Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title
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Updated 28 June 2022

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title
  • Asian champions have completed remarkable turnaround since February to wipe away 16-point deficit on an Al-Ittihad team now left to rue season after looking certainties for championship

RIYADH: Al-Hilal are champions of Saudi Arabia once again, having at one point looked dead and buried as Jeddah rivals Al-Ittihad held a seemingly insurmountable 16-point lead over them.

But the Riyadh giants are not champions of Asia and the Kingdom for nothing and proved that they remain the country’s worthy champions.

The 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season ended on Monday night, and here are five things — and there could be many, many more — learned from the final action of the campaign.

1. Winning is in Al-Hilal’s DNA

Three successive title wins make it 18 in total. Love them or hate them – and there are plenty in both groups – there is no denying that Al-Hilal know how to win games, and titles.

Eleven victories out of the last 12 is an amazing run, especially when it came after a demanding season with FIFA Club World Cup and Asian Champions League commitments. They usually find a way to find a way.

The 2-1 victory over Al-Faisaly summed up what has been a dramatic campaign. There has been so much action in injury time this season, so many late winning goals and controversies, and Monday was no different.

Al-Hilal may win but they do not always make it easy. There was a goal in each half from Odion Ighalo, who was razor sharp and showed why he finished as the league’s leading goalscorer, but the men from Dammam grabbed a goal back and then there were plenty of nerves for Al-Hilal’s fans.

The game, and the season, ended after 100 minutes with the referee standing by the pitchside monitor looking at a possible penalty for Al-Faisaly. It was not given and that was that. It was a fitting way to end an amazing season.

2. Al-Ittihad will never forget this

This fact will be repeated for years to come; Al-Ittihad were 16 points clear of Al-Hilal in February and they ended up two points behind when it mattered.

Nobody could have predicted that Al-Hilal would take 33 points from the last 36 available but even so, the Tigers had it in the bag. Then they went and dropped 13 points from the last eight games and that is not the form of champions. The 0-0 draw with struggling Al-Batin in the final game of the season summed it all up.

They had so much attacking talent in Igor Coronado, Abderrazak Hamdallah, and Romarinho but they just could not make it happen and the game, similar to the season, petered out with disappointment. As well as the two recent defeats against the champions, coach Cosmin Contra will look back at that 4-4 draw with Al-Feiha in May, when the team threw away a 3-1 lead, as a turning point. It meant there were just five points from the final five games.

The wait for the title now stretches back to 2009. That hurts, as was demonstrated by the tears of goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe at the end, and this does too but, in football, there is always next season.

3. Al-Ahli make unthinkable history

A 0-0 draw at Al-Shabab resulted in Al-Ahli being relegated for the first time in their history. It is truly shocking that the three-time champions, the latest triumph coming just six years ago, and two-time Asian runners-up are now in the second tier.

Two years ago, they were third, then eighth, and now 15th – the drift has been coming. There were reports of dressing room unrest in the past, coaches coming and going, and then injuries at unfortunate times, and when you throw in a poor start with five points from the first seven games then maybe ultimate relegation should not come as such a big shock.

Had they won one of the four games they drew in the final five, things would have been different. This time even the reliable Omar Al-Somah could not save them despite a talented supporting cast that included Ezgjan Alioski, Carlos Eduardo, Abdulrahman Ghareeb, and many others.

For a club that has been drifting, it could be that relegation is the wake-up call they need, but maybe not. The next few weeks will be tough.

4. The relegation battle was quietly dramatic

Going into the final round of games there were seven teams who were genuinely threatened by relegation. It was an amazing position for the league to be in and there were so many twists and turns.

It was not quite the explosive last day that the neutrals had been hoping for as there were not that many goals, with only 14 scored over the eight games.

But there was quiet drama and tension. At any time, had Al-Ahli scored, they would have climbed out of the bottom three. If Al-Faisaly had managed one more, then they would have done the same. If Ettifaq had conceded just once against Al-Feiha then they would have gone down. Had Al-Ittihad scored then it would have meant the end for Al-Batin.

Rarely has there been so much at stake for so many teams going into the final seconds of the season. It has been a long season, more than 10 months, but it was alive right until the end.

5. Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab not far away

For much of the season, the two Riyadh teams were in touch at the top and it was only the amazing winning streaks, first from Al-Ittihad and then from Al-Hilal, that took them out of the hunt.

In the end though, Al-Nassr finished just four points behind the runners-up from Jeddah and six points behind the champions. With the club ready to appoint French coach Rudi Garcia, next season should be an interesting one, and there will be a lot of fans looking to see if the club can keep hold of Talisca, who scored 20 goals in his first season in Saudi Arabia. Recovering from injury, Pity Martinez has started to show the talents that made him a big-money signing back in 2020.

