The return of Mahdi Ali revives Shabab Al-Ahli glory as Dubai derby dominates UAE football

The return of Mahdi Ali revives Shabab Al-Ahli glory as Dubai derby dominates UAE football
The recent President’s Cup win over AL-Nasr was Mahdi Ali’s third trophy with Shabab Al-Ahli. (WAM)
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Updated 22 May 2021

The return of Mahdi Ali revives Shabab Al-Ahli glory as Dubai derby dominates UAE football

The return of Mahdi Ali revives Shabab Al-Ahli glory as Dubai derby dominates UAE football
  • After bringing a trio of domestic cups to Rashid Stadium, the former coach of the UAE national team will be eyeing next season’s league title

You would have to go back to the second half of the 1970s for the last time Dubai rivals Shabab Al-Ahli (then known as Al-Ahli) and Al-Nasr were rivals for the top honors in UAE football, but when the two sides took to the pitch at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium earlier this month for the UAE President’s Cup final, there was a sense of nostalgia for more than one reason.

The majority of the 8,000 fans allowed into the stands for the first time since the start of the pandemic were probably too young to have witnessed that earlier rivalry, but they too knew how much was at stake as the two sides locked horns in a domestic cup final for the third time in 18 months.

In the last domestic final contested in the pre-pandemic UAE, an Alvaro Negredo-inspired Al-Nasr side beat their city rivals to win the 2020 Arabian Gulf Cup (UAE’s League Cup competition). The Spaniard marked the end of his time in Dubai with the fastest goal in the competition’s history inside seven seconds to help the UAE’s oldest club side to a 2-1 victory.

Negredo was not the only Spaniard to have left Dubai since then. Shabab Al-Ahli replaced its Spanish head coach Gerard Zaragoza with their former midfielder Mahdi Ali. The 56-year-old Ali grew up watching his beloved Red Knights clash with Al-Nasr year after year as he made his way through the ranks at Rashid Stadium. By the time Ali made his senior debut in 1983, Al-Ahli’s best days were behind them. His 15-year one-club career would produce only two cup titles, which may have motivated the man with his trademark red cap as he returned to the club as a manager 23 years after hanging his boots.

The return of Ali signaled a new dawn for the club. When the former national team boss — who had led his country to the heights of London 2012 Olympics and the semi-final of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup — was appointed in December 2020, Shabab Al-Ahli were lingering in mid-table, having won just three of their opening nine matches. By the end of the season, he had bettered his trophy tally as a player and lifted his side to finish third in the league, just seven points behind eventual champions Al-Jazira.

The master tactician steadied the ship by shoring up the defence. He called upon trusted lieutenants goalkeeper Majed Nasser, centre-back pairing Hamdan Al-Kamali and Waleed Abbas and full-backs Abdulaziz Haikal and Abdulaziz Sanqour, all of whom are over 30 and have previously played for Ali in the national team.

Experience at the back was mixed with youth and dynamism up front as 20-year-old Brazilian Igor Jesus led the line supported by 23-year-old Yahya Al-Ghassani and the free-roaming South American double act of Carlos Eduardo and Federico Cartabia.

The result was a magnificent upturn in fortunes for a club that has struggled ever since Al-Ahli, Al-Shabab and Dubai Club merged to form one club – Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai — in 2017.

First it was the Super Cup. Having won the President’s Cup in 2018-19, and with the following year’s competition cancelled due to the pandemic, Shabab Al-Ahli faced 2018-19 league champions Sharjah in the 2021 Super Cup in January. A late Mohammed Marzooq header was enough to deliver Ali’s first piece of silverware as a manager, but the story was just beginning.

As Shabab Al-Ahli continued its climb through the league table, by early April it was time to contest the Arabian Gulf Cup final. An opportunity to avenge last year’s loss to Al-Nasr beckoned, and unlike the previous encounter, there were no early goals; no goals at all in fact as both sides could only be separated by the penalty shootout. At Sharjah Stadium Ali’s men were well prepared and made it two out of two titles under his tutelage.

The cherry on top arrived last week as yet another Dubai derby clash brought fans back into the stadium for the first time since March 2020. A brace from the spot for former Valencia playmaker Cartabia sealed the win for Shabab Al-Ahli, as Mehdi Abeid’s goal was Al-Nasr’s only consolation.

