Thursday, April 18, 2024 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 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.
Shapovalov, Bautista Agut in quarters after easy wins

          2019 champion Bautista Agut was barely troubled as the Spaniard cruised past two-time Qatar winner Andy Murray            Top seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada Wednesday crushed Alex Moclan of Slovakia in straight sets while former champion Roberta Bautista Agut of Spain hammered Andy Murray to reach the quarter-finals at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. Shapovalov, ranked number 12, Wednesday won 6-4, 6-0 in less than an hour’s time on the Centre Court at Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex. The powerful lefty – who served seven aces – has now improved to 8-3 for the season that includes a quarter-finals loss against Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal last month. Also Wednesday, 2019 champion Bautista Agut was barely troubled as the Spaniard cruised past two-time Qatar winner Murray in straight sets on Centre Court. Bautista Agut, who lost year’s final to Croatia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili, won 6-0, 6-1 in 68 minutes. Also advancing to the quarter-finals at the $1.2mn tournament were Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics – who beat Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 – and Alejandro Davidovic Fokina of Spain. Fonika, who cracked 13 aces, beat Great Britain’s Daniel Evans 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a two hour 53-minute marathon. In a shock result, Arthur Rinderknech of France upset seventh seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan in three feisty sets. Rinderknech won 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4 in 2 hours and 6 minutes despite fast-serving Bublik pounding 15 aces. Defending champion Basilashvili also signed in for the last-eight of the tournament as he beat Elias Ymer of Sweden 6-4, 7-5 in 2 hours and 3 minutes. Former US Open champion and fourth seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, meanwhile, ended the dream run of Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp with a 6-3, 7-5 win in 1 hour 43 minutes. In the day’s final clash on Centre Court, sixth seed Karen Khachanov of Russia eased past Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori in straight sets. Twenty-five year-old Khachanov, who fired 6 aces, won 7-6 (4), 6-3 in 1 hour and 32 minutes to go 2-0 over his Finnish opponent in head-to-head meetings. The day, however, belonged to second seed Bautista Agut who looked peerless in his straight-set demolition of Murray, the losing finalist in Doha in 2007 and 2017. It was the second heaviest defeat for the Briton who had lost to Roger Federer with a similar scoreline in London in 2014. “It’s never easy to win a match. It’s never easy to beat Andy. He’s a great player,” Bautista Agut said modestly. “I feel well after winning my first match here. I love playing in Qatar, I love playing in this court. I have played some of my best tennis on this court,” he added. “I am really happy to be in the quarter-finals and I am looking forward to playing here again,” he added. “We are doing well. We are working really hard. Ours is a really good team and my wife is also here. We are trying our best. And it (the good results) show on the court,” Bautista Agut said when asked about his rotating coaches Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Tomas Carbonell. “As I said I am feeling well, I enjoyed playing here tonight. I hope I can play on this court more. One of my motivations is to play like this. I love playing here. I (have) played really good matches here. I have faced good opponents. I hope I can play another good week of tennis here,” he said. Bautista Agut, who plays Fokina in the quarter-finals today, improved to 10-2 at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. The 33-year-old Davis Cup winner broke a sluggish Murray in game two when the three-time Grand Slam winner was guilty of two long returns. A similar pattern ensued in game four when Murray struggled with unforced errors to see Bautista Agut go 4-0 up in the first set. With momentum on his side, the Bautsita Agut sealed the first set with another service break against the Briton in game six. Bautista Agut, who now trails 2-3 against Murray in head-to-head, broke the 2008 and 2009 champion in games four and six to complete his dominance over the faltering Briton. A long return by Murray on match – point summed up his poor show in front of a crowd that included Colombian football star James Rodrigues who plays for Al Rayyan in Qatar.      

File picture from a previous edition of the Qatar Batabit Show.
Stage set for 2022 Qatar Batabit Show this week at Katara

The 2022 Qatar Batabit Show – a premier event for the region’s biker community - will be held at Katara Thursday and Friday, the organisers have announced. According to the general manager of Qatar Batabit, Ibrahim al-Haydos, the show will be the "biggest event for bikers" with entries coming in from across the Middle East. “This is the third time we will host this massively popular event for bikers. Two years ago, we had the first event at The Pearl-Qatar and last year, it was staged inside Katara. This time we are hosting the event bang opposite The St Regis Doha,” he said Wednesday. The event will be open from 3pm to 10pm on both days. There will also be a biker parade from Stadium 974, one of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 venues. The riders will start by 2.30pm and reach the competition area in Katara, he informed, stressing that the parade is a "dream show for any biker”. Al-Haydos informed that they have 105 entries so far for the show. "These entries are from Qatar, many are from the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait. There’s huge interest from the region’s biker community wanting to be part of our event." The two-day event for bikers features 20 categories, all of which offer prize money to the winners. "From small bikes to big ones, we will have all of them here. People who have seen the last two editions know what a fantastic gathering of bikers it is," the official noted. “Until now, everything is moving according to plan. From the number of participants, the setting up of the mechanical support kiosk and arrangements for fan entertainment, we are ready with our show." He thanked the event's sponsors, noting that they have provided "great support to us for long." "This is a public event backed by the Ministry of Sports and Youth. One of the purposes of this event is to spread road safety awareness among the youth. This is a good platform for us to educate young people on riding safety,” the general manager said. The first edition held two years ago was a huge success, he recalled, adding that last year's event was "even bigger than the first one". "We can clearly see a pattern evolving and we expect this week’s show to be even bigger than last year," al-Haydos said. “This year, we will have judges from the US as part of the show. We want to have experienced judges because there is serious competition among the participants. We want the best to judge the best. “My team has searched all over the world to find the most knowledgeable and reputable members of the motorbike community to judge the 2022 Qatar Batabit Show. Every event has different styles and you need to have experienced judges making their call on the bikes." Next year, the organisers will send invites to bikers around the world. "The biker industry is huge around the world with a massive fan following. We want to bring the same flavour to Qatar for an international event,” the official added. Al-Haydos highlighted Qatar Batabit's support for local bikers, saying: "We have workshops inside the competition arena here and any entry can get our help in setting up the bike as they like. Every season, we have many shows for classic bikes. We offer skills training for young fans who have off-road bikes or adventure rides. “Batabit Centre is for everyone. Qataris and expatriates are equally welcome. The biker family is growing and so is our event, which is open to the public." The organisers said people visiting the bike show would have no issues in finding a parking spot as a vast spot just next to the competition arena is open to the public.

