A glorious summer of women’s football is making Arab countries dream

So far, the results, and thus the ratings, have generally been about longevity and history. But even there, the official participation of Arab African countries was a few years ahead of that of Asian countries.

Morocco, Algeria and Egypt played their first women’s internationals in 1998, while Tunisia did not follow until 2006. In Asia, the Jordanian women made their debut in 2005, as did Bahrain, while the team from the United Arab Emirates, consisting mainly of expatriates, played its first international match in 2010.

Given that all of these games were fairly recent, credit must go to the trailblazers who paved the way for those that followed.

Training of the Jordanian team in Amman (Photo, AFP).

However, things will change as football history becomes less of a factor. Increased funding, affordable training programs and facilities are the future.

With this in mind, Saudi Arabia, which is not yet a member of FIFA, is trying to accelerate the development of women’s football. The women’s football department of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) was only established in 2019, but has run an impressively fast program ever since.

In 2020, as the world emerged from the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sports For All Federation of Saudi Arabia launched the Women’s Football League, involving several long-established women’s teams that had never competed in regular organized competition.

Training of the Saudi Arabian women’s team (Photo, AFP).

But it was in November 2021 that the SAFF officially established the Regional Football League, a 16-team competition that will allow the country’s top eight clubs, mainly from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, to qualify for the national knockout championship. Right at the beginning of this year in January.

The league is divided into three regions: the six-team Central Region, the six-team West Region and the four-team East Region. The tournament is played in all rounds, home and away.

The top three teams from the Central and West regions, as well as the top two from the East region, will qualify for the national championships, where the eventual winners will receive a prize of 133,000 dollars (1 USD = 0.97 EUR).

Al-Yamamah, Jeddah Eagles and Eastern Flames were crowned champions of the Central, Western and Eastern divisions respectively, joined by Miraas, The Storm, Sama, Al-Mamlaka and Challenge in the quarter-finals.

Jeddah Eagles celebrate their victory (Photo provided).

At almost 11:00pm on January 8, Al-Mamlaq became the first winners of the Saudi National Football Championship after thrashing Challenge 7-0 at the King Abdullah Stadium in Jeddah.

That day marked a turning point for a whole new women’s football scene in the Kingdom. The competition was not without its challenges, but its overall success is undeniable.

The SAFF has also taken a major step by hiring 12 of Asia’s top female referees to officiate women’s football league matches and training Saudi women who want to follow this path. Today, training courses for new female referees have been established and 63 officials have been approved by the SAFF to date.

But arguably the most significant appointment is that of German coach Monika Staab, who will be tasked with leading the new Saudi women’s international team formed in 2021 and overseeing the development of the game at all levels in the Kingdom.

Training of the Saudi Arabian team led by Monika Staab (Photo, AFP).

Staff had a stellar career that saw her play in France and England before returning to Germany and joining the Women’s Bundesliga. As a coach, she led 1. FFC Frankfurt (now Eintracht Frankfurt) to four German league titles, four German Cups and, in 2002, to the Women’s European Cup (now the UEFA Women’s Champions League).

After a coaching journey that saw her visit more than 80 countries over the past four decades, including Bahrain, Iran and Qatar, Staab was the perfect candidate for the SAFF position. It has proven to be a solid choice so far.

The staff led the Saudi women’s national team in their first international match, beating Seychelles 2-0 in a friendly on February 20 at the Maldives National Stadium.

The historic event was hailed by football personalities, including Brazilian legend Pelé, who tweeted his congratulations to the female Falcons.

Several Saudi Arabian players are already starting to make a name for themselves (Photo, AFP).

It is heartening to see that the national training programs established by Staab and his team are trying to unearth the talent of Saudi women to join the regional football league and eventually the national team.

In addition, 40 coaching training courses (D license) were delivered in schools in the Kingdom, enabling 857 teachers to become certified as coaches, while 15 refereeing courses will enable 544 teachers to referee the girls’ school league, which is planned to be launched. in September 2022.

Several players are already starting to make a name for themselves. Al-Bandari Mubarak scored Saudi Arabia’s first goal in the win over Seychelles. She is considered an essential part of the national team, as is goalkeeper and captain Sarah Khaled, who plays for Al-Mamlaq.

Saudi Arabia is one of the four countries that want to host the 2026 Asian Cup in women’s football (Photo, SPA).

Farah Jafri of Jeddah Eagles is another talent destined for stardom. As for Leena Mohamed, she has become the star of the Saudi Arabia Women’s National Futsal Team (founded in 2019), which hosted the 2022 West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) Women’s Futsal Championship and finished second.

There are many more. Staab’s first goal is to allow the Saudi national team to enter the FIFA world rankings and then participate in official competitions at regional and international levels.

It looks like it might happen sooner than expected. It was announced on Monday that Saudi Arabia is one of four countries that want to host the 2026 Asian Women’s Cup.

Women’s football is flourishing (Photo, SPA).

“Saudi Arabia has opened up to women’s football. When I talk to girls all over the Kingdom, I see their enthusiasm for the game,” says Staab.

“The 2026 AFC Women’s Cup is an unprecedented opportunity to inspire a generation of girls to pursue their football dreams.”

There is no doubt that this will require hard work in the coming years. But if Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the tournament is successful, we could see Wembley’s jubilant scenes repeated closer to home in three years’ time.

This text is a translation from an article published on Arabnews.com

Georgie Collins

"Falls down a lot. Writer. Passionate alcohol maven. Future teen idol. Hardcore music practitioner. Food fanatic. Devoted travel fan."

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