$70m Sandro Tonali reveals Newcastle United Champions League ambitions, AC Milan comparisons

Newcastle United’s $70 million new boy Sandro Tonali has revealed that he expects life in the English Premier League to be a steep learning curve. (Twitter/@NUFC)
Newcastle United’s $70 million new boy Sandro Tonali has revealed that he expects life in the English Premier League to be a steep learning curve. (Twitter/@NUFC)
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Updated 10 July 2023
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$70m Sandro Tonali reveals Newcastle United Champions League ambitions, AC Milan comparisons

$70m Sandro Tonali reveals Newcastle United Champions League ambitions, AC Milan comparisons
  • 14-capped Italian international midfielder is the Magpies’ stand-out signing of the summer so far
  • Tonali believes a major trophy or title, which has eluded the Magpies since 1969, is inevitable

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United’s $70 million new boy Sandro Tonali has revealed that he expects life in the English Premier League to be a steep learning curve — but hopes titles and success are just around the corner on Tyneside.

The 14-capped Italian international midfielder is the Magpies’ stand-out signing of the summer so far, having arrived as the club’s second-most expensive player from Champions League semi-finalists AC Milan.

The deal has grabbed headlines in the North East of England, as well as the hearts and minds of supporters, as they prepare for their first season in Europe’s premier club competition in two decades.

The previous time out, a last-16 place was the reward, under the late Sir Bobby Robson, and this time Eddie Howe’s men will be at least looking to replicate that feat, as well as doubling down on domestic success.

Tonali believes a major trophy or title, which has eluded the Magpies since 1969, is an inevitability but thinks it may take time — making the triumph all the more sweeter when it arrives.

On his move from Serie A to St. James’ Park, he said: “It will be an intense and amazing season. It will be a great emotion to play here.

“My path with Milan ended in the Champions League semi-final. In my first year we fought for the title and in my second we managed to win it. The third year we finished high in the rankings of the Champions League.

“Leaving Milan was one of my most difficult decisions as a footballer. Difficult, but it had to be done. The moment to do it had come and we decided to follow this path.

“After overcoming this it will be a steep learning curve. The whole journey will be difficult, but it is a great opportunity and something to take on.

“This (Newcastle) is a project in progress that needs to be carried on. When a trophy has not come for a long time, when it comes it is nicer. Waiting for it to happen is tough but when a trophy arrives you fully enjoy it,” he added.

With his flowing dark locks of hair, swept to the side in a way only Italian style affords, sharp suits, and 5 p.m. shadow facial hair, it would be unfair to criticize anyone for drawing comparisons between the 23-year-old and fellow former Milanista, Andrea Pirlo. It is not a comparison Tonali himself believes is fair though, preferring to be labelled the new Gennaro Gattuso.

“Comparisons can hurt you when you are young. If I had to choose a person in terms of similarity, I would choose Gattuso,” Tonali said.

On his admiration for the Newcastle manager, he added: “Eddie Howe was one of the people who wanted me. I am looking forward to starting this journey with him.

“Everyone has told me nice things about him. They have told me his background and what this year was like with him. I hope to start this job soon.

“The ambition of every player is to come to a team and win. The first thing is to never stop, and then to win. Try to win as soon as possible.”

Tonali remains on an extended break due to his involvement in the Under-21 European Championships, which was won by England, with the help of official player of the tournament, Anthony Gordon, who only arrived at the club in January from Everton.

The young Magpies duo, along with the likes of Alexander Isak, Callum Wilson, Joelinton, Fabian Schar, Sven Botman, and Bruno Guimaraes, have been allowed a few extra days’ rest while the remainder of the Newcastle squad returned to pre-season training.

Speaking about Tonali — and Gordon’s rise to fame on the international stage — from the club’s Benton training base, Howe said: “I think he’s a high-level player. He’s got some great experiences already for such a young player. He’s won the Italian league, and this season got to the Champions League semi-final, full Italian international, so he brings a wealth of pedigree.

“I think he’s a player, also, of huge potential, because I think his best years are ahead of him. I think he’s got versatility in his game, as well, so I think he can play various roles for us.”

On Gordon’s success in the unusual role of striker for the England U21s, Howe added: “I’ve seen Anthony play in that position for Everton before he signed for us, and we spoke about one of the big things when we signed him, so, for us, he’s played left, he’s played right, he’s played centrally as a midfielder.

