Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League

Analysis Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League
The Classico between Al-Nassr and AL-Ittihad saw an electric atmosphere but no goals at Mrsool Park. (Twitter:@AlNassrFC)
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Updated 03 October 2022

Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League

Classico stalemate, Al-Hilal shocked: 5 things we learned from round 5 of Roshn Saudi League
  • Two red cards overshadowed the 0-0 draw between the Riyadh and Jeddah giants, while the reigning Saudi and Asian champions were stunned at home by Al-Taawoun

The Roshn Saudi League returned to action after the FIFA international break and while the eagerly awaited Classico between Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad didn’t produce a winner, there were plenty of highlights and surprises elsewhere. Below are five things we learned from round five.

1. Stubborn Al-Ittihad dig in for point at Al-Nassr

The stalemate in the Classico was not one of those vintage 0-0 draws and will be remembered for the two red cards. The first was given to Al-Ittihad midfielder Tarek Hamed for a bad tackle on Vincent Aboubakar just before the break, and the card that came after a video review provoked the biggest cheer of the evening.

The second was shown to Al-Nassr’s Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaiheem, whose offense was similar, just before the hour.

In front of a full and hostile Mrsool Park in Riyadh, the dismissals were not a major surprise but even with 11 men, it looked as if Al-Ittihad, already without the injured Romarinho and Helder Costa, were content with a point and were happy to keep things tight. Being reduced to 10 men meant that coach Nuno Espírito Santo and his men really shut up shop to frustrate the hosts.

After the game, Nuno talked of the spirit his players demonstrated and it was impressive to see how compact, organized and focused the Tigers were. It wasn’t pretty but it got a result in their toughest game of the season so far and still, no team has scored against Al-Ittihad this season.

2. Al-Nassr shouldn’t be too down

There was no doubt that Al-Nassr were more disappointed than Al-Ittihad after their goalless draw. They dominated the game in an attacking sense and while coach Rudi Garcia was left talking about the Tigers’ defensive approach, his team had the possession, two-thirds of it, to win.

The standard of chances could have been better and the French boss was left to lament the absence of Pity Martinez with the Argentine playmaker expected to be out injured for the next month. Without him, there were chances created and almost 20 goal attempts but none of sufficient quality despite the best efforts of Abdulrahman Ghareeb, who had an impressive game.

Yet with Al-Ittihad in this mood and determined to keep a clean sheet, there are going to be a lot of frustrated teams this season when they play the Tigers. You have to take the chances that come your way and on this occasion, Al-Nassr just weren’t clinical enough but have four winnable games before their derby with Al-Hilal.

3. Al-Hilal fall to shock defeat to super Al-Taawoun

Before Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Al-Taawoun, Al-Hilal had played 20 league games in 2022 and lost just one, winning an amazing 18. This season there had been four wins from four without a single goal conceded. This consistency means that all have become accustomed to such excellence and the prospect of defeat was rarely entertained.

There was a similar shock back in May when they lost 1-0 to Al-Feiha only to bounce back to take 30 points from the next 30. This could well be just another blip. On another day, Al-Hilal who had 50 percent more possession and shots would have won.

But the headlines should not be all about the defending champions as Al-Taawoun deserve plenty of plaudits. A team that just escaped relegation last season had taken eight points from the first four games. Now it is 11 from five as they sit in fourth.

The spirit is there, as is, increasingly, the confidence. When Michael opened the scoring for Al-Hilal, finishing a fine move with a flashing low shot just before the half hour, it seemed as if another regulation win for the Riyadh giants was coming. However, Sumayhan Al-Nabit leveled just before the break after Abdullah Al-Mayouf came for a cross and did not collect.

Then when star striker Leandre Tawamba was sent off after 65 minutes, it looked over once again for Al-Taawoun, but nine minutes later, Fahad Al-Rashidi grabbed what turned out to be the winner. It was a stunning result.

4. Injury problems and solutions for Al-Hilal

Coach Ramon Diaz has similar worries to national team boss Herve Renard. Every team in Asia would miss two crucial attacking players of the class of Salman Al-Faraj and Salem Al-Dawsari. Full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani also was absent and then there were the likes of Jang Hyun-soo on the bench, weakening the defense still further.

But amid the gloom of the injuries and the result, there were two bright points on the bench in Abdulelah Al-Malki and Saleh Al-Shehri. The midfielder and attacker had been out with serious injuries for months and were looking unlikely to return to the national team squad in time for the World Cup.

Whether they go to Qatar is still touch and go as neither have played any competitive minutes yet. That will need to change very soon if they are to be named in the Saudi Arabian squad but Al-Hilal fans won’t care as two of their biggest domestic stars are near a return. And, with the team slipping to defeat, they may get a chance on the pitch sooner rather than later.

5. Moustafa Zeghba shows that it’s not all about the big boys

There was an amazing moment on Saturday as Damac defeated Al-Tai 2-0 to maintain their good start to the season. That is not the main story, however, as the second goal was one that will never be forgotten. There seemed to be no danger when the Algerian shotstopper picked up the ball in his own area.

But then his looping kick downfield bounced in the middle of the Al-Tai half. His opposite number Victor Braga was standing around the penalty spot and slowly realized what was happening, and it was the goalkeeper’s worst nightmare. There was nothing the Brazilian could do as the ball looped over his head and outstretched arm and into the net.

It meant that Zeghba becomes the fifth goalkeeper in the SPL’s history to get on the scoresheet and the first since 2020. While his smile was wide when he was congratulated by his delighted teammates, there must have been some sympathy for Braga.


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.


Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs
Updated 29 November 2022

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs
  • Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes scored a cross-cum-shot nine minutes into the second half and then added an injury-time penalty
  • The match also featured the first pitch invader of the Qatar tournament — the man carried messages of support for Ukraine and Iranian women and had a rainbow flag

DOHA: Bruno Fernandes scored twice to give Portugal a 2-0 victory over Uruguay on Monday and send them into the knock-out stages of the World Cup alongside France and Brazil.
The Manchester United midfielder scored a cross-cum-shot nine minutes into the second half and then added an injury-time penalty following a handball by Jose Maria Gimenez.
The match at Doha’s spectacular 89,000-capacity Lusail Stadium also featured the first pitch invader of the Qatar tournament — the man carried messages of support for Ukraine and Iranian women and had a rainbow flag.
With Portugal already through, Uruguay must now beat Ghana in their final Group H match to stand any chance of also progressing.
Both sides made three changes from their opening matches, with Portugal bringing in veteran Pepe for the injured Danilo Pereira, who suffered cracked ribs in training.
Pepe became the third-oldest outfield player in World Cup history.
Portugal dominated the first half, hogging the ball and creating several chances, but without ever testing Uruguay goalkeeper Sergio Rochet.
Uruguay’s forward, Edinson Cavani and Darwin Nunez were starved of the ball but the South Americans still had the best opportunity of the first period.
Rodrigo Bentancur picked the ball up in his own half and surged forward, slipping between two defenders to find himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who spread himself well to save the midfielder’s shot.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was largely anonymous in the first 45 minutes but did delight fans with a shoulder pass to pick out William Carvalho, who volleyed over.
The main drama came after the break.
Moments after a pitch invader ran onto the pitch carrying an LGBTQ rainbow flag and with a message supporting Ukraine and Iranian women on his T-shirt, only to be spectacularly tackled by security, Portugal went in front.
Fernandes created space for himself on the left and curled an inswinging cross into the mixer, with Ronaldo breaking the offside trap to attempt a glancing header.
As the ball nestled in the goal, Ronaldo wheeled away in celebration but FIFA decided he had not touched the ball, thus denying him a ninth World Cup goal, which would have put him level with Portuguese great Eusebio.
Uruguay coach Diego Alonso threw on forward Maxi Gomez and Luis Suarez as the South Americans belatedly began to exert some pressure, and both came close to an equalizer.
Gomez’s rasping drive from 20 yards came back off the post with Costa beaten, while Suarez hit the side netting from close range.
With the 90 minutes almost up, Fernandes nutmegged Gimenez, whose trailing hand diverted the ball away from the midfielder and prevented him from finding himself one-on-one with Rochet.
Iranian referee Alireza Faghani awarded the spot-kick after a VAR check and Fernandes sent Rochet the wrong way after his signature hop, skip run-up.
He then almost completed a hat-trick but hit the post from 20 yards.


Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2
Updated 28 November 2022

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2
  • Despite their efforts, South Korea look likely to crash out of the tournament at the group stage for the third straight World Cup

DOHA: Mohammed Kudus scored twice as Ghana beat South Korea 3-2 in a pulsating World Cup encounter on Monday to keep their World Cup hopes alive and leave Paulo Bento’s side facing an early exit.

Mohammed Salisu opened the scoring against the run of play midway through the first half at Education City Stadium and Ajax midfielder Kudus doubled the Black Stars’ lead.

But the Asian side, who looked toothless in the first half, roared back after the break, pulling level through a quickfire double from forward Cho Gue-sung either side of the hour mark.

Ghana looked shell-shocked as the Korean fans celebrated wildly but they were back in front in the 68th minute when Kudus finished calmly at the back post after Iñaki Williams failed to connect with a cross from the left.

The result takes Ghana into second in Group H on three points.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will have six points and secure qualification for the last 16 if they beat Uruguay in the later kickoff in Qatar.

Despite their efforts, South Korea look likely to crash out of the tournament at the group stage for the third straight World Cup.

The Asian side, captained by Son Heung-min, were quicker to settle, forcing a succession of corners as they dominated possession but they were unable to fashion a shot on target in the entire first half.

Son looked uncomfortable in the black face mask he is wearing after having surgery for a facial injury he suffered while playing for Spurs, constantly readjusting it.

Ghana, who lost their opener 3-2 to Portugal, struggled to gain a foothold in the game.

But the match totally changed complexion in the 24th minute when the impressive Jordan Ayew, playing down the left for Ghana, swung in a cross following a free kick.

South Korea failed to clear and Southampton center-back Salisu finished with his left foot, sparking wild scenes of celebration among the Ghana fans decked out in red, white and green.

The goal revitalized the African nation, who reached the quarterfinals in 2010, with South Korea struggling to deal with their physicality and direct approach.

Now playing with flair and confidence, Ghana poured forward and doubled their lead in the 34th minute when Kudus powered a header home after a pin-point Jordan Ayew cross from the left.

Captain Andre Ayew — the brother of Jordan — called his men into a team huddle on the pitch and the players got soaked by the sprinklers before they went off for their halftime beak.

The Koreans at last produced an effort on target in the 53rd minute, when goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi punched away a header from Cho.

But the Korean found the net just minutes later, heading home a cross from substitute Lee Kang-in, who had just been brought on by Bento.

And they were level just three minutes later when Cho headed home Kim Jin-su’s ball from the left, sparking scenes of delirium among the Korean fans.

Now Ghana were rocking but they restored their lead midway through the second half through Kudus.

South Korea came back again. Zigi was forced into a scrambling save to push away a free kick while Salisu cleared off the line.

The fourth official held up a board for 10 minutes of added time. South Korea continued to pour forward but they could not find the net and a number of their players collapsed to the turf at the final whistle.

Bento was sent off for protesting at the end of the match.