INTERVIEW: Female Saudi driver feels right at home at Diriyah E-Prix

INTERVIEW: Female Saudi driver feels right at home at Diriyah E-Prix
Saudi driver Reema Al-Juffali
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Updated 21 February 2021

INTERVIEW: Female Saudi driver feels right at home at Diriyah E-Prix

INTERVIEW: Female Saudi driver feels right at home at Diriyah E-Prix
  • Formula 4 driver Al-Juffali has high aspirations as 2021 Formula E season gets underway

RIYADH: Ahead of the 2021 Diriyah E-Prix double-header on Friday, Arab News caught up with Reema Al-Juffali, one of Saudi Arabia’s rising stars in motorsports. Al-Juffali, 29, talked about Formula E, sustainability and her dream race.

Q: You made history in Diriyah by becoming the first female racer to drive competitively in the Kingdom during the Jaguar I-Pace. What did that moment mean to you?

That was a day of many firsts for me and one I will cherish for the rest of my life. It was my first time racing in an electric car and my first time racing in an international event on home soil, so it was truly a historic moment for me and my country. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to race in front of home fans and it was the highlight of my career so far. Hopefully, there will be many more opportunities like this in the future.

Q: The Diriyah Circuit has become one of the more iconic circuits in Formula E. What do you think makes it so special?

The circuit has been hailed by many drivers as a very unique and challenging track to drive. I think part of this is because we have the world’s most modern motorsport taking place on a site that honors the Kingdom’s past. It is a very special combination. Racing in the heart of Diriyah gives you a very strong feeling of connection to our Kingdom’s history. For me, having never raced on a street circuit before, I had to adjust to being closer to the walls while driving an electric car but it is something I love and will never forget.

Q: Now in its third year, we have seen Saudis become more engaged with the Diriyah E-Prix. Can you tell us about the excitement you are sensing ahead of this year’s race?

The passion for motorsport in the Kingdom runs deep. Bringing events like Formula E to Saudi is very exciting for racing fans who are not familiar with street racing. I am also very proud of the first Formula E night race to take place at the circuit on home soil, which will be an incredible moment for the country and the sport. It is fantastic to see the organizers making the most of the global spotlight that motorsport brings. It will showcase some of the beauty of our land and our capacity to put on brilliant, world-class events.

Q: Formula E stretches beyond just sports, it also aims to promote a sustainable and clean future, which is in line with the Saudi government’s initiatives. How important is it for a sport to promote the sustainability message in the Kingdom and beyond?

Our country is on a journey toward sustainability. Formula E’s message for promoting a clean future complements the aspirations of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. As a driver, I feel a responsibility to spread awareness regarding the need for a more sustainable approach to everyday life. I am honored to be a part of this journey towards a more environmentally conscious future.

Q: You are currently competing in Formula 4. What are your aspirations for the future?

One of my ultimate goals in life is to race Le Mans with some of the best drivers in the world. But more than anything I just want to excel in my field, regardless of the category or the event. I want to feel proud of my performance. The sky is the limit.


5 talking points as Saudi Arabia, UAE progress to final round of AFC qualification for 2022 World Cup

5 talking points as Saudi Arabia, UAE progress to final round of AFC qualification for 2022 World Cup
Updated 7 min 7 sec ago

5 talking points as Saudi Arabia, UAE progress to final round of AFC qualification for 2022 World Cup

5 talking points as Saudi Arabia, UAE progress to final round of AFC qualification for 2022 World Cup
  • Salman Al-Faraj timed his run perfectly after 32 minutes and finished from just inside the area — his second goal came five minutes later, a flick from close range after an incisive move
  • The late Pim Verbeek would have loved the sight of Oman in the third round of qualification, taking on the big boys in the big games

RIYADH: It did not turn out to be quite the day of high drama that fans in Asia had expected but the final matchday in the second round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup was, overall, a good one for Arab football.

In the end the big boys made it. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iraq all got through to the third stage that kicks off in September. They will be joined by Oman, Syria, and Lebanon.

To have six Arab teams in the final 12 is an improvement on five from four years ago and there were five things we learned from an interesting, rather than a dramatic, evening.

1. Al-Faraj stepped up to ensure Al-Dawsari was not missed

There were some concerns that Saudi Arabia would miss their talismanic captain Salem Al-Dawsari who was suspended for the top-of-the-group clash with Uzbekistan.

