Barcelona ponder Messi rest as Madrid continue to wait on Hazard

Argentina's Lionel Messi (C) drives the ball during the 2022 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match against Bolivia at the Hernando Siles Stadium in La Paz on Oct. 13, 2020, amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. (AFP)
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Updated 16 October 2020

Barcelona ponder Messi rest as Madrid continue to wait on Hazard

MADRID: Barcelona must weigh up the decision whether to rest Lionel Messi for Saturday’s trip to Getafe ahead of a congested run of fixtures, while Real Madrid are still waiting on the return of Eden Hazard from injury.
Messi played the full 90 minutes in Argentina’s World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Bolivia during the international break, the second of which was played at altitude in La Paz.
The Barca captain has not missed a single minute for his club since football resumed in June following the coronavirus shutdown.
However, with seven games in the space of 21 days awaiting Barca, coach Ronald Koeman could elect to give Messi a breather before the start of the team’s Champions League campaign.
Barca host Hungarian side Ferencvaros on Tuesday and then face sworn enemies Real Madrid four days later behind closed doors at the Camp Nou.
The Catalan club head to Italy for a Champions League clash with Juventus on October 28 before games against Alaves and Real Betis either side of the visit of Dynamo Kiev.
Leaders Madrid are unbeaten in La Liga since March, winning 13 of their past 15 games, and welcome Cadiz to the capital this weekend.
Zinedine Zidane could also opt to rotate some players but Thibaut Courtois, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior are in line to play after resting while others were away on international duty.
Courtois left the Belgium squad with a back injury and while he is fit to return, compatriot Hazard is not yet ready for action.
The 29-year-old has yet to feature this season having picked up a muscle injury as he worked his way back from an ankle problem.
He is also expected to miss next weekend’s Clasico, but Courtois believes Hazard will come good after scoring just once in an injury-plagued first season in Spain.
“I have no doubt we are going to see the best of Hazard,” Courtois told Cadena Ser radio.
“He is more desperate than anyone to show it. He’s coming along well and hopefully soon he can prove it.
He added: “I am sure that in no time he will explode and will give many joys to the team.”
Atletico Madrid visit Celta Vigo in their first game since the sale of Ghana midfielder Thomas Partey to Arsenal on transfer deadline day.
Partey made 188 appearances for the Atletico and was part of the sides that reached the 2016 Champions League final and beat Arsenal on the way to winning the Europa League in 2018.
The Dutch-born Morocco international could make his Sevilla debut at Granada after joining the club on a five-year deal from AZ Alkmaar.
Idrissi, 24, scored 13 goals in 25 games in the Eredivisie last season before it was declared over in March due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Julen Lopetegui’s Europa League winners are one of four undefeated teams in La Liga this term, with seven points from their first three matches.
12 — goals scored by Sergio Ramos since the start of the 2019/20 season, more than any other defender in Europe’s top five leagues.
250 — goals scored by Karim Benzema for Real Madrid. The Frenchman is only the fifth player to reach the mark in club history

Saturday (all times GMT)
Granada v Sevilla (1100), Celta Vigo v Atletico Madrid (1400), Real Madrid v Cadiz (1630), Getafe v Barcelona (1900)
Sunday
Eibar v Osasuna (1000), Athletic Bilbao v Levante (1200), Villarreal v Valencia (1400), Alaves v Elche (1630), Huesca v Real Valladolid (1630), Real Betis v Real Sociedad (1900)


How Roberto Rivelino raised the bar for Saudi football

Updated 20 October 2020

How Roberto Rivelino raised the bar for Saudi football

  • Roberto Rivelino was the highest calibre of footballer to be seen coming into the Kingdom
  • Rivelino raised standards on and off the Saudi pitch, opening the door for others to follow

LONDON: He arrived in Riyadh by Concorde from Rio to be greeted by thousands of Al-Hilal fans at the airport before being whisked to his hotel by Rolls-Royce. It was quite an entrance, but then in August 1978, Roberto Rivelino was quite a player, one of the best and most famous in the world. By the time the Brazilian left Saudi Arabia three seasons later, football in the country had changed and would never be the same again.

