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.”


Bellator Champions Series returns with two title fights in September

Bellator Champions Series returns with two title fights in September
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Bellator Champions Series returns with two title fights in September

Bellator Champions Series returns with two title fights in September
  • Undefeated Usman Nurmagomedov to defend lightweight title against Alexander Shabbily in San Diego on Sept. 7
  • Middleweight championship on the line when undefeated Johnny Eblen takes on Fabian Edwards in London on Sept. 14

NEW YORK: Bellator Champions Series will return in September with two straight weeks of global action, headlined by two Bellator World Championship bouts.

First up, on Saturday, Sept. 7, Bellator Champions Series San Diego will feature a Lightweight World Championship main event. Usman Nurmagomedov (17-0, 1 NC) will attempt to retain both his undefeated run and his 155-pound title when he locks horns with Alexander Shabliy (23-3), a man who has not been beaten in eight years.

One week later on Saturday, Sept. 14, the Bellator Middleweight World Championship is on the line in the main event of Bellator Champions Series London, when undefeated Johnny Eblen (15-0) will once again face off against England’s Fabian Edwards (13-3).

Last year, Bellator was bought by the PIF-backed Professional Fighters League.

“September is set to be a huge month for Bellator Champions Series, and we’re continuing to step up our game to deliver incredible cards that we know the MMA community across the globe will love,” said Peter Murray, PFL CEO.

“Both San Diego and London are massive markets for us, and we’re confident we’ll put on a show that the fans in attendance, and those watching around the world on Max and DAZN, deserve.

“Our world-class roster has allowed us to hold two cards in two weeks, and you’re going to see that, as we announce more fights and events, the future is incredibly bright for PFL and Bellator. It’s going to be a September to remember, see you there.”

Additional contests for both cards will be announced shortly.

Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Alexander Shabliy

Originally set to take place at Bellator Champions Series Paris in May, this Lightweight World Championship fight has been highly anticipated ever since it was first mooted. At just 26 years of age, Usman Nurmagomedov has proven he is one of the sport’s most dominant champions. He is undefeated in seven fights with Bellator and has captured a world title in a division many consider the toughest in the sport. Dethroning former Lightweight World Champion Patricky Pitbull, the Khabib Nurmagomedov protege defended his title against MMA legend Benson Henderson en route to this matchup on September 7. A striking specialist who has gone 8-0 under the Bellator banner, Alexander Shabliy has also defeated the upper echelons of the 155-pound division, including the aforementioned Pitbull and Tofiq Musayev, and impressively scored a second-round knockout against former Bellator Lightweight Champion Brent Primus.

Johnny Eblen vs. Fabian Edwards

A rematch from 2023, Johnny Eblen and Fabian Edwards took each other to the limit during their first encounter in Dublin at Bellator 299, where Eblen finished the fight via TKO in the third round and emotions flew high in the immediate aftermath. Since then, the American Top Team standout has gone on to pick up a win over Impa Kasanganay at PFL vs. Bellator: Champs vs. Champs for the Middleweight Super Belt, while Edwards bounced back with a unanimous victory against Canada’s Aaron Jeffery this past March at Bellator Champions Series Belfast to earn his rematch.

The 2024 Bellator Champions Series schedule is as follows:

Saturday, June 22 — Bellator Champions Series Dublin — 3Arena

Saturday, Sept. 7 — Bellator Champions Series San Diego — Pechanga Arena San Diego

Saturday, Sept. 14 — Bellator Champions Series London — OVO Arena Wembley

Saturday, Oct. 12 — Bellator Champions Series Chicago — Wintrust Arena

Saturday, Nov. 16 — Bellator Champions Series Paris — ADIDAS Arena

Tuesday, Dec. 31 — Bellator Champions Series — TBD


Confident Americans open Super Eight playoffs against South Africa in T20 World Cup

Confident Americans open Super Eight playoffs against South Africa in T20 World Cup
Updated 19 June 2024
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Confident Americans open Super Eight playoffs against South Africa in T20 World Cup

