Flying the flag for the Green Falcons in Russia

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Saudi football fans, from left, Talal Obaid, Satam Sardid, Sultan Hawsawi and Ahmed Barnawi, in Moscow to support the Saudi national team. (AN photo)
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The bikers have been impressed by Russia’s roads and highways. (AN photo)
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
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Apart from finding that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, the Saudi bikers have found Russians along the way to be welcoming.
Updated 20 June 2018
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Flying the flag for the Green Falcons in Russia

  • A group of motorcyclists is following the Saudi football team for their World Cup matches in 3 cities
  • Behind the bikers are Frankfurt, Brest, Moscow and Voronezh. They are staying now in Rostov-on-Don, where the Green Falcons will play their second match against Uruguay at Rostov Arena.

MOSCOW: To travel to Russia by motorcycle from Saudi Arabia: Risky and arduous? Well, to most, yes, but four brave men from the cities of Makkah and Madinah have just about done that, flying their motorbikes from Jeddah to Germany and driving to Russia from there.

They came up with the idea to support the Green Falcons — Saudi Arabia’s national football team — on their way to the 2018 FIFA World Cup by arranging an extraordinary motor rally from Jeddah to Russia. 

Their route follows the team to their group stage matches in three cities: From last Thursday’s opening in Moscow, to Wednesday’s game in Rostov-on-Don, and then to their third game in Volgograd next Monday.

To Ahmed Barnawi, Satam Sardidi and Sultan Hawsawi from Makkah and Talal Obaid from Madinah, their trip seemed quite adventurous. They did not know exactly what to expect. Nonetheless, they decided to go for it.

For their initiative, they got extraordinary support from Saudi Airlines and Cargo. “Saudia made a big effort to ship our bikes from Jeddah to Frankfurt and helped with the tickets,” said Barnawi, in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

After receiving that encouraging support, the four proceeded with planning the hotels and details of the route.

They started their ride from Frankfurt, heading to Russia through Poland and Belarus. They were impressed by the hospitality of the Belarusian people, who did not speak English but were helpful with “filling the customs forms,” Barnawi said. “They were wonderful.”

Entering Russia, the four were having some language barrier issues as well. But Russians used Google Translate to communicate. 

Now the four have adopted this practice. Since then, when they need anything from the Russians not speaking English, they use Google Translate and it works perfectly.

They knew “a little bit” about Russia before going, Barnawi said, but when they came to Russia “it was mad, really.”

Before going to Russia they were concerned about how Russians would receive them, if there would be racism and what their attitudes would be. But their worries were groundless. The motorcyclists said people are so friendly, they wave and give them a thumbs-up on the road.

At petrol stations, people are shocked to see them on their motorcycles, with the Saudi flags attached. They approach them in disbelief and ask about their trip. 

The four have been absolutely impressed by the country’s roads and highways. They have found that the weather in Russia is not as cold as it is believed, although it is not hot.

Entering Moscow they got “surprised by the huge buildings, wide streets.” 

Upon their arrival, they visited the Saudi Embassy in Russia and met Saudi Ambassador Raed bin Khaled Qarmali, who received them with a warm welcome. They were served tea and coffee in the reception hall and asked to share their stories and impressions.

For the first game between Russia and Saudi Arabia, they tried to enter the area of the stadium on their motorbikes, but it was not allowed by the authorities.

“We understand that maybe it was because of security issues,” said Barnawi. “We did not go to the stadium. We went to a coffee shop to watch the game on a TV.”

“The first game we did not play,” said Barnawi, giving his take on the first match between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which the Green Falcons lost 5-0.

“It was a big issue for the supporters. But we never give up, you know. We close this subject, we look forward to the next game and we are going to play it better than before. And I hope that our team will do a better job, and we will win or break even,” Barnawi continued.

Because of all the time spent on the road, the Fantastic Four do not have much of a chance to follow other countries’ games. They succeeded in watching some while mapping out the next day’s route.

