Man City ease into Club World Cup final

Man City ease into Club World Cup final
Manchester City's Matheus Nunes takes a shot in front of Urawa Reds' Marius Hoibraten during their FIFA Club World Cup semifinal match at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on Dec. 19, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 19 December 2023
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Man City ease into Club World Cup final

Man City ease into Club World Cup final
  • Mateo Kovacic and Bernardo Silva struck after Marius Hoibraten’s own goal opened the scoring
  • City set up a clash with South American champions Fluminense in Friday’s final in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Manchester City shrugged off their sluggish Premier League form to cruise into the Club World Cup final, 3-0 over Urawa Reds on Tuesday, despite missing the presence of Erling Haaland.
Mateo Kovacic and Bernardo Silva struck after Marius Hoibraten’s own goal opened the scoring as City set up a clash with South American champions Fluminense in Friday’s final in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
City have won only one of their last six Premier League matches and fallen behind Arsenal and Liverpool in the title race.
But they were never troubled as an unblemished record for European sides against Asian teams at the Club World Cup was extended to 14 games.
Haaland sat out a third consecutive game due to a foot injury, with the Norwegian facing a race against time to be fit for the final.
However, Haaland still provoked the biggest cheer of the night from the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium when he offered the crowd a wave as he appeared on the big screens during the first half.
Kevin De Bruyne was also absent from the City squad despite making his return to training on Monday from a four-month layoff due to a hamstring injury.
Without their biggest goal threat and creative hub, City lacked penetration and punch for the first 45 minutes despite enjoying over 80 percent of possession against the Asian champions.
Urawa had lost six of their previous 10 games but largely kept the European champions at bay before a self-inflicted blow opened the game up for City on the stroke of half-time.
Guardiola made the surprise call to leave Julian Alvarez on the bench, leaving City without a natural striker in their starting 11.
It took the Champions League winners 30 minutes to even create a clear sight of goal as Matheus Nunes cut inside and blasted a shot goalwards that Shusaku Nishikawa tipped over.
City were slowing building momentum toward the break as Phil Foden was next to test Nishikawa from outside the box.
But they needed a slice of fortune to break the deadlock in first-half stoppage time.
Nunes fired a low cross into the box that Hoibraten turned into his own net under little pressure.
As Urawa tired from chasing the ball in the heat, City were then able to cut loose in the second half.
Kovacic drilled in his first City goal after racing onto Kyle Walker’s pass that cut the Japanese defense wide open.
Both Kovacic and Nunes have struggled to make a meaningful impact since arriving at the treble winners in the summer transfer window.
Nunes should have followed the Croatian’s lead by netting his first goal for the club when he headed a glorious chance wide from Jack Grealish’s cross.
A third goal for City did not take long to arrive as Hoibraten’s bad luck continued when Silva’s shot deflected in off the Norwegian defender.
Silva warned of the heightened risk of injury put upon players by a “crazy” schedule after FIFA confirmed that the Club World Cup will expand to 32 teams and a month-long competition in 2025.
A hugely one-sided contest did little to whet the appetite for many more matches between Europe’s elite clubs and the rest of the world as the financial gulf between the two continues to grow.
European teams are now unbeaten in 21 Club World Cup matches stretching back to 2012.
But a comfortable evening did at least offer Guardiola the chance to rest Silva, Foden, Manuel Akanji, Rodri and John Stones for the closing stages.


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.