All you need to know about the Riyadh derby

All you need to know about the Riyadh derby
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Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored 11 goals, in 12 RSL matches, for Al-Hilal. (RSL)
All you need to know about the Riyadh derby
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Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 15 goals, in 13 RSL matches, for Al-Nassr. (RSL)
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Updated 29 November 2023
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All you need to know about the Riyadh derby

All you need to know about the Riyadh derby
  • Roshn Saudi League leaders Al-Hilal host second-placed Al-Nassr
  • Al-Hilal have won a record seven RSL titles, while Al-Nassr have three

RIYADH: The 2023-24 season’s first principal Riyadh derby kicks off this weekend, with Roshn Saudi League leaders Al-Hilal hosting second-placed Al-Nassr. As such, the stakes couldn’t be much higher.

Here’s all you need to know about one of the fiercest rivalries not only in Saudi football, but in the region, ahead of Friday’s much anticipated encounter.

The rivalry

The capital’s two premier clubs, part of the RSL’s traditional “Big Four” (including Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli), less than 10 kilometres apart in the city. On the pitch, Al-Hilal have won a record seven RSL titles, while Al-Nassr have the next best, with three.

In Al-Nassr’s most recent title success, in the 2018-19 campaign, they pipped Al-Hilal to the trophy by a solitary point; the following season, it was Al-Hilal who were celebrating the championship, with Al-Nassr finishing second.

The derby is therefore considered one of the marquee fixtures of the RSL calendar, with the matches often sold-out well in advance. On Friday, there is expected to be another full house at the King Fahd Sports City – anticipate fireworks, flags, banners and plenty of back-and-forward between the opposing fans. It should be rivalled only by what takes place on the pitch, as Riyadh bragging rights and, potentially, a huge step towards the RSL title are up for grabs.

Head-to-head record

Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have met 30 times in the RSL era, with the former winning 15 matches and the latter nine. Both teams have not lost more games to anyone else, or conceded as many goals (54 Al-Nassr, 34 Al-Hilal).

Fixture’s top scorer

Mohammed Al Sahlawi (Al-Nassr) - 11 goals

Salem Al Dawsari (Al-Hilal) - 8 goals

Biggest wins

Al-Hilal 5-1 Al-Nassr 4 May 2017

Al-Nassr 0-4 Al-Hilal 3 March 2022

Al-Nassr 1-4 Al-Hilal 5 August 2020

Last six meetings

Al-Hilal 2-0 Al-Nassr

Al-Nassr 1-0 Al-Hilal

Al-Hilal 0-2 Al-Nassr

Al-Nassr 0-4 Al-Hilal

Al-Nassr 2-2 Al-Hilal

Al-Hilal 2-0 Al-Nassr

Last season’s matches

Al-Nassr 2-2 Al-Hilal, 26 December 2022

Just days before the biggest transfer in Saudi football history, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal played out a mightily entertaining draw at Al-Awwal Park at King Saudi University. Al-Hilal took the lead early through former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo, before Anderson Talisca levelled for the hosts, with Salem Al-Dawsari restoring the visitors’ advantage from the spot just after the hour. But there was late, late drama: Abdulrahman Ghareeb struck an 88th-minute equaliser. Four days later, Al-Nassr signed five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.

Al-Hilal 2-0 Al-Nassr, 18 April 2023

With Al-Nassr chasing a first RSL title in four years, they fell to a damaging defeat to Al-Hilal thanks to a penalty in either half from Ighalo. To make matters worse for the visitors, Ronaldo had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside, while he also saw the award of a penalty overturned. Nassr were now three points behind leaders Al Ittihad with only five rounds remaining. They eventually finished runners-up to Al-Ittihad, and their wait for a 10th league championship continued.

This season

To add a little more spice to the clash – as if that is needed – Al-Nassr defeated Al-Hilal in August in the final of the King Salman Club Cup. They won 2-1 in extra-time, with Ronaldo getting both their goals.

