The UAE’s second ‘Golden Generation’ dream of Qatar qualification miracle

There's one more chance for the UAE's national football team to replicate what the nation's first Golden Generation did in 1990, but it would have to be done the hardest possible way. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 24 March 2022

The UAE’s second ‘Golden Generation’ dream of Qatar qualification miracle

  • Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s team, who meet Iraq on Thursday, must qualify through the playoff route
  • The Emiratis must finish third in Group A, defeat Group B’s counterpart and then overcome CONMEBOL’s fifth-place nation

The sun is setting on the UAE’s second “Golden Generation” of footballers.

Ismail Matar, Ali Khaseif, Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout thrilled the world at the London 2012 Olympics, won the Gulf Cup in 2013 and then, as arguably one of the continent’s best teams, captured hearts as they reached the last four of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia.

But the coveted place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia never materialized and the team’s performances plateaued.

Now there is one more chance.

Can the UAE pull off a miracle, just as the nation’s first Golden Generation did in 1990, and qualify to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar?

They’ll have to do it the hard way, indeed the hardest possible way.

As we reach the last two rounds of matches of the Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022, no Arab team has yet secured a seat to Doha, though Saudi Arabia are within touching distance — or three points — of confirming their place. A win against China in Sharjah on Thursday, or simply matching Australia’s performance against Japan, will do the trick.

For the other Arab teams, the long and risky play-off route awaits.

In the Group A, three Arab teams — the UAE, Lebanon and Iraq — are still in with a mathematical chance of finishing third, while Syria has lost all hope.

The UAE, in third place with nine points, are best-placed to qualify, followed by Lebanon with six points and Iraq comes in fifth place with five points.

The third-placed teams in Groups A and B will meet in a play-off, with the winner earning the thankless task of trying to get past the fifth-placed team in the CONMEBOL qualification group — currently Peru — in a one-off match to reach Qatar.

New UAE coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena will not be looking that far ahead at this stage.

The Emirati team has a golden opportunity to secure third place after FIFA and the AFC decided to move Thursday’s clash with Iraq from Baghdad to Riyadh, giving the away team the huge boost of playing on a neutral ground.

The two nations do have World Cup history. The UAE’s first Golden Generation agonizingly lost out to Iraq in the playoffs for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

But four years later, the likes of Adnan Al-Talyani, Mohsin Musabah and the brothers Nasser and Fahd Khamis did it the hard way, drawing four matches and winning only one in the final six-team group stage, to join South Korea at Italia 90. It remains the UAE’s only World Cup appearance to date.

This represents the last chance for this group of players to emulate the stars of the 1980s and 1990s.

Long-time captain and talisman Matar has returned to the squad after some brilliant performances for his club Al-Wahda this season, and, at 38, this is surely his swansong.

Goalkeeper Majed Nasser, who is 37, has also made a comeback, while Walid Abbas is 36. Naturalized Argentine Sebastián Lucas Tagliabúe is 37 and ruled out due to injury.

Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo have come into the fold in recent years and could be seen as quick fixes.

Perhaps no three players epitomize the Emirati Golden Generation of the last 15 years more than Omar Abdulrahman, Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout, who all starred in Australia seven years ago.

The 31-year-old Mabkhout remains the qualification campaign’s highest scorer across all continents with 14 goals, though he has been woefully out of form for the UAE in his most recent appearances.

Injuries and lack of form, meanwhile, have seen golden boy Abdulrahman, “Amoori,” and 2016 Asian Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil — both 30 — slowly slip out of contention.

The current UAE squad is a mix of heroes from the Mahdi Ali-inspired group, established stars like Khalfan Mubarak and a batch of promising youngsters that include Alio Saleh and Yahya Al-Ghassani.

After Iraq on Thursday, Arruabarrena’s team will meet South Korea at home in their final Group A fixture next Tuesday. Finish third and thoughts of a miracle qualification can cautiously be entertained.

Awaiting them, potentially, would be the likes of Australia and Peru.

But miracles are rare in football. Sadly, we could be seen seeing the last of the UAE’s second Golden Generation once and for all.


Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

Updated 06 October 2022

Mickelson says world golf rankings need LIV events to be credible

  • The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week
  • LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023

BANGKOK: Six-time major winner Phil Mickelson on Thursday backed moves to award world ranking points for events on the breakaway LIV Golf circuit, saying it would help maintain the “credibility” of the global leaderboard.
The LIV Series stages its first event in Asia this week and on Wednesday announced a deal to have tournaments co-sanctioned by the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Tour and awarded Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points.
The OWGR has not announced whether points will now be awarded to LIV events, starting with this week’s tournament in Bangkok.
But Mickelson, whose departure from the US PGA Tour helped kickstart the big-money LIV series, said it was in the ranking body’s interests to do so.
“I think for the World Golf Rankings, this is a great way to keep its credibility, while not bringing politics into the decision-making process,” the 52-year-old left-hander said on the eve of the LIV’s Bangkok Invitational.
LIV has already staged five events but without any ranking points awarded for its players — including British Open champion Cameron Smith and former world number one Dustin Johnson.
Mickelson, Smith and Johnson are all competing at the new Stonehill course outside the Thai capital for a share of $20 million, with $4 million up for grabs for the winner, easily the largest purse for a golf tournament in Asia.
A host of top players have joined the series, plunging golf into bitter civil war as the US PGA Tour and the Europe-based DP World Tour have scrambled to hold on to talent while the Asian Tour, and now the lesser-known MENA Tour, have aligned themselves with LIV.
Only the top 50 players in the world qualify automatically for the four majors, so top names have been concerned about slipping down the rankings.
But Mickelson said he had no worries that LIV events would be given points appropriately.
“The reason I’m not concerned is that the number of points are based on the quality of the field and not the organization that’s running the tournament, and the quality of our field is remarkably strong,” he said.
“I’m sure for the world golf rankings to maintain their credibility, they’ll continue to award the proper number of points that the tournaments deserve for all tours.”
US players who have signed up to LIV Golf have been indefinitely suspended from the PGA Tour, while the DP World Tour has issued fines and short-term bans.
LIV has announced plans to expand from eight events this year to 14 in 2023, with players competing for $405 million in prize money.


Paris 2024 marathon to trace path of French Revolution

Updated 06 October 2022

Paris 2024 marathon to trace path of French Revolution

  • The marathon route unveiled on Wednesday was modelled on the path of the October 1789 Women’s March on Versailles
  • Organizers have also added two mass events — a marathon and a 10-km run — to allow non-Olympians to run the course

PARIS: Competitors in the marathon at the Paris 2024 Olympics will run from central Paris to Versailles and back, on a course designed to salute women and trace one of the pivotal historic events of the French Revolution.

The marathon route unveiled on Wednesday was modelled on the path of the October 1789 Women’s March on Versailles — when thousands, mainly female market traders furious over the price of bread, marched to the lavish palace of King Louis XVI.

They forced him to return with them to the center of the capital in an event that historians say ended the absolute power of the monarchy.

“We’re trying to give some meaning to our events and choosing this course was a good way to do it,” Paris 2024 boss Tony Estanguet told Reuters. “We really want to innovate.”

For the first time since women began running the Olympic marathon in 1984, women will conclude the athletics program, with their marathon coming a day after the men’s event.

This map released by Olympics Paris 2024 on Wednesday shows the marathon course for Paris Olympics in 2024. The marathon will start from Paris City Hall and wind past famed landmarks. (AP)

“Women first. We wanted to celebrate women,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told a news conference.

“Paris is a place of revolution. It’s a revolutionary city, so this course makes sense,” added Valerie Pecresse, the head of the Ile de France (greater Paris) region.

Organizers have also added two mass events — a marathon and a 10-km run — to allow non-Olympians to run the course. Each will be open to 20,024 participants.

“Our country proclaims loud and clear that high-level sport must more than ever be a source of inspiration for all generations while driving mass participation,” French Sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said.

“Sport has the power to positively transform society: Let us give it every means to do so.”

The marathon course will pass Parisian monuments including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Palais Garnier, the Jardin des Tuileries and several world-famous bridges.

