Pele: Arabs mourn the king of football

Pele: Arabs mourn the king of football
Brazilian football legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pele, is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time. (AFP)
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Updated 31 December 2022

Pele: Arabs mourn the king of football

Pele: Arabs mourn the king of football
  • Pele, who died on Thursday aged 82, was as much a hero among Arabs as he was among Brazilians

SAO PAULO: Football legend Pele, who died on Thursday aged 82, was as much a hero among Arabs as he was among Brazilians.

It is “very common” for Arabs to root for the Brazilian team during World Cups — “the main reason for that was the 1970s squad led by Pele,” Mustafa Dahla, a Brazilian-born lawyer who lives in the Palestinian city of Beitunia, told Arab News.

That squad won the World Cup in Mexico, and is considered by analysts as one of the best of all time.

Dahla said many Palestinians joined the Brazilian community in Beitunia and cheered for the Latin American country during the recent World Cup in Qatar.

Born in Sao Paulo in 1971, Dahla never saw Pele in action, only in videos, but his Palestinian father and grandfather always told him that he was unparalleled.

On many levels — not only as a footballer — he was indeed incomparable. The king, as he was called by Brazilians, scored 1,281 goals, and won two Intercontinental Cups with the club Santos and three World Cups with the Brazilian team.

He left Santos to retire but ended up joining the New York Cosmos in 1975, a club owned by Warner Communications, and acted as the face of US soccer for a couple of years.

After his retirement, he continued to be a celebrity involved in multiple causes. He attended humanitarian events, promoted social campaigns in several countries, and remained connected to the football world. In the 1990s, he was even Brazil’s sports minister for a few years.

His ties with Arab nations were established since his younger days as a footballer. In his autobiography, Pele describes one of Santos’ tours in Europe that ended up being extended to Egypt.

“On our way there (…) on a stopover in Beirut, an enormous crowd stormed the airport and threatened to kidnap me unless we agreed to play a match against a Lebanese team,” he recalled years later. The police intervened so that the athletes could take the plane to Cairo.

With Santos, he played in the UAE, Qatar and North African countries. After leaving the club, Pele kept visiting Arab nations every now and then in order to attend football events.

In April 1975, for instance, he toured with Cosmos and joined Lebanese club Nejmeh in a match against a team formed by players from French-language universities.

The game drew more than 30,000 people to the stadium in Beirut. Only a few days later the Lebanese civil war broke out.

“He was not only superbly talented, but he also had a beautiful, creative way of playing football. It was joyful to see it,” Jihad Hammadeh, a Syrian-born sheikh in Brazil, told Arab News.

Hammadeh spent the first part of his childhood in the Lebanese village of Sultan Yaaqoub in the Beqaa Valley — a region where thousands of Arab Brazilians live — before moving to Brazil aged 7.

“We learn to love Brazil from the beginning of our lives there. Everybody roots for the Brazilian team and wears Brazilian jerseys. Pele has always been the major figure for us in that context,” he said.

“I met Brazilians who had to flee war zones in very complex situations during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. When they told the soldiers that they were Brazilians, a friendly attitude emerged and they even played football together.”




Jihad Hammadeh, a Syrian-born sheikh in Brazil, with Pele. (Supplied)

Hammadeh studied in Madinah in the 1980s, and said his colleagues from Saudi Arabia and the Arab world as a whole had great expectations of playing football with him and the other Brazilian students due to Pele’s fame.

Mamede Jarouche, a professor of Arab literature at the University of Sao Paulo, was one of Hammadeh’s colleagues in Madinah and recalled the “aura of sympathy” that the name Pele created among his Arab friends.

“I was there during the 1982 World Cup and saw how they were rooting for Brazil, and how they got sad when Italy eliminated us,” Jarouche told Arab News.

National teams of students were formed for a tournament, and a Togolese colleague of Hammadeh’s and Jarouche’s loved Pele so much that he asked to join the Brazilian squad.

“We could notice that Arabs and Africans had a huge identification with Pele,” Jarouche said. Part of this empathy came from the fact that Pele was a black player of poor origin who had gigantic talent and success but never forgot his humble childhood in the Brazilian city of Bauru.

On more than one occasion, Pele told reporters that he was so poor as a child that he never had money to buy a football — he used to play with one made up of a sock stuffed with paper or rags and tied with a string.

“That created a kind of third-worldist sense of identification with him and the Brazilian team among some Arab peoples,” Jarouche said.

Hammadeh met with Pele on three occasions and saw how well he treated the poor. Pele once invited him for lunch as he wished to get to know him. On other occasion, Pele — a Catholic — asked the sheikh to bless his knee when he underwent surgery.

“He was an open-minded person with no religious prejudices. And he was friendly with the Islamic community in Sao Paulo,” Hammadeh said.

During their talks, Pele told him about his trips to Gulf nations and how he was always warmly welcomed.

“He said he always received so many gifts from Arab people that he usually didn’t know how he’d bring them all back to Brazil with him,” Hammadeh said.