Mahdi Ali’s next challenge? The one domestic title he is yet to conquer, the Arabian Gulf League. It’s a title that has only been won once by an Emirati coach when Sharjah’s Abdulaziz Al-Anbari achieved it in 2018-19. But Ali has proven he deserves the backing of his club’s board in the summer transfer window as he looks to take them to new heights.


Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism

Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism
Updated 21 September 2021

Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism

Hungary gets 1-match fan ban, $217,000 FIFA fine for racism
  • Monkey chants were aimed at England forward Raheem Sterling and unused substitute Jude Bellingham on Sept. 2
  • The Hungarian federation was fined 200,000 Swiss francs

LONDON: Hungary was ordered by FIFA on Tuesday to play its next World Cup qualifier without spectators as punishment for the latest racial abuse by its supporters when England played in Budapest.
Monkey chants were aimed at England forward Raheem Sterling and unused substitute Jude Bellingham, who are Black, at Puskas Arena on Sept. 2.
The Hungarian federation was also fined 200,000 Swiss francs ($217,000), one of the largest financial penalties handed out to a country by the world governing body.
In a sign of a systemic problem with racism from Hungarian fans, the punishment extends the country’s run of games in empty stadiums because of racism in qualifiers for the 2014 and 2022 World Cups and Euro 2016.
The team will have to play another FIFA match without a crowd if there are future incidents of abuse, with the second match of the punishment being suspended for a probationary period of two years.
“The FIFA ban on Hungary for racism and the huge fine is welcome and a signal from FIFA of a renewed determination to punish racism,” Piara Powar, executive director of the anti-racism FARE network, told The Associated Press. “But this also means that Hungary will serve bans from two different football governing bodies at European and international level at the same time, the principle of escalation has not been applied, it will not deal with the problem of racism inside Hungarian stadiums longer term.”
Hungary’s Sept. 2 match against England in Budapest would already have been played without spectators had FIFA been asked to implement a UEFA punishment t for discriminatory abuse during European Championship matches. That two-game ban on spectators will take effect next June during the Nations League.
Hungary will have to host Albania on Oct. 9 in an empty stadium in its next World Cup qualifier.
“This case highlights the need to make sure that regulations that ensure a consistency of approach across governing bodies are in place,” Powar said. “If all Hungarian offenses had been taken into account they would be facing exclusion from the World Cup, and remedial measures would have been put in place. There should be better co-ordination between confederations, such as UEFA, and FIFA, to coordinate action.
In this case UEFA should have asked FIFA to apply their previous sanction and the Hungary vs. England match played behind closed doors. An administrative loophole has allowed racism to flourish.”
FIFA’s disciplinary committee ruled there had been “racist behavior of numerous supporters” during the England match this month that was played in front of a crowd of almost 60,000 at Puskas Arena.
The verdict came “after analizing and taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, specifically the seriousness of the incidents,” FIFA said in a statement highlighting “racist words and actions, throwing of objects, lighting of fireworks, blocked stairways” by Hungary fans.
FIFA’s claim to adopt a “clear zero tolerance stance against such abhorrent behavior in football” was challenged by English football’s anti-racism organization.
“What does zero tolerance approach even mean? Words that read good in print but we’ll never actually adhere to them,” tweeted Kick It Out’s head of development Troy Townsend. “Anyway, we have our own problems and don’t even go this far with punishments.”


Italian boxer of Moroccan origin beats Nazi-tattooed rival

Italian boxer of Moroccan origin beats Nazi-tattooed rival
Updated 21 September 2021

Italian boxer of Moroccan origin beats Nazi-tattooed rival

Italian boxer of Moroccan origin beats Nazi-tattooed rival
  • Hassan Nourdine: Michele Broili’s tattoos ‘disgusted me … I had more of a taste to win’
  • Nourdine gained Italian super-featherweight title on points

LONDON: An Italian boxer born in Morocco has claimed victory over a fighter whose body is tattooed with Nazi symbols.

Hassan Nourdine, 34, beat Michele Broili, 28, on points to win the Italian super-featherweight title in the northeastern city of Trieste.

Nourdine, who moved to the Italian town of Asti with his parents when he was 6, said Broili’s tattoos motivated him to win.

“I tried to stay focused and undistracted the whole evening, but seeing Broili’s tattoos glorifying Nazism disgusted me, not to mention the spectators giving stiff-armed fascist salutes,” Nourdine told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. “I wanted to have a good fight and given the situation I had more of a taste to win.”

