New UAE boss Paulo Bento faces big challenges as Whites look to future

Special New UAE boss Paulo Bento faces big challenges as Whites look to future
Paulo Bento was confirmed as the new UAE coach on Sunday night. (Twitter/@uaefa_ae)
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Updated 10 July 2023
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New UAE boss Paulo Bento faces big challenges as Whites look to future

New UAE boss Paulo Bento faces big challenges as Whites look to future
  • Portuguese coach, 54, will lead UAE at AFC Asian Cup in January before focussing on World Cup 2026 qualification
  • Bento’s detailed doctrine in midfield points to further prominence for Al-Jazira’s Abdullah Ramadan, Al-Wahda’s Abdulla Hamad, and possibly Al-Nasr’s Hussain Mahdi

RIYADH: The UAE’s World Cup 2026 cycle is officially underway after the appointment of ex-Portugal and South Korea head coach Paulo Bento on a three-year contract.

Bento, 54, was revealed on Sunday as the nation’s sixth permanent appointment – Bert van Marwijk was hired twice – since March 2019.

He has arrived from his record four-year spell at the Taegeuk Warriors with the mission of securing a second-ever qualification to the expanded global event and building on successive semi-final appearances when this winter’s delayed 2023 AFC Asian Cup gets underway in Qatar.

To achieve these sizeable aims, a significant number of challenges must be met. Here is a look at the bulging in-tray of Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s replacement:

A juggling act between old and new

Bento’s contrasting words as the UAE’s latest boss spoke about the difficulties inherent in the position.

Speaking at the UAE Football Association’s Al-Khawaneej headquarters on the outskirts of Dubai, he said: “We are looking forward to start working to try to reach our goals.

“We know it will be a long process where we would like to reach stability for the team, for the federation.

“But we want to be ambitious, of course; this is our goal. We know we have a competition in January (Asian Cup), then the World Cup in 2026.”

A long process could be taken to mean this will now gradually become the team of Al-Wasl forward Ali Saleh, Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club attacker Yahya Al-Ghassani, Sharjah midfielder Majid Rashid, and even Ittihad Kalba’s Sultan Adil.

But the UAE have no time to waste after several unsatisfactory years and Bento must be ambitious.

Can 81-goal record scorer Ali Mabkhout be coaxed into playing a major role for 2026? Will 32-year-old Caio Canedo be rejuvenated back at Al-Wasl? And is the door firmly shut on 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman if 2023-24 heralds another new dawn?

Recreate the process achieved with South Korea

Bento helped transform conceptions with South Korea.

Repetition is essential with a UAE heavy on talent, but lacking in consistency and stability.

A South Korea stereotyped for its indefatigability changed into a methodical, possession-heavy outfit with an emphasis on calibrated build-up play. This latter style fits well with what the technically proficient UAE have pursued, to mixed outcomes, under Bento’s plethora of recent predecessors.

Tottenham superstar Son Heung-min and Napoli’s Serie A-winning centre-back Kim Min-jae were headline acts under Bento, who recorded a solid 61.4 win percentage across 57 South Korea matches.

Yet, his introduction of measured now-Olympiacos midfielder Hwang In-beom into the fold ahead of January 2019’s quarter-final run at the Asian Cup – in the UAE – symbolises his methodology.

Al-Wasl forward Fabio De Lima, Shabab Al-Ahli starlet Harib Abdalla – who sank Bento’s South Korea in a previous meeting – and rapid Al-Jazira centre-back Khalifa Al-Hammadi are obvious headline UAE performers for 2026.

But the incumbent’s detailed doctrine in midfield points to further prominence for Al-Jazira’s Abdullah Ramadan, Al-Wahda’s Abdulla Hamad, and possibly Al-Nasr’s Hussain Mahdi.

“We must adapt to new plans and strategies. We will take into account the positive points and add our ideas to them. Our ambitions are great, and our goals are clear,” Bento added.

Results speak for themselves

South Korea’s qualification to World Cup 2022 under Bento was a breeze compared to the 2018 edition with Uli Stielike and Shin Tae-yong.

