Goalless draw enough for 10-man Al-Nassr to reach last 16 of Asian Champions League

Special Goalless draw enough for 10-man Al-Nassr to reach last 16 of Asian Champions League
Nassr’s Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo attempts a shot during the AFC Champions League Group E game against Iran’s Persepolis at Al-Awwal Stadium in Riyadh, Nov. 27, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Goalless draw enough for 10-man Al-Nassr to reach last 16 of Asian Champions League

Goalless draw enough for 10-man Al-Nassr to reach last 16 of Asian Champions League
  • Saudis down a man for three quarters of their game against Iranian side Persepolis after defender Ali Lajami was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Milad Sarlak
  • There was concern for the home fans when Ronaldo seemed to hurt his neck in a coming together with the goalkeeper and was forced to leave the pitch 12 minutes from the end

Al-Nassr joined Al-Ittihad in the last 16 of the Asian Champions League on Monday after a goalless draw at home to Iranian side Persepolis.

The Saudis had to play more than three quarters of the game with just 10 men and then saw Cristiano Ronaldo leave the pitch with a neck injury 12 minutes from the end.

Luis Castro’s men had won all four of their previous games in Group E to put themselves in a very strong position, safe in the knowledge that a point would guarantee top spot. And that is exactly what happened.

Things could have been even better for them, however, as Ronaldo seemed to be in after just two minutes but went down under a challenge from Soroush Rafiei inside the area. The Portuguese star seemed to inform the referee that it had not been a foul. Whatever happened, the referee did not point to the spot and the game continued.

Persepolis knew a win would go a long way to securing their own place in the last 16 and looked to attack whenever they could. Goalkeeper Nawaf Al-Aqidi was the hero for Al-Nassr after 16 minutes when he got down well to save from Danial Esmaeilifar inside the box.

Seconds later, the Riyadh side’s night took a huge turn for the worse when defender Ali Lajami was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on midfielder Milad Sarlak. This put the home team, who have been in fantastic form, with 18 wins from 19 games in all competitions, on their heels and it took time for them to get going again.

Eight minutes after the restart, the Tehran titans thought they had broken the deadlock when Shabab Zahedi produced a smart, low finish from near the penalty spot. However, he was adjudged to have been offside.

Three minutes before the hour mark, Ronaldo reminded the visitors that they could not afford to lose concentration, as he spun inside the area and fired a shot just wide of the left-hand post with the goalkeeper scrambling to get near.

As the game fizzled out toward the end, there were concerns among the home fans when Ronaldo seemed to hurt his neck in a coming together with the goalkeeper. The 38 year old left the pitch in what appeared to be some pain but it is hoped he will be fit for Friday’s Riyadh derby against league leaders Al-Hilal.

His presence is likely to be needed. The five-time Ballon D’or winner has been in amazing form and his 15 league goals so far this season have helped put Al-Nassr in second place in the Roshn Saudi League, just four points behind the leaders.

Al-Hilal, meanwhile, have a big Asian Champions League game on Tuesday against Uzbek side Navbahor. The two teams top Group D on 10 points, with the Saudis ahead on goal difference. Meanwhile, Al-Nassr can now focus solely on the big game on Friday.


Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68
Updated 19 April 2024
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Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68
  • She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events
  • Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury

THE WOODLANDS, Texas: Nelly Korda, who is looking to tie an LPGA Tour record with her fifth straight win, shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Chevron Championship, leaving her two shots behind leader Lauren Coughlin in the year’s first major.

Coughlin shot a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Carlton Woods, which is hosting the event for the second time.

The top-ranked Korda is seeking her second major after winning the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021. She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events.

Korda said she was battling fatigue from recent tournaments at the beginning of her round. She bogeyed her first hole, the par-4 10th.

“I (could) definitely still feel maybe a little bit of tiredness, so it took me a while to get going,” she said. “I felt the nerves definitely at the start of the round. Once I made the turn, I was just playing free golf.”

She made her first birdie on the par-4 14th hole, something she half-jokingly credited to a snack.

“I actually had an apple on 13, and that gave me actually a nice boost,” she said. “I felt a lot better after that. Maybe I should have apples more often.”

The 25-year-old finished with six birdies, including four in the final six holes.

