UAE Pro League review: Iniesta denied dream home debut by Ajman

UAE Pro League review: Iniesta denied dream home debut by Ajman
Iniesta was denied a dream home debut for Emirates against Ajman (UAE Pro League)
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Updated 28 August 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Iniesta denied dream home debut by Ajman

UAE Pro League review: Iniesta denied dream home debut by Ajman
  • Al-Wahda claim Abu Dhabi derby spoils with 2-1 win over Al-Jazira

Abu Dhabi: Emirates Club superstar Andres Iniesta was denied victory in an enthralling contest against Ajman, Al-Wahda reigned supreme in the capital, and Al-Wasl inflicted defeat on inconsistent Sharjah in an engrossing ADNOC Pro League matchweek two.

Friday night’s roaring start witnessed the ex-Spain and Barcelona legend slot home a 94th-minute penalty to put promoted Emirates 4-3 ahead amid fevered scenes after being 3-1 down at half-time, only for nerveless Bahrain winger Ali Madan to spoil the party with a 105th-minute spot-kick of his own to secure Ajman’s 4-4 draw.

The Abu Dhabi Derby spoils, meanwhile, were earned by Pitso Mosimane’s measured Al-Wahda, courtesy of Brazil defensive midfielder Fernando’s own goal in a 2-1 victory at neighbours Al-Jazira.

Sunday’s denouement featured a 3-1 triumph for Al-Wasl at star-studded Sharjah, which saw a composed opening goal in yellow for Switzerland center forward Haris Seferovic, and returning star Caio Canedo’s first effort for the club since May 2019.

Elsewhere among probable title contenders, last season’s 28-goal leading marksman Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba opened his 2023 to 2024 account with a poacher’s double as Al-Ain beat First Division League champions Hatta 2-0, while holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club eased past Khor Fakkan 2-1.

French striker Youssoufou Niakate made it three goals in two matches when Baniyas downed bottom-placed Al-Nasr 4-2, while Mirel Radoi’s Al-Bataeh and Al-Ittihad Kalba played out a goalless stalemate.

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

Player of the week: Andres Iniesta (Emirates Club)

It was, almost, the perfect home debut for Iniesta.

So much is expected of the 39-year-old – from both his new employers, plus the wider UAE game. An Emirates Club Stadium packed with local fans and first-time visitors in Spain or Barcelona shirts came to witness the great man’s opening steps on home soil.

Disappointment, then, was felt everywhere except among the Ajman team and fans when Madan levelled from 12 yards deep into added time. A storybook comeback win sealed by Iniesta, and celebrated vociferously by his watching family, would have gone viral around the globe.

Emirates and Iniesta, however, can be buoyed by the grit and attacking intent exhibited. This followed a commendable 1-0 reversal at Al-Wasl for the predicted relegation battlers.

The evergreen Iniesta shook off the ring rust gained in his innocuous final days at Japan’s Vissel Kobe, being ubiquitous amid punishing late-summer conditions.

An eventful run-out contained a second-minute assist for Lithierry’s header via a free-kick, the frustration of seeing this lead evaporate, rattling the crossbar himself with a second-half set-piece and the goal which appeared to have secured Emirates’ first top-flight win since March 2022.

Iniesta is present to provide star dust to a promoted side badly in need of it.

Unsurprisingly, he produced zero tackles, interceptions, or clearances from center midfield in a familiar 4-3-3 formation. Yet, his goal, assist, and two key passes point to an extant attacking threat.

Excitement already surrounds his next top-flight run-out at Khor Fakkan in a month’s time.

Goal of the week: Youssoufou Niakate (Baniyas)

One signing can change everything.

And this appears to have been the case for Baniyas. Their pre-season procurement of Al-Ettifaq forward Niakate has provided the club with a striker glaringly absent since the then Al-Dhafra loanee Joao Pedro fired them to a shock second place in the 2020 to 2021 season.

In the intervening campaigns, Sweden’s Isaac Thelin netted only six times in 17 matches and Palmeiras loanee Rafael Elias struck four goals in 16 games. They slumped from runners-up, to ninth, and 11th.

Niakate, in contrast, is averaging a goal every 60 minutes and sits joint top of the scoring charts on three alongside the epochal Ali Mabkhout. This winning brace featured an effort rich in promise.

