UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table
Al-Wasl lead the ADNOC Pro league by eight points from Al-Ain. (X/@AlWaslSC)
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Updated 26 February 2024

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table
  • Reigning champions Shabab Al-Ahli return to winning ways, while Al-Ain stay in second with win over Baniyas

Al-Wasl’s searing pace at the top of the standings continued, champions Shabab Al-Ahli returned to winning ways and there was more misery for promoted clubs during the ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 14.

A first full schedule since late December — a lengthy pause for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup was extended by multiple weather postponements — began with bottom-placed Emirates Club and second-bottom Hatta suffering 10th defeats of the season.

Goals for Raniel, on 10 seconds, and Uzbekistan midfielder Azizbek Amonov helped Khor Fakkan prevail 2-0 against the latter, while rampant Wasl breezed past the former via the same scoreline thanks to efforts from nine-goal UAE forward Fabio De Lima and prolific South Korea center-back Jung Seung-hyun. They now lead the table by eight points.

Shabab Al-Ahi, meanwhile, had a trio of Brazil-born scorers to thank when they ended a two-match winless streak in their comfortable 3-0 victory versus 12th-placed Ajman. Also, a 94th-minute tap-in from promising youngster Josna Epifani Loulendo kept the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League quarterfinalists Al-Ain in the hunt with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Baniyas.

There was drama in Abu Dhabi when Mirel Radoi’s league bow for Al-Jazira ended in a 3-2 defeat to Alfred Schreuder’s rapidly improving Al-Nasr, featuring iconic striker Ali Mabkhout’s 96th-minute saved penalty. Also, Caio netted when Sharjah beat Ittihad Kalba 1-0 and Al-Wahda came from behind to down Al-Bataeh 2-1.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Igor Jesus (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

It has been an eventful few weeks for Shabab Al-Ahli’s prodigiously talented, but injury impacted, youngster.

Months of speculation about a return to Brazil or a move to Europe’s major leagues looked to have been ended by this month’s announcement that Igor Jesus had gained Emirati citizenship. It has put the 22-year-old on a fast track to eventually represent the UAE senior side, which is a major boost following January’s disappointing round-of-16 exit at the Asian Cup.

On the pitch, the ex-Coritiba attacker has been rarely seen this term. Yet more knee problems had restricted him to just five league run-outs across 201 minutes, prior to Sunday’s visit of Ajman.

If anyone needed a reminder about Jesus’ residual ability, it came versus the Orange Brigade.

A precision-guided seventh-minute corner from UAE prospect Harib Abdalla was nodded home. Jesus would add an assist to his name in the second half when he played in Guilherme Bala, another naturalized Emirati/Brazilian, who did the rest with an adroit turn and impudent low finish.

The ice pack applied to Jesus’ leg showed caution when he was called off to the bench which included an instant debut for prominent Iran center midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi.

There is such youth and electricity among Shabab Al-Ahli’s attacking options. They must regularly spark to stand any chance of hauling back Wasl.

Goal of the week: Ahmad Nourollahi (Al-Wahda)

Ahmad Nourollahi’s garlanded career has contained many standout moments.

From representing his nation at the 2022 World Cup, to hoarding trophies with Persepolis and adding last season’s ADNOC Pro League crown to his resume at Shabab Al-Ahli.

Acrobatic scissor kicks, however, were not associated with him. That is, before, Sunday’s comeback triumph at Bataeh.

A hopeful cross from right-back Abdullah Al-Karbi was hung up towards the penalty box. There appeared little danger, at this point.

Nourollahi’s lethal combination of athleticism and imagination then sent the ball arrowing into the bottom corner, at the start of the second half. This would propel fifth-placed Wahda to victory, earned through impressive Uzbekistan winter recruit Khojimat Erkinov.

Coach of the week: Alfred Schreuder (Al-Nasr)

UAE football’s sleeping giant is showing signs of stirring.

