UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals

Al-Wasl's 4-1 win over Al-Bataeh sees them go five points clear at the top of the UAE Pro League table. (X/@UAEProleague_En)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals

  • Matches involving second-placed Al-Ain and third-placed Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai were postponed until Dec. 20 due to AFC Champions League commitments

Leaders Al-Wasl’s storming campaign continued with an affirmative thrashing of Al-Bataeh and Alfred Schreuder’s Al-Nasr debut finished in frustration during ADNOC Pro League’s truncated matchweek nine.

Ivorian youngster Adama Diallo’s excellent brace helped the unbeaten Cheetahs to a 4-1 victory, adding further veracity to dreams of ending their pained wait for an eighth top-flight trophy since their success in 2006-07.

Al-Wasl now hold a five-point lead, because of AFC Champions League commitments delaying until Dec. 20 second-placed Al-Ain’s match against Khor Fakkan, and third-placed holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club’s trip to continental contenders Sharjah.

A second-half penalty from 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin, meanwhile, saw fourth-placed Al-Wahda earn their 1-1 draw against ex-Al-Ain and Ajax supremo Schreuder’s Nasr. Jamal Maroof’s 97th-minute spot-kick for bottom-placed Hatta curtailed third-bottom Ajman celebrations in their dramatic 1-1 stalemate, while resurgent Iran starlet Mehdi Ghayedi had a hand in all four goals when Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club were beaten 4-2 by Ittihad Kalba.

UAE legend Ali Mabkhout got a brace as Al-Jazira produced a much-needed 4-1 derby beating of neighbours Baniyas.

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

 

Player of the week: Mehdi Ghayedi (Ittihad Kalba)

Ghayedi had gone from Asia’s golden boy, to an unfulfilled afterthought.

The diminutive attacker with magic in his boots appeared to have the world at his feet after becoming AFC Best Young Player of the Year in 2020. A switch to Shabab Al-Ahli in the following summer was meant to take his game to another level, with this pathway having previously helped send exalted compatriot Ali Karimi to Bayern Munich back in 2005.

Ghayedi’s forgettable 2021-22 season was followed by sparks of life returning to his play on loan at former club Esteghlal. These reached full luminescence in a sensational display for latest temporary employers, Kalba, during victory against Emirates.

The now 24-year-old moved onto seven goal contributions in nine league run-outs under former mentor Farhad Majidi, thanks to a well-taken brace. Added influence was supplied by winning penalties ably converted by the superb Daniel Bessa and Andres Vombergar.

Ghayedi featured in June’s inaugural CAFA Nations Cup, but has since been ignored by Iran head coach Amir Ghalenoei. If he can continue to inspire Kalba’s rise up the standings from their current ninth during a packed December, a way back in may be found for the Asian Cup.

 

Goal of the week: Adama Diallo (Al-Wasl)

A star is on the ascendancy at Zabeel Stadium.

Diallo has gone from unheralded youngster, to keeping veteran Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic out of the XI and being tipped for naturalisation by the UAE.

The 21-year-old Ivorian produced a mesmerising double in a dominant victory over dark-horses Bataeh, with the 16th-minute opener especially outstanding.

Slipped behind the midfield by Nicolas Gimenez, there was still 40 yards+ to goal from the left flank. Lightning acceleration allied with tight control took him beyond a trio of retreating Bataeh defenders, before smashing into the near post’s bottom corner.

Diallo — who later delivered a deft Fabio De Lima-esque curled finish — now sits on four strikes in eight ADNOC Pro League run-outs this season, averaging out at one every 92 minutes.

 

Coach of the week: Frank de Boer (Al-Jazira)

Frank de Boer managed to find the release valve, just as pressure began to build toward dangerous levels.

A 4-2 chasing by surging Wasl in matchweek eight left a richly talented Jazira well off the pace in eighth. Their nine-point gap to top spot remains, but impressive victory at Baniyas Stadium provides a superior gloss in fifth.

The Pride of Abu Dhabi lived up to their nickname via a virtuoso display by Mabkhout, moving onto a record-extending 213 goals in 286 top-flight run-outs with a tremendous brace.

Host left-back Joao Victor’s 34th-minute red card ensured 68 percent possession and a shot count of 24/11 favoured the visitors.

That this fine work was supplemented by ex-Fulham star Neeskens Kebano netting his second Jazira goal, a pair of assists from winger Oumar Traore and UAE matchwinner Abdullah Ramadan getting involved at club level speaks volume of the vast potential contained within De Boer’s ranks.

A generous end to 2023 in the league pits the Netherlands great against the current bottom three, in descending order. A perfect, nine-point haul — plus, progress in ADIB Cup’s quarter-finals versus bitter-rivals Wahda — would thrust Jazira right into the trophy mix.

De Boer collected ample silverware when employed as manager at Ajax and Atlanta United, despite a mixed record elsewhere.

