LONDON: A goal from Saleh Al-Shehri was enough for Saudi Arabia to complete a perfect week in the AFC Asian World Cup Qualifiers, as they registered their second victory in five days with a 1-0 win against Oman at Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Thursday.
Al-Shehri’s strike, which was the culmination of a great team move, was the key moment in a cagey and hard-fought match.
Despite late pressure from Oman, playing at home for the first time since 2019 in front of a raucous 10,000-strong crowd, Saudi Arabia survived a late scare to seal the win.
The three points puts the Green Falcons level with Group B leaders Australia on the maximum six points after two matches. The Socceroos won their match against Vietnam in Hanoi 1-0 earlier in the day.
Saudi Arabia go into next month’s home fixtures against Japan and China looking to maintain their perfect start, while Oman face a tough test in Australia in Sydney before returning home to face Vietnam.
Elsewhere, in Group A, Syria held the UAE to an entertaining draw in an end-to-end match in Amman.
The Emiratis took the early lead after Syrian goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma fumbled Shahin Abdulrahman’s long range pass, which allowed Ali Mabkhout to poke home for his 77th international goal.
The goal takes the UAE legend past Argentinian Lionel Messi in the international goal count, and level with Brazilian great Pele.
Mahmood Al-Baher was the hero for Syria as he lashed home from a Mahmood Al-Mawas’ cross from the right hand side.
The result means UAE have two points from as many games, while Syria also remain without a win and just one point from the first two games.
African teams shine: 5 things we learned from second round of group matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
Egypt, Algeria and Morocco join hosts Qatar in the quarterfinals, while UAE in danger of exit despite recording two wins
Updated 52 sec ago
With two rounds of matches of the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup group stages already over, the tournament is starting to take shape, with several teams, including hosts Qatar, Egypt and Algeria, confirming qualification to the quarterfinals. Here are five things we learned from the latest action:
1. Syria finally have some luck against careless Tunisia
It has been a tough few months for the Syrian national team, with just two points from the first six games in the final round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup, but on Friday they managed to shock Tunisia with a 2-0 win.
The Eagles of Carthage will be kicking themselves, especially as Fabrouk Ben Mustapha really should have saved a fairly tame shot from Oliver Kass Kawo in the fourth minute. Tunisia did everything they could to score, but just could not get the equalizer — a task that was made much harder at the end of the first half when Mohamed Ben Romdhane was sent off for an elbow.
Then, early in the second half, came a beautiful curling shot from Mohammed Anz that was good enough to win any game. Nevertheless, Tunisia had the possession and the chances to take at least a point, and will rue their missed opportunities. They must now beat UAE in the third game to be sure of a place in the knockout stage, while Syria are very much in the hunt.
2. Qatar not yet in top gear but progress
Qatar’s 2-1 win over Oman showed the benefits of competitive games. Oman have been active in the final round of qualification for the World Cup and are doing pretty well. They matched the Asian champions on their home turf and only a 97th-minute winner stopped them from taking a point.
The hosts will not mind too much that the goal only just crossed the line since it guaranteed top spot in Group A and a place in the quarterfinals. It remains to be seen what kind of team coach Felix Sanchez puts out in the remaining group match against Iraq on Tuesday. With the last-eight clash taking place just three days later, the Spanish boss will be tempted to rest some of his stars, including Akram Afif, who caused problems and scored the opening goal. But Qatar look a little rusty and more games are what this team needs.
3. Morocco could press their way to the title
Jordan looked pretty good in their 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the opening game, but were then swept aside by Morocco, losing 4-0. Their hopes looked slim after 15 minutes, already a goal down and losing star forward Baha Faisal to injury, but things continued downhill from there.
It was just not much of a contest as the North Africans were a level above: Clinical in attack and working hard all over the pitch to deny Jordan time, possession and chances. At times, the pressing from the Atlas Lions was up to Liverpool’s standards.
