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 Rizwan Rehmat
Rizwan Rehmat
Experienced sports journalist Rizwan Rehmat has covered events in more than 25 countries across 5 continents. Considered a Qatar sports historian by his peers, he has covered the 2006 Asian Games and world championships staged by Doha in athletics, gymnastics, boxing and cycling among scores of other sports events held in Qatar.
Qatar’s Almoez Ali and coach Felix Sanchez (left) during the press conference at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha yesterday. (Reuters)
Qatar to play for pride as 2022 World Cup journey ends today

Asian champions Qatar will be playing for pride when they take on Netherlands in their last Group A match on day nine of the FIFA World Cup 2022.In the first two matches last week, Qatar lost to Ecuador and Senegal. Qatar, the side that won the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE under coach Felix Sanchez, scored only one goal in the two matches.With nothing at stake but pride, coach Sanchez yesterday said they will be playing to make their fans ‘proud’ at Al Bayt Stadium today.“Our objective is to be competitive (against the Netherlands). We won’t be able to qualify for the next stage or advance. We would have loved to be in a position to advance but it is not to be,” Sanchez said at a pre-match news conference yesterday.“We will give our best against Netherlands. We will try to enjoy being here at the top level. I think that we have self confidence and we will try to compete and make our fans proud,” the 46-year-old Spaniard added.“The players I have, they are a demanding lot. They push themselves. I think we should be happy about the efforts that have been made all this while,” he said.“When you play a team like Netherlands you don’t need any motivation (to do well).“It is a team with high calibre and we are not concerned about their ranking. We are fully focused on our next match,” Sanchez said.“Netherlands have achieved great results over the years at World Cup events. Usually they finish among the top teams,” he said.“Regarding our journey here, we have faced top African and South American teams like Senegal and Ecuador. They are some of the best teams in their region. We are aware of the reality that we had a demanding group.“Yes, I would have preferred to have been in a better position but this international sport for you. We have a player base of just 6,000 (registered individuals).“This team has achieved great results in the last few years. We may have lagged behind here but we do hard work daily. We will keep doing it. This is the only way we can close the gap against top teams in this competition,” Sanchez explained.Sanchez said he doesn’t feel let down by poor results in the first two matches.“I think I have said this a few times that we have to take into consideration that we built our team from a small population. We are at our first World Cup. I don’t feel embarrassed. These players got good results in the past. Only a few teams can be at a World Cup,” Sanchez said.“We didn’t get the results we expected but this is part of a process that we are following. Bigger population provides with bigger potential to build stronger teams. Hopefully the team can do better (in the future),” he added.Sanchez said every competition Qatar takes part in gives way to a new cycle of planning and preparation for the national team.“We won the Asian Cup in 2019 and that was the end of one phase at that time. That was the end of a cycle. Every competition is a cycle. We are closing a chapter now. The country is focused on preparing for a new competition and to get behind a new era. We want to play our best football,” Sanchez said.“If I go back in time? It’s easy to talk about things after it’s over. I think we have prepared in the best possible way, but everything has to be considered in perspective, we have been working with this group for a long time. Sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to.“There was no other preparation possible. Sometimes things don’t work out. Things happen for a reason,” Sanchez said philosophically.“I am very proud to represent Qatar. I am only thinking about the next match. It’s an honour to be playing this match tomorrow,” he said.Qatar’s premier striker Almoez Ali told reporters yesterday: “As a player, I wanted Qatari fans to be proud of us but we didn’t win. We will try to play our best. Netherlands is a great team. We have learned a lot and hopefully we will qualify for the next World Cup. Hopefully we can leave the tournament with a positive result.”Netherlands coach Louis Van Gaal yesterday said he will be keeping an eye on the other match of the day involving Ecuador and Senegal. Netherlands and Senegal have 4 points each while Senegal have 3 as they head into the last round of matches today.Van Gaal admitted a flurry of goals would be desirable to make sure Netherlands top Group A.“I think it’s straightforward,” Van Gaal said when asked if he would be interested in the result between Senegal and Ecuador.“Of course I will keep tabs on the other game and I will be informed,” the 71-year-old Dutchman said.“But the fact of the matter is, if you want to become world champion you have to be capable of beating everyone,”the former Manchester United manager Van Gaal added.“The countries you might not expect to progress are progressing, or at least making it very difficult for other teams to progress.”FACT BOXNetherlands vs QatarWhen: Today, 6pm Where: Al Bayt Stadium, Al KhorCapacity: 68,895Key stats:Netherlands need a win or a draw to qualify to the last 16 for the 11th time regardless of the result betweenSenegal and Ecuador.If Netherlands lose they will qualify directly to the second round if Ecuador beat Senegal, but if Senegal win the goal difference or fairplay tiebreaker will decide second place in the group.Netherlands never won the title but were runners-up three times in 1974, 1978 and 2010.Qatar were the first team to be eliminated from the finals, and it was only the second time that a host country exited the tournament in the first round after South Africa in 2010.Qatar will try to avoid being the first host country to fail to win a game in the finals.Mohamed Muntari made history when he scored Qatar’s first World Cup goal in the 3-1 defeat by Senegal.Previous meetings:This will be the first meeting between the sides.

Serbia’s coach Dragan Stojkovic attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup match against Cameroon. (AFP)
Serbia set to go on the attack against Cameroon: Stojkovic

Coach Dragon Stojkovic yesterday said Serbia will have no other option but to attack against African giants Cameroon when the two sides clash in the a FIFA World Cup Group G clash today.Serbia lost to former World Cup champions Brazil in the first round at Lusail Stadium last week while Cameroon - also known as ‘The Indomitable Lions’ - were edged by Switzerland when the two sides played Al Janoub Stadium on Thursday.“Are we going to be offensive? Well, we will be because in order to score a goal, you have to attack. We must be a compact team that knows exactly what it is doing on the field,” Stojkovic said at a news conference yesterday.“We hope that we will be at our best level and that through our style of play we will be able to tame the ‘lions’. I believe in my team and I think that, as far as we are concerned, everything will be fine. We will try to come out with the strongest team against Cameroon,” Stojkovic told reporters.“Serbia will play for a win as it has played in the last two years. We respect all our rivals and we respect Cameroon. They are a very strong team and they can cause problems for everyone,” he said.“I remember in the 90s they had players like Roger Milla. I don’t know what they achieved during their last World Cup but I have a lot of respect for African football and a team like Cameroon has players who are legends of world football. They have had quality players the people of Cameroon can be proud of.“They still have very good players, fast and dangerous in counterattacks,” the Serbian coach said.Stojkovic said Serbia will ring changes for today’s clash and bring in winger Filip Kostic who did not play against Brazil in their 2-0 loss.“The situation is not excellent, but I am satisfied compared to what we had before. The situation is better and that makes me happy,” Stojkovic said yesterday.“He has been training well with the team for the last two sessions. I liked the intensity he worked at, which shows he is ready to play. I am glad he is fit and that we can count on him,” he added.“I can’t say if he will be playing but he is one of the potential players, which was not the case earlier.“The way he runs and his physical engagement in training has shown that is going to be okay and that makes me very happy,” he added.Stojkovic knows a tricky scenario awaits Serbia who would be knocked out if Brazil fail to win their match against Switzerland today. Meanwhile, Cameroon will be out of the tournament if they lose and Switzerland fail to win against five-time World Cup winners Brazil.Cameroon coach Rigobert Song yesterday candidly admitted his team needed their A-game today.“We’re in a difficult situation (after losing to Switzerland in the first round),” Song said. “It’s a decisive game but my team is fully ready for this match.”Cameroonian right back right back Collins Fai yesterday said his team must deliver a better performance than they did against Switzerland.“We didn’t give everything in the first game and we left with a lot of regrets,” Fai, 30, said yesterday.“This game was an important message for us, you pay dearly for every mistake at the highest level,” he added in an interview with the AP wire service.FACTBOXSerbia vs CameroonWhen: Today, 1pmWhere: Al Janoub Stadium, Al WakrahCapacity: 44,325Key stats:Cameroon and Serbia are looking for their first points of the tournament after suffering opening-round defeats to Switzerland and Brazil respectively.Serbia have lost nine of their last 11 World Cup games, last beating Costa Rica 1-0 in the 2018 group stage.Cameroon have not qualified for the knockout phase since their quarter-final appearance in 1990 and are without a win at the finals since 2002, after missing out in 2018 and losing all of their group stage games in 2010 and 2014.Serbia have exited the tournament in the group stage in each of their last three appearances - 2006 (as Serbia & Montenegro), 2010 and 2014.Serbia are aiming to qualify for the knockout round for the first time since 1998, when they competed as Yugoslavia.Previous meetings:Serbia beat Cameroon 4-3 in their only previous meeting in a friendly in 2010.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal against Mexico during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match at the Lusail Stadium yesterday. (Reuters)
Argentina stay alive as Messi strikes

