Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe

Special Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe
Salem Al-Dawsari had been a standout all the way during Saudi Arabia’s successful qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 14 May 2022

Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe

Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe
  • The Al-Hilal winger has been the standout performer for club and country in recent seasons, and now one of Asia’s best players

There were plenty of reasons to be pleased with Saudi Arabia’s successful qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

These include winning the group above Japan and Australia, the fact that two local strikers Saleh Al-Shehri and Firas Al-Buraikan finished in the top two places for goals scored in the third round, and the way that the team have developed since coach Herve Renard arrived in 2019.

One more reason is just how impressive Salem Al-Dawsari has been. The winger was a standout all the way along the road to Qatar. It’s not just when he pulls on his country’s famous green shirt that it happens either, the 30-year-old claimed the Best Player award as Al-Hilal won the 2021 Asian Champions League. He was also outstanding when Al-Hilal won Saudi Arabian title number 17.

Most would agree that Al-Dawsari was the best Asian player in Asia in 2021. Chinese media giant Titan Sports ranked the star fourth in their annual Best Footballer in Asia award last year, behind only European-based stars Son Heung-min of South Korea and Iran’s deadly duo Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun, who play for FC Porto and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. Had the Asian Football Confederation not canceled their annual award then it is likely that the Saudi Arabian international would have been named Asian Player of the Year.

It is not a surprise then that there is interest from Europe. It is also not a surprise that Al-Hilal don’t want to lose their star. It is natural and has been the case in much of West Asia for some time. Local talents emerge but their clubs are reluctant to let them go. Over in the eastern side of the continent in countries like South Korea, Japan and China, a big star attracting even a hint of European interest immediately gets people and the media excited. Clubs there generally are happy to let their best players head to the best leagues in the world and see it as good for the country’s and player’s development. Not only that, it can be hard to attract top young talent in the first place if they think that a possible route to Europe will be blocked.

I remember talking to UAE star Ismail Matar in 2015 after he finished training with Al-Wahda. The man who was named the most-valuable player of the 2003 U-20 World Cup had been linked to Europe for much of his career and had been told by all manner of coaches, agents and journalists that he should go, but never did. By the time we met in Abu Dhabi, such links were a thing of the past. He told me that he had wanted to try his luck but his club just wouldn’t let him go. It would have been fascinating to see what he could have done on and off the pitch in Europe.

Al-Hilal see Al-Dawsari in a similar light and just last December handed him a new four-year contract which is reported to be worth around $3.5 million (SR13 million) a year. That’s a lucrative deal anywhere in the world and it shows just how the player, who has been with the Riyadh club since 2011, is viewed. Foreign stars come and go in football but to have such a player for such a long time, and one that is in the form of his life, is hugely important. He is a talisman.

Al-Dawsari was one of several Saudi Arabian players who went to Spain back in 2018 and impressed more than most with Villarreal and actually made a league appearance against Real Madrid. Soon after he was scoring the winning goal in a World Cup game against Egypt. He has since gone from strength to strength.

That is why there are reports and rumors of interest from the same Spanish club, as well as Almeria, with apparently more in the mix. The important point is that any move gives Al-Dawsari a good chance of regular playing time. There is no point going to Villarreal, who have just appeared in the semifinal of the UEFA Champions League, and never getting a game.

Such a move may be possible for a youngster who has time on his side and would benefit from the experience and opportunity but for a 30-year-old senior international, it is not the right option. A move to Europe would be great for the player but it has to be for the right reasons to the right club and the right coach.

There is something bigger at play too. At some point Saudi Arabia will have stars in the big leagues of Europe, it is only a matter of time. That is what needs to happen because the top European leagues still represent the pinnacle of the club game and it is where the country’s best should test themselves.

At some point, there needs to be a pioneer who shows people overseas and his colleagues at home that it can be done and that pioneer could be Al-Dawsari. The sooner it happens the better. If an offer comes and it is one that provides genuine opportunity to play, and the man himself has the desire to try his luck abroad, then Al-Hilal should do the rest of football in Saudi Arabia, as well as much of West Asia, a big favor and let their star go.


Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final
Updated 30 January 2023

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final
  • Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad

Two goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al-Ittihad a 2-0 win over Al-Feiha on Sunday in the Saudi Super Cup Final in Riyadh to hand the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years.

The victory also gave former Tottenham Hotspur and FC Porto boss Nuno Santo his first trophy in Saudi Arabia.

Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad.

The victory handed the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years. (SPA)

And Hamdallah, who featured for Morocco in the World Cup, struck early in each half to give the Tigers a big win against their 10-man opponents.