Last year’s eventual Round of 16 participants enjoyed more possession, accurate passes, crosses, shots, and shots on target in the group stage than in 2018, according to Forbes.

All encouraging signs for a head coach unfairly stigmatized by an unfulfilled four-year stint with a Portugal side that would go on to claim Euro 2016 after him.

Provide a sense of stability

A quick glance at the UAE’s recent run shows their narrow miss for World Cup 2022.

But a whirl through several managers and disconcerting group-stage elimination at January’s 25th Arabian Gulf Cup – their second in a row – point to appreciable underlying problems with FIFA’s 72nd-ranked nation.

Bento must move away from this maelstrom

The Whites went within one match of Qatar 2022, with an injury impacted side suffering a narrow 2-1 aggregate fourth-round defeat to an Australia who performed admirably at the tournament itself. This, however, provides insufficient context for the meandering path which led to this point.

World Cup 2010 finalist Van Marwijk’s attempt to rapidly dismantle a Golden Generation caused a deeply concerning second-round start and dismissal within nine months.

Successor Ivan Jovanovic departed without overseeing a match, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Costa Rica’s World Cup 2014 quarter-finalist Jorge Luis Pinto suffered a similar fate after five months and three friendlies.

The returning Van Marwijk dragged the UAE into the third round but would be sacked again once automatic qualification was ruled out.

Former Al-Wasl and Shabab Al-Ahli supremo Arruabarrena engineered March 2022’s famous home win against Bento’s omnipotent South Korea to advance from that stage, before overseeing January’s Arabian Gulf Cup disaster in Iraq.

Hit the ground running

Acclimatization is of immediate concern. The ex-Sporting Lisbon, Cruzeiro, Olympiacos, and Chongqing Lifan tactician described an inaugural training camp from July 29 to Aug. 10 as, “a gathering for acquaintance, and it will not include a friendly match.”

Matches should follow this autumn in preparation for November’s opening World Cup 2026 qualifiers. The second-round draw will be held on July 27 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Attention then switches to the Asian Cup. The UAE have been placed in Group C alongside heavyweights Iran, Hong Kong, and Palestine; only a top-two finish guarantees advancement to the knockouts.

A strong start is a must. The last four years signify the UAE will not wait around.


Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships
Iga Swiatek is through to the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after beating Elina Svitolina. (WTA)
Updated 22 February 2024
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Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships
  • World No.1 joins Gauff, Zheng, Vondrousova, Rybakina, Paolini, Cirstea, and Kalinskaya in final eight — with none having won before in Dubai
  • Australian Open finalist Zheng defeated Potapova in straight sets in final match of the night to set up clash with Swiatek

DUBAI: World No.1 Iga Swiatek saw off No.15 seed and two-time former champion Elina Svitolina in the third round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday night, and in doing so guaranteed a new name will appear on the trophy at this year’s WTA 1000 tournament.

Taking her winning streak in the Middle East this month to six successive matches, Swiatek beat her Ukrainian opponent in straight sets 6-1, 6-4 to progress to the quarterfinals, where she now faces Zheng.

While Svitolina secured back-to-back titles here in 2017 and 2018, Swiatek, Zheng and the other six players remaining in the tournament — Coco Gauff, Sorana Cirstea, Marketa Vondrousova, Elena Rybakina, Jasmine Paolini, and Anna Kalinskaya — are all gunning for a maiden title.

Under the center court lights on Wednesday, last week’s Doha champion Swiatek won seven consecutive games from 1-1 in the first set to race into a one-set lead in a little under 30 minutes. The two players had met only twice previously, most recently at last year’s quarterfinals stage of Wimbledon. On that occasion, it was Svitolina who came out on top, but it never looked likely in Dubai, even if the three-time Grand Slam semifinalist showed added fight in a more balanced second set that featured five service breaks.

“I felt like she played better in the second set,” said Swiatek, who credited her own decision-making and placement as the key reasons for her victory. “It wasn’t that easy to just finish points and win points; I wanted to stay focused and proactive, and kind of make decisions, but not too risky. We were both good in the longer rallies, so I needed to really push in the right time to make pressure.”

