A glorious summer of women’s football gives Arab nations something to dream about

Special A glorious summer of women’s football gives Arab nations something to dream about
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Saudi women’s football coach Monika Staab leads a training session in 2021 just several years after a ban on the women’s game was lifted. (AFP)
Special A glorious summer of women’s football gives Arab nations something to dream about
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Germany overcame France in a tight semifinal contest but were defeated by a strong England side in the Women’s Euro 2022 Final. (AFP)
Special A glorious summer of women’s football gives Arab nations something to dream about
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Germany overcame France in a tight semifinal contest but were defeated by a strong England side in the Women’s Euro 2022 Final. (AFP)
Special A glorious summer of women’s football gives Arab nations something to dream about
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Teams line up ahead of the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 final football match between England and Germany at the Wembley stadium in London on July 31, 2022. (Lindsey Parnaby / AFP)
Special A glorious summer of women’s football gives Arab nations something to dream about
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Jordan's women football team take part in a training session in Amman. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 02 August 2022

A glorious summer of women’s football gives Arab nations something to dream about

A glorious summer of women’s football gives Arab nations something to dream about
  • UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 and other tournaments have shown the challenges Arab female footballers must overcome
  • Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced on Monday an intention to bid for the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup

DUBAI: For sports fans across the Arab world, the announcement on Monday of Saudi Arabia’s intention to bid for the 2026 Asian Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cup was a fitting finale to one of the most exciting weeks in the history of women’s football.

Just hours earlier, the confetti drifted across the Wembley sky as the curtain came down on a triumphant UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 for hosts England. A 2-1 win on Sunday after extra time had seen the Lionesses claim their first ever title and a first trophy for England since the men’s 1966 World Cup win, infamously against West Germany at Wembley as well.

It has been a glorious summer, indeed year, for women’s football around the globe.

A day before England’s triumph, the Brazil women’s team had won the Copa America Femenina title after beating Colombia 1-0. And only two weeks ago, South Africa had defeated hosts Morocco to win the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.




Brazil's players celebrate after winning the Conmebol 2022 women's Copa America football tournament final match against Colombia ain Bucaramanga, Colombia, on July 30, 2022. (AFP)

In January, China had been crowned AFC Women’s Asian Cup champions after beating South Korea 3-2 in Mumbai. Women’s football continues to smash barriers.

Eyes are already turning to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup taking place in Australia and New Zealand from July 20 to Aug. 20 next year. Not everyone has joined in the fun and games, however. Not yet, at least.

As positivity sweeps the women’s game, these tournaments — even their qualification stages — have shown the challenges that Arab female footballers must overcome before they can join the party.

Only Morocco, courtesy of reaching the last four in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, have qualified for next year’s World Cup.




Morocco's team members pose for a picture after their loss in the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations final football match with South Africa in Rabat on July 23, 2022. (AFP)

The reasons for lack of Arab involvement at the highest level are many, be they political, sporting or cultural. The time to compare the women’s game in this part of the world to Europe and the Americas is not here yet.

But there is room for cautious optimism, as football federations, according to their means, are increasingly embracing women’s football.

In terms of participation and performances, African Arab nations remain clear of their Asian sisters. Hosts Morocco were joined by Tunisia in 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, while no Arab nation took part in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India last January.

FIFA’s latest world rankings back up the trend. Africa’s top Arab nations are Tunisia at 72, Morocco (77), Algeria (79) and Egypt (94).

Meanwhile, in Asia, the top three women’s teams are Jordan at a very creditable 65, Bahrain at 84 and the UAE at 106.




Jordan's women football team take part in a training session in Amman. (AFP file photo)

So far, results — and subsequently, rankings — have generally correlated to longevity and history. But even there, official participation by Arab African nations preceded their Asian counterparts by a matter of years.

Morocco, Algeria and Egypt all played their first women’s international matches in 1998, while Tunisia followed as recently as 2006. In Asia, Jordan’s women made their bow in 2005, as did Bahrain’s, while a UAE team made up mostly of expats played their first ever international in 2010.

Considering the fact that those matches were all held fairly recently, great credit must go to these pioneering women for blazing a trail for those who followed.

Going forward, however, things are likely to change, with footballing history becoming less of a factor. Increased funding, establishment of programs and accessible training facilities are the future.

FASTFACTS

Saudi Sports For All Federation launched the Women’s Football League in 2020.