The first goal came in the third minute. Al-Ittihad’s Romarinho picked up the ball just outside the Al-Feiha half and the Brazilian’s pass fed Hamdallah who took one touch on the edge of the area and then coolly lifted the ball over Vladimir Stojkovic.

It was a great start for the Jeddah giants and it got better for them midway through the first half as Al-Feiha were reduced to 10 men. Abdulrahman Al-Safari went in high with his studs on Egyptian midfielder Tarek Hamed and was shown a straight red card from the referee.

Five minutes before the break it looked as if the in-form Romarinho had extended his side’s lead but the Brazilian, who finished smartly from close range, was adjudged by the referee’s assistant — and also VAR — to have been offside.

Al-Ittihad had a chance to tighten their grip on the trophy just before the break as Stojkovic was penalized for bringing down Hamdallah inside the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. However, Abdulrahman Al-Oboud dragged his shot wide.

An Al-Feiha player comforts a forlorn colleague after the Al Majma'ah-based club's loss to Al-Ittihad. (SPA)

The frustration for watching fans in Jeddah did not last long as Hamdallah doubled Al-Ittihad’s lead three minutes after the restart, much to the dismay of Stojkovic. The Serbian goalkeeper came a long way off his line in an attempt to punch away a free-kick from deep, and Hamdallah’s head got there first to send the ball looping into the net.

Al-ittihad were on top for much of the second half and worked hard to ensure that they stayed in front.

Boss Santo said: “It was a good performance from us and we worked hard. It was a tough game and we are delighted that we ended up winning.”

Santo, who arrived last summer after spells with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Spurs, looked delighted as his players collected the trophy.

There is still the challenge of becoming champions of Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2009, but Santos is pleased with the progress his side have made so far.

He said: “We know that there is still a long way to go this season.

“The most important thing is that we stay together and work hard. If we can do that then who knows what can happen?

“It is great to lift this trophy but we hope that this is just the beginning.”


Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona
Updated 30 January 2023

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona
  • Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro

MADRID: Vinícius Júnior had his share of chances to break the deadlock. More than once, the Brazil forward was in front of the opposition goal with only the ‘keeper to beat.
But Vinicius and his teammates couldn’t get the job done on Sunday as Real Madrid was held to a 0-0 draw at home by third-place Real Sociedad to lose ground to Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league.
The result left defending champion Madrid five points behind the Catalan rival, which won 1-0 at Girona on Saturday. Sociedad stayed three points behind Madrid, and eight behind Barcelona. Both Madrid and Barcelona have a game in hand.
Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro. He made three key saves against close-range attempts by Vinícius, and also saw the Brazilian send the ball wide in a one-on-one situation.
“Vinícius played a good match, if he had scored it would have been a spectacular one,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He has been playing well. Sometimes he will miss, but he is always trying.”
Karim Benzema and Rodrygo also couldn’t break through the Sociedad defense as Madrid was held scoreless for the first time this season despite more than 20 attempts against Sociedad, which also had its opportunities in an intense match at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
“We played a very complete game but couldn’t score,” Ancelotti said. “We were close. I’m satisfied with the draw because we played well.”
Madrid, coming off a home win in the derby against Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, remains unbeaten against Sociedad since a 4-3 home loss in the quarterfinals of the Copa in 2020, a competition the Basque Country side won.
Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the Copa quarterfinals, a result that ended its nine-game winning streak in all competitions. It had been one of the hottest teams in Spain until the consecutive setbacks against the powerhouses.
ATLETICO REBOUNDS
Atletico Madrid bounced back from its Copa elimination against Madrid with a 1-0 win at seventh-place Osasuna.
Substitute Saúl Ñíguez scored the winner less than 10 minutes after he had entered the match in the 65th.
Atletico relinquished a late 1-0 lead against Madrid to lose 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday. The cup was the only competition Atletico realistically had a chance to win as it had already been eliminated from the Champions League and the Europa League, and it currently trails league leader Barcelona by 13 points.
“We are out of the Champions (League) and the Copa, but the motivation to play for Atletico remains,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “I’ll always demand that from my players.”
It was the third win in four games in all competitions for Simeone’s team, while struggling Osasuna remained winless in four straight.
Osasuna has only one victory in eight matches overall, though it hadn’t lost since last year.
Atletico hadn’t won an away match in the league since October at Real Betis.
WILLIAMS’ RUN ENDS
Iñaki Williams’ absence in Athletic Bilbao’s 1-0 loss at Celta Vigo ended his record of 251 consecutive league appearances. He did not play in Vigo because of injury.
Williams had played in every league match for Bilbao since April 2016.
Veteran striker Iago Aspas scored Celta’s winner in the 71st. The result moved Celta to 16th place, while Bilbao remained eighth.
Bilbao is winless in five league games, since a 3-0 home victory against Valladolid before the World Cup.
VALENCIA’S STRUGGLES
Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 loss at Valladolid, adding pressure on coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Valencia has only one win in its last 10 league games, against Real Betis before the World Cup. It dropped to 14th place and one point above the relegation zone.
Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a 90th-minute winner for 17th-place Valladolid, which ended its five-game losing streak across all competitions.


