UAE vs. Saudi Arabia friendly gives both chance to press reset button ahead of World Cup qualifiers

It may just be a friendly but Thursday's match could set the tone for both sides heading into their respective new eras. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2019

UAE vs. Saudi Arabia friendly gives both chance to press reset button ahead of World Cup qualifiers

  • New era for both the Whites and the Green Falcons after Asian Cup.
  • World Cup qualifiers start in September.

LONDON: That the UAE-Saudi Arabia clash today is a friendly is apt. With Bert van Marwijk now confirmed as the new UAE boss, and in the stands for the clash, the match will be a meeting of old mates.
The Dutchman memorably guided the Green Falcons to last year’s World Cup — their first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — before contract talks stalled and he left. Now, 18 months on from his exit, Saudi Arabia are again looking for another manager following Juan Antonio Pizzi’s departure after the Asian Cup. And for both sides there is a distinct feeling of limbo.
The Asian Cup promised much for Pizzi’s players. Two comfortable opening wins over North Korea and Lebanon were followed up with defeats to eventual winners Qatar and a second round exit at the hands of Japan. It was the opposite of how their World Cup went. While the team got better with every match in Russia, at the Asian Cup the Green Falcons’ form petered out and utimately they exited with a whimper.
This match is the perfect chance for Salem Al-Dawsari and Co. to recover the form they showed in the latter half of Pizzi’s reign with the World Cup qualifiers set to start in September.
For the UAE there is the same sense of ennui, even with Van Marwijk set to become the new boss. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the Whites played a brand of football that would have challenged a sleeping tablet as a cure for insomnia. Too defensive, too risk averse, it was ultimately no surprise when the hosts failed to win the Asian Cup on home soil at the start of the year.
They may have reached the semifinals, but the UAE failed to inspire confidence, and this clash offers the chance of a fresh start on and off the pitch.
The UAE’s “Golden Generation” ultimately failed to achieve World Cup qualification or Asian Cup success when at least one of them seemed, at one point, like a sure thing. The next year or two will likely see that stable of players slowly ushered out. However, the chance of an early sighting of the young guns that will replace them has been kicked into touch due to the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship qualification commitments of the UAE’s young players. Friday’s Arabian Gulf Cup final also means that interim coach Saleem Abdelrahman will not be able to call on the Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club and Al-Wahda.
Both teams will not be at full strength tonight and it will be hard to read anything into the result. But this match offers up a great chance to press the reset button ahead of World Cup qualifying later this year.


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.