Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla

The fifth stage of the Saudi Tour took the peloton from AlUla Old Town to the finish line 142.9 km away at Maraya. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 February 2023

Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla

  • Final stage concluded in Maraya mirrored building in Ashar Valley

ALULA: The Saudi Cycling Federation team ended the 2023 Saudi Tour with some valuable racing experience under their belts, having competed alongside world-class cyclists in the AlUla desert.

Stage five offered a fitting finale after four grueling stages around the ancient desert city. 

The 142.9km sprint took the peloton through the streets of AlUla Old Town and Al-Jadidah’s arts and culture district, before passing the farms and verdant oases of the area and moving through Hegra, Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.

The riders had to navigate a tricky gravel section at pace, before finishing with a sprint in front of Maraya, the iconic mirrored building and multi-purpose entertainment venue in the Ashar Valley.

The stage also had a lighter moment when the peloton was joined by a herd of donkeys which ran along the roadside.

Reflecting on the Saudi Cycling Federation’s impressive debut on the Saudi Tour, team member Hassan Al-Jumah said: “It was a wonderful experience to ride in the Saudi Tour in AlUla with these international athletes and teams was unforgettable and will play a big part in our progress. There is a big gap in levels, we can see how hard the international teams work and how much experience plays a role.

“This race is a big part of our development and if we continue, we should be getting better year on year and the gap will be closer to the professionals.”

Abdulaziz Al-Hashim was the best placed of the Saudi team on stage five, just one minute and 50 seconds behind winner Simone Consoni of Cofidis (3 hours 10 minutes and 13 seconds), with fellow Saudi team-mates Al-Jumah, Azzam Al-Abdulmunim, Murtadha Al-Shaghab and Hani Al-Mrhoon finishing in a group further back.

Benzema bids farewell to Real Madrid as he heads to Saudi Arabia

Updated 06 June 2023

Benzema bids farewell to Real Madrid as he heads to Saudi Arabia

  • The French striker, 35, will leave as a free agent in the close season
  • He is set to move to Saudi Arabian side Al Ittihad, signing a two-year deal estimated by media reports to be worth more than 100 million euros

MADRID: Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema said farewell to Real Madrid in a small, private ceremony closed to fans and media on Tuesday following a trophy-laden 14-year stay with the LaLiga club.
The French striker, 35, will leave as a free agent in the close season and is set to move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad, signing a two-year deal estimated by media reports to be worth more than 100 million euros ($106.93 million).
There were no tears in a ceremony that lasted less than 20 minutes and in which only players, family and close friends were allowed to attend.
“I will never forget Real Madrid. It’s impossible, it’s the best club in history. But I think today is the time to leave and to get to know another story,” Benzema told the small audience at Real’s training facilities.
“It’s difficult to talk with so many feelings, but I wanted to thank Real Madrid and my team mates. It was a good path in my life. I have been lucky enough to fulfil my childhood dream.”
Having joined Real in 2009 from Olympique Lyonnais, Benzema became the spearhead of the club’s attack and their main goal-scoring threat after Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018.
Benzema scored 354 goals for Real to sit second on the club’s all-time scoring list behind Ronaldo.
He had his best season in the 2021-22 campaign when he scored 44 times in all competitions to lead the side to a record-extending 14th European title as well as the LaLiga crown.
His pivotal role earned him the Ballon d’Or award, making him the first French player to win the trophy since Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and the fifth Frenchman overall.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez praised Benzema for all he had done at the club.
“Karim, you have been an example of behavior and professionalism in our club,” Perez said.
“You have earned the right to decide your destiny. A future that only belongs to you and we must respect it.”


Al-Ittihad champions as Al-Nassr and Ronaldo stumble

Updated 28 May 2023

Al-Ittihad champions as Al-Nassr and Ronaldo stumble

Al-Ittihad are Saudi Arabian champions for the first time since 2009 after defeating Al-Fayha 3- 0 on Saturday in the penultimate round of fixtures in the Roshn Saudi League. Second-placed Al-Nassr came back to draw 1-1 at Ettifaq but it was not enough as Ittihad’s win ended an exciting title race. It is a well-deserved triumph for coach Nuno Santo and his players who saw off the challenge of Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Nassr to lift a hard-fought and deserved prize.