But there was no need to worry. Salman Al-Faraj donned the armband and then the soon-to-be 32-year-old rolled back the years to end the dreams of the central Asians. He timed his run perfectly after 32 minutes and finished from just inside the area. His second goal came five minutes later, a flick from close range after an incisive move and another well-timed run.

At that moment, Saudi Arabia could relax in the knowledge that they were going through to the third round of qualification.

There is work still to do — even against Uzbekistan the Green Falcons were a little sloppy — but before that, coach Herve Renard can reflect on a job well done.

2. Mabkhout grabbed headlines but Abdullah Ramadan emerged as genuine star

Bert van Marwijk should be placing a call to Al-Jazira today to thank the UAE champions for having Abdullah Ramadan and Ali Mabkhout in their team. The understanding between the 23-year-old midfielder and the 30-year-old goal machine is clear for all to see but stopping it working to beautiful effect is another question for defenders entirely.

Mabkhout was not the player on the receiving end of a perfect ball over the top that was finished to break the deadlock after 32 minutes. That was Ali Salmeen. Ramadan’s ball soon after also caused problems and led to a penalty that Mabkhout converted to take his total for the round to an impressive 11.

There are tougher tests to come but when the pressure was on, the UAE delivered, helped by their new midfield star.

3. Iraq coach Katanec needs to find a little more variety

It will not matter too much to Iraq that they only just squeezed into the final round of qualification, just being there is what matters. There should be a little concern however that when Iraq came up against one of the best teams in Asia, the Lions of Mesopotamia fell short.

Perhaps the situation did not help as Iraq knew that a draw would be enough. Manager Srecko Katanec went with a defensive formation and mindset but even after Sardar Azmoun gave Iran a first-half lead, there was not enough flexibility, urgency, or perhaps even desire to get the goal that would have given Iraq top spot and a guaranteed place in the third round.

The Slovenian coach has plenty of talent at his disposal and if he can find the best way to use it then Iraq have a chance.

4. Oman give late coach Verbeek a fitting tribute

The men from Muscat glided into the third round almost unnoticed, perhaps because their group contained World Cup hosts Qatar and so there was little of the top-two battle that could be found in other groups. Yet the Reds will be in the final 12 and it is a great tribute to the late Pim Verbeek.

The Dutchman, former head coach of South Korea and Australia, was in charge of Oman from 2016 to the 2019 Asian Cup, after which illness forced him to leave a job and country he loved, and the same cancer sadly took his life later the same year.

He would also have loved the sight of Oman in the third round of qualification and taking on the big boys in the big games.

5. Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen show serious heart

All three of these teams have had to deal with well-publicized off-the-pitch issues. Lebanon actually made it through to the final 12 though and will be saying a little thank you to Saudi Arabia for beating Uzbekistan on the final day for that.

It is amazing that the Cedars have come so far once again and no team in the next round will relish going to Beirut.

Palestine ended up finishing third in a competitive group and, again, given the trouble the team has experienced just holding training camps and gathering the squad, as well as everything else that has had to be dealt with in recent weeks and months, that is a fantastic achievement.

Yemen finishing bottom was no disgrace whatsoever given that there has been no competitive football to speak of in the country for seven years. To draw with Saudi Arabia and lose 1-0 to Uzbekistan is an achievement that matches any of the successful dozen.


Pogba removes Heineken bottle during Euros press conference

Pogba removes Heineken bottle during Euros press conference
Updated 16 June 2021

Pogba removes Heineken bottle during Euros press conference

Pogba removes Heineken bottle during Euros press conference
  • French football star, a devout Muslim, left bottles of water, Coca-Cola untouched
  • 28-year-old midfielder said his newfound faith ‘means everything’

LONDON: French footballer Paul Pogba, a devout Muslim, removed a bottle of Heineken beer placed in front of him for sponsorship reasons at a press conference for the Euros.

It comes a day after Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo made the same gesture with bottles of Coca-Cola.

Pogba hid the sponsor’s beer bottle underneath a table as he spoke to the press following his team’s 1-0 victory over Germany on Tuesday evening, in which he played a key role. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has not yet explained why he removed the bottle, but it is likely based on his religious beliefs, which forbid alcohol.

He did not remove a bottle of water and two bottles of Coca-Cola that were on the table. Heineken has yet to issue a response to Pogba’s decision.

Pogba told the Manchester Evening News that his newfound faith “means everything,” adding: “That’s what makes me thankful for everything.”

He said: “It made me change, realize things in life. I guess, maybe, it makes me more peaceful inside. 

