Neymar draws blank as Al-Hilal draw with Damac

Hilal’s Brazilian forward Neymar takes on Damac’s Egyptian midfielder Tarek Hamed, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium, Abha, Sept. 21, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2023
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Neymar draws blank as Al-Hilal draw with Damac

  • Early goal from Malcom put the visitors ahead as Al-Hilal looked to bounce back from a disappointing opening game 1-1 draw in the Asian Champions League with Navbahor
  • Nicolae Stanciu lined up a free-kick for Damac and the Romanian’s shot took an awkward bounce as Bounou went down to make the save and it ended up in the net

Neymar is still looking for his first goal in Saudi Arabia as Al-Hilal were held to a 1-1 draw with lowly Damac on Thursday. Despite the dropped points, the Riyadh giants return to the capital as league leaders with 17 points from the first seven games of the season. 

An early goal from Malcom put the visitors ahead as they looked to bounce back from a disappointing opening game 1-1 draw in the Asian Champions League on Monday with Navbahor of Uzbekistan. It didn’t quite work out that way as Damac produced a performance that belied their next-to-bottom league standing.

Hilal coach Jorge Jesus fielded a strong line-up containing the club’s big summer signings. Neymar was in attack alongside fellow Brazilian Malcom. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic also started, as did Kalidou Koulibaly in defense and Yassine Bounou between the sticks. Ruben Neves came off the bench at the start of the second half.

By that time the men in white were looking for a bit of a cushion as Damac, still looking for a first win of the season with just three points from the opening six games, had their moments.

Malcom fired the opener after just nine minutes but there was much to thank Neymar for. The former Barcelona star had dropped deep — as he did on numerous occasions — to pick up possession. He then threaded a pass through two defenders on the left for Salem Al-Dawsari to get to the byline — to pull back for the Brazilian to smash the ball high into the net from the edge of the six-yard box.

Al-Hilal wanted a second, and almost immediately from the restart, attacked down the same side but this time Al-Dawsari’s low ball, with Neymar waiting in the middle, was cut out.

Damac almost levelled after 14 minutes. Abdulaziz Al-Bishi blocked a poor clearance, and after pushing Bounou out of the way on the right side, could not curl the ball into the empty net from the tightest of angles. It was a let-off for the 18-time champions.

There was another warning on the half-hour. Assan Ceesay looked like he was going to give Damac the lead as he shot from inside the area but Bounou was quick off his line to make the save.

Then Neymar should have scored. With eight minutes of the first half remaining, Malcom drew a number of defenders on the right side and then slipped the perfect pass into his fellow Brazilian, unmarked near the penalty spot. Neymar shot toward the bottom corner but was denied by the heel of Sultan Faqihi.

Just before the break, Damac came even closer as Farouk Chafai headed against the Hilal crossbar. The hosts continued to push for the equalizer after the break and got back on level terms midway through the second half. It was a deserved goal though slightly soft from the point of view of the visitors.

There didn’t seem to be a huge amount of danger when Nicolae Stanciu lined up a free-kick more than 30 meters from goal, but the Romanian’s shot took an awkward bounce as Bounou went down to make the save and it ended up in the net.

Soon after, Milinkovic-Savic produced a pass of beauty to dissect the Damac defense and while Neymar made his run behind the backline, he could not quite guide the ball between the posts.

Both teams continued to push forward for the winner but neither managed it. It was a second successive disappointing 1-1 draw for Al-Hilal.

Elsewhere, Gina Wijnaldum announced his arrival in Saudi Arabia with a brace as Ettifaq picked up a dramatic 4-3 win at home to Al-Tai. 

The former Liverpool star scored the fastest goal of the season so far, after 79 seconds, to give the Dammam men the lead. A hat-trick from Bernand Mensah ensured that Al-Tai were in the game as Moussa Dembele and then a second from Wijnaldum ensured it was 3-3 as the game entered injury time.

With 94 minutes on the clock Dembele struck again to send the team third, just a point behind leaders Al-Hilal.

Al-Taawoun are second after a 2-1 win at home to Al-Raed.


SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign

Updated 6 sec ago
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SAFF launches formal FIFA World Cup 2034 host campaign

  • Logo, website and short film released under slogan ‘Growing Together’
  • Federation chief Yasser Al-Misehal: ‘Our bid is an open invitation to the world to join us on this exciting journey’

JEDDAH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation on Friday launched its formal bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2034 under the slogan “Growing Together.”
In October last year, the Kingdom said it intended to bid to host the tournament, before the SAFF submitted an official letter of intent and declaration to FIFA.
The campaign proved a formality when the Kingdom became the only country to enter the contest to host the tournament.
The federation, as part of its formal bid, has unveiled a bid logo, website, as well as a short film that celebrates the passion, spirit and diversity of football in the Kingdom.
SAFF President Yasser Al-Misehal said: “Telling our football story to the world is of massive importance. And we believe ‘Growing Together’ is the perfect, yet simple description of our approach to hopefully hosting the tournament in 10 years’ time.”
Bidding to host a FIFA World Cup has been made possible by the rapid transformation taking place in the Kingdom, the SAFF chief said.
“We’ve made unprecedented progress in both the men’s and women’s game and our bid is an open invitation to the world to join us on this exciting journey. As we proved when we welcomed over 100 nationalities to the FIFA Club World Cup Saudi Arabia 2023 in Jeddah, the future is bright when we grow together,” Al-Misehal added.
As one of the fastest and most exciting growth stories in world football, Saudi Arabia, through its bid, seeks to capture the parallel between the Kingdom’s rapid transformation and the positive impacts of hosting FIFA’s flagship event.
Aspiring to become the first single host nation of a 48-team FIFA World Cup, the three pillars underpinning the bid are “Growing People Together,” “Growing Football Together” and “Growing Connections Together.”
Over the last six years, Saudi Arabia has hosted more than 100 international events across almost 40 sports, and is in active football partnerships with more than 100 countries.
The campaign slogan aims to capture the spirit of bonds between the Kingdom and football communities in countries around the world.
The bid logo — made up of intertwined rows of multi-colored ribbons displaying iconic football and cultural symbols — aims to promote Saudi Arabia’s status as a young nation with rich heritage.
It also features five colors reflecting natural diversity across the Kingdom: Desert amber, oasis green, radiance red, rich lavender and sunrise yellow.
The short film released for the bid was filmed across the country, exploring the passion for football in all sections of Saudi society.
It features players from the Saudi under-17 women’s national team and 22-year-old Saudi women’s national team midfielder Layan Jouhari. Background music was composed by powerhouse Saudi platform MDLBEAST.
SAFF recently launched a dedicated bid unit, in line with FIFA regulations, to lead the charge for the Saudi 2034 bid, which will last up until the end of the year.
The unit’s chief, Hammad Al-Balawi, said: “This campaign is powered by the hopes and dreams of 32 million people in Saudi Arabia. Our responsibility is to submit the best possible bid to FIFA, make our country proud and fulfill the trust placed upon us by more than 130 member associations across the world who supported our bid.”
The bid’s website is Saudi2034bid.com. Fans can celebrate the launch of the campaign using the hashtags #Saudi2034bid and #GrowingTogether.


Rahm and Meronk share lead after first round of LIV Golf Jeddah

Updated 43 min 38 sec ago
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Rahm and Meronk share lead after first round of LIV Golf Jeddah

  • Despite the windy conditions, six players shot rounds better than 65 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club
  • “Really good day. Drove it great. Anytime you shoot a bogey-free 62, there’s not much that goes wrong,” said the Spaniard

JEDDAH: The high quality of the field at LIV Golf tournaments was apparent once again when, despite the wind picking up at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, six players shot better than 65 in the opening round of LIV Golf Jeddah.
The highest-ranked player in the field, world No. 3 Jon Rahm, shot a sparkling bogey-free eight-under par 62 to share the lead with Poland’s Adrian Meronk, who made seven birdies and an eagle.
Crushers GC Captain Bryson DeChambeau closed spectacularly with six birdies in his last seven holes in a round of seven-under par 63, which could have been even lower but for a double bogey and two three-putts. The American was joined in tied third place by South African Charl Schwartzel and the red-hot Joaquin Niemann of Chile.
Stingers GC Captain Louis Oosthuizen was the other player with a sub-65 round, making six birdies in his six-under 64.
Anthony Kim, the man in the spotlight as he made his return to professional golf after a hiatus of 12 years, opened with a 76 and was last in the 54-man field.
Reigning Masters champion Rahm started the day on the third hole and finished with three straight birdies on the 18th, first and second holes in what is his first visit to the Kingdom.
“Really good day. Drove it great. Anytime you shoot a bogey-free 62, there’s not much that goes wrong. I put it in the right spots and gave myself the opportunities,” said the Spaniard.
“The key to that low score was three lengthy putts I made. And I made pretty much every putt I looked at inside 10 feet.
“I feel like my record when I’m playing tournaments at a venue for the first time, has been pretty good for some reason. Sometimes, not knowing is a blessing.”
The Dubai-based Meronk, who is playing his first season on LIV Golf, made a bogey on his second hole of the day, but more than made up for it when he chipped in for an eagle on the par-4 10th hole from 35 yards.
“I’m feeling way better this week than my first two weeks (Mayakoba and Las Vegas). I had some quality practice time last week in Dubai. I’m happy where my game is, and it’s definitely a big difference from even Vegas a couple of weeks ago,” said Meronk, ranked 50th in the world.
Kim made one birdie in his round and showed his rustiness by topping his second shot of the day on the 18th hole, followed by a shank with his second shot on the seventh. However, his driving was very good all day, and his putting was on point the whole day.
“Obviously disappointed with the score, but I played much better than what I scored,” said the 38-year-old American. “I’ve got a lot to build on. Just made a lot of unforced errors, and that was unfortunate, but I feel like I’m not that far away.”
In the Team Championship, Rahm-led Legions XIII took the opening-day honors as Tyrrell Hatton (-5) and young Caleb Surratt (-4) pushed the team aggregate to 17-under, one shot better than the all-South African Stingers GC (-16).


