Al-Shabab top, Hamdallah returns: 5 things we learned from third round of ROSHN Saudi League

Al-Shabab top, Hamdallah returns: 5 things we learned from third round of ROSHN Saudi League
Egyptian star Ahmed Hegazi celebrates scoring Al-Ittihad's winner against Al-Raed. (AN Photo: Basheer Saleh)
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Updated 11 September 2022

Al-Shabab top, Hamdallah returns: 5 things we learned from third round of ROSHN Saudi League

Al-Shabab top, Hamdallah returns: 5 things we learned from third round of ROSHN Saudi League
  • Champions Al-Hilal in second as they match leaders’ tally of 9 points

The third round of the ROSHN Saudi League is now over with Al-Shabab continuing to top the table, and Al-Hilal keeping pace.

Here are five things that we learned from the latest action.

1. Al-Shabab keep roaring

Al-Shabab thrashed Al-Tai 4-0 and continue to make the running this season. Their start to the season has been emphatic, with a 3-0 victory and then two 4-0 wins. It literally could not have gone any better for the leaders. Well perhaps the only way it could have improved had the opponents been Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad instead of Al-Batin, Abha and Al-Tai.

The opening goal was a thing of beauty. Al-Shabab worked hard to win back the ball high up the pitch before Cristian Guanca fired home a rocket. Then there were two penalties given to the leaders and Al-Tai were never going to come back from that.

What has been noticeable is that the goals have been spread around the team and they are not reliant on a star striker, yet, for goals. The likes of Aaron Boupendza and Santi Mina have adapted to Saudi Arabian football very quickly indeed. New coach Vicente Moreno is enjoying himself too and there is self-belief coursing through the team.

The next three games are winnable ahead of the big clash with Al-Hilal. If Al-Shabab can keep improving, by the time they meet their Riyadh rivals they really could be flying.

2. Hamdallah returns and the goals will surely follow

Perhaps the biggest story of the week was not Al-Ittihad defeating Al-Raed 1-0 on Friday but the lifting of Abderrazak Hamdallah’s suspension. The Moroccan was supposed to be on the sidelines until December but, in the end, only missed the first two matches of the season. Given Ittihad’s 0-0 draw the previous week, it was clear that the team needed a little bit more penetration.

Hamdallah did seem to lack a little sharpness. The two-time SPL Golden Boot winner got in the right places at the right time but the ball just would not bounce for him or the pass never quite arrived, though it was clear that he was desperate to get on the scoresheet.

In the end, the headlines went to Ahmed Hegazi. The Egyptian central defender has impressed at the back, as have the entire defense which has still to be breached this season, and grabbed the only goal of this game after 66 minutes with a fine diving header from close range as Al-Raed momentarily switched off. It means seven points from the first three games for the Jeddah giants.

Al-Ittihad have yet to really get going so far this season but, if nothing else, they are going to be hard to beat especially when their star striker starts scoring.

3. Al-Najei special gets Al-Nassr back to winning ways

Al-Nassr are the only one of the big four to lose a game this season but bounced back to defeat Damac 2-1 on Saturday. There is more to the story than that, however, as this tightly fought clash was lit up by a top-class solo goal from Sami Al-Najei.

Eight minutes before the break, the midfielder picked up possession just inside the Damac half, beat Ibrahim Al-Nakhli twice and then slotted the ball home from a tight angle. Talisca extending the lead with a thunderous header on the hour was another welcome sight for Al-Nassr fans.

Damac, fifth last season and winners of the first two games, made chances of their own but thanks to good goalkeeping from David Ospina, an offside flag and the final ball lacking in quality at times, were not able to earn a point, though they did pull a goal back with 10 minutes remaining to make it very interesting indeed. Both teams can take heart from the game.

4. Promoted teams open their accounts but it could be a long season

The three promoted teams collected zero points from the first two rounds of league action but that all changed in the third round

Okay, that was inevitable as two of them played each other. Al-Khaleej and Al-Adalah played out a goalless draw but it was Al-Wehda who became the first of the new boys to win a game. The 1-0 victory over Abha at home has lifted the club up to 11th in the table.

