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-Ittihad are very much the form team at the moment. (Twitter: @ittihad)
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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.


Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco
Updated 33 min 43 sec ago

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco

Saudi Arabia out of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup after loss to Morocco
  • Young squad could only manage one point from three matches to finish third in Group C and miss out on a place in the quarter-finals
  • Morocco were too good for the rookie Green Falcons, but they only scored through a first-half penalty from Karim El Berkaoui

Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Arab Cup campaign ended at the group stage on Tuesday with a 1-0 loss to Morocco in Qatar. An inexperienced squad made up of Under-23 players exited the tournament after collecting one point from three games in Group C to finish in third place.

In the end, Morocco were too good for the rookie Green Falcons, but they only scored through a first-half penalty from Karim El Berkaoui. Victory means they progress to the quarter-finals with three wins out of three. Jordan, who defeated bottom team Palestine 5-1 in the other fixture, also go into the last eight, where they face Algeria or Egypt.

It was always going to be tough for Saudi Arabia against the Atlas Lions, who had won both previous games 4-0. Assistant coach Laurent Bonadei, in charge of the team with Herve Renard watching from the stands, went with two strikers, Firas Al-Buraikan and Abdullah Al-Hamdan. Neither got into the game in the first half, however, and it was a midfielder who had the best chance as an early shot from Turki Al-Ammar had the goalkeeper scrambling to make a near post save. For the most part however, Morocco were on top.

Yet the teams looked to be heading in at the break 0-0 until goalkeeper Zaid Al-Bawardi brought down Karim El-Berkaoui inside the area. Nobody could disagree with the penalty decision and the Al-Raed forward dusted himself down and fired home a perfect spot-kick into the corner, just past the fingertips of a goalkeeper who almost made up for his mistake.

It was the last action of the half and a frustrating end as the young Green Falcons had worked so hard to keep out the opposition. A goalless scoreline at half-time would have been confidence-boosting and a platform from which to build in the second period.

Morocco continued to push forward after the break but Saudi Arabia had a penalty call of their own just before the hour as Al-Hamdan was bundled over right on the edge of the area. A free-kick was the initial decision and hearts were in mouths in both camps when Andres Cabrera went to check on the pitchside monitor to see if the challenge had been inside the box.

The Uruguayan did change his mind but instead of a penalty, he decided that the Al-Hilal forward had gone to ground too easily and the free-kick was given to the men in red instead.

It summed up the evening for the Saudi team at Al-Thumama Stadium. As the minutes ticked by it became increasingly apparent that they were not going to get the two goals they needed, especially when right-back Ali Majrashi was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy tackle with 11 minutes remaining to reduce Saudi Arabia to 10 men. From that point it was a question as to whether the defeat would be by a single goal or not.

It was testament to the Saudi spirit and work-rate that it remained just 1-0, though Dari Achraf headed against the bar from a corner in injury time. In the end, the result did not matter in terms of progression as Jordan had secured second spot by thrashing Palestine.

It was a flat end to an experimental tournament for Saudi Arabia, during which some players suggested that they have a bright future for the senior national team with others having much work to do if they are going to get a call-up from head coach Renard in January.

That is when the serious action of qualification for the 2022 World Cup resumes. Returning to Qatar next winter is more important than staying for an extra week or so this time.


Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics
Updated 57 min 12 sec ago

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics

Uyghurs in Turkey welcome US boycott of Olympics
  • The White House said on Monday US government officials would boycott the Winter Olympics because of China's human rights "atrocities"
  • About 50,000 Uyghurs are believed to live in Turkey, the largest Uyghur diaspora outside of Central Asia

ISTANBUL: China’s Uyghur Muslim ethnic group, which has a wide presence in Turkey, welcomed a US boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing, and called on other countries to do the same.
The White House said on Monday US government officials would boycott the Winter Olympics because of China’s human rights “atrocities,” although US athletes were free to travel there to compete.
Many Uyghurs reside in Turkey, with whom Turks share ethnic, religious and linguistic connections.
About 50,000 Uyghurs are believed to live in Turkey, the largest Uyghur diaspora outside of Central Asia.
One 40-year-old Uyghur woman in Istanbul said she welcomed the US action. “China these days is carrying out a genocide against Uyghur Turks as everyone knows, killing millions of people there,” said Amine Wayit, who spoke in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district where she sells Uyghur goods.
“In such a situation it is ridiculous to hold an Olympics there in China and in my view it is like pouring scorn on the whole world’s humanity,” she said. “It would be right for the whole world to stage a boycott, not just America.”
Chinese authorities reacted with anger to Washington’s move. The United States has betrayed Olympic principles and will have to “pay a price” for its diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing, China said on Tuesday, as key Western allies hesitated in deciding whether to follow the US lead.
US President Joe Biden’s administration highlighted as the reason for its boycott what Washington calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.
China denies all rights abuses.
“I think this is the start of the reaction. Maybe other countries will afterwards join the boycott decision which America has launched,” said Abdusselam Teklimakan, a Uyghur who is chairman of the East Turkestan New Generation Movement group.
“This will increase the number of countries on the side of the East Turkestanis and weaken the hand of China.”


Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory
Updated 07 December 2021

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory

Sebastien Loeb hopes UAE desert testing will boost bid for 2022 Dakar Rally glory
  • BRX team put the car which runs on new sustainable fuel through its paces in Umm Al-Quwain

DUBAI: Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb believes that thorough testing in the UAE this week at the wheel of a car powered by a new sustainable fuel can boost his challenge for a first Dakar Rally victory in Saudi Arabia next month.

The world’s most successful rally driver and his Bahrain Raid Xtreme team-mates Nani Roma and Orlando Terranova have been taking part in a second wave of tests in the Emirates at the wheel the Hunter T1+.

Roma, twice a Dakar winner and the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge champion, put the T1+ through its paces in the Umm Al-Quwain desert last week before Loeb and Argentinian driver Terranova took over yesterday.

“This is extremely valuable testing as we have all the conditions here that we’re going to face in the Dakar,” said Loeb, accompanied by co-driver Fabian Lurquin.

“Added to that, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to work together to concentrate our efforts on navigation which is where the Dakar will be won or lost.”

Terranova, partnered by Dani Oliveras, commented: “It’s my first time in the new car and it is great to experience it in the same conditions as we will find on the Dakar in four weeks’ time. Dani and I have been working on our navigation as it will be crucial in Saudi Arabia not to make any mistakes.”

Roma and his co-driver, Alex Haro, had previously spent five days in Umm Al-Quwain testing the T1+, which uses fuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to petrol.

The fuel is made from second generation biofuel manufactured from agricultural waste and efuels created from carbon capture, and will be used in the three BRX cars at the 2022 Dakar, which starts on Jan. 1 in Saudi Arabia.

BRX believes the most demanding motor race in the world can demonstrate that such fuels can be used as an alternative to petrol and diesel in road transport, and immediately make a contribution to fighting climate change.

Over two weeks at the Dakar Rally, the cars will race 8,500 km across the deserts of the Kingdom, starting in Hail and finishing in Jeddah, with a mid-event rest day in Riyadh. 

T1+ cars run on larger tyres, with increased suspension travel and a wider track. The car now benefits from 37 inch tyres on 17 inch rims, with suspension travel increased from 280 mm to 350 mm and the body width increased from 2 meters to 2.3 meters to accommodate this. 

These changes have necessitated a radical redesign of the Hunter, and Prodrive has used this as an opportunity to make further improvements, including a larger windscreen for improved visibility and a refinement of a number of systems throughout the car.


World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai
Updated 07 December 2021

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai

World Champion Sunny Edwards keen to maintain dominance in Dubai
  • Reigning IBF flyweight champ will take on Filipino Jayson Mama at the Coca-Cola Arena

UK boxer Sunny Edwards, the IBF flyweight world champion, says headlining Probellum: Revolution in Dubai this coming Saturday will be a “life-changing” moment.

Probellum, the new global boxing promotion company spearheaded by Richard Schaefer, launched in September and holds its first event at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena, with Edwards defending his title against Filipino challenger Jayson Mama.

Having fought outside the UK on a few occasions earlier in his career, Edwards is relishing the prospect of competing in the UAE.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” he said. “My management will tell you that I’ve always asked to get some international experience. I’m a world champion and I want to see the world. I’m not one of those world champions who just wants to defend the title against three fighters in Britain, that’s not what I’m all about. I want to go to Dubai, I want to go to Mexico, I want to go to Japan. I’ll go anywhere. It’s great to have this opportunity in Dubai.

“When I saw the venue, my head almost fell off. I couldn’t believe it,” Edwards added. “I made my debut in an industrial unit in Estepona, in Spain, had a couple of undercard slots where I got a taste of what the big life is like, gradually crept up and had a few arena shows, but this is completely different. Even the architecture looks like the Allianz Arena (in Munich).”

Having originally been due to face Mama in September, in the UK, Edwards was forced to pull out after sustaining an ankle injury during his training camp but, despite the inevitable frustration caused by the delay, he insists he is in great shape going into Saturday’s fight.

