Al-Nassr defeat Ettifaq on Ronaldo’s Saudi league debut

Al-Nassr defeat Ettifaq on Ronaldo’s Saudi league debut
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The three points are very welcome to give Al-Nassr, 33, one ahead of Al-Hilal who defeated Abha 2-1 earlier in the day. Al-Ittihad are a point further back in third after defeating Al-Feiha. (@AlNassrFC)
Al-Nassr defeat Ettifaq on Ronaldo’s Saudi league debut
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The three points are very welcome to give Al-Nassr, 33, one ahead of Al-Hilal who defeated Abha 2-1 earlier in the day. Al-Ittihad are a point further back in third after defeating Al-Feiha. (@SPL_EN)
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Updated 24 January 2023

Al-Nassr defeat Ettifaq on Ronaldo’s Saudi league debut

Al-Nassr defeat Ettifaq on Ronaldo’s Saudi league debut
  • Anderson Talisca scored the match's only goal with a first-half header

Cristiano Ronaldo made an impressive debut for Al-Nassr on Sunday as his new team moved back to the top of the Saudi Professional League with 1-0 win over Ettifaq.

The only thing missing was a goal from the former Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus star but he still had a busy evening to keep a packed Mrsool Park happy. The record books will show that Anderson Talisca broke the deadlock with a first-half header but it was all about his team-mate.

It may have been a little easier for Ettifaq’s defenders to deal with Ronaldo than they imagined as anytime the ball came anywhere near the Portuguese star, the anticipation and excitement among the fans was audible. Everyone in the stadium always knew where the attacker was at every moment. 

And he will have come away knowing something too: There are no easy games in this league. Ettifaq made it very difficult indeed. The play in the opening exchanges was stop and start and it took the new signing, who scored twice against Paris Saint-Germain in an exhibition on Thursday, a little time to get into the game but there was excitement every time the ball came near the megastar.

Ronaldo’s first real touch was a mis-hit pass but there was nothing wrong with his first shot on goal that came after just eight minutes. Picking up the ball just outside the area, his fierce strike was certainly on target but a deflection off Marcel Tisserand diverted the danger wide. 

Six minutes later, the packed arena got a look at one of the greatest sights in the modern game, the five-time Ballon D’or winner on a drive forward. The 37-year-old drove past two defenders but the intervention of a third cleared the danger.




(@AlNassrFC)

For the opening 20 minutes, Ettifaq looked a little more dangerous, perhaps with the hosts a little nervous with the eyes of the world on them, but as the game passed the midway stage of the first half, the Riyadh giants started to get on top.

And then the goal came and while it was not from Ronaldo, the source was a familiar one. Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaiheem’s cross from the left into the six-yard box was perfect. The new signing rose majestically but it was too high, and there was Talisca to finish the job and head home goal number 12 of the season.

Shortly after fans were treated to another familiar sight, that of Ronaldo standing over the ball in a free-kick situation. It seemed to be the perfect distance and the shot went over the bar leaving a wry smile on the face of the taker.




(@SPL_EN)

Ronaldo started to show his class in the second with an early shot from distance went high and wide, he was then soon pulling the strings. Racing on to the ball on the left side, he crossed from the byline to the advancing Pity Martinez to hit on the half-volley from the edge of the area. The Argentine’s well-hit shot went just centimeters over.

Shortly after, Ronaldo was doing it again from the opposite side, dancing past defenders, treating fans to the famous stepovers and then laying the ball off to Talisca, whose rasping shot was heading for the bottom corner, forcing a fine diving save from  Paulo Victor.

The new star did not manage to get on the scoresheet but was driving his team forward at every opportunity and the smiles at the end were wide and the hugs were warm. 

The three points are very welcome to give Al-Nassr, 33, one ahead of Al-Hilal who defeated Abha 2-1 earlier in the day. Al-Ittihad are a point further back in third after defeating Al-Feiha.

Ronaldo is in the middle of an exciting title race and on this performance, is going to have a big part to play.