There are still worries, however. The three have scored just two goals between them. It is not just about the new strikers but there also needs to be more creativity in the final third. These are still early days this season and it does take time to adapt but we have seen around the world that if newly promoted teams start badly then there is likely to be a season-long struggle ahead.

It may get worse before it gets better as the opponents to come are Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad and Al-Shabab, but such is life in the big leagues.

5. Al-Hilal march on

The champions were in action last weekend, defeating Al-Fateh 1-0 away from home. This was so they could play in the Lusail Super Cup on Friday against Zamalek of Egypt, a game they won in a penalty shootout.

So far this season, Al-Hilal have won all four games with the three victories in the league coming with clean sheets. There is such strength in depth in Riyadh that many had forgotten the presence of Luciano Vietto, the Argentine who was loaned out to Al-Shabab earlier this year.

With the club unable to sign new players in the summer, the former Atletico Madrid and Sporting Lisbon star was recalled and against Al-Fateh, his first start of the season, the 28-year-old looked like he had a point to prove and scored the only goal of a hard-fought game.

That’s the thing with Al-Hilal. You can stop Odion Ighalo, Moussa Marega, Salem Al-Dawsari and any of their talented stars but there is always another. Nine points from three games and they haven’t even got going yet. Al-Shabab are banging in the goals but Al-Hilal are just going about their business quietly and ruthlessly.


Pajor brace lifts Wolfsburg into UEFA Women’s Champions League quarters

Pajor brace lifts Wolfsburg into UEFA Women’s Champions League quarters
Updated 12 sec ago

Pajor brace lifts Wolfsburg into UEFA Women’s Champions League quarters

Pajor brace lifts Wolfsburg into UEFA Women’s Champions League quarters
  • The German side have now reached the quarterfinals for an 11th consecutive season

PARIS: Polish striker Ewa Pajor scored twice as Wolfsburg defeated Roma 4-2 on Thursday to book a place in the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarterfinals.

Five days after celebrating her 26th birthday, Pajor struck in the 24th and 53rd minutes, becoming the tournament’s top scorer this season with six goals.

Sveindis Jane Jonsdottir and Lena Lattwein also found the net as the 2013 and 2014 champions from Germany moved to 10 points from four games in Group B.

Wolfsburg are three ahead of Roma and six ahead of Sankt Poelten after the Austrians only managed a 1-1 draw at home to Czech side Slavia Prague.

The German side have now reached the quarterfinals for an 11th consecutive season.

In Group A, Kadidiatou Diani was on target twice in the first half as PSG swept past hapless Vllaznia in Albania 4-0.

Swiss striker Ramona Bachmann and French midfielder Magnaba Folquet completed the victory in the second half.

Vllaznia have now conceded 19 goals in four games without scoring once.

PSG are three points behind leaders Chelsea who dropped their first points of the campaign following a 1-1 draw at Real Madrid.

Scottish international Caroline Weir gave the Spaniards a first-half lead.

However, the Londoners salvaged a point on the hour when Real goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez saved a penalty from Guro Reiten only to then see the ball rebound off her back and into the net.


France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarterfinal

France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarterfinal
Updated 50 min 20 sec ago

France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarterfinal

France brace for England showdown in World Cup quarterfinal
  • Questions about how England will keep the deadly Mbappe quiet have dominated the buildup to the match

DOHA: Defending champions France take on England in a mouthwatering World Cup quarterfinal on Saturday that pits superstar Kylian Mbappe against a forward lineup packed with youthful zest.

The two European heavyweights, separated by just 20 miles (32 kilometers) of ocean, have surprisingly met just twice on the biggest stage, but not since 1982.

France, crowned world champions for the second time in Russia in 2018, eased past Poland in the last 16, with two goals from Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and one from Olivier Giroud.

England beat Senegal 3-0, turning on the style for an ultimately comfortable win against the African champions after a shaky start.

