For club, country, Bounou proves hero time and again

For club, country, Bounou proves hero time and again
Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou played pivotal role in Morocco’s march to semi-finals of 2022 World Cup in Qatar. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 02 June 2023
Follow

For club, country, Bounou proves hero time and again

For club, country, Bounou proves hero time and again
  • Moroccan goalkeeper named man of match after 2 penalty saves helped Sevilla beat Roma in Europa League final
  • Shotstopper played pivotal role in Morocco’s march to semi-finals of 2022 World Cup in Qatar

RIYADH: Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez, Hakim Ziyech, and Achraf Hakimi are probably the best-known Arab stars active in Europe.

Whether it is for winning trophies, scoring goals, or earning plaudits, they have made plenty of headlines over the years as they play for some of the biggest clubs in the world.

Now, there is another name that has to be mentioned in the same breath and that is Yassine Bounou.

The Moroccan goalkeeper has had quite a few months, and just this week was the toast of Sevilla after helping his team win the Europa League title on Wednesday. In a penalty shootout against Roma in Budapest, Bounou saved penalties from Gianluca Mancini and Roger Ibanez as the Spaniards lifted the trophy for a magnificent seventh time.

The first save from Mancini proved a turning point. After 120 minutes of fractious football ended 1-1, the shootout stood at 2-1 for Sevilla as the Roma captain stepped up. The goalkeeper flung himself to the left, the defender went down the middle, but Bounou somehow got his feet to the ball. As well as a big save, it was an impressive one.

The second from Ibanez was even more impressive, the slight touch that diverted the ball onto the post almost imperceptible at first viewing.

In the chaos of the madcap game, the man known as Bono kept his cool, perhaps helped by football education as a kid on the streets of Casablanca.

“I have already lived moments like this, and I understood that I needed to stay calm today,” he said after the game and a second individual Europa League prize.

“It’s been a year with a lot of emotions, with the World Cup, then Sevilla, and I needed to take it easy for that.”

It was not just about the shootout. Throughout the game he was operating at the highest level and was named man of the match for his heroics. He follows such names as the original Ronaldo, Hernan Crespo, and Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel in that particular individual prize.

It was not the first time that he had been named the best player in a high-profile game and, as the 32-year-old pointed out, not the first time he had been saving penalties in high-pressure situations. The last time he did it was against the Spanish, not for them.

After the North Africans topped a tough 2022 World Cup group containing Croatia, Belgium, and Canada they were rewarded with a second-round clash with Spain. Most expected that the run would end there.

Yet Morocco went toe-to-toe with the 2010 champions with a place in the last eight at stake in the knowledge that they had a top-class goalkeeper at the back. After 120 minutes of intense football and no goals, there was a shootout. This time Bounou made two saves, first from Carlos Soler and then from Sergio Busquets.

In the quarterfinals, he starred once again, keeping another clean sheet as the Atlas Lions defeated Portugal 1-0 to become the talk of the World Cup. He was named the man of the match by FIFA.

“Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming,” he said after the game as he looked forward to being part of the first Arab team to reach the last four of the biggest sporting event in the world.

Morocco had become the story of the World Cup, and not just the team but the fans who took over stadiums in Qatar to make every game feel like a home one.

The miracle came to an end against France, but it was another hard-fought game and added to the respect and affection felt for the Moroccans.

The likes of Ziyech and Hakimi, with Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively, played their part but so did the Canadian-born shotstopper.

Bounou was aware of what had been achieved and knew that it was important that the national team built on that success.

“These moments are great, but we’re here to change the mentality. With this feeling of inferiority, we have to get rid of it. The Moroccan player can face any in the world. The generation coming after us will know we can create miracles,” he added.

That is the mentality of a winner and what he said about Morocco could also apply to the Arab world. It is clearly a matter important to the player. At the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, that took place in early 2022, Bounou spoke Arabic even when organizers in Cameroon asked for English and French only as they did not have Arabic translators available.

