Major winners Hall, Nordqvist gear up for Aramco Saudi Ladies International

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Anna Nordqvist & Georgia Hall speak to the media. (Supplied)
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Emily Kristine Pedersen, Anna Nordqvist & Georgia Hall (left to right) with the ASLI trophy. (Supplied)
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The Aramco Saudi Ladies International begins at Royal Greens on Thursday. (Supplied)
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Arab golfers Ines Laklalech, Maha Haddioui & Lena Belmati all play this week. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 March 2022

Major winners Hall, Nordqvist gear up for Aramco Saudi Ladies International

  • $1m tournament tees off on Thursday with tour’s first trio of Arab players

JEDDAH: Reigning and former British Open champions Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall have described this week’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund as “one of the headline events” in women’s golf as they prepare to tee off in what will be the first Ladies European Tour event to feature three Arab golfers.

Moroccan pair Ines Laklalech and Lina Belmati will make their professional LET debuts when the $1 million tournament gets underway on Thursday, joining countrywoman and 10-season tour stalwart Maha Haddioui in the strongest-ever Arab representation in any LET field.

Nordqvist believes that diversity is one of the reasons the tour continues to grow and attract many of the biggest names in women’s golf.

The Swedish professional and Hall will go head-to-head against Spaniard Carlota Ciganda, Bronte Law of England, and Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark in the Aramco Saudi Ladies International’s third annual hosting, which comes just four months after its last.

Nordqvist said: “I think that’s what’s so great about the Ladies European Tour. There are players from all over the world — some girls from Australia and you even see players coming over from the US to compete. And playing all over the world, too. Playing Saudi, Dubai, and we were just in Kenya a couple of weeks ago, then we are going to South Africa, then Thailand.

“The Ladies European Tour is a place where a lot of people feel like home, and it’s a very friendly atmosphere. That’s why I enjoy coming back and playing on the tour because I like the atmosphere.”

The Aramco Saudi Ladies International is the first of six Golf Saudi-backed tournaments on the LET calendar for 2022, with the other five being individual $1 million prize-fund Aramco Team Series events to be hosted around the world, including New York and London.

That investment has helped the LET offer a record prize purse of almost $30 million for its 2022 season, more than double the 2019 figure.

Hall described the backing as “fantastic,” and added: “It’s definitely what the LET needs and it wasn’t like that when I was on the LET five, six years ago. I’m really happy for the girls. That’s why you get LPGA players coming over, because they want to compete in these events and play on this tour.”

The 25-year-old said: “I think the Aramco Saudi Ladies International is one of the headline events for the LET, and rightly so. The setup is really good. We get looked after incredibly well. We just really enjoy coming here. That’s why we keep coming back.”

World No. 25 Hall is one of the tournament favorites heading into Thursday, having lost out in a playoff to Solheim Cup teammate Emily Kristine Pedersen in the inaugural staging of the event in 2020, and again to Lydia Ko last November.

“I played not too badly the last couple of individual events here,” Hall said. “I really enjoy the golf course. The wind can get up quite a lot, which I don’t mind. I feel quite comfortable playing in the wind. I like moving the golf ball around, hitting low shots.”

She added: “I’ve been out there this morning, and the course is in good condition again and the greens not too fast, so I think they’ll be able to hold when you hit it on.”

Nordqvist echoed Hall’s comments. “I love coming here,” she said. “This is my third time now. We’ve had quite a few rounds around this track and this is probably as good as I’ve ever seen this golf course. It’s quite lush out there.

“This wind is as powerful as I’ve ever seen it. It’s going to definitely be a challenge. Usually when (the tournament) is played in November, you’ve had quite a few months of tournament play behind you and maybe have a little more awareness where the ball is going, so I think it’s going to add an extra challenge this year, just feeling a bit rusty in tournament play.”

Morocco’s Maha Haddioui has long carried the flag as the sole Arab player on the Ladies European Tour.

However, that changes this week with the arrival of two fellow Moroccans as full time LET professionals: Ines Laklalech and Lina Belmati, both of whom make their debuts in Saudi Arabia.

Haddioui was a key figure in the launch of the debut Aramco Saudi Ladies International in 2020, with the tournament prompting 1,200 Saudi women and girls to sign up to learn golf across the event’s four days

She believes similar events are essential to driving that continued growth of the game on a global scale.

The 33-year-old said: “As a professional golfer, we travel the world, and the LET is there to inspire the people of the countries we go to to take up the game and to look at golf as something they could take on or a sport they could play.

“For me, three years ago, I didn’t think I’d be sitting here with two Moroccan other professionals and playing this event. I think it’s a great thing. It’s really small steps that make things like this happen — having tournaments and opportunities to play in events like these,” she said.

