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Wednesday, February 08, 2023 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 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.
Qataru2019s forward Almoez Ali is fouled by UAEu2019s defender Mohnad Salem (left) and goalkeeper Ali Khaseif (right) during the FIFA Arab Cup quarter-final at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Sport
5-star Qatar make light work of UAE to enter semi-finals

Doha   Qatar await the winner of Algeria-Morocco match in last four Qatar powered past a hapless United Arab Emirates 5-0 with a ruthless first half display to seal their place in the FIFA Arab Cup semi-finals. The packed Friday crowd at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor witnessed Qatar’s golden generation of footballers put on a breathtaking display in the quarter-finals. But the UAE, who were gunning for a revenge for their 0-4 thrashing by Qatar in the Asian Cup semis in 2019, were dreadful in the first half. The Whites were a different side to the one that were hammered two years back in Abu Dhabi but the scars seemed to remain fresh on the players’ minds. The imposing Al Bayt Stadium, which had a small number of UAE fans, also made it difficult for the young visiting side. It was such a one-sided contest in the first half, that Qatar coach Felix Sanchez chose to sit in the dugout and chat with his assistants even as players went down the tunnel to the dressing room for a breather. It’s very rare when a coach does not need to talk to his players at half-time but Sanchez was afforded that luxury by his team. It was a night where anything Qatar players touched turned into gold, also in part thanks to the largesse by the UAE players, who gave away two penalties and also committed defensive howlers at will. “We will celebrate this victory because it’s a great result for us. The team is showing improvement after every match and now we need to focus on the semi-final,” said Sanchez, with African heavyweights Algeria or Morocco waiting for them in the semi-finals. Sanchez fielded a full-strength side yesterday, after playing a second-string side for most part against Iraq in their final group game on Monday. With Pedro Miguel missing due to injury, Abdelkarim Hassan slotted in as one of the three centre-backs, with Ismail Mohamed started as a right wing-back. Akram Afif and Almoez Ali, who made a late substitute appearance against Iraq and also bagged a goal each, pressed the UAF defence high from the beginning and it didn’t take long for them to crumble. In the sixth minute, UAE defender Mohanad Salem failed to clear a back pass as Almoez latched on to the ball and laid it off to Afif, whose shot deflected off Ali Salmin for an own goal. It was a perfect start to calm the nerves of Qatari players, as the UAE players struggled to build up momentum. The UAE players enjoyed more than 70% possession in the first half, preferring to build it up from the back, which played into Qatar’s hands. The hosts simply chose to sit back and counter-attack with Almoez and Afif lethal upfront. The Qatari forwards, however, didn’t have to do anything extraordinary as another clumsy defensive mistake from the UAE’s Mahmoud Khamis gifted them the second goal. In the 27th minute, Khamis handled the ball in the box off a cross from Ismail Mohamed, with Almoez putting the penalty into the net to double the advantage. For the UAE, all hell broke loose thereafter as Qatar smashed three goals in 12 minutes. In the 36th minute, Almoez was brought down by UAE captain and goalkeeper Ali Khaseif, with Boualem Khoukhi slotting the penalty to the top corner. Eight minutes later, Abdulaziz Hatem’s thunderous strike off a pass from Afif made it 4-0 before Almoez found the net again in stoppage time. With five goals, Qatar’s player’s intensity did drop off a bit while UAE did put on a much better display. Khoukhi went closest to scoring in the second half but Sanchez biggest worry will be his star forward Afif limping off late in the second after picking up a knock. Qatar’s defender Boualem Khoukhi (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the UAE during the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 quarter-final at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor yesterday. (AFP)

Qatar captain midfielder Hassan al-Haydos (left) celebrates with teammate Almoez Ali after the hosts win over Iraq at the FIFA Arab Cup at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on Monday. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Sport
Qatar captain al-Haydos expects tough UAE challenge in quarters

Qatar captain Hassan al-Haydos expects the UAE to pose a tough challenge in the FIFA Arab Cup quarter-finals on Friday. The hosts cruised into the last eight with a third successive win against Iraq on Monday and now the Asian champions await a wounded UAE, who will be looking to settle the scores. The last time these two sides met in 2019, Qatar thrashed the UAE 4-0 on their home soil en route to winning their maiden Asian Cup title. Al-Haydos, who captained the side to continental victory two years back, says UAE are a different team to the one they faced at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. “The next match will not be at the same level as the one we played with the UAE in 2019. This Emirates team is a new side and the match is going to be difficult. We hope to be up to the mark and get a good result and qualify for the semi-finals,” the Al Sadd star said. Qatar topped the Group A but were unconvincing in their wins over Bahrain and Oman. In the final group game against Iraq at the Al Bayt Stadium on Monday, Qatar coach Felix Sanchez made nine changes to his starting line-up with his side already assured of a quarter-final place. The hosts struggled to find the back of the net against Iraq as the score remained 0-0 at half-time. That changed in the second half as substitutes Akram Afif, Almoez Ali and al-Haydos all came on to score late fine goals to send the hosts through with an impressive, unblemished record. “Hard luck to the Iraqi team and the Iraqi crowd,” said al-Haydos. “We proved that we are a strong team despite the participation of players who did not play in the first two matches. We played the match well and scored late goals to win. Iraq were desperate for goals and that allowed us space to attack resulting in these three goals,” he added. Monday’s game against Iraq gave Sanchez a peep into Qatar’s strength in depth – which was not many – as the Maroons gear up for their maiden World Cup at home in a year’s time. Though the Qatar’s second string functioned and competed well throughout, they lacked the sparkle and penetration normally provided by their regulars Afif and Almoez. “The match was not easy for us because we were already qualified but the players showed commitment and discipline. Their performance was great and now we have to recover and think about our next match,” Sanchez said. “I am proud of the players and I also want to thank fans for supporting us in the match,” the head coach added. The Spaniard also praised the trio of Almoez, Afif and al-Haydos for their late goals against Iraq. “It's great to come from outside the field and play and score to help the team. There are many players in our team who are key players and that's what the group does,” the coach said. Meanwhile, Iraq’s Bashar Resan said a dip in the team's performance in the second half resulted in the defeat. “We were not bad in the first half as we created several chances to score while not giving a strong Qatari team any opportunity to score,” the midfielder said. “We suffered a physical decline in the second half like in our previous two matches against Oman and Bahrain. We gave too much space to Qatar late in the match,” said Resan, who plays for Qatar SC. “We apologise to our fans for failing to advance as they were hoping for us to qualify.” Iraq, the most decorated team in the Arab Cup, remained winless in the tournament and finished third in the group, ahead of bottom-placed Bahrain.    

Qataru2019s Almoez Ali celebrates after scoring against Iraq during the FIFA Arab Cup Group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor Monday. Reuters)
Sport
Super subs keep it perfect for Qatar

