Bafetimbi Gomis treble wraps up record 16th SPL title for unstoppable Al Hilal

Bafetimbi Gomis treble wraps up record 16th SPL title for unstoppable Al Hilal
Al-Hilal secured a 16th SPL title on Saturday after a 4-1 win over Al-Hazem. (Twitter: @AlHilal_EN)
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Updated 30 August 2020

Bafetimbi Gomis treble wraps up record 16th SPL title for unstoppable Al Hilal

Bafetimbi Gomis treble wraps up record 16th SPL title for unstoppable Al Hilal
  • The Riyadh club has now won 60 major trophies in its storied history

DUBAI: Al-Hilal are champions of the Saudi Professional League (SPL) for a record 16th time after crushing Al-Hazem 4-1 on an emotional night at King Saud University Stadium thanks to a hattrick by French goal machine Bafétimbi Gomis.

The latest SPL title also marks the 60th trophy in the club’s storied history.

Going into the 28th round of the disrupted 2019-20 season, Al-Hilal were six points ahead of Al-Nassr, their closest challengers in second place. A win would be enough to retain the league title, but things did not start according to plan for the 2019 AFC Champions League winners. 

Al-Hazem came flying out of the blocks to shock the champions-elect with a third-minute goal, Abdulrahman latching on to a through ball to loft the ball over the advancing Abdullah Al-Mayouf in Al-Hilal’s goal.

Their joy would prove very short-lived as Salem Al-Dasari scored a wonderful solo equalizer, skipping past three Al-Hazem defenders from the right wing before dispatching a fine left-foot finish past Malik Asselah.

Though Al-Hilal enjoyed the majority of possession — 70 to 30 percent by the end of the half — Al-Hazem were never overrun and gave as good as they got, and indeed had more shots than the league leaders.

However, on 36 minutes the match decisively swung the way of the home team when Italian playmaker Sebastian Giovinco was fouled by Asselah after he had already put his shot wide. It took a few minutes for VAR to confirm the decision, and Gomis made no mistake from the penalty spot.

No doubt Al-Hilal’s Romanian coach Răzvan Lucescu and his players were keeping an eye on events in Jeddah where Al-Nassr and Al-Fayha were drawing 1-1 at half time. The visitors had taken a surprise seventh-minute lead through Madagascan international Faneva Imà Andriatsima but Al-Nassr levelled the match only three minutes later through Moroccan marksman Abderrazak Hamdallah, last season’s top scorer in the SPL. 

As things stood, Al-Hilal would be crowned champions with two matches left. 

Things got better for the Riyadh giants when Yasser Al-Shahrani’s superb run cross was powerfully headed home by Gomis eight minutes into the second half.

Straight from the restart, Al-Hilal got their second penalty of the night when Gomis was fouled by Abdullah Al-Shammari.

The Frenchman himself converted another penalty for his third  goal of the match and 23rd of another prolific SPL season. Al-Hilal, 4-1 up, were over the hills and far away. Al-Hazem, stuck in 15th position in the table and two points from safety, now have two matches two save themselves from the drop.

The final whistle brought cheers, and many tears, for Al-Hilal’s manager, players and staff — their hard work at long last paying off in this long-delayed, and most unusual season. Their faithful fans may not have been there in the ground to share the triumph, but a message on the big screen showed they were not forgotten: “See you soon”, it simply said.

Al-Mayouf was clearly emotional as he spoke about his joy of winning the title, but also opened up about his personal setbacks.

“It was difficult with all the stoppages,” Al-Hilal’s goalkeeper said. “We had some injury problems, and that included myself. Today I can talk about it, I didn’t want to before. During the training camp after the break I couldn’t take part in any of the friendly matches. I only returned just before the (first) match against Al-Nassr. After that period I started to feel better.”

Al-Mayouf also sent out a message of congratulations to the club’s homebound fans.

“It’s not the same without the fans,” he said. “They’re always with us, pushing us. After you score a goal, you feel the joy, and the fans produce a special atmosphere. We wished they were with us, but hopefully they will be back soon.”

Al-Hilal’s veteran defender Salman Al-Faraj paid tribute to the fans as well as his own teammates and coach.

“First I’d like to congratulate the supporters,” he said. “And congratulations to this group as Asian champions and league champions. It’s an exceptional achievement by the players to win those trophies with the performances that we have put on.

