Midseason review of Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-2024 part 2

Midseason review of Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-2024 part 2
Al-Shabab have bolstered their squad with the signing of Ivan Rakitic during the winter break. (X/@AlShabab_EN)
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Updated 14 February 2024
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Midseason review of Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-2024 part 2

Midseason review of Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-2024 part 2
  • Arab News looks at the state of play for the SPL clubs in positions 10-18 as they return from the AFC Asian Cup break

Anticipation abounds ahead of this week’s intriguing full restart of the 2023/2024 Roshn Saudi Pro League.

The six-week interlude for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup contained managerial changes, eye-catching player acquisitions and noteworthy exits as competitors strove to finish campaigns on a high.

Arab News provides an essential guide for the 16 clubs as they head into Thursday’s resumption, including their key winter business and outlook for the 15 remaining matchweeks.

In part two, we look at the clubs occupying positions 10 to 18.

10. Al-Khaleej

Points 22

Goals scored/conceded 23-28

Season so far: A club in the same situation as Wehda. Al-Khaleej were threatened by instant demotion until the final matchweek last season, but have breathing space in 2023/2024. Magical Portuguese winger Fabio Martins is a class apart, being their top scorer on seven goals and joint-top assist maker with two. Experienced South Korea anchorman Jung Woo-young and Argentina center-back Lisandro Lopez have made all the difference to their defense.

Major winter changes: Former Inter Miami midfielder Mo Adams adds ballast after an invisible time at Al-Shabab.

Outlook: It is time to push on and look ahead to the King’s Cup semifinals. An upturn from disappointing Egypt striker Mohamed Sherif would help.

 

11. Al-Shabab

Points 21

Goals scored/conceded 19-25

Season so far: A season to forget for Shabab. Jose Mourinho will not be there to salvage this campaign, after winter rumors came to nothing. Well-travelled compatriot Vitor Pereira is at the helm instead, making him this season’s third permanent boss following swift exits from former Ajax supremo Marcel Keizer and Igor Biscan. Serious injury to South Korea No. 1 Kim Seung-gyu has added to their worries. But remedies have been sought to quell lingering relegation worries.

Major winter changes: Iconic Argentine midfielder Ever Banega has been allowed to return home to Newell’s Old Boys after almost four years of stellar service. An eye-catching, like-for-like replacement was secured in Croatia superstar Ivan Rakitic. He is joined by Ettifaq loanee Vitinho and promising Hilal youngster Musab Al-Juwayr.

Outlook: Pereira and Rakitic boast the experience to drag Shabab away from the mire. Belgium winger Yannick Carrasco and Morocco center-back Romain Saiss should build on decent individual starts. They need Senegal striker Habib Diallo to ignite.

 

12. Al-Okhdood

Points 20

Goals scored/conceded 13-25

Season so far: Their top-flight debut has contained a vital ability to edge results, with six victories coming via one-goal margins. An encouraging December under new boss Martin Sevela shifted the mood, with 10 points coming from 15 available. Prolific Romania defender Andrei Burca (four goals) is one of the signings of the season. The fact that he has outscored three-goal attackers Leandre Tawamba and Saviour Godwin is concerning.

Major winter changes: Not applicable

Outlook: For Sevela to avoid a second-successive relegation after Al-Adalah, he must get his misfiring attack in motion.

 

13. Al-Raed

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 24-31

Season so far: It has been an uncomfortable season for the side from Buraidah. Shakhtar Donetsk title winner Igor Jovicevic has failed to find consistency. This is despite boasting the bottom half of the table’s best attack in which Algerian schemer Amir Sayoud has joined resident Moroccans Karim El-Berkaoui and Mohamed Fouzair. Last month’s stunning 3-1 raid of champions Ittihad points to untapped potential.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: The collective strength of the squad eases relegation doubts but they must start exhibiting this on a regular basis.

 

14. Al-Fayha

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 19-31

Season so far: This has been a season of strife for the 2021/2022 King’s Cup victors. Zambia forward Fashion Sakala and Nigeria winger Henry Onyekuru have shone after summer moves. But lengthy injuries to fellow Super Eagle Anthony Nwakaeme and Morocco’s World Cup 2022 performer Abdelhamid Sabiri have stung. Belief remains in Serbian supremo Vuk Rasovic to correct their course, like last season.

