Tears of joy for Palestine players on night of history and emotion

Analysis Tears of joy for Palestine players on night of history and emotion
Palestine's forward Mahmoud Wadi and midfielder Oday Kharoub greet supporters after Qatar 2023 AFC Asian Cup Group C football match between Hong Kong and Palestine in Doha. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 January 2024
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Tears of joy for Palestine players on night of history and emotion

Tears of joy for Palestine players on night of history and emotion
  • The 3-0 win over Hong Kong was the team’s first AFC Asian Cup win, and confirmed progress to Round of 16

The whistle went, and for the first time in 90-plus minutes Mohamed Salah did not seem to know what to do.

That was just for a second, before the Palestine defender sank to the turf at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium and cried. He was not the only one. It is not that hard to guess what he must have been thinking about and hard not to wonder if the people back in his native Gaza had any idea of what had happened in Qatar, had any idea of what their national team had managed to do in the biggest competition in the world’s biggest continent.

The message was clear however; this was all for Gaza.

Salah plays his football in Egypt but has many family members and friends in his homeland, where people are fearing for their lives amid the daily death and destruction that comes down from the skies. More than 25,000 have died, thousands more have been wounded and lost their homes.

On this field in Doha, however, something amazing happened. Here was a story about Palestine on the international stage that was not about bombs and missiles and death but about hope, pride and happiness. It is only football, but it is also so much more.

Talk about history being made in football can be cheap and cliched but then there are moments such as Tuesday that really do fit the description.

That was Palestine winning their first game at the Asian Cup, a victory that was even bigger as it sent them into the knockout stage, also for the very first time.

The 3-0 win over Hong Kong will never be forgotten. It was almost enough to send the team into second in the group above the UAE but the narrowest of goal difference margins means third place will have to do.

Oday Dabbagh, the star of the team, burst into life in this game, scoring Palestine’s first with a header before right-back Musab Al-Battat sent over another perfect cross for Zeid Qunbar to nod home.

On the hour, Tamer Seyam’s thunderous shot from outside the area bounced back off the crossbar for Dabbagh to get his second goal and his team’s third.

They have played their way into the hearts of all Palestinian fans. This was a team effort with the starting 11, the substitutes and the entire squad coming together.

This is a team that knows hardship. Players such as Salah and Mahmoud Wadi may play overseas but are from Gaza and have family and friends to worry about. Coach Makram Daboub couldn’t call up players from Gaza as he knew that they would not be able to report for duty. Preparation has been tough on and off the pitch.

“What can I say? I am so proud,” Daboub told Arab News. “We knew that we could do this but we had to work so hard in all of the three games. Against Hong Kong we knew that we had to win and knew what we needed to do, and we worked hard and managed to qualify.”

It started against Iran. Before the game kicked off, Iranian fans showed their sympathy for what the people of Gaza are going through. It was an emotional moment but then it was followed by some clinical finishing from Team Melli who ran out 4-1 winners. It looked like it was almost over before it began and it was not, in truth, a great performance from the losing team but they kept fighting and working and bounced back.

“I always had confidence in our players. Iran are one of the top teams in Asia and we played well in the second half of the game with the United Arab Emirates,” Daboub said. “We have improved in every game and while the second round will be tough, I have faith in my players.”

Australia are the most likely opponents. November’s World Cup qualifier may have gone the way of the Socceroos but it was only a 1-0 defeat and Palestine had their chances. This is also a knockout game where anything can happen. Extra time and penalties are always looming like shadows and a red card or bad decision can change everything.

But everything has already changed.

“This is for the people of Palestine and we have delivered a message to the rest of the world that these are people who deserve a better life and they love peace and freedom,” Daboub said.

And they love their football team.


Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League

Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League
Updated 13 April 2024
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Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League

Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League
  • Arsenal host Aston Villa on Sunday, when Liverpool take on Crystal Palace
  • With City still in contention for a second straight treble of major trophies, manager Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to rotate his squad

MANCHESTER, England: Manchester City kept up the pressure on Arsenal and Liverpool with an emphatic 5-1 victory over relegation-threatened Luton on Saturday that put the defending champion back atop the English Premier League.
An early own goal from Daiki Hashioka gave City the lead at Etihad Stadium before a fierce shot by Mateo Kovacic and a penalty by Erling Haaland put the game beyond doubt after the break.
Luton earned a consolation goal through Ross Barkley in the 81st but Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol added late goals to wrap up the win, which lifted City two points above Arsenal and Liverpool.
Arsenal host Aston Villa on Sunday, when Liverpool take on Crystal Palace.
With City still in contention for a second straight treble of major trophies, manager Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to rotate his squad and left key midfielder Rodri on the bench after the Spaniard said publicly he needed a rest.
Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and John Stones also were rested ahead of Real Madrid’s visit on Wednesday in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal. But goalkeeper Ederson returned to replace Stefan Ortega and Kevin De Bruyne was back after an illness.
It was a bit of luck, though, that gave City the opener inside two minutes.
Haaland attempted an acrobatic volley after his initial shot was saved, but the ball was heading well wide until it took a huge deflection off Hashioka’s head and ended up in the net.
But Luton defended with great determination and the second goal didn’t come until just after the hour when Kovavic unleashed an unstoppable effort from the edge of the area following a corner.
Doku then won a penalty after being brought down in the area and Haaland calmly sent Thomas Kaminski the wrong way to register his 31st goal of the season in all competitions, but only his second in six games.
Barkley robbed Nunes to pull one back but City finished with a flourish.
Doku claimed the fourth after weaving through the area in the 87th and Gvardiol followed up his fine strike against Madrid with another stunner in stoppage time.