Lionel Messi yesterday scored a goal and delivered a slick assist for the second as Argentina beat Mexico 2-0 at Lusail Stadium.Argentina, who lost their World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia on Monday, recovered in quick fashion to post their first win of Group C in front of 88,966 fans.Making his 21st World Cup appearance for Argentina, Messi led from the front by scoring in the 64th minute before slipping in an assist to Enzo Fernandez who found the net in the 87th minute. It was a sterling effort from the two-time World Cup winners who looked sluggish and out of sorts in the first half. Argentina now have 4 wins over Mexico in World Cup history.Argentina, playing their second successive match at Lusail Stadium, looked ragged for most part of the first half. Mexico’s striker Alexis Vega elbowed Argentina’s Seville defender Gonzalo Monteil in the fifth minute close, a trend of rough play that was to follow numerous times in the first half.After clinching the first corner kick in the 9th minute after Hirving Lozano made a good run on Lisandro Martinez, Hector Herrera curled in a lovely free kick but none of the Mexico forwards were able to connect as the ball went wide of the goalpost to the left of Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez in 10th minutes.Five minutes later, Herrera elbowed Marcos Acuna close to the edge of the Argentina box in another round of rough play from both the sides. Two minutes later Lautaro Martinez rammed his body into Andres Guardardo, the Mexican skipper, in an intense tussle for ball possession.Argentina’s Nicolas Otamendi brought down Lozano resulting in a free kick in the 20th minute. The Argentina keeper beat Herrara to the ball on a loopy cross on the free kick. As expected, a rough bit of play saw Araujo slapped with a yellow card for a sliding tackle on Acuna. In another moment of madness, Acuna - deep on the right flank - stepped on Kevin Alvarez’s shin rather forcefully forcing a stoppage in the play.Vega of Mexico brought down Argentina’s Rodrigo de Paul as the referee pointed to a free kick 10 yards out from the Mexico box. Messi curled in the resultant free kick but Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa was tall enough to kill the move with ease.Angel Di Maria curled in a long ball but Lautaro Martinez was off target with his snap-header in the 40th minute, the first real Argentina move. Seconds later, injured Guardado was benched as Erick Gutierrez was brought on. A yellow card was shown to Monteil for a reckless tackle on Gutierrez near the Argentina box two minutes from the first-half whistle.Vega curled in a spectacular free kick that was stopped by the Argentine keeper with a short jump to his right. In the 50th minute, substitute Gutierrez in a rush brought down Messi near his own box. The referee barely wasted a second to signal a free kick which was sent sailing above the Mexico crossbar by off-target Messi. Close to the one-hour mark, Argentina brought goal hero Fernandez to replace Guido Rodriguez.In the 64th minute, Messi and Argentina opened their account with a clinical finish. Di Maria cut inside from the right flank and found Messi - unmarked near the Mexico box - with a neat low cross. Messi quickly positioned himself and launched his trademark left-footed drive that went through a defender’s legs and beat the outstretched left hand of keeper Ochoa. It was Messi’s 8th goal in World Cup history and second in Qatar.In the 81st minute, defender Hector Moreno’s loopy header inside the box was easily caught by Argentine keeper Martinez as Mexico attempted to equalise late in the second half. Two minutes later, Mexico also wasted a corner kick as Messi dropped back to help his backline. In a slick counterattack, Argentina doubled the lead in the 87th minute.Messi, after picking an indirect corner kick, found Fernandez unmarked at the edge of the Mexico box. Fernandez hoodwinked Gutierrez and then cleverly curled in a right-footed drive that sailed past keeper Ochoa’s left hand before crashing into the net.

 Argentina's forward Lionel Messi celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group C football match between Argentina and Mexico at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail.
Messi stars as Argentina beat Mexico 2-0

Lionel Messi Saturday scored a goal and delivered a slick assist for the second as Argentina beat Mexico 2-0 at Lusail Stadium.Argentina, who lost their World Cup opener against Saudi Arabia on Monday, recovered in quick fashion to post their first win of Group C in front of 88,966 fans.Making his 21st World Cup appearance for Argentina, Messi led from the front by scoring in the 64th minute before slipping in an assist to Enzo Fernandez who found the net in the 87th minute.It was a sterling effort from the two-time World Cup winners who looked sluggish and out of sorts in the first half. Argentina now have 4 wins over Mexico in World Cup history.Argentina, playing their second successive match at Lusail Stadium, looked ragged for most part of the first half. Mexico's striker Alexis Vega elbowed Argentina's Seville defender Gonzalo Monteil in the fifth minute close, a trend of rough play that was to follow numerous times in the first half.After clinching the first corner kick in the 9th minute after Hirving Lozano made a good run on Lisandro Martinez, Hector Herrera curled in a lovely free kick but none of the Mexico forwards were able to connect as the ball went wide of the goalpost to the left of Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez in 10th minutes.Five minutes later, Herrera elbowed Marcos Acuna close to the edge of the Argentina box in another round of rough play from both the sides. Two minutes later Lautaro Martinez rammed his body into Andrea Guardardo, the Mexican skipper, in an intense tussle for ball possession. Argentina's Nicolas Otamendi brought down Lozano resulting in a free kick in the 20th minute. The Argentina keeper beat Herrara to the ball on a loopy cross on the free kick.As expected, a rough bit of play saw Araujo slapped with a yellow card for a sliding tackle on Acuna. In another moment of madness, Acuna - deep on the right flank - stepped on Kevin Alvarez's shin rather forcefully forcing a stoppage in the play.Vega of Mexico brought down Argentina's Rodrigo de Paul as the referee pointed to a free kick 10 yards out from the Mexico box. Messi curled in the resultant free kick but Mexico keeper Guillermo Ochoa was tall enough to kill the move with ease.Angel di Maria curled in a long ball but Lautaro Martinez was off target with his snap-header in the 40th minute, the first real Argentina move. Seconds later, injured Guardado was benched as Erick Gutierrez was brought on. A yellow card was shown to Monteil for a reckless tackle on Gutierrez near the Argentina box two minutes from the first-half whistle. Vega curled in a spectacular free kick that was stopped by the Argentine keeper with a short jump to his right.

Japan's Ritsu Doan scores their first goal in the Group E - Germany v Japan match at Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, yesterday. (AFP)
For Japan, a win ‘made in Germany’

Japan yesterday stunned four-time World Cup winners Germany 2-1 in a thrilling FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 match at Khalifa International Stadium.Two second-half goals by super subs Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano eight minutes apart yesterday lifted three-time Asian champions Japan to their first win in Qatar.After conceding a goal in the first half when Ilkay Gundogan – the Manchester City midfielder – converted a penalty in the 33rd minute, Japan delivered a ferocious counter attack after the break in the Group E clash.Coached by Hajime Moriyasu, Japan clicked as a unit in the second half when substitutes Doan and Asano combined in superb fashion to script a hard-fought win against a side that has played the most number of FIFA World Cup matches (112).Earlier on Tuesday, Moriyasu candidly admitted at a news conference that his players had improved their game by frequently appearing for Bundesliga sides over the years.Yesterday, Japan looked the part as they undid the global football giants.“At the end they came at us with the full power,” Moriyasu said yesterday. “In the past maybe we would have given up (in such a scenario) but the players have been playing in Germany and Europe they’ve learned so much from that, so we held on,” Moriyasu added.“United as one, we needed to hang tough until the final whistle went and we were able to grasp our opportunity,” the Japanese coach said.“We wanted to start aggressively, we wanted to dominate the game but Germany are very strong so we needed to defend persistently and take our chances,” he said.“In our tactics, we had many options and looked at many scenarios. We knew there was a chance we could go a goal down, we planned for it, we prepared for it.”After scoring the goals, Doan and Asano celebrated their magical moment with teammates on the touchline as thousands of Japanese fans at Khalifa International Stadium rejoiced in the stands.With veterans Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer – both appearing in their fourth World Cup editions – Germany looked set to launch their Qatar campaign on a positive note but it was not to be against a side that did not give up even after conceding a penalty in the first half.In an early sign of aggression, Bayern Munich striker Serge Gnabry charged into the Japan box but a couple of Samurai Blue defenders stayed firm to block the move in the third minute.Japan retaliated by clinching the first corner in the 5th minute but failed to make any inroads. Three minutes on, Celtic forward Daizen Maeda outpaced his marker Antonio Rudiger and deflected the ball into the net but the linesman quickly adjudged the move offside much to the dismay of the Japanese supporters. Maeda held his hands in despair knowing he had moved a fraction of a second too soon.Six minutes later, Joshua Kimmich unleashed a powerful shot a little away from the edge of the box but VbF Stuttgart defender Wataru Endo produced a sliding tackle to block the shot heading towards his goal.In the 16th minute, tall defender Rudiger jumped high over the Japanese defenders but his deflection hit the outside of the Japan net. Four minutes later, Kimmich unloaded a powerful right-footed drive that sailed past a couple of defenders but Japan ’keeper Suihchi Gonda dived to his right to deflect the ball away.Shortly afterwards Hiroki Sakai – positioned close to Neuer – could not find the elevation on a header following a cross from the deep right flank. Three minutes from the half-hour mark, striker Gnabry found Gundogan who fired a bullet that was saved by ’keeper Gonda.Soon afterwards David Raum charged into the box after clutching a loopy cross from Kimmich. Raum grabbed the ball and returned back but he was brought down by the Japanese ’keeper in his own box prompting the referee to point to the spot kick in the 31st minute.Gundogan easily converted the penalty that went to the right of Gonda who chose to dive to his left in the 33rd minute. Despite being sluggish for most part of the first half, Germany were quick to grab the lead when the opportunity arose. With momentum on their side, Niklas Sule found Kimmich with a neat short cross but the Bayern Munich defender saw his shot gobbled up by ’keeper Gonda five minutes before from the first-half whistle, Midfielder Jamal Musiala – on the edge of the Japanese box – sent his right-footed drive sailing above the crossbar in another wasted opportunity to score soon afterwards.In the dying seconds of the first half, Kai Havertz deflected the ball into the net from close range following a cross from Gnabry a few feet away. The linesman called it a goal but VAR showed Havertz had moved ahead of the Japanese backline. Just seconds later, Japanese ’keeper had deflected a bullet from Kimmich who was on the edge of the box.In their best chance to equalise, Maeda’s header – on a cross from Yuto Nagamoto – narrowly missed the goalpost to Neuer’s left. Seconds later the two teams walked off the pitch with Muller barely breaking a sweat in the entire first half.Muller, early in the second half, picked up a loose ball and charged ahead with a Japanese marker in tow. Close to the edge of the box, the German star found Gnabry on the right. Gnabry sneaked into the Japanese box following the cross from Muller but his powerful drive sailed above the crossbar. Muller wanted the ball back but Gnabry went solo. In the 50th minute Musiala – after dodging three makers in the Japan box – sent the ball above the crossbar from close range.Gundogan was unlucky in the 58th minute when his shot from the edge of the box went through a Japanese defender’s legs but the ball ricocheted off the goalpost left of ’keeper Gonda who had no chance to dive and stop the shot.Muller, who had not played a full 90 minutes since September, was benched by manager Hansi Flick in the 65th minute after a lackluster show by the German. In the 75th minute, Japan equalized.Takumi Minamino – on the edge of the German box – slipped in a cross towards Neuer who threw out his left arm and parried the ball which landed at unguarded substitute Doan’s feet. Doan quickly found the top of the net with a bullet from six yards out.Asano gave Japan the lead with a breathtaking run of about 30 yards following a free kick cross from Itakura in the 83rd minute. Asano charged into the six-yard box while being chased by Nico Schlotterbeck. With the ball to his right, Asano slipped a shot into top of the net with Neuer unable to stop the flick from close range.