Major winter changes: Saudi Arabia’s breakout 2023 Asian Cup performer, goalkeeper Ahmed Al-Kassar, has departed for ambitious First Division League-pacesetters Al-Qadsiah.

Outlook: Their AFC Champions League form must be showcased domestically, or relegation looms.

 

15. Al-Riyadh

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 17-37

Season so far: It has been tough going upon their top-flight return after almost two decades away. Their defense is the leakiest outside the bottom three and attack is the second worst. These problems conflated during a December which featured three defeats and one win. Attacker Saleh Al-Abbas has carried them at times, with Jamaica striker Andre Gray and Zimbabwe forward Knowledge Musona failing to match his impact.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: October hire Odair Hellmann must sharply correct course. The ex-Santos and Al-Wasl tactician has a huge job on his plate.

 

16. Al-Tai

Points 17

Goals scored/conceded 20-39

Season so far: Comfortable mid-table finishes since 2021/2022’s top-flight comeback are a distant memory. An opening matchweek victory against Damac was an illusion, with four points being taken from the next nine matches. Little uptick followed September’s call to dispense with Kresimir Resic, then hire ex-Hilal and Ahli manager Laurentiu Reghecampf. If it was not for the brilliance of nine-goal Ghana attacking midfielder Bernard Mensah, signed from Kayserispor, they would be even further adrift.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: It is going to be a slog to survive, from this point. A date with Abha looms large on March 1.

 

17. Abha

Points 14

Goals scored/conceded 22-52

Season so far: Abha started slowly and got worse from there. They have lost their last seven league matches to a combined score of 29-9. The services of Czeslaw Michniewicz and Yousef Al-Mannai have already been dispensed with. Winter tweaks, however, must point toward better times, or a five-season top-flight stint will end.

Major winter changes: Changes have been sought across the club. Ahli’s promotion winner, Pitso Mosimane, has been set a distinctly different task. Ettifaq loanee Marcel Tisserand must tighten up a defense which has conceded five more than any other. Five-goal Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi has moved in the opposite direction, with Montenegro and Sochi attacker Luka Djordevic his replacement.

Outlook: Much rests on the prowess of Djordevic and Mosimane’s ability to rebound from a mixed spell at the UAE’s Wahda. Alarm bells are still ringing.

 

18. Al-Hazem

Points 13

Goals scored/conceded 19-47

Season so far: It has been tough going for last season’s First Division League runners-up. Every matchweek has been spent within the drop zone, including 11 in last place. A call was made in October to release promotion winner Filipe Gouveia and draft in Nassr’s 2013/2014 double winner, Jose Daniel Carreno. After the pain of their landmark Hilal thumping, they now sit on an encouraging run of one defeat from the subsequent five matches.

Major winter changes: Hazem looked to Major League Soccer and recruited Venezuela defensive midfielder Junior Moreno.

Outlook: Carreno has provided hope that an instant demotion is not inevitable. To do this, will require impressive Portuguese midfielder Toze’s 10-goal contributions to be matched elsewhere.


Erolcevik claims gold for Turkiye at Junior World Fencing Championships in Riyadh

Erolcevik claims gold for Turkiye at Junior World Fencing Championships in Riyadh
Updated 16 sec ago
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Erolcevik claims gold for Turkiye at Junior World Fencing Championships in Riyadh

Erolcevik claims gold for Turkiye at Junior World Fencing Championships in Riyadh
  • Ukraine’s Anna Maksymenko won the women’s U-17 Epee after defeating America’s Sharika Gajjala in the final
  • Algeria’s Ferial Salehi: ‘I did not have the opportunity to compete in Saudi Arabia, but it is a great honor to attend this championship in an official capacity’

RIYADH: Turkiye’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia Emrullah Isler crowned the winners in the men’s competitions on the fifth day of the Junior World Fencing Championships at King Saud University’s Arena Hall in Riyadh.

