Sky’s the limit for Yahya Al-Ghassani after title win with Shabab Al-Ahli

Sky’s the limit for Yahya Al-Ghassani after title win with Shabab Al-Ahli
Shabab Al-Ahli star Yahya Al-Ghassani. (Twitter: @ShababAlAhli_EN)
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Updated 17 May 2023
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Sky’s the limit for Yahya Al-Ghassani after title win with Shabab Al-Ahli

Sky’s the limit for Yahya Al-Ghassani after title win with Shabab Al-Ahli
  • The gifted 25-year-old Emirati scored 7 goals and provided 4 assists in the Dubai club’s triumphant season
  • Footballer is touted as the UAE national team’s next big star, and has dreams of playing in Europe

Yahya Al-Ghassani is a breath of fresh air.

The 25-year-old with boyish looks has the perfect mix of modesty and gratitude, grounded in his humble upbringing, and the confident swagger of a man who finally feels at home, not just in his own skin, but on the football pitch.

The winger has long been touted as the next big thing in Emirati football, and after a standout campaign helping Shabab Al-Ahli to the ADNOC Pro League title, in which he scored seven goals and provided four assists, if there was any doubt, he now knows his best is good enough.

Speaking to Arab News from a cafe in the suburbs of Dubai, any mention of the drought-breaking title for Shabab Al-Ahli lit up Al-Ghassani’s face with a beaming, broad smile.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said.

“I think all my teammates, the president, everyone is feeling the same. This feeling is really, really, really amazing; I can’t even describe it.”

For Al-Ghassani, a product of the Shabab Al-Ahli youth system, the title-winning moment was even more special as it was his goal that clinched the victory against Baniyas and confirmed their first league title since 2016.

“I never thought that this scenario would happen to me,” he said.

“Imagine what I’m feeling right now, scoring the goal that (won) the title for my childhood club.”

And how many times has he watched that moment in the days since?

“I can’t even count,” he said with his trademark smile and laugh. “Before I sleep, after I wake up, I always watch it, watch it.

“It’s not because of how beautiful it was, it’s not because how cheeky it was; it gives me chills every time I watch it. It gives me a good feeling — a really, really, really good feeling.

“I really feel proud of myself and the steps that I took (to achieve this).”

Al-Ghassani’s journey to the top started in the backstreets of Sharjah, where he grew up playing street football barefoot with the other kids from the neighborhood.

That street football upbringing is evident when you watch him play and see the relationship his feet have with the ball. It is a craft honed by countless hours with ball at feet on dirt patches and empty lots.

At age 11 he first joined Al-Ahli, as it was known then before the merger in 2017, beginning a love affair with the club that continues to this day, punctuated only by a brief sojourn with Al-Wahda.

Al-Ghassani is the first to admit he owes everything to Shabab Al-Ahli, which is why winning the title meant so much because he could repay some of what the club had given him over more than a decade.

“Playing for your childhood team and winning the title is different,” he explained.

“The fans are chanting my name, they’re doing my celebrations, they’re telling everyone that I’m the best local Emirati player in the league right now.

“Getting this whole good energy at my childhood club, I can’t even describe it because it feels different. You can’t describe it, it’s a feeling, it’s chills. You see the goosebumps on your hands and legs and everywhere else in your body.

“So this means a lot of things, and if I play (here) until I retire, I think I will still owe this club a lot, because they gave me a lot.”

Whether he plays at the club until he retires is the big question right now, with the Emirati international fielding genuine interest from a number of clubs in Saudi Arabia, including champions-in-waiting Al-Ittihad.

That could mean rubbing shoulders with his idol, Cristiano Ronaldo, but a move to one of the fastest growing leagues in the world is far from the extent of his ambition.

Al-Ghassani wants to break the glass ceiling and be the first Emirati player to make it in Europe. And not just make it by playing there, he wants to make it big and he is not afraid to say it.

“I don’t just want to go only to be the first Emirati to play, it’s not worth it to (just) go, then I can stay here,” he said.

“I really want to make it big there in Europe. It’s not easy. I know it’s not easy, but I have to work hard for it, and I think one day, this dream will be closer and closer and closer. It’s coming closer and closer.

