Saudi face China, UAE must win: 5 things to look out for in Tuesday’s Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022

Saudi face China, UAE must win: 5 things to look out for in Tuesday’s Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022
Saudi Arabia will be looking for a perfect start of 12 points from four matches when they take on China in Jeddah on Tuesday. (Mohammed Al-Mana)
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Updated 11 October 2021

Saudi face China, UAE must win: 5 things to look out for in Tuesday’s Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022

Saudi face China, UAE must win: 5 things to look out for in Tuesday’s Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2022
  • Herve Renard’s Saudi team could take big step toward World Cup with 3 points on Matchday 4

RIYADH: World Cup qualifiers are coming thick and fast at the moment and Tuesday brings six massive games in the Asian qualifiers for Qatar 2020.

It will be Matchday 4 out of 10, a time when groups are taking shape. There are already some must-win or at least must-not-lose games, and here are five things to look out for.

1. Concentration will be key in Jeddah

It is all very obvious but Saudi Arabia will kick themselves if after defeating Japan they go on to drop points against China.

The visitors arrived in Jeddah — staying at the same hotel as Japan where the Samurai Blue’s training schedule can still be seen on whiteboards around the building — on a high after defeating Vietnam in the 95th minute to pick up their first points of the stage. Getting one more in Jeddah would be a good result and keep hopes of third place alive.

Third spot is not on Saudi minds at the moment as they have won all three games so far and are looking in good shape for automatic qualification. The Chinese are going to sit back and look to counter, and they are not going to throw men forward — the first goal against Vietnam came from the first shot on target in the group stage.

So Saudi Arabia are going to have a lot of the ball and are not going to have to defend too much which makes concentration key. The defense needs to stay alert and especially watch Wu Lei, the Espanyol winger with an eye for goal.

2. Saudi Arabia’s left side will be crucial

China can be vulnerable down the right side, meaning that the Saudi left has a big part to play.

It is fortunate that Yasser Al-Shahrani is in such great form for club and country. The full-back was excellent against Japan in defense, and though he did not get forward as much as he usually does for Al-Hilal, he should be regarded as what he is: One of the best full-backs in Asia. There should be more chances to attack against China and some of his expert delivery into the penalty area could make the difference.

One of the few questions about the nature of what is an increasingly settled team is who plays in front of the 29-year-old? Against Japan, it was Abdulrahman Ghareeb who got the nod and the Al-Ahli star had a solid game and almost scored in the second half, though his finish lacked a little conviction. Abdulrahman Al-Aboud is the other option and has been in great form for Al-Ittihad though lacks international experience. It is a call that Renard needs to get right.

3. Time for Ali Mabkhout’s team-mates to step forward

Two points from three games is not the stuff that World Cup dreams are made of. The UAE are really going to have to up their game against Iraq in Dubai. It is a must-win for Bert van Marwijk if he wants one of those two automatic qualification spots. Already, the UAE are five points behind second-placed South Korea, but there is hope.

Korea are in Tehran, a place where they have never won, losing five and drawing two of their seven visits to the Iranian capital. The east Asians are not exactly in sparkling form at the moment, and it would be a surprise if they won at the Azadi Stadium. This means there is a chance for the UAE to get back within touching distance of the Taeguk Warriors ahead of November’s meeting.

Three points on Tuesday are essential then. Iraq are not going to come to Dubai and attack from the get-go. Clear chances will be hard to come by and the UAE need someone other than Ali Mabkhout, the scorer of the only goal in the three games so far, who can put the ball in the net.

4. Iraq need to show their ambition

Hiring Dick Advocaat does not seem to be working for Iraq. The 2007 Asian champions have yet to score a goal and have not looked like doing so very often. There have been concerns about the Dutchman’s team selections, the time he has actually spent watching Iraqi football, and whether his strict methods are suited to the team’s talented but inconsistent players.

