Late Wydad strike spoils Al-Ahly CAF Champions League party

Al-Ahly’s South African forward Percy Tau (C) reacts during the first-leg final football match of the CAF Champions League, between Egypt's Al-Ahly and Morocco's Wydad AC, at Cairo International Stadium on June 4, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 05 June 2023
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Late Wydad strike spoils Al-Ahly CAF Champions League party

  • Final is finely balanced ahead of the second leg, with Egyptian giants having a slender advantage

CAIRO: Al-Ahly took a small step toward an 11th continental title with a 2-1 win over Wydad AC in the first leg of the African Champions League final on Sunday but were left wondering what might have been. The Egyptians were looking good with a deserved two-goal lead before the Moroccans hit with a late goal, which means that next week’s second leg is very finely poised.

In this rematch from the 2022 final that went the way of Wydad, a first-half header from Percy Tau and a Kahraba strike on the hour put the Red Giants in control before Saifeddine Bouhra hit back to set things up for next Sunday when there will be a big crowd and a hostile atmosphere in Casablanca.

That was the case with 50,000 fans at Cairo Stadium making an unforgettable atmosphere, Al-Ahly made most of the early running. Perhaps attack was always going to be the best form of defense as despite the pre-match news that Mohamed El-Shenawy had recovered from a calf injury and was set to start, in fact third-choice goalkeeper Mostafa Shobeir came in as the second choice stopper also injured. The stand-in stood out. 

Al-Ahly dominated possession and just before the half-hour, the game seemed to turn the way of the ten-time continental champions as the referee pointed to the spot, judging that that Hussein El Shahat’s free-kick had been handled by Zouheir El Moutaraji but VAR clearly demonstrated that the ball had hit the back of the head of the turning player.

After 38 minutes, there were more calls for a penalty as Al-Ahly claimed that the impressive El Shahat was brought down in the area by Jalal Daoudi but the appeals were waved away.

Until that point, the Moroccans had barely been visible as an attacking force but had shown in the semifinal elimination of Mamelodi Sundowns that they could not be counted out and before the break, Wydad finally started to ask a question or two.

Shortly after the third-choice goalkeeper had the home fans on their feet. Reda Jaadi picked up the ball in space on the right side of the area but Shobeir came out quickly, made himself big and blocked the shot. It was not the first or the last save that the 23-year-old made look easy.

On the stroke of half-time, Al-Ahly got the goal they deserved. El Shahat kept the ball in play on the byline and his cross from the left found Tau unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box and the South African made no mistake and his smart header guided the ball home. 

Wydad came out with a bit more urgency after the break as the game started to open up but found themselves two goals down on the hour. Youssef El Motie, himself the number two goalkeeper for the Moroccans, came far off his line to the right of the area in an attempt to clear a long ball from defense but Shahat got there first. He squared the ball to Kahraba who then had time to pick his spot — high in the Moroccan net — to put the Egyptians firmly in control.

After 68 minutes however, Shobeir was finally beaten by a first-time shot from Yahia Attiyat Allah on the left side of the area but the home fans were relieved to see the ball bounce back from the inside of the post. 

Ten minutes later, Shobier saved again, this time for Mohammed Ounajem as the Moroccans pushed for that away goal that would have changed the whole complexion of the tie. And that is what happened with four minutes remaining. Ayoub El Amloud got to the byline on the right to pull the ball back for Bouhra on the penalty spot and he steered the ball home. The delighted celebrations from the visiting team demonstrated with the goal meant. 

At the end, Al-Ahly left the field as if they had been defeated but it is all to play for in the second leg and it should be a cracker.


Italy, bad weather hand Saudi Arabia’s cricketers first defeat of 2024 in CWC Challenge League playoff

Updated 24 sec ago
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Italy, bad weather hand Saudi Arabia’s cricketers first defeat of 2024 in CWC Challenge League playoff

  • A top-three finish and qualification for the Super Sixes stage of the tournament is still within Saudi Arabia’s grasp

LONDON: Saudi Arabia suffered their first defeat of 2024 on Friday as they fell to Italy in a weather-affected match in the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League playoff in Kuala Lumpur.

The 50-over competition is a step on the qualification route for the World Cup, which is to be held in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2027.

The Greens, who recently won the 20-over ACC Challenger Cup in Thailand as well as a quadrangular T20 series in Bangkok against the hosts, had notched up a win in their first match against Kuwait on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia were chasing a total of 285 for victory after the Italians had notched up 284 runs for the loss of seven wickets from their 50 overs.

South African-born Wayne Madsen high-scored with the bat for Italy, bringing up 103 runs from 92 deliveries.

The Saudi bowling attack shared the load and six players grabbed wickets, while Usman Najeeb ended up with the best figures with two wickets for 40 runs.

Saudi Arabia were hampered by inclement weather, which cut short their innings with just over 12 overs left to bowl.

Despite the best efforts of captain Hisham Shaikh, who scored an unbeaten 60, and lower-order batsman Waji-ul-Hassan, who contributed 43 runs from 38 balls, the Greens were well behind the run-rate when the match fell victim to the weather, and lost the match by 52 runs under the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method.

