Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon

Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon
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The Pyramids Half Marathon returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on December 10. (The TriFactory)
Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon
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The Pyramids Half Marathon returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on December 10. (The TriFactory)
Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon
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The Pyramids Half Marathon returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on December 10. (The TriFactory)
Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon
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The Pyramids Half Marathon returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on December 10. (The TriFactory)
Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon
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The Pyramids Half Marathon returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on December 10. (The TriFactory)
Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon
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The Pyramids Half Marathon returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on December 10. (The TriFactory)
Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon
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The Pyramids Half Marathon returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on December 10. (The TriFactory)
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Updated 26 November 2022

Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon

Runners get set to ‘race through history’ at Pyramids Half Marathon

Over the years, several sports events have had the privilege of being staged at the resplendent pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

From squash to tennis to most recently a 3x3 basketball tournament, a few athletes have enjoyed the rare opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.

The running community in Egypt — and beyond — has been afforded that golden chance since 2019, thanks to the introduction of the TriFactory’s Pyramids Half Marathon, which returns to the Giza Plateau for a fourth edition on Dec. 10.

Some 4,000 runners from more than 80 countries took part in the inaugural staging of the race three years ago, held across a trio of distances: full marathon, half marathon and 10km. The marathon was won by Greg Billington, an American Olympian who competed in the triathlon in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and won Paralympic gold as a guide for Brad Snyder in the visually impaired category of the paratriathlon event in Tokyo 2020.

 

 

Despite its incredible landscape, scenic coasts and great weather, Egypt is not necessarily a destination for runners from across the globe but the people behind The TriFactory are one of the main driving forces looking to change that.

Ayman Hakky, the co-founder of The TriFactory, a sports events management company specializing in endurance sports, staged Egypt’s first commercial triathlon back in 2014 in the Red Sea resort town of El Gouna.

Originally a water polo player and a footballer, a knee injury steered Hakky away from his chosen sports and pushed him toward endurance races. He fell in love with triathlon and began participating in events worldwide, in the process forming a team of amateurs who trained together in Cairo for various races. The team was fittingly called Train for Aim.

From Trinidad and Tobago to Morocco, from Portugal to the UAE, Hakky flew everywhere to participate in races, and his team eventually completed a full Ironman.

“It became very costly to do all that traveling, and I started to wonder why don’t we have this kind of quality here in Egypt?” Hakky told Arab News in an interview in Cairo.

A first step

Using the knowledge he gathered from attending proper races abroad, but without any practical experience as an organizer, Hakky staged his very first event, the Gouna Triathlon. He had no expectations and thought only the 20 or 30 people he trains with at Gezira Club would show up. Instead, 200 participants signed up from various running communities across Cairo.

“All of a sudden, it was a major start for us, and I had no intention of doing this as a business,” said Hakky. “I just made a few calls so they can close a street for us in El Gouna, and it wasn’t at a professional standard of organization at all.

“But I realized the business potential from this event. We finished this one-off event and people were already asking me, ‘What’s next?’ I realized a community has been created and these 200 people all posted on social media, and each one of them had two or three friends that wanted to come to our next event.

“So, our next event was at least double in size. Three months later, we held an event in Sahl Hasheesh and 400 people took part. Things kept doubling in size, spiraling, until we gained lots of experience.”

The TriFactory was founded in 2015 by Hakky and Mahmoud Abdelhakim, and soon they were organizing triathlons and marathons all over Egypt, from Aswan to Alexandria to Sharm El-Sheikh.

 

 

‘Major turning point’

It was Abdelhakim who first got the idea to stage a marathon by the pyramids, knowing it was the natural next step for him and his partners.

Hakky was worried about the logistics of it all, the permits they would need from the government and the hassle of trying to organize something big at such an iconic location.

But they went for it, and gave it the slogan “Race through history,” reminding the runners they would be getting such a historic landmark for a backdrop. In February 2019, the Pyramids Marathon came to life, and it survived a terrible sandstorm that threatened the success of the event.

“The Pyramids Marathon was a major turning point for us. Four thousand people took part across three distances and so many different nationalities turned up. It was a great start, but it was a very difficult day for us,” reflected Hakky.

