Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League
Al-Hilal have the most expensive assets of all, worth a collective $71.76 million. (Twitter: @Alhilal_EN)
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Updated 21 September 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League
  • The 2019 winners’ players are worth $71.76m, while Riyadh neighbors Al-Nassr’s are valued at $71.33m

It is no surprise that Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, the latter despite their managerial change last week, are two of the favorites to lift the AFC Champions League trophy on Nov. 23 — and not just because the final will be held in their home city of Riyadh.

If you follow the money, these rivals should be there or thereabouts. Of the eight teams left in Asia’s premier club competition, the two Saudi Arabian representatives have the most valuable squads. That is according to Transfermarkt, the website used around the world to track and rank such things.

Al-Hilal have the most expensive assets of all, worth a collective $71.76 million, just slightly more than Al-Nassr’s $71.33 million.

The 2019 Asian champions, who defeated Esteghlal 2-0 in the round of 16 of the AFC Champions League last week, have two players whose worth can be measured only by using eight figures. Moussa Marega, who arrived this year from FC Porto, has a value of $11.74 million, but the player worth the most is, unsurprisingly, Matheus Pereira at $17.60 million.

The Riyadh giants beat a number of clubs from the English Premier League and elsewhere to sign the Brazilian from West Bromwich Albion in August. The playmaker showed his worth against Esteghlal with a fine assist for the opening goal. His pass was converted by Bafetimbi Gomis, whose relatively low valuation of $1.88 million is influenced by his 36 years and short contract. The highest-rated local player in the squad is the talismanic Salem Al-Dawsari at $3.76 million. Next is central midfielder Mohammed Kanno at $3.05 million.

Al-Nassr have plenty of gems of their own after a busy 12 months or so in the transfer market. Injury-hit Argentine Pity Martinez has a $14.08 million valuation, which is not that much below the $17.60 million or so the nine-time Saudi champions paid out for the playmaker in 2020. This is something of a surprise given his inactivity in recent months. The club has so far had better luck with its more recent additions, with Talisca valued at $11.74 million, the same as Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar. The highest-rated Saudi player is the excellent full-back Sultan Al-Ghanam at $3.17 million, $821,500 above midfielder Abdulfattah Asiri.

In terms of the AFC Champions League, none of the other six clubs can boast such expensive assets. Persepolis have reached two of the last three finals, but the Tehran giants have only one player worth seven figures. Mehdi Torabi headed the only goal against Istiklol of Tajikistan in the last minute of their second-round match and that can only add to his current valuation of $1.17 million. There is still talent in the squad, however. If Jalal Hosseini was a little younger than 39, then the center-back, who has made more than 100 appearances for Iran, would be worth his weight in gold.

Al-Wahda complete the West Asian quartet after their penalty shootout win in the all-UAE clash with Sharjah. According to Transfermarkt, Sharjah’s squad is valued at $36.44 million — almost three times more than Al-Wahda’s. If so, then coach Henk ten Cate has done well to take the Abu Dhabi club so far. Their two most valuable assets are Joao Pedro of Brazil and Syrian striker Omar Khribin, worth $3.52 million and $2.11 million, respectively. Again, if Ismail Matar was 28 instead of 38 then the winger would be one of the hottest and most expensive properties in Asian football. One also wonders how much more than $176,000 20-year-old midfielder Abdullah Hamad will be worth in the years to come.

Should Al-Nassr or Al-Hilal make it all the way to the final, then they will meet East Asian opposition and there is a good chance that the team will be from South Korea. The third most-valuable squad left in the competition belongs to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at an estimated $25.56 million. The two-time Asian champions have the usual sprinkling of foreign players, with Russian striker Stanislav Iljutcenko worth $2.35 million and Gambian winger Modou Barrow just $352,000 less. There are also plenty of local players worth $1 million or more, signifying the strength in depth that Jeonbuk possess. There are current or former Korean internationals such as attackers Song Min-kyu, Han Kyo-won and Lee Seung-ki. At the back, former FC Augsburg center-back Hong Jeong-ho marshals the defense.

