Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
Ishtiaq Ahmad of Saudi Arabia celebrates a wicket in the ACC Men's Premier Cup 2024 Group A match between Nepal and Saudi Arabia at Oman Cricket Stadium Muscat (AN/Subas Humagain)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
  • Defending champions Nepal won a rain-shortened match by seven wickets

MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia’s hopes of booking a place in the last four of the 2024 ACC Men’s Premier Cup ended with a loss to defending champions Nepal in the final Group A encounter.

The Kingdom’s team went into the match needing a win to qualify for the next stage but ended up fourth in the table after a seven-wicket loss on Wednesday.

Overnight thunder and rain damaged the pitch at the Oman Cricket Academy in Al-Amerat, causing a two- hour delay and a match reduction to eight overs per side. Saudi Arabia were put into bat first and managed 73-7, thanks to some fantastic hits from Abdul Waheed.

Waheed, who came in at No. 3, was the side’s top scorer with 37 runs from 16 balls, including three fours and three sixes. He was trapped leg before wicket as he attempted a paddle against left arm seamer Pratish GC in the sixth over. No other Saudi batsman achieved double figures.

In reply, Nepal were reeling on 15-3 at one stage, thanks to exceptional bowling from Saudi’s Ishtiaq Ahmed in the opening spell. Conceding just seven runs in his two overs, the right arm pacer took the wickets of opener Kushal Bhurtel and Kushal Malla.

Gulshan Jha, who a produced a player of the match performance against Malaysia, repeated his feat, scoring 32 runs off 19 balls. Skipper Rohit Paudel chipped in with 16 runs while Dipendra Singh Airee contributed 17.

Saudi Arabia’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, said he was proud of his team’s performance against a top side.

“I am proud of the boys (and) the way they fought against a quality side like Nepal. At one point, we felt we were in the game. But this will give us a great learning experience and we will come back better,” he told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia campaign opened on Saturday with a close encounter against Malaysia when, despite controlling most of the match, they ended up 12 runs short. The team were at their best the following day, beating Hong Kong by 55, but on Tuesday they failed to chase Qatar’s 153. This meant a win against Nepal was needed to give them any chance of progressing to the next round.

Captain Shaikh said he felt the team lacked experience in closing out the games.

“If we look back, the match against Malaysia and Qatar shows we lack experience,” he said. “We could have won both those games with ease. If our middle order, including me, played well, we could have been in a better place. I take responsibility for that and I believe we will only get better from here.”

The 10-team tournament saw unbeaten Nepal qualify for the semifinals as Group A winners, while Hong Kong pipped Qatar on net run-rate after their convincing seven-wicket win over Malaysia. Hosts Oman, UAE and Kuwait are fighting for two semifinal spots in Group B with Bahrain and Cambodia already knocked out.

The final will take place on April 21, with the winner qualifying for Asia’s premier event, the ACC Asia Cup, next year.


Al-Hilal face new Saudi season without sidelined Neymar

Al-Hilal face new Saudi season without sidelined Neymar
Updated 21 May 2024
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Al-Hilal face new Saudi season without sidelined Neymar

Al-Hilal face new Saudi season without sidelined Neymar
  • The injury-prone player left the French club for Al-Hilal in 2023, the latest world-famous footballer snapped up by the big-spending Saudi Pro League

RIYADH: Neymar remains sidelined from knee surgery and will miss his Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal’s pre-season training, coach Jorge Jesus said on Tuesday.
“All I know now is that the time given to Neymar to recover and during similar injuries is approximately from 10 to 11 months.
“If we calculate mathematically, he will not be ready at the beginning of the pre-season training,” Jesus told reporters in Riyadh.
Neymar underwent surgery in his native Brazil last November to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus damage suffered during a national team match the month before.
The 32-year-old was stretchered off in tears during Brazil’s 2-0 loss to Uruguay in a World Cup qualifying match on October 17, after colliding with opposing midfielder Nicolas de la Cruz.
Whilst he may have been absent from the pitch Neymar has been busy off it recently.
He was ringside to witness Oleksandr Usyk beat Tyson Fury to win the world’s first undisputed heavyweight championship in 25 years in Riyadh on Sunday.
Last month a Brazilian court suspended a $3 million fine imposed on the player for building a lake at his mansion on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro without an environmental license.
In March he performed a ceremonial first pitch before the Marlins’ home MLB opener in Miami against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was on the grid before the Formula One season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir.
In January the French finance and economy ministry was searched as part of a probe into the 2017 transfer of the Brazil football superstar to Paris Saint-Germain.
Officers with anti-corruption units carried out the searches amid suspicions that PSG may have received favorable tax treatment as part of the transfer.
Neymar joined Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017 for a world-record fee of 222 million euros ($242 million), scoring 118 goals in 173 matches despite a series of injuries.
The injury-prone player left the French club for Al-Hilal in 2023, the latest world-famous footballer snapped up by the big-spending Saudi Pro League.
He earns 100 million euros a season in Saudi Arabia, according to a source close to the negotiations, while PSG pocketed 100 million euros in the deal.
This month he was omitted from Brazil’s Copa America squad by national coach Dorival Junior.
His club coach in Saudi, Jesus, conceded his absence was an issue, but added Tuesday that “the solution was Malcolm” referring to the Brazilian winger who scored 22 goals in 46 games.


