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.


Philippine basketball team becomes a contender in Asian Games as NBA releases Clarkson

Updated 20 August 2018
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Philippine basketball team becomes a contender in Asian Games as NBA releases Clarkson

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Jordan Clarkson says playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals a few months ago was a “great experience.”
Being the flagbearer at the opening of the Asian Games may have matched it.
“It was probably one of the happiest days I’ve had in my career, in my life,” Clarkson said Sunday, a day after the opening ceremony in the Indonesian capital. “Just seeing everybody’s face, how happy everybody was.”
Clarkson has an American father, and a mother with Filipino roots, which qualifies him to play for the Philippines at the Asian Games. The team takes on tournament favorite China on Tuesday.
Clarkson lobbied for permission to play and the NBA, after a drawn out negotiation, eventually let him board a flight to Jakarta a few days ago.
Clarkson said leading the Filipino delegation into the stadium, cheered by a crowd of 40,000, offered NBA-level excitement.
“It was up there, definitely,” he said. “I haven’t seen something like that — ever. I didn’t know how big the Asian Games were until I came out of that tunnel.”
Clarkson has suddenly turned the Philippines into a basketball contender. He says he’s not facing pressure, although he knows a lot is expected. The embassy of the Philippines in Jakarta hosted a media conference on Sunday in a five-star hotel, and Clarkson was the five-star attraction.
“I don’t think there’s pressure for any of the guys,” he said. “You say all the pressure is going to be on me, but I don’t think so. We got a team full of players that are ready to come out there and compete.”
Clarkson repeated a half-dozen times that it’s an ‘honor” to play for his adopted country, and repeatedly called his good fortune a “blessing.”
It’s clear he’s given many Filipinos a boost.
“He’s an NBA player,” said Jaja Santiago, a Filipino volleyball player at the Asian Games who attended the media event. “He’s an inspiration for us and a morale booster. Maybe we can learn from him how to motivate ourselves, even if he can’t help us on the court.”