Hegazi move from English Premier League may be decisive in SPL title race: Rhys Williams

Ahmed Hegazi in the colors of West Brom shadows Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Anfield, Liverpool, December 13, 2017. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 March 2021
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Hegazi move from English Premier League may be decisive in SPL title race: Rhys Williams

  • Al-Qadisiyah’s Australian defender Williams faces leaders Al-Hilal on Saturday after recent Al-Ittihad, Al-Shabab tests
  • It is, according to Williams, no coincidence that the Jeddah giants have become resurgent after the arrival of Hegazi from West Bromwich Albion in late October

RIYADH: While Bafetimbi Gomis and Odion Ighalo get the goals and the headlines for Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab, respectively, it may be Al-Ittihad defender Ahmed Hegazi who makes the difference in Saudi Arabia’s title race this season.

That is the opinion of Rhys Williams, and he should know. Al-Qadisiyah’s Australian center-back has faced both Al-Ittihad and Al-Shabab in recent weeks and is gearing up to take on Al-Hilal on Saturday.

The battle for the Saudi Pro League (SPL) title is now a three-way race thanks to the form of Al-Ittihad who have come up along the rails to third place and within striking distance of top spot.

Last week, defending champions Al-Hilal won 4-2 at Al-Wehda to go above Al-Shabab on goal difference after the long-term leaders lost 2-1 at Al-Ittihad.

That win means that Al-Ittihad, who were almost relegated last season and won just three of the first 10 games this time around, are just four points off pole position and in great form after collecting 12 points from the last five games.

It is, according to Williams, no coincidence that the Jeddah giants have become resurgent after the arrival of Hegazi from West Bromwich Albion in late October, a decision that Slaven Bilic, then coach of the English Premier League team, publicly disagreed with.

“Hegazi has come in and made a massive difference,” Williams, who played under England coach Gareth Southgate at Middlesbrough, told Arab News. “He has a big presence in defense and provides the stability and leadership that they needed. You can see the quality he has, and the team has.”

Williams saw it first-hand on Feb. 28 as Al-Ittihad traveled to Al-Qadisiyah and won 4-1. It was an impressive performance and result, given that the hosts had not lost in 2021.

Williams said: “They came along and beat us well and that was our first defeat in 12 or 13 games. It was a big loss at home, and we could see that they have come along leaps and bounds since the start of the season.”

With seven games remaining, Al-Ittihad have hit form at the right time.

“Al-Ittihad are a dark horse. They also beat Al-Shabab last weekend and that has really opened things up. In this league you never know what will happen and any team can drop points.”

Williams has already spent three years in Saudi Arabia and noted that he and his family love life in the eastern city of Alkhobar. With the team safely in mid-table, though with an outside chance of a top-four finish, the former Australian international can focus on enjoying the last quarter of the season and what is shaping up to be a classic title race.

“It has been great, and it is hard to say what will happen. It has been cat and mouse for a while between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab and both have their strengths,” he added.

Williams has first-hand experience of facing some of the most talented strikers in Asian football. Al-Shabab were already going well when they loaned striker Odion Ighalo from Manchester United in February.

“Al-Shabab are well-suited to do well and bringing in Ighalo gives them something extra. They have been impressive this season and are a very tactical and technical team.”

Argentine star Ever Banega has caught the eye with his playmaking abilities. “He is threading passes through for Ighalo and others.”

Last week Al-Qadisiya hosted Al-Shabab and after taking a first-half lead were on course for a famous win until Turki Al-Ammar earned a point for the Riyadh club in the final seconds. Williams was not too down-hearted, however.

He said: “It was a tough game for us. We started well in the first half but in the second half we had our backs to the wall. We held out until the 92nd minute when they scored but we will take the draw against a strong team like that.”

Al-Hilal may have just gone into first place but have not been as dominant this time around as was the case last season.

Last month the champions fired head coach Razvan Lucescu and replaced the Romanian with Brazilian boss Rogerio Micale. There have been reports in South America however that Al-Hilal want to tempt Marcelo Gallardo from Argentina’s River Plate to Riyadh.

Amid such instability, the fact that the team are now in first place is impressive.

“They haven’t been at their best this year and recently got rid of their manager, but they still have Bafetimbi Gomis. He is always capable of scoring,” Williams said.

It will be up to the Al-Qadisiyah defender to stop the former French international this weekend.

“It will be a big challenge for us against such a strong team. We have to put our best foot forward and if we play to our best then we are capable of getting a result. We are looking to finish as high in the table as possible.”

