Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations

Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations
Spectators hold cell phones as they wait in the stands for the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 24 November 2022

Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations

Hopes of World Cup progress look brighter for Arab nations
  • Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Morocco have excelled in Doha after Qatar’s disappointing opening day defeat
  • It is certainly the biggest Saudi result in a World Cup tournament

DUBAI: It may be painful but let’s look back to the first round of games for Arab countries at the 2018 World Cup.
Saudi Arabia were thrashed 5-0 by hosts Russia in the tournament’s opening game in Moscow. Then came Tunisia and Morocco, and it is hard to say whether their first defeats were more heartbreaking or less.
The former were holding England to a 1-1 draw but then lost to an injury time Harry Kane goal and the latter were undone in the 95th minute by an own goal against Iran. None recovered and all were out of the tournament after just two group games.
Four years on, however, and things are very different.
Whatever happens in the second round of games in the coming days, three of the four Arab nations are going to be in with a chance of progressing to the last 16.
After the disappointment of Qatar’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ecuador in the tournament opener on Sunday, teams representing the region have shone.
Qatar’s Ismaeel Mohammed spoke of the inspiration that the Asian champions have taken from the exploits of their regional rivals.
“The performance until now, especially of Arab teams, is making us maybe a bit jealous and is motivating us to do as well as they have,” he said on Thursday.
Qatar are not the only team jealous of Saudi Arabia, and desperately wishing to experience something similar. The Green Falcons have been hogging the international spotlight since that stunning 2-1 comeback win over Argentina.
Plenty has already been said about the game itself but it is really something when the football world is talking about Salem Al-Dawsari rather than Lionel Messi.
It was a tactical masterclass from coach Herve Renard but one that could not have worked without the effort, intelligence and dedication from his players. The brave way they played was hailed even in Argentina.
Debates have raged on where this ranks on the scale of World Cup upsets. It is certainly right up there, and easily the biggest since Senegal, playing their first ever game at the World Cup, defeated holders France in the opening game of the 2002 tournament. It may even rival Cameroon beating Argentina, then the holders, in the first game of the 1990 cup in Italy.
In terms of Arab results, it is fair to say that the only competition Saudi Arabia have is Algeria’s 2-1 win over the mighty West Germany in 1982.
The headlines in the German media that year have been mirrored somewhat in the Argentina press now — derision for their team and praise for the victors.
It is certainly the biggest Saudi result in a World Cup tournament. The 1994 team got to the knockout stages and defeated Morocco and Belgium, but Argentina is on a different level.
Later on, Tuesday, Tunisia took on Denmark, regarded by some as dark horses in Qatar, a team that reached the semifinals of the 2020 European Championships where they were narrowly defeated by England.
The game ended 0-0 but it was an entertaining affair and the point that the Carthage Eagles took was fully deserved and they could have had all three had it not been for the reactions of Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
For the first hour of the game, they were on top with their energy and aggression causing plenty of problems.
And then came Morocco and another goalless draw, once again against a talented European opponent. The stalemate with 2018 finalist Croatia was a solid start for the Atlas Lions and another deserved point. Both teams looked well matched and fought each other to a standstill.
Those results did not grab the same headlines as Saudi Arabia’s, but they are significant. At the very least, these three Arab teams will avoid the fate of 2018 when they went into the final games of the group knowing that they were already eliminated. They will be competitive until the end, but ambitions are obviously greater now.
The conquerors of Argentina now turn their attention to Poland, who drew 0-0 with Mexico in a tepid game on Saturday and could conceivably book a place in the second round with a match to spare. That really would be a massive achievement but after Tuesday, it would not be a massive shock.
Tunisia take on Australia. Both teams regard the other as their best chance for three points in Group D. The Socceroos were beaten 4-1 by France with the defending champions unsurprisingly a cut above.
On early impressions, Tunisia are favorites. Victory would put Jalel Kadri’s men in with a great chance of the next stage, especially if the French defeat Denmark.
Morocco take on Belgium on Sunday. The Red Devils beat Canada 1-0 but were far from impressive. Belgium struggled with the hard-running of the Canadians and Walid Regragui’s men will fancy their chances. Saudi Arabia’s victory against Argentina stands as an example of what can be done.
Qatar know that losing to Senegal on Friday puts them in danger of suffering the fate of all three Arab teams from 2018. For the region as a whole however, this tournament is already looking very different. Saudi Arabia have shown the way and are leading a resurgent Arab football world.
 


