Former Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins said she was ready for a possible second-round match with World No 1 Iga Swiatek at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open. The 29-year-old American is among the seven of the top 10-ranked players set to compete at the WTA 500 level event which begins tomorrow at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex. Collins, ranked 42 in the world, will open her campaign against a qualifier in the first round with defending champion Swiatek waiting next.Collins has happy memories of facing three-time Grand Slam champion Swiatek after having knocked out the Polish in the semi-finals of the Australian Open last year. “I haven’t had the best luck with the draws recently,” said Collins after the draw ceremony yesterday.“But I think starting off the year, facing such strong opponents with Rybakina and Ostapenko and now potentially Iga in the second round, I’m being challenged with playing the best players in the world and I think it’s a good challenge. That’s the position you want to be in, right? Playing against the best people in the world. So hopefully I can just try to play my best tennis and I certainly will have to do that and maybe some better draws in the future,” she added.At this year’s Australian Open, Collins lost to eventual runner-up Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in the third round, while she failed to get past Jelena Ostapenko in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Open last week. This is Collins’ first trip to Doha and she is hoping she can change her fortunes here.“This is my first time here. So this is a part of the world that I haven’t really gotten to travel to before and really looking forward to being able to discover the city and be able to play some good tennis too. I’ve always heard great things about the event here and it being one of the most well run tournaments and one of the most hospitable tournaments too. So everyone looks forward to coming here and it’s great to be here for the first time,” she said.No 7 seed Belinda Bencic or former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka could be potential quarter-final opponents for either Swiatek or Collins.In the second quarter, fourth seed Coco Gauff has a first-round bye and will face either Zhang Shuai or two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in her first match.At the bottom of that section, eighth seed Veronika Kudermetova will meet former Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova in the first round. The winner of that match will take on either Liudmila Samsonova or former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.The third quarter is led by third seed Caroline Garcia (with a first-round bye) and fifth seed Maria Sakkari, who has a tricky opener against Zheng Qinwen, last season’s WTA Newcomer of the Year.In the bottom half of the draw, second seed Jessica Pegula will meet either fellow American Madison Keys or former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko in round two.Sixth seed Daria Kasatkina is also in the bottom quarter. The Russian will play a qualifier first up, with the winner of that match facing either Paula Badosa or Beatriz Haddad Maia in a tough second-round clash.Qualifying first round results (prefix denotes seeding) Ka. Pliskova (CZE) bt A. Bogdan (ROU) 3-6, 6-2, 63; H. Dart (GBR) bt BT Jakupovic (SLO) 6-4, 6-1; BT Yastremska (UKR) bt C. Liu (USA) 6-3, 6-4;  L. Fernandez (CAN) bt J. Paolini (ITA) 6-2, 6-4;  M. Bouzkova (CZE) bt L. Siegemund (GER) 6-1, 6-1; T. Martincova (CZE) bt N. Abduraimova (UZB) 1-6, 6-3, 6-4; R. Marino (CAN) bt [SR] K. Zavatska (UKR) 6-3, 0-6, 6-3;  A. Sasnovich bt [ALT] B. Mattek-Sands (USA) 6-2, 6-4;  J. Teichmann (SUI) bt S. Cirstea (ROU) 6-4, 6-3; E. Ruse (ROU) bt M. Uchijima (JPN) 6-2, 6-0; M. Frech (POL) bt [WC] BT Parry (FRA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-0;  E. Mertens (BEL) bt [WC] M. Al-Naimi (QAT) 6-0, 6-0; L. Davis (USA) bt  A. Kalinina (UKR) 7-5, 7-6(3); V. Tomova (BUL) bt M. Zanevska (BEL) 7-5 RET; M. Brengle (USA) bt [WC] E. Yashina 6-4, 6-2;  B. Pera (USA) bt A. Kalinskaya 6-1, 2-6, 7-6(4)TODAY’S SCHEDULE(from 3:30pm)Grandstand 1: D. Yastremska (UKR) vs  L. Fernandez (CAN);  Ka. Pliskova (CZE) vs H. Dart (GBR); Grandstand 2: M. Frech (POL) vs  E. Mertens (BEL);  M. Bouzkova (CZE) vs T. Martincova (CZE); Court 3:  J. Teichmann (SUI) vs E. Ruse (ROU); L. Davis (USA) vs V. Tomova (BUL); Court 4: R. Marino (CAN) vs  A. Sasnovich; M. Brengle (USA) vs  B. Pera (USA)
Morocco once again showed incredible composure and proved they are not intimidated by the occasion as the Atlas Lions became the first African and Arab team to enter the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup yesterday.Morocco knocked out Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal 1-0 through a 42nd-minute goal from Youssef En-Nesyri at the Al Thumama Stadium, displaying incredible defensive solidity, despite having a myriad of injuries to deal with.Going into their quarter-final tie against the former European champions, Morocco had already made the football world take notice of them after they held fellow semi-finalist and 2018 runners-up Croatia to a draw in the group stage.They had also stunned World No 2 Belgium, former champions Spain and now with the Portugal scalp, Walid Regragui’s men have marched into the last four stage. In eight and a half hours of game time in Qatar, no opposition player has scored against them. The only time they have conceded, against Canada, was an own goal.“We came up against a really great Portugal team. We’re drawing on all we have, we still have guys injured. I told the guys before the match we had to write history for Africa. I’m very, very happy,” coach Regragui said after the match.Morocco played more than half of the eight minutes of stoppage time with 10 players as Walid Cheddira was sent off with two yellow cards.Morocco, encouraged by the majority of the capacity crowd went into defensive mode as Portugal, who again left Ronaldo out of their starting line-up preferring last 16’s hat-trick hero Goncalo Ramos in the team, attacked from the start.A fourth-minute free kick for Portugal from wide on the right was swung into the penalty area, and met by Joao Felix’s diving header but Yassine Bounou was alert to make a fine save.But the supply quickly dried up thereafter as Morocco closed the passing lanes and frustrated the Portuguese attackers. Felix had two more half chances in the first half but Morocco gained in confidence and found a sudden spring in their step, frequently breaking on the counter attack.Left back Yahya Attiat-Allah made several surging runs down the flank, presenting Selim Amallah with a good chance in the 35th minute, which he was unable to convert.But seven minutes later, a high ball from the fullback into the Portuguese box was met by a towering header from En-Nesyri, out jumping both goalkeeper Diogo Costa and defender Ruben Dias to hand Morocco the lead.Portuguese frustration was obvious as they swarmed the referee at the end of the first half, complaining that several penalty appeals had been turned down.The North Africans came close to a second goal four minutes into the second half as Jawad El Yamiq got a touch to Hakim Ziyech’s in-swinging free kick but Costa was in place this time to block.Ronaldo’s entry in the 51st minute was met with a loud chorus of jeers, buthe did inject a new energy into the Portugal side for whom Ramos, the hat-trick hero of their 6-1 win over Switzerland in the previous round, missed with a close-in header in the 58th minute. Bruno Fernandes hit the top of the crossbar five minutes later as Portugal threw more into attack and Morocco began to sit deeper. Bounou saved again from Felix with seven minutes left.Morocco’s Cheddira was sent off in stoppage time after receiving two yellow cards in quick succession. But the Moroccans, to the delight of their raucous support, held out for a famous victory.Five-time Ballon d’Or winner and Portugal’s all-time leading goal scorer Ronaldo with 118 goals in 195 appearances, stormed off the pitch after the final whistle crying effusively.Ronaldo, 37, who with Lionel Messi has dominated world football for the past two decades, has likely played his last World Cup match.Portugal manager Fernando Santos said he would not change his decision of leaving Ronaldo on the bench.“I do not regret leaving Ronaldo on the bench,” coach Santos told a news conference.“I used the team that played really well against Switzerland and there was no reason to change it. The strategic decision that I had to make was one of the hardest, but I can’t think with my heart, I have to think with my head. It’s not that Ronaldo is no longer a great player, that has nothing to do with it,” he said.Three African teams had fallen in the quarter-final stage before Regragui’s boys finally ended the continent’s long wait for a semi-final place. Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 had all made strong runs in the tournament but were unable to go beyond the last eight.“We’re becoming the team that everyone loves at this World Cup, because we’re showing that even if you don’t have as much talent, if you show that desire, heart and belief, you can achieve. I’m sure many of you will say this is a miracle, but we’ve won without conceding against Belgium, Spain, Portugal and that’s the result of hard work.”Morocco were without injured defenders Noussair Mazraoui and Nayef Aguerd yesterday, while captain Romain Saiss was stretchered off early in the second half.Morocco will take on France on Wednesday at Al Bayt Stadium with the chance to become the first nation from outside Europe or South America to reach the final.Till then Morocco carries the hopes of the Arab world and Africa in the tournament and everyone is onboard.
