Al-Ahly and Wydad set for battle in all-Arab CAF Champions League final

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Updated 03 June 2023

Al-Ahly and Wydad set for battle in all-Arab CAF Champions League final

  • Egyptian and Moroccan giants will face off in first leg of Africa’s showpiece final in Cairo on Sunday

DUBAI: The only thing that can be said with certainty as Africa looks forward to its Champions League final is that the trophy will be won by an Arab team.

But, then, it usually is, as Al-Ahly of Egypt and Wydad AC of Morocco, who meet in Sunday’s first leg in Cairo, know better than most.

This will mark the third time in seven editions that these two giants of African and Arab football have met with the trophy sitting on the sidelines. They also locked horns in the semifinal of the 2020 edition when the Egyptians ran out comfortable winners.

There have been 16 Arab champions in the last 25 years, and in that time there was only 2009 when none from the region reached the final. Instead, TP Mazembe, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, defeated Nigeria’s Heartland.

We are in familiar territory for the two finalists, but the situation has changed since last year when Wydad ran out 2-0 winners in a single game on home soil. To start with, this is a home-and-away affair, with Egypt hosting on Sunday and the action moving to Morocco a week later.

Al-Ahly, who already hold the record for continental titles, with 10 trophies in the bank, are in a better place than they were in May last year. Then, in the dying days of the Pitso Mosimane regime, the Red Giants reached the final, but were struggling to cope with the demands of competing in the league, Africa and also the Club World Cup. Ahead of the last final, the league was slipping away and criticism was increasing.

This time, however, Al-Ahly also have lots of games in hand — they have played five games fewer than Pyramids in second — but are still a point clear.  Their league record has been amazing, with 19 wins, five draws and no defeats in the 24 games so far.

Under Swiss boss Marcel Koller, who replaced Mosimane’s short-lived successor Ricardo Soares in September, the Egyptians have been a winning machine. The league is almost in the bag. Adding the Champions League really will make it a perfect season.

The early stages of the African journey were rough and they only made it through in second, four points behind Mamelodi Sundowns, and ahead of Al-Hilal of Sudan only due to a better head-to-head record. 

The knockout stages have been more comfortable, however. Raja CA, Wydad’s Casablanca neighbors, were defeated 2-0 over two legs in the quarterfinals, while Esperance de Tunis were beaten 4-0. Take away the seven goals conceded in the group stage in two games against Mamelodi, then Al-Ahly have conceded just eight times in 32 league and Champions League games this season. The size of Wydad’s task is there for all to see.

Even after the 1-0 league win over Ceramica Cleopatra on Monday, Koller was still demanding more.

“After scoring, we lost our concentration and neglected defense, and we could have been punished since they got several chances to even the score,” the Swiss boss said. “I am saying it clearly: We need more determination and concentration in the Wydad game. If we repeat the same performance against Ceramica, we will not achieve our target.”

There is a boost for the club, which had been sweating on the fitness of all four goalkeepers, but first choice Mohamed El-Shenawy has recovered from a calf injury.

Al-Ahly may be glad that Wydad squeezed past Mamelodi on away goals in the semifinals, as the South Africans were impressive in the group stages. It also gives a chance for revenge for last year.

Wydad are going for a second successive championship and a fourth in total. That win in May started a great few months for Moroccan football. Not long after Walid Regragui led Wydad to the title, he left to take over the national team. It barely needs to be said again, but at the World Cup he took the Atlas Lions to the last four. Left-back Yahia Attiyah Allah and Yahya Jabrane both played their part in that magical run to the semifinals and will be in action against Al-Ahly.

After winning their group, they eliminated Tanzania’s Simba on penalties and then needed away goals to get past Mamelodi. With four games of the league season remaining, they are fighting for the title with FAR Rabat and are currently just a point behind.

There have been plenty of changes on the sidelines, with three successors to Regragui before Sven Vandenbroeck took over in May. The Belgian, who has extensive experience in Africa, was last seen in charge of Abha in Saudi Arabia, but now has the opportunity to be the first from his country to win the biggest club prize in African club football.

“I don’t feel a huge pressure. It is logical to play for all titles when you take the charge of a team that has a long history of winning trophies,” Vandenbroeck said. “Ahly will be seeking revenge for the last time. So, the most important thing for me is to remain calm and unified as a group.”

