A warm welcome for Mahrez as he joins Al-Ahli teammates in Austrian training

A warm welcome for Mahrez as he joins Al-Ahli teammates in Austrian training
Riyad Mahrez runs through an honorary corridor. (Photos: Al-Ahli)
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Updated 11 August 2023
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A warm welcome for Mahrez as he joins Al-Ahli teammates in Austrian training

A warm welcome for Mahrez as he joins Al-Ahli teammates in Austrian training

JEDDAH: Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, who joined Al-Ahli from Manchester City, took part in his first training session with the team in Austria on Friday.
Performing an honorary corridor, Ahli players enthusiastically welcomed their newest member.
The 32-year-old was a key figure in Leicester City’s Premier League title in 2016. He subsequently won the league four times and a Champions League with City. He scored 15 games from 47 matches for The Sky Blues last season.

He joins a list of high-profile players who have moved to the club in recent weeks, including Edward Mendy and Roberto Firmino.
“To Al-Ahli fans, I am here for you guys. I am very excited and happy to be part of this great club. I am so excited and looking forward to seeing you all on the football field,” Mahrez said on social media.


Hamdallah the savior for Al-Ittihad once again

Ittihad's Moroccan forward #99 Abderrazak Hamdallah. (AFP file photo)
Ittihad's Moroccan forward #99 Abderrazak Hamdallah. (AFP file photo)
Updated 26 February 2024
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Hamdallah the savior for Al-Ittihad once again

Ittihad's Moroccan forward #99 Abderrazak Hamdallah. (AFP file photo)
  • After playing a key role in his team’s Asian Champions League victory win last week, he scores both goals in a dramatic late victory against Al-Wehda in the Saudi Pro League
  • It helps save the blushes of strike partner Karim Benzema, who earlier missed a penalty and had two goals disallowed

JEDDAH: For the second time in a week, Abderrazak Hamdallah saved the blushes of an unfortunate Karim Benzema on Monday, this time stepping up to give Al-Ittihad a last-gasp 2-1 win at home to Al-Wehda.

Four days previously, Hamdallah intervened to equalize after Benzema scored an own goal, helping the Jeddah giants to a 2-1 win over Navbahor of Uzbekistan in the Asian Champions League Round of 16. Back in domestic action in the Roshn Saudi League, this time Hamdallah scored both of his side’s goals after the Frenchman missed a first-half penalty and had two goals disallowed.

The result keeps the team in the race for a top-three finish, six points behind third-placed Al-Ahli, and the atmosphere in the stadium at the end was particularly jubilant given that it looked, just a few minutes from time, as if the visitors were about snatch a famous victory.

Earlier, Benzema had the ball in the back of the net on the half-hour mark but his goal from just inside the area was ruled out due to a Fabinho foul in the build-up.

Five minutes later, Al-Wehda took the lead through Odion Ighalo. A well-worked free-kick found Craig Goodwin on the left side of the area and the Australian’s low cross was poked home by Ighalo for his 10th league goal of the season.

Deep into first-half stoppage time, 11 minutes no less, Benzema had a chance to equalize when Al-Ittihad were awarded a penalty after Hamdallah went down in the box. Benzema stepped up but his low effort was well saved by the diving Munir Mohamedi.

Al-Ittihad continued to push forward after the break and were finally rewarded for their efforts seven minutes from the end. This time it was the turn of Hamdallah to attempt a penalty, after Ahmed Hegazi went down in the area. The Moroccan marksman made no mistake as he coolly chipped the ball into the middle of the goal.

This spurred the hosts on to try to snatch a winner but their hopes looked to have been dashed when Saad Al-Mosa was shown a red card in the 90th minute. Time seemed to be running out but Hamdallah was not ready to give up, and four minutes into added time he grabbed the winner.

