Ali Al-Habsi confident of prolonged Al-Hilal success under Jorge Jesus after Super Cup win

Ali Al-Hasbi was thrilled Carlos Eduardo emerged as the star of the Saudi Super Cup final, and believes Al-Hilal will have a successful period under new coach Jorge Jesus. (Twitter: @AlHilal_EN)
Updated 19 August 2018
0

Ali Al-Habsi confident of prolonged Al-Hilal success under Jorge Jesus after Super Cup win

  • Eduardo had been absent since December after suffering the dreaded cruciate knee ligament injury
  • He made his competitive comeback against Al-Shabab on Sunday but announced his full return to form and fitness against Al-Ittihad in London

LONDON: Ali Al-Hasbi was thrilled Carlos Eduardo emerged as the star of the Saudi Super Cup final, believing his goal was a fitting reward for the torment he went through during his spell out injured.
Eduardo had been absent since December after suffering the dreaded cruciate knee ligament injury in the first leg of the AFC Champions League final with Urawa Reds.
He had a complex operation in Brazil and has spent this year building up the strength in his knee with some long and lonely hours in the gym.
He made his competitive comeback against Al-Shabab on Sunday but announced his full return to form and fitness against Al-Ittihad in London on Saturday night, scoring the first in a 2-1 win over the Tigers.
The nature of his celebration – a double knee slide to the corner – demonstrated the confidence he now has in the joint and the relief that his injury hell is over.
“It’s fantastic for him,” Al-Habsi, the Omani goalkeeper, told Arab News as he did a lap of honor with the trophy around the pitch.
“He has been out for seven months and to come back, play like that, score a goal is fantastic. It’s unbelievable as it was a bad injury and he had to work really hard to recover.”
Gelmin Rivas got the second goal to ensure Jorge Jesus launched his reign as coach by winning the Saudi Super Cup, making a statement in the process that Al-Hilal will again be the team to beat this season.
“It’s fantastic to get a start like this,” said Al-Habsi. “It’s a brilliant to win a derby game and it’s always tough against them. We have made the fans very happy and we can now push for the start of the season. I believe we can win a lot of trophies if we can push hard.”
Jesus came in to replace Ramon Diaz who, ironically, was in charge of Al-Ittihad on Saturday night. Jesus won everything in Portugal and he is expected to deliver similar success at Al-Hilal.
“He’s been fantastic since he has come in,” said Al-Habsi. “We did some good work with him in Austria, he has got some good ideas and I think we are going to do well under him. It’s the perfect start that we won this trophy under him.”
Al-Habsi turns 37 in December and this is his 20th season as a professional, but he is showing no signs of aging and looks set to start the season as No. 1 ahead of Abdullah Al-Mayouf.
“I still feel very good,” he said. “I feel very fit and I am very pleased. I’m really enjoying life at Al-Hilal. It’s a massive club.”
The game in Loftus Road, in front of more than 16,000 boisterous fans, was quite the introduction to football in Saudi Arabia for Aleksandar Pesic. The Serbian arrived at Al-Ittihad this summer from Red Star Belgrade and he made a difference after coming on as a half-time substitute.
“The first half we didn’t play very well but we were more attacking in the second half after the coach changed things,” he told Arab News. “But we conceded two goals because of mistakes. But this is football. It was a very strong game.”
Al-Ittihad finished ninth last season but they should be aiming much higher than that this season on the evidence of things against Al-Hilal.
“If we play like this in the league, I think we will have a good chance for the championship,” Pesic said. “Maybe we win, maybe we lose but we will always give 100 percent, then I believe we can do good things. We will try to be champions.”
It will be a tough ask to finish ahead of Al-Hilal, though. They won the league last season and look even stronger following the additions of Alberto Botia, Andre Carrillo and Omar Abdulrahman.
“It’s a very good team, a very compact team with a good coach and good players,” said Pesic. “They are very tough to play against and I’m sure they will have a strong season.”