After Regragui, Vandenbroeck has big shoes to fill, but there are also unrelenting demands on Al-Ahly to keep winning. It is all set for a fascinating encounter.

Rublev defaulted and defending champ Medvedev knocked out in Dubai semifinals

Updated 51 min 35 sec ago

Rublev defaulted and defending champ Medvedev knocked out in Dubai semifinals

  • Second-seeded Russian yells in the face of a line judge, gets defaulted for unsportsmanlike conduct

DUBAI: Andrey Rublev was defaulted from his semifinal at the Dubai Championships for yelling in the face of a line judge, allowing Alexander Bublik to advance to the final on Friday.
Also, defending champion Daniil Medvedev was knocked out in the other semi by Ugo Humbert 7-5, 6-3.
The second-seeded Rublev erupted after Bublik won a point to take a 6-5 lead in the deciding set.
The Russian, who is ranked No. 5, immediately pointed to the baseline, walked to the line judge, leaned over and shouted in his face.
ATP supervisor Roland Herfel came to the court accompanied by a Russian speaker, who said Rublev swore in his native language.
Rublev responded: “I was talking to him in English.” He insisted he did not use profanity.
But umpire Miriam Bley defaulted Rublev for unsportsmanlike conduct, after which the seventh-seeded Bublik said “I’m OK to continue” with the match.
Bublik won 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-5.
Rublev won the hard-court tournament in 2022 but lost to Medvedev in last year’s final.
The No. 4-ranked Medvedev was undone by Humbert for the third time in four matchups. Humbert was aggressive, and his left-handed serve sent the Russian top seed wide to open up the court.
“I played the perfect match today,” Humbert said.
The Frenchman’s confidence has been high since he won the Marseille title three weeks ago. That was his was fifth career title. He’s never lost a final.
The big-serving Bublik is looking for his fifth singles title. The Kazakh player won Montpellier last month.

Evenepoel, Roglic get Tour de France taste at Paris-Nice

Updated 02 March 2024

Evenepoel, Roglic get Tour de France taste at Paris-Nice

  • Tour de France will conclude with what should be a thrilling individual time-trial along the winding corniche from Monaco to the Riviera city Nice, where Paris-Nice also concludes on March 10
  • Paris-Nice is the first significant stage race of the season and packs all the difficulties of a Grand Tour into eight stages

PARIS: Cycling fans can enjoy a tantalizing peek at how the Tour de France may culminate in July when the Paris-Nice stage race sets off on Sunday toward a finale on the Promenade des Anglais on the Mediterranean seafront.

Due to the Olympic Games being hosted in Paris in July, the conclusion of the Tour de France has been switched away from its traditional Champs Elysees finish line in the French capital.

Instead it will conclude with what should be a thrilling individual time-trial along the winding corniche from Monaco to the Riviera city Nice, where Paris-Nice also concludes on March 10.

Neither Jonas Vingegaard nor Tadej Pogacar, winners of the last four Tour de France races, will be present at Paris-Nice.

But the other members of the so called ‘Fab Four’ fighting for the 2024 Tour title — Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel and Slovenian veteran Primoz Roglic — will be at the start line.

Belgian maverick Evenepoel has not only never raced a Tour de France, he has never even taken part in a stage race in the country.

“It’s a big race for us,” Evenepoel’s sports director Klaas Lodewyck said this week. “We’re aiming high.”

At 34, Roglic is cursed to be forever remembered for surrendering a 90-second Tour de France lead in a gut-wrenching last-gasp meltdown on the Planche des Belle Filles climb back in 2020.

Paris-Nice is the first significant stage race of the season and packs all the difficulties of a Grand Tour into eight stages.

Embarking from the Paris region, the race is affectionately known as the ‘Race to the Sun’.

The forecast predicts a windy stage in the plains south of Paris where the bigger, more powerful cyclists can prosper.

There’s a time trial for those who can maintain high performance over 30km, a medium mountain climb for the slender climbers, at least two finishes for the sprinters, and a chance for daredevils to shine in a thrilling finale out of the mountainous back country to the seafront at Nice.

Sunday’s opening run is largely flat but two late climbs may close the door for the outright fast men such as Fabio Jakobsen and Dylan Groenewegen of the Netherlands and Ireland’s Sam Bennett.

The first two stages will depend on the winds but are likely to offer at least one mass bunch sprint as will stage five.

