5 talking points from Qatar’s AFC Asian Cup triumph over Jordan

5 talking points from Qatar’s AFC Asian Cup triumph over Jordan
Qatar's forward #11 Akram Afif celebrates with the Top Goal Scorer Award trophy during the podium ceremony after (AFP)
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Updated 15 February 2024
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5 talking points from Qatar’s AFC Asian Cup triumph over Jordan

5 talking points from Qatar’s AFC Asian Cup triumph over Jordan
  • Jordan will feel they deserved more, but there can be little complaint about the legitimacy of the three penalties that tipped the balance Qatar’s way

An AFC Asian Cup 2023 full of entertaining football, shock results and late, late goals, ended in suitably dramatic finish, with Akram Afif’s hat-trick of penalties securing a 3-1 win for hosts Qatar against the tournament surprise team Jordan in Saturday’s final.

Here are five talking points from the action at Lusail Stadium in Doha.

Not an ideal final, but no complaints about penalties

Casual fans overseas may look at the host of a major tournament getting to the final, playing in front of over 80,000 of their fans, and then getting three penalties that settled the tie, as something a little suspicious.

In truth, scoring all three of your goals from the penalty spot is not the ideal way to settle a final. It did seem a little anticlimactic, but then there is not much that Qatar could have done about that.

All three penalties were fairly solid. There was little real real controversy in any of the individual decisions. If they had been given in the English Premier League, there would not have been days of discussion on radio phone-ins, highlights programs and then on social media. 

It was just a case of Jordan falling asleep at crucial moments of the game, and when there is someone like Akram Afif then the consequences can be severe.

Qatar are now an Asian powerhouse

The last team to successfully defend the Asian Cup was Japan back in 2004. It is a hard thing to do and not to be sneezed at. Winning once can be described as a flash in the pan -- look at Greece taking the European title 20 years ago -- but to do it again cannot be ignored. 

This performance may not have reached the levels of 2019 when the Maroons swept all before them, scoring 19 and conceding just one.

The current version is not as dominant as the one that won last time in the UAE. It was much more of a mixed bag in terms of performances, but they showed admirable mental strength and overcame every obstacle when under pressure.

Despite being under the cosh in the second half against Uzbekistan in the quarters, they came through to win on penalties. Against Iran in the last four, Team Melli should have won, but it was Qatar who prevailed, and now they have joined that select group of Asian powerhouses.

Jordan should be proud

It has been a fantastic tournament for Jordan, a team that little was expected of before it all started. Finishing third in the group surprised nobody.

However, the round of 16 is were most people expected the run to end, as opponents Iraq had been impressive.

But in one of the matches of the tournament Jordan came out 3-2 winners to move into the quarterfinals, equalling their best-ever finish. There, they beat Tajikistan 1-0 to move into uncharted waters.

But, surely, South Korea in the semifinals would be too much? Not for this team, as Jordan produced the best performance of the entire competition.

Losing in the final, especially as, when Yazan Al-Naimat equalized midway through the second half, Jordan were completely on top and looked like the likeliest of winners, is painful. It is even more so as it came to three penalties, but now Al-Naimat and Mousa Al-Taamari are feted and respected around Asia and maybe elsewhere. Over time they, and all of Jordan, will look back on the last few weeks with immense pride.

Akram Afif now has to build on this

The top scorer and tournament MVP made the difference in the final with his hat-trick of penalties. It was not quite as easy as it sounds, as it was his direct running and trickery that produced two of those spot kicks. Afif had a great tournament from start to finish. Unlike his fellow star of 2019 Almoez Ali, who was a bit hit and miss this time, the winger matched the exploits of five years ago.

He has tried his luck in Europe before -- in Spain and Belgium -- before returning home. Perhaps back then it was all a case of too much, too young. Now he is 27, an experienced international with over 100 appearances for his country, and one of the biggest names in Asian football. It could be time for a second bite of the European cherry and if he chooses his destination well, it could be that it is a case of second time lucky.

Europe-based players not everything

At the start of the tournament it was assumed that either Japan or South Korea would win.

The reasoning was that these two countries had squads that were full of players active in some of Europe’s top leagues.

Just look at South Korea, who had stars such as Son Heung-min, captain of Tottenham Hotspur; Bayern Munich’s Kim Min-jae; and Lee Kang-in of Paris Saint-Germain.

These are immensely talented players, but this competition showed that a well-coached team full of players who can carry out tactics perfectly can overcome one packed with Europe-based stars.

Of the two teams that made the final, there was only one player active in Europe. Jordan and Qatar showed that being a cohesive team is the basis for success.