Japan's midfielder Ritsu Doan (L) scores his team's first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group E football match between Germany and Japan at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
Japan shock Germany, Spain pulverise Costa Rica

Former Asian champions Japan Wednesday produced a stunning upset by beating four-time World Cup winners Germany 2-1 while European giants Spain hit Costa Rica for seven goals in a one-sided match at Al Thumama Stadium.Trailing by a goal at the end of the first half, a resilient Japan picked up the pieces in dramatic fashion late in the second half when substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano found the net only eight minutes apart in their Group E clash under lights at the iconic Khalifa International Stadium (KIS).A day before their opening FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 match against Germany, Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu candidly admitted that his players have improved their game looking at German players. A total of eight players in the current squad appear for Bundesliga clubs.After making five substitutes in their high-paced game against Germany, a delighted Moriyasu once again underlined the presence of his players in Germany."We have seven players in the Bundesliga and one in the German second division, but we have many more playing in big leagues in Europe and that has played a big part in our development," Moriyasu said after the intense clash played in front of 42,608 fans at KIS."Germany are a great team but I have to say our players stayed calm and patient for most part of the match," he added.Moriyasu said playing with aggression got them to rally after conceding a goal in the first half scored by Ilkay Gundogan (penalty, 33rd minute)."We wanted to start playing aggressively, we wanted to dominate the game. But Germany are very strong so we needed to defend persistently and take our chances," Moriyasu said.Appearing at a World Cup for the seventh successive time, Japan clearly looked the part Wednesday."It's a big surprise. We saw the Saudi victory over Argentina - the Asian countries are reaching the global standard," Moriyasu said.Wednesday's loss in the opening clash was a repeat of Russia 2018 when Germany - as defending champions - went down to Mexico before losing to South Korea on way to getting knocked at the first stage.Goalkeeper Shuchi Gonda who fought gallantly under the Japan crossbar said his team was inspired by Saudi Arabia's stunning win over Argentina on Tuesday."We knew that like Saudi Arabia, if they didn't score any more goals and we kept going until the end, we would get our chances," Gonda said. "Even if I concede one, my job is to make sure I don't concede any more and give us a chance of turning it around," he added.Big win for SpainAlso Wednesday, Spain - the 2010 World Cup winners - kept the scorers busy as Dani Olmo (11), Asensio (21), Ferran Torres (31-pen and 54), Gavi (74), Carlos Soler (90), Alvaro Morata (90+2) scored almost at will against hapless Costa Rica.It was Spain's biggest ever World Cup victory surpassing their 6-1 victory over Bulgaria in 1998. Coached by Luis Enqriue, Spain now take on Germany on Nov 27 at Al Bayt Stadium followed by a game against Japan on Dec 1 at the same venue."Our objective is to continuously dominate the play, and for that you have to have the ball," coach Enrique told TVE after the match. "Your opponent gets tired and can't get into it, our pressing was exceptional and the 16 players we used were superb - although we still have room to improve."Croatia-Morocco draw, Belgium winIn the day's other match, Croatia and Morocco played a goalless draw at Al Thumama Stadium while Belgium edged past Canada 1-0 at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

Japan players during training at Al Sadd SC New Training Facility 1 in Doha yesterday.  (Reuters)
Germany won’t take Japan lightly in opening tie today

Four-time World Cup champions Germany are keen to hit the ground running when they take on Asian giants Japan but coach Hansi Flick said his team won’t take the ‘Samurai Blue’ lightly.The two teams clash for the first time at a World Cup when they face off at the iconic Khalifa International Stadium today.Champions in 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014, Germany are clear title favourites in Qatar.After tackling Japan - the three-time Asian champions - Germany take on Spain and Costa Rica in Group E of the 32-team tournament being held for the first time in the region.Japan, on the other hand, have never gone beyond the Round of 16 though they are making their seventh trip to the World Cup.The German coach said his team respects the quality of the Japanese side.“I have to come out as a fan of Japanese football. The players are tactically and technically very well trained. It is a very big task that awaits us. But we’re going into the game well prepared. Anything is possible, you saw that today (Saudi Arabia beating Argentina). We don’t underestimate an opponent,” Flick said yesterday.“Many of Japan’s players play in the Bundesliga and almost all of them are very agile, very fast, and are strong players,” Flick said at a news conference.“They have great technique so we have to be careful.”Flick, who saw Joachim Low-coached Germany go out in the first round at Russia 2018, will have the services of experienced players in Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer. Muller and Neuer are appearing in their fourth World Cup.“I’m totally happy that we have these players in the team, that they play for Germany. With their quality, they give us an enormous number of opportunities,” Flick said.“We have had very good training sessions in the last few days. We have had good training conditions for the game.“The group is very strong, but we go into our matches with a positive mind. We are happy that things are starting for us,” Flick said yesterday.“All the top teams set themselves the goal of becoming world champions. That’s why we’re here in Qatar. I think you have to deal with the pressure positively. We have to go to our absolute performance limit, you can expect that from the players because they have enormous qualities,” he added.Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu knows his team is up against the might of Germany in the Group E clash today. The 54-year-old made a candid admission at the pre-match press conference that his team would fight but won’t get ahead of themselves considering the high skill-set the Germans bring to a game.“We are very grateful to the Germans, they are role models for us,” Moriyasu said yesterday. “We are still developing and of course at the same time have incorporated good qualities from them into our playing style. So, yes, we have kind of mixed feelings about playing against Germany,” he added.‘Going to give our absolute best’Moriyasu quickly added: “But no matter who our opponents are, we are going to give our absolute best performance that we can on the pitch. We have prepared well for all the tournament matches in which we seek to go far by achieving the best results.”Moriyasu will rely on the brilliance of Takumi Minamino of Monaco and Schalke centre back Maya Yoshida when they take on Germany today knowing they have only met two times in friendly games. Moriyasu also know he has in his squad eight players who feature in the Bundesliga.“We will look to present the best level against the German national team, which we know well. We have players in the Bundesliga, playing with or against the best players in the world, and I want them to be confident when they play in tomorrow’s game,” he said. “Germany have won the World Cup and that is our aim too - they are role models for us,” Moriyasu said yesterday.“We are learning from Germany but we also want to compete on the world stage with the qualities that Japan has. We have a lot of feelings towards Germany but we have to treat this game as if we are playing any other team and just do our best.”Captain Maya Yoshida - who is appearing in his third World Cup - yesterday echoed his coach’s sentiments about Germany’s firepower.“We understand that they have good qualities - speed, pace and physical ability as well,” said Yoshida.“The key is we have to defend well. Probably less opportunity to attack, but we need to make counter-attacks,” the former Southampton player added.Yoshida urged Asian fans to cheer for Japan.“Germany is so strong so we need some support,” Yoshida said.“We are representing Japan of course, but at the same time representing Asia. So hopefully many fans come to the stadium, not only Japanese but also the many Asian fans.“We believe that we have a chance,” he said yesterday.Flick confirmed yesterday that Germany will miss Germany winger Leroy Sane who is down with a knee injury.“It is extremely tough to have to play without Leroy because with his qualities he is a player who can turn a game around by himself,” Flick said.“Hopefully he can play on Sunday.“The whole medical staff are working on it,” he added.

