5 things learned as Al-Hilal continue stunning pursuit of Al-Ittihad in Saudi Pro League title race

5 things learned as Al-Hilal continue stunning pursuit of Al-Ittihad in Saudi Pro League title race
Al-Hilal have reduced Al-Ittihad’s lead from six points to none. (Twitter)
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Updated 30 May 2022

5 things learned as Al-Hilal continue stunning pursuit of Al-Ittihad in Saudi Pro League title race

5 things learned as Al-Hilal continue stunning pursuit of Al-Ittihad in Saudi Pro League title race
  • Having looked out of running, reigning Saudi, Asian champions now on same points as faltering Jeddah club with only 2 matches left

RIYADH: The unthinkable has happened, with once runaway leaders Al-Ittihad being reeled in by reigning champions Al-Hilal. Round 28 out of 30 in the Saudi Professional League season was a stunner and means that fans are in for a real treat when the campaign resumes in June.

1. Al-Hilal now the favorites

There has been an amazing turnaround at the top. In less than a week, Al-Hilal have reduced Al-Ittihad’s lead from six points to none. They also share the same goal difference.

On Sunday, the defending champions defeated Abha 2-0. Both the goals came in the second half with center-back Ali Al-Bulaihi opening the scoring 10 minutes after the break and Odion Ighalo, a much more regular goal scorer, sealing the win 10 minutes from the end.

At this stage of the season, it is not about performances but just about getting the points on the board. This was the kind of game that will not be remembered too long by fans except for the fact that it finally closed the gap. Now Al-Hilal have the momentum.

The loss to Al-Feiha at the start of May looked to have ended their title hopes but four straight wins since, including the victory over Al-Ittihad last week, means that the momentum is in Riyadh. Despite the schedule and the injuries, they are now favorites.

2. Al-Ittihad stumble once more

The leaders lost 1-0 at relegation battlers Al-Tai, who now look safe from the drop, but the headlines will be focused on how the team from Jeddah are close to throwing away what would be a first title win since 2009.

It was all looking fine a short while ago but just one point from the last three games has thrown everything up in the air.

This was not a smash-and-grab win from the hosts. Al-Ittihad struggled to get going and caused coach Cosmin Contra to call it the worst performance he had seen since taking over at the start of the season.

The Tigers should have taken the lead midway through the first half. A blistering shot from outside the area from Abdulaziz Al-Bishi was saved and the rebound came out to Muhannad Al-Shanqeeti, but his effort came back off the post. Then five minutes into the second-half, Amir Sayoud broke free and his low shot sent the home fans wild.

The worried looks from Contra and all those on the sidelines said it all. Al-Ittihad have forgotten how to win just as the trophy was in touching distance and they now have over two weeks to think about how to get back on track.

3. Relegation battle goes from intense to epic

Al-Hazem became the first team to be relegated last week but the rest of the battle to escape the trapdoor is becoming legendary. Almost the entire bottom half of the table can still feel the heat of the relegation zone. There are just three points that separate Al-Taawoun in 10th and Al-Batin in 15th and two of those six teams are going down. Nobody can predict who it will be.

Many desperate teams are picking up points as the intensity of the fight has moved up a notch. Al-Taawoun looked almost doomed but have now won their last two games. Ettifaq have bounced back under new coach Patrice Carteron. Al-Batin are still in serious trouble but have taken seven points from their last four games and now have a fighting chance. Al-Ahli have drawn their last three but that means they are now unbeaten in three while Al-Tai beat the leaders and look to be safe.

The title race may get most of the headlines, but the bottom half is no place for the faint-hearted.

4. Firas Al-Buraikan flying the flag for locals

It is rare to see a Saudi Arabian striker make the top 10 of goal scorers in the league but with two games of the season remaining, Firas Al-Buraikan is there.

The 22-year-old became frustrated about a lack of playing time at Al-Nassr and a move to Al-Fateh is now looking like an inspired one.

His hat-trick against Damac means that he now has 11 for the season and is in the top 10. This is especially welcome to national team coach Herve Renard. His other striker Saleh Al-Shehri is injured and is unlikely to be back before the summer ends, at best.

Another Al-Hilal forward Abdullah Al-Hamdan’s time on the pitch is stop and start at the club. It puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Al-Buraikan, but on current form, he looks like he can handle it and is starting to thrive. It can only be good news for fans of the national team ahead of the World Cup.

5. International break adds an extra dimension

There are so many talking points as the season enters its last two rounds.

There is the battle for the top three with Al-Nassr hitting form at the right time and are just two points clear of Al-Shabab. When Al-Shabab let Ighalo join Al-Hilal in January, they were above their Riyadh rivals in the table. That is no longer the case, but Al-Shabab have Carlos. The Brazilian scored twice in a vital 2-0 win at Al-Raed and now has 13 for the season. Such goals mean that they are still in the hunt for a top-three finish.

There are also the fortunes of Al-Ahli. The Jeddah giants just cannot pull away from that relegation trapdoor, but the focus is going to be on the title race and while Al-Hilal are now favorites, there is still time for more twists to come.

