Saudi Arabian women’s national team set for historic international debut in Maldives

Saudi Arabian women’s national team set for historic international debut in Maldives
The Saudi Arabian women's national football team taking part in their training camp ahead of international debut. (SAFF)
Short Url
Updated 17 February 2022

Saudi Arabian women’s national team set for historic international debut in Maldives

Saudi Arabian women’s national team set for historic international debut in Maldives
  • Team’s German coach has finalized the group of players who will take on the Seychelles on Feb. 20 and Maldives four days later

 

The Saudi women’s national football squad is set to leave King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on Thursday for the Maldives, where they will officially take part in the team’s first international match.

After completing a training camp in Saudi Arabia, the team’s German coach Monika Staab finalized the list of players that will take on the Seychelles on Feb. 20, before playing their second match against the Maldives four days later in the capital city of Male.

These two matches are Saudi Arabia’s first official fixtures as they look to gain FIFA certification.

Staab stressed that the goal of this mini-tournament is to gain experience: “Our goal is for the players to gain the experience necessary to play international matches, in addition to our aim for our official entry into the FIFA classification.”

“Since last September, we have been searching for players through whom we can start the national team’s journey and compete in official and international competitions,” she said about the team’s recent training camp. “Through this camp, we seek to create the homogeneity we are looking for before playing the Seychelles and Maldives matches next month.”

“Organizing the first official Saudi league through the regional league and then the Saudi championship played a major role in the selection process, and helped us as a technical staff (to watch) the players playing competitive matches, facilitating our role during this camp, and we aspire to have the team fully prepared when participating its first official tournament.”

The training was also overseen by Alia Al-Rasheed, the Saudi national team supervisor, who expressed her satisfaction with the technical benefits of the camp and thanked the players for their efforts and discipline throughout the camp.

Lamia bin Bahian, board member and director of the Women’s Football Department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said: “I would like to congratulate all the players who have been selected. And I would also like to thank their colleagues for the work they did during the camp, and (ask them) to continue working and try to get in the squad again. The team’s door is always open to all players, and we are working on evaluating the players continuously.”

The final list players included goalkeepers Lama Al-Anazi, Sarah Khaled and Mona Abdel Rahman; defenders Atheer Khaled, Bayan Sadaqah, Hessa Al-Saadallah, Lin Muhammad, Lana Abdelrazzaq, Ohoud Al-Amari, Tala Al-Ghamdi, Mashael Al-Harbi; midfielders Asrar Al-Shaibani, Dalia Abu Laban, Fahda Al-Saad, Juri Tariq, Layan Johari, Maryam Al-Tamimi, Farah Jafri, Noura Al-Ibrahim, Raghad Mukhaizin, Sarah Hamad and Saba Tawfiq; and forward Al-Bandari Mubarak, Al-Bandari Mohammed, Tahani Al-Zahrani.


Eddie Howe and Newcastle United chiefs hold transfer summit in Riyadh

Eddie Howe and Newcastle United chiefs hold transfer summit in Riyadh
Updated 11 sec ago

Eddie Howe and Newcastle United chiefs hold transfer summit in Riyadh

Eddie Howe and Newcastle United chiefs hold transfer summit in Riyadh
  • Club likely to strengthen the squad in the January window
  • The Magpies are in the Saudi capital for a training camp that includes a friendly against Al-Hilal

RIYADH: Towering palms, the tinkling of ivories, clinking of coffee cups and a warm winter sun hue about the Saudi skies, is not your usual location for a Newcastle United transfer summit.

It’s a far cry from the inner bowels of St James’ Park, where head coach Eddie Howe, along with the club’s minority owners, thrashed out a summer raid for one of the hottest prospects in the game, Sweden international Alexander Isak. Not since the Vikings have the European elites been so unsettled by a force from the north.

But Howe, meeting with club chiefs and the money men at the Public Investment Fund, spent his Tuesday evening in the Kingdom talking transfers with Al-Olaya the backdrop, the Four Seasons an opulent frame.

