Al-Ittihad hit form at last to boost battle against relegation

Al-Ittihad hit form at last to boost battle against relegation
Al-Ittihad were unrecognizable from their recent disappointing run of form. (SPL)
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Updated 25 August 2020

Al-Ittihad hit form at last to boost battle against relegation

Al-Ittihad hit form at last to boost battle against relegation
  • 4-1 win over struggling Al-Fayha leaves Jeddah side three points clear of drop zone with three games to play

RIYADH: Relegation-threatened Al-Ittihad belatedly seem to have hit something approaching top form as the disrupted Saudi Professional League season heads toward a tense conclusion.

Having flirted with the relegation zone, and what would be an ignominious drop from the Saudi top flight, the Jeddah club enjoyed a 4-1 victory over fellow basement battlers Al-Fayha on Monday. They can breathe a little more easily now as they sit in 11th place, three points clear of the drop zone with three matches left to play.

Al-Ittihad were unrecognizable from their recent disappointing run of form as they took a two-goal lead within five minutes, thanks to a Romarinho double. The first came only two minutes after kick-off, when the Brazilian playmaker side-footed Saud Abdulhamid’s cross into the net. Three minutes later, Romarinho doubled the lead, taking advantage of a defensive mistake to power a shot past Moslem Al-Freej after a fine pass from Fahad Al-Muwallad.

Al-Ittihad could not maintain their devastating start, however, and as their old insecurities began to surface, the visitors managed to get themselves back in the match midway through the first half.

What in the early stages had looked like it would be a comfortable evening for the home side suddenly turned nervy after 28 minutes when Al-Fayha’s own Brazilian star, Neto, halved the deficit with a fine, close-range volley after the ball had struck the crossbar.

A heroic double save by keeper Marcelo Grohe prevented an equalizer early in the second half, as Al-Fayah coach Jorge Simao threw caution to the wind in an effort to capitalize on Al-Ittihad’s nerves.

On 66 minutes, however, a fine pass by Abdulaziz Al-Bishi left Al-Muwallad one-on-one with Al-Freej, who had no choice but to impede the Saudi international as he skipped past him. Al-Muwallad himself buried the penalty to all but clinch the points for Al-Ittihad.

That was not the end of the scoring, however. With 15 minutes left, the Saudi duo again combined to produce the move of the match, as Al-Bishi slipped the ball through to Al-Muwallad, who delivered a clinical finish into the roof of the net.

The defeat leaves Al-Fayha in 13th place, just two points above the relegation zone. The 4-1 scoreline might flatter Al-Ittihad but with only three matches left, so long as they continue to secure the points coach Fabio Carille and his players will care little for the quality of the performances.

Al-Bishi, who started for Al-Ittihad for the first time since a 2-1 home defeat to Damac on Feb. 10, was outstanding on his return and said he is looking forward to the remaining matches against Al-Fateh (away), Al-Nassr (home) and, on the last day of the season, Al-Adalah (away)

“As you know, our position in the league has not been very good,” Al-Bishi said. “But today we came in with high spirits; we were determined to get the three points and we managed to do that. Now we have to keep winning in the next three matches.”

Grohe, who excelled in goal for Al-Ittihad, put the ultimately comfortable win down to team ethic.

“Three important points — the win was the most important thing today,” he said. “We now have to keep the same focus in the coming matches.

“The difference is that the team has more unity and coherence. I know we can do better but it was a collective effort from every member of the team today.

“Until it’s confirmed mathematically, we have to maintain our focus in the coming period. The next match, against Al-Fateh, is the most important one now, and after that we can start to talk about beating relegation.”

His counterpart, Al-Fayha goalkeeper Al-Freej, was understandably disappointed.

“It was a bad day for us, collectively, but we have to put this match behind us,” he said. “We have a difficult match coming up. We have to forget this. The match against Al-Nassr is now so important — we need the three points.”

Al-Fayha have only collected two points from five games since the league restarted this month after an unscheduled break of almost five months because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the ’keeper believes the results do not reflect their performances.

“We played two matches against Damac and Al-Shabab (and) we were unlucky; we deserved to win both,” Al-Freej said. “Today we were unfortunate but that’s football. We have to work harder and, hopefully, we can rectify our position in the little time that’s left.”

