Talisca shines, Al-Hilal stumble: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action

The action continued in the Saudi Professional League on Thursday as the last round of games before the international break started. (Twitter: @SPL)
The action continued in the Saudi Professional League on Thursday as the last round of games before the international break started. (Twitter: @SPL)
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Updated 01 October 2021

Talisca shines, Al-Hilal stumble: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action

Talisca shines, Al-Hilal stumble: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action
  • Champions will refuse to panic, but three draws in four matches, and inconsistent finishing, will be cause for concern

LONDON: The action continued in the Saudi Professional League on Thursday as the last round of games before the international break started. Riyadh giants Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr both played, and below are five things we learned.

1. Al-Nassr remind of Manchester United 

Despite a 3-1 win over Abha, there is plenty for Al-Nassr to think about. Mano Menezes was fired last month as head coach despite being in charge of a team full of stars and attacking talent that, on their day, are capable of beating anyone in the league as well as Asia. But there is too much reliance on individual ability making a difference at the big moments in games. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

They did on Thursday, but the former Brazil boss was unable to really get Al-Nassr playing as a team and struggled to create an identity. His time in Saudi Arabia was short, but there are hints of Old Trafford about it all.

Manchester United win more than they lose, which is unsurprising given they have the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and many others. Yet Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also struggled to create a fluid and systematic style of play in England, and as a team, the Red Devils are lacking. There is a feeling that the Norwegian should be doing better, and whichever coach takes over at Al-Nassr will be expected to do better than Menezes. There is enviable individual talent at the club, but the new coach has to build a team.

2. Don’t let Talisca shoot from just outside the area

The Brazilian Talisca has shown his class on more than one occasion this season and came up with the goods again in Al-Nassr’s a 3-1 win at Abha.

The first goal came in a central position. The first touch was sublime as it killed the ball and Talisca deceived the already diving goalkeeper with the flight of the shot.

The second was more spectacular and came from further out. For some reason the defense were slow to close the midfielder down when he picked up possession on the right side. They were made to pay as Talisca unleashed an unstoppable left-foot shot that flew into the top corner. 

With the 27-year-old in such form, it is easy to why Jose Mourinho, then in charge of Manchester United, was reportedly interested in him in 2018, and why Al-Nassr always have a chance. Now, they have 12 points from the first six games of the season, and if the right coach is brought in, could go on to have a very good campaign.

3. Al-Hilal are dropping too many points

The champions were expected to defeat Al-Hazam and go level on points with Damac at the top, but instead had to settle for a 1-1 draw. Coming after the 2-2 tie with Al-Shabab in the last round, Al-Hilal have now drawn three of their past four games and will be concerned about dropping six points. 

There were mitigating circumstances on Thursday as coach Leonardo Jardim was without leading players, including Matheus Pereira, Salem Al-Dossari, Abdullah Otayf and Andre Carillo. The Portuguese boss used this as an excuse — saying that their absence could not be used as an excuse.

Despite the injuries, Al-Hilal dominated. Apart from the penalty, the goalkeeper had little to do, the team had two-thirds of possession and outshot the hosts by a ratio of 3:1, but despite such stats, they came away with just a point. At this early stage of the season, it is not yet a major issue, but in a few months’ time, Al-Hilal, which finished against Al-Hazem with four strikers on the pitch, may look back at these games with regret.

4. A night to forget for Gomis and Marega

Al-Hilal have two of the most dangerous strikers in the country and, unlike most of their rivals, select them both. Looking back on the 1-1 draw with Al-Hazem, however, both Moussa Marega and Bafetimbi Gomis will have cause for disappointment.

Gomis may have scored Hilal’s goal, but missed from a good position early on, and with the last kick of the game the Frenchman shot meekly at the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

Marega got himself into good positions twice, but just could not find the back of the net. The Malian marksman then gave away the penalty in the second half as he handled in the area with 17 minutes. Al-Hazem scored to earn their point.

This dangerous duo can win games for the champions by themselves, but this was a match that they will want to forget.

5. All eyes turn to Jeddah

Can there be a more enticing prospect than a Friday-night Jeddah derby? This one is more significant and more mouth-watering than most.

After Al-Ahli lost last Thursday to Al-Feiha, it seemed that with five points from the first six games of the season — the second-worst start in the club’s history — time was up for Besnik Hasi. However, the management have, to the surprise of some, given the former Legia Warsaw, Olympiacos and Anderlect boss another chance.

