Dubai's Al-Nasr football club signs Israel midfielder Saba in historic deal

Dubai's Al-Nasr football club signs Israel midfielder Saba in historic deal

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30062560

Dubai's Al-Nasr football club has signed midfielder Dia Saba from Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F on a two-year deal, becoming the first Arab club to sign a player from Israel.

The move comes less than two weeks after the United Arab Emirates normalised relations with Israel.

“Al-Nasr has completed the procedures with Dia Saba [...] in a contract that extends for two seasons after he successfully passed medical examinations this morning,” the UAE Pro League club said in a statement.

Saba, who is of Palestinian origin, was born in Israel and began his professional career with Beitar Nes Tubruk before joining Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2012.

He had spells at Maccabi Petah Tikva, Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Be’er Sheva before moving to Guangzhou R&F, where he scored 18 goals in 36 appearances. He has won 10 caps for Israel.

Saba joins Cape Verde winger Ryan Mendes, Curacao winger Brandley Kuwas, and Portuguese midfielder Tuze as Al-Nasr’s overseas players.

Al-Nasr were sixth in the standings before the 2019-20 season was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The new season will begin next month.
Saudi Arabia to host first sports events for women

Saudi Arabia to host first sports events for women

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30062155
A Saudi woman works out at a gym in Riyadh.—Reuters
A Saudi woman works out at a gym in Riyadh.—Reuters

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will host professional golf tournaments for women for the first time ever in November at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Jeddah.

The Saudi Ladies International will be the first Ladies European Tour (LET) event to take place in the country and will run from Nov 12-15, with a purse of $1 million, the third-highest paying event after the British and Scottish Open.

It was originally scheduled for March but postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is set to attract more than 100 participants, including Wales’ Amy Boulden, who won her maiden LET event at this month’s Swiss Open.

It will be followed by the Nov 17-19 Saudi Ladies Team International, in which professionals will team up with amateurs and compete for a purse of $500,000.

The events will be Saudi Arabia’s third and fourth professional tournaments in the past two years, having staged the Saudi International men’s event in 2019 and 2020.

“We are extremely excited to be part of history in bringing the first-ever professional women’s golf event to Saudi Arabia and we are thankful to their commitment to deliver not one but two tournaments, in what has been a difficult year for golf,” LET CEO Alexandra Armas chief said.

Women’s rights are a contentious issue in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations. Democracy advocacy group Freedom House has rated it as one of the worst in the world for restricting freedom, political rights and civil liberties.

“We are always looking to grow the game in new markets and add to our schedule and we are confident that the Saudi Ladies International and the Saudi Ladies Team International will be a fantastic experience for our players,” Armas added.

Saudi Arabia has hosted several sporting events recently, including the heavyweight boxing title rematch between Britain’s Anthony Joshua and Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr in 2018, as well as the Italian Super Cup in 2018 and 2019.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2020
Bangladesh call off Sri Lanka Test series

Bangladesh call off Sri Lanka Test series

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30062156

DHAKA: Bangladesh on Monday called off the forthcoming Test series in Sri Lanka because of coronavirus restrictions imposed by the hosts they say make preparing impossible.

The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) took the decision after Sri Lanka refused to ease stringent quarantine measures — which included players being confined to their rooms for 14 days, with no training allowed, after arriving in the island nation.

“It is impossible to play international matches under their tough coronavirus isolation policy. We will tour Sri Lanka at a later date when there will be no restrictions,” BCB spokesman Jalal Yunus said. “We respect their coronavirus policy but, honestly speaking, international matches cannot be held in these circumstances.”

The three Tests in October-November were meant to mark the return to international cricket by both nations after a months-long lockdown.

The series was originally planned for July-August but was rescheduled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The series will now be pushed further back because of Sri Lanka’s mandatory quarantine period which would have affected Bangladesh’s preparations.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2020
Messi scores in first game since transfer row as Barca thump Villarreal

Messi scores in first game since transfer row as Barca thump Villarreal

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30062157

MADRID: Lionel Messi scored in his first game since trying to leave Barcelona as Ronald Koeman began his tenure as coach by overseeing a 4-0 La Liga demolition of Villarreal on Sunday.

