Celebration time for Al-Hilal as Bafetimbi Gomis confirms legendary status at 17-time Saudi champions

Celebration time for Al-Hilal as Bafetimbi Gomis confirms legendary status at 17-time Saudi champions
Al-Hilal did not have the smoothest of campaigns but held firm when it mattered. (Twitter: @Alhilal_EN)
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Updated 24 May 2021

Celebration time for Al-Hilal as Bafetimbi Gomis confirms legendary status at 17-time Saudi champions

Celebration time for Al-Hilal as Bafetimbi Gomis confirms legendary status at 17-time Saudi champions

It has been a tough season for everyone. Well, almost everyone.

Bafetimbi Gomis continued to prosper. It was fitting that the Frenchman scored the goal that clinched league title number 17 for Al-Hilal on Sunday. 

In the penultimate round of matches in the 2020-21 Saudi Pro League, Al-Hilal knew that a win over Al-Taawoun would guarantee the championship and the Frenchman struck after just five minutes to settle any nerves. His 23rd goal of the season went unanswered by the opposition, which meant that although Al-Shabab defeated Al-Faisaly 5-1, the challengers remain four points behind with just one game left to play.

Gomis was already a legend at the club with more than 100 goals since arriving in August 2018, and while there will be debate as to whether the former French international, 36 in August, will still be in Riyadh next season, especially after the recent signing of Mali striker Moussa Marega from FC Porto (though Gomis said after Sunday’s game that he wants to extend his stay), now is the time for celebration.

Al-Hilal did not have the smoothest of campaigns but held firm when it mattered.

“The players deserve praise and thanks,” said Portuguese coach Jose Morais after the game. “They have the talent and the know how to manage games and I just arrived to help with some organization.”

This was only the third game in charge for Morais who arrived earlier this month to replace Rogerio Micale. The Brazilian boss had not long been in the hot seat after February’s departure of Razvan Lucescu, before he had to make way too. To have three coaches in one season and to win the title and get through the group stage of the AFC Champions League is a fine achievement and testament to the team’s professionalism.

“I wanted to accept the challenge here as I knew some of the players and how good they are,” added Morais, who won the South Korean league title in 2019 and 2020 with Jeonbuk Motors. “We knew that Al-Taawoun would be a really difficult game because of the schedule we have had and having to play a strong opponent at home but we came through it.”

Al-Hilal’s Colombian midfielder Gustavo Cuellar summed up the feelings of the players as they celebrated. “We have achieved a well-deserved title,” Cuellar said. “We went through a difficult time this season but we knew how to come out of it and we are delighted to defend the title. We worked hard and I thank the coaches that we have had for how they helped us.”

As is the case around the world, the celebrating champions did not give much thought to the challengers. Al-Shabab pushed Al-Hilal all the way and Sunday’s 5-1 win over Faisaly was their second successive victory by that emphatic scoreline. Unfortunately, in the six games prior to that, the Riyadh club picked up just four points, a mini slump that ended up costing them the title. There is little to do but vow to learn from the experience and come back stronger.

“We fought right until the end of the season and I am happy with the players, they are an excellent group and have proven themselves this season,” said Carlos Inarejos, who succeeded Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha in January. It remains to be seen if the Spaniard, just 36, is in the hot seat next season, but if so, then he will lead Al-Shabab into Asia.

“We are in second and have confirmed our place in the AFC Champions League and that is a stage in which our players deserve to play.”

Nobody could disagree with that and while it is early days, if Al-Shabab can keep hold of influential Argentine playmaker Ever Banega and shore up the defense that struggled a little as the season reached its climax, then next season may be even better.

Al-Ittihad may not have enjoyed watching their rivals celebrate another league title but the results mean that they need one point from their last two games to guarantee a place in the top three in order to join Al-Hilal and Shabab in the AFC Champions League next year. As they are at home to the already relegated Al-Ain on Tuesday, it should not be a problem.  

