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Thursday, February 02, 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.
Asian and Qatar Equestrian Federation president Hamad bin Abdulrahman al-Attiyah and Omar al-Mannai, LGCT Event Director and Commercial Manager at Al Shaqab with the podium finishers of the CSI5* 1.45m class on Thursday.
Sport
Staut leads Visconti du Telman to victory at Al Shaqab

For the second time in a week, Frenchman Kevin Staut pipped compatriot Simon Delestre to victory at the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab. Staut, who had got the better of Delestre during the CHI Al Shaqab last week, once again overcame his countryman at the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT), which kicked off on Thursday. In the against the clock 1.55m class, Staut astride 12-year-old mare Visconti du Telman clocked 61.73 seconds to emerge as the fastest pair among 40 combinations. Delestre was little less than two seconds behind Staut as he completed his round in 63.44 with 10-year-old gelding Berlux Z. Philipp Weishaupt completed the top three as the German finished the course in 63.74 seconds with 11-year-old gelding Coby. A modest Staut downplayed his victory, preferring to call his dominance over Delestre as ‘lucky’. “I was lucky because I know it is two different competitions. I knew that my mare jumped really well last week, she is really in good shape. Even at the practice arena, she was really relaxed and focused at the same time,” said Staut, who took home €13750 in prize money. “When I had seen the riders riding for the team competition, I knew I had to go fast in the end. I had a good rhythm and I tried to keep it going till the last hurdle,” he added. Staut was glad to be competing again in LGCT after the coronavirus pandemic had forced the cancellation of the season last year and praised the organisation at Al Shaqab. “Everybody is happy to be back competing in the sport. This is a really high level of sport. I have to say here the people, the infrastructure and organization is amazing and really efficient. It’s not easy to organise the show in this situation. For sure, the quality of everything is there for everyone to see,” he said. Meanwhile, Valkenswaard United consisting of Peder Fredricson and Marcus Ehning took the top honours in the first round of the Global Champions League (GCL) yesterday. Fifteen teams went head to head in the first GCL competition of the 2021 season to battle it out for their starting position in Round 2. And Valkenswaard United was propelled to victory by Peder Fredricson (Hansson WL) and Marcus Ehning (Stargold), with both the pairs being able to record a clear round for a total time of 132.41 seconds. The Berlin Eagles’ Christian Kukuk (Checker) and Philipp Weishaupt (Coby) were second with a total time of 133.33 seconds, while New York Empire’s Denis Lynch (Cristello) and Scott Brash (Hello Jefferson) jumped clear for a combined total of 134.29 seconds. "It’s a good performance from us. My horse jumped really well. Marcus Ehning’s horse jumped very well. We will try to go really well on Saturday. We are happy today, said Fredricson. Meanwhile, Ehning said: "The strategy (for Saturday) is to go clear again. I think we had a couple of missed clear rounds. This is halftime. We need two double clears and need to be fast on Saturday. It will be a new day and we will try to do well. It’s a new horse at this level. He is 10 years old. I am very happy with him and he makes things easy for us." Earlier, Max Kuhner won the season opening CSI5* 1.45m class. The Austrian rider put on a sublime round in the saddle of 11-year-old Vancouver Dreams in 25.15 seconds. Marcus Ehning came closest to beat Kuhner’s time but fell short by 0.21 seconds astride Funky Fred. Maurice Tebbel and Chacco's Son completed the top three after a clear round in 25.47 seconds. Results CSI5* 2 phases 1.45m €25,400 1. Max Kuhner (AUT); Horse: Vancouver Dreams, Time: 25.15 secs; Prize money: €6350 2. Marcus Ehning (GER); Funky Fred; 25.36 secs; €5080 3. Maurice Tebbel (GER); Chaccos' Son; 25.47 secs; €3810 Global Champions League - Individual classification against the clock (1.50/1.55m) 1. Kevin Staut (FRA); Horse: Visconti du Telman; Time; 61.73 sec; Prize money: €13750 2. Simon Delestre (FRA); Berlux Z; 63.44 secs; €11000 3. Philipp Weishaupt; Coby; 63.74 secs; €8250 Global Champions League – first team competition (1.50/1.55m) 1. Valkenswaard United – Riders: Peder Fredricson (Hansson WL) 67.06 secs, Marcus Ehning (Stargold) 65.35 secs. Total time: 132.41 secs. 2. Berlin Eagles – Riders: Christian Kukuk (Checker) 69.59 secs, Philipp Weishaupt (Coby) 63.74 secs. Total time: 133.33 secs. 3. New York Empire – Riders: Denis Lynch (Cristello) 68.59 secs, Scott Brash (Hello Jefferson) 65.80 secs. Total time: 134.29 secs. Today Schedule 9am: Hathab Against the Clock no jump off 1.00/1.15m, Prize money QR20,000 1pm: Hathab Phase Special Individuals 1.20/1.35m, Prize money QR70,000 3:45pm CSI5* Against the clock - NO jump off 1.50m, Prize money €51,100 6:00pm CSI5* Against the clock - With jump off 1.55m, Prize money €148,500    

Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab presented by Longines Grand Prix winner Germanyu2019s Christian Ahlmann (centre) poses on the podium with runner-up France's Olivier Robert (left) and third-placed Belgiumu2019s Niels Bruynseels at the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab.
Sport
German Ahlmann clinches top honours at CHI Al Shaqab

Germany’s Christian Ahlmann produced a stunning ride with his 11-year-old stallion Dominator 2000 Z to clinch a thrilling Grand Prix at the Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines  Saturday. The formidable combination took top honours in the CSI5* 1.60m class, jumping double clear and then setting the fastest time in the six-way jump-off at the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab. Hussein Ali al-Abdulla (second left), EGM & Chief Marketing Officer of Commercial Bank and Omar al-Mannai (second right), Event Director and Organising Committee Member at CHI Al Shaqab pose with the CSI5* 1.45m class podium finishers. Ahlmann and Dominator beat French rider Olivier Robert and his 12-year-old Gelding Vivaldi des Meneaux by just 0.100 seconds. The German rider was the first to go in the jump-off and he produced a daring performance, drawing gasps from the crowd, as he delivered the winning round in 36.17 seconds. Robert and Vivaldi des Meneaux jumped clear in 36.27 seconds. Belgium’s Niels Bruynseels on Delux Van T&L finished in third place after coming home in 36.82 seconds. “Dominator is a fantastic horse and very intelligent. I was the first to go and it wasn’t the best position to be in. But I tried as hard as I could. I’d good turns and everything worked like I wanted it to. But with opponents like this, you can never be sure. In the end, it worked out well,” said the 46-year-old Ahlmann, who walked away with €135,300 in prize money. Germany’s Christian Ahlmann astride 11-year-old stallion Dominator 2000 Z gallops to Grand Prix victory at the Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines Germany's Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl celebrates with her 17-year-old KWPN horse Zaire-E after winning the dressage Grand Prix Freestyle title Robert was content with runner-up finish. “I’m very happy with my second place finish today. When I walked into the second round, I felt as if we had so many fantastic horses. I think this is going to be a fantastic year of competitions,” the Frenchman said. Earlier, Julien Epaillard, who had won the opening event of the championship on Thursday, triumphed for the second time in three days. The Frenchman topped the CSI5*1.45 class with Safari d'Auge in 67.99 seconds. Spain’s Eduardo Alvarez Aznar astride Legend was second in 70.53 seconds, followed by the Netherlands Maikel van der Vleuten and Kamara van't Heike in 72.25 seconds. Meanwhile, Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl clinched the dressage Grand Prix Freestyle title. The German had won the Grand Prix - CDI5* with the 17-year-old KWPN horse Zaire-E on Friday, and they put on another spectacular show yesterday. Bredow-Werndl and Zaire-E were unbeatable as all jury members placed the combination at the top with a total score of 84.780%. The Germans swept the podium after Helen Langehanenberg (Damsey FRH) took second place with 82.050% score, while Dorothee Schneider (Faustus 94) was third with a total score of 81.865%. RESULTS Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab presented by Longines Grand Prix 1.60m/Two Rounds + Jump Off 1. Christian Ahlmann (GER); Horse: Dominator 2000 Z; Time: 75.75 secs & 36.17; Prize money: €135300 2. Olivier Robert (FRA); Vivaldi des Meneaux; 72.35 & 36.27 secs; €82000 3. Niels Bruynseels (BEL) Delux Van T & L; 75.34 & 36.82 secs, €43050 Jumping CSI 5* 1.45m/Table C 1. Julien Epaillard (FRA) Horse: Safari D Auge; Time: 67.99 secs; Prize money: €6350 2. Eduardo Alvarez Aznar (ESP); Legend; 70.53 secs; €5080 3. Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) Kamara Van'T Heike; 72.25 secs; €3810 Dressage Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab presented by Longines Grand Prix Freestyle 1. Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl (GER); Horse: Zaire-E; Total score: 84.780; Prize money: € 26000 2. Helen Langehanenberg (GER); Damsey FRH; 82.050%; €21000 3. Dorothee Schneider (GER); Faustus 94; 81.865%; €15000 CDI 5* Grand Prix Special 1. Nicolas Wagner Ehlinger (LUX); Horse: Quater Back Junior FRH; Total scores: 74.128%; Prize money: €6400 2. Dennis Fisker (DEN); Delatio; 70.553%; €5000 3. Tatyana Kosterina (RUS); Diavolessa VA; 68.575%; €3800 Para-Dressage CPEDI3* Freestyle IV (IV FS) 1. Rodolpho Riskalla (BRA); Horse: Don Henrico; Total points: 81.075%; Prize money: €1200 2. Lotte Krijnsen (NED); Rosenstolz; 75.500%; €1000 3. Neel Schakel (NED); Edison; 74.083%; €800 CPEDI3* Freestyle V (V FS) 1. Amelia White (AUS); Genius; 73.733%; €1320 2. Valentina Strobl (AUT); Bequia Simba; 72.350%; €1000 3. Tamsin Addison (IRL); Donna Siesta; 67.750%; €800 CPEDI3* Freestyle I (I FS) 1. Ana Isabel Mota Veiga (POR); Convicto; 70.545; €1320 2. Magdalena Cycak (POL); Sybilla; 67.545; €1000 CPEDI3* Freestyle II (II FS) 1. Pepo Puch (AUT); Sailor's Blue; 78.789%; €1320 2. Annemarieke Nobel (NED); Doo Schufro; 69.445%; €1000 CPEDI3* Freestyle III (III FS) 1. Rixt van der Horst (NED); Findsley N.O.P.; 80.678%; €1320 2. Maud de Reu (NED); Webron N.O.P; 77.456%; €1000

