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.”


Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad
Updated 48 min ago
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Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad
  • After a scare when they fell behind to Sepahan of Iran, Al-Hilal rallied to win the game 3-1 and go through 6-2 on aggregate
  • With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition

Al-Hilal defeated Sepahan of Iran 6-2 on aggregate on Thursday to book a mouth-watering Asian Champions League quarter-final tie against Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad.

After winning the first leg 3-1 away from home last week, the four-time winners of the competition survived a scare in the second leg before comfortably clinching victory by the same scoreline.

This was a bit harsh on the visitors, who played their part in an entertaining and open clash during which both sides created plenty of chances. In the end, however, as Neymar watched from the stands, the Saudis progressed comfortably, helped along the way when Sepahan were reduced to 10 men while ahead in the second half.

Salem Al-Dawsari, making his 400th appearance for the club, got the equalizer in the 76th minute, after Farshad Ahmadzadeh put the visitors in front nine minutes after the break. With just seven minutes left on the clock, Ruben Neves came up with a spectacular strike that gave Al-Hilal the lead, and there was still time for Aleksandar Mitrovic to add a third.

In the end, it was a more comfortable result for Al-Hilal than looked likely in the 54th minute, when Ali Aarabi swung over a cross from the left and Ramin Rezaeian headed the ball back across the face of goal for Ahmadzadeh to bundle home from close range.

The sparked plenty of nerves among the home fans in the Kingdom Arena but they were able to breathe a little easier when, with 19 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to 10 men. Siavash Yazadni brought down Malcom as the Brazilian was running through on goal and, after a check with the video assistant referee, he was shown a straight red card.

Al-Hilal quickly took advantage of the one-man advantage when, five minutes later, Ali Al-Bulaihi found Al-Dawsari outside the area and the winger turned to beat two defenders, then stroked the ball home. At that point, the home fans could rest easy in the knowledge that their team were as good as through to the last eight.

It was a fine goal by Al-Dawsari but just six minutes later, Neves pulled something even more special out of the hat. The ball fell to the Portuguese star outside the area, he chested it down and volleyed home a curling shot that flew into the top corner.

In the final moments of added time, Mitrovic scored a goal that might not live as long in the memory but showed his killer instinct as he swept home a smart pass from Malcom to make it 3-1.

With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition. The showdown between Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal is the quarter-final tie that many fans, inside and outside the country, will be most looking forward to. The first leg is scheduled for March 5.


Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal
Updated 22 February 2024
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Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal
  • The Jeddah giants leave it late but progress after a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan

Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad squeezed into the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Thursday thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan, following a goalless draw in the first leg last week.

The Jeddah giants recovered from a Karim Bemzema own goal midway through the first half to take control of the game, level the score and eventually go through thanks to a late Navbahor own goal. It was no less than the Saudis deserved as they made most of the running and created the bulk of the chances.

Fabinho had the earliest opportunity to open the scoring but the former Liverpool midfielder fired just over the bar from outside the box.

The opening goal came from a familiar source but not in the way fans expected. The home crowd was silenced in the 25th minute when Jamshid Iskanderov floated over a free-kick from the right, and former Real Madrid star Benzema met it on the edge of the six-yard box to send a powerful header into his own net past a startled Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The goal came out of nothing, against the run of play, but Al-Ittihad quickly regrouped, refocused their efforts and continued to dominate the game.

Benzema redeemed himself on the stroke of half-time, nodding down a corner to the near post where Abderrazak Hamdallah was waiting to sweep the ball home from close range.

The second half unfolded in much the same fashion, with Al-Ittihad enjoying most of the possession and creating more of the chances. Midway through the period, however, they were reminded of Navbahor’s goal threat when Filip Ivankovic fired just wide from the right side of the area.

With 15 minutes remaining, Benzema had the ball in the net, the correct one this time, when he fired home after some good work from Ahmed Hegazy. After a lengthy intervention, however, the video assistant referee ruled it out.

This only delayed the celebrations of the home fans, though, as three minutes from time the Tigers took a decisive lead, thanks to another own goal.

Substitute Saleh Al-Amri’s corner from the right failed to clear the first man but, in swinging a boot, Toma Tabatadze sliced his attempted clearance and the ball looped over the keeper into the far corner of the net.

Navbahor did their utmost to get back on level terms but time was against them and it was not to be. As a result, Al-Ittihad, back-to-back winners of the competition in 2004 and 2005, remain in the hunt for a third continental crown.


Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait

Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait
Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait

Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait
  • The 50-over competition serves as a preliminary qualifier for the World Cup
  • The Greens went into the opening Group B match full of confidence, having recently won the 20-over ACC Challenger Cup in Thailand

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s cricketers beat Gulf rivals Kuwait on Thursday in the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League play-off in Kuala Lumpur.
The 50-over competition serves as a preliminary qualifier for the World Cup, which is to be held in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2027.
The Greens went into the opening Group B match full of confidence, having recently won the 20-over ACC Challenger Cup in Thailand as well as a quadrangular T20 series in Bangkok against the hosts, Maldives and Bhutan.

