Ronaldo and Al-Hilal peg back Al-Ittihad on a dramatic day to keep title hunt alive

With Cristiano Ronaldo inspiring Al-Nassr to a 2-0 win at Al-Tai, the gap at the top is now three points with three to play. (Twitter/@AlNassrFC)
With Cristiano Ronaldo inspiring Al-Nassr to a 2-0 win at Al-Tai, the gap at the top is now three points with three to play. (Twitter/@AlNassrFC)
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Updated 17 May 2023

Ronaldo and Al-Hilal peg back Al-Ittihad on a dramatic day to keep title hunt alive

With Cristiano Ronaldo inspiring Al-Nassr to a 2-0 win at Al-Tai, the gap at the top is now three points with three to play.
  • A late goal from Al-Hilal doomed Roshn Saudi League leaders Al-Ittihad to a 2-2 draw, while Al-Nassr grabbed a 2-0 victory at Al-Tai
  • The results mean the gap of the top of the league between Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr is down to 3 points with three games left to play

RIYADH: The Roshn Saudi League title race was blown wide open on Tuesday night, thanks to the efforts of Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo and a spirited comeback from Al-Hilal.

At half-time, Al-Ittihad were 2-1 ahead in their game against Al-Hilal and provisionally sitting seven points clear of second-place Al-Nassr, who were being held to a goalless draw at Al-Tai.

But thanks to a last-minute strike from Michael Delgado, the league leaders were held to a 2-2 draw. With Ronaldo ultimately inspiring his Al-Nassr teammates to a 2-0 victory, the gap at the top is now down to three points, with three games left to play. For the second time in two seasons, the Tigers are in danger of letting the trophy slip from their grasp just when they were about to get their paws on it.

The late equalizer from Al-Hilal was in stark contrast to the early dominance of Al-Ittihad. On paper, this test at the home of the defending champions was the most difficult for coach Nuno Santo and his men but, for the first 30 minutes or so, they made it look look easy.

The visitors, cheered on by a large contingent of traveling fans, oozed class from the kick-off and Ahmed Hegazi soon headed an early corner just over.

That did not matter as the Tigers went ahead after eight minutes. Igor Coronado entered the left side of the area, swapped passes with Abderrazak Hamdallah and fired home a low shot at the near post. The hosts claimed that the Brazilian had fouled Moussa Marega in the build-up but the referee was not swayed.

The attacks came in waves, with the shell-shocked Riyadh giants unable to get out of their own half, and Coronada almost added a second after 15 minutes with a free-kick that had the goalkeeper in trouble. Soon after, Hamdallah really should have scored after turning into space on the edge of the six-yard box but his shot was saved, as was an effort from Romarinho.

It seemed to be a matter of time before the second came but then a deflected shot from Marega, well-saved by Marcelo Grohe, served as a reminder that Al-Hilal can never be counted out.

Al-Ittihad did move further ahead on the half hour. Hamdallah chested the ball down on the left side of the area and fed the onrushing Ahmed Bamsaud, whose first-time, left-footed shot gave Abdullah Al-Mayouf no chance. It was not only a beautiful team goal but a strike worthy of new champions.

Al-Hilal might have been exhausted after their recent commitments, missing key players and without a coach after Ramon Diaz said goodbye, leaving son Emiliano in charge until the end of the season, but few had expected this.

Just before the break however, they pulled one back. Only Musab Al-Juwayr knows for sure whether his cross from the right was meant as a cross, or he had spotted Grohe off his line and tried to beat the Brazilian at the near post. Regardless, it ended in a goal. The goalkeeper scrambled back to palm the ball away but failed to prevent it crossing the line.

The atmosphere changed. Now the pressure was on the leaders, with Luciano Vietto’s free-kick hitting the post. Al-Ittihad were happy, therefore, when the half-time whistle sounded and happier to learn that Al-Nassr were tied 0-0 at Al-Tai.

Al-Nassr knew they had to win whatever happened elsewhere. Ronaldo should perhaps have broken the deadlock in the 23rd minute but he headed Talisca’s cross straight into the arms of Victor Braga.

