UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals
Al-Wasl's 4-1 win over Al-Bataeh sees them go five points clear at the top of the UAE Pro League table. (X/@UAEProleague_En)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals
  • Matches involving second-placed Al-Ain and third-placed Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai were postponed until Dec. 20 due to AFC Champions League commitments

Leaders Al-Wasl’s storming campaign continued with an affirmative thrashing of Al-Bataeh and Alfred Schreuder’s Al-Nasr debut finished in frustration during ADNOC Pro League’s truncated matchweek nine.

Ivorian youngster Adama Diallo’s excellent brace helped the unbeaten Cheetahs to a 4-1 victory, adding further veracity to dreams of ending their pained wait for an eighth top-flight trophy since their success in 2006-07.

Al-Wasl now hold a five-point lead, because of AFC Champions League commitments delaying until Dec. 20 second-placed Al-Ain’s match against Khor Fakkan, and third-placed holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club’s trip to continental contenders Sharjah.

A second-half penalty from 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin, meanwhile, saw fourth-placed Al-Wahda earn their 1-1 draw against ex-Al-Ain and Ajax supremo Schreuder’s Nasr. Jamal Maroof’s 97th-minute spot-kick for bottom-placed Hatta curtailed third-bottom Ajman celebrations in their dramatic 1-1 stalemate, while resurgent Iran starlet Mehdi Ghayedi had a hand in all four goals when Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club were beaten 4-2 by Ittihad Kalba.

UAE legend Ali Mabkhout got a brace as Al-Jazira produced a much-needed 4-1 derby beating of neighbours Baniyas.

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

 

Player of the week: Mehdi Ghayedi (Ittihad Kalba)

Ghayedi had gone from Asia’s golden boy, to an unfulfilled afterthought.

The diminutive attacker with magic in his boots appeared to have the world at his feet after becoming AFC Best Young Player of the Year in 2020. A switch to Shabab Al-Ahli in the following summer was meant to take his game to another level, with this pathway having previously helped send exalted compatriot Ali Karimi to Bayern Munich back in 2005.

Ghayedi’s forgettable 2021-22 season was followed by sparks of life returning to his play on loan at former club Esteghlal. These reached full luminescence in a sensational display for latest temporary employers, Kalba, during victory against Emirates.

The now 24-year-old moved onto seven goal contributions in nine league run-outs under former mentor Farhad Majidi, thanks to a well-taken brace. Added influence was supplied by winning penalties ably converted by the superb Daniel Bessa and Andres Vombergar.

Ghayedi featured in June’s inaugural CAFA Nations Cup, but has since been ignored by Iran head coach Amir Ghalenoei. If he can continue to inspire Kalba’s rise up the standings from their current ninth during a packed December, a way back in may be found for the Asian Cup.

 

Goal of the week: Adama Diallo (Al-Wasl)

A star is on the ascendancy at Zabeel Stadium.

Diallo has gone from unheralded youngster, to keeping veteran Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic out of the XI and being tipped for naturalisation by the UAE.

The 21-year-old Ivorian produced a mesmerising double in a dominant victory over dark-horses Bataeh, with the 16th-minute opener especially outstanding.

Slipped behind the midfield by Nicolas Gimenez, there was still 40 yards+ to goal from the left flank. Lightning acceleration allied with tight control took him beyond a trio of retreating Bataeh defenders, before smashing into the near post’s bottom corner.

Diallo — who later delivered a deft Fabio De Lima-esque curled finish — now sits on four strikes in eight ADNOC Pro League run-outs this season, averaging out at one every 92 minutes.

 

Coach of the week: Frank de Boer (Al-Jazira)

Frank de Boer managed to find the release valve, just as pressure began to build toward dangerous levels.

A 4-2 chasing by surging Wasl in matchweek eight left a richly talented Jazira well off the pace in eighth. Their nine-point gap to top spot remains, but impressive victory at Baniyas Stadium provides a superior gloss in fifth.

The Pride of Abu Dhabi lived up to their nickname via a virtuoso display by Mabkhout, moving onto a record-extending 213 goals in 286 top-flight run-outs with a tremendous brace.

