Mohamed Elneny embraces Ramadan as Arsenal eye Premier League title glory

Mohamed Elneny embraces Ramadan as Arsenal eye Premier League title glory
Arsenal's Egyptian midfielder #25 Mohamed Elneny heads the ball during the English League Cup third round football match between Brentford and Arsenal at the Brentford Community Stadium in London. (AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2024
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Mohamed Elneny embraces Ramadan as Arsenal eye Premier League title glory

Mohamed Elneny embraces Ramadan as Arsenal eye Premier League title glory
  • The Egyptian international spoke to Arab News about his faith, the support of Mikel Arteta and the three-way title race with Manchester City and Liverpool

LONDON: Mohamed Elneny is the living, breathing, smiling proof that observing Ramadan can be compatible with the life of a Premier League footballer.

Despite operating in the most physically demanding league in the world, Arsenal’s longest-serving player is fasting through the holy month as he always does. 

On one level the two are incompatible — you would not run a Formula One car on an empty fuel tank — but Elneny would have it no other way.

Balancing faith with football works for him, even if it leaves his teammates perplexed at times.

“They ask me so many questions. ‘Mo, when can you drink? When can you eat food?’ For them it doesn’t make any sense to train without drink or food. But it’s something in my head that I want to do,” he told Arab News.

“If you want to do something you are going to find a way to do it. You just train your mind. 

“Actually I feel more strong in Ramadan because we do Ramadan for God and when you do something for God the reward will be big. He will not make you feel tired. He gives you power. 

“Today, for example, in training the players were asking: ‘Are you fasting?’ I was running around like normal. The way I train and the power God gives me, you would think I’m not fasting.

“You don’t think about the food or the drink. You focus on the Qur’an and praying, how life is happening, how the sky is beautiful and you think about the poor people. Those who don’t have food or money,” Elneny said.

“If a poor person comes to you now of course you give to them because you know how starving and thirsty they are. You need to feel this. That is why it is great to have Ramadan. You learn how to look after people.” 

The Egyptian paid tribute to the understanding he receives from the Arsenal staff, including manager Mikel Arteta.

“I used to do Ramadan in Switzerland when I played there and some coaches would ask if I can maybe do half of Ramadan or some days on and some not. Mikel completely supports me and so do all the nutritionists and doctors at Arsenal. They are happy for me to do it,” he said.

“The nutritionist, for example, gives me supplements and protein drinks to have during the night so I will not dehydrate because my body needs water. The doctors support me too. I have to say thank you for this.”

The Premier League are supportive, too, having introduced a Ramadan pause that can be activated by officials in games where the sun sets during the match.

The precedent was set three years ago when Leicester’s game against Crystal Palace was briefly halted to allow Wesley Fofana and Cheik Kouyate to break their fast with energy gels.

The clocks go forward by an hour in the UK this weekend for British Summer Time, so on Wednesday the sun will set eight minutes into Arsenal’s game against Luton.

It is a game in which Elneny could feature, with Arteta having to balance twin Premier League and Champions League pursuits.

It would be a rare outing for him in a season in which he has been restricted to just six appearances.

He is disappointed not to have featured more in what has been an exceptional campaign for Arsenal so far, but he is about as far removed from a dressing-room disrupter as it is possible to imagine.

“I want to play all the time. I don’t want to miss one game. But the way I am, in my mind and my heart, I don’t think about myself, I only think about how I am going to support my teammates and my coach and how I am going to give everything I have to the team,” he said.

“I love to give. I have been the same since the first day I played football.

“I know that to have people like this in the squad helps the team. It gives energy and makes the team strong. I always believe that it is much better to have a good team than to have good individual players. That comes from the players who don’t play and who still give energy to the players who do play. I’m happy to play this role. 

“Whether I play or I don’t play, I leave it to Mikel. When I am at the training ground I don’t want to give Mikel a headache, I want him to focus on the team. We are here to support each other, not to think about ourselves. I’m a team player.” 

There was talk of a move to Turkiye in the January transfer window but the 31-year-old remains an Arsenal loyalist, the last player on the books signed by Arsene Wenger.