France's Kevin Staut astride Tolede de Mascam Harcour clears a hurdle during Friday's feature class at Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab presents Longines.
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Staut edges out Delestre to victory at CHI Al Shaqab

Kevin Staut edged out French compatriot Simon Delestre to clinch Friday's feature class at the Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines. At the gusty Longines Arena at Al Shaqab, the 40-year-old Staut put on a flawless round with Tolede De Mescam Harcour in the jump-off to win the 1.55m class. Out of 33 combinations, only eight managed to jump clear in the first round in a course, which was challenging and technical in equal measure. Staut was the last to start in the jump-off with Delestre and his mount Hermes Ryan’s time of 36.32 seconds to beat for the title. And Staut did just that, as he cut corners and galloped around the course with Tolede De Mescam Harcour to stop the clock at 35.87 seconds – with 0.45 second separating the two Frenchmen. Austrian Max Kuhner finished third on Vancouver Dreams in 36.84 seconds. "I am really happy. It was a very difficult competition with eight riders in the jump-off. Then I could see my French colleague Simon Delestre riding first and he was really fast. I was jumping last so I had all the information. And what can I say, it's been wonderful two days of competition. It was a difficult Grand Prix today, I am so happy,” said a delighted Staut, who won 2016 Rio Olympic gold medal with the French team. “I think in the first round we had so many faults everywhere. It was a difficult course and technical. It was important the riders stayed focused throughout the round,” he added. The marquee event of the prestigious championship – Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Grand Prix presented by Longines – will be held today and Staut will be one of the strong contenders for the title. “Normally in the Grand Prix, I ride Tolede de Mescam Harcour but he did such a good job today, so I will ride my other horse Visconti du Telman tomorrow. I am already happy today, tomorrow is another day. I will enjoy this evening after what happened today,” he said. “I want to thank my whole team for coming here and to do the best as we can. I want to thank the organisers here, because it’s so difficult right now. To organise this event at the highest level it’s fantastic,” the Frenchman added. Meanwhile, World No. 4 Peder Fredricson, the highest ranked rider in the championship, won the CSI5* against the clock 1.50m class yesterday. The Sweden rider produced a clear round with Hansson WI in 58.95 seconds. France’s Penelope Leprevost and Verite Une Prince took second place 59.15 seconds, while Colombain Rene Lopez Lizarazo astride Kheros van't Hoogeinde finished third in 61.49 seconds. Results Showjumping Table A, FEI Art. 238.2.2 - CSI5* with jump-off (1.55/1.60m) 1. Kevin Staut (FRA), Horse: Tolede de Mescam Harcour, Time: 74.15 sec & 35.87 secs. Prize money: €48,939 2. Simon Delestre (FRA), Hermes Ryan, 74.12 sec & 36.32 sec, €29,660 3. Max Kuhner (AUT), Vancouver Dreams, 71.12 sec & 36.84 secs, €22,245 Showjumping Table A, FEI Art. 238.2.1 - CSI5* against the clock (1.50m) 1. Peder Fredricson (SWE). Horse: Hansson WL, Time: 58.95 secs. Prize money: €12,775 2. Penelope Leprevost (FRA), Verite Une Prince, 59.15 secs, €10,220 3. Rene Lopez (COL), Kheros van't Hoogeinde, 61.49 secs, €7,665 Dressage FEI Test Grand Prix - CDI5* 1. Jessica von Bredow-Werndl (GER). Horse: Zaire-E. Points: 77.826%, 75.435%, 78.696%, 74.348 %, 78.478%, 76.957%. Prize money: €7,500 2. Dorothee Schneider (GER), Faustus, 77.065%, 77.717%, 75.761%, 74.022%, 75.000%, 75.913%,€6,000 3. Henri Ruoste (FIN), Kontestro DB, 75.870%, 72.935%, 74.130%, 75.000%, 74.565%, 74.500%, €4,500 FEI Individual Test - Grade I - CPEDI3* 1. Ana Isabel Mota Veiga (POR). Convicto, Points: 70.179 %, 66.250 %, 68.750 %, 68.393 %. Prize money: €660 2. Magdalena Cycak (POL), Sybilla 67.857%, 64.107%, 63.036%, 65.000%, €500 Para dressage FEI Individual Test - Grade II - CPEDI3* 1. Pepo Puch (AUT), Sailor's Blue, Points: 78.088%, 76.471%, 73.088%, 75.882%. Prize money: €660 2. Annemarieke Nobel (NED), Doo Schufro, 63.824%, 61.618%, 64.853%, 63.431%. €500 FEI Individual Test - Grade III - CPEDI3* 1. Rixt van der Horst (NED), Findsley N.O.P., Points: 73.529%, 77.353%, 76.176%, 75.686%. Prize money: €660 2. Maud de Reu (NED, Webron N.O.P.,). Points: 71.471%, 72.794%, 71.029%, 71.765%. €500 FEI Individual Test - Grade IV - CPEDI3* 1. Rodolpho Riskalla (BRA), Don Henrico, Points: 75.122%, 80.000%, 76.220%, 77.114% €600 2. Neel Schakel-Van Klei (NED), Edison, 70.244%, 74.634%, 75.366%, 73.415%. €500 3. Tessa Baaijens-Van-De Vrie (NED), Happy Grace, 70.366%, 74.146%, 74.390%, 72.967%. €400 FEI Individual Test - Grade V - CPEDI3* 1. Valentina Strobl (AUT), Bequia Simba, Points: 70.238%, 72.024%, 70.714%, 70.992%. Prize money: €660 2. Amelia White (AUS), Genius, Points: 71.786%, 71.429%, 68.095%, 70.437%. €500 3. Tamsin Addison (IRL), Donna Siesta, Points: 66.667%, 65.595%, 65.595%, 65.952%. €400 Longines Hathab showjumping Medium Tour 1. Mohamed Said Haidan (QAT), Miss Chili, 56.84 secs, QR7,500 2. Cyrine Cherif (FRA), Brennus Villelongue, 57.82 secs, QR6,000 3. Rashid Towaim Ali al-Marri (QAT), Lamm Addiction Z, 58.51 sec QR4,500 Medium Tour Team 1. Business Trading Company 2. Limited Edition Cars 3. Exxonmobil Small Tour 1. Mohamed Jabor al-Naimi (QAT), Naville Z, 28.44 secs, QR5,000 2. Khalifa Abdulla al-Khaldi (QAT), Dusty, 29.76 secs, QR4,000 3. Saeed Nasser al-Qadi (QAT), Best of des Forets, 30.33 secs, QR3,000    

Belgiumu2019s Olivier Philippaerts astride H&M Legend of Love clears a hurdle during the Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines at the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab yesterday.
Sport
Philippaerts stars on the opening day of CHI Al Shaqab