And while the title race is sorted, the relegation battle is not. On Tuesday, Al-Batin and Damac meet in a six-pointer. A win for the former would go a long way to ensuring their safety but defeat would see them back in the dropzone below Damac.


Wait for Premier League win goes on for Newcastle after Crystal Palace draw

Crystal Palace's Conor Gallagher, left, and Newcastle's Isaac Hayden battles for the ball during the English Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (AP)
Crystal Palace's Conor Gallagher, left, and Newcastle's Isaac Hayden battles for the ball during the English Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (AP)
Updated 52 sec ago

Wait for Premier League win goes on for Newcastle after Crystal Palace draw

Crystal Palace's Conor Gallagher, left, and Newcastle's Isaac Hayden battles for the ball during the English Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (AP)
  • A new Steve Bruce-less era was heralded on Tyneside, after the head coach was this week shown the St. James’ Park exit door

LONDON: Nine and counting. Newcastle United remain winless from their opening nine Premier League games of the season — however, their Crystal Palace draw definitely feels like a point gained, rather than two dropped.

Christian Benteke opened the scoring for the Eagles, before some Callum Wilson acrobatics ensured the Magpies traveled back north from the capital with a point to show for their efforts.

A new Steve Bruce-less era was heralded on Tyneside, after the head coach was this week shown the St. James’ Park exit door — but again, like last week against Spurs, there was little difference from what had gone before.

Graeme Jones stepped into the dugout for this one, and will do so for the next seven days until United decide on their new manager. United were clearly more organized, yet a whole lot more tentative.

Where gaps at the back were cavernous under Bruce, things appeared a whole lot more solid without him.

United, however, did have to ride their luck.

In a half of football devoid of real opportunities, only two of merit were created. One was wasted by the usually clinical Wilson and another saw Benteke strike Karl Darlow’s post.

United were bright early doors, with a little more defensive shape, which so easily escaped them in the opening game of the Magpies’ Saudi-financed era.

And Wilson went within an inch of setting Newcastle on their way, but could only find the side netting when presented with a chance on a tight angle from just three yards.

Benteke, a threat in the air all day for United’s beefed-up backline, fired a shot across the bows as he beat both Javier Manquillo and Emil Krafth to a floated cross to hit the foot of the post.

Bizarrely, the highlight of the opening half came from an off the field action as United released a statement making a U-turn on their previous decision to encourage fans not to wear Saudi-inspired dress.

It seems the new owners are now in favor of it. The statement read: “Those who wish to support the club by wearing appropriate culturally inspired clothing should feel free to do so as they see fit. We are inclusive to all.

“To reiterate what we said previously, neither the club nor its new owners were offended by attire worn, and appreciate the overt statements of support and acceptance by our great fans.”

Saudi flags and traditional dress were clearly visible across the 2,800-strong away support in south London.

After the break it was one-way traffic — and for United, a backs to the wall job.

Benteke made sure the Eagles’ dominance was rewarded when he nodded home a Tyrick Mitchell cross for 1-0. It was no less than the hosts deserved.

The Belgium international almost put Palace out of sight moments later as United’s resolve began to falter. Another header, this time off the top of the bar.

Against the run of play, however, the Magpies unexpectedly leveled as Wilson redeemed his earlier miss by producing a second-half moment of magic. His overhead kick from a United corner lit up the traveling support as the present Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, PCP directors, punched the air in the directors’ box.

Jones’ United continued to ride their luck. Goalscorer Benteke continued his profligacy in front of goal.

A Palace through ball broke the United defensive line and Benteke, with the whole goal to aim at, skewed wide.

Benteke did have the ball in the net again with three minutes left to play and looked to have won it for the Eagles. However, the VAR gods shone down on United as referee Darren England ruled the goal out for an obvious pull of the shirt by Marc Guehi on Clark.

Cue chants of “how much are they paying you?” — Clearly aimed at the man in the middle, England, and United’s new cash-rich owners.

