Saudi stadia ready to host FIFA Club World Cup, says Sports Ministry

The two stadia in Jeddah set to host matches at the FIFA Club World Cup are ready, an official at the Saudi Ministry of Sport said on Thursday. (AN Photo)
The two stadia in Jeddah set to host matches at the FIFA Club World Cup are ready, an official at the Saudi Ministry of Sport said on Thursday. (AN Photo)
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Updated 07 December 2023
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Saudi stadia ready to host FIFA Club World Cup, says Sports Ministry

Saudi stadia ready to host FIFA Club World Cup, says Sports Ministry
  • 90% of tickets for the tournament have been sold
  • 1.5m applications for tickets from 100 countries

JEDDAH: The two stadia in Jeddah set to host matches at the FIFA Club World Cup are ready, an official at the Saudi Ministry of Sport said on Thursday.

The competition will be held in the city from Dec. 12 to 22 at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium and the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sports City venue.

Thamer Basunbul, deputy minister for sports facilities at the ministry, told the media that preparations at the two grounds had been completed.

He said: “Both stadiums have been renovated to FIFA standards and we can say with confidence that we have delivered on our promise of two world-class stadiums.

“The renovation includes removing the running track, expanding media centers, expanding the entrance for players, and adding a new lower tier. In addition, new LED lighting and screens have been installed around the front edge of the roof for spectators to have an immersive digital experience.”

He said plans were also in place to renovate existing stadia and build new ones for the 2034 FIFA World Cup should the Saudi Arabia bid be successful.

He added: “Stadia will also be leveraged long after the competition, in line with the nation’s Vision 2030, by improving the venues’ usability for both other sports and non-athletic events. This will reinforce the stadiums’ central position within their communities.”

Meanwhile, the Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Affairs at the Saudi Football Federation Majed Al-Sahib has confirmed that 90 percent of tickets for the tournament have been sold.

He added there had been 1.5 million applications for tickets from 100 countries, including fans from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil, India, and England.

Al-Sahib said: “The fan zone at King Abdullah Sports City can accommodate more than 12,500 people, while the fan zone at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sports City can hold 6,500.

“We are targeting an attendance of 2 million fans and, therefore, the fan ticket system has been updated and the number of electronic gates has been increased, which has reached a total of more than 200 gates in the two stadiums.”


‘Amazing to be part of this club’: Al-Ittihad women’s goalkeeping coach Dan Smith

‘Amazing to be part of this club’: Al-Ittihad women’s goalkeeping coach Dan Smith
Updated 6 sec ago
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‘Amazing to be part of this club’: Al-Ittihad women’s goalkeeping coach Dan Smith

‘Amazing to be part of this club’: Al-Ittihad women’s goalkeeping coach Dan Smith
  • Smith spoke to Arab News about his eye-opening move to Jeddah and the development of talent in the Saudi Women’s Premier League

Behind the ambition, the astronomical transfer fees, and the star power of the men’s game, in recent years another transformation has been quietly taking place in Saudi Arabian football.

While the headlines have been about Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane, Neymar, Malcom, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante, the Kingdom has been investing in women’s football by establishing the Women’s Premier League and First Division League.

And here too, there are big names getting on board including former Leicester City defender Ashleigh Plumptre and former West Ham striker Nor Mustafa. Other experienced campaigners have been brought in which includes Kelly Lindsey, the former US international, who manages Al-Ittihad’s female team.

This is a part of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s initiative to strengthen the women’s game. Indeed in 2022, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to bid for the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. With the country implementing its national Vision 2030, football has a huge part to play.

A glimpse into this revolution and evolution can be found at Al-Ittihad in the form of goalkeeping coach Dan Smith who arrived in Jeddah from England’s Bristol City last summer. Smith believes this burgeoning league has the potential to be the best and biggest in the world.

“It’s amazing to be a part of this club,” he told Arab News. “You really feel wanted, and you feel the connection between the players and the supporters and the community.”

Ten rounds into the second season of the Women’s Premier League, Al-Ittihad are in fourth place.

The symbiotic relationship between the team and the passionate fan base creates an atmosphere that Smith considers refreshing.

“Any time that we get the fans to the games, you know, they bring the drums, they bring the songs, they bring the noise,” he added. “It’s very, very different to what we’ve experienced before in England.”

The women’s game, Smith acknowledges, is growing in popularity but there are challenges.

“There’s been a lack of coaching over the past few years, especially for goalkeepers,” he said. This did not mean starting from scratch but looking at refining techniques in handling, footwork and overall skills, he added.

Smith believes these challenges are opportunities for growth.

“It’s been brilliant in terms of what it has done for my coaching, my patience,” said Smith. “And it’s reinforced the stuff that maybe, for a few years, I’ve not necessarily had to focus on as much.”

Smith has had to deal with other challenges as a foreign coach in Saudi Arabia.

“That language barrier is something different, but we’re lucky to have people, for example our goalkeepers when it comes to my work with the club, who can translate. I’ve had to learn a bit of Arabic along the way, so it’s been good.”

The coaching side has been fulfilling, he said. “When it comes to working alongside the players, it’s been amazing. They’re so eager to learn, eager to improve.”

He is adamant that the game in Saudi Arabia is being developed from the grassroots level.

“The project as a whole is one that is so, so exciting to be involved in,” Smith stressed. “The investment not only brings foreign staff and players but also continues into the school systems, encouraging young girls to play football from a young age.”

“People just see the money and think they’re just investing it into the first team or into staff,” said Smith. “But no, there’s a plan in place, there’s a strategy in place by the federation to get women’s football propelled onto a bigger stage."