Benzema, who earlier had a goal disallowed for a second time, for handling the ball from a headed knockdown by his strike partner, this time turned provider. He twisted and turned at the near post to take two defenders out of the picture and then pulled the ball back for Hamdallah to score from close range. The fans went crazy, the players went crazy, the coaching staff went crazy.

Al-Ittihad next face Al-Hilal away from home on Friday and will need to be ready to make the most of all their chances if they are going to take anything from the league leaders, who are sitting 22 points ahead of them.

 


Eddie Howe sets ambitious Newcastle United target with Joelinton deal top of priority list

Eddie Howe sets ambitious Newcastle United target with Joelinton deal top of priority list
Updated 26 February 2024
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Eddie Howe sets ambitious Newcastle United target with Joelinton deal top of priority list

Eddie Howe sets ambitious Newcastle United target with Joelinton deal top of priority list
  • “That’s always been in my mind as an absolute priority, to try to get him to stay at the club long term. I see that as hugely important,” Howe said of Joelinton, whose current Magpies’ deal runs out in the summer of 2025

NEWCASTLE: Persuading key man Joelinton to pen a new Newcastle United deal is a “priority” for Eddie Howe, even with chief negotiator Dan Ashworth out of the Magpies’ exit door.

The Brazilian has been a huge miss in the Newcastle midfield since he suffered a thigh injury in the FA Cup third-round win over local rivals Sunderland. Joelinton went under the knife on Jan. 23 to rectify the issue, and is not expected back until May.

On the eve of Newcastle’s fifth-round tie at Championship Blackburn Rovers — who, like Howe’s men, have won the trophy six times — the team’s head coach has been discussing his desire to see the Brazilian stay on Tyneside, even with sporting director Ashworth on gardening leave, with Manchester United his desired destination.

“That’s always been in my mind as an absolute priority, to try to get him to stay at the club long term. I see that as hugely important,” Howe said of Joelinton, whose current Magpies’ deal runs out in the summer of 2025.

“I think we’ve missed Joe’s qualities, especially physically, his robustness, his abilities in duels, set-plays for and against. We’re very lucky to have a midfielder that’s as big as he is and as competitive as he is and whenever you lose those qualities, you notice when they’re not there.

“He’s a very unusual midfielder, really, a prototype. You don’t get many like him and it’s certainly been missed, what he can bring.”

When asked who will fill Ashworth’s role in taking up the contract talks, Howe said: “I think it’ll be a mixture of Darren Eales and probably Amanda (Staveley) and Mehrdad (Ghodoussi).”

While attentions turn to the pursuit of silverware and the temporary distraction of the cup, Newcastle’s Premier League form has been starkly different to anything seen under Howe for 18 months. Long gone are the weeks of endless points, a firm backline and wins galore, a trend which had followed Newcastle from their avoidance of relegation in 2021/22 into their Champions League-qualifying campaign of 2022/23.

Mixing with Europe’s best, at this moment in time, feels like a lifetime ago, even though their last Champions League clash with giants AC Milan was only two months back. Since then, the Magpies’ form has dropped through the floor, mainly underpinned by an increasingly leaky backline and, of course, injury issues, which are thankfully starting to be less of a burden.

Howe’s team have the worst defensive record in England’s top flight in the calendar year. Across the season just the bottom three, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth have conceded more goals. It is something all associated with the club know needs to be addressed — and sharpish.

“We are still in the throes of deciding where this season ends up. Nothing is decided for or against us. I definitely want to squash that feeling that we are feeling sorry for ourselves because that has negative connotations,” said the head coach.

“We need the players excited and ambitious, thinking brightly about the future. I always have a positive outlook. I’ve been in football long enough that it changes very quickly both for and against.

“This season has been very challenging. When you start the season it could be one thing but there have been so many scenarios that have happened that have led us to this point. But I think we will be better for it. The squad will be better for it, we will be better for it and the thought we could have had another season where everything seemed to go for us again, that very rarely happens in football. It’s how you navigate the situation and come back better.”

