How the Olympic football tournament could lead to stardom for Saudi class of 2020

It is no secret that Saudi players rarely go overseas and the squad that touched down on Tokyo’s Narita Airport at the weekend is fully a domestic-based roster. (Twitter: @saudiolympic)
It is no secret that Saudi players rarely go overseas and the squad that touched down on Tokyo’s Narita Airport at the weekend is fully a domestic-based roster. (Twitter: @saudiolympic)
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Updated 21 July 2021

How the Olympic football tournament could lead to stardom for Saudi class of 2020

How the Olympic football tournament could lead to stardom for Saudi class of 2020
  • Abdullah Al-Hamdan of Al-Hilal could be Tokyo 2020’s breakout star in the way the UAE’s Omar Abdulrahman shone at London 2012

More than 50,000 football fans went to Old Trafford in the summer of 2012, expecting to see a Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani masterclass as Uruguay took on the United Arab Emirates during the London Olympics. Instead, it was Omar Abdulrahman who stole the show.

The playmaker, then only 20, put on a virtuoso performance to thrill the crowd, which included this writer’s brother who texted at half-time to ask about the bushy-haired player wearing the number 15 who provided a wonderful assist for Ismail Matar to open the scoring. 

It was a career-changing game for the Saudi-born star who was soon back in England’s northwest, trialling for Manchester City.

According to the club, “Amoory” was offered a contract and a likely loan move to Spain but preferred to stay with Al-Ain. The interest never went away, however, and there were links with Arsenal, Barcelona, Juventus and other leading clubs in the years that followed.

Abdulrahman never went to Europe and the soon-to-be 30-year-old failed to take his chance. Only he knows if that is a source of regret. What can be said with certainty, however, is that the Olympics gave him an international stage on which to show his talents early in his career.

The same opportunities could happen in Japan for the best young players in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who kick off their Olympic campaigns on Thursday against Ivory Coast and Spain, respectively.

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It is a great opportunity for Abdullah Al-Hamdan, Saudi Arabia’s 21-year-old striker, who could follow in the footsteps of Abdulrahman and make an international name for himself.

These stars have few chances to appear in the international spotlight, and one benefit of playing against Spain, Argentina and Australia (Egypt) and Ivory Coast, Brazil and Germany (Saudi) is that there will be a lot of eyes on these games.

The unique nature of the 2020 Olympics should also help — there will be no fans, fewer journalists than usual and few, if any, scouts making the journey to Japan in the middle of a global pandemic that has delayed the games by a year and cast a shadow over the entire event.

“The Olympics are not a high priority when compared to the U-17 or U-20 World Cups or even some of the continental youth tournaments,” a leading scout told Arab News. “But it is still one attended by plenty of scouts, and any player who shows his potential will get noticed.”

Instead of traveling around and picking which games to attend, everything now will be done online.

“That may make it better for players who don’t play for the traditional powers. In the past, you would go there with an idea of who you wanted to watch and focus on their games, but now it will be open for everyone. It’s not a good idea to travel to Japan at the moment and while it is always better to watch players in person, with no travel everyone will have more time to watch more games and see more players.”

That could be good news for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, especially the latter. It is no secret that Saudi players rarely go overseas and the squad that touched down on Tokyo’s Narita Airport at the weekend is fully a domestic-based roster, the only one of the 16 nations taking part (ironically, Egypt’s only overseas star, Ahmed Hegazi, plays in Saudi Arabia, for Al-Ittihad).

It is a great opportunity for Abdullah Al-Hamdan, Saudi Arabia’s 21-year-old striker, who could follow in the footsteps of Abdulrahman and make an international name for himself. Al-Hilal swooped in February to take Al-Hamdan away from Al-Shabab on a five-year deal. The Riyadh rivals were a little upset at seeing the talent they had helped develop at the club for years head across the city to the defending champions and, given what he is capable of, that bitterness is understandable.

While Al-Shabab may take time to come around, the rest of Saudi football have high hopes for the powerful striker who does not seem to have any weaknesses — good in the air, on the ground, and capable of creating goals as well as scoring them.

There have been concerns over the firepower of the Young Falcons in the big games against Ivory Coast, Germany and Brazil. If Al-Hamdan can step forward and get on the scoresheet, he will not only give the team a chance to improve a dismal Olympic record but also show that he is the ready to be the main marksman for the senior side for the next decade. With qualification for the 2022 World Cup due to start in September, and in a league where so much of the striking talent is foreign, Saudi Arabia need the Al-Hilal star to be as good as he can be.  

A six-month stint with Spain’s Sporting Gijon in 2019 gave Al-Hamdan a taste of Europe. He has already had a taste of being a full international player, and now the Olympics will provide a perfect chance to make a global name for himself.

Omar Abdulrahman did it in London and Abdullah Al-Hamdan can do it in Tokyo.


