United Arab Emirates

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Man United scraps winter break in Middle East

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MANCHESTER, England — Manchester United has scrapped a planned midseason training camp in the Middle East amid high tensions in the region, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Tuesday.

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“If there’s one thing that worries me, it’s not on the football pitch,” Solskjaer said. “It’s other things that worry me more.

“We were looking at the Middle East but that’s definitely not going to happen.”

Last week, Iran launched missile attacks on two military bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops. The missiles were a retaliation following an American drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s powerful Quds Force.

In another incident, a Ukrainian passenger jet was shot down as it left Tehran by Iranian military, killing all 176 people aboard. Iran has said the jetliner was brought down “unintentionally” and blamed human error.

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Man United has been a frequent visitor to the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex in Dubai in recent years, and the squad was looking to use the upcoming and newly introduced winter break in the English Premier League schedule for another warm-weather camp.

Solskjaer indicated he would instead give his players some time off to spend alone during the break, which will follow United’s home match against Wolverhampton in the league on Feb. 1.

“I don’t know where they’ll all scatter around but we’ll stay in Europe,” Solskjaer said.

Solskjaer sees the mid-season break as vital for his players after an intense run of games.

With United still competing on four fronts, the FA Cup third-round replay against Wolves at Old Trafford on Wednesday will be the team’s 15th game in 49 days, and the number will reach 19 in 66 days by the time they meet again at the start of February.

“I think the mid-season break is very, very important for everyone,” he said. “We’ve got five or six games now until then, we’ve just got to stick at it, hang in there until then, get the performances and the results that we hope we’re going to get, and then use that to get some vitamin D.”

Reports: 48-team 2022 World Cup decision in June

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If FIFA can find appropriate countries to help Qatar host the 2022 World Cup, we may very well have a 48-team tournament.

The 2022 edition has been under the microscope about as long as Qatar has held the rights to host it, with workers’ rights and slave labor joining a suspicious bidding process which ultimately helped usher former FIFA czar Sepp Blatter out of his seat of power.

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Ten venues across five countries have been mentioned as possible co-hosts, with Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait in the running to host select World Cup matches.

FIFA conditionally approved the expansion of the tournament on Friday, pending a “joint feasibility study” conducted by Qatar and FIFA.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino infamously quipped that sharing the tournament could bring a measure of peace to the Middle East.

A 24-team 2021 Club World Cup was also approved, as the threat of big European teams boycotting the summer edition looms over Infantino’s plan to expand FIFA’s marquee club tournament.

Asian Cup organizers review UAE complaint on Qatar players

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Throwing Qatar’s appearance in the Asian Cup final in doubt, organizers are investigating a complaint by the United Arab Emirates about the eligibility of two Qatar players from the semifinal.

The complaint adds another layer to Qatar’s politically-charged progress to Friday’s final of the continental soccer showpiece in the UAE, which as a country is part of a quartet boycotting Doha diplomatically and politically.

There was an angry reaction from the home crowd in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday as the UAE was beaten in the semifinal, with shoes thrown at Qatari players after striker Almoez Ali scored the second goal in a 4-0 win.

The UAE soccer federation has now questioned whether Ali, with a tournament-leading tally eight goals, and Bassam Al-Rawi meet FIFA’s requirements to play for the 2022 World Cup host nation.

“The Asian Football Confederation has received a protest from the United Arab Emirates FA regarding the eligibility of two Qatar players,” the governing body said in a statement on Thursday. “This protest will now be reviewed in line with the AFC regulations.”

The ultimate sanction would see Qatar having to forfeit the match. Qatar is due to play Japan on Friday in its first-ever Asian Cup final.

An hour after announcing the review of the complaint into Qatar, the AFC’s newsletter was headlined: “Excitement builds towards a thrilling finale.”

Asian Cup: Qatar routs UAE, amid insults and flying shoes, to reach final

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Amid shoes being thrown in insult, Qatar won its politically charged match against host United Arab Emirates 4-0 Tuesday and advanced to the Asian Cup final.

The Qataris, who will host the World Cup in 2022, have won all six of their matches and have yet to concede a goal — the first country to do that at the continental soccer championship.

Qatar will face four-time champion Japan on Friday in the final. Both teams were invited last year to play at the Copa America in 2019, giving the winner of this week’s match a chance to win a second continental title in July.

A regional boycott of Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia, has impacted the team’s logistics at the Asian Cup and made it difficult for the country’s fans to attend games. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt are also part of the boycott.

The Qataris, however, have denied accusations that they support extremists.

On the soccer field, Qatar beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 in the group stage before the 4-0 rout of UAE on Tuesday at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.

Boualem Khoukhi gave Qatar the lead in the 22nd minute, and Almoez Ali doubled the advantage 15 minutes later.

The second goal prompted the UAE fans to start throwing their shoes at the Qatari players, an act which is considered to be an insult.

The Asian Football Confederation said it could launch an investigation.

“Any incident of this nature will be contained in the official match report which will then be investigated by the AFC,” the soccer body said.

Ali’s goal was his eighth of the tournament, equaling the record set by Iran forward Ali Daei in 1996 when the Asian Cup was also hosted by the UAE. The 22-year-old Ali will have a chance to break the record against Japan on Friday.

Qatar added two more goals late in the match, the first from Hasan Al Haydos in the 80th minute and the last from Hamid Ismaeil seconds after coming off the bench with time winding down.

The UAE played the final seconds with 10 men after Ismail Ahmed was sent off for a rough tackle.

Asian Cup wrap: UAE tops India, Jordan stays perfect (video)

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United Arab Emirates got a much-needed win as the Asian Cup began its second round of group stage games on Thursday.

Khalfan Mubarak and Ali Mabkhout scored for the hosts in a 2-0 defeat of India at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

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The win was necessary after a surprising draw with Bhutan to start Group A play. UAE now leads the group by a point heading into the final match day, when it faces Thailand.

The War Elephants beat Bhutan and join India on three points. Chanathip Songkrasin scored Thailand’s goal.

In Group B, Jordan clinched a spot in the knockout rounds with a 2-0 defeat of Syria. Palestine meets Australia on Friday, and the winner will be in pole position to join Jordan in the next round. Syria has one point, while the Socceroos are pointless after falling to Jordan on Jan. 6