Despite being without their European-based stars, this Morocco team were simply too good for a Jordan team that looked solid against the Saudis. It bodes well for the rest of the tournament. After two games, they have scored eight and conceded none. There is still a long way to go, but on this form they will take some stopping. Jordan’s goal difference has taken a battering and they will have to bounce back against Palestine.
4. Egypt and Algeria too good and rob tournament of crunch clash
It was always likely that Egypt, who defeated nine-man Sudan 5-0, and Algeria, who picked up a 2-0 victory over Lebanon, would end up taking the top two spots in Group D. It is a shame for the Arab Cup, however, that both these great rivals are already through to the quarterfinals ahead of their meeting on Tuesday — though the likelihood that top spot will mean that red-hot Morocco are avoided in the next round may add some spice.
As expected, Egypt were just too strong for Sudan and were three goals to the good by the half hour. The first, by Ahmed Refaat, was a real stunner and an early contender for goal of the tournament. The Pharaohs had no need to get out of second gear, with Hussein Faisal impressing on the right side of midfield on his international debut.
Algeria had a much more difficult second game against Lebanon, though they will not mind that. The Cedars are tough to beat and asked a lot of questions of the African champions. It means that the game with Egypt will lack tension, but on current form, these North African giants could end up meeting again.
5. Despite perfect record, UAE in danger of elimination
The UAE defeated Mauritania 1-0 to move onto six points. Usually, two wins from the first two games of the group means an early place in the knockout stage, or as good as, but not for UAE. The Whites may be three points clear of Tunisia and Syria, but need to be careful.
There was widespread relief at the 93rd-minute goal from Khalil Ibrahim that gave a 1-0 win over Mauritania. The African team withstood everything that the Asian team threw in their direction, with goalkeeper Mbacke Ndiaye deservedly winning man of the match.
But a goal difference of plus two after two wins is a danger. If the UAE lose to Tunisia, who thrashed Mauritania 5-1 and were unlucky to lose to Syria, and Syria win against Mauritania, then UAE will be going home.
Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress
A 1-1 draw leaves Green Falcons needing a win in last match against Morocco to have chance of reaching the quarterfinals
Updated 17 min 20 sec ago
Abdullah Al-Hamdan’s late goal earned Saudi Arabia a 1-1 draw with Palestine on Saturday and kept alive their hopes of progressing into the quarterfinals of the Arab Cup.
A first-half stunner from Mohammed Rashid in Qatar’s Education City looked to have condemned the young Green Falcons to a second successive defeat, three days after losing 1-0 to Jordan, but an equalizer with eight minutes remaining from the Al-Hilal striker earned the men in white a vital point.
The draw leaves Saudi Arabia in third in Group C with one point from two games and above Palestine on goal difference. Jordan have three points, while Morocco, the next opponents for Laurent Bonadei’s men, are already assured of a place in the last eight after winning both games so far 4-0. Only the top two teams progress.
With Saudi Arabia, who made eight changes from the Jordan game, fielding an inexperienced U-23 team, it was always going to be a difficult test and so it proved.
The first half was cagey, though Palestine started a little livelier, with both teams lacking quality in delivering the final ball. The first sight of goal for Saudi Arabia came with a free-kick after 14 minutes. Mohammed Al-Qahtani, the Al-Hilal teenager making his first start for the national team, curled a shot over the Palestine bar.
Palestine came close in the 37th minute. Tamer Seyam, the best player on the pitch in the first half, beat two men and his cross from the byline was heading for Khaled Salam, but Saudi goalkeeper Zaid Al-Bawardi managed to palm the ball away from the forward’s foot.
Then, in added time before the break, Palestine took the lead in some style. Rashid received the ball in the middle of the Saudi Arabia half, took two touches and then let loose an unstoppable shot that flew into the roof of the net to give the Indonesia-based defender his first international goal.
Saudi Arabia began the second half with purpose, moving the ball around quickly. Soon after the restart, Abdullah Radif forced a save from Amr Kaddura, the Palestine goalkeeper’s first real stop of the game. Moments later, Al-Qahtani’s low shot went just wide of the left post.
