Tense stalemate with Iraq keeps Saudi Arabia’s U23 AFC Cup hopes alive

Iraq retained their position at the top of Group D in the AFC U23 Championship after being held 0-0 by Saudi Arabia. (Courtesy: AFC.com)
Updated 13 January 2018

Tense stalemate with Iraq keeps Saudi Arabia’s U23 AFC Cup hopes alive

Daniel Teglia’s Saudi Under 23 side kept their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of AFC U-23 Championship firmly alive with a 0-0 draw with group leaders Iraq in Changshu.
The point earned from the 0-0 stalemate puts Saudi Arabia joint second in the group on two points behind Iraq who lead the Group C with four points. Jordan’s 1-1 draw with Malaysia in the earlier game played in Group C leaves Teglia’s team with a great opportunity of qualifying for the next stage if they can beat Malaysia in their final game.
Saudi Arabia had made one change from the side that drew 2-2 with Jordan, as they dropped striker Abdulaziz Al-Aryani and started Jaber Asiri who played a part as a substitute in Saudi’s late fight-back in the opening group game with Jordan.
Despite a comfortable 4-1 victory over Malaysia in their opening match, Abdul-Ghani Shahad opted to make two changes to his side, with defender Ahmed Abdul-Ridha and midfielder Ibrahim Bayish coming in for midfielder Mohammed Jafal and striker Farhan Shakur. The two changes saw Alaa Mahawi pushed up from full back to the right side of midfield as the Iraqis packed their midfield and played with a false number nine in midfielder Ibrahim Bayish.
There was little in the first half that amounted to goalmouth action with a cagey start from both sides with the only action of note being two cautions brandished by Chinese referee Ma Ning in the opening ten minutes. Alaa Mahawi of Iraq earned the first yellow in the fifth minute after a late challenge on Saudi’s Ali Al-Lajami and on 10 minutes Saudi midfielder Osama Al-Khalaf was shown a yellow for a foul on Hussein Ali.
The match was at the mercy of the referee’s whistle with 19 fouls committed and 16 free kicks conceded in the first half as the first forty-five minutes was full of stoppages and interruptions.
Late in the half Iraqi midfielder Amjad Atwan was yellow carded for leaning with his elbow on a Saudi player and from the resulting free kick from Sami Al-Naji produced Saudi and the half’s only effort on target from a Abdululah Alamri header that was comfortably saved by the Iraqi keeper Ahmed Basil.
The only chance for Iraq came in the 27th minute when Alaa Mahawi got down the right flank leaving Hamdan Al-Shamrani in his tracks and crossed into the box. But Iraq’s Hamza Adnan was unable to get a touch on the ball and was quickly surrounded as a combination of the Saudi keeper and three defenders blocked the Iraqi left back’s path to goal to his own frustration.
From the opening of the second half, Iraq played with more urgency, as it looked as if Abdul-Ghani Shahad had given them a stern team-talk at the break. They found space behind the Saudi backline that was exploited by the wide players Hussein Ali and Iraqi captain Bashar Resan, as the Saudis conceded two corners in as many minutes with Iraq having four shots on goal.
The physical and experienced Iraqi side piled on the pressure with their coach urging his side to push well up into the Saudi half. Seeing his side hemmed in, Saudi coach Daniel Teglia made an early change in attack bringing on the lively striker Rakan Al-Anaze, the hero of the first game with Jordan as they soaked up the early pressure.
Both coaches were animated on the sidelines with the facial expressions of Iraqi coach Abdul-Ghani Shahad seemingly getting more and more frustrated as the half went on. The Iraqis looking to win and qualify for the next round, sent on strikers Alaa Abbas and Farhan Shakur for Hussein Ali and Ibrahim Bayish in the last five minutes in a search for the elusive goal.
But while Iraq dominated with 56 percent of the possession, the Saudi back four were disciplined, remaining firm and compact to Iraq’s unorthodox attacking formation headed by midfielder Ibrahim Bayish and despite the Iraqis creativity in the final third, the Saudi defense limited their opponents to only a couple of clear cut chances in the whole ninety minutes as the match ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

The tall central defender Abdulelah Alamri epitomised the Saudi doggedness in defense with an assured and assertive performance at the heart of the defense making fives clearances and three key interceptions in the game, as he proved to be Saudi’s best player on the night.

