Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title
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Updated 28 June 2022

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title
  • Asian champions have completed remarkable turnaround since February to wipe away 16-point deficit on an Al-Ittihad team now left to rue season after looking certainties for championship

RIYADH: Al-Hilal are champions of Saudi Arabia once again, having at one point looked dead and buried as Jeddah rivals Al-Ittihad held a seemingly insurmountable 16-point lead over them.

But the Riyadh giants are not champions of Asia and the Kingdom for nothing and proved that they remain the country’s worthy champions.

The 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season ended on Monday night, and here are five things — and there could be many, many more — learned from the final action of the campaign.

1. Winning is in Al-Hilal’s DNA

Three successive title wins make it 18 in total. Love them or hate them – and there are plenty in both groups – there is no denying that Al-Hilal know how to win games, and titles.

Eleven victories out of the last 12 is an amazing run, especially when it came after a demanding season with FIFA Club World Cup and Asian Champions League commitments. They usually find a way to find a way.

The 2-1 victory over Al-Faisaly summed up what has been a dramatic campaign. There has been so much action in injury time this season, so many late winning goals and controversies, and Monday was no different.

Al-Hilal may win but they do not always make it easy. There was a goal in each half from Odion Ighalo, who was razor sharp and showed why he finished as the league’s leading goalscorer, but the men from Dammam grabbed a goal back and then there were plenty of nerves for Al-Hilal’s fans.

The game, and the season, ended after 100 minutes with the referee standing by the pitchside monitor looking at a possible penalty for Al-Faisaly. It was not given and that was that. It was a fitting way to end an amazing season.

2. Al-Ittihad will never forget this

This fact will be repeated for years to come; Al-Ittihad were 16 points clear of Al-Hilal in February and they ended up two points behind when it mattered.

Nobody could have predicted that Al-Hilal would take 33 points from the last 36 available but even so, the Tigers had it in the bag. Then they went and dropped 13 points from the last eight games and that is not the form of champions. The 0-0 draw with struggling Al-Batin in the final game of the season summed it all up.

They had so much attacking talent in Igor Coronado, Abderrazak Hamdallah, and Romarinho but they just could not make it happen and the game, similar to the season, petered out with disappointment. As well as the two recent defeats against the champions, coach Cosmin Contra will look back at that 4-4 draw with Al-Feiha in May, when the team threw away a 3-1 lead, as a turning point. It meant there were just five points from the final five games.

The wait for the title now stretches back to 2009. That hurts, as was demonstrated by the tears of goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe at the end, and this does too but, in football, there is always next season.

3. Al-Ahli make unthinkable history

A 0-0 draw at Al-Shabab resulted in Al-Ahli being relegated for the first time in their history. It is truly shocking that the three-time champions, the latest triumph coming just six years ago, and two-time Asian runners-up are now in the second tier.

Two years ago, they were third, then eighth, and now 15th – the drift has been coming. There were reports of dressing room unrest in the past, coaches coming and going, and then injuries at unfortunate times, and when you throw in a poor start with five points from the first seven games then maybe ultimate relegation should not come as such a big shock.

Had they won one of the four games they drew in the final five, things would have been different. This time even the reliable Omar Al-Somah could not save them despite a talented supporting cast that included Ezgjan Alioski, Carlos Eduardo, Abdulrahman Ghareeb, and many others.

For a club that has been drifting, it could be that relegation is the wake-up call they need, but maybe not. The next few weeks will be tough.

4. The relegation battle was quietly dramatic

Going into the final round of games there were seven teams who were genuinely threatened by relegation. It was an amazing position for the league to be in and there were so many twists and turns.

It was not quite the explosive last day that the neutrals had been hoping for as there were not that many goals, with only 14 scored over the eight games.

But there was quiet drama and tension. At any time, had Al-Ahli scored, they would have climbed out of the bottom three. If Al-Faisaly had managed one more, then they would have done the same. If Ettifaq had conceded just once against Al-Feiha then they would have gone down. Had Al-Ittihad scored then it would have meant the end for Al-Batin.

Rarely has there been so much at stake for so many teams going into the final seconds of the season. It has been a long season, more than 10 months, but it was alive right until the end.

5. Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab not far away

For much of the season, the two Riyadh teams were in touch at the top and it was only the amazing winning streaks, first from Al-Ittihad and then from Al-Hilal, that took them out of the hunt.

In the end though, Al-Nassr finished just four points behind the runners-up from Jeddah and six points behind the champions. With the club ready to appoint French coach Rudi Garcia, next season should be an interesting one, and there will be a lot of fans looking to see if the club can keep hold of Talisca, who scored 20 goals in his first season in Saudi Arabia. Recovering from injury, Pity Martinez has started to show the talents that made him a big-money signing back in 2020.

Al-Shabab know what it is like to lose big players after top scorer Odion Ighalo left for Al-Hilal at the end of January and a fourth-place finish seems about right as they lacked a little consistency. These third- and fourth-place teams need to keep their biggest talents and recruit well in the coming weeks. Then they should be ready for a title challenge next time around. This year, they were not far away.


