Italy, Spain to host football tournament in support of Saudi Quality of Life project

Italy, Spain to host football tournament in support of Saudi Quality of Life project
ACF Fiorentina will contest the Unbeatables Cup with AS Roma, Espanyol de Barcelona and Real Betis. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 03 August 2021

Italy, Spain to host football tournament in support of Saudi Quality of Life project

Italy, Spain to host football tournament in support of Saudi Quality of Life project
  • Proceeds from tournament to be donated to center specialized in cardiology
  • Mahd Academy to sponsor event as part of efforts to support medical, sports research centers

ROME: Four of the best football teams in Italy and Spain will play a tournament in Florence and Seville to support medical and sports research centers as part of the Quality of Life project, one of the programs of the Saudi Vision 2030.

On Aug. 7, the football teams AS Roma, ACF Fiorentina, Espanyol de Barcelona and Real Betis will kick off the first edition of the Unbeatables Cup, organized by the Italian association Unbeatables with the sponsorship of the Mahd Academy, the Saudi government body for supporting the development of sports disciplines in Saudi Arabia.

The cup will be played in two matches: Fiorentina-Espanyol at 7:00 p.m. in Florence and Betis-Roma at 10:00 p.m. in Seville.

All the proceeds of the tournament will be donated to a research center specialized in cardiology at the service of the world’s athletes.

Unbeatables was established in 2016 by ex-athletes affected by inherited cardiac arrhythmias.

In the aftermath of what happened to footballer Christian Eriksen, who collapsed suddenly after suffering cardiac arrest during Denmark’s Euro 2020 opener against Finland, as well as to many other footballers around the world, it was clear that the matter deserved widespread attention.

“Congenital cardiomyopathies are a silent killer. They can remain asymptomatic for years and, when not diagnosed, appear suddenly, causing cardiac death. Young athletes often pay the highest price because intense physical activity may be an important trigger. Promptly identifying the people most at risk of sudden death through screening activities is essential to implement prevention strategies and appropriate therapies. Only in this way can we be able to save more lives, on and off the playing field,” said Unbeatables Chairman Simone Ambrosi.

The Mahd Academy’s sponsorship of the Unbeatables Cup is part of the academy’s efforts to support medical and sports research centers around the world.

Established in July 2020, the academy aims to provide research related to the sports community as well as to discover and develop talent to build the next generation of athletes in Saudi Arabia, as part of the Quality of Life project.

Abdullah bin Faisal bin Hammad, president of Mahd Academy, expressed his appreciation for the royal approval to sponsor this tournament.

He extended his sincere thanks to HRH Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Saud, minister of sports, for his keenness to participate in such initiatives that promote sports around the world.

“The Mahd Academy will continue to support such initiatives,” he said in a statement, reaffirming the academy’s primary goals of achieving positive social impact through sports and supporting athletic talent in Saudi Arabia.

Mano Menezes pays heavy price for Al-Nassr’s poor start to Saudi Pro League season

Mano Menezes pays heavy price for Al-Nassr’s poor start to Saudi Pro League season
Updated 23 sec ago

Mano Menezes pays heavy price for Al-Nassr’s poor start to Saudi Pro League season

Mano Menezes pays heavy price for Al-Nassr’s poor start to Saudi Pro League season
  • Coach fired as criticism mounts despite Riyadh club’s progress to AFC Champions League final eight

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has been fired just five days after leading the team into the quarterfinals of the AFC Champions League.

The dismissal, which ends the 62-year-old’s five months in charge, does not come as a surprise. Fair or not, it had been coming.

Saturday’s 3-1 loss at home to Al-Ittihad meant that Al-Nassr had collected six points from the first four games of the season, leaving the Riyadh giants six points behind the leaders, although with a game in hand.

“Mano Menezes is not Al-Nassr’s coach anymore,” Menezes posted on his social media accounts. “The club has decided to interrupt the contract. Mr. Menezes and his crew would like to thank Al-Nassr supporters and players for the time they spent together and also the Saudi people for the kind reception. We’ve learned a lot during this period.”

