Saudi Arabia star Fahad Al-Muwallad makes La Liga bow to create history

Fahad Al-Muwallad came on for the last ten minutes against Leganes. (@LevanteUD)
Updated 08 May 2018
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Saudi Arabia star Fahad Al-Muwallad makes La Liga bow to create history

  • Midfielder comes on for Levante for last ten minutes of Spanish league game
  • 'What comes next will be better'

Fahad Al-Muwallad made history on Monday when he became the first player from Saudi Arabia to play in La Liga.
The attacking midfielder came on for Levante as an 80th-minute substitute for Enis Bardhi in Levante’s 3-0 away win at Leganes to make new ground for players from the Kingdom. The on loan star from Al-Ittihad is best remembered for scoring the goal against Japan that sent the Green Falcons to the World Cup, but he will now go down as the first to play in Spain’s top league.
“Thanks to God for my first participation in La Liga,” said Al-Muwallad in his post-match interview. “I would like to thank (head of the General Sports Authority) Turki Al-Sheikh for his support that continues until now. I would like to say that this is the start of something good and hope to give you all something to be proud of. What comes next will be better.”
Muwallad has had to wait 16 games for his chance and will now fancy his chances of featuring in the last two against Barcelona and Celta Vigo.
“It was about time,” football presenter Khalid Al-Shenaif said on Al-Rotana. “But it’s beautiful, we did expect it sooner. But what happened, what happened today, firstly it’s our trust in the head of the General Sports Authority who said “just be patient, you will see something that you will like in your players.” It confirmed that our players in the Saudi League see themselves as something and can make their mark in one of Europe’s top division. So let’s be patient and put our feet on the ground with our beautiful footballers.”
News of Al-Muwallad’s involvement will be welcome news for Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi who will have been concerned that one of his key players was going to be short of match action heading into the World Cup. Al-Muwallad was one of nine players from the Kingdom to join Spanish clubs on loan in January as part of a deal between La Liga, the General Sports Authority and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, but they have struggled to get game-time
Abdullah Al-Hamdan, the 19-year-old striker, was the first of the nonet to play a game other than a friendly in March. The Al-Shabab striker came on in the 81st minute of Sporting Gijon’s U-19 league game against Oviedo, a game his side won 2-0.
Ali Al-Nemer, the Riyadh-born midfielder, became the first of the Saudi players to make the bench when Numancia played Albacete in the Second Division on Feb. 25, but Al-Hamdan beat him to getting the first minutes.
Other than that, the Saudi Arabia players have failed to make an impact at their adopted clubs. Hopes were high in the Kingdom that established internationals Salem Al-Dawsari, Al-Muwallad and Yahya Al-Shehri would get some game time at their respective loan clubs, especially with a World Cup on the horizon, but none of the trio have made a matchday squad until Monday.
Al-Dawsari, who has won 26 caps for his country, made the traveling squad for the Europa League game with Lyon in February, but he failed to make the cut for the matchday 18.
Similarly, Al-Muwallad made the extended squads for Levante’s league games against Espanyol and Real Betis, but didn’t make the final 18. Levante, though, have already struck a sponsorship deal with with Saudi Arabian mobile and telecommunications operator Jawwy on the back of Al-Muwallad’s move.
With more than 40 international caps, Al-Shehri headed to Spain as the most experienced of the nine players, but he has struggled to make an impression at Leganes. Asier Garitano’s side were short on attackers in March, but they opted to call up youth teamer Gabri Salazar, who has been playing for Leganes B in Spain’s fourth tier, rather than Al-Shehri, their January signing from Al-Nassr.
The other Saudi Arabia players on loan are Nooh Al-Mousa (Real Valladolid), Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaiheem (Rayo Vallecano), Ali Al-Namer (Numancia), Marwan Othman (Leganes B) and Gaber Mostafa (Villareal B).
“The arrival of Saudi footballers in Spain comes after a rigorous scouting process,” read a La Liga statement in January. "Spanish clubs have worked for months to capture the player which best fits their team and improves their squad.”
The lack of match action does not come at a financial cost to the Spanish clubs as no loan fee was paid for any of the players while their salaries are being paid by the General Sports Authority.


Mahrez and Mane duel in rematch for Africa Cup of Nations glory

Updated 18 July 2019
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Mahrez and Mane duel in rematch for Africa Cup of Nations glory

  • Algerian star Mahrez was part of the Manchester City team that edged out Mane’s Liverpool for the English title last season
CAIRO: Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane will renew their Premier League rivalry for a second time in Egypt, with Africa Cup of Nations immortality awaiting the victor of Friday’s final between Algeria and Senegal.
Algerian star Mahrez was part of the Manchester City team that edged out Mane’s Liverpool for the English title last season, grabbing a pivotal goal on the final day of the campaign.
Liverpool standout Mane, however, is attempting to fulfill his “wildest dream” as one of just a handful of Africans to win both the UEFA Champions League and Cup of Nations.
For the marquee name in a Senegalese side ranked top of the continent, and a surprising 46 places above Algeria, the ride to the final for Mane and the Teranga Lions has encountered its share of roadbumps.
Two missed Mane spot-kicks, a group stage loss to Algeria, and the loss of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to a broken finger have tested Senegal’s resolve in their quest for the Holy Grail of African football.
Coach Aliou Cisse is on a mission for personal redemption. He was the skipper of the side beaten on penalties in the 2002 final, with his missed kick handing the title to Cameroon.
“Having lost that final, I still have it on my mind,” said former Paris Saint-Germain and Birmingham City midfielder Cisse.
“What motivated me to become a coach was to be able to take Senegal to the final. My players told me they would do better than my generation.”
A maiden Cup of Nations for his country is a prize for which Mane readily admitted he would trade in last month’s Champions League title.
“I’m ready to even swap a Champions League for a Cup of Nations. Going to Dakar with the trophy would be extraordinary. It would be my wildest dream,” Mane told France Football ahead of the competition.
Standing in the way, however, is an Algerian outfit that has undergone a remarkable transformation since the arrival of Djamel Belmadi as coach a year ago.
The Desert Foxes failed miserably in World Cup qualifying, but the steely Belmadi has healed divisions in the squad to lead them to the brink of a first Cup of Nations triumph since 1990.
“To the Algerian people, I want to say I’m not a politician, not a miracle worker or a wizard, but that we will fight like we have fought to this point,” Belmadi said after the semifinal win over Nigeria.
Algeria are the leading scorers in Egypt with 12 goals, including Mahrez’s spectacular last-gasp free-kick against Nigeria, and haven’t trailed at all in the tournament.
“Algeria are so well organized, so compact, so ‘Guardiolaesque’ in the way they recover the ball,” opined experienced international coach Claude Le Roy. “Perhaps it is the influence of Mahrez.”
The Algeria captain has been in fine form for his country here, brimming with confidence after helping City to the domestic treble.
“We are very happy to be in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations because it is something very special,” said Mahrez.
“It was our goal to do it for the people and for our families. We know they are behind us all the way. It’s my dream to win the Cup of Nations.”
“It’s going to be another battle against Senegal,” he added. “We’ve been very good in this competition. The (Nigeria) match has given us more confidence for the final and we’re capable of winning it.”
Their hopes will boosted by the absence of Senegal’s defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly, whose yellow card in the semifinal victory over Tunisia cruelly ruled the Napoli star out of the final.
“It hurts to not be able to play. But I will be beside my brothers to write history,” tweeted Koulibaly, the cornerstone of a defense breached just once so far.