Saudi football striving to ensure current success is long-lasting

Analysis Saudi football striving to ensure current success is long-lasting
Cristiano Ronaldo’s signing to Saudi club, Al-Anssr is not just the talk of Saudi football, it is the talk of world football. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 05 January 2023
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Saudi football striving to ensure current success is long-lasting

Saudi football striving to ensure current success is long-lasting
  • Kingdom’s World Cup win over Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Al-Nassr have placed a spotlight on the local game
  • Talented players will benefit from playing in Europe

In Saudi Arabian football at the moment it’s hard to think about anything other than the stunning signing of Cristiano Ronaldo by Saudi Pro League table-toppers Al-Nassr.

It’s not just the talk of Saudi football, it is the talk of world football.

Go back a month and it was another winger, Salem Al-Dawsari, who was the name on everyone’s lips after his wonder strike gave the Green Falcons a famous victory over eventual World Cup champions Argentina — La Albiceleste’s only loss since the 2019 Copa America.

It is a moment that will live long in the memory of every Saudi football fan.

Not since 1994 and the magical run of Saeed Al-Owairan has a Saudi Arabian player had such an impact on the global stage. That mazy run from Al-Owairan is still replayed almost 30 years on, and so seismic was Al-Dawsari’s strike that it too will be replayed for years and decades to come.

But the important question facing Saudi Arabia after the World Cup will be how to ensure it isn’t another 28 years before their next magical moment.

With so much positive energy around Saudi football, especially on the back of Ronaldo’s arrival in Riyadh, it’s imperative those in charge leverage this moment to build sustained success rather than the boom-bust cycles we’ve seen previously.

To do so Saudi football needs to face and overcome a number of challenges that stand in its way.

For as momentous as Ronaldo’s signing is, for Saudi Arabia to truly take the next step as a football nation and a football team, it’s players heading the other way that is most important.

At least for the foreseeable future, Europe remains the epicenter of world football. It is where the best players ply their trade and it’s where the rest of the world sends its players to develop further.

Saudi Arabia can no longer be an exception to that rule.

The talent of the players has never been in question, but unlike their North African neighbors, the willingness and desire of the players to leave their home comforts is what is holding them back.

Sami Al-Jaber was one of the rare ones who ventured west, while current striker Saleh Al-Shehri, who scored the equalizer against Argentina, also had a brief stint in Portugal in his late teens. Then of course there was the ill-fated deal to send players to La Liga ahead of the 2018 World Cup that never translated into anything substantial.

As good as the Saudi Pro League is within an Asian football context, there will always exist a ceiling the players will hit by remaining at home.

Privately, those involved in Saudi football concede this must happen, but making it happen is an entirely different challenge.

Talking to Arab News in 2021, Saudi Arabia’s coach Herve Renard conceded that he would like to see players in Europe, but acknowledged the difficulty of making it happen.

“The future can be bright in this country,” he said.

“In my opinion, we have to improve to be more professional. So think about the players themselves, to prepare themselves very well, maybe better than some are doing now. But the potential is there.

“I was very impressed by the quality of the players, and I’m sure with or without me this country will get very good results in the future.”

“I am sure 100 percent (that players are good enough). I think it would be a very good thing if they can do it, I would like one day to see Saudi players play for a very big team in Europe.

“(But) do you want to leave your country or do you want to stay in Saudi with your family around? This is a culture, maybe it will be difficult for the first time it happens. You need experience. You need to open your mind; it’s a completely different culture.

“It would be nice for them, but I have to respect their choice if they prefer to stay in Saudi.”

On the back of their World Cup success, despite not making the Round of 16, and with Ronaldo now playing in the country, there have never been more eyes on Saudi football which offers a fantastic platform for the players to showcase their wares.

The opportunity that exists for them over the next few years is enormous.

In 12 months they return to Qatar for the AFC Asian Cup, a tournament at which they will rightly be considered one of the favorites, to end a 28-year title drought.

Looking a further three years ahead, they will host the Asian Cup, remarkably for the first time ever. Renard has a contract through until that tournament and that stability will stand them in good stead.