The form guide

Unbeaten in the RSL this season, Al-Hilal have won 12 and drawn two matches. They are riding a seven-match win streak, most recently making history by defeating Al-Hazem 9-0 away – a record result for the RSL.

Al-Nassr have built an impressive run since losing their opening two RSL matches, going unbeaten in the next 12. They have won five on the bounce since drawing with Abha in Matchweek 9; last time out, Al-Nassr sealed a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Al-Akhdood.

Standout stat

With the exception of the first two rounds this season, the two are tied at the top of the table with 34 points each. They are also tied at the summit of the RSL’s ranking in 2023, with 75 points each in 33 games and are, rather unbelievably, equal in scoring 77 goals and conceding 27 goals.

Players to watch

Al-Hilal

Kalidou Koulibaly: The Senegal international defender, signed this summer from Chelsea, will have to be on guard against an all-firing Al-Nassr who possess the league’s second-best attack this season.

Salem Al-Dawsari: The current Asian Player of the Year really needs no introduction. Arguably Saudi’s most talented player, he carries a sizeable goal and assist threat. Will be difficult to shackle.

Aleksandar Mitrovic: What an impact from the Serbian international following his summer move from Fulham. Has 11 goals in 12 RSL matches, showing in the “Saudi Clasico” with Al-Ittihad what he can do in high-stake games by notching a hat-trick.

Al-Nassr

Nawaf Al-Aqidi: The league’s leading local goalkeeper, the Saudi stopper has emerged as one of the league’s most reliable pair of hands since deputising for the injured David Ospina. Up against the season’s most prolific attack, he will need to be at his best.

Aymeric Laporte: One of the most notable RSL additions this summer, the recent treble winner with Manchester City knows what he is up against in Neves, Mitrovic and Co. The battle with the imposing Mitrovic should be pivotal.

Cristiano Ronaldo: What more can be said about the superstar? The Al-Nassr captain leads the way this season in RSL goals (15 in 13 games) and sits joint-top of the assist charts also, with seven. Quite clearly, the club’s go-to man.

Coaching compatriots, but competitors too

In the blue corner, Al-Hilal boast the vastly experienced, and hugely decorated, Jorge Jesus. The Portuguese manager is enjoying his second spell at the club after a brief, seven-month reign from June 2018. Formerly managed Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Flamengo, with his notable trophies including three Portuguese top-flight titles and the 2019 Copa Libertadores.

In the opposing dugout, fellow Portuguese tactician Luis Castro has managed a raft of clubs in his homeland before spells in Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk, Qatar with Al-Duhail and Brazil’s Botafogo. Helped Shakhtar win the 2019-20 Ukrainian top-flight title. Joined proved a real hit at Al-Nassr since joining in July.

Jesus and Castro have faced each other in 10 games, with the former winning five and the latter three.


‘World class’ Foden reaches new heights as Man City inflict more misery on Man Utd

‘World class’ Foden reaches new heights as Man City inflict more misery on Man Utd
Updated 04 March 2024
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‘World class’ Foden reaches new heights as Man City inflict more misery on Man Utd