The great French manager was in charge when Arsenal last won the Premier League title — unbeaten — in 2003-2004.

After coming close last season only to fade on the run-in, they are involved in a gripping three-way fight this season with Liverpool and Manchester City.

Arsenal travel to City tomorrow in a game that could be critical to the title race.

“We have worked super-hard with Mikel, the fans are excited with us and we are literally going to give everything to achieve what we want to from this year. We are going to fight for every game because we know how important every moment is now,” Elneny said.

“City, Chelsea — no one game is easy now. That’s why the Premier League is the best league in the world. When you play any team you never know what is going to happen.”

Elneny has developed an addiction for the breathless intensity of English football since his arrival from Basel eight years ago.

So much so that he has set up his own football club in London — Elneny FC — with the aim of them playing in the Premier League one day.

“I want to change the name in the future but I thought if I put my name to it, players would maybe come to the trials. In the end 500 came, which is a big number,” he said.

“We are still at the early stages. We’re going to join the leagues next year, Inshallah. We want to start as high as possible to save us some years and then hopefully we can be in the Premier League one day.

“It would be great for me to have players from Egypt and other Arab countries to join the team but I’m happy to help the English players as well.”

He is a hands-on owner of the club, having just obtained his UEFA B coaching license. 

“I’m doing my badges now and that’s going to help me when I finish playing. I will be able to swap straight away to be a coach. All my life I want football,” he said.

However, Elneny has no intention of retiring any time soon. Or from stepping away from international football.

“I have 101 caps but I have six or seven years to go with Egypt. I am still young!” he said, laughing. “I love the national team and I am so proud to play with them. It is a great feeling when you represent your country. We are 110 million people in Egypt. Can you imagine being one of the best 11?”

The disappointment of AFCON in January, when Egypt were knocked out at the last-16 stage, has faded. He is already looking ahead to the 2025 event in Morocco.

Before then, though, he and Arsenal have business to attend to — big business. 

If they can land one of the big prizes, it will mean a lot to everyone at the club but no-one more than Elneny, who has become part of the fabric of the place.

He might not be front and center of the on-field mission this season, but off it there is no-one who is regarded as highly.

A fortnight ago Elneny was asked to cut the ribbon to open Arsenal’s multi-faith players’ prayer room at the Emirates Stadium. It is for anyone and everyone, but in practice it is their beloved Muslim midfielder’s own quiet space of contemplation. 

“That’s why I love this club,” he said. “They have always looked after me. I never feel like I am away from Egypt or away from my family. Arsenal is like a family. I’m really happy I came to this football club because it’s a big part of my life.”


Dressel, Ledecky line up title defenses at Paris Olympics with US swimming trials victories

Dressel, Ledecky line up title defenses at Paris Olympics with US swimming trials victories
Updated 32 sec ago
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Dressel, Ledecky line up title defenses at Paris Olympics with US swimming trials victories

Dressel, Ledecky line up title defenses at Paris Olympics with US swimming trials victories
  • Dressel wrapped up his emotional return to the US trials, following up his 50m freestyle victory with another win after his lengthy break from the sport
  • In Paris Ledecky will be the favorite to become the first woman in any sport to win Olympic gold in the same event four times

LOS ANGELES: Caeleb Dressel powered to victory in the 100m butterfly at the US Olympic swimming trials to line up another title defense in Paris, where Katie Ledecky will go for a historic fourth straight 800m freestyle gold.

Dressel wrapped up his emotional return to the US trials on Saturday, following up his 50m free victory on Friday with another win after his lengthy break from the sport.

Dressel seized control with his trademark explosive start, led at the wall and won in 50.19sec, with 17-year-old Thomas Heilman second in 50.80.

Heilman had already won the 200m butterfly to become the youngest US male swimmer to book an Olympic berth since 15-year-old Michael Phelps and 17-year-old Aaron Piersol competed at the 2000 Sydney Games.

He flew home in the outside lane one to edge 21-year-old Dare Rose by four-hundredths of a second.

“This is truly the hardest part,” Dressel said of the pressure-cooker US trials, where only the top two finishers in each event can secure an individual Olympic berth.

