Al-Fayha shock Al-Hilal in King’s Cup final to claim first-ever major trophy

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman awards an Al-Fayha player after the team's King's Cup victory in Jeddah on Thursday. (SPA)
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Updated 20 May 2022

Al-Fayha shock Al-Hilal in King’s Cup final to claim first-ever major trophy

  • The underdogs took the Saudi and Asian champions to extra time after holding them to a 1-1 draw in normal time, before winning 3-1 on penalties

Al-Fayha defeated Al-Hilal 3-1 in a penalty shootout on Thursday to claim the King’s Cup, the first major trophy in the club’s history.

After two hours of football ended 1-1 at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, the men from Al-Majma’ah were the ones celebrating after Panagiotis Tachtsidis fired home the decisive spot-kick.

It was a stunning ending to the game, during which a Salem Al-Dawsari goal deep into first-half stoppage time broke the deadlock and put Al-Hilal ahead, before Ramon Lopes equalized for the underdogs midway through the second half.

The Riyadh giants had more of the game in terms of possession and chances but nevertheless found it hard going against determined opponents who have the best defensive record in the country. Had Al-Hilal been a little more clinical during the opening exchanges it might have been a very different evening.

It was a breathless opening by the favorites. Coach Ramon Diaz had talked before the game about how his team needed to take their chances because Al-Fayha have the tightest defense in the country, and had they heeded those words Al-Hilal could have almost put the game beyond reach within the first 10 minutes.

With less than five minutes on the clock, the men in blue almost took the lead when Nasser Al-Dawsari burst through onto a loose ball in the area and lifted his shot over the goalkeeper. It was heading toward the back of the net when, almost out of nowhere, Hussein Al-Shuwaish appeared and hooked the ball clear. Soon after, Al-Fayha goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic got down low at his near post to save well from Odion Ighalo.

Five minutes later, Al-Hilal again came close. Moussa Marega sent over a perfect cross from the right side for Al-Dawsari, who arrived unnoticed and unmarked. Somehow, the winger managed to head wide with the goal at his mercy.

Al-Fayha weathered this early storm during the first 20 minutes, during which they did not even manage to secure one fifth of the possession, before finally starting to venture into opposition territory. At the midway point of the first half, Ahmed Bamsaud sent a header over the bar. By that time, the game had settled into a scrappy affair and it looked likely that the two teams would go in goalless at the break.

But with virtually the last kick of the half, Al-Dawsari struck. Collecting the ball from Salman Al-Faraj just inside the left side of the area, the 30 year old took a touch and, with the goalkeeper perhaps expecting a curler into the top corner, fired a low shot with his right foot that beat the diving Stojkovic at the near post.

The half-time show lasted more than 30 minutes and after the restart it took a little time for the game to rediscover its rhythm but Al-Fayha were noticeably more aggressive. After 66 minutes, the underdogs were back on level terms.

It was not a great goal to concede, from Al-Hilal’s viewpoint. Defender Ali Al-Bulaihi completely missed a cross from the right and Lopes got to the ball ahead of Jang Hyun-soo around the penalty spot. His shot on the turn should have been saved by Abdullah Al-Mayouf, who instead could only palm the ball onto the underside of the bar on its way into the net.

Al-Fayha could have gone on to win the game in normal time but were unable to take their chances. The pace slowed in extra time and the play became cagey once more.

After 98 minutes, Al-Hilal’s two Al-Dawsaris combined down the left but the goalscorer pulled his shot just wide. As you might expect, the Asian champions made almost all the running in the 30 minutes of extra time but were just not able to find a way through.

And so to penalties. The shootout started well for the favorites as Al-Mayouf saved the first spot kick but Ighalo failed to capitalize, hitting the bar. After Al-Fayha got off the mark by scoring their second penalty, Al-Faraj blasted his attempt wide and it was all uphill from there for Al-Hilal, especially after Stojkovic then saved well from Abdullah Al-Hamdan.

In the end, it was left to Tachtsidis to fire home with his left foot, giving Al-Fayha the win and the first major trophy in club history.

Al-Hilal are now left to focus on the league, starting with a massive clash against leaders Al-Ittihad on Monday.

