UAE hopes fade, Arab teams struggle: 5 things we learned from latest Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022

UAE hopes fade, Arab teams struggle: 5 things we learned from latest Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022
It was never going to be easy to defeat Iran for the first time in 14 official meetings, but the UAE never really seemed to believe they could. (AFP)
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Updated 08 October 2021

UAE hopes fade, Arab teams struggle: 5 things we learned from latest Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022

UAE hopes fade, Arab teams struggle: 5 things we learned from latest Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022
  • Iran stopped Ali Mabkhout and walked away with a win that leaves Bert van Marwijk’s team almost certainly out of the running for automatic World Cup spot

Several Arab teams were back in action on matchday three of the final round of World Cup qualification on Thursday. Only the top two teams from each of the six-team groups qualify automatically for Qatar 2022. Finish third and there are tough play-offs to negotiate.

Here are five things we learned from the latest action.

1. Stop Ali Mabkhout and you stop the UAE 

It was never going to be easy to defeat Iran for the first time in 14 official meetings, but the UAE never really seemed to believe they could. The Whites did not play badly in Dubai but lacked a cutting edge. Now they are in real trouble in terms of finishing in the top two.

It was all looking pretty good for the UAE on the hour as Shojae Khalilzadeh was shown the red card, but VAR saved the Iranian defender. Once play restarted, it did not take long for Mehdi Taremi to score what turned out to be the only goal of the game. 

What now for the UAE? Just two points from the opening three games is not where they wanted to be and Bert van Marwijk’s team are already five points behind South Korea in the race for that all-important second spot. They have scored just once in three games and it seems that if you stop Ali Mabkhout from scoring then you don’t have to worry. With not much service, the striker has not been that hard to stop.

The only glimmer of light on a gloomy evening is that South Korea travel to Tehran on Tuesday, and given the patchy form of the East Asians and a poor record against Team Melli, Iran will be expected to win. Still, it is hardly encouraging for the UAE to be relying on other results so early in this qualification stage and, regardless of what happens elsewhere, the team have to start winning. Fail to beat Iraq and you feel that it is all over. 

2. Syria will be kicking themselves

Syria lost 2-1 in South Korea and it was a fair result — in fact, more than fair since the home team missed a number of chances and should have been out of sight at the break. But Syria stayed in the game and refused to be killed off even after the Taeguk Warriors took the lead early in the second half. 

There was always a feeling that Syria would get a chance sooner or later, however, and when Omar Khribin finished beautifully with six minutes remaining, the game should have been over, with the visitors securing a point. 

Yet, with a minute remaining, they fell asleep. How else to explain leaving Son Heung-min, Asia’s best player, unmarked just outside the six-yard box? It wasted all the hard work done. And in that moment, a confidence-boosting draw became a disappointing defeat and, more importantly, hopes of the top two — admittedly slim — became almost nonexistent. 

3. Iraq and Lebanon cancel each other out

There are 0-0 draws that are entertaining and tense affairs, and then there are 0-0 draws like this one in Doha — a good advert for Asian football it was not. Neither team had scored in the two games going into this encounter and it was obvious why. 

Most attacking moves broke down in the midfield area, and while Iraq began to gain the ascendancy in the second half as Lebanon appeared to tire, they never committed enough men forward and never really seemed to believe they could score.

Lebanon were much happier at the final whistle, but had their chances and perhaps will feel they could have got more against a below-par Iraq team. 

Iraq lacked creativity, cohesion and intensity. Hopes of the top three, already looking slim, will be close to nonexistent should they lose to the UAE on Tuesday. Judging by recent performances, fans will not be expecting too much.

4. Oman give their all, but now must focus on coming games

It was always going to be tough against an Australian team that had won their last 10 games and so it proved as the Socceroos ran out 3-1 winners. 

The fact that the Reds were competitive against Australia was encouraging, as was the fact they were competitive against Japan and Saudi Arabia. Next comes a game that Branko Ivankovic’s men must win. Vietnam are the lowest-ranked team in the group and have lost all three games so far, though they have also been competitive in all of them. 

If Oman win at home on Tuesday, they will take on China in the game after, knowing another victory will take the team on to nine points and that may well be enough to go ahead of Japan in third place.

Nobody is expecting Oman to go all the way to Qatar, but if the team can stay competitive until the latter stages, that will be a sign of progress and something to celebrate. 

5. Saudi Arabia apart, it has not been a great Arab start

OK, there are four Arab teams in Group A who play each other and then have to face the Asian giants of Iran and South Korea. It is not the lack of points that is a big concern but the style of play.

Sometimes it seems as if the likes of Iraq and Syria, who do have obvious challenges to overcome, give the big boys too much respect. Indeed, if the pair had been a little more ambitious in Korea, they could have come away with something substantial.

