Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch

Exclusive Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch
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Lamia Bahaian of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation with Fatma Samoura, the first female Secretary General of FIFA. (SAFF)
Exclusive Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch
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Al-Nassr players celebrate during their victory over Sama in the first ever Saudi Women’s Premier League match. (SAFF)
Exclusive Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch
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The Saudi Women’s Premier League launched on Thursday, Oct. 13. (SAFF)
Exclusive Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch
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Lamia Bahaian, center, says the ‘sky’s the limit’ for Saudi women’s football. (SAFF)
Exclusive Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch
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Lamia Bahaian, right, with Saudi national team coach Monika Staab and SAFF’s Aalia Al-Rasheed and Adwa Al-Arifi. (SAFF)
Exclusive Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch
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Lamia Bahaian, right, with Saudi national team coach Monika Staab. (SAFF)
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Updated 20 October 2022
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Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch

Lamia Bahaian: ‘Limitless ambition’ for women’s football in Saudi Arabia after Premier League launch
  • SAFF supervisor and board member spoke exclusively to Arab News about the new competition and the road ahead

Last Thursday football history was made in the Kingdom when the first-ever Saudi Women’s Premier League fixture took place between Al-Nassr and Sama at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium’s reserve pitch in Riyadh.

Over the following two days, six other teams — Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab, Al-Yamamah and Eastern Flames — made their bows in the new competition organized by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.

Arab News spoke exclusively to Lamia Bahaian, SAFF Women’s Football Department supervisor and board member, to get her thoughts on the landmark moment for Saudi sport.

Arab News: Tell us what this launch of the Women’s Premier League means to the federation and Saudi football?

Lamia Bahaian: I can confidently speak on behalf of everyone at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation that we were all extremely proud to finally see the moment come to life. The start of the premier league marked another historic milestone in the women’s game in Saudi Arabia. It forms part of our detailed strategy to grow the women’s game to new heights. We have clear set goals, and we are working tirelessly every day to achieve them. Thursday the 13th of October 2022 will go down in history for all the players and everyone who works tirelessly behind the scenes.

AN: In 2020 there was the Women’s Football League by Sports For All and in 2021 there was the Regional Football League. What lessons were learned from those two competitions that led to setting up the premier league?

LB: The 2020 Women’s Football League was organized by the Sports For All Federation under technical supervision from SAFF. It set great foundations for what was to come next. While it was a 9-aside community league, it still welcomed over 600 players from 24 teams, which are massive numbers.

We then organised our first 11-aside professional league, the SAFF Regional Women’s Football League, welcoming 16 teams across Riyadh, Jeddah and Damam and over 450 players. We adopted an interesting format where we crowned three regional champions, and then hosted the national championship in an eight-team knockout competition in Jeddah with Al-Mamlaka claiming the title. 

Thanks to the leadership unconditional support and the Board of Directors’ trust in the future of women’s football, we were able to remarkably grow a community league in 2020 and a regional league last year to the Premier League in just over two years. Next month, we look forward to even welcoming the First Division League, where 17 teams will compete, taking the total number of teams across both competitions to 25! The champion from the First Division will make its way up to the Premier League, replacing the bottom placed team.




Lamia Bahaian says the ‘sky’s the limit’ for Saudi women’s football. (SAFF)

AN: How much of a benefit is it getting the established Saudi clubs like Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab involved in the new league?

LB: The impact is huge on every level and cannot be underestimated. It represents a massive sign of commitment and trust from the wider game that women’s football is well and truly here to stay. And of course, the clubs help attract greater audiences and promote the women’s game to the masses which will hopefully inspire many young girls along the way to take up football as a profession.

AN: How do you rate the standard of players in the new premier league?

LB: The players have shown a fantastic level of football in the past couple of years and continue to surprise us each time. Whenever I speak to our technical staff, they are always full of praise of the standards being set every day. Our girls are extremely passionate about the game and it clearly shows on the pitch as they progress week in, week out. We believe with all the support we have, and the more minutes players get, the standard will continue to grow.

AN: Are there any particular players that you think have a big future in the Premier League?

