Shabab Al-Ahli top UAE Pro League standings at season’s halfway point

Shabab Al-Ahli top UAE Pro League standings at season’s halfway point
Al-Ain players celebrate during their 3-2 win over Al-Bataeh
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Updated 24 January 2023

Shabab Al-Ahli top UAE Pro League standings at season’s halfway point

Shabab Al-Ahli top UAE Pro League standings at season’s halfway point
  • 3-1 win over Ajman saw the Dubai club take the lead after 10-man Sharjah could only draw with struggling Al-Nasr

Leonardo Jardim’s Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club claimed the ADNOC Pro League’s lead at the halfway stage when another sizeable international hiatus ended with a flurry of red cards and eye-opening performances.

Pained memories of the UAE’s concerning Arabian Gulf Cup showing were temporarily shelved when domestic duty resumed after a month away. Shabab Al-Ahli rebounded from ever-impressive Tunisia schemer Firas Ben Larbi’s rocket, to produce a trio of unanswered goals in Monday’s 3-1 triumph against an Ajman who had Mohammed Ismail dismissed after only 25 seconds.

This result followed Sunday’s consequential 1-1 draw for 10-man Sharjah — bedeviled by disciplinary issues once more — against third-from-bottom Al-Nasr, with their league lead subsequently being ceded.

A penalty by Sharjah’s Caio in the 79th minute saved the blushes of teammate Darwish Bin Habib, following his uncomfortable own goal.

A rollercoaster contest was played out when inconsistent holders Al-Ain visited new boys Al-Bataeh. The former prevailed 3-2 thanks to unstoppable Togo striker Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba’s superb 87th-minute header, negating an implosion from two-goals catalyzed by fullback Erik’s red card.

Ahmed Al-Naqbi’s double heaped more misery on faltering 2020-21 champions Al-Jazira in a 2-1 home win for Ittihad Kalba, and the unlikely figure of Morocco center-back Soufiane Bouftini netted twice during Al-Wasl’s 3-0 demolition of Khor Fakkan.

Title-chasing Al-Wahda had double reason to celebrate after Joao Pedro produced the only goal, in the 91st minute, at his former side Baniyas, while high-profile winter loanee Matheus Pereira should debut later this week.

Al-Dhafra, meanwhile, roared back from behind to prevail 2-1 in the basement battle with promoted Dibba Al-Fujairah.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the Week — Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba (Al-Ain)

Extraordinary feats can be taken for granted when prolific scorers are involved.

Again, Serhiy Rebrov’s Al-Ain creaked under pressure. Again, their iconic No. 9 came to the rescue.

Laba opened and completed the scoring at Saqr bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi Stadium. In-between, chaos ensued.

That’s now 14 league goals for the campaign — a number equaled only by the legendary Ali Mabkhout. Yet since Laba’s July 2019 arrival from Morocco’s RS Berkane, his 72 topflight strikes in 76 run outs is 10 more than the aforementioned Jazira icon.

Laba’s goals have also been worth 10 points to this seventh-placed Boss by nickname, not nature.

Such consistent influence across an extended period of time was last witnessed at the UAE’s most-decorated club by Ghana superstar Asamoah Gyan. Even Sweden’s Marcus Berg tailed off, after a lightning start.

Laba’s longevity has thrust him into a rarefied realm. How fortunate Al-Ain are to have him.

Goal of the Week — Firas Ben Larbi (Ajman)

Fifth-placed Ajman, even in defeat, remain this season’s great success story.

Their beating heart is Ben Larbi.

The 26-year-old playmaker’s indisputable quality was exhibited on Monday evening. An awkward pass into him — back to goal on the edge of the penalty box — was met with an intuitive back-heeled turn, before unleashing a rasping drive from a tight angle which whizzed past helpless ex-UAE No. 1 Majed Nasser.

That’s now 10 goal contributions for the season. Plus, another example of unalloyed genius.

Summer links to Turkey’s Sivasspor eventually came to nought. Yet with the transfer market still open in the wider region and beyond, will any more overtures follow?

