Saudi U-23 football squad in tough training ahead of Olympic opener 

Saudi U-23 football squad in tough training ahead of Olympic opener 
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Players from the Saudi Olympic football squad during a training session in Tokyo. (Saudi Olympic Committee)
Saudi U-23 football squad in tough training ahead of Olympic opener 
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Al Hilal's Salem Al-Dossary is one of the Saudi U-23 squad's three permitted "overage" players. (Saudi Olympic Committee)
Saudi U-23 football squad in tough training ahead of Olympic opener 
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Coach Saad Al-Shehri is focusing on fitness and tactical exercises in the day's before the team's opener against Ivory Coast. (Saudi Olympic Committee))
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Updated 21 July 2021

Saudi U-23 football squad in tough training ahead of Olympic opener 

Saudi U-23 football squad in tough training ahead of Olympic opener 
  • Coach Saad Al-Shehri oversees exercises in final days before Tokyo 2020 kickoff against Ivory Coast

TOKYO: Saudi’s U-23 squad has stepped up its training program under the watchful eye of coach Saad Al-Shehri ahead of its Olympic football tournament opener against Ivory Coast on Thursday.

The 22-man group took part in its second training session in Tokyo on Sunday, with Al-Shehri implementing both fitness and tactical exercises ahead of the game at Yokohama International Stadium. The sessions were set to continue on Monday and in the two days before the team launches its campaign.

The training included extensive fitness exercises as well as work on tactical set plays, with the day’s session ending with a half-field match focusing on defensive formations.

Saudi Arabia qualified for the Olympics after an absence of 24 years by finishing second, behind South Korea, in AFC U-23 Championship which took place in early 2020.

This will be Saudi Arabia’s third participation in the Olympic football tournament, and only the second with the U-23 squad.




Action from the Saudi U-23 squad's training session in Tokyo on Sunday. (Saudi Olympic Committee)

In 1984 in Los Angeles, the senior national team lost all three Group C matches to Brazil (3-1), Morocco (1-0) and West Germany (6-0).

Playing in Group B at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the young Saudi players lost their opener 1-0 to Spain at the Citrus Bowl, Orlando, and followed that up with 2-1 defeats at Miami’s Orange Bowl to Australia and France.

Al-Shehri will be hoping that his team will claim Saudi’s first points at the Olympics in a tough group that includes Ivory Coast, Rio 2016’s silver medalists, Germany, and reigning champions Brazil.

The opener against an Ivory Coast team that has had little preparation will give the U-23 players the chance to banish the memory of the senior Saudi national team’s ill-fated 2002 World Cup campaign in Japan, which produced three defeats, including a harrowing 8-0 loss to the eventual finalists.

The 22 players representing Saudi in Tokyo are: Amin Bukhari, Mohammed Al-Rubaie, Zaid Al-Bawardi, Hamad Al-Yami, Khalifa Al-Dossary, Abdulilah Al-Omari, Saud Abdulhamid, Abdullah Hassoun, Abdulbasit Hindi, Yasser Al-Shahrani, Nasser Al-Omran, Ali Al-Hassan, Salman Al-Faraj, Mukhtar Ali, Abdulrahman Ghareeb, Sami Al-Najei, Ayman Al-Khalif, Turki Al-Ammar, Khalid Al-Ghannam, Ayman Yahya, Salem Al-Dossary, and Abdullah Al-Hamdan.


Disappointing Olympic campaign reignites debate that more Saudi footballers should play abroad

Disappointing Olympic campaign reignites debate that more Saudi footballers should play abroad
Updated 3 min 28 sec ago

Disappointing Olympic campaign reignites debate that more Saudi footballers should play abroad

Disappointing Olympic campaign reignites debate that more Saudi footballers should play abroad
  • The Young Falcons performed well in all three matches at Tokyo 2020 but failed to win a single point
  • The Kingdom could follow Japanese and Korean model of producing international-class players

Saudi Arabia Olympic football coach Saad Al-Shehri must have had plenty of time to think about what happened in Japan on the plane back from Tokyo to Riyadh. While there were positives, the fact remains that the Young Falcons lost all three games.

Many will have opinions about what happened but there is one major factor that stands out. Saudi Arabia were the only team of the 16 in Japan with a squad completely made up of home-based players. This is a debate that has been had before but, in truth, there is not much of a debate. Everyone knows that this is something that needs to be addressed, and it was mentioned again by Al-Nassr president Musalli Al-Muammar.