“It’s tough to make the team here, and that’s how it should be,” said Dressel, who won five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics to confirm his superstar status but abruptly stepped away from the sport in 2022.

“I think I’ve felt every emotion that I’m capable of,” Dressel said of the rollercoaster nine-day trials, held this year in the stunning, potentially intimidating atmosphere of Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

“It’s tough. So really the motto is one stroke at a time. You’ve got to turn the dial on, then turn it off and just when you can go to bed. So I’m happy to be done,” said Dressel, who has been cheered on this week by his wife, Meghan, with their four-month-old son, August, along for the ride.

Ledecky’s fourth victory of the week, in the 800m freestyle, takes her back to where her Olympic journey began, with an upset triumph at the age of 15 in the 2012 London Games.

Ledecky, the world record-holder who owns the top 16 times ever in the event, clocked 8min 14.12sec. As in the 400m free, Paige Madden was second to Ledecky, shattering her personal best with a time of 8:20.71.

In Paris Ledecky will be the favorite to become the first woman in any sport to win Olympic gold in the same event four times.

Michael Phelps the only swimmer to win the same event at four straight Games, the 200m individual medley in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Kate Douglass added an impressive victory in the 200m individual medley in 2min 06.79sec to her 100m free and 200m breaststroke wins this week.

Alex Walsh was second in 2:07.86 and the pair head to Paris aiming to improve on their performances at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games, where Walsh took silver and Douglass earned bronze behind Japanese gold medallist Yui Ohashi.

“I feel like the goal coming into this meet was to try and win all three events, but you know, I didn’t really think I was going to be able to achieve that,” Douglass said. “So I’m really happy I did.”

Walsh finally secured her Paris berth on the penultimate night of the trials, joining her sister Gretchen who clocked a world record in the semifinals on the way to winning the 100m fly.

“I didn’t know if I was going to make it to Paris after she made it,” said Alex Walsh, who competed in Tokyo as Gretchen missed out. “This is a dream we’ve been dreaming for so long.”


Shakib blasts Bangladesh’s lack of ‘fight’ at T20 World Cup

Shakib blasts Bangladesh’s lack of ‘fight’ at T20 World Cup
Updated 18 min 20 sec ago
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Shakib blasts Bangladesh’s lack of ‘fight’ at T20 World Cup

Shakib blasts Bangladesh’s lack of ‘fight’ at T20 World Cup
  • Saturday’s mauling was Bangladesh’s second defeat in the Super Eights after an opening loss to Australia
  • Bangladesh stumbled to 146-8 in their 20 overs against India with skipper Najmul Hossain Shanto top scoring with 40

North Sound, Antigua and Barbuda: Veteran Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan hit out at the Tigers’ lack of “fight” after a 50-run rout by India effectively ended their T20 World Cup dreams.
Saturday’s mauling was Bangladesh’s second defeat in the Super Eights after an opening loss to Australia.
“We were always thinking that we came to do something good and we will do it,” said former skipper Shakib who was playing in his 128th T20 international.
“But if you look at the result or the performance on the ground, actually we couldn’t show any fight in that way. It’s disappointing.”
Chasing 197 to win, Bangladesh stumbled to 146-8 in their 20 overs against India with skipper Najmul Hossain Shanto top scoring with 40.
Making runs has been a problem for Bangladesh throughout the tournament with Towhid Hridoy their top run-getter with a modest 139 across six innings.
Shakib was the only player to make a 50 when he hit an undefeated 64 in the first round victory against the Netherlands.
“I don’t know how long it will take,” said the 37-year-old Shakib when asked to put a timeframe on Bangladesh winning a world title.
“When we played with two big teams, who were maybe the closest contenders for the World Cup, our gap with them was clearly visible.
“So, it is disappointing to me that we still have such huge gaps.”
Shakib made his international debut in 2006 and has also played in 67 Tests and 247 one-dayers. He has amassed more than 19,500 runs and taken over 700 wickets.
However, he will not make any hasty decisions on whether he will call time on his Bangladesh career.
“If the team think that they need me, and if I think that I need the team and I am feeling desired in that way then it is a matter of playing for the team,” he said.
“Otherwise, if I am not enjoying then of course, I will not play. When it’s time everyone will come to know about it.”


