After Messi Comes Lewandowski for Saudi Arabia at World Cup

Saudi Arabia's French coach Herve Renard and Saleh Saudi Arabia's forward Saleh Al-Shehri (R) give a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha on November 25, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Poland and Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Saudi Arabia's French coach Herve Renard and Saleh Saudi Arabia's forward Saleh Al-Shehri (R) give a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha on November 25, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Poland and Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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After Messi Comes Lewandowski for Saudi Arabia at World Cup

Saudi Arabia's French coach Herve Renard and Saleh Saudi Arabia's forward Saleh Al-Shehri (R) give a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha on November 25, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Poland and Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Saudi Arabia's French coach Herve Renard and Saleh Saudi Arabia's forward Saleh Al-Shehri (R) give a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha on November 25, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Poland and Saudi Arabia. (AFP)

First it was Lionel Messi. Next up, it's Robert Lewandowski. The big-name opponents keep coming for Saudi Arabia. 

After shocking Messi and Argentina in one of the biggest World Cup upsets, the Green Falcons turn their attention to Lewandowski and his Poland team on Saturday. 

Saudi Arabia, the second lowest-ranked team in the tournament, could even book its place in the second round with a win – a remarkable achievement for a side with no foreign-based players. 

Unlike the fans, Saudi Arabia's French coach Hervé Renard is not celebrating yet. 

“The Argentina game is one game of the three important games we have to play,” Renard said Friday. “The only good thing at the end of this group stage is to finish number one or number two. So whatever happens, the most important thing is to be qualified for the next round.” 

His players are also looking ahead. 

“We will work even harder than in the previous match,” midfielder Sami Al-Najei promised. “Everyone knows that the next match is more important than the previous one.” 

That “previous one” was Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 win over Argentina, one of the tournament favorites. 

“It was an excellent match for us. We were able to show an excellent image for the Saudi Arabia national team,” Saleh Al-Shehri, one of the goal-scorers, said. “But it is just three points, we haven’t qualified yet.” 

Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari’s goals blew open Group C and left the other rivals scrambling for points after Mexico’s 0-0 draw with Poland. 

It was Lewandowski’s fourth World Cup game and his fourth without scoring, too. 

Veteran Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa saved Lewandowski’s penalty in the second half to keep the game goalless. 

Scoring is second nature to Lewandowski, Poland’s record goal-scorer with 76 goals. He netted 312 goals in 384 Bundesliga games before switching to Barcelona in the offseason. He has 13 goals in 14 La Liga games for Barcelona so far. 

But scoring for Poland is not as easy in coach Czeslaw Michniewicz’ 4-3-2-1 formation. Lewandowski has never made any secret of his preference for playing with a strike partner, and not alone, waiting for service from deep-lying teammates. 

“There’s room for improvement going forward, we have to risk more,” Lewandowski said. “It’s very hard for a forward to track so far back. But if the coach has these tactics, then we have to adjust. Of course, as a forward I wish for more of the ball.” 

Lewandowski should see more of it against Saudi Arabia, which had to rely on goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais to complete the victory over Argentina with a pair of late saves. 

Yasser Al-Shahrani is out after his brutal collision with Al-Owais at the end of the game. It's not clear what his injury is, but coach Hervé Renard said the defender left Doha on a “special flight” and had surgery Thursday with another procedure to follow on his face. 

“Now they still have to do some more surgery for the face,” Renard said. “He’s someone very important for us. We miss him. We think about him. We’ll fight for him.” 

A win for Poland would leave both teams on 3 points with all to play for in their final games in Group C. Poland faces Argentina four days later, while Saudi Arabia will play Mexico. 



Vinícius Scores 2 to Earn Madrid Draw In Return to Valencia since Racial Abuse

Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinícius Júnior celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on March 2, 2024 (AFP)
Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinícius Júnior celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on March 2, 2024 (AFP)
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Vinícius Scores 2 to Earn Madrid Draw In Return to Valencia since Racial Abuse

Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinícius Júnior celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on March 2, 2024 (AFP)
Real Madrid's Brazilian forward #07 Vinícius Júnior celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Spanish league football match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on March 2, 2024 (AFP)

Vinícius Júnior scored twice to lift Real Madrid to 2-2 against Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday in his first return to Mestalla Stadium where he was racially abused last season.

Jude Bellingham was red-carded after the final whistle when he protested the referee's decision to waive off what would have been the winning goal. The referee said time expired just before Bellingham's last-gasp header.

