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Saudi Pro League: Neymar’s debut, Ronaldo’s strikes and good start by Gerrard

Football fans worldwide are focused on the Saudi Pro League like never before after its clubs welcomed a host of star-studded arrivals in the Kingdom over the past nine months. Each week, Al Arabiya English will do a round-up on the key storylines as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Neymar and Co slug it out for the 2023-24 silverware.
For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

On Matchday Six, while Neymar finally made his debut for table-topper Al Hilal, Al-Ahli players showed their resilience, even as Cristiano Ronaldo climbed to the summit of the scoring charts and Steven Gerrard’s impressive start at Al-Ettifaq continued.

Neymar era begins

There was one name on everyone’s lips in the Saudi capital on Friday night as Neymar finally made his debut for Al Hilal against newly-promoted Al-Riyadh.

Al Hilal’s Neymar in action during a match against Al Riyadh on September 15, 2023. (Reuters)

Al Hilal’s Neymar in action during a match against Al Riyadh on September 15, 2023. (Reuters)

A long trip back to South America for World Cup qualifiers during the international break saw the Brazil superstar start on the substitutes’ bench initially, but with his side already 2-0 up, he came on to a raucous reception in the 64th minute.

Neymar proceeded with a high-quality cameo, offering a quartet of key contributions. It began with a beautifully scooped through-ball that led to Nasser Al-Dawsari scoring before a perfect lay-off allowed compatriot Malcom to slot home. Neymar’s quick feet then forced a handball and penalty, but while the crowd called enthusiastically for their No 10 to take the spot-kick, Salem Al-Dawsari instead went ahead and duly slotted home. The Saudi midfielder then put the icing on Neymar’s welcome cake with the team’s sixth goal in a 6-1 win after the ex-PSG man’s shot was initially saved.

Al Hilal’s Salem Al-Dawsari, Malcom and Neymar during training. (Reuters)

Al Hilal’s Salem Al-Dawsari, Malcom and Neymar during training. (Reuters)

It was a riotous display that saw Al-Hilal return to the top of the league table after Karim Benzema’s lone goal had fired Al-Ittihad to that position 24 hours earlier.

Priorities now switch to the AFC Champions League this week for Jorge Jesus’ side.

Al-Ahli bounces back

After an embarrassing 5-1 defeat at the hands of Al-Fateh the last time out, Al-Ahli demonstrated its resilience against Al-Taawoun on Saturday, emerging 3-2 victors in the weekend’s most entertaining fixture.

Al-Taawoun had been a surprise inclusion among the early Saudi Pro League pacesetters – thanks to four wins in their previous four games – and they certainly proved troublesome for Al-Ahli, too, as the former came up with a brave display away from home in Jeddah. The hosts raced to a 2-0 lead after Riyad Mahrez’s free-kick was headed home by Abdulbasit Hindi, and Waleed Al-Ahmed put through his own net.

Yet, Al-Taawoun battled back to make it 2-2.

Al-Ahli spent big this summer to pack its team with match-winners. Minutes after one of them, Roberto Firmino, narrowly headed wide, another one of the marquee signings made the difference. Allan Saint-Maximin was a fan favorite at Newcastle United for his unpredictability, and he conjured up another magic moment at the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium, rifling home a stunning strike from 25 yards to hand Al-Ahli the win and keep them just a point behind Al-Hilal.

Ronaldo reaches scoring summit

Al-Nassr’s free-scoring start to the season continued as goals from Sadio Mane, Anderson Talisca and Cristiano Ronaldo powered the team to a 3-1 win at Al-Raed.

Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo in action with Al Taawoun’s Mohammed Al-Ghamdi. (Reuters)

Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo in action with Al Taawoun’s Mohammed Al-Ghamdi. (Reuters)

After losing its first two league matches, Al-Nassr responded impressively with 17 goals in the past four games to record four convincing wins in a row.

Ronaldo now leads the Saudi Pro League scoring charts with seven goals, while Mane has six to his credit. Mane’s strike helped Al-Nassr break the deadlock on Saturday as Al-Raed fell apart just before half-time. The Senegal forward’s fine finish put Al-Nassr 1-0 up, and a minute later, he was brought down by Bander Whaeshi, who was sent off for the challenge.

