Ronaldo to miss KSA clash

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On his knees: Cristiano Ronaldo has been given the week off by his national team. (AP)
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Updated 06 November 2017
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Ronaldo to miss KSA clash

LONDON: Saudi Arabia fans should be cursing England sensation Dele Alli. The Tottenham star’s performance in the 3-1 defeat of Real Madrid last week helped convince Portugal that Cristiano Ronaldo needs a break.
The megastar will be absent when Saudi Arabia start their preparations for the 2018 World Cup against Portugal on Friday. The five-time world player of the year may be slightly out-of-touch so far this season but an out of touch Ronaldo still outshines most.
The Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) is pulling out all the stops to give the national team as much international exposure as possible before touching down in Russia next June. A friendly against the European champions is a great start but there is also talk of some players going on loan to La Liga and elsewhere over the next few months. For the moment though, there would be no better experience than getting up close and personal with CR7.
There is nobody — except perhaps Lionel Messi, but that is another debate — to give a more authentic taste at football’s top table than Ronaldo. His mantelpieces in Madrid and back home in Madeira groan under the weight of awards, trophies and medals of both team and individual type.
Ronaldo is an inspiration to all or at least should be. Some see him as petulant and arrogant but he is the living embodiment that talent by itself is not enough to succeed. This is a man who has worked as hard as humanly possible to become a player who has done everything.
The hunger and desire still burns, just as hot now as it did in 2004 when a skinny teenager left his homeland and arrived at Manchester United. Years later, Rio Ferdinand recalled: “You think he was what he is today? He wasn’t. He has worked. You’d get to that stage where he was flying for Manchester United but it wasn’t enough. He wants to be the best.”
It was the same for country as it was for club, according to former international colleague Deco.
“The guy isn’t well in the head. I’ve never seen anyone train like it. It’s not easy to be like that,” he told ESPN in 2015. “Messi looks after his body as an athlete should, but what Cristiano does is incredible. He goes to insane lengths because he always wants to be the best in every way and he competes to win everything.”
There is talent in Saudi Arabia, plenty of it. Some Ronaldo-style determination can’t hurt, however, as the team looks toward a first World Cup since 2006.
How far could Yasser Al-Qahtani have gone with the same desire to be the very best that he could possibly be? “The Sniper” had all the physical qualities to become a top-class international player. His career was still memorable but could have, should have been truly special. If he had left, or had been encouraged to leave, his comfort zone to push himself to the limit, then things could have been very different.
The most exciting Saudi star at the moment is Fahad Al-Muwallad (pictured). The winger is raw but is also exciting, fast, direct and tricky. The introduction of the Al-Ittihad winger as a second-half substitute against Japan in September won the game and secured a spot at the 2018 World Cup. “We struggled to cope with him,” admitted Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic.
There is no reason why a player such as Al-Muwallad can’t become as consistent as Ronaldo. He may never be as devastating but if he can work as hard as possible, get the right support from club and then country, he can go from exciting talent to genuine star.
The same goes for plenty of others in the country. The friendly with Portugal this week is a fine way to start getting ready for Russia. The European champions will give Edgardo Bauza a good sense of where his team stands in the overall scheme of things.
He will get that but the players will miss a close look at Ronaldo, the player who has fulfilled every ounce of potential he ever had. If Saudi stars can do the same, the 2018 World Cup will only be the start of a golden period for the Green Falcons.


Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

Updated 25 March 2019
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Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

  • Five-year old bidding to become first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups.
  • $12 million race takes place at Meydan on Saturday.

LONDON: Thunder Snow is preparing well as he bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups, according to Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
The five-year-old memorably won the showcase $12 million race at Meydan by five and three-quarter lengths, winning in a track record time last year. He returned to the track on Super Saturday two weeks ago, finishing second in the Group 1 Al-Maktoum Challenge Round Three.
And Godolphin are expecting big things from him in the famous race. Bin Suroor, the most successful handler in the history of the 2000m dirt feature with eight winners to his name, is feeling confident.
“He did his final serious piece of work on Saturday and went very well indeed,” the Godolphin trainer said. “He needed his Super Saturday outing — his first run since November — badly and has come on a lot for it. We expect him to run a big race under conditions we know suit him, but obviously it is a good race.”
Thunder Snow has already made history as the only horse to win both the Group 2 UAE Derby and Group 1 Dubai World Cup, but if he is to win this Saturday then he will be revered for years to come.
One of his big rivals in the race will be Yoshida. Trained by Bill Mott he arrived in Dubai on March 19 in preparation for the cash-rich race. The Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry landed in the Emirate off a sixth-place finish in the inaugural Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
He won the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, as well as the prestigious Woodward at Saratoga last year and Riley Mott, assistant to his father Bob, said Yoshida is looking good ahead of the big race.
“He’s settled in really well,” he said. “He traveled great and we’re very happy with him. The facilities here are top class. This is my seventh time over here and we’re treated very well.”
Yoshida went out just after 7:00 a.m. in Monday to stretch his legs over the famous dirt track.
“He just had a routine gallop this morning and we let him stand in the gate. Nothing too serious,” Mott said.
Jose Ortiz, who has piloted Yoshida though his last two starts and was aboard for the Grade 1 score at Churchill Downs, will make his first appearance in Dubai. Mott said he expects Ortiz, who guided Yoshida to a closing fourth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will have plenty of options in the 2000m race.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of pace from the local horses, but we have a horse that’s pretty versatile in the way he runs,” Mott said. “He’s able to adapt to the pace scenario. It’s just a matter of how the race develops in front of him.”