RIYADH: Following their launch last year, Saudi Arabia’s Women’s National Team has completed a historic week after taking on Asian counterparts Bhutan in their debut matches on home soil.
Taking place across four days at the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Stadium in Abha, both friendly fixtures witnessed six-goal thrillers.
The first match on Saturday saw the hosts bounce back from a 3-1 deficit at half-time to claim an 3-3 draw thanks to Al-Bandari Mubarak and Nora Ibrahim’s strikes in the closing 15 minutes. Both teams met again on Wednesday night with the visitors claiming an action-packed 4-2 victory.
Reflecting on the past week, SAFF Women’s Football Department Supervisor and board member, Lamia Bahaian, said: “We have been working very hard toward the moment we finally see our women’s national team compete at home.”
“We are extremely proud of how they’ve already inspired a nation and are helping pave the way for a career in the sport with over 50,000 young girls signing up for the first-ever schools league,” she said. “Since the launch of the team just last year, we’ve been grateful for the unconditional support shown to us by the Kingdom’s leadership. The players will now continue their development and progress in the Premier League’s inaugural season, in what is a hugely exciting moment in their careers.”
The matches represented the latest chapter in women’s football rapid journey in Saudi Arabia over the past few years. Since the establishment of a dedicated women’s football department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in 2019, it currently hosts 450 registered players, 49 qualified referees and more than 900 D, C and B licensed coaches.
This progress is a result of a long-term strategy launched last year by the federation to grow interest and participation at all levels of the women’s game, with unprecedented investments in areas such as grassroots, player development, coaching, facilities, competitions and governance.
The national team’s players’ attention now turns toward their respective clubs ahead of the launch of the SAFF Women’s Premier League and return of the First Division League. Featuring eight clubs from across Saudi Arabia, most notably Saudi Pro League sides Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad for the first time, the newly formed Premier League takes place on a home-and-away basis with a total of 56 matches.
The First Division League, formerly known as the SAFF Regional Football League, will see a further 17 teams compete across three cities.
The national team’s German head coach, Monika Staab, said that she could not be prouder of the team’s performances and progress over the 180 minutes, in what were only the national team’s third and fourth matches following the encounters against the Seychelles and Maldives in February.
She believes playing the first meetings at home marks another historic milestone in the national team’s journey and the women’s game as a whole.
“This week will undoubtedly go down in the history of Saudi Arabian football. Playing our first matches at home was a massive source of pride for everyone involved in the women’s game across the country,” she said.
“I am extremely pleased with the experience gained by our girls and their performances against a tough opponent. They showcased their true fighting spirit and strong willingness to fight till the final whistle. We look forward to getting more international minutes under our belt, both at home and away, as we continue toward journey to achieve the ambitious goals set for women’s football.”
Australia beat Tunisia 1-0 to revive their World Cup campaign
Updated 8 sec ago
AL WAKRAH, Qatar: Australia only needed to avoid defeat to stay in the World Cup. The Socceroos did more than that in a 1-0 win over Tunisia on Saturday. Mitchell Duke gave Australia the lead midway through the first half with a header and Australia went on to register their first win at soccer’s biggest event since a victory over Serbia back in 2010. The result means Australia still have a chance to qualify for the round of 16, despite losing 4-1 to defending champion France in their opening match. France and Australia lead Group D with three points each, while Denmark and Tunisia have one point each. France play Denmark later tonight. In the final round of group games on Wednesday, Tunisia play France and Australia meet Denmark. After a scrappy start from both sides, Australia went ahead with a play out of the back from their goalkeeper. Duke collected the goalkeeper’s pass near mid-field and made a quick touch to set Craig Goodwin down the left flank and Duke then sprinted forward to nod Goodwin’s deflected cross into the far corner. Duke celebrated by making a ‘J’ with his fingers in a tribute to his son, Jaxson, who was in the stands. The goal quieted the large contingent of red-clad Tunisia fans among the crowd of 41,823 inside Al Janoub Stadium, and sent the small pockets of Australian supporters dressed in yellow into delirium. Tunisia impressed when they held European Championship semifinalist Denmark to a 0-0 draw in their opener but only occasionally threatened against Australia until the Aussies sat back and defended toward the end. Australia had also gotten off to an early 1-0 lead over France in their opener but then was outplayed in a loss which they blamed on a series of defensive errors. There were fewer errors this time, and some timely interventions, too – none bigger than a last-gasp sliding clearance from center back Harry Souttar to block Mohamed Dräger’s dangerous shot shortly before halftime. Tunisia are still seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time in its sixth World Cup appearance but now needs to beat France. During the second half, Tunisia fans held aloft a large Palestinian flag with the words, “Free Palestine” printed on it.
