Ronaldo lights up Asia as Al-Nassr edge 7-goal thriller in AFC Champions League

Cristiano Ronaldo lit up the Asian Champions League on Tuesday with two spectacular goals and delicious assists as Al-Nassr defeated Al-Duhail 4-3 in a thrilling encounter. (X/@AlNassrFC_EN)
Cristiano Ronaldo lit up the Asian Champions League on Tuesday with two spectacular goals and delicious assists as Al-Nassr defeated Al-Duhail 4-3 in a thrilling encounter. (X/@AlNassrFC_EN)
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Updated 25 October 2023
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Ronaldo lights up Asia as Al-Nassr edge 7-goal thriller in AFC Champions League

Ronaldo lights up Asia as Al-Nassr edge 7-goal thriller in AFC Champions League
  • 5-time Ballon D’or winner displays compelling skill and determination
  • Al-Nassr is 3 points clear of Iran’s Persepolis at top of Group E and on course for knockout stages

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo lit up the Asian Champions League on Tuesday with two spectacular goals and delicious assists as Al-Nassr defeated Al-Duhail 4-3 in a thrilling encounter.

It was compelling because of the excitement and quality on show in Riyadh, especially from the five-time Ballon D’or winner. It means also that Al-Nassr made it three out of three to stay three points clear of Iran’s Persepolis at the top of Group E and on course for the knockout stages. It was a close-run thing, however.

The home team were quick out of the blocks with Anderson Talisca cutting inside from the right in the third minute and firing a shot just over the bar. It set the tone for much of what was to follow as the Saudi Arabia team were quickly on top while the visitors were very much on the backfoot.

It was not a surprise at all then that Talisca found the back of the net after 25 minutes from a similar position but there was a piece of Ronaldo magic in the buildup.

Abdullah Al-Khaibari found the former Real Madrid star on the edge of the area who then, with his back to goal, produced a delightful backheel past Portuguese compatriot Ruben Semedo and rightwards along the 18-yard line for Talisca, who still had some work to do, to turn and then send a low shot back across the goalkeeper.

As the half went on, however, Al-Duhail started to ask questions and not long before the break Almoez Ali saw his shot saved by Nawaf Al-Aqidi, and then the prolific Michael Olunga saw a header go off-target.

On the stroke of halftime, Ronaldo almost recorded an even more outrageous assist. From a stationary position just outside the area, he scooped the ball over the defense onto Sadio Mane whose header went just wide.

Early in the second half, Al-Duhail showed their attacking threat as Philippe Coutinho hit the post but after 56 minutes the hosts extended their lead. Ronaldo almost got on the end of a cross from the right but Mane was there at the far post to fire home.

And then five minutes later, Ronaldo got his goal and it was a special one. He took possession from Sultan Al-Ghannam outside the right edge of the penalty area and then unleashed an unstoppable left foot shot that flew into the top right corner of the Duhail goal. It was 3-0.

The three points looked done and dusted but then it all started to go wrong.  Within two minutes, Ismaeel Mohammed headed home to give last season’s semifinalists some hope. Then four minutes after that, a deflected shot from Almoez Ali beat Al-Aqidi once more and then Al-Nassr were faced with the prospect of throwing away two points.

With nine minutes remaining, however, Ronaldo intervened once more with another goal to remember. A floating cross from Al-Ghannam found the forward in space and he just waited in the left side of the area to volley a low shot across the goalkeeper. Not for the first time, fans chanted his name and their hero acknowledged those chants with a smile and a wave. Even watching FIFA boss Gianni Infantino looked impressed.

The points were still not secure, however. With five minutes remaining, Olunga made it 4-3 to ensure that the nerves returned for the remainder of the game.

This time, Al-Nassr hung on to maintain their perfect record in Asia but a lot of it is thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo.


SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign

SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign
Updated 01 March 2024
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SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign

SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign
  • Logo, website and short film released under slogan ‘Growing Together’
  • Federation chief Yasser Al-Misehal: ‘Our bid is an open invitation to the world to join us on this exciting journey’

JEDDAH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation on Friday launched its formal bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2034 under the slogan “Growing Together.”
In October last year, the Kingdom said it intended to bid to host the tournament, before the SAFF submitted an official letter of intent and declaration to FIFA.
The campaign proved a formality when the Kingdom became the only country to enter the contest to host the tournament.
The federation, as part of its formal bid, has unveiled a bid logo, website, as well as a short film that celebrates the passion, spirit and diversity of football in the Kingdom.
SAFF President Yasser Al-Misehal said: “Telling our football story to the world is of massive importance. And we believe ‘Growing Together’ is the perfect, yet simple description of our approach to hopefully hosting the tournament in 10 years’ time.”
Bidding to host a FIFA World Cup has been made possible by the rapid transformation taking place in the Kingdom, the SAFF chief said.
“We’ve made unprecedented progress in both the men’s and women’s game and our bid is an open invitation to the world to join us on this exciting journey. As we proved when we welcomed over 100 nationalities to the FIFA Club World Cup Saudi Arabia 2023 in Jeddah, the future is bright when we grow together,” Al-Misehal added.
As one of the fastest and most exciting growth stories in world football, Saudi Arabia, through its bid, seeks to capture the parallel between the Kingdom’s rapid transformation and the positive impacts of hosting FIFA’s flagship event.
Aspiring to become the first single host nation of a 48-team FIFA World Cup, the three pillars underpinning the bid are “Growing People Together,” “Growing Football Together” and “Growing Connections Together.”
Over the last six years, Saudi Arabia has hosted more than 100 international events across almost 40 sports, and is in active football partnerships with more than 100 countries.
The campaign slogan aims to capture the spirit of bonds between the Kingdom and football communities in countries around the world.
The bid logo — made up of intertwined rows of multi-colored ribbons displaying iconic football and cultural symbols — aims to promote Saudi Arabia’s status as a young nation with rich heritage.
It also features five colors reflecting natural diversity across the Kingdom: Desert amber, oasis green, radiance red, rich lavender and sunrise yellow.
The short film released for the bid was filmed across the country, exploring the passion for football in all sections of Saudi society.
It features players from the Saudi under-17 women’s national team and 22-year-old Saudi women’s national team midfielder Layan Jouhari. Background music was composed by powerhouse Saudi platform MDLBEAST.
SAFF recently launched a dedicated bid unit, in line with FIFA regulations, to lead the charge for the Saudi 2034 bid, which will last up until the end of the year.
The unit’s chief, Hammad Al-Balawi, said: “This campaign is powered by the hopes and dreams of 32 million people in Saudi Arabia. Our responsibility is to submit the best possible bid to FIFA, make our country proud and fulfill the trust placed upon us by more than 130 member associations across the world who supported our bid.”
The bid’s website is Saudi2034bid.com. Fans can celebrate the launch of the campaign using the hashtags #Saudi2034bid and #GrowingTogether.


SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom

SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom
Updated 01 March 2024
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SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom

SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom
  • Jordan defeat Nepal in penalty shoot-out to claim victory in 1st official 11-a-side women’s tournament held in Kingdom
  • Saudi officials hail ‘exciting new era for professional women’s football’ after milestone event draws nationwide interest

RIYADH: The latest chapter in Saudi Arabia’s football evolution came to a close last weekend as the 2024 West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship — the first official 11-a-side women’s tournament held in the Kingdom — reached its conclusion. 

A milestone occasion that attracted nationwide interest and engagement, the eighth edition of the championship was staged in Jeddah throughout its 11-day duration from Feb. 19 to Feb. 29 as seven countries competed alongside the host nation.

Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Nepal, Palestine, Syria and Guam joined Saudi Arabia with fixtures played at the King Abdullah Sports City and Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sport City stadiums. A total of 15 matches were played across the group and knock-out stages.

The final was played in front of over 4,000 fans at the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sport City Stadium and ended 2-2 after full time, with Jordan winning the tournament via a penalty shoot-out against Nepal in Thursday’s final.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s message following the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship was clear — this debut official 11-a-side women’s tournament on home soil “will be the first of many.”

