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

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.

Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka join Berlin injury list

Updated 8 sec ago

Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka join Berlin injury list

  • Injured stars lose their delayed quarterfinals in the Wimbledon warm-up event
BERLIN: Aryna Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur joined the procession of injured stars limping off the Berlin grass as they retired Saturday while losing their delayed quarterfinals in the Wimbledon warm-up event.
Second-seeded Belarusian Sabalenka retired against unseeded Russian Anna Kalinskaya trailing 5-1 in the first set, in one of the quarterfinals pushed back to Saturday morning by rain on Friday.
Eighth-seeded Jabeur had gone toe-to-toe with top seed Coco Gauff before losing a one-hour 14 minute first set tiebreak 11/9 before packing her rackets in her bag and walking off.
“It doesn’t feel like a win,” said Gauff on court. “Especially as we had such a great first set.”
“It’s not the way you want to finish a match, especially with someone who is so nice on and off the court.”
Gauff said the Tunisian had indicated she was not seriously injured.
“I know she’s going to feel better tomorrow and should be fine for Wimbledon.”
Trailing 4-1, Sabalenka called a medical timeout to have her shoulder and neck treated. She played on for one game before stopping. It was the first time the Belarusian had retired injured in a WTA tournament, said the women’s tennis body.
“I played really good. I had a good start. I’m happy to be in the semifinals,” Kalinskaya said. “I’m happy to have three matches (here), fourth one on grass. That gives me confidence.”
On Thursday, reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova retired with a right hip injury from her second-round match, also against Kalinskaya.
On Friday, former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina pulled out while trailing Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals.
Azarenka will play Kalinskaya in one semifinal later on Saturday.
Gauff will face compatriot Jessica Pegula who beat Czech Katerina Siniakova 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-3 on Saturday. The fourth-seeded American had led 4-2 in the third set when rain halted play on Friday.
Gauff said her training regime prepared her to play twice in one day.
“I’ll be ready for later today,” said Gauff.

Laporte takes aim at critics after strong Spain Euros start

Updated 24 min 55 sec ago

Laporte takes aim at critics after strong Spain Euros start

  • “They said everything, there was a lot of speculation and not enough information to come out with so many opinions,” Laporte told a news conference
  • “There’s a lot of bad information out there that generates more headlines... I prepared myself (to play at the Euros)“

DONAUESCHINGEN, Germany: Spain defender Aymeric Laporte fired a shot at his critics on Saturday after his fine display against Italy at Euro 2024.
The 30-year-old center-back, now playing for Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia, started as Spain defeated the reigning champions 1-0 on Thursday to qualify for the last 16 top from Group B.
Laporte missed the opening 3-0 win against Croatia with a muscular problem and some Spanish media speculated over whether he was at the right level to play for La Roja after a year in the Saudi league.
“They said everything, there was a lot of speculation and not enough information to come out with so many opinions,” Laporte told a news conference ahead of the third group match against Albania on Monday.
“There’s a lot of bad information out there that generates more headlines... I prepared myself (to play at the Euros).”
Laporte arrived in Germany after his team-mates, and coach Luis de la Fuente said although the former Manchester City player could have featured against Croatia, it was better not to take risks.
“I played 90 minutes against Italy and I feel good,” added Laporte.
“I spoke with the (Spain) coach before taking the decision to go to Saudi Arabia.
“For me the national team is very important, it’s one of the most important things in my career.
“I’m proud of representing Spain, each time I wear the shirt I feel very proud and like I identify.”
Laporte, born in the French Basque region, became a naturalized Spaniard in 2021.
The defender played alongside Robin Le Normand, another French-born player, against Italy.
“I speak (to him) a lot on the pitch, we have fluid communication,” said Laporte.
“On and off the pitch we’re constantly talking, we played well against Italy.”
In January Laporte said many new players in the Saudi league coming from Europe were not happy, but defended the competition on Friday.
“I think people are prejudiced about it,” he explained.
“It’s also true that it’s a young league, in terms of marketing it’s evolving bit by bit and maybe in the future it will be seen as a more competitive league.
“But I also have to say that the player of the match in both of France’s games was (Al-Ittihad player N’Golo) Kante, and that shows something.”

UAE jiu-jitsu national team passes weigh-in for Grand Prix Thailand Open 2024 

Updated 22 June 2024

UAE jiu-jitsu national team passes weigh-in for Grand Prix Thailand Open 2024 

  • 19 Emirati male and female fighters are among more than 300 athletes from 31 nations taking part in the tournament

ABU DHABI: The UAE jiu-jitsu national team completed the official weigh-in on Friday night for the Grand Prix Thailand Open 2024, which run until May 23 in Bangkok.

The Emirati fighters are aiming to build on their strong performance from May in Abu Dhabi, where they won the Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship title for the fourth consecutive year.

This championship is crucial for the team, which consists of 19 male and female athletes as it provides an opportunity to test their skills before big events, particularly the Jiu-Jitsu World Championship in Greece this October and Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Thailand in November. More than 300 athletes from 31 nations are participating in the Grand Prix Thailand Open 2024.

