5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit
Saudi Arabia’s Firas Al-Buraikan reacts at the end of the World Cup group C match between Saudi Arabia and Mexico in Qatar on Dec. 1, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 01 December 2022

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit

5 things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s loss to Mexico and Qatar 2022 exit
  • The exhausted Green Falcons fall short of the round of 16, but depart with plenty of pride and the memory of their stunning win over Argentina

A dramatic, at times beautiful adventure, is finally over.

Saudi Arabia exited the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday night at Lusail Stadium, losing 2-1 to Mexico. It means a fourth place finish in Group D with three points from three games.

Below are five things we learned from another drama-filled day in Qatar and the campaign in general.

1. A wild ride comes to an end

Whatever happens, the players, the fans and the whole country will always have the historic 2-1 win over Argentina. It was the biggest story of the first round of games at the tournament and it really brought the World Cup to life. Unlike 2018 when the international football community barely realized that Saudi Arabia had been in Russia at all, the Asian powerhouse were talked about in all corners of the planet.

It was unfortunate that there were no more points to come. Saudi Arabia played well against Poland and did not deserve to lose 2-0, and perhaps did not really deserve to lose at all. When the dust settles, there will be an unending debate as to what would have happened had Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty late in the first half had not been saved by Wojciech Szczesny (though the Al-Hilal star is in good company as Lionel Messi suffered the same fate on Wednesday). We will never know but there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia and their legions of fans can leave Qatar with their heads held very high.

Mexico were the better team and deserved to win but it was fitting that the campaign ended with a well-worked goal from Al-Dawsari deep inside injury time. Saudi Arabia helped give the world another remarkable and exciting game.

2. Injuries and suspensions were costly in the end

It was almost forgotten amid the thrills of that Argentina win that captain Salman Al-Faraj joined the celebrations on crutches and fullback Yasser Al-Shahrani was carried off in the final moments.

Key midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki was suspended after picking up two yellow cards. It was then a major blow as central defender Ali Al-Bulaihi went off with what looked to be a hamstring injury. Who knows? Had the Al-Hilal man, who went off after being pushed, been on the pitch then the corner from which Mexico scored their opening goal may have been cleared.

There was nothing that anyone could have done about the Chavez free kick. It was a special set piece that will surely not be bettered at this World Cup, even if it was a pointless foul to give away. In the end, Mexico were too good and Saudi Arabia too depleted and too tired. Had coach Renard had a full and fit contingent of players to pick from, then surely the final game would have been closer. The boss did not have the deepest of squads to call upon when compared with some others and was always going to struggle once injuries and suspensions kicked in.

3. Salem Al-Dawsari a star, Kanno catches the eye

For a number of years, Arab News has waxed lyrical about the talents of the 31-year-old Salem Al-Dawsari and now everyone agrees. The Al-Hilal man caught the eye from the get-go and has been hailed around the world.

His goal against Argentina did not just win the game but was a beautiful strike in its own right. His technique and silky skills have played their part in making the World Cup an exciting one as he has shown that there is exciting talent in Saudi Arabia. The only negative is that he is on the wrong side of 30. But the 2026 World Cup is not that far away and now that he has equaled Sami Al-Jaber’s World Cup tally of three goals, he may want more.

Midfielder Mohamed Kanno also caught the eye of the international audience with his energy, running and ability to break up play. It was impressive for a player who has had little playing time at club level in recent months.

There were others too who made a name for themselves and they leave Qatar with reputations enhanced and in need of a well-deserved rest.

4. The World Cup will miss Saudi Arabia

It wasn’t just the win against Argentina that ignited the tournament, it was the presence of the tens of thousands of Saudi Arabian fans that created a magnificent atmosphere. As hosts Qatar struggled on the pitch, it almost felt like the games were being hosted over the border in Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam. In every game, the fans came to fill the stadiums and create the sort of buzz and excitement that every tournament needs.

They came to support their team and were rewarded with some unforgettable experiences and moments. There is still a lot of football to be played and while the Green Falcons were eliminated in the first round, if there was a tournament for best fans then the country would be going all the way to the final.

The fans have given the world a taste of Saudi Arabian football culture and passion just as the team have done on the pitch and that is what the World Cup is all about.

