Ronaldo returns against Al-Ain as Al-Nassr eye AFC Champions League glory

Ronaldo returns against Al-Ain as Al-Nassr eye AFC Champions League glory
The 39-year-old had been banned for one game after making an offensive gesture during a Saudi Arabia league match four days earlier (X/@AlNassrFC)
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Updated 04 March 2024
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Ronaldo returns against Al-Ain as Al-Nassr eye AFC Champions League glory

Ronaldo returns against Al-Ain as Al-Nassr eye AFC Champions League glory
  • 9 points behind Al-Hilal in the SPL title race, Al-Nassr’s best chance of success this season could be in the Asian competition

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo returns to action for Al-Nassr on Monday with a simple task: rescue the team’s season and lead them to success in the AFC Champions League.

On Monday, the nine-time Saudi Arabia champions will make the short trip to the UAE to take on Al-Ain in the first leg of the quarterfinal in Asia’s biggest club competition. It comes at a crucial time in the season for a team that has never won the continental title.

At the moment, Al-Nassr are in second in the Roshn Saudi League but Ronaldo was on the sidelines last Thursday with head in his hands as Al-Nassr hosted the bottom team Al-Hazem.

Four times the Yellows took the lead and fans and Ronaldo sat back in anticipation of a comfortable win. Yet four times the visitors came back, helped by some dreadful Al-Nassr defending, to draw 4-4 and grab a point.

The 39-year-old had been banned for one game after making an offensive gesture during a Saudi Arabia league match four days earlier. At the end of the 3-2 win over Al-Shabab, video footage appeared to show Ronaldo cupping his ear and repeatedly thrusting his hand forward near his pelvis, in a gesture that seemed to be aimed at Al-Shabab fans.

The draw with Al-Hazem leaves Al-Nassr — even at this stage of the season — with a mountain to climb if they are to win the Saudi Pro League.

“Ronaldo strengthens the team and ensures that the opponent respects you more but his absence had nothing to do with the result,” said a visibly frustrated Al-Nassr coach Luis Castro. “The fact is that we are conceding too many goals and the problem is not organizational but due to individual mistakes. At the moment we are now focused on the Asian Champions League.”

Al-Hilal’s 3-1 win over Al-Ittihad on Friday leaves them strong favorites for another league championship. In theory it is not over — Hilal themselves have overturned such deficits in the past to lift the title. But with the leaders winning their last 25 games in all competitions, it is almost unimaginable that they will not win a 19th league title.

So it means that Al-Nassr know that only glory in Asia and winning the continental championship for the first time will save their season. The King’s Cup is always a welcome domestic trophy, but does not quite hold the same gravitas.

The tie against Al-Ain will not be easy. The Emirati club won their group and then got past Nasaf of Uzbekistan in the round of 16. They are going well at home and abroad and are unbeaten in eight, with seven of those ending in victory.

They possess plenty of attacking talent and will have watched Al-Nassr’s defensive issues of late with interest. Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba especially will be looking forward to it. The Togolese international has already scored six goals in Asia this season and has been in fine form domestically.

Al-Ain boss Hernan Crespo will have some sympathy for Al-Nassr. The Argentine legend was in charge of Qatar’s Al-Duhail last year and took the team to the last four where they were hit for seven by Hilal.

“We know how strong Al-Nassr are,” said Crespo. “They are full of talented players and it will be a great challenge for us. You expect to face tough opposition at this stage of the continental championship. We will have to be at our best.”

While Ronaldo’s return is big news, there will also be huge interest in Tuesday’s clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad in Riyadh.

Hilal’s recent SPL win over the Tigers was deserved though, the team from Jeddah could have gone in at the break 2-0 ahead instead of 1-0, and then the rest of the game would have been very different.

The problem for Al-Ittihad, and shared by the rest of the Saudi Arabia teams as well as Asia, is how to stop Al-Hilal.

Now that the Blues are nine points clear at the top of the table, they can almost afford to turn their focus to the Champions League.

Hilal may still have Neymar out, but Aleksandar Mitrovic is in excellent form as are Ruben Neves and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

But Al-Ittihad can also save their season. The best they can probably manage at home is to sneak into the top three.

A win in Asia, however, and a third continental title would make what has been a forgettable season into something special. It is the biggest game of their season and Al-Nassr can say the same.


Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten
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Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia: Cristiano Ronaldo finished the Saudi Pro League by setting the season goal-scoring record on Monday.
Ronaldo scored twice in Riyadh as Al-Nassr defeated Al-Ittihad 4-2 and lifted his league tally to 35, one more than the record in 2019 by Abderrazak Hamdallah.
In the final seconds of the first half, Ronaldo, who had already had two goals ruled out for offside, chested down a long pass from Mohammed Al-Fatil and opened the scoring with a low shot from the left side of the area.
With 21 minutes remaining, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner celebrated wildly after heading home a corner from Marcelo Brozovic. He was substituted off the field five minutes later to a standing ovation from the home fans.
It ended an action-packed season for Ronaldo, who scored four hat tricks and collected one red card. He was also suspended for an obscene gesture in February at Al-Shabab fans who had been chanting the name of Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s longstanding soccer rival.
Al-Nassr finished second in the league, 14 points behind local rival Al-Hilal, which won the championship more than two weeks ago and completed the 34-round league unbeaten on Monday.
Al-Hilal was too strong even without Neymar, who joined the club in August from Paris Saint-Germain but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in October.
Aleksandar Mitrovic stepped in and ended the season with a goal in the final seconds to clinch a 2-1 win over Al-Wehda. The Serbian striker, signed from London club Fulham last summer, reached 27 league goals, second only to Ronaldo.
On its way to the title, Al-Hilal went on a 34-game winning streak in all competitions, a new world record for a top tier team.
“This season has been truly exceptional for the team, arguably our best ever,” coach Jorge Jesus said. “The credit goes to the immense talent within the squad and the incredible sense of unity that transcends both on and off-field interactions.”
Al-Ittihad’s defeat at Al-Nassr ended a disappointing season for the defending champion. Karim Benzema, signed from Real Madrid, struggled with injuries and even with N’Golo Kante and Fabinho in midfield, signed from Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, the team from Jeddah could manage only fifth place.
Poor results cost Nuno Santo his job as coach in November, and the Portuguese tactician returned to the English Premier League a month later to take over Nottingham Forest.
Al-Ahli, the fourth of the ‘Big Four’ clubs taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund last June, finished third, 17 points behind Al-Nassr. Al-Ahli beat Al-Fayha 1-0 thanks to a late goal — his ninth of the season — from former Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino.
Ronaldo took the headlines, however, and the 39-year-old still had one more chance to end the season with a trophy when Al-Nassr meets Al-Hilal in the King’s Cup final on Friday.


England’s Jacks thankful for Kohli influence ahead of T20 World Cup

England’s Jacks thankful for Kohli influence ahead of T20 World Cup
Updated 27 May 2024
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England’s Jacks thankful for Kohli influence ahead of T20 World Cup

England’s Jacks thankful for Kohli influence ahead of T20 World Cup
  • Jacks goes into third game of England’s warm-up series against Pakistan having helped propel the hosts to a 23-run win on Saturday
  • The Surrey all-rounder struck a quickfire 37 in what proved to be a decisive stand with captain Jos Buttler as England went 1-0 up

LONDON: Will Jacks hopes to put the on-field “coaching” he received from Virat Kohli to good use when England bid to retain their T20 World Cup title next month.
Jacks goes into the third game of England’s warm-up series against Pakistan having helped propel the hosts to a 23-run win at Edgbaston on Saturday.
The Surrey all-rounder struck a quickfire 37 in what proved to be a decisive stand with captain Jos Buttler as England went 1-0 up in the rain-hit four-match series ahead of Tuesday’s game at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens.
It was another example of Jacks’ power hitting after he recently struck an unbeaten century off just 41 balls — including 28 runs from one Rashid Khan over — as Royal Challengers Bengaluru chased down 200 to beat Gujarat Titans in a high-pressure situation, with India star batsman Kohli looking on from the other end.
“The big thing with the IPL is that every game is such an occasion, the crowd, the atmosphere,” Jacks told reporters on Monday, just over a week from England’s World Cup opener against Scotland in Barbados.
“Every game you feel like you’ve got to step up and that’s similar to international cricket.”
As for batting with Kohli, the 25-year-old added: “He’s a very good role model. The way he approaches all the training and every aspect of the game off the field, his intensity, everything he does is a 100 percent attention.
“He’s done it for such a long time and I can appreciate that as a young guy who often doesn’t want to do the hard yards, but you see him doing it and want to copy that.”
Jacks added: “When we were batting together, he was coaching me through there. I learned some valuable things about chasing in that innings and pacing the game, which was really helpful.
“I was really proud of the way I stayed in the partnership, didn’t throw it away.”
Now Jacks, whose England career currently consists of a mere two Tests, seven one-day internationals and 12 T20s, is looking forward to a major global tournament.
“Playing in a World Cup is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid. I’m really excited to do it,” he said. “It’s getting closer now and we’re building in the right direction.”
Jacks labelled his England T20 record of 218 runs at 18.16 a “mixed bag,” although his cause has not been helped by switching between opening the innings and batting at three.
“I’ve probably opened half my games and batted number three in the other half,” he said. “It’s no lie that I’m new to batting at three, I’m learning on the job.”
He added: “I’ve been getting starts every game and it’s about how do I change those into match-winning scores. That’s more of a mindset thing. It doesn’t matter what I’m averaging: if the team’s winning, then it’s good.”


