UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals
Al-Wasl's 4-1 win over Al-Bataeh sees them go five points clear at the top of the UAE Pro League table. (X/@UAEProleague_En)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl crush Al-Bataeh to go 5 points clear of nearest rivals
  • Matches involving second-placed Al-Ain and third-placed Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai were postponed until Dec. 20 due to AFC Champions League commitments

Leaders Al-Wasl’s storming campaign continued with an affirmative thrashing of Al-Bataeh and Alfred Schreuder’s Al-Nasr debut finished in frustration during ADNOC Pro League’s truncated matchweek nine.

Ivorian youngster Adama Diallo’s excellent brace helped the unbeaten Cheetahs to a 4-1 victory, adding further veracity to dreams of ending their pained wait for an eighth top-flight trophy since their success in 2006-07.

Al-Wasl now hold a five-point lead, because of AFC Champions League commitments delaying until Dec. 20 second-placed Al-Ain’s match against Khor Fakkan, and third-placed holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club’s trip to continental contenders Sharjah.

A second-half penalty from 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin, meanwhile, saw fourth-placed Al-Wahda earn their 1-1 draw against ex-Al-Ain and Ajax supremo Schreuder’s Nasr. Jamal Maroof’s 97th-minute spot-kick for bottom-placed Hatta curtailed third-bottom Ajman celebrations in their dramatic 1-1 stalemate, while resurgent Iran starlet Mehdi Ghayedi had a hand in all four goals when Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club were beaten 4-2 by Ittihad Kalba.

UAE legend Ali Mabkhout got a brace as Al-Jazira produced a much-needed 4-1 derby beating of neighbours Baniyas.

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

 

Player of the week: Mehdi Ghayedi (Ittihad Kalba)

Ghayedi had gone from Asia’s golden boy, to an unfulfilled afterthought.

The diminutive attacker with magic in his boots appeared to have the world at his feet after becoming AFC Best Young Player of the Year in 2020. A switch to Shabab Al-Ahli in the following summer was meant to take his game to another level, with this pathway having previously helped send exalted compatriot Ali Karimi to Bayern Munich back in 2005.

Ghayedi’s forgettable 2021-22 season was followed by sparks of life returning to his play on loan at former club Esteghlal. These reached full luminescence in a sensational display for latest temporary employers, Kalba, during victory against Emirates.

The now 24-year-old moved onto seven goal contributions in nine league run-outs under former mentor Farhad Majidi, thanks to a well-taken brace. Added influence was supplied by winning penalties ably converted by the superb Daniel Bessa and Andres Vombergar.

Ghayedi featured in June’s inaugural CAFA Nations Cup, but has since been ignored by Iran head coach Amir Ghalenoei. If he can continue to inspire Kalba’s rise up the standings from their current ninth during a packed December, a way back in may be found for the Asian Cup.

 

Goal of the week: Adama Diallo (Al-Wasl)

A star is on the ascendancy at Zabeel Stadium.

Diallo has gone from unheralded youngster, to keeping veteran Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic out of the XI and being tipped for naturalisation by the UAE.

The 21-year-old Ivorian produced a mesmerising double in a dominant victory over dark-horses Bataeh, with the 16th-minute opener especially outstanding.

Slipped behind the midfield by Nicolas Gimenez, there was still 40 yards+ to goal from the left flank. Lightning acceleration allied with tight control took him beyond a trio of retreating Bataeh defenders, before smashing into the near post’s bottom corner.

Diallo — who later delivered a deft Fabio De Lima-esque curled finish — now sits on four strikes in eight ADNOC Pro League run-outs this season, averaging out at one every 92 minutes.

 

Coach of the week: Frank de Boer (Al-Jazira)

Frank de Boer managed to find the release valve, just as pressure began to build toward dangerous levels.

A 4-2 chasing by surging Wasl in matchweek eight left a richly talented Jazira well off the pace in eighth. Their nine-point gap to top spot remains, but impressive victory at Baniyas Stadium provides a superior gloss in fifth.

The Pride of Abu Dhabi lived up to their nickname via a virtuoso display by Mabkhout, moving onto a record-extending 213 goals in 286 top-flight run-outs with a tremendous brace.

Host left-back Joao Victor’s 34th-minute red card ensured 68 percent possession and a shot count of 24/11 favoured the visitors.

