Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
Poland’s Wojciech Szczesny saves a penalty from Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari during their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 — Group C – match at the Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan on Saturday. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 November 2022

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
  • Game was an entertaining encounter that should have seen more goals
  • Green Falcons dominated possession, had more chances

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia lost 2-0 to Poland at Education City in Qatar on Saturday and remain on three points after two games in World Cup Group C.
Here are five things we learned from the match:
Saudi Arabia deserved something
It was an entertaining encounter that should have contained more goals, and many of them could have gone to Saudi Arabia. There may have been concerns that the win over Argentina was so big that it would be hard for coach Herve Renard to get his players down from cloud nine and focus on the task at hand, but that was not the issue. The problem was just a lack of clinical finishing. But there was plenty to like about the performance, with Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohamed Kanno particularly impressive.
Saudi Arabia had more of the possession and more of the chances. Even if we take away the missed penalty, there were plenty of opportunities for them to score. Unlike in the win over Argentina when the first two attempts resulted in goals, there was just no way past Wojciech Szczesny. The Poland goalkeeper had a fine game and there were examples of shots flying wide and over from good positions.
On another day, Saudi Arabia would have taken a point from this game, but they were punished by refereeing decisions, their own mistakes, not taking their chances and Poland making the most of theirs.
Harsh first half for the Falcons
Saudi Arabia played well in the first half, which lasted 55 minutes, but all the major incidents in the period went against them. First, Poland’s Matty Cash should have been sent off. The Aston Villa defender was booked for a late tackle but just a few minutes later somehow got away with a dangerous challenge on Mohammed Al-Burayk.
Had a second yellow been shown then Cash would not have been in an advanced position after 39 minutes to pass to Robert Lewandowski who then set up Piotr Zielinski to fire home. It was a goal that came totally against the run of play but that is what happens in football and Saudi Arabia will feel aggrieved that Poland still had 11 men on the pitch.
And then there was the penalty that came in added time as Saleh Al-Shehri was brought down in the area. In truth, Salem Al-Dawsari’s spot kick was not the best but Al-Burayk should have done better with the rebound. Going in level at the break against 10 men would have produced a very different second half.
This is a new, confident Saudi Arabia
What a difference a win against Argentina makes. If anyone was tuning in without knowing anything about the teams, they would have thought that the men in green were the favorites, with players active at the highest level, and that the ones in blue and white were the underdogs.
There were questions as to whether Renard would set his team up in the same way for the second game, and he did. The same, brave, high line was there, the same pressing and even more energy. Saudi Arabia flew out of the blocks and went at Poland, who did not impress in their opening 0-0 draw with Mexico. The Poles were clearly rattled, as three yellow cards collected in the first half of the first half showed.
This is now a Saudi team that knows it can trouble European and South American opposition and does not back down. This is an attitude that needs to continue.
Saudi Arabia have home advantage
Saturday’s game may have officially taken place in Qatar but it could have been Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam, such were the numbers of Saudi fans in the stadium. As well as the quantity, there was also quality, with noise levels reaching rarely heard heights at the tournament.
The atmosphere was something else and it spurred on the players. It also rattled the Poles who really struggled to settle. They were jeered when in possession, in contrast to the cheers that greeted Saudi Arabian possession. It took an opening goal before the Poles started to look even remotely comfortable. Whatever happens, the Saudi Arabian fans and the players have come together to make one of the stories of the World Cup, and Mexico will not be looking forward to visiting Lusail Iconic Stadium on Wednesday.
There is still all to play for and no reason to feel down
Fans will have to wait and see what happens in Saturday’s late game between Argentina and Mexico to know exactly what they have to do, but whatever happens, everybody would have accepted this position before the World Cup began. Three points from the first two games means the Falcons are in control of their destiny. A win over Mexico means that a place in the knockout stage is guaranteed. It remains to be seen if a draw will suffice.
Coach Renard will have to wait and see what happens with players who have collected knocks but there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Saudi Arabia have shown that they can live with their opponents. Glory awaits and with tens of thousands of fans behind them next week then anything could happen. The defeat against Poland does not need to be a devastating one and nobody should feel down.