Marseille lose 3-1 to Nice, Monaco triumph to keep pressure on

Marseille lose 3-1 to Nice, Monaco triumph to keep pressure on
Updated 06 February 2023

Marseille lose 3-1 to Nice, Monaco triumph to keep pressure on

Marseille lose 3-1 to Nice, Monaco triumph to keep pressure on
  • Strasbourg beat Montpellier 2-0 at home to go 17th as they try to move out of the relegation zone

PARIS: Second-place Marseille saw their unbeaten run end as they lost 3-1 at home to Nice on Sunday to slip eight points behind French league leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

Marseille’s first league defeat in 10 games means they were only ahead of third-place Lens on goal difference, with in-form Monaco now two points back in fourth spot. Third place secures a spot in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League next season.

Marseille fans got a first look at club-record signing Vitinha, a forward who joined from Portuguese side Braga for €32 million ($34.5 million). Terem Moffi made his debut for eighth-place Nice after joining from Lorient, where he scored 12 goals this season.

Neither made much of an impression in a first half where Nice’s superior pressing game troubled Marseille and prevented them from getting the ball regularly to playmaker Dimitri Payet.

Vitinha’s lack of familiarity with his teammates and the 35-year-old Payet’s tiring legs played into Nice’s high-octane game and the visitors scored twice at the end of the first half.

Striker Gaetan Laborde’s shot was saved by goalkeeper Pau Lopez but forward Sofiane Diop followed up to head in off the post in the 38th minute. Nice’s second goal in the 44th was similar as Lopez pushed away a shot from midfielder Khephren Thuram, and this time Laborde followed up.

Marseille coach Igor Tudor replaced Vitinha and Payet, with Ruslan Malinovskyi and Alexis Sanchez coming on for the second half. Malinovskyi pulled one back in the 60th with his first goal for the club, turning in a cross from left back Jonathan Clauss.

But Algeria forward Billal Brahimi scored his first goal for Nice in the 86th with a fine curling shot.

Meanwhile, Monaco extended their unbeaten run to seven matches with a 2-0 win at Clermont.

Early goals from central defender Guillermo Maripan and striker Breel Embolo allowed Monaco to control the game. Coach Philippe Clement’s side is in good form heading into next Saturday’s home game against PSG.

Maripan used his aerial ability to head in from Caio Henrique’s cross in the third minute. Ten minutes later Japan forward Takumi Minamino won the ball and fed Russia midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, whose pinpoint cross was headed in by Embolo.

Lens managed only a 1-1 draw at Brest. Defender Jonathan Gradit equalized from close range in the 83rd for Lens after Brest goalkeeper Marco Bizot miskicked the ball following a corner. Striker Jeremy Le Douaron put Brest ahead in the 54th when he slid to meet Pierre Lees-Melou’s low cross to the back post.

Strasbourg beat Montpellier 2-0 at home to go 17th as they try to move out of the relegation zone, with striker Habib Diallo scoring both goals. Diallo netted after just 13 seconds from Dimitri Lienard’s cross and grabbed his second on the stroke of halftime, with the home side down to 10 men after Jean-Eudes Aholou’s red card in the 33rd.

Nantes won 2-0 at Corsican side Ajaccio with second-half goals from forward Evann Guessand and midfielder Ludovic Blas.

Rock-bottom Angers finally snapped their 13-game losing streak — a French league record — but could only draw 0-0 at Lorient.

English striker Folarin Balogun failed to add to his league-leading 14 goals but Reims extended its unbeaten run to 14 games with a 0-0 draw at 19th-place Auxerre, who had lost their seven previous games and kept a rare clean sheet.

On Saturday, Lionel Messi’s second-half strike helped a lackluster PSG beat Toulouse 2-1.


