UAE Pro League review: Al-Jazira stumble as Al-Wasl soar

UAE Pro League review: Al-Jazira stumble as Al-Wasl soar
Gimenez at Hatta became the first ADNOC Pro League star rewarded by statisticians SofaScore with a perfect 10-rated display. (X: @AlWaslSC)
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Updated 29 October 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Jazira stumble as Al-Wasl soar

UAE Pro League review: Al-Jazira stumble as Al-Wasl soar
  • Champions Shabab Al-Ahli give up two-goal lead to share points against Al-Nasr

A torrent of goals and drama that featured a shock for Frank de Boer’s high-flying Al-Jazira, plus faultless five-star shows from Al-Wasl and Sharjah, followed ADNOC Pro League’s restart after the international break.

Friday’s matchweek six resumption began with a bang. Nicolas Gimenez and unstoppable UAE forward Fabio De Lima put pointless promoted hosts Hatta to the sword during Al-Wasl’s 5-0 thrashing, while 10-man holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club were pegged back to 3-3 from a 3-1 lead by an Al-Nasr, fueled by Italy forward Manolo Gabbiadini.

Malian youngster Sekou Gassama conjured a sinuous solo strike in Al-Bataeh’s 1-1 draw aganst second-bottom Ajman and Al-Wahda snapped a three-match losing streak in all competitions courtesy of a 2-1 triumph versus Ittihad Kalba.

Shahin Surour was in decisive form on Saturday against boyhood club Al-Jazira when struggling Khor Fakkan stunned their vaunted visitors 4-2 and Sharjah recorded five different scorers in a 5-0 dismantling of Baniyas. The 2021/22 champions Al-Ain returned to top spot with a 3-1 victory against Emirates Club that contained a 10th-minute red card for Bandar Al-Ahbabi, plus Spain icon Andres Iniesta both converting and missing penalty kicks for the opposition.

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

Player of the week: Nicolas Gimenez (Al-Wasl)

A standout performance, for player and club.

Gimenez at Hatta became the first ADNOC Pro League star rewarded by statisticians SofaScore with a perfect 10-rated display. This was earned via two close-range finishes and a laser-guided assist for De Lima’s 89th-minute second.

Al-Wasl had lost momentum prior to this month’s latest stoppage, drawing successive matches versus relegation-threatened Khor Fakkan and Ajman to implode their 100 percent start in frustrating fashion. Signs of life, however, came in the 3-2 victory versus Shabab Al-Ahli in an ADIB Cup quarterfinal, first leg on Oct. 20.

Coveted summer recruit Gimenez — a free agent after three bountiful campaigns at Baniyas — helped himself to two assists on that night and this form was continued in the top flight.

Sharp instincts got him into the penalty box for a pair of first-half tap-ins, representing the playmaker’s opening league goals for his new employers. The best was to come at the death, a fourth ADNOC Pro League assist of the season — to top the individual chart — coming with an incisive, low through-ball from distance perfectly targeted between full-back and centre-back.

Another dimension has been added to second-placed Al-Wasl’s attack by the 27-year-old, who is adept advancing the ball via dribbling or passing. Combinations between himself, De Lima, Switzerland forward Haris Seferovic and “golden boy” Ali Saleh strike fear into every defence in the country.

Recent naturalization for the Argentina-born creator means these skills could be deployed on the international stage with the UAE in the coming years. An exciting prospect.

Goal of the week: Sekou Gassama (Al-Bataeh)

Sometimes, you see a goal which looks like it has been taken straight from a computer game rather than real life.

Malian midfielder Gassama produced such an enlivening highlight in Friday’s 1-1 stalemate with 13th-placed Ajman.

A simple recycling of possession seemed appropriate wide on the right and with four Ajman defenders in close proximity. The 22-year-old had a different, more vivid, picture in his mind.

