UAE Pro League review: Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Ain lose 100% records

Sharjah forward Sebastian Tagliabue, right, has now scored 181 UAE Pro League goals. (X: @SharjahFC)
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Updated 09 October 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Ain lose 100% records

  • Sharjah and UAE veteran Sebastian Tagliabue moves past 180 ADNOC Pro League goals with brace against Emirates

Prospects for an absorbing ADNOC Pro League title race increased after the fifth round’s rollercoaster action.

Holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club and dethroned champions Al-Ain lost their 100 percent records before the international break. The former required an electric solo effort from Yuri Cesar to hold Frank de Boer’s Al-Jazira to a 1-1 draw, while the latter’s 10 men were sunk by Bosnia midfielder Samir Memisevic’s 71st-minute thunderbolt in resurgent Al-Nasr’s 1-0 win.

UAE veteran Sebastian Tagliabue, meanwhile, moved past 180 ADNOC Pro League goals with a headed brace in Sharjah’s 3-1 victory at Andres Iniesta-less Emirates Club and third-placed Al-Wasl’s tailspin continued after a 1-1 stalemate with lowly Ajman.

Al-Wahda’s disappointing start under Pitso Mosimane continued in a late 2-1 reversal at Baniyas, leaving last term’s third-placed finishers seven points off top spot. Al-Bataeh returned to winning ways by beating strugglers Khor Fakkan 3-1 and promoted Hatta remain pointless after a 2-1 away defeat against Ittihad Kalba.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Sebastian Tagliabue (Sharjah)

Timeless Tagliabue proved there is plenty left in the tank.

The Argentina-born UAE center forward was predicted to quietly roll into richly deserved retirement during a final assignment with Sharjah. Much fanfare had greeted their summer recruitment of Al-Hilal forward Moussa Marega, compared with measured admiration for the 38-year-old’s arrival.

It was Tagliabue, however, who dominated this valuable victory at Emirates. His textbook conversion of two pinpoint Miralem Pjanic crosses gained extra value as they came from a round in which the top four all dropped points.

Tagliabue’s career has been one of immense achievement. Goals 180 and 181 for the UAE top-flight’s all-time second top scorer were identikit, the flicked 10th-minute opener going in off the post and firm second restoring the lead deep into first-half stoppage time.

Fifth-placed Sharjah have been uncertain in the league, but strong in the AFC Champions League. This is a continuation of last season’s mixed bag, which included four trophies but a dispiriting seventh-placed finish.

This result has taken them within four points of Shabab Al-Ahli. Plus, it showed coach Cosmin Olaroiu that he has more viable options in attack than he envisaged.

Sharjah’s title bid last season was undermined by the competition’s sixth-best attack, recording 25 fewer goals than Shabab Al-Ahli. Tagliabue and Marega scoring on Sunday provided hope of brighter — and more bountiful — times ahead.

Goal of the week: Yuri Cesar (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

It takes a special player to bamboozle UAE center-back Khalifa Al-Hammadi.

Former Flamengo youngster Cesar did just that in Saturday’s fascinating battle at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

Shabab Al-Ahli searched for a source of inspiration after Alejandro Pozuelo’s exceptional debut campaign proceeded with his 19th-minute deflected shot. That moved Major League Soccer’s 2020 MVP on to six goal contributions in five top-flight run-outs.

The champions trailed at the break. Their deficit, however, was ended in spectacular fashion in the 48th minute.

A high press under Shabab Al-Ahli’s new boss Marko Nikolic resulted in an uncharacteristically loose pass in the corner from Al-Hammadi. This error would be compounded moments later when Cesar picked up possession just inside the penalty box from ex-Crystal Palace and Serbia midfielder Luka Milivojevic’s shoveled pass.

He stood up Al-Hammadi, the UAE’s youngest player when they made the 2019 AFC Asian Cup’s semi-finals, rolled his foot over the ball at speed, and forced the off-balance defender to the floor. Added joy followed when he nutmegged international goalkeeper Ali Khaseif for an impudent close-range finish.

This was a memorable eighth top-flight strike in 44 run-outs for a contemporary of Real Madrid megastar Vinicius Jr. who has struggled for consistency at Rashid Stadium.

It also came in a contest that showcased Shabab Al-Ahli’s determination not to be pushovers during their title defense, and fourth-placed Jazira’s reinforced steel under De Boer.

Coach of the week: Mirel Radoi (Al-Bataeh)

Timing is everything in football management.

Just as initial murmurs of discontent had grown about Mirel Radoi’s inconsistent opening, they were shushed by Al-Bataeh’s vital victory.

The ex-Romania tactician — who tasted repeat glory as a player at Al-Ain — needed a result against fellow strugglers Khor Fakkan. Friday’s hosts had lost their previous four matches, sinking to 11th in the league and going out 7-1 on aggregate to Al-Ain in ADIB Cup’s opening stage.

A determined Al-Bataeh would, however, blow their opposition away. They dominated the attempts count 19/7 and boasted 59 percent possession.

