Iran World Cup loss sparks despair — and joy from regime critics

Iran World Cup loss sparks despair — and joy from regime critics
An Iranian fan holds a jersey in memory of Mahsa Amini before the match against Wales in Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar, Nov. 25, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 November 2022

Iran World Cup loss sparks despair — and joy from regime critics

Iran World Cup loss sparks despair — and joy from regime critics
  • Iranian gaming journalist Saeed Zafarany: ‘Who would’ve ever thought I’d jump three meters and celebrate America’s goal!’
  • Danish journalist Rasmus Tantholdt said that he was briefly detained by Qatari security forces after filming pro-regime fans attacking supporters of the Iranian protest movement

NICOSIA: For Iranians, their football team’s World Cup loss against the United States was cause for either sadness or exuberant joy, depending on where they stand on a two-month-old protest movement.
Caught between the clerical regime and calls to show solidarity with protesters, the national team pressed near-relentlessly in the second half on Tuesday night but were unable to cancel out a 38th minute opener by the US, resulting in an early exit.
That prompted the extraordinary spectacle of Iranians cheering a defeat inflicted by the Islamic republic’s arch-enemy often labelled the “Great Satan.”
“Who would’ve ever thought I’d jump three meters and celebrate America’s goal!” tweeted Iranian gaming journalist Saeed Zafarany.
Inside Iran, celebrations were especially marked in western Kurdistan province, the cradle of a movement sparked by the death of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in morality police custody after her arrest for allegedly infringing the nation’s strict dress code for women.
A video shared online by Kurdish activist Kaveh Ghoreishi showed a Sanandaj city neighborhood at night with sounds of cheering and horns blaring after the United States scored.
That goal also prompted joy in Amini’s hometown of Saqez, according to the London-based news website Iran Wire, which published images showing fireworks and sounds of people cheering.
Protesters also set off fireworks in Mahabad, Kurdistan, following Iran’s loss, according to videos shared online, while Norway-based Hengaw human rights group also reported celebrations there and in the city of Marivan.
The scenes of joy were not confined to Kurdistan province, reflecting the nationwide nature of the protest movement.
Videos on social media showed citizens celebrating in the capital Tehran and Ardabil, Mashhad, Kerman and Zahedan — many with people dancing and cheering in the streets amid long traffic jams.
It was a very different story in a hall in Tehran, where hundreds gathered to unreservedly cheer on their team — including women, in a country where they often have difficulty accessing stadiums.
“I’m so sad that Iran couldn’t defeat the USA but anyway we are proud of our national team and its players,” said Ali, a retiree. “They did their best and we are not angry with them.”
In Qatar itself, supporters of the US and Iran mingled cordially before the crunch game.
Crowds with the Stars and Stripes and the red, green and white colors of Iran’s flag talked largely freely as they entered Al Thumama Stadium.
Inside the ground, female Iranian fans sat — and often stood — proudly cheering their team without headscarves, some with the national flag daubed on their faces.
Iran’s players, after refusing to sing the national anthem for their opening game against England in a gesture of solidarity with the protests, reversed that stance for their second game with Wales, resulting in opprobrium in some quarters.
Players again voiced the anthem, albeit with little enthusiasm, for what turned out to be Iran’s final game.
They now go home to a country that remains on edge, as authorities crack down on the mainly peaceful protests that have become the biggest challenge to the regime since its birth in 1979.
After Iran’s victory over Wales, the judiciary announced the release of more than 1,100 detainees, including protesters, among them former national goalkeeper Parviz Boroumand.
Emblematic of the divisions, an AFP video showed scuffles breaking out among pro- and anti-regime Iranians outside the stadium after the US match.
The footage showed a woman wearing a T-shirt with the protest slogan “Woman, life, freedom” being harassed by Iranian men as she gave a televised interview.
A Danish journalist said he was briefly detained after filming pro-regime fans attacking supporters of the Iranian protest movement.
Rasmus Tantholdt of TV2 Denmark tweeted that Qatari security forces had instructed him to erase the footage but he refused to do so.
Iranian supporters have had run-ins with security for sporting clothing bearing images of Amini or the words “Woman, life, freedom” in Qatar which, unlike most other Gulf states, maintains cordial relations with Tehran.
Iran says more than 300 people have been killed since the protests erupted, but Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights says at least 448 people have been killed by the security forces in the ongoing protest crackdown.


Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come
Saudi Arabia has been named as host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.
Updated 23 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come

Saudi Arabia’s hosting of 2027 AFC Asian Cup is an idea whose time has finally come
  • Wit thriving domestic league, successful national teams and clubs, Kingdom will finally host continent’s biggest international competition

Saudi Arabia has been named as host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup, and incredibly, will hold the continent’s biggest international for the first time.

Less than a month after Cristiano Ronaldo arrived to play for Al-Nassr, and two since the Saudi national team’s fine performances at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the news cements the country’s status as a major hub of the world’s most popular game on the largest continent.

It was always likely that Saudi would get the official nod as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) conducted its congress in Bahrain’s capital of Manama.

Five countries initially threw hats into the ring. Iran and Uzbekistan withdrew and then, after China — still in lockdown and pursuing a zero-COVID-19 policy — relinquished hosting rights from the 2023 tournament, Qatar stepped in as a substitute.

That meant India was the only remaining rival and when New Delhi bowed out in December, it cleared the way for Saudi Arabia to host the tournament for the first time in its history.

It is an idea whose time has finally come.

The pandemic played a wider part, too. With the disruption caused to competitions, both of the club and country variety, during the outbreak, Saudi Arabia proved to be a competent, flexible and reliable host whether the games were World Cup qualifiers or AFC Champions Leagues matches.

The work done, often at short notice, was appreciated by the AFC. After the confederation got its fingers burnt by the situation in China, it is not a surprise that cities such as Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam are seen as safe choices as well as places that deserved a first chance to host Asia’s biggest sporting event.

There is more to it than that, however. The reputation of Saudi Arabian football is higher now than it has maybe ever been. The national team is still basking in the warmth of the global sensation produced with November’s World Cup win over eventual champions Argentina. It was a stunning victory. With a little more luck then Herve Renard’s men could easily have found themselves in the last 16 especially if Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty had been converted against Poland.

The performances showed that there is talent in the country with the likes of Saud Abdulhamid linked to big moves in Italy and elsewhere.

The Saudi Professional League has long been one of the strongest in Asia but in recent years has grown in strength, depth and stature. There is regularly more than one representative in the latter stages of the Asian Champions League. Al-Hilal are the defending champions — and have won two of the last three — and now have a record number of four continental titles as well as international stars such as Odion Ighalo and Moussa Marega. On Saturday, the Blues kick off a third FIFA Club World Cup campaign in the space of three years.

While there is a growing core of talent in the country, as the World Cup exploits and last June’s U23 Asian Championships triumph have shown, the league is home to some of the best foreign players and coaches in Asian football.

Al-Ittihad have former Tottenham Hotspur boss Nuno Santo in charge and a whole host of talented foreign players including Moroccan marksman Abderrazzak Hamdallah, Egyptian rock Ahmed Hegazi and talented Brazilians such as Igor Coronado and Romarinho.

Al-Shabab tore up the group stage of the Champions League and even second tier Al-Ahli have Pitso Mosimane in charge, the man who has won three African Champions League crowns with Mamelodi Sundowns in his native South Africa and twice with Egyptian giants Al-Ahly. At the moment, the SPL is the most exciting and high-profile domestic competition on the continent.

And that was the case before Ronaldo signed with Al-Nassr. The Portuguese star is one of the best players in the history of the game with five Ballon d’Or awards and the same number of UEFA Champions League titles. It is not just about the talent of the former Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus legend, but the fact that he among the most recognizable people on the planet. His presence has just increased the spotlight shining on Saudi Arabian football.

It all means that the Asian Cup announcement is not only a natural decision, as Saudi Arabian football is in a great place at the moment on the pitch, but also confirms what is happening off the field. The tournament will be the biggest football event ever to take place in the country but there is a sense that there is more to come. The waiting is over and now, preparations can begin.


