Achraf Hakimi criticized for derogatory remark about Neymar’s new Saudi employers

Moroccan international Achraf Hakimi. Credit: @AchrafHakimi
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Updated 21 August 2023
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Achraf Hakimi criticized for derogatory remark about Neymar’s new Saudi employers

  • PSG’s Moroccan international jokingly told his departing Brazilian colleague a simple greeting of ‘Salam Aleykum’ would result in a pay rise

RIYADH: Moroccan international Achraf Hakimi has come in for criticism in Saudi Arabia after he suggested to new Al-Hilal signing Neymar that all he had to do was greet his new employers and they will throw more money at him.

Paris Saint-Germain defender Hakimi was seen making the derogatory remark in a video bidding farewell to his departing teammate ahead of his move to Riyadh.

“Just say ‘Salam Aleykum’ and they will give you an additional €500 ($544),” Hakimi said jokingly to Al-Hilal’s new star signing.

The circulated video caused controversy among Saudi fans on social media platforms.

Many took the comment to be disrespectful and ungrateful, particularly as Hakimi had been named “Best Arab Sportsman” at the Joy Awards recently held in Riyadh.

Among the comments on the platform X, formerly Twitter, were “I suggest he send back the trophy back on Aramex, he doesn’t deserve it”; and “even if it was joke, he shouldn’t have said it.”

One commenter said: “It’s insulting, as if he isn’t Muslim and speaking like the Europeans.”

Some accepted that it was a joke, and others played down its message.

“If we take it from a positive perspective, even if he’s not joking, it’s a testament to our generosity,” said one user, @DMA87_.

Brazilian superstar Neymar is joining the former Saudi and Asian champions on a two-year deal for a whopping €150 million per season.

Neymar was unveiled to fans at Al-Hilal on Saturday as he became the latest world-famous footballer to sign for a club in the Saudi Pro League.


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

Updated 26 February 2024
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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.


Riyadh to host leg of Global Champions Arabians Tour

Updated 25 February 2024
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Riyadh to host leg of Global Champions Arabians Tour

  • Along with Riyadh, events will be held in Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Cannes, Valkenswaard in the Netherlands, and in Rome and Paris 

LONDON: Riyadh will host a leg of the Global Champions Arabians Tour later this year, it was announced on Sunday.

The event, whose date has yet to be confirmed, will be hosted by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation.

Doha has already hosted the first event of the GCAT circuit and, along with Riyadh, events will be held in Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Cannes, Rome, Paris, and Valkenswaard in the Netherlands. 

SAEF President Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their support for equestrian sports in Saudi Arabia. 

“The great advancement we are witnessing today in the equestrian sector is a result of the unlimited support from our wise leadership,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

“This has made the Kingdom a global focal point for all equestrian sports, resulting in great successes in high-level organization, event diversity, and a clear vision that positions Saudi Arabia as the foremost global destination.

“I extend my sincere thanks to Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, minister of sports, for his support and continuous follow-up.”

The SAEF hopes that hosting the event will provide competitive opportunities for local talent, attract new audiences and encourage investment in the sport. 

In April, Saudi Arabia will also host the FEI Jumping World Cup, which will be a first for the Middle East. And in 2026, the Kingdom is slated to host the World Challenge Championship.


US and local glory as Senor Buscador wins $20m Saudi Cup main race

Updated 24 February 2024
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US and local glory as Senor Buscador wins $20m Saudi Cup main race

  • 6-year-old, owned by Saudi Sharaf Mohammed S. Al-Hariri and American Joe R. Peacock Junior, won the race by a head

LONDON: Senor Buscador came from a long way back to win a dramatic Saudi Cup race on Saturday under jockey Junior Alvarado, beating Ushba Tesoro and Saudi Crown.

The 6-year-old, owned by Saudi Sharaf Mohammed S. Al-Hariri and American Joe R. Peacock Junior, won the race by a head to make up for a second-placed finish at the GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational last month.

The winning team take home half of the $20 million pot, with $3.5 million going to the Ushba Tesoro team and $2 million to the locally-owned Saudi Crown team.

“The plan, as of now, is Dubai,” winning trainer Todd Fincher said after the race at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, referencing the Dubai World Cup race set to run on March 30.

