Al-Ittihad win, Al-Shabab stumble: 5 things we learned from latest round of SPL matches

Al-Ittihad win, Al-Shabab stumble: 5 things we learned from latest round of SPL matches
As Al-Hilal, who did not play this weekend, continue to lag behind the leading pack, the Talisca-inspired Al-Nassr could join leaders Al-Ittihad and Al-Shabab in three-way race for the championship. (Screengrab YouTube)
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Updated 09 January 2022

Al-Ittihad win, Al-Shabab stumble: 5 things we learned from latest round of SPL matches

Al-Ittihad win, Al-Shabab stumble: 5 things we learned from latest round of SPL matches
  • As Al-Hilal, who did not play this weekend, continue to lag behind the leading pack, the Talisca-inspired Al-Nassr could join leaders Al-Ittihad and Al-Shabab in three-way race for the championship

The top four teams were in action once again in the latest round of action in the Saudi Pro League. Below are five things we learned.

1. Talisca makes spectacular use of greater freedom

It was hardly the most fluid of performances from Al-Nassr as they beat Damac 2-0, but the Yellows will not care as that makes it four wins in a row and five from the past six. The title challenge is well and truly on, though the gap behind Al-ittihad in first remains six points with one more game played.

Pity Martinez, with his first goal in almost a year, would normally be the one making the headlines, but this game was all about Talisca, though Waleed Abdullah pulled off some good saves in goal.

Since taking charge last month, coach Miguel Angel Russo has given the Brazilian greater freedom to roam. As Al-Nassr built an attack in the first half, Damac were perhaps expecting Talisca to be in the area. Instead he arrived late just outside the box, was given too much time and then fired a delicious shot into the top corner. The goal took him to 11 for the season and first place in the scoring standings, pretty impressive for someone who is not an out and out striker. 

 

2. When even Hawsari scores then all is going well for Al-Ittihad

Al-Ittihad’s 2-0 win over Al-Feiha was a sixth league victory in a row and a welcome return to clean sheets after two successive 3-2 wins. It is almost crazy to think that Al-Ittihad fired their coach after losing two of the first three games of the season.

That is ancient history now with the Tigers three points clear at the top with a game in hand. It was a comfortable and deserved victory with the second goal a thing of beauty: A chipped pass from deep from Bruno Henrique into the area was met first time by Romarinho who lifted the ball over the goalkeeper in a way that only an expert poacher can.

Though less easy on the eye, the opening goal was noteworthy. Omar Hawsawi rose high to head Henrique’s first-half corner home. It was a regulation move but the first league goal the 36-year-old has scored since 2016. If the center-back is getting in on the scoring act then this really could be Al-Ittihad’s year. A first title since 2009 is looking increasingly possible. 

 
3. Ighalo back in action, but can’t shoot Al-Shabab to victory

Nigeria may not be happy that Al-Shabab refused to release Odion Ighalo for the African Cup of Nations campaign but the Super Eagles’ loss should be the Riyadh club’s gain. Not quite on Saturday, however, as despite the best efforts of the former Manchester United man, Al-Shabab were held to a 1-1 draw by Abha.

It could have been worse as the title-chasers fell behind early but then had the chances to win the game and then some. It is a case of two points dropped to leave the six-time champions three points off the pace, even if there is a long way to go.

If Ighalo was annoyed at not getting the chance to become AFCON top scorer for the second successive tournament, he did not show it. The Nigerian worked hard and had the ball in the net early in the game, only for the strike to be ruled offside by VAR by the narrowest of margins. He came close again, but it was not to be. At least Ighalo looked sharp and Al-Shabab still look dangerous. 

 

4. Damac lack game changers

It has been pointed out before that Damac’s title challenge was always unlikely to last. The 2-0 loss to Al-Nassr means they have taken just two points from the last four games, but the fact that they still sit in fourth place in the standings is testament to just how good they were earlier in the season. 

This game was a pretty even affair, but the difference between the two teams was clear to see. Simply put, Damac lack talents of the caliber of Talisca and Pity Martinez. Croatian playmaker Mijo Caktas is a fine player who has had an excellent campaign so far, but the former Hajjduk Split star is unable to consistently change a game in the way that Al-Nassr’s creative players do.

For Damac, the important thing now is to keep their heads. There was always likely to be a dip at some point in a long season. The real challenge is to ensure that the slump does not become a major slide. Damac performed well enough against the in-form Al-Nassr, but the big game is next weekend’s clash with Al-Tai and the target is a win that will get the former leaders back on track.