Andy Murray of Great Britain
Murray makes confident start as Bublik cruises

For two-time champion Andy Murray of Great Britain, it was a near-perfect performance on day two of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. The three-time Grand Slam champion – a winner here in 2008 and 2009 – Tuesday beat Taro Daniel of Japan in straight sets to kick-start his campaign in Doha on a confident note. Needing a wildcard to enter the Doha field because of the sliding ranking, Murray won 6-2, 6-2 in front of a cheering crowd at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex where the popular Briton looked confident from the first serve. Murray, who fired four aces, has now won 20 matches in Doha against just three losses in six visits. In another one-sided clash on Centre Court, seventh seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan eased past Croatian qualifier Jozef Kovalik 6-2, 6-4 in 1 hour and 22 minutes. Also Tuesday, Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics beat South African qualifier Lloyd Harris 6-4, 7-6 (4), Sweden’s Elias Ymer edged Joao Sousa of Portugal 2-6, 6-3, 7-7 while Spain’s Alejandro Davidovic Fokina hammered Tunisian wildcard entry Malek Jaziri 6-1, 6-3. Murray, building slow momentum in his comeback from injuries and the subsequent lay-off to recover from surgeries – looked every bit like the dominating force he was on the Tour for most of the past decade. The 34-year-old is now 2-1 against Taro in head-to-head and 7-4 for the year. Murray, now ranked No.87 in the world, had a warning ahead of his match against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. “The result today tells me the conditions are good for my game,” Murray, with a towel resting on his shoulders, said. “If I can play to a good level, the courts are going to suit me and here I will make it difficult everyone I am playing against,” Murray said. A finalist in Doha on two separates occasions (2007 and 2017) besides his title wins in Doha, Murray broke Taro in games six and eight to take the first set in just 36 minutes. Murray – the only player to have at least seven wins against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – was quick to pick up flaws in Taro’s tactics in game 6 when the 29-year-old Japanese was guilty of an unforced error and a long return to allow the Briton to go 4-2 up in the first set. In game eight, Murray – holding advantage with three breakpoints – closed out the first set as a Taro return went long on set point. Taro, who beat Murray at the Australian Open last month, exhibited a bit of fight by breaking the Briton in the first game of the second set. But the Briton wasted little breath in breaking his Japanese rival in the next game to draw level at 1-1. Murray saw Taro return long twice on his own serve to go 3-1 up in the second set. Murray did not lose his serve thereafter closing the match with a classic backhand crosscourt shot the Taro did not even attempt to reach on match point. “Obviously it feels great to be back (in Doha), nice to start with a win. I have not played here for a few years. A lot has changed since I was last here. I’ve always played well here. I love the conditions. Everyone involved in the tournament makes it easy for the players. We get looked after really well. Yes, delighted to be back,” Murray said after his impressive win. “He (Taro) played very well in Australia. He had a very good run there. He was too good for me there. I tried to be the one dictating out there from the first point. I think I did that today. It was one of the better matches I have played in recent months,” Murray said when about his Japanese conqueror at the Australian Open last month. When asked about his match-up against Bautista Agut, Murray – the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in men’s singles – presented a quick assessment. “I think he has also played well here in the past. He beat Djokovic one year and reached the final last year. Obviously he likes the conditions here. He is one of the best on the Tour. He has been on top of his game for a really long time. We played a few times in past, usually pretty long matches, long rallies so yeah, it will be a physical one. I need to get rest,” Murray said. The business end of things kicks off for the seeded players who will be seen in action today. Top seed David Shapovalov of Canada will play Alex Moclan, second seed Bautista Agut faces Murray, third seed and defending champion Nikoloz Basilashvili takes on Ymer and fourth seed Marin Cilic of Croatia faces Dutch Botic van de Zandschulp.    

Karen Khachanov of Russia serves to Mackenzie McDonald of USA during their first round of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex on Monday. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Khachanov breezes past McDonald for winning start

Sixth seed Karen Khachanov of Russia on Monday sailed into round two of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open with a straight-sets win over Mackenzie McDonald of the US as former champion Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain braced for a similar positive start at the $1.2mn tournament. Khachanov, 25, battled well from the baseline to carve out a 7-6 (3), 6-3 in 1 hour 25 minutes on the Centre Court. By virtue of yesterday’s win, Khachanov leads McDonald 3-0 in head-to-head meetings while improving to 8-4 for this season. The Russian, who broke into the top-10 for the first time in 2019, on Monday cracked eight aces in his impressive win that was wrapped up under lights at the iconic Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex. “It was a tricky test, the first round,” Khachanov said yesterday. “That’s true, it was my first match here that went well because in my two earlier outings here I couldn’t win and I am really happy to win. I am also happy to see the crowds. I had two weeks off after the Australian Open and that helped,” he added. Khachanov, the silver medallist at the Tokyo Olympic Games last year, will now meet the winner from today’s match between David Goffin of Belgium and Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland for a place in the third round. Meanwhile second seed Bautista Agut yesterday sounded confident ahead of his first match tomorrow. The Spaniard will meet the winner of the match involving former champion Andy Murray – who is playing with a wildcard – and Japan’s Taro Daniel scheduled for today. Bautista Agut, the 33-year-old Davis Cup winner for Spain in 2019 just days after his father passed away, lifted the Qatar ExxonMobil Open three years ago before losing to Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili in final Doha last year. “Yes, of course I like this tournament. I think it’s great for my game,” Bautista Agut said yesterday. “I really enjoy playing here in Doha. I think the conditions are very nice to show some good tennis,” the Spaniard added. Echoing top seed Denis Shapovalov’s sentiments from Sunday, Bautista Agut said the Doha field had many players with potential for winning the title this week. Shapovalov is joined by two-time Qatar winner Murray, former US Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia and defending champion Basilashvili. “It’s also a very special 250 event. They always get really good players in the draw, and it’s very special to be here,” Bautista Agut said. When asked about Spain’s chances at the Qatar FIFA World Cup later this year, Batista Agut said yesterday: “Yes, I think they (Spain’s football team) are doing very well. It’s a very young team. When I see their matches, I feel the intensity. I feel the passion, the passion of the group. I think Luis Enrique is a great coach. I think he’s doing a great job. Well, just wishing them a great event at the World Cup (in Qatar).” When asked if he would be coming back to Qatar, he said: “I don’t think I have time enough to come, no (smiling)? But of course if I’m here, around the World Cup, I will watch some games.” Earlier yesterday, Korean star Soonwoo Kwon overcame an ace blitz from American qualifier Christopher Eubanks to reach the second round of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. Kwon won 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-4 in almost two hours. It was the first meeting between the two players. The 24-year-old Korean – ranked 55 – sealed his win despite 15 aces from the 6`7” tall American. In the day’s first clash yesterday, Alex Molcan also took three sets to reach the second round. Molcan from Slovak Republic clinched the first meeting against Christopher O’Connell, winning 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6), 6-4 in 2 hours and 35 minutes. Molcan fired 4 aces compared to 9 by the 27-year-old Australian. Moclan will now play the top seed Shapovalov in the second round. Shapovalov yesterday managed his first official workout in Qatar when he teamed up with India’s Rohan Bopanna in the doubles to beat Molcan and Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic 7-5, 4-6, 10-6. Basilashvili joined hands with Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina to beat Ruusuvuori and Elias Ymer of Sweden 6-1, 7-5 in their doubles match. Also advancing to the second round in the singles was Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp who beat Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano in straight sets yesterday. Van de Zandschulp won 6-2, 7-6 (5) in 93 minutes. In the day’s final match yesterday, fifth seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain beat Egor Gerasimov of Belarus 6-4, 6-4 in 91 minutes.      

