Al-Fateh goalkeeper Jacob Rinne ready for challenge of Ronaldo, Neymar and Benzema

Jacob Rinne moved to Al-Fateh from Danish side Aalborg BK last summer for a new challenge and a welcome escape from the harsh Scandinavian climate. (Instagram/@jacobrinne)
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Updated 24 August 2023

Al-Fateh goalkeeper Jacob Rinne ready for challenge of Ronaldo, Neymar and Benzema

  • On Friday, Swedish goalkeeper comes up against a wounded Al-Nassr looking for first SPL win of the season
  • “Thank you for reminding me,” Rinne smiles when asked by Arab News about the spot-kick in February

RIYADH: Jacob Rinne moved to Al-Fateh from Danish side Aalborg BK last summer for a new challenge and a welcome escape from the harsh Scandinavian climate.
Seven months later the Swedish goalkeeper was facing down Cristiano Ronaldo, aiming to shut out the world’s greatest international goalscorer.
On that February evening, Ronaldo bested Rinne from the penalty spot as Al-Nassr snatched a dramatic 2-2 draw in injury-time at the Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Stadium. This Friday, the pair will meet again in the Saudi Pro League.
“Thank you for reminding me,” Rinne smiles when asked by Arab News about the spot-kick in February. “Before the game we discussed penalties and where Ronaldo would shoot. We agreed that I’d just stay in the middle but we also looked at some patterns in his run that seemed to show which corner he would choose to put it in.
“When I saw he was taking the penalty I was saying to myself, ‘just stay, stay in the middle.’ But when he was running to the ball, I saw something and just had an immediate feeling that he would go for a corner so I dived … and he basically chipped it down the middle.
“Honestly, I was so angry with myself. It would have been great to save that one!”
Ronaldo’s high-profile transfer to Al-Nassr has been followed by the summer arrival of some of the world’s best attacking talent to the Saudi Pro League, with the likes of Karim Benzema, Neymar, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Riyad Mahrez all among Rinne’s opponents this season.
Rinne could be forgiven for being a little nervous at the prospect of facing such accomplished strikers, but instead he is relishing the opportunity to test himself against the best in the world.
“It started with Cristiano and he gave such a such a boost to the whole league,” Rinne said. “Now there are so many great players coming and most of them are in the offensive part of the pitch.
“I know I’m going to have a lot to do but it’s just fun to be able to be a part of that era right now in Saudi Arabia. It would be nice to save a one-on-one against Benzema, of course, but I’m looking forward to playing against any of those guys who have pretty much won everything individually.”
Rinne insists that whether Al-Fateh come up against Neymar at Al-Hilal or Benzema at Al-Ittihad, they will approach each game the same way.
“We don’t prepare differently. Before every game we analyze the most dangerous players they have offensively and of course this week we’re going to look at Cristiano and Sadio for example, and what they do specifically.
“But in another team, that can be a Saudi guy and we will treat him the same — there is nothing specifically that we do just because they are great players,” he added.
“The main difference is that usually if they get the chance, these big players pretty much take it. They punish you when you make a mistake much more than the other ones.”
Ronaldo netted 14 times in 16 Saudi Pro League matches last season but Rinne feels the Portugal forward has not been given an easy ride by opponents since moving to Saudi Arabia and expects other new arrivals to experience the same treatment.
“It must be pretty hard for Cristiano because when you step up against those players, immediately you sharpen yourself up and you are really on him because you don’t want him to beat you. For some players, this is almost the game of their lives to play against Ronaldo, so if you get that every time, it must be hard.
“I do think just because some of these clubs have some great players, it doesn’t mean they are going to immediately jump ahead. It’s still a tough league.”
Al-Fateh finished sixth in 2022-23 but despite a solid showing, the club replaced Greek boss Georgios Donis with ex-Croatia and West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic. While Rinne enjoyed playing for Donis, he insists the intensity of training has been taken up a notch by Bilic.
“It started in preseason in Austria,” Rinne recalled. “He (Bilic) started off saying that preseason is not fun and the main goal is to improve our conditioning and train harder.
“I was so happy when I heard this because honestly I missed this last season. It has been the biggest change. He’s always there and involved in everything and his assistants are really great guys and great coaches also. I think the whole squad is round him and it has improved.”
Part of that improvement has been thanks to Al-Fateh’s new signings, with Armenia midfielder Lucas Zelarayan and Belgium center-back Jason Denayer joining this summer. Ex-Barcelona forward Christian Tello and Spanish defender Fran Velez make up the other European players in the squad, and Rinne has been happy with the reinforcements.
“We have sharpened up the squad and had some great guys coming in with Jason and Lucas. They are really great players so of course our goal is to play for the Asian Champions League positions this season.
“I really liked Donis, but since Slaven came in you feel like the whole squad is stepping up. We were missing that intensity before. Now it is like someone is always hunting the players — it doesn’t matter if you are someone like Cristian Tello or not, the aim is always to try to improve.”
The improvements Rinne has seen at Al-Fateh over the summer have made him feel more settled at the club, and while he admits that there were some difficult times adjusting to life in the Gulf last season, he believes the strength of the Saudi Pro League shows he made the right choice to move.
“It was difficult at the start,” he said. “There were times when I wondered if I had made the right decision to come to Saudi because it seemed training wasn’t as intense or serious. I actually told my agent after a couple of months that I didn’t know if I could stand this because I still have ambitions to improve myself and achieve something.
“I thought maybe it would kill my chance to go for the top five leagues in Europe in the future but now the league has developed here in Saudi Arabia, there is more publicity and a little bit more hype,” said Rinne.
“Now I am enjoying it here. I was playing in the north of Denmark for five years and was used to heavy, strong wind, blowing from side to side, and the facilities were not at the top level. Here, we have great weather, the football pitches and the facilities are great. I am really focused right now on doing as well as I can in Saudi Arabia.”