Pele was also very generous, and gave him a signed Brazilian jersey and his autobiography. “Life is about memories. He was a great promoter of football and of Brazil, and will be remembered as such by many,” Hammadeh concluded.


Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final
Updated 30 January 2023

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final
  • Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad

Two goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al-Ittihad a 2-0 win over Al-Feiha on Sunday in the Saudi Super Cup Final in Riyadh to hand the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years.

The victory also gave former Tottenham Hotspur and FC Porto boss Nuno Santo his first trophy in Saudi Arabia.

Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad.

The victory handed the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years. (SPA)

And Hamdallah, who featured for Morocco in the World Cup, struck early in each half to give the Tigers a big win against their 10-man opponents.

The first goal came in the third minute. Al-Ittihad’s Romarinho picked up the ball just outside the Al-Feiha half and the Brazilian’s pass fed Hamdallah who took one touch on the edge of the area and then coolly lifted the ball over Vladimir Stojkovic.

It was a great start for the Jeddah giants and it got better for them midway through the first half as Al-Feiha were reduced to 10 men. Abdulrahman Al-Safari went in high with his studs on Egyptian midfielder Tarek Hamed and was shown a straight red card from the referee.

Five minutes before the break it looked as if the in-form Romarinho had extended his side’s lead but the Brazilian, who finished smartly from close range, was adjudged by the referee’s assistant — and also VAR — to have been offside.

Al-Ittihad had a chance to tighten their grip on the trophy just before the break as Stojkovic was penalized for bringing down Hamdallah inside the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. However, Abdulrahman Al-Oboud dragged his shot wide.

An Al-Feiha player comforts a forlorn colleague after the Al Majma'ah-based club's loss to Al-Ittihad. (SPA)

The frustration for watching fans in Jeddah did not last long as Hamdallah doubled Al-Ittihad’s lead three minutes after the restart, much to the dismay of Stojkovic. The Serbian goalkeeper came a long way off his line in an attempt to punch away a free-kick from deep, and Hamdallah’s head got there first to send the ball looping into the net.

Al-ittihad were on top for much of the second half and worked hard to ensure that they stayed in front.

Boss Santo said: “It was a good performance from us and we worked hard. It was a tough game and we are delighted that we ended up winning.”

Santo, who arrived last summer after spells with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Spurs, looked delighted as his players collected the trophy.

There is still the challenge of becoming champions of Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2009, but Santos is pleased with the progress his side have made so far.

He said: “We know that there is still a long way to go this season.

“The most important thing is that we stay together and work hard. If we can do that then who knows what can happen?

“It is great to lift this trophy but we hope that this is just the beginning.”


Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona
Updated 30 January 2023

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona
  • Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro

MADRID: Vinícius Júnior had his share of chances to break the deadlock. More than once, the Brazil forward was in front of the opposition goal with only the ‘keeper to beat.
But Vinicius and his teammates couldn’t get the job done on Sunday as Real Madrid was held to a 0-0 draw at home by third-place Real Sociedad to lose ground to Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league.
The result left defending champion Madrid five points behind the Catalan rival, which won 1-0 at Girona on Saturday. Sociedad stayed three points behind Madrid, and eight behind Barcelona. Both Madrid and Barcelona have a game in hand.
Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro. He made three key saves against close-range attempts by Vinícius, and also saw the Brazilian send the ball wide in a one-on-one situation.
“Vinícius played a good match, if he had scored it would have been a spectacular one,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He has been playing well. Sometimes he will miss, but he is always trying.”
Karim Benzema and Rodrygo also couldn’t break through the Sociedad defense as Madrid was held scoreless for the first time this season despite more than 20 attempts against Sociedad, which also had its opportunities in an intense match at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
“We played a very complete game but couldn’t score,” Ancelotti said. “We were close. I’m satisfied with the draw because we played well.”
Madrid, coming off a home win in the derby against Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, remains unbeaten against Sociedad since a 4-3 home loss in the quarterfinals of the Copa in 2020, a competition the Basque Country side won.
Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the Copa quarterfinals, a result that ended its nine-game winning streak in all competitions. It had been one of the hottest teams in Spain until the consecutive setbacks against the powerhouses.
ATLETICO REBOUNDS
Atletico Madrid bounced back from its Copa elimination against Madrid with a 1-0 win at seventh-place Osasuna.
Substitute Saúl Ñíguez scored the winner less than 10 minutes after he had entered the match in the 65th.
Atletico relinquished a late 1-0 lead against Madrid to lose 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday. The cup was the only competition Atletico realistically had a chance to win as it had already been eliminated from the Champions League and the Europa League, and it currently trails league leader Barcelona by 13 points.
“We are out of the Champions (League) and the Copa, but the motivation to play for Atletico remains,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “I’ll always demand that from my players.”
It was the third win in four games in all competitions for Simeone’s team, while struggling Osasuna remained winless in four straight.
Osasuna has only one victory in eight matches overall, though it hadn’t lost since last year.
Atletico hadn’t won an away match in the league since October at Real Betis.
WILLIAMS’ RUN ENDS
Iñaki Williams’ absence in Athletic Bilbao’s 1-0 loss at Celta Vigo ended his record of 251 consecutive league appearances. He did not play in Vigo because of injury.
Williams had played in every league match for Bilbao since April 2016.
Veteran striker Iago Aspas scored Celta’s winner in the 71st. The result moved Celta to 16th place, while Bilbao remained eighth.
Bilbao is winless in five league games, since a 3-0 home victory against Valladolid before the World Cup.
VALENCIA’S STRUGGLES
Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 loss at Valladolid, adding pressure on coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Valencia has only one win in its last 10 league games, against Real Betis before the World Cup. It dropped to 14th place and one point above the relegation zone.
Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a 90th-minute winner for 17th-place Valladolid, which ended its five-game losing streak across all competitions.


