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Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

VERSAILLES, France: The trial of French soccer player Karim Benzema and four others began Wednesday outside Paris, without the Real Madrid forward in attendance.Benzema, who played in Kyiv on Tuesday against Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, is accused of being involved in an attempt in 2015 to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena…

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Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

VERSAILLES, France: The trial of French soccer player Karim Benzema and four others began Wednesday outside Paris, without the Real Madrid forward in attendance.Benzema, who played in Kyiv on Tuesday against Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, is accused of being involved in an attempt in 2015 to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.Benzema’s legal team told the court in Versailles that his obligations as a player made it “impossible” for him to attend the first day of the trial, which is scheduled to last through Friday.Valbuena was in court on Wednesday. He testified that Benzema spoke to him about the sex tape, telling him “there’s a video, it’s hot,” when they were together at France’s Clairefontaine training camp in October 2015. Benzema also said that he had a good friend who could help and “can solve your problem,” Valbuena testified.Although Benzema “never spoke to me about money,” Valbuena said he understood that he would have to pay for the friend’s assistance.“It wasn’t for football tickets. That’s never done for free,” Valbuena testified. He said the conversation left him “really frightened.”In a subsequent phone call wiretapped by police, Benzema then talked about the conversation with his friend Karim Zenati. The two men had known each other since childhood. When Zenati was released from prison in 2013, following robbery and drug convictions, Benzema hired him as an assistant.In the wiretapped call, which was played in court, the pair chuckled about Benzema’s talk with Valbuena. Benzema said that he had told Valbuena that “if you want the video to be destroyed,” he should contact Zenati, without involving police, lawyers or others.“I gave my word that there are no copies,” Benzema said in the call.Benzema is accused of complicity in attempted blackmail, a charge punishable by up to five years in prison. He has denied wrongdoing.Zenati and three other defendants are charged with attempted blackmail, also punishable with five years imprisonment. Unlike Benzema, they were all in court.They included Axel Angot, who first got hold of the sex tape in 2014.In court, Angot described himself as an odd-job man for soccer players, assisting with their computers, communications and other needs. He said players paid him for help, and that he once got 3,500 euros ($4,000) from a player just for delivering a USB cable to him in Croatia.“They are soccer players. I have seen them spend 50,000 euros in a front of me in seconds,” Angot said.Angot said the idea of exploiting the sex tape came in 2015, to pay off a debt of 25,000 euros ($29,000) that he owed to another player for some luxury watches. He said his thinking had been that a thankful Valbuena would pay him “a recompense” if he helped make the video go away.“I am not Bill Gates but I know my way around computers,” Angot said. “The main goal of this affair was to erase this debt.”During his testimony, Angot at first denied that his intention had been to blackmail Valbuena but later acknowledged that the scheme was “indirectly the same thing.”He apologized to Valbuena.“I’m sorry. But that’s of no value,” he said.Other defendants denied intent to blackmail. On his way into the hearing, Mustapha Zouaoui told reporters that Angot had given him the video and “we laughed about it” and that he then shared it with others.“A lot of players from France’s team saw it,” Zouaoui said. “But there hasn’t been any blackmail. We didn’t ask for money. There was no request for money.”In court, Zouaoui said “the intention wasn’t to make him bleed” but rather to spare Valbuena the indignity of the tape being made public and then be rewarded for that help.Another of the alleged blackmailers, Younes Houass, testified that he spoke to Valbuena about the video in June 2015, when the player was at Clairefontaine.After that call, Valbuena filed a police complaint and detectives got to work, identifying defendants and wiretapping calls.Benzema and Zenati were both handed preliminary charges in November 2015, joining Angot, Zouaoui and Houass under formal investigation.Benzema was then dropped from France’s national team by coach Didier Deschamps, missing the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup, which was won by France.Deschamps recalled Benzema in May ahead of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament and has fielded him 11 times in 2021.Valbuena, now 37, hasn’t played for France since Oct. 11, 2015, when he came on as a substitute in a friendly match against Denmark.He said the alleged blackmail attempt hurt him and his career.“Since this affair, I never set foot again in the France team.”

