Al-Ittihad march on, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action

Al-Ittihad march on, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action
Al-Hilal’s league form suffered following that Asian win, with just two points coming from the following four games and that has put Jardim under pressure. (AFP)
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Updated 22 January 2022

Al-Ittihad march on, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action

Al-Ittihad march on, Al-Hilal’s struggles continue: 5 things we learned from latest Saudi Pro League action
  • Leonardo Jardim under pressure as Asian and Saudi champions draw with Al-Batin, while Al-Shabab can’t afford any more dropped points

Every round of games is crucial now in the Saudi Professional League and here are five things Arab News learned from the latest action.

Attackers get the headlines but defence is driving Al-Nassr’s challenge

Al-Nassr’s 1-0 win over Al-Taawoun was their sixth victory in a row and moves the team into second above Al-Shabab. The arrival of Miguel Angel Rosso as new coach has taken the team to a new level, or at least got them playing at the level they should have been at already. What the Argentine has done also is made the eight-time champions hard to beat.

After the 4-0 win over Faisaly, this was a tougher test against another relegation battler. Al-Taawoun caused problems and it was difficult for Talisca and Pity Martinez to get their creative juices flowing. When you have a defence as increasingly solid as Al-Nassr’s, however, the forwards can afford to have the occasional off day. Ramiro Mori and Abdulelah Al-Amri are developing a fine partnership in the middle of the backline.

Al-Nassr have not conceded a goal in 393 minutes of league football and that is laying the foundations for this winning streak. Now Rosso’s team is the one that leaders Al-Ittihad will be most worried about.

Forget Hamdallah, Romarinho is making the difference

The game itself was not one that will live long in the memory but the last few minutes will as Al-Ittihad defeated Al-Faisaly 1-0. It was an eighth successive win that increased their lead at the top to six points with a game in hand.

This was heading for a 0-0 draw when a corner fell to Romarinho at the far post with two minutes of regulation time remaining. The Brazilian was unmarked and had time to control the ball but surely he was also thinking what scoring would mean in the title race. He kept his nerve to fire into the roof of the net for what he said is one of his most vital goals in the yellow and black.

“This goal has a special feeling and it came thanks to the support of the fans,” said Romarinho. “We expected a tough game and that is what happened. Al-Faisaly are a well-organised team.”

It was not just a crucial goal that could have a major say in where the title ends up this season but it was the eighth in eight games for Romarinho.

There has been much said and written about the big signing of Abderrazak Hamdallah at the start of this month -and rightly so as the Moroccan marksman is a goal machine – but it is the Brazilian who has been banging them in.

Time is ticking for Jardim at Al-Hilal

It was just two months ago that Leonardo Jardim was lifting the AFC Champions League trophy in Riyadh after leading Al-Hilal to a record fourth continental title, but that felt a long time ago on Friday following a 1-1 draw at relegation strugglers Al-Batin.

Al-Hilal’s league form suffered following that Asian win, with just two points coming from the following four games and that has put Jardim under pressure. Nine points from the next three games suggested that a corner had been turned, even if the points came against struggling teams.

But with Al-Ittihad winning six in a row, Al-Hilal’s trio of wins did not dent the deficit and now they find themselves 10 points behind the leaders. It is going to take something special for the defending champions to catch up. At the moment, the champs don’t seem to have it and are less than the sum of their talented parts,

Next comes the FIFA Club World Cup. There are not going to be any coaching changes before then but Jardim can’t afford too many more missteps.

Relegation teams are tough nuts to crack

You have to feel a little sorry for Al-Faisaly. The King’s Cup winners have picked up just two points from the last seven games and it is no surprise that they are in danger of the drop, one place off the bottom.

Yet Al-Faisaly are a decent team and deserved a point from their trip to Jeddah to take on the leaders. In the last four games they have met Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and Al-Hilal. That is a punishing schedule. It is not a surprise that they collected just a point though deserved a little more.

Those at the top know that there are no easy games and no easy points. Al-Taawoun gave Al-Nassr a real test and were left feeling that they should have come away from that clash with a point and Al-Batin did get a point against Saudi Arabian and Asian champions Al-Hilal.

Al-Shabab can’t afford to keep dropping points

On the first day of 2022 Al-Shabab were just a point off the top but Thursday’s 1-1 draw at home to Al-Fateh was the third in succession for last season’s runners-up. Those six dropped points are a problem when Al-Ittihad, the team in first place, keep winning.