Then, just before half-time, the Brazilian flew through the air to push a fierce shot from five-time Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldo away from the top corner.

Soon after the restart however Ronaldo fired home from the spot as Al-Nassr got the goal they so badly needed and, with nine minutes remaining, Talisca sealed the win with a low shot from inside the area.

They then had to hope that Al-Hilal could get one more goal. They certainly did their best, pushing forward at every opportunity and leaving themselves open to Al-Ittihad counterattacks in what was another pulsating half of football.

And then, in the 96th minute, Michael’s header was saved by Grohe but the goalkeeper could not keep out the rebound from inside the six-yard box.

The home fans went mad, and Al-Nassr supporters must surely have been jumping up and down too. Now, anything can happen.

‘Team with best bowlers’ will win World Cup, says Pakistan’s Shadab Khan

‘Team with best bowlers’ will win World Cup, says Pakistan’s Shadab Khan
Updated 15 sec ago

‘Team with best bowlers’ will win World Cup, says Pakistan’s Shadab Khan

‘Team with best bowlers’ will win World Cup, says Pakistan’s Shadab Khan
  • Criticized for his Asia Cup performance, Khan said he ‘will be playing with a fresh mindset’
  • The Pakistani all-rounder praises India’s ‘superb welcome,’ says hospitality has been ‘fantastic’

HYDERABAD: Pakistan’s spin bowling all-rounder Shadab Khan Sunday said the team with the strongest bowling unit, capable of stemming the runs on India’s batting-friendly pitches will win the World Cup.
The 24-year-old is leading Pakistan’s spin attack that has come under severe criticism for not taking wickets in the middle overs.
Shadab himself managed just six wickets in five Asia Cup games last month with four coming against outsiders Nepal in a tournament where Pakistan crashed out in Super Four stage.
But Shadab hoped Pakistan’s bowling can stage a comeback at the World Cup which gets underway on Thursday.
“I think the team that has the best bowling will win the World Cup because the pitches will produce high totals,” Shadab told a news conference.
Pakistan suffered a five-wicket loss to New Zealand in their first warm-up match of the tournament on Friday.
They face Australia in their second warm-up game — also in Hyderabad — on Tuesday before opening their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands at the same venue three days later.
Despite losing frontline pacer Naseem Shah to a shoulder injury, Shadab insists Pakistan still boast a world class attack.
“Of course Naseem will be missed, but our bowlers are world class so if we perform well in bowling then we can achieve the best results.”
Leg-break bowler Shadab, who has 88 wickets from 64 ODI matches, vowed to lift his own game in the seven-week World Cup.
“Maybe there was a mental barrier and I think that will not be there now because of the rest I have had. The past is past and when the World Cup matches come I will be playing with a fresh mindset.”
Shadab also backed out-of-form Fakhar Zaman who was not asked to bat in Friday’s warm-up game.
“Fakhar is an impact player, we all know that,” said Shadab of the left-hander who managed just 65 runs in four Asia Cup innings.
“We have given him mental space and we need to back an impact player like him.”
Shadab also said the players were overwhelmed by the hospitality since their arrival in Hyderabad under tight security on Wednesday.
“It’s been a superb welcome. People coming to the hotel and their hospitality has been fantastic.
“The food is delicious. I fear our fat levels and weight will go over the limit!”
He added: “Hopefully, we get the same hospitality in Ahmedabad when we play India,” said Shadab of Pakistan’s high-voltage game against their arch-rivals on October 14.

Al-Ittihad ready for AFC Champions League challenge, coach says

Al-Ittihad ready for AFC Champions League challenge, coach says
Updated 01 October 2023

Al-Ittihad ready for AFC Champions League challenge, coach says

Al-Ittihad ready for AFC Champions League challenge, coach says
  • Pressure ‘will not be an obstacle to us delivering the expected performance,’ Nuno Santo says
  • Saudi team will play Iranian side Sepahan in Isfahan on Monday night

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad coach Nuno Santo said a spate of injuries and a crowded fixture list would not prevent his team putting up a strong performance in the second round of the AFC Champions League.

