Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship
The Saudi players celebrate beating Hong Kong in straight sets on Thursday. (Saudi Volleyball Federation)
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Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship
  • 2-1 win puts Kingdom’s team in semifinals of section to determine positions 9-12

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian national team has beaten Thailand 2-1 to reach the semifinals of the section that will determine positions nine to 12 at the 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship in Tokyo.

The Kingdom’s team overcame their opponents (25-20, 20-25, 25-19) at the Funabashi Gymnasium in the Japanese capital on Friday morning to top Pool H, one of two pools that split from the top eight teams fighting for the championship after the initial group stages.

The semifinal will be played on Saturday.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia beat Hong Kong 3-0 (25-12, 25-18, 25-19) and are now on a three-match winning run.

Previously, the Saudis had defeated Kazakhstan in straight sets (25-23, 25-21, 25-23) at Chiba Port Arena in the final Group D match, to leave them in third place in the table and heading into the round that will determine positions nine-16 in the tournament.

The Saudi players had lost in their other Group D matches to South Korea and Chinese Taipei. Finishing third meant that while the Saudi team was not among the final eight that could contest the championship, it still had a chance to finish highest in the final nine to 16. After their latest result, ninth place has edged closer while the lowest they can finish will be 12th.


Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final
Updated 19 sec ago

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final

Riyadh is blue: 5 talking points after Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr to reach 2021 AFC Champions League final
  • A dramatic 2-1 win over 10-man Al-Nassr leaves reigning Saudi champions 90 minutes away from a record fourth title

Saudi Arabia’s most decorated club are once again marching toward history.

Al-Hilal defeated Al-Nassr 2-1 on Tuesday in the biggest Riyadh derby in years to book a place in the final of the 2021 AFC Champions League. 

Moussa Marega drew first blood in the first half of this titanic semi, and when Ali Lajami was sent off on the stroke of half-time to reduce Al-Nassr to 10 men, the game looked done and dusted. Early in the second half, however, Talisca equalized, but a goal from Salem Al-Dawsari settled the contest.

It was quite a night for both victors and losers. Below are five things we learned.

1. Rash red card was costly

The game was drifting toward half-time. Al-Nassr had looked nervous for much of the first half with Al-Hilal the first to settle, but as the break approached, the Yellows were on top even if they were 1-0 down. There was enough to encourage the team for the second half.

Then Lajami lunged at Marega, going in dangerously high on the Malian’s ankle with his studs up. It was not only a bad challenge —  Marega did not reappear for the second half — it was a completely unnecessary one in a non-dangerous area of the pitch. 

As the disconsolate 25-year-old finally trudged off, the blue-shirted fans in the stands celebrated as if another goal had been scored.

It didn’t quite turn out to be the easy second half they had predicted, but in the end, Al-Hilal’s fans were celebrating again while those on the other side of the stadium were left wondering what they could have achieved with 11 men.

2. Al-Hilal’s winning mentality shines through

This was a tense game that could have gone either way. Al-Hilal overcame their nerves first and when Bafetimbi Gomis and Marega combined nicely on the counter for the opening goal, it looked ominous for Al-Nassr, especially when they were reduced to 10 before the break.

In the early stages of the second half, however, Al-Hilal were struggling as Al-Nassr equalized and then looked likelier to score the second. Yet Al-Hilal have that winning mentality, were a little more streetwise than their opponents and kept their cool better. Slowly, they regrouped and started to keep the ball better too. 

The experience and composure of Salman Al-Faraj and Al-Dawsari, consistently excellent, slowly started to push Al-Nassr back, and they were rewarded with what turned out to be the winning goal.

When you play against Al-Hilal in the big games, you are playing against their history as well as their stars. 

3. Al-Nassr can be proud

There has been much written about Abderrazak Hamdallah in recent weeks, and when the Moroccan shot straight at the goalkeeper early in the second half from a good position, it seemed as if a golden chance for Al-Nassr had gone. 

From the resultant corner, Talisca scored. The Brazilian always looked the most dangerous of all the men in yellow and has shown his class going forward on numerous occasions this season. He had a couple of fierce shots in the first half and is always a handful for defenders. 

Whatever coach Pedro Emanuel said at half-time, it worked as Al-Nassr had come out and attacked as if they were the team with a man advantage. They were rewarded with a goal and, a man short, they could have been forgiven for settling for the draw and taking the game to penalties. They did not and were always looking to score. They should have done so with virtually the last kick of the game as Abdullah Madu shot just wide.

There isn’t much consolation in losing a second successive semi-final, but Al-Nassr have confirmed their status as a power in Asian football. 

4. It was a great advert for Saudi football

The game itself was engaging from start to very finish when Al-Nassr came within centimeters of getting an equalizer and forcing extra time. There were plenty of talking points, chances and pieces of individual skill.

