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)
Short Url
Updated 08 December 2020
Follow

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.


Germany’s Kroos to retire from football after Euro 2024

Updated 3 sec ago
Follow

Germany’s Kroos to retire from football after Euro 2024

“My career as an active footballer will end this summer after the Euro championship,” Kroos said on Instagram
Real said Kroos “will go down in Real Madrid history as one of our club and international football’s greatest legends.”

MADRID: Real Madrid’s German international midfielder Toni Kroos announced on Tuesday he will retire from all football after Euro 2024.
“My career as an active footballer will end this summer after the Euro championship,” 34-year-old Kroos, who won the 2014 World Cup with Germany, said on Instagram.
Before the European Championship, Kroos has a chance to win the Champions League with Real for a fifth time when they face Borussia Dortmund at Wembley on June 1.
He also won the Champions League with Bayern Munich before joining the Spanish giants.
Kroos joined Real in 2014 and quickly formed a formidable midfield partnership with Luka Modric.
In a statement on their website, Real said Kroos “will go down in Real Madrid history as one of our club and international football’s greatest legends.”
Kroos has also won the Liga title four times and won the Bundesliga three times with Bayern.
He announced he was quitting international football in July 2021 but reversed his decision in February after talks with Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann, who persuaded him to play on till the Euro 2024 on home soil.
Kroos, who has racked up 108 caps and 17 goals for Germany, was one of the key players when they won the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and scored twice when they inflicted a 7-1 defeat on the host nation in the semifinals.
But four years later he was unable to prevent Germany from crashing out in the group stage in Russia.
He did not play in Germany’s second World Cup group-stage exit in a row at Qatar 2022 but, after making his international return at Nagelsmann’s request, will lead a new-look Germany side at Euro 2024.
“My ambition was always to finish my career at the peak of my performance level,” Kroos said on Instagram.
“I am happy and proud that in my mind I found the right timing for my decision and that I could choose it on my own.”

Why Salah was Klopp’s greatest general on the field

Updated 21 May 2024
Follow

Why Salah was Klopp’s greatest general on the field

  • No player contributed to the legendary German coach’s success at Liverpool more than the talismanic Egyptian

LIVERPOOL: When Napoleon Bonaparte was briefed on the virtues of a new general, he would apparently retort with “but is he lucky?”

Expertise was one thing, but the French emperor also understood the importance of happenstance.

In his nine years at Liverpool, which came to an emotional end on Sunday at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp has been blessed with many lucky generals.

The German’s reign is bookmarked, time and again, by getting the right man at the right time, and all played their part in a historic era for the club.

In the summer of 2016, Klopp’s debut at Anfield, Sadio Mane became the first of his new generals. Not far behind was Gini Wijnaldum and Andrew Robertson. All would go on to become pillars of his great Liverpool team.

Virgil van Dijk, in the winter of 2018, transformed Liverpool’s previously porous defense into one of the best in Europe, and even the world.

The Brazilian duo of Alisson Becker and Fabinho, in the summer of 2018, became the final pieces of the jigsaw. Klopp’s iconic team was complete.

But the greatest general of them all had arrived a year earlier. It is often forgotten now, considering what has transpired since, that when Mohamed Salah joined Liverpool from Roma in the summer of 2017, he was not considered by many pundits to be a “world class” player, whatever that means.

But from the moment he walked into Anfield, his fortunes and Klopp’s would become inextricably entwined.

At full time on Sunday following Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Wolves, as Klopp gave Salah one of his trademark hugs, both must have realized how lucky they were to have found each other seven years earlier.

Salah, it is no exaggeration to say, was more instrumental in bringing success to Liverpool than any other player during Klopp’s time at Anfield.

And those who know best, knew that too.

Three players have been accorded the honorary title of “King” by the Kop: Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and the boy from Nagrig.

Thousands of words have been written in recent weeks about Klopp’s reign, and since it would take a book to cover the records that Salah breaks, seemingly on a weekly basis, there is little point in reproducing the facts and figures of their time together.

Viscerally, it was all about the moments, many that flirted with footballing utopia, and a few that touched the depths of despair.

Salah scored on his debut in a 3-3 Premier League draw at Watford in the summer of 2017, and has not stopped since.

