5 things we learned from the Saudi Arabian clubs’ mixed fortunes in matchday 4 of AFC Champions League

5 things we learned from the Saudi Arabian clubs’ mixed fortunes in matchday 4 of AFC Champions League
Al-Hilal had the biggest of slip-ups in a shock 4-1 defeat at the hands of Istiklol of Tajikistan. (AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2021

5 things we learned from the Saudi Arabian clubs’ mixed fortunes in matchday 4 of AFC Champions League

5 things we learned from the Saudi Arabian clubs’ mixed fortunes in matchday 4 of AFC Champions League
  • Latest round of games saw wins for Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli, while Al-Hilal suffered a stunning 4-1 loss to Istiklol

LONDON: Four games down and two to go in the group stage of the AFC Champions League.

This is a time when those performing well can think about clinching their spots in the knockout stages while others know that time is running out and there can be no more slip-ups.

Al-Hilal had the biggest of slip-ups in a shock 4-1 defeat at the hands of Istiklol of Tajikistan on Saturday and the two teams are now level on seven points in Group A.

Al-Nassr are looking very good indeed following a 2-0 win over Foolad of Iran and stay top of Group D with eight points from four games, one ahead of Al-Sadd of Qatar  while, in Group C, Al-Ahli completed back-to-back wins over Iraq’s Al-Shorta to stay very much in the hunt with seven points.

1. Al-Hilal paid the price for underestimating Istiklol

All expected a victory for Al-Hilal just three days after defeating Istiklol 3-1, after all, here were the three-time Asian champions against a team playing only their fourth game in the tournament.

Hilal started well and took the lead, but were stunned by four goals in 15 minutes to which they simply had no answer.

Coach Rogerio Micale changed things a little from the previous game but it didn’t work and the Brazilian will have to achieve the twin task of getting his players to put the game behind them and treating it as one of those things, while remembering the lesson that every game in Asia is a tough one. 

Now finishing first in the group is out of Al-Hilal’s hands and if they don’t progress Micale’s job, as he acknowledged after the game, will be in jeopardy. He, nor Al-Hilal can afford another result like this.

2. Abdullah ensures Jones is not missed in Al-Nassr’s goal

Al-Nassr’s Brad Jones has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the Saudi Arabian league in recent years but the former Liverpool and Feyenoord shot-stopper had been ruled out of the double-header against Foolad after testing positive for coronavirus.

Three days earlier, stand-in goalie Waleed Abdullah had been at fault for Foolad’s goal in the 1-1 draw, but in the return match against the Iranians, he was inspired.

Abdullah made a number of saves to ensure that Al-Nassr kept a clean sheet and provided the platform for a vital win.

He was so good that, despite a delicious goal from Abderrazak Hamdallah, he was named MVP.

Jones will not appear for either of the next two games and this is a real chance for Abdullah to show the new coach what he can do.

3. Al-Ahli emerging from the gloom

After such dreadful form in the league and a 5-2 loss in the opening game against Esteghlal, Al-Ahli have come back well and with seven points from four games are now just one point off the top of Group C.

Under new coach Laurentiu Regehcampf, the Jeddah club have shown more energy, confidence and desire on the pitch and it is amazing what a new coach and a couple of wins can do. 

With Omar Al-Somah scoring his fourth of the competition and the team looking a little more solid at the back, there is no reason why this form can’t continue, but the real tests are coming in the next few days.

4. With Hamdallah back, Al-Nassr can go all the way

There are signs that the striker who scored 29 goals in the league last season and also finished as top scorer in the AFC Champions League is back to his best.

This season has been stop and start for the Moroccan with injuries not helping and there was also some criticism of his attitude which was repeated earlier in the group stage after a petulant his reaction to being substituted. 

There were signs that the sharpness was returning and that was confirmed with a glorious goal against Foolad that sealed a vital three points after he set up the opener for Abdulfattah Asiri.

With six minutes remaining, he collected the ball inside the area, beat two defenders and then chipped the goalkeeper in a fashion that can only be described as delightful.

If Hamdallah does return to 2020 form then Al-Nassr, who reached the last four last time around, can go all the way.

5. The next games are crucial

While the 2021 AFC Champions League group stage has expanded to 40 teams, from 32, the size of the knockout stage remains at 16.

This means that, unlike in previous years when the top two progress, only the group winners are certain to go to the second round along with, in the western zone, three of the five best performing runners-up.

This also means that even if the top spot has gone, it is necessary to try and finish second and win as many points as possible. There can be no let-up. 

Al-Nassr will virtually secure second if they defeat Al-Wehdat in the next game.

