Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle – Arab News

Endurance horse racing champion Carmine Villani has led a rich and colorful life that has seen him shine in business and sport.
Today, the world No.1 will represent Great Britain at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022 (Fursan Cup) at AlUla.
Villani was a talented athlete as a young man — first in Italy and then the US — excelling as a middle-distance runner. After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin, he went on to become heavily involved in sports car racing.
However, an affinity with horses has always been in his blood. When he was young, Villani was taught to ride by his grandfather. In Carmine’s words, he “learned the tricks and bareback riding from him.”
Villani’s equine passion was rekindled during his time in Texas, where he rode quarter-horses and thoroughbreds.
He began to take part in endurance events in his early 40s and climbed to the summit of the FEI World Rankings in 2020.
There are plenty of reasons the sport has him hooked.
“It teaches discipline, morals and patience, and it takes a mental effort and sacrifice,” said Villani, who is now based in England and represents Endurance GB.
“To participate in an endurance race is an achievement itself. It could be very technical. Strategy is also a very important aspect to know how to win. It is a beautiful sport.”
He added: “Endurance is a mental and physical state. Like military — sacrifice and commitment. You should never give up. You need to be fit and have a fit horse. It is a very good way to maintain your health also.”
Villani, who is also a certified public accountant and public notary, said that a strong understanding and bond between human and horse is essential for success.
Competition tests stamina, skill and intellect, so it is imperative for him that there is an empathy at the heart of the alliance. Judgment of pace and the underlying track, as well as the horse’s moment-by-moment condition, are all integral in the pursuit of success in the sport.
“You have to be the brain of the horse,” said Villani.
GAROUA, Cameroon: Dango Ouattara scored on the stroke of half-time as 10-man Burkina Faso completed a hat-trick of Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final victories over Tunisia with a 1-0 win in Garoua on Saturday.
Hero Ouattara turned villain eight minutes from time when a yellow card for elbowing Ali Maaloul was changed to a red after the Botswana referee checked the touchline VAR monitor.
Burkina Faso held on to repeat 1998 and 2017 last-eight triumphs over Tunisia and advance to a semifinals showdown with Senegal or Equatorial Guinea in Yaounde on Wednesday.
Success for the Stallions came five days after the landlocked west African country was plunged into political uncertainty when President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted in a military coup.
Earlier, hosts Cameroon beat giant-killers Gambia 2-0 in Douala and await the winners between Egypt and Morocco on Sunday in the other semifinal.
Burkina Faso started with captain and Aston Villa forward Bertrand Traore among 12 substitutes while an injury ruled out vice-captain and central defender Issoufou Dayo.
In the absence of the first and second-choice skippers, long-serving Belgium-based goalkeeper Herve Koffi led a country that came closest to glory in 2013 when finishing runners-up to Nigeria.
After being hard hit recently by a coronavirus outbreak, Tunisia were back to near full strength with regular captain Wahbi Khazri among those returning to the starting line-up.
Despite the presence of former Premier League forward Khazri, the Carthage Eagles were captained by veteran forward Youssef Msakni, who is appearing at a Cup of Nations tournament for the seventh time.
The Burkinabe Stallions kicked off boosted by the knowledge that they won all three previous Cup of Nations quarter-finals, including two against Tunisia.
Tunisia had been much less successful at the same stage of the flagship African tournament, winning just four of 10 last-eight matches.
After Tunisia dominated the early exchanges, Burkina Faso gradually matched them at the Stade Roumde Adjia in the northwestern city.
Cyrille Bayala came close midway through the opening half when he found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Bechir Ben Said, who stuck out his left leg to foil the Burkinabe.
Khazri then stung the fingers of Koffi with a free-kick from well outside the box which the goalkeeper pushed over the crossbar to concede a corner.
Burkina Faso were looking the more menacing side and Djibril Ouattara should have done better as half-time approached with a close-range shot, which was aimed directly at Ben Said.
The deadlock was broken three minutes into first-half added time with Dango Ouattara putting the Stallions ahead.
A pass from the center circle found the midfielder from French Ligue 1 club Lorient on the right flank and he proved too quick for Oussama Haddadi before checking his run and firing into the net.
Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier reacted to falling behind by taking off Haddadi at half-time and bringing on Ali Maaloul, who plays his club football with African giants Al Ahly of Egypt.
Saudi Arabia-based Naim Sliti was also introduced for the second half in place of Anis Ben Slimane on the right side of midfield.
As Tunisia pushed forward in pursuit of an equalizer they were exposed at the back early in the second half, but unmarked Blati Toure fired straight at Ben Said.
Maaloul is not only among the most polished left-backs in Africa, but also a set-piece expert and Koffi did well to push away a low free-kick from the Tunisian at the expense of a corner.
DIRIYAH: Swiss driver Edoardo Mortara secured his third Formula E win in the second round of the Diriyah E-Prix, with teammate Lucas di Grassi in third giving the Monegasque Rokit Venturi team a 1-3 win on Saturday.
“I was basically fighting with everyone at some point. Lucas and Robin were quicker than me. It was for sure an eventful race and I’m glad we secured it,” said Edo. “Many races have ended with safety cars but I can see why people would think a certain way.”
