Al-Ittihad, Al-Fayha to kick off 2021-22 SPL on Aug. 11

Al-Ittihad, Al-Fayha to kick off 2021-22 SPL on Aug. 11
The 2021-22 Saudi Pro League season kicks off on August 11. (Arriyadiyah)
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Updated 19 July 2021

Al-Ittihad, Al-Fayha to kick off 2021-22 SPL on Aug. 11

Al-Ittihad, Al-Fayha to kick off 2021-22 SPL on Aug. 11
  • Fixtures of round 1-13 given tentative dates, matchdays 14, 15 to be confirmed

RIYADH: The schedule for the first round of matches of the 2021-22 Saudi Professional League (SPL) has been released with the campaign kicking off with a clash between Al-Ittihad and Al-Fayha on Wednesday, Aug. 11.

However, SPL officials announced that while the first 13 rounds have been given tentative dates, rounds 14 and 15 will not be confirmed until the schedule of matches of the 2021-22 King’s Cup have been revealed.

The first major confrontation of the season will come in round five when Al-Nassr hosts Al-Ittihad on Saturday, Sept. 18 at Mrsool Park Stadium in Riyadh, and that will be followed by several derbies until the season’s halfway point.

In the sixth round, Al-Shabab will play Al-Hilal at King Fahd International Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 23, while the following round of fixtures will witness the Jeddah derby between Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahly on Saturday, Oct. 2.

Matchday 8 will see one of the biggest matches of the season as champions Al-Hilal meets Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 17.

Al-Ittihad will host Al-Shabab at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on Friday, Oct. 22, and the following round will see Al-Ahly take on Al-Hilal at the same stadium (Oct. 29).

Round 11 sees Al-Shabab host Al-Nassr at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium on Monday, Nov. 15, while the Saudi Clasico between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad takes place at King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh on Sunday, Nov. 21, the highlight of stage 12.

Matchday 13 big games include Al-Nassr traveling to Jeddah to meet Al-Ahli on a Friday.

The SPL also clarified that should the Saudi clubs still participating in the 2021 AFC Champions League qualify for the quarterfinals, their matches in the eighth round will be postponed, and in the scenario of one of them reaching the final, a 12th-round fixture would also be rescheduled.


Al-Nassr joy, Al-Ahli misery: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Professional League matches

Al-Nassr joy, Al-Ahli misery: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Professional League matches
Updated 24 September 2021

Al-Nassr joy, Al-Ahli misery: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Professional League matches

Al-Nassr joy, Al-Ahli misery: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Professional League matches
  • Al-Hilal’s 2-2 draw with Al-Shabab means Al-Ittihad stay top of the table

There were plenty of talking points after Thursday’s games in the Saudi Professional League, and below are five things we learned.

1. Even understrength, Al-Hilal are hard to beat

The champions were not at their best against Al-Shabab but still managed to come from behind twice to draw 2-2. 

The goals were not spectacular either. Bafetimbi Gomis fired home from the penalty spot after a defender had somehow fallen in front of him and then, with 20 minutes remaining, Ali Al-Bulaihi headed home from a corner.

Yet it could turn out to be a valuable point for Al-Hilal against a team desperate to win. This is partly because they were without a number of key players such as Salman Al-Faraj, Andre Carrillo, Abdullah Otayf, Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohammed Al-Breik. Any team in Saudi Arabia would miss such stars and, yet, after a mediocre first half, Leonardo Jardim’s men improved after the break.

Al-Shabab may have struggled so far this season, but it was only a few months ago when they finished second in the league. This was always going to be a difficult game for Al-Hilal, and to be understrength and still come away with a point may well be seen as a valuable result at the end of the season.

2. Al-Ahli lose to leave Hasi on the brink

Coach Besnik Hasi is in real danger after Al-Ahli lost 2-0 against Al-Fayha, and the Kosovo Albanian boss is unlikely to be in charge in next week’s Jeddah Derby against Al-Ittihad. He sounded a defiant note after the defeat, which leaves Al-Ahli winless after six games of the season with just five points. “We played well and created many opportunities but just could not take them,” he said. “I am not afraid of being fired and I have been giving my all in the job.”

What was disappointing however is that Al-Ahli seemed to lack spirit and energy from the start, and once the first goal went in on the hour, heads dropped and defeat seemed inevitable. Despite the coach’s comments, Al-Fayha deserved the win and simply worked harder than the opposition. It now leaves Al-Ahli hovering just outside the relegation zone and the coach on the brink.

3. Al-Nassr are very much in the title race

A team that has just dismissed the coach often comes back with a quick win, and just four days after firing Mano Menezes, Al-Nassr defeated Al-Fateh 1-0. While they could have scored more goals, it did mark the first clean sheet of the season. 

It was exactly what Al-Nassr needed. Now the Riyadh giants are only three points behind the leaders Al-Ittihad.