5. Mexico’s elimination means more history for Saudi Arabia

It was always going to be the case that Mexico were much improved from their first two games against Poland, a goalless draw, and a 2-0 loss to Argentina. They had failed to score and failed to impress. There was much more invention, energy and ambition in this game, as you would expect as they were in a do-or-die situation.

El Tri were on top in the first half and played much of the second half in sight of the Saudi Arabian goal. They had plenty of chances to get the additional goal that would have been enough to take them past Poland into second place.

The Green Falcons have helped make history. Mexico last failed to get past the group stage in 1978. Saudi Arabia may have lost but they did, in a way, eliminate the CONCACAF powerhouse at the first round for the first time since the previous century. Saudi Arabia leave in good company after taking part in another thrilling match.

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 58 sec ago

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’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).

Al-Hilal hoping to surpass previous runs at FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal hoping to surpass previous runs at FIFA Club World Cup
Updated 01 February 2023

Al-Hilal hoping to surpass previous runs at FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal hoping to surpass previous runs at FIFA Club World Cup
  • The Saudi and Asian champions have been knocked out at the semifinal stages in the last two editions of the competition

Al-Hilal have unfinished business at the FIFA Club World Cup. When the Blues kick off against Wydad AC on Saturday in Rabat, Morocco, they hope it will be a case of third time lucky in front of a global audience.

The Saudi Arabian and Asian champions have yet to progress past the last four but this time could be different. Success would not just be welcome in its own right but would reclaim some of the global spotlight that has been stolen recently by Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr with their titanic signing of Cristiano Ronaldo.

In the 2019 and 2021 (which actually took place in 2022) editions, the Riyadh giants won their opening games, against Esperance de Tunis on their debut in Qatar and then a 6-1 thrashing of Al-Jazira representing the host nation of the UAE a year ago.

First time around, they were defeated in the semifinals by Brazilian giants Flamengo, and their run was ended last time by Chelsea after a hard-fought game with the European champions.

Such experience will, it is hoped, stand the team in good stead for the coming challenges.

“Because we have played twice before in the Club World Cup, I expect that we will reach the final this time though there are difficult games ahead of us,” Al-Hilal’s Colombian star Gustavo Cuellar said as the team arrived in Morocco on Monday. “There is enough talent in the team to reach the final.”

Wydad present, on paper, a tougher opening game than Al-Hilal have had in the two previous tournaments. The Casablanca club defeated Al-Ahly of Egypt in the final of the African Champions League last year to become continental champions for the third time. They are also on home soil and sure to be backed by a passionate crowd.

Moroccan football is on a high at the moment after the national team reached the semifinals of the 2022 World Cup, defeating Belgium, Spain and Portugal on the way to giving defending champions France a tough game. Similar success in the club edition would be cited in North Africa as further evidence that Morocco are the leading Arab football nation.

For Al-Hilal it is probably good news that Walid Regragui is no longer at the helm. The 47-year-old is the toast of the coaching world after leading Morocco to global glory. He took over the national team not long after leading Wydad to the African title and was replaced in Casablanca by Mehdi Nafti.

“I am up to date with what is going on with the other teams and so I know very well what awaits us at the Club World Cup,” Nafti said in the build-up to the tournament. “We have motivation, confidence and capabilities, and the competition is playing in Morocco, and this will guarantee us great support from our supporters. We have to remain calm and focus on our opening game with Al-Hilal.”

Al-Hilal coach Ramon Diaz knows how important this tournament is to the 18-time Saudi Arabian champions. After all, it is because of the Club World Cup that the Argentine took the reins in Riyadh. A year ago, a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Ahly of Egypt in the playoff for third place meant that Leonardo Jardim was given his marching orders. Diaz then led the team to an amazing run in the Saudi Professional League that resulted in another championship.

Domestically, Al-Hilal are in a better position than they were a year ago as they are just a point off the top, though they have played a game more than leaders Al-Nassr.

The form is not perfect however with just three wins in the last seven games, not a terrible record but standards are very high at the most successful club in the history of both Saudi Arabian and Asian football.