Mohamed Salem Al-Dhaheri, vice chairman of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, expressed confidence in the athletes’ skills and their readiness to compete at the highest level.

“The successful weigh-in reflects the exceptional efforts during training camps and the athletes’ professionalism and commitment to following the technical staff’s directives. The team is all prepared to compete strongly against some of the best athletes in the world,” he said.

“The team aims to maintain their excellence in continental and international competitions and build on their successes in 2024, starting with the recent Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship win.”

Al-Dhaheri highlighted the importance of grand prix tournaments in improving the team’s standing in the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation’s ranking. This ranking provides advantages in terms of the draw and brackets for the Jiu-Jitsu World Championship. 

Sultan Hassan, of the national team, competing in the 69 kg weight category, said: “We aim to represent the nation well and add another title to our country’s record of achievements. We have prepared intensively over the past weeks and are eager to continue performing well on the international stage.

“We worked hard with the technical staff and underwent an intensive training program, both physically and mentally. Our training included advanced techniques and various strategies, enhancing our preparation to compete at the highest level. We are confident that we can perform well and fly the UAE’s flag high.”

The men’s team delegation includes Rashid Al-Shehhi, Omar Al-Suwaidi and Mohammed Al-Ketbi who will compete in the 56 kg weight division; Mayed Al-Shehhi and Khaled Al-Baloushi in the 62 kg weight division; Muhammad Al-Suwaidi and Sultan Hassan in the 69 kg weight division; Mahdi Al-Awlaki and Sultan Al-Hosani in the 77 kg weight division; Saeed Al-Kubaisi in the 85 kg weight division; and Hazza Farhan in the 94 kg weight division.

In the women’s category, Balqees Alhashmi and Aysha Al-Shamsi will compete in the 45 kg weight division; Maitha Shraim in the 48 kg weight division; Asma Al-Hosani in the 52 kg weight class; Alanood Alhosani in the 57 kg weight class; Shamma Al-Kalbani and Bashayer Al-Matroushi in the 63 kg weight division; and Muhrah Mahfoudh in the 70 kg weight division.

DP World ILT20 franchises retain leading cricket stars for Season 3

Updated 22 June 2024

DP World ILT20 franchises retain leading cricket stars for Season 3

  • Franchises had option of retaining maximum of two UAE players, with no limit on retention of international players.
  • DP World ILT20 Season 3 to begin from Saturday, Jan. 11, 2025, with final to be played on Sunday, Feb. 9

DUBAI: The six DP World International League T20 franchises have retained a total of 69 players for the tournament’s third season, which will be played from Jan. 11 to Feb. 9, 2025 in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

The window for retaining players was opened on June 1 with the teams given two weeks to submit the list of the retained players.

Among the 69 players, 26 players were parts of various ICC men’s T20 World Cup 2024 squads.

The retained players include T20 heavyweights such as Andre Russell, David Willey, Sunil Narine (Abu Dhabi Knight Riders), Alex Hales, Azam Khan, Muhammad Amir, Sherfane Rutherford, Wanindu Hasaranga (Desert Vipers), Dasun Shanaka, David Warner, Rovman Powell, Sam Billings, Sikandar Raza (Dubai Capitals), Chris Jordan, James Vince, Shimron Hetmyer (Gulf Giants), Akeal Hosein, Dwayne Bravo, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran, (MI Emirates), Johnson Charles and Tom Kohler-Cadmore (Sharjah Warriors).

Each of the six franchises have retained two UAE players each.

The UAE players retained for Season 3 include Aditya Shetty and Alishan Sharafu (Abu Dhabi Knight Riders), Ali Naseer and Tanish Suri (Desert Vipers), Haider Ali and Raja Akif (Dubai Capitals), Aayan Afzal Khan and Mohammad Zohaib Zubair (Gulf Giants), Muhammad Rohid Khan and Muhammad Waseem (MI Emirates), Junaid Siddique and Muhammad Jawadullah (Sharjah Warriors).

Following the completion of the players' retention window, the teams can now sign new players in the player acquisition window, which will stay open till Sept. 15.

Each franchise can sign a minimum two additional UAE players to complete their quota of four UAE signings after the completion of the ILT20 development tournament, which will be held in October.

Retained players for DP World ILT20 Season 3:

Abu Dhabi Knight Riders: Aditya Shetty, Ali Khan, Alishan Sharafu, Andre Russell, Andries Ghous, Charith Asalanka, David Willey, Joe Clarke, Laurie Evans, Michael Pepper and Sunil Narine.

Desert Vipers: Adam Hose, Alex Hales, Ali Naseer, Azam Khan, Bas de Leede, Luke Wood, Michael Jones, Muhammad Amir, Nathan Sowter, Sherfane Rutherford, Tanish Suri and Wanindu Hasaranga.

Dubai Capitals: Dasun Shanaka, David Warner, Dushmantha Chameera, Haider Ali, Raja Akif, Rovman Powell, Sam Billings, Sikandar Raza, Zahir Khan, Jake Fraser McGurk and Oliver Stone.