The tough weather conditions were overwhelming for Hakky and his partners, but overall, they knew they had started something special, and the participants felt it too.

“What I generally like about this event is that the course is really nice, the vibe, the people…Conditions were tough in the first one and the weather made things quite chaotic, yet everyone loved it because it was the first time we got the opportunity to run by the pyramids,” said Nayera Helmy, an amateur runner who has been an active member of the running and triathlon community in Egypt since 2013.

Helmy did not sign up for the 2020 edition of the event but returned last year and is currently getting ready for her third outing in Giza.

“When I took part in 2021, I saw how the organization massively improved. Everything that needed tweaking was taken care of,” she said.

“The course got much closer to the pyramids. Instead of having this massive uphill during the race, they reversed the direction of the route so it was more downhill for us. Everyone was cheering, a lot of participants, a lot of international runners…When you’re running, you can see the look on the faces of international runners who cannot believe they are running by the pyramids. It was so nice to see.”

 

 

Presidential backing

From the second year, organizers made the strategic decision of scaling back the event to a half marathon, which requires fewer hours of road closures and is far easier to manage.

The demand for a full marathon in Egypt was also not very high, so since 2020, the event has comprised three distances: a half marathon, a 10km and a 5km, which opened up participation for people who were keen to run or walk a shorter distance.

“This is our fourth year. We’ve gone from strength to strength and this year, we are under the auspices of the Egyptian presidency, which is huge,” said Hakky.

With the support of the presidency and the Ministry of Sports behind them, The TriFactory has high hopes of expanding the race in the future, knowing that no major city can host a proper marathon without the backing of crucial governmental entities.

“We’re very excited about this step because we’re ambitious about the possibility of bringing it back to a full marathon in the future. We can start to aggressively promote the event abroad, so we can reach the numbers we see in events around the world,” said Hakky.

“The 4,000 participants we get is nothing compared to global numbers. Even the Beirut Marathon, which is a role model for me, attracts 50,000 participants. And Lebanon as a country has some tough circumstances.

“But the entire country is behind the event. All institutions — the military, the presidency, the tourism board — get behind it, and they lock Beirut down for a half day and they stage the marathon.”

Message from Bolt

The TriFactory prides itself on following international standards when it comes to staging its events, and that level of professionalism is what attracted so many people to sign up and brought several sponsors to knock on its doors.

Puma, its platinum sponsor this year, got its superstar ambassador Usain Bolt to post a video message wishing the Pyramids Half Marathon runners good luck and giving them some advice for race day.

“Now we are dreaming that maybe Puma can attract him to attend the event. There’s actually talk of him possibly coming,” said a hopeful Hakky.

While eight-time Olympic gold medalist Bolt might not be a shoo-in, there will be an Olympic silver medalist lining up at the pyramids this December, with Egyptian pentathlete Ahmed Elgendy, who was a runner-up in Tokyo 2020, confirming his participation.

Registered for the 10km but with the possibility of moving up to the half marathon if he feels up for it, Elgendy does not need to train over long distances in his main sport, the modern pentathlon, but says he is a runner at heart and has been keen to take part in the Pyramids Half Marathon.

“The first TriFactory event I attended was their recent Soma Bay Endurance Festival and I was really impressed by how well organized it was. I really liked the energy of the people behind TriFactory and could tell they really want to do something special,” Elgendy told Arab News.

“I’ve seen events here in Cairo where people are running between cars, which is not safe. But they’re not like that. They know what they’re doing and are trying hard to match international standards in everything. In the process, I feel they’re also educating the local community about how an event like this should be run.”

The appeal of running by the pyramids is not exclusive to visitors from abroad; it is a special occasion for locals as well.

“I haven’t even visited the pyramids since I was like 6 years old. So this is a great opportunity for me, to visit the pyramids and run there,” added Elgendy, who is not setting a specific target for himself this race but just doing it for fun.

 

 

‘Running at home is special’

Helmy is an experienced runner who has done both the Paris and New York marathons in the past. While taking part in such iconic long-standing events around the world has been incredible, she admits that running at home, in Egypt, has a special feeling to it.