Earlier in the day, Al-Fateh eased their own relegation fears by beating Al-Hazem 4-3 in a dramatic clash. It leaves them in 12th place on 29 points, two points above their hosts, who remain inside the drop zone in 14th position.

The first half ended 1-1, with Sofiane Bendebka’s 18th-minute opener canceled out by a Carlos Strandberg penalty five minutes before the break. But the action at Al-Hazem Stadium was only getting started.

Al-Fateh began the second half in the ascendancy and took a two-goal lead courtesy of Mitchell te Vrede on 49 minutes and Bashkim Kadrii two minutes later.

Just before the hour mark, Osama Al-Khalaf pulled one back to raise the possibility of a remarkable comeback for Al-Hazem, but Ali Al-Hassan appeared to kill their hopes when he restored the two-goal lead on 80 minutes. Abdulrahman Al-Yami made it 4-3 a minute into stoppage time, but by then the clock was against Al-Hazem.

In the day’s other games, Al-Ettifaq thrashed Al-Raed 4-0 in the opening match of round 27, while Al-Shabab and Abha Club played out a 1-1 draw in their middle-of-the-table clash.
 


Djokovic and Nadal set up sixth Italian Open final duel and 57th career clash

Djokovic and Nadal set up sixth Italian Open final duel and 57th career clash
Updated 15 May 2021

Djokovic and Nadal set up sixth Italian Open final duel and 57th career clash

Djokovic and Nadal set up sixth Italian Open final duel and 57th career clash
  • Djokovic and Nadal last played in the 2020 French Open final, which the Spaniard won
  • Djokovic and Nadal have won 14 of the last 16 Rome titles between them

ROME: World number one Novak Djokovic on Saturday battled past Italian Lorenzo Sonego to set up a clash with nine-time winner Rafael Nadal for the sixth time in the Italian Open final.
Defending champion Djokovic won through 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 in 2hr 44min against the 33rd-ranked Italian after second seed Nadal earlier swept past American Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4.
Djokovic had earlier survived a three-set battle with Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas in their rain-delayed quarter-finals.
The five-time Rome winner had been trailing 6-4, 2-1 when the tie was halted overnight.
But he came back to win through 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 after 3hr 16min.
Djokovic and Nadal, who will be facing each other for the 57th time, last played in the 2020 French Open final which the Spaniard won.
The pair have won 14 of the last 16 Rome titles between them while Nadal leads their head-to-head in finals in the Italian capital 3-2.
Djokovic had two match points in the 12th game of the second set of his semifinal before Sonego forced a third set to the delight of the home crowd in the Foro Italico.
The Serb saved three break points in the first game of the third set, coming back from 0-40 before powering toward his 11th Rome final
“I think I bounced back very well after the second set and 0-40, maybe if he started with a break up in the third it would be different,” said Djokovic.
“I’ve only myself to blame for not closing the match in the second set, I could have and should have.
“First of all I need to recover. I don’t have much time but hopefully I’ll have fresh legs necessary to have against Rafa.”
Djokovic and Nadal have won 14 of the last 16 Rome titles between them with Djokovic leading their overall head-to-head 29-27.
Nadal is looking to equal Djokovic’s record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles in his 12th Rome final.


Leicester wins FA Cup for first time beating Chelsea 1-0

Leicester wins FA Cup for first time beating Chelsea 1-0
Updated 15 May 2021

Leicester wins FA Cup for first time beating Chelsea 1-0

Leicester wins FA Cup for first time beating Chelsea 1-0
  • After losing four finals, Leicester’s name is finally etched onto the cup of world football’s oldest competition
  • The team from central England is a champion again, five years after Morgan collected the Premier League trophy

