Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations

Spectators hold cell phones as they wait in the stands for the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 25 November 2022

Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations

  • Apart from Qatar’s defeat in opener, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco have excelled in FIFA World Cup 2022
  • Whatever happens in second round, three of the four Arab nations are going to be in with a chance at last 16

DUBAI: It may be painful but let’s look back to the first round of games for Arab countries at the 2018 World Cup.

Saudi Arabia were thrashed 5-0 by hosts Russia in the tournament’s opening game in Moscow. Then came Tunisia and Morocco, and it is hard to say whether their first defeats were more heartbreaking or less.

The former were holding England to a 1-1 draw but then lost to an injury time Harry Kane goal and the latter were undone in the 95th minute by an own goal against Iran. None recovered and all were out of the tournament after just two group games.

Four years on, however, and things are very different.

Whatever happens in the second round of games in the coming days, three of the four Arab nations are going to be in with a chance of progressing to the last 16.

After the disappointment of Qatar’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ecuador in the tournament opener on Sunday, teams representing the region have shone.

Qatar’s Ismaeel Mohammed spoke of the inspiration that the Asian champions have taken from the exploits of their regional rivals.

“The performance until now, especially of Arab teams, is making us maybe a bit jealous and is motivating us to do as well as they have,” he said on Thursday.

Qatar are not the only team jealous of Saudi Arabia, and desperately wishing to experience something similar. The Green Falcons have been hogging the international spotlight since that stunning 2-1 comeback win over Argentina.

Plenty has already been said about the game itself but it is really something when the football world is talking about Salem Al-Dawsari rather than Lionel Messi.

It was a tactical masterclass from coach Herve Renard but one that could not have worked without the effort, intelligence and dedication from his players. The brave way they played was hailed even in Argentina.

Debates have raged on where this ranks on the scale of World Cup upsets. It is certainly right up there, and easily the biggest since Senegal, playing their first ever game at the World Cup, defeated holders France in the opening game of the 2002 tournament. It may even rival Cameroon beating Argentina, then the holders, in the first game of the 1990 cup in Italy.

In terms of Arab results, it is fair to say that the only competition Saudi Arabia have is Algeria’s 2-1 win over the mighty West Germany in 1982.

The headlines in the German media that year have been mirrored somewhat in the Argentina press now — derision for their team and praise for the victors.

It is certainly the biggest Saudi result in a World Cup tournament. The 1994 team got to the knockout stages and defeated Morocco and Belgium, but Argentina is on a different level.

Later on, Tuesday, Tunisia took on Denmark, regarded by some as dark horses in Qatar, a team that reached the semifinals of the 2020 European Championships where they were narrowly defeated by England.

The game ended 0-0 but it was an entertaining affair and the point that the Carthage Eagles took was fully deserved and they could have had all three had it not been for the reactions of Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

For the first hour of the game, they were on top with their energy and aggression causing plenty of problems.

And then came Morocco and another goalless draw, once again against a talented European opponent. The stalemate with 2018 finalist Croatia was a solid start for the Atlas Lions and another deserved point. Both teams looked well matched and fought each other to a standstill.

Those results did not grab the same headlines as Saudi Arabia’s, but they are significant. At the very least, these three Arab teams will avoid the fate of 2018 when they went into the final games of the group knowing that they were already eliminated. They will be competitive until the end, but ambitions are obviously greater now.

The conquerors of Argentina now turn their attention to Poland, who drew 0-0 with Mexico in a tepid game on Saturday and could conceivably book a place in the second round with a match to spare. That really would be a massive achievement but after Tuesday, it would not be a massive shock.

Tunisia take on Australia. Both teams regard the other as their best chance for three points in Group D. The Socceroos were beaten 4-1 by France with the defending champions unsurprisingly a cut above.

On early impressions, Tunisia are favorites. Victory would put Jalel Kadri’s men in with a great chance of the next stage, especially if the French defeat Denmark.

Morocco take on Belgium on Sunday. The Red Devils beat Canada 1-0 but were far from impressive. Belgium struggled with the hard-running of the Canadians and Walid Regragui’s men will fancy their chances. Saudi Arabia’s victory against Argentina stands as an example of what can be done.

Qatar know that losing to Senegal on Friday puts them in danger of suffering the fate of all three Arab teams from 2018. For the region as a whole however, this tournament is already looking very different. Saudi Arabia have shown the way and are leading a resurgent Arab football world.


Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

Updated 07 December 2022

Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

  • The supporters were revelling in the centre of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco's victory over Spain
  • Fans were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, police said

ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had detained 13 far-right activists in Verona for an assault on Moroccan soccer fans who were celebrating their historic qualification for the World Cup quarter-finals.
The supporters were revelling in the center of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco’s victory over Spain when they were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, the police said in a statement.
Those held “were identified by investigators as militants of far-right groups in the city,” it said.
Morocco’s World Cup progress has seen vibrant celebrations by its supporters in cities with large Moroccan immigrant populations around the world, which have sometimes turned violent.
Their victory over Belgium in the group stage sparked riots in Brussels, and on Tuesday evening video footage showed fans lighting flares and throwing furniture and other objects in the center of Milan.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, tweeted the images of the Milan episodes, saying he hoped those responsible would be identified and made to pay for the damage to property.
He did not comment on the incidents in Verona.


US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

Updated 07 December 2022

US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

  • The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted
  • The State Department did not list who would be affected

WASHINGTON: The United States said Wednesday it would bar visas to any current or former Sudanese officials who hold up a transition to democracy, hoping to boost a tentative deal between the military and civilians.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced US support for the initial agreement announced Monday, which some pro-democracy protesters see as falling short on specifics and timelines.
“Recognizing the fragility of democratic transitions, the United States will hold to account spoilers — whether military or political actors — who attempt to undermine or delay democratic progress,” Blinken said in a statement.
The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted. The State Department did not list who would be affected.
“We once again call on Sudan’s military leaders to cede power to civilians, respect human rights and end violence against protesters,” Blinken said.
“At the same time, we urge representatives of Sudan’s civilian leaders to negotiate in good faith and place the national interest first.”
Longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following massive youth-led protests but the army chief, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in October last year derailed the transition by carrying out a military coup.
The United States following the coup suspended $700 million in aid that was meant to help Sudan cope economically as it moves toward democracy.
The latest US step is an expansion of visa restrictions imposed during the first stage of Sudan’s democratic transition.

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Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Updated 06 December 2022

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

  • An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer
  • The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies

BEIRUT: Commercial brakes produced by a Dutch company to be used in ambulances in Turkiye instead ended up in missiles used by Turkiye in attacks in northeastern Syria, a report released Tuesday said.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, field investigators with London-based Conflict Armament Research analyzed the remnants of 17 air-to-surface missiles used in strikes in northeast Syria, the report said. An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer.
The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies, among them electromagnetic brakes with “markings and characteristics consistent with production by (Netherlands-based company) Kendrion NV,” the report said.
Representatives of Kendrion told researchers that the company had agreed in 2018 to supply 20-25,000 brakes to a Turkish company called FEMSAN, with the stated purpose of using them on blood analysis machines fitted to ambulances, the report said. After being notified that the brakes were being used in military applications, Kendrion said it had cut off its business relationship with the Turkish company, the report noted.
FEMSAN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while representatives of Roketsan could not be reached for comment.
The research was carried out before the most recent round of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, launched last month in response to a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups based in Syria — an allegation that the groups deny. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion.
The report did not allege that the sellers of the components used in the missiles had violated any laws, noting that “while the EU has had an arms embargo related to Syria itself since 2011, (Turkiye) has never been subject to sanctions at the multilateral level.”
It added that the case “highlights both the critical importance and the relative complexity of commercial due diligence for material of these types” which “may serve multiple purposes, some of which the manufacturer may not even be aware, and which may be extremely sensitive.”


Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

Updated 06 December 2022

Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

  • Case follows an investigation into journalist’s killing by news network’s legal team
  • Israeli Prime Minister says that no one would be allowed to question Israeli soldiers

DUBAI: Al Jazeera on Tuesday said it has filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court against Israeli forces over the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot during an Israeli raid in the West Bank in May.

The lawsuit follows an investigation by the television news network’s legal team, Al Jazeera said on Twitter.

The ICC must identify the individuals who were directly involved in Abu Akleh’s killing, Al Jazeera lawyer Rodney Dixon KC told a news conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

“The rulings of the International Criminal Court stipulate that those responsible be investigated and held accountable. Otherwise, they bear the same responsibility as if they were the ones who opened fire,” Dixon said.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that no one would question Israeli soldiers.

“No one will interrogate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals of combat, certainly not the Al Jazeera network,” Lapid said.


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.

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