She remembers the early days when the endurance sports scene in Cairo was in its infancy stages, where participants would complete the race and then rush back to set up water stations for those who had not finished yet. Things have massively improved since then.

“We now have a lot of opportunities to run in Egypt. It’s very nice to run with your own community. Running in international marathons abroad is very nice, but ultimately, you’re running with strangers, or just two or three people who have made the trip with you,” said Helmy.

“In Egypt, the nice thing is that you’re encouraging other runners from the community to run with you. So during a run, you can spot people whom you have personally helped get into the sport, or encouraged to participate. That’s a nice feeling to be part of that.




Nayera Helmy, an amateur runner who has been an active member of the running and triathlon community in Egypt since 2013.

“Plus, it’s fun to run with people you know. So running in Egypt is always special, and it gives us a chance to run in places we don’t regularly visit (here).”

For Hakky and his partners, the goal is to establish the Pyramids Half Marathon as a staple on the international running calendar and to hit 10,000 participants (the roads around the pyramids are quite narrow and cannot handle much more than that).

Hakky dreams of a scenario in which Cairo streets can shut down for half a day so that runners can start elsewhere in the city and make their way toward a finish line at the pyramids, which would be the ultimate reward at the end of a full marathon.

“The advancements made in transportation and the underground system in Cairo (are) allowing us to dream of a scenario like that,” he added.

He also explained that “Race through history” is not just a slogan. The idea is to hold a series of running events at different historical sites across Egypt. The concept has already started to take shape as The TriFactory staged a 5km at the Saqqara Pyramid earlier this year, introducing runners to the unique Step Pyramid of Djoser.

In total, The TriFactory holds between 10 to 15 events annually, with lots of room for growth. But the heart of the business definitely lies on the Giza Plateau.

“The Pyramids Half Marathon has become our biggest event for sure in terms of size and exposure and everything. So long-term, we want to invest more effort in this event because it has become our flagship event,” he concluded.

The deadline for registration for the Pyramids Half Marathon is Nov. 30. You can sign up for the event here.


Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf
Updated 05 February 2023

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf

Inaugural Abu Dhabi Open kicks off incredible three-week WTA swing in the Arabian Gulf
  • No shortage of top talent throughout the Middle East swing beginning with Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Women’s professional tennis will take over the Gulf region this month with the world’s best players set to compete in tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai over the course of the next three weeks.

From world No.1 Iga Swiatek, to Tunisian trailblazer Ons Jabeur, to the recently-crowned Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, there will be no shortage of top talent throughout this Middle East swing.

Here’s a look at some of the main storylines heading into this exciting three-week stretch.

Abu Dhabi enters the ring

While this isn’t the first time the UAE capital is hosting a WTA tournament, it’s the first time the emirate has been given a permanent slot on the women’s tennis calendar.

Abu Dhabi came to the rescue at the start of the 2021 season when the tour needed a place that could stage an event during the pandemic.

A one-year license was given to Abu Dhabi and the tournament was held behind closed doors.

Things are different this time around. The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open is meant to be a regular fixture on the WTA calendar and its introduction this season (from February 5-12) has made way for a three-week Middle East swing set to take place in February every year.

Jabeur was meant to be the main star attraction this week in the UAE capital, given her popularity in the region as the highest-ranked Arab player in history. The Tunisian was forced to withdraw though due to a knee injury but her name is still on the entry lists for Doha and Dubai.

A stellar week of tennis is still guaranteed in Abu Dhabi with three top-10 players – Daria Kasatkina, Belinda Bencic and Elena Rybakina – headlining a strong field at the inaugural WTA 500 event at Zayed Sports City.

Popcorn first rounds in the capital

The stacked draw in Abu Dhabi has resulted in some incredible match-ups from the get-go.

In a showdown between two ex-world No.1s, Spanish wildcard Garbine Muguruza will take on Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova in the opening round. The winner of this clash will square off against reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina.

Former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko will commence her campaign against 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, while former world No.2 Paula Badosa kicks off her Abu Dhabi journey against Russian world No.19 Liudmila Samsonova.

