Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad clash in first Classico of the Roshn Saudi League season

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad clash in first Classico of the Roshn Saudi League season
Al-Nassr will host Al-Ittihad at a sold-out Mrsool Park. (Twitter: @AlNassrFC_EN)
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Updated 01 October 2022

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad clash in first Classico of the Roshn Saudi League season

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad clash in first Classico of the Roshn Saudi League season
  • he match is too early in the season to decide matters, but coaches Rudi Garcia and Nuno Santo will be under scrutiny in their new roles

As with most domestic competitions around the world, this has been a stop-and-start season for the Roshn Saudi League, but the action moves up a level with Sunday’s Classico as Al-Nassr host Al-Ittihad at a sold-out Mrsool Park.

It is the first clash between two of the Kingdom’s giants in this campaign so far, and while it will not decide anything, it will be a fascinating meeting on many levels.

After four games so far, the top four from last season are in the top four positions at the moment. Al-Shabab and Al-Hilal both have a maximum of 12 points (and their meeting a week later will be something to witness). Ittihad are third with 10, and like the top two have yet to concede a goal, and then come Al-Nassr with nine points. Assuming that the top two both extend their winning streak on Sunday then either Al-Ittihad or Al-Nassr are going to find themselves already with some ground to make up if they end up losing.

Yet it is still early days, with two coaches who are still getting two grips with football in Saudi Arabia ahead of their first big test. And it is those coaches who provide many of the talking points and should ensure that there are plenty of observers around the world.

Nuno Santo moved to Jeddah in the summer, following in the footsteps of Rudi Garcia who arrived to take charge of Al-Nassr a few weeks earlier. Together, these two have managed some big clubs in Europe including Valencia, Porto, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur, Roma, Marseille and Lyon. The Portuguese and the Frenchman may have different styles and philosophies but the remit is very much the same — to bring the league trophy back.

For Garcia, there is a little less pressure in that regard as it was only 2019 since Al-Nassr were last champions but he has brought in some big stars and bosses will be expecting a return. It could be an issue this weekend with some serious air miles needed to get those players back to Riyadh after representing their homelands in far-flung locations.

Goalkeeper David Ospina was in the US as Colombia beat Guatemala 4-1 in New Jersey and then headed to California to play in the 3-2 win over Mexico. It is a long way back and the former Arsenal and Napoli star only reported for training on Friday along with full-back Ghislain Konan, who played in France as the Ivory Coast defeated Togo and Guinea. Then there is Vincent Aboubakar. The striker was in action for Cameroon in South Korea after taking on Uzbekistan earlier, and picked up a knock. It remains to be seen if this year’s AFCON top scorer can start on Sunday.

Al-Nassr will need all their firepower including Talisca, who has recently released a rap album. The Brazilian played in the past two games in which the Yellows have looked more threatening in attack, with the most recent outing a 4-0 win over Al-Batin. It was a fluid display with the attacking midfielder getting forward well to support Aboubakar. With Al-Ittihad defensively solid under Santo — with four clean sheets out of four — it could well be that chances are at a premium in this Classico.

The Portuguese boss is perhaps under a bit more pressure than his counterpart as Al-Ittihad were last champions in 2009 and last year threw away the title after having a double-digit lead at the top of the table.

In the short-term, there are some worries. Brazilian attacker Romarinho may miss the game through injury and there are also questions about Portuguese winger Helder Costa. Both face late fitness tests. Neither have scored yet this season with half of their six goals coming from defenders, and there is better news in that regard. Center-back Ahmed Hegazy has declared himself fit. There were worries when the former West Bromwich Albion star left the pitch after an hour of Egypt’s 3-0 win over Liberia on Tuesday, but he is set to start.

Compatriot Tarek Hamed has added even more solidity to the midfield and returns from Egyptian duty fit and ready for action. It will be up to these two to keep an eye on Aboubakar and Talisca.

Then there is Abderrazak Hamdallah, who was released by Al-Nassr late last year and then ended up signing for Al-Ittihad. There is still plenty of bad feeling around the whole deal but he is now back in the team and looking to become a late bolter for Morocco at the World Cup. To have a chance of persuading new coach of the Atlas Lions Walid Regragui, who is looking to strengthen his front line, Hamdallah is going to need to start banging in the goals in the next few weeks.

That may not be enough and similarly this latest Classico will not decide anything in terms of titles either. It will, however, give an indicator of where Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad are at this early stage under these two famous European coaches. It should be quite the clash.


Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid
Updated 58 min 58 sec ago

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid

Saudi Arabia set to host 2027 Asian Cup after India withdraws bid
  • Bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October
  • The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia is set to host the 2027 Asian Cup after India withdrew its bid.
The Asian Football Confederation issued a statement Monday saying the All Indian Football Federation had withdrawn from the host selection process. No reason was published.
The bids from India and Saudi Arabia had been shortlisted by the AFC’s executive committee in October and the final decision was expected to be made at a regional congress in February. Saudi Arabia is now the only candidate to host the 2027 tournament.
The 2023 Asian Cup will be played in Qatar after China withdrew as host. Qatar, which is hosting the ongoing World Cup, has already staged the Asian Cup twice.
The Saudis started their World Cup campaign in Qatar with a stunning 2-1 upset win over Argentina, but didn’t advance to the knockout stages after back-to-back losses to Poland and Mexico in Group C. Argentina topped the group and then edged Australia in the Round of 16 to qualify for the quarterfinals.


Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi
Updated 05 December 2022

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi

Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster crowned winners at Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi
  • Event in Al-Wathba saw athletes compete from more than 80 countries

ABU DHABI: Sergei Perelygin and Lindsay Webster have been crowned Spartan World Champions after conquering an all-new obstacle course in Al-Wathba to beat the world’s best athletes at the weekend.

The event — only the second time it has been held outside the US — was organized by Abu Dhabi Sports Council in partnership with Spartan, which is the world’s leading endurance sports and wellness brand.

Taking place at Al-Wathba Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, the race saw international athletes from more than 80 countries compete for the men’s and women’s individual World Championship Super, with more than $125,000 in prize money on offer.

On Saturday, athletes from both categories tackled a number of challenging obstacles, including A-Frame Cargo, Atlas Carry and Ape Hanger.

Perelygin, who settled for an impressive second place in last year’s race, won the Men’s Elite 2022 title following the completion of the 10 km race in a time of 1 hour, 3 minutes, 47 seconds. The Russian beat his rival Ryan Atkins by 0.12 seconds, who achieved a time of 1:03:59.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a Spartan World Champion since I first began competing back in 2015,” said Perelygin. “I’m very happy as it’s only my second world championship. Last year was very hard to compete against Ryan Atkins, he pushed me as much as I pushed him. Last year he got the finish but this year it was my turn. If you believe in your dreams, it can happen.”

The women’s category saw Canadian Webster victorious in 1:12:49 to claim her fourth title, whilst Slovakian and European Spartan Champion, Ezster Hortobagyiova, finished second in 1:14:52.

“This year’s race felt a lot shorter. I thought the terrain was going to be equally as tough but it was sufficiently easier,” said Webster. “I feel relieved, it’s been a big lead-up to this event so it felt really good to get out there. We’re excited to be back in Abu Dhabi, they completely spoil athletes here and take really great care of you.”

Suhail Abdulla Alareefi, executive director of the event sector at Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “It’s the second year Abu Dhabi has held the Spartan World Championship and we’re extremely proud of the large and diverse participation from both men and women. It’s been a tremendous turnout. Hosting such an established brand within the region further cements our efforts to encourage the community to get fit and take part in activities like Spartan.”

Alareefi and Joe De Sena, CEO and founder of Spartan, presented the winners and runners up from each category with their awards. “Being back in Abu Dhabi for this year’s Spartan World Championship and be among this ever-growing community is tremendously exciting,” said De Sena.

In addition to the two elite races, the event also showcased the Age Group World Championship with winners crowned across 10 categories, from ages 14 to over 60.


Rugby in Mideast thriving on and off the pitch

Rugby in Mideast thriving on and off the pitch
Updated 05 December 2022

Rugby in Mideast thriving on and off the pitch

Rugby in Mideast thriving on and off the pitch
  • Dubai 7s tourney continues to raise the sport’s profile in the region

DUBAI: The best 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams in the world took to the pitch at this year’s Emirates Dubai 7s as part of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series calendar, and there is compelling evidence that the annual event is helping to grow the game both on and off the pitch in the region.

While the global stars of this format of the game were wowing huge crowds at the Sevens Stadium, a busy schedule of age-group and invitational tournaments alongside the international fixtures painted a healthy picture of participation on the local level.

Off the pitch, four global superstars of rugby this year turned the spotlight away from the action to highlight the possibilities on offer on the sidelines.

South African World cup winner Bryan Habana, Ireland and Lions hero Brian O’Driscoll, England women’s World Cup winner Nolli Waterman and US sensation Abby Gustaitis all participated in this year’s HSBC World of Opportunity Programme, the latest step in HSBC’s long-term commitment to creating opportunity for the next generation.

This year the initiative is helping local teams in Dubai to further integrate women into sports beyond grassroot levels. Throughout the National Day weekend, there were a series of workshops aimed at showcasing the various roles available within the world of sport, partnered by World Rugby.

Waterman, who has carved out an impressive post-playing career as a commentator, hosted one session giving tips on podcasting, and she co-hosted another with Springbok superstar turned broadcaster Habana which offered essential tools on commentating. A third session created a mock press conference with Ireland legend O’Driscoll.

Waterman, a multiple Six Nations champion who also represented Team GB at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, said: “Obviously it is the dream of a lot of youngsters to play on the pitch in their country’s colors, or to line up alongside their friends.

“But there are so many opportunities to experience what it is all about to be part of a world-class event as a player, coach, referee, in media or administration or other roles,” added the former England fullback who scored a try on her way to glory in the 2014 World Cup final.

“The HSBC World of Opportunity initiative aims to give young people the opportunity to experience firsthand all the roles and responsibilities behind the running of such a brilliant tournament, and the young people on the program are absolutely thriving on the opportunity.”

