Ukraine star Zinchenko in tears ahead of World Cup playoff

Ukraine's Oleksandr Zinchenko reacts during the press conference ahead of World Cup playoff. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 June 2022

Ukraine star Zinchenko in tears ahead of World Cup playoff

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave his blessing for Ukraine’s players and coach Oleksandr Petrakov to leave their homeland to prepare for and play what they hope will be two games in Britain this week

GLASGOW, Scotland: Ukrainian soccer star Oleksandr Zinchenko couldn’t hold back the tears as he tried to explain what it means to represent his country’s national team at this moment, with a spot at the World Cup within reach.

Ukraine are two games away from qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar, starting with a match against Scotland in Glasgow on Wednesday — which was postponed in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The winner at Hampden Park will play against Wales on Sunday in the decisive playoff.

“We want to give incredible emotions to the Ukrainian people because Ukrainians deserve it so much at this very moment,” Zinchenko, the Manchester City defender, said at a news conference. “Our mood, I would describe as a fighting mood, because everyone understands what is going on in Ukraine these days.”

Zinchenko put soccer in perspective, saying the one thing Ukrainians want is “to stop this war” but that those who could follow the game at home would do so.

“I’m pretty sure that all Ukraine who has this opportunity is going to watch us, and we are going to feel this support 100 percent,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave his blessing for Ukraine’s players and coach Oleksandr Petrakov to leave their homeland to prepare for and play what they hope will be two games in Britain this week.

“Clearly it’s a very difficult task to prepare your team for the game when every single player is thinking about mothers, fathers, close relatives, family back home in Ukraine,” Petrakov said. “We use all sorts of methods, even jokes. We motivate people in a light manner. But clearly every player understands how huge the task is.”

While Zinchenko and nine others in the 26-man squad have continued playing for clubs outside Ukraine since the war started in February, the home-based players have not had a competitive game since December. The national league paused for a midwinter break and never resumed because of Russia’s invasion.

With officials from Scotland and Wales giving their consent for FIFA to postpone the playoffs, Ukraine got extra months to prepare to field a team.

“Firstly, I would like to extend my gratitude to the Scottish national team — to the coaching staff, players, to the whole Scottish people — who have provided Ukraine with this incredible help,” Zinchenko said.

A mutual respect is clear between the two teams ahead of the game.

“Nothing but good thoughts for them and good wishes for them — except during the game,” Scotland coach Steve Clarke said Tuesday. “Because obviously they want to go to Qatar and represent their country. But I’m desperate to go to Qatar with Scotland.”

The Scots and Welsh have their own historical motivation for denying Ukraine the last of the 13 European places at the World Cup. Scotland last went to the tournament 24 years ago and Wales have waited 64 years. Ukraine went to the 2006 World Cup and was a quarterfinalist.

Ukraine have prepared during a month-long training camp in the safety of Slovenia and players from its top clubs Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv also toured Europe playing games to raise money to help defend Ukraine.

Clarke said Ukraine’s players find themselves in “an incredible situation. They will be ready for the game, no worries.”

He expects Scotland’s fans to respect Ukraine’s national anthem, even applaud it.

Zinchenko appreciated a publicity campaign to help Scottish fans learn the words of the Ukrainian song: “We have to be together, we have to fight Russian aggression, we have to defeat that evil.”

Team Abu Dhabi battle to keep F1 powerboating title hopes alive

Updated 01 October 2023

Team Abu Dhabi battle to keep F1 powerboating title hopes alive

  • Emirati cousins Thani, Rashed Al-Qemzi eyeing win in Sardinia to boost team crown chances

SARDINIA: Team Abu Dhabi’s powerboating cousins Thani and Rashed Al-Qemzi were on Sunday aiming to keep their team’s title hopes alive in the 2023 UIM F1H2O World Championship, taking place in Sardinia.

While Sweden’s Jonas Andersson can clinch the drivers’ crown with victory in the Regione Sardegna Grand Prix of Italy after securing pole position, the two Emiratis are still battling to deliver a sixth successive team triumph to the UAE capital.