Menezes’ time in Saudi Arabia began well. His first act in April was to steer Al-Nassr to top spot in a tough Champions League group, finishing above the lauded Al-Sadd and Xavi Hernandez, the coach of the Qatari team who is tipped to be heading back to Barcelona before too long.

Al-Nassr recruited well in the summer, adding the Brazilian Talisca and striker Vincent Aboubakar — though Menezes seemed unsure at times just how to use the Cameroonian — and there was an expectation of a title challenge.

Defeat to Al-Faisaly in the second game put the pressure on, but there was a vote of confidence from the board. Despite that there were still noises coming out of the club that all was not quite well.

Menezes had come in for plenty of criticism from the media and former players in recent weeks. The play was seen as predictable, with a lack of creativity coming from midfield despite the arrival of the talented Talisca.

Performances were disjointed and with big characters such as Morocco’s Abderrazak Hamdallah in the team, there were concerns about whether Menezes was strong enough to keep everyone in line and the team happy.

All knew, rightly or wrongly, that an exit from the Champions League last Monday would spell the end of the Brazilian’s time in Riyadh, but Al-Nassr defeated Tractor of Iran 1-0. The victory, coming against an understrength opposition, failed to convince the critics, but at least the club were in the last eight with a favorable draw against Al-Wahda of the UAE.

The loss to Al-Ittihad was the end, however. The Tigers played with more intensity and discipline, and deserved the 3-1 win. It did not go unnoticed at Al-Nassr that their opponents, and SPL leaders, had moved quickly earlier this season to change their coach and had won all four games since doing so.

With just four games of the season gone, it seems a knee-jerk reaction but, like their counterparts in Jeddah, Al-Nassr’s board felt it was best to act quickly while there is still time for a new man to come in and mount a title challenge.

It now remains to be seen who that new man will be. The team’s next three league games are all very winnable, coming against opponents who are in the bottom four. Nine points will put Al-Nassr in the midst of a title race.

The  names already in the hat will be familiar to fans of Al-Hilal. Cosmin Olaroiu was last seen winning the Chinese Super League title with Jiangsu FC before the team folded earlier this year. The Romanian led Al-Hilal to the league title in 2008 and had a brief spell in charge of the Saudi national team.

Also mentioned is Jose Morais, the Portuguese boss who came to Riyadh toward the end of last season to deliver the title.

That will be the job of the new man at Al-Nassr.

Gaikwad stars as Chennai wins opener of revived IPL

Gaikwad stars as Chennai wins opener of revived IPL
Updated 18 min 6 sec ago

Gaikwad stars as Chennai wins opener of revived IPL

Gaikwad stars as Chennai wins opener of revived IPL
  • The 14th edition of the COVID-19 hit Twenty20 tournament resumed in the United Arab Emirates with limited spectators back in the stands in Dubai

DUBAI: India’s Ruturaj Gaikwad smashed an unbeaten 88 as Chennai Super Kings beat holders Mumbai Indians by 20 runs in the first match of the revived Indian Premier League on Sunday.
The 14th edition of the COVID-19 hit Twenty20 tournament resumed in the United Arab Emirates with limited spectators back in the stands in Dubai.
The tournament was halted in May because of a devastating surge in pandemic deaths in India, prompting foreign players to rush home.
Many have not come back including England’s Ben Stokes and Pat Cummins of Australia to take some sheen out of the world’s most popular T20 league.
The event restarted with Gaikwad, an opening batsman, lifting the team from a precarious 24-4 to 156-6 with key partnerships which took the attack to the opposition bowlers.
Pace bowler Dwayne Bravo then returned figures of 3-25 from his four overs as Chennai bowlers kept down five-time champions Mumbai to 136-8.
“I felt Rutu and Bravo got us more than what we expected,” said skipper M.S. Dhoni. “We thought of 140, to get close to 160 was tremendous.”
Bravo, who also hit a useful eight-ball 23 batting at number eight, was ably supported by pace spearhead Deepak Chahar who took two key wickets including Quinton de Kock for 17.
Gaikwad though remained the hero as he hit nine fours and four sixes in his 58-ball knock after the Kieron Pollard-led side were invited to bat by Dhoni.
Five-time champions Mumbai were without regular skipper Rohit Sharma but began with a flourish as pace bowlers Trent Boult and Adam Mile rattled the Chennai top-order.
The pace duo took two wickets each and a quick delivery from Boult hit Ambati Rayudu on the forearm with the batsman retired hurt on nought.
Dhoni said Rayudu “was smiling, so he hasn’t broken his arm.”
Jasprit Bumrah also took two wickets in his 100th IPL appearance.
Gaikwad hit back with a 81-run stand with Ravindra Jadeja, who made 26, to take the team to what turned out to be a winning total.
The win took Chennai to top of the eight-team table with Delhi Capitals second, Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore third and Mumbai fourth.
Bangalore will take on Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

