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
0

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.


Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

Updated 22 February 2019
0

Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

  • World No. 4 wins third three-setter of the week beat Hsieh Su-wei and claim place in the final.
  • Swiss star Bencic deals a forehand smash to Svitolina's chances of unprecedented hat-trick.

LONDON: If Petra Kvitova does get her hands on the Dubai trophy against Belinda Bencic on Saturday, she will be quick to admit she did it the hard way.
The two-time Wimbledon champion was once again made to toil at the Aviation Club as she finally overcame Hsieh Su-Wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was her third three-setter in four days and came about as much through sheer grit and determination as any superior groundstrokes or serves.
“Yeah, it was (tough),” the Czech said.
“It was a tough one, for sure. She really didn’t give me anything for free.
“It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. Anyway I didn’t play great at the end of the first.”
Coming into the event the world No. 4 admitted she was undercooked and in need of some game time. While, in hindsight, the three-setters against Katerina Siniakova and Jennifer Brady in the first two rounds probably did her some good, another match that went the distance was probably not in the ideal script for the 2013 Dubai champion.
But Hsieh is a tricky opponent and she proved it once again on Centre Court. The world No. 31 hits two-handed shots off both sides and was trying to beat her fourth top-10 seed of the week. That included wins over Angelique Kerber in the third round and Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

Bencic will try to upset Kvitova in Saturday's final at the Aviation Club (AFP) 


She started off in much the same vein as she had finished against Kerber and Pliskova, hurrying Kvitova around the court and making life as uncomfortable as possible under the hot Dubai sun.
“She’s very tricky,” Kvitova said about Hsieh, who grabbed five games in a row to take the opening set and go up 1-0 in the second.
“I didn’t really play the best at the end of the first set. But I calmed down afterwards a little bit,” Kvitova said.
“With Hsieh, I need to be a little bit patient. ... It’s not really that easy to make those winners against her.”
While she has 
not consistently displayed her A-game this week it should come as no shock that Kvitova has made today’s final. It was the second seed’s 17th victory of 2019 — a feat bettered by no one — and it will be her third final of the season and 35th of her career. She revealed that her presence in the showdown is thanks to her mental toughness and she admitted that after a long week she will have to draw on that a lot today.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was more calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set,” Kvitova said.
“I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow — it was something weird.
“I’m a bit tired right now, to be honest. I have a final, so I don’t know how I going to recover. Hopefully I have a few hours to do something with me.”
Of her sparkling form so far this year she said: “It’s a bit weird, to be honest. I didn’t really expect anything like that. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect anything, which I already achieved this year. For me, everything is just bonus.
“As I mentioned, the tennis, it’s a bit like escape this week. This is unbelievable to be in the final when I’m escaping from something. Yeah, very interesting.”
In the other semifinal Bencic once again upset the odds to overcome world No. 6 Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-3, 7-6. The Swiss went into the clash as the underdog, but from the off the world No. 45 was aggressive and deservedly won.
In doing so she ended Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak in Dubai and ended the two-time defending champion’s hopes of becoming the first woman to win three Dubai titles in a row.