Saudi Arabia announces bid to host World Cup in 2034

The King Abdullah International Stadium at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. (@saudiFF)
King Abdullah International Stadium at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. (@saudiFF)
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Updated 01 November 2023
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Saudi Arabia announces bid to host World Cup in 2034

The King Abdullah International Stadium at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah. (@saudiFF)
  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emphasized that Saudi Arabia’s desire to bid for the 2034 FIFA World Cup is a reflection of the Kingdom’s progress in all sectors

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday its intention to bid to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup.
Led by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, the bid for 2034 intends to deliver a world-class tournament and will draw inspiration from Saudi Arabia’s ongoing social and economic transformation and the Kingdom’s deep-rooted passion for football.

Saudi Arabia’s inaugural bid is backed by the Kingdom’s growing experience of hosting world-class football events and its ongoing plans to welcome fans across the world to the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

Reflecting on the intention to bid, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emphasized that Saudi Arabia’s desire to bid for the 2034 FIFA World Cup is a reflection of the Kingdom’s progress in all sectors.

The Kingdom has quickly emerged as a leading hub and an international destination for hosting major events thanks to its rich cultural heritage, economic strength, and the ambition of its people.

Under the Saudi Vision 2030, sport is playing a significant role in contributing to the country’s economic growth and enhancing the quality of life for all and holds a unique ability to unite and bring different cultures together.

A renowned host for some of the biggest global sports events since 2018, Saudi Arabia has been home to over 50 international events for both male and female athletes including football, motorsports, tennis, equestrian, esports and golf.

Saudi Arabia has qualified for the iconic tournament on six occasions since 1994 — most recently in 2022 — when the Green Falcons secured a historic victory over eventual champions Argentina.

Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki said: “Hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2034 would help us achieve our dream of becoming a leading nation in world sport and would mark a significant milestone in the country’s transformation. As an emerging and welcoming home for all sports, we believe that hosting a FIFA World Cup is a natural next step in our football journey.

“Through its intention to bid to host the 2034 World Cup, the Kingdom is keen to provide an unprecedented experience for everyone around the world.

“The Kingdom’s recent success in hosting major international sporting events in various games and its triumph in winning rights to host many international tournaments during the next few years is the best testimony to the distinguished position that our country has reached, making it an ideal and distinguished location for organizing an exceptional edition of the World Cup,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

Yasser Al-Misehal, President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, stated: “We believe the time is right for Saudi Arabia to host the FIFA World Cup.

“Our bid is driven by a love for the game and a desire to see it grow in every corner of the world. We want to celebrate our football culture and share our country with the world.

“We are embracing Saudi Arabia’s enthusiasm for innovation and growth as we make our bid for this iconic tournament; the Kingdom’s transformation journey is the driving force behind our bid. We are committed to hosting an exceptional event that celebrates the game, captivates players and fans, and inspires future generations.

“To be in a position to bid to host a FIFA World Cup is only possible with the full support of the Kingdom’s leadership and we thank them for their continued committed to drive the country forward and open up new opportunities,” Al-Misehal added.

As the FIFA World Cup expands to a 48-team tournament from 2026 onwards, tournament logistics are front of mind for players, officials, and fans. Saudi Arabia will host all matches in the Kingdom, streamlining travel, optimizing match scheduling, and providing unique fan experiences across host venues and cities.

A young and vibrant nation with over 70 percent of its population under the age of 35, Saudi Arabia is also home to one of the strongest leagues in Asia, the Saudi Pro League. Welcoming and engaging fans from across the globe, the league is home to some of the best Saudi talent and international star players from over 45 different countries.

SAFF’s commitment to invest and grow the game at every level across the men’s and women’s game is highlighted by recent notable achievements including winning the men’s U-23 AFC Asian Cup, 160 percent increase in youth football investment, opening 18 youth regional training centers, increasing registered coaches from 750 in 2018 to over 5,500 today, and witnessing an increase of 56 percent and 86 percent in registered male and female players respectively since 2021.

