Al-Hilal to play home games at Boulevard Hall in Riyadh 

Al-Hilal to play home games at Boulevard Hall in Riyadh 
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The project has a capacity of 26,000 seats and is expected to be handed to the club in January. (Screengrab/@Turki_alalshikh)
Al-Hilal to play home games at Boulevard Hall in Riyadh 
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The project has a capacity of 26,000 seats and is expected to be handed to the club in January. (Screengrab/@Turki_alalshikh)
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Updated 29 September 2023

Al-Hilal to play home games at Boulevard Hall in Riyadh 

Al-Hilal to play home games at Boulevard Hall in Riyadh 
  • The project has a capacity of 26,000 seats and is expected to be handed to the club in January

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal have found a new home for their matches this season with the under-construction Boulevard Hall in Riyadh.

Entertainment authority chief Turki Al-Sheikh said during a live on Instagram that they have reached a SAR40 million a year agreement with Al-Hilal president Fahd bin Nafel with a grace period of the first 6 months.

Al-Sheikh thanked Prince AlWaleed bin Talal, a long standing backer of Al-Hilal and founder of the Kingdom Holding Company, for contributing SAR25 million, thus renaming the stadium the Kingdom Arena.

The project has a capacity of 26,000 seats and is expected to be handed to the club in January.

Bin Nafel said the new filed will meet all requirements of the Saudi Pro League, FIFA and, AFC.

Al-Hilal will play the first match in the new stadium in January for the Riyadh Season Cup.

Per the agreement, Al-Sheikh said the Kingdom Arena will host entertainment events off season.

Bin Nafel said the club is working on packages for foreign tourist where they come and spend two days in Riyadh and visit entertainment hubs in addition to attending the games.

The new facility holds 20 VIP cabins and a sky lounge with a capacity of 360 persons.

Al-Ittihad look to Al-Hilal’s example at FIFA Club World Cup

Karim Benzema will lead Al-Ittihad at the FIFA Club World Cup 2023. (@ittihad)
Karim Benzema will lead Al-Ittihad at the FIFA Club World Cup 2023. (@ittihad)
Updated 10 December 2023

Al-Ittihad look to Al-Hilal’s example at FIFA Club World Cup

Karim Benzema will lead Al-Ittihad at the FIFA Club World Cup 2023. (@ittihad)
  • Reigning Saudi champions can take heart from fierce rivals’ march to last year’s final as they look to put poor form behind them

RIYADH: If Al-Ittihad are looking for a positive spin on their patchy form heading into the FIFA Club World Cup, which kicks off in Jeddah this week, they need look no further than their fierce Saudi rivals, Al-Hilal.

It was only earlier this year that the Riyadh giants embarked on their own Club World Cup campaign, and they did so on the back of a run of form domestically that saw them win only three of their seven matches before the tournament began, and included a shock loss to Al-Fayha in their penultimate match before jetting off for Morocco.

But wins over Wydad Casablanca and Flamengo saw them become only the third Asian club to make it through to the final, where they put in an impressive showing in a 5-3 defeat to Real Madrid.

On the scoresheet that night for the Spanish giants was a certain Karim Benzema, who will headline the star names for Al-Ittihad as they open their campaign against Oceania champions Auckland City on Tuesday.

That will give comfort to Marcelo Gallardo after his side suffered a shock 3-1 defeat at the hands of mid-table Damac over the weekend, a loss that has seen them fall 16 points behind Al-Hilal and drop to fifth place in the Roshn Saudi League.

Having won four of their previous five after parting ways with last season’s title-winning coach Nuno Espirito Santo, it is a loss that might also have shaken some of the confidence in the Ittihad side as they come to terms with life under Argentine Gallardo.

Despite the apparent gulf between the two sides, Gallardo knows there is no room for any complacency against the New Zealand side, who are no strangers to this stage, this being their 11th appearance.

They have also proved to be giant-killers in the past as well, finishing third at the 2014 tournament in Morocco.

“Any game in the Club World Cup is always very tough,” Gallardo is quoted as saying on the FIFA website.

“The first game always has the nervousness factor too. It’s one game only, a knockout match, you need to win to stay alive in the competition. We know Auckland will be tough to beat.”

Goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe also chooses to toe the party line, while saying the side are taking it one game at a time, but does admit: “It costs nothing to dream.”

