Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain

Yokohama F. Marinos after winning the Asian Champions League final first leg against Al-Ain on May 11, 2024 at Yokohama International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 May 2024
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Yokohama take a 2-1 lead into the 2nd leg of the Asian Champions League final against Al-Ain

  • If the Japanese team win they will participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup where they could face their English stablemate as the English team qualified for the tournament
  • Despite the first-leg lead from the opener in Japan, getting past Al-Ain won’t be easy. The 2003 Asian champions also reached the final in 2005 and 2016

DUBAI: There will be celebrations in the UAE on Saturday regardless of whether Yokohama F. Marinos can protect their 2-1 lead in the second leg of the Asian Champions League final or Al-Ain come back to take the title.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayad is not only president of UAE but has been club president of Al-Ain, based near the country’s border with Oman, since 1979.

His vice president Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed is the owner of Manchester City, the founding member of the City Football Group, a worldwide stable of 13 clubs which became a minority shareholder in Yokohama in 2014.

If the Japanese team win they will participate in the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup where they could face their English stablemate as the English team qualified for the tournament, which will be expanded from seven to 32 teams, after becoming European champions in 2023.

Despite the first-leg lead from the opener in Japan, getting past Al-Ain won’t be easy. The 2003 Asian champions also reached the final in 2005 and 2016. The second loss is still fresh in the memory and serves as motivation.

“That’s why everybody wants this trophy so bad,” Al-Ain defender Khalid Al Hashemi said on the Asian Football Confederation’s official website. “I hope from the bottom of my heart that we can give happiness to everybody in our country.”

Al-Ain, coached by former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo, took an early lead through Mohammed Al-Baloushi at the Nissan Stadium on May 11 only for two late goals from Asahi Uenaka and Kota Watanabe to give Yokohama a slender advantage.

“We lost against great opponents who played very well but we did have chances which we didn’t put away,” Crespo said. “We have another opportunity at home and I hope it will be different,” said the ex-Milan, Inter and Chelsea forward.

“What we need is a little bit more quality in front to be dangerous. We had some chances, but it wasn’t enough and that is credit to Yokohama as they didn’t give us much space.”

Neither finalist has been able to transfer strong Asian form into domestic results. Al-Ain are in third in the league, 16 points behind leader Al-Wasl. Yokohama have won the J-League five times but currently sit 13th in the standings. The Japanese team have never been in the Champions League final.

Harry Kewell has been in charge since December and the former Leeds and Liverpool winger is close to achieving something that neither of his Australian predecessors Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat managed at Yokohama.

“I’ve never been afraid of a challenge and I’m going to make sure my team’s not afraid of this challenge,” Kewell said. “It’s going to be tough . . . nothing’s given for free, you have to pay for it, you have to work for it. We have to suffer if we want to pick up this title.”


Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

Updated 35 sec ago
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Miami’s Messi, Suarez out for MLS All-Star Game

MIAMI: Argentina star Lionel Messi and Inter Miami teammate Luis Suarez will miss Wednesday’s Major League Soccer All-Star Game with injuries, the league and team announced Monday.

An updated MLS roster for the match-up against Mexico’s Liga MX All-Stars at Columbus, Ohio, listed Messi and Uruguayan striker Suarez among those who would not play.

Inter Miami detailed the injuries, with Messi still sidelined after missing two MLS matches last week with a right ankle injury suffered in Argentina’s Copa America final triumph over Colombia.

“Messi will miss the All-Star Game due to an ankle injury while Luis Suarez, who recently returned from international duty after over 40 days away from the club, will miss the All-Star Game due to knee discomfort,” Inter Miami said.

It would have been the first MLS All-Star appearance for 37-year-old Messi, who joined Inter Miami last July.

Eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, who helped spark Argentina to the 2022 World Cup title, led Miami to last year’s inaugural Leagues Cup crown in a tournament of MLS and Mexican league squads.

But Miami said Messi’s status and that of Suarez remain in doubt for Saturday’s home match against Mexico’s Puebla, Inter’s first step in defending the Leagues Cup title.

The availability of Messi and Suarez will be determined by their “daily recovery process” according to the team statement.


Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Updated 22 July 2024
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Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

  • Liverpool and Portugal star, an avid gamer and investor, watched all the ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ and ‘Counter-Strike 2’ action, and met esports players

RIYADH: Diogo Jota, the Liverpool and Portugal footballer, who attended the Esports World Cup in Riyadh on Sunday, has declared the globe’s largest gaming festival “a truly amazing experience.”

Jota, an avid gamer and investor in multinational esports organization Galaxy Racer, watched all the action at Boulevard Riyadh City as teams contested the finals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “Counter-Strike 2” competitions.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the top clubs and players against one another across 22 competitions in 21 leading games.

Held within the 8,000-capacity Saudi Esports Federation Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City, it runs until Aug. 25 and has a tournament prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of the sport.

The attacker, who has 42 caps and played for Portugal at the UEFA Euro 2024 this summer, met participating stars, including from Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons, and happily swapped gaming and esports stories.