Confident Americans open Super Eight playoffs against South Africa in T20 World Cup
  • The US qualified for the second round after its Group A wins over Canada and Pakistan
  • The US face a tough opponent in South Africa, who have won all four of their group games

NORTH SOUND: The United States opens the Super Eight playoffs against South Africa at cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup on Wednesday with American captain Aaron Jones sounding more confident than ever.
A win over 2022 runner-up Pakistan in the group stage, helping to raise the profile of cricket in the US, might do that to a team skipper.
“To be honest with you, a lot of people don’t really pay much attention to US cricket,” said Jones.
“Probably the whole world don’t already know how much talent we have here . . . but definitely I think that on any given day, once we play proper cricket, we believe that we can beat any team in the world for sure.”
The US qualified for the second round after its Group A wins over Canada and Pakistan, with favorite India also advancing from that group.
The eight teams are divided into two groups with defending champion England and co-host West Indies the other teams bracketed with the USand South Africa. The other group has unbeaten Australia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India — those teams either topped their groups or finished as runner-up in the original 20-team tournament.
The USfaces a tough opponent in South Africa, which won all four of its group games. But the Americans can take heart from the fact that South African batters struggled in their last two low-scoring matches against weaker opponents Bangladesh — when the Proteas won by four runs, and Nepal, who they beat by one run.
Despite all the mystery surrounding low-scoring drop-in pitches in New York and the wet weather in Florida, the US sent shockwaves in the cricketing world with its back-to-back wins against Canada and Pakistan in Dallas before losing to India on a tricky wicket in New York.
The rain gods also helped the US — the tournament co-hosts received a crucial one point from its rain-abandoned group game against Ireland that knocked Pakistan out of the tournament. It was the first time that Pakistan, the 2009 champions, had not qualified for the playoffs in eight versions of the tournament.
The other Super Eight match Wednesday has co-hosts West Indies playing England at Gros Islet, St. Lucia. On Thursday, Afghanistan plays India at Bridgetown, Barbados and Australia takes on Bangladesh at North Sound, Antigua to complete the first round of playoff matches.
All matches in the Super Eight round are being played in the West Indies, and later the semifinals and final. The championship match in the month-long tournament is set for June 29 at the century-old Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados.
The Americans are longshots to be there, but don’t count them out.
Not many Americans knew they had a cricket team before Jones hit the headlines with his blistering score of 95 runs in the opening game against Canada that also featured 10 big sixes.
But admiration for the US team grew more, not only in America but also around the cricketing world after it defeated Pakistan in a super over at Dallas.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been speaking about playing in the World Cup, playing more games against the full-member nations and stuff like that,” Jones said.
“Obviously qualifying for the Super Eights is really good . . . not only for us but the fans around America as well. We really appreciate them, and for the younger generation in America.”


Kane Williamson steps down as New Zealand captain

Kane Williamson steps down as New Zealand captain
Updated 19 June 2024
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Kane Williamson steps down as New Zealand captain

Kane Williamson steps down as New Zealand captain
  • Williamson has turned down a central contract for the 2024/25 season, relinquishing the captaincy of the Twenty20 and one-day teams
  • Williamson: Playing for New Zealand is something I treasure and my desire to give back to the team remains undiminished

WELLINGTON: Kane Williamson has stepped down as captain of New Zealand’s white-ball teams, the Black Caps said Wednesday, days after they crashed out in the group stage of the T20 World Cup.

Williamson has turned down a central contract for the 2024/25 season, relinquishing the captaincy of the Twenty20 and one-day teams. He will still, however, play international cricket.

It leaves the 33-year-old star batsman able to accept offers to play in lucrative overseas competitions.

“Pursuing an overseas opportunity during the New Zealand summer means I’m unable to accept a central contract offer,” he said in a statement.

He can still play for New Zealand, with the Black Caps scheduled to play Test matches against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, India and England later this year.

Williamson said his decision to turn down a central contract and give up the limited-overs captaincy should not be interpreted as a sign he was losing interest in international cricket.

“Playing for New Zealand is something I treasure and my desire to give back to the team remains undiminished,” he said.

Williamson had skippered New Zealand in all three formats until he gave up the Test captaincy to fast bowler Tim Southee in late 2022.

