Saudi Arabia target continental supremacy as AFC Asian Cup kicks off

At the 2023 Asian Cup —which finally starts after a delay of six months — Saudi Arabia's opening opponent is Oman on Tuesday in Group G, with Kyrgyzstan and Thailand to follow. (X/@SaudiNT)
At the 2023 Asian Cup —which finally starts after a delay of six months — Saudi Arabia's opening opponent is Oman on Tuesday in Group G, with Kyrgyzstan and Thailand to follow. (X/@SaudiNT)
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Updated 11 January 2024
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Saudi Arabia target continental supremacy as AFC Asian Cup kicks off

Saudi Arabia target continental supremacy as AFC Asian Cup kicks off
  • Roberto Mancini’s Green Falcons set their sights on a first title since 1996 and a record-equalling fourth in total

DOHA: It is less than 14 months since Saudi Arabia last kicked off a major tournament — the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

That time around it started with a famous win over eventual champions Argentina. At the 2023 Asian Cup —which finally starts after a delay of six months — their opening opponent is Oman on Tuesday in Group G, with Kyrgyzstan and Thailand to follow.

There is unlikely to be the same early drama and excitement as in Qatar, but the Green Falcons’ focus is on lifting the trophy for the first time since last century.

Much has changed in Saudi Arabian football since November 2022, and the country is now the talk of the sporting world. If the win over Lionel Messi and co. was almost unthinkable, few would have believed that by January 2024, megastars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar would be playing in the Saudi Pro League. It brings attention as well as pressure.

Not getting out of the group would be unthinkable — only eight of the 24 teams fall at the first hurdle — but ambitions back in the Kingdom are obviously much higher. Only Japan have won the tournament more times than Saudi Arabia — though the last of their three titles came 28 years ago, and there has been no genuine challenge since 2007.

Now they have Roberto Mancini in charge. The former Manchester City and Inter Milan boss led Italy to the European Championship title in 2021 and could become one of the very few coaches to win separate continental titles. He has the tactical knowhow and, after several warm-up games and a couple of World Cup qualifiers, he knows a lot more about his players.

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Those players now are active in the most talked about league in the world. With the massive influx of famous foreign stars, there is no doubt that standards have improved in the SPL. That was apparent in the just-finished group stage of the Asian Champions League. Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr all topped their groups and Al-Fayha, in a first continental appearance, also made it through to give Saudi Arabia four teams in the knockout stage.

It is not all down to the likes of Ronaldo, however. The local players have stepped up. Salem Al-Dawsari is the Asian player of the year and has been a standout even among the exalted talent in the league. He also loves the big occasion, as he showed when scoring the winner against Argentina.

The same can increasingly be said of Feras Al-Buraikan, who could be one of the stars of the tournament if he takes his club form to Qatar. The striker’s exploits in finishing last season as the fourth highest goalscorer in the league, ahead of Ronaldo, earned a big move to Al-Ahli. The goals have continued this campaign, too, and he sits in fourth in the scoring charts and is also in the top 10 for assists. His biggest challenge may be starting ahead of Saleh Al-Shehri, who has been favored so far by Mancini, and repaid the faith with four goals in two World Cup qualifiers. 

There are other in-form stars such as Saud Abdulhamid, Mohamed Kanno and Abdulrahman Ghareeb who have also settled well in the new era of the Saudi Pro League. Not just that, but the boss has called up some exciting young talents. Teenage midfielder Abbas Al-Hassan and 20-year-old forward Abdullah Radif could make continental reputations for themselves.

That would be welcome, but the main objective is, of course, winning the 24-nation tournament for the first time since 1996. That came at a time when Saudi Arabia dominated in the Asian Cup — in the seven tournaments from 1984 to 2007, the Green Falcons made six finals, winning three. In the last three editions however, the team have not made it past the last 16, not good enough for one of Asia’s elite nations.

Not only is the national team a powerhouse, but the league is going from strength to strength. With Mancini in charge, there is no reason why Saudi Arabia cannot go far at the 2023 Asian Cup.


WWE stars praise ‘passionate and excited’ fans after epic showdown shakes Jeddah

WWE stars praise ‘passionate and excited’ fans after epic showdown shakes Jeddah
Updated 11 sec ago
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WWE stars praise ‘passionate and excited’ fans after epic showdown shakes Jeddah

WWE stars praise ‘passionate and excited’ fans after epic showdown shakes Jeddah

JEDDAH: WWE made a historic return to Saudi Arabia with the double-header of “SmackDown” and “King and Queen of the Ring” this weekend at Jeddah’s Superdome.

Superstars such as Sami Zayn, Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes, and Logan Paul performed in front of thousands of fans at the Jeddah venue.

The historic double-header showcased WWE’s commitment to its partnership with the General Entertainment Authority, with this being the tenth event of the partnership.

In total, 20,000 passionate fans flooded the arena, marking a historic moment in WWE’s legacy in the Kingdom.

