Jota seals top spot for Al-Ittihad in AFC Champions League’s Group C

Al-Ittihad took top spot in Group C in the Asian Champions League on Monday following a 2-1 win over Sepahan in Jeddah. (X/@ittihad_en)
Al-Ittihad took top spot in Group C in the Asian Champions League on Monday following a 2-1 win over Sepahan in Jeddah. (X/@ittihad_en)
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Updated 05 December 2023
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Jota seals top spot for Al-Ittihad in AFC Champions League’s Group C

Jota seals top spot for Al-Ittihad in AFC Champions League’s Group C
  • Jota's contribution means Tigers finish group with five wins and one defeat and can look forward to knockout stages

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad took top spot in Group C in the Asian Champions League on Monday following a 2-1 win over Sepahan in Jeddah.

It marked a third straight victory for new coach Marcelo Gallardo and, more importantly, the return to action after a lengthy injury for center-back Ahmed Hegazi, although Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante are still struggling with injuries.

It proved a rewarding night for the 2004 and 2005 champions, although the game was far from easy against a strong Sepahan side.

The early stages went according to plan for the hosts, though, and in the 14th minute Saleh Al-Amri scored in spectacular fashion. He lined up a free-kick just outside the penalty area before curling the ball home into the corner of the net.

Fabinho then had the chance to extend the lead but his header was off target.

There was nothing wrong with the header from Sepahan’s Ramin Rezaeian three minutes after the restart, though. Mohammad Daneshgar’s long ball from the left side found the forward free at the back post and his header bounced once before ending up high in the top corner of the net beyond Abdullah Al-Mayouf, who was in goal in place of usual No. 1 Marcelo Grohe.

The experienced goalkeeper had an impressive game and made a number of vital saves against opponents who enjoyed more possession and had more attempts on goal than the hosts.

It was left to Jota to settle the tie midway through the second half with his first goal in the Asian competition. After a slow and patient buildup from the back, Abderrazak Hamdallah picked up possession just outside the Iranians’ area and slipped the ball through for the Portuguese winger to stab home the winner.

Rezaeian almost earned the visitors a share of the spoils with a late free-kick but Al-Mayouf saved to give Ittihad and their new Argentine coach another win.

It means that the Tigers finish the group with five wins and one defeat and can look forward to the knockout stages, which start in 2024, with confidence.

It also means that, following a league game against Damac on Thursday, Ittihad can focus on the FIFA Club World Cup in Jeddah and an opening game against Oceania champions Auckland City. Gallardo will be hoping that the likes of Benzema and Kante can return to fitness in time for the tournament.

But, for now, Ittihad are on the winning track.


Excitement grows in runup to PFL versus Bellator champions MMA clash in Riyadh

Excitement grows in runup to PFL versus Bellator champions MMA clash in Riyadh
Updated 21 February 2024
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Excitement grows in runup to PFL versus Bellator champions MMA clash in Riyadh

Excitement grows in runup to PFL versus Bellator champions MMA clash in Riyadh
  • Title-holding champions from two different MMA organizations will battle it out in the Octagon
  • Two Saudi fighters, Abdullah Al-Qahtani and Malik Basahel, will feature on the roster

RIYADH: Excitement was growing among mixed martial arts fans in Saudi Arabia in the runup to the Professional Fighters League versus Bellator champions event at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh on Feb. 24.

As the Kingdom continued to cement its position as a hub for world-class sporting events, the MMA meeting has generated a regional and global buzz.

CEO of the PFL, Peter Murray, recently said: “Saudi Arabia is the new fight capital of the world.”

Event organizers have a diverse line-up of top fighters set to compete.

Sports sector adviser Yousef Mufti told Arab News that the event would be an opportunity to witness title-holding champions from two different MMA organizations battle in an unforeseen format.

He said: “I have been a lifelong sports fanatic, and what excites me is the Kingdom’s investments are paving the way for varied sports being introduced to new audiences.”

Mufti added that it was particularly evident in boxing as Saudi Arabia had now become the global stage for some of the biggest fight cards.

“It has been satisfying to see all these different sporting events taking place around the corner without having to fly many hours abroad,” he said.

Two Saudi fighters, Abdullah Al-Qahtani and Malik Basahel, will feature on the roster.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for younger athletes to feel inspired and see that it is, in fact, possible to become professional in their respective sports,” Mufti added.


Kublers living the dream with Astro King as they eye success at Saudi Cup

Kublers living the dream with Astro King as they eye success at Saudi Cup
Updated 21 February 2024
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Kublers living the dream with Astro King as they eye success at Saudi Cup

Kublers living the dream with Astro King as they eye success at Saudi Cup
  • Astro King was last seen finishing sixth in the Bahrain International Trophy in Nov., although connections felt he was unlucky in the closing stages of the race
  • Kublers picked up Astro King for a relatively light transfer fee of around $48,000 out of Michael Stoute’s stable at the Tattersalls Autumn Sale in 2022

It took until just short of his seventh birthday for Astro King (IRE) to contest a Group race, but British trainers Daniel and Claire Kubler believe their stable star can become a regular in the world’s elite races over the year ahead, starting with the $2 million Howden Neom Turf Cup on Saturday.

