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.


Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup
Updated 02 December 2022

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup

Cheers: Morocco last Arab team left standing in World Cup
  • Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of their group in a stadium thronged with their supporters

DOHA/RABAT: Moroccan fans celebrated on Thursday as their country became the only Arab nation to reach the knockout rounds of the first World Cup held in an Arab country, dancing and cheering in the stadium in Qatar and on the streets back home.

Morocco beat Canada 2-1 to finish top of their group in a stadium thronged with their supporters. In earlier matches they had tied with Croatia and scored a surprise win over Belgium, the second-ranked team in the world.

“This team can go all the way in this World Cup!” shouted a young woman draped in a Moroccan flag, leaning from the window of a packed car in Rabat as people rushed toward a central district to join street celebrations.

In Qatar, where the home team along with Saudi Arabia and Tunisia have already been knocked out, Morocco now carries the mantle for an Arab world that has cheered victories by Arab teams against some of the tournament favorites.

Hundreds of fans crowded outside the stadium, some pushing and shoving and others trying to climb a fence to get in even after the game had begun, a Reuters journalist there said. Many lacked tickets but hoped to see the game.

“Fans crowded here because they can’t enter the stadium. Almost all these fans have no ticket and they love Morocco and want to get in,” said one, Abdulmajid Mohammed, from Saudi Arabia.

The crowding also left some fans who said they had tickets unable to enter. “We have tickets but they closed all the doors and are not letting people in,” said Mohammad Abdelhadi from Libya, who said his group’s tickets each cost more than $200.

FIFA and Qatar’s World Cup organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the crowding outside the stadium.

The deafening support has been a 12th man for the side.

“They proved on the pitch that they are lions... honestly as a Saudi we lost yesterday but we made up for that loss with Morocco’s win,” said Talal Ahmed Obeid, watching at a fan zone in Casablanca.

While Morocco is a proud member of the Arab League, the country has also in recent decades embraced its African identity and Berber lineage, enshrining Amazigh as an official language.

“We hope to fly the flag of African football high,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui on Wednesday.

Mohamed Tahiri, a lawyer out celebrating in Rabat among crowds waving flags and honking car horns despite the rainy weather, said Morocco was the only team left for Arabs to identify with.

“This is a day of celebration not only for us Moroccans but for all Arabs and for all the Amazigh North Africans too,” he said.

People had already been out looking for cafes with televisions to watch the game hours before kickoff.

“My generation is experiencing this for the first time,” said Oufae Abidar, 38, a company employee. She was a toddler when Morocco last reached the knockout phase in 1986. Morocco’s last World Cup appearance, four years ago, ended in the group stage.

Back in Doha, Omani national Saeed Al Maskari, 30, said he would be supporting Morocco now. “We are in the Asian part (of the Arab region) and they are in the African part. But we speak one language,” he said. 


Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston
Updated 02 December 2022

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston

Marathon world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge to run in Boston
  • Kipchoge won Berlin in September in 2 hours, 1 minute, 9 seconds — the fastest time in a marathon competition in history

BOSTON: World record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge will make his Boston Marathon debut in 2023 along with reigning women’s world champion Gotytom Gebreslase and six former Boston winners returning 10 years after two bombs exploded at the finish line.

Two-time winner Lelisa Desisa will return in the men’s division, 10 years after he won the 2013 race that was interrupted by the attacks that came about two hours after the winners crossed. He also won in 2015.

“There is no one in athletics who will be more focused than me this spring in racing, as I look to once again win the Boston Marathon,” Desisa said. “Ten years since my first victory — I understand what this anniversary means and I would love nothing more than to put my name into the history of the race again. I stand with the people of Boston, and I will be running the race of my life for you all.”

Reigning champion Evans Chebet of Kenya will also lead a field of 30,000 from Hopkinton to Boston’s Back bay on April 17 for the 117th edition of the race. Des Linden, the 2018 Boston winner, is also in the race, along with Edna Kiplagat (2017) and Atsede Baysa (2016).

“History and heritage are two cornerstones of the Boston Marathon,” Boston Athletic Association President and CEO Jack Fleming said. “The world will be watching Boston with great anticipation to see how the competition plays out.”

