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.


First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1

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First La Liga Futures competition in Saudi Arabia kicks off March 1

  • The U-14 tournament, hosted at Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, will feature 8 La Liga and 4 international teams

MADRID: La Liga FC Futures U-14, a flagship tournament featuring the youth academies of top-tier Spanish clubs, and being held in Saudi Arabia for the first time, kicks off on March 1.

The matches, to be played at Mahd Sports Academy in Riyadh, has been organized in collaboration with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sports. For the first time, the players making up the competing sides will be in the under-14 category and will play 11-a-side matches.

The tournament will feature 12 clubs, eight EA Sports La Liga teams, plus AS Roma (Italy), SL Benfica (Portugal), Olympique de Marseille (France) and Mahd Academy (Saudi Arabia).

La Liga’s leadership chose Saudi Arabia as the host because of the country’s emergence as a hub for sporting and cultural activities in recent years. The most popular sport in the Kingdom is football, with the highest level of participation among those under the age of 30.

For the past 15 years, La Liga matches have been followed by millions of football fans across the Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia now has six official supporter clubs.

The 12 teams will be divided into three groups: Mahd Academy, FC Barcelona, AS Roma and Cadiz CF (Group A); Atletico de Madrid, Olympique de Marseille, Sevilla FC and Villarreal CF (Group B); and Real Betis, Valencia CF, SL Benfica and CA Osasuna (Group C).

Matches will kick off on March 1 at 9:30 a.m. (Saudi Arabia time) and March 2 at 10 a.m., with the quarterfinals being played on Saturday at 5 p.m. The semifinals will kick off at 10 a.m. on Sunday, with the final at 5 p.m.


Medvedev and Hurkacz book quarterfinal spots at Dubai Tennis Championship

Updated 14 min 43 sec ago
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Medvedev and Hurkacz book quarterfinal spots at Dubai Tennis Championship

  • Reigning champion Medvedev recovers from losing opening set to beat Sonego in tight encounter on center court
  • Hurkacz and Korda through to quarterfinals in straight sets, Qatar Open finalist Mensik forced to retire

DUBAI: Reigning champion Daniil Medvedev overcame a spirited Lorenzo Sonego on Wednesday to secure a spot in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

The world No. 4 looked shaky during the opening exchanges, winning just 53 percent (10/19) of points behind his first delivery as Sonego took full advantage and deservedly won the first set. Medvedev, to his credit, recovered quickly and served with far more aggression in the second and third sets, firing off both wings and hitting pinpoint serves.

The decisive moment came during a tense fifth game in the final set as the No. 1 seed broke Sonego’s serve with a running forehand winner and safely saw out the match thereafter. Medvedev will face Alejandro Davidovich Fokina after Qatar Open finalist Jakub Mensik was forced to retire through injury early in the second set of their clash.

Hubert Hurkacz will join Medvedev in the last eight after a battling 7-6, 6-4 victory over Australian Christopher O’Connell. The world No. 8 will make his fourth quarterfinal appearance in Dubai when he takes to the court to face Ugo Humbert, the French No. 1, on Thursday evening.

One man who will not be competing in the quarterfinals is Karan Khachanov after the No. 4 seed was sent crashing out of the tournament following Jiri Lehecka’s stunning comeback victory (6-7, 7-6, 6-4).

Lehecka, the world’s No. 36, fell to his knees in elation after securing a spot in the last eight at the expense of in-form Khachanov, who had come into the match on the back of five straight wins. The 27-year-old won his sixth career title in Doha last week and looked on course to continue that momentum after clinching the first set against Lehecka.

Lehecka had other ideas, though, saving five points during a tense second set, coming back from 0-3 in the tiebreak that later followed, and from 2-4 in the third set to secure a second top-20 win of the season — after a mammoth three-hour clash on court one.

Meanwhile. Sebastian Korda continues to enjoy his maiden Dubai tournament, needing just 43 minutes to breeze past Botic van de Zandschulp and set up a quarterfinal meeting against 2022 winner Andrey Rublev.

Korda dropped just one game in an emphatic straight sets victory (6-1, 6-0) over the Dutch No. 2.