Their case was helped when mechanical problems put Finn Sami Selio out of action in Saturday’s revamped qualifying phase, damaging the challenge of the Sharjah Team sandwiched between Andersson’s leading Team Sweden, and the Abu Dhabi duo in third place.

Andersson won the first of the day’s two group sprint races that have been introduced as part of an all-new Grand Prix qualifying format, dominating the 20 laps ahead of his two chief title rivals, Victory Team’s Erik Stark, and Sharjah Team’s Ferdinand Zandbergen.

Team Abu Dhabi’s Thani Al-Qemzi, pole position setter and Grand Prix winner in Sardinia last year, finished in fifth place.

Italian Alberto Comparato then secured the second group sprint race ahead of Frenchman Peter Morin and Finnish racer Filip Roms, with Rashed Al-Qemzi taking fourth place.

The final Grand Prix qualifying order, including pole position, was initially thrown into confusion because of a yellow flag toward the end of the first sprint race which affected the finishing times.

But Andersson was later named in pole position with the fastest lap time from the two sprint races, ahead of Comparato, Stark, Morin, and Zandbergen. Rashed Al-Qemzi qualified in seventh spot, with his cousin in ninth.

After securing his fourth F2 world title in Portugal earlier this month and signing off with another Grand Prix win last weekend, Rashed Al-Qemzi has stepped up again to partner his vastly experienced relative and is clearly ready for a fresh challenge.

The move from F2 to the F1H2O World Championship is a significant one, particularly when it comes to handling the intense pressure generated at the sharp end of qualifying and race action, and a crucial final round to follow in Sharjah in December.

Few understand that better than Team Abu Dhabi manager Guido Cappellini, who fought his way to 10 F1H2O drivers’ titles, and is mentoring the younger Al-Qemzi to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious cousin.

Rashed has made only fleeting F1H2O appearances since his debut in Sharjah in 2016. But he settled quickly into the rapid pace of things in Sardinia, recording the fastest time in Friday’s Group B free practice session after championship leader Andersson had set the pace in Group A.

The Emirati looked to have produced a repeat performance in Group B qualifying, before his fastest lap was ruled out for an infringement, and he eventually finished third to Comparato and Morin.

UAE Pro League review: Al-Ain and champions Shabab Al-Ahli maintain perfect starts

Updated 01 October 2023

UAE Pro League review: Al-Ain and champions Shabab Al-Ahli maintain perfect starts

  • Al-Wasl draw against Khor Fakkan sees them fall two points behind the top two

Holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club and Al-Ain maintained 100-percent starts to the season after heavyweight clashes, while Al-Wasl blew up theirs in unfathomable fashion against nine men, throughout ADNOC Pro League’s engrossing Matchweek 4.

Thursday’s sell-out crowd witnessed Al-Ain’s 10 men secure an epic 3-2 victory at shell-shocked Sharjah, courtesy of substitute Jonatas’ fierce clincher. Shabab Al-Ahli, meanwhile, breezed past Al-Wahda 3-1 on Friday, with emergent UAE force Yahya Al-Ghassani impressing former employers.

Saturday’s utterly chaotic second half at Khor Fakkan saw Wasl shockingly drop two points off leading pace. Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic’s first-half brace had sparked a 3-0 lead for the visitors by 14 minutes, but their collapse to 3-3 was completed by resurgent hosts in the 91st minute despite red cards for Uzbekistan midfielder Abdulla Abdullayev and Masoud Sulaiman.

Italy striker Manolo Gabbiadini’s brace earned a 3-0 victory for relieved Al-Nasr at rock-bottom Hatta; Morocco hit man Walid Azaro’s hat-trick proved in vain during Ajman’s 5-3 loss to grateful Ittihad Kalba; and Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo had a hand in all three goals when Al-Bataeh were downed 3-1 by Frank de Boer’s momentum-building Al-Jazira.

