Manchester United face acid test of title credentials at Liverpool

Liverpool’s midfielder Mohamed Salah vies with Southampton’s defender Ryan Bertrand during a recent English Premier League match in southern England. (AFP)
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Updated 17 January 2021

Manchester United face acid test of title credentials at Liverpool

  • Jurgen Klopp’s men could drop to fifth place on Sunday if results go against them

LONDON: Liverpool and Manchester United face off on Sunday as the Premier League’s top two teams for the first time since 1997 — with the rivalry between England’s most successful clubs rekindled by a fascinating title race.

United top the table after the New Year for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 thanks to an 11-match unbeaten run to take them past Jurgen Klopp’s men.

Liverpool have surrendered top spot after three league games without a win and could drop to fifth place on Sunday if results go against them.

The last time United and Liverpool locked horns in a title race was 12 years ago.

Back then United were hardened winners under Ferguson, who saw off Rafael Benitez’s challengers to win a third consecutive league title.

Now it is United who Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admits are the “hunters” chasing the champions.

Ferguson, who arrived at Old Trafford in 1986 with United firmly in Liverpool’s shadow, once famously said his goal was to knock them “off their perch” and he went on to win 13 league titles.

But United have been displaced as top dogs even in their own city by Manchester City.

And fans have been forced to watch Klopp spearhead another era of glory at Anfield, winning the Champions League in 2019 before ending the club’s 30-year wait for a league title last season — putting them just one behind United’s record tally of 20.

But, in a strange and at times soulless season in empty stadiums, the relentless consistency shown by Liverpool in recent
years has dropped off.

Hampered by a series of injuries, most notably to talismanic center-back Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool have already dropped more points in 17 games than they have in either of the past two seasons.

That has allowed United to overtake them despite a slow start to their own campaign.

Solskjaer’s men won just two of their opening six games, suffering a humiliating 6-1 reverse at the hands of Tottenham at Old Trafford.

But, on the road, United’s form has been remarkably consistent. Come Sunday, it will be almost a year to the day since they last lost an away game in domestic competition — on their last visit
to Anfield.

Since then Bruno Fernandes’ arrival has helped transform United’s fortunes. On Friday, the Portugal playmaker won his fourth Premier League player-of-the-month award in 2020 by picking up the prize for December.

“Unfortunately a good signing for United,” said Klopp.

“He is a very influential player for United obviously, involved in a lot of things.

“I know people talk mostly about the goal involvements, which is very important stuff, but he is a link-up in a lot of other situations as well.”

Without the silverware on his CV to rival Klopp or City boss Pep Guardiola, Solskjaer’s credentials for one of the biggest jobs in football are questioned every time he has a couple of bad results.

But the Norwegian has guided United into a position his more storied predecessors, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, could not manage.

“The last few years, there have been two teams running away with it already by the end of October,” said Solskjaer.

“Now, at least, we’re in it at half-way. We’re a much better side now than a year ago.”

Questions remain over whether United’s revival is for real or another false dawn, of which there have been several in the post-Ferguson era.

Liverpool’s three-decade drought without a league title stands as a warning of how far even giants can fall.

One of Klopp’s first iconic phrases when taking charge in 2015 was his ambition to change the fatalism around the club’s mentality from “doubter to believer.”

Should United become the first visiting side to win at Anfield in the league for nearly four years, it is they who will have the new-found confidence that a 21st league title in 2021 is possible.


Peshawar Zalmi cricket team launches Pashto language anthem 

Updated 26 February 2021

Peshawar Zalmi cricket team launches Pashto language anthem 

  • Zalmi’s main anthem Kingdom was a runaway success, loved both by the team’s fans and supporters of opponents
  • ’Dedicate it to passionate Zalmi fans who always enjoy Pashto language anthems,’ Zalmi owner Javed Afridi says 

KARACHI: Peshawar Zalmi, one of the teams competing in the sixth edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) cricket tournament, on Thursday released a Pashto language anthem called ‘Shamla,’ an ode to the culture and traditions of the ethnically Pashtun-dominant Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that the Zalmi team represents.
Shamla, which means turban in Pahsto, is written by Laiqzada Laiq, sung by Pashto folk singer Gul Panra and composed by the famous music band Khumariyaan.


“Before every PSL we release two anthems,” chairman of the Peshawar Zalmi team, Javed Afridi, told Arab News. “We always try to present something different and special… We dedicate it [Shamla] to our passionate Zalmi fans who always enjoy the anthem in traditional folk and Pashto language.”
Zalmi’s title anthem, Kingdom, released last week, was sung by Abdullah Siddiqui and Atlamash, and features Zalmi ambassadors Mahira Khan, Hania Aamir and Ali Rehman, three Pakistani actors, as well as Turkish star Esra Bilgiç, who played Halime Sultan in the popular series Diriliş: Ertuğrul.
Kingdom track was a runaway success, praised equally by both Zalmi fans and supporters of opponent teams.
Arab News Pakistan is an international media parter of the Peshawar Zalmi team for a second year in a row.