Swiatek has now won 25 of her past 26 matches and is on a 13-match winning streak against top 20 players. Arriving fresh from completing a trio of titles in Qatar, she was asked whether the fact she has never won in the Emirates changes her approach or even provides added motivation to continue that winning streak and lift the title.

“For sure, when you’re going into the tournament and you have won it before, you feel more comfortable — you feel like you’re home,” she said. “On the other hand, it can give you more pressure. At the beginning of Doha I felt being double defending champion was pretty stressful, but when you start a tournament and you haven’t won it, you don’t really think about winning — you just think about the first match that you’re going to play and that’s all.”

That being the case, having advanced to the last eight in Dubai for the second year in a row, Swiatek’s thoughts can now turn to Australian Open finalist Zheng and their match on Thursday. The pair have faced each other five times, with Swiatek holding a flawless record against the Chinese right-hander. Yet Zheng’s progress to the final in Melbourne suggests a scintillating contest may await.

“She’s progressing, but I felt like I could still play good tennis against her,” said Swiatek about their last meeting, at the United Cup in Perth in January. “I don’t know about the Australian Open because I didn’t see any of her matches. When I lost, I just completely cut off any tennis from my life, so it’s hard for me to say. She’s at this moment in her career — everybody is when they’re 21, 22, 23 — when they’re improving a lot, so it’s normal.”

World No.7 Zheng booked her place in the last eight by defeating Anastasia Potapova in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. Zheng has now won 26 of her last 27 matches against players outside the top 20 with the sole loss in that time coming last week to Leylah Fernandez. 

“I think my opponent played well today on the court, and I just played my tennis and everything went well for me,” said the No.6 seed. “Today I played the right way. When I had to attack, I attacked; when I had to defend, I defended. I’m really happy to be in the quarters for the first time in Dubai.”

A two-time winner on tour, Zheng’s tie with Swiatek represents her third WTA 1000 quarterfinal. On the prospect of trying to get a first win over the four-time Grand Slam winner, she said: “(Iga’s) a very solid player, and always there in the match. If I’m going to beat her, I have to make it a game. She’s always tough to beat and you always have to be alert when you play against her.”


Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon

Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon
Updated 22 February 2024
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Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon

Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon
  • Hosts now cannot reach knockout stages of the West Asian Football Federation tournament with only a match against Guam left in Group A

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia have exited the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after losing 3-2 to Lebanon at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on Wednesday night, Arriyadiyah have reported.

The Green Falcons have no points from two defeats in Group A, having lost their opener 3-1 to Jordan.

The Jordanian team leads the group with a maximum of six points, on goal difference from Lebanon. Both teams have now progressed to the semifinals.

Guam, who Saudi Arabia play in a dead rubber fixture on Friday, sit bottom of the group with no points after two losses.

Lebanon took the lead after only three minutes through Christy Maalouf, and only three minutes later doubled their lead through an own goal from Saudi Arabia’s Nouf Saud.

Syntia Salha seemed to have put the match beyond the Green Falcons with a third for Lebanon from the penalty spot on 38 minutes.

The Kingdom’s players showed commendable spirit in the second half against strong opponents to pull back two goals, from Lana Abdulrazak (61) and Seba Tawfiq (81) but could not pull off what would have been a stunning comeback.


Al-Ain set to host Youth MMA Championship

Al-Ain set to host Youth MMA Championship
Updated 22 February 2024
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Al-Ain set to host Youth MMA Championship

Al-Ain set to host Youth MMA Championship
  • UAE University to hold competitions for male and female fighters across various age and weight divisions on Feb. 24

ABU DHABI: The UAE Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts Federation has announced that the UAE University in Al-Ain will host the Youth MMA Championship on Feb. 24.

The competition is open to boys and girls in the Youth C category (born in 2011 and 2012), Youth B category (born in 2009 and 2010), and Youth A category (born in 2007 and 2008).

This event marks the first MMA competition of the federation’s new season calendar, with participants taking part in various weight classes and each fight consisting of three rounds lasting two minutes.

