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 Sahan Bidappa
Sahan Bidappa
Sahan Bidappa is a sports writer with Gulf Times. He joined Gulf Times after having worked for more than 10 years with leading newspapers in India. Sahan misses covering cricket in Qatar but has adeptly channelized his talents towards tennis, football and Olympic sports.
Qatar Olympic Committee President HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani presents the winner’s trophy to Max Verstappen of Red Bull after his win in Formula 1 Qatar Airways Qatar Grand Prix 2023 at Lusail International Circuit Sunday. Reuters
Verstappen wins 14th race in a row at Qatar Grand Prix

A night after clinching his third consecutive world title, Max Verstappen was in no mood to take the foot off the gas as the Red Bull driver sauntered to his 14th win of the season at the Formula One Qatar Grand Prix.On a night when the high humidity level forced the drivers to wear ice vests, fans at the Lusail International Circuit released a loud gasp of shock as seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton crashed out of the race in the very first lap after colliding with team-mate George Russell.But Verstappen, like so often this season, was oblivious to the drama behind as he dominated the 57-lap race to stay on course to break his own record (15) for most wins in a single season. With five races to go, the Dutchman needs just two wins to set a new mark.Sprint race winner Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris finished second and third respectively, rounding off a good weekend for the McLaren team, rising from their P6 and P10 grid slots after losing lap times over track limits violations in qualifying.“I think what made the race was my first stint,” said Verstappen, who finished 4.8 seconds clear of Piastri. “After that I could just manage my pace, making sure that my tyres were always in a good window. But the McLarens were quick again today, I had to push for it, so it was definitely a tough race out there. It was a bit close for comfort I think in that last stint. But the pace was OK. Another win, unbelievable,” added the 26-year-old.The race became an intense and complicated one as the drivers were mandated for three pit stops due to tyre safety reasons after Pirelli warned of the risk of blowouts.There was a change in the grid too with Red Bull’s second driver Sergio Perez starting from pit lane after changing several power unit components and making significant repairs – including the preparation of a new chassis – after the Mexican’s crash in the sprint.Ferrari too suffered a blow as Carlos Sainz was ruled out of the race due to a fuel system issue developing on his car, meaning the Scuderia would only be represented by Charles Leclerc.More drama awaited at the start and it was heartbreak for Hamilton. The Brit tried to go round the outside in the first corner, but in turn rammed into compatriot Russell, who himself was looking to make a move on Verstappen.Hamilton was immediately out of the race, finding his Mercedes beached in the gravel on three wheels, while Russell dropped down the field and had to pit for a new front wing. While Hamilton, in frustration, blamed his younger team-mate for the incident, he later accepted his fault and apologised to Russell.Russell had started second on the grid with Hamilton third and looking likely to increase the 26-point gap between them and third-placed Ferrari in the constructors’ standings.“I just feel really sorry for my team, there was an opportunity today to get some good points,” Hamilton later said. “I felt the tag from behind but I don’t think George had anywhere to go. I’m happy to take responsibility. It’s massively gutting, it’s rare this happens to me.”To Russell’s credit, the 25-year-old ended up fourth after having to make four pit stops in total. Ferrari’s Leclerc was fifth and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso came sixth. Esteban Ocon was seventh for Alpine with the Alfa Romeo pair of Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou eighth and ninth and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez demoted to 10th after a five-second post-race penalty for exceeding track limits multiple times.Verstappen, meanwhile, was untroubled on the night with team boss Christian Horner lauding his champion over the radio by saying: “That was a proper quality drive.”At one point he had a 25-second advantage over Piastri, but the Australian rookie crawled back in the final stint. But it was not enough to put pressure on Verstappen, who set the fastest lap and cruised to his 49th career victory.The only thing that troubled him was the Lusail heat, which touched 37 degrees on track at one point, with humidity making it worse. Verstappen later labelled the Qatar Grand Prix as “one of the toughest ‘’ races of his career as drivers struggled throughout in hot and tricky conditions. Alonso asked for water to be poured over him at a pit-stop, while Williams’ Logan Sargeant retired with dehydration as Verstappen and Piastri both laid on the floor of the cool-down room while waiting for the podium.“[It is] one of [the toughest races of my career], and in the top five probably,” Verstappen said. “I am already sweating quite a bit, but we will enjoy it quite a bit, but there are still a few races [in the season] that we want to try and win.”

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates winning his third world title on Saturday. (AFP)
Verstappen joins triple champs, with more to come

Having sewn up his third successive world title with six rounds to go, the general opinion on the paddock and among pundits is that Max Verstappen will get only better from here on.While the Red Bull driver’s hapless rivals would not be happy with that view, it is certain Verstappen will not stop at winning three titles, especially having the fastest car at his disposal.The Dutchman’s dominance has been such that he has put seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, not long ago his fierce rival, chasing shadows on his underperforming Mercedes car.While Verstappen’s first title came under acrimonious circumstances on the last lap of the 2021 season on a wild night in Abu Dhabi, his next two have been smooth sailing. The 26-year-old won his second title last year in Japan with four races to spare, and this time he has gone one better.He has already won 13 races out of 16 this season and will start as outright favourite for today’s Qatar Grand Prix at the Lusail International Circuit, where he is in pole position.With five races to go after Qatar, Verstappen is on course to break his own record for most races won (15) in a single season, which he achieved in 2022. Such has been his domination, he went on a record 10 successive victories in a single season between Miami in May to Monza in September.After his second place finish in the sprint race on Saturday took Verstappen to his third title, he joined an elite club of Formula 1 drivers, namely Sir Jack Brabham, Sir Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna.Asked, meanwhile, whether he was already eyeing up future titles, Verstappen replied on Saturday: “We’ll just see what happens. I’m enjoying the moment and hopefully of course we can keep this momentum going for a while.”As he soaked in all the emotions, Verstappen later went on to admit that his latest title is the “best” of the lot. “This one is the best one,” Verstappen told the post-sprint press conference.“I think the first one was the most emotional one because that’s when your dreams are fulfilled in F1, but this one definitely has been my best year [with] consecutive wins and stuff like that. The car itself has probably been in the best shape as well, so for me this one is probably [what] I’m the most proud of in a way, because of consistency,” he added.His boss at the Red Bull, Christian Horner, has no doubt his star driver – dubbed as “Super Max” – will dominate F1 in the years to come. “He’s the most competitive driver that I’ve ever met,” Horner said on Saturday.“I think the determination that he drives with, the passion, the heart, the commitment and of course there’s the abundance of skill that he has. He’s up there with the very best, some of the greatest the sport has seen. This season has just surpassed anything we’ve ever seen,” the Red Bull team principal added.Horner singled out Verstappen’s self-confidence to win from any position as his greatest attribute. “I just think the self-belief, there’s the self-confidence he has in himself, to go out and nail it, to go out and deliver,” the Brit said when asked about Verstappen’s best trait. “He’s only 26, I think he’s still going to get better, he’s still going to evolve and I think he’s still going to grow as a driver.”The son of Jos, a former journeyman Formula One driver, and Belgian world-class kart racer Sophie, Verstappen sped to multiple titles as a boy and almost won the F3 title at his first attempt aged 15. Verstappen graduated to the F1 fast lane in 2015 with Red Bull’s junior team, then known as Toro Rosso.Aged just 17 years and 166 days, he was the youngest ever F1 driver in the sport at a time when he still had not passed his regular driving test. Eight years later and at the age of just 26, Verstappen is on course to be counted among greats.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the championship.
Verstappen seals third crown as Piastri wins Qatar sprint

