Ronaldo ‘special’ sends Al-Nassr third

Al-Nassr fans displayed a “GOAT 7” tifo after a Cristiano Ronaldo “special” gave their team a vital 2-1 win at home to Damac on Saturday to go into third place in the Roshn Saudi League. (X/@AlNassrFC_ENG)
Al-Nassr fans displayed a “GOAT 7” tifo after a Cristiano Ronaldo “special” gave their team a vital 2-1 win at home to Damac on Saturday to go into third place in the Roshn Saudi League. (X/@AlNassrFC_ENG)
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Updated 21 October 2023

Ronaldo ‘special’ sends Al-Nassr third

Ronaldo ‘special’ sends Al-Nassr third
  • Spectacular free-kick seals comeback victory, sparking jubilation among home fans

RIYADH: Al-Nassr fans displayed a “GOAT 7” tifo after a Cristiano Ronaldo “special” gave their team a vital 2-1 win at home to Damac on Saturday to go into third place in the Roshn Saudi League.

It had been looking gloomy as the Riyadh giants were a goal down at the break, but two goals in quick succession early in the second half, with Ronaldo scoring a spectacular free-kick to put his team in front, resulted in a victory that was celebrated wildly by the home fans.

While Damac had started the season slowly, they were looking for a third successive league win. Al-Nassr, meanwhile, wanted to return to winning ways after the 2-2 draw with Abha last time around ended a run of six successive league victories.

But this was always going to be a tough task. Coach Luis Castro was without Nawaf Al-Aqidi in goal and center-back Ali Lajami. Both picked up injuries while on international duty for Saudi Arabia, while Marcelo Brozovic did the same with Croatia and Sultan Al-Ghannam was suspended. 

Ronaldo, who played his 200th game for Portugal during the international break, was there, of course, and it took him just five minutes to put the ball in the net as he controlled a free-kick from deep deftly and then shot home, but he was adjudged to have been offside. It was a sign that the league’s leading goalscorer was in the mood.

The game settled down with Abdullah Al-Khaibari forcing a save from Moustapha Zeghba with a shot from outside the area as the visiting defense backed off.

Then Damac were in front with a perfect counter-attacking goal on the stroke of half-time. Nicolae Stanciu picked up the ball deep inside his own half, though Al-Nassr appealed for a foul on Ronaldo. The Romanian then floated a long pass over the backline for Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, who outpaced the men in yellow and slotted home from just outside the area past the diving Raghed Najjar.

There was renewed energy as the Yellows came out after the break, and within eight minutes Anderson Talisca equalized.

Not long before Ronaldo had sent a free-kick wide and most expected him to have a second attempt, but it was Talisca who nipped in quickly to send a low left-footed shot around the wall and into the near bottom corner with the surprised goalkeeper scrambling unsuccessfully to get across his line in time. Shortly after, Talisca then headed against the bar from close range.

It did not matter, as Ronaldo put Al-Nassr ahead before the hour. This was another free-kick, and while all knew the Portuguese star was going to take it, nobody could prevent a perfect shot curling into the top corner to give Zeghba no chance. 

That was goal number 11 of the season for the five-time Ballon D’Or winner and, not for the first time in recent months, his name was chanted by thousands of home fans and the tifos were there for all to see. Nothing after could come close to that delight, though Najjar saved a 96th-minute free kick, but there had been enough to enjoy for anyone associated with Al-Nassr to appreciate.

Al-Nassr are now on 22 points after 10 games, one behind Al-Taawoun in second and four off leaders Al-Hilal, though there is still a long way to go.

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

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

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.”

Jon Albon edges out Ryan Atkins to win Tough Mudder Infinity at AlUla

Jon Albon edges out Ryan Atkins to win Tough Mudder Infinity at AlUla
Updated 26 February 2024

Jon Albon edges out Ryan Atkins to win Tough Mudder Infinity at AlUla

Jon Albon edges out Ryan Atkins to win Tough Mudder Infinity at AlUla
  • The Brit defeated his Canadian rival to claim $80,000 prize, while Alisa Petrova triumphed in the women’s race
  • Over 1,000 athletes competed for record pot of $480,000, with over 40 countries represented

ALULA: Jon Albon and Alisa Petrova were the respective men’s and women’s winners of the inaugural Tough Mudder Infinity event, which took place in AlUla with an overall prize pot of $480,000, the largest in obstacle course racing history.