Saudi Arabia’s ambition to grow the game and create new opportunities across the ecosystem is equaled in the women’s game. Since 2019, SAFF has successfully established a senior women’s and U-17 national teams, two professional women’s leagues featuring 38 clubs, and a school girls league which welcomed over 48,000 girls in its first week. In just 2 years, there has also been an 800 percent growth in the number of female coaches.


King’s Cup fixtures announced for next Saudi football season

King’s Cup fixtures announced for next Saudi football season
Updated 12 June 2024
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King’s Cup fixtures announced for next Saudi football season

King’s Cup fixtures announced for next Saudi football season
  • Al-Nassr will play Al-Hazem, Al-Ahli welcome Al-Jandal
  • Al-Ittihad at home to Al-Ain, Ettifaq will take on Al-Adalah

RIYADH: Holders Al-Hilal-will begin their defense of the King’s Cup in Qassim province against first division side Al-Bukiryah, the Saudi Football Federation announced, posting the 2024/25 fixture list for the prestigious cup competition on Wednesday.

This year’s finalist Al-Nassr will also travel to Qassim to take on Al-Hazem as Cristiano Ronaldo and company try to end a long King’s Cup drought.

Ronaldo, who broke the all-time league scoring record this season, was in tears last month as Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal lifted the trophy after winning on penalties in a dramatic game in Jeddah.

Start-studded Al-Ittihad, who were finalist this year, will have a home opener against first division side Al-Ain.

Fellow Jeddah giants Al-Ahli will invite Al-Jandal to the Red Sea city to begin their cup ambitions.  

Steven Gerrard-managed Ettifaq will take on Al-Adalah in an Eastern Province derby, in a bid to bring home the trophy to Dammam for a third time.  

Kick-off times and venues are yet to be announced.

The King’s Cup, founded in 1957, is the premier club cup competition in Saudi Arabia. Al-Ahli has won the trophy 13 times, the most of any club in the Kingdom, but Al-Hilal with victories this year and last have managed to close the gap with 11 cups.  


FULL LIST OF FIXTURES:

Ettifaq vs. Al-Adalah
Al-Qadsiah vs. Al-Orobah
Al-Okhdood vs. Al-Arabi
Al-Wehda vs. Al-Faisaly
Al-Ahli vs. Al-Jandal
Abha vs. Al-Taawoun
Al-Hazem vs. Al-Nassr
Al-Fayha vs. Al-Batin
Al-Ittihad vs. Al-Ain
Al-Tai vs. Al-Khaleej
Al-Bukiryah vs. Al-Hilal
Al-Kholood vs. Al-Shabab
Al-Jabalin vs. Al-Fateh
Jeddah vs. Al-Raed
Al-Najmah vs. Damac
Al-Safa vs. Al-Riyadh


Saudi Arabia falls to Jordan, ending 13-year World Cup qualification streak

Saudi Arabia falls to Jordan, ending 13-year World Cup qualification streak
Updated 12 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia falls to Jordan, ending 13-year World Cup qualification streak

Saudi Arabia falls to Jordan, ending 13-year World Cup qualification streak
  • Saudi Arabia 1-2 Jordan in Riyadh
  • Green Falcons join Jordan in the next round

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia suffered their first defeat in nearly 13 years in home World Cup qualifiers after losing to Jordan in Riyadh on Tuesday.

The Green Falcons finished second in Group G but still went through to the next round of qualifiers for the upcoming World and Asian cups. Jordan topped the group with 13 points, exactly the same as Saudi Arabia, but had a superior goal difference.

Persistent pressure from the home side created the chance for Ali Lajami to open the scoring for the Green Falcons in the 16th minute with a right-footed shot from the center of the box. The visitors hit back in the 27th minute after Ali Olwan’s close-range header into the bottom right corner finished a rapid counter-attack.

Noor Al-Rawabdeh’s powerful shot from outside the box before halftime was enough for Jordan to secure the victory at Al-Awwal Park. The Green Falcons' second-half pressure could not break through a determined Jordanian defense.

The Jordanians completed their revenge after losing to the Green Falcons 2-0 in the first leg in November.