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World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

UK boxer Sunny Edwards, the IBF flyweight world champion, says headlining Probellum: Revolution in Dubai this coming Saturday will be a “life-changing” moment. Probellum, the new global boxing promotion company spearheaded by Richard Schaefer, launched in September and holds its first event at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena, with Edwards defending his title against Filipino challenger Jayson…

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World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

UK boxer Sunny Edwards, the IBF flyweight world champion, says headlining Probellum: Revolution in Dubai this coming Saturday will be a “life-changing” moment.

Probellum, the new global boxing promotion company spearheaded by Richard Schaefer, launched in September and holds its first event at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena, with Edwards defending his title against Filipino challenger Jayson Mama.

Having fought outside the UK on a few occasions earlier in his career, Edwards is relishing the prospect of competing in the UAE.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” he said. “My management will tell you that I’ve always asked to get some international experience. I’m a world champion and I want to see the world. I’m not one of those world champions who just wants to defend the title against three fighters in Britain, that’s not what I’m all about. I want to go to Dubai, I want to go to Mexico, I want to go to Japan. I’ll go anywhere. It’s great to have this opportunity in Dubai.

“When I saw the venue, my head almost fell off. I couldn’t believe it,” Edwards added. “I made my debut in an industrial unit in Estepona, in Spain, had a couple of undercard slots where I got a taste of what the big life is like, gradually crept up and had a few arena shows, but this is completely different. Even the architecture looks like the Allianz Arena (in Munich).”

Having originally been due to face Mama in September, in the UK, Edwards was forced to pull out after sustaining an ankle injury during his training camp but, despite the inevitable frustration caused by the delay, he insists he is in great shape going into Saturday’s fight.

“There was a lot of talk about what happened but genuinely, I rolled my ankle and that put me out,” he explains. “I was devastated. All I like to do is fight, I can’t stress that enough. I’ve been involved in boxing for 16, 17 years and I don’t enjoy anything else. I can’t explain how much boxing, fighting and competing makes me feel alive, nothing else comes remotely close. I’m just buzzing for the fight to be here now.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as fit, healthy or in as good a shape as I am right now. It’s the first fight in a while where I’m not really nursing an injury going into it, said Edwards. “When you’ve boxed as much as I have, and been in some of the fights I have, it’s going to take some lumps and bumps out of you, but this time it’s all gone well. I’m always confident but I’m in such a good place and even weight-wise, I’ve never done it this well before.”

Edwards said he is looking forward to establishing his name in this part of the world and is aware of his rival’s threat.

“Mama’s a good fighter. He’s done everything that has been asked of him so far,” he said. “I know he’s going to come into the ring with a lot of pent-up feelings and emotions. He’s going to come and try to take my head off because he’s been waiting patiently all year. He was my mandatory challenger and here we are now. I had my mind on Mama, I knew the conditions of me fighting for the world title were that, if I got through it, I’d be facing Mama next and I’m looking forward to it.

“He brings fire, he brings excitement and he wants to take my head off, but I’m fine with all of that. He could have dynamite in both hands, but I have the wind in my feet,” Edwards added.

Mama is one of three Filipino fighters on the card for Saturday’s event, with John Riel Casimero defending his WBO bantamweight title against Paul Butler, and Donnie Nietes facing Norbelto Jiminez.

“I’m sure they will have a lot of fans because it’s a big night for Filipino boxing,” says Edwards.

“Casimero is one of their brightest stars currently. Donnie Nietes has been one of their biggest stars and Mama, if he dethrones me, could be the next big thing coming out of there so it’s going to be pretty hostile but I thrive off that,” he said.

“If I was walking down the street and somebody decided to pick a fight with me, I’d have to kick into survival mode, and when I get into that mindset, it’s not about fighting for my family, or fighting to make my kids proud, or fighting to defend a title, it’s about me beating my opponent up instead of him beating me up. I can’t stress how simple it is in my mind. I think the simplicity of it provides a mental and emotional detachment of pressure.”

