Inaction will test Al-Ittihad nerves, while Al-Hilal sharpen up in AFC Champions League

Al-Ittihad may be closing in on a first title since 2009, but it has not been a great week for the Saudi Professional League leaders. (AFP/File Photo)
Al-Ittihad may be closing in on a first title since 2009, but it has not been a great week for the Saudi Professional League leaders. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 08 April 2022

Inaction will test Al-Ittihad nerves, while Al-Hilal sharpen up in AFC Champions League

Al-Ittihad may be closing in on a first title since 2009, but it has not been a great week for the Saudi Professional League leaders. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Jeddah giants lead SPL table by 11 points, but will have only one match before May 15 clash with reigning Saudi and Asian champions

LONDON: Can a team that has won 14 out of the last 16 league games be feeling a little uncertain about the coming weeks? We may be about to find out.

Al-Ittihad may be closing in on a first title since 2009, but it has not been a great week for the Saudi Professional League leaders. A couple of recent off-pitch issues have been joined by an on-pitch wobble, the first in several months.

Once trophies have been lifted, such weeks are invariably looked back on as blips that inevitably occur over the course of a long season. But when the outcome is yet to be decided, it is understandable if there are a few nerves.

The week began with a television announcement that star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad is being investigated by the Kingdom’s Anti-Doping Committee amid reports that he failed a drug test.

If confirmed, it would not be the first time the international forward, who plays regularly for the national team, has failed an out-of-competition test. In 2019, he was hit by a one-year ban. That may not happen this time, but the 27 year-old will not play while the issue is being investigated.

Al-Muwallad was absent on Monday and missed a shock defeat in the semifinal of the King’s Cup at the hands of Al-Feiha. On another day, the Tigers, who dominated possession, would have won that game and be looking forward to a May final and a possible — and impressive — double. 

For a team that has been so dominant in the league, it was a rare setback. The double is no longer on, and some would say that being forced to concentrate on the league is exactly what the Jeddah giants need as they seek to end a 13-year title drought. But that may not be the case.

The problem is that while the Tigers can rest, there have not been that many games of late anyway — just 13 in all competitions so far in 2022. It remains to be seen how sharp the players are next week when they return from a break agreed by coach Cosmin Costra. Star striker Abderrazak Hamdallah has reportedly gone to the US for a few days. 

This should have been the start of a busy, but not frantic, April. The Asian Champions League came to Jeddah on Thursday, but the local giants, the only team to have won back-to-back titles in the tournament, a feat they managed in 2004 and 2005, will not feature.

There will be 12 games played in the Red Sea Port City, but Group C will be contested by Iran’s Foolad, Shabab Al-Ahli of the UAE, Turkmenistan’s Ahal and Al-Gharafa of Qatar. Al-Ittihad fans may want to go and watch some continental action, but their thoughts are more likely to be on Al-Taawoun instead. 

The Buraidah club kick off their campaign with a tough clash against Al-Duhail of Qatar, but it should be Al-Ittihad who are trying to stop the ultra-prolific Michael Olunga from scoring. Al-Taawoun finished fourth last season, one place behind the Tigers. Al-Ittihad, who have had financial issues in the past, were not given the club license last October that is needed in order to compete on the continent. As a result, they lost the chance to compete in Asia’s biggest event.

Again, it may seem better to miss out on the six games in the space of 19 or 20 days before a return to league action next month. But is it? Al-Hilal are the only realistic challengers to Al-Ittihad in the league, sitting 11 points behind with seven matches left to play, two more than the leaders.

That would be seen as too much of a gap by most, but it is not the case here. Al-Hilal have won all eight games under coach Ramon Diaz, which included victory over the leaders last month, a first league defeat for Al-Ittihad since October. Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad will also meet one more time this season in what will be a crunch game.

By the time that meeting, scheduled for May 15, comes around, Al-Hilal should be razor sharp — assuming injuries are avoided — after seven games in a month. Al-Ittihad, meanwhile, will have played just one.

It remains to be seen which offers the best chance of the title. If it goes the way of the Jeddah giants, they will look back on this week as one to forget in what was a season to remember. However, If they miss out on the league championship one more time, they may see the first week of April as when it all started to go wrong.


