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

Al-Wasl lead the ADNOC Pro league by eight points from Al-Ain. (X/@AlWaslSC)
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Updated 26 February 2024

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.

Heavyweight boxers Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk face off in Riyadh on Saturday

Updated 15 May 2024

Heavyweight boxers Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk face off in Riyadh on Saturday

  • The winner will carry the four championship belts in a unification bout for most important global organizations in boxing
  • Fury and Usyk both seek to write their name in the history books alongside global icons

RIYADH: British heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury and Ukrainian contender Oleksandr Usyk are scheduled to face off for the undisputed heavyweight world title on Saturday at Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena.
The winner will carry the four championship belts in a unification bout for the most important global organizations in boxing — the World Boxing Association (WBA), the World Boxing Council (WBC), the International Boxing Federation (IBF), and the World Boxing Organization (WBO), according to a media statement released on Wednesday.
The four belts feature images of boxing legends such as Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Fury and Usyk will both be seeking to write their name in the history books alongside these global icons, the statement added.
Saturday’s long-awaited-match will be the pinnacle of modern boxing as it is the first time that the four belts will be unified in a single fight. It evokes the prestigious legacy of the greats who have previously shaped the sport’s championship titles.
WBC was established in 1963, and Muhammad Ali was one of its most famous champions, holding the title three times during his career.
IBF was founded in 1983; Larry Holmes dominated the heavyweight division for seven years across different periods of his career.
WBO was established in 1988, and although it is the newest of the belts, it has been held by several prominent champions, including Chris Byrd and Herbie Hide, among others.
However, the oldest of the four belts that Fury and Usyk will compete for is the WBA title, which was established more than 100 years ago.
The title was held for 12 years by Joe Louis, the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949, and who is considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time.
Saudi Arabia has become a hub for premier world boxing contests over the past few years, with authorities investing heavily to bring the biggest bouts to local and international audiences.
Previous bouts in the country have garnered the attention of fans globally and marked the Kingdom as a new home of international boxing.

Saudia unites football, motorsport with displays in Newcastle, Berlin

Updated 15 May 2024

Saudia unites football, motorsport with displays in Newcastle, Berlin

  • Kingdom’s flag carrier introduces fans to new Gen3 Formula E car at St. James’ Park
  • Immersive fan zone offers variety of interactive experiences during Berlin E-Prix

BERLIN/JEDDAH: Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, has flown the new Gen3 Formula E car to St. James’ Park in the UK to coincide with Newcastle United’s final home game of the season.

The carrier has a strategic partnership with the Premier League club and is also the official airline partner of the all-electric Formula E series.

The event coincided with the release of a short film bringing together the worlds of motorsport and football, with football fans being introduced to Formula E and the car.

“This event provides a fantastic platform for us to engage with our guests and the global audience, whether in person or through our innovative digital portals,” Khaled Tash, Saudia Group’s chief marketing officer, said in the statement.

“Integrating our partnerships with both Newcastle United and Formula E in such an engaging manner exemplifies our commitment to bringing fans closer to the sports they love. Each year, we strive to elevate the experience for racegoers and fans worldwide, as part of our commitment to creating unforgettable memories wherever our brand is present.”

Saudia also hosted an immersive fan zone experience during the Berlin E-Prix on May 11-12 in Berlin.

Fans were given access to an E-Village, with a dedicated Discover-E Zone featuring a variety of interactive experiences, as well as games, competitions, and giveaways featuring both Saudia and Formula E merchandise.

Saudi team ready for World Para Athletics Championships in Japan

Updated 13 May 2024

Saudi team ready for World Para Athletics Championships in Japan

DUBAI: The Saudi Paralympic team has set off for Kobe, in Japan, where they are competing in the 2024 World Para Athletics Championships.

The team’s preparations included extensive training sessions in both local and international camps.

The first phase took place in Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman from March to April, while phase two was in Dubai and included the team’s participation in the Gulf Games.

The 11th edition of the World Para Athletics Championships begins today and runs until May 27. It is being held at the Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium, where more than 1,000 athletes from 100 nations will compete in 168 events.

The 2024 championships are the first to be held in East Asia and the third one in Asia, following Doha in 2015 and Dubai in 2019. 

Jorge Jesus hails ‘spectacular season’ as Al-Hilal secure 19th league title

Updated 12 May 2024

Jorge Jesus hails ‘spectacular season’ as Al-Hilal secure 19th league title

  • Roshn Saudi League set to ‘grow better and better,’ Portuguese coach says
  • Side will contest King’s Cup final against Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr at end of season

RIYADH: Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus declared 2023/24 “a spectacular season” after the club claimed their 19th Saudi Pro League championship with a 4-1 victory over Al-Hazem on Saturday night.

Twelve points ahead of Riyadh rivals and nearest Roshn Saudi League challengers Al-Nassr, the title was won with three games to spare. Unbeaten domestically this season, with 29 wins from 31 league matches, Al-Hilal also created world football history earlier in the campaign by winning 34 matches in succession across all competitions.