Jota said: “Being here at the inaugural Esports World Cup is a truly amazing experience. The organization and scale behind this event are truly impressive, even more than I anticipated.

“I’ve always believed in the potential of esports, even before starting my own team, and EWC is proof that this scene is evolving rapidly. This level of investment and infrastructure is exactly what esports needs to grow and reach a wider audience.

“I’m excited to see how EWC continues to evolve and push the boundaries of competitive gaming.”

Jota, who wears the No. 20 for Liverpool, was ranked world No. 1 in FIFA 21’s Champions Leaderboard. A regular streamer on Twitch, he also won an invitational series of FIFA matches, run by the Premier League, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then a Wolverhampton Wanderers player, Jota defeated future Liverpool team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final.

Last year, Jota’s own esports organization, Diogo Jota Esports, was rebranded to Luna Galaxy — coming under the Galaxy Racer umbrella.

Prior to this, Diogo Jota Esports participated in the FIFAe Finals at Gamers8, organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, at Boulevard Riyadh City last summer, with Daniel “DFernandes” Fernandes finishing in the top 16.

More than 1,500 players, of over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the inaugural Esports World Cup. Week three of the competition features action in the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters,” “Counter Strike 2,” and “PUBG Mobile” contests.


SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

Updated 21 July 2024
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SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

  • Top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions are featuring in the tournament
  • The competition will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees who have been selected from SAFF Referees’ Academy

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has launched the first edition of the Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif, running from July 18–30.

Currently in its third day, the 12-day tournament features 14 regional teams, showcasing top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions.

The 14 regional teams competing in the championship are from Al-Ahsa, Jazan, Najran, Jouf, Hail, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Asir, Madinah, Makkah, Hafar Al-Batin, and Tabuk.

SAFF’s Technical Director Nasser Larguet said: “The championship represents the result of the significant work supported by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and the outcome is the creation of the Regional Under-13 League. Clear goals and strategic plans have been set to discover and support young talents.”

Additionally, the tournament will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees, who have been selected from the SAFF Referees’ Academy, further contributing to the development of skilled officials in the sport.

Manuel Navarro, president of the SAFF Referees Committee, said: “The Regional Under-13 Championship is an opportunity to develop promising referees, especially since it will witness the participation of 32 young referees. The committee aims to increase their refereeing hours and enhance their experience.”

This tournament is a significant part of SAFF’s strategy to scout and develop over 4,000 young talents by 2025, supporting the growth and future of Saudi football.


Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Updated 20 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

  • The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage
  • The kit’s new design represents the architectural style “Rawashin”

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad FC has unveiled its kit for the 2024/25 season in collaboration with Nike.

Al-Ittihad presented its distinctive new kit in photo sessions in the center of historic Jeddah, among its alleys and ancient buildings, in cooperation with Al-Balad Development Company, the club’s official sponsor.

The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage, which fans have loved and celebrated for 97 years.

The kit’s new design represents the architectural style, “Rawashin,” the prominent traditional wooden panels used to cover windows and external openings at the old houses of Jeddah — considered an icon of the city’s heritage.

Domingos De Oliveira, CEO of Al-Ittihad Club, described the new kit as a symbol of the club’s history: “We worked closely with Nike in order to ensure access to the best that can be presented in the new kit, while preserving the established values of the basic kit, which represents a unique identity, after maintaining it for nearly a century.

“In the new kit, we worked to blend the heritage of Al-Ittihad Club with the history of the region from which it started, with a modern spirit that creates innovation in order to emerge with a product that reflects the club’s vision of starting from the base of its great history toward more glory and development in the current era and the future.

“Attention was paid to all the details in terms of the degree of color and their overlapping in the dividing line between them in the same way that the wooden columns in the Rawashin buildings of Jeddah are intertwined.”

For the first time, the home kit will be presented in three categories — the official home kit, which the players will wear, the stadium category, and the fans category.


Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

Updated 20 July 2024
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Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

BUENOS AIRES: Buenos Aires apologized to France after Argentina’s vice president called the European country “colonialist” and its people “hypocrites” in an argument over alleged racist chants by Argentine footballers.
President Javier Milei’s office said Friday it had sent a senior official to the French embassy to explain that Victoria Villarruel’s angry statement on social media was made in her personal capacity.
FIFA has announced an investigation into the chants sung by Argentina players, including Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez, 23, after they won the Copa America.
The chants were heard on a live video posted on social media by Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Fernandez has apologized, but Chelsea have launched an internal disciplinary procedure against him. The French Football Federation (FFF) has complained to FIFA.
On Wednesday, Villarruel expressed support for Fernandez on X, saying: “No colonialist country is going to intimidate us because of a stadium chant nor for speaking truths that they do not want to admit. Enough with feigned outrage, hypocrites.”
The diplomatic incident came just days before Milei is due to travel to Paris to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
“Diplomatic relations with France are intact,” presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said Friday.
Argentina’s under secretary for sports, Julio Garro, was dismissed from his post this week after saying captain Lionel Messi and the Argentine Football Association should apologize for the chants.