Saudi Arabia's young athletes return from Youth Olympics with hope and expectation

Karate kid Mohammed Al-Assiri won Saudi Arabia's first Olympic gold at any level. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2018
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Saudi Arabia's young athletes return from Youth Olympics with hope and expectation

  • Saudi young guns hopeful for future with glory at Tokyo and Paris Olympics on their minds.
  • Yousif Jalaiden, the Saudi delegation’s chef de mission, tells young stars 'the hard yards start now.'

BUENOS AIRES: With heavier hand-luggage and loftier dreams, the Saudi athletes who competed at this month’s Youth Olympic Games will arrive back in Riyadh on Saturday, their medals suggesting reaching Tokyo 2020 is a target as attainable as it is alluring.
The Kingdom brought nine athletes to Argentina and left with a historic gold in karate and two bronze, one each in weightlifting and the 400m hurdles. Mohammed Al-Assiri’s momentous triumph in the final of the Men’s Kumite -61kg on Wednesday night represented the county’s first Olympic gold at any level. It also ensured Buenos Aires will be remembered as Saudi Arabia’s greatest medal haul, eclipsing the one bronze and one silver secured at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. 
Al-Assiri, 16, was awarded SR1 million riyals by Turki Al-Sheikh, head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, for his achievement. 
“Of course, we are delighted. We came here hopeful and we leave with our best ever performance,” said Yousif Jalaiden, the Saudi delegation’s chef de mission, before boarding the flight to Riyadh. “We expected two medals but hoped for three, although we did not know which colors they would be. To get the three and a gold, that’s why we are so happy. Thanks to God, it’s been a great success.”
The two-week campaign was somewhat of a slow-burner; the first seven days passing without as much as a glimpse of a medal for the delegation marked “KSA.” Swimming, taekwondo and fencing all failed to produce tangible reward, although the delegation’s youngest athlete, fencer Ali Saeed Al-Bahrani, took much consolation from the experience
“We will benefit a lot from this participation,” said the 15-year-old, who had been invited to contest the Men’s Sabre Individual and progressed through his group before being defeated in the last-16. “God-willing, this here will help us enjoy better success in the future.”
The midway point of the games marked a change in fortune — and provided genuine reasons for positivity ahead of the Olympic Games proper, which takes place in less than two years. Ali Yousef Al-Othman had finished third at the Asian Championships in April, but a dedicated training program and the assistance of Egyptian coach Khaled Qur’any helped him emulate that feat on the world stage. 
Al-Othman was understandably confident after accepting his bronze medal, telling Arab News that Tokyo is now at the forefront of his mind. “My dream was to win a medal at the Youth Olympics,” he said. “Now that dream has changed and I will work harder than ever to make Tokyo 2020 a reality.”
Qur’any, who has coached at the past two Olympics, however, was keen to keep his athlete’s feet on the ground, a feat possibly made trickier by the awarding of SR200,000.
“He is only 16, so I think Tokyo will come too soon for him,” Qur’any said. “Paris in 2024 is different — we would hope to be there. Ali has the potential, but there is a lot of work to be done before we can think of that.”
On the athletics track, Raghad Bu Arish won her heat in the 100m but her time was some distance off the pace. Mohammed Al-Muawi, meanwhile, benefited from the disqualification of South Africa’s Lindukhule Gora in the Men’s 400m hurdles to leap up a place and on to the podium. It was his first competitive event and the culmination of more than five months of training in California with American former World Championships silver medallist Ryan Wilson.  
“This medal is an amazing achievement for me,” said Al-Muawi, who was also awarded SR200,000. “I need to thank my coach. I hope to keep working with him. He always gives me so much support. Next year I have the Asian Championships and some Arab races, but of course I am dreaming about Tokyo. I want to challenge the best in the world, guys like Karsten Warholm from Norway and Abderrahman Samba.” 
The Asian Athletics Championships are scheduled to take place in Qatar next April, before the IAAF World Championships five months later. Jalaiden confirmed Saudi Arabia intends to send a delegation, adding he hopes the results in Buenos Aires can help inspire more victories at this level.
“We hope that we can take this success and build upon it ahead of Tokyo,” said Jalaiden. “And also use the experience here to help the next generation of Saudi athletes who will compete at the 2022 Youth Olympics (in Senegal). The hard work starts all over 
again now.”


