Palestine make football history with win over Kuwait

Palestine make football history with win over Kuwait
Palestine's midfielder Nazmi Albadawi (C) vies for the ball with Saudi's Mohammed Al-Breik during the World Cup 2022 Asian qualifying match between Palestine and Saudi Arabia in the town of al-Ram in the Israeli occupied West Bank on October 15, 2019. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 January 2021

Palestine make football history with win over Kuwait

Palestine make football history with win over Kuwait
  • Friendly victory puts team on road to Asian Cup, coach says

Palestine are confident of a revival in their footballing fortunes after making history by defeating Kuwait for the first time.

Sameh Maraaba headed the only goal of Monday night’s friendly at Kuwait City’s Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium with 19 minutes remaining, and despite pressure from the 1980 Asian champions, the visitors saw the game out.

This was a welcome and morale-boosting victory ahead of major 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers coming up against Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Singapore.

“It is a huge result for the confidence of the nation,” Palestine international Nazmi Albadawi told Arab News. “It shows the character of the team. We have a good side. I am 29 and one of the older ones. We are young and hungry.”

Desperate to bounce back after mixed results in qualification for the 2022 World Cup, Palestine’s road to Qatar started excellently with an impressive win over Uzbekistan.

In October 2019, the team held regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia to a 0-0 draw in front of a vocal home crowd.

“Saudi Arabia are one of the best teams in Asia and we dominated them,” Albadawi added. “We could have won and we left the field disappointed that we didn’t.”

That has not been the biggest disappointment. Despite the Saudi draw and the Uzbekistan victory, Palestine, ranked 102 in the world, were beaten by Yemen and Singapore.

“We should not have lost those games. The biggest thing for us is consistency. We play well against the big teams. We have drawn against Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China and beaten Uzbekistan, but now it is about getting results we need against teams we are supposed to beat.”

Sort out the inconsistency and the future looks better. Finishing in the top two of Group D and progressing to the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup already looks to be out of reach, but a top three spot and a place in the final
qualification stages for the 2023 Asian Cup is a realistic objective.

“That is what we are aiming for now. We play both Yemen and Singapore at home and these are games we need to win,” added the midfielder.

Player and coach are very much on the same page. Noureddine Ould Ali was without some players for the trip to Kuwait that included a training camp as well as the game, but said that he was satisfied with the performance.

“It was important to get together and play for the first time in a long time,” the Algerian coach said. “We have to try to prepare for qualification for the Asian Cup and we kept to our game plan against a good team. We kept our shape well and
managed to get the win.”

Ould Ali said that while the performance was more important than the result, to get a win at the home of a traditional Asian power was satisfying.

“We can take confidence from this win and build on it,” the 48 year-old said. “We have to take this forward to the next games and keep improving.”

It is easier said than done. Palestine face challenges that other teams do not. Local players are frequently delayed at the Israeli-controlled border checkpoints when leaving and returning to the country.

Being based in the US and playing for North Carolina, Albadawi can come and go much more easily.

“When flying in, I can go straight to Jordan and then travel in from there. There are Israeli soldiers who ask questions. It has not been too bad for me, but some of my team-mates can spend hours with the security measures, which makes it difficult. Inside the West Bank it is not too bad, but sometimes we have to go through checkpoints just to get to the stadiums.

“Leaving the country for away games, it is different. The local players leave 24 hours before us to make sure that they can get to where we are going on time. We can go straight to Jordan, but it is exhausting for them. It is so impressive how they don’t complain, it is inspiring to see them.”

The coronavirus pandemic does not make any of this easier. Palestine has been hit hard by the virus, with over 150,000 cases and almost 2,000 deaths recorded.

“Palestine is in the midst of a third wave,” said Football Palestine journalist Bassil Mikdadi. “There is big concern in Gaza because it is so densely populated. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Israel has refused to make the vaccine available for Palestinians.”

Despite all that, the local league managed to finish the season in 2020 and is well on the way this season. In Palestine at the best of times, football can seem
inconsequential, but now, more than ever, the national team can bring hope to the nation. More results like Monday’s win in Kuwait will go down very well.

Diriyah circuit on track to create history under lights

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
Updated 24 February 2021

Diriyah circuit on track to create history under lights

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
  • E-Prix double-header launches 2020-21 Formula E season on Feb. 26-27

RIYADH: For a brief moment, the man who has worked tirelessly for over a year to ensure this weekend’s Diriyah E-Prix double-header goes ahead without a hitch relaxed and allowed himself a smile of satisfaction.

“We are unbelievably excited as you can imagine,” said Gerard Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority. Or Jerry to his friends.

