Saudi Arabia go all out for win against Morocco to keep FIFA Arab Cup hopes alive

Special Saudi Arabia go all out for win against Morocco to keep FIFA Arab Cup hopes alive
Abdullah Al-Hamdan scored the equalizer against Palestine in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup game at Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar. (Twitter Photo)
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Updated 06 December 2021

Saudi Arabia go all out for win against Morocco to keep FIFA Arab Cup hopes alive

Saudi Arabia go all out for win against Morocco to keep FIFA Arab Cup hopes alive
  • After Palestine draw, young Saudi team must get all 3 points and hope Jordan falter
  • Abdullah Al-Hamdan: We will play our game, and our goal is to take the three points and move forward to the next stage

Abdullah Al-Hamdan’s late equalizer on Saturday against Palestine kept Saudi Arabia’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup alive.

It means that the mission against Morocco on Tuesday in the final Group C game is a simple one: Win and hope Jordan lose.

It will be far from easy as Morocco have been the best team in the tournament so far. The Atlas Lions have won both of their games 4-0. In contrast, Saudi Arabia started the campaign with a 1-0 defeat against Jordan and then drew 1-1 with Palestine. It leaves Morocco top of the group with six points, Jordan second with three, and Saudi Arabia and Palestine with one each.

The spine of the Moroccan team has looked very solid indeed. Badr Benoun has taken the captain’s armband and has been leading from the center of defense in impressive fashion. The midfield of Yahya Jabrane, Abdelilah Hafidi and Wallid El Karti has worked well and worked hard together with Ismail El Haddad and Achraf Bencharki (the Zamalek forward has been a standout). They have looked good in attack, and goals have flowed.

If Morocco won so convincingly against a Jordan team that should have defeated Saudi Arabia by more than one goal, then what chance does this young Saudi team, essentially an under-23 side, have?

There is always hope and, in this case, there is some positive news. One is that goal difference may help. Should the Green Falcons win, then a draw will not be enough for Jordan against Palestine. They will have to win.

Also, the fact that Morocco have been so good means at least that they have already secured a place in the last eight and almost certainly taken first place. It is a talented lineup, but with the quarter-final coming on Saturday, it is likely that players will be rested.

Even so, Moroccan goalkeeper Abdelali Mhamdi has warned the Asian powerhouse that the North Africans are not about to take it easy, especially as the team will also be roared on by a healthy contingent of fans at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Qatar.

“We want to end the group stage with another victory that will enhance our confidence,” the 30 year old, who plays his club football for Saudi Arabian club Abha, said. “We will not take things easy, but we will play with the same energy and intensity that we did in the first two games.”

Whatever the opposition, there is a lot to do for Saudi Arabia. It remains to be seen what the lineup is, given that eight changes were made for the 1-1 draw with Palestine. Abdullah Al-Hamdan did not start, but came off the bench to score the vital goal that means that this game is not a dead rubber. It has turned the Arab Cup campaign around, potentially, and many in Saudi Arabia will be hoping that it ends up doing the same with the striker’s career.

At the very least, it will be a confidence boost for the former Al-Shabab striker. His big move to Al-Hilal in February looked significant for the then 21 year old. He has, however, struggled for playing time at the Asian champions with the likes of Bafetimbi Gomis and Moussa Marega ahead of him in the domestic pecking order.

His instincts were on display on Saturday as he steered the ball home.

“I do not care whether I score or my teammates score as we just want to win. The team comes first,” he said.

Al-Hamdan knows what needs to be done against Morocco.

“We made the task difficult for ourselves, but there is nothing impossible in football,” he said. “We know very well that the Moroccan national team is strong, but we will play our game, and our goal is to take the three points and move forward to the next stage.”

It will also be a test for Laurent Bonadei. The assistant coach of the senior team is in the dugout while Herve Renard watches from the stands. Bonadei has already invoked the spirit of the 2019 Gulf Cup when Saudi Arabia recovered from an opening game loss to reach the final of the tournament.

If the number two can steer what is a young and inexperienced team into a similar position, then it will be a fine achievement for all and another sign that Saudi Arabian football is heading in the right direction. It will all be decided against Morocco on Tuesday.


Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat
Updated 10 sec ago

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat

Kane extends World Cup goal drought but equals Beckham feat
DOHA: For Harry Kane, the wait for a first goal at this World Cup goes on.
Substituted after 58 minutes of England’s 3-0 win against Wales on Tuesday, he embraced his replacement Callum Wilson and made his way to the bench to watch the remainder of the game.
England coach Gareth Southgate clearly thought the job was done and qualification to the knockout stage secured.
Kane, despite shaking hands with his coach, might not have shared that view.
For a man who is famously reluctant to sit out any opportunity to add to his scoring record, it was likely a frustrating watch from the sidelines at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
Against a Wales team broken by goals from Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden, Kane was looking to finally get off the mark in Qatar. Instead, Rashford added a third of the match and his third of the tournament.
“He’s enjoying his football, but for any forward you want to be scoring goals,” Rashford said.
England scored nine goals as they topped Group B, but none came from their most prolific forward.
Yet Kane, who was the Golden Boot winner at the World Cup in Russia four years ago and is two short of Wayne Rooney’s all-time England record of 53 goals, has still made a notable contribution.
Providing the cross for Foden’s second-half strike, he became England’s first player to register three assists at a World Cup since David Beckham in 2002. He can add to that total when England play Senegal in the round of 16 on Sunday.
“You need goals from all areas, and it is a problem for opposition teams if the threat is coming from other areas of the pitch,” Southgate said. “Across the three games pretty much all of our forward line has got off the mark — if not with goals then with important, quality assists and that’s a good place for the forward to be. They want to have that confidence.”
England’s captain has always been a creator as well as a finisher and his assist statistics in his opening three games — also setting up goals for Raheem Sterling and Rashford against Iran — is evidence of just how complete a forward he is.
It also underlines his enduring importance to England.
Kane hurt his ankle and foot in the opening match against Iran, but Southgate has started the 29-year-old striker in all three matches.
“It is competition for places, which is what we need and people have to deliver,” Southgate said.
Goals aren’t a particular concern for England, with Rashford, Bukayo Saka (two), Sterling, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham all scoring so far.
Rashford, who missed a penalty in England’s shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final last year, is the tournament’s co-leading scorer alongside Kylian Mbappé, Cody Gakpo and Enner Valencia.
“In a long career, you’re always going to have ups and you always will have downs and it’s all about how you bounce back from them,” Manchester United and England teammate Harry Maguire said after the Wales match. “I can’t speak highly enough about Marcus. He’s a wonderful man and he’s a great player and I think tonight again he’s shown that he belongs on this stage.”

Tunisia out of World Cup despite shock win over much-changed France

Tunisia out of World Cup despite shock win over much-changed France
Updated 33 min 21 sec ago

Tunisia out of World Cup despite shock win over much-changed France

Tunisia out of World Cup despite shock win over much-changed France
  • France coach Didier Deschamps made nine changes but they were a shadow of their usual selves
  • Wahbi Khazri punished them in the 58th minute at Education City Stadium

DOHA: French-born Wahbi Khazri scored the only goal of the game as Tunisia claimed a famous 1-0 win over holders France at the World Cup on Wednesday, but it was not enough for them to reach the last 16.
France coach Didier Deschamps, whose team were already through to the knockouts, made nine changes but they were a shadow of their usual selves and Khazri punished them in the 58th minute at Education City Stadium.
Tunisia then had to hold on for the victory as an Antoine Griezmann goal in stoppage time was disallowed following a VAR review.
Khazri, who grew up in Corsica and plays in Ligue 1 for Montpellier, was one of six players in the Tunisian line-up who were born on French soil and he was capped by France at Under-21 level.
There is a large Tunisian community in France who will savour the result, the country’s first win against European opposition at a World Cup and just their third ever in 18 matches at the tournament.
However, they needed Australia to drop points in the day’s other Group D game to stand a chance of reaching the last 16 for the first time.
The Socceroos’ 1-0 win over Denmark means it is they who go through with France.
The world champions and Australia finished level on six points, but France top the section on goal difference and will await the Group C runners-up in the last-16 on Sunday.
Les Bleus had been the first team to secure a place in the next round after winning their opening two games in Qatar so it was no surprise that Deschamps opted to make changes.
Kylian Mbappe was one of those to drop out, with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Randal Kolo Muani getting his first international start up front.
There was also a start at right-back for Axel Disasi, the first outfield player to make his France debut in a World Cup match since 1966, while Real Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga started at left-back.
France were unrecognizable as Deschamps repeated what he had done four years ago, when he made sweeping changes for the final group game against Denmark.
The result then was a soporific 0-0 draw which did not ultimately stop France from winning the title.
This time France’s second string performed as if they had never played together before and Tunisia — with a partisan crowd behind them — sensed their chance as they looked to get beyond the group stage at a World Cup for the first time.
The crowd erupted when Tunisia put the ball in the net just eight minutes in.
Nader Ghandri diverted a Khazri free-kick past Steve Mandanda, but he was just offside.
Starting at this World Cup for the first time, captain Khazri also stung the palms of Mandanda with a volley in the 35th minute, while a shot that Kingsley Coman skewed well wide was as close as France came.
They were disjointed, and it was no surprise when Tunisia took the lead.
France appealed in vain for a foul as Youssouf Fofana was dispossessed by Ellyes Skhiri, and Khazri ran through before slotting a shot past Mandanda.
Deschamps then sent on Mbappe as well as Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele in an attempt to avoid France’s first World Cup group-stage defeat since their disastrous 2010 campaign.
Griezmann thought he had equalized deep into injury time when he volleyed home inside the box, but the referee disallowed the goal for offside after a lengthy VAR review.