The Jeddah giants play Iranian side Sepahan in Isfahan on Monday night.

“We have a big match against a good and organized team, and I personally know their coach,” the Portuguese told a press conference.

“We are currently working on preparing the players through recovery due to the proximity of match dates. We are suffering from the continuous absence of players due to injuries and we are constantly working on finding solutions,” he said.

“We have exceptional players and the pressure of the matches will not be an obstacle to us delivering the expected performance.”

Santo made special reference to the quality of his goalkeepers.

“Goalkeeping at Al-Ittihad is exceptional, with the presence of two great goalkeepers and this year we acquired the experienced Abdullah Al-Mayouf, who has a great track record in this tournament.”

Team Abu Dhabi battle to keep F1 powerboating title hopes alive

Team Abu Dhabi battle to keep F1 powerboating title hopes alive
Updated 01 October 2023

Team Abu Dhabi battle to keep F1 powerboating title hopes alive

Team Abu Dhabi battle to keep F1 powerboating title hopes alive
  • Emirati cousins Thani, Rashed Al-Qemzi eyeing win in Sardinia to boost team crown chances

SARDINIA: Team Abu Dhabi’s powerboating cousins Thani and Rashed Al-Qemzi were on Sunday aiming to keep their team’s title hopes alive in the 2023 UIM F1H2O World Championship, taking place in Sardinia.

While Sweden’s Jonas Andersson can clinch the drivers’ crown with victory in the Regione Sardegna Grand Prix of Italy after securing pole position, the two Emiratis are still battling to deliver a sixth successive team triumph to the UAE capital.

Their case was helped when mechanical problems put Finn Sami Selio out of action in Saturday’s revamped qualifying phase, damaging the challenge of the Sharjah Team sandwiched between Andersson’s leading Team Sweden, and the Abu Dhabi duo in third place.

Andersson won the first of the day’s two group sprint races that have been introduced as part of an all-new Grand Prix qualifying format, dominating the 20 laps ahead of his two chief title rivals, Victory Team’s Erik Stark, and Sharjah Team’s Ferdinand Zandbergen.

Team Abu Dhabi’s Thani Al-Qemzi, pole position setter and Grand Prix winner in Sardinia last year, finished in fifth place.

Italian Alberto Comparato then secured the second group sprint race ahead of Frenchman Peter Morin and Finnish racer Filip Roms, with Rashed Al-Qemzi taking fourth place.

The final Grand Prix qualifying order, including pole position, was initially thrown into confusion because of a yellow flag toward the end of the first sprint race which affected the finishing times.

But Andersson was later named in pole position with the fastest lap time from the two sprint races, ahead of Comparato, Stark, Morin, and Zandbergen. Rashed Al-Qemzi qualified in seventh spot, with his cousin in ninth.

After securing his fourth F2 world title in Portugal earlier this month and signing off with another Grand Prix win last weekend, Rashed Al-Qemzi has stepped up again to partner his vastly experienced relative and is clearly ready for a fresh challenge.

The move from F2 to the F1H2O World Championship is a significant one, particularly when it comes to handling the intense pressure generated at the sharp end of qualifying and race action, and a crucial final round to follow in Sharjah in December.

Few understand that better than Team Abu Dhabi manager Guido Cappellini, who fought his way to 10 F1H2O drivers’ titles, and is mentoring the younger Al-Qemzi to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious cousin.

Rashed has made only fleeting F1H2O appearances since his debut in Sharjah in 2016. But he settled quickly into the rapid pace of things in Sardinia, recording the fastest time in Friday’s Group B free practice session after championship leader Andersson had set the pace in Group A.

The Emirati looked to have produced a repeat performance in Group B qualifying, before his fastest lap was ruled out for an infringement, and he eventually finished third to Comparato and Morin.

