Al-Hilal’s loss to Al-Feiha all but ends chances of retaining Saudi Pro League

Al-Hilal’s loss to Al-Feiha all but ends chances of retaining Saudi Pro League
Al Hilal’s 1-0 defeat means the reigning champions are 11 points behind leaders Al-Ittihad, with only one game in hand. (Twitter: @Alhilal_EN)
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Updated 04 May 2022

Al-Hilal’s loss to Al-Feiha all but ends chances of retaining Saudi Pro League

Al-Hilal’s loss to Al-Feiha all but ends chances of retaining Saudi Pro League
  • The 1-0 defeat means the reigning champions are 11 points behind leaders Al-Ittihad, with only one game in hand

It is one of football’s great cliches that it is better to have points on the board than games in hand. If Al-Hilal did not agree before Tuesday, they probably do now.

The Saudi Pro League defending champions met Al-Feiha expecting to cut Al-Ittihad’s lead at the top to eight points but instead they ended up losing 1-0, a result that leaves the title race looking as good as over.

If that SPL race was a game, league leaders Al-Ittihad are 2-0 ahead with five minutes remaining and it is theirs to lose.

Al-Feiha’s goal came after 33 minutes. Sami Al-Khaibari got in front of defender Ali Al-Bulaihi to volley a corner into the bottom part of the net, and try as hard as the team from Riyadh did, they just could not get back in the game.

Despite over 70 percent possession, the champions did not create enough chances of real quality and were reduced too often to playing long balls into the area. When the opportunities came, they were not converted.

Al-Feiha had much to thank goalkeeper Vladamir Stojkovic for that. The Serbian made some fine saves to keep the titleholders at bay. Sticking in the memory was a flying block to keep out a Salem Al-Dawsari shot early in the game that looked destined for the top corner. Soon after the league’s top scorer Odion Ighalo had the ball in the back of the net but the goal was rightly ruled out for offside by VAR. Michael had a great chance just before the break but with just the goalkeeper to beat, shot wide from close range. The Brazilian hit the crossbar with just over 20 minutes remaining and that was as close as Al-Hilal came to getting anything from the game.

“We lost due to simple individual mistakes,” said a frustrated Al-Dawsari after it was all over. “They did not threaten our goal and did not create opportunities in open play and scored the winning goal from a corner but this is football.”

Al-Dawsari insisted that the title race was not over yet. “As players, we trust in ourselves, and the fans trust our capabilities, and the league is still there to be won. We will do our best to win all the upcoming matches and there is still time to come back from this result.”

The winger’s first comment sounds more plausible than the second but that is the message coming out of the club.

“It was a difficult game and we worked hard to create several chances to score, but the result didn’t go our way, we didn’t have any luck in front of goal,” said Ighalo. “Winning the title is now difficult but nothing has been decided yet and nothing is impossible. We will fight to win all the remaining games we have.”

If there is to be a chance, that is probably going to have to happen. As things now stand, the team from Jeddah are 11 points clear with five games left, one fewer than Al-Hilal. It is hard to imagine Al-Ittihad throwing it away now — three wins, or two wins and two draws, will bring the title back down to the Red Sea port for the first time since 2009, regardless of anything Ramon Diaz’s men can do.

It is not just the points gap. Al-Hilal have stopped winning at a crucial time of the season. On April 19, they defeated Istiklol of Tajikistan to make it 12 victories in a row. They ended the group stage of the Champions League with a draw and a defeat. Little was made of it all as they had already clinched a place in the knockout stage but successive losses are not something that the Riyadh giants are used to.

At a time when they probably need to win every game left this season, they lost again. A lack of fluency and creativity in attack does not bode well for the next few games. If it is a hangover from the exertions in the AFC Champions League, as Ighalo suggested, then coach Diaz could have rotated more during Group A, especially when a place in the knockout stage had been clinched with two games remaining.

As the players have said, the race is not officially over but even if Al-Hilal win all their games, one of which is against Al-Ittihad, they still need the Tigers to slip up. If the leaders defeat Al-Fateh on Friday to move 14 points clear when Al-Hilal have just six games left, it will surely be over.

