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Uri Levy

Is Spain's Super Cup heading for Saudi Arabia?

Al-Hilal are a giant of Saudi football [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 April, 2019

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Troubles are afoot in one of Saudi Arabia's establishment clubs, Al-Hilal, while Spain's Super Cup could be heading to the kingdom.
It's that time of the season again. Once or twice a year, Al-Hilal - the Saudi football heavyweights that enjoy huge investments every summer and win silverware almost every season - enter a stage where everything looks to be going wrong.

This season, it looked like that might not happen. Under the management of former president Sami al-Jaber, guidance from Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus and impressive signings - such as Bafetimby Gomis, Sebastian Giovinco, Jonathan Soriano and practically every Saudi talent around - the team looked favourites for the Saudi Pro League title and the Asian Champions League.

But when everything seemed to be going right, in one of his last acts as Sports Minister Turki Alsheikh intervened in Al-Hilal's plans.

Sources close to Saudi football officials said they had heard that the problems started when Alsheikh - who owns Egyptian side Pyramid FC - asked al-Jaber to accept his offer for Syrian striker Omar Khribin, who was struggling to find his place in Al-Hilal's line up.

Al-Jaber, who appreciates Khribin, consulted with his coach Jesus, and the two agreed that Khribin will play a crucial role in the club's Asian Champions League campaign, especially with the long term injury of Omar Abdulrahman.

But in Saudi football, if you get in the way of Alsheikh there are consequences.

Before he was moved to the culture and entertainment ministry by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Alsheikh ordered Sami al-Jaber to take charge of the kingdom's sports development. Jaber was then replaced by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Faisal al-Saud as president of the country's most prestigious club.

At the end of January, bin Faisal sacked Jorge Jesus, who according to Alsheikh was supposed to take over the new academy project for the Saudi football association. It did not happen.

Zoran Mamc, the Croatian manager of Emirati side Al-Ain, was brought in. After a flying start, things started to fall apart. The club had only lost once in their past four matches, and the fans are furious, especially when their city rival, Al-Nassr, also beat them dramatically in the derby, leading the table with only two games until then end of the season.

If the season ends with the loss of the Saudi title, the ground will move again in Al-Hilal's headquarters in Riyadh. It's that time of the season again.

Spanish Supercup in Jeddah?

Over the past week, it was reported that Saudi Arabia offered Spanish La Liga an offer of around 30 million euros to host the Supercopa de Espana - the Spanish Super Cup - in the country from 2020.

While the Spaniards are looking to discover new markets and gain extra income in their desperate race to overshadow the English Premier League, the Saudis are looking to widen their reach in global football, especially as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar moves closer.

On Monday, the Spanish FA assembly confirmed that from 2020 the Super Cup will include four teams - the league's champions and second place team, as well as the cup winners and runner-up. This decision means that the Spanish Super Cup will transform into tournament players over a few days. If this happens then the road to a summer tournament in Jeddah is already being paved.

African football decisive moments

Last weekend saw crucial games in Morocco and Tunisia as the African Champions League reached the semi-finals. Wydad Casablanca gained a narrow 2-1 victory over Mamelodi Sundowns from South Africa, as reigning champions Esperance de Tunis beat Congolese side TP Mazembe 1-0 in Rades.

The two North African sides have mountains to climb in the second leg, as Pretoria is well known for its hostile environment, giving the Sundowns a massive advantage over the visitors. Mazembe are also unbeaten in a Champions League match in Lubumbashi for 37 games in a row.

Will the North African teams maintain their dominance of African football? Answer at the weekend.

Palestinian league finish line

The Palestinian League has arrived in its final moments and with just three teams able to win the title. Shabab Balata from Nablus is ranked first with 43 points, while Hilal al-Quds from Jerusalem are second with 42 points, and Shabab al-Khaleel from Hebron are third on 41. On the final day, if Balata win their next game, the crown will be theirs for the first time since 2014. 

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.

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