Now there are no games for almost three weeks and the teams that handle this period best will be rewarded. There is still time for coaches to earn their salaries and get the results that will mean the title or avoiding relegation.


Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport

Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport
Updated 09 August 2022

Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport

Serena announces upcoming retirement from the sport
  • On Monday, Williams played only her second singles match since she returned to action at Wimbledon in June
  • The 40-year-old said after that match that she could see the light at the end of the tennis tunnel in her career

LONDON: Serena Williams said on Tuesday that she is “evolving away from tennis” as she detailed her upcoming retirement from the sport that she dominated for the majority of her career with 23 singles Grand Slam titles.
On Monday, Williams played only her second singles match since she returned to action at Wimbledon in June after a year-long absence from competition, beating Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz to reach the second round of the Toronto Open.
But the 40-year-old said after that match that she could see the light at the end of the tennis tunnel in her career before suggesting the US Open starting this month could be her swansong.
“I have never liked the word retirement,” Williams wrote in a Vogue article.
“It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people.
“Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.
“A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family.”
Williams won her last Grand Slam in 2017 and has been chasing an elusive 24th crown that will draw her level with Margaret Court who holds the record for most majors.
She came tantalisingly close to achieving that feat, featuring in four major finals since giving birth to daughter Olympia in 2017.
“There are people who say I’m not the GOAT (greatest of all time) because I didn’t pass Court’s record, which she achieved before the ‘Open era’ that began in 1968,” former world number one Williams said.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a Slam final, then yes, I’m thinking about that record. Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help.”
Williams later talked in an Instagram post about the time to move in a “different direction.”
“That time is always hard when you love something so much,” she added. “My goodness do I enjoy tennis.
“But now, the countdown has begun. I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks.”


Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi targets victory in Lithuania to revive title hopes

Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi targets victory in Lithuania to revive title hopes
Updated 09 August 2022

Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi targets victory in Lithuania to revive title hopes

Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi targets victory in Lithuania to revive title hopes
  • Emirati ace vows to fight back from Polish setback and tips team-mate for the top

ABU DHABI: Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi has set his sights on victory in the Grand Prix of Lithuania at the weekend to revive his hopes of a fourth UIM F2 World Championship crown.

The Emirati driver is determined to shrug off last month’s setback in Poland when a race error from one of the backmarkers put him out this season’s opening round.

“A similar thing happened to me in the first Grand Prix last season, and I still came through to take the title,” said the Emirati driver, ahead of Sunday’s second round of the championship in Kupiskis.

“I believe I still have a good chance this time. I have a brand new boat which is very good for me. I would have won in Poland but for a mistake by another driver, but that’s behind me now and I’m aiming for a win in Lithuania.”

Mansoor Al-Mansoori’s second place in Augustow behind Germany’s Stefan Hagin underlined his own credentials, and Al-Qemzi believe his Abu Dhabi team-mate can do well in this championship.

“Mansoor is improving all the time, and he has a great future in F2,” he said. “The management at Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club choose the best to represent the team, and Mansoor has what it takes to get to the top.”

Holding second place in the F2 championship, Al-Mansoori is prepared for another big challenge in Kupiskis in the boat which took Al-Qemzi to the world title last year.

“The result in Poland has given me a lot of confidence,” Al-Mansoori said. “It showed that I can compete with the guys at the top in F2, and motivates me to fight for another good result in Lithuania.

“My focus is to finish in a good position. I’m still fairly new to F2, still building and gaining experience. I want to support Rashed, and at the same time follow his steps, and it’s an honor to be driving the boat of the three-times world champion.”

The Team Abu Dhabi duo are in a strong field of 21 boats assembling in Kupiskis, where Lithuania’s Edgaras Riabko is aiming to complete back-to-back wins in his home event.

After a Saturday afternoon qualifying session, the F2 boats will contest an evening match race event before the Grand Prix of Lithuania gets under way.


Saudi athletes claim silver, bronze at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Saudi athletes claim silver, bronze at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
Updated 09 August 2022

Saudi athletes claim silver, bronze at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey

Saudi athletes claim silver, bronze at Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey
  • Mohammed Tolo second in shot put and Ali Al-Khadrawi third in table tennis
  • Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of the federation, proud of performances

Saudi Arabia claimed two more medals at the Islamic Solidarity Games, in shot put and table tennis, on Monday in Turkey.

This comes ahead of the tournament’s official opening ceremony in Konya, on Tuesday night.

President of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, who also serves as president of Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, was in attendance on Monday as Mohammed Tolo claimed silver for Saudi Arabia in the shot put with a throw of 20.12 meters.

Saudi’s second medal of the day came from Ali Al-Khadrawi who took bronze in the individual table tennis competition, having lost 4-1 in the semifinals to Iran’s Amir Hussein.

Al-Khadrawi had reached the last four with a 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Turkey’s Abdullah Talha.

The Kingdom’s overall medal tally at Konya 2022 now stands at three (one silver and two bronze).