TOPSHOT - Netherlands' forward #08 Cody Gakpo (C) scores his team's first goal as Senegal's goalkeeper #16 Edouard Mendy (2nd R) fails to stop it during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Senegal and the Netherlands at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on November 21, 2022. (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP)
Gakpo, Klaassen goals lead Netherlands to Senegal win

The Netherlands, who missed the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, have returned to the big stage with a bang. A three-time runners-up in World Cup history, the Dutch yesterday beat Senegal 2-0 with a confidence-boosting performance at Al Thumama Stadium.Cody Gakpo yesterday produced a stunning header late in the second half before substitute Davy Klaassen added one more in injury time to lift Netherlands to win in their opening match at Qatar 2022.Gakpo, the 23-year-old PSV Eindhoven forward, sent the ball into the net in the 84th minute from close range following a slick cross from Frenkie de Jong to score the first goal in the Group A clash. In added time, Klaassen picked up a rebound inside the Senegal box to score his team’s second goal with an easy shot into the net.With three points in the bag, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal must have been a relieved man after watching his side struggle against the African giants - who are missing Sadio Mane in Qatar - for most of the match.Dutch skipper Virgil van Dijk said the 2010 runners-up needed to perform better. “We won but we also know that we can and must do better,” Van Dijk, who got his 50th cap, said yesterday.“Going forward we sometimes tried to force things, and we too often left ourselves exposed to Senegal’s counter-attacks,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “That is an area in which we will need to improve because it is an art that our next opponents, Ecuador, are very good at. But I am optimistic because I feel we are going to get better.”The Dutch have now extended their unbeaten streak to 16 matches. Senegal, who were on a four-match unbeaten streak in the warm-ups prior to the World Cup, could not score against debutant goalkeeper Andries Noppert, the tallest player at the World Cup in Qatar at 6’8”.With Noppert marshaling his team from the goalline, the match got off to a steady start though both teams adopted measured moves early on. Watford star Ismaila Sarr charged into the box Dutch but his shot was blocked in the second minute of the match. Soon afterwards, the Dutch nearly almost scored but Steven Berghuis failed to deflect on a low Gakpo cross from the right of box.Continuing with early game surge, striker Sarr in the 9th minute swivelled and produced a left-footed drive but the shot sailed above the Dutch crossbar. In the 16th minute, Daley Blind found momentum to jump above Senegal’s Youssef Sabaly on a Gakpo cross but the headed deflection bounced away from the goalpost.A minute later, Gapko provided a loopy cross but Vincent Janssen’s header missed the goalpost right to Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. In probably the best chance to score, midfielder Frankie de Jong took long to shoot as the Senegalese defence quickly thwarted the dangerous move from inside their own box in the 21st minute.A corner kick close to the half-hour mark by Gapko was tad off the mark but Van Dijk still laboured for a header that sailed away from the goalmouth after the Dutch skipper was crowded by Senegalese defenders.Midfielder Berghuis went solo with a left-footed drive but the shot sailed above the Senegalese crossbar in the 39th minute. Four minutes from the the break, Sarr found pace on his shot from the edge of the box but Nathan Ake stood solid to kill the move.With no substitutions made by either side in the first half, defender Denzel Dumfries charged into the Senegal box with the ball but Abdou Diallo was alert to mark him in his own box to force a corner. In the 52nd minute Van Dijk jumped over Idrissa Gana Gueye inside the box but the Dutch skipper’s headed deflection narrowly missed the Senegal crossbar from close range.In another wasted opportunity to score, Senegal’s Krepin Diatta failed to deflect home on a cross from close range in the 57th minute. Soon after the hour-mark, Senegal’s Boulaye Dia - inside the Dutch box - slipped a low shot past Van Dijk but keeper Noppert dived to his left to flick the shot away.Noppert once again stood like a wall when in the 71st minute as he blocked a fierce shot by midfielder Gueye who was standing unguarded on the edge of the Dutch box. Sarr, despite losing his balance in the 81st minute, managed another close range header but his deflection went above the crossbar.In a sudden twist to the match, Netherlands scored. Gakpo beat keeper Mendy with a high jump to head home from close range for his side’s first goal on a perfect De Jong cross from outside the box. Gakpo tad blindsided but he still managed to score in the 84th minute.A minute later, Dutch keeper Norries ensured his team’s lead was intact when he dived to his left on a powerful long-range shot from substitute Gueye.In injury time that saw the referee add eight minutes, Deepay fired a shot that was initially blocked by keeper Mendy but the ball bounced off his hands and landed at the feet of Klaassen who had no trouble in scoring the second goal for Netherlands in the dying moments of the game. “It was a boyhood dream for me to play at a World Cup but I never thought it would be possible,” Noppertsaid. “It was really special when the goalkeeping coach Frans Hoek told me that I was going to play. The closer the game got, the more tense I became, but it was a healthy tension. ”

Netherlands' coach Louis Van Gaal holds apress conference at the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) in Doha on Sunday. (AFP)
Van Gaal eyes World Cup glory as Dutch face Senegal

Coach Louis van Gaal believes his team has the potential to win the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 as Netherlands prepare to take on African giants Senegal in their opening match at Al Thumama Stadium today.Van Gaal, with a wealth of experience as a coach, yesterday warned Senegal that he commands a disciplined squad that is ready to impress fans in Qatar.“I think we could become world champions. There are teams with higher level in my view than my squad. Whether we can become world champions is another thing but we can,” Van Gaal said at a news conference ahead of today’s Group A clash.“I believe in this squad. In 2014, we came third. We were of lesser quality compared to this team. I expect more from this squad. It depends not only on technical skills and tactical skills, but it also depends on a bit of luck, that you score at the right time and that the others don’t score,” he said.“This group is higher in skills. They have a wonderful captain to work with in Virgil van Dijk. He’s an excellent captain. I didn’t appoint him as he was already a captain,” Van Gaal said.Dutch skipper Van Dijk, who was also present at the press conference, yesterday said he called Senegal star Sadio Mane who has been ruled out of the World Cup with an injury.“Yes, I called him the next morning (after Mane pulled out injured). I wanted to know how he was. There were so many rumours so as a friend I wanted to know how he was feeling,” Van Dijk said yesterday. “Unfortunately he was not well but there was hope he would be before the announcement was made. I am sad for him. He has been so important for Senegal. Obviously he is going to be a big miss for them. Hopefully we can benefit from his absence,” Van Dijk said of his Liverpool teammate Mane.“I am excited. The last past few days have passed slowly. We can’t wait to get going. Hopefully it will be a great adventure,” he said. “Like I said I am very excited for the first game. We are looking forward to it. We have trained hard,” the 31-year-old added.Van Gaal said Senegal would miss Mane’s ‘extraordinary’ talent.“Senegal are the African Cup of Nations champions. They are not just any opponents. Mane is not playing. How is their team going to play without him? That is my question,” Van Gaal said.“I think Mane is an extraordinarily player. I wanted him when I was at Manchester United. I chased him. He can break open a match. I feel Senegal will miss him,” the 71-year-old Dutchman said.When asked about his playing XI, Van Gaal said: “I never give up my lineup before a game. I am reasonably confident of my decisions though. Of course you always have question marks (about selection) but the choices remain the same. I also look at my opponents. I analyse them and then I pick my players looking for players who are suited for the best slots. “The fact is this group of players is well connected. The players work in a professional way. And that will always contribute to success. They have to carry out what we want. Not every group wants that. I have been coaching for 30 years. I remove the group that doesn’t listen.”Senegal coach Aliou Cisse yesterday said his team won’t be overawed when they take on 2010 World Cup runners-up Netherlands today.“We have a good team consisting of young players who are ready to rise to the occasion. Of course it is not easy to play without Mane who is injured but all of our players are ready for the opening match,” Cisse said at the official pre-match news conference.“It is an important match, there’s no doubt. We want a good result. We want to start the World Cup on a good note,” he said. “Obviously it’s a great shame for Mane and for the team that he is not here. We have to think about the player safety. All coaches build their team around their best player. That’s what we have done too. I hope he recovers soon. The Dutch are a good side but we need to be true to ourselves. We don’t have to copy other people’s style of play. We are not going to invent a new Senegal style of play. We will stay true to our style.”When asked whether his team tactics would involve an all-out attack on the Netherlands team, Cisse said: “I think you have to look at all aspects. In football you have different aspects where you need to defend and attack when you can. We have to see how the match will go.”Cisse was full of praise for Van Gaal.“Louis Van Gaal is the benchmark for other coaches. Everyone knows about him being a disciplinarian. At the top you have to be disciplined. I am like that also as you have to be disciplined at the top,” Cisse said.“When you talk about the spirit and morale, of course it (Mane’s absence) affects you. He is our best player and a leader,” Senegal’s Krepin Diatta, 23, said at the press conference yesterday.“But we are determined to do what we can without him. We are going to have to work harder individually and harder as a team. We still have a very strong mentality, we are comfortable being together and we are strong together.” Cisse added: “This is my fifth major competition with Senegal – three African Cup of Nations and two World Cups. I am the only coach with this kind of experience. We are delighted to be here. We are working as well as we can. There are nerves but we are confident about our chances in this World Cup. We are humble yet confident.”FACTBOX - Senegal v NetherlandsWhen: Monday Nov. 21, 1900 local (1600 GMT/1100 ET)Where: Al Thumama Stadium, DohaCapacity: 40,000Key stats:Netherlands are unbeaten in their last 15 matches.The Netherlands’ last defeat was against the Czech Republic in the last 16 at Euro 2020.The Dutch are three times runners-up but failed to qualify for Russia 2018.Senegal are one of three African countries to reach a World Cup quarter-final.Senegal were unbeaten in their last four warm-up matches before the tournament.Previous meetings: The teams have never previously met at the World Cup.

