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.

Pay dispute between England women’s international players and FA appears to be resolved

Updated 2 sec ago

Pay dispute between England women’s international players and FA appears to be resolved

Pay dispute between England women’s international players and FA appears to be resolved
LONDON: Players from the England women’s team appear to have reached an agreement with the country’s soccer federation regarding a dispute over bonuses and commercial structures.
England captain Millie Bright said at a news conference on Thursday that the players “feel really confident moving forward about the structure we now have in place” with the Football Association. Exact details of the agreement have yet to be officially announced.
In a statement released before the recent Women’s World Cup in Australia, the England squad expressed disappointment at the dispute having not been resolved before the tournament and said the players had decided to pause talks with the intention of revisiting them.
Players from teams at the World Cup were due to receive individual payments directly from FIFA for the first time, ranging from $30,000 to $270,00 depending on what stage of the tournament they reached.
England players didn’t receive any payments from the FA, reportedly because the governing body perceived payments coming from FIFA to be enough.
There is also believed to be frustration over a commercial strategy which players feel limits their ability to earn extra money from sponsorship.
“We’ve had a really good conversation with the FA,” Bright said. “We have come to an agreement, but I think it’s bigger than just the bonus.
“For us it’s about being world leaders on and off the pitch, and as we know the women’s game is evolving very quickly and conversations like this need to happen in order to make sure in all areas we’re at the top of our game.”
England lost to Spain in the World Cup final, a year after the team coached by Sarina Wiegman won the European Championship for the first time.
England’s first match since the World Cup is against Scotland on Friday in the inaugural Women’s Nations League.

Captains face range of challenges ahead of Cricket World Cup

Captains face range of challenges ahead of Cricket World Cup
Updated 21 September 2023

Captains face range of challenges ahead of Cricket World Cup

Captains face range of challenges ahead of Cricket World Cup
  • While tactics and strategy are vital ingredients for any skipper, so are leadership and a proper grasp of human relations

Sometimes a captain of a cricket team gets a decision wrong. It happened to Sri Lanka’s captain, Dasun Shanaka, in the Asia Cup Final last Sunday in Colombo. He won the toss and chose to bat under clear skies. Before play could start, rain arrived, causing a 40-minute delay.

By the time the innings opened, overcast skies created a different set of conditions to those envisaged at the toss. In 15.2 overs, India’s bowlers demolished the Sri Lankan team, which could only total 50 runs. India then raced to victory in only 6.1 overs without loss.

Expectant home supporters were left surprised and disappointed at an embarrassing performance, which was Sri Lanka’s lowest total in a home match in the ODI format. This came after the delirious scenes that greeted Sri Lanka’s victory over Pakistan the previous Thursday, one which secured a place in Sunday’s final.

Inevitably, criticism has been levelled at Shanaka. In hindsight, he should have chosen to bowl. India’s captain said that he would have chosen to bat, had he won the toss.

Irrespective of the Shanaka’s decision, it is his ODI form that has drawn the most attention. After scoring a century against India in January 2023, his subsequent 17 innings have generated only 150 runs at an average of 9.4. This fell to 5 in the Asia Cup. During his pre-final press conference, he said that his captaincy was more important than his batting. He may have a point.

Since July 2021, he has led the team in 39 ODIs, achieving a 61percent-win ratio. As captain in 48 T20Is since October 2019, his win ratio is 49 percent. While these ratios are some way short of the highest ones achieved of 70-80 percent, there has been an improvement in Sri Lanka’s results under Shanaka’s leadership. This has stabilized Sri Lanka’s fragile relationships between board, players and political forces. It even embraced victory in the 2022 Asia Cup, played in T20I format.

Another captain under pressure prior to the 2023 ICC men’s ODI World Cup is Pakistan’s Babar Azam. His place in the team is assured, given that he is regularly ranked in the top-three batters across all formats. However, by all accounts, he struggled to keep his feelings in check after his team’s defeat by Sri Lanka last week.

