MADRID: Karim Benzema proved the difference again for Real Madrid on Saturday by scoring a late winner against Rayo Vallecano to send his team nine points clear at the top of La Liga.
Benzema struck in the 83rd minute, his 29th goal of the season enough to seal a scrappy victory at Vallecas but one that could put Madrid almost out of sight if Sevilla fail to beat local rivals Real Betis on Sunday. Betis sit third and have been in excellent form in recent weeks.
For an eighth match in a row, Madrid failed to score in the first half and this was their fifth game out of the last six that has seen them unable to score more than once.
Their lack of punch could prove problematic against more testing opponents, with a Champions League second leg against Paris Saint-Germain and then the second La Liga Clasico of the season against Barcelona both approaching next month.
A superb start to the campaign had Rayo in the hunt for the European places a few weeks ago but four consecutive defeats had seen them drop to 12th before kick-off.
They pushed Madrid hard here but were made to pay for a lack of ruthlessness in the final third, with Benzema and Vinicius Junior’s quality not for the first time proving decisive.
Marco Asensio and Benzema both had early chances but Rayo were the better team in the first half, drawing Madrid into a scrap and harrying them into mistakes.
Casemiro was particularly out of sorts but thought he had given Madrid the lead, banging a bouncing ball into the net after winning an aerial duel with Alejandro Catena.
The goal was ruled out, though, after replays showed he had pushed Catena in the back.
Both teams had chances early in the second half. Vinicius Junior’s finish from six yards had to be blocked before Thibaut Courtois did brilliantly to deny Mario Saurez from heading Rayo in front.
But Rayo tired and Madrid turned the screw in the last 20 minutes, Luka Modric curling against the crossbar, although Rayo had the best chance, Oscar Trejo and then Alvaro both thwarted by Courtois after Madrid failed to clear.
The miss proved costly because moments later, Benzema was celebrating in the corner.
He started the move, threading Vinicius through in the box before continuing his run. Vinicius could have shot but tapped it to his left, giving Benzema an open net.
Benzema strikes again as Real Madrid edge past Rayo
Benzema strikes again as Real Madrid edge past Rayo
- Benzema struck in the 83rd minute, his 29th goal of the season enough to seal a scrappy victory at Vallecas
- Betis sit third and have been in excellent form in recent weeks
MADRID: Karim Benzema proved the difference again for Real Madrid on Saturday by scoring a late winner against Rayo Vallecano to send his team nine points clear at the top of La Liga.
Stadium tragedy exposes Indonesia’s troubled soccer history
- Saturday's football tragedy in Malang is a tragic reminder that Indonesia is one of the most dangerous countries in which to attend a game
- Data from Indonesia’s soccer watchdog, Save Our Soccer, showed 78 people have died in game-related incidents over the past 28 years
SEOUL, South Korea: Gaining the right to host next year’s Under-20 World Cup was a major milestone in Indonesia’s soccer development, raising hopes that a successful tournament would turn around long-standing problems that have blighted the sport in this country of 277 million people.
The death of at least 125 people at a league game between host Arema FC of East Java’s Malang city and Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday is a tragic reminder, however, that Indonesia is one of the most dangerous countries in which to attend a game.
“Do remember that the FIFA U-20 World Cup will be the worldwide spotlight since the event will be joined by 24 countries from five continents,” Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said last month as he pushed for thorough preparations for the tournament.
Since Saturday, the domestic league has been suspended. Widodo has ordered the sports minister, the national police chief and the soccer federation to conduct a thorough investigation into the deadly stadium crush.
Indonesia was the first Asian team ever to play at a World Cup — participating in 1938 as Dutch East Indies — but despite an undoubted national passion for the sport, it has never returned to the global stage because of years of corruption, violence and mismanagement.
Data from Indonesia’s soccer watchdog, Save Our Soccer, showed 78 people have died in game-related incidents over the past 28 years.
Those accused are often associated with supporter groups that attach themselves to clubs, with the biggest boasting hundreds of thousands of members.
Arema intense rivalry with Surabaya meant that no visiting fans were allowed in the stadium on the weekend. Yet violence broke out when the home team lost 3-2 and some of the 42,000 Arema fans, known as “Aremania,” threw bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials.
Restrictions on visiting fans also have failed in the past. In 2016, despite Persib Bandung supporters being banned from a game with bitter rival Persija Jakarta, they were blamed for the death of a Jakarta supporter.
