New Sharqiya Baja to take place Thursday

Mishal Alghuneim has the motorcycle honors in the bag. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 12 December 2019

New Sharqiya Baja to take place Thursday

ALKHOBAR: The new Sharqiya Baja 2019, the fifth and final round of the inaugural Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship, will take place at 3:15 p.m. on Thursday with a timed super special stage of 4.32 km. 

Ahead of a field of 51 cars, nine NUTVs, 10 motorcycles, 23 quads and one truck will be two further days of competitive action through the deserts of the Eastern Province and 474.86 competitive kilometers in a compact route of 746.58 km. 

 Several international drivers, most notably Spaniard Carlos Sainz, Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach, Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi and Czech Miroslav Zapletal will use the opportunity to finalize their preparations for January’s Dakar Rally.

In contrast, the massive Saudi contingent is spread across several categories and sporting disciplines, and the series finale will decide the outcome of the drivers’ championship and the winner of the quad section.

 Saudi Arabia’s leading drivers, Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Toyota Hilux) and Yasir Seaidan (X-raid Buggy), have fought a fascinating tussle for supremacy in the new series.

 Seaidan won the Aseer Rally opener and finished behind his rival at the Qassim Rally, the AlUla-Neom event and the Riyadh Rally. 

 The pair are now separated by just three points, heading into the showdown on Half Moon Bay.

An outright victory would give either driver the title, with 25 points awarded to the winner, 18 for second place and 15 for third. The two drivers, however, face strong opposition from a plethora of Saudi rivals. 

 ED Racing’s Essa Al-Dossari is a distant third in the series in his Nissan Navara, and can confirm that position by staying ahead of Mutair Al-Shammeri, Khalid Al-Feraihi and Faris Al-Shammeri. 

 Salman Al-Shammeri has already clinched the T2 title by scoring maximum points in the category for series production cross-country vehicles in three of the four rallies. His closest challenger is Yousef Al-Suwaidi, winner of the T2 in the Qassim Rally.

 Saleh Al-Saif confirmed success in the T3 before the recent event in Riyadh, and tackled that rally in the NUTV class, while Ibrahim Al-Muhanna, Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb have cruised to the T4 title in a Mercedes truck. 

Yousef Al-Dhaif has an unassailable lead over Fahad Al-Naim and Khalil and Majid Al-Tuwaijri in the NUTV Championship, but the latter trio will be battling to finish as runners-up in the popular category. Motorcycle honors have already gone to Mishal Alghuneim with Abdullah Al-Helal finishing the series in second place, but a host of riders still have a shot at claiming third overall.

Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi won the quad section at the Qassim and AlUla-Neom rallies, but a retirement in Riyadh has left the door open for Riyadh Al-Oraifan to snatch the title in the Eastern Province. He trails his fellow Yamaha rider by 21 points, with 25 available for the outright win.

 Several riders can still finish third, but Abdul Aziz Al-Shayban heads into the ceremonial start on Half Moon Bay leading Riyadh event-winner Sufiyan Al-Omar by six points. 

The event is organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), under the chairmanship of Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal and the supervision of former FIA Middle East champion Abdullah Bakhashab. 

 The new Baja runs with the support of the SAMF, the General Sports Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group, Al-Arabia Outdoors and the Saudi Research and Marketing Group.

 The event is being considered as an official candidate for future inclusion in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Bajas.


Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

Updated 20 January 2020

Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

  • The 38-year-old is the only player to have scored at least league 15 goals in each of the last 14 seasons

MILAN: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to form has coincided with Juventus taking a firm grip on Serie A.

Ronaldo did not score at all in November, but he scored twice as Juventus beat Parma 2-1 on Sunday to take his tally to 11 in his last seven league matches.

The win also put Juventus on course for a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title as the Bianconeri moved four points above Inter Milan. They were two points behind the Nerazzurri a month and a half ago.

Ronaldo has struggled with injury this season and missed three Serie A matches, playing through pain in others.

The 38-year-old Portugal forward has nevertheless scored 16 goals in 17 matches, becoming the first Juventus player to have that many goals after 20 matches since Omar Sivori in 1960.

Ronaldo is also the only player to have scored at least 15 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues in each of the last 14 seasons.

“Cristiano is in another class,” Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said. “Sometimes he poses you a little bit of a problem but he will solve 100 others for you.”

While Juventus managed to grind out results in November when Ronaldo wasn’t scoring, Inter struggle when their top scorers are not on form.

There have been three matches since December where neither Romelu Lukaku nor Lautaro Martínez have managed to find the back of the net. All three ended in draws.

The latest was a surprise 1-1 result at relegation-threatened Lecce on Sunday.

That is also down to a general drop in pace in the team as, prior to that, Inter had managed to win the previous four matches where Lukaku and Martínez didn’t score.

“The final result stems from the fact that we’re a team that needs to go at 200 kph. We cannot afford to be off the pace,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said. “It’s evident that if we go at an average pace, if we go into cruise speed, we become a normal team and aren’t able to get a result.”

Substitute

Mario Balotelli’s match lasted only seven minutes on Sunday and he could now find himself with even less playing time in the coming weeks.

Balotelli came on as a substitute in the 74th minute of Brescia’s 2-2 draw against Cagliari but shortly afterward was shown a yellow card for a high tackle and then immediately shown a second after repeatedly swearing at the referee.

Depending on what referee Antonio Giua writes in his report, Balotelli could be suspended for several matches.

The forward will certainly miss Brescia’s next match, against former team AC Milan.

“I think the yellow card was too harsh. Mario didn’t feel it was right, and his protests didn’t seem excessive to me,” Brescia coach Eugenio Corini said. “It’s a pity because he came on with the desire to make us win the match.”

Balotelli was banned for the first four matches of the Serie A season following a red card in his last match with Marseille last season.

“It’s incredible how one episode can always drastically change from too negative or too positive everyone’s opinion on the character or professionalism of a person,” Balotelli wrote on his Instagram story after the match. “I will continue with my daily work this time, too. It’s not a problem. You can continue to judge me as you wish.”