LB: There are plenty of promising talent across all teams, from goalkeepers to rock-solid defenders to creative midfielders and goal poachers. We’ve been proud to see the levels go up from last year’s competition. There is a lot for Saudi football fans to be excited about and we invite fans to purchase their tickets to see for themselves. They are all hungry to put in their best performances and prove themselves over the next four months for a chance to feature in the national team.

AN: Tell us about the programs that the SAFF have set up to produce local coaches and referees?

LB: We are establishing a 360-degree ecosystem for women’s football in Saudi Arabia, and referees and coaches are an integral part to this transformation. In a short period, the results are staggering with over 900 D-, C- and B-licensed coaches and 49 qualified referees. Earlier this year, we hosted our first AFC B-License Coaching Course. Our national team head coach Monika Staab is playing a massive role in this growth. She arrived (in) Saudi Arabia last year with a wealth of experience growing the women’s game across the globe and everyone is learning from her on a daily basis.

AN: What sort of resources and facilities for training and matches can the new women’s football teams expect in the coming years?

LB: There has been rapid growth in women’s football, which mirrors much of the transformation across the Kingdom in many areas of life under the country’s leadership. All the foundations (are) laid for an exciting future ahead built upon a long-term strategy with clear player pathway, strong governance, competitions for every level, embracing technology and empowering people within the ecosystem.

Today, matches are being played at formal Ministry of Sport facilities for matches and are welcoming hundreds of fans. The opening weekend Jeddah derby between Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli at the King Abdullah Sports City outdoor pitch was a sell-out, with fans across all age groups passionately getting behind their teams throughout the full length of the match. It was a truly magnificent scene, and we look forward to witnessing great atmospheres week in, week out.

AN: Thanks to the rise of women’s football clubs in Saudi, as well as the role of coach Monika Staab, the Saudi women’s national team is improving rapidly. Please comment on the recent historic matches against Bhutan in Saudi?

LB: While the matches against the Maldives and Seychelles (in February) made waves and captured the world’s attention, I think the two friendlies against Bhutan last month were equally as significant and impactful. I cannot put my feelings into words, but all I can (say) is that playing on Saudi soil was a massive source of pride for everyone involved in the women’s game across the country.

The matches were even exciting to watch. We came back from a 3-1 deficit in the first match to snatch a draw in the final minutes, in a true showcase of the team’s passion and hunger. We came up against a tough Bhutan team in the second encounter, and while we conceded a 4-2 defeat, the girls left the pitch with their heads held high following their strong performances.

AN: Will the Women’s Premier League have foreign players in it?

LB: We are proud the league is now welcoming interest from players (all) over the world. We were blown away by this and it really shows the great progress we’ve achieved over the past (few) years. We now have players from different parts of the world representing the clubs, from the Gulf and Middle Eastern (region), and we already have some from Brazil, Colombia and Germany.

We are extremely excited about their presence and welcomed them to the Kingdom with open  arms. We know they are equally as excited to join us in creating history for women’s football in Saudi. We hope they don’t just enjoy competing in our league in front of Saudi football fans, but also to discover different parts of our beautiful country. Their presence will undoubtedly positively impact the overall level and competition of the league.

AN: Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab will meet on Friday in the standout match of the second weekend, and first big Riyadh Derby of the Womens’s Premier League. Tell us about that match?

LB: Every weekend welcomes great matches across Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. If the first week is anything to go by then we’re in for an exciting and competitive league. While Al Nassr and Al Shabab will be a great match to follow, other big games are taking place this weekend such Al-Hilal vs Al-Yamamah, Al-Ittihad vs Shua'alat Alsharqiah [Eastern Flames] and Al-Ahli vs Sama. We wish all teams the very best of luck and I am sure fans are in for a treat and a great display of football.

AN: What is the feeling around the games that have taken place so far and has it been as expected from the women's teams and the federation?

LB: We are not just proud of the development of the women’s game, but the pace in which is has grown over the last few years. We are not surprised at all by the levels they have shown as they are extremely passionate about football. They live and breathe the game, and you could tell how happy they are to be doing what they love on the pitch. It brings them even more joy to see the fans in the stands and enjoying the spectacle. We are expecting even more because we have full trust in their potential and know the levels they can reach. 

As a key pillar in the Saudi Football Transformation strategy, the federation has laid out clear plans and set ambitious KPIs across all areas of women’s football. We are hoping to play host to even more clubs in the coming years, welcome more local and overseas players and continue our positive upwards trajectory of performance levels.