‘World class’ Foden reaches new heights as Man City inflict more misery on Man Utd
MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola said Phil Foden has become a “world class” talent capable of deciding big games after the 23-year-old scored twice in Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Manchester United on Sunday.
Marcus Rashford’s wonder strike had fired United into a shock lead at the Etihad.
Erling Haaland was then guilty of a miss that will go down in Premier League folklore when he fired over an open goal just before half-time.
But Foden ensured City ceded no ground in the title race as he blasted into the top corner to level and then produced a composed finish 10 minutes from time.
Haaland atoned for his earlier miss in added time as City moved to within one point of Liverpool ahead of a top-of-the-table clash between the two next Sunday.
“I always had the feeling he would score goals and now he is winning games. To become a world class-player at that age you have to win games,” said Guardiola.
“He lives to play football. That’s why with 18, 19 years old he proved things but now he’s more mature.
“He always scored goals but now scores goals that win games and when you do this, you reach another level as a player.”
An 11th league defeat of the season for United leaves Erik ten Hag’s men 11 points adrift of the top four with 11 games remaining.
United could have few complaints after being outplayed and having just one shot on target, even if it was a spectacular one.
Rashford rounded on his critics this week as he hit back at questions of his commitment.
The England international has been a pale imitation of the forward who scored 30 goals last season for most of this campaign, but showed a glimpse of the quality by smashing in off the crossbar from long range.
Guardiola’s men dominated from that moment on, but were kept at bay for nearly an hour by wayward finishing and some fine goalkeeping by Andre Onana.
Twice the Cameroonian foiled Foden when clean through, while Rodri was also denied by a smart stop low to his left.
United’s lead remained intact until half-time but only thanks to a moment that will be replayed for years.
City finally cut the visitors’ massed defense to shreds as Rodri’s cross was headed back across goal by Foden, inviting the finishing touch from Haaland.
However, he incredibly turned the ball over with the goal gaping from point-blank range.
The rearguard action from the Red Devils was finally undone as Foden produced a strike to match Rashford’s in the first half.
Ten Hag was furious that a foul had not been awarded to Rashford at the other end, but he appeared to go to ground too easily under contact from Kyle Walker.
Rodri picked out Foden, who cut inside and arrowed a blistering shot into the top corner.
A slick one-two between Foden and Julian Alvarez opened up the United defense for the decisive goal as the England international fired in his 18th of the season.
“That’s my aim, to turn up in the big games,” said Foden, who has now scored six goals in nine Premier League games against United.
“That’s what I want to do. I think this season I’m proving that.
“I understand what it means to the fans. It means everything to me. To score is even better, but it was all about the win today.”
Haaland’s redemption rounded off a fine afternoon for the English champions.
Rodri dispossessed Sofyan Amrabat and teed up the Norwegian to curl beyond Onana for his 28th goal of the season.

IT firm Atos announces Riyadh HQ, sports technology center during LEAP conference

IT firm Atos announces Riyadh HQ, sports technology center during LEAP conference
Updated 03 March 2024
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IT firm Atos announces Riyadh HQ, sports technology center during LEAP conference

IT firm Atos announces Riyadh HQ, sports technology center during LEAP conference
  • The firm said its new Riyadh HQ and center of excellence would also help support Saudi Arabia’s development

LONDON: Global information technology services firm Atos announced on Sunday its plans to open a sports technology center in the second quarter of 2024 as part of its new MENA (Middle East and North Africa) headquarters in Riyadh.

Announced at the LEAP 2024 conference, an Atos statement said the center would enable the firm to continue providing “best-in-class IT services and solutions to global sporting events” and “develop cutting-edge technology applications to benefit athletes, fans and the sports sector in Saudi Arabia.”

Marc Veelenturf, CEO for the Middle East and Turkiye at Atos, said: “Through the Sports Technology Center of Excellence, Atos will empower organizations in Saudi Arabia with the technologies needed to thrive in the Kingdom’s digital economy. Drawing upon our best-in-class digital tools and IT solutions, the center will become the epicenter for major events technology and digital innovation in the region.” 

The firm said its new Riyadh HQ and center of excellence would also help support Saudi Arabia’s public sector initiatives, transformation projects and various giga-projects and smart destinations such as Expo 2030 and Saudi Entertainment and Amusement Expo.

Mutaz Salem, general manager at Atos, said: “Atos will enable Saudi’s major projects to become pioneering, future-proof smart destinations rooted in tradition, sport and culture with strong expertise and experience.”

Javier Escudero, commercial director at the firm’s Major Events arm, said: “The center of excellence will be located in the heart of Riyadh to provide major events with seamless technology, orchestrating flawless operations and secure data flow.