LONDON: Youri Tielemans was preparing for the FA Cup final on Saturday when he received a text message with a clear instruction: Aim for the top corner.
When the ball landed at the Leicester midfielder’s feet, 63 minutes into the 140th final, a powerful shot from 30 meters was aimed just where he had been advised.
It was a sensational way to win the FA Cup for the first time in Leicester’s 137-year history, 1-0 against Champions League finalist Chelsea.
Even sweeter than the strike was Leicester being able to celebrate in front of its own fans as Wembley Stadium hosted England’s biggest crowd — more than 20,000 who tested negative for the coronavirus — in 14 months.
“Wow, what a finish,” Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said. “I didn’t dare to celebrate because there’s always VAR.”
Not that time. Instead, the video assistant review came to Leicester’s rescue in the 89th minute to prevent Wes Morgan from a moment of heartache.
The 37-year-old club captain had been on the pitch for only seven minutes when he accidentally deflected in former teammate Ben Chilwell’s cross. But one of those marginal offsides that so irritate players and fans was detected and the roars of Leicester fans were even louder than the moment Tielemans scored.
After losing four finals — the first in 1949 at the old Wembley — Leicester’s name is finally etched onto the cup of world football’s oldest competition. The team from central England is a champion again, five years after Morgan collected the Premier League trophy.
Players — such as Chelsea duo Chilwell and N’Golo Kante — have left since that improbable 5,000-1 title triumph but Morgan and matchday captain Schmeichel are still there to celebrate again, this time in a moment tinged with sadness.
Inside the jerseys at Wembley were photos of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the club’s Thai owner until he died in 2018 when his helicopter crashed in flames next to King Power Stadium.
“He is always with us, Kun Vichai,” said Schmeichel before handing the FA Cup on the field to Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who now runs the club.
Also in tribute to Vichai was a banner covering seats in the closed third tier at Wembley, with his quote, “Our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”
In a game of few chances, Thiago Silva’s slack pass allowed Leicester to score. Ayoze Pérez intercepted the clearance and Luke Thomas passed across to the unmarked Tielemans to drive forward before striking from 30 yards into the top corner.
Saves from Schmeichel as much as VAR helped to preserve the lead; he used one hand to push Chilwell’s shot onto the post in the 78th and blocked Mason Mount’s volley in the 87th.
“I’ve dreamed of this since I was a child,” Schmeichel said. “The performance today — the grit and determination — I’m so proud of everyone.”
It’s far from season over for Leicester. There’s another match against Chelsea to come on Tuesday which could clinch Champions League qualification for the second time ever. Sitting third, Leicester holds a two-point lead over Chelsea.
“Today we enjoy, and tomorrow we dust ourselves down and can’t really think about this anymore,” Schmeichel said. “Chelsea are a top-class side and are going to want revenge.”
The west London club has lost consecutive FA Cup finals, with Thomas Tuchel failing just as Frank Lampard did. But Tuchel can still win the biggest prize in club football against Manchester City in the Champions League final on May 29 in Porto.
“We are disappointed and not angry with our performance,” Tuchel said.
Chelsea was a key early stop in Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers’ coaching career, with the youth team around 15 years ago. While Rodgers has won trophies in Scotland with Celtic, he fell short in English football with Watford, Swansea and Liverpool until Saturday. Now, for the first time since Harry Redknapp with Portsmouth in 2008, a British manager has picked up the FA Cup.
“The success of this team and club is getting to positions like this and competing,” Rodgers said. “The so-called bigger clubs are expected to win but our success is competing and if we can perform like today we can go and win. What a day for everyone involved with Leicester.”

ACTIVISM
Chelsea and Leicester took a knee before kickoff, which has been a feature of games in England since June as part of calls to eradicate racial injustice in society following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But there was some booing by fans against the anti-racism gesture that was largely drowned out by applause and cheers.
In the post-match celebrations, Hamza Choudhury and Wesley Fofana were wrapped in a Palestinian flag amid escalating violence between Israel and Hamas in and around Gaza.

PREMIER LEAGUE
Leeds is on for a top-half finish in its first season back in the Premier League after 16 years. A 4-0 victory over Burnley was started by Mateusz Klich curling in the opener before halftime, followed in the second half by Jack Harrison and Rodrigo’s double. Fulham, one the three sides already relegated, lost at Southampton 3-1.


Al-Ittihad settles financial dispute with the Aleksandar Pesic

The financial dispute between Al-Ittihad and  former striker Aleksandar Pešić has been settled. (Arriyadiyah)
The financial dispute between Al-Ittihad and former striker Aleksandar Pešić has been settled. (Arriyadiyah)
Updated 15 May 2021

Al-Ittihad settles financial dispute with the Aleksandar Pesic

The financial dispute between Al-Ittihad and  former striker Aleksandar Pešić has been settled. (Arriyadiyah)
  • Schedule of payments for $2m owed to Serbian striker ensures Jeddah club will not face FIFA sanctions

RIYADH: Saudi Pro League club Al-Ittihad has reached a settlement with former striker Aleksandar Pesic, with the club set to schedule a payment plan of $2 million owed to the player, Arabic language sports daily Arriyadiyah has reported.