SAFF officially established the Regional Football League in Nov. 2021.

Al-Mamlaka became Saudi Arabia’s first ever National Football Championship winners on Jan. 8, 2022.

This is where Saudi Arabia, not yet a FIFA member, is looking to accelerate the women’s game. The Women’s Football Department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) was only established in 2019, but has since overseen an impressively brisk agenda.




Players of the first Saudi Women's National Football Team attend a training and show off their skills at Prince Faisal bin Fahad bin Abdulaziz stadium in Riyadh on Nov. 2, 2021. (AFP)

In 2020, as the world emerged from lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saudi Sports For All Federation launched the Women’s Football League, involving several long-established ladies teams that nonetheless had not previously taken part in any regular organized competition.

But it was in November 2021 that SAFF officially established the Regional Football League, a 16-team competition that would see the country’s best eight clubs — mostly from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam — advance to a knock-out National Championships in early January.

The league was split into three regions: A six-team Central region, a six-team Western region and a four-team Eastern region, with matches played in a round-robin, home-and-away format.

The top three teams in the Central and Western regions, as well as the top two from the Eastern region, would progress to the National Championships, with a prize of $133,000 awaiting the eventual winners.

Al-Yamamah, Jeddah Eagles and Eastern Flames were crowned champions of the Central, Western and Eastern divisions, respectively, and were joined in the quarter-finals by Miraas, The Storm, Sama, Al-Mamlaka and Challenge.




Jeddah Eagles celebrate winning the Western division of the inaugural Regional Football League in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

At almost 11 p.m. on January 8, Al-Mamlaka became Saudi Arabia’s first ever National Football Championship winners after a 7-0 victory over Challenge at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.

It was a landmark day for the fledgling women’s football scene in the Kingdom. The competition was not without its challenges, but was an undoubted overall success.

Another important step taken by the SAFF was to hire 12 top Asian female referees to officiate at women’s football league matches, and also to train local women who wish to go down that path. Now there are qualification courses established for new female referees, with 63 officials approved under the SAFF so far.

But perhaps the most significant appointment came when German coach Monika Staab was tasked with leading the newly established (2021) Saudi women’s international team, and to oversee the development of the game at all levels across the Kingdom.




Saudi women’s football coach Monika Staab (left) leads a training session in 2021 just several years after a ban on the women’s game was lifted. (AFP)

Staab has had a successful career, which saw her play in France and England before returning to Germany and to the women’s Bundesliga. As a coach, she led 1. FFC Frankfurt (now Eintracht Frankfurt) to four German league titles, four German Cups and, famously in 2002, the UEFA Women’s Cup (now the UEFA Women’s Champions League).

After a coaching journey that had seen her visit over 80 countries in the past four decades — including Bahrain, Iran and Qatar — Staab was the perfect candidate for SAFF. So far, it has proven a wise choice.

Staab oversaw the Saudi Arabian national women’s team first-ever international match, a 2-0 win over the Seychelles in a friendly at held at the National Stadium in the Maldives on Feb. 20.




Players of the first Saudi Women's National Football Team attend a training and show off their skills at Prince Faisal bin Fahad bin Abdulaziz stadium in Riyadh on Nov. 2, 2021. (AFP)

The historic occasion drew acknowledgment from leading football figures around the world, including Brazilian legend Pele, who tweeted a message of congratulations for the female Falcons.

Encouragingly, nationwide training programs, set up by Staab and her team, are looking to unearth Saudi female talent to take part in the Regional Football League and eventually the national team.

Additionally, 40 D-License coaching courses have been delivered at schools across the Kingdom, awarding 857 teachers their coaching certificates, while 15 refereeing courses will enable 544 teachers to officiate at the Girls Schools League set to launch in September 2022.




Players of the first Saudi Women's National Football Team attend a training and show off their skills in Riyadh. (SPA)

Several players are already making names for themselves. Al-Bandari Mubarak sc  ored Saudi Arabia’s first ever goal in that win against the Seychelles and is seen as an integral part of the national team, as is goalkeeper and captain Sara Khaled, who plays for Al-Mamlaka.

Farah Jafri, of Jeddah Eagles, is another talent marked out for stardom. Meanwhile Leen Mohammed has emerged as the star of the Saudi Women’s Futsal National Team (established in 2019), which hosted and finished as runners-up in the 2022 West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Women’s Futsal Championship.

