Indonesia ready to face Saudi squad at Futsal Asian Cup qualifier 

Indonesia ready to face Saudi squad at Futsal Asian Cup qualifier 
Indonesia’s national futsal team poses for a group photo in Jakarta on Sept. 27, 2023, before departure to Saudi Arabia to play AFC Futsal Asian Cup qualifier matches. (AFC)
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Updated 29 September 2023

Indonesia ready to face Saudi squad at Futsal Asian Cup qualifier 

Indonesia ready to face Saudi squad at Futsal Asian Cup qualifier 
  • Saudi Arabia will play Indonesia in Dammam on Oct. 11 
  • Indonesia head coach says Saudi futsal league can become ‘best in the world’ 

JAKARTA: Indonesia is preparing to face Saudi Arabia in the AFC Futsal Asian Cup qualifiers, the national team’s head coach said on Friday, as the team arrived in the Kingdom for the competition starting next week. 

The AFC Futsal Asian Cup is the biennial international futsal championship organized by the Asian Football Confederation for the men’s national teams of Asia. Its 17th edition is going to be held in Thailand in April next year. 

Sixteen teams are competing in the tournament and the top four will qualify for the 2024 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Uzbekistan. 

Indonesia is in Group B, together with the hosts and the national teams of Afghanistan and Macau. All Group B matches will be held at Green Hall Sports City in Dammam from Oct. 7 to Oct. 11. 

Marcos Sorato, the Indonesian team’s Brazilian head coach, said they had been training very hard ahead of the competition. 

“We are very happy to be here, and we will do our best for Indonesian futsal,” Sorato told Arab News over the phone from Dammam. “We are representing Indonesia’s futsal, the players, staff and fans.” 

Indonesia will play Macau on Oct. 7 and Afghanistan on Oct. 9. They will face Saudi Arabia on the last day of the competition. 

Sorato expected Saudi Arabia to be Indonesia’s toughest opponent, as the team have been doing “a great job” under their Spanish head coach Andreu Plaza. 

“They are doing great,” he said. “They are the strongest national team in our group.” 

He sees a bright future not only for the Kingdom’s side but also for the whole league. 

“Saudi Arabia’s futsal league can be the best in the world if there is investment and support,” he said. 

“The league is very good today, (with) 20 clubs. I’m sure it will be a great league in the next years.” 

Sorato was appointed the head coach of the Indonesian National Futsal Team in August. 

Previously serving as an assistant and head coach of Brazil, he steered his team to victory in the Futsal World Cup in 2008 and 2012. 

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 20 sec ago

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.

Pakistan recall Sajid after Abrar ruled out of Australia Test

Pakistan recall Sajid after Abrar ruled out of Australia Test
Updated 35 min 28 sec ago

Pakistan recall Sajid after Abrar ruled out of Australia Test

Pakistan recall Sajid after Abrar ruled out of Australia Test
  • Leg-spinner Abrar Ahmed sustained leg injury during match against Prime Minister's XI, says PCB 
  • Sajid Khan played the last of his seven Tests against Australia on home soil in March 2022

KARACHI: Pakistan recalled Sajid Khan after fellow spinner Abrar Ahmed was ruled out of the first Test against Australia with a leg injury, selectors said Sunday.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said Abrar will remain with the team to receive treatment.

"Ahmed injured his leg around the knee during the tour game and his MRI suggests rest and rehabilitation, which means he will not be available for the first Test," a PCB news release said.

Abrar will be assessed for the second Test in Melbourne from December 26, it said. The third Test is in Sydney from January 3.

Sajid, 30, played the last of his seven Tests against Australia in March 2022 and will fly to Perth to join the team before the match.

Shabab Al-Ahli hit Emirates for 7 as Khrbin shines for Al-Wahda in UAE Pro League

Shabab Al-Ahli hit Emirates for 7 as Khrbin shines for Al-Wahda in UAE Pro League
Updated 10 December 2023

Shabab Al-Ahli hit Emirates for 7 as Khrbin shines for Al-Wahda in UAE Pro League

Shabab Al-Ahli hit Emirates for 7 as Khrbin shines for Al-Wahda in UAE Pro League
  • Leaders Al-Wasl drop valuable points while 9-man Al-Jazira thrashed at home

DUBAI: Champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club ominously smashed seven past sinking Emirates Club and Frank de Boer’s Al-Jazira suffered a consequential defeat in matchweek 10 of the ADNOC Pro League.

