Hamdallah double sends Al-Ittihad into last 16 of AFC Champions League

Special Hamdallah double sends Al-Ittihad into last 16 of AFC Champions League
Abderrazak Hamdallah scores his second in the 2-1 win at AGMK of Uzbekistan. (X: @ittihad_en)
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Updated 27 November 2023
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Hamdallah double sends Al-Ittihad into last 16 of AFC Champions League

Hamdallah double sends Al-Ittihad into last 16 of AFC Champions League
  • Moroccan’s double gives Marcelo Gallardo first win as head coach
  • Victory over Uzbekistan’s AGMK ensures progress from Group C

Two goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al-Ittihad a 2-1 win at AGMK of Uzbekistan on Monday, ensuring their passage to the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League.

Defeat in this continental competition ended up costing Nuno Santo his job as head coach a month ago, not long after the Portuguese boss had delivered the Tigers’ first Saudi league title in 14 years.

The same tournament has now given Marcelo Gallardo his first win as coach of the Jeddah giants after the Argentine tactician was appointed earlier this month.

It was not a classic performance by the visitors on what was a chilly evening in Uzbekistan but that was not a problem for their Moroccan marksman, who also scored in Friday’s 1-1 draw with Al-Ettifaq.

Two goals in the space of four first-half minutes were enough for the two-time continental titleholders to move onto 12 points from five games in Group C.

On the half hour, there seemed to be little danger when Fabinho had the ball around the center circle, but the former Liverpool midfielder then sent a long ball over the top of the Central Asian defense into the path of Hamdallah. He muscled Dilshod Akhmadaliev off the ball on the edge of the area and then fired home a fierce left-footed rocket that flew through the legs of the goalkeeper to give Al-Ittihad a valuable lead.

Four minutes later and the lead was doubled. Muhannad Al-Shantaqi had the ball on the right side of the area and his pass across the box was blocked, but there was Hamdallah to fire home his second. It was another poacher’s goal from the man who has won the golden boot in the 2020 AFC Champions League and twice in the SPL.

Soon after, Benzema drew a good save from Valijhon Rakhimov with a low shot from the right side of the area, but it was far from one-way traffic.

On the stroke of halftime, Khurshid Giyosov curled a ball just wide of Al-Ittihad’s left-hand post to remind the visitors there was still work to do in the second half.

Benzema did his utmost to extend the lead but his attempts either went wide or were blocked. Hamdallah also was not far away from his hat trick.

AGMK, making just their third appearance on this continental stage this season, tried hard to get back into the game but struggled to create any clear-cut chances. Then, with 12 minutes remaining, the deficit was halved.

On the left side of the area, Sanzhar Tursunov’s low drive across the goalkeeper ended up at the feet of Martin Boakye and the Italian striker could not miss from close range.

The goal meant nerves and tension for the fans that had made the journey to Central Asia and for those watching back in Jeddah.

AGMK, who had lost all four group games previously, where roared forward by their fans but they were unable to get back on level terms. In the end, Al-Ittihad took the points and a place in the knockout stage.


Medvedev makes winning return after Australian Open final loss

Medvedev makes winning return after Australian Open final loss
Updated 9 sec ago
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Medvedev makes winning return after Australian Open final loss

Medvedev makes winning return after Australian Open final loss
DUBAI: Daniil Medvedev returned to action for the first time since his Australian final defeat on Tuesday with a straight sets win over Alexander Shevchenko in Dubai.
The world number four got his title defense at the hardcourt ATP 500 event up and running, overcoming Shevchenko 6-3, 7-5.
The Russian shrugged off his month-long absence, breaking his Kazakh opponent in three consecutive return games in the first set before reeling off four games in a row from 3-5 in the second set to complete an 88-minute triumph.
He will meet either Lorenzo Sonego or wild card Sumit Nagal in the next round.
In January, Medvedev reached his second Australian Open final. He lost to Rafael Nadal in the Melbourne decider two years ago, and this time had to settle for second best in the season’s opening Grand Slam to Jannik Sinner.
He was forced to skip his title defense in Doha last week because he was dealing with a number of physical issues — with his foot, adductor, and shoulder — but said on the eve of Tuesday’s return he was ready to get back on court after spending the last seven days training in Dubai.
The 28-year-old has added French former world number six Gilles Simon to his team, to collaborate with his long-time coach Gilles Cervara.