Edwards will be welcomed into the ring on Saturday by Michael Buffer, the most famous MC in the sport, and a man who has been involved in some of the biggest fights in history.

“Let’s face it, that’s like something out of a movie,” he admits. “I’m trying to be the most influential flyweight to walk the planet. If I’m getting announced by Michael Buffer, that says a lot about where I’m going. To headline such a great show is the stuff of dreams. Boxing is my place, my home, where I feel most comfortable. To be headlining the Coca-Cola Arena is amazing.

“Big-time boxing is coming to Dubai and it will be here to stay,” said Edwards. “This is going to be the start of something big and I’m buzzing to be a part of it. I can guarantee within the next two or three years, if not sooner, the biggest, best and most exciting fights in the world are all going to be happening in the UAE. 

“I’m just over the moon that a scruffy little kid from Croydon will be part of the first show. It’s life changing and I want to say a big thanks to Probellum for putting me on the card.”

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Lewis Hamilton keeps title dream alive with victory in thrilling, stop-start Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

JEDDAH: Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali is delighted with how hosting the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah has brought an “energy” to the city and confirms how passionate Saudis are about the sport. The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a race ambassador for the grand prix, told Arab News ahead…

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Lewis Hamilton keeps title dream alive with victory in thrilling, stop-start Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

JEDDAH: Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali is delighted with how hosting the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah has brought an “energy” to the city and confirms how passionate Saudis are about the sport.

The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a race ambassador for the grand prix, told Arab News ahead of Sunday’s race that the event is having a “massive” impact on the city.

“I mean everyone, the city, my friends and family, everyone is so excited,” she said. “You can feel the energy having an international event like this, with everything it brings, from the concerts and the events, that ripple effect Formula One has is massive,” she said.

“And I understand that now firsthand, especially the fact that I know what my city is and, now, how it’s changed with the Formula One here.

“I guess just the buildup to this weekend, today the race day, we’ve seen quite a few different things over the weekend and every day it has been very, very busy. Usually, you find some days a little less busy, but from the Friday, as soon as the gates opened, getting around you’re weaving through people.

“And I’ve been to other events and it’s generally not that busy on the Friday, so it just shows you how excited the Saudis are and how much they’re looking forward to it.”

Juffali said she feels honored and blessed to be chosen as a race ambassador and to be representing her country on an international level. She told Arab News how important telling her story will be in inspiring Saudi children to get involved in motorsport.

“I think that is what kind of brought this on, and my experience in racing single seaters has been my career and life for the past three years, so it felt like a fitting role for me and something that I very much look forward to taking on,” she said.

“A lot of it has been sharing my story, connecting with Saudis and Arabs alike, giving them a chance to dream of getting into Formula One, making that a dream for them.

“And nice to see, as well, another side to this sport because it’s not just racing, there’s a whole other world, there’s media, engineering, hospitality — it brings so much with it.

“So, I see that as my role, spreading that awareness and allowing people to understand what the sport entails,” she added.

At the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, world championship leader Max Verstappen can potentially clinch the title, but Juffali is hoping the battle between him and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton can be extended for one more week beyond Jeddah, with the season concluding in Abu Dhabi next week.

“It’s going to be interesting. I think we saw that Max was quite eager in qualifying, but you also saw that he has the speed, so it is there,” she said. “It depends on overtaking, but I think that Lewis could potentially be at a disadvantage starting at the front.

“We don’t know that for sure, but it seems like it’s not going to be as simple in terms of overtaking, so I think if he has a good start and it’s a clean race, and we don’t get safety cars (he has a chance).

 

 

“But the more the race is interrupted, the more Max will have a chance, I think. In the end, it’s about getting the championship done in the next race, at least for myself, I want to see it go to the end,” she added.

