Mohammed Al-Owais the hero as Saudi Arabia claim a draw with Ecuador

Mohammed Al-Owais was called into action to earn the Green Falcons a draw. (AFP)
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Updated 24 September 2022
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Mohammed Al-Owais the hero as Saudi Arabia claim a draw with Ecuador

  • The South Americans had plenty of chances but the Al-Hilal goalkeeper pulled off a string of fine saves to ensure the World Cup warm-up game in Spain ended goalless
  • Next up for the Green Falcons is another warm-up match in Spain, this time against the USA, who were defeated 2-0 by Japan on Friday in Germany

Saudi Arabia had Mohammed Al-Owais to thank for avoiding defeat in their World Cup warm-up match against Ecuador in Spain on Friday, which ended in a goalless draw.

The Al-Hilal goalkeeper was in sparkling form as he kept Herve Renard’s men from falling to a third consecutive loss at the hands of South American opposition, following defeats in June by Colombia and Venezuela.

With less than two months to go before their World Cup opener against Argentina, followed by games against Poland and Mexico, Friday’s draw will be seen as a decent result for the Green Falcons, even if they were second best for much of the game, struggled to make an impression in attack and failed to find the net for a third game in a row.

The South Americans dominated the opening period and will have been frustrated not to be ahead at the break. They should have gone ahead in the ninth minute when Pervis Estupinan sent over a perfect cross from the left. Piero Hincapie was able to get between three defenders and head the ball into the top corner of the net — or so everyone thought. Suddenly, Al-Owais came flying across the goal to make a fantastic save. It was not to be the only time the 30-year-old would be called into action.

There was still less than 15 minutes on the clock when Ecuador had their best chance of the game. Riyadh Sharahili was caught in possession at about the midway point of his own half and the ball was fed to Enner Valencia. Suddenly finding himself through on goal, the Fenerbache forward cut in from the left side but dragged his shot wide when faced with the onrushing Al-Owais.

Soon after, the striker did the same thing from a tighter angle on the other side of the area, as the men in yellow continued to find ways to get behind the Saudi defense.

On the 20-minute mark, Estupinan fired a free-kick over the bar as the pressure continued to mount. The gaps at the back were again in evidence moments later when a through ball from inside the Ecuador half almost released Valencia once more.

With Ecuador firmly in control, Saudi Arabia almost took a shock lead five minutes before the break during a rare foray into opposition territory. Hincapie fell over near the penalty area and suddenly Firas Al-Buraikan, the top scorer in the Saudi Professional League last season, was in on goal. The Al-Fateh forward pushed into the area and though he had options for passing, he rightly decided to go for goal himself. But the shot was tame; low and straight at Alexander Dominguez, who made his first real save of the game.

The first half ended on a more familiar note. Firstly Valencia’s long-range shot was turned away by Al-Owais, who then had to make another fine save from the resultant corner as Valencia again came close.

There was more energy in the opening period of the second half from the Saudis as they looked to get in the faces of their opponents and deny them time and space on the ball.

Clear chances were still hard to come by but at least Ecuador, who will line-up against Qatar in Doha on Nov. 20 in the opening match of the World Cup, were not cutting through the Saudi Arabian defense quite as often as they had in the first half.

But then Al-Owais was forced back into action as he pulled off an impressive double-stop from substitute Jose Cifuentes. The Los Angeles midfielder’s first shot, a half-volley from the edge of the area, was cleared by the goalkeeper’s boot. His volleyed follow-up bounced up off the turf and was looping toward the top of the net when Al-Owais acrobatically tipped it over the bar.

He made an even better save with 17 minutes remaining, when Michael Estrada outpaced Ali Al-Bulaihi to run onto Estupinan’s long ball. Al-Owais was quick off his line to make the save.

Saudi Arabia’s best attacking moment came with eight minutes remaining. Salem Al-Dawsari, who had been working hard without ever managing to have the influence he wanted, saw his shot blocked and the rebound fly straight into Dominguez’s arms.