Spain icon Andres Iniesta went close when Emirates Club played out a goalless stalemate at Baniyas.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Al-Ghassani (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

There was a poignancy to this breathtaking display from one of the Middle East’s finest.

Al-Ghassani’s first steps in senior professional football were taken with Wahda, after exiting the academy of the then-named Al-Ahli. But despite an undeniable talent, it never truly happened for the winger at Al-Nahyan Stadium from 2018 until January 2021’s move back home.

Only 12 top-flight starts, four goals and five assists were recorded.

Fast forward to the present and Al-Ghassani was a standout performer in last season’s title victory, plus scorer of a brace during August’s agonizing AFC Champions League play-off exit to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nasr.

A pair in coach Paulo Bento’s impressive UAE debut — a 4-1 thumping of Costa Rica with Paris Saint-Germain’s Keylor Navas between the sticks — augurs much for World Cup 2026 qualifying’s impending kick-off and winter’s Asian Cup.

Al-Ghassani’s punishing pace and flawless technique were showcased for Mu’nas Dabbur’s seventh-minute opener, a clipped assist shredding the visiting defense. A noteworthy maturity, too, for an entertainer approaching his prime at 25 years old.

In tandem with fellow outstanding UAE prospect Harib Abdalla on the opposite flank, Shabab Al-Ahli’s counter-punching approach — they ceded 59-percent possession — made perfect sense.

Wahda’s loss is, emphatically, Shabab Al-Ahli’s gain. It makes the former strong contenders to claim another result in Saturday’s glamour clash at Jazira.

Goal of the week: Gabbiadini (Al-Nasr)

A long-awaited breakout for a beleaguered club and a star addition.

Gabbiadini had suffered alongside his new teammates in a tortured start to this season, which featured three successive league losses. In that time, the summer addition from relegated Sampdoria accrued only one assist, amid opening defeat to Jazira.

The narrative shifted in the Hajar Mountains.

Gabbiadini’s sharp mind and acute skills were present before half-time, breaking the deadlock in this clash of great import.

Nasr’s quick free-kick caused a goal-mouth scramble. The ball eventually made its way toward the 13-times-capped attacker, who met it with a forceful back heel that flew through Hatta goalkeeper Salam Khairi from close range.

Such refinement attracted the Blue Wave to Gabbiadini, following the briefest of summer attachments with Cedric Bakambu prior to joining Galatasaray.

It could yet prove adroit business for a 12th-placed sleeping giant who must awaken from perpetual slumber. Sleepwalk back into bad habits and harsh punishment should await versus Al-Ain on Sunday, before another international break.

Coach of the week: Gerard Zaragoza (Khor Fakkan)

Zaragoza experienced the startling highs and lows of club management, in this unforgettable Khor Fakkan debut.

A promotion from assistant coach was bequeathed by Abdulaziz Al-Anbari’s mid-September exit. That occurred after fitful ADNOC Pro League form, plus landslide ADIB Cup elimination by Kalba.

This change at the helm — whatever its permanence — looked misguided when on-song Wasl raced into an early three-goal lead. A comeback appeared impossible against visitors, surely, posed to extend a perfect start to the season.

But the ex-Shabab Al-Ahli tactician had a different idea. Lourency and Mohammed Al-Junaibi — one of two 24th-minute substitutes as Zaragoza attempted to catalyze a comeback — exchanged goal contributions before the hour mark, moving Khor Fakkan within striking distance.

This wind was taken out of their sails by twin dismissals. Yet, Khor Fakkan and Zaragoza were not done.

Another replacement, Juninho, took advantage of uncharacteristic dallying from Morocco center-back Soufiane Bouftini in injury time to poke home the unlikeliest of levelers.

Cosmin conundrum continues at Sharjah

We’ve been here before.

Last season featured an unprecedented haul of four different cup trophies for Sharjah under Cosmin Olaroiu, but an underwhelming seventh-placed finish for a side that contained Miralem Pjanic, Kostas Manolas and Paco Alcacer.

