Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite
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Updated 27 November 2021

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite

Outrageous 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh shows star quality extends beyond Saudi Pro League’s elite
  • Two days after Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League triumph, the highest scoring match in SPL history played out between two of its less successful teams

Al-Hilal defeated Pohang Steelers 2-0 on Tuesday to win the AFC Champions League. It was a record fourth title for the Riyadh club and a feather in the cap of Saudi Arabian football, which is going through something of a purple patch at the moment in both club and international football. It was a comfortable win without the drama of some past continental finals.

Only a day later, however, two Saudi teams played to a match that left those who saw it rubbing their eyes in disbelief?

Alex Ferguson was famously exasperated after Manchester United scored twice in the dying moments of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final to come from behind to defeat Barcelona 2-1. He stunned the reporters with his direct quip.

But what would the Scot have said if he’d seen the breathtaking 5-5 draw between Damac and Al-Fateh on Thursday? Not only was it the highest scoring match in the history of the Saudi Professional League, but it arguably must be ranked among one of the best too. What is for certain is that it is the most exciting match of the season so far.

OK, some of the defending may not be studied in the upper echelons of world football anytime soon, even if the backlines were better than you may expect from looking at the scoreline, but it was a game that showed the strength in depth in the top tier of Saudi Arabian football. It also revealed the range of entertainment on offer in the league. Some of the attacking play was thrilling, plenty of the goals were out of the top drawer.

As a spectacle, it was astonishing. Al-Fateh were a team that had lost the previous three games and were sitting firmly in the bottom half of the table and concerned with not getting sucked into a relegation battle. They came up against a team in second but one that was only in their third ever season in the top tier with the first two being battles against relegation.

But first, let’s look at the game, though this may take some time with all the goals. In just the third minute, Carlos Cueva was given the freedom of the Damac area after a fantastic run and pass from right-back Nawaf Boushal and the Peruvian forward stabbed home the opener for Al-Fateh. Just 13 minutes later, the visitors were ahead thanks to two goals from Hillel Soudani. The Algerian cut in from the right, twisted and turned defenders on the edge of the area and then fired a precise left-footed shot into the corner. Soon after, he shot home a rebound with more power and Damac were ahead.

Within moments however, the hosts had equalised thanks to Ali Al-Zaqan. The initial goal had been ruled offside but VAR rightly overturned the decision. On the stroke of half-time, Damac struck again to go in at the break with a 3-2 advantage. It was another impressive strike. The ball fell to Felipe Augusto about 30 meters away from goal and the Brazilian’s low shot was fired into the bottom corner. Both teams continued to have excellent chances but when Mijo Caktas extended Damac’s lead just after the hour, it looked as if that was that. The Croatian skipped past a challenge outside the area and scored with another long-range shot that perhaps the goalkeeper, who was partially unsighted, should have kept out.

Al-Fateh had always looked dangerous however and pulled a goal back after 69 minutes after another Croatian made the scoresheet. Ivan Santini knew little about his strike as the goalkeeper’s save bounced off his chest and in. With 15 minutes remaining it was 4-4. A Damac hand in the box gave Al-Fateh a penalty and Cueva got his second.

Within seconds, amazingly, Al-Fateh were ahead thanks to Firas Al-Buraikan. The Saudi Arabian international could not miss from close range after a perfect cross from Murad Batna and so the hosts had come back from 4-2 down to be 5-4 ahead. This was surely one of the greatest comebacks and games in the league’s history.

But Damac were not finished. With 11 minutes still on the clock it was 5-5 as Emilio Zelaya scored another goal from outside the area.

“It was a very strange game,” said Al-Fateh president Saad Al-Afaliq. “We even could have won it late on had Firas Al-Buraikan had scored late in the game. We have had a few injuries but are now getting up to the right levels of fitness and condition.”