Italy’s under-20s win epee gold at fencing championship in Riyadh

Italy’s under-20s win epee gold at fencing championship in Riyadh
Updated 5 sec ago
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Italy’s under-20s win epee gold at fencing championship in Riyadh

Italy’s under-20s win epee gold at fencing championship in Riyadh

RIYADH: Italy’s under-20s won gold in the epee at the Junior and Cadet Fencing World Championships in Riyadh topping France.
Princess Ahad Bint Al-Hassan Al-Saud, the director of operations at the Saudi Arabian Motorsports and Motorcycle Federation, awarded the Italians their medals. The French received silver and the Swiss team picked up the bronze.
The international competition will run until April 20 at Arena Hall, King Saud University.
The US topped the medal standings in the tournament with nine medals (3 gold, 2 silver, 4 bronze) after winning the gold medal in the epee (women's team) by defeating Italy who took silver, while the French team won the bronze. Eseem Al-Hassan, a board member of the Saudi Fencing Federation, awarded the medals to the winners.
The president of the Saudi Weightlifting Federation, Mohammed Al-Harbi, and the executive director of the federation, Sakhr Al-Duwayyan, attended the sixth-day competitions, with Al-Harbi expressing his admiration for the organization of the championship and the efforts put into its success.


On Thursday, at 8:30 a.m., the individual sabre competitions for men and women will begin at the Arena Hall. The competition will continue until the end of the championship on Saturday. The Saudi team for Thursday’s games will include Mohammad Al-Amro, Abdullah Al-Mansaf, Ziyad Al-Mutairi, Jihad Al-Obeidi, Al-Hasnaa Al-Hammaad, Dana Al-Qahtani, Ahad Al-Moammar, and Talin Al-Qudmani.


World Endurance Championship camel race begins May 4 in Al-Ula

World Endurance Championship camel race begins May 4 in Al-Ula
Updated 17 April 2024
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World Endurance Championship camel race begins May 4 in Al-Ula

World Endurance Championship camel race begins May 4 in Al-Ula
  • Championship includes a 16 km race split into two 8 km stages, with a 30-minute break in between
  • Inaugural event has a prize pool of more than SR2 million ($533,000) up for grabs

RIYADH: The International Federation for Camel Racing (IFCR) has announced that the first edition of the World Endurance Championship camel race will begin May 4 in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ula.

The inaugural event has a prize pool of more than SR2 million ($533,000) up for grabs.

The championship includes a 16 km race split into two 8 km stages, with a 30-minute break in between.

During the first stage, 20 male and 15 women riders will compete in order to qualify for the finals. The first place prize is SR500,000, the IFCR said, with the remaining money distributed among 10 winners for both categories.

IFCR member states can compete in the championship with 10 male and five female competitors. Non-members can borrow camels and submit a maximum of three competitors of both genders.


Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain

Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain
Updated 17 April 2024
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Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain

Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain
  • Morocco striker Soufiane Rahimi was the star of the show after he scored a first-half hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Al-Ain in their semifinal first leg
  • Al-Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match

AL-AIN: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal saw their record run of 34 successive victories end on Wednesday at the hands of UAE’s Al-Ain in the Asian Champions League.
Morocco striker Soufiane Rahimi was the star of the show after he scored a first-half hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Al-Ain in their semifinal first leg.
Al-Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match.
Wednesday’s game had been postponed 24 hours after torrential rain swamped the UAE and the record-setting Saudis must have wished it had kept raining.
Rahimi opened the scoring after just six minutes from a pass by Yahia Nader and added a second from the penalty spot 20 minutes later after he was brought down by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais who was yellow carded for his troubles.
Rahimi completed his hat-trick in the 40th minute, again from a penalty after Ali Al-Bulayhi chopped down Brazilian defender Erik in the area.
Al-Hilal reduced the deficit early in the second period when Malcom scored from a pass by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
However, the Saudis conceded yet another penalty just before the hour mark with Kalidou Koulibaly bringing down Rahimi.
This time Paraguayan star Alejandro Romero took over spot-kick duties to make it 4-1 for Al-Ain, the inaugural winners of the Asian Champions League in 2003.
Salem Al-Dawsari kept Al-Hilal in the tie ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg by scoring his team’s second goal of the night in the 78th minute.
Earlier Wednesday, South Korea’s Ulsan claimed a slender lead in their semifinal with a 1-0 first leg win over Japan’s Yokohama F-Marinos.


American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open
Updated 17 April 2024
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American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open
  • John Catlin carried on his good form with a round of 66 at Riyadh Golf Club
  • Saudi amateur Khalid Walid Attieh is the best-placed Saudi player at even par

RIYADH: John Catlin leads the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF after an opening round of 66 saw him carry on the strong form he showed when winning the International Series Macau in March, as he praised the facilities on offer at Riyadh Golf Club.

American Catlin is a five-time Asian Tour winner and sits at six-under par with Wade Ormsby, Justin Quiban, Tatsunori Shogenji and Scott Hend all just one shot back after the first day of action. Asian Tour Order of Merit leader and LIV Golf member David Puig was well-placed to end the day level with Catlin before a double bogey on the 16th dropped him back to the group of four players at four-under par.

Catlin played in the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf Club in King Abdullah Economic City three years ago, but this is his first visit to the capital and he praised the tournament, noting the strong field was inevitable given the standard of tournaments Golf Saudi continues to host.

