Newcastle eye Carabao Cup title as Wembley beckons

Newcastle eye Carabao Cup title as Wembley beckons
Newcastle United's Brazilian striker Joelinton (C) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the English League Cup semi-final first-leg football match against Southampton. (AFP)
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Updated 26 January 2023

Newcastle eye Carabao Cup title as Wembley beckons

Newcastle eye Carabao Cup title as Wembley beckons
  • Draw in second leg with Southampton needed
  • Eddie Howe’s not taking anything for granted

SOUTHAMPTON: Newcastle United have one foot in the final of the Carabao Cup after a Joelinton strike saw them emerge victorious in the first leg of their last-four tie at Southampton.

The Brazilian popped up with a second-half winner after a VAR-impacted encounter had seen two goals ruled out for handball.

The win means United just have to avoid defeat in the home return leg in seven days in order to make their first Wembley final since 1999.

Speaking after the encounter, head coach Eddie Howe said: “It was a tough game, both sides had their moments and had chances to win the game, but we know it’s only halftime and there’s a long way to go.

“We created chances today, we weren’t clinical until the goal.

“It’s been a good day but there’s still a long way to go in the tie. I can’t be critical in any way. We defended well, Nick made some big saves again.

“The two saves he made were big moments. (Che) Adams’ one-on-one was at a huge time in the game when they were growing into it and the crowd were getting up but Nick stepped up and kept us in it.

“He’s been outstanding for us this year, the defense has played very well in front of him but when called upon he’s delivered for us.

“Pleased to win, that was our aim but we know 1-0 is delicate, nothing is decided.

“We go back to St James’ with our fans behind us.”

Howe resisted the temptation to shuffle his pack after scoring just once in their last four games. He kept Alexander Isak and Allan Saint-Maximin in reserve as he stuck with the same starting XI at St Mary’s.

Having drawn a blank in three of their last four Premier League games, the Magpies started this one in no mood to see that run continue. Finding spaces down the flanks, United caused the opposition all kind of problems. Sean Longstaff came closest to finding a man in the middle with a low, guided cross. Soon after, Joe Willock somehow misjudged the flight of a Kieran Trippier cross when it looked easier to score.

Same source and same end product on the half hour when Willock blazed over a volley from a Trippier cross. He had an age to line it up, a poor, poor finish from a player who is struggling in the final third this season.

Carlos Alcaraz tested Nick Pope’s palms from distance in what was the Saints’ only real challenge to United’s first-half dominance.

On the stroke of halftime the Magpies had a seemingly legitimate goal chalked off for handball as Joelinton turned in from close range after a Willock break down the left, however referee Stuart Atwell deemed the ball hit the Brazilian’s hand. Replays — and it took numerous angles to spot it — showed the slightest of touches on the arm.

After the break, it was all United again, but frustratingly their wasteful finishing continued as Joelinton skied a cross over with an open goal at his mercy, then Sven Botman did the same as a corner was only half cleared.

Dominant to that point, the balance of play then began to switch as Saints had an inevitable spell.

And it was then, and only then, the Magpies had to call on their ever-reliable last line of defense, Pope.

Che Adams broke the defensive line and looked set to curl into the bottom corner, but for the outstretched limb of the England keeper. Then again a swift Adams turn and shot was stopped by Pope.

In need of inspiration, Howe turned to his bench for matchwinners — and he found it in the shape of Saint-Maximin and Isak.

While the former spread the play and gave Saints problems in behind, Isak’s movement proved a stark contrast from the largely static and anonymous Callum Wilson.

It was an Isak spin, totally wrong-footing then out-pacing Lyanco, that opened up the opportunity for Joelinton to make up for his earlier miss and hammer home right in front of the 3,200 travelling Geordies.

Those celebrations, though, were muted rather swiftly when former United forward Adam Armstrong bundled home a cross from the right. However, as it had done with Joelinton’s earlier, the goal was ruled out by VAR for a handball by the eventual scorer.

The tricky Saint-Maximin’s pace and energy then saw the home side reduced to 10 as Duje Caleta-Car received his second booking for a foul on the Frenchman.

The tie could and should have been put to bed in the closing stages as Isak rounded Gavin Bazunu, but a deft touch by the keeper pushed him wide enough to make the finish near impossible. Again, the side-netting was ruffled.

One down, one to go. And these two will do it all again on January transfer deadline day, right as the buying window closes.

“It wasn’t lost on me when I saw the game fall on that day,” said Howe.

“I was thinking, ‘that’s potentially interesting.’ I tend to think the manager’s role in this is reduced, in the sense that you’re not necessarily in control of transfers. Well, you’re not in control of transfers, you’re hearing second- and third-hand what’s happening.

“In terms of meeting and greeting players, that can be done by other people. My focus that day will be solely on the game, and making sure we’re as prepared as we can be.”

United are understood to be exploring the possibility of signing Everton’s Anthony Gordon. Talks are taking place between the sides, with a fee yet to be agreed.

When asked about the deal, Howe said: “No. I don’t know. We are actively pushing, but I haven’t checked my phone.”


