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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Air pollution in Lahore forces PCB to shift Zimbabwe T20s

Updated 24 October 2020

Air pollution in Lahore forces PCB to shift Zimbabwe T20s

  • Rawalpindi will host the entire limited-overs series, as three one-day internationals will be played there from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3
  • PCB also shifted next month’s remaining Pakistan Super League playoffs from Lahore to Karachi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has shifted its three Twenty20s against Zimbabwe next month to Rawalpindi because of increasing air pollution in Lahore.

The move means Rawalpindi will host the entire limited-overs series, as three one-day internationals will be played there from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. The T20 series follows from Nov. 7-10, also at Pindi Stadium.

“Following the sudden deterioration in air quality and now further expected air pollution in November, we have made a swift decision to move the matches scheduled in Lahore,” Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive Wasim Khan said on Friday. “The risk to keep matches in Lahore at this stage was too great.

“We cannot and will not compromise on the health and wellbeing of the players or officials.”

Meanwhile, the PCB also shifted next month’s remaining Pakistan Super League playoffs from Lahore to Karachi.

The PSL was postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the remaining four games will be played in Karachi from Nov. 14-17.

Multan Sultans, Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars and Peshawar Zalmi have qualified for the playoffs.

“The decision to move matches from Lahore was not one that was taken lightly,” Khan said.

“For the sake of everyone involved and to ensure the remaining four matches of the PSL and the three T20Is against Zimbabwe were completed without risk or interruption, it was important to move the matches.”