Fresh Al-Ittihad take on overworked Al-Hilal in Classico that could decide SPL title destination

Fresh Al-Ittihad take on overworked Al-Hilal in Classico that could decide SPL title destination
Leaders Al-Ittihad meet Al-Hilal holding a six-point advantage at the top of the table, with four games to play. (Twitter: @ittihad)
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Updated 22 May 2022

Fresh Al-Ittihad take on overworked Al-Hilal in Classico that could decide SPL title destination

Fresh Al-Ittihad take on overworked Al-Hilal in Classico that could decide SPL title destination
  • A win for the reigning Saudi and Asian champions will close the gap on leaders to three points with three matches left
  • In the past two months Al-Hilal have played 11 matches, Al-Ittihad only two

The Classico is always a huge clash but Monday’s meeting has an extra edge as it could play a key role in deciding whether the Saudi Professional League trophy stays in Riyadh or heads to Jeddah.

Leaders Al-Ittihad meet Al-Hilal holding a six-point advantage at the top of the table, with four games to play. If the Tigers beat the defending champions, then their first title since 2009 is a virtual certainty, while a draw would surely leave Al-Hilal with too much to do. However, a win for the visitors opens things up. Three points between them with three games to go would make for a fascinating end to the season.

Al-Ittihad are obviously in the better position and not just because of the cushion they have at the top. This is the business end of the season and usually games are coming thick and fast. There are injuries, suspensions and general fatigue, as well as huge pressure to deal with. That is true for one team and not the other. Al-Ittihad have played 14 games in 2022 and only two in the past two months. Al-Hilal have played 25 matches, with 11 in that period.

That means that the leaders have had to seek out friendlies to keep their players sharp. The extension to the season, due to the postponement of last week’s games following the death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on May 13 even means that Ahmed Hegazi is fit to play for the first time this year. The Egyptian defender has been missed, especially in the team’s last match, the 4-4 draw with Al-Fateh when a 3-1 lead was thrown away. Hegazi is likely to start, as is Brazilian attacker Igor Coronado, who picked up a knock in that roller coaster encounter. Other attackers such as Romarinho and Abderrazak Hamdallah are raring to go, the major absence being that of Fahad Al-Muwallad, who was hit with an 18-month ban last week for testing positive for a banned substance.

Al-Hilal, by contrast, have all kinds of issues. On Thursday the defending champions lost the King’s Cup final to Al-Feiha. Even worse was the fact that it came after a penalty shootout which followed two hours of tense and draining football. It remains to be seen if there is a psychological reaction to the defeat but there is sure to be a physical one. In the latter stages, stars such as Salem Al-Dawsari were suffering from cramp, a sight that must have given hope to Al-Ittihad fans.

Coach Ramon Diaz has plenty of injuries, as well, to keep him busy. There are the long-term issues with Abdullelah Al-Malki and Saleh Al-Shehri. Peruvian winger Andre Carrillo has been out for a while and is still a doubt, as are Gustavo Cuellar and Yasser Al-Shahrani. Central defender Jang Hyun-soo hurt a toe in the final and missed training on Friday. The South Korean should be fit for the big game and the same goes for captain Salman Al-Faraj, who picked up a slight knock on Thursday.

But the physical side is only half the story. At this stage of the season, mental matters are crucial. While Al-Ittihad may have been able to get much more rest than their Riyadh rivals, it is hard to know how such relative inaction has affected a team that has been so close to a first title for 13 years. Being within touching distance of the trophy for so long but not having games to play must have been a frustrating experience.

They have had two and a half weeks to think about the 4-4 draw and reflect on what happened. A victory against Al-Fateh would have put the leaders eight points clear with four to play. It would surely have been all over, regardless of the Classico result.

And there is more. Al-Ittihad have lost just once in their last 17 league games. That was against Al-Hilal. To lose again would raise the prospect of the title being thrown away by a team that has been on top for around three-quarters of the season.

