Al-Riyadh’s Andre Gray confident of Saudi Pro League survival

Special Al-Riyadh’s Andre Gray confident of Saudi Pro League survival
Andre Gray closes in on Neymar during an RSL encounter. (Getty Images)
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Updated 07 March 2024
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Al-Riyadh’s Andre Gray confident of Saudi Pro League survival

Al-Riyadh’s Andre Gray confident of Saudi Pro League survival
  • Former Burnley and Watford player scored a vital winner against Al-Okhdood to take Al-Riyadh 5 points clear of the relegation zone
  • Andre Gray: The table’s really tight at the moment, so three points are really, really important to us right now with the battle at the bottom

Andre Gray’s 87th-minute intervention last Friday may have been his most crucial yet as an Al-Riyadh player. Against fellow Saudi Pro League strugglers Al-Ohkdood, he grabbed the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory — the third time this season that a Gray strike has handed Al-Riyadh all three points.

It means the team from the Saudi capital are now five points clear of the relegation zone, but Gray, who played four seasons in the English Premier League with Burnley and Watford, knows that it is not the time to get complacent.

“I think the last one was the most important goal I’ve scored this season,” Gray told Arab News. “The table’s really tight at the moment, so three points are really, really important to us right now with the battle at the bottom.

“Every win is going to boost our confidence, so I think after Friday, it’s given give us a big boost. But you can see how tight it is. One win and you feel like you’re completely out of it, then one defeat and you’re back in it again.

“The game before that (a 1-1 draw with Al-Raed) was a tough one, too, but those are ones you can’t afford to lose, so a draw was fine. I think taking four points from the past three games is OK.”

Al-Riyadh appear unlikely to extract any points from their next fixture as they host runaway league leaders Al-Hilal in a derby clash at the Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Stadium this Friday.

Al-Hilal have been in irresistible form this campaign and last weekend beat Al-Ittihad 3-1 in the Saudi Clasico, a record-extending 15th successive league win. Victory over Al-Riyadh will mean 27 straight wins in all competitions, equalling the world record set by Welsh side the New Saints FC in 2017.

“In any league, when you play against the top team, you need a lot of things to go in your favor; you need a lot of luck if you want to get a result. The goalkeeper probably needs to be man of the match,” Gray said.

“We’ve played Al-Hilal already (a 6-1 loss in September) and it didn’t go too well, but to be honest it’s one of those games that you don’t mark on the calendar as a must-win.”

It has not been an easy first season for Gray on the pitch, with Al-Riyadh struggling at the wrong end of the table. But the Jamaica international, who a decade ago went from non-league football with Luton Town to the English Premier League with Burnley in just two years, insists he is relishing the challenge of playing in the Kingdom.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Gray said. “It’s very competitive — if you just look at the table, you can see there’s not much in between the clubs outside of the top six, which I think it speaks volumes about the quality.

“It’s an exciting time to be here — not just football. I think life here as well. You’re seeing things being built, all the events that are happening, the changes that have come in.

“It’s strange because I’ve never really witnessed anything like that in England. But coming here and being at the start of things — you get a feel for how this project is going to be, both in terms of football and outside of football. It was the perfect time to come.”

Gray has already played under three coaches at Al-Riyadh, with Bandar Al-Kubaishan taking caretaker charge after Belgian Yannick Ferrara left his post in September, before current boss — Brazilian Odair Hellmann — arrived in October.

“The coach (Hellmann) has been great,” said Gray. “He pushes us a lot, wants a lot of energy from us. Like everyone here, he has had to adapt and navigate his way through, but he’s just trying to get the best out of the players.

“We all have one goal and I feel like he’s got us all on the same page together. That’s the only way we’re going to achieve what we want to achieve: to stay in the top division.”

Away from the pitch, Gray has long been a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and has a number of tattoos of historic civil rights leaders. It is little surprise, then, that the deterioration of the rights of the Palestinian people is something that has affected him.

“You can see a lot of the news here, but you mostly see stuff now on social media,” he said. “It’s just not right and I think any person on a human level knows it’s not right.

“It needs to stop; it’s horrific, there are no actual words to explain the suffering in Palestine and all the things that are going on. All the world leaders, they need to step up because they’re they are the ones with power.”