It was a seasoned performance by the Louis van Gaal side, much to the delight of Dutch fans at Khalifa International Stadium yesterday.The Netherlands performance also ended the United States World Cup dream, entering the quarter-finals with a 3-1 win. The USA battled hard but lacked a cutting edge as first-half goals from Memphis Depay and Daley Blind and a late strike from Denzel Dumfries sealed the deal. USA started the game looking positive but since then, the Louis van Gaal boys who have a commanding 2-0 lead at the break, have tactically outsmarted the Americans.The Netherlands, in search of their first World Cup title after losing in three previous finals, will face Argentina in the quarter-finals at Lusail Stadium on Friday.“We always want to improve and, since the start of the tournament, it’s been getting better and better with each game,” Louis van Gaal said.Louis van Gaal has now gone eleven World Cup games in charge without defeat, second only to Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari as a coach to never lose on the grand stage. “I was very critical at half-time. We were in the lead 2-0. However we suffered in the first half, we were dispossessed so often and that’s not acceptable at a World Cup. If you play like that against top countries you won’t make it.”The US had the game’s golden chance when Christian Pulisic was denied by the legs of Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert in the fourth minute and the failure to take that opportunity proved highly expensive. And after that, the United States did just what the Netherlands wanted them to.In the 10th minute Coady Gakpo, who scored in the first three group games, made space for Depay to blow past the United States midfield to finish the chance created by Denzel Dumfries. Again before the half, a fullback Sergino Dest was caught flat-footed for Daley Blind to finish in a fullback to fullback goal that drove home the Dutch style of play.Changes came at halftime with Gio Reyna entering for Jesus Ferreira but that wasn’t enough to get back into the game. Haji Wright pulled one back from a Netherlands collapse before Dumfries capped his excellent game with an 81st minute goal to put things out of sight.Depay opened the scoring for Netherlands, slotting the ball into the net with a shot from inside the box. Right on the cusp of half-time, Daley Blind swept in Netherlands’ second to put his team 2-0 ahead. Haji Right pulled one back for USA in the second-half to instil some hope in the hearts of fans. Just minutes later, Denzel Dumfries scored his first goal of the tournament to seal the deal.This is the third consecutive exit from the last 16 for the USA. In 2014 and 2010, they were knocked out in the pre-quarter-finals by Belgium and Ghana. “When you look at the difference between the two teams, there was some offensive finishing quality that Holland had that we were lacking,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We don’t have a Memphis Depay right now who’s scoring in the Champions League, playing for Barcelona, experienced at scoring at this level.”The Americans were without Josh Sargent, who did not dress due to an ankle injury, and they missed his presence with the lack movement and space in attack. The USA, one of the unbeaten teams at the first round, have proven in Qatar they are capable of giving any side a run for their money.In their Group B matches, USA defeated Iran 1-0, played a 1-1 draw with Wales and were involved in a 0-0 stalemate with England. USA played a much more attacking-minded and attractive brand of football compared with how they set up during their last two World Cup campaigns. With an average age of 24, the USA were one of the youngest teams at the World Cup. Many of the players of their squad are likely to remain in the team during the next World Cup cycle.The experience gained could serve them well as they prepare to co-host the 2026 World Cup, alongside Mexico and Canada.
In the first-half it was an intriguing game, rather than an exciting one. But in the second-half, the contest morphed into a thrilling one for the sea of yellow shirts in the stands, who outnumbered their counterparts in red at the capacity Lusail Stadium yesterday.It was Richarlison, who turned out to be the hero for tournament favourites Brazil as the five-time champions got their World Cup campaign up and running with a 2-0 win over a stubborn Serbia. The forward scored a brace after the break – including a spectacular acrobatic scissor-kick – as Brazil went top of Group G.“It’s a childhood dream come true,” Richarlison said after the game. “We played a good game, especially in the second-half, when the opponent got tired, and we managed to take advantage of that. We knew it was going to be difficult to get past them. I’m used to playing against defensive teams like this in England. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that I had and I did.”Serbia proved tough nut to crack, never allowing the free-flowing Brazilians the space to make those threatening runs. Neymar and company found it hard to earn an opening as the Serbians put bodies behind the ball as though they were fighting for their lives.Brazil continued to press hard for a goal in the second-half, getting a better flow and movement in their attacks. And eventually the first goal came in the 62nd minute as Vinicius Junior and Neymar combined for Richarlison’s goal. As the electric Vinicius fired the ball into his path, all Richarlison had to do was a tap-in to open the scoring.The 80,000-capacity Lusail Stadium erupted in delight in the 73rd minute with Richarlison producing a moment of magic with an outrageous bicycle-kick. The 25-year-old used one touch to get the ball up in the air and then spun around and got off the ground before knocking the ball into the net with his right foot. The double strike confirmed the Brazilians were surely home and dry as Serbia looked mentally and physically done.Richarlison has scored nine goals in his last seven appearances for Brazil in all competitions, becoming the eighth Brazilian to score a brace on his World Cup debut, and first since Neymar in 2014. Brazil’s best chance before Richarlison’s opening goal had been a low-range shot by Alex Sandro that hit the post in the 60th minute.Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic said there was ‘no shame’ in losing to Brazil as he chose to look at the positives. “The ambience was fantastic, even the Serbian supporters gave us enough support,” he said.“The second-half we gave Brazil too much space. To lose against Brazil is no shame and they were deserved winners. My team was completely physically down and I don’t know why and I would like to know that. We will analyse the game and prepare as much as possible to be ready for the next game,” he added.
