Saudi Arabia to play Morocco as FIFA Arab Cup produces intriguing matchups

Saudi Arabia have been drawn with Morocco in Group C, and will also face another two of Jordan, South Sudan, Palestine or Comoros. (Twitter/@SaudiNT)
Saudi Arabia have been drawn with Morocco in Group C, and will also face another two of Jordan, South Sudan, Palestine or Comoros. (Twitter/@SaudiNT)
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Updated 28 April 2021

Saudi Arabia to play Morocco as FIFA Arab Cup produces intriguing matchups

Saudi Arabia have been drawn with Morocco in Group C, and will also face another two of Jordan, South Sudan, Palestine or Comoros. (Twitter/@SaudiNT)
  • Competition will take place in Qatar during December, will act as dress rehearsal for 2022 World Cup

RIYADH: FIFA could on Tuesday barely have asked for a better draw for the 2021 Arab Cup as it produced some mouth-watering matchups.

Tasty clashes include a renewal of one of world football’s fiercest rivalries as Egypt and Algeria cross swords for the first time in more than a decade and Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard faces his old team Morocco.

The draw took place in Qatar, which will host the 16 teams in the group stages, as well as the earlier seven qualification games, in December. The final will take place on Dec. 18 and Saudi Arabia, for one, will have to go past Morocco in Group C if they are to go all the way.

Renard’s inside knowledge of his former team will help as the 52-year-old was in charge of the Atlas Lions from 2016 to 2019, a spell that included an impressive appearance at the 2018 World Cup before he arrived in Riyadh in July 2019.

“I have good memories of the period in which I coached the Moroccan national team,” the French coach said on television following the draw.

“Playing against Morocco means a lot to me, as Morocco will remain in my heart, as I spent three years there, and it was a great time with a great team, and the Moroccan (football) federation strongly supported me, but that is in the past, and now I am the coach of Saudi Arabia.”




Saudi Minister of Sport, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and Green Falcons head coach Herve Renard were in attendance at the FIFA Arab Cup draw. (Twitter/@SaudiNT)

For Renard, there is more at stake than the Arab Cup, however. The priority is ensuring that his current team returns to Qatar in 2022 alongside 31 other nations from around the world.

“We will see whether or not we will participate with a full-strength team. If so, we will then strive to reach as far as possible in the tournament, but if we take a team that includes young players, then the goal will be to give them experience.

“I look forward to the future now, where I hope to reach World Cup 2022 with the Green Falcons,” he added.

Morocco are in the same boat in hoping to use this coming competition in order to ensure qualification for a second successive World Cup. Hussein Ammouta will be in charge of the Atlas Lions this December.

The former Wydad Casablanca boss said: “Arab football has developed a lot. So, it will be an important tournament for the national team and the league players to increase their experience. We will be one of the favorites, but it will not be easy, and the players will have to be at their best.”

Completing Group C will be either Jordan or South Sudan and one of Palestine and Comoros. The winners could meet Egypt or Algeria in the quarterfinals. Sparks fly whenever these two north African rivals meet and the clash between Egypt, the team with most African championships and the current continental champions should be one to savor. The last time the two met was back in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals when Egypt ran out 4-0 winners.

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Saudi Arabia comprehensively beat Palestine 5-0 in Riyadh last month to move into pole position in Group D of qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Check out five things we learned from the match.

Egypt legend Mohamed Aboutrika is excited about the Group D draw and hopes that it will be an opportunity to put behind previous ill-tempered matches between the two rivals.

“I’m very happy to be drawn with Algeria, it’s an opportunity to resolve problems and improve our relationship, respect, and love for one another,” the former Al-Ahly star told beIN Sports.

“I love visiting Algeria very much, people are friendly. I hope the match will be an opportunity to decrease tensions between both nations. I hope all teams will have their top players. I know how difficult it is for players abroad to participate. In Egypt, for example, (Liverpool’s) Mohamed Salah will not be present.”

Algeria will be without their star forward Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City but worrying about who will and who will not be there is for later as there is plenty of football to be played.

Hosts Qatar are in Group A along with Iraq. Bahrain and Kuwait will fight it out for one spot, and it will be an all-Asian affair if Oman eliminates Somalia in qualification. Group B will see Tunisia, the UAE, and Syria fight it out along with one of Mauritania and Yemen.