Rookie Oscar Piastri announced himself in style by clinching the sprint race at the Formula One Qatar Grand Prix Saturday, but it was Max Verstappen who celebrated the most as the Dutchman secured his third straight world title at the Lusail International circuit.With the floodlights on, Qatar’s renovated and refreshed motorsport venue glittered as the grandstands filled in huge numbers. The fast and flowing track only made it more spectacular on the night.The 19-lap or 100km long dash provided enough adrenaline rushing moments for the fans as safety cars were deployed three times due to collision and retirements. While the 22-year-old Piastri, starting from pole, kept his cool to take his maiden win on his McLaren, Red Bull’s Verstappen followed him home just under two seconds adrift to seal his domination of the season.The 26-year-old joins an exclusive group of drivers with three F1 crowns, including Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, leaving quadruple champions Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel next up on the all-time list. Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher share the outright record with seven titles each."Of course it's a fantastic feeling, it's been an incredible year and lots of great races,” said Verstappen, moments after jumping out of his car and launching himself into the waiting arms of his family and crew. “I feel super proud and super proud of the job of the team. It's been so enjoyable to be part of that group of people and to be three time world champion is just incredible," he added.Last night’s fourth sprint of the year offered Verstappen a first chance to score the three points he needed to wrap up the championship. But with his closest rival and team-mate Sergio Perez crashing out on the 12th lap, Verstappen had already become a world champion during the mid-race.Now Verstappen would want to mark his championship win in style as he starts from pole position for Sunday’s main Qatar Grand Prix. Having won 13 out of 16 races this season, it would be hard to bet against the Red Bull driver.Piastri and his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris, though, could pose the toughest challenge for Verstappen. While the 22-year-old Piastri made full use of McLaren’s reinvigorated MCL60 car to top the shootout first and then win the sprint, Norris overcame a dreadful start to finish third last night.Mercedes rival George Russell jumped into the lead, but having gone in with softer tyres he was easily overtaken by Piastri, Norris and Verstappen, who were all driving with medium rubber.Former champion Hamilton finished fifth after starting 12th and cashing in on the collisions ahead of him. Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were sixth and seventh with Williams' Alex Albon taking the final point of the night.“It was a very stressful race,” said a relieved Piastri. “When all the drivers with soft tyres came through at the beginning I thought we were in trouble, but then they fell away pretty quickly. I think we did a very good job. First sprint win sounds pretty cool.”Off the track, there were plenty of things to look forward to for the fans as a host of celebrities, including football legends Ronaldinho and David Beckham were present at the Lusail Circuit.The fan zone too was a hive of activity, blending cultural and entertainment pursuits suitable for all age groups. Highlights included captivating visual narratives of F1's journey in Qatar, mesmerising LED Light shows, and immersive events echoing Qatar's rich heritage.Spectators also got a chance to test their skills on F1 simulators, while Swedish DJ Alesso rounded up the night with his world-renowned brand of music.

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the qualifying session ahead of the Qatar Formula One Grand Prix at the Lusail International Circuit on Friday.
Qatar Grand Prix: Lusail Circuit comes alive as Verstappen takes pole

The twisty and fast Lusail International Circuit track provided a great spectacle on Friday, even as champion-in-waiting Max Verstappen took the pole position for Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix.Thousands of fans flocked the renovated circuit for the free practice and qualifying session on Friday. And they were in for a treat as Verstappen produced a masterful lap on his Red Bull to take his 10th pole position of his remarkable season in a time of 1 minute 23.778 seconds.The Dutch rider may not even have to wait until Sunday’s Grand Prix to be crowned as champion for the third time in a row. The 26-year-old can seal the title if he out-scores his teammate Sergio Perez by three points in the 19-lap sprint race on Saturday.While Verstappen was at his best on Friday, mistakes crept in from other drivers as they struggled to find grips with the Lusail track’s high-speed layout and its new asphalt, with the dust coming from the desert terrain making it even harder on a windy night.McLaren drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri were second and third fastest on the night, but their lap times were wiped out post-qualifying for exceeding track limits. The duo’s nightmare proved to be a blessing for Mercedes’ George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, who will start behind Verstappen on Sunday in second and third place respectively.“Great start to the weekend,” said Verstappen, who will bid for this 14th win of the season on Sunday. “It's quite tricky out there, but I'm very happy to be on pole. It's been a good day for us. Let's make sure on Sunday we have a good day as well,” he added.With all that has happened in the qualifying, the sprint race under the lights promises to be a spicy one as driver’s will be keen to make up for their mistakes. With no pit stops allocated, points are awarded to the top eight finishers in the sprint and Verstappen is in a prime position to wrap up the title.Off the track, fans were impressed by the redesigned Lusail circuit. The introduction of Lusail Hill – a dedicated elevated viewing area at the end of Turn 1 – proved a hit as the spectators had more viewing options of the track. The new grandstands added at Turn 2, 3 and 16 were also packed as the crowd enjoyed the action-packed qualifying session.The circuit's new pits and paddock complex also came in for praise from the drivers, with the added tunnels making it easier for officials and fans to move around. Former Renault and Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who races now in the IndyCar in the US, said he was impressed by the infrastructure in Qatar.“It looks amazing. I have never come here before, so it's my first time. But it's a very impressive infrastructure. I have not driven on this track, so it's difficult for me to judge. But it looks fun and very fast,” said the Frenchman , whose F1 career came to an end in spectacular circumstances as he picked up burn injuries in a dramatic and terrifying accident in Bahrain in 2020.“It's good news that Qatar will host the F1 at least until 2032. There's such a warm welcome here from the airport to the hotel and at the circuit,” Grosjean added.

From Left: Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg and Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou during a press conference at the Lusail International Circuit yesterday, ahead of the Formula One Qatar Grand Prix. (Reuters)
Lusail Circuit wows drivers as Qatar gears up to host F1 Grand Prix 2023

Qatar opened its door of the renovated Lusail International Circuit to the Formula One jamboree on Thursday, as the drivers and team officials were in awe of the state-of-the art venue.Starting from today until Sunday, all eyes will be on the Lusail Circuit, which will be hosting Qatar’s second F1 Grand Prix. There was excitement and admiration in equal measure at the paddock yesterday as the drivers and fans had first-hand view of the redesigned circuit complex.While the fast-flowing popular circuit remains the same, the facilities have been upgraded to meet Formula 1’s standards, with new pits and paddock complex while the spectator capacity has been beefed up to 52,000.This year’s Grand Prix will mark the first in a 10-season deal between Formula 1 and Qatar, sealing Lusail’s place on the calendar for the long run. While Red Bull have wrapped up the constructors title already, its driver Max Verstappen is on the cusp of winning his third straight title even before the main race on Sunday. The Dutchman, who has been relentlessly dominant this season, will secure the title with six rounds remaining if he finishes sixth or higher in the sprint race tomorrow.Sergio Perez is the only driver that can mathematically still beat his teammate, but even if he wins the Sprint and Verstappen fails to score, the 26-year-old will still clinch the title with a top-eight finish on Sunday.Still there are plenty of variables to look out for at the Lusail Circuit this weekend, with its demanding and twisty track allowing the possibility of throwing up a surprise or two. The shootout is going to be a challenge as it takes place in the daytime conditions, before the Sprint itself under the lights. This is the first Sprint weekend to feature a day-night setting, so it should add another element into the mix for the teams to get to grips with.Verstappen, who has had the fastest car with Red Bull, though will be outright favourite to win a remarkable 14th Grand Prix out of the 17 this season. To Page 12 Sport Page 4

Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah (centre), Masoud al-Athba (left) and Rashid al-Athba celebrate after winning skeet team silver medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games on Wednesday.
Al-Attiyah’s heroics gives Qatar silver and bronze in Hangzhou

