RIYADH: The final whistle has blown in the group stage of the Regional Football League, the first official league competition for female soccer players in Saudi Arabia, with Al-Yamamah, Jeddah Eagles and Eastern Flames crowned champions of the central, western and eastern divisions, respectively.
In addition to the pride and joy they felt while competing in a league of their own, the players said it gave them the chance to develop their technical skills and improve their physical fitness, in anticipation of a chance to represent their country in a Saudi national women’s team in the future.
Sama Al-Sabiani of western division side White Lion said she really enjoyed playing in the first women’s league in the Kingdom, and that it had helped improve the organization of the team and resulted in remarkable improvements in the performance of the players as it gave them the opportunity to play against strong opponents,
“As players, we gained endurance and played with a higher fighting spirit than ever before; we gave it our all,” she said.
“Not only did we give a great performance, we really enjoyed ourselves.”
The 16-team league provided strong motivation for the players to develop and improve their skills, Al-Sabiani said, and White Lion trained really hard for it, although ultimately they finished outside the top three in their division who now proceed, with the top three in the central division and the top two from the eastern division, to the national championship, which begins at King Abdullah Sports City on New Year’s Day.
“As players, we fought and won several games, and we aspired to more victories to qualify for other leagues in the future,” Al-Sabiani added.
Rana Abdullah Saeed, a midfielder for The Storm, who finished second in the western division, said: “I had a great experience and I am very happy that the Saudi Arabian Football Federation has taken this step. I am sure the SAFF will organize more leagues in the future and will continue to support women’s football in particular, and sports in general.”
She added that the new league has had a very positive effect on her game.
“I was able to improve my technical skills and this experience has given me the motivation to develop my performance both on and off the field, making sure I eat right and educate myself more by reading sports books and watching videos on YouTube,” she said.
“This league, in particular, has helped me discover my strengths and weaknesses and I aspire to represent the Saudi national team thanks to my recent experience.”
White Lion player Houriya Al-Shamrani also said that the experience of playing in the Regional Football League had helped her to improve her skills and gain experience, and also helped the players to develop a competitive team spirit. She added that she benefited from playing under pressure and on natural grass.
“I was able to maintain my fitness level and meet many talented players,” Al-Shamrani said. “I also had the opportunity to speak with the undersecretary for planning and development at the Ministry of Sports, Adwa Al-Arifi, and listen to her advice. I will never forget her support when I was injured.
“I aspire to be the best player in the league and represent the Saudi national team and I want to be the first Saudi player to participate in the English Premier League.
“I would like to thank Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the SAFF for giving us this opportunity and I am sure the best is yet to come.”
There are many things I love about racing in Dubai, but the main one is how international it is. The opening night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, at Meydan Racecourse on Friday, will have runners trained in eight countries, while horses from 17 nations have been nominated for the carnival as a whole.
This week’s card, which has seven races, feels like an old school carnival meeting in that European trainers will be heavily represented, especially in the four turf races.
New faces from the UK will include young trainer Alice Haynes, who is having her first runners in the Middle East, while Adam West is also targeting Dubai for the first time.
Another up-and-coming handler, Nina Lensvik, a trackwork rider when last in Dubai in 2019, has brought her team from Norway. She will take on five Godolphin horses in the Listed DRC Classic, the third race on the card, with Suspicious Mind, who returns to Dubai for a second time.
Racing on two surfaces, dirt and turf, opens the door for more racing nations to grab a slice of the $7.5million in prize money on offer over the next eight weeks. A team from Uruguay, trained by Brazilian Antonio Cintra, has already had success here this season and he runs Upper Class and an interesting three-year-old, Bet Law, on Friday.
Along with the newcomers there will also be plenty of returning stars.
Frankie Dettori’s long-term relationship with Godolphin is firmly back on and he partners five on the card, while both Godolphin trainers, Saeed Bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby, have strong teams, with 13 runners between them.
Locally based expat trainers Doug Watson and Bhupat Seemar, currently fighting out the UAE Trainers’ Championship, can also expect a good carnival.
Seemar has five horses in Friday’s official feature, Group 2 Maktoum Challenge Round 1. The event dates back to 1994 and, as such, is one of the oldest races on the calendar.