Vinícius struck in the 50th and 76th minutes to wipe out first-half goals by Hugo Duro and Roman Yaremchuk.

Last May’s racial attack was among the worst the Black player has had to repeatedly endure in Spain. It led to an upswell of support for the Brazil forward and forced soccer authorities to take action, even though the abuse toward him has continued.

While there were no immediate reports of more racial insults on Saturday, a large group of spectators did chant “Vinícius is stupid” and booed him loudly throughout.

After his first goal, Vinícius held up his fist toward the Valencia fans behind the goal. After his equalizer, he cupped his ears as if asking for more from the fans who jeered him.

While Valencia banned three fans for life from its stadium after they were identified as having racially abused Vinícius last season, the club has likewise criticized the player and Madrid for what it considers the unfair categorization of its fanbase as predominantly racist.

In a short interview with Madrid's club television, Vinícius did not mention the fans and said only that it was “a very difficult game.” But on his Instagram account he posted an image of himself raising his fist after his first goal with the short message “The fight continues.”

“Vinícius played a very good game,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He was decisive for us, even though he was more effective in the area than outside it. (Defender Dimitri) Foulquier played a great game defending him, so he had to find his spaces inside the area and he scored two very important goals for us.”

Madrid leads the league with a seven-point advantage over Girona and a nine-point advantage over Barcelona before they both play games on Sunday.

Duro used his head to redirect in what looked like an errant shot by Fran Pérez in the 27th after Federico Valverde lost the ball with a risky pass.

Three minutes later, Yaremchuk intercepted Dani Carvajal’s pass back toward his own area, where the Ukraine forward pounced, dribbled around goalkeeper Andriy Lunin and rolled the ball home.

But Madrid was able to grab one back in first half added time when Carvajal’s cross grazed three players before finding Vinícius to push it home. Vinícius made it even when he headed in a cross from substitute Brahim Díaz.

Valencia defender Mouctar Diakhaby was carried off on a stretcher after an apparent leg injury when Aurélien Tchouaméni crashed into him in the final minutes.

Bellingham sent off

Bellingham, who leads the league with 16 goals, started for Madrid after missing three games with an ankle sprain.

The England midfielder was celebrating what would have been a last-gasp header when referee Jesús Gil Manzano signaled it came too late. Surrounded by protesting Madrid players, Gil Manzano showed a red card to Bellingham.

Gil Manzano put in his referee report that Bellingham had “run toward him in an aggressive manner shouting repeatedly” with an expletive in English to describe the goal.

The game was Valencia’s first in two weeks after its match in the last round was postponed in respect for the victims of a deadly fire in the Mediterranean city.

Both teams formed an honor guard before kickoff for representatives of the victims and security and rescue services and a moment of silence.

Sociedad loses

Real Sociedad lost at Sevilla 3-2 as the Basque Country club continued to struggle before it hosts Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

Sociedad hosts PSG on Tuesday needing to overturn a 2-0 first-leg loss in the round of 16.

Imanol Alguacil’s Sociedad started the season strong, but it has lost five of its last six games across all competitions. It was eliminated from the Copa del Rey semifinals by Mallorca on penalties in front of its fans in San Sebastian this week.

Elsewhere, Getafe striker Borja Mayoral, who has 15 league goals, had to be substituted late in his team's 3-3 draw with Las Palmas due to an apparent left leg injury.

Getafe wasted leads of 2-0 and 3-2. Las Palmas completed its comeback with Munir El Haddadi’s decisive equalizer.

Rayo Vallecano’s 1-1 draw at home with Cadiz was paused for several minutes in the second half when hail pelted the field during a heavy rainstorm.


Ronaldo’s Return Boosts Al-Nassr’s Maiden Asian Champions League Title Hopes

Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Shabab v Al-Nassr - Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - February 25, 2024 Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)
Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Shabab v Al-Nassr - Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - February 25, 2024 Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)
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Ronaldo’s Return Boosts Al-Nassr’s Maiden Asian Champions League Title Hopes

Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Shabab v Al-Nassr - Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - February 25, 2024 Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)
Football - Saudi Pro League - Al Shabab v Al-Nassr - Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - February 25, 2024 Al-Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)

Cristiano Ronaldo returns from suspension on Monday to try and save Al-Nassr’s season and guide the Saudi Arabian team closer to a first ever Asian Champions League title.