Kurdish women pedal, dunk, spike as Iraq’s top athletes

Updated 12 November 2018
0

Kurdish women pedal, dunk, spike as Iraq’s top athletes

  • Three medals were won by the Iraqi female cyclists in September at a tournament in Algeria
  • Decades ago, all of Iraq’s 18 provinces had thriving female athletic scenes, with active clubs in different sports

IRBIL, Iraq: When Iraq’s female cycling team snatched bronze and silver medals at a landmark pan-Arab race, it was thanks to athletes from the autonomous Kurdish region.
The country’s toughest female competitors, its best-equipped facilities and most experienced coaches are not in the capital Baghdad, but in the Kurdish-majority northern region.
And the three medals won by the Iraqi female cyclists in September at the tournament in Algeria were seen as proof of this sporting prowess in a region that has governed itself since 1991.
The team earned a bronze in the relay race, where three of its four cyclists were Kurdish, and also scooped a bronze and a silver in individual events.
The silver-winning athlete, Mazda Rafiq, hails from the Kurdish region’s second city, Sulaimaniyah.
“Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to represent Iraq in a cycling race, and today I was able to do that,” said the 20-year-old.
Rafiq, who trains in the region’s capital, Irbil, credits her victory to “the support of society and our parents.”
Decades ago, all of Iraq’s 18 provinces had thriving female athletic scenes, with active clubs in different sports.
But the 1980s saw a string of violent conflicts begin, followed by an international embargo that brought development projects to a screeching halt and the rise of militias.
Those factors, combined with growing conservatism in parts of Iraqi society, all chipped away at sports culture for women.
However in the north, relatively insulated from these trends, Kurdish women have enjoyed an athletic awakening — one that Iraq’s clubs and national teams are making use of now.
A female cycling team in the southern conservative city of Diwaniyah regularly poaches two Kurdish athletes from Sulaimaniyah — more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) to the north — for national and regional competitions.
“They are better, and the club knows they’ll help them get a better score,” said Sajed Salim, of Iraq’s Cycling Federation.
One reason for the success of Kurdish female athletes may be the relatively lax social norms in the autonomous region, said Iraq volleyball champion and club coach Randy Metti.
“Kurdistan is more open to women’s sports than the provinces of the south,” he said, where traditions and tribal customs restrict how much women and girls can do outside the home.
Metti coaches the Akad Ainkawa women’s volleyball team in Irbil three times per week, all year long.
Player Mirna Najeeb brings her seven-month-old daughter to every training session.
“I was advised not to exercise six months after giving birth but I told the whole world that I would start again,” she said.
Najeeb and fellow Akad players are regularly called up to Iraq’s national team to compete internationally.
“A player has everything here — modern training facilities, interested clubs, and great coaches,” she told AFP.
The clubs also enjoy widespread public support and are popular meeting places.
“The fact that they have restaurants and recreational spaces encourages families to come support the female athletes,” said Khaled Bashir, a member of Iraq’s Volleyball Federation.
That popularity often translates into material support for local clubs, allowing them to pursue more training and keep improving.
Elsewhere in Iraq, teams rely on funds from the ministry of youth and sports, which barely cover basic expenses.
“There are talented athletes everywhere, but they do not emerge in the other provinces because the structures are not the same as those in Kurdistan,” said Bashir.
The numbers speak for themselves.
This year’s national volleyball championship brought together “11 female Kurdish teams against four other female teams from the rest of Iraq — all of them from Baghdad,” he said.
Women’s basketball, too, has become a hit sport in Iraq thanks to Kurdish athletes — including all-girl teams in Dohuk, Halabja and Irbil.
The relative calm enjoyed by the region has contributed to their advancement, said the head of Iraq’s Basketball Federation, Hussein Al-Omeidi.
“That stability in the region’s towns when it comes to daily life and to security is vital to the athletic excellence of our female teams,” Omeidi told AFP.
Out of Iraq’s seven female basketball clubs, three of them are from the Kurdish region — a source of pride for female basketball federation member Wassen Hanoun.
“It’s an important proportion that really shows how much female Kurdish sports dominate,” she said.