Nasr have had the history, glamorous Dubai location and outstanding Al-Maktoum Stadium, plus a list of stellar previous players that includes Yohan Cabaye, Alvaro Negredo and Luca Toni. Yet even the hint of glory has eluded them for so long.

This might be changing under Schreuder. The former Ajax and Al-Ain tactician inspired a third win from their last five league run-outs at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

It came through a blend of ex-Benfica maestro Adel Taarabt, plus young stars Abdoulaye Toure and Moussa Ndiaye.

Nasr are now comfortably midtable in seventh, after flirting with relegation under Goran Tufegdzic.

It is now up to the club to provide Schreuder with the order required to create sustained success. With six permanent managers since October 2019, this is not guaranteed.

Assessing Al-Ain’s Asian outlook

Al-Ain are flying the flag for their nation in next month’s AFC Champions League quarterfinals.

No less than Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr await on March 4 and 11, in a West Asia side of the draw packed by three heavyweight Saudi Arabian challengers.

The task is a stern one if The Boss are to add to their 2002-2003 continental title. Certainly, it will require improvement from their last-gasp victory at Baniyas Stadium.

Those three points, however, came at a cost with leading 11-goal marksman Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba being removed through injury. There is no natural replacement for the Togo star within their ranks.

South Korea anchorman Park Yong-woo has gone deep into this tournament before at Ulsan Hyundai.

Steady progress under legendary ex-Argentine, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo has seen six wins accrued from their last seven matches in all competitions. The Boss are also second domestically, with a game in hand.

Crucially, Crespo must learn lessons from the February 2023 7-0 blitzing of his Al-Duhail side by holders Al-Hilal.

AlUla Camel Cup promises a one-of-a-kind experience

AlUla Camel Cup promises a one-of-a-kind experience
Updated 23 April 2024

AlUla Camel Cup promises a one-of-a-kind experience

AlUla Camel Cup promises a one-of-a-kind experience
  • Tickets to major heritage event available online
  • The camel racing spectacular runs from April 24-27

AlUla: The AlUla Camel Cup, considered the pinnacle of camel racing in the region, promises an exhilarating spectacle for sports aficionados and cultural enthusiasts from across Saudi Arabia and the world.

Organized by the Royal Commission for AlUla in partnership with the Saudi Camel Racing Federation, the event will provide a celebration of sport, culture and entertainment.

In addition to the camel racing, there will be static and mobile displays and acts that celebrate AlUla’s heritage and Saudi Arabia’s artistic legacy, including music and performances that highlight the historical significance of the camel in local culture.

Workshops for adults throughout the day will cover calligraphy, traditional pottery making, incense crafting and Sadu weaving, providing hands-on learning experiences for visitors. Children, meanwhile, will enjoy a range of educational and creative activities, from camel origami and clay modeling to an augmented reality scanner that animates drawings.

Additional attractions include camel riding, a Light Brite experience where guests can try their hand at face painting, and a calligraphy light show after sunset. Visitors can also indulge in a traditional Saudi Arabian coffee roasting and tasting session.

Culinary delights from various cuisines will be available at pop-up stalls, while the retail experience will feature regional brands offering an array of products, including camel-themed streetwear, souvenirs and artisanal items reflecting AlUla’s heritage.

The event will also host the AlUla Design Award Ceremony on Friday, where the winning camel covers will be displayed in the Heritage Village.

Rami AlMoallim, vice president of destination management and marketing at the commission, said: “As the second edition of the AlUla Camel Cup draws closer, we warmly invite sports and culture enthusiasts from around the globe to join us for an experience unlike any other. This event exemplifies RCU’s commitment to sporting excellence infused with cultural depth, reflecting both our rich Saudi heritage and our forward-looking vision for AlUla.

“We are gearing up to deliver an unparalleled celebration of the ancient sport that is camel racing, set against the breathtaking backdrop of this oasis city that will resonate with fans and families alike. We look forward to welcoming guests to experience in person this culmination of Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural landscape and sports innovation.”