Stage four takes the peloton over seven climbs through the picture-postcard Beaujolais vineyards.

Roglic and Evenepoel will likely come top two in the team time trial where teams set off together but will be timed individually.

The idea is that teams will deliver Evenepoel and Roglic before splintering as they send their leading contenders up the road near the finish.

The final weekend is likely to be where the race is decided with Saturday featuring a 7km climb at 7.2 percent incline toward a summit finish that favors Roglic.

Sunday’s final short but tough 108km rush toward old Nice favors Evenepoel and finishes with a white knuckle 16km downhill dash to the Promenade des Anglais.



Sunday 3 March 1: Les Mureaux-Les Mureaux, 157.7 km

Monday 4 March, Stage 2: Thoiry-Montargis, 177.6 km

Tuesday 5 March, Stage 3: Auxerre-Auxerre (team time trial), 26.9 km

Wednesday 6 March, Stage 4: Chalon-sur-Saône-Mont Brouilly, 183 km

Thursday 7 March, Stage 5: Saint-Sauveur-de-Montagut- Sisteron, 193.5 km

Friday 8 March, Stage 6: Sisteron-La-Colle-sur-Loup, 198.2 km

Saturday 9 March, Stage 7: Nice-Auron, 173 km

Sunday 10 March, Stage 8: Nice-Nice, 109.3 km

Coleman trumps Lyles, Crouser dominant in World Athletics Indoor Championships

Updated 02 March 2024

Coleman trumps Lyles, Crouser dominant in World Athletics Indoor Championships

  • Coleman led from gun to tape, scorching to victory in 6.41 seconds, the fastest time run over the distance this season
  • Double Olympic champion Ryan Crouser, also a two-time world outdoor gold medallist, improved on the world indoor silver he won in Belgrade two years ago with victory in the shot put

GLASGOW: Noah Lyles’ quest for four global titles this year came unhinged after Christian Coleman outsprinted him for gold in the 60m at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Glasgow on Friday.

Coleman led from gun to tape, scorching to victory in 6.41 seconds, the fastest time run over the distance this season.

It was the world record holder’s second world indoor sprint title after previously winning in 2018.

“You’ve got to put those 10,000 hours in, get the reps in time and time again and analyze, keep getting better at things you don’t do well,” Coleman said about his secret for success.

“I feel just more excited about me being in my prime and having the opportunity ahead of me,” he said of the prospect of competing at the Paris Olympics, having missed out on the Tokyo Games because of a doping ban.

Lyles, who was targeting this race as a springboard to an assault on a treble golden haul at the Paris Olympics this summer, took silver in 6.44sec, with Jamaican Ackeem Blake claiming bronze (6.46).

“I wasn’t happy, but I’m OK with it because it’s 6.44, the second fastest time I’ve ever produced, so I’m never going to be dissatisfied with that,” Lyles said.

“These guys in the 60 really don’t have any chance outdoor! I’m extremely excited for every race to come next.”

Lyles said the indoor season had allowed him to better the worst part of his race, the start, “by drastic numbers so I’m just happy to go back home and apply it to the 100 and 200m.”

“It shows that you aren’t going to run away from away me at the beginning of that race anymore.”

In a good night for the US team, double Olympic champion Ryan Crouser, also a two-time world outdoor gold medallist, improved on the world indoor silver he won in Belgrade two years ago with victory in the shot put.

The American world record holder went out to a dominant 22.77 meters with his fifth effort, New Zealand’s Tom Walsh taking silver with 22.07m and Italy’s Leonardo Fabbri bronze (21.96).

“It’s a great stepping stone toward the Olympics,” Crouser said. “I’m looking forward to outdoors.”

Australian Nicola Olyslagers claimed gold in the women’s high jump, clearing 1.99m for her first global title after Olympic silver and world bronze outdoors.

Defending world indoor and outdoor champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh of Ukraine had to be happy with silver with her best of 1.97m., Slovenia’s Lia Apostolovski taking bronze (1.95).

Finland’s Saga Vanninen went into the 800m, the final event of the five-discipline women’s pentathlon with a nine-point lead over Belgium’s Noor Vidts.

But Vidts finished seven seconds ahead of the Finnish rival in the strength-sapping four-lap finale to defend her title with a combined total of 4,773 points.