World No 12 Denis Shapovalov.
Grand Slam exploits of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic hard to repeat: Shapovalov

Canada’s rising tennis star Denis Shapovalov believes the exploits of Grand Slam icons Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are unlikely to be matched by any player in the future. Nadal last month lifted his 21st Grand Slam trophy to nudge ahead of Federer and Djokovic, both with 20 titles each. In his promising young career, Shapovalov of Canada has so far played a Wimbledon semi-final and two other Grand Slam quarter-finals. The 22-year-old last month checked out of the Australian Open at the quarter-finals stage against eventual champion Nadal. “I think it is unbelievable (winning the 21st Grand Slam). What he (Nadal) has been through (because of injury) and to see him on court after that and the way that he played at the Australian Open, it is inspiring to see,” Shapovalov said yesterday. “I have always been a huge fan of him and his game. It was definitely amazing to see him lift the 21st Grand Slam title. To see the other two (Federer and Djokovic) now – kind of – sweating a little bit (smiles) again while they try to beat him,” the Canadian said. “This rivalry is something that’s never going to happen. And to witness this (race to win the highest number of Grand Slam titles) is amazing. Like I said, the way Rafa was playing physically in Australia after taking a long break was something special. It was awesome,” Shapovalov said. When asked whether Nadal had nudged ahead in the ‘Greatest Of All Time’ race in tennis, Shapovalov quickly said: “Stop the call to judge who is the greatest of all time (smiles). Winning a Grand Slam title is a very big thing and he’s made it. Regardless of what they have done in tennis, all three of them are the greatest. That’s what has to be said. In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter who finishes with the most Grand Slam titles. All these guys have something special that tennis will never see again.” Shapovalov, the top seed at this week’s Qatar ExxonMobil Open, said the modern-day players stood a better chance of having long careers, if not being as successful as the “Big Three’ “I see today’s players having longevity just because the science of the sport is better. Players can stay on the Tour longer,” Shapovalov said yesterday. “In terms of results, in terms of what these three guys have done, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again. I think it will be a long time before we witness something like this. But I do think in terms of longevity, today’s players will stay on Tour for a long time,” the Tel Aviv-born said.      

The main entrance for fans at the iconic Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha yesterday. The 2022 Qatar ExxonMobil Open starts on Monday.
Top seed Shapovalov is confident ahead of Qatar ExxonMobil Open

Top seed Denis Shapovalov feels confident ahead of this week’s Qatar ExxonMobil Open where the Canadian would be looking to bag his first title of the new season. The 32-player field has attracted former champion Roberto Bautista-Agut of Spain, defending champion Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia and 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic of Croatia. Great Britain’s Daniel Evans is seeded five while Russia’s Karen Kachanov is the sixth seed at the $1.2mn tournament to be played at the iconic Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex from Feb 14-19. Alexander Bublik is seeded seven while Lloyd Harris is the eighth seed at the popular event. World number 12 Shapovalov, who has a bye in the first round, yesterday said he felt ready to launch his Doha campaign with a win. “Any tournament you go to, it has a strong field. It’s a difficult tournament for sure. In terms of my game, I feel good. Conditions are pretty similar to Australia actually,” Shapavalov said yesterday. “I played really well there (in Melbourne). Just a little bit comfortable on the courts here. The balls are the same as in Australia. I feel comfortable with myself and my game. The practice sessions I had here felt good. I am feeling really, really good. Hopefully I can have a great week. I am looking forward to playing here. “It’s an amazing place. One of the best weeks on Tour, really. So I am excited to start here,” the 22-year-old Canadian said. Last month, Shapovalov lost to eventual Australian Open winner Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals. The tall Canadian said he is in ‘privilege class’ to be the top seeded at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, now into its 30th year. “First of all, there’s always pressure in any match you play. Obviously there’s different pressure as a top seed compared to an underdog,” Shapovalov explained. “For sure, it is different (being seeded) and it is something I am learning to deal with well. It’s definitely something I am working on. I think it is a privilege to be seeded and have that pressure in general. I think it is something that top players get used to and they do a good job of it,” he added. The rising Canadian star said he is keen to deliver improved performances in Doha and in the rest of the season. “I just want to improve my game, I don’t really have so many goals. I just want to keep getting better in the areas I can improve,” Shapovalov said. “I feel like if I can become a better tennis player, the (good) results would come on their own. (It’s) not about any specific results for me. It’s just about improving every day. I just look forward to getting back to work and just putting in the time, and really working as a team and try to be a better tennis player. Shapovalov said he has the game to challenge the top players though he could not go past Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon semi-finals last year before losing to Nadal at the Australian Open last month. “I think against Novak, the occasion probably got to me (last year in the Wimbledon semi-finals). I was a little bit more in the moment than the match itself,” Shapovalov said yesterday. “I was playing well but wasn’t able to hold on to the lead in the first set. “Against Rafa (in the Australian Open quarter-finals), I think it was a great match. He just played better in the fifth set. The level was really high. He’s an unbelievable player. I played good tennis though,” he said. Shapovalov, who is in the top half of the draw, is expected to meet third seed Basilashvili who beat Bautista-Agut in the title clash last year. The two could meet in the quarter-finals of the six-day tournament where former champion Andy Murray of Great Britain is appearing with a wildcard. Murray beat Basilashvili in a thrilling five-set clash at the Australian Open last month. If Murray goes past Japan’s Taro Daniel in their first-round clash, then the Briton is lined up to play against this week’s second seed Bautista-Agut, the 2019 winner in Doha. Fourth seed in Doha, Cilic could be playing sixth seed Kachanov in the quarter-finals this week. Winner of 20 titles, Cilic bagged the 2014 US Open title and was a runner-up to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final in 2018. The title winner in Doha picks up $$114,875 while the losing finalist takes home $$80,410.      