Gray has found plenty who share his outlook in the Kingdom, where he has settled quickly since joining Al-Riyadh last summer. A major comfort has been the plethora of sporting events now hosted in Saudi Arabia, which has made the transition from the UK a little easier.

“I’ve been trying to go to all of the sport, to be honest,” Gray said. “I went to the MMA last week and I’ll be going to the boxing this week. Hopefully, if we have a day off, I’ll get to Jeddah for the Formula One. They really know how to do sport and entertainment out here.”

Before a potential trip to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix comes the trickiest of Pro League matches against Al Hilal on Friday. Despite being overwhelming underdogs, Gray said nothing is a foregone conclusion. 

“It’s about trying to stick to the system and be disciplined and stay focused, and we will see what happens. Football’s a strange old game, so you just never know.”


Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants

Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants
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Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants

Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants
TIRANA: The Albanian soccer federation said UEFA banned its player Mirlind Daku on Sunday for two games after leading fans in nationalist chants at the European Championship.
Daku took a megaphone after Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia on Wednesday in Hamburg and joined in chanting slogans against Serbia and North Macedonia.
The Albanian federation also said UEFA imposed fines totaling 47,250 euros ($50,500) for incidents at the game, where its fans joined Croatian fans and chanted an anti-Serb slogan.
The Serbian soccer federation said it would leave the tournament if UEFA did not punish the incidents.
Albania play a decisive group-stage game on Monday against Spain. If Albania advance, Daku also would sit out the round of 16 game.
Daku later apologized for his actions in a social media posting, as UEFA appointed an in-house investigator to study his “alleged inappropriate behavior.”
The 26-year-old forward began playing for Albania last year having used his right under FIFA rules to change his eligibility from Kosovo, the ethnic-Albanian former province of Serbia that declared independence 16 years ago.
UEFA also announced charges against its Albanian and Croatian member federations for “potential racist and/or discriminatory conduct” by fans on Wednesday, who were reportedly chanting “Kill the Serbs” in Serbian.
The Albanian soccer Federation, or FSHF, called on the fans to be “accountable and avoid incidents and riots.”
“The FSHF invites fans and football lovers to support to the end the Albanian national team in this magical and historic path in Euro 2024 by showing citizenry and accountability through correct behavior and by respecting the rules and the opponents,” said a statement.
Albania have impressed at Euro 2024 in an opening 2-1 loss against Italy and then the 2-2 draw with Croatia. The team likely need to beat Spain to advance.

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead
Updated 23 June 2024
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How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead

How Pakistan’s new cricket coaches can approach tough tasks ahead
  • Despite the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s of the 2024 T20 World Cup, there could be reasons to be optimistic

NEW YORK: How many times have we heard the words inconsistent, unpredictable and chaotic used to describe the Pakistan men’s cricket team’s performances over the years?

The answer is numerous, although usually the description is followed by the qualification that the team are at their most dangerous when in that state.

In the wake of the team’s failure to progress to the Super 8s stage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, the mood is different and much darker.

Inconsistency, unpredictability and chaos did not translate into becoming a dangerous opponent. Nor should it, because it is much more likely that a team characterized as consistent, hardworking and united will perform best.

In my view, it is time for those involved in Pakistan’s cricket world to step away from the myth surrounding what it takes to galvanize the team. In its place ought to be a realization that the raw talent that once helped them produce magical moments is not being harnessed properly and that teams in other countries have adopted a more adventurous style of playing cricket.

The big question is how can Pakistan achieve such a transformation? There is nothing new about the current environment. Issues with chairmen and selection have abounded over the years, leading to accusations of nepotism and favoritism. However, I believe that there is reason to be hopeful.

The two new coaches, Gary Kirsten for white ball cricket and Jason Gillespie for red ball, are in positions which allow them to make decisions which are likely to be backed unconditionally by the hierarchy, even if it is just to save face for themselves.

Hopefully, the coaches will take full advantage of this opportunity to set their paths immediately. It is not an understatement to suggest that they are set for the hardest task of their careers. I was coached by Gillespie at Yorkshire and know his style is to be calm, which will be of help in this task. He prefers to let players lead while occupying a supporting act. From a distance, Kirsten seems to have a similar style, evidenced by his time with India in winning the 2011 World Cup under MS Dhoni’s captaincy.

