Al-Hilal and Al-Nasser clash in Saudi’s biggest game — and Argentina’s

Al-Hilal and Al-Nasser clash in Saudi’s biggest game — and Argentina’s
Al-Shabab will be looking to bounce back from that 5-0 loss at the hands of Al-Hilal, which ended their 17-game unbeaten run. (Twitter/@Alhilal_EN)
Short Url
Updated 21 February 2022

Al-Hilal and Al-Nasser clash in Saudi’s biggest game — and Argentina’s

Al-Hilal and Al-Nasser clash in Saudi’s biggest game — and Argentina’s
  • The King’s Cup quarter-final between the Riyadh Rivals will pit former River Plate legend Ramond Diaz against ex-Boca Juniors coach Miguel Angel Rosso

The biggest game in Argentina this week is not in Buenos Aires or Cordoba but Riyadh. Al-Nassr against Al-Hilal is always a tasty encounter and one of the fiercest rivalries in Asian football, but their King’s Cup quarter-final on Monday should be almost as eagerly awaited in South America as in Saudi Arabia.

Both teams, who have won 26 domestic championships and 30 King’s Cups between them, have recently appointed Argentine coaches who know a thing or two about fierce rivalries. Al-Hilal recruited Ramon Diaz on Feb.14 and were rewarded with a 5-0 thrashing of Al-Shabab, another neighbor, on Thursday that kept alive the champions’ faint title hopes. The 62-year-old is a River Plate legend with two spells at the club as a player and as a coach. 

On the opposite side of Riyadh is Miguel Angel Rosso who, this time last year, was in charge of River’s bitter Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors. These two coaches know what it is like to be in the middle of one of the most frenzied derby atmospheres in world football, but there is plenty riding on Monday’s game. 

This will be the ninth meeting between the two tacticians, and in the past Diaz has had the upper hand with four wins and just two defeats. The first clash was back in 1996 when many of their current players were not even born. Diaz won the 1996 Copa Libertadores with River Plate and defeated Rosso, then in charge of Universidad de Chile, in the semifinal. The subsequent six clashes have all taken place in Argentina, the last of which were in the 2013-14 season. 

For Diaz, it is a great opportunity to build on a great start. To knock Al-Nassr out of the King’s Cup would really get the fans, some of whom have expressed doubts about the reappointment of the man who was fired from the same job in 2018, onside. He will be without injured right-back Mohammed Al-Breik as well as midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki. Meanwhile, Mohammed Kanno and playmaker Matheus Pereira remain suspended.

For Russo, just two months into the job, this is a chance to achieve a famous victory. The league form has been outstanding with nine wins out of the past 10, though the recent 3-0 loss to Al-Ittihad suggests that winning the SPL is beyond the Yellows. Ironically, the former Boca boss has been getting the best out of Pity Martinez. The Argentine was a star for River Plate as they defeated Boca in the final of the 2018 Copa Libertadores, a performance that helped the 28-year-old win the South American Player of the Year award in the same year. 

Injuries meant that the playmaker hasn’t played much since his big money signing in September 2020 but now he is looking like the player Al-Nassr thought they were getting almost 18 months ago. His last-minute penalty gave the club a crucial 4-3 win over Al-Batin last Thursday, and if he can do something similar on Monday he would become a hero. Al-Nassr are still smarting from losing to their rivals in the semifinal of the 2021 AFC Champions League, which Hilal went on to win. Serving some revenge would go down well.

There’s more to it than that. While both teams are still officially in the title race — Al-Nassr second and Al-Hilal fourth — leaders Al-Ittihad remain strong favorites to stay in first for the rest of the season. The King’s Cup offers their rivals’ best chance of silverware this year. It is a prestigious prize in its own right but also comes with a ticket to Asia and, at this stage of the season, neither can be sure of qualifying through their league position. 

There are other teams with their eye on the cup. Leaders Al-Ittihad saw their 10-game winning streak in the league come to an end last week as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Al-Taawoun, and the two teams meet once again with a place in the last four at stake. Al-Shabab and Al-Ahli face off in what is another big clash. Al-Shabab will be looking to bounce back from that 5-0 loss at the hands of Al-Hilal, which ended their 17-game unbeaten run. The Riyadh club are not yet out of the title race completely, but a first championship since 2012 looks unlikely. Al-Ahli have less in the league to play for. The Jeddah giants have moved clear of the relegation zone to sit in mid-table. To win the King’s Cup for what would be a record 19th time would end a forgettable campaign on a major high. In the fourth tie, one of Al-Batin and Al-Feiha will progress to the semifinal and keep alive their hopes of a rare piece of silverware.