Turkiye’s Doruk Erolcevik won the U-17 Epee gold medal, defeating Egypt’s Islam Osama in the final. America’s Alexander Bezrodnov and Italy’s Federico Varone claimed bronze medals.

Ukraine’s Anna Maksymenko won the women’s U-17 Epee after defeating America’s Sharika Gajjala in the final. Ukraine’s Emily Conrad and China’s Huishuang Jiang won bronze medals.

The Epee team competition concludes tomorrow. In the men’s event Saudi Arabia is represented by Ahmed Al-Fihani, Hassan Abid, Ahmed Hazazi, Yousef Albinali and Fawzia Al-Khaybari, Dhay Alamiri, Yasmin Al-Saleh, and Dana Al-Saeed will represent Saudi fencing in the women’s event.

Algeria’s Ferial Salehi, a member of the executive board of the International Fencing Federation, said that Saudi Arabia, represented by the Saudi Fencing Federation, has impressed everyone with their organization of the event.

“I did not have the opportunity to compete in Saudi Arabia during my career, but it is a great honor to attend this championship in an official capacity.”


Buttler ton powers Rajasthan to record IPL chase of 224

Buttler ton powers Rajasthan to record IPL chase of 224
Updated 16 April 2024
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Buttler ton powers Rajasthan to record IPL chase of 224

Buttler ton powers Rajasthan to record IPL chase of 224
  • Chasing 224 for victory, Rajasthan looked in trouble at 121-6 in the 13th over but Buttler moved through the gears in his 60-ball blitz to achieve the target
  • Narine hammered 109 off 56 balls to guide Kolkata, who stay second in the 10-team standings, to 223-6

KOLKATA: Jos Buttler smashed an unbeaten 107 to trump Sunil Narine’s first T20 century as Rajasthan Royals pulled off a joint record IPL chase against Kolkata Knight Riders off the final ball on Tuesday.
Chasing 224 for victory, Rajasthan looked in trouble at 121-6 in the 13th over but Buttler moved through the gears in his 60-ball blitz to achieve the target with two wickets to spare at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
Rajasthan equalled their own record from 2020 when they chased down 224 against Kings XI Punjab in Sharjah.
Buttler, who came in as an impact substitute, reached his second ton of the season in 55 balls with a six off Varun Chakravarthy at the start of the last over.
Buttler, struggling with cramp, then played out three dot balls before a two and a single on the final delivery ensured Rajasthan held on to top spot in the table with six wins in seven matches.
England’s Buttler, who hit nine fours and six sixes, moved ahead of Chris Gayle with seven IPL tons and is only behind Virat Kohli’s eight in the T20 tournament.
Buttler built key partnerships including 50 runs with Riyan Parag (34), 57 with Rovman Powell (26) and then an unbeaten 38-run stand with Avesh Khan (0 not out).
Spinners Narine, Chakravarthy and fast bowler Harshit Rana took two wickets each for KKR.
Narine hammered 109 off 56 balls to guide Kolkata, who stay second in the 10-team standings, to 223-6.
Narine put on 85 runs for the second wicket with Angkrish Raghuvanshi, who hit 30, and got together for a 51-run stand with Andre Russell.
Narine, playing his 504th T20 match, reached his ton from 49 balls with a six and a four off Yuzvendra Chahal for Kolkata’s third hundred in the IPL as he jumped for joy.
He was finally bowled by a Trent Boult yorker before he returned to a standing ovation.
Narine moved into the top three in the batting charts led by Royal Challengers Benguluru’s Kohli (361) with 276 runs.
Rinku Singh finished off the innings on a high with his unbeaten nine-ball 20 including a four and two sixes.


Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal chances hinge on beating Nepal after Qatar loss

Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal chances hinge on beating Nepal after Qatar loss
Updated 16 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal chances hinge on beating Nepal after Qatar loss

Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal chances hinge on beating Nepal after Qatar loss
  • Victory for Saudi Arabia would most probably have mean progression to the semifinals and a shot at glory

AL-AMARAT: The day dawned in cloudy fashion but with no rain. Only two matches were scheduled for day five, both on Turf One. The first was a crunch match between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Group A. Both teams were on two points, Saudi from two matches played and Qatar from three.

