Saudi Pro League on course for successful season despite enforced break

Al Nassr pipped neighbours Al Hilal by one point to win the Saudi Pro League 2018/19. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 28 July 2020

Saudi Pro League on course for successful season despite enforced break

  • League-wide investment has created the most popular season in SPL history
  • SPL has enjoyed influx of overseas players, bigger attendances and increased following on social media

RIYADH: The biggest sporting prize in Saudi Arabia will finally see a winner as the Saudi Pro League returns after more than four months without football.

Over SAR1.6 billion ($426 million) has been invested in the Kingdom’s favourite sport this year, which has seen the SPL enjoy its biggest ever season before the lockdown halted the campaign in March.

With investment happening throughout sport in the Kingdom, football remains at the heart of communities with SPL clubs enjoying their biggest ever attendances since the season got underway last August, with over a million fans attending games by the halfway point of the campaign.

Throughout the season families and friends have packed out the biggest games of the season, including the record 43,783 fans who seen Al Hilal claim an away win over Al Ittihad in the ‘Saudi El Clasico’ in September.

The investment of the league is part of the strategy by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Sport which sees improvements to the game on the pitch, driving attendances and overall engagement with fans throughout the country.

The huge investment has also allowed clubs to improve their playing squads and this season there have been players from over 40 countries competing in the SPL.  Former English Premier League stars Wilfried Bony and Marko Marin have joined the division, whilst Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah is the league’s leading scorer with 18 goals in his second season with Al Nassr.

On the pitch, history was made at the start of the season when the promoted trio Abha, Damac and Al Adalah made their first appearance in the SPL.

With just eight rounds remaining, it is also all left to play for as Al Nassr and Al Hilal continue their tight title race for the second consecutive year with only 6 points separating them. Meanwhile, at the other end of the table just 7 points separate bottom placed Damac and Al Fayha in 12th position meaning the relegation battle will most certainly go down to the last kick of a game. The league resumes on August 4th and will promise an action-packed 35 days that fans will not want to miss.

Throughout lockdown, the league has maintained its supporter engagement with a strong focus on digital communication which has included the growth of the league’s twitter channel which now has over one million followers.

Recognising that fans are unable to attend games for the remaining eight rounds of fixtures, the SPL has developed its #OurLeagueIsBack campaign which allows fans to share their support online, with videos and messages then being shown across stadiums on matchdays.

Fans can share their messages of support easily by following social media accounts on Twitter (@SPL), Instagram (SaudiProLeague), Facebook (@SaudiProLeague.SPL) and by using the hashtag #OurLeagueIsBack.

Chris Woakes leads England to stunning win over Pakistan in first Test

Updated 18 min 28 sec ago

Chris Woakes leads England to stunning win over Pakistan in first Test

  • England were struggling in pursuit of a victory target of 277 after collapsing to 117-5
  • Victory meant England had won an opening Test for the first time in six series

MANCHESTER: Chris Woakes hit an unbeaten 84 as England came from behind to beat Pakistan by three wickets in the first Test at Old Trafford on Saturday.
England were struggling in pursuit of a victory target of 277 after collapsing to 117-5 on the fourth day.
But man-of-the-match Woakes, who had helped drag England back into this contest with 2-11 in just five overs late Friday, and fellow World Cup winner Jos Buttler turned the tide with a stand of 139.
“It was a brilliant chase,” said England captain Joe Root at the presentation ceremony.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the lads.
“That partnership with Woakesy and Jos was magnificent.
“One thing you can never doubt in our dressing room is the character. I am really proud and pleased that has shone through today.”
Nevertheless, with just 21 more runs needed, Buttler was lbw for 75 after trying to reverse-sweep leg-spinner Yasir Shah.
By the time Pakistan left-arm fast bowler Shaheen Afridi took the new ball, England needed just 13 more runs to win at a sun-drenched Old Trafford.
But there was still time for England to lose their seventh wicket when, with four more needed, Stuart Broad was plumb lbw on the sweep to Yasir.
Woakes, however, finished the match with an edged boundary off Afridi as England went 1-0 up in a three-match campaign.
Victory meant England had won an opening Test for the first time in six series.
Defeat was tough on Yasir, who took eight wickets in the match.
Wicketkeeper Buttler had a poor game in the field, twice missing Shan Masood on 45 during the Pakistan opener’s 156 that was instrumental in leaving England with a first-innings deficit of over a hundred runs.
“If I take those chances, we’re not chasing 270-odd,” Buttler told BBC Radio’s Test Match Special.
“I know it’s not good enough as an international wicketkeeper...If I am going to continue to be a wicketkeeper in this team, I’m going to have to be better,” he admitted.
But Buttler, who led England to a stunning one-wicket win over Australia with an unbeaten century in a one-day international on this ground two years ago, put the pressure back on Pakistan with the bat.
Buttler, whose father was admitted to hospital Friday but has since been released, told Sky Sports: “We (England) turned up today still with a lot of belief.”
Pakistan captain Azhar Ali praised Buttler and Woakes by saying: “They changed the momentum of the game and unfortunately we couldn’t reply to whatever they threw at us.”
Buttler’s fifty came off just 55 balls, with seven fours, with Woakes no slouch in a 59-ball fifty he completed by cover-driving Naseem Shah for the eighth boundary of his innings.
It was Woakes’s highest Test score since his hundred against India two years ago.
Although Woakes is known to be vulnerable to the short ball, Pakistan did not pitch short to the all-rounder until he was well set.
Only twice has a team chased more than 200 to win in the fourth innings of a Test at Old Trafford, with England making 294-4 against New Zealand in 2008 and 231-3 against the West Indies in 2004.
Earlier, England lost four wickets for 31 runs in slipping to 117-5, with Root and Ben Stokes both falling in the collapse.
Root made 42 before he nicked Naseem to Babar Azam in the slips.
Stokes had guided England to an astounding one-wicket win over Australia from a seemingly hopeless position with a brilliant century in the third Ashes Test last year.
But there was no repeat of his Headingley heroics on Saturday when he fell for just nine, with wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan holding an excellent catch after Stokes got a thin glove to a Yasir googly that bounced.
Pakistan resumed on 137-8, a lead of 244.
Yasir struck a quickfire 33, with Pakistan adding 32 in 16 balls Saturday before they were dismissed for 169 in their second innings.
England will now try to complete their first series win over Pakistan in 10 years with victory in the second Test at Southampton starting on Thursday.