Al-Hilal’s loss to Al-Feiha all but ends chances of retaining Saudi Pro League

Al Hilal’s 1-0 defeat means the reigning champions are 11 points behind leaders Al-Ittihad, with only one game in hand. (Twitter: @Alhilal_EN)
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Updated 04 May 2022

Al-Hilal’s loss to Al-Feiha all but ends chances of retaining Saudi Pro League

  • The 1-0 defeat means the reigning champions are 11 points behind leaders Al-Ittihad, with only one game in hand

It is one of football’s great cliches that it is better to have points on the board than games in hand. If Al-Hilal did not agree before Tuesday, they probably do now.

The Saudi Pro League defending champions met Al-Feiha expecting to cut Al-Ittihad’s lead at the top to eight points but instead they ended up losing 1-0, a result that leaves the title race looking as good as over.

If that SPL race was a game, league leaders Al-Ittihad are 2-0 ahead with five minutes remaining and it is theirs to lose.

Al-Feiha’s goal came after 33 minutes. Sami Al-Khaibari got in front of defender Ali Al-Bulaihi to volley a corner into the bottom part of the net, and try as hard as the team from Riyadh did, they just could not get back in the game.

Despite over 70 percent possession, the champions did not create enough chances of real quality and were reduced too often to playing long balls into the area. When the opportunities came, they were not converted.

Al-Feiha had much to thank goalkeeper Vladamir Stojkovic for that. The Serbian made some fine saves to keep the titleholders at bay. Sticking in the memory was a flying block to keep out a Salem Al-Dawsari shot early in the game that looked destined for the top corner. Soon after the league’s top scorer Odion Ighalo had the ball in the back of the net but the goal was rightly ruled out for offside by VAR. Michael had a great chance just before the break but with just the goalkeeper to beat, shot wide from close range. The Brazilian hit the crossbar with just over 20 minutes remaining and that was as close as Al-Hilal came to getting anything from the game.

“We lost due to simple individual mistakes,” said a frustrated Al-Dawsari after it was all over. “They did not threaten our goal and did not create opportunities in open play and scored the winning goal from a corner but this is football.”

Al-Dawsari insisted that the title race was not over yet. “As players, we trust in ourselves, and the fans trust our capabilities, and the league is still there to be won. We will do our best to win all the upcoming matches and there is still time to come back from this result.”

The winger’s first comment sounds more plausible than the second but that is the message coming out of the club.

“It was a difficult game and we worked hard to create several chances to score, but the result didn’t go our way, we didn’t have any luck in front of goal,” said Ighalo. “Winning the title is now difficult but nothing has been decided yet and nothing is impossible. We will fight to win all the remaining games we have.”

If there is to be a chance, that is probably going to have to happen. As things now stand, the team from Jeddah are 11 points clear with five games left, one fewer than Al-Hilal. It is hard to imagine Al-Ittihad throwing it away now — three wins, or two wins and two draws, will bring the title back down to the Red Sea port for the first time since 2009, regardless of anything Ramon Diaz’s men can do.

It is not just the points gap. Al-Hilal have stopped winning at a crucial time of the season. On April 19, they defeated Istiklol of Tajikistan to make it 12 victories in a row. They ended the group stage of the Champions League with a draw and a defeat. Little was made of it all as they had already clinched a place in the knockout stage but successive losses are not something that the Riyadh giants are used to.

At a time when they probably need to win every game left this season, they lost again. A lack of fluency and creativity in attack does not bode well for the next few games. If it is a hangover from the exertions in the AFC Champions League, as Ighalo suggested, then coach Diaz could have rotated more during Group A, especially when a place in the knockout stage had been clinched with two games remaining.

As the players have said, the race is not officially over but even if Al-Hilal win all their games, one of which is against Al-Ittihad, they still need the Tigers to slip up. If the leaders defeat Al-Fateh on Friday to move 14 points clear when Al-Hilal have just six games left, it will surely be over.

For the league trophy to stay in Riyadh, there is going to have to be an amazing turnaround. It would rank as one of the greatest achievements in the history of Saudi Arabian football and that is why it is unlikely to happen.

Al-Ittihad have nine fingers on the trophy and will never forgive themselves if they let it slip now. Al-Hilal have to win and if they can do that, then they will have to wait and hope, but it is a very long shot indeed.

