In Saudi Arabia’s stellar football year, federation boss sees 2034 World Cup fueling more rapid change

In Saudi Arabia’s stellar football year, federation boss sees 2034 World Cup fueling more rapid change
Saudi Arabian Football Federation President Yasser Al- Misehal said in an interview that sport and society in the Kingdom are going through transformational changes ahead of staging soccer’s biggest event in 2034. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 February 2024
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In Saudi Arabia’s stellar football year, federation boss sees 2034 World Cup fueling more rapid change

In Saudi Arabia’s stellar football year, federation boss sees 2034 World Cup fueling more rapid change
  • Al-Misehal: We are trying to do everything for our people, for our economy and also we want to host as many people from all different places in the world
  • The Club World Cup final Friday closes the first FIFA tournament played in Saudi Arabia this century, and just weeks after the biggest hosting prize was all-but guaranteed

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s ambitions in football were made stunning and clear in 2023, and its upcoming 11-year journey toward hosting the men’s World Cup promises much more of the same.

In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Saudi Arabian Football Federation President Yasser Al-Misehal said sport and society in the Kingdom are going through transformational changes ahead of staging football’s biggest event in 2034.

“We are trying to do everything for our people, for our economy and also we want to host as many people from all different places in the world,” Al-Misehal said.

Football has taken a prominent place in the Vision 2030 plan launched in 2016 to modernize the Saudi economy and society for a future beyond the oil production that fuels its wealth.

The program was driven from its start by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudis’ statement year in football started with hiring of Cristiano Ronaldo to a Saudi club and is ending with the current best team, Manchester City, playing for a title in Jeddah.

The Club World Cup final Friday closes the first FIFA tournament played in Saudi Arabia this century, and just weeks after the biggest hosting prize was all-but guaranteed.

FIFA fast-tracked finding a host for the 2034 World Cup in October and within days there was only one candidate.

The final FIFA decision must wait until late next year, but there is little doubt Saudi Arabia will add the 2034 World Cup to hosting the 2027 Asian Cup in men’s football and up to five straight editions of the Asian Champions League finals mini-tournaments through 2029.

One question for future years is if all 104 games at the World Cup will be played in Saudi stadiums — or will neighboring and nearby states be given some games to host.

Such an expansion would fit a pattern for bold plans from the crown prince and FIFA President Gianni Infantino who have built a close working relationship.

“The answer is that it’s going to be Saudi-only,” Al-Misehal said, noting that with “a lot of cities and a lot of stadiums that we have, our plan now is just to be a sole host.”

The size of Saudi Arabia compared to neighboring Qatar, which hosted a 64-game World Cup last year almost entirely in the city of Doha connected by metro lines, can be a key difference between the two tournaments.

“You will find different cultures, different people, different atmosphere,” Al-Misehal said of his home country, adding Qatar “did a great job. Logistics-wise it was perfect.”

“We welcome everybody, we respect everyone but at the same time we have our own values, our own culture,” Al-Misehal said. “Wherever we travel we always respect the values and culture of people that we see abroad and we expect the same from our visitors.”

The pace of recent reforms in Saudi society, he suggests, has been “much, much more than what we’ve done in the last 80 years.”

The pace of change in football has been remarkable.

Ronaldo’s arrival in January as a free agent on a reported $200 million annual pay deal was the spark for lavish recruitment from European clubs that cost about $900 million in transfer fees alone. The coach of European champion Italy, Roberto Mancini, was lured over to the Saudi national team.

More high-end offers at the top of the transfer market are expected in January, likely from the same clubs now majority-owned by the $700 billion Public Investment Fund.

“I have been approached personally by several clubs from different parts of the world offering to transfer their players,” Al-Misehal said, noting the deals are welcomed by the selling clubs for their own investment plans.

The spending, he suggests, is part of a coherent plan to improve stadiums and grassroots venues for boys and girls inspired by seeing the likes Ronaldo, Neymar and Karim Benzema play for their local clubs.

Any male players aged from seven to 25 today can think of being part of the host national team at the 2034 World Cup, Al-Misehal said.

“This shows exactly that we are in a transformational stage.”


Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’
Updated 22 July 2024
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Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’

Diogo Jota says Riyadh Esports World Cup ‘a truly amazing experience’
  • Liverpool and Portugal star, an avid gamer and investor, watched all the ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ and ‘Counter-Strike 2’ action, and met esports players

RIYADH: Diogo Jota, the Liverpool and Portugal footballer, who attended the Esports World Cup in Riyadh on Sunday, has declared the globe’s largest gaming festival “a truly amazing experience.”

Jota, an avid gamer and investor in multinational esports organization Galaxy Racer, watched all the action at Boulevard Riyadh City as teams contested the finals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “Counter-Strike 2” competitions.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the top clubs and players against one another across 22 competitions in 21 leading games.

Held within the 8,000-capacity Saudi Esports Federation Arena at Boulevard Riyadh City, it runs until Aug. 25 and has a tournament prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of the sport.

The attacker, who has 42 caps and played for Portugal at the UEFA Euro 2024 this summer, met participating stars, including from Saudi Arabia’s Team Falcons, and happily swapped gaming and esports stories.

Jota said: “Being here at the inaugural Esports World Cup is a truly amazing experience. The organization and scale behind this event are truly impressive, even more than I anticipated.

“I’ve always believed in the potential of esports, even before starting my own team, and EWC is proof that this scene is evolving rapidly. This level of investment and infrastructure is exactly what esports needs to grow and reach a wider audience.