Disappointment for captain Ronaldo as Al-Nassr lose 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Super Cup semi

Disappointment for captain Ronaldo as Al-Nassr lose 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Super Cup semi
Updated 27 January 2023

Disappointment for captain Ronaldo as Al-Nassr lose 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Super Cup semi

Disappointment for captain Ronaldo as Al-Nassr lose 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Super Cup semi
  • The winners will face Al-Feiha, who recorded a surprise 1-0 victory over Al-Hilal in day’s other last-four clash, in Sunday’s final
  • Al-Hilal will now shift their focus to the opening game of their FIFA Club World Cup campaign, against Wydad AC of Morocco, on Feb. 4

Cristiano Ronaldo will have to wait a while to lift his first Saudi silverware, after Al-Nassr fell to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Al-Ittihad in their Saudi Super Cup semi-final on Thursday. The victors will meet Al-Feiha, who recorded a surprise 1-0 victory over Al-Hilal earlier in the day, in the final on Sunday.

Ronaldo, who was handed the captain’s armband for his second game with the league leaders, could have no complaints about the result. Al-Ittihad scored twice during an impressive first-half performance, and Nuno Santo’s side managed to hold on fairly comfortably after Anderson Talisca pulled one back for Al-Nassr midway through the second half.

Al-Ittihad took the lead after 15 minutes with almost their first attack of the game. Abdulrahman Al-Aboud exchanged passes with Abderrazak Hamdallah on the left side and then delivered a perfect low cross that Romarinho slotted home past goalkeeper Agustin Rossi, on loan from Boca Juniors and making his debut as a stand-in for the injured David Ospina.

Romarinho celebrates scoring his team’s first goal. (@ittihad) 

The Tigers visibly grew in confidence following the goal and looked like adding to their lead as they cut through the Al-Nassr back line time and time again. The Riyadh side struggled to bring Ronaldo into the game but then, just before the half-time, it looked as if the former Real Madrid star would open his Al-Nassr account.

A cross from the right found the skipper in the area and though he climbed high above the Al-Ittihad defense, his header from close range was straight at goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe.

Seconds later, Al-Ittihad extended their lead. Pity Martinez was robbed of possession on the right side and Romarinho broke free to float a perfect cross to the far side of the area. Hamdallah sent an equally perfect header back the way the ball had come and into the corner of the net.

Al-Nassr improved in the second half but still struggled to create clear chances. Ronaldo came close after 65 minutes but the five-time Ballon D’or winner sent his free-kick from just outside the left corner of the penalty area narrowly over the bar.

Shortly thereafter, Talisca put the Riyadh side back in the game as he fired home Luiz Gustavo’s low cross from the left. The Al-Nassr onslaught that might have been expected following the goal never really materialized, however, and Al-Ittihad sealed their place in the final in injury time thanks to a breakaway goal from Muhannad Al-Shanqeeti.

In May Al-Hilal lost the King’s Cup final to Al-Feiha after a penalty shootout. In Thursday’s game they did not even get that close.

The only goal of the game came after 21 minutes. Victor Ruiz had the ball in the middle of the Al-Hilal half and his perfect reverse through-pass split three defenders allowing Paulinho to run into the area, where the Brazilian calmly placed the ball to the left of goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

Paulinho celebrates the winning goal against Al-Hilal.  (@Alfaihaclub)

Just four minutes later, Al-Hilal were handed a perfect chance to get back on level terms. Abdullah Al-Hamdan, given a rare start by coach Ramon Diaz, dribbled into the right corner of the penalty area, where he was tripped by Ricardo Ryller. Up stepped Salem Al-Dawsari but he slammed his shot against the base of the left-hand post, though goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, who did so much to help his team to victory in the King’s Cup, seemed to suggest he got a hand to it.