The event, being staged at the Mughayra Heritage Sports Village, will feature the region’s fastest camels and most skilled jockeys, promising several rounds of top-tier competition.

The inaugural Camel Cup last year drew thousands of visitors and this year promises an even more significant experience because 2024 is the Year of the Camel, celebrating the animal’s status in Saudi culture and society.

Ticket prices start at SR50 ($13). For bookings and further information, visit

US tops medal tally in World Cadets and Juniors Fencing Championships in Riyadh

US tops medal tally in World Cadets and Juniors Fencing Championships in Riyadh
Updated 21 April 2024

US tops medal tally in World Cadets and Juniors Fencing Championships in Riyadh

US tops medal tally in World Cadets and Juniors Fencing Championships in Riyadh
  • More than 1,700 athletes represented over 100 countries
  • US first with 11 medals, Italy second with 14, France third with 6

RIYADH: American fencers won 11 medals to top the table of medal winners at the World Cadets and Juniors Fencing Championships, which concluded in Riyadh on Saturday.
Sheikh Salem Al-Qasimi, president of the Asian and Arab Fencing Federations, and Abdul Muneim Al-Husseini, vice president of the International Fencing Federation, crowned the winners on the final day of the championships held in King Saud University’s Arena Hall.
More than 1,700 athletes represented over 100 countries during the competition, which took place on April 12-20.

The US team won the gold medal in the Sabre (team) under 20, defeating Romania who won silver, while Italy won bronze.
Lamia Al-Fawzan, a member of the Saudi Fencing Federation board, and Ahmed Al-Sabaan, president of the Saudi Fencing Federation, awarded the winners of the Sabre (female teams) under 20. France won gold after beating Italy, while Hungary won bronze.
Al-Sabaan presented the championships’ flag to the representative of China as the upcoming hosts of the 2025 edition.
American fencers won four gold medals, two silver medals and five bronze medals. Italy came second on the table of medalists with 14 medals — two gold, five silver and seven bronze. France ranked third with six medals — two gold, one silver and three bronze.
The organizing committee honored the participating sponsors: MOTUS, Al-Arabiya, Dr. Sulaiman Al-Habib Hospital, Gormet, Nova, and the Hadaya Alam Association.

American golfer John Catlin wins 2024 Saudi Open in Riyadh

American golfer John Catlin wins 2024 Saudi Open in Riyadh
Updated 20 April 2024

American golfer John Catlin wins 2024 Saudi Open in Riyadh

American golfer John Catlin wins 2024 Saudi Open in Riyadh
  • ‘Pretty special to finish back-to-back events holding the trophy,’ Caitlin says
  • Australian Wade Ormsby finishes runner-up with final day 64

