Al-Hilal signal serious AFC Champions League intent with Ezequiel Cerutti signing

Argentine Ezequiel Cerutti has made the move from San Lorenzo to Riyadh giants Al-Hilal
Updated 31 January 2018
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Al-Hilal signal serious AFC Champions League intent with Ezequiel Cerutti signing

LONDON: Al-Hilal have signalled their intention to have another serious crack at the AFC Champions League by signing Argentine forward Ezequiel Cerutti.
Cerutti, 26, has joined from San Lorenzo where he has scored six goals in 48 games. No fee was mentioned in the official announcement by the Saudi Arabian giants but transferMarkt.com estimate his current value as £3.5 million ($4.9 million). 
Cerutti can play as a striker but he is likely to be deployed out wide after Salem Al-Dawsari moved to Villarreal as part of the recent deal between the General Sports Authority and the Liga du Futbol that saw Saudi Arabia players loaned out to Spanish clubs. Cerutti was expected to make his debut for Al-Hilal in Tuesday night’s Saudi Professional League clash over bottom club Al-Raed. But the new signing did not take part in the 2-1 win, a result that ended a three-match winless streak and eased the pressure on under-fire coach Ramon Diaz. 
The victory means Al-Hilal are still top of the table, two points clear of Al-Ahli, but their attention will soon turn to the AFC Champions League (ACL), a competition they reached the final of last season before being agonizingly downed over two legs by Japan’s Urawa Reds.
They kick off their ACL campaign on Feb. 13 at home against Al-Ain but Diaz has plenty to ponder before then, not least which of his seven foreign players to select for the competition.
Al-Hilal have the Brazilian Carlos Eduardo, Morocco’s Achraf Bencharki, Gelmin Rivas, of Venezuela, Uruguay’s Nicolás Milesi, Oman’s Ali Al-Habsi, Syria’s Omar Khribin and now Cerutti on their books, but they are only allowed to name four foreign players, including one Asian player. 
Diaz’s job is made slightly easier by the fact that Eduardo is ruled out with a long-term injury while Khribin is certain to be named after scoring ten goals in last season’s competition. It is also hard to imagine Cerutti not being named having only just signed. However, that still leaves Bencharki, Rivas, Milesi and Al-Habsi jostling for the two remaining spots.
Al-Hilal are in Group D along with Al-Rayyan, Esteghlal and Al-Ain. 
The signing also signals the desire of the club to look to foreign stars to bolster their squad as they look to tackle title-tilts on multiple fronts.


Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

Updated 22 February 2019
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Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

  • World No. 4 wins third three-setter of the week beat Hsieh Su-wei and claim place in the final.
  • Swiss star Bencic deals a forehand smash to Svitolina's chances of unprecedented hat-trick.

LONDON: If Petra Kvitova does get her hands on the Dubai trophy against Belinda Bencic on Saturday, she will be quick to admit she did it the hard way.
The two-time Wimbledon champion was once again made to toil at the Aviation Club as she finally overcame Hsieh Su-Wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was her third three-setter in four days and came about as much through sheer grit and determination as any superior groundstrokes or serves.
“Yeah, it was (tough),” the Czech said.
“It was a tough one, for sure. She really didn’t give me anything for free.
“It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. Anyway I didn’t play great at the end of the first.”
Coming into the event the world No. 4 admitted she was undercooked and in need of some game time. While, in hindsight, the three-setters against Katerina Siniakova and Jennifer Brady in the first two rounds probably did her some good, another match that went the distance was probably not in the ideal script for the 2013 Dubai champion.
But Hsieh is a tricky opponent and she proved it once again on Centre Court. The world No. 31 hits two-handed shots off both sides and was trying to beat her fourth top-10 seed of the week. That included wins over Angelique Kerber in the third round and Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

Bencic will try to upset Kvitova in Saturday's final at the Aviation Club (AFP) 


She started off in much the same vein as she had finished against Kerber and Pliskova, hurrying Kvitova around the court and making life as uncomfortable as possible under the hot Dubai sun.
“She’s very tricky,” Kvitova said about Hsieh, who grabbed five games in a row to take the opening set and go up 1-0 in the second.
“I didn’t really play the best at the end of the first set. But I calmed down afterwards a little bit,” Kvitova said.
“With Hsieh, I need to be a little bit patient. ... It’s not really that easy to make those winners against her.”
While she has 
not consistently displayed her A-game this week it should come as no shock that Kvitova has made today’s final. It was the second seed’s 17th victory of 2019 — a feat bettered by no one — and it will be her third final of the season and 35th of her career. She revealed that her presence in the showdown is thanks to her mental toughness and she admitted that after a long week she will have to draw on that a lot today.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was more calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set,” Kvitova said.
“I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow — it was something weird.
“I’m a bit tired right now, to be honest. I have a final, so I don’t know how I going to recover. Hopefully I have a few hours to do something with me.”
Of her sparkling form so far this year she said: “It’s a bit weird, to be honest. I didn’t really expect anything like that. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect anything, which I already achieved this year. For me, everything is just bonus.
“As I mentioned, the tennis, it’s a bit like escape this week. This is unbelievable to be in the final when I’m escaping from something. Yeah, very interesting.”
In the other semifinal Bencic once again upset the odds to overcome world No. 6 Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-3, 7-6. The Swiss went into the clash as the underdog, but from the off the world No. 45 was aggressive and deservedly won.
In doing so she ended Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak in Dubai and ended the two-time defending champion’s hopes of becoming the first woman to win three Dubai titles in a row.