Olivier Philippaerts clinched the feature class on the opening day of the Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines. At the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab on Thursday, the Belgian rider galloped to victory in the saddle of the 15-year-old H&M Legend of Love. The pair produced a scorching 60.61-second round under the floodlights at the magnificent arena. Britan’s former World No. 1 Scott Brash finished in second place with Hello Vincent after clocking 60.85 seconds, while Germany’s Philipp Weishaupt and Coby 8 took home third place after a clear round in 61.07 seconds. The 27-year-old Philippaerts was delighted with his victory but at the same time was relieved to compete at the highest level despite the prevailing pandemic. “If you look at the start list, you know that you have to ride fast if you want have a chance to win. I didn't let that distract me and wanted to ride my own round,” he said. “It's super that we can start again at the highest level here in Al Shaqab. So I didn't want to come to the championship here unprepared. In January, I rode in Oliva, Spain, to get my horses ready for the outdoor season and I seem to have succeeded pretty well. My horses already have some competitions in their legs and are in the rhythm. That certainly made a difference today,” Philippaerts added. Earlier, Frenchman Julien Epaillard won the opening class of the CSI5* competition. Epaillard topped the 39-combination field in the 1.45m class astride Safari d'Auge in 32.19 seconds. Epaillard, who has been riding stallion Safari d'Auge at international competitions since February 2013, put on an impressive round. In second place was Henrik Von Eckermann with Carlotta 276, as the pair left the wood untouched in 33.06 seconds. World No. 1 Peder Fredricson of Sweden and Hansson came third after a clear round in 33.34 seconds. Meanwhile, Omar al-Mannai, Event Director, Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines and Organising Committee member, was pleased with safe start of the prestigious championship. CHI Al Shaqab is being held for the eighth time, with 85 riders from 27 countries and 138 horses from overseas participating in the Olympic disciplines of showjumping, dressage, and para dressage. Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the organisers have able to successfully host the annual event. In line with the Ministry of Public Health’s Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, the venue capacity is restricted to 10 percent. “Everyone is working hard towards making the championship and a safe and successful on, especially it is being held under exceptional circumstances. With 10 percent of crowd allowed, we are taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the event,” al-Mannai said. Results Showjumping CSI5* 1.55m/ against the clock Table A, FEI Art. 238.2.1 1. Rider: Olivier Philippaerts (BEL); Horse: H&M Legend of Love; Faults: 0; Time: 60.61 secs; Prize: Euros 23,725 2. Scott Brash (GBR); Hello Vincent; 0; 60.85secs; €18,980 3. Philipp Weishaupt (GER); Coby; 0; 61.07secs; €14,235 4. Pieter Devos    (BEL); Jade v Bisschop; 0; 61.58secs; €9.490. CSI5* 1.45m/Special Two-Phase Table A, FEI Art. 274.2.5 1. Julien Epaillard (FRA); Safari d'Auge; 0; 32.19secs; €6.350 2. Henrik von Eckermann (SWE); Carlotta; 0; 33.06secs; €5.080 3. Peder Fredricson (SWE); Hansson WL; 0; 33.34secs; €3.810. 4. Penelope Leprevost (FRA); Verite Une Prince; 0; 33.40secs; €2.540. Para Dressage FEI Team Test - Grade I - CPEDI3* 1. Ana Isabel Mota Veiga (POR); Convicto; 70.714%; 65.714%; 66.071%; Total Score: 67.500%; €330 2. Magdalena Cycak (POL); Sybilla; 67.857%; 62.857%; 66.429%; 65.714%; €250 FEI Team Test - Grade II - CPEDI3* 1. Pepo Puch (AUT); Sailor's Blue; 76.515%; 74.394%; 77.424%; Total Score: 76.111%; Prize: €330 2. Annemarieke Nobel (NED); Doo Schufro; 65.758%; 67.727%; 72.121%; 68.535%; €250 FEI Team Test - Grade III - CPEDI3* 1. Rixt van der Horst (NED); Findsley N.O.P.; 76.176%; 76.471%; 72.353%; 75.000%; €330 2. Maud de Reu (NED); Webron N.O.P.; 74.559%; 71.618%; 75.882%; 74.020%; €250. FEI Team Test - Grade IV - CPEDI3* 1. Rodolpho Riskalla (BRA); Don Henrico; 75.500%; 77.875%; 76.000%; 76.458%; €300 2. Lotte Krijnsen (NED); Rosenstolz; 74.625%; 70.750%; 72.250%; 72.542%; €250 3. Tessa Baaijens-Van-De Vrie (NED); Happy Grace; 68.375%; 70.375%; 68.500%; 69.083%; €200. FEI Team Test - Grade V - CPEDI3* 1. Valentina Strobl (AUT); Bequia Simba; 72.907%; 69.419%; 71.977%; 71.434%; €330. 2. Amelia White (AUS); Genius; 68.023%; 67.442%; 68.256%; 67.907%; €250. 3. Tamsin Addison (IRL); Donna Siesta; 67.674%; 66.279%; 68.023%; 67.326%; €200.    

World No. 4 Peder Fredrickon of Sweden trains on the eve of the Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines at the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab Wednesday
Sport
CHI Al Shaqab equestrian extravaganza from Thursday

In what will be a treat for equestrian connoisseurs, the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab will host two top quality events on consecutive weekends. Starting Thursday for three days, Al Shaqab, a member of Qatar Foundation, will play host to the prestigious Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab Presented by Longines. The following weekend, the opening round of the 2021 Longines Global Champions Tour will be held. Australia's Edwina Tops-Alexander in training yesterday. - DOHA, Al Shaqab - 24 February 2021   The indoor arena of the Longines Arena at Al Shaqab is all decked up The five-star CHI AL Shaqab is being held for the eighth time, and the much-anticipated event will see riders participate in the Olympic disciplines of showjumping, dressage, and para dressage besides the local equestrian series Longines Hathab from Thursday till Saturday. Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the organisers have ensured the events will take place, which is a testament Qatar’s organisation skills. In line with the Ministry of Public Health’s Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, the venue capacity will be restricted to 10 percent but there will not be a festival area this year. There will be a total of 85 riders from 27 countries and 138 horses from overseas in action this weekend. Leading the field will be World No. 4 Peder Fredrickon of Sweden, with Scott Brash of Britain, Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Daniel Deusser, Canada’s Eric Lamaze, Belgium’s Gregory Wathelet and Pieter Devos, Frenchmen Kevin Staut and Julien Epaillard and Edwina Tops-Alexander of Australia making up the high-quality field. Qatar’s challenge will be led Sultan Salmeen al-Suwaidi. The 25-year-old, who won the 2018 His Highness the Amir Sword, will partner with his trusted mount Aslan 69. Al-Suwaidi, who is a regular in the Big Tour class of the Longines Hathab, will relish the opportunity of competing along with world’s top riders. The Qatari rider will be competing in the CHI Al Shaqb for the fourth time and has been sharpening his skills in Italy recently. Al-Suwaidi will only have a limited local crowd to root for him, but the action-packed event will be telecast on Alkass Channel and also streamed live in the Al Shaqab website. “We are proud of the work we have achieved to host this event despite prevailing Covid-19. We have done everything to secure safety of everyone and followed ministry advice thoroughly,” said Omar Al Mannai, Event Director, Commercial Bank CHI AL Shaqab Presented by Longines, and Commercial Manager, Al Shaqab. “Qatar is an example of hosting sporting event during the pandemic. Thanks to the wise leadership we are conducting international events successfully. We have achieved the level of professionalism to host any event. Ten percent of fan presence may sound small but this arena is large and hence it would still be sizeable,” he added. A strict health protocols is in place with a ‘bio bubble’ created for all participants and those working towards the event. “Let me assure you, great efforts have been made to host the event at this time. We have received support from our partners. We have always wanted to host this event. It will be a good and enjoyable event for fans in addition to those who will follow it on television and social media channels,” said Al Mannai. Meanwhile, Belgium Olympic rider Olivier Philippaerts said he was thrilled to back in Doha and was excited to compete in next two weekends. “I took off to Doha last Saturday and had to stay quarantined in the hotel room until I got my test results”, he said. Philippaerts explained the strict safety measures adopted by the organisers. “The next two weeks, I’ll be traveling up and down between the hotel and the equestrian centre. Those are the only two places where we’re allowed to go at the moment. We get a new test every three days, on top of the other measurements taken here like wearing mouth masks, social distancing and washing hands with hand sanitizer,” he said. “I’m looking forward to ride some competitions on this level again. It is not just that they have the best riders participating, but also their organization is on point. Maybe even better now during the pandemic than before. The organizers do everything to continue our sport. That motivates and helps us feel safe,” he added. The Schedule Thursday 12:00-15.45: Indoor Arena: Para Dressage CPEDI3* Team Test 15:00-17:00: Outdoor Arena: Jumping CSI5* 1.45m/Special Two-Phase 17:45-20:00: Outdoor Arena: Jumping CSI5* 1.55m/ Faults & Time 18:00-20:45: Indoor Arena: Longines Hathab-Dressage L1 & L2 Tomorrow 9:00-11:00: Outdoor Arena: Longines Hathab - Small Tour 1.15m/Special Two-Phase 9:15-12:45: Indoor Arena: Para Dressage CPEDI 3* Individual Championship Test 13:00-15:00: Outdoor Arena: Longines Hathab - Medium Tour 1.35m/One Round 15:00-18:00: Indoor Arena Dressage CDI 5* Grand Prix Test 15:45-17:15: Outdoor Arena: Jumping CSI 5* 1.60m/Jump Off Saturday 8.30-9:15: Indoor Arena: Dressage CDI 5* Grand Priz Special 10:00-13.30: Indoor Arena: Para-Dressage CPEDI 3* Freestyle Test 10:15-12:15: Outdoor Arena: Longines Hathab - Open Class 1.25m/One Round 13:30-14:45: Outdoor Arena: Longines Hathab - Big Tour 1.45m/One Round + Jump Off 14:15-16:45: Indoor Arena: Dressage- Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab presented by Longines Grand Prix Freestyle 15:30-16:30: Outdoor Arena: Jumping CSI 5* 1.45m/Table C 17:30-20:00: Outdoor Arena: Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab presented by Longines Grand Prix 1.60m/Two Rounds+Jump Off

Bayern Munich players celebrating with the FIFA Club World Cup trophy at Education City Stadium Thursday. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
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Bayern clinch Club World Cup to complete pack of six

