UAE Pro League: Al-Wasl overcome champions Shabab Al-Ahli to lead table into new year break

Al-Wasl lead the UAE Pro league table by five points going into 2024. (X/@AlWaslSC)
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Updated 25 December 2023
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UAE Pro League: Al-Wasl overcome champions Shabab Al-Ahli to lead table into new year break

  • Al-Ain’s 3-1 win over Al-Bataeh gives Hernan Crespo breathing space, while Ali Mabkhout hits form for Al-Jazira ahead of UAE’s quest for AFC Asian Cup glory

DUBAI: The ADNOC Pro League goes into the winter break and new year with the table leaders having vanquished the reigning champions, and Hernan Crespo gaining further breathing space at Al-Ain.

Caio “Super-sub” Canedo left it late to slot home the decisive goal for Al-Wasl in a determined 2-1, come-from-behind victory at stunned Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club. The strike earned a five-point advantage and catalyzed dreams for a first top-flight crown since 2007 for this storied but success-starved club.

Morocco winger Soufiane Rahimi, meanwhile, served up two second-half assists when second-placed Al-Ain defeated Al-Bataeh 3-1. Error-strewn Al-Wahda presented a trio of festive gifts to hat-trick hero Lourency in grateful Khor Fakkan’s 3-2 win, and fourth-placed Sharjah drew 1-1 with dogged Ajman.

Saturday’s matches contained a pair of last-gasp clinchers. French striker Youssoufou Niakate knocked in a 94th-minute rebound when eighth-placed Baniyas beat inconsistent Ittihad Kalba 2-1, while former Italy center-forward Manolo Gabbiadini netted a 96th-minute penalty kick to earn resurgent Al-Nasr’s 2-1 triumph against managerless basement boys Emirates Club.

UAE icon Ali Mabkhout warmed up for the impending AFC Asian Cup with a goal and assist when fifth-placed Al-Jazira maintained their 100 percent record since Frank de Boer’s exit, courtesy of a 3-1 victory versus second-from-bottom Hatta.

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

Player of the week: Caio Canedo (Al-Wasl)

Returning star Canedo delivered a clincher which exemplified Wasl’s title hunger, plus a celebration which spoke of their collective confidence.

The 33-year-old — back at the Cheetahs after four unfulfilling years at Al-Ain — came off the bench for the 11th time this term in a summit contest delicately poised at 1-1. Strength bundled him past Renan during the 86th minute, prior to calmly dispatching under UAE colleague Hassan Hamza and emotionlessly delivering a Steph Curry-inspired “night, night” sleeping gesture.

UAE football, certainly, slept on the potential in Wasl’s ranks when assessing title contenders in pre-season. But they prevailed at the champions despite star man Fabio De Lima’s suspension, with experienced Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic also netting a 39th-minute leveler.

Just as no one saw Sharjah coming in 2018/2019, each emboldening result increases the chances of history repeating — at another sleeping giant.

Goal of the week: Manolo Gabbiadini (Al-Nasr)

This was a late penalty kick laced with purpose for club and player improving by the week.

Ex-Azzurri striker Gabbiadini was not even meant to spend this season at Al-Maktoum Stadium. Yet, Cedric Bakambu’s swift departure to Galatasaray just 30 days into a two-year contract left a roster spot he was happy to fill, rather than face Serie B at Sampdoria.

The 32-year-old’s fourth goal in four top-flight runouts — and 10th in 15 appearances overall — came from 12 yards and in the last of six additional minutes in second half stoppage time.

It inflicted an eighth-successive defeat on bottom-placed Emirates Club and made it three wins on the spin under Alfred Schreuder. They had only taken one point from the ex-Ajax and Al-Ain tactician’s first two fixtures.

The perennially underperforming Blue Wave appeared poised to battle relegation when the season began with three consecutive reversals. Rare optimism defines their mood as they head into the winter hiatus in ninth, 10 points above the drop zone.

If Schreuder is gifted space to shape the squad in his image from the Jan. 22 transfer window opening, Nasr could enjoy a much brighter second half of the season.

Coach of the week: Nebojsa Jovovic (Khor Fakkan)

Jovovic, surely, cared little about a second yellow card that forced him to watch the game’s fraught final moments from the stand.

All that mattered to October’s hire was the three points. A distressing run of four defeats from five matches now can be rebranded with added gleam as two wins from six games.

Lourency’s treble — all converted from Wahda mistakes — moved Khor Fakkan up from 12th to 10th, a comforting eight points from the drop zone.

The Montenegrin now has foundations to build upon. It would have been a pained winter pause without these three points.

 A long break for club and country

The ADNOC Pro League’s near two-month stoppage does not mean the intrigue halts — not even close.