Nasser al-Attiyah added another chapter to his long list of achievements on Wednesday, as the legendary sports star helped Qatar to open its medals tally at the Hangzhou Asian Games.Al-Attiyah first led the men’s skeet team – also consisting of Masoud al-Athba and Rashid al-Athba – to the silver medal, before he returned to win bronze in the individual final.It needed something special to stop al-Attiyah from winning gold on Wednesday and Kuwait’s Abdullah al-Rashidi did just that as the 60-year-old veteran shota perfect 60 shots to equal the world record and win his fourth Asian Games gold medal in skeet shooting. India’s Anantjeet Singh Naruka was also equally brilliant on the day as the 25-year-old missed only two targets to secure silver aheadof al-Attiyah, who shot 46 from50 targets.Five-time Dakar Rally champion al-Attiyah’s exploits in motorsports is such that his achievements in shooting is often underplayed. Wednesday’s medals was his fifth at the Asian Games – having been part of Qatar’s team that won the skeet team event at the 2002 and 2010 Asian Games in Busan and Guangzhou, respectively. He also won a bronze medal in the individual event at Guangzhou 2010.A veteran of six Olympics, al-Attiyah’s biggest achievement came at the 2012 London Games, where he won a bronze medal. Before that he had agonisingly fell short of securing a medal as he finished fourth at 2004 Athens Games and sixth at 2000 Sydney Games.Now he has set his sights on qualifying for a seventh Olympic Games appearance at Paris next year at the age of 53. “These medals are a huge boost for me ahead of the qualifiers for Paris Olympics, which is now my next target,” al-Attiyah said on Wednesday, with two medals draped around his neck.“It was a tough competition as seen throughout the event. We are delighted to clinch a silver and a bronze medal in skeet and I want to thank the Qatar Olympic Committee for all their support. My target was to win gold in individual skeet but hats off to Abdullah al-Rashidi who was outstanding in the event,” he added.On Wednesday, al-Attiyah made it to the six-man final by finishing third with a total of 122 shots after the qualifications, which was spread over two days. But more importantly it ensured a silver medal for Qatar. Masoud al-Athba narrowly missed out on the final spot after scoring 119 from five rounds but his seventh-place finish and his sibling Rashid’s 14th place finish too played a part in Qatar winning its first medal in Hangzhou. China took the gold with a score of 362 points, while India took home bronze with 355.In the event where the shotgun wielding shooters attempt to shoot and break clay targets fired into the air at high speeds and varying angles, al-Attiyah’s hands seem to tremble before he fires his shot. But he often hit the bull’s eye on Wednesday as he looked in no mood to stop his shooting career, which he has juggled successfully with his driving career.And al-Attiyah need not look elsewhere for inspiration after witnessing al-Rashidi’s record-equalling feat from close quarters on Wednesday. The 60-year-old – who has bronze medals from the Rio and Tokyo Olympics – said the secret to his longevity and his sharp vision is staying away from the phone and social media.To put al-Rashidi’s age in perspective, India’s silver medallist Naruka was born in 1998 – the same year the veteran Kuwaiti shooter won his third world title.“I am happy to win a fourth gold medal because I am over 60 years old. On ThursdayI only missed one target out of 110 targets. This happens when you play every day, you exercise, go swimming, and eat well,” al-Rashidi said.When asked about his training regime, he said: “You keep your body strong. I don’t look at the phone or Twitter, because this is not good for your eyes. I look after my body and my health, and I go to sleep early and wake up early. I make a good but difficult training programme, to look to the future.”With the Paris Olympics around the corner in 2024, al-Rashidi said he still has a long way to go before he decides to call it a day.Meanwhile, Qatar’s women shooter Reem al-Sharshani missed out on a medal on Wednesday after finishing fifth in the final. Al-Sharshani, who took the sixth and final spot for the medal round after two days of qualification, made 27 hits out of 30. In the team’s competition, which also consisted of Hajar Mohamed and SarahMohamed, Qatar finished fifth.

Mutaz Barshim holds his son as he acknowledges the crowd after winning the bronze in Budapest. (AFP)
Emotional Barshim proud of ‘amazing’ career

Doha: Mutaz Essa Barshim was far from downhearted after his reign as world high jump champion came to an end in Budapest on Tuesday night. Not since the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 has anyone been able to finish higher than the Qatari icon in an outdoors global high jump competition.But at the National Athletic Centre on Tuesday, Barshim’s good friend Gianmarco Tamberi, with whom he shared the gold medal at the Tokyo Games two years back, had dethroned him to win his maiden world title.Yet, Barshim sported a smile like a true champion he is. Why wouldn’t he!? The 32-year-old’s bronze in Budapest was his fifth Worlds medal of his career, which includes three consecutive gold and one silver – making him the first man to achieve the feat in high jump.Barshim even joined Tamberi and his Italian fans in the stands as the duo celebrated with Qatari legend’s toddler son joining them. Later as the disappointment of not winning yet another gold had settled in, Barshim reflected on his illustrious career and brimming with pride at what he had achieved.“I came here with three world gold medals and one silver and managed to add a bronze tonight,” said Barshim, who has had to contend with back and knee problems in recent years.“Look at my career. It is really amazing. If it was not me that did this, but someone else, I would like to be that someone. Today I look at my CV and I am the only high jumper with such a medal count. This almost brings tears to my eyes. I just need to give myself credit. Having my son here only makes it more memorable. It is very emotional to have all my family and friends out here,” he added.Yesterday, in an emotional post on Instagram Barshim, opened up more about his career as he dedicated his bronze medal to people who have stood behind him. He also said representing Qatar was a huge responsibility that he takes ‘very seriously’“It’s very sentimental for me to think of how far I’ve come from my very first World Championship in Daegu in South Korea in 2011. As a young high jumper pursuing my passion I was looking up to the all-time high jump greats. I remember wanting to be up there so badly. Looking at myself today, I realise that I am now on top of that list becoming the most decorated high jumper in World Championships history, collecting five medals. One silver, three consecutive gold and now one bronze medal,” he wrote.“If I’m allowed to say it, I’m really proud of myself for never giving up, for putting in the hard work, for sacrificing what matters most to me and having my team, my family, my country & my supporters stand behind me no matter what. I realise that I have a huge responsibility by carrying the flag of my country on my back and I take that responsibility very seriously. This medal is for all of you who have been standing behind me for more than a decade,” he added.Barshim paid tribute to Tamberi and the young American JuVaughn Harrison, who won silver on Tuesday, but said he was up for the fight at the Paris Olympics next year, even though he indicated that could be his farewell event.“The atmosphere on the field was electric. The rivalry between all the jumpers was incredible. I enjoyed every moment of it. I am happy that Tamberi won the gold. It was a medal he was missing from his CV and he added it tonight,” Barshim said.“He deserved to be on the top of the podium. He has been working really hard and it is time for him to celebrate. The Paris Olympics is my next goal but it will be my last. It will be more like a contest, not revenge.”Barshim, who has the second best jump in history – 2.43 behind Cuban great Javier Sotomayor (2.45 in 1993) – looked in for a rough night when he missed his first attempt at 2.25. He had looked calm before the event started as he lay down on a towel on the infield for a good 20 minutes. Barshim passed the opening height, 2.20m, but the lack of preparation showed in a rusty first attempt at 2.25m that sent the bar tumbling. Barshim then cleared 2.33 for bronze, but missed all three attempts at 2.36, leaving Tamberi and Harrison to fight for the gold.Tamberi, who had scraped through to the final with a last-gasp clearance at 2.28m in qualifying, entered the competition with a first-time failure at 2.25m, but as his raucous supporters rooted for him from the stands, the Italian grew in confidence and pocketed his first world title.Tamberi now has a full collection of golds, having also captured world indoor, European and Diamond League titles. But with Barshim still not done yet, the Italian will have a fight on his hand at the Paris Olympics.Barshim FactfileBorn: 24 June 1991, Doha Height: 1.90m (6 ft 3 in) Weight: 65kg Achievements and titlesWorld Championships: 2011 Daegu: 7th2013 Moscow: Silver2015 Beijing: 4th2017 London: Gold2019 Doha: Gold2022 Eugene: Gold2023 Budapest: BronzeOlympics 2012 London: Silver2016 Rio de Janeiro: Silver2020 Tokyo: GoldHighest world ranking No. 1 (weeks 23)Personal best(s) Outdoor: 2.43m in Brussels (2014)Indoor: 2.41m in Athlone (2015)