Familiar faces such as Ali Adnan, who is currently without a club, and Humam Tariq have not been at their best and without their influence the team has been lacking in direction and conviction.

It remains to be seen if Advocaat can shake things up or whether he has any back-ups in mind. It also remains to be seen what Iraq’s ambitions are but hiring a big-name coach such as Advocaat suggests that the ambition is a place at the World Cup. If so, defeat in Dubai would be a huge blow. It is time for some more aggression.

5. Syria and Lebanon can kick start their campaign

This game between the two lowest-ranked teams in Group A should not be overlooked. For Lebanon, the stage is about getting as many points as possible and seeing where the team can finish.

While Lebanon will struggle to finish in third, Syria have more realistic ambitions and were not so far away from reaching Russia 2018 last time around. There is still talent in the team and the sight of Omar Al-Somah linking up with Omar Khribin in South Korea was a heartening one. Again, had Syria showed a little more ambition in east Asia then they may have come away with something.

Now comes a much shorter trip to Amman. It is time to start winning. The talent is there to challenge but there also has to be conviction.


Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season
Updated 14 sec ago

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

Newcastle beat Burnley to seal first Premier League win of the season

NEWCASTLE: Callum Wilson scored late in the first half and Newcastle went on to beat Burnley 1-0 for its first victory in this English Premier League on Saturday.
Newcastle ended a 14-game winless run and earned desperately needed points as it tries to climb out of the relegation zone.
Burnley had been unbeaten in five games but could muster only one shot on target at St. James’ Park.
Wilson scored in the 40th minute after Burnley goalkeeper Nike Pope couldn't control Joe Willock's cross. Pope came out to the penalty spot to snatch the ball out of the air but on his way down collided with Newcastle's Fabien Schar and dropped the ball. Wilson took one touch around Pope and and fired high into the net.
Newcastle, which has recently come under Saudi ownership, moved one spot off the bottom of the table, bumping Norwich into last place with Burnley in 18th — all with 10 points.
Burnley thought it equalized in the 84th but forward Jay Rodriguez's tap in was ruled out because he was offside. Matej Vydra skied a half-volley over the crossbar in first-half injury time for the visitors.
Newcastle dominated the second half with lively play from attackers Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron. Jonjo Shelvey's curling shot to the far post was tipped over by Pope in the 79th.
The win was also the first for Newcastle's new manager, Eddie Howe, who was hired last month to replace the fired Steve Bruce.


LIVE: Verstappen tops final Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice, qualifying to follow

LIVE: Verstappen tops final Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice, qualifying to follow
Updated 37 min 50 sec ago

LIVE: Verstappen tops final Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice, qualifying to follow

LIVE: Verstappen tops final Saudi Arabian Grand Prix practice, qualifying to follow

JEDDAH: The second day of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix got underway on Saturday, with the drivers completing one final practice session on the Jeddah Corniche circuit ahead of qualifying at 8 p.m. local time.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen topped the final practice, ahead of world championship title rival Lewis Hamilton in second, with fellow Red Bull driver Sergio Perez finishing third.

The next fastest drivers were Yuki Tsunoda for AlphaTauri in fourth and followed by teammate Pierre Gasly.

Mercedes driver Hamilton dominated the first day of practice, finishing ahead of Verstappen in the first session and extending his lead over the rest of the pack, including teammate Valtteri Bottas in the second session.

Stay tuned below for updates of Saturday's action... (All times GMT)

17:00 - The first qualifying session, involving all 20 drivers who will be trying to finish in the top 15 of the grid, is now ready to go...

15:05 - Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finally broke Lewis Hamilton's practice dominance by setting the pace in final practice. The Dutchman was 0.214 seconds quicker than his title rival, who appeared to be struggling with his tyres - something the Mercedes team will want to address ahead of qualifying later.

Fellow Red Bull driver Sergio Perez finished third, and it was a fantastic session for the Alpha Tauri team as both their drivers - Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly - closed out the rest of the top five.