‘Reinvented’ Nick Kyrgios inspired to win new fans ahead of Saudi debut at Diriyah Tennis Cup
Australian No. 1 joins stellar field of 12 next month ahead of new season
Kyrgios: ‘I want to know that I left a mark and made a lot of new fans of the sport’
Updated 33 min 28 sec ago
DIRIYAH: Tennis superstar Nick Kyrgios admits he is hugely relishing a chance to showcase his talents to new fans of the sport in Saudi Arabia next month.
The 27-year-old Australian will visit the country for the first time to compete at the second edition of the Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Aramco, taking place just outside Riyadh Dec. 8-10.
“I’m very curious to go to a new place,” said Kyrgios.
“I’ve never been before and I’m going with my girlfriend …We’re very excited to see what it’s about. I’ve got a very close family friend who lives there, and he only speaks very highly about Saudi. I’m super excited to get there.”
Following a memorable 2022 season, the charismatic Kyrgios feels it is important to take tennis to new markets with many fans in Saudi Arabia set to watch a professional event for the first time. Kyrgios is part of a world-class field of 12 preparing for a new season’s first major in Australia with competitive tennis heading to Diriyah for three days across singles and doubles. The likes of Alexander Zverev, Danil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Cameron Norrie have also been announced in the field.
“I’m always looking forward to (playing) these sorts of events. It’s very important for the fans to be involved,” added Kyrgios.
“Personally, I love going to places where they may not know so much about tennis…to try and draw some attention and get them to enjoy it. I think that’s important. When I retire from tennis, I want to know that I left a mark and made a lot of new fans of the sport.”
The Australian No. 1’s stellar season included reaching the final at Wimbledon and the last eight at the US Open. A new mindset and fresh approach on tour have seen one of the sport’s biggest names string together his most consistent results in years, including a victory at August’s Washington Open.
“I think before the season started, I was having a conversation with myself that I wanted to kind of reinvent myself on the tour,” said Kyrgios.
“I feel like the last couple of years with Covid and everything that was going on, I really felt like I kind of lost my identity a little bit on the tennis circuit, and this year I kind of reminded everyone that I’m still one of the best players in the world and was able to do that on the big stage, obviously Wimbledon, US Open, and I also won a title. I guess I had a little moment with myself at the start.”
Kyrgios’ most memorable moment in 2022 was undoubtedly reaching his first grand slam final where he lost to Novak Djokovic in four pulsating sets in July.
“Going into the Wimbledon final, I couldn’t sleep, I think I had about two hours (of) sleep. It was everything I had ever worked for and was taught, everything my family had sacrificed, it was all for that moment. There’s no bigger stage than Wimbledon. I think (even) people that don’t know tennis, they know what Wimbledon is. If you win Wimbledon, you become tennis immortality, and I was one match away, two sets away, so it was definitely an experience that I’ll never forget. It’s made me hungrier. It’s made me want success more. I learned a lot.”
Japan aims for World Cup knockout stage against Costa Rica
Japan has never reached the quarterfinals at a World Cup, and that’s the aim this time
This is Japan’s seventh straight appearance, and it has reached the round of 16 on three occasions
Updated 26 November 2022
DOHA, Qatar: How big was Japan’s 2-1 upset of Germany in the opening round of the World Cup?
Newspapers in Japan used the term “Daikimboshi” from sumo wrestling to describe the magnitude of the surprise: when a low-ranked wrestler overpowers a grand champion.
The victory has also been compared to Japan’s 34-32 upset of powerful South Africa in the 2015 rugby World Cup in England.
Japan was the underdog against four-time champion Germany, but it will be a strong favorite in its next Group E match against Costa Rica, where a victory could move Japan into the knockout stage with a game to spare.
A loss by Costa Rica on Sunday would eliminate it from advancing. Costa Rica faces Germany in its final match and Japan goes against Spain.
