Improved Saudis draw with US as preparations for World Cup continue

Improved Saudis draw with US as preparations for World Cup continue
Saudi Arabia and the US played out a 0-0 draw on Tuesday night. (@SaudiNT)
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Updated 28 September 2022

Improved Saudis draw with US as preparations for World Cup continue

Improved Saudis draw with US as preparations for World Cup continue
  • Concerns over lack of goal-scoring chances persist, with Herve Renard’s injury-hit team failing to find then net for a fourth game in a row

Saudi Arabia drew 0-0 with the USA in Spain on Thursday, delivering a performance that was certainly an improvement over the stalemate with Ecuador four days earlier and probably their best in any of the four friendlies since their successful World Cup qualification campaign concluded.

It is true that they failed to score for a fourth game in a row but the Green Falcons more than held their own against a team that included a number of stars who play in the big European leagues.

Coach Herve Renard had a few reasons to be quietly satisfied with the performance in Murcia, given that in addition to a number of long-term absences, the his team were also without the injured quartet of star player Salem Al-Dawsari, captain Salman Al-Faraj, marauding full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani and goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais, the hero of the 0-0 draw with Ecuador last Friday.

This gave the French boss an opportunity to take a look at some other players in his squad and while it was not the most exciting of games, he will not be too displeased with what he saw.

While the goalless draw with the South Americans four days ago was mainly down to the efforts of Al-Owais, the clean sheet on Tuesday was the result of a solid defensive performance from the whole team, who stayed compact and worked hard to deny the likes of Christian Pulisic of Chelsea clear sight of goal.

The Saudis struggled to get shots on target four days ago but this time, in an almost empty stadium, their first attempt came inside 30 seconds, forcing Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner to get down quickly to push away a well-struck snap shot by Sultan Al-Ghannam from outside the area.

This spurred the Americans, who lost 2-0 to Japan on Friday, into action but the Saudi defense coped with the attacks reasonably well, even if there was a threat of the high defensive line being breached.

The men in blue were in control from a possession point of view but struggled to create clear chances, and so it was Saudi Arabia who next had the best sight of goal, just before the half-hour mark, when they were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position just outside the area, only for Hattan Bahebri to fire over.

Minutes later, the Greens should have taken the lead from the best chance of the game for either side. Firas Al-Buraikan won possession on the right side and found Haitham Asiri, who was not long on the pitch after replacing Sami Al-Najei. He reached the byline and found Bahebri on the edge of the six-yard box, where the Al-Shabab forward had a chance to shoot but instead opted to pass and the Americans were able to clear the danger.

All in all, it was a solid first half, with the USA, who are preparing for their first World Cup appearance since 2014, having 50 percent more of the possession than Saudi Arabia but, in terms of quality and quantity of chances, the Asian team were more than holding their own.

Renard’s men made a bright start to the second half as they looked for chances down the left, with Saud Abdulhamid and Bahebri in particular working hard. But despite balls being whipped into the area there was nobody in the middle to get on the end of the crosses and when the attacking moves came from central areas, the final ball was not quite there.

Still, as the game reached the hour mark, Saudi Arabia were just about on top against a team growing increasingly frustrated at their inability not only to score but to create clear chances.

Then the 2002 quarter-finalists had their best opportunity. Jesus Ferreira took advantage of a defensive mix-up to shoot from just inside the area, only for Mohammed Al-Yami, who did not have many saves to make, to get down quickly and smother the danger.

With 20 minutes remaining, it was Turner’s turn to push away a well-struck shot from Asiri. The Saudis continued to attack but could not quite find a way through. There was more frustration when centre-back Abdulelah Al-Amri’s close-range header from a corner went high.

Saudi Arabia continued to make most of the running in an attacking sense but were unable to capitalize and their disappointment was complete when Nawaf Al-Abed fired over from the edge of the area in the final moments when he had options to pass.

The dry spell in front of goal has now stretched to 385 minutes and is certainly a major cause for concern. However, with the big games in Qatar against Argentina, Poland and Mexico only two months away, there were also some signs of improvement.