From the abyss to hosting Mancini’s Saudi squad: how South Shields FC turned their fortunes around

From the abyss to hosting Mancini’s Saudi squad: how South Shields FC turned their fortunes around
Updated 11 June 2024
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From the abyss to hosting Mancini’s Saudi squad: how South Shields FC turned their fortunes around

From the abyss to hosting Mancini’s Saudi squad: how South Shields FC turned their fortunes around
  • Club from the North East of England are making their way up the football pyramid after being saved by chairman Geoff Thompson nine years ago
  • Thompson is hoping to sell the historic club to new investors as he looks to retire

When the Saudi national team set up camp in the North East of England last year for two friendly matches at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park, they also gave a boost to one of the region’s most historic if, for global audiences at least, lesser-known clubs.

In September, the Green Falcons faced Costa Rica and South Korea at the home of the PIF-owned Premier League giants, with their training sessions taking place at nearby South Shields FC, a team that plays in English football’s sixth tier.

For Geoff Thompson, the National League North club’s chairman, it was vindication of a labor of love to rescue the institution from obscurity almost a decade ago.

“We had the Saudi national team train with us last year, which was a fantastic occasion,” Thompson told Arab News. “We were able to sort of welcome Roberto (Mancini) and Claudio (Donatelli), the team’s manager and fitness coach.”

“I’m sure you’ll have heard they had a great time with us,” Thompson said. “We looked after them very well, and they trained in our facility prior to their game at St. James’ Park.”

South Shields, established in 1888, is now a club very much on the up after struggles in recent decades. Thompson’s investments saved the club from the abyss, and now their first-class facilities had become a welcoming home for Mancini’s squad. Donatelli was impressed.

“I know the region very well; in the past, I worked at Sunderland AFC and lived in Newcastle,” the fitness and performance coach said.

“The entire North East of England has a great passion for football, with children and adults crowding the stadiums. I found the same vibrant passion running on the pitch of the 1st Cloud Arena, the home of South Shields Football Club. For me, it was a happy return home.”

Above, South Shields Chairman Geoff Thompson. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia may have lost both matches, but overall it was a positive experience, with many locals showing support for the country that delivered Newcastle United from the unpopular regime of previous owner Mike Ashley.

“What I remember most is the courteous hospitality and helpfulness of everyone who welcomed our team and the technical staff,” Donatelli said. “We also greatly appreciated the excellent condition of the football pitch and the locker rooms. Everything was very professional. Talking with the staff of South Shields FC, I understood how much this football club is connected to the community and the people of the entire area, thanks to a series of sports and social services that help people live their daily lives well.”

Thompson hopes that the experience can be repeated in the future and highlights that the relationship was two-way.

“In fairness, the players and the management were incredibly courteous and friendly. And I’d like to think we were obviously, you know, very good hosts and, likewise, friendly and courteous.

“The players, I think, enjoyed the experience of training at our ground. So it was all quite a surreal moment, really, for us because, nine years ago, we were languishing further down the pyramid and here we are later hosting the Saudi national team,” he said.

“It’s kind of fairytale stuff really. They were incredible guests, very courteous, and enjoyed the experience. We loved having them with us. It’s very humbling; we got some very pleasant feedback from both Roberto and Claudio, and indeed from the players as well.”

The club was established back in 1888 as South Shields Adelaide Athletic and were playing in the Football League in the late 1920s. In 1930, the club folded and moved to Gateshead. It was reestablished as South Shields FC in 1974.

“I like to tell the story that South Shields were beating the likes of Man United and Chelsea back in the 1920s, which is quite a remarkable comment. Unfortunately, the club fell on slightly harder times.”

Thompson bought the club and Mariners Park ground in 2015, and they have been on an upward trajectory since then.

“I got involved because the club were in some difficulty back in 2015. We were playing our football outside of our hometown,” he said.

As a local businessman who was born in South Shields, Thompson felt he owed the club a lifeline.

“I really wanted to step in and try to help. It’s been an amazing journey. I’ve really enjoyed it and we’ve come a long way in that nine years.”

