Ronaldo scores on return as Al-Nassr win again

Ronaldo scores on return as Al-Nassr win again
The 38 year-old Cristiano Ronaldo had been rested for Al-Nassr’s 3-2 victory over Al-Duhail in Qatar in the Asian Champions League. (Al-Nassr)
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Updated 12 November 2023
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Ronaldo scores on return as Al-Nassr win again

Ronaldo scores on return as Al-Nassr win again
  • Cristiano looked raring to go from the outset as did the rest of the team in what was an impressive performance

Cristiano Ronaldo returned to action on Saturday to help Al-Nassr to a 3-1 win at Al-Wehda to close Al-Hilal’s lead at the top of the Roshn Saudi League to four points.

The 38 year-old had been rested for Al-Nassr’s 3-2 victory over Al-Duhail in Qatar in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday — a 15th win in 16 games in all competitions — and looked raring to go from the outset as did the rest of the team in what was an impressive performance.

It was not a surprise that the opening goal came early, after just 11 minutes, even if it did not come from Ronaldo. It certainly seemed to surprise the hosts as the five-time Ballon D’Or winner lined up to take a free-kick from almost 30 yards out. Instead, Alex Telles stepped up to bend a left-footed shot around the wall and into the right hand corner of the Al-Wehda with goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi rooted to the spot. It was the Brazilian’s first goal for Al-Nassr since being signed from Manchester United in the summer, as his delighted celebrations demonstrated.

Ten minutes later and the Moroccan shotstopper was flying through the air to save a header from Sadio Mane that bounced high to head towards the top left corner of the Al-Wehda goal. Moments later, the hosts almost drew level with a header from Moroccan defender Jawad El Yamiq drifting just wide. 

Mohamedi was in action again just before the half-hour, diving to his right to save a fierce free-kick from Ronaldo that was even further out from the effort from Telles.

Five minutes before the break Al-Nassr extended their lead from an unlikely source. Marcelo Brozovic crossed from the left and Abdulelah Al-Amri headed home powerfully at the far post. In added time, Ronaldo almost made it three, shooting just wide from the left side of the area.

He did just that four minutes after the restart, taking advantage of a defensive mix-up from Al-Wehda to shoot home from close range for goal number 13 of the season.

Midway through the second half, Anderson Talisca bundled home a fourth but it was ruled out by VAR due to offside. Regardless, Al-Nassr were stroking it around nicely but the hosts scored next as Anselmo headed home a free-kick nine minutes from the end.

There was still time for a fourth deep for Al-Nassr in the 98th minute as Abdulrahman Ghareeb cut into the left side of the area and fired a fierce shot into the roof of the net with a finish that Ronaldo would have been proud of. Yet it was also ruled out by VAR.

It didn’t matter as Al-Nassr picked up another win to keep in touch with their Riyadh rivals at the top of the table.

Earlier, Ettifaq, who could have gone into the top six if they had won at Al-Fahya, were held to a goalless draw for the second successive game and stay in seventh.


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.


Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture

Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture
Updated 29 February 2024
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Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture

Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture
  • The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Ethics and Discipline Committee also ordered the Portuguese star to pay an additional SR20,000 to Al-Shabab, as compensation for the Riyadh club’s complaint filing fees

RIYADH: Al-Nassr striker Cristiano Ronaldo has been suspended for one match and fined SR10,000 ($2,666) after making an offensive gesture following his team’s victory over Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League on Sunday.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Ethics and Discipline Committee also ordered the Portuguese star to pay an additional SR20,000 to Al-Shabab, as compensation for the Riyadh club’s complaint filing fees.

Following the game on Sunday, videos posted on social media showed Ronaldo cupping his ear and repeatedly thrusting his hand forward near his pelvis, seemingly aimed at rival Al-Shabab supporters.

In the background, chants of “Messi” could be heard, referring to Ronaldo’s longstanding football rival from Argentina.

The committee called in the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to hear his response to the complaint filed by Al-Shabab, and asked the official broadcaster to provide footage of the incident in question.

The committee said in a statement that the decision is non-appealable.

This is not the first time that the Portuguese legend has been at the heart of fan controversy.

Earlier this month, the star was seen putting a scarf down his shorts before throwing it back at Al-Hilal fans after Al-Nassr loss in the Riyadh Season Cup. In the same game, the striker reacted angrily to Al-Hilal fans chanting the name of Lionel Messi.

Last year, the 39-year-old attacker grabbed his crotch after Al-Hilal fans taunted him by again invoking the name of the Argentine World Cup winner.


Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars

Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars
Updated 28 February 2024
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Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars

Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars
  • The Moroccan international was expected to exit the reigning SPL champions but has ended up being their most consistent forward this season

Al-Ittihad’s defense of the Saudi Pro League title has largely been one to forget.

