5 things learned from Al-Hilal’s win over SPL leaders Al-Ittihad in latest Saudi Classico

5 things learned from Al-Hilal’s win over SPL leaders Al-Ittihad in latest Saudi Classico
Odion Ighalo (center) celebrates scoring Al-Hilal's winner against SPL leaders Al-Ittihad on Tuesday night. (Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 09 March 2022

5 things learned from Al-Hilal’s win over SPL leaders Al-Ittihad in latest Saudi Classico

5 things learned from Al-Hilal’s win over SPL leaders Al-Ittihad in latest Saudi Classico
  • 2-1 victory in Riyadh means Asian, Saudi champions are 11 points behind Al-Ittihad with 2 games in hand

RIYADH: Al-Hilal defeated Al-Ittihad 2-1 on Tuesday evening in Riyadh, a result that meant the leaders are starting to look over their shoulders despite maintaining a healthy lead in the Saudi Professional League.

The Jeddah giants remain top of the table with 54 points from 23 games, eight points ahead of Al-Shabab in second, and 10 clear of Al-Nassr. Al-Hilal stay in fourth but are now 11 points behind the leaders with two games in hand.

Here are five things learned from a crucial Saudi Classico.

1. The penalty debate will go on for a long time

After 15 minutes of action, Al-Ittihad cleared an attack only for Gustavo Cuellar to fire a half-volley from outside the area toward goal. It hit Hamdan Al-Shamrani who was on the edge of the six-yard box, seemingly but not conclusively, on the arm.

The defender’s head looked to be down as he was trying to put his arms behind his back, but the ball hit him, and the referee pointed to the spot. Al-Hilal players seemed sure that it was a handball, and therefore a penalty, while the visitors were equally convinced that it was a legitimate clearance.

After a video assistant referee review, the Brazilian official upheld his decision. The debate as to whether it was the right one will go on for a long time (though not so much if Al-Ittihad go on to win the title) but it was probably not conclusive enough for the VAR technology to overturn the initial granting of the penalty. What is clear is that Salem Al-Dawsari scored from the spot in as cool a manner as is possible.

2. Al-Ittihad do not have Al-Hilal’s strength in depth

The runaway leaders may have won 12 out of the last 13 league games but Tuesday’s match showed that they do not have the strength in depth that Al-Hilal have, though there is no shame in that. The first 11 for the Tigers is strong indeed but as expected, they missed three influential players in Abderrazak Hamdallah, Ahmed Hegazy, and Igor Coronado.

Some would argue that they were without the best defender, best playmaker, and best striker in the league. What is not debatable is that any team in Saudi Arabia, as well as Asia, would miss such talent. They were also without defender Omar Hawsawi, and winger Abdulrahman Al-Aboud.

Al-Hilal have some long-term absences too but also have a stronger squad than the Tigers. Al-Ittihad need to get their stars back quickly to help ensure that this blip in the title race does not develop into anything more serious.

3. Al-Ittihad may have been too desperate

The last time that Al-Ittihad won the title was in 2009. At the time, none would have imagined that the wait for the next crown would have extended to, at least, 2022.

Did that play on the mind of coach Cosmin Contra? We will never know, but after the Tigers levelled the score on the hour thanks to Haroune Camara, they could have tightened things up a little. A draw would have been a good result for the leaders and would have ensured that Al-Hilal were almost out of the running and stayed 14 points behind.

Yet Al-Ittihad kept pushing forward and were caught out. Was it because of the legacy of not winning the championship for 13 years? It is hard to say, but the coach may reflect that he could have kept things tighter, sat a little deeper, and played on the counter as Al-Hilal pushed forward. It was Al-Hilal who needed to win this game, not Al-Ittihad.

4. Ighalo ensures that Gomis is not missed

Since arriving from Al-Shabab at the end of January, Odion Ighalo has scored four goals in four games and they have all come against the top three: Al-Shabab, Al-Nassr, and now Al-Ittihad.

That is why fans, sad to say goodbye to the legendary Bafetimbi Gomis, now have a new hero. The Nigerian does not do much in the way of spectacular but just scores goals, important ones.

There did not seem to be much danger midway through the second half when he was found by Al-Dawsari on the edge of the area. There were three defenders around him, yet the former Manchester United man took two quick touches, found just a little space, and then finished into the bottom corner.

Perhaps Marcelo Grohe got down a little too slowly, but the goalkeeper was probably not expecting a shot and certainly not one with such precision. It won the game and has perhaps done more than that.

5. This was the result the league needed

Had Al-Ittihad won this game at the home of the in-form league champions then it would have been title race over. The Tigers would not just have gone 11 points clear with seven games left but would have made a huge statement to themselves and to the rest of the league.

To themselves, it would have been a huge confidence boost in what was the toughest game remaining in the fixture list. Even a draw would have been more than satisfactory.