Waterman knows from experience the popularity of the tournament, having turned out previously to represent England in Dubai. And returning in her ambassadorial role, she highlighted the rising levels of interest across the demographic in the UAE. “Dubai definitely has a place in my heart, I used to come here as a player and it is great to see the talent on the field.

“There is real evidence of the global spread of the game and also seeing the diversity in the crowd, the outfits and everything, it is obvious that men, women, boys and girls are all embracing rugby sevens and enjoying what it is about.

“It is fantastic to see the rise in interest across the region, not just in terms of the players playing the game but also that spread of fans. A lot of locals are coming here and enjoying themselves and embracing that wonderful atmosphere that sevens has to offer.

“The program this year also helps to further engage and inspire so many people about the opportunities around the game. With those players and people around rugby being passionate about the sport, it will only continue to grow.”


Newcastle arrive in Riyadh for Diriyah Season Cup 

Newcastle arrive in Riyadh for Diriyah Season Cup 
Updated 05 December 2022

Newcastle arrive in Riyadh for Diriyah Season Cup 

Newcastle arrive in Riyadh for Diriyah Season Cup 
  • Saudi Professional League champions Al-Hilal will face-off against an impressive Magpies side who have not been beaten since August

RIYADH: Newcastle United arrived in Riyadh today to face Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal next Thursday for the Diriyah Season Cup.

The match will be held at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in Al-Malaz as part of the second edition of Diriyah Season.

Saudi Public Investment Fund-owned Newcastle will hold a training camp that will last until Dec. 10 .

Saudi Professional League champions Al-Hilal will face-off against an impressive Magpies side who have not been beaten since August, and who currently sit third in the Premier League.

This is the second time the Magpies have held a training camp in the Kingdom. In January they beat Al-Ittihad 2-1 in a friendly in Jeddah.

Visitors and fans of sports and football from inside and outside the Kingdom can buy tickets for the Diriyah Season Cup match through the official website https://diriyahseason.sa/ar.


England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters

England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters
Updated 05 December 2022

England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters

England subdue Senegal to book France clash in World Cup quarters
  • Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time
  • Bukayo Saka added a third, but it was Jude Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed England to turn the tide

AL KHOR: England set up a titanic World Cup quarter-final against holders France as Jude Bellingham’s masterclass inspired a 3-0 win against Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday.
Gareth Southgate’s side survived a nervous start at the Al Bayt Stadium before Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane put Senegal to the sword with a pair of clinical finishes before half-time.
Bukayo Saka scored England’s third, but it was Bellingham’s prodigious work-rate and burgeoning quality in possession that allowed them to turn the tide.
Bellingham set up Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup.
Kane has now netted 11 times at major tournaments, overtaking Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in those competitions.
But at the tender age of 19, it is Bellingham who has emerged as England’s driving force.
He is the first teenager to assist in a World Cup knockout stage game since 1966, having already announced his arrival on the global stage by netting his first England goal in the 6-2 rout of Iran in their group opener.
Just two years after he was playing in the English second tier with Birmingham, the precocious Bellingham was totally unfazed against Senegal in the biggest game of his life.
England will need another command performance from Bellingham if they are to extend their stay in Qatar beyond the last eight.
Eyeing a third successive semifinal appearance at major tournaments, England will return to the Al Khor desert on Saturday to take on the red-hot Kylian Mbappe and company after France brushed aside Poland 3-1 on Sunday.
Euro 2020 runners-up England have won only one of their last eight meetings with France, who pose a significant threat to their hopes of winning a first major title for 56 years.
The depth of attacking talent available to Southgate could be crucial and, defending his decision to drop Marcus Rashford for Saka despite the forward’s double against Wales, he boasted “we have an embarrassment of riches in all areas of the pitch.”
After a rocky opening when they passed too slowly and looked anxious at the back, England hit their stride to show why Southgate has such confidence in them.
Fuelled by the incessant drumming from their vibrant fans, African champions Senegal initially showed no fear as they tested England’s composure with a high press.
Senegal squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead when Harry Maguire gave the ball away and Boulaye Dia’s volley deflected off John Stones into Ismaila Sarr’s path, only for the Watford forward to blaze over from close-range.
Preying on England’s nerves, Sarr harried Saka and Dia seized the loose ball, forcing a good save from Jordan Pickford with a fierce drive.
That proved the turning point as England snatched the lead against the run of play in the 38th minute.
Bellingham sprinted onto Harry Kane’s incisive pass into the Senegal area and clipped a precise cutback into the path of Liverpool midfielder Henderson, who guided his low strike past Edouard Mendy from 12 yards.
Henderson’s goal served as a jolt of adrenaline that coursed through England as they doubled their lead seconds before the interval.
Bellingham was the catalyst with his well-timed tackle and a crisp pass to Foden, whose perfectly-weighted lay-off allowed Kane to race clear for a clinical finish.
England strolled through the second half and, repaying Southgate’s faith, Saka put the result beyond doubt in the 57th minute.
Foden made a dynamic run down the left and Saka reached his cross to flick a clever effort over Mendy from close-range.