And what a chance. There can be no better way to kick-start a season than a win against local rivals. The opportunity is a dangerous one as defeat would surely spell the end.

For Al-Ittihad, it is all about getting the win they need to stay in pole position and maintain their push for the title. But inflicting more misery on Al-Ahli would be a great bonus, as would pushing them down into the relegation zone.


Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time
Updated 39 sec ago

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time

Palmeiras retains Copa Libertadores title after extra time

Palmeiras successfully defended the Copa Libertadores title after beating Flamengo 2-1 in an all-Brazilian final that went to extra time on Saturday.
The third title from the Sao Paulo-based club kicked off street parties in the metropolis, regardless of new concerns about COVID-19.
The champion opened the scoring at Centenario Stadium in Montevideo through Raphael Veiga early. Flamengo, which started the final as favorite, levelled in the second half thanks to Gabriel Barbosa. Substitute Deyverson netted the winner in the first half of extra time.
Palmeiras became the first team in 20 years to win back-to-back titles. Boca Juniors won in 2000 and ‘01, the first of those titles against Palmeiras in the final prevented the Brazilian side from retaining its first Copa title.
A counterattack started by defender Gustavo Gomez found right back Mayke free and onside thanks to Flamengo defender David Luiz. Mayke’s low cross reached Raphael Veiga, and he put it past goalkeeper Diego Alves in the sixth minute.
Flamengo wasted opportunities in the second half, and didn’t level until the 72nd, courtesy of its its top scorer Gabriel Barbosa. Assisted by Giorgian de Arrascaeta, the man nicknamed Gabigol scored from close range against goalkeeper Weverton, who was not quick enough to block the shot.
Barbosa scored both Flamengo goals in the 2-1 final win against River Plate in its second and last Copa triumph in 2019.
The 1-1 looked fair at the end of regular time. But it didn’t take long for Palmeiras to regain the upper hand.
A slip by Flamengo midfielder Andreas Pereira in the 95th made the difference. Deyverson, who replaced a fatigued Veiga minutes before, carried the ball all by himself and calmly beat goalkeeper Alves.
Deyverson returned to Palmeiras in June after a loan to Alaves, and was in tears after his first goal in this Copa.
“I had ups and downs here, I made many mistakes, but I never stopped working,” the striker, once again in tears, said.
Deyverson signed a five-year contract with Palmeiras in 2017, but problems on and off the pitch led him to being loaned to Getafe in 2020 and Alaves shortly later. Many Palmeiras fans did not enjoy the news of his return.
Deyverson surprised fans and players alike near the final whistle when he fell to the ground after being lightly touched on the back by Argentine referee Nestor Pitana. Pitana laughed at the player’s reaction and told him to stand up. Deyverson’s rolls on the pitch went viral on social media.
Flamengo goalkeeper Alves said they must congratulate Palmeiras and keep their heads up.
“It hurts a lot to lose it like this. We didn’t give many opportunities to Palmeiras. They played in their style, we played in ours. It wasn’t meant to be,” Alves said, adding midfielder Pereira should not be blamed for the defeat.
Brazil also contributed both finalists in the Copa Sudamericana, won by Athletico. This year marked the first time all four finalists of both Copas came from the same country. Palmeiras’ success was the eighth since 2010 for a Brazilian club.
Palmeiras eliminated local rival Sao Paulo in the quarterfinals and advanced to the final on the away goal rule after drawing at Atletico Mineiro. This week, CONMEBOL scrapped the away goals rule for all future competitions.


Virus-hit Portuguese team plays soccer with 9 men

Virus-hit Portuguese team plays soccer with 9 men
Updated 6 sec ago

Virus-hit Portuguese team plays soccer with 9 men

Virus-hit Portuguese team plays soccer with 9 men

LISBON, Portugal: Portuguese club Belenenses started a league match against Benfica with just nine players after an outbreak of coronavirus in its squad on Saturday. It was later called off just after halftime.
With two fewer players, Belenenses was soon trailing. Benfica scored all goals in the 7-0 win in the first half.
The referee called the match off just after the start of the second half. Only seven players took the field for Belenenses, which soon lost another player when one dropped to the turf, leaving them with only six.
The laws of soccer allow for games to be played as long as each team has seven players, including a goalkeeper.
Club president Rui Pedro Soares said that despite having a decimated squad his club did not ask for the game to be postponed.