“It was a good performance from the Greens in the Olympics but not good in terms of results,” Al-Muammar wrote on social media. “Saad Al-Shehri selected talented players, none of them play in Europe, and some of them are reserves in the local league. If we want positive results for the national teams, we should think about transferring the Saudi players to a different stage.”

Two Asian teams made the last eight without much fuss. Takefusa Kubo was the star for Japan and Lee Kang-in has been the standout for South Korea. Lee, who was named the MVP of the 2019 U-20 World Cup, joined Valencia aged 10. Kubo was at Barcelona’s youth academy at the same age. The pair have been two of the best performers at the entire tournament so far and as well as showing their talents on the pitch, they have also revealed one reason why South Korea and Japan have been at the top of the Asian football tree for years.

“Lee has an outstanding football brain and playing at a high level in Europe has helped,” said South Korea coach Kim Hak-beom. “He has a fantastic attitude and always wants to learn and improve no matter what the situation.”

Put simply, players from these East Asian nations are happy to go to Europe at a very early age. There is a solid youth development structure in both countries but the best are getting a European education at some of the continent’s top clubs. Son Heung-min is currently the biggest name in Asian football, and probably the biggest ever. It should not be forgotten however that the English Premier League star dropped out of high school at 16 and joined Hamburg’s youth academy.

Most Koreans and Japanese players who go to Europe — and Japan recently announced a World Cup qualification squad that was entirely European-based — transfer the more conventional way. They impress in the domestic leagues or at international tournaments and get the call.

Increasingly, the national team members of Korea and Japan have experience in high-profile international leagues. This helps in many ways, but it does bring more street smarts. While the Korean and Japanese Leagues, as well as the Saudi Premier League, are technically at a high level, the big leagues of Europe are more testing mentally, physically, professionally and psychologically — the environment is much more pressurised. This helps to produce players who are more street smart and possess stronger in-game management.

The fact that Saudi Arabia came back from a goal down in the second half in all three games yet still lost suggests that there is a certain naivety. The defeat against Germany was especially painful. Coming back twice to bring the game to 2-2 was commendable and when the Germans were reduced to 10 men midway through the second half, Saudi Arabia should have been able to manage the situation to take the first Olympic point in their history. Really, it should have been all three.

Yet the team switched off almost immediately and allowed a number of German attacks, one of which resulted in a goal and then defeat. A smarter approach from both coach and players was needed and had there been more international experience in the squad, it would have been easier.

International experience is not the be-all and end-all, but it is a major factor in a country’s development. The more Japanese and Koreans that go West, the more agents become involved in those countries, the better the reputation of the players becomes and the more clubs become interested. Not only that, but more players at home become inspired to follow them, and even the ones who fail to settle in Europe return as better players having faced huge challenges both on and off the pitch.

For Saudi Arabia, it only takes one or two to go to a decent European league and do reasonably well for things to change. Then agents and clubs will start to see the country as a place to look for talent. This will allow more players to go and the whole process gathers momentum. If things go well, the Kingdom could expect to reach the sweet spot that Japan looks to be in right now: Sending lots of players to play at a high level in Europe, which gives more opportunities for young talents in the domestic league, talent that is good enough to head to Europe a few years later.

That is a long way in the future, but the first steps need to be made as soon as possible. The Olympics confirmed what we already knew: There has to be a Saudi Arabian pioneer in Europe and the sooner they lead the way, the better.


Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White
Updated 30 July 2021

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White

Arsenal swoop for ‘£50 million’ Brighton defender White
  • Ben White, 23, a member of England's Euro 2020 squad, has now completed a medical
  • "Ben was a top target for us and it's great that we've completed his signing," said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta

LONDON: Arsenal have signed England defender Ben White from Premier League rivals Brighton, the London club announced on Friday.
The 23-year-old, a member of England’s Euro 2020 squad, has now completed a medical.
Although no fee, nor the exact length of a “long-term” deal has been disclosed, British media reports suggest White has moved to the capital for a fee of £50 million ($70 million).
“Ben was a top target for us and it’s great that we’ve completed his signing,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told the club’s website.
“Ben has been educated with two very good clubs, Brighton and Leeds, in recent seasons. He has benefitted well from two very good coaching set-ups and has shown with both Brighton and on loan with Leeds what a strong talent he is.”
White played 36 games for Brighton last season.
“We are incredibly proud of him and what he has achieved and much credit must go to our academy, who have played such an important role in developing Ben from a younger age,” said Brighton manager Graham Potter.


