Al-Hilal reign in Asia after tale of two Al-Dawsaris in AFC Champions League triumph

Analysis Al-Hilal reign in Asia after tale of two Al-Dawsaris in AFC Champions League triumph
AL-Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim celebrates with his players after winning the AFC Champions League in Riyadh. (Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 24 November 2021

Al-Hilal reign in Asia after tale of two Al-Dawsaris in AFC Champions League triumph

Al-Hilal reign in Asia after tale of two Al-Dawsaris in AFC Champions League triumph
  • Riyadh giants now hold record for most titles in the continent’s premier club competition and early next year head to the UAE for the FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Hilal are the best team in Asia and not just because they defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 in the final of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday in Riyadh.

The Saudi side are now the only team to have won four Asian titles, but that triumph was more a tale of two Al-Dawsaris. 

On the night, the headlines belonged to Nasser Al-Dawsari. But in the tournament as a whole, Salem Al-Dawsari has been imperious at times and that was reflected with the tournament MVP award.

That two local players grabbed the limelight in a team with perhaps the most talented foreign contingent in the entire competition should be a source of pride and satisfaction for Saudi fans and bosses.

It has been a remarkable year for Nasser Al-Dawsari, who earned a first international cap for a national team that are flying in qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

The 22-year-old has looked at home playing for the Green Falcons, but nevertheless has failed to make the kind of impact for the national team that he made for his club after just 16 seconds of the final — that would have been impossible.

There cannot be many in Saudi Arabia who are unaware of what happened in that first minute: The collection of the ball just inside the Pohang half followed by a 30-meter shot past a stunned Lee Jun in the top corner of the Korean goal. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, any final in the world.

Leonardo Jardim’s men were always clear favorites against a team that had lost seven of the last nine games in their domestic league, but that strike, coming from a player high on confidence, as good as sealed the victory.

Pohang boss Kim Ki-dong admitted after the match that falling behind so early left his team unable to carry out 50 percent of their game plan.

The Steelers’ strategy was to keep it tight for the first half, quieten the 50,000-plus home fans, frustrate Al-Hilal’s players, and then slowly start to push forward in the hope of getting the all-important first goal. 

Al-Dawsari’s thunderbolt blasted a hole in the Pohang playbook, and visibly shocked the visiting players. Apart from a shot from Sin Jin-ho after 12 minutes — Kim was right when he said that it would have been an interesting contest had the strike gone in rather than hit the bar — the three-time Asian champions never really looked like scoring and ending Al-Hilal’s dream of number four.

It was a solid performance all round, with Bafetimbi Gomis impressing once more despite failing to get on the scoresheet and, instead, setting up the second for Moussa Marega.

The club’s strength in depth was demonstrated again as Muteb Al-Mufarij came in as center-back cover for the suspended/injured Ali Al-Bulaihi and made several crucial interceptions and blocks.

Before kick-off, if you had to put money on an Al-Dawsari deciding the game with a spectacular goal then it would have gone straight on Salem. The 30-year-old was busy in the final without grabbing the headlines, but without his contribution in the knockout stage Al-Hilal would not have reached the final. That was recognized when the silky winger received the tournament MVP award.

The Jeddah-born star won the individual prize for being involved in four goals in the three games leading up to the final. He scored in the second round against Esteghlal, did the same in the quarterfinal against Persepolis with a spectacular strike, and then netted in the semifinal with another fine shot that sealed an unforgettable win over Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr.

There are other stats. Salem completed more dribbles than any other player since 2013, and has recorded six goals and two assists in his last eight knockout stage appearances in the competition. He really is a player for the big stage. But now, too, is Nasser Al-Dawsari.

For Al-Hilal there are big stages to come, starting with a place in the FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE early next year that could feature a clash with European champions Chelsea.

That is in the future and there is a little time to enjoy the record-breaking triumph before the Riyadh club re-enter the Saudi Professional League title race next weekend.

Football never stops, but for Al-Hilal it is certainly a lot of fun at the moment — and no more so than for the two Al-Dawsaris.