This week’s renewal is a cracker, with Group 1 winners Salute the Soldier and Capezzano facing Kimbear, the winner of this race in 2020, and Secret Ambition, winner of the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup day. Then there are exciting younger horses such as Kafoo, Imperial Empire and Hypothetical. In short, about 10 of the 14 runners are capable of winning, which is about as competitive as you can get.
Next week, trainer Doug O’Neill, twice a Kentucky Derby winner, will bring a team from California. O’Neill was successful in Dubai in 2020 when his wins included the Listed Curlin Handicap with Parsimony and the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas with Fore Left, and this time he brings eight. They include Grade 1 winner Hot Rod Charlie, a strong contender for the $12 million Dubai World Cup.
Four-year-old Hot Rod Charlie was recently voted the most popular horse in North America, and arrives in Dubai off a close second in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes last month. He is likely to race once more before the big day in March.
That is another thing I love about racing here in Dubai — on March 26, it will be the place to be. And the build-up is not bad, either.
NEW DELHI: Top seed Kidambi Srikanth and six other players have withdrawn from the India Open badminton championship in New Delhi after testing positive for COVID-19, organizers said Thursday.
The event was originally meant to feature more than 200 players from 19 countries but is being held behind closed doors because of the pandemic.
Kidambi, the world number 10, was one of the few star names at a tournament missing nearly all of the sport’s top-ranked athletes.
The positive players “will not be replaced in the main draw and their opponents will be given a walkover to the next round,” the Badminton World Federation (BFW) said in a statement.
All seven players named by the Badminton Association of India on Thursday are Indian nationals, including Mithun Manjunath in the men’s draw and five women’s doubles competitors.
Doubles partners deemed close contacts of the seven have also been withdrawn from the tournament which runs until Sunday, the BWF said.
18th-ranked Sai Praneeth and doubles specialist Dhruv Rawat, both of India, had already withdrawn from the tournament earlier this week after testing positive.
The country is currently experiencing a sharp rise in infections driven by the new omicron variant, with nearly 250,000 new cases recorded overnight.
A COVID-19 outbreak has also thrown a men’s national boxing camp into disarray in the northern city of Patiala, with 14 boxers and four coaches testing positive on Wednesday, local media reported.
RIYADH: Real Madrid’s 3-2 victory over Barcelona in extra time in the first El Clasico of the new year has given Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti his first chance of claiming silverware since returning to the club.
Asked who he would prefer to meet in the final, Ancelotti told Arab News in the post-match press conference: “It’s the same for me whoever we face. What matters is we’re in the final.”
League champions Atletico Madrid will play Copa del Rey runners-up Athletic Bilbao on Thursday in the second semifinal of the Spanish Super Cup held in Riyadh. The winner will face Real in the final on Sunday.
“Both teams are good. I look forward to seeing them compete tomorrow,” Ancelotti added.
Barcelona put on a promising display on Wednesday, but are still finding their way as players return from lengthy layoffs.
However, following the introduction of new signing Ferran Torres, there is a renewed air of optimism.
“We are on the right track,” Barcelona center back Gerard Pique said after the match. “Playing like this, we can begin to win and compete for titles.”
Federico Valverde scored the winning goal for Real Madrid to continue his outstanding record in this competition, but replied cautiously after the game: “They’re still Barcelona, even if the results haven’t been there. In my opinion, we have to convert more of the chances we get.”
In his post-match comments, Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez was critical of his players’ slow start to the game.
“For the first 20 minutes we still showed doubts from recent times, but we got rid of those and we competed,” he said.
Xavi agreed with Pique’s verdict that the club has a bright future, saying: “We’re not so far from what our La Liga standing reflects.”
After such a tight affair, Xavi’s frustration was clear as he told reporters: “We had it. We had it. It was a game that was a coin flip and it turned out one way, but it could have turned out another. We’re proud, we competed and we have to continue on this path.”
Meanwhile, Real Madrid can look forward to the final on Sunday in Riyadh as they await the winners of the second semifinal.
RIYADH: Real Madrid booked their place in the final of the 38th Spanish Super Cup with a 3-2 victory after a back-and-forth battle with arch rivals Barcelona at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh on Wednesday.
The most notable absence from the starting lineups was Real Madrid’s David Alaba, who was sidelined with muscular discomfort and replaced by Nacho. Meanwhile Dani Carvajal returned from injury to reclaim his spot in the Madrid starting 11 and Marco Asensio continued his run on the right wing, in preference to Rodrygo, after his stellar performance against Valencia at the weekend.
