Latest AFC rankings give Saudi Arabia clear path for improvement

Al-Hilal’s impressive march to the AFC Champions League final was not enough to help Saudi Arabia to get above fourth in the AFC club competition’s ranking. (AFP)
Updated 25 December 2017

Latest AFC rankings give Saudi Arabia clear path for improvement

DUBAI: Last week’s release of the latest AFC club competitions ranking may well have caused a stir in Saudi Arabia with the UAE topping the list while Saudi Arabia came fourth behind South Korea and China, but ahead of Japan and Qatar.
The quarterly rankings were introduced by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2014 and since then has been dominated by two countries, South Korea and the UAE.
So, why is the AFC club competitions ranking important? To begin with, the ranking is used to determine whether clubs from each nation compete in the AFC Champions League or in the less prestigious AFC Cup. It also decides how many teams from each country play in these competitions.
While a national team’s FIFA ranking contributes a weight of 10 percent to this ranking system, it is club performances in AFC competitions that are largely the deciding factor. The ranking allocates points for clubs’ performances in the past four editions of AFC competitions and an average for each country is calculated at a weight of 90 percent, the remaining 10 percent is added from the nation’s FIFA rankings.
Saudi Arabia are the sixth highest ranked Asian country in the latest FIFA rankings, ahead of the AFC rankings toppers the UAE, but as this counted for only a 10th of the weight, this allowed the UAE to trump their Gulf neighbors.
So why, when on the international stage The Green Falcons are looking ever more impressive did Saudi Arabia not finish higher? Club performances in the AFC Champions League is where Saudi falls short. Al-Hilal aside, results have been mediocre for Saudi Arabian teams in Asia’s top club competition over the past few years.
Since 2014, Al-Hilal are the only team from the Kingdom to progress past the quarter-finals, finishing runners-up twice (2014 and 2017) and reaching the semifinal in 2015.
In comparison, the UAE have had two different finalists in the same period (Al-Ahli in 2015 and Al-Ain in 2016), the latter also reached the semifinals in 2014. Dubai based Al-Nasr reached the quarter-finals in 2016 and were only eliminated due to fielding Brazilian striker Wanderley as an Asian player under a fake Indonesian passport.
The AFC Champions League quarter-finals have always featured at least one Emirati club, while all Saudi clubs had failed to advance past the last 16 in 2016.
Al-Hilal’s great AFC Champions League campaign which saw them reach the final before losing to Urawa Reds has boosted Saudi Arabia’s fortunes, but as the 2018 edition kicks-off in February, the Kingdom’s clubs will have their work cut out in pursuit of a higher place in the ranking. This comes after Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad, who have both qualified for next year’s competition, have failed to obtain the AFC Club License necessary to participate in next year’s AFC Champions League. The teams below them in the 2016/17 Saudi Pro League table, Al-Raed, Al-Shabab and Al-Tawoun were also unable to obtain the license.
AFC Regulations state that only teams that finish in the top half of the domestic league are eligible to play in AFC competitions, provided they obtain the license. This means Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli will be Saudi Arabia’s only representatives in next year’s competition.
Granted, the two teams were always bound to be the likeliest to progress to advanced stages of the competition, judging by recent history. But by losing two more spots at the continental competition, Saudi’s chances of climbing up the AFC rankings will suffer considerable damage.
Last Tuesday, two-time AFC Champions League winners Al-Ittihad announced that the club is set to receive a SR13 million cash injection from the General Sports Authority. The money will be used to settle outstanding payments owed to former players like Australia’s James Troisi. Unmet financial obligations were the main reason behind the club’s failure to land the AFC license, and the situation at Al-Nassr is no different.
Teams need sustainable sources for revenue and sound management of those funds if they are to retain their once prominent place at the top table of Asian football and propel Saudi further up the AFC Rankings.

From near-death in Libyan desert to Saudi Arabia in 40 years: A history of the Dakar Rally

Updated 25 April 2019

From near-death in Libyan desert to Saudi Arabia in 40 years: A history of the Dakar Rally

  • Race will start in Jeddah and make a stop in Riyadh before ending in Qiddiya
  • Take a look back at the most momentous moments

LONDON: A new and exciting chapter in the prestigious history of the Dakar Rally is ready to be written as the world’s biggest and most challenging rally confirmed it will debut in Saudi Arabia in January 2020.

1977: Inspiration
Biker Thierry Sabine gets lost in the Libyan desert while competing in the Abidjan-Nice Rally. After being rescued from the sands on the verge of death, he vows to share the scale and magic of the desert with the whole world.

1978: A dream come true
On 26 December 1978, a field of 170 adventurers starts its 10,000-kilometer quest through Algeria, Niger, Mali, the Upper Volta, and Senegal. A total of 74 vehicles make it to the finish on Place de l’Indépendance in Dakar, with Cyril Neveu at the helm.

1983: Ickx on all fronts
Celebrities and the best drivers and riders in the world heed the call of the Dakar. The combination is a successful one, with the six-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Jacky Ickx and comedian Claude Brasseur taking the spoils in the fourth edition.

1986: Tragedy strikes
Thierry Sabine and Daniel Balavoine die in a helicopter crash alongside pilot François-Xavier Bagnoud, journalist Nathalie Odent and radio technician Jean-Paul Lefur. Gilbert Sabine, the father of the creator of the race, takes over as director.

1992: Africa from north to south
The Dakar takes a break from the capital of Senegal to pit the competitors against the challenge of a lifetime. The drivers and riders have to tackle a route of almost 12,500 kilometers through 11 countries to cross Africa from one side to the other and reach Cape Town in South Africa. Stéphane Peterhansel (motorbikes) and Hubert Auriol (cars) stand atop the podium at the end of the Odyssey.

1998: Peterhansel rolls a six
The biker with a blue bandana emerges victorious from a clash of titans with Orioli and Arcarons to become the undisputed master of the category in the 1990s. His sixth win catapults him past Cyril Neveu as the event record holder. “Peter” has since added seven car victories to his tally!

2000: At the foot of the pyramids
The Dakar marks the turn of the century next to one of the seven wonders of the world: the Great Pyramid of Giza. Reigning champions Richard Sainct (motorbikes) and Jean-Louis Schlesser (cars) both manage to defend their titles against this prestigious backdrop.

2001: Miss Dakar
No one suspects that this will be the last Paris–Dakar. In contrast, everyone sees Jutta Kleinschmidt, who had made her Dakar debut in 1988 on a motorbike, become the first woman to win the rally, this time racing at the wheel of a Mitsubishi 4×4. She remains the only female winner of the event to date.

2009: Rising from the ashes in Buenos Aires
The Dakar picks itself up and crosses the Atlantic to rise from the ashes. A new era dawns with 4 million spectators turning out in force to cheer on the drivers and riders in the majestic landscapes of Argentina and Chile.

2012: Pacific Challenge
After three years with a route starting and ending in Buenos Aires, the organizers break the mold with a finish on the Pacific coast of Lima, Peru.

2014: Dizzying heights
Bolivia becomes the 28th country to host the Dakar. The Altiplano and Salar de Uyuni introduce a new test for the competitors: extreme altitude, which takes a toll on both their bodies and their machines.

2020: Chapter 3
In the wake of its first foray into Paraguay in 2017, the Dakar adds the 30th country to its list. In Saudi Arabia, the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula, the competitors will face challenges such as the “Empty Quarter,” a pristine expanse that has never been explored fully before.