FIFA and Saudi Arabia bond over Club World Cup this week with bigger goal ahead of 2034 World Cup

FIFA and Saudi Arabia bond over Club World Cup this week with bigger goal ahead of 2034 World Cup
Al-Ittihad fans display banners inside the stadium before the Club World Cup second round football match between Al-Ahly and Al-Ittihad at the King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah, on Dec. 15, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 December 2023
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FIFA and Saudi Arabia bond over Club World Cup this week with bigger goal ahead of 2034 World Cup

FIFA and Saudi Arabia bond over Club World Cup this week with bigger goal ahead of 2034 World Cup
  • The contest very quickly became all about Saudi Arabia, whose unopposed candidacy is set to be approved by FIFA member federations late in 2024
  • For now, Saudi Arabia is home to four more competitive FIFA games this week, likely capped by a final on Friday between the champions of Europe and South America
  • It is the biggest event FIFA has taken to Saudi Arabia in the presidency of Gianni Infantino, who has built increasingly close ties to its political and soccer leaders in the past six years

FIFA’s long-time engagement with Saudi Arabia became a fully formed partnership this year.

The Club World Cup that welcomes Manchester City and Fluminense into the semifinals from Monday in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, was awarded by FIFA to the Kingdom in February — a clear signpost toward their shared aim of staging a men’s World Cup.

That goal is all but certain to be confirmed next year after FIFA’s unexpected decision in October to fast-track finding a 2034 World Cup host, but only in Asia or Oceania.

The contest very quickly became all about Saudi Arabia, whose unopposed candidacy is set to be approved by FIFA member federations late in 2024.

Whether the tournament is played in summer or winter — and how many of the 104 games eventually will be played in neighboring or nearby states — can de decided at a later stage.

For now, Saudi Arabia is home to four more competitive FIFA games this week, likely capped by a final on Friday between the champions of Europe and South America. Man City first play Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan on Tuesday, one day after Fluminense face Al-Ahly of Egypt.

It is the biggest event FIFA has taken to Saudi Arabia in the presidency of Gianni Infantino, who has built increasingly close ties to its political and soccer leaders in the past six years.

“I am confident we will continue to unite the world from this beautiful country as we crown the new club champion of the world,” Infantino posted in Jeddah on his always active Instagram account.

FIFA also is bringing its formal business to Jeddah with a meeting on Sunday of its ruling council, for the first time in Saudi Arabia since Infantino was elected president in February 2016.

The future of the Club World Cup should take clearer shape with FIFA set to decide the format of the 32-team event that will relaunch in 2025 in the US, and exactly how some of the 12 entries from Europe will be earned.

The current seven-team event played each season for reigning continental champions plus the host nation’s title winner is barely noticed in Europe and was a target to revamp right from the start of Infantino’s presidency.

In 2018, Infantino provoked a huge rift with UEFA by proposing a secretive $25 billion deal for new competitions, including the Club World Cup.

Agreement is now being reached, with the influential European Club Association on board, for a four-yearly tournament played in mid-June to mid-July. The US will host the first edition and 2029 could go to Australia as compensation for agreeing not to challenge the Saudis for the 2034 World Cup.

Each continental champion in the four seasons through 2024 will enter — including Saudi club Al-Hilal, the 2021 champion of Asia that is home to Neymar — which leaves at least eight places to be allocated in Europe.

FIFA’s preferred formula has been to count only Champions League results from 2020-24 in a rankings table, and limit countries to two teams unless more win the actual title. That would exclude from the first edition storied names such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus and perhaps even Barcelona, unless it wins the next Champions League title in June.

The 32 teams in 2025 will expect to earn tens of millions of dollars in prize money from a tournament that has no broadcasters or sponsors just 18 months out from the opening game.

FIFA is likely to explore new broadcast models for the Club World Cup while its sponsor slate surely will include some from Saudi Arabia, whose state oil giant Aramco is reportedly in line for a top-tier World Cup deal.

FIFA’s and Infantino’s relations with Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have thrived.

The soccer connection is perhaps already opening doors. A Human Rights Watch delegation has been in Jeddah for a first approved visit to the country since 2014.


Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad

Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad
Updated 13 July 2024
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Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad

Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad
  • Frenchman will be reunited in Jeddah with one star from his 2012 Euro squad Karim Benzema

PARIS: Former France manager Laurent Blanc has been hired as coach of Al-Ittihad, the Saudi Arabian club announced on Saturday.
Blanc, who had been out of work since being fired by Lyon last September, will be reunited in Jeddah with one star from his 2012 Euro squad Karim Benzema.
After the team finished fifth in the Saudi league last season, the 36-year-old striker, the club’s star recruit, reportedly campaigned for a French-speaking coach.
This prompted the resignation of club president Louay Nazer, who had reportedly reached an agreement with Italian Stefano Pioli, who had left AC Milan.
The Al-Ittihad squad also includes N’Golo Kante, a starter in the France team that reached the last four at the current Euros, and former Monaco and Liverpool Brazilian Fabinho.
The 58-year-old Blanc was at the heart of the France defense as they won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
In his second season as a manager he led Bordeaux to a League 1 title. He coached France from 2010-12.
He guided Qatari-own Paris Saint-Germain to three Ligue 1 titles and five domestic cups between 2013 and 2016, had a stint in Qatar with Al-Rayyan from December 2020 to February 2022 and a painful 11 months from October 2022 when he was unable to reverse Lyon’s decline.
Al-Ittihad have not specified the length of Blanc’s contract.
He will be the club’s third coach in a year following Nuno Espirito Santo, who led the club to a ninth Saudi title in 2023, and Marcelo Gallardo.
Last season the club finished only fifth in the table, 42 points behind runaway champions Al-Hilal. They failed to qualify for the Asian Champions League.
Argentine Gallardo, who dropped the misfiring Benzema for a time, was fired in July after less than seven months in the job.


