Neymar looks forward to facing ‘top quality’ opposition in Saudi Pro League

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Updated 19 August 2023
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Neymar looks forward to facing ‘top quality’ opposition in Saudi Pro League

  • Brazilian star lauds Ronaldo for energizing Saudi football
  • Winning titles is the goal in the Kingdom, says striker

RIYADH: Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr. has credited fellow global footballing icon Cristiano Ronaldo for sparking the remarkable transformation of the Roshn Saudi League and says the “exciting” prospect of facing the Portuguese legend and stars including Karim Benzema and Robert Firmino will be motivation to “play even better” for new club Al-Hilal.

Neymar has joined one of the biggest and most successful clubs in Asia for an initial two-year period and brings an impressive CV that includes glory in the UEFA Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, Copa Libertadores and Olympic Games. The former PSG, Barcelona and Santos goalscorer is the latest big name to join the Roshn Saudi League, following in the footsteps of Ronaldo, Benzema, Firmino, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, Edouard Mendy and others.

Neymar said: “It is exciting, meeting top quality players on the other teams thrills you, and motivates you to play even better. And it is a given when you face Ronaldo, Benzema, Firmino, that the excitement is even greater. So I am happy to join this league, facing them will be wonderful, it will be fantastic.”

Speaking about the growing global profile of the Roshn Saudi League, he added: “I believe Cristiano Ronaldo started all of this and everybody called him ‘crazy,’ and this and that. Today you see the league grow more and more.”

Neymar may be joining a club that has won 66 trophies including a record four AFC Champions League titles, but he is not taking success for granted. “The league will be very competitive, especially after the signings made in the summer transfer window. I believe competitiveness is important. That’s why I am joining this league. I am driven by challenges. I am there to help the league grow.”

As Brazil captain and joint top scorer for the national team, on 77 goals alongside football’s original superstar Pele, Neymar is confident his country’s many football-crazy fans will turn their attentions to the league. He will join several compatriots including Al-Ahli star Firmino, Al-Ittihad midfielder Fabinho, Al-Nassr’s Alex Telles, as well as Al-Hilal teammates Malcolm and Michael.

 

 

He said: “Of course a lot of Brazil will be watching the league. Obviously I will be there and I expect all Brazilians and everybody following the league to support Al-Hilal. The message I have for them is I will do my best to make them enjoy football, our goal is winning all titles.”

Neymar will team up with Ruben Neves of Portugal, Serbia’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Kalidou Koulibaly of Senegal for Al-Hilal, alongside several players from the Saudi national squad. This includes Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari, the two goal scorers in the stunning 2-1 victory over eventual champions Argentina at the World Cup in Qatar.

Commenting on the talent in the Al-Hilal squad, he said: “I think it is very important to have quality in the squad. Obviously it helps in some decisions you take throughout your career. It was certainly for me. I am very excited to write a new story chasing all the objectives with the club and my teammates — winning more and more titles and fulfilling the club’s ambition. I am very excited in that regard.”

Neymar said he is looking forward to feeling the intense passion of the Al-Hilal fans: “I believe when it comes to football, we have similar passion to that of Al-Hilal fans. They can expect all the effort from me on the pitch. I will give my best for the club. Our goal is winning titles.

“As the season progresses, it is a step-by-step process, training session after training session, game after game. We will grow more and more. It is difficult to come and say ‘we are going to win’ before starting our work. That’s what I believe. To start work immediately, our objective is to win championships, win titles and surely reach the highest summit. It’s the fans’ aspiration, so that’s what we are aiming for.”

Neymar’s arrival marks another huge step in the Saudi Pro League’s journey to become one of football’s leading destinations. He joins the league following the launch of a new strategy to combine high-profile marquee signings with emerging Saudi talent.

The Saudi Pro League has secured broadcast deals across more than 130 territories for the new season. There have been tie-ups with DAZN in multiple territories (Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, and the UK) as well as major European broadcasters Canal+ (France), Sport TV (Portugal), La 7 (Italy), Marca.com (Spain) and Cosmote (Greece), among others.


Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo

Updated 20 April 2024
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Indian walks from Dubai to Riyadh hoping to meet hero Ronaldo

  • “I pray to God to make this dream come true and meet Ronaldo”

JEDDAH: A Cristiano Ronaldo superfan has arrived in Riyadh after a grueling walk from Dubai hoping to meet the Al-Nassr star.