Al-Hilal still have work to do and while winning both of their games won’t guarantee top spot, it will be enough to go through.

Al-Ahli need to get something against Esteghlal, the team they lost 5-2 to in the opening game, to stay in the hunt.


Jordan’s Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa confirms semifinal place, and Olympic medal, in Tokyo 2020 Karate competition

Jordan’s Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa confirms semifinal place, and Olympic medal, in Tokyo 2020 Karate competition
Updated 05 August 2021

Jordan’s Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa confirms semifinal place, and Olympic medal, in Tokyo 2020 Karate competition

Jordan’s Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa confirms semifinal place, and Olympic medal, in Tokyo 2020 Karate competition
  • The 25-year-old will face Eray Samdan of Turkey on Thursday afternoon knowing at least a bronze medal is now guaranteed

A four-match winning streak has seen Abdel Rahman Al-Masatfa of Jordan confirm a semifinal place, and a Tokyo 2020 Olympic medal, in the Karate Kumite -67kg competition on Thursday morning at the Nippon Budokan arena in the Japanese capital.

He will now fight Eray Samdan of Turkey in their last four match (from 3pm KSA). While the winners of the semifinals meet in the gold medal match, the losers will each receive a bronze medal.

The 25-year-old Al-Masatfa kicked of his participation in Pool B with an 8-3 win over  Kalvis Kalnins  of Latvia, and followed that up with 7-4 win over the Frenchman Steven da Costa.

After his bout against Angelo Crescenzo was cancelled due to the Italian pulling out of the competition, Al-Masatfa continued his winning run by beating Hamoon Derafshipour of the Refugee Olympic Team 3-0.

The Jordanian rounded up his Pool B matches with 4-1 win over Andres Eduardo Madera Delgado of Venezuela to secure his semi-final spot.

Meanwhile, Ali Elsawy of Egypt, fighting in the Kumite -67 Pool A, lost his opening bout 4-3 to Japan’s Naoto Sago, before losing his second match 4-1 to eventual semifinalist Samdan.

The 26-year-old Egyptian got back to winning way when he narrowly overcame Firdovsi Farzaliyev of Azerbaijan 1-0.

However, Elsawy lost his last Pool A match 3-1 to Darkhan Assadilov of Kazakhstan to exit the competition.


Disappointing morning sees three Arab wrestlers exit Tokyo 2020

Disappointing morning sees three Arab wrestlers exit Tokyo 2020
Updated 05 August 2021

Disappointing morning sees three Arab wrestlers exit Tokyo 2020

Disappointing morning sees three Arab wrestlers exit Tokyo 2020
  • Amr Reda Ramadan Hussen of Egypt reached the quarterfinal of the men’s freestyle 74kg competition before being knocked out

Thursday morning proved a hugely disappointing one for Arab wrestlers, as two Egyptian athletes and one from Algeria exited Tokyo 2020 at Makuhari Messe Hall in the Japanese capital.

Amr Reda Ramadan Hussen of Egypt started well, winning his men’s freestyle 74 kg round of 16 match 6-1 against Kamil Rybicki of Poland. Unfortunately, that would prove to be the day’s only success for the North African wrestlers.

Hussen went on to lose his quarterfinal 8-5 to Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Kaisanov to miss out on a chance of securing a shot at a medal.

Meanwhile, in the men’s freestyle 125 kg competition, Diaaeldin Kamal Gouda Abdelmottaleb of Egypt and Djahid Berrahal of Algeria were both comprehensively defeated in their round of 16 bouts.

Abdelmottaleb went down 11-0 to Geno Petriashvili of Georgia, while Berrahal lost 6-0 to Egzon Shala of Kosovo.

The results came a day after Egyptian wrestler Mohamed Ibrahim Elsayed won a bronze medal in the men’s Greco-Roman 67 kg event after beating Artrem Surkov of the Russian Olympic Committee at Makuhari Messe Hall.

Elsayed’s compatriot Mohamed Metwally had fallen just short of success, losing his own 87 kg bronze medal match 8-1 to the German Denis Kudla.


New national record not enough for Algerian to win Tokyo 2020 men’s triple jump medal

New national record not enough for Algerian to win Tokyo 2020 men’s triple jump medal
Updated 05 August 2021

New national record not enough for Algerian to win Tokyo 2020 men’s triple jump medal

New national record not enough for Algerian to win Tokyo 2020 men’s triple jump medal
  • Yasser Mohamed Triki finishes fifth with a jump of 17.43, just 4 cm behind the bronze medal winner

A supreme effort by Algerian Yasser Mohamed Triki saw him fall 4cm outside the medal places in the men’s triple jump competition at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Thursday morning.