It may not count as one of Bayern Munich’s best performances but the Bavarians couldn’t care less as they beat Tigres 1-0 in an insipid final to clinch the FIFA Club World Cup Thursday. Benjamin Pavard’s 51st minute strike at the Education City Stadium was enough for the European champions to win their sixth title in nine months to complete an historic season under Hansi Flick. Bayern – who also hold UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, German Super Cup, Bundesliga and German Cup titles – have become only the second club after Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2009 to win all six domestic and international titles in a season. In a cagey encounter, Bayern created all the opportunities but were far from their brilliant best, while Mexico’s Tigres were disciplined but never threatened to score all night. Bayern had a goal ruled out in the 18th minute after Joshua Kimmich’s brilliant strike was disallowed as Robert Lewandowski was deemed to be in offside position. Bayern initially had Pavard’s goal ruled out for offside on Lewandowski but VAR reversed the decision.    Qatar Olympic Committee President HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani presents the Golden Ball trophy to Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski (left)Thursday.     “We really wanted to win today. The goal that we scored was probably from the first cross that came in. I said to the boys at half-time, come on, put a few more crosses in. They managed it once and that’s how we won, and that’s an amazing thing! It’s a shame that Thomas Muller wasn’t able to be here. We are flying back straight home to Munich, there is no time to celebrate,” said Lewandowski, who took home the Golden Ball trophy. After defender Jerome Boateng left the squad on the match eve due to personal reasons, Bayern were dealt a further blow just hours before the final with Thomas Muller testing positive for coronavirus. With two of them being involved in the semi-final win against Al Ahly, Flick was forced to make three changes with Marc Roca dropping to the bench. Bayern had enough quality in the bench though with Niklas Sule, Leroy Sane and Lucas Hernandez all coming in. Tigres, meanwhile, went into the game unchanged with coach Ricardo Ferretti keeping his faith in the XI which stunned Palmeiras in the semis. For Mexico’s Tigres, who had already made history by becoming the first CONCACAF team to reach the title clash of Club World Cup, their plan was simple: To counterattack Bayern. But Bayern, with world class quality all over the pitch, barely gave them a sniff.   However, Bayern too lacked the finishing touch on the night with Kingsley Coman and Lewandowski spurning decent chances. In the 18th minute though, Kimmich looked like he had given the Germans the lead with his swerving strike finding the bottom corner. But with Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman claiming Lewandowski was in his line of sight in an offside position, referee Esteban Ostojich made a check in the pitch-side monitor with the Uruguayan ruling in Tigres’ favour. Bayern went close again in the 31st minute with Sane’s shot hitting the post, while Guzman also denied Alphonso Davies and Coman as it remained goalless at half-time. Post interval, Bayern were in business straight away with Sane miscuing a header while Gnabry fired just over. Six minutes into the second half though the deadlock was broken after Guzman parried a Lewandowski header but Pavard was unmarked to dispatch the rebound. Pavard’s celebration was short-lived after the linesman had his flag up but upon VAR the goal stood. Tigres attempted to come back into the game but they barely created any chances, with Bayern going close through substitutes Corentin Tolisso, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Douglas Costa. Tigres finally conjured a chance in the 82nd minute but their star striker Andre-Pierre Gignac failed to connect a bicycle-kick as Bayern held to achieve a rare feat. FIFA President Gianni Infantino presents the FIFA Club World Cup trophy to Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer after their win over Tigres UANL in the final at Education City Stadium yesterday.

Robert Lewandowski scored both the Bayern Munich goals in the semi-final against Al Ahly.
Sport
Gritty Tigres face clinical Bayern for glory today

In his indomitable style, Tigres UANL coach Ricardo Ferretti declared yesterday: “Bayern Munich are a winning team, but it does not mean that they are invincible.” The straight-speaking Ferretti may have to eat his words after today’s FIFA Club World Cup final against the European champions at the Education City Stadium, but it’s an approach that has made the Mexican side the first CONCACAF team to reach the title clash of the global showpiece. Tigres have reached the final against all odds so far in Qatar, having stunned Copa Libertadores winners Palmeiras in the semi-finals and Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai in the second-round match. But against a Bayern side, who are arguably the best team in the world at the moment, Ferretti and his men will have to put in a performance of their lives to snatch the title away from the Bavarians. The last time Bayern played in the Club World Cup was in 2013, when they went on to win the title. Since that triumph, not a single European team has been beaten in the competition. While their form, like always, is ominous, the Germans are also chasing a rare record-equalling six titles in a season. They hold the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, German Super Cup, Bundesliga and German Cup titles, and if they can stay true to their heavy favourites tag today against Tigres, then they will become the second club after Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2009 to win all six domestic and international titles. In their 2-0 semi-final victory against Al Ahly, Bayern never hit top gear but still had enough class to outwit the African champions comfortably. Robert Lewandowski scored both the goals on Monday, while having netted 24 times in the Bundesliga this season. “The title at the Club World Cup would be the cherry on top,” the Poland striker told a virtual news conference. “We can write history but it is also a big challenge. When you are that close to a title then you want to win it.” Coach Hansi Flick admitted yesterday that he would field a strong side in the final, even though defender Jerome Boateng will miss the game due to personal reasons. “We are happy that we made it to the final. That was our big goal. We’ll have the best team for that,” the 55-year-old said yesterday. “In every game, and especially in the final, it is important that we start the game with the right attitude from the start. The team has shown what it can do for a long time. We have to be wide awake,” he added. Flick was adamant that his side would not take Tigres lightly despite a huge gulf in quality between the two sides. “They are a very dynamic team, very athletic with a lot of power. We have to counter that well,” he warned. “They have a strong mentality and great attitude, they are a world-class club. I watched their semi-finals and I was very impressed with how they played. They perform well on the wings and in the middle of the field, they also have players who score goals. We have to be in full force from the beginning and take advantage of our scoring opportunities,” the Bayern coach added. Bayern captain Manuel Neuer was wary of the threat of Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac. The Frenchman has scored all three of the Mexican side’s goals in the Club World Cup so far — two of them from the penalty spot. The former Toulouse and Marseille forward has been at Tigres since 2015 and is a legend at the Liga-MX outfit. Goalkeeper Neuer already knows what it is like to face Gignac and remembered a bullet header that the forward scored in a friendly game for France against Germany in 2015. “I have bad memories of Gignac, but he is not the only player in Tigres, the key will be collective performance. We will try to move Gignac away from the penalty area and not give him scoring opportunities,” Neuer said. Ferretti, meanwhile, laid out his plan ahead of the final with the confident Tigres coach saying his team would try to counter-attack Bayern. “We have analysed Bayern’s skills and seen them play many times. We know exactly who we are dealing with. We have to counter and become dangerous,” the Brazilian said. “Bayern have great skills and won great titles. We have also won a lot of titles in recent years. We know what strengths the German team has. We don’t want to underestimate anyone, but we won’t overestimate anyone either. We will go into the game with the necessary respect for Bayern, but we are certainly not afraid of them. We want to give everything to become world champions,” he added. For Tigres, it is their first-ever participation in a FIFA Club World Cup. After three unsuccessful final appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2016, 2017 and 2019, Ferretti’s team finally won the tournament at the fourth time of asking last year. They beat Los Angeles FC 2-1 in the final to qualify for the tournament. Under Ferretti, who is coaching the team for the third time and has been at the helm since 2010, Tigres are enjoying their most successful era. They have won their domestic league seven times, with five of them under Ferretti’s leadership.

Bayern Munich's Polish forward Robert Lewandowski celebrates his second goal
Sport
Lewandowski double puts Bayern Munich in final

Bayern Munich were made to work hard by Al Ahly before the German giants eventually prevailed over their stubborn Egyptian opponents 2-0 to enter the final of the FIFA Club World Cup on Monday. At the Ahmad Bin Ali stadium, Robert Lewandowski struck a goal in each half as the European champions Bayern set-up a title clash against Mexico’s Tigres, which will be played at the same venue on Thursday. On Sunday, Tigres had created history by becoming the first CONCACAF team to reach the final of the global showpiece with a 1-0 win over Palmeiras. If Ahly had harboured any such hopes, the African champions were quickly brought down to earth by an electric start from Bayern. After a long period of dominance for Bayern, Lewandowski opened the scoring in the 17th minute with a fine finish from close range. But Ahly to their credit held their own and stayed in the contest, until a 85th minute header from Lewandowski shattered their dreams. Bayern – who are playing in the Club World Cup for the first time since 2013 when they had also won the title – are chasing a record-equalling sixth title of the season. After winning the Bundesliga, DFB Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and DFL Supercup in 2020, the team are now looking to become only the second European club after Barcelona in 2009 to win six trophies in a year by adding the Club World Cup to their collection. Hence, Hansi Flick started with a full-strength side making three changes from Bayern’s win at Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga on Friday. Jerome Boateng replaced Niklas Sule at centre-back, while Alphonso Davies returned in place of Lucas Hernandez at left-back. Marc Roca was a surprise inclusion to partner Joshua Kimmich in midfield, with Leroy Sane dropping to the bench. Right from the kick-off, Bayer were all over Ahly and should have had gone ahead in the seventh minute but Serge Gnabry’s header sailed over the bar. With Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller lurking in the box, Ahly goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy was right on his toes and had to make couple of crucial saves. But it didn’t take long for the Germans to go ahead with FIFA best player of 2020 Lewandowski putting them in front. After Benjamin Pavard's cross found Kinglsey Coman in the box, the French midfielder picked up Gnabry at the far post. Gnabry instead of shooting laid it to the feet of unmarked Lewandowski, who took a touch and fired it into the net. Thereafter, it looked like it would open the floodgates for Bayern but Ahly settled into the game and had their first chance in the 21st minute. Mohamed Hany put in a fine cross to Taher Mohamed but the winger’s header lacked the power and was comfortably collected by Manuel Neuer. After a brief lull, Bayern cranked up the pressure again and could have had at least two or three goals. But Lewandowski, the tireless Kimmich and Davies all spurned chances as Bayern had only a solitary goal to show despite all the domination. Post-break, Ahly came with much more positive approach with striker Kahraba creating a couple of opportunities, albeit not troubling Neuer much. Bayern, though, continuing to enjoy the possession could not penetrate Ahly’s deep defence. With clock ticking over, there was no late drama as Bayern put the contest beyond Ahly in the 88th minute. Substitute Leroy Sane hooked a cross from the right flank with an unmarked Lewandowski heading home the easiest of the chances.  