“Seeing there are three Moroccan girls playing in it will inspire Tunisian girls, for example, or girls from other places in the Arab world, to say, ‘Well, three of them made it, so I’m sure I can make it, too.”

Legends Maldini, Villa say ‘passion’ key to Saudi football’s ‘rapid development’ ahead of FIFA Club World Cup

Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

Legends Maldini, Villa say ‘passion’ key to Saudi football’s ‘rapid development’ ahead of FIFA Club World Cup

  • Former CWC champions Paolo Maldini and David Villa are in Jeddah this week as the Red Sea coastal city counts down to hosting the competition

LONDON: The “passion” of Saudi Arabia’s football-obsessed fans during this month’s FIFA Club World Cup in the Kingdom will set it up to host even bigger events in the future, two legends of the game said on Monday.

Former CWC champions Paolo Maldini and David Villa are in Jeddah this week as the Red Sea coastal city counts down to hosting the competition.

Both men have enjoyed glittering careers, including winning the tournament in 2007 (Maldini with AC Milan) and 2011 (Villa with Barcelona) respectively.

Now regular visitors to Saudi Arabia, the two shared their thoughts on the Kingdom’s growing stature and influence within global football.

“Hosting a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is a big challenge,” Maldini said. “FIFA is very strict when it comes to the terms of organizing a tournament, but with the passion here (in Saudi Arabia), I think they will find what they are looking for,” he said.

“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia several times. The first time was 30 years ago, and there are lots of changes since then. Saudis love football — this has been known for years, and I’ve experienced it personally. We have a goal to make this tournament one of the most important tournaments in the world, and this is achievable due to the passionate fans here.”

Villa echoed the sentiment: “I’ve visited Saudi Arabia four times in the last year — the passion for football is real here. Saudis have such a strong passion for football, not only locally but globally, too.

“To host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is very important to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi League is developing rapidly, and Saudi football is progressing very well. There is also a huge affection for football here.

“Football should always be for the fans, those who are passionate and want to watch the games. That’s why it’s crucial and important for Saudi Arabia to host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup,” he said.

The tournament, which kicks off in Jeddah on Dec. 12, will see the champions of the six continental federations clash for the right to be called club champion of the world.

Manchester City, Fluminense of Brazil, Egyptian giants Al-Ahly, Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds, Mexican side Club Leon and Auckland City will be joined by Jeddah’s own Al-Ittihad, who qualify as domestic champions of the host nation.

Pakistan aims to revitalize football after first-ever collaboration with Saudi Arabia

Updated 34 min 7 sec ago

Pakistan aims to revitalize football after first-ever collaboration with Saudi Arabia

  • Pakistan Football Federation signed an MoU with Saudi counterpart in Riyadh last month to promote the sport
  • PFF also wants to arrange visits from international teams to ensure that fans get to watch high-quality matches

LAHORE: Pakistan is looking to reshape the future of football in the country after reaching out to Saudi Arabia for first-ever international collaboration in the field, the top official of the FIFA-backed Normalization Committee (NC) currently running the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), said in a recent interview.

Last week, the PFF announced its chairman, Haroon Malik, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) in Riyadh to foster strong ties for the mutual benefit, promotion, growth and success of the sport in both countries.

Pakistan has faced many challenges in international football over the years, including multiple suspensions of the country’s domestic premier division in the last six years. The last one was in April 2021, when FIFA banned PFF due to “third-party interference” after a “hostile takeover” of the body’s headquarters in Lahore and the ousting of a FIFA representative by a rival group.

The international sports governing body restored PFF’s membership in June 2022.

“I think the benefit [of signing the MoU] is that SAFF considers Pakistan to be a brotherly country and they want to develop football across Asia and they are making sure that it helps to raise the standard,” Malik told Arab News on Friday.

The PFF official said the federation was working on next year’s calendar, which will include friendly matches with Saudi Arabia.

“We are very happy that it covers not only the men’s national team but it also applies to the women’s national team,” he added. “On the youth side, we hope that we will play some games, under 16, under 19.”

Football recently came into the spotlight in the cricket-dominated country after Pakistan got its first-ever qualification for the second round of FIFA qualifiers, edging out Cambodia after ending a 13-match losing streak that dated back to 2018.

The faceoff was attended by over 13,000 fans in Islamabad as the country hosted its first international match after eight years, sparking jubilant celebrations not just for the victory but a homecoming of international football too.

The 193rd-ranked Pakistan, however, has suffered two consecutive setbacks in the first two matches of the second round and is currently the lowest-ranked team in Group G, which includes Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Jordan.