UAE prospect Harib Abdalla was one of three players to produce a brace for the holders when second-bottom Emirates – minus Spanish star player Andres Iniesta – endured a sixth-successive defeat, this time 7-0.

There were contrasting emotions at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium when nine-men Al-Jazira were downed 5-1 by fast-improving Ajman, with an immediate board restructure being announced by the seventh-placed side.

Leaders Al-Wasl were pegged back from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw by Al-Wahda, Hernan Crespo’s Al-Ain salvaged a heated 2-2 stalemate at Al-Ittihad Kalba in a contest played out with 10 men apiece for the entire second half, and Sharjah recovered from a dispiriting AFC Champions League elimination with a 4-1 beating of bottom-placed Hatta, highlighted by two-goal Guinean youngster Ousmane Camara’s bicycle kick.

Dark-horses Al-Bataeh returned to winning ways with a 2-1 victory against Baniyas, while Alfred Schreuder’s sleeping giants Al-Nasr failed to win again, suffering a 3-1 defeat at Khor Fakkan.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Omar Khrbin (Al-Wahda)

Some players are destined not to receive their dues.

This may feel incongruous when discussing Omar Khrbin, a maverick forward previously bestowed the 2017 AFC Player of the Year gong.

When the ADNOC Pro League’s leading lights are debated, Al-Wahda’s premier attacker is usually absent. Emirati internationals Ali Mabkhout and Fabio De Lima will be included and so, too, the likes of Al-Ain’s Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba, Sharjah’s Miralem Pjanic, and Shabab Al-Ahli’s Fede Cartabia.

But not the Syria international who has consistently delivered top performances since an unheralded acquisition by Al-Dhafra back in 2016.

The latest came with a brace in Friday’s draw against first-placed Al-Wasl, delivering a penalty kick and instinctive close-range effort to take something from a clash in which his current employers found themselves two goals in arrears, on home soil, by 19 minutes.

Khrbin’s recent career arc speaks volumes. The enigmatic forward has bounced between Al-Wahda and Shabab Al-Ahli since returning to the UAE from a similarly undulating stint at Saudi Arabia heavyweights Al-Hilal.

Yet, a creditable 54 goals and 25 assists have been produced in 91 ADNOC Pro League runouts. Only Laba (eight) has netted more often than Khrbin (seven) this season.

The tally is given further credit because the 29-year-old is not a traditional center forward – his expansive game is more nuanced than that.

Fifth-place Al-Wahda can look to him in confidence during their ADIB Cup quarter-final decider versus Al-Jazira and typically tempestuous derby with Al-Ain.

Goal of the week: Harib Abdalla (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

Strikes of grander quality than Abdalla’s appeared through Camara’s acrobatics for Sharjah and Al-Ain winger Soufiane Rahimi’s rocket-fuelled free-kick leveller.

No goal, however, contained richer promise than Abdalla’s first against Emirates. For club, or country.

Shabab Al-Ahli had already let loose by the time their emergent 21-year-old phenomenon got involved in the scoring.

Goal No. 6 for Marko Nikolic’s holders came via Yahya Al-Ghassani’s burst of acceleration and adroit cutback to his UAE colleague. Abdalla did the business with a low shot from just inside the area.

There is a palpable sense that if this wing duo ignite in Qatar in the imminent Asian Cup, a third-consecutive semi-final run becomes tangible for Paulo Bento’s ascendant side.

The same also applies domestically for a Shabab Al-Ahli who emphatically rebounded from a potentially damaging 3-0 defeat to rivals Al-Ain.

Coach of the week: Daniel Isaila (Ajman)

Ajman are reaping the rewards of swift course correction.

The summer departure of history-making head coach Goran Tufegdzic to Al-Nasr was followed by the curious capture of Caio Zanardi, a Brazilian previously undertaking brief stints in charge of the aforementioned Blue Wave, Khor Fakkan, and Al-Bataeh.

Last term’s sixth-place finishers devolved into relegation contenders. That was, however, before October’s decisive hire of Daniel Isaila.

The Romanian, who led Baniyas to a stunning second-place finish in the 2020 to 2021 season, has registered just one defeat in six league matches, with depleted Al-Jazira being put to the sword at the weekend.

Bahrain winger Ali Madan excelled via a goal and assist against nine men.

The Orange Brigade can now look up from 11th under Isaila, rather than disconcertingly looking over their shoulder under Zanardi.

Does ADNOC Pro League have a problem with promoted sides?