Last Thursday, the 39 year-old was banned for one game after making an offensive gesture during a Saudi Arabian league match four days earlier. At the end of a 3-2 win over Al-Shabab, video footage appeared to show Ronaldo cupping his ear and repeatedly thrusting his hand forward near his pelvis, in a gesture that seemed to be aimed at Al-Shabab fans.

The punishment meant that Ronaldo watched frustrated from the sidelines during Thursday’s domestic league game as Al-Nassr took the lead four times but ended with a 4-4 draw at home to bottom team Al-Hazm. The result leaves the club in second in the Saudi Pro League and nine points behind leader Al-Hilal.

“Ronaldo strengthens the team and ensures that the opponent respects you more but his absence had nothing to do with the result,” said Al-Nassr coach Luis Castro. “The fact is that we are conceding too many goals and the problem is not organizational but due to individual mistakes.”

“The league result will not affect our game in the Asian Champions League as we will be fully focused on that.”

The continental competition offers Al-Nassr the best chance of silverware this season and the team makes the short trip to take on Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates, winner in 2003, in the first leg of the quarterfinal.

On Tuesday, there is an all-Saudi Arabia clash as Al-Hilal, with a record four continental titles, takes on Al-Ittihad, champion in 2004 and 2005.

Neymar is still missing for Al-Hilal, currently top of the Saudi Arabia league, while Al-Ittihad is waiting to see if star striker Karim Benzema recovers from a muscle injury.

The two teams met in the league on Friday. Former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante put Ittihad ahead but Al-Hilal came back to win 3-1 to record a 25th straight win in all competitions.

“The players are playing with great confidence,” said Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus. “This is a good thing because we are facing important matches in a short period, starting with the Asian Champions League and a tough game against Al-Ittihad and we will have to be at our best.”

Al-Ittihad, the defending Saudi Arabian champion is now in fifth in the league and out of the domestic title race.

“We are moving in the right direction and the Asian Champions League quarterfinal is now the most important game of the season for us,” said Ittihad defender Ahmed Hegazy. “We know that it will be tough against Al-Hilal but this is a different game and we are focused on this.”

In the eastern zone, —the tournament is split into two geographic halves until the final — there is an all-South Korean clash as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors takes on Ulsan HD. Both teams have won two titles each.

In the remaining fixture, Yokohama F. Marinos of Japan meets China’s Shandong Taishan on Wednesday.

The second legs are played the following week.


Sainz Enjoys Racing Again in His Last F1 Season with Ferrari after Overtaking His Teammate Leclerc

Third placed Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain lifts his trophy on the podium during the victory ceremony of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
Third placed Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain lifts his trophy on the podium during the victory ceremony of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
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Sainz Enjoys Racing Again in His Last F1 Season with Ferrari after Overtaking His Teammate Leclerc

Third placed Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain lifts his trophy on the podium during the victory ceremony of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
Third placed Scuderia Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain lifts his trophy on the podium during the victory ceremony of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, 02 March 2024. (EPA)

Carlos Sainz Jr. is having fun driving for Ferrari again.

Sainz said he was relieved to be able to tap into his aggressive side with a series of overtakes, including two close moves on teammate Charles Leclerc, on his way to third place at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday.

Sainz's first podium finish since October starts his last season with Ferrari on a high. The record 24-race season means it will be an extended goodbye before Lewis Hamilton takes over his seat next year. Sainz is still seeking a team for 2025.

“It wasn’t a straightforward and an easy race, but I enjoyed it a lot,” Sainz said, adding it was his first race since the Austrian Grand Prix in July where he felt free to attack for positions without fear of his Ferrari ruining its tires while following closely behind another car.

“I love going racing, and I love going overtaking, being aggressive, attacking. And with last year’s car, it was simply impossible to do that,” Sainz said.

Bahrain is a stern test of how well the drivers and cars manage their tires, Sainz said, so to “do an overtaking, attacking race for me is a relief and it gives me a feeling that we will be able to do this more often this year.”

“It doesn’t mean we will do it every race at all, because I still think one of our strongest parts of our car is qualifying, so I think we will still qualify ahead of what maybe our true position is. But at least we’re not degrading (tires) and defending like crazy like we were doing last year.”

Sainz was the only non-Red Bull driver to win a race last year, but his Singapore Grand Prix victory was all about taking care of worn tires on a rare off day for Max Verstappen. It was one of just three podium finishes all year for the Spanish driver.