A top-three finish and qualification for the Super Sixes stage of the tournament is still within Saudi Arabia’s grasp, especially if they can get a positive result in their final group match against Bermuda on Sunday.


Amateur Attieh creates history for Saudi Arabia in professional golf

Updated 10 min 39 sec ago
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Amateur Attieh creates history for Saudi Arabia in professional golf

MUSCAT: Khalid Walid Attieh made history for Saudi Arabia on Friday when he became the first amateur player from the country to make the cut in an elite professional tournament.

The 28-year-old from Riyadh shot a commendable round of one-under par 71 in the second round of the $2 million International Series Oman after an opening 73, and his two-day effort of even-par 144 was enough to qualify for the weekend in the Asian Tour event.

Playing in the last group of the day, Attieh finished with a bogey in near darkness, but that could not dampen his spirit.

“It is a very proud moment for me and a very proud moment for my country,” said Attieh, who qualified for the tournament that features 21 LIV Golf stars by winning last week’s Oman Masters.

“Saudi Arabia has done so much in golf over the past few years and we players have benefitted immensely from it. The best way I can acknowledge and thank Golf Saudi for all the support is by performing well for my country. And that’s why this is extremely satisfying.”

Attieh started the day from the 10th tee and quickly picked up a shot on the par-five 12th hole. However, he gave up that advantage on the other par-five on the back nine, the 16th. That hole was playing one of the toughest throughout the day.

On his back nine, the Saudi National Team member made a birdie on the par-five third and then made a stunning 25-footer downhill putt for his third birdie on the par-three eighth hole. On the ninth, Attieh was slightly distracted by his playing partner taking a long time after a wayward drive, and in failing daylight, he three-putted for a bogey from a long range.

The University of South California graduate, who has his own software business in Saudi Arabia, said: “I’ve been playing well over the last few months. And finally, I got some things rolling my way today and put in a good round, which honestly could have been even lower.

“But I am very happy with my score today. To be able to qualify for the event last week by winning the Oman Masters was very satisfying, but this is even better. I hope to keep the momentum and hopefully, more good rounds are coming on the weekend.”

Attieh, who made a comeback to golf after taking nearly two years off to complete his studies and then focus on setting up his business, said he plans to turn professional soon.

“I also had a small back injury, and I wanted to complete my studies. I started playing again about eight or nine months ago, and I found that I was playing just as good, if not better after my big break. So, I decided to get serious and worked hard on my game. Started working with a mental coach to get stronger mentally, and all of it seems to be paying dividends,” said Attieh.

“I’m very much looking forward to keep on raising the bar for myself and the flag for Saudi. I plan to turn pro soon, maybe by the end of summer this year. I want to try out the Qualifying Schools in both (the) Asian (Tour) and the DP World Tour. It should be (an) exciting few months ahead.”


Peshawar end Multan’s PSL 2024 winning streak by snatching win in last-ball thriller

Updated 41 min 32 sec ago
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Peshawar end Multan’s PSL 2024 winning streak by snatching win in last-ball thriller

  • Sultans faced an early setback when skipper Muhammad Rizwan was dismissed for 0

ISLAMABAD: Peshawar Zalmi ended Multan Sultans’ winning streak in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) tournament on Friday by clinching a five-run victory in a closely fought contest that was decided on the last ball of the match.

Batting first, Zalmi finished with a respectable total of 179/8 at the end of the first 20 overs.

None of Peshawar’s batters were able to score a half-century, with Haseebullah Khan top-scoring with 37 runs from 18 balls while skipper Babar Azam hitting 31 runs off 26 balls.

Rovman Powell scored a quickfire 23 from 11 balls while Luke Wood contributed with 17 runs off 12 deliveries.

Sultan bowlers David Willey, Mohammad Ali and Usama Mir took two wickets each while Shahnawaz Dahani and Abbas Afridi only got one.

When they came to bat, the Sultans faced an early setback when skipper Muhammad Rizwan was dismissed for 0 but opening batter Yasir Khan and Reeza Hendricks contributed with 43 and 28 respectively to give the Sultans some support.

Dawid Malan smashed a 25-ball 52 runs knock but after his dismissal, the Sultans buckled.

Khushdil Shah, Iftikhar Ahmed and Usama Mir failed to hold on to their nerves, scoring only 5, 16, and 12 runs respectively, as Zalmi bowled out Multan for 174 runs on the last ball of the match.

Zalmi’s Arif Yaqoob returned figures of 3/43 while Salman Irshad, Naveen-ul-Haq and Luke Wood finished with figures of 2/39, 2/44 and 2/13 respectively.

“Catches win matches,” the team exclaimed on its social media account after displaying brilliant fielding performance.