US men’s basketball team fall to France in first Olympics loss since 2004

US men’s basketball team fall to France in first Olympics loss since 2004
Updated 26 July 2021

US men’s basketball team fall to France in first Olympics loss since 2004

US men’s basketball team fall to France in first Olympics loss since 2004
  • The USA face Iran in their next game on Wednesday when France take on the Czech Republic

SAITAMA, Japan: The US men’s basketball team suffered a shock 83-76 defeat at the hands of France on Sunday, losing at the Olympics for the first time since 2004 and for just the sixth time in the history of the tournament.
The French had upset the US men when they last met in the 2019 FIBA World Cup quarter-finals and they had their number again on the first day of group play at the Saitama Super Arena, powered by a game-high 28 points from Evan Fournier.
“It felt good, it felt good,” Fournier told Reuters.
Moustapha Fall had high praise for his teammate.
“He is the offensive leader for us, always aggressive, always trying to score,” Fall said of Fournier. “We knew he was going to be our leader offensively and he assumed this role, so he is good for us.”
The Americans got out to a good start in the first half, leading 45-37 at the break on the back of their defensive energy, but were outscored 25-11 in a disastrous third-quarter with France taking the lead.
Team USA clawed back to briefly regain the lead in the fourth quarter, but the French wouldn’t go away and took their first ever Olympic win versus the United States.

Guerschon Yabusele of France shoots againnst Edrice Adebayo of the US. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Star US player Kevin Durant was saddled with foul trouble early and found it hard to get into a rhythm. He fouled out near the end of the game.
The United States is always the team to beat at basketball — they now have a 138-6 record and have won gold 15 times since joining the Olympic program in 1936 — boasting more depth than any other country with their star-studded NBA line-ups.
But their recent form suggested reaching the top of the podium would not be as easy as in the past, after they dropped two straight exhibition games this month including a surprise loss to world 22nd-ranked Nigeria.
Preparations were also disrupted by the absence of players due to this year’s late NBA playoffs and late replacements due to COVID-19 protocols and injury.
Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were finally able to join the team after the last game of the NBA finals on July 20. Holiday scored a team-high 18 points on Sunday despite having flown into Japan the day before.
US head coach Gregg Popovich said his team had to be more consistent, pointing to several leads they had let slip away.
“We gave all of those up. Because of a lack of consistent defense, too many errors on offense, possessions where we didn’t move and took ill-advised shots. So you understand it, look at it, put in the work and try to get better.”
In other Group A action on Sunday, the Czech Republic held on to beat Iran 84-78 after the Iranians had cut a 22-point deficit down to four points with less than a minute to go.
In Group B, Australia overcame a 22-turnover performance to top Nigeria 84-67, while Italy fought to a 92-82 win against Germany that saw the Italians pull away late after tightening up their defense.
In their next games on Wednesday, the United States will take on Iran and France will meet the Czechs, while Australia will face Italy and Germany will take on Nigeria. 


Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix now on sale

Tickets for the inaugural Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are now on sale. (Supplied)
Tickets for the inaugural Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are now on sale. (Supplied)
Updated 25 July 2021

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix now on sale

Tickets for the inaugural Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are now on sale. (Supplied)
  • Initially, 40 percent of the tickets will be released
  • All ticket holders will also gain access to the festivals and live concerts

LONDON: Tickets for the inaugural Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are now on sale now for fans in the Kingdom and fans living abroad, it was announced on Sunday.

The first ever F1 race taking place in Saudi Arabia will be run around the Jeddah Circuit on the weekend of December 3 to 5.

Initially, 40 percent of the tickets will be released, with hopes of increasing to full capacity over time, Saudi Press Agency reported.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, Minister of Sports, announced the opening of ticket sales and thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his continued support for bringing major sporting events to the Kingdom.

“We will prove to the whole world — God willing and with ambitious leadership — that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become an exceptional home to the most prestigious racing series in the world, and we look forward to presenting an unforgettable race for all motorsport lovers and enthusiasts, whether those watching at the track or on TV screens,” he said.

“Today we mark a new step on our way to hosting the first Formula 1 race in the Kingdom, as we enter the most exciting stages of hosting the event,” Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, said.

“We look forward to experiencing a great race in the latest, fastest and longest street circuit in Formula 1, in addition to various types of entertainment over three days outside the circuit,” he added.

F1 fans will be able to choose from three types of ticket: Paddock Club, Premium Hospitality and Grandstand, with package prices starting at SR1,800 ($480).

Grandstand tickets will allow fans to see the start and finish line as well as the hyper-fast final section of the track, while Premium Hospitality tickets give you a fuller racing experience with the best views of the racing action.

Fans can also visit the F1 Paddock Club to enjoy the race weekend in style in the Pit and Team Building overlooking the Red Sea coastline. 

All ticket holders will also gain access to the festivals and live concerts taking place across the circuit and F1 Fanzone.


UAE shooter Saif Bin Futais aiming to improve on Olympic best at Tokyo 

UAE shooter Saif Bin Futais aiming to improve on Olympic best at Tokyo 
Updated 25 July 2021

UAE shooter Saif Bin Futais aiming to improve on Olympic best at Tokyo 

UAE shooter Saif Bin Futais aiming to improve on Olympic best at Tokyo 
  • The 47-year-old Emirati finished 29th in the Men’s Skeet at Rio 2016

TOKYO: Emirati shooter Saif Bin Futais racked up 70 points in the three rounds of Tokyo 2020’s Skeet Men’s qualification on the first day of the event, held at Asaka Shooting Range in the Japanese capital.