Sports court reduces ban on Pakistan's Akmal with $27,000 fine 

Updated 26 February 2021

Sports court reduces ban on Pakistan's Akmal with $27,000 fine 

  • Akmal was suspended in Feb 2020 for failing to report corrupt approaches made to him just before fifth Pakistan Super League
  • PCB’s disciplinary panel last April found Akmal guilty on two charges of separate breaches and handed him a three-year suspension 

ISLAMABAD: The Court of Arbitration for Sports has reduced the ban on international cricketer Umar Akmal to 12 months and fined him 4.25 million rupees ($27,000) for breaching the Pakistan Cricket Board’s anti-corruption code.
Akmal was suspended in February 2020 for failing to report details of corrupt approaches made to him just before the start of the fifth Pakistan Super League.
The PCB’s disciplinary panel last April found Akmal guilty on two charges of separate breaches and handed him a three-year suspension — with the periods of ineligibility to run concurrently.
That ban was halved after Akmal appealed to an independent adjudicator, before both Akmal and the PCB took the matter to the CAS.
The PCB on Friday said the 30-year-old Akmal is now eligible to reintegrate into competitive cricket, subject to paying the fine, and also has to go through the rehabilitation program under the cricket board’s anti-corruption code.
Akmal has represented Pakistan in more than 200 international cricket matches, including 16 tests.
“The PCB once again urges and reminds all participants to abide by their duty and promptly report any approaches to the anti-corruption officers and help themselves as well as the anti-corruption unit's effort to eliminate the anathema of fixing,” the PCB said in the statement.


Diriyah E-Prix night race will be ‘historic’ occasion: Prince Khalid

Updated 26 February 2021

Diriyah E-Prix night race will be ‘historic’ occasion: Prince Khalid

  • 2020-21 Formula E season opening double-header to run on Feb. 26-27

DIRIYAH, Riyadh: It is all systems go for the 2020-21 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season as the first of the Diriyah E-Prix double-header of races on Friday prepares to get under starter’s orders in Riyadh.

History will once again be made when the single-seater series, given championship status by the FIA for the first time, takes place at night over the weekend.

“Formula E is back to Diriyah as the opening race of season seven, and to mark a world first, as the first ever night race in the history of Formula E,” Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, told a virtual press conference.

“On Feb. 26 and 27, the whole world will yet again watch the Kingdom host a global sporting spectacle, under the guidance and support of our government, one that followed every detail and offered all the leadership and support needed to ensure all logistical and health measures are applied at the highest global standards, despite the ongoing challenge that the world is facing due to (the coronavirus disease) COVID-19, and its huge impact on the sport industry,” he said.

Diriyah, the ancient UNESCO heritage site on the outskirts of Riyadh, was the first seat of power for Saudi kings, and today has quickly become home to several records in the world of motorsports.

In 2018, the site hosted the first all-electric race in the Middle East and welcomed international sports tourists for the first time.

In 2019, Diriyah once again captured headlines as the iconic venue hosting the opening weekend of season six, featuring a double-header of back-to-back races for the first time. And now season seven is poised for another first under the bright lights and in the spotlight of global sporting attention.

“Hosting the race at night and utilizing the best available technology to ensure its success is a clear evidence that our leadership gives sport the utmost priority and shows the close connection between sports and the sustainable future which will be headlined by clean renewable energy. It will be a historic race,” added Prince Khalid.

Lighting the track with the latest low-consumption LED technology will reduce energy usage by up to 50 percent compared to non-LED technologies. The remaining energy needed to power the floodlighting will be fully renewable provided by high-performing low-carbon certified hydrogenated vegetable oil made from sustainable materials.

Formula E CEO, Jamie Reigle, said: “We are looking forward to the start of season seven, and what a way to start with the first ever night race.

“We had our priorities set on ensuring a safe race with all COVID-19 guidelines in place, but also focused on how we can make this year’s races even better with the high bar that the previous Diriyah E-Prix races have set.

“Of course, our utmost priority is always about sustainability and ensuring that the future of car racing is environmentally friendly. The sustainable night lights will ensure breathtaking scenes to everyone watching at home and a new, exciting experience to the teams and drivers,” he added.

Reigle described Formula E’s partnership with the Ministry of Sport and the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation as “brilliant,” and he thanked them for their support in helping to make the race become a reality.