Paris 2024 marathon to trace path of French Revolution

Paris 2024 marathon to trace path of French Revolution
Updated 06 October 2022

Paris 2024 marathon to trace path of French Revolution

Paris 2024 marathon to trace path of French Revolution
  • The marathon route unveiled on Wednesday was modelled on the path of the October 1789 Women’s March on Versailles
  • Organizers have also added two mass events — a marathon and a 10-km run — to allow non-Olympians to run the course

PARIS: Competitors in the marathon at the Paris 2024 Olympics will run from central Paris to Versailles and back, on a course designed to salute women and trace one of the pivotal historic events of the French Revolution.

The marathon route unveiled on Wednesday was modelled on the path of the October 1789 Women’s March on Versailles — when thousands, mainly female market traders furious over the price of bread, marched to the lavish palace of King Louis XVI.

They forced him to return with them to the center of the capital in an event that historians say ended the absolute power of the monarchy.

“We’re trying to give some meaning to our events and choosing this course was a good way to do it,” Paris 2024 boss Tony Estanguet told Reuters. “We really want to innovate.”

For the first time since women began running the Olympic marathon in 1984, women will conclude the athletics program, with their marathon coming a day after the men’s event.

This map released by Olympics Paris 2024 on Wednesday shows the marathon course for Paris Olympics in 2024. The marathon will start from Paris City Hall and wind past famed landmarks. (AP)

“Women first. We wanted to celebrate women,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told a news conference.

“Paris is a place of revolution. It’s a revolutionary city, so this course makes sense,” added Valerie Pecresse, the head of the Ile de France (greater Paris) region.

Organizers have also added two mass events — a marathon and a 10-km run — to allow non-Olympians to run the course. Each will be open to 20,024 participants.

“Our country proclaims loud and clear that high-level sport must more than ever be a source of inspiration for all generations while driving mass participation,” French Sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said.

“Sport has the power to positively transform society: Let us give it every means to do so.”

The marathon course will pass Parisian monuments including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Palais Garnier, the Jardin des Tuileries and several world-famous bridges.

“Beyond a doubt, the Paris 2024 marathon will have something special about it. To perform in such an impressive setting, in a place so charged with history and symbolism, will be a unique experience,” said two-time Olympic champion and world record holder Eliud Kipchoge.

“I could not ask for a more perfect race for the Games.”

It will also be an unusually challenging route, with 438 meters of altitude gain.

“It appears to be more demanding than normal,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe told Reuters. “Clearly it’s a marathon that will be challenging. But some marathon runners prefer undulating courses.” 


Haaland scores double as City cruise past Copenhagen, Chelsea boost knockout phase hopes

Haaland scores double as City cruise past Copenhagen, Chelsea boost knockout phase hopes
Updated 06 October 2022

Haaland scores double as City cruise past Copenhagen, Chelsea boost knockout phase hopes

Haaland scores double as City cruise past Copenhagen, Chelsea boost knockout phase hopes
  • Lionel Messi scored but Paris Saint-Germain were held to a 1-1 draw by Benfica in Lisbon

PARIS: Erling Haaland continued his remarkable goalscoring form by netting twice as Manchester City thrashed FC Copenhagen 5-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday, while Chelsea saw off AC Milan to revive their hopes of reaching the last 16.

Holders Real Madrid survived a spirited challenge from Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk at the Santiago Bernabeu to win 2-1 and extend their advantage in Group F.

Lionel Messi scored but Paris Saint-Germain were held to a 1-1 draw by Benfica in Lisbon. 

Paris Saint-Germain's Argentine forward Lionel Messi celebrates with teammate Kylian Mbappe after scoring the opening goal during the  Champions League  Group H match between SL Benfica and PSG. (AFP)

Haaland went into City’s game against Copenhagen at the Etihad Stadium having becoming the first player in Premier League history to score three successive home hat tricks in Sunday’s demolition of Manchester United.

The Norwegian slammed in the opening goal on seven minutes with his weaker right foot before prodding in a rebound for his second 25 minutes later.

The 22-year-old has now scored 28 times in his 22 Champions League appearances, already breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for most goals in a player’s first 30 games in the competition.

“I’ve never witnessed anything like it in my life,” City’s Jack Grealish told BT Sport.