Sabalenka on a streak

With an 11-0 win-loss record for the season, and two titles under her belt, including a maiden Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open, Sabalenka will have all eyes on her when she touches down in the Middle East to take part in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (begins February 19).

The Belarusian world No.2 has tasted success in the Gulf in the past, having lifted trophies in Abu Dhabi in 2021 and in Doha in 2020, but will be seeking a maiden triumph in Dubai.

Swiatek back to defend Doha title

The Qatar Open was where Swiatek began her incredible 37-match winning streak last year and the top-ranked Pole will make a return to the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, searching for a first title of the season.

Swiatek’s banner 2022 saw her capture eight titles, including two Grand Slams, but her 2023 campaign has yet to gather steam as she lost with Poland in the United Cup semi-finals in Australia last month, before falling to Rybakina in the Australian Open fourth round.

Swiatek is also scheduled to compete in the WTA 1000 tournament in Dubai, where all members of the world’s top-10 – and 19 of the world’s top-20 – are down to take part.

Ostapenko searches for Dubai repeat

A stellar effort from Ostapenko saw her grab the title in Dubai last year with victory over Veronika Kudermetova in the final, a win that allowed the Latvian to return to the top-20 for the first time since October 2018.

Ostapenko defeated four fellow Grand Slam champions en route to the 2022 Dubai crown – Sofia Kenin, Swiatek, Petra Kvitova, and Simona Halep – and she came back from a set down in three of those encounters.

She will be looking to become the first back-to-back women’s champion in Dubai since Elina Svitolina pulled off a double in 2017 and 2018.

The fiery French Open winner has a positive start to her 2023, reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last month.

Mirza all set for career finale

Indian tennis icon Sania Mirza will contest the last two tournaments of her professional career in Abu Dhabi, alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Dubai, alongside Madison Keys.

A former doubles world No.1, who peaked at 27 in the world in singles back in 2007, Mirza will bid farewell to the tour after a trailblazing 20-year professional career.

The 36-year-old initially intended to retire from tennis at the end of last season but an elbow injury ruled her out of the US Open and ended her 2022 prematurely.

A six-time major champion across doubles and mixed doubles, Mirza almost added a seventh Grand Slam trophy to her resume last month when she reached the mixed doubles final at the Australian Open alongside her compatriot Rohan Bopanna.

Mirza, who is a Dubai resident, will say her final goodbye at the DDF Tennis Championships, where thousands of her adoring fans will undoubtedly show up for her swan song.


Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup
Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup

Al-Ahly’s late goal ends Seattle debut 1-0 in Club World Cup
  • Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd
  • He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year

TANGIER, Morocco: Mohammed Afsha scored on a deflected shot in the 88th minute and sent Al-Ahly into the Club World Cup semifinals by beating the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Saturday.
Afsha scored after coming on as a substitute in the 63rd. He lifted Al-Ahly into the semifinals for the third straight year, and brought an abrupt end to the first appearance by a team from the United States in the competition.
His initial shot from outside the penalty area hit the crossbar. Seattle were unable to clear the danger and Afsha’s second attempt deflected off defender Alex Roldan and bounded past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
It was the only shot on target by the Egyptian club as both sides played a heavily defensive game where chances at goal were limited.
Al-Ahly will face Real Madrid in the semifinals next Wednesday in Rabat. Al-Ahly have not lost a match in any competition since Aug. 27 in the Egyptian Premier League.
Al-Ahly have finished third in each of the past two Club World Cups but have never made the final.
Seattle were the first club from Major League Soccer to take part in the Club World Cup after winning the CONCACAF Champions League last May. The Sounders carried hopes of advancing through their first match and playing at least three matches at the event.
But while Seattle were excellent defensively, they lacked quality chances on attack. Seattle finished with just one shot on goal, a speculative attempt from defensive midfielder Josh Atencio early in the second half.
“I thought we were good. I thought we were evenly matched. A couple of chances. But the deflection on the goal, it’s unfortunate,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Seattle were playing their first competitive match in 3 ½ months while the rest of MLS was going through preseason preparations. The Sounders’ previous match was last October and the team gathered for MLS preseason camp in early January.
“They put everything into the game. They put everything into preseason,” Schmetzer said.