“We promise that the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship is the start of an exciting new era for professional women’s football in Saudi Arabia,” Lamia Bahaian, vice president of the federation, said in a statement.

“Besides showcasing our hosting credentials to the region and wider world, it has paved the way for more competitions to make their way to our shores in the years ahead. For sure, this will be the first of many.”

Bahaian said that the women’s game is inspiring audiences as a driving force for positive change, with the Saudi Arabia women’s national team “instrumental” to the direction of travel.

“Reaction to the tournament and the way it was received by fans and the wider community was incredible — witnessing fans embrace the competition, get behind our women’s national team, and attend matches was a genuine joy,” she said.

“Our national team has been instrumental here. The players are pursuing their dreams and representing their country for everyone to see. This has helped introduce women’s football to audiences new and old, laying new foundations for sustained growth and development while contributing to a positive shift in wider society.”

Underpinned by a strategy to help elevate Saudi Arabia to elite status in world football by 2034, huge strides have been taken in the last few years, with growth witnessed across a series of key metrics. 

Since 2021, the number of female clubs nationwide has increased by 112 percent, with the number of local players up 150 percent and national teams up 300 percent.


Al-Hazm stun Al-Nassr to rescue draw in 8-goal thriller

Al-Hazm stun Al-Nassr to rescue draw in 8-goal thriller
Updated 29 February 2024
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Al-Hazm stun Al-Nassr to rescue draw in 8-goal thriller

Al-Hazm stun Al-Nassr to rescue draw in 8-goal thriller
  • Al-Nassr took the lead on four occasions, thanks to a hat-trick from Anderson Talisca and a late penalty from Sadio Mane, only for Al-Hazm to respond each time
  • SAFF’s Ethics and Discipline Committee suspended Cristiano Ronaldo for the game after he was found making an offensive gesture following his team’s victory over Al-Shabab

Cristiano Ronaldo was a mere bystander on Thursday, along with 19,000 fans, as Al-Nassr were somehow held to a 4-4 draw by relegation strugglers Al-Hazm.

The Riyadh giants stay second in the Roshn Saudi League but are now six points behind leaders Al-Hilal who have a game in hand.

It was an incredible game as star-studded Al-Nassr took the lead on four occasions, thanks to a hat-trick from Anderson Talisca and a late penalty from Sadio Mane. Yet somehow, the visitors, who arrived in the capital bottom of the table, came back four times to earn a much-needed point.

It added to what had already been a roller-coaster week for Ronaldo, who watched from the stands first in delight, then frustration, then delight again, before disbelief.

In the early hours of Thursday, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Ethics and Discipline Committee suspended the Portuguese star for one game after he was found making an offensive gesture following his team’s victory over Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League on Sunday.

The home fans chanted the player’s name before the game started and then they did the same again with seven minutes on the clock, in honor of his shirt number. He acknowledged the support with his fist in the air.

Toze netted for the visitors midway through the first half but the Portuguese forward’s emphatic strike was ruled out for offside.

Al-Nassr took the lead after 31 minutes. Sami Al-Najei was brought down in the area by Paulo Ricardo and after VAR had taken a look, Talisca made no mistake in finding the bottom corner.

Al-Nassr continued to push forward in an attempt to give themselves a cushion and immediately after the restart Al-Najei netted but the goal was ruled out for offside.

The Yellows were left to rue that decision after 55 minutes as Ahmad Al-Mhemaid headed home at the far post after Al-Nassr had failed to clear a corner.

Just after the hour, Talisca put Al-Nassr back in front, but the lead lasted only four minutes, Toze sprinting free of the defense to slot home for 2-2, despite some offside doubts.

Both teams were struggling at the back and it was no surprise when Talisca completed his hat-trick after 71 minutes, heading home an Alex Telles cross in majestic fashion.

There was more terrible defending with six minutes of regulation time remaining as Al-Hazm equalized again. The ball was allowed to bounce in the area, despite the presence of multiple yellow shirts, and there was Faiz Selemani on hand to stroke home to make it 3-3.