Gassama’s feint took him past left-back Gianluca Muniz. A breathtaking burst of pace then followed to open up a channel between three Ajman opponents, before another drop of the shoulder dumbfounded another set of markers.

A thunderous low shot would, finally, go in via a deflection on the line — and no one could argue the exhibition of skill and drive had not earned a stroke of luck.

This singular intervention came amid a promising second top-flight campaign for the club only founded in 2012. With ex-Romania boss Mirel Radoi in charge, overseeing outstanding prospects such as Gassama, the future seems bright for Bataeh.

Coach of the week: Gerard Zaragoza (Khor Fakkan)

What a way to sign off from stand-in Gerard Zaragoza, if this proves to be a final match at the helm.

The ex-Shabab Al-Ahli boss was promoted to Khor Fakkan’s top job from assistant last month, upon Abdulaziz Al-Anbari’s exit.

But the club’s top-flight winless run extended to four matches under him. This led to reports via Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper that experienced ex-Ajman supremo Ayman El-Ramady had turned down the permanent post, and a follow-up from local daily Emaratalyoum detailed an imminent arrival for recently departed Al-Ahli Doha tactician Nebojsa Jovovic.

Zaragoza, if true, can step back with head held high. The Spaniard’s now-ninth-placed troops earned 3-0 and 4-1 advantages versus a Jazira outfit stacked with domestic and international talent.

They ceded 73 percent possession in an eventual 4-2 triumph, but were inspired by ex-Jazira starlet Surour during this memorable match.

Is the real Sharjah now standing up?

An ominous performance and result was seen at Sharjah Stadium.

The five-goal unravelling of 11th-placed Baniyas saw Sharjah’s constituent parts move in unison. This comes amid the context of 2022/23’s unprecedented four-goal trophy haul, but a dispiriting and dumbfounding seventh-placed ADNOC Pro League finish.

Fast forward to the present and we see Tunisia magician Firas Ben Larbi — a summer purchase from Ajman — buzzing about in a free role afforded by a loose 4-4-2 formation next to timeless UAE forward Sebastian Tagliabue. Both got on the scoresheet, along with another addition in Al-Hilal’s Moussa Marega.

Sharjah now sit just three points off Al-Ain, while first place is theirs at the halfway point of AFC Champions League’s Group B.

Trophy magnet Cosmin Olaroiu appears to have artfully, and expansively, recalibrated. The question now is whether Asia’s grandest club trophies have moved within range.


Dortmund head into Champions League final with an older, tougher team instead of young talents

Dortmund head into Champions League final with an older, tougher team instead of young talents
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Dortmund head into Champions League final with an older, tougher team instead of young talents

Dortmund head into Champions League final with an older, tougher team instead of young talents
This Dortmund team are different, though. They are built around older players making the most of second chances after career setbacks
“We have our own story,” coach Edin Terzic said