Arab martial arts pioneer Osamah Almarwai chasing another title shot at ONE 166 in Qatar

Arab martial arts pioneer Osamah Almarwai chasing another title shot at ONE 166 in Qatar
Updated 27 February 2024
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Arab martial arts pioneer Osamah Almarwai chasing another title shot at ONE 166 in Qatar

Arab martial arts pioneer Osamah Almarwai chasing another title shot at ONE 166 in Qatar
  • A world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the 31-year-old is setting an example for other Arab fighters at the highest level of grappling
  • Almarwai trains at the famed ATOS Jiu-Jitsu academy alongside ONE Championship champions Kade and Tye Ruotolo

Osamah Almarwai was born and raised in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents and will compete in the Middle East for the first time since becoming a black belt when he takes on Cleber Sousa at ONE 166 on March 1 in Qatar.

“Osa” was the first athlete from the region to become an IBJJF world champion and is immensely proud to be blazing a trail for Arabic fighters at the highest level of grappling.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu star moved to the US to study English when he was a teenager and is intent on achieving his dream of a ONE World Title and inspiring the next crop of youngsters to follow his path.

“It’s an honor for me to represent our region, make history and inspire future generations,” Almarwai told Arab News.

The 31-year-old trains at the famed ATOS Jiu-Jitsu academy alongside ONE Championship champions Kade and Tye Ruotolo, and under grappling legend Andre Galvao.

“Before ATOS, I was training in small academies, so I hope this can inspire a lot of young people that it can happen, you know, no matter where you train, as long as you put the work in,” Almarwai said, reflecting on his journey so far.

“A lot of fans message me videos of their kids doing jiu-jitsu, and I didn’t know that I had influence on people in the region, you know, so it’s a very big honor for me, and I hope I can keep inspiring them. Now that I’m on ONE Championship in the first event in the Middle East in Qatar, I cannot tell you how much that means to me,” he added.

Having garnered global attention from his world title win, Almarwai was called out by ONE Flyweight Submission Grappling World Champion Mikey Musumeci. “Darth Rigatoni” provided a baptism of fire for the ATOS star’s promotional debut and won via rear-naked choke submission at ONE Fight Night 10 last year.

In Sousa, Almarwai faces another formidable opponent but an opportunity to get back on the path to ONE Championship gold.

“I love it, man. I called him out a while ago, and now it’s happening. He’s a tough opponent, very explosive, and I’m very excited for this matchup. The fans should expect a very exciting match and hopefully the sub for me,” said the Jeddah-born fighter.

“Clandestino” will also be making his sophomore appearance for the organization and is also coming off of a loss to Musumeci on his debut.

“I believe I have better technique than him,” said Almarwai.

“He’s more explosive, probably, but in terms of strategy and so on, I feel I’m better than him at that aspect, but both of us will be pushing the pace, you know? If you can, if we see our matches, we’re always like pushing the pace and both of us are always going for submissions,” he added.

With this being ONE Championship’s first show in the Middle East, the card represents part of a massive boom for combat sports in MENA in recent years.

“I think the Middle East is going to take over the martial arts scene, especially with the financial capabilities,” the BJJ icon said.

“I think a lot of fighters are very interested and are coming over here. When I started competing in jiu-jitsu, that wasn’t the case. We didn’t have that much martial arts, but now I’ve seen it growing, and being part of it, and being part of that success, it means a lot to me, you know? I cannot wait to see how the martial arts scene in the Middle East is going to be in the next five or 10 years,” he added.

Aside from wanting to start his own academy to nurture the scene further, Almarwai dreams of feeling the weight of the ONE World Title on his shoulders.