* Qatar face the UAE in the quarters, while Oman take on Tunisia on Friday Qatar needed its star trio Almoez Ali, Akram Afif and Hassan al-Haydos to come off the bench to secure a 3-0 win for the hosts against Iraq at the FIFA Arab Cup. The Asian champions’ second half burst at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor knocked Iraq out from the event, with Oman joining Qatar in the last eight after a 3-0 win over Bahrain Monday. Qatar now take on the UAE in the quarters on Friday, with Oman facing Group B toppers Tunisia on the same day. With qualification to quarter-finals already ensured, Qatar coach Felix Sanchez made nine changes to his starting XI that played against Oman. Star striker Akram Afif scores Qatar’s second goal. Reuters Only Bassam al-Rawi and Abdelaziz Hatem retained their place as Sanchez fielded fresh faces to give rest to the tired bodies. The Qatari youngsters put in a good shift at the start countering the physical nature of the Iraqi game but could not translate their domination in possession into chances. In fact, Iraq will count themselves unlucky after goalkeeper Yousof Hassan denied Bashar Resan with a double save in the 22nd minute, while Yaser Kasim’ shot hit the woodwork seven minute before half-time. Iraq, who needed a win to enter the quarters, threw the kitchen sink at Qatar’s defenders but the host’s backline stood up to the challenge. Qatar did create a couple of chances with half-time approaching but it nowhere did it trouble Iraq goalkeeper Fahad Talib. Sanchez’s men did look more threatening in the second half as Musab Khader’s header from a difficult angle was blocked by Talib, who was also forced to palm away Muntari’s solo effort. With Iraq’s threat wavering off, Sanchez brought in his big boys to the game. The Qatar coach made a double substitution at the half-hour mark, replacing al-Rawi and Ahmed Alaaeldin with Boualem Khoukhi and Khalid Muneer. With the balance of the match shifting towards Qatar, Sanchez introduced Almoez and al-Haydos for the injured Muntari and Ali Asad respectively. With an injection of pace into the forward line, spaces opened up for Qatar and it was only a matter of time before they went ahead. Al-Haydos went close with a long range shot coming off the crossbar in 72nd minute, before Almoez broke the deadlock ten minutes later. The Al Duhail forward latched onto a mistake from Munaf Younus as he drove past the Iraq defender and slotted the ball. Qatar’s star striker Afif, who came in a minute after the first goal, made it 2-0 with literally his first touch before al-Haydos found the back of the net in stoppage time. Three goals in the final twelve minutes made it a perfect start for Qatar as they finished the group stages with nine points, having earlier managed to beat Oman and Bahrain. The Al Annabi’s real test will come in the knockout stages, with Asian rivals the UAE waiting for them in quarters. If they do get past the Whites, then Sanchez’s men will come up against African giants. For Iraq, after a brave show in the draws against Oman and Bahrain, it was another end to a promising campaign. The last time Iraq lifted a major trophy was in 2007, when they beat Saudi Arabia to win the first AFC Asian Cup title. Meanwhile, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium Oman powered past Bahrain 3-0 and into the quarter-finals. Mandhar al-Alawi opened the scoring just before half time, while Khalid al-Hajri and Arshad al-Alawi scored in quick succession after the break to send Gulf Champions Bahrain home.

Qatar players train on Sunday, on the eve of their final Group A match against Iraq at the FIFA Arab Cup.
Sport
Unbeaten Qatar hope to sustain winning momentum

With a quarter-final spot already in the bag, Qatar will hope to sustain their winning momentum in the final Group A game against Iraq on Monday. Irrespective of the result at the Al Bayt Stadium, Qatar will finish on top of the group and that will give coach Felix Sanchez an golden opportunity to start the match with fringe players as the hosts brace up for tougher matches in knockouts against quality opponents. For Iraq though, a win on Monday will ensure them a place in the knockout stages, with the result of another Group A encounter between winless Bahrain and Oman rendering it inconsequential. Qatar and Iraq have locked horns 35 times, and this 36th meeting promises to be an entertaining one. For Sanchez, entertainment could be the last thing on his mind as the Spaniard will look to give some rest to the jaded bodies of his players. Having played non-stop – for Qatar or their clubs – this year, Qatar players have visibly suffered from fatigue in the first two matches. In both their narrow victories against Oman and Bahrain, their fitness levels dropped down considerably in the second half. While they maintained their focus despite that and managed to eke out two wins is what makes this squad special in Qatar’s history. On the eve of the match, Sanchez did stick to the norm to say his team will gun for victory while also hinting at making changes to his starting XI. “We will make our plan against Iraq, surely there will be changes but we will play to win,” said the Spaniard yesterday. Sanchez confirmed Pedro Miguel, who picked up an injury against Oman, will sit out today with the Qatar coach hopeful the defender would be ready for the quarter-finals. The Maroons’ possible opponents could be any of Tunisia, the UAE and Syria, with Group B still wide open. Sanchez said his team was confident of taking on any team. “We will be ready to play any team in the knockout stage. We respect all the teams and we think any team we will face in the quarter-finals will be strong,” he said. On facing Iraq, Sanchez said the four-time former champions have always proved a difficult opponent. The last time these today faced – in the 2019 Arabian Gulf Cup in Qatar – Iraq emerged out as the winners. Sanchez said revenge would not be on his or players mind. “We are not seeking revenge against them. We lost an important game in the Gulf Cup but here we just want points not revenge,” the 45-year-old said. “Iraq are tough opponents from what we have experienced in our past matches. We will try to play a competitive game against them. We know if we have to go far in the tournament we have to be at our best in all the matches. We know Iraq needs points to qualify for the quarter-finals and we expect them to be offensive in the match. Iraq has always been a tough side. But we are going to play for a win,” Sanchez added. Meanwhile, Iraq’s stand-in coach Zeljko Petrovic said he has the belief in his team to beat Qatar and qualify the quarters. In their opening game against Oman, Iraq salvaged a point with an equaliser in the eighth minute of added time and followed it up with a goalless draw against Bahrain. “Iraq are still in with a chance of qualifying for the next round, so our sole focus is on beating Qatar. It won’t be a walk in the park because we’re coming up against a strong team that has won two games on the bounce, but I have every confidence in my players’ abilities and I’m sure we can come out on top,” said Petrovic yesterday. “The most important thing is to believe in our ability to win and qualify for the next round. The second thing is to give our best and not have regrets afterwards,” the Montenegrin added.      

Qatar players celebrate with fans after securing a dramatic 2-1 win over Oman and seal their place in the FIFA Arab Cup quarter-finals at the Education City Stadium Friday. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Qatar
Qatar enter quarters after dramatic win over Oman

Qatar players had to muster every ounce of their physical and mental strength to overcome a dogged Oman Friday. And they did it in a dramatic fashion. The host’s second group encounter of the FIFA Arab Cup at the Education City Stadium was heading towards a draw when Qatar’s star man Akram Afif played a sumptuous cross to the box in the seventh and last minute of the stoppage time. Substitute Mohamed Muntari charged in to head the ball, but only to miss as it deflected off Oman defender Fahmi Durbin and hit the crossbar and bounced down behind the goal line before being gathered by goalkeeper Ibrahim al-Mukhaini. Brazilian referee Wilton Sampaio allowed the play to carry on as Qatar players claimed the goal. A good thirty seconds later Sampaio was informed by VAR that the ball had crossed the goal line as Qatari players, led by Afif, sprinted towards the fans to celebrate. It was that energy and never-say-die attitude that made the Maroons the first team to enter the quarter-finals of this edition's Arab Cup. Truth to tell, after an impressive first half – where Afif’s penalty had put them 1-0 ahead – Qatar players lacked energy and focus. All the travels they have done over the past year to Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers to Europe seemed to be catching up to them. After an initial burst of energy, they looked weary with coach Felix Sanchez later admitting ‘they are human beings, not machines.’ But the Spaniard was delighted with the effort his boys put in, especially in the second half when they had to deal with sustained pressure from Oman. “Despite the length of the season and playing many matches, my players fought hard. They are still doing their best. They are human beings, not machines,” he said. "Both teams tried their best to win, but we managed to get the victory. I think we played very well in the first half but in the second Oman played more direct and it was difficult for us to manage. But our players showed full commitment, good spirit in the final minutes of the game and were able to score at the death. It's a very good result and hopefully it will give us confidence for upcoming matches,” Sanchez added. Qatar are now assured of top spot in Group A after consecutive wins, with Iraq occupying second place in the standings after a goalless draw against Bahrain at the Al Thumama Stadium Friday. Qatar play their final group game against Iraq on Monday at the Al Bayt Stadium. The race for second place in the group and a quarter-final spot remains, with Iraq, Bahrain and Oman all in contention – the last two teams on a point each facing another on Monday. Sanchez hinted at giving opportunities to reserve players against Iraq before they get ready for quarters. “After this result, we will finish top of our group which is amazing for us. But we have one more game and we want to play well and make our fans happy. We will try to give some minutes to other players. Then we also have to prepare for the quarter-finals, which will be a difficult one,” he said. If one Qatar player who needs to be wrapped in cotton wool is Akram Afif. The Al Sadd forward has looked in imperious touch in both the matches. Afif, who provided the assist in Qatar's 1-0 win over Bahrain, was against the difference maker Friday. After winning a penalty and then converting it himself, his decisive cross in the final minute sealed the game for his country. Sanchez made three changes from the Bahrain game, starting with captain Hassan al-Haydos, Abdelkarim Hassan and Karim Boudiaf, with the trio replacing Mohamed Waad, Tarek Salman and Assim Madibo. Qatar came all out attacking and won three corners in the first five minutes but could not take advantage. Afif set up a couple of decent chances but Hassan Almoez Ali could not capitalise on it. Afif then took it on his own hands to fire the hosts ahead. The 25-year-old was brought down by Ahmed al-Khamisi in the 32nd minute before stepping up to place the penalty in the bottom right corner, beyond the dive of al-Mukhaini. Oman came out as a different side in the second half and were more direct as Qatar players sat deep, defending the one-goal advantage. Their perseverance finally paid off in the 73rd minute as Khalid al-Hajri jumped above two Qatari defenders to the ball with a diving header into the Qatar net, following a cross from Abdullah Fawaz. The hosts’ shoulders dropped as Oman went in search of the winner. But it was Qatar who had the best chance when Muntari, who came in two minutes before full time to replace Abdulaziz Hatem, headed the ball just wide in stoppage time. But Qatar were not to be denied as Afif turned out to be a hero once again with his deft cross Durbin inadvertently turning into his own goal.