Bayern down Wolfsburg 4-2 to reclaim Bundesliga lead

Bayern down Wolfsburg 4-2 to reclaim Bundesliga lead
Updated 06 February 2023

Bayern down Wolfsburg 4-2 to reclaim Bundesliga lead

Bayern down Wolfsburg 4-2 to reclaim Bundesliga lead
  • Wolfsburg pressured from the start but Bayern struck first in the ninth minute when Coman’s cross for Muller evaded everyone and crept inside the far post
  • Second-half goals from Jens Stage and Marvin Ducksch earned Werder Bremen a 2-0 win at Stuttgart

BERLIN: Bayern Munich held on despite Joshua Kimmich’s sending off to beat Wolfsburg 4-2 and return to the top of the Bundesliga on Sunday.

Kimmich was sent off with his second yellow card in the 54th but Wolfsburg was unable to make its dominance count as the visitors delivered a lesson in efficiency.

Kingsley Coman scored twice and Thomas Muller and Jamal Musiala added two more while Bayern also needed goalkeeper Yann Sommer at his best to secure the team’s first Bundesliga win of the year.

“The result was important, the victory matters above all else,” Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann said. “We were too careless after the third goal, not concentrated enough and we allowed a bit too much. But we can be positive looking ahead with these three points.”

It was enough for Bayern to move back to one point clear of Union Berlin.

Wolfsburg had 22 shots at goal compared to the 10-time defending champions’ nine.

Wolfsburg pressured from the start but Bayern struck first in the ninth minute when Coman’s cross for Muller evaded everyone and crept inside the far post.

Coman wasn’t finished. The France winger met João Cancelo’s cross with a volley for 2-0 five minutes later, right after Wolfsburg missed a great opportunity to level.

Muller, making his 427th appearance for Bayern to equal Gerd Muller’s record, celebrated by heading in Kimmich’s free kick for Bayern’s third in only the 19th.

Despite the goals, Wolfsburg remained competitive and deservedly pulled one back through Jakub Kaminski before the break.

The home team pushed for more in the scond half, missing two good chances before Kimmich was sent off with his second yellow card for a foul on Maximilian Arnold.

Wolfsburg enjoyed more possession but failed to make it count before Musiala snatched Bayern’s fourth with a fine individual effort in the 73rd.

Mattias Svanberg pulled another back for Wolfsburg in the 81st and Yannick Gerhardt thought he’d made it 4-3 three minutes later, only to see the goal ruled out through VAR for an apparent foul in the buildup.

Earlier, second-half goals from Jens Stage and Marvin Ducksch earned Werder Bremen a 2-0 win at Stuttgart for the visitors’ second consecutive victory.

It lifted promoted Bremen to eighth while Stuttgart dropped back into the relegation zone. Stuttgart haven’t won a game since mid-November.


Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead

Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead
Updated 06 February 2023

Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead

Barcelona exploit Madrid’s stumble to open 8-point lead
  • Alba, Gavi and Raphinha scored a goal each in the second half to give Barcelona their fifth straight victory in the league

MADRID: Barcelona took advantage of Real Madrid’s stumble to kick off the second half of the season with another win and enjoy their biggest lead so far at the top of the Spanish league.

After Madrid’s 1-0 loss at Mallorca, Barcelona extended their 10-game winning streak in all competitions with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Sevilla on Sunday to open an eight-point lead over Madrid after 20 of 38 rounds.

It is the biggest lead by any team this season, putting the Catalan club in firm control as they chase their first league title since 2018-19.

“We are having a great season. We have been playing well, not giving many chances for our opponents,” Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said. “It’s eight points. There’s a lot of league left, but it’s a good gap.”

Alba, Gavi and Raphinha scored a goal each in the second half to give Barcelona their fifth straight victory in the league.

The last game Barcelona failed to win was a 1-1 league draw against Espanyol last year.

Sevilla, who got off to a surprisingly awful start to the season, were coming off two straight league wins that had helped it move further away from the relegation zone. They dropped to 16th place with the loss, two points from the drop zone.

Marco Asensio missed a penalty kick in Madrid’s loss at Mallorca in their last match before traveling to Morocco to play at the Club World Cup.

Madrid were depleted by injuries and rested some players ahead of the Club World Cup,

“We already expected a very tough match,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “We had our chances but couldn’t take advantage of them.”