A much more realistic trophy this season is the King’s Cup and winning that upcoming final will also bring revenge against Al-Feiha, the team that has put a huge dent in the champions’ chances of retaining their league crown.

Beijing half marathon top three stripped of medals: organizers

Updated 17 sec ago

Beijing half marathon top three stripped of medals: organizers

  • Race’s bizarre finish saw China’s He Jie cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win
BEIJING: The top three in Sunday’s Beijing half marathon have been stripped of their medals, organizers said, following an investigation into the finish that saw China’s He Jie controversially win.
“Today the 2024 Beijing Half Marathon Organizing Committee issued a decision on the investigation and handling of the men’s race results,” a state media report said Friday.
It added: “The trophies, medals and bonuses will be recovered.”
The race’s bizarre finish saw He cross the line first after two runners from Kenya and one from Ethiopia seemed to deliberately allow him to win.
He, the 2023 Asian Games marathon gold medallist, won by one second after his supposed rivals appeared to slow down toward the finish and waved him out in front.
All four were “punished” and their results canceled, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The Chinese Athletics Association said earlier this week they had met, issuing a statement vowing to make improvements to the sport in the country.

Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

Updated 54 min 10 sec ago

Rohit says India-Pakistan Test cricket would be ‘awesome’

  • South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries, have not faced off in Test since 2007
  • They play only occasionally in shorter versions of game usually on neutral territory 

NEW DELHI: India captain Rohit Sharma has thrown his support behind any resumption of Test cricket against arch-rivals Pakistan, saying it would be “awesome.”
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 cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game and usually on neutral territory in international tournaments.
Rohit appeared Thursday on a YouTube chat show hosted by former captains Adam Gilchrist of Australia and Michael Vaughan of England.
Asked by Vaughan if playing Pakistan in a Test series would be beneficial for the five-day game, Rohit said: “I totally believe that.”
“They are a good team, superb bowling line-up, good contest. Especially if you play in overseas conditions, that will be awesome,” added the 36-year-old.
“I would love to. It would be a great contest between two sides... so why not?“
Australia has said it would be prepared to host a series between the rivals.
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.

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Updated 19 April 2024

Qatar beat Jordan to reach last eight of 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup

  • A last-gasp 2-1 win leaves the hosts on six points from two matches in Group A of the tournament

DOHA: A stoppage time winner saw hosts Qatar defeat Jordan 2-1 on Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

Qatar took the lead through Abdulla Al-Yazidi on 40 minutes, but Jordan equalized seven minutes into the second half thanks to Aref Al-Haj’s spot kick.

The match looked to be heading for a draw when Mohamed Al-Manai scored 14 minutes into stoppage time to break Jordanian hearts. The win Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in Al-Rayyan made Qatar the first team to secure a spot in the last eight.

Qatar now sit top of Group A with a maximum six points from two matches. Earlier in the day, Indonesia beat Australia 1-0 at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium in Doha and are currently second in the table with three points. Jordan and Australia are third and fourth respectively with one point apiece.

Saudi Arabia return to action against Thailand on Friday before facing Iraq in their final Group C match on Monday (April 22).

The U23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, is also a route to this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris.

The competition sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of both semifinals automatically qualify for the Olympics, regardless who wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.

Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

Updated 19 April 2024

Chasing 5th straight win, Nelly Korda is 2 shots back at Chevron Championship after a first-round 68

  • She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events
  • Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury

THE WOODLANDS, Texas: Nelly Korda, who is looking to tie an LPGA Tour record with her fifth straight win, shot a 4-under 68 on Thursday in the opening round of the Chevron Championship, leaving her two shots behind leader Lauren Coughlin in the year’s first major.

Coughlin shot a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions at Carlton Woods, which is hosting the event for the second time.

The top-ranked Korda is seeking her second major after winning the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021. She could join Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05) as the only players to win five consecutive LPGA events.

Korda said she was battling fatigue from recent tournaments at the beginning of her round. She bogeyed her first hole, the par-4 10th.

“I (could) definitely still feel maybe a little bit of tiredness, so it took me a while to get going,” she said. “I felt the nerves definitely at the start of the round. Once I made the turn, I was just playing free golf.”

She made her first birdie on the par-4 14th hole, something she half-jokingly credited to a snack.

