UAE Pro League review: Al-Jazira stumble as Al-Wasl soar

Gimenez at Hatta became the first ADNOC Pro League star rewarded by statisticians SofaScore with a perfect 10-rated display. (X: @AlWaslSC)
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Updated 29 October 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Jazira stumble as Al-Wasl soar

  • Champions Shabab Al-Ahli give up two-goal lead to share points against Al-Nasr

A torrent of goals and drama that featured a shock for Frank de Boer’s high-flying Al-Jazira, plus faultless five-star shows from Al-Wasl and Sharjah, followed ADNOC Pro League’s restart after the international break.

Friday’s matchweek six resumption began with a bang. Nicolas Gimenez and unstoppable UAE forward Fabio De Lima put pointless promoted hosts Hatta to the sword during Al-Wasl’s 5-0 thrashing, while 10-man holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club were pegged back to 3-3 from a 3-1 lead by an Al-Nasr, fueled by Italy forward Manolo Gabbiadini.

Malian youngster Sekou Gassama conjured a sinuous solo strike in Al-Bataeh’s 1-1 draw aganst second-bottom Ajman and Al-Wahda snapped a three-match losing streak in all competitions courtesy of a 2-1 triumph versus Ittihad Kalba.

Shahin Surour was in decisive form on Saturday against boyhood club Al-Jazira when struggling Khor Fakkan stunned their vaunted visitors 4-2 and Sharjah recorded five different scorers in a 5-0 dismantling of Baniyas. The 2021/22 champions Al-Ain returned to top spot with a 3-1 victory against Emirates Club that contained a 10th-minute red card for Bandar Al-Ahbabi, plus Spain icon Andres Iniesta both converting and missing penalty kicks for the opposition.

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

Player of the week: Nicolas Gimenez (Al-Wasl)

A standout performance, for player and club.

Gimenez at Hatta became the first ADNOC Pro League star rewarded by statisticians SofaScore with a perfect 10-rated display. This was earned via two close-range finishes and a laser-guided assist for De Lima’s 89th-minute second.

Al-Wasl had lost momentum prior to this month’s latest stoppage, drawing successive matches versus relegation-threatened Khor Fakkan and Ajman to implode their 100 percent start in frustrating fashion. Signs of life, however, came in the 3-2 victory versus Shabab Al-Ahli in an ADIB Cup quarterfinal, first leg on Oct. 20.

Coveted summer recruit Gimenez — a free agent after three bountiful campaigns at Baniyas — helped himself to two assists on that night and this form was continued in the top flight.

Sharp instincts got him into the penalty box for a pair of first-half tap-ins, representing the playmaker’s opening league goals for his new employers. The best was to come at the death, a fourth ADNOC Pro League assist of the season — to top the individual chart — coming with an incisive, low through-ball from distance perfectly targeted between full-back and centre-back.

Another dimension has been added to second-placed Al-Wasl’s attack by the 27-year-old, who is adept advancing the ball via dribbling or passing. Combinations between himself, De Lima, Switzerland forward Haris Seferovic and “golden boy” Ali Saleh strike fear into every defence in the country.

Recent naturalization for the Argentina-born creator means these skills could be deployed on the international stage with the UAE in the coming years. An exciting prospect.

Goal of the week: Sekou Gassama (Al-Bataeh)

Sometimes, you see a goal which looks like it has been taken straight from a computer game rather than real life.

Malian midfielder Gassama produced such an enlivening highlight in Friday’s 1-1 stalemate with 13th-placed Ajman.

A simple recycling of possession seemed appropriate wide on the right and with four Ajman defenders in close proximity. The 22-year-old had a different, more vivid, picture in his mind.

Gassama’s feint took him past left-back Gianluca Muniz. A breathtaking burst of pace then followed to open up a channel between three Ajman opponents, before another drop of the shoulder dumbfounded another set of markers.

A thunderous low shot would, finally, go in via a deflection on the line — and no one could argue the exhibition of skill and drive had not earned a stroke of luck.

This singular intervention came amid a promising second top-flight campaign for the club only founded in 2012. With ex-Romania boss Mirel Radoi in charge, overseeing outstanding prospects such as Gassama, the future seems bright for Bataeh.