That run included a shock 1-0 defeat to Al-Feiha in the semifinal of the Saudi Super Cup on Jan. 26. After returning from last year’s Club World Cup, Hilal moved into top gear and overhauled Al-Ittihad’s double-digit lead, to take the title and a similar run would be welcomed this time though the hope is it comes after a better performance in Morocco.

Diaz has called up a strong squad. The main absence is that of Salman Al-Faraj as the captain, who went off injured in that historic Saudi Arabian win over Argentina at the World Cup in November.

If Wydad are overcome then there will be a rematch with Flamengo. With the South American champions coming to North Africa off the back of mixed form domestically, Al-Hilal would be in with a chance of a big win and a place in the final, probably against European champions Real Madrid.

That would be a major success but there is a long way to go before a possible meeting with arguably the world’s biggest team in a global final and it starts with a tough game in Morocco.

Saudi Cup is the target of Es-Unico who hopes to emulate Uruguayan horses

Saudi Cup is the target of Es-Unico who hopes to emulate Uruguayan horses
Updated 01 February 2023

Saudi Cup is the target of Es-Unico who hopes to emulate Uruguayan horses

Saudi Cup is the target of Es-Unico who hopes to emulate Uruguayan horses
  • 3-year-old is being primed for Group 3 Saudi Derby on Feb. 25

Es-Unico, the winner of last year’s Uruguayan Gran Criterium (domestic Group 2), is ready to follow in the footsteps of Aero Trem, fifth in last year’s Group 1 Saudi Cup, with the 3-year-old being targeted at the Group 3 Saudi Derby on Feb. 25.

Antonio Cintra’s assistant trainer Julio Olascoaga is overseeing Es-Unico’s preparation in Dubai and said: “He won the most important race for 2-year-olds in Uruguay. Then he had a problem that did not allow him to compete in the Uruguayan Triple Crown and after that we thought of aiming for the Dubai Carnival and The Saudi Cup meeting.”

Although only four of their horses — Aero Trem, Perfect Love, El Patriota and Ajuste Fiscal — have run previously at The Saudi Cup, Cintra’s team has been focused on the meeting since it started in 2020.

“The planning to run at The Saudi Cup is something that comes from a long time ago,” said Olascoaga. “In the first edition, we already had it in our minds that we wanted to compete there. Our plan is to select the best horses from Uruguay and test them against some of the world’s top performers.”

Unbeaten as a 2-year-old in Uruguay, Es-Unico finished second on his first start in Dubai, the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial over 1,400 meters.

Olascoaga said: “He ran a very good race and ran very hard at the end. It always seemed that a little more distance would help him. The mile of the Saudi Derby will suit him perfectly. His form is at a very high level and he will enjoy the long straight at King Abdulaziz.”

The only question is if he will run in the UAE 2000 Guineas first or go straight to Saudi. “He recovered very well after the race — better than we expected because it was a tough one,” said Olascoaga.

“I think that if he does the same in the 2000 Guineas, he could easily go to the Saudi Derby afterwards. It’s not ideal, maybe an extra week would have been better, but if the horse is fine, it’s very possible that he will run in both.”

No decision has been made on who will ride him in the Saudi Derby yet, but Jose Da Silva has always been on board and there does not seem to be a reason to change things.

Olascoaga said: “South America has always been an exporter of great jockeys. There are outstanding examples like Silvestre de Sousa and Joao Moreira. Anywhere in the world you will find South American jockeys. We like jockeys who really feel the silks — not only wearing the colors of an owner but those of a country, an industry and a continent.”

When anyone mentions a Uruguayan great in the horse ranks, it is inevitable that the name Invasor comes up. Although born in Argentina, he is the best horse trained in Uruguay to date.

“When Invasor ran, I was still very young, but of course I watched all his races. I don’t know if you could say they are similar as they are horses of different physiques. Invasor was a little taller and slimmer, while Es-Unico is a medium-sized horse and a little more compact which makes him more agile,” said Olascoaga.

“When he gallops he reaches top speed very quickly and I think his turn of foot will make the difference in Saudi,” he added. “But there is something they both have in common — a huge heart and the fact they both carry the Uruguayan flag. Invasor became the best in the world, let’s see how far Es-Unico goes.”