Catlin said: “It’s my second time coming to Saudi Arabia and when I played the Saudi International it was a top class event and this is right up there with it. Everything so far has been run very, very well, the facilities are really good and I am enjoying myself for sure. Good players like playing good events, and if you put on a good event like this, you’re going to get a strong field.

“I played solid golf. It was playing difficult out there and the wind picked up from the start. You had to think your way around and I did that quite well. I had control of my ball flight and was able to get the ball pin high a lot, which is difficult out here. I holed a few nice putts too. I look forward to the challenge tomorrow when we might see even more wind.”

Khalid Walid Attieh made history in Oman earlier this year when he became the first Saudi amateur to make a cut at the International Series event in Muscat and he carried on his strong form on the opening day in Riyadh. His round of 72 was the best among the seven Saudi golfers in the field, while Moroccan Ayoub Lguirati ended on one-under par to lead the 20 invited Arab golfers.

Attieh said: “I was really pleased with how I played this morning as the wind made it really difficult. But my performance was at a good level and it confirmed to me that I am not far away from competing regularly with the best players on the Asian Tour.

“It is vital that Saudi players are given the opportunity to play in events with fields as strong as this, because we are all developing quickly. I thank Golf Saudi for their support and for the chance to play on the Asian Tour again.”

Last year’s runner-up Henrik Stenson is well placed to make a charge at two-under-par, while reigning champion Denwit Boriboonsub is one short further back after two bogeys in his final six holes.

The PIF Moment of the Day belonged to Thai golfer Itthipat Buranatanyarat, who teed off on the 10th hole and birdied his third, fourth, fifth and sixth holes of the day to storm to five-under-par, before ending the day joint-10th on three-under-par.


12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level
Updated 17 April 2024
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12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level
  • Only three years after taking up racing, Janna Al-Nujaiman has already excelled in domestic and regional competitions against more experienced drivers
  • Janna Al-Nujaiman: My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid

JEDDAH: At only 12, Saudi’s Janna Talal Al-Nujaiman is already dreaming big. As she makes a name for herself in the Kingdom’s karting scene, she has set her sights on becoming a professional driver and ultimately racing in no less a category than Formula One.

The Jeddah resident started karting three years ago in Kyiv while living with her Ukrainian mother, and since then, she has progressed through age group levels and has gone on to rank highly in multiple national and regional races.

Unlike many young drivers coming through the ranks of different racing categories today, however, Janna does not come from a motorsport background.

She is making her way through a tough and costly sport with the support of her family, especially her father Talal Al-Nujaiman.

“I’m not really from a racing family. My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid,” she said about the origins of her passion for the sport.

From the first day, she showed a remarkable aptitude for karting.

“After my father saw how happy I was driving, he called the (instructors) and asked them about me, and my first time in karting,” Janna added. “He asked them about my performance and timing. Was it normal? The answer was no, what I did was not normal.”

In 2022, while Janna and her father were in France on vacation, she was admitted into a karting academy, which was supervised by Herve Montage, a former French rally driver.

Janna was again the least experienced among the senior candidates — a group of elite karting drivers aged 14 to 16. And yet again, the young Saudi offered a glimpse of what she is capable of.

After one month of practice and breaking records, she was asked to stay in France and continue racing, but her father, a Saudia captain, believed that the future of racing was in the Kingdom and refused all offers his daughter received.

“Based on the vision of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and what my country has been going through in all fields, I decided to bring back my daughter to Saudi Arabia and (have her) make her way in motorsports in her own country,” Talal said.

He believes his daughter has what it takes to break into motorsports in Saudi Arabia.

“I have to be very careful what I say now so that I don’t build up pressure on her,” Talal said. “But racing today is looking for women, wants women, and she really loves racing. So, I support her as best I can.

“Making it to the top is of course a very tough road. If she wants to get there, she has to do everything and work very hard. Then she can do it.”

Talal said that his daughter started racing competitively in Jeddah in September 2023, winning her first karting competition on Feb. 24 of this year at the Track Challenge in Jeddah. A mark of her talent, she achieved this in a field of almost 100 male drivers, all older and more experienced than her, with some being university champions with 10 years of experience.

“My dream is to see my daughter representing her country,” Talal said.

For Janna however, that is not enough. Her dream is to be the first female champion in racing’s most elite series here in the Kingdom.

“My dream is to see myself in the future raising the flag of my country Saudi Arabia … by winning the F1 and (being) the first Saudi woman who will make the impossible come true,” she said.

She says she hopes to one day become as good as her motor racing idol Fernando Alonso.

Karting has historically been the birthplace of champions such as Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Alonso, whom Janna recently met.

Now she is looking for sponsorship opportunities to help keep her racing dream alive through karting and eventually other series. While she continues to count on the significant support of her father, who helps cover many racing expenses, her goal now is to add sponsors who will help push her onto the professional circuits.

Given her breakthroughs in such a short time, with the right support, the name Janna Al-Nujaiman is set to become a familiar one for racing fans across the Kingdom and the region in the coming years.