All eyes, however, will be on Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr — in Buenos Aires as well as Riyadh.


Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah

Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah
Updated 6 sec ago

Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah

Ramla Ali set to make women’s boxing history in Jeddah
  • British Somali fighter has overcome adversity to take on Crystal Garcia Nova on Usyk-Joshua undercard
  • Law graduate works with UNICEF and set up ‘Sisters Club’ to help vulnerable females

For Ramla Ali, history awaits on Saturday night.

When the British Somali boxer takes on Crystal Garcia Nova on the Oleksandr Usyk versus Anthony Joshua card at Rage on the Red Sea, she will be part of the first ever female professional boxing bout in Saudi Arabia.

As a Muslim and African female pugilist, it is a moment she does not take lightly, and one that did not come easy either.

Adversity has been her constant companion throughout her career.

Ali was born in Somalia in 1989 but fled the war-torn Horn of Africa country with her family at the age of 12 to seek asylum in the UK.

In school, Ali struggled with her weight, so her mother sent her to a local gym in England where she soon discovered “boxercise” and started taking up the sweet science without her family’s knowledge.

She caught the eye of talent scouts with regional success, representing England across Europe and eventually winning multiple amateur boxing titles.

But she claims it was not winning amateur titles and other national level achievements that made her take the leap into professional boxing.

Rather it was sparring with formidable US professional world champions and training in gyms across Europe that gave her the belief she deserved a place in the professional ranks.

“Every competition means the world to you at that time. Looking back obviously they don’t all seem to hold the same value but they’re all important chapters in the journey of a sporting career,” said Ali. “Now my family are my biggest supporters which means everything to me as I don’t think I would have wanted to continue if there was still conflict (with them).

“My parents of course would rather I didn’t punch people for a living, but they now understand it’s given me a platform to also do great work outside of the sport.”

Ali is a survivor and continues to achieve her goals despite constant challenges.

‘I haven’t had the privilege of being funded by my country during my international amateur years,” she said. “Every tournament, every camp, every coach or physio was paid for by myself and Richard (Moore, husband and manager), and with this comes the pressure of needing to perform to make sure that it’s all worth it.

“There is definitely a greater expectation of how I should carry myself in comparison to other boxers perhaps because of the young women I represent, the charities and NGOs that I work with or the French fashion brands I’m partnered with,” Ali added. “But this is a pressure I’m happy to carry because fundamentally I want my future daughter and that generation to have a role model that they can be proud of. A career and journey they can aspire to, and not without failure or faults, because I’ve experienced both sides of the coin, but this is life.”

Ali’s work outside the ring is as inspiring as it is inside it. She still deems her law degree as her biggest personal achievement and is keen to highlight the work she does with UNICEF to raise awareness of important issues in East Africa and the Middle East.

In 2018, she founded the Sisters Club. It started as a once-a-week self-defense class in a London gym, and having gained sponsorships from the likes of Nike, Pantene and other brands, Ali saw it as a way to give back to the community.

The charity offered a safe space for hijab-wearing women of color and those that have suffered from domestic violence, giving them a chance to learn about self-defense through boxing and improve their self-confidence.

Now operating across four gyms in London, Ali hopes to see the Sisters Club expand to the US and the Middle East.

Another high point for Ali was representing Somalia at Tokyo 2020, the first fighter from the African nation, male or female, to take part in the boxing competition at the Olympic Games. Her pride at representing her country led her to help set up the Somali Boxing Federation.

Unfortunately, Ali’s hopes that establishing the federation would give others a fighting chance to represent their country were countered with the disappointment of discovering Somali sports is rife with corruption.

Funding provided by the International Olympic Committee for training purposes was allegedly misappropriated by officials instead of being invested in fighters.

Looking back, Ali questions whether she should have gone down that path but remains grateful she represented her country at the Olympics before discovering any wrongdoings, saying: “To some degree, mine and my husband’s naivety and optimism were a blessing.”

Luck, and help, haven’t always been on Ali’s side and she believes far more can be done to help female fighters make the grade.

“I would like to see more of an effort from the other promotional outfits across the UK and US to push female boxing, not just through token signings but a real shift in the landscape,” she said.

Although more females are being contracted — she highlights that the “Boxxer Series” via Sky Sports recently signed two British fighters — their pay remains a fraction of their male counterparts.

“If you look at the sport of tennis, it wasn’t when the women insisted on fairer pay that they received it,” said Ali. “Rather it was when the male players like Andy Murray refused to enter tournaments because of the lack of equality, or when the pressure of journalists and media became too much, that organizations finally started making a difference in their approach.”

It is no surprise that Ali will be one of the two women who make history in Jeddah on Saturday.

