Saudi Arabia mauled by Mali despite Al-Dawsari magic

Special Saudi Arabia mauled by Mali despite Al-Dawsari magic
The Saudi starting XI that lost 3-1 to Mali in Portugal. (Twitter/@SaudiNT_EN)
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Updated 17 October 2023
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Saudi Arabia mauled by Mali despite Al-Dawsari magic

Saudi Arabia mauled by Mali despite Al-Dawsari magic
  • Roberto Mancini’s men were mostly second best in their last friendly before the start of 2026 World Cup qualification in November
  • With the Green Falcons now falling to nine defeats in the last 11 games, there is much for the Italian, appointed in August, to think about

RIYADH: Salem Al-Dawsari more than matched his spectacular World Cup strike against Argentina against Mali on Tuesday but could not prevent Saudi Arabia losing 3-1 to the Africans in Portugal.

Roberto Mancini’s men were mostly second best in their last friendly before the start of 2026 World Cup qualification in November. With the Green Falcons now falling to nine defeats in the last 11 games, there is much for the Italian, appointed in August, to think about.

The major consolation, apart from the reminder that Al-Dawsari can conjure something special out of nothing, is that Pakistan and Jordan, next month’s opposition in Group G, are unlikely to be anywhere near as clinical as Mali. In the first half they had four attempts on goal which resulted in two goals, one ruled out marginally for offside and a last-ditch save.

Mali sounded a warning in the seventh minute when a simple ball from deep caught the defence flat-footed. Fousseni Diabate was anything but as he raced clear to enter the area but the Swiss-based star got the ball caught in his feet and Mohammed Al-Owais got down well to make the save.

There was not much the man from Al-Hilal could do eight minutes later, however, as Moussa Doumbia cut inside on the left side of the area and his low shot took a cruel deflection off Ali Lajami and ended up in the back of the net.

Saudi Arabia tried to fight back and looked lively in the final third with some fast passing and movement but they could not quite find the all-important pass. The closest they came in the first half was a dangerous corner that goalkeeper Ismael Diawara palmed away under pressure from Lajami.

Just after the half-hour, Diabete picked up the ball on the right side, cut inside Ali Al-Bulaihi and unleashed a perfect low shot into the bottom corner. It was a fine finish but there was a hint of offside as he collected the ball and so, after a lengthy VAR pause, it proved, and the strike was ruled out.

It was a temporary reprieve. Just before the break, Hamari Traore was the recipient of a lucky deflection off Al-Bulaihi on the halfway line and then broke for goal. Just on the right side of the area, the Real Sociedad full-back shot across goal and while Al-Owais managed to get a hand to the ball, he couldn’t prevent the Africans extending their lead.

The second half started quietly but then, out of nowhere, Saudi Arabia were back in the game just before the hour. Al-Dawsari picked up the ball on the left side, cut inside to the left corner of the area and then unleashed an unstoppable shot that flew high into the opposite corner to give the goalkeeper no chance. It was stunning and worthy of winning any game.

Saudi Arabia were determined that it would be more than a consolation and they redoubled their attacking efforts but Diabate should have restored the two-goal cushion only to send his shot wide from close range.The last goal came with 20 minutes remaining. Another long ball caused problems and Lassine Sinayoko held off Al-Bulaihi to fire home from just inside the area.

Soon after, Saleh Al-Shehri fired just over. There was almost another stunning strike in injury time but Ali Hazzazi’s swirling shot from well outside the area hit the post and that was that, though there was still time for Mali to hit the woodwork. A 4-1 scoreline would have been harsh but that is a small consolation for Saudi Arabia as they lose another game.


Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race

Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race
Updated 9 sec ago
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Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race

Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race
FREIBURG, Germany: Bayern Munich were held to a 2-2 draw at Freiburg on Friday, an 87th-minute equalizer from Lucas Hoeler giving leaders Bayer Leverkusen a chance to go 10 points clear.
Mathys Tel’s 35th-minute stunner had canceled out an impressive opener from Freiburg captain Christian Guenter, before Jamal Musiala’s spectacular solo effort looked to have snared the three points for Bayern.
Hoeler however had other ideas, chipping a volley through a crowded Bayern penalty area and past a helpless Manuel Neuer.
Bayern have now failed to win away from home in four matches dating back to January in both the league and Champions League.
Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen can go 10 points clear of the Bavarians with a win against lowly Cologne on Sunday.
Guenter blasted the hosts into the lead after 12 minutes, unleashing a spinning rocket from outside the box and into the bottom right of the goal.
The goal was the Freiburg captain’s first of the season and the club’s only strike from outside the box this campaign.
Not content to allow Guenter to dominate the highlights reel, Tel hit back with a dream goal of his own, curling in a long-range effort on his second league start this season.
With 15 minutes remaining and Bayern dominating possession but failing to carve out clear chances, Musiala dribbled past at least three Freiburg defenders and blasted a low shot into the right corner.
Despite holding the lead Bayern grew passive, dropping deep to defend their goal and hold onto their slender lead.
With just three minutes of regular time remaining, Hoeler held off several Bayern defenders and chipped a volley over Neuer and into the goal, sending the home side into raptures.
The draw spoilt the first day at work for Bayern sporting director Max Eberl, who said during his unveiling this week the side would still push Leverkusen for the title.
The point sees Freiburg finish the night in ninth place in a crowded Bundesliga table, with only five points separating seventh and 15th places.

Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone

Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone
Updated 01 March 2024
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Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone

Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone
  • Goals from Saleh Al-Shehri, Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid made sure 18-time champions now nine points clear of Riyadh rivals in second

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo watched from the stands in disbelief on Thursday as Al-Nassr were held to a 4-4 draw at home against bottom team Al-Hazm. Neymar on Friday watched in delight as Al-Hilal came from behind to defeat Al-Ittihad 3-1 to take a giant step toward a 19th Saudi Pro League trophy.

Thanks to goals from Saleh Al-Shehri, Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid, the 18-time champions are now nine points clear of their Riyadh rivals in second, and as Al-Hilal have now won their last 25 games in all competitions and a record 15 in the league, few would now bet against the Blues.

It was an entertaining Saudi Classico, but once Al-Hilal took the lead in the second half, there was always likely to be just one outcome and it was a deserved win.

Al-Ittihad, the defending champions, had opportunities but against the runaway leaders more than one needed to be taken.

But the visitors, who were missing star striker Karim Benzema through injury, started strongly and took the lead in the 12th minute. With all the attacking talent on the pitch, it was a little surprising that N’Golo Kante opened the scoring with his first goal for almost six months. It was a cracker too.

The former Chelsea midfielder started the move and after laying the ball off, sprinted for the penalty area. He was there just in time to meet the left-sided cross from Zakaria Al-Hawsawi and no one was prepared for the sight of Kante flying through the air to send a header past Yassine Bounou and into the net. It stunned fans in the Kingdom Arena and probably those watching around the world. 

A few minutes later it was almost 2-0 as Faisal Al-Ghamdi shot just wide from outside the area with Bounou scrambling to get across. Al-Ittihad have been in good form and were seemingly growing in confidence.

But slowly Al-Hilal began to wake up and six minutes before the break were level. Abdullah Al-Mayouf punched a Salem Al-Dawsari corner clear but it fell to Ruben Neves just outside the area and while the Portuguese star’s shot was blocked, there was Al-Shehri, in the starting lineup to replace the suspended Aleksandar Mitrovic, to pounce and fire home.

Almost immediately, the visitors thought they had a penalty as Kalidou Koulibaly was judged by the referee to have been tugging the shirt of Ahmed Hegazy. VAR thought differently, however.

Both teams continued to push forward and just before the hour the hosts took the lead. It came shortly after Al-Ittihad had claims for a penalty waved away, and Al-Hilal broke. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic chipped over a perfect cross from the left for Malcom — who was given far too much space on the edge of the six-yard box — to head home.

