Titanic FIFA Club World Cup clash ahead as Al-Ittihad take on Al-Ahly

Titanic FIFA Club World Cup clash ahead as Al-Ittihad take on Al-Ahly
The Tigers, who beat Auckland City 3-0 on Tuesday, have players with plenty of experience on this stage. (X: @ittihad)
Short Url
Updated 14 December 2023
Follow

Titanic FIFA Club World Cup clash ahead as Al-Ittihad take on Al-Ahly

Titanic FIFA Club World Cup clash ahead as Al-Ittihad take on Al-Ahly
  • Key players are the Tigers’ Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Fabinho, who have all won this tournament with former clubs
  • Al-Ahly have more recent experience, this is their fourth appearance in a row

It does not get much bigger than this for Arab football fans as well as those in Asia and Africa. Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia take on Egypt’s Al-Ahly in Jeddah on Friday. The prize for the winner is a FIFA Club World Cup semifinal against Fluminense of Brazil and a lot more besides as two of the biggest Arab clubs meet on the global stage.

Any Saudi Arabia and Egyptian clash, the two major powers of the region, as well as Asia and Africa in a competitive setting, is special — though Asia has a better head-to-head record at the World Cup, winning 12 of 19 meetings.

On the one hand, Al-Ahly have much more recent experience at this level as this is their fourth appearance in a row. It is 18 years since Al-Ittihad were last at the Club World Cup. In fact, the last game they won at this tournament was against Al-Ahly back in 2005.

Now however, the Tigers, who beat Auckland City 3-0 on Tuesday, have players with plenty of experience on this stage. Striker Karim Benzema has won this competition five times while N’Golo Kante and Fabinho have also lifted the trophy with Chelsea and Liverpool respectively. Now they are in the yellow and black of Al-Ittihad and will relish this occasion. Such talent means that, along with home advantage, Al-Ittihad are regarded as favorites.

“We are happy with the result in the Auckland match, and let’s see what happens against Al-Ahly,” said Benzema. “It will be difficult, as all teams want to win the championship, but we are ready to fight until the end.”

“The Al-Ittihad fans and the atmosphere were amazing. We already know their passion. They motivate us and this is a good thing.”

But Al-Ahly will have plenty of support at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium too. They also have the pedigree of a team that have been champions of Africa no less than 11 times. They really are their continent’s version of Real Madrid and have had memorable clashes with Saudi Arabian sides.

Back in 2005, the champions of Asia and Africa met with a very talented Al-Ittihad team winning 1-0 thanks to Mohammed Noor’s late goal. This was a version of the Tigers that had been dominant just a few weeks before in winning the Asian Champions League for a second successive time.

Al-Ittihad have not been back since but Al-Ahly are regular visitors. In 2012, they beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima of Japan to reach the last four as they lost 1-0 to eventual winners Corinthians of Brazil. Eight years later, the Red Giants were back and finished third after getting past Palmeiras.

The Brazilians got their revenge in 2021 but Al-Ahly enjoyed their third-placed match against Al-Hilal, defeating the Riyadh giants 4-0 in what was a traumatic afternoon for the Saudi Arabians and the last in charge of Al-Hilal by Leonardo Jardim. And in the last edition just a few months ago, the Cairo club fell to Real Madrid and then Flamengo.

Friday’s game will define how this edition goes. Both Al-Ahly and Al-Ittihad are champions of their respective countries and neither have hit those same heights yet this season. Al-Ahly are in a better position and sit in second after six games and given the fact they have been Egyptian champions 43 times, they are expected to pull through, unlike Al-Ittihad who would need a special effort to get back in the race with Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr.

Al-Ahly always have a healthy contingent of the Egypt national team with veteran goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy a mainstay of both club and country. Then there are defenders Mohamed Abdelmonem, Mohamed Hany and Yasser Ibrahim. Midfielders Marwan Attia and Emam Ashour and Hussein El-Shahat, who will make a record 13th appearance in the Club World Cup if he plays, in attack.

If the domestic contingent is solid then South African striker Percy Tau has been in excellent form this season. Veteran French forward Anthony Modeste has played for a host of top tier European clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Koln and Bordeaux, though he is battling to return to fitness and may start on the bench.

After the club went through three coaches in the space of three months in the summer of 2022, Marcel Koller has stabilized the situation through doing what Al-Ahly always demands — winning.

This is one of the most successful teams in the world, the biggest team in Africa and an Arabian institution. Now they come up against Al-Ittihad, the Saudi Arabian champions playing in front of a huge home crowd with players with experience of winning the trophy and a new coach in Marcelo Gallardo hoping to make his mark.

It promises to be a titanic struggle and one that the world will be watching.


Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles
Updated 25 May 2024
Follow

Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles
  • Mitrovic: ‘I’m really happy. My family is happy. The club is amazing. So far, it’s a great experience’
  • ‘A lot of players from Europe call and ask how can they get here’

LONDON: Football stars Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ruben Neves have praised their moves to the Saudi Pro League, speaking highly of their new lives in the Kingdom.

