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Four things to look for as European football picks up speed this week



The European club football trophies should already be stowed in the cabinets, instead most of the top leagues are only just resuming after the coronavirus interruption.

While the Germans returned on May 16, the top two Spanish divisions have only just resumed, and the English Premier League and Serie A reappear this week.

AFP Sport picks out key issues as elite European club football gets back into its stride.

It’s all kicking off

The Premier League returns on Wednesday and Serie A on Saturday, joining the Bundesliga and La Liga in rebooting their seasons.

Aston Villa, who lost to Leicester on Match 9 in the last match before the lockdown, will kick off against Champions League chasing Sheffield United.

The potentially pivotal game on re-opening day pits Manchester City, clinging to their hopes of retaining their title, against visiting Arsenal.

Serie A makes a stuttering comeback with four fixtures called off when Italian sport was suspended on March 9 midway through the 26th round of matches.

Torino kick off at home to Parma in a mid-table battle on Saturday. On Sunday third-place Inter Milan and fourth-place Atalanta both have home games.

We are almost the champions

No peeking: While fans tried to get a glimpse of Liverpool training, police want them to stay away from the Merseyside derby. PHOTO: AFP/File / Paul ELLIS

Two of the leagues could be settled by the end of the week.

Bayern Munich have been in rude health since the restart, winning all six matches, five in the league and one in the cup, including a pivotal victory at challengers Borussia Dortmund.

They can clinch an eighth straight title with victory at struggling Werder Bremen on Tuesday. But Bremen showed signs of life on Saturday with a 5-1 victory in Paderborn.

It could be one and done for Liverpool. If Manchester City fail to beat Arsenal, Liverpool can clinch their first title since 1990 away to neighbours Everton on Sunday.

The prospect of Liverpool winning the title in their own city led police to briefly suggest the match be moved to avoid fans ignoring social distancing rules and gathering to celebrate.

On a knife edge

While Bayern and Liverpool await their coronations, there is plenty at stake elsewhere.

Juventus have usually burned off their pursuers in the final straight on their way to eight straight Serie A titles, but Lazio have been proving dogged, and the long break may change the equation.

In Spain, Barcelona, whose form had been erratic before the enforced break returned with a bang on Saturday, winning 4-0 at Mallorca to ensure they stayed ahead of Real Madrid.

One’s a crowd: the stands were empty but Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo drew a TV audience of more than 8 million when they returned to action in the Italian cup. PHOTO: AFP/File / Miguel MEDINA

The pace will be frantic. Barcelona return with three matches in six days.

The battle for precious Champions League berths is tight everywhere. In England it is complicated by the possibility that Manchester City will be banned from next season’s competition.

While Paderborn in Germany, Norwich in England, and SPAL and Brescia in Serie A need near miracles to escape relegation, every one of the four big leagues has at least half a dozen clubs embroiled in the survival battle.

Yet Espanyol, who returned in La Liga on Saturday by ending a run of six matches, and more than four months, without a win suggested the break may help some strugglers.

Made for TV

Camera opportunity: TV crews were among the few people allowed into the ground as Real Madrid kicked off on Sunday. PHOTO: AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

Having been starved of live games, fans still cannot go to matches but can suddenly choose from a crowded menu – if they have the right subscriptions.

When he gave the green light for Italian football to return, Sports Minister Vincent Spadafora said the sport was part of the country’s “return to normal life again”.

The first match suggested the appetite was there as a goalless cup semi-final between Juventus and Inter Milan on Friday drew the biggest football audience for more than a year. But it was shown free-to-air on national broadcaster RAI. When Serie A returns so will the pay wall, with most matches on Sky Italia.

In Germany, the local Sky arm owns the rights and broadcast live action free for the first two rounds.

In England, where the Premier League has become a political football for battered politicians, the schedule has been arranged so all the 92 games can be screened live.

Of those 33, 25 on Sky and four each on the BBC and Amazon, will be available free, including the Merseyside derby.

In Spain, the format is unchanged with one game a week available free, but Movistar, which owns the rights to the other nine matches, has reduced its price for the remaining games.

Reporting and photos: AFP


Umair Badheeu sets new, national freediving record at AIDA Philippines National Championship



Maldivian freediver Umair Badheeu has achieved a new national record with a dive to a depth of 62 meters in the bi-fin category. His accomplishment was made possible with the support of Kaimoo Resorts and Hotels, a key sponsor and advocate for Umair’s pursuit of excellence in freediving.

Competing among 14 international participants, Umair’s performance not only secured a new national record but also surpassed his previous bi-fin category record of 60 meters by a margin of two meters.

Reflecting on the challenges of transitioning from his training in Egypt to competing in the Philippines, Umair said: “Adapting to reduced buoyancy due to warmer waters and encountering jellyfish were part of the new environment.”

This marks the third national record Umair has achieved. He previously set two national records of 62 and 64 meters in the free immersion category of free diving at the Andrea Zuccari World Cup held in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in October. Free immersion freediving is a discipline that requires divers to descend and ascend pulling a rope.