Females ‘just getting started’ in esports, says Saudi federation official

(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
Updated 30 January 2023

Females ‘just getting started’ in esports, says Saudi federation official

(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
  • The esports scene has traditionally been dominated by men, and it remains as such, but has seen a substantial shift in attitude and mindset for the better in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Female participation in esports is only set to increase in the coming years, Reaam Alkhudairi, from the Saudi Esports Federation has said.

In the Kingdom alone, approximately six million people played games in 2020, with nearly half of the new players in Saudi Arabia being women.

The esports scene has traditionally been dominated by men, and it remains as such, but has seen a substantial shift in attitude and mindset for the better in Saudi Arabia, Alkhudairi said, adding that more changes will take place as Vision 2030 continues.

Saudi Arabia's gaming sector is thriving, and especially its esports scene, and experiencing more opportunities for women as well, she said.

Esports are an exciting and challenging endeavor, and Saudi Esports Federation is dedicated to encouraging and supporting youths and adults alike to take part, Alkhudairi said.

The Saudi Esports Federation is also seeking to improve the skills of females in esports as part of its mission, she added, citing the example of Najd Fahd, who is now recognized as the first Saudi Arabian female to win first place in FIFA 20 and who was also awarded Best Female Player of 2021 by the Saudi Esports Federation Awards (SEF Awards).


Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool
Updated 29 January 2023

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool
  • Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma

BRIGHTON: Liverpool’s disastrous season suffered another blow on Sunday as the holders were dumped out the FA Cup by a 2-1 defeat at Brighton.

Kaoru Mitoma’s brilliant control and finish in stoppage time earned the Seagulls a place in the fifth round.

Liverpool had led at the Amex through Harvey Elliott, but have now won just once in their last six games.

Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma.

The Japanese winger cushioned Pervis Estupinan’s cross into his path, flicked the ball over Joe Gomez and fired high past Alisson Becker in the 92nd minute.

Liverpool are languishing in ninth in the Premier League, 21 points behind pacesetters Arsenal.

Their FA Cup exit leaves the Champions League as their only remaining shot at a trophy this season.

Last season, Jurgen Klopp’s men were on the brink of a historic quadruple, which included their first FA Cup triumph in 16 years.

But Klopp is still searching for answers to halt their decline after a second defeat on the south coast in 15 days.

The German described Brighton’s 3-0 win when the sides last met as the worst performance of his managerial career.

Liverpool did at least put up a fight this time and will rue two big early chances missed by Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian did at least have a hand in Liverpool’s goal as he released Elliott, whose strike had too much power for Steele to keep out.

Brighton hit back within nine minutes when Tariq Lamptey’s powerful shot was deflected past the helpless Alisson by Dunk.

The hosts were without Moises Caicedo after the Ecuadorian took to social media on Friday to try and force through a move to Arsenal.

Brighton have already lost Leandro Trossard, who scored a hat trick against Liverpool earlier in the season, to the Gunners this month.

But those absences did not show as Liverpool were left riding their luck for most of the second period.

Ibrahima Konate and Fabinho were extremely fortunate to escape red cards for challenges on Alexis Mac Allister and Evan Ferguson.

Alisson threw himself in front of Solly March to make a brilliant save from Mitoma’s inventive cross and Konate did likewise to block from Ferguson.

But Brighton’s pressure finally got its reward when Mitoma struck his fourth goal in six games.


Diriyah Season to host first BMX Freestyle World Cup in region

Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Updated 29 January 2023

Diriyah Season to host first BMX Freestyle World Cup in region

Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

DIRIYAH: Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, on February 10 to 18 at the Elite Sports Center.

Hosted as part of the Diriyah Season, it will be the first time the event will held in the Middle East. 

More than 175 cyclists and bikers, representing 32 countries around the world, will compete for the title on a circuit especially made to host the championship at an arena capable of hosting up to 10,000 fans.

“Historic Diriyah will turn into the capital of urban sports in the world by hosting the World Cup, with the participation of a group of the most famous male and female athletes in the world, who will compete to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics,” Mai Al-Hellabi of Diriyah Season said.

Al-Hilabi indicated that the events accompanying the tournament will include a number of entertainment and sports activities and experiences that will be presented to the public for citizens and visitors from outside the Kingdom of all ages and groups.

Tickets can be booked here.