AN: What does the future hold for women’s football in Saudi Arabia, both at club level and for the national team?

LB:

Our Women’s Football Department has come a long way since its establishment three years ago. Today it is headed up by Aalia Al-Rasheed who is doing an exceptional job leading a 15-strong team. The team deserve massive credit for the work they are doing towards accelerating the transformation we are on.

We have limitless ambitions and want to give the women’s football the platform it deserves. Our main aim is to inspire girls along the way, and we are proud of what we’ve achieved so far. We are continuously recruiting world-class experts in coaching and refereeing so we can compete on the biggest global stages. Our mission is to increase the number of clubs on an annual basis and develop competitions across all age groups. Following the historic launch of our national team last year, our next step is to now establish national teams across different age groups and represent the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in regional and international competitions. 

We are truly living in exciting times for women’s football in Saudi Arabia, and the best is yet to come. 


India captain Sharma looks forward to ‘jam packed’ venues when Cricket World Cup starts

India captain Sharma looks forward to ‘jam packed’ venues when Cricket World Cup starts
Updated 8 sec ago
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India captain Sharma looks forward to ‘jam packed’ venues when Cricket World Cup starts

India captain Sharma looks forward to ‘jam packed’ venues when Cricket World Cup starts
  • 10 venues across cricket-mad India will host the World Cup matches from November 5-19
  • Pakistan and India will lock horns on Oct. 14 for an electrifying clash in Ahmedabad

AHMEDABAD: The 10 team captains at the Cricket World Cup took part in a photo shoot at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Wednesday on the eve of the tournament, with India’s Rohit Sharma looking forward to seeing the venue “jam packed” with home fans.
The tournament kicks off on Thursday with England playing New Zealand at the Narendra Modi Stadium in a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final. While 10 venues across India will host games, this year’s final will also be played at the 134,000-seater in Ahmedabad on Nov. 19.
Sharma is under immense pressure to emulate his countryman MS Dhoni’s achievement in 2011 and lift the trophy in November. It has been a decade since cricket-mad India won an ICC trophy.
“Winning the ODI World Cup is something that I have always dreamt of growing up as a child,” Sharma said. “Indian fans are going to love this tournament here. This stadium is going to be jam packed because people in India love their team, but they love their cricket as well. It is going to be a great tournament.”
The highlight of the tournament, all captains agreed, will undoubtedly be the much-anticipated game between archrivals India and Pakistan in Ahmedabad on Oct. 14, which is sure to draw a massive global audience.
“There aren’t too many events where half the world tunes in to watch, and that is India playing Pakistan in a World Cup for you,” Australia captain Pat Cummins said. “Even if you are personally not involved, you watch and feel the passion around the game. There will be easily over 100,000 people here.”
It is the first time in seven years that a Pakistan team is visiting India, and captain Babar Azam was impressed by the reception his team has received.
“We were not expecting this, but the way Indian people have responded to us, everyone in our team has enjoyed it,” Azam said. “We have been in Hyderabad for a week, but it feels like we are at home. It is a golden opportunity for us to give 100 percent and enjoy this tournament.”
 


Saudi Arabia announces bid to host World Cup in 2034

The King Abdullah International Stadium at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. (@saudiFF)
The King Abdullah International Stadium at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. (@saudiFF)
Updated 6 min 23 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia announces bid to host World Cup in 2034

The King Abdullah International Stadium at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. (@saudiFF)
  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emphasized that Saudi Arabia’s desire to bid for the 2034 FIFA World Cup is a reflection of the Kingdom’s progress in all sectors

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday its intention to bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup.
Led by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, the bid for 2034 intends to deliver a world-class tournament and will draw inspiration from Saudi Arabia’s ongoing social and economic transformation and the Kingdom’s deep-rooted passion for football.

Saudi Arabia’s inaugural bid is backed by the Kingdom’s growing experience of hosting world-class football events and its ongoing plans to welcome fans across the world to the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

Reflecting on the intention to bid, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emphasized that Saudi Arabia’s desire to bid for the 2034 FIFA World Cup is a reflection of the Kingdom’s progress in all sectors.

