Al-Ahli’s Firas Al-Buraikan shows Saudi striking prowess ranks with foreign superstars

Al-Ahli’s Firas Al-Buraikan shows Saudi striking prowess ranks with foreign superstars
Al-Ahli’s Firas Al-Buraikan is in fine form ahead of the AFC Asian Cup in January. (X/@ALAHLI_FCEN)
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Updated 21 December 2023
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Al-Ahli’s Firas Al-Buraikan shows Saudi striking prowess ranks with foreign superstars

Al-Ahli’s Firas Al-Buraikan shows Saudi striking prowess ranks with foreign superstars
  • The 23-year-old has already scored 6 goals in 10 matches for the Jeddah club
  • The Saudi international’s recent run of form has come at an ideal time ahead of the AFC Asian Cup next month in Qatar

Al-Ahli made a splash in the summer transfer window as they set about reestablishing their place at the top of the Roshn Saudi League.

After a year spent in the First Division, following a shock relegation in the 2021/2022 season, the 2015/2016 league champions won promotion straight back to the RSL and were one of four clubs to receive substantial financial backing from the Public Investment Fund.

In came a plethora of established European stars, headlined by Riyad Mahrez, Allan Saint-Maximin, Edouard Mendy and Roberto Firmino. They were signings that made headlines around the world as the summer of spending began to revolutionize the RSL.

There was one signing, however, that made significantly fewer headlines, but is shaping up as one of their most important as they fight to keep in touch with Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr ahead of them.

Saudi Arabian national team striker Firas Al-Buraikan started the season with Al-Fateh, where he had played since the 2021/2022 season.

He originally joined the Al-Ahsa club after struggling for game time at Al-Nassr and quickly established himself as the leading Saudi striker in the country, with hauls of 11 and 17 goals in his two seasons with the club.

Before his switch to Al-Ahli in September, he had already scored four goals in five games, including a brace against Al-Ahli in a shock 5-1 win, after which Matthias Jaissle pounced on the 23-year-old.

Having established himself at Al-Fateh, where he was a regular starter, the move to Al-Ahli was not without risk, especially with such established names ahead of him in the pecking order. Breaking into an attack featuring the likes of Firmino, Saint-Maximin and Mahrez looked like a tough nut to crack.

With the AFC Asian Cup and another FIFA World Cup qualifying cycle on the horizon, it was a brave move and one that, three months on, has paid off handsomely for both club and player.

After 10 games for the Jeddah-based outfit, Al-Buraikan has already registered six goals, including four in his last three games, suggesting he is now feeling right at home in Jaissle’s side. He is now just shy of Mahrez as the club’s leading scorer this season.

Perhaps more importantly, Jaissle has faith in Al-Buraikan, known for his laconic air-guitar celebration, to lead the attack — to the point that Firmino is now very much on the outs at Al-Ahli after failing to add to his goal tally after a hat trick on the opening day of the season.

The former Liverpool star, a former teammate of Jaissle at Hoffenheim in Germany, has struggled to make an impact in Jeddah and is rumored to be headed out on loan in January, with a move to Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq very much on the cards.

“I obviously know Bobby extremely well, I’ve been a massive fan,” Gerrard told journalist Ben Jacobs recently.

“I’ve followed him for years. At the moment he’s Al-Ahli’s player so it’s very difficult for me to comment on that situation. But I’ve loved Bobby Firmino since the first day I watched him and I’m a huge fan.”

Al-Buraikan’s run of form could hardly be better timed with the Asian Cup only a matter of weeks away; a tournament for which the Green Falcons are one of the favorites for silverware.

A permanent fixture in the squad under previous coach Herve Renard, Al-Buraikan was a shock exclusion from Roberto Mancini’s squad for the recent FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Pakistan and Jordan, with the veteran Italian manager preferring Al-Hilal’s Saleh Al-Shehri as the focal point of the attack.

The 30-year-old grasped the opportunity with both hands, scoring a brace in both matches to vindicate Mancini’s decision — one that had received plenty of criticism within Saudi Arabia when the squad was first announced.

But Al-Buraikan’s recent run of form, with four goals in his last three matches, cannot have done his chances of earning a recall any harm.

While Al-Shehri shines for the Green Falcons, at club level he still struggles for significant game time in an attack featuring Aleksandar Mitrovic, Salem Al-Dawsari, Malcom and Michael. His four matches and one goal are a stark contrast to the 15 games and 10 goals of Al-Buraikan.

With just one league match remaining before Mancini names his 26-man squad for the Asian Cup — away at bottom-placed Al-Hazem this Friday — Al-Buraikan will be desperate to continue his run of form to force his way into the team.

While that remains up in the air, what is not in doubt is the importance of Al-Buraikan to Al-Ahli in the second half of the season. If they are to maintain third on the table, or even push for a top-two finish, his goals will be of vital importance.

The young striker took a risk leaving Al-Fateh for Al-Ahli, but with every strum of his air guitar he makes the move one of the shrewdest of the season.


Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles

Al-Hilal stars Mitrovic, Neves praise new Saudi lifestyles
Updated 25 May 2024
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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
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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
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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
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‘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
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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.”