Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad Super Cup final in London shines light on passionate Saudi Arabian fans

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Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal fans inside Loftus Road during the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal fans inside Loftus Road during the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Al-Ittihad fan outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Al-Hilal fans outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Al-Ittihad fans outside Loftus Road ahead of the Saudi Super Cup final. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
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Action from the Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road in London. (James Hanna)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad Super Cup final in London shines light on passionate Saudi Arabian fans

  • For the third time in four years on Saturday, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) staged the Super Cup final in West London
  • Some fans traveled from Riyadh wearing the blue of Al-Hilal, others from Jeddah sporting the famous yellow and black stripes of Al-Ittihad

LONDON: There is a debate raging in England right now about whether or not the Premier League should consider staging some of its matches abroad. It comes on the back of the news that Spain’s top flight will stage matches in the US and Canada.
Saudi Arabia, however, are way ahead of the pack on that front. They began exporting their game a few seasons ago. For the third time in four years on Saturday, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) staged the Super Cup final in West London and the supporters lapped it up. Many arrived outside the Loftus Road stadium more than four hours before kick-off just to be part of the buzz on the streets, to the sample the build-up to the clash between the two most decorated teams in the Kingdom. Between them, they have won the Saudi Pro League title 23 times.
The residents of South Africa Road would have thought they were in for a quiet Saturday night, what with Queens Park Rangers playing away at West Bromwich Albion. But instead the area reverberated to the sound of Arabian drums as two sets of passionate fans created the kind of carnival and febrile atmosphere usually only associated with a London derby.
Some fans traveled from Riyadh wearing the blue of Al-Hilal, others from Jeddah sporting the famous yellow and black stripes of Al-Ittihad. Even neutrals from the large London expat community turned up.
“I support Al-Ahli,” said Abdullah Idroos, a 35-year-old from Yemen who works at the nearby Westfield shopping center in Shepherd’s Bush.
“I like the atmosphere of the Super Cup with the all the Arab fans together, so that’s why I came.”
He said he was supporting Al-Ittihad on the night because “I don’t like Al-Hilal — they win too many trophies.”
That may be the case, with Al-Hilal winning 15 league titles to Al-Ittihad’s eight, but that did not stop the Al-Ittihad fans teasing the supporters of the team in blue.
“Alamar sabah qawiah,” they chanted outside the stadium before kick-off. Roughly translated it meant “It’s hard and difficult for you” to accept that Al-Ittihad finished fourth at the Club World Cup in 2005, something Al-Hilal have not done. It was all in good humor and there was not a trace of the bitterness or even hostility you usually associate with football rivals such as these. Big derbies like this would usually see a sizeable police presence but there was not a policeman in sight before the game.
The good-nature of the rivalry was summed up by cousins Saad and Saad standing side by side, like brother’s in arms, one supporting Al-Hilal and one rooting for Al-Ittihad.
“We fight with each other during the game but afterwards, it’s no problem.” The transport workers came over especially from Khobar, combining a holiday and taking in the game.
“The flights were expensive but it is better the game is in London because of the climate,” one of them said. “It is too hot in Saudi.”
The climate in the Kingdom — it was an average of 33 degrees on Saturday — was one factor but not the only one in transplanting the game 3,000 miles to London.
“We do it because it is good for our players to gather more international experience, to learn what it’s like to play in large overseas stadia, and of course, there is a large Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern population living and working in London,” said Luia Al-Subaiey, the General Secretary of SAFF.
There are around 300,000 Arabs living in London, but another, Bader Ali, came down by train from Oxford to catch the game. He is undertaking a three-month intensive course in English before returning to the Kingdom to study medicine.
“It’s good the game is here as there are lots of Saudis in London,” said the 19-year-old. “It makes a nice change as the games are always in Saudi. I’ve never been to a game here before so was really excited. I hear a lot about the atmosphere at English games.”
Bader’s favorite player is Carlos Eduardo so he would have been delighted the Brazilian scored the first goal of the game. Just as thrilled was Khalid Aiman. The 30-year-old IT Support worker at a school in North London turned entrepreneur for the day and had 165 pieces of Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad colored attire, including hats, wigs, flags and scarfs, flown over from a market in Jeddah. They sold very well. One blue-and-white hat was purchased by a passing Chelsea fan. He paid for the hat with his ticket for the Super Cup game. “I managed to sell that on, too,” said Khalid.
It was the hottest ticket in town and even the ticket touts were doing a brisk trade.
“We couldn’t tell what it was going to be like as it was a bit of an unknown market for us,” said one tout.
“I’m surprised it’s not sold out. If we were down the road at Chelsea we’d probably be doing a roaring trade, but we’d probably get arrested there. This isn’t an official game so we are OK here. We’ve sold quite a few.”
Those not lucky enough to get a ticket would have tuned in from the Kingdom. Nawaf Al-Marscad was dispatched from Riyadh by Dawri Plus to cover the game.
“It’s a massive game in Saudi,” said Al-Marscad. “It (would have been) watched by millions. These are two, big, big teams and it is a good chance to show London how good the Saudi game is.”
Amid a cacophonous atmosphere, Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad served up a cracking match. Jorge Jesus, the Al-Hilal coach, has been there, done that and seen it all during his coaching his career but you just had to see his celebration at the final whistle, having seen his side win 2-1, to figure out how much winning the match meant to him and the jubilant Al-Hilal fans.
“It was amazing,” said Al-Hilal fan Mohamad, a 27-year-old graduate from King’s College. “We deserved to win maybe by four of five goals. I hope we can play here again as it was an amazing atmosphere.”


Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

Updated 18 June 2019
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Chile open Copa America title defense with win over Japan

  • The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay
  • Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time

SAO PAULO: Chile’s experienced Copa America team proved too good for Japan’s young squad.

The two-time defending champions opened their Copa America campaign with a 4-0 win over the Asian guests on Monday, with Eduardo Vargas scoring a pair of goals to become Chile’s all-time leading scorer in the South American competition.

Erick Pulgar and Alexis Sanchez also scored for the titleholders, which are trying to become the first nation to win three straight Copa titles since Argentina in the late 1940s. Vargas scored twice in the second half to reach 12 goals with Chile in the tournament, two more than Enrique Hormazabal.

The victory moved Chile to the top of Group C along with Uruguay, which opened with a 4-0 win over Ecuador on Sunday.

“Chile has players who are very experienced, who know each other very well,” Chile coach Reinaldo Rueda said. “The challenge today was to avoid a bad debut. We were humble and entered with our feet on the ground. We were playing against a team that was very competitive in all sectors.”

Japan, playing as a Copa America guest for the second time, brought to Brazil a young squad focused on the Olympic tournament at home next year. The Japanese youngsters struggled against the veteran Chilean squad which was in control from the start at the Morumbi Stadium.

Chile won the last two editions of the Copa America, beating Argentina in penalty shootouts in the final both in 2015 and 2016. Argentina is the only team to have won three consecutive South American titles, from 1945-47.

Boosted by most of the 23,253 fans at the Morumbi, Chile created most of the significant chances.

After Pulgar headed in a corner-kick cross by Charles Aranguiz in the 41st minute, Vargas added to the lead with a shot from outside the area in the 54th after a pass by Mauricio Isla.

Sanchez found the net with a header in the 82nd, and Vargas closed the scoring about a minute later with a long lob shot over goalkeeper Keisuke Osako as he charged from his net.

It was a good opening match for Sanchez after a difficult season with Manchester United.

“I was coming off a difficult month-and-a-half,” said the 30-year-old Sanchez, who injured his ankle late in the season. “I struggled in the first 45 minutes, I felt tired, but I improved in the second half.”

Rueda, debuting with Chile in an official tournament, has been gradually revamping the squad since he took over in 2018. Among the veterans back from the team’s recent triumphs were Vargas, Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, who also had a good opener.

Japan last played in the Copa America in 1999, when it was eliminated in the group stage. Among the youngsters in Brazil was Takefusa Kubo, the 18-year-old who has joined Real Madrid’s “B” team for next season. He played from the start and was a threat for Japan in attack. He got an ovation from the crowd at the Morumbi after getting past a defender with a ball through his legs about 10 minutes into the match. He nearly scored after a nifty move past a defender inside the area in the 65th, but his shot hit the outside of the net. Japan had a few good chances to get on the board toward the end of the game but could not capitalize on them.