Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Ishtiaq Ahmad of Saudi Arabia celebrates a wicket in the ACC Men's Premier Cup 2024 Group A match between Nepal and Saudi Arabia at Oman Cricket Stadium Muscat (AN/Subas Humagain)
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Updated 17 April 2024

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

  • Defending champions Nepal won a rain-shortened match by seven wickets

MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia’s hopes of booking a place in the last four of the 2024 ACC Men’s Premier Cup ended with a loss to defending champions Nepal in the final Group A encounter.

The Kingdom’s team went into the match needing a win to qualify for the next stage but ended up fourth in the table after a seven-wicket loss on Wednesday.

Overnight thunder and rain damaged the pitch at the Oman Cricket Academy in Al-Amerat, causing a two- hour delay and a match reduction to eight overs per side. Saudi Arabia were put into bat first and managed 73-7, thanks to some fantastic hits from Abdul Waheed.

Waheed, who came in at No. 3, was the side’s top scorer with 37 runs from 16 balls, including three fours and three sixes. He was trapped leg before wicket as he attempted a paddle against left arm seamer Pratish GC in the sixth over. No other Saudi batsman achieved double figures.

In reply, Nepal were reeling on 15-3 at one stage, thanks to exceptional bowling from Saudi’s Ishtiaq Ahmed in the opening spell. Conceding just seven runs in his two overs, the right arm pacer took the wickets of opener Kushal Bhurtel and Kushal Malla.

Gulshan Jha, who a produced a player of the match performance against Malaysia, repeated his feat, scoring 32 runs off 19 balls. Skipper Rohit Paudel chipped in with 16 runs while Dipendra Singh Airee contributed 17.

Saudi Arabia’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, said he was proud of his team’s performance against a top side.

“I am proud of the boys (and) the way they fought against a quality side like Nepal. At one point, we felt we were in the game. But this will give us a great learning experience and we will come back better,” he told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia campaign opened on Saturday with a close encounter against Malaysia when, despite controlling most of the match, they ended up 12 runs short. The team were at their best the following day, beating Hong Kong by 55, but on Tuesday they failed to chase Qatar’s 153. This meant a win against Nepal was needed to give them any chance of progressing to the next round.

Captain Shaikh said he felt the team lacked experience in closing out the games.

“If we look back, the match against Malaysia and Qatar shows we lack experience,” he said. “We could have won both those games with ease. If our middle order, including me, played well, we could have been in a better place. I take responsibility for that and I believe we will only get better from here.”

The 10-team tournament saw unbeaten Nepal qualify for the semifinals as Group A winners, while Hong Kong pipped Qatar on net run-rate after their convincing seven-wicket win over Malaysia. Hosts Oman, UAE and Kuwait are fighting for two semifinal spots in Group B with Bahrain and Cambodia already knocked out.

The final will take place on April 21, with the winner qualifying for Asia’s premier event, the ACC Asia Cup, next year.

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

Updated 11 sec ago

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

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

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

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

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.”