Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 May 2024

Ronaldo sets Saudi Pro League season scoring record while Al-Hilal finishes unbeaten

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia: Cristiano Ronaldo finished the Saudi Pro League by setting the season goal-scoring record on Monday.
Ronaldo scored twice in Riyadh as Al-Nassr defeated Al-Ittihad 4-2 and lifted his league tally to 35, one more than the record in 2019 by Abderrazak Hamdallah.
In the final seconds of the first half, Ronaldo, who had already had two goals ruled out for offside, chested down a long pass from Mohammed Al-Fatil and opened the scoring with a low shot from the left side of the area.
With 21 minutes remaining, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner celebrated wildly after heading home a corner from Marcelo Brozovic. He was substituted off the field five minutes later to a standing ovation from the home fans.
It ended an action-packed season for Ronaldo, who scored four hat tricks and collected one red card. He was also suspended for an obscene gesture in February at Al-Shabab fans who had been chanting the name of Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s longstanding soccer rival.
Al-Nassr finished second in the league, 14 points behind local rival Al-Hilal, which won the championship more than two weeks ago and completed the 34-round league unbeaten on Monday.
Al-Hilal was too strong even without Neymar, who joined the club in August from Paris Saint-Germain but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in October.
Aleksandar Mitrovic stepped in and ended the season with a goal in the final seconds to clinch a 2-1 win over Al-Wehda. The Serbian striker, signed from London club Fulham last summer, reached 27 league goals, second only to Ronaldo.
On its way to the title, Al-Hilal went on a 34-game winning streak in all competitions, a new world record for a top tier team.
“This season has been truly exceptional for the team, arguably our best ever,” coach Jorge Jesus said. “The credit goes to the immense talent within the squad and the incredible sense of unity that transcends both on and off-field interactions.”
Al-Ittihad’s defeat at Al-Nassr ended a disappointing season for the defending champion. Karim Benzema, signed from Real Madrid, struggled with injuries and even with N’Golo Kante and Fabinho in midfield, signed from Chelsea and Liverpool respectively, the team from Jeddah could manage only fifth place.
Poor results cost Nuno Santo his job as coach in November, and the Portuguese tactician returned to the English Premier League a month later to take over Nottingham Forest.
Al-Ahli, the fourth of the ‘Big Four’ clubs taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund last June, finished third, 17 points behind Al-Nassr. Al-Ahli beat Al-Fayha 1-0 thanks to a late goal — his ninth of the season — from former Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino.
Ronaldo took the headlines, however, and the 39-year-old still had one more chance to end the season with a trophy when Al-Nassr meets Al-Hilal in the King’s Cup final on Friday.

Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Updated 17 July 2024

Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

  • Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season
  • Midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad have signed French-born Algerian international midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract.

Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season.

The 26-year-old midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons.

The signing ceremony took place at the team’s training camp in Alicante, Spain on Tuesday.

The event was officiated by the club’s CEO, Domingos Oliveira, and witnessed by sporting director Ramon Planes, following Aouar’s successful medical examination this morning.

Domingos Oliveira expressed his warm welcome to Aouar, noting that this move marks a significant new chapter in Aouar’s career. He emphasized that Aouar will contribute significantly alongside his teammates to achieving the high standards and results anticipated by the club’s fans and supporters.

Oliveira highlighted that Aouar’s signing aligns with the team’s technical requirements for a player possessing specific qualities that enhance the squad. This strategy is based on the technical needs identified by the sports committee and reviewed by the coach.

Houssem Aouar shared his enthusiasm about joining Al-Ittihad Club, recognizing its rich history, passionate fan base, distinguished players, and experienced coaching staff. He is motivated to deliver his best performance to represent the club and bring joy to its supporters.

