Saudi female footballers excited about the upcoming league

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Hala Mansouri says she has been playing football since childhood. (Supplied)
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Hala Mansouri says she has been playing football since childhood. (Supplied)
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Hala Mansouri
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Hala Mansouri
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Amal Gimie
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Updated 13 October 2020

Saudi female footballers excited about the upcoming league

  • Players of other nationalities may not be participating but that has not dampened their enthusiasm

JEDDAH: As women across the Kingdom pursue their athletic dreams, including football, the No.1 sport in the country, anticipation for the Saudi Women’s Football League (WFL) is building.

The Saudi Sports Federation first announced the launch of the WFL in February, but it was postponed with the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The wait has been long, but Saudi footballers have been training throughout the lockdown period.
Coach Bireen Sadagah told Arab News: “Jeddah Eagles (one of teams selected to play in the WFL) have been practicing very hard in preparation for the league on and off the field, in terms of enhancing our fitness and strengthening our football mentally.”
She added: “The lockdown did not stop us from wanting to improve ourselves. We continued training in our homes as best as we could with the space and equipment available. Workouts and football drills were sent to us. Then as soon as it was acceptable, regular training was resumed three times a week, as well as individual work for recovery and strengthening.”
Hala Mansouri, a 22-year-old Saudi senior advertising student, has been playing football since she was 6, while living in West Virginia in the US, where she joined the World Alliance of the YMCA and fell in love with the game.
Returning to the Kingdom years later, she played on and off but always knew she had a knack for it, and joined Jeddah Eagles as a goalkeeper as soon as the lockdown was lifted.
“I used to play soccer and basketball when I was living in the US, depending on the season, but I just loved playing soccer more when I moved back to Jeddah,” she told Arab News.
Explaining what makes being a goalkeeper different, she said it was not as hard as playing other positions, but the difference was that goalkeepers see the whole field, must keep a close eye on the ball, and concentrate while keeping their cool.

“We can speak to our teammates so they can know where to go but the difference is we have different training; they run more than us goalies. I use my whole body to block a ball and strikers are more terrified if they missed or not. As a goalie, my only worry is if the ball passed the goal line,” Mansouri added.
Although goalkeepers are sometimes the under-loved players, she said, training was still rigorous, long and essential. “Goalies are the last line of defense in football.”
The young athlete said that football provided her with a liberating feeling away from everyday distractions. “While in a game, I don’t think of anything; everything is muted and it’s just a break for a while. It’s the best feeling.
“I’m honestly very proud that women found a lot of support in pursuing their dreams in sports and our families can be proud of us for doing so,” she said. “It’s a good feeling, even though we’re a bit later than other countries, but at least we got to where we are now for women and I couldn’t be more proud.”
So far, only Saudi citizens will be allowed to play, but that has not dampened enthusiasm from other female footballers in the Kingdom.
Yemeni-Saudi 24-year-old marketer, Shahad Saif, who plays for Jeddah’s Miraas FC as left-back, said she had played the game with her family in Jeddah since she was 10.
“I have been playing football since I was a kid with my family and brothers. I didn’t get the opportunity to play with an all-women’s group. So when I grew up, I used to rent a field and play football with random girls who love the sport and play without coaches and no specific requirements to play or prepare anything,” she told Arab News.
Football has always been an important part of her life, and it influenced all her habits and decisions. “Finding a community for this was very important, the only thing we could do back then was go to the gym.”

Shahad Said plays for Jeddah’s Miraas FC. (Supplied)

Miraas was established in Jeddah a year ago, and the left-back was one of the founders. “We provided everything that’s needed for girls to play soccer.”
Sharing the same sentiment, Amal Gimie, 26, an Eritrean midfielder for Jeddah’s Kings United, has been playing soccer since she was eight years old. Although she will not be participating either, that will not stop her from pursuing her passion and bettering her skills.
“There was a match every weekend, the boys made us play as goalkeepers in the beginning, and in 2002, when I first saw the Women’s World Cup, it sparked my passion to learn more about this sport,” Gimie, who is also a management information systems graduate, told Arab News. She joined her first female football team “Challenge” in Riyadh in 2014.
“It was the first time I joined something organized. I was happy to be playing but at the same time, I felt like it was an unreachable goal (to become a professional athlete or join an official league) I felt like I was growing older without achieving anything,” she added.
The midfielder said the rules of football have influenced her character.
 “I’m someone who needs passion to live. I can’t live without having a goal. Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a soccer player,” she said. “There has always been a drive to pursue and achieve something. Soccer has changed my personality in determination, and to learn and this was a dream that I wasn’t sure it would ever come true but I had the determination to continue. And socially, I learned a lot about teamwork and how to maintain relationships with people.” Kings United coach Elham Al-Amri told Arab News that women, both athletes and coaches and anyone interested in the game, had finally been given the opportunity to show their love for the game.
“What’s even more exciting is the participation of Kings United players to represent the Saudi League,” she said. “We at Kings United offered our players the right set of techniques and teachings to increase their chances of participating in the league.”