Ecuador continued to push for a winner but could not find a way past Al-Owais, who did more than enough to ensure that any talk of replacement by goalkeeping rival Abdullah Al-Mayouf, left out of the squad by Renard, will fade for now.

Al-Owais has another chance to impress on Tuesday, when the Saudi preparations for the World Cup continue with a match against the USA, who were defeated 2-0 by Japan on Friday in Germany.
 


Olympics serves as reminder Ukraine still exists, says sports minister

Updated 9 sec ago
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Olympics serves as reminder Ukraine still exists, says sports minister

“We need to remind the world that Ukraine exists, is fighting, and is capable of winning,” Bidnyi said
Ukraine won 19 medals in Tokyo in 2021, but Bidnyi says under the vastly different circumstances this year there was a different bar to be set

PARIS: Ukrainian Sports Minister Matviy Bidnyi says “the Russians wanted his country to cease to exist” but instead over two years on from the invasion, “the opposite has happened” at the Paris Olympics.
“Ukrainians are here, Ukraine is participating in the Olympic Games,” he said on the eve of the opening ceremony.
Bidnyi, who replaced Vadym Gutzeit as sports minister last November, said sport’s greatest show spread over a fortnight in Paris — and televised around the globe — would for Ukraine “primarily be a big screen to the world.”
Despite heavily disrupted preparations, with some athletes leaving Ukraine, others being killed and training facilities destroyed since Russia invaded on February 24, 2022, Ukraine is still sending a 143-strong team to Paris.
“We need to remind the world that Ukraine exists, is fighting, and is capable of winning,” Bidnyi told AFP by email on Thursday.
“Under the coordination of the Office of the President of Ukraine, we plan a large campaign to best explain that the very fact we perform under the Ukrainian flag in Paris is a great display of willpower.”
Ukraine won 19 medals in Tokyo in 2021, but Bidnyi says under the vastly different circumstances this year there was a different bar to be set.
“We believe in every Ukrainian athlete and wish to win all the medals,” said the 44-year-old body builder.
“But the truth is broader — every Ukrainian athlete at the Olympic Games is a hero who is already a winner.
“At the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, few believed we would stand.
“But we did, Ukrainian defenders stopped the Kremlin’s onslaught.”
Bidnyi said he could not be prouder that the athletes had managed to remain focused enough to qualify for Paris in their respective sports.
“Ukrainian athletes have proudly overcome the incredible hardships brought about by the Russian war,” he said.
“The killing of loved ones, the destruction of homes and stadiums, endless relocations — these are challenges that all Ukrainians, particularly athletes, constantly face.”
Ukrainian athletes, coaches and the country’s sporting infrastructure have not been spared from the destruction wreaked by Russia since their forces invaded in February 2022.
Ukraine co-hosted the European football championships as recently as 2012.
“Sports infrastructure has suffered significant losses — that’s true,” he said.
“The Russians damaged and destroyed more than 500 sports facilities, including 15 Olympic training bases across the country.
“But we can rebuild the sports infrastructure. However, we will never be able to bring back the killed athletes.”
Bidnyi said he dreads waking up to receive new figures about dead and wounded athletes and coaches.
“Every morning, I receive an SMS with updates on how many Ukrainian athletes and coaches the Russians have killed,” he said.
“Almost every day, this number increases. As of now, the Russians have killed 488 Ukrainian athletes and coaches.
“Among them are dozens of world and European champions, participants of previous Olympic Games, who should have been in Paris now but were killed by Russia.”
Those who have made it through to Paris have done so in the most trying of circumstances, says Bidnyi.
“Ukrainian rower Anastasia Rybychok lost her home and training base in Kherson,” he said.
“They were first bombed by the Russians and then flooded after the Russians blew up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station.
“Because of Russian terror, we experience power outages. Our athletes have to train in gyms without air conditioning or ventilation simply because there is no electricity.
“Many Ukrainian athletes have lost loved ones due to the war.”
Bidnyi says he is delighted that under constant pressure from his office and others the International Olympic Committee have vastly restricted the number of Russians and Belarusians competing in Paris and ordered them to compete under a neutral flag. They are banned from the opening ceremony.
Russia sent a team of 330 to Tokyo “and today there will be a maximum of 15 people without a state, without a flag, without an anthem, without any possibility of hinting where they came from.”

