FIFA judges detail why they rejected Chile World Cup appeal

Ecuador's Byron Castillo, left, and Japan's Shogo Taniguchi during their international friendly soccer match as part of the Kirin Challenge Cup in Duesseldorf, Germany on Sept. 27, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 29 September 2022

FIFA judges detail why they rejected Chile World Cup appeal

  • The 64-page appeal verdict released by FIFA is needed by the Chilean federation as the basis of another urgent legal challenge at the Court of Arbitration for Sport

GENEVA: FIFA judges comprehensively rejected the Chilean soccer federation’s entire case in a failed appeal this month to replace Ecuador at the World Cup, according to the detailed verdict published Wednesday.

Chile argued it had documents proving Ecuador defender Byron Castillo was actually Colombian and should have been ineligible for the eight World Cup qualifying games he played in.

However, “at no point did (Chile) provide ‘cogent evidence’ that the documents related to the individual born in Colombia indeed relate to the player,” the judges ruled.

The 64-page appeal verdict released by FIFA is needed by the Chilean federation as the basis of another urgent legal challenge at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

There are just 53 days left for that judgment to be issued before Ecuador is due to play in the World Cup opening game against host nation Qatar, on Nov. 20 in Doha.

If the FIFA appeal committee had ruled that Castillo was ineligible, Ecuador would have forfeited all eight games he played in — including two wins over Chile — as 3-0 losses and dropped out of contention in the South American qualifying group.

But the three FIFA-appointed judges wrote they were convinced both that there was no falsification of Castillo’s documents to get an Ecuadorian passport and identity document, and that he complied with the soccer body’s rules to play for the national team.

“There is no element on file that could suggest that the player would actually be Colombian, or bear another nationality,” wrote the judging panel chaired by Neil Eggleston, a former White House Counsel.

The case “revolved around three key sets of documents,” the judges said. They were: Birth certificates from Colombia and Ecuador; case files from the Ecuadorian soccer federation’s 2018 investigation into Castillo’s identity; court decisions in Ecuador plus national identification documents. Those included a passport issued on Nov. 13, 2017.

The passport and subsequent ID documents have “undoubtedly been issued by the competent state authorities and, as such, are to be considered genuine and authentic,” the verdict stated.

Castillo is eligible to play at the Nov. 20-Dec. 18 tournament in Qatar, where Ecuador will also play the Netherlands and Senegal in Group A.

He does face a separate FIFA disciplinary case which the judges requested because he did not take part in the Sept. 16 appeal hearing held by video link. Any potential punishment would not affect his ability to play in Qatar.

The detailed verdict confirmed that a Qatari judge originally selected by FIFA for the case withdrew after Chile objected to a potential conflict of interest because the case was to decide Qatar’s opponent in the opening game. An Iranian lawyer was picked instead.


Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead

Updated 38 min 10 sec ago

Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead

  • Alba, Gavi and Raphinha scored a goal each in the second half to give Barcelona their fifth straight victory in the league

MADRID: Barcelona took advantage of Real Madrid’s stumble to kick off the second half of the season with another win and enjoy their biggest lead so far at the top of the Spanish league.

After Madrid’s 1-0 loss at Mallorca, Barcelona extended their 10-game winning streak in all competitions with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Sevilla on Sunday to open an eight-point lead over Madrid after 20 of 38 rounds.

It is the biggest lead by any team this season, putting the Catalan club in firm control as they chase their first league title since 2018-19.

“We are having a great season. We have been playing well, not giving many chances for our opponents,” Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said. “It’s eight points. There’s a lot of league left, but it’s a good gap.”

Alba, Gavi and Raphinha scored a goal each in the second half to give Barcelona their fifth straight victory in the league.

The last game Barcelona failed to win was a 1-1 league draw against Espanyol last year.

Sevilla, who got off to a surprisingly awful start to the season, were coming off two straight league wins that had helped it move further away from the relegation zone. They dropped to 16th place with the loss, two points from the drop zone.

Marco Asensio missed a penalty kick in Madrid’s loss at Mallorca in their last match before traveling to Morocco to play at the Club World Cup.