“Two of them were par 5s, so I got to take advantage of that with my length,” she said. “Hit a really good tee shot, and then I was just on the front of the green on 17, and the other one I was just on the fringe, too. I two-putted pretty much for birdie on those. Then I had wedge shots in on the other two, too. Taking advantage of my length and hitting good tee shots.”

Marina Alex and Japan’s Minami Katsu also shot 68. Lydia Ko was one of five players at 69.

The 31-year-old Coughlin, who played in college at Virginia and has never won on the LPGA Tour, made three birdies in a four-hole span from Nos. 2-5. She believes her game has benefited from her recent decision to make husband John Pond her full-time caddie.

“He’s really good at talking through everything when I want to get really fast and make a decision really quickly,” Coughlin said. “He is really good at putting all the work in, all the extra work, all the extra walking ... making sure the strategy is really good and double checking everything. But ... he’s always been really good with how he talks to me and communicates what he thinks I need to do and how I need to do it.”

Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury. She issued a statement on Instagram saying she had “severe discomfort” in her back during warmups.

“I have been dealing with a back injury for a while now,” Vu said in the statement. “Some days are better than others, and today was unfortunately not a good day. During my normal warmup routine, I had severe discomfort in my back and I felt that I could not compete up to my standards and made the decision to withdraw from the tournament ahead of my tee time.”

She added that she was returning home to see her doctors and determine the next steps.

Later in the day, last year’s runner-up Angel Yin withdrew because of an injury after shooting 78.

A win by Ko would put her in the LPGA Hall of Fame. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January for her 20th LPGA title.

The 26-year-old New Zealander admitted that she still gets nervous before tournaments despite all her experience and success.

“It doesn’t matter what event we’re playing or what circumstances, when you’re younger you want to get away from the nerves,” Ko said. “To some extent as long as you can control it the nerves are good for you and you’re able to excel and get the adrenaline to hit some shots that you may not be able to execute when you’re just practicing.”


Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals
Updated 19 April 2024
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Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals
  • Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

BERLIN: World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinals of the WTA Stuttgart clay court tournament by beating Elize Mertens in straight sets on Thursday, her ninth win in nine career matches at the French Open warm-up event.

Swiatek beat the unseeded Belgian 6-3, 6-4 to maintain her bid to capture a third successive title in the German city and be handed the keys to a third luxury car from the sponsors after also winning the tournament in 2022.

“There’s always space for a Porsche. If not, we’ll make it. I’ll build an underground garage,” said Swiatek after playing her first clay-court match since lifting the French Open title last June.

The Pole burst out of the blocks to set up a 5-1 lead in the first set, before going 0-30 down but recovering to serve out the set.

Swiatek was broken early in the second but served her way back into the set, winning with a forehand on her fourth match point after Mertens had saved the previous three.

“This is not an easy tournament. Everyone is really motivated to win that car,” Swiatek added.

The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals.

Raducanu, who helped Britain qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup finals last weekend, took down Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-0, 7-5.

It will be a first quarterfinal appearance for Raducanu in 19 months. She has been plagued by a raft of injuries since her 2021 Grand Slam breakthrough and missed much of last season.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

World No. 27 Kostyuk will face US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday for a place in the semifinals.

Elena Rybakina beat Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4, continuing her strong form in 2024.

The Kazakh world No. 4, who has already claimed titles at Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this year, beat the Russian in two hours 33 minutes.

“I know I have my weapon, my serve. I know I can always serve it out in tough moments. Not always, but this is a strength,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina will be playing in her seventh quarterfinal of the season on Friday where she will face Jasmine Paolini who put out Ons Jabeur 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in her last 16 clash.


Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis

Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis
Updated 19 April 2024
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Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis

Liverpool out of Europa League as Leverkusen advance to semis

LONDON: Liverpool crashed out of the Europa League after a 1-0 win against Atalanta that wasn’t enough to overturn their quarter-final deficit, while Bayer Leverkusen’s 1-1 draw at West Ham took the German champions into the last four on Thursday.
In Jurgen Klopp’s last season as Liverpool boss, the Reds were hoping to give the German a memorable farewell in the final in Dublin.
But Liverpool had suffered a stunning 3-0 loss in the first leg against Atalanta at Anfield last week.
And although Liverpool have authored some of European football’s greatest comebacks down the years against the likes of St. Etienne, AC Milan and Barcelona, there would be no miracle escape this time.
Mohamed Salah converted a seventh minute penalty in the second leg in Bergamo after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross hit Matteo Ruggeri’s arm.
However, Klopp’s men couldn’t breach the stubborn Atalanta defense again.
It has been a brutal week for Liverpool, whose Premier League title challenge was damaged by a shock home defeat against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
“It’s mixed emotions. We are out but I’m happy with the game,” Klopp said.
“It was clear we gave ourselves a massive hurdle. We wished we could have gone to Dublin but that hasn’t happened.”
While Klopp contemplates his failure to land the one major trophy to elude him during nine years with Liverpool, Atalanta can dream of winning the second silverware in their 116-year history after the 1963 Coppa Italia.
Bidding to reach their maiden European final, Gian Piero Gasperini’s team will face Marseille in their first European semifinal since the 1988 Cup Winners’ Cup.
Fresh from clinching their first Bundesliga title last weekend, Leverkusen survived a scare from West Ham before advancing 3-1 on aggregate.
In the semifinals, Xabi Alonso’s side will play Roma, who saw off Italian rivals AC Milan 3-1 on aggregate.
Leverkusen won the first leg 2-0 but West Ham made the perfect start in east London when Michail Antonio met Jarrod Bowen’s pin-point cross with a close-range header in the 13th minute.
West Ham eventually ran out of steam and Jeremie Frimpong struck in the 89th minute with a shot that deflected in off Aaron Cresswell.
“The momentum was with West Ham. To be honest, we were not at our best in the first half. I’m happy to go through. In the Europa League you always have tough moments,” Alonso said.
Leverkusen are into their second successive Europa League semifinal, while West Ham’s exit means for only the third time in the 21st century, England will have no teams in the Champions League and Europa League last four.
Leverkusen’s 44-game unbeaten run in all competitions has taken them to the brink of an incredible treble, finally ridding the club of the ‘Neverkusen’ tag that mocked their decades of underachievement.
Alonso’s team, who face second tier Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on May 25, beat Werder Bremen 5-0 on Sunday to win the Bundesliga title.
At the Stadio Olimpico, Gianluca Mancini put Roma head from close-range in the 12th minute and Paulo Dybala doubled their advantage in the 22nd minute with a blistering strike.
Daniele De Rossi’s side were reduced to 10 men in the 31st minute when Zeki Celik was dismissed for a foul on Milan forward Rafael Leao.
Matteo Gabbia got one back in the 85th minute, but his header was little consolation for Milan.
After losing last season’s Europa League final against Sevilla, Roma are one step closer to finally winning the competition for the first time.
Roma, who won the Europa Conference League in 2022, are into their fifth European semifinal in the last seven seasons.
In the south of France, Marseille were 4-2 winners in a penalty shoot-out against Benfica following the French side’s 1-0 victory in a tie that finished 2-2 on aggregate.
Faris Moumbagna struck in the 79th minute, heading in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s cross to force extra-time.
In the shoot-out, Luis Henrique scored the winner for Jean-Louis Gasset’s side after Benfica duo Angel Di Maria and Antonio Silva missed their kicks.


Mumbai Indians survive Ashutosh Sharma scare to beat Punjab Kings

Mumbai Indians survive Ashutosh Sharma scare to beat Punjab Kings
Updated 18 April 2024
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Mumbai Indians survive Ashutosh Sharma scare to beat Punjab Kings

Mumbai Indians survive Ashutosh Sharma scare to beat Punjab Kings
  • Suryakumar Yadav hit an impressive 78 runs off 53 balls to help Mumbai Indians post a solid 192-7
  • Sharma hit an explosive 61 runs off 28 balls for the Punjab Kings, but it was not enough to carry the day