In an interview with Sky News, the two Al-Hilal players — who left Fulham and Wolves, respectively — discussed the lifestyle differences between England and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, more than 23 European players moved to the Kingdom’s top football league in a major coup for Saudi sporting administrators.

“After seven years in England I think the first thing was the sun. I never had summer sun in my life,” Mitrovic said.

“It’s been different you know, different culture, different football, the mentality of people as well, but so far I’m really happy.

“My family is happy. The club is amazing. So far, it’s a great experience and looking forward to more years.”

The Serbian international praised the privacy and laid-back way of life in Riyadh. “The people here are crazy about football but you have a bit more privacy here. We live on a compound, we’re a little bit more isolated, and people from Europe and around the world live there you know, the life is really nice,” he said. “You wake up, have breakfast, a little workout, then recovery in the pool in the sun.”

One difference from the European training standard is that clubs in the Kingdom train in the evening, avoiding the midday heat.

Neves told Sky News that Al-Hilal’s regime gives him more time to spend with his family. “It’s a bit different to the routine from Europe here because of the weather, of course,” he said.

Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves, center, says that Al-Hilal’s regime gives him more time to spend with his family. (AFP)

“We train most of the time after 6 p.m. I like it because I can spend the day at home relaxing. I can take the kids to school, I can pick them up from school, and I can be a little bit with them before I come to training. We have a lot of things to do here because it’s a big, massive city, so we are enjoying it.”

Though both players said the Premier League is the world’s best, they believe that the SPL is not far behind — and is on par with some European leagues.

Mitrovic expects more major European signings during the summer transfer window this year.

“Any of the big names is going to have a big impact and would be welcomed with open hands,” he said.

“A lot of players from Europe, you know they call and ask how can they get here. A lot (of calls), trust me.”

Neves hailed the dedication of Al-Hilal fans. “When you play at home the stadium is always full, 30,000 people. The difference I felt here from England is that when we go to play away the stadium is mainly our fans,” he said. “We have fans all around Saudi, so that feels really good for us.”


Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers
Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

RIYADH: Saudi national team boss Roberto Mancini announced the 31-player list in preparation for the fifth and sixth games of the 2026 World Cup and the 2027 Asian Cup qualifiers.


The Green Falcons will play Pakistan on June 6 in Islamabad and host Jordan on June 11 in Riyadh.

A preparation camp will be held in Riyadh next Thursday, except for Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr players, who will join their teammates on June 2, after the King’s Cup final between the two Riyadh giants.

Saudi National Team Squad for World Cup & Asian Cup Qualifiers

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Ahmed Al-Kassar, Raghed Najjar, Mohammed Al-Yami, and Mohammed Al-Absi.

Defenders: Mutib Al-Harbi, Hassan Kadesh, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Aoun Al-Saluli, Ali Lagami, Hassan Al-Tumbakti, Saud Abdulhamid, and Mohammed Al-Buraik.

Midfielders: Mukhtar Ali, Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Musab Al-Juwair, Mohammed Kanno, Rayan Hamed, Sultan Al-Ghannam, Nasser Al-Dawsari, Faisal Al-Ghamdi, and Abbas Al-Hassan.

Attackers: Salem Al-Dawsari, Sami Al-Najai, Ayman Yahya, Marwan Al-Sahafi, Abdulrahman Gharib, Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, Abdullah Radif, Abdullah Al-Hamdan, and Firas Al-Burikan.

Al-Nassr’s Sultan Al-Ghannam returns to the squad after he and five other Saudi internationals were hit with punishments for disciplinary violations before the AFC Asian Cup held in Qatar.

The wing-back took to X and said he was happy to return to the squad.

“Representing the national team is an unparalleled honor. I thank those in charge of the team, including the administrative and technical bodies, and I hope that I, along with the rest of my teammates, will provide a level that is worthy of the reputation of Saudi football,” he added.


Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries

Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries

Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries
  • They will collaborate on ways to achieve sustainable growth of the sport, enhance the standard of football, and facilitate exchange of expertise between players and coaches
  • The agreement also includes plans for talent-discovery networks, cultural-exchange events, and friendly matches between Japanese and Saudi clubs

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League and Japan’s Professional Football League have signed an agreement to cooperate on ways to develop the sport in both countries.

To achieve this they will work with teams in both leagues and collaborate on ways to achieve sustainable growth of the sport, enhance the standard of football, facilitate the exchange of experiences and resources between players and coaches, and establish an effective system for communication about technical and administrative matters.

The agreement was signed on the sidelines of a Saudi-Japanese business forum by the vice chair of the SPL’s board of directors, Saad Allazeez, and Yoshokaze Ninomura of the J.League.

Allazeez said the agreement reflects the SPL’s transformation strategy and added: “This partnership will open new horizons for exchanging experiences and promoting the continuous development in the field of football between the two countries.

“We look forward to working with our counterparts in Japan to raise the level of the game at all levels.”