Ronaldo and Talisca give Al-Nassr a narrow win at Al-Shabab

Updated 26 February 2024

Ronaldo and Talisca give Al-Nassr a narrow win at Al-Shabab

RIYADH: It was the Ronaldo and Talisca show on Sunday as Al-Nassr moved to within four points of Al-Hilal at the top of the Roshn Saudi League with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Riyadh rivals Al-Shabab.

Three times Al-Nassr took the lead, once through Cristiano Ronaldo and twice through Anderson Talisca. Twice Al-Shabab — who will feel they did enough to earn at least a point — equalized, but they were unable to do so for a third time.

Al-Nassr started brightly with Al-Shabab goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Absi, in for the injured Kim Seung-gyu, having to push a Marcelo Brozovic shot over the bar in the sixth minute.

Al-Shabab’s new star signing Ivan Rakitic tried his luck from outside the area after 10 minutes, but Waleed Abdullah was equal to the attempt from the former Barcelona star.

Sadio Mane then netted before being adjudged to have been offside when making his run.

Abdullah then had to make a more difficult save, getting down quickly to stop a Yannick Carrasco effort that was creeping in at the near post.

Al-Nassr were then awarded a penalty. A corner resulted in Mane shooting from the edge of the area and it struck the hand of Romain Saiss. Up stepped Ronaldo and he made no mistake. The visiting fans paid tribute to their hero and the chant of “Cristiano Ronaldo” could be heard ringing around for some time.

Al-Shabab equalized with a penalty of their own after Carlos Junior was brought down in the area. Just as Ronaldo did, Carrasco converted and the two teams went in at the break on equal terms.

Al-Nassr were back in front within two minutes of the restart. Otavio found Talisca on the edge of the area and, despite the close attention of defenders, the Brazilian made room for himself to find the bottom corner, though Al-Absi did manage to get a hand on it.