The match went down to the final over, from which eight runs were required. The over was entrusted to a debutant bowler, in the team because of injuries to two regular quick bowlers. It seemed as if he might be the hero, narrowing the target to six from the final two deliveries and two from the final one, Sri Lanka having only one wicket to fall, a player having been injured during the match. Amid the drama, Sri Lanka’s striker squeezed out two runs to secure a place in the final.

In the post-match press conference, Azam was gracious, remarking that Sri Lanka played better cricket and that Pakistan was not “up to the mark with its bowling and fielding.” Later, rumors emerged that he was less than gracious in the dressing room, voicing disappointment with the performance of certain senior players, one of whom took objection. Another intervened to calm the situation down. Given that the result denied Pakistan a tilt at India in the final, backlash against the result from supporters and observers would be anticipated, most of all by Azam.

Losing dressing rooms are not usually a happy place to be, particularly after semifinals. This defeat will have been especially difficult to digest and Azam’s reaction will have reflected disappointment at his own form, the loss of key players and a feeling that several players could have done more to help. In any case, such internal discussions should not be leaked and there have been subsequent denials of disharmony. In my experience, harmony within teams is difficult to achieve and, unsurprisingly, is most likely to occur when the team is winning. Even then, there are certain personalities that do not gel.

In this respect, it was revealing to listen to one of England’s most successful captains, Mike Brearley, speak this week at a talk to promote his latest book, “Turning Over the Pebbles.”

Brearley made 39 appearances for England between 1976 and 1981. He was captain for 31 matches, of which 18 were won and only four lost. Most famously, he was recalled as captain in 1981 midway through a series against Australia, after Ian Botham resigned the post.

In the third Test at Headingley, Leeds, England stared defeat in the face, five wickets down and 122 runs behind in its second innings. Encouraged by Brearley, Botham launched a ferocious counterattack culminating in Australia needing 129 runs to win. They were bowled out for 111.

This and other results have led Brearley to be labelled a “lucky” captain, something that he does not deny. However, there are many nuances and subtleties to him, someone whom an Australian player referred to as having a “degree in people.” It is an appropriate epithet.

He studied Classics at Cambridge, afterwards lecturing in philosophy. Along the way, he developed an interest in psychoanalysis, which he has practiced for 40 years. The book seeks to bring together these strands of his life, turning them over, like pebbles, to see what lies behind.

What is clear is that he relished being captain. Tactics and strategy are vital ingredients but without a proper grasp of human relations they are not enough. Empathy, truthfulness and courage are required in dealing with team members. Brearley was well versed in these attributes and was able to persuade seasoned professionals to change well-trodden paths. There are few admissions of mistakes, yet he questions if he was good enough as a player to justify his place in the team. Shanaka’s place is being questioned but he backs his leadership qualities. Azam’s playing abilities are not in question, but his leadership qualities are. One can only speculate what advice Brearley might offer the pair.

Alfa Semedo adapting to managerial changes as he recalls hectic 12 months at Al-Tai

Alfa Semedo adapting to managerial changes as he recalls hectic 12 months at Al-Tai
Updated 21 September 2023

Alfa Semedo adapting to managerial changes as he recalls hectic 12 months at Al-Tai

Alfa Semedo adapting to managerial changes as he recalls hectic 12 months at Al-Tai
  • The Guinea-Bissau international talks to Arab News about his club’s coaching carousel, Joao Felix, and facing Benzema

Alfa Semedo is not used to watching from the sidelines.

But a straight red card against Al-Ahli a few weeks ago means Al-Tai’s midfielder has missed his team’s much-needed 1-0 victory over Al-Abha and last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Al-Hazm.

They are rare absences for Semedo, who played 28 of a possible 29 games for Al-Tai last season after moving from Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes.

The Guinea-Bissau international, who has played in the UEFA Champions League for Benfica and in the English Championship for Nottingham Forest and Reading, has become a valued presence in Al-Tai’s midfield.

