Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games clash against Iran

Abdulelah Alamri training area of the Asian Games group match against Iran. (SAFF)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia hopeful ahead of opening Asian Games clash against Iran

  • Young Falcons hopeful of a semifinal spot.
  • Under-23 players keen on making a name for themselves in Indonesia.

JAKARTA: There is a widely held belief that to succeed in sport, you must start early.
Officials from the Saudi Arabia National Olympic Committee will be hoping it rings true this month as the Kingdom’s Under-23 football team prepares to prematurely kick-off its Asian Games campaign this afternoon in Jakarta, three days before the continent’s largest multi-sport competition officially begins.
Similar to the Olympics, the football tournament starts before the opening ceremony and finishes on the competition’s final day, Sept. 2. The fledgling Young Falcons face Iran today at the 28,000-capacity Wibawa Mukti Stadium in the Indonesian capital.
The Saudi NOC have brought a delegation of 169 athletes, including eight females, and will compete across 22 disciplines, including athletics, shooting, taekwondo and volleyball. The three-week Asian Games operate both as a continental precursor and, at times, a qualifying tournament for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The Young Falcons made their football debut at the Asian Games in South Korea four years ago, reaching the quarterfinals in Incheon, before losing to Iraq. Their regional neighbors were inspired by legendary striker Younes Mahmoud, who had been included as one of Iraq’s three over-age players and scored twice in a 3-0 win.
Yet the impact of Mahmoud in Korea has not influenced the team’s selection. With the Saudi Pro League starting next week, coach Saad Al-Shehri has opted to forego athletes older than 23, instead selecting a squad consisting primarily of Al-Ahli development players and a smattering of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ettifaq-based youths.
“We haven’t brought any overage players because we are playing here as preparation for the U23 Asian Cup, which will offer qualification for Tokyo 2020,” said Faisal Almarashdi, a spokesman for the team.
“We have brought to Indonesia only players who are 21 or under as they will all be eligible for Tokyo. Many have already played at the Under-20 World Cup under coach Saad, so there was never any discussion to use the three allocated over-age slots.”
Abdullah Otayf is the model example of how Asian Games experience can help a young career. Four years ago, the deep-lying midfielder was part of the squad that traveled to Korea. This summer he was an integral part of the Green Falcons side that played at the World Cup in Russia. 
With national team coach Juan Antonio Pizzi following the competition from afar, there will be chances to catch the eye for the likes of striker Haroune Camara and midfielders Abdullah Yahya Magrshi and Ali Hassan Al-Asmari ahead of January’s Asian Cup. Both midfielders have already made their full debuts for Ahli and featured in the Jeddah club’s Champions League campaign last season, while Al-Qadisiyah’s Camara was included in Pizzi’s provisional World Cup squad before being cut from the final 23.
“These Asian Games are very important for the young players involved,” Almarashdi added.
“They are the future of the senior team so if they play well here and at the U23 Asian Cup then, we hope, they will go to Tokyo 2020. From then on the pathway to the senior team is already very clear.”  
Much like the seniors, the U23 side is both short and slight, with only two of the 10 midfielders and forwards standing above 5 foot 8 (172m). Today’s opponents Iran are not only taller and more physical, they also have, in Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjčar, a manager who knows West Asian football after short spells in Qatar and the UAE. In their most recent preparation match, Iran lost 3-2 to China. 
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, beat the UAE last week in Malaysia following a pair of friendlies against local sides. Today’s match will kick-off at 4 p.m. local time, midday in Saudi Arabia.


Iran assures FIFA that women can attend football qualifier

Updated 22 September 2019

Iran assures FIFA that women can attend football qualifier

  • FIFA traveled to Iran ahead of the weekend for talks on the matter of women and football
  • The Islamic republic has barred female spectators from football and other stadiums since 1981

MILAN: FIFA has been “assured” that Iran will lift its 40-year ban and allow women to attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

Football’s governing body wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums that breaches international football statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a football stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

“There is women’s football in Iran but we need Iranian women as well to be able to attend the men’s game,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a speech at a conference on women’s football on Sunday. “And we need to push for that with respect but in a strong and forceful way. We cannot wait anymore.

“We have been assured, that as of the next international game of Iran, women will be allowed to enter football stadiums. This is something very important, it is 40 years that this has not happened, with a couple of exceptions, but it is important to move to the next level and to the next stage.”

FIFA sent an inspection team to Iran this week to meet government and football officials ahead of Iran’s match against Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10 — its first home match of the 2022 qualifying competition.

Infantino’s comments drew praise from United States outgoing coach Jill Ellis, who was at the same FIFA conference in Milan, two months after leading the American women’s team to a second successive World Cup title.

“I think it’s huge,” Ellis said. “FIFA has enough of a pull and ability to influence change and I think it’s absolutely the right thing. I mean I don’t think there should be any discrimination period and to not allow women to go see football I think is, I just can’t even wrap my brain around it in terms of it being something. I think if FIFA can influence that, I think it’s great.”