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.


Pakistan beat Afghanistan in last over finish

Bangladesh's Mahmudullah, right, bats during the one day international cricket match of Asia Cup between Bangladesh and Afghanistan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (AP)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Pakistan beat Afghanistan in last over finish

  • Hashmatullah Shahidi missed out on a maiden hundred by a mere three runs but still steered Afghanistan to a challenging 257-6

DUBAI: Experienced batsman Shoaib Malik hit a six and a boundary to pull off a sensational last over three wicket win for Pakistan against a spirited Afghanistan in the Asia Cup in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Malik pulled the second ball of the final over by paceman Aftab Alam over the deep square leg boundary and then whacked the next to deep fine leg for a boundary as Pakistan pulled off a nerve-wracking win in 49.3 overs at Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
Pakistan, cashing a stiff 258-run target, were home and dry to start the Super Four Stage with a much needed win and now face arch rivals India in Dubai on Sunday.
Hashmatullah Shahidi missed out on a maiden hundred by a mere three runs but still steered Afghanistan to a challenging 257-6.
Pakistan were off to a disastrous start when opener Fakhar Zaman was trapped leg-before off the sixth ball of the innings by spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman for nought.
Imam-ul-Haq scored a 104-ball 80 with five boundaries and a six while Babar Azam knocked an attractive 94-ball 66 with four boundaries and a six during their innings repairing the 154-run stand for the second wicket.
But both fell within the space of four runs as spinner Rashid Khan (3-46) brought Afghanistan back in the game with the asking rate getting stiffer, as Pakistan needed 42 off the final five overs.
Despite losing skipper Sarfraz Ahmed (eight), Asif Ali (seven) and Mohammad Nawaz (ten), Malik kept his cool to sop Afghanistan from posting their third straight win after beating Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the first round.
Earlier, Shahidi hit three consecutive boundaries in the final over off Usman Shinwari, but failed to get to three figures off the last delivery after Afghanistan won the toss and batted.
Shahidi finished with a brilliantly-paced 118-ball 97 not out, and added 94 for the fourth wicket with his skipper Asghar Afghan, who smashed five sixes and two fours in his 56-ball 67.
But it was Shahidi who held one end against Pakistan’s bowling in an innings which featured seven boundaries after left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz (3-57) had put the brakes on Afghanistan’s early progress.
Shahidi had added 63 for the third wicket with Rahmat Shah who scored a measured 36.
The total is an improvement by Afghanistan after scoring 249 and 255 in their previous two wins against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Pakistani fielders dropped four catches — three off debutant paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi who finished with 2-38.
India beat Bangladesh by seven wickets in Dubai and now meet Pakistan on Sunday, also in Dubai. Afghanistan and Bangladesh meet in Abu Dhabi on the same day.
Top two teams from the Super Four Stages will play the final in Dubai on September 28.