“Al-Hilal is always about attacking football, about playing beautiful football, scoring goals,” he added. “What was special about our return from the coronavirus break is that we were better than before. We worked very hard on ourselves with our coach, which is why we wrapped up the title with two matches left.”

For Al-Hazem, SPL survival now hangs by a thread.

“Of course we are in a bad situation,” defender Wesam Al-Sowayed said. “Our coach wanted us to be tight at the back and play on the break. We scored that early goal but could only hold on to the lead briefly, once the equaliser came the match became more open.”

With two matches left, Al-Hazem’s fate is out of their hands as they do not face any of the teams immediately above them. At least three points will be needed, perhaps more, to stand any chance of survival.

“There’s always hope, whether one, two or five percent,” added. “We will train hard and give everything to the end. We have two important matches against Al-Shabab and Al-Wehda and hopefully we can get the points we need.”

For their part Al-Nassr had scored a 94th minute winner from a Abderrazak Hamdallah penalty, but their 2-1 win over Al-Fayha was in vain.

Earlier in the day, Al-Adalah’s relegation was confirmed after a 1-1 draw with Al-Raed who jumped to fifth place above Al-Faislay, while Damac maintained their hopes of a late escape with a 2-2 draw against Abha Club.

But the day, like the season, belonged to Al-Hilal.


Iran, Iraq and UAE march into final phase of World Cup qualifying

Iran, Iraq and UAE march into final phase of World Cup qualifying
Updated 15 June 2021

Iran, Iraq and UAE march into final phase of World Cup qualifying

Iran, Iraq and UAE march into final phase of World Cup qualifying
  • Iran pipped Iraq 1-0 in Bahrain to top Group C while UAE beat Vietnam 3-2
  • Syria, Japan, South Korea and Australia had already clinched their spots

DOHA: Iran and the UAE topped their respective groups on Tuesday to ease into the third phase of Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Iraq also made it through as one of the five best second-placed teams on a frantic day of action.
Iran pipped Iraq 1-0 in Bahrain to top Group C while the UAE got the better of Vietnam 3-2 in their final Group G match in Dubai.
The top team in each of the eight groups automatically progresses to the 12-team final phase of World Cup qualifying, where they will be joined by the best runners-up.
As World Cup hosts Qatar topped Group E five rather than four second-placed teams will make it through to the final round.
Syria, Japan, South Korea and Australia had already clinched their spots in the deciding round, from which four countries will make the cut for next year’s tournament.
A fifth team from Asia could also make the third phase via an intercontinental play-off.
On Tuesday, Both Iran and the UAE needed to topple the group leaders to qualify, and they did it in contrasting styles. Sardar Azmoun fired Iran ahead in the 35th minute at the Sheikh Ali bin Mohamed Al-Khalifa Stadium in Muharraq.
The Zenit Saint Petersburg striker, who has played a pivotal role for his team since the qualifiers resumed, tapped in from close range after captain Ehsan Hajjsafi made his way up on the left flank and sent in a cross.
Both teams fluffed chances later but Iran hung on to their lead to take their tally to 18 points from eight matches, while Iraq finished on 17.
Meanwhile in Dubai, Vietnam wasted their two-point advantage at the top as they were beaten by the Emiratis with Ali Salmeen and Ali Mabkhout finding the net in the first half.
Mahmoud Khamis made it 3-0 five minutes after the break, and while Vietnam pulled two late goals back through Nguyen Tien Linh and Tran Minh Vuong it wasn’t enough to keep top spot.
Earlier striker Ado Onaiwu bagged a six-minute first-half hat-trick as Japan confirmed their dominance in Group F with a crushing 5-1 win over the Kyrgyz Republic in Suita on Tuesday.
Manager Hajjime Moriyasu made five changes to the side that beat Tajikistan 4-1 a week ago and opted for Onaiwu to lead the attack in the absence of Takumi Minamino, who withdrew from the squad last week “due to club circumstances.”
Minamino, who had netted in all seven of Japan’s previous group matches, reportedly left after playing in the 1-0 friendly win against Serbia on Thursday in order to sort out a move from Liverpool to Southampton with qualification secured.
Onaiwu did not disappoint in his place, opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the 27th minute after a handball by Aizar Akmatov.
He tapped in his second four minutes later at the far post after good work down the right by Kawabe Hayao and completed his quick-fire treble in the 33rd minute with a towering header.
Takuma Asano and Sho Sasaki added two more after the break while Kyrgyz captain Mirlan Murzaev scored their consolation penalty in first-half stoppage time.
Onaiwu’s hat-trick was not the fastest hat-trick in World Cup history and was almost pedestrian compared with Egypt substitute Abdul Hamid Bassiouny’s 2001 effort.
Bassiouny took just 117 seconds to score three times after coming on in the 8-2 win against Namibia in a African qualifying match.
The dominant Samurai Blue confirmed their place at the AFC 2023 Asian Cup in China and in the final round of Qatar World Cup 2022 Qualifiers with a perfect eight wins from eight, scoring 46 goals and conceding only two.
In the other Group F match, Tajikistan beat Myanmar 4-0 in Osaka to seal second place.


