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.”


Embiid returns to help 76ers beat Nets for 3-1 lead

Updated 21 April 2019
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Embiid returns to help 76ers beat Nets for 3-1 lead

  • The 76ers seized a 3-1 lead in the first-round series against the Nets

NEW YORK: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid returned from injury to score a game-high 31 points and grab 16 rebounds, powering the 76ers to a 112-108 NBA playoff victory at Brooklyn on Saturday.
Despite a third-quarter incident that saw two players ejected, the 76ers seized a 3-1 lead in the first-round series against the Nets and could advance in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven matchup with a home victory Tuesday.
In the other Eastern Conference game, Khris Middleton finished with 20 points and nine rebounds as the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks put the Detroit Pistons on the brink of elimination with a 119-103 win. The victory give the Bucks a 3-0 lead and they can wrap up the series with a win on the road in the Motor City on Monday.
Philadelphia, down by 10 points early in the third quarter, battled back most of the second half before taking the lead on a run of eight points by Embiid, who missed game three with a sore left knee.
A slam dunk and layup by Embiid gave the 76ers their first late lead at 102-101 but, after an exchange of layups and three-pointers as well as turnovers, fell behind 108-107 on a basket by Brooklyn’s Joe Harris with 25 seconds remaining.
On the next 76er possession, Embiid flipped the last of his seven assists to Mike Scott, whose corner three-pointer put Philadelphia ahead to stay 110-108 with 19 seconds remaining.
Australian Ben Simmons — who added 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the 76ers — stole the ball from Brooklyn’s Jarett Allen and Tobias Harris sank two free throws for the last of his 24 points to clinch the triumph.
Caris LeVert led the Nets with 25 points while Brooklyn had 21 points each from Allen and D’Angelo Russell.
Cameroon star center Embiid was issued a flagrant foul in touching off an altercation 4:18 into the third quarter that saw Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley ejected. Embiid, who had elbowed Allen in the face in game two, was whistled for a hard foul on Allen that prompted Dudley to rush at Embiid, taking down the Sixers big man. Butler swung his left arm at Dudley, who wound up in the front row seats with Simmons at one stage, to earn his ejection.
In Detroit, Brook Lopez tallied 19 points and had seven rebounds and five blocked shots and Eric Bledsoe scored 19 points for the Bucks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered 14 points and 10 rebounds for his third straight double-double in the series and Nikola Mirotic chipped in 12 points.
Detroit’s hobbled star Blake Griffin had 27 points in 31 minutes after he missed the first two games of the series with a sore knee.
Griffin was cleared with his leg heavily wrapped but it didn’t change the outcome.
The Pistons have now lost 13 straight playoff games dating back to 2008. In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets — led by game highs of 29 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists from Serbian playmaker Nikola Jokic — pulled level with San Antonio at 2-2 in their opening series with a 117-103 road triumph over the Spurs.