Al-Ittihad cruise to victory in first round of FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Ittihad cruise to victory in first round of FIFA Club World Cup
Ittihad's French midfielder #07 N'Golo Kante (R) fights for the ball near Ittihad's French forward #09 Karim Benzema (L) during the FIFA Club World Cup first round football match between Al-Ittihad and Auckland City at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah, on December 12, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 13 December 2023
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Al-Ittihad cruise to victory in first round of FIFA Club World Cup

Al-Ittihad cruise to victory in first round of FIFA Club World Cup
  • The Jeddah side’s stars shine in front of home crowd, and a global TV audience, as they enjoy a comfortable 3-0 win over Auckland City of New Zealand
  • First-half goals by Romarinho, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema secure the victory, the reward for which is a 2nd-round clash against Egyptian side Al-Ahly on Friday

Al-Ittihad’s FIFA Club World Cup campaign got off to a winning start in Jeddah on Tuesday as they defeated Auckland City 3-0. Their reward is a second-round clash against Egyptian side Al-Ahly on Friday.

On a night of driving rain, the team’s stars shone as fans watched worldwide. Romarinho, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema put the hosts three goals to the good by the end of the first half, as the visitors from Oceania were swept aside.

In fact it was one-way traffic for most of the game, in front of an appreciative home crowd. As early as the second minute, Romarinho put a shot just wide and this set the scene for the relentless pressure to come from the reigning Saudi champions.

The New Zealanders did manage to look fairly comfortable for a 10-minute spell as they worked to keep the ball, but despite this they were relieved to watch Igor Coronado fire over the bar from inside the area.

Soon after, Al-Ittihad were calling for a penalty but the referee waved the appeals away. The attacks kept coming, however, with Benzema having two or three half chances, and it began to look like the deadlock would be broken at any time.

That time turned out to be the 29th minute, although there was a touch of good fortune about Romarinho’s opener — perhaps fittingly, given it was the Brazilian’s birthday. His shot from the edge of the area might well have beaten Conor Tracey anyway but the deflection it took off of Nathan Lobo left the goalkeeper with no chance.

He did, however, make a fine save from another attempt by Romarinho minutes later, diving to clear a looping shot that looked destined for the back of the net.

 

 

Even so, the crowd only had a few minutes to wait to celebrate another goal, which this time came from the unlikely boot of Kante. Tracey managed to punch a cross clear but only as far as the former Chelsea midfielder, who produced a superbly controlled half-volley from the edge of the area that flew past the goalkeeper.

This prompted heartfelt celebrations of Kante’s second goal for the club and, from that point on, it was only a question of how many the Jeddah giants would score.

They added a third five minutes before the break when Benzema, shortly after pulling a shot wide of goal, tapped home from close range after some good work on the right from Muhannad Al-Shanqiti.

As the half-time whistle sounded, the statistic of 17 attempts on goal from Al-Ittihad and none at all from the New Zealanders told the story of the first 45 minutes.

The second half began with Benzema, who showed little sign of his recent injury, weaving through the Auckland defense to force a fine diving save from the still busy Tracey. He had plenty to do in the second half, saving well from Coronado, among others, but it was perhaps understandable that Al-Ittihad’s first-half sense of urgency had dissipated a little.

Indeed, Auckland started to look a little more dangerous and, with 20 minutes remaining, Brazilian goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe was finally called into action. The half produced a much better all-round performance from the Oceania representatives.

Long before the final whistle, however, Al-Ittihad had settled for the 3-0 victory, their thoughts no doubt turning toward the big clash with Al-Ahly on Friday, as two giants of Arab football meet. It will surely be a tougher test than this.


Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season

Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season
Updated 18 May 2024
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Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season

Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season
  • Roshn Saudi League champions earn 1-1 draw in Riyadh derby on Friday thanks to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s injury-time penalty
  • Al-Nassr manager Luis Castro disputes penalty award and praises players’ performance

Riyadh: Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus saluted the resilience of his players after they preserved the club’s unbeaten domestic season with an injury-time penalty from Aleksandar Mitrovic in their Roshn Saudi League 1-1 draw against Al-Nassr.

A dramatic Riyadh derby exploded into life on Friday night after just 25 seconds when Al-Nassr midfielder Otavio thundered the hosts into the lead from distance at Al-Awwal Park. But Mitrovic ensured the champions remain on course for an invincible 2023/24 league campaign by smashing home a late spot-kick awarded after a VAR check.

In a match in which both sides created chances, both Jesus and Al-Nassr counterpart Luis Castro agreed the hosts enjoyed the better of the first half, and the title winners the second half.

While Al-Hilal could not maintain a remarkable Roshn Saudi League winning run that stretched all the way back to September — 24 games in total — Jesus said the determination shown to earn a point bears all the hallmark of champions.

“I’m very proud of my players,” he said. “They showed great resilience (to keep the unbeaten record). We have a fantastic group of players. I believe in their talents; they believe in my ideas.