Twenty years have passed since Brazil last hoisted the FIFA World Cup trophy. Most of the current team members would have been in primary school when Cafu and his men lifted the trophy in 2002, held jointly in South Korea and Japan.The closest Selecao have come in recent World Cups was when they reached the semi-finals as host nation in 2014, but they were drubbed by Germany 1-7.In Russia 2018, the five-time champions bowed out in the quarter-finals losing to Belgium, making it a long way for the South American giants.The new generation Brazil players, with 16 of them making their World Cup debut, face confident Serbia in a tough Qatar 2002 campaign opener at the Lusail Stadium today.Brazil have exited the last four World Cups early after defeats by European heavyweights – France and Zinedine Zidane in 2006, the Netherlands and Arjen Robben in 2010, Toni Kroos and Germany in 2014, and Belgium and Kevin De Bruyne in 2018.Brazil have found some of their mojo again, going unbeaten en route to Qatar, scoring 45 goals and conceding just five. As impressive as the qualifying campaign was, Brazil and coach Tite know its significance will be limited when playing the very best at the World Cup.“The pressure is natural. Brazil have the biggest history in soccer and with that legacy always comes the pressure. Pressure is inevitable,” Tite said yesterday.Tite said it is not his responsibility that Brazil have not won the tournament in 20 years.He said he can only be accountable for the last four years, his only complete cycle since Brazil lost against Belgium in the quarter-finals in Russia in 2018.“In Russia we only had two years to fix the team and I came to the rescue. Now it is different because I had the opportunity to build the team the way I wanted,” Tite said.“That’s why my feeling today is completely different than four years ago. I’m not that nervous because all the work has been done,” the 61-year-old Brazilian said.Veteran defender and captain Thiago Silva, who is playing in his fourth World Cup, said he is better prepared this time than in previous editions.“I am prepared and very motivated,” Silva said yesterday.“Sometimes you have to live through tough experiences to learn. I’m more at ease now. This is the best version of Thiago Silva and I’m in the best stage of my career,” said the 38-year-old Chelsea centre-back.Brazil is going with fit and firing Neymar, and a well-balanced squad around him.“I think Neymar is coming into this competition in great form,” said Silva.A 30-year-old Neymar arrives fresh from a fantastic start to the season with Paris Saint-Germain in which he has scored 15 goals in 20 games.“His preparation this time has been different. In 2014 he got injured just as he was playing so well, and in 2018 he came into the tournament in a different way because he had a serious injury so hadn’t played much. This time is different and he has not been injured. Neymar is a lot better prepared.”Talking about Brazil’s players that have never played a World Cup match, Silva said: Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo have already shown they can handle high-stakes pressure for their clubs. Both were key members of the Real Madrid team that won this year’s UEFA Champions League title by beating Liverpool 1-0 in Paris. They will help Neymar because they can divide up the responsibility and create space for him. The mixture of experience and youth is very important,” the 38-year-old Chelsea centre-back said. The favourites Brazil can’t underestimate Serbia, who boast a rich vein of form in its third appearance at the global showpiece as an independent nation after debuting in South Africa in 2010.A well-knit Serbia finished their qualifying campaign by beating Portugal away and topping their group and played six UEFA Nations League matches this year and won four of them.“It will be a tough game. An extremely difficult game. But the game starts 0-0. And we are not afraid of anyone in the world. Not even of Brazil,” said Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic, who was appointed in February last year to succeed Ljubisa Tumbakovic after Serbia failed to qualify for Euro 2020, yesterday.Serbia’s winger Filip Kostic is in danger of missing the match due to a thigh injury.“We already have 99% of the line-up in mind. But what I can say is that there is still a big question mark over Kostic,” Stojkovic said. The Juventus player has only done running practice in Qatar so far.
To the joy of thousands of English fans at the Khalifa International Stadium and millions back home, England started their World Cup campaign in thoroughly convincing fashion yesterday.The Three Lions, one of the title contenders, outclassed Iran 6-2 in an incident-packed Group B opener. “To win by that margin, to play as we did for the majority of the game, we’ve got to be really happy,” said England manager Gareth Southgate.Arsenal star Bukayo Saka scored a brace while teenager Jude Bellingham also found the net in their team’s strongest-ever start to a major tournament, while Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish also added their name to the score sheet in a superb performance.England came into the tournament without a win in six games, but a brilliant opening 45 minutes set up the second-half stroll for them.The rout began when 19-year-old wonderkid Bellingham, who became the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup for England, after Michael Owen in 1998, leaped to nod a Luke Shaw cross home in the 46th minute. Minutes later Saka smashed home a left foot shot off the crossbar. And then Sterling blasted in a volley following a cross from captain Harry Kane, effectively winning the game before halftime.In the second-half, Saka grabbed his second with an hour on the clock. He passed the ball into the net after a mazy run to become the youngest England player to score two at a World Cup game. “We haven’t played the best coming into the tournament. There was a lot of talk and speculation about our form but we showed everyone how much quality we have and what we can do,” said Saka.However, Southgate’s side would not be able to boast a clean sheet as Iran striker Mehdi Taremi pegged England back with a fierce strike past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. Iran were awarded a penalty kick via VAR into stoppage-time, which they converted, but it mattered little. “It’s a great start. I’ve got to keep the team on the right track and we’ll have to be better,” Southgate said.“The players dealt with the game really well. Our press was really good, our movement was really good. I’ve got to be really happy. But we shouldn’t be conceding two goals at that stage of the game. We’ll have to be right on our game. It’s a great start, but we’ll have to be better,” England manger added.Iran had barely threatened the rivals after suffering the early setback of losing goalkeeper Beiranvand to suspected concussion but this was never going to change the course of the game given the chasm in class between the two teams.“My view is simple and very pragmatic. The game finished in the first half at 3-0 down. The only goal then was to enjoy the game and be part of one moment,” said Iran manager Carlos Queiroz after the match.“At the beginning it was clear the difference between high level competitive football and our players unfortunately they don’t have the same experience. But we win or we learn. We are privileged to learn a lot from the English team and are better prepared to play Wales,” he added.This was only the second time England have scored six goals in a major tournament (England beat Panama 6-1 in Russia World Cup), but it will get harder for England as they now face the United States and passionate Wales, but this was the perfect start. Iran, meanwhile, run into Wales on Friday desperate to keep their last 16 hopes alive.Grealish keeps promise to young fan with celebrationJack Grealish kept his promise to a young fan who has cerebral palsy with his celebration after scoring his first World Cup goal for England against Iran. Grealish tapped home the final goal from close range in a 6-2 win and marked the moment with a broad smile and stretched his arms out to the side, rolling them in waves.The Manchester City midfielder was keeping a pledge he made to 11-year-old Finlay, who met his favourite player after writing a letter to Grealish, whose sister Holly also has cerebral palsy.“I wish there were more people in the world just like you who treat people with disabilities the same as anyone else,” Finlay had written. Grealish, 27, followed up with a letter of his own and also made a surprise visit to meet Finlay at a football session run by City’s charity programme. It was there that he pledged to dedicate his next goal to the boy with the arm gesture Grealish recreated
