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)
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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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Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset
Updated 11 sec ago

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset

Morocco players celebrate with Palestinian flag after Spain upset
DOHA: Morocco’s players unfurled a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations after the team’s stunning World Cup upset victory against Spain on Tuesday.
The Palestinian flag — which has been fluttering widely across Qatar during the finals — was seen being held aloft by Moroccan players following the dramatic penalty shoot-out win over the Spaniards.
FIFA regulations prohibit the display of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be “political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature.” In the past, football’s governing bodies have issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside stadia.
Morocco’s players also displayed the Palestinian flag after the team’s win against Canada during the group stage last week.
World Cup host Qatar has no relations with Israel and remains a supporter of the decades-long Palestinian cause for statehood.
Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories of east Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War fought with Arab nations.
About 250,000 Palestinians live in Qatar which has a population of around 2.9 million, most of them foreigners.

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland
Updated 06 December 2022

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland

Ronaldo benched for Portugal’s last 16 tie with Switzerland
  • Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups
  • He angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was left out of Portugal’s starting line-up for their World Cup last 16 clash against Switzerland on Tuesday, with Goncalo Ramos selected up front at his expense.
Ronaldo, 37, is the only man to score at five World Cups, but he angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the last group game.
Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix return for Portugal after they were rested in the 2-1 loss to South Korea, as does Bernardo Silva who made a brief appearance off the bench in that game.
Joao Cancelo drops out, with Diogo Dalot keeping his spot at right-back and Raphael Guerreiro restored at left-back.
Otavio starts in midfield after recovering from an injury in Portugal’s opening match.
Switzerland welcome back goalkeeper Yann Sommer from illness and Fabian Schaer retains his place in defense having filled in for Nico Elvedi in the 3-2 win over Serbia.
Edmilson Fernandes comes in for the absent Silvan Widmer at right-back.


Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution
Updated 06 December 2022

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution

Newcastle in Riyadh: Howe reveals Isak injury caution
  • $70m Swedish forward will miss Thursday’s friendly against Al-Hilal, remains doubt for Premier League return
  • While the January transfer window is not expected to be a transformative one for United, Isak’s return will very much feel like a cliched new signing

RIYADH: Newcastle United’s record signing Alexander Isak is a major doubt for the club’s return to English Premier League action with head coach Eddie Howe confirming that the $70m Swede will not feature in Thursday’s Diriyah Season Cup clash with Al-Hilal.

Since arriving at St. James’ Park in a summer deal, 23-year-old Isak has played just three games, the last of which came in September. He scored two goals in that trio of Premier League encounters, one of which came against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

And while it had been hoped the former Real Sociedad striker would feature on Thursday evening, those hopes have been dashed by Howe, who claims the player is facing a race against time to be fit for the visit to Leicester City on Dec. 26.

The Newcastle boss does, however, insist there has been no setback to Isak’s return-to-fitness plan.

Howe said: “He’s doing well. This was the plan. We didn’t expect him to train with the group when we first started training so he’s with the sports scientist team and physios.

“We are building him up in a controlled way and we expect him to be very close for Bournemouth or Leicester, we’re not sure if he’ll be fit or available for those games yet.”

On whether Isak would play against the Saudi Pro League champions this week, Howe added: “No, it’s a bit too early. I don’t expect him to feature in those games (against Al Hilal and a friendly against Rayo Vallecano on Dec. 17). We’ll try and get him back for Bournemouth or Leicester, but we’ll have to see how it goes.

“There’s been no setback. There was an initial setback when he re-injured his thigh and as a consequence of that we just want to make sure we get him fully fit.”

While the January transfer window is not expected to be a transformative one for United, Isak’s return will very much feel like a cliched new signing.

Howe said: “Very much so. He’s a player we’ve really liked and missed, and he’ll give us lots of qualities we feel the team needs. We’re really excited to try and get him back.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle United’s players were guests of honor at the Riyadh residence of Saudi Public Investment Fund head and Magpies’ non-executive chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

The 28-man playing squad, along with co-owners Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, as well as Howe’s coaching staff were invited for an evening meal with Al-Rumayyan and his family on Monday evening, 24 hours after their arrival in the Kingdom.

After the event, PCP Capital Partners’ Ghodoussi took to social media to post an image of the squad together, united, and said: “A great evening with great people (followed by a red heart emoji) #nufc #NUFCinRiyadh.”

The players trained at Al-Hilal’s training complex on Tuesday morning, with Isak confined to the gym as part of his recovery.

The only absentees from the playing squad are the Magpies’ World Cup representatives Bruno Guimaraes, Kieran Trippier, Callum Wilson, Nick Pope, and Fabian Schar, while Dan Burn, absent from the original Saudia flight on Sunday, joined up with the squad on Tuesday following his recovery from an illness.

On his players’ return to Saudi Arabia, Howe added: “The first thing we did was to test the players and find out where they were physically compared to the tests we did during pre-season, and from those tests the players were in a good place, which you probably expect as it’s only been two weeks and a couple of days rest but you can still lose a bit of fitness even in that short space on time.

“Because it’s such a short window, the minute we start working, the players will quickly get back to the levels of a very good physical condition.”


Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final
Updated 26 min 10 sec ago

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final

Heroic Morocco make history to reach World Cup quarter-final
  • Penalty shootout win over Spain means Atlas Lions are first Arab nation to reach last eight
  • Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium

Morocco are in dreamland and in the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a historic 3-0 penalty shootout victory over Spain on Tuesday after 120 minutes ended 0-0.