It wasn't all good news for Sainz in Bahrain, though. Both Ferraris struggled with brake problems that Leclerc called “dangerous”. Even in cool conditions in the desert night, Sainz said his brakes overheated too when following other cars but he “tried not to panic”. Despite that issue, he said he made sure overtaking Leclerc was never too risky.

“It never felt close inside the car,” he said. “Whenever I do an overtake on my teammate I will always try and leave as much margin as possible. I try and do it whenever I feel like I’m fully under control and I’m not putting any car at risk.”

Ferrari was the closest rival to the dominant Red Bulls in qualifying too. Leclerc set a time in the second of Friday's three sessions that would have been good enough for pole if he'd managed it in the final shootout. He started second but couldn't challenge Verstappen for the lead in the race.


De Minaur Beats Rudd to Become First Player to Win Back-to Back Titles in Mexico since 2012

Alex De Minaur of Australia celebrates with the champion trophy after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway during the singles final at the Mexican Tennis Open in Acapulco state of Guerrero, Mexico, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
Alex De Minaur of Australia celebrates with the champion trophy after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway during the singles final at the Mexican Tennis Open in Acapulco state of Guerrero, Mexico, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
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De Minaur Beats Rudd to Become First Player to Win Back-to Back Titles in Mexico since 2012

Alex De Minaur of Australia celebrates with the champion trophy after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway during the singles final at the Mexican Tennis Open in Acapulco state of Guerrero, Mexico, 02 March 2024. (EPA)
Alex De Minaur of Australia celebrates with the champion trophy after defeating Casper Ruud of Norway during the singles final at the Mexican Tennis Open in Acapulco state of Guerrero, Mexico, 02 March 2024. (EPA)

Alex De Minaur beat Casper Rudd 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday to become the first player to win back-to back titles in the Mexican Open since 2012.

The third-seeded De Minaur won his eighth ATP title to become the fourth player to repeat as champion in Mexico, the first since David Ferrer in 2010-12.

The 25-year-old Australian won his 10 consecutive match in Acapulco to break a four-match losing streaks in ATP finals, including Rotterdam earlier this year.

“Acapulco is becoming like a second home. I thought that it was impossible to get feel better after what happened last year, but I came back a year later to defend the title and it has been true pleasure,” de Minaur said.

The Mexican Open was nearly canceled because a category 5 hurricane hit the city four months ago, leaving 52 people dead. The Diamond Zone an oceanfront area replete with hotels and where the tennis arena is located, was devastated.

“We (the tennis players) wanted to bring some joy to this wonderful city and I’m sure that Acapulco will shine stronger than ever,” added the Australian.

The sixth-seeded Ruud missed the chance to win his 11th title in the ATP and his first ATP 500 title.

De Minaur took an early break to take a 3-1 lead in the first set and both hold their serve for the 6-4 score in the first one.

In the second, both players exchanged breaks in the first four games and the Australian got a break in the seventh game to take the lead.


Verstappen Wins Season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP)
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP)
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Verstappen Wins Season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP)
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP)

Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen eased to victory in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday.
Verstappen started on pole position and was never seriously challenged on his way to a commanding one-two win for Red Bull ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez.
Carlos Sainz Jr. was third for Ferrari after fighting hard with teammate Charles Leclerc.
At the start of the longest-ever F1 season at 24 races, Verstappen already shows signs of repeating his near-perfect record from 2023, when the Dutch driver won 19 of 22 races on his way to a third straight title.
Saturday was the eighth win in a row for Verstappen going back to September last year. He set an F1 record of 10 consecutive wins last season.


Salah May Return Next Week, Klopp Says

Liverpool's forward Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
Liverpool's forward Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
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Salah May Return Next Week, Klopp Says

Liverpool's forward Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
Liverpool's forward Mohamed Salah. (AFP)

Liverpool winger Luis Diaz is fit while Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai could also be back for their trip to Nottingham Forest on Saturday but forward Mohamed Salah will not return until at least next week, manager Juergen Klopp said.

Klopp has been wrestling with an injury crisis in recent weeks that has sidelined several key players and forced him to turn to the club's academy to plug the holes.

Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold, goalkeeper Alisson, Curtis Jones, Salah, Nunez and Szoboszlai all missed last Sunday's League Cup final win over Chelsea along with a number of longer term absentees.

Diaz then sat out Wednesday's FA Cup win over Southampton, but is fine to face Forest - along with midfielder Alexis Mac Allister, who has been ill.

"(Diaz) is fine and Macca (Alexis Mac Allister) is fine," Klopp told reporters on Friday.