“I think it’s not the right time. I think I have to take things step-by-step. I think before I was rushing to go to Europe. I was a kid, and I was dreaming to go. I saw the superstars in Europe and I wanted to be like them.

“But I think I have to respect the steps, and I have to take things step-by-step, and I think by taking it step-by-step the dream is achievable to do.

“(But) I can’t hide it, I’ve been dreaming of playing in Europe since I was a kid. To play for Shabab Al-Ahli first team and to play in Europe, they’re the biggest dreams that I really wanted to achieve.”

While the national team lurches from one crisis to the next — with this past week seeing both the UAE football association president, Sheikh Rashid, and coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena, depart – Al-Ghassani offers a reason to be optimistic about Emirati football.

His boldness, both on and off the pitch, and single-minded determination and pursuit of his dreams is what Emirati football needs more of right now if it is to turn its troubled ship around. And perhaps Al-Ghassani can be the one to steer it in a new direction.

It is a lot to ask of a 25-year-old, who was once a boy with similar big dreams playing on the streets of Sharjah, but talking with Al-Ghassani, you get the sense he is more than up for the challenge.


Eddie Howe calls for Newcastle United ‘unity’ as Premier League struggles continue with Arsenal hammering

Eddie Howe calls for Newcastle United ‘unity’ as Premier League struggles continue with Arsenal hammering
Updated 25 February 2024
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Eddie Howe calls for Newcastle United ‘unity’ as Premier League struggles continue with Arsenal hammering

Eddie Howe calls for Newcastle United ‘unity’ as Premier League struggles continue with Arsenal hammering
  • The 4-1 loss sees the Magpies fall further behind in the race for European qualification
  • ‘There’s only one way for success, and that’s for the club to be as one,’ said Howe

LONDON: Eddie Howe has called for unity as Newcastle United’s Premier League struggles continue to derail their season.

The Magpies suffered a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Arsenal at the Emirates, with a Sven Botman own goal, Kai Havertz, Bukayo Saka and Jakub Kiwior sealing all three points for the title-chasing Gunners. Newcastle scored a late consolation via former Arsenal man Joe Willock.

The result sees them fall further behind in the race to try and qualify for Europe again next season. And while criticism is building — the Magpies’ form since December is bottom six, rather than top six — head coach Howe has called for everyone to stick together, saying that is the only route to success.

“We need to stick together. There’s only one way for success, and that’s for the club to be as one,” said Howe.

“We know that our run of form has not been as consistent as we want it to be. Coming here I think we were unbeaten in five, so I don’t think it was all bad, but this defeat, we’ll have to take on the chin and we’ll have to come back stronger for it.

“I think Joe’s (Willock) cameo was excellent and I think again he showed exactly what we’ve missed from him and his qualities of attacking the box late and getting goals. Alex’s (Isak) return was a huge positive and hopefully improved for that 60 minutes. Apart from that I’m struggling to find too many more.”

Just the Premier League bottom three plus Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth have conceded more goals than the Magpies this season. The 45 goals already conceded this campaign, far outstretches the 33 they let in for the whole of the 38-game Premier League season in 2022/23.

Newcastle’s defensive record is a continuing concern for Howe, who says his coaches and his players are working to turn things around.

Howe said: “I mean, with every game that goes by and we concede goals, it’s a concern.

“Of course, we’re working on lots of things behind the scenes to try and improve that, but that probably wasn’t evident in the performance.

“I keep saying the same thing regarding conceding goals. It’s collective. Last year, we had that collective mentality that we weren’t going to concede. Even the game coming here last year, we were magnificent in collective defending from the front to the back. I don’t think we’ve lost the desire to do that. We’re just not as competent at the moment at doing it than we were. We need to refind that solidity.

“Of course, it comes from work on the training ground. I think it comes from a collective responsibility, really, and a focus to make that your priority. I think we have attacking players. I think we’ll have players always that will score goals and create moments for us that could win us games, but at the moment we’re sort of taking that away from ourselves by not defending properly.”

With European hopes hanging by a thread, attention now turns to the FA Cup, Newcastle’s only remaining hope for silverware. Howe’s men travel to Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the competition on Tuesday evening.

“As I said, in really, really challenging situations, the players have really stuck together. We have to do that now for Blackburn,” said Howe.

