5 things we learned from Roberto Mancini’s start with Saudi national team

Special 5 things we learned from Roberto Mancini’s start with Saudi national team
South Korea coach Jurgen Klinsmann, right, and Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini, St. James’ Park, Newcastle, Britain, Sept. 12, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 September 2023

5 things we learned from Roberto Mancini’s start with Saudi national team

5 things we learned from Roberto Mancini’s start with Saudi national team
  • Italian coach’s reign opens with losses to Costa Rica, South Korea
  • Falcons improve in second friendly but lack of fire power remains evident

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia lost 1-0 to South Korea, following a 3-1 defeat to Costa Rica four days earlier. In Newcastle, a first-half header from Cho Gue-song proved to be the difference between the two Asian powerhouses.

Here are five things we learned from the first two games under new boss Roberto Mancini.

Not a great start but …

Whatever the performances and whatever the spin put on it all, for a new national team coach to lose his first two games is far from an ideal start. At this stage the performances are more important than the result but Mancini, who was appointed last month, will not want the media and fans talking about the lack of wins for too much longer.

In some ways, the selection of opposition was not the best. Costa Rica and South Korea both present solid tests but are not the kind of world-beating teams that fans back in Riyadh, Jeddah and elsewhere would expect their side to lose to.

With hindsight, perhaps it would have been better to have one game against weaker opposition that Saudi Arabia could have beaten comfortably. It may not have been the most serious test but would have given Mancini the chance to get his first win out of the way.

Midfield improved but lacks cutting edge

After struggling to contain a talented Costa Rica team on Friday with Jewison Bennette, who plays his club football in nearby Sunderland, causing many problems, there was more control in the middle on Tuesday.

Mohamed Kanno was energetic and at times, along with Nasser Al-Dawsari and Abdullah Al-Khaibari, the Green Falcons looked good in the first half and asked questions of the Koreans. In the end it was a defensive mistake that allowed the Taeguk Warriors to take the lead, but there were chances created.

The team lacked a cutting edge in attack and needed one of the strikers to step forward and really stake a claim for the starting spot. Firas Al-Buraikan was not able to do so in the first game and missed the second to give Abdullah Al-Hamdan a chance. The Al-Hilal man was not able to show Mancini that he should be the main striker.

Star power making a difference

It should be remembered that to play in England is not a home game for Saudi Arabia. It is a shorter and more familiar journey for a number of Korean players who are based in Europe and the same can be said for Costa Rica.

While the league in Saudi Arabia is improving all the time with the world-class players that have been signed in recent months, the best teams in Asia have a growing number of players in Europe compared to none in the ranks of the Green Falcons.

Korean defender Kim Min-jae has improved leaps and bounds since leaving his homeland for China and Turkey before helping Napoli to the Italian title, joining Bayern Munich in the summer and being nominated for the FIFA Ballon D’or.

He has become one of the world’ best center backs. The experience and challenges gained from playing overseas really help the development of players on and off the pitch. It is something that would benefit Saudi Arabia’s stars.

Al-Owais stakes his claim

It is not easy being a Saudi Arabian goalkeeper as there are so many talented showstoppers in the league from overseas. It is also not easy for the national team coach as options are limited in this position.

In the game against Costa Rica, the gloves belonged to Nawaf Al-Aqidi who despite conceding three goals did not do a bad job. The Al-Nassr keeper was not given the nod against Son Heung-min and the rest as Mancini selected Mohammed Al-Owais for the second game.

The Al-Hilal goalkeeper had a fine game despite having played zero minutes in the league this season. It is not an ideal situation but one that the new coach will increasingly face. Al-Owais played well against South Korea and made a number of saves to show that he is still a top-class No. 1. It was an impressive 90 minutes and while Yassine Bounou is now the No. 1 at Al-Hilal, there is still plenty of talent in the country.

Still time to improve but time for a win

The win over Argentina at the World Cup was thrilling but there has not been much for Saudi fans to cheer about since then. If the Gulf Cup is included, and perhaps it should not be as the Green Falcons took a young side to that tournament, then the team has now clocked up six defeats in a row.

There is a lot of leeway given to a new coach and under Mancini it is two losses from two and he has learned a lot about his players. The Italian is respected as a top-level coach but nobody wants his run of defeats to stretch to seven or even eight when Saudi Arabia meet Nigeria and Mali next month. He spoke of improvements in October and that is expected but it is also time to stop the run of defeats before qualification for the World Cup starts in November and then the Asian Cup in January. It is not just improvements that are needed but a win.