Messi converted from the spot 10 minutes before half-time and then the Argentine’s cross forced Pau Torres into an own-goal, after an early double from the 17-year-old Ansu Fati had already put Barca in charge.

It meant Barcelona’s past, present and future were all among the goals on the same afternoon as Luis Suarez, whose departure was confirmed on Thursday, marked his Atletico Madrid debut by scoring twice in a 6-1 win over Granada.

In a farewell message to his best friend and former neighbour last week, Messi took another swipe at the Barca board by saying he was not surprised by the clumsy way Suarez’s exit had been handled.

His complaints raised doubts about his state of mind heading into the season and at the end of a traumatic summer in which Barcelona’s greatest ever player admitted he was being forced to stay against his will.

Koeman insisted on Saturday that Messi had been ‘leading by example’ in training and his confidence was repaid at Camp Nou, where the striker, and club-captain, delivered an excellent display.

“It is always important to win games, you gain confidence,” said Koeman. “This result helps us to improve and be clear about what we want.”

Messi’s anger over Suarez shows he is still at odds with Barcelona’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu and his long-term future remains uncertain, but on the pitch, he delivered.

Victories and goals could encourage him to stay, not to mention the talented Fati, who on this evidence can be a huge asset for his captain’s hopes of winning back the title.

“Ansu is a young player who has to seek consistency in his game and in his performances,” said Koeman. “He has shown that he has a great future at Barca and I am very happy with him.”

Fati became Spain’s youngest ever international scorer earlier this month and the teenager, deployed on the left of Barcelona’s attacking trio, made an explosive start to the season for his club.

He fired Jordi Alba’s pull-back into the top corner and then drove a second inside the post after Philippe Coutinho was allowed to carry the ball forward and spread it wide.

Fati then won the penalty, his feet too quick for Mario Gaspar, and Messi slid in his first goal of the season before his cross, aimed for Sergio Busquets, was poked into Villarreal’s net by Pau.

Messi might have been watching a few hours earlier as Suarez scored twice and set up another in a sensational 20-minute debut for Atletico Madrid.

Suarez laid on a goal two minutes after coming on as a substitute, his sumptuous pass finished off by Marcos Llorente, before scoring himself with a powerful header at the back post.

He then added another in injury-time, following up his own shot to make it six for a rampant Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano.

“Sometimes it is important to have a change as a player,” said Suarez. “I’ve come to a club that has given me a spectacular welcome, it shows in the atmosphere, you get a good impression from the beginning, and you can see that on the pitch.”

Diego Costa said with a smile: “It’s great. One of us bites, the other one hits.”

Costa had earlier given Atletico the lead but it was the 31-year-old who made way for Suarez, and he raised doubts about his future after the match.

“I leave my future up to the club. I spoke with the club, with the coach, I made it very clear what was happening, that if I am here, I will fight,” said Costa.

Angel Correa and Joao Felix scored Atletico’s second and third to put Granada out of sight. The 20-year-old Felix was the best player on the pitch before Suarez stole the show.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2020
192 players awarded performance-based domestic contracts: Nadeem Khan

192 players awarded performance-based domestic contracts: Nadeem Khan

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30062158

KARACHI: Nadeem Khan, the PCB’s High Performance Director, declared on Monday that the contracts awarded to 192 players in different categories for the forthcoming domestic season will go a long way in eliminating injustice.

Addressing a hurriedly-called media conference at the National Stadium, Nadeem — flanked by general manager domestic cricket, Junaid Zia — observed the main focus this season will be on white-ball cricket.

