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Hopes high 2027 AFC Asian Cup heading to Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Liverpool return to Champions League action at Anfield against Porto on Wednesday with little at stake having secured qualification to the knockout stages after four wins from their opening four matches. It is a competition the club have a special affinity for, and former left-back Jose Enrique believes Jurgen Klopp’s men can go all…

DUBAI: Liverpool return to Champions League action at Anfield against Porto on Wednesday with little at stake having secured qualification to the knockout stages after four wins from their opening four matches.

It is a competition the club have a special affinity for, and former left-back Jose Enrique believes Jurgen Klopp’s men can go all the way in it this season, despite some inconsistent results over the last few weeks.

He said: “In the league the only problem I see is that we’ve been unlucky with injuries, again. It happened last season with the center-backs, and this season it’s happening with the midfield. Let’s see how it goes, that will (impact) our Premier League title fight, because maybe we don’t have as strong enough squad.

“But the Champions League I believe we can go all in. Obviously, we’re through, and we now have away and home stages, anything can happen. And I can bet that in the Champions League Liverpool are really strong, especially when they play at Anfield,” the 35-year-old Spanish former defender added.

Speaking to Arab News in Dubai, where he met fans at the opening of the official Liverpool FC store at Mirdif City Center Mall — an event organized by the club’s official retail partner Seventy-8 — Enrique said: “The level of support for Liverpool FC around the world is well-known, and the passion for the Reds can definitely be felt here in Dubai and the UAE.”

Former Liverpool defender Jose Enrique says he is now completely healthy after an earlier surgery to remove a brain tumor. (Seventy-8)
Enrique announced in 2018 that he was recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor.

“My health is completely fine now; I don’t feel any side effects. After the operation and treatment, I was feeling some side effects, but they’re completely gone now.

“Since I retired, I’m now working with my brother as a football agent. It took me a while to get used to it but now I’m so happy, and my brother is actually here in Dubai to close a player as well.

“So, I’m really happy, travelling quite a lot, now that (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 restrictions allow us to travel a little bit. So can’t complain, probably the best moment of my life since I retired,” he added.

Enrique recently returned to Anfield for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and he remains a fan five years after leaving.

“Against Brighton (2-2), the second half wasn’t the best but against Atletico Madrid (2-0) we won and that was great. It was very, very nice to be back because it was my first time back at Anfield after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He had special words of praise for the Liverpool manager who he said had transformed the club and won the Champions League, the Premier League, and the FIFA Club World Cup in recent years.

“Klopp, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? Obviously, we have to give a lot of credit to the players but for me he is the main guy. If he was not there we would not be in this position, definitely for me he is the main man.

“I would have loved to have played under him because I believe he would have improved me a lot as a player. In my last season I was actually with him, but I wasn’t fit enough, I had many, many problems with my knee. So obviously I wasn’t available to play, the way he wants to play needs a lot of intensity, and my knee couldn’t handle that.

“I definitely would have loved, in one of my peak years, to play under him, because I really believe he would have made me maybe one of the best in my position,” he added.

Enrique also revealed his delight for Steven Gerrard after his former captain at Liverpool became the new coach at Aston Villa.

“I’m very happy for him, I’ve already congratulated him. I think it’s the right move for him. I don’t think you have to compare (Glasgow) Rangers to Aston Villa because they play in completely different leagues. Rangers are massive in Scotland, but Aston Villa are a massive club in the Premier League, they’ve just been struggling in the last few years.

“With Stevie, if they give him the right money, not big money, and the freedom to make his own decisions, I believe he can do really well there,” he said.

And Enrique also had words of encouragement for fans of his former club Newcastle United after the recent Saudi-backed takeover.

“I’m really happy for them. It’s a club that I will always love, they gave me the chance to play in the Premier League. The fans, they loved me when I was there, some of my best years. I wish them the best, I know how much they suffered with (Newcastle United’s former owner) Mike Ashley. Obviously, I left because Liverpool came for me, but Mike Ashley was one of the reasons to leave the club, and not just me, but many players.

“And now the new owners are ready to spend, and you can see when they signed how the fans celebrated outside the stadium. I’m very happy for them, because I believe it’s a club that at least should be in the top six in the Premier League,” he said.

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New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite omicron threat

CANBERRA: Australian authorities announced on Monday a third case of the omicron COVID-19 variant as government leaders reconsidered plans to relax border restrictions this week.A South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant at Australia’s most secure quarantine facility at Howard Springs, Northern Territory Health Minister…