With the talent they now have at their disposal — the likes of Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Fabinho, Igor Coronado, and Romarinho to name just a few — there is no reason Al-Ittihad should not be dreaming big and looking to match what Al-Hilal did last year.

But they enter the tournament carrying a far heavier burden than their Riyadh rivals did earlier this year.

Such has been the transformation in Saudi football over the past 12 months, it is no stretch to say Al-Ittihad are carrying the entire reputation of Saudi football on their shoulders.

While the investment is about far more than just results at the Club World Cup, it offers the first opportunity for Saudi football to show its wares on the international stage, and a good performance will go a long way to showing that Saudi football is indeed heading in the right direction.

A poor performance, however, and the critics will very quickly, and only too happily, rush to judge the Saudi splurge as an expensive flop.

While Al-Ittihad will attract most of the attention over the first week, it is worth remembering they come to the tournament merely as hosts rather than Asian champions.

That title belongs to Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds, making their third appearance at the Club World Cup after third (2007) and fifth-placed (2017) performances previously.

Like Al-Ittihad, they arrive in Jeddah on the back of a run of poor form that saw them not only slip from the top three on the final day of the J. League season, but also crash out of the AFC Champions League in the group stage after a shock defeat to Vietnam’s Hanoi FC last week.

Then there is the rather peculiar situation with the position of head coach.

Poland’s Maciej Skorza has already announced his departure after just one season in Japan, with Norwegian Per-Mathias Hogmo announced last week as his replacement.

Skorza will still take the reins in Jeddah, however, despite the fact he has already tendered his resignation and his successor has been appointed.

Should either Al-Ittihad or Urawa make the final, they will become the fourth team from Asia to do so in the last eight years — a nice feather in the cap for football in this region, in what is the last tournament to be played under the existing seven-team format.

By the time the next Club World Cup rolls around, to be played in the US in 2025 with 32 teams, we could see multiple Saudi clubs competing. It is just Al-Ittihad this time, but the whole world will still be watching.

Ronaldo on the mark as Al-Nassr return to winning ways

Ronaldo on the mark as Al-Nassr return to winning ways
Updated 09 December 2023

Ronaldo on the mark as Al-Nassr return to winning ways

Ronaldo on the mark as Al-Nassr return to winning ways
  • A 4-1 win over Riyadh maintains seven-point gap behind runaway leaders Al-Hilal

Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Al-Nassr action on Friday, with the nine-time champions defeating Al-Riyadh 4-1 to stay seven points behind leaders Al-Hilal, who defeated Al-Tai 2-1 earlier.

Ronaldo, who had been dealing with a slight neck strain, was rested in his team’s midweek Champions League trip to Central Asia to draw 1-1 with Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol, a third game without a win in all competitions.

Back home, he looked fresh and so did Al-Nassr, who had the ball in the net inside the first minute though Seko Fofana’s finish was judged to have been from an offside position. 

A few minutes later, the former Lens and Fulham midfielder turned and shot smartly in the area and drew a fine save from goalkeeper Martin Campana. After 15 minutes, Ronaldo thought he had scored but the block on the goal-line by Birama Toure was not adjudged to have been a handball. It looked close as to whether the Malian midfielder had been behind the line when he cleared, but a goal was not given.

The pressure from the Yellows — playing in white on the night — continued, with Ronaldo a constant threat. And then, just after the half-hour, he scored league goal No. 16 of the season. The 38-year-old drifted free at the far post to stab home a searching Sadio Mane cross from deep. 

Despite Al-Nassr’s dominance, the visitors pulled a goal back at the stroke of half-time, or so they thought as Saleh Al-Abbas, who stroked the ball home, was offside.

There was still time for Al-Nassr to score again before the break. On the right side of the area, Ronaldo chipped the ball right and there was a diving Otavio to head home to make it 2-0. It was Ronaldo’s eighth assist of the season, and it seemed like it was going to be game over.

And so it was midway through the second half. Mane did well on the left side of the area to slip the ball inside to Anderson Talisca, who slotted it home.

Two minutes later, Andre Gray pulled a goal back for the visitors, shooting home from close range to end a slick counterattack, but that was as good as it got for the newly promoted team.

Deep into injury time, Talisca got his second and his team’s fourth, heading home a perfect cross from Sultan Al-Ghannam, and that was that.

