BRISBANE, Australia: Spain-based winger Awer Mabil scored his eighth goal in 29 appearances for Australia and the Socceroos beat New Zealand 1-0 Thursday at Suncorp Stadium.
In the 32nd minute, Australia midfielder Jackson Irvine poached the ball in New Zealand’s half and fed Mabil, who stepped around a defender and sent a long-range strike into the bottom corner of the net. Mabil plays for Spanish club Cadiz.
“Far from satisfied, to be honest,” Irvine said. “There’s a lot of things we could have done better, but at the end of the day, a win is a win.”
It was Australia’s last home match before the World Cup in Qatar. The teams play again on Sunday in Auckland. New Zealand did not qualify for the World Cup.
Australia advanced to their fifth consecutive World Cup in the final phase of qualifying after a penalty shootout win over Peru in Qatar in June. The Socceroos are in Group D and play play France, Tunisia and Denmark.
As with most domestic competitions around the world, this has been a stop-and-start season for the Roshn Saudi League, but the action moves up a level with Sunday’s Classico as Al-Nassr host Al-Ittihad at a sold-out Mrsool Park.
It is the first clash between two of the Kingdom’s giants in this campaign so far, and while it will not decide anything, it will be a fascinating meeting on many levels.
After four games so far, the top four from last season are in the top four positions at the moment. Al-Shabab and Al-Hilal both have a maximum of 12 points (and their meeting a week later will be something to witness). Ittihad are third with 10, and like the top two have yet to concede a goal, and then come Al-Nassr with nine points. Assuming that the top two both extend their winning streak on Sunday then either Al-Ittihad or Al-Nassr are going to find themselves already with some ground to make up if they end up losing.
Yet it is still early days, with two coaches who are still getting two grips with football in Saudi Arabia ahead of their first big test. And it is those coaches who provide many of the talking points and should ensure that there are plenty of observers around the world.
Nuno Santo moved to Jeddah in the summer, following in the footsteps of Rudi Garcia who arrived to take charge of Al-Nassr a few weeks earlier. Together, these two have managed some big clubs in Europe including Valencia, Porto, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur, Roma, Marseille and Lyon. The Portuguese and the Frenchman may have different styles and philosophies but the remit is very much the same — to bring the league trophy back.
For Garcia, there is a little less pressure in that regard as it was only 2019 since Al-Nassr were last champions but he has brought in some big stars and bosses will be expecting a return. It could be an issue this weekend with some serious air miles needed to get those players back to Riyadh after representing their homelands in far-flung locations.
Goalkeeper David Ospina was in the US as Colombia beat Guatemala 4-1 in New Jersey and then headed to California to play in the 3-2 win over Mexico. It is a long way back and the former Arsenal and Napoli star only reported for training on Friday along with full-back Ghislain Konan, who played in France as the Ivory Coast defeated Togo and Guinea. Then there is Vincent Aboubakar. The striker was in action for Cameroon in South Korea after taking on Uzbekistan earlier, and picked up a knock. It remains to be seen if this year’s AFCON top scorer can start on Sunday.
Al-Nassr will need all their firepower including Talisca, who has recently released a rap album. The Brazilian played in the past two games in which the Yellows have looked more threatening in attack, with the most recent outing a 4-0 win over Al-Batin. It was a fluid display with the attacking midfielder getting forward well to support Aboubakar. With Al-Ittihad defensively solid under Santo — with four clean sheets out of four — it could well be that chances are at a premium in this Classico.
The Portuguese boss is perhaps under a bit more pressure than his counterpart as Al-Ittihad were last champions in 2009 and last year threw away the title after having a double-digit lead at the top of the table.
In the short-term, there are some worries. Brazilian attacker Romarinho may miss the game through injury and there are also questions about Portuguese winger Helder Costa. Both face late fitness tests. Neither have scored yet this season with half of their six goals coming from defenders, and there is better news in that regard. Center-back Ahmed Hegazy has declared himself fit. There were worries when the former West Bromwich Albion star left the pitch after an hour of Egypt’s 3-0 win over Liberia on Tuesday, but he is set to start.
Compatriot Tarek Hamed has added even more solidity to the midfield and returns from Egyptian duty fit and ready for action. It will be up to these two to keep an eye on Aboubakar and Talisca.
Then there is Abderrazak Hamdallah, who was released by Al-Nassr late last year and then ended up signing for Al-Ittihad. There is still plenty of bad feeling around the whole deal but he is now back in the team and looking to become a late bolter for Morocco at the World Cup. To have a chance of persuading new coach of the Atlas Lions Walid Regragui, who is looking to strengthen his front line, Hamdallah is going to need to start banging in the goals in the next few weeks.