Newcastle need to overcome ‘crisis of confidence’ to avoid Premier League relegation: Howe

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe applauds fans after the match with Arsenal. (Reuters)
Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe applauds fans after the match with Arsenal. (Reuters)
Updated 27 November 2021

Newcastle need to overcome ‘crisis of confidence’ to avoid Premier League relegation: Howe

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe applauds fans after the match with Arsenal. (Reuters)
  • New manager has stated he has faith in this group at United, but also underlined the importance of claiming that first three points

LONDON: Newcastle United have the quality to claw back their Premier League relegation battle deficit but are suffering from a crisis of confidence, according to head coach Eddie Howe.

United suffered yet another Premier League defeat at the hands of the Gunners at the Emirates, with Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli’s second-half strikes proving the difference.

The results kept the Magpies at the foot of the top-flight table, without a win in any of their opening 13 games. For perspective, only one team in Premier League history has ever won a relegation battle — Derby County — having made such a poor start.

But Howe has stated he has faith in this group at United, but also underlined the importance of claiming that first three points.

“I do not agree with that,” said Howe, when asked about whether there is a lack of quality in his ranks. “I have seen the dressing room — we have some very good players here.

“We are lacking in confidence, naturally, as we have not won a game this season.

“We will get criticism. We have to take that and have broad shoulders but I think if we stay committed like we did today — it would have been easy to give up with the game at 2-0, and we were good in that last period — the attitude of the players was good. 

“We can only do our talking on the pitch and fight back.” Safety, even with just a third of the season completed, looks a long, long way off for United. Waiting on results elsewhere, the gap to fourth bottom is five points.

Howe continued: “It is difficult enough in the Premier League when you are scraping for points, but when you are at a deficit it becomes very difficult.

“I think everyone connected with the club wants to get that first win as soon as possible.

“We have to look at our next games as an important one and try to give everything to win it.

“Luck often favors the brave and that’s maybe what United are lacking at the moment — a flashpoint in the game that highlights that lay between the Gunners’ two strikes.

Callum Wilson, clean through on goal, is shoved from behind by Nuno Tavares. It was close, but they have been given before. Such is United’s way this campaign, it wasn’t.

Just seconds later Martinelli’s sublime finish ended the encounter as a contest. And Howe sees it as a real turning point, even if he thinks his players let their standards drop either side of half-time.

“I thought we could break the game into thirds. I thought the first third of the game was very good. The middle third, not so good and the final third very good,” he said.

“The key moment for me is Callum Wilson going clean through with a chance to equalize, but the penalty is not given.

“I don’t think Callum would go down there if he is not shoved.”

United take on fellow strugglers Norwich City at St. James’ Park on Tuesday evening, and will have to do so without skipper Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie, after the experienced duo picked up their fifth bookings of the season at the Emirates.


Arsenal brush aside Newcastle as Howe suffers first defeat

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring against Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, London, England, Nov. 27, 2021. (Reuters)
Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring against Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, London, England, Nov. 27, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 27 November 2021

Arsenal brush aside Newcastle as Howe suffers first defeat

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring against Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, London, England, Nov. 27, 2021. (Reuters)
  • Second half goals from Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli at the Emirates Stadium made it four wins for Arsenal from their last five league games
  • Eddie Howe was in charge of Newcastle in person for the first time after missing last weekend’s 3-3 draw against Brentford due to a positive COVID test

LONDON: The battle to find balance between attack and defence has been a five-year struggle on Tyneside — and is so far proving the impossible conundrum for Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.

It was an issue first flagged up by now Everton boss Rafa Benitez under the ownership of Mike Ashley. It’s an argument so often referred to as the “short blanket.”

The concept is a simple one. Pull the short blanket up at one end, your feet are open to the elements at the other, and vice versa. With limited resources, it is tough to provide quality and consistency at both ends.

Steve Bruce, never as eloquent as Benitez, suffered from the same problems. And just 180 or so minutes into his tenure at Newcastle, Howe knows that issue firsthand.

A defensively disciplined display at the Emirates, much more so than at St James’ Park last week, saw the Magpies blunted in attack and ultimately beaten by two moments of real quality.

Second-half goals by Bukayo Saka and his replacement off the bench Gabriel Martinelli ensured United remained at the foot of the Premier League, without a win in 13 in the top flight and with the worst goals against column as well as just six points to show for their early season “efforts.”

Making his debut in the United dugout after a bout of Covid, Howe made three changes from the side that drew with Brentford seven days previously.