“Our prime objective to give maximum practice in the T20 and 50-over formats keeping in mind the back-to-back T20 World Cups [in India and Australia) over the next two years and the ICC 50-over World Cup [hosted by India] in 2023,” Nadeem said. “This is why we have decided to stage the National T20 Cup and the Pakistan Cup on a double league system in order to give our cricketers more opportunities to showcase themselves.”

The PCB official further said that as many as 44 matches of the domestic competitions would be televised live. “It is mainly because of the recent $200 million deal the Pakistan Cricket Board signed with Pakistan Television. The record number [of games to be telecast] is a milestone because this had never happened in the past.”

44 matches of the domestic competitions to be televised live

Nadeem added another salient feature in the coming months would be the monitoring of the head coach of each team by the National High Performance Centre.

“Contrary to what critics say, we are planning to engage Saqlain Mushtaq [head of international player development] and Grant Bradburn [head of high performance coaching] as observers to monitor closely the performance of not only the competing teams but also how the head coach of each side is interacting with their players and how they plan out strategies,” he revealed. “Both [national team’s head coach] Misbah-ul-Haq and [bowling coach] Waqar Younis are already in Multan to oversee the National T20 Cup.

“This novel step is being initiated to inculcate a culture of clarity between all stakeholders because previously gap existed between the coaches and the high performance centre. Overall, the PCB’s motive is to invest in domestic cricket.”

Commenting on the newly-inducted contracts, Nadeem stressed that the criteria has been altered significantly to prevent feeling of heartburn among the players. “That is why have set up a new criteria for the players by giving them performance-based contracts by moving from the fixed slap retainer structure to a category-based retainer structure.

“I think it is fair on leading and experienced players to be treated and paid differently to a newcomer. This is also a consistent system of how we offer central contracts to our elite cricketers.

“Through this model, we have also ensured we retain and protect our age-group cricketers, who in the past have dropped out either due to non-selection or non-recognition. There are eight cricketers who played in the ICC Under-19 World Cup earlier in the year and 11 Emerging/Shaheen players who will now remain part of the system and will get their opportunities to improve and move in an upward direction.

“Moreover, from these 192 contracted players, 146 are those who have no jobs while 24 had contractual employments. This way the board is looking after the wellbeing of talented and high-performing cricketers and remains on track to introducing professionalism in cricket, which is the only way to attain excellence.”

Junaid, meanwhile, pointed out that scheduling the season in wake of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic was no easy task. “Other countries are still struggling to plan their domestic season due to the Covid-19 situation but we have already chalked out the schedule of the 2020-21 season with venues and dates finalised for all the national tournaments.”

The breakup of the 192 contracts announced on Monday has 10 players in the A Plus category (who will get monthly retainer of Rs150,000) comprising leading performers from the 2019-20 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy First XI event and the players part of the national squad but without a central or emerging contract.

Category A (monthly retainer Rs 85,000) has 38 players, including 10 best performers from the last season or the ones who have previously represented Pakistan at the highest-level. Category B (monthly retainer Rs75,000) includes 47 players who have played T20 Internationals, are amongst the top 10 performers from last season’s First XI National T20 Cup, had a good first-class season in 2019-20 or have represented Pakistan Shaheens/Emerging since 2019.

Category C (monthly retainer Rs 65,000) includes 71 players who either featured in the Pakistan Super League editions of 2019 and 2020, were amongst the performers of Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (both First and Second XIs) 2019-20 performers, top 10 performers of the 2018-19 Pakistan Cup, best batsman/bowler of the 2018-19 Patron’s Trophy Grade-II tournament or have represented Pakistan in age-group cricket.

Category D (monthly retainer Rs40,000) has 26 players who are all part of the six cricket association sides.

Among the beneficiaries of this scheme are Fawad Alam, Faheem Ashraf, Bilal Asif, Imran Khan and Sohail Khan, who have been awarded A Plus contracts, while a host of ex-internationals and discards have been given A Category contracts.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2020
Serena overcomes slow start as Thiem aces Cilic test

Serena overcomes slow start as Thiem aces Cilic test

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30062159

PARIS: Serena Williams made a slow but successful start on Monday to her latest pursuit of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros while US Open winner Dominic Thiem navigated a testing first-round tie against former major champion Marin Cilic.