Anyone who has followed the men in green will be very aware of all the issues with the team environment, so those must be addressed first. It is a very insecure one with a lot of noise.

Personally, I would not have chosen the two-coach policy. These players need simple and consistent messaging to be able to go out and express themselves. However, given that two coaches are in place, it will be especially important for them to work together and build a trusted backroom staff body which is the same across the formats. Time is of the essence to put this in place as pressure to improve both team and individual performances will build quickly. In my view, the environment needs freshening and unnecessary baggage which has built up over the last couple of years needs removing.

One of the most difficult and contentious issues is that of the captaincy. In the current situation, I would play down the power and importance of the captain. This goes against my natural grain but, for the immediate future, the coach needs to be the figurehead and lead. Obviously, there still needs to be a captain, ideally across formats, so as to reduce noise and deliver one simple message. Pakistan’s next white ball match is not until early November in Australia, so there is no need for immediate action. However, there are two Tests with Bangladesh to be hosted in August. Shan Masood is the current captain.

Another contentious issue is the selection process and, within it, the role of Wahab Riaz. It was only on Mar. 24 that the current seven-member selection committee was established. This included Riaz, who had previously acted as chair, but that title was removed, Riaz remaining as a committee member. Somewhat impracticably, each member carried an equal vote from which a majority decision would be formed. How this works in practice is unclear.

In my view, the experiment should be ditched, with the coaches having the final say in a reduced committee. Riaz, who is believed to be close to the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) chair, was senior team manager during the World Cup, despite there being a team manager and a coach! There is a public perception that Riaz appears to wield too much influence. It remains to be seen if the review of Pakistan’s World Cup performance will recommend that it is reduced. The results are expected shortly.

The first requirement for team selection will come with the Bangladesh Tests. Gillespie will oversee a training camp ahead of these matches to prepare both the national and A teams. He has already said that “we can’t rely on the same 11 players to play day in and day out. We need to make sure that we’ve got a squad mentality.”

Surprisingly, the talent pool appears to be small with a lack of ready-made replacements in some positions, so there is a need to identify and back those with the necessary character and skill. One of the options is Mohammad Haris. He has the modern-day approach which surely needs to be injected into the team’s approach and pursued all the way to the next T20 World Cup. Irfan Khan Niazi is another young dynamo who could grow into a good finisher, whilst investment in batter Omair Yousuf could prove beneficial.

In the fast-bowling department, Shaheen Shah Afridi needs the necessary support to return to basics and improve his performance. In my view, he would be advised to forget about the captaincy to concentrate on taking wickets and being a match winner. Naseem Shah needs protection and support as he appears to be on the right path to being world class. I expect Gillespie to provide those levels of support for both players.

Leg-spinner Usama Mir would have been in my World Cup squad, whilst Mehran Mumtaz has the ability to be the all-format No. 1 spinner. Shadab Khan needs time to rediscover his bowling skills. He has been brilliant as a batter for Islamabad but that seems to have skewed his thought processes in international cricket. He has succeeded before and I have no doubt he will again, but he is another who needs to go back to basics.

My suggested change in approach for both coaches may not be very natural for either man. Both prefer to have a strong captain who takes the lead while they create an environment which encourages the players to make their own decisions.

In the short term, my view is that the coaches need to lead from the front, dealing with the noise and protecting their players from the inevitable attacks by ex-players, pundits and fans. Internally, they are advised to set out clear expectations. The team must become the priority in what is an insecure culture which makes the players think more about personal performances.

The two men need to settle the players in their minds through a combination of hand holding and tough love. Hopefully, a period of calm and support will create a better environment for success.


Ex-champion Murray out of Wimbledon after back surgery

Ex-champion Murray out of Wimbledon after back surgery
Updated 23 June 2024
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Ex-champion Murray out of Wimbledon after back surgery

