Manchester City beat Chelsea to close gap at top of Premier League

Manchester City's Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez (L) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Manchester City. (AFP)
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Updated 06 January 2023

Manchester City beat Chelsea to close gap at top of Premier League

  • Pep Guardiola’s men were well below par in the first half but were transformed after the break

LONDON: Defending champions Manchester City beat injury-hit Chelsea 1-0 on Thursday to close the gap on Premier League leaders Arsenal to just five points.
Pep Guardiola’s men were well below par in the first half but were transformed after the break, with substitutes Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez combining for the only goal, scored by the Algerian in the 63rd minute.
Graham Potter’s Chelsea came into the game at Stamford Bridge languishing in 10th place in the table but they had the better of the opening 45 minutes.
However, it was a different story in the second half as the visitors found their attacking rhythm, with Guardiola admitting they were “miles better in every department” after the break.
“We struggled a lot in the first half — it was sloppy and slow and without rhythm,” the City boss told Sky Sports. “In the second half it was much, much better from minute one.
“The three points are important, definitely. The players know it. For a long time we were at the top. But we try, we have the FA Cup and Carabao (League) Cup and then Old Trafford. But it’s important for these games, a win today.”
Chelsea, already without a clutch of senior players including Mason Mount and Reece James, lost forward Raheem Sterling to an apparent hamstring injury in the opening minutes, replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The home side were first to threaten seriously but City defender John Stones came to the rescue in the 16th minute as Christian Pulisic bore down on goal, producing a perfectly timed sliding tackle to deny the US forward.
The American was injured in the challenge and was forced off minutes later, compounding Chelsea’s problems.
Teenager Carney Chukwuemeka, who came on for Pulisic, almost made an instant impact but his shot was blocked and Hakim Ziyech’s effort was saved by City goalkeeper Ederson.
Erling Haaland, who has 21 Premier League goals this season — one more than the entire Chelsea side — smashed a shot wide in the 38th minute on what proved to be a quiet evening for the Norwegian superstar.
But Chelsea continued to look the more dangerous side and came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock when Chukwuemeka hit the post just before half-time.
Guardiola, unhappy with what he had witnessed, made a double substitution at the interval, bringing on Rico Lewis and Manuel Akanji for Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker in the search for more control.
The visitors immediately settled and began to dictate play, with Nathan Ake heading against the woodwork, but Chelsea responded well and were inches away from taking the lead when Thiago Silva flashed wide.
Guardiola, whose team drew 1-1 with Everton at the weekend, introduced Grealish and Mahrez on the hour mark to further freshen up his attack.
The decision paid dividends minutes later when Grealish produced an excellent pass from the left and Mahrez prodded home from close range.
Potter made changes of his own, bringing on England forward Conor Gallagher, but they were unable to find an equalizer despite some late pressure.
The result leaves City five points behind Arsenal, who dropped points in a 0-0 draw against high-flying Newcastle earlier in the week.
But Potter is under increasing pressure — Chelsea now have just one win in their past eight league games and remain 10 points off the top four.
Potter, whose Chelsea side face City again in the FA Cup third round at the Etihad on Sunday, said he was proud of his team’s performance, especially after losing Sterling and Pulisic so early.
“It’s tough at the moment I must admit and I feel for the boys,” he said.
“We have to stick together. It was disappointing to lose those guys but the players on the pitch and the ones that came in gave everything and that’s all you can ask for.”

7 talking points from USA Basketball Showcase in Abu Dhabi

Updated 19 July 2024

7 talking points from USA Basketball Showcase in Abu Dhabi

  • After wins over Australia and Serbia at Etihad Arena, Team USA have matches in London ahead of the Olympic Games in Paris

After a productive and jam-packed five days in Abu Dhabi, Team USA have moved on to London, where they will play two final exhibition matches —against South Sudan and Germany — ahead of their Olympic Games campaign starting on July 28.

There is a lot to unpack from the US’ victories over Australia and Serbia this week in the UAE capital.

Here are some of the main takeaways as the Americans head to Paris searching for a fifth consecutive Olympic Games gold medal.

Curry, James, Embiid likely starting trio

It is taking Joel Embiid some time to adjust to this American super team —and to international basketball in general — but US head coach Steve Kerr has made it clear the 2023 NBA MVP will be an integral part of his starting unit.

Despite Anthony Davis shining for the US so far and outperforming him, Kerr has started Embiid in all three exhibition games they have contested.