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh, with the single-seater electric car series now given world championship status by the FIA governing body for the 2020-21 season.

He recalls an almost superhuman effort to organize the inaugural race in the 2018-19 campaign.

“We had a lot of work to do, and because of the unbelievable leadership of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and our wonderful colleagues at Formula E, we were able to pull off that race in 87 days.”

The three-day event saw post-racing concerts by the likes of Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, Black Eyed Peas, Amr Diab, OneRepublic and David Guetta. The Kingdom had seen nothing like it before.

“We had 100,000 people, the people of Diriyah loved it,” said Inzerillo. “But it was not easy, it was disruptive and we had a lot of work to get done. It was the largest international sport event that the Kingdom had seen at the time.”


An interview with DGDA CEO Jerry Inzerillo on Diriyah’s Formula E and the nighttime races in the Kingdom, which will kick off the 2021 Formula E season. More here.


Then, for the 2019-20 season opening, Diriyah became the first circuit to host a double-header of E-Prix races. On Friday, the circuit will see another first with the hosting of the first-ever night races with new sustainable LED technology.

Beyond the obvious turmoil brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, one major disruption has proved the most challenging between the last race in late 2019 and this weekend’s event.

“We had to rip up the whole track,” Inzerillo said. “We put in hundreds of millions of dollars of Diriyah infrastructure. Water, power, sewerage, all of which we had to do because of this gigantic masterplan. But we were very time-constrained because we only had one year to get everything done. Thanks to a great development team and a great operations team, and certainly all the great work done by our colleagues at Formula E, we were able to compete everything in 11 months.”

Thousands of workers at every level worked diligently to make sure the circuit was completed, and construction had to adhere to the tightest regulations.

“Maybe they were being nice to me, but most of the drivers told me that their favorite track was Diriyah,” said Inzerillo. “Where it’s sensitive with the UNESCO World Heritage site is that the track had to be configured in such a way to minimize vibration. And the Formula E did it. As a matter of fact, because of the track and the way it was designed, it allowed us to put in all-new pedestrian walkways, so after the race is over, the community has got kilometers of sidewalks and kerbs and street lights.”

For Inzerillo, this is vital for the moment the Formula E extravaganza wraps up for another year. Maintaining Diriyah is a 365-day-a-year job for him.

“Now you see people jogging, on bicycles, families with baby carriages, 22,000 new trees,” he said. “It’s not just been exciting to have this beautiful backdrop to the UNESCO World Heritage site in camera view, but we also serve the community, and we’ve served his Royal Highness’ vision of doing things in an environmentally sustainable technologies and plantings. So it’s a win, win, win.”

Every aspect of the Diriyah circuit construction had to satisfy Formula E and Saudi Vision 2030 sustainability targets.

“We have no choice,” Inzerillo said, smiling. “The crown prince is extremely strict on the issues of environmental protection, sustainability, new technologies and quality of life. And his commitment and strictness is the same in the preservation of the birthplace of the Kingdom as it is in the Red Sea with all of the projects that are going on there, as it is with the futuristic city of NEOM. Some people can say, NEOM is going to be the city of the future, but the crown prince applies the same vision and the same commitment to a city that is 400 years old.”

Samer Issa-El-Khoury, managing partner at CBX, the promoter of the Diriyah E-Prix, said that it is no coincidence that Formula E ended up at Diriyah, as the Kingdom’s leaders wanted to combine the future of electric cars with the history of the site.

“When we started in 2018, we had extensive meetings with all the stakeholders related to this project — from the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, the FIA and UNESCO,” he said.

Under discussion were Diriyah’s UNESCO heritage status, the FIA regulations that protect drivers, time constraints and broadcasting images of Diriyah in the most spectacular way possible.


With the Diriyah E-Prix only days away, Stoffel Vandoorne of Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team is hoping to start the 2020-21 Formula E season just as he ended the last; by winning. More here.


Issa-El-Khoury, who played a major part in designing the Diriyah circuit, said that great steps were taken to ensure the lighting lux level would be consistent across the whole track, both for the safety of drivers and to meet broadcasting needs.

Meanwhile, the drivers, many of whom count the Canadian engineer of Lebanese origin as a friend, are itching to hit the track under the lights.

“The drivers were super-excited,” he said. “They’ve tried this track during the day and they are very excited to try it out at night. Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E team) yesterday posted on Instagram that Diriyah is one of his favorite tracks because of the setting, because of the challenges of the track, because it goes downhill and then it goes back uphill on a straight line. It will be a first for all drivers to drive on street circuit, at night, with LED lights.”