 

5. Al-Taawoun trying to escape fierce relegation scrap

A 2-1 win over bottom club Al-Hazem looks to have given the Buraidah outfit some much-needed breathing space. It has been a roller-coaster few years for the Al-Taawoun faithful. In 2019, they finished third, almost got relegated the season after and last time around managed to take fourth spot in the league. 

This campaign has been hugely disappointing. No wins, though plenty of goals, from the first nine games had the team in real trouble but the situation is improving. Last week’s 3-0 victory over Damac gave Al-Taawoun confidence and the latest victory pulls them up into the dizzy heights of 11th.

There is still a long way to go, however, and the relegation battle is shaping up to be fierce. Al-Hazem are in danger of getting cut off at the bottom, but then just four points separates the next eight teams. It is unfortunate for Al-Taawoun that their new-found momentum may well be broken next week at the home of champions Al-Hilal.


AP Source: Mbappé to stay at PSG after rejecting Real Madrid

AP Source: Mbappé to stay at PSG after rejecting Real Madrid
Updated 6 min 7 sec ago

AP Source: Mbappé to stay at PSG after rejecting Real Madrid

AP Source: Mbappé to stay at PSG after rejecting Real Madrid
  • The France forward has agreed to a three-year contract extension that is close to being signed
  • Instead of joining 13-time European champion Madrid, which have chased him for so long, Mbappé is staying to try to deliver PSG their first Champions League title

PARIS: Kylian Mbappé is set to stay at Paris Saint-Germain after again turning down the chance to join Real Madrid.
The France forward has agreed to a three-year contract extension that is close to being signed, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the contract talks publicly.
The 23-year-old Mbappé’s contract is expiring in June and he would have been available on a free transfer.
Instead of joining 13-time European champion Madrid, which have chased him for so long, Mbappé is staying to try to deliver PSG their first Champions League title.
Madrid managed to beat PSG in the Champions League this season but not in the transfer market once again.
The Spanish giant’s failure to sign Mbappé is a significant blow for its president, Florentino Pérez, who has been trying to get the transfer over the line for a year.
PSG turned down Madrid’s official bid of 180 million euros ($190 million) — the same amount they signed Mbappé for from Monaco in 2017 — and even another reported amount of 200 million euros ($211 million) was not enough to sell their star despite him having only a year remaining on his contract. Mbappé said he wanted to leave at the end of last season, but only on the right terms for PSG.
The non-transfer reflects the shifting power dynamics in European football. Pérez was one of the architects of the European Super League breakaway from the UEFA Champions League that imploded within 48 hours in April 2021.
PSG opted out of joining the 12 Super League founders, allowing their president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, to gain one of the most powerful roles in the game as head of the European Club Association.
Pérez is still pursuing his Super League dream in conflict with UEFA.
Signing Mbappé would have provided a statement signing for Pérez from a team that only emerged as a rival in the last decade through its Qatari funding.
But the energy expended in pursuing the transfer, and optimism from Madrid, which are chasing their record-extending 14th European Cup win when they meets Liverpool in next Saturday’s Champions League final in Paris, has come to nothing.
The tension between the clubs was evident when PSG were knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 by Madrid in March — despite leading 2-0 overall with two Mbappé goals — and Al-Khelaifi remains under UEFA investigation for allegedly confronting match officials after the loss.
Madrid are being thwarted yet again, having tried to sign Mbappé after he left Monaco in 2017 — and even before that.
He visited Madrid’s facilities aged 14, and was greeted by France great Zinedine Zidane, but he instead chose to launch his stellar career at Monaco.
Mbappé’s first professional goal came at the age of 17 years, 62 days, which beat the Monaco club record held by Thierry Henry.
Henry is France’s record scorer with 51 goals. Mbappé is already on 26 and may well overtake him as a PSG player.
He is PSG’s second-highest scorer with 168 goals and could surpass Edinson Cavani’s record of 200 next season.
However, Mbappe misses out on the chance to play alongside France teammate Karim Benzema for Madrid in what would have been a devastating partnership and the envy of Europe.
Over the past year they have been prolific together for Les Bleus and both netted when France won the Nations League final.
But when France defend their World Cup title later this year in Qatar, they’ll only be teammates on the national team.