‘No surprises’ about former Premier League duo Nordin Amrabat, Jurado flying high in Saudi Arabia

Updated 13 November 2018
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‘No surprises’ about former Premier League duo Nordin Amrabat, Jurado flying high in Saudi Arabia

  • Amrabat signed for big-spending Al-Nassr in the summer and has scored three goals in eight games
  • Jurado, meanwhile, joined Al-Ahli from Espanyol in the summer and his playmaking ability has resulted in the Jeddah giants succeeding

LONDON: A former Premier League coach is not surprised high-profile imports Nordin Amrabat and Jose Manuel Jurado are flourishing in the Saudi Pro League, believing they have the ability and the pedigree to inspire their clubs to mount a title challenge.
Amrabat signed for big-spending Al-Nassr in the summer and has scored three goals in eight games to propel Jose Daniel Carreno’s side up to third in the table. Jurado, meanwhile, joined Al-Ahli from Espanyol in the summer and his playmaking ability has resulted in the Jeddah giants becoming the second most prolific team in the league. Both clubs are hot on the heels of leaders Al-Hilal and are prepared to pounce should the champions slip up.
Dean Austin, the former Tottenham defender, coached both Amrabat and Jurado at Premier League club Watford and has kept a keen eye on their fortunes.
“I’ve followed their careers closely since I worked with them and I saw they had moved to Saudi Arabia,” Austin told Arab News. “I fully expected them to make a big impact as they are very good players and top professionals. It sounds like they are really enjoying themselves and good luck to them as they both work so hard.”
Amrabat, 31, became Al-Nassr’s fourth costliest player ever when he joined from Watford for £7.65m ($10.05m). According to Austin, he is capable of playing on either flank and has experience of playing in Holland, in La Liga and the Premier League.
Amrabat has said in previous interviews he feels he plays his best football on the left flank, where he can cut in on his favored right foot and have a crack at goal. He is playing on the left in a 4-1-4-1 formation at Al-Nassr.
“I felt he was good enough to play off either flank, but I guess the left might have been his preference,” said Austin. “If he is going to play there, I think you need a really quick, offensive left-back who is prepared to go past him and go on the outside. You need to have the correct balance in the team.”
Moroccan Amrabat was in many pundits’ team of the World Cup at the end of the group stages. His displays helped his team to a 2-2 draw with Spain and saw them narrowly lose out to Portugal.
“He had a good World Cup and I reckon there would have been a few clubs looking at him. He has pace, strength, a great desire and is a really willing worker. He wants to work,” Austin said.
Amrabat played in the same Watford side as Jurado in 2016 and they were reunited when Al-Ahli beat Al-Nassr 2-0 in Riyadh earlier this month. Jurado was taken to Watford and then to Espanyol by Quique Sanchez Flores, the coach who was offered the chance to take the top job at Al-Hilal earlier this year.
Sanchez Flores never made it to the Kingdom, but Jurado, 32, did and he is showing why he played at Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Schalke.
“He is a really good technician,” said Austin. “He is silky smooth and can pass off either foot. From the first day at Watford, you could tell he was seriously talented. He’s clever and a very talented footballer.”
Jurado did not pull up as many trees in the Premier League as Watford hoped and he lasted just one season before returning to Spain.
“He had an indifferent time with us,” said Austin. “He had some good games, but he found it tough in some others. He came to us from Russia and it was not easy to adapt. He found it very quick, but the Premier League is a very difficult league and he probably didn’t show us as much as he would have liked. Sometimes with Jose, it’s about trying to find the right balance of the team to have him in it.”
Al-Ahli coach Pablo Guede is fielding Jurado in a left-sided role just behind Djaniny, the big-money summer signing from Mexico, or as a No. 10 behind Djaniny and the prolific Omar Al-Somah.
Jurado scored his first goal in the 2-0 win over Al-Faisaly and pulled the strings in the 5-1 rout of Al-Fateh, claiming two assists. Jurado has played alongside Raul, won the Europa League and finished runner-up in La Liga twice, but Austin says the playmaker is “as humble as they come.”