The race featured over 1,000 participants for the first event of its kind in the Middle East North Africa region. More than 40 countries were represented, and there were also several local athletes participating including Nelly Attar, the first Arab woman to climb K2, and Rakan Al-Thaqafi, a Saudi Arabian amateur boxing champion.

As expected, the men’s race came down to a battle between long-time rivals and obstacle course racing legends Albon, from the UK, and Canada’s Ryan Atkins. The two men have been involved in several epic contests over the years and this was no exception, as they led from the front for long spells. It was the Brit who eventually crossed the line to take the $80,000 prize, with Mark Batres, from the US, finishing third.

“It was tough, it was a tough course in its own way, the sand and the terrain and the fact it was flat made it really challenging as your legs got stiff on the sand,” Alton said.

“It was over two years since I last did an obstacle course race, so it was nice to come back and find out whether I can do some obstacles. I really enjoyed the rings — I realized I hadn’t lost my touch.”

On the prize money, he added: “Not too shabby — it’s the best payday I’ve had from a race which is the cherry on the cake.”

He also provided his thoughts on AlUla. “I had no idea where I was coming, the rock formations were nice and then I went into the Old Town — it was the most interesting town, lit up old school buildings in the valley of these cliffs. It was a nice place, it’s going to develop so quickly and it’s interesting to see how many events will come here in the future.”

The women’s race was equally exciting, as Petrova edged out the US’ Nicole Mericle and Switzerland’s Janka Pepova to walk away with the $80,000.

She said: “It was the first Tough Mudder race I’ve ever done — I’ve never ran so long before. I did 90 km, the longest race I did.

“I tried sky running before, which was 50 km, and it was so tough. The last two laps were so tough and my body started rejecting food and I could only drink water.

“My legs are so sore, and I’m so tired but so happy. First time winning a big race — I’ve never been first at a world championship. Thanks to my training, my supporters, and my husband, I’m so happy. Now I need to eat and sleep.”

There were also competitions for teams of two and four.

The two-person race was won by French duo Thibault Jean and Gregory Basilico, who finished ahead of Tyler Veerman and Kris Brown.

In the four-person race, meanwhile, it was the European elite, made up of Jesse de Heer, Stijn Lagrand, Luca Pezzani and Goncalo Prudencio, who came out on top.

Nic Cartwright, Tough Mudder Middle East license holder, said: “We’re thrilled to bring the first ever Tough Mudder Infinity in the Middle East, right here in AlUla, Saudi Arabia. Athletes from over 40 nations battled it out for the largest prize pool in OCR history, while a total of 1,000 participants pushed their limits across all race courses — a testament to the growing sport of obstacle course racing in the region.

“Our incredible partners at the Royal Commission of AlUla were instrumental in bringing this vision to life and showcasing AlUla’s breathtaking landscape to the world. After this successful inaugural event, we look forward to bringing more exciting OCR experiences to the region in years to come.”

England take three wickets but India closing in on series victory in 4th test

England take three wickets but India closing in on series victory in 4th test
Updated 26 February 2024

England take three wickets but India closing in on series victory in 4th test

England take three wickets but India closing in on series victory in 4th test
  • India were 118-3 at lunch on Monday, needing 74 more runs to attain unassailable 3-1 lead in series
  • Skipper Rohit Sharma shared an 84-run opening stand with Yashasvi Jaiswal to give India upper hand

RANCHI, India: Rohit Sharma scored a half century to set India on course for victory on day four of the fourth test, before England snared three wickets to keep their slightest hopes alive of achieving a dramatic turnaround.

India was 118-3 at lunch on Monday, needing 74 more runs for victory and an unassailable 3-1 series lead in the five-test series.

Sharma shared an 84-run opening stand with Yashasvi Jaiswal, before the latter was spectacularly caught by veteran James Anderson off Joe Root for 37 to give the tourists a much-needed breakthrough against the seemingly comfortable Indian opening pair.

Jaiswal’s wicket sparked a mini-collapse as India went from 84-0 to 100-3 inside nine overs as England sniffed a chance of victory.

Left-arm spinner Tom Hartley had Sharma caught behind in the 26th over for 55. It was initially judged as a stumping, but on review, the television umpire also detected an edge from the batter while keeper Ben Foakes held on to a sharp catch.

Off-spinner Shoaib Bashir then had Rajat Patidar caught at short leg for a six-ball duck as India lost its second wicket in eight deliveries.

Shubman Gill (18 not out) and Ravindra Jadeja (3 not out) watchfully navigated the remaining overs before lunch, with a grandstand finish in the offing.