World Cup holders Spain win women’s Olympic football opener

Updated 25 July 2024
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World Cup holders Spain win women’s Olympic football opener

  • Spain are making their Olympic women’s football debut at the Paris Games but are leading contenders to win the gold medal
  • It is the perfect start for Spain in Group C, in which rivals Nigeria and Brazil meet later

PARIS: Reigning Ballon d’Or Aitana Bonmati scored one goal and helped create another as World Cup holders Spain came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 in their first game of the women’s Olympic football tournament on Thursday.
Spain are making their Olympic women’s football debut at the Paris Games but are leading contenders to win the gold medal after their World Cup triumph in Australia and New Zealand last year.
They fell behind against Japan in the western French city of Nantes to Aoba Fujino’s early free-kick, but Bonmati soon equalized before Mariona Caldentey netted the winner in the 74th minute.
It is the perfect start for Spain in Group C, in which rivals Nigeria and Brazil meet later.
With 12 teams split into three groups of four, there is margin for error as the two best third-placed teams will advance to the quarter-finals.
That will provide some comfort for Japan, who won the silver medal at London 2012.
Spain’s starting XI featured seven players who were in the line-up for last year’s World Cup final win over England in Sydney, plus Alexia Putellas, the two-time former Ballon d’Or winner.
Japan’s side included Hinata Miyazawa, the top scorer at the World Cup, but it was Fujino who opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a fine strike from a dead ball which proved too powerful for goalkeeper Cata Coll.
However, Spain bossed possession and drew level midway through the first half when Bonmati was played in by Athenea del Castillo and rounded the goalkeeper to score.
They then grabbed what proved to be the winner when Caldentey came in from the left and played a quick exchange of passes with Bonmati before firing in.
Meanwhile, reigning Olympic champions Canada shrugged off a spying scandal to come from behind and start their campaign with a 2-1 win over New Zealand in Saint-Etienne.
Mackenzie Barry gave New Zealand the lead before an embarrassingly sparse crowd at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, the same venue where the men’s game between Argentina and Morocco was affected by crowd trouble on Wednesday.
However, Arsenal’s Cloe Lacasse levelled in first-half stoppage time for Canada, who beat Sweden on penalties in the final in Tokyo three years ago.
Evelyne Viens then latched onto a long ball forward to fire in the winner 11 minutes from the end.
Canada’s build-up had been overshadowed after an assistant coach and an analyst were sent home from the Olympics on the eve of their opening game.
The analyst, 43-year-old Joey Lombardi, was also given a suspended eight-month prison sentence for flying a drone over a New Zealand training session this week in Saint-Etienne.
Lombardi pleaded guilty when he appeared in court in Saint-Etienne on Wednesday.
The assistant coach was Jasmine Mander, to whom Lombardi reported.
Head coach Bev Priestman apologized and decided to take no part in the game against New Zealand as a result because she felt it would not be appropriate.
Canada and New Zealand are in Group A along with hosts France and Colombia, who meet later in Lyon.
Record four-time gold medallists the United States meet Zambia later in Group B, which also sees Germany take on Australia.


Showjumper Al-Duhami, taekwondo star Abutaleb chosen as Saudi flagbearers at Olympics opening ceremony

Updated 25 July 2024
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Showjumper Al-Duhami, taekwondo star Abutaleb chosen as Saudi flagbearers at Olympics opening ceremony

  • Al-Duhami was selected due to his status as the Saudi athlete to have competed at the most Olympic Games
  • Abutaleb got the nod for becoming the first woman from the Kingdom to qualify directly for the Paris Games

RIYADH: Showjumper Ramzy Al-Duhami and taekwondo star Dunya Abutaleb have been selected as the Saudi flagbearers at the Paris Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, it was announced on Thursday.

Al-Duhami was selected due to his status as the Saudi athlete to have competed at the most Olympic Games, while Abutaleb got the nod for becoming the first woman from the Kingdom to qualify directly for the Paris Games, the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee said.