It is by some distance the greatest result in Morocco’s history, and the Arab world now has a team in the last eight for the first time ever. And now who knows how far they can go?

Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium. 

With Senegal, the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea falling by the wayside earlier in the second round, Morocco were not just the last Arab hope but the only team left at Qatar 2022 not from the traditional power centers of Europe and South America. 

There was plenty of support for the team from all around the world and how they delivered against a genuine powerhouse.

Spain were still regarded as clear favorites despite collecting just four points from their group, three less than the Arab record notched up by the Atlas Lions, who finished top of Group F above Croatia, Belgium and Canada.

Such is the pedigree of a nation that lifted the trophy just 12 years ago, and it is that level that Morocco are aiming for. They are not far away as this victory proves.

Whatever the result at the end of the 90 or 120 minutes, Morocco are now a team to be reckoned with and not an opponent to be under-rated.

The same goes for their fans. Once again, it was a sea of red that produced waves of noise that crashed around Education City Stadium. As much as the team, the Moroccan fans have really made their presence felt at the World Cup. The support has been monumental from the start.

From offset, they roared their heroes into every tackle and every run. When Sofiane Boufal danced down the left midway through the first half, you could have closed your eyes and felt like you were in Rabat, Fez or Agadir.

Spain were dangerous, however, and capable of breaking free at any time.

Before the game, Morocco had conceded just one goal in seven under Walid Regragui and that was an own goal against Canada in the final group game. 

This was their toughest test by far and, if there was to be any chance of going through, the defense had to hold firm. With Spain enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Moroccan players had to stay focused and they did, allowing just one shot in the first half.

Nasser Mazraoui has improved with every game, and the Bayern Munich star forced a good save out of the Spanish number one just after the half-hour. With Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi combining well down the right and the opposition looking smooth in the middle, it was a fascinating clash. 

Just before the break, Morocco had the chance of the half with Boufal enjoying a free header that was missed.

The second half continued in a similar fashion though as the minutes ticked by, Spain had more of the ball (80 percent after 90 minutes) but were still struggling to create chances with Morocco defending well and looking to hit on the counter.

Even with 20 minutes remaining, the shadow of a longer game was looming large, though both teams had chances. Spain almost snatched a goal in the final seconds of normal time.

Morocco had their best period of the match early in extra time. The game was on a knife-edge with the Arab team continuing to defend magnificently.

If extra time seemed inevitable, penalties did not. Both teams had chances to win in the final half hour with Spain hitting the post with virtually the last kick of the game.

The first kick of the shootout was converted by Abdelhamid Sabiri and when Pablo Sarabia hit the post, a whole nation started to believe. Ziyech made it 2-0, then Carlos Soler saw his kick saved and the roof was being raised.

Badr Benoun failed to convert but it didn’t matter when Sergio Busquets became the third Spaniard to miss. Up stepped Hakimi and the rest is history.


Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’

Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’
Updated 06 December 2022

Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’

Eto’o sorry for fan ‘altercation’ but slams Algeria ‘provocation’
  • Eto'o released a statement in which he admitted being involved in a "violent altercation"
  • He only addressed his apology to "the public" however and made no gesture to the fan

DOHA: Former Cameroon star Samuel Eto’o apologized Tuesday for kneeing an Algeria supporter in the face but insisted he was the target of “relentless provocation” by the North African state’s supporters since a controversial World Cup qualifier this year.
The 41-year-old Cameroon federation president and ambassador for the Qatar World Cup flew into a rage after being approached as he left Brazil’s 4-1 win over South Korea in Doha on Monday night.
A video widely shown on social media showed the four-time African player of the year breaking free from people seeking to restrain him and kneeing the face of a blogger named as Sadouni SM.
The man fell back after being struck but has not reported any serious injury.
Eto’o released a statement in which he admitted being involved in a “violent altercation.”
“I would like to apologize for losing my temper and reacting in a way that does not match my personality,” said the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker.
Eto’o only addressed his apology to “the public” however and made no gesture to the fan.
Eto’o lashed out at Algeria’s supporters for their behavior since Cameroon beat Algeria on away goals in a World Cup qualifying playoff in March.
Algeria later complained to FIFA about the referee and initially demanded a replay.
“I pledge to continue to resist the relentless provocation and daily harassment of some Algerian supporters,” Eto’o said.
“I have been the target of insults and allegations of cheating without any evidence,” he added.
He said Cameroon fans at the World Cup had also been “harassed and pestered” by Algerians.
“The scenario of Algeria’s defeat was cruel but perfectly in line with the rules and ethics of our sport,” Eto’o insisted.
All of Algeria’s appeals have been rejected and Eto’s said that Algerian authorities must now act to halt “this unhealthy climate before a more serious tragedy occurs.”
The African football legend was surrounded as soon as he left the 974 Stadium where the round of 16 match was played.
Wearing a blue baseball cap, he is seen allowing selfies with some fans before he was approached by the Algerian.
Eto’o handed his mobile phone to a man before surging at the blogger to deliver the blow with his knee.
Sadouni SM said in a video posted online Tuesday that his camera and microphone had been “smashed” in the incident.
“He hit me,” the man adds, pointing to his chin.
“I did all that for Algeria,” Sadouni SM says in the video.
“I am at the police station now for the inquiry.
“This video must be shared. As Eto’o is a celebrity I am afraid they will cover up the inquiry, but I trust the Qatari police,” he added.
Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee has not commented on the incident. Eto’o toured Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana in August to promote the World Cup.
The former international has a history of fiery outbursts, receiving a three-match ban in 2010 for headbutting an opponent while playing for Inter.