Newcastle’s Wembley dream fulfilled with historic Carabao Cup final

Newcastle’s Wembley dream fulfilled with historic Carabao Cup final
Updated 01 February 2023

Newcastle’s Wembley dream fulfilled with historic Carabao Cup final

Newcastle’s Wembley dream fulfilled with historic Carabao Cup final
  • Geordie Sean Longstaff was the local hero with 2 goals
  • Magpies likely to face surging Man United on Feb. 26

NEWCASTLE, UK: Tell me ma, me ma, they won’t be home for tea — Newcastle United are going to Wembley.

For the first time in 23 years the Magpies are heading to the home of English football and it was the iconic chant, to the tune of Doris Day’s classic “Que Sera Sera,” that rung around the streets and bars of Tyneside for the first time this century.

Geordie Sean Longstaff proved United’s local hero as his two goals put United 3-0 in front over the two legs, before Che Adams got a consolation. Bruno Guimaraes was sent off late for the Magpies, however they hung on to secure a Carabao Cup date with destiny on Sunday, Feb. 26. Facing them is likely to be Manchester United, who take on Nottingham Forest in their second leg on Wednesday with a 3-0 advantage in the bank.

“I feel really good. Very proud of the players and everyone connected with the club. A great night for us,” said head coach Eddie Howe.

“I thought it was one of the best 20-minute spells we’ve seen. The rest of the game was difficult but really pleased with the start to the match.

“You speak to people and there is a lot of people at the football club that have been here a long time so you get an idea of what it means. From my perspective, you’re so focused on the details of how we’re going to play and what we’re going to do, you can’t take your eye off that for a second so you shelter yourself from some of the feeling around the city. I think it’s nice to know and see how much it means. The view of the stadium again tonight with the flags and scarves made it an incredible place to play football.”

Very much in keeping with their Premier League form, the Magpies got off to a flyer — and it was Tyneside born and bred Longstaff who packed his shooting boots on the night.

He bagged two goals in the space of 16 first-half minutes and but for a swing and a miss, could have netted the Magpies’ first hat trick in the competition since Craig Bellamy in 2001.

His first came when a Guimaraes turn on the edge of the area freed skipper Kieran Trippier on the right and a deft ball into the midfielder was tucked home with a class so often missing from Longstaff’s wayward finishing this season.

Just moments later he almost made it 2-0 as a lash with his left foot skidded narrowly wide. He was in no mood to let the Saints off the hook, though, and did double the advantage on 20 minutes when he finished a slick passing move.

A rapid break down the left by Joe Willock saw Miguel Almiron fed in the middle and a cutback fell kindly for Longstaff, who smashed into the Gallowgate End net. The stuff dreams are made of for the lad from North Shields.

This wouldn’t be Newcastle United without a scare or two, though. And despite seemingly cruising at 3-0 up in the tie — having won 1-0 down on the south coast — they opened the door for the opposition.

A Willock error gifted possession to Che Adams and with one stroke of his right peg from distance he narrowed the difference between the sides.

Despite being two goals to the good nerves began to emanate from the pitch and into the terraces as the visitors pressed, pressed and pressed some more.

Nick Pope, a spectator largely to this point, had to be at his broad, sprawling best to deny former United forward Adam Armstrong.

Hanging on, but still looking dangerous on the break, United had a penalty call turned down when a Sven Botman header seemingly hit a Saints arm in the area before Longstaff almost finished it with a long-range effort, saved by Gavin Bazunu.

Having clipped the outside of the post with a left-footed curler, Bruno then had a moment of madness, which did little for nerves on the night.

The Brazilian was red-carded for a late lunge on Samuel Edozie, which was rightfully turned from a yellow into a red with the help of VAR.

Despite the late scare, United held on. And luckily for the team, Howe and Guimaraes, his instant three-game ban will be up by the time the trip to London comes around later this month.

Howe continued: “At the moment this doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s about the club it’s not about me. I’m proud to get to the final but my thought is always for the club.

“The challenge comes in the next few days with preparing for West Ham. We need to get back to work and not let this impact our league form.

“You’re always on to the next challenge.

“I’ve enjoyed tonight in a weird way but when you sit back and relax you come undone. You’re always on edge looking to win the next game.”