Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return

Denmark’s midfielder Christian Eriksen reacts after Australia won their Qatar 2022 World Cup Group D match at the Al-Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 01 December 2022

Eriksen flops for dismal Denmark on major tournament return

  • Eriksen's return to the World Cup had been highly anticipated after a good spell for both club and country following a dramatic comeback from a cardiac arrest
  • Demark were toothless after Mathew Leckie's twisting run and low finish gave Australia a 60th-minute lead

DOHA: Christian Eriksen’s Denmark came to the World Cup tipped as dark horses after reaching the semifinals of last year’s European Championship but have exited with barely a whimper after a 1-0 defeat to Australia.
Eriksen’s return to the World Cup had been highly anticipated after a good spell for both club and country following a dramatic comeback from a cardiac arrest.
The playmaker collapsed on the pitch against Finland in June 2021 during the delayed Euro 2020 tournament and had to be resuscitated in front of a stunned Copenhagen crowd and a television audience of millions.
On the way to hospital he told his wife Sabrina that he would probably never play football again but he fought his way back to fitness.
The 30-year-old had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator fitted, which meant he had to quit Inter Milan due to rules in Italy.
But he signed for Brentford in the Premier League and also resumed his international career, subsequently joining Manchester United.
Denmark were favorites to qualify from Group D alongside world champions France, whom they beat home and away in the Nations League.
Before their opening goalless draw with Tunisia, assistant coach Morten Wieghorst said Eriksen was “even better than he was before the accident.”
But he was underwhelming in a team that lacked the spark that carried them to the semifinals at last year’s Euros.
“Christian is a superhero but he performs with the team,” said Denmark captain Simon Kjaer.
“He is an amazing footballer but we have to look to each other and see that as a team we didn’t perform.
“We made one goal, got one point, couldn’t beat Australia at the end of the group and OK we go home.”
Eriksen was wearing the captain’s armband on Wednesday in place of the injured Kjaer but he failed to sparkle at Al Janoub Stadium, unable to inspire his strangely lacklustre teammates.
Demark were toothless after Mathew Leckie’s twisting run and low finish gave Australia a 60th-minute lead, which ultimately gave them the win they needed to qualify from the group, second behind France.
A strangely subdued display from Eriksen was summed up in stoppage time when he miscontrolled a pass even though he had a chance to shoot in the penalty area and then bounced off Australia defender Harry Souttar onto the grass.
Coach Kasper Hjulmand wondered aloud why his team had played with such a “lack of enthusiasm and coherence” in a match they had to win.
Kjaer pinned the blame on the squad as a whole rather than the man who was supposed to show why he is rated as one of Europe’s best playmakers.
“Every team has a player that they count on, and we count on Christian,” said Kjaer.
“This is not on Christian, this is on the team, because if we managed to put him in the right situations, Christian will make the difference. We win and lose as a team.”


World’s top cyclists begin long-awaited Saudi Tour 2023

Updated 31 January 2023

World’s top cyclists begin long-awaited Saudi Tour 2023

  • Saudi Tour, featuring 112 Saudi and international cyclists, is scheduled to end on February 3
  • Riyadh hosting such events increases culture of sports in Kingdom, says Saudi cycling federation

RIYADH: A total of 112 leading local and top international cyclists representing 16 teams are participating in the long-awaited Saudi Tour that started today and ends on Feb. 3.

The announcement of the field was made at a press conference on Sunday in AlUla, in the presence of several of the riders and officials from the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Arabia Cycling Federation.

Present at the event was the SACF’s spokesperson Abdulaziz Al-Shahrani, spokesperson for the Royal Commission for AlUla Philip Jones, spokesperson for the Amaury Sports Organization Gion Marino, Saudi national team cyclist Hassan Al-Jumaa, Dutch cyclist Dylan Groenewegen and German cyclist John Degenkolb.