Gulf Times
Crespo hungry for more silverware with Al Duhail

Hernan Crespo’s first season as coach of Al Duhail could not have gone much better, with the former Argentina striker leading the Qatari club to treble of domestic titles – the league, Qatar Cup and Ooredoo Cup.While Duhail were hammered by Saudi side Al Hilal in the AFC Champions League semi-final and also lost in the Amir Cup quarter-finals, the Red Knights had a successful season under Crespo. So it wasn’t a surprise when the Duhail management extended Crespo’s contract to another year, until the end of next season. Now Crespo, whose coaching career has included spells in Italy, Argentina and Brazil, wants to repeat last year’s success with Duhail or even better it.But the 48-year-old believes it won’t be easy as the other Qatar Stars League teams – especially Duhail’s arch rivals Al Sadd have strengthened their squad. “This will be a very, very difficult season. I think for us, the last season was amazing. We reached the semi-final of the AFC Champions League. We won three trophies then. It’s not easy to repeat. We try to be competitive again to try to fight in all of the competitions,” the Argentinian said ahead of Duhail’s opening match against Al Ahli on Friday at the Al Thumama Stadium.However, Crespo was confident of the team’s success as he said the team’s pre-season preparations have been perfect. “The preparation has been perfect. We are only waiting to complete our roster with another foreign professional. But anyway, we are ready for the first game of the league, which will be very, very tough this time,” he added.For Duhail, Al Sadd, a record 16-time winners of QSL, will once again be their main rivals for all the trophies this season while Amir Cup champions and league runners-up Al Arabi could also pose a tough challenge. But Crespo chose to focus on his team and urged his players to be competitive like last season.“Our challenge is to try to be competitive. Logically we try to win the trophies, but the most important thing is to be competitive. After that, in football, everything can happen. Sometimes it has happened that we won three titles like last year, sometimes not. You never know.“But I think, the way to respect our passion, respect our professionalism is to try to work hard. After that the rest is all a consequence,” he said philosophically.Like last season, the league will take a six-week break this time too in December as Qatar will be hosting the AFC Asian Cup in January and February. “The last season was hectic with the World Cup and it will be so this season too,” said Crespo.“We are very proud to have hosted the FIFA World Cup and now we are very proud to host the AFC Asian Cup (in January 2024). Our idea is to try to help the national team. And after that, we will try to do our best. We prepare the players to become better players. I think representing the national team is great. We are very proud of that and we try to give to the national team a lot of players,” said Crespo.

Qatar Gold Cup squad
Pragmatic Queiroz injects fresh blood, targets 2026 World Cup spot for Qatar

After a disappointing 2022 World Cup, if the football fans in Qatar were craving for a new dawn then Carlos Queiroz has answered the call. The veteran Portuguese coach, who took over from Felix Sanchez after the World Cup debacle where the hosts lost all three of their group matches, revealed a fresh-look squad yesterday for the Gold Cup, which will be held in the United States of America and Canada from June 24 to July 16. Captain Hassan al-Haydos, star striker Akram Afif, Karim Boudiaf, Pedro Miguel, Boualem Khoukhi, Abdulaziz Hatem and Saad al-Sheeb were among the seniors who were left out of the 26-member squad as Queiroz said he was determined to lead Qatar into the 2026 World Cup. Since his appointment in February on a four-year deal, Queiroz has meticulously drafted a new road map for the Qatar team. The experienced coach yesterday spoke about short, medium and long term plans as the 70-year-old plots a revival of the Qatar team – which after the high of maiden Asian Cup triumph in 2019 could just not reach the promised level. In a free-wheeling chat with reporters yesterday, Queiroz conceded the journey ahead “would not be a sprint but a marathon’ and said it was his “dream to help Qatar qualify for the first time in the World Cup.” If Queiroz is successful in his 2026 World Cup mission, it would be his fifth appearance at the finals, having led his native Portugal in 2010 before taking Iran to the tournaments in Brazil, Russia and Qatar. “I have 44 years of experience with me but I feel like I am starting a new career. I am very excited and it’s a privilege for me to lead the Qatar team for which I am thankful to the Qatar Football Association and all the fans. It’s my new home, my new family and it is not a time to make promises but to deliver,” the Portuguese said yesterday. In the four months he has been in Qatar, Queiroz admitted to having seen 23 matches of the Al Annabi till the Gulf Cup and numerous domestic matches. “I continued to watch them day and night,” he said with a smile. Queiroz has retained few from the World Cup squad like Almoez Ali, Mohamed Muntari, Bassam al-Rawi, Assim Madebo and Tariq Salman but the Gold Cup squad mostly consists of players who featured at the Gulf Cup in January. After pruning the squad to 26 from 41 players after a short camp, Queiroz regularly spoke about ‘talent and performance identification’ but said the doors were always open for the seniors to make a comeback. Identifying talent has been Queiroz’s forte in the past. It is well known that Queiroz convinced Alex Ferguson to sign the then-teenager Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United in 2003. He also played a vital role in shaping the careers of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto as Queiroz led Portugal to world youth championships in 1989 and 1991. For Qatar football, there could not have been a better coach to guide the next generation as he looks to rebuild of personnel and confidence. “It’s not a question of exclusion but it is about inclusion of new players who are rewarded for their performances. The word exclusion is not in my dictionary. Also, it is a right decision to rest some players. It’s time for them to have a break away from stress,” Queiroz explained on his decision to blood youngsters in the team. “I want to open a window for young players and give them opportunities. The youngsters in the squad have only one or two international appearances, they will be given enough opportunity to express themselves on the pitch. The selection will be based on talent and performance identification. My job is to make the right decision. So I was clear with this in my mind. I want a minimum of six players for one position and build competition for places. We need a strong group of players and make it a large pool for selection to the Qatar team. It’s still a long way to go,” he added. Queiroz knows his first test will be to help Qatar defend their Asian Cup title at home next January. “Qatar won the 2019 Asian Cup. But, today, we are ranked sixth in Asia – five other Asian teams are in front of us. Japan, South Korea, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia are ahead of us. Then we have Iraq and the UAE,” Queiroz. “This is exactly the mountain we need to climb. We have to challenge ourselves against top Asian teams. We need to be ready to defend the Asian title. It won’t be easy but we need to stand up and work hard every day. On the pitch we have lots of things to do. Qatar needs to win consistently and not just win here and there. If we have to be the best, we need to be the best and compete and challenge the best,” he added. Queiroz also said Qatar’s 2026 World Cup would start on November 13, 2023, referring to the start of the qualification period for the next football showpiece, which will be held in the US, Canada and Mexico. “To qualify for the World Cup is the ultimate goal. 2023 November our World Cup will start. This is our trophy. We don’t have too much time. We have 183 days to start our World Cup. We cannot climb a mountain with one step, we have to take many steps,” he said. Qatar will open their Gold Cup campaign against Haiti at the NRG Stadium in Houston on June 24. The Asian Champions then take on Honduras on June 29 in Glendale, Arizona before wrapping up their Group B matches against heavyweights Mexico on July 2 in Santa Clara, California. Queiroz will hold a preparation camp for Vienna, Austria from June 1. In Vienna, Qatar will play three friendly matches – against a Croatian side made up of local players on June 8, versus Jamaica on June 15 and against New Zealand four days later. Qatar players will leave for the USA on June 20. Qatar Gold Cup squad Goalkeepers: Jassim al-Hail (Al Arabi), Mishaal Barshim (Al Sadd), Salah Zakaria (Al Duhail), Youssef Hassan (Al Gharafa) Defenders: Hazem Ahmed (Al Wakrah), Ahmed Suhail, Jassem Jaber (Al Arabi), Tariq Salman, Musab Khader (Al Sadd), Bassam al-Rawi, Mohamed al-Nuaimi, Youssef Ayman (Al Duhail), Hammam al-Amin (Al Gharrafa) Midfielders: Ahmed Fathi, Abdullah al-Maarafi (Al Arabi), Asim Madebo (Al Duhail), Ali Asad, Mohamed Waad, Mahdi Salem (Al Sadd), Mustafa Mishaal (Al Shamal) Forwards: Ahmed Alaa (Al Gharafa), Almoez Ali, Mohamed Muntari (Al Duhail), Tamim Mansour (Al Rayyan), Khaled Mounir, Youssef Abdelrazzaq (Al Wakrah)