Mohammed bin Dalmouk Al-Dhaheri, a board member of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts Federation, said: “We are delighted to host the first MMA event of the new season at UAE University in Al-Ain on Saturday. This championship will allow athletes to start their season on a high note and test their skills against the best in the nation.

“Through competitions like these, the federation aims to discover talent with the potential to thrive, providing them with the ideal platform to showcase their skills, advance toward pursuing professional careers in the sport, and ultimately become integral members of the national team,” he said.

“Last year, we have seen several milestones for MMA in the UAE, especially as Abu Dhabi hosted the IMMAF Youth World Championship in August which garnered accolades from all across the world. Events like the Youth MMA Championship are essential in preparing athletes for major competitions and showcasing their capabilities to the world.”

Ghala Al-Hamamdi, who is competing in the Youth B division representing ADMA Academy, said: “I am thrilled for the new season and can’t wait to showcase my skills at the event. I have been training diligently over the past few weeks and am looking forward to what promises to be a stellar season. I am grateful to the federation for organizing such world-class events and am eager to participate each time.”

Carl Booth, a coach at ADMA Academy, said: “Our team members are fully prepared and excited for the championship and the new season. They performed well last season, and are confident and committed to surpassing their performance this season. The Youth MMA Championship provides the perfect platform for them to pursue their goals, and I wish the best of luck to the team and all participants.”


Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener

Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener
Updated 22 February 2024
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Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener

Messi the creator as Miami win in MLS opener
  • The Argentine World Cup winner, who played the entire game, put aside any concerns about his early season fitness with an excellent performance for the bookmakers’ title favorites
  • The former Argentina, Mexico and Barcelona coach said he was sure that Messi and Suarez would be able to recapture some of the magic they had shown during their seasons at the Camp Nou

FORT LAUDERDALE: Lionel Messi created both goals as Inter Miami made a winning start to the new Major League Soccer season with a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

The Argentine World Cup winner, who played the entire game, put aside any concerns about his early season fitness with an excellent performance for the bookmakers’ title favorites.

“He looked loose, fine and showed a lot of speed,” coach Gerardo Martino said of Messi, who missed the back end of last season for Miami with injuries and was also sidelined for part of the pre-season.

The other three members of Miami’s former Barcelona quartet, debutant Luis Suarez, midfielder Sergio Busquets and left-back Jordi Alba, all started in front of a capacity crowd.

Against a cautious Salt Lake side, Messi went close to opening the scoring in the 18th minute with a curling free-kick from 30 yards out which was headed off the line by Justen Glad.

He then brought huge cheers from the crowd when, on the edge of the box, his route was blocked by a player down on the floor, but he chipped the ball over him and let loose a shot which was blocked.

But Miami got in front when Spaniard Sergio Busquets found Messi and the eight-times Ballon d’Or winner cleverly slipped the ball through to Finnish forward Robert Taylor, whose low shot beat RSL keeper Zac MacMath.

The goalkeeper should have kept the effort out but it was a goal which forced the visitors to open up after the interval and their more aggressive approach caused Inter some problems.

Cristian Arango blasted a half-chance high over the bar for Salt Lake and then, after Busquets sloppily gave the ball away, Andres Gomez burst goalwards but the Colombian winger fired wide.

The Utah side should have made more of the space they found as Miami struggled in the early stages of the second half but paid the price for a lack of precision.

Sensing his team needed another goal or two to make sure of the points, Messi upped his work-rate and began to take control of the game.

Dropping deeper to collect the ball, he launched several attacks with his own swift bursts forward allied with his trademark close control.

The 36-year-old weaved down the inside left channel to find space for a cross to the back post to Julian Gressel but the German put his effort wide from the tight angle.

Then Messi burst again from deep and found Suarez who picked out Diego Gomez and the Paraguayan midfielder buried his shot low into the far corner to make it 2-0.

That trio almost combined again for a third with Messi slipping to Gomez who then served Suarez but the Uruguayan’s effort was saved by the outstretched leg of MacMath.

Martino was delighted to see two of the lesser heralded members of his cast on target.