Thompson points out that South Shields is equidistant between Newcastle United, once branded the “richest club in the world,” and their fierce rivals Sunderland.

“The town itself has about 100,000 people who live there. South Tyneside, the area, has 150,000. And the broader geography in the North East is about, I think it’s about 1.5 to 2 million people. The region is renowned for its passion for football.”

Thompson smiles when he says that while his investment is “not quite the Saudi investment in Newcastle,” it was still a considerable amount that has changed the fortunes of the club.

“We’ve progressed the club through the English football pyramid. We’re now hoping at some point to get back into the Football League. We’re currently in the National League system, sitting in the National League North.”

Promotions achieved on the field, however, would not have been sanctioned if the club had not got their house in order off it. The investment in infrastructure as much as players meant the club was in rude health.

“You know, the facilities have to satisfy certain conditions. So we’ve achieved all of that, which I’m pleased to say. And we’re now in the National League system.”

South Shields now have their eyes on the English Football League. Thompson said that he wants to “future-proof” the club on that ambitious journey.

“We spent over £3 million ($3.8 million) on a new stand recently; we’ve got a great playing surface, and we’ve got our own separate training facilities.”

There have been trophies along the way, too, with South Shields winning the Northern League Cup in 2017. The same year, there was a 4-0 win over Cleethorpes Town in the FA Vase final at Wembley.

“We had something like 22,000 South Shields fans down at Wembley, which was quite a remarkable weekend for the town,” Thompson said.

The club has established several initiatives through their South Shield Academy system, which caters to talent between the ages of 11 and 19, and more recently the International Academy, catering for ages 18-24.

Around the time the Saudi squad visited South Shields last September, the club launched a partnership with nearby Sunderland University, offering international students keen on accessing football-based training, coaching and knowledge the opportunity to enrol in a one-year study abroad program or a  three-year undergraduate degree program, both for high school graduates. There is also a one-year master’s degree program for students who are graduating from university. 

Initially the club targeted players mostly from the US, but is now looking to attract talent from the Middle East, the Far East and Australasia.

Sadly, for health reasons, Thompson has decided to put the club up for sale.

“Any new owner will really be inheriting a fantastic organization that’s got all of the infrastructure in place.”

They would also be taking over a club that has several money-making initiatives, he said.

“You can’t survive alone on matchday income (alone),” said Thompson. “If you look at our revenue streams, of course, yes, we’re well supported. We typically get around 2,500 fans currently attending our home games. (But also) we’ve separately got our sponsorship revenues. Thirdly, we’ve got merchandise, selling shirts and the like to fans. And, then, in addition, we’ve got the academy revenues themselves.”

Around 40 players have progressed through the academy — established seven years ago — to make appearances for South Shields’ first team.

Thompson said that where South Shields distinguish themselves over other rivals is that they are a full-time professional club, a status achieved in 2021.

He credits South Shields Sporting Director, Lee Picton, for playing a major role in creating a set-up that has seen the club’s profile, and reputation, skyrocket in recent years.

On targeting talent from the Middle East region, Picton said: “We are building strong links with the UAE and wider Middle East region by developing partnership connections with clubs and academic institutions in the region. This is further aided by the strong connection between Newcastle United Football Club and its majority owner, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.” 

Thompson is hoping that the Saudi investment in Newcastle will have an impact — and shine a light — on the region in a way that will benefit other institutions, including South Shields, on and off the pitch.

“I would love to think that will happen over time,” he said. “What I have seen already is obviously under Saudi ownership, the Newcastle United Foundation is doing more and more. And I set up our own foundation, South Shields FC’s Foundation. And so we’ve got a charitable foundation that’s very similar to Newcastle’s, maybe not quite on the same scale, but we’ve got a very similar charitable purpose to try to help young children and to make them more physically active.”

South Shield may also have pulled off a unique feat that many in the region could not have contemplated.

“I’d like to think we’re many people’s first club,” he said. “But we’re also a lot of Sunderland and Newcastle fans’ second club. We’re probably the only club in the entire country where a Newcastle fan and a Sunderland fan can watch a game of football together without any animosity.”