International matters take precedence when ex-Portugal and South Korea boss Paulo Bento attempts to convert early enthusiasm into a decent go at leading the UAE toward a third Asian Cup semifinal in a row.

An in-form frontline of Fabio De Lima, Caio Canedo, Ali Saleh and Ali Mabkhout boasts 33 top-flight goal contributions this season, plus inherent chemistry through the aforementioned trio’s fine work at pace-setting Wasl.

Jazira center-midfielder Abdullah Ramadan and center-back Khalifa Al-Hammadi bolster the Whites’ spine, while substantial depth is provided by the likes of Shabab Al-Ahli flyer Yahya Al-Ghassani and Sharjah utility man Majid Rashid.

They kick off against Hong Kong on Jan. 14, in Group C.

Precious time, meanwhile, is afforded to fill managerial vacancies at Jazira and Emirates. Wahda have a decision to make about Arno Buitenweg after three wins, two draws and a defeat.

Pressure is also being felt, to varying degrees, by Shabab Al-Ahli’s Marko Nikolic, Al-Ain’s Crespo, Ittihad Kalba’s Farhad Majidi, Khor Fakkan’s Jovovic and Hatta’s Fabio Viviani.

Productive mid-season hires, Nasr’s Schreuder and Ajman’s Daniel Isaila, get an invaluable opportunity to impart their philosophies on the training pitch.

All sides will have their eyes on the month-long transfer window, open until Feb. 21.

The right additions can turn mid-table obscurity into a title push, or prevent a dreaded descent into the First Division League. There is still plenty to play for.


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.


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.


Kimmich header powers Bayern Munich past Arsenal and into Champions League final four

Updated 18 April 2024
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Kimmich header powers Bayern Munich past Arsenal and into Champions League final four

  • Bayern kept alive their hopes of finishing the season with a trophy three days after Bayer Leverkusen ended Bayern’s 11-year reign as German champion
  • Arsenal’s Champions League exit follows a heavy blow to its Premier League title ambitions in a 2-0 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday

MUNICH: Bayern Munich could yet crown a disappointing season with the Champions League title. Arsenal face the prospect of ending a promising season with no trophy.

Joshua Kimmich’s header powered Bayern to a 1-0 win over Arsenal on Wednesday to reach the Champions League semifinals with a 3-2 victory on aggregate.

With the score at 2-2 from the first leg in London, Kimmich’s header off Raphael Guerreiro’s pinpoint cross put Bayern ahead in the 63rd minute as Bayern largely neutralized the English team’s attack.

Arsenal’s players were “gutted,” manager Mikel Arteta told broadcaster TNT Sports. “I cannot find the right words to lift them.”

Bayern kept alive their hopes of finishing the season with a trophy three days after Bayer Leverkusen ended Bayern’s 11-year reign as German champion. Striker Harry Kane — who spoke Tuesday of being motivated by his release from Arsenal as a youth player — takes a step closer to what would be the first trophy of his career.

Tuchel said it meant “really a lot” to beat Arsenal. “The semifinals are an important step, the last four, that was fun,” he told broadcaster DAZN.

Bayern and Arsenal have been drawn together five times in the knockout stages of the Champions League since 2005 and the German team has eliminated Arsenal on each occasion.

Arsenal’s Champions League exit follows a heavy blow to its Premier League title ambitions in a 2-0 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday. Defeat also rules Arsenal out of next year’s Club World Cup in the US, in favor of Austrian team Salzburg.

Arsenal were left to rue the defensive errors that cost the team in the first leg.

“We gave them two goals, a big advantage to give away, and today you could see it was margin of error zero, we made a mistake defending the goal and we conceded,” Arteta said.

“Then it was difficult. We tried in many different ways but it’s difficult. It is the moment to stay next to the players, give them support, because they are the ones who have taken us on this journey.”

Tuchel — who is leaving at the end of the season — becomes a Champions League semifinalist as coach of three different teams, having led Paris Saint-Germain to the 2020 final before winning the competition with Chelsea a year later.

After a first half full of inconclusive midfield battles — Tuchel called it “a chess game” — the contest came to life after the break when Bayern hit the frame of the goal twice in a matter of seconds. Leon Goretzka sent a header against the bar and Guerreiro followed up with a shot that was deflected onto the post.

Arsenal struggled to make any headway against Bayern’s defense and sometimes looked disjointed at the back, especially when defender Takehiro Tomiyasu risked an own goal with a misjudged pass that went behind for a corner.

Kimmich darted into the box unmarked to score the only goal of the game after Guerreiro’s quick footwork on the touchline allowed him to cross past the onrushing Arsenal defender Ben White.

“I got a little lucky that no one seemed to really feel responsible for me,” Kimmich told DAZN.