Mbappe, 23, is the Qatar tournament’s top scorer, with five goals in just four starts, while Giroud’s strike against Poland made him France’s all-time leading goalscorer.

Questions about how England will keep the deadly Mbappe quiet have dominated the buildup to the match, which takes place in the desert setting of Al-Bayt Stadium.

England’s pacy rightback Kyle Walker, likely to have the task of shackling Mbappe on Saturday, is anxious to avoid the impression that the fleet-footed attacker is the only threat.

“I know he’s a top player but we’re not playing tennis. It’s not a solo sport, it’s a team game,” said the Manchester City defender.

“We know he’s a great player and that’s why he’s the focus of all questions. But let’s not forget (Olivier) Giroud, who has scored countless (goals), and (Ousmane) Dembele, for me just as good on the other wing.”

The France midfield has coped well in the absence of the injured N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, with Antoine Griezmann impressing, but if there is a potential weakness in Didier Deschamps’ lineup it could be in the fullback positions.

Jules Kounde and Theo Hernandez will face a tough test against whoever they face, with Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling all in the mix.

That wealth of attacking options means England will also have enviable game-changing options on the bench.

France midfielder Adrien Rabiot is predicting an open match.

“England are a team with similar characteristics to us, really quick players out wide, attacking full-backs and midfielders who like to get forward,” he said.

“But I am not sure we need to say that we have to be wary of them. They will also be very wary because we can cause them problems.”

Southgate is in a tricky position. Does he stick or twist? Does he let his young attackers off the leash or bolster his defensive options?

The England coach came under fire in the buildup to the World Cup after a miserable winless run even though he has credit in the bank from reaching the semifinals in 2018 and the final of last year’s Euro 2020.

England are joint top scorers in Qatar heading into the quarterfinals, with 12 goals from their four games.

Their standout player has been marauding teenager Jude Bellingham, who has formed an impressive partnership alongside the more defensive-minded Declan Rice.

Like France, England’s potential weakness is at the back, with central defender Harry Maguire vulnerable to pace.

Southgate said the match was the “biggest test we could face.” 

“They are world champions, with an incredible depth of talent and outstanding players. They are very hard to play against and score goals against,” he said.

“It’s a fantastic challenge. It’s a historic rivalry with great games from the past. It’s a brilliant game for us to be involved in and test ourselves against the very best.”


Injury fears cast a shadow across Newcastle victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh

Injury fears cast a shadow across Newcastle victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh
Updated 09 December 2022

Injury fears cast a shadow across Newcastle victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh

Injury fears cast a shadow across Newcastle victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh
  • United cruised to a comfortable 5-0 victory over the Saudi Pro League champions but injuries to Chris Wood and Joelinton could cause headaches for coach Eddie Howe
  • The Magpies are due to face Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup in just 13 days and return to Premier League action against Leicester City three days later

RIYADH: Newcastle United look set to return to the UK from their training camp in Saudi Arabia facing a striker crisis, with Chris Wood becoming the latest casualty during the Magpies’ victory over Al-Hilal in their friendly on Thursday.

Joelinton, who also left the game following a knock, grabbed a first-half double at the Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium before Miguel Almiron netted another brace and youngster Dylan Stephenson rounded off a 5-0 victory that ensured the Magpies lifted the Diriyah Season Cup.

But the bigger news from a United perspective was the injury to New Zealander Wood, who in the absence of Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak, looked set to lead the Magpies when senior football resumes following the World Cup break. United are due to face Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup in just 13 days and return to Premier League action against Leicester City three days later.

The severity of the injury to Wood is yet to be determined but a lengthy spell for him on the sidelines would be a disappointing and troublesome end to what has otherwise been an incredibly positive trip to Riyadh.

United fans will also be hoping that Brazilian wonder Joelinton’s departure from the game was simply precautionary, although the sight of him limping midway through the second half will cause concern.

United donned their third jersey, often dubbed the “Saudi kit,” for the match against the Saudi Pro League champions and handed a debut to Loris Karius in goal, with Eddie Howe keen to extend the former Liverpool keeper’s stay on Tyneside. Matt Targett and Karl Darlow missed out through illness.