Kante almost equalized within minutes, firing a low shot just wide of the post. It was a great chance and, had it been taken, the game could have turned out very differently.

As it was, midway through the second half, Abdulhamid netted a third. Milinkovic-Savic slipped a pass into the right side of the area for the full-back to twist and turn past two defenders before shooting home at the near post. Not for the first time in the evening, Neymar, still recovering from his serious injury, was on his feet.

Unlike Al-Nassr, who four times threw the lead away against Al-Hazm, Al-Hilal were not going to be denied and the celebrations at the end reflected an unstoppable winning machine.

There is a quick chance for revenge for Al-Ittihad as the two giants meet in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarter-final next week, but Al-Hilal surely know that with the domestic title almost sewn up, they can now turn their full attention to continental concerns.

For Al-Ittihad, now 25 points below the leaders in fifth, their season now depends on the clash.


Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner
Updated 01 March 2024
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Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner
  • Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session
  • “It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Max Verstappen delivered some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday when he resisted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to claim pole position for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The defending three-time world champion picked up where he left off last year by topping the times in a closely-contested qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir.
His success, which he admitted was “a little bit unexpected” arrived after another day of speculation and pressure for team boss Christian Horner, following the anonymous leaking of a cache of alleged private messages and photographs between him and a female member of the team.
This came 24 hours after an internal investigation led by an independent London lawyer had resulted in Horner being cleared of all claims of inappropriate behavior.
Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session, securing his third Bahrain pole and the 33rd of his career.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen.
“The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind over the last few days, it’s been quite tricky to get a whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying.
“In Q1 and Q2 you go a bit faster, with the track ramping up, but to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little bit difficult. So I’m very happy to be on pole.”
He added: “To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected, but I think the car came to us and I felt happier with the whole car.”
He forecast a close race on Saturday.
“We look good for the race and that’s the most important, but we will see tomorrow. I’m confident we can have a strong race.”
Ferrari’s Leclerc missed pole by only two-tenths of a second as he finished second ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso qualified sixth for Aston Martin, ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton ninth for Mercedes and Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Haas.
“I’m a bit disappointed,” admitted Leclerc.
“But we had a good qualifying and this offers us a good start to the year.”
Russell praised Mercedes for producing a car that he could build on. “P3 is a good place to start,” he said.
Qualifying got under way with Horner, who has always categorically denied any wrongdoing, under renewed pressure despite being cleared in Red Bull’s investigation led by a London lawyer.
Horner, who turned up at the track on Thursday to oversee the start of the new season, said: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations.”
Verstappen ensured events on the track went more smoothly and he will be favorite to emulate last year’s result when he won the first of 19 races as he swept to his third title.
The session began in cool conditions as temperatures fell under the floodlights at Sakhir’s International Circuit where Bahrain’s maiden race took place 20 years ago.
The air temperature was 18, the track 21.
The first qualifying segment ended with Sainz on top as the Alpines made an early exit along with both Saubers and Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
After topping Thursday’s opening practice, Hamilton squeezed through in 15th place.
Leclerc topped the times on the second runs of Q2 and Sainz was third, sandwiching Verstappen in second, while Hamilton was fourth with a late lap.
In the final seconds of the top 10 shoot-out Verstappen improved to 1:29.179, enough to resist Leclerc by 0.228 seconds to launch his 2024 season in ominous fashion.
Exceptionally the Bahrain race and next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are being staged on Saturdays to accommodate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement

Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement
Updated 01 March 2024
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Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement

Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement
  • “I feel great now, but I know it’s a demanding calendar and in 2026 there are a different set of regulations as well,” said Fernando Alonso
  • “I feel great. I didn’t expect we would be that competitive, to be honest”

