FIFA president Gianni Infantino to speak at Dubai International Sports Conference

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino will head the list of distinguished speakers at the 12th edition of the Dubai International Sports Conference (DISC), organisers announced on Wednesday.

The two-day conference will be held at Madinat Jumeirah on December 27-28, and will conclude with the Dubai Global Soccer Awards, the premier Awards for world football.

The conference, organised by the Dubai Sports Council, has been conducted every year since 2006 and was established to bring together the leaders in all areas of football including chairmen, directors, referees, agents, players and coaches to share their expertise and experience during two days of workshops and presentations.

This year the theme of the conference is ‘Modern Investment in International Football’ which is expected to generate lively debate among the delegates.

The conference is now established as an important event on the world football calendar and this will be the third appearance for Infantino, after addressing the conference in 2015 while serving as UEFA Secretary General, and again last year in his first year as FIFA President.

Infantino clearly regards the conference as the idea platform for presenting his vision for the future. In 2015 while running for the FIFA presidency he outlined his plans for restructuring FIFA, while in 2016 in his first year as President he announced the plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams.

It is expected that he will again use the opportunity to announce FIFA’s major initiatives in investment in football for the coming year.

Secretary general of the Dubai Sports Council, Saeed Hareb, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming world leaders in football to Dubai to discuss the future of the sport both locally and globally. The sharing of their expertise and experience contributes significantly to the continued growth and development of the sport in the UAE and GCC, and we are honoured to host the Dubai International Sports Conference again this year.”

Gianni Infantino (3)

And in a fitting end to two days of sharing the latest innovations and ideas, Infantino will also be a guest of honour and an Award presenter at the prestigious and highly anticipated Dubai Globe Soccer Awards which will be staged on December 28, recognizing the best performances of the season from players, coaches and administrators.

The awards acknowledge and celebrate performances both on and off the field and are presented in 12 categories, with the nominees selected by the Globe Soccer Jury of international footballing coaches, directors and chairmen.

The nominees this year again includes the cream of world soccer vying for the honour of being named the best in the world in their field.

Hareb added: “The Dubai Global Soccer Awards are a fitting conclusion to the conference and we welcome these incredible nominees to Dubai as we celebrate and recognize the best performances in the world of football over the past year.

“It is fitting that in a city which celebrates and encourages excellence in all fields that we will again be recognising the best in a sport we are so passionate about.”

The awards will be presented at an exclusive invitation-only black-tie gala at the Johara Ballroom at Madinat Jumeirah.

The Dubai International Sports Conference is an important event under the Mohammad Bin Rashid Global Initiatives, and is held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of DSC.

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Al Jazira should enjoy Real Madrid glamour but conquering Asia is true aim

Matt Jones 12/12/2017
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Win or lose on Wednesday night, Al Jazira must have grander ambitions than just being happy to be on the same pitch as the mighty Real Madrid.

After defeating newly-crowned Asia champions Urawa Red Diamonds 1-0 in the FIFA World Club Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, they have the attention of the continent, perhaps even the world for a night, with this dream semi-final.

They must now make use of the stage they occupy to join the Asian elite and become one of their heavyweights.

Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal, Al Ittihad and Qatar’s Al Sadd have all feasted on continental success, and have been joined at the West Asia top table by UAE clubs Al Ain (champions in 2003) and Al Ahli (now Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club), who have shown aptitude on the continent in recent years.

All the while, we write about Jazira enjoying parity with this duo back home, labelling them a fellow giant of UAE football.

Yet during recent participation in the AFC Champions League, the Pride of Abu Dhabi were embarrassingly outclassed. They recorded a measly one point from six group games and held the joint worst record of all 32 teams along with Thailand’s Buriram United in 2016.

This season they fared little better, earning two points and still finishing bottom of their group – rising to be only the 31st worst team in the competition after Hong Kong’s Eastern Sports Club.

al-Jazira club

Even Al Wahda, seen as a smaller club next to their illustrious rivals in the capital city, have made a more meaningful impact on Asia.

The Clarets finished bottom of their group with four points this year but faced much tougher opposition in a group consisting of finalists Hilal, Persepolis and Al Rayyan – they still scored a group high 12 goals.

They were also semi-finalists as recently as 2007.

Jazira’s best showing in the competition, meanwhile, was exiting at the last 16 stage in both 2012 and 2014.
Those aforementioned group stage exits were something of an anomaly – coach Henk ten Cate has previously spoken of how an incredibly gifted young, but very raw, side were always going to struggle in the last two years.

This week, when addressing the subject of participating in next year’s competition, however, he was more optimistic.

The Dutchman has truly had the Midas touch since arriving at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in December 2015 to replace Abel Braga. He awoke a sleeping giant that had started flirting with relegation, and by season’s end had steered them to President’s Cup glory.