The American star is chasing an elusive 24th Grand Slam title to match Margaret Court’s all-time mark, but clay is her least favoured surface.

An error-prone beginning from Williams left world number 102 Kristie Ahn serving for the first set before the three-time Roland Garros champion prevailed 7-6 (7-2), 6-0.

Williams, playing at the French Open for the 18th time, dropped serve twice as Ahn moved 5-4 ahead in the opener in a rematch of their first-round encounter at Flushing Meadows.

But the sixth seed forced a tie-break that she sealed with an ace after a 74-minute slog before charging to an ultimately comfortable victory.

Williams, seeded sixth here, has not gone beyond the last 16 in Paris since her defeat to Garbine Muguruza in the 2016 final. Her last major came at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant.

Meanwhile Thiem, the runner-up to Rafael Nadal in Paris the past two years, defeated 2014 US Open champion Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in their second meeting at a major this month. Having captured his maiden Slam in New York, Thiem is trying to become the only man in the Open era to win his first two majors at successive tournaments.

A steady display from Thiem saw the Austrian break Cilic six times under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier on another gloomy day at Roland Garros, pushed back from its customary May-June slot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The competition began on Sunday amid steady drizzle in temperatures struggling to reach 10 degrees (50F), conditions branded ‘ridiculous’ by US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka.

Play on Monday was initially delayed by more persistent rain. Twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova defeated Oceane Dodin 6-3, 7-5 in the only match to start on time under the new roof on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Dutch fifth seed Kiki Bertens recovered from a poor start once conditions improved to overhaul 112th-ranked Ukrainian Katarina Zavatska 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.

Third seed Elina Svitolina scrapped past Varvara Gracheva of Russia 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 while last year’s runner-up Marketa Vondrousova was bundled out 6-1, 6-2 by 2018 junior champion Iga Swiatek.

Overall prize money at this year’s event is down 11 percent at 14,491,000 euros, but players beaten in the first round will receive 60,000 euros — a 30 percent increase compared to 2019.

Results on Monday (prefix number denotes seeding):

Men’s singles:

First round: Hugo Gaston (France) bt Maxime Janvier (France) 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-3; Yoshihito Nishioka (Japan) bt 19-Felix Auger-Aliassime (Canada) 7-5, 6-3, 6-3; Tommy Paul (US) bt James Duckworth (Australia) 6-2, 6-3, 6-2; Jack Sock (US) bt Reilly Opelka (US) 6-4, 6-4, 6-3; 3-Dominic Thiem (Austria) bt Marin Cilic (Croatia) 6-4, 6-3, 6-3; Pierre-Hugues Herbert (France) bt Michael Mmoh (US) 6-3, 6-2, 6-3; Mikhail Kukushkin (Kazakhstan) bt 14-Fabio Fognini (Italy) 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-0; Pedro Martinez (Spain) bt Aleksandar Vukic (Australia) 7-5, 6-4, 6-0.

Women’s singles:

First round: Bernarda Pera (US) bt Cici Bellis (US) 7-6 (7-3), 6-1; 25-Amanda Anisimova (US) bt Tamara Korpatsch (Germany) 6-2, 6-0; Iga Swiatek (Poland) bt 15-Marketa Vondrousova (Czech Republic) 6-1, 6-2; Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) bt 28-Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) 6-1, 2-6, 6-1; Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic) bt Lauren Davis (US) 7-6 (7-5), 6-2; Sara Errani (Italy) bt Monica Puig (Puerto Rico) 6-2, 6-1; 5-Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) bt Katarina Zavatska (Ukraine) 2-6, 6-2, 6-0; 3-Elina Svitolina (Ukraine) bt Varvara Gracheva (Russia) 7-6 (7-2), 6-4; Renata Zarazua (Mexico) bt Elsa Jacquemot (France) 6-1, 6-2; Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria) bt Andrea Petkovic (Germany) 6-3, 6-3; 6-Serena Williams (US) bt Kristie Ahn (US) 7-6 (7-2), 6-0; Christina McHale (US) bt 22-Karolina Muchova (Czech Republic) 6-2, 6-4; 7-Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) bt Oceane Dodin (France) 6-3, 7-5; Jasmine Paolini (Italy) bt Aliona Bolsova (Spain) 6-4, 6-3.