Beyond the ostentatious surrounds lies a steely determination, one funded in the Gulf, but driven with North East grit. A goal not publicly admitted, but privately discussed. A want to take Newcastle United into the promised land, the UEFA Champions League, a feat the club has not achieved on Tyneside in two decades.

Lying third in the Premier League, which is beyond even the wildest of Newcastle fans’ expectations, the prospect is not out of the realms of possibility.

But will that be boosted by another Magpies’ January transfer window raiding party? Howe says talks have started.

“I have had half an eye on January and the squad and how it looks,” he said, confirming the transfer talks with Newcastle chiefs.

“We need to be adaptable and prepared for what is always a difficult window. But if there is something we can do to improve the team, I, naturally as the manager, would like to look at that.”

Expectation may be that Newcastle will be bold in their moves with the likes of England international James Maddison, however such a switch has been played down by those in the know.

More likely is movements for players more in the Isak or Sven Botman mold, ready to attack the Premier League, but not at an English topflight premium. And key to this January regeneration will be the right players, at the right price and for the right reasons, if at all.

“Me, sitting here now, I am not expecting too much business, whether incoming or outgoing, but it is football and it is January so it’s unpredictable,” Howe told Arab News.

“We can’t predict what is going to happen with our own squad at times, in terms of fitness and availability, so we do need to be ready to act if we need to. The need for that will be minimized by keeping a fit and healthy squad of players.

“We look like, on paper, we have a very strong squad when everyone is fit. Everyone is not fit currently, and that has a bearing on what you look to do in January.

“Probably the squad, in my eyes, looks different to what it did in the summer because of how well players have done — and from my perspective, I can’t ignore that.”

On the level of those who may arrive, Botman and Isak have set the blueprint but financial fair play rules, until United’s commercial revenues are boosted significantly, will always be the elephant in the ever-expanding room.

Howe continued: “In my position you are keen to sign the best players you can — but those players come at a premium, as you know. Botman wasn’t cheap, Alex wasn’t cheap. Those are players who can influence the starting 11. Do we have the finances for that? I do not know. That might impact our options on that one.

“As a manager I am always looking to improve the team. I will never sit here and be content — I don’t think that is the right way to manage. My way to take the team to new heights is to improve through the training of the players we have. If we can’t get to a certain level then we need to find that in the transfer market. And, of course, you have to work within the guidelines of the club.”

Meanwhile, United’s trip, which started on Sunday and ends on Saturday, is being officially supported by, it’s been announced, Saudi telecommunications giant stc.

In a further boost to club revenues, stc have been named as the official digital partner of the tour and the news follows hot on the heels of Saudi Airlines’ sponsorship of the tour to the Middle East.

A club statement confirmed: “The partnership will provide stc with a digital presence at the Al-Hilal versus Newcastle United fixture, as well as an ongoing presence at St. James’ Park throughout the 2022/23 Premier League campaign, and supporters will have exclusive opportunities to win memorabilia and tickets.”

The NUFC’s chief commercial officer, Peter Silverstone, said: “Our ambition is to grow our supporter base in Saudi Arabia, a country whose young population includes a large, passionate and highly engaged football community.

“We are delighted to welcome stc to our growing family of partners and have them on board as our second strategic partner for the club’s visit to Saudi Arabia this December.

“stc digitally connects millions of individuals and businesses throughout the Middle East and their market knowledge, expertise and experience in sport partnerships will complement our drive to reach and engage with more people across one of our key markets. We look forward to working closely with stc.”