Victory for Qatar would move them into second place with a chance of reaching the semifinals. Victory for Saudi would most probably mean progression to the semifinals. There was much at stake.

Saudi chose to bowl first. Qatar got away to a quick start: 14 from the first over and 36 in four overs before the first wicket fell. The last ball of the ninth over brought a third wicket for 59, a situation with which Saudi would not have been unhappy.

They were less happy in the 11th over when they thought they had claimed a catch at long-on only for the delivery to be ruled a no-ball. Then, in the same over, an appeal for a run out was rejected.

After these two critical incidents, Mohammad Tanveer and Mohammad Jabir consolidated the innings until Tanveer was run out for 43 on 134 in the 17th over. In a desperate search for more runs, Qatar’s lower order swung the bat, wickets falling regularly until the innings closed on 153 for nine.

If this target looked achievable, it soon became a mountain to climb. Left-arm quick bowler Amir Farooq induced prolific opener Abdul Waheed to edge to the wicket keeper off the first ball of the innings.

Worse followed for Saudi in the second over when Faisal Khan was bowled by Gayan Munaweera. Saudi’s batsmen were at sea against two quick left-arm bowlers, the ball hitting the pads with regularity: A sign that the bowler is too quick for the batsman.

It was not a surprise when Usman Khalid was bowled by Munaweera in the fourth over, the score 16 for three. Munaweera was replaced for the sixth over by Jabir. If this seemed a surprise, the decision was justified when Jabir’s first ball had Manan Ali leg before wicket, sparking scenes of wild celebration.

At 18 for four, Saudi’s response was in tatters. The battle between bat and ball had been fascinating to watch. It did not relent and the normal fluency of Saudi’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, was disrupted.

In the seven overs after the last dismissal the Saudi batsmen scored only 43 runs as they sought to rebuild the innings. As soon as Shaikh sought to accelerate in the 14th over, he was out.

At 69 for five, the innings looked beyond repair. However, Kashif Abbas hit two sixes to give hope before aiming to hit one too many. Waji Ul Hassan continued the trend so well that 35 runs were required from the final two overs.

It was not to be, as Hassan perished in trying to clear the boundary once more. The remaining batsmen could not force the pace against Munaweera, the innings closing on 138 for eight, 15 runs short, much to the disappointment of the Saudi contingent.

It had been a brave rearguard effort, but the real damage had been done in losing the first four wickets so cheaply.

Qatar climbed into second place on four points, leaving Saudi, Malaysia and Hong Kong on two points each. Saudi does have a superior run rate, but to make use of this, the side must beat Nepal in their final game — a tall order.

Malaysia and Hong Kong will play each other, the winner will end on four points, with net run rate likely to be a determining factor in deciding who finishes second.

In Group B, Bahrain beat Cambodia by seven wickets to claim their first victory, leaving Cambodia without a point, a situation which may not change given they play the UAE on day six.

All eyes will be on the match between Kuwait and Oman, a match the former must win to progress. Kuwait sits in second place, ahead of the UAE by virtue of a superior net run rate. The UAE are favorites to progress to the semifinal.


Bangladesh name Pakistan’s Mushtaq as new spin coach

Bangladesh name Pakistan’s Mushtaq as new spin coach
Updated 16 April 2024
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Bangladesh name Pakistan’s Mushtaq as new spin coach

Bangladesh name Pakistan’s Mushtaq as new spin coach
  • Mushtaq Ahmed is a former Pakistan leg spinner and 1992 World Cup winner 
  • Ahmed will work with Bangladesh until the end of T20 World Cup in US, West Indies

