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

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

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.
 


Saudi wrestling favorite Mansoor convinces fellow WWE stars to pick a winner in SPL title race

Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi wrestling favorite Mansoor convinces fellow WWE stars to pick a winner in SPL title race

Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
  • Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad are separated by only two points with five rounds of the Saudi league remaining

RIYADH: Having signed to WWE’s RAW brand earlier this week, Saudi superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League as it enters its last five rounds.

With little between the three teams at the top of the table — Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad  — it is all still to play for going into the final stages of the season.

Al-Hilal currently lead the table on goal diffrence from Al-Shabab, and the two will meet on Friday in a potential title-deciding clash, while Al-Ittihad are further two points behind.

Mansoor took the opportunity to assign each club to three of his football-loving colleagues, and here is out how it played out.

First, Mansoor talks Glasgow’s Rangers fan Drew McIntyre into backing Al-Ittihad’s quest for a late championship charge

 

Here, Mansoor sells Riyadh favorites and reigning champions Al-Hilal to Liverpool-supporting Seamus ahead of crucial SPL match-up against Al-Shabab

 

Mansoor convinces Angel Garza to support second-placed Al-Shabab as they make one last bid to win the Saudi Pro League

 


Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally
Updated 06 May 2021

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally
  • Saudi star Yazeed Al-Rajhi returns fit from recent accident but Irish co-driver still recovering

DUBAI: Yazeed Racing team will be missing Irish co-driver Michael Orr at the Andalucia Rally in the opening round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

Orr will not be fully fit to take part in the May 12 to 16 Spanish competition as he continues with physical therapy sessions following a crash in March.

Saudi rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Orr were involved in an accident in the second special stage of the Sharqiyah Baja event and both suffered minor neck injuries.

Orr said: “I’m really disappointed that I can’t participate in the Andalucia Rally. I was hoping to be ready to return quickly but my doctors have not given me the green light yet to jump into the car.

“I haven’t completely recovered, and I still have to complete my physiotherapy program. But I’m sure I will come back stronger than before.”

Al-Rajhi’s medical team gave him the go-ahead to return to racing after he made a complete recovery, and although Orr will miss the Spanish rally, he is expected to make Rally Kazakhstan in June.

The Yazeed Racing team pairing has achieved major results since participating in the World Rally Championship and several local and international events. The duo’s last win came at the Dubai International Baja two months ago.

“Yazeed and I made a fantastic start together this season when we won the Dubai International Baja, but unfortunately we had an accident in the Sharqiyah Baja.

“I am very happy that Yazeed has achieved a full recovery and that he will return to racing. I wish the team good luck and I’m sure they will fight to win the Andalucia Rally,” Orr added.

Al-Rajhi said: “I wish Michael a speedy recovery and return to the races as soon as possible. We were supposed to continue our journey together, but unfortunately he will not be able to participate with me in the Andalucia Rally because he is not ready to co-drive yet, but I expect him to return in the next rally.”


5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab
Updated 06 May 2021

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab
  • Al-Hilal lead their Riyadh rival only on goal difference with five rounds of the Saudi Pro League left

LONDON: Friday sees the biggest match of the 2020-21 Saudi Pro League season so far.

With 25 games of the 30 played, the top two teams, level on points, meet when leaders Al-Hilal travel to the home of Riyadh rivals Al-Shabab.

Victory could prove decisive for either team though Al-Ittihad in third, two points behind and having played a game more, will be hoping for a draw.

Here are five things to look forward to ahead of the big clash. 

1. Al-Hilal’s new coach faces baptism of fire

There is no doubt that changing your coach in the days before a huge potential season-defining game is a gamble but that is what Al-Hilal have done.

Brazilian coach Rogerio Micale didn’t last long after failing to impress during his brief period, despite the team squeezing through the group stage of the AFC Champions League.

Coming in is Jose Morais, the former assistant to Jose Mourinho at Inter, Real Madrid, Porto and Chelsea.

The Portuguese boss knows about Al-Shabab as he led the team to the Super Cup back in 2015.

It is unlikely that such experience will help him on Friday as he has had little to no time to get to know his new players.

