Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad clash in first Classico of the Roshn Saudi League season

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad clash in first Classico of the Roshn Saudi League season
Al-Nassr will host Al-Ittihad at a sold-out Mrsool Park. (Twitter: @AlNassrFC_EN)
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Updated 01 October 2022

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad clash in first Classico of the Roshn Saudi League season

Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad clash in first Classico of the Roshn Saudi League season
  • he match is too early in the season to decide matters, but coaches Rudi Garcia and Nuno Santo will be under scrutiny in their new roles

As with most domestic competitions around the world, this has been a stop-and-start season for the Roshn Saudi League, but the action moves up a level with Sunday’s Classico as Al-Nassr host Al-Ittihad at a sold-out Mrsool Park.

It is the first clash between two of the Kingdom’s giants in this campaign so far, and while it will not decide anything, it will be a fascinating meeting on many levels.

After four games so far, the top four from last season are in the top four positions at the moment. Al-Shabab and Al-Hilal both have a maximum of 12 points (and their meeting a week later will be something to witness). Ittihad are third with 10, and like the top two have yet to concede a goal, and then come Al-Nassr with nine points. Assuming that the top two both extend their winning streak on Sunday then either Al-Ittihad or Al-Nassr are going to find themselves already with some ground to make up if they end up losing.

Yet it is still early days, with two coaches who are still getting two grips with football in Saudi Arabia ahead of their first big test. And it is those coaches who provide many of the talking points and should ensure that there are plenty of observers around the world.

Nuno Santo moved to Jeddah in the summer, following in the footsteps of Rudi Garcia who arrived to take charge of Al-Nassr a few weeks earlier. Together, these two have managed some big clubs in Europe including Valencia, Porto, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur, Roma, Marseille and Lyon. The Portuguese and the Frenchman may have different styles and philosophies but the remit is very much the same — to bring the league trophy back.

For Garcia, there is a little less pressure in that regard as it was only 2019 since Al-Nassr were last champions but he has brought in some big stars and bosses will be expecting a return. It could be an issue this weekend with some serious air miles needed to get those players back to Riyadh after representing their homelands in far-flung locations.

Goalkeeper David Ospina was in the US as Colombia beat Guatemala 4-1 in New Jersey and then headed to California to play in the 3-2 win over Mexico. It is a long way back and the former Arsenal and Napoli star only reported for training on Friday along with full-back Ghislain Konan, who played in France as the Ivory Coast defeated Togo and Guinea. Then there is Vincent Aboubakar. The striker was in action for Cameroon in South Korea after taking on Uzbekistan earlier, and picked up a knock. It remains to be seen if this year’s AFCON top scorer can start on Sunday.

Al-Nassr will need all their firepower including Talisca, who has recently released a rap album. The Brazilian played in the past two games in which the Yellows have looked more threatening in attack, with the most recent outing a 4-0 win over Al-Batin. It was a fluid display with the attacking midfielder getting forward well to support Aboubakar. With Al-Ittihad defensively solid under Santo — with four clean sheets out of four — it could well be that chances are at a premium in this Classico.

The Portuguese boss is perhaps under a bit more pressure than his counterpart as Al-Ittihad were last champions in 2009 and last year threw away the title after having a double-digit lead at the top of the table.

In the short-term, there are some worries. Brazilian attacker Romarinho may miss the game through injury and there are also questions about Portuguese winger Helder Costa. Both face late fitness tests. Neither have scored yet this season with half of their six goals coming from defenders, and there is better news in that regard. Center-back Ahmed Hegazy has declared himself fit. There were worries when the former West Bromwich Albion star left the pitch after an hour of Egypt’s 3-0 win over Liberia on Tuesday, but he is set to start.

Compatriot Tarek Hamed has added even more solidity to the midfield and returns from Egyptian duty fit and ready for action. It will be up to these two to keep an eye on Aboubakar and Talisca.

Then there is Abderrazak Hamdallah, who was released by Al-Nassr late last year and then ended up signing for Al-Ittihad. There is still plenty of bad feeling around the whole deal but he is now back in the team and looking to become a late bolter for Morocco at the World Cup. To have a chance of persuading new coach of the Atlas Lions Walid Regragui, who is looking to strengthen his front line, Hamdallah is going to need to start banging in the goals in the next few weeks.