Qatar coach Felix Sanchez (left) and goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb during the press conference on Thursday.
Sport
Qatar brace for ‘tough’ game against Oman

Having put an end to their eight-match winless streak with a victory over Bahrain on Tuesday, Qatar will be hoping they have turned their fortunes around. It was far from a comfortable victory for the Asian Champions in their FIFA Arab Cup opener at the Al Bayt Stadium, but Felix Sanchez and his men wouldn’t mind one bit. For, they have gone through tough times recently, playing in the colder climes of Europe against strong teams in the World Cup Qualifiers. A 1-0 win over Bahrain, thanks to Abdulaziz Hatem’s header, in front of a packed crowd came as a relief to the squad. Now, the Maroons will hope to cash in on the good start as they chase their maiden Arab Cup title – in only their third appearance. A victory today over familiar opponents Oman at the Education City Stadium will put them on course for a quarter-finals berth. But Sanchez surely knows it won’t be that straightforward. Qatar have won both their recent matches against Oman in the World Cup qualifiers, but they only just managed to do so. Oman ran their opponents close in both games and were unlucky not to get at least a point earlier this June. “Oman are tough opponents and we know them well from our recent matches. Oman have a very clear style of playing and we have a plan against them. Like every match, we are targeting three points. We will put our best players who do we think will help us win,” Sanchez told a pre-match press conference yesterday “There are no favourites, we will play our game and Oman will play their game. Let’s see which team is the one who can take the points. Our last games were very tough games,” the Spaniard added. Qatar have been on the road since that game in June against Oman – having reached the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July before their travails in Europe. Sanchez suggested fatigue has been a factor for his much-travelled team but was confident his players can play at a good level in a tournament, which is a dry run for the next year’s World Cup. “We are coming from a very long season and our players were also busy with the domestic season with their clubs, also playing the AFC Champions League matches. It affects the level but we strongly believe that what we need is to face all type of situations. We believe in what we are doing and we have full confidence in our team,” said Sanchez. With the World Cup taking place on home soil, Sanchez felt every win is a confidence booster ahead of the big event in less than a year. “All the matches we have been playing, the purpose is to improve the level and experience. We need to get used to different styles of football if we want to be ready for the World Cup. This is another competition with other teams and we need to be ready to face all of them,” he added. Meanwhile, Oman will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing draw against Iraq in their opening game. Iraq salvaged a point at the Al Janoub Stadium with their equaliser coming deep into added time. It was a bitter blow for Oman having gone into that match as favourites. Oman coach Branko Ivankovic said his team is facing the toughest side in the group but hoped for a positive result. “Qatari players are very good and they have earned a lot of experience. They also have a good experience of playing at big stage so the match is going to be difficult but we are well prepared,” the former Croatian midfielder said. Oman’s Harib al-Saadi said his team will be aiming for a victory against the home team. “Qatar match will be the toughest in the group because they are a top side. They are the Asian champions and they will be playing in front of home fans,” the attacking midfielder said. “But, we have confidence in ourselves and our aim will be to win the match and take three points to make our fans happy. We want a win after a draw against Iraq in the first match. Our target is to reach the quarter-final and tomorrow’s [today] match is very important for us,” he added.      

The narrow 1-0 win against Bahrain at the packed Al Bayt Stadium gave the Maroons a good start to their FIFA Arab Cup campaign. While the win was far from perfect, it allowed Sanchez some breathing space after a difficult last few months.
Sport
Qatar start Arab Cup campaign on a winning note

A lot was going against Qatar on the eve of their FIFA Arab Cup Opener against Bahrain. The Asian champions have been below-par at best, having not won a game since July, with an eight-match winless streak and some heavy losses against superior European teams. The last time Qatar beat Bahrain in a competitive game was in 2002. Felix Sanchez’s men are also chasing history with Qatar seeking their first Arab Cup title – albeit they have played in the tournament only twice before, in 1985 and 1998. In the latter, which they also hosted, they finished runners-up. So history and form was against Sanchez and his men last night. But the moment Abdulaziz Hatem’s header found the net at the electric Al Bayt Stadium, all seemed forgotten and Qatar’s preparation for next year’s World Cup at home was back on track. The narrow 1-0 win against Bahrain at the packed Al Bayt Stadium last night gave the Maroons a good start to their FIFA Arab Cup campaign. While the win was far from perfect, it allowed Sanchez some breathing space after a difficult last few months. The hosts, who are favourites for the title, were not fluent in the first half but put in a much-improved performance in the second half. The 2019 Arabian Gulf Cup champions put up a strong resistance and on another day could have nicked a point, which Sanchez later acknowledged. "We know Bahrain is a very good team. They have been doing well in the last two-three years, a much organised team with top quality players. I think we played a good game. The first half was a little difficult because the opening game of any tournament is not easy. But I think we had better chances and we deserved the three points," the Qatar coach said. With just a year to go before the historic World Cup at home, Qatar players experienced a glimpse of what could be on offer at the showpiece event. The Al Bayt Stadium staged a stunning opening ceremony, with a 60000-capacity crowd treated to jaw-dropping pyrotechnics display along with some beautiful choreography and performances that featured traditional themes, scenes and costumes from the Arab region. The opening ceremony featured 220 dancers, 75 orchestra performers and 45 FIFA Fan Leaders representing 48 different countries as the Al Bayt stadium came alive. All these fanfare – and much more – is what Qatar players will experience in a year’s time. "Playing at this stadium, I think, it's an experience for us,” said Sanchez. “As I have said before, to play in this tournament is like training for the World Cup. So, I think it's a good experience to have one year before the World Cup,” the Spaniard added. Expectedly, the players took time to get into the groove at the start of the match with fans still awestruck by the opening ceremony. With captain Hassan al-Haydos – returning from injury – and experienced Abdelkarim Hassan on the bench, midfielder Mohamed Waad and Homan al-Amin making the starting XI. Bahrain had the first real opening in the game when in the seventh minute Mahdi Alhumaidan failed to connect a header from a close range. A lot depended on Qatar’s star striker Akram Afif and he was the star of the show yesterday. The host’s went closer in the 18th minute with Waad being thwarted by the Bahraini keeper Sayed Mohamed Jaffer, who made amends for clumsy clearance in his first attempt. While Afif – 2019 Asian player of the year – dictated the play creating several goal-scoring chances, Qatar failed to find the net in the first half. At the one hour mark, Boualem Khoukhi’s header bounced over the cross before Afif's sumptuous cross set up the goal for Qatar. A whipped cross from Akram Afif was met expertly by Hatem, who charged in to power a header and send the crowd into raptures. Bahrain did come close in the closing stages but Qatar held out for the remainder of the match, including seven minutes of injury-time to seal a morale-boosting victory. Up next for Qatar is Oman, who yesterday were held to a 1-1 draw by Iraq. Qatar are on top of Group A after the first round of matches, but with Oman and Iraq to come next, qualification to quarter-finals is still not done. The top two sides from each of the four, four-team groups’ progress to the quarter-finals. “All the teams are equal so we have to play at our best. So let's hope that we can recover after today’s game and be ready for the next one,” Sanchez said.    