The Rokit Venturi driver had given it his all in qualifying earlier in the day in the new duel format, bested only by none other than red-hot Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries.
It was the second front row start for Mortara, who has not yet taken pole position in his Formula E career. Friday’s victor, Nyck de Vries, was looking to extend his advantage tonight under the floodlights of the Diriyah E-Prix, but his hopes were dashed.
He ended up in 10th place after being involved in a crucial accident with Venturi driver Lucas di Grassi with fewer than 30 minutes left on the clock.
Di Grassi led the race after the collision — a stroke of good luck — but for de Vries, it resulted in a steering problem.
Initial investigations suggested that his front axle was damaged, meaning the Dutchman was unable to race against his fellow drivers, falling position after position.
Up until the safety car was deployed, fans witnessed a very competitive night of racing at the Diriyah E-Prix’s second round under the floodlights in Riyadh.
Mortara began leading the E-Prix with di Grassi just behind and fewer than 20 minutes on the clock. The race then saw a 1-2 for Venturi for the first time.
Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne’s Fanboosts went to waste as the safety car was deployed after Alexander Sims crashed, finding himself out of the race after breaking his drive shaft with eight minutes left.
Robin Frijns took second place as Lucas di Grassi failed to defend on the straight. The new Porsche Taycan Turbo S safety car led the drivers with six minutes left for the remainder of the race, resulting in a controversial win as no time was added due to the car coming out within time constraint rules.
“After seeing Mercedes pull away yesterday, I was expecting the same today, but the more the race was going on the more confident I felt in the car,” said Frijns. “It’s been a pretty good day for me overall.”
As per the new Season 8 regulations, if a Full Course Yellow or Safety Car period goes into or takes place during or after the 40th minute of an E-Prix, additional time will not be added to the race.
“It was very lucky for Robin that the safety car came out,” said di Grassi. “Sometimes the race is in your favor, sometimes it’s not, and today it wasn’t for me but I think we started off right, nonetheless.”
Vandoorne was unable to get on the podium and redeem what had happened to his Dutch teammate over the accident with di Grassi, but still managed to score some points for Mercedes-EQ as he finished in sixth position, climbing up from 12th on the grid at the start of the race.
The favored driver to win in Diriyah, Jaguar Racing’s Sam Bird, who won last year in race two, ended up in 16th place after he failed to qualify earlier in the day and was unable to climb back during the race.
Rokit Venturi lead, followed by Mercedes-EQ and Avalanche Andretti in the constructor’s championship.
Edo now leading with 33 points in the driver’s championship, will take the fight to de Vries in the next race in two weeks’ time in Mexico City.
DOUALA: Cameroon are through to the semifinals of their Africa Cup of Nations after Karl Toko-Ekambi’s double fired them to a 2-0 win over Gambia on Saturday.
This was the hosts’ first game at the tournament since the deadly crush in Yaounde.
French-born Lyon striker Toko-Ekambi scored two goals in the space of eight minutes at the start of the second half, leading to scenes of ecstatic celebration in Douala.
His goals were just reward for Cameroon, who completely dominated against a Gambian side appearing in their first ever Cup of Nations.
Reaching the quarter-finals was an extraordinary performance for the tiny west African country, while Cameroon march on to a last-four showdown with either Egypt or Morocco as they continue their quest for a sixth continental title.
The host nation’s first and only visit to the country’s economic capital in the tournament meant there was always going to be a frenzied atmosphere in this chaotic, football-mad city as fans descended on the Japoma Stadium.
The Indomitable Lions had not taken to the field since Monday’s tragic crush prior to their last-16 game against the Comoros in Yaounde, a disaster which left eight dead and 38 injured.
Authorities here massively stepped up their security operation around the ground in an attempt to make sure there was no repeat.
Army officers with rifles stood atop buildings lining the route to the stadium while vast numbers of police patrolled the streets and watched over entrances.
On the eve of the game Cameroon’s sports minister gave a press conference to announce a raft of measures aimed at avoiding a repeat of the Olembe disaster.
Those included stopping the distribution of free tickets and banning children under 11 from attending games.
The minister also urged supporters to arrive earlier, and the gates at Japoma opened five hours prior to kick-off.
That meant the deafening noise of vuvuzelas filled the air well before the Cameroon team arrived at the ground, dancing their way from the bus to the changing room, and only stopped momentarily for the silence in memory of the crush victims.
Coronavirus restrictions put in place for the AFCON have restricted crowds to a maximum of 60 percent of capacity but that is raised to 80 percent when the host nation play, meaning an official attendance of 36,259 for this game.
Cameroon were the overwhelming favorites against tiny Gambia, although Toni Conceicao’s side had labored to beat the Comoros, another AFCON debutant and who were forced to play an outfield player in goal.
There might have been some doubts in the home camp at half-time after they completely bossed the first 45 minutes without getting the breakthrough.
Vincent Aboubakar, the Cameroon captain and the tournament’s top scorer, sent one header just wide shortly after the half-hour mark and then saw another attempt from point-blank range swatted away by Gambian goalkeeper Baboucarr Gaye.