“Our unique track record in sport includes over 25 Asian projects such as the Olympic Games, and Asian, Arab and Gulf Games. Atos’ innovative solutions will serve as the backbone, enabling organizers to captivate audiences worldwide while ensuring reliability and precision behind the scenes.”


Table-toppers Multan Sultans defeat Karachi Kings by 20 runs in PSL clash

Table-toppers Multan Sultans defeat Karachi Kings by 20 runs in PSL clash
Updated 03 March 2024
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Table-toppers Multan Sultans defeat Karachi Kings by 20 runs in PSL clash

Table-toppers Multan Sultans defeat Karachi Kings by 20 runs in PSL clash
  • Usman Khan played a brilliant innings of 106 runs not out to build momentum for Multan
  • Chasing 190 runs to win, Karachi Kings could barely reach 169 runs at the end of 20th over

ISLAMABAD: Table-toppers Multan Sultans defeated Karachi Kings by 20 runs in their Pakistan Super League (PSL) 9th edition match at the National Stadium in Karachi.

Multan decided to bat first after they won the toss. Usman Khan played a brilliant innings of 106 runs not out to build momentum for his side.

Along with Khan, Mohammad Rizwan scored a half century to power Multan to 189 runs. In response, Karachi could only score 169 runs from their 20 overs.

“Sultans Supremacy in Karachi,” the PSL commented on X after the match. “Multan keep their place at the top of the standings after achieving a commanding win over Karachi.”

Blessing Muzarabani took two wickets for 32 runs, while Hasan Ali dismissed one for 34 runs.

Chasing 190 runs to win, Shoaib Malik and Shan Masood scored 38 (28) and 36 (29) respectively. Mohammad Nawaz chipped in with 27 runs not out as Karachi reached 169 at the end of 20th over.

Usama Mir dismissed two for 29, while Khushdil Shah and David Willey took one wicket each.

This was Multan’s sixth win from their seven matches, while Karachi have won only two of their six games this season.


Joaquin Niemann crowned LIV Golf Jeddah champion

Joaquin Niemann crowned LIV Golf Jeddah champion
Updated 03 March 2024
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Joaquin Niemann crowned LIV Golf Jeddah champion

Joaquin Niemann crowned LIV Golf Jeddah champion
  • Crushers GC team to beat after stunning performances at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club

JEDDAH: Joaquin Niemann once again proved he is the hottest golfer on the planet right now and Crushers GC showed they are the most dominant team in the LIV Golf League with stunning performances at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

The Chilean golfer, captain of Torque GC, won the individual title by four shots with birdies on his last two holes. A four-under par 66 took him to 17-under par, four clear of Stingers captain Louis Oosthuizen (67) and his compatriot Charl Schwartzel (68).

Niemann’s win, his second of the season in three starts after LIV Golf Mayakoba, was remarkable, but it was the performance of the Bryson DeChambeau-led Crushers (-38) that became the talk of the golf course. They staged a magnificent charge on the final day, coming back from 11 shots behind and beating overnight leaders Stingers (-34) by four shots.

On a difficult, windy day, captain DeChambeau led from the front with the day’s lowest round of eight-under 62, which helped him finish fourth in the individual standings, while Charles Howell III contributed a 64 and Anirban Lahiri 65 (both tied sixth). They beat the previous record of the biggest comeback by a team in LIV history by four shots (4Aces in Adelaide last year).

Niemann now has three wins (Australian Open in December and two LIV wins), a third, a fourth, and a fifth position in his last six starts worldwide.

He started the final round two ahead and immediately increased that margin with a birdie on his opening hole. Thereafter, he continued to hit one good shot after another, with the only bogey of the day on the 13th hole, which also happened to be only his second bogey of the tournament. He closed with birdies on the 17th and 18th, which came after a huge drive of 410 yards.

The 25-year-old from Santiago, who has received a special invitational to play this year’s Masters and also qualified for the Open Championship following his win in Australia, said: “It feels amazing. It’s a super special moment. It’s always nice when you win, but I’m more proud of how I’m playing right now and the way I played out there today. It was a tough day. It was windy.

