Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal chances hinge on beating Nepal after Qatar loss

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Tuesday saw the crunch match between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Group A of the ACC Men's Premier Cup. (X/@ACCMedia1)
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Tuesday saw the crunch match between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Group A of the ACC Men's Premier Cup. (X/@ACCMedia1)
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Tuesday saw the crunch match between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Group A of the ACC Men's Premier Cup. (X/@ACCMedia1)
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Tuesday saw the crunch match between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Group A of the ACC Men's Premier Cup. (X/@ACCMedia1)
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Updated 16 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal chances hinge on beating Nepal after Qatar loss

  • Victory for Saudi Arabia would most probably have mean progression to the semifinals and a shot at glory

AL-AMARAT: The day dawned in cloudy fashion but with no rain. Only two matches were scheduled for day five, both on Turf One. The first was a crunch match between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Group A. Both teams were on two points, Saudi from two matches played and Qatar from three.

Victory for Qatar would move them into second place with a chance of reaching the semifinals. Victory for Saudi would most probably mean progression to the semifinals. There was much at stake.

Saudi chose to bowl first. Qatar got away to a quick start: 14 from the first over and 36 in four overs before the first wicket fell. The last ball of the ninth over brought a third wicket for 59, a situation with which Saudi would not have been unhappy.

They were less happy in the 11th over when they thought they had claimed a catch at long-on only for the delivery to be ruled a no-ball. Then, in the same over, an appeal for a run out was rejected.

After these two critical incidents, Mohammad Tanveer and Mohammad Jabir consolidated the innings until Tanveer was run out for 43 on 134 in the 17th over. In a desperate search for more runs, Qatar’s lower order swung the bat, wickets falling regularly until the innings closed on 153 for nine.

If this target looked achievable, it soon became a mountain to climb. Left-arm quick bowler Amir Farooq induced prolific opener Abdul Waheed to edge to the wicket keeper off the first ball of the innings.

Worse followed for Saudi in the second over when Faisal Khan was bowled by Gayan Munaweera. Saudi’s batsmen were at sea against two quick left-arm bowlers, the ball hitting the pads with regularity: A sign that the bowler is too quick for the batsman.

It was not a surprise when Usman Khalid was bowled by Munaweera in the fourth over, the score 16 for three. Munaweera was replaced for the sixth over by Jabir. If this seemed a surprise, the decision was justified when Jabir’s first ball had Manan Ali leg before wicket, sparking scenes of wild celebration.

At 18 for four, Saudi’s response was in tatters. The battle between bat and ball had been fascinating to watch. It did not relent and the normal fluency of Saudi’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, was disrupted.

In the seven overs after the last dismissal the Saudi batsmen scored only 43 runs as they sought to rebuild the innings. As soon as Shaikh sought to accelerate in the 14th over, he was out.

At 69 for five, the innings looked beyond repair. However, Kashif Abbas hit two sixes to give hope before aiming to hit one too many. Waji Ul Hassan continued the trend so well that 35 runs were required from the final two overs.

It was not to be, as Hassan perished in trying to clear the boundary once more. The remaining batsmen could not force the pace against Munaweera, the innings closing on 138 for eight, 15 runs short, much to the disappointment of the Saudi contingent.

It had been a brave rearguard effort, but the real damage had been done in losing the first four wickets so cheaply.

Qatar climbed into second place on four points, leaving Saudi, Malaysia and Hong Kong on two points each. Saudi does have a superior run rate, but to make use of this, the side must beat Nepal in their final game — a tall order.

Malaysia and Hong Kong will play each other, the winner will end on four points, with net run rate likely to be a determining factor in deciding who finishes second.

In Group B, Bahrain beat Cambodia by seven wickets to claim their first victory, leaving Cambodia without a point, a situation which may not change given they play the UAE on day six.

All eyes will be on the match between Kuwait and Oman, a match the former must win to progress. Kuwait sits in second place, ahead of the UAE by virtue of a superior net run rate. The UAE are favorites to progress to the semifinal.


