Saudi and Japan cross swords, UAE under pressure: 5 things to look out for as Arab nations resume Asian World Cup qualifiers

Saudi and Japan cross swords, UAE under pressure: 5 things to look out for as Arab nations resume Asian World Cup qualifiers
Herve Renard’s team will take part in the final round of qualifications. (Twitter)
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Updated 06 October 2021

Saudi and Japan cross swords, UAE under pressure: 5 things to look out for as Arab nations resume Asian World Cup qualifiers

Saudi and Japan cross swords, UAE under pressure: 5 things to look out for as Arab nations resume Asian World Cup qualifiers
  • Thursday sees Matchday 3 of 10 in final round of AFC qualification for Qatar 2022; Saudi Arabia looks to maintain 100 percent record

The final round of qualification for the World Cup resumes on Thursday and it is safe to say that, Saudi Arabia and perhaps Oman apart, it could have gone better for the Arab teams so far. 

With just the top two from both six-team groups receiving automatic places in Qatar, there is not much room for slip-ups. With Matchday 3 of the 10 games about to start, here are five things to look out for in Thursday’s matches.

1. Saudi Arabia should learn from Oman against Japan

You can’t do better than win two out of two, and Saudi Arabia are looking very good after what were, in the end, deserved victories over Vietnam and Oman. Now, however, come Japan, the team that have been Asia’s best over the past few years. 

Salem Al-Dawsari may be missing through injury, but this is no reason for the Green Falcons to sit back and hope for the best even against a team that is packed full of European-based talent. Japan are the ones under pressure after losing the opening game to Oman and can’t afford to lose in Jeddah. 

That Oman triumph gives Herve Renard his blueprint: Give Japan as little time and space as possible and counter-attack at speed and with conviction. 

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu is under pressure after the uncertain start, and it remains to be seen if he will stick to his criticized cautious style or take the handbrake off. Regardless, Saudi Arabia’s recent intensity and increasing fluidity under Renard should cause the East Asians problems.

2. Pressure on UAE

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for the Whites. After Bert van Marwijk returned for his second spell in charge, the team looked increasingly impressive in the second round of qualification, and hopes were high that a return to the global stage for the first time since their 1990 debut was a real possibility. It still is, but results must improve.

Two games against Lebanon and Iraq, two of the weaker members of the group, have brought just two points. It means that Thursday’s home game against Iran, Asia’s highest-ranked team at 22 and the only one in Group A with maximum points from the first two games, is almost a must-win and certainly a must-not-lose. 

Should the UAE crash to defeat then they will already be seven points behind Iran, and first place will be a long shot. Should South Korea defeat Syria, then even second spot will be five points away. There have been good moments so far from the UAE, but against Iran, the team has to produce a solid performance over the full 90 minutes. 

3. Syria should take the game to South Korea

So far, Syria have flown under the radar, though performances have been decent with a narrow loss in Tehran and a 1-1 draw with the UAE. Next is another trip to Ansan in South Korea. The Koreans are not looking forward to taking on a team they do not enjoy playing against. Last time around, Syria played defensively in two games against the Taeguk Warriors, and they were dreadful and frustrating affairs. 

Korea have four points from the opening two games at home but have not impressed, and there is growing criticism of coach Paulo Bento and his seeming inability to get the best out of a bunch of talented players. The likes of Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan are impressing in the English Premier League, but the European-based players only arrived in Seoul 48 hours before kick-off after a long journey across seven or eight time zones. They are unlikely to be at their best. With the likes of Omar Kharbin and Omar Al-Somah ready to link up in attack, there is no reason why Syria can’t get something from Korea — if they show ambition.

4. Iraq against Lebanon has massive significance

While only the top two places in the group offer automatic qualification, there is also another route. Finish third and there is a play-off against the team in the same position in the other group. Win that and then there is an intercontinental playoff, usually against a Concacaf nation, with a place at the World Cup at stake.

Iraq were always unlikely to finish in the top two despite going for the big-name foreign coach option in Dick Advocaat. The Lions of Mesopotamia have always had lots of talent but have long lacked the consistency to return to the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Third is possible and should be the target.

One point from the first two games does not sound great but it did come against the top two teams: South Korea in Seoul, which brought a hard-working goalless draw, and then a 3-0 loss against Iran, which was not a true reflection of how competitive the game was. 

Now though, Iraq have to win against the lowest-ranked team in the group in Lebanon. There are suggestions that some players are less than happy with Advocaat’s strict regime, but now is the time to start picking up points. With the UAE taking on Iran, a win for Iraq could well see them in third.

