Dramatic end to SPL season as Damac pull off miraculous escape

Champions Al-Hilal ended their season — in which they claimed a record 16th SPL title — in style with a 2-1 win over Al-Shabab at King Saud University Stadium. (SPA)
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Updated 10 September 2020

Dramatic end to SPL season as Damac pull off miraculous escape

  • Al-Ahli claim third place and qualify for next year’s AFC Champions League, while struggling Al-Ittihad survive brush with relegation

RIYADH: The standings after the penultimate round of games in the 2019-20 Saudi Professional League season had set the scene for high drama on the final day of this marathon, disrupted campaign — and the action on Wednesday delivered this in spades.

Struggling giants Al-Ittihad avoided the nightmare prospect of relegation, while their Jeddah neighbors Al-Ahli took third place in the league to secure qualification for next season’s AFC Champions League. They join the Riyadh duo of Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, who had already claimed first and second spots in the SPL respectively.

Al-Ahli clinched a narrow 2-1 victory over Al-Raed, who themselves were clinging to hopes of making it into Asia’s premier club competition. However, second-half goals from Salman Al-Moasher and Syrian superstar Omar Al-Somah ended that dream and ensured Al-Ahli will approach the delayed conclusion of this year’s Champions League, which resumes on Sep. 14, in a relaxed frame of mind, secure in the knowledge that they have claimed their place in next year’s event.

The real drama, however, played out at the bottom of the table, where five clubs kicked off their final matches in danger of joining already-doomed Al-Adalah and Al-Hazem in relegation.

In the final game of what has been a nervy end to a dismal season, Al-Ittihad managed to preserve their top-flight status in relative comfort, thanks to a 2-0 away victory over bottom-placed Al-Adalah. Goals from Fahad Al-Muwallad on 11 minutes and Wilfried Bony, with a penalty just before the half-hour mark, dispelled any lingering tension.

In an astonishing match that included four penalties, Damac, who began the day in the bottom three, defeated Al-Fateh 4-3 to leapfrog them into 11th place and ensure SPL survival, although their fans must have been biting their nails in the dying seconds of the match.

Everything appeared to be going to plan for Damac, as they took a ninth-minute through an Emilio Zelaya penalty and then Ibrahim Chenihi doubled their lead on 44 minutes. However, Mohammed Naji halved the deficit deep into first-half injury time, setting up one of the most dramatic 45 minutes of the season.

Al-Fateh’s Dutch marksman Mitchell te Vrede leveled the scores with a penalty after 58 minutes. With the match between Al-Taawoun and Al-Fayah match still scoreless at this point, Damac were heading for the drop as things stood.

They hit back, however, and regained the lead when Zelaya converted a second penalty that looked to put them on course for a priceless win and SPL safety. This match had a few more twists to offer, however, and with only six minutes left te Vrede scored his second penalty of the night. With the score at 3-3, Damac found themselves back in deep relegation trouble.

Redemption, and the guarantee of another season in the SPL, came for Damac in the final two minutes of the season, as Abdullah Al-Jouei scored what will surely go down as one of the club’s most famous goals.

Meanwhile, the match between Al-Taawoun and Al-Fayha headed into stoppage time scoreless, with the latter needing a very late goal to escape the drop and, in the process, condemn their opponents to relegation. It was not to be, however, as it was Al-Taawoun who grabbed a winner in the 92nd minute, courtesy of Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, sealing their opponents’ fate.

Champions Al-Hilal ended their season — in which they claimed a record 16th SPL title — in style with a 2-1 win over Al-Shabab at King Saud University Stadium. French forward Bafétimbi Gomis signed off on a prolific campaign with a goal in each half. Cristian Guanca’s reply was sandwiched in between. Al-Shabab finished the season in seventh spot.

The celebrations continued late into the night after the Prince Mohammed bin Salman trophy was presented to a delighted Al-Hilal squad and their coach, Razvan Lucescu, amid fireworks and selfies. The reigning champions of Asia will now turn their attention toward retaining their continental crown in the coming months.

In the other matches, Al-Wehda claimed fourth place in the league with a 2-0 victory over Al-Hazem, with goals from Youssef Niakate and Luis Gustavo.

Al-Faisaly took fifth spot with a 2-1 win over Abha at Al-Majmaah Sports City. Goals in each half by William Alves de Oliveira and Raphael da Silva Arruda were enough to see them through against their visitors, who responded with a consolation goal in the form of Karim Aouadhi’s 70th-minute penalty. Abha ended the season in ninth spot.