“There was a lot of talk about what happened but genuinely, I rolled my ankle and that put me out,” he explains. “I was devastated. All I like to do is fight, I can’t stress that enough. I’ve been involved in boxing for 16, 17 years and I don’t enjoy anything else. I can’t explain how much boxing, fighting and competing makes me feel alive, nothing else comes remotely close. I’m just buzzing for the fight to be here now.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as fit, healthy or in as good a shape as I am right now. It’s the first fight in a while where I’m not really nursing an injury going into it, said Edwards. “When you’ve boxed as much as I have, and been in some of the fights I have, it’s going to take some lumps and bumps out of you, but this time it’s all gone well. I’m always confident but I’m in such a good place and even weight-wise, I’ve never done it this well before.”

Edwards said he is looking forward to establishing his name in this part of the world and is aware of his rival’s threat.

“Mama’s a good fighter. He’s done everything that has been asked of him so far,” he said. “I know he’s going to come into the ring with a lot of pent-up feelings and emotions. He’s going to come and try to take my head off because he’s been waiting patiently all year. He was my mandatory challenger and here we are now. I had my mind on Mama, I knew the conditions of me fighting for the world title were that, if I got through it, I’d be facing Mama next and I’m looking forward to it.

“He brings fire, he brings excitement and he wants to take my head off, but I’m fine with all of that. He could have dynamite in both hands, but I have the wind in my feet,” Edwards added.

Mama is one of three Filipino fighters on the card for Saturday’s event, with John Riel Casimero defending his WBO bantamweight title against Paul Butler, and Donnie Nietes facing Norbelto Jiminez.

“I’m sure they will have a lot of fans because it’s a big night for Filipino boxing,” says Edwards.

“Casimero is one of their brightest stars currently. Donnie Nietes has been one of their biggest stars and Mama, if he dethrones me, could be the next big thing coming out of there so it’s going to be pretty hostile but I thrive off that,” he said.

“If I was walking down the street and somebody decided to pick a fight with me, I’d have to kick into survival mode, and when I get into that mindset, it’s not about fighting for my family, or fighting to make my kids proud, or fighting to defend a title, it’s about me beating my opponent up instead of him beating me up. I can’t stress how simple it is in my mind. I think the simplicity of it provides a mental and emotional detachment of pressure.”

Edwards will be welcomed into the ring on Saturday by Michael Buffer, the most famous MC in the sport, and a man who has been involved in some of the biggest fights in history.

“Let’s face it, that’s like something out of a movie,” he admits. “I’m trying to be the most influential flyweight to walk the planet. If I’m getting announced by Michael Buffer, that says a lot about where I’m going. To headline such a great show is the stuff of dreams. Boxing is my place, my home, where I feel most comfortable. To be headlining the Coca-Cola Arena is amazing.

“Big-time boxing is coming to Dubai and it will be here to stay,” said Edwards. “This is going to be the start of something big and I’m buzzing to be a part of it. I can guarantee within the next two or three years, if not sooner, the biggest, best and most exciting fights in the world are all going to be happening in the UAE. 

“I’m just over the moon that a scruffy little kid from Croydon will be part of the first show. It’s life changing and I want to say a big thanks to Probellum for putting me on the card.”


F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
Updated 07 December 2021

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit

F1 heads to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
  • Drivers will take to shortened 5.28km track after it was altered for first time since 2009

ABU DHABI: As the chequered flag waved Lewis Hamilton to victory in Jeddah, putting him on level pegging with Max Verstappen in their battle for the 2021 Formula One Championship, the attention of the world’s motorsport fans and media turned to Yas Marina Circuit for what promises to be a nail-biting climax to the season in Abu Dhabi.

For the first time in 13 years, drivers and teams will be experiencing a revamped Yas Marina Circuit, with the new track layout shortened by 273 meters to 5.28km.

Following an extensive reconfiguration program during the summer across three key corners in North Hairpin, Marsa Corner and around the W Hotel section, the shorter, faster lap will allow cars to run closer together and, by default, will give the drivers more opportunity to overtake in certain areas.

Pre-race simulations by a number of teams have shown that lap times may drop by as much as 13 seconds in total, a significant decrease that will be sure to throw up a few surprises as teams adjust to new lap times of around 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Teams will be looking to get to grips with the track during the three practice sessions, ahead of Saturday’s qualifying, as they approach at more than 300 km per hour for the first time the revised, sweeping corner at North Hairpin, and race wheel-to-wheel through the elevated Marsa Corner.

The new hotel section, with reduced “Constantine effect” that previously saw drivers bunch up, has new corners that should reduce tyre slide to keep drivers on the track, helping to maintain a more tightly packed field.

While overtaking is unlikely through this section, by staying closer to one another the revised layout tees up overtaking opportunities elsewhere around the lap.

As Sunday approaches, what is certain is that Yas Marina Circuit’s revised layout will provide even more action than ever, in what will be the most exciting finale in recent years.