Whittaker knocks out Aliskerov, Volkov beats Pavlovich in Riyadh’s UFC ‘Fight Night’

Whittaker knocks out Aliskerov, Volkov beats Pavlovich in Riyadh’s UFC ‘Fight Night’
Updated 23 June 2024
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Whittaker knocks out Aliskerov, Volkov beats Pavlovich in Riyadh’s UFC ‘Fight Night’

Whittaker knocks out Aliskerov, Volkov beats Pavlovich in Riyadh’s UFC ‘Fight Night’
  • Whittaker took down the Russian fighter in just 1:46 minutes of the first round
  • Volkov defeated Russian compatriot Pavlovich by unanimous decision

RIYADH: Australian mixed martial arts star Robert Whittaker knocked out Ikram Sabirovich Aliskerov in under 2 minutes of the first round of the middleweight main event of the inaugural UFC "Fight Night" in Riyadh late on Saturday.

Aliskerov was pulled from Saturday’s UFC event in Las Vegas as a last-minute replacement for his compatriot Khamzat Chimaev, who withdrew from the fight due to illness.

Aliskerov was tagged by UFC's CEO and President Dana White as a "legit contender," having been on a seven-game winning streak, and having lost only one of his 16 bouts. His only loss was against Chimaev.

Whittaker started the fight using precision striking to keep Aliskerov at a distance, while Aliskerov countered with powerful takedowns and effective ground control, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.

But Whittaker, nicknamed "The Reaper" for sending many opponents down with his famous 1-2-high kick combination, was just too much for him, securing a victory by knockout at 1:49 in the first round, solidifying his status as a leading contender in the division.

"I'm the most dangerous middleweight on the planet. Everyone knows that," Whittaker declared in a press conference after his victory.

In the heavyweight co-main event, Alexander Volkov defeated Russian compatriot Sergei Pavlovich by unanimous decision.

Results of the UFC Saudi Arabia "Fight Night" matches.

Earlier, Kelvin Gastelum beat American compatriot Daniel Rodriguez by unanimous decision in their middle weight division match.

Pavlovich came out aggressively, landing significant strikes early in the fight. However, Volkov showcased impressive endurance and striking accuracy, gradually turning the tide.

In a dramatic third round, Volkov landed a decisive head kick, followed by a series of punches that led to his victory. The crowd erupted in applause, appreciating the skill and tenacity displayed by both fighters.

The undercard featured several emerging talents who seized the opportunity to shine. Felipe Lima, a promising featherweight prospect, delivered a standout performance with a third-round submission victory (rear-naked choke) over Muhammad Naimov. Lima's seamless transition from striking to grappling highlighted his potential as a future star in the division.

In the bantamweight bout, Muin Gafurov impressed the audience with their striking precision and footwork, earning a unanimous decision win against Kyung Ho Kang. The technical mastery displayed by both fighters was a testament to the high level of competition in the UFC.

The fight night witnessed two other knockouts: Shara Magomedov defeated Antonio Trocoli at 2:27 of round three, and Volkan Oezdemir knocked out Johnny Walker at 2:28 of the first round.

The success of UFC Fight Night in Riyadh confirms the growing interest in MMA in the region and sets the stage for future events. UFC President Dana White expressed his excitement about the evening's success and discussed more events to come in the Middle East. "The energy and passion of the fans here in Riyadh have been incredible. We’re thrilled with tonight's success and look forward to bringing more world-class UFC events to this part of the world," White said.

“We sold over 12,000 seats. It’s been good, it was fun coming to this market. I love how passionate Turki AlAsheikh is about the sport,” White said. “In this region now, you see a lot of talents coming from here (Saudi Arabia and the Middle East).”

UFC Fight Night at Kingdom Arena was not just about the fights; it was a celebration of MMA's global reach and cultural significance. The event drew a diverse crowd, including local fans, international visitors, and celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds. The atmosphere inside Kingdom Arena was electric, with enthusiastic fans cheering for their favorite fighters and savoring each moment of the action-packed night.

