Saudi Professional League’s long-awaited return leaves Al-Ittihad in relegation trouble

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Action on opening day of the resumed Saudi Professional League (SPL) football season on August 4, 2020. (Photos by Basheer Alzain Saleh)
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Scenes on the opening day of the resumed Saudi Professional League (SPL) football season on August 4, 2020. (Photos by Basheer Alzain Saleh)
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Updated 04 August 2020

Saudi Professional League’s long-awaited return leaves Al-Ittihad in relegation trouble

  • All sporting activities in Saudi Arabia were indefinitely suspended on March 14 after the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic globally

DUBAI: After an absence of almost five months, Saudi Professional League (SPL) football returned with a priceless win for Al-Fateh over Al-Fayha, an alarming loss for giants Al-Ittihad at Abha and comfortable run-out for Al-Raed against Damac all having a significant impact on the relegation battle.

All sporting activities in the Saudi Arabia were indefinitely suspended on March 14 after the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic globally, but on June 12 the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) announced the SPL will resume on August 4 with the season set to be completed by September 9.

Sixteen minutes into the match that kicked off the league’s 23rd match day, Al-Fateh’s Moroccan midfielder Marwane Saadane converted a penalty for a lead the home team would hold until the break, despite the efforts of the Al-Fayha’s 34-year-old Chilean Carlos Villanueva in particular.

Three minutes into the second half, Al-Fayha thought they had equalized, but Admilson de Barros’s fine finish was overturned after VAR deemed an offside had taken place in the buildup.

There would be more disappointment for the team in 11th place. On the hour, a firm header from Abdulkareem Al-Qahtani looked to have squared the match, but after consulting VAR the referee once again chalked off the goal, the ball having struck the Al-Fayha player’s arm before crossing the line.

Al-Fateh’s Algerian midfielder Sofiane Bendebka settled the match on 75 minutes with a left-foot strike from Mohammed Fuhaid’s low cross. The goal moved Al-Fateh onto 22 points and renewed hope of beating the drop.

“Today the team was very focused,” match winner Bendebka said. “We needed to win as it was the first match after the break. It was difficult, but the three points will allow to compete in the coming weeks.”

“The remaining matches will be like a marathon, “ he added. “ We have eight matches in 35 days. With five allowed, that helps as well.”

Al-Fayha’s Portuguese coach Jorge Simão couldn’t hide his irritation at losing in such a manner.

“First, it’s good to be back, second I am very proud of my players,” Today the better team didn’t win, we did everything that we could to win this match. We fought, we created chances to score,

“Of course I don’t want to talk about the referee,” he added when asked about the two disallowed goals. “This is football, we start with a loss, but we have seven matches till the end, we will fight till the end.”

At Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium, troubled visitors Al Ittihad took a 20th-minute lead against Abha Club through Brazilian star Romarinho, but were pegged back six minutes into the second half thanks to Mehdi Tahrat’s equaliser. With only five minutes left, Ammar Al Najjar scored to give Abha a win and leave Al-Ittihad, on 23 points, only a point above the relegation zone.

In the third match, taking place at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, sixth placed Al-Raed recorded a comfortable 3-0 win over Damac, who remain second bottom on 16 points, six from safety and favorites for relegation.

“In the two late matches, Al-Faisaly beat Al-Taawoun 2-1, while Al-Ahli overcame Al Hazem 4-2. “ 

The 23 round  is set to be completed on Wednesday when second-placed Al-Nassr host leaders Al-Hilal — currently six points ahead — in a match that could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title, while Al-Wehda face Al-Shabab at home and Al-Ettifaq visit Al-Adalh.

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Luis Suarez suspected of cheating on Italian exam

Updated 22 September 2020

Luis Suarez suspected of cheating on Italian exam

  • The Italian exam was a first step required in order to receive a passport ahead of a possible transfer to Juventus
  • Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo said a proposed deal for Suarez was unlikely to go ahead because of delays in the Uruguayan’s bid to get an Italian passport

ROME: Barcelona forward Luis Suarez is suspected of cheating to pass his Italian language test with the help of his teachers, the Perugia prosecutor’s department in charge of the investigation said on Tuesday.
The Italian exam was a first step required in order to receive a passport ahead of a possible transfer to Juventus.
“The investigation showed that the subjects discussed during the exam were agreed beforehand with the candidate and that the grade was awarded to him even before the test,” the prosecutor’s department said in a statement.
Local prosecutor Raffaele Cantone, a former head of Italy’s National Anti-Corruption Authority, had been carrying out an investigation since February into University for Foreigners officials over various irregularities. Suspicions over Suarez were aroused by an overheard conversation.
“But what do you think, that we’re going to fail him? Today I have the last lesson (with Suarez) and I have to prepare it because he barely speaks a word” of Italian, Stefania Spina, one of the people targeted by the investigation, is claimed to have said according to prosecution documents cited by Italian media.
Asked by a colleague what level Suarez “should pass” in Italian, Spina reportedly replied: “He should not, he must, he will pass, because with a salary of 10 million (euros) per season, you can’t make him fail” his exam, “even if he doesn’t know how to conjugate verbs and speak in the infinitive.”
Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo said last week a proposed deal for Suarez was unlikely to go ahead because of delays in the Uruguayan’s bid to get an Italian passport.
The Italian champions cannot recruit Suarez otherwise because they have already reached their quota for non-EU players.