England have the capabilities to challenge for the title at the World Cup but their recent form does not inspire any confidence. Leading into Qatar 2022, the Three Lions have had underwhelming results, failing to win their last six games.Despite their rich attacking resources, they have struggled in front of the goal, lacking creativity and have occasionally looked chaotic in defence too as they did in the 4-0 home loss to Hungary in the Nations League.A thrilling 3-3 draw with Germany in their final game before the World Cup has renewed some energy.Under manager Gareth Southgate, they reached the semi-finals at the last World Cup and final at the European Championship in 2021, but have come into Qatar not as title contenders. But a last-16 berth should be easy since they face Iran, USA and Wales in Group B.First up for England is Iran today at the Khalifa International Stadium and Southgate will be hoping they can shed their winless run and build some momentum.Iran, who are coached by experienced Portuguese Carlos Queiroz and are 20th in FIFA’s rankings, will certainly be no walkovers. And Southgate is well aware of it.“Iran under Carlos is a very well organised side. We are ready for the game, ready for a strong challenge and we have to be the best version of ourselves,” Southgate said yesterday.Southgate confirmed England would be without James Maddison and Kyle Walker. “In terms of player availability, everybody’s available bar James Maddison for tomorrow. It’s a little bit early for Kyle Walker but he is training with the team, so that’s ahead of where we thought he might be at this stage. Very positive. “We’re looking forward to this challenge and I’ve really liked the way the players have approached training this week,” the England manager said.On the other hand Queiroz’s Iran side, who made light work of qualifying for Qatar, winning eight of the10 games in the third round of Asian qualifying and conceding just four goals.They are one of the most defensive units at this World Cup and are difficult to break down.Queiroz, however, has talked up England’s chances of enjoying a successful run in Qatar before the two sides meet today, which he describes as a “dream” fixture.“It is the most important game of our lives, first of all because it is the next one, and the next game is always most important for the life of coaches and players,” Queiroz said yesterday.“But also it is a unique opportunity, even for me, and I have 200-and-something international games. But it is the first time I have the opportunity to play against the England national team.“And for the majority of our players, to play against England is like magic, a unique opportunity, a gift, because in terms of the international calendar, to play England or Germany is almost impossible. For them, for me, it is a life dream,” the Portuguese admitted.Queiroz termed the new generation English side ‘very dangerous’.“This new generation that Gareth Southgate is bringing for the national team in my opinion is probably the most talented, the most competitive English national team since 1966.“This team is very very functional, very practical, very realistic. I work with the generation of Rio (Ferdinand), (Paul) Scholes, (David) Beckham, all those guys. But this national team is really, really different because they have a realistic approach to any single game which makes them very, very dangerous.”Queiroz said England will be difficult to break down.“They have fantastic talent, guided by (Harry) Kane, and a coach that knows the team and the players for a couple of years. They reached wonderful positions in the last World Cup and the Euros, by not conceding goals. What else can I say? We can only be at the level of England to produce a great game, if we know what we need to do in the game,” he said.Kane EAGER to surpass WAYNE Rooney’s recordMeanwhile Kane yesterday said he is eager to break the goal record for England held by retired Wayne Rooney.“Hopefully (I’ll break it) as soon as possible,” Kane, who has scored 51 goals in 75 appearances, told reporters yesterday. “I know it’s there and I know people will talk about it but I like to just focus on my game. I know with the team we have we will create chances and I just need to be ready for the ones that come my way. I was lucky enough to play with Wayne and he was a huge player who I looked up to. I watched him play in the major tournaments and it’s a huge honour to be close to him.”The England captain scored six goals in the 2018 FIFA World Cup held in Russia when his team was beaten by Croatia in the semi-finals.FACTBOX - England v IranWhen: Monday, Nov. 21, 4pm local (1300 GMT/0800 ET)Where: Khalifa International Stadium, DohaCapacity: 40,000Key stats:England have not won in their past six competitive matches going into the game against IranIran are playing in their third successive World Cup and have qualified five times overall, but have never progressed from the group stageEngland have contested 16 World Cups but have won the tournament just once, in 1966Iran scored 49 goals and conceded eight in Asian qualifying, winning 14 of their 18 matches to reach QatarIran won the Asian Cup three times in a row, from 1968-1976England won eight of their 10 qualifying matches, scoring39 times and conceding only three goalsPrevious meetings:England and Iran have never played each other in a competitive match
Halfway leader Larrazabal in a three-way tie with Otaegui and Nienaber for fourth England’s Matthew Jordan and Poland’s Adrian Meronk overcame extremely difficult conditions to head into the final round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in a share of the lead Saturday. Jordan and Meronk battled the strong winds at the Doha Golf Club (DGC) to open a one-stroke lead on eight-under-par, one shot clear of Finland’s Kalle Samooja, who took advantage of his early tee time with a six-under-par round of 66, the low round of day three before the wind picked up in the afternoon. The 26-year-old Jordan showed mental toughness to post a two-under-par round of 70 which included a stunning five-under-par back nine, while Poland’s Meronk birdied two of the final four holes to card a level par round of 72 and join the Englishman at the top of the leaderboard. Jordan started the day with three bogeys and no birdies on the front nine, but he got reward for his patience after the turn, with five birdies taking him home in 31 as he signed for a 70. “I found the front nine probably tougher, maybe – a couple less chances anyway,” said Jordan. The Englishman made birdie at the 15th when the flag somehow trapped his long, speedy putt in the hole, and he followed that up with another on the 16th to grab a share of the lead. He took the outright lead with a six-foot birdie on the last before being joined by Meronk afterwards. “I wasn’t doing too much wrong, I just couldn’t get up and down, couldn’t hit fairways great, it just wasn’t quite happening – but I knew I wasn’t that far off. I just kept going and fortunately enough it all started to click. It was stressful. How can it not be? It’s just hard work, hard grind the whole time. The simple shots are really tough. So it was stressful but it’s always very rewarding when you do well,” said the World No. 282. Meronk also had a round of ups and downs, but he closed the third round at par with a birdie at the last hole and was delighted. “I’m very pleased to be honest,” said Meronk. “It was super tough. I knew it was going to be tough, it was a grinding day but I’m very satisfied with the result and looking forward to tomorrow,” the 28-year-old Pole, who is looking for his first win on the circuit, added. Meronk, who finished tied 6th at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic last month, started with bogeys on the first, fifth and seventh but made amends with a chip-in birdie from a difficult lie at the eighth before getting another shot back on the ninth. He then mixed two more birdies with two bogeys over the next six holes before finishing his round with a close-range birdie to grab a share of the lead. “You have to stay patient. You’re going to hit some bad shots, some really bad shots, and you just have to accept it and stay patient. I was very patient. I knew I was going to make some bogeys but I just kept going, kept hitting good shots and I’m glad I did,” Meronk said. Meronk won the Qatar Open’s professional category title in 2020 here and now he is looking forward for another big day tomorrow at the DGC. “Yes, I have happy memories on this golf course. It was kind of the beginning of my professional career. I like coming here and it’s one of my favourite spots. I am very excited as I am in a great position and looking forward to the final round,” he said. Halfway leader Pablo Larrazabal of Spain is in a three-way tie with fellow Spaniard Adrian Otaegui and South Africa’s Wilco Nienaber for fourth on six under after following up a spotless front nine with a back-nine 40 which contained five bogeys. Samooja had a double bogey on the par-4 second hole but added eight birdies in the day’s best round. “It was almost a perfect round. I just lost my ball in a palm tree on the second hole and made a double but otherwise I played really, really good golf,” Samooja said. LEADING THIRD ROUND SCORES (GBR/IRL unless stated, Par 72) 208-Adrian Meronk (POL) 66-70-72, Matthew Jordan 69-69-70 209-Kalle Samooja (FIN) 74-69-66 210-Pablo Larrazabal (ESP) 64-71-75, Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 70-70-70, Wilco Nienaber (RSA) 68-68-74 211-Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 69-70-72, Ewen Ferguson 67-71-73, Chase Hanna (USA) 70-66-75, Niklas Noergaard Moeller (DEN) 71-72-68 212-Marcus Kinhult (SWE) 74-65-73, Jonathan Caldwell 71-70-71, Wil Besseling (NED) 71-71-70, Romain Langasque (FRA) 66-71-75, Nicolai von Dellingshausen (GER) 76-68-68, Lukas Nemecz (AUT) 71-67-74, Oliver Wilson 71-70-71, Zander Lombard (RSA) 68-72-72.