This season has featured a gritty 3-1 AFC Champions League play-off victory in front of 80,898 partisan Tractor S.C. supporters and a creditable goalless group-stage opener at Qatar’s Al-Sadd. Yet in the topflight, they already sit six points off the pace in fifth after defeat at home to an Al-Ain team reduced to 10 men by Kouame Autonne’s 37th-minute dismissal.

This represents an intractable problem for Sharjah’s board.

Olaroiu’s reputation as a serial trophy hoarder is unmatched across Asia, but paltry league form is a growing concern.

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations

Updated 01 October 2023

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations

  • As head coach from 2016-2019, Arthur led Pakistan to their Champions Trophy title in 2017
  • Pakistan cricket team will face Australia on Oct. 3 for their second and last warm-up match 

ISLAMABAD: With only a few days left before the World Cup kicks off, Pakistan Team Director Mickey Arthur joined the men’s cricket team in India on Sunday, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said in a statement, as the green shirts aim to bolster their preparations for the showpiece tournament. 

Arthur, who was appointed by the PCB in April this year to the team director’s post, has been available to the squad in a limited capacity owing to his contract with Derbyshire. The South African was not present with the Pakistani team during their series against Sri Lanka in July and was also unavailable during Pakistan’s series against Afghanistan in August. In the Asia Cup held last month, Arthur joined the team for just one fixture.

“Team director Mickey Arthur has joined the national men’s side in Hyderabad, India,” the PCB said in a statement. 

Led by skipper Babar Azam, the Pakistan men’s cricket team arrived in India on Sept. 25 to take part in the 50-over World Cup which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 5. The South Asian country will begin its World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6 before taking on Sri Lanka on Oct. 10 and then India on Oct. 14. 

Arthur was Pakistan’s head coach from 2016 to 2019, during which the green shirts won the Champions Trophy title in 2017 and also climbed to the top of the T20I rankings.

Pakistan, however, were unable to impress in Test cricket with Arthur and a league-stage exit from the 2019 World Cup led to him being replaced as head coach by former Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq.

After losing to New Zealand in the opening warm-up fixture on Friday, Pakistan will take on Australia in their second and last World Cup warm-up match on Tuesday, Oct. 3. 

Al-Ahli and Ettifaq goalless despite ex-Liverpool legends

Updated 01 October 2023

Al-Ahli and Ettifaq goalless despite ex-Liverpool legends

RIYADH: While nine-man Liverpool were unlucky to lose to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday in the English Premier League, in the big game of the Roshn Saudi League, there were a number of ex-Liverpool legends in action as Al-Ahli drew 0–0 at home to Ettifaq. 

As the clash — not as dramatic as the one that took place in London — kicked-off, Ettifaq were in fifth with 16 points from seven games, a point and a place above Al-Ahli. In terms of positions, that’s where they stayed after the stalemate. A win would have taken Ettifaq just a point — or two in the case of Ahli — behind league leaders Al-Hilal after eight games of the season. As it is, both are within touching distance of pole position.

The fact that this was such an eagerly-awaited clash was  a measure of how far both have come since last season. The visitors Ettifaq may have finished seventh in May but were just nine points clear of the relegation zone and 22 behind third place. At the same time, Al-Ahli were in  the second tier and fighting for promotion, a struggle that was ultimately successful. Much has changed in the months since. Finishing in first is unlikely but both have ambitions of a top four spot.

So far this campaign the men from Dammam have been revitalised under head coach Steven Gerrard and they are now four games unbeaten in the league. His fellow former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is still playing in midfield alongside Gini Wijnaldum, also with the Reds as they became champions of Europe in 2019. 

On the opposite side in Jeddah was another Anfield legend in Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian now leads the line at Al-Ahli along with former Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez and Allan Saint-Maximin, who arrived in Jeddah from Newcastle United. There are few teams in the world that have such attacking talent at their disposal.

Despite that, there was not much action to speak of though Al-Ahli will feel that they did enough to get a goal or two.