A rollercoaster opening 20 minutes at Baniyas Stadium was capped off by Albania forward Taulant Seferi rolling a hopeful pass toward the penalty box, ex-Portugal under-21 midfielder Francisco Geraldes following with a befuddling step over, and Niakate sweeping home the low finish. This was a trio of summer additions making it 2-2 via an electric combination.

No wonder Niakate and Baniyas feel buoyant.

Coach of the week: Pitso Mosimane (Al-Wahda)

Al-Wahda have a natural-born winner on their hands.

Mosimane’s reputation as a triple CAF Champions League victor and the man who led listless Al-Ahli back to the Roshn Saudi League was dented, somewhat, by an opening home loss to Al-Bataeh for his latest assignment in the ADNOC Pro League.

But any concerns have now been pushed to one side after the dogged derby victory at Al-Jazira.

Al-Wahda simply got the job done against Frank de Boer’s hosts who dominated possession (64 percent to 36 percent), passes (522 to 306), and attempts on goal (13 to seven). The statistics, however, did not paint a true picture of the game.

Blunt Al-Jazira failed to generate any clear-cut chances, with their penalty coming from a misplaced pass in midfield. The visitors would profit via center-back Alaeddine Zouhir’s near-post header from a corner and Fernando’s own goal from Allan’s deep free-kick.

This season may not be pretty from Al-Wahda, but it will probably be effective.

Is Cosmin Olaroiu the problem or solution for Sharjah?

Olaroiu’s Sharjah are such a tricky beast to assess.

Their vaunted line-up which boasted Miralem Pjanic, Paco Alcacer, and Kostas Manolas, plus a host of UAE internationals, trundled home seventh last term, when the title was held as a given. But they rebounded with a remarkable four cup successes.

This staccato story is repeating itself. Last Tuesday’s resolute AFC Champions League play-off victory at Iran’s Tractor in front of 80,898 partisan supporters was followed by Sunday’s meek ADNOC Pro League capitulation at Sharjah Stadium to Al-Wasl.

Does Olaroiu – a serial league winner in Romania, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and China – still have what it takes to inspire top-flight supremacy? Is Sharjah’s ageing squad the wrong profile for a long slog, but perfect for cup glory?

The answers will emerge in the intriguing months ahead.


Serbia FA threatens to quit Euros if UEFA does not punish Croats and Albanians over chants

Serbia FA threatens to quit Euros if UEFA does not punish Croats and Albanians over chants
Updated 56 min 19 sec ago
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Serbia FA threatens to quit Euros if UEFA does not punish Croats and Albanians over chants

Serbia FA threatens to quit Euros if UEFA does not punish Croats and Albanians over chants
  • “We will ask UEFA for sanctions, even at the cost of not continuing the competition,” Serbia Football Association general secretary Jovan Surbatovic said
  • The Serbia FA condemned the “shameful racist behavior” of the Albanian and Croatian fans and said the match should have been suspended

BELGRADE: Serbia soccer officials threatened to quit the European Championship after they were offended by fan chants reportedly heard during the Albania-Croatia match.
The game on Wednesday ended 2-2 in Hamburg.
Serbia started their second group match against Slovenia on Thursday afternoon in Munich.
“What happened is scandalous and we will ask UEFA for sanctions, even at the cost of not continuing the competition,” Serbia Football Association general secretary Jovan Surbatovic said.
“We will request UEFA to punish the federations of both teams. We don’t want to participate in that, but if UEFA doesn’t punish them, we will think about how to proceed.”
In a separate statement on Thursday, the Serbia FA condemned the “shameful racist behavior” of the Albanian and Croatian fans and said the match should have been suspended as soon as the chants started.
“Such insulting of a nation with cries that they should be killed has not been seen at sports events for a long time,” the statement added.
UEFA was yet to react.
The animosity between Croatian and Albanian fans toward the Serbs, and vice versa, dates to the 1990s wars in the Balkans.
Serbian fans are notorious for their chants against the Croats and Albanians as well as racist shouts and vocal support of convicted war criminals responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
UEFA fined the Albanian and Serbian federations 10,000 euros ($10,700) each after their first group matches for fans displaying banners with nationalist maps.
Each federation is responsible for the conduct of its fans, and UEFA charged Serbia and Albania with “transmitting provocative messages not fit for a sports event.”
Albania fans displayed a banner with a map of their country extending its borders into the territory of neighboring countries. It was shown on Saturday during the 2-1 loss against Italy in Dortmund.
A Serbia fans banner included the territory of Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, and a slogan, “No Surrender,” in the 1-0 loss against England in Gelsenkirchen.
UEFA has also launched an investigation into claims of monkey chants aimed at England players during the clash.