At kick-off, Al-Ittihad knew that a win would be enough for title number nine but they also knew that they had been in good positions before and failed to finish the job such as last season when a 16-point advantage over Al-Hilal did not prove to be enough. Any nerves were, however,  reduced after three minutes as Ahmed Sharahili sent the Jeddah giants on their way. Igor Coronado floated over a deep free-kick and Sharahili reacted to stab the ball home from close range and the celebrations in Jeddah started to bubble under the surface.

(Twitter: @ittihad)

That early strike was a blow for Al-Nassr who hit the post in the first half thanks to a shot from Luiz Gustavo from close range.but three minutes before the break, the Yellows fell behind.Saeed Al-Mowalad crossed from the right and Youssouf Niakate swept home from close range to finish a perfect move. It was harsh on Al-Nassr who had dominated possession and had the better of the chances but they could feel that their chances of league title number ten were slipping away.

Ronaldo and his team continued to work hard but received another body blow just before the break as Al-Ittihad extended their lead thanks to another set piece. Coronado floated over a free-kick once again and this time Romarinho – the Brazilian has been one of the players of the season – headed home. It prompted wild celebrations among the travelling fans who knew that their 14-year wait was almost over.

Al-Nassr were not about to give up without a fight however. After 56 minutes Abdulrahman Ghareeb passed back to the onrushing Gustavo who unleashed a rocket of a shot into the top corner of the Ettifaq goal from outside the area. It was a spectacular effort. With ten minutes remaining, it looked as if the game was won as Ghareeb pulled the ball back for Gustavo to fire an unstoppable shot into the Ettifaq net. It was ruled out by VAR, which spotted an offside in the build up. In the end, it didn’t really matter as Al-Ittihad rarely looked like losing their two-goal lead and their grip on the league trophy. Soon after, the Tigers made it 3-0 as Romarinho broke free to slot the ball home from just inside the area.


It meant that the celebrations could start in earnest as Al-Ittihad took the points before the end of the Al-Nassr game. It has been a deserved triumph.

Elsewhere, defending champions Al-Hilal moved into third place with a 3-0 win at Abha. Mohammed Al-Qahtani opened the scoring after 11 minutes and Odion Ighalo extended that lead a minute before the break. Abdullah Al-Hamdan added a third.

The relegation battle is hotting up. In the battle of the two teams at the bottom of the table, Al-Batin, who are already relegated, drew 2-2 with next to bottom Al-Adalah who are a point behind safety and Al-Khaleej who drew 0-0 with  Al-Raed. Al-Wedha are now safe after defeating Al-Tai 2-1.

The headlines however belong, for once, not to Criistiano Ronaldo, but to the new champions of Al-Ittihad.

 Egypt and Oman to meet in Arab Beach Football Championship final

Updated 19 May 2023

 Egypt and Oman to meet in Arab Beach Football Championship final

RIYADH: Egypt and Oman have qualified to the 2023 Arab Beach Football Championship final on Saturday.

A brace from  Al-Husseini Ali and goals from Mustafa Shaaban and Hassan Hussein helped the Egyptians edge past Palestine with a 4-3 victory. 

The Omanis booked their place in the final with a 4-2 win over Morocco. Yahya Al-Mreiki, Sami Al-Blushi, Abdullah Al-Souti were on the scoresheet for the Gulf side. 

The competition, which began on May 11, has been organized by the Arab Football Association and hosted by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in Jeddah, and ends on May 20. 