This is the second visit by the Magpies to the Kingdom this year, after spending two weeks in Jeddah in January, and they have enjoyed a warm welcome in the capital. This was more than evident in the stands on Thursday where local and foreign fans wearing black and white could be seen scattered among the Blue Power, the vocal heart of the lively home faithful.

Jacob Murphy, Howe’s most-used player during his 13 months as head coach, came within inches of breaking the deadlock with the first meaningful attack of the match. He clipped the ball under Abdullah Al-Mayouf in goal but the keeper got a touch that just prevented the ball from crossing the line and he gathered at the second attempt.

Murphy then turned provider and Joelinton made no mistake with a powerful header after the winger dinked the ball in from the right.

While the final result betrayed the gulf in class between the sides, it was far from evident during a close first 45 and the visitors had Karius to thank for keeping things level early on. They will doubtless have been delighted to see him display some surprise sharpness, despite not having started a competitive game since February 2021.

Star player Odion Ighalo was the first to test Karius, with a low drive that was stopped by the United keeper. Al-Hilal caused the visitors some problems down the left but it was a move down the right that should probably have been rewarded with a penalty. Sven Botman felled the tricky Matheus Pereira but referee Alturais Khalid was not interested.

Just before the break the lead doubled as Joelinton beat Al-Mayouf after breaking clear of the Al-Hilal back line thanks to a precise through ball from Joe Willock.

Karius then had to be at his best once again to deny Andre Carrillo, tipping the ball around the post as the hosts ended the half as the dominant force.

Changes during the break, including the introduction of Almiron, one of the most in-form players in the English top flight, had an immediate effect when play resumed.

The Paraguayan clipped the bar with a trademark curling effort on 50 minutes, before he stole the ball from Carrillo, jinked past another defender and stroked home a third goal for the Magpies.

Elliot Anderson then hit the upright but his deflected effort rebounded clear of danger despite the lurking United forwards.

It seemed like only a matter of time before United added to their tally, though, and, sure enough, Almiron latched onto a cross-field ball by Sean Longstaff and volleyed it home to make it 4-0.

The last word was reserved for one of the Newcastle youngsters to come off the bench, as Ryan Fraser, also introduced as a substitute, squared the ball for Stephenson to tuck in his first goal at senior level.

Fireworks and ticker tape greeted Newcastle as they raised the golden trophy, which they will be hoping is the first of many under Saudi ownership and head coach Howe.

While trophies are the ultimate ambition, of course, in the shorter term Howe will be hoping for good news about the injuries to Joelinton and Wood, both of whom have proved to be crucial cogs in the Newcastle machine over the past year.


Saudi Husein Alireza the first Saudi athlete in the Olympic Museum

Saudi Husein Alireza the first Saudi athlete in the Olympic Museum
Updated 09 December 2022

Saudi Husein Alireza the first Saudi athlete in the Olympic Museum

Saudi Husein Alireza the first Saudi athlete in the Olympic Museum
  • Husein was approached by the museum earlier to include his story and take his oars he used at the Tokyo 2020 Games

RIYADH: Saudi rowing captain Husein Alireza was inducted into the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

The museum hosts exhibits from athletes whose background and stories they find to be unique and inspiring.

Husein was approached by the museum earlier to include his story and take his oars he used at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where he reached the quarterfinals in the Men's Single Sculls, to include them with their permanent exhibits.

A ceremony was held in Lausanne where he officially donated his oars to the museum, becoming the first Saudi athlete to be so honoured.

In attendance was his father and President of the Saudi Rowing Federation, Ali Alireza, members of World Rowing and other international federations.

“These oars have literally had my blood, sweat, and tears on them,” Alireza said.

“I'm so honored and grateful on this occasion and I'd like to thank the Ministry of Sport and the Saudi Olympic Committee for their unconditional support from the start of my journey.

“I want this to give inspiration to the youth and let them know you can do what I can do and you can do it better,” he added. 