Costa Rica is reeling from a 7-0 thrashing against Spain in its opener, and it’s anyone’s guess how the Ticos will respond. With a population of just over 5 million, the tiny Central American country is appearing in its sixth World Cup. It reached the quarterfinals in 2014 in Brazil.
Japan has never reached the quarterfinals at a World Cup, and that’s the aim this time. This is Japan’s seventh straight appearance, and it has reached the round of 16 on three occasions, including in Russia in 2018. It lost 3-2 in stoppage time to Belgium after leading 2-0.
It was eliminated by Paraguay on penalties in 2010, and lost to Turkiye 1-0 in 2002 when the country co-hosted the event with South Korea.
Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu has spoken often about going farther this time and breaking the “final-16 hex.”
Substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano scored late goals against Germany — they both play in Germany’s Bundesliga — to lead Japan to the upset. Asano got the winner in the 83rd minute, squeezing the ball behind German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from a very sharp angle.
Costa Rica was overwhelmed by Spain with only 28 percent of the possession. It would also face the same problem against Japan, which is able to hold the ball for long spells, and is also a quick, counterattacking threat.
“We couldn’t complete three or four passes,” Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez said of the Spain loss.
The Ticos will have to do much more against Japan.
Flora Duffy wins record fourth World Triathlon title in Abu Dhabi
Silver went to Georgia Taylor-Brown, with a first podium for Lena Meissner in third
Updated 26 November 2022
ABU DHABI: Flora Duffy became the only woman ever to win four World Triathlon titles on Friday afternoon in Abu Dhabi, confirming her status as the greatest female athlete that the sport has ever seen.
Bermuda’s Olympic hero was again able to deliver when it mattered most, navigating plenty of drama on the 40 km bike race and then easing away from the only woman who could stop her date with destiny, Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown.
Silver went to Taylor-Brown, with an excellent first podium for Lena Meissner in third. The finals meant another eventful fourth-place finish for Taylor Knibb after coming off on the bike secured her the series bronze.
“I’m really, really proud of this one,” said a beaming Duffy afterward. “It was a difficult start to the year for me coming out of the Olympics and Covid. It took a lot of work to get my mind back into it, so I’m thrilled. I smiled a few times when it was just me and Georgia…I feel like she brings me to another level. We don’t really give each other an inch and I just wanted to stay safe. When I got a little bit of a gap on the third lap of the run, it was a little sooner than I anticipated but I thought, ‘Well, gotta go now.’”
Taylor-Brown finished with the silver at the end of an exhausting campaign, and Meissner with a gutsy first-ever World Triathlon Championship Series podium ahead of Knibb. Leonie Periault ran her way into fifth, Vittoria Lopes hung on for an excellent sixth ahead of Taylor Spivey, Emma Lombardi, Miriam Casillas Garcia and Cassandre Beaugrand, rounding out the top 10.
“I gave it everything I had today,” said Taylor-Brown. “It’s been a hard few months, but I’m really proud of myself out there today, giving it everything and doing all I could. We were battling it out to the end, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I don’t think she would. I’m still learning in every race, and I still want that world title one day.”
Meissner said it would take a few days for the achievement to sink in.
“It was tough, but I got here 10 days ago, and I had good heat prep and there was lots of water and ice out there,” she said. “I just tried to stay calm and confident, and it just worked perfectly for me today.”
Meanwhile, Knibb commented: “I’m pretty shocked. There were a lot of ups and downs in the season and today. The corner was entirely my fault. I wasn’t fully processing things at that point, and it was a bit of user error and I’m sorry to Maya and Vittoria and Lena behind me for that. Hopefully I will be back here in March to go again.”
Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon
Updated 26 November 2022
Over the years, several sports events have had the privilege of being staged at the resplendent pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
From squash to tennis to most recently a 3x3 basketball tournament, a few athletes have enjoyed the rare opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.
The running community in Egypt — and beyond — has been afforded that golden chance since 2019, thanks to the introduction of the TriFactory’s Pyramids Half Marathon, which returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on Dec. 10.
Some 4,000 runners from more than 80 countries took part in the inaugural staging of the race three years ago, held across a trio of distances: full marathon, half marathon and 10km. The marathon was won by Greg Billington, an American Olympian who competed in the triathlon in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and won Paralympic gold as a guide for Brad Snyder in the visually impaired category of the paratriathlon event in Tokyo 2020.
