Fans soak up the atmosphere as Dakar Rally comes to Saudi Arabia for first time

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Motorsport fans on Thursday flocked to the race village. (Supplied)
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Motorsport fans on Thursday flocked to the race village. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 January 2020

Fans soak up the atmosphere as Dakar Rally comes to Saudi Arabia for first time

  • 550 competitors from 62 countries will take part in the race

JEDDAH: With the start of the Dakar Rally only days away, fans in Saudi Arabia have been getting their first taste of the excitement and spectacle of the legendary race.

This year marks the first time the event has been staged in the Middle East, with the Kingdom playing host. In a test of endurance as well as speed, 550 competitors from 62 countries — driving cars, motorbikes, quad bikes and trucks — will set off from Jeddah on Sunday to cover 7,500 kilometers during 12 days of racing across the Saudi desert.

Motorsport fans on Thursday flocked to the race village, set up on the Jeddah Corniche, to soak up the atmosphere during the build-up to the start of the race and were clearly delighted to have the chance to attend the legendary event for the first time.

Hamid Haalwani, who was accompanied by his children, said that he has been a big fan of the Dakar Rally for a long time and came to the village to show his kids what it is all about.

“I am very interested in seeing the Dakar this year in Saudi Arabia,” he added. “It is one of the major sporting events in the world; everyone loves the Dakar. I am really proud and pleased to see Saudi Arabia hosting such a mega event.”

Mahir Baqabas, 23, was shopping for souvenir Dakkar Rally T-shirts.

“We had heard about the Dakar before,” he said. “My friends and I decided to come and live the action. We are lucky to have the opportunity to see it.”

Hani Amro was also excited that the rally is being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

“It’s not everyday fans have the chance to experience the ultimate thrill of the Dakar rally,” he said. “As a big fan of the event and other famous car races I am really excited to live this moment and to meet the (racers) here in person.

“The Dakar rally is the pinnacle of motorsport events in the world, so there is no better setting to celebrate the (race) than here in our country.”

The Dakar Rally begins on Jan. 5 in Jeddah, and will end in Riyadh on Jan. 17. In the past year, Saudi Arabia has increasingly opened its doors to international tourism and world-class sports and entertainment events, as part of efforts to diversify the nation’s economy.
 


Why Riyad Mahrez should shed reluctant hero tag and join Arab greats

Updated 05 August 2020

Why Riyad Mahrez should shed reluctant hero tag and join Arab greats

  • The Algerian winger could be a few weeks away from his crowning glory
  • Beyond his goals, assists and medals, he is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players to watch in the Premier League

DUBAI: We should talk about Riyad Mahrez. Because, it seems, Riyad Mahrez doesn’t really like to talk about Riyad Mahrez.

Manchester City’s Algerian international is famously reticent when it comes to dealing with the media. For one of modern football’s most unique and successful talents, Mahrez remains an enigma; brilliant, instantly recognizable, and yet so often underrated.

Most fans would struggle to recall what his voice even sounds like. Though he has 5.5million followers on Instagram, and a further 2.2 million on Twitter, he mostly shuns the behind the scenes glamorous posts that so many footballers seem to enjoy in favor of match action shots. And there is no team of PR warriors shouting his achievements from the rooftops.

Which is a shame. One of the greatest Arab footballers of all time certainly deserves more. Except that, when the discussion of the greatest Arab or African footballers to play in Europe comes up, Mahrez rarely comes near the top.

A strong showing in the mini-champions League tournament over the next few weeks, starting with Friday’s round of 16 second leg against Real Madrid, could throw some gold dust on an already outstanding career.

Since his quiet introduction to the Premier League in 2014, Mahrez has been nothing short of a revelation; an enchanting, balletic footballer, whether gliding across the right wing to set up yet another chance for Jamie Vardy or Sergio Aguero, or cutting inside onto his magical left foot to score another stunning curling effort. Or, as he has done twice, winning the Premier League.

Beyond his goals, assists and medals, he is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players to watch in the Premier League, even the world.

So why does he struggle to gain the acclaim of other Arab and African footballers of past and present?

Like Karim Benzema in Spain, Mahrez is the right player, at the right place, at the right time. But not always, metaphorically speaking, the loudest of players.

By most metrics, Mohamed Salah takes some beating as the outstanding Arab footballer of modern times, perhaps ever. Since joining Liverpool in the summer of 2017, he has played a pivotal part in transforming the club from a fourth-placed team to proven winners, both in the Premier League and Champions League; twice won the Premier League Golden Boot, and also claimed the PFA Player of the Year in 2017-18.

Like Salah, Mahrez has won the Premier League in England, arguably the most high profile league in the world. In fact, he is one of only 11 players to have won it twice, first as the driving force behind Leicester City’s still scarcely believable 2015-16 title win (which also earned him the PFA Player of the Year award), and then as part of Pep Guardiola’s staggering collective at Manchester City in 2018-19. 

Unlike Salah, though, he has yet to win the Champions League. That could be about to change in a few weeks. Manchester City remain the favorites to win the delayed competition, now scheduled to conclude in Lisbon between 7th and 23rd of August.

Salah’s army of fans, from Liverpool to Cairo, rightly hail his every move.

But for Mahrez, there are no murals on neighborhood walls in New York or the Northwest of England. No string of television commercials. And no fashion magazine covers.

It is not for lack of achievement or talent either. You get the impression Mahrez just prefers it that way.

The 29-year-old, at first instance, might also suffer in comparison to one of Algeria’s greatest footballers.

Rabah Madjer achieved instant international fame when he scored in his nation’s finest hour-and-a-half, the 2-1 win against mighty West Germany at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Five years, and many domestic titles later, he would return to haunt the Germans, scoring a remarkable back-heeled goal in Porto’s 1987 European Cup final win over Bayern Munich. Later that year he put on a man-of-the-match performance, and scored the winner, as Porto beat Penarol to claim the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo.

Such iconic moments are hard to compete with. Yet Mahrez has many of his own.

In February 2016, Mahrez produced one of the Premier League’s most memorable individual performances of the last decade as Leicester defeated his future club Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad stadium on the way to that stunning league title win. Even that early in the season, the Player of the Year award was in the bag.

And Premier League-centric viewers, at least those who don’t follow Manchester City, may have missed a truly outrageous stoppage time free-kick in a 2-1 win over Nigeria which secured Algeria’s place in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Cup. Where the home crowds had eagerly anticipated a Salah and Egypt triumph, it was Mahrez and Algeria that were crowned African champions after beating Senegal 1-0 in the final at Cairo International Stadium.

Again, and inexplicably, the achievement did not garner the global acclaim it deserved.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Mahrez’s understated reputation is the company he keeps. When you play in forward line alongside Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Jesus Gabriel, David Silva and, above all, the peerless Kevin De Bruyne, the credit will inevitably be spread around.

Mahrez, a maverick at Leicester, has been transformed by Pep Guardiola into the perfect team player at Manchester City. An excellent return of 11 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League this season may not quite see him at the top of either chart. But, in addition to one goal and four assists in the Champions League, his numbers accurately illustrate a consistent, at times spectacular, overall contribution in a season where he has been one of the club’s most impressive forwards.

If all that still doesn’t make him one of the greatest Arab footballers of all time, perhaps a Champions League medal on August 23 finally will.