He was last seen winning the South Korean title last November with Jeonbuk Motors but there is more pressure in the Saudi Arabian capital than a provincial Korean city.

Al-Hilal fans will expect immediate success and starting a tenure with a big loss would be a major minus.

2. Which is better? Rest or rhythm

Al-Hilal last played in the Saudi Pro League on April 9, losing to another title rival in Al-Ittihad.

The next day, Al-Shabab were in action, winning 4-1 at Al-Batin.

In the four weeks since, Shabab have rested, leaving time for injuries to clear up and batteries to recharge.

In contrast, Al-Hilal have had six highly-charged competitive matches in the AFC Champions League.

With qualification to the second round uncertain to the final second of the final game, there was little opportunity to rest or rotate.

Not only that, but with a new coach coming in and keen to get to know his players, this week has been busier than expected too.

Al-Shabab will be fresh but have they lost their rhythm despite a friendly game with Al-Taawoun last Saturday?

Al-Hilal should have plenty of match sharpness but may run out of steam.

3. Injuries may play a part

It is not a surprise that Al-Hilal have lost a couple of key players due to injury.

Captain Salem Al-Dawsari was injured, returned briefly in the AFC Champions League and then quickly picked up a knock and the winger was out again.

Games coming thick and fast also run the risk of hamstring injuries.

That is what has reportedly happened to key center-back Jang Hyun-soo in training on Tuesday.

The South Korean does not make many headlines but he does not make many mistakes either.

His experience and cool head are appreciated by coaches as is his ability to play in midfield.

New coach Jose Morais has some thinking to do.

Meanwhile, Al Shabab are likely to be without captain Ahmed Sharahili in defense, a big loss for them too.

4. Argentina can make the difference

Asian football fans know that Al-Hilal’s French forward Bafetimbi Gomis is capable of contributing a goal even when he looks out of sorts.

Yet Al-Shabab have the Argentine duo of Ever Banega and Cristian Guanca in top form.

Banega is 32, but you don’t need pace when you sit behind the forward line, have the kind of close control that is rarely seen in football and have the skills to make things happen.

The former Inter and Sevilla star has excelled this season and if he can link up once again with the prolific Guanca — with 15 goals just three behind leading scorer Gomis — then Al-Shabab have what it takes to cause problems for the best defense in Saudi Arabia.

5. Don’t forget Al-Ittihad

Mohammed Noor knows a thing or two about Al-Ittihad lifting the league title, after all, the midfielder got his hands on the trophy seven times during an illustrious career at the club, the last of which came in 2009.

Noor said on social media this week that the 2021 title was going to the yellow and black side of Jeddah for the first time since then.

It is a bold claim with his former team two points behind with one game more played, Al-Ittihad need Friday’s clash to end in a draw to stay just three points off the pace.

A long shot then but possible with four games remaining.

The run-in looks relatively comfortable with three of those in the bottom half of the table and, like Shabab, Ittihad have been able to rest and regroup.

Whatever happens, fans of all clubs in Saudi Arabia should be tuning in and appreciative of what has been a fantastic title race.

These are never guaranteed and when they happen, should be appreciated.


Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final
Updated 06 May 2021

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

LONDON: Chelsea set up an all-English Champions League final against Manchester City as goals from Timo Werner and Mason Mount beat Real Madrid 2-0 in a dominant display on Wednesday to seal a 3-1 aggregate victory at Stamford Bridge.
If anything, the scoreline flattered Madrid as the 13-time European champions had no response to Chelsea's greater strength and speed.
The Blues should have ran out far more convincing winners as they toyed with the tired visitors in the second half.
However, Werner's cushioned header into an empty net on 28 minutes after Kai Havertz's initial effort came back off the crossbar and Mount's tap-in five minutes from time were enough to seal their place in Istanbul on May 29.
"To never lose the concentration, focus and positive energy on the pitch -- it was a huge performance and well deserved," said Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, who has masterminded a huge turnaround in Chelsea's season since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard in January.
Backed by Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's £220 million spending spree last summer has been rewarded with a first Champions League final since they lifted the trophy for the only time in 2012.
"We never lost the hunger, the desire to defend," added Tuchel. "In the second half we had even better structure to defend and it was a fantastic performance.
"We could have scored so much earlier and more to be safe, but it's no time for criticism now. It's a fantastic achievement and big congratulations to the team."
Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane welcomed back captain Sergio Ramos for the first time in six weeks, while Eden Hazard was handed a rare start in an injury-hit season on his return to Stamford Bridge.
But the Belgian was again a peripheral figure as Madrid's over-reliance on Karim Benzema to provide a goal threat was exposed.
"We needed to be better going forward," said Zidane. "We didn't have any clear chances. They made a number of them and that's football.
"We fought and tried but they deserved to win and go through."
Madrid's only serious threat came from a quick turn and shot from the edge of the box from Benzema that Edouard Mendy did brilliantly to turn behind midway through the first half.
Moments later they were behind as Werner scored just his fourth goal in his last 39 games.
N'Golo Kante and Havertz did the hard work as the French midfielder fed Havertz, whose audacious chip over Thibaut Courtois bounced invitingly off the crossbar for Werner to head into an empty net.
Chelsea have now kept 18 clean sheets in 24 games since the appointment of Tuchel turned their season around.
However, a failure to take their chances at the other end means they are still far from guaranteed a place in the Champions League next season.
That lack of a killer touch was exposed after the break as Havertz saw a free header come back off the bar before Mount blasted over with just Courtois to beat.
The former Chelsea 'keeper, who controversially forced a move back to Spain in the summer of 2018, kept his current employers in the tie as he then saved one-on-ones with Havertz and Kante, with the Blues' speed on the break too much for Madrid's ageing midfield to cope with.
Tuchel was growing increasingly frustrated with his side's inability to put the tie to bed, but could finally relax five minutes from time.
Substitute Christian Pulisic left Courtois on the floor and from his cut-back, Mount slid in to finish from close range.
Fired by Paris Saint-Germain on Christmas Eve after leading the French champions to their first ever final in this competition last season, Tuchel is headed back to the Champions League showpiece match for a second consecutive season, unlike his former club, who were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by City in the other semi-final.


Saudi superstar wrestler Mansoor signs with WWE RAW

The elevation to RAW, one of WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands, represents a huge milestone in the career of Mansoor. (WWE)
The elevation to RAW, one of WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands, represents a huge milestone in the career of Mansoor. (WWE)
Updated 05 May 2021

Saudi superstar wrestler Mansoor signs with WWE RAW

The elevation to RAW, one of WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands, represents a huge milestone in the career of Mansoor. (WWE)
  • Move will see wrestlers from Riyadh regularly take on WWE’s most experienced stars

RIYADH: Saudi superstar Mansoor has signed up to WWE’s (World Wrestling Entertainment) RAW brand in one of the biggest steps of his career.

The 25-year-old’s move was announced in a segment of this week’s show, with Mansoor going on to face Irishman Sheamus in his first official match as part of the RAW roster.

The elevation to RAW, one of WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands, represents a huge milestone in the career of Mansoor, who signed for world wrestling’s most famous organization in 2018 after impressing during a tryout event.

The highlight of his early WWE career was winning a 51-man Battle Royal during the Super ShowDown event in Jeddah in 2019, where he overcame some of WWE’s biggest stars in front of his friends and family who were in the crowd.

Mansoor also performed at two other live events in Saudi Arabia – Crown Jewel in 2019 and last year’s Super ShowDown – where he defeated Swiss wrestler Cesaro and American fighter Dolph Ziggler, respectively.

He has continued to catch the eye with a string of high-energy displays, performing consistently well on WWE shows such as 205 Live and Main Event and securing victories against the likes of Mexican, Angel Garza, and Drew Gulak from the US.

The move to RAW, a weekly show, will ensure Mansoor competes against some of WWE’s most experienced stars on a regular basis.

The RAW roster includes the likes of current WWE champion Bobby Lashley, from the US, Scotland’s Drew McIntyre, and Americans A.J. Styles, Braun Strowman, and Randy Orton.

What awaits Mansoor on RAW remains to be seen, but his journey promises to be an exciting one. For now, he will simply be delighted to have made the step up.