President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member
President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, Yasser Al-Misehal.
Updated 35 min 8 sec ago

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member

President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation elected as FIFA Council member
  • Yasser Al-Misehal joins the FIFA team on the day Saudi Arabia are confirmed as hosts of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Riyadh: Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) President Yasser Al-Misehal has been elected as a Member of the FIFA Council at the 33rd AFC Congress 2023 held in Manama, Bahrain today. 

This marks a new milestone for football in the Kingdom as Al-Mishal becomes only the second Saudi elected Member to the prestigious FIFA Council, which is the main governing body of the FIFA organization.

The announcement was made on the same day that Saudi Arabia was confirmed as the host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

The term will run for four years and this election expected to bring with it new opportunities to the football sphere not only in Saudi Arabia but the Middle East and Asia.


Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup
Updated 01 February 2023

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup

Trio of Arab clubs looking to carry feel-good factor of Qatar 2022 into FIFA Club World Cup
  • Wydad of host nation Morocco, Saudi’s Al-Hilal and Egyptian giants Al-Ahly will look to emulate the fine performances of Arab nations in football’s premier event

As Morocco looks to launch the FIFA Club World Cup on Wednesday night, it will be almost impossible for Arab fans not to cast their minds back to that golden month of football that was the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

That the intercontinental club tournament is taking place in the very nation that gave us the first Arab or African team to reach the semifinal of World Cup just six weeks ago seems a little too good to be true.

The trio of Arab clubs in Morocco — home club Wydad AC, Saudi’s Al-Hilal and Egypt’s Al-Ahly — will now hope to carry Qatar 2022’s feel-good factor into the next two weeks.

As always for the African and Asian representatives at the Club World Cup, it won’t be easy. Standing in their way are European champions Real Madrid, Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo of Brazil, CONCACAF’s Seattle Sounders FC from the US and Oceana’s Auckland City of New Zealand.

But thanks to the heroes of the Arab national teams in Doha, these obstacles are no longer ones to be dreaded, more one to be attacked.

For a start, African champions Wydad will have high hopes of emulating their national heroes in front of their own fans.

Keep an eye out for Ayman El-Hassouni, one of the team’s most influential stars and its attacking mastermind.

The 27-year-old is having an excellent season, forming a strong midfield partnership with Yahya Gebran and contributing six goals in 14 matches.

Wydad will kick off their Club World Cup campaign against Al-Hilal on Saturday, guaranteeing at least one Arab team in the semifinals.

Ramon Diaz’s Saudi and Asian champions have a big act to follow.

It’s been less than two months since the Saudi national team was shining at the World Cup with a historic 2-1 victory over eventual champions Argentina.

On an unforgettable night at Lusail Stadium in Doha, it was star player Salem Al-Dawsari who scored the historic winner to secure a place in the hearts of Arab football fans.

The 31-year-old — with three goals from 11 matches this season — will once again carry the bulk of his team’s hopes at the Club World Cup, particularly as fellow Saudi internationals Salman Al-Faraj and Yasser Al-Shahrani are still out due to serious injuries picked up in Qatar.

However, this is a Hilal team that is becoming very familiar with the Cub World Cup, with another seven players participating in it for the third time. Abdullah Al-Mayouf, Andre Carrillo, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Kanno, Jang Hyun-soo, Mohammed Jahfali and Gustavo Cuellar all took part in the 2019 and 2021 editions.

However, to surpass their previous finish of fourth place, improvement is needed at both ends of the field. The team has been inconsistent in front of goal while conceding 12 goals in 15 league matches this season; not a disaster by any means, but more than what Diaz expected from his title-challenging team.

But it’s Al-Ahly who kick off proceedings on Wednesday night when they take on Auckland City at Tangier Stadium.

Egypt may have missed the party in Qatar, but the Cairo giants, in their eighth participation, have a storied history in this tournament. Indeed they are the only team from the country to have ever played in it, and have finished a creditable third on three occasions, in 2006, 2020 and 2021.