“This is your problem, not mine,” he said.

The same could be said for opponent players who are facing Bounou from the spot in the latter stages of a major international tournament. In the past few months, he has come to be seen as a leading goalkeeper and there is surely more to come.


Newcastle United sponsor Sela stages drone show above St. James’ Park to celebrate European football returning to city

Front-of-shirt sponsor celebrates return of European nights by lighting up the skies. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Front-of-shirt sponsor celebrates return of European nights by lighting up the skies. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Updated 24 min ago
Follow

Newcastle United sponsor Sela stages drone show above St. James’ Park to celebrate European football returning to city

Front-of-shirt sponsor celebrates return of European nights by lighting up the skies. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
  • The drone show is part of Sela’s promise to create special experiences for Newcastle United fans and the wider community through its partnership with the club

Sela, the front-of-shirt sponsor of Newcastle United, lit up the sky above Newcastle upon Tyne on Tuesday night with a spectacular football-themed drone show to celebrate the return of top-level European football to St. James’ Park after a 20-year break.

Newcastle United will play French champions Paris Saint Germain on Wednesday night, and live events and entertainment company Sela wanted to give fans a surprise as part of the build-up to the game.

The eight-minute drone show saw Newcastle United’s iconic mascot — the magpie — soar across the skies before transitioning into the famous black and white team shirts adorned with the names of England defender Kieran Trippier, Brazilian international Bruno Guimaraes and Italian midfielder Sandro Tonali.

After recreating the club emblem in the night sky, the drones formed to make a statement about Newcastle’s return to the biggest stage in club football, following their top-four finish in the Premier League: “We’re Back.” The show ended with Sela’s “spectacular everyday” tagline that is seen around St. James’ Park on matchdays.

Sela, who became a primary partner of Newcastle United in June, is in the business of creating spectacular experiences. It has welcomed more than 40 million visitors to the range of sports, leisure, culture, retail, and hospitality events and destinations within its portfolio — from staging WWE in the Jeddah Superdome to operating the Via Riyadh luxury multipurpose venue.

The drone show is part of Sela’s promise to create special experiences for Newcastle United fans and the wider community through its partnership with the club.

“We wanted to create a little surprise for fans to celebrate the return of the biggest nights in European football to St. James’ Park,” said Ibrahim Mohtaseb, senior vice president of Sela.

“The fans, the club and the players deserve these special moments and I hope we’ve added to what will be an unforgettable occasion for everyone who loves Newcastle United and this city.

“Creating spectacular experiences is at the heart of what Sela does every day as a company and we’re looking forward to contributing to more memories over the course of this landmark season.”

Keith Gillespie, the former Newcastle United star, said: “There’s an incredible buzz around Newcastle right now, fueled by the club’s success last season and now the return of European football with a huge game against Paris Saint Germain.

“It’s all very reminiscent of the late 1990s and those unforgettable nights against giants like Barcelona that I was fortunate enough to be involved in,” he said.

“Sela’s spectacular drone show really adds to this electric atmosphere and I know the fans will be thrilled by what they witnessed in the skies above the stadium.” 


EA FC 24: What are Ronaldo, Neymar, Benzema’s Saudi Pro League teams like to play with?

EA FC 24: What are Ronaldo, Neymar, Benzema’s Saudi Pro League teams like to play with?
Updated 03 October 2023
Follow

EA FC 24: What are Ronaldo, Neymar, Benzema’s Saudi Pro League teams like to play with?

EA FC 24: What are Ronaldo, Neymar, Benzema’s Saudi Pro League teams like to play with?
  • Arab News slides into latest football game from EA Sports to see how SPL represented

RIYADH: “EA FC 24” is the new name for EA Sports’ dominant football game. Once known as “FIFA,” the series developer and publisher recently split with world football’s governing body.

The move has ushered in a new era for fans who may be pleased to know that the on-pitch action is slicker while still providing a roller coaster of emotion, similar to the real thing.

