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)
Short Url
Updated 25 December 2023
Follow

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.


Coach Thomas Tuchel says he’s still leaving after talks on extending Bayern Munich stay fell through

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Coach Thomas Tuchel says he’s still leaving after talks on extending Bayern Munich stay fell through

  • “We found no agreement on further cooperation so the agreement from February remains in force,” he said
  • In the three months since Bayern said Tuchel was leaving, they have tried and failed to sign a series of high-profile replacements

MUNICH: Thomas Tuchel says he is still leaving Bayern Munich after talks on extending his stay at the club fell through.
Bayern said in February that Tuchel would leave at the end of the season, but the coach said Friday that he held talks with the club on a “180-degree turn” that would have seen him stay after all.
“We found no agreement on further cooperation so the agreement from February remains in force,” he said.
In the three months since Bayern said Tuchel was leaving, they have tried and failed to sign a series of high-profile replacements.
Xabi Alonso is staying with Bayer Leverkusen after beating Bayern to the Bundesliga title, Tuchel’s predecessor Julian Nagelsmann signed an extension with the German national team, and Ralf Rangnick remains with Austria.
Bayern are without a trophy this season for the first time since 2012 after losing the Bundesliga title to Bayer Leverkusen, but Tuchel’s team were praised for reaching the Champions League semifinals before a narrow loss to Real Madrid.
There was also a petition from some Bayern fans calling on the club to keep Tuchel.
Strong European performances prompted the club to reach out to him in an attempt to persuade him to stay, the coach said.
“Above all, the feedback after Real Madrid over this last week was the basis to think again about the 180-degree turn, but we didn’t reach any agreement,” he said. “I don’t want to go into the individual points and the motivations behind them. That is behind closed doors and stays that way.”
There was tension last month after Tuchel said he had been insulted by comments from the club’s honorary president Uli Hoeness claiming the coach “doesn’t think he can improve” the team’s young stars.
Tuchel said at the time that Hoeness’ comments were “so far removed from reality” and added: “On the one hand it insults my honor as a coach, because I think we’ve shown as a coaching team for the last 15 years that young players, especially from the academy, always, always, always have a place with us in training and that they have a place on the field with their performances.”
Tuchel is heading into his last game with Bayern at Hoffenheim on Saturday with second place in the Bundesliga on the line. The injury list is as long as ever in a season when he has rarely had his first-choice team available.
Striker Harry Kane is undergoing treatment on a reported back injury, while Leroy Sané, Kim Min-jae, Kingsley Coman, Raphael Guerreiro and Jamal Musiala are also injured and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is unavailable with flu, Tuchel said. Right back Sacha Boey has been granted personal leave.
Bayern’s two-point advantage over third-place Stuttgart and superior goal difference mean that a draw with Hoffenheim — which is seventh and chasing European qualification — should be enough to guarantee second position. Stuttgart host Borussia Moenchengladbach.


FIFA orders legal review of Palestinian call to suspend Israel

FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivers his speech at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

FIFA orders legal review of Palestinian call to suspend Israel

  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says its strikes are targeted at militants

BANKOK: Soccer’s world body FIFA ordered an urgent legal evaluation on Friday of a proposal by the Palestinian Football Association to suspend Israel over the war in Gaza, promising to address it at an extraordinary meeting of its council in July.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino took the decision at an annual Congress in Bangkok, where the PFA president made an emotional plea to delegates to hold a vote to suspend Israel from all club and national competitions, accusing it of multiple breaches of FIFA statutes.
The Palestinian proposal accuses the Israel Football Association of complicity in violations of international law by the Israeli government, discrimination against Arab players, and inclusion in its league of clubs located in Palestinian territory. The IFA rejected that.
The request for sanctions against the IFA comes two years after FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions over its invasion of Ukraine.

HIGHLIGHT

The request for sanctions against the IFA comes two years after FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions over its invasion of Ukraine.