Al-Hilal had perhaps an even better opportunity immediately after the restart but, with the goal at his mercy, Al-Hamdan lifted the ball over from the edge of the six-yard box. Shortly after, the unmarked Saleh Al-Shehri headed wide from a good position. The blue wave continued to push forward but to no avail.

“Losing and saying goodbye to our chances of winning the Saudi Super Cup is painful,” said Al-Hilal striker Moussa Marega. “We must learn from the defeat and put it right in the future.”

Al-Feiha now have a chance to claim their second major silverware, while Al-Hilal must quickly shift their focus to another knockout tournament; the Asian champions will kick off their FIFA Club World Cup campaign against African title-holders Wydad AC of Morocco on Feb. 4.

Record-chasing Mbappé has Cavani’s PSG mark in his sights

Record-chasing Mbappé has Cavani’s PSG mark in his sights
Updated 27 January 2023

Record-chasing Mbappé has Cavani’s PSG mark in his sights

Record-chasing Mbappé has Cavani’s PSG mark in his sights
  • Mbappé's tally of 196 goals for PSG means he is only four behind Edinson Cavani's record for the club
  • Cavani is still idolized by fans, many of whom were angry at the club for letting him leave in 2020

PARIS: Kylian Mbappé can close in further on Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time scoring record when his team host Reims on Sunday.
Mbappé’s tally of 196 goals for PSG means he is only four behind Edinson Cavani’s record for the club. Cavani is still idolized by fans, many of whom were angry at the club for letting him leave in 2020.
Mbappé has taken longer to win PSG’s supporters over, especially when relations became frosty during the on-off transfer saga with Real Madrid.
But his exploits for France at the World Cup in Qatar increased his popularity all over the country, and since returning he’s been applauded at every away ground — although that might not be the case when PSG visit bitter rival Marseille twice next month.
The World Cup’s top scorer is in clinical form heading into Saturday’s match at Parc des Princes after netting five goals in a French Cup win on Monday, albeit against an amateur side.
Mbappé’s attitude in that game stood out along with his crisp finishing. He took the match very seriously and spoke of his respect for the non-league teams afterward.
“It’s a reminder for us that we all come from amateur football and it’s important to keep this link,” he said. “Even if it’s only for one game.”
Neymar has been largely anonymous for PSG since his World Cup heartbreak with Brazil, so PSG coach Christophe Galtier needs Mbappé to maintain his form.
“Kylian is among the greatest strikers, the world class strikers. He’s one of the best,” Galtier said. “He’s conditioned to score. That’s Kylian, a man of statistics and numbers. I don’t even need to encourage for him to break records.”
He is the league’s top scorer with 13 goals this season, one more than Lorient’s Terem Moffi and Lille’s Jonathan David, and it’s only a matter of time before Cavani’s record tumbles.
In far quicker time, too.
While Cavani notched his 200 goals in 301 games, Mbappé has taken just 241 matches to reach 196.
While his best season’s haul of 42 goals overall is less than Cavani’s best total of 49, Mbappé is already on 25 goals in 24 games so far in this campaign.
With half of the league campaign still to play, he could realistically hit 50 if PSG goes far in the Champions League and the French Cup.
That might be tough, however, since PSG face Bayern Munich in the round of 16 and are away to Marseille in the cup’s last 16.
A hectic schedule sees PSG playing seven games next month, including a league game at third-place Marseille that promises to be intense, and eight if they reach the cup quarterfinals.
Mid-table Reims are a hard team to beat, too, and are on an 11-match unbeaten run which includes holding PSG to a 0-0 draw at home in October.
PSG’s away form have been a concern recently, with consecutive defeats at Lens and Rennes allowing second-place Lens to close the gap to three points after 19 rounds.
So, PSG need a morale-boosting home win to get their confidence back, and help Mbappé close the gap on Cavani.