Coach of the Week — Aleksandar Veselinovic (Al-Dhafra)

Hope, and desolation, abounded in the Western Region.

Winter-arrival Edu’s header had Hassan Al-Abdouli’s Dibba Al-Fujairah dreaming of a great escape. But the long-term Mahdi Ali acolyte watched his side falter to a potentially ruinous defeat.

It wasn’t pretty from opposite number Aleksandar Veselinovic. Yet, he can point to the integration of pivotal winter buys as evidence of his worth.

Bulgaria midfielder Georgi Milanov delivered pinpoint assists for Tiago Leonco and Claudio. This created daylight to bottom-placed Dhafra, plus drew Nasr — and top-flight safety — to within one point.

Veselinovic’s return to Dhafra — he was at the helm from September 2020 to January 2021 — had been marked by four agonizing one-goal topflight defeats. What a moment to deliver victory.

Pereira is a risk worth taking for title-hunting Al-Wahda

It was a tale of two Twitter posts.

Pereira went from one tweet blasting “fake news” about Roshn Saudi League holders Al-Hilal’s desire to dispense with him, to the next showcasing a beaming smile at temporary new employers Wahda.

This dichotomy exemplifies the situation the Clarets have got themselves into. Will the 26-year-old ignite the third-placed side’s bid for a first topflight title since 2009-10, or disrupt a settled unit?

The Brazilian winger is, unquestionably, the winter window’s marquee addition. Not even Al-Ain’s Croatia center-back Tin Jedvaj would dispute that exalted status.

It was only 2020-21 when the attacker netted 11 Premier League goals for West Bromwich Albion. A competition-high 11 topflight assists the next season followed a reported eight-digit switch to Riyadh.

Yet, seven league run outs this term delivered zero goal contributions. He’d turned from main provider at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, to an irrelevance.

Wahda cannot argue they have recruited a star name in stellar form.

The prospect, however, of Pereira’s laser-guided set-piece deliveries being converted by 10-goal Pedro — he of Monday’s injury time clincher at former charges Baniyas — is a tantalizing one.

Wahda are already the division’s joint second-highest scorers. Pump that even higher and they could blow everyone away.

It is now up to Manolo Jimenez to unlock a premium talent. Do that and the ADNOC Pro League’s trophy case could also be opening at Al-Nahyan Stadium.


Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet
Updated 24 sec ago

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet

Saudi Cup 2023 sees sons of Quality Road meet
  • Scotland Yard and Emblem Road enhance the hopes of Prince Saud bin Salman to win the 4th edition

Having won the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Cup on Jan. 29, Scotland Yard will now have the chance to bring more success for owner Prince Saud bin Salman at the world’s biggest horseracing event later this month.

The win secured the 4-year-old son of Quality Road a qualifying card for the fourth edition of The Saudi Cup, which takes place at the 1,800-meter King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Feb. 25.

Prince Saud had competed in the previous editions of The Saudi Cup with Making Miracles, and with Emblem Road winning the 2022 edition.

At this year’s event, Emblem Road returns to compete alongside brother Scotland Yard, boosting Prince Saud’s hopes of retaining the title and winning the $20 million prize for the showpiece race.

Born on April 10, 2019, Scotland Yard is the son of the American stallion Quality Road and New Zealand mare Harmony, and was purchased by Prince Saud at the Tipton auction held last July for $255,000 when the horse was 3 years old.

Scotland Yard’s mother, Harmony, is the sister to three-time Breeders’ Cup champion mare Beholder, a record few horses have achieved.

The horse had not had much success in American racing so its owners decided to sell him, which facilitated his move to Saudi Arabia, where he has since trained, qualified and achieved victories. Two weeks ago Scotland Yard won the 1,600-meter King Faisal Cup at the Kings Cups Festival.

Prince Saud’s stable got its start in horseracing six years ago winning major cups and victories including the 2022 Saudi Cup title, King Abdulaziz Cup, and the Crown Prince Cup.

The stable has also won several titles including the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Cup, King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Cup, Prince Mohamed bin Saud Cup and the King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Cup.


