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.


Real Madrid ease past Al Ahly to reach Club World Cup final

Real Madrid ease past Al Ahly to reach Club World Cup final
Updated 13 sec ago

Real Madrid ease past Al Ahly to reach Club World Cup final

Real Madrid ease past Al Ahly to reach Club World Cup final

RABAT: Real Madrid reached the Club World Cup final with a 4-1 win over Egypt’s Al Ahly on Wednesday in Morocco, thanks to Vinicius Junior, Fede Valverde, Rodrygo and Sergio Arribas’s goals.
The European champions took the lead just before half-time with a Vinicius chip and then Valverde smashed in the second soon after the break.
Madrid endured a nervier spell than they would have liked after Ali Maaloul earned the 10-time African Champions League winners a foothold in the game from the penalty spot.
Luka Modric missed a late penalty for Los Blancos, perhaps distracted by laser pointers shone at his face from the stands, with Mohamed El Shenawy saving his effort.
Rodrygo added a cool finish in stoppage time after a slick combination with Dani Ceballos and youngster Arribas wrapped up the win.
Madrid will face Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal, who beat Copa Libertadores winners Flamengo, in Saturday’s final.
“I thank my team-mates who are helping me in this moment, which is not so good,” said Valverde, who is reported to be suffering some personal problems away from the game.
“They are always there to give me some words of encouragement.
“It was very special to score the goal and celebrate with them, now we have to rest and work well to win the final.”
Carlo Ancelotti’s side, record four-time Club World Cup champions, hoped the tournament would be a welcome distraction from their domestic struggles.
On Sunday they fell eight points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona, suffering a 1-0 defeat at Real Mallorca.
However the Spanish giants struggled to get going at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat, without injured stars Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois among others.
Ancelotti was able to start defender David Alaba for the first time since injury.
Al Ahly, who beat MLS side Seattle Sounders and Auckland City on the way to the semifinals, stayed tight at the back and Madrid toiled to break them down.
Vinicius fired wide from a tight angle and Rodrygo hit the post with a dinked effort after pressing well to win the ball back.
Just when it seemed like former Austria coach Marcel Koller’s side were poised to reach half-time with honors even, Mahmoud Metwaly miskicked, allowing Vinicius to rob him and run through on goal.
The Brazilian carefully lofted the ball over El Shenawy to break the deadlock, welcome respite after his hounding by Mallorca players at the weekend and suffering further racist abuse.
Valverde doubled Madrid’s lead at the start of the second half, taking one fine touch to control a loose ball in the box and then blasting home with his second.
The Uruguayan has not been playing well since returning from the World Cup and Madrid will hope his first goal since November can help him find the rich vein of form he was enjoying before the tournament.
Madrid were denied a penalty to wrap the game up when Vinicius was felled in the area but VAR did not correct the referee’s decision to award a corner.
Then Eduardo Camavinga, playing at left-back again, was penalized for tripping Hussein El Shahat in the box at the other end and Maaloul sent Andriy Lunin the wrong way from the spot.
Afsha should have levelled for the underdogs but powered a golden chance over the bar after receiving a cut-back in the middle of the box.
Al Ahly, unbeaten all season in the Egyptian Premier League, were made to pay when Rodrygo and substitute Arribas struck in stoppage time to seal Madrid’s victory.
After dropping away from Barcelona in La Liga and losing in the Spanish Super Cup against their eternal rivals in January, Madrid took a step away from crisis talk with this victory.
Their next goal is lifting the second trophy of their season on Saturday against Al-Hilal, having won the European Super Cup in August.


FIFA rules panel to debate more stoppage time in games

FIFA rules panel to debate more stoppage time in games
Updated 58 min 1 sec ago

FIFA rules panel to debate more stoppage time in games

FIFA rules panel to debate more stoppage time in games
  • Changes agreed on March 4 can take effect next season
  • Organizers such as individual domestic leagues have not followed FIFA's example

ZURICH: The 10-plus minutes of stoppage time that were a regular feature of games at the World Cup in Qatar are back on soccer’s agenda.
FIFA’s rule-making panel known as IFAB put additional time on the agenda published Wednesday for its annual meeting next month. Changes agreed on March 4 can take effect next season.
Talks are scheduled on “possible measures to create fairer conditions for both teams in terms of the amount of time available in a match, with a particular focus on a stricter calculation of additional time.”
Games of 100 minutes became routine at the last World Cup as referees followed FIFA advice to add on more accurate amounts for stoppages due to goal celebrations, injuries, video reviews and substitutions.
The directive was part of a long-standing FIFA aim to create more active playing time on the field and give fans and viewers better value.
It led to record-setting long games at the World Cup with a slew of stoppage-time additions of more than 10 minutes early in the tournament.
Though a head injury helped to cause 14-plus minutes of stoppage time in the first half of England-Iran, there were more than 13 minutes added to the second half of Saudi Arabia’s stunning 2-1 win over eventual champion Argentina.
The United States’ 1-1 draw with Wales on the second day of the tournament kicked off at 10 p.m. in Doha and finished the next day once almost 11 minutes were added to the second half.
Organizers such as individual domestic leagues have not followed FIFA’s example, though some said they were unwilling to change policy midseason and would revisit the subject in the offseason.
FIFA trials at the Club World Cup in Morocco of live broadcasts during video reviews of communications between match officials will also be discussed at the IFAB meeting in London.
Other subjects include allowing an extra substitute for teams when a player sustains a suspected concussion, though not the emergency temporary replacements requested by the global players’ union FIFPRO and some head injury experts.
The IFAB panel includes representative of FIFA and the four British soccer federations. The voting structure weighted toward FIFA means soccer’s world body can veto any proposal.