Ancer leading the charge to glory in PIF Saudi International

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day
Updated 04 February 2023

Ancer leading the charge to glory in PIF Saudi International

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day

JEDDAH: Mexico’s Abraham Ancer holds the lead at the PIF Saudi International for the third consecutive day after following up a 63 and 66 with a flawless third round 64, progressing to 17-under-par and two shots clear of Cameron Young, who sits third place at five shots back.

Ancer, bidding to be the first player to win the Saudi tournament wire to wire, looked unstoppable at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club as he posted another bogey-free round with six birdies spread equally across the front and back nine.

“Another very solid round. Happy with no dropped shots. That’s always my goal. On a golf course like this where it’s blowing pretty good, I’m really, really happy,” he said.

“My ball striking has definitely been on, and I’ve been rolling it really nice all week. Extremely happy. Not really focused on what everybody else is doing. Just trying to play the same game I’ve been playing the past three days,” he added.

Young has now posted three straight rounds of five-under-par 65’s, enough to take sole place of second, two shots back.

“I think I’ve played really solidly,” he said. “Obviously, Abe’s playing some really nice golf. So, I think tomorrow will be fun. If the wind is similar to today, it will probably take a 62, 63 or 64 because I don’t see Abraham shooting anything bad.”

Making his intentions clear, Young ended with “I’ll hit a lot of drivers and try to make a bunch of birdies.”

A fascinating two horse race is set for Sunday between a pair who have completely contrasting styles, which was so clearly evident on the par-five 18th today.

Ancer laid up to about 100 yards but nailed his approach to five feet and holed out, while Young airmailed the green with his second shot, using an iron, but was only able to make par.

Young is a further five shots ahead of third place, where American Matthew Wolff (63), Australian Lucas Herbert (67), and Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana (68) all sit.

American Matthew Wolff made the most of moving day matching Ancer’s tournament low from round one of a 7-under-par 63, set up by a front nine six-under-par 29.

Following the round, the 23-year-old said: “It felt easy. It felt like I'm finally starting to hit my driver the way I'm looking to. It's such a weapon on this golf course when I'm hitting it where I want to. I'm having short clubs in and I can kind of attack these flags. I felt really good with every part of my game.”

He continued: “But I think it was the putting. I made quite a few putts out there today and didn't the first couple of days. I think that was definitely the difference. It seemed like it all came together nicely for me today.”

Jason Kokrak sits a further shot back alone in sixth, followed by Mito Pererira, Paul Casey, and Marc Leishman.


Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form
Updated 04 February 2023

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form

Klopp at a loss to explain ‘unacceptable’ Liverpool form
  • The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all
  • "Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable," said Klopp

WOLVERHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Jurgen Klopp branded the goals Liverpool conceded in a 3-0 defeat to Wolves as “horrible” with the German admitting to being at a loss to explain his side’s disastrous form.
The Reds have taken just one point from their last four Premier League games to all but end any hope of catching the top four for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Klopp’s men trailed 2-0 inside 12 minutes at Molineux as Joel Matip’s own goal and Craig Dawson’s strike on his debut put Wolves on course to climb out of the relegation zone.
Ruben Neves added a third 19 minutes from time after Liverpool had dominated the early stages of the second half without reward.
“Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable,” said Klopp.
“When you see the whole game, throughout the game in moments we played an outstanding game without scoring and a good away game without scoring.
“The third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half. The other two goals, going into a game with all the things we said during the week and before the game, then this is the start, is horrible.”
Already out of both domestic cups, Liverpool sit 10th in the Premier League.
The Champions League appears to be their last chance of salvaging their season with a last 16 tie against Real Madrid to come later this month in a repeat of last season’s final.
Klopp’s side came close to winning an unprecedented quadruple of trophies last season.
But he appears incapable of stopping the rot as for the third consecutive away league game, Liverpool conceded three times.
“We better change it. That’s true, 100 percent. I have no words for it really, I’m sorry,” he added.
“You do yourself no favors in these moments, giving easy balls away.
“We were passive in the (first) two goals, everything we wanted to do was be compact and active but we were compact and passive. I can’t explain it. I think why would you do that? But they did it anyway.”