Despite all the rivalries, Egyptian legend Wael Gomaa is just looking forward to the Arab world coming together to play football.

“Arab teams from Africa can use the tournament as a welcome opportunity to test their squads for the Africa Cup of Nations set to take place in early 2022, whereas those Asian countries which end up qualifying for the World Cup can use the tournament to prepare themselves for the big stage,” he said.

“The tournament will unite fans and teams from across the Arab region, something that no other football competition has been able to do at this scale in the recent past.”


Weightlifter Diaz wins first ever Olympic gold for Philippines

Weightlifter Diaz wins first ever Olympic gold for Philippines
Updated 22 min 18 sec ago

Weightlifter Diaz wins first ever Olympic gold for Philippines

Weightlifter Diaz wins first ever Olympic gold for Philippines

TOKYO: Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history on Monday when she became the first athlete from the Philippines to win an Olympic gold medal.
The 30-year-old Rio 2016 silver medallist from the southern city of Zamboanga realized her dream in the women’s 55kg class at the Tokyo International Forum, smashing her personal best to see off world record holder Liao Qiuyun of China who had to settle for silver.
With Liao setting a target of 223kg, just four kilogrammes shy of her own world record, Diaz was faced with a final clean and jerk of 127kg to win — fully 5kg more than she had ever achieved in competition.
With a massive effort she hoisted the huge Olympic record weight and the tears of joy began to flow even before she dropped the bar to the floor after a triumphant effort.
Liao took the silver, with Kazakhstan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo the bronze 10kg adrift of the top two.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s a dream, come true,” Diaz told AFP moments after the Philippines Air Force woman shed more tears on the podium as she saluted her flag and sung the national anthem.
“I want to say to the young generation in the Philippines, ‘You can have this dream of gold too’.
“This is how I started and finally I was able to do it.”
Diaz was already assured a place in her country’s sporting folklore, alongside the likes of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, as the only woman from the sprawling archipelago ever to win an Olympic medal — her surprise silver five years ago breaking a 20-year medal drought for the Philippines.
Diaz spent the last year and a half training in exile in Malaysia because of Covid restrictions, so dedicated was she to claim an unprecedented gold in her fourth and probably final Games.
“I’m looking forward to going back home to the Philippines to be with my family because I really miss them,” she said, choking up once more with emotion.
“I’m looking forward now to enjoy my life after so many sacrifices.”
Diaz’s medal was just the 11th by the Philippines since they first took part in the Olympics in 1924, and now the only gold.
Diaz became just the second athlete from her country to win multiple Olympic medals, joining swimmer Teofilo Yldefonzo who won bronze in the men’s 200m breaststroke in 1928 and 1932.
She became a national hero for her exploits in Rio and her profile soared when she won Asian Games gold in Jakarta in 2018.
But on that occasion China were suspended by the International Weightlifting Federation for multiple doping violations.
China have been dominant since their return later in 2018 and have had it all their own way so far in Tokyo in the absence of fierce rivals North Korea.
The first three weightlifting golds were all won by Chinese athletes — in the women’s 49kg through Hou Zhihui on Saturday and men’s winners Li Fabin (61kg) and Chen Lijun (67kg) on Sunday.
Liao was gracious in defeat as the Chinese gold rush in weightlifting was halted in stunning fashion.
“I really respect Diaz as an opponent because she did the best she could, in fact better than that and that is the ultimate,” Liao said.
“She did a better job and it is nice for all the people that were supporting her.”
Diaz, known as “Haidee,” has a huge social media following in her home country which is set to grow.
Internet platforms instantly turned her into the country’s top trending topic on Twitter as news of her win spread, upstaging President Rodrigo Duterte’s final State of the Nation address.
“Congratulations, Sgt Hidilyn Diaz!” tweeted the Armed Forces of the Philippines where the weightlifter is enlisted.
Vice President Leni Robredo said: “Big win for the Philippines!! Thank you for making us proud, Hidilyn.”
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, congratulated Diaz “for bringing pride and glory to the Philippines.”