The success of UFC Fight Night in Riyadh highlights the growing interest in MMA in the region and sets the stage for future events.

With thrilling fights, standout performances, and an unforgettable atmosphere, the night will be remembered as a significant milestone in UFC history and a testament to the sport's popularity.

 


De Bruyne seals Belgium’s 2-0 win over Romania to get Euro 2024 campaign on track

De Bruyne seals Belgium’s 2-0 win over Romania to get Euro 2024 campaign on track
Updated 23 June 2024
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De Bruyne seals Belgium’s 2-0 win over Romania to get Euro 2024 campaign on track

De Bruyne seals Belgium’s 2-0 win over Romania to get Euro 2024 campaign on track
  • All four teams in Group E have three points, meaning there is all to play for in the final round of games on Wednesday

COLOGNE, Germany: Kevin De Bruyne scored and Belgium got its European Championship campaign up and running after beating Romania 2-0 on Saturday.
The No. 3-ranked Belgians shook off the shock of losing to Slovakia in their opening game by responding with a dominant performance in front of the Belgium royal family at Cologne Stadium.
Youri Tielemans gave them a flying start with a goal from the edge of the area in the second minute.
De Bruyne effectively killed the game off in the 80th after converting direct from Belgium goalkeeper Koen Casteels’ long kick.
All four teams in Group E have three points, meaning there is all to play for in the final round of games on Wednesday.
While Belgium won, there was more frustration for Romelu Lukaku, who had a third goal ruled out by VAR at these Euros.
Still, he was at the center of his team’s great start when laying the ball off for Tielemans to score with a low drive from the edge of the box.
It was just what Belgium needed after the Slovakia stunner, which raised the prospect of another early exit from a major tournament after being eliminated at the group stage of the 2022 World Cup.
The format of the Euros, in which the four best third-place teams advance, leaves more room for error. But with memories of Qatar still fresh, another defeat would have broken the confidence of a team criticized for failing to live up to expectations in the past.
Tielemans’ goal seemed to lift the pressure, and Belgium ruled the rest of the half with 67 percent of possession.
Lukaku thought he scored after the break, but VAR said he strayed offside before firing past Romania keeper Florin Nita.
The longer the game went on without Belgium scoring a second, the more the tension rose.
Dennis Man could have evened the score when running through on goal, but was denied by Casteels.
The keeper then turned provider with a long punt upfield, which De Bruyne raced on to and fired home.
Under former Belgium coach Roberto Martinez, Portugal advanced to the knockout phase after a 3-0 win against Turkiye in Group F. Georgia picked up its first ever point at a major tournament after a drawing the Czech Republic 1-1 and still has hopes of advancing.


UEFA fines Croatia for fan trouble at Euro 2024

UEFA fines Croatia for fan trouble at Euro 2024
Updated 22 June 2024
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UEFA fines Croatia for fan trouble at Euro 2024

UEFA fines Croatia for fan trouble at Euro 2024
  • The HNS published a statement on its website saying that it will have to pay a fine of $29,900
  • The Croatian federation was fined 87,875 euros

ZAGREB: UEFA have fined the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) for the incidents that occurred in the stands during Croatia’s 2-2 draw with Albania at Euro 2024, the national federation said on Saturday.
The HNS published a statement on its website saying that it will have to pay a fine of 28,000 euros ($29,900) due to the “lighting of flares and throwing of objects by some Croatian fans during the match played on June 19 in Hamburg.”
“The Croatian Football Federation thanks the Croatian fans for their excellent support and once again calls on them to refrain from lighting and throwing flares,” the statement said.
The HNS was also fined after Croatia’s first match in Group B, which they lost 3-0 to Spain.
The Croatian federation was fined 87,875 euros for fans throwing plastic cups onto the pitch and lighting flares.
Croatia are in danger of a group-stage exit from Euro 2024 after defeat to Spain and Wednesday’s thrilling 2-2 draw in which Albania’s Klaus Gjasula scored at both ends, including a dramatic injury-time equalizer.
Croatia, World Cup semifinalists in 2022, will now likely need to win their final Group B match against holders Italy on Monday to have any hope of reaching the knockout phase of a fifth straight major tournament.