Dembele earns Barca La Liga advantage in tense Atletico triumph

FC Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele in action with Atletico Madrid's Reinildo Mandava during their match. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 January 2023

Dembele earns Barca La Liga advantage in tense Atletico triumph

  • Capitalising on champions Real Madrid’s defeat by Villarreal, Barcelona set out to make a statement victory at the Metropolitano

MADRID: Ousmane Dembele’s strike sent Barcelona three points clear at the top of La Liga with a tense 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Capitalising on champions Real Madrid’s defeat by Villarreal, Barcelona set out to make a statement victory at the Metropolitano.
Shorn of suspended top scorer Robert Lewandowski, Xavi selected Ansu Fati up front in his place, but it was Dembele who made the difference, finishing a slick move in the 22nd minute.
Atletico ramped up the pressure, with the superb Ronald Araujo clearing off the line from Antoine Griezmann at the death, but Diego Simeone’s side could not find an equalizer.
Both teams finished with 10 men after Ferran Torres and Stefan Savic were sent off for brawling with each other on the floor as tempers soured.
Defeat means Atletico languish in fifth, 14 points behind leaders Barcelona.
Youngster Fati had an early effort brilliantly blocked by the sprawling Jose Gimenez, as Barcelona dominated the opening exchanges.
The coach opted to play with four midfielders instead of his usual three, starting with both Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong as well as youngsters Pedri and Gavi.
Xavi said on Saturday Atletico barely have any gaps in their defense but Pedri uncovered one to create the opening goal.
The midfielder burst forward in the 22nd minute to capitalize on space in front of the box, before feeding Gavi, who teed up Dembele to clinically slot home.
Pedri could have doubled the lead moments later when Atletico foolishly gifted him the ball with a poor pass-back, but he delayed his finish too long and Nahuel Molina denied him.
Marcos Llorente had Atletico’s first decent opportunity after half an hour when Griezmann scooped a ball delicately over the defense to set him in, but Araujo deflected his effort into the side netting.
Gimenez headed narrowly wide with Marc-Andre ter Stegen rooted to the spot as the hosts began to wrestle back control.
The German goalkeeper made a superb save at full stretch to deny the pink-haired Griezmann, who was becoming increasingly influential against his former side.
Griezmann whipped a strike high over the crossbar as Atletico began the second half in determined fashion, pushing Barca deeper and deeper.
Only his compatriot Dembele offered the leaders an outlet on the break and he had a drive deflected into the side-netting.
Xavi brought on Franck Kessie for De Jong and it helped steady the ship, with Barcelona managing some stretches of possession which frustrated the home fans and took the sting out of the game.
Red cards for Torres and Savic reignited the game in stoppage time and Griezmann might have snatched a point for his team but for Araujo’s crucial clearance on the line.
The victory earns Xavi some breathing room after criticism and fills Barcelona’s sails with wind ahead of the imminent Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.

90 UAE cricketers to feature in ILT20 Development Tournament

Updated 25 September 2023

90 UAE cricketers to feature in ILT20 Development Tournament

  • ILT20 Blitzers, ILT20 Braves, ILT20 Dynamos, ILT20 Marvels, ILT20 Pearls and ILT20 Thunderbolts to compete in the 18-match competition

DUBAI: UAE captain Muhammad Waseem will lead the ILT20 Marvels in the inaugural ILT20 Development Tournament that begins at the ICC Academy Grounds, Dubai from Saturday, Sept. 30.

A total of 90 players (15 per side) made it to the six squads via a player draft held earlier this week.

The tournament will provide an opportunity to UAE’s domestic players as well as those who have played internationals (ODIs and T20Is) to showcase their talent and impress the DP World ILT20 franchises for selection in the squads for Season 2.

Ali Abid will captain the ILT20 Blitzers, Muhammad Usman will skipper the ILT20 Braves, Karthik Meiyappan will lead ILT20 Dynamos while seasoned UAE batter Rohan Mustafa will be in charge of the ILT20 Thunderbolts.

Each team will play five matches in the group stage, with the top-four sides at the end of the group stage progressing to the semifinals. The final will be played on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

The six squads were chosen by their respective head coaches and support staff.

The head coaches include Rizwan Arshad (Braves), Sandeep Dhuri (Blitzers), Jared Davids (Dynamos), Rejith Arjun (Marvels), Shahzada Saleem (Pearls) and Khurram Khan (Thunderbolts). Tournament Director of the ILT20 Development Tournament Andy Russell oversaw the selection process.

Six franchises of DP World ILT20 have retained 11 UAE players as part of their squads for Season 2. This means 13 spots are still up for grabs (franchises need to have at least four UAE players in their squads).

Out of the 11 retained players from Season 1, the following eight will participate in the ILT20 Development Tournament: Aayan Afzal Khan (Gulf Giants), Junaid Siddique (Sharjah Warriors), Matiullah (Abu Dhabi Knight Riders), Mohammad Waseem (MI Emirates), Muhammad Jawadullah (Sharjah Warriors), Rohan Mustafa (Desert Vipers), Sanchit Sharma (Gulf Giants) and Zahoor Khan (MI Emirates).