Injury fears cast a shadow across Newcastle victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh

Injury fears cast a shadow across Newcastle victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh
Updated 37 min 57 sec ago

Injury fears cast a shadow across Newcastle victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh

Injury fears cast a shadow across Newcastle victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh
  • United cruised to a comfortable 5-0 victory over the Saudi Pro League champions but injuries to Chris Wood and Joelinton could cause headaches for coach Eddie Howe
  • The Magpies are due to face Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup in just 13 days and return to Premier League action against Leicester City three days later

RIYADH: Newcastle United look set to return to the UK from their training camp in Saudi Arabia facing a striker crisis, with Chris Wood becoming the latest casualty during the Magpies’ victory over Al-Hilal in their friendly on Thursday.

Joelinton, who also left the game following a knock, grabbed a first-half double at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium before Miguel Almiron netted another brace and youngster Dylan Stephenson rounded off a 5-0 victory that ensured the Magpies lifted the Diriyah Season Cup.

But the bigger news from a United perspective was the injury to New Zealander Wood, who in the absence of Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak, looked set to lead the Magpies when senior football resumes following the World Cup break. United are due to face Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup in just 13 days and return to Premier League action against Leicester City three days later.

The severity of the injury to Wood is yet to be determined but a lengthy spell for him on the sidelines would be a disappointing and troublesome end to what has otherwise been an incredibly positive trip to Riyadh.

United fans will also be hoping that Brazilian wonder Joelinton’s departure from the game was simply precautionary, although the sight of him limping midway through the second half will cause concern.

United donned their third jersey, often dubbed the “Saudi kit,” for the match against the Saudi Pro League champions and handed a debut to Loris Karius in goal, with Eddie Howe keen to extend the former Liverpool keeper’s stay on Tyneside. Matt Targett and Karl Darlow missed out through illness.

This is the second visit by the Magpies to the Kingdom this year, after spending two weeks in Jeddah in January, and they have enjoyed a warm welcome in the capital. This was more than evident in the stands on Thursday where local and foreign fans wearing black and white could be seen scattered among the Blue Power, the vocal heart of the lively home faithful.

Jacob Murphy, Howe’s most-used player during his 13 months as head coach, came within inches of breaking the deadlock with the first meaningful attack of the match. He clipped the ball under Abdullah Al-Mayouf in goal but the keeper got a touch that just prevented the ball from crossing the line and he gathered at the second attempt.

Murphy then turned provider and Joelinton made no mistake with a powerful header after the winger dinked the ball in from the right.

While the final result betrayed the gulf in class between the sides, it was far from evident during a close first 45 and the visitors had Karius to thank for keeping things level early on. They will doubtless have been delighted to see him display some surprise sharpness, despite not having started a competitive game since February 2021.

Star player Odion Ighalo was the first to test Karius, with a low drive that was stopped by the United keeper. Al-Hilal caused the visitors some problems down the left but it was a move down the right that should probably have been rewarded with a penalty. Sven Botman felled the tricky Matheus Pereira but referee Alturais Khalid was not interested.

Just before the break the lead doubled as Joelinton beat Al-Mayouf after breaking clear of the Al-Hilal back line thanks to a precise through ball from Joe Willock.

Karius then had to be at his best once again to deny Andre Carrillo, tipping the ball around the post as the hosts ended the half as the dominant force.

Changes during the break, including the introduction of Almiron, one of the most in-form players in the English top flight, had an immediate effect when play resumed.

The Paraguayan clipped the bar with a trademark curling effort on 50 minutes, before he stole the ball from Carrillo, jinked past another defender and stroked home a third goal for the Magpies.

Elliot Anderson then hit the upright but his deflected effort rebounded clear of danger despite the lurking United forwards.

It seemed like only a matter of time before United added to their tally, though, and, sure enough, Almiron latched onto a cross-field ball by Sean Longstaff and volleyed it home to make it 4-0.

The last word was reserved for one of the Newcastle youngsters to come off the bench, as Ryan Fraser, also introduced as a substitute, squared the ball for Stephenson to tuck in his first goal at senior level.

Fireworks and ticker tape greeted Newcastle as they raised the golden trophy, which they will be hoping is the first of many under Saudi ownership and head coach Howe.

While trophies are the ultimate ambition, of course, in the shorter term Howe will be hoping for good news about the injuries to Joelinton and Wood, both of whom have proved to be crucial cogs in the Newcastle machine over the past year.


Saudi Husein Alireza the first Saudi athlete in the Olympic Museum

Saudi Husein Alireza the first Saudi athlete in the Olympic Museum
Updated 09 December 2022

Saudi Husein Alireza the first Saudi athlete in the Olympic Museum

Saudi Husein Alireza the first Saudi athlete in the Olympic Museum
  • Husein was approached by the museum earlier to include his story and take his oars he used at the Tokyo 2020 Games

RIYADH: Saudi rowing captain Husein Alireza was inducted into the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

The museum hosts exhibits from athletes whose background and stories they find to be unique and inspiring.