CANBERRA: Australian authorities announced on Monday a third case of the omicron COVID-19 variant as government leaders reconsidered plans to relax border restrictions this week.A South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant at Australia’s most secure quarantine facility at Howard Springs, Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.New South Wales state authorities reported on Sunday that two travelers from South Africa to Sydney had become Australia’s first omicron cases. Both were fully vaccinated, showed no symptoms and were in quarantine in Sydney.New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said Monday there could be a third omicron case in Australia’s most populous state.In the 24 hours since Sunday, 141 passengers on five flights arrived from the nine countries affected by the omicron variant, officials said. All the travelers were in quarantine.Senior federal government ministers are meeting Monday to consider the national response, including whether to alter plans to relax border restrictions starting Wednesday.Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australian authorities “will not hesitate to take additional steps if the medical evidence is that more” action is required.Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that starting Wednesday, vaccinated students, skilled workers and travelers on working vacations will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without quarantining.Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea with certain Australian visas would also be allowed in without quarantining, as well as people on humanitarian visas, the government said last week.Morrison on Monday urged a calm response to omicron, which the World Health Organization has designated a variant of concern.“There’s no evidence to suggest that this leads to any more severe disease. If anything, it’s suggesting a lesser form of disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated,” Morrison told Nine Network television.“Case numbers of themselves are not the issue. It’s about whether people are getting a worse illness or it’s going to put stress on your hospital system,” Morrison said.New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, as well as the national capital Canberra have introduced a blanket 72-hour quarantine requirement for all international arrivals.Hunt announced on Saturday that because of the concerns about omicron, non-Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.Australians will be allowed in but must quarantine for 14 days.

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Six Sudanese soldiers killed in Ethiopian attack

WASHINGTON: The United States under President Joe Biden is to resume on Monday indirect negotiations with Iran in Vienna — but is far less optimistic than in the spring about the possibility of saving the Iranian nuclear deal.And its options to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb are limited if talks fail. As president,…

WASHINGTON: The United States under President Joe Biden is to resume on Monday indirect negotiations with Iran in Vienna — but is far less optimistic than in the spring about the possibility of saving the Iranian nuclear deal.And its options to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb are limited if talks fail.

As president, Donald Trump withdrew from the international deal in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions lifted under the accord’s terms.In response, the Islamic Republic has flouted many of the restrictions set on its nuclear program.Biden has said he wants to return to the deal — negotiated in 2015 by then-president Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president — so long as Iran also resumes the original terms.The indirect negotiations in Vienna resume Monday after a five-month suspension imposed by Iran.“There is room to quickly reach and implement an understanding,” a spokesperson for the US State Department said Wednesday.But the American envoy on Iran, Rob Malley, has said that Tehran’s attitude “doesn’t augur well for the talks.”Washington has accused the Middle Eastern nation of dragging its feet and increasing its “radical” demands — while still making progress that would bring it significantly closer to developing a bomb.

If, when talks resume, it quickly becomes apparent to the United States that Iran only wants to buy time to step up its nuclear advances, then Washington will not “sit idly by,” Malley warned.“We’re going to have to see other efforts — diplomatic and otherwise — to try to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” he said.One of the diplomatic options mentioned was a possible interim agreement.“The Biden administration could look at a short-term deal, a limited agreement that freezes some of the most proliferation-sensitive activities in Iran in exchange for some modest sanctions relief,” Kelsey Davenport, the head of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, told AFP recently.The goal is to buy some time, as Tehran is much closer to possessing a nuclear bomb than before.But such a move risks provoking an outcry in Washington, among Republicans but also among several members of Biden’s Democratic Party, who would see it as too generous a concession to Iran.

“If Iran comes back to the negotiating table with a long list of demands outside of the JCPOA, the US could reciprocate” and present its own list about Iran’s role in regional conflicts and its ballistic missiles, said Davenport, using the official acronym for the nuclear deal.But doing so would open up long and complex negotiations with an uncertain outcome.And there is nothing to prevent Iran from continuing to develop its nuclear program during that time.

For Suzanne DiMaggio, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, the “options beyond restoring the deal are not great.”“If there was a better plan out there, we would have heard it by now,” she said Friday during an exchange with reporters.One possibility would be to increase economic sanctions, even as the Democratic administration continues to blast the Trump era “maximum pressure” approach as a failure.Punitive measures could also target China, which continues to buy Iranian oil despite a US embargo. But Beijing is unlikely to change its stance.US hawks opposed to the 2015 deal — and there are many, particularly among conservatives — argue that Washington should increase economic, diplomatic and even military pressure without waiting for the outcome of the Vienna negotiations.

Accused of weakness by proponents of a harder stance, the Biden administration began to toughen its approach in October, warning that “other options” than diplomacy were on the table to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.The White House did not specify what those options were, but it has clearly hinted at the possibility of military action.However, in a noted op-ed, former US diplomat Dennis Ross said that the “routinized” reference to “other options” had become insufficient, as “Tehran no longer takes Washington seriously.”“The Biden administration needs to put the prospect of military escalation back on the table if it hopes to make progress on the nuclear issue,” he wrote in the essay, published October 27.Israel, for its part, has clearly embraced this option as a possibility.But for DiMaggio, military force “will not ultimately solve the problem.“In fact, precedent is for the Iranians to meet pressure with pressure,” she warned.“More aggressive steps beyond sanctions, including further sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program, run the risk of resulting in a miscalculation, mistake or an escalation that cannot be managed, potentially sparking violent conflict.”

