King’s Cup final against Al-Fayha could derail Al-Hilal’s pursuit of SPL title

King’s Cup final against Al-Fayha could derail Al-Hilal’s pursuit of SPL title
If Hilal wins the Saudi Classico, then the pressure will be on Al-Ittihad for the first time since they went top of the league and started pulling away. (Twitter: @Alhilal_FC)
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Updated 20 May 2022

King’s Cup final against Al-Fayha could derail Al-Hilal’s pursuit of SPL title

King’s Cup final against Al-Fayha could derail Al-Hilal’s pursuit of SPL title
  • The reigning Saudi champions could be emotionally and physically drained by the time they face leaders Al-Ittihad four days after Thursday’s showpiece final

The latest round of games in the Saudi Professional League was postponed as a mark of respect to UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan who passed away on Friday.

It meant that the Saudi Classico, the big clash between leaders Al-Ittihad and second-placed defending champions Al-Hilal, will have to wait a little longer.

The dates have changed and this could cast a different light on the title race. Now the rivals from Jeddah and Riyadh will meet on May 23. As a reminder, the gap between the two is six points with four games remaining. If Hilal win, then the pressure will be on Al-Ittihad for the first time since they went top of the league and started pulling away. Then the fight would really be on for the final three games of the campaign.

That can still happen, but now with a difference. Before the rescheduled title decider, Al-Hilal will first have to take on Al-Fayha in Thursday’s King’s Cup final.

This adds an extra dimension to the title race. The champions would surely have preferred to face Al-Ittihad first, cut the lead to three points and then let the leaders deal with that. Now however, they have to play a prestigious — as well as emotionally and physically draining — cup final just four days earlier and then go straight into the biggest league game of the season.

And the King’s Cup final is sure to be a big deal. It is the first chance for Al-Fayha to win a major trophy. The club are in sixth place in the league and are not going to finish any higher than that. Relegation is not an issue so they can focus all their energies on the game.

“If you look at how we play then you can see that we are a difficult opponent for the big teams,” said Al-Fayha coach Vuk Rasovic. “We will do our best to make our fans happy. The King’s Cup final is a very special match for us.”

Rasovic’s men are not to be underestimated and showed that by defeating Al-Ittihad in the semi-final. The Tigers, who are aiming to win the league for the first time since 2009, may now be quite happy with that elimination. Al-Hilal are favorites to emerge victorious but it is going to be a battle and extra-time and penalties are certainly not out of the question. There is also the risk of more injuries to a team that already has a number of players in the treatment room as the league campaign reaches a climax.

For Al-Hilal, the situation is now a little similar to Liverpool’s in England. The Reds have been chasing Manchester City at the top of the English Premier League, but on Saturday had to play the FA Cup final against Chelsea. They ended up winning that game but it was a grueling and hard-fought 90 minutes, followed by extra-time and then an emotional penalty shootout triumph. Liverpool are now scheduled to play Southampton on Tuesday in a game that they have to win if they are going to keep their league ambitions alive. They then end the season at home to Wolves on Sunday. This congested fixture list is made more difficult by Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk leaving the Wembley pitch with injuries on Saturday. But while the knocks don’t seem too serious, they were worrying moments for coach Jurgen Klopp and the fans.

All of these issues leave Ramon Diaz with plenty to think about. Had the final come after the Al-Ittihad game, then the Argentine would have a clear vision on his team’s chances for the title. Now, he needs to do all he can to win the King’s Cup and hope that this does not derail Al-Hilal’s slim chances of the league.

In some ways, having so many big games is a reflection of Al-Hilal’s success but Al-Ittihad will be much the fresher of the two teams when they meet in Jeddah next week and that could make a huge difference, especially in the closing stages of the match.

There are pressures at the bottom of the table too. The relegation battle is fierce, with the bottom half of the table all in danger. Al-Taawoun will be happy they played before the postponement came into effect and won their crucial six-pointer against Al-Batin. That dragged Al-Ettifaq into the bottom three but they are expected to defeat Al-Hazem, the only team adrift at the bottom. Al-Faisaly lost on Thursday and will be watching other results anxiously. The extra days have given teams a little more time to rest ahead of a crucial few weeks — all except Al-Hilal, who have big game after big game.