The next few weeks are set deliver a three-way race to the finish line that the SPL has not seen for some time.


Euro 2024 final: Spain goes for record 4th title, England looks to end 58-year wait for major trophy

Updated 14 July 2024
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Euro 2024 final: Spain goes for record 4th title, England looks to end 58-year wait for major trophy

BERLIN: Spain and England meet in the final of the European Championship on Sunday. Spain is seeking a record fourth title at the Euros to break a tie with Germany/West Germany, while England is bidding for a first major trophy in men’s soccer since the 1966 World Cup. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. local (1900 GMT) in Berlin. Here’s what to know about the match:
Match facts
— Spain will start as the favorite after winning all six of its matches at Euro 2024 and being widely regarded as the best team at the tournament. Winning the title would continue a strong period of success for Spanish national teams, with the men having captured the UEFA Nations League in June last year and the women following that up by winning the World Cup two months later.
— Lamine Yamal is Spain’s new star having set up three goals before the semifinals, where he scored a spectacular long-range strike in the victory over France — all at the age of 16. He turned 17 on Saturday, the day before the final. It is a breakthrough major tournament for Yamal, much like it was for a 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé at the 2018 World Cup and a 17-year-old Pelé at the 1958 World Cup.
— Spain last appeared in a final at a major tournament in 2012, when the team won the third of its European Championship titles by beating Italy 4-0. England played in the final of Euro 2020, which was played in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and lost in a penalty shootout to Italy.
— England has shown resilience by coming from behind in all three of its knockout-stage matches at Euro 2024. Jude Bellingham scored an equalizer from an overhead kick in the fifth minute of stoppage time in the extra-time win over Slovakia in the last 16, Bukayo Saka equalized in the 80th minute against Switzerland in the quarterfinals before England won a penalty shootout, and substitute Ollie Watkins scored a winner almost exactly on 90 minutes against the Netherlands in the semifinals.
— England coach Gareth Southgate is often criticized for his in-game management but he has changed the culture inside the squad and is regularly getting the team deep at major tournaments. In Southgate’s tenure that started in 2016, England has reached the World Cup semifinals in 2018 and now back-to-back European Championship finals.
Team news
— Spain coach Luis de la Fuente said on Saturday that the injured Pedri and Ayoze Pérez are the only players unavailable, meaning captain Alvaro Morata can play. Morata was limping after the semifinal win over France when he was knocked to the ground in the post-match celebrations by a steward trying to stop a pitch invader. Right back Dani Carvajal returns from suspension, leaving de la Fuente’s only selection dilemma at center back, with Nacho or Robin Le Normand vying to partner Aymeric Laporte. Dani Olmo will likely fill in again for Pedri as Spain’s attacking central midfielder.
— Southgate has to decide who to play at left back — or left wing back — out of Kieran Trippier or Luke Shaw. Shaw is a natural on that side but has only made two appearances as a second-half substitute at Euro 2024 after recovering from an injury that had sidelined him since February. Otherwise, Southgate will choose the same players, with the 19-year-old Kobbie Mainoo having nailed down the problematic spot in central midfield alongside Declan Rice.
By the numbers
— Spain’s previous European Championship titles came in 1964, 2008 and 2012.
— There are six players on a tournament-high three goals at Euro 2024 and two are playing in the final: England captain Harry Kane and Spain playmaker Dani Olmo. The others are Georges Mikautadze of Georgia, Cody Gakpo of the Netherlands, Ivan Schranz of Slovakia and Jamal Musiala or Germany.
— It has been six years since Spain and England met in a senior men’s international. In 2018, they played a Nations League double-header, with Spain winning 2-1 at Wembley Stadium and England winning 3-2 in Sevilla a month later.
What they’re saying
— “I don’t say it becomes run of the mill but it’s a little bit more normal for us. That statement in itself is probably ridiculous given our history.” — England coach Gareth Southgate on reaching a second straight final at the Euros.
— “I would like him to work with the same humility, keep his feet on the ground in order to keep improving, learning with the same kind of attitude and that professionalism, that maturity that he shows on the pitch. He looks like a much more experienced player, to be honest.” — Spain coach Luis de la Fuente on Lamine Yamal.
 