“I’m excited to see how EWC continues to evolve and push the boundaries of competitive gaming.”

Jota, who wears the No. 20 for Liverpool, was ranked world No. 1 in FIFA 21’s Champions Leaderboard. A regular streamer on Twitch, he also won an invitational series of FIFA matches, run by the Premier League, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then a Wolverhampton Wanderers player, Jota defeated future Liverpool team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final.

Last year, Jota’s own esports organization, Diogo Jota Esports, was rebranded to Luna Galaxy — coming under the Galaxy Racer umbrella.

Prior to this, Diogo Jota Esports participated in the FIFAe Finals at Gamers8, organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, at Boulevard Riyadh City last summer, with Daniel “DFernandes” Fernandes finishing in the top 16.

More than 1,500 players, of over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the inaugural Esports World Cup. Week three of the competition features action in the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters,” “Counter Strike 2,” and “PUBG Mobile” contests.


SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif
Updated 21 July 2024
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SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif
  • Top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions are featuring in the tournament
  • The competition will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees who have been selected from SAFF Referees’ Academy

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has launched the first edition of the Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif, running from July 18–30.

Currently in its third day, the 12-day tournament features 14 regional teams, showcasing top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions.

The 14 regional teams competing in the championship are from Al-Ahsa, Jazan, Najran, Jouf, Hail, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Asir, Madinah, Makkah, Hafar Al-Batin, and Tabuk.

SAFF’s Technical Director Nasser Larguet said: “The championship represents the result of the significant work supported by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and the outcome is the creation of the Regional Under-13 League. Clear goals and strategic plans have been set to discover and support young talents.”

Additionally, the tournament will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees, who have been selected from the SAFF Referees’ Academy, further contributing to the development of skilled officials in the sport.

Manuel Navarro, president of the SAFF Referees Committee, said: “The Regional Under-13 Championship is an opportunity to develop promising referees, especially since it will witness the participation of 32 young referees. The committee aims to increase their refereeing hours and enhance their experience.”

This tournament is a significant part of SAFF’s strategy to scout and develop over 4,000 young talents by 2025, supporting the growth and future of Saudi football.


Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
Updated 20 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
  • The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage
  • The kit’s new design represents the architectural style “Rawashin”

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad FC has unveiled its kit for the 2024/25 season in collaboration with Nike.

Al-Ittihad presented its distinctive new kit in photo sessions in the center of historic Jeddah, among its alleys and ancient buildings, in cooperation with Al-Balad Development Company, the club’s official sponsor.

The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage, which fans have loved and celebrated for 97 years.

The kit’s new design represents the architectural style, “Rawashin,” the prominent traditional wooden panels used to cover windows and external openings at the old houses of Jeddah — considered an icon of the city’s heritage.

Domingos De Oliveira, CEO of Al-Ittihad Club, described the new kit as a symbol of the club’s history: “We worked closely with Nike in order to ensure access to the best that can be presented in the new kit, while preserving the established values of the basic kit, which represents a unique identity, after maintaining it for nearly a century.

“In the new kit, we worked to blend the heritage of Al-Ittihad Club with the history of the region from which it started, with a modern spirit that creates innovation in order to emerge with a product that reflects the club’s vision of starting from the base of its great history toward more glory and development in the current era and the future.

“Attention was paid to all the details in terms of the degree of color and their overlapping in the dividing line between them in the same way that the wooden columns in the Rawashin buildings of Jeddah are intertwined.”

For the first time, the home kit will be presented in three categories — the official home kit, which the players will wear, the stadium category, and the fans category.


Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League

Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League
Updated 18 July 2024
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Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League

Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League
  • Saudi Arabia will host the preliminary stage of the tournament next month

RIYADH: Saudi champions Al-Nassr Women have been drawn against Myawady Women from Myanmar, the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Country Club and Young Elephants FC of Laos in the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia will host the preliminary stage of the tournament next month, it was also confirmed on Thursday.

The first edition of the tournament will welcome the 21 domestic champions from AFC member associations, and the preliminary stage in the Kingdom — which will be played Aug. 25 to 31 — will feature 13 teams competing in four round-robin groups.

The winner of each will progress to the group stage, where eight top-seeded clubs await.

The Kingdom’s selection as hosts for the preliminary stage follows the successful hosting of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship and the growth of the Women’s Premier League ahead of its third season.


Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Updated 17 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
  • Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season
  • Midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad have signed French-born Algerian international midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract.

Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season.

The 26-year-old midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons.

The signing ceremony took place at the team’s training camp in Alicante, Spain on Tuesday.

The event was officiated by the club’s CEO, Domingos Oliveira, and witnessed by sporting director Ramon Planes, following Aouar’s successful medical examination this morning.

Domingos Oliveira expressed his warm welcome to Aouar, noting that this move marks a significant new chapter in Aouar’s career. He emphasized that Aouar will contribute significantly alongside his teammates to achieving the high standards and results anticipated by the club’s fans and supporters.

Oliveira highlighted that Aouar’s signing aligns with the team’s technical requirements for a player possessing specific qualities that enhance the squad. This strategy is based on the technical needs identified by the sports committee and reviewed by the coach.

Houssem Aouar shared his enthusiasm about joining Al-Ittihad Club, recognizing its rich history, passionate fan base, distinguished players, and experienced coaching staff. He is motivated to deliver his best performance to represent the club and bring joy to its supporters.