Gulf Times
Qatar’s golden hour is here!

The year is 2014. A young forward – with potential to be a star for his country – is aiming big. He gets the stage and delivers. That young player was Akram Afif who found the net for Qatar U-19 squad battling North Korea in the final of the AFC Asian Cup in Myanmar in October that year. Afif, just 17 then, scored the only goal of the final in the 52nd minute as Qatar became the Asian champions in U-19. That was the beginning of Qatar’s resurgence in regional and Asian football. Fast forward to today, Afif and his teammate from those years, Almoez Ali, will lead Qatar’s charge as they prepare to make their FIFA World Cup debut against Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium today. Afif, the Al Sadd star, and Almoez, the Al Duhail captain, were two of the heroes who guided Qatar to their 2019 AFC Asian Cup title winning campaign in the UAE.Thanks largely to former Barcelona youth coach Felix Sanchez – who has guided the two young players and a series of other young players over the last seven-eight years – Qatar has charted their journey to the World Cup debut in an inspiring manner. The message then was: get hold of them young, groom them under the tutelage of fitness experts and specialised coaches, pick the sharper ones for age specific tournaments for exposure sake and eventually and help the quality young players graduate to the Qatar national side.With a player pool of just 5,000 (a rough estimate), Qatar – coached by Sanchez – went on to become the Asian Cup champions in February 2019 when they beat three-time champions Japan in the final held at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Dubai. The journey to the Asian Cup title three years ago wasn’t easy but clearly not too hard to understand. In just a little over 15 years, Qatar’s heavy investment in sports in general and football in particular has paid rich dividends for a country that is just 24 hours away from hosting the region’s first FIFA World Cup.Just as Afif’s match-winning goal in the AFC U-19 Asian Cup final was a watershed moment in the country’s football journey, the platform to excel on a football field took scientific root when FIFA World Cup heroes Pele and Diego Maradona touched down in Doha for the inauguration of the Aspire Academy in November 2005. The world’s largest indoor sports facility – replete with the most modern set-up to groom young kids for a sound beginning to their cherished dreams – the Aspire Academy has given Qatar football players like Afif, Almoez, Saad al-Sheeb and even global track and field star Mutaz Essa Barshim.In between building a strong base for young players who could go on to deliver positive results on the field of play, Qatar has developed stunning football infrastructure that is quite simply the envy of the football world. After winning the FIFA World Cup bid race for the 2022 edition, Qatar has built seven brand new venues – each a viewing spectacle in itself – and completely revamped the iconic Khalifa International Stadium that was built in 1976.Among the seven new 2022 FIFA World Cup venues, one is in the shape of a ‘gahfiya’, a traditional woven cap worn by men and boys across the Middle East. Another is the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium which is designed after the tents used by nomadic people living in the deserts in Qatar and the region decades ago. The Education City Stadium is just as unique as the first two. The exterior of the Education City Stadium has triangles that form diamond-like geometrical patterns that sparkle as the sun moves across the sky. Al Janoub Stadium, another brand new venue that was unveiled in 2019, has a captivating design that looks like wind-filled sails of dhow boats usually seen moored at the Corniche bay and other waterfront areas in the country.On the field of play, the hugely popular Qatar Stars League runs nine months every season. Every game is telecast live as are other tournaments falling under the purview of the Qatar Football Association (QFA). Qatar’s top professional football league has attracted some great names in the world of football like Nigel De Jong (Al Ahli, Al Shahaniya), Mario Mandzukic (Al Duhail), Santi Cazorla (Al Sadd), Samuel Eto’o (Qatar SC), James Rodriguez (Al Rayyan), Tobby Alderweireld (Al Duhail), Marcel Desailly (Al Gharafa, Qatar SC), Wesley Sneijder (Al Gharafa), Xavi Hernandez (Al Sadd, coach and player), Juninho (Al Gharafa), Gabriel Batistuta (Al Arabi) and Claudio Caniggia (Qatar SC). The fiercely contested league has 12 clubs with each delivering a platform for youth teams as well. Al Sadd, the country’s premier football club, is a former AFC Champions League title winner. Al Sadd players and Qatar internationals Abdelkarim Hassan (2018) and Afif (2019) have won the AFC Asian Player of the Year awards.Over the last decade and half, Qatar has successfully hosted key football events like the AFC Asian Cup, the Gulf Cup, FIFA World Cup qualifiers, age specific Asian events and a series of West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) tournaments. Just when the fans needed to see football activity resume at a time when Covid-19 pandemic was raging across the world, Qatar activated hundreds of health workers to host the AFC Champions League matches of the East and West Zones in September 2020 and again in November and December the same year. Building bridges between the Asian region and the world, QFA and the Qatar Stars League Management (QSLM) deserve special praise for conducting a series of football development workshops in coaching and refereeing areas for most part of the last decade. A truly creditable service, QFA continues to host workshops recognized by FIFA, UEFA and AFC officials from time to time.In a nutshell, Qatar’s is a football success story – on and off field. The country deserves praise for bringing the FIFA World Cup to this region for the first time. There can’t be a better time for the world to know the region first-hand. As Qatar welcomes the fans for the FIFA World Cup, the national team players should enjoy their golden moment in the sun. They have deserved this moment. Winning and losing are part of the sport but the occasion as big as the World Cup has to be enjoyed and savoured for generations to come.Ahlan Wa Sahlan, folks!

Wales’ defender Ethan Ampadu (centre) chats with teammates during a training session at the Al Sadd Stadium in Doha yesterday. (AFP)
Upbeat Wales won’t be bogged down by long World Cup wait

The last time Wales appeared in a FIFA World Cup, a young Pele was about to lead Brazil to a title win way back in 1958.When Wales take on the US at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday, the team captained by Gareth Bales will end a 64-year-old wait to appear in the World Cup once again.Despite the long wait, young defender Ethan Ampadu doesn’t seem to be too bothered by Wales’ lack of World Cup appearances in more than six decades.“We have settled well (in Qatar) since arriving. We are all excited ahead of the World Cup. Everyone is fit and ready to go. There’s a good spirit in the camp and everybody is relaxed,” Ampadu, 22, said yesterday at a press conference.“I am not sure if it’s more of a responsibility (of doing well on World Cup return). I think it is what it is. It is the World Cup. We are here to do the best we can and to show how good we are,” he said confidently.“We’re here to compete and try to win every game. We are here to do the best that we can and if that gives us a possibility to win it, then of course, we’re going to back ourselves,” Ampadu, who plays for Serie A side Spezia on loan from Chelsea, added.Ampadu said Wales – coached by Rob Page – won’t be taking the US – captained by talismanic Christian Pulisic – lightly when the two sides open their Group B campaign on Monday.“It’s going to be a difficult game, of course. We are here for the World Cup. I suppose that’s how it’s going to be no matter who the opposition is. They have great players. We should try to get past them. We have to show what we can do,” Ampadu said.“I think no matter what team you play, you have to go with that mindset that it’s the World Cup. No team is here to draw or lose,” he said.When asked about the warm weather that greeted Wales and other teams in Qatar, Ampadu dismissed it as a concern.“Well, it’s going to be warm for everyone (and not just us). That’s what I am going to say about it. Not sure if they (Wales group rivals) are used to the heat or not, better ask them. What matters to us is how well we do here. We can’t change that,” Ampadu said.Wales forward Mark Harris, however, said his teammates would make the most of the coming three days before opening their World Cup campaign against the US.“Hopefully it will be cooler in the evening.“It was warm when we were walking during the day. We are not used to heat like this. I won’t say any team has any advantage over the other rivals. I am sure the training in the next few days will help us acclimatise better,” Harris said yesterday.Harris, the Cardiff City star, his team would be aiming ‘for three points’ against the US. “They got some quality players. They are a good side. They also have qualified for the World Cup. Their captain Pulisic is a great player. For sure it will be a tough match but we will be playing for three points,” Harris, 23, added.Harris said playing in the World Cup would highlight Wales’ potential on the big stage.“Wales playing in a World Cup has taken 64 years. We have got to two Euro Championships recently but this is the world’s biggest stage. We clearly want to win but we will see how far we can go,” Harris said.“We arrive for every match to win. Our main focus right now is the US. The next three days of training will be all about taking on the US,” he added.Harris said he found staying in Qatar enjoyable.“The hotels are great. We have our own little room for games and other activities. The hotel has everything we need. There are recovery rooms, the gyms. So far so good,” he said before leaving the press conference for his team’s training session at Al Sadd pitch 2.Wales face Iran on November 25 and wrap up the group stage with a clash against England on November 29.

