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Saudi desert gears up for first Dakar rally in Asia

RIYADH: Saudi women riders are saddling up to make history when they compete side by side with their male counterparts for the first time as part of this month’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival. Olympic and World Cup qualification points are up for grabs in the second edition of the festival being held on Dec. 14 and…

Saudi desert gears up for  first Dakar rally in Asia

RIYADH: Saudi women riders are saddling up to make history when they compete side by side with their male counterparts for the first time as part of this month’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival.

Olympic and World Cup qualification points are up for grabs in the second edition of the festival being held on Dec. 14 and Dec. 19-21.

However, more significantly, women riders will compete in the same arena as their male counterparts for the first time in the Kingdom’s history.

Over the course of two weekends, the festival will feature 120 riders, 150 grooms, 50 officials, 300 companions and trainers, 250 club members and 150 crew.

The 13 Saudi women competitors are excited that the moment to shine on their home turf has finally arrived.

“This is a dream,” said 18-year-old Lama Al-Ajmi. “It’s an international four-star competition and I will finally get to represent my country on home soil.

13 Saudi female jockeys participate for the first time in the Diriyah Equestrian Festival. (SPA)

“For me, this is the start. This is the start for all of us. I want to be on top and the Olympics are my dream,” she added.

Sultanah Abar, 32, a graphic designer and former UN employee, will compete alongside her brother Abdelkarim in the festival — their first time riding together in an international competition in their homeland.

“I started riding when I was four years old,” she said. “But until now I’ve only been able to compete abroad. Finally, we can compete at home and it makes me proud.” 

Wafa Al-Hasoun, 24, also voiced her excitement at being able to join an international competition in her country. “We used to watch, now we participate and look to win. We’re very excited to finally be part of this,” she said.

The equestrian festival is part of the wider Diriyah Season, a month of major sports events such as Formula E, top-class men’s tennis and the recent world heavyweight title fight The Clash On The Dunes.

The Diriyah UNESCO World Heritage site will also stage performances from some of the globe’s biggest music artists, including Swedish House Mafia and Calvin Harris, as part of the festival.

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Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in…

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in the tournament going into the knockout stage.

Some are looking good and the feeling around the Al-Nassr camp has improved massively after a 3-1 win over Al-Sadd, one of the favorites for the competition. Al-Hilal collected three points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shabab Al-Ahli while Al-Ahli bounced back from their opening game mauling to take a 1-1 draw with Al-Duhail.

Here are five things we learned from the second round of matches.

1. Menezes gives Xavi a coaching lesson

Al-Sadd had not lost for 24 games heading into the clash with Al-Nassr. They won the Qatar Stars League without losing a game and with a goal difference of plus 63, which is incredible enough, but when the season is just 22 games long it really is something special. Yet Al-Nassr fully deserved to win.

Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opening goal from the spot, but after Santi Cazorla equalized on the hour, the Saudi team’s players kept their nerve, their shape, and their discipline and hit the erratic Qatari team on the counter thanks to the intelligent movement and hard work of their forward line.

With the help of two well-timed substitutions, it was a strategy that bore fruit and two goals followed that put the hosts in with a great chance of the second round.

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has not had much time to work with the players but on this performance, there should be more to come even if fans should not get carried away by being the first team to defeat Al-Sadd this year.

2. Al-Breik stars for clinical Al-Hilal

After a somewhat disappointing opening game, Al-Hilal stepped it up a level against Shabab Al-Ahli.

Star foreign players Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo grabbed the headlines with their very well-taken goals in the first half but Mohammed Al-Breik deserves plenty of credit. The Saudi international created both in a perfect example of how a right-back should get forward in the modern game.

The first was a delicious cross that was whipped in behind the Dubai team’s defense with Gomis on hand to sweep home from close range. The second came from deeper but found Carrillo in space just inside the area and the Peruvian international made no mistake with a fine swivel and shot. Both goals were easy on the eye and the defender played a huge part.

3. Al-Owais, Al-Somah give Al-Ahli hope

After seven straight defeats, a 1-1 draw will lift some of the gloom surrounding the Jeddah club. It was snatched in the final minutes against Al-Duhail who had largely dominated proceedings.

The Qataris struggled however to find a way past Mohammed Al-Owais. The goalkeeper dealt with everything that was thrown at him to keep the score line down to a minimum. Shot after shot came in and there he was tipping deflections over the bar and getting down well to push headers around the foot of the post.

It was due to such heroics that Omar Al-Somah’s last-gasp goal, which came after an overhead kick assist from defender Motaz Hawsawi, earned a much-needed point to break that dismal losing streak.

4. Strikers come to the fore

It may well be that none of the Saudi teams are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but it will be pleasing to fans that their star strikers have all scored already.

