Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone

Neymar on Friday watched in delight as Al-Hilal came from behind to defeat Al-Ittihad 3-1 to take a giant step toward a 19th Saudi Pro League trophy. (X/@AlHilal_FC)
Neymar on Friday watched in delight as Al-Hilal came from behind to defeat Al-Ittihad 3-1 to take a giant step toward a 19th Saudi Pro League trophy. (X/@AlHilal_FC)
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Updated 01 March 2024
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Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone

Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone
  • Goals from Saleh Al-Shehri, Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid made sure 18-time champions now nine points clear of Riyadh rivals in second

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo watched from the stands in disbelief on Thursday as Al-Nassr were held to a 4-4 draw at home against bottom team Al-Hazm. Neymar on Friday watched in delight as Al-Hilal came from behind to defeat Al-Ittihad 3-1 to take a giant step toward a 19th Saudi Pro League trophy.

Thanks to goals from Saleh Al-Shehri, Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid, the 18-time champions are now nine points clear of their Riyadh rivals in second, and as Al-Hilal have now won their last 25 games in all competitions and a record 15 in the league, few would now bet against the Blues.

It was an entertaining Saudi Classico, but once Al-Hilal took the lead in the second half, there was always likely to be just one outcome and it was a deserved win.

Al-Ittihad, the defending champions, had opportunities but against the runaway leaders more than one needed to be taken.

But the visitors, who were missing star striker Karim Benzema through injury, started strongly and took the lead in the 12th minute. With all the attacking talent on the pitch, it was a little surprising that N’Golo Kante opened the scoring with his first goal for almost six months. It was a cracker too.

The former Chelsea midfielder started the move and after laying the ball off, sprinted for the penalty area. He was there just in time to meet the left-sided cross from Zakaria Al-Hawsawi and no one was prepared for the sight of Kante flying through the air to send a header past Yassine Bounou and into the net. It stunned fans in the Kingdom Arena and probably those watching around the world. 

A few minutes later it was almost 2-0 as Faisal Al-Ghamdi shot just wide from outside the area with Bounou scrambling to get across. Al-Ittihad have been in good form and were seemingly growing in confidence.

But slowly Al-Hilal began to wake up and six minutes before the break were level. Abdullah Al-Mayouf punched a Salem Al-Dawsari corner clear but it fell to Ruben Neves just outside the area and while the Portuguese star’s shot was blocked, there was Al-Shehri, in the starting lineup to replace the suspended Aleksandar Mitrovic, to pounce and fire home.

Almost immediately, the visitors thought they had a penalty as Kalidou Koulibaly was judged by the referee to have been tugging the shirt of Ahmed Hegazy. VAR thought differently, however.

Both teams continued to push forward and just before the hour the hosts took the lead. It came shortly after Al-Ittihad had claims for a penalty waved away, and Al-Hilal broke. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic chipped over a perfect cross from the left for Malcom — who was given far too much space on the edge of the six-yard box — to head home.

Kante almost equalized within minutes, firing a low shot just wide of the post. It was a great chance and, had it been taken, the game could have turned out very differently.

As it was, midway through the second half, Abdulhamid netted a third. Milinkovic-Savic slipped a pass into the right side of the area for the full-back to twist and turn past two defenders before shooting home at the near post. Not for the first time in the evening, Neymar, still recovering from his serious injury, was on his feet.

Unlike Al-Nassr, who four times threw the lead away against Al-Hazm, Al-Hilal were not going to be denied and the celebrations at the end reflected an unstoppable winning machine.

There is a quick chance for revenge for Al-Ittihad as the two giants meet in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarter-final next week, but Al-Hilal surely know that with the domestic title almost sewn up, they can now turn their full attention to continental concerns.

For Al-Ittihad, now 25 points below the leaders in fifth, their season now depends on the clash.


Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open

Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open
Updated 56 min 30 sec ago
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Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open

Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open
  • World number one Djokovic, seeking a fourth Roland Garros title and record-extending 25th major, is enduring his worst run since 2018
  • He also suffered the indignity of being accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome which caused nausea and dizziness

PARIS: Novak Djokovic begins the defense of his French Open title at Roland Garros on Tuesday, confident his Grand Slam pedigree will help turn around his lacklustre season as tournament chiefs battled a frustrating five-hour rain delay.
By late afternoon on the third day, only four of the scheduled 40 first-round ties had been completed.
Two-time runner-up Casper Ruud and former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina were safely back in the locker room having benefitted from playing under the roofs of the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen courts.
World number one Djokovic, seeking a fourth Roland Garros title and record-extending 25th major, is enduring his worst run since 2018.
Djokovic, 37, has not won a title in 2024 and has yet to make a final with semifinal spots at the Australian Open and Monte Carlo Masters his best performances.
He also suffered the indignity of being accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome which caused nausea and dizziness.
In Geneva last week, where he was knocked out by Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic, Djokovic said he had been suffering from a stomach problem.
“They are rather bumps on the road,” said Djokovic, who watched his long-time rival and 14-time champion Rafael Nadal bow out of the tournament against Alexander Zverev on Monday.
When asked to elaborate further on his difficulties so far this season, Djokovic opted for discretion.
“Various things have been happening in the last couple of months, but I don’t want to get into it. I don’t want to open Pandora’s Box.”
On Tuesday, Djokovic will take on French wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert, the world number 142 who hasn’t won a match on the main tour this year.
Ruud, who won clay-court titles in Barcelona and Geneva in the build-up to Roland Garros, cruised to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Brazilian qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves.
“It’s great to be back here at Roland Garros,” he said. “Hopefully I can make it another good year here.”
Ruud was beaten in straight sets by Novak Djokovic in last year’s final following a one-sided loss to Rafael Nadal in the 2022 showpiece.
He also lost the 2022 US Open final to Carlos Alcaraz.
Frenchwoman Alize Cornet’s career ended with a straight-sets defeat by Zheng Qinwen in her record-extending 69th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.
Cornet was no match for China’s Australian Open runner-up Zheng, losing 6-2, 6-1.
She made her debut at Roland Garros as a 15-year-old in 2005 and has not missed a Grand Slam tournament since the 2006 US Open.
Cornet reached a career-high ranking of 11th in 2009 and enjoyed a surprise run to the 2022 Australian Open quarter-finals.
“I already cried yesterday watching Rafa,” said a tearful Cornet after seeing Nadal lose what was likely his last match at the French Open on Monday.
Over on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Rybakina powered into the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Belgian Greet Minnen and could face three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber for a place in the last 32.
Kazakh world number four Rybakina is the only player to defeat tournament favorite Iga Swiatek on clay this season, in the Stuttgart semifinals in April.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka gets her bid to reach a first Roland Garros final underway.
The world number two has reached at least the semifinals in each of the past six Grand Slam events.
Sabalenka is also the only woman to beat world number one and three-time French Open winner Swiatek in a final on clay — in Madrid last year — since the Pole lost her first WTA title decider as a teenager in 2019 at a low-key event in Switzerland.
The 26-year-old Sabalenka had never even reached the second week at Roland Garros until last year, when she was knocked out by Karolina Muchova in the semifinals.
She starts her Paris campaign against Russia’s Erika Andreeva.
Also on court in the men’s singles is Argentine qualifier Roman Andres Burruchaga who has sporting success in the blood.
His father Jorge famously scored the winning goal for Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the 1986 World Cup final against West Germany.
Ranked at 144, the 22-year-old is making his Grand Slam debut and takes on Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.


De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel

De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel
Updated 28 May 2024
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De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel

De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel
  • Defender Maxim De Cuyper, who won the Belgian league with Club Brugge last weekend, was the only newcomer
  • Tedesco said Witsel’s recent excellent showings with Atletico Madrid convinced him the 35-year-old midfielder was the right choice