"Darwin and Dom trained yesterday with the team so we will see how they react," the Liverpool manager added, according to AFP.

Salah has not featured for the Premier League leaders since their visit to Brentford on Feb. 17 when he made a brief return after suffering an injury at the Africa Cup of Nations, but he could be in contention for next Sunday's game against title rivals Manchester City.

"I don't think Mo (Salah) is too far off. He will not feature tomorrow... I think next week, any point, it's possible."

Midfielder Wataru Endo and left back Andy Robertson also both missed the midweek win over Southampton but are set to train with the team on Friday. Mac Allister and Robertson were both briefly sick with the same illness, Klopp said.

Liverpool's youngsters have stepped up to the plate in the absence of the established starters with 18-year-olds Jayden Danns and Lewis Koumas scoring their first goals for the senior team in Wednesday's 3-0 FA Cup win over Championship side Southampton.

Klopp said it was his job to protect the youngsters from the spotlight.

"I know that they are not ready to it... it was wonderful, they deserve it, of course, the spotlight that night... but now it's about dealing with the challenges coming up," he said.

The manager said Liverpool were under pressure to win every match to stay ahead in the title race, a situation similar to 17th-placed Forest who are fighting to stay clear of the relegation zone.

"We are only one point above Man City and two above Arsenal but that means nothing," he said.

"Nottingham is a great place to play but a difficult one. The situation they are in is a similar one to us, they need to win games to reach their target as much as we can," he added.

Forest, with 24 points, are four points above the relegation zone.


Al-Faisal: 32 Million People in the Kingdom Support Hosting World Cup

 Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that millions inside the Kingdom support the bid to host the World Cup. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that millions inside the Kingdom support the bid to host the World Cup. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Al-Faisal: 32 Million People in the Kingdom Support Hosting World Cup

 Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that millions inside the Kingdom support the bid to host the World Cup. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that millions inside the Kingdom support the bid to host the World Cup. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2034 World Cup represents an open invitation to the world to join the Kingdom in the journey of football development.

 

In a post on X, Al-Faisal said that the Saudi bid “is supported by the hopes and dreams of 32 million people in the Kingdom.”

 

The Saudi Football Association announced on Friday the launch of the formal bid campaign to host the 2034 World Cup, which bears the slogan “Growing. Together.”

 

The logo “is designed to capture the essence of Saudi Arabia’s young nation, vibrant society and rich heritage,” the federation said.

 

The logo embodies the process of great transformation and growth that Saudi Arabia is experiencing, making it one of the fastest and most advanced growth stories in the world of football, in addition to the comprehensive positive impact expected from hosting the largest sports tournament in the world.

 

Yasser Al-Meshal, President of the Saudi Football Federation, said that Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2034 World Cup is an exceptional journey to build a better future for the most popular sport in the world.

 

“Submitting the candidacy file to host the 2034 World Cup comes as an important step in the Kingdom’s sporting and football journey in particular. We have made great progress at all levels in the sport of football, and the Kingdom’s candidacy to host the tournament represents an open invitation to the world to join us on this journey,” he stated.

 

For his part, Ibrahim Al-Qassim, the Secretary-General of the Saudi Football Federation, said that the Kingdom will write a new history with the beginning of an ambitious journey to organize the most expensive tournament in the world of football.

 

The Kingdom has recently succeeded in hosting a large number of international sporting events, such as freestyle wrestling shows, Formula 1 championships, and the finals of the Spanish and Italian Super Cups, in addition to the Dakar Rally, and a number of other car and speed racing championships.


We Are Making Messi Work Too Hard, Martino Tells Miami

Lionel Messi needs better service to reduce his workload, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday. - AFP
Lionel Messi needs better service to reduce his workload, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday. - AFP
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We Are Making Messi Work Too Hard, Martino Tells Miami

Lionel Messi needs better service to reduce his workload, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday. - AFP
Lionel Messi needs better service to reduce his workload, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday. - AFP

Inter Miami are expecting too much work from their Argentine star Lionel Messi, coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday, ahead of the team's Florida derby clash with Orlando City.

Miami are unbeaten in their opening two games, with a home win over Real Salt Lake followed by a draw at the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday.

But with a busy run of fixtures for club and country coming up for Messi this month, Martino says the team need to find a way to reduce the eight-times Ballon d'Or winner's workload.

"I feel that in these last two matches, he has expended too much energy, and that is also my responsibility to make sure the team operates in a way that we can use him in the best way," Martino told reporters.