Now, however, the three teams just behind have a sniff of a hope and it is almost in the hands of Al-Hilal. They may be 11 points behind but have two games in hand and also face the leaders once more. Al-Shabab in second meet Al-Ittihad on Sunday and can close the gap to five points.

Suddenly it is all looking exciting and suddenly there is a little pressure on Al-Ittihad.


Qatar cancels Hayya entry card for GCC citizens, residents

Qatar cancels Hayya entry card for GCC citizens, residents
The mobile telephone application for the Hayya card is shown on a screen during a press conference in Doha. AFP
Updated 13 sec ago

Qatar cancels Hayya entry card for GCC citizens, residents

Qatar cancels Hayya entry card for GCC citizens, residents
  • Those traveling by air would be able to enter the country without registering on the Hayya platform

DOHA: Citizens and residents of Gulf Cooperation Council countries will from Tuesday be allowed to enter Qatar for World Cup games without the need to obtain a Hayya card for non-ticketed fans, the Qatari Ministry of Interior announced.

The ministry said that those traveling by air would be able to enter the country without registering on the Hayya platform, while visitors passing through land border crossings would be able to use buses and take advantage of free parking.

From Dec. 8, the green light would be given for private vehicular access on submission of an entry permit via the Ministry of Interior website at least 12 hours before the date of travel.

Pre-entry permits for vehicles are free of charge.

The ministry noted that fans wishing to attend remaining World Cup matches must register via the Hayya platform.


Japan confident of bright future despite World Cup heartbreak

Japan confident of bright future despite World Cup heartbreak
Japan's Daizen Maeda (2nd-L) celebrates with teammates after first goal during Qatar World Cup match against Croatia. AFP
Updated 06 December 2022

Japan confident of bright future despite World Cup heartbreak

Japan confident of bright future despite World Cup heartbreak
  • Japan were eliminated by Croatia in the last 16 on Monday in Qatar, going out on penalties after a nerve-jangling 1-1 draw with the 2018 finalists
  • “We have a lot of young players and this experience will be massive for the team,” said goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima

DOHA: Japan failed to reach the World Cup quarter-finals once again but stunning wins over Germany and Spain and more players moving to Europe suggest the Blue Samurai will return stronger.
Japan were eliminated by Croatia in the last 16 on Monday in Qatar, going out on penalties after a nerve-jangling 1-1 draw with the 2018 finalists.
It was the fourth time Japan had exited at the first knock-out stage and denied them a much-coveted quarter-final debut in their seventh straight World Cup appearance.
But the four-times Asian champions showed that they can compete with the world’s best in Qatar, beating both Germany and Spain — two former champions — to point toward brighter times ahead.
Coach Hajjime Moriyasu said it was not possible to “turn into Superman overnight” but he believes Japan are on the right path.
“We weren’t able to overcome this hurdle of losing in the last 16 and you might say that we didn’t achieve anything new,” he said.
“But the players have shown us something that we haven’t seen before by beating former champions like Germany and Spain.”
The number of European-based players in Japan’s World Cup squads has steadily increased since they made their tournament debut in 1998 with an entirely domestic-based selection.
Moriyasu picked 19 European-based players in his 26-man squad for Qatar, including eight who ply their trade in Germany’s Bundesliga.
Japan had six players in the group stages of this season’s Champions League and Daichi Kamada won last season’s Europa League with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Midfielder Wataru Endo, who captains Stuttgart in the Bundesliga, said he wants to see Japan have enough European-based players “to fill two teams.”
“The quality of the Japan players is improving — we have more players at European clubs and that is good experience for us,” he said.
“We need to have more players playing with European clubs — we need 20 or 30.
“We are improving but we weren’t good enough to get to the quarter-finals.”

- Grass-roots support -

Japan’s player exodus to Europe has come at the expense of the domestic J-League.
Only seven home-based players were named in Moriyasu’s squad and fans of local clubs now find opportunities to watch national team stars few and far between.
Japan defender Yuto Nagatomo, who plays for FC Tokyo, urged Japanese fans to support their local J-League club for the benefit of the national team.
“Most of the players in the squad came up through the J-League and now they play overseas,” said Nagatomo, who returned to FC Tokyo last year after an 11-year stint in Europe.
“There will be a J-League team in most people’s local area. We need to support them.
“If we get excited about the J-League it will help the players grow and give them motivation, then they’ll go overseas and help the national team.”
Japan’s next immediate challenge is to win the Asian Cup, which will be held in Qatar, likely in early 2024.
It remains to be seen if Moriyasu will still be in charge, with the Japan Football Association set to decide his fate when the team return home.
Veterans like Nagatomo and captain Maya Yoshida are likely to make way for a younger generation, with emerging stars such as Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma set to take center stage.
Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who was named in the squad as a back-up after playing at the previous three World Cups, said Japan’s 2022 team was their “best ever” at the tournament.
He backed the young players to take on a leading role and use their heartbreak to make Japan stronger.
“We have a lot of young players and this experience will be massive for the team,” said the 39-year-old.
“The game is just finished but I want the players, particularly the young players, to lead us forward.”