A jump of 17.43m — a new Algerian record — saw him finish fifth, behind new champion Pedro Pichardo of Portugal (17.98), silver medalist Yaming Zhu of China (17.57), bronze medal winner Hugues Fabrice Zango of Burkina Faso (17.47), and the American Will Claye, who finished in fourth just 1cm ahead of Triki.

The 24-year-old Triki had finished third with a jump of 17.05 in the qualifying round on Tuesday to book his place in this morning’s final.

His career-best performances came at the 2019 African Games in Rabat, where he won gold in the long jump and silver in the triple jump.


Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani
Updated 04 August 2021

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

DUBAI: Two female judokas, one mat, one Olympic contest. That the two athletes competing, Tahani Al-Qahtani and Raz Hershko, happened to be from Saudi Arabia and Israel, made the recent first round of the women’s judo 78-kilogram-class meeting at Tokyo 2020 more than just an ordinary bout.

The two countries have no formal relations and no history of sporting competition to speak of. Furthermore, regional politics and boycotts movements have made it a norm that Arab athletes refuse to take part in any match opposite an Israeli counterpart in fear that this might be interpreted as a form of recognition.

This is why, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, Israeli judoka Hershko had made it a point to praise the bravery of Al-Qahtani. Not only did the Saudi judoka defy popular calls by hatemongers to boycott the match, but she participated knowing very well that Hershko has far more international experience and was clearly the likely winner.

The 23-year-old Israeli said: “I think it is amazing that we both put politics aside to do something we love. I was super excited that anything can happen at the Olympics.

“I knew it was rare for an (Arab) to accept to fight like this, but I was so excited when she accepted. Both of us put politics to the side and did what we loved together in the match.”

Algerian Fethi Nourine and Sudan’s Mohammed Abdalrasool had withdrawn from the judo men’s plus-73-kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete. But Al-Qahtani chose to compete against Hershko, a decision that drew praise from Japanese media and prompted a wave of support from high-profile figures and sports fans in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qahtani was the last of the Kingdom’s 33 athletes to confirm her place at Tokyo 2020, her wild card selection making her only the second female judoka from the country to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Games. The two women had walked out side-by-side onto the mat ahead of what turned out to be a tough match for the inexperienced 22-year-old Saudi. As the fight progressed, Hershko racked up the points, eventually beating Al-Qahtani 11-0.

“It was a tough fight in the beginning. She (Al-Qahtani) was brave to take on the fight despite pressure from hatemongers about her decision to fight me,” Hershko added. The victor pointed out that she and Al-Qahtani were simply human beings, females from different countries, playing in a match. “I don’t think it was different from fighting someone from the US or South Africa. It was great that Al-Qahtani bravely accepted and let politics stay out of the picture.”

After Al-Qahtani’s loss, some questioned whether the pressure of the situation had affected her performance.

While Al-Qahtani was not available for comment, Hershko noted the importance of the match and how sport could be a uniting force at a time when politics in the Middle East continued to be a hot topic, even after several countries had normalized relations with Israel.

“Politics has nothing to do with it, it was a good match,” said Hershko.

In a statement after the bout, the International Judo Federation said: “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Al-Qahtani’s courageous performance on and off the judo mat demonstrated a notable shift in Saudi Arabia, and an openness to rise above current geopolitics in the realm of sports and culture, both avenues that could bring people from opposing nations together.

On whether she would accept an invitation to compete in Saudi Arabia, Hershko said: “Of course, why not?”


Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
Updated 04 August 2021

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
  • Duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan are now on a five-match winning streak ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Russian Olympic Committee team

TOKYO: Qatar has reached the Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball men’s semifinal after beating Italy in straight sets at Shiokaze Park on Wednesday evening.
The Qatari duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan put on an impressive display to defeat the Italian team of Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo 2-0 (21-17, 23-21) in the quarterfinal.
The Qatari athletes, both 26, will now take on Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on Thursday afternoon (from 4pm KSA).
On Sunday, Younousse and Tijan defeated the US 2-1 (14-21, 21-19,15-11) in the round of 16 to reach today’s last-eight match.
Qatar’s beach volleyball team is now on a five-match winning streak at Tokyo 2020.
The started their Olympic campaign on July 25 by beating Switzerland 2-1 (21-17, 21-16) in their preliminary round — Group C match.
They followed that up with two more group victories; a 2-1 win over Italy three days later, and a 2-0 against the US last Friday.