Iraq and Oman edge past Qatar and Bahrain to claim places in Arabian Gulf Cup final

Iraq and Oman edge past Qatar and Bahrain to claim places in Arabian Gulf Cup final
Iraq's Ali Faez celebrates after the match. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 January 2023

Iraq and Oman edge past Qatar and Bahrain to claim places in Arabian Gulf Cup final

Iraq and Oman edge past Qatar and Bahrain to claim places in Arabian Gulf Cup final
  • Hosts Iraq will take to the field in Basra on Thursday knowing they have a chance to claim their first international silverware since lifting the Asian Cup in 2007
  • However, they face a tough test in the form of two-time Gulf Cup champions Oman, who last won the tournament in 2018 and have their eyes on title number three

BASRA: Hosts Iraq will meet Oman in the final of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup in Basra on Thursday, after both teams recorded narrow victories in Monday’s semi-finals.

Iraq, who last appeared in the final of the biennial tournament in 2013 and last lifted the trophy in 1988, thrilled more than 60,000 fans at Basra International Stadium with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the 2022 World Cup hosts, Qatar.

Ibrahim Bayesh has been one of the standouts of the tournament, and the 22-year-old Iraqi midfielder was the one to open the scoring after 19 minutes when he swept home the rebound from close range after goalkeeper Meshaal Barsham could only parry a header from a free-kick.

Nine minutes later, however, Qatar were back on level terms. Iraqi goalkeeper Jalan Hassan tried to punch clear a back-heel that had gone wrong but the ball fell to Amro Surag to volley home through a crowd of players.

Iraq regained the lead just before the break. Qatar gave the ball away and Aymen Hussein’s shot from the edge of the area took a deflection and looped over Barsham into the net.

Both teams had chances in the second half and Barsham made more than one fine save to keep Qatar’s hopes alive. Meanwhile, the Iraqi defense managed to repel some fierce attacks. They ultimately managed to hold on, prompting wild celebrations on the terraces when the final whistle sounded, and a message of congratulations from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.

The victory gives the Lions of Mesopotamia the chance to claim their first international silverware since lifting the Asian Cup in 2007.

“Now we can think about winning the title and the players are itching for it,” Iraq’s coach, Jesus Casas, said after the game.

“I am happy with my team as all players worked toward the win. Our defense was very good against Qatar. Our aim was to close spaces in the final third and not allow Qatar to make passes. It is impossible to avoid mistakes in football and we made one that cost us a goal … but we kept going.”

For Qatar, it was a disappointing end to a tournament that did at least signal the start of a rebuilding process after the disaster of the World Cup, when the hosts lost all three games.

“I am proud of what the team has achieved here without much experience, and the players should also be proud of themselves for their performance,” said temporary coach Bruno Pinheiro.

“But we didn’t play as a team today and gave spaces to Iraq, letting them score. Iraq also had an extra day for rest, which went in their favor. I wish luck to Iraq in the final and I want to thank the Iraqi fans for supporting us in the tournament.”

While all the goals in the first semi-final of the day came in the first half, in the second, fans of Oman and Bahrain had to wait until seven minutes from the end before the deadlock was broken in the clash between the winners of the two most recent tournaments.

Both teams had chances to win it but the deciding goal, when it finally came, was a spectacular one. Jameel Al-Yahmadi fired home a rocket from outside the area to leave Bahrain goalkeeper Sayed Jaffer with no chance. The only goal of the game, it was worthy of winning any game.

Now the two-time champions, who last won the tournament in 2018, are 90 minutes from title number three. To do so, however, they will have to defeat an entire nation on the field, in spirit, on Thursday in Basra. Whatever happens, it should make for quite a clash.
 


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.


Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20
Updated 07 February 2023

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20

Disappointment for the Sharjah Warriors as they exit DP World ILT20
  • A loss to Gulf Giants on the final day of the round robin stage saw them drop out of top 4, to be replaced by Dubai Capitals

The final match of the round robin stage of the DP World ILT20 League involved the Gulf Giants, sitting in second place, and the Sharjah Warriors, who needed to win to clinch fourth spot and a place in the playoffs.

On paper, the favorites were the Giants, having won six of their nine games, with one loss and two rain-abandoned matches. And so the result would ultimately go with form, with home team Sharjah Warriors dropping out of the top four, to be replaced by Dubai Capitals.

Gulf Giants won the toss and chose to bowl first. The resting of Shimron Hetmyer and Chris Lynn gave the batting a diluted look.

Chris Jordan was also rested, as was Rehan Ahmad, but the bowling was still very strong. Sharjah Warriors had to pick its strongest team, relying on Marcus Stoinis, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Evin Lewis, Joe Denly and Moeen Ali to post a competitive total.

The Gulf Giants’ devotion to bowl first was unsurprising given their bowling attack on a wicket known for its low bounce. However, Dominic Drakes’ second ball flew, taking the keeper by surprise. The fifth ball was hit to mid-wicket for six by Afghanistan’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who perished in the second over, pulling Sanchit Sharma to be caught on the square leg boundary.

Captain Moeen Ali took the responsibility of batting at three. He watched Tom Kohler-Cadmore taking a liking to Tom Helm, striking 4, 4, 6, 4 before succumbing to a superbly judged catch in the deep by James Vince. Sometimes one wonders why batters, even in T20 when on a roll, try and hit every ball to the boundary. Why not say to oneself after striking 18 in four balls, take one and move on to the next over?

Carlos Brathwaite was introduced in the sixth over, inducing Moeen to drive to deep cover where Drakes dived forward to take the catch but injured himself in painful fashion. He took no further part in the match. Another Afghani, Qais Ahmed, took the seventh over, conceding only four runs.

At 57 for three in the eighth over, David Wiese pinned Evin Lewis in front. From a distance, it looked too high but, it was out on review. Wiese then went on to clean up Joe Denly and then Stoinis, lbw, to balls which seemed to keep low. Then, he got one to fly off Woakes’ glove to point. This was an extraordinary performance from Wiese, who went on to claim 5 for 20. The Warriors could not come back from that, closing on 107 in 18.3 overs, a disappointing effort.

Their cause was not helped by Woakes’ first delivery, which speared off down the legside for five wides. On occasions such as that, as captain and team members, you can be forgiven in thinking that this is not our day. Nevertheless, the Warriors soldiered on. At 31 for no wicket after four overs, Stoinis was brought on and he cleaned up Tom Banton.

A throw of the dice was needed. Woakes returned at the end opposite to the pavilion, with only two men on boundary — deep square and fine leg. The wily Vince and Colin Grandhomme took no risks against either Woakes or Stoinis, knowing that to bat out the latter’s four overs without loss would open up scoring opportunities against other bowlers.

Only until the fifth ball of Stoinis’ last over did Grandhomme restrain himself, smacking six, before receiving a bouncer at head height in riposte. Undeterred, he took pickings from Mohammad Nabi but, hooking Siddique at pavilion end, he was caught on the square leg boundary.

Despite the Giants’ slimmed down batting, at 82/2 all looked straightforward. Local UAE player, Aayan Khan, who did not bowl came in at number four, only to see Vince lose his off stump to Junaid Siddique. His job to hold the innings together was done. Khan and Erasmus were left to steer the Giants to their target, Khan finishing with a six to close the innings on 108 for three after 16.3 overs.

The Gulf Giants underlined their all-round strength in this performance to finish top of the table in the round robin stage. It was, however, a disappointing night for the Sharjah Warriors, who, as Moeen Ali admitted, were not good enough to qualify for the playoffs. In particular, he felt that the batting lineup had not maximized its potential.