NBA, Mavericks and Timberwolves to engage with youth players in UAE

NBA, Mavericks and Timberwolves to engage with youth players in UAE
Updated 7 sec ago

NBA, Mavericks and Timberwolves to engage with youth players in UAE

NBA, Mavericks and Timberwolves to engage with youth players in UAE
  • ‘Jr. NBA Week’ will return to Abu Dhabi and bring together more than 2,500 youth and 250 coaches from the local community and region
  • The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2023 presented by ADQ will feature the Mavericks and Timberwolves facing off twice at Etihad Arena

ABU DHABI: The National Basketball Association has announced a series of social impact programming for youth, coaches and basketball stakeholders that will be hosted in collaboration with the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2023 presented by ADQ.

The week of activities, which will be highlighted by the return of Jr. NBA Week to Abu Dhabi following its debut in 2022, will run from Monday Oct. 2 until Sunday, Oct. 8 and reach more than 2,500 youth and 250 coaches from the UAE and across the Middle East and Europe. 

Jr. NBA Week will feature youth clinics and basketball development programming focused on teaching the game, promoting health and wellness, and empowering the next generation of players, coaches and referees, and will feature appearances by Mavericks and Timberwolves players and coaches, NBA and WNBA legends, and USA Basketball Youth and Sport Development coach director, Don Showalter.

The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2023 will feature the Mavericks and the Timberwolves playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Oct. 5 and Saturday, Oct. 7.

The event follows last year’s preseason games between the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks, which marked the league’s first games in the Arabian Gulf.  

Blitzers, Pearls, Thunderbolts and Marvels register wins in ILT20 Development Tournament’s opening weekend

Blitzers, Pearls, Thunderbolts and Marvels register wins in ILT20 Development Tournament’s opening weekend
Updated 02 October 2023

Blitzers, Pearls, Thunderbolts and Marvels register wins in ILT20 Development Tournament’s opening weekend

Blitzers, Pearls, Thunderbolts and Marvels register wins in ILT20 Development Tournament’s opening weekend
  • Six squads finalized through a Player Draft are competing in the 18-match contest in Dubai
  • Preparations for DP World ILT20 season 2 in full swing following the success of first edition

DUBAI: The Blitzers, Pearls, Thunderbolts and Marvels have recorded impressive wins in the opening weekend of the ILT20 Development Tournament.

The contest is aimed at providing an opportunity for UAE players to grab 13 spots still up for grabs in the DP World ILT20 season two.

In the tournament opener, player of the match Usman Khan’s unbeaten 68 off 52 balls (nine fours, one six) ensured a comfortable seven wicket win for the Blitzers. The 115-run chase was delivered without any major hiccups, with 20 balls to spare.

Earlier, the Marvels lost opener Mayank Choudhry on the tournament’s very first ball, and struggled to get going in their innings after being asked to bat first. Young all-rounder Aayan Afzal Khan top-scored with 24 runs while captain Basil Hameed scored 20. Uzair Khan and Muhammad Zubair took three wickets each as the Marvels were bowled out for 114 in 18.1 overs.

The Pearls recorded a 19-run win against the Dynamos in the second match on Saturday — a competitive 151 for eight in their 20 overs. Asked to bat first, the Pearls were well served by their opener Aryansh Sharma who scored a blazing 63 off 41 balls with the help of six fours and two sixes. All-rounder Zawar Farid (player of the match) had a memorable game as he first contributed 26 useful runs with the bat in a 42-run fifth wicket partnership with Aryansh before taking four wickets with the ball.

The Dynamos got off to a flying start but failed to maintain the momentum as wickets fell at regular intervals. Opener Samal Udawaththa top scored with 28, and Muhammad Shahdad made a 23-run contribution. Zawar gave away a mere 20 runs in his 3.4 overs for his four wickets. Adhitya Shetty was also impressive with the ball, at three for 27.

In the opening match on Sunday and third of the tournament, Asif Khan’s 87 not out (59 balls, six fours, six sixes) for the Braves went in vain as the Thunderbolts powered through the 166-run chase for the loss of five wickets.

The Braves were asked to bat first and posted a competitive 165-run total on the back of Asif’s blazing innings, the opener hitting some lusty blows to propel his side past the 160-run mark. Junaid Shamzu smashed 31 off 10 balls (two fours, three sixes) in an unbroken 65-run alliance with Asif.

The Thunderbolts chased down the runs courtesy of an unbeaten 19-ball 45 by Ansh Tandon. The left-hander hit two fours and five sixes in his brilliant innings. Captain Rohan Mustafa scored 43 off 36 balls (six fours), and the Thunderbolts completed the chase with three balls left. Haider Ali took two wickets.

