Saudi giants Al-Ittihad to take on English minnows Atherton Collieries in friendly

The eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia and two-time Asian champions will take to the field at the 2,500-capacity Alder House as part of their tour of the north-west of England. (Photo: Atherton Collieries)
Updated 24 July 2019

Saudi giants Al-Ittihad to take on English minnows Atherton Collieries in friendly

  • Al-Ittihad have been based in the town of Bolton where they have played friendlies against Bolton Wanderers, Leeds United and Bury
  • Atherton Collieries play in the seventh tier of English football

LONDON: Saudi Arabian giants Al-Ittihad are in unchartered territory on Wednesday night as they take on English non-league side Atherton Collieries, who play in the seventh tier of the football pyramid in England.
The eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia and two-time Asian champions will take to the field at the 2,500-capacity Alder House as part of their tour of the north-west of England.
Al-Ittihad have been based in the town of Bolton where they have played friendlies against local side Bolton Wanderers as well as Leeds United and Bury. New West Bromwich Albion boss Slaven Bilic managed the club in the last 12 months.
It is far removed from their 62,000-capacity home at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, but the Saudi club wanted to play one more match before returning to the Kingdom, according to a BBC report.
The report also highlighted the gulf in social media following between the two clubs, with the Jeddah giants boasting 3.7 million Twitter followers compared to ACFC’s more modest 7,300.
Club official Carl McGuire told Arab News: "The interest in our club has been unprecedented, this is the first time I think the BBC have written about us in our more than 100-year history.
“Feedback from the local community and football family has been overwhelming.
“We are very honored that a club that is run by volunteers is to host such a prestigious club. We have made every effort to be as welcoming as possible.
“We don’t know what crowd to anticipate at all, Al-Ittihad supporters making the trip here will be able to see their heroes closer than ever. Our junior teams will be leading out the teams, a day they and their families will never forget.
“It is a day that will go down in our history,” he added.
“Something like this doesn’t come around often,” ACFC secretary Emil Anderson told BBC Sport.
“It’s like the unknown for us and it will probably be the unknown for them as well. It’s going to be a memorable night for the club.”
It has been a month of interesting friendlies in England, with Marlow Town hosting the Kuwait national team in a friendly and third-tier Accrington Stanley beating nine-time French champions and 1993 European champions Marseille.


Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Updated 21 January 2020

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

  • High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire

CAIRO: There is little doubt that the switch by the Africa Cup of Nations from summer to winter competition will have a big impact on European competitions, with those at the top of the Premier League perhaps most affected.

The confederation confirmed that from 2021 when Cameroon will play host, the tournament will revert back to being played in January and February.

The tournament was moved to a June-July slot for last year’s edition in Egypt, which meant minimal disruption to the European domestic season. But plenty of Premier League managers will be left with problems this time next year, with several stars likely to leave for up to six weeks, including pre-tournament preparations.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp appears to face the biggest headache given that two of his star attacking players, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal, both featured in the African tournament last summer and are almost certain to be involved in the 2021 competition in some capacity.

High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire, while Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez should Algeria feature.

Klopp is critical of the decision to move the tournament dates, calling it “a catastrophe.” Salah and Mane’s absence would leave huge gaps in the Liverpool side. There is also Cameroon’s Joel Matip and Guinea’s Naby Keita to worry about. Matip has become solid at the back. Keita, too, would be a loss given his recent resurgence.

The Liverpool manager is upset because last year’s tournament was moved to mid-year to end a long-standing clash between clubs and countries over the release of their players. It was felt that common sense had prevailed when the tournament, which since 1960 had always been held during winter, reverted to summer. African players in western European clubs would no longer find themselves the target of competing claims for their attention every other season, which would benefit the players and their clubs and countries, and lead to fewer squabbles.

But then Cameroon changed its mind about hosting the tournament in summer next year, changing the dates from June and July to between Jan. 6 and Feb. 6. Why? The weather. It’s simply too hot in Cameroon in summer.

Organizers said they had agreed to the change after discussions with player and coach representatives.

But didn’t Cameroon know beforehand that its summers are too hot, too humid and right in the middle of its rainy season? That the country does not enjoy ideal conditions for football in summer could not have taken its organizers by complete surprise.

The situation serves as a vivid reminder of the botch-up of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host and FIFA decided that the World Cup, which is forever played in summer, would be moved to winter because of Qatar’s oppressive heat — but that decision came only after Qatar won the bid. That change, again, will mean a head-on clash with international tournaments and club competitions.

A football tournament simply cannot keep changing when it will be held as often as people change their socks. This is especially true for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is played every two years.

A major sports tournament must have fixed times. And, to be sure, its organizers should understand that you can’t please everybody. A championship’s times are bound to clash with some tournament or other. The African tournament, for example, will avoid a clash with FIFA’s revamped 24-team Club World Cup to be played in China in June and July 2021. But it cannot but conflict with European leagues. The important thing is to stay the course. Once a date is picked, it should be stuck to like glue.