Fans of Al-Hilal and plenty of other clubs are accustomed to these days of watching exciting foreign talent in action in the league, but few have been as famous or as influential or - to put it in simple football terms -- as good as this Brazilian legend who made almost 100 appearances for the five-time world champions. He was the first big star in a season that was the first to feature foreign players.

Just weeks before, Saudi football leaders had watched Iran become the first team from Western Asia to compete at the World Cup, but there was already a determination to bring some serious talent to a professional league that had only just started in 1976. So in came the captain of Brazil, according to the influential World Soccer magazine, the 38th best player of the 20th century. 

Here was a star who stood out alongside Pele and Jairzinho in the 1970 World Cup winning team, hailed by many as the best ever. Fans in Saudi Arabia soon started to see just how good he was.

“It was almost amateur football at the time as football was really just starting there,” Rivelino said in an interview with Brazilian television in 2019, before Al-Hilal took on Rio club Flamengo at the FIFA Club World Cup.

“We trained at the same stadium in which we played the games. There were three teams in Riyadh and so we trained from 6 to 7 p.m., the next team from 7 to 8 and then the third from 8 to 9.”

The star had been part of the Brazil national team that played a friendly in Saudi Arabia ahead of the 1978 World Cup when conversations had started about a possible move.

“I talked to my family and then decided to go. It was my first time to play outside Brazil and though the culture and country was very different, it was a special time for me.”

Roberto Rivelino linked up with Tunisian striker Nejib Limam, and they were imperious as Al-Hilal marched to the league title. (Twitter)

Progress was already being made in a country that had at the time a population of just nine million. Rivelino enjoyed driving a Mercedes car in Saudi Arabia, owning one had been a lifelong dream, and also enjoyed the pristine condition of the artificial pitches in the country. He did, however, find the weather difficult to adapt to at first, playing with a wet cloth in his mouth to try and retain as much moisture as possible.

The Brazilian linked up with Tunisian striker Nejib Limam, and they were imperious as Al-Hilal marched to the league title. It was clinched by the Brazilian in fine fashion in the penultimate game against challengers and rivals Al-Nassr. Rivelino pounced on a loose ball well outside the area and lashed home an unstoppable half-volley to score the only goal of the match. The first and only defeat of that season came in the final game with the trophy safely in the cabinet. It was joined by The King’s Cup the following year. 

“He made it look so easy but he worked hard to make it look easy,” said Limam. “At first defenders were in awe of him and that gave me opportunities but he was consistently good and gave local players a taste of what you need to be a world-class player, it is not just about talent but mentality.”

Despite often playing deep in midfield, Rivelino scored 23 goals in fewer than 60 appearances for Al-Hilal. His set-piece skill has yet to be surpassed and he even thrilled fans by scoring directly from a corner against Al-Ittihad, but there was more to it than that. For foreign players, especially in growing leagues, impact can’t be measured by statistics.

Rivelino raised standards on and off the pitch. Being the first Brazilian to play professionally in the region, he opened the door for players from the South American nation to follow and Zico, another midfield legend from the country, almost arrived. Many did come, coaches too, and they have played their part over the years.

 

 

(YouTube video)

Few though could have the impact of Rivelino.  “It was a good place to play football and I played well. I trained hard and I worked hard and it was a good time,” he reflected.

He felt that by the time he retired in 1981, he still could have done a job for a hugely-talented Brazil at the 1982 World Cup even though he was in his mid-thirties.

“They should have come to see me play but today you can play in Saudi Arabia and the national team still remember you but it was different then. 

“But I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. I gave everything to the club and the club, the players and the fans treated me with respect and Al-Hilal will always have a special place in my heart.”

The same should be the case for anyone with an interest in Saudi Arabian football. Rivelino was one of the first foreign players in the country and remains one of the best.