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.

Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

Updated 30 September 2020

Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

  • Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona

MADRID: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will all be hoping to build on their first wins of the season as La Liga heads into its fourth round of games this week.

Here are the five talking points ahead of the midweek fixtures.

For the first time in a long time, Barcelona can enjoy some calm after a 4-0 win over Villarreal in their first match of the season on Sunday.

Lionel Messi scored on his first competitive appearance since attempting to leave in the summer but most exciting was the performance of the 17-year-old Ansu Fati, who scored twice and won a penalty.

Ronald Koeman must decide how to make the most of the teenager, whose maturity on the pitch belies his age and whose body might not be ready to start every week.

But Fati's pace, movement and decision-making are all so impressive it will be difficult to leave him out, as Barca look to build on that win at Celta Vigo on Thursday.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 formation during his team's 3-2 win at Real Betis on Saturday as Luka Jovic was deployed up front alongside Karim Benzema.

But the Serbian striker failed to take his chance, instead enduring another underwhelming night before going off with 18 minutes to go.

It remains to be seen whether Zidane persists with Jovic at home to Real Valladolid on Wednesday, or at all, given Madrid could yet decide to let their €60 million (today $70 million) signing leave before the end of the transfer window.

When Eden Hazard regains fitness, that spot next to Benzema will belong to the Belgian so Jovic's window of opportunity may be small. Time would appear to be running out.

Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona.

So hitting six against Granada on Sunday offered some early encouragement that this season's Atletico, boosted by the arrival of Luis Suarez in attack, can put those scoring problems behind them.

Suarez stole the show after scoring twice on his debut but Joao Felix was arguably the biggest plus for Diego Simeone, who will hope the 20-year-old's excellent display is the start of a more consistent campaign.

Atletico go up against newly promoted Huesca on Wednesday, the kind of game they slipped up in too often last season.

Even defeat by Real Madrid could not knock Real Betis off the top of the table, as Manuel Pellegrini's team enjoy the benefits of a strong start and more games played than the traditional powerhouses three weeks into the season.

But there is cause for optimism longer-term as Betis began with wins against Alaves and Real Valladolid, before matching Madrid for prolonged spells until their opponents pulled away in the second half.

With the likes of Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales and Joaquin, this Betis squad has not lacked for attacking talent but solidity at the back has too often been an afterthought.

Villarreal face Alaves on Wednesday, with pressure already on both coaches. Villarreal have four points from their opening three games but a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Barcelona on Sunday, as well as a draw at home to newly-promoted Huesca means Unai Emery could do with a victory.

Alaves, meanwhile, are second bottom after managing just a point from their first three games, with Pablo Machin seeking a first win at la Ceramica.

Valencia have also made a stuttering start, a draw at home to Huesca on Saturday coming on the back of a surprise loss away at Celta Vigo.

New coach Javi Gracia has already expressed disappointment with the club's summer transfer dealings, meaning credit with the board may be lacking if results do not improve.