DHAKA: Bangladesh named former Pakistan leg-spinner and World Cup winner Mushtaq Ahmed on Tuesday as the spin-bowling coach for the men’s national cricket team.
Mushtaq will join the side before a preparation camp for next month’s five-match Twenty20 international series against Zimbabwe and will work with the Bangladesh team until the end of the T20 World Cup in the West Indies and the United States.
Bangladesh has been in the hunt for a spin-bowling coach since Sri Lankan Rangana Herath left in November. Local coach Sohel Islam filled in during the recent series against Sri Lanka.
Mushtaq was spin coach with England from 2008-14, the West Indies in 2018-19 and Pakistan from 2020-2022.
He was also Pakistan’s bowling consultant between 2014 and 2016.
“It is a great honor for me to be a part of the Bangladesh cricket team as a spin-bowling coach,” 53-year-old Mushtaq said.
“I am looking forward to the role and want to pass my experience to the players because they are very coachable and I always believe that they are one of the most dangerous teams around.
“They can beat anyone because they have the capability, the resources and the talent. I will try to instill that belief into them,” he said.
Bangladesh will host Zimbabwe for five T20s from May 3-12 before traveling to the United States for a three-match series against the hosts and the T20 World Cup.


Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF

Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF
Updated 16 April 2024
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Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF

Strong field assembled for 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF
  • Peter Uihlein, who plays for LIV Golf team RangeGoats GC, is making his first visit to Riyadh and expressed his excitement at playing in the Saudi capital
  • Haotong Li: I want to see different golf courses to the ones I have played previously and to visit new parts of the world

RIYADH: A strong field has assembled for the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF, commencing tomorrow, April 17, with Asian Tour, LIV Golf and DP World Tour stars teeing off at Riyadh Golf Club.

Thai star Denwit Boriboonsub won the 2023 Saudi Open in December in stunning fashion, but Henrik Stenson, Peter Uihlien and Haotong Li are the standout names hoping to dethrone him, as 144 players from 33 different countries fight for glory from 17-20 April.

There are 20 Arab golfers from eight nations in the field, including seven from Saudi Arabia, who have all been handed the opportunity to compete alongside some of the world’s best players as golf continues to develop in the region. Golf&More will be on display at the course throughout the week with live DJ sessions at sunset, special activities for children and the authentic Sajah Bazaar giving fans the opportunity to immerse themselves in local culture.

Peter Uihlein, who plays for LIV Golf team RangeGoats GC, is making his first visit to Riyadh and expressed his excitement at playing in the Saudi capital. The American believes it will be an action-packed four rounds, filled with low scores and plenty of birdies.

Uihlein said: “I watched the 2023 Saudi Open on TV in December and the Aramco Series Ladies International recently and I saw a lot of low scores, so I am hoping for a tournament full of birdies. It does depend how much the wind blows, but hopefully it dies down later in the week. 

“It’s my first time in Riyadh, having been to Jeddah a few times, and I’m excited about it. I spoke to Othman [Almulla] about how many courses are planned and the ones they are already building around the Kingdom. It is really cool to be here.

“I feel like the stuff I am working on is getting better and better, and I feel a little bit sharper as the weeks go on. It is why I’m here - to carry on working on my game ahead of LIV Adelaide and LIV Singapore.”

Chinese sensation Haotong Li is a four-time DP World Tour winner and has chosen to play in the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF to experience the continued growth of the game in the Kingdom.

Li said: “I want to see different golf courses to the ones I have played previously and to visit new parts of the world. It’s extremely exciting to play this week and do something special. I am truly honoured to be here and be a part of growing the game as big as possible. Hopefully everybody starts to fall in love with golf.

Golf Saudi CEO Noah Alireza spoke to gathered media ahead of the tournament and he stressed the importance of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF’s commitment to handing opportunities to national and regional players.

Alireza said: “We are delighted to welcome a strong field to the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF following its first staging on the Asian Tour last year and I am certain that this week will prove a success with exciting golf on show at Riyadh Golf Club.

“The opportunity that the Saudi Open presents to all of the competitors, but particularly to the seven Saudi nationals and the 13 other Arab golfers in the field, is one of the main driving forces behind our desire to host this tournament in Riyadh. Playing alongside the best Asian Tour players, plus a number of LIV Golf and DP World Tour members, helps them understand what it takes to reach this level and is a vital part of their golf education. It is a key part of Golf Saudi’s commitment to golf in our country.”