BRUSSELS: Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will lead a rejuvenated Belgium side including a once-retired Axel Witsel at the European Championship next month.
De Bruyne and Witsel were on the 25-man list unveiled by coach Domenico Tedesco on Tuesday. Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, preparing for the Champions League final, was not.
Defender Maxim De Cuyper, who won the Belgian league with Club Brugge last weekend, was the only newcomer.
De Bruyne and Witsel are remaining members of the so-called golden generation of Belgian players. While De Bruyne’s presence was expected, Witsel’s was a surprise after Tedesco dropped him from his first squad last year. Witsel soon after announced his retirement from international soccer and did not play in qualifying.
But Tedesco said Witsel’s recent excellent showings with Atletico Madrid convinced him the 35-year-old midfielder was the right choice. Tedesco also traveled to Spain to meet Witsel and discuss a comeback. There was no hard feelings, the coach said, and Witsel immediately agreed to return.
“First of all, it’s about the quality,” Tedesco said. “There is no doubt he is a high-quality player. We need him, he is an experienced player, he can help the young players. Either if he is playing or not, we have a good feeling with him.”
Witsel can play in midfield or defense, a versatility that increased his value.
“He has started to play as a central defender, it changed a lot,” Tedesco said. “As a (number) six, probably he would not be in the squad today. I have to be very transparent.”
Tedesco said Courtois was not ready for Euro 2024, which starts on June 14 in Germany, after recently returning from injury. The men have been at odds since a dispute last year, and Courtois announced in December he would miss the Euros.
“Of course, he knows his body the best,” Tedesco said about Courtois.
Tedesco succeeded Roberto Martinez as Belgium manager in February 2023. He has yet to lose a game in charge of the Red Devils.
Belgium will face Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine in Group E. Belgium’s best result at the continental tournament was runner-up in 1980.
Tedesco can still amend his squad before a June 7 deadline when teams must give UEFA a list with a minimum of 23 players and a maximum of 26. He said two extra “young” players will join the squad as training partners during the Euro preparations.
Tedesco said he had been following the left-footed De Cuyper closely since he took over as coach, but the defender had so far been overlooked because of strong competition.
“The situation changed a little bit, and we are open,” Tedesco said. “We have to choose the best players.”
Up front, strikers Romelu Lukaku and Lois Openda were chosen at the expense of Michy Batshuayi. Tedesco said it did not make sense to have Batshuayi in the squad knowing that Charles de Ketelaere, Dodi Lukebakio and Leandro Trossard can also cover his position.
“We did not see the necessity to take a third striker,” Tedesco said.

Belgium:
Goalkeepers: Matz Sels (Nottingham Forest), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thomas Kaminski (Luton).
Defenders: Wout Faes (Leicester), Timothy Castagne (Fulham), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht), Axel Witsel (Atletico Madrid), Zeno Debast (Anderlecht), Thomas Meunier (Trabzonspor), Maxim De Cuyper (Club Brugge)
Midfielders: Aster Vranckx (Wolfsburg), Youri Tielemans (Aston Villa), Orel Mangala (Lyon), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Arthur Vermeeren (Atletico Madrid), Amadou Onana (Everton)
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Roma), Charles De Ketelaere (Atalanta), Jeremy Doku (Manchester City), Lois Openda (Leipzig), Leandro Trossard (Arsenal), Johan Bakayoko (PSV Eindhoven), Dodi Lukebakio (Sevilla), Yannick Carrasco (Al-Shabab)


Rohit, Kohli in focus as India look to end title drought

Rohit, Kohli in focus as India look to end title drought
Updated 28 May 2024
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Rohit, Kohli in focus as India look to end title drought

Rohit, Kohli in focus as India look to end title drought
  • Rohit, 37, and Kohli, 35, have long been the twin torchbearers for the hopes of their cricket-mad nation
  • India made final of last year’s ODI World Cup at home but lost to Australia at world’s biggest cricket stadium

