The newcomer's guide on who to support in the Saudi Pro League – Arab News
There has never been more global interest in the Saudi Pro League than right now. Since the current format was founded in 1976, the SPL — also known as the Roshn Saudi League — has consistently provided strong competition for professional footballers in the region. But now, the whole game has changed; there are more eyes on the league than ever.
For the uninitiated, picking a team can be pretty daunting, or simple, if you want to watch the best players like Karim Benzema, Neymar and Ronaldo. But here is a look at all 18 teams in the league, their star players and their current situation. Use the information to pick your favorite team to pour your stress and passion into.
Abha Club
Club colors: White and blue
Location: Abha
Abha Club are consistently and comfortable in the midtable. They were promoted to the first division in the 2018-19 season and have sat in the middle of the league ever since. They are more likely to fight against relegation than for a title right now, so be prepared for heartbreak if you decide to follow them. Goals seem to be the most complicated commodity to come by, with Eritrean Ahmed Abdu topping the goalscoring charts with two goals in seven games. However, record summer signing Karl Toko-Ekambi ($1.57 million) has already bagged a brace in his four games, so things could be on the up for the club.
Al-Ahli SFC
Club colors: Green and white
Location: Jeddah
Notable players: Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Allan Saint-Maximin
It has been seven long years since Al-Ahli won their last title. But this season the “Al-Raqi” (read: The Classy) have splashed the cash on a star-studded squad that is more than equipped for a title push. Ex-Liverpool legend Roberto Firmino leads the line as captain and is backed up by fellow summer signings Franck Kessie, Merih Demiral, Roger Ibanez, Edouard Mendy, Ezgjan Alioki and the coveted Gabri Veiga. They are one point off the top spot and are one of the favorites to win. If you are a glory hunter, this Al-Ahli is the best bandwagon to jump aboard.
Al-Ettifaq FC
Club colors: Green, white and red
Location: Dammam
Notable players: Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Ahmed Al-Ghamdi
The Merseyside connection is strong in Dammam. Ex-Reds Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are the midfield engine room of Steven Gerrard’s team; while ex-Everton winger Demarai Gray also adds another sprinkle of “Scouse” to the Kingdom. Coincidentally, the last time Al-Ettifaq won a league title was during the 1986-87 season — the same year Everton last won a championship. Stevie G’s team were unfancied title contenders at the start of the season but are currently sitting pretty. Maybe this is the year they end decades of hurt?
Al-Fateh SC
Club colors: Blue
Location: Al-Ahsa
Notable players: Jason Denayer, Cristian Tello
Al-Fateh might not possess the star power of its league rivals, but the team still packs a punch. Best described as a sleeping giant, the club won a league title way back in 2012-13. Croatian legend Slaven Bilic is the man in the dugout who has overseen a modest start to the season as they are currently slap-bang in the middle of the table. It looks set to be a mixed bag of a season for Bilic and company. Fans of the club must be looking at their star-studded rivals with tears in their eyes.
Al-Fayha FC
Club colors: Orange and blue
Location: Al-Majmaah
Notable players: Fashion Sakala, Abdelhamid Sabiri
The Orange has had a very up and down track record in recent years. They won the First Division in 2016-17, were relegated three years later, promoted at the first time of asking and then won the King’s Cup in 2021-22. But reality has bitten hard this season as the big spending clubs around them have strengthened. A patchy start to proceedings sees Al-Fayha FC in midtable mediocrity, although they did hold championship contenders Al-Hilal to a 1-1 draw. Still, at least they have one of the best-looking kits in the league.
Al-Hazm FC
Club colors: Red, yellow and blue
Location: Al-Rass
Notable players: Toze
If relegation battles are your thing, then look no further than Al-Hazm. They gained promotion to the Saudi Pro League last season, but as all newly promoted sides find out, the competition here is unforgiving. They have yet to win a point from any of their seven games. Portuguese midfielder Toze is doing his best to drag them to victory, but the team is rooted to the foot of the table. There could yet be a great escape from the basement, but the current track record means fans will likely only have a win in the local derby against Al-Kholood to look forward to this term.
Al-Hilal SC
Club colors: Blue
Location: Riyadh
Notable players: Neymar, Salem Al-Dawsari, Ruben Neves
Ideal for those who love loads of trophies and a marquee signing or two every year. Al-Hilal is the new home of Brazilian legend Neymar, the club having pulled off the signing of the summer by recruiting the ex-Barca and PSG man. He was the icing on the cake that includes Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. They also have Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari in their ranks, who you may remember scored Saudi Arabia’s goals that downed Lionel Messi’s Argentina at the 2022 World Cup.
