Jeddah ready for West Asian football tournament

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Saudi Arabia is ready to host the third West Asian Football Federation U-23 Championship from Nov. 3-15 at Jeddah’s Al-Sala Stadium in King Abdullah Sports City.
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Saudi Arabia is ready to host the third West Asian Football Federation U-23 Championship from Nov. 3-15 at Jeddah’s Al-Sala Stadium in King Abdullah Sports City.
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Saudi Arabia is ready to host the third West Asian Football Federation U-23 Championship from Nov. 3-15 at Jeddah’s Al-Sala Stadium in King Abdullah Sports City.
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Updated 03 November 2022
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Jeddah ready for West Asian football tournament

  • The Saudi national team, the host and runner-up in the second tournament held in 2021, are among the favorites as they seek to make up for their loss against Jordan in last year’s final

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is ready to host the third West Asian Football Federation U-23 Championship from Nov. 3-15 at Jeddah’s Al-Sala Stadium in King Abdullah Sports City.

The six teams participating in the tournament — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain and Oman— have been divided into two groups: Group B made up of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Syria, while Group A comprises Oman, Qatar and Lebanon. 

Teams in each group will play a single round-robin as part of the tournament system, with the top teams from each side qualifying for the semifinals. The winners from this round will move to the final.

Second-placed teams from the semifinals will then play for the third and fourth places, while the two third-placed teams from the group stage will play for the fifth and sixth places.

The Saudi national team, the host and runner-up in the second tournament held in 2021, are among the favorites as they seek to make up for their loss against Jordan in last year’s final.

The Qatari team was absent from the 2021 tournament and will be hoping to make a strong comeback at this year’s competition.

The Syrian team have similar ambitions after losing to Jordan in the 2021 semifinals.

The Lebanon, Bahrain and Oman teams failed to survive the group stage last year, and will be looking for improved performances.


Palestine beat Syria to reach semifinals of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship

Updated 9 sec ago
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Palestine beat Syria to reach semifinals of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship

  • A 1-0 win secured maximum 6 points from 2 matches in Group B and spot in the last 4

JEDDAH: Palestine on Thursday night advanced to the semifinals of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship after defeating Syria 1-0 at the reserve pitch of King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah.

Miral Qassis scored the winner in the 85th minute with a powerful shot from outside the penalty area, leaving Palestine with a maximum of six points from two matches, and second in Group B only on goal difference to Nepal.

Palestine had won their opener 3-0 against Iraq and will now face the group leaders on Saturday. With no points, Syria and Iraq sit in third and fourth respectively, and meet each other in a dead rubber on the same day.


Fahey and Ferguson getting into the Spirit ahead of Saudi Cup

Updated 7 min 48 sec ago
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Fahey and Ferguson getting into the Spirit ahead of Saudi Cup

  • Big-race winner in Bahrain represents some famous connections, including former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

RIYADH: Trainer Richard Fahey has admitted he was “humbled” when first getting the opportunity to train horses for legendary ex-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and suggested that saddling Spirit Dancer (GB) in Saturday’s Howden Neom Turf Cup is the “stuff of dreams.”

The co-owner’s homebred capped off a memorable year when winning the Bahrain International Trophy in November, and following a prep run in Dubai last month, appears a leading contender in the $2 million (SR7.4 million) Howden Neom Turf Cup.

“I felt he would need the run the last day and it looked that way as well,” Fahey said. “He has had four or five weeks to acclimatize now. It’s all stuff of dreams, which is becoming a reality when we get to run on Saturday.”

Fahey’s association with one of the most successful British sportsmen has been fruitful for both parties, and the trainer has been able to swap sporting experiences with Ferguson.

“To be fair when I first started training for him I was a little bit humbled,” Fahey said. “I have some fantastic conversations with him and he has been to the yard three or four times now. He is just a wonderful man and you can see why he has been a success.

“It’s a humbling experience, but it’s amazing because even this morning we were discussing footballers and horses, and Sir Alex was asking why we didn’t canter on the grass.

“I explained we race on the (grass) surfaces because if we were to train on them all the time, we wouldn’t have many horses left, so we tend to use the artificial surfaces, and he compared it to a very good football team whose training pitch was quite quick and a lot of the players were getting hurt — so there are comparisons with football and racing.”

Fahey has been impressed with the surroundings in Riyadh and confirmed that the seven-year-old Spirit Dancer has settled in well.

“It’s fantastic here; we are well looked after and the horse is happy. When you come on these trips, the most important thing is how the horse is and the horse is in good order,” the North Yorkshire-based trainer said.

“I’m very pleased with him and at the moment I wouldn’t swap my fella.”