Jeonbuk’s rivals for the Korean title and defending Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai have players with valuations that reflect the talent at the club. There are no huge stars, with Georgian midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili the highest valued at $1.88 million. There are two local players who are worth almost as much, with talented midfielder Yoon Bit-garam and goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo, who starred for Korea at the 2018 World Cup, valued at $1.76 million. Then there are young players such as Lee Dong-jun and Lee Dong-gyeong, who seem a little undervalued.

Pohang Steelers are one of two teams, along with Al-Hilal, with three Asian club championships under their belt. Despite having 39 players in their squad — one of the biggest in the entire 40-team tournament — the Steelers’ entire roster is worth only $12.65 million, about a sixth of those of Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr. No player is estimated to be worth even $1 million. Left-back Kang Sang-woo is the highest valued at $997,500.

Japan has one club left compared to Korea’s three. Nagoya Grampus’ most expensive player, for any club looking to buy, is Jakub Swierczok. The Polish striker scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Daegu FC last week. There are some other talented strikers at the club, such as Yoichiro Kakitani and Mu Kanazaki, but they are valued lower as they are the wrong side of 30. The most expensive domestic player is 25-year-old center-back Shinnosuke Nakatani.

Fans in Saudi Arabia will get a chance to check out some of these talents in the coming weeks, allowing them to judge just how accurate such valuations are and whether they will increase or decrease.


Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title
Updated 22 sec ago

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title
  • South Korean team will be underdogs against Saudi champions after shock semi-final defeat of compatriots Ulsan Horang-i

RIYADH: It is destiny. Al-Hilal, the star-studded Saudi Arabian powerhouse, will meet Pohang Steelers, the South Korean team with no stars, in the final of the AFC Champions League on Nov. 23.

Of all the hundreds of clubs around the world’s biggest continent and the 40 that started out in the tournament at the start of this year, only two teams have been champions of Asia three times — these two.

Twenty-three years after they met in a bad-tempered Asian Club Championship semi-final, with Pohang Steelers running out 1-0 winners in Hong Kong, their paths will cross again. Once they both reached their respective semi-finals on the opposite ends of Asia, a new showdown seemed certain.

What is guaranteed is that one of them will be able to put a fourth star on their shirts and officially become Asia’s most successful club ever.

While Al-Hilal’s 2-1 win over Al-Nassr on Tuesday was somewhat expected, Pohang’s penalty shootout triumph, after a 1-1 draw, the following day over fellow K League team Ulsan Horang-i was not and, on paper, the Saudi Arabian team will be strong favorites next month.

This is partly because of home advantage with the final held in Riyadh when there will be just a smattering of South Korean fans at Mrsool Stadium.

The other reason is that Pohang are not as good as the South Korean team Al-Hilal could have faced. Ulsan are defending Asian champions and are currently on top of the K League as it heads into the final stretch of the season.

They cannot match Al-Hilal in terms of stars but there are well-respected Korean talents in the Ulsan side such as Lee Chung-yong, who spent years in the English Premier League with Bolton Wanderers and Crystal Palace, Yoon Bitgaram, another experienced former international, as well as young talents including Lee Dong-gyeong and Won Du-jae. The 2018 World Cup goalkeeping hero Jo Hyeon-woo is there too as is talented Georgian midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili.

Pohang Steelers, on the other hand, do not have any South Korean internationals apart from defender Kang Sang-woo who has 18 minutes of national team experience that came against Sri Lanka in June.

The team, owned by steel giant POSCO, is largely made up of experienced veterans, along with young players, with this season’s top scorer, on 15 goals in all competitions, being 33-year-old Lee Sang-hyub.

The foreign contingent is a physically powerful one. There is Australian defender Alex Grant, who headed home the last-minute equalizer against Ulsan that took the semi-final into extra time and ultimately into a victorious penalty shootout. Borys Tashchy is a 1.92-meter-tall forward with some experience in Germany, and Colombian Manuel Palacios also plays in attack.

Pohang’s problem this season has been goals. In 2020, they finished third in the league, without being in the title race, but this time around they are struggling in lower mid-table and currently have a negative goal difference. Losing the 2020 Young Player of the Year Song Min-kyu in July was a blow as was the departure of Stanislav Iljutcenko. Pohang have long struggled to keep hold of their best players.