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test
Updated 8 sec ago

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test

Record-breaking England put Pakistan to the sword in first Test
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Four England batsmen scored hundreds Thursday as the visitors piled up a record 506-4 on the opening day of the first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
Openers Zak Crawley (122) and Ben Duckett (107) set the tone with quick-fire tons against a hapless Pakistan bowling attack before Ollie Pope (108) and Harry Brook (101 not out) compounded the hosts’ misery.
Ben Stokes was also not out, on 34, when bad light stopped play, having helped England break a 112-year-old record for the most runs on the first day of a Test — beating Australia’s 494-6 against South Africa at Sydney.
It was also the first time four batters scored hundreds on day one of a Test.
After winning the toss England went straight into “Bazball” mode, the brand of freewheeling, aggressive play taken from the nickname of head coach Brendon McCullum.
England’s fiery batting — with 73 boundaries and three sixes — lifted the gloom over the start, which hung in the balance Wednesday after several of the tourists came down with a mystery virus.
As if the punishment from the top three wasn’t enough, Brook — playing only his second Test — cracked six consecutive boundaries off one over from debutant spinner Saud Shakeel.
He is only the fourth batsman to score six consecutive boundaries in a Test, following West Indians Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, and Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya.
Brook reached his maiden century off just 80 balls, capping a highly entertaining day for a crowd of 6,000 that included around 150 “Barmy Army” fans.
He added 176 for the fourth wicket with Pope, who fell to pacer Mohammad Ali.
Pakistan fought back briefly in the second session when they dismissed Duckett, Crawley and Joe Root (23) in the space of 53 runs, but that was shortlived.
England have set their sights on even more runs.
“It was obviously a very good wicket to bat on,” said Crawley.
“Hopefully, we can go on tomorrow and get more runs.”
Debutant leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood was the most successful Pakistan bowler with 2-160 on an unresponsive wicket.
“The pitch was similar to the one we had against Australia, but it should have been a bit more supportive,” said Pakistan head coach Saqlain Mushtaq, referring to the Test played earlier this year that yielded 1,187 runs for the loss of just 14 wickets over five days.
Duckett, who hit his maiden hundred after being recalled to the Test side following an absence of six years, was the first to go when he missed a reverse sweep off Mahmood and was trapped leg-before.
West Indian umpire Joel Wilson initially ruled it not out, only to change his decision on Pakistan’s review.
Duckett, who hit 15 boundaries, put on 233 for the first wicket with Crawley — an England record for the first wicket against Pakistan.
It beat the 1962 stand of 198 between openers Geoff Pullar and Bob Barber in Dhaka, then East Pakistan.
Crawley was bowled off a sharp delivery by Haris Rauf in the next over, the Test debutant’s first wicket.
The lanky Crawley hit 21 boundaries in his quickfire 111-ball innings, his third Test hundred.
Former skipper Root also fell leg-before to Mahmood, unsuccessfully challenging the decision.
Crawley showed his intent right from the start, hitting three boundaries off Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah’s first over of the match, and bringing up his half-century off just 38 balls.
He could have become the first England batter to score a century before lunch on day one of a Test but was left nine short.
England are on their first Test tour to Pakistan in 17 years.

Chameleon Rodrygo eyeing Neymar’s No.10 spot for Brazil

Chameleon Rodrygo eyeing Neymar’s No.10 spot for Brazil
Brazil's forward Rodrygo reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match against Switzerland. AFP
Updated 10 min 39 sec ago

Chameleon Rodrygo eyeing Neymar’s No.10 spot for Brazil

Chameleon Rodrygo eyeing Neymar’s No.10 spot for Brazil
  • Substitute Rodrygo set up Casemiro’s late goal in their 1-0 win against the Swiss, which followed a 2-0 victory against Serbia in their World Cup opener
  • Casemiro believes Rodrygo, who plays for Real Madrid, has the talent to be Brazil’s next big star

DOHA: Rodrygo is the complete striker: the 21-year-old Brazilian can play on the left, the right, as a No.10 or as a false nine.
And after his decisive second-half performance against Switzerland on Monday he looks well-placed to finally earn his first start for the Selecao, maybe even in Neymar’s playmaker role.
Substitute Rodrygo set up Casemiro’s late goal in their 1-0 win against the Swiss, which followed a 2-0 victory against Serbia in their World Cup opener.
Brazil have already qualified for the last 16 ahead of Friday’s final Group G clash against Cameroon and coach Tite is likely to make changes, with Neymar still nursing an ankle injury sustained in their opening match.
Casemiro believes Rodrygo, who plays for Real Madrid, has the talent to be Brazil’s next big star.
“God gave him the gift of playing football. It’s beautiful watching him play,” the Manchester United midfielder, who used to play alongside Rodrygo at Madrid, said last week.
The five-time World Cup winners have an embarrassment of riches in the attacking department, even with Neymar injured and Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho left out of the squad.
Raphinha, Antony, Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Pedro and Richarlison are all providing competition for Rodrygo.
But the youngest player in Tite’s World Cup squad has one major advantage over the others.
“We’ve seen him playing as a false nine, a 10, the ‘Neymar” of Real Madrid, with the ability to play on the left and right,” Matheus Bachi, an assistant coach with Brazil, who is also Tite’s son, said recently.
“He’s a chameleon, but a chameleon who does all these functions very well.”
That versatility was evident when Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti started deploying Rodrygo in the center of the attack this season alongside striker Karim Benzema, rather than using his pace on the flanks.
“He’s a special forward, he can play in every position. He’s quick, intelligent off the ball and effective one on one,” said Ancelotti.
Rodrygo has seven goals and five assists in 19 club matches this season.
His two late goals off the bench for Real in the Champions League semifinal against Manchester City last season turned the tie on its head and the Merengue went on to lift the trophy.