Jealousy and hypocrisy reign supreme in English football when it comes to Newcastle United, of that there is no doubt, now.

But while the green-eyed monster dominates fan perception when it comes to the club’s owners, it does not ring true when it comes to their “on-pitch” product. That will likely have to wait until January and the transfer window.


Bayern wins again without coach Julian Nagelsmann

Bayern wins again without coach Julian Nagelsmann
Updated 25 min 4 sec ago

Bayern wins again without coach Julian Nagelsmann

Bayern wins again without coach Julian Nagelsmann
  • Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski were among the scorers as Bayern stayed a point clear of Dortmund at the top of the table
  • The coach has been directing Bayern remotely since he tested positive ahead of a Champions League game at Benfica on Wednesday

MUNICH: Coach Julian Nagelsmann again sent instructions remotely after testing positive for the coronavirus as Bayern Munich beat Hoffenheim 4-0 in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
Borussia Dortmund made do without injured striker Erling Haaland to overcome Arminia Bielefeld 3-1.
Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski were among the scorers as Bayern stayed a point clear of Dortmund at the top of the table in what would have been a routine win if not for Nagelsmann’s absence.
The coach has been directing Bayern remotely since he tested positive ahead of a Champions League game at Benfica on Wednesday which Bayern won 4-0. Assistant Dino Toppmöller deputizes on the touchline and said Nagelsmann is closely involved with the tactics.
Bayern started with intent against Hoffenheim, Lewandowski scuffing a shot wide in the second minute when one-on-one with the goalkeeper, before Gnabry had a goal disallowed over a prior foul by Jamal Musiala.
Gnabry was first to score for Bayern, taking advantage of Hoffenheim’s narrow defensive formation to overlap on the right side of the penalty area in the 16th. Lewandowski added the second on the half-hour on a counterattack. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Kingsley Coman scored late on.
NO HAALAND, NO PROBLEM
A hip muscle injury for Haaland could rule out the Norwegian for weeks and make Dortmund’s bid to dethrone Bayern even harder. Haaland’s teammates appeared not to be affected as they showed off their skills in a 3-1 win over Bielefeld.
Emre Can put Dortmund ahead from the penalty spot after a clumsy tackle, before center back Mats Hummels made a statement with a volley from the edge of the area to make it 2-0. England midfielder Jude Bellingham had his moment in the spotlight in the 72nd, beating three Bielefeld players on his way to scoring a fine solo goal.
LEIPZIG HITS 4
Leipzig took some of the pressure off its American coach, Jesse Marsch, with a 4-1 win over promoted Greuther Fürth. But it wasn’t as simple as the score might indicate.
Fürth had the lead at halftime thanks to Branimir Hrgota scoring from a penalty given for Leipzig’s Nordi Mukiele jumping onto an opponent in an aerial duel. Yussuf Poulsen scored for Leipzig immediately after the break, before goals from Emil Forsberg, Dominik Szoboszlai and Hugo Novoa.
It was a welcome win for Leipzig, whose Champions League campaign is already all but over after a 3-2 loss to Paris Saint-Germain meant Marsch’s team started the group stage with three defeats.
Freiburg stays in a surprise third place after keeping its record as the league’s only unbeaten team in a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg.
Wolfsburg, which started the season brightly under new coach Mark van Bommel, is now on an eight-game winless run in all competitions.