Her opponent Nova is a tall, tough super bantamweight from the Dominican Republic with a knockout ratio of over 80 percent.

It will be Ali’s hardest fight yet, but she’s come to Saudi Arabia to win. Since January, she has been training in Los Angeles with coach and former professional boxer Manny Robles.

“California has without a doubt the most female world champions and the highest level of competition and so as my career progresses there is a greater need to up my training regime,” she said. “I am working with Argentinian strength and conditioning coach Mattias Erbin as well, who has been responsible for several world champions over the last 10 years.”

All the hard work, Ali hopes, will come to fruition at Rage on the Red Sea.

“I hope when people look back at me, they see a person who had everything against them in life, but through perseverance and a refusal to quit still managed to have nearly all the same opportunities in life, and achieved at the highest level,” Ali said.

“This fight will be without a doubt one of the high points in my boxing career. To have been part of helping shape the culture towards creating greater equality in the region is more important than my own personal successes or feelings.”


Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans
Updated 16 August 2022

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans

Murray downs Wawrinka in Cincinnati battle of veterans
  • The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve

CINCINNATI: Andy Murray won his first hardcourt match of the summer on Monday, defeating Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-5 in the opening round of the ATP/WTA Cincinnati Masters.
The 35-year-old Scot was facing his 37-year-old Swiss rival for the 22nd time with both treble Grand Slam champions still coming back to full form after long-term injuries over the past few seasons.
Murray lost in the first round at Washington and last week in Montreal while Wawrinka’s last win came on grass two months ago at Queen’s Club, London; he has not won on cement since the Australian Open last year.
Murray needed four match points to advance at a tournament he has won twice, in 2008 and 2011. The veteran was competing here for the 17th time.
“We’re not young anymore,” Murray said. “Both of us gave our best right until the end.
“Matches like this are a lot tougher than when we were in our mid-20s.
“Both of us love this sport, we’ve had our issues with injuries the last few years.
“The sport has been a huge part of my life, I started playing when I was four.”
Compatriot Cameron Norrie joined Murray in the second round with his 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4 defeat of Dane Holger Rune.
The Scot began to well up as he described his love for the game.
“When I was out injured and not sure if I would be able to come back, I remembered the reasons why you play the game,” Murray said.
“It’s taken a lot of effort and struggles to get back (after two hip surgeries) and play at this level again.
“I want to make the most of it while I’m still able to.”
Murray claimed the opening set in the tiebreaker as he faced his longtime rival.
The Scot went down a break in the second set but got it back before finding himself at a set apiece after being broken in the final game.
The third set featured another pair of early service breaks; but Murray brought an end to hostilities with a break for 6-5 followed by a labored concluding hold of serve.
In the closing stages, Murray loudly chastised himself as his grip on the set threatened to slip away against the Swiss whose best showing here was a semifinal a decade ago.
The contest was punctuated repeatedly by visits from the trainer for both men.
Other winners on opening day included 2016 champion Marin Cilic, who defeated Spain’s Jaume Munar 6-3, 6-3, and American John Isner, the 2013 finalist against Rafael Nadal, who advanced past France’s Benjamin Bonzi 7-6 (13/11), 3-6, 7-6 (7/4).
In the WTA draw, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina defeated Egyptian Mayar Sherif 6-3, 6-2.
The world number 25 set up a second-round clash with eighth seed Garbine Muguruza, title-winner here in 2017.
The 23-year-old Kazakh lifted her game in the second set to end with five aces and 13 winners against Sharif.
“I was slow at the beginning but I got my rhythm and served well,” Rybakina said. “But my serve always helps me.”
The newest Grand Slam champion said she is trying to look ahead in her career as she adjusts to her status.
“Wimbledon gave me confidence but now I’m focusing on my other tournaments and trying not to think of the past,” she said.
American Amanda Anisimova beat ninth seed Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-4.


Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe
Updated 16 August 2022

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe

Morata scores twice as Atlético debuts with win at Getafe
  • Morata scored twice on Monday as Atlético began its Spanish league campaign with a 3-0 win at Getafe