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Fernando Alonso on Friday qualified in sixth place for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and declared he felt “great” two days after hinting at retirement.
The 42-year-old Aston Martin driver said he had not expected to be so competitive, but added that he hoped he might be in contention to repeat his surprise podium finish last year.
The two-time world champion on Wednesday said he would decide his future after the “first few weeks or races” because of the demands of this year’s unprecedented 24-race calendar.
“Well, first of all, I need to decide if I want to keep racing and that will be the first thing that I need to decide — in a few weeks or a few races,” he said when asked if he was interested in joining Mercedes to succeed Lewis Hamilton next year.
“I feel great now, but I know it’s a demanding calendar and in 2026 there are a different set of regulations as well, which maybe are tempting or maybe not, I don’t know.”
After qualifying, however, the evergreen Spaniard, who has adopted a new diet and fitness schedule, said: “I feel great. I didn’t expect we would be that competitive, to be honest.
“Winter testing was ok, but I think we are not in the pace of the leaders.
“Free practice was competitive, but we found also last year that sometimes in free practice we are running in a different engine mode and in qualifying everything is a bit more realistic.
“It’s going to be difficult in the race, very tight in a group which will damage the tires even more when you are in traffic. So, I think it’s going to be a question mark for everyone. Let’s see.”
He made no further comments about his future, having declared that 24 races is “well over the limit.”
“When I started, we had 16 races, then it was 18 and then I think Liberty (the American owners of F1) came and we had 20 in a season and that was the limit, 20 races, but now we are up to 24.
“It isn’t sustainable for the future, I think, not for anyone.”


Hong Kong beat Saudi Arabia to end Greens’ U19 Cricket World Cup dream

Hong Kong beat Saudi Arabia to end Greens’ U19 Cricket World Cup dream
Updated 01 March 2024
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Hong Kong beat Saudi Arabia to end Greens’ U19 Cricket World Cup dream

Hong Kong beat Saudi Arabia to end Greens’ U19 Cricket World Cup dream
  • The young Greens scratched their way to 133 all out thanks to a last wicket partnership of 52
  • Hong Kong chased down their target with ease in 25.4 overs with only three wickets down

BANGKOK: Saudi Arabia’s young cricketers lost their do-or-die ICC U19 Cricket World Cup clash with Hong Kong on Friday as their campaign to progress to the next stage ended in heartbreak.

The young Greens scratched their way to 133 all out thanks to a last wicket partnership of 52, but Hong Kong chased down their target with ease in 25.4 overs with only three wickets down.

Saudi Arabia had won the toss and elected to bat first at Terdthai Cricket Ground in the winner-takes-all contest after both sides had beaten Bhutan and lost to Oman earlier in Group B.

Captain Rayyan Khan started confidently with two cover drives for four off Daniel Mapp to begin the innings, but the Saudis never settled and found themselves on 50 for the loss of four wickets within 20 overs.

Four overs later, they were 60 for seven and were staring down the barrel of a thrashing when they lost their penultimate wicket with just 81 runs on the board.

Fahad Munir, who came in at number seven, had got underway with a four and a six and was looking to hit out with nine wickets down. He managed to strike a second six and two more fours to bring up the Saudi Arabia 100 in the 32nd over.

He became a menace for Hong Kong as he hit two more boundaries and got five runs after four overthrows. Another big hit took him to 48 before a straight drive for four brought up his half-century from 35 deliveries.

Munir was finally dismissed on 59 from 42 balls, as the Saudis set Hong Kong 134 to win, and he looked to do some damage with the ball after the changeover.

But Hong Kong had little to worry about as they reached 108 for the loss of three after 20 overs and number three batter Shiv Mathur reached his 50 from 49 balls, to put his side only 21 runs from victory, and ended up carrying his bat with 63 runs off as many balls.

Hong Kong reached their target to win by seven wickets and will face Malaysia in the first semi-final on Sunday at the TCG.

Also on Friday, Oman held off Bhutan to win by three wickets and they will face Kuwait for a place in the next stage of qualification.