Late penalty saves Al-Nassr from a disastrous defeat by Al-Ettifaq

Al-Nassr, in particular, have endured a catastrophic start to the season, losing five and winning only one of their first six games to leave them rooted to the bottom of the 16-team league. (Saudi Professional League - Twitter)
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Updated 08 December 2020

Late penalty saves Al-Nassr from a disastrous defeat by Al-Ettifaq

  • Despite late escape, Al-Nassr remain rooted to the bottom of the table as rivals Al-Hilal stretch lead at the top

Al-Nassr and Al-Ettifaq played out a remarkable 2-2 draw on Monday as the former managed to narrowly avoid their nightmare campaign hitting a new low.

A very late penalty saved them from what would have been a disastrous sixth defeat out of seven games in the 2020-21 Saudi Professional League (SPL) season.

As they took to the field at King Fahd Stadium, watched by Saudi national team manager Herve Renard, both teams knew that only three points would ease the pressure on their clubs and coaches.

Al-Nassr, in particular, have endured a catastrophic start to the season, losing five and winning only one of their first six games to leave them rooted to the bottom of the 16-team league. After pushing Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal all the way for the SPL title last season, their collapse has been as severe as it was unexpected.

Al-Ettifaq’s start to the campaign has been marginally better, but with only seven points from their first six matches, they were just one point clear of the relegation zone, in 13th place, before Monday’s game.

Looking devoid of all confidence, Al-Nassr performed like they have all season and so it was Al-Ettifaq who started the brighter of the two. Naim Sliti almost gave the visitors the lead on eight minutes but his firm, left-footed strike was tipped over by Brad Jones. It would prove to be a busy half for the Australian goalkeeper.

Although Al-Ettifaq continued to be the better team, Al-Nassr thought they had taken the lead on 19 minutes, only for Abderrazak Hamdallah’s goal to be — correctly — chalked off for offside. Minutes later, Sliti’s deflected shot was superbly saved by Jones to prolong the stalemate.

Abdullah Al-Salem had another chance to put Al-Ettifaq ahead when he was put through on goal but the alert Jones managed to get in a saving tackle just in time.

Al-Ettifaq would get one last chance in the half, deep into injury time. Slovak midfielder Filip Kiss was fouled by Maicon and, after consulting the video assistant referee (VAR), the referee awarded a penalty. Kiss himself took it and sent Jones the wrong way to give Khalid Al-Atwi’s team the lead.

Rui Vitoria rang the changes for Al-Nassr at half time, with Moroccan playmaker Nordin Amrabat and Sami Al-Najei replacing Osama Al-Kahalf and Ali Al-Hassan. Almost immediately the home team looked more energized, with Amrabat twice stretching Al-Ettifaq’s defense down the right flank. It proved to be a mirage.

Only five minutes after the restart, the brilliant Sliti met Mohammed Al-Kwikbi’s cross and struck a stunning volley to give Al-Ettifaq some breathing space and leave Al-Nassr struggling to keep their heads above water.

On 57 minutes Al-Nassr were thrown a lifeline when Kiss elbowed Al-Najei and, again with the input of the VAR, another penalty was awarded. Hamdallah, the SPL’s top scorer in the past two seasons, struck his spot kick wildly over the bar — the pressure had clearly gotten to even the best of the team’s players.

Al-Nassr belatedly took control of the match in the closing stages, however, and with only two minutes remaining, Al-Najei halved the lead to give his team a glimmer of hope — especially when the referee signaled that six minutes of stoppage time would be added.

It proved to be enough, with another VAR-assisted penalty award giving Al-Nassr one last chance to clinch a point. This time Hamdallah converted with a “Panenka strike,” leaving Al-Ettifaq deflated by the late refereeing decisions that went against them, having come so close to a valuable victory.

“Of course it’s better to draw than to lose,” said relieved Al-Nassr defender Abdullah Madu. “The match had some controversial moments but I’d like to congratulate my teammates on the comeback. To be two goals down, it’s tough to recover.

