Ronaldo-less Al-Nassr draw as Al-Fayha win on perfect AFC Champions League night for Saudi Arabia

Al-Nassr join Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad and AL-Fayha in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League. (X: @AlNassrFC_EN)
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Updated 06 December 2023
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Ronaldo-less Al-Nassr draw as Al-Fayha win on perfect AFC Champions League night for Saudi Arabia

  • With Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad already qualified, the Kingdom will have 4 clubs in the round of 16

Al-Nassr rested their overseas stars, including Cristiano Ronaldo, but still ended top of Group E in the AFC Champions League, and unbeaten, after a 1-1 draw at Istiklol of Tajikistan on Tuesday night.

The real story however was Al-Fayha which pulled off a stunning 4-1 win at Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan to progress to the round of 16, where Saudi Arabia will have four teams out of four, after Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad progressed on Monday.

Al-Nassr, coming off a 3-0 loss in the Riyadh derby against bitter rivals Al-Hilal on Friday, had already secured top spot before the clash against the already-eliminated team from Dushanbe. It meant that coach Luis Castro fielded an all-Saudi Arabian starting 11 with Sadio Mane, Anderson Talisca, Aymeric Laporte and Seko Fofana on the bench, and Ronaldo rested and back in Riyadh.

With the hosts already out and the visitors through, there was a lack of intensity and cohesion from Al-Nassr in the first half, unsurprising perhaps given the changes made. It was not a surprise when Alisher Dzhalilov opened the scoring just after the half hour to delight a large home crowd, some of whom could be seen wearing the Riyadh team’s yellow shirt.

Abdulrahman Ghareeb, who was to later make amends, gave the ball away in a dangerous position and Dzhalilov took possession, advanced toward the area and then fired a low shot that rolled past the diving Raghed Najjar who perhaps should have done a little better.

It was a poor first half from Al-Nassr but there was an immediate improvement after the break. Four minutes into the second half, the team from Riyadh were level thanks to Ghareeb.

Goalkeeper Rustam Yatimov palmed out a cross from the right into the crowded box and there was the forward, whose first shot came back off a defender and he then fired home the rebound. Soon after, Ghareeb, visibly growing in confidence, shot from the edge of the area to draw a fine save from Yatimov. Just after the hour, the goalkeeper was beaten but Sami Al-Najei’s shot from the left side of the area rolled just past the post.

Ghareeb and Talisca, who came off the bench, went close before the final whistle. All in all, it ended a fine group stage for Al-Nassr.

It was even better for Saudi Arabia as a whole as earlier Al-Fayha recorded the shock result of the day, coming from behind in Uzbekistan to defeat Pakhtakor 4-1.

The Central Asian powerhouse needed a win to progress to the second round and took a 16th minute lead through Khojimat Erkinov.

The goal fired Al-Fayha into action. Fashion Sakala has been in fine form this season since arriving from Scotland and equalized five minutes before the break. Immediately after, Sultan Mandash put the visitors in the lead and Henry Onyekuru sealed the win near the end. There was still time for Sakala to grab his second and Al-Fayha’s fourth.

The win put coach Vuk Rasovic and his men into second in Group A but they had to wait to find out if they were to advance as one of three of five best runners-up in the western zone.

They needed Persepolis of Iran to fail to defeat Qatar’s Al-Duhail.

It started badly as Persepolis took a seventh minute lead through Shahab Zahedi though the visitors soon levelled thanks to Mohammed Muntari.

With nine minutes remaining, the Tehran titans were awarded a penalty but Giorgi Gvelesiani missed and the Georgian and the home fans were left to rue that spurned opportunity just two minutes later as Michael Olunga gave the Qataris the lead.

Persepolis could not get the two goals needed, meaning that Al-Fahya, which lost three of the first four games of the group, will go through to make it four out of four for Saudi Arabia in the knockout stages.


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

Updated 24 February 2024
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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
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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
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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
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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.


Neymar dons Saudi attire to celebrate Founding Day

Updated 23 February 2024
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Neymar dons Saudi attire to celebrate Founding Day

RIYADH: Brazilian football star Neymar caught everyone’s attention when he appeared wearing traditional Saudi clothes during preparations for the Kingdom’s Founding Day celebrations.

His club, Al-Hilal, shared photographs of the player wearing the thobe, shemagh and headband famously associated with the late King Abdulaziz, showcasing the general atmosphere ahead of the day.

Neymar was accompanied by Esteve Calzada, the CEO of Al-Hilal, and Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, along with other teammates, and trended on social media platform X dancing the Ardah, Saudi’s national dance.

The widely adopted white thobe in the Kingdom, favored for its comfort in the hot climate and desert setting, is complemented by other traditional attire for special occasions. This includes Almorudan, worn over the thobe, distinguished by its long arms and commonly donned during Ardah performances.

Karim Benzema. (X/@Benzema)

The 32-year-old recently returned to Riyadh to continue his rehabilitation after undergoing surgery for a ruptured cruciate ligament in his left knee. He sustained the injury during Brazil’s loss to Uruguay in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers last October.

Founding Day is celebrated in the Kingdom on Feb. 22 each year to commemorate its establishment by Imam Mohammed bin Saud in 1727 CE.

The Saudi Ministry of Sports recently announced the 21st round of the Roshan Professional League tournament would be named the Founding Round to symbolize the day’s significance.

Neymar is not the only player to celebrate Founding Day with his Saudi fans. Last year, Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo was shown wearing traditional attire along with his Al-Nassr teammates.

Meanwhile, Al-Shabab’s Croatian star Ivan Rakitic also celebrated the Founding Day in a similar style and posted on X: “Happy Saudi Foundation Day! Let’s honor the solid roots of the Saudi state and celebrate the unity, security, and cultural development it has achieved.”
He also posted pictures of him wearing traditional Saudi clothes.