When pushed specifically on Newcastle’s defensive record — they have conceded 45 goals in just 26 games in the Premier League — Howe said: “Yes, of course we’re looking for solutions to everything.

“There’d be sort of the outcome which is the goals, of course, but there’s a whole body of work that goes into how you defend. Whether that’s how you press, how you defend in the mid-third of the pitch, how you defend toward the goal. Certainly we need to do a better job.

“I think regardless of how you tactically set up, it’s individuals doing their jobs and making sure you don’t make individual errors. I think we’ve been guilty of a combination of a lot of those things in the last few weeks.

“We’ve proved we can defend, we’ve proved we can defend even recently and we’ve put in some really good performances. Certainly we’re capable but we just need to deliver it consistently.”

Newcastle will be backed by more than 7,000 supporters on Tuesday night in Lancashire, with a Geordie invasion of Ewood Park in store. The Magpies have not won the competition since 1955, but can put themselves just one game away from a Wembley semifinal with victory.

“It’s a huge game for us,” said Howe. “We’re absolutely committed to the FA Cup to do well and have been all season. We’ve had two difficult games away from home to get to this stage, and now another one. We’ve been looking forward to this game for a while so we know how important it is.

“There have been performances where we’ve not been at our best and you can understand — we were disjointed, had players out of position, no substitutes, relying on 11 players continually. Arsenal (a 4-1 loss on Saturday) was different. We just did not perform and we have to take responsibility for that.

“Qualifying for Europe is right at the top of our priorities. Of course, qualifying for the Champions League was unbelievable last year. But if you can’t make that again, then we have to look for the next best alternative. That’s what we’re trying to do, and for me, they’re (Europa League and Conference League) realistic objectives, and we’ll give everything we can to achieve it. I think, for the football club, to try to qualify regularly for Europe is an achievement in itself, and that’s something we’re looking to do.

“We don’t want to be easy to play against; we want to be very difficult to play against. We didn’t execute what we wanted to do against Arsenal well enough, that’s clear. That’s clear from the performance and I take responsibility for that.”

 


UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table
Updated 26 February 2024
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table
  • Reigning champions Shabab Al-Ahli return to winning ways, while Al-Ain stay in second with win over Baniyas

Al-Wasl’s searing pace at the top of the standings continued, champions Shabab Al-Ahli returned to winning ways and there was more misery for promoted clubs during the ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 14.

A first full schedule since late December — a lengthy pause for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup was extended by multiple weather postponements — began with bottom-placed Emirates Club and second-bottom Hatta suffering 10th defeats of the season.

Goals for Raniel, on 10 seconds, and Uzbekistan midfielder Azizbek Amonov helped Khor Fakkan prevail 2-0 against the latter, while rampant Wasl breezed past the former via the same scoreline thanks to efforts from nine-goal UAE forward Fabio De Lima and prolific South Korea center-back Jung Seung-hyun. They now lead the table by eight points.

Shabab Al-Ahi, meanwhile, had a trio of Brazil-born scorers to thank when they ended a two-match winless streak in their comfortable 3-0 victory versus 12th-placed Ajman. Also, a 94th-minute tap-in from promising youngster Josna Epifani Loulendo kept the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League quarterfinalists Al-Ain in the hunt with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Baniyas.

There was drama in Abu Dhabi when Mirel Radoi’s league bow for Al-Jazira ended in a 3-2 defeat to Alfred Schreuder’s rapidly improving Al-Nasr, featuring iconic striker Ali Mabkhout’s 96th-minute saved penalty. Also, Caio netted when Sharjah beat Ittihad Kalba 1-0 and Al-Wahda came from behind to down Al-Bataeh 2-1.

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

Player of the week: Igor Jesus (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

It has been an eventful few weeks for Shabab Al-Ahli’s prodigiously talented, but injury impacted, youngster.