Twelve months on, his team hoisted the Arabian Gulf League title, a first in six years. And now, having already defied the odds to beat Asia’s finest in Urawa four days ago, his team face Europe, and indeed the world’s, finest.

Henk Ten Cate 2

This has all been achieved via Ten Cate bestowing chances on a plethora of talented academy players – chief among them Khalfan Mubarak and Mohamed Jamal.

This season Mohammed Al Attas, 20, and Eissa Al Otaibah, 19, have made their bows, and not looked out of place.

They’ve come a long way. And while the players, especially the local ones, should cherish their encounter with the Galacticos tonight – they must look at the bigger picture and target a deep run into the ACL next year.

For all he has done at the club so far, Ten Cate will leave a lasting legacy if he can take his troops one step further on the continent than domestic rivals Al Ain and Ahli have managed in recent attempts – both losing in finals (2015 and 2016).

Win or lose tonight, Al Jazira have everything to gain.

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Real Madrid focused on Club World Cup as Barcelona clash looms large

Matt Jones 12/12/2017
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Zinedine Zidane and Marcelo insist the looming Clasico with Barcelona is far from their minds as Real Madrid go in search of a Club World Cup triumph that would move them alongside their bitter La Liga rivals as the most successful sides in the tournament’s history.

The Blaugrana stand alone with three victories in the competition’s 13-year history – lifting the trophy in 2009, 2011 and 2015.

Real are reigning champions, having beaten Japan’s Kashima Antlers on penalties in Yokohama a year ago, winning their first Club World Cup in 2014.

And while Los Blancos host Barca in a real Christmas Clasico classic in their next league game on December 23, both coach Zidane and left-back Marcelo are fully focused on retaining their world title and the semi-final clash with UAE champions Al Jazira in the capital tonight.

“We have to try and win the title and we are here for that. We think only of this competition and that is it,” said the Frenchman when asked in yesterday’s press conference at Zayed Sports City Stadium how he was preparing for the first Clasico of the season.

“It’s another competition that we want to do our best in. We know it’s not going to be easy. We have a semi-final and we want to pass it.

“We are here, relaxing and training and thinking about tomorrow’s match, and nothing about La Liga or our many other games. We will think about tomorrow and then the final if we win, and then think about playing Barcelona.”

Marcelo 1

Brazilian defender Marcelo similarly responded when quizzed asked about a mouthwatering Champions League tie Madrid face with French giants Paris Saint-Germain in the new year.

“They will be two wonderful matches and I have lots of friends there, but at the moment our minds are here,” said the 29-year-old.

“We are not talking about future matches. We are concentrating on the Club World Cup and we want to win the semi-final and reach the final.”

Zidane, though, will be forgiven for pondering the prospect of his team selection for the Barca game, with suspensions carrying over should any of his players get sent off tonight, and again if they make Saturday’s final.

But the former Madrid midfielder insisted he will take no special precautions with the likes of his big name stars, like Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale.

“It could be something that could happen,” he admitted. “The players are playing well and deserve to play in different competitions. I think it will be hard but I don’t think anything will happen because I think in a positive manner. It could be strange but we accept it.”

His comments were echoed by Marcelo, who said: “It doesn’t influence us, we will play like we always play.

“First we have the semi-final, which will be difficult. To play this tournament is a prize, we are the champions. You can be sent off in any league so it doesn’t affect us. We are to play and we are not going to change anything.”

Zidane says he has brought a fully-fit squad of 21 players with him to the Emirates. And even though Real are heavy favourites to make the final, he knows the Pride of Abu Dhabi will raise their game for what is the biggest game in their history.

“Before I didn’t know them but now I know them much better,” said Zidane, who has been buoyed by the welcome they have had since arriving on Monday.

“I’m very happy about the city and welcoming. It’s nice to see people supporting Real Madrid.

“They’re (Jazira) going to do their best and take their chances playing against us. It’s the match of the year for them to play Real Madrid, so we think it will be a challenging match.

“We know there is not any match that is easy. We have a match against an opponent everyone says will be an easy match. We don’t think that, we think it will be hard.

Real Madrid 2

“Whenever you play in a competition, everyone wants to do their best because it is Real Madrid. Anything can happen in football, so we have to be very concentrated and well prepared.

“We are looking for a title and we want to defend the title we won last year. For that we have come here, it has been a long trip, it’s a competition we want to win, we want to go back with the trophy.”

Rio de Janeiro native Marcelo has won 17 major honours with Los Blancos, including being a member of the two previous Club World Cup-winning squads. And he says he is as motivated as ever to win a third titles and 18th for the club overall.

“We believe that all the titles we fight for is the most important thing,” he said.

“I’m very proud to have won all of these titles with Real Madrid and this is another motivation I have, to continue fighting. This tournament is very important for us. We have to fight for all the titles and we will go for it, to reach the final.”

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