Saudi Professional League’s long-awaited return leaves Al-Ittihad in relegation trouble

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Action on opening day of the resumed Saudi Professional League (SPL) football season on August 4, 2020. (Photos by Basheer Alzain Saleh)
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Scenes on the opening day of the resumed Saudi Professional League (SPL) football season on August 4, 2020. (Photos by Basheer Alzain Saleh)
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Updated 04 August 2020

Saudi Professional League’s long-awaited return leaves Al-Ittihad in relegation trouble

  • All sporting activities in Saudi Arabia were indefinitely suspended on March 14 after the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic globally

DUBAI: After an absence of almost five months, Saudi Professional League (SPL) football returned with a priceless win for Al-Fateh over Al-Fayha, an alarming loss for giants Al-Ittihad at Abha and comfortable run-out for Al-Raed against Damac all having a significant impact on the relegation battle.

All sporting activities in the Saudi Arabia were indefinitely suspended on March 14 after the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic globally, but on June 12 the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) announced the SPL will resume on August 4 with the season set to be completed by September 9.

Sixteen minutes into the match that kicked off the league’s 23rd match day, Al-Fateh’s Moroccan midfielder Marwane Saadane converted a penalty for a lead the home team would hold until the break, despite the efforts of the Al-Fayha’s 34-year-old Chilean Carlos Villanueva in particular.

Three minutes into the second half, Al-Fayha thought they had equalized, but Admilson de Barros’s fine finish was overturned after VAR deemed an offside had taken place in the buildup.

There would be more disappointment for the team in 11th place. On the hour, a firm header from Abdulkareem Al-Qahtani looked to have squared the match, but after consulting VAR the referee once again chalked off the goal, the ball having struck the Al-Fayha player’s arm before crossing the line.

Al-Fateh’s Algerian midfielder Sofiane Bendebka settled the match on 75 minutes with a left-foot strike from Mohammed Fuhaid’s low cross. The goal moved Al-Fateh onto 22 points and renewed hope of beating the drop.

“Today the team was very focused,” match winner Bendebka said. “We needed to win as it was the first match after the break. It was difficult, but the three points will allow to compete in the coming weeks.”

“The remaining matches will be like a marathon, “ he added. “ We have eight matches in 35 days. With five allowed, that helps as well.”

Al-Fayha’s Portuguese coach Jorge Simão couldn’t hide his irritation at losing in such a manner.

“First, it’s good to be back, second I am very proud of my players,” Today the better team didn’t win, we did everything that we could to win this match. We fought, we created chances to score,

“Of course I don’t want to talk about the referee,” he added when asked about the two disallowed goals. “This is football, we start with a loss, but we have seven matches till the end, we will fight till the end.”

At Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium, troubled visitors Al Ittihad took a 20th-minute lead against Abha Club through Brazilian star Romarinho, but were pegged back six minutes into the second half thanks to Mehdi Tahrat’s equaliser. With only five minutes left, Ammar Al Najjar scored to give Abha a win and leave Al-Ittihad, on 23 points, only a point above the relegation zone.

In the third match, taking place at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, sixth placed Al-Raed recorded a comfortable 3-0 win over Damac, who remain second bottom on 16 points, six from safety and favorites for relegation.

“In the two late matches, Al-Faisaly beat Al-Taawoun 2-1, while Al-Ahli overcame Al Hazem 4-2. “ 

The 23 round  is set to be completed on Wednesday when second-placed Al-Nassr host leaders Al-Hilal — currently six points ahead — in a match that could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title, while Al-Wehda face Al-Shabab at home and Al-Ettifaq visit Al-Adalh.


Team UAE rider Pogacar claims maiden Tour de France title

Updated 21 September 2020

Team UAE rider Pogacar claims maiden Tour de France title

  • Tadej Pogacar youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904
  • Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history

PARIS: Tadej Pogacar became the first Slovenian to win the Tour de France after he retained the yellow jersey in the 21st stage on Sunday, a day after he pulled off a major coup to take the overall lead.
While Sam Bennett won the final stage, the day belonged to Team UAE Emirates rider Pogacar, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Monday and is the youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904.
Pogacar, who claimed the yellow jersey from a stunned Primoz Roglic with a monumental performance in Saturday’s time trial, also won the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider and the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification.
Roglic ended up second, 59 seconds behind, with Australian Richie Porte taking third place, 3:30 off the pace.
“This is an incredible feeling, standing here in Paris on the top of the podium. It was an amazing three weeks, an incredible journey,” said Pogacar after the first one-two for one country since Bradley Wiggins finished ahead of fellow Briton Chris Froome in 2012.
“I want to thank all those who made it happen. It was three memorable weeks on the French roads, with incredible crowds. I won’t find the words to express my feelings.”
Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history, leaving Roglic’s dominant Jumbo-Visma team wondering what went wrong.
“We didn’t see it coming,” said Roglic’s team mate and former Tour runner-up Tom Dumoulin.
Bennett became the first Irishman since Sean Kelly in 1989 to win the green jersey for the points classification, ahead of Peter Sagan who was looking to claim it for a record-extending eighth time.
Bennett was the strongest at the end of the 122-km ride from Mantes-la Jolie on Sunday, beating world champion Mads Pedersen, with Sagan coming home third.
Swiss Marc Hirschi, the former Under-23 world champion was voted the most aggressive on the race after notably taking a brilliant win in the longest stage of the 107th edition.
Ineos-Grenadiers had a Tour to forget as defending champion Egan Bernal dropped out of contention in the Jura stage to the Grand Colombier, pulling out a few days later with back pains.
They recovered some pride later on, however, as Michal Kwiatkowski, their unsung hero for five years, claimed an emotional stage win — although that was certainly not enough for a team who had won seven of the previous eight editions.
It was an anti-climatic finale on the Champs-Elysees as only 5,000 fans were allowed on the famous avenue as a precaution against the coronavirus.
France reported 13,498 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours on Saturday, setting another record in daily additional infections since the start of the epidemic.
Reaching the Champs-Elysees was, however, a relief for organizers, who had imposed strict sanitary rules to protect the race ‘bubble’.
The bubble did not burst as only four team staff members tested positive and were removed from the race, preventing a spread that could have stopped the Tour.
No rider tested positive.