Despite its incredible landscape, scenic coasts and great weather, Egypt is not necessarily a destination for runners from across the globe but the people behind The TriFactory are one of the main driving forces looking to change that.
Ayman Hakky, the co-founder of The TriFactory, a sports events management company specializing in endurance sports, staged Egypt’s first commercial triathlon back in 2014 in the Red Sea resort town of El Gouna.
Originally a water polo player and a footballer, a knee injury steered Hakky away from his chosen sports and pushed him toward endurance races. He fell in love with triathlon and began participating in events worldwide, in the process forming a team of amateurs who trained together in Cairo for various races. The team was fittingly called Train for Aim.
From Trinidad and Tobago to Morocco, from Portugal to the UAE, Hakky flew everywhere to participate in races, and his team eventually completed a full Ironman.
“It became very costly to do all that traveling, and I started to wonder why don’t we have this kind of quality here in Egypt?” Hakky told Arab News in an interview in Cairo.
A first step
Using the knowledge he gathered from attending proper races abroad, but without any practical experience as an organizer, Hakky staged his very first event, the Gouna Triathlon. He had no expectations and thought only the 20 or 30 people he trains with at Gezira Club would show up. Instead, 200 participants signed up from various running communities across Cairo.
“All of a sudden, it was a major start for us, and I had no intention of doing this as a business,” said Hakky. “I just made a few calls so they can close a street for us in El Gouna, and it wasn’t at a professional standard of organization at all.
“But I realized the business potential from this event. We finished this one-off event and people were already asking me, ‘What’s next?’ I realized a community has been created and these 200 people all posted on social media, and each one of them had two or three friends that wanted to come to our next event.
“So, our next event was at least double in size. Three months later, we held an event in Sahl Hasheesh and 400 people took part. Things kept doubling in size, spiraling, until we gained lots of experience.”
The TriFactory was founded in 2015 by Hakky and Mahmoud Abdelhakim, and soon they were organizing triathlons and marathons all over Egypt, from Aswan to Alexandria to Sharm El-Sheikh.
It was Abdelhakim who first got the idea to stage a marathon by the pyramids, knowing it was the natural next step for him and his partners.
Hakky was worried about the logistics of it all, the permits they would need from the government and the hassle of trying to organize something big at such an iconic location.
But they went for it, and gave it the slogan “Race through history,” reminding the runners they would be getting such a historic landmark for a backdrop. In February 2019, the Pyramids Marathon came to life, and it survived a terrible sandstorm that threatened the success of the event.
“The Pyramids Marathon was a major turning point for us. Four thousand people took part across three distances and so many different nationalities turned up. It was a great start, but it was a very difficult day for us,” reflected Hakky.
The tough weather conditions were overwhelming for Hakky and his partners, but overall, they knew they had started something special, and the participants felt it too.
“What I generally like about this event is that the course is really nice, the vibe, the people…Conditions were tough in the first one and the weather made things quite chaotic, yet everyone loved it because it was the first time we got the opportunity to run by the pyramids,” said Nayera Helmy, an amateur runner who has been an active member of the running and triathlon community in Egypt since 2013.
Helmy did not sign up for the 2020 edition of the event but returned last year and is currently getting ready for her third outing in Giza.
“When I took part in 2021, I saw how the organization massively improved. Everything that needed tweaking was taken care of,” she said.
“The course got much closer to the pyramids. Instead of having this massive uphill during the race, they reversed the direction of the route so it was more downhill for us. Everyone was cheering, a lot of participants, a lot of international runners…When you’re running, you can see the look on the faces of international runners who cannot believe they are running by the pyramids. It was so nice to see.”
From the second year, organizers made the strategic decision of scaling back the event to a half marathon, which requires fewer hours of road closures and is far easier to manage.
The demand for a full marathon in Egypt was also not very high, so since 2020, the event has comprised three distances: a half marathon, a 10km and a 5km, which opened up participation for people who were keen to run or walk a shorter distance.
“This is our fourth year. We’ve gone from strength to strength and this year, we are under the auspices of the Egyptian presidency, which is huge,” said Hakky.
With the support of the presidency and the Ministry of Sports behind them, The TriFactory has high hopes of expanding the race in the future, knowing that no major city can host a proper marathon without the backing of crucial governmental entities.