As a number of this generation begin to age, it will be imperative that the next batch of talented Saudi players take their place. Perhaps it is some of this generation that look to take on the challenge of Europe?

Whether they do or not, Saudi Arabia’s impressive results at recent youth tournaments in Asia gives reason for optimism around the composition of the squad for 2027, when fringe and emerging players like Ayman Yahya, Ahmed Al-Ghamdi and Turki Al-Ammar — all MVPs at recent youth international tournaments — will all be approaching their prime.

With so many foundations in place, the future for Saudi football looks bright — almost as bright as a Cristiano Ronaldo smile.


Pakistan cricket team arrives in India after 7 years for upcoming World Cup

Pakistan cricket team arrives in India after 7 years for upcoming World Cup
Updated 14 sec ago
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Pakistan cricket team arrives in India after 7 years for upcoming World Cup

Pakistan cricket team arrives in India after 7 years for upcoming World Cup
  • Pakistan will play warm-up matches against New Zealand and Australia on Sept. 29, Oct. 3 respectively
  • The last time Pakistan’s cricket team set foot on Indian soil was in 2016 during the T20 World Cup of that year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national cricket team arrived in India on Wednesday after seven years to take part in the upcoming ODI World Cup tournament, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) confirmed in a statement.
The last time Pakistan played cricket on Indian soil was in 2016 when former captain Shahid Khan Afridi led the green shirts in the T20 World Cup of that year.
Political tensions between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors mean they haven’t played a bilateral cricket series against each other in over a decade. The two teams only lock horns in global cricket tournaments at neutral venues.
“Pakistan team has landed in Hyderabad, India,” the PCB said in a statement. A video accompanying the statement showed Pakistan captain Babar Azam, vice-captain Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, and others exiting the plane with their suitcases.
Pakistan left for India during the wee hours of Wednesday, traveling to Dubai where they were joined by Bowling Coach Morne Morkel while Team Director Mickey Arthur will join the squad in India, the PCB said.
Only two players from Pakistan’s current squad have traveled to India before: Mohammad Nawaz, who was part of Pakistan’s 2016 T20 World Cup squad, and Agha Salman, who was in the Lahore Lions’ squad for the Champions League T20.
Skipper Babar Azam’s side will play two warm-up matches against New Zealand and Australia on Sept. 29 and Oct. 3 respectively before they begin their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6.
Pakistan will face India in Ahmedabad on Oct. 14 where over 100,000 fans are expected to attend the high-octane clash.
 


Pakistan agree contract deals that will allow players to get share of ICC revenue

Pakistan agree contract deals that will allow players to get share of ICC revenue
Updated 59 min 24 sec ago
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Pakistan agree contract deals that will allow players to get share of ICC revenue

Pakistan agree contract deals that will allow players to get share of ICC revenue
  • There had been deadlock between the cricketers and Pakistan’s cricket board since contracts expired on June 30
  • Three Pakistani cricketers in the top category will get a monthly retainer of $15,600, says Pakistan Cricket Board

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Cricket Board has agreed a “momentous” three-year central contract deal with its international squads that will include players getting a proportion of International Cricket Council revenue.
There had been deadlock between the squads and the PCB for several months since the contracts expired on June 30, with the players asking for their share in the revenue the board gets from the ICC, the game’s governing body.
The new three-year contract is backdated to July 1, 2023, but the cricket board said the performance of the players would be reviewed every 12 months.
“As many as 25 cricketers will be offered a momentous deal that will include a proportion of ICC revenue,” the PCB said in a statement on Wednesday.
It is the first time the PCB has merged the red-ball and white-ball contracts of the players, saying it is “aimed at promoting fairness and a transparent selection process.”
Each player in the four categories received a raise of more than 100 percent. Three in the top category, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Shah Afridi, will get a monthly retainer of $15,600.
“It is a historic deal,” skipper Babar said. “It has been a lengthy and, at times, challenging negotiation process, but I believe we have reached a fair and beneficial agreement for both parties.”
The players will receive a share of three percent of ICC revenue, which will be around $1 million. The PCB will be earning around $34 million per year from the ICC.
Besides getting a monthly retainer, there is a raise of 50 percent in match fees for players who feature in test matches, an increase of 25 percent for ODIs and 12.5 percent for T20s.
The PCB also agreed that the centrally contracted players can play in two other T20 leagues aside from the Pakistan Super League.
“I am pleased to announce that after lengthy negotiations the PCB has come to a financial agreement with the players,” said Zaka Ashraf, chairman of the PCB managing committee.
Category A: Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Shaheen Shah Afridi
Category B: Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah and Shadab Khan
Category C: Imad Wasim and Abdullah Shafique
Category D: Fahim Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Ihsanullah, Mohammad Haris, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmad, Saud Shakeel, Shahnawaz Dahani, Shan Masood, Usama Mir and Zaman Khan.
 