There is no hiding the sheer enjoyment that all connections got from Spirit Dancer’s Bahrain victory and Fahey is hoping for more of the same this weekend.

“It has given them a huge amount of pleasure and I think as a trainer we don’t really respect the pleasure horses give to people. For Sir Alex to be animated and excited and for all the team, it was a great win,” Fahey said.


Anna Kalinskaya eliminates Coco Gauff to set up semifinal with Iga Swiatek in Dubai

Updated 15 min 50 sec ago
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Anna Kalinskaya eliminates Coco Gauff to set up semifinal with Iga Swiatek in Dubai

  • The Russian becomes only the fourth qualifier in history to reach final 4 of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
  • Swiatek breezes past last month’s Australian Open finalist Zheng to reach her second successive Dubai semifinal

DUBAI: Qualifier Anna Kalinskaya rallied back from a set down on Thursday night to dump world No. 3 Coco Gauff out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and set up a surprise semifinal with No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Gauff, winner of last year’s US Open at Flushing Meadows, took an early lead and with Kalinskaya requesting a medical timeout shortly before the end of the first set, it looked like a repeat of last year’s semifinal where Gauff met Swiatek.

But the world No. 40 had other ideas, showing her mettle — and the benefits of a little medical attention — to turn the match on its head and secure her second top-10 win of the week and first top-five victory.

Gauff raced into the lead despite facing two breakpoints in the opening game. Kalinskaya, who reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open last month, struggled to settle and was broken again in the fourth after a lengthy service game. Yet with 25-year-old Kalinskaya — making her main-draw debut in Dubai this week — requesting on-court treatment for upper back pain and momentum firmly with Gauff, it was the American’s level that declined in the second set.

Both players dropped early service games, but Kalinskaya held in the fourth to advance 3-1 and showed a strong defensive game to eventually take it to 5-2. Gauff secured a break that gave her hope, but it was not enough as Kalinskaya closed out the set on her serve.

In the decisive third set, an error-prone Gauff failed to match her opponent, who quickly went ahead 2-0 and showed no signs of the early back pains as she played a variety of powerful forehands from the baseline mixed with angled cross-court backhands that had her opponent on her heels. Serving for the match, Kalinskaya — who has never contested a semifinal in a WTA 1000 event — showed some nerves, but ultimately secured what was required.

“It was a difficult match,” said Kalinskaya, who becomes only the fourth qualifier to reach the final four in Dubai. “I started a little bit not so confident. I was getting used to the surface. I played many games this week (in qualifying) but didn’t get the chance to play on center court. I felt the speed of the bounce was a bit different. I couldn’t find my timing.

“In the second set, I actually calmed down a little bit more and I played point-by-point until the end of the match. I could feel the tension until the last point. She kept bringing so many balls back, so I had to stay really patient and decide which ball to go and finish the point.”

Swiatek, 22, crowned champion in Doha last week, extended her unbeaten run in the Middle East this year by making light work of Zheng. The 6-3, 6-2 win meant the Pole also maintained her 100 percent record against last month’s Australian Open champion, having won all five previous encounters, most recently at the United Cup in Perth.

Under the lights at Dubai Tennis Stadium, she convincingly emerged victorious yet again, denying Zheng a break of serve throughout and saving three breakpoints.

“I think I can really play well under pressure and in those important moments,” said Swiatek after extending her winning streak in the Gulf region this year to seven matches. “I guess it’s maybe the decision-making. For sure, mentally I treat those shots the same way as any other shot in the match. I don’t feel extra pressure; I just feel like it’s any other point — which gives me freedom to do anything, honestly.”

For all the pre-tournament talk of this year’s Dubai championship featuring 17 of the world’s top 20 players, Swiatek is the sole semifinalist ranked inside the top 22. Yet while she is undoubtedly favorite now and expected to win, she was quick to play down talk of a title and explain some of the unique demands in playing back-to-back tournaments.

“I’m in the semifinal, so I don’t think anybody would say it’s their title when they’re in the middle of the tournament,” she responded when asked whether she considered the title hers to lose.


Chelsea’s Sterling eyes history against Liverpool in Carabao Cup final

Updated 22 min 44 sec ago
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Chelsea’s Sterling eyes history against Liverpool in Carabao Cup final

  • England international is seeking a record 6th winner’s medal alongside former teammates Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho

Raheem Sterling is targeting a personal piece of history in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

The England forward won the competition five times in seven years at Manchester City before he joined Chelsea for $63 million (£50 million) in 2022.

And if he can help the London side overcome former club Liverpool at Wembley, he will join former City teammates Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho with a record tally for most wins at six.