There is enough talent not to be setting stalls out just to avoid defeat and if attitudes can change then so can results. 


Lewis Hamilton keeps title dream alive with victory in thrilling, stop-start Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Winner Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) reacts with his trophy flanked by second-placed Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (L) on the Jeddah podium. (AFP)
Winner Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) reacts with his trophy flanked by second-placed Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (L) on the Jeddah podium. (AFP)
Updated 06 December 2021

Lewis Hamilton keeps title dream alive with victory in thrilling, stop-start Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Winner Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) reacts with his trophy flanked by second-placed Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (L) on the Jeddah podium. (AFP)

JEDDAH: Lewis Hamilton won a thrilling, topsy-turvy Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday after an epic battle with title rival Max Verstappen to ensure his title challenge remained alive going into the final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

The victory for the British driver in an incident-heavy race means the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers are now level on points in the world championship standings ahead of the finale in the UAE.

Hamilton got off to a perfect start off the line, while Verstappen appeared to be struggling to get power down in the early stages. But the momentum shifted toward the Dutchman when Haas driver Mick Schumacher hit a barrier, which eventually red-flagged the session after an initial safety car.

Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas were called into the pits under the safety car but Verstappen stayed out and took the lead of the race once the red flags waved, allowing him to pit and change tires still out in front.

On the restart, Hamilton retook the lead amid a close encounter with Verstappen, who the seven-time champion claimed forced him off the track.

Just a few laps later, there was another red flag after Sergio Perez, George Russell and Nikita Mazepin all collided at the rear of the field.

The battle between the two title hopefuls had heated up even more when Verstappen received a five-second penalty due to a controversial move on Hamilton, who accused the Dutchman of “brake-testing’” him.

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Race officials decided that Verstappen’s move was illegal, which after some negotiation between FIA race director and the teams put Alpine’s Esteban Ocon into the lead for third start of the race, with Hamilton in second and Verstappen in third.

Verstappen then took the lead again with Hamilton following through, and tempers in the garages were fraying when they collided late in the race.

Bottas kept the pressure on a slowing Ocon and snatched the third and final podium spot on the final lap in what was his penultimate race for Mercedes.

Hamilton was full of praise for the efforts of his team after the race, while saying he “did not understand” why Verstappen had braked and that the incident was “confusing..”

“I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough, he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean.

“It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us so I’m just really proud of everyone and great with the crowd.

“Red Bull have some raw pace, it was hard to overtake them, we’ve done an amazing job and Valtteri did a great job for the team and this is for all the guys and girls back in the factory.

“It has been an amazing event I felt very welcome here and people have been lovely here. The track is phenomenal, very difficult physically and mentally but you would not want it any other way.”

Verstappen was in a more philosophical mood, calling into question some of the decisions made by officials

“It was quite eventful, a lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with, but it is what it is,” he said.

“I tried to give it my all, I don’t think the tires were lasting, I was lacking a bit of rubber at the end, nevertheless, still second.

“I slowed down, I wanted to let him by, I was on the right but he didn’t want to overtake and we touched. I don’t really understand what happened there.

“It will be decided (at Abu Dhabi), hopefully we have a good weekend.”


Saudi crown prince attends F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tours the Formula 1 Saudi Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche circuit. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tours the Formula 1 Saudi Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche circuit. (SPA)
Updated 06 December 2021

Saudi crown prince attends F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tours the Formula 1 Saudi Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche circuit. (SPA)

JEDDAH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made an appearance at the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The race, which was the first ever F1 to be held in the Kingdom, was won by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in a dramatic spectacle at the Jeddah Corniche circuit.

Ahead of the start of the race, the crown prince toured the pitlane and was seen waving to chanting fans at the historical event on the Jeddah seafront.

The race has captivated sports fans in the Kingdom, as one of the world’s most iconic motor racing tournaments was held in a Saudi city for the first time.

The crown prince wished the players well, praising the level of competition on display, before announcing the start of the race.

The victory keeps Hamilton in the hunt for the F1 title as the teams travel to the UAE for the final race of the championship.

Prince Mohammed was accompanied by a number of dignitaries including Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad. He was also accompanied by Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, President of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal, and President of the International Automobile Federation Jean Todt.

Minister of Interior Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed also attended the race, along with a number of other senior officials and guests.


Countdown to big Saudi race has F1 fans awaiting serious action

Countdown to big Saudi race has F1 fans awaiting serious action
Updated 06 December 2021

Countdown to big Saudi race has F1 fans awaiting serious action

Countdown to big Saudi race has F1 fans awaiting serious action
  • Locals and international visitors applaud Kingdom’s success in inaugural Formula One Grand Prix

JEDDAH: With just hours left until the big race, the Jeddah Formula One weekend has stolen the hearts of locals and visitors as the open-sea circuit promises and delivers a spectacle for fans.