Croatia coach Dalic says Brazil World Cup squad ‘scary’

Croatia coach Dalic says Brazil World Cup squad ‘scary’
Croatia's coach Zlatko Dalic watches his players from the touchline during the Qatar 2022 World Cup match against Japan. AFP
Updated 06 December 2022

Croatia coach Dalic says Brazil World Cup squad ‘scary’

Croatia coach Dalic says Brazil World Cup squad ‘scary’
  • The coach said on Tuesday he was proud of his team for showing the character and mentality to get this far in Qatar, but knows that Brazil will be a whole different proposition

DOHA: Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic called Brazil’s squad “scary” but says his team are not big underdogs in Friday’s quarter-final against the World Cup favorites.
Dalic’s side, runners-up at the 2018 World Cup, beat Japan on penalties on Monday to guarantee at least their third best finish at the tournament.
The coach said on Tuesday he was proud of his team for showing the character and mentality to get this far in Qatar, but knows that Brazil will be a whole different proposition.
“Brazil has (over) 200 million people, we only have four million, so we’re a bit like the suburb of a city in Brazil,” Dalic said.
“It will be a different game than against anyone we have played so far because Brazil likes to play football.
“If we are looking at it realistically, Brazil is the best team at the tournament, they have a great choice of players, a great squad, it’s scary, so it’s a great test for us.”
Dalic said “it doesn’t get better” than playing Brazil at a World Cup.
“Maybe we’d rather it was in the final than the quarter-final though,” he added.
“We want to give maximum effort — we won’t surrender before the game. We want to counter Brazil’s quality with our own and we want to play football against them.”
Croatia have refreshed their squad in the four years since the last World Cup, with only a handful of veterans remaining, including captain Luka Modric and winger Ivan Perisic.
Dalic said this generation should not be compared to the team beaten by France in the final in Russia because they largely included players sprinkled across elite club sides.
“We have already earned a historic result after getting silver in 2018 and bronze in 1998, this is our third best Croatian result at a World Cup,” said Dalic.
“I wouldn’t draw comparisons to the team from 2018, when you look at our players then, they played for clubs like Barcelona, Inter (Milan), Juventus, Liverpool, Real Madrid of course.
“When you compare it to today, we have six players from the Croatian first division, it’s a different team.
“But I take my hat off to this generation, because they are playing great.”
Brazil thrashed South Korea 4-1 on Monday with one of the best performances of the tournament so far, but Dalic thinks that his team can fight their corner against the five-time World Cup winners.
“Brazil are favorites, you can tell they have a great atmosphere in the team, they have top world-class players, Neymar is back from injury,” added Dalic.
“We have to be very smart in our approach. We can’t open up too much against Brazil, but we also can’t sit back.
“It’s not 50-50, but we are not some big underdogs.”


Ronaldo eyes World Cup quarters as Morocco dare to dream

Ronaldo eyes World Cup quarters as Morocco dare to dream
Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo warms up ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group H match against South Korea. AFP
Updated 06 December 2022

Ronaldo eyes World Cup quarters as Morocco dare to dream

Ronaldo eyes World Cup quarters as Morocco dare to dream
  • Ronaldo was hogging the headlines at the tournament even before he kicked a ball after launching a tirade against Manchester United and their manager Erik ten Hag

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo will aim to fire Portugal past Switzerland and into the World Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday as Morocco bid to derail Spain’s bid for a second global crown.
Just two last-eight slots remain to be filled in Qatar after five-time winners Brazil swatted aside South Korea 4-1 and 2018 finalists Croatia squeezed past Japan via a penalty shoot-out.
Ronaldo was hogging the headlines at the tournament even before he kicked a ball after launching a tirade against Manchester United and their manager Erik ten Hag.
Following an exit by “mutual agreement” he is now seeking a new team, with sources saying he is in talks over a blockbuster deal with Saudi club Al-Nassr.
The 37-year-old superstar forward, who is appearing in what is almost certainly his last World Cup, has been a shadow of his former self in Qatar despite all the hype.
After scoring a penalty in his team’s opening clash against Ghana to become the first player to score at five World Cups, he has huffed and puffed but has failed to find the net again.
Ronaldo’s starting role in the team remains a hot topic among Portugal fans, but coach Fernando Santos said he was not paying attention to the raging debate.
“I do not read this type of material,” he said. “It is not a lack of respect, it is simply that we have three days to train for a game and I am not looking at other kinds of news. We focus on the upcoming match.”
Santos said he expected a close contest against Switzerland. Portugal beat the Swiss 4-0 in the UEFA Nations League in June before losing 1-0 in the reverse fixture.