“We have to look at this as the biggest game of our season. And, yeah, there’s a lot resting on this next game.”


Foden strikes as title chasing Man City beat Bournemouth

Foden strikes as title chasing Man City beat Bournemouth
Updated 24 February 2024
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Foden strikes as title chasing Man City beat Bournemouth

Foden strikes as title chasing Man City beat Bournemouth
  • With Liverpool in League Cup final action against Chelsea on Sunday, City took advantage to close the gap in their game in hand on Jurgen Klopp’s side
  • Foden netted in the first half at Dean Court and City survived a rocky second half to win for the 13th time in their last 14 games in all competitions

BOURNEMOUTH, UK: Phil Foden fired Manchester City to a 1-0 win against Bournemouth as the Premier League title chasers moved within one point of leaders Liverpool on Saturday.
With Liverpool in League Cup final action against Chelsea on Sunday, City took advantage to close the gap in their game in hand on Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Foden netted in the first half at Dean Court and City survived a rocky second half to win for the 13th time in their last 14 games in all competitions.
Chasing an unprecedented fourth succesive Premier League title, Pep Guardiola’s men weren’t at their best on the south coast but displayed the resolve required to grind out a vital victory.
While Liverpool remain in pole position, City are hot on their heels after extending their unbeaten run in all competitions to 17 games since losing at Aston Villa in December.
City head to Luton in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday before hosting Manchester United in a crucial league game next weekend.
Guardiola left Kevin De Bruyne on the bench, but City were quickly into their stride.
Foden flicked a pin-point pass to Erling Haaland, who swept toward goal only to misfire with a drive that whistled wide.
Bournemouth almost made Haaland pay for that miss when Milos Kerkez’s well-struck effort forced a fine save from Ederson.
But City were quickly back on the offensive as the live-wire Foden brought Bournemouth keeper Neto into action for the first time with a long-range blast.
It was a warning Bournemouth failed to heed as Foden put the visitors ahead in the 24th minute.
Haaland muscled his way into the penalty area and drilled a shot that Neto could only push out to Foden, who had the simple task of tapping into the empty net.
Foden’s 16th goal in all competitions this season was almost followed by a Bernardo Silva moment of magic when the City midfielder curled narrowly wide.
Bournemouth are without a league win in seven games since Boxing Day, but they recovered to give City a genuine scare.
Ederson saved well from Ryan Christie’s strike just before half-time and the Brazilian was called into action again immediately after the interval.
Justin Kluivert was given too much time and space outside the City area and the Bournemouth forward’s low drive was repelled by Ederson at full stretch.
After another narrow win against Brentford in midweek, Guardiola was again shifting uneasily on the touchline as Bournemouth grew in confidence.
Marcus Tavernier wasted a chance to equalize with a poor finish from Antoine Semenyo’s cross.
Tavernier was guilty of an even worse miss moments later, scuffing wide from 10 yards with the goal at his mercy.
Usually so unruffled, City were reeling for once, but Ederson preserved their lead with a superb save from Dominic Solanke’s header.
In his last action before being replaced by Julian Alvarez, Haaland’s powerful surge ended with a good save by Neto.
City were nervous right up to the final whistle, but Bournemouth’s Dango Ouattara squandered a good chance before Enes Unal’s header crept inches wide.


Kane’s injury time goal saves Bayern against Leipzig

Kane’s injury time goal saves Bayern against Leipzig
Updated 24 February 2024
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Kane’s injury time goal saves Bayern against Leipzig

Kane’s injury time goal saves Bayern against Leipzig
  • Bayern had lost three matches in a row for the first time in nine years
  • The win reduced the gap to leaders Bayer Leverkusen to eight points with 11 games left