Gulf Times
Al Arabi beat Al Sadd to win first Amir Cup title in 30 years

Al Arabi ended a 30-year long wait for the Amir Cup title as they stunned Al Sadd 3-0 in the final to win the prestigious trophy at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan yesterday.In front of a packed 37,839 attendance, Arabi players, officials and their long-suffering fans in the stands were overcome with emotions as His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani crowned them as the champions.Prolific striker Omar al-Somah scored a brace, but it was substitute Hamid Ismail who played a key role in Arabi’s first major title since winning the league title 26 years ago. Ismail, who had replaced injured Youssef Msakni at the end of first half, set up the opening goal while also getting into the score sheet with Arabi’s second.It was also a significant occasion for Arabi’s Younes Ali, who became the first Qatari coach to win the Amir Cup since 1994. Ahmed Omar was the last Qatari coach to win the trophy.Ali also became the fourth person to lift the prestigious title both as player and coach Ahmed Omar, Hussein Amouta and Xavi Hernandez. Ali, who played as a midfielder before retiring in 2017, won the Amir Cup three times as a player with Al Rayyan.A jubilant Ali paid tribute to his players for hard work throughout the season and he thanked the fans for sticking with the team for many difficult years. “Al Sadd were a very tough team but we played very well. I want to thank our fans who supported us throughout the season and for many years,” the 40-year-old said.“We had an excellent season irrespective of our victory in the final. It was sheer teamwork of all people associated with Al Arabi. We will now focus on doing better in the next season and it would require a great deal of hard work,” he added.Forward Al-Somah, who joined Arabi on a one-year loan from Al Ahli, said they were deserving winners on the night. “We are delighted to win the prestigious Amir Cup after a gap of so many years. This historic title has doubled our joy as we have capped a fine season by lifting this coveted trophy,” the Syrian said.“We have won the trophy deservingly as we played well in the final. After falling behind in the QSL title race, all our focus was on winning the Amir Cup. The entire Al Arabi team, the coaching, technical and administrative played their part in this success.”Arabi went into the high-stakes match yesterday hoping to overcome the heartbreak of missing out on the league title to Al Duhail by two points last week, not to mention the pressure of ending the trophy drought. They had beaten Sadd 2-1 in the last round league match last Monday, but were still the underdogs for the title against record 18-time Amir Cup winners.Friday’s final was also a repeat of the 2020 title clash, which Sadd had won comfortably at the same venue as yesterday. Expectedly, it was Sadd who went on the offensive but were unable to break the deadlock, despite numerous scoring opportunities as Arabi players defended bravely.Sadd’s star forward Akram Afif curled from outside the box just wide of the far post, while Guilherme Torres’ long-range strike missed the target just before the half-hour mark. Boualem Khoukhi also went close from 10 yards outside the box, while Ali Asad wasted a golden opportunity to score from a close range.With Sadd looking threatening, Arabi were dealt a blow as the experienced Youssef Msakni limped out due to injury. But that turned out to be a blessing for Arabi as Msakni’s replacement Ismail turned the game in his team’s favour with a terrific second-half display.After a VAR check cleared Arabi defender Marc Muniesa of fouling Baghdad Boundjah in the box, the ‘Dream Team’ went ahead just after the hour mark. Ismail played a cross from the right and Syrian international al-Somah connected it with a towering header past Sadd goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb.Sadd searched for the equaliser and should have had one but Bounedjah’s header went just over the bar. With the clock ticking in, Arabi landed the killer blow in the 91st minute through a counterattack.Former PSG star Rafinha surged ahead from the midfield to set up Ismail, who pummeled the ball into the net. In the 11 minutes of added time, Rafinha again set up a goal this time assisting al-Somah for his second goal of the match as Arabi players and supporters went into frenzy at the final whistle.

Gianni Infantino, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa and HE Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani pose with the trophy and coaches during the draw in Doha Thursday.
Asian Cup to begin with holders Qatar vs Lebanon at Al Bayt Stadium

Hosts Qatar will open their Asian Cup defence against Lebanon at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on January 12, 2024, after the draw for the continental showpiece was held at the Katara Opera House Thursday.Qatar – who won the Asian Cup for the first time in the 2019 edition held in the UAE – will also play against China and tournament debutants Tajikistan in their other Group A matches.Since the unimpressive performance of the Qatar team in the World Cup last year, former Real Madrid and Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has replaced long-serving Felix Sanchez and the Portuguese veteran said it was time for Qatar to ‘deliver’ on the pitch. “We want to compete against the best and try to beat the best. It is not about the opponents but about us, and now it is time to deliver, work and be well prepared. The most important thing is to play good football, to have fun and bring as much pride and honour for the country,” Queiroz said Thursday.Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos – who was one of the draw assistants at the draw ceremony Thursday – said his team will go with all guns blazing to retain the title. “Playing at the big stage in Asia is always an honour and to be able to defend the trophy at home will be even more special. I can't wait to play in front of our fantastic fans and we will try to do everything to make them proud,” said the Al Sadd forward.Twenty-four teams from across the continent learned their fate finally Thursday. The tournament was initially slated for this summer with China as hosts, but was moved because of the country's strict Covid rules with Qatar stepping in as hosts. It is the third time the Asian Cup will return to Qatar after they hosted the championship in 1988 and 2011. Eight stadiums, six of which were used at the World Cup, will stage games at the Asian Cup in January-February.The other five groups have thrown up some interesting contests, with Australia, Uzbekistan, Syria and India all drawn in Group B, while three-time champions Iran faces Palestine, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong in Group C.The most successful nation in Asian Cup history, Japan are in a tricky Group D with 2007 winners Iraq, Indonesia, and Vietnam. South Korea, Malaysia, Jordan and Bahrain make up Group E, with Saudi Arabia, also going for a fourth title, in Group F with Oman, Thailand and Kyrgyzstan. The top two from each of the six groups as well as the four best third-placed teams will progress to the knockout stage, with the final to be held at the Al Bayt on February 10.In his opening address Thursday, watched by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa was confident the tournament will “the greatest edition ever” as he thanked Qatar and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for staging the tournament.“The last time Qatar hosted the Asian Cup was in 2011 and in just 12 years we have all witnessed an era of great progress. Since then we have expanded the competition to 24 teams and as witnessed at the FIFA World Cup, the teams and players are among the finest in the world. Qatar has earned its place as among the best host nations in global football history,” Sheikh Salman said.The ceremony was attended by HE President of the Qatar Football Association and Chairman of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023 LOC Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani, AFC Executive Office members, representatives of the continental federations, and managers and coaches of the 24 participating teams.South Korea’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he expected the Asian Cup to ‘be as fantastic a tournament as the World Cup.’ “The draw is exciting and, for me, it is all about learning now and learning about the opponents, teams and all the coaches that are here. I am sure it will be a fantastic tournament as the World Cup was an outstanding and beautiful tournament,” the former German forward said.

Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim competes in the men’s high jump. (AFP)
Richardson, Kerley power to victories; Barshim disappoints

