Down to the wire: 5 things we learned from penultimate round of Saudi Pro League action

Down to the wire: 5 things we learned from penultimate round of Saudi Pro League action
The penultimate round of action took place on Thursday and it was epic as both Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad won their matches. (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2022

Down to the wire: 5 things we learned from penultimate round of Saudi Pro League action

Down to the wire: 5 things we learned from penultimate round of Saudi Pro League action
  • Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal both won their matches in Round 29 to take the championship race into the last day

The Saudi Pro League title race is going down to the last day, and so is the relegation battle, as the conclusion of the 2021-22 season now becomes one of the most exciting in recent times.

The penultimate round of action took place on Thursday and it was epic as both Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad won their matches. Here are five things we learned from the action across the Kingdom.

 

1. Super Al-Dawsari puts Al-Hilal on the brink

Al-Hilal defeated Al-Fateh 3-0 and now know that a win in the final game will bring them the title. Salem Al-Dawsari scored twice in the first half to ensure that there was not going to be a surprise result. The 30-year-old is a scorer of spectacular goals — his strike against Al-Ittihad in the previous game was a thing of beauty — but that was not the case on Thursday. His first came from a scramble a meter from the goalline as a host of players tried to bundle the ball in the net or clear it. His second came from not much further out.

He won’t mind. This was all about the result and ensuring that the defending champions have their title fate in their hands. This was potentially a tricky game but Al-Hilal showed why they are a winning machine. They were two goals ahead by half-time and there was no way that Al-Fateh were going to come back. Al-Ittihad are waiting for their rivals to slip but they never came close to doing so with the likes of Al-Dawsari enjoying the race. Few expect they will let the trophy fall out of their hands against Al-Faisaly on Monday.

 

2. Al-Ittihad show fight to stay in the race

The long-time leaders fell off their perch at the top but stay in the race with a 3-1 come-from-behind win against Ettifaq. After 29 games, the top two teams are level on points, but Al-Hilal have the advantage as they have won both meetings between the two teams and have the better head-to-head record. Had Al-Ittihad lost last night, the title race would have been over.

With 20 minutes remaining that looked possible with the Tigers a goal down. Yet they bounced back thanks to a brace from Romarinho and a late strike from Abderrazak Hamdallah that sealed the win.

For a team that had taken one point from the previous three games and were on a serious wobble, it was an impressive comeback. It was helped by the introduction of Igor Coronado midway through the second half and the Brazilian offered creativity, ball retention and penetration.

All that will be needed in the final game against Al-Batin. Al-Ittihad will just have to beat another relegation struggler and hope that Al-Hilal fail in their task. It is not in the hands of the Jeddah club seeking a first title since 2009, but it is not over yet.

 

3. Al-Ahli drop into the danger zone

With all the focus on the title race, Al-Ahli have been quietly sliding down the table and the 3-1 loss at home to relegation rivals Al-Raed saw the Jeddah giants finally slip into the bottom three. With just one win from the last nine league games it is not hard to see why. The appointment of Robert Siboldi as coach in March has done little to change the team’s fortunes.

The problems were there on Thursday for all to see. The team fell asleep at a corner to allow Aqeel Al-Sahbi to slide home at the far post. The second goal on the hour saw a long ball cause chaos in the defense. And there was another set piece for the third goal which meant that Carlos Eduardo’s late consolation wasn’t much of one.

Now the unthinkable is close. The 2016 champions, runners-up in the Asian Champions League a decade ago, know that a loss against Al-Shabab in the final game will send them down and even a draw may not be enough. For a team that hasn’t kept a clean sheet since February, there are going to be a lot of nerves.

 

4. The relegation battle goes from dramatic to epic

With one game left to go, seven teams are still fighting for their top flight lives. With Al-Hazm down already, just three points separate Al-Tai (and their terrible goal difference) in ninth and Ettifaq in 15th. None are safe.

On Thursday Al-Raed, Al-Batin and Al-Faisaly won and then climbed above Ettifaq and Al-Ahli who have now slipped into the bottom three. Those two teams have fallen three places each just due to losing one game. Al-Taawoun picked up a valuable draw against Al-Shabab and after Al-Tai lost to Al-Faisaly, they can’t be completely relaxed either.

With so many teams involved, every point, every goal could be the difference between staying up or going down. There is so much to keep up with that it is almost impossible to do so. Almost every game in the final round will feature a team that is chasing the title or fighting to stay in the league.  It’s great for the neutral but it’s going to be a tough night for fans of the strugglers.

 

5. Al-Nassr win the battle for third

The battle for third place has been raging between Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab just below the fight for the title. For a time in the season, these two teams were leading the chase for Al-Ittihad’s position before Al-Hilal went on their run.

Al-Nassr will take third thanks to a 4-1 win over the doomed Al-Hazm. Talisca scored twice to move on to 20 goals for the season. There have been rumors that the Brazilian will be on his way soon but he suggested after the game that this will not be the case. Al-Nassr will want to keep him.