Gulf Times
Sport
Qatar face Bahrain in opener in quest for maiden Arab Cup title

With just a year to go for their World Cup debut at home, the Qatar team is starting a crucial journey towards preparation for the football showpiece event. Thanks to a well-planned strategy in place, the Maroons have travelled length and breadth of three continents as they sharpen their skills ahead of the World Cup. Since becoming Asian Champions in 2019, Qatar under Felix Sanchez have gone on to play in Copa America, CONCACAF Gold Cup and UEFA World Cup qualifiers with varied success. And now as they enter into final stretches of preparation, the FIFA Arab Cup – which starts in Qatar from Tuesday – will serve Sanchez and his men another opportunity to test their skills against quality opponents. The tournament itself is a dry run for Qatar as the country gears up to host the World Cup. And Qatar players will get a firsthand experience of six magnificent stadiums, which are set to host matches in the marquee event next year. But on the field, Sanchez will be desperate to get his tactics and formations right during the Arab Cup, which they have never before. Qatar under Sanchez has done exceptionally well but off late the standards have slipped. Qatar have not won since the 3-2 win against El Salvador in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-final in June and are on an eight-match winless streak. In Europe, Qatar has run into strong opposition, giving them a taste of things to come. They were beaten heavily by Portugal, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland, while only managing to draw against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg. They found it tough against the physically stronger European opponents, who overpowered Qatar in the midfield and forced them into defensive errors. In the Arab Cup, Sanchez will hope to overcome those mistakes. Fourteen of the Qatar players who won the Asian Cup two years ago will turn out at the Arab Cup, which will give Sanchez enough experience in his squad. The hosts open their campaign against a well-drilled Bahrain side at the Al Bayt Stadium Tuesday, with tougher tests against Iraq and Oman to come in Group A. “The Arab Cup is an important preparation for the team ahead of the World Cup,” Sanchez said Monday. “We have the resolve to win this tournament and we will give everything [to win the title]. We want to make a good start in the tournament. The opening matches are always difficult, which makes this match an important one. We have prepared well,” the Spaniard added. Bahrain have punched above their weight in recent times, having won the Arabian Gulf Cup in Doha in 2019. Coached by Portuguese Helio Sousa, they will be no pushovers for Qatar, who are struggling for form. The Qatar coach admitted Bahrain will be a strong opposition and will give them a stern test. “Yes, we aspire to win the title, but we have to take one step at a time. We respect the Bahrain team, they are a strong team and have won Gulf Cup before in Doha and has some quality players in its ranks. We will give our best to make our fans proud and we are looking forward to fans to back us during the tournament,” Sanchez said. The Spaniard said his team will approach each group stage match like a final. “We have played many times against all three group teams. It is not going to be easy, history tells us that. We will have to play each game like the final to get points in order to reach the next stage. We have to play very good three games to be with the level of opposition,” Sanchez said. Meanwhile, Bahrain coach Sousa is under no illusions about the task that lies ahead but is confident his team can beat the hosts. "The Qatar team will be difficult to play at home and in front of their fans. They have been preparing for the World Cup for more than six years, they have participated in the biggest events – the Gold Cup, Copa America and UEFA qualifiers. They are an experienced team and have been exposed to playing different styles of football from all continents. These made them improve as a team. But tomorrow the score will be 0-0 at kick-off and we're ready to beat them,” he said. “The tournament is an opportunity to see the team develop and grow by playing against tough opponents. This is the first time that we are going to play Qatar, while we played against other teams. We will take advantage of this competition to continue to grow as a team,” Sousa added.

Mercedesu2019 British driver Lewis Hamilton (fron left) leads the pack at the start of the Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix at the at the Losail International Circuit on Sunday. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Sport
Hamilton dominates Qatar GP to cut Verstappen’s lead

A Formula One title race for the ages is set to go down to the wire after Lewis Hamilton’s dominant victory at the inaugural Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday. The Brit was untouchable in his Mercedes around the lightning Losail International Circuit as he closed the gap on title rival Max Verstappen. Red Bull’s Verstappen finished second and also claimed the fastest lap bonus point, overcoming a five-place grid penalty for failing to respect warning flags in Saturday's qualifying which had dropped him down to seventh at the start. With two races remaining in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, Hamilton has narrowed down Verstappen’s lead to eight points. Former two-time world champion Fernando Alonso took the final podium position in Alpine, his first in seven years. It would be an understatement to say the maiden Qatar F1 Grand Prix was just a blockbuster hit. True to its anticipation, the motorsports fans in Qatar thronged the Losail Circuit on all three days, with a packed crowd yesterday enjoying a dazzling evening which was sprinkled with spectacular race, glamour and sporting icons from F1 and football. The race day coincided with one year countdown for FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, as the spectators in the main grandstand lapped up the trophy on display and some of the game's finest – with David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo, Ronaldinho and John Terry all making an appearance on the grid before the race. After a year’s break, the F1 will return to Qatar in 2023 with the country having signed a 10-year deal. On the track though, it was Hamilton all the way. The seven-time world champion was coming into the Qatar GP after one of his greatest victories in Brazil and he made sure he cashed in on the momentum, to stay afloat in the title race. After his clinical win, Hamilton was not in a celebratory mood, turning his focus to the final two Grand Prix of the season. “The last two weeks have been fantastic, just amazing,” said Hamilton. “But there’s no time for celebrations; I’ll be back in with the team already again next week and just back in training tomorrow,” he said. “Today, of course the race was made a lot easier with the penalties that the guys obviously got for the mistake they made yesterday, so that made it a lot more straightforward,” added Hamilton. “I was just managing the gap at the front, keeping the car safe and trying to maximise and bring the car home. I generally felt I wasn't massively under threat. I managed to cover the ground just off the start and after that it was just kind of head down and focused on trying to [keep] the gap,” he said. Once Hamilton made a clinical start from pole position, his newly fitted engine in Sao Paulo last week proved too hot to handle for Verstappen and the rest of the chasing pack. The Brit was able to control the pace at the front of the field, with his Mercedes flying around the fast-flowing circuit. Verstappen too was not the one to give up easily as he made an impressive start from seventh to fourth. The Dutchman soon climbed to third by lap four after charging past Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri and a lap later moved to second after overtaking Alonso, with only Hamilton around four seconds up the road from him. But with Hamilton steadily increasing his lead, Red Bull decided to pit Verstappen at the end of lap 17 after a possible damage to the front wing. Mercedes followed suit in the next lap with Hamilton also moving to the hard tyre as his team mirrored Verstappen’s strategy. From there, the pair traded fastest laps across the next phase of the race. But as the race entered the final stages, Hamilton’s lead over Verstappen only widened. The Red Bull called in Verstappen for the third time, only to make sure he used the softs to seal the fastest lap with a time of 1m23.196s as Hamilton took the chequered flag 25.7 seconds ahead of his title rival. Verstappen later said he is relishing the title battle with Hamilton. “I feel good. It’s going to be a tight battle to the end. I know it’s going to be difficult to the end, but I think that’s nice – it keeps it exciting,” he said. “We just didn’t have the pace this weekend to match them [Mercedes]. I did the fastest lap – at the end of the day it was still one extra point and everything counts at the moment – but this weekend wasn’t the best for us,” the Dutchman added. Meanwhile, there was joy down at Alpine as Alonso returned to the podium for the first time since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix, the Spaniard having executed an aggressive drive to survive late-race pressure from Red Bull’s Sergio Perez to take third. Perez’s fourth place was a decent recovery considering he’d started P11, while he finished ahead of the Alpine of Esteban Ocon, with Lance Stroll taking P6 for Aston Martin. The Ferrari pair of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were P7 and P8. Lando Norris took P9 after a late stop for the McLaren driver, as Sebastian Vettel took the final points-paying position for P10 – with Pierre Gasly failing to make a two-stop strategy work, dropping from P2 on the grid to P11, allowing Alpine to move clear of AlphaTauri in P5 in the standings. Meanwhile, it was a day to forget for Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who took his own grid drop, dropping from P3 to P6, before falling to 11th at the start and then suffering mid-race tyre issues before Mercedes retired him. Bottas' misery left the Silver Arrows with only a five-point lead over Red Bull in the constructors’ championship.    