The opening ceremony gets underway on Friday evening along the Seine River in Paris, and the Games will be officially launched by French President Emmanuel Macron and International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki, president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and sports minister, will also attend the ceremony. 

IOC board member Prince Fahd bin Jalawi and the Kingdom’s Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar will also be in attendance in Paris.


Argentina coach slams chaotic ‘scandal’ at Olympic soccer match vs Morocco

Updated 25 July 2024
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Argentina coach slams chaotic ‘scandal’ at Olympic soccer match vs Morocco

  • Paris organizers said they were trying to “understand the causes and identify appropriate actions“
  • Argentina’s soccer federation said it issued a formal protest Wednesday to world governing body FIFA and would do “what is necessary” to guarantee the safety of players

PARIS: The head of Argentina’s soccer federation said the chaotic ending to their Olympic soccer match against Morocco on Wednesday “makes no sense,” and Argentina’s coach called the scene “a scandal.”
The opening match of the men’s soccer tournament was suspended for nearly two hours during added time after Morocco fans invaded the field and threw bottles in protest of a late goal by Argentina. The goal was later overturned by the video assistant referee, and Argentina lost 2-1.
“What happened on the field was a scandal. This isn’t a neighborhood tournament, these are the Olympic Games,” Argentina coach Javier Mascherano said.
Paris organizers said they were trying to “understand the causes and identify appropriate actions” after the match in Saint-Etienne. Argentina’s soccer federation said it issued a formal protest Wednesday to world governing body FIFA and would do “what is necessary” to guarantee the safety of players.
“Having to wait almost two hours in the dressing room, after Morocco fans entering the pitch, the violence that the Argentina delegation suffered, our players having to warm up again and continue to play a match that should have been suspended by the main referee, is really something that makes no sense and that goes against the competition rules,” Argentina Football Association president Claudio Tapia said.
The Argentina team also said their training base was robbed before the game, with midfielder Thiago Almada’s watch among the items taken.
Meanwhile, Argentine President Javier Milei arrived Thursday in Paris, his office said, and is expected to meet French President Emmanuel Macron after tensions escalated between their countries over the Argentine soccer team’s derogatory postmatch chants about French players at Copa America.
Morocco fans rushed the field to protest Cristian Medina’s goal in the 16th minute of added time at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, which appeared to tie the game 2-2. Bottles were also thrown from the crowd and, in frenzied scenes, security tackled pitch invaders.
“Some of the fans thought it was the end of the match and decided to invade the pitch,” Thomas Collomb, the deputy director of security for Paris organizers, said Thursday. “The atmosphere was festive. At no time was there any security risk for players or spectators. Within minutes of the final whistle, a security bubble formed around the athletes.”
There were images of Argentina players flinching when what appeared to be a flare was thrown onto the field.
“I can understand why this might have been worrying for Argentine athletes,” said Bruno Le Ray, the organizing committee’s security director. “Stade Geoffroy-Guichard is known for having no barriers between the stands and the pitch. To our knowledge, no firecrackers were fired at any time. It’s definitely an incident, but not in the security sense.”
Morocco defender Achraf Hakimi wrote on X: “I deplore the attitude of certain supporters during the match, which tarnished the image of our loyal fans. Such behavior has no place in football.”
In the confusion, it was believed the final whistle had been blown when players headed to the locker room and fans were told to leave the stadium. FIFA’s official website declared the final score 2-2.
But it later emerged the game had been suspended with just minutes of play remaining and that Medina’s goal was being reviewed.
The players re-emerged to warm up in an empty stadium after about two hours and referee Glenn Nyberg confirmed he was reviewing video of the goal on the touchline monitor. He then confirmed it would be overturned for offside.
Morocco held on for the win as the teams played out the final three minutes.
“The game was suspended because of security. At no moment did they talk to us about any revision (of the play),” Mascherano said.
“Obviously it’s confusing, but we have to move forward. It’s already happened, it’s over. We have to focus on the two games (remaining). Save up the anger and let it all out in the coming games.”
Two-time gold medalist Argentina were one of the pretournament favorites and were aiming for more hardware after winning the World Cup in 2022 and back-to-back Copa Americas.
On Saturday, Morocco are scheduled to face Ukraine at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
“We’ll make sure we reinforce security by adding barriers or private security,” Le Ray said.


