Five-star Al-Attiyah and Benavides take honors at Dakar Rally

Five-star Al-Attiyah and Benavides take honors at Dakar Rally
Nasser Al-Attiyah and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel celebrate after winning the Dakar Rally 2023 in Dammam on Sunday. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 January 2023

Five-star Al-Attiyah and Benavides take honors at Dakar Rally

Five-star Al-Attiyah and Benavides take honors at Dakar Rally
  • Al-Attiyah took the overall lead after the third stage, having built up a commanding advantage in the first week

DAMMAM: Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah on Sunday won his fifth Dakar Rally driver’s title and second in a row, with Argentina’s Kevin Benavides securing his second motorbike crown.

The 52-year-old Al-Attiyah won three stages and had more than an hour’s advantage in the overall standings over Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, who also finished runner-up last year.

Al-Attiyah’s Toyota teammate Lucas Moraes of Brazil finished third on his debut in the iconic test of endurance which reached its climax in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.

Al-Attiyah took the overall lead after the third stage, having built up a commanding advantage in the first week and deployed a safety-first strategy in the second half of the race.

“We just finished and I’m so happy. It was a difficult Dakar for everyone,” said Al-Attiyah. “It’s crazy to manage to defend my title. I’m very happy to win five times, and Mathieu (his co-driver Mathieu Baumel) four ... Sorry, Mathieu!

“We didn’t have to attack like crazy. We managed to get through the second week and win the Dakar at the end, that’s what really matters.”

Loeb gave it all he could as he won a record six successive stages in the second week. But the 48-year-old Frenchman had lost so much time on the first part of the race that it was a lost cause.

“After the beginning of the Rally we had we could not hope for better than this,” said Loeb.

“Nasser was so consistent that he was unbeatable, he produced a brilliant performance without any mistakes.”

Moraes — whose co-driver Timo Gottschalk was Al-Attiyah’s partner in his first win in 2011 — was proud as punch to be the first Brazilian to finish in the top three.

“It was important for the rally community in Brazil because it had never happened before,” he said.

“I’m going to celebrate with all the Brazilian photographers.”

The car category may not have had a lot of suspense about it but the motorbike title race more than made up for it with plenty of thrills and spills.

Benavides, the 2021 champion, edged out Australian Toby Price by 43 seconds with Skyler Howes of the United States finishing third.

Benavides — who celebrated his 34th birthday during the race — trailed two-time champion Price by 12 seconds entering Sunday’s 14th and final stage.

He produced a sterling ride to win the stage, however, and post a time 55 seconds faster than his 35-year-old rival.

Benavides’ win will be a popular one, as he showed selflessness in stopping to aid a stricken rival Matthias Walkner in Saturday’s penultimate stage.

“It’s incredible to pull off the win at the end of this completely crazy Dakar, and with such a small gap,” said Benavides.

“I’m also the first to win with two different motorbike brands, and that makes me very proud.”

It brought to an end a fascinating battle for supremacy in the motorbike section which had seen Howes lead for six days.

Price could not hide his disappointment, despite praising Benavides for doing a “great job.”

“Yeah, hard to take at the moment, but at the end of the day I’m going home in one piece and we got a Dakar trophy,” he said. “It hurts a little bit.”

For his part, Howes was ecstatic.

“How could I be anything but happy?” said Howes, who became the fifth American to finish in the top three.

“You can always look back and say ‘Aw, man, maybe I could’ve saved this here and here’, but we’re at the finish safely, and I’m on the podium.

“It’s such a dream come true and an honor to share the podium with two legends like Toby and Kevin. It’s the most unreal feeling.”

Several of the title contenders had bowed out along the way including last year’s British winner Sam Sunderland, who got no further than the first stage.


Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal stun Flamengo of Brazil to reach Club World Cup final

Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal stun Flamengo of Brazil to reach Club World Cup final
Updated 9 sec ago

Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal stun Flamengo of Brazil to reach Club World Cup final

Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal stun Flamengo of Brazil to reach Club World Cup final

RABAT: Saudi club and AFC Champions League holders Al-Hilal stunned South American champions Flamengo on Tuesday to reach the FIFA Club World Cup final.

More to follow...


From troublemaker to contender: Al Ain boxer turns life around and eyes Olympics

From troublemaker to contender: Al Ain boxer turns life around and eyes Olympics
Updated 07 February 2023

From troublemaker to contender: Al Ain boxer turns life around and eyes Olympics

From troublemaker to contender: Al Ain boxer turns life around and eyes Olympics
  • Emirati Amer Hussain Al-Suwaider has dedicated his life to serving his country, as a member of the UAE army and an amateur boxer
  • Residing in Abu Dhabi and working full-time for the army, Al-Suwaider also trains with the UAE Boxing Federation six days a week

The International Olympic Committee’s recent clash with the International Boxing Association has raised the possibility of the sport being dropped as early as the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The dreams of thousands of boxers around the world are now very much under threat.