 


Siniakova and Townsend win women’s doubles title at Wimbledon

Updated 14 July 2024
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Siniakova and Townsend win women’s doubles title at Wimbledon

LONDON: After seeing longtime doubles partner Barbora Krejcikova win the Wimbledon singles title, Katerina Siniakova went out on Center Court and added another Grand Slam trophy to her own collection.
Siniakova won her third women’s doubles title at Wimbledon after teaming up with Taylor Townsend to beat Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1) on Saturday in a match that finished after 10:20 p.m. local time under floodlights.
“Amazing. I’m so proud of Barbora,” Siniakova said of her Czech countrywoman. “I’m just so happy that we could do it as well.”
Siniakova has won seven major doubles titles with Krejcikova and one with Coco Gauff at this year’s French Open. This was her first with Townsend, an American whose previous best Grand Slam result in doubles was two runner-up finishes at the 2022 US Open — in a loss to Siniakova and Krejcikova — and 2023 French Open.
Townsend said it was Siniakova’s idea for the two of them to play together at Wimbledon.
“I’m so glad Katerina slid into my DMs,” Townsend said.
A bit more than six hours after Krejcikova beat Jasmine Paolini in the women’s singles final, the fourth-seeded Siniakova and Townsend converted their first match point when Routliffe double-faulted.
Siniakova and Townsend failed to convert any of their seven break points in the second set but raced to 5-0 in the tiebreaker.
It was the third match of the day on Center Court after the men’s doubles final.
Siniakova and Krejcikova won the Wimbledon doubles in 2022 and 2018.
 

 


De la Fuente calls on Spain players to make history in Euros final

Updated 14 July 2024
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De la Fuente calls on Spain players to make history in Euros final

  • “It’s a brilliant generation, many of them have come through successful youth levels and that usually bodes well for success,” De la Fuente told reporters Saturday

BERLIN: Spain coach Luis de la Fuente called on a “brilliant” generation of players to make history for their country in the Euro 2024 final against England on Sunday.
La Roja are aiming to win a record fourth European Championship 12 years after they last lifted the trophy.
With Rodri Hernandez pulling the strings in midfield and explosive young wingers Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams in attack, Spain have been the tournament’s great entertainers on the road to Berlin.
“It’s a brilliant generation, many of them have come through successful youth levels and that usually bodes well for success,” De la Fuente told reporters Saturday.
“We want to start to make history — and we have made history already in the run to (the final)... I trust in a great future, there’s both present and future.”
Spain won the 2008 and 2012 Euros and the 2010 World Cup with many star players from Barcelona and Real Madrid, including Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Ramos and David Villa.
The current side has fewer stars but consider that one of their strong points, with the squad on an even footing and “unity” has been a key word among Spain players at the tournament.
Despite Spain shining en route to the final while England have scraped through, De la Fuente said the clash at the Olympiastadion will be “extremely balanced.”
“Whichever team manages to impose their strengths, whoever makes less errors (will win),” said the coach.
“But you can win a one-off game, even playing far worse (than your opponent).
“We need to have maximum concentration, not make any mistakes and take advantage of the chances we have — put them away.”
The coach thanked injured duo Pedri and Ayoze Perez, who will not be available to face England, and said Barcelona midfielder Gavi will travel to join the team for the final.
The 19-year-old missed most of the season with a knee injury but was an important player for Spain before sustaining it in November.
De la Fuente said it was no challenge to keep Barcelona’s Yamal, who turned 17 on Saturday, and Athletic Bilbao’s Williams, 22, calm ahead of the biggest game of their careers.
“It’s not at all hard, they have such joy, and incredible maturity for such young players, they understand the sport very well and they are well accompanied by more experienced players,” explained the coach.
“We’re a team, it’s not about hailing individuals, and this makes us stronger.”
At the other end of the age spectrum is 38-year-old Sevilla defender Jesus Navas, who started the semifinal win over France in direct confrontation with Kylian Mbappe.
Navas won the 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euros and the 2023 Nations League with Spain and said he would love to lift another trophy with his country.
“To still be enjoying myself with my national team at 38 is incredible,” said the right-back.
“In (Spain’s golden years) we were such a close-knit group, and you could feel it. Now it’s the same, there’s an incredible group. I’m delighted by everything that’s happening to us.
“We know the excitement and hope that we all have and I hope we can win it.”