“My goal is to win this match, make another match, and then get another shot at the title. I don’t know if it’s going be Mikey, but I really want to win that ONE Championship belt. I remember my previous match; I had the photo shoot where I had the belt on me, and that belt is so heavy. It feels good.”


Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
Updated 27 February 2024
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Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
  • Briton fights back from a set down to secure landmark 500th hard court career win and safe passage at ATP 500 event
  • Frustrated sixth-seed Mannarino falls to the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp in straight sets after warning for on-court anger

DUBAI: Former champion Andy Murray dug deep to edge out Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in front of a jubilant center court crowd at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday night.

The come-from-behind victory saw Murray — who claimed a solitary Dubai title in 2017 — register a landmark 500th career win on hard courts. He becomes only the fifth player to achieve the feat, joining luminaries of the game Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi.

“It’s not bad, is it?” Murray said after reaching the milestone. “Hard courts have been a great surface for me over the years, and getting to 500 is a lot of matches. I am very proud of that, not a lot of players have done it, so it’s great to do it before I’m done.”

In challenging winds, the twilight ATP 500 round of 32 match started with eight consecutive service holds as both players found early rhythm. The first break points arrived in game nine, as Shapovalov found the outer corners of center court with a pair of dazzling one-handed backhand winners. After squandering the first chance, the 24-year-old grabbed the second to move 5-4 up, then held serve to claim the first set.

With both players holding serve for the first three games of the second set, Murray finally broke the big-serving Shapovalov in game four. The Brit’s ecstasy, however, immediately turned to agony as Shapovalov instantly broke back, then held, to make it 3-3.

As Murray, 12 years his opponent’s senior, increasingly threatened the Shapovalov serve, the Canadian’s monstrous first service cannons got him out of jail on numerous occasions. Murray, receiving, regularly stood some way behind the Dubai signage adorning the hardcourt beyond the baseline. The tactic proved fruitless, as Shapovalov unleashed 215-km serves time after time with pinpoint accuracy.

Battle-worn and grimacing repeatedly after several points near the end of the second set, Murray found emergency reserves of energy to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-5 to level the match — much to the delight of an adoring crowd.

Murray then broke Shapovalov in the opening game of the third set, which progressed on serve until 5-3 when Shapovalov suddenly found himself serving to stay in the match. With unforced errors now littering the Canadian’s game, Murray unleashed a glorious backhand winner at 30-30 to set up match point. It proved to be the only opportunity the British veteran needed, as Shapovalov volleyed Murray’s return of serve into the net.

In the ATP 500 event’s opening match on center court, the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp upset sixth seed Adrian Mannarino, the world No. 19, in straight sets. With both players holding serve and almost politely swapping breaks enroute to a 6-6 stalemate, Van de Zandschulp, the world No. 75, managed to pull clear in the tiebreak to seal it 7-3.

After the umpire handed Mannarino a conduct warning between sets for smashing his racquet in frustration, the second set remained a tight affair. Eleven consecutive holds of serve suggested another tiebreak lay in wait, but Van de Zandschulp got the better of his French opponent’s service game at exactly the right time to triumph 7-6, 7-5 in just under two hours.

In the evening games under the lights, world No. 5 Andrey Rublev safely negotiated his route to the round of 16, defeating Zhizhen Zhang 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. The former Dubai champion was made to fight by his opponent, however, with the serve of the world No. 46 looking particularly formidable as he claimed the first set.

“It was a really tough match,” said Rublev. “I started well, but he was serving unreal. I don’t know how high his percentage was on the first serve, but it feels like some games lasted only one second, and serves were around 220 and super tough to return.”

A center court surprise came even closer in the following match as world No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz came within two match points of crashing out in the first round. His tie with German Jan-Lennard Struff went the distance as both men held their thumping serves for three straight sets, before the Pole squeezed through on the decisive set tiebreak to claim a 7-6, 4-7, 7-6 win.