Pochettino leaves Chelsea after just one season in charge

Pochettino leaves Chelsea after just one season in charge
Updated 21 May 2024
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Pochettino leaves Chelsea after just one season in charge

Pochettino leaves Chelsea after just one season in charge
  • “Chelsea FC can confirm that the club and Mauricio Pochettino have mutually agreed to part ways,” Chelsea said in a statement
  • “Thank you to the Chelsea ownership group and sporting directors for the opportunity to be part of this football club’s history,” said Pochettino

LONDON: Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea after just one season in charge by mutual consent, the English club announced on Tuesday.
The Blues finished sixth in the Premier League thanks to a fine run toward the end of the season but missed out on Champions League qualification and a trophy.
“Chelsea FC can confirm that the club and Mauricio Pochettino have mutually agreed to part ways,” Chelsea said in a statement.
In just two years under the ownership of an American consortium fronted by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and private equity group Clearlake Capital, Chelsea have spent over £1 billion ($1.3 billion) on new players.
The vast majority of that was spent on rising stars and Pochettino pointed to a lack of experience and a lengthy injury list for failing to achieve consistent results.
Chelsea lost the League Cup final 1-0 to Liverpool after extra-time and pushed Manchester City all the way before losing in the FA Cup semifinals by the same score.
But there had been signs that Pochettino’s project was coming together in a run of five consecutive wins to end the campaign that ensured Chelsea will be in Europe next season.
They will qualify for the Europa League if Manchester United lose to City in the FA Cup final and the Conference League if the Red Devils shock the English champions.
“Thank you to the Chelsea ownership group and sporting directors for the opportunity to be part of this football club’s history,” said Pochettino.
“The club is now well positioned to keep moving forward in the Premier League and Europe in the years to come.”
Chelsea sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley said: “On behalf of everyone at Chelsea, we would like to express our gratitude to Mauricio for his service this season.
“He will be welcome back to Stamford Bridge any time and we wish him all the very best in his future coaching career.”
Pochettino is the fourth manager to depart under Boehly’s regime after Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Pochettino met Boehly for dinner on Friday before his departure was confirmed after an end-of-season review with Stewart and Winstanley.
The 52-year-old arrived in west London with the task of getting Chelsea back on track after they finished 12th in the 2022/23 Premier League season.
The Argentine had to bed in another influx of new signings as Chelsea broke the British transfer record to buy Moises Caicedo for £115 million.
He suffered a difficult start as they won just three of their opening 10 Premier League games.
But led by the stunning form of Cole Palmer, only City, Arsenal and Liverpool picked up more points than Chelsea in the second half of the season.
According to reports Stuttgart’s Sebastian Hoeness, Girona boss Michel, Ipswich Town’s Kieran McKenna and Enzo Maresca of Leicester are among those in contention to be next in the Stamford Bridge hot seat.
Pochettino began his coaching career at Espanyol before shining in a short spell at Southampton.
That earned him a move to Tottenham, where he established Spurs as regulars at the top end of the Premier League and took the club to a first ever Champions League final in 2019.
Pochettino was sacked by Tottenham just months later before joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, where we won one Ligue 1 title and French Cup in 18 months in charge.