Al-Shabab were riding high earlier in the season and were rocked a little by the departure of leading goalscorer Odion Ighalo in January. With the Nigerian in place perhaps they would have defeated Al-Taawoun instead of drawing 1-1. It has been a long season especially with the Asian Champions League in April, when the Riyadh club impressed, but the signs are positive for the next campaign.


McLaughlin books athletics worlds berth with 400m hurdles world record

McLaughlin books athletics worlds berth with 400m hurdles world record
Updated 13 min 57 sec ago

McLaughlin books athletics worlds berth with 400m hurdles world record

McLaughlin books athletics worlds berth with 400m hurdles world record
  • McLaughlin's performance capped a day of 11 finals and a farewell to the US championships for Olympic great Allyson Felix — 21 years after she ran in her first
  • Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs was not at his best but took victory in 10.12 seconds, four hundredths of a second quicker than second-place Chituru Ali, after posting 10.17sec in the heats

EUGENE, OREGON: Sydney McLaughlin punched her ticket to the athletics World Championships with a world record 51.41sec victory in the 400m hurdles at the US trials on Saturday.

McLaughlin shaved five-hundredths of a second off the world record of 51.46 she set in winning Tokyo Olympics gold last Aug. 4, delivering a dominant performance at Eugene’s Hayward Field that saw runner-up Britton Wilson cross the line more than a second back in 53.08sec.

Shamier Little was third in 53.92. The trio will represent the US on the same Hayward Field track in July — when reigning world champion Dalilah Muhammad also aims to defend her title.

With a bye as champion Muhammad — who beat McLaughlin in Doha in 2019 but took silver behind her in Tokyo — received a waiver to skip the trials to recover from a hamstring injury.

McLaughlin showed she didn’t need her great rival to push her to new heights in this championship season.

Her performance capped a day of 11 finals and a farewell to the US championships for Olympic great Allyson Felix — 21 years after she ran in her first.

Felix finished sixth in the 400m, making her almost certain to earn consideration for a relay at the World Championships.

Felix is calling time on a career that includes 29 world and Olympic medals — including seven Olympic golds.

After a gritty semifinal performance to earn a place in the final, Felix — greeted by a massive ovation — clocked 51.27sec.

Talitha Diggs, daughter of four-time Olympian Joetta Clark-Diggs and the NCAA collegiate champion, used a powerful finishing kick to win the women’s 400m in 50.22, overhauling early pace-setter Lynna Irby and Kendall Ellis in the final 20 meters.

Ellis took second in 50.35 and Irby was third in 50.67.

Michael Norman, seeking World Championships gold to help expunge the memory of a disappointing fifth-place finish at the Tokyo Games, delivered an emphatic victory in the men’s 400m with a world-leading 43.56sec.

NCAA collegiate title holder Champion Allison broke 44 seconds for the first time, taking second in 43.70, with Randolph Ross third in 44.17.

World record-holder Keni Harrison won the 100m hurdles in another world-leading time of 12.34sec. Alaysha Johnson was second in 12.35 and Alia Armstrong was third in 12.47.

World champion Nia Ali opted out of the final but will complete the formidable US contingent in the event next month.

In other events, world 200m champion Noah Lyles clocked 19.95sec to top the first-round times, and revealed he was rebounding from a bout with Covid.

Lyles said he learned after his win in New York on June 12 that he had coronavirus, not realizing until after the event that his muscle soreness and chills were symptoms of illness.

“To be honest I’m so in shape I’m not too worried about it,” Lyles said.

Erriyon Knighton, who owns the fastest time in the world this year of a 19.49, was second-fastest in the heats in 20.08.

Reigning 100m world champion Christian Coleman advanced to the semis with a time of 20.13 but said he still wasn’t sure if he’d pursue a 100-200 double at worlds.

Fred Kerley, who dazzled with a 9.76sec semi on the way to winning the 100m on Friday, booked his 200m semifinal spot with a time of 20.29.

Abby Steiner, coming off a world-leading 21.80sec to win the NCAA collegiate title this month, topped the women’s 200m heat times in 22.14sec.

Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Gabby Thomas, who owns the third-fastest time in history, made it safely into the semis with the seventh-quickest time of the day 22.59.

Sha’Carri Richardson, who shockingly failed to advance from the 100m heats on Thursday, also advanced with a time of 22.69 — finishing second to Thomas in their heat.

Reigning world champion and Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Grant Holloway and Devon Allen stayed on course for a 110m hurdles showdown with the top two times in the heats.

Holloway, whose American record of 12.81 is one one-hundredth off the world record, won his heat in 13.11sec, second-fastest of the round ahead of recently crowned NCAA champion Trey Cunningham’s 13.13.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Allen, who stunned Holloway with the third-fastest time in history of 12.84sec in New York two weeks ago, won his heat to qualify third-fastest in 13.27.

Olympic champion Jacobs wins Italian 100m title

In Rieti, Lazio, reigning Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs continued his preparations for next month’s World Championships by winning the Italian men’s 100 meters title on Saturday.

