Goalless draw enough for 10-man Al-Nassr to reach last 16 of Asian Champions League

Nassr’s Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo attempts a shot during the AFC Champions League Group E game against Iran’s Persepolis at Al-Awwal Stadium in Riyadh, Nov. 27, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Goalless draw enough for 10-man Al-Nassr to reach last 16 of Asian Champions League

  • Saudis down a man for three quarters of their game against Iranian side Persepolis after defender Ali Lajami was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Milad Sarlak
  • There was concern for the home fans when Ronaldo seemed to hurt his neck in a coming together with the goalkeeper and was forced to leave the pitch 12 minutes from the end

Al-Nassr joined Al-Ittihad in the last 16 of the Asian Champions League on Monday after a goalless draw at home to Iranian side Persepolis.

The Saudis had to play more than three quarters of the game with just 10 men and then saw Cristiano Ronaldo leave the pitch with a neck injury 12 minutes from the end.

Luis Castro’s men had won all four of their previous games in Group E to put themselves in a very strong position, safe in the knowledge that a point would guarantee top spot. And that is exactly what happened.

Things could have been even better for them, however, as Ronaldo seemed to be in after just two minutes but went down under a challenge from Soroush Rafiei inside the area. The Portuguese star seemed to inform the referee that it had not been a foul. Whatever happened, the referee did not point to the spot and the game continued.

Persepolis knew a win would go a long way to securing their own place in the last 16 and looked to attack whenever they could. Goalkeeper Nawaf Al-Aqidi was the hero for Al-Nassr after 16 minutes when he got down well to save from Danial Esmaeilifar inside the box.

Seconds later, the Riyadh side’s night took a huge turn for the worse when defender Ali Lajami was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on midfielder Milad Sarlak. This put the home team, who have been in fantastic form, with 18 wins from 19 games in all competitions, on their heels and it took time for them to get going again.

Eight minutes after the restart, the Tehran titans thought they had broken the deadlock when Shabab Zahedi produced a smart, low finish from near the penalty spot. However, he was adjudged to have been offside.

Three minutes before the hour mark, Ronaldo reminded the visitors that they could not afford to lose concentration, as he spun inside the area and fired a shot just wide of the left-hand post with the goalkeeper scrambling to get near.

As the game fizzled out toward the end, there were concerns among the home fans when Ronaldo seemed to hurt his neck in a coming together with the goalkeeper. The 38 year old left the pitch in what appeared to be some pain but it is hoped he will be fit for Friday’s Riyadh derby against league leaders Al-Hilal.

His presence is likely to be needed. The five-time Ballon D’or winner has been in amazing form and his 15 league goals so far this season have helped put Al-Nassr in second place in the Roshn Saudi League, just four points behind the leaders.

Al-Hilal, meanwhile, have a big Asian Champions League game on Tuesday against Uzbek side Navbahor. The two teams top Group D on 10 points, with the Saudis ahead on goal difference. Meanwhile, Al-Nassr can now focus solely on the big game on Friday.


Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals

Updated 20 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia beat Thailand to edge closer to AFC U-23 Asian Cup quarterfinals

  • The 5-0 win leaves the Green Falcons top of Group C of the tournament, which acts as qualification for this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris

DOHA: Saudi Arabia on Friday night thrashed Thailand 5-0 to edge closer to the quarterfinals of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

The win at Khalifa International Stadium leaves the Green falcons top of Group C with a maximum of six points from three two matches.

Iraq, who defeated Tajikistan 4-2 later on Friday, sit in second with three points, with Thailand third on goal difference. Tajikistan, with two defeats, are bottom of the group with no points.

A win or draw for Saudi Arabia against Iraq on Monday will secure top spot in the group and progress to the last eight.

Saudi took the lead against Thailand after four minutes through Ayman Yahoo’s third goal of the tournament, before Ahmed Al-Ghamdi and Abdullah Radif scored in first-half stoppage time to all but end the match as content.

Radif went on to complete his hat trick with strikes in the 52nd and 73rd minutes.

The U-23 Asian Cup, which runs until May 3, also provides a pathway to the men’s football competition at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The tournament sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The competition also serves as a route to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, with the winners of the two semifinals both securing automatic qualification.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a place in Paris, while the fourth-place finishers have a final chance with a play-off against an African qualifier.


Loughnane tops 2024 PFL featherweight stands after first-round win in Chicago

Updated 20 April 2024
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Loughnane tops 2024 PFL featherweight stands after first-round win in Chicago

  • Umalatov, Musaev, Braga, Yamauchi, Khizriev, Borics, Kamaka, Ramazanov, Madge also earn 2024 PFL Global Season victories

CHICAGO: The Professional Fighters League on Friday returned for its third Global Season event of 2024 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, with Brendan Loughnane emerging the big winner of the night to top the featherweight standings.

The 12-fight card, featuring combatants in the welterweight and featherweight divisions, was the final event of the first half of the 2024 PFL Global Season.

Loughnane, the “Pride of Manchester,” stepped into the PFL SmartCage on a mission. The 2022 PFL featherweight champion secured a first-round TKO victory over Pedro Carvalho. The victory gives Loughnane six points in the featherweight standings and the 15th knockout of his career, and he is now one step closer to a return to the PFL Playoffs.

The evening’s main event featured a strategic battle between Andrey Koreshkov and Magomed Umalatov in a highly anticipated welterweight bout. Both combatants showed their technical prowess, with Umalatov pulling away and securing a unanimous decision, keeping his perfect record intact.

