Newcomers Al-Wehdat hold Al-Nassr on bleak opening day of AFC Champions League

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Jordan’s Al-Wehdat team (green shirts) face off with Saudi Arabia's Al-Nassr team on Wednesday. (Al-Wehdat via Twitter)
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Jordan’s Al-Wehdat team (green shirts) face off with Saudi Arabia's Al-Nassr team on Wednesday. (Al-Wehdat via Twitter)
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Jordan’s Al-Wehdat team (green shirts) face off with Saudi Arabia's Al-Nassr team on Wednesday. (Al-Wehdat via Twitter)
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Updated 15 April 2021
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Newcomers Al-Wehdat hold Al-Nassr on bleak opening day of AFC Champions League

  • Four of the six fixtures ended in draws, two of which were goalless, while the other two were settled by a single goal

RIYADH: Al-Wehdat ensured that Al-Nassr’s frustrating season continued on Wednesday, as Group D of the AFC Champions League got underway. The Jordanian side held the struggling Saudi club to a goalless draw at King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh.

The team from Amman, which was playing its first-ever match in Asia’s premier club competition, maintained a fine defensive rearguard throughout the game. They are the first Jordanian club to reach the group stage of the competition, and despite the troubles Al-Nassr have been having on and off the pitch this season the Saudi side was still expected to win this match on home soil.

But while last season’s Saudi Professional League runners-up initially were the more threatening, Al-Wehdat coach Abdullah Abu Zema’s side showed little fear and the 70 percent of the first-half possession Al-Nassr enjoyed rarely led to any clear-cut scoring chances.

An Abdullah Muda header did force a fine save from Al-Wehdat goalkeeper Ahmad Nawwas but this proved to be one of only a handful of occasions on which Al-Nassr’s forward line got a glimpse of their opponent’s goal. The second half proved to be little different. Al-Wehdat almost took the lead after 10 minutes but Brad Jones managed to save Ahmad Zreik’s dangerous strike.

In the same group, Boualem Khoukhi’s 89th-minute equalizer for Qatari side Al-Sadd salvaged a 1-1 draw against Foolad Khuzestan, from Iran, at the King Fahd Stadium just as a shock defeat was starting to look all but certain.

Al-Sadd started dangerously but after withstanding the early assault the Iranian side began to grow in confidence and played themselves back into the tie. After a barren first half, Foolad took the lead on 61 minutes through Brazilian forward Chimba’s header.

Khoukhi almost leveled it for Xavi Hernández’s team with an 81st-minute free-kick but was denied by Foolad goalkeeper Foroozan. With a minute left of normal time, however, he would not be denied a second time.

With all four teams in the group sitting on a point each, in the next round of matches Al-Wehdat will face Foolad Khuzestan, while Al-Nassr take on Al-Sadd in clash that could go a long way to determining who will top the table in two weeks’ time. Both games will be played on Saturday.

In Group E another of the competition’s debutants, FC Goa from India, also managed to record a goalless draw, against Al-Rayyan, from Qatar, at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

As expected, the visitors started on the front foot and could have taken the lead after five minutes when captain Yacine Brahimi shot wide from the edge of the penalty box. Minutes later, FC Goa goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh saved a close-range strike by Naif Al-Hadhrami.

Coach Laurent Blanc’s team continued to dominate possession, with Yohan Boli spearheading the efforts to make a breakthrough. Minutes before the break, however, it was Goa who almost took a shock lead, only for Alexander Romario’s long-range effort to be palmed away by goalkeeper Fahad Younis.

Having held out until half time, Goa came out with renewed purpose after the break but neither side proved incisive enough to break the deadlock. The shared points will have left Goa’s Juan Ferrando the happier of the two coaches.

The result left the teams joint second in the group, two points behind Iranian side Persepolis FC, who earlier in the day defeated Emirati club Al-Wahda 1-0.

Next up in the group, on Saturday, FC Goa will take on Henk Ten Cate’s Al-Wahda, while Al-Rayyan face last year’s finalists, Persepolis.

In the day’s other matches, in Group B, Emirati side Sharjah FC recorded a 1-0 victory over Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, from Iraq, while Pakhtakor Tashkent, from Uzbekistan, played out dramatic 3-3 draw with Tractor, from Iran.


Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open

Updated 42 min 19 sec ago
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Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open

  • John Catlin birdied the 18th to remain at the top of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF leaderboard
  • Moroccans Ayoub Lgiurati and Othman Raouzi made the cut as Saudi amateur Khalid Walid Attieh missed by one stroke

RIYADH: Li Haotong and Scott Hend made the most of the calm morning conditions to head into the weekend one shot behind pacesetter John Catlin, who leads on 10-under-par after day two of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF.

Catlin birdied the 18th hole as the sun set on a warm day at Riyadh Golf Club to ensure he heads into Friday ahead of Chinese star and DP World Tour member Li, who shot a scintillating 65, and Australian Hend. Steve Lewton’s 64 was the best round of the day and sees him in third place alongside David Puig, who finished his round with a triple bogey on the ninth hole.