Al-Hilal fans will look at that and then look at the 12-team K League table and see Pohang in the bottom half, in seventh, a full 22 points behind Ulsan and breathe a sigh of relief at avoiding the league leaders and current continental champions. Not just that, but the Pohang team lacks Asian experience as this is a first appearance in five years.

It does not mean that the final is going to be a walkover. Had Ulsan been in the final, they may well have been distracted by a tight title race. Pohang can focus on the Champions League final and nothing else. And this is a team that has a habit of confounding the critics in Asia.

Cerezo Osaka of Japan were the first to be eliminated in the knockout round but most expected that Nagoya Grampus would end Pohang’s run at the quarter-final stage. Instead, the Koreans ran out 3-0 winners and then went on to defeat Ulsan, though were a goal down and struggling until Ulsan captain Won Du-jae was shown a straight red card for a rash tackle.

It leaves Pohang as the underdog, a no-pressure position they will be happy to occupy in Riyadh. They did, after all, defeat Al-Ittihad in the AFC Champions League final in Tokyo in 2009 and South Korean teams believe they can go anywhere in Asia and win, with a collective 12 club championships equal to the tally won by Japan and Saudi Arabia, in second and third, combined.

Al-Hilal will be happy that they are not facing Ulsan Horang-i, defending champion and South Korea’s best team, but should not get too carried away. Pohang will be a tough nut to crack, have nothing to lose, and this team with no stars wants a fourth star on their shirt.


Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup
Updated 21 October 2021

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup
  • Ireland was bowled out for 101 all out with nine balls to spare

ABU DHABI: Sri Lanka advanced to the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup by beating Ireland by 70 runs on Wednesday, led by allrounder Wanindu Hasaranga’s 71 off 47 balls.
The win meant the Netherlands was eliminated from Group A after Namibia had earlier defeated the Dutch team by six wickets.
Sri Lanka slipped to 8-3 inside the first 10 deliveries before Hasaranga and opener Pathum Nissanka (61) wiped out Ireland hopes and carried the former champion to a daunting 171-7.
Ireland was bowled out for 101 all out with nine balls to spare despite Sri Lanka dropping a couple of easy catches. Only captain Andy Balbirnie (41) and Curtis Campher (24) reached double figures as Ireland crumbled against Sri Lankan pace and spin.
“Of course it was a concern at 8 for 3, but they put on an awesome partnership,” captain Dasun Shanaka said while praising Hasaranga and Nissanka’s century stand. “Have to look at top-order batting, but other areas are okay, though fielding has been poor as well.”
Hasaranga, promoted in the batting order at No. 5, smashed 10 fours and a six and raised a 123-run stand as Sri Lanka recovered from a top order collapse as it did against Namibia in the first game.
Fast bowler Josh Little (4-23) had clean bowled Dinesh Chandimal (6) and Avishka Fernando in the second over after Kusal Perera was caught low in the covers by Gareth Delany in Paul Stirling’s first over.
Hasaranga was finally caught at point off Mark Adair’s (2-35) slower delivery in the 16th over before Little grabbed two more wickets that included the wicket of Nissanka, who was caught behind.
The winner of Ireland vs. Namibia on Friday will join Sri Lanka in advancing to the Super 12 stage.
David Wiese’s unbeaten 60 off 40 balls helped Namibia beat the Netherlands by six wickets.
Wiese struck five sixes and four boundaries as Namibia reached 166-4 with an over to spare.
The Netherlands had earlier scored 164-4 with opening batsman Max O’Dowd getting 70 off 56 balls. Scott Edwards added 21 off 11 balls.
Wiese qualified to play for Namibia because his father was born in the country. It is Wiese’s second World Cup after representing South Africa five years ago in the T20 World Cup.
“It (feels) is awesome, to be honest,” Wiese said. “Means a lot to me, in a World Cup on international stage is special and to put in a big performance for Namibia, I’m glad to get this opportunity to play international cricket.”
The experience of Wiese came in handy for Namibia as he dominated a 93-run partnership with captain Gerhard Erasmus, who made 32.
Netherlands skipper Piter Seelaar (1-8) used seven bowlers, but Wiese and Erasmus played aggressively in the latter half of the run-chase to register Namibia’s maiden victory.
Seelaar bowled only two overs, not using his quota of four overs.
The Netherlands, which lost its first match against Ireland by seven wickets, did well early after being put into bat against Namibia. O’Dowd and Colin Ackermann featured in an 82-run stand.
“Namibia bowled well but not entirely great and we were worse,” Seelaar said. “If Ireland beats Sri Lanka then there’s a hope, otherwise we go back with a performance that hasn’t been good enough.”


Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh
Updated 21 October 2021

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh

Mansoor on the rise as he looks forward to homecoming at WWE Crown Jewel in Riyadh
  • After appearance at Mohammed Abdo Arena on Thursday, the Saudi WWE superstar will join the the organization’s Smackdown brand

WWE Superstar Mansoor is finally home.

After being away from Saudi Arabia for almost 20 months, the 25-year-old will be performing on Thursday night at WWE Crown Jewel at Mohammed Bro Arena in his hometown Riyadh.

A lot has happened since he was last at the same venue for Super ShowDown in February 2020, not least signing for WWE Raw brand.

“It’s amazing, it’s the biggest platform I’d ever had,” Mansoor said. “It’s been a dream and goal my entire life. As a professional wrestler you hope to achieve that one day, to be on that stage. A small percentage of people in my field get to perform on a stage like that, where you’re being watched by millions of people all over the world, so it’s a true honor.”

And things are about to get even better for Mansoor, now living in the US, as he joins a new WWE brand.

“Now I’m switching it all up because I just got drafted into Smackdown,” he said. “So after Crown Jewel, I’ll actually be changing shows, so I get to experience both. Both shows that I experienced as a kid, so it’s a dream come true.”

After almost two years of disruptions due to the pandemic, WWE is again being watched by live audiences, something for which Mansoor and his colleagues are grateful.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “I always say, the reason that WWE is so special is because of the interaction we get to have with the fans. When we did it in front of screens, it was close but it always felt like something was wrong, and it made me realize how important fans are to what we do. We’re intrinsically connected to the fans in the sense that when we’re out there competing and performing, we look to the fans, and their response and their reaction to inform how well we do.”

He added: “For someone like me who is carried by fan participation, it’s been a total game-changer. Hearing the roar of the crowd and their support made me perform better, so I’m really excited to go back to my home. It’s been along time so I’m really excited to come back.”

While Mansoor’s popularity in the Middle East continues to rise, he is also building a solid fan base in the US.

“I think that American fans are curious about me,” he said. “They don’t really know what I’m capable of, and that’s really exciting for me because it gives me the opportunity to show them little by little just exactly what I can do. I’ve been in this tag team with Mustafa Ali, and he’s been amazing because it’s given me the showcase to do that.

“And not just in the ring, but also backstage and on the microphone and in my interactions with him I’ve gone on to show more personality, more of a character,” said Mansoor.

“That’s what’s really endearing with American fans, they don’t just attach to the physicality and the performance, they also want to care about you as a person. So having that kind of relationship with Mustafa, where I can do that, has been really helpful.”

But Thursday night is all about family, friends and Saudi fans.

“I imagine it’s probably going to be a pretty emotional moment,” Mansoor said. “One of the last shows, probably the last show I did in front of people, was that Saudi show, so it’s great for me to finally make that homecoming and for me to finally see my family for the first time in over a year. That’s a crazy amount of time for me to not see my father, brothers, my sister. I’m really excited for them to come out en masse to see this, and to experience this together. We’re back, we’re still going to be safe, but we’re back.”

Mansoor is also looking to the day that other Saudi wrestlers follow in his footsteps and join WWE.

“I think the most important thing is to always look ahead, to look toward the future,” he said. “So I think that it’s really important for us to always be on the up and up when it comes to looking at who’s going to be the next guy to represent the country. Because it can’t just be me. I’m very lucky, I’m very blessed in the sense that I was able to have wrestling experience before I tried out for WWE.”

Mansoor said: “I was the only one there who did have experience because, of course, there were no schools in Saudi Arabia to teach people how to wrestle, but that’s because that culture wasn’t really there. My hope is that by doing these shows we inspire more people to think, OK, if I work on my health and my athletic ability and my strength, maybe when there’s another tryout, I’ll be ready for that moment, to take that next step.”