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Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw

Updated 07 July 2022

Cobble king Clarke rules Tour de France stage five with bike throw

  • The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short

ARENBERG, France: Simon Clarke of Israel Premier Tech won stage five of the Tour de France on Wednesday in a photo finish after a 157km run from Lille to Arenberg featuring 20km of cobbled mining roads.

Belgium’s Wout van Aert of Jumbo retained his overall leader’s yellow jersey despite a nasty fall, but his teammate Primoz Roglic lost around two minutes to defending champion and fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.

The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short.

“What a year,” said Clarke, who got a last-minute contract with the IPT team in December after leaving EF. “I’m ever the optimist.

“I just told myself not to panic even when the sprint started almost 1km out,” he said about the finale.

“I sat back in the slipstream, waited and waited and went for the line at the last second,” he said.

Van Aert fell early and hurt a shoulder and was almost run over by his own team car, but rallied to cling on to his overall lead by 13sec from Powless of EF.

The race goes to his native Belgium on Thursday where he can parade through 60km of roads there in the yellow jersey.

“That’s part of why I dug so deep,” he said. “But this wan’t what we had planned this morning.”

Defending champion Pogacar did the best of the pretenders to the 2022 title when he finished seventh, 51sec off the lead, putting a little time into all his rivals after threatening to pulverise them before fading in the final kilometers.

“I like the cobbles,” smiled the 23-year-old UAE leader.

“I had no bad luck, felt good and played it intelligently at the end when I knew I wouldn’t catch the leaders,” he said.

Pogacar retains the best placed under-26’s white jersey.

Ineos trio Adam yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas all hung in and trail Pogacar by 28, 29 and 30sec respectively.

The treacherous stage raced over cobbles was doubly dangerous due to dust billowing from the bone dry surface among the corn, wheat and potato fields making it tough to breath and easy to slip.

Eleven cobbled sections totalling almost 20km of bone shaking mining roads caused much of the chaos but not all of it.

Roglic, runner-up in 2020, was brought down after Caleb Ewan collided with a stray hay bale, the Jumbo man then hitting him and struggling thereafter.

He finished 44th on the day, 2min 36sec off the lead.

Embarking from the chic northern city of Lille, good humored crowds along the roadside thickened as the race hit the cobbles in the finale.

But a grim-faced Mathieu van der Poel, a pre-race favorite, was dropped by the lead group 30km out.

Visible for his polka-dot jersey and handle-bar moustache, Magnus Cort-Nielsen was once again in the thick of the action finishing fifth and retaining the King of the Mountains shirt he took in his native Denmark on stage two.

Thursday’s sixth stage starts in the Belgian town of Binche and returns to France in the Ardennes forest for what should be a splintered finale with two short steep climbs.


Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history

Updated 06 July 2022

Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur’s date with history

  • Coach Nabil Mlika recalls training a talented girl ‘determined to stand out’ against both female and male peers

HAMMAM SOUSSE, Tunisia: Ons Jabeur will make history on Thursday when she walks on to the Centre Court at Wimbledon as the first Arab woman to compete in a Grand Slam semifinal.

Fifteen years ago, Ons Jabeur’s young tennis sparring partner could see the Tunisian was destined for glory — even if he suffered a broken arm in the process.

Omar Laabidi remembers being repeatedly beaten by a 12-year-old Jabeur.

“We used to call her ‘Roger Federer’,” Laabidi said.

He was talking at the tennis club where it all began, in the North African country’s coastal town of Hammam Sousse.

“One time during a training match she hit a drop shot that I tried so hard to return that I broke my arm,” he said.

Jabeur had started by playing on courts belonging to local hotels but she soon joined the Tennis Club Hammam Sousse, which now bears a huge portrait of its most famous graduate.

Coach Nabil Mlika recalls training a talented girl “determined to stand out” against both female and male peers.

It is a determination that has taken her all the way to the world No. 2  spot — one place behind Poland’s Iga Swiatek.

But Mlika, who trained a young Jabeur for 10 years, said there was a moment where she almost quit the sport.

“She had great ball control, to the point where other coaches tried to attract her to handball,” said the 55-year-old.

