Albon, Sargeant confident of strong finish to season for Williams in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Alex Albon (L) and his teammate Logan Sargeant (R) are keen to end a Williams losing streak in Abu Dhabi and hold off AlphaTauri. (Supplied)
Alex Albon (L) and his teammate Logan Sargeant (R) are keen to end a Williams losing streak in Abu Dhabi and hold off AlphaTauri. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 November 2023
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Albon, Sargeant confident of strong finish to season for Williams in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Albon, Sargeant confident of strong finish to season for Williams in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
  • Alex Albon (L) and his teammate Logan Sargeant (R) are keen to end a Williams losing streak in Abu Dhabi and hold off AlphaTauri

ABU DHABI: Alex Albon is well aware that Yas Marina Circuit has not been a happy hunting ground for Williams, but the Thai-British driver is hoping his team can finish the season on a high and secure seventh place in the constructors’ championship this weekend.

A Williams car has not scored points in Abu Dhabi since Felipe Massa finished 10th in 2017, but Albon and his teammate Logan Sargeant are keen to end that streak and hold off AlphaTauri, who are seven points behind in the standings.

Seventh would be Williams’ highest finish in the championship since 2017 — when they placed fifth — and Albon, who has scored points on seven occasions this season, believes his team have been “one of the surprises” of 2023.

“I think I can speak for Logan and the whole team, we’re all burnt out massively. We’ve obviously just come from Vegas, but we’ve had a great season,” Albon said at a Q&A session organized by team sponsors Jumeirah ahead of the race weekend.

“For Williams, historically, we’ve had a few years now where we haven’t been where we want to be. We’ve been more towards the back of the field. But this season we’ve had some great results, we’ve been able to get some top 10s. I think we’ve been one of the surprises of the year, which has been a lot of fun.”

Albon’s best performances of the campaign were seventh-place finishes in Canada and Monza, while F1 rookie Sargeant became the first American driver to score a point since Michael Andretti in 1993, thanks to his 10th place showing in Austin.

“It’s been a great morale boost for everyone back in the UK, back where the team is. We’re on the up, we’re fully focused there into next year, but I think, at least from what I’ve seen, from speaking to people in the team, it’s been maybe the strongest (season) they’ve had in six or seven years. Things are going really well,” said Albon.

Sargeant is the only driver on the grid yet to secure a seat for next year but the 22-year-old does not sound too worried about his chances. He had the best qualifying result of his career last weekend in Las Vegas, and started the race in sixth place.

“We need to try and have a good weekend and beat AlphaTauri, which is the last goal of the season. I believe we both want to end out pretty strong, so hopefully we have a good weekend,” said Sargeant.

“Realistically, it’s not going to be the best track for us, however we have also thought that in the past and we’ve gone okay.

“We’re always optimistic that it’ll play in our favor, but it’s one of those things where you’re never completely sure until you put the car on the ground. Some weekends when you don’t expect it to be good it surprises you, and some weekends you expect it to be better and it’s not really there. You have to play it by ear and take it as it comes.”


Jeddah set to host its first-ever World Table Tennis Championship

Jeddah set to host its first-ever World Table Tennis Championship
Updated 22 April 2024
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Jeddah set to host its first-ever World Table Tennis Championship

Jeddah set to host its first-ever World Table Tennis Championship
  • Saudi Smash will take place May 1-11 and will see international and Saudi players compete for total prize money of $2m

JEDDAH: Saudi Smash, Jeddah’s first-ever World Table Tennis Championship, is set to take place from May 1-11 at the King Abdullah Sports City.

The event will see elite players from around the world and the Kingdom take part in singles and doubles competitions for men and women, as well as mixed doubles.

Confirmed for the tournament are men’s world No. 1 Wang Chuqin and women’s No. 1 Sun Yingsha, as well as Felix Lebrun, Hugo Calderno, Hina Hayata, Lin Yun-Ju and Tomakazi Harimoto.

A 64-player singles qualifying round will determine the eight players who advance to the respective singles main draw competitions.

With a prize pool of $2 million, this championship boasts the highest rewards ever offered in any officially sanctioned table tennis event. The men’s and women’s singles champions will each pocket $65,000 and get 2,000 International Table Tennis Federation world rankings points.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi minister of sport and president of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said: “By introducing Saudi Smash, we add a further new international event to our growing list of major championships that we are honored to host in Saudi Arabia.”

Dr. Abdullah Hashim Al-Bar, president of the Saudi Table Tennis Federation, commented on hosting Saudi Smash for the first time, saying: “The Saudi Table Tennis Federation is proud to announce that Jeddah has been chosen as the host city for the inaugural Saudi Smash.

“This is a ground-breaking event that promises to elevate the sport to new heights in the Kingdom and inspire future generations of Saudi table tennis players. We are excited to be partnering with WTT to deliver one of their marquee events and look forward to showcasing Jeddah and Saudi Arabia to the world.”