He has impressively maintained that role despite playing for four different head coaches in less than 12 months. Semedo’s experience of the Al-Tai managerial merry-go-round began last summer with Pepa, the Portuguese coach for whom Semedo had previously played at Vitoria.

Pepa was replaced in January by Romanian Mirel Radoi, who lasted just four months. Jose Pedro Barreto then took caretaker charge at the end of the 2022-23 season, with Croatian Kresimir Rezic currently at the helm after arriving from Damac.

“It is always challenging when you work with someone you know really well, and then he goes,” Semedo told Arab News. “You feel sad but this is football. We have friends and teammates that come and go always so we must be ready for anything.

“In football you just have to look the other way and keep going because if the coach leaves and you stop doing your thing, you stop playing well, you stop performing, you will lose your place in the team. That’s it. It’s football.”

Rezic has brought yet another new approach to Al-Tai but Semedo insists it is up to the players to fit into his system.

“It can be difficult because a new coach can come with another idea, another way he wants to play. You never know what he is thinking and sometimes there is very little time for you to try to get it.

“Some coaches will play three at the back, others five at the back — tactics can be very different but you have to be ready for that as a footballer — you need to adapt. “He (Rezic) is a good coach who is young and has good ideas,” Semedo said.

“We’ve had some struggles in the beginning (of the season) but the last game we won and now we have confidence and motivation. We will come back fresh with the energy to go again.”

Semedo’s own high-energy game was forged in the academy of one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs, Benfica. After moving from his native Guinea-Bissau to Portugal aged 17, the midfielder counted the likes of current Barcelona forward Joao Felix and Manchester City’s Ruben Dias as teammates.

“This is a school that builds some of the best players in the world at this moment in time and you can feel it when you are there,” Semedo said. “This helped me improve a lot and then playing in the first team too, you understand then that this is a huge football club. They do such a good job.”

While Benfica can boast myriad successful academy graduates over the years, it is Felix and Dias who are perhaps the most notable more recently. Semedo says the ability of both was clear to see from a young age.

“Early on we could see Ruben Dias was going to be someone who is a leader because this guy even at 18/19, he had this spirit, this leader’s spirit,” Semedo recalled. “The way he spoke on the pitch and the way he played the game; you could see this guy is going to be a big center-back in football.

“Then with Joao Felix, I think everyone saw it — we knew he was a special player because of his touch, the relationship he has with the ball was just different. He has so much quality.”

It seemed at one stage this summer that Felix would be joining Semedo in Saudi Arabia after he was linked with a move to Al-Hilal. While the Portugal forward ended up at Barcelona on loan, Semedo could see him moving to the Kingdom in the future.

“If you had asked me last year if he would come to Saudi Arabia, I’d have never thought it,” Semedo laughed. “But football is crazy and now anything can happen. You see the numbers they are putting on the table to get these players, it messes with your mind — so you never know.”

Like many in the Saudi Pro League, Semedo has been enjoying the competition’s newly elevated global status and insists he is relishing the challenge provided by the recent influx of talented opponents.

“We played against Al-Ittihad — against Benzema, Kante, Fabinho — recently. It was a tough game of course because they are players with a lot of quality and a very good team together too.

“The way they play is so intense, but these are the games you want to play, that every footballer wants to play.

“Of course, it is just three points available like any game but you know when you play these teams that more people are watching and that there is going to be extra motivation playing the best players in the world. It is a different level.”

Dubai Women’s Run returns for its 10th edition

Dubai Women’s Run returns for its 10th edition
Updated 21 September 2023

Dubai Women’s Run returns for its 10th edition

Dubai Women’s Run returns for its 10th edition
  • Region’s biggest female-only sporting event will be held at Dubai Festival City on Nov. 5

DUBAI: The region’s largest female sports event, the Dubai Women’s Run, is set to take place on Nov. 5 at Dubai Festival City.

In line with the race’s sustainability theme this year, the event will be run using only solar and human power-generated features for the village and main stage.

All materials for the race day kit, including t-shirts, bags and route maps will be re-useable, and use eco-solvent ink and recycled paper with on-ground key messaging. The taglines include “Stride Towards Sustainability: Every Step Counts!” and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Even During Your Run!” to promote campaign.