Comparisons with Wrexham AFC are hard to avoid. The Welsh club has in recent years become a global phenomenon thanks to the Netflix series “Welcome to Wrexham,” which followed the team’s return to the EPL after a 15-year absence following the purchase of the club by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

“One thing I would say is that all of that investment in infrastructure I mentioned earlier, that’s a one-off investment. People don’t have to keep repeating that,” Thompson said.

“So all of the hard yards, all the spade work is being done now, the infrastructure’s in place. We own our own ground, it’s not owned by the council or by a third party. We’ve got a fantastic separate training facility that our foundation, our charitable foundation, run.

“It’s a bit like the Wrexham story in many respects. One thing I would stress is that there’s no debt in the club.”

Thompson said the club is primed for a bright future under any new owners.

“It’s almost approaching 100 years since we were last in the Football League, in the EFL equivalent, although it was the old Second Division, the championship right now,” he said. “But wouldn’t it be an amazing thing? I had this aspiration to get the club back into the Football League within that 100-year window.

“Honestly, I’ve had a fantastic period of time,” he said. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. (Now) I’m going to take my time to find the new owner, the new partner.”


Al-Nassr in talks to sign Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny: Report

Al-Nassr in talks to sign Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny: Report
Updated 11 June 2024
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Al-Nassr in talks to sign Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny: Report

Al-Nassr in talks to sign Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny: Report
  • About $20.4m a year for the next 2 seasons likely
  • Ronaldo-led Al-Nassr failed to win league this year

RIYADH: Al-Nassr are in negotiations with Juventus to sign veteran goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, The Athletic reported on Monday.

The Poland international has reached an agreement in principle with the Riyadh club but a deal is yet to be finalized. It would be worth about $20.4 million a year for the next two seasons, the publication reported.

Szczesny has another year on his contract with Juventus, which finished third in Italy’s Serie A this year.

Szczesny has made 252 first-team appearances for the Italian giants, including 35 this season, and has won eight titles with the side.

If all goes well the 34-year-old will sign this week, according to the report, ahead of Poland’s participation in Euro 2024, which starts on Friday in Germany.

Reports indicate that the Turin club are likely to offer backup keeper Mattia Perin a new contract and are preparing to sign Monza’s Michele Di Gregorio as their new No. 1, paving the way for Szczesny’s departure.

Al-Nassr finished eight points and second behind bitter rivals Al-Hilal in the Saudi Pro League.

The Cristiano Ronaldo-led Al-Nassr lost to Al-Hilal in the Super Cup and King’s Cup in the current campaign, as well as the Riyadh Season Cup, a prestigious club friendly.

In March, Al-Nassr were dumped out of the Champions League by the UAE’s Al-Ain, which would later go on to win the championship, defeating Al-Hilal in the semifinals and Yokohama F. Marinos in the final.

Despite the setbacks, Ronaldo was happy with his achievements this year, having set the all-time SPL scoring record with 35 goals.

“It means a lot. I feel very happy. It’s probably one of the best seasons I’ve ever had in my career in terms of goals but assists too,” said the five-time Ballon d’Or winner last week.


Green Falcons continue training ahead of World Cup qualifier against Jordan

Green Falcons continue training ahead of World Cup qualifier against Jordan
Updated 09 June 2024
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Green Falcons continue training ahead of World Cup qualifier against Jordan

Green Falcons continue training ahead of World Cup qualifier against Jordan
  • Mukhtar Ali participated in the group training session alongside his teammates after recovering from an injury

RIYADH: The Saudi national team continued their training camp on Sunday in preparation for their match against Jordan at Al-Awaal Park Stadium on Tuesday. 

The Green Falcons go into the sixth and final round of the second stage of the Asian qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup and the 2027 Asian Cup knowing they have already secured progress to the next round.

The training session at the Mahd Academy was led by head coach Roberto Mancini.

Mukhtar Ali participated in the group training session alongside his teammates after recovering from an injury.

Mancini will hold a press conference on Monday.