Al-Shabab know what it is like to lose big players after top scorer Odion Ighalo left for Al-Hilal at the end of January and a fourth-place finish seems about right as they lacked a little consistency. These third- and fourth-place teams need to keep their biggest talents and recruit well in the coming weeks. Then they should be ready for a title challenge next time around. This year, they were not far away.


Joshua Vs Usyk rematch in Jeddah can inspire future Saudi generations: Rights holder

Joshua Vs Usyk rematch in Jeddah can inspire future Saudi generations: Rights holder
Updated 56 min 41 sec ago

Joshua Vs Usyk rematch in Jeddah can inspire future Saudi generations: Rights holder

Joshua Vs Usyk rematch in Jeddah can inspire future Saudi generations: Rights holder
  • Prince Fahad bin Abdulaziz praised the Saudi leadership for their continued support in bringing major events to the Kingdom

LONDON: Inspiring the next generation of Saudis to take up sport and become champions is one of the main goals in bringing top-class sport to the Kingdom, according to the rights holder of the upcoming heavyweight boxing rematch between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk.

Prince Fahad bin Abdulaziz, spokesperson for Skill Challenge Entertainment, spoke this week about the build-up to the fight in Jeddah as well as the legacy he hopes the bout will leave behind on Saudi youth.

The prince praised the Saudi leadership for their continued support in bringing major events to the Kingdom.

“Sport and entertainment play a central role in Vision 2030, the strategy behind the nation’s transformation,” he said.

“The country’s esteemed leadership are truly invested in the impact sport can have in improving the lives of its people and we are fully aligned to support the transformation. The changes already implanted have already had a massive impact on people in our country.

“You can really sense how excited Saudis are to see some of the world’s biggest sports events take place in the Kingdom.”

Prince Fahad also said he believed hosting the fight in Saudi Arabia aligned with the broader ambition of growing boxing in the Kingdom.

“One of the major reasons to host events like this here in the Kingdom is to inspire the locals and future generations at a grassroots level,” he said.

“Since the last fight in 2019, the ‘Clash on the Dunes,’ we’ve witnessed a 300 percent increase in men and women participating in boxing and the number of boxing gyms increase from seven to 59.

“Through hosting further events like this, including the first women’s boxing championships, we aim to inspire over 500,000 individuals to take up the sport in the next four years. A key achievement will be to inspire the nation and region to try the sport and hopefully fall in love with it like so many already have.”

He added: “Alongside this we want to showcase the true Saudi Arabia to the rest of the world, the wonderful people, the countries transformation, the beauty of the landscape on the Red Sea.”

He said hosting the world heavyweight championship was a culmination of the transformation happening in the Kingdom at the moment.

“The changes and transformation as result of Vision 2030 inspires us to host some of the biggest global sporting events like this. This was really behind what gave us at Skill Challenge Entertainment the ambition to deliver this event and showcase Saudi globally.”

In the build-up to the fight and at the press conferences announcing the fight, Prince Fahad said that putting Jeddah and Saudi Arabia on the global map had been a highlight.

“There was an immense amount of pride during the filming of the promo video. For the main part of the video, Anthony Joshua and Usyk met face-to-face in the historical part of Jeddah alongside 300 locals which gave a glimpse into the excitement the locals have towards us hosting this event in the Kingdom,” he said.

“The fighters embraced the moment and bounced off the incredible atmosphere created, they both commented on how amazing the historical area of Jeddah was, it felt incredible to be there for that moment and we hope everyone loves it as much as we all loved creating it,” he added.

Prince Fahad’s message for boxing fans travelling to Jeddah for the “Rage on the Red Sea” fight on Aug. 20 was to “expect the unexpected.”

He continued: “‘Rage on the Red Sea’ is set to be one of this year’s biggest sporting moments globally, happening right here on our doorstep, I encourage you to be part of history and come to the fight, you will have an incredible time.”


Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20
Updated 08 August 2022

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s triumph at 2022 Arab Cup U-20
  • Young Green Falcons beat Egypt 5-3 on penalties after two hours of play ends in 1-1 draw

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia defeated Egypt 5-3 on penalties to win the 2022 Arab Cup U-20 after two hours of football ended 1-1, retaining the title they won in Cairo last year, becoming the record holders of the competition with two wins.

Below are five things we learned about the triumph and the tournament.

1. The future is good for Saudi Arabian football

Another tournament win bodes very well for the future. The young Green Falcons won the 2021 Arab Cup U-20, and June’s Asia U-23 Championships. While there is always more focus on the senior side and the upcoming World Cup, the country must be doing something right when it comes to youth development. Having success in major tournaments is not only impressive in its own right, but breeds a winning mentality in the players.