England captain Buttler set to miss 3rd T20 against Pakistan

England captain Buttler set to miss 3rd T20 against Pakistan
Updated 27 May 2024
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England captain Buttler set to miss 3rd T20 against Pakistan

England captain Buttler set to miss 3rd T20 against Pakistan
  • The 33-year-old struck a match-winning 84 as the hosts took a 1-0 lead in Birmingham on Saturday
  • He is set to miss Wednesday’s third T20 in Cardiff, with vice-captain Moeen Ali in line to lead England

LONDON: Jos Buttler has left the England squad ahead of Tuesday’s Twenty20 international against Pakistan to be with his wife, who is about to give birth to the couple’s third child.
The 33-year-old England captain struck a match-winning 84 as the hosts took a 1-0 lead in the rain-affected four-game series in Birmingham on Saturday.
But he is now set to miss Wednesday’s third T20 in Cardiff, with vice-captain Moeen Ali in line to lead England at Sophia Gardens instead.
This series, which concludes at The Oval in London on Thursday, is serving as a warm-up for the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the United States, with reigning champions England starting their title defense against Scotland in Barbados on June 4.
England fast bowler Jofra Archer could be rested for the Cardiff match ahead of the Oval finale.
Archer has been beset by elbow injuries since his starring role in helping England win the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
But the 29-year-old marked his long-awaited return to international cricket by taking two wickets as England beat Pakistan by 23 runs at Edgbaston following a washout at Leeds.
Archer, on his first international appearance for 14 months, and first on home soil since 2020, bounced back from an expensive first over, which went for 15 runs, to finish with 2-28.


Crafting champions: The artistry behind the ‘Ring of Fire’ trophy belt

Nasser Farsi, one of the master engravers from Farsi Jewelry House, is seen in action. supplied
Nasser Farsi, one of the master engravers from Farsi Jewelry House, is seen in action. supplied
Updated 27 May 2024
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Crafting champions: The artistry behind the ‘Ring of Fire’ trophy belt

Nasser Farsi, one of the master engravers from Farsi Jewelry House, is seen in action. supplied
  • Engraving tools with diamond tips and tungsten carbide tips were used, depending on the function
  • Each stroke of the engraving tool was not just a mark on metal, but also a tribute to the sport’s rich heritage and the warriors who have graced the ring

Riyadh: In the world of boxing, where legends are made and history is written with every punch, there exists a tangible symbol of triumph and glory — the championship belt.

And behind every iconic belt lies a story of craftsmanship and dedication, as exemplified by the artisans at Farsi Jewelry House, entrusted with engraving the trophy belt for the historic “Ring of Fire” fight between Britain’s Tyson Fury and Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, one of the master engravers from Farsi Jewelry House, Nasser Farsi, provided insights into the meticulous process that went into crafting the emblem of sporting greatness.

“We used engraving tools with diamond tips and tungsten carbide tips, depending on the function,” said the artisan, highlighting the attention to detail and precision required for such a task. From planning and drawing, to engraving and quality checking, every step was executed with the utmost care and precision.

The artisan is seen engraving the champion's name on the belt. supplied

The engraving of the host city and date, along with the champion’s name and the names of the boxing legends preceding them, imbues the belt with a sense of history and reverence. Each stroke of the engraving tool was not just a mark on metal, but also a tribute to the sport’s rich heritage and the warriors who have graced the ring.

Despite their expertise, the artisans faced challenges along the way, particularly with the unexpectedly strong metal used for the belt. “The most challenging part was that the metal used for the belt was much stronger than we expected. It was done in a superb quality metal,” Farsi said. However, the engravers overcame the challenge “by adding an additional step, which is micro hammering with a diamond tip,” ensuring that the final product surpassed expectations in quality and craftsmanship.

For the artisans at Farsi Jewelry House, the opportunity to contribute to such a high-profile event is a source of immense pride and honor. “It was such a privilege and honor for me personally as my work was literally writing down a historical moment,” Farsi said. The sentiment was echoed by his colleague for the task, Samuel Nacario, whose passion for boxing and martial arts made the experience “a dream come true.”

