2034 World Cup in Saudi Arabia marks sporting and cultural power shift to Asia

2034 World Cup in Saudi Arabia marks sporting and cultural power shift to Asia
A general view shows the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah ahead of the Supercoppa Italiana final between Juventus and AC Milan on January 16, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 07 November 2023
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2034 World Cup in Saudi Arabia marks sporting and cultural power shift to Asia

2034 World Cup in Saudi Arabia marks sporting and cultural power shift to Asia
  • The continent had to wait 72 years for its first tournament in Japan and South Korea, and a further 20 for its second in Qatar

For just the third time in the tournament’s existence, the FIFA World Cup is coming to Asia, with Saudi Arabia the only confirmed bidder for the 2034 tournament — marking what appears to be a shifting of international sporting and cultural power to the continent.

Asia had to wait 72 years for its first tournament, held in Japan and South Korea, and then a further 20 for its second. The region, and the Gulf in particular, will have to wait just 12 years for another tournament, after Qatar’s hosting of the event in 2022.

It is a sign of the growing power of Asia, and for Saudi Arabia, in the sphere of global football, it has come in an unexpected rush.

It was just 12 months ago that the Green Falcons, then a relatively unknown quantity on the global stage, were preparing for the most daunting of tasks by taking on Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the opening game.

As the Lusail Stadium’s golden facade shimmered on a typically warm and sunny Doha afternoon, the 80,000 fans inside the arena — evenly split between Argentinean and Saudi Arabian fans — created an atmosphere that had to be experienced to be believed.

The stadium’s foundations were truly tested as first Saleh Al-Shehri, and then Salem Al-Dawsari, produced a stunning one-two punch early in the second half to turn a 0-1 halftime deficit into a 2-1 lead — which they would not relinquish.

Saudi Arabia football was the talk of the world. Back then, even after the euphoric high of that historic victory, few would have believed the transformation that was still coming.

Herve Renard’s side not only opened the eyes of the world to the talent within the Kingdom, but also to the passion for football among Saudi Arabia’s 30-million-plus population, as convoys of fans came across the border to support their team.

The experience of that day will pale in comparison to that of hosting the tournament, and to that end the world is in for a remarkable experience when 2034 rolls around.

It will mean a great deal to Saudi Arabia and the region. It is also a momentous time for Arab football because Morocco co-hosts in 2030.

For all the doomsday predictions ahead of Qatar about a lack of football history and culture — untrue also of Saudi Arabia — those who were fortunate enough to spend time in Doha will talk of a unique and thoroughly enjoyable World Cup experience.

If the World Cup is about showcasing different and unique cultures, then Qatar 2022 certainly did that beautifully. This was a World Cup in the Arab world, by the Arab world.

Walking through Souq Waqif, or along the corniche with the glittering Doha skyline as the backdrop, everywhere you went were flags from all over the Arab world, with fans mingling and celebrating.

It broke down barriers and challenged perceptions. That will again be the case on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam come 2034.

In fact, 2034 promises to be even bigger and better than Qatar, because by that stage the tournament will have expanded to 48 teams.

Whereas in Qatar nations including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and the UAE were all absent, with the extra slots available, all four nations would fancy their chances of qualifying.

For fans from the rest of Asia, they will get their first chance to have a glimpse of what a World Cup in the Kingdom will be like when Saudi Arabia hosts the 2027 AFC Asian Cup. Remarkably, for a nation that has had such success in the tournament — winning it three times — this will be their first time as hosts.

As Asia emerges from the ravages of COVID-19, there is an enormous opportunity to turbocharge the development of football within the region over the next decade.

As Saudi Arabia looks to play a more leading role in football affairs, both globally and within Asia, there is an opportunity for the continent to benefit from the huge investment that will be forthcoming — much like a rising tide lifts all boats.


Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title

Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title
Updated 14 sec ago
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Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title

Investigation into Red Bull boss overshadows new F1 season as Verstappen aims for fourth title
  • The team’s parent company is facing calls from senior F1 figures such as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and McLaren counterpart Zak Brown for the investigation — conducted by an external lawyer — to be handled transparently
  • On the track, Red Bull again seems to be the team to beat after a season in which Verstappen and Perez won all but one race

MANAMA: A still-unresolved investigation into the boss of Formula 1’s champion team is overshadowing the start of the new season this week at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

It’s been three weeks since Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was confirmed to be under investigation over alleged misconduct toward a team employee. No timeline has been given for a decision on his future.

The team’s parent company is facing calls from senior F1 figures such as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and McLaren counterpart Zak Brown for the investigation — conducted by an external lawyer — to be handled transparently.

In a letter to the team, Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley insisted on a resolution and said Ford was “frustrated by the lack of full transparency surrounding this matter.” Ford is set to become Red Bull’s engine supplier in 2026.

The Red Bull drinks company said on Feb. 5 it was investigating Horner but didn’t give any details. Horner denies any wrongdoing and has not been suspended from his role. He has continued to be the face of the F1 team, declaring “business as normal.”

Horner has led Red Bull since its 2005 debut in F1, and had a prominent role at the team’s car launch — far more visible than three-time defending champion driver Max Verstappen or his teammate Sergio Perez. Horner was on site for three days of preseason testing in Bahrain last week.

“For everyone, it’s nice, of course, when things are resolved,” Verstappen said Friday at testing.

On the track, Red Bull again seems to be the team to beat after a season in which Verstappen and Perez won all but one race. Verstappen finished with a record 19 wins. While most teams seem to have used the 2023 Red Bull as inspiration for their new cars, Red Bull has evolved, using a slim sidepod design that Mercedes previously tried with little success.

Red Bull was strong throughout the three days of testing, though Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc posted the fastest times on the second and third days. Times set in testing are generally considered a poor guide for racing.

HAMILTON’S SWITCH

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton is going into his last season with Mercedes ahead of joining Ferrari next year.

For the 39-year-old Hamilton, there’s the hope that Ferrari allow him to fight for an eighth title after Mercedes was uncompetitive in the last two years. It’s also making a childhood dream come true. At testing in Bahrain, Hamilton reminisced about driving Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in a video game as a child.

“We’ve had an absolutely incredible journey together, we’ve created history within the sport, and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved,” Hamilton said of his time with Mercedes. “I’m writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”

The sudden announcement shook up F1 and leaves some leading drivers unsure of their places for next year. Sainz was expecting a contract extension at Ferrari but is making way for Hamilton to partner Leclerc.

The open seat at Mercedes has fueled speculation about drivers ranging from 41-year-old two-time champion Fernando Alonso, still at Aston Martin, to the 17-year-old Mercedes junior driver Kimi Antonelli, who is making his Formula 2 debut this week.

ANDRETTI’S FIGHT

Michael Andretti and General Motors are still developing a car for F1 but they don’t have a spot on the grid yet.

The governing body, the FIA, has approved Andretti’s application to become the 11th team but F1 rejected the proposed US team for 2025 and 2026, arguing it would not be competitive — something Andretti and GM dispute.

In GM and its Cadillac brand, Andretti has the backing of one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers, and GM has applied to be an F1 engine supplier from 2028. “Our joint teams are continuing to develop our car at pace,” GM Racing director Jim Campbell said this month.

The series’ existing American team, Haas, looks to be headed for a difficult season, its first since Guenther Steiner — a star of the “Drive To Survive” series on Netflix — was dropped as team principal last month. Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg were consistently among the slowest over the three days of testing.

SATURDAY START

Don’t tune in on a Sunday to watch the race. The Bahrain GP and the following week’s race in Saudi Arabia are being held on Saturday, with qualifying on Friday.

That’s because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts on March 10, the Sunday of the race week in Saudi Arabia, and that race was moved forward a day. F1 rules stipulate there has to be a week between races, so the Bahrain Grand Prix had to move up, too.

Last year’s race in Las Vegas set a precedent when it was held on a Saturday to maximize the audience in the US and around the world. That was the first F1 race held on a day other than Sunday since 1985.