Expect attacking midfielder Ahmed Abdel Kader to play an influential role for Al-Ahly in Morocco. The 23-year-old is considered one of the pillars of the squad over the last two seasons, having scored 11 and assisted seven goals in 60 matches. Coach Marcel Kohler will look for him to be the inspiration in attack, particularly with his ability to deal with defensive blocs and his partnership with left-back Ali Maaloul.

The three Arab clubs, with their three leading stars, have a chance to write their names in history. And if any inspiration is needed, all they have to do is look back at Qatar 2022.


Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup
The announcement was made at the 33rd AFC Congress in Manama.
Updated 47 min 49 sec ago

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia confirmed as host of 2027 AFC Asian Cup
  • The announcement was made at the 33rd AFC Congress in Manama

Saudi Arabia has been confirmed as the host of the 2027 AFC Asian Cup at the 33rd Asian Football Federation Congress in Manama on Wednesday afternoon.

It will be the first time that the tournament will be held in the Kingdom, with the Green Falcons having won the competitions three times previously (1984, 1988, 1996).

Four other nations had initially bid to host the tournament, including Iran, Uzbekistan, China and Qatar.  

Iran and Uzbekistan were the first to withdraw, with Qatar following as it filled in the vacancy left by China for the 2023 edition.

When India withdrew in December, Saudi Arabia were left unopposed to win the vote.

Developing...


Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k
Updated 01 February 2023

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k

Saudi’s Final Championship of the Racecourses kicks off on Friday with prize money of $240k
  • The weekend’s races will feature 22 rounds with over $667k to be won

RIYADH: King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Janadriyah is gearing up for the launch of The Final Championship of the Racecourses which will be held during the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia’s 92nd and 93rd festivals of the ongoing season on Friday and Saturday.

The JCSA has since last year added two extra rounds to The Final Championship, dedicated to Arabian horses and locally bred fillies.

The weekend will feature 22 rounds — including eight main races — with prize money exceeding $667,000 (SR2.5 million).

The three races of The Final Championship of the Racecourses will equally split a total prize of $240,000 (SR900,000).

Friday’s race card

Friday evening’s main races will begin with the 14th renewal of the late Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Albasam Award in the seventh round, in recognition of his achievements in horseracing.

The round will be held on a 1,600-meter track dedicated to 3-year-old locally bred horses with a prize pool of $35,000 (SR130,000).

Abdullah bin Abdulmohsen Albasam assumed the management of the JCSA between 1970 and 1988, succeeding the late manager Ali Alkhargi, the club’s first manager since its inception in 1965.

This race will be followed by the Al-Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University Cup, over a distance of 2,000 meters, which is dedicated to locally produced fillies and horses from the age of 4 and up, and its prize is $40,000 (SR150,000).

The Final Championship of the Racecourses round kicks off with a race dedicated to locally bred 4-year-old fillies on a 1,800-meter track with a prize pool of $80,000 (SR300,000).

The 10th round of racing on Friday will see The Final Championship Open round, dedicated to Arabian horses aged 4 and over, also on a 1,800-meter track with a prize pool of $80,000 (SR300,000).

The third, and last race of The Final Championship of the Racecourses — an Open round for all grades dedicated to 4-year-old locally bred horses — concludes Friday’s action on a 2,000-meter track with a prize of $80,000 (SR300,000).

Saturday’s race card

The exciting racing continues on Saturday evening, with the Apprentice Jockeys Hands & Heels Race Series on a 1,200-meter track, dedicated to local bred 4-year-old horses, classified 0 to 70 degrees, with prize money of $22,652 (SR85,000).

The Open Race of the Ministry of Media Cup, dedicated to locally bred horses aged 4 and up, will be held in the ninth round on a 1,400-meter track with a prize pool of $23,000 (SR150,000).

Additionally, the Broadcasting & TV Corporation Cup will be held during the 10th round of the festival on Saturday and is dedicated to 3-year-old horses of local and imported breeds which compete at a distance of 1,600 meters with prize money of $40,000 (SR150,000).

Finally, the 93rd Jockey Club Festival will end with the Al-Madinah Al-Monawarah Region Governorate Cup, dedicated to locally bred horses aged 4 and up, on a 2,400-meter track with prize money of $40,000 (SR150,000).