DUBAI: Two weeks ahead of a potentially game-changing women’s World Cup, football remains completely male-dominated in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa, where female fans are still battling for a level playing field.
Women fans face obstacles in many parts of the region where rival powers Iran and Saudi Arabia have traditionally enforced rules banning women from entering stadiums.
No countries from the region will be among the 24 teams taking part in the tournament in France from June 7, but at least there are signs of flexibility in the region toward a sport igniting more and more female interest across the globe.
In Iran, rules have been relaxed since the 1979 Islamic revolution and women are selectively allowed to attend some matches.
But the fact that a ban has yet to be officially lifted indicates there is still disagreement over the issue among senior figures in the Islamic republic.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia allowed women into a football stadium for the first time in January 2018 for a regular domestic football league match.
The move was part of reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that included allowing women to drive and take part in other sporting and artistic events.
Portugal defeat Netherlands to win first Nations League
PORTO: Portugal added the inaugural Nations League title to their Euro 2016 triumph as Goncalo Guedes’s strike on the hour won an underwhelming final 1-0 against the Netherlands in Porto on Sunday.
The Dutch defensive pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt largely kept Cristiano Ronaldo quiet, but Valencia winger Guedes proved the match winner as his shot had too much power for Jasper Cillessen in the Netherlands goal.
“Thank god things have gone well for the national team in recent years. Portugal has won important things like Euro 2016 and now the League of Nations,” said Ronaldo.
“It may seem like an easy job but it’s hard, it takes a lot of dedication and willingness. I think the players deserve to be congratulated.”
Portugal had the advantage of an extra day’s rest and not being forced to extra time against Switzerland in their semi-final as the Dutch were in seeing off England on Thursday.
And the hosts looked the fresher throughout with Ronald Koeman’s men jaded at the end of a long season.
“If we were tired I don’t know, but we were not good enough,” admitted Koeman.
“They defended well and the were very compact in their game, but you have to be better with the ball and we were not.”
The match had been billed as a showdown between Ronaldo and Van Dijk but with the Dutch captain again rock solid at the back, Portugal’s main threat came from midfield with Bernardo Silva rightfully winning player of the tournament.
“I’m very happy, very proud. It’s my first title with my country,” said Silva, who also won an English domestic treble with Manchester City this season.
“Thank you to the Portuguese people, what a night for us, what a night for the country!”
Ronaldo still hungry for more glory with Portugal
PORTO: Cristiano Ronaldo insisted he has no immediate plans to retire from international football after helping Portugal lift the inaugural Nations League on Sunday.
Ronaldo, 34, was a peripheral figure as Goncalo Guedes’s goal won an underwhelming final against the Netherlands 1-0 in Porto.
But after sitting out the group stage of the Nations League on a hiatus from international football, Ronaldo played a huge part in getting his country to the final by scoring a hat-trick in Wednesday’s semi-final against Switzerland.
And with a host of exciting young talent, led by Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, who picked up player of the tournament, Ronaldo is keen to hang around for the chance at more international glory as Portugal look to defend their European Championship title next year.
“Portugal has won important things like Euro 2016 and now the Nations League. It may seem like an easy job but it’s hard, it takes a lot of dedication and willingness,” Ronaldo told Portuguese TV station RTP.
“As long as I have the strength and motivation, I will continue to represent the colours of Portugal.
“When I am with the national team I feel like at home.”
Victory was especially sweet for Ronaldo as the only surviving member of the Portuguese side beaten on home soil by Greece in the final of Euro 2004.
“I have been with the national team for 16 years and I still feel the same enthusiasm as when I was 18 years old,” he added.
“I will always give my best and the Portuguese are always on my side so I thank them for their enthusiasm for me.
“I try to match that with good performances, goals, and help Portugal win trophies.”
Football: Infantino re-elected FIFA president
PARIS: Gianni Infantino said today he had turned FIFA into an organization “synonymous with credibility” as he was re-elected for a second term as president of world football’s governing body.
It was a formality that the 49-year-old would be waved through for a new four-year mandate, until 2023, as he stood unopposed at the FIFA Congress in Paris.
The FIFA Council chose to back his re-election by acclamation, with Infantino now hoping to build on the work he started in February 2016, when he was voted in to succeed the disgraced Sepp Blatter at the head of the organization.
Eager to “open up” and “globalize” the game, he will now push ahead with already approved plans to expand the Club World Cup to 24 teams, and with his ambition of expanding the World Cup itself to 48 teams.
As he addressed the 211 members of the Congress in the French capital, where the Women’s World Cup begins on Friday, Infantino claimed credit for the success of the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia, the “transparent” bidding process for the 2026 tournament in North America, and the introduction of Video Assistant Referees into the game.
He said he was now at the head of “a new FIFA, an organization that is synonymous with credibility, confidence, integrity.”
“Today nobody talks about crises, nobody talks about rebuilding FIFA from scratch, nobody talks about scandals, nobody talks about corruption. We talk about football,” insisted the Swiss-Italian lawyer, formerly secretary general of European governing body UEFA.
“The very least we can say is that we have turned the situation around.
“In three years and four months, this organization went from being toxic, almost criminal, to being what it should be, an organization that develops football, an organization that cares about football.”
Infantino has overseen a major increase in FIFA’s income, with cash reserves increased to a record $2.75 billion over his first term. FIFA announced record revenue for the three years to 2018, of $6.4 billion.
“FIFA has today also the most solid financial situation ever and is coming out of the period of its worst crisis,” he said.
FIFA has had to abandon highly controversial plans to expand the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 in time for the next tournament in Qatar in 2022.
The radical change to the tournament will now have to wait until 2026, but Infantino has already got the green light for a flagship 24-team Club World Cup starting in 2021.
The existing format involves just seven clubs. A venue for the new-look competition has still to be found.
“My philosophy as FIFA president is one of openness and as long as I am president of FIFA I will push as hard as I can to have more global worldwide competitions, possibilities, openness for everyone to be able to play,” he said.
He stated his ambition to generate an enormous $50 billion in revenue from the sale of the commercial rights for the new competition, which has been opposed by European clubs.
“In terms of commercialisation, I hope to make 50 billion, not 25. I’m not sure we’ll get them but I hope so,” Infantino said, although he did not state how many editions that would cover.
Infantino previously worked closely with Michel Platini, but the suspended ex-head of UEFA this week attacked the FIFA chief, saying he had “no legitimacy” and accusing him of having mocked women’s football.
However, Infantino pointed to the appointment of Senegal’s Fatma Samoura as Secretary-General and to the fact that women now made up 20 percent of all those involved in FIFA committees as he defended his work done in that area.
“It is only 20 percent, but before it was four percent. We need to be better, we will be, but we start, we move, we progress,” he said.
“At the Women’s World Cup in France this year we will have the explosion of women’s football,” he added.
That tournament will begin on Friday when hosts France play South Korea in Paris, and will run until July 7.
The next FIFA Congress will be held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in May next year.
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