Coach of the week: Gerard Zaragoza (Khor Fakkan)

What a way to sign off from stand-in Gerard Zaragoza, if this proves to be a final match at the helm.

The ex-Shabab Al-Ahli boss was promoted to Khor Fakkan’s top job from assistant last month, upon Abdulaziz Al-Anbari’s exit.

But the club’s top-flight winless run extended to four matches under him. This led to reports via Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper that experienced ex-Ajman supremo Ayman El-Ramady had turned down the permanent post, and a follow-up from local daily Emaratalyoum detailed an imminent arrival for recently departed Al-Ahli Doha tactician Nebojsa Jovovic.

Zaragoza, if true, can step back with head held high. The Spaniard’s now-ninth-placed troops earned 3-0 and 4-1 advantages versus a Jazira outfit stacked with domestic and international talent.

They ceded 73 percent possession in an eventual 4-2 triumph, but were inspired by ex-Jazira starlet Surour during this memorable match.

Is the real Sharjah now standing up?

An ominous performance and result was seen at Sharjah Stadium.

The five-goal unravelling of 11th-placed Baniyas saw Sharjah’s constituent parts move in unison. This comes amid the context of 2022/23’s unprecedented four-goal trophy haul, but a dispiriting and dumbfounding seventh-placed ADNOC Pro League finish.

Fast forward to the present and we see Tunisia magician Firas Ben Larbi — a summer purchase from Ajman — buzzing about in a free role afforded by a loose 4-4-2 formation next to timeless UAE forward Sebastian Tagliabue. Both got on the scoresheet, along with another addition in Al-Hilal’s Moussa Marega.

Sharjah now sit just three points off Al-Ain, while first place is theirs at the halfway point of AFC Champions League’s Group B.

Trophy magnet Cosmin Olaroiu appears to have artfully, and expansively, recalibrated. The question now is whether Asia’s grandest club trophies have moved within range.


Al-Ittihad Club victorious at 2024 West Region Hockey Championship

Al-Ittihad Club celebrate winning the gold medals at the 2024 Saudi Arabia West Region Championship Cup. (Supplied)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Al-Ittihad Club victorious at 2024 West Region Hockey Championship

  • Al-Ittihad clinched the title at the covered sports hall at Al-Ittihad Club in Jeddah, relegating beaten finalists Sakhi to the silver medals
  • The United Thalasserry Sports Club team secured third position in the competition

RIYADH: Al-Ittihad Club picked up the gold medals at the 2024 Saudi Arabia West Region Championship Cup, the Saudi Hockey Federation said on Sunday.

Federation CEO Abdulilah Al-Maimoun presented the cup and gold medals to Al-Ittihad after their victory in the championship, which took place on May 17 and 18.

Al-Ittihad clinched the title at the covered sports hall at Al-Ittihad Club in Jeddah, relegating beaten finalists Sakhi to the silver medals. The United Thalasserry Sports Club team secured third position in the competition.

Individual prizes were also handed out during the championship ceremony. Ahmed Al-Jundi, a standout player from Al-Ittihad team, landed the best player award, while Jeddah Future players Karim Ashraf, best goalkeeper, and Talam Wissam, best young player, were also honored.

The championship was decided by a series of 12 matches, featuring 60 players representing six teams.

Al-Maimoun said the 2024 Saudi Arabia Western Region Championship had achieved the goals the federation aspires to. He indicated that through these competitions, the federation aims to promote field hockey and attract interest in it.

The CEO confirmed the federation’s keenness to continue organizing such championships as a means to promote the game in other cities in the Kingdom.


Usyk beats Fury in Riyadh showdown to become undisputed heavyweight champion

Updated 19 May 2024
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Usyk beats Fury in Riyadh showdown to become undisputed heavyweight champion

  • Joins likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson as undisputed heavyweight champion
  • Britain's Fury says he believes he won fight but lost in scoring, looks forward to a rematch

RIYADH: Oleksandr Usyk beat Tyson Fury by split decision to win the world’s first undisputed heavyweight championship in 25 years on Sunday, an unprecedented feat in boxing’s four-belt era.

Britain’s Fury was the early aggressor but Usyk gradually took charge and the “Gypsy King” was saved by the bell in the ninth round before slumping to his first career defeat.