One of the reasons EA Sports ended its 30-year association with FIFA was to explore new opportunities and partnerships that were once a conflict of interest.

The first instalment feels like a familiar pair of football boots – a safe addition with which players will instantly feel comfortable.

Dramatic changes are likely being kept in the locker room for future editions, as development is tight on annually released video games. So, what, if any, changes have appeared for the teams in the Saudi Pro League?

The good

All 18 SPL teams from the current 2023-24 season are included in “EA FC 24.” From title holders Al-Ittihad to newly promoted Al-Riyadh and all those in between.

The sudden influx of international stars that gave transfer expert Fabrizio Romano sleepless nights is up to date. The likes of Sadio Mane (Al-Nassr), Neymar (Al-Hilal), and Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad) line up for their new sides and, in doing so, lift the overall star rating and playability of each side.

So, fans of the clubs that made big moves in the summer can play as their favorite team online without fear of being hammered each time.

It is also great to see the Roshn Saudi League idents for the TV-style coverage before, during, and after the games, creating another layer of authenticity.

Saudi football fans may also be pleased to note that many more people use SPL teams online this year. By setting the Seasons or Co-Op settings to fit a favorite club, a similar match-up can quickly be found.

Previously, in “FIFA,” players could sit in an online lobby for what felt like hours and would rarely find an equal matchup for Damac or similar. Opening up the restrictions would inevitably lead to one-sided games against Manchester City, PSG, and Real Madrid on repeat.

There is also a big matchday feel to local derbies, too. EA Sports has added a little more drama to the likes of Al-Nasser versus Al-Hilal with more background on the long-lasting rivalry that comes through the pre-game presentation and in-game commentary.

The not-so-good

There are only two official stadiums from the SPL in “EA FC 24” — the faithfully recreated King Abdullah Sports City and King Fahd Stadium.

The eagle-eyed will notice these are the same stadia featured in last year’s “FIFA 23.”

Although fans may be disappointed, the approach is not limited to the Saudi teams.

For example, the Dutch Eredivisie only has Ajax and PSV, and Portugal’s Liga comes with FC Porto and Benfica official stadiums. Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami stadium is not even in the game.

Inside the stadiums, as the cameras pan the crowds or pitchside crew and security, there is not much Arab representation. In fact, players will not find any traditional dress anywhere in the grounds. It may seem like a minor issue for a sports game, but it matters.

The game currently uses the same animated crowd as it does in every other stadium and switches the football shirts to match.

You can forgive EA Sports for using the likenesses of the licensed commentary and pundit teams they use in the game’s EA TV presentation, such as Stewart Robson and Derek Rae. But finding a fan in the stadium sporting a thobe or abaya is currently impossible and feels like a missed opportunity.

Stadium chants are also off-target. When Cristiano Ronaldo scores for Al-Nassr, the home crowd erupts into a baffling rendition of Manchester United fans’ “Viva Ronaldo.”

The development of “EA FC 24” probably did not leave much time for EA Sports to capture the atmosphere, but hopefully things will be more accurate for the Saudi matchday feel next season.

Lastly, “EA FC 24” does not have all the official kits. Again, this is not an issue solely aimed at the SPL, as other league teams can be seen playing in off-brand outfits. But users are unlikely to be happy if they were looking forward to playing with Al-Okhdood in their licensed shirts.

It is a bit of a mixed bag regarding SPL representation in “EA FC 24.”

It is great to see the teams have been given a statistics boost to reflect the 2023 summer transfers, and playing with them online is fun and a break from using the usual suspects.

EA Sports will build on the entire experience for next season. The explosion of the SPL popularity likely caught them off guard, as it did with most, which is why it currently feels slightly odd. But with the world’s gaze fixed on the league, it is hard to ignore it now.

More than anything, it would be nice to see some distinctive Arab representation around “EA FC 25.”


