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5 talking points from Qatar’s AFC Asian Cup triumph over Jordan

5 talking points from Qatar’s AFC Asian Cup triumph over Jordan
Qatar's forward #11 Akram Afif celebrates with the Top Goal Scorer Award trophy during the podium ceremony after (AFP)
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Updated 15 February 2024

5 talking points from Qatar’s AFC Asian Cup triumph over Jordan

5 talking points from Qatar’s AFC Asian Cup triumph over Jordan
  • Jordan will feel they deserved more, but there can be little complaint about the legitimacy of the three penalties that tipped the balance Qatar’s way

An AFC Asian Cup 2023 full of entertaining football, shock results and late, late goals, ended in suitably dramatic finish, with Akram Afif’s hat-trick of penalties securing a 3-1 win for hosts Qatar against the tournament surprise team Jordan in Saturday’s final.

Here are five talking points from the action at Lusail Stadium in Doha.

Not an ideal final, but no complaints about penalties

Casual fans overseas may look at the host of a major tournament getting to the final, playing in front of over 80,000 of their fans, and then getting three penalties that settled the tie, as something a little suspicious.

In truth, scoring all three of your goals from the penalty spot is not the ideal way to settle a final. It did seem a little anticlimactic, but then there is not much that Qatar could have done about that.

All three penalties were fairly solid. There was little real real controversy in any of the individual decisions. If they had been given in the English Premier League, there would not have been days of discussion on radio phone-ins, highlights programs and then on social media. 

It was just a case of Jordan falling asleep at crucial moments of the game, and when there is someone like Akram Afif then the consequences can be severe.

Qatar are now an Asian powerhouse

The last team to successfully defend the Asian Cup was Japan back in 2004. It is a hard thing to do and not to be sneezed at. Winning once can be described as a flash in the pan -- look at Greece taking the European title 20 years ago -- but to do it again cannot be ignored. 

This performance may not have reached the levels of 2019 when the Maroons swept all before them, scoring 19 and conceding just one.

The current version is not as dominant as the one that won last time in the UAE. It was much more of a mixed bag in terms of performances, but they showed admirable mental strength and overcame every obstacle when under pressure.

Despite being under the cosh in the second half against Uzbekistan in the quarters, they came through to win on penalties. Against Iran in the last four, Team Melli should have won, but it was Qatar who prevailed, and now they have joined that select group of Asian powerhouses.

Jordan should be proud

It has been a fantastic tournament for Jordan, a team that little was expected of before it all started. Finishing third in the group surprised nobody.

However, the round of 16 is were most people expected the run to end, as opponents Iraq had been impressive.

But in one of the matches of the tournament Jordan came out 3-2 winners to move into the quarterfinals, equalling their best-ever finish. There, they beat Tajikistan 1-0 to move into uncharted waters.

But, surely, South Korea in the semifinals would be too much? Not for this team, as Jordan produced the best performance of the entire competition.

Losing in the final, especially as, when Yazan Al-Naimat equalized midway through the second half, Jordan were completely on top and looked like the likeliest of winners, is painful. It is even more so as it came to three penalties, but now Al-Naimat and Mousa Al-Taamari are feted and respected around Asia and maybe elsewhere. Over time they, and all of Jordan, will look back on the last few weeks with immense pride.

Akram Afif now has to build on this

The top scorer and tournament MVP made the difference in the final with his hat-trick of penalties. It was not quite as easy as it sounds, as it was his direct running and trickery that produced two of those spot kicks. Afif had a great tournament from start to finish. Unlike his fellow star of 2019 Almoez Ali, who was a bit hit and miss this time, the winger matched the exploits of five years ago.

He has tried his luck in Europe before -- in Spain and Belgium -- before returning home. Perhaps back then it was all a case of too much, too young. Now he is 27, an experienced international with over 100 appearances for his country, and one of the biggest names in Asian football. It could be time for a second bite of the European cherry and if he chooses his destination well, it could be that it is a case of second time lucky.

Europe-based players not everything

At the start of the tournament it was assumed that either Japan or South Korea would win.

The reasoning was that these two countries had squads that were full of players active in some of Europe’s top leagues.

Just look at South Korea, who had stars such as Son Heung-min, captain of Tottenham Hotspur; Bayern Munich’s Kim Min-jae; and Lee Kang-in of Paris Saint-Germain.

These are immensely talented players, but this competition showed that a well-coached team full of players who can carry out tactics perfectly can overcome one packed with Europe-based stars.

Of the two teams that made the final, there was only one player active in Europe. Jordan and Qatar showed that being a cohesive team is the basis for success.


Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup

Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup
Updated 28 February 2024

Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup

Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup
  • Haaland now has 27 goals in all competitions for the season after scoring 52 in his first year at the club

Erling Haaland looks determined to make up for lost time.
The Norway striker scored five goals to power Manchester City into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup in a 6-2 win against Luton on Tuesday.
It was his eighth hat trick in a season-and-a-half with City and the second time he has scored five in a single game for the club.
Perhaps more significantly, it was evidence that Haaland is fully back up to speed after recently returning from a foot injury that ruled him out for more than a month between December and January.
“My fitness is getting back to its best finally,” he said. “I feel good. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Haaland had scored only three goals in seven appearances since making his comeback on Jan. 31.
By his remarkable standards, that represented a relative drought, but he looked back to his devastating best at Kenilworth Road with a first-half hat trick and two more after the break. Four of those goals came from assists by Kevin De Bruyne, who has also missed large parts of the season through injury.
“It’s a pleasure playing with him,” Haaland said. “I think we know what we both want from each other, we look at each other and it clicks well.”
Mateo Kovacic added a sixth for City, while Jordan Clark struck twice for Luton.
Haaland was denied a possible double hat trick when he was replaced by Julian Alvarez in the 77th minute. It was the second time City manager Pep Guardiola substituted the striker after scoring five goals, having taken him off during the 7-0 rout of RB Leipzig in the Champions League last year.
Haaland now has 27 goals in all competitions for the season after scoring 52 in his first year at the club.
His performance and linkup play with De Bruyne will also fuel the belief City can emulate last season’s treble of trophies when it won the Premier League title, FA Cup and Champions League.
“We’re coming. Exciting times (are) ahead,” Haaland said.
The forward completed his hat trick after 40 minutes, having opened the scoring in the third and adding a second in the 18th.
Clark pulled one back for Luton in the 45th and made it 3-2 with another seven minutes after halftime.
But Haaland quickly extended City’s lead with further goals in the 55th and 58th.
Kovacic completed the scoring with a long range effort in the 72nd.


Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out

Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out
Updated 28 February 2024

Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out

Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out
  • Gravenberch sustained an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s English League Cup final
  • Endo left Wembley Stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot

LIVERPOOL, England: Liverpool's injury crisis keeps on getting worse.
Ryan Gravenberch is the latest name to be added to an ever-lengthening list of players unavailable to the Premier League leader, while Wataru Endo is a doubt for Wednesday's FA Cup fifth round match against Southampton.
Gravenberch sustained an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s English League Cup final triumph against Chelsea and was taken off on a stretcher.
Endo left Wembley Stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot.
“We need miracles with a few players,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said Tuesday. “I don’t want to rule them out for too long. But it is touch and go with a lot of players who were not available for the final: Darwin (Nunez), Mo (Salah), Dom (Szoboszlai) — we have to see what they can do."
Gravenberch has ligament damage that will keep him out for at least two games, Klopp said.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and goalkeeper Alisson Becker are other key players Klopp has had to do without in recent weeks.
Yet Liverpool remain in contention for a quadruple of trophies after Sunday's 1-0 win against Chelsea.
The Merseyside club are one point ahead of Manchester City at the top of the table and still competing for the FA Cup and the Europa League.


Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’

Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’
Updated 28 February 2024

Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’

Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’
  • Fans had littered pitches with everything from tennis balls to chocolate coins in opposition to the plan
  • German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule

BERLIN: Bundesliga boss Hans-Joachim Watzke said Tuesday the rejection of a planned investor deal, shelved after widespread fan protests, was “bad for the league.”
Last week the German Football Leagues (DFL) which runs the Bundesliga abandoned a planned billion-euro investment deal, which had previously been approved by the necessary two-thirds majority of clubs, due largely to fan protests resulting in long delays at matches.
Fans had littered pitches with everything from tennis balls to chocolate coins in opposition to the plan to swap a portion of the league’s future media revenues for an upfront cash injection.
DFL chairman Watzke told AFP and other journalists on Tuesday that fans “in Germany have a problem with investors.”
“Germans are traditional, perhaps even a bit old-fashioned.
“In Germany, investor is perhaps not the best word.”
German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule which restricts the degree of influence an external investor can have over a club.
The rule remains enduringly popular among German fans, many of whom value it more than domestic or international competitiveness.
The DFL had promised the new deal would include supporter-friendly protections against changes in kick-off times or moving competitive fixtures abroad.
“Our contract with the investor had clear red lines that nothing could happen which would be a problem for the fans, but the problem was that fans didn’t believe us.
“It’s actually a problem in German society. Every idea that you tell the public, the public says ‘not good’.”
Watzke said the protests did not reflect the opinion of the average fan.
“Five percent of the fans — which is not so much, but they’re the organized fans — were against it.
“The average fans had no problem, but they did not tell anyone.
“Maybe 500 or 800 in the stadium, the organized fans, they had a clear position — no investor.”
The 64-year-old said the protests had changed the atmosphere around the deal, with clubs getting cold feet.
“As the boss of the Bundesliga, I always had the feeling that the clear majority of clubs supported it, but in the past weeks that changed.
“When I recognized that the majority was not there, then I stopped it.”
Watzke said the result will hit mid-table teams the hardest, rather than those at the top of the tree.
“You can be sure that there’s no problem for Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s a problem for the other clubs in the league. The money from the investor would be perfect to help the whole Bundesliga grow.
“Bayern and Dortmund will make our own way if it’s necessary.”
Watzke is also CEO of Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund and he was speaking on Tuesday to announce the opening of Dortmund’s first office in New York, where fellow Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich have had a presence for a decade.


