Doubts mount over future of Al-Hilal manager Ramon Diaz

Speculation surrounding the future of Ramon Diaz as Al-Hilal manager is mounting after the Saudi Pro League reigning champions succumbed to a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Qadisiyah. (AP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Doubts mount over future of Al-Hilal manager Ramon Diaz

DUBAI: Speculation surrounding the future of Ramon Diaz as Al-Hilal manager is mounting after the Saudi Pro League reigning champions succumbed to a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Qadisiyah in the King’s Cup round of 16 at the weekend.
The Argentine coach failed to appear at the post-match press conference and has subsequently given his players a three-day rest and left the Kingdom on a short holiday. Al-Hilal are now without a win in three matches and not back in action until Jan. 30 when they play Al-Raed.
Diaz had led Al-Hilal to their first league title since 2010/11, then took the side to the verge of continental glory, losing the 2017 AFC Champions League final to Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds. But since the final defeat and the injury sustained by talisman Carlos Eduardo in the competition’s semifinal, the side’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse.
When Al-Hilal resumed league action following the end of their continental campaign, they held a four-point lead at the top of the table with three games in hand, including fixtures against bottom half sides Al-Ettifaq and Al-Raed. But three months later, Diaz’s men have seen their advantage eroded to just two points, having collected five points from possible nine in the postponed matches. Al-Hilal also lost to newly promoted Al Fayha, and are now on a three-match winless run that has opened the door for chasers Al-Ahli, who seem to be hitting form at the right time of the season.
Eduardo’s injury had a massive impact on the team. In the 13 matches prior to the Brazilian’s season-ending injury, the team won nine times. In the 12 games without him since November, they have won just five. Tellingly, Eduardo remains Al-Hilal’s top scorer in the league with six goals, despite not playing for over two months.
To add insult to injury, Syrian striker Omar Khribin has seen a dramatic drop in form. The 2017 Asian Player of the Year found the net in Al-Hilal’s first two outings but he’s since gone on an eight-match dry spell, and now has just four league goals from 12 appearances.
A major criticism directed at Diaz is his failure to strengthen the squad in the summer transfer window. Controversy surrounded the signing of Oman’s Ali Al-Habsi from English side Reading, as the goalkeeper was not included in the AFC Champions League squad, the manager preferring Uruguayan striker Matias Britos.
The signing of Britos has been questioned. The 29-year-old scored one goal in six league appearances and Diaz was so unimpressed with his abilities, that even when Al-Hilal were chasing victory at the Champions League final, the Argentine preferred to bring on 31-year-old Mokhtar Fallatah for his club debut instead of giving Britos a chance.
Diaz finds himself in a difficult situation, with the club losing another key player in Nawaf Al-Abed, who is recovering from a groin surgery in France. Fellow attacking midfielder Salem Al-Dawsari is reportedly closing in on a loan move to Spanish side Villarreal, leaving Al-Hilal extremely thin on the ground just when Diaz needs his key players the most.


Joe Root ton puts England on top against Sri Lanka

Updated 17 November 2018
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Joe Root ton puts England on top against Sri Lanka

KANDY: Captain Joe Root smashed 124 and newcomer Ben Foakes again hit valuable tail end runs to put England in command of the second Test against Sri Lanka on Friday.
England reached 324 for nine — a second innings lead of 278 — when bad light stopped play for the day in Kandy.
Foakes was batting on 51 alongside James Anderson on four.
Spinner Akila Danajanya, whose action is under investigation by the International Cricket Council, claimed six wickets on the turning pitch.
He trapped Root lbw and then bowled Sam Curran for nought with his next ball. Adil Rashid thwarted the hat-trick but soon fell to Dananjaya’s guile for two.
It was his third five wicket haul in just his fifth Test for Dananjaya, who must rush off to Australia after the game for an ICC examination of his bowling.
He however could not stop Root and Foakes swinging the game.
Root reached his 15th Test ton soon after tea, making the sweep and reverse sweep valuable weapons, as he hit 10 fours and two sixes in his 146-ball knock.
Root said he enjoyed making the runs despite the pressure.
“That’s what it should be. You shouldn’t feel pressure like the pressure is too much for you, you should enjoy the occasion and make the most of the opportunity in front of you,” he said after the day’s play.
“The whole group managed to harness that today and make the most of it.”
Root raised his bat to a standing ovation from traveling English fans who also lauded Foakes.
Root made an 82-run seventh wicket stand with Foakes, who reached his fifty with a six off Dilruwan Perera. The hit turned out to be the last ball of the day with dark clouds gathering and thunder heard in the distance.
As he did in his sparkling century on Test debut in the opening game of the series, Foakes mixed caution and aggression to push up the England score.
Every one of England’s top seven batsmen were out attempting a sweep of some description.
Jos Buttler dragged one of Dananjaya’s deliveries onto his stumps while trying to reverse sweep on 34. Moeen Ali was trapped lbw for 10 after failing to connect with an attempted sweep.
“From my point of view, it was almost a safer shot than playing the forward defensive,” said Root.
“With the amount the ball was turning there’s a lot of risk involved in that. At times attack is the best form of defense on a wicket like that.”
Earlier, left-hander Rory Burns registered his maiden Test half-century in just his second match. He was trapped lbw off Malinda Pushpakumara for 59.
Burns then put together 73 runs for the second wicket with Keaton Jennings, who made 26, to steady the innings and help England overcome their 46-run deficit.
“I think the temptation with a deficit like that going into the second innings is to play within your shell and be a bit insular but the guys went out and set the tone at top of the order,” said Root.
“It was really pleasing to see inexperienced guys as Test cricketers really set the benchmark for the rest of the group, a really good platform for us.
“Hopefully we still stretch the lead further and that should be a good chase on this surface.”