At the break, Gill was batting on 18 runs with Jadeja (3 not out), and England stayed in the hunt needing another seven wickets for an improbable win.
India has a 2-1 lead in the five-test series, after winning back-to-back tests in Visakhapatnam and Rajkot by 106 and 434 runs, respectively. England had won the first test in Hyderabad by 28 runs.

Jokic powers Denver over Warriors as Giannis leads Bucks’ victory

Jokic powers Denver over Warriors as Giannis leads Bucks’ victory
Updated 26 February 2024

Jokic powers Denver over Warriors as Giannis leads Bucks’ victory

Jokic powers Denver over Warriors as Giannis leads Bucks’ victory
  • It was Jokic’s third career game with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists
  • Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 36 points and the Thunder won their fifth consecutive game

SAN FRANCISCO: Nikola Jokic posted his 18th triple double of the season to lead reigning NBA champion Denver’s 119-103 victory at Golden State on Sunday.

The 29-year-old Serbian center, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, had 32 points, 16 rebounds and 16 assists plus four steals while Jamal Murray added 27 points for the Nuggets.

Klay Thompson came off the bench to lead the Warriors with 23 points, but none in the second half, while Stephen Curry added 20 in the matchup of the past two NBA title winners.

“They are literally the Warriors. They are champions. They are a tough team to beat,” Jokic said. “But 103 points in this arena is really good for our defense.”

It was Jokic’s third career game with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists — passing Wilt Chamberlain for the second most in NBA history behind Oscar Robertson.

It was Jokic’s sixth career game with 15 rebounds and 15 assists to pass Magic Johnson for fourth on the all-time list.

Jokic, who hit 13-of-24 shots from the floor, also became the first NBA player with 14 rebounds and 14 assists in three consecutive games.

Thompson had 16 points in the first quarter on 4-of-6 3-point shooting, but the Nuggets (39-19) closed the second quarter on a 14-0 run to equalize at 61-61 at half-time, then reeled off a 14-0 run early in the third quarter to seize command.

“That run 14-0 at the end of the second quarter when we got the game back into control, and we went up 10 points in the third quarter, I think that stretch helped us take control and we controled the game the whole way,” Jokic said.

It was Denver’s seventh consecutive triumph in games against Golden State (29-27) and 10th in their past 11 matchups.

At Philadelphia, Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and passed off nine assists to lead Milwaukee’s 119-98 rout.

New Bucks coach Doc Rivers collected a victory over his former club, the 76ers having fired Rivers last May after three seasons guiding the franchise. Milwaukee hired Rivers last month to replace fired Adrian Griffin.

“It was awesome,” Rivers said of his return. “I had three good years here. I enjoyed my stay. This was good. There were a couple hilarious comments.”

Damian Lillard added 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds while Malik Beasley added 20 points as the Bucks hit 43-of-79 shots from the floor (54.4 percent) and kept the Sixers to 36-of-97 (37.1 percent) shooting.

Milwaukee seized a 69-48 half-time lead and stayed in command to the finish despite some second-half stumbles.

“We came out and played hard in the first two quarters,” two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo said. “In the third quarter we were a little bit sloppy. But going into the fourth quarter I think we did our best job just finding one another, making the right plays offensively.”

The Sixers, playing without injured reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid, had 24 points from Tyrese Maxey.

At Houston, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 36 points and the Thunder won their fifth consecutive game, beating the host Rockets 123-110 to grab a share of the Western Conference lead with Minnesota at 40-17.

At Phoenix, Grayson Allen scored 24 points and Kevin Durant added 22 to lead the host Suns over the Los Angeles Lakers 123-113.

LeBron James led the Lakers with 28 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds while Anthony Davis had 22 points and 14 rebounds.

In Los Angeles meanwhile, the Clippers were outgunned 123-107 by the Sacramento Kings, De’Aaron Fox leading the way for the visitors with 33 points.

Indiana center Myles Turner scored 33 points to lead the host Pacers over Dallas 133-111. The Mavericks saw their seven-game win streak snapped despite 33 points for Luka Doncic and 29 from Kyrie Irving.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Cavaliers’ 114-105 victory at Washington.

DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points to lead Chicago in a 114-106 victory at New Orleans while Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen scored 26 points to lead Utah’s 128-109 home win over San Antonio.

Atlanta beat visiting Orlando 109-92 behind Dejounte Murray’s 25 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, but the Hawks lost scoring leader Trae Young for at least four weeks due to surgery Tuesday to repair a torn left pinkie ligament.