Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal celebrate AFC Champions League win in Dubai

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal celebrate AFC Champions League win in Dubai
During the celebrations, an animation dedicated to Al-Hilal FC was displayed on Burj Khalifa. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 December 2019

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal celebrate AFC Champions League win in Dubai

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal celebrate AFC Champions League win in Dubai

DUBAI: The Saudi football team Al-Hilal visited Dubai to celebrate their victory in the 38th Asian Football Confederation Champions League 2019. At the event, hosted by Emaar Properties, some of the team’s fans and the company’s signature Saudi customers were invited to attend and meet the footballers.
During the celebrations, an animation dedicated to Al-Hilal FC was displayed on Burj Khalifa.
Al-Hilal beat Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds 3-0 in a two-leg match. The first match was played at the King Saud University Stadium in Saudi Arabia, and the second was hosted by Urawa Red Diamonds at the Saitama Stadium 2002.
“It was an indescribable feeling [to win the AFC Champions League]. We have tried to win this cup a few times. Thank God, with his blessings we won it this time,” Al-Hilal’s captain and left-winger Mohammad Al-Shalhoub said.
He said that Al-Hilal is preparing for the upcoming matches.
“We still have the League; the competition is tough there and it will not be easy but we will try to win it. The more advanced and important matches of the Kings Cup are going on now, we will do our best there,” Al-Shalhoub added.
Ahmad Thani Rashed Al-Matrooshi, the managing director of Emaar Properties, said they are proud of their partnership with the team and they are “look[ing] forward [to] celebrating Al-Hilal’s continued success in the future.” Emaar, a global property developer and provider of premium lifestyles, signed a 5-year strategic partnership agreement with Al-Hilal in June.
Other high-ranking officials from Al-Hilal and Emaar attending the event included the president of the Al-Hilal FC, Fahad Bin Saad bin Nafal, Al-Hilal board member Sultan bin Saeed, CEO of Al-Hilal Investment Co. Sultan Al-Sheikh, Emaar vice-chairman Jamal Majid bin Theniyah and CEO Amit Jain.

Al-Wehdat set for historic AFC Champions League debut

Al-Wehdat set for historic AFC Champions League debut
Updated 13 April 2021

Al-Wehdat set for historic AFC Champions League debut

Al-Wehdat set for historic AFC Champions League debut
  • Jordanian champions Al-Wehdat SC face a baptism of fire in their AFC Champions League debut against Al-Nassr in Riyadh
  • Lebanese international Hassan ‘Soony’ Ali Saad expected to feature prominently for the Green Giants

For most of Al-Wehdat’s existence, they have had to play second fiddle to Al-Faisaly, who have tallied twice as many domestic titles as their fierce Amman rival.

But over the past eight years, the Green Giants have started to turn the tide in their direction, winning five of the last seven league titles.

And it is Al-Wehdat who will make history this week when they become the first Jordanian club to participate in the group stage of the prestigious Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League.

With the expansion of the tournament to 40 teams, up from 32, an extra four teams have been added in both the east and west zones as teams from Jordan, India and Tajikistan will appear for the first time.

Al-Wehdat will face a baptism by fire in their AFC Champions League debut as the Green Giants have been drawn alongside Qatari juggernaut Al-Sadd and last year’s semi-finalist, Al-Nassr, who they will face on Wednesday.

“This is a massive tournament,” Lebanese international Hassan ‘Soony’ Ali Saad, who recently signed with Al-Wehdat, told Arab News from the club’s centralized hub in Riyadh. 

“All eyes are on this tournament in Asia and around the world and it is an opportunity to play good football and show what the champions of Jordan are about.”

Al-Wehdat have trained in Riyadh over the past few days and they know what they are up against.

“We are drawn into a tough group,” Saad said. “We have Al-Sadd and Al-Nassr, but we are the champions of Jordan so we should be able to compete. We should be able to play our style of football to get some results.

“Our expectations are to play the best we can, we want to win as many games as possible. And hopefully, we can get out of this tough group.”

Saad was born and raised in Michigan and rose to the ranks of Major League Soccer, the top-flight league in the US. He has also had professional stints in Thailand, Lebanon and South Korea but this will be his first taste of the AFC Champions League.