Umair’s switch from training in free immersion in Egypt to the bi-fin category for this tournament demonstrated his adaptability: “It felt like shifting gears, utilising distinct techniques, and returning to a more familiar discipline. This dive marks a confident depth for me, focusing not just on depth but also on refining dive times for a more enjoyable experience,” he remarked.

“Kaimoo’s support has been instrumental, offering me the freedom to train. This support has allowed me to focus on honing my skills and achieving new heights in my freediving,” Umair added.

“Umair’s third record-breaking dive this year is a testament to his exceptional skill and determination. Kaimoo is thrilled to continue supporting Umair’s journey in the world of freediving. His achievements inspire us, and we congratulate him on this impressive feat, looking for-ward to his continued success,” said Mohamed Manih Ahmed, Kaimoo’s Managing Director.

With this record-breaking achievement, Umair now looks forward to a period of rest before gearing up for the upcoming freediving season.

Kaimoo Resorts and Hotels is a leading tourism company in the Maldives that manages five properties across the country. In addition to Embudu Village and Summer Island Maldives, Kaimoo also operates Equator Village in Addu Atoll, and the Mookai Hotel and Mookai Suites in Male’.

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Kuramathi Maldives and Rasdhoo Divers dive into adventure with speciality courses



Kuramathi Maldives, in collaboration with Rasdhoo Divers, is elevating the underwater experience by offering a captivating range of Dive Speciality Courses, tailored for both novices and seasoned divers alike. These courses go beyond the ordinary, immersing participants in topics such as Perfect Buoyancy, Wave, Tides and Currents, Turtle Ecology, Manta Ecology, Marine Ecology, Deep Diver Speciality, and Enriched Air Nitrox Speciality.

Perfect Buoyancy: Master the art of achieving and maintaining perfect buoyancy underwater, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable diving experience.

Wave, Tides, and Currents: Dive enthusiasts can now confidently navigate ocean dynamics, enhancing their skills in diverse underwater conditions.

Turtle Ecology: Gain insights into the captivating world of sea turtles, understanding their behavior, and contributing to their conservation.

Manta Ecology: Delve into the mysterious realm of majestic mantas, exploring their habitat, behavior, and the crucial role they play in marine ecosystems.

Marine Ecology: Discover the delicate balance of marine ecosystems and learn how divers can contribute to their preservation through responsible and sustainable practices.

Deep Diver Speciality: Embark on a thrilling adventure below 18 meters, gaining advanced skills for deep-sea exploration and mastering safe diving techniques and pressure management.

Enriched Air Nitrox Speciality: Unlock the secrets of the deep with Nitrox, ensuring safer and longer dives. Enhance your dive planning, elevate safety, and indulge in extended reef adventures.

These Dive Speciality Courses at Kuramathi Maldives are designed not only to enhance participants’ diving skills but also to instill a sense of environmental awareness and responsibility. As custodians of the pristine underwater environment, Kuramathi Maldives is committed to nurturing a community of conscientious divers dedicated to appreciating and protecting delicate marine ecosystems.

Led by certified dive instructors from Rasdhoo Divers Kuramathi, these courses provide a safe and enjoyable learning experience. Whether you are a beginner eager to explore the underwater wonders or an experienced diver looking to expand your knowledge, Kuramathi Maldives invites you to embark on a journey of discovery beneath the azure waves.

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Visit Maldives collaborates with Surf Session and Kyllian Guerin to promote the Maldives as a leading surf destination



Visit Maldives has collaborated with ‘Surf Session’, a media platform dedicated to surfing. An exciting familiarisation trip and a digital campaign was conducted to promote the Maldives as a leading surf destination in the French market. The digital campaign was conducted on social media and the Surf Session website.

During the first part of the campaign, a young surfer, Kyllian Guerin, accompanied Surf Session on a week-long trip where he surfed and explored the best waves of the Maldives. Ayada Maldives, Adaaran Select Hudhuranfushi, and Cinnamon Dhonveli Maldives hosted this familiarisation trip. Kyllians’ journey was captured and brand content in the form of Instagram stories, posts, articles and banners were disseminated on Kyllian Guerin and Surf Session social media platforms and official website. As for the second part of the campaign, digital and print articles highlighted the surf lifestyle in the Maldives and were published on Surf Session website. Additionally, an exciting video of Kyllian’s journey in the Maldives was posted on YouTube, showcasing the beauty of the surf spots of the destination.

The campaign strengthened Maldives’ presence as a premium surf destination and drove excitement among Surf Session’s readership and surfing community. The campaign increased visibility for French surfers and further strengthened the Maldives brand in the French market. Collaborating with prestigious media like Surf Session and influential personalities like Kyllian Guerin allows MMPRC to capture the attention of potential surfers and travel enthusiasts alike, encouraging them to choose the Maldives as their preferred holiday destination. The entire campaign resulted in over a collective reach of 919,209.00.

The current ranking of France is at #8 with 41,072 arrivals as of 31st October 2023. MMPRC is consistently promoting the Maldives in the French market through various marketing activities. This year, we conducted a campaign with Vogue France and IFTM Top Resa 2023. We also plan to promote the Maldives at ILTM Cannes 2023 later this year. These marketing activities ensure the Maldives remain a top-of-mind destination for travellers from the French market.

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