DORTMUND: Borussia Dortmund are world soccer’s finishing school no longer.
A club renowned for readying talented youngsters like Jude Bellingham and Erling Haaland for the big stage are now on that stage itself, facing Real Madrid — and Bellingham — in the Champions League final Saturday.
This Dortmund team are different, though. They are built around older players making the most of second chances after career setbacks.
“We have our own story,” coach Edin Terzic said Wednesday. “We have the story of ups and downs of the last years. We are one of the teams that is selling players by the end of the season. We are a team that builds up to compete every year, but now we are there, and we are facing teams that are built to win the Champions League.”
And then there’s Jadon Sancho.
The former England national team forward has revived his career since rejoining Dortmund on loan in January from Manchester United, where he hadn’t played since August amid a rift with manager Erik ten Hag.
The final at Wembley will be the last game of Sancho’s loan, but Dortmund hope they will also start fresh talks on keeping him.
“We are so proud, we are so happy that he’s in our team at the moment and I can see his smile every day, I can see his performance on the pitch every day,” sporting director Sebastian Kehl said.
“So, I think he will be very important for us on Saturday. He will show the world that Jadon Sancho is really back.”
Kehl said Dortmund plan “discussions” about the 24-year-old Sancho’s future, but only after Saturday’s game. “He’s still under contract with Man United, so nobody knows what’s going on there,” Kehl added. “We’re going to have discussions, but after the final.”
Sancho isn’t the only Dortmund player who has been rejected elsewhere. Defender Mats Hummels and midfielder Emre Can were both left out of the German national team squad for their home European Championship, and Sancho wasn’t picked for England.
The Champions League gives them the chance to show they remain competitive at the top level — and maybe even earn a dramatic recall for Euro 2024.
The 30-year-old Can suggested he and Sancho could be inspired by that rejection when they play against Madrid.
“He’s not happy about it, of course. Me also, I’m not in the German squad, I’m not happy about it,” Can said. “Of course, it gives you maybe the extra motivation to show the coaches in national teams that we deserve to be there. That’s what we will try on Saturday.”
Only two Dortmund players made the Germany squad for Euro 2024, including striker Niclas Füllkrug, who spent much of his career in the second division before finally breaking through at 29 with Werder Bremen and making his national team debut in 2022.
Forward Sébastien Haller is in the Champions League final less than two years on from a diagnosis of testicular cancer which left him needing chemotherapy and surgery before he returned to action with Dortmund. He’s seeking his second trophy of the season after scoring the winning goal in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast in February.
Dortmund do have some promising young players, but winger Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and striker Youssoufa Moukoko, both 19-year-olds, have typically been on the bench in the Champions League this season and 21-year-old American Gio Reyna was loaned out to Nottingham Forest.
There isn’t an obvious successor to Bellingham, who was sold for up to 130 million euros ($139 million at the time) to Madrid last year, or Haaland, who earlier moved to Manchester City for 60 million euros ($63 million at the time) and won the Champions League last year.
Sporting director Kehl himself has unfinished business in the Champions League. Dortmund are in the final for the first time since 2013, when they lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich, also at Wembley. Kehl, then a midfielder, was on the bench in that game.
Dortmund are coming off their worst Bundesliga season in nine years with a fifth-place finish, but have shown in the Champions League that their grizzled, battle-scarred squad can peak in crucial games. There’s been a healthy dose of luck, too, after Dortmund survived Paris Saint-Germain repeatedly hitting the post and crossbar in the semifinals.
A year after dropping the Bundesliga title in the final minutes of the season, Dortmund are aiming to end this campaign on a triumph.
“There is one more game left and it’s the biggest game in European club competition,” Terzic said. “This is waiting for us, and we have to show that we are ready to go for it.”

Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre

Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre
Updated 29 May 2024
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Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre

Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre
  • Before May had run its course, Laporta sacked the former Barca midfield great and appointed German coach Hansi Flick in his stead
  • “You will suffer — this is a very complicated place to be,” Xavi warned his successor