Away from the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia and the glamor of F1, Juffali reflected on her season driving in the UK in the British F3 championship the past year — the first in which she felt she could say she was “an actual racing driver” — and told Arab News that, while she felt she did not reach her full potential on the track, she took away many other victories and lessons from the season.

“My driving was a lot more consistent, I was in the pack, always there or thereabouts and close to a good position,” she said. “Often, something would happen, whether it was a mistake from my side or I got unlucky. So, overall, I don’t think my performance reflected my ability.

“But in terms of confidence, in terms of how I’ve grown as a driver… I felt that connection with the car, what it felt like to be able to translate to my engineer and communicate these things.

“So, there were definitely merits and it was a very enjoyable year, and I will take those to the next stage, which I will hopefully announce soon. Stay tuned, you’ll hear more about it.”

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African teams shine: 5 things we learned from second round of group matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

JEDDAH: When you have seen Earth from space, your perspective on life, quite literally, changes. The first Arab, and Muslim, to get that life-changing view, Prince Sultan bin Salman, has already lived a life few could imagine. Perhaps one that is a metaphor for the Kingdom’s hunger to always strive for the next achievement.“Well, I…

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African teams shine: 5 things we learned from second round of group matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

JEDDAH: When you have seen Earth from space, your perspective on life, quite literally, changes.

The first Arab, and Muslim, to get that life-changing view, Prince Sultan bin Salman, has already lived a life few could imagine. Perhaps one that is a metaphor for the Kingdom’s hunger to always strive for the next achievement.“Well, I haven’t started yet achieving anything I really wanted, so give me time, we’re still at the beginning,” Prince Sultan said with a knowing smile, “but every experience has its own dimensions, and I took it on in my life not to compare experiences.”

In this photo dated 1979, Prince Sultan bin Salman with the late Prince Fahd bin Salman and Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al-Saud at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, California in the US. (Supplied)
From the vastness of space to the desolation of the desert, it is all about appreciating the moment.“I could be walking with my camels in the desert,” he said. “On the space shuttle experience, it was a completely separate experience. As pilots, we’re very excited. But then when you go into space, (the) shuttle is really not a pilot experience. You think it’s like ‘I’m a pilot, I’m going to enjoy seeing the Earth for a bit of further destination distance.’”

In his book “Seven Days in Space”, the prince expands on becoming the first Arab astronaut at the age of only 28.

Prince Sultan’s passion these days is flying Learjets, a legacy of his days as a pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force in the 1980s. His trip on the Space Shuttle Discovery would take place from June 17 through June 24, 1985. But it was in the 1970s that he fell in love with cars — his own and, eventually, Formula One cars.The first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix may be hours away but the Kingdom’s historical connection with F1, perhaps a forgotten one, stretches back to the late 1970s and early ‘80s. And for that, Prince Sultan can take a big share of the credit.It was a chance meeting with Frank Williams — who passed away last week at the age of 79 — in Colorado in 1978 that would lead to Saudi Arabia’s first steps into F1. Prince Sultan remembers him with genuine affection.

It’s going to become an industry in Saudi, and it’s going to become something that we make, and we’d be proud of. You’ll see Saudi Arabia surpassing in technology and development and of course, in drivers.

Prince Sultan bin Salman

“Frank Williams, God bless his soul,” he said. “He was a good man, he loved Saudi Arabia, and I really wished that he would have come to this (grand prix) because I was communicating that when he came, we’ll do a joint interview on television about how the team started.”Soon the owner of Williams racing, established in 1977, and its technical director, Patrick Head, were visiting the Kingdom, where Prince Sultan introduced him to his late brother and mentor, Prince Fahd bin Salman, and Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al-Saud, the fomer ambassador for Saudi Arabia to Italy and the UK.“And then the sponsorships started falling in,” said Prince Sultan.These partners were Al Bilad, which gave its name to the team, and national airline and major sponsor Saudia, which backed the team to the tune of $100,000, a fortune in those days.