- ‘Very smart’ -

Rodrygo’s versatility was well known at his first club, Santos — the same team that produced Pele and Neymar. 
He played as a No.10 in the academy but made his first team debut in 2017 on the left wing.
Neymar used to play on the left before he was moved into a more central position and back in 2017 Jair Ventura, who gave Rodrygo his Santos debut, decided to develop his abilities “on the right, in the center and as a false nine,” he told ESPN in 2019.
That ability to play across the forward line has served Rodrygo well.
His performances soon alerted Real Madrid and he moved to Spain in 2019.
“He’s extremely professional and educated. He’s very smart, you explain something to him once and he understands it immediately,” said Ventura, the son of ex-player Jairzinho, a World Cup winner in 1970 alongside Pele.
Since his Brazil debut three years ago, Rodrygo has made nine appearances, but all as a substitute.
He scored one goal in a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Paraguay and now has one assist to his name too.
And he has no doubt that he could fill the void left by Neymar.
“I feel comfortable playing in every position up front. I’ve already played with the No.10 jersey in the junior categories but it’s only recently that (senior) coaches have started putting me there,” Rodrygo said recently.
“We already have our No.10 here, Neymar, but who knows for the future.”
The future may be now.

Unrepentant Suarez refuses to apologize for Ghana World Cup handball

Unrepentant Suarez refuses to apologize for Ghana World Cup handball
Uruguay's forward Luis Suarez gives a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 10 min 48 sec ago

Unrepentant Suarez refuses to apologize for Ghana World Cup handball

Unrepentant Suarez refuses to apologize for Ghana World Cup handball
  • Suarez deliberately handled the ball on the line at that tournament to prevent a certain goal from Dominic Adiyiah’s header right at the end of extra-time

DOHA: Uruguay great Luis Suarez refused to apologize on Thursday to Ghanaians over his infamous handball at the World Cup 12 years ago.
The South Americans take on the Africans in a must-win Group H clash in Qatar on Friday that is a repeat of the notorious quarter-final in South Africa in 2010.
Suarez deliberately handled the ball on the line at that tournament to prevent a certain goal from Dominic Adiyiah’s header right at the end of extra-time.
Suarez was shown a red card but Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty and Uruguay went on to win the shoot-out and qualify for the semifinals.
Striker Suarez became an overnight hero in his homeland while Ghana missed out on becoming the first-ever African team to reach the World Cup semifinals.
Twelve years later, asked whether he knew that Ghanaians viewed him as the “devil,” Suarez said he had no regrets.
“I don’t say I apologize about that because I take the handball but the Ghana player missed the penalty, not me,” said Suarez, speaking in broken English.
“Maybe I can say I apologize if I tackle and injure a player and take a red card, maybe I can apologize. 
“But in this situation I take a red card, the referee said ‘penalty’. It’s not my fault because I did not miss the penalty, the player missed the penalty.”
There has been lots of talk since the World Cup draw was made about Ghana potentially seeking revenge and many of the African team’s fans have vented their ire at Suarez ahead of the crunch clash.
But Suarez insisted the game was in the past and that it makes no sense to talk about revenge.
“Those that are talking about revenge... were eight at the time, they have only seen it in images,” said the former Barcelona and Liverpool forward, now 35.
“You can’t misinterpret everything. When we played Portugal the players were talking about revenge for being knocked out (by Uruguay in 2018) but you can’t live in the past.”
Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said there was much more at stake for both teams than vengeance.
Uruguay must win to have any chance of progressing to the last 16 while Ghana could also be eliminated if they do not triumph.
“I don’t know how Ghana will approach it, whether or not it’s revenge,” said Alonso.
“For us it’s a decisive match, that’s what matters to us. We’re doing the best we can, respecting our opponents, but we don’t view it that way.”