Al-Ittihad FC
Club colors: Yellow and black
Location: Jeddah
Notable players: Karim Benzema, Abderrazak Hamdallah, N’Golo Kante
Title winners: Yes
The reigning champions of the Saudi Pro League have strengthened their squad without the major surgery that their rivals have undertaken. Real Madrid and France legend Karim Benzema adds more firepower alongside top scorer Abderrazak Hamdallah. While The Tigers also plugged their midfield with serial winners N’Golo Kante and Fabinho, it is a team-focused approach, not dissimilar to Manchester City’s. And it works, as they currently occupy the top spot once again.
Al-Khaleej Club
Club colors: Yellow
Location: Saihat
Notable players: Fabio Martins, Mansour Hamzi
Al-Khaleej have not had a bad start to the season. Tenth place might not be anything for the players to tell their grandkids about, but considering this is likely as competitive as the SPL has been, they are holding their own. Their kit colors and crest are almost identical to Norwich City — the English side with more ups and downs between the two top leagues than a rollercoaster. In that respect, Al-Khaleej will be hoping Martins can maintain his goalscoring streak, or they will be knocking on the trapdoor soon.
Al-Nassr FC
Club colors: Yellow and blue
Location: Riyadh
Notable players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane, Aymeric Laporte
This is the first Saudi Arabia-based team to go global thanks to the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo last season. He blazed a trail for all the superstars that have since followed, such as his new teammates, Mane, Laporte and Marcelo Brozovic. CR7 has lit the fuse for the SPL to explode, and he is the reason that Al-Nassr shirts are draped across kids in far-flung places such as Burnley. Still, league top scorer Ronaldo is the main reason to love or hate the club — your gut will decide.
Al-Okhdood Club 
Club colors: Sky blue
Location: Najran
Notable players: Leandre Tawamba, Alex Collado
You might want to look elsewhere if you are picking your new Saudi team based on shiny new Galactico signings. Collado — a loan signing from Real Betis — is about as exciting as it gets. That is not to say Al-Okhdood do not have talented players, but they are a hard sell to fair-weather fans who have grown up having FIFA as their main point of reference for players. Their football brand is not much more exciting either, with the club sitting just above the drop zone.
Al-Raed Club
Club colors: Red and black
Location: Buraidah
Notable players: Mohamed Fouzair, Mamadou Loum
Top scorer Mohamed Fouzair has been the bright spark in a miserable season for Al-Raed Club. His three goals in four games give fans something to cheer about until the cold wind of realization reminds them they are currently in the relegation spaces. They share a similar kit to AC Milan and Bournemouth but currently have the latter’s form. They do have a hotly contested derby against Al-Taawoun, with whom they share a stadium.
Al-Riyadh SC
Club colors:
Location: Riyadh
Notable players: Saleh Al-Abbas
Al-Riyadh were the beneficiaries of the expanded format of the Saudi Pro League. Having finished fourth in the first division, the expansion meant they made the cut to the big time. Unfortunately, their luck may have come at the wrong time. They have lost their last five games in a row and are relegation fodder. Al-Abbas has three goals in six games, which is a solid return, but you would only probably pick these to support if you believed in fairytales.
Al-Shabab FC
Club colors: White and orange
Location: Riyadh
Notable players: Romain Saiss, Ever Banega, Yannick Carrasco
Despite having a solid spine of international players, Al-Shabab are yet to kick into gear this season. You know you have problems around the pitch when a defensive midfielder (Banega) is your top scorer with two goals in seven games. They have a rich history and have won the league six times. They even finished fourth last term. But they have failed to build on their solid season and are sat in midtable right now. It could be a frustrating season for the fans.
Al-Taawoun FC
Club colors: Yellow and blue
Location: Buraidah
Notable players: Mateus Castro
The surprise package of the 2023-24 season so far. The Wolves find themselves in third place and mixing it with their big spending rivals. They are reminiscent of that audacious Leicester City title-winning team that were a well-oiled machine rather than a team of individuals. Castro has been a revelation and is currently pulling the strings regarding assists (seven) and goals (two). It would be hilarious if they won the league despite spending so little. They should definitely be a consideration for those who love an underdog.
Club colors: Grey and black
Location: Hail
Notable players: Bernard Mensah
It is probably the only professional club on the planet to have a silver home shirt and a grey away one. Fitting for the Knight of the North nickname, then. There are no distracting colors at Al-Tai, and few bright spots in general this season. They are closer to the relegation spots than the top of the table. Midfielder Bernard Mensah is a silver lining, mind. He has four goals in five appearances, but he alone will not be enough to save the Knights from being a blunt force.
