Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab clash in Riyadh Derby as Al-Ittihad threaten to disappear over the horizon

Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab clash in Riyadh Derby as Al-Ittihad threaten to disappear over the horizon
Al Hilal fans inside the stadium before the match (Reuters)
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Updated 16 February 2022

Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab clash in Riyadh Derby as Al-Ittihad threaten to disappear over the horizon

Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab clash in Riyadh Derby as Al-Ittihad threaten to disappear over the horizon
  • A win for leaders from Jeddah over Al-Taawoun will make it close to impossible for rivals from the capital to catch them in Saudi pro league this season

It is second against fourth in the Saudi Professional League on Thursday but the game between Al-Shabab and Al-Hilal is bigger than that and not just because it is a Riyadh derby.

Both teams need to win if they are to keep title hopes alive and victory would be especially sweet for Al-Shabab, for many reasons.

Much has been said about Al-Hilal, who return to league action after a gap of almost four weeks. In that time they have been at the FIFA Club World Cup, with experiences both very good and very bad, dismissed coach Leonardo Jardim, appointed Ramon Diaz and have fallen 16 points behind leaders Al-Ittihad.

All the spotlight on their Riyadh rivals is probably going to please Al-Shabab. The 2012 champions have been moving under the radar to an extent and it has been almost unnoticed, and certainly underreported, that the team have gone 17 games unbeaten. That run has taken last season’s runners-up back into second place with the only problem being that Al-Ittihad have won their last ten and are seven points clear having played a game fewer.

There was a slight hiccup in January as the team drew three games in succession and after dropping those six points, Al-Shabab lost the league’s then top scorer Odion Ighalo to Al-Hilal. Plenty of teams around the world would miss the Nigerian striker, who arrived in Riyadh last year straight from Manchester United, though since his departure the six-time champions have won both games 2-1 against Al-Hazm and Damac, helped by a goal in each game from Luciano Vietto who arrived from Al-Hilal. It would not be a surprise if the Argentine made the difference, especially as he already seems to be working well with his talented compatriot Ever Banega. If Al-Shabab can cut the supply to their former star striker they will go a long way toward winning and it will also add an extra frisson of pleasure.

While the unbeaten run is impressive, there are issues at the back with no clean sheets in the past seven games, though performances even in seemingly narrow wins against Damac were more dominant than the scorelines sometimes suggested with the impressive Banega pulling the strings. Al-Shabab have what it takes to give Al-Hilal a bloody nose and virtually knock the champions out of the title race. It would be especially satisfying to get revenge for the end of last season. Al-Shabab were very much in the hunt for a first title for nine years when they hosted Al-Hilal on May 7 but were thrashed 5-1 by the visitors. Had Al-Shabab won that game, they would have been crowned champions.

There is another aspect to this meeting. The focus will be on the new coach Diaz but many thought that Al-Shabab were also going to change their boss earlier this season. Carlos Inarejos left at the end of last season and in came Pericles Chamascu who did a great job taking Al-Faisaly to the King’s Cup last season, the club’s first major trophy in their history. Yet after just one win in the first six games, there was major pressure on the 56-year-old and many thought that Chamascu would be out on his ear — after all, Al-Ittihad made the change after just one league game. The Brazilian stayed and the team have not lost since September. 

As big as this game is, it will be reduced in significance somewhat if Al-Ittihad defeat Al-Taawoun a little earlier on Thursday. An 11th straight win would put the Tigers 10 points ahead of Al-Shabab with the same games played and 19 ahead of Al-Hilal having played three games more. It is very difficult to imagine then that either challenger could stop the Jeddah giants winning a first title since 2009. 

The team are on fire and have been strengthened this year by adding Abderrazak Hamdallah. More impressive is that despite the absence of the hugely influential Ahmed Hegazi in defense (AFCON and injury) and, further up the pitch, Igor Coronado (injury), the team have continued to win and are doing so in style. This year, they have played five games, taken 15 points and conceded just a single goal and scored 12. This is title form at a time when they could have been forgiven for stumbling a little. The 3-0 win over Al-Nassr last weekend was huge. 

It could be that a team such as Al-Taawoun are a danger if Al-Ittihad take their eyes off the ball. This is a team that is still in a relegation scrap but are the fourth-highest scorers in the entire league with Leandre Tawamba on 13 so far this season, just one behind Talisca in the scoring standings.

The Brazilian will be absent from Al-Nassr’s trip to Al-Batin after receiving a red card in that disastrous loss to Al-Ittihad, a defeat which sent the team down to third and nine points off the pace. Vincent Aboubakar is set to make his first start after returning from the African Cup of Nations where he ended up as top scorer.

