Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony

Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony
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A view of the Basra International Stadium braces to host the Arabian Gulf Cup25, in Basra, Iraq Jan. 3, 2023. (Reuters)
Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony
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The Arabian Gulf Cup is hosted in Iraq for the first time since 1979, signaling the country’s return to the global stage. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 January 2023

Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony

Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony
  • The event was not without its glitches but more than 65,000 fans witnessed a spectacular celebration of Iraq’s history

BASRA: After hours of anticipation, the lights of the majestic Basra International Stadium switched off, stunning the audience into silence. Collectively, they held their breath in suspense for the opening ceremony of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup in Iraq.

If the tournament being held in Iraq symbolized Iraq’s return to the global stage, then the ceremony certainly left its own indelible mark.

“I was surprised at what I saw,” said Khalid Al-Hiddi, an Omani football analyst for Bein Sports and Kass TV. “We were not expecting this from Iraq,” Al-Hiddi added. “This high level of technology, art and design was so impressive and was able to welcome us into Iraq’s rich culture.”

For more than an hour, viewers from across the world were left dazzled by a laser, fireworks and light show, including pitch-sized projections and live music and dance performances from some of Iraq’s most famous artists. The choreography alone to achieve such a complicated show should be commended.

The ceremony will live in the memory long after the 0-0 draw between Iraq and Oman that followed is forgotten.

On a personal note, I was incredibly moved by the powerful spectacle of seeing Iraq so beautifully celebrated in all its glory. I was immediately taken back to the series of recent mass public events that I have witnessed in Iraq and remembered how each had been for negative occasions — either for commemorating mass deaths from devastating car bombs or protesting about Iraq’s corrupt political elite.

Given the recent grievances, the unapologetic, pure joy this ceremony brought, with Iraq flags proudly waving across the stadium, immediately brought a tear to my eye and many around me.

The ceremony focussed on telling the story of Iraq through the ages, moments every Iraqi continues to be honored by. From the story of Sumerian being the first written language in the world to the creation of Baghdad, historical landmarks reminded the audience of Iraq’s long-standing contribution to world culture. This festival of national pride proved touching to many Iraqis across the globe.

“So emotional watching these videos from the US,” commented one follower on my Instagram stories of the ceremony.

The performances, however, did have some shortcomings.

“At no point was Basra highlighted,” said Sajjad, a disappointed resident of the host city. Not only was Basra not given its moment of glory during the ceremony, but Iraq’s diversity in general lacked representation. Iraq has 10 officially recognized minority groups, including Turkmen, Yazidis and Christians, but the ceremony focussed only on Iraq’s Arab and Muslim identity as references to Islam were peppered throughout the show.

Other failures occurred at the event, which broke the record for the highest attendance at an opening ceremony of any previous Arabian Gulf Cup tournament. It was announced that 65,000 spectators attended the occasion but the real figure is likely to be far higher, as every available space in the stadium was occupied from stairwells to railings. Many without a ticket were able to force themselves through poorly organized gates.

Thousands of fans were shuttled through bottle-neck doors and whether you had a legitimate ticket or not, the only way in was to stand strong and barge your way through the chaos. It was in stark contrast to Qatar’s highly organized spectacle only a few weeks ago, which was safe for children of all ages. Thankfully no injuries from Basra were announced, but the decision to force thousands of fans through a single door could have easily turned sour.

“You don’t understand that for the people of Iraq they have never seen anything like this and probably never will again,” said Ameen Al-Hassani, a 30-year-old software engineer from Baghdad. “They would do anything to make sure they don’t miss the occasion and if that means some pushing, they will be sure to do it.”

Once in, however, it was a different story as the tangible sense of joy could be felt. Small gestures were heart-warming. After setting up the pitch for the ceremony, for example, the ground staff were touched by a standing ovation from the staff. In another example, mid-way through the ceremony, sensing the magnitude of what they were witnessing, the audience in unison burst into chanting, “Global, global. Basra is now global.”

One celebrity missing from the performance was the highly anticipated return of Kadhim Al-Saher to Iraq. The singer has not performed in his home country for decades, opting to sing patriotic Iraqi songs across the world bar Iraq, but this week it was officially announced that he would be making a long-awaited return home.

The ceremony came to a close without Al-Saher’s attendance as fans aired their frustration across social media. The performances of a plethora of high-profile artists, from Hussam Al-Rassam to Rahma Riad, more than filled this gap.

A highlight for many was that FIFA President Gianni Infantino managed to make the journey to Basra and appeared impressed throughout the tournament. The opening ceremony vastly outshone any expectations people had of Iraq, and served as an emotional and proud moment for many Iraqis across the world. Let’s hope we have more of the same to look forward to throughout the tournament.