South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo

South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo
Updated 10 sec ago

South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo

South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo
BUENOS AIRES: Members of the South American candidacy for the centennial 2030 World Cup want to host the opening match in Buenos Aires and the final in Montevideo, where Uruguay won the first edition of the tournament.
Government and soccer officials representing the joint bid of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay held their first organizing committee meeting Tuesday. Argentine President Alberto Fernández also said he wants to add Bolivia to the group.
One other bid has already been formalized: Spain-Portugal-Ukraine. Morocco and another joint bid of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece are moving ahead.
Alejandro Domínguez, the president of South American soccer body CONMEBOL, highlighted the historical links. Uruguay hosted the first tournament in 1930 and won the first title by beating Argentina 4-2 in the final.
“FIFA has the obligation of honoring the memory of those who came before us and made the first World Cup,” he said. “At the end, the ones who want it more win it. And in that Argentina and all of our countries have a tradition.”
FIFA will make the decision in 2024, two years before the next edition of the tournament takes place in the United States, Mexico and Canada with 48 teams for the first time.
Chile sports minister Alexandra Benado Vergara said Argentina’s World Cup title in Qatar gives an extra push to the South American bid, which she sees as stronger since other nations joined Uruguay’s initially single-nation candidacy.
“Argentina’s victory is also the victory of our region,” Vergara said. “We can totally say we will have a bid that is sustainable, clear, austere during these times of our region and the world.”
Vergara’s Uruguayan counterpart Sebastián Bauzá said South America “feels we have the right to organize that World Cup.”
Argentina’s Fernández said on his social media channels he wanted to add Bolivia to the bid because “this is the candidacy of the entire continent. That is why I will propose that Bolivia become a part of this dream.”

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 2 min 24 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

TANGIER: Al-Hilal are 90 minutes away from becoming world champions after a stunning 3-2 win over Brazilian giants and Copa Libertadores title-holders Flamengo in the semi-final of the FIFA Club World Cup in Tangier on Tuesday.

The most successful club in Saudi Arabia and Asia have dozens of trophies in their cabinet back home but have never come close to a prize such as this.

Al-Nassr may have Cristiano Ronaldo but Al-Hilal are close to unprecedented glory. These are heady times for Saudi Arabian football indeed.  

Saturday could be the best of the lot for Al-Hilal, though they are likely to find Real Madrid, arguably the biggest club on the planet, blocking their way in the final.

If the 14-time European champions lose their semi-final on Wednesday then the opposition will be Egypt’s Al-Ahly in what would be the ultimate dream match for fans in the Arab region.

Either way, it is going to be huge for Al-Hilal who, at the very least, have already improved upon their two fourth place finishes in their previous appearances in this tournament.

It wasn't just a battling performance from Ramon Diaz’s men, who came through a gruelling last eight test against local favorites Wydad AC just three days previously, it was an intelligent and controlled one.

Salem Al-Dawsari  stunned Argentina with the winning goal for Saudi Arabia in the World Cup in November and stunned Brazil with two first half goals at the Ibn Batouta Stadium.

Both came from the spot, sandwiching a Pedro equaliser and the second coming after Gerson was sent off. Luciano Vietto sealed the win in the second half despite a late consolation from Pedro.

The drama started in the fourth minute as the referee pointed to the spot after Matheuzinho had brought down Luciano Vietto. Al-Dawsari saw his penalty at the World Cup saved by Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny –a piece of play that, had it gone differently, could have been the difference between the Green Falcons going through the second round –but this time, he made no mistake, shooting low into the bottom corner past the diving Santos.

The Brazilians were rattled on a cold and windy night on Morocco’s north-western coast and coach Vitor Pereira, who took the job just over a month previously, had much to ponder. 

The frown was turned upside down after 20 minutes as the Rio club equalised in smart fashion. Matheuzinho slipped the ball to Pedro just inside the right hand corner of the area and his smart first time shot flew low into the opposite corner past Abdullah Al-Mayouf. Seconds later, the Brazilians almost scored a second as the goalkeeper came and missed a left-sided cross.

Yet it was Al-Hilal who finished the first half asking questions of the Flamengo defence and were awarded a second penalty, and their third of the tournament on the stroke of half-time. Vietto went down in the area but after a video review, Gerson, already booked, was shown a second yellow. Once again, Al-Dawsari stepped up and, once again, scored.

With a one goal and one man advantage, the Saudi Arabians were just 45 minutes from dreamland.

They started the second half with composure, keeping the ball and moving it around sharply and with increasing confidence. The game began to open up with Flamengo forced to attack and forced to leave bigger and bigger gaps at the back.

The South American giants were punished with 20 minutes remaining. Vietto was fed inside the area and fired home into the roof of the net to spark wild celebrations among the visiting fans and the Al-Hilal bench. To their credit, Flamengo continued to push and there were nerves as Pedro bundled the ball home from close range in the first minute of injury time but this was a mature, hard-working and composed performance from the Asian champions

Now, a team that came close to crashing out against Wydad on Saturday have a chance to make magnificent history. Just getting to the final is a fine achievement but returning to Riyadh as world champions would never be forgotten.

After beating Argentina in November and the South American champions here, even Real Madrid will not be feared. Anything is possible for Saudi Arabian football at the moment.


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.