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Ahmed Al-Ghamdi ‘does the math’ for late-career 2034 World Cup in ż

Ahmed Al-Ghamdi ‘does the math’ for late-career 2034 World Cup in ż
Ahmed Al-Ghamdi (#11) joined the Dammam-based Ettifaq club in 2020 after returning to ż from Canada. (X: @SaudiNT)
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Updated 14 November 2023

Ahmed Al-Ghamdi ‘does the math’ for late-career 2034 World Cup in ż

Ahmed Al-Ghamdi ‘does the math’ for late-career 2034 World Cup in ż
  • Al-Ettifaq forward will be 33 when FIFA World Cup likely comes to Kingdom
  • Former Al-Hilal, South Korean player Lee Young-pyo backs Saudi World Cup bid

RIYADH: Ahmed Al-Ghamdi has always dreamed big, but after news that ż was the sole bidder for the 2034 FIFA World Cup, all but guaranteeing the 48-team extravaganza will be played in the Kingdom for the first time, he is now aiming for the stars.

The midfielder, who plays under Steven Gerrard for Al-Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League, only turned 22 in September. By the time the World Cup rolls around in 2034, he will likely have just turned 33; easily still young enough to be in consideration for the Green Falcons squad.

He told ż: “Obviously I did the math. Once they announced that they will be hosting the World Cup in 2034 I calculated how old I would be, and when I found out I would be 33, I got very excited because there’s still a big possibility to participate in the World Cup.

“To play in a World Cup on home soil in front of żn fans, and hopefully give good performances and maybe make history going to the further rounds in the World Cup, it will be truly amazing and something dreams are made of.”

Someone who knows what it means to play at a World Cup on home soil is South Korean star and former Al-Hilal fullback, Lee Young-pyo.

Lee, who spent two seasons at the Riyadh club between 2009 and 2011, was one of 23 players selected to represent his country at the 2002 World Cup, the first ever World Cup to be hosted in Asia.

It was at that tournament that the Taegeuk Warriors stunned the world with an improbable run to the semi-finals, dispatching the likes of Italy and Spain along the way. The scenes of hundreds of thousands of fans, all clad in red, spilling out onto the streets of Seoul in wild celebration with each passing victory live long in the memory.

Two decades may have passed since then, but the memories are still vivid for Lee.

He said: “Being able to play in the World Cup in my home country was a very special experience. The nation coming together in unity through football was something that stood out to me the most.”

Such a social celebration awaits ż in 2034.

Having already seen the country undertake substantial social reform over the past decade as part of Vision 2030, Al-Ghamdi was excited to see what another decade of development would do for his country, especially with the turbocharge of investment that will come from hosting the world’s biggest sporting event.

“As a proud Saudi, seeing the development of the country in the past decade or so, it’s been really amazing to see how ż has begun to open up to the world and introduce new things in society.

“And I feel because of this, ż deserves the opportunity to host the World Cup in 2034 to show the world what we’re capable of.

“A decade is still a long time away, and the country is improving on a daily basis. You can see vast improvement, so I’m excited to see where ż will be in the next decade by the time the World Cup comes around,” he added.

Having experienced first-hand the passion of Saudi fans for football throughout his two years at Al-Hilal, during which time he won two SPL titles with the Riyadh giants, Lee was nothing but supportive of ż hosting the tournament.

He said: “First of all, I think positively of the 2034 World Cup being held in ż.

“As I played in ż for two years, I realised how much the entirety of the nation loves and cares for the sport.

“Although there are many controversial opinions of the World Cup being hosted in the Middle East, the success of the 2022 Qatar World Cup shows how ż can achieve beyond what has been done,” Lee added.

He pointed out that like 2002 did for South Korea, hosting the tournament could catapult Saudi football to a new level.

“Although ż is one of the most prominent football teams in Asia, it still has a long way to go to achieve the top level of football.

“However, just like how the 2002 World Cup allowed South Korean football to grow a great deal, I believe that ż has the same potential to reach a higher level of football through the World Cup,” Lee said.

Having already tasted senior international football himself, Al-Ghamdi is one of a fresh generation that now has the prize of a home World Cup on the horizon.

