Ronaldo firebolt seals crucial 2-1 win for Al-Nassr in Roshn SPL title race

Ronaldo's goal, his ninth in nine games since his January debut, sparked a crucial 2-1 win over Abha. (Twitter/@AlNassrFC)
Ronaldo's goal, his ninth in nine games since his January debut, sparked a crucial 2-1 win over Abha. (Twitter/@AlNassrFC)
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Updated 19 March 2023
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Ronaldo firebolt seals crucial 2-1 win for Al-Nassr in Roshn SPL title race

Ronaldo firebolt seals crucial 2-1 win for Al-Nassr in Roshn SPL title race
  • Al-Ittihad leading by only 1 point, with 9 games left
  • Champions Al-Hilal and third-placed Al-Shabab still in the hunt

RIYADH: On Saturday night in Riyadh Cristiano Ronaldo punched the air with delight when the fulltime whistle sounded and all of Mrsool Park celebrated with him.

If Al-Nassr do end up lifting the Roshn Saudi League trophy this season, they will look back at this game, and especially Ronaldo’s late free-kick as a crucial moment.

That goal, his ninth in nine games since his January debut, sparked a crucial 2-1 win over Abha to keep Al-Nassr’s title challenge on track.

With 12 minutes remaining, the hosts were a goal down and running out of ideas. With leaders Al-Ittihad picking up an impressive 5-1 win at sixth-place Al-Fateh earlier in the day to go four points clear at the top, the pressure was on Al-Nassr to get the victory. Now they are just a point behind with nine to play.

It was a tough game however. The former Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus man got another taste of just how competitive Saudi Arabian football is after a grueling 100 minutes plus of action.

Just four days after his Al-Nassr team defeated the same opposition 3-1 in the quarterfinals of the King’s Cup, they found the league version of Abha a much harder nut to crack.

On Tuesday, Al-Nassr were ahead after 10 seconds and were never in danger of losing but that was not the case on Saturday as they struggled to break down the southwesterners.

They received a warning after just five minutes after the visitors had a goal ruled out by VAR.

Goalkeeper Nawaf Al-Aqidi could only parry a Saad Bguir free-kick and while Amine Atouchi reacted quickly to fire home the rebound, the Moroccan was adjudged to have been just offside.

Ronaldo had his first real sight of goal after 17 minutes, running onto a lofted ball and into the area. Just as the Portuguese star was about to pull the trigger, he was well-tackled by Iraqi defender Saad Natiq and claims for a penalty were rightly waved away.

For the third successive league game, Al-Nassr found themselves behind as Abha scored in spectacular fashion after 27 minutes. Abdulfattah Adam, who scored on Tuesday, stepped away from Alvaro Gonzalez on the right side of the area and then sent a thunderous shot into the roof of the net to give the goalkeeper no chance.

The 28-year-old is on loan from Al-Nassr and while his celebration was respectfully muted, it was nonetheless a painful goal to concede.

By the break, Al-Nassr had almost 60 percent possession but had rarely troubled the Abha goal except for the final seconds when Ronaldo headed straight into the arms of Devis Epassy.

Anderson Talisca had their best chance on the hour when his stabbed shot from close range was blocked by the Cameroonian goalkeeper.

Frustrations grew with Ronaldo complaining to the referee about what he saw as excessive time wasting and then exhorting the yellow masses in the stands to raise the noise levels.

Instead it was Abha who had the better chances with Adam shooting just wide with 14 minutes left with only the goalkeeper to beat. He was left to rue that miss moments later as Ronaldo fired home a 30-meter free-kick that found a gap in the wall and ended up in the bottom corner.

It got worse for Abha 11 minutes later as Zakaria Al-Sudani was shown a second yellow card. If the traffic was not already one-way, it was now and the visitors were hanging on for a point.

That was not enough for Al-Nassr as they were awarded a penalty with eight minutes remaining. Talisca stepped up to score goal number 13 and that was that.

The celebrations at the end were tinged with relief but Al-Nassr again found a way to win and are still very much in the hunt.

Elsewhere Al-Hilal made short work of Ettifaq with a 3-0 win. First half goals from Odion Ighalo and Mohamed Kanno put the champions in control and a late goal from Salem Al-Dawsari gave fans even more reason to cheer.

Al-Hilal are still, just about, in the race, 11 points behind Ittihad with two games in hand. Al-Shabab stumbled with a 2-2 draw at Al-Raed and stay in third, but are now six points off the pace.