Al-Dawsari, Mitrovic on target as Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai

Al-Dawsari, Mitrovic on target as Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai
Updated 09 December 2023

Al-Dawsari, Mitrovic on target as Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai

Al-Dawsari, Mitrovic on target as Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai
  • Saudi Pro League leaders wrack up 16th straight win in all competitions
  • Serbian striker first player since 2012 to score in 7 consecutive league matches

The Al-Hilal machine goes rolling on after the Saudi Pro League leaders defeated Al-Tai 2-1 on Friday to record a 16th successive victory in all competitions.

It was a strange game in that the Riyadh giants dominated but were never able to kill off their hosts, for whom goalkeeper Moataz Al-Baqawi was in fine form.

In the end, it did not matter as Hilal, threatening to pull away at the top of the table, went at Al-Tai from the start.

In the 15th minute, Kalidou Koulibaly’s smart half volley from outside the area drew a good diving save from Al-Baqawi and three minutes later the in-form Aleksandar Mitrovic should have opened the scoring.

A delightful volleyed through ball from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic freed the former Fulham forward who, with just the goalkeeper to beat, dragged his shot wide.

He was relieved in the 20th minute when a classic combination for both Al-Hilal and Saudi Arabia swung into action. Salman Al-Faraj crossed from the right and there was Salem Al-Dawsari to send a flying side-footed volley high into the net from near the penalty spot. The two club legends embraced in celebration of a beautiful and important goal.

Ten minutes later, Hilal were given a penalty after Ibrahim Al-Nakhli handled a shot from Mitrovic. The Serbian stepped up to grab his 14th league goal of the season and to get on the score sheet for the seventh successive game, a feat last achieved in Saudi Arabia in 2012 by Brazilian striker Wesley.

Five minutes before the break, the ball fell to Ruben Neves just outside the area and the Portuguese star curled home only for the goal to be ruled out due to an offside in the buildup, though it was a very tight call.

And it became painful for Hilal deep into added time thanks to another spectacular strike. Salman Al-Muwashar was twisting and turning in the middle of the Hilal half as he attempted to protect the ball from a group of blue-shirted players and then, suddenly, Tariq Abdullah stepped forward to side-foot a looping shot that beat the jumping Yassine Bounou, not far off his line on the edge of the 6-yard box.

Instead of 3-0 at the break, it was 2-1 and a game that had been dominated by the 18-time champions was suddenly looking very interesting indeed.

Al-Hilal were determined to make it as predictable as possible and within five minutes of the restart, Mitrovic’s half volley stung the hands of the goalkeeper. Moments later, a delicate chip from Neves just cleared the bar to land on the roof of the net.

Nobody will ever know how it was not 3-1 three minutes before the hour. Neves curled a delightful cross into the area. Milinkovic-Savic’s volley came back off the inside of the post but there was Al-Dawsari to react quickly and drive the rebound toward the top. Somehow, however, Al-Baqawi got there to tip the ball over.

The goalkeeper ensured that Hilal did not get a third goal but they picked up the points nonetheless.

Elsewhere, Al-Taawoun went third behind Al-Nassr with a 4-1 win at home to Al-Fayha, the losers perhaps tired after their Asian Champions League heroics in midweek when they won 4-1 at the Uzbekistan home of Pakhtakor to progress to the knockout stage.

Saudi Arabia ready to host 2034 World Cup: Sports minister

Saudi Arabia ready to host 2034 World Cup: Sports minister
Updated 08 December 2023

Saudi Arabia ready to host 2034 World Cup: Sports minister

Saudi Arabia ready to host 2034 World Cup: Sports minister
  • Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal tells BBC Kingdom has proved itself able to host major events
  • Government has invested over $6.26bn in sports since 2021 as part of Vision 2030