“FIFA cannot afford to remain indifferent to these violations or to the ongoing genocide in Palestine, just as it did not remain indifferent to numerous precedents,” PFA President Jibril Rajoub said.
“How much more must the Palestinian football family suffer for FIFA to act with the same urgency and severity as it did in other cases? Does FIFA consider some wars to be more important than others and some victims to be more significant?“
Since an Oct. 7 cross-border raid by militant group Hamas that Israel says killed more than 1,200 people, the Gaza offensive has left more than 35,000 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says its strikes are targeted at militants.
Rajoub said 193 Palestinian players had been killed, football infrastructure destroyed, its leagues suspended and its national team required to play World Cup qualifiers abroad.

‘Cynical, political and hostile’
The proposal was sent to FIFA in March and added to the Congress agenda with the support of the Algerian, Jordanian, Syrian and Yemeni federations.
The Asian Football Confederation gave its backing on Thursday for action against Israel.
IFA chief Shino Moshe Zuares said the proposal was based on motives and ambitions that “have nothing to do with the spirit of sports or the FIFA value of separating sports from politics.”
“Today, maybe more than ever, I believe that football must be a key element in healing the fractures and the wounds, helping us and everyone to recover,” he told the Congress.
“Yet, once again, we are facing a cynical, political, and hostile attempt by the PFA to harm Israeli football.
“I am holding myself back and will not speak about the true motives out of respect for this institution,” he said.
Infantino expressed extreme shock over the Oct. 7 attacks and the offensives in Gaza and said due to the “obvious sensitivity of the issue,” independent legal experts would be brought in urgently to analyze the Palestinian allegations.
Those findings would be referred to the FIFA Council, its main decision-making body outside of the Congress, to convene an extraordinary meeting in July and take appropriate decisions, he said.

 


Slot confirms he will replace Klopp as Liverpool manager

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Slot confirms he will replace Klopp as Liverpool manager

  • “There hasn’t be an official announcement yet — but I don’t think it will come as news to you that I will be coach there next season,” Slot told reporters.
  • The BBC said last month that Slot’s deal to replace Klopp was worth up to £9.4 million

THE HAGUE: Feyenoord coach Arne Slot confirmed on Friday that he would be replacing Jurgen Klopp as manager of Liverpool next season.
“There hasn’t be an official announcement yet — but I don’t think it will come as news to you that I will be coach there next season,” Slot told reporters.
The BBC said last month that Slot’s deal to replace Klopp was worth up to £9.4 million (10.9 million euros).
“The feeling that I’m leaving here is getting stronger. There are some people you don’t simply just want to shake hands with,” Slot said ahead of his last game at the club.
“At those times, it’s not about whether you have become a champion or won the cup, but more about the appreciation between people,” he added.
Slot moved to Feyenoord in 2021 after impressing in his first managerial role at AZ Alkmaar.
He led the Dutch giants to the inaugural Europa Conference League final at the end of his first season, in which they narrowly lost 1-0 to Jose Mourinho’s Roma.
Slot then delivered just a second league title in 24 years to De Kuip last season before penning a new three-year deal.
“You can see people are genuinely sorry you are leaving,” he said.
“You can say that with words, but when you see it in people’s faces, it affects me quite a lot.”
The Feyenoord club website said a farewell party was being organized at the raucous De Kuip stadium after Slot’s final game, against Excelsior.
Feyenoord have enjoyed a strong season, winning the Dutch Cup and coming second to an all-conquering PSV Eindhoven side with one game remaining.
But Slot has only lost two league games all season and noted: “If we win (on Sunday), we will have 84 points and we will be the second best Feyenoord team in club history.”
Under Slot, Feyenoord have delighted the fans in De Kuip with an attacking brand of football and the 45-year-old won praise from Klopp himself.
“I like the way his team plays football. If he is the one, I like that he wants it,” Klopp told reporters last month.
“It’s the best job in the world, best club in the world. Great job, great team, fantastic people. A really interesting job,” said Klopp.
Liverpool captain and fellow Dutchman Virgil van Dijk has also hailed Slot’s attacking mindset, saying it would suit the philosophy at Anfield.
“I think the way of playing and the philosophy he has, that he could be a Liverpool coach,” said Van Dijk.
A fan of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, Slot was a slick forward as a player with a reputation as an accurate passer of the ball — so much so he has a move named after him.
The Arne Slot Pass is a slight deflection from a forward with his back to goal which splits the defense and releases a winger running off the ball.
Klopp will step down as Liverpool manager at the end of this season after a nine-year reign which brought the Champions League title in 2019 and Premier League trophy a year later.
Initially, Bayer Leverkusen boss and former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso had been the favorite to succeed Klopp.
However, Alonso has committed to staying at Leverkusen after leading them to a first-ever Bundesliga title.