Americans Sha’Carri Richardson and Fred Kerley stormed to sprint victories at the Diamond League opener in Doha, as three meet records tumbled on a cool evening at the Suheim Bin Hamad Stadium on Friday.The packed crowd witnessed 15 Olympic and world champions on the night, but had to return home disappointed after home hero Mutaz Essa Barshim put on a sluggish show as he finished a disappointing third in the high jump. The Olympic and World champion stumbled at every height before finishing with 2.24m, while American Juvaughn Harrison soared to victory with an impressive 2.32m, while South Korea’s Woo Sanghyeok (2.27m) was third.Barshim needed three attempts at 2.21m to get into the final and then failed with all three tries at 2.27m. The Qatari great vowed he would come back stronger as he bids for an unprecedented fourth World title this year. “This is home, so the crowd and support were incredible,” the 31-year-old said. “It wasn’t the performance I wanted, but the atmosphere was amazing, and I thank the crowd for their support. I definitely have few points to work on but it’s the first Diamond League of the season and I know what to do to improve. My next event is the Stockholm Diamond League,” he added.But it was Richardson, who grabbed the limelight with her biggest win of her career in the star-studded women’s 100m. The 23-year-old, who missed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for cannabis at the US trials, led from gun to win in 10.76 seconds to break the meet record set by Tori Bowie, the 2017 world champion who was found dead this week.The last two world 200m champions — Shericka Jackson (10.85sec) of Jamaica and Dina Asher-Smith (10.98) of Britain – were second and third. “I found my peace back on the track, and I’m not letting anything or anybody take that anymore,” Richardson said, adding that she got “kicked out” of the 100m at her last meet in Botswana last Saturday, where she ran the 200m instead.A little later, Kerley continued the American dominance in the sprint as the world 100m champion won the men’s 200m in 19.92. The Olympic and world silver medallist Kenneth Bednarek had led coming off the bend but Kerley produced a blistering finish as he used his long strides in the final 40 metres to romp home.Bednarek was second (20.11) and Canada’s Aaron Brown was third (20.20). Andre De Grasse, the Olympic 200m champ from Canada, was sixth, while world 400m champion Michael Norman crossed the line in last place (20.65). Buoyed by yesterday’s triumph, Kerley was aiming for a 100-200m double at this year’s world championships in Budapest. “I was comfortable, but I know I still have work to do. The most important thing was to win and I did. I was happy with the competition, it was a good one, the guys gave me a fight. Next is Japan, (I will) open up my season in the 100 (metres),” the 27-year-old Texan said.Two other meet records came on the night from Slovenian Kristjan Ceh in men’s discus, while Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma put on a sensational run to win the 3,000m in 7:26.18.World champion Ceh launched the discus to 70.89m to improve Daniel Stahl’s mark by 33 centimetres. The Swede had to settle for second behind Ceh with 67.14m. However, such was Ceh dominance that all four his valid throws would have sufficed for victory. “This means a lot to me. I just started my season and it was good. I’m aiming to raise my average.” said Ceh.The men’s 3,000m was when the crowd was at its loudest with the event billed as one of the biggest clashes of the night and it did not disappoint.Ethiopia’s Berihu Aregawi looked prime for win, but with 500 metres to go Girma edged ahead of his compatriot Aregawi followed by another countryman Selemon Barega. World and Olympic steeplechase champion Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco was way off his best in fourth.India’s javelin superstar Neeraj Chopra at last claimed his first win in Doha, five years after making his debut. The Olympic champion and World silver medallist sent his spear out to a world-leading 88.67m in his first attempt, and that turned out to be the best effort among the field.World and Olympic medallist Jakub Vadlejch of Czech Republic came within four centimetres of Chopra’s lead with 88.63m in round three but had to settle for second place, while two-time world champion Anderson Peters was third with 85.88m.“It was a very hard win but I’m happy. It’s a really good start for me. I hope to come in first place in the next competitions and to be consistent during the season,” said Neeraj, who received a raucous reception from the fans.In the women’s pole vault, Olympic champion Katie Moon held off stiff competition from Sandi Morris and Tina Sutej to win with a world-leading 4.81m.Faith Kipyegon’s 3:58.57 in the women’s 1500m saw her round off a night of brilliant performances and make the perfect start to her Diamond League title defence.There were further world leads from Winfred Yavi in the women’s steeplechase and Hugues Fabrice Zango in the men’s triple jump, although the latter ultimately lost to Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who claimed victory with a windy 17.91m. There were also victories for Rai Benjamin in the men’s 400m hurdles and Jasmine Camacho-Quinn in the women’s 100m hurdles.

Dina Asher-Smith (left) of Britain, Fred Kerley (centre) of the United States and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya pose after the press conference in Doha on Thursday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
With world record still on mind, Barshim opens season today

Olympic and World champion Mutaz Barshim has not given up his dream of breaking the long-standing high jump world record. In 2018, he was just millimetres away from bettering Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor’s feat of 2.45m which has stood since July 1993.But Barshim – who had earlier in 2017 became the first athlete in history to clear 2.40m in five consecutive years and remained unbeaten that season – suffered a career-threatening foot injury on his third attempt at 2.46m at the Gyulai Istvan Memorial meet in Hungary. But that painful setback has not deterred Barshim from achieving his ambition of creating a new world record. While the 31-year-old has sights on winning gold at the Paris Olympics next year and an unprecedented fourth high jump world crown in Budapest and Asian Games later this year, Barshim has Sotomayor’s 30-year-old record in his mind.“I always aim for the maximum,” said Barshim yesterday, on the eve of the Diamond League season opener at Qatar SC’s Suheim Bin Hamad Stadium. “I am still active and while I am active, I will keep chasing the best possible. There is nothing like that I can’t achieve. If you don’t believe it, go home, don’t be here.”Barshim said events like the Diamond League ‘is sort of training’ for him because he has ‘bigger goals’. “So I am up for the big fish and that’s for me are the World Championships, the Olympics and the Asian Games this season,” he said without a hint of arrogance.“I only look at myself, to be honest. I’m in a different stage of my life, in my career, even though you know where you are. But deep down you don’t know because you always surprise yourself. There’s always that extra that you’re trying to reach and grab. And I say it’s a great opportunity to go and grab for extra and to focus on what I need to be focused on because I know the season is so long and I have my own targets,” he added.The Qatari has competed sparingly in recent years, mainly due to various injury concerns, but he has managed to get it right when it matters, winning the past three world titles as well as the Olympic title in 2021.In his first competition of the season, Barshim jumped 2.20m to take gold at the relatively weak field at the West Asia Athletics Championship in Doha last week. He last competed at a higher level in September 2022, so it remains to be seen what kind of form he is currently in, but he isn’t easy to beat.World indoor champion Woo Sanghyeok of South Korea beat Barshim in the Doha meeting last year, so will be the closest challenger to the home favourite today. USA’s JuVaughn Harrison also heads to Doha in great form, having already cleared 2.33m this year.“It’s the start of the season. Definitely, I’m excited. Not only to compete but compete at home,” said Barshim. “The start of the season is very important to all of us athletes. Again, you know, competing at home for me is definitely extra boost and I’m looking forward to that.Meanwhile, World 100 metres champion Fred Kerley will be one of 15 reigning Olympic and world champions competing in the first of 14 top meetings that make up the Diamond League.Kerley will race the 200 metres in Doha, which will also feature Olympic 200m champion Andre de Grasse of Canada – who also had an injury-stricken 2022 – and Americans Michael Norman, the world 400m champion, and Olympic and world 200m silver medallist Kenny Bednarek. In the women’s 100m, reigning world 200m champion Shericka Jackson of Jamaica will take on Britain’s former world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith.Kenya’s two-time Olympic and world 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon headlines the women’s 1500m. She said she was “really excited” to start another world championship year.Olympic and world champion Katie Moon will take on fellow American Sandi Morris and Australian Nina Kennedy who she beat to the women’s pole vault title in Eugene last year.The strongest field of all in Doha is the men’s 3000m. Three months on from his world indoor 3000m record, Lamecha Girma takes on the same distance outdoors and faces a field that includes four winners of global titles. The Ethiopian clocked 7:23.81 in Lievin in February and hasn’t raced since. A lack of prior races didn’t seem to do the Ethiopian any harm back then, so the fact this is his outdoor season debut shouldn’t necessarily work against him.Especially as the same applies to many other athletes in the field, including world and Olympic steeplechase champion Soufiane El Bakkali. The Moroccan is more at home when jumping over barriers, but he is speedy enough on the flat to be competitive in a race such as this.Olympic 10,000m champion Selemon Barega, 2021 Diamond League 5000m champion Berihu Aregawi and fellow Ethiopians Getnet Wale and Telahun Haile Bekele add further depth to the field, as do 2019 world 1500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot, world U20 cross-country champion Ishmail Kipkirui and Oceanian record-holder Stewart McSweyn.The meeting record of 7:27.26 has stood for 12 years, but there are several athletes capable of challenging that mark today.