Meanwhile, Carlo Boutagy, founder and CEO of CBX, the official race promoter, said that organizing the first night races had been an “amazing experience,” and promised memorable television viewing.

“Diriyah looks beautiful as always, the night lights are in place, the safety measures are all set and working. We can’t wait to go green in Diriyah this Friday to organize a spectacle unlike any other.

“We will surely miss the fans, but their safety comes first, so we made sure they enjoy an unmissable experience while watching the races live on KSA Sports this weekend,” Boutagy added.

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Cricket crowds in Karachi increased to 50% for Pakistan Super League games

Updated 25 February 2021

Cricket crowds in Karachi increased to 50% for Pakistan Super League games

  • The decision means around 19,000 fans could go to National Stadium to see country’s premier Twenty20 cricket league
  • Government also allowed cricket board to fill Gaddafi Stadium Lahore to 27,000-seat capacity for four playoffs this month

ISLAMABAD: The 14 remaining round-robin matches of the Pakistan Super League at Karachi had their attendance increased from 20% to 50% by the Pakistan Cricket Board on Thursday.
The decision meant that around 19,000 fans could go to the National Stadium to see the country’s premier Twenty20 cricket league.
The government also allowed the board to fill Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore to its 27,000-seat capacity for the four playoffs this month.
But the PCB said it would first assess spectators at Karachi before raising the crowd capacity to 50% in Lahore, which hosts the last 14 games from March 10.
“We will continue to assess how the crowds follow and implement the (coronavirus protocols) before we make a decision on crowd attendances for the Lahore-leg matches,” PCB chief executive Wasim Khan said.
Khan urged spectators to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and regularly use hand sanitizers inside the stadium.


Islamabad beats Karachi in high-scoring PSL game 

Updated 25 February 2021

Islamabad beats Karachi in high-scoring PSL game 

  • Left-handed Sharjeel Khan plundered eight sixes and nine fours in his 105 off 59 balls 
  • Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad share the leaderboard with two wins from as many games in the six-team event 

KARACHI: Islamabad United overcame a blistering century by Karachi Kings opener Sharjeel Khan to record their second successive victory in the Pakistan Super League on Wednesday.
The left-handed Khan, who scored only six runs in the first six overs, plundered eight sixes and nine fours in his 105 off 59 balls to give defending champions a strong total of 196-3.
But the depth in Islamabad’s batting, led by Iftikhar Ahmed’s unbeaten 49, and an early onslaught by Alex Hales (46 off 21 balls) helped the former champions cruise to 197-5 for a five-wicket win in 19.1 overs.
“It was obviously a really big chase and I thought we had to knock the teeth out of it early,” Hales said. “I felt like the pitch was getting slower as the game went on, so my plan was to be really attacking in the Powerplay, get the run rate below 10 and fortunately that worked tonight.”
Hales set up a strong platform for Islamabad by smashing fast bowler Aamer Yamin for 29 runs in only the third over — the most expensive over bowled in the history of PSL.
Hales was caught out at mid off in the sixth over, but the Englishman’s clean hitting had provided a solid base of 75 runs inside the batting powerplay.
Iftikhar and Hussain Talat (42) then combined for a match-winning stand of 94 runs off 67 balls as Karachi’s fast bowlers couldn’t get the breakthrough, with Mohammad Amir (1-44) returning with expensive figures.
Afghanistan’s experienced Twenty20 allrounder Mohammad Nabi (1-26) pegged back Islamabad’s run-chase through his offspin in the middle overs before Asif Ali finished off the game with a rapid 21 off nine balls.
“You don’t lose the tournament if you lose the second game so it’s just the start of the tournament,” Karachi skipper Imad Wasim said. “I think we’ll rectify the errors and come back very hard.”
Earlier, after being put into bat, Khan and Pakistan all-format skipper Babar Azam featured in a PSL record-breaking 176-run opening wicket stand against the erratic Karachi bowlers.
Khan forced Islamabad United captain Shadab Khan out of the attack by smashing the legspiner for four successive sixes in the ninth over but Karachi’s bowlers overstepped at least three times which could have broken the partnership.
Babar was twice caught off Hussain’s no-balls in one over and Karachi also missed out to dismiss Khan on 70 when fast bowler Mohammad Wasim overstepped.
Both batsmen fell on successive deliveries in the penultimate over of Hasan Ali (1-36), but not before Karachi erred once again in the field.
Hales dropped a sitter of Babar at long-on before throwing the ball in time to run out Babar, who went for the second run. Babar made 62 off off 54 balls with six fours and a six.
Khan was trapped leg before wicket off the next ball when Hasan successfully overturned the decision through television referral.
Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad share the leaderboard with two wins from as many games in the six-team event.