The chasing team, meanwhile, knows that only a win will do. The Asian champions have shown over the years that when it comes to the big games, they often to find a way. If Al-Hilal can avoid any ill effects from the King’s Cup final defeat, both mentally and physically, they have what it takes to defeat Al-Ittihad. Whatever happens, it really should be a game to remember.


Swiatek ‘overwhelmed’ by seeing legend Serena back at Wimbledon

Swiatek ‘overwhelmed’ by seeing legend Serena back at Wimbledon
Updated 25 June 2022

Swiatek ‘overwhelmed’ by seeing legend Serena back at Wimbledon

Swiatek ‘overwhelmed’ by seeing legend Serena back at Wimbledon
  • "I saw her [Serena] yesterday, I was pretty overwhelmed," said Swiatek
  • Swiatek wasn't even born when Williams made her Wimbledon debut in 1998

LONDON: World number one Iga Swiatek said Saturday she is “overwhelmed” to see Serena Williams back at Wimbledon, one year after the US legend limped away from the All England Club.
Williams, a seven-time champion at the tournament, and still chasing an elusive 24th Grand Slam title, will be playing her first singles match since her tearful, injury-enforced withdrawal in the first round in 2021.
“I saw her yesterday, I was pretty overwhelmed,” said Swiatek, the recently-crowned French Open champion.
“I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to meet her. I saw that she had so many people around her. I don’t know her team. It was pretty weird.
“But just seeing her around is great because she’s such a legend, there’s nobody that has done so much in tennis.”
Swiatek wasn’t even born when Williams made her Wimbledon debut in 1998.
But the Pole appreciates the ground-breaking achievements of the American and sees the 40-year-old still as a genuine threat despite her ring-rustiness.
“I’m pretty sure that she’s going to be in good shape because she has so much experience coming back from breaks or just playing in Grand Slams. I think she can use it,” said the 21-year-old.
Swiatek is on a Serena-esque run of dominance herself this season.
Having taken over from the now retired Ashleigh Barty as world number one, she has put together a 35-match win streak.
That run surpassed Serena’s best of 34 successive wins and equalled Venus Williams’ record of 35 straight victories in 2000 for the longest winning stretch by a woman in the 21st century.
A second French Open triumph earlier this month also gave Swiatek a sixth title in 2022.
With defending Wimbledon champion Barty retired, Swiatek has been given the honor of opening Tuesday proceedings on Center Court.
“I feel really privileged that I’ve been chosen,” she said.
Swiatek, a former Wimbledon junior champion, has yet to get past the fourth round of the women’s singles.
She has also not appeared on a grass court at all this summer, opting to rest after her final win over Coco Gauff in Paris.
“Honestly I still feel like I need to figure out grass,” she added.
“Last year for sure, it was that kind of tournament where I didn’t know what to expect. Then match by match I realized maybe I can do more and more.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. But I’m just trying to stay open-minded and kind of take positives from the situation and realize that I can play without any expectations.”
Swiatek begins her Wimbledon bid against Croatian qualifier Jana Fett.


Ledecky grabs another gold, Australian quartet sets world record

Ledecky grabs another gold, Australian  quartet sets world record
Updated 25 June 2022

Ledecky grabs another gold, Australian quartet sets world record

Ledecky grabs another gold, Australian  quartet sets world record
  • It’s Ledecky’s 19th gold at a worlds and her fourth this week including the 4x200 freestyle relay
  • Australia’s team clocked 3:19.38 in the 4x100 to shave two-hundredths of a second off the record set by the US at the last worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in July 2019

BUDAPEST: Katie Ledecky extended her record haul of medals and Australia set a world record in the mixed 4x100 meters freestyle final at the world swimming championships on Friday.

American star Ledecky won the 800 freestyle final for the fifth time at the worlds to seal her fourth consecutive 400/800/1,500 triple at the event.

She clocked 8 minutes, 8.04 seconds to finish more than 10 seconds ahead of her rivals. Australia’s Kiah Melverton was 10.73 behind in second and Italy’s Simona Quadarella 10.96 behind for third.

It’s Ledecky’s 19th gold at a worlds and her fourth this week including the 4x200 freestyle relay.