F1 fans from all over the world made their way to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit by the Red Sea for the Kingdom’s inaugural Grand Prix and the penultimate race of the season, taking place on Sunday as the fifth night race on the calendar.

“Well, honestly, coming here I wasn’t expecting to see what I saw today. This is something we’ve been waiting for, for a long time,” said Almogherah Al-Ghalib, a local F1 fan who works in the marine sector. “The organization, the views and the lighting is awesome — and just to see all these people here in this historical event is something that words cannot explain.”

Organizers at the venue welcomed people to scenes that personified the buzz that has been building up since construction on the track commenced in April. With many events, activities and concerts taking place, fans were dazzled both on and off the track.

“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia, so I didn’t really know what to expect but it’s been super positive ever since I arrived,” said Sam Fane, an automotive YouTuber from the UK. “I’ve been very well looked after through amazing hospitality, and I tried some nice Arabian coffee, which I very much enjoyed.”

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Months of planning went into the eagerly anticipated race. However, many foreign media outlets released reports before the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix claiming that the track would not be finished on time. But the Kingdom responded through action, delivering on its promise to give the fans a show.

“I think this place is absolutely stunning, I have to say. You have a beautiful sunset like the one that’s going on behind me and the background of the F1 track is pretty amazing. Everywhere I look, it’s beautiful. It’s a great place to have an F1 race and I’m sure a great place to visit even when the F1 is not going on,” Fane said.

“I think we’re all excited for what’s hopefully going to be an epic race,” he added.

With doors to the venue having been open since Friday, the sun has been bright and shining, the Red Sea glistening and the fans flocking to catch the action of the nail-biting championship between seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and up-and-coming driver Max Verstappen, who will be pushing their cars to the limit during tonight’s potential title-decider.

“I'm British, so obviously I have to be a Lewis Hamilton fan. It’s been a very exciting season in F1 this year.” Fane told Arab News. “While I want to it to go down to the wire, I’m a Lewis fan all the way.”

At 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, it is lights out and away we go.

“Honestly, words cannot explain or express how I feel today. It’s a transitional period here in Saudi Arabia, and we’re glad to be here,” said Al-Ghalib.


Formula One is transforming Jeddah, says Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali

The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a Race Ambassador for the grand prix, spoke to Arab News ahead of Sunday’s raceday. (Supplied)
The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a Race Ambassador for the grand prix, spoke to Arab News ahead of Sunday’s raceday. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2021

Formula One is transforming Jeddah, says Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali

The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a Race Ambassador for the grand prix, spoke to Arab News ahead of Sunday’s raceday. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ambassador says event proves how passionate Saudi Arabia is about top-level motorsport

JEDDAH: Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali is delighted with how hosting the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah has brought an “energy” to the city and confirms how passionate Saudis are about the sport.

The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a race ambassador for the grand prix, told Arab News ahead of Sunday’s race that the event is having a “massive” impact on the city.

“I mean everyone, the city, my friends and family, everyone is so excited,” she said. “You can feel the energy having an international event like this, with everything it brings, from the concerts and the events, that ripple effect Formula One has is massive,” she said.

“And I understand that now firsthand, especially the fact that I know what my city is and, now, how it’s changed with the Formula One here.

“I guess just the buildup to this weekend, today the race day, we’ve seen quite a few different things over the weekend and every day it has been very, very busy. Usually, you find some days a little less busy, but from the Friday, as soon as the gates opened, getting around you’re weaving through people.

“And I’ve been to other events and it’s generally not that busy on the Friday, so it just shows you how excited the Saudis are and how much they’re looking forward to it.”

Juffali said she feels honored and blessed to be chosen as a race ambassador and to be representing her country on an international level. She told Arab News how important telling her story will be in inspiring Saudi children to get involved in motorsport.

“I think that is what kind of brought this on, and my experience in racing single seaters has been my career and life for the past three years, so it felt like a fitting role for me and something that I very much look forward to taking on,” she said.

“A lot of it has been sharing my story, connecting with Saudis and Arabs alike, giving them a chance to dream of getting into Formula One, making that a dream for them.

“And nice to see, as well, another side to this sport because it’s not just racing, there’s a whole other world, there’s media, engineering, hospitality — it brings so much with it.

“So, I see that as my role, spreading that awareness and allowing people to understand what the sport entails,” she added.

At the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, world championship leader Max Verstappen can potentially clinch the title, but Juffali is hoping the battle between him and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton can be extended for one more week beyond Jeddah, with the season concluding in Abu Dhabi next week.

“It’s going to be interesting. I think we saw that Max was quite eager in qualifying, but you also saw that he has the speed, so it is there,” she said. “It depends on overtaking, but I think that Lewis could potentially be at a disadvantage starting at the front.