Doha • Spaniard saw his lead wiped out early on but recovered from a slow start to hold top spot It was truly a tale of two nines for Pablo Larrazabal yesterday. Four strokes off the pace at the turn, the overnight leader produced a brilliant back nine of 30 with an eagle on 10 also including three birdies and no bogeys to take a one-stroke lead into the third round at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters yesterday. At the new-look Doha Golf Club, the European Tour veteran started the day with a front-nine 40 which contained a double bogey, three bogeys and a solitary birdie, but the Spaniard bounced back in style to stay in the lead. Speaking about his day’s play, Larrazabal said: “It was a tough start. It was one of those days where you have to keep working and believe in the way you’ve been playing the last month or so and to keep fighting. I didn’t expect the drive on the first to go so far right. I started par-bogey-bogey and that wasn’t in the plans for Friday. I went bogey-double bogey on eight and nine to shoot 40 on the front nine but I said to (caddie) Raul, come on, yesterday we shot six under on the back and we know that we like the back.” Since coming through the Qualifying School in 2007 and winning the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award the following season, Larrazabal has been one of the DP World Tour’s most consistent performers. “It is even harder mentally when you shoot 40 on the front nine and you’re two over after three. Mentally you have to recover, you have to believe in the shots you plan and the shots you hit. That’s what I did and it paid off. To shoot one under par after going four over, it proves that I am in a good mental spot. I am ready to make mistakes and recover from them,” the six-time DP World Tour winner said. The Spaniard is closely followed by Chase Hanna of the United States, Poland’s Adrian Meronk and South African Wilco Nienaber, who all share the second place on eight-under par, with Romain Langasque of France a shot further back on seven-under par. Meronk made five birdies and three bogeys in his 70, while Nienaber and Hanna carded no bogeys as they shot rounds of 68 and 66 respectively. Meronk, who is searching for his maiden DP World Tour title, was pleased with his day’s work. “I got off to a good start, all was going well and then I slowed down a bit in the middle of the round but I got a good birdie on the last and overall the result is very satisfying. It was nice this morning, it wasn’t as hot but the wind picked up straight away so it was tricky, but I played solid,” the Polish said. “We had to adapt today because the wind was from completely the other direction and much stronger. We changed strategies and did a good job. It wasn’t as good as yesterday but I think it’s playing tougher. Today was much harder than yesterday. The wind direction was completely different and much harder so I just had to adapt my strategy and play from different positions with different clubs but I felt like we did a good job today,” Meronk added. Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson, English duo of Daniel Gavins and Matthew Jordan, and Austrian Lukas Nemecz share the sixth place on six-under par. Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult shot a seven-under par round of 65, the lowest round of the day, and is part of the group in a tie for the 10th spot at five-under par. “It was good. It was solid from the first hole until the end. I hit it really good off the tee and holed some nice putts. I made the most of the day. It’s hard to lose the ball but the fairways are quite tight so it’s definitely good to be in the fairways and I managed that today. The course was different today, it was a complete wind change from yesterday and it made it a bit trickier but I played alright,” Kinhult said. India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who was joint second after round one, slipped to a 73 yesterday but is well placed in tied 10th with two rounds to go. Sharma, who was bogey free on the first day, witnessed an up-and-down outing. Two-time DP World Tour winner Sharma was three-over at one stage with bogeys on eighth, 13th and 14th, but birdies on 15th and 16th helped him recover to some extent. The cut fell at level par with 75 players qualifying for the final two rounds over the weekend. LEADING SCORES AFTER SECOND ROUND (GBR/IRL unless stated, Par 72) 135-Pablo Larrazabal (ESP) 64-71 136-Adrian Meronk (POL) 66-70, Chase Hanna (USA) 70-66, Wilco Nienaber (RSA) 68-68 137-Romain Langasque (FRA) 66-71 138-Daniel Gavins 71-67, Matthew Jordan 69-69, Ewen Ferguson 67-71, Lukas Nemecz (AUT) 71-67 139-Marcus Kinhult (SWE) 74-65, Thriston Lawrence (RSA) 70-69, Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 69-70, Shubhankar Sharma (IND) 66-73, Julien Brun (FRA) 70-69, Jens Dantorp (SWE) 68-71 140-Thorbjoern Olesen (DEN) 71-69, Paul Waring 69 71, Adrian Otaegui (ESP) 70-70, Wade Ormsby (AUS) 68-72, David Drysdale 72-68, Zander Lombard (RSA) 68-72, Ross McGowan 69-71, Robin Roussel (FRA) 71-69. Chase Hanna of the USA tees off during the second round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club yesterday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
Doha Antoine Rozner holed an incredible 60 foot putt on the last hole to win the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters last year at the Education City Golf Club (ECGC), but the Frenchman knows he has to conquer the re-structured greens at the Doha Golf Club (DGC) to defend his title. “I want to get used to the greens as well because I’m sure the grass is going to be very different to what we had last year at the ECGC and recently in South Africa and Kenya. I’ve heard good things about the course, so we’ll see. I’m really curious to see what it’s like,” said Rozner, ahead of today’s first day of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. The tournament was played at the DGC since 1998, but with the course undergoing renovation, it was moved to the Education City Golf Club (ECGC) for 2020 and 2021. All the holes have been reconstructed with four new greens being redesigned and some alterations have been made to a few pin positions. “I think you have to find a good technique that you’re comfortable with around the greens chipping wise, and see how the ball reacts when you roll it, maybe the grain will affect it or not, so you’ve just got to get used to this grass, find a good technique and that’s it,” Rozner added. The Frenchman’s victory was his second in six events and came just three months after his maiden win at the Golf in Dubai Championship. It meant he had recorded two wins in 29 events – making him the fastest French player ever to two victories – with just four missed cuts in an incredible start to his European Tour career since graduating from the Challenge Tour in 2019. “Amazing feeling. Winning a golf tournament is the best feeling in the world. It was an once-in-a-lifetime putt to win a tournament. You don’t get a putt to win a tournament every week in our job but to have a 60-foot putt to win is even more special so it was definitely the biggest putt of my career,” the 29-year-old Rozner said. That 2019 campaign brought him back to back wins on the Challenge Tour, and he had moved into the top 70 in the world ranking – a career high. Rozner is seeking to join a select group of players to have won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Only South African Branden Grace (2015, 2016) has ever won the tournament in consecutive years, while Major champions Adam Scott (2002, 2008) and Paul Lawrie (1999, 2012) are the only other players to have won the title on multiple occasions. Since his win in Doha, Rozner, who graduated from the Challenge Tour in 2019, has struggled to produce his best golf on a consistent basis, making just one top-10 finish on Tour. “I think the more you play on this Tour, the more you realise how hard it is to win a golf tournament. It’s so competitive nowadays. I’ve only been here two years, but hopefully I’ll be here in ten or 15 years and I’ll tell myself what you’ve done is very, very good and winning a tournament is so hard. Every single part of your game has to be perfect to win a golf tournament.” South African Justin Harding, the last winner at the DGC course in 2019, former champion’s Spain’s Jorge Campillo and Englishman Eddie Pepperell are also vying for the title. “I’m feeling good. My game has been okay, I’ve been playing solid in the last few events but my putting has been a little bit off. I’m feeling good coming into this week,” Campillo said. “It’s always nice to come back to a tournament where I’ve been the champion, even though it was on the other course. I’ve finished second here once, so I’ve played well here too, so it’s a nice track as well and I’m glad we’re back here where I can play well as well.” Another South African Dean Burmester, who finished second in the last week’s Steyn City Championship, is in top form and is a top contender for the winner’s cheque of $333,330. “I’m glad I made a competition last week. I was four shots behind going into the final round and I had a two-shot lead for quite a while there. I’m a bit gutted to have thrown it away. I’ve been playing solid. I take a lot of positives out of that. I was tied for the lead with two holes to go, had a chance to win a tournament on Sunday and that’s what we practice for really. I’m here in Qatar trying to do it again,” Burmester said. Saleh al-Kaabi and Abdulrahman al-Shahrani, who were part of the GCC Championship-winning Qatar team are among the four wild cards in the fray. Qatar Open champion Denmark’s Mikkel Mathiesen is also a wild-card entry for the event. “My preparations for the Qatar Masters have been great because we played a lot of tournaments in recent months,” al-Kaabi said on the eve of Qatar Masters. “I am going into the tournament with confidence. My first target will be to make the cut and I am hopeful of doing that. This will be my last event of the season and I am looking forward to finishing this good season on a high note,” he said. Al-Kaabi also expressed his delight as Qatar Masters returned to the DGC after a two-year gap. “It is really to return to your home golf course. Doha Golf Club has been my home course for a long time and I think I will get advantage of that,” he said.