Messi has been playing in a relatively free role, behind former Barcelona team-mate Luis Suarez, often floating deep to find the ball and then seeking to drive his team up the field, AFP reported.

It was Messi's stoppage time goal that earned Miami a point at the Galaxy but Martino says the performance took a lot out of the 36-year-old.

"I’ve been discussing some things with him and what concerns me the most is the day-to-day and how he is recovering game by game. I feel that in these first two matches, we have relied on him too much, which has caused him significant fatigue in both games," he said.

The former Argentina and Mexico national team coach said the team have to re-find a way to provide Messi service closer to goal.

"In the Leagues Cup game against Orlando (last season), he often found the ball in the final quarter of the field and was able to finish the play, he scored from inside the area. That’s what we need to get back to, the team finding him to make plays and sometimes finding him for the finishes," he said.

Miami are hoping their latest Argentine signing, midfielder Federico Redondo will have his paperwork resolved in order to make his debut on Saturday.


Verstappen's Bahrain Pole Delivers Relief to Red Bull, Horner

Max Verstappen delivers some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday  - AFP
Max Verstappen delivers some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday - AFP
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Verstappen's Bahrain Pole Delivers Relief to Red Bull, Horner

Max Verstappen delivers some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday  - AFP
Max Verstappen delivers some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday - AFP

Max Verstappen delivered some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday when he resisted Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to claim pole position for Saturday's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

The defending three-time world champion picked up where he left off last year by topping the times in a closely-contested qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir.

His success, which he admitted was "a little bit unexpected" arrived after another day of speculation and pressure for team boss Christian Horner, following the anonymous leaking of a cache of alleged private messages and photographs between him and a female member of the team.

This came 24 hours after an internal investigation led by an independent London lawyer had resulted in Horner being cleared of all claims of inappropriate behaviour.

Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session, securing his third Bahrain pole and the 33rd of his career.

"It was a lot of fun," said Verstappen.

"The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind over the last few days, it's been quite tricky to get a whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying.

"In Q1 and Q2 you go a bit faster, with the track ramping up, but to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little bit difficult. So I'm very happy to be on pole."

He added: "To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected, but I think the car came to us and I felt happier with the whole car."

He forecast a close race on Saturday.

"We look good for the race and that's the most important, but we will see tomorrow. I'm confident we can have a strong race."

Ferrari's Leclerc missed pole by only two-tenths of a second as he finished second ahead of Mercedes' George Russell, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.

"I'm a bit disappointed," admitted Leclerc.

"But we had a good qualifying and this offers us a good start to the year."

Exceptionally the Bahrain race and next weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are being staged on Saturdays to accommodate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


Rublev Defaulted in Dubai for Shouting in Line Judge’s Face during Semi

 Tennis - ATP 500 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 1, 2024 Russia's Andrey Rublev talks to the line judge during his semi final match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. (Reuters)
Tennis - ATP 500 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 1, 2024 Russia's Andrey Rublev talks to the line judge during his semi final match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. (Reuters)
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Rublev Defaulted in Dubai for Shouting in Line Judge’s Face during Semi

 Tennis - ATP 500 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 1, 2024 Russia's Andrey Rublev talks to the line judge during his semi final match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. (Reuters)
Tennis - ATP 500 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 1, 2024 Russia's Andrey Rublev talks to the line judge during his semi final match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. (Reuters)

Andrey Rublev was defaulted from his semifinal at the Dubai Championships for yelling in the face of a line judge, allowing Alexander Bublik to advance to the final on Friday.

The second-seeded Rublev erupted after Bublik won a point to take a 6-5 lead in the deciding set.

The Russian, who is ranked No. 5, immediately pointed to the baseline, walked to the line judge, leaned over and shouted in his face.

ATP supervisor Roland Herfel came to the court accompanied by a Russian speaker, who said Rublev swore in his native language.

Rublev responded: “I was talking to him in English.” He insisted he did not use the profanity.

But umpire Miriam Bley defaulted Rublev for unsportsmanlike conduct, after which the seventh-seeded Bublik said “I'm OK to continue” with the match.

Bublik won 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-5.

Later, defending champion Daniil Medvedev faced Ugo Humbert in the other semifinal.

Rublev won the hard-court tournament in 2022 but lost to Medvedev in last year's final.

The big-serving Bublik is looking for the fifth singles title of his career. The Kazakh player won the Open Sud de France in Montpellier last month.