Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for semifinal spot

Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for semifinal spot
Roma’s Roger Ibanez, left, in action against Dusan Tadic of Ajax during the Europa League first leg quarterfinal match on April 8. (File/AP)
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Updated 14 April 2021

Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for semifinal spot

Roma hope to hold off Ajax in hunt for semifinal spot
  • Roma have the advantage going into the second leg of their tie

PARIS: Roma are hoping to reach the semifinals of a European competition for the second time in four seasons as they host continental heavyweights Ajax, while Arsenal hope to avoid humiliation at the hands of Slavia Prague and Manchester United look set for the last four.

Here’s a  look-ahead to the second legs of the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday.

Roma (ITA) vs. Ajax (NED) (first leg 2-1)

Ajax may be four-time European champions and one of the most exciting sides of recent seasons but it is Roma who have the advantage going into the second leg of their tie at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Italy’s last remaining representative in Europe came away from the Johan Cruyff Arena with a thrilling come-from-behind 2-1 win after being under the cosh for much of the match and are close to a likely last-four clash with Man United after reaching the semis of the Champions League in 2018.

Roma have had a poor domestic season and sit seventh in Serie A — seven points off the Champion League places — after coming up short in almost all of their fixtures against their rivals for the European spots, so Thursday’s second leg could define their season.

Ajax are almost guaranteed to retain their Eredivisie title and warmed up for their trip to the Italian capital with a 1-0 win over RKC Waalwijk thanks to a goal from club-record signing Sebastien Haller, who cannot play against Roma after being accidentally left off his club’s European squad list.

Slavia Prague (CZE) vs. Arsenal (ENG) (first leg 1-1)

Slavia Prague lived up to their dangerous reputation last week when Tomas Holes headed home a stoppage time leveler to turn their tie with Arsenal in their favor.

Mikel Arteta’s Gunners missed some good chances in the first leg but now have their work cut out for them if they want to win a trophy and qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Slavia are on a run of 23 games without defeat and have already knocked out Leicester City and Rangers in their run to the quarterfinals.

Manchester United (ENG) vs. Granada (ESP) (first leg 2-0)

United are huge favorites to reach the semifinals following their simple win over Granada in Spain last week, which should put an end to the surprise package’s first ever season of European football.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are safely tucked in the Champions League places behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and looked in rude health in sweeping past Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 at the weekend.

Villarreal (ESP) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) (first leg 1-0)

Gerard Moreno is having the season of his life as Villarreal gun for their first ever major trophy, a Europa League triumph that would continue three-time winner Unai Emery’s strong record in the competition.

Spain forward Moreno is set to record a career-best tally after scoring 24 times in all competitions this season, including the only goal in Zagreb last week which gave the La Liga outfit an away goal and a great chance of reaching the last four.


Saudi wrestling favorite Mansoor convinces fellow WWE stars to pick a winner in SPL title race

Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi wrestling favorite Mansoor convinces fellow WWE stars to pick a winner in SPL title race

Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
  • Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad are separated by only two points with five rounds of the Saudi league remaining

RIYADH: Having signed to WWE’s RAW brand earlier this week, Saudi superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League as it enters its last five rounds.

With little between the three teams at the top of the table — Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad  — it is all still to play for going into the final stages of the season.

Al-Hilal currently lead the table on goal diffrence from Al-Shabab, and the two will meet on Friday in a potential title-deciding clash, while Al-Ittihad are further two points behind.

Mansoor took the opportunity to assign each club to three of his football-loving colleagues, and here is out how it played out.

First, Mansoor talks Glasgow’s Rangers fan Drew McIntyre into backing Al-Ittihad’s quest for a late championship charge

 

Here, Mansoor sells Riyadh favorites and reigning champions Al-Hilal to Liverpool-supporting Seamus ahead of crucial SPL match-up against Al-Shabab

 

Mansoor convinces Angel Garza to support second-placed Al-Shabab as they make one last bid to win the Saudi Pro League

 


Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally
Updated 06 May 2021

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally
  • Saudi star Yazeed Al-Rajhi returns fit from recent accident but Irish co-driver still recovering

DUBAI: Yazeed Racing team will be missing Irish co-driver Michael Orr at the Andalucia Rally in the opening round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

Orr will not be fully fit to take part in the May 12 to 16 Spanish competition as he continues with physical therapy sessions following a crash in March.