Saudi Arabia open to hosting two F1 races if required: Prince Khalid bin Sultan

Prince Khalid bin Sultan said that he hoped for an early slot in Saudi Arabia next season and would love to host one of the new-format Saturday sprints. (AFP/File Photo)
Prince Khalid bin Sultan said that he hoped for an early slot in Saudi Arabia next season and would love to host one of the new-format Saturday sprints. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 27 July 2021

Saudi Arabia open to hosting two F1 races if required: Prince Khalid bin Sultan

Prince Khalid bin Sultan said that he hoped for an early slot in Saudi Arabia next season and would love to host one of the new-format Saturday sprints. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The Kingdom is due to make its debut with a night race in Jeddah on Dec. 5
  • Previous race weekend had been allocated to Australia, which is now cancelled

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia would be willing to step in and host an extra race this year to help Formula One fill a gap on the calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, promoter Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal said on Monday.

The country is due to make its debut with a night race in Jeddah on Dec. 5 that would be the penultimate round of the season.

The previous slot had been allocated to Australia, which is now cancelled.

“We haven’t been asked by Formula One to accommodate a second race but everything is going on schedule regarding our preparation, our construction,” the prince told reporters on a video call as tickets went on sale.

“So if needed to host a race before our race, I think we can accommodate that.”

The prince said the Saudi organisers wanted to focus on their debut, with plans for promotional activities and an opening ceremony before an event that could attract a full crowd.

“In the end if it’s a must and they need another country, we can be an option if it will help Formula One,” he added.

Bahrain hosted two races last year in a championship confined to Europe and the Middle East. Austria has already hosted two this year after Canada’s race in Montreal was cancelled.

Qatar has been mooted as a possible stand-in, along with talk of two races in Texas.

The Saudi promoter said also that he hoped for an early slot next season and would love to host one of the new-format Saturday sprints.

Bahrain was this year's opener instead of Australia when that race in Melbourne was initially postponed.

“We wanted to have the race in the beginning (of the year) but the time we had to do the work for the track and prepare the track, we couldn’t have a race in 2021 at the beginning of the year,” said the prince.

“We are now discussing with Formula One about when is best for us to have our race in 2022, and hopefully we can get to an agreement.”

The promoter said he had discussed human rights issues with some of the drivers during the recent British Grand Prix and would be happy to meet Mercedes’ outspoken seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton to address any concerns.

He said the plan was also to have some female Saudi drivers competing in support races.


Introducing Egypt’s biggest-ever delegation at the Olympics  

 With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
Updated 26 July 2021

Introducing Egypt’s biggest-ever delegation at the Olympics  

 With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo this year. (AFP)
  • Inspirational team includes teenage superstars and female icons

CAIRO: With 134 athletes, Egypt has brought its biggest Olympic delegation to Tokyo. They will be representing the country in 24 sports, the largest number of sports that Egypt has ever participated in.

Egypt is also being represented by its youngest athlete at the games in table tennis player Hana Godda, who is just 13.

Over the years, Egypt has accumulated a total of 32 Olympic medals, seven gold, 10 silver and 15 bronze.

Among the athletes representing Egypt in the games is modern pentathlete Haydy Morsy, whose dedication and hard work at only 21 have made her an inspiration to young girls all over the country.

“I am very happy to compete in Tokyo after the postponement for one year, Tokyo will be my third Olympic Games, after competing in Rio 2016, and the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 in China. I am very excited to represent my beloved country … and make everyone proud,” Morsy told Arab News.

Morsy was just 8 when she first started practicing sports, which initially started as a hobby.

Then, aged 13, she qualified for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.

“In the beginning, I was just training with a team in a club, and just after two years, they asked me to join the national team … When you represent your country, you are at a different level where you have to work really hard to achieve your targets and dreams,” she added.

She explained that an Olympic medal has been her dream since she first started modern pentathlon.

“I want to be the first Egyptian female athlete in modern pentathlon to get an Olympic medal and make every Egyptian proud,” Morsy said.

Her life as an athlete is anything but relaxed. She dedicates her days to training and working towards her goals.  

“I wake up at around 6:00 a.m. to start my day with swimming training, and then I train every day for around six or seven hours. I know it sounds crazy, but I really love this sport, and always want to give it my all before I decide to retire,” she said.  

She qualified for the games after winning the 2019 African Championship before their postponement from 2020 to 2021.

“It was an unbelievable moment, I will never forget it, especially that the qualification was here in my hometown. And nothing is better than winning in front of your family and friends.

“I always look forward to achieving more and more as an athlete because I know one day I will stop and turn the page. I want to enjoy every single moment while playing the sport.”