From Left: Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim, American Katie Moon and India’s Neeraj Chopra pose after the press conference on Thursday, on the eve of the Diamond League opener in Doha. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Affable Chopra set to continue his gold-coated legacy

Neeraj Chopra’s ascension to the top of javelin throw and his evolution as an athlete should be part of the sporting curriculum. For, at the age of 25, he has achieved milestones unheard in the history of Indian athletics, and the manner in which he continues to handle his stardom after the Olympics gold is heartening to see as well a big lesson for the younger generation.Chopra was always billed for bigger things in India, after he won the World Under-20 Championships gold in 2016 with a world record throw of 86.48m. He then went on to add Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold, but his historic Olympic gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games two years ago has skyrocketed his popularity in India and around the world.His World Championship silver and Diamond Trophy title last year has shown that Chopra is set to dominate javelin throw over the next decade.On the eve of the Diamond League opener in Doha on Thursday, the charming Chopra was the cynosure of all eyes. There were never-ending requests for interviews and photographs from the media, yet the young Indian handled everything patiently with a wide smile.“After I won the Olympics gold medal, there has been a lot of change in the Indian sporting culture,” said Chopra, when asked about his ever-growing influence in Indian sports, particularly athletics.“The young generation is taking up sports. And it’s not just the javelin, there is interest in other sports too. And it’s bringing the confidence in the juniors to perform well. They believe if I can do it, they can do it too. In India, we already have six or seven of them who can throw over 80m. And there are two or three more of them who threw over 80m this year. So the interest in javelin has picked up in India. Hopefully in the next ten years, other javelin throwers from India will join me in the Diamond League, World Championship or Olympics,” he added.So how does he manage to keep laser-sharp focus on his career? “Training is like healing for me. I feel really good when I’m training,” said the lad from Panipat.“After my Olympic gold many people know me now, so the biggest challenge for me is to focus on my training and competitions. That’s really the tough part for me. So for me to manage all this attention and also compete on a bigger stage in the world is difficult.”Today, Chopra launches his Diamond League defence at the Suheim Bin Hamad Stadium, with a star-studded field hoping to seal the limelight from him. An important and packed 14 months awaits the Indian as he defends his Asian Games and Olympics title, while also hoping to upgrade his Worlds silver into gold in Budapest.His first test awaits in Doha, where Chopra will be up against two-time world champion Anderson Peters and Olympic silver medallist Jakub Vadlejch. Peters threw 93.07m to win in Doha last year in a thrilling competition with Vadlejch, who set a PB of 90.88m.Chopra, who extended his national record to 89.94m last year and was incredibly consistent in the high 80s, hopes to join the coveted 90m club in Doha. From Thomas Rohler’s 93.90m in 2017 to Peters’ 93.07m last season, Doha has a rich history of record-breaking throws.“This is my first competition of the season. It’s always good when you have great competitors,” Chopra said yesterday. “Vadlejch has already thrown 88.38m in Potchefstroom (South Africa, on April 18), so I think tomorrow will see great competition. Also, Doha is famous for 90m throws. So we will see, hopefully tomorrow will have great results for all,” added Chopra.Chopra is returning to Doha after five years. In the 2018 Diamond League, he finished fourth with 87.43m, while he missed the 2019 Worlds as he was recovering from elbow injury.

Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah poses with the Dakar Rally trophy during a felicitation function in Lusail.
Rally great al-Attiyah targets Paris Olympics gold in shooting

‘That’s my second major goal. I have started preparing for Paris andwill continue to get ready for the challenge. Paris Games will be my 7th Olympics.It’s not easy, but this year we will have a lot of preparation.We will have a two-month training camp in Italy. Having cemented his place as one of the all-time greats after his fifth Dakar Rally victory last week, Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah is in no mood to stop.The 52-year-old racing legend, who is also equally good at shooting, has set his sights on winning gold at the Paris Olympics next year. Al-Attiyah has an Olympics bronze in skeet from the London Games in 2012. Now, the Qatari ace wants to stand on top of the podium in Paris, in what will be his seventh Olympics. With his unbreakable resolve, it would not be a surprise if he goes on to add another feat to his illustrious career. “That’s my second major goal. I have started preparing for Paris and will continue to get ready for the challenge. Paris Games will be my 7th Olympics,” al-Attiyah said, in one of the many felicitations functions held in his honour after his return from Dakar triumph.Al-Attiyah is an once-in-a-lifetime athlete, having shown his world class abilities in two different sports concurrently for over a decade. Admittedly, shooting is his second love as he devotes most of his time to racing. And al-Attiyah knows medalling at Olympics, that too gold, would be a gigantic challenge.“It’s not easy, but this year we will have a lot of preparation. We will have a two-month training camp in Italy and then we will take part in the Asian Games, Asian Championships and the Arab Championships to continue our practice. Then next year we will focus more for the Olympic Games,” he noted.Matching Ari Vatanen’s tally of Dakar wins put him in the same bracket as Dakar legends, but number five sets al-Attiyah apart as the second-most successful driver in the car category behind Stephane Peterhansel – who has eight.In the unforgiving Saudi terrain over a fortnight, al-Attiyah showed his tactical acumen as well his mastery behind the wheels even as his main rivals tumbled one by one. Al-Attiyah’s team principal at Toyota Gazoo Racing Glyn Hall summed up the Qatari character perfectly recently. “There are so many different elements of Nasser,” Hall said. “He is tough. I think the softest part of Nasser is his teeth!”For al-Attiyah though, it is all about determination and willingness to stay on top of his game – whether it may be racing or shooting. “I love my sport and I always try to be on top,” the soft-spoken al-Attiyah says with his trademark smile. “Hard work is a result of where I am now. There is no other way to achieve success. I am thankful to Qatar (government) for all the support I get for my sport. I always look to do best for my country,” he says modestly.“When I see everyone around me, it’s a nice feeling. I always dream and work to be the number one to raise the Qatar flag. You have to be strong in the things you know and enjoy it. If you love to do something, do it properly, this is what I am trying to do and getting success. I get a lot of support from everyone here in Qatar and the Middle East also which keeps me going. This is a really nice, nice feeling. I will try to do my best to be the number one and raise the Qatar flag in the world.”Al-Attiyah aims to break the record of eight titles in the car category held by Frenchman Peterhansel. “I am really setting this target. The target to break the record for eight titles. I have won five now and I have a long mission. I hope I will be able to achieve the target. Inshallah, I will try my best to keep going in this class,” he said.Al-Attiyah, who also has 18 Middle East titles, will be seen in the Oman International Rally next week. “I am looking forward to winning in Oman as we are aiming to win the Middle East Championship title again. I am ready for the challenge,” he said.

Gulf Times
Qatar march into Arabian Gulf Cup semis

Substitute Tamim Mansour's slick 88th minute equaliser sent Qatar into the semi-finals of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup after a 1-1 draw with the United Arab Emirates in Basra, Iraq, Friday.The three-time champions were heading for exit after Fabio De Lima scored for the UAE in the 76th minute at the Al Minaa Olympic Stadium. With Kuwait holding Bahrain 1-1 in another Group B match, Qatar needed to match that result and Mansour turned out to be their saviour as the forward found the net with two regulation minutes remaining.Tamim’s strike was a reminiscent of what his legendary father Mansour Muftah had done in the inaugural Gulf Cup in 1979, which was also hosted by Iraq. Muftah had scored Qatar’s lone goal against the UAE and 44 years later his son matched his father’s feat against the same opponent and in the same country.Tamim, who made his debut for Qatar in the tournament opener against Kuwait last week, has come through Al Rayyan youth system just like his father. Friday, the 20-year-old made the deftest of touches off a cross from Homam al-Amin to put it past the UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa with his teammates mobbing Tamim to celebrate his maiden senior goal.With Kuwait unable to beat Group B toppers Bahrain in another game, Qatar held on for 10 minutes stoppage time to seal a place in the semi-finals against hosts Iraq on Monday. Defending champions Bahrain will face Oman in another semi-final on the same day.After two successive defeats, the UAE needed to win by two clear goals and hope Bahrain beat Kuwait. But with a solitary point from three fixtures, the UAE finished bottom of the group.Rodolfo Arruabarrena's side made a bright start but were undone by poor finishing, including a missed penalty from Caio Canedo in the 66th minute. Qatar though had the best chance in the first half added time but striker Yusuf Abdurisag shot over the bar.The UAE had an opening when Amro Siraj fouled Walid Abbas as the UAE captain was poised to shoot. But Caio’s penalty kick hit the post, much to the relief of Qatar players. Caio, though, played a key role in his team’s goal as the striker’s cross was volleyed home by De Lima.As the UAE searched for the second goal, Tamim’s strike broke their hearts as Qatar’s young squad kept their country’s hopes of a fourth Gulf Cup title alive.Qatar's Portuguese coach Bruno Pinheiro praised the players for fighting it till the end. “We performed well, especially during the first half, when we enjoyed maximum possession. We created many opportunities, but lacked the finishing touch. We deserved to qualify for the semis. I am proud of the players,” he said.“The match was difficult. Qatar Football Association’s vision is to give young players the opportunity in this tournament and in front of full stadiums. And the players have responded well, absorbed pressure and put in an excellent performance. We are excited to face Iraq in the semis. This is my first visit to this country and I am surprised by the hospitality we have received here,” he added.Earlier, Bahrain and Kuwait played out a gripping 1-1 at the packed Basra International Stadium. Mahdi al-Humaidan put Bahrain ahead in the 26th minute before Shabib al-Khaldi scored the equaliser 19 minutes later.