Dravid wary as India face Afghanistan in T20 World Cup

Dravid wary as India face Afghanistan in T20 World Cup
Updated 20 June 2024
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Dravid wary as India face Afghanistan in T20 World Cup

Dravid wary as India face Afghanistan in T20 World Cup
  • Afghanistan inflicted 84-run hammering upon New Zealand earlier this month
  • India under skipper Rohit Sharma remain unbeaten in ongoing T20 World Cup 

Bridgetown, Barbados: India coach Rahul Dravid warned his side will “not take Afghanistan lightly” in their second-round opener of the T20 World Cup in Barbados on Thursday.

India were unbeaten in the initial pool phase as they advanced into Super Eights featuring two groups of four.

Afghanistan, however, have also justified their billing as potential semifinalists.

They had already qualified for the Super Eights before an emphatic 104-run defeat by a rampant West Indies in St. Lucia on Monday in a clash of previously unbeaten teams, with Nicholas Pooran smashing 98 for the tournament co-hosts.

But Afghanistan did inflict an 84-run hammering upon New Zealand earlier in the competition.

And with India having needed two Super Overs to see off Afghanistan in a T20 match in Bengaluru in January, Dravid is well aware of the challenge awaiting his players at the Kensington Oval.

“We know Afghanistan is a very dangerous team in this format of the game,” former India batsman Dravid, 51 told a pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “They have shown that by their performances in this World Cup.

“They might not have a lot of international experience in the other formats of the game, but a lot of their players do play in a lot of T20 leagues, more than in fact some of our players do.

“So, certainly in this format they are not a team to be taken lightly. They are deservedly in the Super Eights.”

Much of Afghanistan’s success has been built on superb spin bowling, with Rashid Khan — who took four wickets for 17 runs against New Zealand in Guyana — leading the way.

But that same match also saw left-arm quick Fazalhaq Farooqi take 4-17, with New Zealand dismissed for just 75.

“They have a good bowling attack all round,” said Dravid. “Even their two pacers are quite experienced. Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq have both played a lot of cricket, they both swing the ball as well.

“I think their bowlers are some of the most sought-after bowlers in this format across the world.
“We understand that is going to pose a challenge to us and we are going to have to play well to counter that.”

Meanwhile Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott insisted Pooran’s furious assault could yet benefit his side against India.

“Pooran played a great knock,” said the former England batsman. “But other sides are going to have players of that calibre, who on their day can win matches like Pooran did. So, I think it’s a good thing that it’s happened.

“We’ve learned lessons and we’re going to put that right starting tomorrow (Thursday).”

Trott added the advent of T20 franchise cricket, spearheaded by the Indian Premier League, had led to improved relations between players that were “obviously very different from when I played.”

But the 43-year-old said the knowledge gained “works both ways.”

“We had nine, 10 players at the IPL. They will be able to share their knowledge of Indian players, and they’ll be able to do the same with our players,” explained Trott. “That’s the current state of world cricket.

“I think it’s in a good position, and it’s very healthy. And we’re in the middle of a World Cup and we’re in Barbados, so the world’s pretty good.”


New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp

New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp
Updated 20 June 2024
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New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp

New Asian champions to earn $12 million in prize money in club competition revamp

HONG KONG: The winners of the new Asian Champions League Elite will pocket a minimum of $12 million, the Asian Football Confederation said on Wednesday in a major boost to club football in the region.

The competition, which kicks off with a preliminary round in August, is at the heart of a major revamp of club football across the continent and involves 27 clubs from 12 nations including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Saudi Arabia.


Women’s mentorship program launched at 2024 FIA conference

Women’s mentorship program launched at 2024 FIA conference
Updated 20 June 2024
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Women’s mentorship program launched at 2024 FIA conference

Women’s mentorship program launched at 2024 FIA conference
  • Concussion awareness campaign also launched at Uzbekistan forum

PARIS: FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has launched two projects at the FIA 2024 conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan: the women in motorsport mentorship programme and the concussion awareness campaign.