Arsenal were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position with seconds of stoppage time left to play and opted to take it quickly. That approach yielded only a corner that was easily headed away as the final whistle blew and Bayern’s celebrations began.


Real Madrid exact revenge on Man City to reach Champions League semifinals

Updated 18 April 2024
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Real Madrid exact revenge on Man City to reach Champions League semifinals

  • City had not lost at home in the Champions League since 2018 but the holders were held at bay by a heroic defensive effort by the 14-time European champions
  • City’s defense of the competition came to an end after Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic saw spot-kicks saved by Madrid’s unlikely hero Andriy Lunin

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: Real Madrid exacted revenge on Manchester City to reach the Champions League semifinals 4-3 on penalties after withstanding a barrage at the Etihad on Wednesday.

Rodrygo gave the visitors an early lead before Kevin De Bruyne hit back for the holders to leave the match level at 1-1 on the night and 4-4 on aggregate.

However, City’s defense of the competition came to an end after Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic saw spot-kicks saved by Madrid’s unlikely hero Andriy Lunin.

The Ukrainian, who has deputized this season for the injured Thibaut Courtois, had been at fault for City’s early opener in a thrilling first leg but more than made amends.

City had not lost at home in the Champions League since 2018 but the holders were held at bay by a heroic defensive effort by the 14-time European champions despite having 34 attempts on goal.

Madrid were blown away by an early City blitz in a 4-0 defeat at the Etihad 11 months ago as Pep Guardiola’s men went on to win the competition for the first time.

City also edged a semifinal first leg thriller 4-3 on home soil two years ago only to be stunned by a late Madrid fightback in the return leg.

This time Carlo Ancelotti’s men flipped the script with an assured start that was rewarded in the opening goal.

Jude Bellingham plucked the ball out of the sky with an immaculate touch to set Real roaming down the right.

Vinicius Junior picked out the unmarked Rodrygo and he tapped in the rebound after his first effort was parried by Brazilian international teammate Ederson.

If City were slow to warm to their task they quickly had Madrid penned against the ropes but failed to land a telling blow for 76 minutes.

Erling Haaland failed to score for a fourth consecutive clash between the sides but has rarely come up closer than when his looping header came back off the crossbar and left Bernardo Silva no time to adjust to turn in the rebound.

Lunin was forced to turn behind De Bruyne’s shot from outside the box and the tenacious Antonio Rudiger deflected Jack Grealish’s effort into the side-netting.

The Madrid goalkeeper saved two more from Grealish at the start of the second half before Guardiola sacrificed the England international for the extra pace of Jeremy Doku.

That proved an inspired change as Rudiger failed to deal with a Doku cross and presented the ball perfectly for De Bruyne to smash into the roof of the net 14 minutes from time.

De Bruyne should have turned the tie around single-handedly as he then blazed a glorious chance over.

However, City’s dominance of the ball and territory did serve to sap Madrid’s energy as their lethal counter-attack was largely subdued after the first half.

Guardiola made another big call as Julian Alvarez replaced Haaland for extra-time.

But the Argentine was no more effective at picking holes in the mass ranks of Madrid defense as it was Real who had the best chance of the extra 30 minutes.

Rudiger sliced over with a clear sight of goal after staying forward from a rare Madrid corner.

But the German defender was still to have the decisive say as he slotted in the final penalty of the shootout.


Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

  • The Green Falcons lead Group C on goal difference as Thailand beat Iraq

DOHA: Saudi Arabia kicked off their 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup campaign in style with a 4-2 win over Tajikistan on Tuesday at Khalifa International Stadium in Al-Rayyan.

In the other Group C match, Thailand defeated Iraq 2-0 at Al-Janoub in Al-Wakrah.

The Green Falcons now have three points and lead their group ahead of Thailand on goal difference. Tajikistan and Iraq are third and fourth respectively with zero points.

Saudi Arabia took the lead on seven minutes through Rayane Hamidou, but Tajikistan struck back through Ruslan Khayloev after 23 minutes. Deep into stoppage time at the end of the first period, Saudi regained the advantage thanks to Haitham Asiri.

Saad Al-Shehri’s men looked to have put the game to bed with goals by Ayman Yahya on 55 and 61 minutes, before Rustam Soirov gave Tajikistan a glimmer of hope nine minutes later to make it 4-2.

Earlier in the day, Japan beat China 1-0 in the opening match in Group B at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, before South Korea defeated the UAE team at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.

Saudi Arabia’s next game is against Thailand on Friday. They will then face Iraq on April 22. 

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, which sees 16 nations split into four groups of four, also acts as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

The top two teams from each group progress to the quarterfinals, with the winners of both semifinals automatically qualifying for the Olympics.

The losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winner also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance to secure a place at the Games through a play-off against an African qualifier.