For the league trophy to stay in Riyadh, there is going to have to be an amazing turnaround. It would rank as one of the greatest achievements in the history of Saudi Arabian football and that is why it is unlikely to happen.

Al-Ittihad have nine fingers on the trophy and will never forgive themselves if they let it slip now. Al-Hilal have to win and if they can do that, then they will have to wait and hope, but it is a very long shot indeed.

A much more realistic trophy this season is the King’s Cup and winning that upcoming final will also bring revenge against Al-Feiha, the team that has put a huge dent in the champions’ chances of retaining their league crown.


Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Updated 15 sec ago

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan
MILAN: Paolo Maldini will stay on as AC Milan’s technical director after signing a new two-year contract, the Serie A champions announced on Friday.
Milan icon Maldini’s new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side.
Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara, who has also signed a two-year extension, to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game.
“This deal highlights the importance of continuity we see throughout the club as we continue to strengthen and grow,” Milan said in a statement.
The 54-year-old confirmed late last night that he had signed an extension after weeks of delays which almost led to Milan starting the summer transfer window — which opened in Italy on Friday — without their key men.
He has been critical in Milan signing some of their most important players, one such example being a now-famous meeting in Ibiza which was crucial to bringing Theo Hernandez to the club in 2019.
France left-back Hernandez was a stand-out player in last season’s surprise title win.
Maldini is one of the greatest players in Milan’s history, winning a raft of trophies over a quarter of a century passed entirely with his boyhood club.
He played over 900 times for Milan, winning the European Cup or Champions League five times and claiming seven Serie A titles before retiring in 2009.
That success was not replicated in an Italy jersey despite earning 126 caps, losing in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 finals.
Last month Milan announced that current owners, investment fund Elliott Management, had agreed to sell the club to rival US fund RedBird for 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion).
Milan said that the sale of the club will be completed no later than September.

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract
Updated 01 July 2022

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract
  • The Egypt international had entered the final year of his existing contract
  • Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 appearances for the club since arriving in 2017

LIVERPOOL: Mohamed Salah signed a new three-year contract with Liverpool on Friday which will keep him at the club until 2025.
The Egypt international had entered the final year of his existing contract after negotiations over extending his stay dragged on for most of last season.
The 30-year-old forward’s wage demands had been a stumbling block, but a delegation flew out to meet with the player, who is still currently on holiday in the Mediterranean, and came to an agreement which reportedly makes the forward the highest-paid player in the club’s history.
“I feel great and (I am) excited to win trophies with the club. It’s a happy day for everyone,” Salah told the club’s website. “It takes a little bit of time, I think, to renew, but now everything is done so we just need to focus on what’s next. I think you can see in the last five or six years the team was always going (upwards).”
Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 appearances for the club since arriving in 2017 and has helped them win the Premier League, Champions League, Club World Cup, FA Cup and League Cup during that time.
“If I look back to that time when I came (here), the club were not winning many things but I think I told you I had come (here) to win trophies,” Salah said. “I think we have won good trophies together and I think we can do it again.”
Liverpool won the FA Cup and League cup last season but finished second to Manchester City in the Premier League and lost the final of the Champions League to Real Madrid.


Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
Updated 01 July 2022

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
  • Saudi Arabia remained composed and saw out the game to seal a 69-67 win

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s basketball team secured their spot in the second round of qualifying for next year’s FIBA World Cup with a come-from-behind win against Indonesia in Jakarta on Friday.

The Saudis were down by 13 points at one point mid-third quarter, but outscored their hosts by 16-2 to lead 49-48 going into the final quarter.

Despite a valiant effort from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia remained composed and saw out the game to seal a 69-67 win, which propelled them to top of their Asia First Round qualifying pool.

The Saudis can go into their preparations for the second round in style if they seal another win on the road when they face Lebanon, who along with Jordan have also qualified for the next phase, in Zouk Mikael on Monday.

Indonesia are co-hosting next year’s basketball World Cup with the Philippines and Japan.