Rashford brace gives Man Utd come from behind win in Cyprus

Rashford brace gives Man Utd come from behind win in Cyprus
Updated 06 October 2022

Rashford brace gives Man Utd come from behind win in Cyprus

Rashford brace gives Man Utd come from behind win in Cyprus
  • On a balmy night at Nicosia's 23,000 capacity GSP Stadium, United went a goal down in the first half
  • They fought back for a morale-boosting victory after being demolished 6-3 by cross-town rivals Manchester City

Nicosia — CYP
Nicosia, Oct 6, 2022 Agence France Presse: Manchester United came from behind to snatch a crucial 3-2 away win against Cypriot outfit Omonia in the Europa League on Thursday thanks to a second-half brace by Marcus Rashford.
Anthony Martial also scored while Karim Ansarifard and Nikolas Panagiotou netted for the home side as United claimed a narrow win on their first ever trip to play a Cypriot team.
On a balmy night at Nicosia’s 23,000 capacity GSP Stadium, United went a goal down in the first half but fought back for a morale-boosting victory after being demolished 6-3 by cross-town rivals Manchester City at the weekend.
Erik ten Hag named a strong line-up with Cristiano Ronaldo, starting just his fourth match of the season, leading the attack and Brazilian Casemiro anchoring the midfield, but it was the substitutes who saved the day.
“All the subs had a really good impact,” with (Luke) Shaw and Rashford strengthening the left side,” Dutch coach ten Hag told reporters afterwards.
“We played well, the only thing is we didn’t score a goal. After half-time I think we dealt with the setback.
“It was a bad 10 minutes after we conceded the goal (but) if you then are able to come back... that’s positive.”
United got off to a dominant start, largely controlling the opening period against a side managed by former Celtic boss Neil Lennon.
Antony nearly got the breakthrough in the 28th minute, cutting inside and unleashing a long-range shot that was parried away by Omonia goalkeeper Fabiano.
It looked like United were beginning to turn the screw when they were awarded a free-kick outside Omonia’s area in the 34th minute.
Christian Eriksen fired it in but Omonia managed to scramble it away. The ball fell to Tyrell Malacia who was then robbed by Omonia’s Brazilian forward Bruno.
Three Omonia players broke clear before Bruno tapped it across the face of goal for Iranian striker Ansarifard to tuck it away.


United came out stronger in the second half with Rashford coming on for the anonymous Jadon Sancho and Shaw replacing Malacia.
And it paid immediate dividends, with Bruno Fernandes getting a shot on goal before setting up Rashford to level the scores in the 53rd minute.
Ronaldo, who was left on the bench during the weekend rout by City, cut a frustrated figure up front, but United continued to drive forward, creating more chances as the second half progressed.
Ten minutes after levelling, United went ahead when the newly-introduced Martial tapped in with his second touch of the game, seizing on an assist from Rashford.
The home supporters jeered loudly when referee Joao Pinheiro of Portugal waved away an Omonia claim for handball, a decision confirmed by VAR.
Ronaldo’s woes continued, however, with the Portuguese star hitting the post from within the six-yard box with an open goal, one of a hatful of missed chances by the 37-year-old.
Minutes later Rashford latched onto a pass from Ronaldo to double his tally.
Omonia were not finished, though, Panagiotou getting a goal back in the 87th minute.
United created more chances, with Brazilian midfielder Fred forcing a save from Fabiano in the dying minutes.
Lennon praised his players for putting up a fight but said he saw signs that United were on the up.
“This is a team definitely building... I think they’re going in the right direction,” he said.
“Thankfully Cristiano didn’t have his shooting boots on tonight.”
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CELTIC PLC
MANCHESTER UNITED


Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters
Updated 06 October 2022

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters
  • Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman
  • Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn't seriously threaten Djokovic

ASTANA, Kazakhstan: Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.
Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.
“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”
Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s US Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.
Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.


Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits
Updated 06 October 2022

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits

Barcelona predict record revenues, rising profits
  • The Catalans said in the year just ended they made a profit of 98 million euros after taxes
  • Barca said they were "back on the road to profit and looking to initiate a new virtuous circle"