Vinicius effigy hung from bridge before Madrid derby

Vinicius effigy hung from bridge before Madrid derby
Updated 26 January 2023

Vinicius effigy hung from bridge before Madrid derby

Vinicius effigy hung from bridge before Madrid derby
  • The Vinicius effigy was described as a "racist attack" and "serious threat" against the Brazilian forward by Spanish media
  • Police sources told AFP they were investigating the incident, without offering further details

MADRID: A dummy dressed in a Vinicius Junior shirt was hung from a bridge near Real Madrid’s training ground ahead of the Copa del Rey quarter-final clash against Atletico Madrid on Thursday.
“Madrid hates Real,” read a banner draped on the bridge close to Valdebebas overnight Wednesday.
The Vinicius effigy was described as a “racist attack” and “serious threat” against the Brazilian forward by Spanish media.
Police sources told AFP they were investigating the incident, without offering further details.
The slogan is one which has been used by Atletico Madrid ultras in the past.
“Such acts are absolutely repugnant and inadmissible and shame society,” said Atletico in a statement.
“Our condemnation of any act that attacks the dignity of persons or institutions is categorical and unreserved.”
Atletico fans were filmed aiming racist chants at Vinicius in September before the Madrid derby at the Wanda Metropolitano in La Liga.
However, in December Spanish prosecutors closed an investigation into the chants, saying it was not possible to identify those culpable.
“We condemn the hateful actions against Vinicius,” wrote La Liga on Twitter.
“Intolerance and violence do not fit within football.”
Real Madrid’s 22-year-old winger is a divisive figure in Spanish football, with opponents sometimes angered by his flair and playing style, and his propensity to go to ground easily.
On the other hand, Vinicius is often targeted and hacked by opposition defenders to try and put him off his game, with no player in Europe fouled more this season.
“We have to protect him,” urged Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti on Wednesday in a news conference.
“Football needs him, he’s got an extraordinary talent and we have to protect him physically and in a mental aspect too.”
Real Madrid host rivals Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu later on Thursday.

‘New teams, new brand’: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle looks ahead to Diriyah E-Prix double-header

‘New teams, new brand’: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle looks ahead to Diriyah E-Prix double-header
Updated 27 January 2023

‘New teams, new brand’: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle looks ahead to Diriyah E-Prix double-header

‘New teams, new brand’: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle looks ahead to Diriyah E-Prix double-header
  • Reigle talks exclusively to Arab News about Season 9, the new Gen3 car and what the future holds for the all-electric series

In the end, it proved all right on the night.

Almost 40,000 raucous fans turned up to welcome Formula E’s Gen3 era in Mexico City two weeks ago, and this weekend Riyadh will host the Diriyah E-Prix double-header.

“Mexico was fantastic,” Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle said. “I guess I have to start by saying there’s no denying that there was a pretty high degree of anxiety as we came into the race, for a host of reasons. First of all, it’s the first race to the season, so inevitably it’s a mix of excited emotions and anxious emotions.

“We’re talking top tier sport drivers, team principals, the manufacturers that want to win — so good that sense of anticipation, but this year that was ramped up, because it’s a brand new car, Gen3, which is a big leap forward.

“And we really push the limits in terms of the car,” he added. “We reduced the weight by 60 kg, we increased the power by 100 kilowatts, a lot of changes under the hood, so to speak, as well as new tires and a new battery. So there were some pretty well cataloged challenges that the teams faced in the testing period.”

After four successful years of Gen2, Formula E seems to have been given a reboot.

“From a purely commercial perspective, we launched our new brand identity,” Reigle said. “We had three new teams coming in, you had Maserati joining, in partnership with Monaco Sports Group, you had McLaren coming in, and then Cupra, coming back with the ABT team. New teams, new brands, just everything was new, and it was really successful.”

On Friday and Saturday the action moves to Saudi Arabia with rounds 2 and 3 of Formula E Season 9 taking place under the lights in Diriyah, increasingly a favorite destination for the drivers.

