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Saudi Arabia gears up to attract tens of thousands of World Cup fans

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The kingdom has offered multi-entry 60-day visas to holders of the World Cup’s Hayya pass, the compulsory permit available to ticket-holders.

Saudi Arabia is putting on 240 flights a week and easing overland travel to attract tens of thousands of football fans attending the World Cup in neighbouring Qatar, the kingdom’s tourism minister has said.

Weekly flights from Saudi to Qatar will soar to 240 during the month-long tournament, up from six normally, tourism minister Ahmed Al Khateeb said on Wednesday on the sidelines of an investor forum in Riyadh.

The efforts are intended to jumpstart the nascent tourism sector in the once closed-off kingdom, which only began issuing tourist visas in September 2019 – just months before the coronavirus pandemic decimated the industry globally.

With prices high and accommodation options limited in Doha, Qatar’s Gulf neighbours are expected to soak up an overflow of fans, organising more than 160 daily shuttle flights between them and relaxing visa requirements.

Saudi Arabia has offered multi-entry 60-day visas to holders of the World Cup’s Hayya pass, the compulsory permit available to ticket-holders.

READ MORE: What makes FIFA World Cup in Qatar unique?

Upgraded roads

For overland travellers, officials have upgraded roads from Riyadh and cities in eastern Saudi Arabia – which are closer to Qatar – to the border, Khateeb said.

They have also expanded petrol stations, internet connectivity and access to first aid and other medical services along the route, he said.

A newly launched 10-lane border crossing “doesn’t take you more than 10 minutes” to pass through, he added.

Facilitating cross-border travel could give ticket-holders a Saudi alternative to lodging in Doha, where more than one million fans are expected.

“I think we are ready when it comes to transportation, mobility, airlines, airports, borders, healthcare, telecommunications. We’re ready and excited,” Khateeb said.

“We can’t wait for the World Cup to start and we can’t wait to welcome our guests from all over the world.”

He added: “We are working with the (destination management companies) and the tour companies in Europe and Latin America and Asia, and we are expecting tens of thousands of packages to be sold.”

Saudi Arabia has set a goal of attracting 30 million foreign tourists annually by 2030, an element of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda intended to diversify the oil-dependent economy and open up to the world.

READ MORE: FIFA World Cup host Qatar inaugurates massive solar power plant

READ MORE: Qatar emir denounces ‘unprecedented’ campaign against World Cup host

Source: TRTWorld

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Real Madrid beat Sevilla, while Barca move second in La Liga

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MADRID, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) — Real Madrid beat Sevilla 1-0 in La Liga on Sunday night to move eight points clear of FC Barcelona and nine in front of Girona thanks to an 81st-minute goal from Luka Modric.

Modric fired home an unstoppable effort from outside the area to end stubborn resistance from the visitors, who had ex-Madrid captain Sergio Ramos at the heart of their much-improved defense.

Ramos received a homage from Real Madrid for his 671 matches at the club, before he and his Sevilla teammates went close to frustrating the fans in the Bernabeu.

Modric’s strike came after the ball had been only half-cleared, although Sevilla complained the original ball into their area had been aimed at Antonio Rudiger, who was in a clear offside position.

Both keepers made decent saves to keep the score at 0-0 until Modric’s goal.

FC Barcelona produced arguably their best performance this season to beat Getafe 4-0 on Saturday

Goals from Raphinha, Joao Felix, Frenkie de Jong and Fermin Lopez beat a below-par Getafe to move Barca ahead of Girona, who play on Monday.

Atletico Madrid, who were without the injured Antoine Griezmann, could only draw away to bottom-of-the-table Almeria, for whom Luka Romero scored spectacular brace to cancel out goals from Angel Correa and Rodrigo de Paul.

Athletic Bilbao, who play Atletico in the Copa del Rey semifinal on Thursday, were unable to take advantage of Atletico’s slip-up as they lost 3-1 away to Real Betis on a day when everything seemed to go wrong for them.

Chimy Avila put Betis ahead with his first goal for the club, and it was 2-0 when Unai Simon made a save only for the ball to rebound off Yuri Berchiche and end up in the net.

Nico Williams was then sent off for the visitors after sarcastically applauding the referee, and Yuri had to leave the pitch with a hamstring injury.

Gorka Guruzeta pulled a goal back for Athletic with a header in first-half injury time, but Johnny Cardoso’s 67th-minute shot made the points safe for Betis.

Osasuna and Las Palmas drew a mid-table match 1-1, with Unai Garcia opening the scoring for the home side with a 48th-minute volley, only for Kirian Rodriguez to smash home from just outside of the area in the 52nd minute to assure a point.

Darwin Machis scored a 99th-minute goal that saw Cadiz come back from 2-0 down at home to Celta Vigo to claim a point that maintains their chances of avoiding relegation.

Things looked grim for Cadiz when goals from Iago Aspas and Williot Swedberg made it 2-0 for the visitors, but Juanmi pulled a goal back with a smart finish and Machis saved a vital point in the ninth minute of added time following a corner.

Alaves and Mallorca drew 1-1 with a result that keeps the home side well clear of the relegation zone and leaves the visitors in trouble.

Carlos Benavidez headed Alaves in front after 75 minutes of a close match, but Matija Nastasic gave Mallorca a morale boost ahead of Tuesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal return leg when he nodded home an equalizer two minutes from time.