The agreement also includes support for the continued growth and development of SPL and J.League through workshops and conferences to consider ideas for strengthening football infrastructure, cooperation in talent-discovery networks to help identify and nurture stars of the future, cultural-exchange events that celebrate the diverse cultures of the two countries and enhance the global appeal of football, and friendly matches between Japanese and Saudi clubs.


‘September or October’: Al-Hilal coach reveals timeline for Neymar’s return to action

Neymar could be back in action in 'September or October' according to Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus. (File/Getty Images)
Neymar could be back in action in 'September or October' according to Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 22 May 2024
Follow

‘September or October’: Al-Hilal coach reveals timeline for Neymar’s return to action

Neymar could be back in action in 'September or October' according to Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus. (File/Getty Images)
  • No. 10 is at ‘a crucial phase’ in his injury recovery, says the Roshn Saudi League champions’ manager Jorge Jesus
  • Al-Hilal teammate Kalidou Koulibaly is eagerly awaiting the return of Neymar: ‘I call him the magician because he has so much magic in his feet’

RIYADH: Neymar is working to make his comeback from injury in the first few months of next season, Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus has revealed.
The Brazilian superstar playmaker, a record signing for Al-Hilal last summer, suffered a season-ending cruciate ligament injury while on international duty in October.
Neymar, however, was a big part of Al-Hilal’s recent Roshn Saudi League title celebrations in Riyadh and declared himself as “feeling good” and “impatient to be back on the pitch.”
With the No. 10’s rehabilitation in full swing, Jesus is eagerly anticipating having the world-class attacker back in his plans for the upcoming campaign.
“He’s currently in a crucial phase of treatment, and we’re hopeful he might be ready to rejoin the team and start practicing by September or October,” Jesus said. “He’s a star player, he possesses exceptional talent. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a definitive answer at this point. Injuries like Neymar’s typically require 10 to 12 months for recovery.”
As someone who knows exactly what it is like to both play with and against Neymar, his Al-Hilal teammate Kalidou Koulibaly will be delighted to have the 32-year-old back in action. The Senegalese defender, a key part of the club’s world record-winning run earlier in the campaign, believes the re-addition of Neymar will only make Al-Hilal even better next season — as well as himself.
“It will be really important. Neymar is a really important player for us. I call him the ‘Magia’ — magician — because he has so much magic in his feet,” Koulibaly said. “When he touches the ball, he is incredible. We are waiting for him to be fit and to play with us and to make us happy and to make the supporters happy. Also to play with him — to play with someone of that level — you can only increase your own level and become better. Neymar is really important for us, and I hope that next year he will play all season and that we can win some trophies with him.”
Speaking at the recent title celebrations following Al-Hilal’s 4-1 victory over Al-Hazem, which clinched the Riyadh club’s 19th Saudi Arabian league crown, Neymar said: “I am very happy obviously. Winning titles is always good. The best thing would have been being on the pitch, but I am so happy for my teammates.
“I am fine. I am feeling good. I am impatient to be back on the pitch. The fans are unbelievable. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to give them the happiness they deserve, but you can be sure that next season we are going to have a lot of fun.”
Unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal clinched the Roshn Saudi League title with three matches to spare and have won 29 of their 32 games thus far. Nearest challengers Al-Nassr, who are captained by Cristiano Ronaldo, are 12 points behind. Al-Hilal’s next match is at home to Al-Tai on Thursday in the Roshn Saudi League.
Al-Hilal created top-flight world football history this season by winning 34 matches in succession between September and April across all competitions. The incredible run saw them overtake Welsh club The New Saints’ winning streak of 27 games in season 2016-17. Prior to that, the record stood for 44 years following Dutch giants Ajax’s 26-game winning stretch between 1971 and 1972.


Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh

Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh
Updated 22 May 2024
Follow

Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh

Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh
  • Al-Shabab defeated Najmat Jeddah in the final to earn their second futsal title
  • The national tournament featured 18 women’s teams from across the Kingdom in the knock-out tournament from May 8-20

RIYADH: After a sensational 25-match tournament that saw 339 goals, Al-Shabab FC captured their second women’s futsal title on Monday in thrilling fashion to conclude the 2024 edition of the Women’s Futsal Tournament.

With 18 of Saudi Arabia’s top women’s futsal sides competing in the second edition of the tournament, the final saw goals galore as Al-Shabab ran out winners, beating Najmat Jeddah 22-2 in the final to earn their second domestic honor.

The competition aims to inspire the growth of women’s futsal in the Kingdom, with the Saudi National Women’s Futsal team set to meet later this month in Bosnia for a training camp until June 15.

Aalia Al-Rasheed, head of the Women’s Football Department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said: “The Women’s Futsal Tournament has demonstrated the incredible talent that lies within the women’s game in Saudi Arabia. The skill on display has been remarkable, and we congratulate all clubs for their participation in the competition.

“The unprecedented growth we are seeing in the women’s game across all levels is exciting, and we look forward to seeing how this supports our national program to continue to develop in the coming months.”