The Marvels registered their first win when they defeated the Pearls by seven wickets in the second match on Sunday. Batting first, the Marvels could only manage a paltry 121-run total. Player of the match Muhammad Zuhaib and Aayan Afzal Khan took four and three wickets respectively as the Marvels struggled to get going.

The 122-run chase was duly completed by the Marvels in 17.2 overs. Opener Mayank Choudhry top-scored with 47 off 49 balls (five fours, one six), and captain Rahul Chopra scored an unbeaten 31 off 23.

Ronaldo targets first AFC Champions League goals for Al-Nassr against Istiklol

Ronaldo targets first AFC Champions League goals for Al-Nassr against Istiklol
Updated 02 October 2023

Ronaldo targets first AFC Champions League goals for Al-Nassr against Istiklol

Ronaldo targets first AFC Champions League goals for Al-Nassr against Istiklol
  • The Portuguese legend is the record goalscorer of the UEFA Champions League with 140

Al-Nassr captain Cristiano Ronaldo will look to get his AFC Champions League goalscoring account up and running on Monday night when the Riyadh giants welcome Istiklol of Tajikistan to Al-Awwal Park in the second round of matches in Group E.

The Portuguese legend is the all-time record goalscorer in the UEFA Champions League with 140, in a career that saw him win the competition once with Manchester United and four times with Real Madrid.

The match will be Ronaldo’s third in Asia’s premier club competition, having taken part in a successful qualifier against Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai, and on Group E Matchday 1 against Persepolis of Iran, which Al-Nassr won 2-0.

Ronaldo is currently the top scorer in the Roshn Saudi League with 10 goals, four ahead of his nearest challengers, after eight rounds of matches.

Andersson takes individual title, Team Abu Dhabi cling on to their team championship for now

Andersson takes individual title, Team Abu Dhabi cling on to their team championship for now
Updated 02 October 2023

Andersson takes individual title, Team Abu Dhabi cling on to their team championship for now

Andersson takes individual title, Team Abu Dhabi cling on to their team championship for now
  • UAE’s Al-Qemzi cousins take the fight to Sharjah as Swedes close in on their team crown

SARDINIA: Sweden’s Jonas Andersson clinched the UIM F1H2O World Championship for the second time on Sunday with a convincing victory in the Regione Sardegna Grand Prix of Italy.

Andersson’s start-to-finish success in Olbia also puts Team Sweden in a strong position to secure the team title won for the last five times by Team Abu Dhabi.

While the defending champions had a disappointing day in Olbia, with Thani Al-Qemzi finishing eighth and Rashid Al-Qemzi 10th, they will still take the fight into December’s final round in Sharjah, which has produced many dramatic finishes over the years.

Andersson was crowned champion in Sardinia after an impressive third successive Grand Prix victory, cruising home from Frenchman Peter Morin, with Sharjah Team’s Ferdinand Zandbergen taking the third podium spot to go second in the championship standings.

The Dutchman will now look to secure the silver medal in Sharjah, although he can expect to come under pressure from his two closest challengers, Victory Team’s Erik Stark and Morin.

After his pole position success yesterday, Andersson looked in complete control following his superb start to take an immediate lead, which he never looked like surrendering.

Stark instantly swept past Italy’s Alberto Comparato to initially grab second place, but later dropped back to fifth and slipped to third in the championship.

Team Abu Dhabi’s two Emirati drivers were unable to recover from their qualifying setbacks. Thani Al-Qemzi, winner in Olbia last year, gained one place from his starting position but could not mount a climb through the field.

After securing his fourth F2 world title earlier this month, Rashed-Al Qemzi had problems at the start of the qualifying sprint race, and while he could not find a recovery, has clearly shown himself to be a rising star in top level powerboat racing.

The championship now reaches its conclusion Dec. 8 to 10 in Sharjah, which over the years has provided some dramatic finishes, and twice brought triumph for Team Abu Dhabi at Andersson’s expense.

In 1999, Shaun Torrente retained his UIM F1H2O world title when he edged out the Swede on a countback after Andersson won the Grand Prix on Khaled Lagoon. Two years ago, Team Abu Dhabi’s Torrente won his third drivers’ title in Sharjah after technical problems forced Andersson’s late retirement.

