Saudi football fans shrug off Russian hooligan fears for 2018 World Cup

File photo shows ecstatic Saudi football fans during the Asian World Cup qualifying match between Japan and Saudi Arabia on Sept. 5. (Reuters)
Updated 20 September 2017
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Saudi football fans shrug off Russian hooligan fears for 2018 World Cup

LONDON: Saudi Arabian football fans are ready to brave supporting the Green Falcons at next year’s World Cup in Russia, despite widespread fears about hooliganism.
This summer the Russian tourist board opened a World Cup information center in London which the British media reported was to help ease England fans’ fears about hooligans at the 2018 World Cup.
The Russia tourist board denied that this was the reason behind the opening.
Last year’s European Championships, for many, set a worrying precedent.
Russia fans clashed repeatedly with England supporters when the two teams met in the group-stage match in Marseilles. The clashes, which took place both inside and outside the stadium, were blamed on a group of 150 hardcore trained hooligans from Russian gangs who traveled to France just to cause trouble.
“I and other fans have heard a few stories about Russian fans, stories saying they are violent and aggressive,” said Saudi football fan Faisal Ali. “I haven’t come across any Russian fans but we have heard stories about them fighting and taking on other fans. Hopefully it won’t put fans off traveling to support the country but it is the current climate of the world everyone seems weary of everyone else at the moment, it’s just how it is.”
It was the worst violence at an international tournament since the 1998 World Cup, also in France. The worried mood was not helped when Russian MP Igor Lebedev told the thugs after their battle in Marseilles: “Well done lads. Keep it up!”
The deadly display in France is set against a no less worrying backdrop of violence at Russian domestic matches. Neo-Nazi groups regularly turn up to games, the result being that their displays of hate and racism are as much a feature of the 90 minutes as goals and tackles.
That, however, has not put off Saudi Arabia fans keen to cheer on the team’s first appearance at a World Cup for 12 years. While the fans Arab News spoke to were well aware of threat of violence, they claimed they would not miss the opportunity to support their team in Russia.
Abdullah Al-Hudaithi said it was not the first time a World Cup had been scheduled to take place in a country where security fears sometimes dominated discussion.
“We know about Russia fans, we watched the European Championships and saw what happened,” Al-Hudaithi said.
“They have organized groups and we saw the violence and the unprovoked attacks, Russian fans have a bad reputation.
“But the World Cup has taken place in countries that many don’t think are safe before. In South Africa and Brazil there was worry about the threat of robberies.”
Added to that is the hope, and expectation, that Russian authorities will ensure there will be no major trouble while the eyes of the world are focused on the country.
“I expect there will be trouble between England and Russia fans, but not with us,” Al-Hudaithi said.
“We don’t have any Ultras, groups like that, we are well behaved so that’s why I don’t expect any trouble.
“Russian hooligans can be brutal, but inside their own country I expect the authorities to be organized and stop any trouble.”
Indeed, such is the expectation that trouble will not tarnish Saudi fans’ World Cup, the biggest worry ahead of the tournament is the more prosaic problem of getting visas and arranging travel.
“I have a few questions about getting a visa, we cannot get a tourist visa here in Saudi Arabia. That is my biggest worry,” Abdullah Al-Jassim said.
“I and many friends are planning to go to the 2018 World Cup but certainly there must be facilities by the Russian government on visas, safety and facilities.”
This summer the Confederations Cup, the traditional dry run for the World Cup, took place in Russia and passed off without incident.
That according to Alexey Cherepanov, director of Visit Russia UK, is what all fans can expect next summer.
“The news in the UK has presented (the Russian World Cup and opening of our office in London) in very negative terms, in real life it is not as the press has presented it, they have sensationalized it all,” he told Arab News.
“People in Russia welcome football fans and foreigners, we love and respect all people.
“This center in London is unique, it’s a pilot project if it goes well then other Visit Russia offices can open a World Cup office as well.
“In the Middle East we have Visit Russia offices in Dubai, Iran and Kuwait. Fans from KSA can call us and we’d try to help as much as possible.”


Man City humbled in 2-1 loss to Lyon in Champions League

City were humbled by French side Lyon in Manchester. (Reuters)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Man City humbled in 2-1 loss to Lyon in Champions League

  • City’s players were humbled 2-1 by Lyon in a sloppy and apathetic display at the start of their European campaign

MANCHESTER, England: If Manchester City wants to finally win a first Champions League title, it will have to start taking the competition a bit more seriously — on and off the field.
Surrounded by swathes of empty seats in the Etihad Stadium, City’s players were humbled 2-1 by Lyon in a sloppy and apathetic display at the start of their European campaign on Wednesday.
Banned from the touchline and unable to communicate with the bench, City manager Pep Guardiola did fill one seat in the stands and he saw his Premier League champions easily picked apart by the French visitors.
“We felt under threat every time we lost the ball and sometimes that brings the confidence a little bit lower,” said City assistant manager Mikel Arteta, who was in charge on the bench in Guardiola’s absence.
Errors by midfielder Fernandinho led to both Lyon goals, typifying how careless City was against a team that finished third in the French league last season and was even held to a draw at the weekend by 10-man Caen.
When a pass by the Brazilian midfielder was intercepted around the halfway line, Lyon charged forward. Nabil Fekir sent in a cross from the left that evaded Fabian Delph’s swinging legs, allowing Maxwel Cornet to slot it home in the 26th minute. Delph held his head in his hands as the consequences of his mistake became clear.
City’s troubles deepened when Fernandinho was caught in possession again. Memphis Depay set Fekir on a run and the forward doubled Lyon’s lead in the 43rd by striking through the legs of John Stones.
“It was a difficult game,” said Depay, who struggled to make an impact at Manchester United before leaving after two seasons in 2017. “But when we had the ball we tried to play and when we won the ball we tried to counterattack.”
Perhaps the only reason for City to feel aggrieved in the first half was Gabriel Jesus being denied a penalty when he was tripped by former Manchester United defender Rafael da Silva just before Depay scored.
“To concede two goals like we did is very frustrating,” Stones said. “We came in at halftime a bit deflated I think. But we picked ourselves up and we came out second half fighting and played a better second half.”
But the improvement wasn’t sufficient.
City pulled one back in the 67th when Bernardo Silva scored from substitute Leroy Sane’s cutback. But the attacking threat was too patchy from a City side that won the Premier League with a record 100 points only four months ago, and are widely seen as one of the big favorites in this season’s Champions League.
“I suffered as I was scared they’d score a second goal,” Lyon coach Bruno Genesio said. “We would have taken 2-2 before the match but given the way the game went we’d have been disappointed not to leave with the three points.”
With Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk also in Group F, City appeared to have one of the kinder draws but is now playing catch-up.
Celebrating a decade under Abu Dhabi ownership, which allowed City to assemble a squad for more than $1 billion, the Champions League is the one big prize the club has yet to win.
But City fans still have a fraught relationship with Europe’s premier competition.