Tunisia's players celebrate winning the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 semi-final football match between Tunisia and Egypt at the 974 stadium
Egypt own goal gifts Tunisia a place in the final

Tunisia Wednesday beat Egypt 1-0 after an injury-time own goal to reach the final of the FIFA Arab Cup. Playing under lights at the imposing Stadium 974, both teams failed to score until the injury-time free-kick late in the second half by Tunisia’s Naim Sliti. As the ball curled into the box, Egypt’s Amro Elsoulia mistakenly headed the ball into his own net. Thousands of delirious Tunisians celebrated the goal in jubilant fashion as downbeat Egyptian players saw the referee signal the end of the match just seconds later. After a fast-paced start, Tunisia attacked Egypt backline twice in the first few minutes but Carlos Queiroz’s defenders remained alert to allay the threatening moves. In the 5th minute, Hannibal Mejbri curled in a beautiful corner kick that was intercepted by a slick header from Montassar Talbi but the deflection from close range narrowly slipped past the Egypt crossbar. Seven minutes later, high-scoring Seifeddine Jaziri made inroads into the Egypt box but his move was ruled offside. In another attack from Tunisia, Talbi connected with his header on a Hannibal corner again but this time his deflection was well caught by Egypt keeper Mohamed Elshenawy. Just seconds later, Iranian referee Alireza Faghani flashed a yellow card to a backroom staff member of the Egypt bench for unsportsmanlike behavior as tempers started to flare up even on the touch line. Exactly at the half-hour mark, Tunisia’s Yassine Meriah got into a rough tangle with Egypt’s Marwan Hamdy resulting in an injury to the former. The injury caused a stoppage for a few minutes as Meriah received medical treatment on the pitch. In Egypt’s first serious attack on Tunisia goal came when Hegazy Hamdeh’s ferocious long-range shot – executed from outside the box - was smartly blocked by keeper Mouez Hassan in the 34th minute. In another move going waste, Tunisia’s Talbi failed to get adequate purchase on a header – off a corner kick – which missed the target from close range in the 37th minute. Seconds later, Tunisia’s Ghaylen Chaaleli went long-range with a bullet of a shot that was collected by Egypt keeper Elshenawy. A few moments later, Tunisian coach ringed in his first substitution as he benched Meriah and brought in Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane in the 40th minute. After the referee blew the whistle, both teams walked off the pitch without scoring but Tunisia’s 8 corners against just one by Egypt showed how the team in white dominated the proceedings in the first half. Soon after the resumption of play, Tunisian playmaker Msakni was shown the yellow card for a rough tackle on Akram Tawfik. Close to the hour-mark, Ben Romdhane was brought down inside the box and the referee awarded the penalty kick to Tunisia. However, a VAR referral saw the referee reverse his decision. In the 62nd minute, Egypt’s Mohamed Shrief unleashed a powerful shot that was collected by Tunisia keeper Hassen. There was tension in the middle of the pitch also. In the 68th minute, Egypt’s Hegazy brought down Msakni with a rough tackle near the half-line. The referee quickly flashed the yellow card to Hegazy who apologized to Msakni. In the 75th minute, Egypt’s Hamdy got close to shooting the ball into the net from close range but in an attempt to drill the ball with a powerful shot, he misfired and the ball sailed above the Tunisia crossbar. A few moments later, Hamdy again misfired with his header this time off an indirect free-kick as Egypt continued to mount attacks in the second half. Ten minutes from time, Hannibal was benched and Naim Sliti was brought in the Tunisian coach. Egypt’s Ahmed Sayed also curled in a long-range shot from outside the box but keeper Hassen averted the dangerous move. Just before the end of the second half, Tunisia’s Bilel Ifa and Egypt’s Amro Elsoulia both missed their respective shots from close range. And then came the heartbreak for Egypt. A freekick by Sliti was headed into the net by Egypt captain Elsoulia for an own goal in injury time (90+4)

Tunisia players during their training session on Tuesday, ahead of their FIFA Arab Cup semi-final against Egypt.
North African giants Egypt, Tunisia eye spot in final

Veteran Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz on Tuesday said African football powerhouse Egypt will be up for a ‘good show’ against feisty Tunisia when the two sides clash in the first semi-final of the FIFA Arab Cup today. In the quarter-final on Saturday, Egypt - ranked 45 in the world - went deep into extra time to beat Jordan 3-1 after strikes from Marwan Hamdy, Ahmed Refaat and Marwan Daoud. Tunisia, coached by Monder El Kabeer, edged Oman 2-1 in their quarter-final following goals by high-scoring Seifeddine Jaziri and Youssef Msakni. “The match will be difficult for both sides,” the popular coach said during a pre-match press conference yesterday. “As a coach, I am happy to see my side play this phase of the tournament. “We hope to put on a good show for football fans,” Queiroz, 68, said yesterday. “I expect our team to present a match full of energy and effort. The aim of participating in the Arab Cup is to give opportunity to a number of our young players so they grow and learn in addition to preparing for the World Cup next year,” he added. When asked about his players being down physically following four draining matches in quick time, Queiroz said: “Everything will become clear after the rest that we have got but I can say that I will not pressure any player to play as I put players’ health first.” “The match against Tunisia will certainly be a strong clash. We will face a good team and the evidence for this is that they have reached the semi-finals. Like I said, it will be a difficult match for both sides,” the Egypt coach said. “We will go through some difficult moments during the match – we expect that – but then we have to be strong and deal well with such situations,” he added. Egypt captain Amro Elsoulia yesterday said he is expecting a tough clash against Tunisia, ranked 29 in the world. “We are happy to be playing in the semi-finals. The match will be difficult for both sides. I cannot talk now about the strengths and weaknesses of the Tunisian team but we know how we will play,” Elsoulia said. “This is a match between two of the best African teams. Most of the players in the Tunisian team play in the Egyptian league,” he added. “I hope that we will exhibit intense focus. We will do our best to reach the final. History does not help in football as every match has its own circumstances and calculations,” the Egyptian captain added. “We will try to make it easier for ourselves from the start and enter the match with concentration in order to win.” Tunisia coach El Kabeer yesterday said his team seeks a place in the final. “Our desire is to get a positive result and reach the final of the FIFA Arab Cup,” El Kabeer said yesterday. “In the group stage, we faced some difficulties, but then we started to play our best after the UAE match. We started going up and we will strive to do that tomorrow also. We have prepared well with all players available for selection. My camp has good team spirit. We know every small and big thing about the Egyptian team but our focus will be on our performance,” El Kabeer said. Tunisian defender Mohamed Drager yesterday said his team is ready for the last-four clash. “The Egyptian team is a great side. We will have to be really focused as we are aware of the difficulty of the match,” Drager said yesterday. “The availability of all our players enhances our chances (to win). We will give our maximum effort possible. We rely on team effort and camaraderie. It will be the same in the semi-final and we will do everything in our power to reach the final,” Drager added.      