Ukraine’s Usyk joins the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson as undisputed heavyweight champion, the first since boxing recognized four major belts in the 2000s.

Britain’s Lennox Lewis was the last man to unify the heavyweight belts — three at the time — after beating Evander Holyfield in 1999.

With the win, the still-undefeated former undisputed cruiserweight champion can legitimately claim to be the best of this era, although a rematch expected in October could provide another twist.

“It is a big opportunity for me, for my family, for my country,” said Usyk, 37, who briefly served as a soldier after the Russian invasion.
“It’s a great time, a great day,” he said, adding that he was “ready for a rematch.”
Fury called it a “fantastic fight with Oleksandr.”
“I believe I won that fight, I believe he won a few of the rounds, but I won the majority of them,” he said.
“You know his country is at war, so people are siding with the country at war but make no mistake, I won that fight in my opinion and I will be back.”

Two judges scored it for Usyk by scores of 115-112 and 114-113 while the third gave it to Fury 114-113. The victory extended Usyk’s professional record to 22-0. After his first loss, Fury stands at 34-1-1.
Usyk, who adds Fury’s WBC belt to his IBF, WBA and WBO titles, looks set to go down as one of the greats after dominating at amateur, cruiserweight and now the top division.
A fired-up Fury came running out of his corner to start the fight and the 6ft 9ins man (2.06m) man was quickly into his rhythm, keeping the shorter Usyk back with his jab and playing to the crowd.
Usyk got inside with some quick combinations while Fury landed some heavy body shots. By round four, the Mancunian was taunting his ever-advancing opponent and showboating, guard down.
Usyk called two low shots in round five and got caught with a left hook as Fury continued to look comfortable, landing a telling uppercut in the following round and bobbing and weaving to stay out of range.

But the Ukrainian tagged Fury with two clean lefts in the seventh and landed a punishing hook that dazed the “Gypsy King” in the eighth.
By the next round, a relentless Usyk barrage had Fury in serious trouble and the wobbling, bleeding Mancunian took a standing count before being saved by the bell.

Fury recovered his poise and with the match in the balance heading into the final round, both fighters were finding the target.

Usyk's promoter Alex Krassyuk believed that the Ukrainian was denied a knock-out victory when the referee stepped in as Fury looked about to hit the deck in round nine.
“I believe the referee saved Tyson from a knock-out and stole the ninth-round knock-out, which should have happened,” Krassyuk said.

Wladimir Klitschko was among the legends watching along with Saudi-based football stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, who like boxing are grateful beneficiaries of Saudi Arabia's lavish push into sports.
Riyadh’s newly built, 22,000-capacity Kingdom Arena was packed when Usyk strode out for his ringwalk at 1:30 am (2230 GMT) wearing a green cossack coat and fur hat.

Fury followed, dancing to Barry White and Bonny Tyler’s “Holding out for a Hero” in a green sleeveless jacket and back-to-front baseball cap.
It set the stage for a clash of two fighters with impeccable pedigrees and very different approaches to the sport.
Fury has had a rollercoaster career, with lows including a two-year, backdated drug ban and struggles with alcohol, cocaine and depression.

Fury had shed 15lb from his last outing when, sluggish and out of shape, he was knocked down by ex-MMA fighter Francis Ngannou en route to a split decision in October.
Usyk, by contrast, has been the model of consistency with a career that was always on the rise.
The 37-year-old from Simferopol in Crimea put together an outstanding amateur record, winning European and world titles and Olympic gold in 2012.
After turning pro, he unified the cruiserweight belts in 15 fights before moving up to heavyweight, where he took three belts from Anthony Joshua in 2021 and won their rematch the following year.


Usyk in tears for late father after historic heavyweight win

Updated 19 May 2024
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Usyk in tears for late father after historic heavyweight win

  • Promoter Alex Krassyuk believed that Usyk was denied a knock-out victory when the referee stepped in as Fury looked about to hit the deck in round nine

RIYADH: An emotional Oleksandr Usyk shed tears for his late father after crowning a brilliant career by becoming boxing’s first four-belt undisputed heavyweight world champion on Sunday.

The 37-year-old Ukrainian won a split decision against Britain’s Tyson Fury in Riyadh in the first heavyweight unification fight since 1999.