The point initially put Damac on top of the league but just two hours later, Al-Shabab defeated Al-Raed 3-0 to go into pole position. A first half goal from Moteb Al-Harbi was added to in the second half by Ever Banega and Carlos Carvalho. It is quite a turnaround for a club that won just one of their first six games of the season and were rumored to be thinking about firing coach Pericles Chamusca.

Now they are top and the title race is going to be something special. Al-Ittihad can return to the summit on Sunday and then Al-Hilal have several games in hand but are in fourth place. The season is shaping up to be an exciting one, but whatever happens, there won’t be a more exciting game than the 10-goal thriller witnessed on Thursday.


Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits
Updated 06 October 2022

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits
  • The Catalans said in the year just ended they made a profit of 98 million euros after taxes
  • Barca said they were "back on the road to profit and looking to initiate a new virtuous circle"

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona on Thursday forecast profits of 274 million euros (270.7 million dollars) this season and record revenues of 1.255 billion euros.
“It’s a conservative budget,” Barca’s financial vice president Eduard Romeu said, as the club released figures for the 2021/22 financial year and forecasts for the current campaign.
Barcelona said the revenue figure included more than 450 million euros from the sale of long-term television and other rights.
The Catalans said in the year just ended they made a profit of 98 million euros after taxes, with operating income of 1.017 billion euros and expenses of 856 million euros.
That followed two loss-making seasons during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Barca said they were “back on the road to profit and looking to initiate a new virtuous circle.”
The budget for next year predicts expenses of 1.065 billion euros, of which 656 million euros would go on the sporting wage bill.
Romeu said salaries had been cut from 617 euros for the 2020/21 season to 518 million euros last season.
New player signings and a lack of departures have led to expectations of an increase this season.
“We were planning for a more significant reduction in the salary bill,” Romeu said, adding that even so, the club would be happy to take Lionel Messi back.
“Messi is an asset for Barca and has the doors open,” Romeu said.
“It is a matter for the sporting management and if the sporting management want it, we will get to work on that objective.”
In the 2020/21 season Barcelona posted losses of 481 million euros and blamed them for not being able to renew their all-time record scorer’s contract, leading him to sign for Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.
Romeu lamented that he had not been able to persuade other high-priced stars to leave.
“There are a number of contracts that have a very high cost and between this season and next season they disappear,” said Romeu, adding that he wants to achieve a balance by the 2024/25 season.
“Five hundred million euros would be the ideal figure for a competitive first-team squad.”
In the summer, the club sold 25 percent of their La Liga television rights to investment firm Sixth Street for the next 25 years, raising more than 500 million euros, and 49 percent of their Barca Studios production company to two companies for a total of around 200 million. Some of that revenue is included in the 2022/23 forecast.
Barca said “without the effect of this extraordinary sale, the club still received 750 million euros in other operating income.”
They highlighted the “sale of metaverses, NFTs and tokens” by Barca Studios and said the new partnerships “will produce an acceleration of the business.”
The budget will be submitted to the club’s annual general assembly of members on October 9.


Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover
Updated 06 October 2022

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover
  • Newcastle, under manager Eddie Howe, have seen an upturn in results in the Premier League since PIF-backed consortium purchased the club

LONDON: The chairman of Newcastle United has written a letter to thank supporters on the first anniversary of the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed takeover of the club.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan and the PIF-led consortium took over the club from Mike Ashley last October.

Newcastle, under manager Eddie Howe, have seen an upturn in results in the Premier League and the beginnings of serious investment off the pitch.

The letter read: “To all the fans of Newcastle United Football Club, Thank you for your incredible support.

“I am very conscious of the contributions that you all make – on and off the field. Football clubs are driven by their fans and this club’s fans are more passionate and more committed than any others. I have seen for myself on many occasions how Newcastle fans have lifted our team.

“As we mark the first anniversary of our takeover of the club, it seemed appropriate to take the time to say thank you – on behalf of the Newcastle Board.