Four footballers killed in Somalia blast

Four footballers killed in Somalia blast
Updated 30 July 2021

Four footballers killed in Somalia blast

Four footballers killed in Somalia blast
  • 10 players from Jubaland Chamber of Commerce and Industry club were heading to Kismayo city stadium when the blast hit
  • Four football players were killed and five others wounded in the explosion

MOGADISHU: Four local footballers in Somalia were killed when a powerful explosion ripped through their bus on Friday in what the country’s president branded a “barbaric terror attack.”
Ten players from the Jubaland Chamber of Commerce and Industry club were heading off for a game at the Kismayo city stadium in southern Somalia when the blast hit.
“The players were riding in a bus when the explosion went off, presumably inside the vehicle. There are investigations going on but we presume the device was planted onto the bus,” said police officer Mohamed Sadiq.
He said four football players were killed and five others wounded in the explosion, believed to have been caused by a bomb.
In a statement on Twitter, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed condemned the “barbaric terror attack that claimed the lives of innocent Somali sports people.”
Witness Ibrahim Ahmed said the blast was “huge” and set off a fire which gutted the bus.
“People rushed to remove the dead bodies and wounded players,” he said.
“I saw the burning bus and three dead bodies of the players — this was horrible because football players are not politicians,” added another witness, Said Adan.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast in Kismayo, capital of the southern state of Jubaland which borders Kenya.
Jubaland was the first state to start voting this week in long-delayed national elections in Somalia that the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabab jihadist group has threatened to disrupt.
The extremists have been fighting to overthrow the federal government since 2007 and frequently attack government, security and civilian targets.


Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games

Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games
Updated 30 July 2021

Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games

Japan expands virus emergency after record spikes amid Games
  • Prime Minister declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba and Osaka effective Monday until Aug. 31
  • Upsurge in Tokyo cases despite over 2 weeks of emergency measures is raising doubts that they can effectively slow infections

TOKYO: Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency to four more areas in addition to Tokyo on Friday following record spikes in infections as the capital hosts the Olympics.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective Monday until Aug. 31. Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo and the southern island of Okinawa will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics which start Aug. 24.
The upsurge in cases in Tokyo despite more than two weeks of emergency measures is raising doubts that they can effectively slow infections.
Five other areas, including Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, will be placed under less-stringent emergency restrictions.
Tokyo has reported a record increase in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday, before logging another 3,300 on Friday. The cases have doubled since last week, although officials say the surge is unrelated to the Olympics.
“Infections are expanding in the Tokyo and western metropolitan areas at an enormous speed that we have never experienced before,” Suga said as he declared the expansion of the state of emergency. If the spike continues at the current pace with the spread of the more contagious delta variant, Japan’s medical system could collapse, he said.
Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day rolling average is growing and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo, according to the Health Ministry. This compares to 18.5 in the United States, 48 in Britain and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Officials said 2,995 are hospitalized in Tokyo, about half the current capacity of 6,000 beds, with some hospitals already full. More than 10,000 others are isolating at home or in designated hotels, with nearly 5,600 waiting at home while health centers decide where they will be treated. Tokyo is also setting up a facility for those requiring oxygen while waiting for hospital beds.
Nationwide, Japan reported 10,687 cases Thursday, exceeding 10,000 for the first time. It has recorded 15,166 fatalities from COVID-19, including 2,288 in Tokyo, since the pandemic began.
The emergency measures focus on shortened hours and an alcohol ban at eateries and karaoke bars, but have become less effective because people are only requested to remain and work at home. Many have been defying the measures as they become tired of restrictions.
Suga said his key strategy will be largely unchanged — to target dining. He said subsides will be paid faster to business owners who cooperate, and local authorities will patrol “to increase the effectiveness of the measures.” Many bars and restaurants complain they are being unfairly targeted.
He said at a later news conference that the government has approved the use of an antibody cocktail treatment for patients with mild symptoms to prevent them from worsening. But as thousands of people wait for hospital beds, the treatment may be too late for many, experts say.
Suga, who has faced criticism for insisting on hosting the Olympics despite widespread health concerns, said the recent upsurge is not linked to the Games. He pledged to accelerate inoculations of younger people who are increasingly becoming infected.
But holding the Olympics “sends a conflicting message when people are being asked to limit their activities,” Tetsuya Shiokawa, an opposition Japanese Communist Party lawmaker, said in parliament Friday.
Earlier Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike noted that people in their 30s or younger account for many recent cases and urged them to “share the sense of crisis” and follow basic measures such as mask wearing and avoiding having parties.
As of Thursday, 27 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 71.5 percent.


Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts
Updated 30 July 2021

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts

Novak Djokovic fails in Olympic ‘Golden Slam’ quest as US-Russia doping row erupts
  • The Serb collapsed from a set and a break ahead as German fourth seed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1

TOKYO: World number one Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday and a defeated American swimmer launched doping accusations against a Russian rival.
As the athletics events began in a stadium deprived of spectators by anti-coronavirus measures, Jamaican sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made an impressive entrance.
Djokovic's bid for a calendar Golden Grand Slam -- all four Grand Slam tournaments plus the Olympics -- was dramatically ended by Alexander Zverev.
The Serb collapsed from a set and a break ahead as German fourth seed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 to set up a final against Russian Karen Khachanov.
In a bitter row at the pool, American swimmer Ryan Murphy accused Evgeny Rylov of doping after he was beaten by the Russian in the 200m backstroke.
Murphy said he had been "swimming in a race that's probably not clean".
Rylov said he was "surprised" by Murphy's "strange" suggestion.
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) hit back on Twitter, saying "the broken record is once again playing the song about Russia doping and someone is diligently pressing the button on the English-language propaganda".
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency said Rylov had been tested three times this year and that he was "prepared and clean".
Russia are banned from Tokyo 2020 after being found guilty of state-sponsored doping, meaning their athletes cannot use the Russian flag and anthem.
But more than 330 Russian athletes have been allowed to compete under the ROC moniker, and they had won 10 golds by Friday evening to lie fourth in the medals table.
As competition began in the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, Fraser-Pryce successfully launched her bid to become the first woman to win an individual Olympic athletics event three times.
The Jamaican, 100 metres champion in 2008 and 2012, shut down with 20 metres remaining and strode over the line for a comfortable first-round victory in 10.84sec.
One of her rivals, the Ivory Coast's Marie-Josee Ta Lou, blasted to an African record-equalling 10.78sec and reigning champion Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica recorded 10.82sec on what appears to be a fast track.
"If you notice the heats, there's some really quick running. It's good for female sprinting. It's long overdue," Fraser-Pryce said.
The semi-finals and final of that event take place on Saturday evening.
World record-holder Karsten Warholm of Norway strolled to victory in his heat of the 400m hurdles heat, an event that could be one of the highlights.
"It was nice to get out on the track again," said Warholm. "I've been here for two weeks already, I'm starting to get bored so it was very nice to get around."
Qatar's Abderrahman Samba eased through but said he felt the absence of spectators: "It was really, really difficult. I really missed the crowd."
In the pool, South Africa's Tatjana Schoenmaker was overjoyed after becoming the first South African woman to win an Olympic swimming gold for 25 years as she obliterated the eight-year-old world record in the 200m breaststroke, timing 2min 18.95sec.
Australia's Emma McKeon claimed her fourth medal in Tokyo as she blazed to the women's 100m freestyle title in a new Olympic record of 51.96sec.
Hong Kong's Siobhan Haughey -- one of the surprises of the swimming events -- earned another silver medal to add to that from the 200m freestyle.
French judo superstar Teddy Riner came up short in his bid to win a historic third consecutive heavyweight title, losing to Russia's world number one Tamerlan Bashaev in the quarter-final. Riner had to settle for bronze.
The shadow of coronavirus hung over the start of the athletics with the Australian team saying three of its members would remain isolated from the rest of the squad "as a precautionary measure" after a scare.
The three are classed as close contacts of US pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has been ruled out of the Games after testing positive for Covid-19.
Ian Chesterman, the chef de mission of the Australian Olympic Committee, told a press conference: "They all tested negative which is good. They also confirmed the daily test results which have also been negative and confirmed their test results before they left Australia."
Coronavirus cases are surging in Japan a week into the Games.
On Friday, Tokyo 2020 organisers reported 27 new cases related to the event -- the highest daily figure yet -- although they insist there is nothing to suggest a link between the Games and rising infections in Japan.