“For the first and second goals I was just laughing. He is always there.

“The ‘keeper said something to me as I was walking back. He said ‘He’s not human!’ I said ‘You’re telling me?’ Hopefully he can carry on this form and take us to glory.”

Visiting center-back Davit Khocholava put through his own net, with Haaland waiting behind him, to make it three before half-time.

Haaland was denied a fourth City treble as he was replaced at the interval, but a Riyad Mahrez penalty and Julian Alvarez’s fourth goal for the club completed the rout.

Pep Guardiola’s men remain three points clear of second-placed Borussia Dortmund in Group G and will qualify for the knockout phase with a victory in the Danish capital next week.

Jude Bellingham scored for the third time in as many Champions League outings as Dortmund romped to a 4-1 victory at Sevilla.

The Spanish club responded to the defeat — and a desperately poor start to the season which has left them 17th in La Liga — by sacking coach Julen Lopetegui shortly after the final whistle.

Chelsea ended their wait for a win in Group E as goals from Wesley Fofana, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Reece James sealed an impressive 3-0 triumph over Italian champions AC Milan at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues made it back-to-back victories under new boss Graham Potter to set up a crucial clash at the San Siro in six days’ time.

Chelsea are second in Group E, level on points with third-placed Milan, one point behind leaders Salzburg who edged out Dinamo Zagreb 1-0.

“It’s easier when you win games,” said Aubameyang. “The mood is very good at the moment. We’ll try to keep it up.”

Shakhtar put on a battling display in Madrid, with goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin making 11 saves, but could not overcome a two-goal deficit against Real.

Goals in the first half-hour from Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior put Real in control and the 14-time champions made it three wins from three in Group F despite Oleksandr Zubkov’s effort for Shakhtar.

Madrid will be sure of a last-16 spot if they can beat second-placed Shakhtar next time out.

RB Leipzig are just a point behind Shakhtar after Joe Hart’s error helped the Germans down Celtic 3-1.

The former England goalkeeper’s poor pass led to Andre Silva restoring Leipzig’s lead in the second half before the Portugal striker netted again late on.

Benfica remain level on points with leaders PSG at the Group H summit after a hard-fought draw against one of the tournament favorites.

Messi produced a trademark left-footed finish into the top corner after a neat exchange of passes also involving Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to score his 127th Champions League goal in the 22nd minute.

Benfica leveled four minutes before the break as Danilo Pereira scored an own goal and both sides spurned chances to win in the second half.

Messi only scored 11 goals in 34 games in his first season for PSG last term, but already has eight in 13 this time around.

“It’s normal, it takes a little time,” PSG skipper Marquinhos told Canal Plus. “Now he feels a little more comfortable... I hope Leo Messi has a great season until the end to win this title.”

Juventus moved within four points of the top two as Adrien Rabiot’s brace and a Dusan Vlahovic goal gave the Italians a 3-1 victory over Maccabi Haifa for their first points.


Fan who caught Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run offered $2 million for ball

Fan who caught Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run offered $2 million for ball
Updated 06 October 2022

Fan who caught Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run offered $2 million for ball

Fan who caught Aaron Judge’s 62nd home run offered $2 million for ball
  • Cory Youmans grabbed the historic souvenir on the fly as it sailed into the front row of section 31 in left field

NEW YORK: The owner of a sports memorabilia auction house says he has offered $2 million to the fan who caught Aaron Judge’s American League-record 62nd home run.

JP Cohen, president of Memory Lane Inc. in Tustin, California, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he has texted and emailed Cory Youmans, the man who caught Judge’s milestone shot Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Cohen says Youmans has not yet replied.

“I feel the offer is way above fair, if he is inclined to sell it,” Cohen said in a telephone interview with the AP on Wednesday.

Youmans grabbed the historic souvenir on the fly as it sailed into the front row of section 31 in left field. The homer pushed Judge past Roger Maris for the AL season record — a mark many consider baseball’s “clean” standard because the only National League players who hit more have been tarnished by ties to steroids.

Youmans, who is from Dallas, works in the financial world. He was asked Tuesday what he planned to do with the prize while security personnel whisked him away to have it authenticated.

“Good question. I haven’t thought about it,” he said.