“Ons thought seriously about switching sports — but decided to stick to tennis.”

The 27-year-old Tunisian’s fighting spirit has been on show throughout her career.

Despite crashing out in the first round of the French Open in May, she surged back to win the Berlin WTA singles title a few weeks later.

Her appearance in the Wimbledon semis — against close friend and ‘barbecue buddy’ Tatjana Maria — comes just two weeks after she was forced to withdraw from the Eastbourne tournament, where she was partnering Serena Williams in the doubles, with a knee injury.

Jabeur, known to many Tunisians as “the minister for happiness,” was born in the southern coastal town of Ksar Hellal, one of four siblings.

She moved to the capital, Tunis, at the age of 12 to train at a highly rated state-backed sports club.

She has been married to her physical trainer, and former fencer, Karim Kamoun, since 2015.

The right-hander is known for her stamina and the variety of her play.

 

 

“She hates playing at one pace,” said Mlika. “She’s always trying to create a spectacle by switching up the game with shots that surprise her opponents, especially with drop shots.

“She’s really the queen of the drop shot.”

Jabeur made a splash on the global scene in 2011, winning the girls’ singles at the French Open at the age of 16.

Laabidi also moved to Tunis around the same time as the adolescent Jabeur and joined the same academy, where they continued sparring.

“She was always fun and quickly got to know strangers,” he said.

“But she was always provocative and competitively debating on all subjects.”

Those who knew her as a teenager say she has changed little despite her growing fame.

“She still runs around gathering up all the balls during training, which she’s been doing since she started playing,” said Mlika.

Unsurprisingly, as her fame has spiralled membership levels have skyrocketed at her home club, from 320 in 2018 to more than 700 today.

For Yousra Koubaa, the mother of eight-year-old student Yasmine, Jabeur is “an example of hope, one we’re always showing to our children.”

Mlika says he uses photos of a young Jabeur to inspire his students today.

“She was a spark of enthusiasm, always moving and wanting to show that she was the best,” he said.

“She always put me in a difficult position because I had to balance between taking the training up a level, or waiting for her peers to catch up with her level and her pace.”


Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare

Updated 06 July 2022

Nadal to face Kyrgios after surviving Wimbledon injury scare

  • The second seed lost the first set and had to take a medical time-out in the second
  • Nadal admitted after the match that he was suffering from an abdominal problem

LONDON: Rafael Nadal beat Taylor Fritz in a gruelling five-setter on Wednesday to set up a blockbuster Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios, but revealed that an abdomen injury almost forced him to quit mid-match.
The second seed lost the first set and had to take a medical time-out in the second but raised his game to win 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10/4) in a match lasting four hours and 21 minutes.
Earlier, Australian maverick Kyrgios cruised past Chile’s Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5).
Nadal admitted after the match that he was suffering from an abdominal problem, which forced him to leave the court.
“I had to find a way to serve a little bit different,” he said. “For a lot of moments I was thinking I would not be able to finish the match but the crowd, the energy, thanks for that.”
He added: “I honestly enjoy a lot playing these kind of matches in front of you guys. I can’t thank you enough for the support.”
Kyrgios, ranked 40th in the world, trails Nadal 6-3 in their head-to-head meetings but he beat the Spaniard on his way to the quarter-finals in 2014 and is seen as a major threat to his hopes of reaching a sixth Wimbledon final.

A pumped-up Nadal raced out of the blocks on Center Court to take a 3-1 lead but then lost five straight games to lose the first set.
The players swapped breaks in the second set but Nadal was not moving freely and when leading 4-3 he took a medical time-out.
When he returned, American 11th seed Fritz served out to love, with Nadal’s movement still looking hampered.
But the Spaniard twice held serve comfortably to lead 6-5 and a backhand volley into the open court sealed the second set, to roars from the crowd.
Nadal, 36, was now moving more easily but the pendulum swung again early in the third set when the two-time Wimbledon champion double-faulted to hand his opponent a break, with Fritz repeating the dose to take the third set.
There were five breaks in a topsy-turvy fourth set but Nadal came out on top to level the match.
The first six games of the deciding set went with serve before a break apiece as the pressure mounted.
The set went to a tie-break and Nadal seized control, racing into a 9-3 lead and completing the win on his second match point.
Nadal, who has already won the Australian Open and the French Open this year, is halfway to the first calendar Grand Slam by a man since Rod Laver in 1969.
He is also bidding to win his 23rd Grand Slam title and equal Serena Williams in second place on the all-time list for most Grand Slam singles titles. Margaret Court is the leader on 24 titles.