“Really good end to a great week,” Ledecky said.

Her 22 medals are the most for a female swimmer in world championships history. Only Michael Phelps, who won 26, has more.

Australia’s mixed relay team of Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson and Mollie O’Callaghan clocked 3:19.38 in the 4x100 to shave two-hundredths of a second off the record set by the US at the last worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in July 2019.

Gold medalists and new world record holders Australian quartet of Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson and  Mollie O'Callaghan with their medals following the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay finals at the 19th FINA World Championships on June 24, 2022. (AFP)

“I don’t think there was any mention or any expectation or even a thought about being able to break that,” Wilson said. “So to do that and see that at the end was just unbelievable and a real surprise for us.”

Canada’s team of Joshua Liendo, Javier Acevedo, Kayla Sanchez and Penny Oleksiak finished 1.23 behind the Australians for silver, and the United States team of Ryan Held, Brooks Curry, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan was third, 1.71 behind.

Canada’s silver was the country’s ninth medal this week, eclipsing the eight it won in Gwangju.

Ben Proud won Britain’s first gold of the championships, clinching the men’s 50 freestyle in 21.32 – 0.09 ahead of American Michael Andrew and 0.25 ahead of France’s Maxime Grousset.

“We’re missing quite a few key players in the pool today,” Proud said, referring to the absences of Caeleb Dressel, Florent Manaudou and Bruno Fratus. “The whole podium from the Olympics last year wasn’t in the final.”

Dressel was due to race but withdrew from the worlds for unspecified reasons on Wednesday.

“It’s not the same without him,” Proud said. “As soon as he was out, that quite changed the dynamics of the competition. A lot of people had a different type of pressure leading in..”

Dressel, the world record holder, was also missing from the 200 butterfly.

Kristóf Milák followed up his win in the 100 butterfly – where he lowered his own world record – by adding the 200. The Hungarian swimmer delighted the home fans as he clinched the title in 50.14 ahead of Japan’s Naoki Mizunuma and Canada’s Josh Liendo.

Milák joined Phelps and South African Chad Le Clos as the only male swimmers to achieve the 100/200 butterfly double at a single worlds.

Sarah Sjöström won her fourth consecutive 50 butterfly title, clocking 24.95 to head off Melanie Henique of France and Yufei Zhang of China for a record-equaling eighth gold medal in butterfly events at a worlds. Phelps has to share his record.

American Torri Huske was sixth, 0.50 behind Sjöström, who claimed her 18th individual medal at the worlds. Only Phelps, with 20, has more.

After five silver medals, Australia’s Kaylee McKeown finally claimed a gold when she edged American Phoebe Bacon by just four-hundredths of a second in the women’s 200 backstroke.

Bacon’s teammate, Rhyan White, was third for her first medal at a worlds.

It was the closest result in this race at a worlds since 1986 when East Germany’s Cornelia Sirch was two-hundredths of a second ahead of American Besty Mitchell. Sirch later suffered health problems that she attributed to her country’s state doping program.


Chun tightens grip at Women’s PGA Championship

Chun tightens grip at Women’s PGA Championship
Updated 25 June 2022

Chun tightens grip at Women’s PGA Championship

Chun tightens grip at Women’s PGA Championship
  • Chun admitted she had felt under pressure after her scintillating opening round

Bethesda, Maryland:  In Gee Chun extended her lead at the Women’s PGA Championship on Friday, firing a 3-under-par 69 to open up a six-stroke advantage at the halfway stage as she hunts down a third major title.

The 27-year-old South Korean had demolished Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, in Thursday’s first round, shooting a course record 8-under-64 that left awed rivals in disbelief — and five shots adrift.

Chun found the going slightly harder on Friday, opening with three early birdies before back-to-back bogeys checked her progress just before the turn.

However, she regained those two strokes with birdies on the 10th and 18th to maintain a vice-like grip on the lead heading into the weekend on 11 under with a 36-hole aggregate 133.

Chun admitted she had felt under pressure after her scintillating opening round.