That may not be enough and similarly this latest Classico will not decide anything in terms of titles either. It will, however, give an indicator of where Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad are at this early stage under these two famous European coaches. It should be quite the clash.


Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round
Updated 17 sec ago

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round

Chelsea draws trip to Manchester City in FA Cup third round
  • Chelsea will head to Manchester when the big guns enter the competition over the weekend of Jan. 6-9

LONDON: To reach a fourth consecutive FA Cup final, Chelsea will have to go through Manchester City in the third round.
Chelsea will head to Manchester when the big guns enter the competition over the weekend of Jan. 6-9.
The Blues have made it to Wembley in each of the last three years, but have ultimately gone down to Arsenal, Leicester and Liverpool respectively.
Liverpool, which beat Chelsea on penalties last season to lift the trophy for the eighth time, launches its defense at Anfield against English Premier League struggler Wolverhampton.
Erik ten Hag will get his first taste of world football’s oldest club competition when Manchester United hosts Everton. West Ham makes the short trip to Brentford, and Southampton travels to Crystal Palace.
Premier League leader Arsenal and high-flying Newcastle drew away games at League One sides Oxford and Sheffield Wednesday.
Tottenham hosts League One’s Portsmouth, and Brighton travels to Middlesbrough in FA Cup winner Michael Carrick’s first taste of the competition as Boro boss. Championship rivals Cardiff host Leeds, and Burnley go to Bournemouth.
Nottingham Forest and Fulham both face second-tier opposition on the road in the shape of Blackpool and Hull respectively.
Aston Villa welcome fourth-tier Stevenage, and Leicester face either fifth-tier Dagenham & Redbridge or League Two’s Gillingham.


New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin
Updated 29 November 2022

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin

New look for Formula E season 9 as Gen3 era set to begin
  • World’s best electric race car arrives for pre-season testing in Valencia next month
  • India, South Africa and Brazil to host races for the first time, as Maserati and McLaren debut in Mexico City on Jan. 14

LONDON: Formula E has unveiled a fresh new look ahead of season nine of the ABB FIA World Championship, with the debut of the Gen3 car accompanied by new races, cities, teams and sporting formats.

The Gen3 — the fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient electric race car ever built — will make its competitive debut in round one in Mexico City on Jan. 14, following pre-season testing next month in Valencia.

The championship will continue with three new cities hosting Formula E races for the first time: Hyderabad, India (round four on Feb. 11); Cape Town, South Africa (round five on Feb. 25) and Sao Paulo, Brazil (round six on March 25).

McLaren and Maserati are new to the Formula E grid next season. They will join some of the biggest names in motorsport including Jaguar, Porsche and Nissan among the 11 teams and 22 drivers competing for world titles.

Sporting regulation updates include a return to racing over laps; rookie drivers taking a seat for teams in FP1 sessions; and a plan to introduce a 30-second 4 kilowatt-hours “Attack Charge” boost at select races, made possible through the development of the most advanced EV battery in the world today.


Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 
Updated 29 November 2022

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 

Swiss loss sets up enticing rematch with Serbia 
  • Group G game between Switzerland and Serbia has been one to keep an eye on
  • It's not just because of the talented players on both teams, but because of the political tensions they brought on the field

DOHA: Switzerland’s loss made their upcoming World Cup rematch all the more enticing, and with a lot more on the line.

Ever since the match schedule was made in April, the Group G game between Switzerland and Serbia has been one to keep an eye on. Not just because of the talented players on both teams, but because of the political tensions they brought on the field when they met at the last World Cup.

Four years ago in Russia, Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka celebrated his goal against Serbia by making a double-headed eagle with his hands — thumbs representing the heads of the two eagles, fingers fanned to look like feathers. The figure is considered to be an Albanian nationalist symbol.

Xherdan Shaqiri added another goal in the final minute of the game, and did the same thing with his hands as the Swiss won 2-1 in the second of the three group matches.

Xhaka and Shaqiri both have ethnic Albanian heritage and family ties to Kosovo. They were teenagers growing up in Switzerland when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, something the Serbs still don’t recognize 14 years later.

Both players were fined by FIFA during the tournament, and the government of Albania opened a bank account for people to contribute toward paying the 10,000 Swiss franc ($10,500) penalties.