“The first game after the takeover will live long in my memory. The feeling of pride at holding the black and white scarf as I entered the stadium. The collective roar of 52,000 of you and the unrivalled, electric atmosphere of St. James’ Park on match-day. I will never forget the warmth of your welcome to my fellow board members and me on that October day.

“A year ago, we set out some principles in an open letter that framed our thinking as custodians of the club. We told you that we wanted to build, over time, a consistently successful team. And we told you that we were focused on long-term success.

“There is still a long way to go, but each season is a building block towards our objective – to challenge for trophies both domestically and in Europe. The club we are building is made up of people who understand our long-term vision, and who understand the patience and persistence that it will take to achieve those goals. Those values are reflected in the players that we bring to the club.

“Bringing the women’s team into direct ownership of the club is a part of that plan. Progress won’t always be smooth – but we will always forge ahead. You can rest assured that we are all working very hard to drive the club forward.

“The support of our fans and the Newcastle community is an incredible motivation for us. It will never be taken for granted.”


Lionel Messi says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will ‘surely’ be his last

Lionel Messi says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will ‘surely’ be his last
Updated 42 min 6 sec ago

Lionel Messi says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will ‘surely’ be his last

Lionel Messi says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will ‘surely’ be his last
  • Messi, who is due to appear in his fifth World Cup, made his international debut in 2005
  • He admitted he was nervous about the impending tournament in Qatar

BUENOS AIRES: Argentina captain Lionel Messi said Thursday that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will “surely” be the last of his career.
“It’s my last World Cup, surely. I feel good physically, I was able to do a very good pre-season this year, which I couldn’t do last year. It was essential to get to where I am, with a good state of mind and a lot of hope,” the 35-year-old told ESPN Argentina.
Messi, who is due to appear in his fifth World Cup, made his international debut in 2005 and has since won 164 caps for Argentina and is the country’s all-time record scorer with 90 goals.
In the interview, which took place in Paris where Messi plays for Paris Saint-Germain, he admitted he was nervous about the impending tournament in Qatar.
“There is anxiety, nerves about the World Cup,” he said. “We can’t wait for it to start.”
Messi’s international debut as a substitute against Hungary in 2005 lasted just two minutes before he was sent off but he quicky established himself in the national team set-up and traveled to Germany for his first World Cup in 2006.
He went on to play in the 2010 edition in South Africa, 2014 in Brazil, where Argentina reached the final, and 2018 in Russia.
The current side, under the management of Lionel Scaloni has now gone 35 games without defeat and is likely to figure as one of the pre-tournament favorites for the Qatar tournament.
“We have reached a good moment, with a very well-equipped and very strong group, but anything can happen,” said Messi.
“All the games are very difficult. The favorites are not always the ones who end up winning or taking the path that one expected.
“Argentina is always a candidate because of its history and what it means. But we are not the only favorites, there are other teams that are above us.”


Arsenal looking to pile more pressure on Liverpool

Arsenal looking to pile more pressure on Liverpool
Updated 06 October 2022

Arsenal looking to pile more pressure on Liverpool

Arsenal looking to pile more pressure on Liverpool
  • For Premier League leader Arsenal, it's the latest test of their ability to mount a credible title challenge
  • For Liverpool, it's a chance to provide a platform on which to build Jurgen Klopp’s recovery plan

