Saudi Arabia U23 footballers set out on Olympic journey in Uzbekistan

Saudi Arabia U23 footballers set out on Olympic journey in Uzbekistan
Saudi Arabia’s U23 squad prepares for their match against Uzbekistan. (saff.com.sa)
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Updated 27 October 2021

Saudi Arabia U23 footballers set out on Olympic journey in Uzbekistan

Saudi Arabia U23 footballers set out on Olympic journey in Uzbekistan
  • Young Falcons open 2022 Asian championship campaign on Wednesday with their eyes firmly set on 2024 Paris Games

For Saudi Arabian football, the road to the 2024 Paris Olympics starts on Wednesday. The journey to France will be a long one, but should be successful in the end.

To qualify for France, Saudi Arabia will have to finish in the top three of the 2022 Asian U23 Championships. However, the young Falcons first have to qualify for that continental tournament which will be held next year.

That campaign to reach the Asian championships starts on Wednesday when Saudi Arabia meet Uzbekistan in Tashkent.

Usually, taking on the host nation is no easy task, especially in the opening game, but this time it should not be a huge deal. This is because the Central Asian nation are also hosts of the Asian Championships next year. Their presence is already guaranteed, which means their results will not be counted.

That, in turn, means there are only two games of note in Group D. If Saudi Arabia finish above Kuwait, whom they face on Saturday, and then Bangladesh, a team they take on three days later, then the deal is sealed.

Even if the top spot is not seized, then all is not lost. There is still a place in Uzbekistan for four of the best 11 teams that finish in second.

In truth, it should not be a problem to get there. Saudi Arabia has a promising U23 team, as was seen last summer at the Olympics. In fact, it is more than promising, and the team is one of the best in Asia.

That was apparent in Japan. Tokyo 2020 may have ended with no points from three matches from a team that promised much, but there was plenty to be happy about.

Saudi Arabia were in the toughest of groups, which included Brazil, Ivory Coast and Germany, and lost all three games. However, that was not the full story. In all of the clashes, the Saudis were in with a chance of points until late in the game. What cost the team was a lack of ruthlessness in attack and, at times, inconsistent defending.

On the face of it, to finish pointless was a disappointment, but the team’s performance in the face of quality opposition was more than encouraging.

Coach Saad Al-Shehri kept his position as head coach and now has the job of taking the team to the AFC U23 Championships next June in Uzbekistan.

There is plenty of talent in the team, though Al-Shehri has had to battle with the clubs to get the players he wants, such as Firas Al-Buraikan and Abdullah Al-Hamdan. It is understandable that the head coach would like more time with the talented forward. He also understands that his club counterparts feel the same way.

“The clubs in the Saudi Professional League naturally want to keep their players as long as possible,” Al-Shehri said. “It is not easy for anyone as the games are not part of FIFA’s official matchdays. We would have liked to have spent more time with the players we had with us last week, but we have only two days to prepare. We will do our best, however.”

He added: “We know what we have to do and we will not be underestimating any of the teams that we have to face here. Every team is difficult to beat and every game is difficult. If we are not at our best then we will pay the price.”

While Saudi Arabia should be confident of qualifying for the U23 Championship, there have been, so far, mixed results from Arab teams.

In Group A Qatar defeated Yemen 3-0, while Syria thrashed Sri Lanka 5-0. In Group C, Iraq beat Maldives to go top, while Jordan defeated Turkmenistan 1-0. The setbacks so far have come with Lebanon losing 1-0 to Tajikistan, UAE suffering a 2-1 loss against Kyrgyzstan and Oman losing 2-1 to India.

Saudi Arabia should be able to add some wins to the Arab column, however. The young Falcons have what it takes to go all the way to Uzbekistan next year and then France two years later.

 “We are looking to get off to a winning start,” said the Saudi coach. “But we know that there is much work to be done.”


Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday
Updated 38 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

Saudi Arabia to launch ‘Sports Career Day’ initiative on Tuesday

RIYADH: The “Sports Career Day” initiative will start on Tuesday at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Olympic Complex in Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Sport said on Monday.
The three-day event, held under the patronage of Minister of Sport Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, is being organized by the Leaders Development Institute, and will run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The initiative, part of the Quality of Life program, includes 26 workshops, with nine on the first two days, and eight on the final day, in addition to employment fairs and direct professional communication.
The initiative aims to provide channels of communication between qualified job seekers, business owners in the sectors, sports institutions and relevant authorities, to achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
It also includes several accompanying events, including virtual job interviews for participants.
The “Sports Career Day” initiative has seen significant interaction from government and private sports agencies, as well as various other institutions, and more than 80 entities participated in 1,250 job opportunities across 20 fields.
The most prominent entities participating are the Ministry of Sports, the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the Saudi Football Association, the Saudi Professional League, and other sports clubs, federations, and private sports institutions hoping to open channels of communication with qualified young people wishing to enter the sports labor market.