For Lebanon, there has also been a point and the target for the Cedars is to be competitive in every game and then see what happens.

5. Oman can make lightning strike twice

On paper, defeating Japan in Japan is a much tougher task than taking on Australia in Qatar so there is no reason why Oman can’t give the Socceroos a real game. Coach Branko Ivankovic will be delighted that he doesn’t have to take his team all the way down under, a place where Australia have a fantastic record in World Cup qualification.

Australia are in great form generally, having won their last 10 games, and are full of confidence. But the same can be said of Oman, the only Arab team apart from Saudi Arabia to taste victory so far in this round of games. Against Japan, they were the better team: brave and proactive. History is, however, against the men from Muscat, with just one win in nine against Australia. The last two encounters ended in a combined 9-0 scoreline. 

Oman will hope that this means Australia, like Japan probably did, are a little complacent but whatever happens, The Reds are not here to make up the numbers but to challenge. 


Bahrain Raid Xtreme to drive sustainable fuel at 2022 Dakar Rally

Bahrain Raid Xtreme to drive sustainable fuel at 2022 Dakar Rally
Updated 24 sec ago

Bahrain Raid Xtreme to drive sustainable fuel at 2022 Dakar Rally

Bahrain Raid Xtreme to drive sustainable fuel at 2022 Dakar Rally
  • Team to carry out testing in UAE focused on endurance and navigation

DUBAI: Bahrain Raid Xtreme will run a three-car team at the 2022 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in January, with its cars powered by a new sustainable fuel.

The fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to petrol, as it is made from second-generation biofuel manufactured from agricultural waste and efuels created by carbon capture.

The rally starts on Jan. 1, and over two weeks the cars will race 7,500 km across the deserts of Saudi Arabia, starting in Ha’il and finishing in Jeddah, with a mid-event rest day in Riyadh.

By using the fuel, on what is the most demanding motor race in the world, BRX aims to 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.

The team’s regular drivers, nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb and two-time Dakar winner, Nani Roma, will be joined by Orlando Terranova as the team enters three Prodrive Hunter T1+ cars.

Experienced Argentinian driver Terranova competed with the BRX team alongside Loeb and Roma at Baja Aragon in Spain in July in the Hunter T1 car, setting two fastest sector times, with Loeb collecting six more out of a possible 11.

All three will be joined by their current co-drivers, with Fabian Lurquin alongside Loeb, Alex Haro with Roma, and Dani Oliveras with Terranova.

The team has already completed extensive testing of the Hunter T1+ in the Gulf region, and will be carrying out further testing in the UAE over the coming weeks focussed on endurance and navigational exercises, before heading to Saudi Arabia for the rally. Both Loeb and Roma have tested the car, while Terranova will get several days in the Hunter during December.

“I have a really good feeling in the new car,” Loeb said. “We have tested in all the different conditions we expect to see on the Dakar. With the new larger tyres, we were able to maintain our speed through the rough and rocky sections with much less risk of punctures. Fabian and I have several more days’ testing where we will spend a lot of our time focussing on navigation, as this will once again be very important in Saudi.”

Meanwhile, BRX team director, David Richards, said: “Our driver line up this year is one of the strongest with the experience of almost 50 Dakar rallies between the three of them. The new Hunter T1+ has proved fast and reliable in testing and the driver/co-driver partnerships are working well, which is so important in the Saudi desert where accurate navigation is so critical.”

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


2021 FIFA Arab Cup offers Saudi youngsters the chance to stake their claim for next year’s World Cup

2021 FIFA Arab Cup offers Saudi youngsters the chance to stake their claim for next year’s World Cup
Updated 27 min 8 sec ago

2021 FIFA Arab Cup offers Saudi youngsters the chance to stake their claim for next year’s World Cup

2021 FIFA Arab Cup offers Saudi youngsters the chance to stake their claim for next year’s World Cup
  • Laurent Bonadei will oversee a youthful squad as Green Falcons take on Jordan, Palestine and Morocco with Herve Renard observing from the stands

It has been a busy year for Saudi Arabian football, but the end is in sight as the national team kicks off the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup against Jordan on Wednesday.

A young squad — apart from two 24-year-old goalkeepers, none of the players were born before 1999 — arrived in Doha on Sunday and, for those who shine in Qatar, there could be a return in 2022 as the full-strength team edges toward clinching qualification for the World Cup.