RIYADH: American professional golfer John Catlin won the 2024 Saudi Open, presented by the Public Investment Fund, after completing his wire-to-wire victory at Riyadh Golf Club on Saturday.
He finished seven shots ahead of his nearest challenger on 24-under-par.
From the moment he teed off on Wednesday, Catlin was in the groove, and his final round was a procession.
Having shot a men’s course record 62 on Friday, the American followed it up with 66 on Saturday, his fourth consecutive round in the 60s in Riyadh.
It is Catlin’s sixth Asian Tour title and his second in a row, having beaten Spaniard David Puig in a playoff at the International Series Macau in March, and his form was simply too hot for the rest of the field to handle.
“I am tired, but very, very happy,” Catlin said. “I’ve never gone back-to-back like that. It is pretty special to finish back-to-back events holding the trophy. It was just a special week and I feel very lucky to be the champion.
“I hope my victory shows the fans that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. I have dreamt about being a professional golfer since I was about 8 years old and I just kept putting in the hard work.”
He added: “I never let anything stand in the way of what I wanted to do, and I’d say that to anybody: if you want to follow in my footsteps, you have to put in the hard work and be willing to sacrifice, then great things can happen.”
Catlin was full of praise for organizers of the 2024 Saudi Open, and said he looks forward to defending his title in 2025.
“It was very well organized. The tournament was awesome. From start to finish we were looked after amazingly, and the people were friendly. The hospitality has been great, the food has been awesome — everything about this event is top class and I look forward to coming back in the future.”
Wade Ormsby’s final day 64 saw him finish second, two ahead of Peter Uihlein and Kiradech Aphinbarnrat in third.
The Australian admitted that it just proved impossible to haul in the runaway leader.
Ormsby said: “John had a big lead, it was difficult, you just want to go out and play as well as you can. There were a couple of potential tiny openings there, but he closed the door straight away. I am really happy with the way I played.”
Reigning champion Denwit Boriboonsub finished in style after a disappointing Friday saw his chances of retaining his trophy slip away.
The Thai golfer shot 63, the joint-second lowest round of the week, but enjoyed his time back at Riyadh Golf Club.
The 20-year-old said: “I’ve enjoyed and relished being the defending champion. It helped me a lot with a two-year exemption on the Asian Tour, which relieves a lot of pressure, and winning means a lot. Yesterday wasn’t so good, but I bounced back and I’m very happy with the score.”

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
Updated 17 April 2024

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
  • Defending champions Nepal won a rain-shortened match by seven wickets

MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia’s hopes of booking a place in the last four of the 2024 ACC Men’s Premier Cup ended with a loss to defending champions Nepal in the final Group A encounter.

The Kingdom’s team went into the match needing a win to qualify for the next stage but ended up fourth in the table after a seven-wicket loss on Wednesday.

Overnight thunder and rain damaged the pitch at the Oman Cricket Academy in Al-Amerat, causing a two- hour delay and a match reduction to eight overs per side. Saudi Arabia were put into bat first and managed 73-7, thanks to some fantastic hits from Abdul Waheed.

Waheed, who came in at No. 3, was the side’s top scorer with 37 runs from 16 balls, including three fours and three sixes. He was trapped leg before wicket as he attempted a paddle against left arm seamer Pratish GC in the sixth over. No other Saudi batsman achieved double figures.

In reply, Nepal were reeling on 15-3 at one stage, thanks to exceptional bowling from Saudi’s Ishtiaq Ahmed in the opening spell. Conceding just seven runs in his two overs, the right arm pacer took the wickets of opener Kushal Bhurtel and Kushal Malla.

Gulshan Jha, who a produced a player of the match performance against Malaysia, repeated his feat, scoring 32 runs off 19 balls. Skipper Rohit Paudel chipped in with 16 runs while Dipendra Singh Airee contributed 17.

Saudi Arabia’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, said he was proud of his team’s performance against a top side.

“I am proud of the boys (and) the way they fought against a quality side like Nepal. At one point, we felt we were in the game. But this will give us a great learning experience and we will come back better,” he told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia campaign opened on Saturday with a close encounter against Malaysia when, despite controlling most of the match, they ended up 12 runs short. The team were at their best the following day, beating Hong Kong by 55, but on Tuesday they failed to chase Qatar’s 153. This meant a win against Nepal was needed to give them any chance of progressing to the next round.

Captain Shaikh said he felt the team lacked experience in closing out the games.

“If we look back, the match against Malaysia and Qatar shows we lack experience,” he said. “We could have won both those games with ease. If our middle order, including me, played well, we could have been in a better place. I take responsibility for that and I believe we will only get better from here.”

The 10-team tournament saw unbeaten Nepal qualify for the semifinals as Group A winners, while Hong Kong pipped Qatar on net run-rate after their convincing seven-wicket win over Malaysia. Hosts Oman, UAE and Kuwait are fighting for two semifinal spots in Group B with Bahrain and Cambodia already knocked out.

The final will take place on April 21, with the winner qualifying for Asia’s premier event, the ACC Asia Cup, next year.

FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders

FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders
Updated 15 April 2024

FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders

FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders
  • Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian capital is gearing up to welcome the global equestrian community for the Federation Equestre Internationale Jumping World Cup Finals this weekend.

Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019. According to the international body, it is also a first for the Arabian peninsula region.

The finals will run from April 17 to April 20 at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, with a total prize pool of €2.6 million ($2.7 million) up for grabs.

Three Saudi champions who qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics — Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, Ramzy Al-Duhami and Khaled Al-Motby — will compete in this weekend’s showjumping competition.

Arab News joined the riders behind the scenes at the stables, as the pressure mounts for the trio to secure their country a medal.

“I’ve got my, superstars, my best friends, Alamo and Fiumicino, two horses,” Al-Sharbatly said.

The 41-year-old Olympic medallist was part of the showjumping team that won Saudi Arabia a bronze medal during the 2012 London Olympics. In late 2023, he secured his sixth Asian gold medal.

Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019. (AN Photo/Abdulrahman bin Shulhub)

Despite this impressive record, Al-Sharbatly believes that fate also plays a part.

“In any sport you can’t win every day. And you also need a little bit of luck,” he said. “So it could be my show and it can be also that I want to have the best luck in this show.”

For Al-Sharbatly, the most important thing is that he will be surrounded by the animals he loves.

“I have so much love for horses,” he said. “Even if I don’t ride, it’s not a problem, but I have to be surrounded with horses every day.”

Al-Duhami said: “As you grow older in this sport, you get more experience and your goals change.”

The 52-year-old Saudi Olympic medalist, a revered rider in the Kingdom, has competed for decades, dating back to the 1980s. He competed in the 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, where he received the bronze medal with the Saudi team.

“It’s not anymore about winning any event, but you want to win this big, major event, and then your focus becomes that, instead of just winning every weekend and trying to get a result every weekend,” he said.

Al-Duhami said that there was “a lot of hope” for the coming finals, though the focus has been the Olympics. He described his horse, Untouchable 32, as a “very good Olympic-caliber horse.”

He has witnessed the equestrian scene develop first-hand. From first discovering horses as a child through his late father, who financially invested in horses for him, to now watching the federation take on that crucial, parental-like role for the younger generation.

Three Saudi champions who qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics — Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, Ramzy Al-Duhami and Khaled Al-Motby — will compete in this weekend’s showjumping competition. (AN Photo/Abdulrahman bin Shulhub) 

For Al-Duhami, the World Cup is more than just a sports milestone for Saudi Arabia.

“Bringing this event to Saudi is is one step, for this young generation to come and see their role models in front of their eyes,” he said.

“And seeing their home country riders competing will give them the ambition and the possibility to think that ‘OK, now we can do it.”

Al-Duhami believes that hosting this event will enable a rich cultural exchange that can contribute in positive ways to the growth of the equestrian scene in Saudi Arabia.

“There is a lot of talent. The Saudi riders are very talented, and if they have given the chance to come and compete, they will always perform,” he said.

One of the riders Al-Duhami referred to is Al-Mobty. At only 25-years-old, Al-Mobty will be rubbing shoulders with the Kingdom’s and Arab world’s best competitors, as well as international champions, over the course of the weekend.

In 2018, he, together with Al-Sharbatly and Al-Duhami, brought home a gold medal from the Asian Games in Jakarta.

He described the results as one of his proudest achievements, coupled with the “gold medal in Ashgabat with the Saudi team, a silver medal in the Ashgabat tournament. Winning an individual gold medal in the Saudi Games Championship and winning a team gold medal in the Saudi Games Championship.”

This weekend’s tournament is indoors, which can pose a challenge for some showjumpers.

“They are always the hardest due to space limitations, and there will be greater pressure on the horses since it is a closed venue with an unfamiliar audience,” Al-Mobty said.

Al-Mobty said that despite these hurdles, he is hopeful that they will all perform well.