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.


Leverkusen become first team to complete Bundesliga season unbeaten

Updated 18 May 2024
Follow

Leverkusen become first team to complete Bundesliga season unbeaten

  • Cologne were relegated after a 4-1 loss at Heidenheim
  • Union Berlin scored in stoppage time against Freiburg to win 2-1 and beat the drop

LEVERKUSEN, Germany: Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday became the first team in Bundesliga history to go through an entire season unbeaten after a 2-1 home win against Augsburg extended their undefeated streak in all competitions to 51 games.
Crowned champions for the first time in April, goals from Victor Boniface and Robert Andrich put Leverkusen — who play the Europa League final against Atalanta and the German Cup final this week — on course for victory.
“Totally deserved. It was our goal after winning the title against Bremen. Very proud of the team — very satisfied and very happy,” said Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso.
“We can enjoy it just a little bit — and recover tomorrow.”
Elsewhere on the final day of the league campaign, Cologne were relegated after a 4-1 loss at Heidenheim.
Union Berlin scored in stoppage time against Freiburg to win 2-1 and beat the drop, leapfrogging Bochum who will play a two-legged relegation play-off against second-division Fortuna Duesseldorf after losing 4-1 at Werder Bremen.
Leverkusen took the lead after 12 minutes when Amine Adli forced Augsburg goalkeeper Tomas Koubek into an error, winning possession before squaring for Boniface to tap in from close range.
Midfield star Andrich doubled Leverkusen’s lead, backheeling in a rebound after 27 minutes.
Augsburg teenager Mert Komor pulled one back on his first start for the visitors with a stunning strike on the 62nd-minute mark, but Leverkusen held on to win ahead of what could be a historic week.
At the other end of the table, Union — who were playing in the Champions League against the likes of Real Madrid as recently as December — were locked 1-1 at home to Freiburg in stoppage time and headed for a relegation playoff clash with Duesseldorf.
Union had been reduced to 10 men when Michael Gspurning was red carded with four minutes remaining but won a penalty just into stoppage time.
Kevin Volland missed the spotkick but Janik Haberer was there to turn in the rebound and save Berlin.
Bochum, who looked to have secured top-division football with a 4-3 win at Union Berlin two weeks ago, will now need to beat Duesseldorf in a home and away playoff.
The loser will join relegated Cologne and Darmstadt in the second division.
Serhou Guirassy scored a brace as Stuttgart won 4-0 at home against Borussia Moenchengladbach, leapfrogging Bayern Munich, who lost 4-2 to a Andrej Kramaric-inspired Hoffenheim, into second spot.
Despite being without the injured Harry Kane, Bayern were 2-0 up after just six minutes thanks to goals from Mathys Tel and Alphonso Davies.
Maximilian Beier, selected as part of Germany’s Euros squad on Thursday, cut the deficit two minutes later, capitalizing on an error by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to make it 2-1.
Kramaric then scored three goals in 20 minutes to turn the match on its head.
Bayern finished outside the top two for the first time since 2010-11.
“We made a series of a large, individual mistakes and gave the game away. We brought the opponent into the game, defended absolutely inadequately and gave up a 2-0 lead,” outgoing manager Thomas Tuchel said.
“This has happened to us far too often.”
Borussia Dortmund veteran Marco Reus signed off in impressive style in his last home match, scoring a goal and laying on another in a 4-0 win over Darmstadt.
In Dortmund’s last competitive outing before June’s Champions League final with Real Madrid at Wembley, Reus set up Ian Maatsen for the opener after 30 minutes, then added one of his own from a free kick eight minutes later.
Julian Brandt and Donyell Malen added second-half goals to seal the win.
Eintracht Frankfurt came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at home with RB Leipzig, while Mainz came from behind to win 3-1 at Wolfsburg.