UAE Pro League review: Al-Ain and champions Shabab Al-Ahli maintain perfect starts

UAE Pro League review: Al-Ain and champions Shabab Al-Ahli maintain perfect starts
Updated 01 October 2023

UAE Pro League review: Al-Ain and champions Shabab Al-Ahli maintain perfect starts

UAE Pro League review: Al-Ain and champions Shabab Al-Ahli maintain perfect starts
  • Al-Wasl draw against Khor Fakkan sees them fall two points behind the top two

Holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club and Al-Ain maintained 100-percent starts to the season after heavyweight clashes, while Al-Wasl blew up theirs in unfathomable fashion against nine men, throughout ADNOC Pro League’s engrossing Matchweek 4.

Thursday’s sell-out crowd witnessed Al-Ain’s 10 men secure an epic 3-2 victory at shell-shocked Sharjah, courtesy of substitute Jonatas’ fierce clincher. Shabab Al-Ahli, meanwhile, breezed past Al-Wahda 3-1 on Friday, with emergent UAE force Yahya Al-Ghassani impressing former employers.

Saturday’s utterly chaotic second half at Khor Fakkan saw Wasl shockingly drop two points off leading pace. Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic’s first-half brace had sparked a 3-0 lead for the visitors by 14 minutes, but their collapse to 3-3 was completed by resurgent hosts in the 91st minute despite red cards for Uzbekistan midfielder Abdulla Abdullayev and Masoud Sulaiman.

Italy striker Manolo Gabbiadini’s brace earned a 3-0 victory for relieved Al-Nasr at rock-bottom Hatta; Morocco hit man Walid Azaro’s hat-trick proved in vain during Ajman’s 5-3 loss to grateful Ittihad Kalba; and Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo had a hand in all three goals when Al-Bataeh were downed 3-1 by Frank de Boer’s momentum-building Al-Jazira.

Spain icon Andres Iniesta went close when Emirates Club played out a goalless stalemate at Baniyas.

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

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

There was a poignancy to this breathtaking display from one of the Middle East’s finest.

Al-Ghassani’s first steps in senior professional football were taken with Wahda, after exiting the academy of the then-named Al-Ahli. But despite an undeniable talent, it never truly happened for the winger at Al-Nahyan Stadium from 2018 until January 2021’s move back home.

Only 12 top-flight starts, four goals and five assists were recorded.

Fast forward to the present and Al-Ghassani was a standout performer in last season’s title victory, plus scorer of a brace during August’s agonizing AFC Champions League play-off exit to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nasr.

A pair in coach Paulo Bento’s impressive UAE debut — a 4-1 thumping of Costa Rica with Paris Saint-Germain’s Keylor Navas between the sticks — augurs much for World Cup 2026 qualifying’s impending kick-off and winter’s Asian Cup.

Al-Ghassani’s punishing pace and flawless technique were showcased for Mu’nas Dabbur’s seventh-minute opener, a clipped assist shredding the visiting defense. A noteworthy maturity, too, for an entertainer approaching his prime at 25 years old.

In tandem with fellow outstanding UAE prospect Harib Abdalla on the opposite flank, Shabab Al-Ahli’s counter-punching approach — they ceded 59-percent possession — made perfect sense.

Wahda’s loss is, emphatically, Shabab Al-Ahli’s gain. It makes the former strong contenders to claim another result in Saturday’s glamour clash at Jazira.

Goal of the week: Gabbiadini (Al-Nasr)

A long-awaited breakout for a beleaguered club and a star addition.

Gabbiadini had suffered alongside his new teammates in a tortured start to this season, which featured three successive league losses. In that time, the summer addition from relegated Sampdoria accrued only one assist, amid opening defeat to Jazira.

The narrative shifted in the Hajar Mountains.

Gabbiadini’s sharp mind and acute skills were present before half-time, breaking the deadlock in this clash of great import.

Nasr’s quick free-kick caused a goal-mouth scramble. The ball eventually made its way toward the 13-times-capped attacker, who met it with a forceful back heel that flew through Hatta goalkeeper Salam Khairi from close range.