Kipchoge won Berlin in September in 2 hours, 1 minute, 9 seconds — the fastest time in a marathon competition in history. He also completed the distance in an exhibition in 1:59:40 in 2019 in an exhibition engineered to break 2 hours.


Germany’s soul-searching begins after another World Cup flop

Germany’s soul-searching begins after another World Cup flop
Updated 02 December 2022

Germany’s soul-searching begins after another World Cup flop

Germany’s soul-searching begins after another World Cup flop
  • Germany’s fate was effectively decided when they lost their first game 2-1 to Japan, then followed up with a 1-1 draw with Spain

AL-KHOR, Qatar: Another World Cup, another flop.

Former football power Germany is facing another round of soul-searching after going out of the sport’s most important tournament at the first stage for the second time in a row.

Germany’s players spoke afterward of good performances and missed chances — as they’ve done before.

But no one had any real answers to the team’s problems.

“There are 25 experts standing together here. You can all advise each other and then agree on a few details,” Thomas Muller said after Germany’s 4-2 win over Costa Rica on Thursday.

Germany’s fate was effectively decided when they lost their first game 2-1 to Japan, then followed up with a 1-1 draw with Spain.

It left Germany at the bottom of Group E and dependent on a favor from Spain. It never came as Japan defeated Spain in their final game to top the group. Spain progressed ahead of Germany on goal difference.

“I never look at another team, it’s up to us,” Germany coach Hansi Flick said of relying on Spain. “I think ultimately the sum of everything contributed to us being eliminated. We had enough chances, whether in the first half or the first 60 minutes of the game against Japan, or even at the end against Spain, when we had another huge opportunity. You really have to take those chances.”

What Flick failed to mention is that Spain also missed a host of chances to put their game against Germany out of reach before Niclas Füllkrug’s late equalizer.

That goal proved to be the highlight for Germany though it proved to be of little worth in yet another disappointing big-stage performance.

“We haven’t been able to live up to expectations at the tournaments in recent years, because as a team, I would say we don’t really have specialists running around everywhere. We have a lot of players who are very talented. Yes,” Muller said before trailing off and leaving those at the emedia conference to finish his thoughts.

Germany, the 2014 World Cup champion, also crashed out during the group phase at the 2018 tournament in Russia. At last year’s coronavirus-postponed European Championship, Germany was knocked out in the second round.

“I think really, we can’t say where we are,” Germany captain Manuel Neuer said of the team’s place in world football.

Prior to the 2018 World Cup, Germany had reached at least the semifinal stage of every major competition it entered since the 2006 World Cup, which it hosted.

“I joined the team in 2016. Germany was always in the semifinal before that,” midfielder Joshua Kimmich said. “Then I come in and we’re out (of the World Cup) in the first stage and last year in the second round (of the European Championship), it’s hard to take.”


Redemption for Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu 29 years later in Qatar

Redemption for Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu 29 years later in Qatar
Updated 02 December 2022

Redemption for Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu 29 years later in Qatar

Redemption for Japan coach Hajjime Moriyasu 29 years later in Qatar
  • This time the 54-year-old Moriyasu got his Hollywood ending by winning Group E

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar: The “Agony of Doha” came 29 years ago, and Hajjime Moriyasu experienced it first-hand as a midfielder on Japan’s national football team.

He’s now the coach, and he’s made amends.

Japan won their World Cup group on Thursday after beating 2010 champion Spain 2-1 at the Khalifa International Stadium. Last week, the team defeated 2014 champion Germany by the same score at the same venue.

As time was winding down against Spain, Moriyasu was thinking about that game in Qatar against Iraq in 1993 that cost the team a spot in the next year’s tournament.

“About one minute before the end,” Moriyasu said after the win over Spain, “I remembered the tragedy in Doha.”

Leading 2-1 in the team’s final qualifier and knowing one goal for the opposition would spell the end, Japan conceded in stoppage time. Their World Cup hopes were dashed, and so was Moriyasu’s chances of playing at the biggest football tournament in the world.

This time it was different. This time the defense held it together. This time the 54-year-old Moriyasu got his Hollywood ending by winning Group E.