Man United’s Rashford left out of England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad after disappointing season

Man United’s Rashford left out of England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad after disappointing season
Updated 21 May 2024
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Man United’s Rashford left out of England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad after disappointing season

Man United’s Rashford left out of England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad after disappointing season
  • “These are difficult calls, you are talking about players who are very good players who have been an important part of what we have done,” Southgate said
  • Rashford was arguably the biggest name to be omitted

BURTON, England: Marcus Rashford was left out of England’s provisional squad for the European Championship on Tuesday.
The Manchester United striker has paid the price for a disappointing season at club level and failed to make the cut for Gareth Southgate’s initial 33-man selection.
Jordan Henderson and Reece James were also left out.
“These are difficult calls, you are talking about players who are very good players who have been an important part of what we have done,” Southgate said. “With Marcus, I feel players in the same area of the pitch have had better seasons, it’s as simple as that.”
Rashford was arguably the biggest name to be omitted — especially after enjoying a career-best campaign two seasons ago when he scored 34 goals for club and country.
It has been a different story over the past year when he has managed just eight goals for a United team that suffered their lowest-ever Premier League finish — eighth.
He responded later on Instagram to say he was “Wishing Gareth and the boys all the best” for the Euros.
The squad will eventually be reduced to 26 players on June 8, with the Euros kicking off in Germany on June 14.
Rashford’s United teammate Kobbie Mainoo was selected after an outstanding breakthrough season and Chelsea forward Cole Palmer was also included.
Palmer was likely one of the forward options Southgate referred to when explaining Rashford’s omission after he scored 22 Premier League goals in his first season at Chelsea — a record only bettered by Erling Haaland.
Henderson and James were also notable omissions.
Former Liverpool captain Henderson misses out after his decision to leave Anfield for the Saudi Arabian league last year, while James’ absence comes on the back of an injury-plagued campaign for Chelsea.
Henderson has remained a part of England’s set up despite his controversial decision to join Al-Ettifaq. He left after just six months and completed a move to Dutch giant Ajax, but a muscle injury late in the season convinced Southgate to leave him out.
“Hendo has given himself every chance. The determining factor is the injury he picked up around the last camp. He’s missed five weeks,” Southgate said. “He hasn’t been able to get to the intensity in the games since then.”
James, who missed the Qatar World Cup because of a knee injury, has struggled with his fitness for much of the past season and played only 11 games.
Liverpool’s Jarell Quansah and Curtis Jones were called up for the first time, as well as Crystal Palace midfielder Adam Wharton.
Southgate said United defender Luke Shaw is “up against it” to prove his fitness after an injury-disrupted season.
“This has been as complicated a group as I can remember picking, and we’ve had quite a few complicated ones,” the England manager said.
Squad:
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), James Trafford (Burnley)
Defenders: Jarrad Branthwaite (Everton), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Jarell Quansah (Liverpool), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Curtis Jones (Liverpool), Kobbie Mainoo (Manchester United), Declan Rice (Arsenal), Adam Wharton (Crystal Palace)
Forwards: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United), Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Anthony Gordon (Newcastle United), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), James Maddison (Tottenham), Cole Palmer (Chelsea), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Ivan Toney (Brentford), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa)


Bayer Leverkusen are two steps from soccer immortality, starting with Europa League final vs Atalanta

Bayer Leverkusen are two steps from soccer immortality, starting with Europa League final vs Atalanta
Updated 21 May 2024
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Bayer Leverkusen are two steps from soccer immortality, starting with Europa League final vs Atalanta

Bayer Leverkusen are two steps from soccer immortality, starting with Europa League final vs Atalanta
  • On Saturday, Leverkusen will be heavily favored to win the German cup final against a Kaiserslautern
  • The biggest remaining challenge for coach Xabi Alonso’s team is game No. 52 of 53, in Dublin against an Atalanta that are finishing the season strong.