Caretaker coach Marcelo Salazar set up the team well, and Al-Nassr had over two-thirds of possession. He will be a little annoyed at not winning more convincingly as there were chances to do so. The boss went with a 4-2-3-1 formation and started striker Abderrazak Hamdallah on the bench. The Moroccan looked hungry when he replaced Vincent Aboubakar midway through the second half and came close to extending Al-Nassr’s lead. In midfield, Ali Al-Hassan and Abdullah Al-Khaibari don’t often make the headlines but had a very solid game.

It remains to be seen who the new coach is, but he is going to come and take over a talented team that will be able to challenge for titles at home and abroad.

4. Al-Shabab are showing signs of improvement

After a poor start to the season, the job of coach Pericles Chamusca was under threat. It still may be, but last season’s runners-up produced a good performance against the champions Al-Hilal to draw 2-2. This was a well-organized counter-attacking performance with Senegalese midfielder Alfred N’Diaye everywhere, protecting the defense and using the ball well to instigate attacks. 

Whatever happens, Chamusca knows that his players are playing for him as they gave their all. Results have improved of late with a win and two draws from the last three games. 

The fluidity is not yet there, and the team needs to use possession better, but this was a hard-working display, something to build on and much better than the 5-1 loss suffered in the last Riyadh Derby in May. The Brazilian boss may just have saved his job, for now at least, but more points are needed from the coming games.

5. Al-Ittihad will be smiling

The Tigers stay top after Al-Hilal failed to win and will be looking to take a four-point lead ahead of their rivals on Friday against bottom club Al-Taawoun in front of a sell-out crowd. Despite losing the first game of the season and firing their coach, Al-Ittihad are the only team so far to really put a run together. Al-Hilal have yet to lose but have dropped points, and the ups and downs of Al-Nassr have been well-documented.

There is still a long way to go this season of course, but with other teams dropping points, Al-Ittihad are in the winning groove and have the chance to put some daylight between themselves and their rivals. Even better is the fact that Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr will be busy with Asian commitments next month too. 

The rest of the league should be careful that they don’t allow Al-Ittihad to get too far ahead, but with the likes of Igor Coronado in great form, few would bet against them recording a fifth straight victory on Friday.


Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium set to reopen after renovation

Media got a first glimpse of the new renovations at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah on Thursday. (AN Photo)
Media got a first glimpse of the new renovations at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah on Thursday. (AN Photo)
Updated 23 September 2021

Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium set to reopen after renovation

Media got a first glimpse of the new renovations at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah on Thursday. (AN Photo)
  • Media delegations, including radio and TV crews, get tour of newly reopened stadium

JEDDAH: Media got a first glimpse of the new renovations at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah on Thursday.

The tour for members of the press and TV included the mixed zone, press conference room, the players changing rooms, media centers, as well as the VIP room, which features an exhibition of rare photos reflecting the history of the stadium since its establishment.

Bandar Asiri, director of Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium, told media that the stadium is fully prepared to host matches, noting that they are in the final procedures of completing the stadium, which is likely to be opened in October.

It was originally opened in 1976, then called the Youth Welfare Stadium, before it had a name change in 2001 in honor of Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal, the Kingdom's first Minister of Sports.

The stadium accommodates 27,000 spectators, up from its previous capacity of 18,000, in addition to 2,400 car-parking spaces, 81 ticket offices, 60 electronic gates, two media centers, 15 VIP rooms and four analytical studios.

The stadium will open next month with a derby match that brings together Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli in the seventh round of the Mohammed bin Salman Professional Cup, according to a source.


Manchester City stars send Saudi National Day message to fans in the Kingdom

Manchester City stars send Saudi National Day message to fans in the Kingdom
Updated 23 September 2021

Manchester City stars send Saudi National Day message to fans in the Kingdom

Manchester City stars send Saudi National Day message to fans in the Kingdom
  • Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo wished Saudi Arabia a happy ‘National Day’ in a video posted on the Abu Dhabi-owned club’s Arabic Twitter channel

DUBAI: One of the English Premier League’s top clubs, Manchester City, has congratulated the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the occasion of its 91st National Day.
Two of the club’s 2020/2021 title-winning stars, Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva and defender Joao Cancelo, wished Saudi Arabia a happy ‘National Day’ in a video posted on the Abu Dhabi-owned club’s Arabic Twitter channel.

“We wish a Happy National Day to all in Saudi Arabia,” Silva said.
“Happy National Day to all in Saudi Arabia,” fellow countryman Cancelo said in the 19-second video.
The video has received nearly 50,000 views since it was posted on the @CityArabia account, which has more than 5 million followers.

Meanwhile, the same video was also tweeted on the English Premier League’s Arabic twitter account (@EPLWorld), and has attracted more than 63,000 views. 

Diriyah, past, present and future
On Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, the birthplace of the Kingdom continues to make history
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How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar
Updated 23 September 2021

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar

How the Indian Premier League has come to shape the cricket calendar
  • The turbulence in cricket, as shown by cancelled test between England and India, shows no sign of abating, as players and structures buckle under the pressure of playing through the pandemic

Resumption of the Indian Premier League (IPL) took place last Sunday in the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, having been suspended on May 4 in India.

Almost half of its scheduled matches had been completed when Covid-19 tests on a number of players and support staff proved positive. This, coupled with rising cases amongst the general population, led the authorities to bow to the inevitable.