These are unprecedented times. As well as the tournament wins, Al-Hilal are champions of Asia, the Saudi Professional League is thriving and the national team were the best performers in qualification for the World Cup. There is still a lot of hard work to be done in Arab and Asian football, but Saudi Arabia are looking good.

2. Egypt’s penalty curse continues

This year has, so far, been a case of what might have been for Egypt. In the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, the Pharaohs’ senior side lost on penalties to Senegal, and the following month missed out on the World Cup against the same opposition, and by the same method.

Now the youngsters have lost a crucial shootout themsleves. It is always a heartbreaking way to lose a game of football, especially with the trophy within reach. It is to be hoped that this does not become a mental burden for Egypt. Losing three big shootouts in a row is tough to take, and the pressure will now be on for their next one; other big countries, such as the Netherlands and England, have struggled with the mental burden of spot kicks at great cost over the years.

3. Two stars emerge

Abdullah Radif and Salah Basha were not exactly unknown a few weeks ago, but they ended the tournament with their reputations enhanced. Radif belongs to Saudi Arabia and Asian champions Al-Hilal, though the 19-year-old has yet to properly break through for his club.

But with Al-Hilal unable to sign players this summer, the fact that he finished as top scorer with six goals should at least make coach Ramon Diaz consider his potential. There is no harm in giving the teenager more opportunities after showing so much composure here.

Basha, who scored his third goal in the final, is on the books of Italian side Udinese but has yet to make a first-team appearance. Tournament experience may make a difference, but if not, his stature has still grown, and there will be options if he wants to move for more playing time. Whatever happens, he will look back on this tournament fondly, and as the springboard of a fruitful career.

4. Another coaching success

Not long after Saad Al-Shehri led the U-23 team to the Asian title, Saleh Al-Mohammadi delivered a second successive Arab U-20 championship. Nobody could say that the team did not deserve it, scoring more goals and conceding fewer than any other. They beat a talented Iraq team 4-1 in the group stage, fought hard to get past Yemen on penalties in the quarters and then thrashed Palestine 5-0 in the semifinal.

With Saudi Arabian coaches a rare sight in the SPL as clubs look overseas for tacticians, the next time a manager is fired (and it will not take long once the new season starts), club bosses could do a lot worse than look at the domestic talent on offer. Both these coaches have delivered success on the international stage and, at some point, should be given a chance to show what they can do at home.

5. Tournament success will help 2027 bid

The city of Abha has not been regarded as one of Asian football’s main destinations, with Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam grabbing most of the attention. That may have changed a little over the last few weeks, and hosting an 18-team competition is not something to be taken lightly. After all, there are only six more teams at the European Championships.

Everything went smoothly off the pitch and, with COVID-19 still an issue, that is something to celebrate. Every tournament benefits when the host nation reaches the final, as that momentum provides excitement. Tickets for the final sold out quickly.

It will not go unnoticed at the Asian Football Confederation that Abha stepped up. Saudi Arabia has bid for the 2027 Asian Cup and the 2022 Arab Cup U-20, and this will have done the Kingdom’s chances of getting the nod no harm at all.


Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup
Updated 08 August 2022

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup

Great Britain & Ireland secure home win in Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup
  • Last year’s winners, The Ladies, finished second in the overall competition with 81 points ahead of Rest of the World in third with 72 points

Great Britain & Ireland beat a strong international field to claim the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot Racecourse on Saturday.

The home team finished with 132 points at the 2022 renewal of the world’s premier international jockeys’ competition.

The Ladies, captained by the competition’s all-time most successful rider Hayley Turner, put down an early marker when Joanna Mason took the opener aboard the William Haggas-trained Amanzoe with a ride that earned her the Dubai Duty Free Ride of the Day award and initiated a treble for the Newmarket trainer. However, last year’s winners could finish only second in the overall competition with 81 points ahead of Rest of the World with 72 points and Europe in fourth place with 51 points.

Winning trainer William Haggas set the tone for the afternoon. “I like this event because it is global,” he said. “That’s why it is so successful.”

Haggas is challenging for the British Champion Trainers’ title this year. “My late father-in-law Lester Piggott was one of the breeders of Amanzoe and we’ll have to look for black type now that she has won this competitive Stakes.”

Haggas’s observation about the meeting’s global reputation was underlined in the next race, the seven furlongs Dubai Duty Free Full of Surprises Stakes. Neil Callan, recently returned from 10 successful years in Hong Kong, and who had ridden a Newmarket treble the night before, drove home Orbaan who had made his way down to Ascot from the northern stable of David O’Meara.

“I’ve ridden against … Christophe Lemaire and Kerrin McEvoy (of the Rest of the World Team) and Frankie Dettori (Europe team captain) around the world,” said Callan. “It’s great to renew old friendships, though out on the track we’re as competitive for our teams as we are as individuals.”