Linked live to the FIA Women in Motorsport networking event, the women in motorsport mentorship programme pairs experienced women already in the sport — mentors — with those wanting to start their career — mentees — facilitating knowledge-sharing as well as personal and professional growth while fostering a culture of learning and collaboration.

The program offers opportunities for mentors to share their experiences and perspectives to accelerate the mentee’s development, while providing invaluable guidance, support and insights that will help them to navigate their professional journey.

Participants will connect through a digital platform, ensuring flexible interaction regardless of location, and ease of scheduling and resource sharing online. The application process for club participation and individual registrations is designed to be straightforward and efficient, with each club receiving a dedicated email containing a link to apply. Clubs are permitted to nominate up to two participants and applications will be processed on a “first come, first serve” basis.

Ben Sulayem said: “It is important that motor sport diversifies and FIA is committed to making our sport more accessible to all. The women in motorsport mentorship programme will help to create a network of support and learning for women, ensuring accessibility and opening up new opportunities in line with our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. I am proud to work with so many accomplished women in our sport and I champion their voices.”

Meanwhile, the concussion awareness campaign, supported by funding from the FIA foundation, was launched through the collaboration of the FIA medical and safety teams with the aim of educating and raising awareness of concussion, including signs, symptoms and red flags in an effort to further protect motor sport competitors.

The educational content, created to be used across social platforms and as printable assets, is available to all member clubs, in any club’s language of choice, reflecting the FIA’s commitment to improving accessibility and inclusivity.

Ben Sulayem said: “I have experienced concussion first-hand, away from the race track. I have felt the symptoms and dealt with the aftermath. I understand the critical importance of this issue. Thanks to the FIA medical and safety team, we will provide an educational and accessible approach to identifying and combating concussion in our sport, ensuring the safety of all current and future competitors.”

By educating drivers on how to spot concussion, the steps to take if concussed, and how to return to racing, this knowledge-sharing will help keep motor sport as safe as possible. It also encourages racers to seek out assistance from the medical team if symptoms are felt. They will not return to racing unless cleared by the relevant international and national authorities.


Abu Dhabi to host 2024 FIM World Supercross Championship season finale

Abu Dhabi to host 2024 FIM World Supercross Championship season finale
Updated 20 June 2024
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Abu Dhabi to host 2024 FIM World Supercross Championship season finale

Abu Dhabi to host 2024 FIM World Supercross Championship season finale
  • Two motorsport world championships will be decided within a week with the World Supercross Championship and Formula 1 heading to Yas Island in December

DUBAI: SX Global, the official promoters of the FIM World Supercross Championship, have announced that the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi will host the final race of the series’ upcoming 2024 season.

After a highly successful pilot season in 2022, WSX built on its foundations by expanding into new markets in 2023 — a campaign which saw German motorcycle superstar Ken Roczen claim a second WSX World Championship title, while Britain’s Max Anstie etched his name on the SX2 World Championship crown.

“After the success of last year’s event, we’re delighted to be heading back to Abu Dhabi and the Etihad Arena in 2024,” Andy Edwards, SX global executive chairman, said. “This time around, the incredible venue will host the deciding round of the championship, and that spectacle is sure to have fans out of their seats with the action at full throttle until the very last lap.”

Abu Dhabi first hosted WSX last season in a competition which saw Roczen, Joey Savatgy, Dean Wilson, and Vince Friese go head-to-head. With this year’s event taking place just four days before the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the 2024 finale is set to attract an international audience once more.

As well as confirming Abu Dhabi as the location for this season’s climax, FIM WSX also revealed its full provisional schedule for the year ahead. The campaign will start on Oct. 26 at the BC Place stadium in Vancouver, Canada, before heading to Perth, Australia, on Nov. 23-24 for a double-header at HBF Park.

After the WSX Australian Grand Prix, the series will then head to Abu Dhabi where the world champion will be crowned on Dec. 4.

Ali Al-Beshr, motorsport development executive director at organizers Ethara, said: “We are thrilled to announce the return of the World Supercross Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi for the second consecutive year. With the event taking place during the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race week, motorsport fans can enjoy back-to-back thrilling action, with the chance to experience two world championship finals in one week.”