Al-Ittihad halt Al-Hilal march after Saudi Clasico draw

Al-Ittihad halt Al-Hilal march after Saudi Clasico draw
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Al-Hilal showed superiority through most of the game but Al-Ittihad managed to eke out a draw. (SPA)
Al-Ittihad halt Al-Hilal march after Saudi Clasico draw
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Al-Hilal showed superiority through most of the game but Al-Ittihad managed to eke out a draw. (SPA)
Al-Ittihad halt Al-Hilal march after Saudi Clasico draw
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Al-Hilal showed superiority through most of the game but Al-Ittihad managed to eke out a draw. (SPA)
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Updated 27 December 2020

Al-Ittihad halt Al-Hilal march after Saudi Clasico draw

Al-Ittihad halt Al-Hilal march after Saudi Clasico draw
  • Champions Al-Hilal will go into 2021 as SPL leaders

DUBAI: Al-Ittihad ensured that Al-Hilal will not go into 2021 with a potential six-point lead at the top of the Saudi Professional League after securing a 1-1 draw against the champions at King Saud University stadium in Riyadh.

It could have been so much better for Al-Ittihad, having led by a solitary goal going into the last five minutes of the match.

After a disastrous 2019-20 season for Ittihad, one that saw them flirt with relegation, the Jeddah club came into the Saudi Clasico in far better shape than they had been for some time, in fifth place and with 14 points already on the board. Still, few would have expected anything other than a home-win Al-Hilal in the 10th round of the season, and last of the year.

The early stages of the match had brought few clear-cut chances, with Andre Carrillo looking lively for Al-Hilal, while Egyptian international Ahmed Hegazi, on loan from West Brom, proved a solid presence at the back for Al-Ittihad.

And it was Al-Ittihad who took the lead 20 minutes on through Abdulrahman Al-Aboud’s superb curling strike.

As expected, Al-Hilal came out for the second half with greater purpose while Al-Ittihad looked to soak the pressure and hit them on the break.

Carrillo and Bafetimbi Gomis carried the home team’s greatest threat, and with 20 minutes left Salem Al-Dawsari’s shot from inside the penalty area was deflected just wide for a corner.




Al-Hilal showed superiority through most of the game but Al-Ittihad managed to eke out a draw. (SPA)

Al-Hilal continued to dominate possession — and would end the match with 70 percent superiority — but this did not translate into many dangerous chances.

With nine minutes left, Nasser Al-Dawsari and Saleh Al-Shehri replaced Mohammed Al-Breik and Jang Huyn-soo as Al-Hilal coach Razvan Lucescu desperately looked to save the match.

The move paid dividends, with Al-Shehri meeting Sebastian Giovinco’s pinpoint free-kick with glancing header to secure a 1-1 draw for Al-Hilal five minutes from the end. The result leaves Al-Hilal four points ahead of second-place Al-Ahli, who have a game in hand.

“I came in pretty late in the half when were one goal down, and I had certain instructions from the coach which I will keep private,” Al-Shehri said. “I’m grateful I scored, of course we had ambitions of winning the match but a point is better than nothing.”

Ittihad captain Karim El Ahmadi was disappointed that his team did not secure the win.

“Al-Hilal had chances, but we also had chances to make it 2-0,” the Moroccan midfielder said. “To come to Al-Hilal and get a 1-1 draw against a big team is a good result. But looking at the chances that came our way, we could have won.”

He also had special praise for the team’s new-found defensive resilience.

“Al-Hilal have great control and great players,” El Ahmadi said. “You always have to double-mark their individual attackers, and we didn’t give them too many chances today. Hopefully we can win our next match. We’ve had an unbeaten run of 11 matches and we can see the improvement in the team.




Al-Hilal showed superiority through most of the game but Al-Ittihad managed to eke out a draw. (SPA)

Al-Hilal defender Al-Breik said that Al-Ittihad had proven a tough opponent as anticipated.

“We expected the match to be tough,” the Saudi International said. “We were hoping for a win, of course, to put more distance between us and the challengers. But today we came up against a worthy opponent, and I would say the draw was a fair result.”

Ittihad keeper Marcelo Grohe praised his teammates for their defensive solidity but felt disappointed at the outcome.

“Sadly we conceded that late equalizer but I have to congratulate the players for their positive attitude and the performance,” the Brazilian said. “A draw against such a strong team is good result. But I hope we learn from our mistakes, and we don’t repeat them in the coming matches.

He also said that the addition of Hegazi has improved the understanding and cohesion in the back line.

“There is no doubt Hegazi is a quality footballer — he’s an international plays and played in the Premier League — he’s a big player,” Grihe said. “But it’s not just him, there was an improvement in all of our defenders, and personally I’m very happy to play behind this defensive line.”

Al-Ittihad coach Fabio Carille insisted that his team did not intend to simply sit back after taking the lead, and that they had looked to increase their lead.

“We did not take advantage of our chances,” he said. “Perhaps we were missing the confidence that comes from winning regularly, but in general the team has improved significantly, especially compared to last season. It took Al-Ittihad half of last season to get 15 points and here we are now with 15 points. The difference is clear.”

Earlier in the day, 14th-placed Al-Nassr missed an opportunity to ease their relegation worries by drawing 2-2 at home to Damac, which sits one place below them in the table. Al-Shabab, meanwhile, strengthened their grip on third place with a fine 3-1 win over Al-Batin.


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.