Husein was approached by the museum earlier to include his story and take his oars he used at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where he reached the quarterfinals in the Men's Single Sculls, to include them with their permanent exhibits.

A ceremony was held in Lausanne where he officially donated his oars to the museum, becoming the first Saudi athlete to be so honoured.

In attendance was his father and President of the Saudi Rowing Federation, Ali Alireza, members of World Rowing and other international federations.

“These oars have literally had my blood, sweat, and tears on them,” Alireza said.

“I'm so honored and grateful on this occasion and I'd like to thank the Ministry of Sport and the Saudi Olympic Committee for their unconditional support from the start of my journey.

“I want this to give inspiration to the youth and let them know you can do what I can do and you can do it better,” he added. 

Alireza is currently preparing for the World Rowing Championships to be held in Serbia in September 2023.


World Cup braces for quarter-finals as Spain sack coach

World Cup braces for quarter-finals as Spain sack coach
Updated 08 December 2022

World Cup braces for quarter-finals as Spain sack coach

World Cup braces for quarter-finals as Spain sack coach
  • A blockbuster set of quarter-finals gets under way on Friday when five-time champions Brazil face 2018 runners-up Croatia
  • On Saturday, Morocco will carry the flag for African football in their quarter-final clash with Portugal

DOHA: Brazil were gearing up for a showdown with Croatia while Argentina prepared to face the Netherlands as anticipation mounted Thursday on the eve of the World Cup quarter-finals.
After three weeks of pulsating action, just eight teams are left standing as the 32-nation tournament heads into the final rounds of knockout competition after a two-day break.
A blockbuster set of quarter-finals gets under way on Friday when five-time champions Brazil face 2018 runners-up Croatia.
That clash is the appetiser for another heavyweight World Cup collision between Lionel Messi’s Argentina and three-time losing finalists the Netherlands.
On Saturday, Morocco will carry the flag for African football in their quarter-final clash with Portugal before holders France face England in an eagerly anticipated showdown.
Wins for Argentina and Brazil on Friday would set up a titanic semifinal between the two South American heavyweights.
For now though Brazil are looking no further than Friday’s assignment against Croatia at the Education City Stadium in Doha.
“They have individual quality and collective quality as well as a resilience and persistence,” Brazil coach Tite said of Croatia.
“We are aware of their virtues but my focus is on maintaining our standards and whoever plays best will go through.”
Croatia captain Luka Modric said Thursday that his side were determined to progress beyond the last eight.
“We did a great thing by going to the quarter-finals, but regardless of that we would like to do more,” the Real Madrid midfielder said.
“We have to play our best match. And if we do that we have a chance of winning.”
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is optimistic that Angel Di Maria and Rodrigo De Paul will be available for his side’s clash against the Netherlands after injury issues.
His opposite number, Louis van Gaal, back in charge of the Dutch for a third spell, said his team would have to step up a gear to compete with the South American side, who beat them on penalties in the 2014 semifinal in Brazil.
“The tournament is actually starting tomorrow for real for us, although of course I don’t want to downplay the importance of other countries we were able to beat,” he said.
“But Argentina and Brazil, who we will possibly play in the next round, are quite different to the teams we beat in the group stage and last 16.”
On Saturday, all eyes will be on the battle between France and England at the Al-Bayt Stadium, the Bedouin tent-inspired structure located in the desert outside Doha.
England said Thursday that forward Raheem Sterling is set to return to the squad after initially leaving the team’s World Cup base following a break-in at his family home.
Sterling did not feature in England’s squad for the 3-0 last-16 win against Senegal and it would be a major surprise if the 28-year-old starts against France.
In Saturday’s other quarter-final, buoyant Portugal will be looking to end Morocco’s fairytale run to the last eight.
Portugal produced one of the most scintillating displays of the tournament by dismantling Switzerland 6-1 in the last 16 after coach Fernando Santos opted to drop Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo’s replacement, 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos, fired a brilliant hat-trick as Portugal ran riot.
According to reports in Portugal, Santos’s bombshell decision to drop Ronaldo prompted the 37-year-old superstar to threaten to walk out of the team camp.
But Ronaldo took to social media to stress the squad was rock solid after the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) issued a statement denying the reported bust-up with the former Real Madrid and Manchester United star.
“It’s a group too united to be broken by outside forces,” said Ronaldo.
“A nation too courageous to let itself be frightened by any adversary. A team in the truest sense of the word, which will fight for the dream until the end.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, Spanish football authorities dismissed coach Luis Enrique following the team’s shock elimination against Morocco, naming under-21s boss Luis de la Fuente as his replacement.
“Both the president, Luis Rubiales, and the sporting director, Jose Francisco Molina, have told the coach their decision,” the Spanish federation (RFEF) said in a statement.


