Real Madrid and Bilbao ready to do battle in Riyadh for first silverware of the season

Thibaut Courtois, first choice goalkeeper for Real Madrid, speaks to reporters at a press conference held in Riyadh on Saturday before the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday. (Saudi Ministry of Sport photo)
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Thibaut Courtois, first choice goalkeeper for Real Madrid, speaks to reporters at a press conference held in Riyadh on Saturday before the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday. (Saudi Ministry of Sport photo)
Thibaut Courtois, first choice goalkeeper for Real Madrid, speaks to reporters at a press conference held in Riyadh on Saturday before the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday. (Saudi Ministry of Sport photo)
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Thibaut Courtois, first choice goalkeeper for Real Madrid, speaks to reporters at a press conference held in Riyadh on Saturday before the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday. (Saudi Ministry of Sport photo)
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Updated 16 January 2022

Real Madrid and Bilbao ready to do battle in Riyadh for first silverware of the season

Real Madrid and Bilbao ready to do battle in Riyadh for first silverware of the season
  • The two sides have already faced each other twice in the past month, with Madrid running out winners on both occasions

RIYADH: When Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao take to the pitch in Riyadh on Sunday for the final of the Spanish Super Cup, it will be the third time they have faced each other in a month. This time, though, the first silverware of the season is up for grabs.

Reigning Super Cup champions Bilbao earned the chance to defend their title thanks to a 2-1 victory over Atletico Madrid on Thursday, after Real defeated Barcelona 3-2 in extra time the day before.

“We know this team really well because we’ve played them twice already in the past month,” Madrid first-team coach Carlo Ancelotti said during a pre-match press conference in the Saudi capital on Saturday. “Both those games were very competitive and it’ll be the same tomorrow.”

Real emerged victorious over Bilbao in both of their encounters in December. Their familiarity with each other means Sunday’s encounter at the King Fahd International Stadium could well be a tactical battle between both managers to see who learned the most from those recent match-ups.

Commenting on how often the two teams have met lately, Thibaut Courtois, Real’s first-choice goalkeeper, said: “It feels like the NBA, playing Athletic so many times.”

Asked about the recent defeats by Madrid, Bilbao manager Marcelino Toral said: “Madrid got off to a powerful start, in six minutes they penalized us, at San Mames. We have to avoid these situations.”

Ancelotti will have to manage without the services of star player Marco Asensio, who is dealing with a muscular injury and has been ruled out of the final. Real’s last appearance in a Super Cup final was in 2019-2020, when they defeated Atletico Madrid in Jeddah to lift the cup.


Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait

Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait
Updated 18 May 2022

Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait

Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait
  • Bronze for Muzna Al-Nassar in women’s 5000 meters and Raghad Abuarish in women’s high jump

Saudi swimmer Ali Al-Issa has claimed a gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke competition on the third day of the GCC Games in Kuwait.

Al-Issa’s win was achieved with a time of 59.79 seconds.

There was more gold medal success for the Saudi contingent as Ahmed Al-Yassin won the decathlon competition with 7,270 points, while his Saudi colleague Saeed Mabrouk took silver with 7,017 points.

Elsewhere, there was plenty of success for Saudi athletes, while some experienced names just missed out on medals.

Al-Issa’s swimming team colleague Youssef Buarish — who took part in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo — could only finish fifth in the final of the 100 meter butterfly race with a time of 56.25 seconds.

In the athletics competition, runner Muzna Al-Nassar repeated her bronze medal performance from Day 2 after finishing third in the 5000 meter race with a time of 20 minutes, 33 seconds.

In the women’s high jump, Raghad Abuarish also claimed bronze after clearing a height of 1.45 meters.

Saudi runner Fahad Al-Subaie won the silver medal in the men’s 200 meter race with a time of 20.92 seconds, while his teammate Mahmoud Hafez finished third — and claimed bronze — with a time of 21.13 seconds.

Yousef Asiri achieved a bronze medal in the men’s 5000 meter race with a time of 14 minutes, 14 seconds.

Also in the athletics competitions, Ahmed Al-Taruti took the bronze in the men’s high jump with a distance of 2.1 meters.

Mohammed Al-Sharida, Fahd Al-Mutairi and Faisal Al-Dajani claimed a set of bronze medals after finishing third in the men’s team shooting competition.


Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give

Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give
Updated 18 May 2022

Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give

Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give
  • The 59-year-old Mourinho was asked Wednesday if critics had been too quick to write him and 62-year-old Carlo Ancelotti off too quickly
  • “The problem with Carlo was that when you coach Everton you definitely won’t win the Champions League,” Mourinho said

ROME: José Mourinho sees no reason to stop now after reaching another European final while approaching his 60th birthday.
The 59-year-old Mourinho was asked Wednesday if critics had been too quick to write him and 62-year-old Carlo Ancelotti off too quickly.
Mourinho’s Roma will meet Feyenoord in the Europa Conference League final next week. Three days later, Ancelotti’s Real Madrid team will play Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Both coaches had mixed results in their previous jobs in England at Tottenham (Mourinho) and Everton (Ancelotti).
“The problem with Carlo was that when you coach Everton you definitely won’t win the Champions League. My problem is that people looked at it as me taking on jobs to win but it wasn’t about winning,” Mourinho said. “When you have a history of repeated success, people can say those things — it doesn’t bother me.”
Next Wednesday’s match in Tirana, Albania, will mark the fifth European final of Mourinho’s career. He has won all four that he’s coached in so far, over a span of nearly two decades: the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League finals with Porto; the 2010 Champions League final with Inter Milan; and the 2017 Europa League final with Manchester United.
Still, younger coaches like Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp have attracted more attention than Mourinho in recent years.
“I don’t think about it as ‘the new generation,’ or ‘a different generation,’” Mourinho said. “Quality has no age. The same thing applies to players. There are players who are great at 20 and players who are great at 40.
“When you don’t have the passion anymore that’s when you’re done. When you don’t feel a bit of pressure before these games that means you’re done,” Mourinho added. “I know it for myself and I know Carletto (Ancelotti) fairly well. When you’ve got the passion and the quality, it’s up to us to say when we’re done. We’re the ones who will decide when to quit. But I think you’ll have to wait a while. Because it won’t be soon.”


Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team
Updated 18 May 2022

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team
  • Team’s mission will be to improve Saudi participation in auto events, with ultimate aim of taking part in Le Mans 24 Hours

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver Reema Juffali on Wednesday announced that she has launched a new team, Theeba Motorsport, which is set to enter motor racing’s GT3 world stage in 2022.

The team’s mission will be to improve Saudi participation and representation in the motorsport industry.

Juffali, said: “After a very successful debut weekend in the International GT Open with SPS Automotive, I’m very proud to announce the formation of Theeba Motorsport and to unveil our plans for the 2022 season.”

Since becoming the first female Saudi racing driver, Juffali has forged a reputation as a role model and will continue to make waves in the next chapter of her career as she seeks to spark further change in the Kingdom.

In 2019, she made history by becoming the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an international race in her home country and, alongside driving, will take her first steps into team management this year.

Theeba Motorsport will provide a platform for Saudis to learn about and take part in motorsport through a variety of engineering, mechanical and commercial internship and apprenticeship programs.

The team hopes to one day compete at the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours race under a Saudi Arabian license.

“As a team, we have a purpose that extends far beyond the race track, and it is our ambition to improve Saudi Arabian representation and access to motorsport,” Juffali said.

“While we want to create a place in racing for the Kingdom, we also want to create opportunities and will provide a space for Saudi people to get involved in a series of hands-on internship and apprenticeship programs. This will, hopefully, culminate in a majority Saudi team one day racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

Theeba Motorsport will take its first competitive steps in 2022 by contesting the International GT Open Championship — one of Europe’s highest tiers of GT3 racing.

Following a winning debut at Estoril with SPS Automotive, Juffali will compete in all remaining races in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO, and will be partnered by long-time friend, driver coach and GT ace Adam Christodoulou.

“We will take our first steps in the International GT Open in 2022 — a series that I believe will offer a competitive platform to race in while also offering the chance to develop and learn,” said Juffali.

“This is only the first step and a starting point in what will be a long journey to find Saudi Arabia’s place in the motor racing world and I’m extremely excited to see what the future holds.”

After its Estoril season-opener, the International GT Open will visit six other circuits in 2022, staring at Paul Ricard on May 20-22, and moving on to Spa, the Hungaroring, Red Bull Ring, Monza and Barcelona in 12 races from that will run until October.


Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
Updated 18 May 2022

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
  • There were rumors that Al-Shabab had a bid for the Uruguayan turned down, while others claim James Rodriguez is angling for a move to the Kingdom

It is no surprise that the Birmingham Mail is getting excited as it reports that local giants Aston Villa are one of three clubs, along with Seville and Inter Milan, in the running to sign Luis Suarez, after Atletico Madrid announced that the Uruguayan star is leaving at the end of the current season.