James, Davis lead Lakers rally past Pacers; two ejected as Cavs down Grizzlies

James, Davis lead Lakers rally past Pacers; two ejected as Cavs down Grizzlies
Updated 9 sec ago

James, Davis lead Lakers rally past Pacers; two ejected as Cavs down Grizzlies

James, Davis lead Lakers rally past Pacers; two ejected as Cavs down Grizzlies
  • RJ Barrett scored 30 points to lead the Knicks in a 106-104 victory over the Miami Heat

LOS ANGELES: LeBron James continued to close in on the NBA’s all-time scoring record as the Los Angeles Lakers pulled out a thrilling 112-111 victory over Indiana on Thursday.

James, who entered the game needing 89 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer, put up 26 points.

He now needs 63 to surpass Abdul-Jabbar — who has held the record since before James was born.

The Lakers had trailed all night when James’s three-pointer gave them their first lead of the contest with 2:35 to play. Teammate Anthony Davis put them up 112-111 with 35.3 seconds remaining and followed up with a big block on Tyrese Haliburton as the Lakers escaped with the win.

It wasn’t the only drama on a night that saw Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell and Memphis’ Dillon Brooks ejected after brawling in the third quarter of the Cavaliers’ 128-113 home victory.

In Indianapolis, the Lakers looked headed for another disappointing defeat until a 21-10 run to open the fourth quarter.

Davis led the Lakers with 31 points and 14 rebounds.

Haliburton, back in action after a three-week injury absence, led the Pacers with 26 points and 12 assists.

But his drive to the basket with 16.5 seconds left was thwarted by Davis, who swatted the ball away.

“I just tried to stay on his body and make him shoot over the top,” Davis said. “I saw when he left the ground, he had to shoot it so I just timed it.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham wasn’t surprised, saying that when Davis is playing pain free he’s “one of the more elite defenders in our league.”

But there’s no doubt the spotlight now is on James. Averaging more than 30 points per game, James is likely to break Abdul-Jabbar’s mark sometime next week. The Lakers close out their road trip Saturday at New Orleans then host Oklahoma City on Tuesday and the Milwaukee Bucks next Thursday.

He said a 63-point game wasn’t out of the question, although he made no promises or predictions for Saturday.

Whenever the record does fall, James is acutely aware of the significance.

“I grew up being a historian of all sports,” James said, adding that while Abdul-Jabbar’s total of 38,387 points hasn’t been a number that stuck in his head “I know it’s been Kareem my whole life.

“It’s pretty cool,” he added of a record he likened in importance to the career home run record in baseball.

“I think it’s one of the greatest records in sports in general,” James said. “It’s one of those records you don’t ever think will be broken.”

Things turned ugly in Cleveland, where All-Star Cavs guard Mitchell was enraged when Grizzlies guard Brooks, sprawled on the court after missing a shot, flung a hand up and hit Mitchell in the groin.

Mitchell threw the ball at Brooks, shoved him and finally wrestled him to the floor before both players were restrained.

Mitchell, who was enduring a tough night in which he connected on two of 11 shots from the floor, was cheered as he departed for the locker room.

Darius Garland picked up the slack, scoring 32 points and handing out 11 assists for Cleveland, who pushed their lead to as many as 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Desmond Bane scored 25 points for Memphis and Ja Morant added 24, but the Grizzlies dropped their seventh decision in eight games.

In New York, RJ Barrett scored 30 points to lead the Knicks in a 106-104 victory over the Miami Heat.

Barrett, who was benched in the fourth quarter of the Knicks’ overtime loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, rebounded with a vengeance. He grabbed eight rebounds and handed off four assists and the Knicks secured the needed win when Tyler Herro’s three-point attempt as time expired failed to fall.

Julius Randle scored 19 of his 23 points in the first half for the Knicks, who moved a game behind the Heat for sixth place in the East — the last guaranteed playoff spot.


Fernandez set for Chelsea debut, Arsenal renew Premier League title charge

Fernandez set for Chelsea debut, Arsenal renew Premier League title charge
Updated 03 February 2023

Fernandez set for Chelsea debut, Arsenal renew Premier League title charge

Fernandez set for Chelsea debut, Arsenal renew Premier League title charge
  • Chelsea’s overall spend in their first season under new ownership fronted by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly has now surpassed £500 million

MANCHESTER: The clock is ticking for Chelsea manager Graham Potter to turn unprecedented spending into results, starting against Fulham on Friday, as new Everton manager Sean Dyche prepares for a baptism of fire against Premier League leaders Arsenal.

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool travel to face struggling Wolves, desperate to pull themselves out of a slump that has left them playing catch-up, while Tottenham host champions Manchester City.

Here are some of the key talking points ahead of the weekend action in the English top flight.

British-record signing Enzo Fernandez could make his debut at Stamford Bridge in the west London derby after completing a €121 million ($132 million, £107 million) move from Benfica.