LaLiga scores deal to win new audiences in Middle East

LaLiga scores deal to win new audiences in Middle East
Updated 08 December 2022

LaLiga scores deal to win new audiences in Middle East

LaLiga scores deal to win new audiences in Middle East
  • Joint venture with Galaxy Racer expected to generate over $3bn with each party holding a 50 percent stake
  • Deal establishes esports organization Galaxy Racer as LaLiga’s local partner in the region as well as on the Indian subcontinent

DUBAI: LaLiga has signed a 15-year deal with the world’s largest esports organization to boost the Spanish football league’s presence in the Middle East and North Africa.

The deal establishes Galaxy Racer as LaLiga’s local partner in the region as well as on the Indian subcontinent. The deal is expected to generate more than $3.16 billion, with each party holding a 50 per cent stake.

LaLiga wants new ways to boost its audience in the two regions, which have more than 1.3 billion people under the age of 30. It will also grant broadcast and media rights in the 29 countries covered by the deal.

This agreement was signed by LaLiga President Javier Tebas and Galaxy Racer Chairman Paul Roy. It comes as Qatar hosts the first World Cup to be held in the Arab world. 

Oscar Mayo, LaLiga Executive Director, said: “Signing this agreement is testament of our deep commitment to supporting the transformation of the sports media scene, and building on the passion for football in MENA and the Indian Subcontinent.

“Galaxy Racer’s experience will be vital in building fan loyalty to position LaLiga as a top brand for football and lifestyle.”

Roy said: “The MENA region and Indian subcontinent are considered (among) the fastest growing territories in sport and by partnering with LaLiga, a global leader in football, we are confident in our ability to work together to radically transform the sport league’s brand presence in these regions, while also fostering the next generation of young sport fans.”

“Several projects, including a documentary series, competitions, merchandise (and) live events are already in the pipeline.”

The agreement in the UAE will see a team of around 20 people working to build the brand and find new business opportunities. There will also be a five-person Board of Directors that includes CEO Maite Ventura. Luis Cardenas, Commercial Director for LaLiga MENA, will be the CCO.

Ventura said: “Galaxy Racer’s extensive experience in the region will serve as an important source of support towards our international strategy. The Middle East is growing as a dedicated sports hub and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar now is the best example of the power of the sport.”

Additionally, Galaxy Racer will launch a roster of creators who will focus on LaLiga and curate events to promote the LaLiga brand throughout the whole year. The creators will exclusively represent LaLiga, touring the world to promote both themselves and LaLiga to fans.


Leading football figures, investors meet in Dubai to discuss future of sport

Leading football figures, investors meet in Dubai to discuss future of sport
Updated 08 December 2022

Leading football figures, investors meet in Dubai to discuss future of sport

Leading football figures, investors meet in Dubai to discuss future of sport
  • Global platform Investopia hosts 10 sessions within context of 2022 World Cup
  • Bernard Caiazzo: Sport has the power to change the world; the World Cup demonstrates this by uniting more than 4 billion people around the globe over four weeks

DUBAI: Global business leaders in sports, football leagues’ senior officials and policymakers on Thursday met to discuss the future of investments in sports at an event hosted by Investopia, the global investment platform, in partnership with World Corporate Summit.

The sessions took place within the context of FIFA World Cup 2022 currently taking place in Qatar, in the presence of Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri, UAE minister of economy and chairman of Investopia, and Bernard Caiazzo, president of the Global Football Alliance and of WCS.

The event’s 10 sessions covered major topics in the sports business from “Harnessing the Media Power of Sports for Business” to “Creating Global Champions in Sport,” “Achieving Sustainable Development Through Sports,” “Unique Assets: Alternative Opportunities in Sports Finance,” “The Future Now: Innovation in Sport,” “The Intersection of Technology and Health in Sports” and “Building the Smart Stadiums of the Future.”

Mohamed Naser Al-Zaabi, CEO of Investopia, said: “Investopia, the global investment platform, engages with business leaders and decision makers at the global level, in all prominent business events, in order to achieve its vision of creating and leading global dialogues to discuss economic topics, and channel investments toward sectors of the new economies.”

Caiazzo, said: “Sport has the power to change the world. The World Cup demonstrates this by uniting more than 4 billion people around the globe over four weeks.” 

“Investopia: The Future of Sport will bring together decision-makers from the most prestigious professional clubs and leagues major investors and brands to discuss the future of the sector, which has evolved more in the past 10 years than in the previous 30 years, and is on track for tremendous growth over the coming decade,” he added.

Investopia global investment platform is one of the major strategic initiatives under the ‘Projects of the 50’ announced by the UAE government in September 2021 and aims to enhance the exchange of global investment flows in support of sectors of the new economy.