 

14:40 - Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was full of praise for the Jeddah Corniche circuit this weekend, admitting it was both unforgiving and dangerous, but also that it was a drivers’ circuit and one with plenty of opportunity. 

“In for a penny, in for a pound. This championship has had everything. This track is a real drivers’ circuit. It’s unforgiving, it’s fast, it’s dangerous, it’s going to bite if you make a mistake. How many safety cars are there going to be? Are there going to be VSCs. It can go both ways. It’s a race that has jeopardy and opportunity.”

14:20 - Lewis Hamilton has a small run-off in Sector One of the track after a front wheel lock-up, but the scare doesn't last long as he spins back into the action. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen is running in sixth with with 1:29.8...work to do for the championship leader.

14:15 - In case you missed it earlier, the team behind the Grand Prix released footage of Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal getting behind the wheel of the famous Williams FW07 car from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Watch below...

14:00 - The third and final practice session of the weekend is now up and running. The drivers will have an hour to iron out any issues with their cars as well as gaining more experience of the brand new Jeddah Corniche circuit ahead of the qualifying session later this evening.

READ MORE

ICYMI: Hamilton seals practice double, LeClerc crashes out on day one of historic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Click here for more.


Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch
Updated 04 December 2021

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch

Early days of 2021 FIFA Arab Cup highlight intrigue on and off the pitch
  • As 16 Arab nations battle it out on the pitch, FIFA’s resident and other officials are in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup dress rehearsal, with readiness of stadiums and new offside technology on the agenda

Just a few days into the 2021 Arab Cup in Qatar, there are already several intriguing talking points emerging, both on and off the pitch.

An emotional opening ceremony, the first round performances, young players to keep an eye on, and the new technology under the watchful eye of FIFA’s leadership.

The organizers attempted to showcase the cultures of the 16 participating Arab nations at an opening party that lasted for 30 minutes in front of a large crowd at Al-Bayt Stadium.

It was a worthy start for this 10th edition of the tournament, and for the first time since its launch in Lebanon in 1963, it is under the FIFA umbrella. And for the first time ever, it comes as a replacement for the FIFA Confederations Cup, that traditionally precedes the World Cup by a year.

That this Arab Cup is a dress rehearsal for the 2022 World Cup was given even more weight by the presence of FIFA President Gianni Infantino and other major sports leaders in the stands.

And the officials are not there for merely ceremonial reasons, but to also make sure all is going to plan, from checking the readiness of the stadiums to keeping a watchful eye on the new VAR technology for offside that is under testing with view to being implemented officially at the World Cup next year.

The matches are taking place at six of the eight stadiums that will be used at the World Cup.

The showpiece opening between Qatar and Bahrain was held in front of 60,000 spectators at Al-Bayt Stadium, and the tournament is being played across Al-Janoub Stadium, Ras Abu Aboud Stadium (974 Stadium), Al-Thumama Stadium, Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, and Education City Stadium, and Al-Ebdaa Stadium.

The new VAR addition, the so-called semi-automated offside technology based on artificial intelligence, tracks the players’ movements, giving signals on 29 points in their bodies at 50 times every second; this is picked up in the control room, then sent to the on-field official who will give his decision, as was explained by the chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, Pierluigi Collina.

The technology has already been tested behind closed doors at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester and the Allianz Arena in Munich.

This particular improvement to the VAR system — which aims to have speedier decisions with higher accuracy — is to be welcomed, as matches continue to suffer from lengthy, confusing offside cases.

The 16 teams are made up of 10 Arab nations from the Asian continent and six from Africa, and it’s the latter that caught the eye in the first round with victories for Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s 1-0 victory over a youthful Saudi Arabian team was particularly impressive, Iraq equalized in the 98th minute against Oman, hosts Qatar beat Bahrain, and the UAE overcame Syria.