Sunday’s remaining results:

Men’s singles:

First round: Radu Albot (Moldova) bt Jordan Thompson (Australia) 6-2, 6-4, 6-1; Norbert Gombos (Slovakia) bt 24-Borna Coric (Croatia) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; Jurij Rodionov (Austria) bt Jeremy Chardy (France) 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 10-8; 12-Diego Schwartzman (Argentina) bt Miomir Kecmanovic (Serbia) 6-0, 6-1, 6-3; 16-Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland) bt Andy Murray (Great Britain) 6-1, 6-3, 6-2; Dominik Koepfer (Germany) bt Antoine Hoang (France) 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1; Juan Ignacio Londero (Argentina) bt Federico Delbonis (Argentina) 6-4, 7-6 (7-1), 2-6, 1-6, 14-12; 23-Benoit Paire (France) bt Soonwoo Kwon (South Korea) 7-5, 6-4, 6-4; 6-Alexander Zverev (Germany) bt Dennis Novak (Austria) 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.

Women’s singles:

First round: Irina-Camelia Begu (Romania) bt Jil Teichmann (Switzerland) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3; Daria Gavrilova (Australia) bt 24-Dayana Yastremska (Ukraine) 6-4, 6-3; Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) bt Anna Kalinskaya (Russia) 6-4, 6-4; Coco Gauff (US) bt 9-Johanna Konta (Great Britain) 6-3, 6-3; Martina Trevisan (Italy) bt Camila Giorgi (Italy) 7-5, 3-0 — Giorgi retired; Caroline Garcia (France) bt 17-Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) 6-4, 3-6, 6-4; Nadia Podoroska (Argentina) bt Greet Minnen (Belgium) 6-2, 6-1; 23-Yulia Putintseva (Kazakhstan) bt Kirsten Flipkens (Belgium) 6-1, 6-2; 23-Barbora Strycova (Czech Republic) bt Varvara Lepchenko (US) 7-5, 6-5; Barbora Krejcikova (Czech Republic) bt Nina Stojanovic (Serbia) 6-3, 7-5.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2020
British hopes dented after three first-round exits in Paris

British hopes dented after three first-round exits in Paris

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30061978
PARIS: British fortunes matched the miserable Parisian weather as Andy Murray, Johanna Konta and Dan Evans all made early exits at the French Open.All three of Britain’s biggest hopes were given tough draws – Murray in a rematch with his old foe Stan Wawrinka, Konta against precocious...
Al-Nasr becomes first Arab club to sign Israeli footballer

Al-Nasr becomes first Arab club to sign Israeli footballer

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30061979
DUBAI: An Arab club has for the first time signed an Israeli footballer, Diaa Sabia, less than two weeks after the UAE normalised ties with the Jewish state.Sabia, an 28-year-old Israeli Arab attacking midfielder with China’s Guangzhou R&F, signed a two-year contract with Dubai’s...
Out at last! Chinese football teams exit 70-day virus 'bubble'

Out at last! Chinese football teams exit 70-day virus 'bubble'

29/09/2020, Pakistan, Multi Sports, Pakistan Publications, Article # 30061980
SHANGHAI: Chinese Super League teams on Monday began filtering out of sealed-off hotels where they have been confined for the past 10 weeks as part of strict measures to thwart the coronavirus.Players, coaches and backroom staff have not seen their families since mid-July, and were only allowed to...