Making his Team USA debut this summer, Embiid has averaged 6.5 rebounds per game across the three friendlies he played (versus Canada, Australia and Serbia) and has combined for nine turnovers.

Kerr believes it is only a matter of time until the Sixers center hits his stride.

“He’s getting better and better every day,” said Kerr. “It usually takes big guys longer to get rhythm and flow. I love Joel. He’s a dominant player.”

The three constants in Kerr’s starting five so far throughout the team’s exhibition schedule have been LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Embiid, as the Golden State Warriors coach continues to tinker with his lineup for the remaining two spots.

“I like those three guys in the starting lineup. We’ve been looking at other guys around them and we obviously have a lot of great options, but I do like those three guys in the starting lineup,” said Kerr in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.



For someone who is used to carrying the Warriors offense year-round, Curry did not make a huge impact in the first two games but caught fire against Serbia on Wednesday with 24 points in 21 minutes and going 6-9 from beyond the arc.

Curry explained after the Australia clash that making sure Embiid is well-utilized has been a main focus for the starters.

“He demands a lot of attention so you have to utilize that and get him in position,” said Curry.

“We still have to figure out our spacing around him to give him looks, whether he shoots and scores, whether he kicks it out. And then if he’s not in the post, we’re trying to figure out different looks, and the chemistry of that group.

“I think we got a little bit better and we’ve got more games to get even better with it and utilize the threat of everything he can do and everybody else out there.”

Embiid having ‘time of my life’

While things have yet to click for Embiid, the 30-year-old American-Cameroonian player has enjoyed every moment of this training camp so far.

“It’s been good. Obviously it’s new, so we’re still working on the chemistry, reading each other. Some of the turnovers that we had, most of them have been miscommunication,” he said on Wednesday.

“But it’s good, I’m having the time of my life, I don’t have to do anything. I’m happy just chilling, just hanging out, dealing with the little things, and then just play together and win.”

Curry on adjusting to the FIBA game

With the FIBA game known to be more physical and with a faster pace compared to the NBA, players have to make significant adjustments in order to excel in this format.

For Curry, who is making his first national team appearance in 10 years, this is not necessarily the main challenge.

“The biggest difference is from game to game, there’s just such drastic different styles from country to country, the way they play,” said the 36-year-old point guard.

“That’s the biggest adjustment. Physicality, the speed, all that, we can adjust to whatever but to focus on game plan and being disciplined on that front from game to game, that’s tough, because everybody plays so different.”

The US have Serbia, South Sudan and Puerto Rico in their pool at the Olympics, meaning they will face three teams boasting basketball schools from three different continents.

We have not seen US’ full potential yet

As Bam Adebayo and James both said after their win over Serbia, we have not seen the best from this squad just yet.

The Stars and Stripes beat a Nikola Jokic-led Serbia by a 26-point margin but are not reading too much into it ahead of their rematch in Olympic pool play next week.

“Not at all,” responded Adebayo when asked if the US’ performance against Serbia reflected the team’s potential.

“We still have work to do. We still got some turnovers to clean up, we still got some defensive schemes to clean up and we still have one guy that’s still working his way back.”

James echoed Adebayo’s sentiments: “We’ve still got so much room to improve but we want to continue to get better and not waste the opportunities. I felt like tonight we got better.”

Kerr is likely to continue with the hockey subs strategy, replacing all five starters with a second unit and alternating between both groups throughout the game.

“I think the identity of the team is our depth, the strength of the team is the depth. And so, if we can play in four-, five-minute bursts of just playing intense defense, hitting bodies, rebounding, being physical, then it makes sense to play that way,” said Kerr.

“We’ll see if we keep doing it but for now, it’s allowed groups to get together, AD (Anthony Davis) and Bam (Adebayo) for example, Steph and LeBron, kind of learn how to play together, having a better feel for each other. The strength of our team is just the depth and so if we have to play that way, we’ll play that way.”

KD still out, but making progress

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kevin Durant is still nursing a calf strain and has yet to feature for this US squad but coach Kerr is hopeful the Phoenix Suns forward will be ready for Paris.

“Kevin’s been doing more the last couple of days and he’s trending in the right direction,” said Kerr on Wednesday.

As America’s all-time lead scorer at the Olympics, Durant brings a wealth of experience to this squad and will no doubt make an impact should he be ready to play.

Ant-Man made for the big stage

Anthony Edwards has evolved into one of the best players in the league this past season and the 22-year-old is bringing confidence and explosiveness to the team.

