Tuesday, July 23, 2024
HomeSaudi ArabiaUAE’s Thani Al-Qemzi eyes double goal in Sardinia Grand Prix

UAE’s Thani Al-Qemzi eyes double goal in Sardinia Grand Prix


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.

Al-Tai

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.

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