“I actually had an apple on 13, and that gave me actually a nice boost,” she said. “I felt a lot better after that. Maybe I should have apples more often.”

The 25-year-old finished with six birdies, including four in the final six holes.

“Two of them were par 5s, so I got to take advantage of that with my length,” she said. “Hit a really good tee shot, and then I was just on the front of the green on 17, and the other one I was just on the fringe, too. I two-putted pretty much for birdie on those. Then I had wedge shots in on the other two, too. Taking advantage of my length and hitting good tee shots.”

Marina Alex and Japan’s Minami Katsu also shot 68. Lydia Ko was one of five players at 69.

The 31-year-old Coughlin, who played in college at Virginia and has never won on the LPGA Tour, made three birdies in a four-hole span from Nos. 2-5. She believes her game has benefited from her recent decision to make husband John Pond her full-time caddie.

“He’s really good at talking through everything when I want to get really fast and make a decision really quickly,” Coughlin said. “He is really good at putting all the work in, all the extra work, all the extra walking ... making sure the strategy is really good and double checking everything. But ... he’s always been really good with how he talks to me and communicates what he thinks I need to do and how I need to do it.”

Defending champion and world No. 2 Lilia Vu withdrew because of a back injury. She issued a statement on Instagram saying she had “severe discomfort” in her back during warmups.

“I have been dealing with a back injury for a while now,” Vu said in the statement. “Some days are better than others, and today was unfortunately not a good day. During my normal warmup routine, I had severe discomfort in my back and I felt that I could not compete up to my standards and made the decision to withdraw from the tournament ahead of my tee time.”

She added that she was returning home to see her doctors and determine the next steps.

Later in the day, last year’s runner-up Angel Yin withdrew because of an injury after shooting 78.

A win by Ko would put her in the LPGA Hall of Fame. She won the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January for her 20th LPGA title.

The 26-year-old New Zealander admitted that she still gets nervous before tournaments despite all her experience and success.

“It doesn’t matter what event we’re playing or what circumstances, when you’re younger you want to get away from the nerves,” Ko said. “To some extent as long as you can control it the nerves are good for you and you’re able to excel and get the adrenaline to hit some shots that you may not be able to execute when you’re just practicing.”

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

Updated 19 April 2024

Defending champion Swiatek sails into Stuttgart quarterfinals

  • The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals
  • Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

BERLIN: World No. 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek progressed to the quarterfinals of the WTA Stuttgart clay court tournament by beating Elize Mertens in straight sets on Thursday, her ninth win in nine career matches at the French Open warm-up event.

Swiatek beat the unseeded Belgian 6-3, 6-4 to maintain her bid to capture a third successive title in the German city and be handed the keys to a third luxury car from the sponsors after also winning the tournament in 2022.

“There’s always space for a Porsche. If not, we’ll make it. I’ll build an underground garage,” said Swiatek after playing her first clay-court match since lifting the French Open title last June.

The Pole burst out of the blocks to set up a 5-1 lead in the first set, before going 0-30 down but recovering to serve out the set.

Swiatek was broken early in the second but served her way back into the set, winning with a forehand on her fourth match point after Mertens had saved the previous three.

“This is not an easy tournament. Everyone is really motivated to win that car,” Swiatek added.

The top seed will face former US Open champion Emma Raducanu for a place in the semifinals.

Raducanu, who helped Britain qualify for the Billie Jean King Cup finals last weekend, took down Czech teenager Linda Noskova 6-0, 7-5.

It will be a first quarterfinal appearance for Raducanu in 19 months. She has been plagued by a raft of injuries since her 2021 Grand Slam breakthrough and missed much of last season.

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk saved five match points at 5-4 in the final set to defeat fifth seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

World No. 27 Kostyuk will face US Open champion Coco Gauff on Friday for a place in the semifinals.

Elena Rybakina beat Veronika Kudermetova 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 6-4, continuing her strong form in 2024.

The Kazakh world No. 4, who has already claimed titles at Brisbane and Abu Dhabi this year, beat the Russian in two hours 33 minutes.

“I know I have my weapon, my serve. I know I can always serve it out in tough moments. Not always, but this is a strength,” Rybakina said.

Rybakina will be playing in her seventh quarterfinal of the season on Friday where she will face Jasmine Paolini who put out Ons Jabeur 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in her last 16 clash.