Gunther, a WWE Superstar, who defeated Randy Orton and became the King Of The Ring on Saturday evening told Arab News that Saudi fans always display an immense level of passion and enthusiasm whenever WWE visits the Kingdom.

Syrian Canadian WWE SuperStar Sami Zayn, who is much loved in Saudi Arabia because of his Arab background, told Arab News: “It’s always good to be back in Jeddah. Especially after last year (“The Night of Champions”), which was amazing, it was my first time back here in a few years. I'm just always excited to perform in front of these fans because they’re very, very excited fans, and they have been particularly nice to me.”

He continued: “I plan on successfully defending the Intercontinental Championship in front of my people.”

Sami won the title match and defended his title against both Chad Gable and Bronson Reed in a Triple Threat Match.

It was a festive feel for fans, as they enjoyed the complete WWE fan experience.

Aziz, who is a Saudi pro wrestler and owner of Future Federation Wrestling, said: “We are pumped, we are hyped to be here tonight, my favorite wrestler is the ‘American Nightmare,’ undisputed champion, Cody Rhodes — I want to thank GEA for making tonight special.”

Khalid, a teenage fan from the Kingdom who attended with his family, said: “I am very excited to see my favorite wrestlers, I want to thank the GEA for organizing this event.”

As the final bell rang and the last fireworks faded in the world’s largest geodesic dome, fans left with lifetime memories of witnessing a historic double-header. For one magical evening, WWE had transported them to a world of excitement, drama, and pure adrenaline.

WWE is renowned globally for its larger-than-life production values, and Jeddah’s historic double-header of “Smackdown” and “King and Queen of the Ring” was no exception.

WWE is taking its sports entertainment offering worldwide and plans to visit more destinations in the Middle East and Europe. Recently the company announced an inaugural tour to Berlin with their upcoming “WWE Bash” event in August this year.


‘Truly exceptional’: Jorge Jesus hails Al-Hilal players as champions lift Roshn Saudi League trophy in glitzy ceremony

 ‘Truly exceptional’: Jorge Jesus hails Al-Hilal players as champions lift Roshn Saudi League trophy in glitzy ceremony
Updated 59 min 2 sec ago
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‘Truly exceptional’: Jorge Jesus hails Al-Hilal players as champions lift Roshn Saudi League trophy in glitzy ceremony

 ‘Truly exceptional’: Jorge Jesus hails Al-Hilal players as champions lift Roshn Saudi League trophy in glitzy ceremony
  • Club can secure an invincible league season if they avoid defeat at Al-Wehda on Monday
  • Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai 3-1 on Thursday through Salem Al-Dawsari, Michael and Malcom goals

RIYADH: After newly crowned Roshn Saudi League champions Al-Hilal lifted the league trophy in a stunning ceremony at Kingdom Arena on Friday night, manager Jorge Jesus says the season may be the best ever in the 66-year history of the club.

Unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal — who created world history by winning 34 matches in succession between September and April across all competitions — clinched the title with three games to spare. The champions are 14 points ahead of second-placed Al-Nassr.

An invincible league season will be secured for the Saudi Super Cup winners if they avoid defeat in their final match at Al-Wehda on Monday. The King’s Cup final against Al-Nassr concludes Al-Hilal’s campaign.

Jesus said: “This season has been truly exceptional for the team — arguably our best ever. The credit goes to the immense talent within the squad and the incredible sense of unity that transcends both on and off-field interactions. We’re currently vying for three local trophies this season. We’ve already secured two and are determined to win the last one.”

Al-Hilal’s latest victory saw them beat Al-Tai 3-1 on Thursday thanks to first-half goals from Salem Al-Dawsari and Michael, and a goal on the hour mark from Malcom. Andrei Cordea netted a consolation strike for Al-Tai.


Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins first home F1 Monaco Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins first home F1 Monaco Grand Prix
Updated 26 May 2024
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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins first home F1 Monaco Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins first home F1 Monaco Grand Prix
  • McLaren’s Oscar Piastri followed the man from Monaco across the line with Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari in third

MONTE CARLO: Charles Leclerc finally broke his Monaco Grand Prix curse on Sunday as Red Bull had an off weekend with Max Verstappen sixth and Sergio Perez crashing out on the first lap.
Leclerc ended years of frustration at his home race by taking the jewel in the Formula One calendar from pole at his third attempt.
A tearful Leclerc said: “No words can explain this. It means a lot, it’s the race that made me dream of becoming a F1 driver.
“Tonight is going to be a big night!“
McLaren’s Oscar Piastri followed the man from Monaco across the line with Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari in third.
Leclerc had started at the front of the grid at the circuit he used to travel along on the bus to school as a kid in 2021 and 2022 only for misfortune to stop him winning on both occasions.
With Ferrari now a much smoother run ship under Fred Vasseur this was a far slicker Ferrari team than then, and Leclerc dictated the pace perfectly from the front, until the end of the first lap.
That was when the red flag had to come out to stop the race after a three car pile-up with Perez’s Red Bull ripped apart.
Perez spun after being hit hard from behind by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.
Nico Hulkenberg in the other Haas was a third innocent casualty.
The race on the narrow streets of the Principality was interrupted for around 30 minutes to allow debris to be cleared off the circuit.
All three crash victims were missing at the restart along with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who joined this unhappy group of onlookers after he was forced to retire following a tangle with his team-mate Pierre Gasly.
Leclerc escaped all the drama and led for the rest of the race to claim a hugely popular success.
With three-time world champion Verstappen only sixth, Leclerc moved to within 31 points of the Dutchman ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.