Paulinho won’t be missed by Al-Ahli after sudden departure

Paulinho won’t be missed by Al-Ahli after sudden departure
Updated 19 September 2021

Paulinho won’t be missed by Al-Ahli after sudden departure

Paulinho won’t be missed by Al-Ahli after sudden departure
  • Brazilian midfielder has had his contract terminated by the club after returning home for personal reasons

Paulinho’s last meaningful act as an Al-Ahli player was getting bundled over in the box after 15 minutes to earn his team a penalty against Al-Fateh. That was on Friday but the very next day it was announced that his three-year contract with the Saudi Arabian giants had been terminated after just two months.

It is a blow to the club, struggling with five points from the first five games constituting the second worst-ever start to the season, and the league. Paulinho’s arrival after six successful years in China (a spell punctuated by a year in Barcelona) was another suggestion that the Saudi Professional League had become Asia’s go-to competition for talented foreign stars.

The understandable question for those fans in Jeddah and around the country is: What happened? 

The club’s official statement revealed little. “Al-Ahli club management, headed by Mr. Majed bin Ayed Al-Nefaie, has completed the procedures for terminating the contract of the Brazilian professional player “Paulinho” by mutual consent,” it said. It added: “The termination of the contract with Paulinho comes due the emergency circumstances, he spoke with the club’s management recently, which was reflected in his performance on the field during the past rounds, expressing his inability to provide the desired addition to the team.”



Speaking to Saudi television, Paulinho, who scored two goals in his four appearances, said that many things had been happening in life, including a fire breaking out at his house in Brazil, also home to his parents. A Brazilian radio show said that Paulinho was leaving Saudi Arabia for personal reasons and had recently been approached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, his former coach in Guangzhou and Brazil, currently in charge of Gremio.

The expectation in Brazil had been that the 33-year-old would return home after his China spell ended — his contract at Guangzhou was terminated because travel restrictions in place in China meant he could not enter the country. The expectation will now again be that he will return to sign either for his former club Corinthians, which he left in 2013 to sign for Tottenham Hotspur, or Gremio. This is the feeling at Al-Ahli too. 

Al-Nefaie added to the club’s statement, saying that there was no reason to keep a player who did not want to be there. 

“We tried a lot but it was clear that he didn’t want to stay,” Al-Nefaie said, according to Saudi radio station UFM. “After several such attempts, we decided to terminate the contract rather than pay a high salary to a player who doesn’t want to be there. The club is more important than any player.”

The message coming from Al-Ahli is clear: Paulinho didn’t want to stay and so there was little point in keeping him.

The midfielder is not the first and won’t be the last foreign player to sign a lucrative contract in Asia only to leave soon after. Only he knows whether there was a genuine emergency at home that means he can’t stay in Saudi Arabia or whether he simply wants to go and play elsewhere. It is credit to the club that the situation has been dealt with and resolved so quickly. There is not going to be any distracting saga developing here. Paulinho has gone and Al-Ahli have to move forward.

It could be that Paulinho’s most significant contribution to the long-term success of Al-Ahli was his parting request for fans to be patient. After a disappointing season last time when the club finished eighth in the league and there were rows about reported unpaid salaries, there were high hopes this time around with a new coach in Besnik Hasi and new players like, well, Paulinho.

“It is difficult to change a club in just a few days,” Paulinho said. “I know that Al-Ahli is a big project and I say to the fans that they need to be patient for some time because the current administration will take the club back to the top.”