LED consumes 50 percent less energy than metal-halide lighting, and Issa-El-Khoury believes those little steps in conserving energy will lead to bigger ones down the line — and not just in Saudi Arabia.

“You might say that you’re lighting the track and still using energy, but today R&D and Formula E aspire to make changes one race at a time, one city at a time and to start introducing change to those cities,” he said. “They’ll move from the track to people’s homes.”

With the track all set for the action, you would not blame either man taking a night or two off to enjoy the action, though chances are they will be as consumed by their respective concerns as ever.

“The track is beautiful and it complements the UNESCO site,” Inzerillo said. “And, most important, my community, the people and neighbors who live in Diriyah, they see the race as a very positive thing because it delivers a lot of economic benefits. Every time the race has happened, their neighborhood and their quality of life has improved.”

This year there might not be any spectators in the stands, or post-race concerts, but the noise, and certainly the bright lights, will be there for all in Diriyah to see.

For Issa-El-Khoury, the track and nighttime conditions are a “winning combination” that will bring out the best in the drivers on Friday and Saturday.

“All the cars are almost the same,” he said. “Heroes will be made in Diriyah.”

India renames world’s largest cricket stadium after PM Modi

India renames world’s largest cricket stadium after PM Modi
Updated 24 February 2021

India renames world’s largest cricket stadium after PM Modi

India renames world’s largest cricket stadium after PM Modi
  • Modi has also been accused of centralising power in the world’s biggest democracy
  • “The people of Gujarat will not bear this insult to Sardar Patel,” said Hardik Patel, president of the opposition Congress party in the state

AHMEDABAD: India renamed the world’s largest cricket stadium after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, a move that drew immediate praise and criticism.
The name change to the Narendra Modi Stadium was unveiled at the 132,000-seat venue formerly known as Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, where India are playing England in the third match of a four-game test series.
A gifted orator and consummate populist, Modi is by far the most popular and recognizable politician in India, and won a second term in power with an increased majority for the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019.
But Modi has also been accused of centralising power in the world’s biggest democracy.
“World’s largest stadium dedicated to the world’s largest personality!,” Priti Gandhi, a BJP spokeswoman, said in a tweet.
Others said the decision reflected a cult of personality surrounding Modi.
“The people of Gujarat will not bear this insult to Sardar Patel,” said Hardik Patel, president of the opposition Congress party in the state.
Patel was India’s first interior minister, long revered for his tough approach on national issues. Authorities have named the larger complex surrounding the stadium after him.
Dedicating sports stadiums to former prime ministers is common in India, but renaming such a high-profile venue for a sitting leader is rare.
Many of India’s public institutions and projects have been named after members of the Congress’ Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that governed India for decades and which Modi’s party long criticized as the dominance of one family.
“Both the BJP and Congress are busy perpetuating political branding,” Sanjay Jha, a former Congress official and political commentator, said.
Archit Khare, a 29-year-old student at the game, said: “I don’t know why it has been changed. Sardar Patel is more iconic. Sardar Patel was the iron man of India, it should have remained.”

Diriyah E-Prix the latest of Saudi Arabia’s motorsport sensations in 2021

Diriyah E-Prix the latest of Saudi Arabia’s motorsport sensations in 2021
Updated 24 February 2021

Diriyah E-Prix the latest of Saudi Arabia’s motorsport sensations in 2021

Diriyah E-Prix the latest of Saudi Arabia’s motorsport sensations in 2021
  • The night-time action on February 26-27 follows hot on the heels of the Dakar Rally, with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix bringing Formula One to the Kingdom for the first time in December
  • Photographer Éric Vargiolu: This is the best place I’ve seen since the first Dakar. All these different places, incredible. Tomorrow, could be even more beautiful, but maybe that’s impossible

RIYADH: The launch of the 2020-21 Formula E season with the Diriyah E-Prix double this weekend is the second of three spectacular motorsport events in Saudi Arabia this year.

The night-time action on February 26-27 follows hot on the heels of the Dakar Rally in January, with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix bringing Formula One to the Kingdom for the first time in December, establishing the country as a major racing hub in the Middle East.

Already, the setting of these events has left a mark on those who experienced them.

“This is the best place I’ve ever seen since the first Dakar. All these mixed, different places, incredible. Tomorrow, I think, could be even more beautiful, but maybe that’s impossible.”

Those were the words of French photographer Éric Vargiolu as he breathed in the vast expanse of desert the pilots would be venturing across midway through the opening week of the first Dakar rally in Saudi Arabia in January last year.

Dakar 2020 was the rally’s debut on Middle Eastern soil, and broke new ground for both its organizers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and motorsports in Saudi Arabia.