Months of speculation about a return to Brazil or a move to Europe’s major leagues looked to have been ended by this month’s announcement that Igor Jesus had gained Emirati citizenship. It has put the 22-year-old on a fast track to eventually represent the UAE senior side, which is a major boost following January’s disappointing round-of-16 exit at the Asian Cup.

On the pitch, the ex-Coritiba attacker has been rarely seen this term. Yet more knee problems had restricted him to just five league run-outs across 201 minutes, prior to Sunday’s visit of Ajman.

If anyone needed a reminder about Jesus’ residual ability, it came versus the Orange Brigade.

A precision-guided seventh-minute corner from UAE prospect Harib Abdalla was nodded home. Jesus would add an assist to his name in the second half when he played in Guilherme Bala, another naturalized Emirati/Brazilian, who did the rest with an adroit turn and impudent low finish.

The ice pack applied to Jesus’ leg showed caution when he was called off to the bench which included an instant debut for prominent Iran center midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi.

There is such youth and electricity among Shabab Al-Ahli’s attacking options. They must regularly spark to stand any chance of hauling back Wasl.

Goal of the week: Ahmad Nourollahi (Al-Wahda)

Ahmad Nourollahi’s garlanded career has contained many standout moments.

From representing his nation at the 2022 World Cup, to hoarding trophies with Persepolis and adding last season’s ADNOC Pro League crown to his resume at Shabab Al-Ahli.

Acrobatic scissor kicks, however, were not associated with him. That is, before, Sunday’s comeback triumph at Bataeh.

A hopeful cross from right-back Abdullah Al-Karbi was hung up towards the penalty box. There appeared little danger, at this point.

Nourollahi’s lethal combination of athleticism and imagination then sent the ball arrowing into the bottom corner, at the start of the second half. This would propel fifth-placed Wahda to victory, earned through impressive Uzbekistan winter recruit Khojimat Erkinov.

Coach of the week: Alfred Schreuder (Al-Nasr)

UAE football’s sleeping giant is showing signs of stirring.

Nasr have had the history, glamorous Dubai location and outstanding Al-Maktoum Stadium, plus a list of stellar previous players that includes Yohan Cabaye, Alvaro Negredo and Luca Toni. Yet even the hint of glory has eluded them for so long.

This might be changing under Schreuder. The former Ajax and Al-Ain tactician inspired a third win from their last five league run-outs at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

It came through a blend of ex-Benfica maestro Adel Taarabt, plus young stars Abdoulaye Toure and Moussa Ndiaye.

Nasr are now comfortably midtable in seventh, after flirting with relegation under Goran Tufegdzic.

It is now up to the club to provide Schreuder with the order required to create sustained success. With six permanent managers since October 2019, this is not guaranteed.

Assessing Al-Ain’s Asian outlook

Al-Ain are flying the flag for their nation in next month’s AFC Champions League quarterfinals.

No less than Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr await on March 4 and 11, in a West Asia side of the draw packed by three heavyweight Saudi Arabian challengers.

The task is a stern one if The Boss are to add to their 2002-2003 continental title. Certainly, it will require improvement from their last-gasp victory at Baniyas Stadium.

Those three points, however, came at a cost with leading 11-goal marksman Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba being removed through injury. There is no natural replacement for the Togo star within their ranks.

South Korea anchorman Park Yong-woo has gone deep into this tournament before at Ulsan Hyundai.

Steady progress under legendary ex-Argentine, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo has seen six wins accrued from their last seven matches in all competitions. The Boss are also second domestically, with a game in hand.

Crucially, Crespo must learn lessons from the February 2023 7-0 blitzing of his Al-Duhail side by holders Al-Hilal.


Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla

Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla
Updated 26 February 2024
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Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla

Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla
  • Madrid’s victory kept them eight points above Barcelona and nine clear of Girona, who play Rayo on Monday
  • Darwin Machis’ goal deep in injury time snatched Cadiz a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo in a meeting of two teams in danger of relegation

BARCELONA: Luka Modric leapt atop the advertising board, pumped his arms and joined the collective roar of the Santiago Bernabeu.