This pedigree is unquestionable. So, too, the squad depth at his disposal.

Jazira’s foreign quintet is enviable, while six members of Paulo Bento’s victorious UAE roster hail from there.

Baniyas may have witnessed the start of another trophy charge in De Boer’s intermittently glittering managerial career.

 

Are Al-Wasl the real deal?

These are good times at Wasl.

ADNOC Pro League’s only unbeaten side have taken more points than any other in the last five matches, have triumphed in their last five outings in all competitions and swept the latest “The Best” monthly awards. They have netted six more goals than any other club and boast the joint-third meanest defence.

This form is underpinned by belief head coach Milos Milojevic can replicate in Dubai his prior double-winning campaign at Red Star Belgrade.

Wasl are, though, stung by recent memories. Strong starts under the likes of Juan Antonio Pizzi and Rodolfo Arruabarrena faded into obscurity.

The 21st century has not been kind to this storied club. But, the same was said of Sharjah ahead of 2018/19’s surprise title success.


Beijing half marathon runners stripped of medals after controversial finish

Updated 19 April 2024
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Beijing half marathon runners stripped of medals after controversial finish

  • Race’s bizarre finish saw China’s He Jie cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win

BEIJING: The top three in Sunday’s Beijing half marathon have been stripped of their medals, organizers said, following an investigation into the finish that saw China’s He Jie controversially win.

The race’s bizarre finish saw He cross the line first after the Kenyans Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat, and Dejene Hailu from Ethiopia, seemed to deliberately allow him to win.

Footage of the conclusion to the race went viral.

“Today the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon Organizing Committee issued a decision on the investigation and handling of the men’s race results,” a state media report said on Friday.

It added: “The trophies, medals and bonuses will be recovered.”

The four runners had stuck together throughout the course of just over 13 miles (21 kilometers) around the streets of the Chinese capital.

But He, the 2023 Asian Games marathon gold medallist, won by one second after his supposed rivals appeared to slow down toward the finish and waved him out in front.

All four were “punished” and their results canceled, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Mnangat had told the BBC that the African trio were pacemakers, although their bibs did not say that.

The race investigation said that Mnangat, Keter and Hailu had not been properly registered as pacemakers for He, so their actions on the finish line breached competition rules.

The Chinese Athletics Association said earlier this week they had met, issuing a statement vowing to make improvements to the sport in the country.

Sunday’s incident received significant attention on Chinese social media site Weibo, with some users criticizing what they saw as an “embarrassing” result.

“This will certainly be the most embarrassing championship in He Jie’s career,” one wrote.

“With such a major organizer and such a well-known event, this really pushes sportsmanship to the ground in shame,” the post said.

Long-distance and marathon running has boomed in recent years among China’s middle class, but there have been numerous instances of cheating and poor organization.

In 2018, at a half marathon in the southern city of Shenzhen, 258 runners were found to have cheated, including many who took shortcuts.

Traffic cameras caught them darting through trees to join a different part of the race.

In 2019, a woman was filmed riding a green rental bike in the Xuzhou International Marathon in eastern China.

She was ordered by race officials to dismount the bike, only to get back on again afterwards.


Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

Updated 19 April 2024
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Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

  • South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries, have not faced off in Test since 2007
  • They play only occasionally in shorter versions of game usually on neutral territory 

NEW DELHI: India captain Rohit Sharma has thrown his support behind any resumption of Test cricket against arch-rivals Pakistan, saying it would be “awesome.”
The South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Their cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game and usually on neutral territory in international tournaments.
Rohit appeared Thursday on a YouTube chat show hosted by former captains Adam Gilchrist of Australia and Michael Vaughan of England.
Asked by Vaughan if playing Pakistan in a Test series would be beneficial for the five-day game, Rohit said: “I totally believe that.”
“They are a good team, superb bowling line-up, good contest. Especially if you play in overseas conditions, that will be awesome,” added the 36-year-old.
“I would love to. It would be a great contest between two sides... so why not?“
Australia has said it would be prepared to host a series between the rivals.
India and Pakistan have not faced each other on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012.
India last year refused to travel to Pakistan for the white-ball Asia Cup, prompting part of the tournament to be staged in Sri Lanka.
They last met at the 50-over World Cup in India in October.


Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Updated 19 April 2024
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Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

  • A last-gasp 2-1 win leaves the hosts on six points from two matches in Group A of the tournament

DOHA: A stoppage time winner saw hosts Qatar defeat Jordan 2-1 on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Qatar took the lead through Abdulla Al-Yazidi on 40 minutes, but Jordan equalized seven minutes into the second half thanks to Aref Al-Haj’s spot kick.

The match looked to be heading for a draw when Mohamed Al-Manai scored 14 minutes into stoppage time to break Jordanian hearts. The win Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan made Qatar the first team to secure a spot in the last eight.

Qatar now sit top of Group A with a maximum six points from two matches. Earlier in the day, Indonesia beat Australia 1-0 at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha and are currently second in the table with three points. Jordan and Australia are third and fourth respectively with one point apiece.

