Saudi Arabia are gearing up for their first World Cup finals appearance since 2006 by sending players on loan to Spain to gain experience.
At least six players have joined Spanish clubs following an agreement between Spain’s La Liga and the Saudi federation.
Villarreal, Leganes and Levante from the top flight, alongside second division outfits Gijon, Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano, each simultaneously announced on Sunday they had signed a Saudi player.
Villarreal have taken winger Salem Al-Dawsari, attacking midfielder Yahia Al-Shehri has gone to Leganes while Levante have signed forward Fahad Al-Muwallad.
The loans come less than five months before the World Cup in Russia begins.
Saudi Arabia are in a group alongside the hosts, Uruguay and Egypt.
For the Spanish clubs, the loans are a way to gain exposure in a little-tapped market.
“With Yahia Al-Shehri’s arrival, the club has improved its squad and also gained visibility in the Arab world,” Leganes said in a statement.
Provided by AFP
Pierluigi Collina has revealed that FIFA are already instructing potential World Cup referees on how to use VAR (video assistant referees) ahead of next year’s tournament.
No decision has been made on the use of video assistant technology in Russia, with the final decision set to be made in March.
But football’s top brass offered their strongest hints yet that they are confident it will be installed for the 2018 World Cup at the Dubai International Sports Conference at the Madinat Jumeirah on Thursday.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that its implementation – across seven domestic leagues around the world so far – has been ‘very encouraging and very positive’ with only ‘fine-tuning’ needed.
And former official Collina, now the chairman of the FIFA Referees’ Committee, says that VAR tutorials are one of the governing body’s top priorities ahead of the World Cup.
“We are doing a good job as FIFA to get our referees ready,” said Collina. “There will absolutely be (special training in VAR).
“Between the beginning of the January and the start of the World Cup, there will be five seminars – once in January, two in March and two in April in different locations.
“Certainly we will be meeting more times and at more stages than the national sides. The referees will be in Russia 10 days before the kick-off.
“The next step in the IFAB (International Football Association Board) general business meeting is the changes of the rules in the game to be approved and then implemented, so there will be an assessment in mid-January and beginning of March.”
Though still in an experimental phase, VAR has had to contend with criticism during its first season of widespread use in domestic football.
There have been fan protests across the Bundesliga over inconsistent and lengthy decision-making, and Germany’s VAR chief Hellmut Krug was even accused of manipulating video footage in favour of his favourite team Schalke. Similar problems have emerged from Australia’s A-League and Italy’s Serie A.
Felix Brych, the German who refereed last season’s Champions League final, is in support of the system, though admitted there are ‘communication’ problems that need to be ironed out.
But Collina believes the system will evolve into a tool that empowers referees rather than diminishes them.
“The referee is still the final decision maker – he has to be,” said Collina. “The referee cannot be seen as someone who executes a decision taken by someone else outside the field of play.
“He knows there is a monitor by the side of play, and he goes to review the incident by himself. When it is a factual decision, like an offside, then it can be taken outside the field of play.
“But when it is a matter of interpretation, and most of the time for a referee it is, the referee must review the incident because he is taking the final decision. He cannot listen to someone from the outside saying ‘you must do this’ because there would be two kinds of problems.
“The referee would lose credibility and the player would not think he is the final decision maker.
“Second is a matter of self-confidence, because the referee feels monitored and not supported if someone is correcting him.”
Sergio Ramos has rubbished suggestions that 2010 champions Spain could be kicked out of next summer’s World Cup for “political interference”.
Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that FIFA has contacted the Spanish football federation (RFEF) warning it that continued involvement from the centre-right Spanish government in the upcoming election for the football federation’s new president could result in them losing their place at next year’s tournament.
But Ramos, 31, on Friday refuted suggestions Spain’s appearance at next year’s finals was in jeopardy ahead of Real Madrid’s Club World Cup final with Brazil’s Gremio on Saturday night.
“We have played well and I don’t think it will cost us our achievement,” said the 149-times capped defender, behind only former Real teammate Iker Casillas (167) on the country’s all-time appearance list.
“I don’t think we will not play in Russia after all we have done. The results are there, we have won our matches. I don’t think anything can influence us playing there next year.”
La Roja qualified at the beginning of October, having finished top of UEFA Group G, beating out fellow European giants Italy.
The RFEF is currently led on an interim basis by Juan Luis Larrea, after former president Angel Maria Villar was forced to step down on corruption charges.
The government’s National Sports Council have made contact with the RFEF over Villar’s eventual successor and that would be in direct contradiction of FIFA’s strict rules.
FIFA can suspend the membership of any national football team if they judge the association has been influenced by external political pressure.
Earlier this year, the Pakistan Football Federation was banned by FIFA due to “undue third-party interference”, while the Kuwait Football Association was suspended between 2015-2017 for similar levels of interference.