Midseason review of Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-2024 part 2

Al-Shabab have bolstered their squad with the signing of Ivan Rakitic during the winter break. (X/@AlShabab_EN)
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Updated 14 February 2024
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Midseason review of Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-2024 part 2

  • Arab News looks at the state of play for the SPL clubs in positions 10-18 as they return from the AFC Asian Cup break

Anticipation abounds ahead of this week’s intriguing full restart of the 2023/2024 Roshn Saudi Pro League.

The six-week interlude for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup contained managerial changes, eye-catching player acquisitions and noteworthy exits as competitors strove to finish campaigns on a high.

Arab News provides an essential guide for the 16 clubs as they head into Thursday’s resumption, including their key winter business and outlook for the 15 remaining matchweeks.

In part two, we look at the clubs occupying positions 10 to 18.

10. Al-Khaleej

Points 22

Goals scored/conceded 23-28

Season so far: A club in the same situation as Wehda. Al-Khaleej were threatened by instant demotion until the final matchweek last season, but have breathing space in 2023/2024. Magical Portuguese winger Fabio Martins is a class apart, being their top scorer on seven goals and joint-top assist maker with two. Experienced South Korea anchorman Jung Woo-young and Argentina center-back Lisandro Lopez have made all the difference to their defense.

Major winter changes: Former Inter Miami midfielder Mo Adams adds ballast after an invisible time at Al-Shabab.

Outlook: It is time to push on and look ahead to the King’s Cup semifinals. An upturn from disappointing Egypt striker Mohamed Sherif would help.

 

11. Al-Shabab

Points 21

Goals scored/conceded 19-25

Season so far: A season to forget for Shabab. Jose Mourinho will not be there to salvage this campaign, after winter rumors came to nothing. Well-travelled compatriot Vitor Pereira is at the helm instead, making him this season’s third permanent boss following swift exits from former Ajax supremo Marcel Keizer and Igor Biscan. Serious injury to South Korea No. 1 Kim Seung-gyu has added to their worries. But remedies have been sought to quell lingering relegation worries.

Major winter changes: Iconic Argentine midfielder Ever Banega has been allowed to return home to Newell’s Old Boys after almost four years of stellar service. An eye-catching, like-for-like replacement was secured in Croatia superstar Ivan Rakitic. He is joined by Ettifaq loanee Vitinho and promising Hilal youngster Musab Al-Juwayr.

Outlook: Pereira and Rakitic boast the experience to drag Shabab away from the mire. Belgium winger Yannick Carrasco and Morocco center-back Romain Saiss should build on decent individual starts. They need Senegal striker Habib Diallo to ignite.

 

12. Al-Okhdood

Points 20

Goals scored/conceded 13-25

Season so far: Their top-flight debut has contained a vital ability to edge results, with six victories coming via one-goal margins. An encouraging December under new boss Martin Sevela shifted the mood, with 10 points coming from 15 available. Prolific Romania defender Andrei Burca (four goals) is one of the signings of the season. The fact that he has outscored three-goal attackers Leandre Tawamba and Saviour Godwin is concerning.

Major winter changes: Not applicable

Outlook: For Sevela to avoid a second-successive relegation after Al-Adalah, he must get his misfiring attack in motion.

 

13. Al-Raed

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 24-31

Season so far: It has been an uncomfortable season for the side from Buraidah. Shakhtar Donetsk title winner Igor Jovicevic has failed to find consistency. This is despite boasting the bottom half of the table’s best attack in which Algerian schemer Amir Sayoud has joined resident Moroccans Karim El-Berkaoui and Mohamed Fouzair. Last month’s stunning 3-1 raid of champions Ittihad points to untapped potential.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: The collective strength of the squad eases relegation doubts but they must start exhibiting this on a regular basis.

 

14. Al-Fayha

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 19-31

Season so far: This has been a season of strife for the 2021/2022 King’s Cup victors. Zambia forward Fashion Sakala and Nigeria winger Henry Onyekuru have shone after summer moves. But lengthy injuries to fellow Super Eagle Anthony Nwakaeme and Morocco’s World Cup 2022 performer Abdelhamid Sabiri have stung. Belief remains in Serbian supremo Vuk Rasovic to correct their course, like last season.