Ronaldo scores 2, Portugal beats Hungary 3-0 at Euro 2020

Ronaldo scores 2, Portugal beats Hungary 3-0 at Euro 2020
Updated 15 June 2021

Ronaldo scores 2, Portugal beats Hungary 3-0 at Euro 2020

Ronaldo scores 2, Portugal beats Hungary 3-0 at Euro 2020
  • Ronaldo scored his 10th goal at the tournament from the penalty spot
  • It was Euro 2020’s first match to be played in front of a full crowd amid coronavirus pandemic

BUDAPEST: Cristiano Ronaldo set the record for most goals at the European Championship with two of them Tuesday in Portugal’s 3-0 victory over Hungary at a packed Puskas Arena.
Ronaldo scored his 10th goal at the tournament from the penalty spot in the 87th minute and then added a second in injury time. He has now scored 11 goals over five continental tournaments. He entered the match even with Michel Platini at nine goals.
Portugal defender Raphael Guerreiro scored the opening goal three minutes before Ronaldo’s first with a shot that deflected off a defender and wrong-footed goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
Ronaldo had missed an easy chance near the end of the first half when he hit a shot over the crossbar from close range.
It was the first match of the tournament to be played in front of a full crowd amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 67,215-capacity Puskas Arena went wild with celebration after 80 minutes when substitute Szabolcs Schon cut inside from the right and planted a low shot into the corner of the net. But the goal was ruled out because Schon was offside when he ran onto the pass.
Ronaldo is now only three behind former Iran striker Ali Daei’s men’s record of 109 international goals.


Denmark coach steps up UEFA criticism over game resumption

Denmark coach steps up UEFA criticism over game resumption
Updated 15 June 2021

Denmark coach steps up UEFA criticism over game resumption

Denmark coach steps up UEFA criticism over game resumption
  • Danish coach said UEFA failed to “lead with compassion” and that his players were put “in a hugely difficult situation”
  • Denmark was given the option by UEFA to either resume that evening or come back at noon on Sunday