Talisca and Ronaldo made sure of the three points for Al-Nassr, who has a huge week ahead. First up is a compelling AFC Champions League opener against Persepolis in Iran on Tuesday before Al-Ahli rolls into Riyadh on Friday for a match that could indicate which of the two sides is in the best shape to challenge Saudi Pro League supremacy this season.

Watch: Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo and his Saudi team, Al-Nassr, arrive in Iran’s capital #Tehran for Asian Championship match against Persepolis FC.#Iran #Ronaldo #AlNassr #ACL

— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) September 18, 2023

Gerrard’s confidence growing

Many wondered whether Al-Ettifaq coach Steven Gerrard would take a while before getting into grips with Saudi Pro League, given that his only experience of playing or coaching outside the UK was an 18-month stint at Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of his career.

Ettifaq's English coach Steven Gerrard celebrates his team's win in the Saudi Pro League football match between Al-Ettifaq and Al-Nassr at the Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam on August 14, 2023. (AFP)

Ettifaq's English coach Steven Gerrard celebrates his team's win in the Saudi Pro League football match between Al-Ettifaq and Al-Nassr at the Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam on August 14, 2023. (AFP)

However, Gerrard has hit the ground running at Al-Ettifaq, with his side suffering only a solitary defeat so far in the season – to leaders Al-Hilal. Away to Al-Abha on Saturday, a strong second-half showing secured a 3-1 win.

The first goal came thanks to some quick thinking from England international Jordan Henderson, who chipped the ball through for Moussa Dembele to race on and slot under Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tătărușanu. A fantastic strike from Robin Quaison doubled the lead before Hamed Al-Ghamadi added a third to leave Al-Ettifaq fifth on the points table.

Gerrard appears to be quickly fitting into his new role.

Read more:

Excitement in Iran as fans welcome Ronaldo’s Al Nassr ahead of Persepolis clash

Improved ties let Saudi clubs with CR7, Neymar go to Iran for Asian Champions League

Meet the Saudi clubs chasing AFC Champions League glory

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Almarai signs an MoU with the Authority of People with Disabilities to train and employ them.

Almarai Company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Authority of People with
Disabilities to train, qualify and employ persons with disabilities. This came on the sidelines of
the First International Labor Market Conference, organized by the Ministry of Human Resources
and Social Development on December 13 – 14, 2023, at the King Abdulaziz Convention Center
in Riyadh.

The memorandum was signed by the Chief Human Resources Officer of Almarai Company,
Fahad Mohammed Aldrees, and the CEO of the Authority of People with Disabilities, Dr.
Hisham bin Muhammad Al-Haidari.

“This agreement comes within the framework of the company’s social responsibility program, as
Almarai employs more than 500 people with disabilities, which is one of the most suitable work
environments for them.” Fahad Aldrees said. Pointing out that Almarai has the “Silent Line”,
which is one of its production lines that is designated for people with hearing disabilities.

It is worth mentioning that Almarai supports over 300 charity organizations annually across the
kingdom that operate in the field of community development.

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Central Phuket Shopping Center Prepared Surprises This Christmas & New Year 2024

Central Phuket Shopping Center, the luxury lifestyle landmark o Phuket, invites everyone to celebrate Christmas and New Year 2024 in The Great Celebration 2024 Campaign. Joining hands with global partner ‘The Pokémon Company’, Central Phuket bring over Pokémon, the super cute character popular around the world, for all locals and international fans. The special campaign launch presents a procession of cute ‘Pikachu’ alongside with the giant Christmas tree for the first time in Thailand.
This December, Central Phuket prepared many activities for shoppers when visiting Phuket! Experience the “Surprise of the Day” with free Cotton Candy for our little ones, a sweet and fluffy treat, a special gift from Central Phuket. Bring your kids to enjoy this sweet treat every Saturday and Sunday throughout the month of December. Don’t miss the Christmas Carol that
everyone loves, little Santas spread freshness by singing together in the Christmas Carol activity. Plus, Christmas Live Music, the festival of joy is back! Celebrate Christmas in a luxurious and classy atmosphere, enjoying the music that will bring us joy. Also, there will be Christmas Troop, Santa Claus is coming to town! The Santa troop will spread happiness throughout Central Phuket. Lastly, Cake Workshop, workshop activity with Chef Sebastien’s IRON CHEF Thailand teaching how to make Christmas Vanilla Cake. A special activity for the Christmas season. Moreover, Central Phuket provides special promotion exclusively for international tourists throughout December 23 – January 24 including:

1) Get Free! Tourist welcome discount package valued up to THB 10,000.
2) Receive THB 100 Gift voucher when spending up to THB 2,500 per receipt.
3) Get to buy ‘Happy Holiday Collections’ special price: Pokémon 2-in-1 pillow blanket, tumbler, travel bag set, and keychain. Visit redemption counter for the price.
4) Exclusive for Grab Users get discount code up to 25% off* when traveling to participating Central Shopping Centers.
5) Receive famous Elephant Pants when spending over THB 5,000 in shopping center.
6) Get Free! H&M THB 100 gift voucher when booking any accommodations in Phuket with Agoda. Terms and conditions apply.

Central Phuket is a home of global luxury brands such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Ermenegildo Zegna, Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Saint Laurent. Exclusive for this season, Louis Vuitton launches a pop-up store located at Central Phuket. The design is inspired by the story of Damier or Checkerboard, the brand’s signature pattern. This classic pattern was created by Louis
Vuitton and his son Georges Vuitton in 1888 and has always been part of the design of Maison’s iconic items and concepts. Find clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories for men at the Pop-up Store from Louis Vuitton at Central Phuket, 1st floor, from today until 31 March 2024. And with over 500 renowned fashion brands and lifestyle shops ranging from local to international
well-known brands covering all categories, international shoppers will be able to find what they are looking for in Central Phuket.
Central Phuket is located in the heart of one of the world’s most famous beach cities, Phuket and await to welcome both locals and international visitors this holiday. Also, don’t miss one of the most joyful New Year Count Down events in Phuket city at Central Phuket Shopping Center on December 31, 2023.

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Saudi Fund for Development Provides $100 Million Development Loan for the Rogun Hydropower Project

The Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) Chief Executive Officer, H.E. Sultan Al-Marshad, signed a new development loan agreement with the Minister of Finance of the Republic of Tajikistan, H.E. Kahhorzoda Fayziddin Sattor, through which SFD is contributing $100 million USD to fund the Rogun Hydropower Project, a landmark initiative that will enhance energy,
food, and water security, and foster sustainable development in the country. The signing was attended by the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Republic of Tajikistan, H.E. Waleed Al-Reshiadan, and the Ambassador of Tajikistan to Saudi Arabia, H.E. Akram Karimi, alongside other officials from both sides. SFD’s development loan will help contribute towards a more sustainable and equitable food and water future for Tajikistan, while driving the country’s energy transition and climate resilience. The project aims to contribute to the national energy security and will help advance sustainable
development in the Republic of Tajikistan, by providing the renewable electricity supply to meet local demand and expand electricity production domestically and regionally, producing 3600 MW of energy. The loan agreement will also finance the construction of a 335-meter-tall dam, which will enhance irrigation capabilities and bolster agricultural activities across the country. Additionally, the project will improve flood protection through the construction of four hydraulic
tunnels for diversion and drainage. It will also provide clean and drinkable water to people through desalination, and help advance socio-economic development, by creating both direct and indirect jobs.
Importantly, this project also supports the realization of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); specifically, SDG 2, Zero Hunger, SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, and SDG 7, Affordable and Clean Energy.
On this occasion, the CEO of SFD, H.E. Sultan Al-Marshad, said: “Today’s signing marks a major milestone in our shared journey towards a more sustainable future. With this landmark development loan, SFD is not just supporting Tajikistan’s energy future, but also its sustainable development and the well-being of its people. The Rogun Hydropower Project is a beacon of
hope for a bright future that is powered by clean, renewable energy. It will propel Tajikistan towards environmental stewardship and prosperity.”

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