“I know that last season was not great and we did not start well in the league this season with all these draws not normal for a club the size of Al-Ahli. The situation will improve because those in charge are professional, they will definitely change this situation.”

That attempt will continue without him on Thursday with an important game against Al-Feiha. Fans will be curious to see where Paulinho turns up next, but he wasn’t around long enough to be missed.

Kafo triumph at first Global Goals World Cup Saudi Arabia

Kafo triumph at first Global Goals World Cup Saudi Arabia
Updated 19 September 2021

Kafo triumph at first Global Goals World Cup Saudi Arabia

Kafo triumph at first Global Goals World Cup Saudi Arabia
  • The winners will now represent the Kingdom at November’s GGWCUP grand finale in Iceland after coming out on top in the 26-team all-female tournament

RIYADH: Kafo have won the first ever Global Goals World Cup Saudi Arabia event in Diriyah and will now represent the Kingdom at the GGWCUP grand finale in Iceland this November.

Hosted by the Saudi Sports for All Federation at Elite Sports Center in Diriyah, the Global Goals World Cup Saudi Arabia was contested among 26 all-female teams advocating social and environmental sustainability while battling on the pitch in a 5-a-side football tournament as part of their campaigns to highlight the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The GGWCUP movement was launched in 2015 and since then it has invited women around the world to use sport and the 17 SDGs to make a positive impact in their communities.

“I congratulate all of the 26 teams for having the drive and conviction to take part in the first GGWCUP Saudi Arabia, and for all of their individual contributions to the success of this event championing the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, president of the Saudi Sports for All Federation.

“The determination the competitors have shown not just today but since the beginning of the GGWCUP is admirable, and they have set an example for us all on being people that can positively impact their local communities with a global ideal. Special congratulations to Kafo, who will be making us proud as they go on to represent Saudi Arabia on the international stage. We wish them the very best of luck and we will be there cheering them on.”

Over the past nine months, teams from across the Kingdom have been campaigning for and educating people about their chosen SDG, hosting community events, talks and awareness programs.

The GGWCUP Saudi Arabia event in Diriyah was the culmination of these efforts, which saw teams give presentations to a panel of judges at a private event on Thursday, followed by a two-day tournament open to members of the public.

Despite being the inaugural GGWCUP event in the Kingdom, this won’t be the first time a team from Saudi Arabia has been to the finals. In 2019, the SFA-founded Saudi Greens took second place at the finals in New York City. It was the first time a female sports team from the Kingdom had competed in the US.

Since then, the SFA has introduced several sports initiatives for women, such as the Women’s Football League, and an online Women’s Fitness Festival.

“GGWCUP Saudi Arabia is yet another fine example of how talented, skilled and passionate our nation’s women are,” said Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini, managing director of the Saudi Sports for All Federation.

“Over the past couple of years, we have worked hard to ensure sport and active opportunities are available to women across the Kingdom, and the success of these all-female teams and the event itself highlights the great strides we have made together.

“Congratulations to Kafo and good luck in Iceland.”

Majken Gilmartin, GGWCUP co-founder, added: “Congratulations to all the 26 teams for taking part in the tournament and their impressive community initiatives, their willingness to show up is what success is all about. The partnership with the Saudi Sports for All Federation to bring the first-ever GGWCup tournament in the Kingdom helps us reach our objective of inspiring women through sports while making an impact on SDGs with community initiatives. We look forward to seeing Kafo in the finals.”

GGWCUP Saudi Arabia, part of the SFA’s mission, is supported by the Ministry of Sport and mandated by Vision 2030’s Quality of Life Program to increase the number of people in the Kingdom exercising at least once a week to 40 percent by 2030.

Al-Ittihad top, Al-Hilal in the groove: 5 things we learned from latest run of Saudi Pro League matches

Al-Ittihad top, Al-Hilal in the groove: 5 things we learned from latest run of Saudi Pro League matches
Updated 19 September 2021

Al-Ittihad top, Al-Hilal in the groove: 5 things we learned from latest run of Saudi Pro League matches

Al-Ittihad top, Al-Hilal in the groove: 5 things we learned from latest run of Saudi Pro League matches
  • Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes under pressure after AFC Champions League success was followed by 3-1 loss to leaders Al-Ittihad

It was another action-packed program in the Saudi Professional League with goals galore. Below are five things we learned from the fifth round of the 2021-22 season.