He has averaged 14.3 points per game during this preparation period for the Olympics and is delivering whether he is a starter or coming off the bench.

“I thought he took his experience in the World Cup last year and got much better and became one of the best players in the whole NBA last season,” said coach Kerr of Edwards.

“He still has things to improve on. I talk to him about it frequently, rebounding and defense, not letting anybody get behind him, keeping vision defensively.

“He’s so talented, he’s a great, great player. But the best players always get better. Every summer they keep working on new things. So I’m going to encourage Anthony to keep getting better.”



Another slam dunk from Abu Dhabi

The UAE capital continues to solidify its position as the hub for international basketball in the Middle East and has once again delivered a stellar event.

After hosting preseason games between the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks in 2022, and the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves in 2023, Abu Dhabi has also proven to be the perfect spot for national teams to hold training camps and prepare for big competitions.

Before last year’s FIBA World Cup, teams including the US, Greece and Germany trained in Abu Dhabi and played exhibition games. And the Americans returned this year with the same agenda ahead of the Olympics.

Etihad Arena was sold out for both US games this week and it will no doubt be at full capacity when reigning NBA champions the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets come to Abu Dhabi for preseason games in October.

“We’ve had an incredible five days here. The hospitality in Abu Dhabi has been amazing, the people are wonderful. We just had a great trip and we really appreciate how welcomed we felt from everyone here,” said Kerr.

Embiid added: “It’s been amazing. I got here and called my wife and I told her it’s really beautiful here. I’ve been having the time of my life just meeting different people.

“I’m all about culture, me being African, learning about other people’s culture, that’s big for me. So being here, seeing how beautiful it is has been an amazing experience.”

Saudi pole vaulter Al-Hizam aims to inspire Kingdom’s next generation with Olympic success

Updated 19 July 2024

Saudi pole vaulter Al-Hizam aims to inspire Kingdom’s next generation with Olympic success

  • The 26-year-old earned his spot at the Paris Games after he placed among the top 32 competitors in his sport

Saudi Arabian pole vaulter Hussain Al-Hizam will, in every sense, be making a giant leap, when he makes his Olympic debut in Paris next month.

The 26-year-old, who hails from Al-Jubail in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, earned his spot at the Games through world rankings, after he placed among the top 32 competitors in his sport.

Since March, with weekly updates from World Athletics, Al-Hizam had been optimistic about his qualification prospects. Despite initially aiming for an automatic qualification, he is content with how he made the cut and has little fear of competing at the highest level.

“I am pretty confident that I have not reached my full potential and I believe that it could all come together on that day (in Paris), that I can shock everyone. I really believe that I can do that,” Al-Hizam told Arab News from Germany, where he is doing a full body check-up with his doctor before heading to France.

Al-Hizam says it is important to ensure he is fully performance-ready and is not leaving anything to chance.

Having missed out on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the Saudi athlete is determined to make his mark in Paris.

“I learned my lesson from missing the Tokyo Olympics. I should have been there, but I wasn’t following the new ranking system close enough and it was too late for me to qualify,” he said. “But I learned from that and now I am here. I am ready to show why I am here, that I can compete with the best of the best.”

Paris will be the pinnacle of Al-Hizam’s career, surpassing his performances at the 2022 and 2023 World Athletics Championships, where he finished 14th and 26th.

“I am excited to be here and to be heading to Paris, but my goal is to win an Olympic medal. That’s my focus. Enjoying the journey is part of it, but I must keep my eyes on the prize — winning an Olympic medal for my country. That is the moment,” he said.

On Aug. 2, he will compete in the qualifications against pole vault’s top 32 athletes, with a place in the top 12 the requirement to advance to the final two days later, when the top three spots will be up for grabs.

Al-Hizam is familiar with rivals but is more focused on himself.

“Pole vaulting is a solitary sport. Although I keep an eye on the other competitors, my real competition is me,” he said. “I focus on improving every time, faster, higher and more powerful than my last one — that’s what I want to achieve every time I go out there. And it will be the same in Paris. Yes, the stakes are higher, the stage larger, but it’s still the same sport and the same people I compete against all year round. So the game plan is to focus on me, my mindset and my performance.

“On the day, I will keep my pre-competition routine the same. I try to eat a normal breakfast. I am assuming it will be a morning event and as we are at the track for a long period, I will pack some snacks to take with me. It can be about four hours down by the track, so I need to keep my energy up while I am there.”

Al-Hizam also has several routines that help him stay relaxed ahead of competing.