Tigres UANL's Andre Pierre Gignac scores their first goal from the penalty spot during the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final football match at the Education City Stadium. PICTUES: Agencies and Noushad Thekkayil
Sport
Tigres beat Palmeiras to reach Club World Cup final

Tigres created history by becoming the first Concacaf team to reach the final of the FIFA Club World Cup after Andre-Pierre Gignac’s second-half penalty secured the Mexican side a 1-0 win over Palmeiras Sunday. Palmeiras went into the contest at the Education City Stadium as favourites, but the South American champions were clearly outsmarted by Tigres in an entertaining match. In the final to be played on Thursday, Ricardo Ferretti’s side will take on the winner of Monday’s second semi-final between Bayern Munich and Al Ahly.   Tigres' players celebrate their win Palmeiras, who had won the Copa Libertadores title just a week ago, were on the backfoot right from the start as Tigres went close in the third minute. Luis Rodriguez whipped in a cross from the right and Carlos Gonzalez struck a point-blank header but Palmeiras’ goalkeeper Weverton dived to his right to make a spectacular save.   . On the eve of the match, the South Americans had spoken about the threat of Tigres’ striker Gignac and the Frenchman justified the hype around him. Gignac had scored two goals on Thursday in Tigres’ 2-1 win over Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai in their tournament opener. The 35-year-old has been a huge success at the Liga-MX outfit, scoring 144 goals in 244 games since joining on a free transfer in 2015. On Sunday, the former Marseille and French forward was once again a livewire and looked dangerous every time Tigres went on attack. In the space of four minutes, Gignac drew two terrific saves from Weverton. In the 32nd minute, Palmeiras goalkeeper tipped Gignac’s curling, goal-bound right-foot shot. Weverton once again kept his team in the game after saving a Gignac header. Palmeiras lost control of the midfield in the last five minutes of first half with Ze Rafael in particular having a poor match, but the Brazilians managed to go into the break without conceding. Tigres continued to press Palmeiras in the second half and were awarded a penalty eight minutes after the restart. Luan Garcia brought down a charging Gonzalez in the box with the Paraguayan striker goal-bound. Gignac stepped in to take a penalty and hit a powerful shot into the bottom-left corner even though it brushed Weverton’s gloves. Palmeiras made a double substitution in the second half bringing in Felipe Melo and Patrick de Paula in the 56th minute. A few seconds later the South Americans thought they had equalized when Rony had the ball in the net but the goal was ruled off-side. Palmeiras had struck extremely late in the Copa Libertadores final against Santos to earn their place at the global showpiece, and pressed for an equaliser as the clock ticked down. And they nearly had one in the 76th minute. After a cross from Willian from the right was flicked by Luiz Adriano, the ball deflected off a Tigres defender which missed the target by less than a meter. Palmeiras had one final chance in the last minute of stoppage time. Matias Vina tried a low shot but the deflected ball went past the post resulting in a corner as the Tigres held on to celebrate a famous victory.

Bayern Munich stars Robert Lewandowski (left) and Joshua Kimmich train in Doha yesterday. (Bayern Munich)
Sport
Favourites Bayern go up against spirited Ahly

With a record-equalling sixth title in their sight, Bayern Munich are no short of motivation as they face African giants Al Ahly in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium today. In the last seven years of the competition featuring continental club champions, a European club has gone on to win the title and it more or less looks the same this time, barring a shock. For, the European champions Bayern are arguably the best football team in the world right now, with a mix of exciting youngsters and experienced stars. Since Hansi Flick took charge of the Bavarians in November 2019 replacing Niko Kovac, they have elevated to a different level to the rest. Under Flick, Bayern have won five titles – Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and DFB-DFL Super Cup, Champions League and UEFA Super Cup – this season, and will be looking to emulate Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, who achieved a rare feat of winning maximum six titles in 2009. Bayern are on a five-match winning streak, with their latest victory in the Bundesliga at Hertha Berlin on Friday, giving them a seven-point advantage at the top. The only setback Bayern have had prior to their match against Al Ahly is a nine-hour flight delay to Doha. The club’s players had to spend the night in the plane after Berlin airport refused to give their plane clearance for takeoff at midnight due to a night-time flight ban. Finally when they left Berlin, they had to complete their trip to Qatari capital via Munich.  The Germans had only one day of training yesterday, but Flick believes his players are in good shape to take on Al Ahly. “Our aim is to win this competition. We know that it’s considered as something of a burden, but we are motivated, and we want to cap off an outstanding year with a sixth title. We have a match every three days, so we’re just taking it one step at a time in training,” he said yesterday.  Despite the huge gulf in class between the two sides, Flick said Ahly would be tricky opponents. “Ahly is a big team and they want to put on a spirited display, as they always change their tactics in the frontline, making use of their two wingers. Ahly have a very brilliant coach, I just met him for a short while, and he is working to develop his team, so I like his way of thinking,” Flick said. Bayern’s defensive midfielder Joshua Kimmich admitted his side were heavy favourites. “I am happy that we are participating in the FIFA Club World Cup along with having a chance to win the tournament’s title. We are favourites to win the game,” he said. “We know that Ahly is a tough opponent, they are the Bayern Munich of Egypt, but the UEFA Champions League winners are the teams most likely to claim the title,” he added. Ahly, who defeated hosts Al Duhail 1-0 on Thursday, are on a 32-match unbeaten streak in all competitions. But the Egyptians will know that they are up against a mighty opponent. The Red Devils have kept nine clean sheets in 11 games, a record which ensures that Bayern cannot afford to be complacent against a well-drilled opposition. Pitso Mosimane’s side dominated against Duhail in the first half, but their performance was below-par in the second half. Mosimane said Al Ahly deserved to play against Bayern, but was against any excessive hype towards the anticipated match. “Sure, it’s an important and historical game, but I don’t think it will be the most important game in Ahly’s history,” the South African said yesterday. “Ahly deserve to reach the World Cup semi-final after beating Al Duhail, and also because we are the African Champions. You should enjoy your work, and we play football for success and amusement, and we are fully aware of how the fans are waiting for this big match,” he added.

Mexicou2019s Tigres UANL pictured during a training session in Doha yesterday.
Sport
Palmeiras set for thriller vs ‘quality’ Tigres

Palmeiras go into their FIFA Club World Cup semi-final against Tigres as favourites, but the Brazilians will be wary of their Mexican opponents as much as their own unpredictable form. It’s been just over a week since Palmeiras were crowned the Copa Libertadores champions after an extra-time winner by Breno Lopes helped them beat Sao Paulo state rivals Santos in the final at the Maracana. While Palmeiras were still savouring their first South American title in 21 years, they were put on a plane to Qatar to take part in the Club World Cup. Abel Ferreira’s men will be aiming to become just the fourth non-European Club to win the Club World Cup, a feat achieved by three Brazilian compatriots – Corinthians in 2000 and 2012, Sao Paulo in 2005 and Internacional in 2006. But the lack of consistency this season and fatigue could scupper their plans in Qatar. Palmeiras, Brazil’s most successful club with 10 national titles, are struggling in sixth place in the Brazilian top flight. They have not won any of their last four league matches, collecting just two points in the process, which should give Tigres a glimmer of hope. Ahead of today’s game at the Education City stadium, Palmeiras coach Ferreira said the team was confident of reaching the final but warned his players they were up against a ‘quality side’. “Tigres have played in the three finals of CONCACAF in the last five years and are a team which has been invested heavily. In addition they have a collective, purposeful way of playing,” said Ferreira yesterday. “But we are prepared to face them. They are a quality opponent, but nothing changes our ambition. If we want to be the best, we have to face the best teams. It is a team that will challenge us, it will force us to be at our best,” he added. With the threat of Tigres’ striker Andre-Pierre Gignac looming on them, Ferreira was hoping that his side can bring their strong defensive ability into the game. Gignac scored two goals on Thursday, which helped the Mexicans beat Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai in their tournament opener.   The 35-year-old Frenchman has been a huge success at the Liga-MX outfit, scoring 144 goals in 244 games since joining on a free transfer in 2015. “More than being concerned about Gignac, we have to worry about Tigres as a team. We will impose our way of defending and attacking against them. We have to defend well because our opponent has a lot of quality and tremendous potential with great players,” he said. Palmeiras do have their own stars with former Shakhtar Donetsk star Luiz Adriano, versatile midfielder Gabriel Menino and 18-year-old attacker Gabriel Veron in their line-up. Meanwhile, Tigres are capable of causing an upset on their day. The Mexicans have lost just one of their last nine matches in all competitions, even though they weren’t at their best against Ulsan. Tigres qualified for the Club World Cup after ending a long wait for an elusive CONCACAF Champions League crown with a dramatic victory over Los Angeles FC in the final. After finishing runners-up in three of the past four editions, Tigres finally got their hands on the trophy as former Marseille and France striker Gignac hit a late winner in Orlando. Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti was excited at the prospect of playing against Palmeiras and was dreaming of a place in the final. “Just as the fans are excited, so are we and we want to do well. The message is the same: we will try to do our best,” Brazilian-born Mexican said yesterday. “We are aware of Palmeiras’ quality. I don’t think there is anything that we don’t know about them. But we treat all the teams equally, be it Brazilian, Chinese, Korean, German. We do not value or belittle anyone.”