Saudi rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Orr were involved in an accident in the second special stage of the Sharqiyah Baja event and both suffered minor neck injuries.

Orr said: “I’m really disappointed that I can’t participate in the Andalucia Rally. I was hoping to be ready to return quickly but my doctors have not given me the green light yet to jump into the car.

“I haven’t completely recovered, and I still have to complete my physiotherapy program. But I’m sure I will come back stronger than before.”

Al-Rajhi’s medical team gave him the go-ahead to return to racing after he made a complete recovery, and although Orr will miss the Spanish rally, he is expected to make Rally Kazakhstan in June.

The Yazeed Racing team pairing has achieved major results since participating in the World Rally Championship and several local and international events. The duo’s last win came at the Dubai International Baja two months ago.

“Yazeed and I made a fantastic start together this season when we won the Dubai International Baja, but unfortunately we had an accident in the Sharqiyah Baja.

“I am very happy that Yazeed has achieved a full recovery and that he will return to racing. I wish the team good luck and I’m sure they will fight to win the Andalucia Rally,” Orr added.

Al-Rajhi said: “I wish Michael a speedy recovery and return to the races as soon as possible. We were supposed to continue our journey together, but unfortunately he will not be able to participate with me in the Andalucia Rally because he is not ready to co-drive yet, but I expect him to return in the next rally.”


5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab
Updated 06 May 2021

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab
  • Al-Hilal lead their Riyadh rival only on goal difference with five rounds of the Saudi Pro League left

LONDON: Friday sees the biggest match of the 2020-21 Saudi Pro League season so far.

With 25 games of the 30 played, the top two teams, level on points, meet when leaders Al-Hilal travel to the home of Riyadh rivals Al-Shabab.

Victory could prove decisive for either team though Al-Ittihad in third, two points behind and having played a game more, will be hoping for a draw.

Here are five things to look forward to ahead of the big clash. 

1. Al-Hilal’s new coach faces baptism of fire

There is no doubt that changing your coach in the days before a huge potential season-defining game is a gamble but that is what Al-Hilal have done.

Brazilian coach Rogerio Micale didn’t last long after failing to impress during his brief period, despite the team squeezing through the group stage of the AFC Champions League.

Coming in is Jose Morais, the former assistant to Jose Mourinho at Inter, Real Madrid, Porto and Chelsea.

The Portuguese boss knows about Al-Shabab as he led the team to the Super Cup back in 2015.

It is unlikely that such experience will help him on Friday as he has had little to no time to get to know his new players.

He was last seen winning the South Korean title last November with Jeonbuk Motors but there is more pressure in the Saudi Arabian capital than a provincial Korean city.

Al-Hilal fans will expect immediate success and starting a tenure with a big loss would be a major minus.

2. Which is better? Rest or rhythm

Al-Hilal last played in the Saudi Pro League on April 9, losing to another title rival in Al-Ittihad.

The next day, Al-Shabab were in action, winning 4-1 at Al-Batin.

In the four weeks since, Shabab have rested, leaving time for injuries to clear up and batteries to recharge.

In contrast, Al-Hilal have had six highly-charged competitive matches in the AFC Champions League.

With qualification to the second round uncertain to the final second of the final game, there was little opportunity to rest or rotate.

Not only that, but with a new coach coming in and keen to get to know his players, this week has been busier than expected too.

Al-Shabab will be fresh but have they lost their rhythm despite a friendly game with Al-Taawoun last Saturday?

Al-Hilal should have plenty of match sharpness but may run out of steam.

3. Injuries may play a part

It is not a surprise that Al-Hilal have lost a couple of key players due to injury.

Captain Salem Al-Dawsari was injured, returned briefly in the AFC Champions League and then quickly picked up a knock and the winger was out again.

Games coming thick and fast also run the risk of hamstring injuries.

That is what has reportedly happened to key center-back Jang Hyun-soo in training on Tuesday.

The South Korean does not make many headlines but he does not make many mistakes either.