Egyptu2019s Marwan Hamdy (fourth from right) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Jordan in the FIFA Arab Cup quarter-finals at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakra yesterday. PICTURE: Noushad Thekkayil
Egypt break Jordan hearts to reach semis

Doha   • Egypt will play Tunisia in semi-final on Wednesday at Stadium 974 African giants Egypt yesterday rallied from a goal deficit as they beat Jordan 3-1 to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA Arab Cup at the Al Janoub Stadium in Wakra yesterday. In a battle that went into extra-time, Egypt saw Jordan take the lead through Yazan Alnaimat (12th minute). Despite conceding an early goal, the Pharaohs hit back with slick goals from Marwan Hamdy (45+1), substitute Ahmed Refaat (99th minute) and Marwan Daoud (119th minute) to complete a fighting win under lights. Egypt will now play Tunisia in the first semi-final on Wednesday at Stadium 974. It was Egypt’s third win out of four matches in the 16-team tournament where seasoned coach Carlos Queiroz has made a difference with his bold tactics. After an edgy start at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakra, the Egyptian forward line twice attacked the Jordanian goalmouth in the first few minutes but on both occasions keeper Abulaila Yazeed remained alert to thwart the threats. In the 10th minute, Jordan’s Mohamed al-Mardi curled in a spectacular shot from outside the box but keeper Mohamed El Shenawy pouched the swerving ball. Two minutes later, Jordan opened the scoring. Alnaimat, who has been in sublime form this week, produced a quick move following a cross from Ali Olwan inside the box. Without wasting a second, Alnaimat swivelled past an Egyptian defender and curled in a right-footed shot that sailed past the keeper’s outstretched left hand and crashed into the top left of the net. Three minutes later, Egypt’s Zizo on the left flank found team mate Mostafa Fathi inside the Jordan box. Airborne Fathi flicked from close range but his deflection slipped past the goalpost to the right of keeper Yazeed. Olwan, in the 20th minute, produced another threatening move from Jordan. Olwan curled in a spectacular long-range shot that was stopped by keeper El Shenawy with a dive to his right. Six minutes later, Jordan’s Noor Alrawabdeh’s long-range shot – around 30 yards from the goal - was parried away by keeper El Shenawy with a dive to his right. A similar shot by Egypt’s Zizo – who plays for Zamalek - was blocked by Jordan keeper Yazeed in the 34th minute. In a dramatic move, Jordan’s Olwan produced a blistering shot from the edge of the Egypt box but the ball hit the crossbar and bounced back. Fathi and Hussein Faisal attacked Jordan keeper twice in a few seconds but Yazeed cleared the challenges with slick defensive moves. However, in the first minute of injury time, Egypt’s Hamdy jumped high to deflect a loopy cross into the net from close range to give delight to thousands of Egyptian fans inside the stadium. In the 47th minute, Egypt’s Faisal – standing next to Jordan goal - missed the easiest of deflections from close range when he overran a cross from Fathi. In the 53rd minute, Jordan’s Alnaimat slipped a low shot from inside the box but the ball missed the goal post by a whisker.   After a flurry of attacks, Egypt’s goal-scorer Hamdy jumped high on a corner kick but his deflection from close range went agonizingly close to the Jordan crossbar in the 75th minute. With just a few seconds to go before the end of regulation time, Zizo – found by Amro Elsoulia’s long yet precise loopy cross - misfired with his close-range header. Just two minutes after resumption of play, Zizo was seemingly brought down by Jordan keeper Yazeed inside the box. The referee pointed to the spot kick but quickly sought a VAR decision. The VAR review showed Zizo had handled the ball before being pushed by keeper Yazeed resulting in the penalty being cancelled by the referee. Substitutes Mohamed Sherif and Refaat joined hands to produce the much-needed winner for Egypt in the 99th minute. Sherif, running in from the right flank, found Refaat with a near-perfect low cross. Refaat, despite under pressure from a Jordanian defender, flicked the ball home from close range to give his side the second goal. Just before the final whistle, Daoud headed home on a long cross from the flank to complete his side’s fighting win.

Tunisia players celebrate after their 2-1 win over Oman in the FIFA Arab Cup quarter-finals at the Education City Stadium in Doha yesterday. PICTURE: Shemeer Rasheed
Spirited Tunisia reach semi-finals with win over Oman

Doha Tunisia yesterday overcame a feisty challenge from Oman to become the first side to reach the FIFA Arab Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 win at Education City Stadium. Goals from Seifeddine Jaziri (16th minute) and captain Youssef Msakni (69th minute) helped Tunisia wrap up a convincing performance under lights. For Oman, the 2018 Gulf Cup champions, Rashid al-Alawi reduced the deficit in the 66th minute with a spectacular long-range effort that was wildly cheered by fans at the Education City Stadium. With yesterday’s goal, Jaziri now has a tally of four in as many matches at the 16-team tournament. Tunisia coach Monder El Kabir said yesterday: “We thank God for this win. We won because of a compact performance from my players. We have continued to play good football. After we scored the two goals, we also wasted several chances, about seven chances.” The coach added: “We had a quick reaction in the match after we conceded the equaliser. That was a big factor in us winning the match. After that we dominated and controlled ball possession.” “The loss against Syria in the second round of the group stage helped us a lot and we had an excellent reaction in the UAE match. We are happy to achieve our goal by advancing from the quarter-finals stage. We will not focus on the next match.” The two sides took their time to settle down though there was an early stoppage in play when Oman’s Fawaz Abdullah got hit in the face by a powerful shot from Tunisia’s Yassine Meriah in the fifth minute. Eight minutes later, Al Arabi star Msakni sneaked into the Oman box but his shot from close range was blocked by Ahmed al-Kaabi. Three minutes on, Tunisia produced a classy move to open the scoring. Mohamed ben Hmida curled in a near-perfect loopy cross from the flank for Jaziri. The tall Zamalek striker jumped high to meet the cross and headed the ball into the net past keeper Ibrahim al-Mukhaini in the 16th minute. Tunisia, with a goal’s advantage, stitched more attacks with regularity in the first half. In the 19th minute, Mohamed Drager fired a bullet but Oman keeper al-Mukhaini parried the ball above the crossbar. Soon after the half-hour mark, Drager found time and space to find his way into the Oman box and without wasting time, the 25-year-old Nottingham Forest winger clipped the ball towards team mate Naim Sliti who was on the other side of the shooting range. Sliti aimed quickly but his shot sailed above the Oman crossbar. Five minutes from the first-half whistle, Sliti opted for a long-range shot but the ball sailed past the goalpost to the left of keeper al-Mukhaini. A few moments later, Tunisia’s Jaziri – inside the Oman box - found Msakni with an easy flick but the Al Arabi star failed to deflect with accuracy from close range. Three minutes into the second half, Oman’s Salaah al-Yahyaei produced a powerful low shot that was pouched by Tunisia keeper Mouez Hassen. A minute later, Tunisia’s Drager curled in a spectacular long-range shot that went narrowly past the goalpost to the left of keeper al-Mukhaini. Tunisia’s Maskni also got into the act but his shot on an indirect freekick beat the Omani wall but the keeper who collected the low ball. A minute after the hour-mark, al-Jaziri unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the box but the ball caught the head of Oman’s Juma al-Habsi. Five minutes later, Oman produced an equaliser in spectacular fashion. Al-Alawi – after picking up a short cross way outside the Tunisia box – unleashed a powerful shot that smashed into the net with keeper Hassen unable to stop the ball despite a dive to his right. Three minutes later, tireless Msakni headed home from close range on a cross from Sliti as Tunisia went 2-1 up in the 69th minute. Maskni and Jaziri both were benched by coach El Kabir.