Vidts clocked 8.27sec in the 60m hurdles and managed bests of 1.79m in the high jump, 14.26m in the shot put and 6.50m in the long jump.

Vanninen took silver with 4,677pts, with Sofie Dokter of the Netherlands claiming bronze (4,571).

Two of the biggest stars on show in Glasgow, 400m hurdlers Femke Bol and Karsten Warholm both qualified easily for their respective 400m finals scheduled for 2100 and 2110 GMT on Saturday.

Warholm, the world record holder, three-time outdoor champion and Olympic gold medallist in the 400m hurdles, clocked 45.86sec to win his semifinal.

Bol, the two-time world 400m hurdles champion fresh from having broken her own world 400m indoor record of 49.24sec last month, clocked 50.66sec to book her place in the top-six showdown.

Algerian Muay Thai veteran Mehdi Zatout comes out of retirement to win boxing debut at ONE 166

Updated 02 March 2024

Algerian Muay Thai veteran Mehdi Zatout comes out of retirement to win boxing debut at ONE 166

  • The 40-year-old overcame previously undefeated Saudi boxer Zuhayr Al-Qahtani in Qatar

Two years ago, former ISKA and WBC Muay Thai World Champion Mehdi Zatout stood inside the ONE Circle with his family as tears streamed down his face.

He had just been awarded a $50,000 bonus for scoring a knockout in what would be the last fight of his decorated Muay Thai career.

Fast-forward to ONE 166 in Qatar, where the 40-year-old was presented with an opportunity he couldn’t refuse – coming out of retirement to make his boxing debut against the undefeated Zuhayr Al-Qahtani.

Fittingly, Zatout made his walkout to “Gonna Fly Now,” the iconic theme song from Rocky (1976).

In a 147lb catchweight bout of 3x3 minute rounds, Zatout exuded confidence from the outset and used his superior reach.

The Algerian connected with a couple of right hands early in the first round.

Al-Qahtani attempted to get on the inside and go to the body using his jab. Zatout advanced with his hands down and was clipped with a right hook toward the end of the opening stanza, but he had landed cleaner shots overall.

The veteran, who trains out of the Venum Training Camp in Pattaya, dropped Al-Qahtani with a left hook in the second, but the knockdown was not scored due to Zatout’s use of dirty boxing in grabbing the back of the Saudi fighter’s head.

Al-Qahtani landed a right hook upstairs, and with the contest slipping away from him, he was under pressure to pick up the pace. He charged forward with his head ducked low and landed a jab on the inside but was getting countered, with Zatout showing slick movement.

“Diamond Heart” had been showboating throughout the contest. With his hands by his sides, he goaded his opponent, pointing at his chin, willing the Saudi to try and hit him in the third round.

“The Arabian Warrior” was moving in recklessly, and Zatout appeared to mock his wild punches, giving the crowd a big smile as he landed a pair of right hands before flexing his muscles. Zatout was clearly there to entertain and sailed toward the unanimous decision.

This was Al-Qahtani’s first fight since 2019, so ring rust may have been a factor as he endured his first professional loss and slipped to 9-1.

“It was a dream come true,” Zatout told Arab News. “I was thinking all my career that I would love to fight in boxing shoes with a jacket, Rocky music. Like a kid’s dream and it was realized today so it was amazing for me.”

In terms of how the fight went, he said: “I’m not especially happy about myself. I was looking for more domination. More striking. But the opponent was short, going too low and the clinch in boxing was not allowed. But it’s OK, it was a pleasure.”

Despite being 40, Zatout clearly enjoyed himself and hasn’t ruled out another go.

“I called it ‘The Last Dance’ but when you’re not happy about your performance … let’s see. I’m a busy man, but you never know!”

Earlier on the card, Yemen’s Osamah Almarwai was submitted by Cleber Sousa in their ONE Flyweight Submission Grappling match.

Both men went hunting for leg locks in the early stages but trouble came for the ATOS man when the Brazilian began relentlessly attacking Osa’s arm.

“Clandestino” had a couple of armbar attempts before transitioning to the back. From there, he went hunting for the rear-naked choke.

Both men were coming off losses to the champion, Mikey Musumeci, on their ONE debuts, and Sousa looked intent on returning to winning ways.