The newspaper also mentions that a bid from Saudi Arabia, thought to be from Al-Shabab, has been turned down. It has had a few journalists in the Arab world and plenty of people on social media intrigued and excited.

As former teammate at Anfield Steven Gerrard is now in charge of Aston Villa, there is hope that the 1982 European champions are in with a chance to snatch his signature. But the former Liverpool and Barcelona star is now 35 and not quite the force of nature as in years gone by. He is, however, the kind of foreign star that Saudi Arabian clubs should be targeting.

There are plenty of top-class foreign players in the Saudi Professional League. The likes of Odion Ighala, Moussa Marega, Matheus Pereira, Pity Martinez, Talisca, Abderazzak Hamdallah, Omar Al-Somah, Ever Banega, Vincent Aboubakar and Leandre Tawamba, to name just a few, would be welcome in any league in Asia. These are some serious stars and there have been others over the years. After all, the mighty Brazilian legend Rivelino played for Al-Hilal in the 1970s.

Suarez would be a major attraction. There would be major interest around the world if he came to play in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam or elsewhere. The star would bring a certain notoriety too — few could forget his biting of opponents at the domestic and international stages and his famous handball to deny Ghana a place in the semi-final of the 2010 World Cup — and that would also provide a few more narratives for local journalists, commentators and fans to get their teeth stuck into.

The man himself is going to have plenty of offers but this could be a good time to tempt such stars to the country. The likes of Suarez have done pretty much all they want to do in Europe. Now his immediate focus is surely staying fit and ready for the World Cup in Qatar in November where the South Americans have been drawn with Portugal, Ghana and South Korea. What better place to prepare for such a tournament than Saudi Arabia?

The league is in the same region and has the same climate. It has fewer games than Europe and the pace of the games is a little slower but it is also more competitive and has a greater strength in depth than the Qatar Stars League. A year or two in the Middle East before a return to South America could be an ideal way to end a fine career as well as get the forward at peak readiness for the World Cup.

This season, Suarez has not been quite as integral to the plans of Diego Simeone. Of his 34 appearances in the league, 14 have come off the bench. He is no longer an automatic starter but has still managed 11 goals and is still capable of turning a game on its head in an instant. Just look at qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Uruguay finished third, 11 points behind Argentina and a massive 17 behind Brazil in first who also scored 40 goals, 18 more than La Celeste. Suarez scored more than a third of Uruguay’s total, with his eight goals equalling Neymar’s tally and outscoring Lionel Messi by one. Only Bolivia’s Marcelo Mareno managed more.

Suarez can do more than a job at the highest level. The same could be said about James Rodriguez, though there is no World Cup for the Colombian superstar. The former Real Madrid man joined Al-Rayyan in Qatar from Everton in September. The former powerhouse struggled in the league and finished in eighth, though Rodriguez recorded four goals and six assists in his 12 appearances, not a bad return at all.

There has been disquiet however at his non-appearance in the Asian Champions League group stage in April. The club says he has been injured but a number of outlets in South America say that the 30-year-old is angling for a move to Saudi Arabia with the likes of Al-Nassr interested — the Riyadh club have already shown their ambition this year in having a bid for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned down by Arsenal as the Gabonese goalgetter went to Barcelona instead.

There are other players who are coming out of contract and, before being tempted home, could add a little more star glamor to the SPL with the World Cup on the doorstep once again a selling point. Gareth Bale’s troubled time at Real Madrid, albeit one in which he won four European Champions League and three Spanish titles, is coming to an end. There is no way the Welshman is staying in Spain. It could be that the 32-year-old will retire from football completely but that is unlikely if Wales win their World Cup play-off in June to book a place in Qatar. Then there will be another season at least. The likes of Juan Mata and Edison Cavani, soon to be released  by Manchester United, have also been linked with a move to Saudi Arabian teams.

Relying on veteran stars from European leagues should not be a major strategy for Saudi clubs but there are players out there who could do a job on and off the pitch.


UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season
Updated 18 May 2022

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season
  • Country mourns the passing of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan

The UAE Football Association has confirmed that the President’s Cup final between Al-Wahda and Sharjah will be postponed until next season as the country observes a period of mourning after the passing of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, state news agency WAM has reported.

The venue and date of the rescheduled match will be announced at a later time.

Meanwhile, the UAE Pro League has announced that its final round has been rescheduled for May 25 to 26.