Marseille’s plans rocked as coach Jorge Sampaoli leaves club

Marseille’s plans rocked as coach Jorge Sampaoli leaves club
Updated 01 July 2022

Marseille’s plans rocked as coach Jorge Sampaoli leaves club

Marseille’s plans rocked as coach Jorge Sampaoli leaves club
  • Sampaoli was popular with the club's very demanding fans
  • “Marseille and Jorge Sampaoli announce a mutual decision to end their collaboration,” the club said in a statement

MARSEILLE, France: Marseille’s preparations for next season were rocked Friday as coach Jorge Sampaoli left by mutual consent.
Sampaoli was popular with the club’s very demanding fans and guided 1993 Champions League winner Marseille back into the competition, after the southern club finished second in the French league to Paris Saint-Germain.
“Marseille and Jorge Sampaoli announce a mutual decision to end their collaboration,” the club said in a statement. “Since arriving in Marseille he invested himself fully in putting into a place a style of play and a fighting spirit which corresponded to Marseille.”
The 62-year-old Argentine had demanded a strong summer recruitment drive from club president Pablo Longoria and reportedly was unhappy with a lack of strong signings so far.
Sampaoli took over from Andre Villas-Boas midway through the 2020-21 campaign and the former Argentina coach quickly turned the club’s fortunes around.
The team’s work rate rose sharply as attitudes improved, and he started to get the best out of veteran playmaker Dimitri Payet again.
“Marseille wish to sincerely and very warmly thank Jorge Sampaoli for his work. After 16 months of working together, this work helped the club step up a level,” Marseille said in a statement. “We’re satisfied with how far we’ve come and the emotions we experienced together, but after a long period of reflection the two parties agreed to end this period.”


US basketball star Griner goes on trial in Russia on drug charges

US basketball star Griner goes on trial in Russia on drug charges
Updated 01 July 2022

US basketball star Griner goes on trial in Russia on drug charges

US basketball star Griner goes on trial in Russia on drug charges
  • The case was brought after Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Griner's luggage at a Moscow airport in February
  • The 31-year-old athlete was seen arriving at Khimki City Court in handcuffs shortly after noon Moscow time on Friday

KHIMKI, Russia: US basketball star Brittney Griner went on trial in a court on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday to face drug charges that could see her face up to 10 years in prison.
The case, which coincides with fraught relations between Moscow and Washington over the conflict in Ukraine, was brought after Russian authorities said they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Griner’s luggage at a Moscow airport in February.
Griner, a star in the US-based Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), was arrested and charged with smuggling a large quantity of drugs.
The 31-year-old athlete was seen arriving at Khimki City Court in handcuffs shortly after noon Moscow time (0900 GMT) on Friday, wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and sneakers without laces, which are forbidden in Russian jails.
The prosecutor told Griner that she was being charged with intentionally transporting narcotics. Griner spoke to say she understood the charges.
Three employees of the US embassy, including deputy of chief of mission Elizabeth Rood, were present in the courtroom. Griner was seated in a cage with a zip-lock bag of cookies and a bottle of mineral water.
Griner told a Reuters reporter she was finding detention hard because she was unable to speak Russian, and that she was unable to fully keep up with physical fitness, only general exercises such as stretching.
Her lawyers told Reuters they would not say yet whether or not she would be pleading guilty.

’ILLEGAL DRUGS’
Asked about the case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied it was politically motivated.
“I can only operate with known facts, and the facts indicate that the eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances. There are articles in Russian legislation that provide for punishment for such crimes,” he told reporters. “Only the court can pass a verdict.”
US officials and a score of athletes have called for the release of Griner — or “BG” as she is known to basketball fans. They say she has been wrongfully detained and should be immediately returned to her family in the United States.
Griner’s detention also prompted concerns that Moscow could use the two-time Olympic gold medallist to negotiate the release of a high-profile Russian in US custody.
The Kremlin has said that Griner violated Russian laws and denied she was being held hostage amid Russia’s stand-off with the United States.
Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, had played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA off-season, like several other US players offered lucrative contracts by the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League.
However some have now left the Russian league, amid Griner’s detention and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Griner’s partner, Cherelle Griner, told CNN in an interview on Thursday evening that she was hoping for a meeting with US President Joe Biden.
“I would love for him to tell me he cares,” Cherelle Griner said.
The US government has warned citizens against traveling to Russia in light of the “potential for harassment against US citizens by Russian government security officials.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week there was “no higher priority” than bringing home Griner and other Americans “illegally detained” abroad.