Dubai hosts inaugural camp for some of the world’s best squash players

Dubai hosts inaugural camp for some of the world’s best squash players
Updated 27 September 2023
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Dubai hosts inaugural camp for some of the world’s best squash players

Dubai hosts inaugural camp for some of the world’s best squash players
  • Event at Jumeirah Beach Hotel looks to establish location as sport’s global base
  • The Flipper Devices Camp in Dubai is the first step toward making the city the world’s ultimate squash hub

DUBAI: Some of the world’s best squash players descended on Dubai this month for the inaugural Flipper Devices Camp of Champions, a high-performance event designed to attract top professionals from across the globe.
The camp, which was organized by The Flying DAF Squash Academy with the support of Dubai Sports Council and the UAE Squash Association, was divided into two phases at the J-Club, at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, with the objective of positioning Dubai as a global base for the sport.
The first phase was led by former men’s world No. 2 Rodney Martin and included an impressive lineup, including current women’s world No. 1 Nouran Gohar, No. 5 Amanda Sobhy, and men’s No. 6 Marwan El Shorbagy.
Phase two played host to reigning world champion and No. 4-ranked Mostafa Asal, No. 11 Karim Gawad, and world No. 12 Youssef Soliman.
Kanzy El-Dafrawy, CEO and founder of The Flying DAF, and former world No. 21, said: “Since we launched the academy year, the response has been phenomenal.
“Our vision is not just to make an impact and grow locally, but also globally. The Flipper Devices Camp in Dubai is the first step toward making the city the world’s ultimate squash hub, a home for top-level professional squash players from around the globe.
“Dubai is the perfect place for athletes to be based, considering they have access to the best equipment, sources, and training programs — complemented by the emirate’s geographical location, which makes it very easy to travel to tournaments worldwide.
“Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the J-Club have been extremely supportive to us throughout this camp, giving us a space where we can run local and global events, and ultimately leverage this camp by offering a high-end and luxurious stay to our professional athletes.”
Mohammed Mubarak Al Mutaiwei, president of the UAE Squash Association, said: “I express my appreciation for the distinguished presence of champions of the game within the UAE, particularly in the emirate of Dubai.
“My sincere gratitude to DAF Academy for their exceptional initiative in hosting one of the most formidable international camps in the sport of squash. This gathering, showcasing the pinnacle of talent within the sport, underscores their firm commitment to improve the sport.
“We recognize the endorsement of all clubs and academies throughout the UAE that are dedicated to furthering the federation’s mission and elevating the country’s standing at both regional and global levels.”
Squash is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports and is played in more than 185 countries. There are more than 1,500 courts accessible in the UAE.


Morocco picked 2025 Africa Cup of Nations host

Morocco picked 2025 Africa Cup of Nations host
Updated 27 September 2023
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Morocco picked 2025 Africa Cup of Nations host

Morocco picked 2025 Africa Cup of Nations host
  • The 2027 tournament was awarded to East African neighbors Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania
  • Morocco’s bid opponents were a Benin-Nigeria co-host plan and Zambia after Algeria this week withdrew