A month earlier, a Persib fan had been beaten to death by Jakarta followers.
In 2018, local media reported a seventh death in six years related to Indonesia’s biggest soccer rivalry.
Soccer fans have accused security officials of being heavy-handed in the past and on the weekend, with witnesses describing officers beating them with sticks and shields before shooting tear gas canisters directly into the crowds. In 2016, police were accused of killing 16-year-old supporter Muhammad Fahreza at a game between Persija and Persela Lamongan, resulting in mass demonstrations demanding an end to police brutality.
“The police who were in charge of security violated FIFA stadium safety and security regulations,” soccer analyst Akmal Marhali told Indonesian media on Sunday, referring to the use of tear gas on Malang fans who entered the pitch after their team’s defeat. That sparked a rush for exits in an overcrowded stadium.
“The Indonesia Football Association may have been negligent for not informing the police that security procedures at a football match are not the same as those at a demonstration.”
FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, prohibits the use of tear gas by on-field security or police at stadiums.
Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said police who violated regulations should be tried in open court.
“This loss of life cannot go unanswered. The police themselves have stated that the deaths occurred after police use of tear gas on the crowd resulted in a stampede at the stadium exits,” Hamid said in a statement. “Tear gas should also never be fired in confined spaces.”
The soccer association, known locally as PSSI, has long struggled to manage the game domestically.
In 2007, Nurdin Halid was imprisoned on corruption charges but was able to continue as the organization’s president until 2011. After Halid was banned from running for another term, a rival league, federation and national team emerged.
But chaotic administration continued until FIFA suspended Indonesia in 2015, a sanction that was lifted the following year.
In 2019, when FIFA awarded Indonesia hosting rights for the Under-20 World Cup, it was seen as a vote of confidence.
In June, a FIFA panel inspected the country’s soccer facilities and planning for the May 20-June 11 tournament and proclaimed its satisfaction.
“We are very pleased to see the preparations in Indonesia,” Roberto Grassi, Head of Youth Tournaments for FIFA said. “A lot of refurbishment work has been done already. We have had an encouraging visit and are confident of support from all stakeholders involved.”
Kanjuruhan Stadium, the site of the disaster on Saturday, is not among the six venues listed for the Under-20 World Cup, although nearby Surabaya Stadium is scheduled to host games.
FIFA has not yet commented on any potential impact on the Under-20 World Cup but the weekend tragedy is likely to damage Indonesia’s bid to host the 2023 Asian Cup. It is vying with South Korea and Qatar to become host of the continental championship after China relinquished its staging rights in May.
Indonesia has already co-hosted the tournament, sharing the event in 2007 with Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam and hosting the final in Jakarta, where Iraq beat Saudi Arabia for the title.
That was the last time Indonesia staged a major international soccer tournament. The Asian Football Confederation is expected to announce its decision on the 2023 tournament on Oct. 17.
There is unlikely to be any soccer played before then as people in Indonesia, and football followers around the globe, come to terms with one of the deadliest disasters ever at a sporting event.
Sergio Perez wins in Singapore rain as Max Verstappen made to wait for F1 title
- First grand prix to be held under lights at the Marina Bay Street Circuit since 2019
- Verstappen had a mathematical chance to clinch a second world title, but needed to win
SINGAPORE: Sergio Perez won a rain-affected Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday leaving his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen to wait at least another week to retain his Formula One world championship.
The Mexican took the chequered flag 7.5sec ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, but could be stripped of the victory by stewards who were investigating a possible safety car infringement.
Carlos Sainz was third to make it a double podium for Ferrari in the night race that started more than an hour late because of a storm.
It was the first grand prix to be held under lights at the Marina Bay Street Circuit since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Verstappen had a mathematical chance to clinch a second world title, but needed to win and have other results go his way. He finished seventh after a rollercoaster race.
The Dutchman was always going to struggle after starting eighth on the grid and his task was made trickier by an early evening deluge that delayed the start till 9:05 p.m. (1305 GMT).
When the field eventually tore away from the grid in a shower of spray, Verstappen almost stalled and dropped back from eighth to 13th.
The 25-year-old cut through the field before flat-spotting his tires trying to pass Lando Norris for fourth after a safety car restart.
