Big-name stars have stands packed as records fall in new Saudi Pro League season

Bafetimbi Gomis is just one of several big-name players to have joined Saudi Pro League Clubs. (Al-Hilal)
Updated 24 September 2018
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Big-name stars have stands packed as records fall in new Saudi Pro League season

  • A total of 102,509 fans went to Saudi Pro League clashes over the past weekend.
  • The total attendance this season has already reached 249,018, with the GSA setting a target of three million fans over the course of the season.

LONDON: Saudi Arabian officials are delighted with the record-breaking attendances that have been the hallmark of the first few rounds of this season’s Saudi Pro League.
Round three of the current campaign saw the highest number of fans attend games since official records were kept. A total of 102,509 fans went to stadiums up and down the country as defending champions Al-Hilal maintained their perfect start to remain top of the table.
This was in contrast to a total of 19,341 who watched games at the same stage last season and 20,361 from the 2016-17 campaign. 
The latest figures confirm an encouraging overall upward trend. So far in the three rounds already played, the total attendance has already reached 249,018. In the 2017-18 season overall, just over one million passed through the turnstiles. During the summer, the General Sports Authority, the body which oversees all sports in the country, set an ambitious target of three million fans for the new season.
“The season has started as well as we could have hoped for in terms of fans coming to games and we have seen increases of over 500 percent from last season and the season before that,” an official from the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) told Arab News.
“Clubs have been working hard to try and engage with fans and while there have been some free tickets handed out, the standard of football that fans are watching is better than before. We know that we have to keep working hard but it is a great start.”
So far the action has been entertaining and the 100,000 plus fans saw 29 goals in just eight games, with all but eight scored by overseas stars. Many of the big-name signings made by the big clubs have hit the ground running.
Ahmed Musa went to Al-Nassr for a league record fee of around €16 million ($19 million) from Leicester City in the English Premier League. The Nigerian scored a hat-trick at Al-Quadisiya to maintain his team’s unbeaten record. Al-Hilal’s Bafetimbi Gomis and Omar Abdulrahman are other expensive stars who are already producing the goods while Argentina’s Cristian Guanca, who plays for Al-Ettifaq, tops the scoring charts with four goals.
 “The standard of many of the foreign players who came before the season has been better than ever before,” added the official.
“Some of them are already showing the kind of talent they have and have settled in quickly. Others will take more time so as the season goes on then we should see this level continue.”
SAFF administrators believe that this Saudi Arabia’s World Cup campaign — which ended with a victory over Egypt , the Green Falcons’ first win at the competition since 2006 — has helped with the feel-good factor. Allowing women to enter stadiums to watch games is another reason why there have been increased attendances.
The biggest crowd of the weekend was recorded in Jeddah when 41,000 fans turned up to watch Al-Ahli defeat Al-Hazm 2-0. The club provided 10,000 tickets free of charge but it was still an impressive turnout, with the raucous crowd making plenty of noise
Al-Ahli star Nooh Al-Mousa was delighted with the attendance and has called on fans to keep supporting the team in such numbers.
“It was great to see so many people come here to support us,” the midfielder said.
“The atmosphere was great and it really inspires the players. It not only increases our energy and enthusiasm, it also helps us get better results. We hope that the fans keep coming back as we will have a bright future together.”


Siakam has 30 points, Raptors top Magic 98-93 for 2-1 lead

Updated 20 April 2019
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Siakam has 30 points, Raptors top Magic 98-93 for 2-1 lead

  • Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor
  • Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting

ORLANDO, Florida: Pascal Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, Kawhi Leonard added 16 points and the Toronto Raptors held off the Orlando Magic 98-93 on Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.
Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting. Leonard had 10 rebounds, Danny Green had 13 points and Kyle Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assist.
Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.
The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.
That being said, they went down swinging.
Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.
Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, and were doomed shortly afterward. Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to make it a two-possession game again, and that closed the scoring.
Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.
Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half.
Orlando got within one on three occasions in the first half, but never got the lead in the opening 24 minutes. Toronto took a 48-45 lead into the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.
He took off from the Magic logo and released the ball with about a half-second remaining, it hitting the square on the backboard perfectly and dropping through. Ross never broke stride, watching the ball’s flight as he ran and kept going through the tunnel leading to the Magic locker room.
TIP-INS
Raptors: Toronto had lost four consecutive Game 3s. ... Patrick McCaw (sprained right thumb) was active, but did not play. ... The Raptors are 6-1 in their last seven road games this season. ... Siakam has 73 points and 30 rebounds in the series.
Magic: Among the former Orlando players in the building were Tracy McGrady, Jameer Nelson and Horace Grant. ... Orlando missed three shots at the rim in one third-quarter possession. Vucevic missed at the rim, and Gordon couldn’t convert on two putback tries. ... Attendance was 19,367, the second-most in the Amway Center’s nine-season history.
GOVERNOR SPEAKS
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s first lady Casey DeSantis were in attendance and received Magic “46” jerseys — a nod to his being the 46th governor of the Sunshine State. The governor and Magic CEO Alex Martins spoke pregame about the hope for Orlando to get another All-Star Game soon, though all through 2022 has already been awarded to other Eastern Conference cities — and Milwaukee, another East city, has expressed interest in 2023.
UP NEXT
Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.