Al-Fayha shock Al-Ittihad: 5 things learned from the King’s Cup semifinals

Al-Fayha shock Al-Ittihad: 5 things learned from the King’s Cup semifinals
After Al-Hilal’s win on Sunday, the country was expecting a big final with Al-Ittihad but the league leaders were caught out by a feisty Al-Fayha. (Courtesy: @ittihad)
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Updated 20 May 2022

Al-Fayha shock Al-Ittihad: 5 things learned from the King’s Cup semifinals

Al-Fayha shock Al-Ittihad: 5 things learned from the King’s Cup semifinals
  • Conquerors of SPL leaders now face reigning Saudi and Asian champions Al-Hilal

RIYADH: The semifinals of the King’s Cup threw up plenty of action. On Sunday, Al-Hilal came back from a goal down to defeat Al-Shabab 2-1 after extra time while Al-Fayha shocked Al-Ittihad to win 1-0. Here are five things we learned.

 

1. No World Cup after effects for Odion Ighalo

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the striker took his frustrations out on Al-Shabab. Ighalo returned from international retirement in November and there was some controversy when he was not released by his club for the African Cup of Nations in January. That club was Al-Shabab and soon after, he left for Al-Hilal, who were lower down in the table. Not anymore.

The former Manchester United man was called up by the Super Eagles for their World Cup playoff against Ghana. He came off the bench in the second leg at home but could not prevent the Black Stars from winning on away goals and taking a place in Qatar.

It was a heartbreaking situation for all Nigerian fans and on Sunday Ighalo was seemingly more determined than ever to get on the scoresheet. It was a real striker’s goal, an instinctive shot from outside the area that won the game, broke Al-Shabab’s hearts and ended a bad week on a high.

 

2. Al-Fayha show the magic of the cup is still alive, with some Serbian help

After Al-Hilal’s win on Sunday, the country was expecting a big final with Al-Ittihad but the league leaders were caught out by a feisty Al-Fayha. The men from Al-Majma’ah took the game to the Tigers in the first half and took the lead nine minutes before the break thanks to great work from Malek Al-Abdalmoniem and a fine finish from Mohammed Abusabaan.

It was a hard-working performance from Vuk Rasovic’s men. It was almost all one-way traffic in the second half as Al-Ittihad pushed forward but despite all their possession, they struggled to create clear chances. The number of last-ditch tackles and interceptions were impressive, and even when the defense was breached, goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic was in excellent form and equal to anything that the men from Jeddah could throw at him. His flying save to tip a Abderrazak Hamdallah header onto the bar with 10 minutes remaining was world class and suggested that this was not going to be Al-Ittihad’s night.

There was even time at the end for Aleksandar Trajkovski, the man who dumped Italy out of the World Cup, to make an appearance. The North Macedonia star is 90 minutes away from a trophy and the same can be said for Al-Feiha — it would be a historic one.

 

3. Despite new coach Al-Hilal have a mental hold over Al-Shabab

Al-Hilal may have had around two thirds of possession but Al-Shabab had plenty of chances and looked dangerous throughout. Despite all that, they ended up losing, yet again. You have to go back to 2014 to find the last competitive victory over their Riyadh rivals. In this and last year’s seasons, Al-Shabab had been going for the title only to face Al-Hilal, get thrashed and practically drop out of contention.

Romanian boss Marius Sumudica will have learned a lot about his players in his first game in charge since succeeding Pericles Chamusca last month. His team fought hard, created chances and took the lead on the hour thanks to an Ever Banega penalty.

From that moment on however, the champions poured forward and it didn’t look like Al-Shabab were ever going to hold on. The attacks intensified after Salman Al-Faraj’s bullet levelled the scoreline with 18 minutes remaining and you could almost see the belief drain out of the men in white. For the rest of the season, as well as the AFC Champions League, the new Romanian boss is going to have to work hard to instill the right kind of mental strength in the team.

 

4. Al-Ittihad will be disappointed but not devastated

Chances of a double may now be over but when the dust clears, Al-Ittihad will not feel down too long as there is a bigger prize in their sights. The Tigers won the King’s Cup in 2018 but it was 2009 when they last got their claws on the league trophy. As things stand, they are 11 points clear of Al-Hilal in second and while the defending champions have seven games remaining, two more than the leaders, it really is Al-Ittihad’s league to lose.