That this fine work was supplemented by ex-Fulham star Neeskens Kebano netting his second Jazira goal, a pair of assists from winger Oumar Traore and UAE matchwinner Abdullah Ramadan getting involved at club level speaks volume of the vast potential contained within De Boer’s ranks.

A generous end to 2023 in the league pits the Netherlands great against the current bottom three, in descending order. A perfect, nine-point haul — plus, progress in ADIB Cup’s quarter-finals versus bitter-rivals Wahda — would thrust Jazira right into the trophy mix.

De Boer collected ample silverware when employed as manager at Ajax and Atlanta United, despite a mixed record elsewhere.

This pedigree is unquestionable. So, too, the squad depth at his disposal.

Jazira’s foreign quintet is enviable, while six members of Paulo Bento’s victorious UAE roster hail from there.

Baniyas may have witnessed the start of another trophy charge in De Boer’s intermittently glittering managerial career.

 

Are Al-Wasl the real deal?

These are good times at Wasl.

ADNOC Pro League’s only unbeaten side have taken more points than any other in the last five matches, have triumphed in their last five outings in all competitions and swept the latest “The Best” monthly awards. They have netted six more goals than any other club and boast the joint-third meanest defence.

This form is underpinned by belief head coach Milos Milojevic can replicate in Dubai his prior double-winning campaign at Red Star Belgrade.

Wasl are, though, stung by recent memories. Strong starts under the likes of Juan Antonio Pizzi and Rodolfo Arruabarrena faded into obscurity.

The 21st century has not been kind to this storied club. But, the same was said of Sharjah ahead of 2018/19’s surprise title success.


3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part

3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part
Updated 05 March 2024
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3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part

3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part
  • 55 teams of racers, each comprising a driver and co-driver, from 36 nations will tackle 5 stages over the course of 5 days, covering a total distance of 1,600 km

 

HAIL: The third annual Rally Jameel began in Hail on Monday, with 110 leading female racers from Saudi Arabia, the region and the rest of the world competing in an event that will pass through Hail, AlUla, Umluj, Yanbu and King Abdullah Economic City during five days of racing.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Saad, the governor of Hail Region, flagged off the competitors at the start of opening stage, which began at Al-Maghwah Amusement Park, to officially get the world-class navigational rally underway.

Fifty-five teams of racers, each comprising a driver and co-driver, from 36 nations will tackle five stages covering a total distance of 1,600 kilometers before crossing the finish line at KAEC on Friday.

Munir Khoja, the managing director of marketing communications at Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, told Arab News at the event on Monday: “We are all ready for the challenge. Since its inception in 2022, the importance of Rally Jameel has grown with its participation.

“It was the first motor sports event for women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region. Since then it has been present in the motor-sporting calendar ever since and gained international interest and official attention after the rise in popularity of rallying, locally, regionally and internationally.

“Today we have over 100 participants from 36 nationalities, exceeding our expectations. More importantly, it is an inspiring testament to our efforts aimed at supporting Saudi Arabia’s vision to empower women.”

After passing mandatory vehicle checks on Monday morning, several of the leading competitors spoke to the media before the start of the race.

“I am so excited to repeat this experience with the rest of the female drivers,” Saudi driver Maha Al-Hamali, who has competed in the event before, told Arab News. “We really appreciate the support of Jameel Motor Sports and I am focusing on enjoying this rally and aiming to win it this time.”

Her co-driver, Eleanor Coker from the US, added: “We have done everything we could. We did our homework and reflected on our experience. We feel we are prepared and confident to win but you never know; there are amazing female drivers from all over the world taking part part but we will go ahead and enjoy it.”

Fawzia Bakhshab, who is taking part in the rally for the first time, said she expects it to be a tough challenge, especially as she and her co-driver are taking on some of the best in the world.

“I think we feel ready and are looking forward to finishing among the top positions,” she said.

Her co–driver, Calheine Taye Perry from Germany, said she was confident that they have the driving and navigation skills to challenge for the title.

Rally Jameel is supported by the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission and the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, in keeping with the commitment of authorities in the Kingdom to fostering and encouraging participation in sport among women.


Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League

Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League
Updated 04 March 2024
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Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League

Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League
  • The 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the quarter-finals leaves the Saudi side with a lot to do in the home leg next Monday
  • Rahimi cut in from the left, latched onto Alejandro Romero’s beautiful pass into the area, and skipped past Ospina to shoot into an empty net

AL-AIN: Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the Al-Nassr lineup on Monday, after serving a one-game Saudi Pro League suspension for gesturing toward opposing fans during a recent game, but could not prevent his team falling to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Ain in the first leg of their Asian Champions League quarter-final.

It means they have much work to do at home next Monday if they are to progress to the semi-finals, where they would face one of their domestic rivals: Al-Hilal or Al-Ittihad.

Monday’s game was a far-from-vintage performance from Al-Nassr, who lacked fluidity and rhythm and struggled to create clear chances, despite having more possession than the 2003 champions. A late red card for Aymeric Laporte did not help matters.

Al-Nassr, who are looking for their first Champions League title, started brightly, however, with Sadio Mane testing goalkeeper Khalid Eisa in the second minute. Four minutes later, fans had a glimpse of Ronaldo’s ability but the Portuguese star’s spectacular overhead kick bounced wide.

Midway through the half, Al-Ain, led by Hernan Crespo, very nearly took the lead when the lively Soufiane Rahimi turned outside the area to unleash a first-time shot that was creeping into the far corner until David Ospina got down well to turn it away for a corner.

There was nothing the former Arsenal goalkeeper could do in the 28th minute, however, when Al-Ain got the ball in the net and the 22,000 fans in the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on their feet. The goalkeeper delivered a long kick to the right wing where Rahimi was waiting to send a low cross into the six-yard box for Kaku to convert from close range. Fortunately for Al-Nassr, the video assistant referee ruled that Rahimi had strayed just offside.

He made amends for this just before the break when he cut in from the left, latched onto Alejandro Romero’s beautiful pass into the area, and skipped past Ospina to shoot into an empty net.

Ronaldo replied almost immediately with a stinging half-volley from the right of the area, which brought a great save from the goalkeeper. Early in the second half, he had another good chance but could not quite get hold of a right-sided cross from Ayman Yahya and his shot bounced over. Soon after, Yahya attempted a low shot that was saved by Eisa.

Al-Nassr grew increasingly frustrated and their night almost got worse when, with 20 minutes remaining, Rahimi broke free to put the ball in the net. But for the second time, he was ruled to have strayed offside and the goal was disallowed.

With 12 minutes remaining, Al-Nassr had one of their better chances of the night when Mane headed the ball back across goal from the far post, but Sami Al-Najei fired his low shot wide.

Then Ronaldo came even closer. A low cross from the left found its way to him just outside the six-yard box and everyone expected the net to bulge. Instead, Eisa, who was going the wrong way, stuck out a hand to make a top-class save.

Things then started to get scrappy and bad-tempered, which suited Al-Ain a lot more than their visitors, but there was always a sense that there would be at least one more big chance before the end, especially when the referee added 11 minutes of stoppage time.

Unfortunately for Al-Nassr, the most notable event of this added time was the red card for Laporte. The former Manchester City defender bundled over Bandar Al-Ahbabi as they jostled for position in the area and, after checking the pitch-side monitor, the referee ruled it was violent conduct.

This summed up a miserable evening for Al-Nassr, who almost equalized late on through an attempted lob by Ronaldo from the halfway line. They will be be without Laporte for the second leg in Riyadh next Monday and improvement is needed if they are going to keep their Asian dreams alive.


Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar

Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar
Updated 05 March 2024
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Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar

Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar
  • Shadab Khan scored 80 runs from 51 balls and then dismissed three Peshawar batsman
  • Peshawar faltered at 167 in their 197-run chase, despite an 87-run knock by Aamir Jamal

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad United defeated Peshawar Zalmi by 29 runs in their Pakistan Super League (PSL) 9th edition match at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Monday.

Peshawar won the toss and sent Islamabad in to bat in the game. Shadab Khan top-scored with 80 runs from 51 deliveries as Islamabad dominated the game.

Salman Ali Agha 37 runs and Azam Khan 29 runs to take their side to 196 at a loss of four wickets. In the second innings, Peshawar batting was rattled by Khan and the Babar Azam-led side was restricted to 167 runs.