“We promise our fans that we will be doing our best to do even better in the coming matches. We are not happy with what’s going on. All teams go through difficult times but we are capable of overcoming them.”

Man of the match Sliti blamed naivety for his side’s dropped points. “When you’re leading 2-0 and end up drawing, we’re not going to be satisfied,” said Al-Ettifaq’s star man. “Perhaps it was lack of experience that meant we couldn’t maintain the result. I won’t speak about the referee but I can say it was our lack of experience that led to this result.”

He also praised the provider of the assist that led to his spectacular goal.

“It was great play from Al-Kwikbi to provide me with an excellent opportunity and I repaid the favor with the finish,” added Sliti.

Al-Salem struggled to hide his disappointment with the result and the nature of his team’s late collapse.

“I think we deserved the three points today but that’s football,” he said. “I don’t like to comment on certain things but there were some strange incidents. I saw that the equalizer came on 90-plus-10 minutes — I don’t know where that time came from.

“We held out till the 89th minute (before conceding) the first goal — we should have had enough experience and focus to keep possession and defend. Mistakes and the late penalty means a draw is not convincing. But away to a big club, a point is better than nothing.”

Meanwhile Al-Hilal extended their lead over Al-Shabab at the top of the table to five points after an 84th-minute Ali Al-Bulaihi goal gave them a 1-0 win at Al-Raed. Earlier in the day, Al-Fateh lost 3-1 at home to Abha Club.

On Saturday, Damac twice overcame two-goal deficits to record a stunning 4-3 win over Al-Ahli. They scored three goals in the last 15 minutes, including Mazen Abo Shararah’s 92nd-minute winner. Al-Batin and Al-Taawoun drew 1-1, as did Al-Faisaly and promoted Al-Ain at Al-Majmaa Sports City.

On Sunday, Al-Qadisiya produced one of the surprises of the week with a 2-1 home win over second-placed Al-Shabab, while Al-Ittihad continued their improved run of form with a 2-1 victory at Al-Wehda.

2nd Ld-Writethru: Eriksen sends public thank you message from hospital

Updated 17 sec ago

2nd Ld-Writethru: Eriksen sends public thank you message from hospital

COPENHAGEN: Christian Eriksen sent his first public message from the hospital on Tuesday, thanking supporters for their “sweet and amazing” well-wishes after his collapse at the European Championship.
Eriksen remains in the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest during Denmark’s game against Finland on Saturday, when he had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator on the field.
“Big thanks for your sweet and amazing greetings and messages from all around the world. It means a lot to me and my family,” Eriksen wrote in a message that was shared by the Danish soccer association on Twitter.
The message was accompanied by a photo of the 29-year-old Eriksen giving a thumbs up from his hospital bed.
“I’m fine – under the circumstances,” he added. “I still have to go through some examinations at the hospital, but I feel okay. Now, I will cheer on the boys on the Denmark team in the next matches. Play for all of Denmark.”
Eriksen and the rest of the Denmark players have received an outpouring of support from all over the world since Saturday’s incident, including from fans of rival teams.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said the flood of messages shows that “football is the biggest social phenomenon in the world.”
“It’s the one thing that can unite most people in the world,” Hjulmand said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It brings friendship across nations, race, gender, everything. Football is one big family. ... And we see this with all this recognition we get from people all over the world.”
Denmark, which lost to Finland 1-0 after the game was resumed, next plays Belgium on Thursday in Group B. On Monday, Eriksen’s teammates said the midfielder had told them to re-focus on the tournament.
And Hjulmand said he can tell that his players are gradually getting back the right mindset to play again. But he acknowledged that returning to Parken Stadium again, where the players formed a ring around Eriksen as he was getting emergency medical treatment that saved his life, will be emotionally challenging.
“I don’t think they’re afraid to play,” Hjulmand said. “But the normal reaction to a trauma like this, you should know, it’s not only yourself. It’s also your family, maybe your kids, your wife, your parents. So the box of emotions has been opened. I think we took a big step yesterday and I think we’ll take another one today.
“Of course the time until the kickoff will be emotional, and we have to prepare ourselves for that, for entering the stadium again. Getting back to see our great fans. And up to kickoff there’ll be a lot of emotions we have to handle, and then prepare ourselves for when the referee whistles his first whistle. We will be ready to go and fight and play well and do everything for Denmark.”