The prospect of playing in Asia’s showpiece tournament figured prominently in his decision to join the reigning Jordanian champions.

“When I joined Al-Wehdat, I knew they were in the Champions League and this definitely helped my decision,” the 28-year-old said.

“A big part of my decision was also coach Abdullah Abu Zema, who I had worked with before. I knew him from my time in Lebanon and I liked his approach to dealing with players.”

Al-Wehdat sealed the Jordanian Super Cup with a 2-0 win over Al-Jazeera last week, which was Saad’s first official match with the club. Then they traveled to Riyadh and the reception the club received upon arrival gave the players an extra boost, especially Saad.

“Arriving in the airport and seeing the Al-Wehdat fans was unreal,” he said.

“They followed us to the hotel. To realize we had that kind of support everywhere we go just shows this club is massive in the region and it is a great feeling.”

Saad got an early dose of the dedicated Al-Wehdat fanbase after he arrived in Amman to sign his contract.

“The amount of support I have received on social media has been incredible and it makes you really want to play and give your all for this club,” he added.

“I am still new so hopefully I can show them what I am about. When my restrictions ease up, we can experience the fans and culture that I think this club is very well known for.”

Whatever the next fortnight in Riyadh brings, Saad is just happy to be back playing football again after a spell in South Korea with the second-division Ansan Greeners that he would rather forget.

“I was not enjoying my football in Korea,” Saad said. “I had come off a season in Korea where we were playing a lot of defensive football. The coach really liked to play counter-attack and he liked his Korean players, so I was hungry to play.”

Saad is optimistic his reunion with Abu Zema will be a huge score for Al-Wehdat.

“I knew that Abu Zema has this personality to play attacking football, and that is what I missed most.”

Mahdi Ali reforms the old band for a shot at AFC Champions League glory

Mahdi Ali reforms the old band for a shot at AFC Champions League glory
Updated 13 April 2021

Mahdi Ali reforms the old band for a shot at AFC Champions League glory

Mahdi Ali reforms the old band for a shot at AFC Champions League glory
  • UAE’s Shabab Al-Ahli go into the group stages in Riyadh on a high after winning the 2021 League Cup on Friday

: Mahdi Ali will try, for one last time, to get the old band together.

There’s him, front man Omar Abdulrahman, Ahmed Khalil, Majed Hassan, Hamadan Al-Kamali, Walid Abbas, Majed Naser, Abdelaziz Sanqour and Abdelaziz Haikal.

On Friday, a penalty shootout win over Al-Nasr saw the 2020-21 League Cup added to the recently won 2020 Super Cup in Shabab Al-Ahli’s trophy cabinet.

And when the Emirati coach leads the Dubai team into the group stages of the AFC Champions League this week, he will be doing so with a squad that’s packed with a group of players that he has known for close on to two decades now.

As coach of various UAE national age group teams from 2003 (U16s), and the senior team from 2012, Mahdi Ali was responsible for overseeing what has become known as the second Golden Generation of Emirati players.

A commendable, eye-catching performance at the 2012 London Olympics, winning the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations in Manama, and finishing third at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia.

For a while it seemed the team, or as the coach always called them, “the group”, could do no wrong. Until, suddenly they could do little right.

Mahdi Ali’s rein as UAE coach ended in 2017 as the UAE’s bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in France, a genuine prospect at the time, began to crumble.

Since then, he has only taken charge of Shabab Al-Ahli; first in 2017-18, and then again in 2020.

Back at the club he represented for 15 years in the 1980s and 90s, and which he briefly coached in the 2009-10 season, Mahdi Ali is now overseeing something of renaissance at Shabab Al-Ahli.

In addition to the silverware, a 13-match unbeaten run has seen the team rise to third in the Arabian Gulf League table, though still a significant seven points behind leaders Al-Jazira, and six behind Baniyas.

Still, it showed that the old maestro can still get a tune out of his players.

Except that it is mostly the new faces that have been delivering the high notes, with many of the UAE core reduced to back-up performers.