’Out of power’ Swiatek stunned by Kalinskaya in Dubai

Updated 23 February 2024
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’Out of power’ Swiatek stunned by Kalinskaya in Dubai

  • Kalinskaya snapped Swiatek’s seven-match winning streak and ended the world number one’s bid for a rare Doha-Dubai title double
  • “I didn’t have power anymore to give even more, which doesn’t happen often,” admitted 22-year-old Swiatek

DUBAI: Iga Swiatek blamed fatigue for her semifinal defeat to Anna Kalinskaya in the Dubai semifinals on Friday, admitting: “I didn’t have power anymore” to up her level during the match.
Kalinskaya snapped Swiatek’s seven-match winning streak and ended the world number one’s bid for a rare Doha-Dubai title double with a commanding 6-4, 6-4 victory.
“I didn’t have power anymore to give even more, which doesn’t happen often,” admitted 22-year-old Swiatek.
“I just felt out of control a little bit because of that. Usually when I tell myself what to do, I can improve my game. Today I was so out of power and tired that I just couldn’t.”
The 40th-ranked Kalinskaya was contesting her first WTA 1000 semifinal, and is into the first tour-level final of her career, where she faces Italian Jasmine Paolini.
Kalinskaya defeated Paolini last month at the Australian Open to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final. They will square off once again on Saturday in another career-defining showdown.
Top seed Swiatek came into the semifinals having won 25 of her last 26 matches and looking to follow up her title run in Doha last week with a first-time triumph in Dubai.
Kalinskaya had to battle through the qualifying rounds and has won seven matches in total this week in the emirate, including three top-10 victories over Jelena Ostapenko, Coco Gauff and now Swiatek.
“She’s a great player. I knew if I didn’t stay calm and I didn’t stay aggressive she is going to destroy me. So that was my plan, to stay aggressive, to move her a lot,” said the 25-year-old Kalinskaya.
From 2-4 down, Kalinskaya won four games in a row to snatch in 53 minutes.
The Russian saved six of seven break points during that set, drawing 11 unforced errors off Swiatek’s racquet.
Swiatek took a toilet break between sets but it didn’t change the momentum as Kalinskaya clinched a fifth consecutive game on a loose forehand from her opponent.
Swiatek threw her racquet in frustration as she lost a sixth game in a row, falling behind 0-2 early in the second set.
Kalinskaya claimed a second break of serve in game seven and served for the match at 5-2 but Swiatek wasn’t ready to fold just yet and put pressure on the Russian by narrowing her deficit.
But even when she was staring down two break points while serving for the match for a second time, Kalinskaya didn’t flinch, saving both and completing a milestone victory on the one-hour 41-minute mark.
Earlier on Center Court, Paolini overcame Romanian big-hitter Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) to reach her first WTA 1000 final and become just the fourth Italian to make it that far at a tournament of this calibre on the women’s tour.
The 28-year-old has pulled off some impressive wins this week in Dubai, knocking out 11th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, former US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, eight seed Maria Sakkari before Friday.
Paolini’s reward is a place in the world’s top-20 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“I’m really happy. It’s something that if somebody would have told me before this week, I wouldn’t believe maybe. But yeah, now I’m in the final, so let’s enjoy,” said Paolini.
On Friday, two breaks of serve were enough for Paolini to take a one-set lead in 41 minutes.
But things got more complicated in the second set as Cirstea kept striking back each time Paolini inched ahead.
Cirstea had come back from 2-6, 1-5 down in her previous round against Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, saving six match points along the way.
When she wiped a 2-4 deficit against Paolini, saved a match point in the 10th game, and served for the second set at 6-5, it looked like Cirstea was on her way to another come-from-behind victory.
Paolini held her nerve though, saving five set points to force a tiebreak, and she closed out the win on her second opportunity in just under two hours.


International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

Updated 23 February 2024
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International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

  • The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week
  • Over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan and abroad are participating this year

ISLAMABAD: The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week, with over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries participating.
The Cholistan Desert in southern Punjab forms part of the Greater Thar Desert, which extends to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Cholistan was once a center for caravan trade, leading to the construction of numerous forts in the medieval period to protect trade routes, of which the Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur is the best-preserved example.
The 19th edition of the desert rally, which spreads over 500 kilometers, started on Tuesday. Drivers from Saudi Arabia, the UK, Afghanistan, Iran, and the US are participating this year, Managing Director of Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) Humaira Akram told state-run APP.
“The women’s category has been made more active,” the official said. “The event will highlight the history and culture of the Cholistan Desert, the historical palaces of Bahawalpur, historical buildings, historical backgrounds, tourism, and culture through beautiful cultural dances in addition to light and sound shows.”
A qualifying round was held in Cholistan on February 22, followed by the first round of prepared cars on February 23, and a stock category race along with a dirt bike race on February 24, followed by a cultural show.
“On February 25, the prepared category race and truck race will take place, followed by the prize distribution ceremony,” Additional Deputy Commissioner Headquarters Sumera Rabani told media.
“The Cholistan Fort will be adorned with beautiful decorations during the Cholistan Rally. The Sports Department will organize competitions including Kabaddi, traditional wrestling, volleyball, and tug of war.”