The former European and world amateur champion, Olympic gold medallist and undisputed cruiserweight champ — still undefeated as a professional — now adds the ultimate boxing crown.

Afterwards Usyk, who needed four stitches to a cut above his right eye, and who was headed to hospital for a scan of his jaw, remembered his father, who died shortly after his Olympic victory in 2012.

“I miss my father,” he said, wiping his tears with his T-shirt. “I know he’s here.”

Usyk has missed children’s birthdays and even the birth of his daughter during his eight-month camp for the Fury fight, originally scheduled for February before the Briton suffered a cut in training.

His promoter Alex Krassyuk believed that Usyk was denied a knock-out victory when the referee stepped in as Fury looked about to hit the deck in round nine.

“I believe the referee saved Tyson from a knock-out and stole the ninth-round knock-out, which should have happened,” Krassyuk said.

But Usyk said: “No knock-out, no problem.”

“I don’t think about it because we had a win.”


Usyk beats Fury in Riyadh ‘Ring Of Fire’ showdown to become undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion

Updated 19 May 2024
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Usyk beats Fury in Riyadh ‘Ring Of Fire’ showdown to become undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion

  • Joins the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson as undisputed heavyweight champion
  • Oleksandr Usyk: ‘It is a big opportunity for me, for my family, for my country’

RIYADH: Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk scored a dramatic split decision win against Tyson Fury to become the first undisputed world heavyweight champion in 25 years, an unprecendented feat in boxing’s four-belt era.

In unifying WBA, WBO, WBC and IBF world titles under his belt, joined the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson as undisputed heavyweight champion, the first since boxing recognized four major belts in the 2000s.

Britain’s Lennox Lewis was the last man to unify the heavyweight belts — three at the time — after beating Evander Holyfield in 1999.

Riyadh’s newly built Kingdom Arena played host to the boxing event, dubbed ‘Ring of Fire’, with a sellout crowd including several sports and entertainment figures in attendance at the 22,000-capacity venue. Wladimir Klitschko was among the legends watching along with Saudi-based football stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, who like boxing are grateful beneficiaries of Saudi Arabia’s lavish push into sports.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Minister of Sports, and Turki bin Abdulmohsen Alalshikh, Chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, were also in attendance.

Tyson Fury came out aggressively but a fired up Usyk gradually took charge and the “Gypsy King” was saved by the bell in the ninth round before slumping to his first career defeat. (AN photo by Abdulrahman bin Shalhoub)

“It is a big opportunity for me, for my family, for my country,” said Usyk, 37, who briefly served as a soldier after the Russian invasion.
“It’s a great time, a great day,” he said, adding that he was “ready for a rematch.”
Fury called it a “fantastic fight with Oleksandr.”
“I believe I won that fight, I believe he won a few of the rounds, but I won the majority of them,” he said.
“You know his country is at war, so people are siding with the country at war but make no mistake, I won that fight in my opinion and I will be back.”

Tyson Fury, left, believes he won most of the rounds against his Ukrainian opponent. (AN photo by Abdulrahman bin Shalhoub)

Caution was evident from the boxers as they exchanged punches in the earlier rounds. As they entered the third round, Tyson Fury attempted to land more hits, countered by Oleksandr Usyk’s clear dodging and significant intervention by the referee to break up an illegal clinch.

Usyk got inside with some quick combinations while Fury landed some heavy body shots. By round four, the Mancunian was taunting his ever-advancing opponent and showboating, guard down.
Usyk called two low shots in round five and got caught with a left hook as Fury continued to look comfortable, landing a telling uppercut in the following round and bobbing and weaving to stay out of range.

The cautious rhythm continued, with Fury having a clear advantage until the eighth round, when Usyk launched a strong attack from the start, buoyed by the supportive cheers from the crowd.

A Usyk barrage had Fury in serious trouble and the wobbling, bleeding Mancunian took a standing count before being saved by the bell.

A fired-up Fury came running out of his corner to start the fight, keeping the shorter Usyk back with his jab. (AN photo by Abdulrahman bin Shalhoub)

Usyk maintained this strength until the 11th round, nearly securing the win in the 10th round when Fury fell, prompting the referee to count before Fury got back up to continue the fight. The final round saw early attempts to secure a win, but the decision of the three judges favored Oleksandr Usyk, with split decision.