Such refinement attracted the Blue Wave to Gabbiadini, following the briefest of summer attachments with Cedric Bakambu prior to joining Galatasaray.

It could yet prove adroit business for a 12th-placed sleeping giant who must awaken from perpetual slumber. Sleepwalk back into bad habits and harsh punishment should await versus Al-Ain on Sunday, before another international break.

Coach of the week: Gerard Zaragoza (Khor Fakkan)

Zaragoza experienced the startling highs and lows of club management, in this unforgettable Khor Fakkan debut.

A promotion from assistant coach was bequeathed by Abdulaziz Al-Anbari’s mid-September exit. That occurred after fitful ADNOC Pro League form, plus landslide ADIB Cup elimination by Kalba.

This change at the helm — whatever its permanence — looked misguided when on-song Wasl raced into an early three-goal lead. A comeback appeared impossible against visitors, surely, posed to extend a perfect start to the season.

But the ex-Shabab Al-Ahli tactician had a different idea. Lourency and Mohammed Al-Junaibi — one of two 24th-minute substitutes as Zaragoza attempted to catalyze a comeback — exchanged goal contributions before the hour mark, moving Khor Fakkan within striking distance.

This wind was taken out of their sails by twin dismissals. Yet, Khor Fakkan and Zaragoza were not done.

Another replacement, Juninho, took advantage of uncharacteristic dallying from Morocco center-back Soufiane Bouftini in injury time to poke home the unlikeliest of levelers.

Cosmin conundrum continues at Sharjah

We’ve been here before.

Last season featured an unprecedented haul of four different cup trophies for Sharjah under Cosmin Olaroiu, but an underwhelming seventh-placed finish for a side that contained Miralem Pjanic, Kostas Manolas and Paco Alcacer.

This season has featured a gritty 3-1 AFC Champions League play-off victory in front of 80,898 partisan Tractor S.C. supporters and a creditable goalless group-stage opener at Qatar’s Al-Sadd. Yet in the topflight, they already sit six points off the pace in fifth after defeat at home to an Al-Ain team reduced to 10 men by Kouame Autonne’s 37th-minute dismissal.

This represents an intractable problem for Sharjah’s board.

Olaroiu’s reputation as a serial trophy hoarder is unmatched across Asia, but paltry league form is a growing concern.

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations
Updated 01 October 2023

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations

Team Director Mickey Arthur joins Pakistan squad in India to bolster World Cup preparations
  • As head coach from 2016-2019, Arthur led Pakistan to their Champions Trophy title in 2017
  • Pakistan cricket team will face Australia on Oct. 3 for their second and last warm-up match 

ISLAMABAD: With only a few days left before the World Cup kicks off, Pakistan Team Director Mickey Arthur joined the men’s cricket team in India on Sunday, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said in a statement, as the green shirts aim to bolster their preparations for the showpiece tournament. 

Arthur, who was appointed by the PCB in April this year to the team director’s post, has been available to the squad in a limited capacity owing to his contract with Derbyshire. The South African was not present with the Pakistani team during their series against Sri Lanka in July and was also unavailable during Pakistan’s series against Afghanistan in August. In the Asia Cup held last month, Arthur joined the team for just one fixture.

“Team director Mickey Arthur has joined the national men’s side in Hyderabad, India,” the PCB said in a statement. 

Led by skipper Babar Azam, the Pakistan men’s cricket team arrived in India on Sept. 25 to take part in the 50-over World Cup which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 5. The South Asian country will begin its World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on Oct. 6 before taking on Sri Lanka on Oct. 10 and then India on Oct. 14. 

Arthur was Pakistan’s head coach from 2016 to 2019, during which the green shirts won the Champions Trophy title in 2017 and also climbed to the top of the T20I rankings.

Pakistan, however, were unable to impress in Test cricket with Arthur and a league-stage exit from the 2019 World Cup led to him being replaced as head coach by former Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq.

After losing to New Zealand in the opening warm-up fixture on Friday, Pakistan will take on Australia in their second and last World Cup warm-up match on Tuesday, Oct. 3.