COPENHAGEN: Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand stepped up his criticism of UEFA on Tuesday for not giving his players the option to postpone the game against Finland after Christian Eriksen’s collapse.
Hjulmand said UEFA failed to “lead with compassion” and that his players were put “in a hugely difficult situation” after the incident on Saturday at the European Championship.
The Euro 2020 game resumed following a suspension of about 90 minutes after Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator.
Denmark was given the option by UEFA to either resume that evening or come back at noon on Sunday. That has led to widespread anger in Denmark and a spat between the team and UEFA about whether the players were pressured into coming back onto the field so soon.
Hjulmand pointed out that newly created coronavirus protocols for Euro 2020 allow UEFA to postpone a game for 48 hours if a certain number of players from one team test positive or have to self isolate.
”The only real leadership would have been to put the players on a bus and send them home. And then deal with it after,” Hjulmand said. ”With corona cases it’s possible to postpone a game for 48 hours. But with cardiac arrest, apparently it’s not. And I think that’s wrong. You don’t necessarily find good leadership in the protocols. Good leadership can sometimes be to lead with compassion.”
UEFA on Monday defended its handling of the situation and has repeatedly said it wasn’t possible to postpone the game for longer because Finland is due to play its second group game on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Russia. Denmark plays Belgium in Group B in Copenhagen on Thursday.
Finland scored after the resumption and won 1-0. Had Denmark refused to play, it would have risked being handed a 3-0 forfeit loss.
“UEFA is sure it treated the matter with utmost respect for the sensitive situation and for the players,” the governing body of European soccer said. “It was decided to restart the match only after the two teams requested to finish the game on the same evening.”
However, the insistence from UEFA that it was the Denmark players who requested the resumption on Saturday has rankled both Hjulmand and his players. They insist that it would have been worse to come back Sunday after a sleepless night and that they should have been given a third option.
“It’s completely wrong to give the perception that it was we who came and said we wanted to continue playing as our first option. It was a choice between the two scenarios,” Hjulmand said. ”And then you can argue whether we were put under pressure. I felt that the players — and us close to them — were put under that pressure and were given that dilemma. It was a hugely difficult situation to be in.”
Eriksen remains in the hospital and sent his first public message via social media on Tuesday, thanking supporters from around the world for their well-wishes.
Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite said Monday that he and his teammates would have preferred a longer postponement.
”It was not our wish to play,” Braithwaite said. “But we were told we had to make a decision. ... There were many players who weren’t in a condition to play the match. We were in a completely different place.”
Hjulmand said he’s not expecting any kind of compensation from UEFA but is hoping that the governing body learns from the incident.
“Looking back, I don’t feel right that we were there (back on the field) after the incident,” Hjulmand said. “I think it showed so much strength from the guys, to be able to go out and play. That shows so much character, so much strength, and I’m very proud of that.
“Having said that, I don’t think it was the right thing to be given those two choices, play now or tomorrow at 12. … And maybe that’s a learning lesson for the future.”


France face Germany as Portugal begin title defense on Super Tuesday at Euro 2020

France face Germany as Portugal begin title defense on Super Tuesday at Euro 2020
Updated 15 June 2021

France face Germany as Portugal begin title defense on Super Tuesday at Euro 2020

France face Germany as Portugal begin title defense on Super Tuesday at Euro 2020
  • Puskas Arena the only one of European Championship’s 11 venues with no Covid-19 limits on allowed number of fans
  • Les Bleus [France] come into the tournament as firm favourites thanks to their status as World Cup holders

PARIS: Reigning champions Portugal begin their defense of the trophy against Hungary at Euro 2020 in Budapest on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, World Cup holders France take on Germany in a hotly-anticipated clash between two of the continent’s heavyweights.
Action on the pitch on day five of the tournament was preceded by a heartwarming “I’m fine” social media post from Christian Eriksen, the Danish midfielder recovering from Saturday’s shocking cardiac arrest.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal are set to have the honor of a full house in the Hungarian capital, with the Puskas Arena the only one of the 11 venues at this European Championship where there are no Covid-19 limits on the number of fans allowed.
“It’s perfect. I wish every single venue could host a full house. It’s great for viewers and players, but sadly it’s not up to us to decide,” said Ronaldo of the prospect of a crowd of up to 68,000 watching the first of Tuesday’s two matches at the tournament in Group F.
Ronaldo is 36 now and aiming to score in a fifth different European Championship finals.
He needs just one more goal to become the outright top scorer in the tournament, and is just five goals away from equalling the all-time international scoring record of 109 held by Iran’s Ali Daei.
But, from Ruben Dias to Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix, there is also an outstanding team behind him and Portugal are hopeful of retaining the title they won at Euro 2016 in France.
“Right now we think we have what it takes to win the cup,” said coach Fernando Santos.
Hungary are the rank outsiders in the group but are hoping to make the most of their home advantage.
That game will be followed by the mouthwatering showdown in Munich as the world champions face a Germany side eager to make up for their desperate showing at the World Cup in Russia, when they were knocked out in the group stage.
Les Bleus come into the tournament as firm favorites thanks to their status as World Cup holders and after coach Didier Deschamps decided to recall Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema from a five-and-a-half-year international exile.
France lost 1-0 to Germany in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals in Rio de Janeiro but are unbeaten in the five meetings between the sides since, including a 2-0 win in the Euro 2016 semifinals.
“This fixture brings back happy memories and not so happy memories,” said France goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris. “It is one of the all-time great major tournament fixtures.”
Germany are under pressure to perform in front of a home support at Munich’s Allianz Arena as they come into their final tournament under coach Joachim Loew, who will stand down after the finals following 15 years in charge.
“The spirit is very good and the team is hungry for success. That makes me confident and allows me to sleep peacefully,” Loew said.
In stark contrast to Budapest, authorities in Munich are only allowing around 14,500 fans into the Allianz Arena for games, equivalent to about 20 percent of capacity.
On Monday Spain got off to a stuttering start as Luis Enrique’s side — playing Group E games at home in Seville — were held to a 0-0 draw by Sweden.
European champions in 2008 and 2012, Spain were without captain Sergio Busquets, still isolating after testing positive for coronavirus, and paid for wasteful finishing by much-criticized Alvaro Morata.
In stark contrast Patrik Schick scored one of the championship’s greatest goals, a high, curling shot from just inside the halfway line in the Czech Republic’s 2-0 win over Scotland.
Schick had earlier headed in the opener as the Czechs ruined Scotland’s long-awaited first game at a major tournament in 23 years and went top of Group D.
“The ball bounced back, the goalkeeper was quite high, I took a look, I saw he was out there so I slammed it in,” said Bayer Leverkusen striker Schick of his stunner.
Also on day four, Slovakia edged out 10-man Poland 2-1 in Saint Petersburg in Group E.
In Copenhagen meanwhile Eriksen continues his recovery following his collapse in the game against Finland.
“I’m fine — under the circumstances, I still have to go through some examinations at the hospital, but I feel okay,” wrote the Denmark player on Instagram accompanied by a photo of him smiling and giving a thumbs-up while lying in bed.
Instagram was also the place where Austria’s Marko Arnautovic penned his apology after insulting North Macedonia players in Sunday’s victory, but despite his mea culpa UEFA have opened disciplinary proceedings into his behavior in Bucharest.


