Al-Ittihad’s FIFA Club World Cup hopes dashed by Al-Ahly

Al-Ittihad’s FIFA Club World Cup hopes dashed by Al-Ahly
The home fans will point to a first half missed penalty from Karim Benzema as a turning point. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 December 2023
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Al-Ittihad’s FIFA Club World Cup hopes dashed by Al-Ahly

Al-Ittihad’s FIFA Club World Cup hopes dashed by Al-Ahly
  • Though the game hung in the balance for an hour, the Egyptian side were too clinical for the reigning Saudi champions and eventually ran out 3-1 winners
  • Al-Ahly’s reward is a semi-final against Fluminense of Brazil on Monday, while Al-Ittihad’s focus shifts to three league games in the space of a week before the end of the year

Al-Ittihad’s FIFA Club World Cup campaign ended on Friday with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Al-Ahly in their second-round clash in Jeddah.

Thousands of the Egyptian side’s supporters were on their feet for much of the 90 minutes at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium, as their team ultimately proved to be too clinical for the reigning Saudi champions to cope with.

Al-Ittihad fans might point to Karim Benzema’s missed penalty in the first half as a turning point but the empty seats in the home section of the stadium when the final whistle sounded told their own story.

The reward for the African champions is a semi-final showdown with South American champions Fluminense of Brazil on Monday. Al-Ittihad, who defeated Auckland City from New Zealand 3-0 in the first round of the competition on Tuesday, return to league action on Dec. 23 with a home game against Al-Raed.

For the first hour on Friday the match hung in the balance, amid an atmosphere worthy of a meeting between the champions of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Given the passionate level of support from the Al-Ahly fans, at times their players must have felt like they were playing at home.

The first half was played at a fast pace as both teams looked to get forward, even if they struggled to create clear chances. Romarinho had one of the best early on, from inside the area, forcing a good save from Mohammed El-Shenawy.

Al-Ahly were awarded a penalty in the 19th minute when Hassan Kadesh handled a long pass while under pressure from two Egyptian attackers. Despite the wall of yellow behind the goal, Ali Maaloul kept his cool and sent the ball straight down the middle past the diving Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

Seven minutes before the break, Benzema got sight of goal when a fine cross from Muhannad Al-Shanqiti found him on the left side of the area, but his low shot was straight at El-Shenawy.

As Al-Ittihad continued to push for an equalizer they left themselves open to a counterattack and were almost caught out, with Zakaria Al-Hawsawi forced to put the ball behind for a corner.

Before it could be taken, however, the referee was called to the monitor to check a possible earlier handball by Mohammed Abdelmonem and, after a review, he awarded a penalty to Al-Ittihad. Up stepped Benzema in front of a wall of red — and green laser beams shining into his eyes — but El-Shenawy went the right way to make a comfortable diving save.

Near the end of a dramatic first half, Al-Ahly almost scored a second when Kahraba latched onto a poor pass-back from Ahmed Hegazi, but Al-Mayouf was there to make the save.

Al-Ittihad effectively started the second half with two new full-backs. First, coach Marcelo Gallardo replaced Hawsawi with Ahmed Bamsaud at half time. Then, moments after the restart, right-back Al-Shanqiti seemed to pick up a hamstring injury and Madallah Al-Olayan took over.

Within minutes, the two-time Asian champions almost leveled the game. Igor Coronado slipped the ball through to Faisal Al-Ghamdi on the left side of the area, whose low shot squirmed through the legs of El-Shenawy but hit the post and rebounded into the grateful arms of the veteran goalkeeper.

Instead of 1-1, the score became 2-0 just before the hour mark. Hussein El-Shahat, who was making a record 13th appearance at the Club World Cup, had possession of the ball just inside the left corner of the area, made a little room for himself and then curled a delightful shot past the diving Al-Mayouf, sending the Egyptian fans wild.

The game was effectively over just two minutes later when Al-Ahly found huge gaps in the Al-Ittihad defense and Kharaba pulled the ball back from the byline for Emam Ashour to roll the ball home. There was a check for a possible foul in the build-up but the goal stood and that was that.

Al-Ahly took their foot off the gas at that point, their thoughts no doubt turning to their semi-final, but Anthony Modeste’s last-minute red card for an elbow on Hegazi might come back to haunt the team.