After losing their opening match to Qatar, Bahrain now face a tough task to remain in contention for for a quarter-final berth at the FIFA Arab Cup. The Arabian Gulf Cup champions take on four-time winners Iraq in a crucial Group A match at the Al Thumama Stadium on Friday. The Bahrainis must finish in the top two to advance to the last eight. Qatar currently leads the group with three points, while Iraq and Oman have one point each with Bahrain yet open their account. The Reds coach Helio Sousa said his men are ready to bounce back from a narrow 0-1 loss to Qatar, where they managed 56 per cent of the possession, albeit without capitalising on it. “We still have two more group matches to play and six points to grab. I have confidence in my team and we will give our best to advance,” the Portuguese said yesterday. “We played well against Qatar, especially in the first-half. But we couldn’t get the desired result. We are fully aware of the importance of our match against Iraq and if we play as well as we did against Qatar, we can get a positive result tomorrow. We need to show fighting spirit if we want to keep our quarter-final hopes alive,” he said. Iraq and Bahrain drew both their World Cup Qualifiers in 2019 the same year when The Reds defeated Lions of Mesopotamia 5-3 (2-2) on penalties in the Gulf Cup semi-final. Sousa feels the past results are not important and his team has to work hard against Iraq. “In the World Cup qualifiers against Iraq we were close to getting victories. But all the previous results are behind us, now the conditions are completely different. Of course, we want to win against them again but it will be a difficult match for both sides,” he said. “There are many strengths of the Iraq team. They have good players and they fight till the end,” Sousa added. Bahrain player Mohamed Marhoon echoed his coach’s views. “We played a good match against Qatar. Though we lost, the result does not justify our performance. Our team will play tomorrow's match with high spirit and determination and will certainly go all out for victory. We have the belief we can beat anyone and we still hope to go all the way in the tournament,” Marhoon said. Iraq, who salvaged a point with an equaliser in the eighth minute of added time against Oman in their opening game, will also be looking to build on that. Coach Zeljko Petrovic also rated Bahrain a difficult side. “We continued to prepare for the Bahrain match by watching a recording of its match against Qatar in the opening. We analyzed some cases that we will work on. Bahrain is an excellent team, and it has good players and they were a strong match for Qatar,” the Montenegrin said yesterday. “All matches are difficult and we seek a positive result against Bahrain,” he added. Iraq’s Yasser Qassem was sent off in the 68th minute for his second yellow in the match against Oman and Iraq were only able to secure a point after a goal from substitute Hasan Abdulkareem. In midfielder Qassem’s absence, Iraq will rely on Mohamed Qasim, one of their top performers in the opening game. “That last-minute penalty helped us and I am happy about that, which is a part of football. We have worked to rectify the mistakes we made during our match with Oman. We performed well against them, especially the young players, most notably Manaf Younis,” Petrovic noted. “The players made a great effort, so we made sure to prepare them for the Bahrain match, with the possibility of some changes in the squad,” he said. Iraqi midfielder Mohamed Qassem said they are aiming for full three points from today’s match. “After the draw against Oman, the team is eager to earn three crucial points against Bahrain and we will fight for that with best of our ability,” Qassem said. “We have a lot to offer in this match and move forward to the second round. The team came to Qatar, not only to participate, but to compete.”
Egypt registered a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Lebanon in their opening Group D match of the FIFA Arab Cup Wednesday. At the Al Thumama Stadium, a powerful penalty shot by Mohammed Afsha was enough to beat a resolute Lebanon defence led by goalkeeper Mostafa Matar in an encounter which was witnessed by vociferous fans of both sides. Carlos Queiroz’s side was playing without Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, Galatasaray’s Mustafa Mohamed, Stuttgart’s Omar Marmoush, and Altay’s Ahmed Yasser Rayan and it was reflected in their rusty performance. Lebanon defence was up to the mark during most part of the match, but lack of aggression and a costly foul late in the second-half led to their defeat as they conceded a penalty and Egypt seized the opportunity to earn their first points. Defender Ayman Ahsraf’s foul on Egypt’s Ahmed Fatouh in the 73nd minute undid all their efforts. Ahsraf brought down midfielder Fatouh inside the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot and Mohammed Afsha found the net with a low shot to goalkeeper Matar’s right. Egypt controlled the possession for most of the match and their forwards raided the rival’s penalty area regularly, but Matar and his defenders foiled their efforts every time. Egypt continued to dominate the possession but with limited opportunities to move forward, while Lebanon couldn't find a way through as they started their campaign with a defeat. Afsha admitted that Egypt did not play at its best and promised fans better performances in the next two matches. “All the teams are very strong. We were able to win and that’s the most important thing, and with the matches, we are going to improve. Every game has its own circumstances and every team has a way,” he said. “All matches are difficult and we are now thinking about the next game against Sudan and god willing we will win. We have all the respect for all the teams, but we play in the name of Egypt. We have to be responsible and achieve something good in the tournament,” Afsha said. Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawy felt the team was unlucky against Lebanon due to the amount of shots they missed during the game. “We wasted a lot of chances in the first-half as well as the second. We were unlucky,” El-Shennawy said. “We faced a respectable team, and I thank the fans. Hopefully the next period will be better. We had to start with a victory in the tournament, and that was our goal. We are focused on the tournament, and everyone gave their best,” he added. The match started with a couple of stoppages soon after the kick off due to injuries to Egypt’s Amr El Soulia and Lebanon’s Kassem El Zein. But it then picked up pace with The Pharaohs putting pressure on their opponents. In the 13th minute Al Ahly midfielder Mohamed Sherif came close to scoring twice but his touches went just over the woodwork. An ambitious hit on target by a distance from Zamalek midfielder Mostafa Fathi was stopped by Matar. At the half-hour mark, Egypt already had nine attempts with four shots on target as they enjoyed around 75 percent of ball possession. In the 33rd minute, Felix Michel Melki cleared the ball in a dangerous attack after Matar missed a touch in a goalmouth melee. Egypt missed another opportunity to score after Sherif’s attempt sailed just over the crossbar following a fine assist by Mohamed Magdi, three minutes before half-time. The Africans started the second half with the same approach with El Soulia launching a strike but Matar was better placed to stop the ball. Lebanon started to counter attack and made a couple of attacks, though they did not pose much of a threat to the Egyptians. In yet another threatening attack by Egypt, substitute Ahmed Refaat’s touch from near the penalty spot was well saved by Matar in the 55th minute. Looking to break the deadlock, Queroz sent in Zizo in the 65th minute while calling back Marwan Hamdy. The defeat leaves Lebanon with much to do if they are to advance to the quarter-finals with Algeria taking the early lead in Group D after defeating Sudan 4-0. Coach Ivan Hasek will be hoping for improvement when his team faces favourites Algeria in their second match of Group D – dubbed the toughest group in the tournament – on Saturday.