Nevertheless, the four bikers are enjoying the atmosphere of the World Cup and the football euphoria that surrounds it, saying that the whole event “is just amazing, it is awesome.” 

Behind them are Frankfurt, Brest, Moscow and Voronezh. They are staying now in Rostov-on-Don, where the Green Falcons will play their second match against Uruguay at Rostov Arena. After that, they will go to Volgograd, where the team will play Egypt. They do not plan now for what will come next, hoping only for the best for the Saudi team.

Decoder

Russian phrases for Saudi visitors

While Russians use Google Translate to communicate, here are some phrases that may come in handy for those visiting the country during the FIFA World Cup. I’m from Saudi Arabia. Ya is Saudovskoy Aravii. How do I reach the stadium? Kak proyti k stadionu? What’s the score? Kakoy schet? I’m rooting/cheering for the team of Saudi Arabia! Ja boleju za komandu Saudovskoy Aravii! Congratulations! Pozdravlyau!


Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo's toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

Updated 20 July 2018
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Why Juventus could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo's toughest, most rewarding challenge yet

  • Portuguese superstar has moved to Italian giants in deal worth nearly $120 million
  • Ronaldo scored 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid

LONDON: Love him or loathe him, you have to admire Cristiano Ronaldo’s character.
At a time of life when lesser mortals are lured by big paychecks to the likes of Qatar or China, the mercurial Madeiran has opted for what will be his biggest challenge yet at Juventus.
His career over the last decade has been played out under the cloud of the never-ending debate — “Ronaldo or Messi; who is better?”
Thankfully, that circus was quietened somewhat at the recent World Cup. Some flashes of pure brilliance aside, neither player made a big enough impact to lead their respective teams to glory and Messi’s wait for an international trophy goes on.
And, while both players are undeniably in a league of their own, the fact Ronaldo does have a European Championship title under his belt will always tip the argument toward the Portuguese — especially for those who measure greatness in statistics and trophies.
In fairness, Ronaldo’s statistics are mind-boggling. His stint at Manchester United, where he cut his teeth and started to show his potential as a great of the game, was instrumental in the club winning three Premier League titles and their third European crown. His staggering 450 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid saw him become the Spanish giant’s record goalscorer on his way to winning everything under the sun.
But the Premier League and La Liga are leagues in which attacking footballers flourish. With the dawning of wall-to-wall TV coverage, they have both been transformed to entertain the billions of people who tune in every week — and in this day and age, goalscoring superstars win you fans, not defenses.
The art of defending has all-but disappeared and the culture of building a spine through a team has slowly but surely been eroded away. Nobody wants to watch an engrossing, absorbing, end-to-end goalless draw anymore — it is all about 6-5 thrillers.
But not so in Italy.
Serie A, for all its scandals and fall from grace since its heady days of the 1990s, is still an extremely difficult league to win. It is a league in which fans and managers place great emphasis on defending, on building teams from back-to-front (not the other way around) and on the mentality of “you cannot lose if you don’t concede.”
Granted, Juventus have walked Serie A for the past seven seasons; it is to be expected from one of the richest clubs in the world. But rarely have they won it at a canter. Never once have they scored anywhere near 100 goals in a season to win it — unlike Manchester City in last season’s Premier League, or Barcelona and Real Madrid almost every season in the same period.
And not once has Serie A’s top-goalscorer reached the dizzying heights Ronaldo (and Messi) hit in La Liga season after season, nor has it always been a Juventus player claiming the golden boot.
This all points to a monumental challenge for Ronaldo. On paper, he should not find it as easy to score goals in Serie A and with the marked improvement of Napoli, Roma and Lazio recently, nor will it be an easy ride for Juventus to claim an eighth scudetto in a row this year.
So, while Messi prefers to stay in one country and within his comfort zone of the defense-shy Spanish league, if a 30-something Ronaldo succeeds in Italy — or, better yet, guides Juventus to the European glory the fans crave so much — it would be his most remarkable achievement yet.
And it would put the tiresome debate over who is the greatest ever to bed, once and for all.
No contest.