Riyadh to host African Super Cup between Egyptian rivals Al Ahly, Zamalek

Riyadh to host African Super Cup between Egyptian rivals Al Ahly, Zamalek
Updated 13 July 2024
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Riyadh to host African Super Cup between Egyptian rivals Al Ahly, Zamalek

Riyadh to host African Super Cup between Egyptian rivals Al Ahly, Zamalek

RIYADH: Riyadh will host the CAF Super Cup between two of Africa’s top teams in September, organizers announced on Friday.

The head-to-head will see the current African Champion League holders Al Ahly take on fellow Egyptian side Zamalek, who are the current African Confederation champions.

Confédération Africaine de Football President Patrice  Motsepe said: “The partnership between CAF and Saudi Arabia is based on the excellent relationship and mutual commitment of both parties.”

Turki Alalshikh said: "We are delighted to host the African Super Cup at Riyadh Season, which represents one of the most important tournaments on the African continent.”

The match will take place on Sept. 27, but the venue and kick-off time are yet to be announced.

Both teams clashed in the Egypt Cup in the Saudi capital in March, with Al Ahly beating their city rivals 2-0 and winning the trophy for the 39th time.

Al Ahly finished third in the Saudi-hosted FIFA Club World Cup in December, with English champions Manchester City defeating Brazil’s Fluminense in the final.


SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season

SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season
Updated 11 July 2024
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SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season

SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season
  • League remains committed to providing a supportive, centralized approach to transfers
  • Clubs continue to attract top-tier talents to their administrative ranks

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League, in collaboration with all 18 clubs, announced on Thursday its comprehensive preparations and key priorities for the upcoming summer transfer window and the 2024-25 season.
As part of the Player Acquisition Center of Excellence program, which was launched in 2023, the SPL held meetings with all top-flight clubs in the final months of last season to understand more fully their targets and requirements. The program was launched as one of seven in the SPL’s transformation strategy.
The SPL remains committed to providing a supportive and centralized approach to transfers. This includes assisting clubs with squad mapping and player care by offering expertise, governance, and sustainability measures.
The SPL’s priorities for the season and transfer window include supporting existing contracts by prioritizing current deals to ensure the success of players by providing the necessary resources.
Other aims include strategic acquisitions to address clubs’ technical gaps and secure top talent.
Another priority is its sustainability policy, which is to ensure players are signed for technical needs, supported for success, and fairly valued.
Off the pitch, the SPL clubs continue to attract top-tier talents to their administrative ranks.
Al-Shabab recently appointed Domenico Teti as sporting director, while Al-Nassr appointed Fernando Hierro. Both sporting directors join Esteve Calzada, Al-Hilal’s CEO; Ron Gourlay, Al-Ahli’s CEO; Lee Congerton, Al-Ahli’s sporting director; Ramon Planes, Al-Ittihad’s sporting director; and James Bisgrove, Al-Qadsiah’s CEO, as new appointments ahead of the new season.
In addition, the SPL has conducted a series of workshops with partner leagues in Europe and Asia to further develop areas of cooperation and mutual benefit. Discussions have covered topics such as mutual promotion, broadcast development, and alignment on transfer window dates.
The Player Acquisition Center of Excellence program, according to the SPL, serves as a collaborative tool with clubs to enhance their acquisition capabilities.
The program has so far recruited 97 players and reviewed over 200 contracts, significantly reducing contract termination costs and lowering the average age of signed players from 29 to 27.5 years. The ultimate aim is to focus on signing players under the age of 21.


Saudi national team beats UAE to win Arab Diar Championship

Saudi national team beats UAE to win Arab Diar Championship
Updated 06 July 2024
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Saudi national team beats UAE to win Arab Diar Championship

Saudi national team beats UAE to win Arab Diar Championship
  • The Saudi team qualified for the final match after beating their Syrian counterpart 2-0

TAIF, Saudi Arabia: The Saudi national team won the Arab Diar Championship for West Asian U-19 teams, after defeating UAE 1-0 at the King Fahd Sports City Stadium in Taif Governorate on Friday night.
The team qualified for the final match after beating their Syrian counterpart 2-0, state news agency SPA reported.
Talal Haji scored the winning goal in the 43rd minute of the first half, bringing victory and gold medals to the team.

The UAE came in second and was awarded silver medals.


Saudi national football team to face UAE at West Asian Youth Championship final

Saudi national football team to face UAE at West Asian Youth Championship final
Updated 04 July 2024
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Saudi national football team to face UAE at West Asian Youth Championship final

Saudi national football team to face UAE at West Asian Youth Championship final

RIYADH: The Saudi national football team has qualified for the final match of the Arab Diar Championship for West Asian U-19 teams, organized by the West Asian Football Federation and hosted by the Taif Governorate, Saudi Arabia, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.

The semifinal matches were held on Wednesday, where the Saudi national team defeated its Syrian opposition with a score of 2-0, while the UAE defeated Jordan 2-1.

The final match is scheduled to be held next Friday at the King Fahd Sports City Stadium in the Taif Governorate at 9 p.m.