Saudi clubs gear up for next season, new coach already at Al-Nassr

Saudi clubs gear up for next season, new coach already at Al-Nassr
Rudie Garcia has been appointed new coach of Al-Nassr. (Arriyadiyah)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Saudi clubs gear up for next season, new coach already at Al-Nassr

Saudi clubs gear up for next season, new coach already at Al-Nassr
  • Champions Al-Hilal extends Jang Hyun-soo’s contract, with defender Ali Al-Bulaihi and keeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf likely to stay
  • New management at runners-up Al-Ittihad possible after disastrous title bid

On Monday evening, Al-Hilal became champions of Saudi Arabia for the 18th time, defeating Al-Faisaly to finish first above Al-Ittihad, but the next day, rivals were already on the move, making plans for next season.

There is not much time for rest and preparation. The just-finished campaign lasted for 10-and-a-half months due to international breaks, continental club commitments, the AFC U-23 Asian Cup (which Saudi Arabia won earlier this month) and the postponement in May due to the death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

Those that start early will get the advantage and Al-Nassr, for one, are wasting no time. Head coach Miguel Angel Rosso was always going to be on his way at the end of the season, though the Argentine boss did manage to get the Yellows to third, just four points behind Al-Ittihad and six behind the champions. Bosses at the club had their eyes on another coach for some time, and on Tuesday announced that they had finally got their man.

Rudi Garcia is preparing to leave France and head to Saudi Arabia on a two-year contract.

“The first step to prepare for the next season is to contract with the coach,” Musalli Al-Muammar, CEO of Al-Nassr, said. “The negotiations were long and arduous but we got through the obstacles and difficulties. Garcia will be in Riyadh next week, to complete preparations and study the situation of the team.”

The Frenchman has a fine resume. He was linked in November to the interim Manchester United head coach position that eventually was filled by Ralf Rangnick. The 58-year-old was in charge of Lyon in 2020 when they knocked Juventus and Manchester City out of the UEFA Champions League and went all the way to the semifinals where they were eliminated by Bayern Munich. He took Roma to successive second-place finishes behind the dominant Juventus and now has a two-year contract to take Al-Nassr back to the top of Saudi football for the first time since 2019, when they won their ninth title.

First order of business for Garcia will be to keep Talisca, the Brazilian who scored 20 goals last season. There have been reports that he may be heading back to Europe, though recent comments from the man himself suggest that he may stay. Meanwhile, Vincent Aboubakar, looks to be heading to Qatar. The Cameroonian striker scored eight goals though was not quite as impressive after returning from the African Cup of Nations earlier this year as top scorer. Uruguayan forward Jonathan Rodriguez has already left. Argentine defender Ramon Mori is also likely to be surplus to requirements along with Brazilian midfielder Anselmo.

One benefit of getting a coach with recent experience at the top of the European game is the players he can bring in. Already French media is reporting that Al-Nassr are about to beat Lyon to sign Ghislain Konan, the Ivory Coast international left-back. He has been one of the most highly rated defenders in the French league and would be a fine addition to the SPL.

David Ospina has also been strongly linked with Riyadh. The former Arsenal goalkeeper has been released by Napoli and it was thought that he could be heading to Lazio but that was before Garcia took the job in Riyadh. It remains to be seen if one or both of those stars follow Garcia from Europe to Saudi Arabia but it is certain that there will be more talent to arrive at Al-Nassr in the coming weeks.

Like true champions Al-Hilal have not been standing still either and have already announced the extension of Jang Hyun-soo’s contract and it is likely that central defensive partner Ali Al-Bulaihi and goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf will get the same treatment.

And what of Al-Ittihad? The Tigers, who led the SPL table so long but then let a 16-point advantage over Al-Hilal become a two-point deficit when it mattered, are licking their wounds. The pain will be there for some time to come but preparations for next season can’t wait. They are going to go ahead without Cosmin Contra. For much of the season it was questionable whether the Romanian boss needed to win the title to keep his job but the way it ended, with Al-Ittihad throwing it away and dropping 13 points from the last eight games, means that there will be a new coaching team in place. Club officials are hoping it is sooner rather than later.

There is plenty of talent in Jeddah with the prolific Romarinho in attack, the talented Igor Coronado and the commanding Ahmed Hegazi in defense. Winger Fahad Al-Muwallad is set to appeal the 18-month ban he received in May for testing positive for a banned substance, and his return would be a big boost. It may be harder to keep Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah who has been linked with a move to Europe. Most importantly however is getting the right coach in quickly.