Mykhailo Mudryk is also in line for his first start since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk in a blockbuster January transfer window for the club for a fee that could rise to €100 million.

Chelsea’s overall spend in their first season under new ownership fronted by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly has now surpassed £500 million but the Blues are languishing in 10th in the Premier League table, 10 points off the top four.

Potter admits he has a challenge on his hands to keep all his stars happy as he tries to turn Chelsea’s fortunes around.

“We have to create an environment where there’s healthy competition and they can push each other,” Potter said on Thursday. “There’s going to be frustration at times because only 11 can play.

“But we’ve got a lot of important games and we need to improve our results so it’s about playing, supporting the team and being ready to play.”

Marco Silva’s Fulham beat Chelsea for the first time since 2006 when the sides met last month at Craven Cottage and are above their illustrious neighbors in the table.

Another victory for the white half of west London would secure a first-ever league double over Chelsea in a single season.

The contrast in mood between Arsenal and Everton fans could hardly be starker ahead of their meeting at Goodison Park on Saturday.

Arsenal are on course for a first league title since 2003/04 with the luxury of a five-point lead over Manchester City and a game in hand.

The Gunners will be hoping their January business is enough to get them over the line despite missing out on their top two targets — Mudryk and Brighton’s Moises Caicedo.

Jorginho’s arrival from Chelsea this week adds depth and an old head to Mikel Arteta’s young squad while Leandro Trossard boosts his attacking options.

Everton were the only Premier League club not to make a January signing and former Burnley boss Sean Dyche knows he has a mountain to climb.

The Toffees’ 69-year stay in the English top flight is at severe risk and further protests from supporters against the club’s board are planned for after the match.

“There’s a big challenge ahead but one I’m ready for and want to take on,” Dyche told Everton TV. “We want to change the shape of this club going forward, remodel it in our style, but remodel it in a way we can win.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola showed his ruthless streak as Joao Cancelo was allowed to move on loan to Bayern Munich this week.

The Portuguese full-back was an important figure in City’s title wins over the past two seasons but his departure is further evidence that Guardiola is trying to spark a reaction from his squad.

He questioned whether his side had the hunger to hunt down Arsenal despite a dramatic comeback from 2-0 down to beat Tottenham 4-2 last month.

Now Guardiola has gambled, knowing that his daring call on Cancelo leaves him short on full-back options for the rest of the season.

City might be eight points behind the leaders before Sunday’s game against Spurs, who could be without manager Antonio Conte after he underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder, but they have title-winning nous and enviable strength in depth.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Chelsea vs. Fulham (2000)

Saturday

Everton vs. Arsenal (1230), Aston Villa vs. Leicester, Brentford vs. Southampton, Brighton vs. Bournemouth, Man Utd vs. Crystal Palace, Wolves vs. Liverpool (all 1500), Newcastle vs. West Ham (1730)

Sunday

Nottingham Forest vs. Leeds (1400), Tottenham vs. Man City (1630)


Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39
Updated 03 February 2023

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39
  • Messi told newspaper Olé in an interview published Thursday that he’d regularly said his age would make it difficult to play another World Cup

BUENOS AIRES: Lionel Messi may be in doubt as to whether he’ll be still playing for Argentina at the 2026 World Cup but he’s sure about one thing: He wants Lionel Scaloni to stay on as head coach until then, regardless.

The 35-year-old Messi led Argentina to the title in Qatar last December and wasn’t entirely sure if his fifth trip to the World Cup would be his last. The next edition will take place in Mexico, Canada and the US when Messi is 39.

Messi told newspaper Olé in an interview published Thursday that he’d regularly said his age would make it difficult to play another World Cup.

“I love playing soccer, I love what I do and while I am feeling well and feel I am fit and continue to enjoy it, I will do it. But it seems to be too much until the next World Cup,” he told the newspaper. “I have to see where my career goes, what I will do. It depends on many things.”

In the near future, he suggested he wants to play in next year’s Copa America in the US to help Argentina defend their title.

“I will stay a little longer, I have to enjoy this,” he said.

Scaloni is negotiating an extension of his contract with the Argentinian soccer federation and Messi thinks the coach should remain on the job.

“He is very important for the national team,” Messi said. “To continue with this process would be spectacular.”

Asked what it was like returning to his club Paris Saint Germain after Argentina beat France on penalties to win the World Cup, Messi said he didn’t have deep discussions about it with his teammate Kylian Mbappe, the French striker.

“One doesn’t want to speak and bring the topic of the final,” Messi said, recalling his own experience after losing the 2014 World Cup final to Germany in Brazil. “I was also on the other side, I lost a World Cup final and I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Truth is there is no problem with Kylian, quite on the contrary,” Messi said.