If Al-Hilal are going to go all the way and get a record fourth title, then they are going to need the goals of Gomis, and the French forward is looking hungry and dangerous.

Hamdallah was one of the stars of the 2020 tournament and while the Moroccan has not looked as lethal this year, to get on the scoresheet will be an immense relief for both player and coach. Al-Nassr need him if they are to get out of a difficult group.

And then there is Al-Somah. There has been a lot written about the Syrian striker this season but whatever has happened behind the scenes, three goals in two games speaks for itself. If one of the best strikers in Asia continues to score, then Al-Ahli have a chance.

5. Next comes the crunch

The next two games can make or break a team’s chances as they come against the same opposition. Al-Nassr are level on four points with Foolad of Iran. If the Riyadh giants can come out on top over these back-to-back clashes, then they really can start to think about the next stage.

Al-Hilal take on Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol who are going to make things very tough. The new boys in the competition have also managed four points from the opening two games thanks to some solid defending. Al-Hilal have the firepower however and can take control of the group.

And as for Al-Ahli, there are twin games with Al-Shorta of Iraq. These will not be easy, even if Al-Shorta are regarded as the weakest team in the group, but they do offer a perfect chance to pick up a win and start challenging at the top of the table.

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Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in…

Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in the tournament going into the knockout stage.

Some are looking good and the feeling around the Al-Nassr camp has improved massively after a 3-1 win over Al-Sadd, one of the favorites for the competition. Al-Hilal collected three points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shabab Al-Ahli while Al-Ahli bounced back from their opening game mauling to take a 1-1 draw with Al-Duhail.

Here are five things we learned from the second round of matches.

1. Menezes gives Xavi a coaching lesson

Al-Sadd had not lost for 24 games heading into the clash with Al-Nassr. They won the Qatar Stars League without losing a game and with a goal difference of plus 63, which is incredible enough, but when the season is just 22 games long it really is something special. Yet Al-Nassr fully deserved to win.

Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opening goal from the spot, but after Santi Cazorla equalized on the hour, the Saudi team’s players kept their nerve, their shape, and their discipline and hit the erratic Qatari team on the counter thanks to the intelligent movement and hard work of their forward line.

With the help of two well-timed substitutions, it was a strategy that bore fruit and two goals followed that put the hosts in with a great chance of the second round.

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has not had much time to work with the players but on this performance, there should be more to come even if fans should not get carried away by being the first team to defeat Al-Sadd this year.

2. Al-Breik stars for clinical Al-Hilal

After a somewhat disappointing opening game, Al-Hilal stepped it up a level against Shabab Al-Ahli.

Star foreign players Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo grabbed the headlines with their very well-taken goals in the first half but Mohammed Al-Breik deserves plenty of credit. The Saudi international created both in a perfect example of how a right-back should get forward in the modern game.

The first was a delicious cross that was whipped in behind the Dubai team’s defense with Gomis on hand to sweep home from close range. The second came from deeper but found Carrillo in space just inside the area and the Peruvian international made no mistake with a fine swivel and shot. Both goals were easy on the eye and the defender played a huge part.

3. Al-Owais, Al-Somah give Al-Ahli hope

After seven straight defeats, a 1-1 draw will lift some of the gloom surrounding the Jeddah club. It was snatched in the final minutes against Al-Duhail who had largely dominated proceedings.

The Qataris struggled however to find a way past Mohammed Al-Owais. The goalkeeper dealt with everything that was thrown at him to keep the score line down to a minimum. Shot after shot came in and there he was tipping deflections over the bar and getting down well to push headers around the foot of the post.

It was due to such heroics that Omar Al-Somah’s last-gasp goal, which came after an overhead kick assist from defender Motaz Hawsawi, earned a much-needed point to break that dismal losing streak.

4. Strikers come to the fore

It may well be that none of the Saudi teams are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but it will be pleasing to fans that their star strikers have all scored already.

If Al-Hilal are going to go all the way and get a record fourth title, then they are going to need the goals of Gomis, and the French forward is looking hungry and dangerous.

Hamdallah was one of the stars of the 2020 tournament and while the Moroccan has not looked as lethal this year, to get on the scoresheet will be an immense relief for both player and coach. Al-Nassr need him if they are to get out of a difficult group.

And then there is Al-Somah. There has been a lot written about the Syrian striker this season but whatever has happened behind the scenes, three goals in two games speaks for itself. If one of the best strikers in Asia continues to score, then Al-Ahli have a chance.

5. Next comes the crunch

The next two games can make or break a team’s chances as they come against the same opposition. Al-Nassr are level on four points with Foolad of Iran. If the Riyadh giants can come out on top over these back-to-back clashes, then they really can start to think about the next stage.