Bayern beat Cologne to delay Leverkusen title party

Bayern beat Cologne to delay Leverkusen title party
Updated 13 April 2024
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Bayern beat Cologne to delay Leverkusen title party

Bayern beat Cologne to delay Leverkusen title party
  • Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel made seven changes to his side ahead of Wednesday’s quarter-final second leg against Arsenal
  • Mueller added a second to seal the result in the third minute of stoppage time

MUNICH: Bayern Munich defender Raphael Guerreiro struck a brilliant second-half goal and Thomas Mueller scored late to beat Cologne 2-0 on Saturday, delaying Bayer Leverkusen’s Bundesliga title party to Sunday at the earliest.
Bayern’s win means Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen, who are 13 points clear of the Bavarians, need to beat Werder Bremen at home on Sunday to lift the Bundesliga trophy for the first time.
Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel made seven changes to his side ahead of Wednesday’s quarter-final second leg against Arsenal, with Harry Kane and Mathys Tel hitting the woodwork in the first half.
Former Borussia Dortmund player Guerreiro, starting at left-back ahead of Alphonso Davies, unleashed a curling shot from outside the box which broke the deadlock after 65 minutes.
Mueller added a second to seal the result in the third minute of stoppage time.
Dortmund and RB Leipzig continued their battle for fourth place — the final guaranteed Champions League spot — with both winning to stay level on points ahead of their clash in Saxony in late April.
Dortmund were reduced to 10 men and made to hold on to a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach after Karim Adeyemi was sent off after picking up a second yellow with 35 minutes remaining.
Dortmund were in control after a first-half brace from Marcel Sabitzer, the second from the penalty spot, gave them a two-goal lead after 28 minutes.
Gladbach pulled one back late in the first half when Maximilian Woeber took advantage of some sleepy Dortmund defending from a corner.
Adeyemi, who won a penalty on 48 minutes but had it overturned by VAR, was dismissed seven minutes later after tripping Stefan Lainer.
Leipzig, who sit ahead of Dortmund on goal difference, won 3-0 at home over Wolfsburg thanks to goals from Dani Olmo, Benjamin Sesko and Lois Openda.
The victory came just days after surprisingly poaching Wolfsburg’s sporting director Marcel Schaefer, who won the title with the Wolves as a player in 2009.
Mainz boosted their chances of beating the drop, coming from behind to beat Hoffenheim 4-1 with four second-half goals to pull one point behind Bochum, who drew 1-1 at home with Heidenheim.
Bochum sit in 15th, the final safe spot, after Keven Schlotterbeck scored an own goal but then headed in the equalizer for the hosts in the final minute.
Later on Saturday, Stuttgart can draw level on points with second-placed Bayern with a win when they host Eintracht Frankfurt.


Griezmann strikes twice as Atletico sink Girona

Griezmann strikes twice as Atletico sink Girona
Updated 13 April 2024
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Griezmann strikes twice as Atletico sink Girona

Griezmann strikes twice as Atletico sink Girona
  • Girona took the lead in Madrid with a fourth-minute goal from close range by Artem Dovbyk that took him on to a league-leading 17 goals.
  • Griezmann responded by converting a 34th-minute penalty

MADRID: Atletico Madrid on Saturday completed a good four days as they followed their Champions League quarter-final first-leg victory over Borussia Dortmund with a 3-1 Spanish La Liga victory over third-placed Girona.
Antoine Griezmann scored twice as Diego Simeone’s men moved to within four points of their opponents and pulled five clear of fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao in the race for Champions League qualification.
The Basques play Villarreal on Sunday.
Atletico won the home leg of their European tie 2-1 on Wednesday and visit Dortmund for the second leg on Tuesday.
Girona took the lead in Madrid with a fourth-minute goal from close range by Artem Dovbyk that took him on to a league-leading 17 goals.
Griezmann responded by converting a 34th-minute penalty.
Angel Correa then gave the home side the lead six minutes into added time at the end of the first half.
Griezmann extended his lead five minutes into the second half, taking advantage of a defensive error to fire home his 13th league goal of the season.
With an eye on the game in Germany, the France attacker was then replaced shortly after the hour mark by Marcos Llorente.
Girona’s fifth defeat away from home, gives Barcelona, buoyed by their midweek 3-2 Champions League win at Paris Saint-Germain, the chance to tighten their grip on second when they visit struggling Cadiz in the last game of the day.
Real Madrid, eight points clear at the top, play at Mallorca later on Saturday.