Al-Nassr need the Cameroonian to bring his national team form back to his club and all three challengers know that with Al-Ittihad in such glittering form, there can be no more slip-ups. Yet with two of the chasing pack facing each other, someone is going to slip up.


Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 
Updated 03 December 2022

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 

Scheffler makes a late bid to return to No. 1 
  • Scheffler spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone this year, which earns him the Mark H. McCormack Award

NASSAU, Bahamas: The degree Masters champion Scottie Scheffler earned from the McCombs School of Business at Texas did not equip him with the skills to figure out the new formula for the Official World Golf Ranking.

He is No. 2 in the world. He can go back to No. 1 if he wins the Hero World Challenge, simple as that.

“I don’t like being No. 2,” he said. “I don’t like finishing second.”

Scheffler took a step in that direction in the relentless wind at Albany. He ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine for a 4-under 68, leaving him in the group one shot behind defending champion Viktor Hovland.

Hovland knows a little about wind. The Norwegian saw enough of it during his amateur days across Europe, and then he starred at Oklahoma State.

Hovland made eagle for the second straight day — the other 19 players have combined for one eagle this week — had three straight birdies on the back nine and had a 70. He was at 5-under 139.

Scores typically are much lower in the holiday event Tiger Woods hosts for a 20-man field of elite players in the Bahamas. The course was soaked and played long on Thursday. It dried out in 30 mph wind on Friday.

Xander Schauffele leaned on exquisite wedge play for a 68 and joined Scheffler, Cameron Young (69) and Collin Morikawa (71) in the group one shot behind.

Tom Kim dropped two shots on the final three holes and that gave him a 72, leaving him two shots behind. That’s not the reason the 20-year-old South Korean raised both arms after he had signed his card. Scrolling through his phone, he learned South Korea had advanced to the knockout stage in the World Cup.

“Goose bumps,” Kim said as he stretched out his arms.

Scheffler spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone this year, which earns him the Mark H. McCormack Award. That was a product of four wins against strong fields in the spring, including his first major. The Masters was his last win.

Rory McIlroy replaced him with a win in South Carolina in October, and now Scheffler has a chance to grab it back, even if for a short time. McIlroy is expected to be No. 1 when the year ends regardless of what happens in the Bahamas.

The model went from rating the top 200 players in a field based on their world ranking to rating everyone in the field using the “strokes gained” formula, which measure actual scores and adjusts for relative difficulty of each round.

It favors deeper fields, regardless of how many of the top players are there. And it won’t be fully integrated until next August.

But there has been no shortage of complaints, with even Woods weighing in this week that it’s a flawed system. Some of the criticism stems from the new formula not giving as much credit to smaller fields compared with full fields.

“I think now I would say the top players are not bringing as much weight to events as they should,” Scheffler said.

The Hero World Challenge has 15 of the top 20 in the world. It also has only 20 players, and so the winner will get slightly fewer points than the winner of the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

“But it’s also really tough to rank golfers when they’re not playing the same schedule,” Scheffler said. “So I think as we all start to play together more often and you get the best players playing together more often, it’s going to be much easier to rank those guys.

“It’s a tough system. It’s not something that’s easy to get right,” he said. “In other sports, you have a record and golf is not necessarily a record. It’s a challenging system. I think they went from one extreme to the other, and we’ll meet in the middle, hopefully, and find something that’s a little bit better.”

The ultimate measure remains the low score, and that belongs to Hovland. Woods, who is not playing this week because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, is the only player to have won the World Challenge in consecutive years.

He’s not sure how he’s getting it done, especially in this wind.

“It’s kind of strange, like I knew it was windy and I feel like I missed so many putts,” Hovland said. “And I still don’t feel like I’m hitting it very good. I’m not comfortable over the ball, but the ball’s going straight and I’m giving myself looks.”
 


Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup

Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup
Updated 03 December 2022

Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup

Cameroon beat Brazil 1-0 in final group game at World Cup
  • Aboubakar was sent off with a second yellow card for taking off his shirt during his celebration
  • Brazil finished with six points, the same as Switzerland

LUSAIL, Qatar: Vincent Aboubakar scored with a header two minutes into stoppage time in Cameroon’s 1-0 win over Brazil at the World Cup on Friday, a result that still allowed the five-time champions to win the group and eliminated the Africans.
Aboubakar was then sent off with a second yellow card for taking off his shirt during his celebration.
Brazil, which had already reached the knockout stage after victories over Serbia and Switzerland, will face South Korea in the round of 16.
Brazil finished with six points, the same as Switzerland but the South Americans had a better goal difference. The Swiss also advanced and will face Portugal. Cameroon ended with four points and Serbia one.
Coach Tite rested nearly all of his regular starters and made 10 changes from the win against Switzerland on Monday.
Brazil was still without the injured Neymar, but the star forward was at Lusail Stadium to watch the match with his teammates.


Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup
Updated 03 December 2022

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup

Switzerland beat Serbia 3-2 to reach last 16 of World Cup
  • Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime as the Swiss secured second place in Group G
  • They will next face Portugal on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium

DOHA: Switzerland advanced to the last 16 of the World Cup for the third tournament in a row after a 3-2 win over Serbia on Friday.
Remo Freuler scored the winning goal just after halftime as the Swiss secured second place in Group G. They will next face Portugal on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium.
Xherdan Shaqiri put Switzerland ahead early in the first half before Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic responded for Serbia. Breel Embolo evened the score just before halftime.
Switzerland needed a win to guarantee themselves a place in the knockout round after beating Cameroon and losing to Brazil in their opening two games. The team reached the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and again four years later in Russia. They lost 1-0 in both matches, to Argentina and Sweden, respectively.
Against Portugal, the Swiss will be looking to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since hosting the competition in 1954.


Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss

Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss
Updated 02 December 2022

Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss

Ronaldo ‘insulted’ by South Korean player in World Cup loss
  • The 37-year-old skipper looked miffed and ambled off slowly when his number went up in the 65th minute
  • "He was angry with the player from Korea and everyone saw that," Santos said

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo was “insulted” by a South Korean player as he was substituted during Portugal’s 2-1 World Cup defeat on Friday, coach Fernando Santos said.
The 37-year-old skipper looked miffed and ambled off slowly when his number went up in the 65th minute.
Santos denied that was because he was upset at being hooked.
“He was angry with the player from Korea and everyone saw that,” Santos said after his side topped Group H despite conceding in injury time to fall to defeat for the first time in Qatar.
“The player was insulting him, telling him to go away (get off the pitch) so that’s why he was angry and everyone saw that.
“I saw the interaction with the Korean player and have no doubt about it.”
Becoming irritated by the line of questioning, Santos added: “He (the Korean player) was not aggressive, he was verbally aggressive.
“He was speaking in English to Cristiano and Cristiano said, ‘Well, perhaps he did not have a good day.’“
South Korean midfielder Hwang In-beom attempted to play down the controversy.
“I didn’t see it, I was too tired,” he said. “I was looking at the ground, so I didn’t see it and I have nothing to say.”


Uruguay beats Ghana 2-0 at World Cup but both teams out

Uruguay beats Ghana 2-0 at World Cup but both teams out
Updated 02 December 2022

Uruguay beats Ghana 2-0 at World Cup but both teams out

Uruguay beats Ghana 2-0 at World Cup but both teams out
  • Suarez was distraught on the sidelines and covered his face
  • Suarez had been substituted when the screen at Al-Janoub Stadium suddenly flashed that South Korea was in second place

AL-WAKRAH, Qatar: This time, Luis Suarez cried on the sidelines after Uruguay were eliminated from the World Cup despite a 2-0 win over Ghana on Friday.
The result also put Ghana out of the competition.
Suarez played a key role in both first-half goals scored by Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Uruguay appeared headed for the round of 16 after inflicting more pain on Ghana 12 years after their now-infamous meeting in the quarterfinals at the World Cup in South Africa.
Then, Suarez denied Ghana a winning goal with a deliberate handball on the goal-line and having been sent off, he celebrated wildly on the sidelines when Ghana missed the resultant penalty.
Uruguay were in a position to go through in Qatar until South Korea’s late goal gave it a 2-1 win over Portugal in the other Group H game. That meant Uruguay needed to score one more goal in the dying minutes of its game to qualify.
They didn’t and were eliminated because they had scored fewer goals than South Korea in the group stage. Suarez was distraught on the sidelines and covered his face with his shirt having been substituted in what was likely his last World Cup appearance.
Uruguay’s goals came in a six-minute spell soon after Ghana raised more memories of the 2010 quarterfinal by missing a penalty.
A Suarez shot led to De Arrascaeta’s opener and Suarez set up the second with a clever pass that De Arrascaeta volleyed in. After those two strikes, Uruguay thought it was on its way to the knockouts.
Ghana captain Andre Ayew, the team’s only survivor from the 2010 squad, had his penalty saved by Sergio Rochet in the 21st minute and the game changed immediately after that. De Arrascaeta scored in the 26th and 32nd minutes to crush Ghana hopes.
But the Uruguayans were ultimately also crushed.
Suarez had been substituted when the screen at Al-Janoub Stadium suddenly flashed that South Korea was in second place in the group after a late goal against Portugal.
Uruguay surged forward in search of the goal that would have put it through. Substitutes Maximiliano Gomez and Sebastian Coates both missed late chances and Suarez was crying after the final whistle.