Unbeaten Leverkusen facing three finals in a week, says Alonso

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Unbeaten Leverkusen facing three finals in a week, says Alonso

  • Leverkusen are on a season-long unbeaten run of 50 games, already breaking a 59-year-old UEFA record
  • Alonso’s men face Atalanta in the Europa League final in Dublin on Wednesday, followed by the German Cup final against second-division Kaiserslautern three days later

BERLIN: Unbeaten Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen are facing three finals in one week in their bid for a treble, coach Xabi Alonso said on Friday.
Leverkusen are on a season-long unbeaten run of 50 games, already breaking a 59-year-old UEFA record.
Leverkusen can become the first ‘invincible’ team in Bundesliga history by avoiding defeat at home against Augsburg on Saturday.
Alonso’s men face Atalanta in the Europa League final in Dublin on Wednesday, followed by the German Cup final against second-division Kaiserslautern three days later.
“Tomorrow is our first final,” Alonso said. “We can achieve something historic.
“To stay unbeaten in the Bundesliga — we’ll be the first team and we’ll be a part of history.”
Leverkusen will be presented with the Bundesliga trophy for the first time in their history after Saturday’s match.
Long derided as “Neverkusen” for often finishing second and never winning a top-flight crown, Leverkusen are close to a remarkable treble.
“(We are) not thinking about Wednesday (Europa League final) — we’re thinking about tomorrow and about Augsburg,” Alonso insisted.
The Spaniard, who is in his first full season as a head coach, said his players “don’t have time” to celebrate “too much” on Saturday.
“We can celebrate with our fans, but from Monday we need to be fully focused on our final week.
“They’re professional and I don’t need to tell them. We need to be intelligent.”
Alonso said star midfielder Florian Wirtz, who has not started in the league for five games, had overcome a leg injury and “can start” against Augsburg.
“There are no limitations for tomorrow. He feels much better and doesn’t have any pain.”


Messi napkin that sealed Barcelona move sells for $965,000 at auction

Updated 17 May 2024
Follow

Messi napkin that sealed Barcelona move sells for $965,000 at auction

  • An agreement in principle to sign the-then 13-year-old Messi was written on the napkin almost 25 years ago
  • An undisclosed percentage of the sale price pays administrative fees for the online auction

LONDON: The famous napkin that linked a young Lionel Messi to Barcelona sold for $965,000 on Friday, British auction house Bonhams said.
An agreement in principle to sign the-then 13-year-old Messi was written on the napkin almost 25 years ago at a Barcelona tennis club. A more formal and detailed contract with the club followed soon after.
An undisclosed percentage of the sale price pays administrative fees for the online auction, in what’s called the buyer’s premium.
Bonhams said the auction was on behalf of Horacio Gaggioli, an agent from Messi’s home country of Argentina who was part of the deal.
The contract language, written in blue ink, was intended to reassure the teenager’s father, Jorge Messi, that the deal would go through.
Jorge Messi had threatened to take his son back to Argentina because negotiations with Barcelona had stalled.
The napkin, containing the date Dec. 14, 2000, bears the signatures of Gaggioli, another agent, Josep Maria Minguella and Barcelona’s then-sporting director, Carles Rexach, who met at a tennis club.
Rexach had asked a waiter for paper and was given a blank napkin.
The starting price was 300,000 pounds ($379,000).
Messi spent nearly two decades with Barcelona after arriving from Argentina at 13 to play in their youth squads. He made his first-team debut in 2004 and played 17 seasons with the main squad. He helped the club win every major trophy including the Champions League four times and the Spanish league 10 times.
Messi left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2021. He has since joined Inter Miami.