Despite some early season promise that had them top for the first month, the wheels quickly fell off culminating in a disappointing showing in December’s FIFA Club World Cup and speculation that star signing Karim Benzema wanted out.

As recently as round seven they were still top of the table, but just 14 matches later they are now fifth and a whopping 22 points behind league leaders Al-Hilal. Any notion of going back-to-back has long since disappeared.

Their mission now is to simply try to close the gap on third-placed Al-Ahli, their crosstown Jeddah rivals, in the hope of securing what is still an unlikely spot in next season’s reformed AFC Champions League Elite competition.

Whereas last season they had one of the best defenses in the league — and one of the best on record in Saudi Pro League history — this season they have the equal worst of the top six.

Nuno Espirito Santo, meanwhile, who spearheaded that drought-breaking title triumph, has been moved on for hotshot Argentine manager Marcelo Gallardo.

But as bad as it has been, it could have been so much worse were it not for the goals of Moroccan international Abderrazak Hamdallah, who has 15 from 17 games this season.

The veteran striker has made a name for himself in the Kingdom since joining Al-Nassr after an equally fruitful stint in Qatar with El-Jaish and Al-Rayyan.

Scoring a league record 34 goals in his debut season with Al-Nassr, and 29 in his second season, he transferred to Al-Ittihad during the 2021-2022 season and has registered double digits in each of his five SPL seasons before the current campaign, making him one of the SPL’s all-time leading scorers.

It has also won him the hearts of Ittihad’s large and fervently faithful fanbase.

But after Al-Ittihad’s stunning capture of Benzema, regarded as one of the best strikers of the modern era, questions were naturally asked as to what the future held for the 33-year-old Hamdallah.

It seems inconceivable that the title-winning team would move on their leading striker who had just won the league’s golden boot, but that is what almost eventuated.

It is understood that the plan inside the walls of Al-Ittihad was to move the striker on — after all, they had Benzema now — only relenting after growing fan pressure against the move, giving the Moroccan a reprieve.

While running your recruitment based on the wishes of the fans is perhaps not the smartest strategy, it could be argued it was their best management decision of the summer.

Still only 33 and with plenty of years ahead of him, Hamdallah is what every team craves — a natural and reliable goalscorer. And as Al-Ittihad’s title defense has faltered, it is largely the goals from Hamdallah that is keeping their campaign alive.

His brace in their come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Al-Wehda on the weekend was further proof of his importance to Gallardo’s side.

Looking back, it seems incredulous that he could have been moved on. He will know how close he was and you get the sense he is playing with that chip on his shoulder, that every time he steps foot on the pitch, he has a point to prove.

And boy is he proving it.

His form this season also serves as a timely reminder that the SPL did not begin with the influx of headline signings in the most recent off-season.

Before the arrival of Benzema, Riyad Mahrez, Neymar and even before Cristiano Ronaldo, the SPL still attracted elite talent.

While Hamdallah may not possess the profile of those recent arrivals, his quality cannot be questioned. The same can be said for Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr teammate, Anderson Talisca.

After Ronaldo’s arrival in Riyadh there was speculation that the Brazilian would be moved on; deemed surplus to requirements at a club that had to shed a foreign player to make way for Ronaldo.

Talisca remained and this season he and Ronaldo have combined for 35 of Al-Nassr’s 60 goals.

Write these guys off at your peril.

As Al-Ittihad prepare for a season-defining fortnight, which will feature three Saudi Clasico’s against the high-flying Al-Hilal — one in the league and home-and-away ties in the AFC Champions League — they will do so grateful to have the Moroccan leading the line.

Having scored in eight consecutive league matches dating back to November, his form is imperious. His five goals in three games since the league resumed from its winter break make him the league’s most in-form striker.

While their title defense may be over, that does not mean they cannot impact where the silverware goes this season. Not to mention there is still silverware of their own to play for in the form of the AFC Champions League, where he has registered a further four goals.

Staring down this Al-Hilal side is a daunting prospect — their winning streak currently stands at 24 across all competitions (26 if you include friendly wins over Inter Miami and Al-Nassr). Their undefeated streak is now at 34 games.

And as good as his scoring record is, Hamdallah has only scored once against Al-Hilal since joining Al-Ittihad two years ago; that coming in their 4-3 loss earlier this season. It is a wrong he will be determined to right over the next fortnight.

In a season to forget for Al-Ittihad, Hamdallah could still deliver moments to remember and that starts with this week’s trip to Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena.