Morsy is only one of many Egyptian athletes who have dedicated their lives to sport to represent their country in Tokyo.

But sadly, not all of the country’s athletes have been permitted to attend. 

Egyptian weightlifters will not compete in Tokyo after the International Weightlifting Federation banned the country after it was proven that its athletes were doping during the Youth African Games.

This ban includes Olympic medalists Sarah Samir and Mohamed Ihab, which will affect Egypt’s chances of breaking its previous record of five medals during a single edition of the competition.


Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition
Updated 26 July 2021

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition

Jordan claims silver, Egypt wins double bronze in Tokyo 2020 Taekwondo competition
  • Saleh Elsharabaty fell at the final hurdle against Maksim Khramtcov 
  • Hedaya Wahba claimed her second Olympic medal after beating Paige McPherson of the US 17-6 in the Taekwondo women’s 67 kg competition

TOKYO: Saleh Elsharabaty fell just short of grabbing an Olympic gold for Jordan when he lost the Taekwondo men’s 80 kg final 20-9 to Maksim Khramtcov of the Russian Olympic Committee at the Makuhari Messe Hall in Tokyo.
Monday also proved to be a fruitful day for Egypt in the Japanese capital at the Taekwondo competition, with bronze medals won in both the women’s and men’s categories.
Hedaya Wahba claimed her second Olympic medal after beating Paige McPherson of the US 17-6 in the Taekwondo women’s 67 kg competition, having previously claimed a bronze in the 57 kg category at Rio 2016.


Shortly after she had confirmed her medal win, fellow Egyptian Seif Eissa defeated Richard Andre Ordemann of Norway in the Taekwondo men’s 80 kg bronze medal match with a score of 12-4.
Elsharabaty’s path to silver saw him beat Ordemann 5-4 in the round of 16, Achraf Mahboubi of Morocco 17-15 in the quarterfinal, and Nikita Rafalovich of Uzbekistan 13-11 in the semifinal.
In the final, he came up against a formidable opponent in Khramtcov, though his silver medal finish will no doubt be celebrated in Jordan.


Egypt, too, will be celebrating the achievements of its Taekwondo heroes.
Wahba, 28, beat Magda Wiet Henin of France 11-10 in the round of 16 and lost to Great Britain’s Lauren Williams in the quarterfinal. She won her repechage contest against Malia Paseka 19-0 to earn a shot at bronze.
The 23-year-old Eissa for his part beat Jack Marton of Australia 11-1 in the round of 16 and Simone Alessio of Italy 6-5 in the quarterfinal, before losing the semifinal 13-1 to Khramtcov.


Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut

Saudi sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh dashing into the Kingdom’s history books with Tokyo 2020 debut
  • The 23-year-old from Jeddah will take part in the 100m race on Friday
  • “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible,” Al-Dabbagh said

TOKYO: Only a few weeks ago, Yasmine Al-Dabbagh was an unknown Saudi sprinter with big dreams.
On Friday night, the whole world got to see her face as she, alongside Saudi rower Husein Alireza, had the honor of carrying Saudi Arabia’s flag at the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020.
For the 23-year-old, as for the rest of 33-strong Saudi Olympic delegation, there is no greater honor than representing her country.
“It means the world to me, especially being part of a diverse and expansive team representing so many different activities,” Al-Dabbagh told Arab News. “Everything from judo, to table tennis, rowing, karate, archery, weightlifting, swimming, shooting and football. The sports sector in Saudi Arabia has witnessed unprecedented growth and investment, thanks to Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman’s) Vision 2030. 
“As Saudi athletes, we are all proud of the important role sports plays in the country’s transformation. We have a great sporting ecosystem, that allows us to perform at the highest level and I can’t wait to go out on the track, to repay that faith by performing to the best of my ability.”