Thompson scores 42 as Warriors crush Thunder

Thompson scores 42 as Warriors crush Thunder
Updated 31 min 14 sec ago

Thompson scores 42 as Warriors crush Thunder

Thompson scores 42 as Warriors crush Thunder
  • The on-fire Milwaukee Bucks rolled to an eighth straight win to move within striking distance of Boston at the top of the Eastern Conference

LOS ANGELES: Klay Thompson flirted with breaking his own single-game three-pointer record before settling for 42 points as the Golden State Warriors routed the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.

Long-range specialist Thompson drained 12 shots from outside the arc with a vintage exhibition of shooting to power the Warriors to a 141-114 win.

Thompson looked poised to beat his own NBA mark of 14 three-pointers in a single game, set in October 2018, but came up just short before exiting to a standing ovation at the Warriors Chase Center.

Thompson’s red-hot shooting was part of a stunning performance from three-point range by Golden State.

The Warriors finished with 26 threes from 50 attempts — just three shy of the all-time single-game record of 29 set by Milwaukee in 2020.

Thompson received scoring support from Jordan Poole (21 points, 12 assists and four rebounds) and Andrew Wiggins (18 points) as the Warriors shrugged off the injury absence of Steph Curry to score a resounding win.

Afterwards Thompson admitted he was hoping to have remained in the game before being withdrawn by Warriors coach Steve Kerr late in the fourth quarter.

“I was campaigning for it — but we’ve got a quick turnaround with a game on Wednesday,” said Thompson.

“And I don’t think the basketball gods like it when you chase records. Gotta let those happen organically,” he added.

In Portland, the on-fire Milwaukee Bucks rolled to an eighth straight win to move within striking distance of Boston at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Brook Lopez scored 27 points while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 24 in a 127-108 Bucks win over the Trail Blazers.

Damian Lillard led the Portland scoring with 28 points.

In Detroit, Jayson Tatum’s 34-point haul led the way as the Boston Celtics tightened their grip on the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a 111-99 win over the Pistons.

Tatum, who is averaging more than 30 points per game this season, also added 11 rebounds and six assists as the Celtics improved to 38-16 at the top of the East.

Tatum received scoring support from Derrick White with 23 points, while Robert Williams III and Sam Hauser each added 15 off the bench as Boston bounced back from last Friday’s surprise defeat to Phoenix.

Boston ace Tatum had struggled in the defeat to Phoenix, shooting only 3-for-15 from the field.

That poor outing looked to be haunting Tatum in the first half against Detroit as he made only 3-for-13.

But Tatum clicked into gear with an 18-point third quarter to guide Boston to victory.

“I just had to wake up a little bit,” he told NBC Sports after the win.

“I started off a little slow and I just had to get myself going. Because in the first half, I was stinking it up.”

Tatum, meanwhile, was pleased that Boston appeared to have bounced back after a recent dip in form that had seen them lose four of their previous six games.

“We haven’t been playing as well as we’d like to lately,” he said.

“Just had to respond and keep in mind what the goal is and keep working toward it.”

Elsewhere on Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers made it three consecutive wins in a wire-to-wire 114-91 win over the Washington Wizards.

Cleveland’s balanced offense proved too much for Washington, with all of the Cavs’ starters finishing in double digits.

Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland finished with 23 points apiece, while Donovan Mitchell scored 21.

In Brooklyn, meanwhile, Nets guard Cam Thomas erupted for 47 points, but it was not enough to prevent the home team slumping to a 124-116 defeat to the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.

Thomas led the scoring with a total that included seven three-pointers, but Brooklyn were outgunned by a Clippers team hitting form at the right time.

Veteran Paul George nailed 29 points for the Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard adding 24.

Ivica Zubac chipped in with 19 points and hauled down 12 rebounds for Los Angeles, who are fourth in the Western Conference.


Australia T20 skipper Finch quits international cricket

Australia T20 skipper Finch quits international cricket
Updated 07 February 2023

Australia T20 skipper Finch quits international cricket

Australia T20 skipper Finch quits international cricket
  • Cricket Australia chairman Lachlan Henderson said Finch finished as one of Australia’s best limited-overs players

MELBOURNE: Aaron Finch has retired from all international cricket after leading Australia in a record 76 games as captain of the Twenty20 squad.