Amateur Khalid Walid Attieh looked set to make history as the first Saudi player to make the cut since the tournament was elevated to the Asian Tour, however three bogeys on the back nine saw him miss out by one, with a putt just sliding by at the last.

Moroccan golfers Ayoub Lguirati and Othman Raouzi, who were two of the golfers given special invites to the tournament as part of Golf Saudi’s strategic partnership with the Arab Golf Federation, finished on one-under-par and even par respectively to extend their participation.

Lguirati said: “It was a positive day for me with only one bogey and one birdie. I stuck to my strategy all day and ended with a good result in a tough competition. I am very happy to have made the cut in this tournament and to play over the next two days.

“I usually play on the second tier Asian Development Tour but with the help of the Royal Moroccan Golf Association and Golf Saudi I have been able to reach this level and I continue improving.”

Meanwhile, Li is excited to challenge for the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF trophy as he looks to put some recent poor form behind him. Four birdies in five holes on his back nine catapulted him up the leaderboard.

Li said: “I played really well and wasted some chances. The course played a lot easier compared to yesterday, because of no wind and easier pin positions.

“I am still struggling a little bit off the tee, but except for that everything’s pretty solid overall. I am here to try and get the job done and get the trophy! So hopefully I have a hot start tomorrow.”

Li will play alongside Hend and Catlin on Friday, but will be wary of Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Puig in the penultimate group, who won the PIF Moment of the Day for a stunning front nine of 29, which included five birdies and an eagle in his first six holes.


Rain wipes out first Pakistan-New Zealand T20 after just two balls

Updated 18 April 2024
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Rain wipes out first Pakistan-New Zealand T20 after just two balls

  • Fast bowler Mohammad Amir returned to international cricket after nearly four years
  • Having come out of retirement last month, Amir’s participation was limited to just fielding

RAWALPINDI: Heavy rain caused the first Twenty20 international between Pakistan and New Zealand to be abandoned after just two deliveries in Rawalpindi on Thursday.
New Zealand skipper Michael Bracewell won the toss, which had also been delayed by 30 minutes, and opted to bat but no action was possible for two-and-a-half hours.
Umpires Ahsan Raza and Aleem Dar then announced a five-over-a-side game at 10:10 local time (9:10 GMT).
Pakistan paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi conceded two leg-byes to debutant Tim Robinson off the first ball before bowling the batsman with a sharp delivery off the next.
But as soon as the Pakistan fielders started celebrating the wicket, the rain returned to force an abandonment.
Fast bowler Mohammad Amir returned to international cricket after nearly four years, having come out of retirement last month, but his participation was limited to just fielding.
The 32-year-old retired in December 2020 after being dropped from the side but changed his mind last month and decided to restart his career, which had already been stalled by a match-fixing ban in 2010.
Pakistan handed T20I caps to batsman Usman Khan, spinner Abrar Ahmed and all-rounder Muhammad Irfan Khan, while Robinson debuted for New Zealand.
The remaining matches are in Rawalpindi on April 20 and 21 and in Lahore on April 25 and 27.
The series gives a chance to both teams to test their bench strength ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in June in the United States and the West Indies.
New Zealand are without nine key players, including skipper Kane Williamson, who are playing in the ongoing Indian Premier League.


Juventus ordered to pay Ronaldo $10.4 million in back salary

Cristiano Ronaldo was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023. AFP
Updated 18 April 2024
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Juventus ordered to pay Ronaldo $10.4 million in back salary

  • The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023, with $136 million, including $46 million in wages

Rome: Juventus must pay Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo 9.7 million euros ($10.4 million) in back wages for the 2020-21 season, the Italian courts announced on Wednesday.
The Court of Arbitration, to which Ronaldo appealed, “orders Juventus Turin to pay the sum of 9,774,166.66 euros,” plus interest and procedural costs, it stated in its decision.
The sum equates to the difference between the salary actually received by Ronaldo and that which he should have received after tax and other deductions.
Ronaldo, who spent three seasons in Italy with Juventus (2018-21) before joining Manchester United (2021-22) and then the Saudi club Al Nassr, was claiming 19.5 million euros but the arbitration panel reduced that by 50 percent.
Contacted by AFP, Juventus declined to comment, but said it would be issuing a statement “shortly.”
According to the rankings drawn up by the American business magazine Forbes, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023, with $136 million, including $46 million in wages.
Juventus, who are listed on the stock exchange, recorded losses of 123.7 million euros in the 2022-23 financial year, which ran to the end of June, it announced in October.
No provision has been made in the accounts of Italian football’s most successful club, currently third in Serie A, for the payment of this wages backlog.


Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit

Updated 18 April 2024
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Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit

  • Non-cricket fans may struggle to comprehend the links between the Asia Challenger Cup, the Asia Premier League and the Asia Cup

MUSCAT: Even to cricket aficionados — sometimes referred to as badgers — the various ways teams can qualify for the world’s major tournaments might appear opaque.

As may the term “badger”. Badgers are known for their tenacity, focus and persistence, qualities which can apply to those who dedicate chunks of their life to the game, its history, statistics, spectating, discussion and administration. This is not a complete list, but it provides a flavor.