LONDON: Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal has talked up the sporting and economic opportunities of the Kingdom hosting the 2034 FIFA World Cup, saying his country is ready to host the world’s biggest sporting event.
In an interview with the BBC, he raised the prospect of the Kingdom hosting the competition in the summer rather than the winter, noted the importance of sport in a country where the majority of citizens are below the age of 30, and discussed the progress made by the Saudi Pro League.
The government has invested over £5 billion ($6.26 billion) in sports since 2021 as part of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy away from dependence on fossil fuels.
With the FIFA Club World Cup set to begin in the Kingdom next month, Prince Abdulaziz said Saudi Arabia is more than ready to host the biggest prize in football.
“We’ve showcased that — we’ve hosted more than 85 global events and we’ve delivered on the highest level,” he said.
“We want to attract the world through sports. Hopefully, by 2034, people will have an extraordinary World Cup.”
Since 2021, Saudi Arabia has hosted high-profile boxing matches, ATP tennis tournaments and Formula 1 racing.
The Public Investment Fund made waves when taking control of Premier League side Newcastle United and setting up the LIV Golf tour.
“Twenty million of our population are below the age of 30, so we need to get them engaged — we are playing our role to develop sports within the world and to be part of the international community,” Prince Abdulaziz said.
He added that lessons would be taken from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in neighboring Qatar, which had to be held in winter to avoid high temperatures.
He said Saudi Arabia is “definitely” looking into whether a summer contest would be feasible.
“Why not see what the possibilities are to do it in the summer? Whether it is summer or winter, it doesn’t matter for us, as long as we make sure that we (deliver) the right atmosphere to host such an event,” he added.
On the subject of the World Cup’s sustainability, Prince Abdulaziz said: “It’s a mandate on us in the Kingdom to make sure that we abide by the international regulations … to make sure that we play our role, to make sure that it’s eco-friendly.”
He addressed the progress of football in the Kingdom, which has taken on global significance since the £750 million influx of big names to the Saudi Pro League earlier this year, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar.
At grassroots, too, football is gaining in popularity, and the Kingdom even sees over 70,000 women and girls regularly taking part in the sport.
“All of our big matches have attracted record numbers so far … We’re broadcasting to 147 countries around the world,” Prince Abdulaziz said.
“When we planned to develop the league we never thought that we would do it with such pace, but to see that is actually refreshing and it actually showcases the importance of this. Our focus is to develop our league to attract the best in the world.”

Steven Gerrard: ‘Extremely nice’ to have Moussa Dembele back for Al-Ettifaq

Steven Gerrard: ‘Extremely nice’ to have Moussa Dembele back for Al-Ettifaq
Updated 08 December 2023

Steven Gerrard: ‘Extremely nice’ to have Moussa Dembele back for Al-Ettifaq

Steven Gerrard: ‘Extremely nice’ to have Moussa Dembele back for Al-Ettifaq
  • French striker makes return in draw with Al-Shabab after 2 months out
  • Moussa ‘key to us winning games,’ teammate Jack Hendry says

RIYADH: Al-Ettifaq manager Steven Gerrard said it was “extremely nice” to have Moussa Dembele back in Roshn Saudi League action after his No. 9 made a substitute return following knee surgery.
The former Fulham, Celtic, Atletico Madrid and Lyon striker played the final 20 minutes of the 0-0 draw at Al-Shabab on Thursday night. The game at the new Al-Shabab Club Stadium in Riyadh saw Ettifaq finish with 10 men following Demarai Gray’s red card, while the hosts ended with nine after Ever Banega and Gustavo Cuellar were both dismissed.
While frustrated not to have taken all three points — Dembele nearly made the perfect return with a late header that went over the bar — Gerrard said that having his top scorer back was a boost. Al-Ettifaq have failed to score in five of the eight games since the French striker last played, drawing three and losing two.
“It’s extremely nice to see Moussa Dembele back, extremely nice,” Gerrard said.
“When we get Moussa back up in a better place physically and get more minutes into him then I’m sure we’ll carry more of a threat. Moussa Dembele brings goals and assists. The good thing is we have him back. He’s a goalscorer. We’ve missed that quality.”
The former Rangers manager’s comments on the return of Dembele, who netted seven goals in eight Roshn Saudi League matches before his injury at the beginning of October, were echoed by teammate Jack Hendry.
“It’s very big for us to have him back. He’s a figurehead for us up front,” the defender said.
“He’s going to be the key to us winning games and kind of turning our fortunes in the right direction. Moussa’s a proven goalscorer. I played with him at Celtic and I know what he can bring to a team, so to have a figurehead like him up front is going to be important for us moving forward.”
Dembele said: “We will continue to work hard to improve our finishing.”
Ahead of weekend fixtures, Al-Ettifaq — who next play Al-Taawoun at home on Saturday, Dec. 16 — sit eighth in the league table.
“The game as it progressed was certainly there for the taking,” Gerrard said. “When we had a man advantage, we made a tactical change to take a defender off and bring Moussa on to be more aggressive and more opportunities came. We’re a bit frustrated we haven’t gone and taken the big opportunity to go and win the game.
“We’ll continue to grind until we find our rhythm and confidence in the final third, but we want to challenge individuals and the collective to bring more in the final third.”