MULLANPUR, India: Mumbai Indians managed to fend off a valiant effort by Punjab Kings batsman Ashutosh Sharma to win by nine runs in a fiercely fought IPL thriller on Thursday.
Invited to bat first, Mumbai Indians started off on a decent note. After losing only two wickets in the first 12 overs, Suryakumar Yadav went on to smash an impressive 78 runs off 53 balls to help the team post a solid 192-7.
The second innings began on a disastrous note for the Punjab Kings, with fast bowler Gerald Coetzee and Indian pacer Japsrit Bumrah striking quick to leave them reeling at 14-3 at the end of the second over.
Sharma eventually managed to help rebuild the innings with an explosive 61 runs off 28 balls, aided ably by Shashank Singh (41) and Harpreet Brar (21), but it was ultimately not enough to carry them through the day.
Punjab Kings acting captain Sam Curran said it was “heart-breaking” for his team to take it close and still lose.
“This team loves a close game. Got well to get close, thanks to Ashutosh... Hopefully we can win the close ones and get the momentum,” Curran added.
Mumbai openers Ishan Kishan and Rohit Sharma kicked off the first innings with an 18 run partnership before Kishan, who hit eight runs off eight balls, fell in the third over leaving the team at 18-1.
Sharma, who scored a 25-ball 36, built another partnership with Suryakumar Yadav before falling in the 12th over. Yadav went on to smash 78 runs off 53 balls before being dismissed in the 17th over.
Young Tilak Varma went on to rack up a solid 18-ball 34, with the assistance of cameos from Hardik Pandya (10) and Tim David (14), to help Mumbai wrap up the first innings at 192-7.
The game seemed in the bag in the early portion of the second innings, partly due to sharp bowling by Coetzee and Bumrah, who took three wickets each.
When the glimmer of hope given by Sharma was extinguished, Kagiso Rabada put up a last-ditch attempt with eight runs off three balls but ultimately ended up falling in the last over.
“What a game. We started really well. Cricket’s a funny game. We thought we had it, they battled really well. Then it was like a see-saw,” said Coetzee.


Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open

Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open
Updated 18 April 2024
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Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open

Li and Hend one back of Catlin while Moroccans Lguirati and Raouzi make cut at 2024 Saudi Open
  • John Catlin birdied the 18th to remain at the top of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF leaderboard
  • Moroccans Ayoub Lgiurati and Othman Raouzi made the cut as Saudi amateur Khalid Walid Attieh missed by one stroke

RIYADH: Li Haotong and Scott Hend made the most of the calm morning conditions to head into the weekend one shot behind pacesetter John Catlin, who leads on 10-under-par after day two of the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF.

Catlin birdied the 18th hole as the sun set on a warm day at Riyadh Golf Club to ensure he heads into Friday ahead of Chinese star and DP World Tour member Li, who shot a scintillating 65, and Australian Hend. Steve Lewton’s 64 was the best round of the day and sees him in third place alongside David Puig, who finished his round with a triple bogey on the ninth hole.

Amateur Khalid Walid Attieh looked set to make history as the first Saudi player to make the cut since the tournament was elevated to the Asian Tour, however three bogeys on the back nine saw him miss out by one, with a putt just sliding by at the last.

Moroccan golfers Ayoub Lguirati and Othman Raouzi, who were two of the golfers given special invites to the tournament as part of Golf Saudi’s strategic partnership with the Arab Golf Federation, finished on one-under-par and even par respectively to extend their participation.

Lguirati said: “It was a positive day for me with only one bogey and one birdie. I stuck to my strategy all day and ended with a good result in a tough competition. I am very happy to have made the cut in this tournament and to play over the next two days.

“I usually play on the second tier Asian Development Tour but with the help of the Royal Moroccan Golf Association and Golf Saudi I have been able to reach this level and I continue improving.”

Meanwhile, Li is excited to challenge for the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF trophy as he looks to put some recent poor form behind him. Four birdies in five holes on his back nine catapulted him up the leaderboard.

Li said: “I played really well and wasted some chances. The course played a lot easier compared to yesterday, because of no wind and easier pin positions.

“I am still struggling a little bit off the tee, but except for that everything’s pretty solid overall. I am here to try and get the job done and get the trophy! So hopefully I have a hot start tomorrow.”

Li will play alongside Hend and Catlin on Friday, but will be wary of Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Puig in the penultimate group, who won the PIF Moment of the Day for a stunning front nine of 29, which included five birdies and an eagle in his first six holes.