Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
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Al-Ittihad appointed Nuno Espirito as head coach on Monday. He replaces Cosmin Contra at the eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia. (File/AFP)
Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
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Al-Ittihad appointed Nuno Espirito as head coach on Monday. (Courtesy: @ittihad)
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Updated 05 July 2022

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
  • Portuguese tactician has reputation for producing teams that are hard to beat
  • Familiar faces from English Premier League likely heading to the Red Sea port

LONDON: Al-Ittihad appointed Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach on Monday, with the former Valencia, Porto and Tottenham Hotspur boss replacing Cosmin Contra at the eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia.

The Portuguese tactician, who spent four years in charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers before heading to North London in the summer of 2021, has been available since being dismissed by Spurs in November after just four months in charge. He has been handed a two-year contract by the Jeddah giants with his main task to deliver a first title since 2009.

After spells with Valencia and Porto, the former goalkeeper took over at Wolves in 2017. After securing promotion into the English Premier League, he then established the West Midlands club as a force in the top tier. That record took him to Tottenham but after three wins in the first three games of last season, it all started to go wrong at White Hart Lane with just nine goals scored in the first 10 league games. After damaging defeats at the hands of Arsenal and Manchester United, he received his marching orders.

Unlike at Tottenham, however, when Nuno arrived after a number of other coaches had turned the job down or were unavailable, he has been Al-Ittihad’s number one target after the decision was made not to offer Contra a new deal.

The club announced the departure of the Romanian, whose contract ended last week, earlier in the day and wasted no time in announcing their new man.

Contra had talked openly of his desire to stay at the club and of his plans for next season. After his appointment last August, the former Dinamo Bucharest coach took Al-Ittihad clear at the top of the table to the extent that, in February, they were 16 points clear of Al-Hilal. It all went wrong as the Tigers dropped 13 points from the final eight games of the season, a ruin that allowed Al-Hilal to take the title on the final day.

“I would like to apologize that we let you down at the last minute, and although we did our best, we did not live up to the aspirations of our fans,” Contra said on social media. He highlighted that great champions bounce back from big disappointments by learning from their mistakes. “Al-Ittihad will return next season stronger to achieve the title that we have been waiting for a long time,” he added.

They will do so without him. The way the team threw away the title has led management to believe that a firmer pair of hands was needed at the helm. There was particular disquiet at the hugely damaging twin defeats against Al-Hilal in the run-in and the way Ittihad threw away a 3-1 lead against Al-Feiha to draw 4-4 on May 6. That the latter result came just three days after Al-Hilal had surprisingly been defeated by Al-Fateh, giving Al-Ittihad an opportunity to take a huge step toward the title, was painful and a sign, so those in charge believe, of a problem with the team’s mentality especially in pressure situations.

Nuno’s reputation for producing pragmatic teams that are hard to beat has earned him plus points within the Jeddah hierarchy. His goal is clear: To deliver a first league title to this corner of Jeddah since 2009, a dry run that has gone on too long for all involved with the two-time Asian champions.

He has, according to those behind the scenes at the club, already made it clear as to which players he wants to bring in, and there should be some familiar faces from the English Premier League heading to the Red Sea port. There will already be talent waiting. The club are keen to keep Brazilian attacking duo Romarinho, who scored 20 goals last season, and Igor Coronado. Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah is also wanted though there is interest from elsewhere in the region as well as Europe. Egyptian center-back Ahmed Hegazi is also likely to stay.

With Nuno Santo’s arrival at Al-Ittihad coming just days after Rudi Garcia took charge of Al-Nassr, who finished third last season and Al-Hilal’s announcement that they have renewed the contract of head coach Ramon Diaz, next season is already shaping up to be exciting. Al-Ittihad have got their man and have their sights set upon going one better in 2023.

 


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 8 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.