Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games clash against Iran

Abdulelah Alamri training area of the Asian Games group match against Iran. (SAFF)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games clash against Iran

  • Young Falcons hopeful of a semifinal spot.
  • Under-23 players keen on making a name for themselves in Indonesia.

JAKARTA: There is a widely held belief that to succeed in sport, you must start early.
Officials from the Saudi Arabia National Olympic Committee will be hoping it rings true this month as the Kingdom’s Under-23 football team prepares to prematurely kick-off its Asian Games campaign this afternoon in Jakarta, three days before the continent’s largest multi-sport competition officially begins.
Similar to the Olympics, the football tournament starts before the opening ceremony and finishes on the competition’s final day, Sept. 2. The fledgling Young Falcons face Iran today at the 28,000-capacity Wibawa Mukti Stadium in the Indonesian capital.
The Saudi NOC have brought a delegation of 169 athletes, including eight females, and will compete across 22 disciplines, including athletics, shooting, taekwondo and volleyball. The three-week Asian Games operate both as a continental precursor and, at times, a qualifying tournament for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Young Falcons made their football debut at the Asian Games in South Korea four years ago, reaching the quarterfinals in Incheon, before losing to Iraq. Their regional neighbors were inspired by legendary striker Younes Mahmoud, who had been included as one of Iraq’s three over-age players and scored twice in a 3-0 win.
Yet the impact of Mahmoud in Korea has not influenced the team’s selection. With the Saudi Pro League starting next week, coach Saad Al-Shehri has opted to forego athletes older than 23, instead selecting a squad consisting primarily of Al-Ahli development players and a smattering of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ettifaq-based youths.
“We haven’t brought any overage players because we are playing here as preparation for the U23 Asian Cup, which will offer qualification for Tokyo 2020,” said Faisal Almarashdi, a spokesman for the team.
“We have brought to Indonesia only players who are 21 or under as they will all be eligible for Tokyo. Many have already played at the Under-20 World Cup under coach Saad, so there was never any discussion to use the three allocated over-age slots.”
Abdullah Otayf is the model example of how Asian Games experience can help a young career. Four years ago, the deep-lying midfielder was part of the squad that traveled to Korea. This summer he was an integral part of the Green Falcons side that played at the World Cup in Russia. 
With national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi following the competition from afar, there will be chances to catch the eye for the likes of striker Haroune Camara and midfielders Abdullah Yahya Magrshi and Ali Hassan Al-Asmari ahead of January’s Asian Cup. Both midfielders have already made their full debuts for Ahli and featured in the Jeddah club’s Champions League campaign last season, while Al-Qadisiyah’s Camara was included in Pizzi’s provisional World Cup squad before being cut from the final 23.
“These Asian Games are very important for the young players involved,” Almarashdi added.
“They are the future of the senior team so if they play well here and at the U23 Asian Cup then, we hope, they will go to Tokyo 2020. From then on the pathway to the senior team is already very clear.”  
Much like the seniors, the U23 side is both short and slight, with only two of the 10 midfielders and forwards standing above 5 foot 8 (172m). Today’s opponents Iran are not only taller and more physical, they also have, in Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjčar, a manager who knows West Asian football after short spells in Qatar and the UAE. In their most recent preparation match, Iran lost 3-2 to China. 
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, beat the UAE last week in Malaysia following a pair of friendlies against local sides. Today’s match will kick-off at 4 p.m. local time, midday in Saudi Arabia.


Australia end T20 losing streak with 4-run win over India in Brisbane

Updated 21 November 2018
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Australia end T20 losing streak with 4-run win over India in Brisbane

BRISBANE: Australia allrounder Marcus Stoinis took two wickets in the last over Wednesday as India’s batting lineup collapsed late to lose their tour-opening Twenty20 international by four runs.
Virat Kohli returned to lead India after skipping the previous series against West Indies and, after winning the toss and sending Australia in to bat, had a below-par night, dropping a regulation catch in the fourth over, misfielding later in the innings and getting out for four.
The Australians posted 158-4 in a rain-interrupted 17 overs with Glenn Maxwell (46 from 24 balls) and Chris Lynn (37 from 20 balls) each belting four sixes and Stoinis finishing unbeaten on 33.
The rain delay brought the Duckworth-Lewis rules into play, giving India a revised target of 174 from 17 overs.
Shikhar Dhawan set India up in its run chase with a 42-ball 76 that included 10 boundaries and two sixes, including one over backward square to raise his half century.
He had a reprieve on 65 when Adam Zampa put down a return catch, but was finally out upper cutting a short ball from Billy Stanlake to Jason Behrendorff on the third man boundary as India slipped to 105-4 in the 12th over.
His wicket came in a period when India lost 3-24, and seemed to give Australia the advantage. But Rishabh Pant (20) and Dinesh Karthik (30) took up the attack and plundered 25 from one over by Andrew Tye after a tactical blunder by Australia captain Aaron Finch, who lost track of the new bowling restrictions.
The pair put on 51 for the fifth wicket to give India the ascendancy before Pant paddled an easy catch to Behrendorff off Tye’s bowling to again swing the momentum, leaving India needing 18 runs from nine balls.
Stoinis bowled the last over, with India needing 13 runs, and took pace off the ball as he picked up the wickets of Krunal Pandya and Karthik before India finished 169-7.
Kohli described it as a “sort of see-saw battle” and Dhawan said the India squad wasn’t overly disappointed with the narrow loss.
A missed runout when Maxwell was on 9 and a few dropped catches were momentary setbacks for India, Dhawan said, but “we got a lot of confidence out of this game and we’re going to take it forward for the next game.”
Stoinis said he enjoyed the pressure of bowling the last over and hoped Australia was turning a corner after losing four consecutive T20s.
“We’ve got good memories in the team,” he said. “We dominated T20s last year. We were No. 1 or 2 in the world rankings not long ago. We’re confident.”
India has won its last seven T20 series, and Kohli’s squad is using the three-game series in the shortest format to fine-tune for the bigger prize starting next month when it chases its first ever test series victory in Australia.
Australian cricket has been in turmoil since a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March and is coming off back-to-back series losses to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates and at home against South Africa.
On top of that, Australia was missing frontline bowlers Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, who were preparing for the four-match test series which kicks off Dec. 6 in Adelaide.