“I was questioning myself in a lot of things, then I started doing my own research. I prayed once with my friends and I felt something different. I felt really good.”


Iran, Iraq and UAE march into final phase of World Cup qualifying

Iran, Iraq and UAE march into final phase of World Cup qualifying
Updated 15 June 2021

Iran, Iraq and UAE march into final phase of World Cup qualifying

Iran, Iraq and UAE march into final phase of World Cup qualifying
  • Iran pipped Iraq 1-0 in Bahrain to top Group C while UAE beat Vietnam 3-2
  • Syria, Japan, South Korea and Australia had already clinched their spots

DOHA: Iran and the UAE topped their respective groups on Tuesday to ease into the third phase of Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Iraq also made it through as one of the five best second-placed teams on a frantic day of action.
Iran pipped Iraq 1-0 in Bahrain to top Group C while the UAE got the better of Vietnam 3-2 in their final Group G match in Dubai.
The top team in each of the eight groups automatically progresses to the 12-team final phase of World Cup qualifying, where they will be joined by the best runners-up.
As World Cup hosts Qatar topped Group E five rather than four second-placed teams will make it through to the final round.
Syria, Japan, South Korea and Australia had already clinched their spots in the deciding round, from which four countries will make the cut for next year’s tournament.
A fifth team from Asia could also make the third phase via an intercontinental play-off.
On Tuesday, Both Iran and the UAE needed to topple the group leaders to qualify, and they did it in contrasting styles. Sardar Azmoun fired Iran ahead in the 35th minute at the Sheikh Ali bin Mohamed Al-Khalifa Stadium in Muharraq.
The Zenit Saint Petersburg striker, who has played a pivotal role for his team since the qualifiers resumed, tapped in from close range after captain Ehsan Hajjsafi made his way up on the left flank and sent in a cross.
Both teams fluffed chances later but Iran hung on to their lead to take their tally to 18 points from eight matches, while Iraq finished on 17.
Meanwhile in Dubai, Vietnam wasted their two-point advantage at the top as they were beaten by the Emiratis with Ali Salmeen and Ali Mabkhout finding the net in the first half.
Mahmoud Khamis made it 3-0 five minutes after the break, and while Vietnam pulled two late goals back through Nguyen Tien Linh and Tran Minh Vuong it wasn’t enough to keep top spot.
Earlier striker Ado Onaiwu bagged a six-minute first-half hat-trick as Japan confirmed their dominance in Group F with a crushing 5-1 win over the Kyrgyz Republic in Suita on Tuesday.
Manager Hajjime Moriyasu made five changes to the side that beat Tajikistan 4-1 a week ago and opted for Onaiwu to lead the attack in the absence of Takumi Minamino, who withdrew from the squad last week “due to club circumstances.”
Minamino, who had netted in all seven of Japan’s previous group matches, reportedly left after playing in the 1-0 friendly win against Serbia on Thursday in order to sort out a move from Liverpool to Southampton with qualification secured.
Onaiwu did not disappoint in his place, opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the 27th minute after a handball by Aizar Akmatov.
He tapped in his second four minutes later at the far post after good work down the right by Kawabe Hayao and completed his quick-fire treble in the 33rd minute with a towering header.
Takuma Asano and Sho Sasaki added two more after the break while Kyrgyz captain Mirlan Murzaev scored their consolation penalty in first-half stoppage time.
Onaiwu’s hat-trick was not the fastest hat-trick in World Cup history and was almost pedestrian compared with Egypt substitute Abdul Hamid Bassiouny’s 2001 effort.
Bassiouny took just 117 seconds to score three times after coming on in the 8-2 win against Namibia in a African qualifying match.
The dominant Samurai Blue confirmed their place at the AFC 2023 Asian Cup in China and in the final round of Qatar World Cup 2022 Qualifiers with a perfect eight wins from eight, scoring 46 goals and conceding only two.
In the other Group F match, Tajikistan beat Myanmar 4-0 in Osaka to seal second place.


