5 things we learned as Al-Ittihad win Jeddah Derby to storm to top of Saudi Pro League

5 things we learned as Al-Ittihad win Jeddah Derby to storm to top of Saudi Pro League
Al-Ittihad emerged victorious in the Jeddah Derby (Screengrab YouTube)
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Updated 02 October 2021

5 things we learned as Al-Ittihad win Jeddah Derby to storm to top of Saudi Pro League

5 things we learned as Al-Ittihad win Jeddah Derby to storm to top of Saudi Pro League
  • Despite an encouraging display, the 2-0 loss leaves Al-Ahli boss Besnik Hasi under pressure

Al-Ittihad defeated Al-Ahli 2-0 in the Jeddah Derby on Friday night to go two points clear at the top of the Saudi Professional League. The loss leaves Al-Ahli languishing just above the relegation zone. Here are five things we learned from the action.
1. Coronado exposes Al-Ahli’s Achilles heel 

All season, Al-Ahli have struggled to defend set pieces and it was a failure that was exposed in brutal fashion by Igor Coronado. While Talisca has been in fine form for Al-Nassr, there is also an argument that Coronado is the best player in the league at the moment, and despite starting the campaign late, he has already contributed three goals and six assists in his five games — a quite remarkable return. He was the difference between the two teams on Friday with his crosses creating both goals. 

Al-Ahli have had issues with concentration and positioning when the ball has come in from wide this season. We could see that this had been worked on and there was a determination to deal with Al-Ittihad’s set pieces, but in the end Besnik Hasi’s team couldn’t handle the superb delivery from the free kick for the first goal and the corner for the second — powerfully headed home by Ahmed Hegazi. Those two crosses gave Al-Ittihad the points and extended Al-Ahli’s winless start to the season to seven games. 
2. A champions-level performance from Al-Ittihad

It was a tightly fought game and Al-Ahli asked many questions of their city neighbors — and they were answered. This wasn’t a spectacular performance from the Tigers, and if they do lift the trophy at the end of the season then this is not a game that will be prominent in the memory (except for the fact that it was a derby win) but it is games like these that make all the difference. 

In a close game, moments count, and Al-Ittihad had that ability to make those differences. They were tight at the back with the defense led by Hegazi. The two midfielders, Karim El-Ahmadi and Abdulellah Al-Malki, rarely make the headlines but had to work extremely hard to cope with the Al-Ahli pressure. Coronado will get the plaudits but this was a win based on hard work, solidity and taking opportunities when they come. It was an all-round professional performance and a sign of Ittihad’s consistency.
3. Encouraging display from Al-Ahli but . . .

Nobody in Saudi Arabia is unaware of the problems that Al-Ahli have had this season. There were high expectations before the start but five draws and, now, two defeats, mean that they could drop into the relegation zone if other results go against them. 

This was perhaps the best performance of the season by the struggling team. They put Al-Ittihad under more pressure than any other team has managed this season but just couldn’t find a way through the opposing defense. There was plenty of effort and endeavour and signs of improving teamwork and fluidity.

The big question is, of course, what happens to the coach Besnik Hasi? Many felt that he would be out of a job but the management decided to give him another chance for the derby. It ended in a defeat and that would surely be that, but then this was an encouraging display. Will that be enough for the bosses? It remains to be seen.
4. International break good and bad for Al-Ittihad

With 16 points from the past six games, Al-Ittihad may not welcome the advent of the international break as Cosmin Contra will want to keep the momentum going. But more time on the training pitch won’t go amiss. Compared to Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad have fewer players on international duty and fewer sure-starters in the Saudi Arabian eleven.

Not just that, but as soon as the international break is over, the two Riyadh clubs have the small matter of the quarterfinal of the AFC Champions League. These are huge games and Al-Ittihad will be willing their domestic rivals to go all the way to the final while the Tigers can focus on racking up points at home.
5. Hasi under pressure but Chamusca’s Al-Shabab improving

Hasi is the coach under the most pressure at the moment but, if he stays in Jeddah, he will be able to take heart from the situation of Pericles Chamusca at Al-Shabab. After a dreadful start to the season, it looked as if last season’s runners-up were going to quickly dispense with the Brazilian.

Yet eight points from the past four games, with three of the opponents all in the top six, he has the team in the top half of the table and fans smiling again. Despite falling behind early against Al-Fayha, Al-Shabab kept their nerve, kept the ball and kept plugging away. The confidence in the camp is improving and the self-belief was rewarded with two goals in quick succession to secure a 2-1 win. A title challenge is unlikely though, if the holes can be plugged in defense then a top-three finish and a place in the AFC Champions League is possible.


Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress

Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress
Updated 30 sec ago

Late goal salvages point for Saudi Arabia against Palestine and maintains hopes of FIFA Arab Cup progress

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

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

Prince Sultan bin Salman poses with a modern-day edition of the famous Saudi-sponsored Williams Formula One car of the early 1980s. (Supplied)
Prince Sultan bin Salman poses with a modern-day edition of the famous Saudi-sponsored Williams Formula One car of the early 1980s. (Supplied)
Updated 05 December 2021

Prince Sultan: We will have Saudi drivers in Formula One

Prince Sultan bin Salman poses with a modern-day edition of the famous Saudi-sponsored Williams Formula One car of the early 1980s. (Supplied)
  • Racing pioneer, the first Saudi, Arab and Muslim in space, says ingenuity and determination in his country’s genetics

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.”

In this photo dated 1979, Prince Sultan bin Salman with Prince Fahd bin Salman and Prince Mohammed Al-Saud at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, California in the US. (Supplied)

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.

Prince Sultan bin Salman poses with a modern-day edition of the famous Saudi-sponsored Williams Formula One car of the early 1980s. (Supplied)

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.

HIGHLIGHTS

• 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 United manager Eddie Howe celebrates after the match with Burnley. (Action Images via Reuters)
Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe celebrates after the match with Burnley. (Action Images via Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2021

Delighted Eddie Howe says first win is only the beginning as he eyes tough challenges ahead 

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe celebrates after the match with Burnley. (Action Images via Reuters)
  • Newcastle have a tough December but will hope Burnley win gives them springboard to more positive results

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

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2021

Lewis Hamilton clinches pole position for inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)
  • Brit heads into historic race with 103rd pole of his career, Mercedes teammate Bottas in second position

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.


Newcastle finally record first win of the season against Burnley

Newcastle finally record first win of the season against Burnley
Updated 04 December 2021

Newcastle finally record first win of the season against Burnley

Newcastle finally record first win of the season against Burnley
  • This was a win the players, Howe, the fans, and most importantly the new owners so badly needed

NEWCASTLE: It’s lift-off for Eddie Howe at Newcastle United as the Magpies made it 15th time lucky by claiming their first Premier League victory of the season.

Fourteen fruitless encounters previous went out the window on Tyneside, with the roof nearly coming off St James’ Park as Callum Wilson’s solo strike claimed a vital victory in this relegation battle six-pointer.

And with it, United climbed off the foot of the Premier League table, where they’ve sat for most of Howe’s reign, as well as claiming their first clean sheet of the campaign.

This was a win the players, Howe, the fans and most importantly the new owners — PIF, RB Sports & Media and PCP Capital Partners — so badly needed.

As has been the case in all of his four games since officially taking the reins, Howe decided again to tweak things, making two changes to the side who drew with Norwich City last time out.

One of those changes was enforced with Ciaran Clark suspended, in came returning skipper Jamaal Lascelles, while Miguel Almiron replaced Ryan Fraser.

Cagey and tentative about sums up the first half hour for United, who were unwillingly drawn into playing the Clarets’ game.

High balls, percentage football and plenty of crosses into the box set the early tone of this one as the Magpies relied upon Martin Dubravka to keep things even.

The Slovak, instrumental since his return two games previous, needed the strongest of strong hands to deny Johann Gudmundsson’s powerful, driving effort.

Again Dubravka was on hand to deny a header from Burnley form man Maxwel Cornet, who was forced off with an injury late in the half — and with the Frenchman’s exit, so United began to establish a foothold.

And with that, the chances began to flow. Wilson, largely anonymous to this point, saw a goalward volley blocked from an Allan Saint-Maximin cross.

Moments later and the goal the whole of Tyneside craved arrived. And it was talisman and top-scorer Wilson who delivered.

England keeper Nick Pope rose highest above a crowded area to pluck a telegraphed Joe Willock cross. But a slip of concentration later and the tumbling Pope had spilled it and Wilson was cool and calm in his finish to crash home over three defenders blocking his path to goal.

Seemingly heading into half-time ahead, this wouldn’t be Newcastle United without a scare — and they almost gifted the Clarets a way back in on the cusp of the break.

Matt Lowton’s searching ball from the right found Cornet’s replacement Matej Vydra in acres of space and the Czech Republic international spooned his poor effort over, when well-placed.

After the break there was an air of calm about United, that was to remain until the predictably nervy later moments.

Jonjo Shelvey began to dictate, with Lascelles imperious on his return to the centre of defence.

The Magpies almost doubled their lead on a number of occasions, Almiron coming closest when he saw a goal-bound curler at the famous Gallowgate End flicked over the top by Nathan Collins.

Almiron, unlucky not to net his first of the season on the day, also saw Pope produce one of the saves of the season to tip around the post as United pushed for a second.

That second didn’t come and the invitable retreat to their own half began but this time, where they have failed so often this season, the Magpies saw out the game for the win — a win which will resonate around the top flight, with January just around the corner. The crisis of confidence is over.

No longer are United the only team in the Football League pyramid not to have won a game, no longer are they the top flight’s whipping boys. They’ll have to create history to stay in the Premier League, and survival looks a long, long way off, but this is a start.

Meanwhile, the visit to Leicester City next weekend now looks a whole lot more winnable, especially with that three-point hoodoo gone up in smoke.