“He’s such a great guy and great opponent,” said Hurkacz, who will face either Christopher O’Connell or Maximilian Marterer in the round of 16. “In the end, I got a little bit lucky, but I tried to compete until the last point and that is what I always try to do. It could have gone either way.”


Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup

Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup
Updated 27 February 2024
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Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup

Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup
  • Bavarian powerhouse said the 50-year-old Eberl signed a contract through June 2027 and will begin on Friday
  • Eberl will be charged with rejuvenating a team that has lost its aura of dominance

BERLIN: Stung by the prospect of a first season without a major trophy for 12 years, Bayern Munich appointed Max Eberl as their new sporting director to oversee a major shakeup.

The Bavarian powerhouse said on Monday the 50-year-old Eberl signed a contract through June 2027 and will begin on Friday. He was to appear at a press conference with club president Herbert Hainer and chief executive Jan-Christian Dreesen on Tuesday.

Eberl will be charged with rejuvenating a team that has lost its aura of dominance and no longer demonstrates the assured belief it used to as the best in Germany.

“Not only does he have decades of experience in football management, but he also started playing football at FC Bayern and became a professional here,” Hainer said. “We are convinced that he will successfully form and shape the future of this club.”

Eberl, a former right back, made only one Bundesliga appearance for Bayern in October 1991, when he was substituted off at halftime in a 3-2 loss at Stuttgart.

He went to Bochum in January 1994, played for Greuther Fürth for 3½ seasons, then joined Borussia Mönchengladbach to start a 23-year association with the club.

After finishing his playing career, Eberl enjoyed success as the sporting director at Gladbach from 2008 until he quit abruptly in January 2022, citing burnout. He started at Leipzig in the same role eight months later but was fired last September for “his failure to commit to the club.”

At Leipzig, Eberl led a rebuild that saw established players like Josko Gvardiol and Dominik Szoboszlai depart for big sums, while young talents like Loïs Openda and Paris Saint-Germain loanee Xavi Simons arrived to star this season.

Eberl’s alleged lack of commitment to Leipzig likely had to do with the speculation linking him with Bayern, where his work in a managerial capacity at Gladbach had long been admired.

Eberl was already a target for Bayern before it appointed Hasan Salihamidzic as sporting director in 2017.

Salihamidzic was fired hours after Bayern clinched the league title last season, along with chief executive Oliver Kahn. Both men paid the price for the problems that Eberl will be expected to address.

Bayern won the Bundesliga last season only because Borussia Dortmund squandered their chance on the final day. The decision to axe Kahn and Salihamidzic was taken earlier, after a season in which the team’s decline had been plain to see.

Former chief financial officer Jan-Christian Dreesen took over as CEO and Bayern hired former Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund to take over from Salihamidzic, though he didn’t start officially until Sept. 1, and wasn’t involved in the summer transfer business.

Eberl and Freund will be expected to work together, with a priority being the hiring of a new coach following Bayern’s decision not to continue with Thomas Tuchel next season after the team lost three games in a row.

Tuchel said on Friday he wasn’t the “only problem” at Bayern and his employers were unable to contradict him over the weekend.

“If FC Bayern loses three times in a row, then we all have to question ourselves; the team, the coach, we in management, we do it as well, it’s not in question at all,” Hainer said Saturday. “But you will see, we will draw the right analysis and conclusions and do the right thing.”

Asked why Bayern had worked their way through three highly regarded German coaches in Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann and Hansi Flick since 2021, Hainer replied that the demands at Bayern were very high and there was constant pressure to do well.

“But I believe that at the end of the day, the formula for success at FC Bayern is that we are never satisfied with where we are, and then we continue to move forward,” Hainer said.

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso – a former Bayern player – is the favorite as Tuchel’s replacement, though former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and Stuttgart’s Sebastian Hoeneß have also been linked. The latter is the nephew of Bayern honorary president Uli Hoeneß and has led Stuttgart to third place in the Bundesliga after saving it from relegation last season.

Hainer placed the onus on the new coach for success by saying the Bayern squad is “not un-coachable.”

Eberl will be under pressure from the start.


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 27 February 2024
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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.