On Friday night, Santi Comesana scored twice as Villarreal won 3-1 away to Real Sociedad, with a goal from former Real Sociedad forward Alexander Sorloth rubbing salt in the wounds for the home side, who are dropping a lot of points at home.

The scheduled game between Granada and Valencia was postponed because of a fire in Valencia on Thursday which claimed 10 lives.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Man City, Arsenal both win to pressure Liverpool in Premier League

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LONDON, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) — Manchester City won 1-0 away to Bournemouth on Saturday to close the gap at the top of the Premier League to just a point behind Liverpool, who play Chelsea in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

Phil Foden scored the only goal of the match in the 24th minute when he steered home after Erling Haaland’s initial shot had been saved by Neto.

Pep Guardiola’s side had scored six goals against Bournemouth earlier in the season but were lucky to claim the win as their rivals showed how they have improved since then and they almost claimed a point.

Marcus Tavernier had two good chances to level and recent signing Enes Unal saw a header drift agonizingly wide in the closing moments.

Arsenal also kept up the pace as they quickly took a grip on their match at home to Newcastle, with a Gabriel Magalhaes’ header ending in the net after a series of rebounds after 18 minutes.

Kai Havertz then scored from close range after Martinelli’s low cross six minutes later, with Bukayo Saka adding a third in the 65th minute and Jakub Kiwior making it 4-0 with a flick from a corner that deflected in off Lewis Miley with 21 minutes left.

Joe Willock scored for Newcastle with six minutes left to play, but it was scant consolation after they had been completely outplayed.

Aston Villa strengthened their position in fourth with an entertaining 4-2 win at home over Nottingham Forest in a game that was closer than the final score suggested.

Villa looked to be cruising and led 3-0 thanks to two goals from Douglas Luiz in the 29th and 39th minutes after Ollie Watkins had given the home side a fourth minute lead.

Moussa Niakhate pulled a goal back in the fourth minute of injury time and after making three changes at the break Morgan Gibbs-White made it 3-2 in the 48th minute.

He then saw a shot go wide when through on goal, and that was to be expensive as Leon Bailey scored a fourth for Villa in the 61st minute to end the fightback.

Alex Iwobi scored a cool finish to give Fulham a 97th minute winner at Old Trafford and end Manchester United’s recent winning run.

After recent improved displays, Erik ten Hag’s side produced a disappointing performance and Calvin Bassey’s twice-hit effort ended up in the roof of the United goal in the 65th minute.

It looked as if Harry Maguire’s 89th minute volley had saved a point for the home side, but Fulham latched onto his headed clearance fastest deep into injury time to seal a famous win.

Everton looked to be on track for a vital win away to Brighton only for Lewis Dunk’s 95th minute header to give the home side a point and deny the visitors a win that would have lifted them clear of the bottom three.

Jarrad Branthwaite rifled home a loose ball to put Everton in front in the 72nd minute and it looked even better for them when Brighton’s Billy Gilmour was sent off for a heavy tackle, but Dunk was on hand to ensure the match ended 1-1.

Oliver Glasner enjoyed a winning debut after replacing Roy Hodgson as Crystal Palace coach as his side won 3-0 at home to relegation-haunted Burnley, who made life difficult for themselves when Josh Brownhill was sent off in the 35th minute with the score 0-0.

Palace dominated against 10 men and second half goals from Chris Richards, Jordan Ayew and Jean-Philippe Mateta’s penalty gave them a win that lifted them clear of the danger zone.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Preview: Much at stake for Barca, Xavi in Napoli trip

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MADRID, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) — FC Barcelona travel for one of the most important games of their season when they face Napoli in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 on Wednesday night.

The game is vital for the club’s economy, as well as for the credibility of coach Xavi Hernandez, who has already said he will be stepping down at the end of the season, but who could find himself leaving earlier (despite assurances to the contrary) in the case of a defeat.

Barcelona’s budget for the 2023-2024 was partly based on their reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League, with the extra 10 million the club would receive from UEFA for reaching the last eight, making a difference to an institution with debts of over 1,000 million euros.

With so much at stake, if Barca lose the first leg in Naples, it would be no big shock to see Barca president Joan Laporta and sporting director Deco decide to pull the trigger prematurely on a coach, who at times seems to be watching a different game to the rest of the world.

Xavi’s comments after Barca needed a twice-taken 97th minute penalty to beat fourth from bottom Celta Vigo, that according to Big Date his side should be top of La Liga, caused a few raised eyebrows – especially among people who have watched their games this season.

The fact is Barca are third in the table, eight points behind Real Madrid and still have several difficult games to play, including a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, and most of their football has not been that of a team that should be topping the table.

The good news for Barca and Xavi is that Napoli are in an even worse state, with the team currently sitting ninth in Serie A taking drastic action on Monday to sack Walter Mazzarri as coach and replace him with Francesco Calzona, who has just 48 hours to prepare for the tie.

Barca had some positive injury news on Monday with Joao Felix and Sergi Roberto passed fit, and both will be on the subs’ bench on Wednesday.

Xavi is expected to bring Inigo Martinez into central defense alongside Ronald Araujo, with Andreas Christensen moving into central midfield, alongside Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gundogan, with Robert Lewandowski and 16-year-old Yamine Lamal leading the attack and Raphinha dropping to the subs’ bench.

The extra man in midfield implies caution from Xavi, who knows how important it is to avoid a first leg defeat – both for the club’s future and his own.

Source(s): Xinhua

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