This week, 16-year-old Talal Haji was named by Roberto Mancini in the senior team for the opening 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Pakistan and Jordan.

Every player 22 or under in ż now has even greater motivation to succeed in their career.

“Of course, I’ll put that as one of my benchmarks in my career, and hopefully I achieve it by that time, and it motivates me, and gives me a reason to go even harder, work more, give my best in all the games and practices.

“All the current generation are going to be aspiring to play in a World Cup in ż for the first time.

“So, I feel like the dreams and aspirations of everyone are going to exceed and when these factors exceed more is given, more investment, more effort, more attention, and, you never know where Saudi football will be by the time they host the World Cup.”


Saudi Games 2023: Day 11 crowns champions in beach soccer, fencing

Saudi Games 2023: Day 11 crowns champions in beach soccer, fencing
Updated 22 sec ago

Saudi Games 2023: Day 11 crowns champions in beach soccer, fencing

Saudi Games 2023: Day 11 crowns champions in beach soccer, fencing
  • In the men’s foil category, Ibrahim Al-Hodaib from Al-Nassr Club secured the gold medal, while Ali Al-Albinali from Al-Hilal claimed silver
  • The women’s individual saber finals saw Al-Shabab’s Ruba Al-Masri taking the gold, with Al-Hilal’s Alhasna Al-Hammad getting the silver

RIYADH: The champions of the fencing competition held at the Riyadh Club on Sunday were honored by Abdulaziz Baeshen, executive director of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and Ahmed Al-Sabban, president of the Saudi Fencing Federation.

In the men’s foil category, Ibrahim Al-Hodaib from Al-Nassr Club secured the gold medal, while Ali Al-Albinali from Al-Hilal claimed silver. Bronze medals were awarded to Al-Huda’s Mohsen Al-Shatti and Mahdi Al-Qaros.

The women’s individual saber finals saw Al-Shabab’s Ruba Al-Masri taking the gold, with Al-Hilal’s Alhasna Al-Hammad earning the silver. Bronze medals were awarded to Al-Hilal’s Ahad Al-Muahmmar and Al-Shabab’s Dana Al-Qahtani.

The Saudi Games 2023 volunteer coordinator, Ahlam Qadah, reported the participation of more than 1,460 volunteers in this year’s edition.

Volunteers, selected based on specific criteria, were assigned to 31 different competition venues across the Kingdom. Predominantly university students specializing in law, public relations, administration, computing, and medicine, the volunteers demonstrated a strong interest in sports and related activities.

Al-Masheal Crowns Al-Selmeyya with Gold in Beach Soccer Finals

Saudi Football Federation President Yasser Al-Misehal awarded Al-Selmeyya with the gold medal in beach soccer. Al-Selmeyya beat Al-Nassr 3-2 while Al-Jandal secured the bronze medal by defeating Al-Zulfi 4-3 during the finals.

Indoor Women’s Futsal Final Between Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab

The women’s football semifinals on Sunday saw Al-Nassr defeated Al-Hilal with a final score of 2-1, while Al-Shabab overcame Al-Qadisiyah 8-1.
The final match between Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. local time. It will be held at Al-Nassr Club, preceded by a third-place match between Al-Hilal and Al-Qadisiyah at 3 p.m.

Men’s Basketball Semifinals Set

Al-Hilal secured a spot in the basketball semifinals after defeating Al-Fateh 91-52 in the quarterfinals held on Sunday at the Green Hall of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex. Al-Nassr beat Al-Safa 74-63 in a close bout, while Al-Ahli edged out Al-Ittihad 64-60. Tuesday’s semifinals will see Al-Hilal face Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr play Ohud.

Women’s Basketball Quarterfinals Kick Off

The women’s basketball quarterfinals began on Monday at the Green Hall of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex. Defending champions Jeddah United faced Al-Qadisiyah at 2 p.m., Al-Ittihad vs. Al-Nassr at 4 p.m., Al-Hilal vs. Al-Ahli at 6 p.m., and Al-Nawras vs. Al-Asima at 8 p.m.