UIM F1H2O World Championship leading points positions:

1. Jonas Andersson 63 (champion)

2. Ferdinand Zandbergen 39

3. Erik Stark 35

4. Peter Morin 33

5. Thani Al-Qemzi 22

6. Bartek Marszalek 20

7. Shaun Torrente 17

8. Filip Roms 16

9. Sami Selio 15

10. Brent Dillard 13

Team standings:

1. Team Sweden 65

2. Sharjah Team 54

3. China CTIC Team 46

4. Abu Dhabi Team 44

5. Victory 38


India ready to raise curtain on Cricket World Cup

India ready to raise curtain on Cricket World Cup
Updated 02 October 2023

India ready to raise curtain on Cricket World Cup

India ready to raise curtain on Cricket World Cup
  • The World Cup features 10 nations playing 48 matches over 46 days at 10 different venues
  • India will face Pakistan on October 14, arguably the tournament’s most anticipated clash

NEW DELHI: India target a third World Cup when cricket’s global showpiece gets underway on Thursday with the country buoyed by a growing, international self-confidence and with a sport which unites and divides the sub-continent like no other on the verge of joining the Olympic elite.

The epic tournament features 10 nations playing 48 matches over 46 days at 10 different venues.

However, the build-up has been far from smooth after arch-rivals Pakistan considered a boycott when India refused to travel across the border for the Asia Cup.

As a result, the announcement of the schedule for the World Cup was delayed until just three months before the first ball was to be bowled.

Fears over security for the India-Pakistan World Cup blockbuster in Ahmedabad then saw the match moved back a day, sparking a domino effect of nine rescheduled fixtures.

Pakistan’s visit to India is their first since the 2016 Twenty20 World Cup but they were welcomed warmly when they arrived in Hyderabad last week despite only receiving visas just 48 hours before their departure.

“It’s been a superb welcome. People coming to the hotel and their hospitality has been fantastic,” said leg-spinner Shadab Khan.

In an indication of the security tensions, Pakistan’s opening warm-up match with New Zealand on Friday was played behind closed doors at an eerily silent 55,000-capacity Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.

Torrential rain has also caused an early headache with two warm-up games abandoned without a ball being bowled and a third a reduced overs affair.

The opening match on Thursday between champions England and New Zealand as well as the final on November 19 are being staged at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium, named after the prime minister, the world’s biggest cricket arena boasting a capacity of over 130,000.

India will face Pakistan at the mega-venue on October 14.

The city which independence hero Mahatma Gandhi called home for 15 years is tipped as a potential host city should India bid for the 2036 Olympics.

Cricket itself — albeit in its short-format T20 — is expected to be named an Olympic sport for the 2028 Games in Los Angeles when the International Olympic Committee meets in Mumbai later this month.

The gathering of the best players of India’s favorite game will be the sporting culmination of a year that saw India overtake China as the world’s most populous country, after displacing former colonizer Britain as its fifth-biggest economy in 2021.

Now Modi is seeking a place on the global stage to match.

Courted by the West — despite rights concerns — as a bulwark against Beijing, the prime minister used the G20 summit he hosted this month as a catalyst to position New Delhi as a representative of many others outside traditional power blocs.

His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is widely regarded as a certainty to win next year’s general election by a crushing majority.

India are two-time champions having added the 2011 title on home soil to their 1983 triumph.

They boast superstar Virat Kohli who has made more than 13,000 runs in the ODI format.

“The memories of past World Cup victories, especially the iconic 2011 win, are etched in our hearts, and we want to create new memories for our fans,” said Kohli.

Pakistan, the 1992 champions, have lost seven times out of seven to India at past World Cups.

However, skipper Babar Azam will be key to turning around that run as he leads the way in the batting rankings. His average of over 58 betters even that of Kohli.

Defending champions England, who triumphed in a nail-biting 2019 final against New Zealand at Lord’s, can harness the destructive firepower of Ben Stokes who smashed 84 in that game which went to a Super Over conclusion.

The tournament will likely see the farewell ODI performance of Bangladesh skipper Shakib al Hasan, the top-ranked all-rounder in ODI cricket.

The 36-year-old has made more than 7,000 runs in the format with 55 half-centuries and 308 wickets.

Never far from controversy, Shakib arrives in India after a public spat with axed batsman Tamim Iqbal who he blasted as “childish.”

Australia are five-time champions and boast veteran David Warner who has amassed over 6,300 ODI runs.

South Africa, who have endured a roller-coaster relationship with the World Cup, undone by rain rules in 1992 and 2003, have also been hit by injuries, losing key pacers Anrich Nortje and Sisanda Magala.

For Afghanistan, slow bowlers Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who made his international debut at 16, and Noor Ahmad will be key on welcoming Indian pitches.

Sri Lanka, the 1996 winners, will be fired up by the indignity of being bowled out for just 50 and losing the Asia Cup final to India by 10 wickets.

Netherlands complete the line-up and are match-tough after negotiating the qualifying round in July where two-time champions West Indies crashed out.