With 18 minutes remaining, Ayman Yahya’s shot from the edge of the box was deflected wide. On more than one occasion, there was frustration from the Saudi players waiting in the area at the quality of the final ball.
There was always a danger from Palestine counterattacks, which became more frequent the more Saudi Arabia pushed forward. Seyam, perhaps, should have scored and almost certainly sealed the win with a quarter of an hour remaining, but instead blasted the ball over.
Palestine rued that miss after 82 minutes when Saudi Arabia scored their first goal of the tournament. A long ball out of defense found Haitham Asiri on the right and his low pass was coolly slotted home by Al-Hamdan.
It was no less than this rookie Saudi Arabia team deserved, and they could even have won had Waleed Al-Ahmad not headed wide in injury time.
Next comes Morocco — the form team of the tournament so far — on Wednesday. The Atlas Lions have won both games, against Palestine and Jordan 4-0, and were impressive.
Morocco are already through to the last eight and may rest a few players, but regardless, for Saudi Arabia, a win is needed and then it depends on what happens during the showdown between Palestine and Jordan.
Prince Sultan: We will have Saudi drivers in Formula One
Racing pioneer, the first Saudi, Arab and Muslim in space, says ingenuity and determination in his country’s genetics
Updated 05 December 2021
JEDDAH: When you have seen Earth from space, your perspective on life, quite literally, changes.
The first Arab, and Muslim, to get that life-changing view, Prince Sultan bin Salman, has already lived a life few could imagine. Perhaps one that is a metaphor for the Kingdom’s hunger to always strive for the next achievement.
“Well, I haven’t started yet achieving anything I really wanted, so give me time, we’re still at the beginning,” Prince Sultan said with a knowing smile, “but every experience has its own dimensions, and I took it on in my life not to compare experiences.”
From the vastness of space to the desolation of the desert, it is all about appreciating the moment.
“I could be walking with my camels in the desert,” he said. “On the space shuttle experience, it was a completely separate experience. As pilots, we’re very excited. But then when you go into space, (the) shuttle is really not a pilot experience. You think it’s like ‘I’m a pilot, I’m going to enjoy seeing the Earth for a bit of further destination distance.’”
Prince Sultan’s passion these days is flying Learjets, a legacy of his days as a pilot with the Royal Saudi Air Force in the 1970s. His trip on the Space Shuttle Discovery would take place from June 17 through June 24, 1985. That is also the time he fell in love with cars — his own and, eventually, Formula One cars.
The first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix may be hours away but the Kingdom’s historical connection with F1, perhaps a forgotten one, stretches back to the late 1970s and early ‘80s. And for that, Prince Sultan can take a big share of the credit.
It was a chance meeting with Frank Williams — who passed away last week at the age of 79 — in Colorado in 1978 that would lead to Saudi Arabia’s first steps into F1. Prince Sultan remembers him with genuine affection.
It’s going to become an industry in Saudi, and it’s going to become something that we make, and we’d be proud of. You’ll see Saudi Arabia surpassing in technology and development and of course, in drivers.
Prince Sultan bin Salman
“Frank Williams, God bless his soul,” he said. “He was a good man, he loved Saudi Arabia, and I really wished that he would have come to this (grand prix) because I was communicating that when he came, we’ll do a joint interview on television about how the team started.”
Soon the owner of Williams racing, established in 1977, and its technical director, Patrick Head, were visiting the Kingdom, where Prince Sultan introduced him to his brother and mentor, Prince Fahd bin Salman, and Prince Mohammed Al-Saud.
“And then the sponsorships started falling in,” said Prince Sultan.
These partners were Al Bilad, which gave its name to the team, and national airline and major sponsor Saudia, which backed the team to the tune of $100,000, a fortune in those days.
The two Williams cars would also carry numbers associated with Prince Sultan.
“I was born on June 27,” he said, “so we have the two cars 27 and 6. And then we had 28, which is the backup car. So when Frank and I were talking, Frank said he was willing to do anything. I wish I’d said I’d like to own half of the team for bringing in a sponsor and all that. He would have done that, but I was in it for fun.”