Al-Hilal too strong for Al-Ettifaq, stretch winning run to 24 matches

Al-Hilal too strong for Al-Ettifaq, stretch winning run to 24 matches
Updated 15 sec ago
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Al-Hilal too strong for Al-Ettifaq, stretch winning run to 24 matches

Al-Hilal too strong for Al-Ettifaq, stretch winning run to 24 matches
  • Victory restored Riyadh club’s seven-point lead above Al-Nassr at top of Roshn Saudi League

RIYADH: Al-Hilal won 2-0 at Al-Ettifaq on Monday to restore their seven-point lead above Al-Nassr at the top of the Roshn Saudi League.

It was also the club’s 24th successive victory in all competitions and showed the eighth-placed home team what was required to challenge at the summit of the table.

Al-Ettifaq had the busiest winter transfer window of any team in the top tier and collected a welcome win last week at Al-Khaleej. Al-Hilal are, however, a very different proposition and while the team from Dammam fought hard, the 18-time champions were just too strong.

Al-Hilal should have taken the lead in the 16th minute, but Kalidou Koulibaly’s low shot on the turn inside the area was well-saved by Paulo Victor. Soon after, Renan Lodi made a marauding run forward, though his fierce shot from outside the area just cleared the bar.

With around eight minutes of the half remaining, however, Al-Ettifaq coach Steven Gerrard must have been quietly satisfied. The champions may have made most of the running, but it was goalless, and the hosts had given themselves a platform to build on in the second half.

But then Al-Hilal struck twice before the break. The first goal was from a simple though well-executed corner from the right. It came from the boot of Ruben Neves and while it seemed as if the green shirts massing around the near post would be able to deal with it, in ran Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to send a bullet header into the back of the net for his ninth league goal of the season.

It was only one goal and still possible for the English tactician to get his men back in the dressing room to regroup. But Salem Al-Dawsari had other ideas.

Once again, Al-Ettifaq will be asking questions of themselves defensively, especially Mohammed Abdulrahman. The right-back first gave the ball away and was then beaten too easily by the Asian player of the year who cut in from the left, advanced toward the near post, and slipped the ball past Victor for his 10th league goal of the season.

The half ended on a high of sorts with Gini Wijnaldum testing Yassine Bounou with a shot from outside the area.

Al-Ettifaq tried their utmost after the break but still struggled to create clear chances.

The game was almost settled just after the hour as Milinkovic-Savic whipped in a wicked shot from 20 meters out which beat Victor but came back off the inside of the post and, despite the best efforts of Malcom, eventually out to safety.

With eight minutes remaining, Al-Ettifaq came close to making it a very interesting final stage. Karl Toko-Ekambi advanced toward the Al-Hilal box and, flanked by blue shirts, sent a low shot from the right side that rolled just past the post.

With it went the home team’s chances of getting anything from the game and, in fact, the Blues looked likelier to get a third with Michael coming close in the final seconds.

In the end, Al-Hilal had to settle for 2-0 while Al-Ettifaq, who stay in eighth, and coach Gerrard know that there should be easier tasks ahead.

Right now, it would seem no team can stop Al-Hilal.


Hong Kong, Oman take charge in U19 Cricket World Cup qualifier on disappointing day for Saudis

Hong Kong, Oman take charge in U19 Cricket World Cup qualifier on disappointing day for Saudis
Updated 11 min 40 sec ago
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Hong Kong, Oman take charge in U19 Cricket World Cup qualifier on disappointing day for Saudis

Hong Kong, Oman take charge in U19 Cricket World Cup qualifier on disappointing day for Saudis
  • All is not lost for Saudi Arabia in Group B, and they will look to their match with Bhutan on Wednesday as a chance to get their qualification campaign back on track

BANGKOK: Saudi Arabia’s International Cricket Council U19 World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a bad start on Monday when the team were beaten resoundingly by Oman.

The Omanis became the first side in the Asian qualifying tournament so far to bat their full 50 overs as they hit 222 for the loss of eight wickets.

In reply, Saudi Arabia could not mount a serious challenge to their target of 223 and they were bowled out for 81 in less than 20 overs.

Oman started their innings steadily, but Fahad Munir claimed the first wicket in the eighth over when he bowled Thineth Sumanasekera for seven, which left the Omanis on 29 for one. The other opener, Jeet Shah, steadied the nerves, hitting 55 from 92 balls.

As more wickets began to fall to the Saudis, Oman, on 93 for six in the 29th over, were looking likely to be bowled out for a modest total.

Shah was still at the crease but No. 8 batsman, Nitish Nadendla, changed the course of the innings with a superb 60 from 65 balls — including three fours and two sixes — as he added 56 in nine overs before departing with the score at 149 for seven.

Prathiesh Ramesh also made a half-century, adding 61 runs for the eighth wicket partnership with Nadendla before being the eighth wicket to fall with the score on 210.

Saudi Arabia could not bowl out Oman who reached 222 for eight, a total which also included 43 extras and had the Saudis feeling the heat of the sun for more than three-and-a-half hours.