Angel Di Maria leaving PSG after seven seasons

Angel Di Maria leaving PSG after seven seasons
Updated 21 May 2022

Angel Di Maria leaving PSG after seven seasons

Angel Di Maria leaving PSG after seven seasons
  • The Argentina winger's contract is expiring and the French champions announced his departure late Friday night
  • Al-Khelaifi urged fans to “head down to the Parc des Princes to give him the tribute he deserves” when PSG host Metz later Saturday

PARIS: Angel Di Maria is leaving Paris Saint-Germain after seven seasons with the club.
The Argentina winger’s contract is expiring and the French champions announced his departure late Friday night.
“Angel Di Maria has left a permanent mark on the history of the club,” PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said. “He will remain in the memories of the supporters as someone with an irreproachable attitude, who has defended our colors with faultless commitment.”
Al-Khelaifi urged fans to “head down to the Parc des Princes to give him the tribute he deserves” when PSG host Metz later Saturday.
In his 295th and final game for PSG, Di Maria will look to add to his 91 goals and club-record 111 assists.
The season finale kicks off with no confirmation yet on Kylian Mbappe’s future. The striker’s contract is expiring and he’s being pursued by Real Madrid.
The 34-year-old Di Maria scored 15 goals and had 25 assists across all competitions in his first season after joining in 2015, including the record for most league assists with 18.
Di Maria had some brilliant spells with PSG, where his combination of slick passing, speed down the wing, quick feet and excellent finishing carved defenses open.
However, at other times, a lack of work rate when tracking back was criticized in some of the biggest games, especially when PSG lost tight contests in the Champions League.
He won five league titles and French Cups as well as four League Cup trophies.


Ali Al-Issa wins bronze as Saudi swimmers finish GCC Games with five medals

Ali Al-Issa wins bronze as Saudi swimmers finish GCC Games with five medals
Updated 21 May 2022

Ali Al-Issa wins bronze as Saudi swimmers finish GCC Games with five medals

Ali Al-Issa wins bronze as Saudi swimmers finish GCC Games with five medals
  • The men’s swimming team claimed one gold, two silver and two bronze in total over the week in Kuwait

The Saudi swimming team concluded their participation in the GCC Games in Kuwait with a tally of one gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

On Friday night Ali Al-Issa took the bronze medal in the 200m backstroke with a time of 2.11.82, having already won the gold in the 100m backstroke.

Elsewhere the Saudi men’s basketball team defeated Qatar 53-44 in a match they dominated and will take on Bahrain on Sunday.

In the opening of the volleyball competition, the Saudi men’s team lost their first match against Bahrain by three sets to one set (25-20, 13-25, 23-25, 13-25).

The Saudi men’s futsal team lost their third match of the tournament 5-2 against the UAE, having won their first match and lost their second. The Saudi goals came from Moaz Asiri and Fahad Al-Rudaini.

In the men’s cycling Saudi finished fourth in the team time trial with a time of 53.00.31 over a distance of 40km, which took place on Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah Bridge.


Eddie Howe: No Newcastle United signings lined up yet

Eddie Howe: No Newcastle United signings lined up yet
Updated 21 May 2022

Eddie Howe: No Newcastle United signings lined up yet

Eddie Howe: No Newcastle United signings lined up yet
  • Recent rumors have linked the Magpies with Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson, Lucas Paqueta of Lyon

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has revealed that Newcastle United are “not close” to signing anyone, despite reports across the UK to the contrary.

It is expected to be a busy summer at St. James’ Park, nonetheless.

The Magpies were reported to be close to adding Manchester United and England goalkeeper Dean Henderson to their squad, however Howe has poured cold water on it.

A deal for Lucas Paqueta of Lyon has also been rumored, but Arab News understands that is not a transfer Newcastle are pursuing at present.

On Henderson, and the summer ahead, Howe said: “We’re not close to signing anybody at this moment in time. We’re not at any advanced stage with that.

“It’s very difficult for me to comment on individual players because I’d be giving you an answer on every target. But no, that’s far from the truth.”

Another player who, at this stage, is not being actively pursued is Burnley’s James Tarkowski. The defender, who is out of contract at Turf Moor this summer, does remain on a long list of central defensive targets, though.

Outgoings are going to be as important as incomings for Newcastle if they do not want to encounter Financial Fair Play rules similar to those currently being worked through by Premier League rivals Everton.

And Arab News understands one player who is close to a move is Ciaran Clark.

The Republic of Ireland international was omitted from the club’s 25-man Premier League squad in January, despite the 32-year-old making 14 appearances in the first half of the campaign.

And with Clark likely to be cut out of the first-team picture again, former United boss Steve Bruce is understood to be keen on the player.

Bruce is currently manager of English Championship side West Bromwich Albion. Middlesbrough are also thought to be keen.

“I won’t speak about individual players at this time. I’ll do that at a later date. But at this time, I think it’s difficult for me to comment," said Howe.

“I’ll be speaking with players in the next few days linking it around the game. Obviously, I won’t be speaking to any of the players involved in the match before the game —I’ll be speaking to them afterwards — but players who are potentially injured and not involved in the game.”