“That’s another reason why the project as a whole is one that is so exciting to be involved in,” he added. “Of course, it’s going to take time, a hundred percent, but with more investment and the more people coming into the right roles, this project for women’s football in Saudi is only going one way. And that is up.”

Smith said there was still a great deal of misconceptions about Saudi Arabia’s transformation.

“Unless you are here, I don’t think you can speak with an educated view about it, to be honest. It is completely different.” He added that it was “completely different to what you’ve been reading about or seeing online.”

All of this has contributed to what he describes as an “amazing first eight months in the country.”

He said the women’s game had gained a great deal from the recently concluded West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship which was held in the country, even though Saudi Arabia lost their three group games.

“The women’s team have just played their first international tournament. They’ll gain so much experience and knowledge from that, which they can then use to push on in future years.”

The future holds much promise, which includes the potential hosting of the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup.

“That again is something that can grow the audience massively.”

With club games being broadcast, this was creating interest among females. “There’s the opportunity for young girls in this country to see what they could become,” said Smith. “They can dream it, and they can believe.”


‘Amazing to be part of this club’: Al-Ittihad women’s goalkeeping coach Dan Smith

‘Amazing to be part of this club’: Al-Ittihad women’s goalkeeping coach Dan Smith
Updated 6 sec ago
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‘Amazing to be part of this club’: Al-Ittihad women’s goalkeeping coach Dan Smith

‘Amazing to be part of this club’: Al-Ittihad women’s goalkeeping coach Dan Smith
  • Smith spoke to Arab News about his eye-opening move to Jeddah and the development of talent in the Saudi Women’s Premier League

Behind the ambition, the astronomical transfer fees, and the star power of the men’s game, in recent years another transformation has been quietly taking place in Saudi Arabian football.

While the headlines have been about Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane, Neymar, Malcom, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante, the Kingdom has been investing in women’s football by establishing the Women’s Premier League and First Division League.

And here too, there are big names getting on board including former Leicester City defender Ashleigh Plumptre and former West Ham striker Nor Mustafa. Other experienced campaigners have been brought in which includes Kelly Lindsey, the former US international, who manages Al-Ittihad’s female team.

This is a part of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s initiative to strengthen the women’s game. Indeed in 2022, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to bid for the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. With the country implementing its national Vision 2030, football has a huge part to play.

A glimpse into this revolution and evolution can be found at Al-Ittihad in the form of goalkeeping coach Dan Smith who arrived in Jeddah from England’s Bristol City last summer. Smith believes this burgeoning league has the potential to be the best and biggest in the world.

“It’s amazing to be a part of this club,” he told Arab News. “You really feel wanted, and you feel the connection between the players and the supporters and the community.”

Ten rounds into the second season of the Women’s Premier League, Al-Ittihad are in fourth place.

The symbiotic relationship between the team and the passionate fan base creates an atmosphere that Smith considers refreshing.

“Any time that we get the fans to the games, you know, they bring the drums, they bring the songs, they bring the noise,” he added. “It’s very, very different to what we’ve experienced before in England.”

The women’s game, Smith acknowledges, is growing in popularity but there are challenges.

“There’s been a lack of coaching over the past few years, especially for goalkeepers,” he said. This did not mean starting from scratch but looking at refining techniques in handling, footwork and overall skills, he added.

Smith believes these challenges are opportunities for growth.

“It’s been brilliant in terms of what it has done for my coaching, my patience,” said Smith. “And it’s reinforced the stuff that maybe, for a few years, I’ve not necessarily had to focus on as much.”

Smith has had to deal with other challenges as a foreign coach in Saudi Arabia.

“That language barrier is something different, but we’re lucky to have people, for example our goalkeepers when it comes to my work with the club, who can translate. I’ve had to learn a bit of Arabic along the way, so it’s been good.”

The coaching side has been fulfilling, he said. “When it comes to working alongside the players, it’s been amazing. They’re so eager to learn, eager to improve.”

He is adamant that the game in Saudi Arabia is being developed from the grassroots level.

“The project as a whole is one that is so, so exciting to be involved in,” Smith stressed. “The investment not only brings foreign staff and players but also continues into the school systems, encouraging young girls to play football from a young age.”

“People just see the money and think they’re just investing it into the first team or into staff,” said Smith. “But no, there’s a plan in place, there’s a strategy in place by the federation to get women’s football propelled onto a bigger stage."

“That’s another reason why the project as a whole is one that is so exciting to be involved in,” he added. “Of course, it’s going to take time, a hundred percent, but with more investment and the more people coming into the right roles, this project for women’s football in Saudi is only going one way. And that is up.”

Smith said there was still a great deal of misconceptions about Saudi Arabia’s transformation.

“Unless you are here, I don’t think you can speak with an educated view about it, to be honest. It is completely different.” He added that it was “completely different to what you’ve been reading about or seeing online.”

All of this has contributed to what he describes as an “amazing first eight months in the country.”

He said the women’s game had gained a great deal from the recently concluded West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship which was held in the country, even though Saudi Arabia lost their three group games.

“The women’s team have just played their first international tournament. They’ll gain so much experience and knowledge from that, which they can then use to push on in future years.”

The future holds much promise, which includes the potential hosting of the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup.

“That again is something that can grow the audience massively.”

With club games being broadcast, this was creating interest among females. “There’s the opportunity for young girls in this country to see what they could become,” said Smith. “They can dream it, and they can believe.”


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.