Alireza is currently preparing for the World Rowing Championships to be held in Serbia in September 2023.


World Cup braces for quarter-finals as Spain sack coach

World Cup braces for quarter-finals as Spain sack coach
Updated 08 December 2022

World Cup braces for quarter-finals as Spain sack coach

World Cup braces for quarter-finals as Spain sack coach
  • A blockbuster set of quarter-finals gets under way on Friday when five-time champions Brazil face 2018 runners-up Croatia
  • On Saturday, Morocco will carry the flag for African football in their quarter-final clash with Portugal

DOHA: Brazil were gearing up for a showdown with Croatia while Argentina prepared to face the Netherlands as anticipation mounted Thursday on the eve of the World Cup quarter-finals.
After three weeks of pulsating action, just eight teams are left standing as the 32-nation tournament heads into the final rounds of knockout competition after a two-day break.
A blockbuster set of quarter-finals gets under way on Friday when five-time champions Brazil face 2018 runners-up Croatia.
That clash is the appetiser for another heavyweight World Cup collision between Lionel Messi’s Argentina and three-time losing finalists the Netherlands.
On Saturday, Morocco will carry the flag for African football in their quarter-final clash with Portugal before holders France face England in an eagerly anticipated showdown.
Wins for Argentina and Brazil on Friday would set up a titanic semifinal between the two South American heavyweights.
For now though Brazil are looking no further than Friday’s assignment against Croatia at the Education City Stadium in Doha.
“They have individual quality and collective quality as well as a resilience and persistence,” Brazil coach Tite said of Croatia.
“We are aware of their virtues but my focus is on maintaining our standards and whoever plays best will go through.”
Croatia captain Luka Modric said Thursday that his side were determined to progress beyond the last eight.
“We did a great thing by going to the quarter-finals, but regardless of that we would like to do more,” the Real Madrid midfielder said.
“We have to play our best match. And if we do that we have a chance of winning.”
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is optimistic that Angel Di Maria and Rodrigo De Paul will be available for his side’s clash against the Netherlands after injury issues.
His opposite number, Louis van Gaal, back in charge of the Dutch for a third spell, said his team would have to step up a gear to compete with the South American side, who beat them on penalties in the 2014 semifinal in Brazil.
“The tournament is actually starting tomorrow for real for us, although of course I don’t want to downplay the importance of other countries we were able to beat,” he said.
“But Argentina and Brazil, who we will possibly play in the next round, are quite different to the teams we beat in the group stage and last 16.”
On Saturday, all eyes will be on the battle between France and England at the Al-Bayt Stadium, the Bedouin tent-inspired structure located in the desert outside Doha.
England said Thursday that forward Raheem Sterling is set to return to the squad after initially leaving the team’s World Cup base following a break-in at his family home.
Sterling did not feature in England’s squad for the 3-0 last-16 win against Senegal and it would be a major surprise if the 28-year-old starts against France.
In Saturday’s other quarter-final, buoyant Portugal will be looking to end Morocco’s fairytale run to the last eight.
Portugal produced one of the most scintillating displays of the tournament by dismantling Switzerland 6-1 in the last 16 after coach Fernando Santos opted to drop Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo’s replacement, 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos, fired a brilliant hat-trick as Portugal ran riot.
According to reports in Portugal, Santos’s bombshell decision to drop Ronaldo prompted the 37-year-old superstar to threaten to walk out of the team camp.
But Ronaldo took to social media to stress the squad was rock solid after the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) issued a statement denying the reported bust-up with the former Real Madrid and Manchester United star.
“It’s a group too united to be broken by outside forces,” said Ronaldo.
“A nation too courageous to let itself be frightened by any adversary. A team in the truest sense of the word, which will fight for the dream until the end.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, Spanish football authorities dismissed coach Luis Enrique following the team’s shock elimination against Morocco, naming under-21s boss Luis de la Fuente as his replacement.
“Both the president, Luis Rubiales, and the sporting director, Jose Francisco Molina, have told the coach their decision,” the Spanish federation (RFEF) said in a statement.