And fun he would have. A famous trip to California for the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1979 saw the trio of Saudi Princes enjoying the company of the likes of Williams, legendary drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt, and former Beatle George Harrison.
Well, I haven’t started yet achieving anything I really wanted, so give me time, we’re still at the beginning.
Prince Sultan bin Salman
“Harrison had a very nice personality,” said Prince Sultan. “I met some of those rock and roll stars in America, and we’d go to concerts. But George Harrison was very, very polite, nice to be with. We would go to dinners and events, he would sit at the same table, and we’d talk. He offered once that if I came to London, he would introduce me to a couple of The Beatles.”
With “Fly Saudia” adorning its wings, Williams stormed to the Constructors Championship in 1980 and 1981. The Australian Alan Jones drove Williams to the Driver’s Championship in the first of those triumphs, and in 1983, Keke Rosberg — father of 2016 F1 champion Nico — retained the individual title for the team despite winning only one race all season.
On Saturday, Dec. 4, Prince Sultan’s story with F1 came full circle as he visited Jeddah Corniche Circuit and alongside, Jones, Jackie Stewart, Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and Aramco CEO Amin Nasser, paused for photos on a modern day reproduction of those iconic Williams cars from the early 1980s.
The prince is still a fan of F1 and joked that he will not be cheering for Lewis Hamilton as “he’s won everything” and should leave something to the others.
I’m always in favor of the young drivers who have just come to this industry,” said Prince Sultan.
• The first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix may be hours away but the Kingdom’s historical connection with F1, perhaps a forgotten one, stretches back to the late 1970s and early ‘80s. And for that, Prince Sultan can take a big share of the credit.
• It was a chance meeting with Frank Williams — who passed away last week at the age of 79 — in Colorado in 1978 that would lead to Saudi Arabia’s first steps into F1. Prince Sultan remembers him with genuine affection.
Conditions for the first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are ideal, he believes. “It comes down to, of course, Jeddah is at sea level and there’s the fantastic timing of December now,” he said. “So the cars are not going to suffer. It reminds me of Long Beach because it’s right on the ocean, it’s on the beach. We don’t have the Queen Mary parked there, but we have beautiful Jeddah and it’s really tremendous, we’re all looking forward to it.”
Prince Sultan is proud of all things Saudi and highlights the achievements of its engineers, artists, photographers and sportsmen. He sees a time when world class drivers will be added to the list.
“Eventually, we’re going to have Saudi drivers (in) F1,” he said. “It is genetic here, I’m telling you, it’s genetic here to be able to do a lot of things, and completely connect very quickly. The talent is here.”
Prince Sultan added: “If you want the definitive thing from me, I say Saudi Arabia not only has to host F1 — we have to go beyond that. We have to do what Saudi Arabia does best, not to beat this or to be better than that, but we need to do our own car and push the technology that will filter down to other things we do here in Saudi, and we need to build it and design it.”
The motorsport industry in the Kingdom has already taken major steps in recent years, with the hosting of the Dakar Rally, Formula E and Extreme E, and now, the grandest of the lot.
“Saudi Arabia’s relationship with F1 is not going to stop, I’m sure, by hosting it on the racetrack,” he said. “It’s going to become an industry in Saudi, and it’s going to become something that we make, and we’d be proud of. You’ll see Saudi Arabia surpassing in technology and development and of course, in drivers.” We’re still at the beginning.
Delighted Eddie Howe says first win is only the beginning as he eyes tough challenges ahead
Newcastle have a tough December but will hope Burnley win gives them springboard to more positive results
Updated 04 December 2021
NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe admits there’s a feeling of satisfaction about securing Newcastle United’s first three points of the season — but an understanding that this is only the start of their fight for Premier League survival.
Callum Wilson scored the only goal of the game against Burnley as the Magpies climbed off the foot of the table, kept their first clean sheet and claimed their maiden victory this campaign at the 15th attempt.