Qataru2019s Akram Afif (left) and teammate Assim Madibo during a training session.
Confident Qatar ready to take on UAE in quarters

Long-serving coach Felix Sanchez Thursday urged the Qatar players to exhibit ‘positive intent’ on the pitch when they take on fierce arch-rivals the UAE in the second quarter-final of the FIFA Arab Cup Friday. Qatar, the current Asian champions, are on a three-match winning streak following their fighting victories over Bahrain, Oman and Iraq in the group stage of the 16-team tournament. In their last match against Iraq, experienced players Hassan al-Haydos, Akram Afif and Almoez Ali struck three late goals to help Qatar seal their quarter-finals berth in explosive fashion.   UAE, on the other hand, lost their last fixture against Tunisia following wins over Syria and Mauritania. Ranked 51 in the world, Qatar are set to play in front of a packed Al Bayt Stadium where 60,000 fans are expected to watch the match Friday. “Let’s hope we are able to perform better than we already have,” Sanchez said in his trademark soft tone during a pre-event press conference Thursday. “I hope we are at the best level. We have to bring our top level,” Sanchez added. “We are pleased to be in the quarter-finals after the group stage. We were able to qualify for the quarter-finals which was one of our objectives. We accomplished that and now we know our opponents. That’s how you live through a competition. “You try to be ready for every game. You try to compete and be at your best level. You try to have the opportunity to challenge (the rivals) and have the best chance to get qualification for the next round,” the Spaniard said. “Yes, I am satisfied with the team’s performance. We were in a difficult group. All teams were equally difficult. And to get three positive results, it means a lot. We are playing against teams that are from our region, our area. Those were difficult games. It terms of results, we are satisfied. We managed well (but) we can improve,” Sanchez said. The Qatar coach said a full-house Friday would set the tone for his players to give their best. “It is important that fans attend our matches. It means a lot to us that fans are supporting us. At the end of the day, we will have to do our work and fans will encourage us to achieve our objectives,’ Sanchez said. History is also on Qatar’s side as Al Annabi beat the UAE 4-0 when they played the semi-finals of the 2019 Asian Cup, an event Qatar went on to win almost three years ago. Sanchez, however, begged to differ. “You (reporter) are talking about the past. Past results don’t give you the guarantee that you will get the same result. If you want to get the (positive) result, you have to show on the field that you deserve that. This is a different game, a different event. We have to show intent on the field. We will try to play a game that is according to our philosophy and style. The past doesn’t mean anything to us,’ Sanchez explained.   “At this event, we would like to reach as far as possible. We have tired players but everyone wants to play. They want to help the team. The players will give their maximum. We are proud that we have reached the quarters. We know our rivals very well but you have to be calculative. You can’t make mistakes,” he warned. “I think there will be a lot of motivation (in the presence of fans). As for feeling pressure, the players are used to playing such matches like the one we are going to play tomorrow. The (fans) give us extra motivation and they push us to do well,” Sanchez said. Qatar player Homam Ahmed said Thursday: “The UAE side is a strong team. It has strong players and we respect them but we want to qualify to the semi-finals and we are ready. We have good levels of fitness and we hope the fans will be there for us as their presence will push us.” UAE’s Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said circumstances favour the home side in the knockout match to be played under lights. “I think we will be playing in front of a full stadium. It will be a good experience for my young players. We are playing against a favourite (team) of this event. They have had a long preparation. They are together for a long time. They have played against different styles. I think they are big favourites. Most of my players have not played a tournament like this before,” Marwijk said Thursday. “I hope my players find a solution. They will get a lot of resistance on the pitch. That’s why I say there will be a lot of fans and this will be a great experience for my young players,” he added.

Jordan's Yazan Alnaimat scores against Palestine during the Group C match of the FIFA World Cup at the Stadium 974 in Ras Abu Aboud on Tuesday. PICTURE: Shemeer Rasheed
Five-star Jordan thump Palestine to seal last-eight berth

Jordan on Tuesday dominated the proceedings to crush Palestine 5-1 and secure a quarter-finals berth at the FIFA Arab Cup. Playing at Stadium 974 in Ras Abu Aboud, the brand new 2022 World Cup venue, Jordan on Tuesday night relied on a double by Yazan Alnaimat (86’ and 90 +1’) late in the second half to wrap up a commanding win in Group C. Baha Suleiman (9’), Hamza Aldaradreh (24’) and Mahmoud Almardi (82’) also scored for Jordan who ended Group C behind leaders Morocco, who beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 yesterday. For Palestine, Tamer Seyam yesterday scored two minutes before the end of the first half in a match dominated by Jordan. Jordan’s Mohamed Abu Sharaa said yesterday: “Thank God, we won this match. We picked up the points we needed. The coach and the backroom staff supported me and encouraged me all the way.” Alnaimat, the two-goal hero, said: “The captain asked me if I want to skip the match and I said I can play and will play. Thank God I did so well. For the next match, one or two players will come back and we will get even better.” Palestine conceded an early penalty as Jordan latched on to their chance with glee. In the 8th minute, Jordan’s Abdallatif Albahdari was brought down, a foul that saw the referee point to the spot kick which was easily converted by Suleiman with a right-footed strike. For the next few minutes, Jordan reeled off attacks but the Palestine backline remained firm to thwart all moves. In the 20th minute, Palestine’s Sayem attacked the Jordan goal but the linesman was quick to declare the move offside. In the 24th minute, Jordan went 2-0 up after Yaseen Bakheet charged into the Palestine box and found Aldaradreh with a low cross. Aldaradreh easily flicked the ball into the net from close range for his side’s second goal. Three minutes later, Palestine’s Mohamed Rashid attempted a shot from outside the box but the ball went a little wide off the goal. Two minutes before the first-half whistle, Seyam headed home on a loopy cross from the flank to reduce the deficit for Palestine in the 43rd minute. At the hour-mark, Palestine’s Yaser Hamed jumped high but his zeflection from a long cross hit the goalpost. Four minutes later, goal-scorer Seyam curled in a spectacular shot with a left-footed drive but the swerving ball was punched away by Jordan keeper Yazeed Abulaila. In the 71st minute, Palestine’s Salem Khaled found Seyam with a neat cross. Seyam put the ball into the net with an easy deflection from close range but the linesman declared the goal offside. Jordan’s Ali Olwan found Alnaimat with a low cross from the flank. Stationed a few feet away from the Palestine goal, Alnaimat managed a deflection that was smartly pouched by Palestine keeper Amr Kaddura. Ten minutes from time, Jordan substitute Rajaei Ayed unleashed a powerful shot that was saved by the Palestine keeper with a dive to his left. Two minutes later, Jordan got a third goal when Almardi produced a left-footed drive from inside the box but his shot caught a deflection off the leg of Palestine’s Yaser Hamed. Jordan added the fourth in the 86th minute through Alnaimat who also scored the fifth goal in injury time.    