Football never stops and last season is already history. There is a lot of work for title hopefuls if they are going to give themselves the best chance of stopping Al-Hilal making it four in a row. Al-Nassr are making the early running but all need to get their preparations in gear.


Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans
Updated 15 sec ago

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans
  • The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve

CINCINNATI: Andy Murray won his first hardcourt match of the summer on Monday, defeating Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-5 in the opening round of the ATP/WTA Cincinnati Masters.
The 35-year-old Scot was facing his 37-year-old Swiss rival for the 22nd time with both treble Grand Slam champions still coming back to full form after long-term injuries over the past few seasons.
Murray lost in the first round at Washington and last week in Montreal while Wawrinka’s last win came on grass two months ago at Queen’s Club, London; he has not won on cement since the Australian Open last year.
Murray needed four match points to advance at a tournament he has won twice, in 2008 and 2011. The veteran was competing here for the 17th time.
“We’re not young anymore,” Murray said. “Both of us gave our best right until the end.
“Matches like this are a lot tougher than when we were in our mid-20s.
“Both of us love this sport, we’ve had our issues with injuries the last few years.
“The sport has been a huge part of my life, I started playing when I was four.”
Compatriot Cameron Norrie joined Murray in the second round with his 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4 defeat of Dane Holger Rune.
The Scot began to well up as he described his love for the game.
“When I was out injured and not sure if I would be able to come back, I remembered the reasons why you play the game,” Murray said.
“It’s taken a lot of effort and struggles to get back (after two hip surgeries) and play at this level again.
“I want to make the most of it while I’m still able to.”
Murray claimed the opening set in the tiebreaker as he faced his longtime rival.
The Scot went down a break in the second set but got it back before finding himself at a set apiece after being broken in the final game.
The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve.
In the closing stages, Murray loudly chastised himself as his grip on the set threatened to slip away against the Swiss whose best showing here was a semifinal a decade ago.
The contest was punctuated repeatedly by visits from the trainer for both men.
Other winners on opening day included 2016 champion Marin Cilic, who defeated Spain’s Jaume Munar 6-3, 6-3, and American John Isner, the 2013 finalist against Rafael Nadal, who advanced past France’s Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (13/11), 3-6, 7-6 (7/4).
In the WTA draw, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina defeated Egyptian Mayar Sherif 6-3, 6-2.
The world number 25 set up a second-round clash with eighth seed Garbine Muguruza, title-winner here in 2017.
The 23-year-old Kazakh lifted her game in the second set to end with five aces and 13 winners against Sharif.
“I was slow at the beginning but I got my rhythm and served well,” Rybakina said. “But my serve always helps me.”
The newest Grand Slam champion said she is trying to look ahead in her career as she adjusts to her status.
“Wimbledon gave me confidence but now I’m focusing on my other tournaments and trying not to think of the past,” she said.
American Amanda Anisimova beat ninth seed Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-4.


Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe
Updated 47 min 53 sec ago

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe
  • Morata scored twice on Monday as Atlético began its Spanish league campaign with a 3-0 win at Getafe

MADRID: The decision to keep Álvaro Morata is already paying off for Atlético Madrid.
Morata scored twice on Monday as Atlético began its Spanish league campaign with a 3-0 win at Getafe. Antoine Griezmann also scored coming off the bench, with João Félix setting up all three goals for the visitors.
There had been doubts about whether Atlético would keep Morata after his two-year loan with Juventus ended. Some teams, including Juventus and Manchester United, reportedly had shown interest.
But Morata impressed in the preseason — which included a hat trick against Juventus — and Atlético ultimately decided it was worth keeping the 29-year-old striker.
“I don’t need to send any messages,” Morata said. “I have to keep working for myself and for my team. It was important to start with a victory. I think it’s going to be a great year.”
It didn’t take long on Monday for Morata to show Atlético was right. He scored with a well-placed low shot from the top of the area after a nice one-touch pass by João Félix in the 15th minute, then picked up another superb assist from the Portugal youngster to hit the top of the net from inside the area in the 59th.
“He is doing well, he works hard,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. “Everyone at the club hopes he will stay with us.”
Griezmann came off the bench and sealed the victory with a shot from outside the area in the 75th.
Atlético finished third in the Spanish league last year, behind Barcelona and champions Real Madrid.
Madrid won 2-1 at promoted Almería on Sunday, while Barcelona drew 0-0 at home against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.


FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation
Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

ZURICH: FIFA suspended India’s national soccer federation late Monday “due to undue influence from third parties,” the sport’s governing body said.
The suspension of the All India Football Federation threatens the country’s hosting of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled for Oct. 11-30.
FIFA said the suspension was effective immediately and that the transgression “constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.”
“The suspension will be lifted once an order to set up a committee of administrators to assume the powers of the AIFF executive committee has been repealed and the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs,” FIFA said.
The Under-17 Women’s World Cup “cannot currently be held in India as planned,” FIFA said.
“FIFA is in constant constructive contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India and is hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved.”


All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
Updated 15 August 2022

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
  • Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history
  • Riyadh hosted the epic ‘Clash on the Dunes’ in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier

JEDDAH: The sporting world’s attention is set to focus on Jeddah this week in anticipation of the “Rage on the Red Sea” boxing match between world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and challenger Anthony Joshua.

The event on Aug. 20 will also feature a first ever women’s boxing match in Saudi Arabia, and the appearance of Arab up-and-comer Ziyad Al-Maayouf.

Live from Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Arena, Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history.

The winner will also take home the Ring Magazine title after Tyson Fury vacated it last week.

In the first meeting between these two titans of the heavyweight division, Ukrainian Usyk (19 wins, no losses and 13 knockouts) produced a masterclass performance on route to dethroning Joshua (24-2-22), defeating the Briton in his own backyard by unanimous decision at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England last September, with over 60,000 fans in attendance and millions more watching around the world.

This time around, Joshua enters the ring as challenger rather than champion, although “AJ” has enacted revenge and immediately reclaimed titles before in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh hosted the epic “Clash on the Dunes” in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Usyk remains undefeated in his professional campaign. The former undisputed cruiserweight world champion has made the successful transition to heavyweight and is viewed by many as the world’s pound-for-pound best fighter.

Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz, chairman of Skill Challenge Entertainment, said: “International boxing spectacles are always special, not least because of the activities and events (that are) part of the pre-fight build-up. History illustrates that the days leading up to massive fights live long in the memory of everyone involved, from fans to media, promotors to sponsors, the fighters themselves to their teams and families.

“They are a traditional yet integral component of local, regional, and international promotion and contribute to the acclaim these events receive and the legacy they leave behind. As such, we are delighted that the time has finally come for Jeddah to host Rage on the Red Sea fight week. Jeddah is ready to welcome the world once more while showcasing precisely (why) it has become the new home for Middle Eastern sport.”

Fight week in Jeddah officially gets underway on Monday with an exclusive media arrival event at Shangri-La Business Center, where international media, VIPs, and other invited guests will enjoy a series of press opportunities with fighters, promotors and key stakeholders.

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the week’s proceedings continue with the traditional public workout. Hosted at Saudia City, fans will join media and VIPs as the undercard and main event fighters showcase their skills and offer a first-hand glimpse of their pre-fight preparations, sure to generate further buzz before the weekend’s action.

The pre-fight press conference will be held on Wednesday at Shangri-La Hotel from 2 p.m. local time. Stakeholders, sponsors, and the media will be in attendance as the fighters and their teams share their thoughts and answer questions.

On Friday, Aug. 19, the fighters will face off for the final time at the official weigh-in. Later that evening, the Shangri-La ballroom will host an invitation-only gala dinner for global partners and guests of the Ministry of Sports and SCEE, which holds the global rights to the event.


Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
Updated 15 August 2022

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time

Promoter Eddie Hearn hoping Anthony Joshua emerges world champion in Saudi for a second time
  • Two-time British world champion faces Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk at Rage on the Red Sea in Jeddah on Saturday
  • 32-year-old Joshua previously won the heavyweight world title in Saudi Arabia in 2019

When Anthony Joshua steps into the ring to face Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah on Saturday, Aug. 20, it will almost feel like he is fighting in front of a home crowd.

The British boxer, a two-time unified heavyweight world champion, will have a chance to regain the title he lost to his Ukrainian opponent last September when the two rivals meet in a rematch at Rage on the Red Sea.

The 32-year-old has made Jeddah his training base over the last month, and promoter Eddie Hearn hopes Joshua will leave Saudi Arabia a world champion yet again.