Saudi Arabia posted a solid total of 231 all over off the back of valuable contributions from Kashif Siddique, who scored 71 runs, star batter Abdul Waheed (40) and captain Hisham Shaikh (40).
Mohamed Shafeeq was best with the ball for Kuwait, finishing his innings with three wickets for 37 runs from his six overs.
In response, Kuwait’s batting line-up had little to offer in the face of efficient bowling from the Saudi attack.
Kuwaiti captain Mohammad Aslam showed some mettle and grit by batting for a 57-run half-century from 84 balls, but he was the only one to offer any resistance as Kuwait were bowled out for just 134 runs, some 97 runs short of the Saudi total.
Usman Najeeb was the pick of the Saudi bowlers as he picked up three wickets and conceded only 23 runs, while Ishtiaq Ahmad and skipper Shaikh claimed two wickets apiece.
In their next Group B encounter, Saudi Arabia face an Italian side riding high after beating one-time World Cup participants Bermuda by a commanding 157 runs.


Milan and Benfica book spots in Europa League last 16

Milan and Benfica book spots in Europa League last 16
Updated 22 February 2024
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Milan and Benfica book spots in Europa League last 16

Milan and Benfica book spots in Europa League last 16
  • Benjamin Bourigeaud scored a hat-trick for Rennes, including a pair of penalties
  • Benfica also saw off French opposition as a 0-0 draw away to Toulouse

PARIS: AC Milan overcame a spirited Rennes 5-3 on aggregate despite a 3-2 loss in Thursday’s second leg to reach the Europa League last 16, where they will be joined by fellow former European champions Benfica.
Benjamin Bourigeaud scored a hat-trick for Rennes, including a pair of penalties, but goals from Luka Jovic and Rafael Leao ensured Milan were never really in danger of blowing a 3-0 lead from the first leg.
Benfica also saw off French opposition as a 0-0 draw away to Toulouse was enough to send the Portuguese side through following their 2-1 victory in last week’s first leg in Lisbon.
Marseille host Shakhtar Donetsk later in Jean-Louis Gasset’s first match at the helm following the exit of Gennaro Gattuso. The tie is level at 2-2 after the opening match in Hamburg.
Last season’s runners-up Roma take on Feyenoord in the Italian capital after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
Sporting Lisbon are 3-1 up on Swiss champions Young Boys going into the return fixture, while Galatasaray have a 3-2 edge over Sparta Prague.
The draw for the last 16 will be made at UEFA headquarters in Nyon on Friday.


Kompany driven by family history as Burnley battle drop

Kompany driven by family history as Burnley battle drop
Updated 22 February 2024
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Kompany driven by family history as Burnley battle drop

Kompany driven by family history as Burnley battle drop
  • The Clarets are on course for relegation after a 5-0 hammering at home to Arsenal left them in 19th place
  • Offering an emotional account of his inner drive, Kompany said on Thursday: “It’s a deep answer, it’s about where you come from”

LONDON: Burnley boss Vincent Kompany has revealed his father’s experiences as a political refugee give him the drive and determination to lead the club’s fight for Premier League survival.
The Clarets are on course for relegation after a 5-0 hammering at home to Arsenal left them in 19th place with just three wins this season, but Kompany’s resolve has roots far beyond the football pitch.
Explaining his hunger to succeed, the former Manchester City captain cited his father Pierre, who fled what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo for Belgium as a dissident in 1975 having protested against the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.
He put his son on the path to a glittering sporting career and later became Belgium’s first black mayor.
Offering an emotional account of his inner drive, Kompany said on Thursday: “It’s a deep answer, it’s about where you come from.
“Where I come from is my dad, who was a political refugee. He had to flee a country not just at war, but as a dictatorship where he was getting whipped in his twenties because he was against the regime over there.
“It’s fleeing from one part of the country to the other, it’s losing family members, it’s everything you’ve experienced. It’s where I come from.
“You say where does the drive and desire come from? I have so many reasons to have that fire in me every single day. So many reasons why I can’t ever do less.
“It’s bigger than one result, or a bad month, or anything like that.”
Kompany, whose side face fellow strugglers Crystal Palace on Saturday, also pushed back against the notion that this season’s struggles were a new experience for someone more accustomed to lifting silverware than fighting the drop.
“That’s the bulk of the known experiences, yeah. But a gambler never tells you about his losses, right?” he said.
“That (a serial winner) is what you see, but my experiences feel different. I do feel I’ve had to overcome and do a lot to get where I was.”