Klopp’s last dance has one trophy and the Liverpool manager is targeting more

Klopp’s last dance has one trophy and the Liverpool manager is targeting more
Updated 3 min 8 sec ago
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Klopp’s last dance has one trophy and the Liverpool manager is targeting more

Klopp’s last dance has one trophy and the Liverpool manager is targeting more
  • References to Klopp’s last dance have started to trend on social media, likening his Liverpool farewell to Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998, when they won the NBA championship
  • The League Cup was his eighth trophy, among them a full set of major trophies including the Premier League and Champions League

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp’s last dance at Liverpool is off to the perfect start.

Klopp steps down as manager at the end of the season but he and Liverpool have locked up the first trophy of a possible four.

After a heavily depleted team defied the odds to win the English League Cup final by beating Chelsea 1-0 in extra time, Klopp is determined to win more silverware and the players are determined to help him.

“We just want to give our all for him. We always did,” defender Joe Gomez said. “But now when the finishing line is in sight it adds that extra emphasis. It’s special and hopefully it’s the first (trophy) of a few we can get.”

References to Klopp’s last dance have started to trend on social media, likening his Liverpool farewell to Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1998, when they won the NBA championship. The season was documented in the Netflix series, “The Last Dance.”

Since Klopp was hired in 2015, he has transformed a sleeping giant into a force again. The League Cup was his eighth trophy, among them a full set of major trophies including the Premier League and Champions League.

And Liverpool might not be finished. They lead the Premier League, and are still in the FA Cup and Europa League.

“I couldn’t care less about my legacy. I’m not here to create one,” Klopp said on Sunday. “As a manager of a football club, you are there to do the job actually.”

But the League Cup final showed Klopp will leave the club in good shape. Seven of his players on the day were aged 21 or under. When Virgil van Dijk headed in the winner in the 118th minute, he had three academy players beside him.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but we are in every competition and we are going to try to win every game,” Gomez said. “That’s the target and we will go again.”

Beside the players, Liverpool fans are savoring their final moments with Klopp.

Supporters carried flags and banners with messages of thanks to their outgoing manager as they made the short walk from Wembley Park subway station to Wembley Stadium. Singing loudly, it was a party atmosphere long before kickoff and they are hoping for one long party before finally saying goodbye.

“It has been a bit sad for everyone, but I think everyone now thinks we’re going to push on and do even better than we would have done (this season),” Liverpool fan Nick Knight told The Associated Press.

His father, Andrew, added: “I think he means everything (to Liverpool). Within a few weeks or months of him arriving it was obvious they were a perfect fit and the type of football he played — high energy, playing to the final whistle — it was everything as a Liverpool fan you wanted to see.”

The fans showed their appreciation long after the final whistle as they serenaded Klopp and his players on the field.

“It’s not a problem if the manager leaves or whatever, (but) if these people would leave — our supporters — that would be a problem,” Klopp said. “But as long as they are the way they are, Liverpool Football Club will be fine and that’s the most important thing.”


West Ham’s winless run in EPL finishes. Non-league Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale ends

West Ham’s winless run in EPL finishes. Non-league Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale ends
Updated 27 February 2024
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West Ham’s winless run in EPL finishes. Non-league Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale ends

West Ham’s winless run in EPL finishes. Non-league Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale ends

LONDON: Jarrod Bowen scored his first English Premier League hat trick for West Ham as they beat Brentford 4-2 and eased pressure on coach David Moyes on Monday.
The Hammers’ first win in 2024 ended an eight-game winless run in all competitions.
West Ham jumped from 10th to eighth in the league, behind Brighton only on goal difference.
Brentford was 16th, five points above the relegation zone.
Bowen was already West Ham’s top goal-scorer but he hadn’t scored in the league since before Christmas, and he broke that drought in spectacular fashion.
His first goal was a potent left-foot strike that gave the goalkeeper no chance, and the second capped a counter-attack when he side-footed home a cross from Vladimír Coufal.
Neal Maupay got one back soon after for Brentford but Bowden grabbed his and West Ham’s third after 63 minutes when he headed home a cross from Mohammed Kudus.
Full-back Emerson Palmieri made it 4-1 six minutes later with a spectacular long-range shot.
Yoane Wissa got a second for Brentford with eight minutes remaining.