Gulf Giants: Aayan Afzal Khan, Blessing Muzarabani, Chris Jordan, Dipendra Singh Airee, Gerhard Erasmus, Jamie Overton, James Vince, Jamie Smith, Jordan Cox, Mohammad Zohaib Zubair, Rehan Ahmed, Richard Gleeson and Shimron Hetmyer.

MI Emirates: Akeal Hosein, Andre Fletcher, Daniel Mousley, Dwayne Bravo, Fazalhaq Farooqi, Jordan Thompson, Kieron Pollard, Kusal Perera, Muhammad Rohid Khan, Muhammad Waseem, Nicholas Pooran, Nosthush Kenjige, Vijayakanth Viyaskanth and Waqar Salamkheil.

Sharjah Warriors: Dilshan Madushanka, Johnson Charles, Junaid Siddique, Muhamad Jawadullah, Kusal Mendis, Luke Wells, Peter Hatzoglou and Tom Kohler-Cadmore.

Impa Kasanganay earns top seed after victory in PFL light heavyweight playoffs

Updated 22 June 2024

Impa Kasanganay earns top seed after victory in PFL light heavyweight playoffs

  • Kasanganay will face Josh Silveira in the 2024 PFL light heavyweight semifinals
  • The 2024 PFL Global Season action continues Friday, June 28 from Sioux Falls, South Dakota

SALT LAKE CITY: Impa Kasanganay emerged victorious on Friday night as the 2024 PFL Global Season resumed from the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The 12-fight Professional Fighters League event card featured the lightweight and light heavyweight divisions.

The evening’s co-main event featured 2023 PFL light heavyweight champion Kasanganay squaring off with Jakob Nedoh. The two battled back and forth until Kasanganay landed a flurry of devastating punches leading to a doctor’s stoppage after the second round. Kasanganay continues his million-dollar journey with a berth in the 2024 PFL Global Season playoffs.

In the night’s other main event, Clay Collard and Mads Burnell went the three-round distance. Burnell took control of the action with a superior ground game, nullifying Collard’s striking advantage. Burnell earned a unanimous decision, playing the spoiler in Collard’s hometown return.

Former lightweight champion Patricky Pitbull faced Bruno Miranda in a lightweight global season bout with Miranda defeating Pitbull by split decision. Unfortunately for both fighters, Miranda and Pitbull were eliminated from the PFL playoffs due to points.

The 2022 PFL light heavyweight champion Rob Wilkinson met 2023 runner-up Josh Silveira in Global Season action. The two battled for three rounds, showcasing their technical acumen. In the end, it was Wilkinson taking the razor-thin, split-decision victory. Both competitors clinched 2024 PFL playoffs berths.

Turkmenistan’s Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov squared off with Cameroon’s Simon Biyong in a light heavyweight PFL Global Season matchup. After three intense rounds, Yagshimuradov was judged as the superior fighter, winning by unanimous decision. As a result, Yagshimuradov clinched a spot in the 2024 PFL playoffs.

“The Professional Fighters League’s debut in Salt Lake City was an unforgettable event featuring the best athletes in MMA as they continued their million-dollar journey,” said PFL CEO Peter Murray. “The PFL season format makes every fight a must-win, giving us an unparalleled connection to the fans while providing unrivaled action with the highest stakes in the sport.”

“Salt Lake City saw eight athletes qualify for the 2024 PFL Global Season playoffs in a night of non-stop PFL action,” said Ray Sefo, president of fighter operations at PFL. “We look forward to next week’s 2024 PFL regular season finale in Sioux Falls.”

Antonio Carlos Jr. and Alex Polizzi met in Global Season light heavyweight action. Polizzi earned a hard-fought unanimous decision. The decision ended both fighters’ hopes of moving on to the 2024 PFL playoffs.

Brent Primus defeated Solomon Renfro by submission in the third round in a lightweight PFL Global Season matchup. Primus clinched a 2024 PFL playoff berth with the victory.

Sadibou Sy faced off against Andrew Sanchez in a light heavyweight Global Season bout. In an action-packed fight, both men traded strikes until Sy ended the affair in the third round by TKO.

In a lightweight Global Season matchup, it was win-or-go-home time for Gadzhi Rabadanov and Elvin Espinoza. The fight went the distance, with both fighters trading shots for three rounds. In the end it was Rabadanov who left the PFL smartcage victorious after a unanimous decision, earning a spot in the 2024 PFL playoffs.

In lightweight PFL Global Season action, Adam Piccolotti defeated Michael Dufort by split decision in a hard-fought matchup. The victory was not enough to put Piccolotti into the postseason, Dufort however, did eventually earn his first trip to the PFL playoffs.

In an exciting PFL Global Season lightweight alternate bout, Sergio Cossio defeated Anthony Romero by unanimous decision in his PFL debut. The win extends former lightweight champion Cossio’s winning streak to nine.

The first fight of the night, a featherweight showcase bout between undefeated fighters Brahyan Zurcher and Julian Ruiz, resulted in a second-round KO by Zurcher. Zurcher improves to 9-0 as a pro with seven stoppage wins.

The 2024 PFL Global Season continues on Friday, June 28 from Sioux Falls, South Dakota with featherweight and welterweight action.