The Kingdom has quickly emerged as a leading hub and an international destination for hosting major events thanks to its rich cultural heritage, economic strength, and the ambition of its people.

Under the Saudi Vision 2030, sport is playing a significant role in contributing to the country’s economic growth and enhancing the quality of life for all and holds a unique ability to unite and bring different cultures together.

A renowned host for some of the biggest global sports events since 2018, Saudi Arabia has been home to over 50 international events for both male and female athletes including football, motorsports, tennis, equestrian, esports and golf.

Saudi Arabia has qualified for the iconic tournament on six occasions since 1994 — most recently in 2022 — when the Green Falcons secured a historic victory over eventual champions Argentina.

Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki said: “Hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2034 would help us achieve our dream of becoming a leading nation in world sport and would mark a significant milestone in the country’s transformation. As an emerging and welcoming home for all sports, we believe that hosting a FIFA World Cup is a natural next step in our football journey.”

Yasser Al-Misehal, President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, stated: “We believe the time is right for Saudi Arabia to host the FIFA World Cup.

“Our bid is driven by a love for the game and a desire to see it grow in every corner of the world. We want to celebrate our football culture and share our country with the world.

“We are embracing Saudi Arabia’s enthusiasm for innovation and growth as we make our bid for this iconic tournament; the Kingdom’s transformation journey is the driving force behind our bid. We are committed to hosting an exceptional event that celebrates the game, captivates players and fans, and inspires future generations.

“To be in a position to bid to host a FIFA World Cup is only possible with the full support of the Kingdom’s leadership and we thank them for their continued committed to drive the country forward and open up new opportunities,” Al-Misehal added.

As the FIFA World Cup expands to a 48-team tournament from 2026 onwards, tournament logistics are front of mind for players, officials, and fans. Saudi Arabia will host all matches in the Kingdom, streamlining travel, optimizing match scheduling, and providing unique fan experiences across host venues and cities.

A young and vibrant nation with over 70 percent of its population under the age of 35, Saudi Arabia is also home to one of the strongest leagues in Asia, the Saudi Pro League. Welcoming and engaging fans from across the globe, the league is home to some of the best Saudi talent and international star players from over 45 different countries.

SAFF’s commitment to invest and grow the game at every level across the men’s and women’s game is highlighted by recent notable achievements including winning the men’s U-23 AFC Asian Cup, 160 percent increase in youth football investment, opening 18 youth regional training centers, increasing registered coaches from 750 in 2018 to over 5,500 today, and witnessing an increase of 56 percent and 86 percent in registered male and female players respectively since 2021.

Saudi Arabia’s ambition to grow the game and create new opportunities across the ecosystem is equaled in the women’s game. Since 2019, SAFF has successfully established a senior women’s and U-17 national teams, two professional women’s leagues featuring 38 clubs, and a school girls league which welcomed over 48,000 girls in its first week. In just 2 years, there has also been an 800 percent growth in the number of female coaches.


Morocco, Spain and Portugal to host 2030 World Cup, three games in S America

Morocco, Spain and Portugal to host 2030 World Cup, three games in S America
Updated 04 October 2023
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Morocco, Spain and Portugal to host 2030 World Cup, three games in S America

Morocco, Spain and Portugal to host 2030 World Cup, three games in S America
  • Joint bid from Morocco, Portugal and Spain was the sole candidate to host the tournament
  • Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay will host the opening matches to mark the tournament’s centenary

Morocco, Spain and Portugal have been named hosts of the 2030 World Cup, while Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay will host the opening matches to mark the tournament’s centenary, FIFA said on Wednesday.
The joint bid from Morocco, Portugal and Spain was the sole candidate to host the tournament. The inaugural World Cup in 1930 was held in Uruguay and won by the hosts.
It marks the first time the World Cup will be staged across three continents and six countries.
“The FIFA Council unanimously agreed that the sole candidacy will be the combined bid of Morocco, Portugal, and Spain, which will host the event in 2030 and qualify automatically from the existing slot allocation,” FIFA said in a statement.
“Additionally, having taken into account the historical context of the first-ever FIFA World Cup, the FIFA Council further unanimously agreed to host a unique centenary celebration ceremony in the country’s capital, Montevideo... as well as three World Cup matches in Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay respectively.”
The 2022 World Cup was held in Qatar. Argentina are the defending champions.