“It has been a fantastic season until now. We want to finish as winners and there are three games left: two in the league and one the King’s Cup final. We not only want to be unbeaten in the next two games in the league, but also win the King’s Cup. I don’t think you can have a better season than this in local competitions.”

The penalty kick was awarded deep into injury time when Sadio Mane was deemed to have caught Saud Abdulhamid just inside the penalty area. Spanish referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez pointed to the spot after being called to the screen by the VAR.

Jesus believed Saud was impeded by Mane, but Castro was unhappy that the decision denied his team three points against their Riyadh rivals.

Castro said: “The penalty given to them and scored by them; it wasn’t at all a penalty. There is no injury, there is no foul at all.”

Asked whether the game will influence the upcoming King’s Cup final between the two sides that will round off the season, Castro said: “No, this was one match and that is a different match. We all saw how Al-Hilal celebrated as if they won, but they only drew. That means it was a tough match for them. We had chances to win.”

Twelve points separate champions Al-Hilal and second-placed Al-Nassr in the Saudi Roshn League table.

The previous league derby between the two this season saw Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr 3-0 in December. As well as being unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal also created world football history earlier in the campaign by winning 34 matches in succession across all competitions.


Al-Hilal crowned Roshn Saudi League champions after Al-Hazem rout

Al-Hilal crowned Roshn Saudi League champions after Al-Hazem rout
Updated 11 May 2024
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Al-Hilal crowned Roshn Saudi League champions after Al-Hazem rout

Al-Hilal crowned Roshn Saudi League champions after Al-Hazem rout
  • The 4-1 win at Kingdom Arena means the Riyadh giants have now extended their Saudi Pro League record to 19 championships

RIYADH: Al-Hilal wrapped up the Roshn Saudi League title with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Al-Hazem on Saturday at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh.

The victory means that Al-Hilal have now extended their Saudi Pro League record to 19 championships.

Al-Nassr’s 3-2 win over Al-Okhdood on Thursday had delayed Al-Hilal’s coronation for two days at least, but Jorge Jesus and his men knew a win or draw against Al-Hazem would be enough to clinch the title.

Serbian forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, one of the signings of the season, got the party underway with a penalty after 15 minutes but, with nine minutes of the first half left, an unscripted moment saw Faiz Selemani score with a fine left-foot strike after being put through on goal.

Al-Hazem’s joy did not last long however, with Ahmed Al-Juwaid gifting Al-Hilal the lead five minutes later with a bizarre own goal that sailed over goalkeeper Zaid Al-Malki’s head.

The home team scented blood and proceeded to put the result, and the title race, to bed with two goals in first-half added time.

Mitrovic side-footed home from countryman Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s cross from the left in the 48th minute of the half, and the assister turned goalscorer three minutes later to give Al-Hilal a 4-1 lead at the break.

With Al-Hilal fans already in celebratory mood and the title all but confirmed by the break, the second period inevitably saw the home team take their foot off the pedal.

VAR ruled out what would have been Al-Hazem’s second goal in added time and moments later the final whistle went to confirm the championship for Al-Hilal.

Their fans could finally celebrate a title win that had been on the cards for several weeks. 


Al-Hilal has to delay title celebrations as Al-Nassr beats Al-Okhdood

Al-Hilal has to delay title celebrations as Al-Nassr beats Al-Okhdood
Al-Nassr players celebrate Marcelo Brozovic's late winner against Al-Okhdood. (X/@AlNassrFC_EN)
Updated 10 May 2024
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Al-Hilal has to delay title celebrations as Al-Nassr beats Al-Okhdood

Al-Hilal has to delay title celebrations as Al-Nassr beats Al-Okhdood
  • Marcelo Brozovic’s 91st minute winner means the leaders can wrap a 19th Saudi Pro League championship against Al-Hazem on Saturday

RIYADH: A stoppage-time goal by Marcelo Brozovic secured a 3-2 win for Al-Nassr against gallant Al-Okhdood on Thursday night at Prince Hathloul Stadium, which means a delay for Al-Hilal’s crowning as Saudi Pro League champions.

Al-Nassr had led 2-0 at half time before the home team mounted a spirited second-half comeback to square the match, a result which would have handed the title to leaders Al-Hilal with four matches left.

The win raised the Yellows’ points tally to 77 points, nine behind their Riyadh rivals. Al-Hilal can wrap up a record-extending 19th championship on Saturday night with a win or draw against Al-Hazem in Riyadh.

Al-Nassr took the lead through Brozovic after only seven minutes and a comfortable win was on the cards when Cristiano Ronaldo made it 2-0 only eight minutes later.

However, goals by Hassan Al-Habib on the hour mark and Saviour Goodwin 10 minutes later looked to have earned the 15th-placed team a vital point in their battle against relegation.

In the unlikely event they fail to win against Al-Hazem, Al-Hilal will have another chance on May 17 against Al-Nassr in the Riyadh Derby at Al-Awwal Park Stadium.