After 1,200 km and 36 days of travel mostly across the arid landscape separating the cities, Civin KP arrived in the Saudi capital.

“Finally, I am here in front of Al-Awal Park where Al-Nassr plays (their) official games and I hope I can meet Ronaldo,” he said.

He posted images of himself on Instagram at the stadium where he managed to take a seat at the home team’s bench and walked pitch-side at the 25,000-capacity venue.

“I came all the way from Dubai on foot and crossed all this distance just to pay respect and show my love to the best player in the world,” said Civin, who is originally from the state of Kerala in India.

Ronaldo is one of the most recognizable faces of international football and has fans across the world who enjoy his skills and passion for the game. He signed for the Riyadh club in 2022 after years of playing in Europe’s top leagues.

Civin feels proud to have completed the journey but still awaits the biggest prize.

“The unexpected moment is always sweeter,” he wrote, “hopefully waiting for more.”

A photo with the Portuguese great and an autograph would be a moment of a lifetime, Civin told MBC as he visited the ground.

“I pray to God to make this dream come true and meet Ronaldo,” he said. “I will cherish this moment, if it happens, for the rest of my life.”

On Friday, Civin was able to secure a ticket to watch Al-Nassr beat Al-Fayha 3-1, but unfortunately his hero did not feature as he is serving a suspension.


Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain

Updated 18 April 2024
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Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain

  • Morocco striker Soufiane Rahimi was the star of the show after he scored a first-half hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Al-Ain in their semifinal first leg
  • Al-Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match

AL-AIN: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal saw their record run of 34 successive victories end on Wednesday at the hands of UAE’s Al-Ain in the Asian Champions League.
Morocco striker Soufiane Rahimi was the star of the show after he scored a first-half hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Al-Ain in their semifinal first leg.
Al-Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match.
Wednesday’s game had been postponed 24 hours after torrential rain swamped the UAE and the record-setting Saudis must have wished it had kept raining.
Rahimi opened the scoring after just six minutes from a pass by Yahia Nader and added a second from the penalty spot 20 minutes later after he was brought down by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais who was yellow carded for his troubles.
Rahimi completed his hat-trick in the 40th minute, again from a penalty after Ali Al-Bulayhi chopped down Brazilian defender Erik in the area.
Al-Hilal reduced the deficit early in the second period when Malcom scored from a pass by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
However, the Saudis conceded yet another penalty just before the hour mark with Kalidou Koulibaly bringing down Rahimi.
This time Paraguayan star Alejandro Romero took over spot-kick duties to make it 4-1 for Al-Ain, the inaugural winners of the Asian Champions League in 2003.
Salem Al-Dawsari kept Al-Hilal in the tie ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg by scoring his team’s second goal of the night in the 78th minute.
Earlier Wednesday, South Korea’s Ulsan claimed a slender lead in their semifinal with a 1-0 first leg win over Japan’s Yokohama F-Marinos.


Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi beat Tajikistan 4-2 in AFC U-23 Asian Cup group opener

  • The Green Falcons lead Group C on goal difference as Thailand beat Iraq

DOHA: Saudi Arabia kicked off their 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup campaign in style with a 4-2 win over Tajikistan on Tuesday at Khalifa International Stadium in Al-Rayyan.

In the other Group C match, Thailand defeated Iraq 2-0 at Al-Janoub in Al-Wakrah.

The Green Falcons now have three points and lead their group ahead of Thailand on goal difference. Tajikistan and Iraq are third and fourth respectively with zero points.

Saudi Arabia took the lead on seven minutes through Rayane Hamidou, but Tajikistan struck back through Ruslan Khayloev after 23 minutes. Deep into stoppage time at the end of the first period, Saudi regained the advantage thanks to Haitham Asiri.

Saad Al-Shehri’s men looked to have put the game to bed with goals by Ayman Yahya on 55 and 61 minutes, before Rustam Soirov gave Tajikistan a glimmer of hope nine minutes later to make it 4-2.

Earlier in the day, Japan beat China 1-0 in the opening match in Group B at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, before South Korea defeated the UAE team at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.

Saudi Arabia’s next game is against Thailand on Friday. They will then face Iraq on April 22. 