He continued to pressure and sought a kimura before unleashing another armbar attempt. Danger beckoned for the Saudi-born fighter as his opponent wrapped him up in an inverted triangle choke. The anguish showed on Almarwai’s face as Sousa finally secured the armbar after 5 minutes and 31 seconds.

The South American now has an impressive 54 submissions on his CV, while Osamah slides to 0-2 since arriving in ONE Championship.

In the main event, there was a slice of history for Anatoly Malykhin, who is the only MMA fighter to simultaneously hold three world title belts in a major organization.

The Russian finished Middleweight champion Reinier De Ridder in the second round with a grounded knee, having scored a first-round finish with punches in their first meeting in 2022.

“Sladkiy” was awarded a $50,000 bonus and now adds the Dutchman’s Middleweight belt to his Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight titles. He stands with the distinction of being both undefeated and a triple champ.

Eddie Howe responds to Newcastle United future talk as Julian Nagelsmann links surface

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe reacts. (Reuters)
Updated 02 March 2024

Eddie Howe responds to Newcastle United future talk as Julian Nagelsmann links surface

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has come out fighting after talk of his Newcastle United future in the media linked Germany head coach Julian Nagelsmann with the job.

Howe has come under pressure from a minority of Newcastle fans due to poor performances, an increasingly concerning defensive record and a slide down the Premier League table. The Magpies are currently 10th in the top-flight standings, with likely eight places set to result in European competition qualification for next season.

And that has seen speculation build, particularly in the European press. Reports from Germany suggest current Germany boss Nagelsmann would be interested in replacing Howe, if Newcastle decide a change is in order this summer. That is, at this stage, not thought to be the position of the Magpies’ hierarchy.

Howe said he had seen the Nagelsmann talk and it did not concern him, insisting his future will be defined by his own actions, not those of others.

“Genuinely it doesn’t affect me. I’m here. I’m sitting in the seat. My future will be defined by what I do, no one else,” he said when quizzed on the matter.

“It’s up to me to continually prove myself. I back myself and my ability. I know my qualities. I know what I bring to the job and I have ambitions for the team and the club and I can’t control what people write and what speculation there is in every sense. I don’t try to get involved in it.”

Howe was then asked whether he felt support from the club’s owners. Newcastle are 80 percent owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia; the other 20 percent is split between RB Sports & Media (roughly 14 percent) and Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi (around 6 percent).

The Newcastle boss said: “It’s difficult for me to speak for them, but I have felt a support and an understanding for the season that we have had, and things that have been thrown at us and things that have happened. That’s really important from my side that I do feel that support.

“I’m not going to try and put words in people’s mouths or anything like that, but I think they have seen from afar how difficult this season has been.”

Having won on the road in the cup, it is back to St. James’ Park and the challenge this weekend of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who edged ahead of Newcastle last weekend in the top-flight standings. Victory at the weekend would be Newcastle’s first win at home in all competitions since mid-December, a record which is the antithesis of their form in the 12 months previous to that, where they were near unbeatable on home turf.

Howe said: “We’re not at our fluent best but there is a lot of good. There is some frustration that we’re not quite ourselves, but I think that will come. I have no doubt, once we’re back to full strength, hopefully you’ll see the real Newcastle again.

“The last few games have been frustrating because possibly in the months gone by, they were games that we would have won or found a way to win. For whatever reason they’re games we didn’t win.

“Looking back on those games, it was also important we didn’t lose those games and to have shown the battling and fighting qualities to fight back from losing positions, which is great to see. I'd like to see us, of course, return to our best performances at home.

“I think the environment we've had to play in has been incredible; I have to thank the supporters for that. They haven’t seen us win for a while but they’re still backing us and supporting the players in the time that they’re playing. Hopefully that’ll make the difference.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle's reward for edging past Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup is a last-eight tie at current holders Manchester City.

On hearing the draw, Howe joked: “I was driving at the time and I almost swerved off the road.

“It wasn’t the draw we wanted, that’s for sure. I don’t think any team wants to play Manchester City four times in a season but we’re looking forward to the game. I believe we can beat anybody when we’re at our best. We’ve had three really tight games against them this year.

“When you have time to analyze things and go through it like you do mentally, you realize that to win the FA Cup you’ll probably have to beat Manchester City at some stage in the competition. So that’s been moved forward from our (point of) view and I just think we have to look at it and give everything to try and win. It will be difficult but we can do it.”