Finch guided Australia to their first T20 world championship in 2021 and was captain again last year in its unsuccessful title defense on home soil.

The 36-year-old top-order batter also won a Cricket World Cup title with Australia in the 50 overs format at home in 2015 and played five Test matches across an international career spanning 12 years.

“Realizing that I won’t be playing on until the next T20 World Cup in 2024, now is the right moment to step down and give the team time to plan and build toward that event,” Finch said in a news conference Tuesday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Fast bowler Pat Cummins became captain of Australia’s ODI team when Finch retired from the one-day format last October to focus on T20 cricket. Cricket Australia hasn’t announced a replacement for the T20 team.

Australia were dominant in the traditional one-day format, winning four of the last six World Cups, but wasn’t able to convert that into the T20 version of the game until Finch’s squad won an against-the-odds title in the UAE in late 2021.

In all, Finch played 146 ODIs at an average of almost 39, and 103 T20 internationals at an average of 34.28 and a strike-rate of 142.53. He has twice held the record for highest score in a T20 international, posting 156 against England in 2013 and then setting the current mark of 172 against Zimbabwe at Harare in 2018.

Cricket Australia chairman Lachlan Henderson said Finch finished as one of Australia’s best limited-overs players.

“In full flight, there were few batters more powerful than Aaron, illustrated by the fact he holds two of the three highest ever scores in T20 International cricket,” Henderson said. “While he was a tough competitor on the field, Aaron always played the game with a smile on his face and in the right spirit.”


Justin Rose wins at Pebble Beach to end 4-year drought

Justin Rose wins at Pebble Beach to end 4-year drought
Updated 07 February 2023

Justin Rose wins at Pebble Beach to end 4-year drought

Justin Rose wins at Pebble Beach to end 4-year drought
  • The 42-year-old from England had not won since Torrey Pines in 2019, when he was No. 1 in the world
  • The weather played a big role all week, and no one benefited quite like Rose

PEBBLE BEACH, California: Justin Rose had a different set of goals at the start of the year.

His back was starting to become bothersome. His world ranking sank to its lowest point in 13 years. And he had reason to wonder if he would spend the first full week in April somewhere other than Augusta National.

All that changed Monday morning when Rose capped off a long week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with three quick birdies and four steady pars that gave him a three-shot victory, his first in four years.

Along with the crystal trophy — his 11th on the PGA Tour, 23rd worldwide — and the $1.62 million prize comes an invitation to the Masters. Rose has been eligible for every major dating to St. Andrews in 2010, a streak he did not want to end.

“Augusta’s definitely been a big part of being on my mind,” Rose said after closing with a 6-under 66 in cool but pristine conditions at Pebble Beach. “I thought the simple way to approach it was try to play my way into the top 50 in the world ... claw my way up the world rankings and make it that way.

“Obviously this,” he said, tapping the crystal on a table next to him, “is a better way to make it by winning a tournament. So yeah, big relief from that point of view.”

The wind-delayed tournament forced a Monday finish, and Rose had staked himself to a two-shot lead Sunday night with an eagle-birdie-par stretch along the ocean.

And then he delivered a knockout punch early to as many as a dozen players who were within three shots of the lead at various points on the course.

After a good two-putt par on the 10th to resume his round, Rose holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 11th, a 20-foot birdie putt on the 13th and then hit a wedge to the back shelf on the par-5 14th to 8 feet for a third birdie.

From there, it was about playing it safe and soaking up the views.

For all the weather this week — and it was everything, all the time — the final three hours featured a stunning blue sky and big surf, waves crashing into the rocks and adding to a scenery that already is among the best in golf.

Rose finished three shots clear of Brendon Todd (65) and Brandon Wu (66).

“An incredible week from start to finish with so much happening in my favor,” Rose said.

The 42-year-old from England had not won since Torrey Pines in 2019, when he was No. 1 in the world. He finished last year at No. 76, his lowest point since early in 2010.