The first two races on the eight-race card were worth £50,000 ($60,000) which stepped up to $91,000 for the remaining six, bringing total prize money for the Dubai Duty Free-sponsored event to $667,000. The third event, the Dubai Duty Free Dash over the minimum trip of five furlongs, was won by Manaccan, the only three-year-old in the race and a horse with a bright future.

Manaccan had the inestimable services of the legendary Turner. Hayley’s father was there to greet her returning to the winner’s circle with which she is so familiar. When Turner won the Holyrood House sprint at Royal Ascot she had Manaccan back in fifth. “Adam Kirby rode him then and he advised me on the best tactics to win today,” said the grateful jockey.

Grateful too was Jamie Spencer for his first ride on moody The Maxwecan in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Stayers run over two miles. Though hardly sighted this year, The Maxwecan was a winner over Ascot’s course and distance three years ago.

There was a bunch finish for the minor placings and even with the introduction of different coloured caps for the runners at the meeting a couple of the runners could not be separated. That complicated the scoring but left the Great Britain & Ireland team with a healthy lead.

After the fourth race, halfway through the card, the scoreboard was beginning to take shape with Great Britain and Ireland stretching into an 18-point lead over the Rest of the World who in turn led The Ladies with Europe trailing.

That lead was extended by the victory of Pride Of Priory, a second on the day for trainer William Haggas and first for jockey Kieren Shoemark in the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Challenge over the classic distance of a mile and a half. It extended the Great Britain & Ireland team’s lead to a 31-point gap over the Rest of the World.

“We love to support this event,” said Haggas. “We had the German jockey Rene Piechulek riding for us in an earlier race and though he didn’t win, he came in and gave us a proper run down on the horse. If we have runners in Germany I will be on the phone to him.”

The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup Mile featured the highest-rated horses of the day and was won by Canadian star Emma-Jayne Wilson on Jungle Cove for Irish trainer Jessica Harrington, who also owns the five-year-old and who flew over for the event, giving The Ladies some hope of challenging Great Britain & Ireland.


France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8
Updated 08 August 2022

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8

France’s BDS beat Saudi’s Falcons to claim Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8
  • The 3-0 victory at Boulevard Riyadh City saw the winners pocket $400,000, and the runners-up $250,000

RIYADH: BDS of France on Sunday defeated Saudi Arabia’s Falcons to claim the Rainbow Six Siege title at Gamers8 in Riyadh.

The 3-0 victory at Boulevard Riyadh City saw the winners pocket $400,000, while the Saudi team took home $250,000 for finishing in second place.

Germany’s WYLDE won third place and a prize of $155,000, while Brazil’s Liquid came in fourth, winning $155,000.

Falcons had reached the final by defeating WYLDE 2-1, while BDS had won their semifinal against Liquid by a 2-0 score.

Earlier in the competition, Falcons had qualified for the semifinals by beating Brazil’s TSM 2-1 in Group A.

The Saudi team had kicked off their campaign with a 2-0 loss to BDS, but a 2-0 win over MIBR secured a semifinal place.


Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
Updated 08 August 2022

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Ibrahim Al-Marzouki wins Saudi Arabia’s first medal at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
  • The paralympic swimmer took bronze in the 50m butterfly at Konya 2022
  • Kingdom’s Olympic star Ali Al-Khadrawi reached the table tennis quarterfinals

Paralympic swimmer Ibrahim Al-Marzouki on Sunday claimed Saudi Arabia’s first medal at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya, Turkey.

Al-Marzouki took bronze after finishing third in the 50-meter butterfly final with a time of 49.12 seconds.

Teammate Turki Alharbi finished fourth in the 100 butterfly race with a time of 1 minute, 12.87 seconds, and in the same position in the 400 freestyle race with a time of 5:25.98. The Paralympic swimming competition will continue on Monday.

In the table tennis competition, Saudi Arabia’s Ali Al-Khadrawi, who took part in last year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, qualified for Monday’s singles quarterfinals after defeating Indonesia’s Ravanel Nikola in three straight sets.

Saudi colleague Abdulaziz Bushlebi was eliminated from the singles competition after losing 3-1 to Denis Zholudev of Tajikistan.

Monday will see the Saudi U-23 football team kick off its campaign against Azerbaijan in Group B, which also includes Morocco and Iran.

The Saudi athletics team will also launch their participation on Monday in six events.

Runners Abdullah Abkar and Mohammed Daoud will participate in the 100 qualifiers, Olympian Yasmine Al-Dabbagh in the women’s 100, and Mohammed Al-Maawi in the 400 hurdles.

Yousef Masrahi and Mazen Al-Yassin will race in the 400 qualifiers, Tariq Al-Omari in the 5000 final, and Rami Mohamed Tolo will take part in the shot-put finals.