Razzetti claims European 400m medley gold, Hosszu wins 97th medal

Razzetti claims European 400m medley gold, Hosszu wins 97th medal
Updated 7 sec ago

Razzetti claims European 400m medley gold, Hosszu wins 97th medal

Razzetti claims European 400m medley gold, Hosszu wins 97th medal
  • In the medley, the 23-year-old Razzetti made the most of the absence of world champion Leon Marchand, winning in 4 min 10.60 sec, more than six seconds outside the European record set by French swimmer Marchand in winning the world title
  • Hungarian 33-year-old Katinka Hosszu claimed the 97th medal of her career as her team finished third, behind winners Netherlands and runners-up Great Britain, in the women’s 4x200m relay final

ROME: Alberto Razzetti won the men’s 400m medley as the hosts claimed two medals on Thursday in the opening final of the European swimming championships in Rome.

“Winning here in Rome, in this pool and in front of our public, is something incredible,” said Razzetti after his victory in the historic Foro Italico pool.

“To hear the screams of the public when you hit the wall first is something I will never forget. It’s really very emotional. I hope this is a good omen for the whole Italian team.”

Hungarian 33-year-old Katinka Hosszu then claimed the 97th medal of her career as her team finished third, behind winners Netherlands and runners-up Great Britain, in the women’s 4x200m relay final.

In the men’s 800m relay, Hungary claimed gold, their third medal of the evening, anchored by Kristof Milak, the double butterfly champion at the World Championships in June. France were second and Italy third.

In the medley, the 23-year-old Razzetti made the most of the absence of world champion Leon Marchand, winning in 4 min 10.60 sec, more than six seconds outside the European record set by French swimmer Marchand in winning the world title.

Razzetti beat Hungarian David Verraszto (4:12.58) and another Italian, Pier Andrea Matteazzi (4:13.29).

“Two medals here at home is very emotional. It’s a great feeling to be here, and it’s an extra motivation for the whole team in the days to come,” Matteazzi told AFP.

“We started well, we are really happy. We are a nice group, we are a strong team, we have seen in the last few years that Italy has done really good things. I hope and I’m sure we’ll all do good things.”

The evening’s semifinals suggested the Italian team, the top European nation in the World Championship medal table will quickly give Razzetti and Matteazzi their wish.

World champion Nicolo Martinenghi was the fastest qualifier in the men’s 100m breaststroke, comfortably quicker than Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands, the runner-up in Budapest.

In the women’s 200m backstroke, two-time defending champion Margherita Panziera was more than a second-and-a-half faster than Eszter Szabo-Feltothy of Hungary.

Nyls Korstanje of the Netherlands was fastest in the 50m butterfly semis. Italian Thomas Ceccon, who won the 100m backstroke at the world championships, was third.

Britain’s Ben Proud, who has had a busy schedule in a crowded summer, scratched. He won two golds, one in this event, representing England at the recent Commonwealth Games, and took the 50m freestyle gold in Budapest.

Frenchwoman Charlotte Bonnet was quickest in women’s 100m free followed by Marrit Steenbergen, who then anchored the victorious Dutch relay team.

On Friday, David Popovici, the Romanian 17-year-old freestyle specialist, will make his first appearance of the championships in the 100m freestyle heats.

In Budapest, he became the first man in almost 50 years to complete the 100-200m double at the World Championships


Late eagle lifts Kim to share of FedEx St. Jude Championship lead

Late eagle lifts Kim to share of FedEx  St. Jude Championship lead
Updated 11 min ago

Late eagle lifts Kim to share of FedEx St. Jude Championship lead

Late eagle lifts Kim to share of FedEx  St. Jude Championship lead
  • Kim and Spaun both posted 8-under par 62 to open the tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, the three-tournament series that culminates with the Tour Championship where an $18 million winner’s prize will be on offer

WASHINGTON: South Korean Siwoo Kim holed out for eagle from the fairway at the 18th hole on Thursday to grab a share of the first-round lead alongside J.J. Spaun at the PGA Tour St. Jude Championship.

Kim and Spaun both posted 8-under par 62 to open the tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, the three-tournament series that culminates with the Tour Championship where an $18 million winner’s prize will be on offer.