Ferran Torres made his long-awaited Barcelona debut after completing his move from Manchester City, and Dani Alves returned to play in yet another El Clasico.
The game began with Real Madrid on the front foot, as a strike from Karim Benzema within the first two minutes blazed over the bar after a promising run from Marco Asensio. Barcelona struggled to find their rhythm early on and were unable to put any sort of pressure on Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Asensio and Vinicius Junior’s consistent link-up play proved to be too much for the Barcelona defense to handle, as the pair kept on carving out chances but failed to convert them.
The breakthrough came in the 25th minute when Sergio Busquets was caught out in possession. Benzema received the ball from Luka Modric and in turn released Vinicius Junior, who found himself through on goal and finished off a beautiful sequence by scoring the first goal of the game.
Barcelona grew into the game as the half progressed and it became clear that their strength was the left wing, as crosses from Ousmane Dembele and Jordi Alba that found Luuk De Jong on multiple occasions.
They equalized in the 41st minute after a low, driven cross from Dembele was intercepted by Eder Militao. He could only clear it into the path of De Jong and the ball deflected off of him and into the goal.
Barcelona made two substitutions at the start of the second half, as debutant Ferran Torres and Frenkie de Jong were replaced by Pedri and Abde Ezzalzouli. These early changes nearly paid off, as Pedri’s introduction in particular gave his team more dynamism in the midfield.
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti made his first change of the game on the 67th minute, with Asensio making way for Rodrygo. The change added venom to Real Madrid’s play and Benzema began to impose himself on the game. Shortly after the substitution he hit the woodwork after carving out a chance from nothing.
Real Madrid put themselves in the driving seat on 72 minutes after a Benzema shot was saved by Marc-Andre Stegen but fell for Carvajal. He cut it back to Benzema who found the back of the net.
But in the 83rd minute, against the run of play, Barcelona once again equalized when an Alba cross found the head of substitute Ansu Fati.
Still tied after 90 minutes, the game went into extra time and it was the Real fans who would be cheering when, eight minutes into the first period, Valverde scored what proved to be the decisive goal.
This was Madrid’s 100th El Clasico victory, and it earned them a place in Sunday’s final. Their opponents will be Atletico Madrid or Athletic Bilbao, who face each other in the second semi-final on Thursday at the same venue.
MANCHESTER: Manchester City have released their 2020-21 annual report, announcing a return to profitability and the long-term trend of steady growth that was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The club saw an increase in total revenues, increasing by 19 percent to $780 million, with a profit of $3.3 million.
It was another successful year for Manchester City on the field, with the men’s team breaking several records, finishing the season with the Premier League title, winning the Carabao Cup and securing a place in the UEFA Champions League Final for the very first time in the club’s history.
“The success of our men’s first team — this year’s trophies represent our fifth Premier League title and sixth League Cup of the last decade — is our story today,” Chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak said in the report. “Our story tomorrow will be written by the next generation, who made history this year when the EDS and U18 teams won their respective leagues, meaning Manchester City hold the titles at all three levels of the men’s game.”
Al-Mubarak highlighted Manchester City’s positive financial performance over the past season, attributing the return of profitability to the impact of the club’s long-term strategy to diversify and globalize revenues, the team’s results and the support of partners and shareholders.
“His Highness Sheikh Mansour’s vision, set in 2008, is the reality we are living 13 years later,” he said. “We are a sustainable and socially responsible organization, finding and developing talent and competing for trophies on both the domestic and European stage.”
CEO Ferran Soriano pointed to the character of the men’s first team following a challenging start to the season, which saw the team sitting in 13th position in late November 2020.
He said: “You could sense the focus and the resolve of the team and the togetherness of the whole club. It was by harnessing that togetherness, that the team pulled themselves up from that point and went on to have one of the best seasons in Manchester City’s history.
“From a business perspective, we were pleased to return to profitability, having successfully navigated the revenue challenges created by the pandemic. COVID-19 did not stop us, and we continued to grow, innovate and develop new ideas.”
The chairman concluded with his thoughts on the Champions League Final, and said: “(Although) the disappointment of the defeat in the final in Porto ran undeniably deep, we were incredibly proud to have reached it in the first place.
“We look ahead with the knowledge that we are going to come back stronger and more experienced, knowing that we have reached not only that benchmark, but also a level of consistency which gives us great confidence for the future.”