The Saudi team’s response was to lose five wickets for 32 inside the first 10 overs. Opening bowler Puladith Medagoda took two wickets but it was the left-arm spin bowling of Arya Sampat that did most of the damage as he took four wickets for 21 runs.

Munir made the highest score of the innings with 15 and Ahmed Faisal was the only other batter who managed double figures, scoring 12.

All is not lost for Saudi Arabia in Group B, and they will look to their match with Bhutan on Wednesday as a chance to get their qualification campaign back on track.

Bhutan were bowled out for 85 in their match against Hong Kong, also on Monday, but pushed their opponents all the way, forcing the loss of six wickets as they reached their total of 86 within 25 overs.


Furor erupts over Ronaldo’s apparent obscene taunt in Saudi league match

Furor erupts over Ronaldo’s apparent obscene taunt in Saudi league match
Updated 26 February 2024
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Furor erupts over Ronaldo’s apparent obscene taunt in Saudi league match

Furor erupts over Ronaldo’s apparent obscene taunt in Saudi league match
  • Critcism of the 39-year-old Portuguese has been swift and media reports say that the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has opened an investigation
  • Portuguese star scored a first half penalty, before Brazilian Talisca’s late brace, including a goal four minutes from time, secured the win for Al-Nassr

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo has come under heavy criticism after seemingly making an offensive gesture following Al-Nassr’s 3-2 victory over Al-Shabab in a Saudi Pro League match on Sunday.
The Portuguese star scored a first half penalty, before Brazilian Talisca’s late brace, including a goal four minutes from time, secured the win for Al-Nassr.
After the final whistle, videos posted on social media showed the five-time Ballon d’Or winner cupping his ear and repeatedly thrusting his hand forward near his pelvis, seemingly aimed at rival Al-Shabab supporters.
In the background, chants of “Messi” could be heard, referring to Ronaldo’s longstanding football rival from Argentina.
While the incident was not captured by television cameras, critcism of the 39-year-old Portuguese has been swift and media reports say that the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has opened an investigation.
Ronaldo, who completed a lucrative move to the Riyadh-based club in December 2022, has a league-leading 22 goals this season. Al-Nassr trail fellow big-spending rivals Al-Hilal by four points, having played a game more.
Al-Nassr is also in contention for the Asian Champions League — a tournament it has never won — and will play Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates in the quarterfinals next month.


UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table
Updated 26 February 2024
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl continue to set pace at the top of the table
  • Reigning champions Shabab Al-Ahli return to winning ways, while Al-Ain stay in second with win over Baniyas

Al-Wasl’s searing pace at the top of the standings continued, champions Shabab Al-Ahli returned to winning ways and there was more misery for promoted clubs during the ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 14.

A first full schedule since late December — a lengthy pause for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup was extended by multiple weather postponements — began with bottom-placed Emirates Club and second-bottom Hatta suffering 10th defeats of the season.

Goals for Raniel, on 10 seconds, and Uzbekistan midfielder Azizbek Amonov helped Khor Fakkan prevail 2-0 against the latter, while rampant Wasl breezed past the former via the same scoreline thanks to efforts from nine-goal UAE forward Fabio De Lima and prolific South Korea center-back Jung Seung-hyun. They now lead the table by eight points.

Shabab Al-Ahi, meanwhile, had a trio of Brazil-born scorers to thank when they ended a two-match winless streak in their comfortable 3-0 victory versus 12th-placed Ajman. Also, a 94th-minute tap-in from promising youngster Josna Epifani Loulendo kept the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League quarterfinalists Al-Ain in the hunt with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Baniyas.

There was drama in Abu Dhabi when Mirel Radoi’s league bow for Al-Jazira ended in a 3-2 defeat to Alfred Schreuder’s rapidly improving Al-Nasr, featuring iconic striker Ali Mabkhout’s 96th-minute saved penalty. Also, Caio netted when Sharjah beat Ittihad Kalba 1-0 and Al-Wahda came from behind to down Al-Bataeh 2-1.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Igor Jesus (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

It has been an eventful few weeks for Shabab Al-Ahli’s prodigiously talented, but injury impacted, youngster.

Months of speculation about a return to Brazil or a move to Europe’s major leagues looked to have been ended by this month’s announcement that Igor Jesus had gained Emirati citizenship. It has put the 22-year-old on a fast track to eventually represent the UAE senior side, which is a major boost following January’s disappointing round-of-16 exit at the Asian Cup.

On the pitch, the ex-Coritiba attacker has been rarely seen this term. Yet more knee problems had restricted him to just five league run-outs across 201 minutes, prior to Sunday’s visit of Ajman.

If anyone needed a reminder about Jesus’ residual ability, it came versus the Orange Brigade.