Iraq coach Casas at a press conference.
After decades of upheaval, Gulf Cup returns to Iraq

Forty four years after Iraq staged the inaugural Arabian Gulf Cup in 1979, the country will host the 25th edition of the tournament in the southern port city of Basra from today. Iraq has gone through turbulent times in the last few decades with war, invasions and instability making it impossible for its own team to play at home, let alone host a major sport event.Hence, the Gulf Cup, which was initially set to take place in December 2022 but was postponed as it was believed to be scheduled too close to the World Cup in Qatar, will be a big test for the government and football officials to show Iraq is a safe place.Decades of conflict and upheaval in Iraq means the security situation remains fragile as it has not hosted a competitive international since before the 2003 US-led invasion. In fact, in the past two decades, just two qualifiers have taken place in the country: against Jordan in Erbil in 2011 and Hong Kong in Basra eight years later.Murals and huge billboards have adorned the streets of Basra in the past one month with Iraqi authorities scrapping visa fees for fans entering Iraq for the competition. The move seeks to attract fans from across the Gulf region, particularly Kuwait, whose border with Iraq lies less than 50 kilometers from Basra. Ninety percent of the tickets have been sold electronically with Iraq Football Association (IFA) promising an opening ceremony that will showcase Iraq’s rich history.Eight teams from West Asia, including two-time champions Qatar, are split into two groups with the tournament to be played at two venues: Basra International Stadium and the new 30,000-seater Al Minaa Olympic Stadium. Today, Iraq open the championship when they take on Oman, followed by Yemen facing Saudi Arabia in Group A matches. Qatar, which has sent a young team after the World Cup debacle at home, will start their campaign against 10-time winners Kuwait tomorrow, with defending champions Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates the other teams in Group B.Iraq wants to take a leaf out of Qatar’s successful hosting of the World Cup in November and December. “Sports has become one of the most important activities in the world... of transmitting cultures and civilisations through hosting tournaments and competitions, and this is what we witnessed in Qatar’s organisation of the 2022 World Cup,” head of the competitions committee of the IFA Haider Aufi told the local media.“It is a step forward to retain Iraq’s normal position in the fields of sport, culture and society,” added Basra Governor Asaad Al Eidani. “It is a message to the whole world that we are capable.”The Iraqi ministry of transport announced in late December that free transportation for the Gulf Cup fans in Basra, while the country’s Prime Minister Mohamed Shia’ al-Sudani visited the tournament city to check on the preparations instructing officials to “spare no effort’ in hosting the regional competition in a befitting manner.On the pitch, the Lions of Mesopotamia will be eyeing their third title. The team had a disappointing final round of World Cup qualification last year and there have been a string of coaches who have come and gone.Jesus Casas – who worked as an assistant coach for Spain under Luis Enrique between 2018 and 2022 – is the latest to don the managerial hat for Iraq. Casas has called up players with plenty of experience in Hussein Ali, Dhurgam Ismail, Amjad Attwad and Gothenburg midfielder Amir al-Ammari.“I can sense the importance of the Gulf Cup from the enthusiastic interest of the Iraqi fans,” Casas said on Thursday. “We will spare no effort to win the title. We are proud to play in front of the fans and this will help us greatly. We hope that we will be as ambitious as the fans,” the 49-year-old added.Oman’s Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic called the tournament a ‘mini World Cup for Gulf teams. “We go into the tournament with very high ambitions. There are strong teams competing here, especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Oman has a young team and the tournament is a good opportunity to give them experience in facing strong teams, to build the future of Omani football,” he said.

Emiliano Martinez won the World Cup’s Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets with three. (AFP)
Emiliano Martinez, a dreamer battles the odds to be a World Cup winner

It’s time for Emiliano Martinez and Argentina to send a thank you note to Neal Maupay. If not for Brighton striker accidentally inflicting a season-ending injury on Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno in June 2020, Martinez would have still been a peripheral figure let alone a world champion.Maupay’s challenge on Leno was so bad that the German had to be stretchered off and was subsequently ruled out for three months. That opened a passage for Martinez, whose career was going in the wrong direction. The Argentine had arrived at Arsenal from Independiente in 2010 but a decade later at the North London club, Martinez had only made six league and two Champions League appearances.When he came as a substitute to Leno, it was his first Premier League appearance for three years having spent time out on loan at Oxford United, Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham, Wolves, Getafe and Reading. Martinez had admitted how he had spent time with a psychologist to keep his morale high during his low points.And when an opportunity presented itself, Martinez grabbed it with both hands. He could not prevent Brighton from winning in his 50 minutes appearance as Maupay scored the winner five minutes into added time, but helped Arsenal to FA Cup and FA Community Shield triumph.In three months’ time, his stock had risen as Martinez moved to fellow Premier League club Aston Villa in a transfer worth £20mn. In his first season at the club, he kept a club record 15 clean sheets in the Premier League, with Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni handing him an international debut on June 3, 2021 in a friendly against Chile.Scaloni had played seven different goalkeepers in his first 49 games in charge before settling on Martinez as first choice. And he has justified that trust in him as he came through in the big moments in Argentina’s march to third title in Qatar.There was the last-gasp save against Australia, shootout heroics against France and the Netherlands, and a stretching stop to deny Randal Kolo Muani deep into stoppage time of extra time in the final. The 30-year-old walked away with World Cup’s Golden Glove award for most clean sheets with three, like he did in La Albiceleste’s Copa America triumph in Brazil last summer.Martinez’s consistency in big moments is borne out by the statistics. Including Sunday’s World Cup final, Martinez has kept 17 clean sheets and conceded just 13 goals (excluding penalty shootouts) in 26 appearances for his country.In the penalty shootouts against France and the Netherlands, Martinez’s domineering antics played a key role. On Sunday, Martinez failed to stop three penalties off Kylian Mbappe, including one in the shootout, but the Argentine saved Kingsley Coman’s effort before Aurelian Tchouameni fired wide, leaving Gonzalo Montiel to convert the winning penalty.Apart from being strong in defending crosses, Martinez is known for his penalty-saving ability and playing mind games to unsettle spot kick-takers. He was crucial to Argentina throughout their World Cup campaign, both in open play and at set pieces, but he was at another level in shootouts.As Tchouameni walked up for his turn on Sunday, Martinez rolled the ball away from the Real Madrid midfielder, forcing him to have to walk over to collect it. An under-pressure Tchouameni dragged his penalty wide, as Martinez celebrated with a dance. His verbal warfare with French players and his delaying tactics earned him a yellow card, but the 6ft 5in would care less.In Martinez’s three penalty shootouts for Argentina, opponents have scored only seven times from 14 attempts, a conversion rate of 50 per cent. Lionel Messi had called him a “phenomenon” after his penalty shootouts heroics against Colombia in Copa America semi-finals, with coach Scaloni joining his captain in praising the goalkeeper. “Emi Martinez is a very positive guy and told his teammates he was going to save some penalties,” revealed Scaloni.After Argentina’s historic win, an emotional Martinez – who is fondly called as Dibu by his teammates after an animated character in the Argentine telenovela Mi familia es un dibujo, said: “We suffered a lot. We thought we were in control but they managed to come back. It was a very complicated game. Our destiny was to suffer. They had one last chance to win, luckily I was able to stop it with my foot. This is a moment I’ve always dreamed of living, I have no words for it. I left very young for England and I would like to dedicate this victory to my family.”“I did my thing, what I dreamed of,” Martínez said of his shootout trickery. “There could not have been a World Cup that I have dreamed of like this. I was calm during the penalties.”Martinez’s gamesmanship and his lewd celebration with the Golden Glove award after the final may have won him few fans, but there is no denying that the goalkeeper was the ultimate difference-maker in Argentina’s triumph.