“Saudi Arabia’s hosting of such sporting events increases the culture of practicing sports, especially since the mass base for cycling is large and growing,” said Al-Shahrani. He said this would serve as a massive boost for the sport domestically.

Jones said he was pleased to host the Saudi Tour for the second time in AlUla, which would consolidate the region’s spectacular growth of the past few years. He commended the partnership between AlUla Governorate, the Ministry of Sports, and the SACF.

“If you haven’t been to AlUla in the past year, you really haven’t been (anywhere),” Jones told Arab News. “This destination has undergone significant change, and if you look around, you will find new hotels, restaurants, several new visitor assets, and we are adding a new district called Al-Jadida. Hosting an event like the Saudi Tour allows us to invite international media so they can witness the changes for themselves.”

Commenting on the Australian Jayco AlUla team, sponsored by the RCU, Jones said: “They have great chances in the race, and I am a fan of it, especially since we sponsor this team, and it bears the name of the city that we aspire to be the most civilized city in the world.”

Amaury’s Marinon said the five new routes of the race, over a total distance of 830 kilometers, with new areas and locations, would provide an ideal platform for the contestants to perform.

“The countries of the world are following with enthusiasm the course of the race this year,” said Marinon. “There are many different programs allocated in different countries to cover the event.”

Dutch cyclist Groenewegen said: “I am excited about this race, and I came to AlUla to win. And I also feel very proud to be in the 2023 Saudi Tour.”

During the inauguration ceremony of the Saudi Tour, Deputy Minister of Sports Badr Al-Qadi spoke to Arab News about the importance of the race, which he said was demonstrating the “leadership” of the nation’s sports sector.

“His Highness Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal leads the sector and has an integrated strategy (developed). This strategy aims to increase the percentage of sports practice, improve the performance of elite athletes, and discover talent. This event aims to discover talent and diversify sports, including cycling.”

Many eyes will be on the Kingdom’s national team, and the athletes have been encouraged to embrace the experience.

Haider Al-Essa, head of the SACF delegation, said: “We assembled the Saudi squad and advised them to enjoy themselves, let go of any tension, and join the tournament in good spirits. We noted that simply competing against top-tier international cyclists was an enormous accomplishment.”


McIlroy comes out on top of bitter rival Reed in Dubai

Updated 30 January 2023

McIlroy comes out on top of bitter rival Reed in Dubai

  • McIlroy had fallen behind arch-rival Reed after a bogey on the 15th hole
  • The Northern Irishman bounced back with birdies on the 17th and 18th to prevail over Reed by a single shot

DUBAI: Rory McIlroy prevailed in a nail-biting finish over Patrick Reed, the man he “prefers not to acknowledge” after a spat between the two, in the rain-delayed $9 million Dubai Desert Classic on Monday.
It was the first time McIlroy has won the first start of his new season and is his 15th DP World Tour victory in 231 starts.
It was also his third Dubai Desert Classic victory in 13 appearances.
He will remain world number one, after Spaniard Jon Rahm failed to win the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour on Saturday.
McIlroy and Reed went into the tournament after a row when Reed reportedly threw a tee toward McIlroy on the practice range in Dubai.
The two have been at odds since McIlroy criticized players, including Reed, who joined the rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit.
McIlroy, who lost this tournament last year on the final hole when his second shot found the water and he ended up making a bogey, had fallen behind Reed after a bogey on the 15th hole.
However, the Northern Irishman made amends with birdies on the 17th and 18th in a round of four-under par 68.
McIlroy finished on 19-under par, while Reed, starting the day four shots behind the Northern Irishman, made a crucial bogey on the 16th and a par on the drivable par-4 17th hole in his round of 65.
Australian Lucas Herbert, champion in 2019, closed with a six-under par 66 to take solo third place at 16-under par 272.
England’s Callum Shinkwin, who started with three bogies in his first six holes playing in the lead group with McIlroy, made six birdies after that to shoot a 69 and take solo fourth place at 273.
The DP World Tour stays in the UAE for a fourth consecutive week and will head to the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah this week for the $2 million RAK Championship.