Since making his debut in 2010, Williamson has played 100 Tests, 165 one-day internationals and 93 T20 games for New Zealand.


Baseball legend Willie Mays, all-around great of America’s pastime, dead at 93

Baseball legend Willie Mays, all-around great of America’s pastime, dead at 93
Updated 19 June 2024
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Baseball legend Willie Mays, all-around great of America’s pastime, dead at 93

Baseball legend Willie Mays, all-around great of America’s pastime, dead at 93
  • Willie Mays was the epitome of what came to be known as a ‘five-tool player’
  • He was exceptional at hitting for average, hitting for power, fielding, throwing and baserunning

 

Mays was the epitome of what came to be known as a “five-tool player” — meaning he was exceptional at hitting for average, hitting for power, fielding, throwing and baserunning

His snag of a fly ball in the 1954 World Series, sprinting with his back toward home plate some 460 feet away, is known simply as The Catch

Mays was ranked second on The Sporting News’ 1998 list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players — behind Babe Ruth and ahead of Ty Cobb

REUTERS: Willie Mays, the Hall of Fame centerfielder whose all-around skills made him one of greatest baseball players of all time, died on Tuesday at the age of 93, Major League Baseball announced.

Mays, who brought an explosive exuberance to the game in his peak years, died of heart failure, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Mays played 23 seasons for the New York Giants, San Francisco Giants and New York Mets, from 1951 through 1973.

In his prime, he could do it all on the baseball field. Mays was the epitome of what came to be known as a “five-tool player” — meaning he was exceptional at hitting for average, hitting for power, fielding, throwing and baserunning.

But Mays’ talent was only part of what made him a superstar. He also played with a verve and passion that were discernible even to spectators in the cheap seats. He was known for playing stickball with kids on the streets of Harlem, near the former Polo Grounds where he played.

In the real games, fans delighted when Mays would sprint with such speed and fury that he would run out from under his hat as he stole a base or chased down a flyball to deep centerfield.

His snag of a fly ball in the 1954 World Series, sprinting with his back toward home plate some 460 feet away, is known simply as The Catch.

“He could do everything and do it better than anyone else, (and) with a joyous grace,” wrote New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley.

Mays, known as “The Say Hey Kid” because of his standard greeting, was ranked second on The Sporting News’ 1998 list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players — behind Babe Ruth and ahead of Ty Cobb.

Baseball-Reference.com ranks him fifth all time using the modern statistic Wins Above Replacement, which measures a player’s overall value, behind Ruth, pitchers Walter Johnson and Cy Young, and his godson Barry Bonds.

Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility, won the Most Valuable Player award twice and was named to the all-star team 24 times, a record shared only with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial.

When he retired, Mays held third place on the all-time home run list with 660, behind Aaron at 755 and Ruth with 714. He was also the first ballplayer to hit 300 homers and steal 300 bases.

Willie Howard Mays Jr. was born in the gritty steel town of Westfield, Alabama, on May 6, 1931, during the segregation era and was inspired early to play ball by his father and an uncle, he said.

“My uncle would say every day, ‘You’re going to be a baseball player. You’re going to be a baseball player, and we’re gonna see to that,’” he said. “At 10, I was playing against 18-year-old guys. At 15, I was playing professional ball with the Birmingham Black Barons, so I really came very quickly in all sports.”

Mays joined the New York Giants of the National League early in the 1951 season, four years after Jackie Robinson had integrated Major League Baseball. He failed to get a hit in his first 12 trips to the plate before smacking his first, a home run off future Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn.

Mays went on to win Rookie of the Year honors in 1951 with a .274 average, helping the Giants come from 13 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers before his team won the pennant on a legendary home run by Bobby Thomson. Mays, then 20 years old, was on deck when Thomson hit his home run, later telling reporters he was so nervous he prayed he would not come to bat.

Mays missed most of the 1952 season and all of 1953 while serving in the US Army during the Korean War, spending much of his service time playing for the Army baseball team.