BMW’s Antonio Felix da Costa crowned champion at Saudi Arabia's Ad Diriyah E-Prix

Updated 15 December 2018

BMW’s Antonio Felix da Costa crowned champion at Saudi Arabia's Ad Diriyah E-Prix

  • The Portuguese driver held on for victory ahead of Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Jerome d’Ambrosio in the Mahindra car
  • Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi had the best start on the grid

AD DIRIYAH, Riyadh: Antonio Felix da Costa praised his BMW garage but said there is still a lot of work for him and the team to do in this year’s Formula E season after winning the inaugural Ad Diriyah E-Prix on Saturday.

Da Costa was on pole from the beginning of the race and led away from the line, despite lining up at the front of the grid pointing toward the outside wall at a dusty and overcast Ad Diriyah circuit.

The Portuguese driver held on for victory ahead of Techeetah’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Jerome d’Ambrosio in the Mahindra car.

Da Costa told Arab News that the new “cooler and futuristic” Gen 2 car gives drivers more power, stability and grip, and that there was “a lot to take in” during the race.

“It is a new car, a new track, a new way of racing, (with) ‘Attack Mode’, and I got the ‘Fan Boost’ for the first time, so there were a lot of things to do and as a team and we executed so well, so I think that is why we won today because we were not the quickest car but we just had a perfect race.

“It is amazing, it’s been really tough and long months of work, but I am really happy with that,” da Costa added.

“We definitely have some work to do as the two Techeetah cars were really fast, and even with (Vergne’s) drive through penalty, he was right there at the end.

“But it’s a good start and we’ll keep working on that and try to keep it going,” he added.

When asked about BMW being involved in Formula E as a factory team for the first time, da Costa said: “It hasn’t been easy the last two years, but as I said it has been a lot work between Indianapolis with Andretti and Munich with BMW, it is great to see and I am so happy for everyone back in Munich.”

Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi had the best start on the grid after he blasted by Jose Maria Lopez around the outside of the first corner from third place.

The front four pulled away from the rest of the pack, before Vergne — who started the race in fifth — passed Lopez on lap one of what would become a 33-lap race, with his teammate Andre Lotterer also getting past the Geox Dragon driver.

As da Costa consolidated his lead, Vergne was closing in on Buemi, eventually passing him in a great move around the outside on lap nine. The Frenchman then set about reeling in da Costa, with the Portuguese offering fierce resistance.

Vergne was then forced to serve drive-through penalties – just after he had used his first “attack mode” – for going exceeding the permitted power while using his “re-gen,” which put paid to him getting a victory.

Reigning champion Vergne, while impressed with the venue, was philosophical after the race.

“I was really hungry for a victory today, but the qualifying in the morning did not go as planned.

“Unfortunately, it was a step down from where I wanted to be, I wanted to win this one. 

“I had a fantastic car, it was incredibly fast, but a big congratulations to the BMW guys and Antonio, it was a well-deserved victory.

“What I will take as a positive from this weekend is that we have a strong team and a very strong car and I am very motivated.

“Going forward, we just need to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that cost us the win today, but it’s a very encouraging first race and I’m looking forward to Marrakech now.”

On his drive through penalty, he said: “Yes, I had quite a few overtakes on the outside, on the inside, but it was a fun race, I honestly had a lot of fun. 

“I’m content with P2 today, and hoping to keep this package (on the car) and hopefully get some victories.”
Meanwhile, third-placed d’Ambrosio was delighted with his finish to the race.

“I am super happy, it was a great first race with Mahindra and a great start to the championship, I am lucky to be part of such a great team with some great people.

“I have come from two difficult years, so it’s great to start this new relationship with the team in this way. We worked very hard in the past few months to be ready, I think we were very fast but at the end of the race I didn’t have the confidence in the braking.

“But it makes a great to start to the season, with the podium and banking the points, and we’ll see what happens now.”

When asked about the new “attack mode” in Formula E, he said: “It is great, I actually wasn’t supposed to use it at that point of the race (when I did), but I had a good feeling and I saw Techeetah use it and start to build a gap, so I went for it and when the safety car came in I used it again.”