The 27-year-old was not at his best but took victory in 10.12 seconds, four hundredths of a second quicker than second-place Chituru Ali, after posting 10.17sec in the heats.

Jacobs, who also won the world 60m indoor title earlier this year, only ran his first two 100m races of the season last month in Savona.

“It was useful to resume competition,” he told RAI Sport on Saturday.

“I’m not yet able to manage a complete 100m, especially with two races in an hour. In training I had to do everything at a moderate pace.

“So it was more difficult to manage at a high intensity. In the closing stages, I had a little more trouble and decided to hold back a little to avoid any fitness problems.”

Jacobs is scheduled to run in Stockholm next Thursday before flying to the worlds which get underway in American city Eugene on July 15.

There, he will lock horns again with reigning world champion Christian Coleman, who he beat to the indoor title in Belgrade in March.


Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, Fritz win Eastbourne titles

Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, Fritz win Eastbourne titles
Updated 26 June 2022

Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, Fritz win Eastbourne titles

Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, Fritz win Eastbourne titles
  • Kvitova earned her first grass-court title in four years — and 29th trophy of her singles career — after breaking Ostapenko, the defending champion, early in both sets of the final and feasting on the Latvian’s second serve

EASTBOURNE, England: Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova tuned up for the Grand Slam tournament by overpowering Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-2 to win the Eastbourne title on Saturday.

Also, Taylor Fritz outlasted Maxime Cressy 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4) in an all-American men’s final for his second Eastbourne title.

Kvitova earned her first grass-court title in four years — and 29th trophy of her singles career — after breaking Ostapenko, the defending champion, early in both sets of the final and feasting on the Latvian’s second serve.

Kvitova saved five break points in the fourth game of the second set to stay in control of the match at 3-1.

“Playing on the grass is very special for me every time,” the Czech player said on court. “It’s the best preparation for Wimbledon, as well.”

Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, begins another campaign on Tuesday against Jasmine Paolini of Italy.

She is 5-1 in grass-court finals. Her most recent was in 2018 in Birmingham.

The eighth-seeded Ostapenko, a Wimbledon semifinalist four years ago, won the 2017 French Open.

After the final, Ostapenko withdrew from the women’s doubles final alongside Ukrainian partner Lyudmyla Kichenok because of a toe problem on her right foot. The walkover handed the title to Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia and Magda Linette of Poland.

Ostapenko is the 12th seed at Wimbledon and has a first-round match scheduled on Monday against Oceane Dodin of France.

Fritz could rely on his serve in his first meeting with Cressy. Fritz didn’t face a break point in the final, he won 92 percent of his first serves, and launched 17 aces. Even so, it took him more than two hours to get on top of Cressy, who was playing his first ATP final. Fritz didn’t drop his serve all week.

“My grass season wasn’t going great before I arrived here,” Fritz said. “But it is great to beat these players and it gives me confidence. I played really well all week and going into Wimbledon, I feel good.”

Fritz, ranked 14th, won his third ATP title, second in Eastbourne beside 2019, and second this year after Indian Wells in March.

Fritz has drawn Lorenzo Musetti of Italy in the first round of Wimbledon next week.

Cressy, ranked 60th, has sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada.


Forest sign Nigeria forward from Union Berlin for club-record fee

Forest sign Nigeria forward from Union Berlin for club-record fee
Updated 26 June 2022

Forest sign Nigeria forward from Union Berlin for club-record fee

Forest sign Nigeria forward from Union Berlin for club-record fee
  • Taiwo Awoniyi scored 20 goals in 43 games in all competitions in his last season in the Bundesliga. He is Forest’s first senior signing since their victory over Huddersfield in the Championship playoff final

LONDON: Nottingham Forest have paid a club-record fee of around £17 million ($20 million) to Nigeria striker Taiwo Awoniyi from Union Berlin.

Awoniyi agreed a five-year contract with Forest, who are preparing for their first season back in the Premier League since 1999.

The 24-year-old scored 20 goals in 43 games in all competitions in his last season in the Bundesliga.

He is Forest’s first senior signing since their victory over Huddersfield in the Championship playoff final.

“There’s been a lot of interest in Taiwo from other Premier League clubs and other clubs across Europe, so we’re delighted that he’s chosen Nottingham Forest,” Forest boss Steve Cooper said.

“He’s a player who we really believe in and we look forward to him going on to fulfill his potential and become a top Premier League striker with Nottingham Forest.”

Awoniyi began his professional career at Liverpool before leaving last July, but did not make a first-team appearance for the Reds and was sent on loan several times.

Liverpool are set to receive 10 percent of the fee under the terms of his departure.

Awoniyi’s 15 goals in 31 Bundesliga matches helped Union Berlin secure a fifth-place finish and qualify for the Europa League for the first time since 2001-02.

“It’s always been my dream to play in the Premier League and, having spoken to Steve Cooper about our ambitions and looking at Forest with its great history, it’s a club that I want to be part of,” Awoniyi said.

Awoniyi won the first of his three caps for Nigeria against the Central African Republic last October and scored his first goal against Sudan in January at the African Cup of Nations.


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.