Madrid were depleted by injuries and rested some players ahead of the Club World Cup,

“We already expected a very tough match,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We had our chances but couldn’t take advantage of them.”

Ancelotti couldn’t count on several injured starters, including striker Karim Benzema, defender Eder Militao and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was dropped from the squad at the last minute after getting injured during the warmup. Ancelotti also rested midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who came on in the second half.

Asensio missed a chance to equalize when his 60th-minute penalty kick was saved by Mallorca goalkeeper Pedrag Rajkovic after Madrid forward Vinicius Junior had been fouled. Madrid’s last chance was a header by Antonio Rüdiger that went narrowly wide deep into stoppage time.

The hosts got on the board with an own-goal by Nacho Fernandez, who was replacing Militao in defense. Nacho went for a high cross and deflected the ball into his own net over goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, who started in place of Courtois.

“I hit the ball with my head and unfortunately it went into the top corner,” Nacho said. “It was a complicated match, against a team that is having a good season. It’s a pity that we let three points get away.”

Madrid were coming off a win against Valencia after being held by Real Sociedad. Its opponent in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Wednesday will be Egyptian club Al Ahly.

It was the second win in three league matches for Mallorca, and the fourth straight at home. They remained midtable with 28 points from 20 matches.

“It’s a good result, moves us further away from the relegation zone,” Mallorca’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre said. “But there are many matches left, we can’t relax.”

Vinicius was shown a yellow card and will be suspended for Madrid’s next league game against last-place Elche.

Real Sociedad missed a chance to move within three points of Madrid after losing 1-0 to Valladolid at home.

It was the third winless game for the Basque Country club after a nine-game winning streak in all competitions. Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss to Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, and a 0-0 draw at Madrid in the league.

Newly signed Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a second-half winner for 13th-place Valladolid, who have won two in a row after five straight losses in all competitions.

Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 defeat at Girona, a result that extended their losing streak to five matches in all competitions.

Valencia have only one win in its last 12 league matches and is sitting just outside the relegation zone.

Girona moved to 11th place.


Martinez scores again as Inter beat Milan in Serie A derby

Updated 06 February 2023

Martinez scores again as Inter beat Milan in Serie A derby

  • It was Martinez’s 12th league goal of the season, putting him four behind leading Serie A goalscorer Victor Osimhen

MILAN: World Cup winner Lautaro Martinez continued his roaring start to the year as he set Inter Milan on their way to a 1-0 victory over AC Milan in the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.

Martínez has been in fantastic form since helping Argentina win the World Cup in December and he netted his seventh goal in his last eight matches as Inter consolidated second spot in Serie A with a second win over their fierce rival in less than three weeks.

It was Martinez’s 12th league goal of the season, putting him four behind leading Serie A goalscorer Victor Osimhen, who scored another two on Sunday to help runaway leader Napoli win 3-0 at lowly Spezia.

Inter are 13 points behind Napoli and three points above third-place Roma. They are five points above Lazio, Atalanta and Milan, which has slipped to sixth after a woeful start to the year.

The Rossoneri’s winless run extended to seven matches. That streak included elimination from the Italian Cup and a 3-0 loss to Inter in the Super Cup.

Before the derby, Milan had also conceded an unprecedented nine goals in their past two Serie A matches.

With that perhaps playing in their minds, the Rossoneri defended deep from the start and rarely got out of their own half. Milan had to wait almost an hour for its first shot, and that was off target.

Inter almost took the lead in the 10th minute but Martínez headed just wide of the right upright.

Martinez did better in the 34th as he got away from Simon Kjær at the near post to get his head to a corner and it took a deflection off the Milan defender on the way in.

Romelu Lukaku thought he had scored his first league goal since August, late on, but the whistle had already gone for a foul by him on Malick Thiaw.

Martínez also had a goal ruled out for offside.

Osimhen appears to be firing Napoli to the Serie A title as the Nigeria forward netted for the fifth straight league match.

