In a recent fixture between Al-Nasr and Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League, Cristiano Ronaldo, the renowned football star, found himself at the centre of controversy once again. The match, which ended with a 3-2 victory for Al-Nasr, saw Ronaldo scoring the opener with a penalty kick in the 21st minute, followed by a late brace from Brazilian Talisca to secure the win for his team.

However, the post-match celebrations took an unexpected turn when video footage surfaced on social media, depicting Ronaldo allegedly making an obscene gesture directed towards the Al-Shabab fans. The gesture, which involved cupping his ear and making a pumping motion in front of his pelvic area, ignited a firestorm of criticism and debate within the football community.

In the backdrop of Ronaldo’s actions, chants of “Messi” could be heard, alluding to his long-standing rivalry with Argentine football legend Lionel Messi. The incident, though not captured by television cameras, quickly became the subject of discussion among pundits and fans alike, prompting calls for disciplinary action against the Portuguese star.

The Saudi National Football Federation (SAFF) wasted no time in responding to the controversy, announcing an investigation into the incident. The move reflected the seriousness with which the Saudi authorities regarded Ronaldo’s behavior and its potential impact on the integrity of the league.

Prominent Saudi writer and television host, Waleed Al Farraj, weighed in on the controversy, emphasizing the importance of maintaining decorum and respect in professional football, regardless of one’s fame or stature. Al Farraj’s sentiments echoed those of many who believed that Ronaldo’s actions had crossed a line and warranted appropriate sanctions.

This was not the first time Ronaldo had found himself embroiled in controversy during his tenure with Al-Nasr. In a previous match against Al-Hilal, Ronaldo was captured on camera appearing to grab his genitals as he made his way to the dugout following a defeat. The incident had stirred similar outrage and had raised questions about Ronaldo’s conduct on and off the field.

Adding fuel to the fire, Ronaldo’s response to a thrown Al-Hilal scarf during a recent match further exacerbated tensions. The act of picking up the scarf, placing it in his shorts, and then discarding it as he walked off the pitch was interpreted by many as a disrespectful gesture towards his opponents and their supporters.

Despite the controversies surrounding his behaviour, there is no denying Ronaldo’s impact on the pitch. With 22 goals in 20 appearances, he currently leads the scoring charts in the Saudi Pro League, underscoring his importance to the Al-Nasr team. His prowess as a goal-scorer has endeared him to fans around the world, but his actions off the pitch have often courted controversy and divided opinion.

As the investigation into Ronaldo’s alleged gesture unfolds, the football world waits with bated breath for the outcome. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the responsibility that comes with being a global icon in the world of football and the importance of upholding the values of sportsmanship and respect, both on and off the field.

In the end, Ronaldo’s legacy will be defined not only by his extraordinary talent as a footballer but also by his ability to navigate the challenges and controversies that come with fame and success. Only time will tell how this latest chapter in his storied career will shape his reputation in the eyes of fans and critics alike.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super

In a bold stride towards establishing its presence as a formidable entity within the global sports arena, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has officially declared its intent to bid as the host nation for the 2034 FIFA World Cup. The revelation, conveyed through the state news agency SPA on a recent Wednesday, not only underscores the Kingdom’s ambition in the realm of international sport but also reflects its broader objectives of transformation and development.

The Saudi minister of sport, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, disseminated his sentiments through the Saudi Press Agency, articulating a vivid dream: “Hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2034 would assist us in realising our aspiration of emerging as a pivotal nation in global sport and would delineate a notable milestone in the nation’s transformation.”

He added, “As a nascent and hospitable home for all sports, we believe that hosting a FIFA World Cup is an intuitive subsequent phase in our football journey.”

The initial interest of the country was piqued for the 2030 competition. Nonetheless, the latter is projected to be a multi-nation spectacle, with Spain, Portugal, and Morocco potentially serving as hosts for matches. Additionally, the preliminary matches are scheduled to be held in Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay. Consequently, Saudi Arabia has turned its sights towards 2034, with visions of hosting the esteemed tournament autonomously, crafting an event that would symbolise a landmark in their sporting journey.

This announcement coexists with past interactions between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Greece, where dialogues centred around a collaborative bid to host the tournament. Nonetheless, the recent proclamations point towards Saudi Arabia’s plan to single-handedly host the 2034 event.

Yasser Al Misehal, the President of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF), conveyed a message of optimism and dedication through a statement on the SAFF website: “We believe the time is ripe for Saudi Arabia to host the FIFA World Cup.”

He further stated, “Our bid is motivated by a fervent love for the game and a wish to see it burgeon in every corner of the world. We want to celebrate our football culture and share our nation with the world.”

Saudi Arabia’s journey towards this point is steeped in its embrace for innovation and growth, forming the backbone of their bid for the tournament. “The Kingdom’s transformation journey is the driving force behind our bid,” Al Misehal remarked. Commitments towards hosting an exemplary event, one that celebrates the sport, enthralls players and fans alike, and ignites the imaginations of future generations, are evident.