He added: “As much Saudi talent possible is what I want to see. Actually, my goal is, I want to have a Saudi versus Saudi match in Saudi Arabia. That’s what I really want more than anything else.”

Mansoor said that he keeps in touch with what is happening in Saudi Arabia as much as possible because he does not feel like “a stranger in my own home” when he returns.

“My friend told me something funny,” he said. “We grew up playing WWE games, and he was telling me, Mansoor everybody here is saying they’re going buy the next WWE video game just to play as you. And I thought that’s really heartwarming, even just the idea of being in a WWE video game. When I was a kid, that was my introduction to WWE. Sitting in a room after school with all my friends making our own wrestlers and playing with on PlayStation 2, so if I get to create that experience for people, that would be amazing.


Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou
Updated 20 October 2021

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou

Barca edge past Dynamo to revive Champions League hopes at half-empty Camp Nou
  • The attendance was recorded at 45,968, with several blocks of seating filled by only a handful of supporters
  • Barcelona needed victory to resuscitate their chances of progress and avoid the embarrassment of going out in the group stage

BARCELONA: Gerard Pique sparked Barcelona’s flailing Champions League campaign into life on Wednesday by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev, a victory that was witnessed by a half-empty Camp Nou.
The attendance was recorded at 45,968, with several blocks of seating filled by only a handful of supporters for a game coach Ronald Koeman said the team had to win to have any chance of reaching the last 16.
After losing both of their opening games in Group E 3-0 to Bayern Munich and Benfica, Barcelona needed victory to resuscitate their chances of progress and avoid the embarrassment of going out in the group stage for the first time since 2000.
Pique at least ensured the job was done in that regard, his close-range finish toward the end of a dreary first half enough to get Barca up and running, with a crucial game away in Kiev now to come in two weeks’ time.
Before then, they face Real Madrid in the first Classico of the season on Sunday, when another win would make it a hugely positive week for Koeman, whose future looked bleak when the team lost to Atletico Madrid before the international break.
That game will also be at Camp Nou and it remains to be seen if the number of Barcelona fans in attendance improves.
An early kick-off may well not have helped and there is undoubtedly still some nervousness lingering from the Covid-19 pandemic, both locally and among traveling supporters.
But it is hard not to conclude fans are also less enthused by a team that lost Lionel Messi in the close season and had lost their last three Champions League matches in a row at home, as many as they managed in the previous 74.
Pique’s goal made him Barcelona’s oldest ever Champions League goalscorer at 34 years and 260 days old but the most excitement these days surrounds the 18-year-old Ansu Fati, who is expected to ease fears around his future by signing a new contract on Thursday.
Fati, whose deal currently expires at the end of the season, is still being eased back into action after 11 months out with injury.
He came on as a substitute after starting against Valencia on Sunday and, presumably, with greater involvement planned against Real Madrid this weekend.
Barcelona could have been ahead inside two minutes but Sergino Dest, playing on the right of the front three instead of right-back, nodded over from a yard at the back post.
Luuk de Jong also headed over the kind of chance he is in the team to score but Barca hardly deserved the lead, their play stunted and hesitant, lacking any of the fizz expected of a side trying to stay in the competition.
The crowd were as flat as the team, neither one really encouraging the other, until the sight of Fati emerging down the touchline to warm up suddenly raised the fans from their stupor.
The players felt it too, the buzz reaching them on the pitch, and within moments Pique was left free at the back post to meet Jordi Alba’s cross on the half-volley, the ball flying in.
Fati came on with Philippe Coutinho at half-time and should have scored. He earned the chance by rushing Dynamo goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan but had his back to goal when Memphis Depay hooked it back to him. Fati could have laid back to Coutinho but instead scooped the ball up and flicked wide.
The game drifted and without a second goal, Barcelona briefly grew anxious. A better opponent might have turned the screw in the latter stages but Dynamo never created the decisive chance and Barca sealed a much-needed win.