Trae Young shines as Hawks rally past Sixers, Clippers rout Jazz

Updated 15 June 2021

Trae Young shines as Hawks rally past Sixers, Clippers rout Jazz

  • Hawks and 76ers now tied at 2-2 in their best-of-seven 2nd round playoff series
  • Clippers and Jazz are also tied 2-2 and Game five is Wednesday at Salt Lake City

LOS ANGELES: Trae Young poured in 25 points and added 18 assists as the Atlanta Hawks rallied Monday to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in game four of their second-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Young shot eight of 26 from the floor and drained three threes but he had plenty of help from his supporting cast as all five Hawks starters finished in double figures to level the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
His 18 assists equalled a career high but he also busted out from under the watchful eye of Philadelphia’s defensive specialist Ben Simmons, who was given the task of guarding him. Simmons finished second this year in NBA defensive player of the year voting to Utah’s Rudy Gobert.
The fifth-seeded Hawks overcame an 18-point first-half deficit then traded leads with the Sixers down the stretch but managed to hold on for the victory.
“This team never gives up, no matter what the score is,” Young said. “I love the way we fight and I’m proud of our team tonight.”
Game five is Wednesday night.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 22 points, John Collins finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, and Clint Capela had 12 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta.
Tobias Harris had 20 points and Joel Embiid recorded 17 points and 21 rebounds for the top-seeded 76ers, who were outscored 54-38 in the second half. Simmons delivered 11 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and two blocks.
Embiid, who averaged 35.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists over the first three games of this series, is playing with a tear in his right lateral meniscus.
He spent time in the locker room in the second quarter and was zero-for-12 from the floor in the second half.
“Even before I went back to the locker room I felt like I didn’t have it,” Embiid said.
“I guess it’s already known,” Embiid said of the wonky knee. “There’s no need to explain myself anymore. I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
Young and Bogdanovic combined for seven threes as the Hawks improved their scoring from beyond the arc. Atlanta committed just four turnovers, compared with 12 for the 76ers.

Elsewhere, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 62 points as the Los Angles Clippers breezed to a 118-104 win over the top-seeded Utah Jazz in game four of their Western Conference series.
They each scored 31 points, and George added nine rebounds as the Clippers leveled the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
“We are both being aggressive and our teammates are finding us for open shots,” said Leonard.
Marcus Morris scored 22 of his 24 points during a first half in which the Clippers led by as much as 29 points.
Donovan Mitchell answered the bell by scoring a team-high 37 points in the loss. Mitchell tied the Utah franchise playoff record of six straight 30-point outings held by former all-star Karl Malone.
Game five is Wednesday at Salt Lake City.
“We did a great job of making shots and getting stops when we needed to,” said Leonard. “Everybody was helping each other.”
Leonard left the contest with 4:35 remaining after grabbing his knee, and did not return. He exited after being bumped by Jazz’s Joe Ingles. Leonard said he would be ready to go in game five.
Utah’s Mike Conley (hamstring) sat out and has missed all four games of the series.



Global golf superstars confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London

Updated 15 June 2021

Global golf superstars confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London

  • The new format, created by Golf Saudi, pairs amateur golfers with seasoned professionals from the Ladies European Tour

RIYADH: Some of the biggest names in women’s golf will tee off in the inaugural Aramco Team Series event in London next month.