“We don’t know that for sure, but it seems like it’s not going to be as simple in terms of overtaking, so I think if he has a good start and it’s a clean race, and we don’t get safety cars (he has a chance).

 

 

“But the more the race is interrupted, the more Max will have a chance, I think. In the end, it’s about getting the championship done in the next race, at least for myself, I want to see it go to the end,” she added.

Away from the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia and the glamor of F1, Juffali reflected on her season driving in the UK in the British F3 championship the past year — the first in which she felt she could say she was “an actual racing driver” — and told Arab News that, while she felt she did not reach her full potential on the track, she took away many other victories and lessons from the season.

“My driving was a lot more consistent, I was in the pack, always there or thereabouts and close to a good position,” she said. “Often, something would happen, whether it was a mistake from my side or I got unlucky. So, overall, I don’t think my performance reflected my ability.

“But in terms of confidence, in terms of how I’ve grown as a driver... I felt that connection with the car, what it felt like to be able to translate to my engineer and communicate these things.

“So, there were definitely merits and it was a very enjoyable year, and I will take those to the next stage, which I will hopefully announce soon. Stay tuned, you’ll hear more about it.”


AS IT HAPPENED: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix raceday in Jeddah

AS IT HAPPENED: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix raceday in Jeddah
Updated 06 December 2021

AS IT HAPPENED: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix raceday in Jeddah

AS IT HAPPENED: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix raceday in Jeddah
  • Stay tuned for the F1 action throughout the evening

JEDDAH: The eyes of the sporting world turned to Jeddah on Sunday as the inagural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix revved into action under the lights along Jeddah's Corniche coast.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton won the race from pole position after Saturday's qualifying session, while his world championship title rival Max Verstappen could only finish second, in what was a topsy-turvy contest.

The Dutchman had held an eight-point advantage over the British legend in the championship standings going into the race, but will now have to battle it out for glory in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

See how the action of the evening unfolded below. (All times AST)

22:45 - IT'S ALL OVER! Lewis Hamilton wins a dramatic, thrilling and at times crazy Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

22:20 - The two at the front touch - Verstappen and Hamilton are still running on the track but the Brit ran into the back of the Red Bull driver, and Verstappen had been told to give the position back to Hamilton before the collision.

21:55 - Just as we get going again, we end up with another yellow flag and a Virtual Safety Car after Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda hits the wall...

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21:40 - After some to-ing and fro-ing between the FIA race director and the teams, they have accepted the order of Esteban Ocon, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen on the restart...

21:20 - And it's another red flag, as multiple cars are involved in a crash at the restart...

21:15 - And due to the damage to the tyre wall, the red flag came out, which meant Verstappen who hadn't pitted took the lead of the race and will restart at 21:15 local time at the front of the pack...

20:50 - And we have a yellow flag on the course, Mick Schumacher has hit a wall. And tells the team over radio he is okay...

20:35 - GO! It's a great start for Lewis Hamitlon as Verstappen just didn't look like he was got the pace off the line, but he's coming back into it...and fast!

20:25 - Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman got a tour of the pitlane ahead of the national anthem ceremony and the start of the race.

 

 

20:10 - With concerns overnight about the gearbox of Max Verstappen, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, told Sky Sports: "It has passed all the tests we would normally do so we have to believe in our measurements and our tools. We have to go for it, Max has been driving beautifully, just a shame to not convert that (into a pole) but there is a lot of racing to be done."

19:50 - A nice moment on the track, as the drivers and teams take a moment of silence to honor the late Frank Williams, former principal of his namesake team and who had a long association with Saudi motorsport.

19:30 - With the race just an hour awayF1 fans from all over the world made their way to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit by the Red Sea for the Kingdom’s inaugural Grand Prix. Read more from the fans below...

READ MORE

The countdown to big Saudi race has F1 fans awaiting serious action. Click here for more.

18:45 - It was a dramatic F2 race, the event which is run before the Formula 1, as Enzo Fittipaldi and Theo Pourchaire have a huge collision on the starting grid. Both drivers were transferred to a local hospital concsious, and the race was run with half points being awarded.

17:30 - Fans are streaming in, and we still have three hours left until lights out. Teams are busy in the pitlane making last minute changes and fine tuning the cars before the big race.

15:45 - In case you missed it, Arab News spoke to Saudi trailblazing female racing driver Reema Juffali ahead of the race, see what she makes of Jeddah hosting Formula One and who she thinks will win below...

READ MORE

Formula One is transforming Jeddah, says Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali. Click here for more.

15:00 - Saudi Arabia's sport minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal was impressed with what he saw on Friday, and is looking forward to the big race today...