Xavi says Barcelona president will have to explain why he won't continue as coach

Updated 11 sec ago
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Xavi says Barcelona president will have to explain why he won't continue as coach

“These have obviously been tough days, but my conscience is clear,” head coach Xavi said
The 44-year-old said that he will now “take a break” from coaching

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernández said Saturday that he is leaving Barcelona with “a clear conscience” that he did his best after the club decided to part ways with the former player, but that it will be up to president Joan Laporta to explain why he is going.
“These have obviously been tough days, but my conscience is clear,” head coach Xavi said.
“I have been here two-and-a-half years. It has not been easy. But I think that we can feel proud of the work we have done.”
In his first news conference since Barcelona announced on Friday that Xavi would not finish the final year of his contract, the 44-year-old said that he will now “take a break” from coaching.
His last game in charge will be at Sevilla on Sunday.
Xavi’s departure comes just one month after he had walked back a previous decision he made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, he said that he had changed his mind because the team was playing better, and he believed it could bounce back from a trophy-less campaign.
Laporta had publicly celebrated Xavi’s commitment to stay at that time. But last week the president was reportedly displeased when the head coach spoke openly about how the club’s poor finances would impede them from competing with fierce rival Real Madrid.
Neither Laporta nor any club official has said why they wanted Xavi to leave, and the head coach did not shed any light on the circumstances of his exit either.
“The president told me his reasons for why he thinks the club needs a change, and I can only respect that. I am a club man,” Xavi said. “We shook hands, hugged and wished one another the best. From now on I will be just another fan.
“He will have to explain his motives.”
Xavi’s only previous coaching job was at a Qatari club before Laporta brought him back to take over at Barcelona in November 2021. He led the team to the Spanish league title last year, their first major trophy since Lionel Messi left, and signed a one-year contract extension in September.
But Barcelona struggled to compete this campaign and they will finish the league a distant second to champion Madrid.
Spanish and German media speculated that former Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick would become Xavi’s replacement.
Whoever arrives will inherit a team with young talents Lamine Yamal, Pau Cubarsí and the injured Gavi Páez but with very limited financial resources to sign new players.

Former Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney appointed Plymouth manager

Updated 25 May 2024
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Former Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney appointed Plymouth manager

  • Move to Argyle is the fourth managerial role of Rooney’s coaching career
  • Former football star was sacked after just 83 days in charge of Birmingham earlier this year

LONDON: Former England and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney was appointed as the new manager of Championship side Plymouth on Saturday.
A move to Argyle is the fourth managerial role of Rooney’s coaching career, which has so far failed to live up to his stellar playing days.
“Taking this role at Plymouth Argyle feels like the perfect next step in my career,” said Rooney in a club statement.
“This is an opportunity to be part of an exciting project. I look forward to helping to build a squad of players to play expansive football — and to entertain the Green Army.”
The 38-year-old was sacked after just 83 days in charge of Birmingham earlier this year.
Rooney won just two of his 15 matches in charge of the Blues, which contributed to their relegation to League One.
He previously had a short spell with former club DC United in Major League Soccer.
But United’s all-time record goalscorer did thrive in difficult circumstances during his first job at Derby as the club entered administration.
“Throughout the interview process, Wayne showed himself to be a passionate, intelligent, and knowledgeable candidate with an appetite to prove himself and develop his managerial career,” said Plymouth chairman Simon Hallett.
“His ambitions and aims match ours perfectly and we feel he is the perfect candidate to provide the exciting and attacking brand of football that we all like to see and help us achieve the club’s mission.”
Plymouth narrowly avoided relegation in their first season back in English football’s second tier for 14 years, finishing 21st in the Championship.


Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open

Updated 25 May 2024
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Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open

  • “There is a good chance that it will be my last French Open,” said the Spaniard
  • Nadal has 22 Grand Slam titles

PARIS: Rafael Nadal said Saturday that it is likely he is appearing at the French Open for the final time but cautioned it was “not 100 percent certain.”
“There is a good chance that it will be my last French Open, but I cannot say that I am 100 percent certain that it will be the last,” said the Spaniard.
Nadal, who has won the French Open 14 times and will celebrate his 38th birthday on June 3, faces world number four Alexander Zverev in the first round in Paris on Monday.
The Spanish legend has racked up 112 wins in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning 2005 debut when he was just 19.
He has 22 Grand Slam titles — second only to Novak Djokovic’s 24 on the all-time men’s list — but his career has been plagued by injuries.
Nadal has played just four tournaments since January last year after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear.
As a result, his ranking has slumped to 276 in the world and comes into the French Open unseeded.


Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

Updated 25 May 2024
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Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

  • Mitrovic: ‘I’m really happy. My family is happy. The club is amazing. So far, it’s a great experience’
  • ‘A lot of players from Europe call and ask how can they get here’

LONDON: Football stars Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ruben Neves have praised their moves to the Saudi Pro League, speaking highly of their new lives in the Kingdom.