His opposite number Abdullah then had to get down to save an awkward shot from Nader Al-Sharari.

Just after the hour Brozovic should have given the visitors a welcome cushion. Freed by Otavio, the Croatian bore down on goal from a central position but, on the edge of the area, he shot tamely into the arms of Al-Absi with Talisca to his right screaming for the ball.

Al-Shabab then equalized for the second time. The goal had been coming and was deserved as Habib Diallo found space on the right of the area and sent over a perfect pass to the opposite post where Carlos Junior was on hand to score from close range.

Al-Shabab were on top and looked dangerous, but with three minutes remaining, Talisca won it for the visitors. A beautiful through ball from Abdullah Al-Khaibari released the Brazilian who slotted home from just inside the area to maintain Al-Nassr’s title challenge.

There was still time for Shabab’s Abdullah Radif to pick up two yellow cards and receive his marching orders to complete a frustrating afternoon for the hosts.

Earlier in the day, Al-Feiha defeated relegation strugglers Abha 3-2 to move above Al-Shabab into 10th. 

Saudi Arabia bow out of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after Guam defeat

Updated 24 February 2024

Saudi Arabia bow out of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after Guam defeat

  • Kingdom were playing for third place in Group A
  • Tournament is the first major 11-a-side competition for females to be held in the KSA

JEDDAH: A 2-0 defeat against Guam on Friday saw the women’s national team of Saudi Arabia end their participation in the 2024 West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship.
Saudi Arabia and Guam were playing for third place in Group A with qualification out of reach for both teams following previous results against Jordan and Lebanon.
The 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship is the first major 11-a-side tournament for females to be hosted in Saudi Arabia.
Guam scored a brace in the clash, although the Saudi women played well, going close on numerous occasions.
The Saudi side lost their opener 3-1 against Jordan and were defeated 3-2 by Lebanon prior to Friday’s match.
Progress has been made under new head coach Lluis Cortes and the team gave a solid account of themselves against strong opposition.
The players will return to their club teams where they will resume playing in the second season of the Women’s Premier League until April.
The WAFF Women’s Championship is just the latest international football tournament to take place in Jeddah, which hosted the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup and the 2022 WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship.

Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

Updated 23 February 2024

Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

  • After a scare when they fell behind to Sepahan of Iran, Al-Hilal rallied to win the game 3-1 and go through 6-2 on aggregate
  • With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition

Al-Hilal defeated Sepahan of Iran 6-2 on aggregate on Thursday to book a mouth-watering Asian Champions League quarter-final tie against Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad.

After winning the first leg 3-1 away from home last week, the four-time winners of the competition survived a scare in the second leg before comfortably clinching victory by the same scoreline.

This was a bit harsh on the visitors, who played their part in an entertaining and open clash during which both sides created plenty of chances. In the end, however, as Neymar watched from the stands, the Saudis progressed comfortably, helped along the way when Sepahan were reduced to 10 men while ahead in the second half.

Salem Al-Dawsari, making his 400th appearance for the club, got the equalizer in the 76th minute, after Farshad Ahmadzadeh put the visitors in front nine minutes after the break. With just seven minutes left on the clock, Ruben Neves came up with a spectacular strike that gave Al-Hilal the lead, and there was still time for Aleksandar Mitrovic to add a third.

In the end, it was a more comfortable result for Al-Hilal than looked likely in the 54th minute, when Ali Aarabi swung over a cross from the left and Ramin Rezaeian headed the ball back across the face of goal for Ahmadzadeh to bundle home from close range.

The sparked plenty of nerves among the home fans in the Kingdom Arena but they were able to breathe a little easier when, with 19 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to 10 men. Siavash Yazadni brought down Malcom as the Brazilian was running through on goal and, after a check with the video assistant referee, he was shown a straight red card.