’No small teams anymore’, FIFA chief hails best group stage

’No small teams anymore’, FIFA chief hails best group stage
FIFA President Gianni Infantino gives thumbs-up during Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G match between Brazil and Switzerland. AFP
Updated 19 min 41 sec ago

’No small teams anymore’, FIFA chief hails best group stage

’No small teams anymore’, FIFA chief hails best group stage
  • “Fantastic atmosphere, great goals, incredible excitement, surprises, small teams beating big teams,” he said in comments released by FIFA on Wednesday

DOHA: FIFA President Gianni Infantino has hailed the group stage of the Qatar World Cup as the “best ever” and said the number of upsets and geographic breadth of the teams progressing indicated that football was becoming ever more global.
Former champions Argentina, Spain, Germany and Brazil all suffered shock group-stage losses and Africa, Asia and North America were represented in the last 16 along with traditional powerhouses South America and Europe.
Infantino said the matches — “played in beautiful stadiums” — had already attracted a TV audience in excess of two billion viewers.
“Fantastic atmosphere, great goals, incredible excitement, surprises, small teams beating big teams,” he said in comments released by FIFA on Wednesday.
“Well, there are no more small teams and no more big teams. The level is very, very equal.
“For the first time as well, national teams from all continents going to the knock-out phase, for the first time in history. This shows that football is really becoming truly global.”
Infantino has pushed through the expansion of the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 for the next edition, which will be held across 16 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
Infantino on Wednesday said he had been delighted with the number of fans crowding into the stadiums and fanzones in the country and thought the final TV viewership figures would exceed five billion.
“At the end [of the day], we simply want to give some joy and some smiles to people all over the world,” he added.
“That’s what football is about, that’s what the World Cup is about, and that’s what should also happen from now until the end.
“We have already seen some great action on the field, which, (ultimately), is the most important part of what you do.”


Belgium star Hazard quits international football

Belgium star Hazard quits international football
Belgium's national football team forward Eden Hazard gives a press conference ahead of the upcoming Fifa World Cup. AFP
Updated 07 December 2022

Belgium star Hazard quits international football

Belgium star Hazard quits international football
  • The Real Madrid forward, 31, made the announcement on social media, saying “a page turns today"

DOHA: Belgium star Eden Hazard announced his retirement from international football on Wednesday, days after the team crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage.
The Real Madrid forward, 31, made the announcement on social media, saying “a page turns today.”
“Thank you for your unparalleled support,” he posted on Instagram. “Thank you for all this happiness shared since 2008. I have decided to put an end to my international career. The succession is ready. I will miss you.”
The Belgium team tweeted: “All the best, captain.”
Hazard, who played as an attacking midfielder or winger, made his Belgium debut in 2008 as a teenager and collected a total of 126 caps, scoring 33 goals.
He was the standard-bearer of Belgium’s much-vaunted “golden generation,” which reached the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The team are still ranked second in the world by FIFA but many of their players are in their 30s and they finished third in Group F behind Morocco and Croatia.
Hazard, who was the team’s skipper, made a surprise admission during the tournament in Qatar, saying the team’s best chance to win the World Cup had come and gone.
The forward moved from French club Lille to Chelsea in 2012 and became one of the standout stars in the Premier League, winning the trophy twice.
He sealed a big-money move to Real Madrid in 2019 but, hampered by injury, has struggled to repeat the form he showed in England.
Belgium were stalked by rumors of in-fighting in Qatar and a number of the country’s other stars including Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois have likely played their final World Cup matches.
In the aftermath of their exit, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez announced he was leaving his job.


Morocco fans in London celebrate World Cup win over Spain

Morocco fans in London celebrate World Cup win over Spain
Updated 07 December 2022

Morocco fans in London celebrate World Cup win over Spain

Morocco fans in London celebrate World Cup win over Spain
  • North African country is first Arab nation to reach World Cup quarterfinals
  • London’s Edgware Road erupts in celebration after victory

LONDON: Jubilant Morocco fans poured onto the streets of central London on Tuesday night to celebrate their team’s historic win over Spain in the last 16 of the World Cup.

Becoming the first Arab nation to reach the quarterfinals of a World Cup, Morocco beat the 2010 champions in a penalty shoot-out in which keeper Yassine Bounou saved all three of Spain’s shots before Paris Saint-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi slotted home.

Footage on social media showed elated crowds of people around Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus and Edgware Road dancing and waving Moroccan flags after the result.