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Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

Updated 30 January 2023

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

  • Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad

Two goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al-Ittihad a 2-0 win over Al-Feiha on Sunday in the Saudi Super Cup Final in Riyadh to hand the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years.

The victory also gave former Tottenham Hotspur and FC Porto boss Nuno Santo his first trophy in Saudi Arabia.

Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad.

The victory handed the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years. (SPA)

And Hamdallah, who featured for Morocco in the World Cup, struck early in each half to give the Tigers a big win against their 10-man opponents.

The first goal came in the third minute. Al-Ittihad’s Romarinho picked up the ball just outside the Al-Feiha half and the Brazilian’s pass fed Hamdallah who took one touch on the edge of the area and then coolly lifted the ball over Vladimir Stojkovic.

It was a great start for the Jeddah giants and it got better for them midway through the first half as Al-Feiha were reduced to 10 men. Abdulrahman Al-Safari went in high with his studs on Egyptian midfielder Tarek Hamed and was shown a straight red card from the referee.

Five minutes before the break it looked as if the in-form Romarinho had extended his side’s lead but the Brazilian, who finished smartly from close range, was adjudged by the referee’s assistant — and also VAR — to have been offside.

Al-Ittihad had a chance to tighten their grip on the trophy just before the break as Stojkovic was penalized for bringing down Hamdallah inside the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. However, Abdulrahman Al-Oboud dragged his shot wide.

An Al-Feiha player comforts a forlorn colleague after the Al Majma'ah-based club's loss to Al-Ittihad. (SPA)

The frustration for watching fans in Jeddah did not last long as Hamdallah doubled Al-Ittihad’s lead three minutes after the restart, much to the dismay of Stojkovic. The Serbian goalkeeper came a long way off his line in an attempt to punch away a free-kick from deep, and Hamdallah’s head got there first to send the ball looping into the net.

Al-ittihad were on top for much of the second half and worked hard to ensure that they stayed in front.

Boss Santo said: “It was a good performance from us and we worked hard. It was a tough game and we are delighted that we ended up winning.”

Santo, who arrived last summer after spells with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Spurs, looked delighted as his players collected the trophy.

There is still the challenge of becoming champions of Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2009, but Santos is pleased with the progress his side have made so far.

He said: “We know that there is still a long way to go this season.

“The most important thing is that we stay together and work hard. If we can do that then who knows what can happen?

“It is great to lift this trophy but we hope that this is just the beginning.”


Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

Updated 30 January 2023

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

  • Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro

MADRID: Vinícius Júnior had his share of chances to break the deadlock. More than once, the Brazil forward was in front of the opposition goal with only the ‘keeper to beat.
But Vinicius and his teammates couldn’t get the job done on Sunday as Real Madrid was held to a 0-0 draw at home by third-place Real Sociedad to lose ground to Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league.
The result left defending champion Madrid five points behind the Catalan rival, which won 1-0 at Girona on Saturday. Sociedad stayed three points behind Madrid, and eight behind Barcelona. Both Madrid and Barcelona have a game in hand.
Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro. He made three key saves against close-range attempts by Vinícius, and also saw the Brazilian send the ball wide in a one-on-one situation.
“Vinícius played a good match, if he had scored it would have been a spectacular one,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He has been playing well. Sometimes he will miss, but he is always trying.”
Karim Benzema and Rodrygo also couldn’t break through the Sociedad defense as Madrid was held scoreless for the first time this season despite more than 20 attempts against Sociedad, which also had its opportunities in an intense match at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
“We played a very complete game but couldn’t score,” Ancelotti said. “We were close. I’m satisfied with the draw because we played well.”
Madrid, coming off a home win in the derby against Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, remains unbeaten against Sociedad since a 4-3 home loss in the quarterfinals of the Copa in 2020, a competition the Basque Country side won.
Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the Copa quarterfinals, a result that ended its nine-game winning streak in all competitions. It had been one of the hottest teams in Spain until the consecutive setbacks against the powerhouses.
ATLETICO REBOUNDS
Atletico Madrid bounced back from its Copa elimination against Madrid with a 1-0 win at seventh-place Osasuna.
Substitute Saúl Ñíguez scored the winner less than 10 minutes after he had entered the match in the 65th.
Atletico relinquished a late 1-0 lead against Madrid to lose 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday. The cup was the only competition Atletico realistically had a chance to win as it had already been eliminated from the Champions League and the Europa League, and it currently trails league leader Barcelona by 13 points.
“We are out of the Champions (League) and the Copa, but the motivation to play for Atletico remains,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “I’ll always demand that from my players.”
It was the third win in four games in all competitions for Simeone’s team, while struggling Osasuna remained winless in four straight.
Osasuna has only one victory in eight matches overall, though it hadn’t lost since last year.
Atletico hadn’t won an away match in the league since October at Real Betis.
WILLIAMS’ RUN ENDS
Iñaki Williams’ absence in Athletic Bilbao’s 1-0 loss at Celta Vigo ended his record of 251 consecutive league appearances. He did not play in Vigo because of injury.
Williams had played in every league match for Bilbao since April 2016.
Veteran striker Iago Aspas scored Celta’s winner in the 71st. The result moved Celta to 16th place, while Bilbao remained eighth.
Bilbao is winless in five league games, since a 3-0 home victory against Valladolid before the World Cup.
VALENCIA’S STRUGGLES
Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 loss at Valladolid, adding pressure on coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Valencia has only one win in its last 10 league games, against Real Betis before the World Cup. It dropped to 14th place and one point above the relegation zone.
Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a 90th-minute winner for 17th-place Valladolid, which ended its five-game losing streak across all competitions.


Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

Updated 29 January 2023

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

  • Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma

BRIGHTON: Liverpool’s disastrous season suffered another blow on Sunday as the holders were dumped out the FA Cup by a 2-1 defeat at Brighton.

Kaoru Mitoma’s brilliant control and finish in stoppage time earned the Seagulls a place in the fifth round.

Liverpool had led at the Amex through Harvey Elliott, but have now won just once in their last six games.

Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma.

The Japanese winger cushioned Pervis Estupinan’s cross into his path, flicked the ball over Joe Gomez and fired high past Alisson Becker in the 92nd minute.

Liverpool are languishing in ninth in the Premier League, 21 points behind pacesetters Arsenal.

Their FA Cup exit leaves the Champions League as their only remaining shot at a trophy this season.

Last season, Jurgen Klopp’s men were on the brink of a historic quadruple, which included their first FA Cup triumph in 16 years.

But Klopp is still searching for answers to halt their decline after a second defeat on the south coast in 15 days.

The German described Brighton’s 3-0 win when the sides last met as the worst performance of his managerial career.

Liverpool did at least put up a fight this time and will rue two big early chances missed by Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian did at least have a hand in Liverpool’s goal as he released Elliott, whose strike had too much power for Steele to keep out.

Brighton hit back within nine minutes when Tariq Lamptey’s powerful shot was deflected past the helpless Alisson by Dunk.

The hosts were without Moises Caicedo after the Ecuadorian took to social media on Friday to try and force through a move to Arsenal.

Brighton have already lost Leandro Trossard, who scored a hat trick against Liverpool earlier in the season, to the Gunners this month.

But those absences did not show as Liverpool were left riding their luck for most of the second period.

Ibrahima Konate and Fabinho were extremely fortunate to escape red cards for challenges on Alexis Mac Allister and Evan Ferguson.

Alisson threw himself in front of Solly March to make a brilliant save from Mitoma’s inventive cross and Konate did likewise to block from Ferguson.

But Brighton’s pressure finally got its reward when Mitoma struck his fourth goal in six games.