Al-Hilal too strong for Al-Ettifaq, stretch winning run to 24 matches

Al-Hilal too strong for Al-Ettifaq, stretch winning run to 24 matches
Updated 26 February 2024
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Al-Hilal too strong for Al-Ettifaq, stretch winning run to 24 matches

Al-Hilal too strong for Al-Ettifaq, stretch winning run to 24 matches
  • Victory restored Riyadh club’s seven-point lead above Al-Nassr at top of Roshn Saudi League

RIYADH: Al-Hilal won 2-0 at Al-Ettifaq on Monday to restore their seven-point lead above Al-Nassr at the top of the Roshn Saudi League.

It was also the club’s 24th successive victory in all competitions and showed the eighth-placed home team what was required to challenge at the summit of the table.

Al-Ettifaq had the busiest winter transfer window of any team in the top tier and collected a welcome win last week at Al-Khaleej. Al-Hilal are, however, a very different proposition and while the team from Dammam fought hard, the 18-time champions were just too strong.

Al-Hilal should have taken the lead in the 16th minute, but Kalidou Koulibaly’s low shot on the turn inside the area was well-saved by Paulo Victor. Soon after, Renan Lodi made a marauding run forward, though his fierce shot from outside the area just cleared the bar.

With around eight minutes of the half remaining, however, Al-Ettifaq coach Steven Gerrard must have been quietly satisfied. The champions may have made most of the running, but it was goalless, and the hosts had given themselves a platform to build on in the second half.

But then Al-Hilal struck twice before the break. The first goal was from a simple though well-executed corner from the right. It came from the boot of Ruben Neves and while it seemed as if the green shirts massing around the near post would be able to deal with it, in ran Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to send a bullet header into the back of the net for his ninth league goal of the season.

It was only one goal and still possible for the English tactician to get his men back in the dressing room to regroup. But Salem Al-Dawsari had other ideas.

Once again, Al-Ettifaq will be asking questions of themselves defensively, especially Mohammed Abdulrahman. The right-back first gave the ball away and was then beaten too easily by the Asian player of the year who cut in from the left, advanced toward the near post, and slipped the ball past Victor for his 10th league goal of the season.

The half ended on a high of sorts with Gini Wijnaldum testing Yassine Bounou with a shot from outside the area.

Al-Ettifaq tried their utmost after the break but still struggled to create clear chances.

The game was almost settled just after the hour as Milinkovic-Savic whipped in a wicked shot from 20 meters out which beat Victor but came back off the inside of the post and, despite the best efforts of Malcom, eventually out to safety.

With eight minutes remaining, Al-Ettifaq came close to making it a very interesting final stage. Karl Toko-Ekambi advanced toward the Al-Hilal box and, flanked by blue shirts, sent a low shot from the right side that rolled just past the post.

With it went the home team’s chances of getting anything from the game and, in fact, the Blues looked likelier to get a third with Michael coming close in the final seconds.

In the end, Al-Hilal had to settle for 2-0 while Al-Ettifaq, who stay in eighth, and coach Gerrard know that there should be easier tasks ahead.

Right now, it would seem no team can stop Al-Hilal.


Furor erupts over Ronaldo’s apparent obscene taunt in Saudi league match

Furor erupts over Ronaldo’s apparent obscene taunt in Saudi league match
Updated 26 February 2024
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Furor erupts over Ronaldo’s apparent obscene taunt in Saudi league match

Furor erupts over Ronaldo’s apparent obscene taunt in Saudi league match
  • Critcism of the 39-year-old Portuguese has been swift and media reports say that the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has opened an investigation
  • Portuguese star scored a first half penalty, before Brazilian Talisca’s late brace, including a goal four minutes from time, secured the win for Al-Nassr

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo has come under heavy criticism after seemingly making an offensive gesture following Al-Nassr’s 3-2 victory over Al-Shabab in a Saudi Pro League match on Sunday.
The Portuguese star scored a first half penalty, before Brazilian Talisca’s late brace, including a goal four minutes from time, secured the win for Al-Nassr.
After the final whistle, videos posted on social media showed the five-time Ballon d’Or winner cupping his ear and repeatedly thrusting his hand forward near his pelvis, seemingly aimed at rival Al-Shabab supporters.
In the background, chants of “Messi” could be heard, referring to Ronaldo’s longstanding football rival from Argentina.
While the incident was not captured by television cameras, critcism of the 39-year-old Portuguese has been swift and media reports say that the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has opened an investigation.
Ronaldo, who completed a lucrative move to the Riyadh-based club in December 2022, has a league-leading 22 goals this season. Al-Nassr trail fellow big-spending rivals Al-Hilal by four points, having played a game more.
Al-Nassr is also in contention for the Asian Champions League — a tournament it has never won — and will play Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates in the quarterfinals next month.