Leading the charge line for Shabab Al-Ahli in recent months have been the club’s foreign contingent of the Brazilians Igor Jesus and Carlos Eduardo, Federico Cartabia of Argentina and the Uzbeks Jaloliddin Masharipov and Odiljon Hamrobekov.

And while many of the Emirati players continue to play their part, two of country’s leading lights over the last decade, and arguably two of its finest ever, for now remain nowhere to be seen.

Ahmed Khalil, winner of the 2015 Asian Footballer of the Year award for his stellar performances in Australian and for helping then still Al-Ahli to the AFC Champions League final has barely figured in the first team over the last few years.

As occasionally brilliant as he is frustrating, inconsistency and injuries have blighted his career.

Above all, there is still the long shadow of Omar Abdulrahman, the golden boy whose fall from grace could be seen as metaphor for the fading of the golden generation.

The UAE’s most gifted player of all time, Abdulrahman was for long linked with a move to a major European league that never came.

In the summer of 2018, he joined Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia for what turned out to be an ill-fated, injury-disrupted spell.

A move to Abu Dhabi’s Al-Jazira a year later proved similarly unsuccessful, culminating in the previously unthinkable news that shocked Emirati and Middle East football supporters; Abdulrahman being released from his contract by the AGL leaders.

Perhaps it is fitting that a potential redemption arc has been offered at Shabab Al-Ahli under mentor Mahdi Ali, the man who oversaw Abdulrahman’s greatest hits.

But as the 29-year-old continues to recover from injury, Shabab Al-Ahli will go into the Champions League group stage held in Riyadh relying on the firepower of the foreign stars.

The first match against Istiklol, even before a ball has been kicked, has become a must-win match.

The team from Tajikistan will be seen as the group’s weakest link and while 2019 champions Al-Hilal take on AGMK of Uzbekistan, Shabab Al Ahli will be hoping to post three points on the board before the bigger challenges appear.

The second match will be against the hosts Al-Hilal, before a double-header against AGMK precedes the return match against Istiklol.

The last thing Mahdi Ali would want is to go into the final match against an on-form Hilal team needing a win to qualify to the knockout stages.

Still, the team is on a high after the League Cup triumph and perhaps the AFC Champions League fixtures have come at the perfect time for the UAE team - a glorious year remains a tantalizing possibility.

Just when the Emirati stars of the last decade take center-stage remains to be seen.

Al-Ittihad settle FIFA dispute as domestic suspension of Al-Nassr forward is upheld

Al-Ittihad settle FIFA dispute as domestic suspension of Al-Nassr forward is upheld
Updated 13 April 2021

Al-Ittihad settle FIFA dispute as domestic suspension of Al-Nassr forward is upheld

Al-Ittihad settle FIFA dispute as domestic suspension of Al-Nassr forward is upheld
  • Saudi Arabian Football Federation still looking into the alleged altercation between Abderrazak Hamdallah and Waleed Al-Ahmed in the King’s Cup semi-final

DUBAI: Al-Ittihad have settled the FIFA dispute with Esperance Club two weeks ago after the Jeddah club paid $200,000 it owed for last season’s signing of the Tunisian Anis Al-Badri, it has been revealed by Arabic-language newspaper Arriyadiyah.

The daily added that the Tunisian club had lodged its complaint as a result of Al-Ittihad’s failure to pay the second instalment of the sale of Al-Badri, which was due in July last year.

According to unnamed sources, FIFA’s dispute resolution chamber issued its ruling obliging Al-Ittihad to pay the amount together with the delay fine.

The news comes only days after Al-Ittihad dragged themselves back into the Saudi Pro League title race with a 2-0 win over reigning champions Al-Hilal

The club is now looking to similarly settle a case with the Argentine club Rosario Central for the transfer of Leonardo Gil in 2017

It is the latest of domestic and foreign disputes that the Al-Ittihad administration is looking to settle as soon as possible.

Meanwhile on Monday, the appeals committee of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) rejected Al-Nassr's appeal against the discipline and ethics committee's decision regarding its decision to suspend its Moroccan forward Abderrazak Hamdallah.

The committee indicated that while it had formally accepted the appeal, its subject was ultimately rejected, supporting the initial disciplinary decision against the player for his alleged altercation with Al-Faisaly defender Waleed Al-Ahmed in Al-Nassr’s King’s Cup semi-final defeat on April 4.