Meanwhile, Saudi’s U-23 team defeated Azerbaijan 1-0 in their opening match of the football competition, the winning goal coming from Ahmed Al-Ghamdi’s 95th-minute penalty.

The athletics competition saw two Saudi runners reach the final of the 400-meter race, with Mazen Al-Yassin winning Heat 2 in 45.94 seconds, while Yousef Masrahi finished second in Heat 1 with a time of 45.95.

Mohammed Al-Maawi qualified for the final of the 400 hurdles, by finishing third in the heats in 50.84.

Abdullah Abkar qualified for the semifinals of the 100 sprint by coming second in Heat 2 in a time of 10.06.

In the final of the men’s 5000, Tariq Al-Omari finished sixth with a time of 13 minutes, 95.05 seconds, while Yasmine Al-Dabbagh came sixth in the women’s 100 qualifiers in 12.81. It was a personal best for the Saudi Olympian, whose previous record stood at 12.90.

In the Paralympic swimming competition, Ibrahim Al-Marzouki, already winner of a bronze in the 50-meter butterfly, finished fourth in the 200 freestyle final with a time of 4:39.21, the same position as Saudi colleague Turki Al-Harbi in the 200 medley (2:54.73).


Formula E’s Alberto Longo proves doubters wrong ahead of milestone 100th race

Formula E’s Alberto Longo proves doubters wrong ahead of milestone 100th race
Updated 09 August 2022

Formula E’s Alberto Longo proves doubters wrong ahead of milestone 100th race

Formula E’s Alberto Longo proves doubters wrong ahead of milestone 100th race
  • ‘Some people laughed but look how far we’ve come’
  • Maserati, McLaren and ABT on next year’s grid is mark of success

Formula E’s co-founder and chief championship officer Alberto Longo is happy to have proved people wrong as the championship prepares to host its 100th race this Sunday.

South Korean capital Seoul will stage the double-header season finale rounds on Aug. 13 and 14 with Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne sitting at the top of the drivers’ standings and a firm favorite to clinch his first Formula E title.

Since the inaugural race was held in Beijing in 2014, Longo has been among the key figures in helping the Formula E Championship grow and says he and his team are “super proud” of the manner in which its presence has increased worldwide.

“I am so proud of what we are today compared to what we were when the first race was held. I remember when we first had the idea of this competition. Some people laughed about the venture we were thinking about, and now look how far we have come.

“I can only remember those first days where there were some brave people who put in their efforts and believed in what we were doing. There are a lot of people that we have to thank, as we are here because of them. We now have a World Championship with spectacular races around the world, in some of the most amazing cities, with fantastic teams as well as an excellent line-up of drivers.”

“Today, you are not talking about the future anymore — we’re talking about the present and what is happening today. Overall, I’m super proud of what we have achieved but this is only the tip of the iceberg — and there is a lot more to come.”

Longo believes Formula E will continue to go from strength to strength as it enters a new era with the introduction of the Gen 3 cars next season. He insists the new additions of popular car manufacturers Maserati, McLaren and ABT on next year’s grid is a prime example of Formula E’s success and revealed there is no shortage of interest when it comes to the cities that want to be part of future Formula E season calendars.

“There are many manufacturers that come and go and that happens in every championship, but we do have the power to attract new manufacturers and that is a fact,” Longo said.

“This year, we have three new teams with Maserati, McLaren, and ABT. That is fantastic because in just a single year, it shows how we can attract such big names in motorsport.

“It’s not just from car manufacturers’ perspectives, but also with new cities. We are dealing with more than 100 cities on a yearly basis that want to host an event in Formula E — and that is way different to how it was during the earlier stages of when Formula E had just been launched.”


Al-Nassr continue impressive pre-season form with 2-1 friendly win over Torremolinos

Al-Nassr continue impressive pre-season form with 2-1 friendly win over Torremolinos
Updated 09 August 2022

Al-Nassr continue impressive pre-season form with 2-1 friendly win over Torremolinos

Al-Nassr continue impressive pre-season form with 2-1 friendly win over Torremolinos
  • The win came in the Riyadh club’s fourth match of their ongoing training camp in Spain

Al-Nassr defeated Spanish club Torremolinos 2-1 in the Saudi team’s fourth friendly match of their pre-season training camp taking place in Marbella.

The Riyadh club drew 2-2 in their first match against Las Palmas, and beat Zaragoza 2-1 in the second and Malaga 2-0 in the third.

Against Torremolinos, Al-Nassr started with a high press early on, Pity Martinez having a shot saved after only four minutes, while the referee disallowed a goal by Talisca after 15 minutes for offside.

Quick-fire goals in the 43rd and 44th minutes by Vincent Aboubakar and Talisca saw Al-Nassr take a two-goal lead into the break.

Torremolinos reduced the deficit in the 74th minute, but Rudi Garcia’s team, thanks to several substitutions, managed to see out the match for the 2-1 win.

Al-Nassr will host Al-Wehda at Mrsool Park on Aug. 27 in their opening fixture of the 2022-23 Saudi Pro League season.