BARCELONA: At the end of April, Barcelona president Joan Laporta, choking with emotion, said he was “proud” to have Xavi Hernandez staying on as coach for next season.
Before May had run its course, Laporta sacked the former Barca midfield great and appointed German coach Hansi Flick in his stead.
Since the president was re-elected for his second spell in charge in March 2021, Barcelona have been without a coherent plan, running purely on vibes. It can only get you so far.
Selling off areas of the club and compromising future income to raise immediate funds for heavy transfer investment, Laporta opted for a get-success-quick strategy, with limited results.
Barcelona won the 2022/23 La Liga title for the first time since 2019, but they have still struggled in Europe.
This season everything fell to pieces, with Real Madrid storming to La Liga glory and Barcelona finishing the campaign trophyless.
“It’s fantastic news that Xavi is staying — the team we have, which is growing with many young talents, needs this stability,” said Laporta, weeks before performing a spectacular u-turn.
Xavi for his part did not mince his words about the challenges that faced Flick.
“You will suffer — this is a very complicated place to be,” Xavi warned his successor.
Barcelona’s ‘entorno’ — everything swirling around the club that increases pressure, from the media to the fans, to loose-lipped directors and former players chipping in — will stay the same.
However in hiring Flick, the club’s direction has changed.
The majority of their coaches have played for Barcelona — Xavi, Ronald Koeman, Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola among others.
Flick on the other hand, has never played or coached in Spain, let alone at the club itself.
The 59-year-old’s greatest success was leading Bayern Munich to a sextuple in 2020, including an 8-2 humiliation of Barcelona, but he struggled with the German national team, becoming their first coach ever to be sacked.
Barca’s sporting director Deco warned in February that Barcelona should move away from their traditional “tiki-taka” style.
“The president agrees with me on this, a deep change is needed — there is a method that is worn out,” he said.
Flick’s style is attacking but more direct than Barcelona usually attempt to play, with more crossing.
The coach will be happy to work with Ilkay Gundogan, whom he appointed Germany captain, and Robert Lewandowski, a key player in his triumphant Bayern Munich side.
He boasts coaching experience which Xavi lacked, having only worked at Al-Sadd in Qatar before taking the reins at Camp Nou.
Flick tends to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, rather than Barcelona’s 4-3-3, although they are not far removed.
The club’s financial difficulties will be a key factor in whether the German can improve Barcelona’s fortunes.
After pivot Sergio Busquets left, Barcelona failed to adequately replace him, unable to afford Xavi’s main target, Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi.
With new champions and rivals Real Madrid set to sign Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe, keeping up with Los Blancos will be a hard task for any coach.


Usyk, Fury heavyweight rematch set for December 21 in Riyadh

The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury. credit: social media
The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury. credit: social media
Updated 29 May 2024
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Usyk, Fury heavyweight rematch set for December 21 in Riyadh

The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury. credit: social media
  • The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury in the Saudi capital on May 19 in the first unification fight of the four-belt era

Riyadh: Oleksandr Usyk will face Tyson Fury in a rematch on December 21 in Riyadh, the top Saudi organizer said on Wednesday, after winning their undisputed heavyweight boxing bout earlier this month.
The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury in the Saudi capital on May 19 in the first unification fight of the four-belt era.
“The rematch between the undisputed champion Oleksandr Usyk and the champion Tyson Fury is now scheduled on the 21 of December 2024 during Riyadh Season,” Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, posted on X, formerly Twitter.
Britain’s Lennox Lewis won the last undisputed heavyweight championship against Evander Holyfield in 1999. Both men were ringside as Usyk handed Fury, 35, his first defeat.
The 37-year-old Ukrainian, who briefly served as a soldier after the Russian invasion, was also undisputed champion at cruiserweight and won Olympic, world and European honors as an amateur.


Boxers arrive in Riyadh for historic 5 vs. 5 event

Their fighters will battle it out inside the ring on June 1 at the Kingdom Arena as part of Riyadh Season. supplied
Their fighters will battle it out inside the ring on June 1 at the Kingdom Arena as part of Riyadh Season. supplied
Updated 29 May 2024
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Boxers arrive in Riyadh for historic 5 vs. 5 event

Their fighters will battle it out inside the ring on June 1 at the Kingdom Arena as part of Riyadh Season. supplied
  • The event is set to make history as the boxing world’s biggest promoters and British rivals, Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren, go head-to-head
  • The main fight card will see Russian champion Dmitry Bivol up against his Libyan opponent Malik Zinad

The boxers facing off in the eagerly awaited 5 vs. 5 event in Riyadh took part in a grand arrival on Tuesday night at Boulevard City in the Saudi capital.

The event is set to make history as the boxing world’s biggest promoters and British rivals, Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren, go head-to-head. Their fighters will battle it out inside the ring on June 1 at the Kingdom Arena as part of Riyadh Season.