Host left-back Joao Victor’s 34th-minute red card ensured 68 percent possession and a shot count of 24/11 favoured the visitors.

That this fine work was supplemented by ex-Fulham star Neeskens Kebano netting his second Jazira goal, a pair of assists from winger Oumar Traore and UAE matchwinner Abdullah Ramadan getting involved at club level speaks volume of the vast potential contained within De Boer’s ranks.

A generous end to 2023 in the league pits the Netherlands great against the current bottom three, in descending order. A perfect, nine-point haul — plus, progress in ADIB Cup’s quarter-finals versus bitter-rivals Wahda — would thrust Jazira right into the trophy mix.

De Boer collected ample silverware when employed as manager at Ajax and Atlanta United, despite a mixed record elsewhere.

This pedigree is unquestionable. So, too, the squad depth at his disposal.

Jazira’s foreign quintet is enviable, while six members of Paulo Bento’s victorious UAE roster hail from there.

Baniyas may have witnessed the start of another trophy charge in De Boer’s intermittently glittering managerial career.

 

Are Al-Wasl the real deal?

These are good times at Wasl.

ADNOC Pro League’s only unbeaten side have taken more points than any other in the last five matches, have triumphed in their last five outings in all competitions and swept the latest “The Best” monthly awards. They have netted six more goals than any other club and boast the joint-third meanest defence.

This form is underpinned by belief head coach Milos Milojevic can replicate in Dubai his prior double-winning campaign at Red Star Belgrade.

Wasl are, though, stung by recent memories. Strong starts under the likes of Juan Antonio Pizzi and Rodolfo Arruabarrena faded into obscurity.

The 21st century has not been kind to this storied club. But, the same was said of Sharjah ahead of 2018/19’s surprise title success.


Karachi Kings defeat Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest

Karachi Kings defeat Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest
Updated 45 min 49 sec ago
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Karachi Kings defeat Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest

Karachi Kings defeat Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets in PSL 2024 contest
  • Karachi bowlers Mir Hamza, Hassan Ali return figures of 3/28, 3/30 to dismiss Zalmi for 154
  • Zalmi skipper Babar Azam’s 72-run knock comes to naught as his team suffers second PSL 9 loss

ISLAMABAD: Backed by impressive bowling performances from Mir Hamza and Hassan Ali, Karachi Kings defeated Peshawar Zalmi by seven wickets at Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium on Wednesday.

The Kings won the toss and elected to field first against Zalmi in the sixth match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament. The decision proved to be the correct one as Hamza and Ali dealt severe blows to the Zalmi batters, dismissing the “Yellow Storm” for 154 runs.

Skipper Babar Azam scored 72 runs off 51 balls but could not find ample support from the middle order as Ali and Hamza kept picking wickets one by one. Rovman Powell scored 39 from 25 balls while Asif Ali scored 23 off 16 balls to lend some support to Azam.

“I think we scored less, we lost few wickets in power play,” Azam said at the post-match press conference. “You have to build partnerships and that’s what we missed today.”

Kings bowlers Hamza returned figures of 3/28 while Ali finished with 3/30. Daniel Sams returned figures of 2/28 while spinners Mohammad Nawaz and Shoaib Malik took one wicket each.

The Kings chased the target in 16.5 overs at the loss of three wickets. Skipper Shan Masood scored 16 runs while Muhammad Akhlaq made 24 runs. James Vince and Keiron Pollard remained unbeaten on 38 and 49 runs respectively to guide their team to victory.

Zalmi bowlers Luke Wood returned figures of 2/20 while Waqar Salamkheil finished with 1/54 from his four overs.

Peshawar Zalmi remain at the bottom of the table with two losses from as many games while Karachi Kings have moved up to fourth place with a win and a loss from their two matches.