DUBLIN: Bayer Leverkusen are two games from European soccer immortality.
The new champion of Germany have two cup finals in four days — starting Wednesday in the Europa League against Atalanta — to complete a previously unthinkable unbeaten season in domestic and continental competition.
On Saturday, Leverkusen will be heavily favored to win the German cup final against a Kaiserslautern team that finished 13th in the second division, not so far from falling into relegation playoffs.
And so, the biggest remaining challenge for coach Xabi Alonso’s team is game No. 52 of 53, in Dublin against an Atalanta that are finishing the season strong.
It feels fitting because the Europa League has been a regular drama for Leverkusen.
Three times in six games in the knockout rounds the team were 2-0 down deep into the second half and still behind entering stoppage time: In both round of 16 games against Qarabag and in the semifinals return leg against Roma.
In another streak-saving Europa game, at West Ham in the quarterfinals, Leverkusen were set to advance on aggregate score yet needed an 89th-minute goal by wing-back Jeremie Frimpong to draw 1-1 and stay unbeaten.
“We don’t want to wait until the last seconds of the game,” said Patrick Schick, whose three stoppage-time goals against Qarabag in March were key to advancing 5-4 on aggregate. “We would like to make it clear, really, earlier.”
Atalanta defender Berat Djimsiti acknowledged Tuesday it was “certainly added motivation” trying to be the team to beat Leverkusen. “They have achieved some extraordinary things this season.”
There have been other stellar teams in European soccer who added the elite Champions League to their domestic league title, unlike Leverkusen playing in the second-tier Europa League.
Still, Manchester United in 1999, Inter Milan in 2010, Barcelona in 2011 and Manchester City last year also lost some games and were wealthy clubs whose success could have been expected. Each started their season with established, star-packed teams led by coaches — Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola — who’d already won multiple domestic and European trophies.
This is Alonso’s first full season coaching at the top level. His team were in relegation trouble last season. There was no superstar transfer signing in the offseason.
“For me it’s very special,” the 42-year-old Alonso said last week. “My first title as a coach was the Bundesliga. It was super, it was very special. But a title in Europe would be wonderful and hopefully we will be able to say that.”
Alonso twice won the Champions League as an elegant midfielder, with Liverpool and then Real Madrid, who will play Borussia Dortmund for this season’s Champions League title. That June 1 final at Wembley Stadium is between two teams involved in the failed Super League breakaway in 2021 — Madrid driving it forward, Dortmund declining their invitation.
Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta were nowhere close to being invited to the breakaway three years ago and today represent soccer projects that won respect from neutral fans across Europe.
Both are based in provincial cities, each with more than 100 years of history, reaching surprise peaks. Before this season, they had only ever won three trophies: Atalanta’s Italian cup in 1963 and Leverkusen’s 1988 UEFA Cup — the forerunner of the Europa League — and Germany cup in 1993.
While Leverkusen once lost a Champions League final, to Madrid in 2002, and Atalanta were minutes away from a semifinals place in 2020, neither have felt entitled to European success.
Their modest stadiums in Leverkusen and Bergamo add up to a combined capacity of about 51,000 that could fit into the Dublin venue, formerly Lansdowne Road, that will host them Wednesday. For a showpiece European final, the official limit is 48,000.
Leverkusen and Atalanta do not figure in UEFA research of the top-50 earnings list of European clubs for total matchday income from ticket and hospitality sales.
Two well-run clubs, relying on smart transfer dealings — albeit underwritten, respectively, by pharmaceutical giant Bayer and Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca — had combined total revenues last year that added up to about the same $500 million as Manchester City’s player wage bill alone.
Yet both Leverkusen and Atalanta, under coach Gian Piero Gasperini since 2016, play easy-on-the-eye soccer in attack and team-first defense.
“They play one against one on the whole pitch,” Schick said of Atalanta. “Wherever you move, you have one defender behind you so they don’t leave you the space to breathe.”
Atalanta have been a refreshing force under Gasperini and already have a place in the Champions League next season. In any normal year they would be popular first-time European title winners.
What Leverkusen have done is not normal, though, and a legend could be just days from being created.


Salah hints at Liverpool stay, targets trophies next season

Salah hints at Liverpool stay, targets trophies next season
Updated 21 May 2024
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Salah hints at Liverpool stay, targets trophies next season

Salah hints at Liverpool stay, targets trophies next season
  • “We know that trophies are what count and we will do everything possible to make that happen next season,” Salah posted on social media
  • “Our fans deserve it and we will fight like hell“

LONDON: Mohamed Salah said Liverpool “will fight like hell” to win trophies next season as the Egyptian hinted he will at least see out the final year of his contract at Anfield.
Salah has just 12 months remaining on his deal and has been linked with a move to the Saudi Pro League.
The Reds reportedly rejected a £150m offer from Al-Ittihad for the 31-year-old last September.
“We know that trophies are what count and we will do everything possible to make that happen next season,” Salah posted on social media.
“Our fans deserve it and we will fight like hell.”


Liverpool won the League Cup in Jurgen Klopp’s final season in charge but missed out on the Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League.
Klopp’s departure after over eight years in charge of Liverpool has raised doubts over the futures of a number of star players, who rose to prominence under the German’s reign.
Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold are also entering the final year of their contracts.
Former Feyenoord boss Arne Slot was confirmed as Klopp’s successor by Liverpool on Monday.