Countdown to glory: Riyadh Season’s ‘5 vs. 5’ boxing spectacle set to thrill global audiences

Countdown to glory: Riyadh Season’s ‘5 vs. 5’ boxing spectacle set to thrill global audiences
Updated 26 May 2024
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Countdown to glory: Riyadh Season’s ‘5 vs. 5’ boxing spectacle set to thrill global audiences

Countdown to glory: Riyadh Season’s ‘5 vs. 5’ boxing spectacle set to thrill global audiences
  • Russian powerhouse Dmitry Bivol leads the pack as fight world’s biggest names prepare for Kingdom Arena showdown

RIYADH: In a thrilling culmination of Riyadh Season festivities, boxing enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting the “5 vs. 5” global showdown at the Kingdom Arena next Saturday. 

Featuring a stellar lineup of top boxers from around the world, the spectacle promises to deliver unparalleled excitement and fierce competition. 

Leading the pack is Russian powerhouse Dmitry Bivol, a dominant force in the ring and holder of the World Boxing Association super light-heavyweight title since 2017.

Joining him is British fighter Hamzah Sheeraz, the reigning Commonwealth and WBC Silver middleweight champion, alongside American prodigy Austin Williams, the top-ranked amateur boxer on the US team.

The roster boasts an array of international talent, including Libyan champion Malik Zinad, holder of the WBA Mediterranean continental championship, and Chinese fighter Zhilei Zhang, ranked among the world’s top heavyweights. 

Big names such as Deontay Wilder from the US, British pro Daniel Dubois, Filip Hrgovic from Croatia, Willie Hutchinson from Scotland, and British champions Craig Richards and Nick Ball round out the formidable lineup, promising a showcase of skill and athleticism that is sure to captivate audiences worldwide.

The high-profile fight showdown highlights Riyadh Season’s commitment to positioning the Saudi capital as a premier global destination. Drawing spectators from all corners of the globe, it affirms the capital’s growing prominence on the international stage, and reinforces the city’s reputation as a hub for world-class entertainment and sporting excellence.


Nepal hope for Lamichhane US visa as T20 World Cup deadline passes

Nepal hope for Lamichhane US visa as T20 World Cup deadline passes
Updated 26 May 2024
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Nepal hope for Lamichhane US visa as T20 World Cup deadline passes

Nepal hope for Lamichhane US visa as T20 World Cup deadline passes
  • The World Cup begins next Saturday, co-hosted by the US and West Indies, with Nepal’s first game on June 4
  • Nepal are keen to select Lamichhane, who had his eight-year sentence for rape quashed on appeal this month

KATMANDU: Nepal said Sunday they had not given up hope on including controversial star Sandeep Lamichhane in their T20 World Cup squad, despite the spin bowler being denied a US visa and the deadline for final squads expiring.
The T20 World Cup begins next Saturday, co-hosted by the United States and West Indies, with Nepal’s first game on June 4 in Dallas.
“We are lobbying the embassy through the Nepal government,” Chatur Bahadur Chand, president of Cricket Association of Nepal, told AFP on Sunday.
Nepal are keen to select Lamichhane, who had his eight-year sentence for rape quashed on appeal this month.
The International Cricket Council said that all T20 World Cup squads had been named by the May 25 deadline.
Any alteration to Nepal’s squad would now require approval from the ICC’s event technical committee.
Nepal will play their first two group games in the United States followed by two in the West Indies.
Lamichhane, 23, was once the poster boy for cricket in Nepal, but was not included in the original squad because of the conviction for raping a young woman in a Katmandu hotel in 2022.
Former captain Lamichhane said late on Wednesday that the US Embassy in Nepal had “denied my visa for the T20 World Cup,” calling the decision “unfortunate.”
Nepal are making their second appearance in the T20 World Cup and will face the Netherlands in their opening match in Dallas on June 4, followed by group games against South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Before his rape trial, Lamichhane’s success as a leg-spinner had dramatically boosted the sport’s profile in the Himalayan republic.
In 2022, when an arrest warrant was first issued, Lamichhane initially failed to return from Jamaica, where he was playing in the Caribbean Premier League.
He was dismissed as national captain and arrested, but Nepal lifted his playing ban when he was freed on bail.
It allowed him to keep playing, including at last year’s Asia Cup in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, until he was convicted in January.