Now in its 14th year, the tournament is the biggest revenue generator in cricket’s history and has propelled India to a pre-eminent position in the game’s geo-politics. It is against this backdrop that the cancelled Test match between England and India at Manchester on Sept. 2 needs to be assessed.

It is clear that the repercussions are manifold, but that the outcomes from this stunning occurrence are much less clear. The result of the match and the series is not yet known. No official reason for the cancellation has been agreed. Reports suggest that Covid-impacted cancellation is not covered by insurance for this match.

Lancashire County Cricket Club, the host of the match, has suffered financially and psychologically, not for any fault of its own and is unable to carry the losses without support. According to various reports, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is set to lose upwards of £20m, much of it in broadcasting revenues. Spectators will receive ticket refunds, but their travel and related costs will be lost.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall back in May, once the IPL was suspended. At that time, it was clear that another window was sought into which it could be rescheduled. The opportunities were limited.

The Indian team would be in England between June 3 and September 7. It is rumoured that one option being explored by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in mid-May was to ask the ECB to consider starting the five-match series one week earlier in the last week of June. This would provide a larger buffer between the end of final Test at Manchester and the start of the IPL, when bubble to bubble transfer was envisaged. There is no record of a formal approach having been made, although rumours abound that the ECB was not keen.

Apart from its tragic effect and consequences, Covid-19 has introduced uncertainty into all of our lives, not just those of professional cricketers. It was with some apprehension that many of us in England entered the new era created by the relaxation of social controls on July 19. Capacity crowds flocked to the Test matches and, as the Indian coach said, when he and other members of his party were criticised for attending the launch of his book in London, “England was open”. Subsequently, he tested Covid-positive, being followed in this respect by other members of the backroom team.

Crucially, it was a positive test for the assistant physio on the day before the Manchester Test was due to start that acted as a trigger point. Despite all of them testing negative, the Indian players appeared to be spooked. A number of them were travelling with young families and were fearful that the virus might spread amongst them. Training was cancelled the day before the match, an ominous sign. The ECB’s CEO admitted to through-the-night discussions with his Indian counterparts, but it seemed that the Indian players were adamant.

Once it was announced that the match was not going to take place, it was termed a forfeiture on news lines, but this was quickly retracted, being replaced by cancellation. The tone of public statement by the ECB was that this was regrettable, had nothing to do with the imminency of the IPL and could be explained by mental health issues that had built up to bursting point after almost four months of touring.

Recognition of mental health issues has increased in cricket, particularly during the bio-bubble existence under which the game has operated in an increasingly packed global schedule. Nevertheless, surprise was expressed in some quarters as there was no obvious sign of such problems when the India team joyously celebrated its victory at the Oval four days earlier.

By general consensus, India played the better cricket and deserved to be 2-1 up in the series, but who could predict how the final Test would play out? The ECB is keen for the match to be rescheduled, the BCCI not so keen, at least not as one that completes the series.

Discussions are on-going in attempts to find a solution that would fit into India’s schedule when they tour England in early July 2022 to play two white-ball cricket series.

Whatever the outcome, it is unlikely to please everyone. Some find it a bit rich that India had a 20-strong squad in England, enough to field a team in Manchester. By all accounts, the players chose not to play, preferring to keep themselves free and fit to fly to the UAE for the quarantine period prior to the recommencement of the IPL.

England has good reason to feel aggrieved, yet its own record is not unblemished, having cancelled its tour of South Africa in late 2020. The ECB does not seem to want to fall out with the BCCI. Indeed, both boards have been at pains to say what good relations they enjoy.

If they cannot agree a solution, the International Cricket Council will be in the unenviable position of having to rule on the outcome of the series.

The turbulence in cricket shows no sign of abating, as its players and structures buckle under the pressure of playing through the pandemic.

Last Monday, citing mental and physical well-being issues, the ECB cancelled England’s four-day tour in mid-October to Pakistan, leaving the latter enraged. By coincidence, this allows English players who were on the tour and in the IPL to participate in its play-off stage. The IPL’s influence seems to be all conquering.


Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show
Updated 23 September 2021

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show

Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match to be held at Tokyo Game Show
  • A second round of the contest will take place in Saudi Arabia in 2022

TOKYO: A Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports competition will be held over two days next month during the Tokyo Game Show 2021, Asia’s largest gaming fair, the Japan eSports Union has announced.

The Japan-Saudi Arabia eSports match, taking place on Oct. 2 to 3, was announced in August 2018 by the JESU at the invitation of Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al-Saud, president of the Saudi Arabia Federation of International eSports and the Arab eSports Federation.

Among the games that will be contested between Team Japan and Team Saudi Arabia are Football, Gran Turismo, Tekken and Street Fighter.

The competition will be held on home and away match basis, featuring a Japan Round and Saudi Arabia Round. The Saudi Arabia Round was originally scheduled to be held in July this year but is being rescheduled for 2022.

The event is part of the “Japan-Saudi Vision 2030 2.0,” for which the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has developed a strategic economic partnership between the Kingdom and Japan.

This story originally appeared in Arab News Japan.