The main fight card will see Russian champion Dmitry Bivol up against his Libyan opponent Malik Zinad. The pair drew major attention on Tuesday night as fans approached them at the boxers’ arrival site for photos. Pressure is mounting on both champions to maintain their undefeated records across 22 fights.

On fighting in Saudi, Zinad told Arab News: “This is fantastic — this is a great feeling for me. I give everyone hope to work hard and nothing is impossible … work hard and you will make it.”

His opponent, Bivol, previously told Arab News that the event is an “amazing opportunity” to show his boxing skills to a new region and gain fans in the process.

“Saudi Arabia is still a new region for boxing events but they are doing it well, and I hope they continue doing it,” he said.

For Saturday’s undercards, Warren’s camp includes Nick Ball, Hamzah Sheeraz, Willy Hutchinson,  Daniel Dubois and Zhang Zhilei. Hearn’s lineup includes Austin Williams, Raymond Ford, Craig Richards, Filip Hrgovic and Deontay Wilder.

Arab News asked Warren about the prospects of a Saudi boxer one day representing Queensberry on the world stage.

“I don’t think it’ll be that far off … you look at the skill sets of some of them, look at them working out, you can see that they are really buying into this and into it in a big way,” he said.

“I promise you there will be Saudi champions not long in the future.”

Warren and Hearn’s family rivalry dates back five decades, and boxing fans around the world are bursting with excitement to finally see the two come together for 5 vs. 5.

Warren told Arab News that “Riyadh now is the capital of world boxing” and that boxing events in the Kingdom are “going from strength to strength to strength.”

He added: “I’m 72 now — I’m thinking to myself ‘I have seen it all,’ but I haven't seen it all. I’m getting surprised on a regular basis.”

Hearn believes that Saudi Arabia’s grassroots infrastructure and hosting of top boxing events is significant for building champions of the sport in the Kingdom.

“You go down the local gyms, the Mike Tyson gyms, you see young boys, young girls chasing their dreams because they’re seeing it on the ground here, you know, and you have to have role models — you have to have heroes,” he told Arab News.

“I think that you’re going to see great fighters come out of the Kingdom. It will take time, but the infrastructure is there,” he added.

Spotted at the grand arrival was Saudi pro boxer Ziyad Almaayouf. He told Arab News that fights like 5 vs. 5 “inspire young fighters like me to take the risks, fight the best.”

The event will not only be significant within boxing history, but also for its effects on each fighter’s career.

Ahead of the grand arrival, Wilder told Arab News: “This is everything for me. This could be the be-all and end-all for me.”

The boxers are staging public workouts for fans on Wednesday, and will take part in a press conference on Thursday.

On Friday, the boxers will undergo official weigh-ins before the big event on Saturday evening.


Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league

Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league
Updated 29 May 2024
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Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league

Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league
  • The city will become the home of UAE league matches

DUBAI: Expo City Dubai has signed a partnership agreement with the NBXL, the world’s first US-Middle East-based independent professional basketball league.

The city will become the home of UAE league matches and give it naming rights to one of four teams representing Dubai in the inaugural 2025 season.

The signing was a preview to the main launch on Oct. 5, when Expo City Dubai will unveil its team name, logo, key players, merchandise, staff and schedule. The announcement will also reveal three other teams, with entertaining basketball activities and opportunities for fans to meet and greet players.

With NBXL teams featuring elite players from around the world, UAE league matches will be played at Expo City Dubai with additional league games planned in the US and Saudi Arabia.

No stranger to the UAE, the NXBL hosted two days of basketball activities during Expo 2020 Dubai. It also took part in the 2022, 2023 and 2024 Dubai Schools Games Basketball Championships — an initiative by Dubai Sports Council featuring more than 150 private and public schools.

The partnership reflects Expo City Dubai’s commitment to boost the health and well-being of the community by actively engaging the public in sports, fitness and wellness events.