UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl storm to the top of the table after 3-1 win over Al-Ain

Al-Wasl are top of the UAE Pro League after a 3-1 win over Al-Ain. (UAE Pro League)
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Updated 05 November 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl storm to the top of the table after 3-1 win over Al-Ain

  • Own goal by Abdullah Idrees salvages 1-1 draw for Sharjah against Frank de Boer’s Al-Jazira

DUBAI: A sold-out crowd saw Al-Wasl fire themselves firmly into ADNOC Pro League’s title race in an epic “UAE Classico” with Al-Ain, while promoted Hatta gained their first points of the season at the expense of Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club in an enthralling matchweek seven.

Thursday’s heavyweight offering saw an unfortunate, 91st-minute deflection from full-back Abdullah Idrees loop into his own net to salvage a 1-1 draw for Sharjah at Frank de Boer’s Al-Jazira.

An electric atmosphere was, then, present when UAE forwards Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo — against his former employers — propelled Wasl to top spot with a 3-1 victory against Alfred Schreuder’s Al-Ain.

Mirel Radoi’s Al-Bataeh downed in-form Al-Nasr 2-0 to remain seventh, a landmark trio of own goals featured when Hatta defeated fellow promoted outfit Emirates 4-2, and Uzbekistan midfielder Azizjon Ganiev starred when champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club beat Ittihad Kalba 3-1 to join Wasl on a pace-setting 17 points.

Suhail Al-Noubi’s 72nd-minute effort caused a 1-0 defeat for debutant Khor Fakkan tactician Nebojsa Jovovic at Baniyas, and Argentine starlet Facundo Kruspzky earned a 1-0 triumph for recovering Al-Wahda versus now bottom Ajman.

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

Player of the week: Fabio De Lima (Al-Wasl)

A fitting stage for a performer of De Lima’s limitless abilities.

The 30-year-old’s place among Wasl’s legends, such as lionized World Cup 1990 star Fahad Khamees who helped earn domestic domination in the 1980s and 1990s, has long been his. Another estimable display in the fevered clash against great rivals Al-Ain has, though, further added to the Brazil-born attacker’s standing.

Goal 153 from 200 ADNOC Pro League run-outs — just 22 behind Khamees’ tally — was typically delicious. A pass from exceptional summer recruit Nicolas Gimenez, recently naturalized by the UAE, was forcefully swept into the top corner by a dynamite left boot to make it 1-0 at a raucous Zabeel.

De Lima was then robbed of an assist by a deflected cross for the second, his short-corner routine with enforcer Geronimo Poblete being ended by Moroccan center-back Soufiane Bouftini’s 53rd-minute header.

The forward’s five goals put him equal second in the scoring charts and is one more than new teammate Haris Seferovic, a seasoned international for Switzerland with 93 caps and five selections for major tournaments.

Next summer, De Lima reaches 10 years in Wasl colors. Near misses for trophies were conjured under Rodolfo Arruabarrena at the previous decade’s midway point, but largely he has been the sole shining light amid a dysfunctional squad.

This thoroughly merited victory shows that something different, more tangible, is being built by October’s best coach winner Milos Milojevic. Damage from successive draws versus lowly Khor Fakkan and Ajman has been recompensed.

The 41-year-old claimed last season’s Serbian SuperLiga and Serbian Cup double at Red Star Belgrade. It is early days, but similar success may be recorded in Dubai.

If so, De Lima will continue to be Wasl’s beating heart, recommencing with the restart on Nov. 25 at sixth-placed Jazira after the international break.

Goal of the week: Azizjon Ganiev (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

Ganiev has been an unheralded cog since his recruitment in 2020 from FC Nasaf.

Now in his mid-20s and a regular feature in Srecko Katanec’s improving Uzbekistan, another dimension to the central midfielder’s game is emerging.

This decisive ability was on show during Friday’s hard-fought win at Kalba.

An assist for Mateusao set Shabab Al-Ahli on course for a fourth away victory in five ADNOC Pro League outings. Even better would follow before the hour mark.

From fully 35 yards out, Ganiev’s forceful free-kick flew past helpless home goalkeeper Eisa Houti. His cheeky smile and the joyous celebrations of teammates followed, and he is adding fresh elements to his skill set.

Only two teammates have notched more top-flight minutes this season than him (486). Plus, worries about influential ex-Crystal Palace and Serbia midfielder Luka Milivojevic being unavailable at Kalba were proved to be unfounded.