Deadly stampede overshadows Cameroon’s African Cup progress

Deadly stampede overshadows Cameroon’s African Cup progress
Updated 2 min 13 sec ago

Deadly stampede overshadows Cameroon’s African Cup progress

Deadly stampede overshadows Cameroon’s African Cup progress
YAOUNDE: Cameroon’s progress at the African Cup of Nations was overshadowed by a stampede outside the stadium that killed at least six people during the host nation’s victory over Comoros on Monday.
The crush happened as crowds struggled to get access to Olembe Stadium in the capital of Yaounde as Cameroon beat Comoros 2-1 to reach the quarterfinals.
Strikers Karl Toko Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar gave Cameroon what appeared an insurmountable lead by the 70th minute against the tournament newcomers, who are ranked 132nd in the world and played with a defender in goal due to a coronavirus outbreak in the squad.
Comoros also had to cope with playing most of the match with 10 men after Jimmy Abdou was sent off in the seventh minute for stepping on the back of Moumi Ngamaleu’s ankle.
But Comoros, who reached the round of 16 by ousting four-time African champion Ghana, managed to produce one of the goals of the tournament so far to provide a flicker of hope of a comeback. Youssouf M’Changama scored from a free kick from 30 yards (meters) in the 81st minute but Comoros couldn’t produce an equalizer.
Details of the tragedy outside the stadium were only confirmed after the game. Officials at the nearby Messassi hospital said they had received at least 40 injured people from the stampede.
“Some of the injured are in desperate condition,” said Olinga Prudence, a nurse. “We will have to evacuate them to a specialized hospital.”
Cameroon is hosting Africa’s flagship football tournament for the first time in 50 years.
Cameroon is scheduled to play another tournament debutant on Saturday in the quarterfinals in Douala after Guinea beat Gambia 1-0 in the day’s other game after a goal from Musa Barrow in the 71st minute.
Gambia had Yusupha Njie sent off with three minutes left for elbowing an opponent as they went up for a header, but Egyptian referee Amin Omar also gave Guinea’s Ibrahima Conté a second yellow in injury time.
Guinea were playing without regular captain Naby Keita, who was suspended after picking up two yellow cards in the group stage.
Guinea did have a clear chance to equalize late on when it hit the post, then the crossbar and had a goal-bound shot blocked in quick succession.

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper
Updated 57 min 52 sec ago

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper

AFCON hosts Cameroon labor to beat Comoros side deprived of goalkeeper
  • Comoros had to play left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde
  • To add to their woes, they had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes

YAOUNDÉ: Hosts Cameroon are through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations but only after laboring to a 2-1 win over a Comoros side who were forced to start an outfield player in goal and played most of the game with 10 men.
The Comoros started with left-back Chaker Alhadhur between the posts in Yaounde after two of their three goalkeepers were ruled out due to Covid-19 while the other was missing due to injury.
They then had captain Nadjim Abdou sent off after just seven minutes, and Karl Toko-Ekambi put Cameroon in front before skipper Vincent Aboubakar netted his sixth goal of the tournament.
Despite that it was a heroic performance from the Comoros, who kept the tie alive until the end thanks to Youssouf M’Changama’s stunning late free-kick.
The Indomitable Lions keep their dream of winning the Cup of Nations on home soil alive as they advance to a last-eight tie against Gambia on Saturday, yet this was the Comoros’ night, despite the outcome.
The tiny Indian Ocean island nation qualified for the last 16 in their first ever appearance at the Cup of Nations after finishing as one of the best third-placed teams in the group stage.
However, their dream turned to a nightmare as a total of 12 players and staff tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the tie, including goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini.
Their other goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina, was injured but they had hoped Ahamada would be able to start after he tested negative on the day of the game.
The 30-year-old Ahamada flew from Garoua, where he had been isolating, to Yaounde on Monday afternoon in the hope of being able to play, only for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to decide otherwise as his positive result had come just two days earlier.
Alhadhur, a reserve left-back for French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio, wore the gloves, with tape used to mark out his number three on the back of his goalkeeper’s jersey.
It was a farcical scene, and the Comoros’ plight worsened when Abdou was shown a straight red card for a foul on Moumi Ngamaleu after the Ethiopian referee went to review images of his challenge.
Rather than give up, the Comoros kept going and they only fell behind in the 29th minute when Aboubakar teed up Toko-Ekambi to slot home.
The islanders, whose coach Amir Abdou was among those missing after testing positive, almost equalized shortly after as Ahmed Mogni forced Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana into a fine save.
Aboubakar had a second-half effort disallowed for offside before making it 2-0 with 20 minutes left, finishing excellently after being picked out by Martin Hongla.
Yet there was no collapse from the Comoros, who pulled one back courtesy of M’Changama’s piledriver from 35 meters and go out with their heads held high.


Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
Updated 24 January 2022

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
  • Unexpected 1-0 win over Super Eagles shows group stage will have little bearing on where trophy ends up
  • If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off

The African Cup of Nations has already seen Ghana out, defending champions Algeria finish bottom of their group and now Nigeria eliminated at a relatively early stage after a shock loss at the hands of a COVID-19-ridden Tunisia on Sunday.