Organized by Plan B Group, in association with the UAE Athletic Federation and Dubai Sports Council, the 10th edition of the run will be flagged off by Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, minister of climate change and environment.

Split into races of 3 km, 5 km and 10 km, the first three winners of the 5 km and 10 km categories will be awarded cash prizes.

For the 10 km runners, the first prize will be AED5,000 ($1,361), second place AED3,000 and third AED2,000. The top three finishers of the 5 km race can expect AED3,000, AED2,000 and AED1,000 respectively.

The event’s partner, Friends of Cancer Patients, will be available with the Pink Caravan Medical Mobile Clinic offering free screenings, and to raise awareness that early detection saves lives.

Saeed Hareb, secretary-general of the Dubai Sports Council, said his organization supports events empowering girls and women.

“The Dubai Women’s Run is the most prominent and largest only-women running event, which brings together amateurs and professionals from various categories,” he added.

“It is an opportunity to develop the level of female runners in our national team and continue their participation in various competitive races. This race has achieved great successes over the past years with wide participation, as the number of participants has exceeded … 5,000 entries, it also witnessed great interaction and interest from various media outlets.”

Dr. Muhammad Al-Murr, president of the UAE Athletics Federation, commented: “Women represent an important pillar in the Athletics Federation, contributing to enriching competitions and participating on behalf of the UAE in foreign forums. We are happy to have the opportunity to empower them and serve the national goals.”

New champion Al-Qemzi aims for grand finale in Portugal

New champion Al-Qemzi aims for grand finale in Portugal
New F2 champion Al-Qemzi is hoping to finish the season with a win in Portugal. (Team Abu Dhabi)
Updated 21 September 2023

New champion Al-Qemzi aims for grand finale in Portugal

New champion Al-Qemzi aims for grand finale in Portugal
  • Abu Dhabi duo praise race legend Guido Cappellini for team’s winning culture as F2 championship reaches finish line

VILA VELHA DE RODAO: Newly-crowned four-time champion Rashed Al-Qemzi and teammate Mansoor Al-Mansoori want to give Team Abu Dhabi a grand finale to the 2023 UIM F2 World Championship in Portugal at the weekend.

After clinching his latest title with a second-place finish at Peso da Regua, Al-Qemzi has set his sights on a third race victory of the season in Sunday’s second leg of the Grand Prix of Portugal at Vila Velha de Rodao on Sunday.

A podium finish last weekend revived Al-Mansoori’s fortunes of a top three finish after his earlier disappointments, and he will be looking for a repeat performance as the championship reaches its climax on the Tagus river circuit.

Both drivers have acknowledged the winning culture instilled in Team Abu Dhabi by powerboat racing legend Guido Cappellini. The 10-time F1H2O champion has captured 17 world titles since becoming team manager eight years ago.

“Guido makes everyone work hard together to get the best results for the team, and he is always there to take care of any problems we have as drivers,” said Al-Qemzi, winner of the first two rounds in Lithuania and Italy.

“I’m proud to be champion again, and I would like to win on Sunday to thank Guido and the rest of the team. But it will be difficult again because competition is very tough this season.”

Third overall in last year’s championship, Al-Mansoori might have been in the same position again but for an accident toward the end of this season’s opening round in Lithuania, when he looked set for a top-three finish.

“Things like that happen in racing, but in this team we always support each other and prepare for the next race,” he said. “When your team manager has won 10 world titles, everyone follows the example he sets for every race.”

The traditional end-of-season venue of Vila Velha de Rodao is where Al-Qemzi powered his way to a second Grand Prix victory within eight days two years ago to secure a third F2 world title.

The Emirati can expect another fierce challenge from last weekend’s Grand Prix winner in Portugal, Edgaras Riabko. Estonia’s Stefan Arand and Monaco’s Giacomo Sacchi will be racing against Lithuania’s Riabko for the runner-up spot.