Astro King was last seen finishing sixth in the Bahrain International Trophy in November, although connections felt he was unlucky in the closing stages of the race. That effort has prompted the sense he belongs at the highest level.

“With a little more luck, he might well have placed second or third,” Claire recalled at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, just off the plane from the UK, on Wednesday morning.

“He was on the rail in Bahrain and ran into traffic. It was frustrating, but we had to notice that it was established horses like Point Lonsdale and (triple Group 1 winner) Nations Pride that were in his path and he was finishing stronger than them.”

The Kublers picked up Astro King for a relatively light transfer fee of around $48,000 out of the legendary Sir Michael Stoute’s stable at the Tattersalls Autumn Sale at the end of 2022. He has won two of his six starts since then and many times that auction spend, latterly when carrying a record weight to success in the Cambridgeshire, the famous old handicap over 1800m on fast ground at Newmarket. 

That performance opened doors to international participation and rather than tackle the alternative of the Winter Derby at Southwell on the same day, Astro King has a legitimate shot of featuring at the sharp end of one of the world’s richest races.

“He looked great working on the dirt track,” Claire continued. “It’s amazing for our team and his owners to be a part of this occasion. It’s so exciting and we feel he can run well.”


Atletico’s Griezmann suffers ‘moderate’ ankle sprain

Atletico’s Griezmann suffers ‘moderate’ ankle sprain
Updated 21 February 2024
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Atletico’s Griezmann suffers ‘moderate’ ankle sprain

Atletico’s Griezmann suffers ‘moderate’ ankle sprain
  • The French forward was hurt during Atletico’s 1-0 defeat by Inter Milan in the Champions League

MADRID: Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann is out injured after sustaining a “moderate” ankle sprain, the Spanish club said Wednesday.
The French forward was hurt during Atletico’s 1-0 defeat by Inter Milan in the Champions League last 16 first leg clash Tuesday and Diego Simeone replaced him after 78 minutes.
Spanish reports say the forward will miss Saturday’s visit to Almeria in La Liga and is a doubt for the Copa del Rey semifinal second leg against Athletic Bilbao on February 29.
Griezmann is expected to be fit for the second leg against Inter Milan on March 13.
The 32-year-old has been Atletico’s key player this season and has 18 goals in 36 appearances across all competitions.


Saudi-born record breaker set to tackle Tough Mudder Infinity in AlUla

Saudi-born record breaker set to tackle Tough Mudder Infinity in AlUla
Updated 21 February 2024
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Saudi-born record breaker set to tackle Tough Mudder Infinity in AlUla

Saudi-born record breaker set to tackle Tough Mudder Infinity in AlUla
  • Nelly Attar became the first Arab woman to scale K2, having already reached the pinnacles of Everest, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya

When it comes to completing significant sporting challenges, Nelly Attar has achieved more than most.

In 2022, the Saudi Arabia-born Lebanese climber became the first Arab woman to scale K2, widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous mountains, having already completed her ascent to the pinnacle of Everest, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, to name just a few.

This weekend, Attar takes on a different kind of challenge as one of the participants in Tough Mudder Infinity, an eight-hour endurance race in AlUla, located in the northwest of the Kingdom.

While the race is the first of its kind in the region, and one which promises to test both the physical and mental capabilities of those taking part, Attar has her own way of approaching the task at hand.

“The way I’m going into this is by thinking of it as a summit, because when we climb, our summit days are very long,” she said.

“You use every part of your body and it takes everything out of you, so yes, I want to pace myself in order to stay strong throughout, but I’m also trying to see it as a summit day in the sense it’s going to be long and it requires a lot of teamwork.

“When I read that Tough Mudder Infinity is one of the most challenging races in the Middle East, I wanted to get involved because I thought it sounded interesting and exciting.

“I love obstacle-course challenges. I’m quite a dynamic athlete. I do a bit of everything; I run, I climb, I do calisthenics, so obstacle-course races are like my playground.”

There is no doubt Attar is well-placed to overcome the toughest of challenges given her previous experiences.

Having scaled Mount Kenya in 2007, she went on to climb Kilimanjaro twice, Elbrus, Mount Stanley and Mount Speke, before ascending Everest in 2016.

Attar then entered the history books when she became the first Arab female to climb K2 two years ago, an achievement she understandably reflects on with huge pride, particularly given the difficulties she faced.

“K2 is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world,” she said. “Situated in Pakistan, it’s the second-highest peak in the world. The idea came into my mind as I was descending Everest, but I needed a couple more years of climbing and technical experience before I could attempt it.

“I was going through a really hard period in my life. I had lost my father, which is what inspired me to take on the challenge because he was the reason I started climbing. The training was very difficult, I was doing 30 hours a week at times, and it was a very different environment compared to the desert and heat.

