, who said it was “really good... (as) a junior in the sport, to start from the back so I have some tracks to follow.”
“The race is on,” added Peterhansel, often referred to as ‘Mr Dakar’.
“You put your helmet on at the start and you know you are about to be launched into the thick of it.
“We finished first, third and sixth. Personally, I did better than I expected. The course was more favorable to pure rally or rally-cross drivers, which I’m not, so it was a good result. I’m not used to coming up with strategies, but I’ll be in a good position to pick my starting order for tomorrow.”
Australian KTM rider Toby Price edged compatriot Daniel Sanders (GasGas) in the motorbike section, with Botswana’s Ross Branch (Hero) in third, 9sec behind.
Defending title holder Sam Sunderland (GasGas) came in 10th.
“It’s a really good start,” said Price. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing. For sure, it’s nice to pick your starting spot, but I don’t know if it’s going to be an advantage or a disadvantage.
“Last year, the strategy we had was basically completely the wrong direction of what I needed to do. I’ll just leave my mind open.
“Long stages to go, in 14 days, a lot can happen. It’s nice to win the prologue today, but it’s not goning to guarantee anything. We’ll stay on two wheels, have fun and enjoy the desert.”
This year’s Dakar stretches 8,549 km over 15 days of racing, including a four-day excursion into the as yet unexplored desert dunes of the vast Rub’ Al-Khali, or Empty Quarter.
Some 790 riders, drivers and co-drivers set off in an array of motorcycles, cars, quads, trucks and light vehicles when the race started on the shores of the Red Sea. It finishes in the eastern Saudi city of Dammam on January 15.


How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges
Updated 12 sec ago

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges
  • The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven

GENEVA: The English Premier League vs. Manchester City: A legal fixture for the ages.

Soccer’s richest and most watched club competition challenged its defending champion on Monday with more than 100 charges of alleged financial wrongdoing and failures to cooperate with an investigation that took more than four years.

Dozens of charges allege breaches of the league’s financial monitoring rules dating from 2009, or the first full season Man City was owned by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Thirty more charges relate to Man City’s lack of cooperation in the past five seasons with a Premier League investigation that opened after leaked, and likely hacked, club internal communications were published in 2018.

That leaked evidence led UEFA investigators to examine likely breaches of financial rules designed to create stability in an often-volatile European soccer industry. UEFA-appointed judges imposed a two-year ban from the Champions League in 2020, which the club overturned on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Man City seem more at risk from the English case, which does not involve a statute of limitations on evidence that was a problem for UEFA lawyers.

The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven. That could range from imposing a fine to taking away a title or even ejecting Man City from England’s top division.

Here’s a closer look at the case:

WHAT ARE THE FINANCIAL RULES?

Known as Financial Fair Play, the regulations are aimed at preventing clubs from spending more than they earn. FFP was established in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, which deepened worries in European soccer that clubs could go out of business if the cost of player transfers and wages kept rising.

Critics believed they would favor storied clubs with established global appeal, such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Manchester United. They said FFP would be used to thwart emerging clubs who had wealthy owners ready to spend heavily and accelerate growth.

At the same time, historically underachieving Manchester City were bought in September 2008 with sovereign wealth from the UAE. When UEFA in 2011 began monitoring finances of clubs who qualified for European competition, City had made progress by big spending on players.

The first round of FFP judgments in 2014 saw the heaviest penalties for Man City and Paris Saint-Germain — each lost 20 million euros ($21.4 million) in Champions League prize money.

Both were suspected of booking inflated revenue in their accounts through sponsor deals at above market rates with companies from Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

“If clubs use unrealistic deals as a way to get around Financial Fair Play,” Arsène Wenger had warned in 2012 when coach at Arsenal, “it will make a mockery of the rules.”

The English Premier League later adopted a version of UEFA FFP rules.

WHAT WAS THE LEAKED EVIDENCE?

In November 2018, Man City was the Premier League champion with three titles in the first decade of its Abu Dhabi era, and a lavishly talented squad coached by Pep Guardiola.