“We’re very excited about this step because we’re ambitious about the possibility of bringing it back to a full marathon in the future. We can start to aggressively promote the event abroad, so we can reach the numbers we see in events around the world,” said Hakky.
“The 4,000 participants we get is nothing compared to global numbers. Even the Beirut Marathon, which is a role model for me, attracts 50,000 participants. And Lebanon as a country has some tough circumstances.
“But the entire country is behind the event. All institutions — the military, the presidency, the tourism board — get behind it, and they lock Beirut down for a half day and they stage the marathon.”
Message from Bolt
The TriFactory prides itself on following international standards when it comes to staging its events, and that level of professionalism is what attracted so many people to sign up and brought several sponsors to knock on its doors.
Puma, its platinum sponsor this year, got its superstar ambassador Usain Bolt to post a video message wishing the Pyramids Half Marathon runners good luck and giving them some advice for race day.
“Now we are dreaming that maybe Puma can attract him to attend the event. There’s actually talk of him possibly coming,” said a hopeful Hakky.
While eight-time Olympic gold medalist Bolt might not be a shoo-in, there will be an Olympic silver medalist lining up at the pyramids this December, with Egyptian pentathlete Ahmed Elgendy, who was a runner-up in Tokyo 2020, confirming his participation.
Registered for the 10km but with the possibility of moving up to the half marathon if he feels up for it, Elgendy does not need to train over long distances in his main sport, the modern pentathlon, but says he is a runner at heart and has been keen to take part in the Pyramids Half Marathon.
“The first TriFactory event I attended was their recent Soma Bay Endurance Festival and I was really impressed by how well organized it was. I really liked the energy of the people behind TriFactory and could tell they really want to do something special,” Elgendy told Arab News.
“I’ve seen events here in Cairo where people are running between cars, which is not safe. But they’re not like that. They know what they’re doing and are trying hard to match international standards in everything. In the process, I feel they’re also educating the local community about how an event like this should be run.”
The appeal of running by the pyramids is not exclusive to visitors from abroad; it is a special occasion for locals as well.
“I haven’t even visited the pyramids since I was like 6 years old. So this is a great opportunity for me, to visit the pyramids and run there,” added Elgendy, who is not setting a specific target for himself this race but just doing it for fun.
Helmy is an experienced runner who has done both the Paris and New York marathons in the past. While taking part in such iconic long-standing events around the world has been incredible, she admits that running at home, in Egypt, has a special feeling to it.
She remembers the early days when the endurance sports scene in Cairo was in its infancy stages, where participants would complete the race and then rush back to set up water stations for those who had not finished yet. Things have massively improved since then.
“We now have a lot of opportunities to run in Egypt. It’s very nice to run with your own community. Running in international marathons abroad is very nice, but ultimately, you’re running with strangers, or just two or three people who have made the trip with you,” said Helmy.
“In Egypt, the nice thing is that you’re encouraging other runners from the community to run with you. So during a run, you can spot people whom you have personally helped get into the sport, or encouraged to participate. That’s a nice feeling to be part of that.
“Plus, it’s fun to run with people you know. So running in Egypt is always special, and it gives us a chance to run in places we don’t regularly visit (here).”
For Hakky and his partners, the goal is to establish the Pyramids Half Marathon as a staple on the international running calendar and to hit 10,000 participants (the roads around the pyramids are quite narrow and cannot handle much more than that).
Hakky dreams of a scenario in which Cairo streets can shut down for half a day so that runners can start elsewhere in the city and make their way toward a finish line at the pyramids, which would be the ultimate reward at the end of a full marathon.
“The advancements made in transportation and the underground system in Cairo (are) allowing us to dream of a scenario like that,” he added.
He also explained that “Race through history” is not just a slogan. The idea is to hold a series of running events at different historical sites across Egypt. The concept has already started to take shape as The TriFactory staged a 5km at the Saqqara Pyramid earlier this year, introducing runners to the unique Step Pyramid of Djoser.
In total, The TriFactory holds between 10 to 15 events annually, with lots of room for growth. But the heart of the business definitely lies on the Giza Plateau.
“The Pyramids Half Marathon has become our biggest event for sure in terms of size and exposure and everything. So long-term, we want to invest more effort in this event because it has become our flagship event,” he concluded.
The deadline for registration for the Pyramids Half Marathon is Nov. 30. You can sign up for the event here.