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton after finishing first place in qualifying. REUTERS
Sport
Hamilton flies through Losail Circuit to take pole for Qatar Grand Prix

After struggling to set the pace in practice on Friday, Lewis Hamilton had said he needed to figure out why he was ‘little bit slow’ at the Losail International Circuit. Twenty four hour later though, the seven-time world champion had more than figured it out as the Mercedes driver took pole position for the Formula One Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix with a stunning lap in qualifying Saturday. At the packed Losail circuit, Hamilton put on a show as the Brit blazed through the fast-flowing track with a stunning 1:20.827 lap to beat his title rival Max Verstappen by a massive 0.455s seconds under the lights. There could be more good news waiting for Hamilton after Verstappen was summoned to the stewards before Sunday’s race at 5pm after allegedly failing to slow down for double waved yellow flags. The Red Bull driver could be at risk of a grid penalty, if the stewards decide he has fallen foul of the rules, which will delight Hamilton as he trails the Dutchman by 14 points in championship race with three races remaining. Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas will line up in third place after what was a below-par qualifying for the Finn after having topped the second practice on Thursday. Later Bottas along with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was also asked to make an appearance in front of the stewards Sunday afternoon over their alleged passing of single waved yellow flags. Meanwhile, Hamilton was in a league of his own Saturday as the 36-year-old was the quickest in both Q1 and Q2 before going out all guns blazing in the Q3. This was Hamilton's 102nd career pole but his first since Hungary almost four months ago. Hamilton, who revealed he was suffering with a stomach ache for several days, was surprised with the pace of his car Saturday. “It was really beautiful out there today, especially under the night lights,” he said. “I didn’t know that I was going to gain as much as time as I did on that last lap – normally it's a bit of a struggle with the second run in Q3, but the last couple of races, I managed to really put a nice clean lap together, and it felt amazing,” he added. The Brit was also at a loss of words to explain his huge gap to Verstappen in qualifying. “Of course (I’m surprised by the gap to Red Bull),” Hamilton added. “The same as in the last race. Probably the last three races in qualifying we've been ahead of them, which has been a bit of a surprise and today I definitely wasn't expecting to have as big a gap as that,” he said. Meanwhile, Verstappen said he would give it all in the race as he would have to fight Mercedes alone after teammate Sergio Perez dropped out in Q2. “I think (we were) lacking a bit of pace,” said Verstappen. “Perez was not even in Q3, so it just shows that we are struggling a bit more than normal. But nevertheless, we're still second, so it's all to play for. But of course, I wish we could have fought for more,” he said. Pierre Gasly for Alpha Tauri will start fourth. The Frenchman, however, had the shine taken off his stunning performance when he ran well wide at the penultimate corner and hit the kerb, which shattered his front wing and led to a puncture. That forced some drivers to back out of their final results, though Fernando Alonso’s first effort was still good enough for a very impressive fifth in what is his second top-five start in the last five races. Lando Norris put McLaren sixth, to give them the edge in the tight fight with Ferrari for P3 in the constructors’ championship but Carlos Sainz was only a place behind for the Scuderia, as he out qualified his teammate Charles Leclerc for the third successive race. Yuki Tsunoda continued his great weekend in Qatar with eighth, putting both AlphaTauris in the top 10 for the fourth time in five races. Esteban Ocon made Q3 for the first time since Russia and will start ninth with Sebastian Vettel closing out the top 10, following his first Q3 in eight races. Meanwhile, Alonso, who put in his best qualifying performance since his return to Formula 1, was delighted so far with his stint in Qatar. “Happy days!” said Alonso afterwards. “The whole weekend has been great for us. The car seems to perform really well in these long corners. I think we did in Turkey as well, we did in Sochi, and here, so very enjoyable. The Qatar track is unbelievable for Formula 1 cars. Now at night, light cars with low fuel, new tyres, I could be driving all night long!”

Max Verstappen of Red Bull in action during the practice session for the Formula One Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix at the Losail International Circuit yesterday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
Sport
Bottas fastest as Verstappen and Hamilton off the pace

Doha   The two protagonists of the title race – Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton – were left plenty to ponder with as Valtteri Bottas set the pace at yesterday’s practice session for the Formula One Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix. With just 14 points separating the title race leader Verstappen to seven-time champion Hamilton, the focus was naturally on the two but the physically demanding and unfamiliar Losail International Circuit proved difficult to crack. Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Bottas was 0.209 seconds quicker than Pierre Gasly, who was impressive in Alpha Tauri. Red Bull’s Verstappen and Hamilton were third and fourth respectively after the second of the practice session was held under lights, with the former just 0.072secs ahead of his title rival. Verstappen was faster than Bottas in the first session, but the Dutchman clearly struggled in the second with rear wing issues troubling him and his teammate Sergio Perez. Hamilton was also fourth in the afternoon but his performance in the evening session – which was deemed more representative of race conditions as it was held under floodlights – will worry the Brit. Today’s qualifying session, which is expected to be tight, will be key for Hamilton to stay in the title race. Bottas, though seemed to have find the right key to unlock Losail Circuit, with the Finn quick on a single lap and very good on a long run. “We’ve started the weekend pretty well with the set-up. The balance felt good, so I only made a few minor tweaks for FP2. That’s an encouraging way to start the weekend at a new track,” Bottas said. “It’s not far off the sweet spot, obviously there’s always work to do and improvements to find and even with driving, you can’t find all the speed available in just two sessions. We’ll keep on working. It’s hard to draw conclusions from today, practice is practice, but the feeling is okay and that’s promising for the rest of the weekend,” he added. With no previous data to work from in Qatar, Hamilton admitted he still didn’t feel entirely comfortable on track. “I don’t even know how big the gap is, but I’m off,” Hamilton said. “I’m definitely not close. I’m a little bit slow, so I need to figure that out tonight.” “Driving-wise, it’s okay,” added Hamilton of the Losail track. “I mean it’s all high-speed corners, so it’s definitely physical, but then the track’s quite nice, no real issues.” Verstappen also felt he had more work to do overnight and will have a better idea of what will work on the track after a debrief session. “It was the first time (we ran) in the evening, so it was important to understand how the car would react,” said Verstappen. “Quite a bit of the change between the medium and the soft tyre I think for me, that’s why on the soft tyre it wasn’t, let’s say amazing, but again you know it’s our first time here, so a lot of things to understand. You need to learn the track a bit, but it’s been a lot of fun to drive to be honest. I think it’s a really cool track,” he added. Lando Norris was fifth fastest for McLaren, 0.422s off the pace, ahead of Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) and Perez. Nikita Mazepin – the only other driver along with Perez in the field who’s raced here before – missed the session while his Haas chassis was switched as he damaged his car in FP1. Second practice timings 1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) Time: 1:23.148; 2. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.209s; 3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.350s; 4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.422s; 5. Lando Norris McLaren +0.484s; 6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +0.557s; 7. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +0.587s; 8. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.639s; 9. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +0.872s; 10. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.885s; 11. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +0.893s; 12. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.908s; 13. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.947s; 14. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +0.987s; 15. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo Racing) +1.483s; 16. George Russell (Williams) +1.806s; 17. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo Racing) +1.924s; 18. Nicholas Latifi (Williams) +2.061s; 19. Mick Schumacher (Haas) +2.427s; 20. Nikita Mazepin (Haas) DNS Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas arrives at the Losail International Circuit yesterday. (Reuters) PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas in action as fans watch from the stands during a practice session for the Formula One Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix at the Losail International Circuit Friday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
Qatar
F1 makes Qatar debut as fans throng Losail Circuit

Formula One made its long-awaited debut in Qatar Friday with the Losail International Circuit hosting the Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix. The 5.38-km fast-flowing track came to life as engines roared with the drivers taking part in the two practice sessions. The motorsports connoisseurs made a beeline to Losail Circuit, which is no stranger to hosting big events with MotoGP racing here since 2004. Fans lined up on the stands to watch their favourite drivers behind the wheels of the F1 car, while they also had plenty of entertainment options outside the track in the Fan Zone. An air show was held for the spectators on the sidelines of the Formula One Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix After watching Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas top the timesheets in the first and second practice sessions respectively, fans were enthralled with a live air show. Verstappen, who leads Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by 14 points in the title race, was impressed by the nature of the Losail track. "It's been a lot of fun to drive to be honest," the Dutchman said yesterday. "I think it's a really cool track. It's difficult to say for the race. With these cars anyway, it's very tough to follow. I think over one lap anyway, it's going to be good," he added. Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) president Abdulrahman bin Abdullatif al-Mannai was pleased with the turnout on the first day and expected more crowd to come in the next two days. “We are excited to see such a record number of fans at a motorsport event in Qatar. Qatar is ready to host the first ever F1 race in front of a capacity crowd. We will have completely full grandstands come race day on Sunday and this is a testament to the huge appeal of F1,” al-Mannai said Friday. “We have been hosting motor racing events at LCSC for many years but this weekend’s event will go down in history as the one with the biggest turnout. I am sure the fans will enjoy what should be a spectacular weekend,” he added. “There was great buzz at the free practice sessions Friday. We can safely say the atmosphere inside the venue was electric and will be even more so on Saturday and Sunday. There’s a lot of activity right now and the buzz will simply get bigger with each passing hour,” the QMMF president said. It might be the first time F1 is being held in Qatar but it won’t be the last. While the race won’t be happening next year, it is a sign of things to come with Qatar signing a 10-year deal to host races starting in 2023 in a newly-built circuit. QMMF’s executive director Amro al-Hamad was hopeful that hosting the F1 race would help put Qatar in contention to bring other major motorsport championships to the country in the future. “Formula 1 being here is definitely going to attract a lot of attention, and put us back again in the spotlight,” he said. “So there’s a huge possibility that we’re going to host a lot of other motorsports events in the state.”