In the stands of Mrsool Park, this was a spectacular night. With half of the stadium yellow and the other half blue, it took this writer back to past FA Cup finals at Wembley Stadium. Fans of both clubs may have preferred a bigger venue simply because more of them could have squeezed in, but the intimacy of this ground added something special to the atmosphere.

Supporters on both sides got behind their teams, singing and chanting. The noise was non-stop. There were plenty of big games in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday but in terms of atmosphere, intensity and the desperation of the fans to win — and equally not to lose to their rivals — Riyadh was the place to be, and it was a great advert for Saudi football.

5. Al-Hilal are in touching distance of history

Al-Hilal thrive on the big stage and are accustomed to winning. The biggest of stages will be Riyadh next month as the three-time Asian champions have a chance to do what no other club has ever done: achieve number four. 

Playing on home soil in a one-legged final is a huge advantage, and Al-Hilal are going to be favorites against whichever South Korean team, Ulsan Horang-i or Pohang Steelers, make the long trip west. Ulsan are defending champions, Pohang have three titles of their own and Korean teams can never be underestimated in Asia, but with Al-Hilal in such form and with their fans behind them, there will never be a better time to make history.


Steve Bruce leaves role as Newcastle manager after takeover of club

Steve Bruce leaves role as Newcastle manager after takeover of club
Updated 7 min 58 sec ago

Steve Bruce leaves role as Newcastle manager after takeover of club

Steve Bruce leaves role as Newcastle manager after takeover of club

Steve Bruce has left his position as Newcastle United manager by mutual consent, the Premier League team said in a statement on Wednesday, two weeks after they were taken over by a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium.
“#NUFC can confirm that Steve Bruce has left his position as head coach by mutual consent. The club would like to place on record its gratitude to Steve for his contribution and wishes him well for the future.”


Novak Djokovic will need to be vaccinated to defend Australian Open title – minister

Novak Djokovic will need to be vaccinated to defend Australian Open title – minister
Updated 52 min 40 sec ago

Novak Djokovic will need to be vaccinated to defend Australian Open title – minister

Novak Djokovic will need to be vaccinated to defend Australian Open title – minister
  • World number one says he is unsure if he will defend his Australian Open crown

CANBERRA: Novak Djokovic will not be able to enter Australia to defend his Australian Open title unless he is fully vaccinated for COVID-19, the country’s immigration minister said on Wednesday, putting the Serb’s Grand Slam record bid in doubt.
World number one Djokovic, who is level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam titles, has declined to reveal his vaccination status, and said he is unsure if he will defend his Australian Open crown.
Clarifying Australia’s visa requirements, Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke said foreign players would need to have had two vaccination shots to play the Grand Slam at Melbourne Park in January.
“You’ll need to be double vaccinated to visit Australia. That’s a universal application, not just to tennis players. I mean that every visitor to Australia will need to be double vaccinated,” Hawke told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.
“I don’t have a message to Novak. I have a message to everybody that wishes to visit Australia. He’ll need to be double vaccinated.”
Apart from Serbian Djokovic, who has won nine of his Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and the last three in succession at Melbourne Park, the rule could exclude scores of players from the tournament.
More than a third of professional players remain unvaccinated, according to recent media reports.
Both the men’s ATP and women’s WTA tours have urged players to get vaccinated but some have voiced reservations.
Russian men’s US Open champion Daniil Medvedev and German world number four Alex Zverev have expressed skepticism, although their vaccination status remains unknown.
Greek world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas said in August he would only get vaccinated if it became mandatory, though later said he planned to have shots by the end of the year.
Tennis Australia, which organizes the Grand Slam, said it was working with authorities on conditions for players, fans and tournament staff.
“Our understanding is that the details around international visitors entering the country are yet to be decided and we hope to have more information soon,” the governing body said.
Australia’s health minister Greg Hunt said the country’s rules were about protecting Australians.
“They apply to everyone without fear or favor. It doesn’t matter whether you are number one in the world or you are anything else,” he told a media conference on Wednesday.
Australia has shut its international borders to non-citizens and non-permanent residents for 18 months, though there have been some high-profile exceptions.
International travel is expected to begin for Australian citizens within weeks, but non-citizens are expected to be shut out until early-2022.
Authorities in Victoria state, which hosts the Australian Open, said they would not make special deals with unvaccinated athletes to allow them to compete even if they secured visas.
Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, has been locked down since August due to an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant but will begin to open up on Friday, when 70 percent of the adult population in Victoria is expected to be fully vaccinated.