Eriksen sends public thank you message from hospital

Eriksen sends public thank you message from hospital
Updated 15 June 2021

Eriksen sends public thank you message from hospital

Eriksen sends public thank you message from hospital
  • Eriksen remains in hospital after suffering cardiac arrest during Denmark’s game against Finland
  • “Big thanks for your sweet and amazing greetings and messages from all around the world,” Eriksen said via Twitter

COPENHAGEN: Christian Eriksen sent his first public message from the hospital on Tuesday, thanking supporters for their “sweet and amazing” well-wishes after his collapse at the European Championship.
Eriksen remains in the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest during Denmark’s game against Finland on Saturday, when he had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator on the field.
“Big thanks for your sweet and amazing greetings and messages from all around the world. It means a lot to me and my family,” Eriksen wrote in a message that was shared by the Danish soccer association on Twitter.
The message was accompanied by a photo of the 29-year-old Eriksen giving a thumbs up from his hospital bed.
“I’m fine – under the circumstances,” he added. “I still have to go through some examinations at the hospital, but I feel okay. Now, I will cheer on the boys on the Denmark team in the next matches. Play for all of Denmark.”
Eriksen and the rest of the Denmark players have received an outpouring of support from all over the world since Saturday’s incident, including from fans of rival teams.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said the flood of messages shows that “football is the biggest social phenomenon in the world.”
“It’s the one thing that can unite most people in the world,” Hjulmand said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It brings friendship across nations, race, gender, everything. Football is one big family. ... And we see this with all this recognition we get from people all over the world.”
Denmark, which lost to Finland 1-0 after the game was resumed, next plays Belgium on Thursday in Group B. On Monday, Eriksen’s teammates said the midfielder had told them to re-focus on the tournament.
And Hjulmand said he can tell that his players are gradually getting back the right mindset to play again. But he acknowledged that returning to Parken Stadium again, where the players formed a ring around Eriksen as he was getting emergency medical treatment that saved his life, will be emotionally challenging.
“I don’t think they’re afraid to play,” Hjulmand said. “But the normal reaction to a trauma like this, you should know, it’s not only yourself. It’s also your family, maybe your kids, your wife, your parents. So the box of emotions has been opened. I think we took a big step yesterday and I think we’ll take another one today.
“Of course the time until the kickoff will be emotional, and we have to prepare ourselves for that, for entering the stadium again. Getting back to see our great fans. And up to kickoff there’ll be a lot of emotions we have to handle, and then prepare ourselves for when the referee whistles his first whistle. We will be ready to go and fight and play well and do everything for Denmark.”