SPL runners-up — and last season’s champions — Al-Nassr overcame Al-Ettifaq 3-2 in an encounter that had little riding on it other than pride.

Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al-Nassr the lead with a seventh-minute penalty — and claimed the SPL’s top-scorer crown for the second season running — before Saleh Al-Amri squared the match 12 minutes later. Giuliano de Paula’s effort just before half-time followed by Abdulfattah Mohammed Adam’s goal in the 72nd minute all but ended the contest, with Hazzaa Al-Hazzaa’s stoppage-time strike little more than a consolation for Al-Ettifaq, who finished the campaign in eighth place.

Saudi Arabia makes golf free for women in bid to grow game

Updated 25 min 47 sec ago

Saudi Arabia makes golf free for women in bid to grow game

  • ‘Ladies First Club’ will grant 1,000 registrants free lessons, club membership and rounds of golf
  • Aimed at introducing women to the sport, welcoming them to clubs and getting more Saudis regularly active

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has announced a sporting initiative that will allow women to take up the game of golf expense-free.

To be launched at next month’s debut Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund, Golf Saudi’s innovative ‘Ladies First Club’ will offer a complimentary membership inclusive of golf lessons, driving range access and full 18-hole rounds on three different courses.

It will be open to all Saudi women, with initial membership capped at 1,000 registrants.

All players signed-up to the scheme will be designated as a Ladies First Member at either Riyadh Golf Club, Dirab Golf Club or King Abdullah Economic City’s (KAEC) Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, depending on their location.

The membership will include a digital ‘Introduction to Golf’ education pack, which will provide monthly seminars outlining the key aspects of golf for beginners. Each of the three golf courses will also host a Ladies First golf clinic once a month, led by a professional, which will conclude with an on-course induction for all participants and a chance to play an 18-hole round.

Full range access will then remain available to all members of the club, with the program’s top 12 performers being offered a full, year-round membership at their course of choice.

Majed Al Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi, said: “The Ladies First Club will be a club like no other. It is our most exciting initiative yet aimed at developing the great game of golf across Saudi Arabia and is the ideal way to celebrate the historic nature of the Kingdom’s first ever women’s golf tournament, the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund.

Sorour continued: “Golf is growing in Saudi Arabia and we remain committed to our targets. We are already seeing a steady rise in interest from women golfers and we hope the Ladies First Club will help us reach that next level.”

CEO of Golf Saudi Majed Al Sorour. (Supplied)

Off course, the Ladies First Club will include a range of additional social opportunities too, including invites to social mornings with the likes of Pilates, yoga, bridge and other social and wellbeing activities.

All registrants will also receive member discounts across all three golf clubs’ restaurants and shops and will receive access to discounted full membership options on completion of the program.

Maha Haddioui is the first and only Arab woman golfer to play on the Ladies European Tour to date. She will be taking part in both of next month’s Saudi events.

She said: “Any way of making it easier to get women out playing golf has my backing — and the scheme that Golf Saudi have created with the Ladies First Club is a fantastic idea. From my experience, there is no better way of opening the sport up to new golfers than making it fun, inclusive and social. This initiative is each of those things.”

Moroccan pro-golfer Maha Haddioui. (Supplied)

Amateur golfer Sara Salhab, 27, regularly plays golf with friends at Dirab Golf Club, having played the sport since she was young.
She said: “The Ladies First Club is a great idea because it’s creating a platform to take women’s golf to the next level, by giving the required professional help and building a community that will allow players to flourish, so I think it’s great.

“Golf is a very nice sport that works both your mind and your body — and you’re outdoors in greenery, which is great, especially here. I really enjoy it. More women should play because it is very healthy, you get to be outdoors and it’s a social activity that — with the Ladies First Club — is more accessible than ever.”

The Ladies First Club will officially launch during tournament build-up week for the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund, which takes place 12th-15th November — two days before the Saudi Ladies Team International, which will see teams of four golfers compete together for a share of $500,000 prize money, 17th-19th November.

Women looking to register for the Club will be able to do so via the Golf Saudi website from the week the historic events get underway.

For more information about the Ladies First Club, Golf Saudi and both the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF and the Saudi Ladies Team International, visit: www.golfsaudi.com/en-us/ladies-international