The veteran Real Madrid star, who has seen his minutes shrink this season, had just become the hero for the Spanish league leaders with a scorching winner after coming off the bench in a 1-0 win over Sevilla on Sunday.

The normally calm Croat was possibly shouting for more than joy as he celebrated just his second goal of the season. Perhaps there was a bit of vindication, of showing everyone — Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti included — that he could still decide games even in an increasingly young Madrid squad.

The 38-year-old Modric collected a deflection with one touch before unleashing a powerful strike from outside the area that grazed the post before finding the net in the 81st minute. Modric had gone on just six minutes before with the leaders stymied in attack without injured top scorer Jude Bellingham.

“It is what always happens. We never give up. We have shown it many times, that this is a part of Real Madrid’s DNA,” Modric said about his goal. “We knew that today it was important not to let points get away because Barcelona would have closed the gap and we couldn’t allow that. Our insistence throughout all the game bore its fruit.”

Modric has helped Madrid win five Champions League titles and the player won the 2018 Ballon d’Or award. This season, with Bellingham replacing him in the starting 11, he has mostly been the subject of speculation about whether his playing days in Madrid’s all-white are nearing their end.

“It is very difficult to leave (Modric) on the bench, but every day he is an example for the entire squad,” Ancelotti said. “It is in Luka’s hands to decide what he does next season, and we are just waiting for his decision. It is difficult to manage (a situation like his) and I understand perfectly what Modric may be thinking when he does not play because I went through it as a player.”

Madrid was heading toward a second straight draw after being held 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano in the last round of games. Another stumble would have given Barcelona reason to hope that it might just be able to mount a challenge after it overtook Girona for second place on Saturday.

Madrid’s victory kept them eight points above Barcelona and nine clear of Girona, who play Rayo on Monday.

This was the third game that Bellingham, the league’s top scorer with 16 goals, has missed with a left ankle sprain.

NICO SENT OFF

Nico Williams was sent off with two quick yellow cards to leave Athletic Bilbao with 10 players just before halftime in their 3-1 loss at Real Betis.

The Spain winger got his first card for a foul and compounded that by earning a second booking for his apparently sarcastic applause of the referee.

The loss meant Athletic failed to take advantage of Atletico Madrid’s 2-2 draw at bottom side Almeria on Saturday. Athletic remained in fifth place at three points behind fourth-place Atletico. Betis moved into sixth, seven points behind Athletic.

Chimy Ávila scored his first goal for Betis since joining from Osasuna in the winter transfer window to take the 13th-minute lead. Yuri Berchiche added an own-goal before Williams was sent off in the 40th.

Gorka Guruzeta’s goal gave Athletic some hope in the 52nd, but Betis midfielder Johnny Cardoso added a third with a strike from the edge of the area in the 67th.

In the first half, an assistant referee had to leave the match after she ran into a television camera and cut her head.

LAST-GASP EQUALIZER

Darwin Machis’ goal deep in injury time snatched Cadiz a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo in a meeting of two teams in danger of relegation.

Iago Aspas and Williot Swedberg gave Celta a 2-0 advantage before Juanmi Jimenez pulled one back for the hosts in the 66th. Rafa Benitez’s side was still eyeing a victory until Machis curled a shot in from the corner of the area just before the final whistle.

Celta, in 17th, remained the last team clinging to safety while 18th-place Cadiz was in the drop zone at three points behind.

“You think you have it in the bag, you are up 2-0, and they score two goals on plays we could have stopped, so it is obvious we missed an opportunity,” Benítez said. “We didn’t know how to manage those final minutes.”