The Losail International Circuit, which will host the inaugural Formula One Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix this weekend, adds an interesting subplot to the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
Sport
Uncharted Losail track adds intrigue to title battle

The Losail International Circuit, which will host the inaugural Formula One Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix this weekend, adds an interesting subplot to the title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Red Bull’s Verstappen leads Hamilton by 14 points after the Mercedes driver won the Brazilian Grand Prix in a dramatic fashion last weekend. With three rounds to go, Verstappen will be hoping he can stop Hamilton from winning his eighth world title, while also claiming his maiden championship. While the two title contenders will be hatching a plot to keep each other at bay, both Hamilton and Verstappen will be wary of the beast that is Losail International Circuit. A 5.380-kilometre layout, which was designed with motorbike racing in mind in 2004 – having hosted the season-opening MotoGP races since then – is still a still uncharted territory for the Formula One troupe. Of those on the current grid, only Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez and Haas’ Nikita Mazepin have previously raced at the track, in GP2 Asia and the MRF Challenge respectively. While other drivers have turned to simulators, only after two practices sessions scheduled for today will they be able to get a taste of the track A high downforce set-up and a series of quick sweeping corners will make it challenging and tough physically for the drivers. The rest of the lap is fast, flowing and dominated by medium and high-speed corners, making tyre degradation a key factor. “I think it’s going to be a different track. Probably straight line speed is not so relevant over there, so hopefully we can be a lot more competitive. I think it’s a very high downforce track, very fast. And hopefully the main straight is not too long,” said Perez yesterday. “I don’t really remember when I drove there, it was a long time ago. So I don’t think there is much of an advantage for me,” the Mexican added, while admitting he had little memory of his victory here in 2009. McLaren’s Lando Norris said it was a ‘fun track’ while acknowledging the physical toll it would take on the drivers. “It’s a pretty fast track. Not many big braking zones or anything, so it’s probably going to be quite a physical one. I don’t know how the racing or anything is going to be, I’ve got no idea just yet. But quite a fun track from what it looks like,” said the Brit. Despite the fast nature of the track, Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation’s executive director Amro Al-Hamad believes that the lack of track data and the flowing layout would create an exciting on-track spectacle. “Nobody has any data here, nobody drove here before, so that is going to add a lot,” Al-Hamad told Autosport. “Every single minute in practice is going to make a difference because they still don’t know what type of set-up they need for all their chassis. The strategy is going to be completely different when it comes to tyre wear, because it’s a very fast track, or a flowing track with a couple of opportunities for overtaking. “I know from a competitive driver point of view that there is a lot of overtaking that is going to be done, against all of the speculation that has been spread, that this is a straight-line kind of circuit, which it’s not. It’s very technical. It needs a lot of downforce. There are a lot of strategies that are going to be involved with the tyre wear here as well,” the QMMF official added. While the teams and drivers would have a better idea of the track after the practice sessions today, there is a feeling in the paddock that the Losail circuit would favour Mercedes over the Red Bull, due to their faster starlight line speed. The tyre management would be a key factor here with Pirelli choosing the three hardest tyre compounds in its range for this week’s race. The Italian tyre manufacturer said its existing data and simulations point to Losail being a high-severity circuit with very demanding corners – similar to Silverstone or Mugello – and quite aggressive asphalt, hence its hard rubber choice.      

His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani handed the tropy and gold medals to Al Sadd team
Qatar
Sadd beat Rayyan on penalties to retain Amir Cup

Al Sadd retained the HH The Amir Cup after a hard-fought victory over Al Rayyan in penalties at the Al Thumama Stadium, which was inaugurated Friday. In the presence of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, both the teams lit up the newly-constructed 40,000-capacity stadium, which follows Khalifa International, Al Janoub, Education City, Ahmad Bin Ali and Al Bayt in being declared ready to host the FIFA World Cup 2022. > > > While Al Sadd went in as overwhelming favourites, Al Rayyan gave them a tough fight but could not deny the Wolves their record 18th Amir Cup and 76th overall title. The teams were deadlocked 1-1 in regulation time, with Rayyan's Yacine Brahimi (44th minute) and Sadd's Santi Cazorla (58th minute) scoring through penalties. In a match with a handful of contentious penalty calls by referee Abdullah al-Athba, Sadd thought they had nicked it before the end of regulation time, when they were awarded a penalty after Akram Afif was fouled in the box. But the referee reversed his decision after a VAR review as the title clash went into penalties. After the first four penalties were converted by both teams, Rayyan’s Shojae Khalilzadeh’s spot kick was saved by goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb before Jung Woo-young won it for Sadd with a decisive strike. Xavi Hernandez, who won his seventh trophy in two years as Sadd manager, said his team ‘deserved’ to win the Amir Cup. “We played a good match and appeared at a good level and I am proud of that. The match was unique and was of high quality. But Sadd deserved to win the title after a good performance throughout the tournament. The victory will serve as a motivation for us the rest of the season,” the former Barcelona midfield maestro said. PICTURES: Naushad Thekkayil Sadd started with the strongest possible line up with Spanish midfielder and last year’s player of the season Cazorla returning to the starting XI after recovering from injury. Al Rayyan coach Laurent Blanc too had the strongest squad to pick from with Colombia star James Rodriguez starting along with Ahmed Yasser, who made his first start since signing for the club. As expected it was Sadd who went all out on attack and should have taken lead in the ninth minute. However, Algerian forward Baghdad Bounedjah shot just wide from the edge of the box. The Algerian had scored both goals for Sadd in last year’s 2-1 Amir Cup final victory against Al Arabi. Rayyan too could have gone ahead in the 14th minute but Mowafak Awad inexplicably skied the ball from just six yards with al-Sheeb not even in the picture. Four minutes later, Akram Afif, who was a livewire for Sadd and a constant threat on the left, tried his luck from a tight angle but the ball went out after hitting the side post. Afif also turned Khaled Muftah inside out and sent in a cross, but Al Sadd failed to make use of it. The game’s first controversial call came in the 39th minute, when Bounedjah went down after a contact from Yacine Brahimi. But the referee al-Athba chose to wave the play on and interestingly did not go for a VAR review. With Sadd pressing for the goal, Afif almost produced a stunner but his sweet strike in the 40th minute hit the top of the post. Out of nowhere it was Rayyan, who got a lucky break after Yohan Boli was brought down by al-Sheeb, with al-Athba pointing to the spot after a VAR review. Captain Brahimi coolly converted the penalty as Rayyan went into the break dreaming of a seventh Amir Cup title. However, Sadd were not one to give up easily and had two good chances to score in the first 10 minutes after the break. In the 49th minute, Bounedjah header went just wide after a cross from Santi Cazorla, while Afif hit it just over the bar after playing a 1-2 with Hassan al-Haydos. At the other end, Boli’s claim for penalty was not given, while Sadd’s persistence finally paid off when they won the penalty after Dame Traore's stamp on Khoukhi Boualem. Cazorla stepped in to convert the penalty as Sadd were right back in the contest. Sadd controlled the match thereafter but could not find the net. With just two minutes remaining, the brilliant Afif looked to have won another penalty after a challenge from Khalilzadeh but al-Athba reversed his decision after another VAR review. But Sadd players kept their nerves in the penalty shootout, while al-Sheeb produced a terrific save off Khalilzadeh as Sadd’s domestic domination continued.

Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation president Abdulrahman al-Mannai at a press conference at the Losail International Circuit on Thursday.
Sport
A very special day for Qatar motorsport, says QMMF president

The Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation president Abdulrahman al-Mannai was a pleased man as he sat next to Formula One President & CEO Stefano Domenicali to announce Qatar hosting its first ever F1 Grand Prix later this November. The night race at Losail International Circuit has been in the planning stages for some months, but the announcement had to wait for the commercial arrangements to be finalised, and will take place from November 19 to 21. After a break next year due to Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup, the country will host F1 races for 10 years from 2023 to 2032. Al-Mannai said it was a ‘very special day for Qatar Motorsport’ and was proud Qatar could step in to fill a slot to host a race following a decision to cancel the Australian Grand Prix for a second year running due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “This is a very special day for Qatar Motorsport and our nation’s ambitions as a host of major sporting events,” al-Mannai said at the Losail International Circuit yesterday. “I’m very proud that we’ve been able to support Formula 1 by stepping in and hosting a race in our country in such a short time frame, while also securing a ground-breaking long-term deal with F1. We are very grateful to Ooredoo for supporting us with this historic event,” the QMMF President added. In a statement F1 noted: “There was a strong will from Qatar to be helpful to F1, and in the course of this process, the vision for a longer partnership was discussed and agreed for 10 years. “The step from the gesture to be helpful to F1 in 2021 to a long-term strategy was short and simple and the vision for F1 to be the showcase for Qatar after the FIFA World Cup in 2022 was the driving force behind this long-term agreement. As part of the longer-term deal, discussions will continue regarding the location for the grand prix from 2023 with further details to be provided at a later time.” The night race at Losail will be the third event in a triple header that begins with the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix. The Ooredoo Qatar GP will be followed by races in Saudi Arabia and the season finale in Abu Dhabi. The 16-turn Losail track built in 2004 is no stranger to high octane racing, having become a permanent fixture on the two-wheeled MotoGP calendar. Discussions will continue regarding the location for the Grand Prix from 2023, with further details to be provided at a later time. Losail already had an FIA Grade 1 Licence, which meant it was a viable option to host a Grand Prix this year at short notice amid the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. It’s learnt F1 has listed some modifications to the track which includes a revised pit entry and modifications to some kerbs and barriers, as well as new team hospitality buildings in the paddock. That work has been undertaken in recent weeks. The Losail track has only rarely been used for top level car racing. A round of the GP2 Asia championship was held in February 2009, with the two races won by Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, while the NASCAR-based Speedcar series that featured former F1 drivers also visited the same year. Three rounds of the WTCC were also held at the track between 2015 and 2017.      

Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation president Abdulrahman al-Mannai (left) and Formula One president and CEO Stefano Domenicali at a press conference at the Losail International Circuit.
Sport
Qatar to hold first-ever F1 Grand Prix in November

Qatar’s stature as a top destination for marquee sports events will get another major boost with the Losail International Circuit set to host the country’s first ever Formula One Grand Prix from November 19 to 21. The Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation (QMMF), the governing body for motorsports in the country, and the global body Formula 1 announced in a press conference Thursday that the Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix will replace the cancelled Australian Grand Prix in this season’s calendar. Qatar has also signed a 10-year deal to host Formula One from 2023, with the F1 saying it would confirm the venue for the race from 2023 onward at a later date, suggesting a possible change from Losail. This November’s Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix will be a night race and will form the first part of a Middle Eastern ending to the F1 season as it will be followed by races in Saudi Arabia and the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Qatar has a strong track-record as a host of world class international sporting events – with state-of-the-art sporting facilities, modern infrastructure and expertise in major event management. Doha’s globally central location will be of huge benefit to F1 logistically, while also allowing more fans to travel to the race. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Doha has established itself as one of the most trusted and safe sports hubs for major events. The QMMF and F1 said they have worked around the clock to ensure the race this November takes place, despite the unprecedented Covid-related challenges and the turn-around time for a deal of this complexity. For this year’s race, F1 will make use of Qatar’s existing motor racing facilities, which have hosted many motorsport events including MotoGP since 2004. The 11-race deal will take place over 12 seasons, with Ooredoo – the international communications company – also announced as the title sponsor. There will be no race in 2022 as it coincides with Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The race will return to Qatar in 2023 and take place for the next 10-years until 2032. Qatar’s deal with F1 will boost the balance sheet of a sport recovering from the hit of Covid-19 as well as further raising the profile of the Middle East in an increasingly global championship. The F1 revenues took an $877mn hit, a 43% drop, last year when the Covid-19 pandemic forced cancellations and races without crowds. “We are very pleased to welcome Qatar to the Formula 1 calendar this season and for the longer term from 2023,” said F1 President and CEO Stefano Domenicali Thursday. “We have shown that we can continue to adapt and there is huge interest in our sport and the hope from many locations to have a Grand Prix. The huge effort from all the teams, F1 and the FIA has made it possible to deliver a 22 race calendar, something that is very impressive during a challenging year and something we can all be proud of,” Domenicali added. The QMMF president Abdulrahman al-Mannai said Qatar will be a ‘great destination for F1’ calling it a pinnacle event in global motorsport. “This is a very special day for Qatar Motorsport and our nation’s ambitions as a host of major sporting events. I’m very proud that we’ve been able to support Formula 1 by stepping in and hosting a race in our country in such a short time frame, while also securing a ground-breaking long-term deal with F1. We are very grateful to Ooredoo for supporting us with this historic event,” al-Mannai said. “This exciting agreement means that Qatar will be the home of both Formula 1 and MotoGP for the next decade, which are the pinnacle events in global motorsport. We have a proud motorsport history and this is the next chapter for us. Qatar will be a great destination for F1 and we look forward to welcoming all the drivers, teams, media and fans very soon,” he added. In a statement, Ooredoo said its sponsoring of F1 races in Qatar comes as part of Ooredoo’s strategy and efforts to contribute to the full realisation of the Qatar National Vision 2030.    Commenting on the sponsorship, Aziz Aluthman Fakhroo, Managing Director of Ooredoo Group, said: “We are delighted that Qatar will be the host of such an important event on the global sporting calendar. As Title sponsor, Ooredoo is honoured to have been given the opportunity to support the QMMF in bringing Qatar’s first ever F1 race. We have a long history of supporting major sporting events, in line with our corporate social responsibility strategy, and we are tremendously proud this history will now include the F1 Ooredoo Qatar Grand Prix. We extend our thanks to our partners F1 and the QMMF for their trust in Ooredoo and look forward to an incredible race weekend. I wish all the talented competitors the best of luck.” Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulla al-Thani, Deputy Group Chief Executive Officer and CEO of Ooredoo Qatar, said: “For Qatar to host such a prestigious international sporting event is a great honour. We are proud that, as part of our drive to achieve the aims of Qatar National Vision 2030, our country is well-prepared for such an event, and has indeed proved its suitability as a trusted hub for major sporting occasions. The magnitude of Ooredoo having its brand name showcased in such a prominent sport – alongside other major global entities – is highly valued, and we will ensure we support our partners in delivering a world-class event that will cement Qatar’s place on the global sporting stage.”

Alexander Massialas
Sport
Will the Massialas gold quest end in Tokyo?