Al Ahlyu2019s midfielder Hussein Elshahat (C) gestures in celebration after scoring against Al Duhail of Qatar in the FIFA Club World Cup at the Education City Stadium yesterday. PICTURE: Shemeer Rashid
Sport
Al Ahly edge out Duhail to set up Bayern last-4 clash

Al Duhail, making their FIFA Club World Cup debut, had vowed to put up a fight against African champions Al Ahly, and the Qatari side delivered on their promise. But the home side’s best effort wasn’t enough as they slumped to a 0-1 loss to the Egyptians at the Education City Stadium yesterday. Hussein Elshahat’s 30th-minute strike proved to be the difference between the two sides, as Al Ahly secured a semi-final date with European powerhouse Bayern Munich on Monday. For Duhail and coach Sabri Lamouchi, it was a case of what could have been as they wasted at least three scoring chances in the second half. Now, the reigning QNB Stars League champions will have to do with a consolation fifth-place playoff against Ulsan Hyundai, who had earlier lost to Mexican side Tigres UANL. Lamouchi reverted to a 4-3-3 defensive formation and kept Almoez Ali on the bench, instead opting to start with new recruit Michael Olunga. The Frenchman also surprisingly left out the experienced Luiz Martin and Assem Madibo. Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane kept his usual 4-2-3-1 formation, giving Congo striker Walter Bwalya a place in the starting XI instead of Mohamed Sherif or Marwan Mohsen. And it proved to be an inspirational choice from the South African as Bwalya played a key role in Ahly’s goal. The Cairo-based outfit started brightly and dominated possession but couldn’t carve out a clear-cut opening until Bassam al-Rawi gifted them one. The Duhail centre-back lost the ball to an alert Bwalya, who set it up for Elshahat to fire a low shot into the bottom corner from just outside the penalty area. Just minutes later, Bwalya had the ball in the net but the goal was ruled out after a VAR review with the Ahly forward marginally offside. The visitors continued to press for the second goal but Duhail held on to go into the break with just a one-goal deficit. After the break, Lamouchi made a tactical switch bringing in Almoez Ali and Mohamed Muntari for Olunga and al-Rawi. The changes seemed to work for Duhail as they looked more threatening than their opponents.   With the Brazilian duo Edmilson and Dudu forming a devastating front line with Almoez, Duhail were always in the game. Edmilson, in particular, was livewire in the second half, but the 26-year-old was poor with his final pass. In the 56th minute, Edmilson dispossessed Mohamed Hany but his shot was blocked by Aliou Dieng. With Duhail going out all in attack, goalkeeper Mohamed Elshenawy came to Ahly’s rescue on more than one occasion. The African champions’ captain first deflected a powerful shot from Muntari into the corner before denying Mohamed Moussa and Dudu in quick succession. At the other end, Ahly themselves had a chance to double the lead but Dieng shot inches wide of the post. With time running out, Duhail were desperate for the equaliser and they nearly had one in the 79th minute when Muntari headed the ball towards the goal but Elshenawy pulled out a stunning save. Four minutes later, Muntari was once again in the thick of the action but the Qatari midfielder’s header off a corner went over the bar. That was the last real chance Duhail could conjure, as Al Ahly held on. Duhail’s attacking approach in the second half was evident as they had a whopping 15 attempts with seven shots on target. Al Ahly attempted just seven shots at goal with one shot on target but that was enough for them to set-up a mouthwatering semi-final against Bayern at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday.

His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani applauds as Al Sadd captain Hassan al-Haydos lifts the Amir Cup trophy at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
Sport
Sadd hold off Arabi to lift Amir Cup for 17th time

Al Sadd withstood an inspired performance by Al Arabi to win the Amir Cup for a record 17th time with a 2-1 win at the brand new Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan yesterday. Watched by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Al Sadd were helped by two fortuitous goals from Baghdad Bounedjah, while Al Arabi found the net through Aron Gunnarsson. At Qatar’s latest FIFA World Cup venue, which was  named Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium after a short and elegant ceremony on Qatar’s National Day, the two teams put on an excellent display worthy of the special occasion. In the end though, the Al Arabi players and fans were disappointed after their 27-year-old long drought for the title continued. The triumph was Al Sadd’s 73rd title across all tournaments in their glorious history, while it was the fourth Qatar domestic title for their head coach Xavi Hernandez, who has also led them to the Sheikh Jassim Cup, the Qatar Cup and the Ooredoo Cup last year. With yesterday’s victory, Sadd also banished the memory of their loss to arch rival Al Duhail in the last year’s Amir Cup final at the Al Janoub Stadium. “We are very happy to win the Amir Cup. The atmosphere here was amazing and I want to thank Qatar for this great show,” Xavi said. “It was a difficult match. Al Arabi was so different, not like the Ooredoo Cup final. I also want to congratulate Al Arabi for their strong performance. We are very happy and we want to win more trophies and the Amir Cups. I am very happy to be the part of this strong side,” he added. The former Barcelona star said he had told his players that it was never going to be easy playing a Cup final and he was proved right. “Yes, I want to congratulate the country on the National Day. We are happy that we won. It is a well-deserving win. I have to congratulate Al Arabi for a good fight and for reaching the final. I told players before the final that it is never easy to win big matches. I want to congratulate the supporters of this big club,” he said “Mission is complete, yes. We want to compete in every big competition like the AFC Champions League. I think we are the biggest club (in Qatar) and let’s see what happens in the AFC Champions League (next year). We must try to do better than last time. We have a big squad and I am happy to be part of this successful side,” he added. Al Sadd were undoubtedly the overwhelming favourites coming into the final, thanks to their recent dominance and also due to Arabi’s dismal form this season. While Al Sadd enjoy the top spot in the league, Al Arabi are one rung above the bottom in the 12-team championship. But on the night, the Al Arabi players showed grit and determination, which they have seldom exhibited in the league matches. They didn’t, however, start on a bright note, conceding a goal as early as the third minute. With the 50 percent capacity crowd still taking in the sights of the magnificent stadium, Al Sadd went ahead thanks to some luck. After Sebastian Soria lost the ball to Woo Young Jung in the midfield, Al Sadd captain Hassan al-Haydos cut the ball back to Akram Afif, who backheeled it into an empty box. The onrushing Santi Cazorla took a shot, which deflected off Bounedjah as Al Arabi goalkeeper Mahmoud Abunada watched helplessly. It was the perfect start for Al Sadd as Al Arabi coach Heimir Hallgrimsson had a worried look on his face in the dugout. But his players didn’t allow their shoulders to droop. With Cazorla as the heartbeat of Al Sadd’s midfield, they enjoyed most of the possession but Al Arabi pressed hard and they found the equaliser in the 23rd minute. After an unmarked header from Soria off a corner hit the post, there was a huge scramble for the ball in the box. Ayoub Azzi took aim at the goal, but Jung put his body on the line to block it before Gunnarsson bundled it in. The linesman had his flag up for offside, but the VAR correctly awarded the goal after Jung had clearly played Arabi players in. With Cazorla dictating al Sadd’s play, the league leaders were always within a chance to restore the lead. The former Arsenal and Villarreal midfielder himself went all in with a right-footed strike in the 30th minute, but the ball just evaded the post. Six minutes later, Al Arabi goalkeeper Abunada kept his team in the game with a quick reflex save to deny Boundejah’s header. With al Sadd piling on the pressure relentlessly, Al Arabi finally cracked in the 44th minute. Just like Al Sadd’s first goal, it was another deflection from Bounedjah that cost al Arabi dearly. After Akram Afif played the ball to Guilherme just outside the penalty area, the Brazilian’s shot ricocheted off Bounedjah and into the net. In the second half, it wasn’t until 56th minute that a goal was in sight as Al Sadd substitute Nam Tae-hee’s shot brushed off the top of the crossbar. al Sadd had another chance to double in the lead in the 78th minute, but Bounedjah could not connect his header off a perfect cross from Cazorla. With 10 minutes to go, Arabi dug in and gave their everything as Hallgrimsson introduced Mohammed Salah El Neel and Abdulaziz al-Ansari. They nearly had an equaliser in the 84th minute but Soria’s header off a set piece went wide off the post. Al Arabi made a couple of more attacks but Sadd were able to hold on.

