Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition

Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition
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In the previews, Egypt were hardly mentioned and dismissed as mere fodder for the last European team to win gold back in 1992. (AFP)
Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition
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The young Green Falcons may have lost a seventh game out of seven in the Olympics, but that does not tell the whole story. Saudi Arabia had the lion’s share — 56 percent —   of possession. (AFP)
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Updated 23 July 2021

Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition

Five things we learned from opening Saudi Arabia and Egypt results in Tokyo 2020 football competition
  • Tenacious Pharaohs defy Spanish giants, while Green Falcons’ hopes undimmed despite unlucky loss

LONDON: The first day of the Olympic football competition brought a mixture of encouragement and disappointment for the two Arab participants at Tokyo 2020. Egypt managed a commendable 0-0 draw with tournament favorites Spain, while Saudi Arabia will feel a little aggrieved at losing 2-1 to Ivory Coast in another hard-fought game.

1. Saudis suffer harsh defeat

The young Green Falcons may have lost a seventh game out of seven in the Olympics, but that does not tell the whole story. Saudi Arabia had the lion’s share — 56 percent —   of possession against the talented Ivory Coast, and worked incredibly hard with and without the ball.

The pressing in the first half was excellent and seemed to surprise the opposition. In such humid conditions, it was no surprise that the same energy levels could not be sustained for the full 90 and while possession was good, the Africans always looked a little sharper going forward.

What was encouraging was the attitude and response to going behind to an own goal. Just five minutes after that setback, Saudi Arabia were level. The all-round attitude and performance will please coach Saad Al-Shehri, with the fact that the game ended in defeat the only reason there is not widespread satisfaction. 

 
2. Al-Dossary shines for Saudi

There were a number of good Saudi performances, but with Abdullah Al-Hamdan looking far from sharp in the striking role, it was up to main man Salem Al-Dossary to lead the way. The Al-Hilal star scored the senior team’s winning goal against Egypt at Russia 2018 to earn a first win at the World Cup for 24 years, and his goal at Yokohama International Stadium was good enough to win any game.

Picking the ball up just outside the area, Al-Dossary had time to look and then curled an unstoppable shot past the outstretched arms of the Ivory Coast goalkeeper Ira Eliezer Tape. He almost scored another fine goal late in the game, but his shot from just inside the box struck the crossbar in heartbreaking fashion. It was that close to being 2-2.

3. Ivory Coast’s attacking quality edged the encounter

Saudi Arabia is the only team among the 16 currently in Japan with a squad entirely based at home. This is no time to get into that debate, but a difference in quality was noticeable in the second half. Amad Diallo went on a run and then passed to Franck Kessie, who turned smartly on the edge of the area and finished beautifully. In effect, it was a goal made by a Manchester United player and finished by an AC Milan man. This goal was the difference between getting a point or none for the Saudis, and it was one of international quality.

It is always going to be difficult for players who play all their competitive games in Saudi Arabia to suddenly come up against rivals who compete in the upper reaches of the English Premier League and Serie A. Warm-ups against African and South American opposition only help so much and when it came to it, the winner came from players with two of the biggest clubs in the world.

4. Egypt’s heroics deserve international recognition

Before the tournament much was written about the Spanish squad and how it included six members who had taken part in the country’s impressive Euro 2020 campaign, including Barcelona prodigy Pedri.

In the previews, Egypt were hardly mentioned and dismissed as mere fodder for the last European team to win gold back in 1992. Yet the Pharaohs, led by Ahmed Hegazi and defensive partner Mahmoud Hamdi, worked hard to deny Spain a goal in a display of fine and committed defending. It was sometimes far from pretty, but it was effective.

Again, in the match commentaries and reports, there was little mention of Egypt, and the effort and discipline that had been put into the match. It was all about Spain and its failure to score. But Egypt — with players who were in action for Al-Ahly in the CAF Champions League final in Morocco last Saturday — deserve huge credit for their efforts.

5. Both Arab teams still in hunt for last eight 

It was unfortunate that Saudi Arabia, who had chances, especially in the final stages, were not able to get the goal their efforts deserved, but there is still hope. The game against Germany on Sunday is huge, but if Al-Shehri can get another solid performance out of his players then there is no reason they cannot get something off the Germans. It will be tough, but if Egypt can foil Spain, Saudi Arabia can do the same to Germany.

For Egypt, the situation is obviously more encouraging. Taking a point off the best team in the group opened things up unexpectedly. Argentina are next, and the South Americans looked open at the back against Australia and unimpressive going forward. Then comes the final game against the Olyroos, who looked organized and dangerous in attack. It really is up for grabs.

Four points can often be enough, and it is well within reach.


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 59 min 21 sec ago

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.


Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets
Updated 23 September 2021

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets

Indian Premier League: Delhi Capitals beat coronavirus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad by 8 wickets
  • Hyderabad fast bowler Thangarasu Natarajan tested positive for COVID-19 and was put in isolation hours before the game
DUBAI: Delhi Capitals notched their seventh win in the Indian Premier League with a thumping eight-wicket victory over virus-hit Sunrisers Hyderabad on Wednesday.
Hyderabad fast bowler Thangarasu Natarajan tested positive for COVID-19 and was put in isolation hours before the game. The team was also without all-rounder Vijay Shankar, who also went into isolation after being identified as a close contact of Natarajan.
Without two key players, Hyderabad was limited to 134-9 by Delhi’s seamers and spinners.
Shreyas Iyer (47 not out) and captain Rishabh Pant (35 not out) led the run-chase with a clinical unbroken 67-run stand as Delhi went atop the leaderboard with 14 points by reaching 139-2 in 17.5 overs.
“Our bowlers did a pretty good job to restrict them,” Pant said. “We have one of the quickest bowlers in the world (and) pretty happy as the skipper.”
Shreyas raised the victory by hammering West Indies fast bowler Jason Holder to long-on boundary for six to hand Hyderabad its seventh loss in the tournament.
Shikhar Dhawan, who was left out by India for next month’s Twenty20 World Cup, continued his rich form in this season’s IPL by scoring 42 off 37 balls before Shreyas and Pant combined in a 42-ball stand and led the chase.
Earlier, Hyderabad struggled to put up partnerships after it won the toss and opted to bat. David Warner fell to Anrich Nortje (2-12) in the first over without scoring as the South African paceman didn’t allow the top order to score freely off his four overs.
Captain Kane Williamson (18) couldn’t capitalize on two dropped catches before finally holing out in the deep halfway into the innings off left-arm spinner Axar Patel (2-21).
Kagiso Rabada (3-37), who earlier had removed Wriddhiman Saha inside the batting powerplay, restricted Hyderabad to a below-par total with the wickets of Manish Pandey (17) and Abdul Samad (28).
“Didn’t get off to the start we would have liked,” Williamson said. “They put us under pressure and that is what you expect … for us, it is focusing on our cricket and trying to improve.”