Mitrovic to the rescue for Al-Hilal side missing Neymar’s firepower

Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal was enough give Hilal the victory. (Al-Hilal)
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Updated 21 October 2023
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Mitrovic to the rescue for Al-Hilal side missing Neymar’s firepower

  • With the Brazilian out through injury for the foreseeable future, his teammates rally to a 1-0 home victory over Al-Khaleej that moves them three points clear at the top of the league
  • Al-Hilal receive boost as closest title rivals Al-Taawoun and Al-Ittihad draw 1-1, but after taking the lead struggle to put the game to bed with a second goal

RIYADH: Al-Hilal this week lost Neymar to injury for the foreseeable future but at least they still have the formidable goal power of Aleksandar Mitrovic to count on.

And that proved to be enough for a 1-0 home victory over Al-Khaleej on Friday night that extended their lead at the top of the table to three points after the 10th game of the season.

Fans in Riyadh and Rio have been coming to terms with the distressing sight of Neymar being carried off the pitch during Brazil’s World Cup qualifier against Uruguay on Tuesday and the subsequent news that he requires surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Banners flew in the stands on Friday bearing the player’s image and the message “Return Stronger.”

If his team can maintain their winning ways so far this season, when he does return it could well be to a squad of champions. Boosted by the good news that closest title rivals Al-Taawoun and Al-Ittihad had drawn 1-1 in their match earlier in the evening, Al-Hilal knew that victory would move them three points clear at the top — and that is exactly what happened.

They went on the attack from the get-go. In the 14th minute, Malcom pushed the ball past the goalkeeper and it was rolling toward the net, but a sprinting Saeed Al-Hamsal just managed to get his body in the way. Soon after, Ruben Neves sent over a cross, only for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to head just wide.

In the end, it took the 18-time champions 30 minutes to break the deadlock with what was a typical goal from Serbian striker Mitrovic. A corner kick hung high and long in the air as it flew toward the far post. Goalkeeper Marwan Al-Haidari came off his line but could not get to it, and Mitrovic sent a looping header into the net.

Just before the break, the former Fulham forward sent a similar header, this time from a Michael cross, just over the bar, and the first half ended with Malcom missing a good close-range opportunity.

The second half continued in much the same vein, with even more attacks from Al-Hilal. Neves shot wide from a great position inside the area and then, just after the hour mark, Mitrovic showed his aerial prowess once more, but his powerful downward header drew a fine save from Al-Haidari.

Despite several more attempts, a second goal would just not come. Then, with 15 minutes remaining, the ball somehow found its way into the back of the net after Salem Al-Dawsari slid in at the right byline and guided the ball home, with the help of a deflection off the goalkeeper. However, the ball was adjudged to have gone out of play and the goal did not stand.

Al-Hilal might have felt a little frustrated by their inability to categorically put the game to bed with a second goal but, still, the three points were eventually secured, leaving the 18-time champions sitting pretty at the top of the league, albeit with some tough tests to come in the league, and in Asia, which they will have to face without Neymar.


‘September or October’: Al-Hilal coach reveals timeline for Neymar’s return to action

Neymar could be back in action in 'September or October' according to Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 22 May 2024
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‘September or October’: Al-Hilal coach reveals timeline for Neymar’s return to action

  • No. 10 is at ‘a crucial phase’ in his injury recovery, says the Roshn Saudi League champions’ manager Jorge Jesus
  • Al-Hilal teammate Kalidou Koulibaly is eagerly awaiting the return of Neymar: ‘I call him the magician because he has so much magic in his feet’