Alvaro de Oliveira’s penalty, plus tap-ins from Mohammed Al-Hammadi and Cameroon forward Anatole Abang, came in a punishing period either side of halftime.

Radoi can, surely, plan for Oct. 27’s restart against second-bottom Ajman.

Intriguing international stoppage awaits

The ADNOC Pro League has been put on pause for almost three weeks.

But, different domestic and international matters provide plentiful intrigue during the interregnum.

Breaks in action gift space to think and plot for club boards unsettled by disappointing beginnings.

Ajman must search for solutions after an unacceptable slump from sixth in 2022/23, to 13th on two points. Al-Wahda can, rightly, expect to be much higher than 10th and introspection is guaranteed at a bottom-placed Hatta, who have become only the second club since the 2013-14 season to start with five reversals.

Positive momentum, meanwhile, must be maintained by Paulo Bento’s UAE. The ex-South Korea and Portugal tactician opened last month with a 4-1 friendly victory over Keylor Navas’ Costa Rica.

A Dubai training camp contains non-competitive clashes against neighbors Kuwait (Oct. 12) and Lebanon (Oct. 17). Bright Al-Ain prospect Eissa Khalfan, 20, is in the mix.

Essential insights must be gleaned ahead of World Cup 2026 qualifying’s November kick-off and the winter’s Asian Cup.


Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F

Updated 6 sec ago
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Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F

Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F and play later Saturday
Georgians and the Czechs were praised for fighting hard in their opening games

HAMBURG: Georgia and the Czech Republic are desperately seeking a win as they meet in their second game of Euro 2024 in Hamburg.
Kickoff is at 3 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) on Saturday.
Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F and play later Saturday.
Georgians and the Czechs were praised for fighting hard in their opening games but didn't get any points as Türkiye beat Georgia 3-1 and Portugal beat the Czechs 2-1 on a stoppage-time goal from Francisco Conceicao.
A win for either team would boost their chances of qualifying for the knockout rounds. The losing team wouldn't be eliminated for sure just yet because of the rule that some third-place teams can qualify.
A draw would leave Georgia needing an upset win over Portugal in their last game, and the Czech team needing the same against Türkiye.
Meanwhile, Georgian fans were involved in a brawl in the stadium ahead of the Türkiye game.
Georgia’s midfielder Otar Kiteishvili has been on an individual training program separate from the rest of the squad and was an unused substitute in the loss to Türkiye.
Moreover, Czech coach Ivan Hasek played down fitness concerns around captain and midfielder Tomas Soucek, saying he has been in full training. “I think everybody will be ready to start tomorrow,” he said.
Striker Patrik Schick, of Czech Republic, is set to play his 40th game for his country and his next goal will be his 20th. Five of his international goals to date came at the last European Championship.
"Getting out of the group should be the goal, but the most important thing now is to put on a good show. We are still in the development phase and this tournament will help us to become even stronger in the future,” said Georgia’s coach Willy Sagnol.
“I’m not nervous because football has given me everything and hard moments are something that I enjoy...Tomorrow is a great opportunity for me,” said Czech midfielder Antonin Barak.

Michael Phelps returning to NBC broadcast booth for Paris Olympics swimming coverage

Updated 21 June 2024
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Michael Phelps returning to NBC broadcast booth for Paris Olympics swimming coverage

  • Phelps retired after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, having captured more gold medals (23) and total medals (28) than any athlete

INDIANAPOLIS: Michael Phelps will be back in the broadcast booth for the Paris Olympics.
NBCUniversal announced Friday that Phelps will be a part of its coverage team for the second Olympics in a row, following his role at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games in 2021.
Phelps retired after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, having captured more gold medals (23) and total medals (28) than any athlete.
He will offer commentary and analysis on the primetime and daytime shows in Paris on NBC and Peacock. In addition, Phelps will join Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines in the booth for select swimming nights at París La Défense Arena.
Former Olympian Elizabeth Beisel will serve as a correspondent and analyst, with Melissa Stark serving as a reporter at the swimming venue.
“We are excited to have Michael return to our coverage across both daytime and primetime, and of course, the place where no one knows more about winning — at the pool,” said Molly Solomon, the executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production. “With his ability to analyze and entertain, our viewers are in for another gold-medal performance.”
Phelps will actually begin his broadcast duties on Friday, when he joins the coverage of the US Olympic trials in Indianapolis. The meet, which is being broadcast on NBC and Peacock, runs through Sunday.


Olympics- “Islamist terrorism” main concern ahead of Paris Games, city's police chief says

Updated 21 June 2024
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Olympics- “Islamist terrorism” main concern ahead of Paris Games, city's police chief says

PARIS: “Islamist terrorism” is the main security worry ahead of the upcoming Paris Olympics, the French capital’s chief of police Laurent Nunez said on Friday.
France is on its highest level of security alert as the Games approach, with the country additionally preparing for snap legislative elections at the end of June.
French authorities also recently foiled an attack on a sports stadium in another French city.
“Islamist terrorism remains our main concern,” Nunez told a press conference seven weeks before the Olympics opening ceremony, which will be held on and along the River Seine on July 26.
“There is no clear-cut threat yet against the Games and our country but I’d like to remind you that at the end of May, two individuals were arrested in Saint-Etienne and were plotting a project aimed directly at the Olympic Games.
“The terrorist threat remains just as important as the protest threat posed by radical environmental groups, the ultra left and the pro-Palestinian movement,” Nunez said.
Last month, an 18-year-old Chechen man was arrested in the city of Saint-Etienne, suspected of planning an attack in the name of Islamic State at the city’s soccer stadium during the Olympics.


Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024

Updated 21 June 2024
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Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024

  • “In 1990 I was with some friends in Italy at the World Cup there and it was so funny and I said at that time, okay, I will do it again,” Harald Goerz, a Germany fan from Aachen told Reuters

STUTTGART: International rivalries have been put to one side in a campsite in Stuttgart as fans from various nations live in motorhomes next to one another and share the common joy of following their team at Euro 2024.
While the action intensifies on the pitch, the fans are making new friends, sharing drinks and creating a festival atmosphere in a unique holiday that could end next week or next month.
“In 1990 I was with some friends in Italy at the World Cup there and it was so funny and I said at that time, okay, I will do it again,” Harald Goerz, a Germany fan from Aachen told Reuters outside his rented motor home.
“In that time I met my wife, we have been married for 32 years. And last year we had the idea to start this traveling with the German team around Germany to all their games.
“That was ever my dream, I said to her if any time a new European Championship or World Cup is in Germany, then we will do that.”
Harald’s wife Martina, sitting beside him in her Germany jersey, said they would make a photo album of their journey across the country that has taken in Munich and Stuttgart so far and then on to Frankfurt next to show their family.
“We want to have a photo album... for our grandchildren to show them: Look. When I tell our daughter about it, she watches it herself, she lives in Cologne, and she will say: ‘That’s amazing, it’s a shame I couldn’t come with you’. She is crazy about football too.”
Germany have two wins from their opening two matches, the second a 2-0 victory over Hungary at the Stuttgart Arena, which is a five minute walk from the campsite.
However, there was no animosity from Hungarian fans also were camping out.
“It’s amazing. That’s the word... after the game we came here and we just sit in the ‘pub’ and drink with the Scottish fans and they are the best,” Hungary fan Tamas Szucs said, camping with his friend Zsolt Kiraly who he met five years ago and now travels with for international matches.
“We had some German fans here, we said to them well done, good job.
“Everyone is friendly,” he added.

’NO SCOTLAND, NO PARTY’
The Scottish fans are proving to be popular at this tournament with thousands having made the journey. At the Stuttgart campsite, groups made their way separately on the long journey from Scotland but are already one big family.
“We left Glasgow 10 days ago and drove 24 hours solid to get here. And the three guys here, they fell right out the bus. They didn’t stop drinking for 24 hours. 80 cans of beer in 24 hours,” Scotland fan John Gilmour said as his fellow fans cheered and raised fresh bottles of beer.
Scotland were part of the last Euros but that one had COVID restrictions, so for some fans it has been their first real chance to see their team at a European Championship since 1996.
“This was my dream,” said Tony, a Scotland fan who lives in Blackpool, England.
“When I was younger I can remember the football but I was too busy with children. So this time was my dream. I wasn’t missing it. And I brought my son. He was born during Euro 96, so I managed to get him here as well.”
There will be more Scottish arrivals in Stuttgart ahead of their crucial Group A match against Hungary on Sunday, with both teams needing a win to be in with a shout of reaching the next stage.
The chant of “No Scotland, no party” will be heard right across the campsite and the city this weekend.


Pogacar confident in his UAE team to deliver third Tour de France title

Updated 21 June 2024
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Pogacar confident in his UAE team to deliver third Tour de France title

PARIS: Tadej Pogacar believes he has the right team in place to help him fight for a third Tour de France triumph with an eight-rider UAE roster confirmed on Friday.
“It’s already my fifth time coming to the Tour and I’m really excited about it,” said Pogacar, a back-to-back winner in 2020 and 2021 who finished runner-up in the past two editions to Jonas Vingegaard.
“We’ve worked really hard all year as a team to prepare for this. We’ve spent a lot of time together as a group training at altitude and put in a lot of hours in the saddle. We’re in a really good place as a group.”
Pogacar, 25, will also be bidding for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double, last achieved by the late Marco Pantani in 1998, with this year’s Tour starting in Florence on June 29.
The Slovenian will be accompanied by Britain’s Adam Yates, Spaniards Juan Ayuso and Marc Soler, France’s Pavel Sivakov, Portuguese Joao Almeida, Belgian Tim Wellens and Germany’s Nils Politt.
“We know what we have to do to support Tadej,” said Yates, third in last year’s Tour de France.
“We’re aiming for the win and we know if things go our way it’s possible so it’s just a matter of staying focused and pulling together all the way to Nice.”
Ayuso, winner of the Tour of the Basque Country and third in the 2022 Vuelta, and Almeida, third in last year’s Giro, will compete in their first Tour de France.