Logan Storley matched up with Shamil Musaev in more welterweight action. Musaev put on an impressive display and dispatched Storley in the second round via KO. The result improved Musaev’s record to 17-0-1 with 10 wins by KO, and earned five points in the division.

2023 PFL featherweight runner-up Gabrial Braga unleashed a flurry of strikes against Justin Gonzalez, resulting in an emotional first-round knockout and a gain of six points. Braga dedicated the victory to his father, Diego, whom he lost in January.

“Tonight was a fitting end to the first half of the 2024 PFL Global Season, the toughest test in MMA, with the best welterweights and featherweights providing unrivaled action to fans worldwide,” said PFL CEO Peter Murray. “As we head into the second half of the 2024 PFL Global Season, fighters and fans alike know what it will take to clinch a PFL Playoff berth and continue the million-dollar journey. It is time to win or go home.”

“The PFL athletes provided another spectacular night of fights as we wrap up the first half of the 2024 PFL Global Season,” said Ray Sefo, president of fighter operations at PFL. “The PFL’s season format provides the best action and highest stakes in all MMA.”

Goiti Yamauchi and Neiman Gracie went toe-to-toe for three rounds in other welterweight action. Yamauchi won a hard-fought unanimous decision, improving his career record to 29-6 and earning three points in the standings.

Kai Kamaka and Bubba Jenkins showcased skill and determination in the featherweight division. Kamaka topped Jenkins via a unanimous-decision victory and earned three points, bringing his winning streak to four.

Adam Borics and Enrique Barzola duked it out in featherweight division action with the bout going the three-round distance. The judges awarded Borics the unanimous decision and three points in the PFL Global Season standings.

In other PFL Global Season featherweight action, Timur Khizriev and Brett Johns stepped into the PFL SmartCage. Both men traded blows for three rounds, but it was Khizriev who earned the unanimous decision and three points in the division.

Welterweight action continued with Laureano Staropoli facing Murad Ramazanov. After a brief back-and-forth exchange, Ramazanov submitted Staropoli with a rear naked choke in the first round and was awarded six points.

The first PFL Global Season welterweight bout featured Don Madge and Brennan Ward. Madge used his exceptional wrestling technique to secure the win by submitting Ward in the first round and earned six points.

In a PFL featherweight alternate bout, Tyler Diamond collided with Otto Rodrigues. Both men left it all in the PFL SmartCage, but ultimately Diamond came away victorious via a unanimous decision.

Starting the night was a PFL welterweight showcase bout between Romain Debienne and Thad Jean. Jean ended the fight quickly, knocking out Debienne at 2:07 in the first round.


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.


KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL

Updated 20 April 2024
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KL Rahul shines as Lucknow Super Giants beat Chennai Super Kings in IPL

  • Innings played key role in pushing Lucknow past Chennai’s 176-6 with six balls to spare.

LUCKNOW: KL Rahul’s solid 82 runs off 53 balls helped Lucknow Super Giants comfortably beat Chennai Super Kings by eight wickets in the IPL on Friday.
Rahul’s time at the crease, which saw him smash nine fours and three sixes, played a key role in pushing Lucknow past Chennai’s 176-6 with six balls to spare.
“I felt that if we bat well, we could chase it down... when your partnership goes on, you can take a few more chances. Glad that it happened,” said Rahul.
Chennai got off to a slightly jittery start after being invited to bat first, losing Rachin Ravindra (zero) and skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad (17) in the first five overs. Ajinkya Rahane looked to steady the side, with the help of Ravindra Jadeja, but fell in the ninth over after racking up a respectable 36 runs off 24 balls.
Lucknow’s clinical bowling restricted Chennai in the middle overs, with Shivam Dube (three) not being able to pop off.
But Jadeja soldiered on for the rest of the game, getting his half-century in the seventeenth over.
Reliable warhorse M.S. Dhoni, who smacked 28 runs off 9 balls, helped Chennai turn up the heat in the last three overs and pushed the team to 176-6.
Lucknow openers Quinton de Kock and KL Rahul set up the chase with a superb 134-run partnership, before de Kock, who hit five fours in his 43-ball 54, fell in the fifteenth over.
Rahul went onto smash an incredible 82 runs off 53 balls before being dismissed in the eighteenth over. A final push by Nicholas Pooran (23) helped seal the victory for Lucknow.
“We lost wickets regularly and were 10-15 short,” said Gaikwad.
“Good to play them again soon, will come back with homework done.”


Saudi Arabia’s PIF signs sponsorship deal with Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament

Updated 19 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s PIF signs sponsorship deal with Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament

  • Agreement is latest in wider partnership with the ATP

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund announced on Friday it had agreed a multi-year deal to sponsor the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament.

The deal is the latest in PIF’s wider tennis partnership with the Association of Tennis Professionals as a Platinum Partner and as the official naming partner of the PIF ATP Rankings.

The fund said the agreement marked its continued investment in growing tennis globally, along with a wider focus on its four sponsorship pillars: inclusivity, sustainability, youth, and technology.

As part of the partnership, PIF will develop a platform to allow tennis fans new and old to engage and train with legendary players and coaches on the ground in Madrid, and youth-focused fan zones.

A statement said: “PIF is committed to providing opportunities for young players across all levels of the game, inspiring participation, enhancing talent discovery and developing new pathways for future generations of tennis players around the world.

“As part of this priority, PIF is engaging local tennis academies in Spain and supporting future players through the PIF tennis bootcamp.”

PIF has also partnered with ATP Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Miami and the Nitto ATP Finals, in addition to the Beijing ATP 500 event, and the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by PIF, to be hosted in Jeddah until 2027.