CAIRO: Morocco being picked Wednesday to host soccer’s Africa Cup of Nations in 2025 was expected.
It was a surprise, however, that the 2027 tournament was awarded to East African neighbors Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania when its bid rivals included soccer powers Senegal and Egypt.
The Confederation of African Football’s president Patrice Motsepe announced the winners after votes by its executive committee.
Morocco was heavily favored to get the 2025 AFCON, when the 2022 World Cup semifinalist is also currently part of an innovative Europe-led joint bid for the 2030 tournament with Spain and Portugal, and possibly Ukraine.
Morocco’s bid opponents were a Benin-Nigeria co-host plan and Zambia after Algeria this week withdrew its candidacy from both the 2025 and ‘27 contests. Guinea previously was picked for 2025 but was stripped of hosting by CAF.
East Africa has not staged the biennial tournament since Ethiopia was the 1976 host.
The delayed 2023 edition of the 24-team tournament kicks off in January in Ivory Coast.


As UEFA works on return for Russian youth teams, Ukraine promises boycott and urges others to join

As UEFA works on return for Russian youth teams, Ukraine promises boycott and urges others to join
Updated 27 September 2023
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As UEFA works on return for Russian youth teams, Ukraine promises boycott and urges others to join

As UEFA works on return for Russian youth teams, Ukraine promises boycott and urges others to join
  • Ukraine soccer officials also urged other UEFA member countries late Tuesday to refuse to play Russia
  • “UAF confirms that we will not take part in any competitions with the participation of Russian teams,” the Ukraine federation said

GENEVA: The Ukraine soccer federation said it will boycott any European youth competition that includes Russia as UEFA works on easing a blanket ban imposed since the war started.
Ukraine soccer officials also urged other UEFA member countries late Tuesday to refuse to play Russia, a stance that England reiterated within hours of the European soccer body announcing a new policy of trying to reintegrate Russian Under-17 teams.
Qualifying groups are played in October and November for the Under-17 European Championship for boys and girls, which have finals tournaments next year.
“UAF confirms that we will not take part in any competitions with the participation of Russian teams,” the Ukraine federation said, “and appeal to other UEFA member associations to boycott possible matches with the participation of teams from the Russian Federation.”
“We strongly urge UEFA to review this decision and leave in force the previous decision on the complete exclusion of any teams from the Russian Federation from participation in international competitions.”
Latvia also pledged Wednesday to refuse to play Russia, with other British, Baltic and Scandinavian countries likely to follow.
The Kyiv-based Ukraine federation said letting teams return during the conflict “tolerates Russia’s aggressive policy.”
Ukraine soccer leader Andriy Pavelko is a member of the policy-setting UEFA executive committee and so is Alexander Dyukov, his Russian counterpart. Dyukov did attend the committee meeting Tuesday in Cyprus that shaped the new policy and Pavelko did not, UEFA said.
UEFA and FIFA moved within days of the military invasion of Ukraine starting in February 2022 to remove and ban all Russian national and club teams.
Even before those decisions were made, Poland and their men’s team captain Robert Lewandowski said they would not play Russia in a 2022 World Cup qualifying playoff scheduled in Moscow a month later.
Switzerland’s soccer federation also said its women’s team would not play Russia at the Euro 2022 tournament hosted by England.
Now 19 months into a war that shows no sign of ending, UEFA signaled Tuesday that it wants to restore Russian teams into its youth competitions, though without their flag, anthem, national colors and playing in only away games.
UEFA said “children should not be punished for actions whose responsibility lies exclusively with adults,” and its staff will look at finding groups that Russian Under-17 teams can play in.
Ukraine’s Under-17 girls’ teams are scheduled to play three games in Germany from Oct. 14-20 in a group that also includes Austria and Romania.
The Under-17 boys are due in Liechtenstein to play games from Oct. 15-21 against the host, Germany and Finland.
Russian youth players plus their coaches and officials would face issues getting visas and flights to travel for UEFA games. Serbia is a traditional ally of Russia that will host qualifying groups for Under-17 boys and girls in the weeks ahead.
The English Football Association defied UEFA’s new policy despite having vice presidents of UEFA and FIFA, David Gill and Debbie Hewitt, respectively, and likely being confirmed in two weeks’ time by UEFA as the men’s Euro 2028 co-host with its British and Irish neighbors.
“We do not support the position of readmitting Russia to UEFA age grade competitions,” the English FA said, “and our position remains that England teams won’t play against Russia.”