“In training he’s also played up front, and he’s done really well in those games that we’ve had here. He’s a player that has that versatility, and for a season that we’re going to go into, players that can play in different positions are so valuable to us.

“We really do value him highly, and hope he really contributes this year.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle United have confirmed that out-of-contract duo Loris Karius and Paul Dummett have agreed one-year extensions to their current deals.

Former Liverpool keeper Karius and born-and-bred Geordie Dummett both made just one appearance for Newcastle last season, the former making his debut in the ill-fated Carabao Cup final defeat to Manchester United.

Dummett, who has made more than 200 appearances for the club, is Newcastle’s longest-serving player, having first played for the Magpies in January 2013.

Post-announcement, Karius took to Instagram to share a photo of him shaking hands with Howe. In the caption, he said: “The mission goes on, happy to be a part of it.”


Ronaldo on the mark as Al-Nassr return to winning ways

Ronaldo on the mark as Al-Nassr return to winning ways
Updated 37 sec ago
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Ronaldo on the mark as Al-Nassr return to winning ways

Ronaldo on the mark as Al-Nassr return to winning ways
  • A 4-1 win over Riyadh maintains seven-point gap behind runaway leaders Al-Hilal

Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Al-Nassr action on Friday, with the nine-time champions defeating Al-Riyadh 4-1 to stay seven points behind leaders Al-Hilal, who defeated Al-Tai 2-1 earlier.

Ronaldo, who had been dealing with a slight neck strain, was rested in his team’s midweek Champions League trip to Central Asia to draw 1-1 with Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol, a third game without a win in all competitions.

Back home, he looked fresh and so did Al-Nassr, who had the ball in the net inside the first minute though Seko Fofana’s finish was judged to have been from an offside position. 

A few minutes later, the former Lens and Fulham midfielder turned and shot smartly in the area and drew a fine save from goalkeeper Martin Campana. After 15 minutes, Ronaldo thought he had scored but the block on the goal-line by Birama Toure was not adjudged to have been a handball. It looked close as to whether the Malian midfielder had been behind the line when he cleared, but a goal was not given.

The pressure from the Yellows — playing in white on the night — continued, with Ronaldo a constant threat. And then, just after the half-hour, he scored league goal No. 16 of the season. The 38-year-old drifted free at the far post to stab home a searching Sadio Mane cross from deep. 

Despite Al-Nassr’s dominance, the visitors pulled a goal back at the stroke of half-time, or so they thought as Saleh Al-Abbas, who stroked the ball home, was offside.

There was still time for Al-Nassr to score again before the break. On the right side of the area, Ronaldo chipped the ball right and there was a diving Otavio to head home to make it 2-0. It was Ronaldo’s eighth assist of the season, and it seemed like it was going to be game over.

And so it was midway through the second half. Mane did well on the left side of the area to slip the ball inside to Anderson Talisca, who slotted it home.

Two minutes later, Andre Gray pulled a goal back for the visitors, shooting home from close range to end a slick counterattack, but that was as good as it got for the newly promoted team.

Deep into injury time, Talisca got his second and his team’s fourth, heading home a perfect cross from Sultan Al-Ghannam, and that was that.


Conflict forces Palestinian team Jabal Al Mukaber to withdraw from AFC Cup

Conflict forces Palestinian team Jabal Al Mukaber to withdraw from AFC Cup
Updated 09 December 2023
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Conflict forces Palestinian team Jabal Al Mukaber to withdraw from AFC Cup

Conflict forces Palestinian team Jabal Al Mukaber to withdraw from AFC Cup
  • The withdrawal means all of Jabal Al Mukaber’s results will be canceled and considered null and avoid

Palestinian club Jabal Al Mukaber have withdrawn from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup as a result of the Israel-Gaza conflict, the region’s governing body has announced.
A statement on the AFC’s official website said the Palestine Football Association had informed the Kuala Lumpur-based organization of Jabal Al Mukaber’s decision to pull out of the continent’s second-tier club competition.
“The AFC notes the club’s withdrawal with regret and the matter has now been referred to the AFC Competitions Committee for relevant further action, including the recognition of force majeure,” the confederation said.
Jabal Al Mukaber had been drawn in Group A of the competition and had won their opening game 1-0 against Syria’s Al-Futuwa before losing 4-0 to Al-Nahda from Oman prior to the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
The withdrawal means all of Jabal Al Mukaber’s results will be canceled and considered null and avoid, in accordance with AFC tournament regulations.
The move is the latest to affect Palestinian teams as a result of the conflict.
The Palestinian national team’s World Cup qualifier against Australia last month, which was due to be played in the West Bank, was moved to Kuwait due to security concerns.