Kim hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation at TPC Southwind on Thursday, but his most spectacular hole didn’t involve a putt.

He was on the right side of the fairway at the 453-yard 18th, where his eight-iron from 171 yards out found the hole.

“It was a perfect shot,” said Kim, who said he was just trying to get the ball to 10 feet, left of the pin.

Kim followed his birdies at the second and third with a three-putt bogey at the fourth.

Feeling uncomfortable on the greens, he said he changed his putting grip and then rolled in a 21-foot birdie from the fringe at the 10th before making four birdies in a row at the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th.

That run featured a 23-foot birdie at the 14th.

Spaun’s day also included a run of four straight birdies, from the ninth through the 12th. He started with a 14-foot birdie at the first and a four-footer at the second, rolled in a 17-footer at the ninth and added two more birdies at 16 and 18.

“I’m hot, figuratively and literally, I guess,” Spaun quipped after his round in the steamy Tennessee weather.

“I think I putted really well and I drove it really well. I guess I hit 15 out of 18 greens. So that’s a pretty good combo.

“When you’re hitting a lot of greens and putting well and hitting fairways, it’s hard to complain about how I played today.”

Spaun won his first US PGA Tour title at the Texas Open in April, a victory that put him into his first Masters the following week.

If he can make it to the 30-player Tour Championship, he’ll likely secure a berth for next year’s Masters with a lot more time to prepare.

“That’s the place to be, and hopefully (if I) keep playing well this week and the next couple weeks, I’ll be there,” he said.

This week’s field features 125 players, but only the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings will advance to next week’s BMW Championship in Delaware.

Only 30 qualify for the Tour Championship at Eastlake in Atlanta, Georgia.

Kim and Spaun held a one-shot lead over American Sahith Theegala, who had seven birdies in his seven-under 63.

It was a further stroke back to Tony Finau, J.T. Poston, South Korean Lee Kyoung-hoon and Austrian Sepp Straka.

Finau is the designated defending champion thanks to his victory at last year’s Northern Trust in New Jersey, which was replaced this season as the first playoff event.

Mexican Abraham Ancer won the WGC St. Jude Invitational in Memphis last year but is banned from the PGA Tour after jumping to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series in June.

A host of big names had plenty of work to do after the opening round.

Reigning FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay and British Open champion Cameron Smith were in a group on three-under 67.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy — denied by Smith at St. Andrews last month — carded an even-par 70, while top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler posted a one-over par 71.


Kyrgios hammers de Minaur for Montreal Masters quarter-final spot

Kyrgios hammers de Minaur for Montreal Masters quarter-final spot
Updated 12 August 2022

Kyrgios hammers de Minaur for Montreal Masters quarter-final spot

Kyrgios hammers de Minaur for Montreal Masters quarter-final spot
  • The Wimbledon runner-up dominated in the all-Aussie match, winning the opening set at a clip of three minutes per game in a contest which took just 64 minutes

MONTREAL: Nick Kyrgios crushed fellow Australian Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the ATP Montreal Masters.

Kyrgios carried on constant backchat with his player box, giving almost a running commentary of his state of mind on court in a display that seems second nature to him.

Nevertheless, the Wimbledon runner-up dominated in the all-Aussie match, winning the opening set at a clip of three minutes per game in a contest which took just 64 minutes.

The second-set pace was just as torrid, with Kyrgios breaking in the opening game.

He failed to serve out the win leading 5-2, missing on a drop shot and sending a forehand into the net.

But de Minaur lost the next game to love as Kyrgios prevailed in front of a packed-out stadium.

The winner of last week’s Washington 500 series title suffered his only recent loss to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. Victory means he’ll be in the top 30 next week, meaning a seeding at the US Open which starts on Aug. 29.

“That was my goal, so I didn’t have to play one of the (tennis) gods in the first round,” Kyrgios said.

“Today was a tough one. there was a lot on the line. I’m happy with the performance today.

“After beating (world number one Daniil) Medvedev yesterday, my confidence is incredibly high.