The “Egyptian King” quickly established a stunning forward partnership with Mane and Roberto Firmino — the “front three,” as they would become known.

There was the breathtaking “Road Runner” goal against Arsenal on Salah’s second Anfield start; the FIFA Puskas Award-winning curler against Everton in a December snowstorm; and an even better version of it against Tottenham in February.

In particular, Salah would develop a taste for torturing the preeminent team of the age, Pep Guardiola’s magnificent Manchester City.

In his first season alone, there was a memorable chipped goal in an era-launching 4-3 Premier League win at Anfield, and a tie-settling second at the Etihad as Liverpool beat City 2-1 (5-1 on aggregate) in the Champions League quarterfinals. He had scored in the first leg too.

One performance, however, continues to stand above all others.

On April 24, 2018, Salah delivered arguably his finest match for Liverpool in a 5-2 win against Roma at Anfield in the Champions League semifinal first leg.

Against future colleague Alisson in the opposition goal, Salah scored twice, assisted twice, and for 90 minutes tore the Italian team to shreds. He was simply unplayable. It was a display that Lionel Messi would have struggled to better.

The Champions League final a few weeks later would bring the lowest of Salah’s time at Liverpool as a shoulder injury saw him leave the pitch in tears after only 31 minutes. Without their talisman, Liverpool lost 3-1.

At the time, Klopp was turning a player that had a remarkable availability record — lucky one could say — and work ethic into one of the world’s best players, technically and tactically. Salah’s pressing of the opposition and positional sense when out of possession perfectly suited Klopp’s demands and complemented the forward’s unquenchable thirst for goals.

Salah’s second season saw player and team hit new highs as they accumulated a mind-boggling 97 points in the Premier League and, incredibly, still fell one short of Manchester City.

Salah still scored one of the great Anfield goals against Chelsea in a 2-0 win as they chased down the relentless leaders.

Even on the very rare occasion he missed a match, the world watched his every move. As Liverpool, almost incredulously, overturned a three-goal deficit against Barcelona to reach the 2019 Champions League final, the injured Salah sat on the bench in a T-shirt that said: “Never Give Up.” Sales skyrocketed.

A Champions League triumph in Madrid would prove more than a consolation for the Reds, Salah scoring the opener in a 2-0 win over Tottenham to give Liverpool their sixth title, a record for an English team, naturally.

Klopp had broken his duck at Liverpool and finally become a European champion after near misses with Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool in the previous six years.

Salah, meanwhile, was rewriting the record books with his goals, and the 2019/2020 season finally brought the Premier League that Liverpool fans craved.

A traumatized fan base had previously refused to sing about the elusive league title until one January evening at Anfield when Salah scored a goosebump-inducing stoppage time goal to seal a 2-0 over Manchester United at Anfield.

“We’re gonna win the league,” Anfield bellowed in celebration. After 30 years of disappointments and false dawns, they finally believed, and the Premier League would be secured in record time, though three matches after resumption of play following the COVID-19 lockdown.

The four years since have not brought a league or Champions League title, but other trophies (two League Cups and an FA Cup) followed, seemingly always at the expense of Chelsea.

On the pitch, as Klopp’s great team splintered, no one maintained their level of consistency and brilliance quite like Salah.

Goals of all types continued to flow including one solo effort, against Manchester City at Anfield, prompting many to call Salah the best player in the world during the 2021/2022 season.

While others suffered long-term injuries, lost form or left the club (especially Mane and Firmino), Salah remained as reliable as ever — always available, always scoring, always creating.

That he is a Liverpool all-time great is no longer up for debate.

This is why, when he had an uncharacteristic and public argument with Klopp on the touchline at West Ham recently, few fans took sides. The coach may be untouchable, but Salah had earned the right to be right up there with him. And that is the greatest compliment of all, for both men.

Ultimately, it all ended in hugs, smiles and a few tears on Sunday.

Klopp and Salah were lucky to have each other. And we were lucky to have them.