Ganiev can take his exemplary performance into this month’s opening World Cup 2026 qualifiers versus Turkmenistan and Iran, before resuming domestically against Al-Ain.

 

 

Coach of the week: Fabio Viviani (Hatta)

How Hatta waited for this moment.

Last term’s First Division League Champions stumbled into their opening top-flight campaign since relegation in 2020-21, first under Zeljko Markov and then ex-Kalba and Fujairah supremo Fabio Viviani.

There was joy, however, for the latter from a chaotic contest at Emirates in which fellow AC Milan alumnus, Kazakhstan midfielder Alexander Merkel, proved decisive.

Hatta have flitted between the top two divisions since their first appearance in the ADNOC Pro League.

They had become only the second club since the 2013-14 season to record no points from their opening six matchweeks. But Saturday’s haul took them off the foot of the table and within two points of Emirates in 12th. Hope, belatedly, abounds at Hatta.

 

 

Bento’s UAE reign truly begins

An ADNOC Pro League pause means attention immediately shifts to the UAE side.

Ex-Portugal and South Korea boss Paulo Bento’s faultless start, that has contained three friendly victories, will receive its first real test when World Cup 2026 qualifiers begin with clashes versus Nepal (Nov. 16) and Bahrain (Nov. 21).

Jazira icon Ali Mabkhout’s five ADNOC Pro League strikes reveal a striker in decent shape. Wasl’s De Lima has been outstanding, while the same can be said for Shabab Al-Ahli winger Yahya Al-Ghassani and Jazira center-back Khalifa Al-Hammadi.

The potential of the side must be realized.

A less talented UAE under a less experienced international manager in Arruabarrena lost narrowly to Australia in the fourth round. Increased qualifying places and Bento’s superior CV will mean greater expectation for 2026.


Juventus ordered to pay Ronaldo $10.4 million in back salary

Cristiano Ronaldo was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023. AFP
Updated 18 April 2024
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Juventus ordered to pay Ronaldo $10.4 million in back salary

  • The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023, with $136 million, including $46 million in wages

Rome: Juventus must pay Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo 9.7 million euros ($10.4 million) in back wages for the 2020-21 season, the Italian courts announced on Wednesday.
The Court of Arbitration, to which Ronaldo appealed, “orders Juventus Turin to pay the sum of 9,774,166.66 euros,” plus interest and procedural costs, it stated in its decision.
The sum equates to the difference between the salary actually received by Ronaldo and that which he should have received after tax and other deductions.
Ronaldo, who spent three seasons in Italy with Juventus (2018-21) before joining Manchester United (2021-22) and then the Saudi club Al Nassr, was claiming 19.5 million euros but the arbitration panel reduced that by 50 percent.
Contacted by AFP, Juventus declined to comment, but said it would be issuing a statement “shortly.”
According to the rankings drawn up by the American business magazine Forbes, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was the world’s highest-paid sportsman in 2023, with $136 million, including $46 million in wages.
Juventus, who are listed on the stock exchange, recorded losses of 123.7 million euros in the 2022-23 financial year, which ran to the end of June, it announced in October.
No provision has been made in the accounts of Italian football’s most successful club, currently third in Serie A, for the payment of this wages backlog.


Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit

Updated 18 April 2024
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Marketing as much behind expansion of Asia Cup as merit

  • Non-cricket fans may struggle to comprehend the links between the Asia Challenger Cup, the Asia Premier League and the Asia Cup

MUSCAT: Even to cricket aficionados — sometimes referred to as badgers — the various ways teams can qualify for the world’s major tournaments might appear opaque.

As may the term “badger”. Badgers are known for their tenacity, focus and persistence, qualities which can apply to those who dedicate chunks of their life to the game, its history, statistics, spectating, discussion and administration. This is not a complete list, but it provides a flavor.

A test case for tournament opaqueness is the Asia Cup. Non-badgers can be forgiven if they fail to comprehend the links between the Asia Challenger Cup, the Asia Premier League and the Asia Cup. They all fall under the aegis of the Asia Cricket Council and their existence represents an attempt by the organization to provide a more coherent regime for qualification into the big event — without using the word “qualification.”

The situation was much simpler in 1983, when the ACC was founded with the aim of promoting goodwill between Asian countries. In 1984, the first edition of the Asia Cup was held in Sharjah, where the ACC was based. It was One Day International in format and India won, but then boycotted the 1986 event because of strained relations with Sri Lanka. Strained political relations with India caused Pakistan to boycott it in 1991 event, whilst the 1993 cup was cancelled for the same reasons. Sadly, the ACC’s original aim was sorely tested almost from the outset.