“It’s never easy to play a friend, but against Alex I went out and got the job done, I played how I had to play,” said Kyrgios who next faces eighth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz, a 6-7 (6/8), 6-2, 7-6 (7/3) winner over Albert Ramos.

Kyrgios has now won 15 of his last 16 singles matches, “The days are blending into each other,” he said. “It’s tiring but that’s the sport.”

He added: “I’m missing home a lot but there are only a few more tournaments until I can go home and see my family.”

Casper Ruud kept his title hopes alive as he dueled for more than three hours to overcome Roberto Bautista Agut 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.

The Norwegian, who at fourth is the highest seed still standing, said he regrouped during a 69-minute interruption as thunderstorms passed over the area after two sets had been completed.

He said time in the locker room was the perfect antidote for a game which had gone slightly stale as he battled the Spaniard.

“Thanks to the weather gods,” he said. “It was a tough battle, the first two sets, two hours 20 minutes of good intensity.

“But I was feeling it a bit in the legs, it was tough to find my intensity. The rain gave me time to breathe and regain some energy.”

Ruud wrapped up a long afternoon on his fourth match point, ending with 54 winners and 39 unforced errors.

“I’m still surviving, there will be another match tomorrow and I’ll try to survive it,” added the seventh-ranked Ruud, who is the top target remaining after the second-round exits of Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Norwegian owns three titles this season with a match record of 37-13. He reached the Miami final in April but lost to Alcaraz.

He’ll play Canadian sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who dispatched Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-3, 6-4.

Unseeded briton Jack Draper advanced, moving through when French veteran Gael Monfils retired with an injury while trailing 6-2, 0-2.


Swiatek ambushed by Brazil’s Haddad Maia in stunning upset at Toronto Masters

Swiatek ambushed by Brazil’s Haddad Maia in stunning upset at Toronto Masters
Updated 12 August 2022

Swiatek ambushed by Brazil’s Haddad Maia in stunning upset at Toronto Masters

Swiatek ambushed by Brazil’s Haddad Maia in stunning upset at Toronto Masters
  • Haddad Maia put Swiatek on the defensive, forcing her to save 15 of 19 break points while committing nine double-faults

TORONTO: Brazilian outsider Beatriz Haddad Maia toppled world No. 1 Iga Swiatek 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the WTA Toronto Masters.

The South American ranked 24th in the world beat her third top-10 opponent this season, but notched her first career win over a world No. 1 as she clawed out the victory in three hours.

Haddad Maia, who won titles at Nottingham and Birmingham in June, became the first Brazilian to reach the quarters at a WTA 1000 tournament.

She was the first from her country to face a No. 1 since Telian Pereira lost to Serena Williams at Roland Garros in 2016.

Swiatek, whose six titles this season include the French Open, missed her chance at a 50th match win this year.

Her run of 23 straight wins at the Masters 1000 level was snapped in difficult playing conditions.

“At the beginning I struggled to find my rhythm, probably because she’s lefty and I had a hard time adjusting to her serve,” Swiatek said.

“Without the wind I would manage. But it was pretty crazy out there.

“In the third set I knew (the mistakes) I’d made. So I know what I want to work on and what I want to improve before the next tournament, for sure.”

Swiatek added: “She just used the conditions better than me. When she was playing with the wind she was playing really strong balls.

“I made more mistakes than her. She was a little bit more solid.”

Haddad Maia put Swiatek on the defensive, forcing her to save 15 of 19 break points while committing nine double-faults.

She limited her own unforced errors to a dozen, backed up by 23 winners while Swiatek ended with 33 winners and 28 unforced errors.

“I’m happy and proud of myself and my team, it’s a special moment,” she said. “It’s not always easy to beat the number one on a huge stage and against all the crowd.

“I think I passed through very tough moments in my career to live this moment. I just want to enjoy a little bit.

“I don’t want to think about my next match. But, yeah, I feel happy. I believe in myself.

In other third-round action, Coco Gauff survived 15 double-faults to squeeze out a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7/4) win over Aryna Sabalenka.

The American teenager contributed just under half of the miscues in the error-strewn affair, with her opponent accounting for 18 additional doubles.