Spezia had defended well against Napoli’s stellar attack but gifted the visitors a penalty less than 10 seconds after the break when defender Arkadiusz Reca was trying to hold off Matteo Politano but didn’t anticipate that the bounce of the ball would take it onto his outstretched arm.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia converted the penalty, prompting the game to open up.

Osimhen had a goal ruled out in the 62nd for pulling back Mattia Caldara but he headed in his first in the 68th and doubled his tally five minutes later following another assist from Kvaratskhelia.

Spezia remained five points above the relegation zone.

Torino beat Udinese 1-0 to leapfrog their opponent into the Europa Conference League qualifying spot.

Torino are one point above Udinese and Bologna, who won 2-1 at Fiorentina for its first victory in Florence in 13 years.


Al-Hilal send out timely reminder that they remain Saudi Arabia’s premier club on the big stage

Updated 05 February 2023

Al-Hilal send out timely reminder that they remain Saudi Arabia’s premier club on the big stage

  • Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Nassr may have stolen the spotlight in recent weeks, but the reigning Asian champions’ FIFA Club World Cup semifinal spot reinforces an unmatched legacy on the pitch

LONDON: Al-Hilal are into the FIFA Club World Cup semifinals for the third time in four years.

Yes, Al-Hilal. Remember them? Four-time Asian champions and three-time defending Saudi Pro League champions. That Al-Hilal. Ring a bell?

For those just tuning their antennae to Saudi football for the first time over the past few months, there was only one club dominating the headlines, and it was not the reigning AFC Champions League winners.

It was, of course, Al-Nassr after their headline-grabbing signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, which catapulted them into the international consciousness like no club from Saudi Arabia had ever achieved. Not even Al-Hilal.

To highlight just how much the yellow half of Riyadh was dominating the narrative, one UK-based pundit even claimed Al-Nassr were the most successful Saudi side in recent years — despite Al-Hilal winning five of the past six Saudi Pro League titles.

Al-Hilal? They were cast as a mere footnote to the Al-Nassr-Ronaldo storyline. The Ronaldo-shaped shadow cast not just over Al-Hilal but every other Saudi club was hard to escape.

All that global attention on their Riyadh rivals, while they were still serving a transfer ban and unable to counter the signing of Ronaldo with a move of their own, would have stung a club that has made the AFC Champions League final in three of the past four seasons — something Al-Nassr has not yet managed to achieve even once.

While the world has been busy occupying itself with every exploit of Al-Nassr and Ronaldo — and clips of his first goal for his new club were shown in all corners of the globe over the past few days — Al-Hilal have served a timely reminder that, not only do they still exist, but that they do their best talking on the pitch and have no intention of ceding anything to their crosstown rivals.

Their dramatic win over Wydad Casablanca at the Club World Cup in Rabat on Saturday was a huge statement from Ramon Diaz’s side: “Don’t forget about us.”

The win was all the more impressive given that they are still missing a number of their best players through injuries sustained in Saudi Arabia’s stunning win over Argentina in Qatar just over two months ago.

Talisman and midfield maestro Salman Al-Faraj and energetic full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani both remain sidelined and were absent from the team that silenced the parochial Wydad fans inside the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium.

But while the veteran duo were absent, there were a host of other World Cup stars on show, including Saud Abdulhamid, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Kanno and star man Salem Al-Dawsari.

The only sour note in an otherwise historic win was the red card for Kanno, whose absence from midfield against Brazil’s Flamengo on Tuesday could be sorely felt, especially with Al-Faraj already missing.

Al-Hilal’s passage to the semifinals continues a golden period for Saudi football, with the national team’s heroics in Qatar fresh in the memory and Ronaldo’s signing generating international attention for the domestic league the likes of which has never been seen before.

But for a club like Al-Hilal, playing at the pinnacle of the club game is not just where they want to be, it is where they expect to be. On both previous occasions they have played at the Club World Cup, they have also advanced to the semifinals; losing to Flamengo in 2019 before coming up short against Chelsea in the 2021 edition.

They will be hoping it is third time lucky in Morocco, but standing in their way again will be Flamengo.

Such is the belief and mindset of the club that, when players like Odion Ighalo and Al-Dawsari mention they are not just playing to make up the numbers but have ambitions of winning the Club World Cup, it is not just hubris.