RIYADH: Neymar is working to make his comeback from injury in the first few months of next season, Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus has revealed.
The Brazilian superstar playmaker, a record signing for Al-Hilal last summer, suffered a season-ending cruciate ligament injury while on international duty in October.
Neymar, however, was a big part of Al-Hilal’s recent Roshn Saudi League title celebrations in Riyadh and declared himself as “feeling good” and “impatient to be back on the pitch.”
With the No. 10’s rehabilitation in full swing, Jesus is eagerly anticipating having the world-class attacker back in his plans for the upcoming campaign.
“He’s currently in a crucial phase of treatment, and we’re hopeful he might be ready to rejoin the team and start practicing by September or October,” Jesus said. “He’s a star player, he possesses exceptional talent. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a definitive answer at this point. Injuries like Neymar’s typically require 10 to 12 months for recovery.”
As someone who knows exactly what it is like to both play with and against Neymar, his Al-Hilal teammate Kalidou Koulibaly will be delighted to have the 32-year-old back in action. The Senegalese defender, a key part of the club’s world record-winning run earlier in the campaign, believes the re-addition of Neymar will only make Al-Hilal even better next season — as well as himself.
“It will be really important. Neymar is a really important player for us. I call him the ‘Magia’ — magician — because he has so much magic in his feet,” Koulibaly said. “When he touches the ball, he is incredible. We are waiting for him to be fit and to play with us and to make us happy and to make the supporters happy. Also to play with him — to play with someone of that level — you can only increase your own level and become better. Neymar is really important for us, and I hope that next year he will play all season and that we can win some trophies with him.”
Speaking at the recent title celebrations following Al-Hilal’s 4-1 victory over Al-Hazem, which clinched the Riyadh club’s 19th Saudi Arabian league crown, Neymar said: “I am very happy obviously. Winning titles is always good. The best thing would have been being on the pitch, but I am so happy for my teammates.
“I am fine. I am feeling good. I am impatient to be back on the pitch. The fans are unbelievable. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to give them the happiness they deserve, but you can be sure that next season we are going to have a lot of fun.”
Unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal clinched the Roshn Saudi League title with three matches to spare and have won 29 of their 32 games thus far. Nearest challengers Al-Nassr, who are captained by Cristiano Ronaldo, are 12 points behind. Al-Hilal’s next match is at home to Al-Tai on Thursday in the Roshn Saudi League.
Al-Hilal created top-flight world football history this season by winning 34 matches in succession between September and April across all competitions. The incredible run saw them overtake Welsh club The New Saints’ winning streak of 27 games in season 2016-17. Prior to that, the record stood for 44 years following Dutch giants Ajax’s 26-game winning stretch between 1971 and 1972.


Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh

Updated 22 May 2024
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Al-Shabab crowned winners of Women’s Futsal Tournament 2024 in Riyadh

  • Al-Shabab defeated Najmat Jeddah in the final to earn their second futsal title
  • The national tournament featured 18 women’s teams from across the Kingdom in the knock-out tournament from May 8-20

RIYADH: After a sensational 25-match tournament that saw 339 goals, Al-Shabab FC captured their second women’s futsal title on Monday in thrilling fashion to conclude the 2024 edition of the Women’s Futsal Tournament.

With 18 of Saudi Arabia’s top women’s futsal sides competing in the second edition of the tournament, the final saw goals galore as Al-Shabab ran out winners, beating Najmat Jeddah 22-2 in the final to earn their second domestic honor.

The competition aims to inspire the growth of women’s futsal in the Kingdom, with the Saudi National Women’s Futsal team set to meet later this month in Bosnia for a training camp until June 15.

Aalia Al-Rasheed, head of the Women’s Football Department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said: “The Women’s Futsal Tournament has demonstrated the incredible talent that lies within the women’s game in Saudi Arabia. The skill on display has been remarkable, and we congratulate all clubs for their participation in the competition.

“The unprecedented growth we are seeing in the women’s game across all levels is exciting, and we look forward to seeing how this supports our national program to continue to develop in the coming months.”


Ronaldo leads Roshn Saudi Pro League stars set to boost their nations at Euro 2024

Updated 22 May 2024
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Ronaldo leads Roshn Saudi Pro League stars set to boost their nations at Euro 2024

  • Aleksandar Mitrovic and N’Golo Kante among 15 players expected in Germany at end of the SPL season

RIYADH: Several Roshn Saudi Pro League players are preparing to join their nations for the Euro 2024 tournament taking place from June 14 to July 14 in Germany.

The 24-team tournament kicks off at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena and ends with the final at the Olympiastadion.

As things stand, and fitness permitting, this year’s edition will have 15 players from seven SPL teams taking part.

According to the Transfermarkt website, these SPL players, most of whom moved to the Kingdom last summer, are valued at an estimated total of $267 million. The collective market value of all players participating in Euro 2024 stands at an impressive $12 billion.

Leading the pack is Al-Nasser with four players expected to compete at Euro 2024, led by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Joining him in the Portuguese squad will be Otavio, while Aymeric Laporte will represent Spain, and Marcelo Brozovic will run out for Croatia. The four players have a combined market value of $96 million.

Two Saudi Arabia clubs will have three players representing their countries at Euro 2024.

The newly crowned SPL champions Al-Hilal will provide the Serbian duo of Aleksander Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, while midfielder Reuben Neves joins Portugal. The three stars are worth $112 million.

Al-Okhdood, somewhat surprisingly considering the number of foreign talent at the top four clubs, are the other team to have three players heading to the European showcase. The Romania pair of Andrei Burca and Florin Tanase, as well as Georgia’s center-half Solomon Kvirkvelia, are valued at $7.7 million.