"Dominant at home," PSL commented on X after the match. "Islamabad United get valuable two points on the board with a 29-run triumph!"

 

 

Saim Ayub returned two Islamabad batsmen to pavilion for 15 runs, while Luke Wood and Salman Irshad took one wicket each.

Peshawar did not begin their 197-run chase well, losing their skipper for a duck. Aamir Jamal put up a brilliant resistance as he scored 87 runs from 49 deliveries, but that was not enough.

Paul Walter hit 33 and Tom Kohler-Cadmore scored 12 as Peshawar ended the innings at 167 at a loss of nine wickets.

Shadab Khan dismissed three for 41 runs, while Hunain Shah and Rumman Raees took two wickets each.

Both Islamabad and Peshawar now have three wins from their seven matches played this season.


Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha

Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha
Updated 04 March 2024
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Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha

Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha
  • Khalid Attiya took top prize in individual competition while the team event saw Kingdom’s golfers awarded gold
  • Prince Khalid bin Saud: Our team’s prowess and dedication were evident throughout the championship, culminating in a well-deserved victory

DOHA: Saudi golfers have emerged triumphant at the Gulf Cooperation Council Golf Championship, claiming gold in both the team and individual categories.

The 26th edition of the tournament for adults — held alongside the 15th edition for youth — was hosted at the Doha Club in the Qatari capital and saw five teams from the GCC take part.

The individual gold medal went to Khalid Attiya, who clinched victory after a showdown with Qatari contender Saleh Al-Kaabi on the tournament’s final day.

The Saudi’s four rounds yielded 297 strokes, for an impressive nine-under winning total.

Meanwhile, the Saudi team maintained a commanding lead throughout the championship to secure the top position in the adults category.

Noah Alireza, CEO of Golf Saudi, praised the Saudi team’s achievement, highlighting their consistent excellence throughout the championship.

“At Golf Saudi, our unwavering dedication is to foster players’ success,” Alireza said, highlighting the significance of the the championship as a platform for players to hone their skills against the best of the GCC.

Prince Khalid bin Saud, a prominent player, commended the Saudi team’s performance, attributing their success to the invaluable support of the Saudi Golf Federation.

“Our team’s prowess and dedication were evident throughout the championship, culminating in a well-deserved victory,” he said.

Following his victory, Attiya expressed his gratitude for the unwavering support of the Saudi Golf Federation, which enabled him and the team to emerge victorious.

“The Saudi team’s strong presence and performance were instrumental in securing our place atop the podium,” he said.


Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum

Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum
Updated 04 March 2024
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Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum

Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum
  • Initially starting in Riyadh, training programs will be offered to 25 girls’ schools and 25 boys’ schools before expanding to the rest of the Kingdom
  • Initiative underscores the Ministry of Education’s commitment to diversifying sports education and promoting physical activity among the youth

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Education has announced today the inclusion of rugby as an elective sport within its physical education and student activities curriculum.

The School Rugby Initiative aims to introduce rugby as an optional learning unit in PE programs across the nation.

As part of this initiative, ongoing training courses will be offered to 25 girls’ schools and 25 boys’ schools across various educational stages. Initially launching in the Riyadh educational region, the program is part of a planned expansion to other regions of the Kingdom in the coming years.

The initiative was officially launched with a presentation by the technical director of the Saudi Arabian Rugby Federation, Sami Mohammed Samara, to 46 physical education teachers from public schools in Riyadh, culminating in a symbolic gesture of tossing rugby balls from ministry representatives to the teachers, marking the kickoff of this groundbreaking initiative.

Recognizing rugby sevens as an Olympic sport, the inclusion of rugby in the curriculum is poised to expand and accelerate the pathway for young players to excel in the sport. This strategic move aims to cultivate a strong foundation for rugby in the Kingdom, enabling aspiring athletes to represent Saudi Arabia in elite sporting events, including the Olympics.

Ali Musbah Al-Dajani, president of the Saudi Rugby Federation, and Dr. Anwar bin Abdullah Abu Abbad, head of student activities, both expressed their enthusiasm and support for the initiative, highlighting its potential to enrich the physical education landscape and foster a new generation of rugby enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia.

This initiative underscores the Ministry of Education’s commitment to diversifying sports education and promoting physical activity among the youth, aligning with broader educational and developmental goals within the Kingdom.