Usyk’s promoter Alex Krassyuk believed that the Ukrainian was denied a knock-out victory when the referee stepped in as Fury looked about to hit the deck in round nine.
“I believe the referee saved Tyson from a knock-out and stole the ninth-round knock-out, which should have happened,” Krassyuk said.

Tyson Fury receives medical attention during his fight against Oleksandr Usyk Action. (Action Images via Reuters)

Two judges scored it for Usyk by scores of 115-112 and 114-113 while the third gave it to Fury 114-113. The victory extended Usyk’s professional record to 22-0. After his first loss, Fury stands at 34-1-1.

In the undercard fights, Swedish cruiserweight boxer Robin Siroan Safar kept his unbeaten record by beating former world light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev from Russia

Meanwhile, Ukrainian champion Daniel Lapin secured a victory over boxer Octavio Bodeter, and New Zealand boxer David Nyika convincingly defeated German Michael Seitz to keep his record unblemished as well.

British boxer Isaac Low won the international featherweight belt by defeating Afghan boxer Haseebullah Ahmadi, while British heavyweight Musa Aitoma triumphed over German Anna Amiezensev. German boxer Agit Kabayel also managed to break the winning streak of Cuban Frank Sanchez.

Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk entered the packed Kingdom Arena wearing a green cossack coat and fur hat. (Reuters)

In the lightweight division, British boxer Mark Chamberlain won the World Boxing Council title by defeating Nigerian Joshua wahab.

In the IBF and IBO featherweight championship, British boxer Joe Cordina triumphed over his compatriot Anthony Cacace.

Tyson Fury entered the packed Kingdom Arena full of confidence, not knowing what was in store for him. (Reuters)

Australian boxer Jay Opetaia reclaimed his IBF cruiserweight world title after defeating Latvian Mairis Briedis in a 12-round match, with the decision going in his favor by the judges.

with AFP


Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title

Updated 18 May 2024
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Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title

  • She became the first woman since Serena Williams in 2013 to win at Madrid and Rome in the same season
  • She will next defend her French Open crown later this month

ROME: Iga Swiatek won the Rome Open on Saturday after sweeping aside Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-3 in the final to claim her third Foro Italico title.

World number one Swiatek comfortably prevailed against second-ranked Sabalenka in the last major tournament before she defends her French Open crown.
In front of a packed center court crowd Swiatek won her 12th successive match on clay and became the first woman since Serena Williams in 2013 to win at Madrid and Rome in the same season.
Swiatek will be red-hot favorite to win her fourth title, and third in a row, at Roland Garros which starts later this month after besting Belarusian Sabalenka as she did at the recent Madrid final.
“Another final, another great battle. After Madrid I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, it can always go both ways,” said Swiatek on court.
“We’ll see about that Roland Garros final!“
The Pole took her winning record over Sabalenka to 8-3 in another hugely impressive display from what has been an almost flawless tournament from the four-time Grand Slam champion, who didn’t drop a single set on her way to another championship victory.
Saturday’s match was less dramatic than Madrid’s three-set thriller as Sabalenka, who has won the two most recent Australian Opens, gave herself too much to do.
Swiatek took the opening set in just 36 minutes in a clinical display of tennis against Sabalenka, who has said repeatedly that Rome is her dream tournament to win.
Going into Saturday’s final Swiatek had won 97 percent of her matches in which she went one set ahead since the start of 2022 and Sabalenka didn’t help her cause by wasting seven break points over two games in the second set.
After Swiatek broke Sabalenka’s serve in game seven it was only a matter of time before she closed out the match and championship.
“I would say the first set I didn’t play well at all. I wasn’t, I don’t know, feeling my game well,” Sabalenka told reporters.
“In the second set I just tried to stay a little bit more aggressive... I just tried to put her a little bit under pressure.
“I had couple of opportunities to break her serve. Probably if I would take that opportunity, the match would go differently. I didn’t use it, so it is how it is.”
On Sunday Alexander Zverev bids to win his second Rome title when he faces Nicolas Jarry in the men’s final.
Zverev is in his 11th Masters final, equalling Boris Becker’s record for the most by a German since the series began in 1990.