Youth and Women’s Fencing Champions

In the youth category, Al-Adalah’s Jehad Al-Obaid won the men’s saber gold medal, while Al-Omran’s Ali Saeed Al-Hashem claimed silver. Al-Adalah’s Ahmed Al-Omran and Al-Watani’s Abdulsalam Turk Al-Anazi secured the bronze medals. In the women's epee, gold was awarded to Al-Huda’s Lamar Arslan after defeating teammate Wateen Al-Toukhy, who took silver. Hala Khaled Khadawardi of Al-Ittihad and Yassmin Al-Saleh of Al-Nassr claimed bronze.

Karate Concludes with 11 Weight Categories

The karate competition concluded on Monday at King Saud University, featuring finals in the women’s open weight category and the men’s 60 kg, 67 kg, 75 kg, 84 kg, and over 84 kg divisions. The youth women’s open weight finals will begin alongside the youth men’s 55 kg, 61 kg, 68 kg, and 76 kg finals.

Muay Thai Concludes Competitions

The muay thai finals were held on Monday at King Saud University. Ghadah Al-Shehri faced Haytan Al-Saif in the women’s 54 kg final, while Ahmed Rosli is expected to compete against Khalid Al-Dawalibi for the men’s 57 kg gold. Abdullah Al-Kahtani and Othmane Essaadaoui will compete for the 63.5 kg gold, concluding with Abdulrahman Bajaba vs. Soufiane Marzak in the 75 kg category.

Handball Youth Matches Continue

King Saud University sports arena will see the third group of handball youth matches take place on Monday. Sunday’s matches saw Al-Ibtisam beat Al-Safa 31-22. Al-Ahli surpass Al-Qarah 30-22 and Mudhar overcome Al-Hilal 34-18. Monday’s group A matches will feature Al-Wehda vs. Al-Hazem and Al-Huda vs. Al-Noor.

Four Matches in Men’s Handball

In men’s handball events, Al-Ahli defeated Al-Rawdah 30-26, Al-Huda overcame Al-Hazem 36-20 and Al-Wehda surpassed Al-Adalah 34-32. Four matches are scheduled on Monday: Mudhar vs. Al-Zulfi and Al-Jeel vs. Al-Qarah in Group A, and Al-Khaleej vs. Al-Muheet and Al-Njoom vs. Al-Safa in Group B.


Legends Maldini, Villa say ‘passion’ key to Saudi football’s ‘rapid development’ ahead of FIFA Club World Cup

Legends Maldini, Villa say ‘passion’ key to Saudi football’s ‘rapid development’ ahead of FIFA Club World Cup
Updated 34 min 47 sec ago

Legends Maldini, Villa say ‘passion’ key to Saudi football’s ‘rapid development’ ahead of FIFA Club World Cup

Legends Maldini, Villa say ‘passion’ key to Saudi football’s ‘rapid development’ ahead of FIFA Club World Cup
  • Former CWC champions Paolo Maldini and David Villa are in Jeddah this week as the Red Sea coastal city counts down to hosting the competition

LONDON: The “passion” of ż’s football-obsessed fans during this month’s FIFA Club World Cup in the Kingdom will set it up to host even bigger events in the future, two legends of the game said on Monday.

Former CWC champions Paolo Maldini and David Villa are in Jeddah this week as the Red Sea coastal city counts down to hosting the competition.

Both men have enjoyed glittering careers, including winning the tournament in 2007 (Maldini with AC Milan) and 2011 (Villa with Barcelona) respectively.

Now regular visitors to ż, the two shared their thoughts on the Kingdom’s growing stature and influence within global football.

“Hosting a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is a big challenge,” Maldini said. “FIFA is very strict when it comes to the terms of organizing a tournament, but with the passion here (in ż), I think they will find what they are looking for,” he said.

“I’ve been to ż several times. The first time was 30 years ago, and there are lots of changes since then. Saudis love football — this has been known for years, and I’ve experienced it personally. We have a goal to make this tournament one of the most important tournaments in the world, and this is achievable due to the passionate fans here.”

Villa echoed the sentiment: “I’ve visited ż four times in the last year — the passion for football is real here. Saudis have such a strong passion for football, not only locally but globally, too.

“To host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is very important to ż, the Saudi League is developing rapidly, and Saudi football is progressing very well. There is also a huge affection for football here.