Brittney Griner absent from USA camp, but keeping in touch

Brittney Griner absent from USA camp, but keeping in touch
Updated 08 February 2023

Brittney Griner absent from USA camp, but keeping in touch

Brittney Griner absent from USA camp, but keeping in touch
  • “She (Griner) wants to be a part of this like no one else,” Taurasi said
  • Griner has said she'll play for Phoenix again this season, although she's still an unsigned free agent

DUBAI: Brittney Griner texted her good friend Diana Taurasi on Tuesday asking how the USA Basketball training camp was going.
Griner was back in Arizona, choosing to skip the camp in Minnesota so she can be with her partner and recover from her time in a Russian jail.
She returned to the US in December after a dramatic prisoner swap.
“She wants to be a part of this like no one else,” Taurasi said. “So, she’ll get there eventually. She’ll find her footing.”
Taurasi said the two talk regularly now that Griner is home in Phoenix. They work out together as well as chat and text each other often.
“We’ve been on the court together working out. We’ve sat down and talked for hours,” Taurasi said. “It’s been really nice to reconnect. It’s good to see her smile. Good to give her a hug. Know she was alive and still had the ability to be thankful and happy.”
There was a time during Griner’s 10-month ordeal in Russia that the 40-year-old Taurasi wasn’t sure she’d ever see her friend again.
“Every single day we suffered and hoped she’d be back and not until I saw her did I really believe it. And just to see her smile, just to see her free, was really emotional for everyone,” Taurasi said. “And we knew, at the same time, the minute she got into that plane and we got to Phoenix, there was going to be a whole new set of challenges, a whole new reality, a whole new way of living life for BG.”
Griner has said she’ll play for Phoenix again this season, although she’s still an unsigned free agent. She hasn’t talked about her international future and potentially playing for the US at the Olympics next year in Paris. She has helped the US win two gold medals at the Olympics already.
USA Basketball coach Cheryl Reeve said Monday that she hasn’t talked to Griner yet, but the organization made it clear that she could take all the time she needed to decide if she wanted to play for the US again.
“We’ve missed her and when she’s ready we’ll welcome her back,” Reeve said.


Saez eyes Saudi Cup Jockeys Challenge prize

Saez eyes Saudi Cup Jockeys Challenge prize
Updated 08 February 2023

Saez eyes Saudi Cup Jockeys Challenge prize

Saez eyes Saudi Cup Jockeys Challenge prize
  • Leading US-based jockey jets in alongside Brazilian female rider Jeane Alves
  • Luiz Saez: I finished second on Casa Creed in the 1351 Turf Sprint last year and am all set to ride him again in that race

Luiz Saez will ride in the International Jockeys Challenge (IJC) at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh on Feb. 24, the opening day of The Saudi Cup meeting.

Born in Panama, where he rode 37 winners before relocating to the USA, Saez will be returning to the scene of his second placing in the 1351 Turf Sprint presented by stc aboard Casa Creed last year, and is also set to ride the William Mott-trained seven-year-old once again.

Saez, said: “I’m having a good year so far and am really looking forward to the Saudi trip. The IJC looks like a great group of jockeys, so it should be fun!

“I finished second on Casa Creed in the 1351 Turf Sprint last year and am all set to ride him again in that race, so hopefully he can go one better. The turf was lovely, so I’m pleased to see there are two races on the turf this year in the IJC too.”

Saez, who also rode at the inaugural Saudi Cup meeting in 2020, will be joined by leading Brazilian female rider and two-time champion apprentice, Jeane Alves.

Alves became the first woman to win a G1 contest in Brazil, winning the 2015 Grande Premio Jockey Club Brasileiro, and has since gone on to ride across the world, including the UK, UAE, Belgium, Sweden and Macau. The 2023 IJC marks Alves’ first trip to Saudi Arabia.

Alves, said: “I am delighted to be invited to ride in the International Jockeys Challenge at The Saudi Cup meeting. I’m excited to be riding against some of the world’s best Jockeys, like Joao Moreira, who was one of my inspirations when I started, and of course, the legend, Frankie Dettori.”

Each of the four IJC races carry a prize fund of $400,000, with a further $100,000 reward for winning the challenge itself.

The 14 jockeys are made up of seven international female riders, five international men and two local men with the jockeys receiving 15 percent of prize money won in each of the four races.


Andre Carrillo played through pain barrier to help Al-Hilal defeat Flamengo

Andre Carrillo played through pain barrier to help Al-Hilal defeat Flamengo
Updated 08 February 2023

Andre Carrillo played through pain barrier to help Al-Hilal defeat Flamengo

Andre Carrillo played through pain barrier to help Al-Hilal defeat Flamengo
  • Peruvian star was injured in win over Wydad, leaving his place in lineup against Brazilian club in doubt

Al-Hilal’s Peruvian star Andre Carrillo has revealed how he played with a painful injury during the Saudi club’s sensational 3-2 win against Flamengo in the FIFA Club World Cup semifinal on Tuesday night.

Carrillo had suffered an injury which saw him limp off the pitch in the previous match against Wydad, casting doubt on his ability to take part in the Tangiers semifinal.

“My participation was still not confirmed in the morning, and I did the impossible in order to take part in the match,” he said.

“I endured the injury and insisted on participating. I asked the medical staff for a pain-killing injection to participate in such an important meeting.”

In Saturday’s final Al-Hilal will meet the winner of the second semifinal between Egypt’s Al-Ahly and Spain’s Real Madrid, taking place on Wednesday night in Rabat.