“Amazing how long it’s been,” said Rose, whose victory moved him to No. 35.

The back nine, so difficult in the final hours Sunday evening, was hardly a threat Monday morning. The wind was light and coming from the opposite direction, if anything at the players’ backs instead of into them.

The weather played a big role all week, and no one benefited quite like Rose.

He was six shots out of the lead and going nowhere, facing the strongest wind of the week on the Shore course at Monterey Peninsula, when he hit 5-wood into the par-3 ninth to 3 feet. Before he could mark his ball, the wind blew it some 4 feet farther away.

That was enough for officials to halt play — the ninth and 15th greens at Monterey Peninsula were the problems — on all three courses in the rotation. Rose returned Sunday morning and made what then was a 7-foot birdie putt.

What would have been the odds of him winning if golf balls — his and others — were not blowing around at that point?

“It hurts them considerably. Yeah, that was a break,” Rose said. “I guess if you are out here long enough on tour, occasionally you catch a good break. So that was a good one.”

He played those final 10 holes in 6 under for a 65 to take the lead, and then a pivotal stretch Sunday evening gave him a cushion. Rose took it from there, a masterclass weekend of iron play and great putting.

Denny McCarthy was two shots behind when play resumed and had birdie chances on the 16th and 17th that he couldn’t covert. He wound up with a 64 and finished four shots behind, along with Keith Mitchell (68) and Peter Malnati (69).

This week of weather was more about wind than rain, although Pebble offered a little of everything. At one point on Sunday, there was rain, wind, hail and sunshine, all within a one-hour window.

That was all a distant memory when Rose finished with a smile as bright as the sun.

“Just that walk up 18, to be able to build a bit of a lead, to kind of enjoy it, was a very special moment,” he said. “Think when you’re a bit starved for a win as well, the fact that it came today on a weather day like we had and at a venue that we had today was just worth waiting for.”


Super Bowl opening night returns with circus atmosphere

Super Bowl opening night returns with circus atmosphere
Updated 07 February 2023

Super Bowl opening night returns with circus atmosphere

Super Bowl opening night returns with circus atmosphere
  • The circus atmosphere that kicks off the NFL’s biggest week returned Monday for the first time since 2020

PHOENIX: Nick Sirianni answered questions about Rocky, Santa Claus and even which of his players on the Philadelphia Eagles he’d want to date his 5-year-old daughter when she grows up.

Welcome to Super Bowl opening night where football talk gives way to the wild and wacky.

The circus atmosphere that kicks off the NFL’s biggest week returned Monday for the first time since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic forced teams to meet the media on video conferences the past two seasons.

Sirianni and the Eagles took the stage first at Footprint Center, home of the Phoenix Suns. “Fly, Eagles, Fly” chants greeted players and coaches before they spent an hour answering wide-ranging questions from more than 2,000 media members.

For the record, Sirianni loves the Rocky movies. He identifies with Sylvester Stallone’s fictional movie character, who is part of Philadelphia’s fabric as much as the cheesesteak.

“I live and coach in the greatest sports town in America,” Sirianni said. “It means so much to everybody there. That’s what you want. When you’re a little kid playing in a peewee football game, you want everybody to see you. You want your fans to love it. You want them to be there. You want them wearing green on Friday. You want them to be throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. You want to put talent on display in front of the greatest sports town in America. I love the fact that my kids are growing up in a sports town where football means so much because football means so much to me.”

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, an AP NFL MVP finalist, drew the largest crowd. Reporters staked out his spot about an hour before the event started. The first question came from Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, an NFL Network analyst.

“I feel like it’s not a time to reflect,” Hurts said about his journey to stardom. “We came here to finish the job.”

Overall, opening night wasn’t quite as outrageous as past years.

In Arizona in 2008, a female reporter showed up wearing a white wedding dress and veil and proposed to Tom Brady, who was trying to lead the New England Patriots to the first 19-0 season in NFL history.

One radio host walked around shirtless wearing a barrel. Otherwise, it was more about odd questions than odd looks.