“Football should always be for the fans, those who are passionate and want to watch the games. That’s why it’s crucial and important for ż to host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup,” he said.

The tournament, which kicks off in Jeddah on Dec. 12, will see the champions of the six continental federations clash for the right to be called club champion of the world.

Manchester City, Fluminense of Brazil, Egyptian giants Al-Ahly, Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds, Mexican side Club Leon and Auckland City will be joined by Jeddah’s own Al-Ittihad, who qualify as domestic champions of the host nation.


Pakistan aims to revitalize football after first-ever collaboration with ż

Pakistan aims to revitalize football after first-ever collaboration with ż
Updated 04 December 2023

Pakistan aims to revitalize football after first-ever collaboration with ż

Pakistan aims to revitalize football after first-ever collaboration with ż
  • Pakistan Football Federation signed an MoU with Saudi counterpart in Riyadh last month to promote the sport
  • PFF also wants to arrange visits from international teams to ensure that fans get to watch high-quality matches

LAHORE: Pakistan is looking to reshape the future of football in the country after reaching out to ż for first-ever international collaboration in the field, the top official of the FIFA-backed Normalization Committee (NC) currently running the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), said in a recent interview.

Last week, the PFF announced its chairman, Haroon Malik, had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the żn Football Federation (SAFF) in Riyadh to foster strong ties for the mutual benefit, promotion, growth and success of the sport in both countries.

Pakistan has faced many challenges in international football over the years, including multiple suspensions of the country’s domestic premier division in the last six years. The last one was in April 2021, when FIFA banned PFF due to “third-party interference” after a “hostile takeover” of the body’s headquarters in Lahore and the ousting of a FIFA representative by a rival group.

The international sports governing body restored PFF’s membership in June 2022.

“I think the benefit [of signing the MoU] is that SAFF considers Pakistan to be a brotherly country and they want to develop football across Asia and they are making sure that it helps to raise the standard,” Malik told ż on Friday.

The PFF official said the federation was working on next year’s calendar, which will include friendly matches with ż.

“We are very happy that it covers not only the men’s national team but it also applies to the women’s national team,” he added. “On the youth side, we hope that we will play some games, under 16, under 19.”

Football recently came into the spotlight in the cricket-dominated country after Pakistan got its first-ever qualification for the second round of FIFA qualifiers, edging out Cambodia after ending a 13-match losing streak that dated back to 2018.

The faceoff was attended by over 13,000 fans in Islamabad as the country hosted its first international match after eight years, sparking jubilant celebrations not just for the victory but a homecoming of international football too.

The 193rd-ranked Pakistan, however, has suffered two consecutive setbacks in the first two matches of the second round and is currently the lowest-ranked team in Group G, which includes ż, Tajikistan, and Jordan.

‘Neutral venue’

Pakistan is scheduled to play its home matches of the FIFA qualifiers against Jordan and ż on March 21 and June 6, respectively, though the football federation appears to be facing challenges in hosting night matches against the two teams.

Asked about the situation, Malik said he was hopeful the PFF would be able to get floodlights installed under FIFA regulations by January.

“The [Pakistan vs Jordan] game on the 21st of March, I do not think can be played during the day,” he said, adding that his team was working with the government for requisite lighting to ensure they were in place for both matches.

“If not, we will have to consider a neutral venue,” he added.

‘PSL-like football league’

In a major boost for the sport, he said the PFF had been working on formalizing domestic football, promoting talent development through encouraging commercialization.

“If there is not enough commercial opportunity, the people, of course, will not choose [football] as a career option,” he maintained.

“We have All Pakistan Championship that is currently going on to find the best clubs that play in the country,” he said. “The second is to have a championship-style competition, something like the Pakistan Cricket League [Pakistan Super League].”

Discussing the national women’s team, the PFF chief said the federation was planning a football championship to establish a women’s league, to enable female footballers to display their talent and playing style.

The PFF, he noted, is also arranging visits from international teams to Pakistan, ensuring fans can enjoy high-quality matches.