The 28-year-old Serbian, who left the club in 2020, filed a formal complaint with FIFA calling for overdue fees to be paid.

According to Arriyadiyah’s sources, the agreement between the two parties is final, ensuring that the Jeddah club will not be hit with sanctions by FIFA.

The first of the player payments is due in the coming months.

Al-Ittihad signed Pesic in July 2018 on a three-year contract, before sending him to South Korean club FC Seoul on loan for 18 months at the beginning of 2019. The player then moved to Maccabi Tel Aviv on free transfer last year.


Gomis stoppage-time penalty miss gives Al-Hilal’s title rivals unexpected reprieve

Gomis stoppage-time penalty miss gives Al-Hilal’s title rivals unexpected reprieve
Updated 15 May 2021

Gomis stoppage-time penalty miss gives Al-Hilal’s title rivals unexpected reprieve

Gomis stoppage-time penalty miss gives Al-Hilal’s title rivals unexpected reprieve
  • hampions wasted opportunity to go six points clear of Al-Shabab at top of SPL table

Leaders Al-Hilal missed a golden opportunity to take decisive step toward a 17th Saudi Professional League (SPL) title after drawing 1-1 with Al-Batin only hours after second-placed Al-Shabab had lost 4-3 in a dramatic match against Ettifaq.

A win would have put the reigning champions six points ahead of Al-Shabab with three matches left, but a stoppage-time penalty miss by French forward Bafetimbi Gomis means that nagging doubts will persist at least until round 28 of the SPL.

While Al-Hilal lead the table by four points, third-place Al-Ittihad could re-enter the title race by going second in the table, one point above Al-Shabab, with a win over Damac on Saturday.

Al-Hilal started strongly at Prince Faisal bin Fahad Stadium and took the lead through top scorer Gomis at 17 minutes.

The expected comfortable evening for Al-Hilal did not materialize, however, and Al-Batin equalized through Mohamed Rayhi in the 29th minute.

Youssef El-Jebli almost gave Al-Batin a first-half lead when his shot just missed Abdullah Al-Mayouf’s goal.

Al-Hilal coach Jose Morais introduced Salem and Nasser Al-Dawsari for Andre Carrillo and Luciano Vietto, but despite sustained pressure could not break down Al-Batin’s defense.

The Riyadh giants were then given a priceless opportunity to win the match with the late penalty, but Gomis struck the bar with the last shot of the match.

Al-Hilal will next host Al-Ahli on Wednesday, while Al-Shabab welcome Al-Ain on the same night and Al-Ittihad travel to Abha the following day.


Al-Arabi end 19-year drought to claim Kuwaiti Premier League title

Al-Arabi end 19-year drought to claim Kuwaiti Premier League title
Updated 15 May 2021

Al-Arabi end 19-year drought to claim Kuwaiti Premier League title

Al-Arabi end 19-year drought to claim Kuwaiti Premier League title
  • Comfortable 3-0 win over Al-Sahel means Al-Arabi cannot be caught by Qadsia, who drew 1-1 with Kazma

Al-Arabi have won the Kuwaiti Premier League for the first time in 19 years after defeating Al-Sahel 3-0 in the 17th and penultimate stage of the season.

Lead by Croatian coach Ante Mise, Al-Arabi now have an unassailable 43 points, with second-placed Qadsia stuck at 36 points after a 1-1 draw with Kazma.

The title is the 17th in Al-Arabi’s history, a record the club now shares with Qadsia. Kuwait SC have 16 titles, in front of Al-Salmiya, Kazma (four each) and Al-Jahra (one).

In what turned out to be a tension-free night for the new champions, Al-Arabi scored three times in the first half through Bander Al-Salamah, Syrian Alaa Al-Dali and Palestinian Oday Dabbagh from a penalty.

The second half ended scoreless, and the final whistle brought ecstatic celebrations from Al-Arabi’s players, management and fans at Sabah Al-Salem Stadium.