“I was at dinner last night — we did a charity fundraiser, gala dinner, and I was at the table with Andre Lotterer (of Avalanche Andretti),” said Reigle. “I wasn’t trying to tee him up. We had a group of guests and I asked ‘Andre, so what’s your favorite circuit in Formula E and motorsport?’ This guy has won Le Mans three times and raced in a lot of places. Without skipping a beat, he said Diriyah. It’s fast, high-speed corners, it’s really challenging to drive. The setting is amazing and it’s a night race, and sport, especially the electric cars and motorsport, just looks cool at night.

“The drivers love it.”

Reigle’s first race as CEO was Diriyah in 2019, and he has overseen the sport’s growth in the ensuing three years, which, of course, included the COVID-19 pandemic.

The future, he says, “is electric.”

Reigle added: “If you think about sports that didn’t exist 20, 30 years ago, and are big today, there’s very, very few. There’s really only one that has broken into the top, top tier, and it’s probably UFC. It was started in the 90s, kind of bubbled around, and then it got bigger and bigger.

“And Formula E has that opportunity,” he added. “We’ve got the top drivers, we’ve got a lot of the top manufacturers and teams — all the conditions are there. We’ve got these great venues. The question is do we have the fan base?”

The turnout in Mexico — “a big moment” — as well as the Gen3 car and changes in racing format, would suggest that increasingly, Formula E does.

Then there is the stellar lineup of drivers.

“People want to watch the best compete against the best,” Reigle said. “The good news for Formula E is that we already have a very high caliber of stars. Because of the way we grew up, we don’t have pay drivers, we don’t have guys whose dad owns the team. It’s all top tier professionals — guys who have won Le Mans, who have been in Formula One, who have won in DTM and who built their careers in Formula E.”

Reigle highlighted the career path of Dutch driver Nyck De Vries — Formula E champion in 2021 and now signed to Formula One’s Scuderia AlphaTauri — as an example of the high standards in electric racing. Other examples are Mitch Evans and Jake Dennis, the winner in Mexico City.

“Last year we did Indonesia for the first time and we had 60,000 people,” said Reigle. “MotoGP, that’s their only really international sporting event, now we’re adding to that. So you’ve got these big opportunities in emerging markets.

“This year we’re adding Hyderabad, Cape Town — we’re heading to Sao Paulo and Portland. Those are big markets that we’re going to open up, which is really exciting.

“If in three years, we’re not adding a few more cities, I’ll be disappointed.”

Making Miracles to miss out on Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup

Making Miracles will miss out on The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2023
Making Miracles is one of the favorites for Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2023
Updated 26 January 2023

Making Miracles to miss out on Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup

Making Miracles will miss out on The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2023
  • Horse with an impressive track record in the Saudi field has claimed five titles

RIYADH: Making Miracles, slated as one of the favorites to win The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2023, will now not take part in the race.

Thanks to his experience in the Saudi races and becoming a remarkable asset of the White and Blue Stable owned by Prince Saud bin Salman. Making Miracles was initially expected to particpate in this year’s renewal of the cup, which will take place at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Janadriyah next Friday and Saturday.

The British horse was born in 2015, and when he turned four began to write a rich history for his stable.

Making Miracles previously claimed three international class 2 cups, including two races at Hajjduk track and Handicap track, alongside winning a round in the “At the Races” event in 2018. His most famous win was The Chester Handicap in 2019.

Making Miracles gained his fame in the Saudi races after he claimed five titles, including three rounds in the first-class races, winning the Open race of The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2022 and the Crown Prince Cup two times in a row.

Making Miracles also came fourth in The Saudi Cup 2022 and was placed second in The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup 2021 before finishing second in The Jockey Club Cup in the same season.

The British horse currently has a rating of 114 degrees and is also one of the favorite horses of veteran rider Alexis Mourinho, who last year led him to win The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup. Total career winnings for Making Miracles have reached $2.13 million (SR 8 million).

Prince Saud bin Salman’s stable includes the biggest and most expensive Saudi Cup championships. He managed in record time to win the Founder’s Cup three times in a row, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup and The Crown Prince Cup twice in a row, the King Fahd Cup, King Faisal Cup and Prince Muhammad bin Saud Cup.