Sarfaraz Ahmed banks on Pakistani batters ahead of Australia Test series

Sarfaraz Ahmed banks on Pakistani batters ahead of Australia Test series
Updated 04 December 2023

Sarfaraz Ahmed banks on Pakistani batters ahead of Australia Test series

Sarfaraz Ahmed banks on Pakistani batters ahead of Australia Test series
  • Pakistan will play first Test against Australia in Perth on Dec. 14, before traditional Boxing Day Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground
  • Ex-captain Sarfaraz Ahmed says Pakistan are ‘well-equipped’ for the challenge with Abdullah Shafique, Babar Azam and other batters

ISLAMABAD: Seasoned Pakistani cricketer Sarfaraz Ahmed has pinned his hopes on Pakistani batters for the upcoming three-match Test series against Australia. 

Pakistan will play the first Test against Australia in Perth on December 14, before the traditional Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The third Test will be played in Sydney and begin on January 3. 

Sarfaraz said on Monday he was ready to face the challenges, according to the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). 

“Australia boasts good batters, but we are no less,” the former Pakistan captain said. “With Abdullah, Babar, Imam, Saud, and Agha in our ranks, we are well-equipped for the challenge.” 

Sarfaraz also praised the quality bowling lineup. 

“Shaheen and Hasan are exceptional, and we have the likes of Mir Hamza, Khurram Shehzad, and Fahim, who have proven their mettle in domestic competitions,” the wicketkeeper-batsman said. 

Ahead of the Test series, Pakistan will play Prime Minister’s XI on December 6 at Manuka Oval. 

Sarfaraz said he was inspired by West Indian Chris Gayle 200-run innings at Manuka Oval and the Pakistan side was bracing for the warm-up match. 

“I remember watching Chris Gayle’s incredible innings of 200 runs against Zimbabwe at Manuka Oval. Now, as we brace ourselves for a four-day clash in Canberra against Australia, the weather seems to be good,” he said. 

“This match holds an immense significance as it kickstarts the three-match Test series against the formidable Australian team.” 

PAKISTAN SQUAD

Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jr., Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi 


Usman Khawaja defends David Warner against stinging criticism ahead of Pakistan Test

Usman Khawaja defends David Warner against stinging criticism ahead of Pakistan Test
Updated 04 December 2023

Usman Khawaja defends David Warner against stinging criticism ahead of Pakistan Test

Usman Khawaja defends David Warner against stinging criticism ahead of Pakistan Test
  • Warner was criticized by former Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson for recent Test performances
  • The three-match home series against Pakistan is expected to be Warner’s farewell to Test cricket

SYDNEY: Usman Khawaja jumped to the defense of his opening partner David Warner on Monday after stinging criticism of the veteran batsman from Australian great Mitchell Johnson.
Former fast bowler Johnson hit out after Warner kept his spot in Australia’s squad to face Pakistan in the first Test later this month despite a poor run of red-ball form.
The three-match home series against Pakistan is expected to be Warner’s farewell to Test cricket.
The decision to keep faith with Warner provoked a strong response from Johnson, who questioned why his former team-mate should be given a “hero’s send-off” in light of his poor Test form.
“Can somebody please tell me why?” he wrote in The West Australian newspaper at the weekend, also bringing up Warner’s central role in the notorious “Sandpaper-gate” ball-tampering scandal in 2018.
Steve Smith and Warner were both banned for a year for their part in the scandal, but Khawaja told reporters on Monday: “Davey Warner and Steve Smith are heroes in my mind.”
“No one’s perfect,” Khawaja added.
“Mitchell Johnson isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect, Steven Smith isn’t perfect, David Warner isn’t perfect.
“What they’ve done for the game from a positive point of view... far outweighs anything else they’ve done.
“So for (Johnson) to imply that Davey Warner or anyone else involved in the sandpaper (scandal), is not a hero, I strongly disagree with that.”
The first Test against Pakistan in Perth starts on December 14, before the traditional Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, then Sydney, beginning January 3.
Warner has indicated he plans to quit the five-day game after the Test at his home Sydney Cricket Ground, but will continue in white-ball cricket.
Warner was in scintillating form at the recent 50-over World Cup, but he has scored just one Test century since early 2020 and averages only 28 since the 2019-2020 summer in Australia.