2034 World Cup in Saudi Arabia marks sporting and cultural power shift to Asia

A general view shows the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah ahead of the Supercoppa Italiana final between Juventus and AC Milan on January 16, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 07 November 2023
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2034 World Cup in Saudi Arabia marks sporting and cultural power shift to Asia

  • The continent had to wait 72 years for its first tournament in Japan and South Korea, and a further 20 for its second in Qatar

For just the third time in the tournament’s existence, the FIFA World Cup is coming to Asia, with Saudi Arabia the only confirmed bidder for the 2034 tournament — marking what appears to be a shifting of international sporting and cultural power to the continent.

Asia had to wait 72 years for its first tournament, held in Japan and South Korea, and then a further 20 for its second. The region, and the Gulf in particular, will have to wait just 12 years for another tournament, after Qatar’s hosting of the event in 2022.

It is a sign of the growing power of Asia, and for Saudi Arabia, in the sphere of global football, it has come in an unexpected rush.

It was just 12 months ago that the Green Falcons, then a relatively unknown quantity on the global stage, were preparing for the most daunting of tasks by taking on Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the opening game.

As the Lusail Stadium’s golden facade shimmered on a typically warm and sunny Doha afternoon, the 80,000 fans inside the arena — evenly split between Argentinean and Saudi Arabian fans — created an atmosphere that had to be experienced to be believed.

The stadium’s foundations were truly tested as first Saleh Al-Shehri, and then Salem Al-Dawsari, produced a stunning one-two punch early in the second half to turn a 0-1 halftime deficit into a 2-1 lead — which they would not relinquish.

Saudi Arabia football was the talk of the world. Back then, even after the euphoric high of that historic victory, few would have believed the transformation that was still coming.

Herve Renard’s side not only opened the eyes of the world to the talent within the Kingdom, but also to the passion for football among Saudi Arabia’s 30-million-plus population, as convoys of fans came across the border to support their team.

The experience of that day will pale in comparison to that of hosting the tournament, and to that end the world is in for a remarkable experience when 2034 rolls around.

It will mean a great deal to Saudi Arabia and the region. It is also a momentous time for Arab football because Morocco co-hosts in 2030.

For all the doomsday predictions ahead of Qatar about a lack of football history and culture — untrue also of Saudi Arabia — those who were fortunate enough to spend time in Doha will talk of a unique and thoroughly enjoyable World Cup experience.

If the World Cup is about showcasing different and unique cultures, then Qatar 2022 certainly did that beautifully. This was a World Cup in the Arab world, by the Arab world.

Walking through Souq Waqif, or along the corniche with the glittering Doha skyline as the backdrop, everywhere you went were flags from all over the Arab world, with fans mingling and celebrating.

It broke down barriers and challenged perceptions. That will again be the case on the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam come 2034.

In fact, 2034 promises to be even bigger and better than Qatar, because by that stage the tournament will have expanded to 48 teams.

Whereas in Qatar nations including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and the UAE were all absent, with the extra slots available, all four nations would fancy their chances of qualifying.

For fans from the rest of Asia, they will get their first chance to have a glimpse of what a World Cup in the Kingdom will be like when Saudi Arabia hosts the 2027 AFC Asian Cup. Remarkably, for a nation that has had such success in the tournament — winning it three times — this will be their first time as hosts.

As Asia emerges from the ravages of COVID-19, there is an enormous opportunity to turbocharge the development of football within the region over the next decade.

As Saudi Arabia looks to play a more leading role in football affairs, both globally and within Asia, there is an opportunity for the continent to benefit from the huge investment that will be forthcoming — much like a rising tide lifts all boats.


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

Updated 02 March 2024
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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.

 

Route

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
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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
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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
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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.”

 


Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race

Updated 02 March 2024
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Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race

  • Mathys Tel’s 35th-minute stunner had canceled out an impressive opener from Freiburg captain Christian Guenter
  • Bayern have now failed to win away from home in four matches dating back to January in both the league and Champions League

FREIBURG, Germany: Bayern Munich were held to a 2-2 draw at Freiburg on Friday, an 87th-minute equalizer from Lucas Hoeler giving leaders Bayer Leverkusen a chance to go 10 points clear.
Mathys Tel’s 35th-minute stunner had canceled out an impressive opener from Freiburg captain Christian Guenter, before Jamal Musiala’s spectacular solo effort looked to have snared the three points for Bayern.
Hoeler however had other ideas, chipping a volley through a crowded Bayern penalty area and past a helpless Manuel Neuer.
Bayern have now failed to win away from home in four matches dating back to January in both the league and Champions League.
Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen can go 10 points clear of the Bavarians with a win against lowly Cologne on Sunday.
Guenter blasted the hosts into the lead after 12 minutes, unleashing a spinning rocket from outside the box and into the bottom right of the goal.
The goal was the Freiburg captain’s first of the season and the club’s only strike from outside the box this campaign.
Not content to allow Guenter to dominate the highlights reel, Tel hit back with a dream goal of his own, curling in a long-range effort on his second league start this season.
With 15 minutes remaining and Bayern dominating possession but failing to carve out clear chances, Musiala dribbled past at least three Freiburg defenders and blasted a low shot into the right corner.
Despite holding the lead Bayern grew passive, dropping deep to defend their goal and hold onto their slender lead.
With just three minutes of regular time remaining, Hoeler held off several Bayern defenders and chipped a volley over Neuer and into the goal, sending the home side into raptures.
The draw spoilt the first day at work for Bayern sporting director Max Eberl, who said during his unveiling this week the side would still push Leverkusen for the title.
The point sees Freiburg finish the night in ninth place in a crowded Bundesliga table, with only five points separating seventh and 15th places.