“The climb itself was one of the best experiences I’ve gone through, but it was very challenging. It was really scary. You have to watch out for rockfall, because that can kill you, and then there are avalanches. Storms can break out at any second and the terrain is very exposed, so you have to be careful with your steps.

“You’re continuously changing between snow and rock for a month-and-a-half, so it felt like a very prolonged Tough Mudder at altitude, but the experience was everything I hoped for and more, which was amazing. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen.”

Having successfully taken on some of the most difficult mountain climbs in the world, and ahead of Tough Mudder Infinity, Attar provides some insight into her mindset ahead of such challenges.

“Just like you train your body, you have to train your mind,” she said. “There are so many times when I don’t want to train, or I’m super tired and I want to give up, but overcoming those difficulties 80 percent of the time really helps you build that mental strength, perseverance and mindset.”

“It took me many years to be able to do K2, not just physically but mentally,” Attar added. “You need to develop the endurance to face these challenges and the uncertainty on the mountains. I love sport because of what it does for me physically, but also mentally.”

Switching attention back to her impending Tough Mudder Infinity challenge in AlUla this coming Saturday, Attar will be competing in a team of four, which she admits will be a welcome change for many reasons.

“I think it will be more enjoyable because my success is their success, and their success is my success. It’s nice to have to share tasks between each other, think creatively and put a strategy in place.

“AlUla is insanely beautiful and to be outside for so long, competing with my friends, is very exciting. Many of my friends have never been to AlUla, it’s so scenic which I think will keep us going.”

The event is further indication of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to sport and hosting largescale events.

Attar, who was born in Riyadh, expects to see the current trend continue long-term.

“A couple of years ago, I don’t think people would have travelled to Saudi for sport, but that narrative and perspective is changing,” she said.

“I never thought I would be travelling to Saudi with my friends from abroad to compete in a race. It’s so amazing and it’s happened in a short space of time. It goes to show where Saudi is putting its efforts and how seriously Saudi is when it comes to sport. This is just the start.”

Tough Mudder Infinity AlUla takes place on Saturday Feb. 24.


Olivia Moultrie scores twice and the US women rout Dominican Republic 5-0

Olivia Moultrie scores twice and the US women rout Dominican Republic 5-0
Updated 21 February 2024
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Olivia Moultrie scores twice and the US women rout Dominican Republic 5-0

Olivia Moultrie scores twice and the US women rout Dominican Republic 5-0
  • It was the sixth victory for the US under interim coach Twila Kilgore
  • Argentina and Mexico played to a scoreless draw to open Group A play

CARSON, California: Olivia Moultrie scored twice in her first national team start and the US defeated the Dominican Republic 5-0 on Tuesday night in the inaugural CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup tournament.

Moultrie, 18, making just her third appearance with the national team, scored her first goal in the seventh minute when she stretched to tap the ball across the goal line.

Lynn Williams added a goal off a pass from Midge Purce in the 30th minute to make it 2-0 in the US team’s first game of the year.

Purce also fed Moultrie for her second goal in the 59th minute. Moultrie, who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, is the third-youngest player to score multiple goals in a game for the US.

“I’m pretty ecstatic right now. I was just so happy to be on the field tonight, to have the opportunity to start is amazing,” Moultrie said.

Jenna Nighswonger scored her first goal for the US on a penalty in the 86th minute to make it 4-0.

Alex Morgan, who was brought into the team earlier Tuesday, came in as a second-half substitute. Morgan was a roster replacement for Mia Fishel, who tore a ligament in her right knee in practice a day earlier.

Morgan, who normally wears No. 13, wore Fishel’s No. 7 because of CONCACAF rules.

Morgan converted a penalty kick in stoppage time to wrap up scoring. It was her 122nd international goal.

It was the sixth victory for the US under interim coach Twila Kilgore, who took over when coach Vlatko Andonovski departed the team following the Americans’ disappointing finish at the Women’s World Cup last summer.

Kilgore will coach the US until May, when Emma Hayes, currently coach of Chelsea, takes over. Purce said Kilgore did a good job of making sure everyone was on the same page.

“I think that we’re playing against a low block so it gives us an opportunity for a lot of creativity,” Purce said. “And we have a lot of creative players on the front line. So it really fun. It was a fun day.”

Korbin Albert, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, also made her first start.

Veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn, the captain for the match, was also a late addition to the roster because Alana Cook sustained a minor knee injury. It was Sauerbrunn’s 216th cap.

The Dominican Republic clinched a spot in Group A with a 1-0 victory over Guyana on Saturday. Kathrynn González scored the lone goal early in the second half.

Gonzalez, a Pennsylvania native, came in as a second-half substitute against the US.

Earlier Tuesday at Dignity Health Sports Park, home to Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy, Argentina and Mexico played to a scoreless draw to open Group A play.

There are three groups of four teams in the tournament, with matches in Carson, San Diego and Houston.

The US play Argentina on Friday night in Carson.