Saudi Hockey Federation president welcomes international federation chief

Saudi Hockey Federation president welcomes international federation chief
Updated 21 February 2024
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Saudi Hockey Federation president welcomes international federation chief

Saudi Hockey Federation president welcomes international federation chief
  • Mohammed Al-Mandil, Saudi Hockey Federation president, and Tayyab Ikram, International Hockey Federation president, discussed ways to develop the game

RIYADH: Ways to enhance, promote and develop hockey in the Kingdom were discussed by Saudi Hockey Federation President Mohammed Al-Mandil and International Hockey Federation President Tayyab Ikram on Wednesday.
Al-Mandil welcomed Ikram at the SHF’s headquarters in Riyadh during a meeting that was also attended by Abdulellah Almymoon, SHF’s executive director.
The president of the Saudi Hockey Federation presented a token of appreciation to the IHF’s chief and thanked him for his efforts in the growth and support of field hockey internationally, and in appreciation of his visit to Saudi Arabia.
Al-Mandil also confirmed the federation’s commitment to developing this Olympic sport at the local level through its sports activities, and through cooperative agreements with schools and universities to create a generation passionate about the sport.
He said that SHF’s strategy was to include hockey as a sport in collaboration with Saudi sports clubs to enhance competition and integration within society.


Besiktas club scraps promising footballer’s contract over dating app profile

Besiktas club scraps promising footballer’s contract over dating app profile
Updated 21 February 2024
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Besiktas club scraps promising footballer’s contract over dating app profile

Besiktas club scraps promising footballer’s contract over dating app profile
  • Turkish Super Lig club announced on X that they had ‘amicably parted ways’ with Emirhan Delibas
  • 21-year-old player denies that the Bumble profile is his, and labels account ‘fake’

BEIRUT: Promising Turkish footballer Emirhan Delibas had his contract terminated with top-tier club Besiktas after he was reportedly discovered to have created a profile on the Bumble dating app.
Images circulated across social media showed that Delibas’s age on the verified Bumble account was 24, meanwhile his age as per Besiktas’s records is 21. The profile also showed the player posing in the club’s jersey.
News around Beskitas terminating the contract of their academy player surfaced late on Monday shortly after the blue-ticked account was spotted and went viral across social media.
The Super Lig club announced on X that they had “amicably parted ways” with Delibas, who has denied that the profile is his and labelled the account “fake.”
The rising star made two senior appearances before leaving but had progressed through Besiktas’ youth academy and represented them at various age levels.
“We have parted ways with professional football player Emirhan Delibas by mutual agreement. We wish Emirhan Delibas success in his future career and present it to the public,” the club said on X without announcing the reasons.
Turkish media reports said that the player posted on his Instagram: “I reject the slanders made by fake accounts and would like to state that my loyalty to my team cannot be questioned.”
Commenting over the incident, Emirati football fan and lawyer Salem Al-Hammadi told Arab News that nowadays a footballer’s behavior, on and off the field, was related — and important.
“A player’s behavior is linked to his contract on the field through his commitment to training and performance, and off the field, if he commits to a healthy lifestyle, through having healthy food and not staying up late,” Al-Hammadi said.
A player influenced fans and the club’s reputation, and this imposed an obligation on footballers not to behave in a way that could harm their club’s reputation, he said.
“This is what we have noticed through political problems, for example. All players’ actions off the pitch are monitored by their fans (on social media) and have a direct impact. So, players must pay good attention to their behavior, and clubs have to include all matters in the contracts,” Al-Hammadi said.
Meanwhile, retired Lebanese footballer and coach Ibrahim Hassan said that when he played football in the 1970s and 1980s social media didn’t exist, so such matters did not impact players or clubs.
“Nowadays, any tiny detail matters and it could strain the relationship between a footballer and his club or fans. It’s true that footballers are human beings, but eventually they are considered public figures who need to be attentive, as any unacceptable or misbehavior on social media could be devastating … anything they post or do could jeopardize their contracts,” said Hassan, who recalled a number of incidents involving footballers who were terminated or punished for supporting Palestinians amid the Gaza war.
However, football fan Jad Maroun believes that players have a right to some “private and family life,” especially on social media. “Players are independent humans who also have the right to express their views and not be punished twice, by clubs or fans … I guess Besiktas’s decision to terminate the player is harsh and unfair,” Maroun said.
Delibas has also represented Turkiye at U-17, U-18 and U-19 level.