MADRID: The decision to keep Álvaro Morata is already paying off for Atlético Madrid.
Morata scored twice on Monday as Atlético began its Spanish league campaign with a 3-0 win at Getafe. Antoine Griezmann also scored coming off the bench, with João Félix setting up all three goals for the visitors.
There had been doubts about whether Atlético would keep Morata after his two-year loan with Juventus ended. Some teams, including Juventus and Manchester United, reportedly had shown interest.
But Morata impressed in the preseason — which included a hat trick against Juventus — and Atlético ultimately decided it was worth keeping the 29-year-old striker.
“I don’t need to send any messages,” Morata said. “I have to keep working for myself and for my team. It was important to start with a victory. I think it’s going to be a great year.”
It didn’t take long on Monday for Morata to show Atlético was right. He scored with a well-placed low shot from the top of the area after a nice one-touch pass by João Félix in the 15th minute, then picked up another superb assist from the Portugal youngster to hit the top of the net from inside the area in the 59th.
“He is doing well, he works hard,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. “Everyone at the club hopes he will stay with us.”
Griezmann came off the bench and sealed the victory with a shot from outside the area in the 75th.
Atlético finished third in the Spanish league last year, behind Barcelona and champions Real Madrid.
Madrid won 2-1 at promoted Almería on Sunday, while Barcelona drew 0-0 at home against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.


FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation
Updated 16 August 2022

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

FIFA suspends India’s national soccer federation

ZURICH: FIFA suspended India’s national soccer federation late Monday “due to undue influence from third parties,” the sport’s governing body said.
The suspension of the All India Football Federation threatens the country’s hosting of the Under-17 Women’s World Cup scheduled for Oct. 11-30.
FIFA said the suspension was effective immediately and that the transgression “constitutes a serious violation of the FIFA Statutes.”
“The suspension will be lifted once an order to set up a committee of administrators to assume the powers of the AIFF executive committee has been repealed and the AIFF administration regains full control of the AIFF’s daily affairs,” FIFA said.
The Under-17 Women’s World Cup “cannot currently be held in India as planned,” FIFA said.
“FIFA is in constant constructive contact with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in India and is hopeful that a positive outcome to the case may still be achieved.”


All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
Updated 15 August 2022

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms

All eyes on Saudi as ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ boxing battle looms
  • Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history
  • Riyadh hosted the epic ‘Clash on the Dunes’ in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier

JEDDAH: The sporting world’s attention is set to focus on Jeddah this week in anticipation of the “Rage on the Red Sea” boxing match between world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and challenger Anthony Joshua.

The event on Aug. 20 will also feature a first ever women’s boxing match in Saudi Arabia, and the appearance of Arab up-and-comer Ziyad Al-Maayouf.

Live from Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Arena, Usyk will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts against the former two-time unified champion Joshua, in one of the most anticipated rematches in boxing history.

The winner will also take home the Ring Magazine title after Tyson Fury vacated it last week.

In the first meeting between these two titans of the heavyweight division, Ukrainian Usyk (19 wins, no losses and 13 knockouts) produced a masterclass performance on route to dethroning Joshua (24-2-22), defeating the Briton in his own backyard by unanimous decision at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England last September, with over 60,000 fans in attendance and millions more watching around the world.

This time around, Joshua enters the ring as challenger rather than champion, although “AJ” has enacted revenge and immediately reclaimed titles before in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh hosted the epic “Clash on the Dunes” in December 2019 when Joshua defeated Andy Ruiz Jr. on points and avenged his shock defeat a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Usyk remains undefeated in his professional campaign. The former undisputed cruiserweight world champion has made the successful transition to heavyweight and is viewed by many as the world’s pound-for-pound best fighter.

Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz, chairman of Skill Challenge Entertainment, said: “International boxing spectacles are always special, not least because of the activities and events (that are) part of the pre-fight build-up. History illustrates that the days leading up to massive fights live long in the memory of everyone involved, from fans to media, promotors to sponsors, the fighters themselves to their teams and families.

“They are a traditional yet integral component of local, regional, and international promotion and contribute to the acclaim these events receive and the legacy they leave behind. As such, we are delighted that the time has finally come for Jeddah to host Rage on the Red Sea fight week. Jeddah is ready to welcome the world once more while showcasing precisely (why) it has become the new home for Middle Eastern sport.”

Fight week in Jeddah officially gets underway on Monday with an exclusive media arrival event at Shangri-La Business Center, where international media, VIPs, and other invited guests will enjoy a series of press opportunities with fighters, promotors and key stakeholders.

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the week’s proceedings continue with the traditional public workout. Hosted at Saudia City, fans will join media and VIPs as the undercard and main event fighters showcase their skills and offer a first-hand glimpse of their pre-fight preparations, sure to generate further buzz before the weekend’s action.

The pre-fight press conference will be held on Wednesday at Shangri-La Hotel from 2 p.m. local time. Stakeholders, sponsors, and the media will be in attendance as the fighters and their teams share their thoughts and answer questions.

On Friday, Aug. 19, the fighters will face off for the final time at the official weigh-in. Later that evening, the Shangri-La ballroom will host an invitation-only gala dinner for global partners and guests of the Ministry of Sports and SCEE, which holds the global rights to the event.