It looked as if Al-Nassr had thrown it away, and Ronaldo was not the only one with his head in his hands.

But then, in the 91st minute, the hosts were thrown a victory lifeline as Al-Hazm goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen punched Meshari Al-Nemer after missing the ball. Sadio Mane stepped up to score what was surely the winning goal from the penalty spot.

But it proved not to be. With 100 minutes played, Al-Nassr failed to deal with another ball into the box and there was Ricardo to fire home from close range.

There was general disbelief in the stadium as the final whistle sounded. Ronaldo was shaking his head, Talisca was on his haunches, the atmosphere desolate.

Surely, amid the silence, the sound of Al-Hilal fans celebrating could have been heard. The leaders can go nine points clear if they defeat Al-Ittihad on Friday.


Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final

Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final
Updated 29 February 2024
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Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final

Al-Shabab crowned inaugural Saudi Women’s U-17 football champs after defeating Al-Hilal in final
  • Their success in the knockout phase follows a group stage in which they were unbeaten, racking up 9 wins and a draw while scoring 116 goals and conceding just 2
  • Event serves as showcase for talent and potential of young female players and the rapid development of women’s football in the Kingdom, officials say

JEDDAH: Deem Saud scored the decisive goal as Al-Shabab defeated Al-Hilal 1-0 in the final of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Football Federation Women’s U-17 tournament.
The road to the final, which was played on Wednesday at Noon Academy in Jeddah, began in November with the group stages of the tournament, in which 18 teams from the Women’s Premier League, the First Division and SAFF regional training centers were split into four groups.
Al-Shabab were unbeaten in Group 1, topping the table with 28 points from nine wins and a draw, scoring 116 goals along the way and conceding just two.
In the knockout phase, they defeated Jeddah 2-1 in the quarter-finals, and Eastern Flames 2-0 in the semis.
Adwa Al-Arifi, the assistant minister for sport affairs at the Ministry of Sport, Lamia Bahian, the vice president of SAFF, and Aalia Al-Rasheed, the head of the women’s football department at SAFF, watched the final.
Officials said the competition offered a showcase for the talent and potential of young female players in the Kingdom, illustrating the rapid recent development of women’s football across the country. The players and clubs were praised for their skill, team spirit and passion for the sport.
SAFF congratulated Al-Shabab for their success, commended all of the clubs that took part, and thanked the players, coaches and fans for their enthusiastic support, which they said had helped make the championship a great success.


First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1

First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1
Updated 29 February 2024
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First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1

First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1
  • The U-14 tournament, hosted at Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, will feature 8 La Liga and 4 international teams

MADRID: La Liga FC Futures U-14, a flagship tournament featuring the youth academies of top-tier Spanish clubs, and being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time, kicks off on March 1.

The matches, to be played at Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, has been organized in collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sports. For the first time, the players making up the competing sides will be in the under-14 category and will play 11-a-side matches.

The tournament will feature 12 clubs, eight EA Sports La Liga teams, plus AS Roma (Italy), SL Benfica (Portugal), Olympique de Marseille (France) and Mahd Academy (Saudi Arabia).

La Liga’s leadership chose Saudi Arabia as the host because of the country’s emergence as a hub for sporting and cultural activities in recent years. The most popular sport in the Kingdom is football, with the highest level of participation among those under the age of 30.

For the past 15 years, La Liga matches have been followed by millions of football fans across the Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia now has six official supporter clubs.

The 12 teams will be divided into three groups: Mahd Academy, FC Barcelona, AS Roma and Cadiz CF (Group A); Atletico de Madrid, Olympique de Marseille, Sevilla FC and Villarreal CF (Group B); and Real Betis, Valencia CF, SL Benfica and CA Osasuna (Group C).

Matches will kick off on March 1 at 9:30 a.m. (Saudi Arabia time) and March 2 at 10 a.m., with the quarterfinals being played on Saturday at 5 p.m. The semifinals will kick off at 10 a.m. on Sunday, with the final at 5 p.m.