Major winter changes: Saudi Arabia’s breakout 2023 Asian Cup performer, goalkeeper Ahmed Al-Kassar, has departed for ambitious First Division League-pacesetters Al-Qadsiah.

Outlook: Their AFC Champions League form must be showcased domestically, or relegation looms.

 

15. Al-Riyadh

Points 19

Goals scored/conceded 17-37

Season so far: It has been tough going upon their top-flight return after almost two decades away. Their defense is the leakiest outside the bottom three and attack is the second worst. These problems conflated during a December which featured three defeats and one win. Attacker Saleh Al-Abbas has carried them at times, with Jamaica striker Andre Gray and Zimbabwe forward Knowledge Musona failing to match his impact.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: October hire Odair Hellmann must sharply correct course. The ex-Santos and Al-Wasl tactician has a huge job on his plate.

 

16. Al-Tai

Points 17

Goals scored/conceded 20-39

Season so far: Comfortable mid-table finishes since 2021/2022’s top-flight comeback are a distant memory. An opening matchweek victory against Damac was an illusion, with four points being taken from the next nine matches. Little uptick followed September’s call to dispense with Kresimir Resic, then hire ex-Hilal and Ahli manager Laurentiu Reghecampf. If it was not for the brilliance of nine-goal Ghana attacking midfielder Bernard Mensah, signed from Kayserispor, they would be even further adrift.

Major winter changes: Not applicable.

Outlook: It is going to be a slog to survive, from this point. A date with Abha looms large on March 1.

 

17. Abha

Points 14

Goals scored/conceded 22-52

Season so far: Abha started slowly and got worse from there. They have lost their last seven league matches to a combined score of 29-9. The services of Czeslaw Michniewicz and Yousef Al-Mannai have already been dispensed with. Winter tweaks, however, must point toward better times, or a five-season top-flight stint will end.

Major winter changes: Changes have been sought across the club. Ahli’s promotion winner, Pitso Mosimane, has been set a distinctly different task. Ettifaq loanee Marcel Tisserand must tighten up a defense which has conceded five more than any other. Five-goal Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi has moved in the opposite direction, with Montenegro and Sochi attacker Luka Djordevic his replacement.

Outlook: Much rests on the prowess of Djordevic and Mosimane’s ability to rebound from a mixed spell at the UAE’s Wahda. Alarm bells are still ringing.

 

18. Al-Hazem

Points 13

Goals scored/conceded 19-47

Season so far: It has been tough going for last season’s First Division League runners-up. Every matchweek has been spent within the drop zone, including 11 in last place. A call was made in October to release promotion winner Filipe Gouveia and draft in Nassr’s 2013/2014 double winner, Jose Daniel Carreno. After the pain of their landmark Hilal thumping, they now sit on an encouraging run of one defeat from the subsequent five matches.

Major winter changes: Hazem looked to Major League Soccer and recruited Venezuela defensive midfielder Junior Moreno.

Outlook: Carreno has provided hope that an instant demotion is not inevitable. To do this, will require impressive Portuguese midfielder Toze’s 10-goal contributions to be matched elsewhere.


Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F

Updated 54 min 55 sec ago
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Georgia and the Czech Republic desperate to get off the mark in Group F

  • Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F and play later Saturday
  • Georgians and the Czechs were praised for fighting hard in their opening games