Why leg before wicket remains cricket’s most contentious law

Why leg before wicket remains cricket’s most contentious law
Updated 55 min 34 sec ago

Why leg before wicket remains cricket’s most contentious law

Why leg before wicket remains cricket’s most contentious law
  • International, pro cricket has technology, experienced umpires but lower down sporting pyramid interpretation of LBW can suffer bias

It would be rare to find a cricketer at any level who has not fallen victim to a leg-before-wicket decision which he or she felt to be unjust.

Although caught is the most common form of dismissal, with 57 percent, LBW accounts for around 14 percent of dismissals, meaning that its importance should not be treated lightly.

This is placed into greater perspective because the decision rests with the umpire.

In today’s international cricket, umpires are supported and informed by technology and by an off-the-field third umpire who has access to the technology.

In professional cricket, professionally trained umpires make decisions without such support.

In club cricket, there are umpires, usually former players, who have obtained umpiring qualifications but there are many matches at a lower level where the umpires are also players in the match. This does raise the issue of potential bias, especially as the relevant law is open to significant interpretation.

The original cricket laws of 1744 did not contain a dismissal mode of LBW, only requiring no “standing unfair to strike” by strikers.

In those days, a curved bat was used to hit underarm deliveries, so the striker needed to stand at distance from the leg stump to provide an arc to swing at the ball. Thirty years later, the introduction of straight bats changed this stance and strikers were able to make strategic use of their legs to defend the wicket.

Revised rules in 1774 specified that the batsman was to be given out if he, “puts his leg before the wicket with a design to stop the ball and actually prevent the ball from hitting his wicket by it.”

In 1788, the word design was removed, and accidental obstruction added, while in 1823, the point of interception was widened from legs to any part of the body. These changes led to one commentator expressing the view in 1868 that the LBW law was, “the most perplexing and disagreeable of the whole code.”

There are many who hold this view a century-and-a-half later. Imagine a club cricket match in which players double as umpires in rotation.

The match is heading for an exciting conclusion, four runs to win and one wicket to fall. The away team’s captain is batting, the non-striker is a young man with no batting prowess, and the umpire is a member of the away team. He is very experienced and is known not to like the home team very much following years of fierce rivalry. In particular, he does not like the person who is about to bowl.

When the ball is delivered it pitches outside the off stump, unexpectedly cuts back sharply to the surprise of the away team captain, who thrusts his padded leg toward the off-side in the direction of the ball, which hits him on his front leg, but outside of a wicket-to-wicket line. There is a prolonged and vociferous appeal for LBW from the home team and supporters.

In this combustible situation, no one seems to have noticed that the ball has ricocheted off the batter’s pads and is about to reach the boundary.

This is substantial information for the player-umpire to absorb in a few seconds and, on his assessment, the outcome of the match will be decided. He has studied the laws of cricket intensely, but he is in a complete dilemma. He knows that law 36 requires that all of five circumstances need to apply for the striker to be given out. First, the delivery needs to be legal, which it is.

Second, the ball must pitch in line between wicket and wicket, or on the offside of the striker’s wicket, which it has. Thirdly, the ball has not touched the bat, but the striker has intercepted the ball with a part of his person, which is the case. Fourthly, the point of impact must be between wicket and wicket, which it is not. However, if the striker has made no genuine attempt to play the ball with the bat, then the point of impact is not only between wicket and wicket but also outside of the line of the off stump. Fifthly, the ball would have hit the wicket but for the interception.

It is not difficult to discern that, in this circumstance, any umpire would be taxed to make a just decision. When local rivalry, history, aligned umpires, and a tense finish combine, the context is quite different to international matches with neutral umpires. Nevertheless, the principles are the same. The first three criteria for dismissal have been met, but have the fourth and fifth ones? The umpire must determine if the striker made a genuine attempt to play the ball and that the ball would have hit the wicket.

The law does not define genuine. Does it mean anything other than a deliberate attempt to not play the ball? Without the support of technology, who can really be certain that the ball would have hit the wicket? Many times, I have seen a ball which had beaten the striker and looked certain to hit the wicket deviate or bounce over the top.

Our fictious umpire is left not only with these considerations but also the consequences of his decision. If he gives his captain out, he will incur the wrath of not only his captain but his whole team for a long time. The home team will delight in his discomfort. If he says not out, he will face the full wrath of the home team and accusations of bias and, even worse, cheating.

Prior to the introduction of neutral umpires to international cricket in 1992 and the later introduction of review technology, home umpires gave more visiting batters out LBW than home batters in Test matches.

Controversial LBW decisions still occur at international level, but with a much lower proportion than at club cricket level. There, the potential for bias and simmering controversy is ever present with the LBW law.

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit
Updated 01 December 2022

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit
  • The exhausted Green Falcons fall short of the round of 16, but depart with plenty of pride and the memory of their stunning win over Argentina

A dramatic, at times beautiful adventure, is finally over.