‘They love their cricket’: Rohit Sharma lauds Pakistani fans for praising Indian cricketers

Updated 21 May 2024
Follow

‘They love their cricket’: Rohit Sharma lauds Pakistani fans for praising Indian cricketers

  • India and Pakistan, bitter political adversaries, enjoy one of sports fiercest rivalries in cricket
  • Indian captain Rohit Sharma bats for Test series with arch-rivals, says Pakistan “overall a good team”

ISLAMABAD: Indian captain Rohit Sharma recently praised Pakistani fans for appreciating Indian cricketers, saying that he would love to play in a Test series between the two arch-rivals if it were ever to take place. 

The South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Their tensions mean the two countries rarely play bilateral series against one another and meet only at “neutral venues” during international tournaments. 

Sharma, 37, appeared on ‘Dubai Eye 103.8,’ a Dubai-based talk radio station on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming T20 World Cup 2024 and his journey as India’s skipper so far. During the show, the hosts relayed a message to Sharma from a Pakistani fan. 

“Loved the messages from the Pakistani fans,” Sharma said, smiling. “I know they love their cricket, they love it. Every time, mainly when we are in the UK these guys come and just tell us how, respectfully, how they love us, how they love Indian cricketers and how they love to watch some of us at big stages.”

India and Pakistan are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.

Their cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead, they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game. 

When asked whether there were chances of India and Pakistan playing each other in a Test match soon, Sharma said:

“I don’t know the status of it. Personally if you ask me, I’m a cricketer at the end of the day. I want to play cricket and I want to get challenged at whatever stage I play cricket, and I feel Pakistan is a good team.”

Sharma praised Pakistan for having “solid bowlers,” saying that the green shirts are “overall a very good team.” He said cricket fans around the world would love to watch a Test series between the two arch-rivals. 

“I actually have no issues it’s just from a pure cricketing perspective if I have to look at it, it’s going to be a great cricket contest,” he explained. 

India and Pakistan have not faced each other on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012.

India last year refused to travel to Pakistan for the white-ball Asia Cup, prompting part of the tournament to be staged in Sri Lanka. They last met at the 50-over World Cup in India in October.

The two cricket giants will square off on June 9 in New York when the T20 World Cup 2024 gets underway. 


US Anti-Doping Agency blasts WADA’s Banka over ‘hit job’ on US athletes

Updated 21 May 2024
Follow

US Anti-Doping Agency blasts WADA’s Banka over ‘hit job’ on US athletes

  • The US agency said Banka had distorted facts “to deflect from the real concerns the world has about how WADA allowed China to sweep 23 positive tests under the carpet”
  • On Friday, Banka cited three US doping cases that resulted from environmental contamination, as the Chinese swimmers’ cases have also been ruled

LOS ANGELES: The US Anti-Doping Agency on Monday accused World Anti-Doping Agency president Witold Banka of smearing US athletes in a bid to divert attention from WADA’s handling of the case of 23 Chinese swimmers who tested positive before the Tokyo Olympics.

In a statement released on Monday, USADA responded to comments made by Banka during an extraordinary virtual meeting of WADA’s Foundation Board on Friday.

The US agency said Banka had distorted facts “to deflect from the real concerns the world has about how WADA allowed China to sweep 23 positive tests under the carpet.”

WADA came under fire in April after it was revealed that the Chinese swimmers tested positive for trimetazidine — which can enhance performance — ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

The swimmers were not suspended or sanctioned after WADA accepted the explanation of Chinese authorities that the positive tests for the prescription heart drug were caused by food contamination at a hotel where they had stayed.

USADA chief Travis Tygart has called the situation a “potential cover-up.”

On Friday, Banka cited three US doping cases that resulted from environmental contamination, as the Chinese swimmers’ cases have also been ruled.

But USADA noted on Monday that the three US contamination cases were made public and resulted in violations and disqualifications for the named athletes.

Banka also pointed to “inconsistent rule implementation in the US” and claimed that 90 percent of American athletes — in professional leagues and college sport — do not compete under the world anti-doping code.

USADA said that remark was “a particularly manipulative comment in an effort to indicate that 90 percent of US athletes are dirty and only 10 percent are clean.”

USADA noted leagues such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball have their own anti-doping systems, and that it was “incredibly reckless for the President of WADA to suggest these sports do not have robust and effective programs and that their athletes are not clean.