Victories for Saudi Arabia, Morocco at the Arab Beach Soccer Championship

Updated 12 May 2023

Victories for Saudi Arabia, Morocco at the Arab Beach Soccer Championship

RIYADH: Hosts Saudi Arabia put seven past Mauritania in their opening match of the 2023 Arab Beach Soccer Championship. 
A hat trick from Faisal Al-Yami complemented by goals from Islam Siraj, Majid Shahmani and Bilal Bouda gave the Kingdom’s beach footballers all three point with a 7-3 victory. Mauritanian goals came through Sidi Al-Imam, Olayoun Zuwaid and Sheikh Belkhir.
The other Group A action saw Morocco win 9-5 against Lebanon. Suhail Bassak’s 5 goals help Morocco rise to the top of the table above Saudi Arabia.
The tournament is being played at Al-Hamra Corniche Stadium in Jeddah, on the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast, and the final will take place on May 20, 2023.

Al-Ittihad shocked at Al-Taawoun as title race blown wide open

Updated 04 May 2023

Al-Ittihad shocked at Al-Taawoun as title race blown wide open

  • Al-Ittihad are still three points clear

Al-Taawoun defeated Al-Ittihad 2-1 on Wednesday, stunning the league leaders and blowing the Roshn Saudi League title race wide open.

Fine strikes in each half from Fahad Al-Rashidi mean that the Jeddah club are still three points clear of Al-Nassr in second but both now have five games left — the chasing team have a slightly better goal difference — and there is all to play for.

The Tigers had won 11 and drawn one of the previous 12 and all knew that victory in Buraidah against the hosts, who may have been in sixth but were on a five game winless streak, would be a huge step toward a first title since 2009. Yet, against all odds, they have stumbled in what is just a second loss of the season and memories of last year — when they threw away a commanding lead at the top of the table to Al-Hilal — must not be far away. The pressure is on.

It was a fine performance from Al-Taawoun, who took the lead after 16 minutes. Pericles Camusca’s men patiently moved the ball around the middle of the park and the seventh pass came from Saad Al-Nasser. It found Al-Rashidi just nipping in behind Ahmed Hegazi on the edge of the area. There was still much to do but he brought the ball down perfectly to smash a rising first-time shot while on the run past Marcelo Grohe.

While the strike was a special one, it marked a worrying development. For a team that has had one of the tightest defenses in the world this season, it was the third game in succession in which Ittihad had failed to keep a clean sheet.

Ittihad had chances, most notably the in-form Hamdallah shooting over from close range when getting on the end of a cross from the right, but the quality did not match the quality. Hegazi headed a corner over and Mailson was called on to make a couple of saves before leaving the field just before the break due to injury.

At the break, the Tigers were well ahead in terms of possession and shots, but the only statistic that mattered meant that they had much to do.

It was always likely that Al-Taawoun were going to have to do a lot of defending in the second half, and within moments substitute goalkeeper Raghid Al-Najjar was diving to his left to palm a fine shot from Romarinho out for a corner. Eventually, from the resultant set piece, he threw himself in the opposite direction to deny Abdulrahman Al-Obud.

In the 56th minute, Al-Nasser was adjudged to have bundled Romarinho over in the area. The referee pointed to the spot but after some VAR confusion when the official appeared to have changed his mind, he eventually went to the pitchside monitor to decide that the initial foul came just outside the area and a free-kick was awarded. It did not get past the wall.

It was mostly one-way traffic, yet Al-Taawoun extended their lead midway through the second half with another fine goal from Al-Rashidi. He received the ball from Saad Yaslam just outside the area and while he seemed to slip as he shot, he bent the ball past the despairing left hand of Grohe and into the corner.

Al-Ittihad, their traveling fans and coach Nuno Santo could not believe it, not least because this was the first time all season that they had conceded more than once. 

They redoubled their attacking efforts but Al-Taawoun, who have already defeated Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal this season, had the scent of a famous victory and fought for everything. After 76 minutes of trying, however, Ittihad scored as Hamdallah set up a barnstorming finish. The Moroccan showed his powers of anticipation in a crowded area to drift to the far post and sweep home Ahmed Bamasoud’s cross from the left. 

With 15 minutes added time, the leaders did all they could to get something from the game. It just did not happen in a chaotic and action-packed period in which Al-Najjar excelled once more. It ended with the hosts down to ten men thanks to a late red card received by Turki Al-Mutairi.

When the smoke from this clash clears, Al-Ittihad will remind themselves that they are still three points clear at the top but also know that the title race is far from over.