Maidstone’s FA Cup run ends
A first-half hat trick from Coventry’s Ellis Simms helped to end Maidstone’s FA Cup fairy tale 5-0.
Maidstone was the first sixth-tier team to appear in the fifth round since 1978.
But second-tier Coventry was too strong from the off, with Kasey Palmer pulling the strings in midfield.

Maidstone United pose for a team group photo after the match. (Reuters)


His passes helped Simms to his first hat trick for the club. Tavares Desidério got two more in the dying seconds to complete the rout.
The rest of the fifth-round ties will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday.


Babar, Arif star as Peshawar beat Islamabad in last-over PSL thriller

Babar, Arif star as Peshawar beat Islamabad in last-over PSL thriller
Updated 27 February 2024
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Babar, Arif star as Peshawar beat Islamabad in last-over PSL thriller

Babar, Arif star as Peshawar beat Islamabad in last-over PSL thriller
  • Babar Azam scored an unbeaten 111 runs from 63 deliveries to help Peshawar set a 202-run target
  • Arif Yaqoob claimed five wickets for just 27 runs as Peshawar restricted Islamabad to 193 for nine

ISLAMABAD: Babar Azam hit a blistering century and Arif Yaqoob registered a five-wicket haul as Peshawar Zalmi defeated Islamabad United in their exciting match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 9th edition at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Monday.

Islamabad won the toss and sent Peshawar in to bat. Babar orchestrated a relentless assault on Islamabad and scored an unbeaten 111 runs from 63 deliveries, laying the foundation of his side's win.

Saim Ayub and Paul Walter respectively added 38 and 19 runs to help Peshawar set a 202-run target for Islamabad. In response, Islamabad could reach 193 runs in 20 overs.

"Comeback for the ages," PSL wrote on its official account on X. "Islamabad United lose 6 wickets for just 10 runs as Peshawar Zalmi clinch a last-over thriller."

For Islamabad, Shadab Khan returned 2/28 figures, while Salman Ali Agha and Naseem Shah took one wicket each.

In the second innings, Azam Khan hit 75 runs from 30 balls as Islamabad attempted to chase the mammoth 202-run target.

Colin Munro partnered with Khan and added 71 runs from 53 deliveries, but Islamabad faltered towards the end, losing six wickets in quick succession.

Yaqoob claimed five wickets for just 27 runs, while Ayub and Luke Wood dismissed one each to guide Peshawar to an eight-run win in the last over.

This was Peshawar's third consecutive win in their five matches, while Islamabad have won only one of their four games this season.


Anthony Kim to make pro golf return at LIV Jeddah

Anthony Kim to make pro golf return at LIV Jeddah
Updated 27 February 2024
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Anthony Kim to make pro golf return at LIV Jeddah

Anthony Kim to make pro golf return at LIV Jeddah
  • Greg Norman: ‘It is an honor... to give the opportunity for this star to be reborn’
  • Anthony Kim made a record 11 birdies in his second round at Augusta in 2009

PARIS: Three-time PGA Tour winner Anthony Kim will make his first professional golf appearance since 2012 at this weekend’s LIV Golf event in Jeddah, the Saudi-backed circuit announced on Monday.
Kim suffered a series of injuries and has not played a tour event since undergoing surgery on his left Achilles tendon, but has been working for months on a return to competition and had spoken with PGA Tour and LIV Golf officials.
“He oozes incredible talent,” tweeted former world number one and LIV commissioner Greg Norman.
“The world has seen it in the past and now it is an honor... to give the opportunity for this star to be reborn.
“Welcome back and to the LIV Golf family mate. The golf world has missed you.”
American Kim finished third at the 2010 Masters and made a record 11 birdies in his second round at Augusta in 2009.
On the PGA Tour, he won the National and Wachovia Championship in 2008 and the 2010 Houston Open and was ranked as high as sixth in the world in 2008.
Kim also played on triumphant United States teams at the 2008 Ryder Cup and 2009 Presidents Cup.