“Simply put, these comments are harmful and an insult to all athletes in these leagues and to the leagues themselves,” USADA said, noting that college athletes become subject to WADA rules when they take part in competitions sanctioned by international governing bodies.

“There is nothing more classic in a cover-up than diversion and smoke and mirrors,” USADA said.

“The second most classic response to a cover-up is to attack the messenger, which is the current situation as Banka and surrogates plumb the depths of misinformation and half-truths to make personal attacks, even stooping so low as to attempt a hit job on all US athletes.”


Youth movement: NBA’s 20-something stars set to battle in conference finals

Updated 21 May 2024
Follow

Youth movement: NBA’s 20-something stars set to battle in conference finals

  • Boston’s 26-year-old Jayson Tatum and 27-year-old Jaylen Brown are already experienced hands after the Celtics reached the conference finals in each of the past two seasons
  • Kyrie Irving, traded to the Mavericks in February 2023, has seen close-up what Doncic and the rest of the league’s rising stars bring to the table

LOS ANGELES: The NBA conference finals starting Tuesday will showcase a new generation of stars as the Boston Celtics take on Indiana in the East and Dallas clash with Minnesota in the West for a place in the NBA Finals.

Boston’s 26-year-old Jayson Tatum and 27-year-old Jaylen Brown are already experienced hands after the Celtics reached the conference finals in each of the past two seasons.

They made it to the championship series in 2022 but fell to the Golden State Warriors then were stunned by eighth-seeded Miami in the conference finals last year.

In the Pacers they’ll face a high-octane offense led by 24-year-old Tyrese Haliburton while in the West 25-year-old Luka Doncic will lead the Mavericks against 22-year-old Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Kyrie Irving, traded to the Mavericks in February 2023, has seen close-up what Doncic and the rest of the league’s rising stars bring to the table.

“They have no fear,” Irving said after the Mavericks polished off a six-game victory over the top-seeded Oklahoma City in the conference semifinals.

“They want to kill our records. They want to kill us every time they get on the court,” said Irving, an eight-time All-Star who won a title with Cleveland in 2016.

“That was the first thing I noticed about Luka, that he just had no fear going against the best in the world,” Irving said. “He always walks around like he’s the best player in the world. I think that’s the confidence of a champion. That’s where it starts.”

LeBron James is still a force at 39 but his Lakers were swept by Denver in the first round of the playoffs.

The Timberwolves swept Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns out of the first round when the Pacers took care of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors didn’t make it out of the play-in and three-time Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Nuggets were subdued in seven games in the West semis by Minnesota.

Edwards, averaging 28.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists in the playoffs, showed his maturity in Game 7, when he shook off a poor shooting night to dig in on the defensive end and help author one of the greatest Game 7 comeback wins in NBA history.

“I’m not one-dimensional,” declared Edwards, whose stellar season has seen him tabbed for the US Olympic team.

But Irving thinks Doncic has the edge in maturity. The Slovenian star is in the playoffs for the fourth time, his longest prior run a trip to the conference finals in 2022.

Irving says Doncic is set to shine with a new supporting cast around him — not least himself.

The Mavs, seeking to add to the lone NBA title they won in 2011, host the Timberwolves in Game 1 on Wednesday.

The Celtics, who share the record for most NBA titles at 17, host the Pacers in Game 1 on Tuesday, with Brown and Tatum aiming to become the latest to lead Boston to the crown.

“We’ve just been in a lot of battles together,” Tatum said of his partnership with Brown. “Seven years as teammates. He’s been in the conference finals six times, this is my fifth time.

“(We’re) really getting to a stage where we understand what we can do individually. We know how gifted we are offensively, but each night just kind of presents different challenges ... both of us are capable on the basketball court to do literally everything.”

The Pacers’ Haliburton is in unfamiliar territory, but he can rely on the experience of Pascal Siakam, an NBA champion with Toronto who was acquired from the Raptors in January.

After surprising in the regular season — and earning national attention with their run to the final of the new in-season tournament — the Pacers are out to prove they can flout conventional wisdom and use their up-tempo offense to carry them all the way.

“Well, we’re the uninvited guest,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said of sixth-seeded Indiana’s arrival in the conference finals. “So here we are, OK.”