Lilia Vu ‘super-excited’ to play Aramco Team Series presented by PIF in Hong Kong

Lilia Vu ‘super-excited’ to play Aramco Team Series presented by PIF in Hong Kong
Updated 55 min 1 sec ago
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Lilia Vu ‘super-excited’ to play Aramco Team Series presented by PIF in Hong Kong

Lilia Vu ‘super-excited’ to play Aramco Team Series presented by PIF in Hong Kong
  • American, 25, will make debut in grandfather’s birthplace on Oct. 6-8
  • Joining Rose Zhang and Vu in Hong Kong from the European Solheim Cup side are Aramco Florida champion Carlota Ciganda and Caroline Hedwall

HONG KONG: Women’s world No. 1 golfer Lilia Vu said Hong Kong “feels like home” as she prepared to make her debut in her grandfather’s birthplace. 

Vu, 25, will aim to maintain her fabulous form at the Aramco Team Series presented by PIF — Hong Kong, which takes place at Hong Kong Golf Club from Oct. 6 to 8. 

The American star, who won her first two major championships at the Chevron Championship and the British Open this year, added that she was “super-excited” about her inaugural appearance in Hong Kong. 

She said: “My first impression (of Hong Kong) is that it kind of feels like home. My grandpa is originally from Hong Kong. I think it’s not that hard to adjust to Hong Kong besides the weather since I’m from California, and I’m just going to have a good time this week. 

“I haven’t played any golf course quite like it. It’s a little hot here, so I’ll just have to stop being a wimp and adjust to it. But it’s been really fun to play.” 

Vu noted that her stunning success this year had taken her by surprise. 

“It’s just been kind of crazy for me. I think it all happened so fast, and I didn’t think my golf career would take off in this way. 

“I think it’s been very up and down, and for it to be at the magnitude it is now has really just been crazy, and I’m very grateful for all of it and the journey,” she added. 

Vu pointed out that she was not letting her new status as the best women’s golfer on the planet go to her head. 

She said: “I try not to think about (being world No. 1) too much. I think if I do, then it kind of controls you. 

“And that’s not how I became number one. I just played golf and let whatever happened, happen and trust that I can play my best. And then I happened to be world number one. And I don’t really change my mindset after becoming that. I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing because, clearly, it’s been working.” 

The Californian, who turned professional in 2019, added: “I kind of have a one-track mind. Like wherever I am at that moment, I’m trying to win that tournament. 

“I never try to think too far ahead, so, if I’m here, I’m focusing on this tournament.” 

Vu was unfazed by the prospect of being a captain at the Hong Kong event. 

She said: “The team (aspect) takes the weight off you, so I’m really excited to have people around me this week competing in Hong Kong. This is my first time playing in this event, so I’m super-excited. I will try and keep the group in a light mood.  

“I usually play and have a lot of fun, that’s when I play my best. I’m going to try and keep the tournament really light, so I just hope everybody has a good time.” 

Also among the star-studded field are 20-year-old golf sensation Rose Zhang and world No. 3 Jin Young Ko. 

The Aramco Team Series Hong Kong follows a dramatic Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin in Spain last month, which ended 14-all between the American and European sides. Vu posted a 1-3-0 record, and Zhang, who made her Solheim Cup debut, finished with a 0-2-1 for the week. 

Joining Zhang and Vu in Hong Kong from the European side are Aramco Florida champion Carlota Ciganda and Caroline Hedwall. Ciganda secured the crucial point to help Team Europe retain the Solheim Cup by defeating Aramco London champion Nelly Korda in their singles match on the final day. She went undefeated at 4-0-0 for an impressive week in Spain. 

Accompanying Ciganda is fellow European Hedwall, who defeated American Ally Ewing in a decisive Sunday singles match, concluding the week with a 1-1-0 record. 