A test case for tournament opaqueness is the Asia Cup. Non-badgers can be forgiven if they fail to comprehend the links between the Asia Challenger Cup, the Asia Premier League and the Asia Cup. They all fall under the aegis of the Asia Cricket Council and their existence represents an attempt by the organization to provide a more coherent regime for qualification into the big event — without using the word “qualification.”

The situation was much simpler in 1983, when the ACC was founded with the aim of promoting goodwill between Asian countries. In 1984, the first edition of the Asia Cup was held in Sharjah, where the ACC was based. It was One Day International in format and India won, but then boycotted the 1986 event because of strained relations with Sri Lanka. Strained political relations with India caused Pakistan to boycott it in 1991 event, whilst the 1993 cup was cancelled for the same reasons. Sadly, the ACC’s original aim was sorely tested almost from the outset.

Subsequent tournaments did not fit any regular temporal pattern. It was not until 2009 that the tournament was regularized onto a biennial basis. In 2015, the ACC announced the tournament would be played on rotation between ODI and Twenty20 International formats. Despite the introduction of a group stage to allow a slight expansion in the number of teams, the tournament has normally had only six competitors.

The International Cricket Council’s decision in April 2018 to grant T20I status to all 104 member nations – both men’s and women’s teams - has had far-reaching effects on cricket, including the Asia Cup. The number of countries with teams playing formalized T20 cricket at international level has grown rapidly.

It could be argued that the decision democratized cricket for both men and women. The 50-over ODI format requires a longer commitment and a deeper allocation of resources beyond the means of many of the boards administering cricket. T20 cricket offered a quicker, less resource-intensive route for the teams of associate member countries to test themselves not only amongst their peers, but also against the full members on the pitch. It has become a format for the many, not the few.

However, there remains a huge gulf between funds available to associate members and full members. This situation is exacerbated by the ICC’s decision-making regime which allows very little representation for associates. In the latest, 161st edition of the Wisden Almanack, its editor berates last year’s decision to increase the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s share of ICC’s central funds from 25 to 38.5 percent. It is not as if it needs the funds.

The BCCI argues that, since it brings the lion’s share of revenue into the game, it should be proportionately rewarded. This argument suggests a desire to control other members rather than encourage their development. Wisden’s editor asks: “Is it really beyond the wit of the administrators to distribute cash according to need, not greed?” By way of example, the West Indies cricket board receives just under 5 percent of ICC central funds. No wonder its premier players frequent the game’s franchise leagues.

The views of Wisden’s editor will probably be regarded in cricket’s power circles as a rage against the dying of the light for a previous regime, governed from England. Whilst it is true that regime was as concerned with its own protection as the current one, its idea of spreading the game was somewhat parochial. It is in that context that the ICC’s mission to spread the game should be seen. Now, cricket is not only played internationally in countries which raise the eyebrows of many when the name is mentioned, it is also accompanied by grass roots growth.

Given the recognized closeness between the ICC and the BCCI, whose secretary is also president of the ACC, the motives for restructuring the Asia Cup are worth exploring. If it is accepted that T20I cricket has the potential to provide a more level playing field, at least in terms of recognition of performance to a global standard, then the competitive structures should encourage meritocracy. This does lead to criticism that the breaking of records by associate players dilutes those set by full member players. There was such an example in Oman this week when Nepal’s Dipendra Singh Airee hit six sixes in an over, no mean feat in any standard of cricket.

This achievement will have set off the cricket badgers. One remarkable coincidence is that the umpire at the bowler’s end had also stood on another occasion when six sixes had been struck in an over. The badgers should also reflect on the possibility that the Asia Cup structure made this possible. At the base of the three-tier structure is the Asia Challenger Cup, from which two teams progress to the second tier, the Premier Cup. The winner of that is elevated to the Asia Cup with the full members. The pathway provides every ACC member with a chance to strive for this nirvana.

Yet the structure is not just about merit, it is also about commercial opportunity. Three stand-alone competitions offer the opportunity, it is argued, for each to be marketed separately, thus increasing their commercial potential. The most visible sponsorship at both the Challenger and Premier Cups has been by DafaNews and 1XBet, plus FanCode. This is sponsorship of a highly specific, and in some eyes potentially contentious, nature. Badgers may need to be tenacious in rooting out the relationship between the new Asia Cup structure and its sponsors.

 


Kuwait fall to Vietnam in 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Updated 18 April 2024
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Kuwait fall to Vietnam in 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

  • Uzbekistan beat Malaysia 2-0 in the same group as the first round of matches concludes

DOHA: Vietnam defeated Kuwait 3-1 in the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup as Group D games got underway in Qatar on Wednesday night.

The result meant Vietnam took the early lead in the fourth and final group of the 16-team tournament, with Uzbekistan, who beat Malaysia 2-0, sitting second in the table on goal difference. Kuwait and Malaysia, with zero points, are third and fourth respectively. 

The second round of matches kick off in Group A on Thursday (April 18), with hosts Qatar taking on Jordan and Indonesia facing Australia.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia will return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The competition also serves as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, with the winners of the two semifinals both securing automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a place in Paris, while the fourth-place finishers have a final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.