With World Cup qualification still a priority for several teams, some have decided to compete with squads made up of home-based players only, such as Egypt, or even with a second string, such as Saudi Arabia.

Herve Renard’s focus is firmly on Qatar 2022, and the Saudi national team was chosen from players born after 1999. In the circumstances, they performed well against Jordan despite the eventual defeat.

With assistant Laurent Bonadei leading the team, Renard watched from the stands as the senior players took a well-earned rest and the younger ones — many of whom played in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games — staked a claim for the remainder of the World Cup qualifiers. 

This reminded me of what Renard did with the Moroccan national team in the African Cup of Nations in 2018. They went on to lift the trophy.

Of particular interest to Renard will be the Al-Ahli goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Rubaie, Al-Shabab leftback Moteb Al-Harbi, highly rated Al-Hilal forward Abdullah Al-Hamdan and the brilliant Al-Fateh striker Firas Al-Buraikan.

On the other hand, Carlos Queiroz’s Egypt team have been criticized for their lacklustre performance against Lebanon, though they played without Mohamed Salah or Mohamed Elneny.

With the start of the second round, things are starting to take shape.

Qatar’s late, late 2-1 win over the luckless Omanis leaves them top of Group A with six points while their opponents sit in third with just one. Meanwhile, Iraq and Bahrain — who drew 0-0 — are second and fourth respectively.

In Group B, the UAE’s 1-0 win over Mauritania took them to the top of the standings with maximum points from two matches, three points ahead of second-placed Syria, who recorded an impressive 2-0 win over Tunisia.

It’s too early to draw conclusions from the early stages of the 2021 Arab Cup, but the second round of matches in the group stages are slowly giving an indication of which teams will challenge for the title.

For the fans, as much as the watching FIFA officials, there is much at stake in the coming days.


Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Updated 04 December 2021

Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Aston Martin team principal, Saudi athletes talk F1 ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
  • The race taking place this upcoming Sunday is Saudi Arabia's inaugural Formula One Grand Prix with Jeddah hosting the race

JEDDAH: Fans all over the world eagerly await Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Formula One Grand Prix, taking place this Sunday, including some notable professional Saudi athletes.

“It’s a momentous event for the country,” said Husein Alireza, the Saudi professional rower. “Everyone’s flown in, there’s a real buzz in the air, you know? We haven’t had this buzz in a very long time.

“I think we’re used to hosting people from all over the world — Jeddah has been the social capital for a long time, it’s a tourist hotspot. We’ve got the Red Sea, and the people of Jeddah are very laid back and welcoming.” 

“I think for any tourist, a way to experience a new location for the first time — to do it through the world of sports is a great way,” said Dania Akeel, professional Saudi race driver. “You get action, you get the social aspect, you get entertainment and you get to witness excellence at the highest level.”

The Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition launched in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for the first time. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

At the launch of the Aston Martin Vantage F1 edition in Jeddah, Arab News had the opportunity to talk with some Saudi pro athletes, along with Otmar Szafnauer, Aston Martin F1 team principal, about some of their predictions before the long-awaited Jeddah race. 

“I think we will do a really good job in Jeddah, the track looks amazingly fast and like nothing else on the calendar, so it should be good fun,” Szafnauer said. “Lance (Stroll) progresses year-on-year. He’s in the steep part of the learning curve, and he had a great race in Doha.” 

Szafnauer, a Romanian-American engineer, was received at the launch of the Aston Martin car by Ali Alireza who gifted Szafnauer a special sword, which the team principal thanked him for and jokingly said: “This will come in handy for future negotiations with drivers.”

Ali Alireza, Managing Director of Haji Husein Alireza & Co., gifts a sword to Otmar Szafnauer, Aston Martin F1 team principal. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

“Sebastian (Vettel) has brought a lot of winning experience to the team and know-how of what it takes to win — not just races, but also world championships, and he’s lifted our game quite a bit, but because of the rule change, we really did take a step backwards.” 