He said the Federazione Pugilistica Italiana, Italian boxing’s governing body should not allow Broili to compete due to his tattoos.

“They should have realized this boxer had certain leanings — the incitement of hatred is punishable by law,” Nourdine added.

“Anyone who has been to school knows what the Nazis did, and even those who didn’t go to school know what the Holocaust was.”

Broili’s tattoos include the SS logo, a Celtic cross and the number 88, neo-Nazi shorthand for the expression “Heil Hitler.” 

Nourdine, who works night shifts at a factory making industrial machinery to support his family and boxing career, said: “You need to make young people understand these are dangerous messages. You need to remind them these symbols encouraged genocide.”

After the fight, the FPI said it was considering action against Broili for his tattoos. 


Blow for Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia as Salem Al-Dossari ruled out for month

Blow for Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia as Salem Al-Dossari ruled out for month
Updated 21 September 2021

Blow for Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia as Salem Al-Dossari ruled out for month

Blow for Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia as Salem Al-Dossari ruled out for month
  • 30-year-old set to miss at least two SPL matches, Saudi Arabia’s World Cup qualifiers against Japan, China in October

RIYADH: Al-Hilal and the Saudi national football team have been dealt a major blow with news that Salem Al-Dossari will be sidelined for up to four weeks as he recovers from a recent injury.

According to Al-Hilal, medical tests confirmed that the 30-year-old winger had torn a joint ligament.

Al-Dossari will now miss the club’s matches against Al-Shabab and Al-Hazem in the sixth and seventh rounds of the Saudi Pro League, and the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup against Japan and China on Oct. 7 and 12, respectively.

His participation in Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League quarterfinal against Iran’s Persepolis on Oct. 16, however, will depend on how quickly his injury responds to treatment.

Al-Dossari was injured during his team’s 3-2 victory over Al-Ettifaq in their last SPL match.

Meanwhile, Al-Hilal captain Salman Al-Faraj on Monday edged closer to a first team return with another training session with the club’s youth team, but Peruvian forward Andre Carrillo was still three to four weeks away from a full recovery.

The reigning champions will meet Al-Shabab in the sixth round of the 2021-22 SPL season matches at King Fahd International Stadium on Thursday.


Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, Nada Abed claim titles at Saudi Fencing Championship

Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, Nada Abed claim titles at Saudi Fencing Championship
Updated 21 September 2021

Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, Nada Abed claim titles at Saudi Fencing Championship

Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, Nada Abed claim titles at Saudi Fencing Championship
  • Trio of fencers won sabre, foil, epee titles at end of Gold Round in Alkhobar

RIYADH: Fencing trio Alhasnaa Al-Hammad, Leen Al-Fozan, and Nada Abed have been crowned overall champions in the sabre, foil, and epee categories, respectively, at the conclusion of the Saudi Fencing Championship Gold Round in Alkhobar.

Ahmed Al-Sabban, president of the Saudi Fencing Federation, presented the overall winners with their prizes after the championship’s final round held at the fencing arena in Prince Saud bin Jalawi Sports City.

Dai Al-Amiri won the epee category in the competition for under-15s, while Aya Ammar claimed the foil title in the same age group.

The results of the Gold Round had seen top places go to Shahd Al-Kloub in epee, Leen Al-Fozan in foil, and Alhasnaa Al-Hammad in sabre.


Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League
Updated 21 September 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League
  • The 2019 winners’ players are worth $71.76m, while Riyadh neighbors Al-Nassr’s are valued at $71.33m

It is no surprise that Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, the latter despite their managerial change last week, are two of the favorites to lift the AFC Champions League trophy on Nov. 23 — and not just because the final will be held in their home city of Riyadh.

If you follow the money, these rivals should be there or thereabouts. Of the eight teams left in Asia’s premier club competition, the two Saudi Arabian representatives have the most valuable squads. That is according to Transfermarkt, the website used around the world to track and rank such things.

Al-Hilal have the most expensive assets of all, worth a collective $71.76 million, just slightly more than Al-Nassr’s $71.33 million.

The 2019 Asian champions, who defeated Esteghlal 2-0 in the round of 16 of the AFC Champions League last week, have two players whose worth can be measured only by using eight figures. Moussa Marega, who arrived this year from FC Porto, has a value of $11.74 million, but the player worth the most is, unsurprisingly, Matheus Pereira at $17.60 million.