Females ‘just getting started’ in esports, says Saudi federation official

(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
Updated 30 January 2023

Females ‘just getting started’ in esports, says Saudi federation official

(Supplied/Saudi Esports Federation)
  • The esports scene has traditionally been dominated by men, and it remains as such, but has seen a substantial shift in attitude and mindset for the better in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Female participation in esports is only set to increase in the coming years, Reaam Alkhudairi, from the Saudi Esports Federation has said.

In the Kingdom alone, approximately six million people played games in 2020, with nearly half of the new players in Saudi Arabia being women.

The esports scene has traditionally been dominated by men, and it remains as such, but has seen a substantial shift in attitude and mindset for the better in Saudi Arabia, Alkhudairi said, adding that more changes will take place as Vision 2030 continues.

Saudi Arabia's gaming sector is thriving, and especially its esports scene, and experiencing more opportunities for women as well, she said.

Esports are an exciting and challenging endeavor, and Saudi Esports Federation is dedicated to encouraging and supporting youths and adults alike to take part, Alkhudairi said.

The Saudi Esports Federation is also seeking to improve the skills of females in esports as part of its mission, she added, citing the example of Najd Fahd, who is now recognized as the first Saudi Arabian female to win first place in FIFA 20 and who was also awarded Best Female Player of 2021 by the Saudi Esports Federation Awards (SEF Awards).


Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool
Updated 29 January 2023

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool
  • Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma

BRIGHTON: Liverpool’s disastrous season suffered another blow on Sunday as the holders were dumped out the FA Cup by a 2-1 defeat at Brighton.

Kaoru Mitoma’s brilliant control and finish in stoppage time earned the Seagulls a place in the fifth round.

Liverpool had led at the Amex through Harvey Elliott, but have now won just once in their last six games.

Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma.

The Japanese winger cushioned Pervis Estupinan’s cross into his path, flicked the ball over Joe Gomez and fired high past Alisson Becker in the 92nd minute.

Liverpool are languishing in ninth in the Premier League, 21 points behind pacesetters Arsenal.

Their FA Cup exit leaves the Champions League as their only remaining shot at a trophy this season.

Last season, Jurgen Klopp’s men were on the brink of a historic quadruple, which included their first FA Cup triumph in 16 years.

But Klopp is still searching for answers to halt their decline after a second defeat on the south coast in 15 days.

The German described Brighton’s 3-0 win when the sides last met as the worst performance of his managerial career.

Liverpool did at least put up a fight this time and will rue two big early chances missed by Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian did at least have a hand in Liverpool’s goal as he released Elliott, whose strike had too much power for Steele to keep out.

Brighton hit back within nine minutes when Tariq Lamptey’s powerful shot was deflected past the helpless Alisson by Dunk.

The hosts were without Moises Caicedo after the Ecuadorian took to social media on Friday to try and force through a move to Arsenal.

Brighton have already lost Leandro Trossard, who scored a hat trick against Liverpool earlier in the season, to the Gunners this month.

But those absences did not show as Liverpool were left riding their luck for most of the second period.

Ibrahima Konate and Fabinho were extremely fortunate to escape red cards for challenges on Alexis Mac Allister and Evan Ferguson.

Alisson threw himself in front of Solly March to make a brilliant save from Mitoma’s inventive cross and Konate did likewise to block from Ferguson.

But Brighton’s pressure finally got its reward when Mitoma struck his fourth goal in six games.


Diriyah Season to host first BMX Freestyle World Cup in region

Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Updated 29 January 2023

Diriyah Season to host first BMX Freestyle World Cup in region

Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

DIRIYAH: Diriyah will host the BMX Freestyle World Cup, which will act as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, on February 10 to 18 at the Elite Sports Center.

Hosted as part of the Diriyah Season, it will be the first time the event will held in the Middle East. 

More than 175 cyclists and bikers, representing 32 countries around the world, will compete for the title on a circuit especially made to host the championship at an arena capable of hosting up to 10,000 fans.

“Historic Diriyah will turn into the capital of urban sports in the world by hosting the World Cup, with the participation of a group of the most famous male and female athletes in the world, who will compete to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics,” Mai Al-Hellabi of Diriyah Season said.

Al-Hilabi indicated that the events accompanying the tournament will include a number of entertainment and sports activities and experiences that will be presented to the public for citizens and visitors from outside the Kingdom of all ages and groups.

Tickets can be booked here.