Tunisia's forward Seifeddine Jaziri (left) celebrates after scoring against the UAE during the FIFA Arab Cup Group B match at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha. PICTURE: Ram Chand
Tunisia beat UAE as both team reach quarters

* Syria stunning lose to Mauritania paved the way for UAE’s entry into last eight Tunisia on Monday delivered a fighting performance to beat the UAE 1-0 at Al Thumama Stadium as both sides secured quarterfinals berths at the FIFA Arab Cup. Saifeddine Jaziri’s first-half strike in the 10th minute was the only goal of the tense clash in Group B of the 16-team tournament. By virtue of Monday’s feisty clash, Tunisia – ranked 29 in the FIFA rankings - finished the group stage of the tournament with six points from three matches as did the UAE, who are coached by Dutchman Bert van Marwijk. Syria were stunned by Mauritania which knocked them out of the competition and paved the way for UAE’s entry into last eight. Both Syria and Mauritania ended the tournament with three points each. Tunisia’s Jaziri, who plays as a forward for Egyptian giants Zamalek, said Monday: “We thank God for this victory. We have reached our first target and that was to reach the quarterfinals. The match was very tough but we remained focused on our target from this match. We have played a lot of tough matches recently and that has drained us of energy but we are happy.” Jaziri, with tournament-high three goals from as many matches, added: “We will prepare better for our next match.” Youssef Msakni, the Tunisian star who plays for Qatari club Al Arabi in QSL, said: “We are delighted with our win today. It was good to give to so many of our fans. It was a tough match but we succeeded in our mission.” In the 10th minute, Tunisia opened the scoring through a slick move. Msakni charged his way into the UAE box where he managed to hoodwink markers Abbas Walid and Ciao Canedo a few meters from the goal. As Msakni aimed to take a shot at the goal, the ball slipped out of his control, hit the UAE keeper Eisa Khalid and landed near Jaziri who was alert to flick the ball into an empty net from close range. Ali Saleh of UAE – a few meters out of the Tunisia box – curled in a spectacular shot that was parried above the crossbar by keeper Mouez Hassen in the 25th minute. With exchanges on both sides increasing with each passing minute, UAE skipper Walid was booked by German referee Daniel Siebert for a reckless but hard tackle on Jaziri at the half-hour mark. A minute from the end of the first half, French-born Tunisian midfielder Naim Sliti found Jaziri with a perfect low cross from the edge of the box. Jaziri arrived with perfect timing to deflect the ball which missed the target by a few inches from close range. Three minutes into the second half, Tunisia launched another attack on the UAE goal through Sliti who missed his target by a small margin with a powerful shot that sailed past the left goalpost. In the 53rd minute, UAE’s Saleh curled in a long free-kick that bounced off Tunisia’s Ghaylen Chaaleli but the keeper was alert to block the deflection from close range. Four minutes before the hour-mark, the Sliti-Jaziri combo once more got close to scoring from inside the UAE box but keeper Khalid pouched a header from the latter. In the 80th minute, Tunisia's Ben Youssef came close to scoring but could not find the net with his shot. Seven minutes later, Youssef produced another powerful shot from outside the UAE box but his shot was saved by the UAE keeper.

    The UAE players train on Sunday, on the eve of their FIFA Arab Cup match against Tunisia.
UAE coach urges players to focus ahead of do-or-die Tunisia clash

The UAE coach is seeking a fighting performance from his players against Tunisia when the two sides meet in their last Group A match in the FIFA Arab Cup at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Monday. Coached by Dutchman Bert van Marwijk, UAE have picked two successive wins but are yet to secure a quarter-finals berth in the 16-team tournament. UAE go into their last group game in a strong position though. A draw will be enough for the Whites to book their place in the latter stages as group winners, and even defeat would not spell the end of their hopes, though it would leave them dependent on the outcome of Syria’s match against Mauritania. With six points, Group B leaders UAE are ahead of second-placed Syria and Tunisia both with three points each. Bottom-placed Mauritania are the fourth side in the group with two successive losses from as many matches. “We have to maintain our focus and show the fighting character that we exhibited in the previous (two) matches,” Van Marwijk said yesterday at a pre-match press conference. “Our playing lines (against Tunisia) must be interconnected and provide us with the push that we need to cross this stage in the tournament,” he added. “My team is aware of the difficulty of facing the Tunisian side. We have two wins but we still have not qualified for the next stage. If we lose, we will exit from the tournament. If we draw or win, we will be at the top of the group. Everything is possible in this group. The players are required to focus on ourselves and provide what is required,” he said. UAE player Ali Salem said yesterday: “We will play to win. We won’t be playing for a draw. It’s an important game for us. We realise the importance of this match.” Ali Khaseef, the UAE goalkeeper, said yesterday: “We are ready to play this important match against Tunisia. We will fight on the pitch and give our best in order to achieve the result that guarantees the team’s qualification for the quarter-finals.” He added: “We value the support of our fans who are standing behind the team. We seek their support when we play against Tunisia also.” Mondher El-Kabir, coach of the Tunisian national team, yesterday said he wants his team to go for the win against regional giants UAE. Tunisia must win if they are to top the group and avoid facing hosts Qatar in the quarter-finals. The Carthage Eagles, who will be without the suspended Ben Romdhane Ali, can still qualify even if they draw or lose, in which case their fate will hinge on that Syria-Mauritania match. “We started preparing for the UAE match after the match against Syria in which we lost. We suffered from the mistakes that we made and now we have worked to correct them despite the lack of time,” El-Kabir said yesterday. “We have no choice in the UAE match but to go for a win. In this tournament you have only three days to prepare for every game and therefore we have to forget about the Syria match and think about the next match. We have to play with the required concentration. We will play the game as if it is a knockout clash. It is a decisive match for both sides,” the coach said. On the availability of Ali Maaloul and al-Shekhawi, the coach said yesterday: “The backroom staff is still following up on the physical condition of both players and the medical staff will give us the green light if they can play the next match.” Tunisian player Seif Al-Din al-Jaziri said yesterday: “We will be entering the UAE match with aims of going for a win. We are mentally ready for the match. Our loss against Syria was a shock for us but my teammates are confident of returning to winning ways when we play against UAE.”      