Newcastle hit Tottenham for four to enliven Champions League race

Newcastle hit Tottenham for four to enliven Champions League race
Updated 13 April 2024
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Newcastle hit Tottenham for four to enliven Champions League race

Newcastle hit Tottenham for four to enliven Champions League race
  • Spurs’ lead over the Magpies is cut to 10 points with six games remaining, but Newcastle have a far easier run-in
  • Eddie Howe was forced into a switch to a back three due to Newcastle’s abundance of injuries in defense

NEWCASTLE, United Kingdom: Newcastle stormed into the Premier League’s top six as Alexander Isak scored twice in a 4-0 thrashing of Tottenham to rekindle their outside hopes of a place in next season’s Champions League.
Spurs’ lead over the Magpies is cut to 10 points with six games remaining, but Newcastle have a far easier run-in.
Tottenham conceded five times in the opening 21 minutes of a 6-1 humiliation on their last visit to St. James’ Park and were outmuscled and outclassed once more on Tyneside.
Eddie Howe was forced into a switch to a back three due to Newcastle’s abundance of injuries in defense.
But the home side’s makeshift backline was rarely troubled after Timo Werner skewed an effort wide in a bright start by the visitors.
The game swung decisively in Newcastle’s favor thanks to two goals in two minutes thanks to two errors from Micky van de Ven midway through the first half.
The Dutch center-back has been one of the signings of the season for Spurs, but had an afternoon to forget.
Van de Ven’s first slip allowed Isak to smash home from Anthony Gordon’s pass to open the scoring.
Straight from kick-off, Van de Ven fell over again as he tried to reach Pedro Porro’s backpass and Gordon took full advantage to score his 10th Premier League goal of the campaign.
Newcastle could have had more before the break as Destiny Udogie’s last-ditch challenge denied Isak a second before the Swedish striker headed over from a corner.
But any doubt over the outcome was dismissed six minutes into the second period when Isak again beat Van de Ven to Bruno Guimaraes’ long ball over the top and slotted home.
Isak is now only two behind Erling Haaland’s 19 Premier League goals in the race to win the Golden Boot.
Ange Postecoglou showed his dismay with the Spurs display as captain Son Heung-min was hauled off in a triple substitution before the hour mark.
The visitors also lost right-back Porro to injury to rub salt into the wounds of what could be a damaging day for their hopes of a return to the Champions League next season.
A poor week for English clubs in European competitions means that a place in the top four may be needed to qualify for the Champions League.
Spurs slip behind fourth-placed Aston Villa on goal difference.
But Tottenham have all three of the title contenders — Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City — to play in their final six games, while Villa face both Arsenal and Liverpool.
Postecoglou warned on the eve of the game that Newcastle’s struggles this season show how the demands of European football can drain a squad’s resources.
Yet they could still sneak back into the top four with a strong end to the campaign.
Fabian Schar inflicted the final blow when he rose highest to power in Gordon’s corner three minutes from time.


Football’s brightest stars will bounce back, says Ancelotti

Football’s brightest stars will bounce back, says Ancelotti
Updated 13 April 2024
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Football’s brightest stars will bounce back, says Ancelotti

Football’s brightest stars will bounce back, says Ancelotti
  • All four quarterfinal first leg matches thrilled supporters this week but some of the brightest names in the game were below their best on the biggest stage
  • Real Madrid visit Mallorca on Saturday looking to extend their eight-point lead in La Liga before second-placed Barcelona play at Cadiz later in the day

MADRID: Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti predicted Friday that Kylian Mbappe and football’s other brightest young stars would bounce back strongly after disappointing showings in the Champions League.

All four quarterfinal first leg matches thrilled supporters this week but some of the brightest names in the game were below their best on the biggest stage.

Paris Saint-Germain striker Mbappe was frustrated in Barcelona’s 3-2 win in the French capital, while Madrid defender Antonio Rudiger shackled Manchester City forward Erling Haaland.

Madrid’s top goalscorer Jude Bellingham also struggled to make an impact in his team’s white-knuckle 3-3 draw with the English champions at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“Calm down, calm down, maybe in the first legs they were below their best, but new games are coming and watch out, watch out for the three (of them),” Ancelotti told a news conference.

Real Madrid visit Mallorca on Saturday looking to extend their eight-point lead in La Liga before second-placed Barcelona play at Cadiz later in the day.

Ancelotti said England international Bellingham, 20, was fulfilling his role, even though his early season goal spree has come to an end.

Bellingham has 20 goals across all competitions for Madrid but just three in his last 13 games.

“Bellingham’s goal output is down, but that was a surprise,” said the coach.

“He’s doing his job, which is more as a midfielder, but in a footballing sense he’s doing very well, not missing anything, just goals, which sooner or later will return.”

The coach said forward Rodrygo Goes, who missed training on Friday, would be fit to face Mallorca.