Illustrating a historic backdrop, Saudi Arabia has qualified for the World Cup on six previous occasions, with their inaugural appearance tracing back to 1994. A notable triumph was marked when they bested the world champions, Argentina, with a scoreline of 2-1 at the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar.

Amidst these developments, the Saudi Pro League has witnessed a surge in profile and popularity. Big names in world football, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Karim Benzema, have made transitions to play in the Saudi Pro League in the preceding year, bolstering its reputation and stake on the international stage.

In a nutshell, the Kingdom’s leadership has exuded full-fledged support towards this bid, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to propel the nation forwards, and unveil new horizons of opportunities and engagements in the world of sport. Saudi Arabia, through its intentions to host the 2034 FIFA World Cup, does not merely aim to be a spectator but envisions being a pivotal player, shaping the narratives and experiences in the global sporting domain.

The prospect of the 2034 FIFA World Cup could perhaps be a chapter where the world witnesses the union of sporting spirit and innovative transformations, amalgamated seamlessly in the desert landscapes of Saudi Arabia.

AP Photo/Jorge Saenz

The much-loved Mohammed V Stadium in Casablanca , Morocco, finds itself in the limelight as concerns about its future rise amidst plans to construct a new stadium 40km away from the city. Fans of the two local clubs are apprehensive that the historic venue might close down due to safety reasons.

Officially known as the Mohammed V Stadium, fans endearingly call it the “Donor,” referencing the “Stade d’honneur” (stadium of honour, in French), a name given to it at Morocco’s independence. Launched in 1955 in what was then the outskirts of Casablanca, today the bustling Maarif district, this 45,000-seat structure is an architectural marvel amidst its modern neighbouring buildings.

Its imposing reinforced concrete structure, the work of French architect Achille Dangleterre, is a quintessential example of the Brutalist movement. With strong ties to the city’s two clubs, Raja and Wydad, the stadium is home to at least two heated derbies per season, hailed by specialist press as among the world’s most intense football rivalries. Fans see the stadium as an integral part of Casablanca’s identity and its football culture.

However, the recently confirmed location for the new ‘great stadium of Casablanca’ in Benslimane, approximately 40km from the economic capital, has sparked confusion among fans. Social media quickly buzzed with criticism, questioning the logic of building a new stadium so far from the city.

The planned 93,000-seat project has reopened ongoing debates about the future of Mohammed V Stadium. Abdullah Abaakil, adviser for the Maarif district and city council member for the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), states, “The idea of moving the stadium is not new. But if it ends up closed and handed over to property developers, especially once the new stadium is built, it would be baffling. For the residents of popular neighbourhoods, it’s a source of integration, of which we have few in Casablanca.”

The proposal for a new stadium has been in discussion intermittently since 2008. The recent announcement came as Mohammed V underwent another round of renovations, and following the death of a female fan near the stadium on 29th April while attending a match. Official reports attribute her death to a crush caused by ticketless fans, but videos and testimonies implicate the police’s use of water cannons that day.

Casablanca Events & Animation, the company charged with managing the stadium, has been repeatedly accused of poor handling. After the events of 29th April, the company defended itself by citing the excessive number of spectators and the responsibility of clubs in deciding the number of tickets for sale.

“Matchday is a different day,” confesses Othman, 37, who spent part of his childhood living near the stadium. For residents, the hours before a game follow a set script: the area is cordoned off by the police, car movements are restricted, shops close early. Othman, who has lived in England, states emphatically, “Casablanca fans are no worse than West Ham or Millwall fans who attend their team’s matches in downtown London. The issue isn’t the location, but if a move must happen, a place within Casablanca, such as Central Quarries, should have been chosen. There is ample land available and it would have revitalised the neighbourhood.”

Mohammed V Stadium: A ‘monument’ to be ‘preserved’

So far, no official announcement has been made regarding the future of the Mohammed V Stadium. Its fate hangs in the balance, held hostage by urban planning ambitions and the aspirations of Moroccan football for a modern stadium fitting of a future World Cup host.

In 2016, clashes within the stadium led to the death of two fans. For the next two years, ultra-supporters were banned from the stadium. In 2018, the press was intrigued by the chants echoed in its stands, notably the most famous, F’bladi Dalmouni (“I suffered from injustice in my country”), protesting a lack of freedom.

The Mohammed V Stadium holds a significant place in Casablanca’s urban and football heritage. For many, its location, history, and architecture make it a monument to be preserved at all costs. As the debate about its future continues, what is certain is that whatever decision is made will profoundly affect the lives of local football fans and the city’s identity.

As the country prepares to host the 2030 World Cup, Moroccan authorities face a challenging task in balancing the need for modern football infrastructure with preserving the deep-rooted cultural identity embedded in the nation’s football history.

Image Caption: Mustapha Ennaimi / Flickr

The Saudi Super Cup, also known as The Berain Saudi Super Cup, witnessed an exciting shift in format during its 9th edition in 2022. This annual football competition, held for clubs in the Saudi Arabia football league system, saw a transition from a two-team format to an exhilarating four-team tournament. The alteration included the inclusion of a semi-final round, showcasing the winners and runners-up of the Saudi Professional League and the King Cup. This article delves into the captivating journey of the 2022 Saudi Super Cup, highlighting the triumph of Al-Ittihad, who emerged as the worthy champions after defeating Al-Fayha 2-0 in a fiercely contested final.