That may not be enough and similarly this latest Classico will not decide anything in terms of titles either. It will, however, give an indicator of where Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad are at this early stage under these two famous European coaches. It should be quite the clash.
NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe is backing Nick Pope to put his England nightmare behind him at Newcastle United, while insisting he has no short-term interest in replacing Gareth Southgate.
The Magpies head coach Howe has been installed as the favorite to replace Southgate as international boss in light of England going winless in their last six games ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in November.
The latest disappointment in that unwanted run was a 3-3 home draw with Germany, in which Magpies’ No. 1 Pope made a costly late error to ensure the visitors walked away with a valuable UEFA Nations League point.
And while Howe knows the summer signing will be back to his best for Newcastle, he also backs Southgate to bounce back.
“I have spoken with Nick. He’s in a good place,” said Howe, whose side take on Fulham at Craven Cottage today.
“He is aware of how special those games are for him and his career. Where he has come from, to experience those moments is brilliant. He has earned the right to get to the position he is at. I was very proud of him representing his country on behalf of England.
“It’s a very difficult position to play in. I remember playing in goal a few times as a 10-year-old and I made a couple of mistakes and that was me out — I didn’t want to do it anymore. You need to love goalkeeping and then you need to be able to deal with mistakes. It’s part of the job when you’re in that position.
“Nick is a very calm, level-headed guy — he’s incredibly focused. I’ve got no problem with him returning. I know he’ll carry on where he left off for us. It’s probably a shield that you build up through many years of playing in goal.”
While many pundits are tipping England to turn to Howe if things fail to go to plan for the national team in the Middle East this winter, the Newcastle head coach only has eyes for progress on Tyneside.
“Gareth has done an incredible job and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” said Howe.
“I have been lucky enough to go in and see him work and I have a lot of time for him and Steve Holland,” said Howe. “They have been amazing for England. You have to remember where England was before he took over and what he has done for the country.
“I never say never, never. But in the short term it is not on my radar at all. It is all Newcastle and trying to make this team better.
“I have always said I love the day-to-day coaching, love being with the players on the training ground — in international football you get that taken away for long periods. At this moment in my life that is not something I want to do.”
Meanwhile, Howe understands that the key to Newcastle’s success this season is keeping his key players fit.
And after an international break of injury scares, Howe is unexpectedly set to welcome back Callum Wilson, Elliot Anderson, Bruno Guimaraes and possibly Allan Saint-Maximin and Chris Wood to his first-team setup.
“I’m not sure there’s a magic formula, really,” said Howe on keeping players like last season’s top-scorer Wilson fit.
“Of course, with all our players, our main aim is to get as many people fit and available for as many games as we can.
“Callum is an important player so resting him and managing his minutes is not always the best thing for a player. Sometimes players need rhythm and they need to get used to playing 90 minutes consecutively to build their resilience.
“It’s a really delicate balance and sometimes it’s impossible to know what the correct answer is. Sometimes you just play the game, don’t think too much and then back the players’ resilience. Callum played a lot of games for me during busy schedules and did very well so there’s no special plans at the moment.”
Saudi Arabia have lost 3-1 to Vietnam in their second match of the 2022 AFC Futsal Asian Cup, which took place at Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Hall in Kuwait on Friday.
A win for the Green Falcons would have ensured progress from Group D to the quarter-finals after they had launched their campaign on Monday with 2-1 win over Japan.
The 16-team tournament kicked off on Sept. 27 and will conclude on Oct. 8.
Vietnam’s goals came from Nguyen Anh Duy (12 minutes), Chau Doan Phat (28), and Nguyen Minh Tri (40), while Hammoud Al-Dahan scored in the 30th minute for Saudi Arabia.
Group D’s other match on Friday night saw Japan beat South Korea 6-0 at the venue.
Vietnam lead the group standings with six points after two rounds, with Saudi second on three points. Also with the three points, but trailing the Falcons on goal difference, are Japan, while South Korea are bottom with no points.
The next group matches will take place tomorrow with Saudi facing South Korea and Vietnam taking on Japan.
GENEVA: Political issues are swirling around the Iran men’s football team amid turmoil on the streets at home just weeks before the World Cup where it will play the United States, Wales and England.
At home in Iran, two weeks of demonstrations and a violent crackdown by state authorities have followed the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of the morality police. She had been detained for allegedly wearing a mandatory headscarf too loosely.