“I think this is the most confident I have ever felt on a golf course, the best I’ve ever played. I just want it to keep going in the same direction. There is a lot more to improve, and I think I just need to be curious about that and see how much I can learn.”

Niemann won $4 million and 40 points, which takes him to the top of the individual standings after three tournaments at 80 points.

Crushers were off to a solid start, but the real momentum boost was provided by DeChambeau, when he eagled the par-5 18th hole with a 20-feet putt, and then almost willed in a 15-feet birdie putt on his next hole to take his team level with Stingers. Howell and Lahiri kept adding birdies and it turned out to be a romp for the team.

On whether he thought a win was possible at the start of the day, DeChambeau said: “No, but I knew that our team is good enough to do it any day, especially with four scores counting. I can count on these guys to play really well.

“The top priority for us was to play our best, and it obviously showed today. Especially in these conditions, when it’s really windy, we do pretty well. We just hold our heads high.”

Lahiri said: “Bryson’s low round was the key. That was unbelievable golf. I was playing so well given the conditions that I thought I might be one of the lowest scores of the day, and if that gets beaten by two of my own teammates, it just shows how well we played as a team.”

Crushers are the reigning Team Championship winners and have moved to the top of the team standings. With a second place in Mayakoba, they now have 68 points, 18 ahead of second-placed Smash GC.


UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl maintain 8-point lead over Al-Ain at top of table

Al-Wasl have an 8-point lead over Al-Ain at the top of the ADNOC Pro League. (@AlWaslSC)
Al-Wasl have an 8-point lead over Al-Ain at the top of the ADNOC Pro League. (@AlWaslSC)
Updated 03 March 2024
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl maintain 8-point lead over Al-Ain at top of table

Al-Wasl have an 8-point lead over Al-Ain at the top of the ADNOC Pro League. (@AlWaslSC)
  • Walter Zenga’s Emirates endure another defeat, look set for drop

DUBAI: Relentless leaders Al-Wasl heaped pressure on Cosmin Olaroiu’s underperforming Sharjah, Spain icon Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club looked doomed, and Farhad Majidi’s inconsistent Ittihad Kalba-reign was brought to an ignominious end during ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 15.

Friday’s grandstand clash in Dubai witnessed goals from Abdulrahman Saleh and outstanding UAE attacker Ali Saleh to maintain Al-Wasl’s grip on their first title since 2006-07 with a 2-0 triumph, while pushing star-studded Sharjah 13 points off the pace.

On the same evening, Tunisia playmaker Haykeul Chikhaoui’s ferocious opener sent improving Ajman on their way to a 2-0 win which moved them nine points away from danger and pushed Walter Zenga’s bottom-placed Emirates – enduring a 10-match losing streak – eight points from safety.

Fellow promoted outfit Hatta showed fight in a 5-3 reversal at AFC Champions League quarter-finalists Al-Ain and third-placed holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club required an instant brace by substitute Yuri Cesar in an eventual 3-0 victory at 10-man Khor Fakkan.

Shambolic defending caused 13th-placed Kalba’s 2-1 loss to Al-Bataeh and was followed by the exit of former Iran under-23 and Esteghlal boss Majidi after almost two years at the helm. Ex-Brazil and Napoli defensive midfielder Allan netted an unlikely pair to hand Al-Wahda the Abu Dhabi Derby spoils in a pulsating 3-2 defeat for Mirel Radoi’s unconvincing Al-Jazira, while Alfred Schreuder’s flourishing Al-Nasr rose to sixth with a 1-0 triumph versus Baniyas – their fourth in five top-flight fixtures.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Allan (Al-Wahda)

Al-Wahda supporters could have been tricked into thinking they had landed Kaka, instead of Allan.

Their skipper’s granite reputation was earned via winning countless midfield battles in Serie A and the Premier League, rather than through artfully dispatched doubles.