‘Neutral venue’

Pakistan is scheduled to play its home matches of the FIFA qualifiers against Jordan and Saudi Arabia on March 21 and June 6, respectively, though the football federation appears to be facing challenges in hosting night matches against the two teams.

Asked about the situation, Malik said he was hopeful the PFF would be able to get floodlights installed under FIFA regulations by January.

“The [Pakistan vs Jordan] game on the 21st of March, I do not think can be played during the day,” he said, adding that his team was working with the government for requisite lighting to ensure they were in place for both matches.

“If not, we will have to consider a neutral venue,” he added.

‘PSL-like football league’

In a major boost for the sport, he said the PFF had been working on formalizing domestic football, promoting talent development through encouraging commercialization.

“If there is not enough commercial opportunity, the people, of course, will not choose [football] as a career option,” he maintained.

“We have All Pakistan Championship that is currently going on to find the best clubs that play in the country,” he said. “The second is to have a championship-style competition, something like the Pakistan Cricket League [Pakistan Super League].”

Discussing the national women’s team, the PFF chief said the federation was planning a football championship to establish a women’s league, to enable female footballers to display their talent and playing style.

The PFF, he noted, is also arranging visits from international teams to Pakistan, ensuring fans can enjoy high-quality matches.

Sarfaraz Ahmed banks on Pakistani batters ahead of Australia Test series

Updated 04 December 2023

Sarfaraz Ahmed banks on Pakistani batters ahead of Australia Test series

  • Pakistan will play first Test against Australia in Perth on Dec. 14, before traditional Boxing Day Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground
  • Ex-captain Sarfaraz Ahmed says Pakistan are ‘well-equipped’ for the challenge with Abdullah Shafique, Babar Azam and other batters

ISLAMABAD: Seasoned Pakistani cricketer Sarfaraz Ahmed has pinned his hopes on Pakistani batters for the upcoming three-match Test series against Australia. 

Pakistan will play the first Test against Australia in Perth on December 14, before the traditional Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The third Test will be played in Sydney and begin on January 3. 

Sarfaraz said on Monday he was ready to face the challenges, according to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). 

“Australia boasts good batters, but we are no less,” the former Pakistan captain said. “With Abdullah, Babar, Imam, Saud, and Agha in our ranks, we are well-equipped for the challenge.” 

Sarfaraz also praised the quality bowling lineup. 

“Shaheen and Hasan are exceptional, and we have the likes of Mir Hamza, Khurram Shehzad, and Fahim, who have proven their mettle in domestic competitions,” the wicketkeeper-batsman said. 

Ahead of the Test series, Pakistan will play Prime Minister’s XI on December 6 at Manuka Oval. 

Sarfaraz said he was inspired by West Indian Chris Gayle 200-run innings at Manuka Oval and the Pakistan side was bracing for the warm-up match. 

“I remember watching Chris Gayle’s incredible innings of 200 runs against Zimbabwe at Manuka Oval. Now, as we brace ourselves for a four-day clash in Canberra against Australia, the weather seems to be good,” he said. 

“This match holds an immense significance as it kickstarts the three-match Test series against the formidable Australian team.” 


Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jr., Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi 

Usman Khawaja defends David Warner against stinging criticism ahead of Pakistan Test

Updated 04 December 2023

Usman Khawaja defends David Warner against stinging criticism ahead of Pakistan Test

  • Warner was criticized by former Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson for recent Test performances
  • The three-match home series against Pakistan is expected to be Warner’s farewell to Test cricket

SYDNEY: Usman Khawaja jumped to the defense of his opening partner David Warner on Monday after stinging criticism of the veteran batsman from Australian great Mitchell Johnson.
Former fast bowler Johnson hit out after Warner kept his spot in Australia’s squad to face Pakistan in the first Test later this month despite a poor run of red-ball form.
The three-match home series against Pakistan is expected to be Warner’s farewell to Test cricket.
The decision to keep faith with Warner provoked a strong response from Johnson, who questioned why his former team-mate should be given a “hero’s send-off” in light of his poor Test form.
“Can somebody please tell me why?” he wrote in The West Australian newspaper at the weekend, also bringing up Warner’s central role in the notorious “Sandpaper-gate” ball-tampering scandal in 2018.
Steve Smith and Warner were both banned for a year for their part in the scandal, but Khawaja told reporters on Monday: “Davey Warner and Steve Smith are heroes in my mind.”
“No one’s perfect,” Khawaja added.
“Mitchell Johnson isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect, Steven Smith isn’t perfect, David Warner isn’t perfect.
“What they’ve done for the game from a positive point of view... far outweighs anything else they’ve done.
“So for (Johnson) to imply that Davey Warner or anyone else involved in the sandpaper (scandal), is not a hero, I strongly disagree with that.”
The first Test against Pakistan in Perth starts on December 14, before the traditional Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, then Sydney, beginning January 3.
Warner has indicated he plans to quit the five-day game after the Test at his home Sydney Cricket Ground, but will continue in white-ball cricket.
Warner was in scintillating form at the recent 50-over World Cup, but he has scored just one Test century since early 2020 and averages only 28 since the 2019-2020 summer in Australia.