The Riyadh giants beat a number of clubs from the English Premier League and elsewhere to sign the Brazilian from West Bromwich Albion in August. The playmaker showed his worth against Esteghlal with a fine assist for the opening goal. His pass was converted by Bafetimbi Gomis, whose relatively low valuation of $1.88 million is influenced by his 36 years and short contract. The highest-rated local player in the squad is the talismanic Salem Al-Dawsari at $3.76 million. Next is central midfielder Mohammed Kanno at $3.05 million.

Al-Nassr have plenty of gems of their own after a busy 12 months or so in the transfer market. Injury-hit Argentine Pity Martinez has a $14.08 million valuation, which is not that much below the $17.60 million or so the nine-time Saudi champions paid out for the playmaker in 2020. This is something of a surprise given his inactivity in recent months. The club has so far had better luck with its more recent additions, with Talisca valued at $11.74 million, the same as Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar. The highest-rated Saudi player is the excellent full-back Sultan Al-Ghanam at $3.17 million, $821,500 above midfielder Abdulfattah Asiri.

In terms of the AFC Champions League, none of the other six clubs can boast such expensive assets. Persepolis have reached two of the last three finals, but the Tehran giants have only one player worth seven figures. Mehdi Torabi headed the only goal against Istiklol of Tajikistan in the last minute of their second-round match and that can only add to his current valuation of $1.17 million. There is still talent in the squad, however. If Jalal Hosseini was a little younger than 39, then the center-back, who has made more than 100 appearances for Iran, would be worth his weight in gold.

Al-Wahda complete the West Asian quartet after their penalty shootout win in the all-UAE clash with Sharjah. According to Transfermarkt, Sharjah’s squad is valued at $36.44 million — almost three times more than Al-Wahda’s. If so, then coach Henk ten Cate has done well to take the Abu Dhabi club so far. Their two most valuable assets are Joao Pedro of Brazil and Syrian striker Omar Khribin, worth $3.52 million and $2.11 million, respectively. Again, if Ismail Matar was 28 instead of 38 then the winger would be one of the hottest and most expensive properties in Asian football. One also wonders how much more than $176,000 20-year-old midfielder Abdullah Hamad will be worth in the years to come.

Should Al-Nassr or Al-Hilal make it all the way to the final, then they will meet East Asian opposition and there is a good chance that the team will be from South Korea. The third most-valuable squad left in the competition belongs to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at an estimated $25.56 million. The two-time Asian champions have the usual sprinkling of foreign players, with Russian striker Stanislav Iljutcenko worth $2.35 million and Gambian winger Modou Barrow just $352,000 less. There are also plenty of local players worth $1 million or more, signifying the strength in depth that Jeonbuk possess. There are current or former Korean internationals such as attackers Song Min-kyu, Han Kyo-won and Lee Seung-ki. At the back, former FC Augsburg center-back Hong Jeong-ho marshals the defense.

Jeonbuk’s rivals for the Korean title and defending Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai have players with valuations that reflect the talent at the club. There are no huge stars, with Georgian midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili the highest valued at $1.88 million. There are two local players who are worth almost as much, with talented midfielder Yoon Bit-garam and goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo, who starred for Korea at the 2018 World Cup, valued at $1.76 million. Then there are young players such as Lee Dong-jun and Lee Dong-gyeong, who seem a little undervalued.

Pohang Steelers are one of two teams, along with Al-Hilal, with three Asian club championships under their belt. Despite having 39 players in their squad — one of the biggest in the entire 40-team tournament — the Steelers’ entire roster is worth only $12.65 million, about a sixth of those of Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr. No player is estimated to be worth even $1 million. Left-back Kang Sang-woo is the highest valued at $997,500.

Japan has one club left compared to Korea’s three. Nagoya Grampus’ most expensive player, for any club looking to buy, is Jakub Swierczok. The Polish striker scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Daegu FC last week. There are some other talented strikers at the club, such as Yoichiro Kakitani and Mu Kanazaki, but they are valued lower as they are the wrong side of 30. The most expensive domestic player is 25-year-old center-back Shinnosuke Nakatani.

Fans in Saudi Arabia will get a chance to check out some of these talents in the coming weeks, allowing them to judge just how accurate such valuations are and whether they will increase or decrease.