Saudi Pro League clubs must snap up best Asian talent

Saudi Pro League clubs must snap up best Asian talent
French forward Karim Benzema, who signed up for champions Al-Ittihad, leads the list of latest big-name arrivals into Saudi Arabia’s professional football league. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2023
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Saudi Pro League clubs must snap up best Asian talent

Saudi Pro League clubs must snap up best Asian talent
  • As some of the world’s most famous players look to move from Europe, the Kingdom’s clubs should not ignore talent to the East

Saudi Arabian football has changed, and is changing the face of Asian football with it.

Few could have predicted the pace of change within the country as recently as six months ago, but the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo accelerated plans to reshape football in the country; plans that have been turbocharged in recent weeks.

While missing out on the prized signature of Lionel Messi was a blow, a host of other big names are on the verge of joining Karim Benzema as headline arrivals this off-season.

With Saudi Arabia hosting the AFC Asian Cup for the first time in 2027, bidding for the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup, and having had Saudi Arabian Football Federation President Yasser Al-Misehal elected to both the AFC and FIFA executive committees, the desire for the Kingdom to play a leading role in Asian football is clear for all to see.

With the stated ambition of making the Saudi Pro League one of the top 10 leagues in the world within the next decade, achieving that would mean it being regarded as the best in Asia.

If that is the ambition, and if it wants to take its role as a leader of the continent seriously and develop Asian football as a collective, then there is one thing it can do to ensure that is the case – become a hothouse of the best regional talent.

As leagues around the continent, including, regrettably, the AFC Champions League itself, are removing the previous “plus one” quota for AFC players, Saudi Arabia could lead by example if it ensured that some of the money it is spending on foreign talent extended to offering opportunities to the best players of Asia.

It need not come at the expense of headline names like N’Golo Kante, Sergio Ramos or Neymar. With eight foreign spots per club, there is plenty of room across the league.

And with so many headline names coming in, players all over the continent would naturally be attracted to the Kingdom to play with stars they could only dream of coming up against in Europe.

The SPL is no stranger to some of the best names in Asian football.

Syrian pair Omar Al-Somah and Omar Khrbin took the league by storm with Al-Ahli and Al-Hilal respectively, the latter even being named Asian Player of the Year in 2017, while Al-Somah won three consecutive Golden Boots on his way to becoming one of the continent’s most feared competitors.

This off-season already, we have seen some of Asia’s biggest names linked to Saudi Arabia.

South Korea’s Son Heung-min and Iran’s Mehdi Taremi are reportedly two names high on the list of those the Kingdom would like to attract, and with good reason given their pedigree.

But if clubs showed a little imagination and adventure, they could also unlock enormous markets to grow the reach of the league.

At just 18 years of age, Indonesia’s Marselino Ferdinan is regarded as one of his nation’s most promising young talents. A precocious player, he is now a regular with the senior national team, having made his debut aged just 17, and will be the headline act for Indonesia at next year’s AFC Asian Cup in Qatar.

In football-mad Indonesia, his every move is followed and chronicled by fans desperate to develop a major international star. He already has an Instagram following of 1.7 million – more than Al-Shabab and Al-Ahli combined.

Providing a platform for Marselino to flourish, and opening the SPL up to the football-crazy market of Indonesia, would be a win-win.

At the other end of the age spectrum, a player like Maya Yoshida would add plenty of experience and leadership.

Still only 34, the former Japan national team captain is on the lookout for a new club after departing German outfit Schalke last month.

As one of Japan’s most capped players, having played well over 100 times for his country, including at three World Cups including last year in Qatar, he comes with a wealth of European experience having played in the Eredivisie, Premier League, Serie A and the Bundesliga.

With Al-Nassr in need of experienced defenders, and with a tour of Japan just a few weeks away, they could do far worse than the former Southampton captain.

Given the large Indian population within Saudi Arabia, estimated to be close to three million, it would make sense to look to the South Asian nation to tap into that huge market.

A player like defender Sandesh Jhingan would fit the bill perfectly. A quality defender, who had a stint in Europe cut short by injury, the 29-year-old is ambitious and would embrace the chance to play at a higher level and test himself against some of the world’s best attacking talent.

As reported last month, Emirati sensation Yahya Al-Ghassani has attracted the interest of a number of clubs in the Kingdom, including champions Al-Ittihad.

Whoever it may be, and wherever they come from, if Saudi Arabia is serious about being a leader within Asian football, that should extend to developing and providing opportunities to some of this continent’s best players.


Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
  • Defending champions Nepal won a rain-shortened match by seven wickets

MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia’s hopes of booking a place in the last four of the 2024 ACC Men’s Premier Cup ended with a loss to defending champions Nepal in the final Group A encounter.

The Kingdom’s team went into the match needing a win to qualify for the next stage but ended up fourth in the table after a seven-wicket loss on Wednesday.

Overnight thunder and rain damaged the pitch at the Oman Cricket Academy in Al-Amerat, causing a two- hour delay and a match reduction to eight overs per side. Saudi Arabia were put into bat first and managed 73-7, thanks to some fantastic hits from Abdul Waheed.