That result really showed that the trophy could go anywhere, and as unimpressive as Egypt have been so far, coach Carlos Queiroz’s words after the group stage ended are looking increasingly accurate.

“Now the real work begins, and now the real competition will begin,” he said. It was the kind of thing that you would expect such an experienced campaigner to say. After all, Egypt had not impressed in the group stage with a poor, to say the least, performance in a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the opener. It was followed by two unconvincing victories by the same scoreline against Guinea-Bissau and then Sudan.

With criticism at home, it was understandable, then, that Queiroz, who took the job in September, wanted to look forward rather than back. Yet the 68-year-old former Real Madrid manager has taken four teams through successful World Cup qualification campaigns and knows what he is talking about.

Nigeria were perhaps the best team in the group stage and were certainly the only one to take maximum points. Drawn against Tunisia then in the second round, the Super Eagles, newly installed as tournament favorites, were expected to win. Not only had they been impressive in the first round, with winger Moses Simon a real standout, but Tunisia had been anything but.

The North Africans had limped through to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, winning just one game and losing against Mali and Gambia, the latter an embarrassing defeat. All their goals had come in the 4-0 win over Mauritania. The odds were against the Carthage Eagles flying any higher in the tournament.

A serious outbreak of COVID-19 in the Tunisia camp lengthened the odds of a win considerably. The federation announced that as many as 12 players out of the 28-man squad had tested positive, including star striker Wahbi Khazri. By the time the Nigeria game rolled around, at least seven players were unavailable. Coach Monhder Kebaier had also tested positive and his duties were taken over by assistant Bilal Kadri.

But the Tunisian coaching staff did not use the infections as an excuse at any point. Despite all the problems, or perhaps because of them, Tunisia gave everything, working harder than their opponents, who gave the impression that they expected a comfortable evening. In what was a highly disciplined performance, Tunisia gave Simon no time or space, doubled up on the Nantes star and tried to cut off the supply to the forwards.

Nigeria, who had looked the most creative of all the teams in the group stage (though admittedly the bar had been set pretty low by the rest), seemed to have few ideas and only started to come alive after Tunisia took the lead early in the second half thanks to a fierce long-range shot from Youssef Msakni. But a red card given to Alex Iwobi handed the initiative back to Tunisia, and in the end, they recorded a shock but deserved win. The 2004 champions now move into the quarter-finals and a winnable tie against Burkina Faso on Saturday. The extra six days should mean that coach Kebaier can field his strongest team, and hopes are now high.

If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off. With Queiroz a big fan of discipline, organization and shape, he will not have that much to learn defensively, but in terms of mood and confidence, Tunisia put the mediocrity of the group stage behind them and went out to win and, importantly, took their chances.

It does not matter now how Egypt performed last week. They have a chance to reset, but they must start to take their chances after scoring only two goals in 270 minutes so far. “Look, I promise you, starting from tomorrow they are going to be doing finishing exercises from the morning until the afternoon,” Queiroz said at the weekend. “They just need to score more goals. To only play good football is not enough — we need to build up more goals and with that be more relaxed in the game.”

Tunisia’s win over Nigeria serves as a perfect reminder that not only does the tournament start here, but that it is wide open. Ghana are out, Algeria are out and now Nigeria are out. It really is up for grabs.


Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
Updated 24 January 2022

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
  • Under Brazilian’s guidance, female athletes claimed 9 gold, 8 silver, 8 bronze medals at World Championship

ABU DHABI: Last year was a game changer for jiu-jitsu in the UAE, with more homegrown talent competing and winning in local and international events on mats.

UAE athletes claimed 71 medals from two international championships in the second half of 2021, with success coming at the 5th Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship and the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

The record year was amplified by the rise of the UAE’s women’s team, which claimed nine gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in November.

Following the success of 2021, Polyana Lago, coach of the UAE National Women’s Jiu-Jitsu team, is now looking for her players to use their experience as a springboard to even more glory in 2022.

“We enter the new season with great ambitions after an impressive season and great achievements last year,” said the 41-year-old Brazilian, who only began working with the women’s team in the summer of 2021.

“We actually had two really excellent weeks; we were confined to a hotel and were able to train together; it was a good experience for each of us.

“We had a fantastic season last year; our women champions put in an outstanding performance, particularly at the World Championship, when they won a total of 25 medals. Some of the girls did really well,” she added.

Lago said that the new format of the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu League helped the UAE national women’s team achieve the historic feat. “It contributed significantly to the championship’s outstanding results last year, as well as making it more professional. We were able to determine other national team talents as a result of the event,” she added.

She has high hopes for the 2022 season, with her athletes set to take part in a host of major events, including the Mother of the Nation Cup, Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup and Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Ahead of this year’s events, Lago revealed that she is “working on key areas of development” with her players.