Cricket World Cup picks up where it left off, with England against New Zealand

Cricket World Cup picks up where it left off, with England against New Zealand
Updated 04 October 2023
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Cricket World Cup picks up where it left off, with England against New Zealand

Cricket World Cup picks up where it left off, with England against New Zealand
  • New Zealand and England were part of the most dramatic finish ever to a cricket World Cup final in 2019
  • Both sides will face each other on Thursday at the 134,000-seater Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad

AHMEDABAD: After combining to produce the most dramatic finish ever to a Cricket World Cup, England and New Zealand will meet again this time to open the 2023 edition in India.
England was awarded its first title four years ago at Lord’s on a contentious countback against the New Zealanders after the final finished tied and a so-called Super Over also failed to separate the teams.
The tiebreaker was a heavily derided and subsequently dumped countback of boundaries, giving England the narrowest of victories as it hosted the pinnacle competition in cricket’s one-day format for the fifth time.
The defending champions and runners-up will get the six-week tournament started Thursday at the 134,000-seater Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. This same venue will host the highly anticipated India-Pakistan showdown on Oct. 14 and the final on Nov. 19.
Top-ranked England arrived in India aiming to be just the third team — following West Indies (1975 and ‘79) and Australia (1999, 2003 and ‘07) — to win back-to- back ODI World Cups.
Jos Buttler has taken over from 2019 skipper Eoin Morgan, but England’s attacking approach – high risk, high reward – remains the same.
Ben Stokes returned from his short-lived ODI retirement to rejoin the likes of Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes – all players who can play multiple rules, thus allowing the batting to run deep.
England is coming off a series win over New Zealand at home last month, and a four-wicket win over Bangladesh in an unofficial warmup at Guwahati on Monday.
“We had a valuable outing in terms of bowlers getting to bowl and some batters getting time in the middle,” Ali said after the win over Bangladesh. “We are ready. It’s going to be a massive game (against New Zealand) ... They’re a dangerous side.”
Stokes is back as a specialist batter. Slotting in at No. 4, Stokes scored 182 from 124 balls in the series-clinching third game against New Zealand last month at The Oval, where England won by a thumping 181 runs.
Stokes was the key player in England’s victory in the 2019 final and his return to ODI duty only bolsters his team’s chances of back-to-back titles. However, he is not certain to play against New Zealand because of a sore hip.
Buttler, speaking ahead of his side’s final training session, said: “He’s got a slight niggle with his hip, but fingers crossed that it’ll be good news for us. We’ll see.”
England is spoilt for choices in terms of batting power, with Harry Brook’s chances of breaking into the starting XI linked to Joe Root’s form. The veteran Root has been a long-term leader in the England lineup but has posted only one half-century in his last nine ODI innings.
In its last ODI outing in India, back in March 2021, England lost a three-match series 2-1. It posted totals of 251, 337-4 and 322-9 in those three games at Pune, and Buttler’s lineup will be aiming to replicate those last two scores on a regular basis in this tournament.
For New Zealand, this tournament presents a chance to go one step further, without worrying about the boundary countback.
A simpler rule has replaced it: this time tied finalists will keep contesting Super Overs until there is a clear winner. But it’s too early for the Black Caps to be thinking about that, particularly after a run of injuries.
Veteran pace bowler Tim Southee’s thumb injury is likely to keep him on the sidelines until later in the tournament.
Kane Williamson, who scored 54 and 37 in the two warmup games, also won’t play the opener against England because he needs more time to recover from a long-term knee injury.
“I’m really fortunate to be a part of this World Cup. Five months ago, that didn’t seem a possibility,” he said after New Zealand’s warmup win over Pakistan. “There is still some time to go (to full fitness), and it is great to get through some batting in the middle.”
Tom Latham will lead the Black Caps in Williamson’s absence which, in turn, will allow both Glenn Phillips and Mark Chapman to feature in the game.
The middle-order duo has become a vital cog for New Zealand in ODI cricket over the last two years, as they make good use of the last 20 overs with some impressive power hitting.
New Zealand also has Devon Conway to share Williamson’s run-scoring burden. The 32-year-old left-handed opener made his ODI debut in 2021 and averages 46 in 22 matches since. Conway also has extensive experience of Indian conditions, given he is a vital batsman for the IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings.
New Zealand is also well rounded in the bowling department, with spinners Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner expected to perform will in the conditions. Left-arm pacer Trent Boult is part of the mix, despite relinquishing his full national contract, and it is surely to be his last World Cup for the Black Caps.
Since 2015, New Zealand has qualified for the semifinals of every ICC white-ball tournament, and reaching the last four would again be a minimum expectation for its golden generation of cricketers.