Steven Gerrard on the drive for footballing excellence

Steven Gerrard on the drive for footballing excellence
Updated 03 October 2023
Follow

Steven Gerrard on the drive for footballing excellence

Steven Gerrard on the drive for footballing excellence
  • Liverpool and England legend wants major silverware with Al-Ettifaq
  • Education is critical for lifelong success, Gerrard tells fans during appearance at Riyadh Book Fair

Liverpool and England legend Steven Gerrard believes that the key to success in life is continuous learning — as he described his own journey in football from player to coach.

The coach of Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia made the remarks on Monday at the Riyadh Book Fair, where he attended a seminar titled “Sports and Cultural Exchange” — in front of adoring football fans.

Gerrard said that reading has always been an integral part of his life, at airports waiting for flights, and during rest periods at football camps.

He said football was not just a sport but also a form of cultural exchange.

“Saudi Arabia has been of interest to me since the football explosion, and I received a warm welcome from Saudi fans, making me feel special. I am grateful for that. After experiencing wearing the Saudi thobe, I designed another one for myself because I liked it and found it very comfortable. Sports are evolving in the Kingdom, and I wanted to be a part of this development. My presence in this league will bring me experience and benefit.”

He said he committed himself to further education to make the transition to management. “After retirement, I had the desire to continue in the field of football, specifically in coaching, and I read many books related to coaches. It is in my nature, and ever since I was in Liverpool, I loved challenges and taking first place, and this motivates me to give my all here.”

“The difference between being a coach and a former player is that coaching comes with a lot of pressure because you are leading a whole team. It was better for me to gradually progress in the field, starting as a player, then a team manager, and finally, a technical coach.”

He ended his speech by talking about the most beautiful strike in his football career. “The best goal I scored in my career was against Milan in the Champions League final in 2005.”

At the end of the seminar, Gerrard graciously stopped to interact with the fans and posed for photographs — which made it a memorable day for many at Riyadh’s iconic cultural event.


Fiorentina beat Cagliari 3-0 to move level with third-place Napoli in Serie A

Fiorentina beat Cagliari 3-0 to move level with third-place Napoli in Serie A
Updated 03 October 2023
Follow

Fiorentina beat Cagliari 3-0 to move level with third-place Napoli in Serie A

Fiorentina beat Cagliari 3-0 to move level with third-place Napoli in Serie A
  • Nicolas Gonzalez netted his sixth goal of the season to set Fiorentina on the way to victory
  • Monza halted a four-match winless run with a 1-0 victory at in-form Sassuolo

MILAN: Fiorentina moved level with third-place Napoli in Serie A with a 3-0 win over bottom club Cagliari on Monday.

Nicolas Gonzalez netted his sixth goal of the season to set Fiorentina on the way to victory and see it join the defending champion and Juventus. They’re four points behind Serie A leaders AC Milan and Inter Milan.

It all got even bleaker for Cagliari and manager Claudio Ranieri even at this early stage of the season. The Sardinian team have just two points from their opening seven matches back in the top flight.

Fiorentina, who have lost just one match, got off to the perfect start as they took the lead with barely two minutes on the clock.

Cagliari goalkeeper Boris Radunovic misjudged Nikola Milenkovic’s free kick and could only flap at the ball, allowing Gonzalez to slot it into an empty net.

Fiorentina were dominating but needed another bit of fortune to double their lead in the 21st minute. Some great play from Michael Kayode saw the Fiorentina right back weave his way into the area and his cross was turned into the back of the net by Cagliari defender Alberto Dossena.

Cagliari improved in the second half and almost got back into the match but Andrea Petagna hit the crossbar, although he was probably offside in any case.

M’Bala Nzola extended Fiorentina’s lead in stoppage time when he raced onto a long ball from Rolando Mandragora and dinked it over Radunovic.

PAPU’S BACK

Monza halted a four-match winless run with a 1-0 victory at in-form Sassuolo.