MANCHESTER, England: The match at Emirates Stadium on Sunday should prove informative about the prospects of both Arsenal and Liverpool.
For Premier League leader Arsenal, it’s the latest test of their ability to mount a credible title challenge against the only team that have managed to disrupt Manchester City’s dominance over the past five years.
For Liverpool, tentatively finding form after such a turbulent start to the season, it’s a chance to provide a platform on which to build Jurgen Klopp’s recovery plan.
The stakes are much higher for the team from Merseyside — not least because City lie in wait a week later.
Further dropped points ahead of the visit of Erling Haaland and Co. to Anfield would leave Klopp on the verge of crisis in a season when the title already looks beyond Liverpool.
The German has been cautious in his commentary this week — even after the confidence-boosting win over Rangers in the Champions League on Tuesday.
“I can’t wait for the moment when I can read newspapers again because I didn’t read them for weeks,” Klopp joked. “The criticism is completely fine. We are not over the moon about our situation. But we played some really good games — it’s not like it’s 10 years ago, it’s not too long ago.”
Liverpool have only lost once in the league this season but already trail Arsenal by 11 points.
The only wins have come in the 9-0 demolition of Bournemouth and via an injury-time strike against Newcastle.
Last week’s 3-3 draw at home against Brighton typified the raggedness of a team that were on course for an unprecedented quadruple going into the final weeks of last season. The loss of Sadio Mane, who joined Bayern Munich in the offseason, has had an impact, with replacement Darwin Nunez taking time to settle.
Injuries in midfield have left Liverpool looking light in that department, while Virgil van Dijk’s usual authority in defense has been lacking. In five of seven games in the league, Liverpool has conceded first to underline the vulnerability at the back.
How van Dijk handles Haaland will be fascinating — but before that he will have to try to curtail a former City striker who is enjoying a resurgence at Arsenal.
Gabriel Jesus looked to be a bargain when signed for $50 million in the offseason and he has been a key component for Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta this term, scoring five times in eight appearances.
The Brazil international was on target again as Arsenal defeated Tottenham 3-1 in last week’s north London derby.
Seven wins from eight matches has confounded expectations and even left City in Arsenal’s wake.
The one loss — to Manchester United — has not derailed momentum, while victory against Tottenham answered a lot of questions about the team’s ability to cope with the pressure at the top.
Even in the face of Liverpool’s struggles, another win on Sunday would perhaps be even more impressive as evidence of Arsenal’s readiness to replace last year’s runner-up as the new challenge to City.
TAKING A KNEE
The Premier League will reaffirm its commitment to fighting racism and discrimination with players taking a knee before the next two sets of matches.
All games between Oct. 8 and Oct. 16 will be dedicated to the “No Room For Racism” initiative.
Ahead of the start of the season, club captains collectively agreed to stop taking a knee before every match and instead select certain points in the calendar to make a statement.
Boxing Day, the final day of the season and the FA Cup and EFL Cup finals will also see players make the gesture.


Qatari government workers to work from home during World Cup

Qatari government workers to work from home during World Cup
Updated 06 October 2022

Qatari government workers to work from home during World Cup

Qatari government workers to work from home during World Cup
  • Qatar is the first Middle East country to stage the World Cup that kicks off on Nov. 20
  • The government said late on Wednesday that 80% of its workforce would be working from home between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19

DOHA: Qatar has ordered most government employees to work from home during next month’s soccer World Cup while schools will have reduced hours two weeks before the tournament before shutting as the country prepares for a big influx of visitors.
Qatar is the first Middle East country to stage the World Cup that kicks off on Nov. 20 with the final set for Dec. 18.
It hopes the tournament will attract roughly 1.2 million visitors, or almost half of the conservative country’s population, posing a logistical and policing challenge.
For this reason, the government said late on Wednesday that 80 percent of its workforce would be working from home between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19.
Public and private schools will have shortened classes only until noon between Nov. 1 and Nov. 17 and will then be closed for the entire period of the World Cup and until at least Dec. 22.
Mohammed Al Hajjri, spokesperson for Qatar’s Government Communications Office, said in a video the measures had been decided after “taking into consideration the public interest and in line with the state’s preparation for hosting this event.”
A total of 32 teams have qualified and matches will be played at eight stadiums clustered around Doha, the only major city in Qatar, which is the smallest state to host soccer’s biggest event.
The Gulf Arab state has built a new transport network in the lead up to the tournament, including expressways and a metro system that started operations in 2019, but it has never handled the kind of visitor numbers expected during the World Cup.