Young Falcons are only just getting started, says coach Khalid Al-Atawai as Saudi Arabia U-19s make World Cup

The Young Falcons beat Australia 3-1 to make it to the last-four. (AFC)
Updated 30 October 2018

Young Falcons are only just getting started, says coach Khalid Al-Atawai as Saudi Arabia U-19s make World Cup

  • Saudi Arabia U-19s beat young Socceroos to get to last four of U-19 Asian Championships.
  • Young Falcons set to face Japan in last four on Thursday.

LONDON: The scenes on the Saudi Arabia team bus as it left the Patriot Candrabhaga Stadium in Bekasi, Indonesia, on Monday night were those of pride and patriotism as the country’s Under-19s celebrated the execution of an ambitious plan. This month’s ultimate mission, however, is not yet complete.
The Kingdom’s Under-19 side had defeated Australia 3-1 in the quarterfinals of the age-group Asian Championships to confirm their place at next May’s U20 World Cup as one of the continent’s four best teams. On the journey back to the team hotel, players — with camera phones in hand — sang “We are all Salman” as they drummed their palms on whatever surfaces they could find.
It was a rare moment of release for a group of teenagers who had arrived in Jakarta with the weight of expectation to at least emulate the previous generation, which had qualified for the global championship by way of reaching the regional final. The convincing victory against the Young Socceroos allowed them to relax, but their focus must quickly return if they are to end a 26-year drought and bring the Asian trophy back to the Kingdom.
Hazem Al-Zahrani, the Al-Ittihad defender who was an unused substitute, said he and his teammates “strive to go to the World Cup as heroes,” while goalkeeper Abdulrahman Al-Shamrani said the feeling of qualification was “indescribable,” adding “we promise the masses to return to the country as heroes of Asia”.
Coach Khalid Al-Atawi, formerly of Al-Najoom, conceded his side had arrived with the objective of World Cup qualification. “We played to reach this goal, and we reached it,” he said. “I’m very happy that we will now participate in the World Cup. I congratulate the Saudi people and we are very fortunate to have the honor of representing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Tomorrow’s semifinal opponents, however, are Japan, a country that is quickly becoming a thorn in the side of a Saudi Arabia team desperate for tangible success. In 2016, Sami Al-Najei and Abdulrahman Al-Yami shared the Golden Boot at the U19 Asian Championships, but it was the Japanese who lifted the trophy, beating the Young Falcons on penalties after a 120-minute stalemate in the final.
At August’s Asian Games, which is open to U23s, Saudi Arabia registered a squad made up entirely of players aged under-21. It is a tactic long adopted by Japan, who use the Asian Games as preparation for the U23 Asian Championships, which offer direct qualification to the Olympics. The Young Falcons impressed on route to the quarterfinals, yet it was the Blue Samurai again who ended their participation, beating them 2-1 in the last-eight.
Victory tomorrow would mean more than simply a place in the final. 
Although South Korea and Qatar have also reached the semis, it is Japan and Saudi Arabia who are generally regarded as the two best teams at this month’s 16-nation tournament. Neither have dropped a point yet this month, recording a perfect record of four wins from four games, although free-scoring Japan’s goal difference is substantially more impressive. Al-Atawi nonetheless believes his team can go all the way.
“We are trying to do our best in every game,” he said. “In any game, we want to do more than the game before. In this competition, the team is improving from game to game, so we are looking forward to achieving the highest level we can. We are preparing these players for this competition. We hope we can perform well, and we are building step by step. The sky is our limit.”
The Young Falcons have reached the semifinals on four occasions since they beat South Korea 2-0 in the 1992 final, but have yet to claim the ultimate prize. This year’s squad have frightening pace and are technically excellent, with Al-Shabab’s Turki Al-Ammar in particular gaining attention with a series of eye-catching displays. Al-Atawi, however, refuses to single out players for praise, insisting instead on the importance of the collective.
“Turki is one of 23 players and I treat them all equally, but I think he will be a star in the future,” said Al-Atawi of the midfielder who opened the scoring against Australia to claim his second goal of the tournament. “I can guarantee though that we will see more stars come from these 23 players in the future.”


Runners step back in time on AlUla’s historic trails

Updated 19 February 2020

Runners step back in time on AlUla’s historic trails

  • Top-ranked athletes came from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Netherlands

ALULA: More than 260 athletes from around the world took part in the recent EcoTrail AlUla, a multi-track running race through the dramatic landscapes of AlUla in Saudi Arabia’s northwest.
Top-ranked athletes came from Saudi Arabia, the US and the Netherlands. The race was staged as part of the second season of the Winter at Tantora festival, organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla to promote the historic site as an exceptional tourist destination for heritage, arts, culture and sports.

Events took place on three different courses — an 83 km track, followed by a 45 km and a 10 km track — with international athletes taking part in each of the races.

In the 10 km course, 139 contestants took part in the competition, with 125 managing to complete the run. Saudi runner Mohammed Madkhali won first place, while Yemeni runner Fares Aman Aldin came in second and another Saudi runner, Meshari Almuhanna, finished third.

In the women’s category, US runner Meredith Byrne won first place, Saudi runner Sarah Abdullatif came in second, and British runner Maureen McConnell finished third.

Ninety athletes took part in the 45 km race, with 85 finishing. Saudi runner Abdulaziz Al-Ghamdi came in first, with Australian Matthew Sudich second and French runner Nicholas Mordelet in third.

In the women’s category, Dutch runner Floortje Rawee came in first, followed by Italian Alessandra Grassi in second and American Natasha Turak third.

The 83 km race featured 37 athletes with only 17 finishing. In the men’s category, US runner Michael Wardian finished first, followed by Pierre Breuer from Belgium in second and Malaysia’s Soonseng Ong third.

In the women’s category, Amy Sproston from the US ranked first, with Ruth Theresia from Indonesia second and American Rachel Bessette third.

EcoTrail AlUla attracted athletes from around the world, most notably the US, UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, France, Sweden, the UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Jordan, Oman, Peru, Poland and Indonesia.

The one-day trail gave visitors the opportunity to become acquainted with AlUla and its distinctive natural, cultural, architectural and historical monuments. The trail is an eye-catching destination for running enthusiasts and jogging clubs, and will encourage people to visit AlUla and Saudi Arabia to take part in a global sporting event that promotes environmentally friendly principles and initiatives.

The race contained several medical care stops and catering stations, and each participant received a number in addition to a welcome gift and a shirt. An inaugural dinner was held to welcome contestants on the night before the race.

EcoTrail AlUla is the first race to occur in the Middle East and one of the most notable sports events of this year’s Winter at Tantora festival. The race was sponsored by STC, Almarai Company, Sabeeka Energy Bar, Whites, and Hussak Adventures. The festival’s latest season also provides a wide range of diverse experiences that meet the needs of all visitors and entertain all tastes, for individuals, groups or families from all walks of life.

The festival began on Dec. 19 and will run until March 7, 2020. Guests of the second season of this year will be able to visit the astonishing historical and heritage sites exclusively, and attend the international musical and artistic performances.