Spain prosecutors to demand longer rape sentence for Brazil star Alves

Updated 01 March 2024
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Spain prosecutors to demand longer rape sentence for Brazil star Alves

  • Alves was sentenced on February 22 after being convicted of raping a young woman at a Barcelona nightclub in December 2022
  • Prosecutors had called for him to be jailed for nine years followed by 10 years of probation

MADRID: Spanish prosecutors will appeal against the four-and-a-half year sentence handed to former Brazil international footballer Dani Alves for rape and seek a longer jail term, judicial sources said Friday.
Alves was sentenced on February 22 after being convicted of raping a young woman at a Barcelona nightclub in December 2022.
The 40-year-old footballer was also handed five years’ probation after serving his jail sentence and ordered to pay the victim 150,000 euros ($162,000) in compensation.
Prosecutors had called for him to be jailed for nine years followed by 10 years of probation.
One of the world’s most decorated footballers, who played for Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, Alves insisted the sex was consensual.
Immediately after the sentence, his lawyers said they would appeal.
The victim, who testified behind a screen to protect her identity, said Alves had violently forced her to have sex in a private bathroom of the nightclub despite her begging him to release her, causing her “anguish and terror,” prosecutors said.
Police officers who later came to the nightclub told the court about the woman’s state of agitation and “shock” as well as her anxiety that “nobody would believe her” if she filed a complaint.
In sentencing him, the Barcelona court said: “The victim did not consent and there is evidence that, beyond the complainant’s testimony, permits the rape to be considered proven.
“The court considers as proven the fact that the defendant abruptly grabbed the complainant, threw her to the ground and penetrated her vaginally, preventing her from moving, while the complainant said no and wanted to leave,” it said.
Alves’ lawyers had argued that the victim had been “glued” to the player while dancing at the nightclub, saying there was “sexual tension” between them.
But in its 61-page decision, the court said that did not mean “that she consented to anything that might have subsequently happened.”
In October 2022, Spain’s parliament passed the “only yes means yes” law which tightened the criminal code on sexual violence by requiring explicit consent for sexual acts.
The move — which had long been demanded by assault survivors and women’s rights groups — removed the requirement for rape victims to prove they were subjected to violence or intimidation.
It sought to shift the focus away from the victims’ resistance to a woman’s free and clearly expressed consent. It was amended six months later to close a loophole.


SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom

Updated 01 March 2024
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SAFF: 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship ‘will be the first of many’ tournaments held in Kingdom

  • Jordan defeat Nepal in penalty shoot-out to claim victory in 1st official 11-a-side women’s tournament held in Kingdom
  • Saudi officials hail ‘exciting new era for professional women’s football’ after milestone event draws nationwide interest

RIYADH: The latest chapter in Saudi Arabia’s football evolution came to a close last weekend as the 2024 West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship — the first official 11-a-side women’s tournament held in the Kingdom — reached its conclusion. 

A milestone occasion that attracted nationwide interest and engagement, the eighth edition of the championship was staged in Jeddah throughout its 11-day duration from Feb. 19 to Feb. 29 as seven countries competed alongside the host nation.

Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Nepal, Palestine, Syria and Guam joined Saudi Arabia with fixtures played at the King Abdullah Sports City and Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sport City stadiums. A total of 15 matches were played across the group and knock-out stages.

The final was played in front of over 4,000 fans at the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Sport City Stadium and ended 2-2 after full time, with Jordan winning the tournament via a penalty shoot-out against Nepal in Thursday’s final.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s message following the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship was clear — this debut official 11-a-side women’s tournament on home soil “will be the first of many.”

“We promise that the 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship is the start of an exciting new era for professional women’s football in Saudi Arabia,” Lamia Bahaian, vice president of the federation, said in a statement.

“Besides showcasing our hosting credentials to the region and wider world, it has paved the way for more competitions to make their way to our shores in the years ahead. For sure, this will be the first of many.”