Coach Cosmin Contra will tell his players that the result against Al-Fayha is one of those things. Mistakes were made at the back against an opposition that then defended fiercely. On another night, it could have gone differently but Al-Ittihad need to put it behind them and focus on the positives. Igor Coronado looks to have returned to full fitness and looked sharp, and defender Ahmed Hegazi should be ready to take the pitch when the big games come thick and fast in May. Al-Ittihad need four wins to wrap up the league championship.

 

5. It is the final that Saudi Arabia needs

Al-Hilal are the only club with a chance of catching Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Pro League and it is to be hoped, at least by neutrals, that the title race goes all the way in the coming weeks. It would not have been ideal to have the same two teams in the King’s Cup final. Now there is a different narrative and it is refreshing to see Al-Fayha make it. Their celebrations at the end of the win showed what the chance of a first major piece of silverware means to the club. For Al-Ittihad who have lifted the trophy nine times, it would surely not have had the same meaning.

The King’s Cup has thrown up some interesting winners of late with Al-Taawoun and Al-Faisaly celebrating in the past three seasons. Those triumphs have not propelled those teams to the next level just yet but they would not have swapped the experience for anything. It shows that while the big boys are too strong and consistent over the length of a league season, anyone can beat anyone in a cup tie situation and that is the way it should be.


World number two Ons Jabeur into Wimbledon semifinals

World number two Ons Jabeur into Wimbledon semifinals
Updated 13 sec ago

World number two Ons Jabeur into Wimbledon semifinals

World number two Ons Jabeur into Wimbledon semifinals
LONDON: World number two Ons Jabeur battled back from a set down on Tuesday to beat Marie Bouzkova and set up a Wimbledon semifinal against unseeded Tatjana Maria.
The Tunisian was broken twice as she lost the first set but lost only two games after that to power to a 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 win in a match lasting one hour and 47 minutes.

Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios due in court in Australia

Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios due in court in Australia
Updated 05 July 2022

Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios due in court in Australia

Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kyrgios due in court in Australia
  • Attorney Pierre Johannessen wrote that “the allegations are not considered as fact” by the court
  • The Canberra Times reported that Kyrgios is supposed to appear in court on Aug. 2

WIMBLEDON, England: Wimbledon quarterfinalist Nick Kyrgios is due in court back home in Australia next month.
A lawyer representing him said Tuesday the “precise nature of” the allegations “is neither certain at this moment nor confirmed by either the prosecution or” the 27-year-old professional tennis player.
“While Mr. Kyrgios is committed to addressing any and all allegations once clear, taking the matter seriously does not warrant any misreading of the process Mr. Kyrgios is required to follow,” attorney Pierre Johannessen wrote in a statement emailed to the media.
Johannessen wrote that “the allegations are not considered as fact” by the court, and Kyrgios is not “considered charged” with an offense until a first appearance in court.
The Canberra Times reported that Kyrgios is supposed to appear in court on Aug. 2. The newspaper cited local police as saying that a 27-year-old Australian man is involved in a case about “common assault following an incident in December 2021.”
Canberra police did not immediately respond to an after-hours request for comment emailed by The Associated Press.
Kyrgios is scheduled to play Cristian Garin at Wimbledon on Wednesday. It’s the third Grand Slam quarterfinal of the Australian’s career — he is 0-2 in the others — and first in 7 1/2 years.
An ATP spokesperson said: “The ATP is aware of the Australian case involving Nick Kyrgios but as legal proceedings are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”


Christophe Galtier latest coach to try his hand at PSG job that Zidane shunned

Christophe Galtier latest coach to try his hand at PSG job that Zidane shunned
Updated 05 July 2022

Christophe Galtier latest coach to try his hand at PSG job that Zidane shunned

Christophe Galtier latest coach to try his hand at PSG job that Zidane shunned
  • The former Real Madrid coach was most people's first choice to replace Mauricio Pochettino

It’s official, Christophe Galtier is the new PSG coach. The latest man tasked with bringing home the club’s Holy Grail, the Champions League.

The former Nice coach will arrive in the French capital for around $10m, meaning the club has made loss of $20m euros on their managerial change after Mauricio Pochettino’s $10m compensation.