Al Duhailu2019s Ismail Mohamed (right) celebrates after scoring against Al Sailiya in the Amir Cup quarter-finals on Sunday.
Al Duhail ease past Al Sailiya to reach semis

Former champions Al Duhail on Sunday beat Al Sailiya 4-1 to reach the semi-finals of the Amir Cup, the country’s most popular football tournament. In the day’s other quarter-final, Al Gharafa edged Qatar SC 2-1 at Grand Hamad Stadium to reach the last-four. Toby Alderweireld opened the scoring for Al Duhail in the 12th minute. His teammate Ismail Mohamed doubled the lead in the 34th minute. Al Sailiya’s Walter Bwalya reduced the deficit in the 54th minute but three minutes later Abdelrahma Mustafa found the net for Al Duhail. Qatar national team player Karim Boudiaf hammered in the fourth goal (76th minute) as Al Duhail completed their resounding win. For Al Gharafa, Amro Surag scored the first goal in the 24th minute but Javi Martinez produced the equaliser for Qatar SC in the 57th minute. Sofiane Hanni managed the winning goal seven minutes later. Scorer of the second goal, Mohamed of Al Duhail said after the match: “I say hard luck to Al Sailiya but we played well. Once we scored the second goal, we knew we were on our way. We fought hard until the last minute. Thank God we reached our target.” He added: “We are ready for Al Sadd now. We will give our best but first we will rest and recover and come back with another strategy. This is a big tournament and we want to do well. That goes without saying. We will continue to play good football. Al Sadd are a solid side but we will come prepared. We are focused on winning the Cup.” Abdullah Mahmood of Al Sailiya said after the match: “They played better football. Their football was better than ours. It was a good tournament for us. We couldn’t get past this match. We will come prepared in the next season. We all worked hard.” Alderweireld jumped high on a corner kick to deflect the ball home from close range as Al Duhail opened the scoring. Mohamed, after a cross from the midfield, hoodwinked his marker and slipped into the Al Sailiya box. Al Sailiya keeper stepped out to kill the move but Mohamed smartly tapped the ball into the net from close range. A defensive error allowed Al Sailiya to score their first and only goal when Bwalya tapped the ball into the net following a short cross inside the Al Duhail box. Al Duhail’s Moustafa – on the edge of the Al Sailiya box – unleashed a powerful left-footed drive that beat the Al Sailiya keeper Abdul Rahman Abdul Aziz in the 57th minute. Boudiaf rounded off Al Duhail’s dominant show when he headed home from close range off a corner kick by jumping high for the header. For Al Gharafa, Suraj scored the first goal with a superb chip over Qatar SC keeper for his side’s first goal. Martinez headed home for Qatar SC’s equaliser close to the hour-mark. However, Hanni found the net for Al Gharafa with a close-range strike inside the Qatar SC box for the match winning goal.      

Nasser al-Khelaifi (R), president of the Qatar Tennis Federation, Paris Saint-Germain FC, and chairman of beIN Media Group, presents Iga Swiatek (L) of Poland with the winner's trophy after the final match of the 2022 WTA Qatar Open in Doha on February 26, 2022.
Sensational Swiatek wins Golden Falcon Trophy in Qatar

Polish tennis sensation Iga Swiatek Friday crushed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in straight sets to win the Qatar TotalEnergies Open title for the first time. Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, Friday won 6-2, 6-0 in a clinical performance that was loudly cheered by a big group of Polish fans present at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex. Iga Swiatek of Poland poses with the winner's trophy after winning the final match of the 2022 WTA Qatar Open in Doha Qatar Tennis Federation (QTF) president Nasser al-Khelaifi presented the Golden Falcon Trophy to Swiatek at the presentation ceremony. The straight-set demolition of Kontaveit, seeded fourth in Doha, was completed in just 66 minutes with the second set getting over in less than half an hour. Winner Iga Swiatek (R) of Poland celebrates with her trophy next to runner-up Annet Kontaveit of Estonia It was Swiatek’s second WTA 1000 final triumph following her title win over Karolina Pliskova at Rome last year. Friday’s win was Swiatek’s 10th in a row this year. The Polish tennis star, winner of the 2020 French Open, has now won 4 career titles. Seeded seven for the premier event in Doha, Swiatek has now won two titles on hardcourts after her win in Adelaide last year and the only Pole to reach the final in the Qatari capital. A winner over top seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in the quarter-finals, Swiatek fired five aces in her convincing win Friday. Iga Swiatek of Poland celebrates with her trophy “It's been a pretty few intense months but I'm pretty happy that today I could play the way I did today because before the match, I got stressed as it seemed impossible to beat her considering the last tournaments that she has played,” Swiatek said Friday while praising her rival. “You're constantly improving, you're playing really solid. I'm pretty happy that we had this match. Though the score wasn't even, all the points were even as we were fighting. You were fighting because you are a fighter and congrats for all the wins you had here,” she added. “I want to thank Tournament Director Saad Al Mohannadi, the WTA and all those who make this tournament possible. It's been great. I love it here. This is my second time. I'm always going to remember the memories of this week. “The support that I got here was amazing and it's even though I'm on tour for like three years now, it's still surprising to me how many Polish people came here,” she said with a smile. “I want to thank my team. I know how much work they've put to get me in shape and how much they sacrifice sometimes. I really appreciate that. Without them, I wouldn't be in that place,” the Doha winner said. Swiatek also spoke about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “And lastly, I want to show my support for the people who are suffering in Ukraine. It's really hard to say. Seeing those images is really emotional for me,” Swiatek said. “I wouldn't even imagine stuff like that happening to the country next to me. I hope everybody at the end is going to be safe. I hope that even though this is like a big event looking at all the problems that we have in the world, the (world of) sport is going to connect. And even though there are many things dividing us, (sport) is going to connect us and it's going to bring us joy. So thank you all for coming tonight, and I hope the Ukrainian people are going to be well,” she said. Kontaveit arrived for the Doha title clash having reached more finals and won more matches than any other player on the Tour since 2021. Playing her ninth final during this period, Kontaveit – despite having won a total of 61 matches in the last 14 months – Friday couldn’t halt Swiatek’s charge in chilly conditions. After being tied at 1-all, Swiatek broke Kontaveit in the third game as the Estonian went long on her returns on three occasions. Kontaveit hit back and broke Swiatek in the next game to draw level at 2-all but then faltered again by losing serve in game five. A long return and an unforced error from Kontaveit at deuce allowed Swiatek to manage a decisive service break in game seven (5-2). Swiatek was quick to convert the first set point in her favour to take the set at 6-2. Then there was no coming back for Kontaveit. With momentum on her side, Swiatek switched gears with remarkable ease breaking her opponent three times in the second set to close the match in a little over an hour’s time. Swiatek won 10 successive games after losing the service in game four of the first set. Kontaveit was quick to applaud the victory in her speech after the final. “I want to congratulate Iga. You are fantastic. You just keep getting better and congratulations to you and your team on a fantastic week,” Kontaveit said at the presentation ceremony Friday. “Of course not the result I wanted, but yeah, definitely a very good week for me,” the 26-year-old Estonian said. “I am also very happy with the way my game is improving. And that's of course, thanks to my team and everyone who has been supporting me. “I want to say thank you to the organizers for making this fantastic event happen including everybody involved like the sponsors and the WTA. I am just very grateful to be playing tennis at this level and just happy to be here,” she added. BOX ITEM Iga Swiatek’s last 4 finals: 2020 Roland Garros: 6-4 6-1, Kenin 2021 Adelaide: 6-2 6-2, Belinda Bencic 2021 Rome: 6-0 6-0, Karolina Pliskova 2022 Doha: 6-2, 6-0 Anett Kontaveit     YEAR CHAMPION RUNNER-UP SCORE 2022 [7] Swiatek (POL #8) [7 ] Konatveit (EST #7) 6-2 6-0 2021 [4] Kvitova (CZE #10) Muguruza (ESP #16) 6-2 6-1 2020 [9] Sabalenka (BLR #13) [8] Kvitova (CZE #11) 6-3 6-3 2019 Mertens (BEL #21) [1] Halep (ROU #3) 3-6 6-4 6-3 2018 [16] Kvitova (CZE #21) [4] Muguruza (ESP #4) 3-6 6-3 6-4 2017 [2] Ka.Pliskova (CZE #3) Wozniacki (DEN #18) 6-3 6-4 2016 [8] Suárez Navarro (ESP #11) Ostapenko (LAT #88) 1-6 6-4 6-4 2015 Safarova (CZE #15) Azarenka (BLR #48) 6-4 6-3 2014 [7] Halep (ROU #10) [6] Kerber (GER #9) 6-2 6-3 2013 [1] Azarenka (BLR #1) [2] S.Williams (USA #2) 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3 2012 [1] Azarenka (BLR #1) [3] Stosur (AUS #5) 6-1 6-2