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list

Updated 15 July 2024

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list

  • Opening round of games takes place from Aug. 22, with champions Al-Hilal starting title defence at Al-Okhdood
  • New ‘Magic Rounds’ will feature derbies across Riyadh, Jeddah and the Eastern Province in weeks 9 and 26

Riyadh: The Saudi Pro League’s competitions department has officially announced the fixtures for the upcoming 2024-25 Roshn Saudi League season, which is set to kick off from Aug. 22-24.

The opening weekend will see reigning champions Al-Hilal beginning their title defense away against Al-Okhdood.

This season will feature 306 matches, meticulously scheduled to accommodate international breaks, continental competitions, and Saudi Arabian Football Federation tournaments. Notably, no fixtures will be held during the last 10 days of Ramadan, ensuring respect for the holy month.

The league has also prioritized player welfare by ensuring a minimum two-day rest between matches.

One of the highlights of this season is the introduction of “Magic Rounds.” Scheduled for Matchweeks 9 and 26, these special weekends will host thrilling derbies across Riyadh, Jeddah, and the Eastern Province, showcasing rivalries such as Al-Ahli versus Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal against Al-Nassr.

The league’s fixture list is designed to ensure a balanced competition. Each team will play nine home matches and eight away matches in the first half, mirroring the same structure in the second half. Teams will avoid playing more than two consecutive matches at home or away, with a maximum of two such occurrences permitted per half of the season.

Clubs from the same city will be paired to guarantee that when one team is at home, the other is away, promoting exciting local derbies. Additionally, the season’s start and end are synchronized; a team playing at home in Matchweek 1 will play away in Matchweek 34, and vice versa. The final four rounds will feature each team playing two home and two away matches, ensuring an electrifying conclusion to the season.

The season opens with a series of compelling matchups.

Al-Shabab will host Al-Ettifaq, while 2023-24 runners-up Al-Nassr will face Al-Raed at home. Newly promoted Al-Orobah will travel to Jeddah to challenge Al-Ahli, and Al-Taawoun will welcome Al-Fayha. In Ar Rass, Al-Ittihad will take on newcomers Al-Kholood. The 2023-24 First Division League champions, Al-Qadsiah, will host Al-Fateh, and Damac will begin their campaign at home against Al-Khaleej, with Al-Riyadh traveling to Makkah to meet Al-Wehda.

The Roshn Saudi League fixtures list. photo credit: @SPL_EN

The SPL will announce match dates and kick-off times in a phased manner:
July 18: breakdown for Matchweeks 1 and 2.
Aug. 18: (Subject to AFC draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 3 to 8.
Sept. 30: (Subject to King’s Cup Round of 16 draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 9 to 13.
Oct. 31: (Subject to King’s Cup quarter-final draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 14 to 22.
Feb. 22: (Subject to AFC Round of 16 draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 23 to 34.

These announcements will depend on confirmation from the AFC and SAFF regarding their respective competition draw dates.

As the league prepares for another thrilling season, fans can look forward to a calendar packed with drama, excitement, and unforgettable moments in Saudi football.

Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad

Updated 13 July 2024

Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad

  • Frenchman will be reunited in Jeddah with one star from his 2012 Euro squad Karim Benzema

PARIS: Former France manager Laurent Blanc has been hired as coach of Al-Ittihad, the Saudi Arabian club announced on Saturday.
Blanc, who had been out of work since being fired by Lyon last September, will be reunited in Jeddah with one star from his 2012 Euro squad Karim Benzema.
After the team finished fifth in the Saudi league last season, the 36-year-old striker, the club’s star recruit, reportedly campaigned for a French-speaking coach.
This prompted the resignation of club president Louay Nazer, who had reportedly reached an agreement with Italian Stefano Pioli, who had left AC Milan.
The Al-Ittihad squad also includes N’Golo Kante, a starter in the France team that reached the last four at the current Euros, and former Monaco and Liverpool Brazilian Fabinho.
The 58-year-old Blanc was at the heart of the France defense as they won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
In his second season as a manager he led Bordeaux to a League 1 title. He coached France from 2010-12.
He guided Qatari-own Paris Saint-Germain to three Ligue 1 titles and five domestic cups between 2013 and 2016, had a stint in Qatar with Al-Rayyan from December 2020 to February 2022 and a painful 11 months from October 2022 when he was unable to reverse Lyon’s decline.
Al-Ittihad have not specified the length of Blanc’s contract.
He will be the club’s third coach in a year following Nuno Espirito Santo, who led the club to a ninth Saudi title in 2023, and Marcelo Gallardo.
Last season the club finished only fifth in the table, 42 points behind runaway champions Al-Hilal. They failed to qualify for the Asian Champions League.
Argentine Gallardo, who dropped the misfiring Benzema for a time, was fired in July after less than seven months in the job.