Last Wednesday, the disciplinary committee had announced that Hamdallah will be temporarily suspended for a period of 15 days, with an option to extend the ban to any matches in which he is illegible, until the completion of the study into what happened during the match.

It was the latest controversy to beset the club in a season turmoil on and off the pitch, however Hamdallah, the league’s top scorer for the last two seasons is free to take part in Al-Nassr’s AFC Champions League group matches starting this week.

Stoffel Vandoorne recovers to claim Rome E-Prix victory for Mercedes-EQ in round four of the Formula E season

Stoffel Vandoorne recovers to claim Rome E-Prix victory for Mercedes-EQ in round four of the Formula E season
Updated 12 April 2021

Stoffel Vandoorne recovers to claim Rome E-Prix victory for Mercedes-EQ in round four of the Formula E season

Stoffel Vandoorne recovers to claim Rome E-Prix victory for Mercedes-EQ in round four of the Formula E season
  • The Belgian driver had suffered a crash in round three on Saturday

JEDDAH: The Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team is celebrating a belatedly successful weekend which saw Stoffel Vandoorne taking first place at the Rome E-Prix, leaving him and team-mate Nyck de Vries fourth and fifth respectively in the drivers’ table after the completion of rounds three and four of the season in Italy.

“What an amazing victory,” Vandoorne said.

“It makes up for what happened (on Saturday). To end the weekend on such a high today feels fantastic.”

The Belgian driver redeemed himself with a win after an unfortunate retirement in first race of the Rome E-Prix double-header the day before.

Things looked bleak for Vandoorne when he spun into the barrier trying to avoid a slowing Lucas di Grassi - however, the team managed to repair the car overnight and Vandoorne was able to qualify third on the grid for the second race.

His win on Sunday means Mercedes-EQ now sit second in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship standing, building on De Vries’ win at the season-opening Diriyah E-Prix in Riyadh at the end of February.


Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was in attendance for the second race of the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix weekend in Riyadh on Saturday. Click here for more.

“I would like to thank everyone in the team and especially my mechanics, who had their work cut out to get the car fixed after the accident,” Vandoorne said.

A few early battles and a late safety car intervention did not stop the Mercedes-EQ driver from securing his second FIA Formula E victory, placing him firmly in contention for the championship.

Vandoorne also “Fanboost” - the voted-for power surge - to thank as well, as he was able to create distance between himself and Alexander Sims on the final lap restart.

“I wasn't sure what to expect during the safety car period just before the end but still had Fanboost, so I could defend my position,” he said.

“It didn’t feel exactly great after comfortably being in the lead, but I didn’t put a foot wrong over the final lap and managed to secure the win, which is what counts in the end.”

NEOM, Principal Partner of the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, congratulated Vandoorne on his victory in Rome.

“It’s brilliant to see yet another strong performance from the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team,” Jan Paterson, Managing Director of Sport at NEOM said.

“NEOM is striving to become a major participant in the world’s sporting landscape and our partnership with the team is providing us with a unique opportunity to tap into an organization which is relentless in their pursuit of excellence.”

During the pre-season in December, the world witnessed the Belgian driver take to the streets of NEOM in the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02, the first all-electric vehicle driven on the Magna Road.

The partnership between NEOM and Mercedes-EQ - first established in 2020 - will focus on development programs in the region and green mobility efforts to revolutionize electric vehicles, as part of the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan for a sustainable future.

Trio of Saudi clubs prepare to take on continent’s best as AFC Champions League returns

Trio of Saudi clubs prepare to take on continent’s best as AFC Champions League returns
Updated 12 April 2021

Trio of Saudi clubs prepare to take on continent’s best as AFC Champions League returns

Trio of Saudi clubs prepare to take on continent’s best as AFC Champions League returns
  • With all matches taking place in the Kingdom, Al-Hilal look to have an easier task than struggling Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli

LONDON: The time for dreaming is over and the football is about to begin — in West Asia at least — as the 2021 AFC Champions League kicks off on Wednesday. With a few changes to the format.