Chelsea hit Norwich for seven

Chelsea hit Norwich for seven
Updated 5 sec ago

Chelsea hit Norwich for seven

Chelsea hit Norwich for seven
  • Mason Mount scored a hat-trick for the Blues at Stamford Bridge
  • Mount had not scored since May and Tuchel welcomed his return to scoring form with Lukaku and Werner expected to be out for some time

LONDON: Chelsea opened up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 7-0 demolition of Norwich on Saturday.
Mason Mount scored a hat-trick for the Blues at Stamford Bridge as the European champions coped easily without first-choice strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner.
Mount started the rout after just eight minutes and finished it with two more in the closing stages after Ben Gibson had been sent-off for the visitors.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Ben Chilwell were also on target for Thomas Tuchel’s men, while Max Aarons’ own goal summed up a sorry day for the Canaries.
He had not scored since May and Tuchel welcomed his return to scoring form with Lukaku and Werner expected to be out for some time.
“No matter how satisfied the coach is, the offensive guys need goals to be fully happy,” said Tuchel.
“He waited too long, so it was good that he got some goals. I agree he looked fresh again today.”
Manchester City can close the gap at the top to two points and leapfrog Liverpool into second when they face Brighton later on Saturday.
Claudio Ranieri got his first win as Watford manager as the Hornets twice came from behind to stun Everton 5-2 at Goodison Park.
Josh King failed to score as an Everton player last season, but hit a hat-trick to help move Watford six points clear of the relegation zone.
Juraj Kucka and Emmanuel Dennis were also on target for the visitors, who scored four times in the final 12 minutes.
Leeds needed a stoppage-time penalty to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Wolves.
South Korean international Hwang Hee-chan opened the scoring at Elland Road.
Wolves were set to move up to fifth until Joe Gelhardt was fouled inside the area in the 94th minute and Rodrigo slotted home the penalty.
Burnley remain in the bottom three, but Maxwel Cornet is proving himself a shrewd signing for Sean Dyche’s men as the Ivorian scored twice in a 2-2 draw at Southampton.
Saints turned the game around after Cornet opened the scoring to take the lead with goals from Tino Livramento and Armando Broja.
The former Lyon winger then salvaged a point for the Clarets with a thumping finish on the volley from outside the area.


Former athletics world medalist Quinonez shot dead

Former athletics world medalist Quinonez shot dead
Updated 23 October 2021

Former athletics world medalist Quinonez shot dead

Former athletics world medalist Quinonez shot dead
  • Quinonez, 32, and another person were found dead close to midnight local time, according to local police

QUITO: Ecuador’s 2019 200 meters world bronze medallist Alex Quinonez who allowed his countrymen to “dream” has been shot dead in the port city of Guayaquil according to the Sports Ministry.
Quinonez, 32, and another person were found dead close to midnight local time, according to local police.
“With great sadness, we confirm the murder of our sportsman Alex Quinonez,” the Sports Ministry announced on Twitter.
“We have lost a great sportsman, someone who allowed us to dream, who moved us....he was the greatest sprinter this country produced.”
Quinonez — who was suspended prior to the Tokyo Olympics due to “breach of his whereabouts obligations” — was also hailed by Ecuador’s president Guillermo Lasso.
“We offer our sincerest condolences to his family,” he tweeted.
“May he rest in peace. Those who take the lives of Ecuadoreans will not remain unpunished.
“We will act with force.”


Full-capacity crowd announced for Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Full-capacity crowd announced for Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Updated 23 October 2021

Full-capacity crowd announced for Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Full-capacity crowd announced for Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The final season’s race of the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will see a return to full capacity at Yas Marina Circuit, organisers announced on Saturday. 

Capacity at Yas Marina Circuit has increased allowing for a full-capacity crowd from December 9 to 12. Children under the age of 12 will now also be permitted to attend events during the race week. 

The race action at this year’s event will showcase motorsport’s biggest stars, including Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Valterri Bottas, and Lando Norris. 

Modifications have been made to set up more dramatic racing and increased opportunities for overtaking, a press statement said.   

With the potential championship decider between Mercedes’ Hamilton and Red Bull’s Verstappen at this season’s final race, racing enthusiasts are sure to see history in the making at this year’s milestone event.

Grammy nominated artists, Khalid and Lewis Capaldi are the first to be announced in a star-studded line-up of artists performing at Etihad Park on Thursday and Saturday.