Steve Dainton, WTT CEO, said: “We are thrilled to host the first-ever Saudi Smash in Jeddah.

“Grand Smashes are WTT’s most prestigious events and (this one) represents a significant milestone for table tennis in Saudi Arabia,” he added. “We are excited to showcase the talent and excitement of our stars, and Jeddah’s dynamic energy and passion for sports make it an ideal host city.”


Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’

Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’
Updated 16 min 23 sec ago
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Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’

Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’
  • Al-Shabab midfielder would waste no time in promoting the Kingdom to his former Croatia teammate if he decides to leave Real Madrid

LONDON: Ivan Rakitic hopes his strong brotherly bond with his former Croatia team-mate Luka Modric can persuade the timeless maestro to join him at Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League.

Modric may be 38 but Rakitic said that his enduring class was something his fellow Real Madrid midfielder, the free-scoring tyro Jude Bellingham, could learn from.

Modric’s Real Madrid contract expires in the summer, and rumors of a move to Saudi Arabia have been swirling. Rakitic, eager to reunite with his former teammate, would be delighted to help facilitate it.

“If you come to Saudi but don’t come to Al-Shabab, you’re going to have some problems with me,” Rakitic told Arab News with a laugh when asked what he would tell Modric, whom he has said “is like a brother to me.”

Rakitic suffered an injury inlets month’s 4-3 home defeat to Al-Hilal and was absent from Al-Shabab’s 5-0 win over Abha on Thursday, a result that sees them sit ninth in the Saudi Pro League table.

The 36-year-old joined the Riyadh club from La Liga side Sevilla in January and told Arab News over Zoom that he would be thrilled to share a pitch again with Modric, with whom he played for Croatia for 12 years until his international retirement in 2019.

The pair’s midfield majesty helped to propel Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final, which they lost 4-2 to France.

“If he decides to move, it would be amazing. I would call him directly after two minutes to try to do everything for Al-Shabab, for Saudi, to bring him to the Saudi Pro League, or give him all the information that maybe he needs.

“If he decides to stay in Madrid for one more year, I think enjoying Luka at the highest level would also be amazing.”

A renowned playmaker after trophy-laden spells at Barcelona and Sevilla, Rakitic is well-placed to assess the merits of other leading midfielders.

Of the credentials of England’s Bellingham, who, at only 20, has enjoyed a marvelous debut season with Real Madrid and scored a stoppage time winner in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Barcelona, Rakitic said: “Of course, (there are many talented young players) and Jude is one of the first we look for but I like the old generation. I like Luka, (Kevin) De Bruyne, Bernardo. I have (so much) respect for Real Madrid because they were able to understand they had to do this change of generation step by step by giving the opportunity to big talents like Bellingham, (Federico) Valverde, (Eduardo) Camavinga. But there are still many things to learn from Luka and Toni (Kroos).”

Bellingham, Camavinga, Modric and Kroos are all set to appear at Euro 2024 in the summer and Rakitic expects “a really special” tournament. He said there would be “surprises for sure” and cited hosts Germany, France, and Portugal as his top contenders.

Rakitic also believes Croatia and the evergreen Modric can have “a big tournament” — despite being in a tough group with Spain and Italy.

He is similarly enthusiastic about Saudi Arabia hosting the 2034 World Cup.

“I think it will be the best World Cup because if the Saudis are at the top in something it is in organization and motivation,” he said.

An interview with Rakitic would not be complete without mentioning the iconic triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez with whom Rakitic enjoyed halcyon days at Barcelona.

“Why not? I think we can do many, many, many important things together,” Rakitic said when Arab News mooted the dream scenario of him and the legendary trio joining forces in Saudi Arabia.

Messi may have rejected Al-Hilal’s $399 million-a-year deal last summer in favor of joining Inter Miami in the US but remains the Kingdom’s tourism ambassador.

Xavi has vowed to quit as Barcelona manager in the summer and has significant experience in the Middle East, having played for and managed Al-Sadd in Qatar between 2015 and 2021.

Iniesta is already in the region after joining Emirates Club in the UAE on a one-year deal in August.

“I think the season we did together, 2014-2015, I think (we were) the best team in the history of football,” Rakitic said.

Barcelona won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League, becoming the first European team to secure the treble twice — a feat Bayern Munich emulated in 2020.

“(We achieved) the perfect Champions League that season (beating) the French champions (Paris Saint-Germain), the English champions (Manchester City), the German champions (Bayern Munich) and the Italian champions (Juventus). It was the best season possible.”

Messi reportedly asked the Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham to persuade Rakitic to join his club last year.

But Rakitic said he “never spoke” to the former England, Real Madrid and Manchester United star.

“Hopefully I can speak to him because I’m a big fan,” he said.

“I wear my (Adidas) Predators because I saw him taking his free-kicks with (those boots). If David would like to meet and even take some free-kicks together, it would be amazing.”


