MENA Sports Wrap: Iranian snooker star Hossein Vafaei wins hearts at UK Championship

MENA Sports Wrap: Iranian snooker star Hossein Vafaei wins hearts at UK Championship
MENA Sports Wrap: A snooker player from the MENA region has won the hearts of the crowd at the UK Championship, while there has been more drama in Saudi and Qatari football.
5 min read
08 December, 2023
The first Iranian professional snooker player made it to the UK Championship's last four [Getty]

The world's first professional Iranian snooker player, Hossein Vafaei, made it to the semi-finals of the UK Championship last weekend, where he faced probably the game's biggest name - Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The Riyadh Derby saw a hugely controversial goal by Cristiano Ronaldo disallowed, while over in Qatar, the national team coach has been replaced.

Iranian snooker ace reaches UK Championship semi-finals

He might not have won the UK Championships, but Iranian snooker ace Hossein Vafaei on the hearts of the York crowd last week where the tournament took place.

The 'Prince of Persia' entered the tournament ranked 18th, surprising many by cruising through to the semi-finals where he faced the world number one - and probably the greatest snooker player of all time - Ronnie O'Sullivan on Saturday.

Last year, when the two players met, Vafaei faced criticism after saying it was time for O'Sullivan - who has dominated snooker for over two decades - to retire.

While the comment was taken gracefully by Rocket Ronnie, it did contribute to creating something of a rivalry between the rising start and O'Sullivan.

Entering the semi-final this time, the 29-year-old Vafaei hailed Ronnie as his "hero" but evidently was not at his best, pulling out of a snooker tournament this week with an illness.

He briefly came back from being two frames down in the semi-finals on Saturday to level the score 2-2, before O'Sullivan got into gear and won the match 6-2.

In the end, Vafaei admitted he didn't play his best snooker and admitted he wasn't feeling 100 percent.

"Today was my worst day. I don’t have the heart to play against my hero. I just don't know, there was something wrong with me today," Vafaei told Eurosport after the match.

"I lost to my hero. There was only one man who could stop me in this tournament, I think, and it was only Ronnie O’Sullivan."

After Vafaei lost the game, the 47-year-old star embraced the young Iranian to show all was forgiven.

But O'Sullivan also cheekily quipped that he was "just hanging around so people don’t get as good as a career as me". He went to win the tournament, the 40th in his career.

Heated Riyadh derby sees disappointment for Ronaldo

Al Hilal thumped Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr 3-0 as the two giants of Saudi football locked horns in a bitter clash at the King Fahad stadium earlier this week.

A roaring home crowd for Al Hilal set the tone for the game, with pink smoke from flares engulfing parts of the stadium.

The hosts drew the first blood in the second half with a header from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The deal was later sealed with a brace from Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Al-Nassr did not go down without a fight, but squandered a number of changes in front of goal while a strike by Cristiano Ronaldo was controversially ruled offside.

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Players and coaching staff lobbied the referee and his assistants for the decision to be reversed, with security later escorting players back to the dressing room.

Speaking after the game, Al-Nassr manager Luis Castro lambasted some decisions during the game.

"There were two penalty kicks that were not awarded for Al-Nassr, and Al-Hilal’s second goal was incorrect," Castro said.

"The same goal for Al Hilal against Al Ittihad in the Arab Championship was also counted today for them. Is it normal for the striker to push our player and score a goal and the referee does not see it again?"

With the 3-0 win, Al-Hilal extend their lead over Al-Nassr at the top of the Saudi Pro League by seven points.

Despite the bitter loss, Castro has not given up.

"The league is not over yet," Castro was quoted by The Nassr Zone as saying.

Queiroz Qatar stint cut short

Qatar coach Carlos Queiroz was given the boot earlier this week, just a month before the nation is due to host the Asia Cup.

The reason for the 70-year-old’s sacking remains unclear, though the Qatar Football Association (QFA) said that the contract was terminated "mutually between the two parties".

Some experts, however, said that Queiroz's style of play, relations with the team, and his lack of use of young players from the Aspire Academy in Doha may have contributed to his departure.

In a statement on Wednesday, the federation said: "The Qatar Football Association has announced that Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz's tenure as head coach of the Qatar national team has ended amicably by mutual agreement between the two parties.

All thanks and appreciation to Coach Carlos Queiroz for the period he supervised the training of our national team. We wish you success in your future career.

— Qatar Football Association (@QFA_EN) December 6, 2023


Queiroz was appointed in February this year, and had initially signed a four-year contract, and was charged with qualifying the Qataris for the 2026 World Cup.

Twelve matches were played under the Portuguese veteran’s management, with four wins, three draws and four losses.

Queiroz took over the Gulf team hot off the heels of the Qatar-hosted 2022 FIFA World Cup, which saw the Gulf team make their first appearance in the top football tournament.

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Spaniard Marquez Lopez has been announced as Queiroz’s successor, as the country prepares to host the AFC Asian Cup in January, entering as defending champions.

Queiroz, whose managerial career began over 30 years, has headed a number of Middle Eastern and North African teams throughout his career.

The Portuguese was in charge of the UAE, Iran and Egypt throughout the years, and is the Iranian team’s longest serving manager, having coached between 2011-2019 before a brief stint in 2022.