“It would be a massive achievement to do that,” said the 29-year-old, who spent five years at Anfield. “But I think you have to always keep going. Once it comes, you have to try to get another one.

“When you’ve had that taste for it, you always want more, and this game will be the exact same thing.

“We’ve got a great test this week against Liverpool. It’s a good challenge against one of the most dominant teams in the last few years. For sure, it would mean a lot to win that trophy again. But competing for it, I think that’s the most important thing.”

It has been struggle to get to this stage for Sterling and Chelsea since he became the club’s first signing following the takeover by a consortium led by US businessman Todd Boehly.

Chelsea were Champions League and Club World Cup winners only three years ago, and lost both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup finals to Liverpool in 2022 on penalties, but this will be their first chance of silverware under the new ownership.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side will be underdogs against the side that beat them 4-1 at Anfield last month and have a record nine League Cup wins compared with Chelsea’s five.

But despite inconsistent performances this season, the Blues are in the FA Cup quarterfinals, and also have gained an impressive 4-1 league win at Tottenham and drawn with title hopefuls Liverpool and Arsenal at home, and twice held defending champions Manchester City.

Sterling scored his eighth goal of the campaign in the 1-1 draw at City last weekend and believes his side can upset the leading teams.

“I wanted to show myself against City and we were unlucky we couldn’t get the win against them,” he told Arab News exclusively.

“We’re a young group and that performance will build confidence going forward.

“But I’ve always said these are the challenges that we need to step up to. Against some of the top-four teams this season we have shown ourselves.

“Liverpool away was obviously a disappointing one, but against Tottenham, Arsenal and City we have shown ourselves — and we have to keep building.

Sterling admitted the defeat at Anfield “hurt,” and said the players are looking to redeem themselves in the final.

“I think that first trophy would definitely build the belief for the group. If you win that one trophy, it gives you that sniff, that feeling and you want more.

“I think we’re getting stronger and the most important thing is to try to compete — and this week we have a great opportunity to do that and I’m looking forward to it.”

Reports suggested Sterling rejected a move to a Saudi Arabian club last summer, and he is determined to stay and prove his worth.

The iconic venue would be the perfect stage for him to do that after having grown up near Wembley and won 82 caps for his country.

“That’s my home,” said Sterling with a smile. “I’m really looking forward to it. When I go to Wembley, I get a different feeling; I can’t wait to get on the field.”


Ngannou to take on winner of PFL v. Bellator Champions fight between Ferreira and Bader

Updated 25 min 2 sec ago
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Ngannou to take on winner of PFL v. Bellator Champions fight between Ferreira and Bader

  • The 37-year-old is set to challenge Anthony Joshua in the boxing ring on March 8, before making his PFL debut

RIYADH: The Professional Fighters League has announced combat sports superstar Francis “The Predator” Ngannou will make his debut for the world’s second-biggest MMA organization against the winner of the Heavyweight Superfight between Renan Ferreira and Ryan Bader in Riyadh on Saturday.

Ngannou shook up the combat sports world by signing with PFL in May, becoming the first active fighter to serve on the league’s Global Advisory Board, and an equity owner and chairman of the coming PFL Africa regional league.

He recently stepped into the boxing ring for the first time, losing a razor-thin split decision to Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight champion. Ngannou is currently in Riyadh, preparing to fight top heavyweight boxing contender Anthony Joshua on March 8.

Ngannou will then turn his attention back to MMA, where he will make his PFL SmartCage debut against the winner of the Ferreira and Bader, who clash in the main event the PFL Champions versus Bellator Champions at the Kingdom Arena.

“The PFL is excited to announce Francis Ngannou’s return to MMA in the PFL PPV Division will be against the winner of the PFL Champion versus Bellator Champion Heavyweight Superfight between Renan Ferreira and Ryan Bader,” said Peter Murray, PFL CEO.

“Francis is a true combat sports icon with a global fan base and appeal. We, along with the rest of the MMA world, will be watching to see who his first opponent will be, Ferreira or Bader.”

Ngannou will also attend the historic event in Riyadh.

Currently, he is preparing for his second professional boxing bout, when he will take on former two-time unified world heavyweight champion and world No.2 heavyweight Joshua in two weeks.

PFL is the only organization in MMA with a sports-season format, where individual fighters compete in a regular season, playoffs, and championship each year.

The combined roster of PFL and Bellator boasts 30 percent of its fighters independently world-ranked in the top 25 of their respective weight class, the same percentage as UFC.

PFL has an expansive global vision for the sport, and is building the “Champions League of MMA” with PFL Europe, PFL MENA, and more international leagues in development.