Saudi Arabia ready to tackle Argentina and Messi

Saudi Arabia ready to tackle Argentina and Messi
Saudi Arabia’s players take part in a training session at the Sealine Training Site in Sealine, south of Doha, on November 21, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 21 November 2022

Saudi Arabia ready to tackle Argentina and Messi

Saudi Arabia ready to tackle Argentina and Messi
  • Herve Renard’s team have identity, are organized and do not concede many goals, but must avoid Qatar’s mistakes from their World Cup opener

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s sixth World Cup kicks off on Tuesday with probably the hardest opening game the team has ever had.

Few believe the clash with Argentina, a team that has genuine ambitions of lifting the trophy next month, is a chance for three points but for Herve Renard and his players it is an opportunity to show that the Green Falcons have come a long way since 2018 and the 5-0 defeat at the hands of Russia in Moscow.

There was a carnival atmosphere that day at the Luzhniki Stadium as the hosts got ready for a party. The smiles and sun that were there before kickoff were just as strong after with the Russians getting the result of their dreams. The scoreline might have been a bit harsh on Saudi Arabia, but it was a tough day. As was the 8-0 humiliation at the hands of Germany in 2002.

Saudi Arabia have lost four of their five World Cup opening games and have been unlucky to start 2022 with what could be the toughest of all.

But this is a different Saudi Arabia now, certainly to the one that took the field in Russia’s capital. Renard has been in charge for more than three years and there have been some major improvements.

“It now feels like we’ve known each other for years,” the Frenchman said. “But football is like that — when you win games it’s all rosy. However, we should be ready to face tougher tests as it’s easy to lose a string of games, so we must be mentally resilient as well.”

Qatar showed on Sunday, losing 2-0 to Ecuador in what was a disappointing performance, that knowing and spending time with the players is not always enough. The hosts have lacked competitive action but it could be that Saudi Arabia’s impressive qualification campaign will stand them in better stead.

Defensively, Saudi Arabia have become increasingly tight. They conceded 10 goals in 18 qualifiers and since then, 10 friendly games have seen the backline breached just four times. There is going to be serious pressure coming from the South Americans, and it is going to be the toughest test imaginable. Midfielders Abdulelah Al-Malki and Mohamed Kanno are going to have to play the games of their lives to protect the back four and also provide an outlet for under-pressure defenders. The pair, coming back from long-term injury and suspension, have looked good in recent games.

The lessons from Qatar’s opener will not have gone unnoticed. The Maroons struggled with crosses into the area from the kickoff and were lucky that VAR intervened to overrule a third-minute goal. This is an area that Saudi Arabia have been working on and it is likely that it will really be tested by Poland on Saturday, but Argentina certainly also have the players to put in dangerous balls from wide areas.

Qatar were also strangely passive both as a team and individually in what was the biggest game of their lives and allowed Ecuador to take the initiative and control the game physically as well as tactically. And then Saad Al-Sheeb had a poor game. There is not much you can do when your goalkeeper makes mistakes as he did, but at least Saudi’s number one Mohammed Al-Owais has been in fine form.

In short, Qatar froze and Ecuador, who came through a tough South American qualification campaign and have players in the big leagues of Europe, did not. Saudi Arabia cannot afford to follow the example set by their fellow Arab team. The likes of Salman Al-Faraj, Salem Al-Dawsari and others, who have World Cup finals experience and won Asian titles, have to step up. They are experienced big-game players and there are none bigger than this.

Argentina need no introduction. This is the last World Cup for Lionel Messi. Lifting the Copa America, his first major prize with his country, has also lifted some of the pressure on one of the best players the world has ever seen. With Angel Di Maria on the other side of attack, there is real trickery and movement for the Saudi defense to handle, and an impressive mix of youth and experience. There are no real concerns among the South Americans and they feel like a real team. In this aspect at least, Saudi Arabia can more than match the two-time winners.

Losing an opening game heavily can end a tournament almost before it has begun. In 2018, the team performed impressively in Russia after that early loss, with a 1-0 defeat against Uruguay and a win over Egypt, but it was not enough. A better start this time could lead to a better outcome.

There is no pressure on Saudi Arabia to beat Argentina or even draw. Fans would love to see a competitive game where their team gives one of the game’s giants some problems, and gives the millions around the world who are expecting an easy victory for the favorites, reason to rethink.

The objective is to be able to look back without regret and then anything could happen.

“There are no limits in football,” said Renard. “You must make your own luck, leave everything on the pitch, prepare to the best of your ability and eradicate mistakes. If you do all this, then why not dream?”


Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
Brazil's forward Neymar reacts at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Cameroon and Brazil. AFP
Updated 05 December 2022

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
  • Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since

DOHA: Neymar could make his return to the World Cup stage on Monday as Brazil continue their bid to be crowned kings for a record-extending sixth time against South Korea.
Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since.
Coach Tite said Neymar would be assessed in Brazil’s final pre-game training session on Sunday, but gave a heavy hint that the Paris Saint-Germain attacker would start.
“He’s going to train this afternoon and if he’s OK, he will play tomorrow,” Tite told reporters.
His return would be a big boost as Brazil have scored just once since Neymar fell foul to his ankle injury and on Saturday lost Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus for the rest of the World Cup.
South Korea famously reached the semifinals 20 years ago when the tournament was shared between their country and Japan, who are also in action on Monday against Croatia.
The Koreans have not reached the knockout stages since 2010 and only got to the last 16 in Qatar thanks to an injury-time winner from Hwang Hee-chan in their final group game against Portugal.
They will need a different performance to the one in June’s friendly between the two teams, when Brazil romped to a 5-1 victory with Neymar scoring two penalties.
“We have good memories of 2002, of making it to the last four and we want to relive that,” said Korea midfielder Kim Jin-su, who was 10 years old at that time.
“We’ve waited so long to come to this knockout stage and we all truly wanted to come this far.”
Japan veteran Yuto Nagatomo said his side will again show the world their samurai spirit in their clash with unbeaten Croatia, after having already stunned Germany and Spain on their way to topping Group E.
“Before battle, the samurai would polish their weapons and refine their technique, but if they were scared in battle, all that would count for nothing,” the former Inter Milan left-back said Sunday.
“The most important thing is to have courage.”

- Mbappe shines, England cruise -

Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show again for France with a superb brace which sunk Poland 3-1 and gave the world champions a mouthwatering last-eight showdown with England, easy 3-0 winners over Senegal.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe rifled home two blistering second-half strikes after his veteran striker partner Olivier Giroud became France’s all-time leading scorer with his 52nd goal for his country just before half-time.
Mbappe called the World Cup his “obsession” after his match-winning performance, which took his tally to a tournament-leading five and also included an assist for Giroud’s record-breaking opener.
“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” said the 23-year-old.
“That is what I am dreaming of. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball (for best player). That is not why I am here. I am here to win and help the French national team.”
France will face England on Saturday at the Al Bayt Stadium, where Gareth Southgate’s team strolled past Senegal in a performance full of positives, not least the form of teen sensation Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham, 19, set up Jordan Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup and overtook Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in major tournaments.
Bukayo Saka dinked home England’s third in the 57th minute to secure a comfortable win and set up a huge tie with one of the pre-tournament favorites.
“We’ll enjoy this one but then our focus turns to that, it’s going to be a really tough game,” said captain Kane. “They are reigning champions but it’s a good battle.”


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 05 December 2022

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.