Klopp savors his ‘most special trophy’ as Liverpool win English League Cup

Klopp savors his ‘most special trophy’ as Liverpool win English League Cup
Updated 26 February 2024
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Klopp savors his ‘most special trophy’ as Liverpool win English League Cup

Klopp savors his ‘most special trophy’ as Liverpool win English League Cup
  • Klopp: It is in my more than 20 years, easily the most special trophy I ever won. It is absolutely exceptional
  • Van Dijk might have produced the decisive moment but it was the efforts of a string of young players that had Klopp so enthused

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp just couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

It was deep into extra time at Wembley on Sunday and the English League Cup final against Chelsea was locked at 0-0. A penalty shootout loomed.

Yet, with tensions running high, Klopp turned to the Liverpool fans, savored the moment and produced that trademark toothy grin.

Perhaps he knew what was coming. That Virgil van Dijk was about to score a 118th-minute winner to finally break down Chelsea’s resistance and secure a record-extending 10th League Cup trophy for Liverpool.

Perhaps not.

“That would be cool if I could see goals coming. That would relax a lot of moments in my life,” Klopp said afterward — his voice hoarse, likely from the wild celebrations that greeted his eighth trophy as Liverpool manager.

Klopp is stepping down at the end of the season and this may well be his last Wembley final with the club.

He said he was simply taking it all in and enjoying watching a new generation of Liverpool players that may turn out to be his lasting legacy after he goes.

“I loved it ... What I see today is so exceptional, we might never see it again. Not because I am on the sidelines but because these things don’t happen in football.

“It is in my more than 20 years, easily the most special trophy I ever won. It is absolutely exceptional.”

Van Dijk, Liverpool’s 32-year-old captain, might have produced the decisive moment but it was the efforts of a string of young players, called upon to help ease Liverpool’s extensive injury list, that had Klopp so enthused.

Seven of his winning team were aged 21 or under.

Jayden Danns, aged 18, came on for only his second senior performance. Bobby Clark and James McConnell are both 19.

Their efforts meant that even without the injured Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold and more, Liverpool still triumphed.

“I got told outside there is an English phrase, ‘You don’t win trophies with kids,’” Klopp said. “I didn’t know that. Yeah right.

“Sometimes I’m asked if I am proud of this, proud of that. I don’t know. I wish I could feel pride more often. Tonight was an overwhelming feeling of ‘Oh my God, what is going on here?’ I was proud of everybody involved.”

Victory keeps Klopp on track for a quadruple of trophies in his final year with Liverpool as he looks determined to go out on a high.

His team is currently top of the Premier League and still in contention to win the FA Cup and Europa League. But even if Klopp cannot add those trophies to the full set he has already delivered, he provided Liverpool with another memorable day at Wembley.

Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, must wait for his first piece of silverware in English soccer after failing to lift trophies with Southampton and Tottenham before taking charge at Chelsea.

While he won three trophies including the French league title with Paris Saint-Germain, he is still to taste glory in England.

A first trophy at Chelsea would have eased the pressure after a troubled season in the league.

“If you ask the players how they feel, I feel the same. (It is) so disappointing, so painful,” Pochettino said. “I am a guy that (has) less time to win titles (than the players). They are younger than me, they have time. In football it is always about when you have the opportunity (you take it).

PREMIER LEAGUE

Sheffield United’s players showed the wrong kind of fight after suffering a 19th loss of the season to stay at the foot of the Premier League.

Pablo Sarabia’s 30th-minute header secured a 1-0 win for Wolves at Molineux in the league’s only game Sunday, but perhaps the most notable incident in the match was a clash between Sheffield United players Jack Robinson and Vinicius Souza.

The teammates pushed each other in a heated exchange that led to a VAR review.

Not that Blades manager Chris Wilder seemed too concerned.

“That happens at every club up and down the country, three or four times a year,” he said. “They were told about their responsibilities at halftime. We talked to the boys and they are fine and cool.”

Defeat left Sheffield United eight points off safety.

West Ham host Brentford on Monday.