Al-Hilal take on Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol who are going to make things very tough. The new boys in the competition have also managed four points from the opening two games thanks to some solid defending. Al-Hilal have the firepower however and can take control of the group.

And as for Al-Ahli, there are twin games with Al-Shorta of Iraq. These will not be easy, even if Al-Shorta are regarded as the weakest team in the group, but they do offer a perfect chance to pick up a win and start challenging at the top of the table.

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Daniil Medvedev wins inaugural Diriyah Tennis Cup final in Saudi Arabia

HALF MOON BAY, Eastern Province: Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi scored an emphatic victory in the third stage of the Sharqiya Baja when he carded the quickest time, in spite of a change in the overnight timings that had put him three seconds behind his Spanish rival Carlos Sainz. Al-Rajhi and co-driver Michael Orr guided their Toyota…

Daniil Medvedev wins inaugural Diriyah Tennis Cup final in Saudi Arabia

HALF MOON BAY, Eastern Province: Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi scored an emphatic victory in the third stage of the Sharqiya Baja when he carded the quickest time, in spite of a change in the overnight timings that had put him three seconds behind his Spanish rival Carlos Sainz.

Al-Rajhi and co-driver Michael Orr guided their Toyota Hilux to a time of 1hr 08min 56sec on the 171.25km stage, which was enough to seal a winning margin of 1min 17sec and confirm the Saudi Toyota Desert Championship title in superb style.

Sainz had been handed the outright lead on Friday evening by Baja officials after a three-minute timing discrepancy for Al-Rajhi was corrected and he slipped to second overall. Numerous other competitors saw their times for the stage changed and Mishal Alghuneim found himself leading the motorcycle category.

“It is a nice feeling to win the new Baja and the new Saudi Toyota Desert Championship,” said Al-Rajhi. “It has been an enjoyable few weeks competing here and it has given us a chance to prepare well for the Dakar Rally, which is coming up very quickly.”

Sainz and fellow Spaniard Lucas Cruz used the last round of the new Saudi series as a useful shakedown for the Dakar Rally in January and pushed the winners all the way across the deserts of the Eastern Province in their X–raid MINI JCW Buggy.

They finished 8min 54sec in front of third-placed Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, the Peugeot 2008 driver, who overhauled ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossari to snatch the final podium spot on the last day.

List of the top 10 finishers in the car race. (Sharqiyah Baja 2019 website)

Sainz said: “I am generally happy with the shakedown and the test. I think it was good to have a taste of the temperature and learn a little bit about what we are going to find in a couple of weeks. Regarding today, after what happened yesterday (Yasir’s crash), I took it very easily because this is our race car and it was not the moment to take any risks. I am happy we learned things with the car, even if the conditions were not the best, especially with the rain yesterday. No problems. Everything was positive.”

Following Yasir Seaidan’s retirement after his high-speed roll on Friday, Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal was left to finish the event in an unchallenged fifth with his Ford F-150 Evo.

Zapletal finished over 42 minutes in front of sixth-placed Farhan Al-Muharib, who clinched a 2min 57sec win over Khalid Al-Hamzani in a Nissan-dominated T2 section for series production cross-country vehicles. Hamzani also finished in seventh overall, while Yousef Al-Suwaidi was eighth and third in T2.

Omar Allahim was classified in ninth in his Nissan Patrol. Saleh Al-Saif lost over 10 minutes in the final stage, but still managed to round off the top 10 and seal the win in the T3 category with a Can-Am after nearest rival Conrad Rautenbach of Zimbabwe ceded over an hour in the day’s stage and slipped to 20th overall in his PH Sport Can-Am Zephyr.

Yousef Al-Dhaif had already sealed the Saudi NUTV Championship before the final round and the Can-Am driver wrapped up a successful campaign with another category win. Second place for Majed Al-Tuwaijri ensured that he finished as series runner-up at the expense of Fahad Al-Naim.

Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb completed their pre-Dakar Rally preparations with a solid finish in a T4 Mercedes.

Mishal Alghuneim maintained the advantage in the motorcycle category that he had been awarded when a timing error was corrected and the KTM rider held on to seal a winning margin of 6min 14sec over Haysham Al-Haysham.

Anas Al-Ruhyni finished third, but Emirati rider Othman Al-Ghufeli retired on the stage.

Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi confirmed victory in the Saudi Quad Championship with a third victory of the season to follow his successes at the Qassim and AlUla-Neom rallies.

The Yamaha rider finished an unofficial fourth on the stage, but did enough to see off the challenge of runner-up and main series rival Riyadh Al-Oraifan. Sufiyan Al-Omar came in third after incurring a five-minute time penalty.

The event was organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), under the chairmanship of Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal and the supervision of former FIA Middle East champion Abdullah Bakhashab.

The new Baja enjoyed the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sport Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.

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