Bahaian said that the women’s game is inspiring audiences as a driving force for positive change, with the Saudi Arabia women’s national team “instrumental” to the direction of travel.

“Reaction to the tournament and the way it was received by fans and the wider community was incredible — witnessing fans embrace the competition, get behind our women’s national team, and attend matches was a genuine joy,” she said.

“Our national team has been instrumental here. The players are pursuing their dreams and representing their country for everyone to see. This has helped introduce women’s football to audiences new and old, laying new foundations for sustained growth and development while contributing to a positive shift in wider society.”

Underpinned by a strategy to help elevate Saudi Arabia to elite status in world football by 2034, huge strides have been taken in the last few years, with growth witnessed across a series of key metrics. 

Since 2021, the number of female clubs nationwide has increased by 112 percent, with the number of local players up 150 percent and national teams up 300 percent.


Lakers hold off Wizards in overtime, Nuggets edge Heat in NBA Finals rematch

Updated 01 March 2024
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Lakers hold off Wizards in overtime, Nuggets edge Heat in NBA Finals rematch

  • Jokic finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists as the Nuggets fended off Miami’s fourth-quarter rally
  • Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for Milwaukee in the Bucks’ 111-99 victory over the Hornets in Charlotte

LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Lakers, fueled by 40 points from Anthony Davis and 31 from LeBron James, pulled off another NBA thriller on Thursday, beating the Washington Wizards 134-131 in overtime.

One day after James reeled off 34 points — 19 of them in the fourth quarter — to key a come-from-behind victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers had to dig deep again against a Wizards team tied for the worst record in the league.

James’s four points in overtime included a three-pointer that tied it at 131-131. He fed Davis for a dunk and capped the scoring with a free-throw.

James, already the league’s all-time scoring leader, is now nine points away from becoming the first player in NBA history to score 40,000 in the regular season.

Jordan Poole scored a season-high 34 points and Marvin Bagley III added a 23 for Washington, who dropped their 13th straight.

But Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the young, hungry Wizards were a tough opponent — — especially on the heels of Wednesday’s draining victory.

“They put pressure, they’re a tough team to play coming off a back-to-back, really high emotional game from last night,” Ham said. “But we found a way, we found a way to win.

“Our guys pulled together when we needed to and made the plays when we needed to.”

In Denver, star big man Nikola Jokic missed out on a fifth straight triple-double but Michael Porter Jr’s 30 points fueled the Nuggets in a 103-97 victory over the Miami Heat in an NBA Finals rematch.

Porter added 11 rebounds, helping fill the void after Jamal Murray departed in the second quarter with a sprained ankle.

Jokic finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists as the Nuggets fended off Miami’s fourth-quarter rally.

Bam Adebayo scored 22 points and Butler added 21 for the Heat, who were without injured Tyler Herro, Kevin Love and Josh Richardson and saw their five-game winning streak end.

A trip to Madison Square Garden was just what Golden State star Stephen Curry needed to break out of his scoring doldrums.

Curry scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Warriors to a 110-99 victory over the New York Knicks, bouncing back from a scoreless first half in the Warriors’ win over the Wizards on Tuesday.

Curry said he fed off the energy at Madison Square Garden — an arena steeped in NBA history and where he broke the record for career three-pointers in 2021.

“It didn’t hurt that in the Garden I had a good vibe and a good flow going,” Curry said. “It’s always fun. This is a special place.”

Jonathan Kuminga added 25 points for Golden State, who grabbed a quick 14-0 lead and never trailed.

Jalen Brunson scored 27 points to lead the Knicks, who had the deficit down to four midway through the fourth quarter but with key contributors Julius Randle and OG Anunoby sidelined could never gain the upper hand.

Another sparkling effort from rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama helped the San Antonio Spurs snap a five-game losing streak with a 132-118 victory over Western Conference contenders Oklahoma City.

French star Wembanyama scored 28 points with 13 rebounds and five blocked shots.

The fourth quarter featured four lead changes, but with three-and-a-half minutes remaining Wembanyama produced a pair of three-pointers and a big block of a three-point attempt by Oklahoma City’s rookie of the year contender Chet Holmgren, and the Spurs pulled away for the win.

“We’re just playing with heart,” Wembanyama said.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 31 points, Jalen Williams added 26 and Holmgren contributed 23 for the Thunder, who slipped a game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for top spot in the Western Conference.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for Milwaukee in the Bucks’ 111-99 victory over the Hornets in Charlotte.

Malik Beasley made five three-pointers on the way to 19 points for the Bucks, who pushed their winning streak to four games and completed a season sweep of the Hornets.