Indonesia eliminate Jordan, join Qatar in last 8 of AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Indonesia eliminate Jordan, join Qatar in last 8 of AFC U-23 Asian Cup
Updated 22 April 2024
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Indonesia eliminate Jordan, join Qatar in last 8 of AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Indonesia eliminate Jordan, join Qatar in last 8 of AFC U-23 Asian Cup
  • A 4-1 win secured second spot in Group A of the tournament which also provides a pathway to 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

DOHA: Indonesia on Sunday beat Jordan 4-1 at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha to reach the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

Indonesia has now secured second spot in Group A behind already-qualified hosts Qatar, who drew 0-0 against Australia on the same day at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan.

The tournament, which runs until May 3, provides a pathway to the men’s football competition at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Indonesia led 2-0 at half time thanks to Marcelino Ferdinan’s penalty on 23 minutes and Witan Sulaeman’s strike five minutes before the break.

Ferdinan made it 3-0 after 70 minutes before Jordan’s consolation nine minutes later came via an own goal from Justin Hubner.

Komang Teguh ensured there would be no late drama by making it 4-1 with four minutes of the 90 left.

In Monday’s action, a draw against Iraq will be enough for Saudi Arabia to secure top spot in Group C, while Thailand and Tajikistan meet at Al-Janoub Stadium in Wakrah.

After two rounds of matches, Saudi Arabia lead the group with a maximum of six points while Thailand are second with three points on goal difference from Iraq. All three can still qualify for the quarterfinals while bottom-of-the-table Tajikistan, with no points, have already been eliminated.

Monday will also see the conclusion of Group B. South Korea meet Japan, with both having already ensured progress; and the UAE and China clash in a dead rubber having amassed no points between them so far.

The tournament has 16 nations split into four groups, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. For the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, the winners of the two semifinals secure automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will compete for third place, with the winner also booking a place in Paris. The fourth-place finisher has a final chance with a playoff against an African qualifier.


Mixed martial artist Paul Hughes joins Professional Fighters League

Mixed martial artist Paul Hughes joins Professional Fighters League
Updated 22 April 2024
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Mixed martial artist Paul Hughes joins Professional Fighters League

Mixed martial artist Paul Hughes joins Professional Fighters League
  • The 27-year-old has inked an exclusive, multi-fight contract with Saudi Arabia-backed PFL

NEW YORK: The Saudi Arabia-backed Professional Fighters League has signed Ireland’s Paul Hughes (11-1) to an exclusive, multi-fight contract.

“I am absolutely ecstatic to sign with the PFL. The regular season format, in my eyes, is the ultimate form of MMA competition and is for the ultimate prize of one million dollars,” Hughes said, according to a press release issued Monday. “I’m ready to prove that I am the best lightweight on the planet.”

The PFL’s CEO Peter Murray said: “The Professional Fighters League is always going to be in the mix when it comes to the free-agency market and this was certainly the case with Paul Hughes, someone we have had our eye on for quite some time. I’m looking forward to seeing Paul continue his journey with PFL in big fights that continue to test his skills.”

Hughes, 27, a former Cage Warriors featherweight champion, is on a five-fight winning streak, with eight of his 11 victories coming via stoppage.


‘I have nothing to hide,’ says motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem

‘I have nothing to hide,’ says motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem
Updated 22 April 2024
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‘I have nothing to hide,’ says motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem

‘I have nothing to hide,’ says motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem
  • The UAE national, a former rally driver, was also cleared by the FIA ethics committee of influencing the results of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last year
  • The reasons why FIA president would have wanted to prevent the Las Vegas race from taking place have never been explained

SHANGHAI: Motorsport boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem says he has “nothing to hide” and “I play by the rules” after being cleared of accusations that he interfered with the organization of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.

The president of governing body the FIA had been accused of asking officials “to find some concerns to prevent the FIA from certifying the (Las Vegas) circuit” before it hosted a grand prix for the first time in 2023, according to an internal FIA report.

The UAE national, a former rally driver, was also cleared by the FIA ethics committee of influencing the results of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last year.

“I wish it was only an accusation, but I was already convicted in the court of public opinion,” Ben Sulayem told media including AFP at the Chinese Grand Prix at the weekend.

“I have nothing to hide.”

“I’m proud of the work I’ve accomplished,” added Ben Sulayem of his tenure since being elected FIA president in December 2021.

The reasons why the president of the FIA would have wanted to prevent the Las Vegas race from taking place have never been explained.

However, there have been claims of tensions over influence in the sport between the FIA and American group Liberty Media, who own the commercial rights to Formula One and organized the Las Vegas Grand Prix.

But Ben Sulayem said his relationship with Formula One Management (FOM) was “very good.”

“FOM is our partner,” said Ben Sulayem. “I don’t have any problems. I just want to continue doing business with them.”

As for the past allegations against him, Ben Sulayem was adamant that he played it by the book.

“I can stand tall and look you in the eyes and say I am a sportsman and I play by the rules,” he said.