All participating players (other than the 11 retained) will be eligible for selection in DP World ILT20 Season 2. The 13 vacant spots for UAE players across the six franchises will be filled via a DP World ILT20 organized Player Draft that will take place after the ILT20 Development Tournament.

Chief Executive Officer DP World ILT20 David White: “We are delighted to launch the ILT20 Development Tournament. We have been very clear in our approach from the beginning and want to reiterate that the DP World ILT20 is all about developing the game in the UAE.

“The DP World ILT20 Season 1 provided a world-class platform to our players, besides our established stars, youngsters like Aayan Afzal Khan, Sanchit Sharma and Ali Naseer learned a great deal by rubbing shoulders with the best in the world and their progress since the last edition is a testament to the success of the league especially from a development point of view.

“I am sure that we will see some new stars emerge from the ILT20 Development Tournament this year and their performances will provide some fantastic selection options for our six DP World ILT20 franchises.”

How Saudi Arabia’s foreign players embraced the traditional style thobe

Al-Ittihad’s French striker Karim Benzema. (@Benzema)
Updated 25 September 2023

How Saudi Arabia’s foreign players embraced the traditional style thobe

  • Led by Ronaldo, the SPL’s growing number of overseas players and coaches have embraced their new culture
  • Al-Ittihad’s French striker Karim Benzema also appeared in the national dress at the FIFA Club World Cup draw in Jeddah

JEDDAH: As usual, Cristiano Ronaldo led the way, with the likes of Neymar, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Fowler not far behind.

Amid the celebrations of Saudi National Day on Sept. 23, a number of foreign players and coaches from the Saudi Professional League celebrated the occasion by donning the Kingdom’s traditional thobe in videos and photos that quickly went viral on social media.

Ronaldo and teammate Sadio Mane appeared in a video posted on Al-Nassr’s official account on X and similarly, former England captain and Ettifaq coach Gerrard showcased the Saudi look in a clip posted by his club.

But it’s not the first time that foreign players have shown their support in this way.

Ronaldo first wore the traditional attire during the celebration of the Saudi Founding Day on Feb. 22, posing in a navy blue and gold daqlah, which is designed to be worn over a thobe.

Al-Ittihad’s French striker Karim Benzema also appeared in the national dress at the official draw of FIFA Club World Cup Saudi Arabia 2023 held recently in Jeddah, when he called the Saudi thobe “an elegant attire.”

In recent weeks, international players who joined the SPL during an unprecedented summer transfer window seem to have increasingly embraced their new lifestyle and local culture, providing their fans all over the world with photos while wearing the Saudi traditional dress: a long-sleeve shirt and ankle-length robe worn along with a headscarf, known as the shemagh, that has a ring around it, called aqal.

Online platforms have been flooded with images of Riyad Mahrez, Edouard Mendy, Roberto Firmino, Allan Saint-Maximin, Igor Coronado, Romarinho, Marcelo Grohe, Roger Ibanez, former Al-Hilal striker Bafetimbi Gomis, former Saudi national team coach Herve Renard and Al-Ittihad’s Portuguese coach Nuno Santo sporting the look.

Al-Nassr fan Suliman Al-Otaibi said: “Seeing Ronaldo walking on our streets in our attire sends a positive message to his vast follower base, which runs in the hundreds of millions. Who knows, the Saudi dress might even become a trend in Europe.”

Amer Helabi echoed those sentiments, saying: “Respect to all those players for respecting the culture of the country.”

Another fan said: “The thobe suits them. I hope they wear it occasionally.”

Another poster on X said the scores of international players wearing the Saudi national dress did not bother him in the least, and that in fact, he found the trend “endearing.”

Homoud Al-Bugami posted: “National Day is a good opportunity for those big names in football to learn about the history of Saudi Arabia and the motifs they see around them.”

Saudi football player Hussain Al-Qahtani praised Ronaldo, Benzema and other players for indulging in Saudi cultural activities, promoting their tradition and rich historical origin.

“It is so great to see such famous players wearing our traditional thobe,” he said.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr. Jamal Al-Tarqi told Arab News that foreign players in the SPL wearing the Saudi uniform is a sign of dedication to the work they do as professional players, stressing that they are showing their adaptation to the culture of the Kingdom.

“When such big names in football wear the Saudi traditional thobe, they are indeed getting accustomed to the Saudi culture and they are showing love and loyalty to this country,” he said.

FIFA announce sale of Club World Cup 2023 match tickets

Updated 25 September 2023

FIFA announce sale of Club World Cup 2023 match tickets

  • Seven clubs, including Saudi’s Al-Ittihad, will contest the continental championship from Dec. 12th to Dec. 22nd
  • 20th edition of the global club tournament will feature a debut appearance from European champions Man. City

RIYADH: Club World Cup 2023 match tickets will be available for purchase from Tuesday Sept. 26th at

Seven clubs will contest the continental championship in Saudi Arabia from Dec. 12th to Dec. 22nd.

Al-Ittihad, winners of the Roshn Saudi League (RSL) 2022-2023, will represent hosts Saudi Arabia.