Al-Hilal beat Wydad to reach FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
Updated 04 February 2023

Al-Hilal beat Wydad to reach FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better
  • The 5-3 penalty shootout win after 1-1 draw means the Saudi giants will now face Brazil’s Flamengo on Tuesday

RABAT: The drums rang loud for Morocco's Wydad AC on a sunny and dramatic Saturday afternoon in Rabat at the FIFA Club World Cup, but they were ultimately silenced by Al-Hilal’s Musab Al-Juwayr.

The teenage midfielder scored the final kick to win a  penalty shootout 5-3 for the Saudi Arabian giants after the game had ended 1-1. The Asian champions go through at the expense of their African counterparts to the  semi-finals and a clash with Brazil’s Flamengo. It should be quite a match if this was anything to go by.

Two hours of action packed football ended 1-1 but there was much more to it than that. A header early in the second half from Wydad's Ayoub Emloud had fans in the North African country as excited as they were during the 2022 World Cup, when Morocco reached the semi-final and became the toast of Qatar.

Saudi Arabia's World Cup may not have been quite as exciting but the club tournament is going to be much better.

One of the few times the home crowd were silenced came in added time as Yahya Jabrane, captain of the African champions, was sent off for protesting at a penalty. Mohamed Kanno fired home the resultant spot kick to send the game into extra-time during which he was also dismissed by the referee.

It was then penalties and Al-Hilal scored all theirs, while Wydad missed one.

For a long time however, it look as if the 18-time Saudi champions were going home in a clash that kept the 45,000 capacity crowd at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium entertained. The arena may be in Rabat but it certainly felt and, more importantly, sounded like a home match in Casablanca for the Moroccan powerhouse. The red wall behind the goals rarely stopped bouncing and singing to roar the team in white forward.

It seemed to work as Wydad started brightly in the opening exchanges and looked dangerous especially from set pieces with Yahya Jabrane firing over from a free-kick. 

Indeed, the pressure seemed to have paid off after 19 minutes when they thought they had taken the lead as Jalal Daoudi swept the ball home from close range. The veteran midfielder was, however, correctly adjudged to have been offside from the assistant referee.

Al-Hilal’s first real attempt on goal came after 23 minutes but Nasser Al-Dawsari sent a free-kick from a dangerous position well over the bar.

As the half progressed, Al-Hilal got into the game more though the home team continued to have better chances such as the attempt on the stroke of half-time. Wydad’s new Cameroonian forward Didier Lamkel Ze sent over a fine cross from the left but Ayoub El-Amloud was unable to get enough on it and the defender’s glancing header went wide.

Al-Hilal came close right after the restart. A Salem Al-Dawsari corner from the right fell to Ali Al-Buhali and his snap shot from close range was cleared off the line by Lamkel Ze.

In the 51st minute, Wydad’s eighth corner kick made the difference as El-Amloud rose at the far post to send a powerful header past Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The Asian champions sprung into action but struggled to turn pressure into chances, though they came close with 20 minutes remaining when Odion Ighalo’s shot from close range was well-saved by Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti and Salem Al-Dawsari’s follow-up was blocked on the line by Amine Farhane.

Al-Hilal, who have never progressed past the semi-finals at this tournament, pushed forward in search of an equaliser and the chance came at the end of normal time as they were awarded a penalty thanks to a handball in the area. Wydad’s captain Jabrane was booked twice in quick succession and was sent off.

Amid the furore, Kanno kept his cool to slot the ball straight down the middle and suddenly the impetus had swung in favor of the Asian champions and Luciano Vietto almost won the game in the eighth minute of injury time as the Argentine’s free-kick was pushed away by the goalkeeper. 

The Riyadh giants could not get the winner before extra-time and when the game restarted they were soon reduced to 10 men themselves as Kanno was given a second yellow card for a foul.

And then it was five penalties each. After Moussa Marega scored the opener for Al-Hilal, Yahia Attiyat Allah’s shot hit both posts but did not go in and Wydad were in trouble. Vietto,  Saleh Al-Shehri and then Abdullah Al-Hamdan scored for the Riyadh club to leave substitute Al-Jawary to deliver the glory and a ticket to the last four.