World Cup champion Spain beats France 2-0 to win inaugural edition of Women’s Nations League final

Updated 29 February 2024
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World Cup champion Spain beats France 2-0 to win inaugural edition of Women’s Nations League final

  • Bonmati, named the player of the match, volleyed in a low cross in the first half and Caldentey doubled the lead shortly after the break in a dominant performance by the hosts
  • Spain also hold the men’s Nations League title, having beaten Croatia in the final in June

SEVILLE, Spain: Spain have not lost momentum since winning their first World Cup title, defeating France 2-0 on Wednesday to also win the inaugural edition of the Women’s Nations League.

Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey scored a goal each for Spain in front of 32,657 fans at La Cartuja Stadium in southern Spain. It was a record crowd for Spain’s women’s team in the country.

Spain also hold the men’s Nations League title, having beaten Croatia in the final in June.

“We have a very good present and a very good future,” women’s team coach Montse Tome said. “I have a group with very experienced players and with new young players coming up. It’s a very positive mix. They have a winning mentality. France haven’t had a shot on goal and that’s also a credit to all of the players.”

Bonmati, named the player of the match, volleyed in a low cross in the first half and Caldentey doubled the lead shortly after the break in a dominant performance by the hosts.

“Happy to win another title,” Bonmati said. “It may seem that what we have achieved is easy, that we have an obligation to win everything, but this is not something easy. And here we are lifting another trophy.”

It was Spain’s first victory over France.

“They’ll be the team to beat at the Olympics, it won’t be easy,” France coach Herve Renard said. “We are going to have to keep improving, learn lessons and keep moving forward. Let’s say we have taken one step but we haven’t taken the second. There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Spain had their breakthrough tournament at the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, winning the title in their third appearance.

The celebrations were marred by one of the country’s worst crises, though, as the then-president of the Spanish soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the awards ceremony to spark an outrage in soccer and Spanish society in general. Rubiales eventually resigned, and prosecutors later accused him of sexual assault.

“Today we get to celebrate again. We deserve it,” Hermoso said. “We try to enjoy ourselves but we also have the responsibility that there are so many people behind us who want to follow in our footsteps. We are so proud that there are so many girls who want to be champions in the future.”

Spain defeated the Netherlands 3-0 in last week’s semifinal, a result that also secured the team a place in the Paris Olympics.

France were already qualified for the Olympics as the host country.

“We didn’t play a good game against a team that are world champions and flying high in women’s football,” Renard said. “You have to be aggressive and keep the ball when you get it, but we lost it again straight away.”

Spain scored a competition-high 28 goals, seven more than any other team. It also had the most total attempts at 131.

Alexia Putellas, the former Ballon d’Or winner, did not enter the match for Spain. She hasn’t played for club or country since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on her left knee last year.


Man United and Chelsea grab late winners in FA Cup. Youngsters deliver again for Liverpool

Updated 29 February 2024
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Man United and Chelsea grab late winners in FA Cup. Youngsters deliver again for Liverpool

  • Casemiro stooped to head in an 89th-minute goal to seal United a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest and a last-eight meeting with great rival Liverpool
  • Wolverhampton beat Brighton 1-0 in an all-Premier League matchup and will be at home to Championship team Coventry in the quarterfinals

LONDON: Manchester United and Chelsea kept alive their hopes of silverware this season by scoring late winners in the FA Cup on Wednesday.

Liverpool also advanced to the quarterfinals, with their youngsters coming through big again for Jurgen Klopp.

Casemiro stooped to head in an 89th-minute goal to seal United a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest and a last-eight meeting with great rival Liverpool, whose youthful team beat second-tier Southampton 3-0 thanks to goals by 18-year-olds Lewis Koumas and Jayden Danns.

Chelsea — fresh off a loss to Liverpool in the English League Cup final — left it even later than United to secure their progress, with Conor Gallagher coming off the bench to score in the 90th minute for a 3-2 victory over Leeds. Chelsea will play another second-tier team, Leicester, in the last eight.

Wolverhampton beat Brighton 1-0 in an all-Premier League matchup and will be at home to Championship team Coventry in the quarterfinals.