“This is our second fight in Saudi Arabia. The first one, ironically, was another rematch that Joshua had to try and win,” said Hearn of Joshua’s previous victory in 2019 against Andy Ruiz. “So, we’ve got good vibes about going back to the Kingdom. The aim for Saudi was always to try and do the undisputed Heavyweight World Championship. The biggest prize in the sport is the Heavyweight World Championship. So, when we did Joshua-Ruiz, the pandemic really slowed that development down. And when this fight came around, it was challenging principally, and everybody got in touch.

“We had a tremendous experience there last time. Joshua is very comfortable there, so much so that he’s been out there for weeks already. Normally, you’d come out a week before the fight, if you’re traveling, and he’s been there for four weeks. He loves it there. He’s feeling confident. And it’s a huge fight for boxing.”

Hearn said that the relative sanctuary of Jeddah has provided Joshua with an ideal preparation period away from the glare of media he would expect in his home country.

“Obviously, a lot of people know him in Saudi, but in England, he can’t breathe without someone taking a photo, someone bothering him,” said the British promoter. “He gives his time to everybody, and it can be quite draining. So, he loves the fact that he can be in Saudi. He loves it there, he feels comfortable there. And he can just chill with his friends in the hotel, he can go out, he can get coffee. His preparation’s been great. He’s got a new trainer for this fight in Robert Garcia. It’s a very tough fight. Usyk is pound for pound probably No. 1 in the sport.

“But Joshua is in a great place. He feels very comfortable in Saudi. And he’s ready.”

Boxing at the highest level may still be new to Saudi Arabia, but it is making big strides toward rivaling established hubs such as London and Las Vegas in terms of holding big-name bouts.

“I have incredible resources. Financially as well, they’re putting a lot behind the events,” Hearn said. “So, you’re going to get a first-class event in terms of arena, press conferences, hotels — everything is done to the highest possible standard, and we feel very comfortable. I couldn’t quite believe when I went back to Jeddah, six or seven weeks ago, the difference in the place that I saw four years ago.

“When you see a different place, you see so many changes, the vibrancy, the energy around the event. Joshua and Usyk were shooting the promo in the square, and people were excited. Prince Khalid [bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud], my good friend who really drives boxing in Saudi Arabia, has a vision for the sport and a love for the sport. And I know how much he cares for the sport. And that matters to me.”

Hearn sees that his aim to get his fighters the best possible fight deals aligns with Saudi’s own desire to promote the sport and, eventually, produce world-class boxers of its own.

“You must always try and get the fighters the best deal because it is a dangerous sport,” Hearn said. “But it’s more than that. There’s a real movement for boxing in Saudi Arabia, and we’re behind it, and I think next week you’re going to see not just a tremendous event but interest from the public there also. And as participation levels increase at a grassroots level, you’re going to start seeing fighters emerge. And when you see fighters emerge, that’s when everything will change there. Can you imagine how big it could be if a fighter went on and won an Olympic medal or won a world championship? It would be huge.”

Saturday night’s card in Jeddah will see the super lightweight Saudi-Egyptian fighter Ziyad Al-Maayouf take on Mexico’s Jose Alatorre.

“You need local fighters,” said Hearn. “It’s all very well coming to Saudi Arabia to say we are developing boxing in the region. But what are we developing? Boxing is so important on so many levels for young people. Fitness, mental health, physical health, discipline and respect. But you still want talent coming through. There’s no reason why over the years, if the coaching is good enough, we can’t see some good fighters emerge. It’s very important that you see those young fighters coming through.”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic may have somewhat stalled the rise of boxing in Saudi Arabia, but Hearn believes the time is right to kick-start its growth again.

“The commercial interest, the participation interest, the interest from the public is getting bigger all the time,” he said. “When we filmed the promo in the square, you could see people were genuinely interested. The Ruiz fight did a lot for boxing in the Kingdom, but we lost a bit of momentum because of the pandemic. But interest is there, from a public perspective, from a commercial perspective, and it's a huge event in Saudi next Saturday.”

As a message to the fans, Hearn has promised a spectacular event on the Red Sea.

“Just enjoy. We’re desperate for Joshua to win,” he said. “He’s obviously a friend of ours, and we’ve been with him for his professional debut, but Usyk is, pound for pound, great. It’s going to be a tremendous fight, it’s going to be a tremendous atmosphere. It’s the World Heavyweight Championship. And we can’t wait to put on a huge event in Saudi Arabia next Saturday.”