“Beyond a doubt, the Paris 2024 marathon will have something special about it. To perform in such an impressive setting, in a place so charged with history and symbolism, will be a unique experience,” said two-time Olympic champion and world record holder Eliud Kipchoge.

“I could not ask for a more perfect race for the Games.”

It will also be an unusually challenging route, with 438 meters of altitude gain.

“It appears to be more demanding than normal,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe told Reuters. “Clearly it’s a marathon that will be challenging. But some marathon runners prefer undulating courses.” 

Haaland scores double as City cruise past Copenhagen, Chelsea boost knockout phase hopes

Updated 06 October 2022

Haaland scores double as City cruise past Copenhagen, Chelsea boost knockout phase hopes

  • Lionel Messi scored but Paris Saint-Germain were held to a 1-1 draw by Benfica in Lisbon

PARIS: Erling Haaland continued his remarkable goalscoring form by netting twice as Manchester City thrashed FC Copenhagen 5-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday, while Chelsea saw off AC Milan to revive their hopes of reaching the last 16.

Holders Real Madrid survived a spirited challenge from Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk at the Santiago Bernabeu to win 2-1 and extend their advantage in Group F.

Lionel Messi scored but Paris Saint-Germain were held to a 1-1 draw by Benfica in Lisbon. 

Paris Saint-Germain's Argentine forward Lionel Messi celebrates with teammate Kylian Mbappe after scoring the opening goal during the  Champions League  Group H match between SL Benfica and PSG. (AFP)

Haaland went into City’s game against Copenhagen at the Etihad Stadium having becoming the first player in Premier League history to score three successive home hat tricks in Sunday’s demolition of Manchester United.

The Norwegian slammed in the opening goal on seven minutes with his weaker right foot before prodding in a rebound for his second 25 minutes later.

The 22-year-old has now scored 28 times in his 22 Champions League appearances, already breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for most goals in a player’s first 30 games in the competition.

“I’ve never witnessed anything like it in my life,” City’s Jack Grealish told BT Sport.

“For the first and second goals I was just laughing. He is always there.

“The ‘keeper said something to me as I was walking back. He said ‘He’s not human!’ I said ‘You’re telling me?’ Hopefully he can carry on this form and take us to glory.”

Visiting center-back Davit Khocholava put through his own net, with Haaland waiting behind him, to make it three before half-time.

Haaland was denied a fourth City treble as he was replaced at the interval, but a Riyad Mahrez penalty and Julian Alvarez’s fourth goal for the club completed the rout.

Pep Guardiola’s men remain three points clear of second-placed Borussia Dortmund in Group G and will qualify for the knockout phase with a victory in the Danish capital next week.

Jude Bellingham scored for the third time in as many Champions League outings as Dortmund romped to a 4-1 victory at Sevilla.

The Spanish club responded to the defeat — and a desperately poor start to the season which has left them 17th in La Liga — by sacking coach Julen Lopetegui shortly after the final whistle.

Chelsea ended their wait for a win in Group E as goals from Wesley Fofana, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Reece James sealed an impressive 3-0 triumph over Italian champions AC Milan at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues made it back-to-back victories under new boss Graham Potter to set up a crucial clash at the San Siro in six days’ time.

Chelsea are second in Group E, level on points with third-placed Milan, one point behind leaders Salzburg who edged out Dinamo Zagreb 1-0.

“It’s easier when you win games,” said Aubameyang. “The mood is very good at the moment. We’ll try to keep it up.”

Shakhtar put on a battling display in Madrid, with goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin making 11 saves, but could not overcome a two-goal deficit against Real.

Goals in the first half-hour from Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior put Real in control and the 14-time champions made it three wins from three in Group F despite Oleksandr Zubkov’s effort for Shakhtar.

Madrid will be sure of a last-16 spot if they can beat second-placed Shakhtar next time out.

RB Leipzig are just a point behind Shakhtar after Joe Hart’s error helped the Germans down Celtic 3-1.

The former England goalkeeper’s poor pass led to Andre Silva restoring Leipzig’s lead in the second half before the Portugal striker netted again late on.

Benfica remain level on points with leaders PSG at the Group H summit after a hard-fought draw against one of the tournament favorites.