There were complaints about the refereeing again but, while it is easy for the title-chasers to blame the officials, there was a simpler explanation for the result.

Al-Shabab had the chances to put the game to bed before Al-Fateh’s late, lovely, curling equaliser. They missed the suspended Ever Banega, however. The Argentine’s craft and guile makes a difference, creates space and upsets defences. At least Odion Ighalo returned to the scoresheet. If the Nigerian, who broke the deadlock with a shot from outside the area, can provide a cutting edge then Al-Shabab have a chance, but after dropping six points it is now a slim one.

Saudi’s Rakan Al-Rashed targets more points in World Rally Championship 2 after top-10 finish in Portugal

Saudi’s Rakan Al-Rashed targets more points in World Rally Championship 2 after top-10 finish in Portugal
Updated 8 sec ago

Saudi’s Rakan Al-Rashed targets more points in World Rally Championship 2 after top-10 finish in Portugal

Saudi’s Rakan Al-Rashed targets more points in World Rally Championship 2 after top-10 finish in Portugal
  • The 32-year-old driver and businessman was delighted to earn first WRC 2 point in his career after a challenging rally that saw his tires punctured on the opening day

RIYADH: Saudi professional rally driver Rakan Al-Rashed has set his sights on winning more points in the World Rally Championship 2 after securing his first top-10 finish in Portugal.

The 32-year-old, also a successful business professional and entrepreneur, finished 10th in the fourth round of the competition, earning him one point in the rally that attracted 48 teams in his category.

The achievement was even more impressive given Al-Rashed was forced to retire on the first day before the last stage due to punctured tires, but having recovered and restarted, he drove smoothly for the next two days.

He said: “I am extremely happy to score my first point in the WRC 2. This is a moment that I am very proud of because I am one of the least experienced drivers in the mix, so placing 10th in this competition gives me the motivation to work even harder for the rest of the upcoming rallies that I take part in.

“I also realize that there’s still a very long way to go if I want to get better results and win points. Consistency will be the key in getting a top-10 finish and then gradually working my way up to securing a top-five, but my result in Portugal will give me a lot of confidence that I can secure more points in WRC.”

To help him prepare for the Portuguese rally, Al-Rashed had taken part in a local test event in April that used the same track as the WRC 2. He said that the experience was vital in achieving the best result in his career.

“That experience was very important because it prepared me well, but it also did not prepare me on how rough the stages would be,” he said. “The first day was extremely tough for everyone, which resulted in many drivers facing several issues because the race was on a very tough terrain. Nonetheless, the test race in April allowed me to get used to the Portuguese track and what to expect, and that was a great learning experience.”

Al-Rashed will next be in action at the Rally Italia Sardegna, which takes place from June 2-5.

Alongside his rally motorsport career, Al Rashed is also a co-founder and director of Access Bridge Ventures, a leading early-stage venture capital fund, and chairman of Kudu Corp, a leading restaurant chain in Saudi Arabia.

Global revenues at the heart of BCCI’s continued control of cricket’s international landscape

Global revenues at the heart of BCCI’s continued control of cricket’s international landscape
Updated 26 May 2022

Global revenues at the heart of BCCI’s continued control of cricket’s international landscape

Global revenues at the heart of BCCI’s continued control of cricket’s international landscape
  • Strongarm tactics used by BCCI to get its way have become commonplace in ICC governance regime as calls for independent board members, more egalitarian distribution of power and money have not been heeded

One of the most disturbing aspects of cricket that has emerged through these columns has been the questionable quality of governance that exists in parts of the cricket world.



Ten years ago, a report was published that looked into the governance of the International Cricket Council, the governing body of international cricket. The report included an analysis of governance structures, ethics, membership and funding. It also considered the purpose of the ICC, which, according to its Memorandum of Association of the time, was “to administer, develop, co-ordinate, regulate and promote cricket world-wide in co-operation with its members.”

The review was initiated by then ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorat and was led by former UK Chief Lord Justice Harry Woolf in association with a prominent international consulting firm. As such, the review was deemed to be independent. Despite reservations from the Indian Board of Control for Cricket, the ICC board had approved it.

There were 65 recommendations and a number of damning criticisms of the way the ICC was functioning. One of these suggested that the body “reacts as though it is primarily a members’ club, its interest in enhancing the global development of the game is secondary. In today’s environment, this is not an acceptable situation. Cricket is a global game and there is a need for global governance.”