1. Moussa Marega and Bafetimbi Gomis look dangerous

The two strikers scored all Al-Hilal’s goals in their 3-2 win over Al-Ettifaq amid signs that the champions are starting to get into their domestic groove. There is more to it than that, however, as the pair are starting to link up well together.

In the league so far this season, the Riyadh giants have developed a habit of leaving it late, but not this time. In the 17th minute, Marega slipped Gomis through and the Frenchman’s shot came back off the post, but soon after Marega made no mistake from a similar position. Then it was the turn of Gomis, who added two more in the second half. If one doesn’t get you, the other will.

This week, instead of Al-Hilal in search of late goals, they were left hanging on as Al-Ettifaq scored twice against the tiring hosts. As coach Leonardo Jardim said, it was a wake-up call and a reminder that even with such striking talent, if you take your foot off the pedal in this league you run the risk of being punished.

2. Mano Menezes is on the brink

Fresh after reaching the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday, Al-Nassr were brought back down to earth with a bump, losing 3-1 at home to Al-Ittihad in this week’s big game.

It means that the pressure is well and truly back on coach Mano Menezes after a second league defeat this season, and the Brazilian cut a forlorn figure as he left the Marsool Park pitch.

He will point to the missed penalty by Abderrazzak Hamdallah, which would have brought back the scoreline to 2-2, as well as the chances missed by his team, but the former Brazil boss will know why his team lost. The problems were at the back. Three times the Tigers, roared on by their traveling supporters, cut through the Al-Nassr backline with relative ease.

If Menezes is still in a job next Thursday, the home game against Al-Batin is simply a must-win.

3. Al-Ahli coach under pressure after nightmare start

Al-Ahli’s 1-1 draw with Al-Fateh is not, on the face of it, a terrible result against a team going well, but for the Jeddah giants it was in reality a poor result. In fact, the fifth draw in five matches so far this season marks the second-worst start in the club’s history.

The team started brightly and took the lead, but have struggled with concentration in discipline in recent games and the same happened again just five minutes later. There were six white-shirted defenders in the area when Sofiane Bendebka’s shot bounced back off the bar and was headed in by Firas Al-Buraikan, but nobody was alert enough to either danger.

With expectations high going into the season, it is no surprise that there is pressure on coach Besnik Hasi. The former Anderlecht, Legia Warsaw and Olympiacos boss, now without the departed Paulinho, has to find solutions, and quickly. Al-Ahli have looked decent so far but obviously there is something missing, and if Hasi doesn’t find it soon he will be looking for a new job.

4. Al-Ittihad looking like title challengers

The game at Al-Nassr was always going to be a test of Al-Ittihad’s title credentials, and the 3-1 win meant they passed with flying colors. With Igor Coronado oozing class in attack and Abdulrahman Al-Obod having an excellent game on the left, the Tigers always carried a goal threat, especially on the counter.

After the opening-day defeat, there have been four successive wins with 14 goals scored and just three conceded in that time. Al-Ittihad are very much the form team at the moment and with no Asian commitments until next year, are looking to get plenty of points on the board to put the pressure on Al-Hilal, who are going to be desperate to win the Champions League with the quarterfinals and the semifinals both taking place within a few days of each other next month. Al-Ittihad will be hoping Al-Hilal reach the final and will be looking forward to their next game against the struggling Al-Taawoun.

5. We may have seen the game of the season…

Or at least the half of the season. Al-Taawoun have had huge problems this season in throwing away substantial leads, and did so to amazing effect at home to Al-Raed to lose 5-3.

Al-Taawoun scored three goals between the 52nd and 57th minute to come back from a goal down to lead 3-1 and, surely, even this team was not going to throw this lead away. The visitors, who have had a great start to the season, had other ideas, however, and soon scored three goals in seven minutes to make it 4-3. There was still time to add a fifth.

It was a roller-coaster second-half full of entertainment and twists and turns. Talking of roller-coasters, it left Al-Taawoun languishing at the bottom and put Al-Raed, for a day at least, at the top.