Al-Wehda FC
Club colors: Red and white
Location: Makkah
Notable players: Odion Ighalo, Faycal Fajr
Ever picked a new team based on just their badge? No? Al-Wehda, the oldest club in Makkah, might change that for you. The Knights of Makkah have a flaming dragon on their crest that instantly catches the eye. It is more akin to an esports kit but in a good way. On the pitch, the dynamic duo of Ighalo and Fajr keeps Al-Wehda in title contention, a far cry from last season’s tilt, where they were almost relegated.
Damac Club
Club colors: Red and yellow
Location: Khamis Mushait
Notable players: Assan Ceesay, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou
Damac Club’s difficulty in scoring goals that plagued them last season is back in full effect in 2023. Summer signing Assan Ceesay has three goals, but they are in short supply elsewhere. Fans will be distraught to see they have got the third-worst goal difference in the league, too. Watching attacks against Damac — as a follower — will likely lead to stressful and nervy evenings unless they can turn it around.
Al-Hilal made sure of top spot in Group D of the AFC Champions League on Monday with a 2-1 win over Nassaji Mazandaran.
Goals in each half from Michael and Salem Al-Dawsari proved enough to defeat the Iranians and for Al-Hilal to progress to the second round unbeaten and in fine form with 15 wins from the last 15 in all competitions.
Jorge Jesus’ men are looking unstoppable at the moment, even when they rest top-class international players such as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
Both of those players scored in last Friday’s 3-0 win over Al-Nassr in the Riyadh derby, and Al-Hilal carried on from where they had left off, scoring this time after just four minutes.
Mohammed Al-Breik collected the ball on the left side of the area and rolled it across the six-yard box. It evaded everyone but Michael who was there at the far post to blast home from close range.
The Blues continued to push forward and Saud Abdulhamid, Al-Breik, and Saleh Al-Shehri — given a rare start by his coach after his recent heroics for the national team — all had attempts on goal.
Home fans may have expected their side to stroll to victory but, while dominating possession, they were made to work for the second goal.
They thought they had it just before the half hour when Abdullah Al-Hamdan broke free of the defense, but his low shot was well saved by Hossein Khatir. That was not the end of the danger either, as the ball bounced off Amir Houshmand and headed toward goal before the goalkeeper clawed it off the line.
The visitors, who had already been eliminated, had not looked too dangerous going forward, but that changed just before the break. Hossein Zamehran took a free-kick from the right and Mahmoud Rahmati stooped to send a perfect low header toward the opposite corner, Yassine Bounou getting down quickly to make a fine diving save.
Al-Hilal grabbed a second goal early in the second half. Al-Hamdan lifted a pass over the defense for Al-Dawsari who, under pressure from defenders, pushed the ball past the goalkeeper.
It all looked too easy, and with 13 minutes remaining, the Iranians pulled one back through Rahmati. Kalidou Koulibaly headed away a cross but it fell to the forward who volleyed high into the net to give Bounou no chance.
That was it as far as goals were concerned, but there looks to be much more to come in the AFC Champions League for Al-Hilal.
London: The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Monday announced it had set up an independent cricket regulator after a damning report revealed racism, sexism, classism and elitism in the sport. 
The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) published its findings in June, revealing “widespread” discrimination in the game and making 44 recommendations. 
The ICEC was established in 2021 following a racism scandal centered around the treatment of Pakistan-born bowler Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. 
The new regulator will be responsible for monitoring compliance with the game’s regulations, safeguarding, anti-corruption, anti-doping and anti-discrimination. 
The body will be headed by former police officer Dave Lewis, taking the role of interim director, and will be overseen by an independent cricket regulatory board. 
ECB chief executive Richard Gould welcomed the changes, stating: “It is important that the game has the best processes in place in order to enforce regulations. 
“The ICEC report recommended that we introduce further independence to the game’s regulatory process and the cricket regulator overseen by an independent cricket regulatory board will do that. 
“The cricket regulator is ring-fenced from the ECB, and that separation will ensure that their work is distinct from our work as the game’s promoter.” 
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.
LONDON: The “passion” of Saudi Arabia’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 Saudi Arabia, 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 Saudi Arabia), I think they will find what they are looking for,” he said.
“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi Arabia, 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 Saudi Arabia 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.
LAHORE: Pakistan is looking to reshape the future of football in the country after reaching out to Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi Arabian 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 Arab News on Friday.
The PFF official said the federation was working on next year’s calendar, which will include friendly matches with Saudi Arabia.
“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 Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Jordan.
‘Neutral venue’
Pakistan is scheduled to play its home matches of the FIFA qualifiers against Jordan and Saudi Arabia 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.







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