Kyrgios reached the last four at the All England Club with relative ease.
The 27-year-old was broken just once by Garin and hit 35 winners as he reached his first Grand Slam semifinal.
“I never thought I’d be in the semifinal of a Grand Slam,” said the Australian. “I thought that ship had sailed, that I may have wasted that little window in my career.
“I am really happy I was able to come out here with my team and able to put on a performance.”
Kyrgios is the first Australian man into the semifinals at Wimbledon since Lleyton Hewitt in 2005.
But he went into the match under a new cloud of controversy after it emerged he faces an Australian court next month to answer an allegation of assault.
His 2022 Wimbledon has also been a rollercoaster on the court.
Brilliant, crowd-pleasing shot-making has been accompanied by $14,000 in fines and an ugly, bitter spat with third-round rival Stefanos Tsitsipas.


Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

Updated 06 July 2022

Former champion Simona Halep back in Wimbledon semifinals

  • The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches
  • “I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back”

WIMBLEDON, England: Simona Halep’s first appearance at Wimbledon since winning the title three years is going just as good as it did the last time.
The 16th-seeded Romanian reached the semifinals and stretched her winning streak at the All England Club to 12 matches by beating Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-4 on Wednesday on Center Court.
Halep missed the chance to defend her title at Wimbledon twice, first in 2020 when the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and then again in 2021 when she had to sit out with a left calf injury.
“I struggled a lot last year,” Halep said, “and now I’m just trying to build my confidence back.”
In the semifinals, Halep will face Elena Rybakina. The 17th-seeded Rybakina beat Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 on No. 1 Court.
Rybakina, a 23-year-old Kazakh, is playing at Wimbledon for only the second time in her career. She lost in the fourth round last year.
In the men’s quarterfinals, two-time champion Rafael Nadal was to play Taylor Fritz on Center Court while Nick Kyrgios was to face Cristian Garin on No. 1 Court.
Halep is making her 10th appearance at Wimbledon and has reached the semifinals for the third time. She is the only Grand Slam champion left in the women’s tournament.
“I’m very emotional right now, because it means a lot to be back in the semis,” Halep said.
The match against Anisimova appeared to be as straightforward as her first four victories at this year’s tournament — all came in straight sets. But the 20th-seeded American broke Halep when she was serving for the match at 5-2.
Anisimova then had three more break points when Halep again served for the match at 5-4, but the Romanian won five straight points to finish the match.
“She could crush the ball in the end, and I didn’t know, actually, what to do,” Halep said. “But I just believed in myself. I said that I have to stay there, strong on my legs.”
Halep injured her calf more than a year ago, forcing her to withdraw from the French Open and Wimbledon. She started working with Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Serena Williams, in April.


Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

Updated 06 July 2022

Costa Rica down Panama 3-0 at the CONCACAF W Championship

  • The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand

MONTERREY, Mexico: Rocky Rodriguez and Maria Paula Salas scored in the opening half and Costa Rica went on to win their opening group-stage match 3-0 over Panama on Tuesday night in the CONCACAF W Championship.

The tournament serves as qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Rodriguez, who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, scored on a header in the sixth minute. Salas scored in the 24th.

Katherine Alvarado converted a penalty for Costa Rica in the 60th minute.

Costa Rica and Panama are in Group B with Canada and Trinidad & Tobago, who play in the late game.

Eight teams have been divided into two groups for the tournament. The top two finishers in each group earn spots in the 2023 World Cup. The third-place finishers will go on to a 10-team intercontinental playoff in February in New Zealand.

The winner of the tournament will also earn one of the region’s spots in the 2024 Olympics.

Costa Rica have been to the World Cup just once before, in 2015. Panama has never qualified for international soccer’s most prestigious event.

The US, Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti are in Group A.