Iga Swiatek of Poland in action agaisnt top seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during their quarter-final at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open in Doha onThursday..
Swiatek stuns Sabalenka as Ostapenko beats Muguruza

Polish tennis star Iga Swiatek on Thursday stunned top seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to set up a semi-final clash against sixth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece. Swiatek won 6-2, 6-3 against the 2020 Qatar champion as the 2020 French Open winner completed her first win in two career matches over the experienced rival at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex. Also yesterday, Dubai winner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia produced a compact performance to crush fifth seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain in straight sets to reach the semi-finals. Ostapenko, making her sixth appearance in Doha, won 6-2, 6-2 for her 14th victory of the season, the highest by any player in 2022. The 24-year-old Latvian has now reached her third semi-final of the year after making it to last-four stages at St Petersburgh and Dubai. Ostapenko has stretched her winning streak to nine matches, a personal best. Today Ostapenko will meet Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, the fourth seed who yesterday broke Tunisian hearts when she beat eighth seed Ons Jabeur in straight sets to reach the semi-finals. Kontaveit, with one title under her belt this year, won 6-4, 6-1. Yesterday, Sakkari maintained her dominance over Coco Gauff as she beat the American for the third time in four matches on the WTA Tour. Sakkari fired five aces to complete a 6-3, 6-3 win in 1 hour and 26 minutes. It was her third successive victory over an American player in Doha following wins over Ann Li and Jessica Pegula. Swiatek broke Sabalenka four times in the first set and then and another two times to complete her resounding win in just 1 hour and 15 minutes. “I was waiting for this match was quite stressful as it was my first quarter-final on a hard court at a tournament like this,” Swiatek said yesterday. “I just wanted to stay focused as I did in the last few rounds here. I knew Aryna was going to play strong so I am really that my mental game was to the point,” the 21-year-old added. Ostapenko yesterday broke Muguruza three times in each of the two sets to completely dominate the fifth seed in Doha. “I’m really happy with the level I was playing today. I think I was dictating the game very well and obviously I knew she’s a great player, so it was always going to be a tough match. I was really ready for it, ready for a battle. But I think it was a bit easier than I expected,” Ostapenko said yesterday. “I love to play here. I have great memories from this tournament. I’m just enjoying the week. I’m in playing good tennis and just looking forward to the next one,” the 2016 runners-up in Qatar said. About her semi-final against Estonia’s Konatveit today, Ostapenko said: “Of course, it’s going to be a tough match, but I’m really ready for a battle and I hope you guys enjoy it,” she added. After being equal for the first nine games against Jabeur, Kontaveit, 26, broke the diminutive Tunisian in game 10 to close the first set at 6-4. With momentum on her side, Kontaveit, making her fifth appearance in Doha, won the first game of the second set and then broke Jabeur again in game two. Another service break in game sic saw Kontaveit complete a straight-sets win. “It was really a very competitive first set. I think it was so even until we were 5-4 and then I managed to play the good points and take the first set,” Kontaveit said yesterday. “That really helped my level and I had a fun game. I was really enjoying myself today,” she added. “I have just gained a lot of confidence,” Kontaveit said when asked about her sixth semi-finals appearance at her last seven events. “I feel every tournament I play, I can go deep. I have this self-belief that I was perhaps lacking before. That’s made the biggest difference,” she added with a smile. Gauff uncharacteristically was guilty of 26 unforced errors as Sakkari, 27, reached her 15th quarter-final on a hardcourt besides playing the last-four at Roland Garros last year. Sakkari broke Gauff in the very first game and then once more in the ninth to seal the first set at 6-3. In the second set, Sakkari – making her fourth appearance in Doha - broke Gauff in games two and four before closing out the set at 6-3. By virtue of her win yesterday, Sakkari has now moved into her sixth semi-final at the WTA 1000 level or above following Wuhan 2017, Rome 2019, Miami 2021, Roland Garros 2021 and the US Open 2021. “I’m actually very happy with where my game is right now. I’m just enjoying myself, enjoying my tennis,” Sakkari said yesterday. “I think it was a very solid match today from my side. I had to come up with some very good tennis throughout the match because Coco is a very tough opponent. So I’m just, as I said, very pleased and very excited to be in the semi-finals,” she added. “…being one of the top 10 players right now, I feel like I’m here for a reason. I’m here because my tennis is at a very high level. So sometimes it’s like I don’t have to show up on court. Tennis-wise, it’s just that sometimes I don’t have to do that much in order to win. It’s just that emotionally and mentally, you have to be there all the time, but sometimes you don’t need 100 percent of your tennis to win matches,” Sakkari explained. “So I think, you know, obviously for the reasons why I said earlier, my tennis was not great on my first round match, but obviously today’s match was a lot higher and a lot better. You need to save energy in order to go deep every week,” she said.

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus celebrates her victory against Alize Cornet of France.
Sabalenka off to quick start, Ostapenko also advances

Top seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Tuesday looked in a hurry as she demolished French wildcard Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-2 to advance at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open. In other matches, defending champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic saw her campaign end with an injury while playing against Belgium’s Elise Mertens on Day Three of the $1.2mn tournament. Also yesterday, Dubai winner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia beat Amanda Anisimova of the US. Ostapenko won 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in 1 hour and 39 minutes. It was Ostapenko’s seventh straight win in the Dubai-Doha trip. Sabalenka, the Doha champion in 2020, yesterday exhibited sublime form, crushing points from the baseline and on her serve. The Belarusian, who reached the Round of 16 in Dubai last week, was quick off the blocks to negate the challenge of her inexperienced rival. The 23-year-old Minsk-born broke Cornet in the third game of the first set. The young French rival managed to save a couple of breakpoints but a long return and an unforced error saw Sabalenka take a 3-1 lead. In game seven, Sabalenka broke Cornet again to jump to a 5-2. A crushing forehand from Sabalenka saw her take the first set at 6-2 in just 40 minutes. In the second set, Sabalenka – one of six former champions in the Doha draw – broke Cornet in games one and five to carve out another impressive win. After wrapping up a match without a single breakpoint, Sabalenkla said she had to battle through a few tough rallies. “No, no. It definitely wasn’t easy. It was a really tough match to play, I had to play really well,” Sabalenka said yesterday. “She pushed me a lot and did well at the start. But I guess I have amazing support here. Thank you guys so much. It’s unbelievable to play in front of fans who cheer for you like this. Thank you for the support,” she added, while waving at the fans present at Centre Court. Sabalenka said she expected long rallies in the match. “Well, I expected long rallies in this match and I prepared myself for this. I knew that these kinds of rallies would be seen often. My tactic was just to stay in the point as long as I can and try to push her as much as I can. I also tried to serve well,” Sabalenka explained. When reminded of her previous title win in 2020, Sabalenka said: “It’s an amazing place. I really enjoy every second on the court here and I have the best support in Doha. I feel like being at home. So it would be really amazing to win another title,” she said with a broad smile. “I really feel the support (of fans) there (in Belraus) also. I know a lot of people are supporting me. I really appreciate their support. They know that I really love them,” she said. Also yesterday, second seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic beat Poland’s Magda Linette in straight sets. Krejcikova won 6-1, 6-3 in 1 hour and 12 minutes. The 26-year-old is bidding to become the fourth Czech woman to lift the Doha title. Third seed Spain’s Paula Badosa beat Clara Tauson of Denmark 6-1, 6-2 while American seeded players Coco Gauff and compatriot Jessica Pegula also advanced. Gauff, seeded 14, beat Caroline Garcia of France 6-2, 7-6 (7/3) while Pegula, seeded 9, edged Slovakia’s Kaja Juvan 6-3, 6-3. Ostapenko, who won her fifth career title last week, also looked impressive yesterday as she battled through her clash against Ainisimova of the US. Back in the top-20 for the first time since October 2018, Ostapenko braved seven aces to emerge victorious in the 1-hour 39-minute marathon. Two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus yesterday pulled out of her match against Madison Brengle because of a hip injury. The 2012 and 2013 Qatar champion beat Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan in a feisty contest on Sunday. Brengle will now meet Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the Round of 16. Muguruza, seeded five, has lost two finals against Kvitova in Doha – last year and in 2018. Eighth seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia yesterday beat Aliaksandra Sasnovic of Belarus 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 in 1 hour and 48 minutes. Despite going down in the first set, Jabeur fired five aces to lift herself in admirable fashion. Two years ago, Jabeur reached the quarter-finals in Doha.      