Pulisic ‘day-to-day’ after Iran World Cup injury: US Soccer

Pulisic ‘day-to-day’ after Iran World Cup injury: US Soccer
Updated 30 November 2022

Pulisic ‘day-to-day’ after Iran World Cup injury: US Soccer

Pulisic ‘day-to-day’ after Iran World Cup injury: US Soccer
  • The Chelsea forward, who was injured while scoring the only goal in the 1-0 win over Iran, was regarded as "day-to-day" fitness-wise
  • Pulisic was taken to hospital as a precaution following the incident that led to his injury

DOHA: Christian Pulisic suffered a “pelvic contusion” during the USA’s World Cup victory over Iran but has vowed to be fit for his team’s last 16 clash with the Netherlands.
A US Soccer spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday that the Chelsea forward, who was injured while scoring the only goal in the 1-0 win over Iran, was regarded as “day-to-day” fitness-wise.
“USMNT forward Christian Pulisic has been diagnosed with a pelvic contusion and his status is day-to-day,” US Soccer said.
Pulisic was taken to hospital as a precaution following the incident that led to his injury but was back at the US team hotel to greet his team-mates following the Group B win on Tuesday.
In a photo posted on social media on Tuesday, Pulisic said he expected to play against the Netherlands on Saturday, when the Americans will attempt to reach the quarter-finals.
“I’ll be ready for Saturday, don’t worry,” a jubilant Pulisic wrote.
US midfielder Weston McKennie said on Tuesday that Pulisic had indicated he would be fit to start against the Dutch.
“I sent him a text and checked on him, and he said, ‘Best believe I’ll be ready’,” said McKennie.
Pulisic’s winner against the Iranians came as he threw his body into a tangle of defenders to jab home Sergino Dest’s headed cross.
“Obviously we’re very thankful that he threw his body there,” McKennie said.
“It was a heart-drop sinking moment, but we got it done and we’re excited to still be here.”


Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan heads stellar week for UAE race fans

Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan heads stellar week for UAE race fans
Updated 30 November 2022

Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan heads stellar week for UAE race fans

Dubai Creek Mile at Meydan heads stellar week for UAE race fans
  • The first thoroughbred Listed race of the season, the Dubai Creek Mile, has two Group 1 winners in it
  • Other events in Al-Ain on Friday, Jebel Ali on Saturday, Abu Dhabi’s Jewel Crown fixture Sunday