“This is what should happen with a team. Normally Luis and Leo would be the ones most associated with the goal, but the fact that Robert and Diego have converted and (Messi and Suarez) have been the assistants is always a positive thing,” he said.

The former Argentina, Mexico and Barcelona coach said he was sure that Messi and Suarez would be able to recapture some of the magic they had shown during their seasons at the Camp Nou.

“They know each other so well but we have to find that partnership that worked already in Barcelona,” he said.

For Taylor, who enjoyed a rich spell of form immediately after Messi joined the club and was a key part of the team which won the Leagues Cup, it was a positive opening to the campaign.

“It’s the start we wanted, I mean, there’s still some things that we need to work on. Obviously, it’s the first game of the season, but the positive thing is the three points and we’ll build on this,” he said.

Inter Miami return to action on Sunday at Los Angeles Galaxy.


Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’

Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’
Updated 22 February 2024
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Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’

Verstappen dominates testing as Wolff says Horner probe ‘issue for all F1’
  • The Red Bull driver was more than a second faster than Lando Norris in a McLaren
  • Verstappen’s performance was a boost for a Red Bull team reeling from an investigation into team chief Christian Horner who has been accused of “inappropriate behavior” by a female member of staff

SAKHIR: Three-time world champion Max Verstappen gave his struggling rivals little hope for optimism ahead of the new Formula One season when he dominated the first day of winter testing on Wednesday.

The Red Bull driver was more than a second faster than Lando Norris in a McLaren with Carlos Sainz, about to start his final year as a Ferrari driver, in third spot at the Sakhir track where the season-opener takes place on March 2.

Sainz will lose his seat at Ferrari to seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton who is entering his last campaign behind the wheel of a Mercedes. Hamilton will be in action on Thursday.

Verstappen’s performance was a boost for a Red Bull team reeling from an investigation into team chief Christian Horner who has been accused of “inappropriate behavior” by a female member of staff.

“It feels good to be back in an F1 car again and I had fun out on track today. We covered a lot of laps and tried quite a few things with the car, which was important, so happy overall with how it went,” said Verstappen.

Horner faced questioning for eight hours at an internal hearing in London earlier in February after allegations emerged in the Dutch press of a complaint being made against the 50-year-old Englishman by a female employee.

Horner categorically denies the accusation while Formula One chiefs said they want the issue resolved at the “earliest opportunity.”

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff described the investigation as “an issue for all of Formula One.”

“Red Bull has started as an independent investigation, if this is done in the right way with transparency and with rigour, I think that’s something that we need to look at — what the outcomes are and what it means for Formula One, and how we can learn from that,” Wolff told a news conference.

“We want to talk about racing cars and we want to talk about the sport rather than these kind of very critical topics, that are more just a team’s issue, it’s a phenomenon or it’s an issue for all of Formula One and in general for every individual that works out there.”

Horner is scheduled to appear at a press conference in Bahrain on Thursday.

At the launch of this season’s Red Bull car held last week, he insisted he had no intention of resigning.

“No. It’s business as usual,” he said. “There obviously is a process.

“Obviously, I fully deny any accusations that have been made against me but of course I’ll work with that process, which I hope is concluded in the near future.”

Testing times on the first day of three on Wednesday:

1. Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) 1:31.344 sec (143 laps,

2. Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren) +1.140 (73),

3. Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) +1.240 (69),

4. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Racing Bulls) +1.255 (52),

5. Pierre Gasly (FRA/Alpine) +1.461 (61),

6. Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin) +1.663 (54),

7. Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) +1.903 (64),

8. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Aston Martin) +2.041 (77),

9. Oscar Piastri (AUS/McLaren) +2.314 (57),

10. Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Sauber) +2.527 (63),

11. Logan Sargeant (USA/Williams) +2.538 (21),

12. George Russell (GBR/Mercedes) +2.765 (122),

13. Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/Racing Bulls) +2.792 (64),

14. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Sauber) +3.087 (68),

15. Alex Albon (THA/Williams) +3.243 (40),

16. Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine) +3.333 (60),

17. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas) +4.348 (66),

18. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Haas) +4.562 (82)