Ex-champion Murray out of Wimbledon after back surgery

LONDON: Two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray has been ruled out of this year’s tournament after undergoing back surgery, the ATP Tour confirmed on Sunday.
“After an operation on a spinal cyst, Andy Murray is sadly out of Wimbledon. Rest up and recover Andy, we’ll miss seeing you there,” the ATP said on X, formerly Twitter.
The Scot had been aiming to make a farewell appearance at the grass court Grand Slam, which he won in 2013 and 2016.
However, the 37-year-old will need an expected six weeks to recover from surgery with Wimbledon starting on July 1.
He now also faces a race against time to be fit for next month’s Paris Olympics, with Murray twice a gold medallist in the singles.
Murray managed just five games before a back injury forced him to withdraw from his second-round match against Australia’s Jordan Thompson at the Queen’s warm-up event in London on Wednesday.
The former world number one, who plays with a metal hip, struggled from the start of his match against Thompson and said afterwards he had a feeling of weakness in his right leg and had lost coordination.
“I never had that loss of coordination, control and strength in my leg before,” Murray said shortly after retiring from his match with Thompson.
“I’ve been struggling with my back for a while — I had lost the power in my right leg so lost all motor control, I had no coordination and couldn’t really move.”
Asked then about his prospects of playing at Wimbledon, he added: “Like all tennis players, we have degenerative joints and stuff in the back, but it’s all predominantly been left-sided for me my whole career.
“I have never had too many issues with the right side. So maybe there is something that can be done between now and then to help the right side.”
Murray underwent minor back surgery in 2013 and following a first-round loss at the recent French Open he said he would need treatment to address soreness.
The three-time Grand Slam champion only returned to competitive action in May after nearly two months out with an ankle injury.
He had been due to play singles and doubles with his brother Jamie at Wimbledon before potentially ending his career at the Olympics in Paris.


Kuramagomedov takes welterweight world title at Bellator Champions Series Dublin

Kuramagomedov takes welterweight world title at Bellator Champions Series Dublin
Updated 23 June 2024
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Kuramagomedov takes welterweight world title at Bellator Champions Series Dublin

Kuramagomedov takes welterweight world title at Bellator Champions Series Dublin
  • Paul Hughes shines on Bellator debut with second round TKO

Dublin: Bellator Champions Series Dublin crowned a new champion at the 3Arena in Dublin as Ramazan Kuramagomedov defeated Jason Jackson to extend his unbeaten streak and become the new Bellator welterweight world champion in a gruelling five-round battle.

Kuramagomedov was visibly emotional after he achieved his life-long dream of becoming a champion after a hard-fought unanimous-decision victory.

In the co-main event, the Irish welcomed Derry’s Paul Hughes who stepped into the cage for his Bellator Champions Series debut and rose to the occasion as he stopped Bobby King via TKO in the second round. “Big News” Hughes lived up to his moniker, confirming to the MMA world that he will be a prospect to watch for years to come.

Australia’s Arlene Blencowe silenced the 3Arena when she dropped Sinead Kavanagh and followed up with a guillotine choke to force the tap. The two fighters exchanged heavy hands in the first round, with “Angerfist” landing a strong straight right hand on Kavanagh in the second round followed by the successful submission.

Dalton Rosta had his hand raised after a three-round battle with Norbert Novenyi after a wildly entertaining middleweight bout. The pair exchanged heavy offence, with Dalton displaying his resilience in the third round as he fought through adversity after big elbows from Novenyi to secure the majority decision win.

The main card kicked off with a win in the Irish column as Darragh Kelly remained undefeated after he put Mathias Poiron to sleep after a tight guillotine that brought the home crowd to their feet and put the lightweight division on notice.

 

Bellator Champions Series Dublin Main Card Results

Ramazan Kuramagomedov (13-0) beat Jason Jackson (18-5) via unanimous decision to become Bellator Welterweight World Champion

Paul Hughes (12-1) beat Bobby King (12-7) via second round TKO

Arlene Blencowe (16-10) beat Sinead Kavanagh (9-7) via second round guillotine

Dalton Rosta (9-1) beat Norbert Novenyi (7-1) via majority decision

Darragh Kelly (6-0) beat Mathias Poiron (7-2) via first round guillotine

 

Preliminary Card Results

Kasum Kasumov (16-1) beat Matheus Mattos (14-3-1) via unanimous decision

Nathan Kelly (11-2) beat Jose Sanchez (13-3-1) via first round front naked choke

Khasan Magomedsharipov (10-0) beat Tyler Mathison (6-4) via unanimous decision

Sarvarjon Khamidov (16-0) beat Marcirley Alves (12-4) via unanimous decision

Shinobu Ota (7-3) beat Roger Blanque (5-6) via first round north south choke

Michelle Montague beat Karolina Sobek via first round rear naked choke

Nate Kelly beat Paul Nolan via first round tap arm bar


Super subs give Venezuela 2-1 win over 10-man Ecuador, Mexico edge Jamaica

Super subs give Venezuela 2-1 win over 10-man Ecuador, Mexico edge Jamaica
Updated 23 June 2024
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Super subs give Venezuela 2-1 win over 10-man Ecuador, Mexico edge Jamaica

