5 things we learned from Saudi’s 3-0 win over Yemen in their AFC World Cup qualifier

Saudi football player, Fahad Al-Muwallad, celebrates after scoring in Saturday's World Cup qualifier. (Supplied)
Saudi football player, Fahad Al-Muwallad, celebrates after scoring in Saturday's World Cup qualifier. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 June 2021

5 things we learned from Saudi’s 3-0 win over Yemen in their AFC World Cup qualifier

5 things we learned from Saudi’s 3-0 win over Yemen in their AFC World Cup qualifier
  • Herve Renard’s team now favourites to progress to the third and final round of qualification for Qatar 2022

LONDON: Saudi Arabia defeated Yemen 3-0 on Saturday to move five points clear of Uzbekistan at the top of Group D in the second round of World Cup qualification. The Central Asians can reduce that deficit to two points on Monday if they win against Singapore. With only the winner of each of the eight groups as well as the best four runners-up progressing to the final stage, they will need to.

1. The Renard effect is being felt

Prior to the game, Saudi coach Herve Renard said he did not want a repeat of the 2-2 draw with Yemen back in September 2019, one of his first games after being appointed as coach.

The Frenchman admitted that the performance back then was slow and predictable. He needn’t have worried — Saturday’s display could not have been more different.

The Green Falcons were sharp and full of movement and aggression from the first whistle, pressing high, giving the opposition little time on the ball, with lots of movement when on the attack. It meant that the game was won by half-time. Yemen — who, it should be remembered, have not played much football in the past few years due to conflict in their country — have plenty of issues but when you compare the two games, they could not be more different and that bodes well for the three-time Asian champions.

2. There is magic in Fahad Al-Muwallad’s feet

The European Championships start next week but whatever happens around the continent, you will struggle to find a better goal than Fahad Al-Muwallad’s second in the game.

The always impressive Salem Al-Dawsari had already put the hosts ahead after just four minutes and he turned provider 13 minutes later. His defence-splitting pass was a good one but forced Al-Muwallad out to the byline but in one motion the Al-Ittihad star spun on the spot and, from 10 meters left of the goal, somehow chipped the ball into the net. Yemeni goalkeeper Mohammed Ali Ayash said afterwards that he had not expected Al-Muwallad to do what he did and he was not the only one.

3. The pressure is now on Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan now have to wait two days to play and the pressure is on the White Wolves against Singapore. A failure to win could end the race for top spot even before the two powers meet on June 15.

While there is talent in Uzbekistan, the national team has never qualified for the World Cup despite coming very close on more than one occasion. Many have put those failures down to a fragile mentality as they have crumbled in the past under pressure.

Saudi Arabia’s win means the Green Falcons can put their feet up and see what happens.

4. Saudi right side looking good

It is natural that Al-Muwallad got most of the headlines playing on the right side of the attack but the Al-Ittihad man received plenty of support from his right-back, Sultan Al-Ghanam. The 27-year-old was up and down the line with commendable energy on a very warm evening in Riyadh, to ensure that the Yemen defence had no rest.

The Al-Nassr full-back broke into the team in 2017 but has yet to become a permanent fixture — the global pandemic has not helped. However, that may be about to change. There wasn’t much to do defensively but he maintained his concentration to help ensure that there was a clean sheet and a comfortable victory.

5. Yemen have other fish to fry

Yemen arrived in Saudi Arabia talking about playing “realistic football” and having “realistic objectives” in the face of the quality of opposition such as Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. Those objectives still apply. It was never about finishing in the top two but about finishing as high as possible.

This game was almost a free hit as, assuming that Singapore lose to Uzbekistan on Monday and then against Saudi Arabia, Yemen will just have to defeat Palestine in the final matchday to finish third. That would put the team in the third round of qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup and give it a great chance of a second successive appearance.

As important as the continental tournament is, to finish directly below Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, two of the best teams in Asia, would be a major achievement and testament to the spirit of Yemen.


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 53 min 12 sec ago

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 36 min 56 sec ago

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.