He returned to the Giants in 1954 and won the first of his two Most Valuable Player awards as he paced the Giants to a four-game World Series sweep of the Cleveland Indians. In the first game of that series, Mays pulled off The Catch, which remains one of the most memorable plays in baseball history.

At New York’s Polo Grounds, the Indians’ Vic Wertz hit a shot to deep centerfield. Mays turned, sprinted toward the wall, made a graceful over-the-shoulder catch and then immediately whirled around and made a perfect throw that kept two Cleveland baserunners from advancing.

“I was a guy, when I first came up, I believed I could catch any ball that stayed in the ballpark,” Mays told an interviewer years later. “I guess I was kind of a cocky kid, knowing that if the ball went up, I could catch it.”

In 1958, the Giants moved to San Francisco, where Mays was not quite so beloved. Fans crowding into tiny Seals Stadium, the Giants’ first home, instead embraced rookie sensations Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey as their own.

“Mays never was to San Francisco what he was to New York,” wrote sportswriter Dick Young. “When the Giants moved to California, the San Francisco fans saw Mays as ‘of’ New York.”

The Giants moved into cavernous and windy Candlestick Park in 1960, robbing Mays of many home runs that would have gone out in a more typical ballpark.

But Mays still possessed extraordinary skills and in 1962, carried the Giants to another playoff win over the Dodgers and into the World Series.

The series was a seven-game spellbinder won by the New York Yankees when Bobby Richardson speared a line drive for the final out of the game with Mays on second base, representing what would have been the winning run.

By the late 1960s, Mays was slowing down. In May 1972, he was traded to the New York Mets and made a final World Series appearance in 1973, his last season, when the Mets lost to the Oakland Athletics in seven games. He retired later that year.

In his book “Willie’s Time,” baseball writer and historian Charles Einstein wrote:

“The lights were hot and the cameras rolled and you knew Willie was there because you heard that laugh. Came The Automatic Question: ‘Who was the greatest player you ever saw?’ His answer was prompt enough: ‘I thought I was.’ There was merriment in his eyes as he looked around the room. ‘I hope I didn’t say that wrong.’”


McIlroy, Scheffler qualify for Paris Olympics

McIlroy, Scheffler qualify for Paris Olympics
Updated 19 June 2024
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McIlroy, Scheffler qualify for Paris Olympics

McIlroy, Scheffler qualify for Paris Olympics
  • The qualifying period for the event came to an end after the US Open at Pinehurst at the weekend
  • The top 15 players in the world rankings qualify for the Games, up to a maximum of four golfers from a single country

LONDON: Rory McIlroy is set to play at the Paris Olympics alongside world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler after taking a break from golf following his dramatic late collapse at the US Open.

The qualifying period for the event came to an end after the US Open at Pinehurst at the weekend, when McIlroy finished as runner-up to US star Bryson DeChambeau after squandering a two-shot lead with five holes to play.

The final men’s Olympic Golf Ranking, published on Tuesday, features 60 qualifiers representing 32 different countries.

The top 15 players in the world rankings qualify for the Games, up to a maximum of four golfers from a single country.

Below the top 15, players qualify based on their world ranking, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15.

The host country, France, was guaranteed at least one spot, as was each of the five continents of the Olympic movement.

McIlroy, second in the world rankings, is set to represent Ireland at the former Ryder Cup venue, Le Golf National, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 4, alongside former British Open champion Shane Lowry.

Scheffler, defending champion Xander Schauffele, Wyndham Clark and Collin Morikawa have qualified to represent the USA.

Former US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood have qualified for Britain, with two-time major winner Jon Rahm and David Puig set to represent Spain.

Each National Olympic Committee will have until June 27 to officially confirm their athletes to the International Golf Federation.

Northern Irishman McIlroy, a four-time Major winner, said Monday he plans to take time off after one of the “toughest” days of his professional career at Pinehurst.

The 35-year-old said his next event would be the Scottish Open starting on July 11, the warmup for the British Open at Royal Troon.

The 60-strong women’s field for their tournament, starting on Aug. 7, will be announced after the June 24 qualification cut-off date.

Both the men’s and women’s events are 72-hole individual stroke play events.