Subsequent tournaments did not fit any regular temporal pattern. It was not until 2009 that the tournament was regularized onto a biennial basis. In 2015, the ACC announced the tournament would be played on rotation between ODI and Twenty20 International formats. Despite the introduction of a group stage to allow a slight expansion in the number of teams, the tournament has normally had only six competitors.

The International Cricket Council’s decision in April 2018 to grant T20I status to all 104 member nations – both men’s and women’s teams - has had far-reaching effects on cricket, including the Asia Cup. The number of countries with teams playing formalized T20 cricket at international level has grown rapidly.

It could be argued that the decision democratized cricket for both men and women. The 50-over ODI format requires a longer commitment and a deeper allocation of resources beyond the means of many of the boards administering cricket. T20 cricket offered a quicker, less resource-intensive route for the teams of associate member countries to test themselves not only amongst their peers, but also against the full members on the pitch. It has become a format for the many, not the few.

However, there remains a huge gulf between funds available to associate members and full members. This situation is exacerbated by the ICC’s decision-making regime which allows very little representation for associates. In the latest, 161st edition of the Wisden Almanack, its editor berates last year’s decision to increase the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s share of ICC’s central funds from 25 to 38.5 percent. It is not as if it needs the funds.

The BCCI argues that, since it brings the lion’s share of revenue into the game, it should be proportionately rewarded. This argument suggests a desire to control other members rather than encourage their development. Wisden’s editor asks: “Is it really beyond the wit of the administrators to distribute cash according to need, not greed?” By way of example, the West Indies cricket board receives just under 5 percent of ICC central funds. No wonder its premier players frequent the game’s franchise leagues.

The views of Wisden’s editor will probably be regarded in cricket’s power circles as a rage against the dying of the light for a previous regime, governed from England. Whilst it is true that regime was as concerned with its own protection as the current one, its idea of spreading the game was somewhat parochial. It is in that context that the ICC’s mission to spread the game should be seen. Now, cricket is not only played internationally in countries which raise the eyebrows of many when the name is mentioned, it is also accompanied by grass roots growth.

Given the recognized closeness between the ICC and the BCCI, whose secretary is also president of the ACC, the motives for restructuring the Asia Cup are worth exploring. If it is accepted that T20I cricket has the potential to provide a more level playing field, at least in terms of recognition of performance to a global standard, then the competitive structures should encourage meritocracy. This does lead to criticism that the breaking of records by associate players dilutes those set by full member players. There was such an example in Oman this week when Nepal’s Dipendra Singh Airee hit six sixes in an over, no mean feat in any standard of cricket.

This achievement will have set off the cricket badgers. One remarkable coincidence is that the umpire at the bowler’s end had also stood on another occasion when six sixes had been struck in an over. The badgers should also reflect on the possibility that the Asia Cup structure made this possible. At the base of the three-tier structure is the Asia Challenger Cup, from which two teams progress to the second tier, the Premier Cup. The winner of that is elevated to the Asia Cup with the full members. The pathway provides every ACC member with a chance to strive for this nirvana.

Yet the structure is not just about merit, it is also about commercial opportunity. Three stand-alone competitions offer the opportunity, it is argued, for each to be marketed separately, thus increasing their commercial potential. The most visible sponsorship at both the Challenger and Premier Cups has been by DafaNews and 1XBet, plus FanCode. This is sponsorship of a highly specific, and in some eyes potentially contentious, nature. Badgers may need to be tenacious in rooting out the relationship between the new Asia Cup structure and its sponsors.

 


Kuwait fall to Vietnam in 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Updated 18 April 2024
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Kuwait fall to Vietnam in 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

  • Uzbekistan beat Malaysia 2-0 in the same group as the first round of matches concludes

DOHA: Vietnam defeated Kuwait 3-1 in the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup as Group D games got underway in Qatar on Wednesday night.

The result meant Vietnam took the early lead in the fourth and final group of the 16-team tournament, with Uzbekistan, who beat Malaysia 2-0, sitting second in the table on goal difference. Kuwait and Malaysia, with zero points, are third and fourth respectively. 

