Hola, Saudi Arabia: This week in Middle East football

Hola, Saudi Arabia: This week in Middle East football
Blog: Saudi Arabia is hoping a stint for its national players in Spanish teams will help its World Cup chances, writes Uri Levy.
3 min read
25 Oct, 2017
Saudi Arabia's national team is looking to Spanish players for World Cup tips [Getty]
In preparation for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Saudi Football Federation has decided to try an unlikely move. In an agreement with the Spanish league - La Liga - the Saudis will try and send a major shortlist of their national team squad for loan spells in Spanish teams.

According to the Ahdaaf report, such an agreement was signed last week in order to help Saudi Arabia, which has qualified for the first time in 12 years, in the finals next year.

Among the players who are nominated to be trained in Europe are Ittihad Jeddah's winger Fahad al-Muwallad and centre-back Motaz Hawsawi from Ittihad's rivals, Al-Ahli.

The Saudi plan targets mid-table Spanish and Italian clubs, but will be looking for negotiations with clubs elsewhere in Europe as potential destinations for the national team footballers.

The move is part of a massive effort by the Saudi government and FA to naturalise and nurture Saudi football talents in the local scene and abroad, as they did successfully with Saudi-born and former Chelsea and England U-17 midfielder Mukhtar Ali.

Meanwhile in the local league on Saturday, the Jeddah derby kicked off at King Abdullah Stadium, where Syrian star Omar al-Somah helped Al-Ahli smash Ittihad 3-0. The Syrian striker notched a brace and expanded on his impressive record at the club with his 112th goal from 107 matches in domestic competitions.

Al Ahli looks like a serious contender to win the Dawry Jameel title this season, as does Al-Hilal Riyadh - which qualified for the Asian Champions League final against Uruwa Reds from Japan after impressively eliminating Iranian rivals, Persepolis.

The Saudi Premier League is currently one of the best in the Middle East and Asia. After expanding the number of foreigners in the league this year, the FA is taking steps in order to improve local players, eyeing a successful campaign in Russia in the summer.
Catch up with all our football coverage

Africa's football season reaches its peak

This weekend the African Champions League reached its money-time phase, with the semi-finals between Wydad Casablanca and Ittihad Algiers, and Al-Ahly Cairo and Etoile du Sahel from Tunisia.

The Moroccans arrived happy in Algiers with a 0-0 draw from the first leg, and cruised to a 3-1 win with little effort.

Al-Ahly, meanwhile, played the Tunisians in Borg El-Arab Stadium in Alexandria, after suffered a 2-1 loss in Sousse.

But it didn't take long for the Egyptians to began their quest for the final. It took exactly three minutes, in fact.

Al-Ahly's Tunisian player, Ali Maaloul, took advantage of the confused Etoile defence and nailed the first goal into the net. From then on, it was the night of Walid Azarou. The Moroccan striker scored a hat-trick, provided an assist and was the main man in an amazing performance by the Egyptian club. Half-time, 3-0.

In the second half, the goals kept on coming, with Azarou again slotting home in the 46th minute, before Etoile made efforts towards a comeback and scored two. But an own goal from Etoile's Hamdi Nagguez appeared to put the game beyond reach of the Tunisians.

Then Egyptian defender Rami Rabia sent a 30 metre cannonball past Tunisian goalkeeper Mathlouthi, who could only watch the shot hit the back of the net.

At the final whistle, it was 6-2 to Al-Ahly, 7-4 on aggregate, and the 50,000 fans saw the eight-time Egyptian winner qualify for the African final in style.

The final's first leg - between Al-Ahly of Cairo and Wydad Casablanca will light up Alexandria on Friday afternoon, and the second leg will erupt at the volcanic Mohammad V Stadium in Casablanca on on November 3. Expect both matches to be electrifying.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.