On Friday, only one of the two teams will be able to advance to the round of 16 in Qatar. Brazil, who beat the Swiss 1-0 on Monday and defeated Serbia 2-0 last Thursday, have already assured themselves of a spot in the knockout round.

The Swiss likely need only a draw at Stadium 974, and Shaqiri should be available to play after sitting out the match against Brazil with a muscle injury.

Xhaka, now 30 and a mature leader for his country, brushed aside the controversial match from four years ago.

“(There’s) nothing in the history behind these two games,” the Arsenal midfielder said. “We are Switzerland, they are Serbia, that’s it. We are here to play football — them, us as well.”

Still, the Serbian delegation at this year’s World Cup has already made the politics of Kosovo an issue.

Serbia’s locker room ahead of their opening game against Brazil displayed a national flag with territory that included Kosovo and the slogan “No Surrender.” FIFA opened a disciplinary case against the Serbian soccer federation on Saturday.

The Kosovo Soccer Federation formally complained to FIFA after a photograph circulated and the country’s sports minister, Hajjrulla Ceku, described the image as using the World Cup to promote “hateful, xenophobic and genocidal messages.”

The Swiss advanced to the round of 16 in 2018 after a draw with Costa Rica in their final group match, while the Serbs were eliminated after losing to Brazil. This time, the teams go head-to-head in their final group game.

“Of course, the history is the history,” said Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who also played against Serbia four years ago in Kaliningrad. “But in this moment it will be the game that is important.

“We know this game already,” Sommer added. “We had it in Russia.”


Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign
Updated 29 November 2022

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign
  • The stunning move follows a preliminary investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office into fraudulent accounting

TURIN, Italy: Juventus’ board of directors and president Andrea Agnelli resigned en masse on Monday.

The stunning move follows a preliminary investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office into fraudulent accounting, of alleged hidden payments to players.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help the club through the crisis. But its claimed the players gave up only one month’s salary.

A shareholders meeting rescheduled for Dec. 27 was postponed again to Jan. 18 to choose a new board.
 


Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury
Updated 29 November 2022

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury
  • The Hero World Challenge was to be the start of a December in golf ruled by Woods

NASSAU, Bahamas: Tiger Woods was out before he was officially back, withdrawing Monday from his Hero World Challenge with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

The Hero World Challenge was to be the start of a December in golf ruled by Woods, who also has a made-for-television match next weekend, followed by the PNC Championship with his 13-year-old son on Dec. 17-18.

Two of those are still on his schedule. The foot injury was a surprise and is a big setback for those who haven’t seen Woods play since July at St. Andrews. The Hero World Challenge has network coverage on NBC for the weekend.

“In preparation and practice for this week’s Hero World Challenge, I’ve developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot, which is making it difficult to walk,” Woods said on Twitter. “After consulting with my doctors and trainers, I have decided to withdraw this week and focus on my hosting duties. My plan is still to compete in The Match and the PNC Championship.”

The Match is Dec. 10 with Rory McIlroy as his partner competing in a 12-hole match against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

Woods has played only three tournaments this year because of a right leg weakened by a February 2021 car crash outside Los Angeles that shattered so many bones that Woods said doctors contemplated amputation.

A year ago in the Bahamas, he hit drivers on the back end of the range at Albany Golf Club, sparking speculation he might return. He played the PNC Championship with son Charlie and they finished second by one shot.

Woods then played the Masters, where he finished all four rounds at Augusta National, a tough walk with healthy legs. He made the cut in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, only to withdraw after the third round.

His last appearance was the British Open at St. Andrews, where he missed the cut.

Woods has said he would have a limited schedule going forward, and this year was an example of what to expect. The World Challenge would have been one of the easier walks on the flat terrain of Albany.

The 20-man field features 15 of the top 20 players in the world. Woods was replaced by Austria-born Sepp Straka, who went to Georgia. Earlier, Hideki Matsuyama withdrew with injury and was replaced by Corey Conners.

Woods is No. 1,277 in the world ranking and is exempt as the tournament host. Being replaced by Straka (No. 29) means the entire 20-man field is among the top 33 in the ranking. The strength of field increases even as TV ratings are sure to take a hit.