Tenth seed Gauff, who fell to Swiatek at Roland Garros in her first Grand Slam final this year, battled for three and a quarter hours against sixth-seeded Sabalenka.

Gauff finished with nine aces and saved 10 of 14 break points that she faced.

“The conditions weren’t easy today, a lot of wind,” Gauff said. “I think I hung in there mentally and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Victory for the 18-year-old came a day after she beat Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the third round in a match that took two and three-quarter hours.

The American admitted that trailing 3-0 in the final set, she had to give herself a serious talking-to.

“I said if I was going to lose, I’m not going to lose like this. I had to change, and that’s what I did.”

“She is frustrating to play. She plays big tennis — sometimes you hit a good shot and she hits a winner.”

Gauff will face off on Friday against two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep after the former No. 1 from Romania defeated Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann 6-2, 7-5 in 91 minutes.

Seventh-seeded American Jessica Pegula advanced, beating defending champion Camila Giorgi of Italy 3-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Pegula will face Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, who beat Alison Riske 6-3, 7-5.


FIFA officially advances World Cup start by a day to Nov. 20

FIFA officially advances World Cup start by a day to Nov. 20
Updated 12 August 2022

FIFA officially advances World Cup start by a day to Nov. 20

FIFA officially advances World Cup start by a day to Nov. 20
  • Football’s top officials universally approved the decision, FIFA said in a statement while Qatar said it would give unspecified help to fans affected by the change

DOHA: FIFA on Thursday officially brought forward the opening match of this year’s World Cup by one day to Nov. 20 in a rare change so that hosts Qatar feature in the gala game.

Football’s top officials universally approved the decision, FIFA said in a statement while Qatar said it would give unspecified help to fans affected by the change.

On the old schedule, Qatar against Ecuador was to be the official inauguration match on Nov. 21 but Senegal against Netherlands would be the first match of the day. England against Iran would have been second.

Qatar had also been frustrated as it has invested in a huge opening ceremony show.

“Host country Qatar will now play Ecuador on Sunday 20 November as part of a stand-alone event,” said FIFA.

“The opening match and ceremony of this year’s tournament at Al Bayt Stadium have been brought forward one day following a unanimous decision taken by the bureau of the FIFA Council today.”

The bureau is made up of FIFA leader Gianni Infantino and the six heads of the contintental confederations.

“The change ensures the continuity of a long-standing tradition of marking the start of the World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the first match featuring either the hosts or the defending champions,” added FIFA.

Under the new plan, the Group A game between Senegal and the Netherlands has been shifted from 1:00pm (1000 GMT) on November 21 to a 7:00pm start. There is no change to England’s opening Group B clash against Iran.

Qatari organizers, who have spent billions of dollars preparing for the event, immediately welcomed FIFA’s gesture.

“Opening the first FIFA World Cup to be held in the Middle East and Arab world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Qatar,” said the organizing committee in a statement.

“The impact of this decision on fans was assessed by FIFA. We will work together to ensure a smooth tournament for the supporters affected by the change,” they added without giving details.

Some Ecuador fans may have to change flights to arrive in Qatar earlier and football sources said the date switch could force changes to some World Cup contracts.

But many companies linked to the World Cup expressed confidence that disruption would be overcome.

“It is something we will deal with,” said Jaime Byrom, chairman of Match Hospitality, which has a deal with FIFA to organize hospitality packages for World Cup matches and has locked in 450,000 tickets for the tournament.

“It is really not — compared to the other challenges that we could have faced or have faced in the past — a particularly large problem,” Byrom told AFP.

“We have to focus on those customers who are most affected and I guess in this case we will be looking at our Ecuadorian customers who are traveling from overseas, and making sure that they are on time for the match.”

Official countdown clocks for the event were quickly changed. The 100 day countdown to the opening match will now start on Friday, instead of Saturday.

The decision was also announced as Qatar staged the first official match at the Lusail stadium which will host the December 18 World Cup final.

Before more than 10,000 fans, and with players engulfed in air conditioning to ward off stifling summer heat, Al Arabi beat Al Rayyan 2-1 in the Qatar championship.