‘I’m a believer in dreams’: Southgate wants Euro 2024 glory so England get respect of soccer world

Updated 13 July 2024
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‘I’m a believer in dreams’: Southgate wants Euro 2024 glory so England get respect of soccer world

  • “I’m not a believer in fairy tales,” England coach Gareth Southgate said on Saturday, “but I’m a believer in dreams”
  • Southgate has played a central role in England’s painful journey of agonizing exits, near-misses and national angst down the years

BERLIN: For the English, it’s largely self-deprecating banter.
For pretty much everybody else, it’s a sign of arrogance and entitlement.
“Football’s Coming Home” — the England team soccer anthem — have been sung on the streets of cities throughout Germany over the past month, and will be roared with even more gusto in Berlin in the next 24 hours.
England are in the European Championship final against Spain on Sunday, a chance for the underachieving birthplace of soccer to capture a major men’s title for the first time since the 1966 World Cup on home soil.
A chance, it is being said by England, for football to come home.
“I’m not a believer in fairy tales,” England coach Gareth Southgate said on Saturday, “but I’m a believer in dreams.”
Southgate has played a central role in England’s painful journey of agonizing exits, near-misses and national angst down the years.
It was Southgate, England’s coach since 2016, who led the team to a first major final since 1966 only to lose to Italy in a penalty shootout in the 2021 Euro final.
Twenty-five years earlier, it was Southgate — then a defender of modest ability — who missed what proved to be a decisive penalty in England’s shootout defeat to Germany in the Euro 1996 semifinals.
The “Football’s Coming Home” anthem is born from the “Three Lions” song that was released before Euro 1996.
One of its lines spoke of “30 years of hurt.” It is now 58 years of hurt, and the fans are still singing it.
“It has been going on for years and years,” said England fan Justin Tucknott, a 54-year-old business analyst who was grabbing a drink at a bar near Olympiastadion in a sun-kissed evening in the German capital.
“We’re going to keep singing it until it does come home. And when it does, the words will be changed slightly.”
England’s chances of ending that men’s title drought approaching nearly 60 years have improved under Southgate, with the team reaching back-to-back Euro finals and getting to the World Cup semifinals in 2018.
He has had to change the mentality and culture in a squad that are regularly full of some of the top players in the English Premier League, the most popular and watched domestic league in the world.
Famous and rich, the players maybe thought they had a divine right to win titles at international level as often as they do at club level.
Southgate quickly drummed it into them that they don’t.
“We have tried to change the mindset from the start, tried to be more honest about where we were as a football nation,” Southgate said. “I traveled to World Cups and European Championships as an observer and watched highlights reels of matches that were on the big screens — and we weren’t in any of them.
“They only showed the finals and big games. We needed to change that. We had high expectations but they didn’t match where we were, performance-wise. … We’ve come through a lot of big nights now, a lot of records have been broken, but we know we have to get this trophy to really feel the respect of the rest of the football world.”
England started slowly — very slowly — at Euro 2024, relying on big moments from big players to get them through to the semifinals. There, the team produced their best performance so far, but still needed a goal exactly on 90 minutes from Ollie Watkins to get past the Netherlands.
“It builds resilience and belief,” England captain Harry Kane said.
It’s an increasingly confident England heading into the final. And much of that comes from the coach.
“Tomorrow, I don’t have any fear what might happen,” Southgate said, “because I have been through everything. I want the players to feel that fearlessness.
“If we are not afraid to lose, it gives us a better chance of winning.”


Amr Zedan clinches Royal Charity Polo Cup 2024 at Windsor

Updated 13 July 2024
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Amr Zedan clinches Royal Charity Polo Cup 2024 at Windsor

  • Saudi Polo Federation’s President Amr Zedan wins for second time in row
  • Zedan participated in the US Polo Assn team, which was led by Prince William

LONDON: The US Polo Assn team, led by the Prince of Wales, Prince William, and with the participation of the Saudi Polo Federation’s President Amr Zedan, have won the Royal Charity Polo Cup 2024.
It was Zedan’s second triumph in a row in the competition, which was held at the Guards Polo Club fields in Windsor, London, with the Japanese company Out-Sourcing Inc sponsoring the tournament.
The US Polo Assn team were crowned after drawing with the Malaysian team BP 4-4 and surpassing them on goal difference in the championship rounds.
Alongside Prince William and Zedan in the attack were Ayawat Srivaddhanaprabha, the CEO of King Power, representing Thailand, and Mark Tomlinson, representing the UK. Khaled Al-Ajmi, a board member of the SPF, and Faisal bin Dwaid, the federation’s CEO, were also present.
Zedan’s participation helped in furthering the SPF’s role in local and international social responsibility, while helping it toward its goals through participation and support in social events.
British media reports said that Prince William had taken part in the polo match to help raise more than $1.5 million for his charities. According to the UK’s royal family website, the funds raised by the match will be distributed across 11 charities and causes supported by Prince William and the Princess of Wales.