PRESSURE OFF

Winning the FA Cup could salvage disappointing seasons for United and Chelsea. Who knows, it could also keep their under-pressure managers in their jobs.

Neither team put in a convincing display in the fifth round, but they are still alive in the famous old competition and have home draws to look forward to after late winners from midfielders.

Casemiro got between two defenders and stuck out his head to divert a low free kick that had been whipped in from the left wing by Bruno Fernandes. The Brazil international got a kick in the face for his efforts — blood was seen pouring down his cheek afterward — but, more importantly, a crucial goal.

After a morale-sapping loss to Fulham in the league on Saturday, another defeat would have left United in a mess heading into Sunday’s Manchester derby against City. Instead, United manager Erik ten Hag was quick to point out that his team has now won seven of its nine games in all competitions in 2024.

“This team, what they showed today, they have to show it every game,” Ten Hag said. “We found a way to win.”

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino has come under renewed pressure in the wake of his expensively assembled team’s loss in the League Cup final. Now he is one game away from a return to Wembley Stadium, this time for the FA Cup semifinals.

Gallagher ran onto Enzo Fernandez’s pass, span his marker and converted a rising shot to put out a spirited effort from a Leeds team whose priority this season is securing an immediate return to the Premier League.

Despite fielding a weakened starting team, Leeds took the lead in the eighth minute at Stamford Bridge through Mateo Joseph, who also equalized to make it 2-2 after goals for Chelsea by Nicolas Jackson and Mykhailo Mudryk.

“In the context of the week, I am happy,” Pochettino said. “It is about building our confidence again.”

KLOPP’S KIDS

Jurgen Klopp’s kids have done it again.

Amid an injury crisis, the Liverpool manager turned to a bunch of academy products to help beat Chelsea in the League Cup final and he kept faith in them for the match against Southampton three days later at Anfield.

The average age of Liverpool’s team on Wednesday was 23 years, 128 days after Klopp made six changes to the lineup, including giving a debut to Koumas and starting 19-year-old midfielders James McConnell and Bobby Clark after their starring roles off the bench at Wembley. There were six players aged 21 or younger in the team.

Koumas squeezed home a shot in the 44th minute to mark the biggest game of his fledging professional career and make it 1-0. Danns came off the bench, like he did in the League Cup final, and scored in the 73rd and 88th minutes for his first senior goals.

Liverpool, who lead the Premier League and are into the round of 16 in the Europa League, stayed on course for a quadruple of trophies in Klopp’s final season.


Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture

Updated 29 February 2024
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Cristiano Ronaldo handed one match ban, fine after obscene gesture

  • The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Ethics and Discipline Committee also ordered the Portuguese star to pay an additional SR20,000 to Al-Shabab, as compensation for the Riyadh club’s complaint filing fees

RIYADH: Al-Nassr striker Cristiano Ronaldo has been suspended for one match and fined SR10,000 ($2,666) after making an offensive gesture following his team’s victory over Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League on Sunday.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s Ethics and Discipline Committee also ordered the Portuguese star to pay an additional SR20,000 to Al-Shabab, as compensation for the Riyadh club’s complaint filing fees.

Following the game on Sunday, videos posted on social media showed Ronaldo cupping his ear and repeatedly thrusting his hand forward near his pelvis, seemingly aimed at rival Al-Shabab supporters.

In the background, chants of “Messi” could be heard, referring to Ronaldo’s longstanding football rival from Argentina.

The committee called in the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to hear his response to the complaint filed by Al-Shabab, and asked the official broadcaster to provide footage of the incident in question.

The committee said in a statement that the decision is non-appealable.

This is not the first time that the Portuguese legend has been at the heart of fan controversy.

Earlier this month, the star was seen putting a scarf down his shorts before throwing it back at Al-Hilal fans after Al-Nassr loss in the Riyadh Season Cup. In the same game, the striker reacted angrily to Al-Hilal fans chanting the name of Lionel Messi.

Last year, the 39-year-old attacker grabbed his crotch after Al-Hilal fans taunted him by again invoking the name of the Argentine World Cup winner.