Al-Ettifaq will have the Netherlands’ Georginio Wijnaldum and Scotland’s Jack Hendry who are valued at $8.3 million. Al-Ahli center-half Merih Demiral, valued at $19.4 million, is expected to join Turkiye’s squad, while Damac’s midfielder Nicolae Stanciu, valued at $5.4 million, will represent Romania.

Rounding out the roster is Al-Ittihad’s French midfield star and World Cup winner N’Golo Kante with a market value of $10.8 million.


Al-Hilal face new Saudi season without sidelined Neymar

Updated 21 May 2024
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Al-Hilal face new Saudi season without sidelined Neymar

  • The injury-prone player left the French club for Al-Hilal in 2023, the latest world-famous footballer snapped up by the big-spending Saudi Pro League

RIYADH: Neymar remains sidelined from knee surgery and will miss his Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal’s pre-season training, coach Jorge Jesus said on Tuesday.
“All I know now is that the time given to Neymar to recover and during similar injuries is approximately from 10 to 11 months.
“If we calculate mathematically, he will not be ready at the beginning of the pre-season training,” Jesus told reporters in Riyadh.
Neymar underwent surgery in his native Brazil last November to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus damage suffered during a national team match the month before.
The 32-year-old was stretchered off in tears during Brazil’s 2-0 loss to Uruguay in a World Cup qualifying match on October 17, after colliding with opposing midfielder Nicolas de la Cruz.
Whilst he may have been absent from the pitch Neymar has been busy off it recently.
He was ringside to witness Oleksandr Usyk beat Tyson Fury to win the world’s first undisputed heavyweight championship in 25 years in Riyadh on Sunday.
Last month a Brazilian court suspended a $3 million fine imposed on the player for building a lake at his mansion on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro without an environmental license.
In March he performed a ceremonial first pitch before the Marlins’ home MLB opener in Miami against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was on the grid before the Formula One season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir.
In January the French finance and economy ministry was searched as part of a probe into the 2017 transfer of the Brazil football superstar to Paris Saint-Germain.
Officers with anti-corruption units carried out the searches amid suspicions that PSG may have received favorable tax treatment as part of the transfer.
Neymar joined Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017 for a world-record fee of 222 million euros ($242 million), scoring 118 goals in 173 matches despite a series of injuries.
The injury-prone player left the French club for Al-Hilal in 2023, the latest world-famous footballer snapped up by the big-spending Saudi Pro League.
He earns 100 million euros a season in Saudi Arabia, according to a source close to the negotiations, while PSG pocketed 100 million euros in the deal.
This month he was omitted from Brazil’s Copa America squad by national coach Dorival Junior.
His club coach in Saudi, Jesus, conceded his absence was an issue, but added Tuesday that “the solution was Malcolm” referring to the Brazilian winger who scored 22 goals in 46 games.


Saudi Arabian Football Federation hosts women’s coaching workshop

Updated 20 May 2024
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Saudi Arabian Football Federation hosts women’s coaching workshop

  • Topics included data analytics, injury prevention and team-building
  • Event attended by 32 coaches from Kingdom, Africa

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation held a five-day educational workshop on women’s football aimed at empowering coaches from the Kingdom and Africa.

The event in Riyadh, held in partnership with the Confederation of African Football, ran from May 14-18 and was attended by 32 coaches — 16 from CAF member associations and 16 from local sports clubs, regional training centers as well as the Saudi Arabian women’s national teams.

Lluis Cortes, head coach of the Saudi Arabia women’s national team, led the workshop, which also featured Aalia Al-Rasheed, head of the Women’s Football Department at SAFF, as well as elite international women’s football experts and prominent CAF officials.

“The success of this event demonstrates our commitment to fostering the growth and development of women’s football both in Saudi Arabia and across Africa,” Lamia Bahaian, vice president of the SAFF, said in a statement.

“Through these collaborative efforts, we aim to create a strong network of coaches who can share their experiences, support one another, and contribute to the global advancement of women’s football. The enthusiasm and dedication shown by the participants has been truly inspiring, and we are confident that their influence will be felt on and off the field.”

Aimed at improving coaching capabilities and expertise, the SAFF-CAF workshop included a variety of panel discussions, practical lessons and theoretical sessions.

Key football-related topics covered in the workshop included data analytics, female health and injury prevention, leadership and communication, and team-building.

The CAF member associations represented in Riyadh included Botswana, Burundi, Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.