At that time, the executive board comprised chairs or presidents from each of the 10 full (Test-playing) members, three elected associate member representatives, and the ICC CEO, vice president and president, who chaired. The perception was that this construction allowed those member countries with the most power to look after themselves rather than the wider game.     

Woolf’s report recommended a restructuring of the ICC’s board to make it more independent. It suggested ways to reduce the domination of bigger countries and called for a re-examination of the rights and benefits of the Test-playing full member nations. This focused on a different financial model based on the need of members that would enable the ICC to distribute funding in accordance with its overarching role to promote and develop international cricket.

Additionally, it called for measures to increase transparency in dealings by the ICC and its members, setting out clear parameters for ethical conduct. 

Narayanaswami Srinivasan, BCCI board president and India’s representative on the ICC board, quickly announced that the BCCI rejected the key recommendations of the report out of hand, without saying why.

Srinivasan also owned an IPL franchise through his company, India Cements. Following the uncovering of match-fixing scandals and conflicts of interest involving the operation of the franchise, the Supreme Court of India was asked to intervene. One of its acts, in March 2014, was to order that Srinivasan should step down as BCCI president. This only served to create space for him to become, in June 2014, the first chair of the ICC board, following constitutional changes precipitated by the Woolf report.

Given Srinivasan’s outright rejection of Woolf’s recommendations, the chances of implementing the most contentious ones were remote. Instead, an attempt to increase the concentration of power within the ICC was mounted, even before the new chair took post. Under a proposal put forward by India, Australia and England, a new executive committee comprising representatives from each country, plus one other full member, would be created, with the “Big Three” holding rotating chairs of key committees. This did meet with opposition from other full members and some concessions were garnered, but the direction of travel was opposite to Woolf’s.

In the ever-twisting relationship between the ICC and BCCI, Srinivasan was removed as chair in November 2015 at the request of the BCCI, which was concerned about ongoing conflicts of interest. He was replaced by Shashank Manohar, then president of the BCCI. He served two two-year terms with the ICC, being instrumental in reformulating Srinivasan’s plans. This occurred in 2017, but not without drama.

In April 2017, the board approved, by 13 votes to 1, a revised financial model for the 2016-2023 cycle. Under this, India would receive $293 million, England $143 million, Zimbabwe $94 million and the other seven full members $132 million each. It would be no surprise to learn that the dissenting vote was India’s since it had been seeking $570 million. Other changes approved by the board opened the way for more Test cricket nations, removed the affiliate level of membership to leave only two categories — full and associate member — and introduced an independent female director, along with amendments that expanded on and clarified the roles and objectives of the ICC to provide leadership in international cricket.

All of this required ratification by the full council in June 2017. Meanwhile, India threatened to boycott the ICC’s Champions Trophy, so it should not be surprising to learn that the revenue distribution had changed by the ratification date. The BCCI was allocated $405 million, England $139 million and the other full members unchanged or slightly reduced amounts. Ireland and Afghanistan were granted Test status and shared $240 million with associate members. India did enter the Champions Trophy.

Strongarm tactics used by the BCCI to get its way have become commonplace in the ICC governance regime. While some of Woolf’s recommendations have been implemented over the years, his key calls for independent board members and a more egalitarian distribution of power and money have not. This is hardly a surprise given the BCCI’s overwhelming dominance on both counts.

It claims to generate 70 percent of cricket’s global revenues. On that basis, it feels entitled to the lion’s share of ICC revenue distribution.

The battle is over the size of that share and who determines it. This ought to be the ICC with its remit to promote and develop cricket at all levels throughout the world. It is hard to resist the feeling that Woolf would be distinctly unimpressed by the shackles and tensions under which the ICC still has to operate, imposed mainly by the BCCI. Who is going to control the future landscape of world cricket, especially if the next ICC chair is Indian?

Thailand to host AFC Women’s Club Championship 2022 – Pilot Tournament in East zone

Thailand to host AFC Women’s Club Championship 2022 – Pilot Tournament in East zone
Updated 26 May 2022

Thailand to host AFC Women’s Club Championship 2022 – Pilot Tournament in East zone

Thailand to host AFC Women’s Club Championship 2022 – Pilot Tournament in East zone
  • Uzbekistan recently announced as venue for tournament in West zone

RIYADH: The Asian Football Confederation has confirmed the Football Association of Thailand as the host member association for the upcoming AFC Women’s Club Championship – Pilot Tournament in the East region.