A year on, the Kingdom is gearing up to host the new ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season this weekend – Riyadh’s third hosting of the event.

Organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) in line with the ambitions of Vision 2030, the three events have made it to the Kingdom thanks to an almost universal passion for motorsports across Saudi Arabia, said SAMF chairman Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal.

“Saudis love racing, and as a nation Saudi Arabia has a very proud motorsports and racing heritage, from the desert rallies we’ve been famed for worldwide to our own drivers competing at the very top level,” Prince Khalid said. “It’s a passion for millions of Saudis, and the world respects that.”

“That has proven key to our ability to attract these global mega-events to Saudi — and for extended periods, too,” he added. “This is the third race in a 10-year agreement with Formula E. We also have 10 years of Dakar Saudi and now of Formula One, too, because international governing bodies buy into the love our people have for elite level racing, among many other sports.”

Prince Khalid highlighted that the weekend’s night races here on the streets of Diriyah are part of the country’s desire to continue innovating, always taking a fresh approach to such events.

“The ride is already well underway but if you haven’t already, then strap yourselves in, as the next 10 years and beyond promise to be the best that Saudi Arabian motorsports have ever seen.”

The Kingdom has a long and proud history of home-grown motorsport events, with the Saudi Desert Rally Championship growing year upon year, as well as a host of Baja rallies taking place annually.

However, the arrival of Formula E, Dakar Saudi and the Saudi Grand Prix have elevated Saudi Arabia’s status to the top-table of global motorsports.

And there is more to come in the Kingdom.

Extreme E – the new FIA-sanctioned international off-road racing series using electric SUVs – launches its maiden season with its first ever race in AlUla in April, where drivers will navigate their way through Saudi Arabia’s breathtaking landscapes, bringing a fourth world-class event to the Kingdom’s packed 2021 motorsport calendar.

Meanwhile, Saudi investment in motorsport continues with the development of the Kingdom’s dedicated Formula 1 track as part of the $8 billion Qiddiya project – a move that would take the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from the streets of Jeddah to the outskirts of Riyadh in years to come.

Al-Shabab go five points clear in pivotal week for SPL

Al-Shabab go five points clear in pivotal week for SPL
Updated 24 February 2021

Al-Shabab go five points clear in pivotal week for SPL

Al-Shabab go five points clear in pivotal week for SPL
  • Al-Nassr claim Riyadh derby to leave defending champions Al-Hilal struggling in title race

It has not been the best of seasons for Al-Nassr and big-money signing Pity Martinez but they, and their fans, will never forget Tuesday evening when they threw a mighty spanner in the title dreams of rivals Al-Hilal in the Riyadh derby.

The real beneficiaries of the result are Al-Shabab, who are now five points clear of the losers at the top of the Saudi Pro League table with two thirds of the season gone. With 10 games remaining, there is still a long way to go but Al-Hilal can’t afford many more missteps.

Defending champions Al-Hilal started the weekend hoping to go top of the table but Martinez’s smart finish midway through the first half, after a lovely floated assist from Brazilian midfielder Petros, put paid to their ambitions. With leaders Al-Shabab recording a 3-0 win over third-placed Al-Ahli 24 hours earlier, things are looking good for the leaders.

It is the mark of champions that when they have a setback, they pick themselves up and start again. That is what Al-Hilal have shown in the past and what Al-Shabab did this week. After an impressive run of six wins and one draw from the previous seven matches, the leaders crashed to a shock 2-1 loss at home to Al-Fateh last Wednesday.

That defeat was especially surprising given the fact that Al-Shabab opened the scoring but still lost, with the decisive goal coming three minutes into stoppage time. Mitchell te Vrede’s last-gasp winner could, some feared, spark a slump. How would the team and Carlos Inarejos, an inexperienced 36-year-old coach in charge for not much more than a month, manage with a top of the table clash with Al-Ahli looming just a few days later?

The answer was emphatic. Monday saw a controlled and efficient performance from the leaders. While under pressure at times, they took an early lead through Ahmed Sharahili and looked fairly comfortable for the rest of the game, probing for opportunities to secure the three points. Sure enough, they came in the second half.

“We have players who are always ready to step up, whether they are starting the game or coming off the bench,” said Inarejos. “I made changes late in the game because I knew that my team would improve in the second half.”

The Spanish coach was delighted with the way his team bounced back. “We controlled the course of the match despite the pressure from Al-Ahli. The first goal gave us a little bit of a cushion and that was the key to winning.”