Prince Sultan bin Salman poses with a modern-day edition of the famous Saudi-sponsored Williams Formula One car of the early 1980s, with F1 champion Alan Jones to his right (Supplied)
The two Williams cars would also carry numbers associated with Prince Sultan.“I was born on June 27,” he said, “so we have the two cars 27 and 6. And then we had 28, which is the backup car. So when Frank and I were talking, Frank said he was willing to do anything. I wish I’d said I’d like to own half of the team for bringing in a sponsor and all that. He would have done that, but I was in it for fun.”And fun he would have. A famous trip to California for the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1979 – in which  saw the trio of Saudi Princes enjoying the company of the likes of Williams, legendary drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt, and former Beatle George Harrison.

Well, I haven’t started yet achieving anything I really wanted, so give me time, we’re still at the beginning.

Prince Sultan bin Salman

“Harrison had a very nice personality,” said Prince Sultan. “I met some of those rock and roll stars in America, and we’d go to concerts. But George Harrison was very, very polite, nice to be with. We would go to dinners and events, he would sit at the same table, and we’d talk. He offered once that if I came to London, he would introduce me to a couple of The Beatles.”With “Fly Saudia” adorning its wings, Williams stormed to the Constructors Championship in 1980 and 1981. The Australian Alan Jones, who had posted the team’s first ever win at that memorable Long Beach Grand Prix, drove Williams to the Driver’s Championship in the first of those triumphs, and in 1983, Keke Rosberg — father of 2016 F1 champion Nico — retained the individual title for the team despite winning only one race all season.On Saturday, Dec. 4, Prince Sultan’s story with F1 came full circle as he visited Jeddah Corniche Circuit and alongside Alan Jones, Jackie Stewart, Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and Aramco CEO Amin Nasser, paused for photos on a modern day reproduction of those iconic Williams cars from the early 1980s.

For Jones in particular, this was a poignant reunion four decades after his championship win with Williams.

The prince is still a fan of F1 and joked that he will not be cheering for Lewis Hamilton as “he’s won everything” and should leave something to the others.I’m always in favor of the young drivers who have just come to this industry,” said Prince Sultan.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix may be hours away but the Kingdom’s historical connection with F1, perhaps a forgotten one, stretches back to the late 1970s and early ‘80s. And for that, Prince Sultan can take a big share of the credit.

• It was a chance meeting with Frank Williams — who passed away last week at the age of 79 — in Colorado in 1978 that would lead to Saudi Arabia’s first steps into F1. Prince Sultan remembers him with genuine affection.

Conditions for the first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are ideal, he believes. “It comes down to, of course, Jeddah is at sea level and there’s the fantastic timing of December now,” he said. “So the cars are not going to suffer. It reminds me of Long Beach because it’s right on the ocean, it’s on the beach. We don’t have the Queen Mary parked there, but we have beautiful Jeddah and it’s really tremendous, we’re all looking forward to it.”Prince Sultan is proud of all things Saudi and highlights the achievements of its engineers, artists, photographers and sportsmen. He sees a time when world class drivers will be added to the list.“Eventually, we’re going to have Saudi drivers (in) F1,” he said. “It is genetic here, I’m telling you, it’s genetic here to be able to do a lot of things, and completely connect very quickly. The talent is here.”Prince Sultan added: “If you want the definitive thing from me, I say Saudi Arabia not only has to host F1 — we have to go beyond that. We have to do what Saudi Arabia does best, not to beat this or to be better than that, but we need to do our own car and push the technology that will filter down to other things we do here in Saudi, and we need to build it and design it.”The motorsport industry in the Kingdom has already taken major steps in recent years, with the hosting of the Dakar Rally, Formula E and Extreme E, and now, the grandest of the lot.“Saudi Arabia’s relationship with F1 is not going to stop, I’m sure, by hosting it on the racetrack,” he said. “It’s going to become an industry in Saudi, and it’s going to become something that we make, and we’d be proud of. You’ll see Saudi Arabia surpassing in technology and development and of course, in drivers.” We’re still at the beginning.

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