A precision-guided seventh-minute corner from UAE prospect Harib Abdalla was nodded home. Jesus would add an assist to his name in the second half when he played in Guilherme Bala, another naturalized Emirati/Brazilian, who did the rest with an adroit turn and impudent low finish.

The ice pack applied to Jesus’ leg showed caution when he was called off to the bench which included an instant debut for prominent Iran center midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi.

There is such youth and electricity among Shabab Al-Ahli’s attacking options. They must regularly spark to stand any chance of hauling back Wasl.

Goal of the week: Ahmad Nourollahi (Al-Wahda)

Ahmad Nourollahi’s garlanded career has contained many standout moments.

From representing his nation at the 2022 World Cup, to hoarding trophies with Persepolis and adding last season’s ADNOC Pro League crown to his resume at Shabab Al-Ahli.

Acrobatic scissor kicks, however, were not associated with him. That is, before, Sunday’s comeback triumph at Bataeh.

A hopeful cross from right-back Abdullah Al-Karbi was hung up towards the penalty box. There appeared little danger, at this point.

Nourollahi’s lethal combination of athleticism and imagination then sent the ball arrowing into the bottom corner, at the start of the second half. This would propel fifth-placed Wahda to victory, earned through impressive Uzbekistan winter recruit Khojimat Erkinov.

Coach of the week: Alfred Schreuder (Al-Nasr)

UAE football’s sleeping giant is showing signs of stirring.

Nasr have had the history, glamorous Dubai location and outstanding Al-Maktoum Stadium, plus a list of stellar previous players that includes Yohan Cabaye, Alvaro Negredo and Luca Toni. Yet even the hint of glory has eluded them for so long.

This might be changing under Schreuder. The former Ajax and Al-Ain tactician inspired a third win from their last five league run-outs at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

It came through a blend of ex-Benfica maestro Adel Taarabt, plus young stars Abdoulaye Toure and Moussa Ndiaye.

Nasr are now comfortably midtable in seventh, after flirting with relegation under Goran Tufegdzic.

It is now up to the club to provide Schreuder with the order required to create sustained success. With six permanent managers since October 2019, this is not guaranteed.

Assessing Al-Ain’s Asian outlook

Al-Ain are flying the flag for their nation in next month’s AFC Champions League quarterfinals.

No less than Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr await on March 4 and 11, in a West Asia side of the draw packed by three heavyweight Saudi Arabian challengers.

The task is a stern one if The Boss are to add to their 2002-2003 continental title. Certainly, it will require improvement from their last-gasp victory at Baniyas Stadium.

Those three points, however, came at a cost with leading 11-goal marksman Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba being removed through injury. There is no natural replacement for the Togo star within their ranks.

South Korea anchorman Park Yong-woo has gone deep into this tournament before at Ulsan Hyundai.

Steady progress under legendary ex-Argentine, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo has seen six wins accrued from their last seven matches in all competitions. The Boss are also second domestically, with a game in hand.

Crucially, Crespo must learn lessons from the February 2023 7-0 blitzing of his Al-Duhail side by holders Al-Hilal.


108 drivers gearing up for all-female 2024 Rally Jameel

108 drivers gearing up for all-female 2024 Rally Jameel
Updated 26 February 2024
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108 drivers gearing up for all-female 2024 Rally Jameel

108 drivers gearing up for all-female 2024 Rally Jameel
  • Participants from 38 countries will tackle a new route in the contest’s third edition between March 4-8

JEDDAH: The stage is set for Saudi Arabia’s all-female Rally Jameel, with 108 competitors from 38 countries poised to take on a challenging new route for the race’s third edition.

This year’s edition, themed “She Shifts the World,” begins in Hail on March 4 and concludes at King Abdullah Economic City on International Women’s Day, March 8.

The all-women’s off-road navigation rally includes five stages and covers 1,600 km of Saudi Arabia’s off-road terrain.

The 2024 Rally Jameel will traverse Hail, AlUla, Umluj, Yanbu, and KAEC in Rabigh.

The endurance competition is based more on precision driving and navigating than speed, with drivers having to utilize maps, compasses and roadbooks.

The event is supported by the FIA’s Women in Motorsport and the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation.

Munir Khoja, managing director, marketing communications at Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, said: “As we gear up for the third edition, we are deeply encouraged by the growing interest from participants, particularly on an international scale, with a remarkable increase in global participation from 38 countries, compared to 15 in the inaugural edition of the rally.”

“This enthusiasm underscores our commitment to support Saudi Arabia’s vision for empowering women,” he added. “With the addition of new and more challenging routes, we continue to champion and contribute to the advancement of motorsport regionally and globally, representing the core values of Rally Jameel. We extend our gratitude to all our partners, organizers, and sponsors for making this event a reality.”