“I got a little pressure for sure because after I had a great first round, everyone (talked) about how you are, like, five-shot lead,” she said.

“Now I’m in a good position. Everyone’s expectations are really high.

“So it was a little tough to make focus, but I believe it’s another process in my life ... So I just want to enjoy my next two days.”

Chun’s nearest rivals are New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who moved up the leaderboard with a 5-under-par 67, and in-form Jennifer Kupcho, who shot seven birdies and three bogeys in a 4-under 68.

Kupcho and Ko are five under for the tournament.

Former world No. 1 Ko is chasing her first major victory in six years.

The last of her two majors came at the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage in 2016 — the same year she finished second at the Women’s PGA Championship.

“It is hard to win, but I’m just trying to put myself more in that kind of position, and I think when you keep knocking on the door, you hope that one day that door will open,” Ko said.

Kupcho, chasing her second major win of the season after victory at the Chevron Championship in Rancho Mirage in April, said she will not change her strategy to try and catch Chun.

“If she’s going to continue to play well, that’s her game, and there’s really nothing anyone can do about it,” Kupcho said.

Five players are tied for fourth on four under, including Canada’s Brooke Henderson, Australia’s Hannah Green and South Korea’s 2020 Women’s PGA champion Kim Sei-young.

Lexi Thompson and Australia’s Minjee Lee are eight off the lead on three under, tied for ninth with three other players including Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum and South Korea’s Choi Hye-jin.

Thompson caught the eye with a 5-under 67 which included a spectacular eagle two at the par-four 17th, when she chipped onto the green from 102 yards, prodigious backspin sending her ball into the cup.

“I just came into today with a positive attitude and same going into the weekend if I go out and play like I did today, just solid and committing to my shots in the process of my routine,” Thompson said.

“We’ll just see where that takes me. You never know.”


Iraq beat KSA in final of WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship

Iraq beat KSA in final of WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship
Updated 25 June 2022

Iraq beat KSA in final of WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship

Iraq beat KSA in final of WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship
  • Host nation fell short of claiming title in first-ever participation in competition

Saudi Arabia fell short of glory in the final of the 2022 WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship after losing 4-2 to Iraq at King Abdullah Sports City Hall in Jeddah on Friday night.
The Saudi team had reached the final in their first-ever participation in the competition — organized by the West Asian Football Federation — after beating Bahrain 1-0 in Wednesday’s semi-final.
The Saudi team’s goals came from Leen Mohammed and Sara Al-Hamad, while Iraq’s were scored by Shokhan Salihi (2), Direen Mullabakar and Tbarek Al-Ghazawi.
The last day of action in the six-team tournament also saw Bahrain beat Kuwait 2-0 to claim third place.
On Wednesday, Palestine beat Oman 6-1 in the fifth-place playoff.


KSA exit Arab Futsal Cup after quarter-final loss to Iraq

KSA exit Arab Futsal Cup after quarter-final loss to Iraq
Updated 25 June 2022

KSA exit Arab Futsal Cup after quarter-final loss to Iraq

KSA exit Arab Futsal Cup after quarter-final loss to Iraq
  • Iraq now face Kuwait in last 4, while Morocco take on Egypt in other semi-final

Saudi Arabia have been eliminated from the 2022 Arab Futsal Cup after a 3-2 quarter-final loss to Iraq in extra time at the Green Hall in Dammam on Friday night.
The result means Iraq now have a semi-final date with Kuwait — who beat Palestine 4-1 on penalties after a 4-4 draw — on Sunday.
The other semi-final in the 10-team tournament will be contested between Morocco, who beat Libya 3-0, and Egypt, who overcame Mauritania 3-2.
Saudi Arabia had progressed to the last eight after finishing top of Group 3, which included Palestine in second place and Libya, who also progressed as one of the competition’s best third-place teams.
The four-team Group 1 also saw three teams — Morocco, Kuwait and Mauritania — through to the quarter-finals, while Somalia exited early.
Group 2 saw top-of-the-table Egypt and second-place Iraq qualify to the last eight, while Algeria were eliminated.