HAMBURG: Georgia and the Czech Republic are desperately seeking a win as they meet in their second game of Euro 2024 in Hamburg.
Kickoff is at 3 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) on Saturday.
Türkiye and Portugal are the other two teams in Group F and play later Saturday.
Georgians and the Czechs were praised for fighting hard in their opening games but didn't get any points as Türkiye beat Georgia 3-1 and Portugal beat the Czechs 2-1 on a stoppage-time goal from Francisco Conceicao.
A win for either team would boost their chances of qualifying for the knockout rounds. The losing team wouldn't be eliminated for sure just yet because of the rule that some third-place teams can qualify.
A draw would leave Georgia needing an upset win over Portugal in their last game, and the Czech team needing the same against Türkiye.
Meanwhile, Georgian fans were involved in a brawl in the stadium ahead of the Türkiye game.
Georgia’s midfielder Otar Kiteishvili has been on an individual training program separate from the rest of the squad and was an unused substitute in the loss to Türkiye.
Moreover, Czech coach Ivan Hasek played down fitness concerns around captain and midfielder Tomas Soucek, saying he has been in full training. “I think everybody will be ready to start tomorrow,” he said.
Striker Patrik Schick, of Czech Republic, is set to play his 40th game for his country and his next goal will be his 20th. Five of his international goals to date came at the last European Championship.
"Getting out of the group should be the goal, but the most important thing now is to put on a good show. We are still in the development phase and this tournament will help us to become even stronger in the future,” said Georgia’s coach Willy Sagnol.
“I’m not nervous because football has given me everything and hard moments are something that I enjoy...Tomorrow is a great opportunity for me,” said Czech midfielder Antonin Barak.


Michael Phelps returning to NBC broadcast booth for Paris Olympics swimming coverage

Updated 21 June 2024
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Michael Phelps returning to NBC broadcast booth for Paris Olympics swimming coverage

  • Phelps retired after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, having captured more gold medals (23) and total medals (28) than any athlete

INDIANAPOLIS: Michael Phelps will be back in the broadcast booth for the Paris Olympics.
NBCUniversal announced Friday that Phelps will be a part of its coverage team for the second Olympics in a row, following his role at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games in 2021.
Phelps retired after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, having captured more gold medals (23) and total medals (28) than any athlete.
He will offer commentary and analysis on the primetime and daytime shows in Paris on NBC and Peacock. In addition, Phelps will join Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines in the booth for select swimming nights at París La Défense Arena.
Former Olympian Elizabeth Beisel will serve as a correspondent and analyst, with Melissa Stark serving as a reporter at the swimming venue.
“We are excited to have Michael return to our coverage across both daytime and primetime, and of course, the place where no one knows more about winning — at the pool,” said Molly Solomon, the executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production. “With his ability to analyze and entertain, our viewers are in for another gold-medal performance.”
Phelps will actually begin his broadcast duties on Friday, when he joins the coverage of the US Olympic trials in Indianapolis. The meet, which is being broadcast on NBC and Peacock, runs through Sunday.


Olympics- “Islamist terrorism” main concern ahead of Paris Games, city's police chief says

Updated 21 June 2024
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Olympics- “Islamist terrorism” main concern ahead of Paris Games, city's police chief says

PARIS: “Islamist terrorism” is the main security worry ahead of the upcoming Paris Olympics, the French capital’s chief of police Laurent Nunez said on Friday.
France is on its highest level of security alert as the Games approach, with the country additionally preparing for snap legislative elections at the end of June.
French authorities also recently foiled an attack on a sports stadium in another French city.
“Islamist terrorism remains our main concern,” Nunez told a press conference seven weeks before the Olympics opening ceremony, which will be held on and along the River Seine on July 26.
“There is no clear-cut threat yet against the Games and our country but I’d like to remind you that at the end of May, two individuals were arrested in Saint-Etienne and were plotting a project aimed directly at the Olympic Games.
“The terrorist threat remains just as important as the protest threat posed by radical environmental groups, the ultra left and the pro-Palestinian movement,” Nunez said.
Last month, an 18-year-old Chechen man was arrested in the city of Saint-Etienne, suspected of planning an attack in the name of Islamic State at the city’s soccer stadium during the Olympics.


Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024

Updated 21 June 2024
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Fulfilling dreams and finding new friends: fans camp out at Euro 2024

  • “In 1990 I was with some friends in Italy at the World Cup there and it was so funny and I said at that time, okay, I will do it again,” Harald Goerz, a Germany fan from Aachen told Reuters

STUTTGART: International rivalries have been put to one side in a campsite in Stuttgart as fans from various nations live in motorhomes next to one another and share the common joy of following their team at Euro 2024.
While the action intensifies on the pitch, the fans are making new friends, sharing drinks and creating a festival atmosphere in a unique holiday that could end next week or next month.
“In 1990 I was with some friends in Italy at the World Cup there and it was so funny and I said at that time, okay, I will do it again,” Harald Goerz, a Germany fan from Aachen told Reuters outside his rented motor home.
“In that time I met my wife, we have been married for 32 years. And last year we had the idea to start this traveling with the German team around Germany to all their games.
“That was ever my dream, I said to her if any time a new European Championship or World Cup is in Germany, then we will do that.”
Harald’s wife Martina, sitting beside him in her Germany jersey, said they would make a photo album of their journey across the country that has taken in Munich and Stuttgart so far and then on to Frankfurt next to show their family.
“We want to have a photo album... for our grandchildren to show them: Look. When I tell our daughter about it, she watches it herself, she lives in Cologne, and she will say: ‘That’s amazing, it’s a shame I couldn’t come with you’. She is crazy about football too.”
Germany have two wins from their opening two matches, the second a 2-0 victory over Hungary at the Stuttgart Arena, which is a five minute walk from the campsite.
However, there was no animosity from Hungarian fans also were camping out.
“It’s amazing. That’s the word... after the game we came here and we just sit in the ‘pub’ and drink with the Scottish fans and they are the best,” Hungary fan Tamas Szucs said, camping with his friend Zsolt Kiraly who he met five years ago and now travels with for international matches.
“We had some German fans here, we said to them well done, good job.
“Everyone is friendly,” he added.

’NO SCOTLAND, NO PARTY’
The Scottish fans are proving to be popular at this tournament with thousands having made the journey. At the Stuttgart campsite, groups made their way separately on the long journey from Scotland but are already one big family.
“We left Glasgow 10 days ago and drove 24 hours solid to get here. And the three guys here, they fell right out the bus. They didn’t stop drinking for 24 hours. 80 cans of beer in 24 hours,” Scotland fan John Gilmour said as his fellow fans cheered and raised fresh bottles of beer.
Scotland were part of the last Euros but that one had COVID restrictions, so for some fans it has been their first real chance to see their team at a European Championship since 1996.
“This was my dream,” said Tony, a Scotland fan who lives in Blackpool, England.
“When I was younger I can remember the football but I was too busy with children. So this time was my dream. I wasn’t missing it. And I brought my son. He was born during Euro 96, so I managed to get him here as well.”
There will be more Scottish arrivals in Stuttgart ahead of their crucial Group A match against Hungary on Sunday, with both teams needing a win to be in with a shout of reaching the next stage.
The chant of “No Scotland, no party” will be heard right across the campsite and the city this weekend.


Pogacar confident in his UAE team to deliver third Tour de France title

Updated 21 June 2024
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Pogacar confident in his UAE team to deliver third Tour de France title

PARIS: Tadej Pogacar believes he has the right team in place to help him fight for a third Tour de France triumph with an eight-rider UAE roster confirmed on Friday.
“It’s already my fifth time coming to the Tour and I’m really excited about it,” said Pogacar, a back-to-back winner in 2020 and 2021 who finished runner-up in the past two editions to Jonas Vingegaard.
“We’ve worked really hard all year as a team to prepare for this. We’ve spent a lot of time together as a group training at altitude and put in a lot of hours in the saddle. We’re in a really good place as a group.”
Pogacar, 25, will also be bidding for the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double, last achieved by the late Marco Pantani in 1998, with this year’s Tour starting in Florence on June 29.
The Slovenian will be accompanied by Britain’s Adam Yates, Spaniards Juan Ayuso and Marc Soler, France’s Pavel Sivakov, Portuguese Joao Almeida, Belgian Tim Wellens and Germany’s Nils Politt.
“We know what we have to do to support Tadej,” said Yates, third in last year’s Tour de France.
“We’re aiming for the win and we know if things go our way it’s possible so it’s just a matter of staying focused and pulling together all the way to Nice.”
Ayuso, winner of the Tour of the Basque Country and third in the 2022 Vuelta, and Almeida, third in last year’s Giro, will compete in their first Tour de France.