Due to COVID-19, F1 race cars from 2020 were carried over to this season with very little technical adjustments. There were, however, aerodynamic rule changes set by the FIA that stripped performance away from Aston Martin’s low-rake car, hindering their performance this year.

“It was too late, and that’s not a driver thing, that’s more of a car development issue,” Szafnauer said. “Once those rule changes were upon us, we couldn’t really do anything.”

As a result, Aston Martin have had to use some of their resources for 2022 on this year’s car to try and remedy what’s left of the season, to no avail.

“But next year is a whole new year, all the rules (will) even the playing field for everybody,” he added.

Dania Akeel, professional Saudi race driver, talks with Arab News about Sunday's big race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

Akeel said many factors currently in play will determine the champion of this season, saying that no matter what changes have been done to the engine to make it perform better, the human element in the driver is always a key factor.

“You know, the truth is, I don’t favor any driver, but I favor incredible driving skills. Each driver delivers a certain finesse, technique, a certain decision-making process that you can’t compare to each other,” she said.

“One driver will blow you away in the rain, another driver will come from the back of the grid all the way to the front, another driver will show you their resilience in defending their position. Each driver behaves differently on corners, on overtakes, on straights. And of course, that's not to say, the team as well has such a massive influence.”

Dania Akeel made history when she became the first Arab female to win the T3 title at the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas event this year. She completed a remarkable comeback from a serious injury suffered earlier this year.

Akeel told Arab News that despite sustaining three pelvic fractures while participating in the Bahrain Rally Season, she was still planning to compete in the 2022 Dakar Rally which will take place in Saudi Arabia next January.

Husein Alireza, professional Saudi rower, talks with Arab News about Sunday's Formula One race taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

Alireza, who took part in the men’s rowing in 2020 Tokyo Olympics, competed with a damaged lung. Mid-competition, a new ad hoc strategy was devised by his team that had allowed him to manage injury-hit races, with the 28-year-old unable to perform at full capacity.

On F1, Alireza had his own take on who the crown of this season will go to.

“I always go for the underdog and you know, seven years of Hamilton — I love the guy, I supported him at the start, but I would love to see Verstappen win the race. He’s such an exciting, dynamic driver, I love the way he drives, extremely aggressive. And it would be nice to see him win it here in Jeddah, that would be cool. 

“We’ll see what happens but I think I’m on Team Verstappen on this one,” he concluded. 


Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives

Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives
Updated 04 December 2021

Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives

Sebastian Vettel invited Saudi women to karting event to learn about their lives
  • The German Formula 1 driver said wanted to hear their first-hand accounts of recent changes in the country what life is like for them in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: In an effort to learn more about life in Saudi Arabia and recent changes in the country, and as an activist for equality, Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel said that he organized a special karting event this week for women in Saudi Arabia.

In comments shared on social media, the German driver, who races for Aston Martin, said he hired a karting track in Jeddah on Thursday and invited some Saudi women to race so that he could hear their first-hand accounts of what life is like for them in the Kingdom.

Vettel said: “It’s true that some things are changing here. There are a lot of questions that have been asked and I have asked myself. So I was thinking of what I can do. I really tried to think of the positive side.

“And so I set up my own karting event today, under the hashtag Race for Women, and we had a group of seven or eight girls and women on the track.

“I was trying to pass on some of my experiences in life and, obviously, on the track; to do something together to grow their confidence. Some of them had a (driving) license, others they did not. Some of them were huge Formula 1 enthusiasts, others had nothing to do with Formula 1 or racing before today.

“It was a good mix of women from different backgrounds and a great event. Everybody was extremely happy,” he continued. “And I was, I have to say, very inspired by their stories and their backgrounds, their positivity about the change in the country.

“It was important to get to know some of these women. And I think it was a very, very memorable and inspiring day and a great way to kick-off the weekend by focusing on the positive.”

Vettel will compete in the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Sunday, Dec. 5.