“The Al-Hilal team this season has made a spectacular season. What we have achieved is an example for all the others because if we see all the details then we are the best in goalscoring, best in fewest goals conceded, no losses in the league and obviously the most points,” Jesus said in a statement released by the club.

“We are the Super Cup winners, in the semifinal (sic) of the King’s Cup and have won the league. We only failed in the Asian Champions League, in the semifinal, but if we speak about the Saudi level then winning the King’s Cup will mean we have won everything available this season in Saudi.

“That’s my habit wherever I’ve been — with Flamengo in Brazil I did this, with Benfica in Portugal I did this and now at Al-Hilal this can be achieved. We prepared to do this from the beginning of the season — but we have had to do this missing key players — Neymar for most of the time, Mitrovic for some of the time. But I have the notion that the Saudi league will grow better and better every time.”

All of the goals in Al-Hilal win over Al-Hazem at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium came in the first half.

Mitrovic gave his side the lead from the penalty spot in the 15th minute, striking low into the bottom corner. Faiz Selemani equalized through a well-taken curling shot only for Aljuwayd to then loft into his own net from the edge of the box trying to pass back to the goalkeeper after being put under pressure by Milinkovic-Savic.

Al-Hilal’s Serbian duo completed the scoring in injury time. Firstly, Mitrovic tucked home his compatriot’s cut back and then Milinkovic-Savic curled into the bottom corner for 4-1.

Al-Hazem coach Saleh Al-Mohammadi, whose side remain bottom of the 18-team league, said: “Al-Hilal are a very strong team. Because of individual mistakes we lost the game. If you don’t play well against the champions of the league then that will happen.”

Ahead of Al-Hilal’s next game, Portuguese coach Jesus warned compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo’s team Al-Nassr not to expect a weakened side at Al-Awwal Park on Friday in the second Riyadh derby of the season. Al-Hilal won the first clash 3-0 in December.

The two teams will also contest the King’s Cup final at the end of the season and Jesus said his side were preparing hard for the clash.

“Preparing is not by giving rest,” he said. “We still have more titles and work for the players. Every match is important for us.”

Riyadh’s recyclable football fan zone a ‘world-first for sustainability’ 

Since the fan zone opened, the response from spectators has been positive. AN photo by Huda Bashatah
Updated 10 May 2024

Riyadh’s recyclable football fan zone a ‘world-first for sustainability’ 

  • Each recycled plastic pallet used in the fan zone’s construction has been repurposed to create a seating layout that promotes interaction among football fans

Riyadh: A football fan zone in Riyadh constructed entirely from recycled plastic pallets is a “world-first for sustainability,” its backers have said.

Spearheaded by Saudi Arabian Logistics, the eco-friendly project in the capital’s Laysen Valley will provide football fans with a dynamic environment to watch Roshn Saudi League matches.

With a seating capacity of more than 250, the fan zone will deliver action-packed viewing of the final five matches of the league amid anticipation for the crowning of the champion.

Each recycled plastic pallet used in the fan zone’s construction has been repurposed to create a seating layout that promotes interaction among football fans.

SAL designed the project with an eye on Saudi Arabia’s ambitious sustainability goals, including combating plastic pollution and promoting a circular economy.

SAL Managing Director and CEO Faisal Albedah, told Arab News about the inspiration behind the fan zone.

“Our dedication at SAL to sustainability and creativity served as the impetus for constructing the first-ever fan zone made entirely of plastic pallets, which are used on a daily basis in our 18 stations around the Kingdom in partnership with the Oil Sustainability Program,” he said.

The company wanted to play a role in tackling environmental concerns and curbing deforestation by demonstrating the utility of repurposed materials, he added. As the logistical sponsor of the Saudi Pro League, SAL has also pledged to unite communities through a shared enjoyment of football.

Mohammed Al-Tayyar, program director at the OSP, highlighted the significance of plastic pallets in environmental sustainability and economic efficiency. “From an environmental perspective, the material is recyclable, and time and resource efficient, as they are both durable and eliminate the need to cut trees to manufacture wooden pallets,” he told Arab News.

Plastic pallets outlast their alternatives and can be reused more than 250 times, leading to a reduction in CO2 emissions, he added.

The launch of the fan zone marks a major milestone in Riyadh’s sporting landscape and signals a shift toward sustainable approaches in fan engagement. As spectators gather in Laysen Valley to witness the climax of the Roshn Saudi League, they will not only partake in the thrill of competitive football, but also champion the cause of environmental sustainability.

Since the fan zone opened, the response from spectators has been “overwhelmingly positive,” added Al-Bedah.

“The attendees for our first event exceeded 200 fans cheering for both teams, Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli. This encouraging response validates the efficacy of our strategy and motivates us to expand and follow the path of bringing more cutting-edge initiatives to the ground.”

Al-Tayyar said that the Oil Sustainability Program has plans to replicate the success of the fan zone in other industries. “We aim to find, replicate and alter sustainable solutions for transportation, materials and utilities to meet global needs,” he added.

As the final matches of the Roshn Saudi League kick off, spectators at the fan zone are hoping that history can be made not only on the pitch, but also in the realm of sustainable sports infrastructure.