NEW DELHI: Skipper Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli will look to end India’s global title drought as the star duo step out for what is likely to be their final World Cup appearance.
Rohit, 37, and Kohli, 35, have long been the twin torchbearers for the hopes of their cricket-mad nation, which last saw a major title triumph in the 2013 Champions Trophy.
India made the final of last year’s ODI World Cup at home but lost to Australia in front of a crestfallen packed house at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.
The T20 World Cup, starting June 1 in the West Indies and United States, may be the last chance both men have to hoist a trophy from one of the showpiece white-ball tournaments.
“Rohit Sharma knows he isn’t going to play for too long now. Just two to three years more. Same with Virat Kohli,” former India batsman Mohammad Kaif said on Star Sports.
“So this is the last chance for Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
“They lost the World Cup final in Ahmedabad. They played as if they had the cup snatched away from them. Hearts were broken and fans were devastated.”
The next T20 World Cup will be in in two years’ time followed by the 50-over tournament in 2027.
The veterans will combine for India after a contrasting IPL season where Kohli dominated as a one-man run machine and Rohit’s team floundered.
Kohli topped the batting charts with 741 runs for Royal Challengers Bengaluru, forming a thrilling opening partnership with the skipper Faf du Plessis.
Former India batsman Ajay Jadeja said Kohli had made his case to open for his side at the World Cup.
“For me, Virat Kohli opens,” Jadeja told Jio Cinema.
“If you have Virat in your side, you know consistency is the one thing you will get, so, might as well use him. He’s the best at the top and the powerplay allows him to settle in.”
Rohit was replaced as captain of Mumbai Indians by Hardik Pandya for this year’s season and had a patchy tournament, finishing with 417 runs which included a 61-ball century against Chennai Super Kings.
Rohit, nicknamed “Hitman” for his attacking play and big-scoring, signed off in his last league match of the year with a 28-ball fifty but his previous seven innings had produced just 88 runs.
Both men have been part of India’s past World Cup glories.
Rohit was part of the team’s victory in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 when India defeated arch-rivals Pakistan in the final at Johannesburg.
India’s last World Cup win came in 2011 when a young Kohli carried cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders during their victory lap of the field.
Both men have faced pressure to deliver their side a title in the years since, but Kohli stepped down as T20 captain in 2021 and was then removed as ODI skipper in the same year without delivering.
Rohit, who led Mumbai to five IPL titles, picked up the baton but a World Cup trophy has proven elusive under his leadership as well.
In this year’s T20 World Cup India face Pakistan, Canada, the United States and Ireland in the group phase of the tournament, with Kaif saying the team had a clear run to the knockout matches.
“India hardly have competition in the group stage. There are only two main matches — the semifinal and the final,” he said.


Saudi youth weightlifters take second place at world championships in Peru

Saudi youth weightlifters take second place at world championships in Peru
Updated 28 May 2024
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Saudi youth weightlifters take second place at world championships in Peru

Saudi youth weightlifters take second place at world championships in Peru
  • The event, held in Peru, concluded on Monday and featured teams from 51 countries

RIYADH: The Saudi national youth weightlifting team finished second in the World Youth Weightlifting Championships.

The event, held in Peru, concluded on Monday and featured teams from 51 countries.

The Saudi weightlifters totalled 498 points in finishing behind the Georgian team, with 539 points, while the Mexican team came third with 364 points, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Saudi team was represented at the tournament by Mohammed Al-Ajyan; Mohammed Al-Wubari; Abdullah Al-Muhaimid; Ali Al-Hawar; Mohammed Al-Zuri; Mohammed Al-Haliw; Abbas Al-Mahdi; Abdullah Al-Qaisum; and Muntazer Al-Mohsen.

The Saudi lifters won three silver medals and a bronze medal.

 


Joy for Jesus as Al-Hilal complete Saudi Pro League campaign unbeaten

Joy for Jesus as Al-Hilal complete Saudi Pro League campaign unbeaten
Updated 28 May 2024
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Joy for Jesus as Al-Hilal complete Saudi Pro League campaign unbeaten

Joy for Jesus as Al-Hilal complete Saudi Pro League campaign unbeaten
  • New champions beat A-Wehda 2-1 on the final day of the 2023-24 season

RIYADH: Al-Hilal’s coach, Jorge Jesus, on Monday night expressed his joy after his title-winning team beat Al-Wehda 2-1 to end the 2023-24 Saudi Pro League season without a loss.

Jesus said he is enjoying the best days of his career with the Riyadh giants.

Mohammed Kanno gave Al-Hilal a 19th-minute lead, with the home team equalizing in the 77th minute through fellow Saudi international Yahya Al-Najei. But Aleksandar Mitrovic scored in stoppage time to ensure a final-day win for the “Invincibles.”

“We were keen to end our last match in the league with a victory to preserve this exceptional league season, during which we broke records after gaining 96 points, achieved the largest victory in a single match, and we also finished the league without a loss,” Jesus said.

“I experienced many happy moments during my career with the clubs I coached, but my happiness with Al-Hilal is more than wonderful, especially in this exceptional season,” he concluded.