Howe’s Magpies go to Leicester City next week looking to pull themselves out of the bottom three — a win has the potential to do just that — and the head coach knows his team have done nothing but put down a foundation on which to build.
When asked whether this is the start of a United revival, Howe said: “We hope so. The last two games have given us very different challenges. We had 10 v 11 against Norwich, then this one a much more physical contest. But we have taken things forward.
“We have been defensively better, but there is still work to do all over the pitch.
“I can’t praise them (the players) enough physically and mentally. This was a real physical effort, their third game in a week — and they gave everything.
“There is a feeling of satisfaction with the result but we have to back that up,” he added.
Asked to expand on his emotions, which were obvious to see as he lapped the pitch on the final whistle, fist-pumping toward the fans on the St. James’ Park terraces, Howe continued: “It was a real mixture of emotions.
“I am very proud of the team, in what was a very difficult game against Burnley — we defended well. There were a lot of positives. To a man, we stepped up defensively.
“We started slow, but once we scored that changed. We had spells in the second half where we were excellent, then had to hang on.”
While joy reigns supreme on Tyneside this weekend, December presents a number of potential further bumps in the road.
Next up in NE1 is Manchester City on Dec. 19, coming hot on the heels of a trip to Liverpool just days after the Magpies’ King Power Stadium trip. That is before Ralf Rangnick’s Manchester United travel to Newcastle shortly after Christmas.
According to Howe, his players will need every ounce of fan support to get his team through the festive period, one which looks like a nightmare on paper.
“The relationship we’ve built with fans so quickly has been great. I can’t thank them enough,” said Howe of the unwavering home support.
“It was great to get that first win, a big thanks to them (the fans), we know how desperate they were — we all were — to get it is an amazing feeling. The reaction at the end can only galvanize us to move forward positively.”
Lewis Hamilton clinches pole position for inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Brit heads into historic race with 103rd pole of his career, Mercedes teammate Bottas in second position
Updated 04 December 2021
JEDDAH: Lewis Hamilton made history by becoming the first driver to clinch a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix pole position after edging out teammate Valtteri Bottas and world championship title rival Max Verstappen in qualifying on Saturday.
The two Mercedes drivers secured a one-two grid position, which will give them the advantage over the Red Bull driver on the Jeddah Corniche circuit, where overtaking may prove difficult.
It was the 103rd pole of Hamilton’s career, his fifth of the season, and comes off the back of a stellar qualification drive in the previous round in Qatar.
With Hamilton trailing Verstappen by eight points in the championship fight with just one more race remaining after Jeddah, the qualification victory for Hamilton felt crucial.
The seven-time world champion beat Finnish driver Bottas by just over a tenth of a second, and was 0.142 seconds ahead of Verstappen in third.
Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc was half a second back in fourth and Mexican Red Bull driver Sergio Perez rounded out the rest of the top five.
It was a difficult end to the session for Verstappen who hit the wall on his last flying lap, proving the perils of the relentlessly quick Jeddah circuit.
“I don’t really understand what happened (on the final flying lap),” he said. “I locked up a bit. P3 is disappointing but today did show that the car is quick around here ... so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Hamilton admitted the track is a tough challenge, while paying tribute to teammate Bottas who will be leaving the Mercedes garage at the end of the season.
“What a tough track this is,” he said. “It’s amazing what they’ve built, the speed and the pace around here is phenomenal.
“It’s a great result for the team and a great job by Valtteri, he’s the best team mate there’s ever been in this sport,” he added.
Bottas also sounded like he enjoyed the speed of the Jeddah streets.
“This was an important qualifying,” he said. “I was on the limit, this track is tough but I really enjoyed it. I will do my best tomorrow.”
Verstappen, with a slight lead over Hamilton with just two races left, will hope he can claim his first title on Sunday if he wins the race and Hamilton finishes outside the top six.
But belief remains strong in the Mercedes camp that Hamilton can close the gap in Jeddah and seal a dramatic championship victory in Abu Dhabi.