Saturday’s unexpected turn, however, made all the difference on home soil when they welcomed floundering near-neighbors Al-Jazira to Al-Nahyan Stadium.

It was quite the way to open his ADNOC Pro League account, after being recruited back in September 2022.

A deft dummied shot and incisive strike through numerous flailing Pride of Abu Dhabi-defenders made it 2-0 on 41 minutes. The 33-year-old had also clipped in the 17th-minute free-kick from which on-form Iran midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi eventually back-heel half-volleyed the opener.

Even better was to come past the hour mark. By that point, a frantic derby had swung back toward the Pride of Abu Dhabi after ex-Fulham player Neeskens Kebano struck twice to make it 2-2.

Allan’s stepover at pace on the edge of the penalty box sent retreating Moroccan youngster Mohammed Rabii off balance, prior to lashing into the roof of stranded UAE goalkeeper Ali Khaseif’s net. It was a fitting winner for a high-quality and high-drama clash.

For fourth-placed Al-Wahda, January’s call to draft in former Ajman miracle-worker Goran Tufegdzic has been rewarded with seven points from nine. Al-Jazira, meanwhile, are yet to ignite since snaffling ex-Romania boss Radoi from Bataeh and slipped to seventh.

Goal of the week: Ali Saleh (Al-Wasl)

Whatever challenge is put in front of Al-Wasl, they have got the firepower to overcome it.

Their ninth win from their last 10 top-flight outings was sealed by homegrown hero Saleh.

The 24-year-old collected UAE colleague Caio Canedo’s flicked header, composed himself and then curled past helpless Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al-Hosani from 20 yards. It was a beautiful way to produce a seventh goal contribution in 14 matches.

Al-Wasl remain in control of their title destiny, eight-points ahead of Al-Ain with a game extra played. It also feels increasingly perplexing why Saleh was handed just 210 minutes on the way to the UAE’s dispiriting round-of-16 exit at 2023 Asian Cup.

Coach of the week: Daniel Isaila (Ajman)

A fine rescue job is being performed by Daniel Isaila at 11th-placed Ajman.

Last season’s dark horses in sixth spot had rapidly declined to relegation certainties under Caio Zanardi. Friday’s consummate win against Emirates featured 13 attempts on target to the visitors’ three, even with Iniesta starting in the league for the first time since Dec. 1.

Isaila has transformed horizons since October’s hire. The acumen which evolved outsiders Baniyas into shock 2020/21 runners-up has been transplanted at Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Stadium.

What to do with Olaroiu?

It is not unfair, or unkind, to expect far more from fifth-placed Sharjah.

Their third league loss of a befuddling campaign has kept The King far away from the crown. A points deficit counted in double digits with 11 matches still to play was not expected when the 2023-24 season kicked off.

It is an unbalanced team which is performing below the sum of their parts. Worryingly, serial trophy hoarder Olaroiu’s once-golden touch appears to be waning.

“I am not the one who makes the decisions regarding contracts with players,” was the Romanian’s pointed comment post-match, according to Dubai Sports.

What happens next is the glaring question.

Sharjah’s 11 at Zabeel Stadium contained ex-Barcelona and Juventus superstar Miralem Pjanic, ex-Porto and Al-Hilal attacker Moussa Marega, 184-goal UAE veteran Sebastian Tagliabue, and South Korea’s World Cup 2022 performer Cho Yu-min. They boasted more possession (55 percent/45 percent) and attempts (14/12), yet Al-Wasl’s greater desire proved crucial.

Last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish was forgiven, amid an unprecedented sweep of four domestic trophies. This term, however, has been stained by group-stage collapse in the AFC Champions League, quarter-final elimination in the ADIB Cup, a 6-2 humiliation to Shabab Al-Ahli in the UAE Super Cup, and failure to threaten in the ADNOC Pro League.

Schreuder’s ascendant Al-Nasr and Al-Ain await, either side of the international break. This could be a situation careering toward breaking point.