The match schedule has also been finalized with teams in the East – Taichung Blue Whale FC from Taiwan, Myanmar’s ISPE FC Women, and a club from Thailand to be decided by June 2022 – with games set to be played from Aug. 15 to 21.

In addition, the Uzbekistan Football Association was confirmed as the host member association for the West, which will be comprised of participating clubs from the host country, India, Iran, and Jordan and will be staged from Aug. 20 to 26, marking the first time the competition has been held across the two regions.

While the final cast of participating clubs will be confirmed at a later date, this year’s edition will also see the introduction of the first ever regional final contest between the East and West group leaders, which will take place in conjunction with the 2022 AFC Cup final on Oct. 22.

The winners will join 2019 victors Nippon TV Beleza from Japan and 2021 champions Amman Club from Jordan in the pilot editions’ honors roll, with the ultimate aim of chasing continental club glory ahead of the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League in 2024.

Mbappe’s rejection of Real Madrid gives Spanish football inferiority complex

Mbappe’s rejection of Real Madrid gives Spanish football inferiority complex
Updated 26 May 2022

Mbappe’s rejection of Real Madrid gives Spanish football inferiority complex

Mbappe’s rejection of Real Madrid gives Spanish football inferiority complex
  • Days before Champions League final against Liverpool, new La Liga champs left reeling when French international opted to stay at Paris Saint-Germain
  • Spanish game has lost some star attractions since departures of Cristiano Ronaldo from real Madrid, Lionel Messi from Barcelona

RIYADH: Real Madrid may be days away from another Champions League final, but it seems the biggest talking point at the club at the weekend was Kylian Mbappe’s decision to stay at Paris Saint-Germain.

The Spanish giants, and their President Florentino Perez, simply do not take kindly to be being rejected, and certainly not twice as the French World Cup winner has just done.

On Saturday, Mbappe confirmed he would stay on at Paris Saint-Germain instead of making a move that had been all but set in stone earlier in the week. His new contract will keep him in the French capital until 2025 and allegedly give him benefits and powers never before afforded to a professional footballer.

And it was not only in Madrid where the decision did not go down well.

In recent days, even Barcelona President Joan Laporte has criticized Mbappe’s decision, calling players who signed long-term contracts for PSG “slaves to money.”

But perhaps the most outraged reaction came from the president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, who questioned the French club’s ability to pull off such a lucrative deal having incurred losses of $750 million in recent seasons and with a salary bill of more than $640 million. It was, he said, an “insult to football.”

In short, the move has been seen as a slap in the face for La Liga and Spanish football.

La Liga, astonishingly, even filed complaints to UEFA and the EU against Paris Saint-Germain “in defense of the integrity of the economic system of European football.”

In its statement, La Liga considered the actions of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, president of the Parisian club, “a danger to European football,” and stressed that such deals threatened the economic sustainability of the game in Europe, putting hundreds of thousands of jobs and sporting integrity at risk in the medium term. The deal, it said, was a “complete scandal.”

It is not hard to see where all the anger stems from. Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid and, later, Lionel Messi from Barcelona, La Liga has lost some of its luster.

Mbappe’s rejection of Real Madrid comes only weeks after Erling Haaland, also a target at the Bernabeu, signed for English Premier League champions Manchester City.

This has not been helped by Barcelona’s marked decline and economic troubles, despite Xavi Hernandez bringing about a relative mood of positivity around his young team. And though Real Madrid have fared better, winning the league title this season, and reaching the Champions League final, at times they have seemed a shadow of the team that won three continental titles under Zinedine Zidane.

Signing Mbappe would have been Tebas’ way of redressing the balance, Madrid once again becoming home to the world’s best player.

That will not happen now.

Even should Real Madrid win the Champions League final in what is sure to be a heated confrontation with a wounded Liverpool, few can deny that in recent years the war quality of the squad at the club has waned, something that Perez was keen to address with other new signings.

There is a danger, however, that the world’s best players are looking elsewhere. Spain, for so many years the ultimate destination, no longer has the same pull.

Never was this clearer than on Sunday night, when the whole world seemingly tuned in enthralled to the finale of the Premier League season.

They were not disappointed either, as the Etihad Stadium witnessed Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City win the title after a remarkable five-minute spell saw them overrun a two-goal deficit against Aston Villa, while Liverpool kept the pressure on to the last with a 3-1 win against Wolves at Anfield.