Messi is set to play for Argentina in friendlies to be scheduled in Buenos Aires in March to celebrate the team’s third World Cup title with their fans.


Lebioda fires sparkling 63 to take Pebble Beach first round lead

Lebioda fires sparkling 63 to take Pebble Beach first round lead
Updated 03 February 2023

Lebioda fires sparkling 63 to take Pebble Beach first round lead

Lebioda fires sparkling 63 to take Pebble Beach first round lead
  • Lebioda said recent work on his putting was finally starting to pay off

SAN FRANCISCO: Hank Lebioda was firing on all cylinders on Thursday, firing nine birdies in an 8-under-par 63 to take the first round lead in the US PGA Tour Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Lebioda said it “felt like everything” was working for him at Monterey Peninsula, the par-71 course that is one of three in use over the first three rounds along with Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill — both par-72 layouts.

“I hit a lot of great iron shots. I made the putts when I was close. It was a really nice day,” added the 29-year-old American, who is ranked 420th in the world and in search of a first US PGA Tour title.

Lebioda, who hasn’t made a cut on Tour since the 3M Open in July, tied his career-low score and was a stroke clear of England’s Harry Hall and Americans Kurt Kitayama and Chad Ramey.

Hall and Kitayama both carded seven-under 64s at Monterey Peninsula while Ramey posted a seven-under 65 at Pebble Beach.

Lebioda said recent work on his putting was finally starting to pay off.

“For probably the last couple weeks or so I felt like my putting had really turned a corner,” he said. “Even though I may not have shown the results. But I felt more confident standing over the ball. I liked what I was looking at visually standing over it. I knew it was just a matter of time.

“So today, fortunately it was one of the days where quite a few of ‘em did go in. Not every day is like that. I was glad I was able to take advantage of it today.”

Hall teed off on 10 at Monterey Peninsula and his seven-under effort featured an eagle at the 16th hole and a string of five straight birdies from the third through the seventh, a run that ended with his second bogey of the day, at the eighth.

“Kept it in play off the tee,” Hall said. “Hit a lot fairways. Hit a lot of greens.”

after failing to take advantage of two early par-fives, he hit driver off the tee at 16 and a hybrid second shot that left him a 20-foot eagle putt.

“The birdie streak on the front was pretty cool because I think I went bogey and then had a par on the second hole and then had five in a row from three onwards. So it was really good,” he said.

Hall was especially pleased to find himself in the clubhouse one off the lead since “coming down the last two holes it started to blow 45 miles an hour.

“It was crazy,” he said, and more wind and possible rain was in the forecast for the rest of the week.

The blustery winds were just another challenge in the tournament that features not only the complication of three courses but the addition of amateurs playing alongside the pros.

The celebrities teeing it up this year include such sports stars as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and recently retired Wales captain Gareth Bale.

Bale admitted to some first-time nerves on the first tee.

“I think every amateur will tell you, even though we’re used to playing in front of 80,000 or more live on TV, it’s a completely different sport,” he said. “Outside your comfort zone and something that’s just different. It’s a cool experience. Lucky that I hit one of my best shots down the first fairway, which was nice.”

Defending champion Tom Hoge, who out-dueled Jordan Spieth last year to win his first PGA Tour title, carded a one-under 71 at Pebble Beach.

Spieth posted a one-under round at Spyglass Hill.


Juventus beat Lazio to reach Italian Cup semifinals

Juventus beat Lazio to reach Italian Cup semifinals
Updated 03 February 2023

Juventus beat Lazio to reach Italian Cup semifinals

Juventus beat Lazio to reach Italian Cup semifinals
  • Juventus are 14 points away from Serie A’s European spots

MILAN: Juventus will face Inter Milan in the last four of the Italian Cup after beating Lazio 1-0 in Thursday’s final quarter-final tie.
Gleison Bremer headed home the decisive goal a minute before half-time when he beat Lazio goalkeeper Luis Maximiano to Filip Kostic’s cross.
The Brazilian’s second goal of the season won a tight contest in Turin and set up a two-legged semifinal against Juve’s biggest rivals Inter.
Victory and a clean sheet came after a 2-0 home defeat by promoted Monza at the weekend which meant they had conceded 10 goals in their three most recent league matches.
“You need the right tactics and play but above all you need the right spirit,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri.
“We were coming off that Monza defeat so it wasn’t an easy situation for us... now we’ve laid the foundations to recover our league form as well.”
April’s semifinal will be crucial to Juve’s season as should they get past Inter, who beat Atalanta on Tuesday, they will be favorites for the win the final in May against either Fiorentina or Cremonese.
Winning the cup would qualify them for the Europa League and that is their most realistic route to continental competition next season after being hit with a 15-point penalty for illicit transfer activity last month.
Juventus are 14 points away from Serie A’s European spots and a further point off the Champions League places.