Yet the opening goal came just five minutes into the second half, the excellent right-back Collins Fai crossing and Toko-Ekambi nodding down into the far corner.
Out came the vuvuzelas, and the crowd were on their feet again on 57 minutes as the impressive Martin Hongla sent a low ball across goal for Toko-Ekambi to finish emphatically for his fifth goal at this AFCON.
Pending confirmation from the Confederation of African Football, Cameroon are now due to return to Olembe for their semifinal on Thursday, and possibly for the final next Sunday too.
YAOUNDE: Senegal star Sadio Mane has returned to training ahead of Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final against Equatorial Guinea after suffering suspected concussion in their last match.
“He’s doing well,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said Saturday, suggesting the Liverpool forward would be available despite taking a heavy blow to the head in a 2-0 win over Cape Verde in the last 16.
“He resumed training yesterday. We’re gradually following his development and he’s going to train today.”
Mane was hurt in a collision with Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha, who was sent off as a result. Mane stayed on the pitch and scored the opening goal a few minutes later but was eventually substituted.
“The clash between the two players was a serious one, but he’s a top-level athlete who knows his own body very well,” said Cisse, explaining his decision to allow Mane to initially carry on playing.
“When the clash happened he continued to play, our doctors came onto the pitch, the referee was there too. He was still conscious, the proof was him scoring the first goal.
“He still had his wits about him when he came off. There was no alert on the bench that pushed us to make a change. But I can reassure you, the health of Sadio Mane and of all the players is very important.
“We’ve never gambled with the health of our players, the result will not be placed on top of that.”
Cisse also revealed that Bamba Dieng, who scored the second goal in injury time against Cape Verde, had been held out of training on Thursday and Friday as a precaution with a minor knock.
DIRIYAH: Former Chelsea player and international football icon Didier Drogba has praised Saudi Arabia and its environmental initiatives aimed at promoting a greener planet during a visit to the Kingdom on Friday.
“I’m really proud of all the the changes, and what is happening right now in Saudi Arabia is showing another face of the country to the world,” he said. “To have an event like Formula E here shows a lot of what the Kingdom wants to achieve in the coming years.”
The Ivorian star made an appearance in Diriyah on Friday for the season opener of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, the all-electric racing series which champions sustainability and eco-friendly motor sport.
Drogba came to show his support for what he believes is a worthy cause battling the environmental plight mankind faces globally.
“When you see all the damage that our planet has suffered, I think this is a big signal for the world to make a change,” Drogba told Arab News. “Yes we can enjoy our cars, but we can be sustainable and eco-friendly, and this is so important.
“It’s amazing to see it here in Saudi Arabia and I would love to come back to get to know the country better,” he added.
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Drogba’s first visit to the Kingdom came during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, where, along with friends and fellow players Ronaldo, Figo, Totti and Roberto Carlos, he enjoyed watching the Saudi national team defeat Japan 1-0 at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah to qualify for the most elite football tournament.
As a footballer, the Ivorian striker enjoyed a scintillating career. He scored 164 goals in 381 games and won four Premier Leagues, not to mention his critical boot in the 2012 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich that won Chelsea the title that year.
Spanning a tenaciously competitive 20-year career where he made his mark in sporting history, the now-retired athlete is yet to rest on his laurels. He told Arab News that since leaving professional football, his time is spent dedicated to causes worth championing.
Today, he operates the Didier Drogba Foundation, which provides financial and material support across health and education to people in Africa.
“We’re doing so many things. Right now we’re focusing on digital literacy,” he said. “We’re also doing a mobile clinic to go and test people to see if they have heart disease problems and then we send them to the proper hospitals to get treated.
“We’re doing many things by trying to improve the living conditions of the population — it’s a lot of work but I love it.”
Last October, Drogba was appointed by the World Health Organization as Goodwill Ambassador of Health and Sport, a position which sees him promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle around the world.
“Sport is related to health and when you’re in good health you can perform,” he said.
“And as a former athlete, I’ve experienced that when you’re not physically well, you cannot perform, so the aim is get people moving and keeping fit.”
Best known for his career at Chelsea, Drogba also served as Ivory Coast captain from 2006 to 2014 and is the national team’s all-time top scorer. Unfortunately, Ivory Coast were kicked out of the African Cup of Nations when Egypt beat them in a 5-4 penalty shootout last week, taking them out of the competition.
Drogba told Arab News how difficult, unexpected and surprising the tournament can be, as many teams that were favored to win have been knocked out of the running.
“Just to tell you how difficult the competition is and all the surprises we see, like Equatorial Guinea beating Mali who were supposed to be one of the best teams in the tournament — they played really well.
“Cameroon is in a good position, but there’s still Egypt and Morocco that are still on. We cannot say who is going to win now, which is good for the competition.”
Drogba was also named African Footballer of the Year twice, winning the accolade in 2006 and 2009.
Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries won the Formula E season-opening Diriyah E-Prix on Friday for a second year running ahead of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed to capitalize on his pole position under the floodlights in Riyadh.