Riyadh to host African Super Cup between Egyptian rivals Al Ahly, Zamalek

Updated 13 July 2024

Riyadh to host African Super Cup between Egyptian rivals Al Ahly, Zamalek

RIYADH: Riyadh will host the CAF Super Cup between two of Africa’s top teams in September, organizers announced on Friday.

The head-to-head will see the current African Champion League holders Al Ahly take on fellow Egyptian side Zamalek, who are the current African Confederation champions.

Confédération Africaine de Football President Patrice  Motsepe said: “The partnership between CAF and Saudi Arabia is based on the excellent relationship and mutual commitment of both parties.”

Turki Alalshikh said: "We are delighted to host the African Super Cup at Riyadh Season, which represents one of the most important tournaments on the African continent.”

The match will take place on Sept. 27, but the venue and kick-off time are yet to be announced.

Both teams clashed in the Egypt Cup in the Saudi capital in March, with Al Ahly beating their city rivals 2-0 and winning the trophy for the 39th time.

Al Ahly finished third in the Saudi-hosted FIFA Club World Cup in December, with English champions Manchester City defeating Brazil’s Fluminense in the final.

SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season

Updated 11 July 2024

SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season

  • League remains committed to providing a supportive, centralized approach to transfers
  • Clubs continue to attract top-tier talents to their administrative ranks

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League, in collaboration with all 18 clubs, announced on Thursday its comprehensive preparations and key priorities for the upcoming summer transfer window and the 2024-25 season.
As part of the Player Acquisition Center of Excellence program, which was launched in 2023, the SPL held meetings with all top-flight clubs in the final months of last season to understand more fully their targets and requirements. The program was launched as one of seven in the SPL’s transformation strategy.
The SPL remains committed to providing a supportive and centralized approach to transfers. This includes assisting clubs with squad mapping and player care by offering expertise, governance, and sustainability measures.
The SPL’s priorities for the season and transfer window include supporting existing contracts by prioritizing current deals to ensure the success of players by providing the necessary resources.
Other aims include strategic acquisitions to address clubs’ technical gaps and secure top talent.
Another priority is its sustainability policy, which is to ensure players are signed for technical needs, supported for success, and fairly valued.
Off the pitch, the SPL clubs continue to attract top-tier talents to their administrative ranks.
Al-Shabab recently appointed Domenico Teti as sporting director, while Al-Nassr appointed Fernando Hierro. Both sporting directors join Esteve Calzada, Al-Hilal’s CEO; Ron Gourlay, Al-Ahli’s CEO; Lee Congerton, Al-Ahli’s sporting director; Ramon Planes, Al-Ittihad’s sporting director; and James Bisgrove, Al-Qadsiah’s CEO, as new appointments ahead of the new season.
In addition, the SPL has conducted a series of workshops with partner leagues in Europe and Asia to further develop areas of cooperation and mutual benefit. Discussions have covered topics such as mutual promotion, broadcast development, and alignment on transfer window dates.
The Player Acquisition Center of Excellence program, according to the SPL, serves as a collaborative tool with clubs to enhance their acquisition capabilities.
The program has so far recruited 97 players and reviewed over 200 contracts, significantly reducing contract termination costs and lowering the average age of signed players from 29 to 27.5 years. The ultimate aim is to focus on signing players under the age of 21.