Hamdallah ban casts doubt on Al-Ittihad’s Saudi Pro League challenge

Hamdallah ban casts doubt on Al-Ittihad’s Saudi Pro League challenge
The punishment was handed down by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation. (@abderrazak_hamdallah)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Hamdallah ban casts doubt on Al-Ittihad’s Saudi Pro League challenge

Hamdallah ban casts doubt on Al-Ittihad’s Saudi Pro League challenge
  • Moroccan forward has been suspended for 4 months
  • Club cannot register new players in the January transfer window

Al-Ittihad’s chances of clinching a first Saudi Professional League title since 2009 were dented this week with star striker Abderrazak Hamdallah banned for four months just weeks ahead of the 2022-23 season. To make matters worse, the club are also unable to register new players in the next transfer window.

The punishment was handed down by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation on Tuesday after a dispute between his former club Al-Nassr which had accused him, among other things, of conspiring to leave the team. His contract was cancelled by the Riyadh giants in November and he then joined Al-Ittihad in January.

The 31-year-old then scored 12 league goals in 13 games for the Tigers in the second half of last season. It wasn’t quite enough to win the championship however as the Jeddah outfit, who had a double-digit lead at the top of the table in February, stumbled and took just five points from the final six games to finish second behind Al-Hilal in June.

It was a painful ending to a campaign and cost Cosmin Contra his job as coach, the Romanian being replaced by Nuno Espirito Santo in July. The appointment of the experienced Portuguese boss, who was in charge of Tottenham Hotspur this time last year, was a big statement.

Now, however, Nuno has to deal with the lengthy absence of one of the most consistent goal-getters in Asian football in recent years. He saw it for himself last Friday as Hamdallah scored the only goal of the game as Al-Ittihad defeated Swiss club Lucerne 1-0. It was an encouraging performance and victory against a European team as the Saudi Arabian giants prepare for a new season.

The Moroccan showed the poaching skills that had seen him find the net so consistently over the years. The match also showed how big a miss he will be in the early stages of the season. At least the new boss can still call upon Romarinho. The Brazilian, who netted 20 times last season, is going to be more important than ever.

The good news is that the ban on registering new players will not come into effect until the January transfer window. This means that this summer’s signings will be unaffected. Tarek Hamed has arrived from Egyptian giants Zamalek to bolster Al-Ittihad’s midfield. Al-Ittihad have also targeted Leeds United winger Helder Costa to boost the attack. The former Portuguese international has worked with Nuno at Wolverhampton Wanderers and the coach sees him as a missing link in the quest for the title.

It remains to be seen what impact the ban will have. Nuno is already into pre-season and trying to make Al-Ittihad more compact and more difficult to beat. As well as giving the 48-year-old an introduction into Saudi Arabian football, it means that there is more pressure on the coach and the club to get everything right this summer. Unless there is an appeal that reverses or reduces the punishment just handed out, and that is a possibility, Al-Ittihad are not going to be able to strengthen in the middle of the season or replace injured stars. If there is a player who catches their eye at the World Cup, there will be no possibility of getting in there before anybody else to make a signing.

It could be worse. At least title rivals Al-Hilal are in a similar situation. After their punishment over midfielder Mohamed Kanno signing contracts with two clubs, the champions are also unable to register new players and have been focusing on extending the contracts of existing players to ensure they stay for another year or two. Yet Al-Hilal are hoping that their appeal will be successful and the decision will be overturned soon.

That would be bad news for Al-Ittihad with Al-Nassr also strengthening in the summer. Last year’s third-placed team appointed Rudi Garcia as head coach. The former Lyon, Marseille and Roma boss has added Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina, Ivorian full-back Ghislain Konan and Brazilian midfielder Luiz Gustavo to an already strong squad.

It is ironic that the top two teams have, or will have, problems in the transfer market that are connected to Al-Nassr, the team with designs on the title. It means the next few weeks are even more important for Al-Ittihad. If the Tigers are to end that title drought, then this summer needs to be perfect as there will be no recruiting in the winter.

At least Hamdallah will be back then and should also have a point to prove and be hungrier than ever for goals. In fact, he may feel like a new signing and unless anything changes, that is the best the club will be able to hope for once the new season is up and running.