The semi-final round

On the 26th of January 2023, football fans across Saudi Arabia eagerly tuned in to witness the semi-final matches of the Saudi Super Cup. The stakes were high as the top-performing teams from the Saudi Professional League and the King Cup fought for a coveted spot in the final. The matches were a true display of skill, determination, and strategic brilliance, captivating spectators with each thrilling moment.

The final showdown

The anticipation reached its peak on the 29th of January 2023 when Al-Ittihad and Al-Fayha took the field in the final battle for the Saudi Super Cup title. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, with fans filling the stands, exuding an unwavering passion for their respective teams.

Al-Ittihad, a football powerhouse with a storied history, showcased their experience and prowess throughout the tournament. In the final, they displayed exceptional teamwork, tactical astuteness, and clinical finishing that proved to be the deciding factors in securing their first Saudi Super Cup title.

The game commenced with a flurry of attacks from both sides, as Al-Fayha sought to make their mark on the grand stage. However, Al-Ittihad’s solid defense held firm, thwarting their opponents’ advances. It was a testament to their well-drilled backline, which successfully nullified Al-Fayha’s attacking threat.

In the 30th minute, Al-Ittihad’s relentless pressure finally paid off when their striker found the back of the net with a well-placed shot, sending their fans into a frenzy of celebration. The goal injected further momentum into Al-Ittihad’s gameplay, and they continued to dominate possession and create scoring opportunities.

Al-Fayha, refusing to surrender, launched a spirited fightback in the second half. They pushed forward relentlessly, seeking the equaliser that would reignite their hopes. However, Al-Ittihad’s resolute defense held firm, denying their opponents any breakthrough.

As the match reached its climax, Al-Ittihad delivered the final blow, sealing their victory and the Saudi Super Cup title with a second goal in the dying minutes. The roar of triumph from Al-Ittihad’s players and fans reverberated throughout the stadium, marking a historic moment for the club.

The 9th edition of the Saudi Super Cup witnessed an exhilarating transformation in format, elevating the competition to new heights of excitement and intensity. Al-Ittihad’s triumph in the final showcased their remarkable skill, resilience, and commitment to clinch their first-ever Saudi Super Cup title. This memorable tournament will undoubtedly go down in Saudi Arabian football history, leaving fans eagerly anticipating the future editions of this prestigious competition.

Image Credit: Afdhallul Ziqri on Unsplash

A timeless edifice

Nestled within the pulsating heart of Egypt’s capital, the Cairo International Stadium serves not only as an arena for sporting triumphs but as a grand monument to the indomitable spirit of a nation steeped in antiquity. This iconic venue, which has played host to footballing titans and witnessed athletic prowess of the highest calibre, has evolved over the decades into a nexus of sporting and cultural convergence.

The genesis of a landmark

The vision to construct a behemoth of this stature was conceived in the late 1950s. With Egypt’s star on the rise, the country needed a coliseum befitting its ambitions. Designed by the esteemed German architect Werner March, the stadium broke ground in 1955 and opened its gates to a bedazzled populace in 1960. Its architectural prowess was ahead of its time, a marriage of brutalist aesthetics with the traditional Egyptian elements.

The theatre of dreams and more

While football dominates the headlines, Cairo International Stadium has been a fertile ground for a plethora of events, from athletics to concerts, and political gatherings. Its versatility is a testament to the genius of its design, and its capacity to seat over 70,000 eager spectators makes it an unparalleled venue for any spectacle under the desert sun.

Moments that shaped history

Cairo International Stadium has been the stage for many moments that have reverberated through the annals of history. Among these are the legendary football matches of the African Cup of Nations and the indelible footprints left by the iconic athletes during the All Africa Games. Each goal scored and record shattered has added a thread to the intricate tapestry that constitutes the stadium’s illustrious legacy.

The people’s Coliseum

To the people of Cairo and Egypt at large, this stadium is far more than an assembly of concrete and steel. It is an emblem of national pride, a sanctum where dreams are realised and heroes are born. The roar of the crowd is not just an echo against the cavernous dome but a chorus of a thousand voices, unified in triumph and despair.

Future-proofing a legacy

As the stadium marches through the 21st century, it does so with its gaze firmly on the horizon. Numerous refurbishments and modernisations have ensured that Cairo International Stadium continues to be an enviable venue on the global stage. With state-of-the-art amenities, it harmoniously blends its storied past with the unrelenting march of progress.

An enduring icon

The Cairo International Stadium stands as a testimony to the triumphs of yesteryears and the dreams yet to be fulfilled. It is not just a structure but a living, breathing entity that reflects the soul of a nation. As the sands of time continue to shift, this monumental edifice remains steadfast, a beacon in the heart of Egypt and an eternal reminder of the greatness that has been and that which is yet to come.

Image Credit: Crosskimo on Wikipedia