Xavi denies reports that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing him

Updated 18 May 2024
Follow

Xavi denies reports that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing him

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernández on Saturday denied a slew of reports in Spanish media outlets that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing the coach for having said that the club’s poor finances will impede it from competing with Real Madrid.
“The club has transmitted to me that I should stay calm and continue working with the same motivation and commitment. Nothing has changed,” Xavi said at a pregame news conference.
Almost all the questions he faced were about the speculation in Spain’s sports press that club president Joan Laporta was upset with Xavi for having said earlier this week that “the situation is very difficult, above all on the economic level, for us to compete with our top rivals, whether it be Real Madrid or teams in Europe.”
The media reports said Laporta is pondering a replacement for Xavi this summer.
Xavi insisted Saturday that he had heard no such thing from the club.
“I don’t know and I don’t care where that information is coming from. I have the support of the president and Deco, our sports director,” the former Barcelona midfielder said.
Neither Laporta nor the club have made any public statements about the rumors. The club said it had no comment on them when asked by The Associated Press.
Even if it Barcelona keeps Xavi on, it is still an awkward situation for a coach who just three weeks prior had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, Xavi said that he had changed his mind after his players showed him that they believed in the team’s potential and had improved their performances.
Laporta inherited a club mired in debts of more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion), and soccer’s most expensive payroll, when he returned to run the club for a second time in 2021.
A few months later he brought back fan favorite Xavi, who had been coaching in Qatar, to lead a team rebuild following the exit of superstar Lionel Messi.
But with no cash on hand and mounting debts, Laporta had to sell off future television revenues and other club assets, which Laporta dubbed financial “levers,” to sign Robert Lewandowski and other players two seasons ago.
With those reinforcements, Xavi guided Barcelona to the Spanish league title last campaign. But Barcelona has struggled this season and will finish it without any titles.
Xavi’s words earlier this week seemed aimed at curbing the expectations of fans used to the club making significant signings in the summer.
The club’s wages still exceed the salary cap established by the Spanish league and it is more likely to sell players this off-season than bring in new talent.
Barcelona plays Rayo Vallecano on Sunday seeking a win to lock up a second-placed finish in the domestic league and secure a spot in the Spanish Super Cup.


Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season

Updated 18 May 2024
Follow

Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season

  • Roshn Saudi League champions earn 1-1 draw in Riyadh derby on Friday thanks to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s injury-time penalty
  • Al-Nassr manager Luis Castro disputes penalty award and praises players’ performance

Riyadh: Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus saluted the resilience of his players after they preserved the club’s unbeaten domestic season with an injury-time penalty from Aleksandar Mitrovic in their Roshn Saudi League 1-1 draw against Al-Nassr.

A dramatic Riyadh derby exploded into life on Friday night after just 25 seconds when Al-Nassr midfielder Otavio thundered the hosts into the lead from distance at Al-Awwal Park. But Mitrovic ensured the champions remain on course for an invincible 2023/24 league campaign by smashing home a late spot-kick awarded after a VAR check.

In a match in which both sides created chances, both Jesus and Al-Nassr counterpart Luis Castro agreed the hosts enjoyed the better of the first half, and the title winners the second half.

While Al-Hilal could not maintain a remarkable Roshn Saudi League winning run that stretched all the way back to September — 24 games in total — Jesus said the determination shown to earn a point bears all the hallmark of champions.

“I’m very proud of my players,” he said. “They showed great resilience (to keep the unbeaten record). We have a fantastic group of players. I believe in their talents; they believe in my ideas.

“It has been a fantastic season until now. We want to finish as winners and there are three games left: two in the league and one the King’s Cup final. We not only want to be unbeaten in the next two games in the league, but also win the King’s Cup. I don’t think you can have a better season than this in local competitions.”

The penalty kick was awarded deep into injury time when Sadio Mane was deemed to have caught Saud Abdulhamid just inside the penalty area. Spanish referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez pointed to the spot after being called to the screen by the VAR.

Jesus believed Saud was impeded by Mane, but Castro was unhappy that the decision denied his team three points against their Riyadh rivals.

Castro said: “The penalty given to them and scored by them; it wasn’t at all a penalty. There is no injury, there is no foul at all.”

Asked whether the game will influence the upcoming King’s Cup final between the two sides that will round off the season, Castro said: “No, this was one match and that is a different match. We all saw how Al-Hilal celebrated as if they won, but they only drew. That means it was a tough match for them. We had chances to win.”

Twelve points separate champions Al-Hilal and second-placed Al-Nassr in the Saudi Roshn League table.

The previous league derby between the two this season saw Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr 3-0 in December. As well as being unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal also created world football history earlier in the campaign by winning 34 matches in succession across all competitions.


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.