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona on Thursday forecast profits of 274 million euros (270.7 million dollars) this season and record revenues of 1.255 billion euros.
“It’s a conservative budget,” Barca’s financial vice president Eduard Romeu said, as the club released figures for the 2021/22 financial year and forecasts for the current campaign.
Barcelona said the revenue figure included more than 450 million euros from the sale of long-term television and other rights.
The Catalans said in the year just ended they made a profit of 98 million euros after taxes, with operating income of 1.017 billion euros and expenses of 856 million euros.
That followed two loss-making seasons during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Barca said they were “back on the road to profit and looking to initiate a new virtuous circle.”
The budget for next year predicts expenses of 1.065 billion euros, of which 656 million euros would go on the sporting wage bill.
Romeu said salaries had been cut from 617 euros for the 2020/21 season to 518 million euros last season.
New player signings and a lack of departures have led to expectations of an increase this season.
“We were planning for a more significant reduction in the salary bill,” Romeu said, adding that even so, the club would be happy to take Lionel Messi back.
“Messi is an asset for Barca and has the doors open,” Romeu said.
“It is a matter for the sporting management and if the sporting management want it, we will get to work on that objective.”
In the 2020/21 season Barcelona posted losses of 481 million euros and blamed them for not being able to renew their all-time record scorer’s contract, leading him to sign for Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.
Romeu lamented that he had not been able to persuade other high-priced stars to leave.
“There are a number of contracts that have a very high cost and between this season and next season they disappear,” said Romeu, adding that he wants to achieve a balance by the 2024/25 season.
“Five hundred million euros would be the ideal figure for a competitive first-team squad.”
In the summer, the club sold 25 percent of their La Liga television rights to investment firm Sixth Street for the next 25 years, raising more than 500 million euros, and 49 percent of their Barca Studios production company to two companies for a total of around 200 million. Some of that revenue is included in the 2022/23 forecast.
Barca said “without the effect of this extraordinary sale, the club still received 750 million euros in other operating income.”
They highlighted the “sale of metaverses, NFTs and tokens” by Barca Studios and said the new partnerships “will produce an acceleration of the business.”
The budget will be submitted to the club’s annual general assembly of members on October 9.


Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover
Updated 06 October 2022

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover

Newcastle United chairman pens letter of appreciation for fans on anniversary of takeover
  • Newcastle, under manager Eddie Howe, have seen an upturn in results in the Premier League since PIF-backed consortium purchased the club

LONDON: The chairman of Newcastle United has written a letter to thank supporters on the first anniversary of the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed takeover of the club.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan and the PIF-led consortium took over the club from Mike Ashley last October.

Newcastle, under manager Eddie Howe, have seen an upturn in results in the Premier League and the beginnings of serious investment off the pitch.

The letter read: “To all the fans of Newcastle United Football Club, Thank you for your incredible support.

“I am very conscious of the contributions that you all make – on and off the field. Football clubs are driven by their fans and this club’s fans are more passionate and more committed than any others. I have seen for myself on many occasions how Newcastle fans have lifted our team.

“As we mark the first anniversary of our takeover of the club, it seemed appropriate to take the time to say thank you – on behalf of the Newcastle Board.

“The first game after the takeover will live long in my memory. The feeling of pride at holding the black and white scarf as I entered the stadium. The collective roar of 52,000 of you and the unrivalled, electric atmosphere of St. James’ Park on match-day. I will never forget the warmth of your welcome to my fellow board members and me on that October day.

“A year ago, we set out some principles in an open letter that framed our thinking as custodians of the club. We told you that we wanted to build, over time, a consistently successful team. And we told you that we were focused on long-term success.

“There is still a long way to go, but each season is a building block towards our objective – to challenge for trophies both domestically and in Europe. The club we are building is made up of people who understand our long-term vision, and who understand the patience and persistence that it will take to achieve those goals. Those values are reflected in the players that we bring to the club.

“Bringing the women’s team into direct ownership of the club is a part of that plan. Progress won’t always be smooth – but we will always forge ahead. You can rest assured that we are all working very hard to drive the club forward.

“The support of our fans and the Newcastle community is an incredible motivation for us. It will never be taken for granted.”


Lionel Messi says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will ‘surely’ be his last

Lionel Messi says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will ‘surely’ be his last
Updated 06 October 2022

Lionel Messi says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will ‘surely’ be his last

Lionel Messi says 2022 World Cup in Qatar will ‘surely’ be his last
  • Messi, who is due to appear in his fifth World Cup, made his international debut in 2005
  • He admitted he was nervous about the impending tournament in Qatar

BUENOS AIRES: Argentina captain Lionel Messi said Thursday that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will “surely” be the last of his career.
“It’s my last World Cup, surely. I feel good physically, I was able to do a very good pre-season this year, which I couldn’t do last year. It was essential to get to where I am, with a good state of mind and a lot of hope,” the 35-year-old told ESPN Argentina.
Messi, who is due to appear in his fifth World Cup, made his international debut in 2005 and has since won 164 caps for Argentina and is the country’s all-time record scorer with 90 goals.
In the interview, which took place in Paris where Messi plays for Paris Saint-Germain, he admitted he was nervous about the impending tournament in Qatar.
“There is anxiety, nerves about the World Cup,” he said. “We can’t wait for it to start.”
Messi’s international debut as a substitute against Hungary in 2005 lasted just two minutes before he was sent off but he quicky established himself in the national team set-up and traveled to Germany for his first World Cup in 2006.
He went on to play in the 2010 edition in South Africa, 2014 in Brazil, where Argentina reached the final, and 2018 in Russia.
The current side, under the management of Lionel Scaloni has now gone 35 games without defeat and is likely to figure as one of the pre-tournament favorites for the Qatar tournament.
“We have reached a good moment, with a very well-equipped and very strong group, but anything can happen,” said Messi.
“All the games are very difficult. The favorites are not always the ones who end up winning or taking the path that one expected.
“Argentina is always a candidate because of its history and what it means. But we are not the only favorites, there are other teams that are above us.”