His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani presents the Amir Cup trophy to Al Sadd captain Hassan al-Haydos after Al Sadd beat Al Arabi in the final at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan on Friday
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Al Sadd hold off Al Arabi to lift Amir Cup for 17th time

Al Sadd withstood an inspired performance by Al Arabi to win the Amir Cup for a record 17th time with a 2-1 win at the brand new Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan on Friday. Watched by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Al Sadd were helped by two fortuitous goals from Baghdad Bounedjah, while Al Arabi found the net through Aron Gunnarsson. At Qatar's latest FIFA World Cup venue, which was named Ahmed bin Ali Stadium after a short and elegant ceremony on Qatar’s National Day, the two teams put on an excellent display worthy of the special occasion. In the end though, the Al Arabi players and fans were disaapointed after their 27-year-old long drought for the title continued. The triumph was Al Sadd’s 73rd title across all tournaments in their glorious history, while it was the fourth Qatar domestic title for their head coach Xavi Hernandez, who has also led them to the Sheikh Jassim Cup, the Qatar Cup and the Ooredoo Cup last year. “We are very happy to win the Amir Cup. The atmosphere here was amazing and I want to thank Qatar for this great show,” Xavi said. “It was a difficult match. Al Arabi was so different, not like the Ooredoo Cup final. I also want to congratulate Al Arabi for their strong performance. We are very happy and we want to win more trophies and the Amir Cups. I am very happy to be the part of this strong side,” he added. The former Barcelona star said he had told his players that it was never going to be easy playing a Cup final and he was proved right. “Yes, I want to congratulate the country on the National Day. We are happy that we won. It is a well-deserving win. I have to congratulate Al Arabi for a good fight and for reaching the final. I told players before the final that it is never easy to win big matches. I want to congratulate the supporters of this big club,” he said “Mission is complete, yes. We want to compete in every big competition like the AFC Champions League. I think we are the biggest club (in Qatar) and let's see what happens in the AFC Champions League (next year). We must try to do better than last time. We have a big squad and I am happy to be part of this successful side,” he added. Al Sadd were undoubtedly the overwhelming favourites coming into the final, thanks to their recent dominance and also due to Arabi’s dismal form this season. While al Sadd enjoy the top spot in the league, Arabi are one rung above the bottom in the 12-team championship. But on the night, the Al Arabi players showed grit and determination, which they have seldom exhibited in the league matches. They didn’t, however, start on a bright night, conceding a goal as early as the third minute. With the 50 percent capacity crowd still taking in the sights of the magnificent stadium, Al Sadd went ahead thanks to some luck. After Sebastian Soria lost the ball to Woo Young Jung in the midfield, Al Sadd captain Hassan al-Haydos cut the ball back to Akram Afif, who backheeled it into an empty box. The onrushing Santi Cazorla took a shot, which deflected off Bounedjah as Al Arabi goalkeeper Mahmoud Abunada watched helplessly. It was the perfect start for Al Sadd and Al Arabi coach Heimir Hallgrimsson had a worried look on his face in the dugout. But his players didn’t allow their shoulders to droop. With Cazorla as the heartbeat of Al Sadd’s midfield, they enjoyed most of the possession but al Arabi pressed hard and they found the equaliser in the 23rd minute. After an unmarked header from Soria off a corner hit the post, there was a huge scramble for the ball in the box. Ayoub Azzi took aim at the goal, but Jung put his body on the line to block it before Gunnarsson bundled it in. The linesman had his flag up for offside, but the VAR correctly awarded the goal after Jung had clearly played Arabi players in. With Cazorla dictating al Sadd’s play, the league leaders were always within a chance to restore the lead. The former Arsenal and Villarreal midfielder himself went all in with a right-footed strike in the 30th minute, but the ball just evaded the post. Six minutes later, Al Arabi goalkeeper Abunada kept his team in the game with a quick reflex save to deny Boundejah’s header. With al Sadd piling on the pressure relentlessly, Al Arabi finally cracked in the 44th minute. Just like Al Sadd’s first goal, it was another deflection from Bounedjah that cost al Arabi dearly. After Akram Afif played the ball to Guilherme just outside the penalty area, the Brazilian’s shot ricocheted off Bounedjah and into the net. In the second half, it wasn’t until 56th minute that a goal was in sight as Al Sadd substitute Nam Tae-hee’s shot brushed off the top of the crossbar. al Sadd had another chance to double in the lead in the 78th minute, but Bounedjah could not connect his header off a perfect cross from Cazorla. With 10 minutes to go, Arabi dug in and gave their everything as Hallgrimsson introduced Mohammed Salah El Neel and Abdulaziz al-Ansari. They nearly had an equaliser in the 84th minute but Soria’s header off a set piece went wide off the post. Al Arabi made a couple of more attacks but Sadd were able to hold on.

Al Sadd players train at the Al Rayyan Venue yesterday on the eve of their Amir Cup final against Al Arabi.
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Xavi wary of motivated Al Arabi in Amir Cup final

Al Arabi will hope to spring a surprise and put an end to their 27-year-old agony, when they take on overwhelming favourites Al Sadd in the prestigious Amir Cup final today. With the magnificent Al Rayyan Venue, which will be inaugurated by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as the backdrop for the title clash, there will be no shortage of motivation for both the teams. But going by their recent form and Al Sadd’s dominance of them, Al Arabi players need to put in a performance of their lives today to lay their hands on the trophy. A quick look at their recent results doesn’t inspire much though. While Al Sadd are swatting their opponents at will and are leading the league table, Al Arabi are languishing one rung above the bottom. They are a massive 19 points behind unbeaten Al Sadd, with just one victory to show in the nine matches. In their recent meetings with Al Sadd, they lost 0-4 in the Ooredoo Cup final in October, while also being routed 1-4 in the league last month. Al Arabi coach Heimir Hallgrimsson called on his players to go into ‘a game of emotions’ with ‘a belief of winning’ but claimed the preparations have been normal. “We know that the match is of very great importance more than any other match. It is a game of emotions. We have tried to make our preparations normal for this final and not to put the players under pressure. The experience will be different for us to play a final match as the players are not used to it,” the Icelander said. “We must go to the final with a belief of winning. The issue is not just football related, but it’s also psychological and mental aspects. I think that we must play to win. We believe in our ability to win and we have a plan for it and, hopefully it will succeed,” he added. Al Arabi have been hard done by injuries to key players in recent times, but ahead of the final Hallgrimsson was pleased that everyone was fit barring Khalifa al-Maliki, with forwards Mehdi Torabi and Mehrdad Mohammadi the key to his plans. “For the first time this season, we have nearly all players available for the match except for the injured Khalifa al-Maliki. This gives us a chance to give our best performance and this is what makes us optimistic more than ever. In the matches we played against Al Sadd, they had more possession and high winning percentage. In any case there are always opportunities in football. You cannot predict who will win,” Hallgrimsson said. “Al Arabi’s history is great, but we did not reach the final for many years. We will not look at the past, the past is over. I am happy to reach the final but the job is not over and we have to give our best in it. The match is important and we are proud of being among the first teams to play at Al Rayyan Stadium. But, when the referee blows the start whistle, the stadium will be like any other, and we have to present our best in order to win,” he added. Meanwhile, Al Sadd will be bidding for a record 17th Amir Cup title. The Wolves beat Al Duhail in the semi-finals, gaining sweet revenge over their arch-rivals after having lost to them in last year’s final at the Al Janoub Stadium. That match was Xavi Hernandez’s final game in an Al Sadd jersey in Qatar before he took over the mantle of head coach. The Spanish midfield great will be keen to forget that loss and he certainly has the players at his disposal to help him do so. While the defence at times could be leaky for Al Sadd, they do have strong forward line in Akram Afif and Baghdad Bounedjah, with the Spaniard Santi Cazorla excelling the playmaker role. Despite the heavy favourites tag on his side though, Xavi said he was wary of an Al Arabi side, who could be motivated playing on a special occasion. “We are in great form and I expect my team to perform well. Everyone thinks that we are the favourites but this is not true. It’ll be a difficult game, a complicated game tomorrow. A final can be very different, filled with tension,” he said. “It’s a historic game for them (Al Arabi), and also for us. For many years, they have not won a title and they will have that extra motivation to do well in the final. So if anyone thinks that Al Sadd will win the title easily, they don’t understand football. They’ll be ready to find and put all hurdles in our path,” Xavi added. The former midfielder felt the huge difference of class in the league standings will have little bearing on today’s match. “We are proud to be here and compete, and we will see if we are able to continue to play like that. We are excited to win for the sake of the fans.  It will be a different match to the league. “The positions in the league will not mean anything tomorrow. Tomorrow, it’ll be like a war. The extra motivation can help the players. Everyone might think we’re favourites but we’ve to show it on the pitch. I am happy that we’re in a good moment, playing very good football but we’ve to show that level tomorrow,” Xavi said. With so many quality players in the squad, Xavi said it will be hard to pick a playing eleven. “You can only choose eleven players and it’s really difficult to pick the team as everybody is training well and playing well. I will feel bad for the players who miss out tomorrow because everyone deserves to play this match,” he said. On playing at the Al Rayyan Venue, which will host seven matches during Qatar 2022 World Cup up to the round of 16 stage, Xavi said: “Qatar is doing a good job in order to host the 2022 World Cup. It’s an amazing stadium and we’re looking forward to playing here. The presence of fans shows that Qatar has done well to control the Covid situation. It’s an additional motivation for us to play in front of the fans.”