An interrupted ADNOC Pro League will not reach the halfway point until February, but alarm bells are already ringing at promoted outfits.

Bottom side Hatta’s sole victory came against Emirates Club in 13th, who last gained a point on Sept. 29. A four-point gap to Al-Nasr can, surely, only extend once ex-Ajax and Al-Ain supremo Schreuder gets further time to imprint his philosophy.

That is not a new story. Al-Urooba and Emirates received instant returns to the First Division League in the 2021 to 2022 campaign and only Al-Dhafra’s remarkably low 12 points kept Al-Bataeh from replicating doomed Dibba Al-Fujairah’s fate last season.

Emirates’ gamble on Barcelona alumni Iniesta and Paco Alcacer has yet to gain reward on the pitch, while Hatta’s revolving door policy on recruitment has not helped. Neither CVs of bosses Lluis Planaguma and Fabio Viviani inspire belief, either.

Baniyas’ sixth place in the 2018 to 2019 season was the last time a newbie competed with aplomb. It is a situation which requires reflection from UAE football, at large.

IOC president attends Saudi Games events

IOC president attends Saudi Games events
Updated 10 December 2023

IOC president attends Saudi Games events

IOC president attends Saudi Games events
  • Thomas Bach welcomes sporting ‘transformation’ taking place in the Kingdom
  • Growing role of women in Saudi sports movement wins praise from Olympics chief

With the Saudi Games set to conclude, the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach paid an official visit to the Kingdom, where he met Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, as well as leadership staff of the Saudi Olympic movement.

“The development of sport in Saudi Arabia is extremely impressive,” Bach said on Saturday during his two-day visit. “I don’t think I’ve seen such a transformation of sport in such a short period of time in any country.”

Bach praised the inclusion of more women in sports and also leading positions within the sporting movement.

“That’s why we are feeling close to home because, in our Olympic agenda, we are trying to drive the same transformation,” he said.

Prince Fahad bin Jalawi, vice president of the SOPC; Princess Dilayl bint Nahar, deputy director of the Saudi Games; and Abdulaziz Baashen, CEO and secretary-general of the SOPC, also attended the meetings.

During the meeting and tour visit, Prince Abdulaziz and Bach discussed the significant role that the Kingdom plays on the global sports stage, thanks to Vision 2030, and its plans to host major sporting events, such as the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2025, the Asian Winter Games in 2029, and the Asian Games in 2034.

Following the meeting, Bach attended several Saudi Games events, including the finals of beach volleyball and tennis, and also toured the “Fan Zone” area within the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Olympic Complex in Riyadh.

Bach’s visit to the Kingdom is his third since assuming the presidency of the IOC in 2013.

Australia claim overall lead on day 1 of Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix

Australia claim overall lead on day 1 of Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix
Updated 10 December 2023

Australia claim overall lead on day 1 of Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix

Australia claim overall lead on day 1 of Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix
  • Other race wins for Canada, home team Emirates Great Britain at Mina Rashid

DUBAI: Australia are once again in the perfect position to finally claim a first win of Season 4 after a stand-out opening day under new helm Jimmy Spithill at the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas.

Racing at Mina Rashid, Australia were one of three separate race winners, alongside Canada, and home team Emirates Great Britain, but were also the most consistent to take a healthy overall lead.

Spithill said: “It felt great. You can definitely see this is a benchmark team in the league. They are a very slick team. I am just trying to get in there and not make too many mistakes. It is a great group and a great atmosphere.

“I didn’t expect to be leading after how things went in practice. I had an absolute shocker and spent a fair bit of time last night going through and getting myself back up to speed again. I felt like we took some good steps today. Tomorrow will be a different day.”

Ben Ainslie of Emirates Great Britain described his day’s racing as “tricky.”

He said: “The results were up and down. You’ve got to get out of mark one in decent shape, which we struggled to do in the first two races. We managed it in the last one and got a win ‒ that saved our day.

“We need two good races now to get into the podium race, which is always the case on Super Sunday. It is going to be about teamwork in light airs and keeping the boat moving.”

The Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas concludes on Sunday.

After day one, Australia were first on 26 points, New Zealand second on 21 points, and Canada third, also on 21 points. Emirates GBR and France were fourth and fifth, respectively, both on 20 points, Switzerland sixth on 14 points, ROCKWOOL Denmark seventh with 14 points, Spain one point behind in eighth, Germany ninth on eight points, and the US tenth with seven points.