Hero Malcom assists and scores as Hilal edge closer to SPL title

Hero Malcom assists and scores as Hilal edge closer to SPL title
Updated 07 May 2024
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Hero Malcom assists and scores as Hilal edge closer to SPL title

Hero Malcom assists and scores as Hilal edge closer to SPL title
  • The Brazilian played starring role in the 2-1 Saudi Classico win against Al-Ahli in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Brazilian star Malcolm was the hero for Al-Hilal on Monday night when he managed an assist and a decisive goal in their 2-1 win over Al-Ahli in the latest Saudi Classico in Jeddah.

The match had been postponed from the 28th round of the Saudi Pro League due to Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League commitments.

Malcolm set up Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic for the equalizer on 52 minutes after Saudi international Firas Al-Buraikan had given Al-Ahli the lead on the half-hour mark at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.

Malcom then brought Al-Hilal within touching distance of a record-extending 19th league title by scoring the winner in the 89th minute.

Al-Hilal signed Malcom on a four-year contract from Zenit St. Petersburg last summer. And with five matches remaining until the end of his first season, he has scored 22 goals for the club, 14 of which have come in the SPL.


Saudi women tackling, kicking their way into football

Saudi women tackling, kicking their way into football
Updated 03 May 2024
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Saudi women tackling, kicking their way into football

Saudi women tackling, kicking their way into football
  • Ministry of Sports has reported a 150 percent increase in women’s participation  

RIYADH: Women are finding new territories in various industries as the Kingdom sets diversity and inclusion goals, and football is no different. 

There are currently 1,100 female football players registered with Saudi clubs through the leagues, three regional training centers, and four active national teams. 

Today, the Women’s Football Department focuses on various areas of grassroots development, like five upcoming local competitions including the Premier League. 

The head of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Women’s Football Department, Aalia Al-Rasheed, told Arab News: “Today, we’re witnessing with Vision 2030 a whole transformation when it comes to the country in general. The Ministry of Sports reported a 150 percent increase in women’s participation (since 2015). The game is growing everyday."

Left to right: Podcast host Mo Islam, CEO of PepsiCo. Middle East Ahmed El-Sheikh, head of SAFF’s Women’s Football Department Aalia Al-Rasheed, Vice President of SAFF Lamia Bahaian, PepsiCo.’s senior marketing manager Anfal Al-Duhilan, Al-Ittihad’s women’s team head coach Kelly Lindsey, Al-Nassr’s goalkeeper Sara Khalid. (Supplied)

Al-Awwal Park Stadium lit up with fireworks Sunday night as Al-Nassr were crowned champions against Al-Ittihad, ending their season on a high with a 1-0 victory.  

As the 2023-2024 Premier League concludes, the spirit of celebration still lingers in the air. Female trailblazers in the football sector came together on Monday to champion the incredible women of the Kingdom who are breaking boundaries in the realm of football at Hiwar, PepsiCo’s signature annual event for women empowerment.  

In the 2024 Hiwar, hosted in collaboration with the SAFF’s Women’s League, industry drivers spoke about their experiences in pushing the boundaries of women inclusion in the sport, during a panel discussion that evening moderated by Mo Islam, featuring Al-Rasheed alongside Al-Nassr’s goalkeeper Sara Khalid, Al-Ittihad’s women’s team head coach Kelly Lindsey, and PepsiCo.’s senior marketing manager, Anfal Al-Duhilan. 

Khalid, one of the Kingdom’s star female football players, reflected on her team’s first-ever international victory last year, winning the premier league twice in a row, and her current, vivid reality in leading the industry into international territory. 

But when Khalid left her day job to pursue a football career, she knew she had an example to set and responsibility on her back. 

She told Arab News: “Today, I can say I’m one of the first players to represent the national team and my country on an international level, and now with us winning the league and participating in the AFC champion’s league, it’s definitely a huge weight on my shoulders.

“Every decision I have to make must be made thoughtfully and in consideration of everything else, and to always inspire and be inspired by the people around me.”

As a coach, Lindsey said the top struggle is creating equilibrium within a team. Her coaching approach blends physical preparation with cultural understanding, acknowledging the importance of nutrition, sports psychology, and family values within Saudi leagues. 

While some Al-Ittihad team members struggled to even pass the ball five times just last summer, they have now managed to compete in the first level of the Saudi football pyramid.

She commended Saudi Arabia’s massive investment into women’s sports, with the SAFF allocating SR49.9 million ($13 million) to women’s football cross-country programs just last year. 

Lindsey told Arab News: “By investing in sports, women are not only out in society, they are front and center for everyone to watch, judge, and support.  

“The dialogue will change about everything that needs to happen around them so that more women can do their passion, live their passion in work and music and art and culture and sport. It will create a natural dialogue and a push for more infrastructure for women to succeed.”

Last October, this support was bolstered even further as PepsiCo. and the SAFF announced that the multinational’s subsidiary, Lay’s potato chips, will sponsor the 2023-24 Saudi Women’s Premier League.

“Our sponsorship is in alignment with the company’s vision, which is to basically drive diversity and inclusion, aligning with the Saudi 2030 Vision. We wanted to make a difference and really give every single Saudi female the opportunity to pursue her dreams in any field and to continue empowering and supporting them,” said Al-Duhilan.