“I was up with Lando and as soon as I braked, the front wheels jumped in the air and I went straight on,” said Verstappen who was forced to pit for fresh rubber and dropped to last place.
“It’s not what I’m here for. Not with a car like that. It was incredibly messy.”
It means his world championship lead over Leclerc has been cut to 104 points ahead of next week’s Japanese Grand Prix. Perez is two points behind Leclerc.
Verstappen will need to be 112 points ahead at the end of next Sunday’s race in Suzuka to retain his title and can do so if he wins and Leclerc fails to finish second.
Leclerc started on pole but Perez slipped past before the first turn and drove a perfect race to hold off the Monegasque for his second GP win of the season.
“It was certainly my best performance,” Perez said. “I controlled the race. The last three laps were so intense. When I got out of the car, I felt it. I gave everything today.”
Leclerc started on pole but had a sluggish getaway on intermediate tires in the slippery conditions allowing Perez to reach the first corner in the lead.
“I pushed all the way,” said Leclerc. “The bad start put us on the back foot and it was a really difficult race after that.”
Sainz started fourth and managed to force his way past Lewis Hamilton on turn one, but he felt he could never threaten the front two and crossed the line 7.7sec behind Leclerc.
“It was very tough out there,” Sainz said. “I never really got into a rhythm in the wet and then couldn’t challenge the top two guys.
“I had to settle for P3, but the good thing is I didn’t do any mistakes and could bring the car home and be quick toward the end of the race.”
The McLaren pair of Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were fourth and fifth, Lance Stroll sixth in the Aston Martin ahead of Verstappen.
Sebastian Vettel, the winner in Singapore the last time the race was run in 2019, was eighth, with Hamilton and the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly rounding out the top 10.
Hamilton had been in the battle for pole but had a torrid time, complaining early about his tires and later slithering into a barrier necessitating a new nose before coming home ninth.
“I think we started off with a really decent weekend, it was really unfortunate at the end,” said Hamilton.
“I was trying, obviously difficult to overtake, that lock up into turn seven, ugh, when those things happen your heart sinks a little bit.”
Haaland, Foden hat-tricks help Man City thrash Man Utd 6-3
- Haaland has scored hat-tricks in each of his last three Premier League home games to take his tally to 17
- City could have scored many more than the four they managed in a blistering first half performance
MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Erling Haaland and Phil Foden scored hat-tricks as Manchester City thrashed Manchester United 6-3 to move to within a point of Premier League leaders Arsenal on Sunday.
Haaland has scored hat-tricks in each of his last three Premier League home games to take his tally as a City player to 17 in 10 competitive games for the English champions.
Antony’s strike and Anthony Martial’s late double ensured United avoided a record defeat in the Manchester derby as they remain in sixth, nine points off the top.
Since also conceding four times inside the first 45 minutes at Brentford in August, United had bounced back with four consecutive Premier League wins to offer hope they are heading in the right direction under Erik ten Hag.
But the Red Devils were given a rude awakening of the gulf that still exists between the Manchester giants.
City could have scored many more than the four they managed in a blistering first half performance that swept away any doubts caused by an inconsistent start to the season from Pep Guardiola’s men.
Within four minutes it took two goal-line clearances and a fine save from David de Gea to deny Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva the opening goal.
Four minutes later, City did open the floodgates when Foden swept home Silva’s cross for the Manchester native’s first derby goal.
Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick hit the post and Foden blasted another big chance wide before Haaland inevitably made his mark.
United were left to bemoan the absence of Raphael Varane to defend a De Bruyne corner as he received treatment on an ankle injury that forced him off at half-time.
Without the Frenchman, there was no match for Haaland’s presence in the penalty box as his header crossed the line before Tyrell Malacia’s attempted clearance.
Moments later, City showcased their ability to counter-attack as Jack Grealish fed De Bruyne, who perfectly picked out Haaland to convert on the stretch at the back post.
Haaland then turned provider with a low cross that Foden converted to leave United trailing 4-0 at half-time for the third time in a year.
Unlike, in a 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford to Liverpool last season and at Brentford last month, there was some semblance of a United response after the break.
Antony smashed home his second goal in as many Premier League appearances since a £82 million ($92 million) move from Ajax.
But Haaland quickly retook center stage with a thumping finish to meet Sergio Gomez’s cross.