Al-Hilal beat Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr to clinch King’s Cup and unique treble

Updated 18 min 28 sec ago

Al-Hilal beat Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr to clinch King’s Cup and unique treble

  • Răzvan Lucescu’s team are now in possession of AFC Champions League, Saudi Professional League and the King’s Cup

DUBAI: Al-Hilal added the 2019-20 King’s Cup to their growing list of trophies after overcoming Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr 2-1 in the delayed final at King Fahd International Stadium in the Saudi capital on Saturday. 

The triumph was Al-Hilal’s ninth in the competition and means that the club is now in possession of the AFC Champions League, Saudi Professional League and the King’s Cup. 

Due to the disruptions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, last season’s final had been held over from May, and the rescheduled match happened to fall only a week after Al-Hilal had beaten the same opposition 2-0 in their 2020-21 SPL clash at King Saud University Stadium.

Al-Nassr looked to be clearly fired up from the first whistle, no doubt in an attempt to banish the dismal form that has seen them suffer their worst ever start to a Saudi Professional League campaign.

Sultan Al-Ghanam, one of their standout players in the 2-0 loss last week was booked after only three minutes, which would have consequences for him later on in the match.

But it was Răzvan Lucescu’s team who took the lead from their first real chance on 10 minutes, Sebastian Giovinco’s corner headed in by Jang Huyn-soo past Al-Nassr goalkeeper Brad Jones.

Buoyed by the early goal, Al-Hilal were briefly on the front foot and Yasser Al Shahrani could have doubled their lead five minutes later but, after a fine run down the right channel, had his shot blocked and Jones was able to collect comfortably.

At the other end Nordin Amrabat and Pity Martinez were getting some joy down the right wing but their final pass was often lacking, and Nassr danger man Abderrazak Hamdallah remained isolated for long periods.

On 29 minutes, Martinez should have squared the match after another fine run from the left flank but his close-range shot struck Habib Al-Wotayan’s near post and went out for a goal kick.

Al Nassr continued to be the better team and Amrabat’s trickery after 33 minutes drew Gustavo Cuellar into a rash challenge which earned the Colombian midfielder a yellow card. But an equalizer remained elusive and they would soon regret not taking advantage of their period of dominance.

With five minutes of the first half left, Carillo’s wonderful pass found Salem Al-Dawsari inside Al-Nassr’s penalty area but Sultan Al-Ghanam’s tackle looked to have averted the danger. However, after consulting VAR the referee awarded a penalty.

Bafetimbi Gomis sent Jones the wrong way to give Al-Hilal a comfortable 2-0 lead at half-time. 

Al-Nassr coach Rui Vitoria attempted to shake things up at the break by introducing Ali Lajami and Ayman Yahya for Al-Ghanam and Abdulmajeed Al-Sulayhem, but the substitutions did little to turn the tide after the restart.

In fact it was Al-Hilal who looked to be the more energised of the teams and 10 minutes into the second half Al-Dawsari’s brilliant run almost led to a third goal but his cross was cleared by the desperate Al-Nassr defense.

With 20 minutes left, the substitute Yahya breathed life into the final with an excellent left-footed finish to half the deficit. Mohamed Kanno immediately replaced Andrea Carillo to bolster Al-Hilal’s defence as Al-Nassr threw everything they had at their tiring opponents.

The late onslaught almost paid off, but with 13 minutes left Al-Wotayan pulled off a spectacular save from Hamdallah’s superbly-struck volley to preserve Al-Hilal’s lead.

Al-Hilal themselves could have ended the contest on 90 minutes but Al-Dawsari’s scuffed shot was saved by Jones and they had to endure six more tense minutes of stoppage time. But despite penning their opponents back, Al-Nassr couldn’t find a late equalizer. 

After receiving the trophy, Al-Hilal captain Salman Al-Faraj responded to recent concerns over the team’s performances by saying that winning three trophies in less than a year speaks for itself, and that despite inevitable drops in standards in certain matches, there was not much more players can do.

“I repeat that this is an exceptional season for Al-Hilal, we dedicate this to all our fans who we continue to miss inside the stadiums,” he said. “We promised them that we’ll win the Asian Champions League, the league and the King’s Cup. We always said the same thing among ourselves and we kept our promise. Today we were not great but in matches like this you just need to win the cup, you don’t need a performance. Al-Nassr were better in the second half, but we were better in the details, and we took advantage of that.”

He added that the coach had instructed them to stay calm and not be influenced by the recent win over their opponents.

“Al-Nassr have not had a good start to the season, and we beat them a few days ago in the league,” Al-Faraj said. “We knew they would come back strongly so we had to be the team that keeps their cool and keep control of our rhythm.”

Al-Hilal’s Italian playmaker Giovinco celebrated the win and insisted that the unconvincing performance in the final was of little consequence.

“It was a difficult game actually but in a final you don’t need to play well, you just need to win,” he said. “Especially this one, it was important because we closed a year in which we made a treble. It was difficult but at the end we deserve it.”

Meanwhile Carrillo promised the fans that there will be more to come from him and the team.

“I’m happy with the third trophy, the most important thing is that the whole group is performing very well,” said the Peruvian. “This is my third year at the club and things have gone very smoothly, the football here is of a high standard. I have a lot more to give in the future.”