Bounou back as Morocco eye World Cup last 16

Bounou back as Morocco eye World Cup last 16
Morocco's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou holds the ball during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group F football match against Croatia. AFP
Updated 10 sec ago

Bounou back as Morocco eye World Cup last 16

Bounou back as Morocco eye World Cup last 16
  • Regragui brings back goalkeeper Yassine Bounou following his absence from Sunday’s win over Belgium in Group F

DOHA: Morocco coach Walid Regragui made two changes to his starting line-up as his team bid to clinch their place in the World Cup last 16 against already-eliminated Canada on Thursday.
Regragui brings back goalkeeper Yassine Bounou following his absence from Sunday’s win over Belgium in Group F.
He has also made an attacking change in midfield, with Abdelhamid Sabiri coming in for Selim Amallah.
Canada coach John Herdman has made four changes for his team’s final game of the tournament following defeats to Belgium and Croatia.
Mark-Anthony Kaye comes into midfield for his first start of the tournament while Sam Adekugbe, Junior Hoilett and Jonathan Osorio have also been named in the starting line-up.
Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies has been pushed into a more advanced role as Canada aim to thwart Morocco’s qualification bid at the Al Thumama Stadium.
Morocco, who are second in Group F with four points, need only a draw to be assured of a place in the knockout rounds.
Teams:
Canada (3-4-3)
Milan Borjan; Alistair Johnston, Kamal Miller, Steven Vitoria; Sam Adekugbe, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan Osorio, Junior Hoilett; Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Tajon Buchanan
Coach: John Herdman (ENG)
Morocco (4-3-3)
Yassine Bounou; Achraf Hakimi, Nayef Aguerd, Romain Saiss (capt), Noussair Mazraoui; Sofyan Amrabat, Azzedine Ounahi, Abdelhamid Sabiri; Youssef En-Nesyri, Sofiane Boufal, Hakim Ziyech
Coach: Walid Regragui (MAR)
Referee: Raphael Claus (BRA)


I couldn’t sleep over World Cup injury fear: Pepe

I couldn’t sleep over World Cup injury fear: Pepe
Portugal's defender Pepe (front) kicks the ball in front of Uruguay's forward Darwin Nunez during the Qatar World Cup. AFP
Updated 5 min 27 sec ago

I couldn’t sleep over World Cup injury fear: Pepe

I couldn’t sleep over World Cup injury fear: Pepe
  • Pepe suffered a knee sprain in early October and made his return as a substitute for his club Porto in their final match before the World Cup on November 12
  • “I can’t say if it’s the last World Cup that I will play,” said Pepe

DOHA: Veteran Portugal defender Pepe admitted on Thursday he lost sleep before the World Cup because he was worried he would miss the tournament through injury.
The 39-year-old became the third-oldest outfield player to feature at a World Cup on Monday, starting for the first time in almost two months in the 2-0 win over Uruguay.
Pepe suffered a knee sprain in early October and made his return as a substitute for his club Porto in their final match before the World Cup on November 12.
“When I had the injury, I couldn’t sleep to be honest,” Pepe told a press conference, a day before his team play South Korea in their final Group H match.
“I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to recover as soon as possible and play in another World Cup, to contribute to my national team, to achieve victory.
“So the journey seemed very long, but it is now over.
“I have to look ahead, to look forward with objective of doing the best I can to secure a win.”
Portugal have already qualified for the last 16 but can guarantee top spot if they win or draw against South Korea on Friday.
Danilo Pereira started at center-back alongside Ruben Dias in the first game but fractured three ribs in training, allowing Pepe to step in and produce a strong display to shut out Uruguay.
He said even after 130 appearances he was still enjoying playing for his country.
“I can’t say if it’s the last World Cup that I will play,” said Pepe.
“I am here to enjoy the tournament. It’s a privilege to do what I love, to play football.”
Portugal have one of the stronger squads at the tournament, featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva.
However, Pepe believes that talent alone will not be enough to earn Portugal their first World Cup trophy.
“We have several ingredients, and if we don’t put all the ingredients together, as our coach has said, (it doesn’t work).
“If we prepare a salad, you can’t have tomato on one side and onion on the other side, you have to put them all together.
“We have a high-quality national team, but unless we work very hard, respect our opponents and do what our coach says, we won’t benefit so much from this quality.”


Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash
Belgium's forward Eden Hazard attends a press conference at Salwa Beach, southwest of Doha. AFP
Updated 13 min 40 sec ago

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash

Belgium drop Eden Hazard for Croatia World Cup clash
  • The Real Madrid forward was left out of the XI as one of four changes from the team which started the surprise 2-0 defeat by Morocco last weekend

DOHA: Belgium coach Roberto Martinez dropped captain Eden Hazard to the bench for his side’s crucial World Cup game against Croatia on Thursday.
The Real Madrid forward was left out of the XI as one of four changes from the team which started the surprise 2-0 defeat by Morocco last weekend.
The Belgians played down media reports of an altercation between senior players, including Hazard, earlier this week, with Martinez calling the rumors “fake news.”
Belgium have to beat 2018 runners-up Croatia in their final Group F match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium to be sure of qualification to the last 16.
Martinez also gave in-form Brighton attacker Leandro Trossard and veteran winger Dries Mertens their first starts of the tournament.
Leander Dendoncker replaced the suspended Amadou Onana in midfield.
Striker Romelu Lukaku was again only fit enough for a place on the bench after making a brief substitute appearance against Morocco.
Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic named an unchanged starting line-up after the impressive 4-1 victory over Canada left them only needing to avoid defeat against Belgium to go through.
Morocco take on already-eliminated Canada simultaneously in the other last Group F game, knowing a point would secure a place in the knockout phase for the first time since 1986.
Starting line-ups:
Croatia (4-3-3)
Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic; Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric, Marko Livaja
Coach: Zlatko Dalic (CRO)
Belgium (4-3-3)
Thibaut Courtois; Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Timothy Castagne; Axel Witsel, Leander Dendoncker, Kevin De Bruyne (capt); Yannick Carrasco, Leandro Trossard, Dries Mertens
Coach: Roberto Martinez (ESP)
Referee: Anthony Taylor (ENG)


Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
Updated 4 min 54 sec ago

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence

Saudi Arabia exits World Cup with newfound confidence
  • With Herve Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat
  • Performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar: From a generational-defining win over Lionel Messi and Argentina to the recent reports that Cristiano Ronaldo could soon be on his way to play soccer in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia has caused a sensation at the World Cup.
The Green Falcons have nothing to be ashamed about after being eliminated following a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Wednesday.
The second-lowest ranked team in the tournament at No. 51 — one spot behind host Qatar — and ahead of only 61st-ranked Ghana, Saudi Arabia was competitive from start to finish at the first World Cup in the Middle East.
“We did our best. Today it was more difficult for us,” said Hervé Renard, Saudi Arabia’s French coach. “But we don’t have to forget what we did together.”
The Saudis opened with a surprising 2-1 victory over Argentina and also played solidly in a 2-0 loss to Poland before conceding two second-half goals to Mexico to finish last in Group C.
Salem Al-Dawsari, the team’s star No. 10, pulled a goal back in added time, before the Saudi players bent over on the field at the final whistle in prayer and then stood up to applaud their fans.
Strong goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais prevented Mexico from scoring another goal — which could have sent the South Americans through to the round of 16. Instead, it was Argentina and Poland who advanced in the most wide-open group of the tournament.
With Renard motivating the team in his emblematic white shirt on the sidelines, Saudi Arabia proved tough to beat with a team featuring all 26 players based at home.
The fact that none of the Saudis play abroad may have been a surprise factor but the reality is that the country’s best players don’t need to go to Europe for rich contracts when they are paid handsomely in the lucrative Saudi league.
A high-paying contract is exactly what could lure Ronaldo to join six members of the Saudi national team at Al Nassr, one of the country’s leading clubs.
The reports linking Ronaldo with Al Nassr come after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had his contract terminated by Manchester United.
Saudi-owned Newcastle United is also reportedly in the market for Ronaldo.
But whether Ronaldo goes to a Saudi or Saudi-owned club or not, the country’s national team leaves Qatar with plenty of newfound confidence.
The performance could also help promote a possible joint bid by Saudi Arabia with Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup.


Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal
Updated 34 min 21 sec ago

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal

Indictments requested for Agnelli and others in Juve scandal
  • Former vice-president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene are also named
  • A date for the preliminary hearing to decide whether to indict and proceed to trial is expected to be announced in the next week

TURIN, Italy: The Turin prosecutor’s office has requested indictments of former Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, 10 other former board members, and the club following an investigation into alleged false accounting.
Former vice president Pavel Nedved and CEO Maurizio Arrivabene — who left the club on Monday when Agnelli and the entire board of directors resigned — are also named, as is former Juventus director of sport Fabio Paratici, who has moved to Tottenham.
A date for the preliminary hearing to decide whether to indict and proceed to trial is expected to be announced in the next week.
Juventus maintains “the accounting treatment adopted in the contested financial statements falls within those allowed by applicable accounting principles,” and it has drawn that conclusion “on the basis of a solid set of opinions by leading legal and accounting professionals.”
In a lengthy statement issued by the club, it added: “Juventus remain convinced that they have always acted correctly and intend to assert their reasons and defend their corporate, economic and sporting interests in all forums.”
Prosecutors have been investigating since last year whether Juventus cashed in on illegal commissions from transfers and loans of players. The case is also exploring if investors were misled with invoices being issued for non-existent transactions to demonstrate income that in turn could be deemed false accounting.
The case involves player contracts, transfers and agent dealings from 2018-20.
At the start of the pandemic, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help the club through the crisis. But prosecutors claim the players gave up only one month’s salary.
Turin prosecutors have also apparently discovered more secret payments to former player Cristiano Ronaldo that were not reported by the club.
Juventus are listed on the Milan stock exchange, which also opens it to regulatory scrutiny by the CONSOB watchdog. The club CFO, Stefano Cerrato, was caught on phone taps saying that if CONSOB questioned their moves, they would “razzle-dazzle” the regulators with fancy words, according to leaks to Italian media.
Trading in Juventus shares was flat on Thursday, after a negative 1.16 percent close on Wednesday at 0.2738 euros.