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New chapter for women’s football in Saudi Arabia as national team conclude first ever matches at home

RIYADH: Following their launch last year, Saudi Arabia’s Women’s National Team has completed a historic week after taking on Asian counterparts Bhutan in their debut matches on home soil.

Taking place across four days at the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Stadium in Abha, both friendly fixtures witnessed six-goal thrillers.

The first match on Saturday saw the hosts bounce back from a 3-1 deficit at half-time to claim an 3-3 draw thanks to Al-Bandari Mubarak and Nora Ibrahim’s strikes in the closing 15 minutes. Both teams met again on Wednesday night with the visitors claiming an action-packed 4-2 victory.

Reflecting on the past week, SAFF Women’s Football Department Supervisor and board member, Lamia Bahaian, said: “We have been working very hard toward the moment we finally see our women’s national team compete at home.”

“We are extremely proud of how they’ve already inspired a nation and are helping pave the way for a career in the sport with over 50,000 young girls signing up for the first-ever schools league,” she said. “Since the launch of the team just last year, we’ve been grateful for the unconditional support shown to us by the Kingdom’s leadership. The players will now continue their development and progress in the Premier League’s inaugural season, in what is a hugely exciting moment in their careers.”

The matches represented the latest chapter in women’s football rapid journey in Saudi Arabia over the past few years. Since the establishment of a dedicated women’s football department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in 2019, it currently hosts 450 registered players, 49 qualified referees and more than 900 D, C and B licensed coaches.

The national team’s German head coach Monika Staab. (SAFF)

This progress is a result of a long-term strategy launched last year by the federation to grow interest and participation at all levels of the women’s game, with unprecedented investments in areas such as grassroots, player development, coaching, facilities, competitions and governance.

The national team’s players’ attention now turns toward their respective clubs ahead of the launch of the SAFF Women’s Premier League and return of the First Division League. Featuring eight clubs from across Saudi Arabia, most notably Saudi Pro League sides Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad for the first time, the newly formed Premier League takes place on a home-and-away basis with a total of 56 matches.

The First Division League, formerly known as the SAFF Regional Football League, will see a further 17 teams compete across three cities.

The national team’s German head coach, Monika Staab, said that she could not be prouder of the team’s performances and progress over the 180 minutes, in what were only the national team’s third and fourth matches following the encounters against the Seychelles and Maldives in February.

She believes playing the first meetings at home marks another historic milestone in the national team’s journey and the women’s game as a whole.

“This week will undoubtedly go down in the history of Saudi Arabian football. Playing our first matches at home was a massive source of pride for everyone involved in the women’s game across the country,” she said.

“I am extremely pleased with the experience gained by our girls and their performances against a tough opponent. They showcased their true fighting spirit and strong willingness to fight till the final whistle. We look forward to getting more international minutes under our belt, both at home and away, as we continue toward journey to achieve the ambitious goals set for women’s football.”

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