Waheed, who came in at No. 3, was the side’s top scorer with 37 runs from 16 balls, including three fours and three sixes. He was trapped leg before wicket as he attempted a paddle against left arm seamer Pratish GC in the sixth over. No other Saudi batsman achieved double figures.

In reply, Nepal were reeling on 15-3 at one stage, thanks to exceptional bowling from Saudi’s Ishtiaq Ahmed in the opening spell. Conceding just seven runs in his two overs, the right arm pacer took the wickets of opener Kushal Bhurtel and Kushal Malla.

Gulshan Jha, who a produced a player of the match performance against Malaysia, repeated his feat, scoring 32 runs off 19 balls. Skipper Rohit Paudel chipped in with 16 runs while Dipendra Singh Airee contributed 17.

Saudi Arabia’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, said he was proud of his team’s performance against a top side.

“I am proud of the boys (and) the way they fought against a quality side like Nepal. At one point, we felt we were in the game. But this will give us a great learning experience and we will come back better,” he told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia campaign opened on Saturday with a close encounter against Malaysia when, despite controlling most of the match, they ended up 12 runs short. The team were at their best the following day, beating Hong Kong by 55, but on Tuesday they failed to chase Qatar’s 153. This meant a win against Nepal was needed to give them any chance of progressing to the next round.

Captain Shaikh said he felt the team lacked experience in closing out the games.

“If we look back, the match against Malaysia and Qatar shows we lack experience,” he said. “We could have won both those games with ease. If our middle order, including me, played well, we could have been in a better place. I take responsibility for that and I believe we will only get better from here.”

The 10-team tournament saw unbeaten Nepal qualify for the semifinals as Group A winners, while Hong Kong pipped Qatar on net run-rate after their convincing seven-wicket win over Malaysia. Hosts Oman, UAE and Kuwait are fighting for two semifinal spots in Group B with Bahrain and Cambodia already knocked out.

The final will take place on April 21, with the winner qualifying for Asia’s premier event, the ACC Asia Cup, next year.


FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders

FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders
Updated 15 April 2024
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FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders

FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders
  • Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian capital is gearing up to welcome the global equestrian community for the Federation Equestre Internationale Jumping World Cup Finals this weekend.

Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019. According to the international body, it is also a first for the Arabian peninsula region.

The finals will run from April 17 to April 20 at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, with a total prize pool of €2.6 million ($2.7 million) up for grabs.

Three Saudi champions who qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics — Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, Ramzy Al-Duhami and Khaled Al-Motby — will compete in this weekend’s showjumping competition.

Arab News joined the riders behind the scenes at the stables, as the pressure mounts for the trio to secure their country a medal.

“I’ve got my, superstars, my best friends, Alamo and Fiumicino, two horses,” Al-Sharbatly said.

The 41-year-old Olympic medallist was part of the showjumping team that won Saudi Arabia a bronze medal during the 2012 London Olympics. In late 2023, he secured his sixth Asian gold medal.

Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019. (AN Photo/Abdulrahman bin Shulhub)

Despite this impressive record, Al-Sharbatly believes that fate also plays a part.

“In any sport you can’t win every day. And you also need a little bit of luck,” he said. “So it could be my show and it can be also that I want to have the best luck in this show.”

For Al-Sharbatly, the most important thing is that he will be surrounded by the animals he loves.

“I have so much love for horses,” he said. “Even if I don’t ride, it’s not a problem, but I have to be surrounded with horses every day.”

Al-Duhami said: “As you grow older in this sport, you get more experience and your goals change.”

The 52-year-old Saudi Olympic medalist, a revered rider in the Kingdom, has competed for decades, dating back to the 1980s. He competed in the 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, where he received the bronze medal with the Saudi team.

“It’s not anymore about winning any event, but you want to win this big, major event, and then your focus becomes that, instead of just winning every weekend and trying to get a result every weekend,” he said.

Al-Duhami said that there was “a lot of hope” for the coming finals, though the focus has been the Olympics. He described his horse, Untouchable 32, as a “very good Olympic-caliber horse.”

He has witnessed the equestrian scene develop first-hand. From first discovering horses as a child through his late father, who financially invested in horses for him, to now watching the federation take on that crucial, parental-like role for the younger generation.

Three Saudi champions who qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics — Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, Ramzy Al-Duhami and Khaled Al-Motby — will compete in this weekend’s showjumping competition. (AN Photo/Abdulrahman bin Shulhub) 

For Al-Duhami, the World Cup is more than just a sports milestone for Saudi Arabia.

“Bringing this event to Saudi is is one step, for this young generation to come and see their role models in front of their eyes,” he said.

“And seeing their home country riders competing will give them the ambition and the possibility to think that ‘OK, now we can do it.”

Al-Duhami believes that hosting this event will enable a rich cultural exchange that can contribute in positive ways to the growth of the equestrian scene in Saudi Arabia.

“There is a lot of talent. The Saudi riders are very talented, and if they have given the chance to come and compete, they will always perform,” he said.

