Saudi giants Al-Ittihad to take on English minnows Atherton Collieries in friendly

The eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia and two-time Asian champions will take to the field at the 2,500-capacity Alder House as part of their tour of the north-west of England. (Photo: Atherton Collieries)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Saudi giants Al-Ittihad to take on English minnows Atherton Collieries in friendly

  • Al-Ittihad have been based in the town of Bolton where they have played friendlies against Bolton Wanderers, Leeds United and Bury
  • Atherton Collieries play in the seventh tier of English football

LONDON: Saudi Arabian giants Al-Ittihad are in unchartered territory on Wednesday night as they take on English non-league side Atherton Collieries, who play in the seventh tier of the football pyramid in England.
The eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia and two-time Asian champions will take to the field at the 2,500-capacity Alder House as part of their tour of the north-west of England.
Al-Ittihad have been based in the town of Bolton where they have played friendlies against local side Bolton Wanderers as well as Leeds United and Bury. New West Bromwich Albion boss Slaven Bilic managed the club in the last 12 months.
It is far removed from their 62,000-capacity home at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, but the Saudi club wanted to play one more match before returning to the Kingdom, according to a BBC report.
The report also highlighted the gulf in social media following between the two clubs, with the Jeddah giants boasting 3.7 million Twitter followers compared to ACFC’s more modest 7,300.
Club official Carl McGuire told Arab News: "The interest in our club has been unprecedented, this is the first time I think the BBC have written about us in our more than 100-year history.
“Feedback from the local community and football family has been overwhelming.
“We are very honored that a club that is run by volunteers is to host such a prestigious club. We have made every effort to be as welcoming as possible.
“We don’t know what crowd to anticipate at all, Al-Ittihad supporters making the trip here will be able to see their heroes closer than ever. Our junior teams will be leading out the teams, a day they and their families will never forget.
“It is a day that will go down in our history,” he added.
“Something like this doesn’t come around often,” ACFC secretary Emil Anderson told BBC Sport.
“It’s like the unknown for us and it will probably be the unknown for them as well. It’s going to be a memorable night for the club.”
It has been a month of interesting friendlies in England, with Marlow Town hosting the Kuwait national team in a friendly and third-tier Accrington Stanley beating nine-time French champions and 1993 European champions Marseille.


Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Updated 25 August 2019
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Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."