Dravid wary as India face Afghanistan in T20 World Cup

Afghanistan's players stand on the pitch for the national anthem ahead of the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group C cricket match between Afghanistan and Papua New Guinea at Brian Lara Cricket Academy Stadium in Tarouba, Trinidad and Tobago, June 13, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 20 June 2024

Dravid wary as India face Afghanistan in T20 World Cup

  • Afghanistan inflicted 84-run hammering upon New Zealand earlier this month
  • India under skipper Rohit Sharma remain unbeaten in ongoing T20 World Cup 

Bridgetown, Barbados: India coach Rahul Dravid warned his side will “not take Afghanistan lightly” in their second-round opener of the T20 World Cup in Barbados on Thursday.

India were unbeaten in the initial pool phase as they advanced into Super Eights featuring two groups of four.

Afghanistan, however, have also justified their billing as potential semifinalists.

They had already qualified for the Super Eights before an emphatic 104-run defeat by a rampant West Indies in St. Lucia on Monday in a clash of previously unbeaten teams, with Nicholas Pooran smashing 98 for the tournament co-hosts.

But Afghanistan did inflict an 84-run hammering upon New Zealand earlier in the competition.

And with India having needed two Super Overs to see off Afghanistan in a T20 match in Bengaluru in January, Dravid is well aware of the challenge awaiting his players at the Kensington Oval.

“We know Afghanistan is a very dangerous team in this format of the game,” former India batsman Dravid, 51 told a pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “They have shown that by their performances in this World Cup.

“They might not have a lot of international experience in the other formats of the game, but a lot of their players do play in a lot of T20 leagues, more than in fact some of our players do.

“So, certainly in this format they are not a team to be taken lightly. They are deservedly in the Super Eights.”

Much of Afghanistan’s success has been built on superb spin bowling, with Rashid Khan — who took four wickets for 17 runs against New Zealand in Guyana — leading the way.

But that same match also saw left-arm quick Fazalhaq Farooqi take 4-17, with New Zealand dismissed for just 75.

“They have a good bowling attack all round,” said Dravid. “Even their two pacers are quite experienced. Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq have both played a lot of cricket, they both swing the ball as well.

“I think their bowlers are some of the most sought-after bowlers in this format across the world.
“We understand that is going to pose a challenge to us and we are going to have to play well to counter that.”

Meanwhile Afghanistan coach Jonathan Trott insisted Pooran’s furious assault could yet benefit his side against India.

“Pooran played a great knock,” said the former England batsman. “But other sides are going to have players of that calibre, who on their day can win matches like Pooran did. So, I think it’s a good thing that it’s happened.

“We’ve learned lessons and we’re going to put that right starting tomorrow (Thursday).”

Trott added the advent of T20 franchise cricket, spearheaded by the Indian Premier League, had led to improved relations between players that were “obviously very different from when I played.”

But the 43-year-old said the knowledge gained “works both ways.”

“We had nine, 10 players at the IPL. They will be able to share their knowledge of Indian players, and they’ll be able to do the same with our players,” explained Trott. “That’s the current state of world cricket.

“I think it’s in a good position, and it’s very healthy. And we’re in the middle of a World Cup and we’re in Barbados, so the world’s pretty good.”

Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Updated 17 July 2024

Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

  • Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season
  • Midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad have signed French-born Algerian international midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract.

Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season.

The 26-year-old midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons.

The signing ceremony took place at the team’s training camp in Alicante, Spain on Tuesday.

The event was officiated by the club’s CEO, Domingos Oliveira, and witnessed by sporting director Ramon Planes, following Aouar’s successful medical examination this morning.

Domingos Oliveira expressed his warm welcome to Aouar, noting that this move marks a significant new chapter in Aouar’s career. He emphasized that Aouar will contribute significantly alongside his teammates to achieving the high standards and results anticipated by the club’s fans and supporters.

Oliveira highlighted that Aouar’s signing aligns with the team’s technical requirements for a player possessing specific qualities that enhance the squad. This strategy is based on the technical needs identified by the sports committee and reviewed by the coach.

Houssem Aouar shared his enthusiasm about joining Al-Ittihad Club, recognizing its rich history, passionate fan base, distinguished players, and experienced coaching staff. He is motivated to deliver his best performance to represent the club and bring joy to its supporters.

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

Updated 17 July 2024

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

  • The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults

PARIS: FIFA said on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into racist chants by Argentina players after they won the Copa America.
“FIFA is aware of a video circulating on social media and the incident is being looked into,” a spokesperson for world football’s governing body said.
They added: “FIFA strongly condemns any form of discrimination by anyone including players, fans and officials.”
The chants were heard during a live video posted on social media by Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
Some players, including 23-year-old Fernandez, sing a chant dating back to the 2022 World Cup final in which Argentina beat France.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Chelsea had earlier announced they had launched an internal disciplinary procedure against Fernandez over the incident.
Fernandez has apologized and the club said in a statement it had launched an “internal disciplinary procedure.”
“Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behavior completely unacceptable,” it added.
“We acknowledge and appreciate our player’s public apology and will use this as an opportunity to educate.”
Fernandez, who joined Chelsea from Benfica for a Premier League record fee of £105 million ($136.8 million) in 2023, said in his apology: “The song includes highly offensive language and there is absolutely no excuse for these words.
“I stand against discrimination in all forms and apologize for getting caught up in the euphoria of our Copa America celebrations.”
The French Football Federation (FFF) complained to FIFA about the chants on Monday.
FFF president Philippe Diallo “condemned with the greatest firmness the unacceptable racist and discriminatory remarks made against players of the France team.”
France beat Argentina in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.

Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards

Updated 17 July 2024

Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards

  • Muhammad sees the upcoming fight as a defining moment in his career trajectory
  • His Palestinian heritage serves as a profound source of motivation and pride ‘that means everything to me’

Riyadh: In the lead-up to UFC 304, slated for July 27 in Manchester, UK, Belal Muhammad, the formidable Palestinian-American welterweight contender, has honing his skills with a series  of rigorous training camps which have inluded sessions with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Mackachev in Dagestan.

Speaking exclusively to Arab News, the 36-year-old reflected on his preparations and the profound significance of his upcoming bout against champion Leon Edwards.

“My training camp has been very good,” Muhammad said, detailing the final stages of his preparation. “It’s about being safe, staying uninjured, and making it to the fight week. It’s been a hard camp, but I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I can’t wait to get to Manchester and fight,” he added with palpable enthusiasm.

Ranked second in the welterweight division, Muhammad sees the upcoming fight as a defining moment in his career trajectory. “This is everything,” he stressed. “When I got into the UFC, all I wanted was to be the champion. Now, I see the finish line. I’m knocking on the door. All I’ve got to do is walk through it.”

Acknowledging the competitive landscape of the welterweight division, Muhammad assessed his opponents with a keen eye. “I see weaknesses in a lot of these guys,” he said. “I don’t think there are going to be easy fights, but looking at this division, Leon (Edwards) is my easiest fight,” he added.

Muhammad’s journey in mixed martial arts is deeply intertwined with his Palestinian heritage, which he views as a source of profound motivation and pride. “That means everything to me,” he said. “I wake up every day knowing I’m fighting for something bigger — to have my flag raised with the title, to give my people a voice.”

He highlighted the resilience and determination of his Palestinian community as a driving force in his career. “I can’t sleep. I can’t take any days off. I can’t be soft, because these people are hard. These people are so resilient. They push me every day to work harder. I’ve never seen a stronger people in my life.”

Addressing his Palestinian fans directly, Muhammad expressed solidarity and admiration. “Keep fighting. Keep staying strong. Keep being resilient because you’re changing the world,” he said, stressing the inspiration he draws from their unwavering support.

With the recent surge of MMA interest in the Middle East, Muhammad praised the region’s growing prominence in the sport. “It’s amazing to see the Middle East becoming a huge market for fighters and the UFC,” he said. “When you look at Arabs and Muslims, we’re not the tallest we’re not the biggest so you’re not gonna see a lot of us in the NBA. But now we have a different sport that we can take over. We can all be fighters,” he added optimistically, envisioning a future where Arab fighters continue to make significant strides in the sport.

Reflecting on his career’s evolution, Muhammad emphasized the lessons learned from both victories and setbacks. “I’ve had the highest highs and the lowest lows,” he said. “After every fight, I analyze what I did wrong. I train year-round to be a better fighter,” he added, attributing his continuous growth to a relentless pursuit of improvement.

Muhammad started his MMA journey at 23, unlike many fighters who start at a much younger age, a factor that has always played on his mind as he trains, he said.

“I really think I’m behind a lot of these guys. So I’ve always had that mentality that I’m behind and have to keep learning, growing, and getting better. And I think that’s what separates me from the rest. Every single fight, I come as a different fighter.”

Maintaining mental focus and motivation amid the stakes of UFC 304, Muhammad revealed a deeply personal motivation. “I love to win and I hate to lose,” he admitted. “I never want to see my mom disappointed in me. I keep winning so she keeps a smile on her face,” he added, highlighting the familial support that fuels his drive.

As the countdown to UFC 304 progresses, Muhammad stands poised to seize the welterweight crown, driven by skill, dedication, and a steadfast commitment to his goals. With Manchester on the horizon, Muhammad’s journey to championship glory promises to captivate fans worldwide and inspire a new generation of fighters from the Middle East and beyond.

‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup

Updated 17 July 2024

‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup

  • 3 tournaments taking centerstage at Boulevard Riyadh City with high-stakes drama in store until Sunday  

RIYADH: The Esports World Cup has three major competitions taking place this week at Boulevard Riyadh City, promising further entertainment after a fortnight of action.

Running for eight weeks until Aug. 25, the Esports World Cup has a record-breaking $60 million prize pool on offer across 22 competitions and 21 games.

Sixteen clubs are vying to reach the latter stages of the $5 million “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” with hometown heroes Team Falcons flying the flag for Saudi Arabia.

Having topped the Group A standings with four wins and two draws from seven matches, Team Falcons have emerged as top contenders for the $1.5 million first prize and are certain to receive incredible home support this week.

Also, two other tournaments make their highly anticipated Esports World Cup debuts. The $1 million “Counter-Strike 2” competition will see some of the world’s best clubs competing.

Working together in five-versus-five format, players must display exemplary tactics to eliminate opponents and reign supreme in this ultra-realistic team-based shooter game.

Also sharing the spotlight is “PUBG Mobile,” with 24 teams battling for the $3 million prize on Friday.

Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick

Updated 17 July 2024

Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick

  • The Saudi Arabia team have already claimed top places in the ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ and ‘Free Fire’ competitions

RIYADH: Team Falcons remain on course for a historic hat trick of Esports World Cup titles after the hometown heroes reached the semifinals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” competition on Tuesday.

One of the front-runners for the $1.5 million first prize, the Saudi Arabia club entered the knockout stages in scintillating form, topping Group A with four wins and two draws.

This form continued with the support of a capacity crowd inside the SEF Arena.

A 2-1 victory against China’s WBG.XG set up a semifinal showdown with Canadian outfit Gaimin Gladiators.

This moves Team Falcons closer to their dream of winning the competition and adding to Esports World Cup victories in “Call of Duty: Warzone” and “Free Fire.”

The “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” is running throughout week three at the Esports World Cup, concluding on Sunday, July 23.