City were on course to match the record margin of victory in a Manchester derby when Haaland set up Foden to smash home and complete his hat-trick.
That was Foden’s final involvement as he was withdrawn in a quadruple change as Guardiola could afford to also hand a rest to De Bruyne, Gundogan and Grealish.
United took advantage of City taking their foot off the accelerator in the final 10 minutes as substitute Martial scored twice to cut the arrears.
The Frenchman bravely headed in the rebound after Ederson parried Fred’s shot and then emphatically fired home from the penalty spot.
At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match
- Arema FC supporters rioted after their team lost to the visiting team Persebaya Surabaya
- Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, says police and rescuers
MALANG, Indonesia: At least 129 people died at a football stadium in Indonesia when thousands of fans invaded the pitch and police fired tear gas that triggered a stampede, authorities said Sunday.
The tragedy on Saturday night, in the eastern city of Malangm was one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.
Arema FC supporters at the Kanjuruhan stadium stormed the pitch late on Saturday after their team lost 3-2 to the visiting team and bitter rivals, Persebaya Surabaya.
Police, who described the unrest as “riots,” said they tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas after two officers were killed.
Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, according to police.
East Java police chief Nico Afinta said many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit.
He initially said a total of 127 people had died, but the toll was later raised to 129.
A hospital director told local TV that one of the victims was five years old.
Images captured from inside the stadium during the stampede showed huge amounts of tear gas and people clambering over fences.
People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos.
Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at police, who were holding riot shields.
The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out, Police said 3,000 people stormed the pitch.
“We would like to convey that... not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch,” Afinta said.
Torched vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning. Police said 13 vehicles in total were damaged.
The Indonesian government apologized for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stampede.
“This is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas.
“We will thoroughly evaluate the organization of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where deep rivalries have previously turned into deadly confrontations.
Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are longtime rivals.
Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game due to fears of violence.
However Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said organizers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
And he said the government had recommended only 38,000 tickets be printed, but there was instead a sell-out crowd of 42,000.
“The government has made improvements to the implementation of football matches... and will continue to improve. But this sport, which is a favorite of the wider community, often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said in an Instagram post.
The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) suspended football matches of Indonesia’s top league, BRI Liga 1, for one week.
It also banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the rest of the season and said it would send an investigation team to Malang to establish the cause of the crush.
“We’re sorry and apologize to families of the victims and all parties over the incident,” PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan said.
Indonesia is to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in May at six stadiums across the country. The Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang is not included in that list.
Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at Britain’s Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s National Stadium.
How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports
- Investments worth $37.8 billion in Savvy Games Group will transform the Kingdom into an industry leader
- National Gaming and eSports Strategy will create 39,000 jobs and contribute SR50 billion to GDP by 2030
JEDDAH: The gaming and electronic sports industry is growing rapidly in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC, with major investments announced to support domestic game developers and world-class competitions taking place in the region.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced the Kingdom’s ambition to see 30 competitive games developed by firms in the Kingdom by 2030 as part of the country’s national gaming and esports strategy.
Last week, Savvy Games Group, a firm owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, unveiled investments worth SR142 billion ($37.8 billion) to transform the Kingdom into a global gaming hub with world-class gaming companies.
The investments will include SR70 billion to take several minority stakes in companies that support Savvy’s game development agenda and SR50 billion to acquire a leading game publisher to become a strategic development partner.
Another SR20 billion will be invested in industry partners, and SR2 billion will target industry disruptors to grow early-stage games and esports companies.
“Savvy Games Group is one part of our ambitious strategy aiming to make Saudi Arabia the ultimate global hub for the games and esports sector by 2030,” the crown prince said last week, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Speaking at the Next World Forum earlier in September, Prince Faisal bin Bandar, president of the Saudi Esports Federation, noted the boom in the sporting sector in the past five years, adding: “One of my favorite things about gaming is that you first introduce yourself to someone using your gaming skills, and not history, religion, color of skin, background or gender.”
He said: “This young community and population are really striving to take their place on the global stage. The ultimate goal is to have Saudi Arabia move on a natural path on the global pathway for games and esports.”
Through this initiative, the government hopes to create 39,000 jobs, establish 250 game developers, and promote a thriving in-house talent pool for esports that will raise the sector’s contribution to the Kingdom’s economy to SR50 billion by 2030.
Scores of domestic startups, as well as more established multinational developers, stand to benefit immensely from the flurry of new investment.