Champions Ahly drop more points in pursuit of 12th title

Champions Ahly drop more points in pursuit of 12th title
Updated 09 December 2023
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Champions Ahly drop more points in pursuit of 12th title

Champions Ahly drop more points in pursuit of 12th title
  • The record 11-time African champions were expected to collect maximum points from the Group D match in Alexandria The result was a major boost for Belouizdad, who conceded an added-time goal to lose away to Medeama of Ghana last weekend

JOHANNESBURG: CAF Champions League title-holders Al Ahly dropped points for the second successive weekend when held 0-0 at home by Chabab Belouizdad of Algeria on Friday.
After an away draw against Young Africans in Tanzania six days ago, the record 11-time African champions were expected to collect maximum points from the Group D match in Alexandria.
But a defiant Belouizdad defense, backed by former Algeria goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi, contained an Ahly attack including Mahmoud Kahraba, Hussein el Shahat and South African Percy Tau.
The result was a major boost for Belouizdad, who conceded an added-time goal to lose away to Medeama of Ghana last weekend.
Medeama could not achieve back-to-back home victories, however, as they surrendered the lead in a 1-1 draw against Young Africans in Kumasi.
Jonathan Sowah, recalled after being ruled out of the Belouizdad match by suspension, converted a 27th-minute penalty for group debutants Medeama.
It was his third goal of the African campaign, and Ivorian Pacome Zouzoua also scored for a third time in the Champions League this season by equalising nine minutes later.
Ahly have five points, Medeama and Belouizdad four each and Young Africans two at the halfway stage of the mini-league. Group winners and runners-up qualify for the quarter-finals.
On a night when three matches produced only three goals, the best came from Cameroonian Jacques Mbe, which gave Etoile Sahel of Tunisia a 1-0 win over Al Hilal of Sudan in Rades near Tunis.
With just two minutes of regular time remaining, Mbe unleashed a thunderbolt past Ivorian goalkeeper Issa Fofana to earn Etoile their first points in Group C.
Petro Luanda of Angola, who play on Saturday, top the table with six points while Hilal, four-time champions Esperance of Tunisia and Etoile have three each.


Al-Dawsari, Mitrovic on target as Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai

Al-Dawsari, Mitrovic on target as Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai
Updated 09 December 2023
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Al-Dawsari, Mitrovic on target as Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai

Al-Dawsari, Mitrovic on target as Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai
  • Saudi Pro League leaders wrack up 16th straight win in all competitions
  • Serbian striker first player since 2012 to score in 7 consecutive league matches

The Al-Hilal machine goes rolling on after the Saudi Pro League leaders defeated Al-Tai 2-1 on Friday to record a 16th successive victory in all competitions.

It was a strange game in that the Riyadh giants dominated but were never able to kill off their hosts, for whom goalkeeper Moataz Al-Baqawi was in fine form.

In the end, it did not matter as Hilal, threatening to pull away at the top of the table, went at Al-Tai from the start.

In the 15th minute, Kalidou Koulibaly’s smart half volley from outside the area drew a good diving save from Al-Baqawi and three minutes later the in-form Aleksandar Mitrovic should have opened the scoring.

A delightful volleyed through ball from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic freed the former Fulham forward who, with just the goalkeeper to beat, dragged his shot wide.

He was relieved in the 20th minute when a classic combination for both Al-Hilal and Saudi Arabia swung into action. Salman Al-Faraj crossed from the right and there was Salem Al-Dawsari to send a flying side-footed volley high into the net from near the penalty spot. The two club legends embraced in celebration of a beautiful and important goal.

Ten minutes later, Hilal were given a penalty after Ibrahim Al-Nakhli handled a shot from Mitrovic. The Serbian stepped up to grab his 14th league goal of the season and to get on the score sheet for the seventh successive game, a feat last achieved in Saudi Arabia in 2012 by Brazilian striker Wesley.

Five minutes before the break, the ball fell to Ruben Neves just outside the area and the Portuguese star curled home only for the goal to be ruled out due to an offside in the buildup, though it was a very tight call.