Hasan Abdulkareem scored an injury-time equaliser as ten-man Iraq held Oman 1-1 in their FIFA Arab Cup opener at the Al Janoub Stadium on Tuesday. In a high-octane and also controversial match, both the teams were unable to score in the best part of the match with both goals coming through penalties. Salah al-Yahyaei put the Red Warriors ahead in the 78th minute from a penalty spot, while Abdulkareem netted the equaliser for Iraq in the 96th minute from a retaken penalty. The first penalty taken by Aymen Hussein was saved by Oman goalkeeper Ahmed al-Rawahi. But the referee ordered to retake the spot kick with al-Rawahi’s moving of the goal line before Hussein touched the ball. Iraq played with ten players from the 69th minute as Yasser Qasim received a second yellow card after his tough tussle with Haribal Saadi. Oman coach Branko Ivankovic was not happy with the result. “We deserved to win. We were the better team, especially in the second half,” he said. “I am really not satisfied with the performance of the referee and what he has done with VAR,” Ivankovic added. The 67-year-old Croatian was pleased with his players’ performance. “I think my boys played well throughout the match. It’s is always tough in the first match of any tournament. I am sure we will come back strongly in the next match,” he said. Not much separated the two sides at the half-time with Oman taking advantage in ball possession. Under interim coach Zeljko Petrovic, Iraq managed to find spaces but was on target only once in their nine attempts in the first session. The first actual attempt from Oman came in the 17th minute as Ahmed al-Kabbi crossed a ball to Al Mundhar al-Alawi who tried to convert it into goal, but it was saved by Iraq’s goalkeeper Fahad Talib. Iraq moved closer to taking the lead in the last few minutes of the first half, with Alaa Abbas getting an opportunity to volley the ball in but his hit went wide, with six minutes left in the first half. From Oman, Amjad al-Harthi attempted to score two minutes before the half-time, but failed to break the deadlock. Iraq’s Mohamed Qasim also had his strike averted after he found the target off a free kick as players went into the halftime without a goal. The second-half started in a similar fashion with both the teams exchanging attacks. At an hour-mark, Mario Tokic called three fresh legs from the Omani dugout, hoping for a goal with Petrovic also making three substitutions 10 minutes later. Oman got the opportunity to score when Iraq’s Hasan Raed was penalised with a penalty kick for stopping al-Harthi as he raged inside from the right flank. Al-Yahyaei scored the opener comfortably, beating Talib with a hit in the right corner. Al-Harthi’s goal a few minutes later following a free kick was disallowed after the midfielder was declared offside, a minute after Petrovic made two more substitutions, looking to bounce into the match. Iraq continued to push for an equaliser but Oman remained stubborn in defence and continued to pose a threat for Iraq defence with counter attacks. However, Iraq finally got an opportunity, winning a penalty in the fourth minute of stoppage time after the referee consulted the VAR. Iraq will now meet Bahrain at the Al Thumama Stadium on Friday in their second group match, while Oman will take on hosts Qatar on the same day at the Education City Stadium.
Abdulrahman Abdulqader’s long-time coach Ahcene Bouteldja feels his ward is a self-motivated athlete and gave credit of his success to his determination and will to win. “He is a very motivated person. He always wants to give his best and he knows how to seize the big moments,” Bouteldja told the Gulf Times. Despite an injury to his left wrist, Abdulqader put on quite a show at the recent Tokyo Games to win his second Paralympic medal, and is now on a mission to win the elusive gold medal. “The competition is getting tougher every year. We are also improving and I am determined to win the gold medal in Paris. I know to achieve that I have to work harder and I am ready for that,” Abdulqader said. And the coach also thinks the target is a gettable one. “Yes it is tough but it is not impossible, I must say it is very much possible,” the Algerian, who is associated with the Qatari athlete since the start of his career. Talking about his ward's performance in Tokyo, he said, “Yes we were aiming for gold after Rio silver, but considering his injury and other circumstances, it was a remarkable achievement. And after all a medal is a medal.” Abdulqader credits Bouteldja for being the most influential person in his career. “He has been with me since the start of my career in 2008. It is an 18-year-long association with him. He has played a very important role in my success,” said the athlete, who started as a javelin thrower. Apart from the Paralympic Games, Abdulqader has also won gold at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, and at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games under Bouteldja’s tutelage. Abdulqader also thanked Qatar Paralympic Committee, his coach and his physio for the support provided during his journey.
Sports Editor Qatar’s para-athlete Abdulrahman Abdulqader has blazed new trails. The shot put star has etched a legacy and set benchmarks that are unlikely to be surpassed in the near future. At the recently-concluded Tokyo Games, the 33-year-old Qatari admirably overcame circumstances (read the bubble life) and tough competition to win his second Paralympic medal. He is the first Qatari to win a Paralympic medal having bagged silver in the same event at the 2016 Rio Games. In the Japanese capital, Abdulqader won bronze in the men’s shot put F34 event despite carrying an injury in his left wrist to become the first Qatari double medallist at the Paralympic Games. To add to the challenge was that his coach, Ahcene Bouteldja, was quarantined for 10 days, as someone near their seats on the flight to Tokyo had tested positive for Covid-19. However, he showed his mental fortitude and gave his best to emerge on the podium once again. He threw 11.36m to finish third as Jordan’s Ahmed Hindi took the gold medal with a new world record of 12.25m, while Morocco’s Azeddine Nouiri clinched silver with an effort of 11.55m. He had won Rio silver with an 11.15m effort. “I am very happy to be back with a second Olympic medal. It was tough as we were in a bubble life. It was a different feeling,” Abdulqader told Gulf Times yesterday. His achievements at Rio and Tokyo, Abdulqader feels, has spurred him on and inspired him to achieve greater goals. “I feel very proud to get the bronze medal in Tokyo after the Rio silver, which was the biggest achievement of my sporting life,” Abdulqader said. With two medals in the bag, he is eyeing the elusive gold in Paris in three years’ time to complete his tally of Paralympics medals. “I am very motivated to win the only remaining medal – the gold – especially after receiving the Al Wajbah Decoration from His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. My next goal is to win a gold medal in the Paris Games,” the soft-spoken Qatari, who was the flag bearer for the country’s contingent in Tokyo along with fellow shot putter Sara Masoud, said. The Al Wajbah Decoration was granted by the Amir in recognition of Abdulqader’s achievements on the world stage, including his two Olympic medals. Abdulqader has been an inspiration for people in general and those who are differently-abled in particular in Qatar, and many youth want to follow his footsteps. “I keep recommending to all the youngsters to take up sports and not to shy away from it. Sport will keep them healthy and give them confidence and everything will change thereafter,” said Abdulqader, who was adjudged Qatar’s Male Para Athlete of the Year in 2018. “Sport has been life-changing, it has touched my life in many ways… you become more confident, more disciplined in your life and in my case, it allowed me to face the world,” he said. The shot putter started competing in 2008, building an impressive career with milestones including the Olympic medals, and gold in the F34 Shot Put final at the 2017 World Championships in Athletics held in London.