With decisions still to be made, confusion and uncertainty reign supreme for many in the Newcastle ranks.

This is most prevalent when assessing Matt Targett’s United situation.

Targett has been one of United’s best performers in the second half of the season but is only on loan from Aston Villa.

Villains’ boss Steven Gerrard this week stated he would be happy to take the player back to the Midlands if Newcastle do not arrive with a bid to make things permanent.

When asked about the player, Howe said: “I’ll be sitting down with all my players at the end of the season and discussing futures; I’ll be doing the same with Matt. I think it’s only right we get the season out the way first and concentrate on the games and the football before discussing things.

“He’s been outstanding. The biggest compliment I can pay any loan player, I view him as an integral member of the squad. His attitude, conduct, performance and consistency have been of the highest level.

“We really, really like him. I think he’s jelled really well with the squad, and he’s very popular within the building here. I can’t speak highly enough of him.”


Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban

Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban
Updated 21 May 2022

Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban

Wimbledon on collision course with ATP, WTA over Russia, Belarus ban
  • Wimbledon stripped of ranking points over Russia, Belarus ban
  • Decision by ATP, WTA reduces Wimbledon to exhibition event

The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament was on Friday set on a collision course with the sport’s global governing bodies after Wimbledon had its ranking points stripped by the ATP and WTA Tours over excluding players from Russia and Belarus.
The move by the men’s and women’s tours will reduce Wimbledon to an exhibition event but the AELTC, organizers of the Grand Slam, repeated their stance that the ban was the only viable option under British government guidance.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) also said it will not grant ranking points to Wimbledon this year for junior and wheelchair tennis events.
The AELTC decision to impose the suspension on Russian and Belarusian players at this year’s championships due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is the first time players have been excluded on grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when German and Japanese players were banned.
The AELTC on Friday said they were considering their options and were in discussions with their Grand Slam colleagues.
“In addition, we remain unwilling to accept success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime,” the AELTC said in a statement.
“We therefore wish to state our deep disappointment at the decisions taken by the ATP, WTA and ITF in removing ranking points for The Championships.
“We believe these decisions to be disproportionate in the context of the exceptional and extreme circumstances of this situation and the position we found ourselves in, and damaging to all players who compete on Tour.”

Ranking integrity
The ATP and WTA have themselves banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion, which Moscow calls a ‘special operation’, but allowed players from the two countries to compete as neutrals.
“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination, is fundamental to our Tour,” the ATP said in a statement.
“The decision by Wimbledon to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the UK this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP Ranking system. It is also inconsistent with our Rankings agreement.
“Absent a change in circumstances, it is with great regret and reluctance that we see no option but to remove ATP Ranking points from Wimbledon for 2022.”
WTA chief Steve Simon said the tour believes athletes participating in an individual sport “should not be penalized or prevented from competing solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”
“The recent decisions made by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban athletes from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events violate that fundamental principle,” Simon said.
“As a result of the AELTC’s position that it will not honor its obligation to use the WTA Rankings for entry into Wimbledon and proceed with a partial field not based on merit, the WTA has made the difficult decision to not award WTA ranking points for this year’s Wimbledon Championships.”

Ban slammed
Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors has been slammed by top players such as 21-times Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal who labelled it unfair, while world number one Novak Djokovic said he did not support the decision.
“Our rules and agreements exist in order to protect the rights of players as a whole. Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the Tour,” the ATP added.
“Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a Tour that operates in more than 30 countries.
“We remain hopeful of further discussions with Wimbledon leading to an acceptable outcome for all concerned.
“More broadly, we believe this matter again highlights the need for a united governance structure across professional tennis so that decisions of this nature can be made in a joint manner.”

Tune-up events
Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) also reciprocated the Wimbledon ban by excluding players from the two countries from its tune-up tour events.
However, the WTA said its tournaments at Nottingham, Birmingham, and Eastbourne would go ahead with ranking points on offer as “alternative and comparable playing and ranking point opportunities exist in the same weeks.”
The ATP had also said earlier this week that its events at Queen’s and Eastbourne will proceed as normal, offering full ATP ranking points.
While the LTA tournaments will continue to offer full ranking points, the British governing body is under review for sanctions from the ATP and WTA.
The ITF justified its decision not to award ranking points to Wimbledon this year for junior and wheelchair tennis events by saying it undermines the integrity of the competition.
“The ITF has determined that Wimbledon’s entry criteria banning Russians and Belarusians compromises the integrity of its international competition, in particular its ranking system, as there is a lack of alternative equivalent opportunities for players to compete for ranking points and prize money,” the ITF said.