The record price for a home run ball is $3 million, paid for Mark McGwire’s record 70th from the 1998 season.

Cohen had previously pledged to offer $2 million for Judge’s 62nd homer. He said his company has a good relationship with the Yankees and it would be willing to loan the ball to the team for an exhibit. He added the team has frequently exhibited items owned by Memory Lane at Yankee Stadium.

“We did make an offer of $2 million and that offer is still valid,” Cohen said.

After the Yankees lost 3-2, Judge said he didn’t have possession of the home run ball.

“I don’t know where it’s at,” he said. “We’ll see what happens with that. It would be great to get it back, but that’s a souvenir for a fan. He made a great catch out there, and they’ve got every right to it.”

Youmans was among the crowd of 38,832, the largest to watch a baseball game at the 3-year-old ballpark.


Chastened Man United back in Europa League action

Chastened Man United back in Europa League action
Updated 05 October 2022

Chastened Man United back in Europa League action

Chastened Man United back in Europa League action
  • United flew to Cyprus on Wednesday after Ten Hag held a summit with his players
  • He encouraged them to speak openly about their failures against City

DUBAI: Erik ten Hag says Manchester United will learn lessons from Sunday’s humiliating 6-3 loss to Manchester City.
The healing process begins with a trip to Omonia Nicosia for the third round of matches in Europe’s second-tier competition.
United flew to Cyprus on Wednesday after Ten Hag held a summit with his players where he encouraged them to speak openly about their failures against City.
Ten Hag said he was grateful to City manager Pep Guardiola for bringing his team down to earth after four straight wins in the Premier League had seen spirits rise at United.
“It was a reality check, so we have to learn from it and carry on,” he said. “But we can get a lot of confidence about this theory, when you beat Arsenal, you beat Liverpool and now we get a reality check with Man City — so we know we have to step up.”
In other standout matches, Roma have the chance to move level on points with Group C leader Real Betis when they meet in Italy, while Arsenal can go top of Group A with a win at home to Norwegian team
EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE
West Ham go for a third straight win in their group as the English team head to Anderlecht for a repeat of the 1976 final of the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup.
West Ham, which have beaten Romanian club FCSB and Danish club Silkeborg, are one of five teams on a maximum six points — along with FC Basel, AZ Alkmaar, Villarreal and Istanbul Basaksehir


Leipzig beats Celtic 3-1 for 1st win in Champions League

Leipzig beats Celtic 3-1 for 1st win in Champions League
Updated 05 October 2022

Leipzig beats Celtic 3-1 for 1st win in Champions League

Leipzig beats Celtic 3-1 for 1st win in Champions League
  • The win came at a cost as influential goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi had to be carried off early with an apparent right knee injury
  • Nkunku showed his class in the 27th when he went past Hart and finished from a narrow angle

LEIPZIG, Germany: Leipzig earned their first win of the Champions League season by beating Celtic 3-1 on Wednesday thanks to two late goals from André Silva and a defensive error from visiting goalkeeper Joe Hart.
The outstanding Christopher Nkunku also scored as Leipzig finally got off the mark in Group F after losses to Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid. But the win came at a cost as influential goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi had to be carried off early with an apparent right knee injury.
Janis Blaswich replaced him for his Champions League debut.
Nkunku had a goal ruled out through VAR for offside shortly afterward, but the French player showed his class in the 27th when he went past Hart and finished from a narrow angle.
Kyogo Furuhashi had just gone close for the visitors, who suffered a further blow when captain Callum McGregor had to go off injured in the 37th.
Portuguese winger Jota equalized in the 47th when Furuhashi sent him through for a one-on-one with Blaswich. Jota sidefooted a low shot inside the far post for his first Champions League goal.
Dominik Szoboszlai struck the post in response, then thought he scored with a shot from 20 meters (yards) inside the far post. But VAR again ruled it out as André Silva had blocked Hart’s view.
The Celtic goalkeeper then gifted Leipzig their second goal when he passed straight to Szoboszlai, who teed up Silva to put the host ahead in the 64th.
Then Nkunku shone again with a brilliant ball for Mohamed Simakan to tee up Silva to seal the result in the 77th.
Celtic dropped to the bottom of Group F with one point.