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Babar, Rizwan star as Pakistan break India jinx with rout

The UAE Pro League returned over the weekend after a month-long hiatus that saw disappointments for the national team in its 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and for Al-Wahda in the AFC Champions League quarter-final. But continental frustrations were forgotten for a while as matchday 7 produced some thrilling encounters, including two head-to-head clashes between…

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Babar, Rizwan star as Pakistan break India jinx with rout

The UAE Pro League returned over the weekend after a month-long hiatus that saw disappointments for the national team in its 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and for Al-Wahda in the AFC Champions League quarter-final.

But continental frustrations were forgotten for a while as matchday 7 produced some thrilling encounters, including two head-to-head clashes between teams in the top five, while the competition’s most successful sides, Al-Ain and Al-Wasl, also locked horns.

1. Contrasting fortunes for Lima and Caio as Al-Ain cruise past Al-Wasl

Under the watchful eye of their former boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena, who was present in the stands at Zabeel Stadium, Brazilian-born UAE internationals Fabio Lima and Caio Canedo faced off as Al-Wasl went down 2-0 to Al-Ain.

Two years after the Argentine’s departure from Al-Wasl, the club looked a shadow of the side that finished second in 2016-17 and third the season after, when it also reached the President’s Cup final. Since then, the Cheetahs have finished ninth for two consecutive seasons.

On the night of his return to his old stomping ground, Caio’s curled effort into the top corner 12 minutes from time sealed the victory for Al-Ain, after Ivorian defender Kouame Autonne had put them in front just after the half-hour mark. The former Al-Wasl man refused to celebrate and was met with a roaring standing ovation from the home crowd, even as he sent them down to that dreaded ninth place.

While Lima remains a fan favorite and club captain at Al-Wasl, he must have been left wondering “what if” as his former strike partner headed back east to Al-Ain with the three points and top spot in the UAE Pro League secured.

2. Mendes masterclass consigns former boss Al-Anbari to the sack

Another man downing his former club this weekend was former Sharjah winger Ryan Mendes — and the consequences of his Al-Nasr side’s 3-0 triumph at Sharjah Stadium were dire for the man who had first brought Mendes to the UAE Pro League.

The Cape Verdean winger combined with Dia Saba to devastating effect as the Blues cruised to a 3-0 away victory. Mendes set up the opener in added time at the end of the first half and then rifled into the top corner with 20 minutes to go. His apologies to his former fan base would have meant little for Sharjah boss Abdulaziz Al-Anbari, who was axed in the aftermath of the defeat.

Four years after his appointment at the club he captained for the best part of a decade, Al-Anbari was dismissed with the club sitting fifth in the table, following a run of one win in their last seven games in all competitions, including elimination from the AFC Champions League round of 16 at the hands of Al-Wahda and the League Cup at the hands of Ittihad Kalba.

Al-Anbari, however, leaves with his head held high, having transformed a side that was languishing in the relegation zone when he took over halfway through the 2016-17 season. He led them to the league title in 2018-19 — their first championship since 1995-96, when Al-Anbari himself was a rising star in the club’s midfield — before adding the 2019 Super Cup and finishing fourth last term.

3. Turkish referee Cakir on the spot as Shabab Al-Ahli down Al-Jazira

In what was a heated top-four clash between reigning champions Al-Jazira and their hosts Shabab Al-Ahli, all eyes were on a new import to the league. Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir became the first foreigner to officiate a UAE Pro League match since the UAE Football Association announced a controversial change to the rule that required all domestic competitions to be officiated by Emirati referees.

The 2015 UEFA Champions League final referee made a strong case for foreign referees on his debut as Shabab Al-Ahli beat Al-Jazira 2-1 in Dubai.

Abdullah Ramadan found the net at Rashid Stadium for the second season running after a sublime through pass from poacher-turned-creator Ali Mabkhout.

Having been denied an opener due to an offside decision — the first major call by Cakir and his team of officials — Brazilian youngster Yuri Cesar brought Shabab Al-Ahli level before the break, driving in at the far post after an Azizjon Ganiev corner.

The pick of the goals arrived after 72 minutes, with Iranian international Ahmad Nourollahi settling the game with a fine strike into the top corner after a solo run from midfield, ensuring his side overtook Al-Jazira in second place.