Al-Ahli’s star striker Omar Al-Somah was not happy with the performance of his team and in a post-match interview the Syrian admitted that the loss meant that the Jeddah club now had to focus on the AFC Champions League. Those sentiments are a little pessimistic with the team standing in third place, just six points behind Al-Shabab, but he was impressed with the victors. “Al-Shabab are playing good football and they deserved to win. They are a good team.”

The situation is looking encouraging for the leaders. On Sunday, Al-Shabab travel to Damac and will be confident of taking all three points from the team sitting next to bottom. Then come three clashes against top-half opposition, starting with Al-Qadisiya.

Perhaps the big test is next month’s trip to face Al-Ittihad. When the two teams last met in the semi-final of the Arab Club Championship in January, Al-Ittihad triumphed and cost Pedro Caixinho his job as Al-Shabab head coach, bringing Inarejos into the fray.

While Al-Shabab, champions in 2012, have moved up a gear under their new boss, the same can’t yet be said of Al-Hilal. The defending champions parted company with Razvan Lucescu — who also delivered the 2019 AFC Champions League — last week and replaced the Romanian with Brazilian Rogerio Micale. His first game was a 3-1 win over Al-Ettifaq but Al-Hilal’s legion of fans hate nothing more than losing to Al-Nassr and the South American was criticized for his substitutions that left his forwards without the necessary service to get the team back into the game.

“We made small mistakes and that cost us a goal,” said Al-Hilal defender Ali Al-Bulayhi. “We tried to change things in the second half but were not able to take our opportunities. We have to put this behind us and think about what comes next and the chance to make up for what happened tonight.”

The best chance may be on April 17 when Al-Hilal meet Al-Shabab. If the former are still in touching distance it will be a titanic tussle.

For Al-Shabab, the challenge now is staying focused amid rising expectations. “We are taking each game as it comes,” said Inarejos. “That is all we can do.”

Sharahili agrees. “It was important to bounce back and erase that negative feeling from last week’s defeat,” the goalscorer said. “But we have to keep working, winning and trying to expand our lead. This league is difficult and nothing has been decided yet.”

Recon pays as Pogacar takes UAE Tour climb to extend overall lead

Recon pays as Pogacar takes UAE Tour climb to extend overall lead
Updated 24 February 2021

Recon pays as Pogacar takes UAE Tour climb to extend overall lead

Recon pays as Pogacar takes UAE Tour climb to extend overall lead
  • The Tour de France champion had already started the day in the leader’s red jersey

Jabel Hafeet, UAE: UAE Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar said his plans had gone perfectly after he took a major step toward victory in his team’s home cycling Tour, winning the first climbing stage on Tuesday to strengthen his hold on the overall lead.

The Tour de France champion had already started the day in the leader’s red jersey and finished it by beating last year’s UAE Tour winner Adam Yates, who Pogacar forced into doing most of the grunt work in the finale.

“I made my move early because the final two corners makes it tough for a guy behind to overtake,” said Pogacar, who climbed this section in training repeatedly in intense preparation for the Tour.

“I knew exactly what I needed to do to win this sprint,” Pogacar admitted when asked about his preparations for the race.

Yates, the Ineos team leader this week, now sits second, 43sec behind with one more climb stage to overhaul the on form Slovenian.

“The UAE Tour is not won overall yet. A lot can happen in the last four stages,” Pogacar said on the winning line.

“We wanted a win and we got one. It was a really tough day and kind of stressful,” he said mentioning the crosswind that caused breaks in the main group on the flat exposed sections of the ride.

“It was super hard but I’m super happy to win,” said the 22-year-old who had his image emblazoned on the tallest building in the world the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai after his win in September on the 2020 Tour de France.

But Yates truly took the battle to Pogacar with a series of blistering accelerations on the way up the 10km 5.4 percent gradient Jebel Hafeet summit finish climb.

Only Pogacar managed to follow Yates as the other contenders, chiefly the brilliant Portuguese rookie Joao Almeida dropped away with Yates’ relentless attacking.

“I wanted to make time on the others, and Adam certainly did,” said Pogacar.

But under immense pressure to win this Tour Pogacar refused Yates’ pleas to launch a joint bid to distance the others.

Instead, from a position of strength he sat on Yates’ wheel and then skipped away from him over the final 400m.

The Briton however almost overhauled him on the line and the pair finished on the same time of 3hrs 58min 35sec.

Almeida and the chasing group crossed the line 48 seconds off the pace, leaving the Quick-Step man in third overall at 1min 03sec.

There are four more stages to race with three potential sprint finishes and Thursday’s toughest stage featuring a summit finish at the 21km long Jebel Jais climb likely to be decisive.