There are others. Staab’s first target is to get the Saudi national team into the FIFA world rankings, and then to take part in official competitions, regionally and internationally.




Players of the first Saudi Women's National Football Team attend a training in Riyadh. (SPA)

And it looks like this could come sooner than expected with the SAFF announcement on Monday of its intention to bid, making Saudi Arabia one of four nations, including Jordan, looking to host the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.

A host is expected to be confirmed by the AFC next year.

“Saudi Arabia has embraced women’s football. When I speak to girls across the Kingdom, I see their excitement for the game,” said Staab.

“The 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup is an unprecedented opportunity to inspire a generation of girls to achieve their football dreams.”

No doubt that there is plenty of hard work to be done in the coming years. But should Saudi Arabia be successful in its bid to host the tournament, we might just see the joyous scenes at Wembley repeated closer to home in three years’ time.

 

 

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Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown
Updated 17 August 2022

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown
  • The Ukrainian and British fighters hit the pads with their trainers and spoke to the media

JEDDAH: Fight Week preparations for the Rage on the Red Sea stepped up a gear on Tuesday night when 12 fighters from the card held public workouts at Jeddah’s Saudi Airlines Club.

Main event boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, who meet for the second time, at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena on Saturday, gave fans and the media a first glimpse of how they’re shaping up going into their heavyweight showdown.

Usyk, who defends the unified world heavyweight titles, said: “I’m very pleased that I’m going to fight very soon. I’ve been watching Anthony Joshua for years already, so I’ve learned a lot and look forward to the fight.”

Commenting on everybody in his homeland of Ukraine being able to watch the bout for free, Usyk added: “I’m also very pleased about this as we all worked hard to ensure this outcome.”

Usyk and Joshua hit the pads with their trainers and interacted with members of the public and media during their 10-minute sessions, teasing what’s to come when they go head-to-head on fight night.

“Previous experiences are helpful, but ultimately, it’s all about what you do on the night. Whoever throws and lands the most punches wins,” said Joshua. “I’m focused, ready to do my best, and get the job done.”

“Saudi Arabia’s been very good to me, shout out to everyone here (in the Kingdom),” he continued. “I’ve had a good time, everyone at the hotel and gym has been looking after me, and it’s been like a second home,” he added. “I’ve good memories of here from last time out (against Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019) and it’s time to create new ones.”

Also on show was Zhang Zhilei ahead of his bout with Filip Hrgovic, rivals Callum Smith and Mathieu Bauderlique, as well as Badou Jack, Andrew Tabiti, Rashed Belhasa, and Bader Samreen.

Rounding out the dozen boxers were Ziyad Al-Maayouf and Ramla Ali, who were given huge support from those in attendance.

They will both make history at the Rage on the Red Sea as the first Saudi and female fighters, respectively, to feature on an international professional card in the Kingdom.


UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal
Updated 52 min 32 sec ago

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal
  • Shamma Al Kalbani was Emirate’s first woman to win a medal at World Games

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has congratulated Shamma Al Kalbani for becoming the first Emirati woman to win a medal during the World Games.

The president met Kalbani – who scooped bronze in the 63kg category women’s jiu-jitsu at the Birmingham World Games in July - alongside the other Emirati winners of the jiu-jitsu competition at the games on Monday.

The competition, which took place in Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the most important global multi-sport events in the world.

The UAE grapplers won five medals at the championship, with Faisal Al-Ketbi winning gold in the 85 kilogram and open weight categories, and Mohammed Al-Suwaidi taking home silver in the 69 kilogram division. Shamma Al-Kalbani became the first Emirati female athlete to clinch a medal at the World Games, winning two bronze medals in the 63 kilogram and open weight categories.

 

 

He also congratulated the board of directors of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation and commended their efforts in developing the martial art.

In response the delegation thanked the president for his support of the sport in the country.


Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey
Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey
  • The defeat in Konya ends a run of 10 consecutive victories for the Kingdom’s U-23 team

Saudi Arabia’s footballers fell short of gold in the football competition at the Islamic Solidarity Games after a 1-0 defeat to hosts Turkey in Konya on Tuesday.

The loss ends the team’s run of 10 straight victories, stretching back to the triumphant AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan in June, for the young Green Falcons.

The winning goal was scored by Metehan Altunbas, of Turkish club Adanaspor, in the 27th minute of the match.