4. Four-star Al-Wahda send pointless Emirates Club closer to unwanted record

Fresh off their AFC Champions League quarter-final elimination at the hands of Saudi Arabia’s Al-Nassr, Al-Wahda put on an emphatic attacking display to thrash newly promoted Emirates Club 4-1 at Al-Nahyan Stadium — a win that could be seen from two contrasting angles.

Coach Henk ten Cate’s men extended their unbeaten run since the start of the league season to seven games, but they remain in mid-table. The reason? The victory on Saturday night was their first since beating the other promoted side, Al-Urooba, 4-0 on the opening weekend. Since then, Al-Wahda have drawn each of their five games, so questions remain as to whether the Abu Dhabi side can replicate their attacking displays against teams of higher quality.

Emirates may have already been down to 10 men when Al-Wahda’s Khalil Al-Hammadi canceled out Joseph Gnadou’s opener early in the second half, but Ten Cate will without a doubt be encouraged by the fact that all of his front four got on the scoresheet, with Joao Pedro heading in the second, Fabio Martins applying a composed finish to make it three and Omar Kharbin rounding off the scoring with a brilliant free-kick under the wall.

For the Ras Al-Khaimah-based side, a swift return to the First Division seems inevitable but, even worse, coach Tarik Sektioui’s men run the risk of becoming the worst performers in the competition’s history. Emirates Club are yet to collect a single point, a quarter of the way through the season. They will need at least nine points to better the unwanted record of Ajman Club, who went down in 2009-10 with just eight.

5. Centenarian Diop breaks Gyan’s record

Back where it all started a decade ago, 34-year-old Al-Dhafra forward Makhete Diop rolled back the years as he bagged a brace against Ajman to become the UAE Pro League’s all-time top foreign scorer with 101 goals, breaking the 100-goal record set by Ghanaian legend Asamoah Gyan in Al-Ain and Shabab Al-Ahli’s colors.

After arriving from Syrian side Al-Karamah in the summer of 2011, Diop established himself as Al-Dhafra’s finest scorer of all time, striking up a deadly partnership with current Al-Wahda forward Kharbin over five years.

The Senegalese striker then departed to Shabab Al-Ahli for two successful seasons, before short stints in China with Beijing Renhe and Saudi Arabia with Al-Shabab. Al-Dhafra came calling again in January and Diop was back doing what he does best: Scoring goals for fun in the league he knows so well. His latest two were classic well-taken finishes from inside the box to cement his legacy as one of the most-feared forwards in the history of the UAE Pro League.

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Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of…

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Michael Vaughan ‘sorry’ for Azeem Rafiq hurt in cricket racism case

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of a purple patch at the moment in both club and international football. It was a comfortable win without the drama of some past continental finals.

Only a day later, however, two Saudi teams played to a match that left those who saw it rubbing their eyes in disbelief?

Alex Ferguson was famously exasperated after Manchester United scored twice in the dying moments of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final to come from behind to defeat Barcelona 2-1. He stunned the reporters with his direct quip.

But what would the Scot have said if he’d seen the breathtaking 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh on Thursday? Not only was it the highest scoring match in the history of the Saudi Professional League, but it arguably must be ranked among one of the best too. What is for certain is that it is the most exciting match of the season so far.

OK, some of the defending may not be studied in the upper echelons of world football anytime soon, even if the backlines were better than you may expect from looking at the scoreline, but it was a game that showed the strength in depth in the top tier of Saudi Arabian football. It also revealed the range of entertainment on offer in the league. Some of the attacking play was thrilling, plenty of the goals were out of the top drawer.

As a spectacle, it was astonishing. Al-Fateh were a team that had lost the previous three games and were sitting firmly in the bottom half of the table and concerned with not getting sucked into a relegation battle. They came up against a team in second but one that was only in their third ever season in the top tier with the first two being battles against relegation.

But first, let’s look at the game, though this may take some time with all the goals. In just the third minute, Carlos Cueva was given the freedom of the Damac area after a fantastic run and pass from right-back Nawaf Boushal and the Peruvian forward stabbed home the opener for Al-Fateh. Just 13 minutes later, the visitors were ahead thanks to two goals from Hillel Soudani. The Algerian cut in from the right, twisted and turned defenders on the edge of the area and then fired a precise left-footed shot into the corner. Soon after, he shot home a rebound with more power and Damac were ahead.