For the first time, the tournament has been expanded from 32 to 40 teams, not great timing in the middle of a global pandemic, but there are still three from Saudi Arabia in the mix.

And while the group stage welcomes eight more teams, only 16, as before, will make it through to the second round.

This means that only the group winners are certain of progression along with the three best runners-up in the five western zone groups.

As before Asia’s premier club competition remains split into two halves, western and eastern, until the final itself brings the two together.

There are other differences. Travel restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic mean each group is taking place in one city over an intensive period of six games in 16 days.

The teams that handle this schedule the best will prosper and that is good news for Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli who are all playing at home. 


Former Brazil coach Mano Menezes tasked with guiding Al-Nassr to AFC Champions League success Read more here.

Al-Hilal have the best chance of all three in Group A with the downside perhaps being that the 2019 champions are in the middle of a fierce domestic title race.

Their last game before the Champions League was last Frida’s defeat against Al-Ittihad in third and the first game after the group finishes comes against Al-Shabab, who are in second, on May 7.

Losing Salem Al-Dawsari to injury is a blow but there is enough talent available to Brazilian coach Rogerio Micale, who has yet to really win over fans since replacing Razvan Lucescu in February.

The Riyadh giants are in an interesting group which features, for the first time ever, two teams from Central Asia.

Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol have made waves in the AFC Cup, Asia’s second-tier competition, and are now making their debut in the big event.

Al-Hilal’s defence will have to keep an eye on prolific striker Manuchekhr Dzhalilov. 

AGMK of Uzbekistan are also making their Champions League debut and while they are not the strongest team in the country, Saudi Arabia are in the same World Cup qualification group as the Uzbeks, and Hilal players will know not to underestimate the opposition.

The group is completed by Shabab Al-Ahli. The Dubai team, runners-up in 2015, is full of talent, led by former UAE national team boss Mahdi Ali and features former Al-Hilal star Omar Abdulrahman.

All in all however, it would be a surprise if the three-time champions didn’t make it out of the group.

Al-Nassr have a tougher-looking proposition. First and foremost is the presence of Al-Sadd. Coach Xavi Hernandez, nailed-on to be a future Barcelona boss, has just led the 2011 continental champions to the Qatar Stars League title and did so without losing a game.


5 talking points from Al-Ittihad’s win over Al-Hilal in Saudi Classico. Read more here.


His sights are well and truly set on Asia and with former Arsenal star Santi Cazorla in stunning form, Al Sadd are one of the favorites.

Foolad of Iran will be no pushovers and Jordan’s Al-Wehdat, making a first appearance in the tournament, will be hard to beat.

The Riyadh giants, who reached the last four in 2020, have had an up and down season and are looking to Asia to bring some joy for their fans.

So much so, that last Friday Alen Horvat was fired as head coach and replaced by Mano Menezes in time for the start of the group matches.

The first priority for the former Brazil boss is to take Al-Nassr to the knockout stages.

His clashes with Xavi at Al-Sadd will not just be fascinating but probably pivotal.

Al-Ahli complete the trio and like Al-Nassr are heading into Asia off the back of a disappointing domestic season and have also just appointed a new coach.

Laurentiu Reghecampf led Al-Hilal to the final of the 2014 edition and that infamous loss to Western Sydney Wanderers.

The Romanian now returns to the country to take over the struggling Jeddah club, which have lost its last six games. 

If that wasn’t worrying enough, though Asia offers a chance of a change and a respite from domestic woes, Al-Ahli’s group is a tough one.

Two-time winners Esteghlal of Iran reached the last 16 before being knocked out by Pakhtakor last year and will be hoping to go further this time around.

A strong Al-Duhail team finished second in Qatar to the all-conquering Al-Sadd and while Al-Shorta of Iraq are the outsiders, football in the country is going through a resurgence right now and they can be counted on to cause an upset or two.

For Al-Ahli, finalists in 2012, getting to the second round would be a fine achievement and a great way for the new boss to start his spell.

At the moment, the odds are against it but the AFC Champions League is nothing if not unpredictable.

Despite that, predicting that Al-Hilal will be the best performing Saudi side still seems like a relatively safe forecast to make.