Mir’s six-wicket haul hands Lahore sixth straight defeat in PSL

Mir’s six-wicket haul hands Lahore sixth straight defeat in PSL
Updated 27 February 2024

Mir’s six-wicket haul hands Lahore sixth straight defeat in PSL

Mir’s six-wicket haul hands Lahore sixth straight defeat in PSL
  • Leg-spinner picked up 6-40 and bowled out Lahore for 154 in 17 overs

LAHORE: Usama Mir became the first spinner in Pakistan Super League history to grab a six-wicket haul as Multan Sultans beat Lahore Qalandars by 60 runs Tuesday, handing the two-time champions their sixth straight loss.
Leg-spinner Mir picked up 6-40 and bowled out Lahore for 154 in 17 overs.
Table-topper Multan posted this season’s highest score of 214-4 despite resting overseas players Dawid Malan, Chris Jordan and David Willey.
Usman Khan of the United Arab Emirates filled Malan’s shoes with a blistering knock of 96 off 55 balls and Iftikhar Ahmed provided a perfect finish by smashing unbeaten 40 off 18 balls.
Multan captain Mohammad Rizwan fell without scoring for the second time in the last three games when Shaheen Shah Afridi clean bowled him with a delivery that perfectly shaped into the batter in the first over.
But Usman kept counterattacking and hit 11 fours and two sixes as he capped his half-century stands with Reeza Hendricks (40), Tayyab Tahir (21) with a 60-run partnership with Ahmed off just 28 balls in the death overs.
Usman, who was dropped by Carlos Brathwaite on 89 at point, holed out to deep square leg in the last over to give Afridi (2-39) his second wicket.
Mir ran through Lahore’s middle-order in quick time when he had Rassie van der Dussen (30) caught in the deep, found the outside edge of George Linde’s bat and then bowled Jahandad Khan off a full pitched delivery in one over.
Mir claimed the last two wickets in his final over as Multan moved to the top of the table with five wins in six games.


Women’s World Cup holders Spain eye Nations League title

Women’s World Cup holders Spain eye Nations League title
Updated 27 February 2024

Women’s World Cup holders Spain eye Nations League title

Women’s World Cup holders Spain eye Nations League title
  • Under new coach Montse Tome, Spain comfortably topped their Nations League group ahead of Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, and then defeated the Netherlands 3-0 in Seville in last Friday’s semifinal

SEVILLE, Spain: Reigning world champions Spain can claim another title on Wednesday when they face France in the final of the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League, while the Netherlands and Germany meet to decide who will join them in qualifying for the Paris Olympics.

Spain’s World Cup triumph in Sydney last August ended up being somewhat overshadowed by Spanish football federation boss Luis Rubiales’s forced kiss on midfielder Jenni Hermoso after the final against England.

Rubiales recently had a three-year ban from football upheld by FIFA and is also set to go in trial over the kiss, while the Spain team — led by Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati — have tried to keep the focus on football.

Under new coach Montse Tome, Spain comfortably topped their Nations League group ahead of Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, and then defeated the Netherlands 3-0 in Seville in last Friday’s semifinal.

Winning through to the final also allowed them to take one of two qualifying spots open to European nations for the women’s football tournament at the Olympics. It is the first time they have qualified for the Games.

However, star Barcelona midfielder Bonmati believes Spain’s World Cup success has not had the hoped-for impact on the women’s game in the country.

“Unfortunately I can’t say a lot of things have changed,” Bonmati said in an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe.

“We have the example of the English, when they won the Euro (in 2022). We saw a real change following their success at a nationwide level.

“It had repercussions, and there was more investment in the domestic league. The stadiums are full when England play. It makes me jealous because I can’t say the same thing has happened here.

“There are still so many things to do here and I have the impression that the World Cup has not served any purpose.”

She complained that the match against the Netherlands was moved at short notice from Cadiz to Seville, where the final will also be played.

“We were supposed to play in Cadiz and in the end we changed the venue to La Cartuja. That wouldn’t happen with the boys.”

France had already qualified for the Olympics automatically as the host country and Herve Renard’s team are now hoping to win a first international title in the Nations League to set them up for the Games.

The Netherlands entertain Germany in Heerenveen in the third-place play-off with the winner of that game also progressing to Paris 2024.

Germany lost 2-1 to France in Lyon in their semifinal last Friday and so must now overcome the Dutch if they are to go to the Olympics, in which they won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

After flopping at last year’s World Cup, in which they exited in the group stage, their form has improved under veteran interim coach Horst Hrubesch, who took Germany’s men to the final of the 2016 Olympics.

However, the Dutch — whose coach Andries Jonker used to manage Wolfsburg in the men’s German Bundesliga — are hoping to make the most of home advantage at the Abe Lenstra Stadion.

“We still have a chance,” of reaching the Olympics, said captain Sherida Spitse after the semifinal.

“We are very happy with that. We are playing at home with the crowd behind us.”