Within moments however, the hosts had equalised thanks to Ali Al-Zaqan. The initial goal had been ruled offside but VAR rightly overturned the decision. On the stroke of half-time, Damac struck again to go in at the break with a 3-2 advantage. It was another impressive strike. The ball fell to Felipe Augusto about 30 meters away from goal and the Brazilian’s low shot was fired into the bottom corner. Both teams continued to have excellent chances but when Mijo Caktas extended Damac’s lead just after the hour, it looked as if that was that. The Croatian skipped past a challenge outside the area and scored with another long-range shot that perhaps the goalkeeper, who was partially unsighted, should have kept out.

Al-Fateh had always looked dangerous however and pulled a goal back after 69 minutes after another Croatian made the scoresheet. Ivan Santini knew little about his strike as the goalkeeper’s save bounced off his chest and in. With 15 minutes remaining it was 4-4. A Damac hand in the box gave Al-Fateh a penalty and Cueva got his second.

Within seconds, amazingly, Al-Fateh were ahead thanks to Firas Al-Buraikan. The Saudi Arabian international could not miss from close range after a perfect cross from Murad Batna and so the hosts had come back from 4-2 down to be 5-4 ahead. This was surely one of the greatest comebacks and games in the league’s history.

But Damac were not finished. With 11 minutes still on the clock it was 5-5 as Emilio Zelaya scored another goal from outside the area.

“It was a very strange game,” said Al-Fateh president Saad Al-Afaliq. “We even could have won it late on had Firas Al-Buraikan had scored late in the game. We have had a few injuries but are now getting up to the right levels of fitness and condition.”

The point initially put Damac on top of the league but just two hours later, Al-Shabab defeated Al-Raed 3-0 to go into pole position. A first half goal from Moteb Al-Harbi was added to in the second half by Ever Banega and Carlos Carvalho. It is quite a turnaround for a club that won just one of their first six games of the season and were rumored to be thinking about firing coach Pericles Chamusca.

Now they are top and the title race is going to be something special. Al-Ittihad can return to the summit on Sunday and then Al-Hilal have several games in hand but are in fourth place. The season is shaping up to be an exciting one, but whatever happens, there won’t be a more exciting game than the 10-goal thriller witnessed on Thursday.

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Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

LONDON: Former cricketer and sports broadcaster Michael Vaughan has apologized for the hurt Azeem Rafiq has experienced amid his former Yorkshire teammate’s allegations of racism. Rafiq told a parliamentary committee earlier this month about the “inhuman” treatment he endured while playing for the county, with former England captain Vaughan named among several figures implicated in…

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Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

LONDON: Former cricketer and sports broadcaster Michael Vaughan has apologized for the hurt Azeem Rafiq has experienced amid his former Yorkshire teammate’s allegations of racism.

Rafiq told a parliamentary committee earlier this month about the “inhuman” treatment he endured while playing for the county, with former England captain Vaughan named among several figures implicated in the tussle. 

Vaughan has denied claims that he said there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” to Rafiq and three other Asian players before a match in 2009.

But while the allegations and investigations continue, the BBC has jettisoned Vaughan from its upcoming coverage of England’s Ashes tour of Australia due to a potential “conflict of interest.”

In an interview with the BBC following the decision, Vaughan said: “I’m sorry for the hurt (Rafiq has) gone through. Time I don’t think can ever be a healer in the situation that he’s gone through.

“But hopefully time can be a way of us making sure that Yorkshire County Cricket Club never goes through this situation again and never puts themselves in a position of denial that they treated a player so badly.

“It hurts deeply, hurts me that a player has gone through so much (and) been treated so badly at the club that I love.

“I have to take some responsibility for that because I played for Yorkshire County Cricket Club for 18 years and if in any way shape or form I’m responsible for any of his hurt, I apologise for that.”

Rafiq’s testimony to MPs has been supported by former Pakistan bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and England leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who said they heard Vaughan’s “you lot” comment.

When asked by the BBC if they were lying about the allegation, Vaughan said: “The problem with this situation is that we’ve got too much ‘he said, he said, she said, did they say’ and I think we’ve got to move on from accusations of conversations from many years ago. There’s a bigger picture here.”