Saudi’s players received their silver medals from President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, who is also the president of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation.

The podium finish is Saudi’s second in the Islamic games across its five editions.

The team’s coach, Saad Al-Shehri, had previously won the competition as a player with Saudi Arabia in 2005.


Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
Updated 17 August 2022

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
  • Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second

RIO DE JANEIRO: Last year’s aborted World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina will not be replayed, the two South American countries’ football associations said on Tuesday.

The original fixture, in September last year, was halted when Brazilian health officials stormed onto the pitch after seven minutes in Sao Paulo, alleging COVID-19 quarantine breaches by the visitors.

But with nothing riding on the match as both countries have already qualified for the World Cup, which begins in Qatar on Nov. 20, they had pleaded with world football’s governing body FIFA to cancel the match definitively.

“The Brazil-Argentina match will not be played,” the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and Argentine Football Association (AFA) said in a joint statement.

“AFA, CBF and FIFA have resolved the dispute at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).”

Both countries argued that playing the match as scheduled on Sept. 22 would adversely affect their World Cup preparations.

FIFA ruled in February that the game must be replayed and in May it rejected an appeal by both federations to have the match canceled, while also hitting them with fines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The two federations then took their case to CAS, which was due to rule this month.

Both countries qualified for the World Cup with several matches to spare in the single South American qualifying group.

Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second.

Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times while reigning Copa America holders Argentina are twice champions.


Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
Updated 17 August 2022

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
  • Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion

CINCINNATI: Serena Williams bowed out of the WTA/ATP Cincinnati Masters at the first hurdle on Tuesday, losing in straight sets to US Open champion Emma Raducanu as the end of her glittering career looms ever closer.

Williams, who last week indicated that she is planning to retire after this month’s US Open, was no match for British teenager Raducanu, who romped to a 6-4, 6-0 win.

The 40-year-old Williams left the court swiftly after the defeat without speaking to television reporters and did not hold a press conference.

Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion.

“I was nervous from the first point to the last,” Raducanu said. “Serena is dangerous and can come back from any situation.

“I had to stay focused. I’m so pleased I managed to keep my composure.”

Williams, winner of titles here in 2014 and 2015, was competing in only her fourth match of 2022 after starting her season at Wimbledon due to injury.

Raducanu announced her intentions from the start with a break to love of Williams and never let up.

The young Briton improved to 14 wins, 17 defeats since winning the Open last September from a qualifying start.

Raducanu meanwhile said she was honored to be part of the spectacle on Tuesday in what was one of Williams’ final games as a professional.

“We all need to honor Serena and her amazing career,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the experience of playing her and for the fact that our careers have crossed.

“All she has achieved is inspirational. It’s a true honor to share the court with her.”

Raducanu never let Williams into the match.

The young Londoner seeded 10th took a 4-1 lead in the opening set and completely swept the second, advancing on her first match point, an unreturnable serve.

Raducanu committed a single unforced error in the opening set compared to a dozen for Williams.

Williams’ elder sister Venus took a 7-5, 6-1 loss earlier in the day, losing to 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova.

In the men’s draw of the joint event, Nick Kyrgios began the last major US Open tuneup with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The Australian marched through with 29 winners — including 10 aces — and three breaks of the Spaniard’s serve to reach the second round.

The 28th-ranked Kyrgios has won all 11 of his first-round matches this season and won his 22nd match since returning to the ATP in June after skipping the clay season.

He now faces good friend Taylor Fritz after the American crushed Sebastian Baez 6-1, 6-1.

“Physically, I didn’t feel the best, but you have to keep pushing, keep trying,” Kyrgios said.

“Alejandro’s a hell of a player, he’s got a lot of shots at his disposal. I had to serve well and dictate,” the Montreal quarter-finalist added. “It was tricky conditions out there, the courts are a lot more lively than Montreal, it was harder to control the ball.”

It marked a happy return to Cincinnati for Kyrgios, who was fined a record $113,000 during a spectacular meltdown at the tournament in 2019

“I’ve played some amazing tennis here and had some crazy outbursts,” he said. “It’s a flip of the coin as to which Kyrgios shows up here.”

Elsewhere, Spanish third seed Carlos Alcaraz advanced in his tournament debut, defeating American Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-2.

Italian 10th seed Jannik Sinner celebrated his 21st birthday by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 7-6 (8/6).