Do not rule them out from becoming just the third Asian club to make the final of the Club World Cup because Al-Hilal does not just expect success, it demands it. The name carries an aura right around the continent. They are the top dogs and, more importantly, they know it. Not just that, they revel in it; being the center of attention, the envy of all others, is what they crave most.

“The club has to be at the top, always, to meet our fans’ hopes, to win the most trophies,” club legend Nawaf Al-Temyat, who retired in 2008, told Arab News in 2021.

“Any player who can’t play under pressure won’t be a superstar. Playing under pressure is a key factor to show the real personality of the player. This is what the young players must learn,” he added.

One player who mastered playing under pressure is arguably the club’s greatest player, Sami Al-Jaber. During a glittering career that spanned almost 20 years, he played and won everything for Al-Hilal.

“Al-Hilal is not just a football club, Al-Hilal is a legacy, it’s a very big legacy in Saudi Arabia and the region,” he told Arab News back in 2017.

“(It’s) just like my family, just like home and my family. It’s a club that has a legacy and it’s more than just a football club. You can see the history, and in Asia I would say it’s No. 1.

“I can’t say any more than the club is more than a football club, it’s a community.”

While the Club World Cup may not generate the same emotion as its international counterpart, it still comes with significant international exposure and Al-Hilal will bask in taking the spotlight away from Al-Nassr, even if just momentarily.

How could anyone forget Al-Hilal?


Kane’s record goal earns Tottenham 1-0 win over Man City

Updated 05 February 2023

Kane’s record goal earns Tottenham 1-0 win over Man City

  • The 29-year-old is now also just the third player to net 200 Premier League goals, after Alan Shearer (260) and Wayne Rooney (208)

LONDON: Harry Kane’s record-breaking goal pushed Tottenham to a 1-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday to further dent the champions’ hopes of retaining the Premier League title.
Kane slotted home after 15 minutes and moved past the late Jimmy Greaves as Spurs’ all-time leading scorer on 267 goals.
It proved enough to keep up Tottenham’s excellent recent home record against City, which could have moved two points behind first-place Arsenal following its defeat at Everton on Saturday.
Fifth-place Spurs instead claimed a third victory from their last four matches against Pep Guardiola’s team — despite Cristian Romero’s late sending-off for a second yellow card — to aid the recovery of absent manager Antonio Conte, who is still in Italy after having his gallbladder removed on Wednesday.
Despite Conte recovering from surgery, he was involved in team selection and deadline-day signing Pedro Porro was only on the bench for Spurs with City surprisingly naming Kevin De Bruyne among the substitutes, too.
The visitors had seen Arsenal drop points a day earlier and signaled their intentions with Riyad Mahrez and Julian Alvarez having shots blocked in the opening exchanges.
City was dominating possession but soon felt the familiar feeling of trailing to Tottenham — and it proved a record-breaking goal.
Eric Dier urged his teammates to press higher and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg stole in ahead of Rico Lewis outside the away penalty area to intercept Rodri’s pass and slip the ball into the path of Kane, who scuffed an effort beyond goalkeeper Ederson and into the corner.
The screens inside the stadium acknowledged Kane’s achievement before the striker waved to his family in the West Stand.
Bookings followed with Rodrigo Bentancur and Romero cautioned in quick succession, the latter for clattering into the ineffective Erling Haaland.
Tottenham assistant coach Cristian Stellini, filling in for Conte, was attempting to match the animated presence of his fellow Italian on the touchline but saw his team enjoy a slice of luck before the break.
After Rodri and Jack Grealish failed to find the net with curled efforts late in the half, Mahrez sent a stinging half-volley crashing against the crossbar from 12 yards (meters) that bounced away to safety to ensure Spurs were ahead at the break for the first time at home since Oct. 12.
Ben Davies headed wide for the hosts at the start of the second period before Guardiola turned to De Bruyne with 57 minutes played.
De Bruyne’s first real involvement saw his short free kick find Alvarez, who saw a low shot diverted over by Dier’s thigh.
It sparked a frantic spell with Romero blocking Manuel Akanji’s shot and, seconds later, Ivan Perisic’s cross agonizingly evaded the Argentina defender and Kane at the back post.
Kane was in the thick of the action minutes later, sending one effort wide before Ederson denied him after the striker surged between Kyle Walker and Akanji.
More drama was to follow with referee Andrew Madley showing Romero a second yellow card for a foul on Grealish before five minutes of stoppage time was added on.
Despite plenty of City possession, Tottenham held firm to move a point off the top four and do rivals Arsenal a big favor in the title race.