One of those boxers, UAE welterweight Amer Hussain Al-Suwaider, has his heart set on going to the Los Angeles Olympics in five years’ time, despite the IOC’s suspension of the sport from the 2028 program as things stand.

Like so many others, Al-Suwaider has sacrificed his youth to be able to represent his country at the Olympics only for the IOC to shun the sport for a variety of reasons, political and sporting.

But boxing has brought so much more to Al-Suwaider’s life than Olympic dreams.

He began boxing when he was 15 years old, and now at the age of 21, he has represented UAE throughout Asia.

He does not plan on stopping there. As UAE National Champion with 18 amateur fights, Al-Suwaider knows that he has a lot to prove, but just as importantly a lot of young men to inspire.

Born and raised in Al Ain, Al-Suwaider comes from a family of six other siblings. Although his parents fully support his boxing endeavors now, this was not always the case.

“My parents were worried about me when I started. They didn’t think it was safe. But nothing was going to stand in my way. I wanted to show them I was committed to this sport and the positive impact it had on me,” said Al-Suwaider. “They are my biggest supporters now; they can see how boxing has changed the course of my life.”

Three years ago, he joined the UAE Armed Forces and devoted his life to serving his country not only as a career military man but also, he hopes, as an amateur boxer on the international stage.

Residing in Abu Dhabi and working full-time for the army, Al-Suwaider also trains with the UAE Boxing Federation six days a week under the watchful eyes of coaches Mohammed Al-Shebli and Hasan Mukhamedov.

However, Al-Suwaider was not always this disciplined. He had garnered a reputation around Al Ain as a bit of a troublemaker until the Al-Salamat boxing club came calling.

“I was called and asked to come to the gym when I was 15 because I was getting into street fights a lot,” he said. “But the moment I started boxing, my life changed. I was lost before and here I found peace within myself, and I didn’t need to be getting into trouble anymore.

“There were no fancy machines or anything, just an empty room with two boxing bags, and that is how I started.”

Al-Suwaider progressed fast, looking to gain as much experience as possible fighting the same year he started training. His first fight was against a tough opponent, having wanted to test his skills inside the ring regardless of how inexperienced he might have been at that point.

“I was really nervous and apprehensive, but the feeling after was like no other feeling in the world. I wanted to get right back in the ring again as soon as possible,” he said.

The young southpaw started fighting for the UAE Boxing Federation at the age of 16, competing in the 2017 ASBC Asian Confederation Junior Boxing Championships in the Philippines, the 2018 Pan-Arabian Youth Boxing Championships in Cairo and the 2018 ASBC Asian Confederation Youth Championships in Thailand.

“I have fought many times, my amateur card is filling up,” Al-Suwaider. “But I must say there are a few bouts that have stuck in my mind as I could really see my own progression.”

In December, Al-Suwaider fought world bronze medalist Reese Lynch at the IBA Night of Champions in Abu Dhabi.

“It was such a big night for me. I fought a boxer with a lot more experience than me. It was hosted by my country and the event was put on by the IBA with some of the biggest names in the boxing world in attendance. Nights like that you don’t forget,” Al-Suwaider said.

“Another big competition for me was in 2020 when I was in military college in Dubai,” he added. “I hadn’t trained for four months, but I was asked to compete. The opportunity was too big for me to pass. I knew that I hadn’t been training, but I put my head down and did the job. That victory was extremely sweet because it showed me who I am and what I have inside of me.”

Al-Suwaider has the backing of boxing authorities in the UAE.

“Our goal at the Boxing Federation is to help Amer Al-Suwaider achieve every success as an amateur boxer representing the UAE. We have watched him progress at a rapid rate and he accepts any challenge placed in front of him,” said Anas Al-Otaiba, president of the UAE Boxing Federation. “We believe that he has the heart and talent to go far. The Olympics is something he has his sights set on, and we want to make sure that he has all the support from the federation and his country.”

Al-Otaiba also highlighted Al-Suwaider’s role as a role model for other fighters across the Emirates.

“He is an inspiration to the many young Emirati boxers putting in the work, day in and day out, at our facilities. We have young talents that see how dedicated he is to the sport,” the federation chief said. “It is not easy to blaze trails outside of cultural norms, live as an athlete daily when your friends are not, and in Amer’s case, work full time for the UAE army while maintaining a grueling training schedule.

“Amateur boxers must be prepared to fight unknown opponents in their championships, maintain weight levels all year round and compete at a very high level,” Al-Otaiba said.