Neymar dons Saudi attire to celebrate Founding Day

Neymar dons Saudi attire to celebrate Founding Day
Updated 20 min 27 sec ago
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Neymar dons Saudi attire to celebrate Founding Day

Neymar dons Saudi attire to celebrate Founding Day

RIYADH: Brazilian football star Neymar caught everyone’s attention when he appeared wearing traditional Saudi clothes during preparations for the Kingdom’s Founding Day celebrations.

His club, Al-Hilal, shared photographs of the player wearing the thobe, shemagh and headband famously associated with the late King Abdulaziz, showcasing the general atmosphere ahead of the day.

Neymar was accompanied by Esteve Calzada, the CEO of Al-Hilal, and Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, along with other teammates, and trended on social media platform X dancing the Ardah, Saudi’s national dance.

The widely adopted white thobe in the Kingdom, favored for its comfort in the hot climate and desert setting, is complemented by other traditional attire for special occasions. This includes Oughal Almorudan, worn over the thobe, distinguished by its long arms and commonly donned during Ardah performances.

The 32-year-old recently returned to Riyadh to continue his rehabilitation after undergoing surgery for a ruptured cruciate ligament in his left knee. He sustained the injury during Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers last October.

Founding Day is celebrated in the Kingdom on Feb. 22 each year to commemorate its establishment by Imam Mohammed bin Saud in 1727 CE.

The Saudi Ministry of Sports recently announced the 21st round of the Roshan Professional League tournament would be named the Founding Round to symbolize the day’s significance.

Neymar is not the only player to celebrate Founding Day with his Saudi fans. Last year, Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo was shown wearing traditional attire along with his Al-Nassr teammates.


Bundesliga investor deal collapses after fan protests

Bundesliga investor deal collapses after fan protests
Updated 21 February 2024
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Bundesliga investor deal collapses after fan protests

Bundesliga investor deal collapses after fan protests
  • “Given current developments, a successful continuation of the process no longer seems possible,” Hans-Joachim Watzke said
  • Fans had littered pitches with tennis balls and chocolate coins, attached bike locks to the goals and released toy cars onto the field to signal their opposition to the deal

FRANKFURT, Germany: The German Football League (DFL) on Wednesday dropped a huge cash injection deal with investors for a share of Bundesliga media revenues after widespread fan protests, a U-turn hailed by fanclubs as a “success” for supporters.
“Given current developments, a successful continuation of the process no longer seems possible,” Hans-Joachim Watzke said in a statement on behalf of the DFL’s board.
Fans had littered pitches with tennis balls and chocolate coins, attached bike locks to the goals and released toy cars onto the field to signal their opposition to the deal.
The protests interrupted matches over the last weeks, leading referees to even threaten to abandon games.
In December, German clubs voted by a two-thirds majority in favor of the plan to “secure long-term and sustainable success.”
In exchange for eight percent of future TV rights, the league would receive an immediate investment, said to be close to one billion euros ($1.1 billion), to help market and promote the Bundesliga internationally.
Despite excellent stadium attendances and a lucrative domestic TV deal, international interest in the Bundesliga lags behind that of England’s Premier League or Spain’s La Liga.
But Germany’s powerful fan clubs say the investor process lacked transparency and ignored supporters’ wishes.
German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule which restricts the degree of influence an external investor can have over a club.
The rule is incredibly popular among German fans, many of whom value it more than success on the field.
Hailing Wednesday’s decision, fan group Unsere Kurve said the “comprehensive, but very peaceful and very creative protests were ultimately the key to success.”
German football was being tested by the protests, “even if a large majority are in favor of the necessity of the strategic partnership,” Watzke said.
“Fan groups are causing major clashes, which are increasingly jeopardizing game operations... and thus the integrity of the competition,” said Watzke, who also serves as CEO of Borussia Dortmund.
Under the circumstances, the completion of the deal “cannot be guaranteed,” he said, adding that the decision to drop the investor tie-up was unanimous.
A similar proposal which sought to sell off a higher percentage of the TV revenue for a larger fee failed to get the necessary majority when put to a vote in May last year.