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Newcastle need to overcome ‘crisis of confidence’ to avoid Premier League relegation: Howe

LONDON: The battle to find balance between attack and defence has been a five-year struggle on Tyneside — and is so far proving the impossible conundrum for Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe. It was an issue first flagged up by now Everton boss Rafa Benitez under the ownership of Mike Ashley. It’s an argument…

LONDON: The battle to find balance between attack and defence has been a five-year struggle on Tyneside — and is so far proving the impossible conundrum for Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.

It was an issue first flagged up by now Everton boss Rafa Benitez under the ownership of Mike Ashley. It’s an argument so often referred to as the “short blanket.”

The concept is a simple one. Pull the short blanket up at one end, your feet are open to the elements at the other, and vice versa. With limited resources, it is tough to provide quality and consistency at both ends.

Steve Bruce, never as eloquent as Benitez, suffered from the same problems. And just 180 or so minutes into his tenure at Newcastle, Howe knows that issue firsthand.

A defensively disciplined display at the Emirates, much more so than at St James’ Park last week, saw the Magpies blunted in attack and ultimately beaten by two moments of real quality.

Second-half goals by Bukayo Saka and his replacement off the bench Gabriel Martinelli ensured United remained at the foot of the Premier League, without a win in 13 in the top flight and with the worst goals against column as well as just six points to show for their early season “efforts.”

Making his debut in the United dugout after a bout of Covid, Howe made three changes from the side that drew with Brentford seven days previously.

Out went Ciaran Clark, Jacob Murphy and Karl Darlow, with Emil Krafth, Ryan Fraser and Martin Dubravka returning to the starting XI.

United were open and expansive against the Bees, but it was more a case of disciplined and compact at the home of the Gunners, as Howe made some tactical tweaks to the side who looked defensively suspect last time out.

And it’s fair to say — for 45 minutes at least — it worked, as United largely frustrated the home side, keeping them at arm’s length.

United’s record against Arsenal home and away is by Premier League standards awful.

They’ve won just once in 20 outings, and have to go back to 2010 for a victory in the red half of North London.

And to get a result against a traditionally difficult foe you have to ride your luck, or hope for players to stand up in the key moments. Luckily, as mentioned previously, Howe decided to make the crucial call to bring back Slovak Dubravka, and United needed their reinstated No.1 to produce a number of crucial stops to keep things equal at the break.

His first stop was to palm away a curling Martin Odegaard free-kick, which skirted over the heads of the United wall. The second, as incredibly reactive as it was, was followed by a miss of biblical proportions by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Some excellent work by Saka down the Arsenal left opened things up for Emile Smith-Rowe, whose header was cleared by Dubravka, only to fall to Aubameyang. But with the goal at his mercy, the Gunners’ skipper clipped on to the United post.

While the hosts were the better side, this wasn’t one-way traffic, however. United had some chances of their own.

A Callum Wilson break down the right unleashed Fraser, whose cross deflected into the path of Jonjo Shelvey, but his 25-yard shot was excellently tipped on to the bar by the outstretched arm of goalkeeping man-of-the-moment Aaron Ramsdale.

It wasn’t until added time in the first-half that Arsenal began to up the ante — and it was this increased intensity that carried through into the opening exchanges of the second-half, which bore fruit on 55 minutes.

The tempo upped, Saka linked up with Albert Sambi Lokonga, then on to Smith-Rowe who found Saka again as he rolled off the back of Emil Krafth and guided the ball into the bottom corner from the angle on the left for 1-0.

As resolute as United had looked, it was no less than the hosts deserved.

Then came some controversy — but as typically has been the case this season for the Magpies, it went against the Premier League strugglers. In fact, within seconds they were two goals down and with yet another top flight mountain to climb.

A direct ball over the top for Wilson split the Arsenal backline and just as he appeared certain to pull the trigger in the area, the slightest of shoves from Nuno Tavares was enough to see the United striker lose his balance but not enough to convince the referee or the VAR officials of a foul.

Almost instantaneously, a direct ball at the other end saw the home side’s lead doubled.

A pin-point pass in behind by Takehiro Tomiyasu picked out the freshly introduced Martinelli, who, with his first touch, guided the ball past the helpless Dubravka.

And despite some light sparring at both ends, the Brazilian’s strike was enough to end this encounter as a contest, ensuring the gloom remains on Tyneside.

No one expected a result at Arsenal, a place United lose at on an annual basis, but results are exactly what the Magpies need. Their predicament at the foot of the table is starting to look a little desperate, despite the signs of improvement under Howe.

What the manager needs to work out is whether he is going to try and play his way out of the situation, or solidify a creaking defensive unit and do it the “boring” way.

At the moment, it feels like this is neither.

Fellow relegation battlers Norwich City and Burnley come to St James’ Park in the next seven days — and it is starting to feel like this week is make or break for Newcastle’s Premier League future.

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