One of the riders Al-Duhami referred to is Al-Mobty. At only 25-years-old, Al-Mobty will be rubbing shoulders with the Kingdom’s and Arab world’s best competitors, as well as international champions, over the course of the weekend.

In 2018, he, together with Al-Sharbatly and Al-Duhami, brought home a gold medal from the Asian Games in Jakarta.

He described the results as one of his proudest achievements, coupled with the “gold medal in Ashgabat with the Saudi team, a silver medal in the Ashgabat tournament. Winning an individual gold medal in the Saudi Games Championship and winning a team gold medal in the Saudi Games Championship.”

This weekend’s tournament is indoors, which can pose a challenge for some showjumpers.

“They are always the hardest due to space limitations, and there will be greater pressure on the horses since it is a closed venue with an unfamiliar audience,” Al-Mobty said.

Al-Mobty said that despite these hurdles, he is hopeful that they will all perform well.


Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions

Vctorious women’s under-20 foil team was honored during the ongoing event in Riyadh. SPA
Vctorious women’s under-20 foil team was honored during the ongoing event in Riyadh. SPA
Updated 15 April 2024
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Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions

Vctorious women’s under-20 foil team was honored during the ongoing event in Riyadh. SPA
  • The American team dominated the men’s under-20 foil team

Riyadh: Abdullah Al-Sunaid, CEO of the 2024 Junior and Cadet Fencing World Championships, crowned the victorious women’s under-20 foil team during the ongoing event in Riyadh. 

The Japanese team emerged triumphant, securing the gold medal after a thrilling victory over Italy, who won silver. The Republic of Korea claimed the bronze, with France also clinching bronze and securing the third position in the intense competitions held at the King Saud University Sports Arena.

In the men’s events, Mohammed Chaouchi, president of the Tunisian Fencing Federation, honored the winners of the third day. The American team dominated the men’s under-20 foil team, seizing the gold medal by defeating Italy, who took silver. Japan secured the bronze, while France also claimed the bronze and secured the third spot on the podium.


Vibrant Sajah Bazaar, live music as Eid meets golf to entertain 2024 Saudi Open fans

Vibrant Sajah Bazaar, live music as Eid meets golf to entertain 2024 Saudi Open fans
Updated 13 April 2024
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Vibrant Sajah Bazaar, live music as Eid meets golf to entertain 2024 Saudi Open fans

Vibrant Sajah Bazaar, live music as Eid meets golf to entertain 2024 Saudi Open fans
  • Sajah Bazaar to headline 2024 Saudi Open fan zone at Riyadh Golf Club
  • Fan zone will provide food, drinks from around the world

RIYADH: Visitors to this year’s Saudi Open golf tournament will also be able to enjoy live music and fireworks at the Riyadh Golf Club.
The four-day championship starts on Wednesday and as well as top-class sport promises plenty of family fun.
LIV Golf captain Henrik Stenson will headline the field, which also includes some of the leading players on the Asian Tour, like last year’s Saudi Open winner Denwit Boriboonsub.
Each day of the tournament, from 4-11 p.m., visitors will be able to visit the Sajah Bazaar where they can buy local goods like textiles and jewelry.
There will also be lots to do in the fan zone, including golf driving and putting challenges, Panna soccer, Teqball, food and drink from around the world and a children’s area.
There are also some great prizes up for grabs, with Al-Rajhi Takaful donating 50 car insurance vouchers worth SR1,000 ($267), while two lucky ticket holders will see their general admission tickets upgraded to hospitality tickets and get the chance to watch world class golf from the best seats in the house.
Two winners will be randomly selected daily, while each person who takes a photo of a golfer on the Al-Rajhi teebox and posts it to social media with #Golf&More will be entered into the prize draw to win car insurance.
The fan zone opens on Wednesday and Thursday from 1-11 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.


ICRF concludes participation in SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit in Birmingham

ICRF concludes participation in SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit in Birmingham
Updated 12 April 2024
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ICRF concludes participation in SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit in Birmingham

ICRF concludes participation in SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit in Birmingham
  • Federation was seeking to promote camel sports globally
  • Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, minister of sports and chairman of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, visited pavilion

RIYADH: The International Camel Racing Federation has concluded its participation in the SportAccord World Sport & Business Summit that took place in Birmingham from April 7-11.
The ICRF was seeking to promote camel sports around the world by being present at the event.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the minister of sports and chairman of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, visited the federation’s pavilion on Tuesday, where he received an award that was presented to the SOPC.
Prince Fahad bin Jalawi bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, ICRF’s president and SOPC’s vice president; Dr. Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee; and Robin Mitchell, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, were present at the award presentation.
Prince Fahad said: “We are pleased with what the federation’s pavilion presented at this summit, which around 1,500 leaders and key decision-makers from over 120 international federations attended.”
Participation at the event helped publicize camel sports which, according to the ICRF’s president, have a large role in Saudi culture and are a big part of the nation’s identity.
Prince Fahad added: “The federation’s goal through this participation was to shed light on the sport of our fathers and ancestors, which Arab countries have known since ancient times until it became part of their societies.”