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

The U23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, is also a route to this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

The competition sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of both semifinals automatically qualify for the Olympics, regardless who wins the final.

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


Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Updated 19 April 2024
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Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

  • She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events
  • Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury

THE WOODLANDS, Texas: Nelly Korda, who is looking to tie an LPGA Tour record with her fifth straight win, shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Chevron Championship, leaving her two shots behind leader Lauren Coughlin in the year’s first major.

Coughlin shot a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Carlton Woods, which is hosting the event for the second time.

The top-ranked Korda is seeking her second major after winning the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021. She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events.

Korda said she was battling fatigue from recent tournaments at the beginning of her round. She bogeyed her first hole, the par-4 10th.

“I (could) definitely still feel maybe a little bit of tiredness, so it took me a while to get going,” she said. “I felt the nerves definitely at the start of the round. Once I made the turn, I was just playing free golf.”

She made her first birdie on the par-4 14th hole, something she half-jokingly credited to a snack.

“I actually had an apple on 13, and that gave me actually a nice boost,” she said. “I felt a lot better after that. Maybe I should have apples more often.”

The 25-year-old finished with six birdies, including four in the final six holes.

“Two of them were par 5s, so I got to take advantage of that with my length,” she said. “Hit a really good tee shot, and then I was just on the front of the green on 17, and the other one I was just on the fringe, too. I two-putted pretty much for birdie on those. Then I had wedge shots in on the other two, too. Taking advantage of my length and hitting good tee shots.”

Marina Alex and Japan’s Minami Katsu also shot 68. Lydia Ko was one of five players at 69.

The 31-year-old Coughlin, who played in college at Virginia and has never won on the LPGA Tour, made three birdies in a four-hole span from Nos. 2-5. She believes her game has benefited from her recent decision to make husband John Pond her full-time caddie.

“He’s really good at talking through everything when I want to get really fast and make a decision really quickly,” Coughlin said. “He is really good at putting all the work in, all the extra work, all the extra walking ... making sure the strategy is really good and double checking everything. But ... he’s always been really good with how he talks to me and communicates what he thinks I need to do and how I need to do it.”

Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury. She issued a statement on Instagram saying she had “severe discomfort” in her back during warmups.

“I have been dealing with a back injury for a while now,” Vu said in the statement. “Some days are better than others, and today was unfortunately not a good day. During my normal warmup routine, I had severe discomfort in my back and I felt that I could not compete up to my standards and made the decision to withdraw from the tournament ahead of my tee time.”

She added that she was returning home to see her doctors and determine the next steps.

Later in the day, last year’s runner-up Angel Yin withdrew because of an injury after shooting 78.

A win by Ko would put her in the LPGA Hall of Fame. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January for her 20th LPGA title.

The 26-year-old New Zealander admitted that she still gets nervous before tournaments despite all her experience and success.

“It doesn’t matter what event we’re playing or what circumstances, when you’re younger you want to get away from the nerves,” Ko said. “To some extent as long as you can control it the nerves are good for you and you’re able to excel and get the adrenaline to hit some shots that you may not be able to execute when you’re just practicing.”


Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Updated 19 April 2024
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Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

  • The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals
  • Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

BERLIN: World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinals of the WTA Stuttgart clay court tournament by beating Elize Mertens in straight sets on Thursday, her ninth win in nine career matches at the French Open warm-up event.

Swiatek beat the unseeded Belgian 6-3, 6-4 to maintain her bid to capture a third successive title in the German city and be handed the keys to a third luxury car from the sponsors after also winning the tournament in 2022.

“There’s always space for a Porsche. If not, we’ll make it. I’ll build an underground garage,” said Swiatek after playing her first clay-court match since lifting the French Open title last June.

The Pole burst out of the blocks to set up a 5-1 lead in the first set, before going 0-30 down but recovering to serve out the set.

Swiatek was broken early in the second but served her way back into the set, winning with a forehand on her fourth match point after Mertens had saved the previous three.

“This is not an easy tournament. Everyone is really motivated to win that car,” Swiatek added.

The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals.

Raducanu, who helped Britain qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup finals last weekend, took down Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-0, 7-5.

It will be a first quarterfinal appearance for Raducanu in 19 months. She has been plagued by a raft of injuries since her 2021 Grand Slam breakthrough and missed much of last season.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

World No. 27 Kostyuk will face US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday for a place in the semifinals.

Elena Rybakina beat Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4, continuing her strong form in 2024.

The Kazakh world No. 4, who has already claimed titles at Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this year, beat the Russian in two hours 33 minutes.

“I know I have my weapon, my serve. I know I can always serve it out in tough moments. Not always, but this is a strength,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina will be playing in her seventh quarterfinal of the season on Friday where she will face Jasmine Paolini who put out Ons Jabeur 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in her last 16 clash.