Lorenzo Colombo scored a delightful solo goal in the 66th minute to give Monza their second win of the season. The young forward could have had another late on but it was ruled out for offside.

The match also saw the return of Papu Gomez to Italian soccer. The former Atalanta star joined Monza last week on a free transfer after ending his contract with Sevilla.

Sassuolo had beaten Juventus and Inter Milan in their past two matches.

Monza moved level on points with Sassuolo and Torino.

Torino drew 0-0 at home to Hellas Verona to remain a point above their opponent.

Verona started the season with two victories but have not won since and have failed to score in their past four matches.


Chelsea stun Fulham with quickfire double in morale-boosting 2-0 victory

Chelsea stun Fulham with quickfire double in morale-boosting 2-0 victory
Updated 03 October 2023
Follow

Chelsea stun Fulham with quickfire double in morale-boosting 2-0 victory

Chelsea stun Fulham with quickfire double in morale-boosting 2-0 victory
  • Mauricio Pochettino: The performance was very good, I’m so happy for the players and in the end we got what we deserved
  • The win lifts Chelsea to mid-table and eases the pressure on beleaguered new manager Pochettino, whose team had failed to score in their previous three Premier League games

LONDON: Goal-shy Chelsea finally found their cutting edge on Monday, striking twice in 82 seconds to earn a morale-boosting 2-0 win against Fulham as Mykhailo Mudryk finally got off the mark.

Mauricio Pochettino’s injury-ravaged team traveled to the home of their near-neighbors just two points above the relegation zone and with only five goals to their name.

Wasted early opportunities hinted at familiar failings but Ukrainian winger Mudryk scored his first goal in a Chelsea shirt in the 18th minute and Armando Broja doubled the lead in the blink of an eye.

The win lifts Chelsea to mid-table and eases the pressure on beleaguered new manager Pochettino, whose team had failed to score in their previous three Premier League games.

The former Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain boss had pleaded for ruthlessness in front of goal and his nerves were settled by his team’s quickfire first-half double.

“It’s important for us to build our confidence and trust in ourselves,” Pochettino told Sky Sports.

“The performance was very good, I’m so happy for the players and in the end we got what we deserved.”

Chelsea started brightly at Craven Cottage but failed to take advantage.

Albania forward Broja, making his first start since November 2022, blazed over from an offside position shortly after kick-off and the lively Mudryk also wasted a chance.

But the visitors got their reward in the 18th minute when a long ball from the back found Levi Colwill on the left.

Colwill passed to Mudryk, who controlled the ball on his chest before producing a composed finish for his first goal for the club since his big-money move from Shakhtar Donetsk in January.

Chelsea doubled their lead when Broja capitalized on a defensive mistake from Fulham center-half Tim Ream, who gifted the ball to new signing Cole Palmer.

The ex-Manchester City man played the ball forward only for Ream to kick it against Broja and watch in horror as it rebounded into the net.

Chelsea, playing with zest, could have extended their lead further but Enzo Fernandez’s strike flew narrowly wide.

The home side failed to muster a single shot on target in the first half, though Raul Jimenez went close with a header from Andreas Pereira’s outswinging corner as half-time approached.

Mudryk did not appear for the second half, replaced by defender Ian Maatsen.

Fulham looked more threatening after the break and manager Marco Silva threw on forward Alex Iwobi and Carlos Vinicius within the first 10 minutes.

Vinicius headed over before a heart-in-mouth moment for Chelsea goalkeeper Robert Sanchez, who was able to reclaim the ball after his goal kick was intercepted by Pereira.

Chelsea went agonizingly close to extending their lead when Maatsen thundered a strike against the left upright, with Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno saving smartly from Fernandez’s follow-up.

Fulham had a wonderful chance to pull a goal back when Tom Cairney found fellow substitute Sasa Lukic in the six-yard box but he could only blast straight at Sanchez.

Chelsea held on relatively comfortably to climb to 11th place, above Fulham on goal difference.