Yet skepticism remained about the club’s commercial results.

German magazine Der Spiegel then published the “Football Leaks” series of articles based on the club’s internal documents and communications.

They suggested Man City had broken FFP rules in financial relationships with “related-party” sponsors from Abu Dhabi, its use of image rights payments to players and the contract of Roberto Mancini, who was manager from 2009-13. He allegedly doubled his base salary for advising a club in Abu Dhabi.

Man City did not deny the documents were authentic but said they were illegally obtained by a Portuguese man, Rui Pinto. He later went on trial in Lisbon. A verdict is scheduled in April.

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE UEFA CASE?

After the Football Leaks publication, UEFA’s club investigators revisited their case and asked the judging chamber to ban Man City from European competitions.

In February 2020, those judges banned Man City for two seasons for “serious breaches” of rules from 2012-16, including overstating sponsor revenue and failing to cooperate with investigators.

Three CAS judges overturned the ban in July 2020, ruling that some UEFA charged were not proven and other evidence was excluded as time-barred. The court “strongly condemned” Man City for obstructing UEFA’s investigation, though a €10 million ($10.7 million) fine was one-third of the original punishment.

Allowed to play in the next Champions League, Man City reached the final and earned €119 million ($128 million) in prize money.

WHAT IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE CASE?

The English case against Man City continued separately from the UEFA process in Switzerland.

The Premier League announced charges Monday. A lawyer who chairs the league’s judicial panel will appoint a disciplinary commission of three judges.

A hearing will be held in secret, with no timetable yet for a verdict. Any subsequent legal challenge should go to the Premier League’s Appeal Board.

Man City said it was surprised by the charges and “we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”


Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup
Updated 25 min 31 sec ago

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup
  • Madrid will debut on Wednesday in a semifinal against Egyptian club Al-Ahly

MADRID: Real Madrid go to the Club World Cup without six injured players, including striker Karim Benzema and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Also not going to Morocco are defenders Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Lucas Vázquez and forward Eden Hazard.

Benzema, Courtois and Militao have not been ruled out of joining their teammates for an eventual final if Madrid qualify, but none of the others are expected to make it.

Madrid will debut on Wednesday in a semifinal against Egyptian club Al-Ahly.

Madrid have won the world club title a record seven times, including three times when the competition was called the Intercontinental Cup.


Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup

Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup
Updated 07 February 2023

Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup

Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup
  • The former Real Madrid coach will take charge of his seventh different national team

DOHA: Former Portugal and Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has worked at the last four World Cups and was hired on Monday by Qatar to aim for a fifth straight at the next edition hosted in North America.
The Qatar Football Association hired former Real Madrid coach Queiroz until 2026 to take charge of his seventh different national team.
As host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar lost all three group-stage games on its tournament debut in November. This time it will try to advance through the qualifying program for the first time.
The 2026 edition in the United States, Canada and Mexico is the first 48-team finals tournament and Asia will have eight guaranteed qualifying places instead of the previous four.
Queiroz coached Iran at a third straight World Cup together since 2014 and again failed to advance to the round of 16. His team lost to England and the United States, though beat Wales, to place third in their group.
Queiroz, who turns 70 on March 1, coached his native Portugal at the 2010 World Cup and lost in the round of 16 to eventual winner Spain.
Qatar under Queiroz has two continental championships to play in the next year, first with an invitation to the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June. Qatar also hosts the Asian Cup in January.


Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory
Updated 06 February 2023

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory
  • Former UK champion booked for Neom Turf Cup contender on glittering race day
  • Missed The Cut’s trainer George Boughey: I wanted someone to create a bond with the horse

Oisin Murphy will have his first big-race rides since returning from a 14-month ban at the Saudi Cup meeting.

The three-time British Champion Jockey has been booked to ride Missed The Cut in the $1.5 million G3 Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi at the world’s most valuable racing fixture.

The two-day festival – featuring the $20 million Saudi Cup – kicks off on Friday, Feb. 24, just eight days after Murphy is allowed to return to racing following his lengthy ban. The 2100m Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi and the Saudi Cup take place the following day.