Shakib Al-Hasan stars as Bangladesh thrash Oman to stay afloat in T20 World Cup

Shakib Al-Hasan stars as Bangladesh thrash Oman to stay afloat in T20 World Cup
Updated 20 October 2021

Shakib Al-Hasan stars as Bangladesh thrash Oman to stay afloat in T20 World Cup

Shakib Al-Hasan stars as Bangladesh thrash Oman to stay afloat in T20 World Cup
  • The Oman bowlers kept picking up wickets and could have limited Bangladesh to a far lower score with better catching

MUSCAT: Star all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan took three wickets and scored 42 as Bangladesh hammered hosts Oman by 26 runs on Tuesday to stay alive in the Twenty20 World Cup.
World number six Bangladesh came into the game in Muscat needing a win to stay in the hunt for the Super 12 stage.
They elected to bat and were bowled out for 153.
Left-hand opener Mohammad Naim, who smashed 64 off 50 balls, and Shakib set up the victory for Bangladesh with a key second-wicket stand of 80 after the Tigers lost two early wickets.
Mustafizur Rahman, who returned figures of 4-36, and Shakib then shared seven wickets to keep Oman to 127-9 as Bangladesh bounced back from their opening Group B loss to Scotland.
“We’ll take this win, but I think there are a lot of areas we need to improve,” skipper Mahmudullah Riyad said after the win.
“Shakib and Naim batted brilliantly, they had a good partnerships and that took us to 150-plus. But we should have done better with the new ball. Bowled a lot of wides.”
Oman opener Jatinder Singh smashed 40 off 33 balls before falling to Shakib’s left-arm spin and it seemed the wicket deflated Oman.
Shakib struck with successive balls but Mohammad Nadeem prevented the hat-trick and went on to make 14 not out.
Mahedi Hasan was impressive impressively economical with figures of 1-14 from his four overs of finger spin.
Oman fast bowlers Bilal Khan and Fayyaz Butt took three wickets each to peg back Bangladesh after the big partnership between Naim and Shakib.
Naim, who replaced Soumya Sarkar for the key match, survived two dropped catches on 18 and 26 to go on and raise his third T20 half-century.
The Oman bowlers kept picking up wickets and could have limited Bangladesh to a far lower score with better catching as Kashyap Prajapati dropped two chances and Jatinder spilled another.
“It is not acceptable the way we are fielding right now,” skipper Zeeshan Maqsood told reporters.
He added, “Oman is confident of a good show in the last game and a win will help us boost our cricket as we will meet the top nations and learn from them.”
Earlier in the day, Scotland beat Papua New Guinea in the first match to record their second successive win and are now on the verge of making the next stage.
Oman, who hammered Papua New Guinea in the tournament opener on Sunday, have two points with one win and stay second in the group above Bangladesh.


Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final
Updated 20 October 2021

Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

Al-Hilal edge Al-Nassr to reach ACL final

RIYADH: Saudi giants Al-Hilal stayed on course for a second AFC Champions League title in three years with a tense 2-1 semifinal victory over cross-city rivals Al-Nassr on Tuesday.

Mali striker Moussa Marega and Saudi international Salem Al-Dawsari struck either side of the break in Riyadh to set up a title clash with either Pohang Steelers or Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea who meet in the second-semifinal of the tournament on Wednesday.

Al-Hilal won their third Asian title in 2019 but were dramatically kicked out of the tournament last year after several members of their squad tested positive for COVID-19.

But the team known locally as “Al Zaeem,” or “The Boss” seem to have successfully banished the memories of that fateful day from their minds with an impressive run this year as they moved within striking distance of another international trophy.

Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have clashed on numerous occasions domestically but the magnitude of a crucial continental clash was not lost on them as both teams made a cautious start at the King Saud University Stadium in the Saudi capital.

The first notable chance fell Al-Hilal’s way but Al-Dawasari failed to take advantage of the opportunity by firing wide from the edge of the box after receiving a pass from Matheus Pereira.

Al-Hilal were not to be denied for long though as Marega scored his first goal of the tournament in the 17th minute.

Mohamed Al-Burayk found Bafetimbi Gomis with a long pass and the 36-year-old Frenchman deftly steered the ball for Marega who made no mistake with a right-footed shot to the bottom left corner of the post.

Al-Nassr raised their game a notch after that but were dealt a body blow when defender Ali Lajami was sent-off seconds before half-time for a foul on Marega.

Despite the setback Al-Nassr managed to hold their own and found the equalizer five minutes after the break with Anderson Talisca heading home from close from a cross by Abdulfattah Asiri following a corner.

Sultan Al-Ghanem and Talisca missed chances thereafter for Al-Nassr and soon Al-Hilal wrested control once again with Al-Dawasri scoring his third goal of the knockouts, his chip taking a slight deflection off Abdulla Madu before finding the net.

Al-Hilal survived several anxious moments after that with Abderrarazak Hamdallah an Abdulla Madu missing chances in stoppage time.