Messi produced a trademark left-footed finish into the top corner after a neat exchange of passes also involving Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to score his 127th Champions League goal in the 22nd minute.

Benfica leveled four minutes before the break as Danilo Pereira scored an own goal and both sides spurned chances to win in the second half.

Messi only scored 11 goals in 34 games in his first season for PSG last term, but already has eight in 13 this time around.

“It’s normal, it takes a little time,” PSG skipper Marquinhos told Canal Plus. “Now he feels a little more comfortable... I hope Leo Messi has a great season until the end to win this title.”

Juventus moved within four points of the top two as Adrien Rabiot’s brace and a Dusan Vlahovic goal gave the Italians a 3-1 victory over Maccabi Haifa for their first points.

Fan who caught Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run offered $2 million for ball

Updated 06 October 2022

Fan who caught Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run offered $2 million for ball

  • Cory Youmans grabbed the historic souvenir on the fly as it sailed into the front row of section 31 in left field

NEW YORK: The owner of a sports memorabilia auction house says he has offered $2 million to the fan who caught Aaron Judge’s American League-record 62nd home run.

JP Cohen, president of Memory Lane Inc. in Tustin, California, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he has texted and emailed Cory Youmans, the man who caught Judge’s milestone shot Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Cohen says Youmans has not yet replied.

“I feel the offer is way above fair, if he is inclined to sell it,” Cohen said in a telephone interview with the AP on Wednesday.

Youmans grabbed the historic souvenir on the fly as it sailed into the front row of section 31 in left field. The homer pushed Judge past Roger Maris for the AL season record — a mark many consider baseball’s “clean” standard because the only National League players who hit more have been tarnished by ties to steroids.

Youmans, who is from Dallas, works in the financial world. He was asked Tuesday what he planned to do with the prize while security personnel whisked him away to have it authenticated.

“Good question. I haven’t thought about it,” he said.

The record price for a home run ball is $3 million, paid for Mark McGwire’s record 70th from the 1998 season.

Cohen had previously pledged to offer $2 million for Judge’s 62nd homer. He said his company has a good relationship with the Yankees and it would be willing to loan the ball to the team for an exhibit. He added the team has frequently exhibited items owned by Memory Lane at Yankee Stadium.

“We did make an offer of $2 million and that offer is still valid,” Cohen said.

After the Yankees lost 3-2, Judge said he didn’t have possession of the home run ball.

“I don’t know where it’s at,” he said. “We’ll see what happens with that. It would be great to get it back, but that’s a souvenir for a fan. He made a great catch out there, and they’ve got every right to it.”

Youmans was among the crowd of 38,832, the largest to watch a baseball game at the 3-year-old ballpark.

Chastened Man United back in Europa League action

Updated 05 October 2022

Chastened Man United back in Europa League action

  • United flew to Cyprus on Wednesday after Ten Hag held a summit with his players
  • He encouraged them to speak openly about their failures against City

DUBAI: Erik ten Hag says Manchester United will learn lessons from Sunday’s humiliating 6-3 loss to Manchester City.
The healing process begins with a trip to Omonia Nicosia for the third round of matches in Europe’s second-tier competition.
United flew to Cyprus on Wednesday after Ten Hag held a summit with his players where he encouraged them to speak openly about their failures against City.
Ten Hag said he was grateful to City manager Pep Guardiola for bringing his team down to earth after four straight wins in the Premier League had seen spirits rise at United.
“It was a reality check, so we have to learn from it and carry on,” he said. “But we can get a lot of confidence about this theory, when you beat Arsenal, you beat Liverpool and now we get a reality check with Man City — so we know we have to step up.”
In other standout matches, Roma have the chance to move level on points with Group C leader Real Betis when they meet in Italy, while Arsenal can go top of Group A with a win at home to Norwegian team
West Ham go for a third straight win in their group as the English team head to Anderlecht for a repeat of the 1976 final of the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup.
West Ham, which have beaten Romanian club FCSB and Danish club Silkeborg, are one of five teams on a maximum six points — along with FC Basel, AZ Alkmaar, Villarreal and Istanbul Basaksehir