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Qatar’s track record of hosting top sports events a big advantage, says Doha 2030 CEO

The 2006 Doha Asian Games laid a solid foundation for Qatar to build a legacy and that process will continue if the country wins the bid to host the 2030 Asian Games, said  Jassim Rashid al-Buenain, the Qatar Olympic Committee’s Secretary-General and CEO of the Doha 2030 Bid Committee. Doha is competing with Riyadh to host the continental games in little over 10 years’ time. The Olympic Council of Asia’s (OCA) Evaluation Committee spent the last three days in Doha as they assessed the city’s infrastructure and capability to host the 2030 Asian Games. And they have been impressed by what they have seen, said Andrey Kryukov, the head of the OCA’s Evaluation Committee. Kryukov will now submit a report to OCA, which will decide the host at its General Assembly in Oman, Muscat on December 16. Al-Buenain was confident that Doha would win the bid and also emphasised Qatar’s expertise in hosting major international events. “Our bid is more than just a Qatari priority, it is to show how the Doha 2030 could shape the immediate and long term priorities for Qatar and Asian countries,” he said at a press conference at the Sheraton Doha hotel. “Actually, the 2030 bid is a gateway to certainty of excellence. We have the people, we have the expertise, we have the experiences and most importantly we have the passion. When it comes to the venues, they are already there. They have been tested in the Asian and international competitions. Athletes can be assured of very top conditions to train and compete.” Doha 2030 CEO added, Al-Buenain spoke elaborately about the positive impact of 2006 Asian Games and said Doha 2030 will allow the country to focus on building a legacy. “We succeeded in transferring the legacy of Asian Games in 2006 to many sectors in Doha. I believe that we are aiming to serve the entire continent by hosting the 2030 Asian Games. We are looking forward to putting all our effort to deliver amazing games,” he explained. “Doha 2030 is already a gateway to a legacy now, not in 10 years. That means, if we are honoured of hosting of the Asian Games, the programme will start in 2021 and we will call it 21 Project Legacy. Altogether, it means that Doha 2030 is a gateway to a bright future for sports in Asia,” the official added. Qatar’s track record of hosting major championships is also a key advantage, Al-Buenain felt. “Qatar has the best experience in hosting major international sports events, single and multi-sport competitions. Therefore, when it comes to venues they are ready, infrastructure is there and more importantly we have the required know-how and the people who can manage how to organise a multi-sport event.   “With no infrastructure investment required and no new venues needed to be built, that could allow us to focus to serve the Asian NOCs in order to host amazing Games in the future,” he said. Sheikha Asma al-Thani, Director of Marketing and Communication at Doha 2030, said Qatar has submitted a ‘strong bid’ and was hopeful of winning the right to host the Asian Games. “Doha has a very strong bid for delivery of the games. We have focussed on Doha as a gateway to an amazing Games. We will offer all our expertise to make sure to give very good hospitality. We hope that we can win the bid and host the Asian Games again,” she said. Sheikha Asma said the 2030 legacy programme will  focus on the progress of young athletes. “After the success of the 2006 Doha Asian Games, Qatar invested a lot in its infrastructure, athletes and students. Since almost 90 percent of our venues are complete, we won’t have to invest much in new ones.  “Instead, we’ll channel it to develop Asia’s youth athletes so that they can be at their best in 2030 to showcase their talent for their country and continent. Our legacy programme has several aspects to it. Should we win the 2030 Asian Games, we’ll announce several legacy programmes and projects in the coming days. We’re confident of our initiatives,” she said.

The expression on Almoez Aliu2019s face says it all as Al Saddu2019s Guilherme Santos Torres  (C) celebrates his goal with Rodrigo Tabata during the Amir Cup semi-final yesterday.  PICTURES:  Noushad Thekkayil
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Al Sadd set up title clash with Al Arabi

Al Sadd came back from a goal down to outplay Al Duhail 4-1 and reach their 26th Amir Cup final at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium yesterday. It was sweet revenge for Al Sadd, who had lost to Al Duhail by a similar margin in the final of the prestigious championship last year. That defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Xavi Hernandez, who was playing his final game in an Al Sadd jersey in Qatar at the inauguration of Al Janoub Stadium. But since then Xavi in his capacity as coach has ensured that Al Sadd won all their four matches against Al Duhail. In the final, Al Sadd take on Al Arabi, who beat Al Markhiya on Friday. It was a game of two halves yesterday with Al Duhail dominating the first, only to be outplayed by Al Sadd in the second. Edmilson had put Al Duhail ahead in the 10th minute after an error from Al Sadd goalkeeper Meshaal Barshem. Al Duhail, after a disciplined defensive show in the first half, completely lost the plot in the second. After Ramin Rezaeian’s goal was ruled out for handball, Boualem Khouki equalised for Al Sadd with a wonderful header in the 58th minute.  Guilherme Santos Torres doubled the advantage in the 64th minute, while substitute Baghdad Boundejah made it 3-0 in the 77th minute. Rodrigo Tabata then completed Al Duhail’s misery in the 88th minute with a strike from the half-line after goalkeeper Khalifa Abubakar was way off the goalpost. “We feel very happy after this deserved victory,” said Xavi, who was involved in a heated exchange with Al Duhail coach Sabri Lamouchi on the touchline. “We were better than Duhail since the beginning of the match. We conceded an early goal, but we kept pressing ahead and enjoyed greater possession. We controlled the match throughout. I am delighted that we have beaten Duhail for the fourth time in a row,” the Al Sadd coach added Lamouchi said Al Sadd were superior on the night. “We have a lot to work on and improve. Al Sadd were clearly the better team. They have better individual players and they were good physically too,” he said. While Xavi was upbeat after the match, he was furious with his defensive line as they came under Al Duhail attack. The hosts could have had two goals inside eight minutes, with Rezaeian’s free-kick flying just wide off the post, while Sultan al-Brake’s shot hit the side netting. Al Sadd’s tactic of playing from the back was fraught with danger and Meshaal’s wrong pass allowed Duhail an opening. The Sadd goalkeeper’s intended pass to Woo-young Jung was quickly intercepted by Mohamed Muntari, who then passed it on to Edmilson. The midfielder’s first shot was blocked by Meshaal but the rebound was quickly latched on to by Edmilson, who celebrated with a gesture towards the dugout after Lamouchi had left him out in the last couple of matches. Al Sadd did manage to create a couple of chances, but Lamouchi had set up his defenders perfectly, which did not allow any space for Akram Afif. Xavi introduced Bounedjah, who had recovered from an injury, in the 51st minute to replace Yousuf Abdurisag but it was the drama at the Al Duhail end which proved the turning point. The hosts thought they had gone 2-0 up in the 54th minute when Rezaeian found the net after a pass from Edmilson. But the goal was overruled after a VAR review, which revealed that the ball had touched Edmilson’s hand from a rebound. Al Sadd made the most of that lucky break. In the 58th minute, defender Khoukhi made it 1-1, rising highest to head home an Afif cross. Six minutes later, Afif took advantage of clumsy clearance from al-Brake, and passed to Torres who side-footed the ball beyond the onrushing Abubakar. With the lead having slipped away, Lamouchi substituted Edmilson and Muntari – two of his potent attacking threats and that played into Al Sadd’s hand.  Bounedjah, playing as a lone striker upfront, netted Al Sadd’s third goal in the 77th minute, dribbling into the box and scoring with a low shot that went past two Al Duhail defenders and their keeper.  In the 88th minute, substitute Rodrigo Tabata made it 4-1 with a shot from near the halfway line, with Abubakar having advanced outside the penalty box. Duhail would end the game with nine men after Dudu and Ali Afif were sent off in stoppage time.

Al Arabiu2019s Abdulaziz al-Ansari (L) celebrates his goal with Fahad Ali during their Amir Cup semi-final against Al Markhiya at the Abdulla bin Khalifa Stadium yesterday. At right: Aron Gunnarsson shows his joy after scoring Al Arabiu2019s first goal. PICTURE: Shemeer Rashid
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Al Arabi see off Markhiya to reach final of Amir Cup

Al Arabi ended a 26-year wait to reach the final of the Amir Cup with a convincing 2-0 win over Al Markhiya at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium yesterday. After several years of frustration, Al Arabi fans will be dreaming of a ninth Amir Cup title, though holders Al Duhail or Al Sadd wait for them in the final. Goals from Aron Gunnarsson (17th minute) and Abdulaziz al-Ansari (59th) were enough for Al Arabi to see off Markhiya, ending the second division team’s dream run in the prestigious championship. On the eve of the game, the threat of another Markhiya upset was looming for Arabi, but coach Heimir Hallgrimson was able to call upon Marc Muniesa, Hamdi Harbaoui and Mehdi Torabi, while Sebastian Soria made a second half appearance. However, Torabi’s night ended early as the winger was substituted after getting injured in the 22nd minute. That was the only setback Hallgrimson suffered as Al Arabi dominated the game, and should have scored more if not for some poor finishing. “We deserved the victory,” said a delighted Hallgrimson later. “I want to congratulate Al Markhiya for their strong performance and showing great spirit. I am satisfied with the overall performance of my team, although we could have scored more goals,” the Icelander added. Hallgrimson said it was a ‘step in the right path’ and said Al Arabi need to do more to reach the heights of past glory. “We are proud to make a return to the Amir Cup final. It is a step in the right path for us. We are doing a good job but we still need to work hard as it is still a long way to go for us. I hope this achievement is the beginning of something exciting and we can reach the levels of Al Sadd and Al Duhail.”  Markhiya goalkeeper Basel Samih was a busy man on the night and he made his first save in the eighth minute, diving to his right to keep out Hamdi Amdulmaged. Samih though couldn’t keep out Iceland midfielder Gunnarsson’s strike. After Torabi’s free kick was headed away by Aldouni Mohamad it fell perfectly on to Gunnarsson, who smashed it onto the net after a deflection of Markhiya defender Anas Bani Yaseen. Markhiya coach Omar Naji’s plan for his players to cross the ball into the box nearly worked. Qatar U-23 player Mohamed al-Qahtani played in fine cross from right, but Jameel al-Yahmadi failed to make a connection. Arabi then went close to doubling the lead as Mehrad Keshrazi dribbled past three defenders only to hit a weak shot into the hands of Samih.  Markhiya were a improved side in the second half but Arabi still dictated the play. Gunnarsson once again played a key role in Arabi’s goal in the 59th minute. The Iceland captain’s precise pass found al-Ansari, who then played a one-two with Harbaoui, before smashing into the top right corner. Al Arabi could have scored more but their energy level dropped significantly in the last 15 minutes even as Markhiya failed to take any advantage.  Markhiya coach Omar Najhi admitted Al Arabi deserved to win but was not happy with a contentious penalty claim, which was not awarded to them by the referee. “I’m happy that we managed to reach this far in the tournament and hope to take this confidence to the league,” Najhi said.