Ancelotti couldn’t count on several injured starters, including striker Karim Benzema, defender Eder Militao and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was dropped from the squad at the last minute after getting injured during the warmup. Ancelotti also rested midfielders Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who came on in the second half.

Asensio missed a chance to equalize when his 60th-minute penalty kick was saved by Mallorca goalkeeper Pedrag Rajkovic after Madrid forward Vinicius Junior had been fouled. Madrid’s last chance was a header by Antonio Rüdiger that went narrowly wide deep into stoppage time.

The hosts got on the board with an own-goal by Nacho Fernandez, who was replacing Militao in defense. Nacho went for a high cross and deflected the ball into his own net over goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, who started in place of Courtois.

“I hit the ball with my head and unfortunately it went into the top corner,” Nacho said. “It was a complicated match, against a team that is having a good season. It’s a pity that we let three points get away.”

Madrid were coming off a win against Valencia after being held by Real Sociedad. Its opponent in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Wednesday will be Egyptian club Al Ahly.

It was the second win in three league matches for Mallorca, and the fourth straight at home. They remained midtable with 28 points from 20 matches.

“It’s a good result, moves us further away from the relegation zone,” Mallorca’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre said. “But there are many matches left, we can’t relax.”

Vinicius was shown a yellow card and will be suspended for Madrid’s next league game against last-place Elche.

Real Sociedad missed a chance to move within three points of Madrid after losing 1-0 to Valladolid at home.

It was the third winless game for the Basque Country club after a nine-game winning streak in all competitions. Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss to Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, and a 0-0 draw at Madrid in the league.

Newly signed Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a second-half winner for 13th-place Valladolid, who have won two in a row after five straight losses in all competitions.

Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 defeat at Girona, a result that extended their losing streak to five matches in all competitions.

Valencia have only one win in its last 12 league matches and is sitting just outside the relegation zone.

Girona moved to 11th place.


Martinez scores again as Inter beat Milan in Serie A derby

Martinez scores again as Inter beat Milan in Serie A derby
Updated 06 February 2023

Martinez scores again as Inter beat Milan in Serie A derby

Martinez scores again as Inter beat Milan in Serie A derby
  • It was Martinez’s 12th league goal of the season, putting him four behind leading Serie A goalscorer Victor Osimhen

MILAN: World Cup winner Lautaro Martinez continued his roaring start to the year as he set Inter Milan on their way to a 1-0 victory over AC Milan in the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.

Martínez has been in fantastic form since helping Argentina win the World Cup in December and he netted his seventh goal in his last eight matches as Inter consolidated second spot in Serie A with a second win over their fierce rival in less than three weeks.

It was Martinez’s 12th league goal of the season, putting him four behind leading Serie A goalscorer Victor Osimhen, who scored another two on Sunday to help runaway leader Napoli win 3-0 at lowly Spezia.

Inter are 13 points behind Napoli and three points above third-place Roma. They are five points above Lazio, Atalanta and Milan, which has slipped to sixth after a woeful start to the year.

The Rossoneri’s winless run extended to seven matches. That streak included elimination from the Italian Cup and a 3-0 loss to Inter in the Super Cup.

Before the derby, Milan had also conceded an unprecedented nine goals in their past two Serie A matches.

With that perhaps playing in their minds, the Rossoneri defended deep from the start and rarely got out of their own half. Milan had to wait almost an hour for its first shot, and that was off target.

Inter almost took the lead in the 10th minute but Martínez headed just wide of the right upright.

Martinez did better in the 34th as he got away from Simon Kjær at the near post to get his head to a corner and it took a deflection off the Milan defender on the way in.

Romelu Lukaku thought he had scored his first league goal since August, late on, but the whistle had already gone for a foul by him on Malick Thiaw.

Martínez also had a goal ruled out for offside.

Osimhen appears to be firing Napoli to the Serie A title as the Nigeria forward netted for the fifth straight league match.