One of three runners in the field for owner His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Khalifa al-Thani, Majoie Des Forges (FR) (Al Tair x Djamuze Des Forges) took the Prix Mangalie d’Albret - Wathba Stallions Cup, a 1,900-metre conditions races for three-year-old Purebred Arabians fillies, at La Teste De Buch, France, on Monday. Scoring on her debut, the chestnut filly is trained by Mrs. J.F Bernard and was ridden to success by apprentice jockey Gary Sanchez. Having broken on terms from stall 8, Majoie Des Forges was allowed to stride on by Sanchez and was always towards the head of the field. Despite being a shade green, she travelled well and always looked comfortable. Turning for home, she stole a couple of lengths on the field and had most of her rivals under pressure from the 400-meter pole. She stayed on well to score by two lengths at the line. The X. Thomas-Demeaulte-trained and Emilien Revolte-ridden Monda (FR) (No Risk Al Maury x Mhaya) who was very immature in the early stages, but finished with a strong run down the outside to close well for second. Her half-sister, the His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Khalifa al-Thani-owned Hellywa (FR) (No Risk Al Maury x Al Shahania Aseala) was the only other runner to detach from the main group and finished further three quarters of a length in third for trainer F. Rohaut and jockey Valentin Seguy. Winning trainer, Elisabeth Bernard, said after the race, “I like her a lot. The 3.5kg claim compensated for her inexperience, especially with this type of filly. Inside the closing stages, she was very straight and showed a nice action. It was a pleasant performance.” Bred by Ms. C. De Robert Labarthe and S. Dubois, Majoie Des Forges is by Umm Qarn Purebred Arabian sire AL TAIR, who stands at Haras de Grand Courgeon in France. She is the first foal out of Djamuze Des Forges (Munjiz), a daughter of Djamaa Des Forges (Mahabb), a winner on debut and fourth-placed in a Group 2 at Bordeaux.
• Qatar’s beach volleyball duo Younousse and Tijan begin their campaign today. Doha: It may not be easy for Qatar’s Cherif Younousse to let go of the memories of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Younousse and his partner Jefferson Santos Pereira were one of Qatar’s medal hopes five years ago. But, perhaps, bogged down by the pressure of competing in the world’s biggest sporting event in their maiden appearances they failed to reach the beach volleyball podium. The Rio Games ended on a disappointing note for 21-year-old Younousse, as he and his partner finished ninth after two wins and two losses. Since that disappointment of five years ago, Younousse has a new partner – Ahmed Tijan – and the pair has taken big strides in the sport, having firmly established as one of the medal contenders at the Tokyo Olympics. “For me, it’s very important to go back to the Olympics and perform better than I did at the previous Olympics,” Cherif said before leaving for Tokyo. Younousse and Tijan, the third seeds in Tokyo, have medalled at more FIVB World Tour than any other team this year and will attempt to become the first team from Middle East to win medal in Olympic volleyball history. The pair has played finals of the last five World Tour events out of five and emerged champions in two. Talking about their chances at the Tokyo Games, the 26-year-old Younousse sounded confident. “This time I am with a different partner, but it’s much better. I think we can do well at the Olympics and we are going for the medals,” he said. Younousse and Tijan are grouped with World No 5 Jacob Gibb and Taylor Crabb of the United States, World No 18 Adrian Carambula and Enrico Rossi of Italy and World No 19 Adrian Heidrich and Mirco Gerson of Switzerland. The Qatari pair will start their campaign against Switzerland’s Adrian Heidrich and Mirco Gerson at Tokyo’s Shiokaze Park today at 11am. Twenty-four teams are divided into six pools of four teams each. The top two teams from each group and the four best third-placed teams from across the six pools qualify for the last 16. The Qatari pair could face a challenge from top seeds and world number one ranked pair Anders Mol and Christian Sorum of Norway, who are also aiming to turn their success on the World Tour into Olympic gold. Since 2018, Mol and Sorum have claimed 13 gold medals in world tour events and won the 2019 world championship. The Norwegian pair began their quest to deliver Norway’s first Olympic medal in the sport with a 21-18, 18-21, 15-13 victory over Australia’s Christopher McHugh and Damien Schumann yesterday. Younousse and Tijan had lost back-to-back finals to the Norwegian pair at FIVB Word Tour 4-star event at the Cancun Hub. Beach volleyball at Tokyo 2020 is due to run through to August 7. Judoka al-Idrisi in action today Ayoub al-Idrisi will make history today becoming the first Qatari judoka to feature in Olympics. The judo competition will be held at Nippon Budokan Complex and al-Idrisi will compete in U-66kg category. Meanwhile, rower Tala Abujbara was in action yesterday for a second consecutive day and finished third in women’s single sculls (repechages) with a time of 8:16.88. She failed to qualify for the quarter-finals and will be in action today in the semi-final E/F, which is a classification race. Star weightlifter Fares Ibrahim and swimmer Abdulaziz al-Obaidly joined the national contingent in Tokyo yesterday. Beach Volleyball GROUPS Group A: Mol A./Sorum C. (NOR), Semenov/Leshukov (ROC), Herrera/Gavira (ESP), McHugh/Schumann (AUS) Group B: Krasilnikov/Stoyanovskiy (ROC), Perusic/Schweiner (CZE), Plavins/Tocs (LAT), Gaxiola/Rubio (MEX) Group C: Cherif/Ahmed (QAT), Gibb/Crabb Ta. (USA), Carambula/Rossi (ITA), Heidrich/Gerson (SUI) Group D: Alison/Alvaro Filho (BRA), Brouwer/Meeuwsen (NED), Lucena/Dalhausser (USA), Azaad/Capogrosso (ARG) E - Fijalek/Bryl (POL), Evandro/Bruno Schmidt (BRA), Grimalt M./Grimalt E. (CHI), Elgraoui/Abicha (MAR)
Doha Mauritania, a team on the rise in recent years, are ready for the Yemeni challenge in the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2020 qualifier today as they vie for the lone qualification spot in Group B, where Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Syria await. Mauritania coach Corentin Martins feels his team has all the ingredients that are required to tackle the tough Yemen side at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium. “It is difficult, of course, because it is football and the chances remain equal. We have followed the Yemeni team and monitored it well through their recent matches, and I think that my team is capable of qualifying, but we have to seize the opportunities as we don’t get another chance,” Martins said during the pre-match press conference yesterday. Mauritania’s improvement can be measured by their jump of more than 100 places in the FIFA World Rankings between 2012 and 2017. The Lions of Chinguetti not only have their sights on returning to Qatar later this year, but also making football’s showpiece event in 2022 after being drawn in an African zone qualifying group with Equatorial Guinea, Tunisia and Zambia. After making their Africa Cup of Nations debut in 2019, Mauritania recently secured their place in the next edition of the tournament in early 2022. Their international record also includes appearances in three Pan Arab Games in 1976, 1985, 1997. Captain Adama Ba also sounded confident as he said his team would give their best. “The match is one opportunity that we should not waste, we must be careful and avoid making mistakes and I am sure we will give our best performance tomorrow,” Ba said. Having seen their hopes to make Qatar 2022 come to an end during the latest round of Asian zone World Cup qualifying in Saudi Arabia, Yemen is also hoping for a better show today. Yemen lost to Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Palestine in group matches recently to go out of contention. “The match is difficult for us, especially after the disappointing performance in the double qualifiers. We are motivated to overcome our recent poor show. We want to bring smiles back on the faces of our fans,” Yemen coach Mohamed Ali Guacem said. “One-off matches are difficult as sometimes just one mistake will cost you your chances, but we’ve ready for the match,” he said.