The groundbreaking three-day event, which has a $1 million total prize pool, is the first of four over the coming months in a new format that gives amateur golfers the chance to play alongside professional stars of the Ladies European Tour (LET). It is part of series of initiatives by the Saudi energy company to support sport and diversity

“To the LET, the Aramco Team Series — London and the subsequent team events are a massive moment of elevation for the women’s game, and to have a field as strong as we do in London is fantastic,” said LET CEO Alexandra Armas.

“As a tour, we are always more than happy to do things a little differently: take risks, try new things, mix up the way we play and experience golf. That’s certainly what the Aramco Team Series — London promises to do.”

The new format, created by Golf Saudi, proved hugely popular with players during a trial run at the Saudi Ladies Team International in November last year. It is the only format in world golf where amateur players will contribute to the final result.

This year, 36 captains will lead teams of four players assembled through a draft system in which they can choose one player and are assigned another at random. An amateur golfer will complete the quartet. The prize money for the winning team after 54 holes will be split by the professional players.

In addition to the team competition, the professionals will compete for a $200,000 prize for the lowest individual score, along with world and Solheim Cup ranking points.

High-profile names taking part in the inaugural event include: US golfer Lexi Thompson, making her only appearance in England this year; Georgia Hall, the English winner of the 2018 Women’s Open; double-major winner Anna Nordqvist from Sweden; and Emily Kristine Pedersen, the Danish winner of the 2020 Aramco Saudi Ladies International. They are part of a field of more than 100 professionals who will tee off at Centurion Club in St Albans, near London, on July 8.

Former major champion Thompson, who in 2010, at age 12, became the youngest golfer to compete in the US Open, said: “It is really exciting to have not only a brand new format of event to look forward to, but to have another big event on the LET schedule in the UK. It’s a place I love to visit and play golf, so I can’t wait to get going in July.”

Hall, a European Solheim Cup hero, said: “It’s a really great addition to the tour that I think most of us can’t wait to get playing in. It’s a new format and it’s different — and will only be a force for good in women’s golf.

“Investment like this is fantastic to see, and to be able to take the game to new venues around the world and inspire the next generation of young golfers is a really wonderful thing to be part of. Starting in London will, for me, make it extra special.”

The tournament in England will be followed by Aramco Team Series events in Sotogrande, Spain (Aug. 5-7), New York (Oct. 14-16) and Jeddah (Nov. 10-12). Events in Asia are also being planned.

The Jeddah event will tee off just days after the second Aramco Saudi Ladies International, which is scheduled to take place from Nov. 4 to 7. The inaugural event last year was the first professional women’s golf competition to take place in Saudi Arabia, and its success paved the way for Aramco and Golf Saudi to provide additional support to the women’s game.

“We are thrilled to be backing events that have the potential to elevate women’s golf internationally and spur its growth in Saudi Arabia,” said Ahmed Al-Subaey, vice-president of marketing, sales and supply planning at Aramco.

“Participation by the sport’s top golfers in the Aramco Team Series highlights its innovative nature and the exciting opportunities it presents.

“When the team concept was first introduced to us, we saw it as a natural fit for our investment into world sport, particularly our continued support of women’s sport and golf.”

Szczesny’s own-goal continues his run of bad luck at Euros

Updated 14 June 2021

Szczesny’s own-goal continues his run of bad luck at Euros

  • Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny sent off in 2012, injured in 2016, now an own-goal at Euro 2020
  • He was also left helpless for Slovakia's winner by Milan Skriniar