Samuel Nacario, one of the master engravers from Farsi Jewelry House, is seen in action. supplied

While the engraving was done in-house by Farsi’s team, the assistance and artwork of people like Nacario, who Farsi sees as a “teacher,” played a crucial role in bringing the project to life.

Though the cultural significance of Riyadh may not have directly influenced the belt’s design, the event’s hosting in the Saudi capital sent a powerful message to the world. “It was a message that we are way ahead of our plans to reach what was anticipated for Vision 2030,” said Farsi, highlighting the event’s broader significance in the context of the Kingdom’s cultural and economic aspirations.

The artisan hinted at future projects, promising further glimpses of his craftsmanship. While the details remain under wraps, one thing is clear — Farsi Jewelry House is poised to continue leaving its mark on the world of sports and beyond.

In the realm of boxing, where every victory is immortalized and every defeat serves as a stepping stone, the craftsmanship of Nasser Farsi stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of champions.

As the “Ring of Fire” trophy belt changes hands and journeys through the annals of history, one thing remains certain — it is more than just a belt; it is a symbol of excellence, perseverance and the indomitable spirit of the human endeavor.


Three things we learned from the Monaco Grand Prix

Three things we learned from the Monaco Grand Prix
Updated 27 May 2024
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Three things we learned from the Monaco Grand Prix

Three things we learned from the Monaco Grand Prix

MONTE CARLO: Charles Leclerc confirmed his potential as a world championship contender and raised more questions about Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s era of domination with his emotional home triumph on Sunday.
By winning a dull and processional Monaco Grand Prix with a flawless drive from pole position to chequered flag, while Verstappen started and finished sixth, the 26-year-old Monegasque lifted a monkey from his back as the Dutchman bemoaned his fate.
After a troubled weekend for the champion team, which saw second driver Sergio Perez crash out on the opening lap, AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from the star-studded spectacle in the Mediterranean principality:
Ferrari team chief Fred Vasseur cut through the emotional aftermath of Leclerc’s victory to identify how important it can be for him in future races. “Firstly, everyone will stop asking him each year what will happen next time, what happens this weekend and blah blah blah.... It’s over now. It’s behind us all.
“He had a kind of weight on his shoulders for years here now. Sometimes, he made a small mistake, sometimes he was unlucky, like with a brake failure, and he was under pressure.
“Now, I think he can make a big step forward, for sure. His self-confidence and approach at other events will change.”
Vasseur spoke before his team began celebrations at Jimmy’z nightclub, but shortly after a tearful Arthur Leclerc, Charles’ younger brother, led widespread tributes by wishing their father Herve had been alive to see him win.
His victory was a realization of a family dream shared with their father Herve, who died in 2017, before Charles entered Formula One.
“I am so happy,” said Arthur, a Ferrari academy driver. “It’s the first time I cried seeing my brother win. It’s just such an incredible feeling and I just wish my father was there as well to see this moment.”
Leclerc is now only 26 points behind Verstappen in the drivers’ title race after eight of this year’s 24 races, while Ferrari are only 24 points behind in the teams’ contest. He may protest that it too soon to judge, but many believe Verstappen faces a fight ahead to keep his crown.
Max Verstappen and his father Jos issued clear signals that Red Bull have been caught by their rivals and now require emergency action if they are to remain the dominant team.
“We’ve had this problem since 2022,” said the three-time champion, referring to his car’s sensitivity to bumps and riding kerbs.
His father Jos Verstappen went further and suggested Red Bull’s era of dominance is over and the team need to reconsider their priorities after a period of controversies surrounding team boss Christian Horner’s alleged inappropriate behavior and the exit of technical chief Adrian Newey.
“The era when Red Bull had the dominant car really seems to be over now,” said Verstappen senior. “Maybe they should start focusing a bit more on racing and mutual communication again, rather than on other things.”
With Ferrari and McLaren winning races and closing in, and Mercedes advancing, Red Bull face a challenge on and off the track.

The future of the calendar’s most glamorous and historic event was the subject of fresh speculation after Sunday’s ‘snooze-fest’ race amid calls for F1 to revise some rules specifically to enliven the Monaco Grand Prix.
“I got myself a yoghurt and an espresso,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “I’ve never done that in 12 years.”
“I should have brought my pillow,” said Verstappen. “How boring was that?“
Mercedes driver George Russell replied: “They need to change something... maybe compulsory pitstops...”
“Or a compulsory nap,” replied Verstappen.