“We understand that the UAE is still considered a new addition to the international boxing scene and that Amer must be prepared to fight boxers who have extensive boxing pedigree, and more international experience. He is honored to lead the way for the many young boxers behind him and pave that road for them. We look forward to seeing his bright boxing future.”

Al-Suwaider’s life changed the day he picked up his first pair of gloves, from starting scuffles in the streets of Al Ain to joining the army and becoming UAE National Champion.

“Now my life has purpose and structure. I wake up, my day is scheduled, I have goals and dreams for my future, and if I work hard, I know I will achieve them. Boxing saved my life,” said Al-Suwaider.

“To represent my country at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics would be the pinnacle of sporting achievement for me.”


Frankie Dettori looks to Country Grammer to deliver fond Saudi Cup farewell

Frankie Dettori looks to Country Grammer to deliver fond Saudi Cup farewell
Updated 07 February 2023

Frankie Dettori looks to Country Grammer to deliver fond Saudi Cup farewell

Frankie Dettori looks to Country Grammer to deliver fond Saudi Cup farewell
  • The superstar jockey, who plans to retire in November, hailed the unparalleled quality of the Riyadh track ahead of the world’s most valuable race on Feb. 25
  • Dettori’s first win of the winter in America was on Country Grammer, trained by Bob Baffert, when they triumphed in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Boxing Day

Frankie Dettori will team up at the $20 million Saudi Cup this month with last year’s runner-up, Country Grammer, as they take on what the jockey considers to be the “best dirt track in the world.”

The 52-year-old jockey has already enjoyed one massive victory on the horse, at the Dubai World Cup last year. Now he has his sights set on the world’s most valuable race, which will take place at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Feb. 25.

Dettori is currently racing in the US as part of his farewell world tour, having announced his intention to retire from the saddle, following a glittering career, at this year’s Breeders’ Cup meeting in November. His first win of the winter in America was on Country Grammer, trained by Bob Baffert, when they triumphed in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Boxing Day.

“The first day I came here to America to ride he took me by surprise,” Dettori said. “A lot of pressure was on; there were 40,000 people here and he was a big favorite so, of course, I wanted the horse to win.

“He won in style and I was super pleased with him. He still retains all the ability he had last year.

“Bob made it very clear to me that the Saudi Cup was going to be the next target; that’s why he didn’t run in the Pegasus. Touch wood, at the moment, it’s all systems go for the Saudi Cup.”

Flavien Prat was in the saddle at the Saudi Cup last year when Country Grammer was overtaken by surprise winner Emblem Road.

Dettori said he followed the horse’s races in the US closely for the rest of the year and was an interested onlooker when the 6-year-old finished a distant second behind US superstar Flightline in the Group 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar in September.

“I texted Bob Baffert after Flightline had beaten him by 19 lengths saying, ‘That was a good run,’” Dettori said with a laugh. “He said to me, ‘Country Grammer thought he won because he never saw Flightline.’

“In fairness, he’s a super consistent horse, he’s unphased by anything. He’s had a good season and there was always the aim to go back to the Saudi Cup this year.

“There’s still a couple of weeks to go and I hope he ships to Saudi in one piece. When you’ve got a 6-year-old, you are kind of confident traveling isn’t going to be an issue but he’s got to bring his A-game and he’s got to be a tough cookie.”

Last year’s winner Emblem Road is expected to lock horns with Country Grammer once again in this year’s Saudi Cup. American raider Scotland Yard and star British filly Saffron Beach are also expected to line up for the 1800m dirt prize, while Panthalassa is likely to head a strong Japanese contingent.

However, Dettori believes Taiba, also trained by Baffert, could pose the biggest threat to his stablemate. Taiba won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Boxing Day, when Dettori, a former British Champion Jockey, trailed in last on outsider Perfect Flight.

“Taiba made a great comeback run the other day and he’s got fresh legs with little mileage on the clock,” Detrori said. “He is one of the horses I would fear as he’s got plenty to give.”

The Saudi Cup weekend promises to be a busy one for Dettori. He expects to pick up other big-race rides for Baffert in the supporting races on the card, and will partner Ebor hero Trawlerman in the $2.5 million Longines Red Sea Handicap for old allies John and Thady Gosden.

He will also take part in the International Jockeys Challenge on the opening day of the meet, Feb. 24. He will join Brazilian rider Joao Moreira and Yuga Kawada from Japan in the unique event, which features seven of the world’s best male riders and seven top female jockeys.

There is a total of $35.35 million in prize money up for grabs over the two-day Saudi Cup festival, making it the most valuable race meeting in the world. Dettori could not speak highly enough of the quality of the venue.