Players made their silent protest at a World Cup warmup game this week, where the Iranian soccer federation tried to silence fans by locking them out of the stadium in Austria.
The federation also tried this month to organize a warmup game in November with Russia, Iran’s military ally whose teams are pariahs in football since the invasion of Ukraine.
FIFA was urged Friday by long-time campaigners for the rights of women fans to attend games in Iran to expel the national team from the World Cup.
“The Islamic Republic’s authorities and its football federation must not be given the honor of participating in football’s finest tournament while it is killing its citizens on our streets,” the Open Stadiums group said.
Open Stadiums called on FIFA to uphold its statutory commitment to respect and strive to promote “all internationally recognized human rights.”
Soccer’s governing body did not immediately comment on the fans’ request.
FIFA already did expel Russia from this World Cup — imposing a ban before a European qualifying playoffs semifinal in March against Poland — though without invoking human rights reasons. Instead, FIFA cited “irreparable and chaotic” harm to the World Cup due to security risks and potential opponents likely refusing to play Russia.
Iran should certainly play at the World Cup in Qatar, its near neighbor across the Arabian Gulf water, though the likelihood increased this week of political disruption for FIFA to deal with at the tournament starting Nov. 20.
Players have made their stand after being criticized for not reacting to Amini’s death days later at their first warmup game in Austria.
On Sunday, striker Sardar Azmoun wrote to his 4.9 million followers on Instagram that team rules prohibited comment “but I am no longer able to tolerate silence.”
He added being kicked out of the team would be “a small price to pay for even a single strand of Iranian women’s hair.”
A team-wide reaction followed Tuesday when the Iranian anthem played ahead of the game against Senegal. Each player wore a wore a plain black jacket that covered up their national team badge.
Members of #Iran’s soccer team wore black jackets to cover the Islamic Republic’s emblem in support of the #IranProtests2022. #MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/IYX8BWHEvV
The game went ahead without fans in the stadium near Vienna, as the federation tried to stop demonstrators outside using a platform for dissent that would be seen on a live broadcast at home.
Star striker Mehdi Taremi later wrote on Instagram of being “ashamed” to see videos from Iran of violence against women in the streets.
Protesters in Iran have also targeted wider repression with some calls to overthrow the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
Football was drawn closer into the Iranian turmoil in the same week FIFA president Gianni Infantino claimed progress for women’s fans there at a World Trade Organization event in Geneva.
“Women attend football games now in Iran which was not possible until a couple of (months) ago,” Infantino said Tuesday, when he also visited United Nations human rights officials hours before the Iran players’ protest in Austria.
Infantino’s claim was disputed by Open Stadiums which said “when the Islamic Republic pretended to open league matches for women, it was far from the equality FIFA’s own statutes require.”
“To begin with, very few women could buy tickets, then in a humiliating way got physically harassed by Iran’s morality police,” the activist group said.
The tension between FIFA and Iranian women fans is despite some success at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
FIFA intervened four years ago to ensure fans could display their campaign banners in stadiums.
More cooperation could be called upon in Qatar, when Iran has a global audience to face England in just the second game of the tournament on Nov. 21.
Coach Carlos Queiroz’s team also faces Wales in Group B on Nov. 25 and four days later against the US.
RIYADH: The International Olympic Committee on Friday announced that it is renewing three memberships for Saudi Arabia for the next four years, while adding a new fourth membership, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
IOC President Dr. Thomas Bach said the three committee memberships that have been renewed include Minister of Sport and President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal as a member of the Marketing Commission.
The IOC renewed the membership of SOPC Vice President Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz as vice president of the Commission for Public Affairs and Social Development.
Saudi ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar, who is a member of the IOC and board member of SOPC, was granted a new membership in the Sustainability and Legacy Commission, in addition to renewing her previous membership in the Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Commission and the Coordination Commission for the Brisbane 2032 Olympics.
546 IOC commission positions. 273 men, 273 women.
For the first time, President Thomas Bach has appointed an equal number of women and men to the commissions for 2022 as part of the IOC’s pursuit of gender balance at its governance level.
The Kingdom’s renewed and additional membership in the IOC, the largest and most important sports organization in the world, comes within the framework of strengthening and raising the number of Saudi capabilities in international organizations, in line with the Kingdom’s expanding sporting sector and in accordance with the objectives of its Vision 2030.
On Friday, the IOC also announced that Bach had appointed an equal number of women and men to the commissions for this year, marking “a historic milestone in the committee’s efforts to increase gender balance at its governance level.”