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

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.


What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

Updated 03 June 2020

What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

  • Restart to begin with 2 matches on June 17, to ensure every side played same number of games

LONDON: The Premier League's return is just two weeks away but there are plenty of details for the 20 clubs in the English top-flight to work out before competitive action resumes on June 17.

AFP Sport looks at what is on the agenda at the latest in a series of meetings between the clubs on Thursday.

There have been squabbles over how final league standings should be decided if the season cannot be completed but clubs need a contingency arrangement if a spike in coronavirus cases wrecks their plans.

Most of the teams in the bottom half of the table are reportedly pushing for relegation to be scrapped if the season is not completed on the field.

That still seems highly unlikely, with the English Football Association and English Football League both insisting on promotion and relegation throughout the pyramid.

A points-per-game formula is the most likely option and is part of the reason why the restart will begin with two matches on June 17, to ensure every side has played the same number of games.

Once the two outstanding games — Manchester City vs. Arsenal and Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United — have been played, all 20 sides will have nine games remaining.

No dates for other matches have yet been released, but fixtures are expected to continue from where they left off in March and be crammed into just five weeks ahead of the FA Cup final on August 1.

A long layoff, little time together in contact training and a gruelling schedule mean players' bodies will be pushed to the limits.

In an attempt to minimize injuries and fatigue, world governing body FIFA has allowed leagues to temporarily change their rules to allow five substitutes.

Chelsea have also reportedly proposed increasing the number of substitutes available from seven to nine.

However, critics have suggested those changes will simply play into the hands of the bigger clubs with deeper squads.

Premier League clubs appear to have won their battle to have games played in their own grounds rather than on neutral sites.

However, the UK's national lead for football policing confirmed last week that a "small number" of fixtures will take place at neutral venues.

That is likely to include any match that could see Liverpool crowned champions for the first time in 30 years, to try and avoid crowds gathering at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is unconcerned by playing at neutral venues, with results from four rounds of Germany's Bundesliga showing no advantage for home sides in a closed-doors environment.

"We will not have the help from the crowd but no team will have that, so where is the advantage?" Klopp told the BBC.

"Whoever we play it is the same situation, which is why I'm not too worried about it."

The use of VAR could also be dispensed with for the rest of the season should the clubs wish to further cut the number of people required for games to go ahead.

However, the Premier League's CEO Richard Masters is keen for it to remain.

"VAR has its own social-distancing issues, but we think there is a way of completing the season with VAR," Masters told Sky Sports.