Australia women, South Africa men claim victories at Emirates Dubai 7s

Updated 04 December 2023

Australia women, South Africa men claim victories at Emirates Dubai 7s

  • Opening round of HSBC SVNS 2024 season took place at Sevens Stadium in Dubai

DUBAI: Australia women and South Africa men claimed the first titles of the HSBC SVNS 2024 season with victories over Argentina and New Zealand respectively at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai on Sunday.

In the men’s final, South Africa’s Blitzboks overcame a spirited Argentina 12-7 to lift their fifth straight Emirates Dubai 7s trophy – equalling the record for successive titles at a single location. Although Argentina had to settle for silver it represented their best result in Dubai.

Impi Visser had already crossed for the Blitzboks when Shilton van Wyk, player of the final in 2022, went over in the fifth minute to take the score to 12-0.

Argentina’s Matias Osadczuk cut the deficit to five points early in the second half, after Ryan Oosthuizen was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle.

Rosko Specman came within inches of a spectacular score but lost the ball – and ploughed into a steward – in the corner, as South Africa held off the Argentinian fightback.

With the series heading to South Africa next week, their run to the title in Dubai could not have come at a better time. Fans will be hoping they can go back-to-back in Cape Town next weekend.

South Africa’s acting head coach Philip Snyman hailed his squad’s “amazing performances throughout the weekend.”

He said: “We said we wanted to leave everything on the field. It doesn’t matter what happens with the result – we want to look each other in the eye and have smiles on our faces.

“Even with the yellow card tonight, they really played each other, they played for their jersey, and they restored the pride in the Springbok Sevens jersey.”

South Africa started the day strongly with a 24-7 quarter-final defeat of Australia, before overcoming Fiji 14-7 in an intense semi-final.

Argentina overcame Samoa 21-14 in the quarter-final before narrowly beating New Zealand’s All Blacks Sevens 21-19 in a pulsating semi-final.

New Zealand recovered from the disappointment of their semi-final defeat to take home the bronze medals with a 17-12 victory over Fiji.

The women’s final was another epic encounter between the top two teams in the world. In a replay of last year’s final, Australia overcame their archrivals 26-19 to end New Zealand’s winning run on 41 matches, which spanned since their loss in the Dubai final last year.

Teagan Levi touched down either side of halftime as Australia ended New Zealand’s winning streak to claim their fourth consecutive title in Dubai.

Not to be overshadowed by her younger sister, Maddison Levi broke her own tournament try record, her 12th try of the weekend in the 13th minute was the decisive one.

The match kicked off at an astonishing speed – and did not let up. Bienne Terita scored the opening try with just 23 seconds on the clock to set Australia on the road to the title in the 23rd final meeting between the two sides.

But the Black Ferns Sevens made it difficult for the champions. Jorja Miller touched down twice in the first five minutes en route to a hat-trick in a losing cause, before Maddison Levi settled the tournament in the closing minutes.

Australia’s captain Charlotte Caslick said: “She’s (Maddison Levi) unbelievable. She’s had an amazing pre-season so we’re all just getting to see the hard work that she’s done this year.”

On the game plan for becoming the first team to beat New Zealand since last year’s final in Dubai, Caslick added: “We wanted to hold the ball as much as possible because we know when they touch it, they’re dangerous. That was key for us – restarts and holding on to the ball.

“We love coming to Dubai, we love the fans here, playing in front of you guys. It’s a great team and we’re so proud of them. We worked really hard for this, so it’s really special for us.”

New Zealand’s passage to the final saw them beat Brazil 26-14 in the quarter-final before overcoming Canada 21-19 in a nail-biting finish to an exhilarating match.

Australia began the day with a convincing 32-5 quarter-final win over the US before running out 21-14 winners against France in a high-quality semi-final.

Canada missed out on their first medal since winning silver in Sydney in 2020 as they were well beaten 26-5 by France who claimed the bronze medal and put in a strong performance throughout the weekend with the returning Anne-Cecile Ciofani contributing to building excitement ahead of the Olympic Games in Paris next July.