Saudi Arabia exited the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday night at Lusail Stadium, losing 2-1 to Mexico. It means a fourth place finish in Group D with three points from three games.

Below are five things we learned from another drama-filled day in Qatar and the campaign in general.

1. A wild ride comes to an end

Whatever happens, the players, the fans and the whole country will always have the historic 2-1 win over Argentina. It was the biggest story of the first round of games at the tournament and it really brought the World Cup to life. Unlike 2018 when the international football community barely realized that Saudi Arabia had been in Russia at all, the Asian powerhouse were talked about in all corners of the planet.

It was unfortunate that there were no more points to come. Saudi Arabia played well against Poland and did not deserve to lose 2-0, and perhaps did not really deserve to lose at all. When the dust settles, there will be an unending debate as to what would have happened had Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty late in the first half had not been saved by Wojciech Szczesny (though the Al-Hilal star is in good company as Lionel Messi suffered the same fate on Wednesday). We will never know but there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia and their legions of fans can leave Qatar with their heads held very high.

Mexico were the better team and deserved to win but it was fitting that the campaign ended with a well-worked goal from Al-Dawsari deep inside injury time. Saudi Arabia helped give the world another remarkable and exciting game.

2. Injuries and suspensions were costly in the end

It was almost forgotten amid the thrills of that Argentina win that captain Salman Al-Faraj joined the celebrations on crutches and fullback Yasser Al-Shahrani was carried off in the final moments.

Key midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki was suspended after picking up two yellow cards. It was then a major blow as central defender Ali Al-Bulaihi went off with what looked to be a hamstring injury. Who knows? Had the Al-Hilal man, who went off after being pushed, been on the pitch then the corner from which Mexico scored their opening goal may have been cleared.

There was nothing that anyone could have done about the Chavez free kick. It was a special set piece that will surely not be bettered at this World Cup, even if it was a pointless foul to give away. In the end, Mexico were too good and Saudi Arabia too depleted and too tired. Had coach Renard had a full and fit contingent of players to pick from, then surely the final game would have been closer. The boss did not have the deepest of squads to call upon when compared with some others and was always going to struggle once injuries and suspensions kicked in.

3. Salem Al-Dawsari a star, Kanno catches the eye

For a number of years, Arab News has waxed lyrical about the talents of the 31-year-old Salem Al-Dawsari and now everyone agrees. The Al-Hilal man caught the eye from the get-go and has been hailed around the world.

His goal against Argentina did not just win the game but was a beautiful strike in its own right. His technique and silky skills have played their part in making the World Cup an exciting one as he has shown that there is exciting talent in Saudi Arabia. The only negative is that he is on the wrong side of 30. But the 2026 World Cup is not that far away and now that he has equaled Sami Al-Jaber’s World Cup tally of three goals, he may want more.

Midfielder Mohamed Kanno also caught the eye of the international audience with his energy, running and ability to break up play. It was impressive for a player who has had little playing time at club level in recent months.

There were others too who made a name for themselves and they leave Qatar with reputations enhanced and in need of a well-deserved rest.

4. The World Cup will miss Saudi Arabia

It wasn’t just the win against Argentina that ignited the tournament, it was the presence of the tens of thousands of Saudi Arabian fans that created a magnificent atmosphere. As hosts Qatar struggled on the pitch, it almost felt like the games were being hosted over the border in Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam. In every game, the fans came to fill the stadiums and create the sort of buzz and excitement that every tournament needs.

They came to support their team and were rewarded with some unforgettable experiences and moments. There is still a lot of football to be played and while the Green Falcons were eliminated in the first round, if there was a tournament for best fans then the country would be going all the way to the final.

The fans have given the world a taste of Saudi Arabian football culture and passion just as the team have done on the pitch and that is what the World Cup is all about.

5. Mexico’s elimination means more history for Saudi Arabia

It was always going to be the case that Mexico were much improved from their first two games against Poland, a goalless draw, and a 2-0 loss to Argentina. They had failed to score and failed to impress. There was much more invention, energy and ambition in this game, as you would expect as they were in a do-or-die situation.

El Tri were on top in the first half and played much of the second half in sight of the Saudi Arabian goal. They had plenty of chances to get the additional goal that would have been enough to take them past Poland into second place.

The Green Falcons have helped make history. Mexico last failed to get past the group stage in 1978. Saudi Arabia may have lost but they did, in a way, eliminate the CONCACAF powerhouse at the first round for the first time since the previous century. Saudi Arabia leave in good company after taking part in another thrilling match.