Out went Ciaran Clark, Jacob Murphy and Karl Darlow, with Emil Krafth, Ryan Fraser and Martin Dubravka returning to the starting XI.

United were open and expansive against the Bees, but it was more a case of disciplined and compact at the home of the Gunners, as Howe made some tactical tweaks to the side who looked defensively suspect last time out.

And it’s fair to say — for 45 minutes at least — it worked, as United largely frustrated the home side, keeping them at arm’s length.

United’s record against Arsenal home and away is by Premier League standards awful.

They’ve won just once in 20 outings, and have to go back to 2010 for a victory in the red half of North London.

And to get a result against a traditionally difficult foe you have to ride your luck, or hope for players to stand up in the key moments. Luckily, as mentioned previously, Howe decided to make the crucial call to bring back Slovak Dubravka, and United needed their reinstated No.1 to produce a number of crucial stops to keep things equal at the break.

His first stop was to palm away a curling Martin Odegaard free-kick, which skirted over the heads of the United wall. The second, as incredibly reactive as it was, was followed by a miss of biblical proportions by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Some excellent work by Saka down the Arsenal left opened things up for Emile Smith-Rowe, whose header was cleared by Dubravka, only to fall to Aubameyang. But with the goal at his mercy, the Gunners’ skipper clipped on to the United post.

While the hosts were the better side, this wasn’t one-way traffic, however. United had some chances of their own.

A Callum Wilson break down the right unleashed Fraser, whose cross deflected into the path of Jonjo Shelvey, but his 25-yard shot was excellently tipped on to the bar by the outstretched arm of goalkeeping man-of-the-moment Aaron Ramsdale.

It wasn’t until added time in the first-half that Arsenal began to up the ante — and it was this increased intensity that carried through into the opening exchanges of the second-half, which bore fruit on 55 minutes.

The tempo upped, Saka linked up with Albert Sambi Lokonga, then on to Smith-Rowe who found Saka again as he rolled off the back of Emil Krafth and guided the ball into the bottom corner from the angle on the left for 1-0.

As resolute as United had looked, it was no less than the hosts deserved.

Then came some controversy — but as typically has been the case this season for the Magpies, it went against the Premier League strugglers. In fact, within seconds they were two goals down and with yet another top flight mountain to climb.

A direct ball over the top for Wilson split the Arsenal backline and just as he appeared certain to pull the trigger in the area, the slightest of shoves from Nuno Tavares was enough to see the United striker lose his balance but not enough to convince the referee or the VAR officials of a foul.

Almost instantaneously, a direct ball at the other end saw the home side’s lead doubled.

A pin-point pass in behind by Takehiro Tomiyasu picked out the freshly introduced Martinelli, who, with his first touch, guided the ball past the helpless Dubravka.

And despite some light sparring at both ends, the Brazilian’s strike was enough to end this encounter as a contest, ensuring the gloom remains on Tyneside.

No one expected a result at Arsenal, a place United lose at on an annual basis, but results are exactly what the Magpies need. Their predicament at the foot of the table is starting to look a little desperate, despite the signs of improvement under Howe.

What the manager needs to work out is whether he is going to try and play his way out of the situation, or solidify a creaking defensive unit and do it the “boring” way.

At the moment, it feels like this is neither.

Fellow relegation battlers Norwich City and Burnley come to St James’ Park in the next seven days — and it is starting to feel like this week is make or break for Newcastle’s Premier League future.


Winners crowned on final day of women’s Taekwondo championship in Riyadh

Winners crowned on final day of women’s Taekwondo championship in Riyadh
Updated 27 November 2021

Winners crowned on final day of women’s Taekwondo championship in Riyadh

Winners crowned on final day of women’s Taekwondo championship in Riyadh
  • Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz was in attendance on final day of the competition to give winners medals

RIYADH: The podium finishers at the World Taekwondo Women's Open Championships in Riyadh were presented with their medals on Saturday by the vice president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.

Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdul Aziz was in attendance on the final day of the competition to give the winners their medals at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Olympic Complex.

South Korea took the gold and Russia was awarded silver with Portugal and Morocco taking a shared bronze medal.

The ceremony was also attended by the president of World Taekwondo federation, Choue Chung-won, as well as the president of the Saudi Taekwondo Federation, Brig. Gen. Shaddad Al-Omari, and undersecretary of planning and development at the Ministry of Sports Adwa Al-Arifi.