Three key duels in the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool

The contributions of Ronaldo and Salah could shape the final. (AFP/Getty Images)
Updated 26 May 2018
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Three key duels in the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool

  • Marcelo will have to find a way to stop Salah
  • Ronaldo will come up against the mountainous van Dijk

The two highest scoring sides in this season's Champions League face off for the title when defending champions Real Madrid and Liverpool go head-to-head in Kiev on Saturday. With goals seemingly guaranteed in the Ukrainian capital, we look at the key matchups where the game could be won and lost.

Virgil van Dijk vs. Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo is looking to join an esteemed group of 10 players to win five European Cups by scoring in his fourth separate final.
After a slow start to the season, the World Player of the Year has been in stunning form since the turn of the year, scoring 30 goals in 23 appearances for club and country in 2018.
Ronaldo leads the Champions League goalscorers charts for the sixth consecutive season with 15, but will come up against the world's most expensive defender in £75 million ($100 million) Dutchman Virgil van Dijk in Kiev.
Van Dijk already looks worth the massive price Liverpool paid Southampton for his services in January, as much for the improvement he has inspired in those around him as his own performances.
"I feel also personally much more confident when you know you have a really good partner next to you," said Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren.
"He's a leader, he takes control," added right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. "He's really got authority."

Mohamed Salah vs. Marcelo

Salah has been the star turn of Liverpool's season, scoring 44 goals in his debut season at Anfield to plunder a series of individual Player of the Year awards.
The Egyptian should get plenty of space to showcase his blistering pace and new-found calm in front of goal in the space normally left unoccupied by Madrid's cavalier left-back Marcelo.
Salah exploited the gaps left by the Brazilian on numerous occasions when Roma were eliminated by Madrid from the Champions League two seasons ago, when Salah lacked the killer finishing touch he has demonstrated this season to take his chances.
Bayern Munich right-back Joshua Kimmich scored in both legs of this season's semi-final against Real with Marcelo caught out of position.
However, the Madrid vice-captain, now in his 11th year at the Bernabeu, makes up for his defensive liabilities by bombing forward at every opportunity to wreak havoc at the other end.
"I know exactly how I have to play," insisted Marcelo on Friday.
The flying full-back has scored against Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern on route to the final, and also has plenty of positive experience in Champions League finals having netted in 2014 and 2016, in a penalty shootout, against Atletico Madrid.

Roberto Firmino vs. Sergio Ramos

Overshadowed by Salah's sensational season, Firmino also has 10 Champions League goals to his name this season and is the key starting point for Jurgen Klopp's pressing game.
"He's not bothered about hard work, which is another important thing," said Klopp when Firmino recently extended his contract to 2023. "For an offensive player that is pretty rare in world football."
Described as a cross between a goalscoring number nine and creative number 10 by Brazil coach Tite, Liverpool will hope Firmino's movement can drag another Madrid Champions League specialist in Ramos out of position.
Madrid captain Ramos embodies this Real side as he tends to save his best for the big occasion.
The Spaniard started Real's recent run of European dominance with a stoppage time equaliser against Atletico in the 2014 final and also scored against Real's local rivals two years later in another all-Madrid showpiece.


KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

Updated 19 March 2019
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KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

  • Young Saudi triumphant at Open International Tournament despite just two years of training
  • Zahra Al-Qurashi took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi

JEDDAH: Zahra Al-Qurashi never expected to be where she is today: A gold medal winner in full contact kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs aged just 21. What started out as a gym class two years ago soon turned into a passion, leading to her victory in Amman on Sunday.

“I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym. I found the class and gave it a try, and decided to keep attending the classes,” she said. “A year ago, I joined Flagboxing Gym, and started training with my coach Grethe (Kraugerud). With her help, I developed my style and I am improving every day.”

Full contact is a discipline of kickboxing where punches and kicks must be delivered to legal areas of the body. According to the World Association for Kickboxing Organizations’ rules, it is legal to attack the front of the head and front and side of the torso, using “ankle-level foot sweeps.” It is prohibited to attack the throat, lower abdomen, back, legs, joints, back of the head and top of the shoulders.

A medal at her first international competition, then, speaks volumes about Al-Qurashi’s tenacity. She took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi.

“As soon as I entered the ring, everything went blank, I couldn’t hear or see anyone but my opponent, so I don’t really recall hearing my name even,” said Al-Qurashi. “I got a couple of really good kicks and punches, but she was a good opponent. I was in my own zone though, following every move and made sure I didn’t make mistakes.”

Zahra Al-Quraishi, 21, is already a gold medal winner at an international event despite being a virtual rookie in the demanding sport of kickboxing. (Supplied photos)

Hala Al-Hamrani, the owner of Flagboxing Gym in Jeddah, said: “I am over the moon. I have dreamt about this happening for 16 years, ever since I started coaching. My goal was to eventually provide the ladies of this country with an opportunity to compete.”

For approximately two months, Kraugerud, from Norway, oversaw Al-Qurashi’s workouts, adding more sparring, interval training and intense ring practice.

“I’ve had Zahra spar with men, who are bigger and stronger than her, to give her a sense of what to expect in the ring, to give her more confidence and make her mentally prepared,” said Kraugerud. “I was very proud of her as she entered the ring, you could see the respect for the sport reflected in her. We did a really good job at Flag, we really pushed for this together as a team. She’s young, but she’s talented and she will go far.”

Al-Hamrani, a member of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation, added: “We got her ready by providing her with the right practice and training. It’s a dream come true and it’s very overwhelming because it was such a long process for something like this to happen. Zahra is an up-and-coming athlete who hopefully has a long future and I’m extremely excited to see what that future holds.”

Abdul Aziz Julaidan, chairman of the Saudi MMA Federation, hailed the result after a tough bout between the two competitors, and thanked Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sport Authority, for the support he had given to the team.

Upon returning to her hometown of Jeddah, Al-Qurashi was greeted by her mother. “I was hugging her and crying and mom, being mom, asked if I was crying because I got hit,” she laughed. “That was her way of saying: I’m proud of you.”