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup, which sees 16 nations split into four groups of four, also acts as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

The top two teams from each group progress to the quarterfinals, with the winners of both semifinals automatically qualifying for the Olympics.

The losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winner also booking a spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance to secure a place at the Games through a play-off against an African qualifier.


Al-Hilal shifts focus to the Asian Champions League semifinals as it continues a four-title bid

Updated 16 April 2024
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Al-Hilal shifts focus to the Asian Champions League semifinals as it continues a four-title bid

  • Al-Hilal are in contention for an unprecedented collection of four titles

DUBAI: The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema haven’t been able to halt Al-Hilal’s dominant run in Saudi Arabia’s domestic football league. Now it’s the turn of Al-Ain of the UAE to come up against this seemingly unstoppable force in the semifinals of the Asian Champions League.

Al-Hilal are in contention for an unprecedented collection of four titles. The first trophy was secured last week when Malcom scored twice for the club in a 4-1 win over Al-Ittihad in the Saudi Super Cup final. With seven games in the Saudi Pro League remaining, the Blues are 12 points clear of Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr.

On April 30, the Riyadh-based club will meet Al-Ittihad of Jeddah in the semifinals of the King’s Cup, a domestic knockout competition.

Al-Hilal also have their sights set on a record fifth continental title, though is expecting a challenge Tuesday against the Hernan Crespo coached Al-Ain, the 2003 champions who ousted Al-Nassr in the Asian Champions League quarterfinals.

“We have only won one trophy and there are three more to go for,” defender Ali Al-Bulaihi told Saudi Arabian TV ahead of the continental semifinals. “Al-Hilal is a system and everyone at the club from the bottom to the top works hard and this is the reason for success. We are not afraid of any team and we are ready for any challenge.”

Despite being without injured striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, the joint leading scorer in this season’s Asian Champions League, and Brazilian superstar Neymar, Al-Hilal are still in great form. The Super Cup victory over Ittihad extended their world record winning streak for top tier teams to 34 games.

While Al-Hilal is strongly favored to overcome Al-Ain and progress to next month’s final, the meeting in the eastern zone — Asia’s top continental club tournament is divided into two geographic halves until the final — appears closer to call.

The eastern zone playoff is between last season’s champion of South Korea and Japan’s runner-up as Ulsan HD, Asian champions in 2012 and 2022, welcomes Yokohama F. Marinos.

Five-time Japanese champion Yokohama has never reached this stage in Asia before, even under successful coaches Ange Postecoglou and Kevin Muscat.

Harry Kewell is the third successive Australian coach at the club and is hoping to take Yokohama all the way.

“It’s important to understand when I first came into the job it was always going to be a quick turnaround for us because of the AFC Champions League games that were coming up,” Kewell, appointed in December, said. “The attitude of the players has been excellent — the willingness from them to learn a slightly new style.”

“It’s been quite easy to implement my ideas,” added Kewell, who won the UEFA Champions League as a player with Liverpool in 2005. “They’ve accepted it and they’ve worked very hard in perfecting them throughout the games.”

Yokohama will host Ulsan in the return leg of the semifinals on April 24, a day after Al-Hilal takes on Al-Ain in Saudi Arabia.


Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player

Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player

  • Incident took place at the end of Al-Ittihad’s defeat by Al-Hilal in the Saudi Super Cup in Abu Dhabi
  • Footage shows Al-Ittihad striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throw water at a fan, who then strikes the player twice with what looks like a whip

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) is to review its spectator code of conduct after a supporter appeared to whip an Al-Ittihad player.

The incident took place at the end of Al-Ittihad’s defeat by Al-Hilal in the Saudi Super Cup in Abu Dhabi.

Footage that circulated on social media showed Al-Ittihad striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throw water at a fan, who then struck the player twice with what looked like a whip.

Moroccan Hamdallah scored for his side as they lost 4-1.

The SAFF said it was “shocked with the disgraceful scenes.”

A statement released by SAFF said: “Football in Saudi Arabia is a family game and, thankfully, fan disorder is extremely rare.”

It continued: “It’s why the actions of this ‘so called’ fan go against all that Saudi football represents and we completely condemn the incident.

“There will be a thorough review of the spectator code of conduct. The review will ensure updated rules and regulations are put in place to swiftly and effectively impose suitable penalties to help avoid any repeat of such incidents.”