The 20th edition of the global club tournament will feature a debut appearance from European champions Manchester City.

It will also feature Concacaf champions Club Leon of Mexico, Japan’s Urawa Reds, Egypt’s Al Ahly and New Zealand’s Auckland City.

The line-up will be completed by the yet-to-be determined Copa Libertadores winners.

LIV Golf Jeddah, presented by ROSHN, to stage momentous regular season finale

Updated 25 September 2023

LIV Golf Jeddah, presented by ROSHN, to stage momentous regular season finale

  • Individual champion, team championship seeds, and securing 2024 league spots all on the line for LIV Golf’s return to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, Oct. 13-15
  • Following an exciting final round at LIV Golf Chicago — the 12th event of the season — Cameron Smith currently leads the individual standings with 170 points

JEDDAH: LIV Golf makes its highly anticipated return to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club for LIV Golf Jeddah, presented by ROSHN, October 13-15, when the league’s 2023 regular season will reach its epic conclusion and set the stage for the Team Championship — and the future for many LIV golfers.

The event marks the thirteenth tournament of the league’s first full season. Superstar names among the list of 13 major winners who will compete in King Addullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia include 2023 PGA Championship winner and 2023 US Ryder Cup Team selection Brooks Koepka, 2022 Open Champion Cameron Smith, World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, 2020 US Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau, and two-time major winners Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer.

There will be much to play for among those atop the individual standings — a star-studded list competing for the season-ending individual title. Those further down the standings face a battle to secure their future, with those players ranked 45 and below in the standings’ “Drop Zone” at season’s end facing relegation and the reality of losing their LIV Golf status for next year.

Following an exciting final round at LIV Golf Chicago — the 12th event of the season — Smith currently leads the individual standings with 170 points after victories in London and Bedminster. In-form American Talor Gooch, a three-time individual champion this season, is in hot pursuit of the Australian with 162 points. Last week’s LIV Golf Chicago champion and ‘Mr. 58,’ Bryson DeChambeau, occupies the third place in the standings with 146 points. Other players in contention of a top three finishing spot include 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, 2022 LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah winner Koepka and 4Aces GC captain Johnson, among others.

As the final opportunity to secure points in the individual standings, the pressure to play well in Jeddah intensifies. Those who finish in the top 24 in the overall standings will lock-in their position in the LIV Golf League for the next season. Players finishing in the “Open Zone” (positions 25-44), however, may face trade or release by their respective teams. Meanwhile, those finishing in positions 45 and below sitting in the “Drop Zone” will be relegated and will automatically qualify for the League’s promotional tournament, where they will have the opportunity to earn their spot back for the 2024 season.

Aside from the individual standings race, each player in the 48-man field has good reason to make their scores count, as the final team standings following LIV Golf Jeddah will determine seeds 1-12 for the LIV Golf Team Championship in Miami the following week, with the top four teams receiving first-round byes. Through 12 events, 4Aces GC — featuring Johnson, Reed, Peter Uihlein, and Pat Perez — sits atop the team standings with 188 points after team victories in Adelaide and London.

DeChambeau’s Crushers GC (178 points), which includes Paul Casey, Charles Howell III, and Anirban Lahiri, made significant gains thanks to their victory last week in Chicago, giving them a seven-point lead in second place over Torque GC. Torque GC features Chilean stars Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira, Colombian Sebastian Muñoz, and Spanish rookie David Puig, who closely trail Crushers GC with 171 total points following wins in Orlando, DC, Andalucía, and Greenbrier.

The all-South African Stinger GC, featuring major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, and Dean Burmester, currently sits in fourth place with 157 points. RangeGoats GC (155 points) occupies fifth place, thanks to five top-three finishes this season, driven by standout performances by Gooch, Harold Varner III, Thomas Pieters, and captain Watson.

SPL clubs clean sweep lower league opponents in King’s Cup

Updated 25 September 2023

SPL clubs clean sweep lower league opponents in King’s Cup

Saudi Pro League clubs displayed their dominance over lower tier opposition as Al-Ettifaq, Al-Shabab, Al-Taawoun and Al-Hazm progressed from the King Cup’s round of 32 on Sunday night.

Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq defeated Jeddah FC 4-0 thanks to goals by Gini Wijnaldum (26th minute), Moussa Dembele (38 and 45) and Mohammed Al-Kuwaykibi (59).

Al-Shabab overcame Al-Batin 2-1 after extra time, having taken the lead on 33 minutes through Belgian international Yannick Carrasco before being pegged by Brahian Aleman’s equalizer four minutes later. Carrasco scored the winner in the 118th minute to send the Riyadh giants to the last 16.

Another Roshn Saudi league club, Al-Taawoun, beat First Division Al-Qadsia — coached by former Liverpool star Robbie Fowler — 2-0 with goals from Musa Barrow and Abdulfattah Mohamed.

In the last of the day’s clashes, Al-Hazm defeated Al-Arabi 3-1, with first-half goals from Faiz Selemani (10, 15) and Mohammed Al-Thani (30). The First Division visitors responded with a consolation goal by Diego Miranda in first-half stoppage time.