Al-Ahly’s World Cup curse strikes again

Special Al-Ahly’s World Cup curse strikes again
Fluminense’s John Kennedy celebrates after scoring in the Club World Cup semifinal against Al-Ahly, King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 18, 2023. (AP Photo)
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Updated 19 December 2023
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Al-Ahly’s World Cup curse strikes again

Al-Ahly’s World Cup curse strikes again
  • Second-half penalty, converted by Fluminense’s Jhon Arias, proved to be the difference between the two teams before a last-minute goal from John Kennedy sealed the victory
  • Scoreline may have been goalless at the break but that was a surprise given that both teams tried to attack at every opportunity

Al-Ahly fell at the semifinal stage of the FIFA Club World Cup for the fourth successive year on Monday, going down 2-0 to Fluminense of Brazil in Jeddah.

However, it was a game that the Egyptians will know could have gone very differently. A second-half penalty, converted by Jhon Arias, proved to be the difference between the two teams before a last-minute goal from John Kennedy sealed the victory.

The result was not only a disappointment to the tens of thousands of red-shirted fans inside King Abdullah Sports City, but it also means that Africa’s wait for a finalist has now reached a decade. It has to be said, though, that Al-Ahly only have themselves to blame following their wastefulness in front of goal.

It will not be much of a consolation for the Cairo club — who beat Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad 3-1 in the same arena three days previously — that this was an entertaining encounter.

The scoreline may have been goalless at the break but that was a surprise given that both teams tried to attack at every opportunity, with the Egyptians having the best chances.

It could have been 1-1 inside the first 10 minutes. Al-Ahly almost took the lead in the sixth minute as Percy Tau’s long-range effort took a deflection and ended up bouncing on the top of the net.

Three minutes later the Brazilians should have been ahead as the Al-Ahly defense left Arias unmarked at the back post as a Keno cross came in from the left. They were greatly relieved when the Colombian volleyed against the edge of the woodwork from close range.

The 11-time African champions then came within a whisker of taking the lead. From a flicked-on header, the ball bounced around the area and Mahmoud Kahraba was just about to bundle the ball across the goalline when he was blocked by a fine Samuel Xavier tackle.

Then Fluminense hit the woodwork again, and again it was from the boot of Arias, who fired against the post from a low right-sided corner pulled back toward the edge of the area.

It was then the turn of Al-Ahly’s players to have their heads in their hands. Hussein El-Shahat’s shot was blocked but the ball looped up to the unmarked Kahraba. However, despite being completely unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box, the forward headed too close to Fabio who was able to stick out a hand. It was a fine save but the back of the net should have been bulging.

Al-Ahly may have had the best of the first half but Fluminense came close soon after the restart as German Cano’s fierce drive from the right side flew just past the opposite post. It signaled the start of a sustained period of pressure from the South Americans.

But then, just after the hour, Al-Ahly sprang forward on the counter. Fabio was called into action again, diving to his left to save a shot from El-Shahat that was heading for the bottom corner.

Shortly after, the Rio team were awarded a penalty as former Real Madrid man Marcelo was adjudged to have been brought down by Tau just inside the area. Up stepped Arias to tuck his shot away, past the diving Mohamed El-Shenawy.

Al-Ahly should have leveled almost immediately. A long ball from El-Shahat found Tau unmarked in the area but with just the goalkeeper to beat, he headed straight at a relieved Fabio. The 43-year-old then made another crucial save, getting down quickly to save a shot from substitute Taher Mohamed.

Fluminense looked fairly comfortable in the final 10 minutes and sealed the win in the 90th minute as Kennedy fired home a low shot from the edge of the area.

The South Americans will now play in the final against either Urawa Reds of Japan or European Champions Manchester City. Al-Ahly will, once again, watch from the sidelines.


Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals

Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals
Updated 11 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals

Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals
  • The 5-0 win leaves the Green Falcons top of Group C of the tournament, which acts as qualification for this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris

DOHA: Saudi Arabia on Friday night thrashed Thailand 5-0 to edge closer to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

The win at Khalifa International Stadium leaves the Green falcons top of Group C with a maximum of six points from three two matches.

Iraq, who defeated Tajikistan 4-2 later on Friday, sit in second with three points, with Thailand third on goal difference. Tajikistan, with two defeats, are bottom of the group with no points.

A win or draw for Saudi Arabia against Iraq on Monday will secure top spot in the group and progress to the last eight.

Saudi took the lead against Thailand after four minutes through Ayman Yahoo’s third goal of the tournament, before Ahmed Al-Ghamdi and Abdullah Radif scored in first-half stoppage time to all but end the match as content.