Missed The Cut’s trainer, Newmarket-based George Boughey, was quick to snap up the services of the Classic-winning jockey.

He said: “Oisin has only ridden one winner for me, but he’s obviously a fantastic rider and I’m delighted to have him on board.

“I wanted someone to create a bond with the horse. He’s done plenty of work on him. He went to Chelmsford to ride him the other morning and he’s delighted with him, so it’s all systems go.”

Missed The Cut did not make his debut until April last year. He quickly completed a hat-trick of wins when landing the Golden Gates Handicap at Royal Ascot before ending the year with victory in the Listed Churchill Stakes on the All-Weather at Lingfield.

The form of that most recent run in November is starting to look very good, with runner-up Algiers going on to win two Group 2 races in Dubai by wide margins.

Boughey added: “He’s been in great shape and seeing his form get franked on the world stage just confirmed what he’s been showing us for a while. We’re very excited to see him out in Saudi in a few weeks.

“He’s a horse that was sold out of Shadwell dispersal sale. He was just a standout physically from the get-go. He’s still a big baby. He’s only run six times. We’re taking on much more experienced horses, but his work is improving at a rate of knots. He is the horse that could take us to the next level.”

Missed The Cut, who is likely to head off to America after his run at the Saudi Cup meeting, will be joined by Sir Busker in the $1.5 million Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi.

His owners are dreaming of a fairy-tale win at the world’s most valuable meeting at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

The 7-year-old is owned by the 16-strong Kennett Valley Thoroughbreds syndicate and is trained by Newmarket-based William Knight.

Sir Busker has progressed from handicaps to Group company, and hopes are high he can give his enthusiastic owners another memorable payday under big-race jockey Ryan Moore.

Knight said: “He’s come up through the ranks. We always liked him as a 2-year-old, and he’s improved as he’s gotten older.

“To think five years ago I’d be sitting here now talking about going out to Saudi with him — it’s things you dream of. He’s been a star for us.

“He’s owned by a lovely group of people. They’re very passionate owners. When you stand in the paddock before these big races with the owners, who all have 1/16th, it’s great.

“They realize how lucky they are. They realize he’s the horse of a lifetime. He’s given everyone so much enjoyment.”

Sir Busker had the option of running in the G1 $20 million Saudi Cup — the world’s most valuable race — but Knight is happy they have decided to go for the Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi.

He added: “We’ve talked long and hard about this. I promise you it’s changed daily as to which race we’re going to go for. It’s such an amazing opportunity to run for that sort of money in the Saudi Cup.

“Looking at the entries for both races, I think we have a better chance of being in the first three in the Neom Turf Cup. The extra distance will really suit him, and we know he goes really well on turf.”


Djibouti’s Hassan wins Beppu Oita Marathon in record time

Djibouti’s Hassan wins Beppu Oita Marathon in record time
Updated 06 February 2023

Djibouti’s Hassan wins Beppu Oita Marathon in record time

Djibouti’s Hassan wins Beppu Oita Marathon in record time
  • Ibrahim Hassan set a new record for the Beppu Oita Mainichi Marathon with a time of 2:06:43
  • Shungo Yokota came in fourth in 2:07:47, setting a record for a Japanese student runner

TOKYO: Ibrahim Hassan of Djibouti won the 71st Beppu Oita Mainichi Marathon for the first time on Sunday with a new record of 2:06:43.

Kenya’s Daniel Kipchumba crossed the finish line five seconds later for second place, and Japan’s Tsubasa Ichiyama placed third in 2:07:44.

When the pacemaker came off at 30km, Hassan and Kipchumba jumped out and Hassan took the lead after 35km.

“With the win and course record, I’m very, very happy,” the 26-year-old Hassan said. “The course was very good.”

Aoyama Gakuin University’s Shungo Yokota came in fourth in 2:07:47, setting a record for a Japanese student runner.

This year, the right to participate in the “Marathon Grand Championship (MGC)”, the qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympics, was at stake.