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Quetta rejoices as cricket returns to city after 26 long years

Updated 05 February 2023

Quetta rejoices as cricket returns to city after 26 long years

  • Quetta Gladiators defeat Peshawar Zalmi at home venue in last-ball exhibition match
  • Quetta last saw cricket when Pakistan beat Zimbabwe in 1997by three wickets

QUETTA: Thousands of fans cheered at the Nawab Akbar Bugti Cricket Stadium on Sunday, as Peshawar Zalmi locked horns with the Quetta Gladiators in an exhibition match in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, marking the return of cricket to the city after 26 years. 

Amid tight security measures, thousands of cricket lovers, including women and children from across Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, thronged the stadium in the provincial capital of Quetta to catch the action live as the Gladiators faced Zalmi. 

Cricket has largely stayed away from Quetta owing to security fears as the city as the impoverished province has seen plenty of attacks and sectarian violence by separatist groups and militants. The last time the city saw a cricket match was in the same stadium 26 years ago, when Pakistan beat Zimbabwe in an ODI by three wickets on October 30, 1996.

Peshawar Zalmi fans practice ahead of their match with Quetta Gladiators at the Nawab Akbar Bugti Cricket Stadium in Quetta on February 5, 2023. (AN photo by Saadullah Akhter)

Spectators were particularly thrilled to see Zalmi skipper Babar Azam and Gladiators' captain Sarfaraz Ahmed lead the two teams onto the ground. Excited fans could hardly keep from screaming throughout the four-hour match.

Other cricket stars who performed in front of a live audience were Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz, Umar Akmal, Naseem Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Iftikhar Ahmed, and others. 

Muhammad Saddam, 25, said he traveled to Quetta from Dalbandin, a remote town near the Pakistan-Iran border, to catch a glimpse of the stars. Saddam said he waited for over two hours outside the stadium in a long line of spectators to witness the action. 

“We are very happy that our national players have come to play the PSL exhibition match in Quetta,” he told Arab News.

Jahangir Khan, a cricket lover from Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said he traveled to Quetta to support Peshawar Zalmi and watch Afridi, a former Pakistan captain, play.

“I came to Quetta on January 27 to support my team here. I didn’t receive the ticket [initially] but fortunately, got one yesterday for the exhibition match”, he enthused.

The provincial sports department also arranged food stalls outside the stadium, for the public to savor snacks while they enjoyed the game. One of the stalls sold the traditional Balochi Sajji as the action continued.

Azam and Afridi, both superstars in their own right, couldn't stand till the end to see their team defeat the Gladiators on their home turf. With four runs needed at the last ball after a special half-century from Muhammad Haris (53 off 35), the crowd sighed with relief as Quetta pulled off a three-run victory.

Chief Minister of Pakistan's Balochistan province Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, left, handing over the trophy to Quetta Gladiators' captain Sarfaraz Ahmed after they defeated Peshawar Zalmi in an exhibition match in Quetta on February 5, 2023. (Photo courtesy: @TeamQuetta/Twitter)

Chief Minister of Balochistan Mir Abdul Qudus Bizenjo appreciated both franchises and the chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) managing committee, Najam Sethi, for bringing the action to the cricket-starved city.

Bizenjo praised security forces during the prize distribution ceremony for maintaining law and order during the match. He said the “successful conclusion of Pakistan’s Super League (PSL)’s exhibition match in Quetta was a loud and clear message for our enemies”.

“This event has proven that peace has been restored in Balochistan and people will not tolerate terrorists [that are] spoiling law and order in the province,” he said.