It was performance equalled by 30 other participants, while French shooter Eric Delaunay and US shooter Hancock Finkett tied for first place with 75 points. Tammaro Cassandro of Italy and Jacub Tomecek of the Czech Republic followed, scoring 74 points each.

Each shooter was involved in three rounds of 25 attempts.

Bin Futais, 47, is taking part in his second Olympic games having finished in 29th place in the Skeet Men’s competition at Rio 2016.

Among the other Arab shooters taking part in the event are Saudi Arabian Saeed Al-Mutairi who clocked up 71 points, and Abdullah Al-Rashidi of Kuwait, who finished the day tied in sixth place.

The competition resumes on Monday morning, from 4:00 a.m. in Riyadh time, with a further two rounds for each of the competitors.


Pandemic-hit IPL to resume on Sept. 19 in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah

Under the new schedule, 13 IPL matches will be held in Dubai, 10 in Sharjah and eight in Abu Dhabi. (Twitter: @IPL/File Photo)
Under the new schedule, 13 IPL matches will be held in Dubai, 10 in Sharjah and eight in Abu Dhabi. (Twitter: @IPL/File Photo)
Updated 25 July 2021

Pandemic-hit IPL to resume on Sept. 19 in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah

Under the new schedule, 13 IPL matches will be held in Dubai, 10 in Sharjah and eight in Abu Dhabi. (Twitter: @IPL/File Photo)
  • The tournament was only half finished when it was halted in India on May 4 due to COVID-19

NEW DELHI: The Indian Premier League, the world's richest cricket tournament, will resume in the UAE on September 19, more than four months after it was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said Sunday.

“A total number of 31 matches will be played in the duration of 27 days,” said a statement by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

“The 14th season, which was postponed in May this year in the wake of the pandemic, will resume on 19th September in Dubai with a blockbuster clash between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians.”

The tournament was only half finished when it was halted in India on May 4 after a number of players and team officials caught coronavirus despite being in bio-secure bubbles.

Under the new schedule, 13 matches will be held in Dubai, 10 in Sharjah and eight in Abu Dhabi.

The final will be staged in Dubai on October 15, just two days before the rescheduled Twenty20 World Cup gets underway, also in the Gulf.

In the new-look IPL, there will be seven double headers.

The final game of the league stage will be played between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Capitals on October 8.

The first qualifier will be played in Dubai on October 10 with the eliminator qualifier 2 to be played in Sharjah on October 11 and 13.

The World T20 was originally meant to take place in Australia at the end of 2020 but it was called off as the pandemic swept across the globe causing widescale lockdowns.

It was then switched to India before it was rescheduled again to be staged in Oman and the United Arab Emirates from October 17 to November 14.

The BCCI remains the ‘host’ of the World T20 but the competition will now be held across four venues — the Dubai International Stadium, the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the Sharjah Stadium, and the Oman Cricket Academy Ground.


Syrian athlete brothers separated by war hug at Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony

Alaa Maso from the Refugee Olympic Team — who will be competing in the men’s swimming — was photographed embracing his brother Mohamed Maso, who is competing in the triathlon. (Screenshot)
Alaa Maso from the Refugee Olympic Team — who will be competing in the men’s swimming — was photographed embracing his brother Mohamed Maso, who is competing in the triathlon. (Screenshot)
Updated 25 July 2021

Syrian athlete brothers separated by war hug at Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony

Alaa Maso from the Refugee Olympic Team — who will be competing in the men’s swimming — was photographed embracing his brother Mohamed Maso, who is competing in the triathlon. (Screenshot)
  • Both brothers, originally from the city of Aleppo in Syria, now live in Germany

DUBAI: A picture of two Syrian brothers — one representing the Olympic refugee team, the other the Syrian team — hugging on the sidelines of the Tokyo Games has been circulating on social media.

Many praised the image, with one Twitter user saying: “The most beautiful image from the #OpeningCeremony are the two #Syrian brothers, who were reunited.” Others called it “surreal.”

Alaa Maso from the Refugee Olympic Team — who will be competing in the men’s swimming — was photographed embracing his brother Mohamed Maso, who is competing in the triathlon.

Both brothers, originally from the city of Aleppo in Syria, now live in Germany.

Alaa left Syria in 2015 and resettled in Germany after his training facilities were damaged during fighting, according to his profile on the International Olympic Committee website. 

His brother Mohamed also fled the war in Syria for Europe in 2015. During his journey to Europe, “his Syrian triathlon suit and running shoes” were in his backpack, his profile read.

Alaa will also be competing alongside another Syrian refugee swimmer, Yusra Mardini.

About half a million people have been killed in Syria and millions more forced to flee their homes since anti-government protests in 2011 led to a deadly war.