Green Falcons ready to bear responsibility of a nation at Russia 2018

Saudi Arabia’s Osama Hawsawi duels for the ball with Germany’s Julian Draxler during the friendly between Germany and Saudi Arabia at the BayArena in Leverkusen. The eyes of the world will be on Juan Antonio Pizzi’s Saudi side when they play in the opening game of the 21st World Cup against Russia on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 09 June 2018

Green Falcons ready to bear responsibility of a nation at Russia 2018

  • The Green Falcons finished their World Cup preparations, with a 2-1 reversal, against Germany on Friday night and now nerves will be starting to jangle ahead of the tournament curtain-raiser.
  • Saudi Arabia midfielder Hattan Bahebri: “First, our priority is not just to be part of the World Cup, but also to have good results and reach the round of 16 and more.”

LONDON: Saudi Arabia midfielder Hattan Bahebri said the enormity of being involved in the opening game of the World Cup is starting to sink in for the Green Falcons and revealed there is an inner belief in the squad to do more than just make up the numbers in Russia.
Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side launch the 21st World Cup against Russia on Thursday and, if the audience of 290 million for the opener in 2014 is anything to go by, they can expect the eyes of the world to be on them. The Green Falcons finished their World Cup preparations, with a 2-1 reversal, against Germany on Friday night and now nerves will be starting to jangle ahead of the tournament curtain-raiser.
“The closer we get to the first game, the bigger the responsibility,” Bahebri said in a video interview on the Saudi Football Federation’s Twitter account. “It is a huge event. It is the World Cup. It is a huge responsibility to me and my teammates. I hope we will fulfill the expectations of our fans.”
Saudi Arabia are the second lowest ranked side in the World Cup — Russia are the lowest at 70 — so expectations are low, but with Egypt not in great form and without Mohamed Salah for at least some of the group stage, there is a feeling the Green Falcons could seriously contend for the second spot in the group behind Uruguay.
“First, our priority is not just to be part of the World Cup, but also to have good results and reach the round of the 16 and more,” Bahebri said. “We are now focusing on our game with Russia, and we will work on winning it.”
The squad is heading to Russia without Nawaf Al-Abed, the Al-Hilal playmaker who scored five goals in qualifying, but who only managed to play 22 minutes under Pizzi because of injury. The Argentinian felt he could not take a chance on a player who has not started a game since Jan. 8 because of a groin injury.
“The coach takes the decisions and I guess Nawaf is injured and hopefully he will get better,” midfielder Hussain Al-Mogahwi said. “He sat with the coach and talked to him about everything. Nawaf is a hero, and the four others who were left out with him are also champions.”
Saudi Arabia will be nothing if not fully prepared for what Group A has to throw at them. They have played Italy, Peru and Germany — sides all ranked in the top 20 — in their last three friendlies and the nine matches they have played this year is more than any other side at the World Cup.
“The two friendly games with Peru and Italy will get us ready,” said Al-Mogahwi. “During the game with Italy, we weren’t focused and afraid, but all the players played well and we had a good game. We had many opportunities ... We could have tied the game if we had scored. During the game with Peru, the coach changed the squad and honestly, we were good, but luck was not on our side. We got a good experience from the friendly games. The games in the World Cup will have the same level.”


Dakar Rally stars gear up for ‘thrilling’ Saudi race challenge

The first stage of Rally Qassim began in Umm Sidra covering a distance of 170km. Several drivers are keen to test before the Dakar Rally crosses the country for the first time in January 2020. (SPA)
Updated 47 min 39 sec ago

Dakar Rally stars gear up for ‘thrilling’ Saudi race challenge

  • French driver Stéphane Peterhansel, a 13-time winner of the Dakar Rally, revealed that he was initially surprised to hear that the competition had been moved from Africa to Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Dakar Rally drivers are gearing up for a “thrilling and exciting” challenge when the world-famous desert race is staged in Saudi Arabia for the first time next year.
The Kingdom will host the event from Jan. 5 to 17, 2020 with top racers from around the globe traveling thousands of kilometers through inhospitable terrain in cars, trucks and on quad bikes and motorcycles.
The rally will begin in Jeddah and follow a tough route through desert, sand dunes and mountainous areas taking in NEOM, the Red Sea Project, Riyadh and Qiddiya.
French driver Stéphane Peterhansel, a 13-time winner of the Dakar Rally, revealed that he was initially surprised to hear that the competition had been moved from Africa to Saudi Arabia.
“However, after doing some research, I realized that Saudi Arabia was a very wonderful and suitable country for the rally. It has different terrain types, and I expect us to have a perfect track. The vast desert gives me hope that the 2020 Saudi Dakar Rally will be more thrilling and exciting than Africa,” he said.
Five-time Dakar Rally winner and fellow French driver, Cyril Despres, said that racing in Saudi Arabia would be a new adventure that could only be experienced by those who lived up to its challenges.
“When I heard that the Dakar Rally was moving for the first time to the Middle East, I remembered the words of its founder, Thierry Sabine, who said that if you liked exploring the African continent, you would also love exploring other parts of the world,” he added.

Positive move
British rally raid motorcycle rider, Sam Sunderland, who won his category in the 2017 Dakar Rally, said he was delighted to be participating in the Saudi race. “I believe that this change is good, as I have lived in Dubai for 10 years, having adapted well to the Middle East’s atmosphere.

When I heard that the Dakar Rally was moving for the first time to the Middle East, I remembered the words of its founder, Thierry Sabine, who said that if you liked exploring the African Continent, you would also love exploring other parts of the world.

Cyril Despres, French driver

“Exploring a new area is a positive move for the Dakar Rally, and I am certain that everyone who practices this sport is excited to explore a new ground for racing,” Sunderland added.
ED Racing Team driver, Issa Al-Dossari, said the main reason he had taken part in Rally Qassim was to prepare for the Dakar challenge.
“We will be using two cars in the rally. We look forward to raising the level of preparedness for many coming global events. But this does not mean that we will not compete for the top places.”
Al-Dossari invited sports fans to visit the team’s headquarters at Date City to see equipment and meet its members.
The team must participate in two different cars, the first driven by Al-Dossari with his French navigator Sébastien Delaunay, and the second with Emirati Abdallah Al-Huraiz behind the wheel and Ali Hassan navigating.
The first stage of Rally Qassim began on Friday in Umm Sidra covering a distance of 170 km, with stage two raced over 200 km.
Meanwhile, entry registrations for the Dakar Rally are still open in all categories at https://www.dakar.com/en/the-competitors/register.