And it became painful for Hilal deep into added time thanks to another spectacular strike. Salman Al-Muwashar was twisting and turning in the middle of the Hilal half as he attempted to protect the ball from a group of blue-shirted players and then, suddenly, Tariq Abdullah stepped forward to side-foot a looping shot that beat the jumping Yassine Bounou, not far off his line on the edge of the 6-yard box.

Instead of 3-0 at the break, it was 2-1 and a game that had been dominated by the 18-time champions was suddenly looking very interesting indeed.

Al-Hilal were determined to make it as predictable as possible and within five minutes of the restart, Mitrovic’s half volley stung the hands of the goalkeeper. Moments later, a delicate chip from Neves just cleared the bar to land on the roof of the net.

Nobody will ever know how it was not 3-1 three minutes before the hour. Neves curled a delightful cross into the area. Milinkovic-Savic’s volley came back off the inside of the post but there was Al-Dawsari to react quickly and drive the rebound toward the top. Somehow, however, Al-Baqawi got there to tip the ball over.

The goalkeeper ensured that Hilal did not get a third goal but they picked up the points nonetheless.

Elsewhere, Al-Taawoun went third behind Al-Nassr with a 4-1 win at home to Al-Fayha, the losers perhaps tired after their Asian Champions League heroics in midweek when they won 4-1 at the Uzbekistan home of Pakhtakor to progress to the knockout stage.


Saudi Arabia ready to host 2034 World Cup: Sports minister

Saudi Arabia ready to host 2034 World Cup: Sports minister
Updated 08 December 2023
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Saudi Arabia ready to host 2034 World Cup: Sports minister

Saudi Arabia ready to host 2034 World Cup: Sports minister
  • Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal tells BBC Kingdom has proved itself able to host major events
  • Government has invested over $6.26bn in sports since 2021 as part of Vision 2030

LONDON: Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal has talked up the sporting and economic opportunities of the Kingdom hosting the 2034 FIFA World Cup, saying his country is ready to host the world’s biggest sporting event.
In an interview with the BBC, he raised the prospect of the Kingdom hosting the competition in the summer rather than the winter, noted the importance of sport in a country where the majority of citizens are below the age of 30, and discussed the progress made by the Saudi Pro League.
The government has invested over £5 billion ($6.26 billion) in sports since 2021 as part of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy away from dependence on fossil fuels.
With the FIFA Club World Cup set to begin in the Kingdom next month, Prince Abdulaziz said Saudi Arabia is more than ready to host the biggest prize in football.
“We’ve showcased that — we’ve hosted more than 85 global events and we’ve delivered on the highest level,” he said.
“We want to attract the world through sports. Hopefully, by 2034, people will have an extraordinary World Cup.”
Since 2021, Saudi Arabia has hosted high-profile boxing matches, ATP tennis tournaments and Formula 1 racing.
The Public Investment Fund made waves when taking control of Premier League side Newcastle United and setting up the LIV Golf tour.
“Twenty million of our population are below the age of 30, so we need to get them engaged — we are playing our role to develop sports within the world and to be part of the international community,” Prince Abdulaziz said.
He added that lessons would be taken from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in neighboring Qatar, which had to be held in winter to avoid high temperatures.
He said Saudi Arabia is “definitely” looking into whether a summer contest would be feasible.
“Why not see what the possibilities are to do it in the summer? Whether it is summer or winter, it doesn’t matter for us, as long as we make sure that we (deliver) the right atmosphere to host such an event,” he added.
On the subject of the World Cup’s sustainability, Prince Abdulaziz said: “It’s a mandate on us in the Kingdom to make sure that we abide by the international regulations … to make sure that we play our role, to make sure that it’s eco-friendly.”
He addressed the progress of football in the Kingdom, which has taken on global significance since the £750 million influx of big names to the Saudi Pro League earlier this year, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar.
At grassroots, too, football is gaining in popularity, and the Kingdom even sees over 70,000 women and girls regularly taking part in the sport.
“All of our big matches have attracted record numbers so far … We’re broadcasting to 147 countries around the world,” Prince Abdulaziz said.
“When we planned to develop the league we never thought that we would do it with such pace, but to see that is actually refreshing and it actually showcases the importance of this. Our focus is to develop our league to attract the best in the world.”