Describing the scenes on Edgware Road, 21-year-old student Jahmell-Hasan Rhys Campbell told The Guardian: “It was incredible. There were lots of flags everywhere. Not just Moroccan flags but flags of almost every African nation.

“The cars were beeping every second, people were dancing in the street and hanging out of their car windows. It was such a surreal experience. (There were) easily around 300 people.”

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI issued a statement sending his “heartfelt congratulations” to the team, noting that the players had given “their all and blazed a trail throughout this great sporting event.”

He added that they represent the “hopes and dreams of Moroccans in Morocco, Qatar, and all over the world,” as they ready themselves for a last-eight meeting with Portugal on Saturday.


Ronaldo a bystander as Portugal find magic touch at World Cup

Ronaldo a bystander as Portugal find magic touch at World Cup
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo watches from the bench during the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 match against Switzerland. AFP
Updated 07 December 2022

Ronaldo a bystander as Portugal find magic touch at World Cup

Ronaldo a bystander as Portugal find magic touch at World Cup
  • The superstar forward was largely a spectator as the side he has captained for so long threw off the shackles and romped to a 6-1 victory over Switzerland in the World Cup last-16 on Tuesday

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo first found himself unloved and unwanted by Manchester United. Now the unthinkable has happened — he has been dumped by Portugal.
The superstar forward was largely a spectator as the side he has captained for so long threw off the shackles and romped to a 6-1 victory over Switzerland in the World Cup last-16 on Tuesday.
Young striker Goncalo Ramos, brought in for Ronaldo, scored a stunning hat-trick and at least competed with his illustrious teammate for the headlines.
Ronaldo came to the World Cup seeking respite after his troubled spell at Old Trafford this season, where he had become a peripheral figure under new manager Erik ten Hag.
Those frustrations boiled over last month in an explosive TV interview in which he lashed out at the club and the coach, leading to an inevitable parting of the ways.
The 37-year-old landed in Qatar to the usual fanfare, once again the focus of fawning attention from the world’s media.
Things even went to script in Portugal’s first game, when he scored the opener from the penalty spot in a 3-2 win against Ghana, becoming the first man to score goals at five World Cups.
But things went downhill from there. He huffed and puffed through games against Uruguay and South Korea but failed to find the net and Portugal were less than the sum of their considerable parts.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos, who masterminded the side’s triumph at Euro 2016, finally took the decision to leave his star man out against the Swiss and was vindicated in spectacular fashion.
Portugal turned on the style, with Benfica’s Ramos, 21, netting three times in a free-flowing attacking performance.

- Ronaldo chants -

With the match long since won, chants of “Ronaldo” echoed around the cavernous Lusail Stadium in Doha and he was cheered as he warmed up on the sidelines.
Santos gave the crowd what they wanted with about 15 minutes of normal time to go.
Ronaldo smashed a free-kick into the wall moments after coming on and minutes later had the ball in the net after a fine finish, but was well offside.
He even had to cede the limelight to fellow substitute Rafael Leao, who scored a stunning goal in stoppage time to complete the rout — another glimpse of the enviable riches at Santos’s disposal.
The coach, who has been in charge since 2014, insisted he had complete faith in all his forward in the afterglow of the win, which sets up a quarter-final against Morocco.
“Andre (Silva) is a great player who plays further forward, Cristiano is more fixed — he stays in a more determined area toward the box,” he said. “Goncalo (Ramos) has different characteristics.
“He is very dynamic and that is what he ended up showing us. It is nothing new — he already came on in two matches but Andre also played in the last match. 
“I have three players I fully trust. For each match I will use which player I see best for my strategy.”
Santos even suggested five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo could still be a starter in Qatar.
But for all of his coach’s placatory words, Ronaldo — who has a record 118 goals in men’s international football — will surely once again be left out of the line-up for Saturday’s quarter-final.
He will also be painfully aware that he is clubless, as rumors swirl over a lucrative move to Saudi side Al-Nassr.
If, as expected, he is kicking his heels on the bench during the Morocco match, he will have plenty of time to brood over his situation and remember he was the future once.