When these Green Falcons take on Jordan on Wednesday and then subsequent games against Palestine three days later and Morocco’s “A” team (one shorn of European-based stars), the likes of Salman Al-Faraj and Salem Al-Dawsari won’t be there. Even head coach Herve Renard will be taking a back seat, as the senior boss has left the in-game duties to Laurent Bonadei. His fellow Frenchman has plenty of experience and did some good things when in charge of Paris Saint-Germain’s Under-17 and Under-19 teams.

“We will participate in the Arab Cup with young players born in 1999 and after and my assistant Laurent Bonadei will coach the team,” Renard said last week.

The team that touched down in Qatar bears some resemblance to the Under-23 side that played at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer and then qualified for the 2022 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in October and November. So the move makes sense. 

“I am in constant contact with (Under-23 head coach) Saad Al-Shehri, so a large percentage of the players from the Olympic team were selected,” said Renard. “The selection was made by the technical staff of the first team and came on the basis that these players will be the pillar of the first team in the future.”

Despite his different duties, Renard will still be busy. While Bonadei will be in charge of the team during games, the big boss will take training and will be observing the matches from up in the stands. Renard sees it as a great opportunity to oversee from above without having to get involved with the minute-by-minute action of a tournament game. 

Bonadei says he is ready. “I thank the Saudi Football Association and Mr. Renard for their confidence in me to lead the Green Falcons at the Arab Cup,” he said. “We will give everything we have to reach our goal and we are looking forward to the challenge and I am looking forward to the opportunity.”

There are opportunities for others. The coming weeks — there could be as many as six games if Saudi Arabia make it to the last four (there is even a third-place playoff) — offer a great chance for some players to really show the watching Renard what they can do. 

The two main strikers, Abdullah Al-Hamdan and Firas Al-Buraikan, will be hoping to make a splash in Qatar. Both have appeared for the senior team without being able to make a starting spot their own. Al-Hamdan has fallen out of favor in recent months, partly because he has been getting few minutes for Al-Hilal. 

Al-Buraikan was in a similar situation with Al-Nassr but a move to Al-Fateh has helped. Already this season, which is not even at the halfway point, the 21-year-old has spent more minutes on the pitch than he did in total over the previous four years with Al-Nassr. His sharpness in the domestic league has led to better performances for the Under-23 team and the senior side, with his goal in October giving Saudi Arabia a famous 1-0 win over Japan in World Cup qualification. Al-Buraikan now has the chance to enjoy a sustained run in the team and be the main man in attack. It will be fascinating to see how he deals with the pressure. The challenge for Al-Hamdan is to remind the coach what he can do and spend some extended time with the team in training.

Turki Al-Ammar in midfield is another who has a great chance to move from the fringes of the national team squad to a more central position. His form for Al-Shabab has been one of the reasons why the club have climbed from the lower reaches of the Saudi Professional League to second place. It would also be great for the league and Saudi Arabian football in general if Damac midfielder Bader Munshi were to get a chance. It has to be healthy if players from the smaller teams who are playing well get a chance with the national team.

Lifting the Arab Cup would be a fitting end to a great year for Saudi Arabian football, but just as valuable is the chance to play competitive games in a tournament setting. Those players that seize the opportunity may be returning to Qatar next November for the really big one.


Formula 1 teams arrive in Jeddah as the final countdown begins for Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Formula 1 teams arrive in Jeddah as the final countdown begins for Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Updated 29 November 2021

Formula 1 teams arrive in Jeddah as the final countdown begins for Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Formula 1 teams arrive in Jeddah as the final countdown begins for Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

JEDDAH: The final countdown for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix began in earnest as Formula One teams arrived to a colorful welcome at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport on Nov. 28.

Teams were greeted by Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Automobile and Motorcycle Federation “meet and greet” team, and were assisted with arrival formalities in a specially constructed lounge reception area.

The Formula One event — the Kingdom’s biggest global sporting showcase — will be staged at the specially built Jeddah Corniche Circuit from Dec. 3-5.

More F1 drivers are due to arrive in the coming days as the grand prix countdown continues. The Alpine F1 Team and Scuderia Ferrari are among teams that have already begun preparations in Jeddah.

Airport lounges have been decorated with Formula 1 flags and logos, models of F1 racing cars, and images of competing teams and drivers.

Jeddah Municipality has also decorated the King Road and the Corniche with Formula 1 flags and slogans, including the area surrounding the circuit and the waterfront.