What was already a long season has become a little longer and will now run from August to June. There have been plenty of stops and starts with breaks for the successful World Cup qualification campaign and various Asian Champions League games. It can’t have been easy for the players but there is still plenty of excitement for the fans, starting with the King’s Cup final on Thursday and a potential title decider just four days later.


Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown
Updated 17 August 2022

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown

Usyk and Joshua hold public workouts ahead of big showdown
  • The Ukrainian and British fighters hit the pads with their trainers and spoke to the media

JEDDAH: Fight Week preparations for the Rage on the Red Sea stepped up a gear on Tuesday night when 12 fighters from the card held public workouts at Jeddah’s Saudi Airlines Club.

Main event boxers Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, who meet for the second time, at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena on Saturday, gave fans and the media a first glimpse of how they’re shaping up going into their heavyweight showdown.

Usyk, who defends the unified world heavyweight titles, said: “I’m very pleased that I’m going to fight very soon. I’ve been watching Anthony Joshua for years already, so I’ve learned a lot and look forward to the fight.”

Commenting on everybody in his homeland of Ukraine being able to watch the bout for free, Usyk added: “I’m also very pleased about this as we all worked hard to ensure this outcome.”

Usyk and Joshua hit the pads with their trainers and interacted with members of the public and media during their 10-minute sessions, teasing what’s to come when they go head-to-head on fight night.

“Previous experiences are helpful, but ultimately, it’s all about what you do on the night. Whoever throws and lands the most punches wins,” said Joshua. “I’m focused, ready to do my best, and get the job done.”

“Saudi Arabia’s been very good to me, shout out to everyone here (in the Kingdom),” he continued. “I’ve had a good time, everyone at the hotel and gym has been looking after me, and it’s been like a second home,” he added. “I’ve good memories of here from last time out (against Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019) and it’s time to create new ones.”

Also on show was Zhang Zhilei ahead of his bout with Filip Hrgovic, rivals Callum Smith and Mathieu Bauderlique, as well as Badou Jack, Andrew Tabiti, Rashed Belhasa, and Bader Samreen.

Rounding out the dozen boxers were Ziyad Al-Maayouf and Ramla Ali, who were given huge support from those in attendance.

They will both make history at the Rage on the Red Sea as the first Saudi and female fighters, respectively, to feature on an international professional card in the Kingdom.


UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal
Updated 52 min 32 sec ago

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal

UAE president heaps praise on Emirate’s first woman to win World Games medal
  • Shamma Al Kalbani was Emirate’s first woman to win a medal at World Games

DUBAI: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has congratulated Shamma Al Kalbani for becoming the first Emirati woman to win a medal during the World Games.

The president met Kalbani – who scooped bronze in the 63kg category women’s jiu-jitsu at the Birmingham World Games in July - alongside the other Emirati winners of the jiu-jitsu competition at the games on Monday.

The competition, which took place in Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the most important global multi-sport events in the world.

The UAE grapplers won five medals at the championship, with Faisal Al-Ketbi winning gold in the 85 kilogram and open weight categories, and Mohammed Al-Suwaidi taking home silver in the 69 kilogram division. Shamma Al-Kalbani became the first Emirati female athlete to clinch a medal at the World Games, winning two bronze medals in the 63 kilogram and open weight categories.

 

 

He also congratulated the board of directors of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation and commended their efforts in developing the martial art.

In response the delegation thanked the president for his support of the sport in the country.


Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey
Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey

Saudi Arabia take football silver at Islamic Solidarity Games after 1-0 loss to Turkey
  • The defeat in Konya ends a run of 10 consecutive victories for the Kingdom’s U-23 team

Saudi Arabia’s footballers fell short of gold in the football competition at the Islamic Solidarity Games after a 1-0 defeat to hosts Turkey in Konya on Tuesday.

The loss ends the team’s run of 10 straight victories, stretching back to the triumphant AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Uzbekistan in June, for the young Green Falcons.

The winning goal was scored by Metehan Altunbas, of Turkish club Adanaspor, in the 27th minute of the match.

Saudi’s players received their silver medals from President of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, who is also the president of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation.

The podium finish is Saudi’s second in the Islamic games across its five editions.

The team’s coach, Saad Al-Shehri, had previously won the competition as a player with Saudi Arabia in 2005.


Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
Updated 17 August 2022

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled

Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier definitively canceled
  • Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second

RIO DE JANEIRO: Last year’s aborted World Cup qualifier between Brazil and Argentina will not be replayed, the two South American countries’ football associations said on Tuesday.