- African hopes -

Morocco are the sole remaining team from Africa, and the only Arab team left in Qatar.
Coach Walid Regragui has urged his men to believe they can defeat powerhouse Spain as they attempt to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Morocco would become just the fourth African team to reach the last eight — after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 — if they beat the 2010 champions.
“We’ll come out swinging,” said Regragui. “We want to hoist the Moroccan flag way up high. We’re playing first and foremost for us and our country. 
“All Arabs and Africans, we want to make them happy. We want their prayers and we want their support so it can give us that extra ingredient to win. Before it was just the Moroccans that supported us.”
Spain started the tournament with a swagger, smashing seven goals past Costa Rica before a draw with Germany and a defeat against South Korea.
Coach Luis Enrique said he set each of his players the “homework” of practicing 1,000 penalties ahead of the World Cup, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
Brazil, with Neymar back in the team after injury, put on a first-half masterclass on Monday against South Korea, rocketing into a 4-0 lead in the 36th minute, including a goal for their talisman from the penalty spot.
Paik Seung-ho pulled one back with a thunderbolt late on but his side were outclassed on a disappointing night for Asian football.
Earlier, Luka Modric’s Croatia did it the hard way against Japan, coming back from a goal down to equalize before winning 3-1 on penalties.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the hero for Croatia, saving three penalties in the shootout.
Seven of Croatia’s past eight knockout games at major tournaments have gone to extra time, the only exception being their defeat in the final by France in Russia four years ago.
Brazil will face Croatia in the quarter-finals on Friday, with the Netherlands taking on Argentina on the same day. England play France on Saturday.


Saudi’s FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 champion Musaed Al-Dossary to attend BLAST Premier World Final in Abu Dhabi

Saudi’s FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 champion Musaed Al-Dossary to attend BLAST Premier World Final in Abu Dhabi
Updated 06 December 2022

Saudi’s FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 champion Musaed Al-Dossary to attend BLAST Premier World Final in Abu Dhabi

Saudi’s FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 champion Musaed Al-Dossary to attend BLAST Premier World Final in Abu Dhabi
  • The Team Falcons founder joins BanderitaX and a strong lineup of gamers and content creators
  • 8 teams now confirmed for the $1m competition from Dec. 17-18 at Etihad Arena

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia’s Musaed Al-Dossary, winner of the FIFA 2018 eWorld Cup, and top creator BanderitaX, will attend the BLAST Premier World Final 2022 in Abu Dhabi alongside a host of top gamers, gaming influencers and content creators from the Middle East region.

Al-Dossary, known as “Msdossary,” is also the founder of Team Falcons, the esports team covering MENA and Europe across a range of games.

BanderitaX has racked up more than 12 million subscribers on YouTube and is one of the most popular content creators in the region. They will be joined by some of the biggest names in the region including “Basharkk,” and Galaxy Racer’s professional Fortnite players “Souriano” and “g1ntl.”

BLAST has also announced its Gaming Zone for the World Final, which takes place on Dec. 17 and 18 at Etihad Arena with a host of activities on offer across different gaming titles. Fans of all ages can participate in a weekend of playing Counter-Strike, FIFA and Fall Guys.

The activities are part of the BLAST Premier World Final that will see the world’s best Counter-Strike teams battle for a slice of the $1 million prize fund in the Etihad Arena. BLAST has partnered with Abu Dhabi Gaming, a gaming and esports initiative, to host the tournament.

Following the conclusion of last week’s BLAST Fall Final, the lineup has been confirmed with OG Esports, Navi, G2 Esports, Heroic, Faze Clan, Outsiders, Team Vitality and Team Liquid set to compete.

The event will be the culmination of the BLAST Premier tournament series which has seen six other editions as part of the 2022 world Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS:GO, calendar.

Another huge attraction for the week will be a local head-to-head between leading regional teams Falcon Esports and Nasr Esports who will be playing in the World Final Show match.

Charlotte Kenny, managing director of BLAST Premier, said: “At BLAST we are always looking at ways to deliver next-level entertainment for fans. As part of this ambition, we are delighted to host some of the most popular and loved esports and gaming personalities from the Middle East at next month’s BLAST Premier World Final in Abu Dhabi.

“Msdossary has quickly become one of the most well-known names in esports in the region, having had a successful FIFA career so far and it’s no different for Fortnite professionals Souriano and g1ntl, along with popular gaming creators BanderitaX and Basharkk. By having them under one roof at the Etihad Arena will also make the World Final even more special, giving a unique opportunity for fans to meet their heroes in person.”