“I don’t have the words to put it all together that express how pleased and grateful I am for this victory and for representing my country and winning this race, I still don’t have the right words,” Alvarado told Arab News.

“He (Senor Buscador) had more speed just because some horses broke from different positions, I never like to change the style of the horse.

“I was in a good spot in the back just looking at everything just biding my time, letting him get his feet under, and he’s a horse that when he’s ready he will start letting you know, he will start picking up (pace) and after that you just start riding along with him,” he added.

Alvarado was full of praise for his charge and the King Abdulaziz track.

“It was a very exciting race, I think the best of the horses was running today, mine was one of the best horses and he proved it today that he was one of the top performers and one of those horses in the world,” he said.

“It’s definitely a different track, a different feeling, but the horses move out very well on it and it feels like probably top three one of the best tracks I’ve rode in the world for sure,” he added.

The first edition of the Saudi Cup race was held in 2020 and the event attracts the world’s finest thoroughbreds and jockeys for the biggest prize in world racing.


Weigh-in results ahead of PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions crossover event in Riyadh

Updated 24 February 2024
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Weigh-in results ahead of PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions crossover event in Riyadh

  • The card includes 2 champion-versus-champion bouts; PFL Heavyweight Champ Renan ‘Problema’ Ferreira takes on Bellator Heavyweight Champ Ryan ‘Darth’ Bader
  • PFL Light Heavyweight Champ Impa ‘Tshilobo’ Kasanganay drops down to middleweight to take on Bellator Middleweight Champion Johnny Eblen

RIYADH: As the Professional Fighters League 2024 season gets underway on Saturday with what it is billing as the biggest mixed martial arts event of the year, the PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, the fighters gathered for the weigh-in on Friday.

The card feature a pair of champion-versus-champion headline bouts, as some of the biggest names in combat sports go head to head inside the PFL SmartCage.

In the main event, 2023 PFL Heavyweight Champion Renan “Problema” Ferreira will take on Bellator Heavyweight Champion Ryan “Darth” Bader.

At the weigh-in, Ferreira, who is coming off his first championship campaign in the PFL, was 263.2 lbs. Bader, who has held the Bellator title since 2019, was 231.1 lbs.

In the other headline event, 2023 PFL Light Heavyweight Champion Impa “Tshilobo” Kasanganay drops down to middleweight to take on Bellator Middleweight Champion Johnny Eblen.

Kasanganay, who captured PFL gold in his first season, weighed in at 185.8 lbs, while Eblen, who aims to maintain his undefeated career record, was 185.5 lbs.

Two of the world’s top welterweights will clash in a catchweight bout, as two-time PFL champion Ray Cooper III meets reigning Bellator Welterweight Champion Jason Jackson. Cooper III weighed in at 182.4 lbs, and Jackson at 182 lbs.

Former PFL Heavyweight Champion Bruno Cappelozza will take on Bellator’s Vadim Nemkov in a heavyweight bout. Cappelozza weighed in at 236.2 lbs, and Nemkov at 238.1 lbs.

Leading PFL contender Thiago “Maretta” Santos faces top Bellator contender Yoel “Soldier of God” Romero. The former weighed in at 205.2 lbs, and the latter at 205 lbs.

A pair of the lightweight division’s elite will also go head-to-head, as 2023 PFL runner-up “Cassius” Clay Collard takes on former Bellator Lightweight Champion A.J. “Mercenary” McKee. Collard weighed in at 155.5 lbs, and McKee at 154.8 lb.

Official PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions weigh-in results:

PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions Card: 3 pm ET

PFL Champion vs. Bellator Champion — Heavyweight

Renan Ferreira 263.2 lbs vs. Ryan Bader 231.1 lbs

PFL Champion vs. Bellator Champion — Middleweight

Impa Kasanganay 185.8 lbs vs. Johnny Eblen 185.5 lbs

Catchweight (182 lbs) Bout

Ray Cooper III 182.4 lbs vs. Jason Jackson 182 lbs

Heavyweight Bout

Bruno Cappelozza 236.2 lbs vs. Vadim Nemkov 238.1 lbs

Light Heavyweight Bout

Thiago Santos 205.2 lbs vs. Yoel Romero 205 lbs

Lightweight Bout

Clay Collard 155.5 lbs vs. AJ McKee 154.8 lbs

Early Card: 12 pm ET

Lightweight Bout

Henry Corrales 155.7 lbs. Vs. Aaron Pico: 155.7 lbs

Lightweight Bout

Biaggio Ali Walsh 155.4 lbs vs. Emmanuel Palacio 152.6 lbs

Women’s Catchweight (165 lbs) Bout

Claressa Shields 164.4 lbs vs. Kelsey DeSantis 164.6 lbs

Featherweight Bout

Abdullah Al-Qahtani 146 lbs vs. Edukondal Rao 145.7 lbs

Amateur Catchweight (129 lbs) Bout

Malik Basahel 124.9 lbs vs. Vinicius Pereira 129.2 lbs

Pereira missed weight. The bout will be contested at 129 lbs catchweight.

 

 


Saudi golfer Faisal Salhab has impressive opening round at $2m International Series Oman

Updated 23 February 2024
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Saudi golfer Faisal Salhab has impressive opening round at $2m International Series Oman

  • Fellow Saudis Othman Almulla, Saud Al-Sharif also enjoy solid starts in Muscat

Muscat: On a tricky Al-Mouj Golf Club course in the opening round of the $2 million International Series Oman, Saudi Arabia’s Faisal Salhab got off the mark with a solid 1-under par 71 round.

There were two annoying bogeys – one of them a three-putt on the par-3 eighth green that tested everyone in the field with its severity – but Salhab also hit 15 out of 18 greens in regulation and missed only two fairways all day.

Saud Al-Sharif and Othman Almulla, the other two Saudi professionals in the field, had impressive starts too.

Al-Sharif was 1-under par for his round through 15 holes, before a double bogey on the seventh hole pushed him to 1-over par. Almulla started with three bogeys in his first four holes, but came back to make 12 straight pars before an unfortunate triple bogey on the difficult 16th hole saw him finish at 6-over par.

After signing his card, Salhab, 27, flashing his trademark wide smile, predicted that 2024 would be a year of change for Saudi professional golfers.

He said: “It’s so good to see that the things I’ve been working hard for in the offseason with my coach (Jamie McConnell), with other members of the team like my psychologist (Andrea Debellis), Saudi Golf, and the other pros, is showing early results.

“This was a good start, but hopefully, a lot more to come this year. I honestly think this could be a breakthrough year for us Saudi professional golfers. We have been given this incredible opportunity to play the International Series events and on the Asian Tour, and we are on the verge of showing positive results. We have all had good spells and we only need to string it together for a longer period.

“The mentality is back to trying to win — trying to do well. We do not want to try making cuts anymore. These last couple of years have shown us that we have the game. I’ve seen it playing against these guys. They’re excellent players. But we’re very good as well, and we need to believe that more.

“We’re getting that mentality this year of not having any fear — become a kid again. We’ve been dreaming all our lives of playing with these guys. Now that we are here, why are we being timid? It’s completely wrong.

“So, this is a year of what can we do, rather than putting ceilings on ourselves,” Salhab added.

That fearlessness was very evident during Salhab’s round, when he bounced back with a birdie on the 17th hole after making a couple of unforced errors to wind up with a bogey on the previous hole.

He said: “I hit a good drive and then a 3-wood to about 40 yards. The chip went over the green, and then I did not have a great return chip before my par putt from 10-12 feet lipped out.

“But that’s where I think I showed good attitude and some of the talks that I had with Andrea paid off. I spoke to my caddie and told him, ‘let’s forget about the bogey. We’re good enough to birdie any hole here.’ I just hit a couple of good shots after that and made a 15-foot birdie putt.”

Salhab has had better rounds as a professional – his best was a 4-under par 68 in Indonesia last year. But he was pleased with his 71 in Muscat, especially because Al-Mouj was decidedly playing tougher.

“Hundred percent this was better. Even though the scorecard would say the round in Indonesia was better by three shots.

“This was solid. I kept hitting good shots and finding fairways and I stuck to my processes. I was happy with how I thought on the golf course and how I kept pushing myself.

“I just need to keep doing this. I need to keep working hard and believe in myself,” Salhab added.