Flick impressed by Yamal, Ansu and Barcelona’s youth as German coach settles in at new club

Updated 25 July 2024
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Flick impressed by Yamal, Ansu and Barcelona’s youth as German coach settles in at new club

  • “Now it is important for him to stay with both legs on the Earth,” Flick said
  • Flick took over from the fired Xavi Hernández on a two-year contract after Barcelona finished last season finished without a title

BARCELONA, Spain: Hansi Flick says he will be counting on Lamine Yamal and Barcelona’s batch of talented youngsters to help the German coach make a positive start at his new club.
Yamal was the breakout player at the European Championship. He turned 17 a day before Spain beat England in the final two weeks ago.
“What (Yamal) did in the Euros is unbelievable,” Flick said at his official presentation Thursday, two months after the former Germany and Bayern Munich manager signed up with Barcelona.
Yamal’s performances included upstaging new Real Madrid star Kylian Mbappé in the semifinals against France, when the Barcelona teenager became the youngest scorer in tournament history aged 16 after curling home the goal of the tournament.
That came after Yamal had already scooped up several “youngest ever” records for his club.
“Now it is important for him to stay with both legs on the Earth,” Flick said. “He gives us great moments and also can improve and make things better, but he is on a really fantastic way.”
Flick took over from the fired Xavi Hernández on a two-year contract after Barcelona finished last season finished without a title.
The club have been struggling financially to keep up with Madrid, but they have been boosted once again by the talent that their famed La Masia training academy continues to produce.
Flick has only had two weeks to train with some of his team, as the players that participated in Euro 2024 and the Copa America have some time off. Others, like 17-year-old center back Pau Cubarsí, are playing at the Paris Olympics.
But he said he was pleased with what he had seen so far, especially the youths from Barcelona’s reserve team.
PRAISE FOR ANSU
The only player Flick wanted to name was forward Ansu Fati, who is back after a loan spell with Brighton. He was considered Barcelona’s rising star a few years ago before he suffered serious leg injuries.
Unfortunately, the 21-year-old hurt his right foot in practice Thursday. That will rule him out of the team’s preseason tour of the United States, Flick said.
“Ansu on the first days was unbelievable. He was very fit, and he showed it on the pitch and in training,” Flick said. “And now it is not good, and we don’t have him here and in America, but we will help him come back stronger.”
Flick added that 19-year-old midfielder Gavi Paéz, who tore his right ACL while playing for Spain in November, must take his time coming back.
Barcelona will likewise start the season without defender Ronald Araújo after he injured his right hamstring while playing for Uruguay at the Copa America. Frenkie de Jong is also recovering from an injury that caused him to miss the Euros with the Netherlands.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said he was convinced Flick would bring back “renewed energies” to a team that has not won the Champions League since 2015, Lionel Messi’s heyday at the club.
Flick had a direct part in bringing down that great Barcelona side. He was in charge of Bayern when their historic 8-2 demolition of the Catalan club in 2020 marked a definitive end to their status as one of Europe’s supreme teams.
Flick did not mention that most painful moment for Barcelona fans during his press conference at the auditorium next to their Camp Nou stadium. Instead, he said he will respect the club’s sacred playing style of ball possession and high pressure.
“The thing I want to see is that we are playing great football, technical football, so everyone at home on TV can see that this team gives its heart for the club,” he said. “It is crucial that you can see that on the pitch.”
NICO TOO?
Perhaps it is wishful thinking given the club’s recent financial troubles, but the Barcelona sports press speculates they could make a bid for Athletic Bilbao’s Nico Williams after the winger starred at the Euros alongside Yamal.
Laporta would only say Barcelona is in position to make any signings they needed.
When asked about Williams, Flick said he would not speak about players at other clubs.