Garbine Muguruza of Spain (left) arrives for her training session at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha on Sunday.
Sabalenka, Muguruza eye Qatar glory as trophy battle begins

Top seed and world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus says she is rapidly building momentum as she bids to get her first trophy in the new season ahead of her opening match at this week’s Qatar TotalEnergies Open. Sabalenka, who gets a bye in the first round along with seven other players, reached the Round of 16 in Dubai last week. Last month Sabalenka reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, the season’s first Grand Slam. Before the start of the Australian Open, the 23-year-old Minsk-born lost the Adelaide International 2 final against Rebecac Peterson. A week earlier, she was beaten by Kaja Juvan in the Adelaide International title clash. Winner of six career titles, Sabalenka could add one more trophy to her cabinet if she successfully tackles a field that includes a number of Grand Slam champions including Garbine Muguruza of Spain, Iga Swiatek of Poland, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, Angelique Kerber of Germany and Jelena Ostapenka of Latvia. The six-foot tall right-hander – who won the Qatar Open title two years ago - yesterday said she is in a good space at the moment despite being without a trophy in the first two months of the 2022 season. “(Dubai) was (a) tough week. I would say I didn’t perform my best, but I gave everything I had. I felt like things are slowly getting back. I’m working hard and hopefully I can do better here,” Sabalenka said yesterday. “I’m really happy to be here. It’s an amazing tournament. I have a lot of good memories from here,” she added. “I like the conditions (smiling). It suits my game well. Yeah, I like it,” the top seed said. “It’s really strong tournament here. Every match is a battle here,” she said. “But I would say that everywhere every match is a battle for us, and every match, every tournament is (a) challenge. I’m open for all these challenges and looking forward to all these matches,” Sabalenka said. “I (have) won this tournament once and hopefully I can do it again,” she said. Muguruza, who is seeded five in Doha, yesterday said she felt ‘battle-ready for the premier seven-day tournament that offers a staggering $380,000 to the winner besides 900 WTA Tour points. “So far (so) good,” Muguruza, last year’s losing finalist, said yesterday. “I have been training, I have been getting ready. It’s a tournament that I have played (at for) so many years. I know, I think, how it is and how to prepare,” the 28-year-old said. “… just waiting for an opponent and hopefully I can start tomorrow.” The two-time Grand Slam winner said Doha presented a windy challenge to players appearing in the 64-player field. “Conditions are kind of windy here always. It’s always hot during the day and cold at night. Yeah, pretty much Middle East weather (smiling),” Muguruza said. “I keep coming (to Doha) because it is a big tournament. It’s important on our calendar. Like you said, I have played well in the past (lost to Petra Kvitova in two finals). I have been very, very, very close to getting the title twice. “But playing finals, it’s always a very good sign, so I feel like I know how to play here. Hopefully I can bring all of these match experiences into this year’s tournament,” she said. The Spaniard said she followed Roberto Bautista Agut’s title triumph at the iconic Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex last week. “I saw that he (Bautista Agut) won the title for a second time (in Doha). I think he won it already in the past. That was a great final. I actually saw the semi-finals and final. Hopefully another Spaniard can get the title, so we conquer Qatar 2022 (smiling),” she said with a smile. Muguruza, last year’s WTA Tour-ending championships winner, yesterday said she may not venture out for sightseeing in Doha but is aware of the construction blitz in the country ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to be hosted in Qatar later this year. “There has been a lot of construction lately here in Doha. There are a couple of high profile museums that seem interesting, and obviously the gigantic mall they built here. So far I don’t have plans to do (venture out) much. I just want to concentrate and rest for the tournament,” she added.      

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus unleashes a forehand against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan on Day One of the Qatar TotalEnergies Open at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex yesterday. Azarenka won the match 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 to advance to the second round. Picture: Noushad Thekkeykil
Azarenka scripts sensational win on Day One

Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Sunday rallied from a set down to beat feisty Yulia Putintseva of Kazkhstan to sign in for the second round of Qatar TotalEnergies Open Azarenka, the Qatar champion in 2012 and 2013, on Sunday won 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in two hours and 49 minutes. The two-time Grand Slam winner fought back from 0-4 down in the deciding set during which Putintseva also held match-point. “I am so happy to have won here. I always love coming here. I even trained here before I went to Dubai. This feels like home because people are so welcoming,” Azarenka said. Azrenka, who fired seven aces in the tense three-set battle, added: “Doha is one of my favourtite stops on Tour. I have made such great connections here. I love playing in front of this crowd. I hope I can pick up my game in the next round.” Fourteenth seed Jessica Pegula of the US yesterday beat Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-2 in 70 minutes. Pegula, who played the Doha semi-finals last year as a qualifier, hit three aces in her second win over Siniakova. The American will face Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan of Slovenia in the next round at the seven-day tournament. In a shock result yesterday, Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic was shown the door by Denmark’s Clara Tauson in three grueling sets. Tauson, only the second Danish player to compete at a WTA Tour event in Doha after Caroline Wozniacki, fired 7 aces in her 1 hour and 58-minute win. “It was a very tough match. I know Belinda is playing very well so I had to play my best today, and I did sometimes,” Tauson said after the match. “I have my confidence but every match is really tough at this level, so I’m doing my best.” she added. In another clash, Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck eased past former champion Vera Zvonareva of Russia in straight sets to reach the second round. Van Uytvanck won 6-4, 6-4 in a minute short of two hours against the 2011 champion in Qatar. Also yesterday, Juvan of Slovenia kicked off her Qatar campaign with a commanding show against Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland. Juvan won 6-4, 6-2 in 80 minutes. Romania’s Sorana Cirstea also advanced after she beat Mayar Sherif of Egypt, also in straight sets. Cirstea, sitting on her highest ever ranking of 30, won 6-2, 6-1 in 68 minutes. Cirestea, one of three Romanians in the draw, will now play last year’s runner’s-up Garbine Muguruza of Spain. In another match, Aliaksandra Sasnovic of Belarus beat Shuai Zhang of China 6-1, 6-1 in less than an hour’s time. Sasnovic, 27, fired four aces as she wrapped up the match with ease against her vastly experienced Chinese opponent. American Madison Brengle eased past Turkey’s Ipek Oz in straight sets. Brengle won 7-5, 6-3. Croatia’s Ana Konjuh beat Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk in three sets. Konjuh won 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.      

Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain (L) poses with the championship trophy and with Nasser al-Khelaifi (R), president of the Qatar Tennis Federation, Paris Saint-Germain FC, and chairman of beIN Media Group; after winning the tennis final match of the 2022 ATP Qatar Open against Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in Doha. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil
Bautista Agut corners Qatar glory in style

Spain’s Roberto Baustista Agut beat defending champion Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in a gripping Qatar ExxonMobil Open final. Baustista Agut won 6-3, 6-4 win in 84 minutes of calculative tennis watched by a packed crowd at the iconic Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex. It was the fourth win over Basilashvili in career head-to-head meetings and his 11th for the season. By virtue of fighting title win Saturday, Baustista Agut has become only the third player in Qatar to have won two or more titles. Tennis icon Roger Federer is the only player with three title wins in Qatar (2005, 2006, 2011) while Stefan Edberg of Sweden (1994, 1995), Andy Murray of Great Britain (2008, 2009), and Novak Djokovic (2016, 2017) have won two titles each. “I'm very happy now,” Baustita Agut said Saturday after exacting revenge on his conqueror during last year’s final. “It's been a while without lifting a trophy and I've been working very hard to play another final to get the chance to win another title,” he added. “It was a big dream for me when I was young to lift this title here and now I have won two times in Doha. “This tournament is being very special for me and I cannot be happier than now. It was a really tough final this year. I was lucky I could play the final as it was not easy to recover after a really tough match on Friday. Really tough battle (in the semi-finals), but I think I did a pretty good job today thanks to my team helping me recover as quickly as I could. “I won another Doha and it's my 10th title with a big title and I am very happy,” he said with a smile. Basilashvili, who fired 8 aces in the match, was the first one to manage a service break in the match when he broke Bautista Agut in game three of the first set. The 33-year-old Spaniard was wayward with a couple of long returns and an unforced error on his serve allowed Basilashvili jump to a 3-1 lead. But the gritty 2019 David Cup winner from Spain fought back in game six when a couple of backhand unforced errors along with a double fault slowed down Basilashvili at 3-3. In game eight, Bautista Agut made the most of a deuce situation when a couple of unforced errors from faltering Basilashvili allowed the 2019 Doha champion to surge ahead at 5-3. He quickly closed out the first set at 6-3 by holding serve. In the second set, Basilashvili broke Bautista Agut in game two to go 2-0 up but it wasn’t long before the eventual champion struck back. Bautista Agut broke Basilashvili in game five and then crucially in game nine when the latter went long on his returns after two unforced errors. With a 5-4 advantage, Bautista Agut saw three unforced errors from Basilashvili give him the set at 6-3 and his second title triumph. Basilashvili, who looked dejected, was quick to praise the new champion. “I'm super happy how I played this tournament in general and I love coming back here but I would like to say congrats to Roberto for a greater tournament,” the 29-year-old Georgian said Saturday. “I say congratulations to your team and his wonderful family. I would like to say thanks to my team as well. They are doing unbelievable job,” the 2021 champion, who beat Fededer here in Doha en route to his title glory, said. “I am extremely happy and pleased to have them with me. I applaud the tournament organizers and the sponsors for making such a great tournament every year. I hope to come back to next year,” he said.