The second round of matches kick off in Group A on Thursday (April 18), with hosts Qatar taking on Jordan and Indonesia facing Australia.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia will return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The competition also serves as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, with the winners of the two semifinals both securing automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a place in Paris, while the fourth-place finishers have a final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Pakistan kick off T20 World Cup 2024 preparations with New Zealand series today

Updated 18 April 2024
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Pakistan kick off T20 World Cup 2024 preparations with New Zealand series today

  • Today’s match to see return of Mohammad Amir, Imad Wasim and Naseem Shah to Pakistan’s national squad
  • Pakistan’s white-ball captain Babar Azam says team eager to express themselves as a unit in today’s match 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan cricket team will kick off their preparations for the ICC World Cup 2024 by taking on New Zealand in the first match of the T20I series against the Black Caps in Rawalpindi today, Thursday. 

Led by experienced all-rounder Michael Bracewell, New Zealand’s cricket team arrived in Pakistan last week to play the five-match T20I series from April 14-28. Rawalpindi will also host matches on Saturday and Sunday, while Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium will be the stage for the remaining two matches next week on Thursday and Saturday.

This will be the third five-match series between the two sides inside a 12-month period. Last year, Pakistan and New Zealand drew the series at two-all in Pakistan, while New Zealand clinched the series 4-1 earlier at their home. 

“This five-match T20I series holds a lot of importance for us as we look forward to preparing for the all-important mega-event,” Pakistan’s white-ball captain Babar Azam said during a news conference on Wednesday. 

“We had a great fitness camp in Kakul and are looking forward to express ourselves as a unit.”

Pakistan have named uncapped Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Irfan Khan and Usman Khan in the 17-player squad. Pacer Mohammad Amir and all-rounder Imad Wasim, who came back from retirement last month. are also back in the national squad. 

The series will also mark fast bowler Naseem Shah’s return to the national squad, who last played for Pakistan in Asia Cup 2023 before suffering a shoulder injury. The injury proved to be a fatal blow for Pakistan, sidelining Shah from the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 and tours of Australia and New Zealand.

Bracewell said he was excited to lead New Zealand on the Pakistan tour, adding that his team was raring to play good cricket against the hosts.

“Pakistan are formidable side at home and we’ll look to put challenges in their backyard,” he said. 

The match is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. 

Squads:

Pakistan — Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Amir, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan and Zaman Khan

New Zealand — Michael Bracewell (captain), Tom Blundell, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Cole McConchie, Jimmy Neesham, Will O’Rourke, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi and Zak Foulkes.


Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

Updated 18 April 2024
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Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

  • Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal
  • Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory

BARCELONA, Spain: Rafael Nadal’s first tournament since January lasted only two matches with the Spaniard losing 7-5, 6-1 to Alex de Minaur at the clay-court Barcelona Open on Wednesday.

Nadal, back from an injury layoff, looked like his old self for brief moments in the second-round match but couldn’t keep up with the 11th-ranked De Minaur.

“The moment I lost the first set, the match was over,” Nadal said. “I can’t play a three-hour match right now. This wasn’t the place for me to give everything I have. We’ll see what happens in Paris. I want to be competitive there, that’s where I have to give it all.”

Nadal is a 14-time winner at the French Open, which begins next month. He said he will try to play at the Madrid Open next week but didn’t fully commit.

“I didn’t want to take any risks,” Nadal said. “The important thing here was to play and I played. To be on the court is great news.”

The 22-time Grand Slam champion had comfortably defeated 62nd-ranked Flavio Cobolli in straight sets in the first round on Tuesday in what was his first competitive match in more than three months.

Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal.

It was only his fifth defeat at the Barcelona Open, a tournament he has won a record 12 times.

“It’s natural that this was probably my last match here,” Nadal said. “I really enjoyed playing here. It was unimaginable to win it 12 times.”

Nadal is returning from yet another injury layoff and hadn’t played since an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in March. Before this week, he had played only three competitive matches this year — all in Brisbane in January — before skipping the Australian Open.

Nadal also withdrew from Monte Carlo, saying he his body wasn’t ready.

The 37-year old Nadal had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 will probably be his last year playing on tour.

BAUTISTA AGUT’S 400TH

Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory.

The 35-year-old Spaniard is the 13th active player with at least 400 ATP Tour wins.

“To me it’s just a number,” Bautista Agut said. “The important thing is that I’ve done great work over these years, that I’ve had a very consistent career, a career that I can feel proud of.”

OTHER RESULTS

Third-seeded Casper Ruud advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Alexandre Muller, while sixth-seeded Ugo Humbert lost 6-4, 6-4 to Dusan Lajovic.

Ninth-seeded Nicolas Jarry lost 7-6 (5), 6-3 to qualifier Marco Trungelliti, and 14th-seeded Jordan Thompson got past Jaume Munar 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.