Ronaldo scores 2, Portugal beats Hungary 3-0 at Euro 2020

Ronaldo scores 2, Portugal beats Hungary 3-0 at Euro 2020
Updated 15 June 2021

Ronaldo scores 2, Portugal beats Hungary 3-0 at Euro 2020

Ronaldo scores 2, Portugal beats Hungary 3-0 at Euro 2020
  • Ronaldo scored his 10th goal at the tournament from the penalty spot
  • It was Euro 2020’s first match to be played in front of a full crowd amid coronavirus pandemic

BUDAPEST: Cristiano Ronaldo set the record for most goals at the European Championship with two of them Tuesday in Portugal’s 3-0 victory over Hungary at a packed Puskas Arena.
Ronaldo scored his 10th goal at the tournament from the penalty spot in the 87th minute and then added a second in injury time. He has now scored 11 goals over five continental tournaments. He entered the match even with Michel Platini at nine goals.
Portugal defender Raphael Guerreiro scored the opening goal three minutes before Ronaldo’s first with a shot that deflected off a defender and wrong-footed goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
Ronaldo had missed an easy chance near the end of the first half when he hit a shot over the crossbar from close range.
It was the first match of the tournament to be played in front of a full crowd amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 67,215-capacity Puskas Arena went wild with celebration after 80 minutes when substitute Szabolcs Schon cut inside from the right and planted a low shot into the corner of the net. But the goal was ruled out because Schon was offside when he ran onto the pass.
Ronaldo is now only three behind former Iran striker Ali Daei’s men’s record of 109 international goals.


Denmark coach steps up UEFA criticism over game resumption

Denmark coach steps up UEFA criticism over game resumption
Updated 15 June 2021

Denmark coach steps up UEFA criticism over game resumption

Denmark coach steps up UEFA criticism over game resumption
  • Danish coach said UEFA failed to “lead with compassion” and that his players were put “in a hugely difficult situation”
  • Denmark was given the option by UEFA to either resume that evening or come back at noon on Sunday

COPENHAGEN: Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand stepped up his criticism of UEFA on Tuesday for not giving his players the option to postpone the game against Finland after Christian Eriksen’s collapse.
Hjulmand said UEFA failed to “lead with compassion” and that his players were put “in a hugely difficult situation” after the incident on Saturday at the European Championship.
The Euro 2020 game resumed following a suspension of about 90 minutes after Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator.
Denmark was given the option by UEFA to either resume that evening or come back at noon on Sunday. That has led to widespread anger in Denmark and a spat between the team and UEFA about whether the players were pressured into coming back onto the field so soon.
Hjulmand pointed out that newly created coronavirus protocols for Euro 2020 allow UEFA to postpone a game for 48 hours if a certain number of players from one team test positive or have to self isolate.
”The only real leadership would have been to put the players on a bus and send them home. And then deal with it after,” Hjulmand said. ”With corona cases it’s possible to postpone a game for 48 hours. But with cardiac arrest, apparently it’s not. And I think that’s wrong. You don’t necessarily find good leadership in the protocols. Good leadership can sometimes be to lead with compassion.”
UEFA on Monday defended its handling of the situation and has repeatedly said it wasn’t possible to postpone the game for longer because Finland is due to play its second group game on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Russia. Denmark plays Belgium in Group B in Copenhagen on Thursday.
Finland scored after the resumption and won 1-0. Had Denmark refused to play, it would have risked being handed a 3-0 forfeit loss.
“UEFA is sure it treated the matter with utmost respect for the sensitive situation and for the players,” the governing body of European soccer said. “It was decided to restart the match only after the two teams requested to finish the game on the same evening.”
However, the insistence from UEFA that it was the Denmark players who requested the resumption on Saturday has rankled both Hjulmand and his players. They insist that it would have been worse to come back Sunday after a sleepless night and that they should have been given a third option.
“It’s completely wrong to give the perception that it was we who came and said we wanted to continue playing as our first option. It was a choice between the two scenarios,” Hjulmand said. ”And then you can argue whether we were put under pressure. I felt that the players — and us close to them — were put under that pressure and were given that dilemma. It was a hugely difficult situation to be in.”
Eriksen remains in the hospital and sent his first public message via social media on Tuesday, thanking supporters from around the world for their well-wishes.
Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite said Monday that he and his teammates would have preferred a longer postponement.
”It was not our wish to play,” Braithwaite said. “But we were told we had to make a decision. ... There were many players who weren’t in a condition to play the match. We were in a completely different place.”
Hjulmand said he’s not expecting any kind of compensation from UEFA but is hoping that the governing body learns from the incident.
“Looking back, I don’t feel right that we were there (back on the field) after the incident,” Hjulmand said. “I think it showed so much strength from the guys, to be able to go out and play. That shows so much character, so much strength, and I’m very proud of that.
“Having said that, I don’t think it was the right thing to be given those two choices, play now or tomorrow at 12. … And maybe that’s a learning lesson for the future.”