The 47-year-old added that the alleged incident occurred during “my last few games and I just remember it clearly that I was proud as punch that we had four Asian players representing Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

“Nothing but a proud, senior, old pro just about to retire and absolutely delighted that Yorkshire had come so far in my time at the club.”

His apology also included regret for a series of tweets from a similar time, which included comments on the lack of English speakers in London and suggesting that England colleague spin bowler Moeen Ali should ask fellow Muslims that he was not acquainted with if they are terrorists.

“I apologise deeply to anyone that I’ve offended with those tweets,” Vaughan said. “Times have moved on and I regret those tweets. We all make mistakes and in my life I’ve made quite a few mistakes on Twitter, I apologise for that.”

The former England skipper accepted the BBC’s decision to ditch him from the Ashes coverage, which kicks off on Dec. 8. 

“I won’t be doing the Ashes which I understand, the editorial at the moment is all about Azeem Rafiq and racism in the game of cricket. I get that,” he said.

“I just hope in time I get that chance to come back. The one thing I love more than anything since I retired is talking cricket. I love being on Test Match Special and hopefully in time I get that chance to do it again.”

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Eddie Howe to make Newcastle managerial debut against Arsenal

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is finally set to make his Newcastle United managerial debut at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Saturday after testing negative for COVID-19. The head coach missed last week’s Premier League encounter with Brentford, which ended in a 3-3 draw, having tested positive the previous evening. His assistant Jason Tindall and coach Graeme Jones…

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Eddie Howe to make Newcastle managerial debut against Arsenal

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is finally set to make his Newcastle United managerial debut at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Saturday after testing negative for COVID-19.

The head coach missed last week’s Premier League encounter with Brentford, which ended in a 3-3 draw, having tested positive the previous evening. His assistant Jason Tindall and coach Graeme Jones took charge of that game.

However, the club have now confirmed on Twitter that ex-Bournemouth boss Howe is ready to take the helm for a competitive game.

“Newcastle United can confirm that Eddie Howe will be in the dugout for tomorrow’s game at the Emirates Stadium after returning a negative COVID test this morning,” the club announced on Friday.

It had been expected Howe would miss the trip in line with UK COVID-19 protocols, which state that anyone who returns a positive test must self-isolate for 10 days from the date of the test or from the date that symptoms first appeared.

Arab News understands that Howe and the club’s medical staff traced the symptoms back to midway through last week, around the time Howe was publicly unveiled as Newcastle’s new manager, and confirmed that he has satisfied all relevant rules for return to work with the relevant governing bodies this week.

Tindall, speaking about Howe at the club’s pre-match press conference, said: “We know COVID impacts people differently. And he is much better now than he was.

“From how Eddie was Sunday, Monday, Tuesday in comparison to how he is feeling now, and the tone of his voice in the latter part of this week, there’s been a big difference. He’s followed all the protocols. It’s down to Eddie and the medical professionals. Everyone that knows Ed wants to be in the dugout (at Arsenal). Even if he was 20 percent, he’d want to be there, that’s for sure. We’re certainly looking forward to having him back.”

Logistically the week has been a challenge for Tindall, also a former manager of Bournemouth, with Howe holed up in his Gateshead Quayside hotel room.

Daily training videos have been sent from the club’s Benton training ground to the hotel and the phone lines have been hot with chatter between Howe and his numerous coaches.

“In terms of dialogue, we have been in constant contact with the manager,” Tindall said. “Maybe four, five, six times a day — before training, after, then in the evening preparing training for the next day.

“The lads have been working extremely hard on the training ground,” he added.

Of his close friend Howe’s struggles this week, Tindall said: “It has been difficult having the virus, having to isolate in a hotel room. We have missed him as a group of staff and I am sure the players will have missed him out on the grass. You want your leader with you and the fans want the manager on the touchline. Eddie is a very ‘hands-on’ coach, and he has played a huge part in the preparation for Arsenal.”

Howe has a near-full squad to choose from for the game, with only Dwight Gayle and Paul Dummett doubts.

“Dwight Gayle was feeling his hamstring slightly so that’s one that will be assessed,” said Tindall. “Other than that there’s been no new injury concerns for us with a training session still to do today.”

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