Al-Hilal quickly took advantage of the one-man advantage when, five minutes later, Ali Al-Bulaihi found Al-Dawsari outside the area and the winger turned to beat two defenders, then stroked the ball home. At that point, the home fans could rest easy in the knowledge that their team were as good as through to the last eight.

It was a fine goal by Al-Dawsari but just six minutes later, Neves pulled something even more special out of the hat. The ball fell to the Portuguese star outside the area, he chested it down and volleyed home a curling shot that flew into the top corner.

In the final moments of added time, Mitrovic scored a goal that might not live as long in the memory but showed his killer instinct as he swept home a smart pass from Malcom to make it 3-1.

With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition. The showdown between Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal is the quarter-final tie that many fans, inside and outside the country, will be most looking forward to. The first leg is scheduled for March 5.

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Updated 22 February 2024

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

  • The Jeddah giants leave it late but progress after a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan

Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad squeezed into the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Thursday thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan, following a goalless draw in the first leg last week.

The Jeddah giants recovered from a Karim Bemzema own goal midway through the first half to take control of the game, level the score and eventually go through thanks to a late Navbahor own goal. It was no less than the Saudis deserved as they made most of the running and created the bulk of the chances.

Fabinho had the earliest opportunity to open the scoring but the former Liverpool midfielder fired just over the bar from outside the box.

The opening goal came from a familiar source but not in the way fans expected. The home crowd was silenced in the 25th minute when Jamshid Iskanderov floated over a free-kick from the right, and former Real Madrid star Benzema met it on the edge of the six-yard box to send a powerful header into his own net past a startled Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The goal came out of nothing, against the run of play, but Al-Ittihad quickly regrouped, refocused their efforts and continued to dominate the game.

Benzema redeemed himself on the stroke of half-time, nodding down a corner to the near post where Abderrazak Hamdallah was waiting to sweep the ball home from close range.

The second half unfolded in much the same fashion, with Al-Ittihad enjoying most of the possession and creating more of the chances. Midway through the period, however, they were reminded of Navbahor’s goal threat when Filip Ivankovic fired just wide from the right side of the area.

With 15 minutes remaining, Benzema had the ball in the net, the correct one this time, when he fired home after some good work from Ahmed Hegazy. After a lengthy intervention, however, the video assistant referee ruled it out.

This only delayed the celebrations of the home fans, though, as three minutes from time the Tigers took a decisive lead, thanks to another own goal.

Substitute Saleh Al-Amri’s corner from the right failed to clear the first man but, in swinging a boot, Toma Tabatadze sliced his attempted clearance and the ball looped over the keeper into the far corner of the net.

Navbahor did their utmost to get back on level terms but time was against them and it was not to be. As a result, Al-Ittihad, back-to-back winners of the competition in 2004 and 2005, remain in the hunt for a third continental crown.

Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon

Updated 22 February 2024

Green Falcons exit 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after loss to Lebanon

  • Hosts now cannot reach knockout stages of the West Asian Football Federation tournament with only a match against Guam left in Group A

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia have exited the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after losing 3-2 to Lebanon at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah on Wednesday night, Arriyadiyah have reported.

The Green Falcons have no points from two defeats in Group A, having lost their opener 3-1 to Jordan.

The Jordanian team leads the group with a maximum of six points, on goal difference from Lebanon. Both teams have now progressed to the semifinals.

Guam, who Saudi Arabia play in a dead rubber fixture on Friday, sit bottom of the group with no points after two losses.

Lebanon took the lead after only three minutes through Christy Maalouf, and only three minutes later doubled their lead through an own goal from Saudi Arabia’s Nouf Saud.

Syntia Salha seemed to have put the match beyond the Green Falcons with a third for Lebanon from the penalty spot on 38 minutes.

The Kingdom’s players showed commendable spirit in the second half against strong opponents to pull back two goals, from Lana Abdulrazak (61) and Seba Tawfiq (81) but could not pull off what would have been a stunning comeback.