In an interview with Sky News, the two Al-Hilal players — who left Fulham and Wolves, respectively — discussed the lifestyle differences between England and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, more than 23 European players moved to the Kingdom’s top football league in a major coup for Saudi sporting administrators.

“After seven years in England I think the first thing was the sun. I never had summer sun in my life,” Mitrovic said.

“It’s been different you know, different culture, different football, the mentality of people as well, but so far I’m really happy.

“My family is happy. The club is amazing. So far, it’s a great experience and looking forward to more years.”

The Serbian international praised the privacy and laid-back way of life in Riyadh. “The people here are crazy about football but you have a bit more privacy here. We live on a compound, we’re a little bit more isolated, and people from Europe and around the world live there you know, the life is really nice,” he said. “You wake up, have breakfast, a little workout, then recovery in the pool in the sun.”

One difference from the European training standard is that clubs in the Kingdom train in the evening, avoiding the midday heat.

Neves told Sky News that Al-Hilal’s regime gives him more time to spend with his family. “It’s a bit different to the routine from Europe here because of the weather, of course,” he said.

Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves, center, says that Al-Hilal’s regime gives him more time to spend with his family. (AFP)

“We train most of the time after 6 p.m. I like it because I can spend the day at home relaxing. I can take the kids to school, I can pick them up from school, and I can be a little bit with them before I come to training. We have a lot of things to do here because it’s a big, massive city, so we are enjoying it.”

Though both players said the Premier League is the world’s best, they believe that the SPL is not far behind — and is on par with some European leagues.

Mitrovic expects more major European signings during the summer transfer window this year.

“Any of the big names is going to have a big impact and would be welcomed with open hands,” he said.

“A lot of players from Europe, you know they call and ask how can they get here. A lot (of calls), trust me.”

Neves hailed the dedication of Al-Hilal fans. “When you play at home the stadium is always full, 30,000 people. The difference I felt here from England is that when we go to play away the stadium is mainly our fans,” he said. “We have fans all around Saudi, so that feels really good for us.”


Rising Stars Arabia 4 looks to unearth boxing talent in region and beyond

The first edition of Rising Stars Arabia took place in September 2023 in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)
Updated 25 May 2024
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Rising Stars Arabia 4 looks to unearth boxing talent in region and beyond

  • The fourth edition of the grassroots boxing competition takes place in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night

The fourth edition of Rising Stars Arabia is set to take place on Saturday, May 25, at the Space 42 Arena in Abu Dhabi, with the emerging grassroots boxing event once again aiming to raise the profile of fighters from the region.

This event, in association with the Abu Dhabi Department of Tourism and Culture, represents a vision that founder Ahmed Seddiqi has been nurturing from fight to fight.

“Our goal, and DCT’s goal, is to find the next champion from the region,” he said. “We’ve been going extremely strong. We’re getting good recognition in the boxing world, both globally and regionally.”

The Rising Stars platform, as Seddiqi describes, is continuously expanding.

“We have many requests coming from different parts of the world, not just the region.”

The initiative began with a focus on the Arab region but has since expanded to include markets such as India and beyond.

This growth in international interest is due in part to the global reach of the promotion’s broadcasting partners — DAZN and ESPN Knockout — and the fight card for Saturday’s event boasts a selection of top prospects from the region.

Moussa Gholam, a top 10-rated fighter globally, makes his return to the promotion, while Faizan Anwar, a UAE-based Indian fighter with an unblemished record across 17 fights, looks set to seize greater opportunities in the future. The event also features Tony “Lightning” Curtis, the youngest professional boxer from the UK, on the undercard.

“It’s a fully stacked card,” said Seddiqi. “If you have a fighter from India or Afghanistan who may not attract much interest in the American or European markets, what we are doing here in Abu Dhabi is offering a global platform for these fighters to show their talents. It’s all about giving a chance and an opportunity for fighters to prove themselves. They might end up on the global stage.”

Rising Stars Arabia’s growth from a regional event to a potentially global one is a testament to the platform’s success across the first three editions.

“In the next season starting in September, we aim to include prospects from around the world fighting on the platform,” Seddiqi said.

“It’s important in the boxing world to provide a platform specifically for upcoming stars — the kids who finish the Olympics with medals, world champions in the amateurs, or fighters from countries that haven’t been given attention. We want to give them a platform to showcase their talents.”

Looking ahead, Seddiqi is optimistic about both the future of the event and boxers from the region.

“In the next two years, or perhaps even sooner, we can see one of the fighters from the Rising Stars platform fighting for a world title, becoming a world title contender, or fighting for the world title eliminator.”