Soon after that, Benzema got Al-Ittihad’s consolation as he fired home from close range to claim his sixth Club World Cup goal.

The game will live long in the memories of Al-Ahly fans, as will the celebrations that followed. Al-Ittihad now need to regroup and bounce back on the domestic front, with three games coming up in the space of a week before the end of the year.


Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup

Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup
Updated 12 April 2024
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Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup

Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup
  • “It was a difficult game and I am very happy to score two goals,” Malcom told Saudi television

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Al-Hilal beat Al-Ittihad 4-1 in the final of the Saudi Super Cup on Thursday to stay on course for an unprecedented quadruple.
The trophy, lifted in Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, is the first of the season for the Riyadh giant but is unlikely to be the last as the team is also 12 points clear of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr at the top of the Saudi Pro League with just seven games remaining.
Al-Hilal, also in the semifinal of the Asian Champions League and the Saudi King’s Cup, has also expanded its world record winning streak for top-tier teams to 34 consecutive games in all competitions.
Three days after defeating Al-Nassr in the semifinal, during which Ronaldo was sent off for elbowing Ali Al-Bulaihi, two goals from Brazilian winger Malcom did the damage for Al-Hilal. Salem Al-Dawsari and Nasser Al-Dawsari sealed the win with late goals.
“It was a difficult game and I am very happy to score two goals,” Malcom told Saudi television. “We are also happy to collect our first title of the season but we are chasing more trophies.”
Ittihad striker Karim Benzema, signed from Real Madrid last summer, was unable to find the target while colleague Abderrazak Hamdallah made up for missing a penalty by getting on the scoresheet.
The Moroccan forward featured in a controversial incident at the end of the match, however, as he seemed to get involved in an altercation with a fan standing close to the field. The supporter was led away by security personnel.
In 2023, the Super Cup was expanded from a single game between the league champion and King’s Cup winner to include the runners-up from both competitions. It was also moved to Abu Dhabi.
Al-Hilal returns to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to take on Al-Ain in the first leg of the Asian Champions League semifinals as it seeks a record fifth continental title.
The club’s potentially record-breaking season comes after it spent about 350 million euros ($380 million) on player transfers after being taken over by the Saudi sovereign wealth operation, the Public Investment Fund which is controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.


French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis defends ex-teammate Ali Al-Bulayhi in Ronaldo saga

French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis defends ex-teammate Ali Al-Bulayhi in Ronaldo saga
Updated 11 April 2024
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French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis defends ex-teammate Ali Al-Bulayhi in Ronaldo saga

French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis defends ex-teammate Ali Al-Bulayhi in Ronaldo saga
  • ‘He is far from being a bad person,’ says Gomis on X
  • Post attracts over 11,000 likes, 4,500 retweets, more than 1,500 replies

RIAYDH: French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis on Thursday defended Al-Hilal’s Saudi defender Ali Al-Bulayhi following his altercation with Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday during their Super Cup semifinal showdown.
The Portuguese international was sent off for elbowing Al-Bulayhi during Al-Nassr’s narrow 2-1 defeat.
Gomis, a former Al-Hilal player who turned out for the Riyadh giants between 2018 and 2022, said of his former teammate Al-Bulayhi on X: “An exemplary teammate, first come, last left from training. He gives everything for his country and for his club. Actually, he’s one of the best center-backs in the world and I know a few things from my experience. He is far from being a bad person!!!”

Currently playing for Japanese club Kawasaki Frontale, Gomis’ post has attracted more than 11,000 likes, 4,500 retweets and in excess of 1,500 replies.
One user posted a video of Al-Bulayhi and Gomis hugging, and wrote: “Two historic legends.”
Another user posted a video — which is believed to have been filmed when Gomis left Al-Hilal — of the two players saluting each other and a comment citing the Frenchman as saying “I love you, Bulayhi.”
A user called Yousef commented, saying: “Thank you Gomis for the unforgettable days!”
The Saudi Ministry of Sport denied rumors on Wednesday that its minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, had held discussions with Ronaldo after his controversial sending off.


Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema extend Eid Al-Fitr wishes to their followers

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema extend Eid Al-Fitr wishes to their followers
Updated 10 April 2024
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Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema extend Eid Al-Fitr wishes to their followers

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema extend Eid Al-Fitr wishes to their followers
  • ‘Eid Mubarak! Wishing you all joy, peace and happiness on this special day,’ writes Ronaldo
  • Benzema says in a short video clip: ‘Salam alaikum, Eid Mubarak to you all, and may Allah accept from us all’

RIYADH: Al-Nassr’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Ittihad’s French legend Karim Benzema took to X on Wednesday to wish their followers a happy Eid Al-Fitr.
The Saudi Pro League giants extended their best wishes to followers in Saudi Arabia and across the world on the evening of the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, a celebration that started on Wednesday and ends on Friday.
“Eid Mubarak! Wishing you all joy, peace and happiness on this special day,” wrote Ronaldo on X as he posted a picture of himself in a white top.
The Frenchman posted a short video clip of himself, saying: “Salam alaikum, Eid Mubarak to you all, and may Allah accept from us all.” He spoke partly in French and partly in Arabic.
Up until this article went up online, the Portuguese player’s post had garnered over 425,000 likes, 36,000 retweets and 9,700 replies.

A follower called Nungua wrote: “Happy Eid Mubarak, my goat. I love you.”
Yaseen said: “I love you.”
Sadaf, a female fan, wrote: “Wishing you a very happy Eid.”
A follower called Hsnain wrote: “Yes, much special day. Thank you. This means a lot from the man of millions.”
“Be blessed, and thank you so much for the kind words,” commented a user called Raisa, who added an Eid Mubarak image as well.
The Al-Ittihad striker’s post generated over 80,000 likes, 7,800 retweets and more than 1,600 replies

“Happy Eid, Karim. Get ready for the match against Al-Hilal,” said a follower called Ahmad on Benzema’s video.
Another follower said: “Eid Mubarak, brother.”
Abdol Mohsen wrote in Arabic: “May God accept from you and us!”
A user called Ali wrote: “The best person ever to wish us Eid Mubarak,” adding four white heart emojis.
A Benzema fan called Abu Zaid replied to the Frenchman’s post in French, saying: “Eid Mubarak, and every year get creative against your opponents.”


Saudi footballers target Olympic qualification at 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar

Saudi footballers target Olympic qualification at 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar
Updated 10 April 2024
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Saudi footballers target Olympic qualification at 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar

Saudi footballers target Olympic qualification at 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar
  • Saad Al-Shehri’s team beat South Korea in their final friendly before heading out to Doha on Thursday

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia’s U-23 national football team on Tuesday defeated South Korea 1-0 in their final friendly match before turning their attention to qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The match at Al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi concluded the squad’s preparation camp before the start of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar, which will take place from April 15 to May 3, providing a pathway to the football competition at the Paris Olympics this summer.

Jihad Zakry scored the only goal for Saad Al-Shehri’s team in the 72nd minute of a match attended by Sultan Al-Anqari, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UAE; Ibrahim Al-Kassim, secretary-general of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation; and Naeem Al-Bakr, board member at SAFF.

The Saudi squad is set to fly out to Doha on Thursday, before kicking off their Group C fixtures against Tajikistan on April 16 at Khalifa International Stadium.

The Green Falcons will then face Thailand (April 19) and Iraq (April 22) at the same venue.

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals.

The winners of the two semifinals will both secure automatic qualification to the Olympic Games regardless of which team wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest the third place, with the winners also booking their spot in Paris, while the losers (fourth-place finishers) will have take part in a play-off against an African qualifier for one final chance at qualification.


Saudi sports ministry denies communication between minister and Ronaldo

Saudi sports ministry denies communication between minister and Ronaldo
Updated 10 April 2024
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Saudi sports ministry denies communication between minister and Ronaldo

Saudi sports ministry denies communication between minister and Ronaldo

RIYADH: The Saudi Sports Ministry denied rumors that its minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, had discussions with Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo after his dismissal in a cup game on Monday.
Chatter circulated online that the minister talked to the Portuguese international about the quality of refereeing in the Saudi game.
A ministry source told Arab News: “There is no truth to  the rumors circulating about any contact between HRH the Minister of Sport and the Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo. What is being talked about in this regard is completely untrue.”
Ronaldo was sent off for elbowing Ali Al-Bulayhi during Al-Nassr’s 2-1 loss to Al-Hilal in the Saudi Super Cup semi-final.