Saint-Maximin set up Firmino for what seemed to be the opening goal after just 17 minutes. The flair-filled French star picked up possession just over the halfway line, advanced to the edge of the area to square the ball for the South American to sweep home. It was a fluid move but Saint-Maximin was adjudged by VAR to have been just offside during the build-up.

There is also talent at the other side of the pitch for the Jeddah giants. Just before the break, Edouard Mendy showed why Al-Ahli had splashed the cash to sign him from Chelsea. Ali Hazazi crossed from the right for Moussa Dembele to connect with a firm header. The French striker had already scored six league goals for Ettifaq this season so far but his effort was tipped over by the Senegalese shot stopper.

With 18 minutes remaining, the Liverpool connection almost put the visitors ahead. Henderson found Wijnaldum in the area and the Dutch midfielder shot over from close range. It was perhaps the best chance of the entire game as was shown as all Ettifaq players had heads in hands as it was not taken.

Both teams pushed for the winning goal but it was not to be and Ahli and Ettifaq had to settle for a point each.

Elsewhere, Al Fateh defeated Al-Wehda 5-1 to move into seventh above the visitors.

Klopp slams ‘crazy decisions’ after nine-man Liverpool’s Spurs loss

Updated 30 September 2023

Klopp slams ‘crazy decisions’ after nine-man Liverpool’s Spurs loss

  • Refereeing body PGMOL issued a statement less than an hour after the final whistle conceding Diaz’s first-half goal should have stood
  • Klopp was incensed by the decisions, with Jones dismissed after his crunching challenge into Yves Bissouma’s ankle

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp blasted the “crazy decisions” that led to nine-man Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat against Tottenham as referees’ chiefs admitted the Reds were denied a legitimate goal in Saturday’s dramatic clash.
Klopp’s side had Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota sent off in north London, while Liverpool forward Luis Diaz had a goal wrongly disallowed by VAR.
Refereeing body PGMOL issued a statement less than an hour after the final whistle conceding Diaz’s first-half goal should have stood.
“PGMOL acknowledge a significant human error occurred during the first half of Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool,” the statement read.
“The goal by Luis Diaz was disallowed for offside by the on-field team of match officials. This was a clear and obvious factual error and should have resulted in the goal being awarded through VAR intervention, however, the VAR failed to intervene.
“PGMOL will conduct a full review into the circumstances which led to the error.”
Liverpool paid the price for the controversial calls as Joel Matip’s last-gasp own-goal condemned them to a first Premier League loss this term.
Klopp was incensed by the decisions, with Jones dismissed after his crunching challenge into Yves Bissouma’s ankle.
It was initially ruled a booking by referee Simon Hooper, only for the official to upgrade it to a red card when he reviewed the foul on the pitchside monitor.
Liverpool thought they had taken the lead despite that blow when Diaz fired home from Mohamed Salah’s pass, but VAR ruled it out after a surprisingly quick check.
Son Heung-min put Tottenham ahead before Cody Gakpo’s equalizer for the visitors, then Jota was sent off for two fouls in quick succession on Destiny Udogie after the break.
“I was never more proud of the team than today. I never saw a game like this with the most unfair circumstances, crazy decisions,” Klopp said.
“The first red card, Curtis steps on the ball and goes over. Not a bad tackle.
“It looks different in slow motion. He steps full throttle on the ball and goes over the ball. That is unlucky.
“For Jota, first yellow was not a yellow. Then he gets a second and to defend with eight outfield players is tricky.”
On Diaz’s disallowed goal, Klopp raged at VAR, saying: “The offside goal. That is not offside when you see it, they drew their lines wrong.
“The ball is between Mo’s legs, they drew the line wrong and didn’t judge the moment when Mo passed the ball right. It is so tough to deal with it.”
Liverpool missed the chance to go top of the table after their defeat, but Klopp saluted the way his nine men kept in-form Tottenham at bay until the last moments of stoppage time.
“You want to build something you need players with mentality and I saw them today, they fought. Pretty special tonight,” he said.
“We scored an own goal, that is really tough to take but I am really proud.”