Galtier has been a thorn in PSG’s side in the last two years. In 2021, the 55-year-old took away the Ligue 1 title from the Parisians after a spectacular season with Lille.

This year, PSG were eliminated by Nice in the round of 16 of the Coupe de France, in addition to drawing in Ligue 1 at Parc des Princes and losing 1-0 in the return match played at Allianz Rivera.

The former Lille manager has gone five straight games without conceding a goal against PSG in what is a record since Qatar took over the team's management in 2011.

Paris Saint-Germain is not an easy club to coach, arguably the toughest in the world considering the expectations. Just winning the French title is not enough and failure in the Champions League almost certainly gets you fired.

Just look at Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentinian was able to win a Coupe de France title and a Ligue 1 title, but was still sacked despite still having a year on his contract.

Before Galtier became the latest chosen one, one man’s shadow was ineveitably cast over proceedings; Zinedine Zidane

And despite Nasser Al-Khelaifi having told “Le Parisien” newspaper several weeks ago that “we never spoke to him, either directly or indirectly”, Zidane was the primary choice from the start to replace Pochettino. The former Real Madrid coach, however, doesn't see the Paris Saint-Germain bench as an ideal place to work and develop his methods, having witnessed the fate other coaches who came before him.

They needn’t have bothered talking to him. They already knew the answer.

Zidane is very clear about where he wants to be, where he can feel fulfilled, free and happy. And right now, that is not PSG.

With a star-filled squad that includes Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar at his disposal, it would have been easy for Zidane to accept the job. But the financial riches  - both for himself and to spend on the team - is no longer the sweet deal it was. As Pochettino found out, you often seem to be managing an unmotivated group of players who only have eyes for the Champions League.

Winning Ligue 1 at canter does not guarantee a club that is united and committed, that tactical discipline. Pochettino is another one who will leave with a feeling of failure that is arguably not his fault. It is yet another case of a coach overcome by the power that the players have, and especially the team’s biggest stars.

This project is not, for now, the right one for Zidane. Several coaches passed through the club, some of them his friends, and all have left unsatisfied, unfulfilled and very often unloved.

The list is long. Laurent Blanc, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Thomas Tuchel, and now Pochettino. All arrived with the illusion and ambition of building a solid and lasting project and left disenchanted.

Zidane's profile - calm, charismatic and French - fits the criteria  for the management of PSG perfectly. It’s PSG's profile that doesn’t fit.

Unlike Christophe Galtier, Zidane has urgent desire to be European champion. He remains the coach who won three consecutive Champions Leagues, and in very recent memory.

Any new coach at PSG knew he would be surrounded by by Messi, Neymar, Mbappé, Sergio Ramos, Marco Verratti and many others. All very good players, but many of them worn out, and Zidane hardly needs the headache of managing the decline of some of those stars.

Zidane knows all of this, so it's really not the time for him to try his hand at football’s poisoned chalice. Not yet at least.

For now, the burden is all Galtier's.

 


Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test

Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test
Updated 05 July 2022

Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test

Police probe racism claims after fan abuse at England-India Test
  • The Bharat Army said "many" of its members at the Edgbaston ground had been targeted by "a very small minority" in Monday's fourth day of play
  • Inquiries are being made to identify an alleged offender whose image was circulated on social media

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Police have launched an investigation after India fans claimed they were racially abused during England’s fifth Test victory in Birmingham.
The Bharat Army, the official India supporters’ club, said “many” of its members at the Edgbaston ground had been targeted by “a very small minority” in Monday’s fourth day of play.
A post on the group’s Twitter account read: “Sad to say many of our members experienced racist abuse from a very small minority of individuals. We will work with @Edgbaston to share all your feedback.
“Thank you to those England fans who stood by us.”
West Midlands Police on Tuesday said they were liaising with officials at Edgbaston to understand what happened.
Inquiries are being made to identify an alleged offender whose image was circulated on social media.
The England and Wales Cricket Board said: “We are very concerned to hear reports of racist abuse at today’s Test match. We are in contact with colleagues at Edgbaston, who will investigate. There is no place for racism in cricket.”
Stuart Cain, chief executive at Edgbaston, added: “I’m gutted by these reports as we’re working hard to make Edgbaston a safe, welcoming environment for all.
“Having seen the initial tweets, I’ve spoken personally to the gentleman who raised them and we’re now speaking to the stewards in this area to establish what happened.
“Nobody should be subject to any form of abuse at Edgbaston. So, once we’ve got all the facts, we will make sure this issue is addressed swiftly.”
Former Yorkshire spinner Azeem Rafiq retweeted a thread detailing some of the alleged incidents along with the comment: “Disappointing to read.”
His evidence to a parliamentary select committee last year sparked an investigation into his claims of institutional racism at Yorkshire which resulted in ECB charges and major reforms.
England won the fifth Test on Tuesday’s final day after centuries from Yorkshire pair Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow.


Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
Updated 05 July 2022

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
  • Portuguese tactician has reputation for producing teams that are hard to beat
  • Familiar faces from English Premier League likely heading to the Red Sea port

LONDON: Al-Ittihad appointed Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach on Monday, with the former Valencia, Porto and Tottenham Hotspur boss replacing Cosmin Contra at the eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia.

The Portuguese tactician, who spent four years in charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers before heading to North London in the summer of 2021, has been available since being dismissed by Spurs in November after just four months in charge. He has been handed a two-year contract by the Jeddah giants with his main task to deliver a first title since 2009.

After spells with Valencia and Porto, the former goalkeeper took over at Wolves in 2017. After securing promotion into the English Premier League, he then established the West Midlands club as a force in the top tier. That record took him to Tottenham but after three wins in the first three games of last season, it all started to go wrong at White Hart Lane with just nine goals scored in the first 10 league games. After damaging defeats at the hands of Arsenal and Manchester United, he received his marching orders.

Unlike at Tottenham, however, when Nuno arrived after a number of other coaches had turned the job down or were unavailable, he has been Al-Ittihad’s number one target after the decision was made not to offer Contra a new deal.

The club announced the departure of the Romanian, whose contract ended last week, earlier in the day and wasted no time in announcing their new man.

Contra had talked openly of his desire to stay at the club and of his plans for next season. After his appointment last August, the former Dinamo Bucharest coach took Al-Ittihad clear at the top of the table to the extent that, in February, they were 16 points clear of Al-Hilal. It all went wrong as the Tigers dropped 13 points from the final eight games of the season, a ruin that allowed Al-Hilal to take the title on the final day.

“I would like to apologize that we let you down at the last minute, and although we did our best, we did not live up to the aspirations of our fans,” Contra said on social media. He highlighted that great champions bounce back from big disappointments by learning from their mistakes. “Al-Ittihad will return next season stronger to achieve the title that we have been waiting for a long time,” he added.

They will do so without him. The way the team threw away the title has led management to believe that a firmer pair of hands was needed at the helm. There was particular disquiet at the hugely damaging twin defeats against Al-Hilal in the run-in and the way Ittihad threw away a 3-1 lead against Al-Feiha to draw 4-4 on May 6. That the latter result came just three days after Al-Hilal had surprisingly been defeated by Al-Fateh, giving Al-Ittihad an opportunity to take a huge step toward the title, was painful and a sign, so those in charge believe, of a problem with the team’s mentality especially in pressure situations.

Nuno’s reputation for producing pragmatic teams that are hard to beat has earned him plus points within the Jeddah hierarchy. His goal is clear: To deliver a first league title to this corner of Jeddah since 2009, a dry run that has gone on too long for all involved with the two-time Asian champions.

He has, according to those behind the scenes at the club, already made it clear as to which players he wants to bring in, and there should be some familiar faces from the English Premier League heading to the Red Sea port. There will already be talent waiting. The club are keen to keep Brazilian attacking duo Romarinho, who scored 20 goals last season, and Igor Coronado. Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah is also wanted though there is interest from elsewhere in the region as well as Europe. Egyptian center-back Ahmed Hegazi is also likely to stay.

With Nuno Santo’s arrival at Al-Ittihad coming just days after Rudi Garcia took charge of Al-Nassr, who finished third last season and Al-Hilal’s announcement that they have renewed the contract of head coach Ramon Diaz, next season is already shaping up to be exciting. Al-Ittihad have got their man and have their sights set upon going one better in 2023.