Spezia had defended well against Napoli’s stellar attack but gifted the visitors a penalty less than 10 seconds after the break when defender Arkadiusz Reca was trying to hold off Matteo Politano but didn’t anticipate that the bounce of the ball would take it onto his outstretched arm.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia converted the penalty, prompting the game to open up.

Osimhen had a goal ruled out in the 62nd for pulling back Mattia Caldara but he headed in his first in the 68th and doubled his tally five minutes later following another assist from Kvaratskhelia.

Spezia remained five points above the relegation zone.

Torino beat Udinese 1-0 to leapfrog their opponent into the Europa Conference League qualifying spot.

Torino are one point above Udinese and Bologna, who won 2-1 at Fiorentina for its first victory in Florence in 13 years.


Ancer closes out unique victory at PIF Saudi International

Golf Saudi CEO Noah Alireza hands Abraham Ancer the trophy. (Golf Saudi)
Golf Saudi CEO Noah Alireza hands Abraham Ancer the trophy. (Golf Saudi)
Updated 05 February 2023

Ancer closes out unique victory at PIF Saudi International

Golf Saudi CEO Noah Alireza hands Abraham Ancer the trophy. (Golf Saudi)
  • Mexican matches 19-under tournament record in first ever pillar to post win
  • American Cameron Young finishes second ahead of Australian Lucas Herbert

JEDDAH: Abraham Ancer completed the first ever pillar to post victory in the $5 million PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers on Sunday, closing with a 68 to card a record equaling 19 under par for the tournament, two ahead of American Cameron Young.

The 31-year-old Mexican conducted a masterclass in front running at the Asian Tour’s season-opening event, adding the title to his WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational win in 2021.

“That was my first ever wire-to-wire win,” said Ancer, whose steadiness at the helm was made possible by a solid, repeatable golf swing and sound putting stroke.

“I just didn’t think about where I was on the leaderboard. I just felt like I just want to do that again. I played really good the first round, and I just felt like I wanted to keep that going.

“I kept telling myself, just imagine if I was in like 20th place and just got to go out there and shoot a low one. It worked out. I stayed in the moment, didn’t really think too much about the previous shots or what was coming after. So, I’m really happy with my frame of mind during these four rounds.”

Ancer led by two from Young at the start of the day and was caught by the American on the seventh. But by the turn he had moved one ahead.

A closely fought contest was expected over the closing holes but Young made a bogey on the par four 13th, where he found the water with his approach shot, then doubled the par four 15th, after chipping short and taking three on the green.

Although Young rallied with birdies on 16 and 18 it was not enough to stop Ancer becoming only the second ever Mexican winner on the Asian Tour, after Carlos Espinosa took the 1995 Canlubang Classic in the Philippines.

Remarkably, despite the windy conditions during the week at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, Ancer dropped just two shots over the four rounds: on the ninth on Sunday and 17th on Friday.

Young, who matched Ancer’s 68 on Sunday, said: “It’s always disappointing but I think I played pretty well, and I’m playing a bunch the next few weeks. I think I’m in a nice place moving forward.

“He (Ancer) played some really nice golf. He just didn’t make really any mistakes. I think he maybe made two bogeys this whole week, and with all the wind blowing as hard as it was, that’s, one, tremendous control of your golf ball, and two, I think just a lot of mental toughness.”

The result was Young’s eighth top-three finish since last year, following a second in The Open and joint third in the PGA Championship.

“I’m proud of all those finishes,” he said. “There’s nothing I’ve thrown away, I don’t think. If one or two of them was a four-shot lead that I didn’t finish off, that’s a bummer, but I’ve been beat a lot. I haven’t thrown any of them away.”

Australian Lucas Herbert carded a 65 on Sunday to finish third, with Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana shooting a 66 to secure fourth spot and cement his place as one of Asia’s rising stars.

It was also a significant week for Arab golfers, with nine taking part in the PIF Saudi International. Saudi Arabia’s Saud Al-Sharif and Faisal Salhab made their professional debuts at the event, where amateurs Issa Abou El-Ela from Egypt and El Mehdi Fakori from Morocco both made the cut.