Super subs give Venezuela 2-1 win over 10-man Ecuador, Mexico edge Jamaica
  • Arteaga said the disallowed goal had given Mexico the impetus to go on and win the game
  • Mexico face Venezuela on Wednesday in Los Angeles with Jamaica up against Ecuador on the same day in Las Vegas

SANTA CLARA, California: Goals from substitutes Jhonder Cadiz and Eduard Bello gave Venezuela a 2-1 win over 10-man Ecuador in their Copa America Group B match on Saturday.

In the group’s other game, Mexico made a winning start to their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Jamaica in Houston but lost their captain Edson Alvarez to injury.

Ecuador were forced to play with 10 men from the 22nd minute of the game at Levi Stadium when striker Enner Valencia was sent off for dangerous play.

The 34-year-old forward struck the chest of Venezuela defender Jose Martinez with his boot while challenging for a high, bouncing ball in the box and was initially awarded a yellow card but after a VAR review he was shown a straight red.

Ecuador, which had been in control of the game before the dismissal, responded well and went ahead in the 40th minute when Venezuela failed to clear a free-kick into the box and Jeremy Sarmiento pounced on the loose ball to drill home.

Venezuela head coach Fernando Batista made two changes at the break, bringing on Cadiz and Bello and both were to make a decisive impact.

“Vinotinto” striker Salomon Rondon laid the ball off to Cadiz, whose low side-footed shot from the edge of the box took a slight deflection as it flashed past Ecuador keeper Alexander Dominguez.

Then, in the 74th minute, Alexander Gonzalez whipped in a cross from the right, met with a diving header from Rondon which was parried by Dominguez but Bello reacted to fire home the loose ball.

“To be able to score a goal, which helped in the victory, and to have contributed to the first goal, is a joy. These three points are very important for what’s to come,” said a delighted Bello.

Ecuador’s Spanish coach Felix Sanchez said the red card for Valencia had forced him to change the team’s approach.

“We had to change the plan, wait a bit behind the opposition. It’s clear that when you play with 10 men you are at the mercy of the opposition for many minutes, even if you don’t want to play that way,” he said.

“Obviously it’s not the dream start, but there are two more games left and we have the team to compete. The most important thing is that the team recovers its spirit for what is to come.”

Mexico labored for long stretches against Jamaica before a superbly struck 69th minute goal from Gerardo Arteaga earned them the three points.

Jaime Lozano’s team suffered a major blow when their skipper, West Ham midfielder Alvarez had to go off in the 29th minute after going down without contact.

’El Tri’ struggled to create opportunities in the opening half with their best effort, a curling shot just wide from Luis Romo, just before the break.

Jamaica thought they had the lead in the 50th minute but Michail Antonio’s diving header was ruled out for offside after a VAR review.

That letoff woke up the Mexicans who pushed forward with greater purpose. Luis Chavez forced a good save out of Jamaica keeper Jahmali Waite and Julian Quinones fired over the bar after cutting in from the left.

Waite was alert again to keep out a Santiago Gimenez near post blast as the pressure built and finally Mexico got the breakthrough when the ball fell to Arteaga on the edge of the box and he blasted a perfectly struck half-volley into the far corner.

Jamaica had one last opportunity to salvage a point but Dexter Lembikisa’s low shot was turned round the post by Mexico keeper Julio Gonzalez.

Arteaga said the disallowed goal had given Mexico the impetus to go on and win the game.

“A goal, whether for or against, changes your mood a lot. And seeing that it had been disallowed, that also lifted us a little bit more to keep insisting and looking for the goal ourselves,” the left-back told TUDN.

Mexico face Venezuela on Wednesday in Los Angeles with Jamaica up against Ecuador on the same day in Las Vegas.

“We know there’s not going to be an easy opponent. Thank God we won against Jamaica and now we want to go for another win,” said Arteaga.