At just 26, Alexander Massialas is on the verge of becoming a three-time Olympian in fencing. He already has a silver medal from the 2016 Rio Games in the individual foil and a bronze in the team event – making him the first US man to win two fencing medals in the same Olympic Games in more than a century.  It’s exactly how his dad Greg had envisaged in the late 90’s. A two-time Olympian himself, Greg could never reach the podium.  His best bet was at the 1980 Moscow Games, when he was at his peak, but the United States’ decision to boycott the Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan meant Greg had to wait till 1984 Los Angeles Games to make his debut. He made another appearance at the 1988 Seoul Games, but his best years had passed him. Greg became an international referee and forged a career in advertising in San Francisco. His wife Vivian, who was born in Taiwan, was the one who encouraged him to start coaching. The Massialas Foundation fencing club was born in 1998. Since then, the senior Massialas had only one aim: to produce Olympic champions. While his son fell just short of realising that dream – losing to Italy’s Daniele Garozzo in the gold medal match in Rio – Greg has consistently churned out fencers at his San Francisco club. But Alexander still is his star pupil and remains his best bet for that elusive gold medal at Olympics.   Alexander didn’t take long to fall in love with fencing and started to train under his dad in the second grade. His sister Sabrina – three years younger than him – followed him onto the strip when she was just six. Now the Massialas family will be making a trip to Tokyo Games after Sabrina qualified for her maiden Olympics at the FIE Grand Prix event in Doha last month.   “When my sister qualified for the Olympics, it was such an emotional moment for us in the family. We gave her a hug but she was running through so many emotions and it was yet to sink in for her,” said Alexander, who also competed in Doha.   “As an older brother, I was proud and happy for her. She has watched me compete at two Olympics from the stands and now she will participate in it. It will be amazing to go to Tokyo with my sister and dad,” he added.  With his dad also doubling up as coach of the US team, the pressure is bound to be there but Alexander said it only motivates him to become a better fencer. “For me and my sister it was the love for fencing why we took it up. When we are fencing, he is a coach not my dad and when we are not fencing, he is my dad and not a coach. I don’t take anything to heart when he is training me. He is just trying to get the best of me and make me a better fencer. There is no additional pressure. If anything, he motivates me. He has been such a great influence for me and my sister,” says Alexander.   A Stanford alum with a mechanical engineering degree, Alexander qualified for the Tokyo Games at the World Cup in Cairo in February 2020. But just as he started to chart his plans, the pandemic ravaged through the world with tournaments, including the Tokyo Olympics, either cancelled or postponed.   “It’s been a difficult last one year for everyone,” Alexander says. “After the pandemic broke in last March, all the tournaments were cancelled or postponed. It wasn’t easy not to be competing or training but the health and safety of the athletes was more important.   “I had already qualified for the Olympics, so I started training outdoors with my dad. We put a fencing strip in our backyard. That was the first time I had trained outdoors. But we couldn’t train indoors at our academy as it wasn’t safe and we had to take into account the safety of everyone. Obviously, the training was different but it’s an experience I will never forget,” he adds.  Having already equalled his dad’s feat of qualifying for three Olympics, Alexander is hungry for more, with a burning desire of donning an Olympic gold medal around his neck.   “My ambition is to be an Olympic champion. After that I want to keep going on in the sport and take it day by day. I have not set any long-term goals other than doing well at the Tokyo Olympics. I don’t want to go far ahead in terms of goals. I am 26 now and would certainly want to compete at my fourth Olympics in Paris in 2024. To compete in the 2028 Olympics, which will be held in Los Angeles would also be great as it will be in my hometown. My dad competed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, so it would be fitting for me to be part of the 2028 Olympics at home,” Alexander says.  The FIE Grand Prix in Doha last month was the first fencing event in a year, while Alexander did not have a great outing he was pleased to take part in a competition and was full of praise for the organisers.   “Personally, I didn’t do really well as I would have liked but I didn’t do badly either. It was good to be back competing in a tournament. The organisation and facilities were top class. The safety protocols were strictly followed by the organisers. The US team did really well with two of my teammates winning gold and bronze, so I was really happy for them. This event will surely act as a stepping stone for the Tokyo Olympics,” he says.  “I prefer to compete in tournaments rather than training. There is no better way to test yourselves than in a competition environment. There is a lot of room for improvement but I am happy to get into the groove. I want to get into my best shape before the Olympics,” he adds.  After the Grand Prix, Alexander along with his dad, had a chance to take a tour of Qatar and the Rio Olympic silver medallist was impressed by what he witnessed.  “It was an amazing experience. We went to Sealine for dune bashing and it was a unique thing I have never experienced before. The driver pulled off some cool manoeuvres in the sand. Then we had lunch at Katara and also went to Mushreib, Museum of Islamic Art and National Museum of Qatar, which was really great. To experience Qatar’s culture and diversity was amazing,” he says.  On Qatar’s plans to bid for the 2032 Olympics, Alexander is all for the Games to be held in different locations, which are culturally diverse.  “Qatar’s bid to host the Olympic Games in 2032 is great. I don’t know much about their bid but it would be nice if the Olympics are held in different locations, which are culturally diverse. It would be a very nice experience. I would love to see the Olympics going into different locations around the world,” he says.

Belgian rider Niels Bruynseels astride bay gelding Delux van T & L celebrates after winning the Grand Prix of Doha at the Longines Global Champions Tour at the Longines Arena at AL Shaqab
Sport
Bruynseels wins Grand Prix of Doha with Delux van T & L

Belgian rider Niels Bruynseels astride bay gelding Delux van T & L put on a blistering run to clinch the Grand Prix of Doha, – the marquee completion of the season-opening Longines Global Champions Tour on Saturday. Bruynseels, who had missed out on winning Friday’s feature class, made up on the big stage as he tackled the tricky 1.60m CSI5* class with power and precision at the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab. It was a blistering jump-off featuring seven of the world’s best horse and rider combinations and it all came down to precision and speed under the floodlights in breezy conditions. Bruynseels and Delux van T & L trailed Lorenzo De Luca and Nuance Bleue by three-tenths of a second at the midway checkpoint, but a speedy second half saw them stop the clock in 39.93 seconds, 0.27 inside the Italian rider’s time. Canada’s Beijing 2008 Olympic champion Eric Lamaze, with Dieu Merci, took third in 40.35 seconds after going fastest in Round A. Friday’s feature event winner and one of the strong contenders Scott Brash looked set to land the marquee event as the Brit, riding Hello Vincent, was well ahead on the clock. But the pair had the last two fences down to end up in sixth place ahead of Germany’s Marcus Ehning (Stargold). Bart Bles of the Netherlands was fourth on board Kriskras DV with German Christian Kukuk and Mumbai in fifth. “Sometimes you just have to be lucky,” Bruynseels laughed afterwards, as he took home a whopping €123.750 in prize money.  “I’m really happy with my performance in Doha, it’s been an extremely good two weeks here. I wish to thank the competition’s organising committee for doing a great job during these special times. I’m very happy to emerge on top while competing against some of the world’s best horses and riders,” he added. Bruynseels’ strategy of saving his gelding Delux van T & L only for the Grand Prix paid him rich dividends. “That was a conscious choice. My horse felt so good last week that I decided to start him only in the GP this weekend. I didn’t think it was useful to make him tired unnecessarily and wanted to save his strength for today. So that turned out really well. I have to really thank my horse. I think he is one of the best horses in the world. He made a difference for me,” the 37-year-old said. With this Grand Prix victory, Bruynseels also has won a ticket for the LGCT Super Grand Prix at the GC Prague Playoffs in November. “Of course I’m very happy. This is a championship at a very high level. The best riders and horses in the world are competing here. So I’m very pleased to have secured my place in the final so early in the season,” he said. Lorenzo De Luca paid credit to his 10-year-old Nuance Bleue for the runner-up finish, even though he admitted that his horse was not ready for the big event. “She’s quite new at this level and it was my mistake to push her into such a high-level competition. She gave me everything she had. I’m really happy to be standing on this podium now,” De Luca said. Earlier, Valkenswaard United won the Global Champions League in spectacular style with unbeatable performances by the team’s top guns in the opener of the 2021 championship race. Heavyweights Peder Fredricson and Marcus Ehning took full advantage of the extraordinary horsepower of Hansson WL and Stargold with flawless rounds to seal the coveted first win of the season. Shangai Swans with Christian Ahlmann (Dominator 2000 Z) and Max Kuhner (Elektric Blue P) finished in second place. They were both able to jump a clear round and clocked off in a combined time of 145.22 seconds.  The Berlin Eagles with Christian Kukuk (Mumbai) and Philipp Weishaupt (Asathir) followed in third place. A delighted Marcus Ehning said “It’s always great to be here in Doha. I think I can talk for everyone to say it is a very special event. Peder made my life easier he jumped a fantastic clear round, I know my horse is fast but you also need some luck. I am really lucky to be in a strong team like this. We have 6 very strong riders and I am very lucky to ride with them.” Peder Fredricson said: “It’s really amazing to be back jumping at top level sport again. It is fantastic to ride with Marcus and I am really looking forward to the rest of the season!”