Radif went on to complete his hat trick with strikes in the 52nd and 73rd minutes.

The U-23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, also provides a pathway to the men’s football competition at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The tournament sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The competition also serves as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, with the winners of the two semifinals both securing automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a place in Paris, while the fourth-place finishers have a final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Loughnane tops 2024 PFL featherweight stands after first-round win in Chicago

Loughnane tops 2024 PFL featherweight stands after first-round win in Chicago
Updated 5 min 45 sec ago
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Loughnane tops 2024 PFL featherweight stands after first-round win in Chicago

Loughnane tops 2024 PFL featherweight stands after first-round win in Chicago
  • Umalatov, Musaev, Braga, Yamauchi, Khizriev, Borics, Kamaka, Ramazanov, Madge also earn 2024 PFL Global Season victories

CHICAGO: The Professional Fighters League on Friday returned for its third Global Season event of 2024 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, with Brendan Loughnane emerging the big winner of the night to top the featherweight standings.

The 12-fight card, featuring combatants in the welterweight and featherweight divisions, was the final event of the first half of the 2024 PFL Global Season.

Loughnane, the “Pride of Manchester,” stepped into the PFL SmartCage on a mission. The 2022 PFL featherweight champion secured a first-round TKO victory over Pedro Carvalho. The victory gives Loughnane six points in the featherweight standings and the 15th knockout of his career, and he is now one step closer to a return to the PFL Playoffs.

The evening’s main event featured a strategic battle between Andrey Koreshkov and Magomed Umalatov in a highly anticipated welterweight bout. Both combatants showed their technical prowess, with Umalatov pulling away and securing a unanimous decision, keeping his perfect record intact.

Logan Storley matched up with Shamil Musaev in more welterweight action. Musaev put on an impressive display and dispatched Storley in the second round via KO. The result improved Musaev’s record to 17-0-1 with 10 wins by KO, and earned five points in the division.

2023 PFL featherweight runner-up Gabrial Braga unleashed a flurry of strikes against Justin Gonzalez, resulting in an emotional first-round knockout and a gain of six points. Braga dedicated the victory to his father, Diego, whom he lost in January.

“Tonight was a fitting end to the first half of the 2024 PFL Global Season, the toughest test in MMA, with the best welterweights and featherweights providing unrivaled action to fans worldwide,” said PFL CEO Peter Murray. “As we head into the second half of the 2024 PFL Global Season, fighters and fans alike know what it will take to clinch a PFL Playoff berth and continue the million-dollar journey. It is time to win or go home.”

“The PFL athletes provided another spectacular night of fights as we wrap up the first half of the 2024 PFL Global Season,” said Ray Sefo, president of fighter operations at PFL. “The PFL’s season format provides the best action and highest stakes in all MMA.”

Goiti Yamauchi and Neiman Gracie went toe-to-toe for three rounds in other welterweight action. Yamauchi won a hard-fought unanimous decision, improving his career record to 29-6 and earning three points in the standings.

Kai Kamaka and Bubba Jenkins showcased skill and determination in the featherweight division. Kamaka topped Jenkins via a unanimous-decision victory and earned three points, bringing his winning streak to four.

Adam Borics and Enrique Barzola duked it out in featherweight division action with the bout going the three-round distance. The judges awarded Borics the unanimous decision and three points in the PFL Global Season standings.

In other PFL Global Season featherweight action, Timur Khizriev and Brett Johns stepped into the PFL SmartCage. Both men traded blows for three rounds, but it was Khizriev who earned the unanimous decision and three points in the division.

Welterweight action continued with Laureano Staropoli facing Murad Ramazanov. After a brief back-and-forth exchange, Ramazanov submitted Staropoli with a rear naked choke in the first round and was awarded six points.

The first PFL Global Season welterweight bout featured Don Madge and Brennan Ward. Madge used his exceptional wrestling technique to secure the win by submitting Ward in the first round and earned six points.

In a PFL featherweight alternate bout, Tyler Diamond collided with Otto Rodrigues. Both men left it all in the PFL SmartCage, but ultimately Diamond came away victorious via a unanimous decision.

Starting the night was a PFL welterweight showcase bout between Romain Debienne and Thad Jean. Jean ended the fight quickly, knocking out Debienne at 2:07 in the first round.


Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo

Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo
Updated 20 April 2024
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Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo

Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo
  • “I pray to God to make this dream come true and meet Ronaldo”

JEDDAH: A Cristiano Ronaldo superfan has arrived in Riyadh after a grueling walk from Dubai hoping to meet the Al-Nassr star.