Al-Dabbagh will make her 100m Olympic debut at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Friday, July 30, but had things worked out differently earlier in her life, she could now have been taking part in a different sport.
“Ever since I can remember, sports has always been my passion,” Al-Dabbagh said. “When I was a student at Jeddah Knowledge School, I loved everything from basketball, swimming, volleyball and gymnastics. 
“Track and field held an especially exceptional place in my heart. It was running and the sound of my footsteps on the track that gave me a very specific feeling, and that feeling kept me coming back for more. It was a sense of being empowered, strong and self-confident.
“What also hooked me was that the challenge was on me,” she said. “As an individual sport, I love that you get out what you put in. It’s all on me. There is nowhere to hide. If I train well and put in the effort, I get the corresponding reward and absolutely love that feeling.”
Al-Dabbagh recalls that when she first started training, access to running facilities was a bit of a challenge, particularly for female athletes. This, she is proud to point out, is no longer the case.
“We are seeing massive investment across all sports in Saudi Arabia including women’s sports. The country is on the move with more people playing sports than ever before and personally I am extremely grateful (for) the support shown to me by so many, including Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee and the Athletics Federation.”
At a time when female participation was still several years away from becoming widespread, and culturally more acceptable, across the Kingdom, she was lucky to have a family that believed in her unquestioningly.
“My family were and still are my biggest supporters and have always pushed me to pursue my dreams,” Al-Dabbagh said. “Whenever I felt doubtful or fearful, they were the ones who helped me overcome that. They always made sure that I knew that my dream of becoming an Olympian could one day be realized. I am so proud and humbled also, that the dream is now coming true.”
When vindication of her career path came, it could not have been from a more iconic source.
“My motto in life has always been to never give up,” she said. “As much of a cliché as that may sound, it genuinely helped me overcome many obstacles and fears to get to where I am today. I was told by one of my biggest idols, who is now my coach, Linford Christie, that I have the ability to make it to the Olympics. Ever since then, I have been working really hard to get to where I am today but this is only the start. As the saying goes, a journey of one thousand miles begins with one step. I consider this as a first step on a long journey to come, inshallah.”
Al-Dabbagh is particularly inspired by the American runner Allyson Felix, who has won a staggering 26 gold, eight silver and four bronze medals throughout her career. Six of those golds and three of the silvers were claimed in the Olympic Games, making her the first female runner in history to have that many gold medals for track and field. Fenix, who will also be at Tokyo 2020, will have a chance of breaking the world record of nine athletics gold medals held by her legendary compatriot, the sprinter Carl Lewis.
“The reason I admire Allyson so much is that in addition to her incredible success in sports, she is also a wife, mother, and founder of a brand that specializes in creating products for women by women,” said Al-Dabbagh. “The way she manages to balance different aspects of her life is an inspiration to myself and to many women all over the world.
“I would be amiss not to recognize our very own athletes at home,” she added. “In the runners department, Sarah Attar and Cariman Abu Al-Jadail, the equestrian Dilma Malhas and the swimmer Mariam Binladen.”
Al-Dabbagh only got the call to the Olympics three weeks before the start of Tokyo 2020.
“Earning a place at the Olympics means everything to me, and to do it through a ‘universality place’, breaking the national female record for the 100m race … I could not have asked for more,” she said. “It is a culmination of many hours of difficult training, spanning across Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK. I even remember my 12th birthday being Olympics-themed … that is how much I wanted to be an Olympian, and I am truly ecstatic that this moment has finally arrived.”
When she steps onto the track at the Olympic Stadium in the early hours of Friday, she will be up against some of the best runners in the world, but after the disruptions of the last year, it is an experience she is relishing.
“I know I’m very inexperienced compared to my running competitors, but I see this as a positive,” he said. “I inevitably will gain so many lessons from the opportunity to be in Tokyo, on which I can hopefully build my future as an athlete. Just when I had hoped to dedicate 100 percent to training and competing, COVID struck so I’ve missed a lot of track time and many chances to race. But with this, I can only look forward to the Olympics and future events.
“Our world has gone through a rough 18 months, and I can’t wait to see sports bring together people from all walks of life, from all over the globe. I want to make sure I savor that moment and that it will propel my sporting career forward.”
Al-Dabbagh is not setting any specific goals at this stage in her career, but the landmarks keep coming just the same.
“My target is to always perform to the best of my ability,” she said. “I am working hard on a daily basis to represent Saudi Arabia in the best way possible. I am hoping to raise the bar that previous Saudi Olympians have set and to inspire even more young Saudis to pursue their dreams. I am already the holder of the national (100m) record and I’d like to improve upon that, and come back a better athlete. At this stage in my career and with my experience, I really see the games as a building block for the future, both for me personally, but importantly for the future of sports in the Kingdom.”