“I’ve been going to Saudi for the last 30 years. I’m not just saying this because we’re talking about the Saudi Cup, but I think this new track is the best dirt track in the world,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful layout and the sand is not as harsh as some of the American tracks. Turf horses can do really well on it and it brings the two categories closer together.

“The Saudi Cup is established as one of the main events in the racing calendar and I’m very much looking forward to it. The Jockeys Challenge will give me the last chance to ride with some great jockeys from around the world. It will be great fun.”


Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer
Updated 07 February 2023

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer

Ancelotti: Attacks on Vinícius a problem of Spanish soccer
  • Vinícius, the Brazilian forward who is Black, has been subjected to hate attacks since he arrived in Spain in 2018
  • "It is a problem of Spanish football,” said Ancelotti

MADRID: The hate attacks against Vinícius Júnior are a problem of Spanish soccer and must be dealt with, his Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said on Tuesday.
Vinícius, the Brazilian forward who is Black, has been subjected to hate attacks since he arrived in Spain in 2018. The most recent were on Sunday at a Spanish league game in Mallorca. Last month, his effigy hung off a bridge in Madrid before the derby against Atletico Madrid.
“The question I ask is this: What does Vinicius have to defend himself against? What do his teammates have to defend themselves against?” Ancelotti said on Tuesday on the eve of Madrid’s debut at the Club World Cup in Morocco.
“Is Vinícius the problem? It seems like the problem is Vinícius, but the problem is what happens around him. Period.
“It is a problem of Spanish football. I am a part of Spanish football and I think it’s a problem that we have to solve. Because it seems that Vinicius is the culprit, but he is being the victim of something that I don’t understand.”
Vinícius has been outspoken about the insults and often complained on social media of how he’s been treated.
He was also targeted because of his dances while celebrating goals, and recently his teammates called attention to the high number of fouls he was receiving in games. Last week, Valencia defender Gabriel Paulista was sent off after a vicious foul on Vinícius in a league game.
“Vinícius is an incredible person, with great values,” teammate Federico Valverde said. “He is different than most on the field, he enjoys soccer in his own way, in a happy way. I don’t think the rival fans are thinking about the person, they don’t realize that he could be the son of anyone who is in the stands. People need to be responsible for what they do, they shouldn’t take it out on a 22-year-old. You need to have respect.”
Racism in Spanish soccer has attracted more attention recently, but little has been done to punish anyone.
The Spanish league was investigating the attacks on Sunday at Mallorca after TV images showed someone calling him a monkey. Vinícius was also insulted after the match when he stopped to pose for photos and sign autographs for fans.
Authorities have yet to find those responsible for hanging Vinícius’ effigy last month, and so far teams have not been punished for the racist insults inside their stadiums.
The first trial against a fan who racially insulted a player in Spain is expected to begin this year following remarks by an Espanyol supporter against Athletic Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams a few years ago.
Mallorca defender Antonio Raíllo said last year that Vinícius was using the card of racism when accused of provoking opponents. Other players have complained of the Brazilian’s attitude on the field as well.
Madrid will face Egyptian club Al Ahly on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Club World Cup. Madrid have won the world club title a record seven times, including three times when the competition was called the Intercontinental Cup.


Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy
Updated 07 February 2023

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy

Ghana footballer Atsu found alive in quake rubble: envoy
  • Atsu, 31, joined Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor in September
  • Atsu spent five seasons at Newcastle before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 2021

ACCRA, Turkiye: Ghana national player and former Newcastle midfielder Christian Atsu has been found alive in the rubble of an earthquake that killed more than 4,800 people in Turkiye and neighboring Syria, Ghana’s ambassador to Turkiye said Tuesday.
Atsu, 31, joined Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor in September, based in the southern province of Hatay near the epicenter of Monday’s massive quake.
“I have good news coming. I am just getting information from the president of the Ghana association that Christian Atsu has been found in Hatay,” Francisca Ashietey-Odunton told Accra-based Asaase Radio, referring to a local Ghanaian community association.
The envoy gave no further details on his condition.
Hatayspor official Mustafa Ozat told Play Spor streaming channel on Monday that Atsu was still in the rubble and was trying to escape.
Atsu spent five seasons at Newcastle after an initial campaign on loan before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 2021.
He won the last of his 60 Ghana national caps in September 2019.
“We pray for Ghana International Christian Atsu and victims of the earthquake in Turkiye and Syria,” the Ghana Football Association said on Twitter.
Dozens of nations have offered aid since the 7.8-magnitude quake struck early on Monday as people were sleeping. Freezing weather has hampered emergency efforts.
Multi-story apartment buildings full of residents were among the more than 5,600 structures reduced to rubble in Turkiye, while Syria announced dozens of collapses.