Madrid forward Benzema absent for blackmail trial in France

Madrid forward Benzema absent for blackmail trial in France
Updated 20 October 2021

Madrid forward Benzema absent for blackmail trial in France

Madrid forward Benzema absent for blackmail trial in France
  • Benzema is accused of being involved in an attempt in 2015 to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape
  • His legal team told the court that his obligations as a player made it “impossible” for him to attend the first day of the trial

VERSAILLES, France: The trial of French soccer player Karim Benzema and four others began Wednesday outside Paris, without the Real Madrid forward in attendance.
Benzema, who played in Kyiv on Tuesday against Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League, is accused of being involved in an attempt in 2015 to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.
Benzema’s legal team told the court in Versailles that his obligations as a player made it “impossible” for him to attend the first day of the trial, which is scheduled to last through Friday.
Valbuena was in court on Wednesday. He testified that Benzema spoke to him about the sex tape, telling him “there’s a video, it’s hot,” when they were together at France’s Clairefontaine training camp in October 2015. Benzema also said that he had a good friend who could help and “can solve your problem,” Valbuena testified.
Although Benzema “never spoke to me about money,” Valbuena said he understood that he would have to pay for the friend’s assistance.
“It wasn’t for football tickets. That’s never done for free,” Valbuena testified. He said the conversation left him “really frightened.”
In a subsequent phone call wiretapped by police, Benzema then talked about the conversation with his friend Karim Zenati. The two men had known each other since childhood. When Zenati was released from prison in 2013, following robbery and drug convictions, Benzema hired him as an assistant.
In the wiretapped call, which was played in court, the pair chuckled about Benzema’s talk with Valbuena. Benzema said that he had told Valbuena that “if you want the video to be destroyed,” he should contact Zenati, without involving police, lawyers or others.
“I gave my word that there are no copies,” Benzema said in the call.
Benzema is accused of complicity in attempted blackmail, a charge punishable by up to five years in prison. He has denied wrongdoing.
Zenati and three other defendants are charged with attempted blackmail, also punishable with five years imprisonment. Unlike Benzema, they were all in court.
They included Axel Angot, who first got hold of the sex tape in 2014.
In court, Angot described himself as an odd-job man for soccer players, assisting with their computers, communications and other needs. He said players paid him for help, and that he once got 3,500 euros ($4,000) from a player just for delivering a USB cable to him in Croatia.
“They are soccer players. I have seen them spend 50,000 euros in a front of me in seconds,” Angot said.
Angot said the idea of exploiting the sex tape came in 2015, to pay off a debt of 25,000 euros ($29,000) that he owed to another player for some luxury watches. He said his thinking had been that a thankful Valbuena would pay him “a recompense” if he helped make the video go away.
“I am not Bill Gates but I know my way around computers,” Angot said. “The main goal of this affair was to erase this debt.”
During his testimony, Angot at first denied that his intention had been to blackmail Valbuena but later acknowledged that the scheme was “indirectly the same thing.”
He apologized to Valbuena.
“I’m sorry. But that’s of no value,” he said.
Other defendants denied intent to blackmail. On his way into the hearing, Mustapha Zouaoui told reporters that Angot had given him the video and “we laughed about it” and that he then shared it with others.
“A lot of players from France’s team saw it,” Zouaoui said. “But there hasn’t been any blackmail. We didn’t ask for money. There was no request for money.”
In court, Zouaoui said “the intention wasn’t to make him bleed” but rather to spare Valbuena the indignity of the tape being made public and then be rewarded for that help.
Another of the alleged blackmailers, Younes Houass, testified that he spoke to Valbuena about the video in June 2015, when the player was at Clairefontaine.
After that call, Valbuena filed a police complaint and detectives got to work, identifying defendants and wiretapping calls.
Benzema and Zenati were both handed preliminary charges in November 2015, joining Angot, Zouaoui and Houass under formal investigation.
Benzema was then dropped from France’s national team by coach Didier Deschamps, missing the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup, which was won by France.
Deschamps recalled Benzema in May ahead of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament and has fielded him 11 times in 2021.
Valbuena, now 37, hasn’t played for France since Oct. 11, 2015, when he came on as a substitute in a friendly match against Denmark.
He said the alleged blackmail attempt hurt him and his career.
“Since this affair, I never set foot again in the France team.”