IAF president praises Saudi Arabia’s 2023 World Combat Games preparations during first visit to Riyadh

IAF president praises Saudi Arabia’s 2023 World Combat Games preparations during first visit to Riyadh
Updated 28 November 2021

IAF president praises Saudi Arabia’s 2023 World Combat Games preparations during first visit to Riyadh

IAF president praises Saudi Arabia’s 2023 World Combat Games preparations during first visit to Riyadh
  • Vriesman met with the Chairman of the Saudi Aikido Committee Basem Zare’ and attended workshops

RIYADH: The chairman of the International Aikido Federation, Wilko Vriesman, described preparations for the 2023 World Combat Games as “impressive” during his visit to Riyadh.

Vriesman met with the Chairman of the Saudi Aikido Committee Basem Zare’, and attended the joint workshops of the international and national federations participating in the 2023 World Combat Games hosted by Riyadh.

“What we have seen of interest and work makes us confident of the success of this global event before it is held. The workshop, in the presence of delegates of the 15 international federations for the games, discussed preparations and equipment, in terms of facilities hosting the games, as well as logistical support and services provided during the period of the big event in 2023,” he said.

“There is no doubt that the professionalism at work through planning and setting goals before its establishment, and the capabilities shown by Saudi Arabia, will contribute to the success of the work,” Vriesman addded.

He stressed the importance of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East and the world, and said hosting this global event will improve all international martial arts competitions.

The chairman of the IAF also held a number of meetings alongside Zare’, during which the pair discussed preparations necessary for the event.


Route for 2022 Dakar Rally revealed across the Saudi Arabian desert

Route for 2022 Dakar Rally revealed across the Saudi Arabian desert
Updated 29 November 2021

Route for 2022 Dakar Rally revealed across the Saudi Arabian desert

Route for 2022 Dakar Rally revealed across the Saudi Arabian desert
  • Third edition of race to take place in Kingdom will be contested by bikes and quads, cars and trucks over 12 stages from Jan. 1-14

The route for the 2022 Dakar Rally taking place across the Saudi Arabian desert was announced in a virtual presentation on Sunday afternoon, revealing a challenging terrain that will race over 12 stages from Jan. 1-14.

“For the third year running, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the nation of motorsports and the home of the Dakar Rally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the minister of sport and president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.

The endurance test will be the third consecutive Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia and the 44th edition of the rally itself, with 1,065 participants aboard 578 vehicles racing across 8,375 km of treacherous routes in the various categories.

“The top motorsports competitions have found a new home in the Kingdom,” Prince Abdulaziz added. “From the Dakar Rally, the toughest rally in the world, to the World Rally Championship, the FIA Formula E, Extreme E and of course the upcoming FIA Formula 1 World Championship.”

The landscape and backdrop of the course are similar to the last edition, and it begins and ends after 12 stages in the port city of Jeddah.

From canyons and cliffs in the NEOM region to stretches of dunes surrounding Riyadh, the race also takes in the Red Sea coastline and the mysterious Empty Quarter.

Hybrid vehicles make their debut with top contenders Stephane Peterhansel, a 14-time winner, and Carlos Sainz, winner in 2010, 2018 and 2020, behind the wheel in the new category.

In the motorbike race, previous champions Toby Price, Sam Sunderland, Matthias Walkner, Ricky Brabec and Kevin Benavides will all also be at the start line.

Motorbike and quad racers will be kitted out with airbag vests, which can minimize the consequences of high-speed impact.

Stage 1A will take place on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, and will run from the starting point of Jeddah to Hail, covering a total of 636 km. The following day will see a 546 km loop that starts and ends in Hail for Stage 1B.

On Monday, Jan. 3, Stage 2 of the rally will take place between Hail and Al-Artawiya over 585 km. Stage 3 takes place the following day on a 554 km-trail from Al-Artawiyah to Al-Qaysumah.

Stage 4 will see the race go from Al-Qaysumah to Riyadh over 707 km on Wednesday, Jan. 5. Thursday and Friday, meanwhile, will see loop races — Stages 5 and 6 — that end in the capital.

After a day’s rest on Saturday, the action returns on Sunday, Jan. 7, with the 700 km Stage 7 from Riyadh to Al-Dawadimi.

Stage 8 sees a further 828 km, the longest of the 2022 Dakar Rally, that takes the race to Wadi Al-Dawasir. On Stage 9 the following day, the competitors will do a loop around Wadi Al-Dawasir over 490 km.

On Wednesday, Jan. 12, Stage 10 will see a 757 km drive from Wadi Al-Dawasir to Bisha. In Bisha, a loop of 500 km on Thursday will cover Stage 11.

Finally, on Friday, Jan. 14, Stage 12 from Bisha back to Jeddah completes the 2022 Dakar Rally.