ST. PETERSBURG: Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny doesn’t have much luck in his opening game at European Championships.
Sent off in 2012. Injured in 2016. Now an own-goal at Euro 2020.
The Juventus player became the first goalkeeper to score an own-goal at the tournament in Poland’s 2-1 loss to Slovakia on Monday.
Not that he could do much about it.
Szczesny had already committed himself to a dive in an attempt to save a shot from Slovakia winger Robert Mak in the 18th minute when the ball rebounded off his near post, onto his outstretched arm as he lay on the ground, and back into the net.
He was also left helpless for Slovakia’s winner by Milan Skriniar, barely moving as the center back hit a fierce, low shot into the corner in the 69th minute.
Szczesny has established himself as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in Europe, his reputation having soared since joining Juventus from Arsenal in 2017. Poland has long been well-stocked with keepers, with Lukasz Fabianski also a solid option, but Szczesny is the regular No. 1.
Major tournaments are not his friend, though.
In 2012, he was shown a red card in the opening game of a European Championship co-hosted by Poland, punished for a professional foul on Greece player Dimitris Salpingidis in the second half.
In 2016, and again in Poland’s opening match, Szczesny damaged a thigh muscle against Northern Ireland and wound up missing the rest of the tournament.
The pain isn’t just restricted to the European Championship.
In Poland’s opening match of the 2018 World Cup, Szczesny gifted M’Baye Niang a goal for Senegal, which went on to win 2-1.

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return

Updated 14 June 2021

Scotland stunned by Czechs’ Schick on Euro return

  • Schick headed the Czechs in front before the break and then doubled the lead on 52 minutes with an incredible strike from just inside the Scotland half
  • After a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament, Scotland’s hopes of making more history by getting out of the group for the first time now look slim

GLASGOW: Scotland’s long-awaited return to a major international tournament was ruined by Patrik Schick’s slick finishing as the Czech Republic won 2-0 at Hampden on Monday to move top of Euro 2020 Group D.
Schick’s header just before half-time opened the scoring, but it was his stunning strike from just inside the Scotland half after the break that will live in the memory as one of the all-time great European Championship goals.
After a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament, Scotland’s hopes of making more history by getting out of the group for the first time now look slim.
Steve Clarke’s men face England next on Friday at Wembley before hosting World Cup finalists Croatia at Hampden on June 22.
Playing in front of fans at Hampden for the first time since November 2019 with 12,000 in attendance, Scotland made a nervous start.
David Marshall was the hero of penalty shootout wins over Israel and Serbia to qualify and was needed early on to turn Schick’s powerful effort at the near post behind.
The hosts were desperately missing the driving runs and poise on the ball normally provided by Kieran Tierney on the left side of a back three.
Clarke has settled on a 3-5-2 to make way for two of the Premier League’s best left-backs in the same team.
Without the Arsenal defender, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson was his side’s biggest threat with a series of rampaging runs.
His cross was turned narrowly wide by Lyndon Dykes at the near post before the Scotland captain was denied a moment to remember by Tomas Vaclik.
Robertson burst onto Ryan Christie’s pass but his shot that was headed for the top corner was tipped over by the Sevilla goalkeeper.
A cagey game of few chances burst into life after Schick’s towering leap put the visitors in front three minutes before half-time.
Scotland were slow to react after initially clearing a corner and the Bayer Leverkusen forward rose highest to flick home Vladimir Coufal’s cross.
Marshall was called into action to make two quick saves from Schick and Vladimir Darida in an explosive start to the second-half.
But twice Scotland were inches away from levelling when Jack Hendry’s dipping effort came back off the crossbar before Vaclik clawed away a mishit clearance from Tomas Kalas.
However, the home side were stunned by a moment of brilliance from Schick on 52 minutes as he spotted Marshall off his line from halfway and bent in an incredible shot from just inside the Scotland half.
Chances continued to come and go for Scotland as Stuart Armstrong’s shot was deflected onto the roof of the net and Vaclik’s outstretched leg denied Dykes from close range.
But it was Schick who had the best opportunity late on to complete a memorable hat-trick when he fired too close to Marshall.
Beating old rivals England would more than make amends for the Tartan Army’s disappointment, but Scotland now have a mountain to climb if they are to prevent their long-awaited adventure ending in familiar fashion.