“I like to listen to some piano music before a competition. It helps me feel calm and gives me body awareness when I listen to certain rhythms,” he said. “I don’t normally watch others compete … I spend time going over my body’s movements, what I need to do, what I want to do and envisioning. The pre-competition butterflies are key. It means I am excited and if I didn’t care about a competition, then I would just hang up my spikes.”

Al-Hizam knows that pole vaulting is not among Saudi Arabia’s top sports, like football or motor racing, but he hopes that he can show aspiring athletes — the ones who may not have been pushed to pursue track and field — that it is a worthy Olympic sport.

“I would like to think I am paving the path for the next generation, more so inspiring the parents of the young kids who want to take up track and field or another sport besides football, to push their kids, give them the opportunities, feed them healthy meals and teach them the discipline to become world-class athletes,” he said. “Because we belong here, and every four years there should be more and more athletes from my home competing on this stage — really competing, showing that just because we are relatively new to the scene doesn’t mean we should be underestimated — and winning medals at the Olympics is that exact statement.

“So, my goal in winning an Olympic medal isn’t just a personal feat. I hope that the young kids of Saudi will see me, just a kid from a small town who is able to compete with the rest of the world,” Al-Hizam said. “With countries that have a long and rich Olympic history, we have the same athletic body and competitive spirit as they do, and we deserve to be here.”

Saudi Esports museum opens at Boulevard Riyadh City

Updated 19 July 2024

Saudi Esports museum opens at Boulevard Riyadh City

  • Museum documents the federation’s work since its inception and celebrates Saudi Arabia’s impact on the global gaming and esports industry

RIYADH: The Saudi Esports Federation Legacy Museum has opened at the SEF Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City.

The new museum documents the SEF’s history since it was formed in 2017 and celebrates the Kingdom’s impact on the global gaming and esports industry.

It features sections such as “Moments in Saudi Arabian Esports,”, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pictured announcing the Esports World Cup at the New Global Sport Conference last October. He is also shown emphasizing the significance of the gaming and esports industry and Saudi Arabia’s prominent role within it.

A “Kingdom Champions” area is dedicated to elite stars who have made global headlines through their esports exploits. Mosaad Al-Dossary is shown lifting the FIFAe World Cup 2018 trophy, while the Saudi national team is depicted celebrating their Overwatch World Cup crown in 2023. The women’s team is cheering Valorant glory in the Afro-Arab Esports League last year.

Other sections include a “Heroes” zone, a “Center of the Game” video display, and an interactive area called “Experience the Moment”.

Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation, said: “The unveiling of the Saudi Esports Federation Legacy Museum is a milestone moment in the history of our federation and Saudi Arabia’s gaming and esports journey. It celebrates and showcases the passion for gaming in our country and the phenomenal impact and success that Saudi Arabia has had on the global stage in a relatively short space of time.

“In a country that deeply cherishes history and tradition, it is an honor for us to lay a permanent marker on Kingdom soil epitomizing the modern Saudi Arabia.”

The museum is open seven days a week from 6pm until Boulevard Riyadh City closes each night. Admission is free of charge.

Turki Al-Fawzan, CEO of the Saudi Esports Federation, said: “Recognizing the achievements of the past is a vital part of ensuring progression in the future. The Saudi Esports Federation Legacy Museum provides inspiration for all who visit, especially those who play a role — or want to play a role — in capturing the full potential of gaming and esports in Saudi Arabia. Looking around the museum and seeing special moments dedicated to world-class, game-changing tournaments such as Gamers Without Borders, Gamers8 and the Esports World Cup is a thoroughly enjoyable and moving experience. We encourage all members of the public to visit the museum and relish the documentation of modern Saudi Arabian success.”

The museum has opened while Riyadh hosts the inaugural Esports World Cup, the largest gaming festival in the world which features a record-breaking prize pool of $60 million.

The eight-week long event, which runs until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City, pits the world’s top clubs and players against each other across 22 global competitions in 21 leading games.

More than 1,500 players representing over 60 nationalities are battling out, with week three seeing competitions in the Dota2 Riyadh Masters, Counter Strike 2, and PUBG Mobile.

Brazil’s FURIA storm into Counter-Strike 2 quarterfinals at Esports World Cup

Updated 19 July 2024

Brazil’s FURIA storm into Counter-Strike 2 quarterfinals at Esports World Cup

  • The team entered the resurrection stage knowing that nothing short of a hat-trick of wins would see them progress

RIYADH: FURIA Esports has secured its place in the Counter-Strike 2 quarterfinals at the Esports World Cup, storming into the competition’s last eight with a series of stunning victories on Thursday.