His experience and cool head are appreciated by coaches as is his ability to play in midfield.

New coach Jose Morais has some thinking to do.

Meanwhile, Al Shabab are likely to be without captain Ahmed Sharahili in defense, a big loss for them too.

4. Argentina can make the difference

Asian football fans know that Al-Hilal’s French forward Bafetimbi Gomis is capable of contributing a goal even when he looks out of sorts.

Yet Al-Shabab have the Argentine duo of Ever Banega and Cristian Guanca in top form.

Banega is 32, but you don’t need pace when you sit behind the forward line, have the kind of close control that is rarely seen in football and have the skills to make things happen.

The former Inter and Sevilla star has excelled this season and if he can link up once again with the prolific Guanca — with 15 goals just three behind leading scorer Gomis — then Al-Shabab have what it takes to cause problems for the best defense in Saudi Arabia.

5. Don’t forget Al-Ittihad

Mohammed Noor knows a thing or two about Al-Ittihad lifting the league title, after all, the midfielder got his hands on the trophy seven times during an illustrious career at the club, the last of which came in 2009.

Noor said on social media this week that the 2021 title was going to the yellow and black side of Jeddah for the first time since then.

It is a bold claim with his former team two points behind with one game more played, Al-Ittihad need Friday’s clash to end in a draw to stay just three points off the pace.

A long shot then but possible with four games remaining.

The run-in looks relatively comfortable with three of those in the bottom half of the table and, like Shabab, Ittihad have been able to rest and regroup.

Whatever happens, fans of all clubs in Saudi Arabia should be tuning in and appreciative of what has been a fantastic title race.

These are never guaranteed and when they happen, should be appreciated.


Nadal reaches Madrid Open quarters, Barty into final

Nadal reaches Madrid Open quarters, Barty into final
Updated 23 min 51 sec ago

Nadal reaches Madrid Open quarters, Barty into final

Nadal reaches Madrid Open quarters, Barty into final

MADRID: Rafael Nadal got through another young opponent and showed signs he was getting closer to his best form on clay as he defeated Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 6-3 to make it to the Madrid Open quarterfinals on Thursday.
Nadal overcame eight aces and saved five break points against the Australian. The five-time Madrid champion cruised past Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the second round on Wednesday.
“There is a lot of young, good players. (It’s) something normal that is happening,” said Nadal, who at 34 is 13 years older than Popyrin. “And, yeah, I’m excited that at my age I am able to keep playing against all of them. They are good. They are talented. They have a great future. For me it’s amazing to be where I am with my age competing with them still.”
Nadal struggled at times against the aggressive style of the 76th-ranked Popyrin but was able to stay in control for most of the match on the Magic Box center court.
“I knew he was coming with confidence, he has this energy that the young players have,” Nadal said. “From what I could do, it was a good match, and I’m happy to make it to the quarterfinals again here.”
Nadal will next face fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev, who defeated Daniel Evans 6-3, 7-6 (3). The sixth-ranked German has won his last two matches against Nadal, though none were on clay.
Third-ranked Daniil Medvedev lost to Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-1. The Chilean broke serve twice in the third set to reach his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal. He will face eighth-seeded Matteo Berrettini, who defeated Federico Delbonis 7-6 (4), 6-4.
Earlier, US Open champion Dominic Thiem reached the last eight by defeating Alex de Minaur 7-6 (7), 6-4. The third-seeded Austrian is playing in his first tournament since taking a few weeks off after a slow start to his year.
“There were some good, long rallies. I was many, many times out of breath,” Thiem said. “It was perfect for me to get back a little bit the match rhythm, to run down a lot of balls. As it’s my first tournament, as it’s my way back, a buildup for the next week, it was great for me.”
Thiem’s opponent in the quarterfinals will be American John Isner, who used 29 aces — including two consecutive to clinch the deciding tiebreaker — to defeat sixth-seeded Andrey Rublev 7-6 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (4).
“To be honest, Andrey was the best player,” Isner said. “My serve kept me in the match. It’s been like that a lot throughout my career.”
Fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lost to Nadal in the Barcelona final, fell 7-6 (4), 6-4 to Norwegian Casper Rudd, who is coming off consecutive semifinal appearances in Munich and Monte Carlo.
“I’m feeling good, especially here in Europe on the clay. It was a part of the season last year that I was looking extremely much forward to and unluckily it was kind of taken away from all the players,” the 22nd-ranked Ruud said. ”This was one of the tournaments that we didn’t get to play last year, so I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and take care of the chances that I get.”
Ruud’s next opponent will be Alexander Bublik, who defeated Aslan Karatsev 6-4, 6-3 to reach his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal of the season.
In the women’s final, top-ranked Ash Barty will face fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3.
Barty cruised into the final with a 6-4, 6-3 win over wild-card entry Paula Badosa, the first Spanish woman to reach the semifinals in Madrid.
“I know it’s been a big tournament for her, she’s played an exceptional level of tennis,” Barty said. “She served particularly well, being able to control the court with her forehand. I think that was a challenge today. I was trying to neutralize that as best I could.”
Badosa had been the only opponent to defeat Barty since February. Barty has won 16 straight matches on clay and will be playing in her fourth final this year, having won the previous three.
 


Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final
Updated 06 May 2021

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

LONDON: Chelsea set up an all-English Champions League final against Manchester City as goals from Timo Werner and Mason Mount beat Real Madrid 2-0 in a dominant display on Wednesday to seal a 3-1 aggregate victory at Stamford Bridge.
If anything, the scoreline flattered Madrid as the 13-time European champions had no response to Chelsea's greater strength and speed.
The Blues should have ran out far more convincing winners as they toyed with the tired visitors in the second half.
However, Werner's cushioned header into an empty net on 28 minutes after Kai Havertz's initial effort came back off the crossbar and Mount's tap-in five minutes from time were enough to seal their place in Istanbul on May 29.
"To never lose the concentration, focus and positive energy on the pitch -- it was a huge performance and well deserved," said Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, who has masterminded a huge turnaround in Chelsea's season since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard in January.
Backed by Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's £220 million spending spree last summer has been rewarded with a first Champions League final since they lifted the trophy for the only time in 2012.
"We never lost the hunger, the desire to defend," added Tuchel. "In the second half we had even better structure to defend and it was a fantastic performance.
"We could have scored so much earlier and more to be safe, but it's no time for criticism now. It's a fantastic achievement and big congratulations to the team."
Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane welcomed back captain Sergio Ramos for the first time in six weeks, while Eden Hazard was handed a rare start in an injury-hit season on his return to Stamford Bridge.
But the Belgian was again a peripheral figure as Madrid's over-reliance on Karim Benzema to provide a goal threat was exposed.
"We needed to be better going forward," said Zidane. "We didn't have any clear chances. They made a number of them and that's football.
"We fought and tried but they deserved to win and go through."
Madrid's only serious threat came from a quick turn and shot from the edge of the box from Benzema that Edouard Mendy did brilliantly to turn behind midway through the first half.
Moments later they were behind as Werner scored just his fourth goal in his last 39 games.
N'Golo Kante and Havertz did the hard work as the French midfielder fed Havertz, whose audacious chip over Thibaut Courtois bounced invitingly off the crossbar for Werner to head into an empty net.
Chelsea have now kept 18 clean sheets in 24 games since the appointment of Tuchel turned their season around.
However, a failure to take their chances at the other end means they are still far from guaranteed a place in the Champions League next season.
That lack of a killer touch was exposed after the break as Havertz saw a free header come back off the bar before Mount blasted over with just Courtois to beat.
The former Chelsea 'keeper, who controversially forced a move back to Spain in the summer of 2018, kept his current employers in the tie as he then saved one-on-ones with Havertz and Kante, with the Blues' speed on the break too much for Madrid's ageing midfield to cope with.
Tuchel was growing increasingly frustrated with his side's inability to put the tie to bed, but could finally relax five minutes from time.
Substitute Christian Pulisic left Courtois on the floor and from his cut-back, Mount slid in to finish from close range.
Fired by Paris Saint-Germain on Christmas Eve after leading the French champions to their first ever final in this competition last season, Tuchel is headed back to the Champions League showpiece match for a second consecutive season, unlike his former club, who were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by City in the other semi-final.