Algeria's Yacine brahimi (centre) celebrates after scoring a penalty during the FIFA Arab Cup Group D match against Lebanon at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah Saturday. PICTURE: Shemeer Rasheed
Algeria edge past feisty Lebanon to reach quarters

A second-half penalty by influential captain Yacine Brahimi and smart strike by Tayeb Meziani Saturday helped Algeria seal a quarter-final spot in the FIFA Arab Cup with a 2-0 win over Lebanon. Brahimi scored from the spot kick in the 68th minute at Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah as Algeria picked up their second successive win in the 16-team tournament. Meziani scored in injury time (90+ 2) as Algeria wrapped up a fighting win. Lebanon's Eldor Hussein brought down feared striker Baghdad Bounedjah inside his own box with a reckless tackle in the 67th minute. Polish referee Szymon Marciniak pointed to the spot kick which was easily converted by Al Rayyan star Brahimi. Bounedjah late in the second half found Meziani with a neat cross and the winger drilled a shot past Lebanon keeper Mostafa Matar. Saturday's defeat was the fourth straight loss for Lebanon who were beaten by Egypt in their opening game on Wednesday. For Algeria, Saturday's fighting show brought them their second successive win after their thumping performance against Sudan (4-0) earlier in the week. Coached by Madjid Bougherra, Algeria are unbeaten in 20 matches in all competitions. Bougherra said Saturday: “We sometimes put ourselves in dangerous situations and caused us some problems, but in general I am satisfied with the performance of the players. Victory is more important in such matches. It was a tough match like I said in the press conference.” He added: “Big credit to this team. We had a lot of problems but we have three points from this match and we are happy. We have to keep working hard. The attitude of the players was very good today. Every game is a big game. Our fans are also happy. It is important for us to help our players recover quickly. It is very hard to play a match every three days.” In the 14th minute, Algeria's Tarat Medhi produced a header from close range but his deflection hit the Lebanon crossbar and bounced back. Four minutes later, Brahimi swiveled inside the Lebanon box but his powerful shot was blocked by keeper Matar. With momentum on their side, Bounedjah twice attacked the Lebanon goal - once in the 23rd minute and then in the 27th - but on both occasions the Algerian failed to find the net. Five minutes from the end of the first half, Brahimi found time and space to drill a shot towards the Lebanon goal but keeper Matar remained alert to thwart the dangerous move. In the 52nd minute a Bounedjah header from close range missed its target while soon after the hour-mark, Lebanon's Rabih Ataya blocked a shot by an Algerian defender. In the 66th minute, Mohamed Belaili and Brahimi played a neat 1-2 inside the Lebanon box but both players missed their chance to score from close range. Two minutes later, Brahimi scored from the spot kick after Bounedjah was brought down inside the Lebanon box. Algeria coach Bougherra benched Brahimi in the 79th minute but for Lebanon's Kassem El Zein, a second yellow brought an automatic red card in the 82nd minute. Two minutes from time, Bounedjah picked up a long loopy cross near the half-line. The 30-year-old teared away towards the Lebanon goal. Once the feared striker entered the box, Lebanese keeper Matar charged out and managed to get an out-stretched hand on a low flick by Bounedjah. In injury time, Algeria's Meziani added another goal from close range as the African giants closed out a commanding win.

Algeria's forward Baghdad Bounedjah (right) attempts to get past Sudan defenders during the FIFA Arab Cup Group D match at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium Wednesday. PICTURE: Shemeer Rasheed
Bounedjah stars as Algeria thump Sudan 4-0

Striker Baghdad Bounedjah lived up to his fearsome reputation Wednesday as Algeria crushed Sudan 4-0 in their opening FIFA Arab Cup match. Bounedjah, who plies his trade with Qatari football giants Al Sadd, produced a slick brace as Algeria launched their Group D campaign with a stellar show at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. The 30-year-old forward – declared man of the match – Wednesday opened the scoring in the 11th minute and then added one more in the 37th to give Algeria a 2-0 cushion in quick time. Djamel Benlamri added the third in the 43rd minute before El Arbi Hilal Soudani made it 4-0 in the 46th minute. “It was a good win. We achieved our target from this match,” Bounedjah said after the match. “We have picked up three points and that’s what we were looking for. We are happy with our good start in this tournament,” the Al Sadd star said. Algeria arrived for their first match on the back of an 18-game unbeaten run in all competitions and exhibited fighting form to control the match from the first minute. Sudan, on the other hand, have now lost seven straight matches whereas in-form Algeria have found the net 20 times in their last five fixtures. Bounedjah could have scored the most spectacular goal of the tournament but his bicycle from inside the box in the 9th minute but the ball hit the goalpost to the right of the Sudanese keeper and bounced back. The Algerian opened the scoring in the 11th minute after receiving a smart cross from Hilal Soudani stationed close to the half line. Bounedjah anticipated the cross well, outpaced his marker as he charged towards the Sudan box. Sudan keeper Ali Abdallah charged out and ended up out of his box. Bounedjah hoodwinked Abdallah and sent the ball into the net with a low fast-paced shot that crashed into the net. With momentum on their side, Bounedjah scored the second goal in the 37th minute after a pass from Al Rayyan’s Yacine Brahimi. The ever-alert Bounedjah fired a powerful right-footed low shot from inside the penalty area into the net. Qatar SC defender Benlamri added the third goal for the Algerian team two minutes before the end of the first half after an indirect deflection by Sofiane Bendebka on a corner kick. Benlamri, standing next to the goalline, produced a neat but low header by deflecting the ball into the Sudanese goal from close range. One minute after the start of the second half, Soudani, striker of Saudi side Damak, scored Algeria’s fourth goal after taking advantage of a mistake by a Sudanese defender just a few feet outside the box. Hilal Soudani wasted little time as he curled in a low left-footed drive from outside the box and sent the ball into the net. And the Sudanese team had the opportunity to score a goal, but Mohamed Abdel Rahman Youssef missed a penalty kick in the 70th minute as the Algerian keeper dived to his right to slap the ball away. Coached by Majid Bougherra, Algeria will now play Lebanon on Saturday, while Sudan take on Egypt take on the same day.