After 1,200 km and 36 days of travel mostly across the arid landscape separating the cities, Civin KP arrived in the Saudi capital.

“Finally, I am here in front of Al-Awal Park where Al-Nassr plays (their) official games and I hope I can meet Ronaldo,” he said.

He posted images of himself on Instagram at the stadium where he managed to take a seat at the home team’s bench and walked pitch-side at the 25,000-capacity venue.

“I came all the way from Dubai on foot and crossed all this distance just to pay respect and show my love to the best player in the world,” said Civin, who is originally from the state of Kerala in India.

Ronaldo is one of the most recognizable faces of international football and has fans across the world who enjoy his skills and passion for the game. He signed for the Riyadh club in 2022 after years of playing in Europe’s top leagues.

Civin feels proud to have completed the journey but still awaits the biggest prize.

“The unexpected moment is always sweeter,” he wrote, “hopefully waiting for more.”

A photo with the Portuguese great and an autograph would be a moment of a lifetime, Civin told MBC as he visited the ground.

“I pray to God to make this dream come true and meet Ronaldo,” he said. “I will cherish this moment, if it happens, for the rest of my life.”

On Friday, Civin was able to secure a ticket to watch Al-Nassr beat Al-Fayha 3-1, but unfortunately his hero did not feature as he is serving a suspension.


KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL

KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL
Updated 20 April 2024
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KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL

KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL
  • Innings played key role in pushing Lucknow past Chennai’s 176-6 with six balls to spare.

LUCKNOW: KL Rahul’s solid 82 runs off 53 balls helped Lucknow Super Giants comfortably beat Chennai Super Kings by eight wickets in the IPL on Friday.
Rahul’s time at the crease, which saw him smash nine fours and three sixes, played a key role in pushing Lucknow past Chennai’s 176-6 with six balls to spare.
“I felt that if we bat well, we could chase it down... when your partnership goes on, you can take a few more chances. Glad that it happened,” said Rahul.
Chennai got off to a slightly jittery start after being invited to bat first, losing Rachin Ravindra (zero) and skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad (17) in the first five overs. Ajinkya Rahane looked to steady the side, with the help of Ravindra Jadeja, but fell in the ninth over after racking up a respectable 36 runs off 24 balls.
Lucknow’s clinical bowling restricted Chennai in the middle overs, with Shivam Dube (three) not being able to pop off.
But Jadeja soldiered on for the rest of the game, getting his half-century in the seventeenth over.
Reliable warhorse M.S. Dhoni, who smacked 28 runs off 9 balls, helped Chennai turn up the heat in the last three overs and pushed the team to 176-6.
Lucknow openers Quinton de Kock and KL Rahul set up the chase with a superb 134-run partnership, before de Kock, who hit five fours in his 43-ball 54, fell in the fifteenth over.
Rahul went onto smash an incredible 82 runs off 53 balls before being dismissed in the eighteenth over. A final push by Nicholas Pooran (23) helped seal the victory for Lucknow.
“We lost wickets regularly and were 10-15 short,” said Gaikwad.
“Good to play them again soon, will come back with homework done.”


Saudi Arabia’s PIF signs sponsorship deal with Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament

Saudi Arabia’s PIF signs sponsorship deal with Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament
Updated 19 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s PIF signs sponsorship deal with Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament

Saudi Arabia’s PIF signs sponsorship deal with Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament
  • Agreement is latest in wider partnership with the ATP

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund announced on Friday it had agreed a multi-year deal to sponsor the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament.

The deal is the latest in PIF’s wider tennis partnership with the Association of Tennis Professionals as a Platinum Partner and as the official naming partner of the PIF ATP Rankings.

The fund said the agreement marked its continued investment in growing tennis globally, along with a wider focus on its four sponsorship pillars: inclusivity, sustainability, youth, and technology.

As part of the partnership, PIF will develop a platform to allow tennis fans new and old to engage and train with legendary players and coaches on the ground in Madrid, and youth-focused fan zones.

A statement said: “PIF is committed to providing opportunities for young players across all levels of the game, inspiring participation, enhancing talent discovery and developing new pathways for future generations of tennis players around the world.

“As part of this priority, PIF is engaging local tennis academies in Spain and supporting future players through the PIF tennis bootcamp.”

PIF has also partnered with ATP Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Miami and the Nitto ATP Finals, in addition to the Beijing ATP 500 event, and the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by PIF, to be hosted in Jeddah until 2027.