The original fixture, in September last year, was halted when Brazilian health officials stormed onto the pitch after seven minutes in Sao Paulo, alleging COVID-19 quarantine breaches by the visitors.

But with nothing riding on the match as both countries have already qualified for the World Cup, which begins in Qatar on Nov. 20, they had pleaded with world football’s governing body FIFA to cancel the match definitively.

“The Brazil-Argentina match will not be played,” the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and Argentine Football Association (AFA) said in a joint statement.

“AFA, CBF and FIFA have resolved the dispute at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).”

Both countries argued that playing the match as scheduled on Sept. 22 would adversely affect their World Cup preparations.

FIFA ruled in February that the game must be replayed and in May it rejected an appeal by both federations to have the match canceled, while also hitting them with fines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The two federations then took their case to CAS, which was due to rule this month.

Both countries qualified for the World Cup with several matches to spare in the single South American qualifying group.

Even if the match were replayed, its result could not affect the outcome of qualifying, with Brazil topping the group and Argentina finishing second.

Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times while reigning Copa America holders Argentina are twice champions.


Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
Updated 17 August 2022

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener

Serena Williams gets door from Raducanu in Cincinnati opener
  • Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion

CINCINNATI: Serena Williams bowed out of the WTA/ATP Cincinnati Masters at the first hurdle on Tuesday, losing in straight sets to US Open champion Emma Raducanu as the end of her glittering career looms ever closer.

Williams, who last week indicated that she is planning to retire after this month’s US Open, was no match for British teenager Raducanu, who romped to a 6-4, 6-0 win.

The 40-year-old Williams left the court swiftly after the defeat without speaking to television reporters and did not hold a press conference.

Raducanu broke Williams at the start of both sets to claim victory in what was her first and likely last meeting with the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion.

“I was nervous from the first point to the last,” Raducanu said. “Serena is dangerous and can come back from any situation.

“I had to stay focused. I’m so pleased I managed to keep my composure.”

Williams, winner of titles here in 2014 and 2015, was competing in only her fourth match of 2022 after starting her season at Wimbledon due to injury.

Raducanu announced her intentions from the start with a break to love of Williams and never let up.

The young Briton improved to 14 wins, 17 defeats since winning the Open last September from a qualifying start.

Raducanu meanwhile said she was honored to be part of the spectacle on Tuesday in what was one of Williams’ final games as a professional.

“We all need to honor Serena and her amazing career,” she said. “I’m so grateful for the experience of playing her and for the fact that our careers have crossed.

“All she has achieved is inspirational. It’s a true honor to share the court with her.”

Raducanu never let Williams into the match.

The young Londoner seeded 10th took a 4-1 lead in the opening set and completely swept the second, advancing on her first match point, an unreturnable serve.

Raducanu committed a single unforced error in the opening set compared to a dozen for Williams.

Williams’ elder sister Venus took a 7-5, 6-1 loss earlier in the day, losing to 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova.

In the men’s draw of the joint event, Nick Kyrgios began the last major US Open tuneup with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The Australian marched through with 29 winners — including 10 aces — and three breaks of the Spaniard’s serve to reach the second round.

The 28th-ranked Kyrgios has won all 11 of his first-round matches this season and won his 22nd match since returning to the ATP in June after skipping the clay season.

He now faces good friend Taylor Fritz after the American crushed Sebastian Baez 6-1, 6-1.

“Physically, I didn’t feel the best, but you have to keep pushing, keep trying,” Kyrgios said.

“Alejandro’s a hell of a player, he’s got a lot of shots at his disposal. I had to serve well and dictate,” the Montreal quarter-finalist added. “It was tricky conditions out there, the courts are a lot more lively than Montreal, it was harder to control the ball.”

It marked a happy return to Cincinnati for Kyrgios, who was fined a record $113,000 during a spectacular meltdown at the tournament in 2019

“I’ve played some amazing tennis here and had some crazy outbursts,” he said. “It’s a flip of the coin as to which Kyrgios shows up here.”

Elsewhere, Spanish third seed Carlos Alcaraz advanced in his tournament debut, defeating American Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-2.

Italian 10th seed Jannik Sinner celebrated his 21st birthday by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 7-6 (8/6).