Abdulrahman Al-Sulaimani, an artificial intelligence engineer and games designer who spent nine years working in Japan before returning to the Kingdom in 2020, is among them.
Over the course of his career, Al-Sulaimani has witnessed the astonishing growth of Japan’s world-renowned gaming community. Seeing the same room for potential in his home country, he returned to establish his own studio.
Earlier this year, Al-Sulaimani launched AlBuraq Wings, a games studio that adopts young gamers eager to turn their hand to design and programming.
“I wanted to help gather them under one roof and created the studio with a vision to create games that are not only made by Saudis for Saudis but to also educate the world somehow about how extremely talented our developers are,” Al-Sulaimani told Arab News.
From designers, to developers, artists, voiceover artists and more, game development is not a one-man show. It is a community of talents that come together to try out new technology tools to come up with innovative game ideas.
AlBuraq Wings recently won third place in the Gamers8 XR Gameathon, an accelerated innovation time-bound event, where game enthusiasts come together to develop a game prototype from scratch in one week.
“These tournaments are what push many Saudis to come out and put their skills into the spotlight. I dare say it, the skills of many Saudis surpass those of the Japanese,” said Al-Sulaimani.
“Gaming events not only attract gamers, they also attract three unique and important segments of the gaming community: programmers, designers and artists. If you get all three, you have a game. They all come full circle.”
Saudi Arabia is already fast emerging as a major gaming hub, with local competitors achieving world-class results in global esports tournaments.
In 2018, Mosaad Al-Dossary, known online as “Msdossary,” became the first Saudi national to win the FIFA eWorld Cup — an event in which more than 20 million gamers attempted to qualify.
A year later, Saudi gamers were thrilled when the Kingdom was chosen to host the region’s biggest gaming tournament to date, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) Mobile Star.
The global esports market size was valued at $1.22 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach the valuation of $1.44 billion in 2022. Fortune Business Insights predicts the market will reach $5.48 billion by 2029.
According to a report published by Boston Consulting Group earlier this year, there are now 23.5 million gamers in Saudi Arabia, making up around 67 percent of the Kingdom’s overwhelmingly young population.
About 90 percent of these gamers take part in esports on an amateur or semi-pro basis, while around 100 Saudi gamers are pursuing e-sports as a full-time career, the report said.
“When it comes to the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia is the number one hotspot of gaming,” one female Saudi gamer and content creator, who goes by the online name “PikaLoli,” told Arab News.
She, like many Saudis, has been playing games from a young age, and recently decided to pursue gaming as a career. She discovered a platform where a growing community of gamers and developers can share ideas and reviews.
“I play all sorts of games and give my feedback on my social media pages,” said PikaLoli. “The interaction and commitment you find by even young ones is outstanding.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now and the community made up of thousands has been helping each other grow for years. We have a shared platform to communicate with, share ideas, edit videos, play games for developers and give feedback, and so much more.”
Recent graduate Waleed Abu Alkhayr, a game designer, found his footing soon after completing university and enrolling in the Game Development Hima bootcamp, which concentrates on game development by mastering skills and later interning for an international gaming company before landing a job at another.
He told Arab News that IT training programs and learning courses in esport and gaming development appealed to him most, cementing the idea of becoming a game developer.
“I started playing games on Sony Playstation 1 and I haven’t stopped since. The love for games is what led me to want to select this profession, but I didn’t see enough support until very recently when the sector developed at an unprecedented rate; I knew then that this is what I wanted to do.”
Abu Alkhayr, also a member of the AlBuraq Wings, said that the boom in esports and gaming development is not simple hype, but has been brewing for years.
“Initiatives and programs launched by entities that teach game programming and development are numerous and the resources even more so, which provide opportunities and build technical competitiveness in the community. The more the participation of talent, the bigger the community will grow and help build the vision that is set for us,” he said.
For Al-Sulaimani, harnessing this energy, enthusiasm and raw talent is precisely what is needed to put Saudi Arabia on the world map of gaming.
“The Kingdom is nurturing homegrown talent; it is ripe for creating a vibrant environment for esports has long been laid out by the youth with their love and passion for gaming,” he said.
“As game developers have found our platforms, we share our games and receive support, but the recent announcement will give more chances for the younger generation who want to delve into this fun world.”