The Premier League may be overhyped at times, but days like that make it hard to deny that it remains the strongest, most exciting, and most popular league in the world. In marketing speak, its product is unmatched.

That is what Tebas is up against.

The two Spanish giants will no doubt strengthen their squads in anticipation of another battle for supremacy next season, but El Classico may not be the draw it once was if players continue to head to the Premier League or Paris Saint-Germain.

For Perez, the announcement of Mbappe was a major step to establishing Real Madrid as Europe’s prominent destination, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s final against Liverpool.

Now he has to start all over again.

Already there are reports of a deal with Aurelien Tchouameni of Monaco. Will Real Madrid compensate for the Mbappe deal by attempting to sign Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane from their Champions League final opponents, or even Richarlison from Everton? And will Perez and the fans even be satisfied with any of these after having their heart set on Mbappe?

That such questions have preoccupied Spanish fans and officials ahead of European football’s biggest game shows the extent to which they have been rattled.

A defeat for Real Madrid on Saturday, and Spanish football’s recent sense of an inferiority complex might just grow even more.

Celtics beat Heat to move within a win of NBA Finals

Celtics beat Heat to move within a win of NBA Finals
Updated 26 May 2022

Celtics beat Heat to move within a win of NBA Finals

Celtics beat Heat to move within a win of NBA Finals
  • The Celtics improved to 6-2 on the road in this year’s playoffs

MIAMI: Jaylen Brown scored 25 points and Jayson Tatum added 22 as the Boston Celtics moved to the brink of the NBA Finals on Wednesday by defeating Miami 93-80.

Tatum also contributed game-highs of 12 rebounds and nine assists as the visiting Celtics took a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals series, which continues in Boston on Friday.

“We can’t think it’s over with,” Tatum said. “We have to go home like we’re down 3-2, with that sense of urgency. Not being satisfied. We’ve got things to clean up, we’ve got to be playing better. The job is not done yet.

“It’s far from over.”

The Celtics, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit to eliminate defending champion Milwaukee in the second round, are one victory from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.

They have not captured the NBA crown since 2008, when they beat the Lakers.

“This is a great opportunity,” Brown said. “We have an opportunity to do something special.”

The Celtics improved to 6-2 on the road in this year’s playoffs.

A physical, defensive-minded contest was decided late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, when the Celtics went on a 24-2 run, Brown scoring 13 in the spurt and Tatum adding seven.

“We just got it going offensively,” Brown said. “We stopped turning the ball over. We cleaned it up, made more shots and got settled in.”

The Celtics dominated the third quarter, outscoring Miami 32-16 and closing the period with a 10-0 run for the largest lead to that point at 69-58 entering the fourth quarter.

For the game, Brown hit 10-of-19 from the floor, 5-of-9 from 3-point range.

“The game opened up in the second half,” Brown said. “My team needed me to come out and respond.”

Miami went 4-for-22 shooting from the floor in the third quarter.

“The consecutive missed open shots started to affect us on the other end,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“As poorly as we played offensively, we were able to compete defensively and keep them to under 100.”

Boston then opened the fourth quarter with a 14-2 run to seize command at 83-60 and the Celtics held off Miami from there, an emphatic slam dunk by Brown serving notice the visitors would not be letting the Heat make the game dramatic over the final minutes.

“We played great defense in the first half. We played great defense in the second half,” Brown said. “Once we started shooting the ball straight I knew we’d have a good half.”

Bam Adebayo led Miami with 18 points and also added 10 rebounds. But the Heat shot only 30-of-94 from the floor and 7-of-45 from 3-point range.

“We wear teams out defensively and make it hard on them mentally and physically,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “If we do that we’re in good shape.”

The Heat’s starting backcourt, Max Strus and Kyle Lowry, were a combined 0-of-15 from the floor, 0-for-12 from 3-point range.

“I’ve got to play better,” Lowry said. “Tonight I played terrible. When I get on the court I have to be better.”

Al Horford added 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks for the Celtics. The 35-year-old Dominican center seeks his first NBA crown.

“Al is old reliable,” Brown said. “He gives us whatever we need.”

Boston’s Marcus Smart played despite a right ankle sprain and teammate Robert Williams was on the court despite a left knee injury.

Smart had five points, five rebounds and four assists plus stalwart defensive moves while Williams contributed six points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.

“Rob is a very big part of what we do,” Horford said. “I’m impressed at his poise. He’s huge for us.”