Following defeat in the qualifying round, FURIA — one of Brazil’s most popular esports clubs with an internationally renowned fanbase — faced the resurrection stage knowing that nothing short of a hat-trick of wins would see them progress.

Crucially, they accomplished this feat, defeating American outfit Flyquest (13-5) and Sashi Esport of Demark (19-15) to set up a shootout with The MongolZ of Mongolia. With the quarterfinals awaiting one and elimination the other, FURIA proved too strong, sealing a 13-9 win to progress. The Brazilian team goes head-to-head with Germany’s MOUZ on Friday with the semifinals awaiting the victor.

Elsewhere on Thursday, Gaimin Gladiators and Team Liquid prevailed in their Dota2 Riyadh Masters upper bracket semifinals and the two now meet for a place in Sunday’s Grand Final over the weekend. On the other side of the draw, four clubs are contending for the other Grand Final place, including Team Falcons of Saudi Arabia.

Counter-Strike 2 and the Dota2 Riyadh Masters are running throughout Week 3 at the Esports World Cup, concluding on Sunday, July 21.

Campenaerts wins a 3-man sprint to take Tour de France stage as Pogacar keeps yellow jersey

Updated 19 July 2024

Campenaerts wins a 3-man sprint to take Tour de France stage as Pogacar keeps yellow jersey

  • The Lotto Dstny rider celebrated his win with his partner and baby on a video call straight after the finish
  • The main contenders for the overall win, including Pogacar and his rivals Jonas Vingegeaard and Remco Evenepoel, finished 13 minutes and 40 seconds behind Campenaerts
  • With only three stages left, Pogacar has a comfortable lead of 3:11 over two-time defending champion Vingegaard

BARCELONETTE, France: Belgian rider Victor Campenaerts posted the biggest win of his career Thursday as he claimed the tough and hilly 18th stage of the Tour de France after a three-man sprint.

Two-time Tour champion Tadej Pogacar kept the race leader’s yellow jersey as the top of the overall standings remained unchanged with just three days of racing left.

Campenaerts spent most of the day at the front and jumped away from a breakaway group some 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the finish together with Frenchman Matteo Vercher and former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland.

Campenaerts, who won a Giro stage in 2021, patiently waited behind his rivals in the last kilometer and did not panic when Vercher attacked. He stayed in the wheel of Kwiatkowski, then launched his sprint from behind.

The Lotto Dstny rider celebrated his win with his partner and baby on a video call straight after the finish.

“After the (spring) classics, I had a very difficult time,” Campenaerts said, holding back tears. “I had a verbal agreement with the team about extending the contract and I got ignored for a long time and it was really difficult. I was on a long altitude camp but my girlfriend was there and she supported me every day, highly pregnant, and I was struggling to finish my training schedules. But I changed my mind, I have a bright future now still in cycling, I became a father and it was like blue skies, only blue sky.”

There was a flurry of attacks at the start of the rollercoaster 180-kilometer stage featuring five climbs as riders tried to break away before the first ascent, the Col du Festre. But the peloton rode at a high speed, thwarting all those early efforts.

About 20 riders finally managed to open a gap during that climb and were joined by Wednesday’s stage winner Richard Carapaz and other talented contenders for the stage win, including Ben Healy and Geraint Thomas.

With the best-placed rider in that large group already lagging nearly 34 minutes behind Pogacar overall, the pack let the break get away. The main contenders for the overall win, including Pogacar and his rivals Jonas Vingegeaard and Remco Evenepoel, finished 13 minutes and 40 seconds behind Campenaerts.

Earlier, Healy attacked twice from the leading group in the Cote de Saint-Apollinaire but his move eventually backfired as the Irishman got dropped when others upped the pace. A pivotal moment came in the Cote des Demoiselles when Kwiatkowski accelerated to move away and was later joined by Campenaerts and Vercher. The trio collaborated well as counter-attackers looked hesitant and reacted too late to catch them.

With only three stages left, Pogacar has a comfortable lead of 3:11 over two-time defending champion Vingegaard. Tour debutant Evenepoel is lagging 5:09 off the pace.

The battle between Pogacar, Vingegaard and Evenepoel is expected to resume on Friday. At less than 150 kilometers, the 19th stage to the ski resort of Isola 2000 is short, but tough. Riders will climb above 2,000 meters three times, including the climb to the summit of La Bonette, the highest road in France at an altitude of 2,802 meters.