“I could feel that the times have changed,” Moriyasu said, praising his team’s aggressive defending. “They are playing a new kind of football, that’s how I felt.”

Japan’s resistance on the field was typified by 34-year-old captain Maya Yoshida. The veteran central defender reacted fastest when a loose ball in the 90th minute bounced in the goalmouth, up in front of a gaping empty net, after goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda blocked a shot by Jordi Alba.

Yoshida twisted his body to beat Marco Asensio to the ball and clear the danger. When Spain forward Dani Olmo took control seconds later, Gonda blocked his shot with a smothering dive.

On the offensive side, Japan scored in the 48th and 51st minutes. Against Germany, the goals came in the 75th and 83rd.

“In 10 minutes we were dismantled,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said.

Up next is Croatia, a team that reached the final four years ago in Russia. Another victory on Monday would put Japan in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.

“We,” the coach said, “are gifting this win to the people of Japan.”


Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour
Updated 02 December 2022

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour

Fury sees Chisora trilogy as catalyst for Muhammad Ali-style world tour
  • Veteran promoter Bob Arum, now working alongside Warren, helped take Ali for world-title fights well outside of his native US in the mid-1970s
  • It is eight years since WBC champion Fury, unbeaten as a professional, convincingly defeated Chisora for a second time

LONDON: Tyson Fury wants to emulate Muhammad Ali by embarking on a world tour following his all-British world heavyweight title fight with Derek Chisora in London on Saturday.

For Fury, it is a matter of making up for lost time, following a mental health breakdown and the impact of COVID-19.

“I have only had two years of activity in the last seven years, which is not great,” he said.

“After I beat Chisora and after I beat Oleksandr Usyk next year, I am going to try and go on a massive campaign all over the world.”

It is eight years since WBC champion Fury, unbeaten as a professional, convincingly defeated Chisora for a second time.

Rather than a trilogy bout with Chisora, many fans would rather Fury was involved in a unification fight with Usyk at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this weekend or an alternative all-British clash with former world champion Anthony Joshua.

Usyk holds the IBF, WBA and WBO versions of the heavyweight title, having taken them off Joshua in September last year.

But the Ukrainian, after defeating Joshua again, in Jeddah in July, said he would not be ready to face Fury in December.

Usyk appeared injured and mentally drained following months away from his family as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Fury’s only fight so far this year was a six-round stoppage of Dillian Whyte at Wembley in April, with Fury then announcing his retirement.

But, having reversed that decision, it appears his management wanted a ‘warm-up’ bout ahead of a lucrative clash against Usyk in the Middle East next year.

Fury called out Joshua, but the longstanding bitterness between his promoter Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn, who represents Joshua, made negotiations awkward and talks broke down.

Even so, a capacity crowd of 60,000 is still expected on Saturday, such is the appeal of Fury.

And the self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’ is ready to travel widely, should all go to plan against Chisora.

“Like go to Antarctica, they have nothing else on there,” said the 34-year-old Fury.

“Fire out places like one a month, a Tyson Fury roadshow, where were you for that?“

Veteran promoter Bob Arum, now working alongside Warren, helped take Ali for world-title fights well outside of his native US in the mid-1970s.

These included two of the most celebrated wins by ‘The Greatest’ — the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman in Zaire and the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, when Ali defeated arch-rival Joe Frazier.

“We did that for Ali,” recalled Arum. “We did him in Japan, Malaysia, we did him in Indonesia. That is what a true champion does because they are a world champion.”

Fury added: “I am champion of the whole world...It would be lovely to give these fans the opportunity to see a world champion.

“I know it sounds like a pipedream, a fairy-tale story, but just to get these fights in, to give some random heavyweight — like Apollo did in the Rocky movie — the chance.”

At 38, Chisora, with 12 defeats from 45 bouts, appears to have little more than a puncher’s chance.

“I don’t care what is said,” insisted Chisora. “For me to give up, just because a newspaper says so, I can’t do that.”

Unlike many of Fury’s bouts, the build-up to this fight has been notable for for a lack of ‘trash-talking’, with Chisora saying: “Tyson phoned me up and said ‘I want to give you an opportunity’.

“So for me to sit here and talk about a man who is putting food on my kids’ table? I cannot do that.”