Gomis ensures difficult night ends in victory for title-chasing Al-Hilal

Bafétimbi Gomis scored a penalty. (Supplied: SPL)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Gomis ensures difficult night ends in victory for title-chasing Al-Hilal

  • Costly penalty miss leaves relegation-battling visitors Al-Fateh to ponder what might have been

RIYADH: The outcomes of three penalties went a long way to deciding the outcome on Monday as league leaders Al-Hilal took another step towards a record 16th top-flight championship title, beating Al-Fateh 2-1 in the final match of round 24 of the Saudi Professional League.

The Riyadh side have won both their matches since the season resumed last week after a hiatus lasting more than four months as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Earlier in the day, second-placed Al-Nassr — who were comprehensively beaten 4-1 by Al-Hilal last Wednesday — cut the lead at the top of the table to six points thanks to a 2-0 away win at Abha Club. This was expected to be a temporary reduction, but the evening turned out to be anything but comfortable for Al-Hilal’s Romanian coach, Razvan Lucescu, and his players against an Al-Fateh team sitting third from bottom in the league, one point from safety, and fighting for SPL survival.

Things seemed to be going according to script for the home team when they took the lead in 38 minutes through a Bafétimbi Gomis penalty, after Yasser Al-Shahrani was fouled in the box — although it took the intervention of the video assistant referee to make the correct decision after the referee wrongly penalized the Al-Hilal player.

Al-Fateh improved after the break and equalized on 52 minutes when the unlucky Gomis deflected a Gustav Wikheim corner into his own net.

Sofiane Bendebka almost gave Al-Fateh a shock lead on the hour mark when he danced through Al-Hilal’s defense but his left-footed shot was deflected for a corner.

Al-Hilal, driven on by captain Carlos Eduardo, Al-Shahrani and the excellent Salem Al-Dawsari, piled on the pressure as the clock ticked down. Yet it was Al-Fateh who were presented with a golden opportunity to take the lead and potentially claim three priceless points. With 10 minutes left, the referee awarded the visitors a penalty — but much to the annoyance of their Belgian coach, Yannick Ferrera, Marwane Saadane’s casual attempted chip went over the bar.

His complacency proved costly just four minutes later, as Al-Hilal were awarded another penalty, this time as a result of a handball by Bendebka. Once again, Gomis made no mistake from the spot to give the home side a lead that proved enough to take all three points.

“We knew this was going to be a difficult match, just as it was in the first match we played against Al-Fateh,” said match-winner Gomis.

“After the long break and after the mental effort that went into the last match (the derby against closest challengers Al-Nassr), it was always going to be tough. But we knew that even if we didn’t perform to Al-Hilal’s usual standards, we could still ensure that we got the points. The three points today are very important as we chase the title.”

Despite two wins out of two since the resumption of the SPL, and a lead of nine points with only six games left, the Frenchman refused to take anything for granted.

“In this league the differences between the teams are very small,” he said. “Nothing has been decided yet in terms of the title.”

Al-Fateh captain Mohammed Al-Fuhaid preferred to focus on the positives from the game, rather than dwell too much on the missed opportunity.

“Luck wasn’t with us,” he said. “We got the penalty in the last 10 minutes and we could have got that second goal.

“We had played very well — the players’ performance was heroic in my opinion. Everyone played their part: those who started and the substitutes who came on in the second half. Hopefully we can put this behind us and look forward to the coming matches.

“Next up is Abha. We have to focus on it and play like we did today, and hopefully luck can be on our side and we can get a positive result.”

Regardless of Al-Fuhaid’s philosophical public attitude, Al-Fateh remain in 14th place and the result will be seen behind closed doors as a missed chance to leapfrog struggling Al-Ittihad.

“You can say our situation is more dangerous now,” Al-Fuhaid conceded. “But we should have no fear if we can play to the same level we did today, or better, in the coming matches.”

Al-Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf was relieved to secure the three points after a tough, but ultimately successful, week.

“It was a difficult match but in the end the circumstances worked out in our favor,” he said. “We managed to get the win, which is all that counts. We weren’t complacent, but we had a break of four months and perhaps we overexerted ourselves in the derby.”

In the day’s other matches Al-Shabab beat Al-Taawoun 1-0 in their mid-table clash, while bottom-of-the-table Al-Adalah gave their chances of survival a boost with 2-1 victory over Al-Hazm, who are now only two points clear of the relegation zone.
 


Injured Serena withdraws from French Open; Nadal cruises

Updated 01 October 2020

Injured Serena withdraws from French Open; Nadal cruises

  • The 39-year-old Williams, a three-time winner at Roland Garros, pulled out ahead of her second round match

PARIS: Serena Williams suffered another blow in her bid for a 24th Grand Slam title as the American withdrew from the French Open on Wednesday with an Achilles injury, while 12-time champion Rafael Nadal raced into the third round.

The 39-year-old Williams, a three-time winner at Roland Garros, pulled out ahead of her second round match against Tsvetana Pironkova citing the injury that prompted her to skip the Rome tuneup event.

“The Achilles didn't have enough time to heal after the US Open,” said Williams, who admitted last week she was not fully fit after her run to the semifinals in New York.

“I'm struggling to walk, so that's kind of a telltale sign that I should try to recover.”

The injury likely means she will miss the rest of 2020, leaving the Australian Open in 2021 as her next chance to equal Margaret Court's all-time majors record.

Nadal looked in ominous form as he stepped up his pursuit of Roger Federer's 20 major titles with a crushing win over 236th-ranked American Mackenzie McDonald.

The Spaniard batted aside McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3 in exactly 100 minutes and will meet Japan's Kei Nishikori or Stefano Travaglia of Italy for a spot in the last 16.

“The aim was to play as well as possible. I'm very happy. I have another difficult match next,” said Nadal. The 34-year-old needs one more major to pull level with long-time rival Federer and owns an astonishing 95-2 record in Paris going back to his triumph on debut in 2005.

US Open champion Dominic Thiem swept into the third round with a 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) victory over American qualifier Jack Sock, saving three set points to close out the match.

The Austrian third seed will play Norway's Casper Ruud, seeded 28th, or American Tommy Paul for a place in the last 16.

“I'm very happy with my game in the first two rounds. It was not an easy draw at all and I'm very happy not to drop a set,” said Thiem, who defeated 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic in round one.

Dutch fifth seed Kiki Bertens had to be taken off court in a wheelchair after a fiery win over former finalist Sara Errani.

Bertens triumphed 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 9-7 in a three-hour 11-minute clash which left her in cramps and Italian Errani screaming an obscenity as she left the court.

"After one hour, she's injured but then she's running around like never before," said Errani.

"She leaves the court in a chair and now she's in the locker room and eating in the restaurant, perfect. She exaggerated."

Bertens is due to meet Katerina Siniakova next while Elina Svitolina overcame Mexican qualifier Renata Zarazua 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

The Ukrainian third seed is coming off a title at Strasbourg last week and will next play Russian 27th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, but was briefly taken aback by a sonic boom.

Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 French Open winner, followed up his demolition of Andy Murray with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 defeat of Germany's Dominik Koepfer.

Sebastian Korda, the son of 1992 Roland Garros runner-up and 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, also progressed after a four-sets victory over fellow American John Isner.