BERLIN: Harry Kane scored two goals in the second-half, including an injury time winner, to snatch Bayern Munich a 2-1 home win over RB Leipzig on Saturday, ending the side’s worst run since 2015.
Bayern had lost three matches in a row for the first time in nine years before the club announced this week that coach Thomas Tuchel would leave in the summer.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer told Sky “it might seem a bit like the good old Bayern luck, but we deserved to win today.”
The win reduced the gap to leaders Bayer Leverkusen to eight points with 11 games left.
Neuer said Tuchel’s exit “cast a bad light on us as players, that we weren’t able to make it work with a top coach like Thomas Tuchel.
“It’s our mistake. We want to keep things going professionally until the end.”
Kane broke the deadlock midway through the first half but Leipzig hit back with 20 remaining minutes, Benjamin Sesko equalising for the visitors.
With Bayern in danger of conceding further ground to Leverkusen in the title race, Kane stepped up and scored in the first minute of injury time, his 27th league goal of the season.
Kane had a golden chance to release the pressure on the home side just five minutes in but his point-blank header was pushed onto the post by Janis Blaswich.
The England captain went close once more just before half-time but a bicycle kick was directed straight at Blaswich.
Kane finally broke through after 56 minutes, slamming a low shot into the Leipzig goal, his 26th strike in 23 games.
Leipzig, who had not lost to Bayern in the league in two years, pressured the German champions, breaking through after 70 minutes through Sesko.
Sesko collected a short Dani Olmo pass and drove his shot low, with the ball deflected by Leon Goretzka and rolling into the net.
The match looked set for a stalemate until Kane latched onto a pass from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, before volleying past Blaswich to seize a valuable win.
Stuttgart were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Cologne.
Stuttgart were without injured Brighton loanee Deniz Undav, who had scored five goals in his past four league games, picking up the slack from striker Serhou Guirassy, who has only recently returned to club action after the Africa Cup of Nations.
Stuttgart took the lead in the 53rd minute, Enzo Millot finishing off the type of well-worked team move which has become the hallmark of Sebastian Hoeness’ side this season.
Cologne drew level nine minutes later, though, Eric Martel tapping in after being left unmarked at the far post from a free-kick.
After needing to win a two-legged relegation play-off to stay in the top division last campaign, Stuttgart have been this season’s Bundesliga surprise packages and stay third as they bid to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2010.
A disappointed Stuttgart captain Waldemar Anton said: “If you want to play international football you have to come out on top in games like this.”
Elsewhere, Union Berlin drew 2-2 at home to Heidenheim.
The visitors forged ahead through Nikola Dovedan on just three minutes thanks to a defensive blunder.
Germany left-back Robin Gosens drew Union level in the 44th minute, sending an ungainly shot across the face of goal and into the net, moments before Andras Schafer gave the hosts the lead.
Heidenheim, who are surprisingly within touching distance of the European placings in their first top-flight season, equalized through Jan-Niklas Beste, who chipped the ball home after a counter-attack.
Borussia Moenchengladbach thumped Bochum 5-2 at home, picking up a crucial three points to move eight clear of the relegation play-off spot.
Darmstadt went within inches of a third win of the season, having two goals chalked off in the dying stages for offside and handball in a 1-1 draw at Werder Bremen.
The result keeps Darmstadt last on 13 points.


Barcelona thump Getafe to go second

Barcelona thump Getafe to go second
Updated 24 February 2024
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Barcelona thump Getafe to go second

Barcelona thump Getafe to go second
  • The defending champions climbed above Girona and have 57 points from 26 games
  • Leaders Real Madrid have 62 points and play their game in hand at home to Sevilla on Sunday

MADRID: Xavi’s rejigged Barcelona side thrashed Getafe 4-0 on Saturday to climb to second in La Liga with recalled duo Joao Felix and Raphinha getting on the scoresheet.
The defending champions climbed above Girona and have 57 points from 26 games.
Leaders Real Madrid have 62 points and play their game in hand at home to Sevilla on Sunday.
Real Madrid hope to take their La Liga unbeaten tally to 20 matches as they await old boy Sergio Ramos, who returns for the first time since he left in 2021 to join PSG.
Joao Felix and Raphinha missed the midweek Champions League 1-1 draw at Napoli and their return paid dividends
Brazilian forward Raphinha broke the deadlock on 20 minutes latching onto a deep pass with a well-timed run and slick shot into the bottom corner.
Raphinha was involved in the build-up to the second goal as Felix doubled the lead with a far post tap in after 53 minutes, just after Getafe had hit the post.
Robert Lewandowski thought he’d made it 3-0 just before the hour but was ruled off-side.
The Pole has netted nine goals in his last 13 appearances, but was also twice denied by good saves on Saturday.
Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong did make it 3-0 just after the hour with a well struck shot from outside the box before Fermin Lopez tapped home a rebound in time added on.
A minute’s silence was observed before the match as a mark of respect following a fire tragedy at a 14-story apartment block which killed 10 people in Valencia.
The scheduled Liga game between Granada and Valencia was postponed.