DUBAI: The card for this week’s horse racing at Meydan Racecourse in the UAE is nothing short of outstanding for the time of year.
The first thoroughbred Listed race of the season, the Dubai Creek Mile, has two Group 1 winners in it, plus a host of horses that could stamp their mark on Dubai World Cup night.
Sixth in the 2021 Dubai World Cup when last seen, the talented and popular Military Law trained away last season without making a race for trainer Musabbeh Al-Mheiri and owner Nasir Askar.
And he will need to be fit to win, facing a Uruguayan Group 1 winner in Atletico El Culano, plus Golden Goal, who must give 2 kilograms to the field because of his Group 2 win last season. Another strong contender will be Capezzano, a Group 1 winner returning after almost one year off and tipped to be back to his best.
The card also has a strong three-year-old rated conditions event, race six, which sees the return of last year’s G3 UAE 2000 Guineas winner Azure Coast. The horse has had a remarkable career, starting in Russia, before winning two of three starts in the UAE last season, returning to Moscow with a win in September, and now traveling back to Dubai.
This time he will be with his Russian jockey Myrzabek Kappushev up against a tough field including UAE Derby fourth-place finisher Bendoog, one of the biggest horses in training at the yard of champion trainer Bhupat Seemar.
Racing fans in the UAE are in for a treat at the weekend, with four meetings, including Al-Ain on Friday, Jebel Ali on Saturday, and the Jewel Crown fixture at Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
One of the richest purebred Arabian races in the world, the $1.36 million Jewel Crown has attracted a top international cast, including 2021 heroine Lady Princess.
Trained in France by Thomas Fourcy, the six-year-old is the best Arabian in the world despite her tiny size, having won her last five races, all at Group 1 level.
She has a talented bunch of rivals to beat, however, including Dubai Kahayla Classic winner First Class, and Izadi Star, winner of both his starts at Abu Dhabi before running some creditable efforts in Group 1s in France.
The card’s thoroughbred race is the Listed National Day Cup, which sees the return of last season’s G1 Jebel Hatta winner Alfareeq, as well as the talented Haqeeqy, and Moqtarreb, winner of the race in 2021.
All of these carry the silks of Shadwell, run by Sheikha Hissa Hamdan Al-Maktoum, who will be hoping her operation’s excellent European season, spearheaded by the remarkable Baaeed, will continue into her home country.
 


Seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open gets underway next week

Seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open gets underway next week
Updated 30 November 2022

Seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open gets underway next week

Seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open gets underway next week
  • Participation in the tournament will be open to ADT players, as well as professional and amateur golf players in the Middle East and North Africa who are registered with a golf club
  • Majed Al-Sorour: I am especially proud of how each edition provides Saudi and Arab golf players the opportunity to participate in a top tier competition in their home country

RIYADH: The Asian Development Tour (ADT) arrives in Saudi Arabia, for the first time, next week, with the playing of the seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open, Dec. 8 — 10, at Golf Saudi managed Riyadh Golf Club.

The ADT event will see a prize fund of $200,000 up for grabs. Participation in the tournament will be open to ADT players, as well as professional and amateur golf players in the Middle East and North Africa who are registered with a golf club. 

As a result of Golf Saudi entering a 10-year partnership with the Asian Tour, the tournament is expected to receive wide interest from golf fans inside and outside the Kingdom. The fact that the PIF Saudi Open is being played on the ADT for the first time is confirmation of the strengthening of ties between the Asian Tour and Golf Saudi. Particularly as the 2023 edition of the $5 million PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers has now officially become the opening event on the Asian Tour’s annual calendar. 

The PIF Saudi Open will also see the participation of a raft of up and coming players from the GCC and Arab countries, in addition to Saudi Arabia’s growing home talents from the National Team, who have all gone from strength to strength in recent years, as part of Golf Saudi wider Mass Participation program to grow the game of golf in the Kingdom. 

Majed Al-Sorour, Deputy Chairman and CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi, said: “All of us at both the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi are incredibly excited about next week’s seventh edition of the PIF Saudi Open. Each and every year we host the tournament, it gets bigger and better. I am especially proud of how each edition provides Saudi and Arab golf players the opportunity to participate in a top tier competition in their home country and be able to not only develop their skill levels but also to test themselves and go head-to-head against players from different countries in the Middle East, North Africa and now the Asian Development Tour in a competitive environment.” 

Managed by Golf Saudi and playing to a par of 72, Riyadh Golf Club is 20 minutes from Riyadh. The course, opened in 2005, is known for its undulating terrain, wide fairways and manicured greens. 

Al-Sorour continued: “By hosting tournaments such as the PIF Saudi Open, we hope to encourage and facilitate greater uptake in the game and offer our elite golfers the chance to compete against the very best. So, thanks must go to our strategic partners the Asian Tour for helping us to achieve that aim, as their involvement will mean the strongest player field in the PIF Saudi Open’s history.” 

The tournament, which kicks off on the 8th December will witness the participation of the most prominent Saudi players, including the first and only Saudi professional player Othman Almulla, along with other National Team players: Abdulrahman Al-Mansour, Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif. A lot will be at stake for those players competing, as the PIF Saudi Open also represents a qualification opportunity for the 2023 PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will be held next February.