Fulham puncture Man Utd’s feel-good factor, Villa hit Forest for four

Fulham puncture Man Utd’s feel-good factor, Villa hit Forest for four
Updated 24 February 2024
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Fulham puncture Man Utd’s feel-good factor, Villa hit Forest for four

Fulham puncture Man Utd’s feel-good factor, Villa hit Forest for four
  • United had won their previous four Premier League games to rekindle hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League
  • A 2-1 defeat leaves them eight points adrift of Villa

MANCHESTER, UK: Manchester United’s air of optimism was punctured as Alex Iwobi’s 97th minute winner handed Fulham their first win at Old Trafford since 2003, while Aston Villa surged clear in fourth by beating Nottingham Forest 4-2 on Saturday.
The completion of Jim Ratcliffe’s minority stake in United this week and a spell of good form had brought hope of a fresh start for the Red Devils.
United had won their previous four Premier League games to rekindle hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, but a 2-1 defeat leaves them eight points adrift of Villa.
Ratcliffe revealed his ambition to topple Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the English game within three years.
But the work that lies ahead of the British billionaire on and off the field was exposed as Fulham dominated a ragged United for long spells.
Rodrigo Muniz came closest to opening the scoring before half-time when he hit the post.
Fulham finally took one of their chances midway through the second half when Calvin Bassey lashed home his first goal for the Cottagers from a corner.
United looked to have snatched a point against the run of play late on when Harry Maguire tapped in after Bernd Leno spilled Bruno Fernandes’ effort.
But there was another twist in the tale as Fulham secured their first away win since the opening day of the season.
Adama Traore left Maguire trailing in his wake before teeing up Iwobi to curl inside Andre Onana’s near post.
Villa opened up a five-point lead over Tottenham in the battle for a top-four finish despite a wobble either side of half-time against Forest.
Unai Emery’s men were coasting toward a first home win of 2024 as they led 3-0 inside 39 minutes.
Ollie Watkins tapped in Leon Bailey’s cross to open the scoring after just four minutes.
Douglas Luiz then struck twice to take his tally for the season to nine Premier League goals, all of which have come at Villa Park.
Forest remain just four points above the relegation zone and reacted too late to help their survival hopes.
Moussa Niakhate pulled a goal back deep into first-half stoppage time before Morgan Gibbs-White’s delightful dink cut Forest’s deficit to one just three minutes into the second period.
However, Villa quickly restored their two-goal cushion when Bailey tapped in after Watkins’ initial effort was saved.
Oliver Glasner got off to a dream start as Crystal Palace manager with a 3-0 win over 10-man Burnley.
Palace had won just three times in 20 games stretching back to September to bring Roy Hodgson’s second spell in charge to an end.
Former Eintracht Frankfurt boss Glasner could not have wished for a kinder fixture to start against a Burnley side seemingly destined for an immediate return to the Championship.
Any hope of a first win this year for Vincent Kompany’s men disappeared with a first-half red card for Josh Brownhill.
Chris Richards opened the floodgates 22 minutes from time as Palace moved eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Jordan Ayew made it 2-0 before Jean Philppe-Mateta’s penalty rounded off the scoring.
Everton were denied a huge win in their battle to beat the drop by Lewis Dunk’s 95th minute equalizer for Brighton in a 1-1 draw at the Amex.
Jarrad Brainthwaite’s thumping finish on 73 minutes opened the scoring before Brighton were reduced to 10 men when Billy Gilmour saw red.
But Everton could not hold on as Dunk headed in Pascal Gross’ corner.
A point edges Sean Dyche’s men one point clear of the relegation zone.
Manchester City and Arsenal are in action later on Saturday as they look to close the gap on Liverpool in the title race.
City can move to within one point of the leaders with victory at Bournemouth.
Arsenal then host Newcastle aiming to extend their five-game winning streak in the Premier League.